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Adultery * Worknotes * What? * Healthnotes * Just The Facts

Outside The Box

BY Blanche McCrary Boyd
Sexual Republican
BY Jennifer Belle
Sleeping Arrangements
BY Jaishri Abichandani
Subversive Desire
BY bell hooks



>>adultery is not a problem for lesbians since we don't have sex. As recent events conclusively demonstrate, a sexual relationship involves vaginal penetration by a penis. I am so relieved, and so is my mother. It was just, these last 30 years, fooling around. What constitutes sex has always been a messy business. Jimmy Carter had lust in his heart, Clinton had orgasms in the wrong orifice, and I don't have a dick. In high school, first base was kissing, second was breasts, third was hand-genital contact, and the home run was It. Masturbation, well, no one talked about masturbation. One of the most revealing aspects of the national sex opera has been the glib way "phone sex" became current. What, exactly, is phone sex? Would it fit? Phone sex is masturbation, of course, but Ken Starr can't accuse Clinton of jerking off while talking on the phone because if jerking off is sex, even Ken Starr starts to look guilty. He may not be, in those morning walks down by the river, reading psalms.

From a lesbian perspective, adultery is like a right-handed school desk: it doesn't quite fit. Adultery is a legal concept, not a moral one, and an offshoot of marriage, which is a contract. Since lesbians can't get married, no adultery! But O.K., let's make that desk fit. Although the legal aspects of nonmarriage matter greatly if you're gay --around, for instance, issues like parenting, property, power of attorney --we'll focus on the emotional component: trust, promises, betrayal.

Because gay people are left-handers in a right-handed world, we have the opportunity to rethink assumptions. We are outside the box, so to speak,and our commitments may or may not resemble heterosexual marriages. I know three men who have been happily "married" to each other for many years, and several lesbian couples for whom sexual fidelity is not a requirement.

Lesbians, unencumbered by the fear of unwanted pregnancy, more easily discover
that the defining moment of sex
is not a man's ejaculation.

Lesbians, unencumbered by the fear of unwanted pregnancy, more easily discover that the defining moment of sex is not a man's ejaculation. Sex is not an act but a state: one's physiology changes, one's consciousness alters. Consequently, the facts of sexual interaction often sound bizarre or shabby; another person's desires can be difficult to identify with. As Yeats wrote, "Love has pitched his mansion in/The place of excrement." I would assume that most people have done something at least as racy as Bill Clinton's game with his cigar. If not, get busy. Sex expresses a great range of intents: from exquisite love to vicious violation, from appetites satisfied like hunger to fantasies enacted or reenacted.

The sexual impulse can be amoral and ferocious; it is powerful enough, literally, to create other people. In a condition of full-blown lust, judgment may get suspended or, as the president's woes illustrate, utterly lost. I offer my students this fruit born of my own woes: be careful who you go to bed with. You might bond with somebody you don't even like.

Sex and love may not be synonymous, but they are painfully entangled, as anyone gored by betrayal will report.

During the early seventies, while radical lesbians were busy smashing monogamy, my first woman lover asked me what I thought about jealousy. I don't know, I said, never felt it, only to find out a few hours later that she had made this inquiry in front of another woman she'd been having sex with. Fooling around with. Making love with. Fucking. Jesus, was I mad. This was such a primitive, howling rage that I socked a plaster wall and injured my hand. So much for theory.

Sexual betrayal can cause fury and guilt and sorrow, but sexual commitment is like promising to drive a certain car for the rest of your life; even a Rolls or a Ferrari would get tiresome, and it's so easy to rent a Mustang when you're out of town. What's a grown-up to do?

I would assume that most people have done something at least as racy as Bill Clinton's game with his cigar.
If not, get busy.

Lying is one option. Or at least minimizing, and keeping the details out of the injured party's knowledge. My idea of a sane marriage is that two people promise to stick with each other no matter what, and of course that would include "adultery." Since I am thin-skinned and bestial in these matters, I hope my partner remains faithful; if not, please don't feel the need to share. Leslie's idea of commitment is different: she wants honesty from me, so I will do my best with fidelity, partly because I have been around the block more than a few times, but mostly because I want to be trustworthy.

Perhaps Hillary Clinton stays with her husband for the same reason that Lillian Hellman stayed with Dashiell Hammett and I would stay with Leslie no matter what she did. In adult relationships, commitment is a working fact, not a question. That doesn't mean Hillary wants to know about the cigar or Monica's orgasms, or that she doesn't find it dreadful having every detail about her husband's affair aired and printed.

Clinton's public undressing has, however, done us all an immense good, at least in the long run. He is the first president to recognize, albeit clumsily, gay people. When Maya Angelou, in the inaugural poem, listed homosexuals in her catalog of Americans, I surprised myself by crying. Until that moment I hadn't acknowledged how dispossessed as a citizen I'd felt; gay people are the only group whose civil rights are still openly debated. I believe gay people are threatening, not because we're homosexual, but because we're sexual at all. Heterosexuals cloak desire in state-sanctioned, church-sanctioned unions. Underneath lies a rotten layer of secrecy, hypocrisy, repression. In many states, laws remain on the books that forbid sodomy. Although no one seems quite clear about what sodomy actually is, it can apparently be construed to include not only homosexual acts but oral and anal sex between married folks. We're a nation of shame. Part of Clinton's legacy will be that he's brought sex out of the closet.

Blanche McCrary Boyd is a professor of English at Connecticut College. Her most recent book is "Terminal Velocity." Her book "The Revolution of Little Girls" won a Lambda award for best lesbian writing in 1992. She also authored "The Redneck Way of Knowledge: Down Home Tales." All are published by Vintage.