Mid Life Lesbian Journey: Why it took so long to realize I was a gay.
Married Lesbian Life.
Four days ago my wife and I created a group on Facebook called Married Lesbian Life. We have not had much success locating a non-hook up, authentic, and encouraging place where we could connect with other married lesbian couples. Since we love all things DIY, we decided to build our own community of lesbian married folks.
The closed public group is open to anyone who is a lesbian and is engaged to be married, already married, or in a committed long term relationship with another woman. After four days we are just shy of 300 members!
Marriage, gay or straight, is a journey with many highs and lows along the way. Navigating the path can be tricky, but providing a safe space where other lesbian couples are free to celebrate their marriages and spouses, offer support, and feel a sense of belonging is a good start.
A friendly inquiry from a fellow member of the new group inspired me to finally take a stab at explaining how it was possible to have no idea I was gay until later in life. After much thought, it is clear that this lingering and nagging question requires more than a one sentence answer. The answer is simple, yet oh so complicated. First things first.
How did you not know you were a lesbian?
Our lesbian life timeline is shorter than most. We came out later in life and have both previously been married to men. My memoir, Switching Teams, includes an entire chapter about labels, stereotypes, and a discussion regarding the struggle to be accepted as “real” lesbians given our historically hetero past.
As such, copious amounts of time and energy have been spent, in public and private, fielding inquiries about why it took so long to figure out we were gay, or better yet, how someone could be completely unaware of such a huge part of themselves.
Since coming out, I have become an expert in evading giving an answer to this question. Not because I am uncomfortable talking about my life, but because I have yet to construct an adequate response that erases the confused look from whomever asked.
When pressed, I have chosen to respond with humor. I also capitalize on the opportunity for a teaching moment to reinforce the virtue of remaining in the present moment or the idea that knowing why was not as important as moving forward. This may be true, but the high level psychobabble approach was nothing more than a slick way to avoid looking unprepared or uniformed.
Similarly, I have avoided crafting a coherent explanation for why my lesbian realization escaped me for forty years. Despite spending countless hours of self-interrogation, brow beating, and wading through every moment of my life up until I came out, a satisfactory answer had yet to materialize. The confusion is understandable. In the spirit of love and understanding I shall rise to the challenge.
Looking for an answer means you have to decide whether or not it is important enough to spend time and energy milling through missed signs, wading through your past, and digging emotional ditches with only a spoon. You also have to be willing to accept the possibility that some may never understand.
In a perfect world, everyone would know everything about themselves from the moment they were born. We could all skip through life holding hands and making a joyful noise throughout all creation. Barf. Back to reality.
Knowing our authentic selves is not a straight line process and is influenced by events, people, places, and our experiences. Each of these interactions deposits layers on our lives. The residue can be thick or thin, transparent or opaque, and quiet or loud.
Every layer colors our thoughts, emotions, physical being, or sense of who we are and how we do things. Think wallpaper. My internal décor was wallpapered to the hilt. The rainbow paper was hidden beneath decades of poor decorating choices.
Dealing with anxiety, fear, low self-esteem, anger, and feeling like something was wrong with me kept me pretty busy. Figuring out my true sexual orientation was never even on the radar.
Getting down to bare wall took some time to accomplish. In my case, I did not realize my truth earlier because my attention was focused only the visible layers and not what lay beneath. For some, the realization comes early and there are other reasons why coming out is delayed. Religion, societal pressure, or fear top the list.
Timing is Everything.
As a child, I was fairly sheltered and the most pressing concerns in my life were likely about how to create the perfect pocket in my baseball glove or which pair of sneakers to wear. Homosexuality was not a frequently discussed issue in my extremely Catholic neighborhood or home.
I was a tomboy who had boyfriends and never questioned my sexuality. My comfort zone was being “one of the guys” because I did not have much in common with other girls and felt like a misfit.
Despite having deeply emotional relationships with a few women in college, I was never physically attracted to any of them. Being gay is all about who you have sex with right? An opportunity to “explore” would not have helped because I was not questioning my sexuality. Everything else about me, yes, but sexual orientation, no. Maybe kissing a girl would have accelerated the process but I will never know.
Until 2006, I had never been asked outright if I was gay or straight. Not once. Ever. At the time, I was married with three children under the age of ten and was beginning to take serious steps to toward dissecting the accumulated baggage and layers in my life. My reaction to the question set off some alarms.
Meeting my wife was a powerful moment and helped me find my truth. Timing is everything. As my mindset and sense of self shifted in a healthy way, the core of my unrest surfaced and I began to connect the dots and entertain the idea that I was gay.
Admittedly, I have wasted many moments wishing I knew sooner that I was a lesbian and can relate to the shared disbelief many have expressed to me about the timing of everything. Seriously. I get it. Sure, looking back, there were signs. There always are.
However, I resist dwelling on the “what if’s” and “how could I not have’s”. Honestly, if given the choice to go back and redo things I would decline the offer. Changing the past would alter the now. Today I am grateful for hindsight which I now view as a validation for my truth instead of a condemnation of what I did not know back then.
The short answer to the original question is this. Knowing and embracing our authentic self is a lifelong practice which follows no concrete timeline. What may seem obvious to one may be unrecognizable to another. This is the beauty of our human experience. We may not always be able to comprehend everything about everyone, but we can accept their truth as theirs and move forward with love and kindness.
Our journey toward discovering important things about who we are happens when we are ready to hear the message. Enlightenment happens when it is supposed to happen and the speed of the knowing is not as important as what you do once you know.
Phew. That was easier than I thought it would be.