“For years, I didn’t quite know how to express what I was feeling. I knew I wasn’t happy, and I knew that something wasn’t quite right; I just didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t homophobic or anything; I just didn’t associate the word ‘gay’ with ‘me’; I didn’t see it as relevant. I guess it was easy to ignore the elephant in the room. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to put the two and two together; I like guys, and I’m gay! The thing was, I was in a relationship with a woman, and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but I couldn’t lie to myself anymore.”
Coming out can be a daunting journey. Coming out to yourself generally requires challenging stigma around homosexuality that make us feel ‘bad’ for being gay. Coming out to others is just as difficult. Fear of being rejected, cut off from the social circle, losing a job and ostracised from the family are just some of the worries associated with coming out.
Coming out later in life often comes with extra burdens. Many men in this position have been exposed to prolonged negativity towards homosexuality. Some may have grown up in social and political environments that condemn homosexuality. For some, the social and family expectations to live a ‘normal’ life (ie, heterosexual life, married with children) prevent them from understanding their sexuality and sexual identity. Another consideration is family; some individuals are heterosexually married with children. To admit same-sex attraction means potentially losing a connection with both their spouse and their children.
Another challenge is in finding a support network accepting of sexuality and various aspects of identity. This also means running the risk of losing connections with friends who knew them as ‘heterosexual’. It can also indicate re-positioning of oneself in society, from belonging to the majority (ie, heterosexual) to becoming a member of a marginalised group (ie, homosexual). Letting go of a ‘past’ life and starting over again later in life can be discouraging for some people. However, many gay men feel that accepting and embracing their sexuality is the only way to live. Hiding is simply not an option anymore.
The Momentum workshop at the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre (VAC/GMHC) offers same-sex attracted men who are coming out later in life with a safe space to discuss their sexuality. This workshop provides an opportunity for these men to form a supportive social network while talking on various topics relating to their sexuality, such as coming out, self-esteem, homophobia and sexual health. This group might help men to better understand their sexuality when going through their coming out journey later in life.
By BUDI SUDARTO, Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre