Facing up to your sexuality can be hard at any age, but coming out later in life can be particularly daunting. Alex Hopkins explores six potential challenges you may be grapling with as an elder person considering coming out of the closet, and the best way to overcome them.

Attitudes to the LGBTQ+ community have come a long way in the past few decades and we are more integrated  and accepted by the mainstream society than ever before. In fact, this positive societal change and acceptance is thought to be a main factor in why LGBTQ+ people are coming out earlier than ever before.

However, this isn't necessarily the case for older members of our queer community who may have had to suppress their true sexual identity for a variety of reasons. Indeed, many older sections of the community may have lived through times when being gay was punishable with imprisonment or when gay sex was illegal. That would have been enough to make anyone hide their feelings and stay in the closet. And, as well all know, in some parts of the world attitudes towards homosexuality still remain in the Dark Ages, so there are likely to still be many people coming out later in life in the future.

Coming out late in life: the reasons

Luckily mainstream attitudes towards the queer community have mainly changed for the better, but there are still plenty of other reasons why people don't choose to come out until later in life – whether that's in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s or beyond! All sorts of factors and life circumstances can come into play – family situation, religious beliefs and pressures, geographical location, education, sexual fluidity, etc.

Coming out later in life needn't be painful

Saying 'Hi, I'm gay' isn't easy for all of us, whatever age we are – and, in fact, most of us can, ahem, 'look forward 'to having to come out continuously during our lifetimes. The layers of coming out may include family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, healthcare professionals, etc. Plus, add older age into the mix and the challenges and questions are greater: will my existing family and friends accept me? Will the gay community welcome me as an older person? Who will love me? So, if you're currently considering coming out later on in life, here are six of the most common challenges you may face and our ideas for dealing with them. 


1. Walking away 

People enter heterosexual relationships or marriage for many different reasons. You could come from a cultural or religious background where it was expected of you, where to be gay was considered the greatest taboo of them all. Or you could simply have fallen in love with someone of a different gender earlier in life and then questioned your sexuality later. Leaving a marriage – and telling your partner that you’re gay –  is possibly the biggest challenge you’ll ever face. But the alternative – a lifetime of deceit and anguish – will be much worse – for both of you. 

2. But what about the kids?

Yes, of course having children complicates matters, but having conceived kids with your partner is not a reason to stay in an unhappy and unhealthy marriage. Coming out later in life may mean leaving the ‘family unit’, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give your children any less love and care – in fact, you’ll probably end up being a much better parent simply because you’ll finally be being true to yourself.

Also, don’t underestimate kids’ capacity to understand and sympathize – they’re living in a world which is a lot less hostile to gay people than the one you probably grew up in. 

3. And then there’s the parents…

What will the folks think? It’s the question that torments most LGBT+ people, no matter what age they come out. Look on the plus side: if you’re older, then you’ve got all that life experience and maturity which can help you break the news in the right way and manage the situation – probably much better than your 16-year-old self could ever have done.

“Coming out later in life may mean leaving the ‘family unit’, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give your children any less love and care.”

No, it may not be easy, but would your parents prefer you to spend the rest of your lifetimes deceiving them? Depending on your circumstances, you may not be surprised if parents tell you they already knew or suspected you were gay all along. Of course, if your parent/s have passed on, this is something you may not have to deal with, but you may still feel residual guilt from not coming out to them during their lifetime. If so, let it go, and if you can't, seek professional help to do so and more forward. 

4. Too much baggage

So, you’ve weighed up the negatives – over and over: leaving the wife/husband, the kids, breaking the news to the parents. Who’s going to want to take on someone coming out late in life and with all that baggage? You could see it like that, but try looking at it from the flip-side: you’ve got a wealth of life experience behind you. Think of all the stories you can tell and share with a new partner. You’re not complicated, you’re fascinating. And remember, you’ve already built and sustained very different kinds of relationships. All of that’s to your credit – and you can use the skills it’s taught you to shape a new even better future – hopefully with a new partner. 

There are challenges to coming out late, but they can be overcome shutterstock/LightField Studios


5. But my best years are gone

Perhaps you feel that it’s too late, that you’ve missed out on the best years of your life, that your youth has vanished so you may as well settle for what you have now, no matter how tough it is. Contrary to what you may see in certain gay lifestyle magazines, being gay isn’t just for the under-30s! There are lots of people out there who come out later in life, from your background and beyond – it’s that which makes the gay community so diverse. Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. Get out there and prove that’s true!

6. Being 'enough' 

Despite what you may see around you, not every gay guy has a muscular body with six-pack and bulging biceps, and not every lesbian is a dungaree-wearing lumberjack. Ignore the gay stereotypes and don’t set yourself unrealistic standards of perfection – whatever ‘perfect’ means.

“Contrary to what you may see in certain gay lifestyle magazines, being gay isn’t just for the under-30s! There are lots of people out there who come out later in life.”

Compulsively chasing after twinks to try and recapture what you see as your wasted youth may be a path to disaster. Saying that, as an older and more distinguished member of the queer community, remember there are a lot of younger people that will find that maturity attractive and sexy – there are a lot of gay daddy fans out there! Above all, respect yourself and others will respect you. 

RELATED: Gay Men and Body Image – An Obsession?

Takeaway: coming out later in life

There’s no training manual for being gay. If you’ve spent years hiding in the closet and living up to the expectations of a heterosexual lifestyle, there’s also no point swapping that rigid type of conformity for some type of ‘new normal.’ Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life. If you're considering coming out later in life then it's time to so as you please, love who you want, be free and experiment – and don’t apologize.  •
Main image: shutterstock/Sabrina Bracher 

Did you come out later in life? What challenges did you face and what tips would you give to someone who is an older LGBTQ+ person currently considering stepping out of the closet? Share your comments with the community below...

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I can imagine coming out later in life can be so much harder than coming out in your teens. All that life lived in the closet... bravo to those that manage to get there and do it. 

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very nice article

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My grandfather came out as gay to his family. Except he didn't feel he was trapped in his marriage. The way he felt about my grandmother didn't change, in fact it was because of that love that she fully accepted that as part of him. The only thing that's sad is that I never had a chance to know him.

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