Coming out later in life might mean you can finally live your life as your true self, but for many coming out after 50 years old could cost them dearly.
While finally coming out can be liberating, LGBTIs face great risk letting the world who they really are. They risk rejection from their families, spouses and friends. They also risk facing discrimination at work or judgement from groups they are involved in such as faith-based groups.
But regardless of the risk, many older LGBTI people that come out never look back.
‘Coming out was like walking on air,’ the UK born, but Australian based, Robert Williams said of his coming out.
‘It was still winter (when he came out), but it felt like spring. I felt like I was invisible… I felt liberated.’
Willams, 57, came out only three years ago, but he had known his whole life that he was gay. Growing up in the 1960s and being an evangelical Christian meant that he denied his own sexuality his whole life.
He decided to leave his wife who he says abused him and she kicked him out of the house when he revealed his sexuality. That move left him homeless, but some friends took him in. Williams fell in love with the man who took him in and they are getting married this November.
But there were times in his coming out journey when he wasn’t so sure things would end well. Fighting back tears he explains how his children haven’t spoken to him in years.
‘That broke me, it seriously broke me. I love my children so much,’ he said.
‘I didn’t know how cruel hope would be. Everyday I live with the hope that they’ll knock on the door, but I know that’s not possible.’
If you can’t accept me then, “bye, Felicia”
Anita van der Laan, 57, decided to live full time as ‘Anita’ after spending a week on a RuPaul’s Drag Race themed cruise. After spending time with people who accepted her purely as herself, she made the decision to debut Anita to the world.
‘It (the cruise) was the first time I live as Anita 24/7,’ she told Gay Star News.
‘Having all of those people accept felt wonderful and I decided it was time to live life as Anita’.
So, she posted a photo of herself on Facebook as Anita. While some people tried to start a ‘smear campaign’ against her, but it didn’t faze her.
‘I decided that if you can’t accept me for me then, “Bye, Felicia”,’ she said.
It was a bold move, especially considering she worked in the male dominated shipping industry. But van der Laan knew living as her true self was far too important.
But considering how bold and confident she is as demanding people accept Anita, why didn’t she come out sooner.
‘I had to take my wife’s feelings into consideration,’ she said.
Living outside the gay village
Many older LGBTIs have been married and started families. Much like van der Laan, Sydney-based executive Jason Masters, delayed his coming out for the sake of his family.
He and his wife decided to stay living under the same roof while their eldest child finished their final year high school exams.
While living with the secret, Masters did some research.
‘I found there was only one government funded NGO in all of Australia that supported women whose husbands had come out as gay,’ he said.
‘I was able to say to her “you might find this helpful” and she did go and I think she did find it helpful.’
Masters is also a practising Christian and joined the LGBTI Christian group, Freedom 2 Be. His coming out timed well with Australia’s debate and vote on marriage equality. His passion for social justice led him to campaign for marriage equality within his faith but also in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Or as Masters calls it, ‘outside Sydney’s gay village’.
Since his coming out only three years ago, Masters has thrown himself into a lot of LGBTI groups and helps organize them, including the football supporter group the Rainbow Swans.
But he has to stop and wonder if he’s taken on too much.
‘It has been my life mechanism to avoid dealing with issues, keep busy and you don’t have to think about things,’ he said.
‘It’s been a survival technique for most of my life.’
After his coming out, Masters’ new challenge is to learn to slow down and learn to live life.
This was the right thing to do
Coming out has cost all three people dearly. All have lost relationships, it has cost some of them professionally, but they all say it was the right thing to do.
For Masters living in the closet made him unwell, not only did he have suicidal thoughts, but he started to get really sick the longer he kept his secret.
But Williams sums what it is like to finally come out of the closet.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy,’ he said.