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Better Late than Never


Blessings to Meredith Baxter, the actress who played the progressive, politically active mother on the classic '80s TV sitcom, Family Ties. After three husbands and five kids, she met the right woman, had her "aha" moment, and the pieces finally fell into place. She's a lesbian. She's a lot more progressive in a whole new way!

The question I kept hearing was, "How could she live into her 60s and not know she was a lesbian?" What keeps people so out of touch with themselves, they wouldn't know their own sexual preference for several decades of their life?

Yet, when I did the math, I realized there is still a huge amount of the population that grew up during a time when homosexuality was a crime. The LGBT civil rights movement is still rather young. Just 30 years ago sex education was fraught with lies (even more so than today) and nearly nonexistent. Furthermore, people who are now in their 50s and older were raised in an age when the entire world was engaged in war; therefore, maintaining a calm status quo was likened to bliss. Many just wanted to get to the end of life having no harm come to their families. Sexual pleasure had very little to do with it. They often believed conformity was more important than diversity when it came to social structures, and many forces -- religious, political, familial -- used power, fear, shame, and even violence to keep people in line.

With all these pressures, their choice to live in denial -- not understanding and avoiding their true sexual orientation -- was the only way they knew to survive. Is it any wonder that plenty of people go to the grave never dealing with their sexuality or even experiencing the sex they secretly longed for all their lives?

Although there are still a lot of unfounded constrictions on society, there are other ways we have evolved. With the waves of the information age not just washing over the young but rippling through other generations, there are a lot of older people learning about and coming to grips with their true sexuality. As a sexologist, I had hoped to quote all kinds of research and statistics pointing to the whys and whens of people coming out later in life. Unfortunately, as with most topics related to sexuality as well as the aging population, there seems to be little money or energy given to researching these subjects.

MetLife conducted one groundbreaking study on LGBT elders and baby boomers in 2006, but it was not so specific as to address coming out later in life. One organization, SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders), has led the way in bringing attention and legislation to protect and support the elders in our community.

Based on my own practice and what other colleagues in the field have reported, I find that some elders come to grips with their true sexuality when their hands are forced -- either personally or publicly. Maybe they are caught living a double life and they can no longer deny who they are. Perhaps Ms. Baxter would still be a lesbian hidden from the public eye if not for having photos taken of her on a Sweet cruise.

Others have seized the opportunity when a life change occurs, such as the children leaving home or a spouse dying. They feel circumstances have aligned to give them the "permission" to act on their true attractions.

Some people simply never give their sexuality much thought. Then they have an "aha" moment, maybe in conjunction with meeting a particular person of the same gender and it all comes into focus. Darlene Bogle, a Christian lesbian, resisted her sexuality for years until she met Des. She says, "I knew instantly that I not only had God's approval and love but that this woman was God's gift to me."

Overall, there's a common feeling that most everyone has when finally being honest about his or her sexuality: This is who I am. This is who I love and I want to express and explore it before my life is done. As an acquaintance, Rodney Boiger, described it, when coming out at 58, "What a feeling of relief rushed over me. Finally what I always knew to be true on the inside could be reflected on the outside. I've had to make a lot of changes in my life to get here. It's scary not to have all the facades I used to feel secure hiding behind, but oh, the sense of freedom. I'm like a teenager again, deeply happy, unburdened, and light as a feather, and that's pretty great at any age!"

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