Why do women keep making passes at me? The eco-warrior aristocrat hailed as the ‘new lesbian face of Britain’ reveals an intriguing modern trend – illicit advances from married women
By Tamsin Omond
PUBLISHED: 02:05, 3 June 2012 | UPDATED: 02:05, 3 June 2012
There she was, sashaying across the dance-floor towards me at the Serpentine Summer Party, one of London’s great social occasions. And there I was, with a shock of blonde hair, standing awkwardly in a cocktail dress. Although her fingers were wrapped around her champagne flute, she was spilling it slightly. She was a little drunk and slurring her words, yet I felt warm with gratitude that at the party – where I was something of an outsider – this woman was taking the time to talk to me.
A couple of men had previously struck up conversation but they had then ruined it by – a common faux pas this – talking to my breasts rather than to my face, or by putting a hand on the arch of my back and then letting their fingers roam while steering me across the room.
In contrast, with women touch takes time. Initially it’s too much of an invasion into personal space: it smacks of taking possession. Instead we meet with our eyes.
This woman – by now her husband had brought her another glass of champagne – continued to hold my gaze. We talked, danced a little and sipped our drinks, while all the time her heavily made-up eyes bore into mine. I became worried that perhaps she felt uncomfortable, stuck with the only lesbian at the party. Seeing a friend on the other side of the room, I was about to let her off the hook – and it was then that she made her move.
She wrapped her fingers around my wrist. She pulled me close, smiling a smile that I recognised – it was the seductive smile of someone who wants you to kiss them. Reader, I made my excuses and left.
This incident happened a couple of years ago but now I know that Serpentine Lady was ahead of her time. Such close encounters – when women who have been straight their entire lives say or do something that creates electricity between us – have become more and more frequent. Indeed, they are almost now routine.
Women who I know are, or at least believe to be, straight and happy in their relationships lower their voices at parties, hold my gaze, and brush their lips against my ear. When I’m in the taxi home they text me with devastating honesty. One message said: ‘This is completely new to me. I want to see you again. I’m scared!’
Each time it happens, that energy feels very new – it is as if a light that has never been turned on before is now blazing and nothing will contain it.
How do they know I’m a lesbian? After all, I don’t wear a big badge (not at cocktail parties anyway) and the days when you were labelled gay for having cropped hair are long gone. However, for people who take an interest in environmental issues, I do have some notoriety.
In 2008, I hung banners from the roof of the Houses of Parliament to protest against plans for a third runway at Heathrow, and now the media routinely describe me as an ‘eco-activist’.
Since then I’ve been making trouble (and headlines) to protect the environment with mentors and allies as different as journalist Rachel Johnson and Mark Constantine, founder of cosmetics company Lush.
With friends such as these, perhaps it’s no surprise that in 2009 I came No 56 in a newspaper list of the most influential gay and lesbian people in Britain (just below actress Fiona Shaw and just above theatre director Dominic Cooke).
In 2008, I hung banners from the roof of the Houses of Parliament to protest against plans for a third runway at Heathrow, and now the media routinely describe me as an ‘eco-activist’
And in this newspaper I was ‘outed’ as a posh person when I was came No 3 on a list of Britain’s 50 ‘most powerful posh people under 30’.
I’ve never kept my sexuality a secret – I’ve always known that I am gay. One of my earliest memories is of kissing my next-door neighbour in her parents’ bed (I really hope they don’t read this). I was expressing my sexuality before I knew what sexuality was – or how much trouble it could be.
So did all those ‘straight’ women who hit on me know who I am, or was there something in the way I looked at them that felt different and sexy?
I think I can scrub up fairly well (who can’t?) but I can’t claim that my transcendent beauty is so overpowering as to bewitch women who have previously only been attracted to men.
Yet it’s happening so often – and to my lesbian friends, too – that I did wonder about setting up a lesbian dating service for straight women. I discussed the idea with my friends over dinner and we were pretty certain that we would clean up. Tatler magazine has decreed that being lesbian is so cool that it is devoting its August issue to us. I will feature along with TV presenter Sue Perkins and actress Sophie Ward. The magazine is also holding a ‘no boys allowed’ party in July to ‘celebrate’ us.
It seems to me clear that something is going on. A new social phenomenon is taking shape.
Jane Czyzselska, editor of the leading lesbian magazine Diva, is not convinced. She told me: ‘I think this is something that has been going on for decades.
‘What I believe it suggests is that these women may be bisexual and that it is not necessarily helpful to think of heterosexual, lesbian or bisexual as being rigidly fixed sexual categories.
‘There are plenty of studies and heaps of anecdotal evidence suggesting female sexuality is much more fluid than that. Yet we still seem to have a need to label people.’
However, I think it’s something more than that. Women are experimenting. We’ve made a go at breaking out of our traditional roles and we’re developing new stories – seeing what other roles might suit us.
I’m 27 and just one of my female friends is married, none is planning to have children (or at least not until they’ve fulfilled their ambitions), and while most expect doors to be held open for them, they don’t need or want a man to do the opening.
I’ve been making trouble (and headlines) to protect the environment with mentors and allies as different as journalist Rachel Johnson and Mark Constantine, founder of cosmetics company Lush
In a world where women live, work and play under extraordinarily diverse pressures – to be a mother, to be a wife, to have a career, to be thin, to be young, to be fun, to drink, to party, to care, to nurture – there is definitely room for relationships to form where those pressures are irrelevant: where women feel sexy in women’s eyes, where we are experts, intelligent, funny, knowing and hot.
Of course men make women feel incredible, free and beautiful too, but men and women are expected to behave in certain ways, especially around each other. And just the expectation of acting or being a certain way can put pressure where it doesn’t need to be.
When a straight woman begins something with a gay woman there is no road map and there are no expectations. If that initial excitement becomes an involved relationship then you’re both in trouble. The lack of any co-ordinates to tell you where you are and where you are heading is tough – especially if both of you were expecting to end your lives in a relationship with members of the opposite sex.
Women who have never done it before need to make it up as they go along and the possibilities and the dangers are limitless.
There is no sure-fire formula for sexual fulfilment and for the first-time lesbian, I think this makes getting naked all the more daunting and exciting because what will happen next is unknown.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve kissed gay girls, straight girls and straight-until-they’re-drunk girls (although I didn’t know they were drunk or that their boyfriend had dared them to do it), but that was then and now things really have changed, boundaries have blurred. A new story between women is developing.