Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, pt. 4

Here is the next part in our series where we share our stories gathered from the online support group for women coming out later in life (Here is part 1, part 2, and part 3). For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go here.

MAKING THE REALIZATION, Pt. 4

by Laurel Peterson

In last week’s post, we covered the many different ways the almost 600 late life lesbians in our online support group choose to label themselves on the LGBTQ spectrum. Once you’ve realized you have a same sex attraction and you’ve found a “home” on the spectrum, what’s next?

You guessed it, figuring out whether you can or should come out of the closet is the next step. This week’s question was:

Once you realized your sexuality as you currently know it, did you “come out” right away? Why or why not?


Involuntary outing

Unfortunately, some women have been outed by those around them before they were ready:

I was outed by my ex husband in our very small town when I was 30. It was incredibly traumatic and painful. I was gossiped about and had significant backlash from my family and some acquaintances. I then moved away and went straight back into the closet. Once I decided to come out for myself, it was a positive and enlightening experience. I will never forget the loss of control of not being able to tell my own story in my own way. I’m a lesbian. I’m proud, and now so very happy to be out on my own terms. – Sian

You mean you knew?

Several more members started out on the journey of telling those around them about their same sex attraction…only to realize that those around them knew before they figured it out for themselves.

I didn’t really come out so much as figure it out. My husband was the first person I said the words out loud to, but he sort of knew already. It surprised him that I didn’t know sooner. Then we told the kids, who were in disbelief that this was something I just figured out. Then my mom – she too said she’d wondered from way back in middle school when I crushed hard on a teacher. Then my best friend, who, when I told her I was divorcing, said it before I could tell her! – Annie

At 46, I finally looked in the mirror and said “I’m a lesbian” to my reflection. A few weeks later, I told my good friend who is gay and he said, “yeah…not surprised!” My two other closest female friends said the same thing. At this point, many people know and many do not. I am very proud of who I am, and I have told those closest to me, but I don’t think you have to tell everyone everything all the time. Sharing should be a privilege! – Carma

Long term denial

Many other members were pretty sure of their sexuality for years, but chose not to acknowledge it or come out for decades until it felt “safe.”

I waited 22 years because at the age of ten, my mother said to me, “If you are ever going to bring a black man or a woman home, don’t bother coming home.” This mentality was drilled into me through my parents, their family, their church, their actions, their words, the looks they gave out couples in public. I still have to listen to them talk about how “the gays” will burn in hell at our weekly Sunday dinners. – Kristi

I knew I liked girls way more than boys at around the age of 12 but being gay was not allowed in my household so I suppressed it until I couldn’t anymore. After I had my first encounter with a woman at the age of 42, I came out rather quickly. Family & friends knew within three months. And the amazing thing was, each time I told someone on my “list of people I had to tell” it felt like more weight had been lifted off of me. It’s an incredibly freeing feeling not having to hide anymore. – Terri

empty blue vintage room

Let me out of this closet!

On the other hand, there are many other members who came flying out of the closet as soon as they could.

I came out pretty fast. My girlfriend and I were moving pretty fast and I just didn’t want to hide her or our feelings for each other. It wasn’t easy, but I knew I had to be my true self. I knew the people who loved me would always love me and the ones who had a problem with it weren’t that important in my life anyway. – Melissa

I told everyone in my life in real time, either as I saw or spoke to them. For important people I don’t see regularly, I reached out to them to let them know. I couldn’t keep it to myself and it was all quite dramatic. I wanted to explain what was going on as much for support as anything. – Emma

Coming out in slow motion

Many others took their time in deliberately telling the important people in their lives as the need arose, but chose not to come out to everyone in their lives.

I was 43 when I first started questioning my sexuality. A year later, I came out to my sister, my brother, my husband, and then slowly, my family and friends. It took roughly six months to come out to the important people in my life. The first time it was a feature length movie, with lots of back story and explanation, tears, and drama. Now when I tell someone, I just say, “I’m not sure if you know, but I’m gay.” – Sandy

I told my husband and my kids, then some friends. It’s been a year now and I’m still not out to everyone. There doesn’t seem to be a need. My husband and I are living separately in the same house, so my life looks “the same” from the outside. – Alison

Still not out

Last but not least, we still have several members who aren’t yet out, at least, not publicly.

At age 17 I knew I was attracted to women, and recognized it for what it was. Still, I followed society’s expectations and married a gentle guy. Years later, the pull became stronger and my thoughts of being with a woman led to kissing a woman. I left my husband in my early 50s, and set my mind to become my authentic self. At 58, having not yet found Ms. Right, I feel it not necessary to come out to my family (my parents are frail at 86) because it won’t make sense to them until they can see a loving couple standing in front of them. I’m certain my sister and brother, and my two grown sons will be fine with the news should I ever have the good fortune to have a reason to come out. – Y. 

Each member in our group has her own coming out story, and each of these stories are just as beautiful, individual, and unique as the women telling them. One thing we all have in common, however, is that coming to the realization of who you are and blossoming into your authentic self is a huge turning point in life.

After four weeks of discussion on how we made the realization that we were primarily attracted to women, next week we’ll start a series of questions relating to the men who are/were by our side when this unfolded for us.

Your Story, Your Timetable

A woman in our Facebook support group asked a question recently about coming out to a work colleague, and wanted to gather opinions about it from the group. The heart of her question was: “do I owe it to this person in this particular situation to let them know that I’m gay?”

The consensus of our group was that, no, she did not owe it to anyone to come out to them on any specific timetable. And I have to say I agree with them 100%.

I think it is especially difficult for women coming out later in life to manage the coming out process–it can be overwhelming to come out individually to so many people when they have known you for so long as a straight person living a straight life. I see the appeal in a “one and done” Facebook post or mass email to everyone: “Hey, world, I’m gay!”

But I think that rarely happens in real life because, being women who have lived a lot of life already, we have many different relationships we have to consider–the talk we might have with our teenage daughter will be very different from the conversation we might have with a work colleague. We have more complicated lives at 45 than we did at 25!

But, regardless of how you choose to do it, the most important thing to remember is: this is YOUR timeline. No one is owed a special conversation with you about it, and no one is owed to be told before another person, or in a certain order. You get to decide how that happens.

I remember that one of the disappointments I encountered in my own coming out process was that certain friends were upset that they didn’t get a private conversation with me about it, and instead found out via Facebook posts about my new girlfriend.

Coming out individually to every friend can be exhausting! Sometimes, you just want to put up a post about your girlfriend and have people learn that way. And that is okay!

Want to come out at work? No problem! Want to keep that part of your life private for now? Absolutely fine! It’s your story and your timeline. No one else can tell you when is the right time to disclose that info about yourself.

I think that in some ways, women coming out later in life are a curiosity. People feel entitled to know our story and all the juicy details. But you own your story, and you get to decide who to tell and how much to tell them.

So, please remember this as you walk your own path on this journey. I empower you to think about who you want to tell and how you want to tell them (and how much). It is incredibly powerful to own your story and to tell it when you are ready to share. But don’t feel compelled to do that a minute before you are ready!

Late Life Lesbian Own Our Stories

My Coming Out Mistakes–Er, Lessons!

Today, I’m going to be 100% honest with you.

I have made many mistakes over the last few years on my coming out journey. I really do wish I had the “one plan fits all,” “money-back guarantee” to end all guarantees to help you have the smoothest, best coming out ever, but I don’t.

What I do have is my story, filled with stops and starts, ups and downs, trials and many errors. I think it’s worth sharing to simply let you know, “Hey, I’ve been there, too!” I believe that by sharing our stories, we gain the confidence to move forward on our coming out journeys.

So, here is my list of “coming out” mistakes that I hope might help you to feel better about your own:

  1. I didn’t trust myself: It took me years to be able to sit still enough to hear that inner voice telling me my truth. I gave too much credibility to what other people thought and what society wanted for me instead of listening to myself.
  2. I didn’t trust others: I was scared to come out to some of my close family and friends. I worried what they might think of me and how my coming out might change our relationship. But, some of the people who I worried the most about coming out to are now among my biggest supporters (Hi, Dad!).
  3. I trusted others too much: A few of my friends who I simply assumed would “get it” did not. In some cases, they initially supported me, but further down the road, their support disappeared. You really do learn who your true friends are during your coming out journey.
  4. I wanted to know the entire path up front: I have always had big issues with wanting to know everything ahead of time. Part of the reason it was difficult for me to come out was that I kept spinning all of the possible scenarios in my head over and over again. But, in the end, I had to trust that all would be revealed in time. I had to trust that if I took that first, difficult step, the staircase would appear. And it did!
  5. I wish I had done it sooner! I know that my coming out was timed perfectly for my life, but in so many ways, I still wish I had done it sooner! On the whole, it went much better than I ever imagined it would. The best part is that I finally get to live my authentic life.

As I always tell my daughter, “it’s only a mistake if you didn’t learn the lesson.” And I’m still learning lessons from my coming out journey. Leave me a comment below and let me know some of the lessons you learned on your own journey!

Start Here Now

Hello, again! So, how many times have you told yourself, “Oh, I just can’t do [insert difficult thing, easy thing, or anything, really] because I meant to do it yesterday, but I didn’t, and now I feel horrible and guilty…” And then you look at the calendar, and it’s been three months since you said that. Yep, that’s where I am right now!

It’s been way too long since I wrote a blog post, and I’ve heaped gobs of guilt, regret, and bad feelings on myself in the meantime. I’m human that way! No matter that I’ve had good reasons for my hiatus. Life happens. Blogging gets delayed.

But, here’s the thing–like many times in life, sometimes you simply have to Start Here Now.

Trying to do something difficult can feel daunting. Looking at the whole project can make you want to take to your bed, refuse all calls, and eat chocolate all day!

I promise you that even though I know the solution to this problem, I have to be reminded to implement it all the time. And here’s the solution….

Start. Here. Now.

Do one thing towards your goal today. That’s it.

If you are at the beginning of your coming out process, write down a list of positive aspects of coming out. Make plans to come out to a friend or relative. Check out one book or article by an LGBTQ writer. Attend one Lesbian Meetup event in your area. Make an appointment with an LGBTQ-friendly therapist. Or perhaps just write a list of planned actions in your journal.

It may not sound like much, but when you string together all of these steps, you will find that you have created a wonderful pathway to your new self. Your authentic self. And how wonderful is that?!

(Whew! Blog post done! I feel so much better now).

Thanks for reading and please leave me a comment with your tips for starting here now. What do you do when you feel stuck along the way? How do you motivate yourself to get back on the path?

How to bounce back after a bad experience coming out to someone

If you have gone through the coming out process or you’re still in it, you will most likely have a variety of experiences coming out to the people in your life. Some will be immediately accepting, some will be neutral, and some might be downright hostile.

The most important thing to know here is that all of these reactions are not about you–they are about the person who is reacting to your coming out story. The person is thinking about how your news affects them, and how your relationship might change because of this. They may be worried about you. They may wonder why they didn’t know this about you sooner. Or they may simply be envious of your newfound honesty.

You may be surprised at certain people’s reactions to your coming out story. People who you thought would be supportive may need time to process this news, and so they may not be initially as supportive as you like. You might find support in unlikely places. You might be surprised, and have others come out to you in turn! All of these things have happened to me in my coming out process, so I know that they are possible.

One friend I came out to was just unable to process that I was gay. I had been married twice! To men! Surely, I was simply bisexual or bored with my marriage. Was this a phase I was going through? A mid-life crisis? I was floored. Someone who I thought would be supportive had to deal with their own feelings first before they could be a real friend to me in my process.

But how do you bounce back after a bad experience coming out to someone? Here are some tips if and when this happens to you:

  1. Remember that your job is simply to come out: You don’t have to play therapist to someone else or spend time defending or explaining your process. Just say the words and let the other person deal with their feelings about it.
  2. Take a time out: It’s always acceptable to take a time out from that person or situation. Let them have time to integrate this new reality–that may be just what they need in order to pick up the relationship again. Time is the great healer in so many ways!
  3. Don’t let it set you back: Regardless of what someone else says, don’t let this deter your own process. Many people are so caught up in what others think of them that they lose sight of themselves. If this happens to you, regroup and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Don’t let others dictate where you go next on your path.

Keep these tips in mind, and don’t let a bad experience coming out to someone hinder your overall journey. It happens to us all, and you’ll be stronger for the next person you come out to!

Leave me a comment and let me know what you’ve done if you’ve had a bad experience coming out to someone. I’d love to hear your advice!

 

 

Questions answered: You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers! Here’s the first one: “What do you say to someone who says, ‘You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!’ I am worried when I come out to my family and friends that this will be their reaction.”

Oh, how I understand this problem! I’m definitely on the feminine side of the spectrum, so when I came out, I did get this sort of reaction from some friends and acquaintances. Most people’s image of a gay girl is more like k.d. lang than Portia de Rossi. So it’s understandable that we have a way to go before many understand that there are as many different kinds of lesbians as there are people in the world.

Another complicating factor is that when you are a feminine gay girl growing up, society more easily puts you into the “straight” category. No one thinks to ask if you are gay, and you don’t know enough to ask that question of yourself, especially if you have no gay role models. You “look” straight, guys are attracted to you, so you think, “Hey, this must be what I’m meant to do.”

I believe that, in some ways, feminine lesbians have a more difficult time coming out to themselves than more obvious gay girls. While we don’t get the teasing and the bullying that those girls received, we are more prone to hiding behind the mask of straightness since it’s simply easier for us to pass–to ourselves and to others.

And this can lead to a lifetime of questioning, “So, since I don’t like softball, I can’t be gay, right? I love wearing skirts and lipstick, so surely I’m not gay? Of course I’m not gay, I’ve been married to a man!” Yes, you can be gay under all of these circumstances–trust me!

All of that said, once you have come out to yourself, you fabulous feminine gay girl, you know your truth and no one can take that from you! My advice to you is to anticipate that question and come up with a funny answer (“Guess I’ll have to trade my heels for sensible shoes now”), a question back at them (“That’s interesting. Why do you think that? Do you know many other gay people?”), or ignore the question completely by changing the subject if you don’t want to address it.

Choose your approach based on the person asking the question and how much you feel like discussing this in the moment. You really don’t need to justify your gayness to anyone else at all!

As a final aside, this is another reason why I think everyone should be as “out” as they can. The world needs to see that gay people come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. People who are questioning their sexuality desperately need role models to show them that being gay is not limited to the old stereotypes. Burly football players can be gay, lipstick-wearing actresses can be gay–break down those stereotypes and add your special style to the mix!

Feel free to tweet your questions to me @latelifelesbian or leave them in the comments section. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!