Coming out as a lesbian later in life

February 2022

This LGBT+ History Month, Alison Lake, our self-harm learning networks project manager, reflects on her journey towards coming out and what this celebration of LGBTIQ+ history means to her

I didn’t realise I was a lesbian until I was 45 years old. Seven years ago. I was married with two children when I realised. Turns out, that’s quite common, especially with women around this age. I have struggled with depression throughout my life – and that’s also common for women who come out when they are older.

There are a few theories about why these two things are common. Indeed these themes fascinated me so much that I quit my job as a nurse in the NHS and started a Masters in Psychology. My two dissertations were about the mental health of lesbians who had come out later in life and they revealed links to poorer mental health for this group.

One theory is that women either bury their feelings of attraction to other women consciously or, like me, sub-consciously. This may be because of societal pressure or wanting to have a family. Until recently, almost the only way women could have babies was with a man. Luckily, this has changed and there are many more options open to women.

The other theory is an evolutionary one – that women’s sexuality is fluid and changes around the time of the menopause. These theories put the average age of a later life lesbian at 46. It could also be that, by this age, women have often had their children and looked after everyone else – and have finally decide to concentrate on their own needs.

After coming out, many women report much better mental health, and I am glad to say that I’m one of those people. It may be that the numbers of later life lesbians fall as society finally changes and becomes more accepting of different models of family and sexuality.

Reflecting on LGBT+ History Month makes me think about my own journey towards coming out as a lesbian. I grew up in the eighties when there were very few lesbians in the media or sports. We weren’t allowed to be taught about homosexuality, because of Section 28, which banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality.

After coming out, many women report much better mental health, and I am glad to say that I’m one of those people.

I remember Martina Navratilova coming out and losing all of her sponsorship because of this. I watched Ellen DeGeneres lose her television programme after she came out. If I had realised that I was gay then, I would have probably been scared to come out. Then Sandi Toksvig, the comedian and TV presenter, was outed and slowly more and more women came out and society changed.

Unexpectedly, homophobic repression was the making of the LGBTIQ+ community in Britain. It mobilised people as never before. Organisations, such as Stonewall, Outrage! and Act Up London, were started and began to fight back, leading to a rapid decline in arrests for consenting homosexual behaviour and, a decade later, a wave of LGBTIQ+ law reform.

This means that today, it is so much easier to come out.

Let’s hope that this will reduce the number of people whose lives are blighted with poor mental health, because of their sexuality, and bring brighter futures for everyone.