Coming Out Later in Life - Letting Go of Fear - The Struggle to Come Out

Why is it so hard

For some people to come out?

I came out later in life and this is very curious to some people.   Early out gay people, and straight people as well, pepper me with questions of curiosity.  Did you know?  When? Why did you wait?  Inevitably gay people tell me their coming out story.  It is so perplexing for everyone, even to the person who is coming out.   I have had the opportunity to hear literally hundreds of late in life stories.  Male and female stories are very similar, but women also have a layer of societal expectations which make their experiences different from men   

1.    Many of us couldn’t care less if a friend, a family member or our kids were gay.   WE were the only people who could NOT be gay. That is internalized homophobia in a nutshell.   It was formed by a system that includes religion, parents, family, community, justice and laws.  All of these values and beliefs are used to hold up the heteronormative narrative and keep these members of society at the pinnacle of privilege.  It is also used to create gender binaries of male/female, husband/wife and to reduce sexuality to a duality of heterosexual or not.  It is so hard for many of us to envision that can be a different way, because we have been acculturated to believe this is the “right” or “good” way and any deviation is not.

2.    We often belong to communities or religious institutions that are deeply homophobic. We do not feel safe enough to come out and fear for our physical and emotional well-being.  Receiving hate speech repeatedly from the pulpit can be soul crushing.  Believing that one will receive eternal damnation because of our orientation can be truly terrifying.  A person must be willing to step away from an institution that has also provided community and friendship.  Sometimes people also believe that they are turning away from God, which can often prompt an existential crisis. 

3.    Women are told that relationships with men are supposed to be difficult.  The implicit message in a patriarchal society is our needs are secondary to those of our husbands and families.  Religious upbringing reinforces this belief system, but we don’t have to come from a religious background to receive these messages. It is part of the heteronormative fabric.  Many women are trained implicitly and explicitly to be wives and mothers.  Go down a toy aisle at any store if you don’t believe me.  

 4.    We are taught to be “good” girls.  And kind. And nice. And accommodating.  It is this appearance of “goodness” that traps many women because how can we be perceived as a good wife and mother if we need or want something different? The values of traditional marriage and family are held as the ideal in the heteronormative narrative.   

 5.    Women’s beauty, and body parts, are the subject of art, poetry, and literature.  This sexualization of women also sell us everything under the sun and is all around us continuously.  For some women it is difficult discern between all these messages and sexual attraction.  Because of hesitancy to discuss our feelings, we believe that everyone must feel the same way and so we worry about it a lot.  We have a saying in our online support group “Straight women don’t spend their lives lying awake at night worrying if they are gay.”

 6.    Sometimes it is not about our sexual orientation.  Many women are trapped in abusive marriages and leaving can be dangerous for our lives.  It takes another kind of strength and courage to leave these types of relationships.  

 7.    We may acknowledge that we are gay to ourselves, but we experience dissociation.  The fact that we are gay is the “background noise” to our life.  It pops up again and again in various circumstances, but subconsciously we chose selective inattention instead.  I believe that is the primary reason why I stayed in the closet for so long.

 8.    Being gay is not a decision, coming out is.  I have heard so many women worry “what is I make the wrong decision?  What if I divorce my husband, leave my current life, change my children’s life and I am wrong?”  Culturally women are taught not to listen to our own voices or trust our intuition therefore for many of us this is an agonizing decision to leave our marriages.   

 9.    Some of us were out or explored our sexuality when we were younger.  We may have had a painful breakup or were in an abusive relationship.  We may have received condemnation or pressure from our families and communities so back into the closet we went.  Until it became too painful to hide our sexuality.  

 10.  Many of us have had chaotic unsafe childhoods and we have often created the birth families we wished we had.  We often partner with someone from a similar background and together we have created a relatively peaceful and non-chaotic life. This partnership is often bonded in friendship from this shared experience of raising children together. This is safe for us and we loathe to leave this security behind.   This is reason #2 for me.  

 11.  We are afraid of rejection.  For moms and dads, we are deeply afraid of losing our relationship with our children.  We also fear being rejected by our own parents, siblings, other family members and community. 

 There is no easy one-size-fits-all answer of why some people wait to later and often it is a combination of several reasons and a healthy dose of fear and anxiety.  

It is complicated, isn’t it?