Written by Ann Hoelscher, March 19, 2011
The New York Times recently (March 17th, 2011) put out an article by Tamar Lewin entitled “Study Undercuts View of College as a Place of Same-Sex Experimentation”, which addresses the common stereotype/belief in the existence of the Lesbian Until Graduation, or LUG.
(You can see the entire article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/18/education/18sex.html?_r=1).
If you’re queer identified/interested in queer politics/not living under a cultural rock (just kidding!), you’ve probably heard the term. But according to the New York Times, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (a weird group to do this, in my opinion) studying data from 2006-2008 says that,
…based on 13,500 responses, almost 10 percent of women ages 22 to 44 with a bachelor’s degree said they had had a same-sex experience, compared with 15 percent of those with no high school diploma. Women with a high school diploma or some college, but no degree, fell in between. Six percent of college-educated women reported oral sex with a same-sex partner, compared with 13 percent who did not complete high school.
This sort of data would lead the average person (or at least me?) to think that maybe the amount of “practicing” queer women, or at least women who were experimenting and interested in their own sexuality, has become more openly common. An interesting thing to note, though:
Although 13 percent of women over all reported same-sex sexual behavior only one percent identified themselves as gay, and another 4 percent as bisexual. To get accurate answers to intimate questions, the researchers asked those surveyed to enter their responses directly into a computer.
I think, first of all, that I have 2 main questions for the authors of the study, although they may not be issues with the study itself as the issue of the article I read. Here goes:
1)What is a “same-sex experience?” Does a massage count as an experience? Kissing when drunk? I feel like I need some sort of clarification here.
2) Are we talking about cis-gendered women, or everyone who identifies as a woman? Were there other gender possibilities offered other than just “male” and “female”? Did both genders assert that they identified as “women”?
3) Does it say who the people who identify as “gay” or “bisexual” are out to? Is it only everyone or does being out to some people count as well?
Obviously in a study like this, there are going to be a million complicating factors regarding why certain people are out, whether or not there was pressure to have a same-gendered sexual experience, etc., which is basically why the article doesn’t even bother coming to its own serious conclusions about the issue (a wise move, in my opinion). That being said, I think the most interesting part of this article is the commentary included by Lewin regarding the study, where several people were consulted to try and suss out analysis and conclusive results from the data.
Comment #1 that made me hit my head against the wall:
‘I always thought the LUG phenomenon was overblown, in the context of it being erotically titillating for young men,” said Barbara Risman, an officer of the Council on Contemporary Families and a University of Illinois at Chicago sociology professor. She added that the new findings may reflect class dynamics, with high school dropouts living in surroundings with few desirable and available male partners.’
I’m not sure where to start on this one, actually, which means I guess I have to jump right in.
This perception of “it” (which seems to suggest women being sexually involved with other women) being “erotically titillating for young men” has never made any sense to me whatsoever. I used to always ask my straight, cis-gendered male friends about this, and I think it was my ex-boyfriend who used the DoubleMint trope to explain it:
“Double your flavor, double your fun!” Personally, I would think it would be doubly a bummer/fairly threatening to your sexual ego to watch two people who you are sexually interested in directing all of their attention AWAY from you rather than TO you. If the women in question are actually lesbians, chances are pretty astronomically high that they are not interested in you, and will be offended/disturbed by your ignorance when you think you can “change their minds” or “turn them straight”…So I guess that’s a question I still don’t have answered, and I don’t think I ever will. And I don’t think that perpetuating this idea is particularly helpful, either.
Secondly, and correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the implication behind Risman’s argument is that queer women who don’t go to college are unrecognized and unrepresentative of Lesbianism with a capital L because they are only sleeping with women out of desperation and a lack of worthwhile male sex-partners.
Excuse me? Am I the only person who sees something horrifically wrong with this idea? If you ever hear anyone try to defend the fair representation of “high-school dropout” queers (aka non-white, not-college educated/rich queer ladies), punch them in the face with this little ditty and they will surely back down.
As much as this makes me furious, Lewin follows this comment with another perspective from “Amber Hollibaugh, interim executive director of Queers for Economic Justice, a New York-based advocacy group, [who] said the results of the federal survey underscored how poor, minority and working-class lesbians had been overshadowed by the mainstream cultural image of lesbians as white professionals.” This was the thing that jumped automatically to my mind upon reading Risman’s comments, because let’s be honest, you don’t need to watch all 5 seasons of The L Word to know that any kind of non-white non-rich person is pretty much not even considered in terms of media portrayal outside of niche group programming/consumption. I guess I don’t really have much else to say about this, except that the statement by Risman seems to be just one more example of how unfortunately spot-on Hollibaugh’s commentary is.
I guess in an attempt to name drop, Dan Savage, who is often identified with having strong queer politics, is also quoted in the article:
Dan Savage, a gay sex columnist in Seattle, said the LUG phenomenon may be overrepresented in the national imagination because so many students sought attention for their sexual exploration: ‘A lot of them are out to prove something and want their effort to smash the patriarchy to be very visible,’ he said.
Okay, so, does this mean that anyone who is bi-curious (assuming that they don’t identify with any sexual orientation that is interested in women) is automatically trying to make a political statement? Whatever happened to sexual exploration as an attempt to better know oneself? I thought that was how a lot of us ended up as queers in the first place. And why shouldn’t that sexual experimentation be visible? Just because it’s visible doesn’t mean that the participants are trying actively to make a statement for the greater good of all womankind. Furthermore, I think that to insist on a closeted manner of sexual exploration is an exhaustingly conservative message, and I’m actually pretty surprised that Dan Savage would even imply anything close to that.
The last line of the article is the most irritating to me, though, if not the most blatently offensive, as any good journalist knows that endings are privileged and should therefore be chosen pretty carefully. Therefore, shame on you, Lewin. Shame. Anyways, it goes a little something like this:
‘It’s becoming more acceptable, at least in some parts of society, to see your gender identity as fluid,’ said Joan Westreich, a Manhattan therapist. ‘I see women whose first loves were women, who then meet and fall in love with a guy, and for whom it seems to be relatively conflict-free.’
Please, please, and please some more—if you are going to be counseling people on their identities and their lives, learn to at least identify what’s actually going on in their lives. Just because someone is not a heterosexual does not mean they are confused about their gender identity, and conversely, just because they are confused about their gender identity does not mean that they are in any way questioning to whom they are attracted. GENDER IDENTITY DOES NOT EQUAL SEXUAL ORIENTATION.
Also, having relationships or feelings for different gendered people does NOT necessarily mean there will be conflicts, so do me a favor and don’t imply that anyone who identifies as attracted to multiple genders is going to have a “conflict”-ridden relationship anymore that anyone else. I think that you can find people who have “relatively conflict-free” relationships in any gendered set-up, for the record.
Finally, as I don’t think it helps to re-iterate the same commentary over and over, I seriously suggest checking out the well-written analysis written by Rachel K on Autostraddle, entitled, “The Lesbian Until Graduation: Now a New York Times Most Emailed Article!”, for some more critical considerations of the study/the article. I did, and I found it to be a thought-provoking perspective. Good job, Rachel and Autostraddle! Check it out if you get a chance.