Coming Out Later in Life - The Act of Letting Go
Women who come out later in life often report that their husband are supportive and kind in the beginning. John was no exception. As we struggled to figure out a way for me to explore my sexuality and stay married, we thought about all kinds of scenarios. We briefly considered polyamory, which is an open relationship with the couple agreeing to various parameters so both people can have relationship experiences with other people. Both of us quickly dismissed this because neither of us could handle an open relationship. I have witnessed other women try an open relationship after a traditional marriage and rarely does that work. We considered finding another woman to sleep with together, but I was repelled by the idea. Although the sexual aspect is where we started, I longed for a full relationship with a woman. It just wasn’t abut the sex, it was about the emotional, mental and spiritual connection.
John encouraged me to explore and when it came to the point that maybe I would start exploring tentatively, he said, “If you wanted to do this with man I wouldn’t be able to handle it, but because it is with a woman it is not as important to me.” I was taken aback, why would he ever say that? If the shoe was on the other foot I would not be good with John having a relationship with a man or a woman. Later I realized that this was part of the patriarchy and misogyny in this country. Women are always considered “less then” or “not as important”. The irony here is that the emotional and physical connection I have with my now partner is so much deeper and more intense then the relationship with a man would ever be.
Summer turned into autumn and I crawled into a fetal position. I could not stop crying.
Summer turned into autumn and I crawled into a fetal position. I could not stop crying. I would pull up into a parking space near my office and I would sit for hours and cry. My work suffered as I tried to care for sick and dying people as I was grieving my heterosexual identity. My patients and I were in the same space. They were dying physically and who I had been until the point as a person was dying as well. The straight mommy- married over achieving minister was shattering. The way I existed in the straight world was fading away. I was useless to care for anyone at this time.
I was terrified to move forward, absolutely shaking in my boots terrified. I knew I could not go back to the closet as I had done before. I was in my own personal Gethsemane. Jesus spent time in Gethsemane where he prayed to God, paralyzed with fear about what was about to come, his own death. I knew I had to move forward, but an inertia had set in. Coming out is a process and oftentimes people have to go it alone. Sometimes we are abandoned by those we count on the most, our family and friends. Sometimes we are held with love by these same people. Other times it is a mixture of both. Our journeys are similar, but each one is unique. The acknowledgment of how we are created is a back and forth process, sometimes agony and fear filled until we accept and move unto the next place in our journey. I have come to realize Gethsemane is about fearful anticipation of what is about to come, that we only can see what we have to let go and not about what we will gain. It is the in-between phase of any grief or life transition.
Why was I so afraid? I was afraid I would lose my children. Not in the sense of custody, but in the sense of the bond we had and the closeness we shared. My children at that time were 24,22,19 and 13. Two of them were out on their own in New York City and Boston. One was in college in Florida and my youngest lived at home. I knew my children loved our family the way it was and like any kid going through divorce they did not want that to change. I knew that if I took the step everything would unravel for my children. If I did not take this step I would condemn myself back to that restlessness, that “missing piece-ness.” My hyper-responsible self struggled to let go of the thought that I would be responsible for their pain. My internalized homophobia worried about what people would think and would I lose friends and family. I would lose my difficult marriage. Yes, it was dysfunctional, but it was my dysfunction and I was comfortable with it.
Six months I spent in the in-between in the fetal position, many nights in a spare bedroom in my home. I prayed through the night. I practiced letting-go meditations daily. I joined a secret online support group for women coming out later in life. I went to an in-person support group* for a couple of months. I tentatively began to tell people that I was gay. John and I started divorce mediation. I found a new place to live. At the end of those excruciating months, those fingers that were so tightly clenched, clutched, wrapped around the intricate threads of my then life began to loosen and let go of fear as I was birthed into a beautiful unimagined new life.
*Going to these support groups was difficult because of distance. I have since started online support groups for women coming out later in life hosted by Zoom online meeting space. The information is on my website.