The Unique Challenges Of Coming Out As Gay Later In Life

By Rick Clemons for

Every time a new state recognizes gay marriage, my coming out coaching practice gets inundated with calls. It seems the more that people recognize that love is love, the more gay people feel safe to come out of the closet.

However, what is surprising about these calls is that they do not come from millennials; mostly, they are from the Gen X and baby boomer generations. These generations grew up in a time of don’t ask, don’t tell, and they hid in underground clubs and meeting spaces. They lived dual lives to a greater extent than a Millennial could ever imagine. If you were gay, you either hid it masterfully, or were considered to be a freak, rebel or even villain. It’s really not so surprising that Gen X and Baby Boomers wait to come out until their lives become unbearable. And then once they do come out, they face a number of challenges that make it even harder.

Problem #1: Married and gay. That is, married in a heterosexual relationship to cover up the fact that you’re gay. Due to familial, societal or religious pressures, the hetero but gay got married to a woman hoping that his marriage would make the gay part of himself miraculously disappear. Instead, he faces a life of full of overwhelming deceit and infidelity. Of course the worst part of the married and gay relationship is the amount of hurt and pain that the wife experiences when her husband comes out of the closet. Pain, turmoil and anguish often occur, which wreaks havoc in everyone’s lives.

Problem #2: Parenthood. Often, those who tried to be straight by getting married end up parents. Most are thrilled and almost see it as worth it to be in the closet for the sake of having children. Though today there are many options for gay couples looking to have children, such as Invitro and surrogate pregnancies, these technologies were not commonplace twenty or thirty years ago. For many gay Gen X or baby boomers, their parental duties overshadow their decision to come out for fear of negatively impacting their children. My own personal experience found that as long as I gave my children love and support through my divorce and coming out, then I was able to make the situation work.

Problem #3: Lost youth. One of the first things that happen for a late bloomer is this sense of needing to make up for lost time. As we all know, it’s not really possible to do that, however, newly out adults tend to act like the immature teen they never got to be when they were younger. Even if you’re the most levelheaded and mature adult you know, after you first come out you will probably act like a kid in a candy store, drooling over all the selections available to you in the gay dating buffet line. Just remember, the kid in the candy store often ends up with a stomachache and the same rule applies here. Over-the-top sexual and dating conquests do not necessarily lead to a healthy gay lifestyle.

Problem #4: Family acceptance. Granted, anyone who comes out of the closet yearns for family acceptance. Those coming out in their 30s and beyond often find it difficult for family members to transition past the perceived reality of who they thought their child, brother or sister was. This can either be a positive or negative experience depending on the family dynamics. If the family believes the gay person is doing the right thing, then the experience is positive. On the other hand, families often feel insulted that the gay person has been deceiving them this whole time. Of course, those who feel that way also usually would prefer the gay person to go back into the closet. People like that are more concerned with themselves than with their family member.

Problem #5: The In-laws. Most millennials coming out of the closet aren’t yet at the marrying age. On the other hand, those in their 30s and above may have in-laws and extended families to contend with when coming out. Not unlike a typical divorce scenario, the in-laws are either going to be doing the good riddance happy dance or they’re going to be struggling to be civil — especially when there are grandchildren involved. If they didn’t like you before, rest assured, they sure as heck aren’t going to like you now.

Problem #6: Youth vs. Truth. I believe you’re only as old as you feel. However, that doesn’t mean I walk around in muscle shirts two sizes to small for me trying to hold onto my youth. Those who are late to come out often feel like they are too old for the gay scene or are not in good enough shape. One of two things usually happens when this occurs. You either feel that you’re not good enough and settle for less than you deserve or you go into overdrive trying to be the most ideal — and most stereotypical — gay man you can be. Of course, the healthiest road to take is to just be yourself and to realize that there’s hundreds and thousands of others just like you who are trying to find their way in the gay community.

Problem #7: Too much baggage. I really hate this one, only because I heard it way too often when I entered the gay dating scene. However, I must admit, I now understand it to some degree. Just like any other divorced person, if you come into the gay world with an ex-spouse and kids, you may be perceived as one who is dragging around too much baggage. At first it probably will hurt to hear that, until you realize that you are really looking for someone who wants to be serious with you — and may have some baggage of his own.

Problem #8: Too late for training wheels. Admittedly it does suck to start over later in life. It almost seems like you are riding a tricycle when everyone else has graduated to a two-wheeler. How embarrassing. The truth is, even if you had come out 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago, you’d still be using training wheels, because there weren’t any gay role models or gay organizations (for the most part) to help you know what to do on your way out of the closet. And forget enlisting Mom and Dad to teach you about the gay birds and bees!

Problem #9: I’ll never find love. I’m not sure if this is an age thing or a comfort thing. For whatever reason, late bloomers tend to seek out monogamous relationships. No harm in that, except for when it prevents you from getting onto a relationship at all. Too often, the urge to get connected and settle down prevents you from hunting until you find the person who is right for you. While monogamy and commitment may be great intentions, oftentimes late bloomers forget to play the field in order to really discover who they are really attracted to.

Comedian Tom Glass says it best, “everyone comes out at exactly the same time…when they’re ready.” I completely agree and am testimony to this belief. I first realized I was gay when I was 19 — right at the start of the AIDS Epidemic. If I had come out then, I would have done it as a rebellious, uninformed, young gay man, who was acting out just to spite my parents.

While I didn’t stay closeted because of the AIDS scare, I did allow myself to give heterosexual living a try for all the wrong reasons: out of fear and to please others. Even though that didn’t work either, I was blessed with 13 years of being in a relationship with a wonderful woman, two daughters that make my life worth living and enough emotional maturity to make me comfortable in my skin. Even though I was a late bloomer, I found myself and learned it’s never too late for anything.

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This article originally appeared on “Coming Out Late in Life? 9 Challenges to Expect

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