Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #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. 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.

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?

Continue reading “Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #3”

“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!

 

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!

 

Questions answered: How can you tell if someone is gay?

Recently, I was asked in the comments to another post, “How can you tell if someone is gay? How can I find gay girls?” I have thought about it since then, and the only absolutely true answer is, “You only know 100% for sure if you ask them.”

Now, that requires some courage, I know! Not everyone is ready for that, and it wouldn’t always be appropriate in every context. You can also try and rely on your gaydar, which has been proven to work about 60% of the time.  Fairly decent odds there!

But here are 7 ways to increase your odds if you are trying to find Maximum Lesbian Density:

  1. Meetups in your area: Most cities and towns have specific meetups for gays and lesbians. Some are for women only, some are centered around shared interests (there’s one for hiking in my town and another one for gay parents), but all are pre-defined in terms of who you will meet there.
  2. Gay community centers: Some cities have community centers that cater specifically to the LGBT crowd. Our local center offers yoga classes, movie nights, community forums, and other fun activities. Look online to see what your city offers.
  3. Pride parades and events: Pride takes place in June in my city, but it happens at different times in different places. Do a search to find out when it takes place in your town, and then make plans to attend! There is usually lots of music, food, and fun, as well as informational booths. You’re bound to make a new gay friend at Pride!
  4. Facebook groups: For those who prefer virtual spaces, Facebook provides many places to hang out. You can look for lesbian-specific groups where every girl will be neatly identified for you!
  5. Gay bars: The first place most people think of is still a good place to meet gay girls. And you get to support a local business while you’re there–a win-win!
  6. Welcoming churches or other faith groups: Many progressive churches and other faith groups attract LGBT folks, and some even have groups that work specifically on LGBT issues.
  7. Other events: Concerts, lectures, and other events that usually draw an LGBT crowd will up your chances of finding your people. Find these events via your local newspaper or online.

Let me know if you can think of others places to meet gay girls, and leave me a comment about it! I’d love to hear about your experiences with finding community on your coming out journey.

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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. You can also join our online support group for women coming out later in life!

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!