It’s a conventional tale, but has characteristics that make it spicy: after divorce, the middle-age protagonist launches a grand experiment to elevate her desire for sex—unhinged from love, or even monogamy—from the disgrace of sluthood assigned to women; into the respectability of bachelorhood granted to men.
“What happens when a forty-four year old woman, decides to make sense of a divorce, recalibrate her heart, and sets out to find sexual satisfaction without falling in love?”
It’s a true story, one that has no doubt been lived many times, by many women. Such a path is not common, but it’s also neither unique nor groundbreaking. Yet, because of the bias that follows women who stretch toward a lifestyle outside of partnership; because of the unequivocal hierarchy that we attach to long-term monogamy; the stories of those women’s lives, and the relationships that are developed, have been at best marginalized, but more often, they are demonized.
“What would happen if a woman told every man she dated, that she didn’t want a boyfriend; and she didn’t want a husband; and she didn’t even want a one-night stand?”
Those were the questions I wanted answers to. It was not the first time in my life I had strayed from the parameters my culture assigned to female sexuality. I had come out as a lesbian in 1976, when I fell in love with my high school girlfriend. I lived the first fifteen years of my adult life as a lesbian, and I had a married-like partnership for the last ten of those. It was not easy to be a lesbian back in the beginning, but it was possible; with courage and community, women dismantled the proverbial closet board-by-board, and nail-by-nail.
When I was thirty-three, I fell in love with a man. I knew there would be consequences for merging into the mainstream, so I found a new closet to bide my time, until I once again had the guts to own the facts of my life and honor my heart. When I came out, many in my extended family of same-sex activists were horrified by what they understood to be betrayal, just as I had expected. No matter that I had served on the frontlines of gay liberation for years. At best I was tolerated for my transgression; at worst I was ostracized. I was confused by my social identity, but not by my heart; sure I was in love with a man, but did that make me straight?
“What would happen if a woman could have sex; without lying, without cheating; without shame?”
I wrote a book about courage, but not until I solidified my status as a female bachelor; not until I left a career in business where perceptions always matter; not until age graced me with the wisdom to know that judgments opposed to my lifestyle said more about the jury than they did about me. The book is particular to my life, but the journey described is universal: look fear in the face; over-ride self-doubt; stand above the distraction of critics; and live your passion.
The book goes on sale next month, and from the beginning, I wanted a piece of the profit to benefit young people in pursuit of their passions. Higher education was the category I picked, having had my own life-changing entrance to college funded by the enlightened legislation of the Federal Pell Grant Program. Access to education is political when marginalized groups are left out because of income or discrimination.
Donating funds from the sale of my story to benefit young adults mapping out their own courageous plans was the perfect synergistic match, and so I picked a scholarship fund that was founded more than twenty years ago specifically to compensate for discrimination aimed at lesbian and gay students.
Only, I hit a hurdle with the scholarship fund I chose to receive my donation, and my proposal was respectfully declined. My book on courage speaks too frankly about sex. Sex spells risk. After twenty years, the scholarship administrators are experienced with risk. Sex—partnered with students—will offend some donors, and will also prevent some educational institutions from advertising the opportunity to apply. And with that, this venerable fund that was founded to compensate for discrimination against queer youth, has little choice but to reject public affiliation with a life story that—ironically—describes one woman’s struggle to overcome discrimination.
“Did I want to dance? Of course I wanted to dance and that’s not all.” —Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
I wrote a book that describes the self-doubt, the social ostracism, and the balls out courage necessary to stand one’s ground when faced with the facts of a life that cannot be folded neatly into social convention. Written forty years after Erica Jong published Fear of Flying, The Bachelor Chapters is also a story that spotlights social change and social stigma. I did not write this book for my own self-aggrandizement; the story is often unflattering and conflicted because it is so bloody honest. I called upon courage and audacity to write about my life because I recognized that my experiences had a larger purpose: that my obligation is to brighten the path for the young women and men behind me.
When you buy my book next month, you will partner with me, because I’m not abandoning my plan to donate ten percent of the profit. Why would I? There won’t be the publicity I had hoped for, but after this episode, I’m even more convinced that proceeds should benefit the next generation. Together, you and I will fund access to higher education. Thanks for your support. So many young people need us. Now, enough with the bullshit. Let’s dance. And that’s not all.