The first time I was spooned by another woman I could not sleep. I was used to the contours of men: their length and strength, their flatness and hardness. Instead curled around me was a body even smaller than my own; soft breasts pressed against my narrow back. Even the room smelled different, the intense pheromones of masculinity replaced by a cloud of oestrogen with a top note of Chanel No. 5. I felt the way travellers do as they try to sleep on their first night in a new place: disorientated and disturbed; the sounds and smells unfamiliar; the sensations unnervingly foreign.
As I lay there, eyes wide open, I went over and over the preceding seduction, in which I was entirely complicit. Meeting the woman I shall call Carla, a petite redhead with a fashionable pixie cut; getting to know her, both of us subtly fanning the burgeoning spark of interest that we shared; everything finally coming together on this evening, the setting a fashionable new restaurant in Chelsea, the dramatis personae two women in their early thirties, one black the other white, heads leaning in towards the other, a certain self-consciousness initially but the conversation flowing, the unmistakable body language of a connection being forged.
We continued to talk for hours in a state of increasing captivation until only the waiters were left, and made our way into the cool summer night, the joint cab ride to her place now a foregone conclusion. When we got back to her flat she made me wait at the door for a moment, until I was ushered into a bedroom, where I was confronted by the classic mise en scène of amour: a bed, wide and low; a long mirror on a big wooden dresser and candles, candles everywhere. When we kissed our mouths tasted of wine. Though I had dabbled with a few other girls, as so many heterosexual women did in order to appear cool and alternative, she was the first ‘real’ lesbian I had ever slept with and I was almost frightened.
When I left her bed the following morning and walked out onto the south London streets, I bristled with a curious paranoia. I felt that everyone who passed me could see last night shimmering on my skin. In particular I examined men’s gazes, as most young heterosexual women habitually do, watching myself being watched, wondering whether I was still wanted, although I had betrayed them, and broken the contract of desire I shared with them. And in my traitor’s heart I felt both shame and triumph at my conduct. Shame because I was a deviant, and triumph because I had got away with it.
How did I end up in this sapphic tryst? Me, perhaps the most avid heterosexual in the world, a girl whose mother dubbed her ‘boy crazy’ as a teen; a girl who had her first boyfriend at eleven and never looked back? From my earliest adolescence, males were my hobby, and my female friends and I did little else but talk and speculate about them. Every interaction with the opposite sex was dissected; every nuance of their behaviour weighed and measured. I was so immersed in this pursuit, so utterly intoxicated with it, that I was only a little shocked – and secretly rather pleased – when my university lecturer suggested my most suitable future career would be that of a courtesan.
I can’t really explain my apparent volte-face. Or rather, there are many explanations: some competing, some complementary, all ultimately unsatisfactory. There was, for example, the predictable backstory of heterosexual heartbreak. The long-term boyfriend that I had met at university and loved madly if not well, who had left me after nearly ten years, breaking my heart into a million weeping pieces, and replacing me with a woman who was my doppelgänger. The depression that followed flattened me like a tsunami. When I finally admitted to my therapist that I was involved in a lesbian relationship, she diagnosed me as being ‘in manic flight from heterosexuality’, proving how simultaneously accurate and irrelevant therapy can be.
My friends concurred with my therapist. Surely my interest in women could only be explained by the break-up. Clearly I was hurt, in retreat from the dangers of the heterosexual romantic battlefield. To most of them, women were a safe, almost chaste, choice. People frequently make this assumption: that being with a woman is ‘easier’, less intense, like having a best friend that you sleep with. They equate romance with emotional turbulence, and emotional turbulence with the difference and threat represented by men. They cannot imagine that a woman can tear another woman’s heart and soul into shreds.
I was scarred by love. But who among us is not? And the truth was that by then I had had a couple of years to recover, with a few enjoyable affairs with men under my belt. The bruises had healed, as much as psychic ones do, and I was back out there. But my return to the heterosexual arena was disappointing. I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had been there and done that. It all felt a bit lacklustre. After hearing the same old lines, and playing the same old games, I was, I realized, bored.
The idea that our sexual predilections might turn on such a shallow thing as boredom is almost a heresy. Especially as ‘born that way’ has been a central tenet of the gay rights movement in the West. Surely, the campaign strategy asserts, we are born with certain things fixed in place, our sexuality as immutable as our race and therefore equally undeserving of hostility. And indeed, the evidence seems to be stacking up that this may be broadly true for men. But not for women. And for this woman, at least, I seemed both turnable and ready to be turned. I craved something different, something new. I felt like a jaded traveller searching for a new destination; I wanted to explore customs and cultures different from my own.
Looking back, I realize I had always been bi-curious. I had vague crushes on girls as well as boys in my early teens but none that were so intense that a whiff of disapproval could not dispel them; I transferred my interest exclusively to boys with no discernible sense of grief and with great alacrity. I was always fascinated by alternative lives, however. As a voracious teen reader I was beguiled by books like Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, which explored the drama of being a sexual outcast: those forced to lead a hidden life. I was also drawn to the burgeoning struggle for lesbian and gay rights. Despite the pervasive homophobic climate of my youth, in both London and the Caribbean, I didn’t understand why an alternative sexual preference should be a source of shame. Later I read Freud and was convinced by his theory that bisexuality was the norm, and monosexuality the product of social conditioning; to put it another way, that all infants are born into a state of sexual fluidity, requiring shaping by sociocultural forces in order to assume conventional gender roles.
It wasn’t just sexual autonomy I craved, but intellectual freedom. I was an ardent feminist, it was the nineties and third-wave feminism was blowing across the cultural landscape like a fresh wind. And I was utterly transfixed by the pleasure-loving, sex-positive model of feminism that the third-wavers espoused. I dreamed of being a writer, and was looking for a way to lead a free life: that, for me, meant a creative life that allowed me to pursue my intellectual ambitions. I was in flight from domesticity too, trying to work out how not to take on the conventional role of someone’s mother and someone’s wife. Even more than this I did not want to lead a life ‘predicated on the threat and promise of men’ as Toni Morrison wrote in her novel, A Mercy. I wanted to possess what the novelist Colette called a ‘virile femininity’, to combine my dresses and heels with independence and autonomy: a woman in control of her own body, who pursued her own ambitions, and was the captain of her own life.
I particularly resented the sexual restrictions put upon women. Whereas men were expected to define themselves through their interactions with the outside world as well as the active exploration of their sexuality, women always had to weigh up their daring desires against the mores of social decorum. A roguish man who displays a restless drive to overcome individual limitations, confront danger and explore the world, as well as enjoy a certain amount of sexual meandering, is tolerated, even admired in our society: a similar woman is still branded a slut. So my curiosity about lesbianism was an accomplice of my feminism: a path that allowed me to be sexual and free.
I was a passionate rebel against women’s lot, full of aspirations and fantasies, fearful of being trapped in roles that I felt were not of my own making – the ‘good’ woman, the domestic goddess, the dutiful wife – and eager to express my aspirations for female freedom. I was inspired by intellectuals and artists, performers and outlaws: those women who escaped the destiny to which their gender had consigned them. I had a restless craving for change, love and motion. My dreams were born of women’s repressed wildness, their craving for adventure and a profound longing to transcend the complex limitations that govern our lives.
Whatever the commingling of reasons which meant I finally opened this new door, I came to believe that if you do not allow your longings to emerge into the light, you potentially sacrifice the person that you could become. Or as that mad sage Blake once wrote: ‘It is better to murder an infant in its cradle than to nurse desires unacted upon.’
We met a few times a week, mostly at her place. Those passionate, curious, experimental nights! Clothes on the floor; bodies covered in a sheen of sweat, white sheets tangled beneath us. The sex was a revelation, not least because there was no script. Back in the nineties, heterosexuality was already overdetermined to the point of becoming banal, but lesbian love was an exhilarating vista of possibility – a tabula rasa waiting to be written on, a terra incognita begging to be explored. Hard as it may be to believe now, magazines like off our backs and sexperts like Susie Bright were mapping out truly unknown territory – hence the question that all lesbians inevitably faced: ‘Just what it is that you do in bed?’ A query that never failed to make my blood boil, not least because it signalled such an extraordinary lack of imagination but also because it implied that love between women was merely aimless fumbling, and ‘real’ sex could only happen with a penis.
This not knowing was delicious and frightening. The fear of getting it wrong, of being exposed as a neophyte, gradually overcome by experimentation and practice and growing confidence into a Ready Brek smugness when you had finally sussed the code. In those days before anything and everything was available on the Internet, there was a real sense of being a member of a highly restricted club – that you could walk around, carrying snugly against your glowing heart the secret knowledge, and nobody would ever guess. No Bletchley code-breaker was more proud of their work than I.
And how wonderful it was to learn something new. The pleasure of being a novice again was unutterably thrilling. Learning to love her woman’s body, I felt like an explorer, a composer, feeling my way one caress at a time. The sex was like a jazz riff, one note suggesting another, until we created a complete melody. Of course, today with the proliferation of representations of ‘girl-on-girl action’, designed entirely as a masturbatory aid for men, lesbian sex is in danger of being co-opted as a heterosexual practice, one that vacates the radical challenge lesbianism has traditionally represented. For ‘lesbian existence’, the poet and academic Adrienne Rich once wrote, ‘is both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life. It is also a direct or indirect attack on the male right of access to women.’
Where before I had eroticized the difference of men, I discovered that I was also stimulated by familiarity and symmetry. Sex with a woman was more intuitive. Indeed the narcissism of lesbianism, the mirroring of identical bodies and body parts, is a profoundly underrated pleasure. As I watched the sensations skip across her face, I could see that her responses were mine. I not only had the power but the skill to evoke this pleasure, and I felt almost as if I was experiencing them myself.
My relationship with Carla was a passport into a new world and I realized almost immediately that Lesbos was indeed another country, and that I would have to learn a whole new set of traditions and codes of behaviour if I was to survive there.
The populace was inscrutable. Lesbians generally do not recruit, or rush to garland newcomers with floral wreaths. Introduce yourself to the community and watch it fold its arms and raise one eyebrow. I scoured the available guidebooks, trying to find the connection between the radical queers of Square Peg magazine and the flannel-shirted heroines of Naiad Press novels. Once I thought I’d got the essence of the look, the talk, the swagger, I ventured forth – only to discover a bewildering array of people and styles: young and old, white, black, Asian, Mediterranean, Latina. Some were politically conservative, others left of centre. There were models and mothers, married women and bisexuals, a lesbian for every day of the year, all of them apparently more ‘in the know’ than I.
There was also a new dress code to master, with new cultural meanings, particularly since self-presentation is an exceptionally vexed issue in the lesbian world, not least because it is clothing that in many points in history, and in many circumstances, has signalled not just a woman’s lesbian identity, but what kind of sex she enjoys.
So I had to rethink myself sartorially. It was not a simple task. I have always been ultra-feminine in my self-presentation, fascinated by fashion, working at various times on its fringes, and the thought of having to cut my hair and buy Doc Martens made my heart sink. It was such a sore point that I joked with friends that if it were a choice between lesbianism and my very feminine (and expensive) wardrobe, I would choose the latter. It was not entirely in jest. And the waste of good tailoring was a side issue. What I meant was that I would not give up conventional femininity and the social confidence it gave me. My frocks and make-up had helped me negotiate the hostile society into which my Caribbean family had migrated, and helped to disguise my rather masculine professional ambitions in a misogynist world – my desire to be autonomous, bold and free. Mercifully my timing was good. This was the era that saw the emergence of the lipstick lesbian, when a corseted Cindy Crawford pretended to shave a besuited k.d. lang on the cover of Vanity Fair. The mainstream was spotlighting lesbianism at last; suddenly the feminine lesbian was the star of the stage.
There was also a new language to be learned. Even though I was a ‘het’, I thought I was au fait with the lesbian lingua franca; after all I knew that a ‘femme’ was a lesbian who presented in a feminine way while a ‘butch’ presented in a masculine way. But of course it was more complex than that. A femme could also be a ‘top’, who prefers to take the more active role in sex, while her opposite, the ‘butch bottom’, preferred to be passive in bed. Then there was a ‘stone butch’, who did not allow her bedmate to stimulate her and gained pleasure solely in pleasing her partner, and the ‘pillow princess’, who liked only to receive. There was the ‘tomboy femme’, who enjoyed sports as well as shopping, the ‘soft butch’ who mixed female and male presentation; the ‘diesel dyke’, the most masculine of lesbians, as well as the more recent tags such as ‘boi’, who played with the masquerade of masculinity, and her African American/Afro-Caribbean counterpart, the ‘stud’. All of which were different from the transsexual, for whom the script that one is a woman in a man’s body, or vice versa, is ‘solved’ primarily by the medical transformation of the body, rather than the innumerable masquerades of sexual difference that those who were ambivalent about their gender exploited over previous centuries.
Exposed over time to these various types, I developed more epicurean sexual tastes. For the outside world the butch, a woman who is seen to be pretending to be a man, is a derided creature, the victim of scorn and hostility. But it is different in the lesbian world. I found that I was curiously touched by women who tried to look like boys, with their upturned collars and cropped hair. How feminine and vulnerable they seemed beneath their masculine disguise. Indeed, as Colette once noted, there is something seductive about a person of ambiguous or dissimulated sex. Especially when they shared the courtliness of a well-bred man, and the sensitivity of a woman.
Like other subcultures, the lesbian world of the late 1990s had its own venues and pastimes. But it was a scene that was in transition, one that was struggling to emerge from the shadow of its more powerful gay male counterpart, and thus was assertively claiming the right to ‘women only’ space. And I discovered to my fascination that all over London, and indeed the entire country, was a network of discreet nightclubs publicized by lesbian word of mouth or listings in particular magazines. Some were scuzzy dives replete with women who had tattoos on their forearms (this was before being inked was compulsory) and settled their romantic dramas with fisticuffs; others were exclusive and stylish and very, very cool.
One of my favourites was called the Ace of Clubs, which was a night held bimonthly in a basement beneath London’s historic and ritzy Burlington Arcade. With its underground setting, its low ceilings and worn wine-coloured carpets, it felt rather like a dingy womb designed to protect its clientele from intrusion, sightseers, prying eyes. Here the noise of the outside world and its hostility and judgements were entirely blocked out. But when I frequented it, it was already regarded as old-fashioned and passé, a throwback to a community that felt stigmatized, ashamed and fearful: a monument to lesbian life past.
More popular then was a bar – I forget now its name – which you accessed by a narrow alleyway on a street in the fashionable area of Covent Garden. Once through the dark passageway, it was bright and well lit, open and airy: no apologies, and no secrecy. The clientele here was more cosmopolitan, often professionals working in the media. The dress code was tomboy chic. The most voracious of the punters here were the married women, who approached you with the hunger of wanderers stranded in a desert, desperate and aggressive and sad.
It was succeeded in popularity a few years later by the Box, which perched on the busy junction of London’s Seven Dials only a few yards away. As its name suggests it was glass on three of its four sides, entirely visible to the numerous passers-by, its mirrors multiplying the women inside, making them seem even more numerous, more busy, more self-assured. The evolutions of these venues were a marked indication of how the lesbian community’s confidence had grown and developed in just a few short years.
Unwittingly, I had joined an international network. When I went abroad, friends would give me a heads-up about other places where lady lovers gathered. So in Los Angeles a friend of a friend dropped me off at a Venice Beach bar where the waitress informed me that I had just missed Jodie Foster, who had roared away on her Harley minutes before. I sat there among the smug handful of patrons who had made a successful sighting, nursing a pineapple juice alone, feeling like a disappointed birdwatcher who had just missed seeing the rarest of species: the celebrity dyke. While on a night out in Paris a friend and I ferreted out a club in a disused town hall, utterly devoid of any glamour, where the bar was tended by solid girls in Hawaiian shirts; we went on to an exclusive establishment in one of the best arrondissements, where you could not enter without a referral. Here the clientele looked like Catherine Deneuve, with a few butches as handsome and slick as Alain Delon. And I was desperately grateful that I had squandered my food allowance on the sleek designer dress I was wearing, even if I was too shy for the first hour to approach anyone. When an immaculate blonde eventually spoke to me I was so tongue-tied that I could barely respond. She wouldn’t give me her number; she didn’t want her husband to know what she was up to, but she took mine, though I never returned her call (I was worried about her husband too).
And when in New York, I tracked down a club in the Meatpacking District before it was gentrified, where an eclectic crowd, including black dykes the size of fridges and their only slightly smaller girlfriends, danced alongside cyberpunks, models and strippers. Screens of lesbian porn, made by women for women, flickered their libidinous images in each corner. There I danced all night with a girl with long, black ringlets and the most beautiful breasts I had ever seen.
And the parties! The frisson of the forbidden, the unleashing of repressed longings, made them often unbearably exciting. I remember one such night, in a flat in north London, where the hostess had hand-picked a group of gay and bisexual women that she thought were particularly attractive,butch as well as femme, which turned into a spontaneous orgy. A handsome cropped-haired woman slipped off the stiletto shoe of a gorgeous blonde and gently kissed her feet; another girl performed an impromptu strip. Soon girls were slipping in and out of toilets together, and it ended finally with trios and quartets taking over the available bedrooms, enjoying each other in the semi-light. While the living room, denuded of most of its furniture, was colonized by a foursome on the floor, and two couples intertwined on the matching couches.
At the most select of these gatherings it was understood that famous lesbians could be open with their lovers without fear of being outed. This code of discretion was rarely betrayed, since, during those years, many women were closeted to some degree, whether at work or in their personal lives, and therefore were similarly vulnerable to treachery. So you would meet a legendary soul singer, or a Shakespearean actress, or a best-selling author, many of whom were on the arm of their female significant others.
The intensity of these occasions was only heightened by the incestuousness of the lesbian milieu. If the mainstream world worked on the theory of six degrees of separation, the lesbian world worked on two degrees. Everyone you met, or lusted after, or rejected, would inevitably recur in your life. Everyone had slept with someone you had slept with; or was currently sleeping with the woman you were once with; or wanted to sleep with the woman you were currently with. In this world everyone knew about your past and speculated about your future. I was captivated by the clandestine nature of this milieu: a kind of sexual Cosa Nostra.
Carla and I were together for two years, but the cracks in our relationship were evident relatively early. During one of our pivotal arguments she accused me of being ‘a tourist in her lifestyle’. Tears flooded my eyes, and I was suffused by a sense of outrage, and self-pity. How could she accuse me of that? As if I were some vulgar experience junkie just out for a new thrill. But of course she was completely right. I was a tourist, and I had used her as a guide to explore this unknown new territory. But she was not without blame. I discovered later that she had a history of ‘turning’ straight girls, a pastime similar to that of the older male roué who favours seducing young virgins. In both cases the power one wields is intoxicating. But it has its own perils. Straight women on the turn are poor bets as long-term partners, because at this early point in their journey they are usually so vulnerable and uncertain that they are not yet ready to commit to an openly lesbian life.
I certainly was not, and this was to prove a major stumbling block. Carla had lived a gay life for a long time; I had barely lost my training wheels. And I was a black woman who already offered altogether too much ‘otherness’ for any social occasion: I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a Daily Mail joke. I had suffered judgement enough and I was not ready to step even further away from societal approval. That she grew impatient with my ambivalence was unsurprising. I too feared that I was a dilettante, a dabbler, a coward, who would inevitably retreat into the safety of heterosexuality. We split, as so many lesbians did, pulling the plaster off slowly, rather than ripping it off fast.
It would be a couple of years later, in another relationship, that I officially came out. By then the secrecy of my lesbianism was no longer a thrill but a cross. I felt that hiding something so significant about myself cut me off from those I loved. And I was tired of concealing my real life from my family and fed up with living a double life. It did not go as I had planned. I wandered into my mother’s bedroom in the house in which we were holidaying. She was reading a book on her bed. I sat down and said, ‘There is something I want to discuss with you.’ She put the book down and sat up, propping herself up against the pillows. I perched on the south-east corner of the bed, and said, after a long pause, ‘I think I prefer women.’ Knowing that I was referring to ‘the friend’ who accompanied me on the trip, she replied, ‘Of course you prefer women; everyone prefers women. You just can’t marry them.’
I was totally taken aback. Even more so when she added: ‘For God’s sake, don’t tell your father. It would kill him.’ Over the following months, my rather urbane father took me out for a series of lavish lunches in fashionable London restaurants, in which he cheerfully declaimed on the fact that there were all different kinds of people, with all different kinds of desires and sexualities and wasn’t that what was wonderful about the human race? After the third such lunch I finally realized what he was trying to tell me. That it was all right. He knew about my sexuality, and it was not going to kill him, contrary to my mother’s trepidation.
The legacy of this story? I would like to be able to tie it up neatly. Twenty years on, I can see that my break from sexual convention facilitated my shift into the rather nonconformist path of being a writer. Not least because becoming an outsider is the greatest gift an author can be given. My first lesbian relationship was empowering for me in other ways. I realized that it is not just men who bring the impetus for sex (or, as feminist rhetoric would have it, ‘carry the phallus’): that women freed from the weight of heterosexual conventions are just as active agents of desire. (These conventions of course have changed in recent years but it seems to me that women were freer in our time than now, before porn had made it de rigueur for women to indulge in certain sexual practices, whether they want to or not; and where slappings and stranglings are signals of ‘hot’ het sex.) It also freed me from the obligation so many straight women feel, to privilege appearing and seeming sexy over obtaining genuine pleasure, a compulsion that has only increased in recent years with the influence of the sex industry.
Sometimes, I wonder if I have been a tourist my entire life. When I migrated to Britain as a teenager, I mourned the sense of belonging, which was left behind with my island home. But once the grieving was over, I realized that my adult identity, in this new place, was inextricably tied up with being an interloper. And as with lipstick lesbianism my timing was good. In the 1980s, for perhaps the first time, outsider status had become politicized and glamorized under the rubric of identity politics. And thus one would attend conferences where people would explain proudly that they were of African origin or gay rather than be embarrassed about it, or explain that while they were white, they were Welsh, not English. To be mainstream was an insult; being on the margins was ineffably cool. And so to my surprise I found a home there on the edges. Now for me being on the inside feels uncomfortable; I feel that conformity may trap me within social mores I am not in tune with, like an insect trapped in resin.
My lesbian identity is a response to that, but also, paradoxically, it has led me to a place called home, a place buttressed by my partner and my children, my writing and my politics. Ironically of course, I have in many ways replicated a rather conventional familial structure, except with two women as heads of the household. And my days are regulated, largely as my mother’s were, by the care and love of children. And though I have found in these ordinary maternal pleasures a balance that levels out the solipsism and neurosis that is often a feature of a creative life, I realize that I remain a restless spirit. Home feels, as it does for so many women and men, at times both a place of safety and a trap.
In truth not belonging has become my belonging. It is the space that I feel most comfortable in; too much predictability makes me chafe and struggle. I remain essentially a tourist, a traveller, someone who longs for new scenarios and new challenges. I yearn for the opportunity to unmake myself and then remake myself again just to see what the pieces look like when they fall, a craving that is mercifully met, at least in part, by the vicissitudes of the writing life.
As to my sexuality, my lesbian desires did not simply replace the old heterosexual ones. Instead they layered one upon the other like turf over soil. The way that I usually explain it is that I like Thai and Indian food. In the past we would talk about bisexuality, while today we speculate on women’s sexual fluidity, their erotic plasticity. Whether one describes oneself in these more fashionable terms, or more archaic ones like heterosexual and homosexual, they do not fully capture the shifting mosaic of our longings; for what we want changes in different circumstances at different times in our lives. This paucity of language and understanding is important because what lovemaking gives us is more than just pleasure, or the pursuit of the overhyped orgasm. It is about the longing for contact, the need to be seen and validated, to climb beneath the skin, even, and counteract that existential loneliness that plagues us all.
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, ‘You can’t go home again.’ And this certainly was true for me. The woman I met a few years later, and am still with, left me breathless. As Judith Butler wrote in Undoing Gender, ‘One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to . . . but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel.’ This new love, a beautiful, accomplished and committed lesbian, who shared my political proclivities and intellectual interests, meant that I was turned for good. I could not, and did not want to, return to the heterosexual fold, despite its privileges. It was now impossible to find my way back to where I had come from, or the person I had been: and this new self, this new place, had become my home.
Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has posited that we all have double lives: the life we actually live and the one that we have renounced. I chose to jettison the more conventional heterosexual life that I could have lived, in favour of the lesbian life that I now lead, despite the ambiguity of my desire. And like everyone else who contemplates the road not travelled, I am sometimes haunted by that decision, and mournful. But it was the right one; I took the path that I could least bear to relinquish.
As to the pleasures of the life that I have chosen: I come back again and again to the writer Colette, a woman whose writing career was hijacked by her first, and much older, husband who published her work under his name, until she escaped into a lesbian relationship with an aristocratic older woman. She never returned to her bourgeois existence, and became the champion of adventurous women. Her slim volume, The Pure and the Impure, remains the most lyrical and sophisticated book on sexuality I know. She had this to say about lesbian relationships:
‘Perhaps this love, which according to some people is outrageous, escapes the changing seasons and the wanings of love by being controlled with an invisible severity, nourished on very little, permitted to live gropingly and without a goal, its unique flower being a mutual trust such as that other love can never plumb or comprehend, but only envy; and so great is such a love that by its grace a half century can pass by like a day of ‘exquisite and delicious retirement’.’
Artwork © Macarena Yañez