Share via Email More and wore women are coming out as lesbians late in life. She had met her husband — "a terrific guy, very sweet" — at high school when she was 16, had been married to him for 25 years, had two dearly loved children, and what she describes as a "white-picket-fence existence" in New York.
Then, one day, sitting opposite her best friend, she realised: I'm in love with this woman. She felt compelled to tell her friend, but her attraction wasn't reciprocated; at first she wasn't sure whether she had feelings for women in general, or just this one in particular.
But she gradually came to realise, and accept, that she was a lesbian. She also started to realise that her experience wasn't unusual. Strock decided to interview other married women who had fallen in love with women, "putting up fliers in theatres and bookstores. Women started contacting me from across the country — everyone knew someone who knew someone in this situation. Cynthia Nixon , for instance, who plays Miranda in Sex and the City, was in a heterosexual relationship for 15 years, and had two children, before falling for her current partner, Christine Marinoni, in Last year, it was reported that the British singer Alison Goldfrapp , who is in her mids, had started a relationship with film editor Lisa Gunning.
The actor Portia de Rossi was married to a man before coming out and falling in love with the comedian and talkshow host, Ellen DeGeneres , whom she married in And then there's the British retail adviser and television star, Mary Portas , who was married to a man for 13 years, and had two children, before getting together with Melanie Rickey , the fashion-editor-at-large of Grazia magazine.
At their civil partnership earlier this year the pair beamed for the cameras in beautiful, custom-made Antonio Berardi dresses. The subject has now begun attracting academic attention. Next month at the American Psychological Association's annual convention in San Diego, a session entitled Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbians is due to showcase a range of research, including a study by Christan Moran, who decided to look at the lives of women who had experienced a same-sex attraction when they were over 30 and married to a man.
Moran is a researcher at Southern Connecticut University, and her study was prompted in part by an anguished comment she found on an online message board for married lesbians, written by someone who styled herself "Crazy". She also wanted to explore the notion, she writes, that "a heterosexual woman might make a full transition to a singular lesbian identity. In other words, they might actually change their sexual orientation.
Increasingly researchers are questioning this, and investigating whether sexuality is more fluid and shifting than is often suspected. Sarah Spelling, a former teacher, says she can well understand how "you can slide or slip or move into another identity". After growing up in a family of seven children in Birmingham, Spelling met her first serious partner, a man, when she was at university.
They were together for 12 years, in which time they were "fully on, sexually," she says, although she adds that she has never had an orgasm with a man through penetrative sex. Spelling is a keen feminist and sportsperson, and met lesbian friends through both of these interests. After "lots of talking together, over a year or so," they formed a relationship.
She's a keen walker. We had lots in common, and eventually I realised I didn't have that with men. From the start of the relationship, she felt completely at ease, although she didn't immediately define herself as a lesbian. And I wouldn't define myself as bisexual. The women she chose at the start of the study had all experienced some same-sex attraction — although in some cases only fleetingly — and every two years or so she has recorded how they describe themselves: What's interesting, says Diamond, is that transitions in sexual identity aren't "confined to adolescence.
People appear equally likely to undergo these sorts of transitions in middle adulthood and late adulthood. In my study, what I often found was that women who may have always thought that other women were beautiful and attractive would, at some point later in life, actually fall in love with a woman, and that experience vaulted those attractions from something minor to something hugely significant.
It wasn't that they'd been repressing their true selves before; it was that without the context of an actual relationship, the little glimmers of occasional fantasies or feelings just weren't that significant. I think a lot of women, late in life, when they're no longer worried about raising the kids, and when they're looking back on their marriage and how satisfying it is, find an opportunity to take a second look at what they want and feel like.
Diamond's work has sometimes been distorted by rightwing factions in the US, who have suggested it shows homosexuality is optional. It was not a conscious choice. I think the culture tends to lump together change and choice, as if they're the same phenomenon, but they're not.
Puberty involves a heck of a lot of change, but you don't choose it. There are life-course transitions that are beyond our control.
She had always had a vague inkling she might have feelings for women, but met a man at university, "a really gentle man, Jeff, and I fell in love with him, and for a long time that was enough to balance my feelings". She married him in her late 20s, had two children in her early 30s, "and once I'd got that maternal part of my life out of the way, I suddenly started thinking about me again.
I started to feel more and more uncomfortable about the image that I was presenting, because I felt like it wasn't true. I was still living with Jeff, and I just started shutting down our relationship. He knew I was pushing him away. She has since had two long-term relationships with women, and says she's much happier since she came out, but suspects that her biological urge to have children, and her genuine feelings for Jeff, made her marriage inevitable on some level.
The intensity of feeling in my relationship with Jeff overcame and blanketed my desires for women. Richard Lippa, professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, has carried out a variety of studies that have led him to the conclusion that, "while most men tend to have what I call a preferred sex and a non-preferred sex.
I have definitely heard some women say, 'It was the person I fell in love with, it wasn't the person's gender,' and I think that that is much more of a female experience than a male experience. I used to lie on the couch and my eyes would fill with tears as they had their naps.
You look and you think — that dress looks fabulous, or isn't she looking slim, or doesn't she look pretty. But you don't necessarily put sexual feelings on it. It was a decision to leave a particularly oppressive and restrictive way of living and try to live differently.
While she had had "a very active sex life with men", she enjoyed sex with women much more. Strock echoes this view. And very few raise their hands. And then I went to a gay women's group, and I said, how many of you have ever felt the same? And almost all the hands went up. So connections with women are very different to connections between women and men.
Orbach says that the initial love connection between mother and daughter makes lesbian feelings in later life unsurprising. I mean, we're still not really father-raised, are we, so it's a very big journey for women to get to heterosexuality. What happens is that you layer heterosexuality on top of that bond.
You don't suddenly switch away from it. You don't give up that very intimate attachment to a woman. It's really hard for people to accept. When the first edition of Strock's book was published, "a woman came up to me at one of my early speaking engagements, clutching the book and sobbing," she says.
And she had decided that the best thing was to kill herself on a night when she knew her husband and children were going to be out late. She'd planned her suicide. She was coming home from work for what she thought would be the last time, and she passed a bookstore, and they were putting my book in the window, and when she realised that she wasn't the only one, she chose to live".
The late-blooming lesbians I spoke to had all found happiness on their different paths. Strock is still a lesbian — and also still married to her husband, who knows about her sexuality. I'm a lesbian, but we share a house, we have separate rooms, we have two grandchildren now, and our situation is not unique. We're an anti-ageing society. We like people to be young, nubile and attractive. And I think the notion that your sexuality can undergo these really exciting, expansive possibilities at a stage when most people assume that women are no longer sexually interesting and are just shutting down, is potentially a really liberating notion for women.
Your sexual future might actually be pretty dynamic and exciting — and whatever went on in your past might not be the best predictor at all of what your future has in store.