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February 06, 2003

Free Reads -- Amy Sohn on Hasbians

Friedrich --

I knew lesbians were chic five minutes ago, and I'd heard of LUGs (lesbians until graduation), and I've certainly registered that for a certain class of kids sexual identity seems to have become a mix-and-match thing. But I hadn't yet heard of "hasbians" -- gals who were once with gals who are now with men. Been there, done that, now doing something else. Amy Sohn tells us more in New York magazine, here.

Sample passage:

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.”

Hey, weren't the early and mid-'70s, when we were in college, also very gay-friendly? And weren't a fair number of girls messing around with other girls back then? Not that anyone these days wants to hear about it. Once again, we're the Generation No One Took Note Of.

Crushed by the passage of time,


UPDATE: Jim Miller has a posting on the "hasbians" phenom here.

posted by Michael at February 6, 2003


This reminds me of an old joke.

Q: What do you call a bisexual man?
A: Gay.
Q: What do you call a bisexual woman?
A: In college.

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on February 7, 2003 11:49 AM

That's hilarious, hadn't heard that one before. Funny how this girls-making-it-with-girls thing goes in waves. I read somewhere about how the latest teen thing is girls making out with girls -- although as the girls themselves were pointing out, it's not about leching for women, heaven forbid, it's about turning on the guys who are watching.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2003 12:02 PM

Well, that kind of trivializes the experiences of women who may have been serious. When I was in art school, it was fine for the boys to go out and do that kind of thing, but it was still seen as kind of icky for girls. I lived in a dorm suite with 7 other girls, and two were linked. Some of the others were afraid to walk around in their nightgowns. Hmph. Perhaps it's a cool thing now, but it wasn't in the late 70's and early 80's. Perhaps that's why we're still the generation No One Took Note Of.

Posted by: Alexandra on February 7, 2003 12:05 PM

Sexuality seems to be more flexible for women that for men. When I was only about 13 I knew this girl who was about the same age who seemed interested in experimenting. I'm from a very conservative family so I was completely grossed out at the very idea, but years and years later after same-sex relationships had become more acceptable I started to regret passing up the chance. Hey... we were 13. Why not. We would have had a little fun and still would have grown up to marry men.

Posted by: Lynn on February 7, 2003 12:19 PM

In my own post on this article:,
I noted a significant point, that studies show that most lesbians and homsexuals have sexual contact with the opposite sex some time during their lives. So, "hasbians" are the rule and exclusive lesbians are the exception.

Posted by: Jim Miller on February 7, 2003 12:44 PM

This kind of experimenting-with-it behavior seems much more common among some classes of women (college-going and urban, especially) than among others. Does anyone know if any studies confirm this? If there's proof for it, the question comes up: why? Is it the kind of woman who goes to certain kinds of colleges? Is it the education they're likely to get at certain colleges? A combo of both? And more? I have my hunches, but it'd be completely irresponsible of me to ...

Well, ok, since you insist.

*As Lynn says, sexuality seems much more fluid and indefinite a thing for women than it does for men.

*The kinds of girls who wind up at certain kinds of fancy colleges are often mixed-up, neurotic, vain and self-absorbed -- even more so than the typical adolescent. And "entitled" too, which may mean that they feel entitled to act out and find themselves terribly fascinating. They're often also somewhat disconnected from their bodies, hence the frequency of "eating disorders" at the fancy schools. Maybe this contributes an element of confusion and self-absorption to the picture too. Many of these girls simply can't stand to be uninteresting. Of course, if it turns out that girls at Ole Miss are as likely to do some experimenting as girls at Smith, this whole paragraph can be junked.

*The kind of teaching that's encountered at many fancy colleges is very lefty-radical, which can lead impressionable kids into thinking there's something politically wrong with straight sex and (forgive the word) normal desires. In fact, the goal of education at fancy schools often seems to be to disconnect kids from their common sense and direct responses, which can send them spinning off into a gravity-less mental space where anything seems possible. I'll just come right out and say it, even though I'm thinking back a zillion years to my own experience: there's a kind of PC-gay-radical agenda behind much of the teaching that goes on in the liberal arts at fancy colleges.

*I have a larger, almost completely-unformed theory that as we abstract ourselves (via technology and thought and behavior patterns) farther and farther away from basic and primal things, people's sexualities seem to get affected. For example, young urban media and art men these days seem to me to have no definition at all -- they're like larvae, kind of unformed. They aren't gay (sometimes), but they don't seem to know how to be straight either. Maybe the Hasbians phenom is part of this "we're leading virtual lives and so uncouple from our own baser instincts and desires" thing that I think I notice.

* Maybe a lot of it is just faddish, harmless acting-out. Fun misbehavior, with a sexy soundtrack. Who wants to be a boring ole squaresville person? When you settle down, maybe you want to have some naughty memories to retain. But the Amy Sohn article seemed to be discussing young women who took their girl-girl adventures much more seriously than that. Of course, many women (especially young urban women) take virtually anything having to do with their emotional and romantic lives awfully seriously. Can we pronounce the word "self-dramatizing"?

No disrespect meant, of course. Well, come to think of it, given that I'm on a small private crusade against the way Americans generally take adolescence (its ups and downs, its travails, its values, etc) too seriously, I take that back. Disrespect entirely meant.

Anybody else have any theories about this phenomenon?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 7, 2003 4:01 PM

It's interesting that such a significant, or, presumably significant element as sexual orientation would shift over time. I'm not aware of people's sexual "tastes" shifting that much. Do "breast men" suddenly change into "leg men" at a certain age? Does an interest in sadomasochism come and go? So how are these things different than sexual orientation?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 9, 2003 8:52 PM

In my college years, 1970-74, it was not fashionable to be gay. Anybody who was out was serious about it. A few years later, lesbianism became fashionable in feminist circles, and many girls who went along with it but then got bored or met the right guy or graduated from college. The women's colleges attract a lot of lesbian students, which creates a gay-normal atmosphere. Girls who don't want to deal with lesbians go elsewhere.

I recently read a book about Harvard anti-war protest which features a young Barney Frank as a university spokesman. Apparently, even Frank, then in his early 20s I think, wasn't out in the late '60s.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs on February 9, 2003 10:19 PM

Jim Miller -- surely you can see that your conclusion simply doesn't follow. Hasbians are women who used to be lesbian and aren't any more. That's not the same as lesbians who have, at some point, had sex with a man.

Michael -- when I read your comment, especially the bit about how "young urban media and art men these days seem to me to have no definition at all -- they're like larvae, kind of unformed. They aren't gay (sometimes), but they don't seem to know how to be straight either" I immediately thought of this piece, which ties sexuality in with language. Here's an excerpt:

But Leap said some straight people are already "fluent" in the lavender language.

He said one of his straight students realized that his vocabulary was the reason homosexual men seemed so attracted to him.

"His mother is an artist in New York, and he grew with a whole bunch of 'uncles,' all of whom were gay," Leap said. "He said he thinks he learned to talk with them. So, he uses this [homosexual] rhetoric that prompts people to turn around and say, 'This must be a gay man.'"
Maybe you're just hanging out with a lot of gay-friendly New Yorkers, who have a lot of gay friends, who speak the gay language (literally), and who therefore seem to you incapable of being straight. Of course, that's a good thing, not a bad thing, for reasons I'd be happy to expound upon if you take issue with my assertion.

Posted by: Felix on February 10, 2003 12:46 PM

Michael - I spent my formative years ping-ponging between the north and South, and it seems to me that "girls at Ole Miss are as likely to do some experimenting as girls at Smith," but they Ole Miss gals will keep their mouths shut. To me, the great cultural difference between the north (really the upper East Coast) and the rest of the country is that those people are not clear on the concept of private lives, and they tend to be not very good at figuring out that people might be doing something on the sly. This is why Cheever and Updike are so unappealing to the rest of the world.

Don't know where Alexandra went to school, but if that was her experience, I'll bet the leading bitches in her dorm were responsible for the attitude.

Posted by: j.c. on February 10, 2003 12:51 PM

Basically I think that hasbians were just closet bisexuals. Now bisexuality is more acceptable and cooler, it's ok for women to explore their attraction to men as well. I'm basically lesbian, and don't think that people can suddenly switch from being gay to straight or straight to gay - a lot of people are bi, and hasbians are bi's. Same for straight women who leave their husbands after 20 years of marriage, bi's.

Posted by: mickuk on June 5, 2004 12:04 PM

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