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

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

My Coming Out Mistakes–Er, Lessons!

Today, I’m going to be 100% honest with you.

I have made many mistakes over the last few years on my coming out journey. I really do wish I had the “one plan fits all,” “money-back guarantee” to end all guarantees to help you have the smoothest, best coming out ever, but I don’t.

What I do have is my story, filled with stops and starts, ups and downs, trials and many errors. I think it’s worth sharing to simply let you know, “Hey, I’ve been there, too!” I believe that by sharing our stories, we gain the confidence to move forward on our coming out journeys.

So, here is my list of “coming out” mistakes that I hope might help you to feel better about your own:

  1. I didn’t trust myself: It took me years to be able to sit still enough to hear that inner voice telling me my truth. I gave too much credibility to what other people thought and what society wanted for me instead of listening to myself.
  2. I didn’t trust others: I was scared to come out to some of my close family and friends. I worried what they might think of me and how my coming out might change our relationship. But, some of the people who I worried the most about coming out to are now among my biggest supporters (Hi, Dad!).
  3. I trusted others too much: A few of my friends who I simply assumed would “get it” did not. In some cases, they initially supported me, but further down the road, their support disappeared. You really do learn who your true friends are during your coming out journey.
  4. I wanted to know the entire path up front: I have always had big issues with wanting to know everything ahead of time. Part of the reason it was difficult for me to come out was that I kept spinning all of the possible scenarios in my head over and over again. But, in the end, I had to trust that all would be revealed in time. I had to trust that if I took that first, difficult step, the staircase would appear. And it did!
  5. I wish I had done it sooner! I know that my coming out was timed perfectly for my life, but in so many ways, I still wish I had done it sooner! On the whole, it went much better than I ever imagined it would. The best part is that I finally get to live my authentic life.

As I always tell my daughter, “it’s only a mistake if you didn’t learn the lesson.” And I’m still learning lessons from my coming out journey. Leave me a comment below and let me know some of the lessons you learned on your own journey!

Once, I was just like you…

I’ve been catching up on posts on a website for married women who are attracted to other women. Reading the posts from newcomers always gives me such a sense of perspective. It seems like so long ago that I was in their shoes, but it was only about 3 years ago.

So, I decided to write to those women who are just starting out on this journey. You who are still married, but now discovering your attraction to other women. Or perhaps you have always known this about yourself, but you buried it so deeply that you hoped no one (including you!) would ever find it again.

I’m here to tell you: I was once just like you. Waking up every morning knowing that something was wrong, but not able to put my finger on exactly what it was. Being angry for no reason at the people in my life because I was so unhappy, but not ready to face why. Longing for connection to another woman, but scared to take that first step.

I remember the days leading up to that final realization, and then the fear afterwards, knowing that I had to change now–there was no going back. It was a mixture of exhilaration and dread that paralyzed me at first. What if I was making the wrong decision? How would I ever know for sure what the right decision was? How could I change my entire life over this?

Now, living my fabulous life with my girlfriend and partner of two years, it’s amazing to me that I ever could have accepted anything less. But if I could get in a time machine and go back to my 3 years ago self, here is what I would say to her:

  • Be kind to yourself: Sometimes, you just can’t have all the answers. But you can choose to have compassion for yourself. You’re doing the best you can right now.
  • Know that everyone’s timetable is unique: What seems like a slow journey to some may be just right for you. No one can tell when it’s the right time to make a decision to leave or stay in your marriage. No one can tell you that you’re moving too fast. You are the ultimate authority on what’s best for you.
  • Be thankful for each small victory: All of these small moments add up to something larger. Take comfort in each step of your journey, whether it’s coming out to a friend or finding a gay-friendly therapist.
  • It’s not a straight path (surprise!): You will have good days and not-so-good days. You may not know which way to turn on some days. Practicing listening to your inner voice and you’ll soon get much better at figuring out which turn to make.

I’m so grateful that I stopped pushing down and pushing away those feelings that I’d had my whole life, but chose not to follow. I’m finally living my authentic life, and I know that you will find your way to your true path on your own terms!

Leave me a comment and let me know what are the roadblocks that are causing you to stumble today. Maybe we can work together to come up with some answers for you!

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!