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.

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!