Dear Queer Abby,
I am almost 54 years old and have known I was different from a young age. I had a very difficult childhood with the loss of my mother at age 9 and being sexually abused by several adult men in my family. In my teens I realized I was gay, but stifled it because I was involved in a church that was not accepting. A counselor affiliated with the church had me read several books and “pray the gay away.” I just pushed the feelings down and made myself “be straight.”
I did not date at all until I left that church at 36.
I dated a couple of men who took advantage of the fact that I was clueless about dating and had been conditioned to not assert myself and my desires. I got engaged to the 3rd man I ever dated after dating 3 months because he asked and I wanted to be wanted. I also desperately wanted a baby and was fast approaching 40.
We got married after dating a year. I saw many red flags before the wedding, but ignored them because I was convinced that this was my only chance to have a family. This marriage resulted in one child, whom I love with all my heart. However, my husband was an emotionally abusive narcissist and I divorced him after 13 years of marriage.
My child came out as transgender 18 months ago. I love my child more than anything and of course I chose to love them unconditionally. The process of learning about how to be a supportive parent to a transgender child has also made me face my own sexuality. I know I am queer, but do not know how to come out as a person over 50. I also have no idea where I can meet people or how to have a healthy romantic relationship. I don’t know where to begin.
I know this is long and rambling. You are the first person who has ever said you were willing to answer questions. I guess I didn’t really ask a question. My question is: I’m a 53-year-old queer woman who has pretended to be straight my whole life, how do I come out?
Ask Queer Abby: How Do I Come Out
First please wrap your arms around yourself and give yourself a huge squeeze from me and the rest of the Queer Abby community. What you’ve been through is a lot to process and heal from, and yet your story has common threads that I’ve seen from many women who come out later in life… the most common being that we were taught that who we are was wrong (or sinful) and we believed that there was a “right” (*cough—heterosexual) way to do things. I am grateful that you were willing to be so vulnerable in your sharing so that the many people out there wondering the same can get their answer too.
Coming Out 101
The beautiful thing about coming out later in life is that most often you can control the terms and method of how you do it. Some people never “come out”. They just seem to gracefully glide into a new relationship and see if anyone notices that the gender of whom they’re dating has changed. No public proclamations needed.
For me, I did feel the need to “come out” since it was the one and only reason for my divorce. I wanted my kids to know WHY our divorce was happening and to have space to ask questions long before I introduced them to any future relationships. Somehow, too, coming out to friends slowly and on my terms made my identity more real and also gave me the strength to keep moving forward. I had their support and reassurance that I was okay and that this would be okay.
Your transgender child may be able to (or may have already) taught you so much about the process of self-love, acceptance, and being courageous in the face of a world that can still be so unkind. (Though I feel it is imperative to add that the transgender experience carries additional layers of complication, danger, and mistreatment beyond what most queer people experience). You may become each other’s fiercest allies.
Fun Fact Time—my ex-husband, the wonderful man I was in a relationship with for nearly 20 years, was my one and only serious boyfriend. Second Fun Fact—my mom picked him out during Parent’s weekend during our freshman year at college. He was kind, and attractive, and funny, and popular. I practically fell off my cheap, mass-produced university desk chair when I realized that he wanted to date me too. And while this is a whole other story road that we won’t travel down today, my point is that I have practically zip-zap, zilch, zero dating experience.
Knowing that the lesbian dating pool in my area was like a hot tub, compared to the eight-lane lap pool of heteronormative dating, and that I had zero idea how to date…
let alone date women…
in my near-40’s…
as a mini-van driving homeschooling mom who ran a business with the aforementioned ex…
I pictured my task ahead to be like that of the high-diving stunt person that leaps from the itsy bitsy platform into the shallow kiddie pool. Risk of injury or death? High. But if I can pull this off? A friggin miracle.
Dating when you’re in the process of coming out is tricky, partially due to the exhaustion, fear, and paranoia that can accompany the coming out process. I admire those people who can say, “Welp, I’m gay!” and then unapologetically do a full 180 turn in their lives and continue down a new road.
For me, I took the scenic route, revealing my new lesbian status to people slowly while assessing the safety of their reactions. When my ex and I started dating other people, I hadn’t yet come out to any family members nor the majority of my friends. I couldn’t suddenly get an undercut and start dressing myself in rainbow-everything to signal to every potential dating option that I was fresh on the market.
Collecting Lesbians on Social Media
I’m not going to say I regret anything about my dating path, because the truth is I was doing the best I could and it taught me lessons I needed to learn. During that time, I lived in the unhealthy balance of extreme paranoia that somehow I’d be “outed” to everyone, the mental anguish that comes from a mid-life identity shift, and a sweet cherry on top that we will call desperation.
I started by setting up an Instagram account and searching around for ANY lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual woman over the age of 30 within a 100 mile radius. (Note: these are not actual search parameters you can put it. It was just my personal loose guidelines for trying to find any person that might be willing to date me). On Facebook, I joined a few local lesbian groups… only to spend hours and hours searching through the page members to ensure that NOBODY would possibly know me in real life and potentially out me.
These are not good ways to start.
More people seem to have luck when they end up on lesbian TikTok. Whereas I formerly thought that TikTok was just for the high school crowd to show off their dance moves and ramen bowls, there is actually a very healthy population of “older” (born before 1990) queer women on TikTok. Try searching hashtags like #lesbiansover50 or #wlwover40 for content creators that you may connect with as friends… or more. Just start collecting them like we collected My Little Ponies as kids. If nothing else, these connections will help boost your confidence in the fact that you are very much NOT ALONE in the coming-out-later-in-life process.
And every now and then, a TikTok connection blooms into a beautiful relationship!
Dipping Your Toe in the Dating App Pool
I told myself I would absolutely NOT meet the future love of my life on a dating app. I wanted finding love to be organic, free-flowing, and natural. But then I realized that:
- There is a relatively small pool of queer women in my age range and
- Just finding lesbians didn’t mean that they were available or interested in dating and
- Spending most of my time at homeschooling co-ops and playgrounds was not going to allow me many opportunities to cross paths with my target market.
I decided to give the dating app HER a try. A friend of mine highly recommended going for the paid version of whatever app I chose (here are several options). I originally bristled at that advice, considering that I was now a newly-single mom with an uncertain financial future. And then I realized that if I was willing to spend more on my kids’ nutritionally devoid fast-food dinner than on a month of having all tools available to me to find my potential future soul human, that maybe my priorities were a bit jacked up. I would cook them an actual meal at home AND give myself the best odds at finding people to date.
A friendly warning in case you haven’t already been warned—dating apps kind of suck! There are a lot of scammers and swingers. Even when I did find people that seemed like a decent match, they usually didn’t match back with me. And if they did, they typically ghosted on our conversations. And if they didn’t ghost on conversations, they definitely chickened out on dates after I had already arranged a sitter and thrown some makeup on my face.
Even with all that said, I did go on dates. I did meet some lovely women. And I also learned that just because they’re lovely doesn’t mean that we should be in a relationship.
The greatest gift I gave myself was taking the time to sit down and write out who my ideal partner would be. In my still-healing emotional state, I needed to see words on paper of what qualities truly mattered to me and then use that as a measure when evaluating relationships. I didn’t want my wounding and fear of being alone to affect my recognition of red flags.
Kindness was my top quality. And strangely enough, I realized that I had allowed myself to go on dates with people who didn’t even meet that most basic criteria.
Working on Me to Find Her
I knew of the emotional and mental toll that coming out later in life was taking on me. I wasn’t just going through a divorce with children and a business we ran together. I was doing all of that, WHILE also trying to come to terms with my identity and the fact that I was being judged for it and cut off from people who I thought loved me and would be there for me. Nothing makes “good” people jump ship like joining the LGBTQ.
In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have started dating so quickly. At the same time, having spent so much of my life in the closet, I was overly anxious to not waste another moment.
So while I put myself through some unhealthy dating experiences, I also did a LOT of work on healing.
- I read books like Dr. Nicole LePera’s How To Do the Work and Oprah’s What Happened to You.
- I met regularly with therapists and life coaches.
- I got craniosacral therapy to help address the deeper wounding I had walled off within.
- I joined a spiritual women’s group.
- I leaned heavily on a small circle of friends who I knew had my back.
- I had to hold myself together around my children, but also gave myself permission to feel all of the feelings.
- I started meditating every morning for 10 to 20 minutes to free YouTube videos.
- I journaled what I was grateful for and the small steps of progress I made each week.
- I wrote my story as it was unfolding, because it felt cathartic to do so.
- I bought a weighted blanket from the clearance rack and fuzzy slippers.
- I watched my caffeine and alcohol intake to try and keep me from spiraling out again.
- I reminded myself that even if I didn’t have what I wanted NOW, I was on my way to getting it and there was no timetable or deadline I had to meet.
And then I found her… on the app HER. I am grateful I didn’t settle. I am grateful I get to experience a love like this in my lifetime.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Denisse, this is an exciting time for you. You get to start living for YOU and as you were so wonderfully created to be. I hope that you experience what I (and so many other late-in-lifers) experienced when living in integrity with my truth—that so many aspects of my life seemed to come together in the most beautiful and unexpected of ways. This isn’t just about coming out and collecting beads at Pride parades. This is about crafting your life as you’ve always dreamed it to be. There is fear, but there is also excitement to the process.
My tips in a nutshell:
- Keep working on your own healing.
- Dream and envision what you want this next stage of your life to look like.
- Starting finding ways to connect with your new community.
- If and when it feels good and right to you, put yourself out there in the dating world.
- Enjoy that first kiss!