Better late than never to come out

I still remember a cartoon that I saw years ago as a minor. I believe that it was in one of my older brother’s issues of Hustler, which I enjoyed for the occasional male who was featured along with a female in one of the, um, pictorials.

In the cartoon, two ancient wheelchair-bound men sit next to each other on a porch.

“I’ve always loved you, too!” one of them declares to the other.

It was a funny, but a sad, cartoon: by the time the two men finally declared their love for each other, they didn’t have much time left.

(OK, so I probably overexplained the ’toon, as I am wont to do, but please indulge me…)

An Associated Press story on how people are coming out later in life reminded me of that ’toon.

The news story is more anecdotal than anything else, and it makes the error of lumping transgendered individuals in with gay men and lesbians — something to which both camps often object, as there is a significant difference between being sexually attracted to members of your own sex and feeling like you are a female in a biologically male body or a male in a biologically female body — but the news story is worth reading.


Increased awareness and acceptance of varied sexualities and gender identities has led Americans to come out far younger, as early as middle school.

A less noticed but parallel shift is happening at the other end of the age spectrum, with people in their 60s, 70s and 80s coming to terms with the truth that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

While no one tracks the numbers of the elderly who come out, those who work with older adults say the trend is undeniable, and a resulting network of support groups and services has cropped up.

The decision can fracture lifelong relationships. Or it can bring the long-sought relief of an unloaded secret….

Outing yourself late in life can be complicated after having lived through times when being openly gay could get you arrested, put in an institution and given shock treatments. It’s snarled in a lifetime of trudging along through society’s view of normalcy and the resulting fear of being ostracized by children and grandchildren. And it’s marked by a nagging doubt that all the heartache, all the potential for it to go wrong, may not be worth it with one’s years numbered.

“When somebody comes out at the age of 20, they have their whole life ahead of them,” said Karen Taylor, the director of training and advocacy for SAGE, a national group that works with LGBT seniors. “There’s a real sense of regret and loss for somebody who comes out later in life, even when talking to them and they say the decision was the right one.”

Still, many seniors have felt empowered by the growing presence of gays and lesbians in pop culture and some high-profile, late-in-life outings…. Those who’ve mustered the gumption to out themselves say they feel as if they’ve been given a second chance….

Dr. Loren Olson, a psychiatrist in Des Moines, Iowa, who has studied late-in-life outings, said for most such seniors, there are losses, though they are typically less than they fear, and often vary greatly by socioeconomics.

Olson himself was 40 before he came out. While it may seem incomprehensible to some, he said it makes sense that many can’t face the truth for so long, even if some around them have surmised it.

“We don’t like disharmony in our thinking so sometimes we block out things that really are in opposition to really what we believe is true,” he said. “It’s like a child believing in Santa Claus: You just hang on to that as long as you can.” …

Let go of Santa, I say to those who are in the closet, especially those who probably can come out without the sky actually falling.

I have not been a big fan of closet cases, but I’m trying to be more patient with and understanding of them. There is that delicate balance, I think: Play along with the closet case’s game, and what incentive does he or she have to come out? But push him or her too far, and couldn’t that cause damage, too?

Still, my general belief is that for most people in the closet, coming out would not be nearly as catastrophic as they apparently think it would.

Often, people already know, and their response is something along the lines of “No duh!”

Those who have a problem with you being non-heterosexual — why do you want them in your life anyway?

It’s never too soon or too late to start being who you are. The time to be who you are is right now.

If you are contemplating coming out, you might find that the Human Rights Campaign has some valuable resources on coming out. Click here.

Finally, if you must remain in the closet, don’t be a Massa. Don’t claim to be straight while sexually harassing members of your own sex. As much as I love to be in the know, I don’t want to have to learn new sexual slang, such as “snorkeling,” as the result of your having sexually acted out. “Tea-bagging” was enough, thank you.

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