Sometimes I like to picture Kermit, sitting on a log with a banjo, singing a follow-up to his rendition of “Rainbow Connection” with a new riff called “It’s Not Easy Being Queen.” It would provide so much hope that things will be better in the long term, when you’re in the messy part of coming out.
Did you ever watch Sesame Street and see the clip where Grover (the blue furry monster) stands close to the camera and says, “Near” and then bobs up and down in a Muppet-run away from the camera, cloth arms a-flailing, and says, “Far”? Well, I’m here to play the “Late to Gay” version. Picture me dressed up in a blue fur suit, a la Lady Gaga, getting real close up on your device screen saying “Short” and then stumbling away in Gaga’s impossibly tall heels with an out-of-breath wheeze saying, “Long!”
Is this not making any sense yet? I promise it will. Coming out as gay or lesbian, bi or pan, asexual or queer… whatever title that isn’t cis or hetero, it is not an easy thing to do later in life, as a full-fledged adult. Not that it’s any easier to come out as a youth or teen, when you’re dependent (financially and otherwise) on adults that may not be affirming or supportive of your identity. But coming out as queer later in life presents its own unique sets of challenges, and those challenges can sometimes keep people paralyzed with indecision and fear. Today, I want to discuss what I call, “The Long and Short of It.”
Coming Out Later in Life
So here you may be, crying happy tears that you’ve realized you’re queer or genderfluid or trans. Realizing that what felt broken for so long is not actually broken, you just haven’t been living in alignment with your true self. Congratulations! This is a HUGE revelation and a milestone of self-discovery that is not to be taken lightly. But once that initial happy tear state wears off, you may find yourself shedding tears of a different kind—the ones of realization that life as you have come to know it will never be the same.
You’re now faced with the awful choices of living your truth and potentially hurting the people around you, or not living your truth and hurting yourself inside until the bitter end. It may feel like the worst Choose Your Own Adventure book you’ve ever read. Do you want to get eaten alive by a pack of raging army ants or drown in a mud pit slowly where nobody will see you suffer? Gosh… what swell options!
Entering the Messy Middle
Cue Bronnie Ware’s best-selling book Top Five Regrets of the Dying playing on loop in my mind. Regret numero uno: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Dying with that regret was scarier to me than what I felt I would face coming out as a lesbian at almost 40 years old. And so, I entered what is known as “The Messy Middle.” I told my husband I was a lesbian and we began the journey of figuring out what divorce, two households, co-parenting, income, and informing our family would look like. If coming out to my partner of nearly 20 years wasn’t scary enough, coming out to his Catholic family definitely was motivation to pour myself a whiskey on the rocks every night.
It’s called the “Messy Middle” for a reason. Nearly everything you encounter in this period of time is hard. It’s painful. It’s messy. And this brings me to my initial Muppet point of “Short”.
The Short of Coming Out
The short-term consequences of coming out later in life are unbelievably hard. Gut-wrenching, actually. Indulge me a moment as I share some of the muck I trekked through, as I imagine many of you who have come out late may have made your way through similarly mucky situations that left you saying, “What the muck, bro?!?”
“How could you do that to your husband?”
From a short-term vantage point, yes, what I had to do to him was awful. It was my biggest fear and something that kept me vacillating for months as to whether I should live my truth or just suck it up for both of us until death. I had to weigh out whether he got to be happy or I got to be happy; I didn’t see how both of us could be. He didn’t do anything wrong. He had no idea about my true sexuality, because for most of my life I didn’t have any idea about my true sexuality. We didn’t get married with the intention of me realizing I was a lesbian over a decade later. While I couldn’t choose my sexuality, I could choose to come out. He was an innocent bystander in this situation, which makes it hard not to feel like the villain.
“You’re destroying your children’s lives.”
Want to manipulate a mother’s behavior? Convince her she’s hurting her children. Appeal to the inner mama-bear instinct that wants nothing more than to protect those cubs, even if it means sacrificing herself. The irony wasn’t lost on me when a twice-divorced family member chided me for making divorce a part of my children’s lives. The guilt of my kids no longer having the ease of everyone under the same household was slathered on me in the thickest of ways. I was told that my selfish act would result in their childhood trauma. Cool. Thanks for solidifying that fear in my gut. I appreciate your support.
“You’re going to be judged.”
This point is shared by people in a wide variety of ways who generally try to pass it off as “concern for your wellbeing”. They told me the world wasn’t kind. It wouldn’t be safe for two women together. I was putting myself and my children at risk. I would lose friends, employment opportunities, and possibly legal rights. There is a lot of fear around the queer community still, and people loved to remind me of that. This was the point where I had to decide if I really cared more about what I thought of myself than what others thought of me.
“What if you’re wrong.”
What is the most paralyzing thing of all? The thought that you could go through all of this pain, and then realize that you made the wrong choice. When I read stories of people stuck in the early or middle stages of coming out, this seems to be the most common denominator that causes the boomerang back to hetero or cis life, particularly because for many (including myself) there is no way to “confirm” your true sexuality or gender identity until you’re living it.
Long Term Benefits of Coming Out
Gack! Thank you for sticking with me through the short term. Go drink some water. You’re probably dehydrated.
In the coming out process, I find people can often get so hung up on the short-term and it’s easy to see why. The early stages of coming out as a lesbian left me feeling like a was a walking, talking open wound. Everything felt more sensitive. Everything hurt more. And that pain kept me in the present, only focusing on the next challenge and putting one foot in front of the other. I wish someone would have handed me a telescope to look further out. The short-term pains kept me from seeing the long-term benefits.
Perspective is such a gift. Looking back on my journey has given me such new insight into each of the pains mentioned above. Indulge me once again, as I now play the “what if” game.
What if I never came out to my ex-husband?
In the short term, my coming out seemed devastating. But what would our relationship have been like had I stayed, continuing to fall deeper into a fog of depression as I realized I was living a lie? Our relationship had already been drifting for years. We were best friends, but in the friend sense, not in the marital relationship sense. There is a difference. My love for him was always conditional. There was a mental barrier that I could never remove. It prevented me from giving myself fully to him. Did he not deserve to feel total acceptance from someone else? This was his life to live too.
What did my children learn along the way?
Divorce is hard on children. I am not going to make light of that and my heart shattered into a billion blue furry pieces every time they had to pack their backpacks to head to dad’s house. But do you know what they gained in the process? Intentional quality time with each parent. I watched their relationship with their dad grow by leaps and bounds. When we were all under one roof he would spend most of the day outside of the home working, while I stayed with them and worked from home. Once we became a two-house family, he carved out parts of his day specifically for play and focusing solely on the kids.
I also became a better parent. One of my friends, after seeing a video I had posted about coming out as a lesbian, asked me a very touching question. He said, “Do you feel like you have more of yourself to give your kids now?” (Full answer posted to YouTube and TikTok). The short answer is, “Absolutely. 100%. Yes.” I can love them more fiercely now that I love myself. I can guide them more honestly, now that I am honest about who I am. I can set a better example of self-love, courage, and resilience as a shining beacon of authenticity for them now. I have let them know that their personal truths are more important than making anyone else happy, including (and especially) me. And if they are ever faced with two nearly impossible choices in life, they know that they can overcome their fears, make the decision that is best for them, and I will love and support them whatever they choose.
What if I experience more love than I’ve ever felt before?
Perhaps the saddest thing about a funeral is that everyone says all of the nice words about a person but they probably never shared those sentiments with them when they were still on this earth. Going through a crisis, like coming out, allowed me to see just how much my friends and others really do genuinely love and support me. In fact, I have never been surrounded by more loving words than when I revealed my truth. Which is great, because it helps to drown out the ugliness and hate from the few uninformed voices.
What if I was right?
What if my new life has me so much more aligned with my creator than ever before because I’m finally living as I was created to be? What if I feel empowered and take control of my financial future? What if I feel self-love and all of the beauty that comes with that? What if I actually get to experience what loving another with my whole heart feels like? What if I make it to the end of my life without carrying the baggage of that #1 regret of the dying? Yeah. That sounds good.
Bless This Mess
It’s hard when you’re sitting in the middle of the muck to see any way out. But allow me to sit with you, to be your “muppet in the muck” if you will. I see you. I know this is hard. You are not the only one who has gone through it and you are most definitely never, ever alone. Please find a skilled therapist or counselor like those of The Trevor Project or Project No Labels (FL only). Please add yourself to affirming communities on Facebook, TikTok, and elsewhere. Please wrap yourself in a safety net of those friends and family members that truly love and support you. Please drink water, eat healthy food, and do everything in your power to take the best care of yourself that you possibly can when things get hard. Please know that I love you and others do too.
The short term is hard. But the long term can be so very worth it. YOU are so very worth it. Keep using that telescope to look into the distance. I’ll be out there, rooting you on in my blue fur suit!