Telling whether you are gay or lesbian is a significant achievement in your life. Thanks to greater social acceptance, people are coming out earlier in life. In 2013, more than half of gay men and nearly 40% of gay women surveyed said they had been exposed to friends and family before the age of 20.
However, this decision is not easy for everyone. Stigma and discrimination still exist. Of the estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans, some over the age of 50 waited for people to come out. Others have not yet.
Meet more than 50 people, who share why they waited, and how coming out has changed their lives.
Christopher Adams: How I Finally Stopped Lying to Myself and Everyone
I am a 52-year-old gay man, and last year was the year I finally chose who I am. I regret not doing so soon. I spent many decades being who I am, and it did nothing, but kept me 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 was locking myself inside.
I always had a valid excuse for why I can’t be public about who I am. I was constantly trying to improve myself and my career, including the creation of my company, Modestfish. I used to look at my sexuality because I had the ability to hold back.
Last year I tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, I have recovered completely from this, but the fear of almost a month brought on by that damn virus was the push I needed. The first person I told was my 29-year-old daughter. I was in the hospital at the time, so the revelation felt more like a death confession of who I am. But she insisted that there is 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 inspired me to reach for that feeling again. He showed me what caring for someone was like for who I really am. I thought if I could get such approval from him, I wanted to take a chance and get it from the rest of the world. My small group of friends were also very supportive. They said that they would not talk on my behalf. What I said did not change anything about how they looked at me.
Before last year, I could hardly maintain a serious relationship because I always kept a secret. Once I had no fear of being myself, I met someone. I amAgain, publicly and proudly. I have been seeing the most amazing man for 4 months.
If you are thinking about coming out, take the smallest step, as it can have the greatest impact. No one is asking you to tell who you are in the world, but you should at least shout at the people you trust. Once you show them your strength, it will be easier to come out than you ever thought possible. Wasting almost 30 years of my life has taught me that it is not worth keeping it inside you. Not since 30 years. Not even for 30 days.
Paulette Thomas: I Let Go Of The Fear And Secrecy And Embraced Who I Am
I knew I was attracted to women at the age of 7, but I had no idea what that was. The person I took my guidance from was my mother. I thought she wouldn’tIf she knew that I am attracted to girls. My secret started at an early age, and secrets grow more mysteries.
In life, I never intended to marry, but I wanted to have children. It was my understanding that the only way to have children then was to have sex with a man. It was safe not to come out. I felt that once a child no one would know my secret.
I just continued down that path. I raised my children and raised my family. But I was feeling so dissatisfied and locked inside. My feelings were very heavy. I used to look at women, and I was attracted to them. It was not misleading, it was just a matter of denial.
As I grew older, I knew I had to make a plan. I can no longer be with the person I married. It took 6 years to make that plan. Once we got divorced, I came out.
The process was harder than I expected. When everyone around me was talking about their husbands or wives, I could not share anything. It was like being behind a fence and being almost invisible. There is a part of me that I cannot share because I was worried that people would judge me.
The hardest thing was with my faith. I was raised Catholic, but I have since become a Baptist. It is hard to go to a church where they tell you what you feel.
My three children love me, whatever they may be, but they had different reactions when I came out. One of my daughters is also lesbian, but my other daughter did not handle this 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 also did not respond well, but this is only because I lied to her. We were on the phone, talking for hours as I tried to dare to tell him to work. She was pressuring me, saying, “Tell me. Tell me in advance.” I didn’t know what to say, so I told him I was blind. He became so worried that eventually I accepted, “No, I really want to tell you that I’m gay.” He said, “What? I already knew! Why was I lied to about the blind?” We did not talk for a year.
In the end it is delightful to be able to say what you say. I can live in my body in a healthy way now and have real, open conversations with people. My greatest joy was finding my wife. We met 5 years ago in advocacy and services for LGBT Elders (SAGE). I asked her to dance, and we did. Now we have been married for 3 years.
If you’re thinking about coming out, do it. I have heard many stories of people not coming up to their 80s, or not coming at all. Not only are you robbing yourself of living well with people who care about you, but you are also telling them who you are.
The people God has kept here for you will always be there for you. Make them habit of considering the room, but at least give them that chance.