new questions, joanne fleisher

New Questions

Before my thirties, I secretly thought there was something wrong with me.  I had never fallen head over heals in love, the way that many of my friends and Hollywood movies portrayed it.  And then Janine entered my life and I knew this was it.  Yet I had a long journey to travel before I decided what to do.  My life was good with my husband and I had no desire to upend the lives of my children or him.

I didn’t know any other women who had questioned their identity at this late stage of life.  It was a common belief in 1978 that people knew their sexual orientation by adolescence.  I was at a loss.  In desperation, I not only asked near-strangers about how they came out to themselves and others, but I spent countless hours distracted by questions I never had considered before.  How can I figure out if I’m gay, especially if I’m living with my husband?  Can lesbians have a happy life?  Do they live marginal lifestyles without a man’s financial help?  Do all lesbians dress down, wear flannel shirts and no makeup?  My mind pestered me constantly, always secretly.  I don’t feel like a lesbian.  I don’t hate men.  I like wearing lipstick and getting dressed up to go out. 

I didn’t want to break up my marriage, but I couldn’t stay away from Janine. She was different from the other women in my circle of friends­—so self-assured, assertive and charismatic.  She’d been an open lesbian for seven years and knew nothing about married life or being a parent.  I was straight, married for twelve years, and knew nothing about the lesbian community or lifestyle.  I realized that I had lost my compass.  I needed someone to talk to other than Janine, an objective outside person.  I found a skillful therapist to help me out of this quagmire.

In some ways I consider myself lucky that Janine ultimately left me for a more promising woman, who was unencumbered by husband and children.  I fell into a deep depression for a solid three months, but eventually realized that deciding my future course of action was much larger than choosing between Janine and my husband.  I needed to decide whether I wanted to be with a woman or with a man.  In therapy I examined my relationship both with my husband and with Janine.  New questions arose: Did I want to try to repair the marriage or leave to seek a more fulfilling relationship?  Could I find the missing pieces with another man?  Was the intimacy I found with Janine characteristic of being with a woman, or was it just Janine?   

Altogether, It took about a year for me to come to a final decision.  I decided to leave my husband, not because I identified myself as lesbian, but because I couldn’t push the crushing questions out of my mind.  As compelled as I felt years later to write my book, I knew I had to explore my sexuality.  I determined I couldn’t do that in an open and honest way while being married.