The divulging of your sexuality towards other people, is commonly referred to as 'coming out'. This is a specific rite of passage for young gays whereby they not only acknowledge their sexuality, but they begin to tell other people such as their family and close friends, about their sexual orientation. Coming out is an intensely personal process, and many people experience both positive and negative stories when it comes to their coming out. In today's society, particularly in Western Culture, coming out is often deemed to be not a big issue. Though, try telling that to the person who is struggling with their sexuality and has conservative parents.
Coming out as a young person has unique and different challenges to coming out as an older person, and the experiences can be profoundly different. People will ultimately come from a wide range of ethnic, religious, class and racial backgrounds which will directly influence their experiences as they come out. These social standings can affect an individual’s safety, or even their family's safety and coming out can risk the loss of friendships, relationships and family all because you are exploring your passionate nature. Ignoring your passions towards relationships is not something that can be done, as ignoring your feelings will often cause great pain, fear and anxiety. It’s a different experience for everyone. Thus, coming out as a white, able bodied young Australian will be a profoundly different experience than that of an African Immigrant living in a low socio economic area of New York.
Aside from these challenges, there are many more challenges to coming out as an older male, especially if one has denied or repressed their sexuality in their youth and have begun to raise a family. Older generations where raised in a society and grew up in a time of 'don't ask, don't tell' and many people have successfully hid and/or repressed their sexuality until much later in life. The question then becomes; why did they hide it?
There's a variety of reasons as to why people might choose to hide, or ignore their sexuality. Most teenagers, and arguably this is part of being part of a teenager, will naturally reach a point in their lives whereby they will test where the bounds of sex and sexuality sit, and they will explore these boundaries. It can be an incredibly frustrating and confusing time especially when society expects that you will fall in love with someone of the opposite sex, have children and grow old together and you're simply not sharing or feeling like that. At this stage, some people might fundamentally reject their feelings on religious grounds, upbringing, or they might develop intense negative feelings surrounding the issue of sexuality and as a result, will push down on those feelings until they no longer exist.
Coming Out is Distressing
This can pose significant issues later in life, and ultimately they're setting themselves up until they have reached a point when they can no longer deny their feelings. They have given a lifestyle of heterosexuality their best shot and it’s simply no longer viable. They have attempted to conform to societal expectations of getting married, having children, and it's not until they get to later on in lives that they realise that there have been profoundly important things about themselves with which they have neglected, or not acknowledged.
Other people might simply not have the capacity to understand or interpret their feelings of attraction because they had deemed it to be as abnormal, or wrong. In that regard, is not surprising that a lot of baby boomers wait until later in life when they decide to come out, and it's usually as a result of their lives becoming simply unbearable as a result of hiding who they truly are. Coming out when you're young is difficult. Coming out when you're older has significantly more challenges, and arguably, is a lot harder than coming out when young. We've compiled a short list of the difficulties that older people might face when they decide to come out later in life.
1. Being Gay And Married:-
Owing to the fact that many people try and repress their sexuality, they will conform to social, familial and religious pressures and decide to get married. Though it is important to note that not all religions have strong stances on homosexuality. Taoism for example does not have a single school of thought when it comes to homosexuality and is simply merely discouraged. In any event, people might conform to the popular belief that it’s not accepted and continue on a heterosexual lifestyle. They might do this in the hope that their homosexual feelings will go away, or they might find themselves in a deep state of denial, or they simply might feel that their feelings are nothing but a phase and representative of the feeling of 'cold feet' of getting married. Many mature gay men have stated that the reason that they got married was that they'd hoped that the feelings would go away, they loved their wives, they considered their wives their best friends and soul mates but rather than happiness and bliss for their lifetime together, all they would feel was an overwhelming sense of infidelity and deceit as they discovered that the feelings wouldn't go away. They might try marriage counselling, or some form of couples counselling, but inevitably it’s not going to work.
Coming Out To Your Wife Can Be Devastating
Often they can hide and repress this for years, the distractions of life, and growing older play a great part in a person’s ability to ignore what's underneath as they traverse life, climb the social/work ladder, buy a house, plan for a family and so on and so forth. One of the worst aspects of being both married and gay, is the understanding that the moment that you come out, that there is potentially going to be a lot of hurt, pain and anger from his wife. This can be devastating and cause chaos in people’s lives, and is probably one of the most challenging aspects of coming out when you're older. Especially since he might love his wife, considers her his best friend and feels that coming out will ultimately hurt her. For some, they simply cannot take this and will either resort to drastic measures, or simply engage in infidelity until they get caught out.
Through trying to repress ones sexuality, they might decide to get married. From there, they might end up being parents. Becoming a parent also serves as a distraction-like tool in the repression of sexuality and some might see the prospect of having children to be worth it in staying in the closet because it provides them with opportunities that they may not have been able to have as a gay male. Today however, there are many options for queer people to fulfil their dreams of becoming parents, and these technologies were simply not available 30 years ago. Other people feel that being a parent is more important than their sexuality, as they fear that any decision to come out after having children, could negatively impact them. As such, there are a lot of people who acknowledge being gay early on in their marriage but who have already had children, they decide to repress their sexuality until their children are old enough to understand. To some people, the idea of providing a loving and nurturing environment for their children is a far more important endeavour.
3. The idea of Lost Youth:-
Being young is about making mistakes, it's about embarking on life with the training wheels firmly attached and it is a state of learning and growing. What about the idea though, that you start off life in the development of a particular lifestyle, only to discover that that's not for you? You essentially, in part have to start again. This is a common train of thought for older people who have come out later in life and they might get the impression that they have to go out into the world and make up for lost time. Unfortunately, there's no way to make up for lost time, what's passed has already passed. Mature Gay Adults who have only recently come out however, will often find themselves behaving and acting like the teen they never got to be in an effort to make up for lost time. It's almost considered to be in the same vein as having a mid-life crisis - even the most placid and calm of people might suddenly turn into a raging teen at the candy store lusting and drooling after all the new things in the world that they can experience. It's tricky. Others might feel such a sense of shame and inadequacy that it makes them vulnerable to forms of abuse, and they may be plagued with unhappiness regarding the sense that they're supposed to be an adult, and all of a sudden they're a child in a world that they didn't know much about. In either circumstances however, there is cause for concern. Not only in forms of abuse either from being sexually assaulted or financial as a result of this vulnerability, and in young people potentially seeking a sugar daddy where the older gay male is looking for love, but also in the sense that sexual and dating conquests may not necessarily equate to a health sexual lifestyle.
4. Family Acceptance:-
One of the most important things that people yearn for when they decide to come out of the closet, is that it won't adversely affect their relationship with their family. It's a fundamental need and desire to be loved, and accepted by your family. When people start coming out in their 30's, 40's or even beyond there are some families which will struggle with this new found status. Some members of the family might be unable to accept the sudden change, in the sense that who you've been for the majority of your life has now suddenly changed. They may not be able to transcend past the idea of how they remember or know who their child, brother, sister, nephew was. There's really no way in telling if the experience is going to be a positive or negative experience. Especially when some people support the idea of being gay, and then can't get past the feeling that they had been deceived the majority of your life in regards to the gay person.
5. Family acceptance will also extend to the in-laws. It is highly unlikely that a young gay male will be married in his teens, and as such, will never have to deal with the prospect of telling his in-laws about his sexuality. People in their 30's and beyond may have found themselves married, and have acquired a set of in-laws through their partner. Gay people who come out later in life might have to deal with telling the in-laws about their sexuality. Though, in some respects, it should be very much considered to be similar to a divorce - whereby the in-laws will either accept your coming out, will struggle to remain civil and polite, or they might even be glad to see the back of you. Having grandchildren involved in this situation is certainly going to complicate things and realistically you should speak to your partner privately first, and have a discussion about the in-laws.
6. Youth Vs Truth:-
This one is partly driven by the shallowness of the queer community and the ideals associated with beauty. Whereas many people subscribe to the idea that you're only as old as you feel, it can be quite apparent when someone is desperately trying to cling onto their youth by either wearing inappropriate clothes, or embarking on a lifestyle that isn't representative of their age. Common problems with coming out later in life circle around an individual’s insecurities - they feel that they're well beyond the age of getting into the gay scene, or that they're not in good enough shape to be taken seriously. From here, one of two things will generally happen. You will go into over-drive and desperately seek to become the most ideal and often stereotypical gay man that you could be. Or, you might find yourself in pit of despair, and feel that you're just never going to be good enough and settle for a relationship, or a particular circumstance that is far less than what you deserve. Neither of these scenarios are the healthiest. The healthiest approach that one can take is simply let loose, be yourself and try to find your way on your own with the knowledge that there are countless others who are in exactly the same position that you are.
This is one of the tougher ones and can really hit a person where it hurts. When you've been married and you've got kids, there are many people out there who will consider you to be a person that's carrying too much baggage. However, it's a similar situation to when going through a standard divorce, with the only difference is that you're now dealing with a lot of issues and thoughts regarding your own sexuality and invariably it's a lot of stuff happening at once. If you hear this said to you, it's going to hurt. But just find comfort and solace in the idea that it's certainly not an isolated occurrence and that you're but one in a pool of people trying to find their way. Just like older people going through a divorce, you may find comfort in the idea of not necessarily embarking on looking for a relationship with someone that doesn't have baggage of their own, but rather looking for someone that also wants to be serious and might be coming with their own baggage.
8. Training Wheels:-
You've spent the last x amount of years subscribing to a particular lifestyle, and now you have to change that. Sex is going to be a major component of that, and it can be quite emasculating to discover that you're considered to be absolutely clueless around sex. You're not alone, there's no manual on having sex or gay relationships, and chances are that when you're looking for someone else that's also single they haven't managed to understand the idea of relationships either!
Mature people will often feel that they can't be loved. They're often in an already vulnerable state having to deal with all of the above problems, and rather than playing the field and determining who they are attracted to, they'll often find comfort in the idea of settling down with the first person that shows any interest in them. Monogamous relationships form their primary focus and whilst there's no harm in this - if you're specifically looking to form a monogamous relationship then there's a chance that it can actually stop you from getting into a relationship. The best advice in this regard, play the field.
10. Life Stressors:-
This is often the most difficult, and can directly impact all of the previous issues when it comes to coming out when you're older. The fact is, that there might simply be too much going on at once. You might be dealing with a divorce, you might be dealing and trying to do the best for your kids, you might be trying to find a new place to live, and you might also be trying to work out the intricacies of gay life, sex and relationships. That can be a lot of pressure and stress all at once. Take a step back, breathe and deal with the things as they come. You might not have all the experience of a gay male, but you have a variety of different experiences and challenges that you have overcome just to make it to this point in your life and, surely, that's worth something.
I myself am a late bloomer. I am now happier through coming out. I have written these challenges both as a result of what I myself have experienced, and what others in my support network have experienced. Coming out is not easy at whatever stage of life that you're in and I absolutely subscribe to the words of Comedian Todd Glass when he states that “everyone comes out at exactly the same time...when they’re ready.”. I first had an idea that I was gay in my late teens, and this was during the start of the HIV Epidemic.
I didn't stay closeted for fear of the HIV scare, I attempted to embark on a lifestyle of heterosexual living because I felt guilty, because of fear, and due to a need to please others, like my family. I don't believe or view that decision as a mistake, from that choice I feel I was gifted with a beautiful and wonderful relationship with an amazing and patient woman, who gave me two daughters who I love to the ends of the world and who have certainly made my life worth living. My family have been able to provide me with the strength that I needed to develop the emotional maturity that would later form the foundations of my confidence and acceptance. Despite coming out when I was older, I have since found myself, I am now true to myself and I could never ask for anything more.