In this day and age, we sometimes forget that coming out is still hard to do for many folks – especially older people.
To explore this issue SFGN interviewed a gay man, a man not into labels, and a transgender man. All three came out after 50.
Joseph L. came out at 55. He had married a woman and had children. Now he has grandchildren. Gasper (not his legal name) came out at 53. Gaspar had married a woman who already had children.
Morgan Mayfaire, Executive Director, TransSOCIAL, came out as a transgender man at 56. Before his coming out as a transgender man, Mayfaire had identified as a lesbian.
For these three people, their coming out processes ruptured adult lives in which they had already invested heavily.
Their Lives Before Coming Out
Joseph L. spent most of his adult life in the military as a married man with children. He considers his relationship with his family very important.
Gasper had married, but now has no contact with his family, even on birthdays and holidays. He describes his relationship with his former family as amicable, if distant. Gasper said trying not to be gay had exhausted him.
Mayfaire now identifies as “a man of trans experience.” He found it easier to come out as a lesbian than a trans man. Mayfaire said that he “had more support from my community when I came out as a lesbian, but no family support. When I came out as trans, I had family support, but not community support.”
His two coming out processes had one similarity. “Your friends and family have to make a choice whether they want to stay in your life or not,” he said. In each case all your friends and family may not go with you to this new phase of your life.
The Word Queer
Both Joseph L. and Jasper find the term “queer” offensive. Joseph L. objects to all labels.
Mayfaire identifies as queer. To him it means “other than,” or “outside of,” the strict cisgender/heterosexual norms. Mayfaire realizes that some LGBT people hear it as hate speech. For him, it's a “modern and inclusive term” that fits his sexuality and gender identity.
Integration into the Community
Neither Joseph L. nor Jasper feels well integrated into the LGBT communities.
Unlike some other gay men over 50, Joseph L. does not feel invisible. Gaspar feels isolated. He said, “I don’t usually hang around with other gay people. I try to get around with other gay men but there seems to be a barrier. I don’t blame them; I blame myself.” Unlike many gay men of his age, Gasper said, “I don’t know if I know anybody” who is living with HIV.
Mayfaire works in the trans community. His close circle of friends involves transgender, cisgender, and LGB people. He never feels invisible, but sometimes feels like a “relic.”
Issues for People Coming Out Later in Life
Joseph L. kept referring to the importance of his family. He feels that gay men who came out after 50 need the acceptance of their children and family.
Mayfaire feels two issues are most critical for transgender men who came out later in life. First, they frequently experience dating problems. Second, they need to learn how to feel comfortable in traditional male spaces.
Transgender women also experience problems with dating and being out in the workplace. They find it difficult to reverse changes in appearance caused by testosterone. Mayfaire said, “Facial hair, voice, and bone structure are more easily feminized if the hormones are started at an early age. The earlier you come out, the easier it is to learn to blend in.”
Mayfaire emphasized that “A lot of trans people who come out after 50 come from [within] the LGBQ community.” People in the LGB categories may lack knowledge about people in the T category. He continued, “Respect pronouns and chosen names, don’t ask disrespectful questions, and try to educate yourself on how to be a better ally.”
Joseph L. and Gasper said that fear of HIV did not delay either of their coming out processes.
Mayfaire takes PrEP to prevent HIV infection. He stressed that some providers will not prescribe hormone replacement therapy for someone on PrEP or anti-retroviral therapy. Both transgender men and transgender women face this problem.
Regret or the Lack Thereof
While Joseph L. sometimes regrets what his delayed coming out cost him, he is comfortable with his timing. Joseph L. said, “Some people really don’t know their sexuality until later in life.”
Mayfaire regrets not coming out earlier in life. He stressed, however, that people can only come out successfully when it is safe to do so. He cautioned, “Young people without family support are especially vulnerable. It’s never too late in life to be your authentic self.”
Mayfaire expressed a certain envy for transgender people who came out earlier. He feels that “They have endless possibilities that I will never have.” He continued, “Transitioning is never easy but having the ability to start your transition at a young age has many advantages.”
LGBT people who came out after 50 share the experience of having a significant prior adult life. For the two cismen, this involved a type of family. For one, family has great importance; for the other, it didn’t.
Neither of the two cismen interviewed felt integrated into the gay community. Integration into the community may pose a challenge for those who come out after 50.
Mayfaire’s story exemplifies something else. People can experience problems transitioning from one part of the LGBT community to another.