Showing that you are a lesbian or gay is an important milestone in your life. Thanks to greater social acceptance, people come out earlier in life. More than half of the gay men surveyed in 2013 and almost 40% of lesbian women stated that they had come to see friends and family before the age of 20.
However, the decision is not an easy one for everyone. Stigma and discrimination persist. Some of the estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans over 50 waited many years to come out. Others haven’t done it yet.
Meet two people over 50 who will tell why they waited and how coming out changed their life.
Christopher Adams: How I finally stopped lying to myself and everyone else
I’m a 52 year old gay man and last year I finally made up my mind to be open about who I am. I’m sorry I didn’t do it much sooner. I have fought for who I am for decades and it has done nothing but hold me back from 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 had a part of myself locked inside of myself.
I always had a valid excuse for why I couldn’t be public about who I am. I have been constantly trying to improve myself and my career, including building my ModestFish company. I saw my sexuality as the potential to hold me back.
Last year I tested positive for COVID-19. Luckily I made a full recovery from it, but nearly a month of anxiety caused by this damn virus was the boost I needed. The first person I told them was my 29 year old daughter. I was in the hospital at the time, so the reveal felt more like a death admission than a positive realization of who I am. But she insisted that my coming out was nothing negative.
My daughter and I have always been very close and she has supported us more than anyone. It was her appreciation for who I am as a person that pushed me to reach for that feeling again. She showed me what it was like when someone cared for me the way I really am. I thought if I could get that kind of approval from her, I would take the chance and get her from the rest of the world. My small group of friends also gave me great support. They said they would be by my side no matter what. What I said didn’t change the way they saw me.
Before last year, I was rarely able to maintain a serious relationship because I always had a secret to myself. When I was no longer afraid to be myself, I met someone. I’m public and proud together again. I’ve seen the most amazing man in a little over 4 months.
If you’re thinking of getting out, take the smallest step as it could have the biggest impact. Nobody is asking you to tell the world who you are, but at least you should tell the people you trust. Once you show them your strength, it will be easier to get out than you could ever have imagined. Wasting nearly 30 years of my life taught me that keeping who you are is not worth it. Not for 30 years. Not even for 30 days.
Paulette Thomas: I let go of fear and secrecy and embrace who I am
I knew that when I was 7 years old I was attracted to women, but I didn’t know what it was. The person who guided me was my mother. I thought she wouldn’t love me if she knew I was attracted to girls. My secret started at a young age and secrets keep growing.
My life goal was never to get married, but I wanted to have children. It was then that I understood that the only way to have children was to have sex with a man. It was safer not to come out. I thought nobody would know my secret if I had children.
I just continued down this path. I raised my children and expanded my family. But I felt so dissatisfied and locked up. My feelings were so heavy. I used to see women and I was so attracted 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 6 years in the making. After we got divorced, I came out.
The process was more difficult than I expected. If 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 feared 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 they’ll tell you what you think is wrong.
My three children 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 told my children, “This is my life, but I am your mother and you will always come with me first,” and they do.
My sister didn’t respond well either, but that’s just because I lied to her. We talked for hours on the phone trying to find the courage to tell her. She put me under pressure and said, “Tell me. Tell me already.” I didn’t know what to say so I told her I was going blind. She was so concerned that I eventually admitted, “No, I really want to tell you that I’m gay.” She said, “What? I already knew that! Why did you lie to me because I was blind?” We haven’t talked for a year.
To finally be able to tell my truth is a pleasure. I can now live healthy in my body and have real, open conversations with people. It was my greatest pleasure to find my wife. We met 5 years ago at Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE). I asked her to go dancing and we did. We have been married for 3 years now.
If you’re thinking of getting out, do it. I’ve heard so many stories from people who don’t come out until their eighties or don’t come out at all. Not only are you robbing yourself of a well-lived life with people who care for you, but you are also robbing them of who you are.
The people God brought here for you will always be there for you. Give them room to get used to the idea, but at least give them this chance.