Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #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. 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.

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?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #5”

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?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #4”

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.

“The Late Life Lesbian Diaries, pt. 3”

Here’s part three of our new feature written by RM, a later-in-life lesbian. Start with part one here and part two here:


Part Three

The person who woke up in my bed that morning after was not me. This person got up, started laundry, cleaned the apartment, and fixed a healthy lunch. All while she danced around with music playing.  She stepped into the bathroom and saw herself in the mirror. Fuck, it is me. My mind fell back to the previous night and to her. The face in the mirror said out loud the words that I’m thinking, “What the hell are you doing to me woman?” 


Ding. There is the sound I’m learning to love. She has responded to my first message of the day that filled her in on my morning and my light-hearted, happy mood. BG woke feeling peaceful and very naked. Sleeping naked is something she has avoided most of her adult life, and it was one of those topics that we talked about so easily. Our conversations ricocheted in all directions and I was energized by her.

Few people in my life have fully engaged me in conversation. I’m most often a passive observer, taking in all bits of the scene. The words, the nuances in body language entrap me in a quiet and content space. With her, I find myself in a rare state of being fully present and with more to say than I realize. There is no hesitation, no filtering in my mind of what I should say or how I should word it. The thoughts, ideas, and jokes tumble out and are received with precise understanding. We can bounce back and forth with multiple topics intermingled with each other and we keep up with it all.

I talk of a favorite day trip of mine and she responds, “We are so doing that when I visit!” Now five days into this online relationship and I do not flinch at her words. I remember this for when she does visit, a visit I am already craving. We talk of food and imagine ourselves spending a lazy afternoon cooking together, laughing, with music playing in the background.

And I want it, I want it all from a woman I have never met. A woman that I am slowly getting to know , but is still a relative stranger. A woman. I giggle to myself as it hits me for the first time. I am getting to know, flirting with, and beginning to imagine a life with a woman, as my partner. A friend, a lover, a woman. I step out onto my balcony and stare out at the mountains in the distance, absorbed in the comfort of how right it feels. I let the thoughts come and go in my mind. “I want her. I really like her. She gets me. I adore her.” Her, she, the pronouns fit perfectly into my desires.

I have questioned my sexuality for most of my adult life, but there is no defining moment when I knew. I found women attractive and as I passed through my 30s, into my 40s, I became more open to the idea of a relationship with a woman. My first time with a woman was a moment so out of character for me that I sometimes still don’t believe it happened. What I do know for sure is that being with her felt so natural, so perfect. At one point, with my head between her legs, I actually laughed, I was overwhelmed with the perfection of it all.  I wasn’t ready to date at that point, so I retreated back into my safe and solitary life until I began to feel the pangs of loneliness.

A message brings me present again.

“Can I just say that yesterday was unfuckingbelievable!”  Yes, yes you can and it was. We joked briefly about the state of her mind at dinner, which was distracted at best.  She had to leave for the airport, so we were left to our own dreamy devices.

An hour or so later I get a message, starting with a phrase that will begin to shape the relationship we both crave, “In the spirit of honesty…” She, like so many women in our Facebook group, is separated from her husband, but still in the process of divorce. The next six months will be a circus of paperwork, lawyers, negotiating living arrangement, and supporting grieving children. She gives me an out – if it’s too much for me to handle, she completely understands. But she continues to open her heart, “I think you are wonderful and we have the beginnings of something amazing. If it is meant to be, it will be.”

I tell her I am here for her and my wish is that we were closer so I could support her fully. In a couple months, I will learn this impacted her in ways she did not reveal that morning. My marriage taught me that it was safer to stay relatively silent, to not open up with full honesty. I had retreated into myself, forming a hard shell, learned to behave like those around me, and kept my emotions and thoughts protected from my ex’s ridicule and negativity. BG was beginning to chip away at that shell, and I let her.

We were giving space, time, freedom to each other- neither of us used to the feelings that brought with it. I told her to go sow her oats, she told me to pursue any opportunities that came my way. We established a friendship, right then and there. Perhaps travel companions. Way down the road, after we’ve traveled our own paths for a while, perhaps something more will evolve. Perfect. We settled into sharing our love of travel and most importantly, how we liked to travel.

Travel chemistry for me is right up there with the rest of the personal atoms and molecules that make up the chemistry between two people.  Emotional, sexual, intellectual connection are the cornerstones of chemistry, and individuals bring in their own needs and desires.  If those unique bits don’t mesh, the relationship is likely to fizzle. Get beyond the basics and those unique bits that mesh can fling a person into the flustered and unfamiliar state that I find myself in today.

I briefly share my travel philosophy–loose agenda with sights to see and things to do, but also with ample downtime to absorb the world around me. I want to feel as if I am living in a place as I remove myself from the role of tourist, leave the tourist-heavy areas, dine in cafes with mostly locals, and learn to cook local foods in a local’s kitchen. As I type these thoughts into messenger, my chest tightens at the thought that she will wholeheartedly disagree and oppose my travel philosophy.  She responds after landing. She loves my way of traveling. Rigidity, for her, is a way of the past. On the road, at home, a schedule to keep, a need to spend 12 hours in a museum in order to absorb it all. What else is happening on the streets, in the cafes, and  in the homes of people while one hides away in the darkness of the past?

“…lots of spontaneous exploring…” with those words, I continued to fall for this woman. I wanted this to be my new life. Spontaneous exploring of life, with her.

The first significant difference between us is revealed through a story of her flight home, sitting next to a trainee Catholic priest. She decided to “…throw the cat among the pigeons…” and asked him about gay marriage. Two hours of the flight was consumed on the topic, including her asking about girl on girl sex and the validity of an orgasm based on how it is achieved. A new image of this woman is formed in my head.

We are so similar, yet different is such beautiful ways. Her bravery is sexy as hell, I cannot deny. She reveals to me that she is Catholic, and I, in turn, reveal that I am an atheist. My heart sinks. I say nothing, only worry that religion will divide us. My brain is a bit of a fatalist, ready to jump off a high bridge to avoid any small pebbles life throws at me. I push the thoughts out of my head and allow the conversation to go its own way. Meanwhile, the priest is praying she will go back to her marriage, and I am asking the universe to bring her all the women. Me included.

The Catholic v. atheist concern begins to weigh on me. What am I worried about? Would religion have not already played a part in getting to know each other if it was strong enough to be a deal breaker?  I fumbled with the thoughts in my head as I baked brownies. Baking cures all. Chocolate and caramel quiet the fatalistic mind. Or at least puts it on hold for a while. Oh hell, who am I kidding? I feed the bastard with sugar.

My phone dings and BG asks about my brownies. Out of the oven, but still cooling. I tell her I tasted the salted caramel topping, and that sent things down a familiar path. Caramel dripping and drizzling.  Our self-diagnosed pathetic ways of turning to the sexual within minutes are confirmed and noted. This time, we tip-toe around it gently. Acknowledge and then move on.  Sexuality is a crucial aspect of a relationship. And it’s fun, but I had to get to know this woman on all levels. She was now all I could think about, the person I wanted to share everything with. The silly, mundane everyday stuff that I have, for 47 years, amused myself with.

Memes come across, making me laugh and make me question her sincerity of wanting to get to know me, that it’s not, in fact, all sexual. Humor and sexuality, two well-practiced vices for a shy person.  BG shy? I could not have listed that as a quality of hers. She is active in our Facebook group, is clearly adored by many, and if it wasn’t for her sending the message, and continuing to chat with me, we wouldn’t have gotten past a few days of conversation. She admitted to the fact and how she hides behind humor. Our masks start to peel away. She says it first- she is letting her guard drop, her vulnerability show. I am suddenly aware of how naked I’ve become with her.

I tell her, “You are safe with me”, and thus is hatched another phrase that shapes our relationship.  We are safe, vulnerable, naked, and alive.

“I feel alive finally.” Her words increase my heart rate and make me look into myself and how I am feeling. I revisit my happy mood this morning, then admit to now feeling tired and quiet. It is nearly midnight my time. We both comment on how we wish to be quietly snuggling together, in the presence of each other in which the feeling of what that feels like, is left to our own imaginations.

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