Laura (names changed) was 44 before she realized she was a lesbian.
She was “content” with her husband, with whom she had two daughters — 14 and 17. But the sex was nothing to write home about. Not that she had much basis for comparison: Frank was her high school sweetheart. She had one brief affair during her 26-year marriage but the bond was more emotional. “This man talked and joked with me, which I liked because my husband was a kind but very quiet man,” she explained.
She confessed the interlude to Frank and the couple saw a counselor for a few sessions. She also tried individual therapy. “I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t miserable. I figured I’d stay in my marriage forever. I didn’t want to uproot my children’s lives,” says Laura.
Growing up, Laura had experienced a few crushes on girls and told two friends who said this was “normal and didn’t mean anything.” Laura subsequently squelched her desires, now confessing, “Back then in my small Utah town we were pretty ignorant about gay issues… I knew about gay men from seeing them on TV. But I didn’t know being a gay woman was an option.”
She might never have discovered her true sexual identity if two events hadn’t occurred. First, a friend confided that she’d fallen in love with a woman and was leaving her husband. This news made Laura wonder about the urges she’d experienced all her life, urges she’d forced herself to ignore. The second event, the most powerful, was being introduced to Sheila.
Eighteen years later, Laura is still wonderstruck with the recollection, “All of a sudden, everything woke up. I had never been that attracted to someone or felt so happy. I just kept thinking about this woman. When Sheila kissed me, I knew there was no going back. This was who I was supposed to be.”
A month later Laura told her husband. “I don’t have a good poker face. He knew something was up.” She waited many months to tell her children the real reason she and Frank divorced. “They wanted to be supportive but it wasn’t easy for them,” she said. Eventually her children did come around and she says they are proud of her for coming out at a time when being gay was something to be embarrassed about.
Laura only came out to a handful of trusted friends. Even so, a few rejected her — one saying she was afraid to be mistaken as gay by association. Laura kept the secret in the community and at her job. Her father had died three years earlier, and Laura, sensing her ailing mother would not approve, kept silent about her epiphany and its consequences. “In retrospect I believe my mother sensed the truth. I think she was closeted herself. She pushed me into not going to college and marrying young.”
The relationship that woke Laura up only lasted 18 months, but the genie was out of the bottle. She’s been with Beth for 15 years; the two even had a commitment ceremony a few years back. “There were 100 guests — my brothers, my sisters, of course my daughters. My ex-husband didn’t come.”
Her advice to anyone living a closeted lifestyle is don’t be afraid to make the leap: “You will never be happy as a human being until you are who you are.” Laura is proof that it’s never too late.