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. You can find the other posts and topics in this series 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?
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.
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.
I was approached by the blogger and writer Hélène Tragos Steliana 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.
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!
Question: “Approximately how long does it take most people to accept they are gay in order to be ready to come out? I’m still struggling with totally accepting it.”
I know that you want a definitive answer to this question, brave questioner. Wouldn’t we all like to have a timetable for such a complicated and messy process? But the real answer is as varied as there are people in the world.
While you might think that being accepted by others is the main project of coming out, self-acceptance is truly at the heart of it all. It doesn’t matter one bit what others think of you if you are not comfortable in your own skin.
How long does this take? Well, for me it took about 40+ years for me to accept that I am gay. For others, it might take 20 years. Or 15 years. Or 60 years. Or never.
I think the real heart of your question is not how long it takes, but what you can do to further your self-acceptance. Your gayness is not going to go away, so here are some ways that you can embrace it and further your coming out process:
Say the words: I cannot stress enough how important this is. Whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, or queer, say the words to yourself. Say them to your smiling face in the mirror each morning when you wake up. Say them when you’re in the car by yourself in traffic. Sing them to yourself! Celebrate this new reality, and get one step closer to self-acceptance.
Let go: In order to make room for the new, you have to get rid of the old. Let go of old dreams, old notions of what your life is or will be like, old patterns. Let go in order to make room for this new life that you are creating for yourself.
Appreciate your progress: When you’re down and feeling stuck, take a look at what you’ve accomplished so far. Coming out to yourself is a big deal even if you’re still struggling with self-acceptance. You’ll take the next steps when you’re ready.
Set realistic goals and deadlines: Don’t think that you need to come out to yourself, your family, your friends, and your co-workers all in the same week. These things take time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for each step along the way so that you can process everything. Of course, some goals and deadlines are good if you need a little incentive to stop stalling.
You are the only you you’ve got: You are precious, unique and amazing! Being gay is but one facet of your awesome self. Know that you will not be any less precious by coming out–in fact, the opposite is true. Being your true self is a gift to you and also a gift to the rest of the world.
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
Leave me a comment and let me know if you are struggling with self-acceptance or if you have advice for others struggling. I’d love to hear from you!
Anyone who comes out later in life understands what an immense change it is to publicly “switch teams,” as they say. You have a history as “the straight person,” that’s how friends and family know you, and that’s how you’ve presented yourself to the world for 20, 30, or 40 some odd years.
Coming out and claiming your new identity is, indeed in some ways, a fresh start. Many people report feeling happier than ever after they shed their old identity and begin deliberately creating this new one.
But there are usually more questions than answers at this point: will my old friends stick by me? Will I make new friends? If so, where will I find them? How do I start dating? What are the unspoken “rules” I need to follow in this new world? How should I dress, act, talk, etc.? Should I still carry a purse or not? (Seriously, this was one thing I got stuck on during my coming out process–I’m laughing now remembering it!).
This is where the power of “I don’t know” comes into play. In order to get from your old identity to your new one, you have to be willing to walk the bridge of “I don’t know.”
Will your friends stick by you? There’s no way to know until you start being honest with them. Will you make new friends? You won’t know until you try. Will you ever find the right girl who will accept you just as you are? No way to know for sure until you take those first steps into the dating pool.
See, the power of “I don’t know” is the power of possibility. When you think that you know everything and have everything nailed down, there’s no room for growth. But when you are willing to open up that closet door a bit–open up to the possibility of the unknown–that is when you’ll create the space for something different in your life.
Try it today: say “I don’t know” when someone asks you about your future plans. Tell yourself “it’s okay not to know” when you are obsessively worrying over some aspect of your coming out journey.
Find the power in not knowing. Trust that the way will light up ahead of you when you need it. Let go of your old identity in order to make room for your new one!
Leave me a comment about your experiences and thoughts about starting over and not knowing. I’d love to hear from you!