So…you’ve come to the conclusion that you’re LGBTQ+. Maybe you have a label for how you’re feeling and maybe you don’t…either one is 100% okay.
Coming out is a process that’s different for everyone. Some people know when they’re young, some people figure it out later in life. Some people have gotten married and/or had kids and it still doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re LGBTQ+.
People who are coming out later in life are valid no matter if they’ve only told themselves, they’ve told a few people, or if everyone in their life knows.
Coming out safely, and in an affirming and supportive environment, is a privilege. We want to be as supportive as we can be in your personal journey. Before we dive in, we want to acknowledge that we have our own limitations of what we’ve experienced as cisgender, white, queer women, so we have included some resources here by Human Rights Campaign that are identity-centric for additional support!
Coming out and navigating the whole process can be confusing, lonely and frustrating, and comes with a lot of emotions. Let’s dive into a few things you may hear when you’re coming out later in life.
Coming Out on Your Own Terms
In a heteronormative society, anyone who’s gender identity or sexual orientation falls outside of the cisgender or heterosexual label is forced to accept and disclose their identity through the process of coming out.
While those who have never had their identity questioned or debated assume that coming out is a one-time event, members of the LGBTQ+ community face some form of “coming out” nearly every day of their lives, especially if they continue to explore their identity and find that it evolves as they step into their most authentic selves.
Each person’s coming out journey is on their own timeline, unique to that individual. There are so many reasons that someone may decide not to come out until later in life, and all of them are perfectly valid reasons to wait.
Coming out is a highly personal thing, and it can take years for someone to fully come to terms with who they are and build up the courage to be that person publicly.
If you haven’t heard it before, we are so proud of you for having the courage to come out, no matter when it happened. No one deserves to hide who they are out of fear or deny themselves love because of other people’s expectations.
Things You May Have Heard
We want to explore a few things people commonly hear when they come out later in life, and how to handle them. These can come from friends, family, coworkers, or even strangers offering up their unsolicited opinions.
Before we get into it, know this: no one has the authority or right to tell you who you are, how you feel, or what is best for you. You deserve to live as your most authentic self and to have a life that you are excited about living. You deserve to have people around you that support you on your journey toward fulfillment.
Most of the time, people who say these types of things just don’t understand what you’re going through because they haven’t experienced it. We want to give you the tools to set firm boundaries that help these people understand that it’s your life, your path, and you have every right to live it on your own terms, so let’s dive in!
“You’re not who I thought you were.”
First and foremost, your sexuality and/or gender identity has nothing to do with your character or personality. Learning about these aspects of your identity may be a shock to this person, and it may change the way they perceive your life and relationships, but nothing about who you are fundamentally has changed.
The only thing that has changed is the other person’s perception of you…and the fear of judgment and rejection can come up so much during this process.
Ask yourself, “If I am not who they thought I was, do I still have value?” The answer should always be, “yes.” But, it takes time doing the deep work on yourself to believe that when your whole life has been focused on making sure other people approve of or like you.
Your worth is not rooted in other people’s ideas of who you are or who you should be. Your worth is firmly rooted in your most authentic self. When you are honest with yourself and the world around you, there is no better way to live.
This person may not like the most authentic version of you, but that in no way reflects poorly on who you are. Make it clear to this person that this is a part of who you are, and that you are exactly the person you have always been. The only difference is that now you are being open and honest with them about this part of you.
“You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
No matter when you come out, someone is bound to offer this up as a means of denying your identity or casting doubt on your decision to come out later in life.
This kind of statement is dismissive, disrespectful, and devalues your ability to make decisions that are best for you.
When being straight and cisgender is the expectation, any deviation from that can be hard for some people to understand. While it may be helpful to explain your point of view to this person, sometimes, we have to accept that there are people who simply do not see anything outside of heteronormativity as a viable option.
It’s hurtful when other people refuse to validate your feelings and identity, but it is also not your job to educate them or try to convince them that it’s real. In these situations, agree to disagree if you find yourself talking in circles.
“How do you know you’re gay if you’ve never been with another woman/man?”
A simple way to rebut this one is by turning the question around, “How did you know you were straight when you had never been with the opposite sex?”
Sexual orientation, in the most primal way, may be about sexual attraction, but there are so many other levels to it that this question simply dismisses.
A true attraction to someone is deeper than sex, and you don’t have to sleep with someone to know you’re attracted to them.
It doesn’t have to be romantic, either. Sometimes, sexual attraction and romantic attraction act as separate entities. All of these elements affect how someone identifies and what kind of partnership they want to be in.
For most, discovering your sexuality begins as a tween/teenager. During the developmental years, sexuality is fairly fluid. In fact, according to sexuality experts, most people experience feelings of same sex attraction at some point in their development. As people mature, patterns of attraction arise and a person is better able to identify their sexual orientation.
When people grow up in a situation where being anything other than straight could put them in danger, they oftentimes adopt what is called compulsory heterosexuality. This form of social control is the most common reason LGBTQ+ adults wait to come out into adulthood.
Sexuality is a deeply personal journey, and condensing it all down to who you’ve had sex with is over-simplifying a very complex concept.
“It’s so selfish to throw away x.”
Speaking of CompHet, so many LGBTQ+ adults who come out later in life built their adult life on a heterosexual relationship that hasn’t been fulfilling. The breaking point comes when the person is desperate for a genuine connection, and tired of living a life focused on what other people want for them.
To people on the outside looking in, the decision to live as your most authentic self can seem selfish, and they will try to make you feel guilty for choosing your own happiness.
It all comes down to releasing other people’s expectations for your life, and deciding to not care about their approval.
Ultimately, you’re doing the right thing by choosing you. The person you are or were in a relationship with should be with someone who can give them the love they deserve, just like you. If you have children, they deserve to grow up with parents who are happy rather than going through the motions for their sake. Anyone who says otherwise is more concerned with maintaining the status quo than with making sure that you and your family are happy, healthy, and living a life that you can be proud of.
Don’t let these people place their expectations on you. Your life is your own, and it is no one else’s place to tell you who to be. It’s not selfish to want to be happy and get what you need. Every single person deserves love, fulfillment, and a life that excites them.
We’ve worked with so many people who have come out later in life and have helped them learn how to live freely, love fully, and impact greatly in everything they do.
The hardest part of coming out later in life is making a real, actionable plan for your future as an LGBTQ+ adult. We’re here to help you feel confident in who you are, let go of expectations put on you, create healthy boundaries and so much more.
Support from Coming Out Happy is for you if you’re ready to let go of who you’ve constantly been told to be and step into who you actually want to be — so you can live authentically, love whole-heartedly, and create a life that doesn’t only look good “on paper”, but one you’re truly excited about.
Dani & Keely
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