Personal Stories

I came out as a lesbian to myself, my friends, and my family at age 52, after 30 years of unsuccessfully dating men (on and off). What triggered this was meeting my soulmate at last — and she happened to be a woman. Our friends tease us that neither of us realized we were dating, because Sharlene knew that I was straight. Straight but not narrow, according to the bumpersticker on my car, which I soon had to peel off.

I met Sharlene in a meditation class taught by a member of our liberal church. She needed someone to accompany her to concerts, so she asked me if I liked classical music. I remember sending out stay-away vibes (but not because I knew she was gay). I conquered my antisocial feelings and agreed to go to a concert. From there, we shared dinners and short excursions out of town, and we exchanged long e-mails and phone calls. We went to my sister-in-law’s retirement party and proceeded to ignore everyone else while we played Scrabble.

At some point I realized that Sharlene and I were becoming more than just friends. (This realization was helped along by some really interesting dreams that were asking me to pay attention.) I called my younger sister, who is also a lesbian, and said: “We need to talk!” She was not as surprised about all this as I thought she should be. Neither was my best friend Toni, who had supported me through all my unhealthy relationships with men (not entirely their fault). Toni was immensely relieved to hear that it wasn’t a man I had fallen in love with this time!

As it happens, I was leaving town to housesit for Toni, who was out of the country. Before I left town, I wanted to declare my intentions to Sharlene, so I placed a red rose with a note on her gate. We talked later that evening, and she agreed to give the relationship a chance, but she was a bit cautious. Maybe I was just a straight woman looking to experiment.

That was 16 years ago, and we’re still together. We’ve been married twice; the second time it was legal! When I first came out, I lost two friends. One breakup was a complete surprise; she was a liberal, but my guess is she had some unresolved sexual issues of her own. The other friend dropped me for religious reasons. But I always knew that, at age 52, I didn’t have the option of pretending to be someone besides who I am. If I had come out in my 20s, like my sister, I’m sure things would have been way different. Being more mature now, I don’t worry so much about what people think of me. I don’t play “pronoun games.” Now that same-sex marriage is legal in California, I believe people need to get used to the idea that some women have wives and some men have husbands.

I am convinced that my wonderful, accepting father (who died in 2003) would have marched in the Pride parade with a t-shirt stating “Proud Father of Two Lesbian Daughters.” My mother was tolerant (nothing more), but she was probably in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease by that time. My other sisters were delighted for me — and probably more hopeful than they’d ever been about my chances for long-term happiness.

One last thing: I’m technically bisexual, since I’m sexually attracted to both men and women, but I identify as a lesbian because I’m — emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually — much more attracted to women. Or as Toni says, “women-identified.” Too bad it took me so long to figure that out. I had crushes on women before, but the timing was never good. I’m so glad I met the right woman eventually!

Here’s my advice to everyone: Above All, Be Yourself.
— Sofia