Coming Out Late in Life

LGBT seniorsWhile there has been significant societal acceptance for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in recent years, there is, for many, still a stigma attached to being “different,” especially for seniors. For LGBT seniors who are questioning when or how to come out, life can be particularly stressful.

Coming of age in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, some seniors have been closeted for most of their lives and have internalized society’s homophobia. Often, their sexuality has remained a question and they may agonize over what to do about it. Typically gay seniors fall into one of three major categories:

Stereotypic In which an LGBT senior may believe the negative images of gays and lesbians that have been promoted by society in the past and hide their homosexuality out of fear, self-loathing, and even ignorance.

Passing This refers to the LGBT individual who spends his or her life passing themselves off as heterosexual – often even marrying and having children. Some repressed their desire for members of the same sex and remained in complete denial until they came to a realization that they were gay, or secretly acted on their same-sex desires during their marriages until they were able to come out – if ever.

Affirmative This describes those who have managed to attain a high level of self-acceptance and often have a positive, affirmative gay sexual identity. They are comfortably out, to themselves as well as others, and are often active in the gay and lesbian community.

There have been several studies of older gays and lesbians that have indicated there is not one single, normative life course for them and that the positive gains of the gay rights movement have had different impacts depending on their ages and experiences. Fortunately, though, acceptance of what has been called “the gay lifestyle” is much greater today and it is, in general, easier to come out today than it was even just a few years ago.

Today, there are a number of affirmative programs designed to help older LGBT individuals not only come out but thrive with the support of others. Agencies such as New York City’s Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, for example, present a full range of programs for LGBT seniors, such as caregiver support, grief and loss groups, meals, entertainment, book clubs, pharmacy assistance, sports, cultural outings and other activities. There are even specialty groups for men and women, as well as various races and religions.

If you’re a senior anxious to come out or eager to explore LGBT opportunities — or are a caregiver or loved one — it’s important to research local resources that can provide the kind of thoughtful support that can make life easier and more pleasurable. They’re out there and more than willing to help.

Here in Massachusetts, private, non-profit agencies called Aging Services Access Points, or ASAPs, were established under Chapter 19A of Massachusetts General Laws. Each is run by governing boards, 51% of which are individuals 60 or older and appointed by the local Councils on Aging.

There are 26 community-based ASAPs statewide providing LGBT seniors with information and referrals; service plan assessment, management, and monitoring for individuals with special needs; protective services, including abuse and neglect investigation; meal programs for those unable to shop or cook for themselves; health services and support; and social activities, to name just a few.

Here are some links that may be of interest — either directly for their services or indirectly for information or referrals they can provide for other specific needs or other geographic areas:

Somerville/Cambridge Elder Services provides resources that serve LGBT elders and their families by providing opportunities to socialize with other LGBT elders, and to connect with the wide network of resources that are available in the community.

LGBT Community Meal Calendar provides a list of community meals for the entire state

Kate’s Café provides an opportunity to socialize with a monthly dinner for LGBT seniors, caregivers, and friends.

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