Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories #9

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.

STAYING WITH YOUR HUSBAND/PARTNER (Part 1)

by Laurel Peterson

The last several weeks, we talked about the difficulty of coming out to your straight partner. Now we’re moving on to the next step – once you have come out to your husband/boyfriend, your relationship doesn’t magically disappear. The next couple of weeks, we’ll explore the ways in which the late life lesbians in our group tried to make things work with their partners. This week’s question is:

If you chose to stay with your husband/partner after realizing you had a same sex attraction and telling him about it, why did you do so? How long did you stay together?


Still trying to make it work

Some of our members are still in their straight marriages and trying to navigate a way forward together:

I’m still married, and actually conflicted about whether or not I should divorce. We have a six year old son, and I’m currently dating someone pretty seriously, and my husband took all of that in stride. A part of me wants a new life, but I also feel responsible for him as he is quite a bit older than I am. I just can’t shed that sense of responsibility! – Diana

I told my husband about 7 months ago that I was gay and unhappy in our marriage. We’ve been in more of a roommate/friendship relationship for a couple years with him “being patient” with not having sex or having a romantic side to us. We still live together and co-parent. Our 3 year old son means the world to both of us and neither of us want to give up time with him. So for now, this is my life. It’s not by preference that I am still married and co-habitating. It’s my lack of knowing how else to do life.– Kari

I told my husband six months ago that I thought I might be a lesbian. I don’t think I will ever forget that conversation or the look on his face. We are still living in the same house with our two children but I’m not sure how much longer that will last because about two months after I told him I began a relationship with a woman and we are still together. He is a terrific guy and it’s very difficult to see him hurting. We both know that we need to be apart to be happy but it is hard imagining life without my kids every single day. – Karen

Made it work for years

Several other late life lesbians tried to find a way to stay with their husband and made it work for many years, but ultimately the relationship still ended:

When I first told my husband, we tried to make the marriage work as I “explored” my truth with a plan to stick it out until our youngest graduated high school. He was 12 at the time. Fast forward three and half years and we’re selling the house and officially divorcing. We’ve been together our entire adult lives, met at 18 and both turning 50 this year. The loss is tremendous. In hindsight, I’d dispense with the plan to stick it out for the kids and make a clean and abrupt break. The three and half years have eroded a once great friendship and sowed bitterness and anger and resentment. That’s the saddest part. – Annie

I stayed married even after realizing that I am a lesbian. I was a stay at home mom, with no outside support or financial resources. I felt imprisoned, but my situation was unique. I had a daughter with a life threatening illness and I put her life before my happiness. I have no regrets about my decision, but I sure am glad now to be divorced and free to live an authentic life. – Rose

I told my husband nearly a year ago that I was gay. We now have separate bedrooms in the same house. I don’t know what the future holds but for now it’s focusing on co-parenting our 8-year-old. I think short term we will continue living together while I finish my masters degree and our daughter starts middle school. It’s about a three year time frame. There really are no rule books for this situation. We are learning what works and what doesn’t as we go. – Nicole

Short lived efforts

Still others tried to stay with their partners, but it became apparent pretty quickly that it wasn’t going to work:

I started questioning who I was while with my second husband. I stayed married for a little over two years after I started identifying as bisexual. Toward the end of the relationship, I started to really need a relationship with a woman. My ex-husband and I decided to try a triad type relationship. While searching for a girlfriend to bring into the relationship, I discovered that I was truly a lesbian. I ended my search and separated from him. Now, almost four years later, I am engaged to the woman of my dreams. – Billi Jo

I moved out 3 months after I told him. I am just grateful I had the financial independence to do it. We are not officially divorced, but I haven’t felt “married” for a long time. Marriage is so much more than a paper, or organizing the house or co-parenting our daughter. Was I tempted to stay with him, for the stability that our life together used to offer me, and thinking of his and my daughter’s pain? Yes, very much. But I knew I could only stay if I could forget about being in love with a woman. In the end, I either had to leave and live life, or stay and die inside. It wasn’t really a choice. – Corina

I told my husband 18 months ago, after 21 years of marriage and three children. I went quickly through the rollercoaster that ensued: first having a catalyst*; then wondering if I was bi; then pondering whether I could stay married; then realizing I’m gay; then “wow, let’s do this!”; then the pain of unrequited feelings from a woman; then sexual exploration; then acceptance of myself; then making decisions; then recovering my self worth; and now, finally, I’m PASSIONATELY in love and TOTALLY gay! I’ve separated from my husband. He’s staying in the house with our teenagers. I’m moving in with my girlfriend. He and I are still excellent friends. He’s dating now and the children are fine. – Georgia

All late life lesbians must choose the path that’s right for them as far as whether they can remain in any kind of “together” relationship with their straight partner or not. Next week, we’ll explore how these efforts to somehow stay together have affected our straight relationships.

* – “catalyst” is a term frequently used among later in life lesbians to describe the woman we credit with “awakening” our true sexuality – either through a crush, a friendship or an intimate relationship. Not everyone has a catalyst 🙂

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?

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.