Photo: Catherine Ledner
At the Sky Sport & Spa in Beverly Hills, Jackie Warner takes a break in her office between training sessions. Even at rest, the 40-year-old openly lesbian star of Bravo's reality show Work Out is charged with energy. Wearing a tight-fitting white T-shirt that shows off her defined arm muscles and sinewy body, she doesn't make small talk. And when she sits briefly for a conversation, she looks straight at me in a way that indicates she wants to get right down to business, while her mind races ahead to the 20 other items she's got at hand.
In early 2007 she got particularly close to one of the trainers she worked with on the show, Rebecca Cardon, 33. Cardon was straight and had a boyfriend, but when he left town for a couple of weeks she started spending a lot of time with Warner, and the two became inseparable. "Even after he came back, I preferred spending my time with her. I was like a starving animal," says Cardon, describing her hunger for connection. "I never had that with men. Jackie's intelligent, articulate, deep, fun, open-minded. We talked for hours. "This woman is my soul mate," I thought. "She gets me." I told her my darkest secrets, and she told me hers. We were very there for each other."
When sex came up, Cardon was hesitant at first. "I was scared about being that intimate and felt like a 12-year-old, very nervous," she says. "But afterward I thought, "Oh my God, this feels completely normal and not wrong." The experience opened up my world and made me see how stuck I'd been." After three months, the two women drifted apart, although they remain good friends, and Cardon returned to dating men.
Meanwhile, with the show having completed its third season, Warner finds herself an unusual pinup girl. She gets hundreds of love letters and e-mails from straight women all over America (some posted on her website), and the refrains are similar: "I'm married. I have never been attracted to another woman, but I have a huge crush on you." One entry in a social network group reads, "If Jackie hit on me, I'd definitely reconsider my sexuality." Other women offer to fly out and spring for her ($200 an hour) personal training sessions, hinting they'd like to have sex with her.
"Many of them are in the second part of their lives, their kids are grown, they're still in their sexual prime, and now they're looking to expand and have excitement," says Warner of her fans. "Also, these women are attracted to the masculinity in me. I'm physically strong. I succeed in business, and they see my confidence."
Ironically—or not, as some might argue—it is certain "masculine" qualities that draw many straight-labeled women to female partners; that, in combination with emotional connection, intimacy, and intensity. This was definitely true for Gomez-Barris, whose partner, Judith Halberstam, 47, (above right, with Gomez-Barris, left) says she has never felt "female." Growing up in England as a tomboy who had short hair and refused to wear dresses, Halberstam says people were often unable to figure out whether she was a boy or a girl: "I was a source of embarrassment for my family." As a teenager, she was an avid soccer player—not that she was allowed on any team. And her 13th birthday request for a punching bag and boxing gloves was met with the demand to pick something more feminine. "Throughout my youth," she says, "I felt rage at the shrinking of my world." Halberstam channeled her anger into a distinguished academic career and authored several provocative books, including, in 1998, Female Masculinity. It was during the past few years that she started calling herself Jack and answering to both "he" and "she."
"Men can't understand why I want to be with Jack, a lesbian, when I could be with a biological man," says Gomez-Barris. "And at first I thought it would be threatening, but I have a rebellious spirit. He's powerful, accomplished, and appealing. And in some ways, the experience is better than in heterosexual sex. Sex with most men is phallic-centered and revolves around intercourse, and that can be limiting and unsatisfying."
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