Revealing that you're lesbian or gay marks an important milestone in your life. Thanks to greater societal acceptance, people are coming out earlier in life. More than half of gay men and nearly 40% of lesbian women surveyed in 2013 said they had come out to friends and family before age 20.
The decision isn't easy for everyone, though. Stigma and discrimination still exist. Some of the estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans over age 50 waited many years to come out. Others haven't yet.
Meet two people over 50 who share why they waited, and how coming out has changed their lives.
Christopher Adams: How I Finally Stopped Lying to Myself and Everyone Else
I’m a 52-year-old gay man, and last year was the year that I finally chose to be open about who I am. I regret not doing it much sooner. I spent decades fighting who I am, and it has done nothing but keep me from my full potential. Lying to yourself is worse than lying to a loved one, and I have been doing both for so long. I spent nearly 30 years of my life knowing that I was keeping a part of myself locked inside.
I always had a valid excuse about why I couldn't be public about who I am. I was constantly trying to better myself and my career, including building my company, ModestFish. I looked at my sexuality as having the potential to hold me back.
Last year I tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, I have fully recovered from it, but nearly a month of fear brought on by that damn virus was the push that I needed. The first person I told was my 29-year-old daughter. I was in the hospital at the time, so the reveal felt more like a death confession than a positive realization of who I am. But she insisted there was nothing negative about my coming out.
My daughter and I have always been extremely close, and she has been more supportive than anyone. It was her appreciation of who I am as a person that pushed me to reach for that feeling again. She showed me what it was like to have someone care for me as I really am. I thought if I could get that kind of approval from her, I wanted to take the chance and get it from the rest of the world. My small group of friends were also extremely supportive. They said they'd be by my side no matter what. What I said changed nothing about how they saw me.
Before last year, I could rarely maintain a serious relationship because I was always keeping a secret. Once I was no longer afraid to be myself, I met someone. I am dating again, publicly and proudly. I've been seeing the most amazing man for a little over 4 months.
If you are thinking about coming out, take the smallest step, because it could have the largest impact. No one is asking you to shout out who you are to the world, but you should at least shout it out to the people you trust. Once you show them your strength, coming out will be easier than you could have ever imagined. Wasting nearly 30 years of my life has taught me that it's not worth keeping who you are inside. Not for 30 years. Not even for 30 days.
Paulette Thomas: I Let Go of the Fear and Secrecy and Embraced Who I Am
I knew I was attracted to women at the age of 7, but I didn't know what that was. The person I took my guidance from was my mom. I thought she wouldn't love me if she knew I was attracted to girls. My secret started at a young age, and secrets grow more secrets.
My intent in life was never to get married, but I did want to have children. It was my understanding back then that the only way to have children was to have sex with a man. It was safer not to come out. I thought no one would know my secret once I had children.
I just continued down that path. I raised my kids and grew my family. But I felt so dissatisfied and locked down inside. My emotions were so heavy. I used to see women, and I'd be so attracted to them. It wasn't confusing, it was just a matter of denial.
As I got older, I knew I had to make a plan. I could no longer live with the person I had married. That plan was 6 years in the making. Once we got divorced, I came out.
The process was harder than I expected. When everybody around me was talking about their husbands or wives, I couldn't share anything. It was like being behind a fence and almost invisible. There's a part of me that I couldn't share because I was concerned people would judge me.
One of the hardest things was dealing with my faith. I was raised Catholic, but I've since become a Baptist. It's hard to go to a church where they tell you what you feel is wrong.
My three kids love me no matter what, but they had different reactions to my coming out. One of my daughters is also a lesbian, but my other daughter didn't handle the news very well. She was homophobic. I told my kids, "This is my life, but I'm your mother and you'll always come first with me," and they do.
My sister also didn't respond well, but that's only because I lied to her. We were on the phone, talking for hours as I tried to work up the courage to tell her. She was pressuring me, saying, "Tell me. Tell me already." I didn't know what to say, so I told her I was going blind. She got so concerned that finally I admitted, "No, I really want to tell you that I'm gay." She said, "What? I already knew that! Why did you lie to me about going blind?" We didn't talk for a year.
To finally be able to speak my truth is joyful. I can now live in my body in a healthy way and have real, open conversations with people. My greatest joy was finding my wife. We met 5 years ago at Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE). I asked her to go out dancing, and we did. We've been married for 3 years now.
If you're thinking about coming out, do it. I've heard so many stories of people not coming out until their 80s, or not coming out at all. Not only are you robbing yourself of a life well-lived with people who care about you, but you're also depriving them of who you are.
The people who God placed here for you will always be there for you. Allow them room to get used to the idea, but at least give them that chance.