Written by Candy Parker, Lesbian.com
I came out in 1996 just four months shy of my 35th birthday. I took the leap a year before Ellen DeGeneres made television history with her own announcement, and middle-American housewives still had another six years during which to delude themselves about Rosie O’Donnell. I was offered no magazine covers or media icon awards as I took those initial steps toward my lesbian life. Instead, I stared down the daunting task of ending my 11-year marriage and the unpleasant undertaking of explaining to my friends and family why I was doing so.
Sixteen years, one DADT repeal, and seven gay marriage-friendly states later, coming out is a seemingly easier task. But just as every hitter is only as good as his last at-bat, coming out is only as easy as those in your immediate circle of friends, family and co-workers make it. Coming out experiences are like snowflakes in that each one is different, and, yes, they’re also like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.
For others who, like me, didn’t come to terms with their authentic lesbian self until later in life — perhaps your parents didn’t send you to summer camp or you skipped college — I’ve prepared the following guide. Mind you, I’m no expert and don’t have any initials after my last name, but I did already walk a mile or two in the shoes you’re about to try.
Lesbian, know thyself
Coming out later in life can be tricky. You might know you’re a lesbian, but if you’ve been circulating exclusively in the straight world for decades how do you really know you’re a lesbian?
Possibly you had a same-sex experience earlier in life; possibly not. Maybe dalliances outside your existing hetero relationship lead to the Sapphic epiphany; maybe not. Perhaps you’ve simply always felt different than your fellow soccer moms, or perhaps you’ve felt for them. For my part, I’d had a girlfriend in my late teenaged years, but after marrying a man at age 23, I never consciously gave serious consideration to the possibility that I might be a lesbian or at least bisexual.
Whatever your specific circumstance, it’s important that you understand and assess your motivation to ensure you’re not diving into the lady pond for all the wrong reasons. Sure, that Katy Perry song is catchy and Ellen and Portia make a cute couple, but leaving a marriage for lesbianism is a lot more permanent than buying a red convertible to satiate that mid-life crisis. Even if you’re certain of your motivations, talk to a therapist who can help successfully guide you through the transition. Mine was able to help me see that the restlessness and “something’s just not right” feeling I’d had my entire adult life meant a change was in order, even though I’d not kissed a girl in almost 15 years.
Be a little selfish, but not too much
After what may have been decades of suppressing your true self it may be tempting to make your evolution all about you, but remember, especially if you’re leaving an otherwise happy marriage and children are involved, being a newly minted lesbian does not automatically make you the center of the universe.
As smitten as you might be with that woman you just met online, remember that your announcement may have served as a one-woman wrecking crew on at least one other person’s life. Your decision has been made, but you can deliver it — and execute it — with compassion and empathy. This is an area in which I personally have a few regrets. Shoe-horning a new partner into the equation just eight months after leaving my marriage wasn’t good for my relationship with the new girlfriend or my son. Though my shell-shocked ex-husband was a trooper and helped us move her furniture into my apartment when she relocated from half-way across the country, asking and allowing him to do so wasn’t one of my most shining moments as a human being.
Keeping perspective on your coming out is another area where a good therapist can be invaluable. Later in life you’ll want to look back on your transition period as a positive event. Don’t behave in a way you’ll later regret.
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