Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ) is a deeply personal process that varies for each individual, and there is no “right or wrong way” to do so. No matter your age or life path, each individual gets to determine when the time is right to publicly share her/his/hir identity. The great news is that more and more people are feeling more supported and safer than ever before. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) surveyed Americans in 2006 and found that 83% of adults who self-identify as LGBTQ consider themselves to be out.
Many of us also know that as support and safety increase, the age at which people self-identify their sexual orientation is decreasing, and young people are coming out at younger than ever before. In 2012, HRC surveyed over 10,000 LGBTQ-identified youth and found that 91% of the youth (ages 13-17) are out to their close friends, 64% are out to their classmates, and just over half are out to their families. This report also outlines the challenges that face young people and also marks the incredible progress we’ve made over the years!
However, many of us know that coming out, particularly later in life remains challenging and can be further complicated by a lack of community support, ignorance, or geographic isolation. For example, what if you are over 30 years old and married? Carren Strock, author of “Married Women Who Love Women,” writes in her book that 59 of 100 women polled who came out later in life admitted that at the time of their marriage, they did not know that they were gay. She also quotes licensed social worker and lesbian relationship coach Barb Elgin, who explains “When you’ve built a whole life in the straight world and then dismantle or implode it, there can be many victims…Sadly, until folks are educated, many [lesbians’ loved ones] believe they would rather not know or pretend it isn’t happening.”
Holly Teige, co-founder of the Sky Valley GLBTQ Alliance and founder of Western Washington’s Out After 30 Meet-up says, “Everyone has a story and everyone’s story is different. When I came out at 30 years old and sought out resources, I found that most were for youth or men. There was very little for those coming out in adulthood. I wanted to find guidance, and in the absence of it, I decided to establish a support network to at least connect myself with others in my situation, men and women.”
Holly says that in the 18 months since the group began, the membership has grown to 150+ members. She quotes member “K” who says, “I saw the name of this group, and thought ‘Thank God! I’m not the only one!’ Pretty much all the resources currently out there are geared towards teens, and even though we hear about people who wake up to their true sexualities much later, I was feeling kind of dumb for not accepting myself before now.”
Beginning April of this year, there will be monthly social activities in addition to a regular monthly chat group held on the last Saturday of every month in downtown Seattle at the DeLuxe Bar and Grill. In addition to the in-person meet-ups, Holly plans to expand the website to include a bulletin board and counseling support from volunteer therapists as well as resource referrals for those in this position.
She says, “As a primarily online resource this small organization is uniquely positioned to bring together people from all geographic areas, especially those of us who are in rural areas, with less access to a more visible LGBTQ community.”
Coming out at any age can be both a struggle and a joy, but most of all it can reduce isolation. As an organization working in the West, covering vast geography and thousands of small towns, Pride Foundation understands the unique challenges that individuals coming out later in life face. If you are over 30 when you decide to do this, consider joining the Out After 30 Meet-Up to connect with others who are going through or have gone through a similar process. You never know who you will meet!
Uma is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Western Washington. Email Uma.