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.

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