Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #3

Female hands holding cups of coffee on rustic wooden table backgroundHere 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. 3

by Laurel Peterson

In the last installment, we discussed the emotions late life lesbians experience when they come to terms with their sexuality. This time, we’re moving on to labels. Figuring out you’re attracted to women isn’t as easy as thinking, “gee, I guess I’m not straight – I must be a lesbian!” Some of our members are attracted to women, but don’t identify as lesbian, and many resist labeling their sexuality at all because they find sexuality too complicated and personal to put it any one “box.” To give you more insight into this question, we asked:

How did you “arrive” at your home on LGBTQ spectrum, and how do you label your sexuality, if at all?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #3”

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #2

Thanks again to Laurel Peterson for collecting the responses from other women coming out later in life in our online support group, and then writing the articles. We hope that by sharing our stories, others will find recognition, support, and self-acceptance. 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. 2

by Laurel Peterson
 
In our initial post,  we discussed how realizing you have a same sex attraction can happen at any age, and can come about due to any number of factors. But what about the emotions of this incredibly difficult realization? This question to the over 500 members in our late life lesbian support group was:

How did you react when you realized you weren’t 100% straight and tried to wrap your head around that?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #2”

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #1

What Next Your Story Concept

I’m excited to introduce a new feature on the blog, which was conceived by Laurel Peterson, one of the members of our online support group. In one year, our group has grown to over 500 members–all of whom bring their own unique story and perspective to the group while having the shared experience of being late life lesbians.

In order to give you a glimpse into the world of the women who belong to this group, every week we will be posing a question to our members and sharing their responses with you here. We hope you find their answers as honest, inspiring and eye-opening as fellow group members do.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, Week 1

by Laurel Peterson

In my experience, most people in society at large believe that late in life lesbians must have somehow known they were lesbians their whole life, but instead suppressed it.

This was not my experience as a late in lifer, and in posing the question below to our online support group, it quickly became apparent that their experiences were also not as simple as living in the closet for years and then finally deciding to come out. Some of our members felt a non-specific same sex attraction as a young person, and some didn’t discover it until they were in their 60s. This week’s question was:

How old were you when you first realized you had an attraction to women? What prompted that realization?

Some identified as bisexual
For several women, they discovered early on that they weren’t “straight,” but it also wasn’t clear that they were primarily attracted to women:
I always knew something was different about me since I was a child. I had crushes on my friends, teachers, actresses etc. I first kissed a girl at the age of 19, and made out with a couple more after that. Then I fell deeply in love with a girl named Lori. We had an on-and-off relationship for about 3 years. Eventually, she broke my heart – and I went from her straight to my ex husband. For 15 years, I repressed my attraction and thought I was bisexual. At the age of 39, I met the woman who awakened me. It took me another year to finally accept that I am a lesbian. Now I am a very happy woman, and so proud of who I am. – Laura
From as early as I can remember, I always “noticed” women and thought they were beautiful. In my freshmen year of college, I met an insanely gorgeous actress. I developed an enormous crush on her, and realized it was something more than admiration. I thought I was bi – because I’d had relationships with men – and came out to friends and family as such. At that point, I was too scared to fully explore relationships with women, so I met my husband at 23 and never looked back. A few months shy of 40, I met the love of my life…a woman. Ironically, it wasn’t until after I’d fallen in love with her – after I’d made the decision to turn my life upside down to be with her – that I finally realized I was flat-out gay. It was like putting on glasses and having corrected vision for the first time in my life. Suddenly everything made sense! – Erika
For some it wasn’t allowed
Several women also realized their attraction to other women at a young age, but had been so programmed to believe that being a lesbian was a sin, they essentially talked themselves out of it:
I always had attractions to girls but I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and “homosexuality” was something that happened to nonbelievers. I always had intense friendships with girls and was always called a lesbian by bullies at grade school. (To this day, I don’t understand how they knew!) I made sure I always had a safe, “non-threatening” boyfriend. I thought everyone was attracted to women, and never connected the dots – even when making out with girls in college. When I was 18, I met my future husband. We married five years later, had three kids, and I was very depressed for most of our marriage. At 40, I fell deeply in love with my best friend, told her, and found she returned my feelings. It was a revelation. I’m gay and always was. – Anna
At about 10, I had crushes on my female teachers & some friends, but I didn’t understand what it was. I knew I wasn’t straight when I first kissed a girl at 18, but promptly went back in the closet after coming out to my mum. She strongly insisted that I not give up on men because it was a hard life being a lesbian, and I would never have a family. I married a man, had two kids, and “drank my gay away” (not my original quote!) Eventually, I got sober, and at 35 I fell in love with a woman and couldn’t ignore the truth anymore. Since allowing myself to live authentically, I’ve never felt more like myself, or more comfortable in my own skin. – Kerri
Some of us didn’t see the signs
We all grow up in a society where you are presumed to be straight unless something comes up to make us think otherwise. Many of us had clues that we weren’t straight, but we couldn’t interpret what they meant:
I had a weird view of how “gay” should feel. I’d had several female friends who were on a different “level” for me. I wanted to be around them all the time and had butterflies when I saw them – but I never realized that it could mean I am gay, especially because I had been attracted to guys over the years as well. My current girlfriend was definitely my catalyst. Being with her, I felt that almost “addicted” feeling for the first time, and it was returned. The closer we became, the more we craved each other. It’s like we were and still are in our own bubble when we are together, and the rest of the world fades away. If I had experienced something like this before I married my husband, then I wouldn’t have married him. I still question if I am a lesbian or bisexual or somewhere in between. But I think accepting the grey areas of my sexuality has helped me get where I am with all this. – Carrie
As a teenager, I fantasized about making out with my female friends but never thought much about it. I was part of a conservative Christian church, and I looked down on the gay “lifestyle” like the good girl that I was. I married my first real boyfriend when I was 20 years old. I knew from the beginning I didn’t enjoy sex with him, but it was my duty as a wife. Three kids and ten years later, these same feelings toward women surfaced again. I was watching an episode of Glee and suddenly realized – holy s*&#, I’m gay! Soon after, I crushed hard on a friend of mine. The way I was with her was the exact opposite of how I was with my husband. I was quiet and reserved with him and kept him at arm’s length. With her, I came alive. I was bold, affectionate and I couldn’t get enough of her. It took six more years to admit this to my husband. My soul began to wither until I just couldn’t hide it anymore. Now I’m out to family and some friends and have an amazing girlfriend. Even though the road was terribly hard, I am so happy to love and be loved in a fulfilling way and am looking forward to the future. – Cynthia
Some of us were completely clueless
Last but not least, several late in life lesbians (me included, by the way!) truly had no inclination that they were attracted to women until it hit them like a ton of bricks as grown women. If there were any signs of their same sex attraction earlier in life, they completely missed them:
I was 32, living with my long term boyfriend and my four children. My sex life was nonexistent – I wanted nothing to do with sex, and thought I was asexual. Still, I knew something was missing. Years earlier, I’d started withdrawing emotionally, and one way I coped was to read romance novels. I downloaded a new book, and realized about 3 chapters into it that the story was leading to a lesbian romance. Something clicked, and I was completely blindsided by the fact that this could possibly be what had always been missing…a woman. I tried to deny it for months after that, but eventually I developed my first crush on a woman. After that, there was no denying that this is who I am. – Becca
I was at a “female” party in Saudi Arabia when I was 50. I could “feel” the feminine energy in the air. It took me some time to accept why I was able to “detect” the energy. – Corina
In my case, sexuality most of my life was centered around NOT being attracted to the opposite sex. I had been raised to believe that heterosexuality was the only truth, so I thought I was “broken” for lack of a better word. I wanted closeness and sex, but the thought of that type of intimacy with men turned my stomach. My same sex awakening happened much later, when television started showing occasional same sex couples. While my friends or family scrambled to change the channel and talk about how “gross and disgusting” it was to see that, I secretly hoped they’d be too late or the scene wouldn’t end before the kiss. And then I met HER. We were just friends at first, but I knew she was a lesbian. This allowed me to ask the questions I needed to ask – first of her, then of myself. And then, I knew. The pieces of the puzzle fit into place and I was suddenly not broken, but whole. – April
In short, there is no one time when “the light bulb turns on” for late in life lesbians. Our experiences of how our attraction came about is as individual as we are. Stay tuned for another “Making the Realization” question next week.

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!

Once, I was just like you…

I’ve been catching up on posts on a website for married women who are attracted to other women. Reading the posts from newcomers always gives me such a sense of perspective. It seems like so long ago that I was in their shoes, but it was only about 3 years ago.

So, I decided to write to those women who are just starting out on this journey. You who are still married, but now discovering your attraction to other women. Or perhaps you have always known this about yourself, but you buried it so deeply that you hoped no one (including you!) would ever find it again.

I’m here to tell you: I was once just like you. Waking up every morning knowing that something was wrong, but not able to put my finger on exactly what it was. Being angry for no reason at the people in my life because I was so unhappy, but not ready to face why. Longing for connection to another woman, but scared to take that first step.

I remember the days leading up to that final realization, and then the fear afterwards, knowing that I had to change now–there was no going back. It was a mixture of exhilaration and dread that paralyzed me at first. What if I was making the wrong decision? How would I ever know for sure what the right decision was? How could I change my entire life over this?

Now, living my fabulous life with my girlfriend and partner of two years, it’s amazing to me that I ever could have accepted anything less. But if I could get in a time machine and go back to my 3 years ago self, here is what I would say to her:

  • Be kind to yourself: Sometimes, you just can’t have all the answers. But you can choose to have compassion for yourself. You’re doing the best you can right now.
  • Know that everyone’s timetable is unique: What seems like a slow journey to some may be just right for you. No one can tell when it’s the right time to make a decision to leave or stay in your marriage. No one can tell you that you’re moving too fast. You are the ultimate authority on what’s best for you.
  • Be thankful for each small victory: All of these small moments add up to something larger. Take comfort in each step of your journey, whether it’s coming out to a friend or finding a gay-friendly therapist.
  • It’s not a straight path (surprise!): You will have good days and not-so-good days. You may not know which way to turn on some days. Practicing listening to your inner voice and you’ll soon get much better at figuring out which turn to make.

I’m so grateful that I stopped pushing down and pushing away those feelings that I’d had my whole life, but chose not to follow. I’m finally living my authentic life, and I know that you will find your way to your true path on your own terms!

Leave me a comment and let me know what are the roadblocks that are causing you to stumble today. Maybe we can work together to come up with some answers for you!

Thank you & happy birthday to me!

First, thanks to all of you who responded to my request to “like” and share the Late Life Lesbian Story Facebook page last week! My birthday wish was granted and I’m happy to report that we’re over 200 likes now! This community continues to grow, and I’m so thankful for each and every one of you–from the new LLL’s coming out to our straight allies and everyone in between!

Each year on my birthday, I usually do an evaluation of where I am in my life with regards to my goals, my quality of life, and my overall happiness. There have been a few years, some not too long ago, when I wasn’t all that happy. I felt stuck, inauthentic, and angry. I felt like my life was going in the wrong direction, but I had no idea how to right it.

Little did I know then that the way out is the way through. I had to dig beneath my feelings to investigate what was causing them instead of running away from them. I had to learn to listen to that small, still voice inside of me that knew my truth. I had to take that first courageous step outside my comfort zone and rethink everything I had ever been taught that was right and “normal.” I had to be me.

That first step–wow, what a doozy! But I have never looked back and I’m happier now that I’ve ever been in my life. It’s a deep contentment that stems from knowing I’m finally at home with myself. It’s knowing that I don’t have to spend energy pretending to be someone I’m not. It’s a bigger and better life than I could have ever imagined!

This is what I wish for all of you LLL’s who are on the path right now. Whether you are just beginning to come out to yourself or you are starting to find community or you are making plans to move into your own place, I wish you the strength to truly be yourself. It’s the best gift ever!

Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts about living your truth, listening to that wise voice inside, and birthdays! I celebrate mine all month, so have a piece of cake for me and all the other June babies!

 

Questions Answered–How do I know that I’m really gay?

Here’s the next question for this series: “How do I know this is for real–how do I know that I’m really gay?”

My short answer to this question is one that I’ve given here before: straight girls don’t lie awake at night worried about possibly being gay. But there’s so much more to this issue than that quick answer. Let’s explore this further, shall we?

Labels that we give ourselves and others are merely that–words that we use to describe parts of ourselves. There is no way we could ever describe the totality of our fabulous selves with one or two words. Even within the gay community, there is disagreement about which words to use when.  Gay? Lesbian? Queer? These are all words that I use to describe myself, depending on the situation. I also identified as bisexual for a whole decade when I was in my coming out process.

Whether or not you want to label yourself as “gay” or “bi” or “questioning,” the fact of the matter is that some feeling or experience has brought you to this point. Either you have fallen in love or found yourself attracted to a woman, or something has awakened feelings in you that you have labelled “not straight.” And that is something that you want to give attention to as it is clearly real.

As to your question of whether you are really gay or not, that is a question only you can answer for yourself. That’s why coming out to yourself truly is the first step in the process. I know that I struggled with that label for a long time, until it finally hit me in a very deep way that I was indeed a gay woman (read my upcoming book to learn more about this story!). From that moment on, I had no doubt that I was gay.

Did I find that truth uncomfortable, inconvenient, and difficult to live with at times? Absolutely. But that is very different from the deep knowing and acceptance of your own sexual orientation. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it is not true. In the coming out process, there may be times when you want to wish it all away–it’s too tough to handle. I get it. But I promise that facing those truths inside of you will be worth it once you get to the other side.

Ways that I suggest getting to know that deep truth within you and accepting it:

  1. Meditation practice or other quiet contemplation: Whether it is a daily practice or a few quiet moments to yourself here and there, meditation can be a great tool for listening to that deep voice inside of you. For more information on how to start a mediation practice, try this link.
  2. Journaling: For some, writing is a good way to get at the issues in your mind. Start a journal devoted to figuring out your truth. Keep the inner editor at bay, and let your truth pour out of you.
  3. Retreats or time away from your regular life: While this isn’t feasible for everyone, if you are able to go on a retreat (a spiritual one or simply a weekend getaway to a nearby cabin in a state park), this is an ideal time to contemplate your deeper truths. Also, being out in nature tends to heal us, which helps us to see things more clearly that are difficult to accept in our everyday lives.
  4. Therapy: A good therapist is worth her/his weight in gold! Therapy is an amazing gift to give yourself, and it’s a great way to face those truths with the help of a trusted, professional listener.

Leave me a comment about how you knew that you were gay, how you’ve struggled with this awakening, or perhaps what has helped you in your process to accept yourself. I look forward to hearing from you!