Pop Theory: Sexual Fluidity & Sexual Narrative, from Lindsay Lohan to Jason Collins 

Lindsay Lohan’s interview with Piers Morgan over the weekend caused a lot of heads to turn, not to mention it resulted in more than a few tsk-tsks from the LGBT community. Why? Because Lohan declared that, even though she had relationships and affairs with women in the past, she is straight. Adamantly straight. Heterosexual.

“No, I know I’m straight. I have made out with girls before, and I had a relationship with a girl. But I think I needed to experience that and I think I was looking for something different.”—Lindsay Lohan

I first read about Lindsay’s interview in Trish’s recap at AfterEllen, which has garnered quite a bit of commentary, especially on La Facebook.  Some responses call bullshit; others are supportive of Lindsay’s choice.

Trish’s question—”when is someone ‘no longer’ bisexual?”—offers the intellectual starting point of this Pop Theory column. Because the question is how knowledge—which, in order to be rendered as “knowledge” needs to be quantified (primarily in language)—has problems with fluidity. In other words, Trish’s question is symptomatic of our difficulty with trying to “fix” something—in this case, both sexual desire and behavior—into rubrics of understanding—“sexuality,” sexual identity—so that we humans can try to communicate and engage with each other. “To identify” someone is not a malicious act; it is primarily done in an attempt to situate, however momentary, someone in relation to the self so that the self, in turn, can define its self. (This is one large reason why minoritarian identities come into existence before the majoritarian one; the term “homosexual” arriving into common parlance before “heterosexual” is case in point.)

We are at our most insistent about boundaries when we sense their precariousness.—Adam Phillips, Intimacies

Identity is a political and social community building device. It is an advantageous tool for social engagement (hello, AfterEllen!). But the 20th/21st century trend—or, compulsion—of fixing sexual desire and behavior into an identity is at times counterproductive to not only understanding ourselves, but our sexual desires, our sexual histories, and how we engage with other individuals. I think Audre Lorde tried to tackle our limited mindset in regard to sexual identity when she presented her understanding of the “erotic” as a female force of production between women—what this energy produces may or may not be sexual. More recently, Lisa Diamond’s research on sexual fluidity attests to the idea that sexual desire and behavior—particularly for women—grow and change over time. In a fascinating way, her research coincides with Lorde’s testament that one’s self knowledge, one’s growing understanding of how the erotic works within her self as she grows and matures over time, is very much tied to how we perceive sexuality, as something that is fixed or as something that is fluid.

One point that Diamond feels the need to reiterate is that, while sexuality may change, it is not a choice; as she told Oprah a few years ago, “This (research) does not mean that sexuality is chosen.”

I disagree with Diamond, and my disagreement is not simply that of semantics. Sexual desire and behavior are temporal and fluid (and not just in terms of object choice but frequency, type, etc.); they are a-personal forces working within the self that we have no control over, really. Sexuality, on the other hand, is definitely a choice…just ask Lindsay Lohan, or Jason Collins, or any Republican politician playing footsies in an airport bathroom. We choose what label we want—so there are “lesbians” who are “gold star,” “lesbians” who have slept with men (before they came out), and “lesbians” who currently sleep with men. (Because who didn’t want Tina to play basketball with the gang?)

We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from, for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist. —Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The question seems to regard what are the temporal limits of our sexual history that come to define not only our sexual history but our sexual identity. What duration of our individual life do we take into consideration when we choose our sexual identity? Do we count the “experimental” stage of our hetero-normative teenage dream years? Does that make us all “bisexual”? If, for instance, “late-in-life lesbians” count their entire sexual history, are they technically bisexual, or do they consciously delimit the temporal scope of the narrative in order to feel (and fit) better “at home” in a new sexuality?

Lindsay Lohan

Getty Images

Last week Jason Collins told George Stephanopoulos that “I am really good at playing it straight” in reflection of his heterosexual past, including his long-term relationship and engagement to Carolyn Moos. According to The Huffington Post, “in his coming-out editorial for Sports Illustrated, Collins said he had lived a lie, writing: ‘When I was younger I dated women. I even got engaged. I thought I had to live a certain way. I thought I needed to marry a woman and raise kids with her. I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.’”

Here Jason explicitly crafts his narrative in order to emphasize what is “true” (his gayness) and what is fiction (his “playing it straight”) in order to make it conform with the typical, dare I say normative, “coming out” narrative. Gays seem to be James Joyce’s biggest fans. The epiphany demarcates what is “fact” and what is “fiction”; it demarcates, that is, the part of sexual history that will be included in his narrative to fit into the “coming out” genre. Sometimes it is too tempting to ask which comes first, the identity, or the narrative?

In the second volume of the History of Sexuality Foucault infamously asks “When is sexuality?”—a question that figures similarly to Trish’s question, “when is someone ‘no longer’ bisexual?” Purely rhetorical, Foucault’s question underscores the constructiveness of our sexual identities. We choose our sexual identity, and our understanding of that identity is largely defined by how we understand our individual sexual histories and how much of those histories we include in our individual narratives. How much does our sexual history factor into our current sexual identity? Which experiences “count” in that determination and are told in that narrative? How are “experiences” negated or dismissed, to reflect back to Lindsay’s interview, to create a “truth” narrative that supersedes an entire sexual history?

The narrative we create, much like the identity we choose, fixes us for a period in time. But, as we all know, even that narrative and that identity can change—and, if and when they do, we set our nimble revisionist fingers to work.