Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #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. For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go here. You can find the other posts and topics in this series 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

When Moms Come Out

I had a message from a mom on the Late Life Lesbian Facebook page this week, and her story reminded me that I wanted to address the issue of coming out as a lesbian with kids.

This is another unique aspect of coming out later in life–in many cases, we are women who have been in heterosexual marriages and we have children. In today’s current climate, many women stay in their marriages for the sake of their children–either because they think it’s best for their kids or they are worried that they might lose custody of them if they come out and leave their husbands. Luckily, the latter is becoming more rare with marriage equality on the rise, but in some parts of the US and the world, this is still a real obstacle to coming out.

If you do choose to come out to your kids, here are some factors to consider:

  1. Kids’ ages: As with any topic, the way that you talk about your sexual orientation will vary based on your kids’ ages. With younger kids, it’s best to keep it short, factual, and then wait for their questions. Reassure them that you are the same mommy and that your love for them will not change. With older kids, they may understand more and have more in-depth questions. Or they may be completely silent and need time to process the information first. Respect their space and their process. Let them know that you are available for further conversation later. I have often found that talking on car trips relieves some of the pressure of talking face-to-face with teens about tough topics. Try it and see if it works for you!
  2. Kids’ reactions: Kids may experience a variety of feelings–relief, sadness, anger, confusion, indifference–and may cycle through them at different times. Again, respect their process and let them know that all those feelings are normal. Keep the lines of communication open and be available when they need to talk. You might also find a good therapist or other trusted adult for them to talk to if needed. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone other than their mom during the process.
  3. Kids’ friends’ reactions: Let your kids decide how and when they want to let their friends and other people in their lives know about your coming out. In some cases, they may not have a choice, but if it’s possible, let them lead the way. If any of their friends or friends’ families react negatively, you might want to talk to the families to see if you can solve the problem together. If that doesn’t work, you and your child may simply have to let go and hope that the friend and/or her family will come around soon.
  4. Other family members: First, don’t ask a kid to keep a secret from other family members. It puts the child in an awkward position and it’s a recipe for disaster. With younger kids, I would advise telling everyone else in your family before you tell them. That way, they won’t be in that predicament of possibly blurting this out in front of people who don’t know yet. With older kids, you can explain who knows and what their reactions have been. Again, I would never ask a kid to keep a secret, but they can understand why you don’t talk about it in front of Grandma, for example, since she reacted negatively to the news.

In my case, my kids were 18 and 13 when I came out to them. I kept it direct, factual, and honest. Both of them were amazing and supportive in their own ways, and it was one of the best experiences in my coming out journey.

How did you come out to your kids? Or are you still waiting for the right moment to do this? Can you share any tips for those who are still contemplating this part of their journey? I look forward to hearing from you on this important topic for so many of us late life lesbians!