Guest Shot

Lesbain sex columnist falls for man -- Story at 8!

By Athena Douris

I’m a lesbian sex advice columnist who's decided to marry a man. I expected some fall out, and I got it. My boss fired me, rehired me, and then suggested I take a pay cut. My closest friend refuses to speak to me. The guy I’m marrying is named James. His sister found a sexy picture of me on the Internet, and now James and I are listed on the back of a church program, under “Pray for Them.”

Athena Douris with adult film legend
Nina Hartley from On Our Backs

Let me back up. This story starts in the spring of 1999 on a Thursday in April, in a tiny apartment over Valencia street. I share this apartment with two dykes and one FTM who’s sleeping on the futon in our living room. The phone is ringing. I’m home sick from my job as the editor of On Our Backs, a lesbian sex porno magazine. This isn’t unusual because my job is stressful and I have figured out that I am sick every other Thursday, twice a month. Today I answer the phone and it’s Catherine, the advertising director for at my work. She says there’s a guy who from a men’s magazine called FHM who wants to interview me for a special sex issue. I call him back and tell him all about vibrators and dildos, and how lesbians manage a quickie (with their hands). This is not unusual for me, as the editor of a lesbian porno. I don’t think much of it.

The next day, I have another call. The editors at FHM want me to write a sex advice column. They already had the name, “Letters from Lesbos.” The idea was that I’d give men advice sex advice from a lesbian perspective. I say "yes."

Okay, let’s fast forward two years. I live in Savannah Georgia. I left San Francisco because I’d left On Our Backs three months after picking up my FHM gig. My office now is in London, which means I do all my work over email, which means I can live anywhere. I decide to move to Savannah because I wanted to live in a part of the country where I could afford a couch.

I didn’t get a couch immediately, but I did buy a desk, a bookshelf, a mattress, and a car. Those were all things I couldn’t afford when I lived in San Francisco. When I lived in San Francisco, the people in my office pitched in to buy each other grocery store vouchers for birthday presents. We didn’t think that was weird at the time.

The one thing I haven’t found in Savannah is a lesbian community. And so I became lovers with a dyke in New York City, and a dyke in San Francisco named Alex. Alex has been my best friend for a year (it’s a lesbian thing to fuck your friends, in case you were wondering). I’m lonely, so I fly to visit my girlfriends about every other month. Everything is great until my car dies. I need $800 to get it out of the shop, and I don’t have it. So I start stripping.

I don’t stop stripping when my car’s fixed. Even though I’m well paid as a sex columnist, my income can’t handle my lifestyle, which involves cross country flights at least every other month. And I don’t want to stop making those trips. Like I said, I’m lonely. I try to make friends in Savannah, or find a lover here, but I keep turning up duds. Savannah is a town full of men, mostly military men. There’s plenty of gay bars here. But even when I narrow in on the lone lesbian in the throng of shaved-head queer soldiers, she’s not the one. We don’t have a thing in common, and I’m not attracted to her. And so I keep stripping, and I keep getting in airplanes to see my lesbian lovers.

Athena and friend from FHM

I explain all this because I wanted you to see how I ended up with a man.

Have you heard of the term "situational homosexuality?" That’s what you call it when straight men take male lovers while they’re in prison. I had a similar experience, but just the opposite: situational heterosexuality. I became attracted to men because lesbians were scarce, and men were plentiful. I start a relationship with a queer-identified man. Then I start sleeping with many men. It starts as a sexual thing.

But that’s a lie, actually. The truth is, it all starts in Classy Kats, the strip bar where I’ve been working a few nights a week. Most of the men I talk to are newly divorced. One man tells me about finding his girlfriend after she killed herself, and then about how his 30-year-old son blew his own brains out after a failed business deal. I talk to a man whose best friend was shot and killed by an intruder last week. I realize that my work is as much about social work, as it is about being dancing in pasties and a g-string. More, actually. What wears me out isn’t the dancing. It’s the talking. All the men want to talk. It’s exhausting but rewarding. I like my job. I like talking to these men. I like men.

I’m surprised, but excited. Men are different than lesbians. I’ve known that for years, but I thought they were different-bad, not different-different. And actually, as it turns out, in some ways the men I like are similar to the butch dykes I fuck. The men I’m dating at this point are pretty feminine, actually. I feel like the man in the relationship. I like that. I still feel queer. And I’m still non-monogamous. It was a heady mix, to be fucking men and women, from all parts of the globe.

By the time I met James, the man I’m going to marry, I’d had several relationships with men, in Savannah and out of the state. Alex and I had decided t continue to be best friends, but to cease our sexual relationship. And James and I had decided to be serious, to be committed. I had wanted a serious relationship for years. I’d wanted one when I lived in San Francisco, when I dated only women, but it had never happened. Now, it was happening.

I fell in love with James for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that his dick. Yes, I love his body, especially the way it smells, but that’s not it. Words seem to cheapen it, but here goes: He holds the inner curve of my foot at the movie theater. He likes to fuck even more than I do, and I appreciate that. My favorite Saturday night out is actually spending a night in. He’s freaking adorable. Okay?

Athena and another friend from FHM

I knew we were serious right away and right away I worried about what that would mean. I know that lesbians who ended up with men are mocked, hated, and regarded as traitors by the lesbian community. I pictured cruel gossip, the end of writing contracts and editing jobs. I expected to be fired. But my biggest worry was that all my friends would stop talking to me. I was especially concerned about my best friend, Alex.

Some of what I feared, did happen. Alex stopped speaking to me. She refused to answer phone calls, respond to emails, acknowledge letters. I was devastated. How can I explain: Alex and I were best friends. We vacationed together. We spent our birthdays together. We’d attacked two homophobic women who tried to shame us for being gay in a bar fight . A few months before, I held flown to New York to be with her while she grieved over her mother’s life-threating illness. We were ex-lovers. We considered each other family.

I dug up an old essay by JoAnn Loulan, the lesbian sex therapist. Loulan wrote the book Lesbian Sex and Lesbian Passion. She was an out lesbian sex therapist for 20 years before started seeing a man. In Girlfriends magazine, she wrote an essay about why she identifies as a lesbian. When I first read that essay years ago, I thought, “ I don’t get it.” Now, I get it. Loulan and I talk on the phone because I want more. She tells me her closest friend stopped speaking to her, too, when she became serious with her male partner, Ronnie. “I feel really burned.” she says:

I expected rejection from the community, but what was most shocking to me, what really blew my mind, was the reactions of people I was closest to. One friend, and ex-lover, I was very close to. I was close to her family as well. Her father had Parkinson’s, her mother had multiple hip surgeries.

This friend, she’d been raped, she’d been diagnosed with multiple scholerosis -- you know, all those things that happen in a person’s life if you know them your entire life -- and I’d always been there for her, and for her family. And when I told her I was with Ronnie, she said, ‘Well, this is really hard. How am I supposed to deal with this?’

And I said, ‘Hard like your being diagnosed with MS? Is it hard like when you were raped? No shit -- life is hard.’ But still, she cut me out of her life.

I don’t know why my best friend, Alex, rejected me. I asked Alex the question “why” in a dream I had last month. She said, “ I don’t know”, and that made me feel better. maybe she doesn’t know. Or, maybe she thinks a man can’t be a real partner for me. I used to think the same thing. Back when I was a baby dyke, I thought only a lesbian cared about having an egalitarian relationship. Lesbians were less fat-phobic, more aware of racism and classism, and surely that made them better in relationships. Over the years, I’ve found that distinction may apply to lesbians as a group, but it’s not a magic elixir. A woman who is a good feminist is not necessarily a good lover, and not necessarily a good person. Finding a good lover involves a host of other qualities: frequency of sex, tenderness, ability to trust, connection, kinkiness, ability to commit. I found these things in a man. I looked for them in a woman. If I didn’t find them in a woman, does that make me a betrayer to the lesbian universe? Or does it make me a person who was unlucky with women, and lucky with men?

In the essay The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power Audre Lorde wrote that the erotic is power. Pleasure in the bedroom, she says, gives a woman power she can take into all of her interactions. I would like to add my two cents to that essay. I believe that relationships are power. Relationships, like the erotic, give us the power to do the work we undertake in the rest of our lives. They are important. They are difficult. And they are dangerous. Some relationships destroy the people who are in them. You would have to be very young, or very naive, to have never seen a relationship that has destroyed a woman, or a man. I think it is the destructive potential of relationships that my friend Alex was reacting to. I believe she is afraid that I will be destroyed, because I’m in a relationship with a man. But not all relationships between a man and a woman destroy the woman. I have power in this relationship. I am not a cookie-cutter heterosexual. Nor am I not simply “a lesbian who went to a man.” I don’t think anyone is, actually. Real life is more complicated than that.

Athena and James in Paris, 2001

When I told my editors at FHM that I was marrying a man, they asked me to take a pay cut “because you’re not a real lesbian, so you’re replaceable.” I was fired, then rehired a few months later. True to their word, my editors did eventually replace me three months after that. I never expected to be a sex columnist for the rest of my life, so that’s not the end of the world. But before I left FHM, I wrote this story, the story of how I ended up being with a man, for my readers. My editor called it “admittedly bizarre.” I tried to explain it to my readers, just as I’ve tried to explain it to you. I don’t know if it worked, but I know why I bothered. I wanted the next lesbian who ends up fucking a man to know: take heart. There’s more of us out here than you’d think.

Athena Douris welcomes your comments; her email is [email protected]