It is a milestone in your life to reveal that you are lesbian or gay. With greater societal acceptance, people are dating earlier in life. More than half of gay men and almost 40% of lesbian women surveyed in 2013 said they had spoken to friends and family before the age of 20.
The decision is not easy for everyone, however. Stigma and discrimination still exist. Some of the 3 million LGBTQ Americans over 50 have waited many years to come out. Others haven’t yet.
Meet two people over 50 who talk about why they waited and how going out has changed their lives.
Christopher Adams: How I finally stopped lying to myself and everyone
I’m a 52 year old gay male and last year was the year I finally chose to be open about who I am. I regret that I did not do it much earlier. I have spent decades fighting against who I am, and it has done nothing but keep me to my full potential. Lying to yourself is worse than lying to a loved one, and I’ve been doing both for so long. I spent almost 30 years of my life knowing that I kept a part of me locked inside.
I’ve always had a valid excuse as to why I couldn’t publicly disclose who I am. I was constantly trying to improve myself and my career, including starting my own business, ModestFish. I viewed my sexuality as having the potential to hold me back.
Last year I tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily, I fully recovered, but almost a month of fear from this damn virus was the boost I needed. The first person I spoke to was my 29 year old daughter. I was in the hospital at the time, so the revelation felt more like a death confession than a positive realization of who I am. But she insisted that there was nothing negative about my coming out.
My daughter and I have always been extremely close and she has been more supportive than anyone. It was his appreciation of who I am as a person that made me feel this feeling again. She showed me what it was like to have someone take care of me like I really am. I figured if I could get that kind of approval from him, I wanted to take the risk and get it from the rest of the world. My small group of friends have also been extremely supportive. They said they would be by my side no matter what. What I said didn’t change the way they saw me.
Until last year, I was rarely able to have a serious relationship because I always kept a secret. Once I was no longer afraid to be myself, I met someone. I’m going out again, publicly and proudly. I have seen the most amazing man for a little over 4 months.
If you are planning on going out, take the smallest step, as it could have the biggest impact. No one is asking you to shout out who you are to the world, but you should at least shout it out to people you trust. Once you show them your strength, getting out will be easier than you ever imagined. The waste of almost 30 years of my life has taught me that it’s not worth keeping who you are inside. Not for 30 years. Not even for 30 days.
Paulette Thomas: I let go of fear and secrecy and embraced who I am
I knew I was attracted to women when I was 7, but I didn’t know what it was. The person I took my advice from was my mother. I thought she wouldn’t like me if she knew I was attracted to girls. My secret started at a young age, and the secrets multiply.
My intention in life was never to get married, but I wanted to have children. I understood at the time that the only way to have children was to have sex with a man. He was safer not to go out. I thought no one would know my secret once I had kids.
I just continued on this path. I raised my children and my family. But I felt so dissatisfied and locked inside. My emotions were so heavy. I used to see women and was so drawn to them. It wasn’t confusing, it was just a matter of denial.
As I got older I knew I had to make a plan. I couldn’t live with the person I married anymore. This plan was under development for 6 years. After we got divorced, I went out.
The process was more difficult than I expected. When everyone around me was talking about their husbands or wives, I couldn’t share anything. It was like being behind a fence and almost invisible. There is a part of me that I couldn’t share because I was afraid people would judge me.
One of the hardest things was dealing with my faith. I was raised a Catholic, but have since become a Baptist. It’s hard to go to a church where you’re told what you don’t think.
My three kids love me no matter what, but they had different reactions to my coming out. One of my daughters is also a lesbian, but my other daughter didn’t handle the news very well. She was homophobic. I said to my kids, “This is my life, but I’m your mother and you will always come with me first,” and they do.
My sister didn’t respond well either, but that’s only because I lied to her. We were on the phone, talking for hours as I tried to muster the courage to tell her. She was pressuring me, saying, “Tell me. Tell me already.” I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I was going blind. She was so worried that I finally admitted, “No, I really want to tell you I’m gay.” She said, “What? I already knew that! Why did you lie to me about going blind?” We didn’t speak for a year.
To finally be able to speak my truth is joyful. I can now live in my body in a healthy way and have real open conversations with people. My greatest joy was to find my wife. We met 5 years ago at Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE). I asked him to go out dancing, and we did. We have been married for 3 years now.
If you are thinking of going out, do it. I’ve heard so many stories of people not dating until they are 80 or not dating at all. Not only are you depriving yourself of a life well lived with people who care about you, but you are also depriving them of who you are.
The people God has placed here for you will always be there for you. Give them room to get used to the idea, but at least give them that chance.