Twenty-five years ago, Robert Fulghum published a book that became the phenomenal #1 New York Times bestseller called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I read one of the seven million copies that were sold and thought it was wonderful. Most of us know about the lessons taught in Kindergarten but how many know about the lessons associated with coming out?
I wonder how many copies would be sold if the book All I Really Needed to Know about Coming Out, I Learned Later in Life existed. Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? While it may have a nice ring to it, actually writing it would be an impossible task due to the sheer volume of variables, unknowns, and emotions involved with coming out.
Learning about and understanding the coming out process is important for everyone, not just the person who is coming out. My education of all things lesbian began five years ago. The course load is heavy and complicated at times. There are no easy A’s. The most important thing I have learned is that we are not all the same, which is true whether you are straight, gay, or a brick.
It takes time for someone to navigate the process of coming out. There is no timeline or manual explaining the specific steps involved. The journey is unique and is influenced by our personalities, background, circumstances, and level of self-awareness.
Those looking to draw a straight line between point A and B will be very frustrated to learn this. The line is often crooked, covered in eraser dust, and spread across multiple sheets of paper. Coming out later in life is a continual process with a very wide learning curve. While many experiences and stories are similar, none are the exactly the same.
My process began in a local diner. I sat speechless with tears rolling down my face for a long time before I spoke my truth. I knew saying the words out loud would change everything. Life as I knew it shifted the moment I spoke. I was at a loss and had no plan going forward.
When I wrote Switching Teams, I knew reaching my target audience would present unique challenges on many fronts. Those who know me understand I love a challenge. Finding and reaching out to other women who left their marriages and came out later in life has illustrated the hesitation, fear, and confusion of this demographic. Not many are willing to shout their revelations from the rooftops or are crazy enough to write a book about it.
Discovering your truth and realizing you are gay does not always result in an immediate announcement or coming out publicly. Many are terrified for their husband, family, friends, and employers to learn about what is going on in their life. Managing the emotional and mental toll is especially challenging when there are children to raise and households to run.
Most late in life lesbians are consumed by a shroud of secrecy. It is an intensely personal journey and it is not uncommon to experience moments of paranoia, feelings of confusion, and overwhelming fears about the future. Been there. Done that.
There are a variety of stages which have no set order. It is a two steps forward, twenty steps backward reality. Before anything is said to another, there are sleepless nights, many doubts and questions, and a fierce inner search for answers. This private examination is excruciating at times, but can also be thrilling. When the light bulb goes off, there is little time to enjoy the clarity because the truth is messy and requires change.
Fear is real and makes maneuvering through the mental and emotional muck difficult. Coming out takes on a life of its own once the cat is out of the bag. Yes, that was a cat reference. I have yet to meet a single person who effortlessly sailed through the process.
Making the decision to go public brings a new list of concerns such as rejection, breaking up the family, finances, and the reactions of people when they hear the news. In the midst of the fear there is also an incredible sense of self. This is what pushes people to keep going through the painful and liberating process of coming out.
The women who have come out later in life belong to a sorority. We all understand. We have been there in some shape, way, manner or form. Offering encouragement, empathy, and strength to those who belong to the Lambda Iota Lambda (Late in Life) sorority reminds me of my own strength and journey.
Being sensitive to each other and whatever stage or step we are at is an exercise in compassion and love. Two days ago I went back to the diner for the first time since I came out for lunch with my wife. The contrast in the two visits was stark. In some ways five years feels like an eternity and in other ways feels like yesterday.
I could not imagine what life would look like next week, let alone in five months on that rainy morning five years ago. Life is different and so much has changed but most of the changes have given birth to amazing things. I paused for a minute and had to smile. At that moment, an elderly lady sitting across from us waved and told me she thought my haircut was beautiful and wanted to know who my stylist was. It is the little things really.
I have learned so much about the coming out journey since writing Switching Teams. My education in being a kinder, gentler, and more loving person continues with every passing day. In this, I am learning and becoming more appreciative of what others are going through. This skill is valuable regardless of the circumstance.
For those of you who are on the coming out journey, stay the course and remember that you are capable of getting through the bumpy parts. Keep moving forward, even when it is hard and painful. The work, struggle, and pain is all part of the journey to peace and authenticity. Be brave, honest, and trust that it does get better.