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!

Every Little Thing’s Gonna Be All Right–Positive Aspects of Coming Out

Today, I want to focus on the good parts of coming out. The story that you hear in the popular media can be negative–coming out is painful, difficult, and full of loss. We have to tell gay teens that “it gets better” since coming out early in life can be so awful. People coming out later in life face their own losses, particularly if they are women in heterosexual marriages with children, like I was.

While I don’t want to discount these potentially negative aspects, this media story completely discounts what’s good about coming out. I know in my own situation, I was scared of what my kids might think of me when I came out to them. I had it built up in my mind as a potential negative. But the reality was so much more positive than I could have expected (you’ll have to read my forthcoming book to hear the story of my coming out to my kids!). What I thought would be a negative ended up as a definite positive in my coming out journey.

Here are some other positive aspects of coming out:

  1. No longer having to hide your true self–you are finally out! No more hiding in the closet, no more worrying about “your secret” getting out, no more wearing a mask.
  2. Finding out who your real friends are–the people who love you get the chance to love the real you. The people who don’t get it or can’t be supportive will fall by the wayside. You will find out who your true friends are now, trust me.
  3. Reinventing yourself–you get the chance to figure out what kind of gay girl you are and how you fit into the lesbian scene. This can be like having a second adolescence–one part scary, one part thrilling, but mostly an exciting new beginning!
  4. Freeing up headspace–staying in the closet take up so much headspace–the worries, the lies, the facade you have to keep up. When you’re out of the closet, you free up that space and can spend it on other things (learn a new language! play a new instrument! find a girlfriend!)
  5. A chance to have your best second half–the only way to get to your best second half is to take that first step outside the closet. I promise that however scary it may be, good things are just outside that door. And the only way to cross that bridge to your future is to take the first step.

Take it from me, there are many positive aspects about coming out. But the best one of all is that you are finally you–real and true. What could be better than that?

Leave me a comment and let me know about the positive aspects of your coming out journey. I’d love to hear about them!

 

When Family Members Don’t Support Your Coming Out

First, my apologies for that blog hiatus! Life gets in the way of blogging sometimes, but I’m back on track now. I’m busily working on completing my book and also working on another exciting project that I plan to unveil this summer! So many good things happening at ALLS! I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Which reminds me…if you haven’t signed up for my email newsletter yet, please do that now! I will be sending out exclusive excerpts from the book soon, and newsletter subscribers will be first in line to get info on my new project launch. The link is at the top of the blog on the right under “Stay in touch!”–one click, one email address (name not required!), and you’re in the know. How easy is that?

So, I received a message on the Late Life Lesbian Facebook page this week from a brave woman who had come out, left her marriage, and is in a relationship with a woman now. I know firsthand how difficult this can be, but she did it! Very proud of her. The only problem is that her family is not supportive of her decision to live her truth and be happy. And I wanted to use her message to me as an opportunity to talk about coming out to our families.

A lot of attention is paid to young people coming out to their families, and all of the difficulties that they can face. Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project is devoted to showing these kids that it gets better as an adult, when you can life your own life free from your ties to unsupportive (and sometimes actively hostile) family members. I love this project as it connects gay kids to their community and I know it has saved so many lives.

But, gay adults can also feel estrangement from their families when they come out later in life. They may not be financially dependent on their moms and dads, but they are still connected in important ways–emotionally, generationally (through their kids), and communally (through shared community).

Let me be clear–being shunned or otherwise estranged from family members because you are gay is awful no matter how old you are when it happens. In some cases (mine included), the fear of losing your family members because you are gay is the main reason we stay in the closet. When faced with the choice to live your truth and possibly lose your family vs. living someone else’s version of your life and keeping those family connections–many gay people choose the latter.

I wish I had a magic solution for this issue–my heart broke for the woman who messaged me. I don’t have a way to make it all better, but I do know from my own experience that you simply have to live your truth and I hope that your family members will eventually come around. I do believe that love conquers hate in the end, and all you can do is continue to reach out to your family members with love as they work through their confusion and bad feelings. Be kind to yourself. Find a good therapist. Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily life (see a list here). But know that your happiness is yours–no one else can decide for you what kind of life you need to live, no matter how much they love you.

Leave me a comment below to let me know how you’ve handled similar situations with your family members. Share your advice with us and encouragement to others going through this! I love hearing from all of you and I know that we are stronger together than we are in isolation. Here’s to our best second half!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Questions answered: what is the usual timetable for coming out?

Question: “Approximately how long does it take most people to accept they are gay in order to be ready to come out? I’m still struggling with totally accepting it.”

I know that you want a definitive answer to this question, brave questioner. Wouldn’t we all like to have a timetable for such a complicated and messy process? But the real answer is as varied as there are people in the world.

While you might think that being accepted by others is the main project of coming out, self-acceptance is truly at the heart of it all. It doesn’t matter one bit what others think of you if you are not comfortable in your own skin.

How long does this take? Well, for me it took about 40+ years for me to accept that I am gay. For others, it might take 20 years. Or 15 years. Or 60 years. Or never.

I think the real heart of your question is not how long it takes, but what you can do to further your self-acceptance. Your gayness is not going to go away, so here are some ways that you can embrace it and further your coming out process:

  1. Say the words: I cannot stress enough how important this is. Whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, or queer, say the words to yourself. Say them to your smiling face in the mirror each morning when you wake up. Say them when you’re in the car by yourself in traffic. Sing them to yourself! Celebrate this new reality, and get one step closer to self-acceptance.
  2. Let go: In order to make room for the new, you have to get rid of the old. Let go of old dreams, old notions of what your life is or will be like, old patterns. Let go in order to make room for this new life that you are creating for yourself.
  3. Appreciate your progress: When you’re down and feeling stuck, take a look at what you’ve accomplished so far. Coming out to yourself is a big deal even if you’re still struggling with self-acceptance. You’ll take the next steps when you’re ready.
  4. Set realistic goals and deadlines: Don’t think that you need to come out to yourself, your family, your friends, and your co-workers all in the same week. These things take time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for each step along the way so that you can process everything. Of course, some goals and deadlines are good if you need a little incentive to stop stalling.
  5. You are the only you you’ve got: You are precious, unique and amazing! Being gay is but one facet of your awesome self. Know that you will not be any less precious by coming out–in fact, the opposite is true. Being your true self is a gift to you and also a gift to the rest of the world.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen

Leave me a comment and let me know if you are struggling with self-acceptance or if you have advice for others struggling.  I’d love to hear from you!

What’s Winning Out Today–Fear or Love?

Fear. What a powerful word. It keeps you from doing what you need to do, saying what you need to say, and being who you really are. If you are someone who has lived for years projecting a false self, fear commands you to build your walls even higher, make that facade even thicker, paint the outside even brighter in order to distract from your true self within.

A wise philosophy professor once explained to me how paradigm shifts happen by using an analogy of sweeping things under a rug that don’t fit the paradigm. At first, it’s rather simple to sweep a few things under the rug.

Perhaps you experience a fleeting attraction to a girl even though you are living a heterosexual life. Hmm, that’s odd (sweep it under the rug). Next, you might notice that you are going out of your way to hang out with that girl (sweep it under the rug again). Then, you can’t stop thinking about her (wow, that pile under the rug sure is getting big!).

The moment when you turn around and realize that the pile under the rug is really huge and can no longer be ignored is the moment of true transformation (or paradigm shift). Now it may feel like the most awful thing in the world at first (“What a huge mess! What am I going to do about this?”), but it’s actually the most freeing thing in the world.

Because you can’t ignore it any longer. You have to deal with the mess under the rug!

You have two choices: either continue to ignore it out of fear and complacency, or lift up the edge of the rug to look at it.

I know that looking at it seems like the scariest thing in the world, but I promise it’s not as scary as it seems. And it’s much scarier to let it build higher and higher, smothering you with fear.

How high will you let your pile get before you get up the courage to look under the rug? I don’t have an answer for you there. We each have different levels of tolerance for messy rooms!

But I will guarantee that if there is something that you are sweeping under your rug, there will be a moment where you’ve had enough. You can’t take the mess any longer.

Your love for yourself will overcome the fear in your heart and you’ll get brave enough to start the process of transforming and shifting your paradigm.

What is winning out today in your heart–fear or love? Take the first steps to loving yourself more by peeking under that rug. You might be surprised that what you feared the most isn’t so bad after all.

“To willingly reside in our distress, no longer resisting what is, is the real key to transformation. As painful as it may be to face our deepest fears, we do reach the point where it’s more painful not to face them.”
—Ezra Bayda

 Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts about transformations and fear. How has love helped you to overcome fear in your life?

LoveFear

Starting Over & the Power of “I Don’t Know”

Anyone who comes out later in life understands what an immense change it is to publicly “switch teams,” as they say. You have a history as “the straight person,” that’s how friends and family know you, and that’s how you’ve presented yourself to the world for 20, 30, or 40 some odd years.

Coming out and claiming your new identity is, indeed in some ways, a fresh start. Many people report feeling happier than ever after they shed their old identity and begin deliberately creating this new one.

But there are usually more questions than answers at this point: will my old friends stick by me? Will I make new friends? If so, where will I find them? How do I start dating? What are the unspoken “rules” I need to follow in this new world? How should I dress, act, talk, etc.? Should I still carry a purse or not? (Seriously, this was one thing I got stuck on during my coming out process–I’m laughing now remembering it!).

This is where the power of “I don’t know” comes into play. In order to get from your old identity to your new one, you have to be willing to walk the bridge of “I don’t know.”

Will your friends stick by you?  There’s no way to know until you start being honest with them. Will you make new friends? You won’t know until you try. Will you ever find the right girl who will accept you just as you are? No way to know for sure until you take those first steps into the dating pool.

See, the power of “I don’t know” is the power of possibility. When you think that you know everything and have everything nailed down, there’s no room for growth. But when you are willing to open up that closet door a bit–open up to the possibility of the unknown–that is when you’ll create the space for something different in your life.

Try it today: say “I don’t know” when someone asks you about your future plans. Tell yourself “it’s okay not to know” when you are obsessively worrying over some aspect of your coming out journey.

Find the power in not knowing. Trust that the way will light up ahead of you when you need it. Let go of your old identity in order to make room for your new one!

Leave me a comment about your experiences and thoughts about starting over and not knowing. I’d love to hear from you!

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Questions answered: How can you tell if someone is gay?

Recently, I was asked in the comments to another post, “How can you tell if someone is gay? How can I find gay girls?” I have thought about it since then, and the only absolutely true answer is, “You only know 100% for sure if you ask them.”

Now, that requires some courage, I know! Not everyone is ready for that, and it wouldn’t always be appropriate in every context. You can also try and rely on your gaydar, which has been proven to work about 60% of the time.  Fairly decent odds there!

But here are 7 ways to increase your odds if you are trying to find Maximum Lesbian Density:

  1. Meetups in your area: Most cities and towns have specific meetups for gays and lesbians. Some are for women only, some are centered around shared interests (there’s one for hiking in my town and another one for gay parents), but all are pre-defined in terms of who you will meet there.
  2. Gay community centers: Some cities have community centers that cater specifically to the LGBT crowd. Our local center offers yoga classes, movie nights, community forums, and other fun activities. Look online to see what your city offers.
  3. Pride parades and events: Pride takes place in June in my city, but it happens at different times in different places. Do a search to find out when it takes place in your town, and then make plans to attend! There is usually lots of music, food, and fun, as well as informational booths. You’re bound to make a new gay friend at Pride!
  4. Facebook groups: For those who prefer virtual spaces, Facebook provides many places to hang out. You can look for lesbian-specific groups where every girl will be neatly identified for you!
  5. Gay bars: The first place most people think of is still a good place to meet gay girls. And you get to support a local business while you’re there–a win-win!
  6. Welcoming churches or other faith groups: Many progressive churches and other faith groups attract LGBT folks, and some even have groups that work specifically on LGBT issues.
  7. Other events: Concerts, lectures, and other events that usually draw an LGBT crowd will up your chances of finding your people. Find these events via your local newspaper or online.

Let me know if you can think of others places to meet gay girls, and leave me a comment about it! I’d love to hear about your experiences with finding community on your coming out journey.

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Come Out, Save Someone Else’s Life, and Save Your Own!

I’ve been thinking about visibility lately, and what it means to be “out” as a gay woman. Almost every gay person can tell you what it was like to take that first peek outside of the closet. Some of us poked our heads out of the closet and quickly went back in. Some burst out of the closet, rainbow flags flying! Some are out at home and with close friends, yet remain closeted at work or with family members.

I understand that not everyone can live a completely out life. In some situations, it’s not safe to be out, sadly. Or sometimes you simply don’t want to deal with someone else’s reaction right then. I get that.

But let me share with you why I think it’s so important for LGBT people to be as visible as we can be. Every gay person who lives an out life makes a ripple that connects to others who might still be in the closet. Your visibility directly affects other lives in ways you cannot imagine.  Here’s an example:

See that teenager watching you and your girlfriend enjoy an inside joke at the restaurant? She might be seeing her first ever model of a loving, gay relationship. She might be struggling with being bullied at her school for being gay. Seeing you live as an out lesbian might give her the hope that one day she can also have a great relationship with the girl of her dreams.

That’s just one example of how your visibility helps others. Visibility in the media has had such a huge impact ever since Ellen came out in the 90s. As soon as she was brave enough to do it, other celebrities followed suit, and soon realized that they could come out and actually be celebrated for it! And in recent days, Honey Maid graham crackers has included this heart-warming video of a family with two dads in their newest ad campaign:

I can’t imagine the impact a commercial like this would have had on me growing up in the 70s and 80s–there wasn’t an out gay person to be found on any TV set in the country then!

When we are visible, we have the opportunity to help save others, but most importantly, we also save ourselves. If you need a nudge towards more visibility, here are 3 reasons why you should come out:

  1. Less stress, more energy: It takes a lot of energy to stay in the closet, to remember who knows and who doesn’t, to police your speech, etc. Living openly means that you can spend that energy on other areas of your life!
  2. Less worry, more freedom: No worries? Well, fewer worries! Usually, our fears are greater than reality. How many times have you worried something into a much bigger deal than it ended up being? Once you’re out, it’s over (and I’ll bet it won’t be as bad as you worried it might be). You’ll have a lot more freedom in your life then, too!
  3. Less past, more present: Living in the closet is living in the past and wearing a mask that doesn’t fit you any more. Be your true self and live in the wide, open present!

Like the tiny drop of rain that seems inconsequential, when gathered up into the vast ocean with all the other drops, our collective visibility has infinite power! We all benefit when people live their authentic lives.

Leave me a comment to let me know how visibility or living in the closet has affected you. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

Questions Answered: How do I feel comfortable with my new identity?

This question came to me from someone on the message board for married women attracted to women: how do you feel comfortable with your new sexual identity when you’ve spent all of your life identifying as heterosexual? Well, it takes time and effort to make any change seem more normal, so let’s explore some ways to help you in your process.

Who Am I?   As I’ve mentioned before, when it comes to sexual identity, many get caught up in the labels given to gay people. But it’s worth it to think about how you want to describe yourself–are you comfortable with calling yourself a lesbian? Queer? Bisexual? Pansexual? Just plain “gay?” Try on these different words when talking about yourself and see which ones resonate with you. Deciding how you want to define yourself will go a long way towards helping you figure out the borders of this new identity.

How do I look?  Yes, I know it’s stereotypical and a bit superficial to focus on “looking gay,” but you can’t escape that this is how many people identify others in terms of gender and sexual identity. At least there are more models for lesbians today than the simple “femme/butch” dichotomy of the past. You might want to think about your look and how making some changes might help you feel more comfortable with your new identity.

Have you always wanted to try out shorter hair, but you were worried before that it might make you look “too gay?” Well, now’s the time to experiment! Tired of wearing makeup every day? Try a few days without it, and see how that feels. Of course, it’s perfectly fine if you want to keep your long locks and red lipstick, too. Or if you want to change it up on different days. The point is that it might be a good time to think about the image you present to the world and if it’s one that represents your true self. If you want some ideas, Qwear is one of my favorite sites for all things gay girl fashionable!

At Home/At Work: Here are some ideas to help you ease into your new identity at home and at work:

  1. Post-It notes: I’m a huge fan of these! Post notes on your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, next to your coffee pot, at your workstation, or wherever you automatically look every day. The notes can be bits of inspirational writings about being your true self, or even reminders to say “I’m gay!” three times in the mirror before brushing your teeth in the morning. Studies show that it takes 21 days to make a habit stick, so try this for 3 weeks and let me know if it works for you.
  2. Reading lesbian novels, watching lesbian TV shows, subscribing to lesbian magazines: Who knows how many women have realized their true identities while watching “The L Word?” I have no idea, but it’s a fun show, that’s for sure! Check out Netflix and other sites for lesbian-themed movies. Subscribe to lesbian magazines like Curve or Out . Read websites like LGBTQ Nation or Human Rights Campaign to stay up-to-date on issues affecting lesbians around the world. The more you immerse yourself in the gay world, the more you will feel at home there.
  3. Even simple things like changing your computer password to something gay-related as a daily reminder or changing your phone’s ringtone to a song that reminds you of your coming out can help you gel with your new identity. These little things add up over the course of weeks and months.

Where is my community?  My last suggestion for how to feel comfortable with your new identity is to find your community! I know that this can be very challenging for some, especially those who are more introverted or less social. But finding community is really key in feeling at home with yourself, I believe. One of the best tools for this is Meetup.com–go there to look for lesbian groups in your area. Chances are that there are more than a few out there. Usually, these groups are organized around events like movies, dinners, or happy hours, so pick the event that appeals to you and go meet some new friends!

If you are in a more rural town with no Meetup groups, there are online forums and other places to find gay girls. You can also join our online support group for women coming out later in life!

Leave me a comment about how you learned to feel comfortable in your new identity, struggles you might still be having, or anything else. I look forward to hearing from you!