In a wierd synchronicity this topic hit My husband and me square in the face this week. First through a email sent to us through Youtube from a man seeking help...and secondly through the discovery of an awsome Youtube channel...Coming Out Late (but Great), chronicling the stories of people coming out later in life. More after the fold...
Our Email boxes(plural) get jammed with correspondance...as a result sometimes we can't always get back to people in a timely manner. It was on one of these occasions that Jay brought to light an email that struck at my heart...titled "HELP". It was from a 52 year old man seeking guidance on how to come out. The pain and desperation in his heart is evident in his words:
I've been watching "coming out stories" on Youtube for about a month and saw both of yours.
This is the first time I've ever opened up to anyone. I'm a little older than the both of you. I just turned 52. My story starts out much like Jay's. I came from similar upbingings and circumstances. I too tried to "fit in". I dated girls and like Jay, one became Pregnant. This is where my life takes a tragic turn personally...I married.
I have been painfully faithfull to my wife for 29 years I have four children. The Youngest is 18. I have always put my children first.May I please ask you both for guidance on how I can break this life long lie I've been living? Support groups, hotline chats,...anything.
I'm losing my mind. I'm so lonely. I'm so lost. I feel like I've betrayed my wife and my family. How could I have been so stupid? I'm so ashamed. I hurt every day.
I pray that you read and respond to my first ever admission of who I really am......I'm gay.
Wow...I couldn't breath for a while after reading that. Many of us have to come to that breaking point before we can say the words "I'm gay". This man clearly has reached that point of being striped down to where he simply can not run from himself any longer. How do you begin to help someone in this much pain...hotlines and support groups will only be the beggining of what will be a painfull...but hopefully freeing experience. Not only for him but also for the family who are going to have to face this with him.
My husband Jays take on this is a little different than my own and since I hate to paraphrase him, I'll let him speak for himself:
Those who come out later in life have many stories to tell...from the emotional and touching like Jims from OutLatebutGreat...to those who can now tell their stories through the humor of hindsight Like Michelle. Some may have married...multiple times...some merely lived single and made excusses for why they never dated. Its men and women who fought their sexualty, considered it a phase, or simply refused to allow themselves to be gay no matter how hard it stared them in the face. Its those who are realizing they are transgendered like Sydney. Its people who may finally realise that the world has changed and mayby there can now be a place for them in it.
I've had conversations with a few people about this and not everyone sees someone coming out later in life in a favorable light. Some see the devastation done to a spouses life as an ultimate selfishness...others think that responsibility to the family they created out rules all...I don't happen to agree here. To my mind, Our culture can be like an emotional meat grinder for gay people. To borrow a phrase from Obi-wan Kenobi..."From a certain point of view"...those who come out are the lucky ones. They escaped the machine and being ground down by shame, denial, and cultural expectation. Some weren't so lucky. They were too ashamed of who they were and what they wanted...they did what they believed they were supposed to do in life, get married, have kids, and live up to the American dream. They are now coming out of the end of that grinder beaten and chewed up. While they have the responsibility of making their own choices...I think we can be there to help them. They are not the Ted haggerts and George Allen Rekkers doing awfull things to gay people on a daily basis. These are just ordinary people who very easily could have been you or me...I think some compassion is called for.
Those who've come out in the last twenty years have had the benifit of a society much different than the one many of us came up in. You can see gay relationships on t.v. that are positive and loving where before the ONE gay character was usually the joke or the bad guy. The internet has given everyone countless ways to connect with other gay people. from chats, Youtube, social networking sites and a whole host of ways for us to connect to each other. In addition coming out in highschool is not an automatic ticket to a beat down anymore...hell, gay teens are taking their dates to prom!....that will always be amazing to me as a man coming from a time when wearing an earing in the wrong ear meant personal danger.
The world is changing...perhaps only by degrees, but it is changing. Older men and women coming out today did not have the advantage of many of the things we now have. Perhaps they only knew one gay person in their whole town who was the social pariah...perhaps they believed they were the only ones. The reasons why are endless. Could they have faced those fears and still chosen honesty over the closet...sure, many people did, but not without cost. So many men and women have given up all that they knew to move to a big city for the priviledge of living out of the closet. Not everyone can pay that price...so they paid a different one.
And so too do the spouses of the lately coming out pay a heavy price. I can't imagine how hard it must be to build a life with someone and then be told by their loved one that they are gay. That is an unimaginable pain and the questions they put themselves through are torture by themselves. "Was it all a lie?"..."Did she ever really love me?"...."What other secrets is he keeping?"..."What do I do now?"
Everyone will handle this differently and surely some spouses already have a clue about their husband or wives sexuality long before they can admit it...but that cant make facing the truth any easier. Sometimes... even though a marriage dissolves, it does not mean that the love you shared goes away. Some ex's remain lifelong friends....but not with out alot of work and much truth telling...but at least there is hope for healing and that both spouses can go on to find a form of happines.
But how to begin making it right? Is that even possible?...there are no easy answers to those questions...
The only path ahead I can see is to move forward from where you are, not where you think you should be. whatever was done in the past...is the past...it can not be changed. Blame society, blame yourself, blame whoever you want...none of that will help. take responsibility for your actions...then and now...not blame. Then begin by taking small steps...
No matter your age, if your coming to the realization you are gay, inform yourself of just what that is. Meet real gay people, listen to the stories of others, get the facts. This may be even more important for a generation of us brought up to see gay people as sick, evil, and perverted. You have to get past all that old baggage. Reach out and learn what it really means to be gay. Give yourself the confidence to know that this is really what you want and that its going to be o.k.....you wont end up the way your parents warned. You'll get the same bumps and bruises along the way...perhaps a couple more because of the way society views us...but thats life...you probably have already experienced that...which is actually a plus..being older means you've learned a thing or two about life and people...make that work for you. Things like dating will be all new again and you will need all those instincts.
The hardest part is the conversations you will need to have with wives or husbands. If lack of honesty was what led you here, only total honesty and truthfullness...no matter how painfull...can be the way home. As much as you are hurting and unsure...they will be tenfold. They will need you. Their may be anger...blame...a mountain of hurt. They are going to have so many questions. You probably will not have all the answers and sometimes its just gong to have to be o.k. to say "I don't know yet" to a couple. But if you shared a lifetime, you can share this too. It is just possible that somewhere down the line it wont hurt so much and you can come together as two people who know each other better than anyone can imagine. It may not be romantic but it may still be something extraordinary.
No matter how hard the outing may be its whats on the other side of that experience that counts and you can make it there. Know that you don't go alone and the more we tell our stories the more people will be able to take those first frightening and painfull steps to seeing in color what used to only be black and white...to being truly alive for the first time.
Please check out Out Late but Greats channel and please reach out if you are taking those first steps..or if you have a story to share.
Until next time dear readers...