Here 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
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
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.