Coming Out Later in Life - Letting Go of Fear - Leaving the Closet and Finding Your Tribe
My name is Anne-Marie. I am in my fifties and like all of us I have many roles in this life. I am a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, ex-wife, partner, minister, chaplain, colleague and yogi. I am also a newly out lesbian and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.
If you had told me three years ago I would write about my sexual identity as an out member of this community in an online blog, I would be shocked. I have read these later in life coming-out confessional articles in other online venues. I am often horrified by the vitriolic anger that is directed at the writer. Readers always assume that people have hidden or lied to their partner about their sexual identity for years. I am here to witness to you, it is so much more complicated.
I came out for the third time in 2016. Yes, you read that right, the third time. My attraction to women sprung to life for me in my late teen years. I just left a relationship with a man that my old fashioned parents disapproved of greatly and when I had attraction to women I just was not up to risking my relationship with my family again. In my twenties the urge continued but I am the queen of denial so I resisted the urge and married a man. Both of us have since marveled why we ever married each other as we had an extremely rocky courtship and marriage.
When my children were young I did not have much time to think about my sexuality. I was too busy, after all I had three kids in five years and my bonus baby boy seven years later. In 2006 I read an article in a magazine about the fluidity of women’s sexuality. I finally found voice to the various things I had always felt. I was so excited because there were words to describe my feelings! I remember I told my then 16 year old daughter, “If anything ever happens to your Dad and I as a couple, don’t be surprised if I end up with a female partner.” I said that I wanted to be with a woman with a wistful longing, not with any sense of certainty. Honestly I thought that every women in the world had attraction to other women, and that I could ignore these very complicated feelings. I remember the mental gymnastics I would go through as I tried to “deny the gay.” It was exhausting and lonely. These feelings might disappear for a period of time, but it would return with surprising force and the process of denial would start all over again and the years slipped away.
After three attempts to come out of the closet, including telling my now ex-husband each time, I finally found the courage to step out into the light. What was different this time? I looked for and found online support from women coming out later in life. This group helped me to acknowledge my sexuality and I finally come out as a queer woman.
When I joined this group I found that the thread of our stories were so very similar and it brought comfort to me. Women are often bound to the patriarchy and misogyny that exists in our world. I found that there is a type of woman who stays in the closet far longer then most and, of course, there are always exceptions. We tend to fall on the femme side of lesbian sexuality. We are often over achievers and tend to put the needs of others before our own. If we are married, we stay married because we think we are supposed to at all costs. Many of us are strong allies to the LGBTQ+ community, but struggle with our own internalized homophobia. We love people fiercely and just want to be seen as good wives, mothers. daughters, family and community members and we worry about losing others expectations of how we fulfill these roles. We are often very religious as well.
FIND YOUR TRIBE
Love them hard
Fear is a big factor in keeping women in the closet until later in life and many of us experience a combination of reasons and feelings. The laundry list is long, existential fear of condemnation to hell and God’s judgment; ending a relationship with our husbands and these relationships run the gamut from wonderful to very abusive; losing or disappointing our families including children, parents, siblings; unable to support ourselves financially; community’s perception of us will change; we will be discriminated against; pernicious internalized homophobia; inexperience in lesbian dating and sex; and not finding a woman to date, fall in love, marry or being alone the rest of our lives: and not being accepted in the LGBTQ+ community because of our late arrival.
This peer support group helped to ally many of my own fears that are included in this laundry list. My biggest fear was that I would lose my close relationship with my children who were 25, 23, 19 and 13 at the time. We did have a very rocky period, but several years later we are well. Many group members experience divorce and learn about all the intricacies of leaving a long term marriage. Our shared commonality is helpful. Those who are just out a year or two can be a voice of experience for the “newbies” in the group. This give confidence in our own times of uncertainty and questioning. We are a group of woman who are grieving, we lose our long held identities, marriages, family as it existed, sometimes jobs and many friends abandon us. We can scare them because of our sexual identity and many married people share these very same feelings. “How can X be so brave to come out, but I cannot?” But on another level we are divorcing and that scares a lot of long time married couples, because they question, could this happen to us?
Peer support is so important for the difficult times, but the best is celebrating the successes. Nothing is sweeter then the bravery of someone coming out to a family member and it goes very well. The newly out woman is told they are loved and supported. Forays into the lesbian dating world is greeted with enthusiasm (and trepidation by those with experience) a first kiss, a successful first date, meeting and falling in love, moving in together, marriages are all celebrated with glee and it gives hope to those who are just starting out. We also provide support around all the usual ups and downs of life that have nothing to do with our sexuality. In the LGBTQ+ world we call the circle around us “our tribe.” This online group is often the first tribe that we get to experience as women-in-the-midst of coming-out. It give us a foundation as we begin to form our own in-person communities.
I totally agree that the internet can be a very dangerous, angry and cruel place. And it can be a very supportive and hopeful place for those of us in the midst of crisis, transition or dealing with an ongoing difficult situation. Finding your tribe of people who “get it” is so important and we all have something that we need people to “get”.
Go find your tribe, now, do not wait any longer.