Have you ever had a "girl crush"? Straight women seem to be declaring their attractions to other women more often—and some are even leaving their husbands and boyfriends after falling in love with other women.
As O, The Oprah Magazine reports in its April 2009 issue, female sexuality is a little more complicated than previously thought.
One object of many straight women's affections is fitness trainer Jackie Warner, star of the Bravo reality series Work Out. The New York Times has called her a "hot ticket for housewives," and straight women are tuning in to check out the buff lesbian owner of a trendy Beverly Hills gym. Fans are glued to the ups and downs of Jackie's flings and relationships, including a steamy one with a straight trainer named Rebecca.
Since the show debuted, Jackie says she's heard from thousands of women who say they have girl crushes on her. "I was in Mexico having dinner, and a woman in her mid-30s came up to me crying and shaking and told me that she was in love with me, literally. And then pointed out her husband and her two teenage daughters and says: 'Oh, he knows about it. It's fine,'" Jackie says. "So that's kind of what I get. The acceptance of the husband, it, I think, gives them permission to explore being attracted to me."
But this isn't new for Jackie—she says straight women have always liked her. "I have to think because I sort of am [on] the cusp there. I have the right balance of masculinity and femininity that is appealing to straight women."
Rebecca, a trainer at Jackie's gym, is another straight woman who has admitted her girl crush for Jackie—and went for it. On the show, viewers watched Rebecca have her first lesbian affair with Jackie. "I met Jackie and her charisma and her energy and her just sense of optimism—everything—it just blew me over," she says. "And I was in a relationship where I was getting nothing I needed, and Jackie just came along and filled every void that I had."
Rebecca says she couldn't get enough of Jackie. "She just consumed my thoughts. It was, like: 'What is happening? I am a straight woman. I like the man,'" she says. "But I'm realizing, as I have experienced, there's a little more push and pull as we get older."
Although their relationship has since ended, Jackie and Rebecca continue to work together and are still friends. Rebecca also has a new boyfriend. "I'm in a committed relationship, and I have been for a year," she says. "But I will say since this affair or however you want to term it, it's opened my eyes up and I'm a little bit different. Like I look at women differently, and I am more open to it."
In 2006, we met Chris and her husband, Joe, a couple who seemed to have it all—including two boys. Then, five years into their marriage, Chris says something inside her changed. "Oprah would call it an 'aha! moment,'" she says. "I had an 'Oh no! moment.'"
Chris—a picture-perfect wife and mother—realized she was a lesbian. Joe and Chris tried to make their marriage work, but eventually, they divorced.
Joe says he was supportive of Chris because he loved her...and because he was also gay! Four years after his divorce, Joe followed Chris' footsteps and came out of the closet.
After her divorce, Chris started dating Libby, a woman she had been friends with for years. They eventually became life partners.
Just two years after appearing on the show, Libby and Chris split. "She was the one," Chris says. "It came to an end, and that's all right. And hopefully we can be friends in the future."
After the breakup, Chris dated a man for a time. Still, she does not want to label herself as gay or bisexual. "If I'm capable of having intimacy with a man, then that means probably that I'm not gay," she says. "However, when it comes to relationships and where I'm most comfortable, I prefer to be with women."
Dr. Lisa Diamond, author of Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire, says women like Chris and Rebecca are far from unusual. "A lot of people think fluidity means choice. That's not true," Dr. Diamond says. "As we've heard here, a lot of these women never expected to feel what they felt. It was not a conscious decision. It was something they experienced happening to them."
Although it's difficult to define sexuality, Dr. Diamond says it can be measured in a spectrum called the Kinsey Scale, which ranges from 0 to 6. If you score 0, you're only interested in members of the opposite sex. If you score 6, you're only interested in people of the same sex. "For women, those categories in between— 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—are actually more common," Dr. Diamond says.
Women may not be able to choose which gender they're more attracted to, but Dr. Diamond says they can make a choice about the person. "For many women, the question they're asking themselves is, 'Am I gay or am I not?'" Dr. Diamond says. "Another question they might consider asking is: 'Who do I feel close to? What kind of intimacy do I want in my life, and where do I get that intimacy?'"
Micki had three beautiful daughters, a happy 24-year-long marriage and a home in the suburbs. But underneath it all, she says she secretly believed she could be gay. It was a feeling Micki says she'd had since college. "There was this really beautiful woman who wanted to be friends with me," she says. "But she made me so nervous, I couldn't even think when she'd come around. I didn't usually get that way."
As the years passed, Micki says she felt the same way about other women—and even told her husband about it. "[It was] like you couldn't take your eyes off of them," Micki says. "The same way men feel when they look at women."
Micki says her daughters teased her about being gay, but one exchange took a serious turn. While working on a school project, Micki says her daughter Taylor, then 12, had trouble with her computer password. "She goes, 'I know your password, Mom, and I'm going to get on with yours.' And I said, 'Oh, so what's my password?' And she goes, 'Lesbian,'" Micki says.
Micki asked Taylor why she would say that. "She got eyeball to eyeball with me and she said, 'Do you really want me to answer that?' My heart started racing again and I said, 'Yeah,'" Micki says. "And she said, 'Because if it wasn't for [your daughters], you would be a lesbian.'"
Micki says she came out to her husband, and although they tried to make their marriage work, Micki says she asked for a divorce. "[Being gay] is about who you are in the depth of your being," she says. "It's not something you can erase or get rid of or change."
Micki says the decision to change the course of her life was excruciatingly painful for her entire family. Still, she says she had to do it. "I did some things that have really hurt my children that I regret, but I was in the dark," she says. "When you step into your truth and you say, 'This is who I really am,' freedom comes."
Growing up, Micki's daughters Haley and Taylor say they picked up on little signs their mother was gay. "At the mall, she would make a statement saying, 'Oh my gosh, that woman is so beautiful,'" Taylor says.
When Micki came out, Haley and Taylor say they were angry. "It was never that she was gay that bothered us," Haley says. "It was the divorce. It was our family just crumbling."
In time, the family began to rebuild. Taylor says she accepted everything one day while cooking with her mom. "The sunlight hit her face in a certain way and her face looked different, and I couldn't at first put my finger on it," she says. "But once I did, I realized that the lines in her face were not from stress anymore. They were from smiling."
Micki now lives happily alongside life partner, Sharon. "We had a union in Texas two and a half years ago," Micki says.
For the first 39 years of her life, Carol Leifer spent a lot of time in the boys' club. The stand-up comedian—who's worked with everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Jay Leno to David Letterman—had been married and divorced and dated for many years.
Then, Carol's 40th birthday threw her a surprise. "I suddenly had this really mad desire to have an affair with a woman," she says. "I was divorced. I was childless. I figured there's got to be one more way to really tick off my mom."
Soon after, Carol went to a charity dinner and became smitten with the woman sitting across from her. "I told Lori that I kind of had this crush on her, and she was, like: 'No way. I'm not going to be a science experiment for some straight girl,'" Carol jokes.
With nothing left to lose, Carol took one last shot. "I used my patented line that I've used easily for the last 20 years—'Well, what would it hurt if we just made out?'"
How did that work? "Heard the [song lyric] 'I kissed a girl and I liked it'? Well, I kissed a girl and my head spun around," she says.
Carol and Lori have now been together for 12 years and are the proud parents of a son—not to mention a few rescue dogs.
At first, Lori says she didn't think the relationship would last. "I was introduced to Carol as a straight gal, and I didn't want to complicate my life being with a woman who just wanted a fantasy," she says. "But it didn't turn out that way ... I almost got the fantasy sharing that transition with Carol."
Carol says she received a lot of support from her friends and family. "The most supportive people through this whole process were my straight male friends. I mean, they were like, 'Carol, I want to hear everything—totally and in great detail, please.'"
Even coming out to her parents wasn't as nerve-racking as she thought. "My parents really were quite great about everything. But I have to admit, my ex-husband was not Jewish. And Lori is Jewish," Carol says. "So to Jewish parents, they were, like: 'Hey, hallelujah! Let's break out the Manischewitz, you know? Happy days are here again.'"
Does Carol ever wonder whether she's gay or straight? "I think it's safe to say, after you've been with a woman for [almost 13 years], yeah, I'm pretty gay," she says.
After dating men, Carol says it's a lot easier to be in a relationship with a woman. "My relationship with Lori, I found right from the beginning, there was no game playing. All my other relationships with men, there was so much maneuvering and strategic decisions and stuff," she says. "The emotional intimacy is way different than any relationship I had before with a man. It just works a lot better."
Carol has written about her experiences in her new book, When You Lie About Your Age, the Terrorists Win. "Honestly, so much of my book is about the best things in my life have happened since I'm 40," she says. "I met Lori. We have the best relationship of anyone I know, and she's the one."