Women Who Leave John For Jane

What makes a woman who has spent years identifying as “straight” change her sexual identity? Here, we get a first-hand look from four writers who chronicled their own transitions for the anthology, Dear John, I Love Jane.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

ot all that long ago, Candace Walsh was a young bride whose wedding had been written up in the New York Times “Vows” column, then shortly thereafter, a married mother of two. Fast-forward a handful of years later, and Walsh is now divorced and co-editing an anthology of essays about women’s “sexual fluidity” with her new life partner, Laura André. “Sexual fluidity,” Walsh explains, “is the idea that, for many women, sexual identity can shift over time — often in the direction of same-sex relationships.”

The essays in Walsh and André’s anthology, Dear John, I Love Jane, are from women of all ages and walks of life who share one commonality: they’ve left straight partners for relationships with women. Some of the contributors
This is my chance to really figure it out once and for all.
write about a knowledge that grew slowly over time about their evolving sexual identities, while others were blindsided by their love for another woman. All of them speak candidly about the complications of making a switch in identity and sexual orientation after years of identifying as heterosexuals. Here, four of Dear John’s contributors share their stories with us.

Our panelists:
Candace Walsh, 38, Santa Fe, NM; Features Editor at Mothering magazine
Amelia Sauter, Ithaca, NY; lounge owner and writer
Leigh Stuart, 50, Los Angeles, CA; lawyer and writer
Sara Rauch, 30, Northampton, MA; writer

What was the turning point or “a-ha moment” for you that made you realize wanted to be with women?

Walsh: I had always wondered if I’d be happier in a relationship with a woman, but when I got married, I thought that question was off the table forever. When my marriage ended, I thought, “This is my chance to really figure it out once and for all.” Dating and being in relationships with women exceeded my expectations. It felt right. It felt like home, and I finally understood what truly straight women felt like in their relationships with men.

Sauter: I dated men until I was 26. I kept waiting to find the perfect man for me: honest, sensitive, fun, passionate, not too wimpy, yet not too macho. I was never satisfied with my boyfriends (I found them all so annoying!) and usually found myself enjoying my time away from them more than the time we spent together. Then I met Leah, and my life turned upside down. I’d had a crush or two on other women when I was in my early twenties, but this was different. I fell madly in love with Leah. The transition from straight to gay was easier for me to make than it probably is for most people, because almost all of my close friends identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. My parents initially seemed uncomfortable, but they were supportive and adjusted over a couple of years. Now we joke that Leah is their favorite child.

Stuart: There was one woman in an exercise class whom I couldn’t keep my eyes off of; after months of seeing her there, I slowly started acknowledging my attraction to her. There was no exact moment, just a slow, internal awakening.

Rauch: I had two moments; the first was when I was about 19. I explored my feelings a little bit while I was in college, but still lived my life as a straight person. The second moment happened several years later, when I developed an undeniably strong attraction to a woman who worked at a local café. That attraction forced me to admit to myself — and then everyone else — that I wanted to be with women romantically.

Was there one particular person who interested you enough to make the switch from men to women? Or was it more a matter of acknowledging your romantic feelings for women that had been there all along?

Sauter: I definitely feel like I wasn’t gay all along. I was straight, and now I’m gay. I’m comfortable with the label “lesbian,” but it took awhile for me to get there. While the people around me were okay with my transition, I was wondering: What the hell just happened? My identity was in chaos for at least two years as I struggled to redefine my life and my sense of self in a society in which being gay is not always OK. Throughout that time, I had Leah as a lover, friend and role model.

Stuart: Yes, there was one woman who was my “catalyst.” She turned out to be a lesbian, and we became close friends. After a growing emotional connection and physical attraction developed, I crossed the
I never had to put a label on myself…
line and kissed her. I knew that a fundamental shift had occurred and my life would not be the same after that. My experiences with her enabled me to acknowledge the feelings for women that I managed to ignore throughout college, law school, and my 15-year marriage. In retrospect, those feelings were there all along; however, I absolutely couldn’t let them take over — there was too much at stake.

Rauch: I developed a major crush on a woman, and that forced me to start reevaluating my sexuality. As I worked through things, I realized that I was finally coming to terms with feelings I’d been hiding all along.

Did you have to leave a heterosexual relationship behind when you had this realization, and if so, what was that like?

Stuart: I was in a 15-year marriage to a man, which I did not leave immediately. I was completely honest with him and discussed everything about the woman I was attracted to and my sexual confusion. He was supportive of my journey in figuring myself out and supportive of my connection with her. The woman and I were in a relationship for about one year, and during that time, my husband and I did not discuss the physical aspects of that other relationship. He was aware of what was happening; yet, in the spirit of denial, we both referred to her as my “good friend.” After a year, my relationship with her ended. About a year after that, my marriage dissolved, too. There were a variety of reasons the marriage ended — including (but not limited to) my prior connection with this woman.

Rauch: I did leave a very functional straight relationship after struggling for almost a year with my feelings and trying to make my straight life work. It was an incredibly difficult thing, giving up my very stable life for something completely unknown. I was nervous and worried that the lesbian community wouldn’t accept me. I worried my family would think I was crazy. I managed to make the transition without too much drama, but those first months alone were definitely scary.

Were there earlier signs that you were attracted to women? Had you somehow discounted or ignored them when you were younger?

Walsh: Yes — when I was in high school, I had an erotic dream about a girl and thought that maybe I was gay. But then I read a Seventeen magazine advice column that posed the question: “I had an erotic dream about a girl. Does that mean I might be gay?” and the advice-giver fell over herself to assure the questioner that she was totally straight, don’t worry one bit. So I discounted that clue. It’s funny how we are not only living in a hetero-dominant society in terms of visibility, acceptance, and sheer numbers, but that people are discouraged from giving weight to their own glimmers of sexual preference in lots of subtle ways.

Stuart: Yes, there were signs, such as dreams about kissing women and other feelings and fascinations (like wanting to be around certain women) that I completely ignored for most of my life. It is only through hindsight that I now recognize them for the truth of what they were. I was raised in a homophobic, conservative atmosphere, and the idea of my being with a woman was not something that was possible in my universe until I was in my 40s, met my catalyst woman and finally let myself go with it.

Rauch: Absolutely, and I’d spent a lot of time ignoring those signs.

Do you identify with the label of “lesbian” now?

Walsh: I am fine with considering myself to be a lesbian, although the word does feel a little bit ill-fitting… maybe because I spent so many years identifying as heterosexual. The word I like best is “Sapphic.”

Stuart: I don’t identify with labels, although I am proud to be who I am.

Rauch: Yes, I identify myself as a lesbian. Sometimes it still feels weird to say it — maybe because when I was straight, I never had to put a label on myself — but it’s also a huge relief to know who I am and to have a word and a community to go along with it.

Continued on Page Two

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