Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #7

Here is the next article 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 earlier posts and topics in this series here.

COMING OUT TO YOUR STRAIGHT SPOUSE/PARTNER (Part 3)

by Laurel Peterson

Last week, we discussed how our relationships with boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands had changed in light of knowledge about our same sex attraction. This week, we’re digging deeper into the complications that arise for our straight spouses/partners who are trying to understand us. This week’s question was:

What do you wish your current/former straight partner would or could understand about you being attracted to women?


Our attraction isn’t a kinky fantasy

Many straight men have sexual fantasies revolving around having sex with more than one woman, so it’s probably not a surprise that the first reaction of many of the men we’ve been with is to think about how our sexuality can help their fantasies come true:

I wish he knew that watching lesbian porn will not make us closer, or him more involved! – Hayley

I wish he could understand that being attracted to women doesn’t mean I wanted a threesome. I wish he could understand how hard this has been, and that I didn’t choose this, and I certainly didn’t do this lightly. I also wish he understood that although I wish I’d known far sooner, because our marriage gave us three wonderful children, I don’t regret marrying him. – Sian

Our attraction is more than just sexual

Not only is our same sex attraction not about having a threesome or a woman “on the side,” the attraction we feel is much more than just physical:

My ex thought that my being attracted to women was easily satisfied if I just had sex with women without attaching myself to them emotionally. He thought I could “see” women without falling in love, and still live a normal life at home with him. He thought it was sexy that I desired woman and that he could join in on the fun – but when he realized that my being gay would push him away, it was no longer sexy. – Shelly

Our sexuality isn’t a choice

Now that many LGBTQ people come out in their younger years, it’s becoming more accepted that your sexuality is just part of the way you were born as opposed to being a choice. When you identify as or live as straight for many years, however, this notion is harder to believe or accept for those who have seen us as straight for so long…especially our sexual partners:

I wish he knew that this wasn’t a choice. That everything we have been through; the life we lived, the love we shared, the beautiful children we brought into this world, wasn’t all a lie. It was real – but once I was awakened, there was no going back to how it was. – Becky

I wish he understood that I am not just “deciding” to be a lesbian. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that I want to give up the security, comfort, and acceptance of my heterosexual marriage and be gay. It took me years to make this realization about myself – but now that I have, I can’t just turn it off and make it go away. – Karen

We have no ill will against them

Traditionally, the breakup of a relationship often means that anger, blame, and hatred are part of the territory. When an awakening of sexuality occurs, however, this isn’t necessarily the case:

I wish he didn’t think I hate him. Every time we talk about my bisexuality he asks why I hate him. I don’t – I love him, but I resent him for not letting me explore…He still just doesn’t understand. – Joanne

I wish he didn’t believe I planned this 15 years ago to “f*** him over.” – Kara

They deserve love we can’t give

In the pain and tumult of dismantling a marriage or relationship, it can often be hard to see that splitting up and/or choosing to live authentically isn’t just the best choice for us, but also for the long term well-being of our former partners:

I wish he would understand how truly sorry I feel. I wish he could understand the pain I have from spending decades disassociating from myself. I don’t wish him to feel the intense pain I have felt – just truly know deep in his bones that my intention was never to hurt him. He was more than a “beard” to me, and I wish him the best in life. Sometimes the greatest act of love is setting someone free. – M

He didn’t make me this way. Our trials didn’t make me this way. This is just who I am. What I can give him is limited, but in the end, we both deserve the world. – Carolyn

Hopefully, these quotes illustrate how much we want to be understood by our straight spouses/partners. Next week, we’ll take a look at the process of figuring out whether or not you can stay in your straight marriage once you realize you are attracted to women.

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, pt. 5

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, part 3, and part 4). For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go here.

COMING OUT TO YOUR STRAIGHT SPOUSE/PARTNER

by Laurel Peterson

In last week’s post, we wrapped up our month of questions about making the realization that you aren’t “straight as an arrow” on the sexuality spectrum. Now that we’ve talked about making this discovery for ourselves, the next consideration in most cases for our members is “what about my straight spouse/partner?”

For the next few weeks, we’ll tackle how our 600 plus members have approached the difficult dilemma of how to address this issue with your significant other. This week’s question was:

How/when did you come out to your boyfriend/husband?
How did he react?


Supportive & kind

First, the good news. There are many men out there who were supportive of their partners when faced with their coming out. Here’s a few great examples of that:

I came out to my husband first as bisexual seven years ago. He took that news very well. I told him I was primarily attracted to women a few weeks after my personal “aha” moment. He took that news really well again. He said he was happy he had me for as long as he did. All along the way, he has been very supportive. Whenever I have gotten scared and tried to back track, he has talked me through it by putting words to my fears. I really couldn’t be happier with the support and strength he has shown me. – Autumn

Once we separated and he had moved out, we went to lunch to discuss divorce options. During casual conversation, he said he had heard that I’d been hanging out with a bunch of lesbians, and in the same breath asked if I was seeing anyone. So I laughed and soon just blurted out that I’m seeing a woman. His eyes got as big as saucers, and he sat in silence for all of one minute. He then grinned, gave me a high five and told me to be me. Of course, he had to end it like a typical man and asked if he could “peep through my window!” – Tasha

He suspected it

There are also several instances where the men our members came out to already had an idea that they might be lesbians:

I started by telling my husband I was bi. Seven months later, we were at a beautiful hotel in London and I was dreading it because I hadn’t been able to bring myself to sleep with him for four months. That night, in that beautiful hotel room, he asked if I was gay instead of bi, and I admitted it. I was in a floods of tears but tried to assure him that I would have therapy to sort it out. Of course, therapy didn’t make it go away. Two months later, I had a breakdown and finally told him it was over. He was devastated. It is so desperately sad to break your best friend’s heart, but I genuinely want him to be happy and I know he ultimately couldn’t be as happy with me as he would be with someone who could love him fully the way he deserves to be loved. – Emma

After several drinks one night, my soon-to-be ex-husband and I were sitting around talking, and with liquid courage, he asked me if I would ever be with a woman. I sobered up in a second. I knew this was finally my moment to come clean of the secret I had held for years. I answered truthfully and said yes. I shook uncontrollably through the whole conversation because I was so scared of what his reaction would be. Thankfully, he was very understanding and supportive. He had initially asked because he suspected that I was. I rediscussed the topic with him the next night without alcohol in our systems to make sure he understood what this meant for me, for him, for us, and our family. – Cynthia

Denial

The first stage of grief is denial, so it’s probably not a surprise that many other men don’t want to believe that what their wife or girlfriend is telling them about their sexuality is true:

I kept trying to tell my husband. He knew that things were strange between us and I tried a few times to tell him I’m gay. But he just didn’t get it – he knew I was bi when I married him, so he assumed I was referring to that and maybe I was feeling a bit more attracted to women than I used to be. I’ve explained to him – no, I am GAY. But now months on, he still seems to think it’s a phase and I’m bi. When he found out that I was having an affair with a woman, he assumed it was because I missed women after being with him for ten years, rather than because I needed to be with a woman because I AM GAY. He won’t accept it. – Jasmine

Holding on tight

Just because our members are attracted to women, it doesn’t prevent them from having very real and deep relationships with their husbands or partners. The following examples show that even when the truth comes to light, some men (and sometimes our members too!) want to do what they can to save the relationship:

I came out as bi to my husband (then boyfriend) when I realized it myself way back when I was 19. I was already in love with him, and he never approved of me exploring. We’ve had many ups and downs over the years, but now I need to explore, he knows this and is scared I’ll leave him for a woman. He says if I start, I won’t stop, which may well be the case, but I won’t know that until it happens. I don’t want to leave him, but I need to see where this takes me. – Joanne

I told him just over six months ago. He was giving me “the look,” and I did an internal sigh and realized I just couldn’t do it anymore. I blurted out that I didn’t think I was “into guys in general.” At first he said he was relieved, because he thought I was asexual. Then he suggested we have sex while watching lesbian porn. I was not keen on the idea, but tried it. We tried lots of “new things” that still didn’t do much for me. There was so much pressure. I ended our sexual relationship, but wanted to stay married. We tried counseling. I offered to try sex therapy, too. In the end, it just wasn’t there for us. We both deserve to be happy, and complete, and fulfilled. – Annie

Anger and hatred

Unfortunately, there are also several members whose husbands/partners lashed out, sought revenge, or expressed harmful anger toward the women who told them about their sexuality:

I came out to my then-boyfriend about six months ago and it was horrible. The look on his face was devastating, and I didn’t know how to make it better for him. We cried and screamed at each other, and that first night he tried to force me to have sex with him to show me what it’s like to be with a “real man.” I left my house that night and sat in a parking lot crying and just about having a nervous breakdown. He moved out and we haven’t spoken to each other since. – Melissa

I came out to my now ex-husband last year. I was having constant panic attacks, and he sensed things weren’t right. It was immediately clear we would divorce. He was totally out of control for a while, running around and outing me, not only to my brother and our best friends, but also to our dentist, the barber, and at the local supermarket. It culminated when he hacked my accounts and sent a text message outing me and trying to damage me to my boss. We are now on speaking terms and communicating when it comes to matters that concern our two sons. Otherwise, he still plays the guilt card whenever he can. – Simone

All over the map

It’s also common with men, just like our members, that their emotions and reactions to the news evolve and change over time:

I came out to my husband eight years ago. I told him, “I think I’m a lesbian,” and he said, “Well that’s cool, can we still have sex?” That ended that conversation. I then told him again two years ago, and explained that I was struggling with what this means for my life, my identity and our life together. He was very sad and hurt, and over time the hurt turned to anger, and now has slowly become accepting. – Bonnie

We’ll take a closer look next week at how these changing and evolving emotions on the part of our members and their husbands/partners has affected how they relate to each other long term.

Planning with pushpins

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.

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, pt. 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 (Here is part 1 and part 2). For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go 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?

Always attracted to women

Many women were always attracted to women, but it took a while to realize they were on “the spectrum.” Now that they have “joined the rainbow,” some identify as lesbian, but others don’t.

I think I was always [attracted to women], I just needed to wake up to it. I label myself as queer, because I don’t feel I have a right really to call myself a lesbian. I’ve enjoyed straight privilege for most of my life, and I didn’t have to go through any of the trials and tribulations or assaults that women who can’t pass for straight have had to go through. – Anne

My entire life I’ve been drawn to women. After being outed as a teen for kissing girls, I was bullied, and sexually assaulted by a group of  boys who wanted to show “the lezzie” what she was missing. I went full on with boys after that. I soon became pregnant and married after dropping out of high school. I didn’t touch a woman again until I was in my early 30s while separated from my husband. I had a couple of relationships with women but couldn’t embrace that as my truth and went on to marry another man. When I met my catalyst* five years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that the key to my lingering unhappiness was that I am a gay woman who has been ignoring her own needs for her entire life. Once that passed thru my brain, I felt a lightness I had not felt before. It changed everything and now here I am. – Lily

Transitional identities

Many late in life lesbians took one or more “stops” along the way in figuring out their sexuality. They thought they were straight, but then tried on a few other labels before realizing they were primarily attracted to women. I, for example, spent six years identifying as asexual. Others considered themselves as bisexual or pansexual first.

I definitely identified as straight when I was growing up. While I found myself attracted to women, I thought that was the “normal” straight-girl experience. After I separated from my husband, I met someone and soon spent a lot of time thinking about it. I thought I was pansexual – because I really couldn’t reconcile how I had been with a man for 16 years, and then suddenly wanted to be with women. I had a brief fling with a woman, and felt that needle move a little more to the other side. Then I met my now-girlfriend and it became very apparent to me I was not attracted to men at all. I’m really comfortable and proud to call myself a lesbian now. – CK

When I started questioning my sexuality, I wasn’t sure whether I was bi or “all the way gay.” I talked to friends who identify as bisexual and lesbian, and asked how they knew. I tried on bi as a label. I walked around looking at strangers, men and women, asking myself if I was attracted enough to them to hypothetically sleep with them. The men did nothing for me. I wanted to identify as bi, so I could seriously consider staying in my marriage. But everything I was figuring out pointed to “all the way gay.” Now I identify as gay, although I use lesbian interchangeably. – Jennifer

Sexual fluidity

One of the things society is just starting to realize about the LGBTQ spectrum is that sometimes your sexuality can change or evolve over time, which is called sexual fluidity. Here’s a few examples of how this evolution took place for our members:

All my life, I never imagined the possibility of being lesbian or bisexual. I didn’t have anything against it, but I never imagined that I might be sexually attracted to women. After two frustrated marriages and two divorces, at age 47, I fell madly and utterly in love with a woman who spent one week in my hometown and bought some Portuguese classes which brought her to my classroom. My whole inner world turned upside down suddenly. Today, I know that I’m not straight and I believe I’m not bisexual, I’m sure I’m a lesbian because I can not even imagine having any intimacy with a man any more. I feel attractions for beautiful and feminine women, and this is a reality that has come to stay. – F

I had a very brief fling with a lesbian on my softball team at age 25. I was the only straight woman in the team at the time. Then I went back to loving men. In 2008, I left my marriage to a man for reasons unrelated to sexuality. By sometime in 2009, it was clear to me that I’m lesbian. I don’t know how it happened. Over time, I just became more and more attracted to women, and less and less interested in men. My sexuality has been fluid. – Carol

Bisexuality & more

Although our support group is for late life lesbians, not all of our members are exclusively attracted to women – and that’s OK. We have found in the process of sharing our experiences that we have felt many of the same emotions and struggles.

I still feel like I am in flux, which drives me nuts at 37. I suspect the continuing indecision of living in a heterosexual/polyamorous marriage drives this more so than my biology. Rather than being out of the closet, it feels more like I’m simply residing in a “bigger” closet. I often wonder if I can be attracted exclusively to women, yet still have an emotional, romantic bond to a man? It’s a stressful place to be. – M

I spent a large part of my life thinking there was something wrong with me, because although I liked some men and found them attractive, the sex was never great and the relationships never seemed to work. Looking back, I had physical attractions to women, but I labelled them crushes or my own neediness and let them go. It wasn’t until 2015 that I really began to question what I wanted in my life…and then began to consider being with a woman. I have had two female relationships thus far, but identifying as bisexual suits me better than lesbian. Though I am wild for the woman I’m with right now (who is trans), I still am not certain where I will end up. – Natalie

As you can see, finding your “home” on the LGBTQ spectrum isn’t an easy process, and one that our members don’t take lightly. In the end, though, we all support each other regardless of how we identify and applaud each other for living our individual truths, whatever they happen to be. Next week, we’ll examine whether or not our members chose to “come out” right away after realizing their sexuality, and why.

* – “catalyst” is a term frequently used among lesbians to describe the woman we credit with “awakening” our true sexuality – either through a crush, a friendship or an intimate relationship.

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, Pt. 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.

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?

Shame and denial

For many, just as in the LGBTQ community at large, our members initially tried to deny their truth or change themselves before accepting who they are.
 
It took me years to admit I had a same sex attraction. When I started to come out, I felt like I was flying and crashing all at the same time. I hurt myself for awhile, I begged God to take it away, and I contemplated electric shock or conversion therapy. I’m still in the bargaining/acceptance stage of grieving, and it’s been six years since I started moving away from denial. I want to love who I am – and luckily, I feel it’s just around the corner. – Carolyn
 
I was excited – like holding in a secret that was too exciting to keep in; but then the worries and fear of what it all meant hit me. How could it be? I thought, “I’m a married Christian woman whose life is (or appears) perfect.” I had a great husband, two decent incomes, three healthy & over-achieving kids, two cars, a cat…everything is awesome. Of course, it really wasn’t. I was dying inside a broken marriage and felt so lonely. My kids were seeing the emotional rollercoasters of their parents. It wasn’t healthy, but it appeared stable. I was scared straight twice – almost giving up on me. After I came to terms with it, I was finally at peace. – Elizabeth

Confusion and shock

Other late in life lesbians accepted their new truth, but had a hard time making sense of it or realizing it could be true.
 
I had no clue about my sexuality until it came crashing down on me. At 37, I actually googled, “How do I know if I’m a lesbian?” My catalyst* truly awakened me to figure out parts of me that I had no clue existed. As I started to look back on my life, I could see things I didn’t see before. There were so many echoes that had been calling me, but I hadn’t listened or paid attention to them. I felt scared and confused – like I didn’t know or trust myself. I actually prayed quite a lot and found a lot of comforting answers in my faith. – Jennifer
 
I really could not believe at 67 I was telling my therapist on my very first visit that I thought I was a lesbian. I was so shocked. – Carol

Exhilaration and relief

Not all of the emotions that hit you when you realize you’re a woman attracted to women are negative, however. For many, discovering their truth was a largely positive experience.
 
It felt awesome. I wasn’t broken. All my life, I felt weird – like something was missing, or I was a freak. I was always interested in women but hadn’t explored it because of religious influence. After I separated from my ex-husband and met my beautiful fiancée, I felt finally whole and complete. I could take on the world…and I have. – Amaris
 
It was the most exhilarating (yet scariest!) feeling one can experience. I thought I knew all there was to know about myself, only to discover I was still learning. It enlightened me to realize why I’d never been able to fully enjoy or give myself to a man. Falling in love with a woman has been the best experience I’ve had in my life – and ever since then, all I’ve wanted to do is live life in this “self” and see where it takes me. – L’Shaunese

Mixed emotions

Regardless of what the first emotions are to hit late life lesbians as they come into their own, most go through a whole range of emotions, up and down, over time. Some seemingly experienced all these emotions at once.
 
Initially I was hard on myself that I had missed such an enormous part of who I am. After a lot of self reflection, though, the relief, joy and excitement set in. My attraction to women answered so many questions I had blamed on other things. There was also a lot of guilt and fear for what will happen with the people around me that I love. This is not something that is accepted in my world, but ultimately I cannot help who I am. I still feel the relief and excitement – knowing and feeling that the pieces of who I am finally fit! – Christy
 
It was like every emotion one can feel all at once: happy, excited relief; but also sadness and grief. Once I finally allowed myself to see women that way, it was amazing; but it also felt terrible when I was at home with my ex-husband before I came out to him. It was like my whole life was a lie – a lie that I had deeply convinced myself was truth for a long time. Luckily the excitement of finally finding my true self and the potential for the future spurred me forward and motivated me to make changes. – Kara
 
I felt insecure, scared, ashamed and lost. I had no idea where things were heading – but it also explained so much. So in a way, I also felt more whole. – Alice H.
 
The emotions of coming out of the closet, at any age, are very real and palpable. As you can see from the quotes above, late life lesbians are no different in this regard. In the next installment, we’ll examine how members of our group arrived at their “home” on the LGBTQ spectrum.
 
 
* – “catalyst” is a term frequently used among lesbians to describe the woman we credit with “awakening” our true sexuality – either through a crush, a friendship or an intimate relationship.

Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories

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


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.