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?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #7”

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”

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!

 

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: You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers! Here’s the first one: “What do you say to someone who says, ‘You can’t be gay–you are too feminine!’ I am worried when I come out to my family and friends that this will be their reaction.”

Oh, how I understand this problem! I’m definitely on the feminine side of the spectrum, so when I came out, I did get this sort of reaction from some friends and acquaintances. Most people’s image of a gay girl is more like k.d. lang than Portia de Rossi. So it’s understandable that we have a way to go before many understand that there are as many different kinds of lesbians as there are people in the world.

Another complicating factor is that when you are a feminine gay girl growing up, society more easily puts you into the “straight” category. No one thinks to ask if you are gay, and you don’t know enough to ask that question of yourself, especially if you have no gay role models. You “look” straight, guys are attracted to you, so you think, “Hey, this must be what I’m meant to do.”

I believe that, in some ways, feminine lesbians have a more difficult time coming out to themselves than more obvious gay girls. While we don’t get the teasing and the bullying that those girls received, we are more prone to hiding behind the mask of straightness since it’s simply easier for us to pass–to ourselves and to others.

And this can lead to a lifetime of questioning, “So, since I don’t like softball, I can’t be gay, right? I love wearing skirts and lipstick, so surely I’m not gay? Of course I’m not gay, I’ve been married to a man!” Yes, you can be gay under all of these circumstances–trust me!

All of that said, once you have come out to yourself, you fabulous feminine gay girl, you know your truth and no one can take that from you! My advice to you is to anticipate that question and come up with a funny answer (“Guess I’ll have to trade my heels for sensible shoes now”), a question back at them (“That’s interesting. Why do you think that? Do you know many other gay people?”), or ignore the question completely by changing the subject if you don’t want to address it.

Choose your approach based on the person asking the question and how much you feel like discussing this in the moment. You really don’t need to justify your gayness to anyone else at all!

As a final aside, this is another reason why I think everyone should be as “out” as they can. The world needs to see that gay people come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. People who are questioning their sexuality desperately need role models to show them that being gay is not limited to the old stereotypes. Burly football players can be gay, lipstick-wearing actresses can be gay–break down those stereotypes and add your special style to the mix!

Feel free to tweet your questions to me @latelifelesbian or leave them in the comments section. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!