Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coming Out Later in Life: Complex But Not Unusual

We attended a holiday party last night hosted by a gay couple, each of whom had been previously married to women and each of whom had one or more children. In fact, I know many guys - and women too - who married and finally figured out later in life that they were not heterosexual and their marriages ended. Sadly, the majority had nasty divorces and few remain on good terms with the former spouses. One of the hosts who is certainly NOT the norm says he and his former wife are still friends. Something I would have preferred myself, but which did not come to pass not of my choice. CNN has a story that looks at this trend of people coming out later in life - something I suspect we we see more and more as people realize that "ex-gay" programs are bogus snake oil and that sexual orientation is pretty much set at birth despite however much one may try to deny it to themselves and the rest of the world. As the CNN article notes, coming out in mid-life is a complex process but truly not all that unusual - even though during the process one may feel as if no one else has ever experienced the difficult journey. It is important to understand that many have made the journey and that you are not some lone freak. Here are some highlights:
Marrying someone of the opposite sex, but coming out as gay or lesbian later in life is not uncommon, therapists say. A prominent example is actress Meredith Baxter, 62, who had been married to men three times but recently announced that she has been dating women for the past seven years. The thought of being gay "had never crossed my mind," before seven years ago, she told People magazine earlier this month.
Women, more often than men, report having these awakenings later in life, said Chris Kraft, clinical director at the Johns Hopkins Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit. Males who decide to adopt a gay lifestyle late in adulthood generally have known about their orientation since their school years but do not want to risk telling others, he said.
It's hard to say what it means to "not know" that you are gay until late in adulthood, said Gail Wyatt, sex therapist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. But she and Kraft both know of people who simply did not know how to interpret their feelings of attraction for many years.
Generally, sexual orientation becomes apparent to a person in adolescence, and to boys slightly earlier than girls, experts say. But sometimes the feelings of arousal and excitement that come from members of the same sex, even from casual sexual encounters, may feel more like "risk taking," and don't prompt a person to embrace a new sexual identity, Wyatt said. "They may have kids and families, a life that they would have to change, and many people don't want to have to make that kind of change," she said.
Science has not homed in on a single cause for homosexuality, but research has found various genetic associations in males. Studies have found that having older brothers increases a man's likelihood of being gay, as well as that the arrangement of a mother's genes could impact whether her son is gay. A study on identical male twins found that if one twin was gay, the other had a 50 percent likelihood of also being gay.
Divorce isn't always the solution for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered who are in heterosexual marriages, therapists said. Some couples choose to stay together because they don't want to disrupt their children's lives. But others separate and successfully begin new lives, Kraft said.
For someone who has decided to date members of the same gender, there's a whole process of socialization that has to be learned -- a lot of people don't know how to establish a same-sex relationship, Wyatt said. "Just like the first date, the first kiss -- it's still a first," she said. "There is learning that has to take place, and certainly learning in a safe way so that disease does not get transmitted, so that people get tested, all of those things have to come into any kind of relationship today."
One of the other party attendees has come out fairly recently and is going through a divorce nightmare and - as the article notes - is experiencing the whole new socialization process in transitioning to a different life. It truly takes time and one needs to have patience and realize that getting to where they want to be, especially if it involves a special committed relationship, takes work and does not happen overnight. n understanding therapist is a must and if you are not happy with the first one or two you see, keep on looking for that right fit.


GuyDads said...

Good entry. Both my husband and I came out late together. He was married 24 yrs and I 20 yrs. While my relationship with my ex-wife is strained, his is chummy. She was in our wedding. My notes about coming out late:

Loren A Olson MD said...

Coming out later in life is not uncommon, and for those of us who have done so, having been married and having children is not uncommon.

My ex-wife and I have not always had a good relationship, but when my first daughter was married, we agreed to put aside our differences for the sake of our daughter. It was a little awkward, but by the time my second daughter was married, it became much easier. My husband and I are now good friends with her and we frequently spend holidays and special occasions together.
This may not be typical but it is possible once each member of the heterosexual married couple can get past their own guilt and shame.
Coming out after having been married is a more complex problem because of the need to deal with the complexities of having children and also because one has often been "passing" in a straight world for so much longer. However, many have done it successfully.
I have been blogging about this on my website,

Loren A Olson MD