There are a lot of stories about the trials and tribulations of young people coming out in their teens, 20’s and even 30’s. What is less talked about is coming out later in life, when one is in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and older. We all have a unique timetable to deal with sexuality, self-acceptance and coming out issues. It is not uncommon to come out later in life but there are also many distinct and complex variables facing someone who does. For those of you thinking about coming out late in life or have recently done so, here are 12 suggestions:
First, take care of your legal business (divorce, support, dividing assets) with an experienced lawyer. Seriously, get an attorney. Don't put it off. Talk to a lawyer and know what your rights and responsibilities are, especially if you are married, have kids and/or significant assets. Don’t promise or sign anything without running it by your attorney. Don’t let guilt or shame cloud your actions. Money is going to be flying out the door for a multitude of reasons as well as possible spousal and child support. You have to be responsible.
Second, give yourself plenty of time. Divorce/breaking up is a long and painful process. It demands time both emotionally and logistically. Plan on the process taking at least a year and a half. Give yourself time to grieve and take in the changes in your life. Don't forget to honor the life that was yours. In addition, give yourself time to acclimate to being gay. You will probably go through several stages. Some common ones are the slut stage, desperate for a relationship stage, moving in together after the first date stage, re-calming your inner teenager angst, working through internalized homophobia stage and many others.
Third, some family members (parents, children, siblings, etc.) are going to feel that your coming out is forcing them to come out as well. By that, I mean, you are going to hear how painful, hurtful, inconvenient, embarrassing, and shameful your coming out affects them and their life. They are going to have to process and reeducate what they thought a gay person is. It may be a struggle for them to want to do this. It is going to take time for them to come around. You will find that disclosure is a process that happens over time. Usually you can’t tell ahead of time who is going to have an issue with it. There will be surprises all around and some happy endings.
Fourth, get out and meet as many type of gay people as you can: young/old, fit/fat, bear/twink, HIV positive/negative, coupled/single, straight-acting/fem, drag queens, all type of lesbians, transgender, etc. Don’t limit your pool of friends. You will quickly discover that you are not the only one that came out late. Thousands of men and women come out late in life or after being married to the opposite sex. Some did it decades ago when it wasn’t as accepting as it is now. Some will do it in upcoming months and ask you for advice.
Fifth, make a commitment to learn about gay history, culture, arts, politics, and personalities. Read books by gay authors; subscribe to magazines like Advocate, Instinct, and Out; visit internet sites that cover GLBT topics (see my Commentary and News links on the right side) and not just porn sites. Watch DVDs about these subjects. (Netflix has hundreds of gay themed, non-porn DVDs.) Take a class or listen to speakers.
Sixth, get involved. Find and join various gay organizations that interest you. There are an amazing number and variety out there. There are groups that appeal to the intellect, the athletic, the social and the adventuresome. For example there are gay book groups, gay hiking and running clubs, gay dance (line dancing, square dancing, etc.) classes, gay choruses, and gay swimming, skiing clubs, gay bridge groups, adventure travel/camping/cruising clubs, etc.
Seventh, give back to the community. While you were closeted and trying to be straight-acting, you lived a privileged and safe life. You are now obligated to help those that did not have that opportunity. You have a chance to make the world a better place. Volunteer at a LGBT community center, AIDS organization, Marriage Equality group or other non-profit LGBT or gay-friendly organizations. Be an active member of the clubs and groups you join. Help organize or serve on event or board committees. Become a donor. Be a mentor.
Eighth, if religion is important to you, check out the many gay and gay-friendly churches, synagogues, prayer and social groups. There are a lot of positive and supportive literature and resources on how to live a gay spiritual life. There is no reason to stay closeted for God.
Ninth, go to a pride parade/festival in a small town and in a big city. They are two very different experiences. Support and patronize gay businesses. Visit a small town gay bar and a big city gay dance club. Visit a gayborhood like the Castro in San Francisco, Chelsea in New York City, or Boystown in Chicago. Vacation at a gay resort like Fort Lauderdale, Palm Springs, Provincetown, etc. Go on a gay cruise. When we travel, we make it a point to stay at gay owned bed and breakfast inns and guesthouses.
Tenth, act your age. That doesn’t mean you can’t go out to bars, clubs or cruise guys or do other fun stuff. Instead, it means you should act with confidence and assurance and a belief in the wisdom you’ve learned over the years. No one wants to see a guy in his late forties trying to mimic the worst traits of an immature twenty year old. However, there is something hot about a confident older man that draws the attention and admiration of younger guys.
Eleventh, share your story. Straight friends and family are going to have questions. This is a great opportunity to educate and have a positive influence. Develop and work on your story on what you went through to get to the “new” you. One recommendation, keep the story “G” or “PG” rated. Save the graphic details for your gay friends.
Twelfth, don’t whine about all you missed by not coming out earlier. Nobody wants to hear it. Save it for your blog if you feel compelled to share it. You have finished one closeted chapter in your life and now you are starting a new one. You are now living an out and authentic life. Enjoy it.
Bonus suggestion: This may not apply to everyone because some guys (straight, gay, bi, and all things in between) take very good care of themselves. But for those of you that have let things slide over the years consider this an opportunity to reevaluate your health and appearance: Lose that extra 10 or 20 pounds. Start an exercise program. Learn to cook and prepare healthy foods. Try a new haircut. Update your wardrobe. Doing something to improve the new changes in your life will not only make you feel better about yourself but will also make you more desirable.
UPDATE: Kids of Queers has some excellent points for a gay parent coming out to his children. Her blog has some very practical and sage advice. She knows from experience. She is the adult daughter of a gay man.
If you are a young, gay person looking to come out, ChadzBoyz GayZone has some excellent advice and support.