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.

“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.