I was up until the wee hours of the morning talking with an old friend last night, comparing coming out stories. She, like me, was an "LLL", or late-in-life lesbian.
Coming out, obviously, is a huge deal fraught with emotional baggage and fear of rejection for everyone who does it. For grown-up women with marriages and children and grown-up lives tightly intertwined with other lives, it's tricky and complicated and messy. It's hard on your family, and it's hard on your self-esteem.
Every gay person I've ever known has the coming out moment indelibly stamped in their mind. It's right up there with "where were you when the Twin Towers fell"?
No one ever forgets telling the person they most worry will disappove. For a lot of people, that means telling yourself.
There are three levels of coming out:
1) When you recognize your own gayness.
2) When you come out to your family.
3) When you come out to the rest of the world.
I had my gay epiphany later in life. I think I never knew any out lesbians growing up, and I chalked up my huge childhood crushes on women to just one more sign of weirdness. I think I would have married my fifth grade teacher if I could have. But then, she was extraordinarily hot. I'll bet 90% of the class would have married her, all except for maybe that girl with the white sweater with the pearl buttons. What was up with her? Why didn't she sweat??
By the time I was in my 20's I had sort of decided that I was an emotional cripple and couldn't feel love like other people talked about being in love. By then I was married to a wonderful guy who my friends now call The Best Ex-Husband Ever, and Lori and I refer to as "our ex-husband."
I spent my early adulthood never being alone with my head...I had kids and college and a job and friends and a million other things to keep me busy. Looking back, of course, it makes sense to have avoiding too much introspection. It was scary and dangerous for me inside the deep depths of my psyche. But one weekend the ex-husband took the kids camping with his brother and I was alone. All weekend.
And what do other people do with a quiet weekend alone? Read? Nap? Take long walks? I spent mine having an existential crisis. It took me about 6 hours alone in a house with no distractions to realize that I was a lesbian, and the next 42 to figure out what to do with that information.
My answer was...nothing. This was so much not a part of my plan. I liked my life, I liked the husband, I had 3 small kids and I wasn't ready or able to make any big life changing leaps. So I spent as much time exploring it as I could, then put The Gay back in the closet. I remember feeling shaky when they got back, and wondering if I looked as crazy as I felt.
But I could do it. I'd spent 25 or so years pursuing a life of self-deception...I'd had a bad weekend of internal honesty, but I wasn't going to let that interfere with my life. And aside from the emotional cripple part , I was an excellent mother. A lousy wife perhaps, I did as good job as I could have under the circumstances. Eventually our marriage fell apart because really...living in the world with a marriage and three kids is hard enough, but a marriage, three kids, and a HUGE life-altering existential secret? Too much. Even for The Best Ex-Husband Ever.
Next: Part 2. Coming out to the rest of the world.