Beyond Coming Out: Living as a lesbian in midlife

Today is National Coming Out Day, and I’m thinking about what it means to be a lesbian in midlife.

My life is unusual. I live openly as a lesbian in a place where that’s not illegal, or immoral, or even cause for comment. The law in Massachusetts says I can’t be fired for it, or denied housing for it, or my marriage disregarded for it. No one questions whether I should be a public servant, or speak on behalf of my faith community. As have many of my friends, I could become the legal parent to my spouse’s children freely and without discrimination (though heaven forbid we should become parents this late in the game!). Every morning, in my headscarf and ratty robe, I kiss my wife goodbye on the doorstep as she leaves for work. Friends and neighbors admire our long-time happy home.

I live in Massachusetts because I grew up in Ohio.  That’s a place where “coming out” means quietly telling your mother or your boss that you and your roommate aren’t just “friends.”  I live in Massachusetts because I want to live in a place where there is more than one neighborhood where I can rent or buy properly without fearing violence from my neighbors. In Ohio, I never dreamed of marriage, or even of being on my partner’s dental insurance: at 49, the cost of a crown makes her dental insurance a really big deal. In Massachusetts, my spouse has survivorship rights to our home; in Ohio, the law says that you, dear reader, are as closely related to me—and as entitled to my estate – as is my partner of 22 years.

And yet being a lesbian in midlife brings a different set of worries, and makes me wish for other things. I live in Massachusetts in exile; like my southern ancestors who made it across the Ohio River to freedom, I still long for the people I’ve had to leave behind.  I yearn to be an aunt to my nieces and nephews who are now young adults, starting families of their own. I miss seeing friends I’ve known since high school, and I wonder who will want to hear my stories when I’m old. Living with the simplest of freedoms and dignities has banished me from the intimate web of family obligation and community built upon time and love.

Today is National Coming Out Day, but everyone already knows that I’m a lesbian. So today, I have a wish for midlife lesbians everywhere: I wish us all the simple dignity of blossoming in love wherever we are; and the joy of bearing fruit and ripening with age in places where our roots hold us fast and strong.

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  • Pedal Paradise  On October 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    You’ve captured it perfectly. Exactly.

    I’ve tried to explain it to my family living several states away, but I think it is too painful for them to really hear me about why I can’t live there. Though I know they know why I need to live here.

    My sister had a conversation with a friend of hers who was here for social work school at Smith, and the friend excitedly told her, ‘You know Northampton?!! It is SO different here. Nobody at home can relate to it when I tell them about it.’

    My sister just laughed, and said, ‘I know what you mean!’

    Come Ride with me!

  • Mati  On October 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Mistinguette, people will always want to hear your stories.

    When discussing my husband’s job search, we extended it to the equality states. Even Iowa. We, too, want to live, and raise our child, where there’s the political will to get this done.

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