How I went from committed lesbian to a happily married mother of four
By Jackie Clune
As Chris Huhne leaves his wife for a mistress who was once in a gay partnership, JACKIE CLUNE talks candidly about her own emotional journey
Looking at my four children racing around the garden with their father, it seems almost impossible to believe that only a few years ago I never imagined having a family.
Or rather, when I did stop to think of myself as becoming a mother, I imagined the only way I'd do so would be through an anonymous sperm donor.
Today, with five-year-old triplets, Thady, Frank and Orla, and a seven-year-old daughter, Saoirse, a husband and a home in a leafy
But through my 20s and 30s, I cut a very different figure altogether: I was a lesbian.
So, what turns a woman like me straight? Did I simply cave in to conventionality later in life? Was my biological clock too deafening to ignore the desire for a child? Do some women simply play at lesbianism because it appears cool?
Or are some gay women much more flexible about who they fall in love with? These were certainly the questions on many people's lips this week, when it was revealed that Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne's mistress, Carina Trimingham, had dropped her female partner of a number of years in favour of a man.
For some, this fact was more shocking than the betrayal of Huhne's wife, which is a familiar enough yarn in the world of politics.
Of course, I can't speak for another woman, but I do arrive at this story with baggage - of a very personal nature. For 12 years, between the ages of 22 and 34, I was in several long-term lesbian relationships.
From 1988 until 2000 I lived in lesbian households, drank in lesbian pubs, went on gay rights marches and viewed my long-term future as being exclusively with women.
In fact, I was convinced that - having made what seemed at the time as a very certain leap into lesbianism - I would never again have cause to go out with a man.
Of course, that's not how I saw my life panning out when I was a child. I was brought up in
The only time I ever heard the word 'lesbian' was as a term of abuse towards tennis ace Martina Navratilova, and it certainly never occurred to me to desire anther woman.
I fell in love at 17 with Tim, a hugely attractive pupil at the local grammar school. It was a very intense relationship and I believed I would be with him for ever. We talked about getting married and having children. We carried on dating even when we went to separate universities - he to
Tim was incredibly bright and extremely good looking. He was my first love and we had a passionate physical relationship.
But as I reached 22 I realised that the people I liked best were all women and in truth always had been, if only on a friendship basis.
I had studied feminist literature at university and it opened my eyes to the possibility of sexuality as a life choice.
I am convinced that while men are usually entirely driven by sex when it comes to choosing a mate, women are often attracted more by the emotional side of the relationship and I was excited by the close bond a relationship with another female could bring.
I realise that many gay people will think it sounds absurd that I 'chose' lesbianism. For them, their sexuality is so innate and undeniable that the issue of 'choice' doesn't come into it.
But perhaps that's not the case for all women. For I can honestly say that I never felt the need to 'come out' as gay or straight - I simply decided to fall in love with women.
My first sexual experience was with a lesbian woman called Gwen. It was an incredibly intense relationship. Within weeks, she went from being a very good friend to someone I wanted to spend all my time with. She was a committed lesbian. Perhaps had she not been, nothing would have happened. But when she made the first move, it seemed totally right.
It's not that I stopped liking men, just that I felt a relationship with a woman would be a richer experience. After all, given the choice I would choose a woman over a man for a really great chat, an inspiring conversation or to share emotional problems with. A physical relationship with a woman seemed a logical progression.
Perhaps the best analogy is that I had come to see men in terms of 'black and white' whereas I saw women in colour. So I dumped my lovely boyfriend of five years. I didn't tell him the truth at first but when I finally admitted that I had fallen for another woman, he was relieved. It seemed to take away the jealousy.
My close friends knew immediately - but I shied away from telling my family for several years. I knew that, as Irish Catholics with a strong sense of family, they would be shocked and upset.
Yet when I summoned up the courage to tell them the truth, they were understanding and supportive - after an initial period of concern.
So I threw myself into the fullblown lesbian lifestyle - gay clubs, bars and pubs - and my relationships with women tended to be long and loving, if a little too turbulent at times.
The sheer amount of talking and analysing that went on was exhausting. The women I went out with were by and large more inclined to be insecure and to need reassurance and I found myself in the male role of endlessly reassuring my girlfriends. The subtle mood changes of everyday life would be picked over inexhaustibly.
One girlfriend was so insecure that every single time we enjoyed a night out - usually at a bar - we would have a row and have to leave. She would convince herself that I was flirting with another woman and, however much I tried not to catch anyone's eye, she wouldn't believe me.
Back home, we would then spend the next four hours arguing about our relationship and my feelings of loyalty, fidelity and so on. It was never-ending. It may sound prosaic but when you add female hormones into the mix, the problems are even worse. Can you imagine waking up beside a woman when you've both got raging PMT?
I also believe the very fact of being in a lesbian relationship adds to the problems of jealousy and insecurity. With so few role models and no cultural support, it's hard to know how to behave or what expectations are reasonable.
My straight female friends thought my deeply intense relationships sounded fantastic. They envied me the empathy I felt with my girlfriend. Why couldn't they feel as close to their husbands and boyfriends?
Unlike most men, women, of course, offer each other endless support and there's hardly ever any lack of communication.
But - bizarre as it may seem - I found myself longing for exactly the opposite. I wanted a bit more difference, a little less talking and a bit more edge and my relationships often paid the price.
I had been so committed, I even bought a flat with one of my partners. Two years later we split up. We had been together five years and the break-up was excruciating, as all our raging emotions came to the fore.
Then in 2000, when I was 33, another seemingly ideal lesbian relationship went badly wrong. We had been together three years and I had honestly convinced myself that she was the one. But, once again, our relationship was destroyed because we got so exhausted with the emotional clashes and jealousy that never seemed to subside.
The ironic part is that I have never, ever, been unfaithful in a relationship. But having to constantly placate a jealous partner was wearying - and my relationships often paid the price.
As I pieced over the failings, I took a second look at my history. Was I picking the wrong women or was I simply not cut out to be a lesbian?
This may sound totally coldhearted, but I made a calculated decision to try men again. I can honestly say that, although I was 34, this had nothing to do with my biological clock. I had always rather casually thought that, if I wanted children, I would use a sperm donor. So my decision was not in any way connected to a desire for a baby.
And, while I had male friends, I had not even had the faintest flicker of interest in any man for years. But I suspect the simple truth is that I no longer felt I needed to be defined by my sexuality. I had outgrown lesbianism.
For more than a decade my sexuality had been a vital part of who I was. When we're young, we all need to belong to a tribe and to have a banner to march under. This may sound absurd, but calling myself a lesbian was almost like calling myself a punk or a goth.
I don't want to undermine my relationships - they meant a great deal to me at the time and I look back on them with great affection - and I am well aware that many people will find it shocking, if not downright offensive, when I say that I chose a different path.
I repeat, I know many people are totally convinced that they are born gay and have absolutely no choice over their sexual orientation.
All I can say is that I believe not every gay person is gay for life. In particular, I believe that many women are capable of feeling attracted to other women - to be with someone who believes it's perfectly normal to talk about how you feel and wants to know every single thought that passes through your head.
That feeling of total empathy and togetherness is a very specific bond between two women. Whether women act on these feelings or not depends, of course, on many complicated social and psychological factors.
For me, finally shutting the door on lesbianism was rocky. It had been 12 years since I had been out with a man and I was terribly nervous about how to relate to men as anything other than platonic mates. I felt like a teenager again. I would flirt and then back off in alarm like a frightened schoolgirl.
Then in 2001 I met Richard, a 35-year-old actor. We started dating and for a long while it was quite casual, but something about his quiet kindness and his lack of neediness started to appeal to me.
I felt we were walking alongside each other rather than spending life locked in face-to-face intimacy or combat. It felt natural and not at all scary. He was sanguine about my past and never suffered the insecurities I had come to expect.
It was a breath of fresh air. I've always been fiercely independent and felt I could be myself with him. Within a year I found myself pregnant. Our daughter was born and 11 months later I was even more shocked when I discovered I was pregnant again - with triplets, conceived without any form of fertility treatment. We married in 2008 and our life is hectic, to say the least.
I could never in a million years have imagined, in the full throes of my lesbian life, that I would one day live such a conventional straight lifestyle.
In fact, I would have thrown up my hands in horror at the very idea. And perhaps it was no surprise that most of my lesbian friends were outraged that I had taken up with men.
It seemed a betrayal of all they and I had stood for. Diva magazine, the biggest lesbian publication in the
There was (briefly) a Facebook group saying People Like Jackie Clune Should Be Taken Outside And Shot. Although the criticism is hurtful, I understand where it's coming from - I've confused everybody.
In the gay world some people hate the way many of us believe sexuality can be fluid. The idea of bisexuality is anathema to them. They see it as a mark of indecision or even self-delusion.
Actually I have never thought of myself as bisexual. And I certainly don't now that I am married. That would be tantamount to admitting that I am thinking of being unfaithful with a woman, which has never been the case.
But then this is an issue that provokes so much misunderstanding and downright anger. For many in the gay community, changing one's sexuality is seen as a heinous act of betrayal. Straight people, for their part, always want to know why I switched sexuality (often with the offensive implication that I was somehow behaving strangely when I was a lesbian but I'm 'all right' now).
The idea of a woman being ' converted' back to her proper place - in bed with a man - is somehow still titillating to many people.
That is why I have much sympathy for those who find themselves caught up in the middle. Carina Trimingham may be guilty of duplicity and dishonesty for having an affair with a married man. And I feel huge compassion both for Chris Huhne's wronged wife and for Carina's betrayed female partner. But as for blaming her for living as a lesbian and then having an affair with a man?
Definitely not. After all, I know only too well how natural it feels to fall in love with people both of the opposite sex - and your own.
Jackie Clune is appearing in Love Songs And Hate Mail at