Coming out later in life: ‘I was finally an authentic human being’

Lifestyle

Coming out is often nerve-wracking, but coming out when you’re older can be even scarier.

For Peter MacEwan, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, it meant telling his wife of nine years that he no longer wanted to be married.

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“It was the most anxious and lonely time of my life,” he told Global News.

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MacEwan was 36 years old when he started to consider the possibility that he was bisexual.

He was 37 when he accepted that he was actually gay, but he didn’t tell anyone for another year, noting the process was very isolating.

“Other than speaking with a counsellor through a work employee assistance program, and to many other men in similar circumstances in an anonymous online support group, … my wife was the first person I told, and that’s exactly how I wanted it to be,” he said.

“I loved my wife [and] I wanted the two of us to decide how we should move forward.”

“I have a great family, great friends, and great colleagues yet I could not confide in any of them,” said MacEwan. 

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Once he told his wife, he proceeded to tell his parents, his three siblings, his close network of 10 friends and then his workplace.

It took about six weeks, but at the end of the process he said, “I was finally an authentic human being and out to the world.”

Unfortunately, his feeling of relief was short-lived. What followed was a year-long separation and divorce.

He also ran into some privacy issues.

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“My wife needed to speak to some people … [so] she confided in friends,” he said. “One of those others, unfortunately, disclosed the situation to mutual friends, which in turn started a frenzy in the rumour mill.”

This upset both MacEwan and his wife, who felt they were being forced into a “not-so-private-anymore” process.

MacEwan said his wife was “understandably upset” by MacEwan’s announcement and that their situation was on full display.

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Feelings of embarrassment, betrayal are common

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist who specializes in parenting and relationships.

She’s coached dozens of couples through a break-up initiated because one person has come out, and she says in most cases, an element of betrayal is involved.

“Typically, the [other] person … is feeling quite angry and betrayed. [They] typically say things like, ‘Did you ever love me? When did you realize? How long have we been living this lie?’” she said.

That feeling of betrayal is much worse if it plays out on the public stage.

“They’re often very confused, very resentful, very overwhelmed,” Dimerman said.

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MacEwan said he and his ex-wife struggled with similar emotions, but that they’re now great friends and co-parents to their two kids, but it wasn’t an easy road.

“[I was] in my 30s, I was married to a great woman (whom I still love, by the way) and I [had] started my beautiful family with two wonderful kids. Then, all of a sudden, the world started to crash in on me,” he said.

“I didn’t want to hurt my wife or my kids — the most important parts of my life.”

On taking the plunge

While there are several possibilities, Dimerman says one reason people often come out “later” in life is because they’ve been taught that any sexuality other than heterosexuality is wrong.

“Maybe you’re afraid of being discriminated against or ostracized by your family members,” she said.

“I’ve also encountered clients that have been raised in a certain country or in a certain era where homosexuality was not as accepted as it is now.”

In Dimerman’s experience, meeting and feeling an attraction to a person of the same sex can be a catalyst for coming out.

“Maybe [the person’s] parents have died … or maybe they’re at a point in life where they realize their own mortality and they don’t want to continue to live a life that doesn’t feel totally authentic,” she said.

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This was the case for Corrine Przybylsawski, a 25-year-old living in Toronto. 

She first had questions about her sexuality when she was 15, but her family’s religious beliefs deterred her from exploring further.

“I didn’t explore any of my desires or curiosities because my parents wouldn’t think it was right,” she said.

Przybylsawski was 23 when she came out as bisexual, and while she was relatively young, she felt it was later than most of her peers.

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“I think there’s a certain social pressure to experiment with your sexuality in university,” she said. 

“The expectation is that you sort out any curiosities in those formative years, and enter adulthood having committed to your identity and orientation. In so many ways, that’s incredibly wrong.”

In her view, there shouldn’t be a timeline for sexuality because everyone experiences it at their own pace.

With your sexuality being such a big part of who you are, there’s bound to be some movement in how it looks and feels for you over time,” Przybylsawski said.

“The whole point of sex is to do what feels right, regardless of who that’s with.”

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In fact, the supposed timeline made Przybylsawski feel like she was coming out in the “wrong” way.

“The only reason that my coming out felt late is because I was taking into consideration what everyone else thought about it,” she said. 

“I didn’t explore any of my desires or curiosities because my parents wouldn’t think it was right. Then after university, everyone had already figured it out, but I was finally breaking away from my parents’ opinions.”

Although exploring this new side of her sexuality is awkward at times, Przybylsawski is relieved. 

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“It made sense of so much. … I’d go through these dry spells where I was craving sex, but couldn’t fathom doing it with a dude, to the point where the thought turned me off altogether,” she said.

“I couldn’t make sense of that feeling until I’d slept with a woman.”

Tips for coming out “later” in life

If you’re thinking about coming out and it’s “later” in your life, Dimerman wants you to know it may be difficult, but definitely worth it.

She also recommends that you see a psychologist if you’re feeling nervous.

I would commend them for having the courage to be able to [come out], and I would ask them what I can do to help them with that process,” she said.

“I would certainly encourage them to be honest and to share what they’re feeling sooner rather than later so that they can live an authentic life.”

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According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) resource guide, it’s best to have a plan for coming out.

“Think through your options and make a deliberate plan of who to approach, when and how,” says the site.

When you’re ready to come out, it’s important to prepare for a wide variety of responses — some negative, some positive.

The HRC resource guide says some people may “cry, get angry or feel embarrassed,” while others might feel “honoured and appreciate that you have entrusted them” with such a personal piece of news.

Regardless of the reactions you get, it’s important to remember that coming out is a journey, and living openly becomes easier with time.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

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