If the lipstick lesbian was the gay icon of the nineties, these days she’s been replaced by her more controversial counterpart, the hasbian: a woman who used to date women but now dates men. Though Anne Heche is the most prominent example, many hasbians (sometimes called LUGS: lesbians until graduation) are by-products of nineties liberal-arts educations. Caught up in the gay scene at school, they came out at 20 or 21 and now, five or ten years later, are finding themselves in the odd position of coming out all over again—as heterosexuals.
Some hasbians identify as bisexual, while others say they’re straight and describe their lesbianism as a meaningful but finite phase of their lives, like listening to a lot of Morrissey or campaigning for Dukakis. But all say they have had to pay a price, feeling a need to keep their past lives secret from new boyfriends while facing judgment from their closest friends. Patty, a 27-year-old stockbroker, came out during college but for the past six months has been seeing a guy. She says she was so consumed with coming out that she never gave men a fair shot. Sex with her boyfriend is “tender,” she says, if less adventurous than with her girlfriend. Then there are the obvious differences. “With a man, orgasm is the goal. With women, you’re not as focused on it and it’s less of a race to get there. If a man doesn’t come, his ego is deflated, whereas with a woman, that’s not a factor. It’s more mix and match.”
Though she loves her boyfriend, it’s been hard integrating her two circles. “I have two very good friends who are brother and sister,” she says, “and they’re both gay. They say, ‘When are you going to come back?’ I was at a party with my boyfriend and one of my friends said, ‘Hey, you big dyke.’ ”
Then there was that delicate issue of telling her parents. “After I came out, my mother kept hinting about guys I could date, and I’d say, ‘Mom, that’s not what I’m doing.’ Then I did start dating men, and she said, ‘I knew you’d come back around.’ I haven’t talked to her about the fact that my attraction to women is still a part of who I am, that I’m bisexual.”
Some women reject the term bisexual. Katrina, 34, an actress, had a five-year-relationship with a woman but now dates men. “After my relationship, I would say I’m bisexual,” she says, “and a lot of women were turned off to me because they don’t trust bisexuals. And guys might want to be with one for a night, but they would never marry one. So bisexual girls lose.”
Deidre Sullivan, a comedian and writer, thinks the tension between lesbians and former lesbians is understandable: “Lesbians who live in the lesbian ghetto and hang out in lesbian bars named after dog food and cat food, dreaming of the hot transit worker at the end of the bar, are myopic and suspicious. The hasbian is very threatening because she crosses in and out of a sacred space. People fought so hard for the right to congregate in gay bars and to express their love openly, and now the interloper comes along.”
Linda, 40, a mental-health professional, experienced this antipathy firsthand. A model during the eighties, she had been surrounded by gay men at work but says she never thought she could be attracted to women—until she met her girlfriend. She thinks there are two kinds of bisexuals—those for whom gender is not a factor (the category she puts herself into) and those who avoid intimacy by shuttling between the sexes.
Though she and her girlfriend were together for seven years, her girlfriend had fears right from the beginning. “She always said that dating me was like holding her breath. And her friends told her I couldn’t possibly be good for her because if I had had any interest in men, I would again.”
When they broke up, for mutual reasons, she dated another woman, but once she met a man, “I was completely ostracized. They said I was polluting the community because I was exposing myself to HIV through having sex with men.”
Jennifer Sharpe, 33, a graphic designer, says it’s easier when she hears an ex-girlfriend is now dating men. “If she were dating women, I would nut out and do a blow-by-blow comparison between the new girlfriend and me, whereas with a man, it’s a big blank spot. I can’t do the blow-by-blow analysis.”
Sharpe thinks some women who switch from dating women to men may be thinking about motherhood. “When you’re in your early twenties, maybe you want to have kids, but it’s more abstract. I don’t think a hasbian would be with a man just to have kids, but if she fell in love with a man, it would be easy to marry him. It’s complicated to have kids if you’re in a lesbian relationship—the whole question of the father and who carries the baby and what happens if you break up.”
If there are more hasbians today than ten years ago, Sharpe thinks, it may have to do with the excitement of the gay-positive early nineties. “The aesthetic of gay politics was really cool. There was that whole act up thing, and it was easy to be gay. You had k.d. lang on the cover of Vanity Fair with Cindy Crawford, and there were all these lesbian movies like Go Fish. The gay community felt more exciting back then, and there was something alluring about entering into that scene.”
“It’s like a junior year abroad to Gay World,” says Sullivan. “Lots of girls at Brown, Berkeley, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Yale go there but don’t stay there. For lesbians over 45, sexuality wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t popular to come out. It was pre-Madonna and pre–Sandra Bernhard.”
Even in today’s more gay-positive society, some hasbians still have trouble being forthcoming with their new boyfriends. “I haven’t told him I’m bisexual,” Patty admits. “I told him I wanted to see Frida, and he said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ I said, ‘She was this artist, she was bisexual,’ then I waited awhile and said, ‘I’ve been with women.’ He said, ‘I guess it was in college and you were experimenting?’ And I didn’t really continue with the subject. I don’t want him to think I’d leave him for a woman. It’s so foreign to him that it would take a lot of explaining.”