4 5 Going On 1 6 Coming Out Later In Life
45 going on 16: Coming Out Later in Life
by Jimmy G. Owen, M.S., L.P.C.
“I feel like a sixteen year-old trapped in the body of a 45 year old man. I’m thinking like an adolescent, but when I look in the mirror, that isn’t what I see. It’s all so confusing to me.”
These are the words of a former client (I will call him John) who was experiencing the coming out process later in life. John owned a successful business, had two teenage from a previous marriage and, on the outside, looked as if he were gliding through his life effortlessly.
“I find myself thinking about dating, having a boyfriend, sex. These are the things my friends were experiencing when I was in high school. It feels so strange to be doing this now. The feelings are so intense!”
What is happening with John is very normal. He is experiencing a developmental process he missed as an adolescent.
In the straight world, most people experience this process in conjunction with their bodies going through puberty. For a gay man or lesbian who has not yet come out, these feeling stay trapped inside. They may play the heterosexual dating game like their peers, but the intensity is not attached to the process because consciously or unconsciously they have the knowledge this is not their true nature. Once the person is able to openly acknowledge and embrace their sexuality, the freedom to experience the natural feelings come to life – along with the adolescent behavior.
My advice to anyone in this situation is to be patient. I know, I know, easy to say and hard to do – especially when the hormones are set free. Just know, with time, the intensity of the feelings will calm down. Use the knowledge you have as an adult to make safe and healthy decisions. This is your opportunity to “do it all again”, while having the benefit of the life experience of a 45 year old with the feelings of a 16 year old.
Have fun during your process. Laugh at yourself. When you find yourself trying on that skimpy swimsuit you purchased from the International Male catalog (and you will) only to discover it doesn’t make you look like any of the models, just chuckle to yourself and say, “maybe 20 years ago”. You are doing exactly what you would have done had you come out in conjunction with your physical development.
Crushes are another commonality among people coming out later in life. I can remember a friend who came out in her late 30’s and became extremely obsessed with Madonna (even more so than the gay men I know). She became worried this wasn’t normal. Again, this was something she most likely would have experienced as an adolescent, had she been consciously aware of her orientation. Now she is able to honor her feeling through an object of fantasy. So long as she isn’t neglecting the responsibilities of her life, I hope she has fun.
If you know someone who is experiencing coming out later in life, remember you most likely did all the crazy things you are watching them do. Be a guide for them. Let them in on your experience. Don’t be too parental. They need a friend – an older, wiser sibling to support their process.
If this is happening to you, don’t try to rush it. There is magic in the process of experiencing things for the first time. Don’t expect to have all the answers. Enjoy your sexual adolescence, even if you have hair growing (or not growing) in places that are out of your control.
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