Doris Bersing, PhD
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Unleashing the Real Deal: The Bold Odyssey of Proudly Proclaiming Gayness in the Golden Years

Not as Easy as People Think: Understanding The Journey of Coming Out In Old Age

Oh, coming out is not just a walk in the park! Especially back in the good ol’ days when being gay was illegal in the USA, and guess what? nowadays, it’s still illegal in many countries ! Can you believe it? And hey, let’s not forget that in the not-so-distant past, the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as a lovely little sociopathic personality disturbance. How charming!

And as if being a sexual minority wasn’t already challenging, let’s throw in being a member of another minority group, because why not? So go ahead, be gay and be part of the Latinx, Asian, African American, or religious practitioner communities! Double dipping, anyone?

Well, apparently there’s no magical age to burst out of the closet, but I suppose the sooner, the merrier! Seriously, who wants to live in a cramped and stuffy closet? Speaking from personal experience, during my rebellious teenage years and the wild ride of my early adulthood, I took to boys like I was on a fast trip down a one-lane highway, but the idea of being with a girl, although familiar, was more for others but not for me.  It didn’t occur to me to do anything other than what was expected, so, I was a fashionably late bloomer who finally strutted my stuff in my fabulous thirties. Let me tell you it was far from a leisurely stroll in a picturesque park. I had to face societal stereotypes, homophobia, and countless expectations from my dear family, colleagues, and friends. But hey, who said life must be easy, right? It was like carrying an extra-heavy handbag on an already challenging journey. And don’t even get me started on the idea that it might have been easier since there are more gay people now than before. I mean, come on, it’s not like we, suddenly multiplied like rabbits or anything! Indeed, it cannot be denied that there is an element of truth in that statement. According to a Gallup survey there has been a significant increase in the number of adults in the US identifying as LGBTQ+ over the past ten years. This trend is largely driven by the smart and forward-thinking Gen Z adults, who inhabit a world where same-sex marriage is legally recognized across the nation. Additionally, they reside in a society that is increasingly aware of and accepting towards orientations and identities that are not limited to heterosexual and cisgender.

A Little Too Straight. LicenseCopyright. All rights reserved by Missive Maven.
Pictured: James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Errol Flynn, Michelangelo, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Cole Porter, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bessie Smith, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf.

Non-heterosexual sexual orientations are obviously on the rise, and I think it could be attributed to the societal change of attitudes (openness towards LGBTQ+ people) and more civil liberties (more equal rights, and more legislation in favor of LGBTQ+ rights) supporting  LGBTQ + rights and lifestyle.” The cities and towns are more gay-friendly as well.” All this progress, also make cities more habitable and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people. A 2022 survey asking if the World is Better for Gay People Than It Was 10 Years Ago? found  “…the percentage of people who said their communities were good places for gay people to live has increased by at least five percentage points in 73 countries.”  Undoubtedly, the diminishing prejudice against homosexuality has resulted in a significant decrease in the reservations one may face when revealing their true identity as LGBTQ+ individuals. While it is true that homophobia, stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ community, and biases against homosexuals have shown signs of decline in recent years, and broader acceptance and tolerance have prevailed, it cannot be denied that some members of the LGBTQ+ community still harbor apprehensions about the potential repercussions that may accompany their decision to openly express their true selves to their parents, colleagues, peers, team members, and other individuals they engage with socially and/or professionally.

Coming Out inLater Life: Challenges and Rewards

Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik

So, it might be easy to assume that given all these liberties and progress, most sexual minorities would be out, as we speak, but most sexual minority people in the world today are probably not out. In many countries, free and open sexual expression can be perilous, so it is in some cultures, families, and/or spheres of life. I always tell my LGBTQ+ patients who are struggling with coming out in their old age that they can choose to live authentically and openly, but it doesn’t have to be a grand announcement for everyone to hear, as each person has their own unique journey. This process can also be stressful or even risky or dangerous. You may feel safer not coming out in certain situations.  You don’t have to be out everywhere, all the time. You can decide what’s best for you. If ready to come out, but before “jumping the gun” consider your circumstances. Does coming out mean that you risk losing emotional or financial support from your family? If so, are you ready to deal with that? Or would you have enough emotional support to deal with your family rejection? Could coming out put you in physical danger? The most important matter is that ONLY you are in charge of your coming out experience.

You will not be alone, according to an article by AARP, there are an estimated 3 million LGBTQ+ adults over the age of 50 in the United States, and for those in midlife and beyond, coming out to loved ones can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. If someone’s sexual preferences have changed or they want to finally embrace their true self, they may face obstacles such as societal pressure and internalized homophobia. Coming out as gay in old age can be an adventure, like uncovering a hidden treasure chest filled with colorful gems. Suddenly, life feels brighter and more authentic, and one may even become the fabulous grandparent who proudly waves the rainbow flag. There’s no one right way to come out and one size-does-not fit all.  It can feel better to be open and honest about your sexual orientation than to hide it, but there are many factors to consider before coming out. Let’s not forget that along with the rewards, there are also challenges. Many have lived a lie for decades, introducing their partner as a roommate or business partner, and for those with religious backgrounds, there is the fear of discrimination and rejection. Some may even struggle to separate their desires from their upbringing and may feel guilty or ashamed. Undoing a lifetime of lies and living in one’s truth is easier said than done.

Once upon a time, I landed a gig as a fancy consultant tasked with conjuring up some top-notch wellness programs for the hip residents of a swanky new facility. My job also included training the staff on how to create a haven of safety and inclusivity specifically tailored for our fabulous LGBTQ+ seniors. Pretty cool, right? The facility promised to be a place where individuals could freely express themselves, emphasizing that the “closet was only for clothes.” But here’s the kicker – despite all the planning, plotting, and promising, this magical place never got to see the light of day. Poof! Just like that, it vanished into thin air. The primary concern voiced by the seniors, all of whom identified as LGBTQ+, was that they felt it was too late in their lives to come out to their families and reveal the truth about their relationships. This fear of rejection and judgment prevented them from fully embracing their authentic selves. It was truly saddening to see these individuals yearning for acceptance and support, only to have their hopes dashed.

Well, believe it or not, there’s actually a silver lining to this incredibly thrilling story. After a brilliant first attempt (note the sarcasm), our genius minds decided to join forces with a bunch of enthusiastic grassroots folks and developers who clearly understood that the return on investment was just too easy to pass up. And voila, behold the majestic Fountaingrove Lodge behold. The FGL was the one and only retirement community in the entire nation that was exclusively tailored to cater to the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals and all those wonderful allies that support them. It was a long-awaited beacon of hope and acceptance for those who had spent much of their lives feeling marginalized. Amazing, right? A decade later, others finally got it. We needed places where to retire and feel welcome and safe. (Here there is a link to an article with few other places in the USA catering to older LGBTQ+ individuals).

Personal Stories of Thriving After Coming Out in Your Golden Years

So, for some, coming out is a daunting possibility and for others it can be liberating. As Meredith shared in an article in The Guardian, coming out in her 90s was a blissful experience. Who would have thought that old age could bring such excitement and freedom? Exploring one’s sexuality in later years can be eye-opening, and it reminds us that life always has a way of surprising us. Just when we think we’ve experienced it all, a new twist comes along. While it may seem unconventional to come out in old age, there is no age limit to love and self-discovery. And at some point, a different reality emerges to give life a new sense of purpose. So why not embrace this new chapter with open arms and a fabulous rainbow flag?

Lynn Segerblom, one of the women behind the creation of the first rainbow flags for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco, is photographed with a rainbow flag near her home in Torrance. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Many of my patients had also made it through the process of coming out, “to the other side” happily ever after and their stories are truly inspiring. They remind us of the strength of the human spirit and the resilience of the human heart. These individuals have defied societal expectations, faced their deepest fears, and emerged. One such story is that of Robert, an 80-year-old man who spent his entire life in the closet. Robert had always felt a deep attraction to men but was too scared to come out due to the fear of judgment and rejection. It was only in his late 70s that he found the courage to embrace his true self. Despite the initial challenges he faced, Robert now lives a life filled with authenticity, joy, and a newfound sense of freedom.

Another inspiring story is that of Alejandra a 75-year-old woman who had been married to a man for over 50 years. Alejandra always knew she was attracted to women but felt societal and family pressure to conform to heterosexual norms. She was raised catholic and had two children and a very homophobic family…and husband. After her husband passed away, she made the brave decision to come out to her children and grandchildren. And moved in with Norma, a lifetime friend who used to spent holidays and vacations with Alejandra’s family. While there were initial difficulties, shame for lying for so long, guilt for doing it now, Alejandra’s family eventually embraced her for who she truly is, and she now lives a life filled with love, acceptance, and personal fulfillment.

Often the pressures to come out are not only from society but from personal biases and the outcomes are not always so positive; Martha, one of my exceptional patients, bravely embraced her true self in her late 60s, shedding societal expectations and personal biases. Despite being married to a man for more than 40 years, Martha had the courage to recognize her authentic identity. However, her journey toward self-acceptance was far from easy. Confronting her own internalized homophobia and fearing the potential disapproval of her children were daunting obstacles that she had to overcome. Sadly, this path ultimately resulted in her estrangement from her beloved offspring. Martha’s story is a testament to her intellectual prowess and indomitable spirit.

Like for Martha, and many others, coming out as LGBTQ+ can be an incredibly difficult and emotional process, as individuals often grapple with the fear of disrupting the lives of those closest to them, feeling caught between two worlds where they may not fully belong – neither in the straight world nor the gay world – adding an additional layer of complexity to their journey. But guess what? Martha’s incredible courage brought her incredible rewards! Now, she is experiencing a dynamic and gratifying existence, encompassed by an extraordinary network of encouraging comrades, and a few of her cherished individuals who genuinely comprehend and embrace her genuine self (her grandchildren sought her guidance when grappling with their own sexual identity, isn’t that just so incredibly ironic?). And it’s not only her – there are countless captivating narratives waiting to be discovered!

Take Jim Kisthardt for instance, Jim at the age of 75, finally found the strength to come out as LGBTQ+ after his wife of 51 years passed away. “…Can you believe it? Back then, being gay was considered an absolute nightmare. It was seen as something far worse than divorce, tearing families apart…” Another of these “never too late stories” is Norman’s one, at 72-year old who underwent electroshock therapy, was hospitalized, and did aversion therapy, all to try to stop being gay. Finally, after his wife of 40 years passed away, he said “…part of me went with her. But at last, I could shout about my sexuality…” As times evolve, some are defying those outdated norms and embracing their true selves with pride. Isn’t that amazing? But it is not everybody’s story. We need the determination, the courage, and the support of professionals, family and friends. It takes a village…

I didn’t find there was much difference between loving a man and loving a woman. In general, love is love’ (portraits from Not Another Second.) Photograph: Karsten Thormaehlen, nAscent Art New York and RXM

Discover other captivating stories when you dive deep into the mesmerizing exhibition, “Not Another Second,” curated by Watermark Retirement Communities. Prepare to be amazed by the incredible bravery exhibited by these 12 extraordinary LGBTQ+ seniors, who fearlessly embraced their authentic selves. Transforming their once sad stories into powerful narratives of hope and joy. Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to hear their stories and celebrate their triumphs over adversity.

Embrace Your True Self and Live a Fulfilling Life in Your “The-Best is Yet-to-Come” Years

Well, well, well, isn’t coming out just the wildest adventure?

It requires an abundance of time and courage, my friend. Brace yourself for this deeply personal and unique experience because trust me, it’s a rollercoaster like no other. And just when you least expect it, “guess who’s back?!” – coming out makes surprise appearances in the most unexpected situations. The emotions running through you during this wild ride can go from butterflies in your stomach to jumping for joy. Plus, who, when, and why you come out adds a whole new layer of comedy to the mix. So, buckle up, because this coming-out journey is going to be one heck of a hilarious ride! And of course, the best part is not even knowing who, when, or why you’ll have to come out next. Isn’t it thrilling?

Unlocking your true inner self is a journey that never ceases to amaze, no matter your age. From the tales of triumph to the hurdles faced along the way, embracing your authentic self is a smart decision. Don’t let anything hinder the brilliance of your gay identity, whether it’s in your golden years or the prime of your life. Remember, age is merely a number, and it can never dim the radiance of your fabulous self as you embark on the path of embracing your gay identity during your golden years.

Life’s too short for anything less, darling!

 

If you or someone you know is going through the coming out process later in life, remember that there is support available. Reach out to LGBTQ+ organizations, find affirming therapists, and connect with communities that celebrate and embrace your true self. You are not alone, and your journey is valid. Embrace your true self and thrive in your golden years!


LGBTQ+ community and Pope Francis’ Blessings

“A rainbow shines over St.Peter’s Square at the Vatican, on Jan. 31, 2021”.(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Pope Francis grants priests the authority to bless same-sex couples.’. Read More. While it is a major step forward for a 1.378 billion-people organization, it is not considered equal to marriage and the blessings should not be included in any other church ceremony or liturgy.

The declaration states “When two people request a blessing, even if their situation as a couple is “irregular,” it will be possible for the ordained minister to consent. However, this gesture of pastoral closeness must avoid any elements that remotely resemble a marriage rite…” Read the full declaration. 

Chosen to lead the Catholic Church in 2013 following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Francis has made notable strides in advocating for culturally progressive ideas within the church. This has included softening the church’s stance towards the LGBTQ+ community, as well as speaking out against consumerism, war and climate change. While these steps have been well-received by many, they have also been met with scorn by others, as was the case online in the wake of the same-sex blessings decision.

Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, Francis was chosen to lead the Catholic Church in 2013 and has since made significant progress in promoting culturally progressive ideals within the church. In recent times, the church has adopted a more accepting attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community and has actively spoken out against consumerism, war, and climate change. Although these actions have been positively received by some, they have also faced criticism from others, as evidenced by the backlash on social media after the ruling on same-sex blessings. See more here.

It may prove difficult to please the vast population of 3 billion individuals in unison is a tough feat, but this serves as a positive starting point to terminate the catholic church’s discrimination and homophobia and become a part of a new reality. Whether one is in favor or not.

 


And the Wins for Marriage Equality Keep Coming!

NCLR (The National Center for Lesbian Rights) announced that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 in favor of the freedom to marry—the tUtah Equality For Marriagehird federal court of appeals to issue such a ruling. Kate Kendall, NCLR Executive Director, says: “…That makes nearly 40 wins for marriage equality in the last year! Last week, we shared with you that we filed our brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Utah case and end the patchwork of legal uncertainty that pervades the relationships of same-sex couples. We also told you of our exciting partnership with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders Legal Director Gary Buseck and Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto, who have joined our outstanding legal team.

Powerful briefs were filed yesterday with the Supreme Court urging the Court to decide this important constitutional question. The briefs represent the perspectives of families, businesses, and state governments, all urging the Court to strike down discriminatory state marriage laws and to end the untenable hodgepodge of laws which fail to give security and recognition to all couples. Kate thanks all involved and specially mentions the lawyers at NCLR, GLAD, Hogan Lovells, and NCLR lead counsel Peggy Tomisc of Magleby & Greenwood,  for standing with NCLR in their tireless effort to win the freedom to marry for all.  Read More


Same Sex Couples: More Stability? More Resilience? More Trouble?

Copyright : Mahdees Mahjoob

Copyright : Mahdees Mahjoob

Research has shown that behavioral differentiation of the sexes is minimal in children. Sex differences emerge primarily in social situations, and their nature varies with the gender composition during socialization. Patterns of mutual influence can become more symmetrical in intimate male–female dyads, but the distinctive styles of the two sexes can still be seen in such dyads and are subsequently manifested in the roles and relationships of parenthood.

On the other hand, research has found that same sex couples develop, in general, a certain resilience that brings more stability to their lives, there are always exceptions but for instance, Drs. John & Julie Gottman, founders of  The Gottman Institute, an institute in Seattle, WA dedicated to an ongoing program of research that increases the understanding of relationships and adds to the development of interventions that have been carefully evaluated.

The Gottmans undertook a 12-year study that revealed same sex couples developed more resilience than some straight couples. have a commitment to assuring that lesbian and gay couples have resources to help strengthen and support their relationships. Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman made a key contribution to research on daughters of lesbians: her work showed that daughters with lesbian moms do just as well as those raised by straight moms. Dr. John Gottman conducted the first longitudinal study of its kind of gay and lesbian relationships using multiple methods and measures. He was able assess the emotional strengths and weaknesses of the relationships, and to learn what makes these relationships more or less stable.Read More About The Study

Same sex parenthood is not an isolated case, studies estimate that between 1 and 9 million children in the United States have at least one parent who is lesbian or gay. There are approximately 594,000 same-sex partner households, according to the 2000 Census, and there are children living in approximately 27 percent of those households. However, we do find many challenges when it comes to fight homophobia and raising a family, one of the biggest challenges facing same-sex parented families is that they must live in a culture that supports heterosexist and homophobic attitudes and beliefs, which can affect these families in a variety of ways. A second complication is that these families are usually part of a blended family and include children from previous heterosexual marriages. Some of these families may deal with disagreement from other family members about the authenticity and validity of their family patterns. Lack of support from a previous heterosexual partner or the other biological parent can cause major conflict and distress within the family system. Today, there are many therapists available who specialize in gay and lesbian issues and provide a safe, nonjudgmental and understanding environment for the family. Frequently, gay and lesbian parented families will seek therapeutic help for guidance, support, and recognition that they may not be receiving from the broader social arena. The AAMFT suggests that psychotherapy could help. (Read More How Therapy Can Help)

 


When Love Matters: Same-Sex Couples’ Children Have a Lot

                                Copyright : Maria Dubova


Copyright : Maria Dubova

The largest-ever study of same-sex parents found their children turn out healthier and happier than the general population. A study of 315 same-sex parents and 500 children in Australia found that, after correcting for socioeconomic factors, the children fared well on several measures, including asthma, dental care, behavioral issues, learning, sleep, and speech.

“…what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes…At the same time, two-thirds of the parents reported a perceived stigma on at least one issue tracked by the survey. These stigmas ranged from other people gossiping about an LGBT family to same-sex parents feeling excluded at social gatherings due to their sexual orientation…” Read More

Published in Australia, the study proposes children of same-sex parents enjoy better levels of health and wellbeing than their peers from traditional family units, new Australian research suggests. Read the article So no surprises that when chosen, cherished, and desired, parenting produces more opportunities to love our children despite the gender of the parents.

 


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