Monday, September 07, 2015

A Lifeline For Older Men Coming Out

When I began my coming out journey, I spent literally years in therapy.  First, I had to shed the religious brainwashing, shame and guilt inculcated into me by my Catholic upbringing.  After that bridge had been crossed, my nest stage was to figure out how to live a fulfilling life as a gay man.  My therapist were a life line for me and they pushed and forced me to find inner strength and to let go of so much old baggage.  Despite this help, there was a lack of books and other resources aimed at those coming out in mid-life.  In fact, my last therapist said repeatedly that I should write a book for those coming out later in life.  He said a friend of his was writing a blog as a method to accumulate material for his upcoming book.  He suggested that I should do the same.  Thus, Michael-in-Norfolk- Coming Out in Mid-Life was born.  Eight years later, I still have not written the book, but I have tied to share my trials and tribulations along the way as I have made my journey.  I remain more than happy to communicate with those seeking advice or shared experiences via e-mail and/or telephone calls. A piece in Huffington Post looks at a new book that tries to help fill the void I found in terms of resources.  Here are review highlights:

When my therapist, Adam asked me who I could talk to about coming out, I pointed at him. "Of course," he said "But, what I meant, was a friend or a family member." I looked up as if the answer might have been written on the ceiling. Not finding it there, I looked down at my shoes, shifted uncomfortably in my chair and then said "No one." At forty-three years of age, nobody really knew who I was. I was alone.

I was a father, a husband, a son, a brother and an IT Director. I had friends, but none of them close. When you're in the closet, you worry that every word, glance or gesture might give your secret away. How could I have developed an authentic relationship?

The closet seems like a vestige from a darker time. Many young LGBT people never experienced the repression, but there is an older generation of men who closed the door decades ago and now find themselves transported through time, tentatively stepping out into a terrifying, exciting and puzzling world. They often feel alone.

If you are coming out late, you are not alone.  Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life is a collection of stories that sheds light on a large and largely overlooked segment of the LGBT+ community. The anthology offers affirmation to older men coming out of the closet. I am honored to have an essay included.

I had the opportunity to speak with Vinnie Kinsella, the publisher and editor from Eldredge Books, who created this anthology. 

Q: What prompted you to create this book?  KINSELLA: The biggest prompt for me was the surprising growth of the meetup group I started for men who came out later in life: . . . I expected maybe twelve men in my city would ever join. When we exceeded a hundred members in just a few months, I was floored. I had no idea there were that many men in my city who identified as coming out later in life.

Q: How do you think this book will help LGBT men?  KINSELLA: My hope is that the book will be a strong tool for combating shame. What I hear from a lot of men coming out is a lot of shame for what they didn't do. Shame for not being honest with friends and family about their sexuality of gender identity. Shame for letting fear keep them from living an authentic life. I think this book combats shame by sending the message of, "Don't beat yourself up for coming out a bit later than the norm. Celebrate the fact that you came out at all!"

Q: Is there a void in the market for this type of book or these stories?   KINSELLA: Yes. When I looked for books that could help me early on in my coming out, I found that most of the resources for coming out are youth-focused. I think the belief is that coming out as an adult is rare, but that's simply not true. The culture is so different today from what it was thirty or forty years ago. For Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, the support system for youth coming out wasn't like it is today, so many men from that era stayed in the closet. . . . That's the void this book fills. It's not a how-to guide. It's more like an "It's Gets Better" campaign for men.

Q: Do you expect this book to help the families of LGBT men? KINSELLA: Indirectly, yes. It will offer insight into what goes on in the mind of a man coming out, which can helpful for spouses, kids, grandkids, and others who have lots of questions about what might have prompted their relative to come out.

As Kinsella notes, there are LOTS of us who have come out or who are in the process of coming out later in life.   We all need to help and support one another.

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