Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, pt. 3

Female hands holding cups of coffee on rustic wooden table backgroundHere 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 and part 2). For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go here.

MAKING THE REALIZATION, pt. 3

by Laurel Peterson

In the last installment, we discussed the emotions late life lesbians experience when they come to terms with their sexuality. This time, we’re moving on to labels. Figuring out you’re attracted to women isn’t as easy as thinking, “gee, I guess I’m not straight – I must be a lesbian!” Some of our members are attracted to women, but don’t identify as lesbian, and many resist labeling their sexuality at all because they find sexuality too complicated and personal to put it any one “box.” To give you more insight into this question, we asked:

How did you “arrive” at your home on LGBTQ spectrum, and how do you label your sexuality, if at all?

Always attracted to women

Many women were always attracted to women, but it took a while to realize they were on “the spectrum.” Now that they have “joined the rainbow,” some identify as lesbian, but others don’t.

I think I was always [attracted to women], I just needed to wake up to it. I label myself as queer, because I don’t feel I have a right really to call myself a lesbian. I’ve enjoyed straight privilege for most of my life, and I didn’t have to go through any of the trials and tribulations or assaults that women who can’t pass for straight have had to go through. – Anne

My entire life I’ve been drawn to women. After being outed as a teen for kissing girls, I was bullied, and sexually assaulted by a group of  boys who wanted to show “the lezzie” what she was missing. I went full on with boys after that. I soon became pregnant and married after dropping out of high school. I didn’t touch a woman again until I was in my early 30s while separated from my husband. I had a couple of relationships with women but couldn’t embrace that as my truth and went on to marry another man. When I met my catalyst* five years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that the key to my lingering unhappiness was that I am a gay woman who has been ignoring her own needs for her entire life. Once that passed thru my brain, I felt a lightness I had not felt before. It changed everything and now here I am. – Lily

Transitional identities

Many late in life lesbians took one or more “stops” along the way in figuring out their sexuality. They thought they were straight, but then tried on a few other labels before realizing they were primarily attracted to women. I, for example, spent six years identifying as asexual. Others considered themselves as bisexual or pansexual first.

I definitely identified as straight when I was growing up. While I found myself attracted to women, I thought that was the “normal” straight-girl experience. After I separated from my husband, I met someone and soon spent a lot of time thinking about it. I thought I was pansexual – because I really couldn’t reconcile how I had been with a man for 16 years, and then suddenly wanted to be with women. I had a brief fling with a woman, and felt that needle move a little more to the other side. Then I met my now-girlfriend and it became very apparent to me I was not attracted to men at all. I’m really comfortable and proud to call myself a lesbian now. – CK

When I started questioning my sexuality, I wasn’t sure whether I was bi or “all the way gay.” I talked to friends who identify as bisexual and lesbian, and asked how they knew. I tried on bi as a label. I walked around looking at strangers, men and women, asking myself if I was attracted enough to them to hypothetically sleep with them. The men did nothing for me. I wanted to identify as bi, so I could seriously consider staying in my marriage. But everything I was figuring out pointed to “all the way gay.” Now I identify as gay, although I use lesbian interchangeably. – Jennifer

Sexual fluidity

One of the things society is just starting to realize about the LGBTQ spectrum is that sometimes your sexuality can change or evolve over time, which is called sexual fluidity. Here’s a few examples of how this evolution took place for our members:

All my life, I never imagined the possibility of being lesbian or bisexual. I didn’t have anything against it, but I never imagined that I might be sexually attracted to women. After two frustrated marriages and two divorces, at age 47, I fell madly and utterly in love with a woman who spent one week in my hometown and bought some Portuguese classes which brought her to my classroom. My whole inner world turned upside down suddenly. Today, I know that I’m not straight and I believe I’m not bisexual, I’m sure I’m a lesbian because I can not even imagine having any intimacy with a man any more. I feel attractions for beautiful and feminine women, and this is a reality that has come to stay. – F

I had a very brief fling with a lesbian on my softball team at age 25. I was the only straight woman in the team at the time. Then I went back to loving men. In 2008, I left my marriage to a man for reasons unrelated to sexuality. By sometime in 2009, it was clear to me that I’m lesbian. I don’t know how it happened. Over time, I just became more and more attracted to women, and less and less interested in men. My sexuality has been fluid. – Carol

Bisexuality & more

Although our support group is for late life lesbians, not all of our members are exclusively attracted to women – and that’s OK. We have found in the process of sharing our experiences that we have felt many of the same emotions and struggles.

I still feel like I am in flux, which drives me nuts at 37. I suspect the continuing indecision of living in a heterosexual/polyamorous marriage drives this more so than my biology. Rather than being out of the closet, it feels more like I’m simply residing in a “bigger” closet. I often wonder if I can be attracted exclusively to women, yet still have an emotional, romantic bond to a man? It’s a stressful place to be. – M

I spent a large part of my life thinking there was something wrong with me, because although I liked some men and found them attractive, the sex was never great and the relationships never seemed to work. Looking back, I had physical attractions to women, but I labelled them crushes or my own neediness and let them go. It wasn’t until 2015 that I really began to question what I wanted in my life…and then began to consider being with a woman. I have had two female relationships thus far, but identifying as bisexual suits me better than lesbian. Though I am wild for the woman I’m with right now (who is trans), I still am not certain where I will end up. – Natalie

As you can see, finding your “home” on the LGBTQ spectrum isn’t an easy process, and one that our members don’t take lightly. In the end, though, we all support each other regardless of how we identify and applaud each other for living our individual truths, whatever they happen to be. Next week, we’ll examine whether or not our members chose to “come out” right away after realizing their sexuality, and why.

* – “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.

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.

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. One place is AskJoanne.net that I mentioned earlier, but do an online search and I’m sure you’ll find more!

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!