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.

“The Late Life Lesbian Diaries” (pt. 2)

Here’s part two of our new feature written by RM, a later-in-life lesbian. Start with part one here:


The chatter of those first couple days quickly settled into a back and forth banter that was reminiscent of a friendship cascading back through the years.  She was out shopping with her kids, sending pictures of things that brought me to mind–stores bearing my name, girl’s bedding that would in a few days spawn a nickname. Me at work, yawning through my work day, responding with silliness and sarcasm, and letting my work float away unnoticed.

I got a message telling me she is flying out that night, across country for work, but will also be meeting another woman from our group.  The words pass through my eyes, up the optic nerves into my brain. Suddenly my stomach is involved, my skin joins in moments later. WTF is this sensation once again taunting me and my rationality? I crack a joke, “Don’t have too much fun! Totally kidding, go get it girl!” Truth be told, I didn’t really mean that second part. Or did I? I decided to roll with it, enjoy the banter and let it take us away to a land of Subarus, flannel shirts, Birkenstocks, toaster ovens, and U-Hauls.

“…but I wish I was having dinner (and other things!) with another woman.” U-Haul – reserved.

A picture of her in her hotel room jumps onto my screen. My heart twitches, the forbidden zone tingles. Shit. On our first night of chatting I had already let things go further than I ever intend to. Society and years of fighting to gain the attention of a man has taught me to use my sexuality. Boobs, flirting, and being quick into bed worked in the past and also reduced the need for conversation, of which my skill can rival the storytelling of a four-year old.  That first night, she jokingly asked what I was wearing after I told her I’d moved from the couch into bed. I immediately sent a photo showing my bare shoulders peeking out from the sheets and told her that was indeed an inappropriate question to ask this early in the game. I began to talk about my first time with a woman as the urges and desires rumbled under the sheets. The conversation stopped for a few minutes and when we returned, with a new sense of relaxation and release, we picked right up and continued on. For another hour.  Was this life with a woman? We didn’t need confirmation or validation at what had happened behind the screens of our phones. We continued on with the playful banter and became two teenagers in lust, “No you hang up! No you hang up!” We eventually did  and now my mind wanders back to the present moment. She is in her hotel room and we send a few pictures back and forth. Before things go any further, I ask the question I need answered – “Are you interested in just flirting or also getting to know each other? Because I’d love to do both…” I wait.

“Ditto. I see us being great friends with the delightful possibility of added benefits at some point.”

I smile. We begin to talk about the two places we live, me in the western U.S., her in Australia. We talk about how we first knew we were not living our authentic lives, and when we knew we wanted to explore life with the ladies. We shared the stories of our ex-husbands and divorces.  The conversation continues to be comfortable, familiar, and most importantly, vulnerable. I don’t want to be her first, I already know I want more than that. She has yet to even kiss a woman – “go sow your oats and then tell me about it,” I tell her.  She promises to do just that and then a couple videos and voices files cross the ocean and we hear each other for the first time. I listen over and over, her voice trapping me, sucking me into a place I hadn’t intended to go. I mention another woman who had recently joined the group and was from the same city as BG. An answer, that I will soon learn is classic for her, comes back, “And throwing you up against the wall and kissing you among other things…Yes, a newbie here in town!”

We start to jump in and then immediately pull back. Instead we begin to talk about body shapes and sizes, our own and those we are attracted to. I allow the rolls and bulges of my belly to relax and unfold as she tells me how much she loves curves on a woman – soft, cuddly curves.  She tells me how beautiful I am and even with the distance, I still feel the the deep buzzing sensation I get when someone looks at me with adoration and attraction. Shame and unworthiness absorb the warmth and kindness, shielding my heart from being fully open. I tell her this, because I know I don’t have to pretend or hide my true self.  We knew this immediately, both of us feeling a warmth and familiarity we were attempting to comprehend. The gushing of compliments tapers off and the conversation meanders back to getting to know each other. The silly little things that make us US, like we both dislike talking on the phone, and we both love to communicate in writing. I live in a weed-legal state and we laugh about marketing edible THC underwear. BG heads out to explore and I settle into bed, mind overly active and unable to rest. It’s the weekend. I have nowhere to be the next day and I allow my mind to wander. Would I move out of the country for someone? How the fuck can I feel such a strong connection to someone I’ve never met? Will she still like me once we meet? Will I still like her once we meet? Can I take my cats with me? Do I need a more lesbian style? Will her kids like me? Her family? Will my friends and family like her? I worry that I’m not as funny as she thinks I am. I worry that we will have no chemistry. I worry that we’ll have too much and I’ll fall for someone half a world away.

She was pulling me – hard and fast – I couldn’t explain it. My brain needed a break, it needed to stop thinking and allow this crazy fuckery to unfold, organically. I glanced at the world map on my wall and stared at the vast ocean that separates us.

I attempted to read, but then she sent a picture, and then another. I respond and questions pour in. Siblings, favorite movies, celebrity crushes, to shave or not to shave, top travel destination. Each question leads down another path to further discovery and I am enamored with every bit of it.

I mention that I was in bed and what I was not wearing and we head down a very secluded and intimate path taking us both to a place that neither of us knew existed. Pictures and words are exchanged as my mind and body drift away to a place 8,000 miles away. Rationality attempted to pull me back, but the forces of a libido in the wrong hands for far too long, left rationality standing alone and silenced. I imagine her, lying in her hotel room, hopefully in a similar state. When I recover and can type again, I tell her this. “OMG. Me too” is all I need to hear. And then, “In the beautiful foreplay of minds, then the body just explodes.” I sink deeper into a state of beautiful bewilderment. Without hesitation, the chatting continues and we open ourselves up even more. I share Pablo Neruda quotes and question if this is what girl sex is like. The easy balance of sensual and cerebral, by way of giggling and chatting that picks up easily after our pleasureable interludes.

We cannot hold out for long and we are back to describing, in much more detail, the things we imagine doing to each other. I remember that moment clearly. I was sitting up in my bed with my laptop, reading her words, imagining her doing to me the things she was describing. With both hands on the keyboard, contemplating my next move, I froze and tossed the laptop aside. What happened next left me confused and unsure of my surroundings.

“That was beyond words. You are touching me, without even being here. What the hell are you doing to me woman?!?”

“I know, me too!”

We continue again with the easy banter and chatting until she has to relent and head out to dinner. With eight minutes to put herself together. It’s 3am my time, I say goodnight and snuggle down to attempt sleep.

Her words pass through my mind, “what crazy fuckery is this?” It will become our mantra.

What does Elizabeth Gilbert’s coming out have to do with me? (Lots, apparently!)

Last Wednesday, I was up early checking email when a request popped up from the Telegraph, a UK newspaper.

“Hi, I’m writing from the Telegraph Women’s section, wondering whether you’d consider doing an article for us? It would be linked to the news about Elizabeth Gilbert. I saw you quoted in a previous piece, and thought you’d be perfect.”

I don’t always wake up to requests for articles from a British newspaper, but when I do, it’s a very good day! Soon, I had another request–this time from The Guardian–for a 5:30am (US time) phone interview the next day for an article on women coming out later in life.

After these two articles were published last Friday, the emails started pouring in from the UK and beyond–from women wanting to join our online support group.

I’m beyond thrilled that our group is growing! We’re now up to over 300 members, and I have about 20 more emails in my inbox right now–more women who are looking for support and connection on this journey.

One of the worst parts for me when I decided to come out was thinking that I was the only one who had ever done this. I had a difficult time finding resources for coming out later in life, and after I did it, I promised myself that I would find a way to help other women on this path.

Whether you identify as questioning, bisexual, lesbian, queer, or “beyond labels,” if you are in the process of coming out and coming to a greater understanding of your identity, you are welcome in our group!

I’m so glad to see this issue getting more publicity as I firmly believe there is power in visibility.

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for speaking your truth! It’s helped countless women feel less alone today, and that’s a very good thing.

lgilbert
Author Elizabeth Gilbert (left) and Rayya Elias. Photo credit: Noam Galai/Getty Images

 

 

 

New Facebook Support Group

The number one request I get from women coming out later in life is “where can I find community and support?” A year ago, I started the Later in Life Lesbian Support Group to address this need. I choose Google Groups as the platform mainly for the anonymity factor, which is a big deal for those questioning their sexuality and needing support.

While I’ve had great response to the Google support group, the platform is really lacking in ease of communication.

So, I made the decision to move the Later in Life Lesbian Support Group from Google Groups to Facebook for these reasons:

  1. Facebook is the number one social networking platform. It’s where everyone is connecting these days!
  2. With the option of a “secret” Facebook group, anonymity is protected. The group will not show up in any internet search, and it definitely will not show up on anyone’s Facebook news feed.
  3. Facebook makes it easy to share resources, articles, photos, and anything else that might be helpful for women coming out later in life.

Join us in the new group! It’s a secret group, so if you want to join, you need to send me an email at latelifelesbian@gmail.com. Tell me why you want to join the group so that I can make sure you’ll be a good fit.

I look forward to growing our support network and I hope to see you on our new group soon!

 

Hey, we made HuffPo!

I was approached by the blogger and writer Hélène Tragos Stelian a few months ago to be interviewed for a Huffington Post article she was writing about women who come out later in life. She was a delight to work with and was very receptive to learning more about women coming out later in life.

Well, the article is now live on Huffington Post! It includes great quotes from a variety of women, including my friend-in-real-life and amazing poet Lisa Dordal.

It’s an honor to be included in the article and even more of an honor to be a part of getting the word out about the excitement and challenges of coming out later in life.

Leave your comment about the article at the link above–I know that Hélène would love to hear from you!

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!

Thank you & happy birthday to me!

First, thanks to all of you who responded to my request to “like” and share the Late Life Lesbian Story Facebook page last week! My birthday wish was granted and I’m happy to report that we’re over 200 likes now! This community continues to grow, and I’m so thankful for each and every one of you–from the new LLL’s coming out to our straight allies and everyone in between!

Each year on my birthday, I usually do an evaluation of where I am in my life with regards to my goals, my quality of life, and my overall happiness. There have been a few years, some not too long ago, when I wasn’t all that happy. I felt stuck, inauthentic, and angry. I felt like my life was going in the wrong direction, but I had no idea how to right it.

Little did I know then that the way out is the way through. I had to dig beneath my feelings to investigate what was causing them instead of running away from them. I had to learn to listen to that small, still voice inside of me that knew my truth. I had to take that first courageous step outside my comfort zone and rethink everything I had ever been taught that was right and “normal.” I had to be me.

That first step–wow, what a doozy! But I have never looked back and I’m happier now that I’ve ever been in my life. It’s a deep contentment that stems from knowing I’m finally at home with myself. It’s knowing that I don’t have to spend energy pretending to be someone I’m not. It’s a bigger and better life than I could have ever imagined!

This is what I wish for all of you LLL’s who are on the path right now. Whether you are just beginning to come out to yourself or you are starting to find community or you are making plans to move into your own place, I wish you the strength to truly be yourself. It’s the best gift ever!

Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts about living your truth, listening to that wise voice inside, and birthdays! I celebrate mine all month, so have a piece of cake for me and all the other June babies!