Lesbian Book Review
Apples and Oranges: My Journey to Sexual Identity by Jan Clausen
Jan Clausen's experience is summarized in a review of her book, Apples and Oranges: My Journey to Sexual Identity, in the nation's largest gay newspaper, The Washington Blade (The book—Apples and Oranges, by Jan Clausen; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998):
"Most Gay people have pondered the following notion, however fleeting or subconscious: What if, after coming out to family, friends, and co-workers, I fall in love with a member of the opposite sex.
Clausen, a poet, novelist, and famous radical Lesbian activist, lived for 12 years with her female lover, raising a daughter with her. Clausen's world shifted in 1986, though, when she fell in love with a man she met on a political trip to Nicaragua. Naturally, the affair had a tempestuous affect on her personal life, but Clausen hadn't imagined that she would be ostracized by the lesbian community." (The Washington Blade, 8-20-99, pg. 43)
Curve, a lesbian magazine, adds its analysis:
"Jan Clausen was a well-known lesbian author and activist when she shocked many in the gay community by forming a long-term relationship with a man. Her article about it in the now-defunct journal Out/Look, elicited a storm of mail condemning her for betraying her lesbianism. Apples and Oranges tells the fuller story of Clausen's shifting sexuality and raises many questions about how our personal lives and identities overlap and intersect—often in surprising ways…Clausen is also the author of eight previous books that may be familiar to lesbian readers, including The Prosperine Papers. (Curve, May 1999, pg. 34) Out, a best-selling gay magazine also comments:
"After 10 years of partnership with a woman, Clausen fell in love with a man. Her lesbian community rejected her, and their dismissal was more harrowing than her coming out had been. Now she offers her interracial, het relationship as a radical form of sexuality that is yes, straight, but no, not a patriarchal evil. Gender, she claims, should be the focus of sexual politics rather than categories like `straight' and `gay.' Point well taken…" (Out, March 1999, pgs. 86-87)
Clausen's story has been widely discussed in the gay community. Notice how the gay community has reacted to her story. No one doubts that this change has taken place; that fact is not even challenged by gay activists. Nor do gay activists claim that a discussion of the phenomenon will cause hated and violence against gays; nor that gays, particularly teens, will now engage in a rash of suicides. Because they know that such public propaganda claims are false.
Clausen's own description of this earth-shaking heterosexual event in her lesbian life is most enlightening:
"In July 1987, in a war zone in northern Nicaragua, after a dozen years of intense coupledom with my lover Leslie Kaplow and slightly more than that of intensive lesbian feminist activism on literary and political fronts, I got involved with a man. `I got involved.' How pale and nervous the words ring,like a gauzy cloak obscuring facts that ought to be more frankly stated. `Got involved,' `fell in love,' `became attracted to'—- euphemisms all. But what are the facts? Some would say (have said) she left a woman for a man. Some would say betrayed her people.
At the time, I was thirty-seven years old. Since age twenty-five I had been firmly attached to Leslie, and to her daughter, Emma, who was now a high school senior. Both my extensive political commitments and my growing reputation as a poet and novelist were completely bound up with my lesbian identity. Any sex outside my `marriage' would have meant trouble, but lying naked with a male stranger in our family's Brooklyn apartment while Les was at a New Jewish Agenda conference in L.A. was like deliberately embarking on a sea cruise off the edge of a flat earth." (Apples and Oranges, pg. xv; emphasis by the author)
She tells of the emotional impact this affair provoked:
"But now the pain I was experiencing as what had seemed a solid identity unraveled, leaving a vertiginous absence of plausible narrative structure…Surely it couldn't put me through any more mental anguish than what I'd felt weeping in a shabby hotel room where my new male lover and I had spent an ardent weekend, as I bitterly confessed, `I hate the institution of hetero- sexuality—and I'm in love with you.'" (Ibid., pgs. xvii—xviii; emphasis Clausen's)
Two other lesbians have given Clausen insight on the problem of fluid sexual identity:
"In The Girls Next Door: Into the Heart of Lesbian America (1996), the lesbian journalists Pamela Brandt and Lindsy Van Gelder address some of the perplexities…In a chapter entitled `Everybody Out of the Gene Pool,' they forthrightly acknowledge that many lesbians have experienced some degree of satisfaction in sexual and romantic relationships with men…' `if there's a single word that describes much of female sexuality, gay or straight, it's `"fluidity."' And they admit `The trickiest part is that no one in our community knows precisely what anyone else means when she describes herself as a lesbian, a bisexual, or a heterosexual!'"(Ibid., pgs. xxiv-xxv)
Jan Clausen concludes:
"…I think it's fine to be straight or gay by choice. What's not okay is to lie about the complex attractions that often culminate in simple labels. What's unacceptable is to bully the border-crossers. What's got to stop is the rigging of history to make the either/or look permanent and universal. I understand why this argument may seem dangerous to erotic outsiders for whom the public assertion of a coherent, unchanging lesbian or gay identity has proved an indispensable tactic in the battle against homophobic persecution." (Ibid., pgs. xxviii-xxix)
Even Clausen admits that the "born gay" claim is a "lie." In the last paragraph, Clausen seems to be saying, "We know we're lying, but isn't our lie working well!" ("Erotic outsiders" are gays and lesbians).
Lesbian poet Audre Lorde's words in her poem, Between Ourselves, are cited by Clausen:
"I do not believe our wants have made all our lies holy.(Ibid., pg. xxix)