You Need Help: Coming Out In Your Mid/Late 20s

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Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q: I’ve been coming out (to myself, and a select few others) for about a year now. Being in my mid-20s has made this pretty difficult. Trying to reconcile the person I thought I was for nearly 25 years with who I now realize myself to be has left me feeling like someone has taken one of those hand mixers to my insides.

I guess my question is, in essence, “how do I get over the fear?” The fear that I’m doing something wrong all the time? The fear that someone I haven’t come out to yet will find out? The fear that because I cry myself to sleep and can’t bring my gayness past the threshold of my bedroom, most days, that none of this is actually real and I’ve forced myself into some sort of miserable fantasy world? And most especially, the fear that I will never get over this fear and never be able to start living my life: falling in love, having great sex, etc.

Please, you wonderful, intelligent, illustrious women at Autostraddle — please tell me how you got through this. Please tell me what I can do to make these terrible thoughts stop. Please. I need help.


I’m sorry to hear that you’re having a tough time! If we knew each other in real life, I’d give you a giant hug, take you out for hot chocolate, listen to your troubles, and play this song for you about a million times:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12zPU-8bsTE

Since I can’t hand you a mug of cocoa right now, I’ll tell you this: it’s okay. It is really truly okay that you’re feeling these feelings. I’ve been there. So many people have been there. We all figure things out in different ways, at different times, and at different paces.

In my case, it didn’t even occur to me that I might be attracted to other women until I was most of the way through college. I didn’t kiss a girl until I was 24. I didn’t call anyone my girlfriend until I was 25. I didn’t have an identity label I felt truly comfortable and confident in until I was 26. And hey, I’m doing pretty okay now! At 28, I’m in a serious live-in relationship with that girl, I’m out to everyone I know, and I get to write weekly articles for all you queermos to read. But when I was first figuring things out, I often found myself at a complete loss. I was constantly turning a jumbled mess of doubts and worries over and over in my head, letting them tumble around for days, weeks, months at a time. That “hand mixer to your insides” feeling you described? I totally get it, because that was my feeling too.

In retrospect, I think the thing that messed with my head the most was that my story didn’t match the coming out story I’d internalized. I know you’ve heard the narrative before: A person is born gay. This person inevitably figures out at a young age that they’re “different.” From there, they either a) stay in the closet due to discrimination, or b) bravely come out and are are welcomed into the LGBT community with open arms. This is how it works for some people, and that’s totally awesome! But it isn’t how it works for everyone, and it isn’t how it worked for me. That dissonance gave me a lot of anxiety — and based on what you’ve said, it sounds like you’ve got a bit of it too.

So. Take a breath. Now take a look. Here are some other rad women who came out, in some capacity, later in life than you did.

There are quite a few more, but the point is: so many people have come out later than you! And they’re doing just fine. If you’re not comfortable coming out past the threshold of your bedroom right now, there’s no need to beat yourself up over it. You’ll get there.

people_who_came_out_later2

All came out later than you.

The fact that you’re working through all this now doesn’t say anything negative about you or the way you moved through life for the past 24 years. What you did then was valid, and what you’re doing now is valid; you don’t owe anyone an explanation. (And by the way, this applies even if you use a different identity label in the future. You don’t need to justify being true to your feelings as you feel them, even if they change.)

I suspect that in several years, you’ll look back on this time and feel surprised by how far you’ve come. Until then, one practical piece of advice I can give you is to do what I did: flood your media channels with queer content. Fill your bookshelves with lesbian literature. Listen to queer musicians. Try and find some gay lady movies that don’t suck. Plug into the magical world of queer, feminist Tumblr. Look up the coming out stories of all the women I listed above. Marathon Buffy. Follow Autostraddle on Instagram. Follow Ellen Page on Twitter. Link up with legions of #ladygeeks and badass feminists. Fill your Facebook feed with supportive faces only. Unfollow all the rest.

The point here is to normalize gayness for yourself. That story you have in your head about what’s “right” (which stresses you out and makes you feel like you’re doing things “wrong”) is almost definitely not the whole picture. Seek out other stories. You’re doing fine. One step closer, every day at a time…


Send your questions to youneedhelp [at] autostraddle [dot] com or submit a question via the ASK link on autostraddle.tumblr.com. Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.


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Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair.

Laura has written 194 articles for us.

145 Comments

    • LOVE the article. When we’re listing celebrity coming out ages, it’s important to parse when celebrities came out “publicly” from when they started living open lives without holding a press conference. For how many is that age different? well, we don’t know because we don’t know these people. I think we all have plenty of advice to offer based on friends and stories we do know. We don’t have to perpetuate the often paparaizzi-constructed narratives of queer celebrities as the basis for our own advice for our fabulous selves. Let’s stick to what we know because we know quite a lot. 🙂

  1. This is not advice, just the way that worked for me. I did it very fast ripping off band aid style, aged 31. I found that if you don’t act like it’s a big deal, other people follow your lead (although I guess this might depend on where in the world you are).
    If you are an interesting person, you might continue to discover new things about yourself for the rest of your life. Which is a lot less boring than knowing yourself inside out at the age of 21, I think.

  2. Hey, did I write that email to you in my sleep ? Because that could totally be me. I’m 26 and came out to myself exactly a year ago. I haven’t come out to a lot of people yet. I haven’t had a ~relationship with another woman yet. Sometimes I wake up and I wonder if i’m not “making it up” because I’m afraid of men and their bodyparts, but then i force myself to remember how awkward having a boyfriend was (even the nonsexual parts) and how GIDDY I was the first time I held somebody else’s boobs, and how EXCITED I was to make her moan.

    You don’t have to have sex with a woman to know you’re into them (although there’s a definite “duh” moment). What can help though is exactly what everybody here said : surround yourself with queer voices, and get validation from people who will tell you their stories and you can think (or shout) “YES THIS IS ME TOO”.

    I don’t think you HAVE to come out to other people until you’re comfortable with the idea yourself. Even if you have no internalized homophobia, you still have to come to terms with the fact that society is so heteronormative that it took you 25+ years to realize men don’t do it for you (or maybe they did and don’t anymore…any path is a true path).

    It can also be a bit dangerous to come out to people who might make you question yourself “are you sure ? didn’t you like your last boyfriend ? maybe you’re saying this because you’re lonely / watched the L word too much / think your life isn’t interesting enough”. And the sad truth is : it hurts, and you’re going to need to get strong before you can reply “yes I’m sure/fuck you” to a loved one.

    So in the mean time ? stay with us, where it’s warm, and learn how awesome it feels to know, for the first time, who you are. And trust your own feelings 🙂

    • Thanks for putting this into words, Chloe! I’m of lady parts, 25, in a committed relationship (with a man) and it has been a challenge to 1) accept my own bisexuality and 2) to stand up for myself.

      He is amazing and doesn’t think is has to be a big deal (it’s the way I feel about it too, my sexuality does not define me). I’m so happy that when I stood up for myself when he said you “claim” to be bi that he was supportive. It’s not a claim or a fad, and it took me a long time to be okay with it.

    • Yes omg so many people questioned my sexuality for me when i came out! They were like “are you sure?” and I was like “fuck no I’m not sure of anything what even is gender”. It was terrifying for sure. But strength grows with time, and everything gets easier. I now see it all in a positive light.

      As for sexual experiences with men and women: suffice it to say that I just kind of had an eye-roll response if a guy was getting into it but now feel really connected to a woman if she gets into it.

      It’s never easy but it gets better, livelier, exciting-er, fun-er… honesty with oneself opens so many doors.

    • I’d like to add an item to the list and that is: make some gay friends! join meet ups or check out your local lgbt center or join a softball league… meet them any way you can.

      it wasn’t so long ago this all happened for me, too, and no matter how right it feels, it’s hard not to question whether or not you’re making it up… for me, the chorus of “oh my god, you’re so gay!” that surrounded me when I’d share anecdotes about my life or just be myself around them was incredibly reassuring and validating. not to mention that we just had (and still have) a lot of fun together and I never had to worry about coming out issues when around them…

      hmm… I’m starting to think this is might an idea for a new autostraddle group…

  3. Just to build upon (and basically restate) Laura’s brilliant advice, I think coming out later in life is always a cluster-fuck of emotions. Especially if it doesn’t fit the traditional coming out story because then it’s like “what the &%$#, how could I not know about my extreme gayness until age ___?!?!”

    Introducing yourself to a world that has been completely silenced or foreign to you is tough. Wondering how to mesh old feelings for men (or lack of feelings for men or forced feelings for men) with new feelings for women or women AND men, or PEOPLE regardless of their genitalia/gender identity (SO MANY FEELINGS EVERYWHERE), is tough. Feeling alone because there’s no real framework for how to deal with this shit is tough. IT’S JUST ALL SO TOUGH.

    But it’s also kind of amazing. Opening up to another part of yourself that you perhaps had never entertained or thought of before is really and truly fucking beautiful. It’s authentic and real and very sparkly. And I’m proud of you (and all the other queermos out there, myself included) for being brave enough to let the queer feelings unleash. Because shit’s hard. And yet totally and completely worth it at the same time.

    Like Laura baaaasically said, create a gay mecca for yourself. Surround yourself with other queer ladies if possible (oh wait, AS makes it possible…), queer media (another Autostraddle shout out, but it sounds like you’re already aware of how awesome these ladies are ;)), music, fashion, ANYTHING that helps show that there is a whole world of support for you.

    Now I have to go listen to Tegan and Sara and cry. Sending big hugs and a huge vagina-shaped pizza your way, dear asker <3.

  4. Im 32 now and I came out when I was 27. I had been very deeply in the closet since I was 14. I was pretty much drowning in internalized homophobia and fear, like “my life is already fucked up enough damnit why do I have to be gay too this can’t be real no way”. Obviously that lead to a big giant mess of emotional problems and a constant hand-mixer to the insides feeling.

    When I came out to my family and friends I didn’t know any other queer people, and I was too scared to meet any with an irrational fear of rejection. I had spent so many years playing straight I had only a shred of self esteem left. I felt I didn’t have anyone to talk to that would understand, and that no other gay lady I would meet would want to hear my story or want to “deal” with me and my problems (wow was I wrong). It took me a long time to feel comfortable with myself and even longer to get past my anxiety and actually get out there and meet people, but I did it. Starting out I did exactly what Laura suggested, I bought lots of books, watched all the queer movies I could find- even the really terrible ones, watched every episode of the L word more than I care to admit (which actually scared me more, but, you know, Bette Porter…) and just immersed myself in queer media, while everything else around me was so straight. THANK YOU AUTOSTRADDLE.

    Eventually, I started to feel “normal” and more like myself than I ever had up to that point, and with that things changed. I stopped shutting the (gay) world out and met so many amazing people, and found support and friends and love and it was and is totally awesome. My advice is: be patient with yourself asker, and go through this process at whatever pace you need to. Over time the fear will start to fade. But you have to keep moving forward after this big, giant step you just took and when you’re ready you’ll bust right through that threshold.

    • Oh man, I feel the “This is just going to make my life harder, why can’t I go back!!” feels so hard. And I’m not going to say that being gay made my life easier, but it really hasn’t made it harder.

      My advice is find the upsides. Look for the little things that make you glad you feel this way: that couple that you hate because of their heteronormative gender roles? Boom, never going to be you. Always wanted to wear more vests? Now is the time. Find the moments that make being super gay feel like a good thing.

      Some queer media was overwhelming for me, but I definitely suggest aggressively queering all mainstream media. Watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and realize that all the characters are mega queer.

      Mostly just take it at your own speed, and sucker punch anyone who uses the phrase “gold star lesbian,” because there’s no wrong way to be you. ❤

    • amen to everything you just wrote. Especially about Bette Porter 😉

      Seriously though, there are lots of us that come out later. It can definitely be hard. I totally agree with Jess – do this at your own pace – that’s the only way to do it! There are lots of wonderful people out there (gay AND straight, and everything around and in between) that will love and accept you for who you are, even if you’re not even totally sure of how you want to identify yet. One thing that hugely helped me – online dating sites. I started by sending messages to gay ladies not for dating, but for help with coming out. I actually had some AMAZING convo’s with a gal that basically saved me. She was incredibly supportive, and gave me the eventual confidence to come out to someone in real life. I also have an amazing therapist that helped me deal with all my other “life stuff”, so that I had less on my plate to try to juggle in addition to coming out.

      Long story short, just try to be YOU, whatever that means. You’re probably friggin’ awesome, and if I met you, I’d probably wanna date you! No one will reject you for coming out “late” in life. If they do, then they’re not worth your time. There are loads of awesome people out there that will accept you with open arms for being your awesome self! 🙂

  5. This article is very relevant to my interests and great advice. I started seriously questioning my sexuality at 23 – I was living with a boyfriend at that point. At 24, I left him to come out. I worried so much! I thought I was so old and had wasted my life. I thought no girl was going to want to date me. (I thought I was ‘spoiled goods’ for having had relationships with men. Ugh. Biphobia is real, but luckily most women don’t care that much. Turns out a lot of girls wanted to date me.) Coming out was SO WORTH IT. It changed every aspect of my life and it hasn’t always been easy, but the best things in life are rarely easy. Dating and loving women and living true to yourself feel like a dream because I don’t take it for granted. I think my girlfriend (who came out in high school) feels it too and appreciates my life experience, because I don’t take her and our relationship for granted either.

    I love what Frank Ocean said about coming out:

    “It was like all the frequency just clicked to a change in my head. All the receptors were now receiving a different signal, and I was happy. I hadn’t been happy in so long. I’ve been sad again since, but it’s a totally different take on sad. There’s just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.”

  6. I came out to myself four years ago, at 23, and it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. It’s hard to even reconcile the girl I was before I knew and the woman I am now. I don’t know how I lived in ignorance for so long, barely even aware of queer people, and only once thinking “It’d be nice to be gay, and not have to think about boys… too bad.” And it’s been a PROCESS. I mean, it still is, really. I went from bi to gay to queer, and within the last year started identifying as ace. I feel more myself than I ever have before, but it’s taken quite a while! I think you have to be prepared for that, because so many coming out stories are like “light bulb switches on, everything is clear, the end” and my experience has certainly not been like that. Just figuring out how I wanted to identify, how I wanted to DRESS and be perceived, has taken a long time. Mostly I just had to learn how to relax, and not feel like I had to suddenly change everything about who I thought I was because I happened to like girls. I think a lot of us go through that stage.

    At any rate, good luck, and give yourself some slack. It’s going to take a while, people will find out and mostly react really well because they love you, so take some deep breaths, think warm thoughts about yourself, and settle in. We’re here for you! <3

  7. I came out when I was 30, MARRIED, and had just realized that I was attracted to women about 2 years prior to that. I went through a lot, questioning why I didn’t realize it sooner, how I had let myself get this far in life without understanding what seemed to come so naturally for most. It was a very hard and confusing time for me, and I lived in denial and pain for way too long.

    Once I came out to my husband and we got divorced (not that this is important for this question, but I just need to say he’s incredible and is my biggest supporter still) I did EXACTLY what Laura suggested you do – IMMERSE yourself in all things gay. I joined a gay kickball league, I got a gig hosting trivia at a lesbian bar in town, I started reading Autostraddle like it was my job. I binge watched the L Word even when I was so over the last season and couldn’t stand Jenny’s stupid face anymore. I went to a Tegan and Sara concert and pretended to know all the words even though I had heard of them for the first time about a week prior to that (which is really weird and embarrassing to admit now haha!) AND ALL OF THIS HAPPENED EXACTLY A YEAR AGO. Now, it’s almost weird for me to be around people who AREN’T gay, and last year I had no gay friends. I promise you, just diving in head first is terrifying, but it was so worth it. I have a girlfriend, the most amazing group of friends who understand me and accepted me REGARDLESS of what my past was, and I’m so much happier.

    Wishing you all the luck in the world, hoping that this time in your life passes quickly, and that you have a smile on your face again soon. 🙂

  8. This is pretty great! I wish I had this when I came out two years ago. My now wife had the whole coming out in high school experience… Which I feel high school is a pregame to real life, figuring out who you are what kind of person you want to be etc etc. So it was a lot harder for me to come out at 23.. People didn’t believe, people gave me a hard time, I still got that “it’s just a phase” a lot. So many emotions and mood swings.. Not even funny ya’ll Fast forward two years and i’m happily married to my wife and I just love her vagina to pieces and am still slowly learning to not give a F$#@ what people have to say/reactions.. 🙂

  9. this article is totally what i’m going throught. I’m 25 and was outed while I was in the hospital. My parents didn’t take it too well. I’ve been a bit depressed and lonely. Some days I feel proud to be gay but other days I worry about what will happen if I fall for a guy. My mother told me that God has a man for me, when I tearfully told her I wanted a wife. I don’t know if what i’m going through is normal. It’s been a rough year for me for personal reasons and I just need some reassurance that i’m on the right path. I’m just so lonely.

    • I just want to send you all the internet hugs because I know how you feel and once you start getting a queer network of friends it gets much better, not all the way better, but much better.
      And also if you fall for a guy, that just means you fall in love and are hopefully super happy and forget anyone who ever says that isn’t ok. Seriously, those people are the worst and there are a lot more people who will simply wish you all the love and joy in the world, and I really hope you find them soon so they can give you real life hugs 🙂

    • Everything always ends up being ok. Just try and remember that.. Also try and look for some queer friends or support groups.. They have one at my college and it’s a life saver. Having a wife is pretty awesome I might add 😉 Just give it time<3
      Best wishes.

    • What you’re going through is absolutely normal. You are absolutely on the right path. If you fall in love with a man or a woman, cis or trans, it doesn’t invalidate what you feel right now. It’s normal to have doubts and fears about something this monumental and essential to who you are. Ignore the haters (this is incredibly hard, I know). Find a group of fellow queers, either at school, at another church, or in the community. (I am in a dinner group with LGBTQIA Christians in my city, and it has been a lifesaver for me.) We are here for you and love you. *all the hugs!*

  10. And then I started crying at my desk because holy crap I’m not alone in this and there’s nothing wrong with me for being really really afraid to bite the bullet and come out to my dad. Once I figured out I also liked ladies, like a lot, I came out to a lot of people and shrugged the bad reactions off. But I still haven’t come out to my conservative, super christian, embodiment of machismo dad who pretty much knows how to destroy me in one word and is still paying off my student loans for me for the next year…
    Everyone I know is totally out and has been that way for a long time, and I’ve started to feel like I’m literally the only one on the planet who isn’t, and that I’m a shitty queer activist for it, all on top of the not even knowing I was queer until I was 23…

    Thank goodness for Austostraddle. I’m about to hit my one year anniversary of living Austin, being out to myself and of reading Autostraddle. It’s crazy to think where I’d be if I’d kept shoving myself down, cause the chains of patriarchy are HEAVY, and surrounding myself with queer media helped so so much.

    Love you queermos 😀

  11. Holy shizzle, this is so relevant.. I tend to forget that autostraddle doesnt consist of just those kids who understood sexuality and gender and identity in the womb.
    I literally was so naive or innocent or something that I couldnt/wouldnt accept this as part of my identity till 23… and even then it took me a year before I met/talked/kissed a girl. I was the poster child for internalised homophobia… though I still thank whatever power that I didnt project that on to anyone else.
    I couldnt identify with the gay community, because the only people I saw with my blinkered homophobia glasses were the most visible, the loudest, the renegades and rebels… and I felt no kinship with them, I felt if I wasnt that, then I wasnt gay. In reality there is no one way to be gay, and once you accept it, you start to understand, accept/become your own version of gay, there are no rules…and you never know who/what will be important enough to you tomorrow or in a years time, to shout about.
    I was also incredibly insecure about the idea that it took me so long to figure things out, but I’ve started to look at the bigger picture on that one, we’re all different, there is no timeline for life. You’re here, that’s a big f**king deal, congrats!

  12. Oh this, all of this, so so much. I am 25. I figured out my own identity and been able to put it into words relatively recently. I still feel weird in it sometimes, but I feel better in the ways I’ve found to label and understand my identity than I did before I started working it all out.

    I really really agree with what Laura described about fitting narratives. The idea that I think a lot of us get is that there is a true and proper way to be queer. I definitely have this. But here is what I’ve learned, figured out, been able to internalize…

    These are some of the things that don’t make your identity any more or less valid:
    1. Being out.
    2. Having that identity for a particular length of time, or having changed the way you identify.
    3. Matching anyone else’s narrative of their own identity
    4. “Proof” actions — being in a relationship and/or having sex

    Here are the things that make your identity valid:
    1. It’s yours.

    (I also have found that the more I explore my current identity, the more I find pieces of it in my past. Thoughts I had or ways I acted or felt, particularly as a teenager, that make a different sort of sense to me now. It constantly becomes to clear to me that while some parts of my identity feel very new to me, some parts are really just more like coming home to myself.)

  13. Laura, your articles are always so thoughtful and well-written. This would have been so comforting to 24-year-old me.

    Especially this part:
    “The fact that you’re working through all this now doesn’t say anything negative about you or the way you moved through life for the past 24 years. What you did then was valid, and what you’re doing now is valid; you don’t owe anyone an explanation. (And by the way, this applies even if you use a different identity label in the future. You don’t need to justify being true to your feelings as you feel them, even if they change.)

    I suspect that in several years, you’ll look back on this time and feel surprised by how far you’ve come.”

    My story is so similar to this one, it was rough but everything fell into place eventually. Now I’m 32 and very out and very happy.

  14. This is so, so good – and the love in these comments is phenomenal. I’m late 30’s and coming out to myself and to others was a very gradual process of realization and sharing. I’ve really just started naming my identity and had the conversations with my family over the past couple years. And, I’m still in the total gay immersion stage right now – mostly via media since the queer community here is smallish and I’m still a bit nervous. I’ve been attracted to multiple genders for years, and feel so good about where I’m at overall, but some days I still have “not gay enough” fears creep in. I don’t know why I ever listen, because I know for sure I’m not straight. Amen to the comment above – it’s not about “proving” who you are. It’s just about you, existing and living exactly as you are. So much love!

  15. This is so real because it’s such a rough time but like everyone else has said you’re not at all alone. I was dealing with internal fatphobia and all this craziness and didn’t come out until my mid-20s just over a year ago when, in literally 3 months, I freaked out at a gay friend of mine about everything in my head, met and started dating my current girlfriend, and came out to almost everyone I knew. It was crazy and stressful and some days I felt like I was crazy or was mad at myself that I was too old to have this problem and some days i was so relieved and just like “screw it, if you’re gonna leap just do it”. But it’s all been worth it and you will get through this. One of my best friends from school is dealing with this right now too. And the both of us graduated from Smith College (the lesbian homeland) which puts us at about a 9/10 on the oblivious and useless queer women scale.
    Look for community and support online and around you and remember your not alone and its a great big queer wold out there.

  16. So my coming out as queer followed the cultural script pretty well. But I have recently had the interesting experience of coming out as genderqueer at 32, which means a lot of this felt awfully relevant!

    The thing I’m struggling with is that my genderqueerness didn’t really follow that accepted narrative. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the 30-odd years I spent happily identifying as female. I just keep reminding myself how much happier and more secure I feel in my non-binary identity.

    Good luck, letter writer. I believe in you!

  17. Oh goodness, I really needed to read this today. I’m only 19 but the LGBT+ community in my college is a group of very in-your-face group of queers who tend to shout their queerness from the rooftops.
    I’m definitely taking the very slow and steady course of coming out to only close friends and immediate family, but I still feel like I’m not “gay enough” or whatever, which really freaks me out and is frustrating. I’m still young and I’ve been told “it’s just a phase” or I need to prove my gayness.
    On the other hand though, I’m totally terrified of being out to everyone because I live in a state that doesn’t protect me from getting fired for my sexuality. So.. that sucks.
    I feel a little bit trapped because the majority of any LGBT+ people I’ve met lately are very “us against them” and confrontational towards people who disagree with them.
    Idk guys, being 19, not 100% out, and having to worry about all of this shit that shouldn’t really be an issue because I like girls is a bit exhausting.
    I’m just really happy to see that I’m not all alone, and it was really nice to be reminded that my gayness isn’t based on how many rainbow stickers I put on my mac or how many girls I’ve kissed in public.
    Thanks 🙂

    • I went to an the LGBT group on campus when I was about 20 and felt the same way. It was the same “in your face” attitude, and I felt like I stood out because I was dressed very feminine and wasn’t up on all of the lingo, even though I was just as gay as everyone else there. I felt like I didnt belong in the community and they didn’t want me there.

      I am 27 now, and I still don’t feel like I fit into LGBT exclusive groups, but I’ve realized I don’t need them. I’ve realized there are gay people everywhere, and if I am just open and happy about myself, all us gay ladies always seem to find each other.

  18. O.M.G. THIS PARAGRAPH. i don’t think i ever felt anything truer in my life. I thought i was the only one who thinks/feels like this.

    In retrospect, I think the thing that messed with my head the most was that my story didn’t match the coming out story I’d internalized. I know you’ve heard the narrative before: A person is born gay. This person inevitably figures out at a young age that they’re “different.” From there, they either a) stay in the closet due to discrimination, or b) bravely come out and are are welcomed into the LGBT community with open arms. This is how it works for some people, and that’s totally awesome! But it isn’t how it works for everyone, and it isn’t how it worked for me. That dissonance gave me a lot of anxiety — and based on what you’ve said, it sounds like you’ve got a bit of it too.

    Wow. I am 34 and still questioning my sexuality, if you call going around in circles in your mind endlessly until you give up for a month or a year, and then re-visit those circles endlessly. It is a mind-numbing void that i have no idea how to get out of.

    • A friend once summed up his questioning in one sentence, definitely/probably not politically correct in word/thought…but it rings true. When you walk down the street, who’s ass do you notice?

      Of course there are many ways/means of this not being true for people… but there commonly is some particular feature/attribute/quirk… that you react differently to, depending on your sexuality.

      • I notice women’s butts and men’s crotches. Which is one of the things that helped me figure out that I’m bi.

        True fact – in junior high I had a couple female friends who were always going on about this or that boy’s butt or pointing out how fine such and such boy looked in his Jordache jeans, and I totally had to fake it – I had no idea what the boys’ butts looked like because I was too busy secretly checking out the girls (so secretly that it took me like 10 years to realize that that’s what I was doing).

    • “Wow. I am 34 and still questioning my sexuality, if you call going around in circles in your mind endlessly until you give up for a month or a year, and then re-visit those circles endlessly. It is a mind-numbing void that i have no idea how to get out of.”

      I’m really glad I’m not the only one that feels that way. I’m turning 29 next month and it frustrates me to no end that I still haven’t figured out my life like all my friends. All I know is that I’m not straight (thanks to a well meaning friend pointing out that straight girls usually don’t go around kissing girls) but when my friends that know about my conflicting feelings ask me if I want a husband, a wife or either I don’t have an answer for them. So I basically avoid relationships at all cost because I don’t want to lead on the men and women who are interested in me in case it turns out it’s not what I want after all.

  19. Yes! Same thing here- at 24 (after spending my whole entire life feeling lost, unhappy, lonely with no sense of real identity) I realised I was into girls.

    My sister is gay also, and is engaged to her partner- she came out 5 years before me. I was so scared of coming out to my family(especially her)- thinking she or my parents would think I was just ‘copying’ her, or that they wouldn’t take me seriously (I had previously been in a horrible, unhappy 5 yr relationship with a boy and a string of short term, unhappy flings with guys to fill the void).

    Luckily for me- she accepted me without an ounce of doubt- my family have been incredible and accepted me no questions asked. But I am part of the small percent who have had it easy. Sometimes that makes me feel like (because) I didnt go through the typical struggles that most go through when coming out, I mustn’t be a real lesbian. But that is complete bullshit and there is no one right journey.

    It was hard as hell to come out to people- at 24- who had known you your whole life and seen you as straight. I was having anxiety attacks over it. When I said to my best friend “i have something to tell you” and she answered “you’re gay, aren’t you”- I just felt like a thousand bricks had been lifted off me and that I was validated.

    I am now living with the love of my life and as I wake up next to her, everyday I am grateful for everything- i finally know what it feels like to be yourself and be happy.

    You don’t need to explain to anyone anything about your past, how you felt then and how you feel now. If you can accept it within yourself, chances are- people will accept it much easier. Wear this with pride- It will take time but eventually you will feel free- you will feel comfortable with yourself.

    Its a process and like many have said already- the best way to accept yourself is to surround yourself with people and media who normalize and validate what you are feeling. Because it is normal. And it is valid. And you should never be made to feel otherwise.

  20. I am so glad to find it’s not just me, there’s a whole TONNE of us coming out later in life! I realised a year or so ago, properly, consciously, that I like women more than a straight girl should (doesn’t every girl find girls attractive and want to date them? No?!) and had to have a massive, terrifying life change involving moving away from the country I love because of the laws regarding homosexuality. I was terrified, with no one to talk to about it and very little internet access (because, Africa) and Autostraddle literally saved me. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to come out, break up a long term relationship, AND tell my parents (who are still, nine months down the line, disgusted by me/ashamed, and trying to pretend it isn’t happening) had I not been able to access all the incredible advice Autostraddle has to offer. I do wish I had realised it sooner and not messed up a bunch of stuff in the process, and I feel often like I have missed out on lots of fun because of coming out later in life. The support and, thankfully, indifference, of so many people have made it not a big deal at all. I still have days when I cry really hard and write in my journal, especially when my parents are being difficult. But it is worth it. I finally feel like I am being true to myself and feel so much more comfortable in my own skin. Letter writer: stay strong, your happiness matters so much and you should do what makes you happy. Don’t worry too much about those around you. If their reactions are anything less than “we love you” then they aren’t worth your emotional investment. Parents are different, I still don’t know how to deal with my situation, but I do know that a year on, I am so much more comfortable with who I am. You will be too. If you’ve got this far then you’re going to be just fine 🙂

  21. heeey! this is truly interesting. i came out when i was 15 =O so being gay has been a part of my identity for a while now and something that i have learnt to embrace and love. Anyhow, im not saying this to brag or anything, but actually even when i came out that long ago, sometimes i do panic and try to hide and don’t actually say that i’m gay to people i have just met or you know to my co-workers or i panic when i’m holding my gf’s hand in public. so yeah! being out is hard! but i keep reminding myself that if my teenage self could do it, so can i keep doing it. so hey! you can do it! and now there’s autostraddle… haha when i came out, i definitely wasn’t a part of an awesome community like this. thanks for the post, laura!

  22. This is just the greatest advice! Autostraddle as always has the goods. The other day I just outed myself in conversation like it was something I had done a million times before, but I hadn’t. The reason is autostraddle, I had done exactly this, spending my time reading and listening to everyone on here meant a year later it just feels normal and right 🙂

  23. oh hi. I am jumping on the Laura thank you for your advice bandwagon. Also thank you writer for writing in! You are already awesome because you asked for advice. Like, that’s big in itself. Even though I am not in the place the dear writer is. I can totally relate because it wasn’t too long ago that I was in the same place. I came out the time frame of my 26-27 years of life.

    It’s really nice to see all these amazing comments.

  24. I came out around 33. I’d been crushing on women since I was 18, but after some difficult years in high school I felt like there wasn’t allowed to be one more thing about me that was different, that people could pick on me for.

    I spent so long repressing my feelings and denying myself what I wanted that now, completely out and immersed in the gay community, I still have moments of transcendent joy that I see women holding hands around me, can speak out loud when I think someone’s hot, can dance with women. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be born a woman who loves women, because women are f’ing awesome, and to be able to act on it. The joy and amazement and gratitude come from how long I feel like I spent in purgatory… just like my going back to college at age 28, I don’t think I’d have appreciated it quite as much if I’d done it when I was younger.

  25. I came out when I was 25! Or 26! I don’t remember…. Here’s three bits of advice I wish I had heard then, and maybe have already been covered in the comments but I’m just gonna restate them here.

    1. Your past is valid! Just as mentioned! This *includes* your past relationships! Your ex-boyfriends are part of your history, don’t be ashamed of them, don’t feel like they ‘didn’t count’. Remember that these relationships were meaningful then and can still be meaningful now.

    2. You don’t need to have dated/slept with another girl to make your orientation REAL and TRUE.

    3. You don’t have to prove SHIT to anyone.

  26. Oh gosh, this is so relevant. To the asker of this question – there are others out there in your shoes too. At 25, I feel so naive, having never been in a romantic relationship. I sometimes I think to myself that I’m really behind on life – like that’s the kind of thing people should do as teens! But as someone who has long struggled with anxiety and being closeted and growing up in a rather conservative environment, being in a same-sex relationship wasn’t something to even consider growing up – not even in my own mind. I’m just saying that you’re not alone!

    Thank you, asker, for asking the question. And thank you, Laura, for the wonderful advice.

    We’re still young! We have so much growing to do still! Just joining this website has been extremely helpful in making me feel “normal”, welcome, and okay as a human being. I love the community here.

    (Also, I had no idea that all those awesome women you listed came out so late in life! Reading that list made my day!)

  27. Made an account just to say, thank you for this article and all the awesome comments. It’s nice to not feel alone in this. I didn’t identify as being attracted to women until I was 26, and didn’t come out to anyone until I was 29.

    I try to remember that advice: life is a marathon, not a sprint. We all run it at our own pace.

    Funny story. When I came out to my mom a week before my 30th birthday, she was wonderful and supportive, but she did say, “you know honey, I do think, for someone in your generation, you waited a long time to tell us.” I was like, great, even my 69 year old Mom thinks I’m late to the party

  28. Haven’t been by in a while, but came just to leave a comment on this.

    I realized that I was bi when I was 25 and engaged to be married (interestingly I was gender nonconforming from a young age, and badly bullied for it, but thought I was GNC and straight). Even though I was in very queer-friendly circles, I was very nervous about coming out because I thought my friends and my fiance (now my husband) would feel like I misled them, or would think that I was realizing this because something was wrong with my relationship and wanting to leave him for a woman or something.

    I came out gradually – I tried dropping anvil-sized hints on my husband for a year (including conversations about which female celebrities we were attracted to, and going on an LGBTQ overseas trip – there is some chance my husband is not the best at picking up on certain messages :D) and he didn’t get it, so I eventually had to be blunt. There were new friends that I made when I was 26 and I presented myself to them as queer from the start, but I came out to most people that I knew from back when I thought I was straight over the course of the year when I was 27 (I turn 30 in a few months). Everyone was cool about it, fortunately. I do a ton of queer activism stuff. I’ve been to Creating Change three times now. Nobody’s questioned my right to be there on the basis of my being a late bloomer.

    My husband and I are sort of theoretically poly, we’ve talked about it and expressed okay-ness with it within certain boundaries, but both of us are a little introverted and neither has had anybody else that we wanted to date yet, so I’ve still not had a relationship with a woman or nonbinary person, but maybe eventually! Amusingly I tend to be read as queer when alone (because people read genderqueerness/gender nonconformity as queer) and straight when with him (because bi erasure).

  29. I am so glad that this is up and on the internet. I came out a little less than a year ago at 23, and was terrified that it was too late, that I was far behind, that no one would be okay with it, that no girl would want to date me, that I was too inexperienced etc. It took me a long time to recognize my own sexuality, despite uncomfortable relationships with men. Looking back, there were certainly signs, but I didn’t have the means to translate them. I think perhaps if I had found the right situation/group of people earlier in life, I would have come out earlier, but I was never comfortable with the queer groups I found.

    It is amazing how much has changed in the last year though. I have remembered what it is like to be happy (accepting my sexuality also came with accepting and getting help with depression), and so many of my fears have not been realized. My friends and family has been supportive, despite my feeling like they would think I had been hiding something from them for years. I have become comfortable in queer spaces (super self-imposed awkwardness at first), and have recognized that it was often my own fear that made them uncomfortable. I have found more queer friends, have started dating, and have also realized that my lack of experience isn’t a hindrance. There are people who I want to date and who want to date me. The girl I am seeing now came out in middle school, super involved in queer stuff etc., but didn’t see it as an issue like I had feared.

    In general, it is startling to look back at my life a year ago; there were certainly good things about it, but I am in such a better place right now. There are of course considerations to be made, but for my situation, I have found that many of my fears were unfounded, and involved just putting myself out there.

    I made a pact with myself that when I started the new semester last fall, I would put myself out there and get involved in queer groups because I knew it was the only way I would truly be comfortable being out; if it started becoming something I didn’t have to disclose to people, but rather there were people I was meeting who just accepted it as part of who I am. I think coming out to people you have known a long time is much harder than just having being queer/gay/etc. be part of who you are.

    I still struggle with coming out to people who have been in my life a long time, but I don’t see regularly. I am still dealing with coming out to people who are important to me, but from different cultural backgrounds. I still haven’t actually had a girlfriend, but I am very happy with my life right now, and it has only been 11 months since I came out to a friend; 7 months since my family. Things get better, and they can get better quickly. Again, I am glad this is on the internet – this would have been very helpful a year ago.

    • I feel like coming out is so much harder when you’re not dating someone. I feel like “Hey I fell in love and *surprise* it’s a girl!” is easier to bust out than “BTW I’m super into ladies in a sexy way, could you pass the potatoes Grandma.”

      • yes. so true!

        also figuring out when it’s important to come out personally to someone versus just living openly & letting them figure it out (my preference by far, but not always appropriate).

        having lived as a straight person for so long before I figured it out, I sometimes resent that coming out is even a thing – maybe some day it won’t be and we’ll all just be able to be who we are from the get go…

  30. This is so perfect for me right now-in my MID-30S, friends, married, with kids, coming out as bi/pan/queer. Not the easiest. Especially since I pass so easily as straight given that my partner is a dude and I’m femme.

    I want to be out everywhere, but short of wearing a t-shirt that declares it, it’s so hard to be identifiable. Hoping to be called off the A-camp waitlist so I can bask in my queerness and maybe even find a queer haircut that won’t look terrible on my very round face!

  31. This post really hit home for me. I had my suspicions about myself from the time I was a freshman in high school, but buried my head so deep in the sand that I didn’t come out to myself until I was about 24 or so. Came out to others around 26. Now, having just turned 27 on Monday, I am trying to piece back together my self-esteem that I spent 10 years destroying and working myself up to coming out to my parents (ugh) and actually putting myself out there.

    I also agree with so many others that have posted, and that I’m grateful for whoever emailed this question in.

  32. Could someone forward this column or at least just list of ladies out late the assholes who decided “woman had baybehs is clearly not one of teh gays” cause they need to read and absorb it.
    Though I don’t know it could really help because if one has gotten far along enough into adulthood they’ve gotten a job where people’s lives are in their hands without developing critical thinking skills or empathy…Ultron might have the right idea ctrl + a + del.

  33. I’m 26, came out to myself when I was 24. I have no idea what I was doing before then, and I find it really hard to reconcile 24 years of living like a straight girl with now being a gay female/nonbinary person. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s hard at first but now it’s the best thing in the whole world.

    My most terrifying moments:
    -Telling my parents. I wasn’t ready and I broke down crying on the phone.
    -My first lesbian breakup.
    -My first lesbian bar.
    -My first pride. I kept up unprecedented levels of anxiety the whole time.
    -My first time shopping in the men’s section. OH MY GOD.

    My most beautiful moments:
    -Feeling a real legit crush for the first time in my adult life.
    -My first lesbian breakup.
    -My first lesbian bar.
    -Discovering Autostraddle.
    -Discovering online shopping for men’s stuff.
    -Starting to date the person I’m with now (but don’t tell her. Ugh, can this be anonymous? She can’t know I have the feels!!!! *melts*)

    I think for some of us it’s a lightswitch moment later in life. My biggest fear was that it was a phase. It still is my biggest fear. Especially on good days when I’m really happy, I worry that I’ll wake up and it will all have been a dream. And sometimes I worry I never will wake up, because I wish life were simple and being queer can complicate that. But overall, I feel totally liberated. Because I realize now that gender is sort of arbitrary, but for some reason I’m just crushing on all the women, and I don’t think the answer is simple in my case, but if life is a little messy, hey guess what… it’s all okay.

    • So appropriate.

      Can relate so much to the fear of first lesbian bar experience. I remember actually googling ‘first lesbian bar experience’ because I’m dorky and was feeling anxious.Also, because I present quite femininely I remember thinking I had to tone it down whilst there(ridiculous, I know). Yet, I still got asked if I was straight!

      In regards to the beautiful moments: when I starting dating my first,and only girlfriend I had a bit of a light bulb moment and realised “oh,this is why people like to be romantic”.Never really understood that in relationships till I slow danced with her, in her apartment, and it was super sweet and intimate.

  34. I didn’t even know until reading this post that mid-20s was considered late? I was 25 when I realised I was gay and it was an utterly undramatic realisation.

  35. Reading the comments it’s amazing to notice how many people Autostraddle has helped to come to terms with their sexuality! When I came out I was reading a lot of feminist blogs and stumbled upon AS. Riese’s and Laneia’s writing about coming out at a ‘later’ age was so important to me, not to mention the comment sections. I’m sure this post and its comments will change a lot of lives.

  36. I could not agree with this more. The thing that really made my coming out (over about a two year period) possible and, eventually, fairly joyful was how surrounded I became by queer culture, queer media, queer people, queer figureheads, blah, blah. I discovered Autostraddle in the Christmas holiday of 2013 and, after that, it all sorta snowballed.

  37. This thread has been amazing; I thought I was way too old to be coming out at 33. I am working through all of this, thanks to someone outing me against my will/bullying me my sophomore year in high school and 22 years of internalized homophobia, not toward others, but toward myself (thanks, Catholicism!). The first time I kissed another woman in college, a light went off, but I ignored it (rationalization: oh, it’s college, I’m experimenting). It happened again the other two times I kissed/did more with ladies. After a string of bad relationships with men and a failed marriage, I’m ready to explore this, but the meeting people part is hard – not a strong gay scene in my city, all my queer friends are gay men (I’ve only met two lesbians!), etc. AS has been a godsend. Thank you everyone for proving I’m not alone. 😀

  38. I recently contacted a doctor named Ekaka i find his email: [email protected] yahoo.com on the internet so i decided to contact him for help in my relationship he ask me to send him my details which i did after that he told me that the gods revealed something to him and he told me everything that was revealed to him and he told me what he was going to do that after three days my relationship became sweet again and the person that was behind my problem came to beg me for forgiveness which was my mother in-law. i and my love are happy again including my mother in-law and we are planning to have a party for this Easter… thanks to Dr. Ekaka

  39. Columns like this are the reason why I fell in love with Autostraddle, and why I support the site. I was so scared that my story didn’t fit into the typical narrative that I stayed in the closet for five more years after I realized how many crushes I had on girls throughout adolescence. I thought that since I hadn’t known for sure since birth and had actually had a couple of crushes on men, I should just try harder to be straight.

    The advice about normalizing queerness is great. When we hear more stories, it’s easier to imagine ourselves as belonging to that story, whereas when there is only one story that we don’t fit, it’s harder. I had no problem accepting other queer people at that time, but I didn’t feel like it was okay for me to be a part of that story. Like, there was no way I could model myself off Tegan and Sara, because that was totally unattainable! Through meeting more lesbian, bi, and queer women in everyday life, though, I started to feel like I could belong.

  40. Such beautiful advice, and wildly powerful to read all the comments–also poignant because I can only imagine how empowering it would have been for my high-school-self to have felt the Autostraddle embrace, had it existed then.

    Just wanted to join the crowd of beautiful queer cheerleaders as someone else who basically came out in my late 20s and am finally freely and happily inhabiting my own skin.

    First came out as lesbian to a few people in college but still lived under a cloud of shame that I was in love with my (straight) best friend who couldn’t love me back and that something was wrong with me. Convinced myself for the next few years that I was bi, and sort of dated guys, which–to say the least–just did not work. First kissed a girl at 26, but it was a blind date and actually there was zero chemistry, so that didn’t exactly help me develop an empowered sense of sexuality.

    Finally, at 28 I had an epiphany that I had not been true to myself, that I LOVE women and that being queer is AWESOME and who I am. That changed everything; it was a quantum leap; and in a way I went from zero to 100 within a few short months: dating various women on OKC; crashing and burning with my first love; coming out to friends and family. My dear, old friends from my hometown who hadn’t seen me in a few months said that they perceived a night-and-day difference just due to my confidence/happiness/comfortable-in-my-own-skin-ness. But though that change seemed to happen overnight, it also was in the works for years; I just needed to take my own time.

    Now I’m 33; single but that’s mostly because I’m a workaholic grad student; date awesome ladies when I can; and happy as ever to be who I am.

    So the point is, I hear you, asker! You are awesome and not alone. Echoing others’ excellent advice for immersion into queer culture–whatever you are comfortable with, in pop culture or *real life*–and just taking your time, not feeling pressure to go at anyone else’s pace than your own.

  41. I came out to myself at 26 and didn’t start dating women until 27. I’ve been on dates but haven’t met anyone yet I’ve felt attracted and connected to enough to consider a relationship for the long term. I confess dating has been a constant source of frustration. I’ve mostly been meeting people online while I slowly introduce myself to the larger gay community. Between catfish and flakes, it tends to feel like a waste of time.

    My biggest challenge is reconciling my values with a lesbian culture where casual sex, sleeping with friends, and unnecessary drama is the norm. My coming out has been slowed due to my reluctance to contribute to the status quo. I do not believe that a gray area between friendship and dating should exist. If anything, it leads to the drama these women so often have the audacity to complain about, refusing to recognize their behavior is a contributor. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect, but I [sometimes rigidly] do not mix friendship and sex. I seek to avoid drama and hurt feelings by making my intentions clear. Unfortunately, this approach isn’t always successful.

    In the last couple months I reached a breaking point. Dating created too much frustration and wasn’t healthy. I stopped trying to date altogether and focused on meeting lesbians for friends. This too has been difficult. I’m having more success forming friendships with women who are already in relationships versus with those who are single.

    I’ve experienced many situations where a girl became visibly irritated and couldn’t respect that I’m truly not dating or has mistaken ‘looking for new friends’ as a euphemism for casual sex. Alternatively, I’ve also met newly single women, also only looking for friends who have decided they can’t be friends with me, even though I never behaved in a manner that should’ve cause them to believe my interest went beyond friendship. Fact is, under no circumstances would I consider being more than friends with anyone who has not only clearly expressed the place they’re in, mentally/emotionally not ready for romantic relationships, but in many cases are also experiencing some depression. It wouldn’t be healthy.

    I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, with nothing between them but frustration and loneliness. Can anyone relate to this? What advice can you give me? Is there a better approach?

    • The whole casual sex/drama/sleeping with friends thing is NOT the norm. There are groups that do this but you can hardly generalize about every queer group. I don’t blame you for feeling this way though, as this is how even shows created by lesbians portray the gay life.

      The best thing you can do is start trying to make queer friends with your interests outside of just going to queer events/bars. Do something with them you would do anyways, just for fun.

      There are a lot of negative people out there; find the positive people. Spend time with friends you trust and like, so you don’t get bogged down in all the selfish people that are out there who don’t care about you as a person. If you start from an empowering social situation, you can venture forth into the scary world without being stumped by it.

    • Lindsey,
      I’ve never commented on here before, but I wanted to tell you that I’m going through something very similar.
      I’m 27 years old and I’ve been confused about my sexuality my entire life. I’ve dated A LOT of guys over the years, but I STILL haven’t done more than kiss a couple girls (and I was drunk and not even attracted to them, so that hardly counts).

      Deep down I know I’d rather be with a woman than a man though…I feel like I’ve only been pretending to enjoy sex with men. I’ve tried to meet women, but I haven’t really connected with anyone yet. I’ve only gone out with a few girls, and I never even attempted to make physical contact with any of them. Like, not even holding their hand. Well, there was this one girl that I genuinely liked and was attracted to, but she had a boyfriend that she lived with (they were in an open relationship) and she was just looking for a girl on the side. That was pretty depressing for me because she was the ONLY girl I ever met that I could actually see myself with. At first I kind of liked the fact that she had a boyfriend because I felt like it took some of the pressure off of me…like she wouldn’t expect too much or something. But then I just felt jealous and pissed off when she’d go home to him at the end of our dates. So that never went anywhere.

      I can’t just hook up with people casually…I feel like I can’t be truly intimate with someone right now unless I completely trust them and have real feelings for them, but it’s causing me to completely shut down and not let anyone in at all. I’ve stopped dating and I have no desire to meet someone new. I just can’t. It feels like a waste of time to me. I don’t go out and the people I meet online completely suck. Maybe I’m just trying to protect myself by keeping everyone away…but since I haven’t been with a girl yet, every day I ask myself if I’m really gay or not. It’s just so confusing. I just want to hide in my apartment where I never have to interact with other human beings. I don’t even want to be hugged or anything. It’s weird.

      • Stephanie,

        I definitely understand where you’re coming from and I’m sure many others also relate to your comment. Unfortunately, though I wish I had answers, all I can do is empathize. Everyone has a story and no two are the same. Our stories shape who we are, so don’t be afraid of confusion. It takes time to make sense of who you are as you explore this unfamiliar part of yourself.

        I’m 28 now and I spent much of the time between acknowledging to myself that I am sexually attracted to women and trying to date women in a state of confusion. I went through a period where I thought I was bi, before realizing I’m gay. In all honesty, I held onto the possibility I could be bi because that sexual identity felt more safe and familiar.

        Most acquaintances are often surprised to learn I’m gay. I’m feminine, so that’s probably not unusual. My own doubts about my sexuality were fueled by the assumptions people make. I was in a sorority in college. They’re often portrayed as the epitome of heterosexuality. I was blissfully unaware and unaccepting of my sexuality through those years, blundering through dates with men. I even went on dates I didn’t even know were dates until the guy tried to kiss me at the end of the night. I was out of college a few years when I found myself exploring girls’ profiles on dating sites. I was initially there to date men. I began spending more time viewing girl’s profiles than men’s until I stopped looking for men altogether. I finally admitted to myself that the reason was more than curiosity. Eventually I got up the courage to begin contacting girls and trying to date.

        Dating is difficult in general. I share many of the same frustrations with my straight friends. I think people, by their late twenties, feel pressured to settle down. You’re still understanding your sexuality and that takes time and patience, mainly with yourself. You don’t have to pressure yourself into making your story fit another timeline.

        Meeting someone you’re not only attracted to but make a meaningful connection with is HARD. I’m only attracted to feminine women, drunk or sober. Even if I meet a girl I’m attracted to, I don’t yet have the confidence to make the first move and am not talented at flirting. I can’t tell when I’m being hit on. Short of a girl kissing me, I’m clueless. This can get very frustrating for both parties. I confess I spent a fair amount of time reading Autostraddle articles to better understand flirting and dating nuances.

        As someone who doesn’t enjoy casual sex, it follows that non-monogamyous relationships aren’t for you. That you could see yourself with a girl who had a cohabitating boyfriend gives the impression you wanted commitment from the relationship. Monogamy may suit you better.

        It sounds like you are putting pressure on yourself to have sex. Maybe you think sex will bring the clarity you seek and will validate the feelings you have. Sex probably isn’t the answer. There’s no initiation into being gay.

        It also sounds like you’re feeling depressed. I’m no expert, but I do have personal experience with depression. Avoidance and withdrawal are common coping mechanisms. I’ve learned to better manage my mood through diet and exercise, which reduces stress, anxiety, and negative thoughts. I choose my friends carefully and as a result have amazing support. I avoid drama and negativity rather than people in general.

        It’s not easy but letting go of your expectations is the first step to feeling happier. Sex, connecting, a relationship, let it go. My break from dating is about stepping away from a source of frustration that was damaging to my wellbeing. It’s temporary and when I am open to dating again I’ll be in a better place emotionally.

        Tam’s advice is good. You don’t have to date, but you don’t want to be miserable either. Go out and do the things you already enjoy with other gays. Before commenting on this article a new friend recently convinced me to join a lesbian social sport team, cup in hand kickball. I have no special interest in kickball but I like to drink and be active so I decided to give it a try. It’ll be an adventure.

        Lindsey

        • L, that was some very good advice. And, wow, I did sound pretty depressed in my comment, which I don’t think I was really aware of at the time. I’m actually coming off of one of my antidepressants (those pills did way more harm than good) and I’m currently going through withdrawals and having some serious mood swings. I have loads of experience with this sort of thing, so I know how to push through it – it’s only temporary. Anyway, that particular antidepressant made me feel very emotionally-detatched, so I’m thinking that I’ll regain the desire to socialize now that I’m not taking it anymore. I already feel more optimistic about things.

          All of that aside, I think you’re right – I have been putting too much pressure on myself to have sex, and now I know why. I’ve felt really insecure about my lack of experience with women, and it’s turned into this big scary thing that I don’t know how to deal with. I mean, I’m confident when I’m with men because I know what I’m doing, but now I’m venturing into unfamiliar territory and it’s freaking me out. I know a lot of people here can relate to that, but it doesn’t make it any less scary. You’re right though – I’ve never liked casual hookups, so I don’t mind waiting until I meet the right person. There’s no rush.

          The other thing I’d been worrying about was the thought that no one would take me seriously and they’d think I’m just “going through a phase.” Like you said, I’m also very feminine so no one ever suspects that I’m not straight and sometimes they don’t even believe me. My family will be pretty shocked when they find out. So it’s almost like I think I have something to prove (not to others, but to myself). But that’s really unnecessary, since I already know what I want. I think I’m making things more complicated in my head than they actually are.

          I definitely need a place where I can go to meet other gay women in person, and not just over the internet. Just making some friends would be very comforting. I think that’s what I need most right now.

          • Stephanie,

            I’m glad you know what’s right for you and your body. Not many people have that level of self-knowledge so you should feel great about that. It will help you with so many things in life.

            There’s nothing that builds confidence better than experience but there are ways to make your inexperience with sex less scary. I’d wholeheartedly recommend reading Autostraddle articles which tastefully discuss this topic. Although this may be a controversial suggestion, watch lesbian porn too (preferably ethical porn) but with a whole bottle of salt, because real sex is not porn. If anything, the exposure should help with your comfort level. You may worry about being able to do things your partner would enjoy, but since you can’t know what those will be, focus on yourself. Think about what you like and fantasize about. Self-knowledge is a great way to feel more confident.

            We like to think that other people’s opinions don’t matter, but lezbehonest, they definitely do. However, you’re right, what’s most important is what we think of ourselves. You might be tempted to “over-gay” yourself initially so that it’s obvious, particularly because you may have an image of what gay looks like. You can shout if from the rooftops but it’s not necessary. You have nothing to prove, to yourself or anyone else. Being who you are is already more than enough. The right woman will come along and appreciate that.

            There really isn’t any rush. It’s hard to slow down when you get excited about someone but I find that the faster you move, the faster it burns out. Beyond sex, know what you’re looking for in a relationship. There are deal breakers of course, attractiveness often being the biggest. Everyone has their preferences so don’t worry about seeming shallow. If that’s the case, we ALL are. I’m very feminine and am only attracted to other very feminine women. Like being gay, who you find attractive is never anything you should have to apologize for. Other deal breakers are education level, drug use, whether the person has children, etc. Beyond that there are also lifestyle concerns. There’s no secret to a successful relationship but research shows that the adage “opposites attract” is only true for casual or short-term relationships, not lasting ones. Instead, couples with similar personalities are most successful. Consider whether you and your interest are high or low in “The Big Five:” openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Differences can be good and balance the relationship out so long as a relationship is solidified by similarities. For example, if you’re really athletic, neat, and enjoy going out and socializing with friends regularly, but your partner hates the gym, is messy, and a homebody it’s likely these personality and lifestyle differences will cause a lot of conflict. Consider this when you go out on dates. Our tolerance for differences in friends versus our partners is much higher.

            I don’t know where you’re from, but maybe your city has social sports leagues you could join? Baltimore has lesbian teams. Often there are a range of leagues you can choose from depending on your interests and athleticism. Although I’m very active, I highly doubt the cup-in-hand kickball team I recently joined is meant for exercise.

            Lindsey

  42. Hey I just wanted to thank Laura for advising people to normalize themselves with queer content and normalize it to themselves! That made a huge turning point in my coming out process.. just the fact that I had Autostraddle and tumblr and I curated my facebook feed and everything starts to feel okay, because there’s tons of other people out there like me/ us.

    I have told my friends this too – to follow tumblrs that reflect their beauty and goals back at them. I’ve tried to do this with so many other parts of my life – get rid of any media or thing that doesn’t validate me and make me feel good. And guys, I feel so so so good. Do it. and then keep re-evaluating and adjusting. But always surround yourself with people and media that celebrate you and live in the spirit of “you do you”.

  43. I was 21, maybe 22 – had no idea, well, an inkling, but it wasn’t until I saw the girl who would become my first girlfriend on a dance floor that I knew irrevocably.

    Almost immediately, I started to make more sense to myself as a human. Instead of being afraid of it, I started to look forward to being struck by a thousand tiny, giddy epiphanies out of nowhere; it felt like, sure, history was being rewritten in a way, but it also felt like getting to know this whole, incredible person for the first time. Sometimes a little dizzying but mostly powerful and liberating.

    Even if you’re not quite there, it might help to know that eventually, organically, you will be. Trust yourself!

    • So appropriate.

      Can relate so much to the fear of first lesbian bar experience. I remember actually googling ‘first lesbian bar experience’ because I’m dorky and was feeling anxious.Also, because I present quite femininely I remember thinking I had to tone it down whilst there(ridiculous, I know). Yet, I still got asked if I was straight!

      In regards to the beautiful moments: when I starting dating my first,and only girlfriend I had a bit of a light bulb moment and realised “oh,this is why people like to be romantic”.Never really understood that in relationships till I slow danced with her, in her apartment, and it was super sweet and intimate.

  44. Such great advice. I agree with surrounding yourself with lgbt media. Never underestimate the impact of being able to “like” a queer article/photo/etc on Facebook. I couldn’t even do that for the longest time, and its these little things that contribute everyday to the fear of being out. So I reduced my Facebook list to people who are supportive or open minded and each time I am able to like something on Facebook I feel a little freer about my sexuality each time. Baby steps 🙂

  45. Not sure if I have anything original to add here, but just want to add my thanks for and identification with this post 🙂 I’m 33 and finally started to come out about 2-3 years ago – first very very slowly to myself (I was in a long-term relationship with a guy at the time) and then gradually to others. I also felt feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, even anger at myself for being so slow to figure out something that I thought (incorrectly) was easy for everyone else to figure out. I think no matter when you come out you kind of wish you’d come out earlier (from my super-old perspective, 24 doesn’t seem like later in life lol), but I can reaffirm what others are saying – it does get so so much better! Just take your time and don’t feel pressured to follow a particular “coming out” narrative. Be true to yourself and eventually you will get there :))

    • yes. anger (or in my case frustration) with yourself for not figuring it out sooner.

      also regret: I so regret the time I lost living in the dark about who I truly was. it’s hard not to wonder what might have been if I’d figured it out sooner. everyone will say it’s ok, don’t dwell on it etc etc, but I do think it’s important to acknowledge these emotions too.

  46. I didn’t come out until I was around 26. It felt like it was so much coming to terms with my sexuality, my gender presentation was a big deal plus my religious believes. I wont say a whole lot but be true to yourself!!! Be an advocate for yourself with family and friends who think they know you better than you know yourself! Stay true to you and you will make all the right decisions!

  47. I want to plaster this post everywhere because both the paragraph & the associated advice are two of the most validating things I’ve ever read.

    Dear letter writer, you are not alone. And like so many here have said, you may have all the feels right now but you are following your truth and that in itself is to be celebrated, shouted from the rooftops, embraced – just as one might hope one of those more ‘traditional’ narratives might be. I didn’t come out even to myself until my mid-thirties, after a decade with a man and not one but multiple kids. And at the time it completely blew my mind that I could be having all these feelings & revelations at such an age. One of the first (& most trusted) people I came out to – one of the few lesbians I knew at the time – thought I was just confused and didn’t believe me, which sent me back into the closet for many more weeks & completely shattered any fledgling confidence I’d developed. It was a super low, confusing, terrifying time in my life. I was so ashamed – not of my identity – but of taking so long to figure things out. I couldn’t bear the thought of further rejection by the LGBT community, afraid that others I came out to would react much in the same way as that other lesbian did. Happily, that has not been the case. And I’ve discovered many others along the way with much the same story as me. Each one gives me strength.

    Hang in there. You are perfect and this timing is exactly right because it is your journey and no one else’s.

  48. Hi. Long time lurker, and this is a position that I am in exactly. I’m still not exactly out either, just to select friends (but not family). I’ve also just ended the only relationship I’ve been in (with a girl) and I’m kind of wondering what is my next step now, since I don’t know anything about a gay scene or having any other gay friends. But this article really speaks to me, and I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out eventually and move past just living out my gayness in my bedroom reading autostraddle and googling pictures of ellen page (that is a great pic btw hehe).

    • Ugh I can relate to the whole feeling lost and ‘next step’ thing.I’ve only been in one relationship with a woman and I too feel like I don’t have gay friends, and that i need to make that a priority and treat it like dating almost.

      • Hah, I totally agree! Funnily enough the only gay friend I know is now my ex (?!?!?!?) and even though we’re on good enough terms, there’s clearly some awkwardness in hanging out with her… and her new girlfriend… HMMMMM…. Haha.

  49. I love this. My coming out was pretty typical, came out at 14 in a homophobic environment and went through the typical trials surrounding that.

    However, I think it is important to remember that not everyone took that route. Those of us who did need to be sensitive to where people are in their journeys. I’ve been completely out of the closet for two decades, and I am ashamed to admit that I’ve not always been sensitive to people who are in the closet or just coming out. I’ve rectified that behavior in the last five years or so, but, again, when you’ve been out that long, the concept of closeting oneself is pretty foreign, so it’s easy to forget that others might be struggling.

    Thanks for the article!

  50. I know I’m only 21, but yeah, this really resonated with me. Because I spent the first 19 years of my life thinking I was only interested in dudes and pretty confident in that, until I kissed a girl for the first time and went “wow I really should have figured this out sooner.” And I had didn’t have any real issues (other than feeling super dense because, no, straight girls aren’t constantly wondering what making out with another girl would feel like) with accepting my sexuality.

    But yeah, my gender issues, that was what still sometimes fills me with panic because I don’t know how to do that. And it was hard because I was a gender-non-conforming kid and pretty vocal in my wish to not be a girl (I only acquiesced to girlhood because I didn’t know gay people were A Thing at like age 12 and knew I was interested in boys). And then I surrounded myself with pretty feminist books with great lady characters who were not ashamed of their femininity and balanced femininity with being tough and badass. And I worked really hard to accept being a woman. I worked so fucking hard, and then to turn around and see that that hard work wasn’t for naught exactly, but that I shouldn’t have needed to put in that work in the first place, that I shouldn’t need to make myself feel comfortable with an identity that wasn’t my own, that was hard. It made me feel a little cheated, even though I feel so much more comfortable in my identity as a nonbinary person. And then I just feel kind of silly and like I’m inconveniencing everyone else in my life my asking them to use my name and my pronouns, even though that I’m not having this identity at them. I know it’s a journey, and I’m at a much better place than I was a year ago, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing where I am next year.

  51. I can’t even finish reading all of these comments because I’m getting emotional – all of this really hits home with me and it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone.

    I’m 26 and just came out to myself and some friends in the fall. Until then, I’d never dated. I guess I was unsure of why I didn’t feel comfortable with men or my own sexuality/sensuality when with men. This year, I met an amazing girl who has opened my eyes to different facets of the queer community, and I’m finding myself totally overwhelmed with this idea of a new identity… not that I’ve changed in any way, obviously, but there is a whole world of issues and people I want to learn about now.

    I want to find my place. I want to devour queer media and figure out what I’m passionate about, who I identify with, what is important to me. The thought of delving into a new identity (or a life with new identity-pieces to discover?) is really terrifying, but also kind of relieving. I’m on the way to feeling whole. And though all of these comments are making me cry and I’m in a vulnerable, sad headspace about it all right now because it’s taken me so long to see who I really am, I’m on the cusp of something really exciting.

    Thank you all for being a part of this moment for me *INTERNET HUGS*

  52. This is me! I started questioning around 27-28. I came out to myself at 29 and it took me a few months to come out to my therapist after that. I have come out to a handful of friends. I am now 30, I just went to my first queer ladies night at a bar and today I am going out to coffee with a woman I meet there. This is the first time going out with a woman, I’m pretty excited. Thanks for this post!! I was just talking about how I feel so weird coming out so late.

  53. Coming out late is so damn complicated. I know how that feels. It takes a lot of time it really is quite the process. Not only getting to the point of telling people, but also with dealing with what is going on inside your head. I started coming out last year at 31. I and I’m still sacred shit-less for certain people to find out like my co-workers. I spent most of my life wondering why everyone thought sex was so great and amazing. It wasn’t bad or terrible most of the time, but it wasn’t amazing either. Then I turn 27 and I had a moment of WOW that girl is so hot and Ooh shit sex with men sucks because I am so gay, and I was so stupid for not knowing that about myself. How could I not know that? Why had I not ever seen or at least consider this before? Plus it took me 4 years before I could tell anyone, and I still haven’t kissed a girl yet, but mostly because I am married to a man which made things that more complicated and guilt ridden. I feel like a mixed up mess right now wondering if I am doing the right thing by going down to the court house to file my divorce tomorrow, but when I close my eyes and think of spending the rest of my life with my husband or even another man I can’t. I can’t even imagine it. I just draw a blank, no image at all. It feels so wrong and forced, but when I think of finding the right girl and spending my life with her it feels so incredible, happy and so right. When I feel like this the only thing in the world I want more than anything is to live my life and be just me, and it has to be gay or whatever I am, because it wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t. That’s how I am getting though this when I feel so mixed up and confused. Whenever I have doubt that this is all in my head I just close my eyes until I find that feeling, and that is what lets me know what is real and what isn’t, and what I need to do to find happiness in all the chaos around me.

  54. This right here! For a while now I am been questioning whether i am truly bi or not and it’s been driving me crazy because I’ve never dated anyone. I like guys and i like girls. I’ve never really looked into queer/lesbian culture until recently so anything of the that nature was weird to me because it wasn’t a normal occurrence in my every day life. Now I am trying to get myself used to the idea that it’s okay to look at another woman and think “damn she’s amazing and beautiful” and then to look at a man and think he’s wonderful too. Anyways enough with my ramblings, I just wanted to say i really connected with this piece and I am glad I had the chance to read it.

  55. this was so helpful!

    I am going through a similar situation. Im 23 and trying to come out to my family has proven very difficult. My immediate family knows and is semi supportive. But my mother refuses to let me come out to the rest of them family. Her relationship with them is very precious to her and she is afraid they will disown her.
    Im basically over it and just want to live my life. Especially now that its legal everywhere!!

    But anyway, normalizing it for myself is the best advice ever! Its really helping! Thank you amazing autostraddle!

  56. I got this site from my buddy who told me regarding this website and
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  57. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!! I’m 25, and I’ve questioned who I was for the past 10 years of my life. I wanted to straight for so long, and have recently decided: is it better to hate myself and pretend to be something I’m not? Or is it better to be me? I started coming out when I was 20, and was in a long distance relationship with a girl at the time. All of the people I told about my sexuality told me it was just a phase and I would grow out of it. I went back in the closet and went back to dating men. I feel like I don’t have to explain myself for my journey!

  58. I’m 26 and said the words “I think I’m gay” out loud for the first time yesterday. I’m married to a man, and reading this thread and seeing yep, this was not an easy/obvious thing for other people has been a huge relief. I’m scared and sad and excited and proud all at the same time. I keep coming back to this sentence from the article:

    “What you did then was valid, and what you’re doing now is valid; you don’t owe anyone an explanation. (And by the way, this applies even if you use a different identity label in the future. You don’t need to justify being true to your feelings as you feel them, even if they change.)”

    YES PLEASE AND THANK YOU this is advice I can live with!

  59. Aww, I feel like I’m late to the game – in commenting and in realizing my own sexuality. I can totally relate to this. I’m 32 and am just now starting to come out to myself. I have been repressing this for most of my life, but who am I kidding – my preteen journals (the Lisa Frank ones with a lock and key) were filled with girls’ names and hearts, one older girl in particular. I crushed on all my female youth leaders at church, and in college/my 20s I experienced major jealousy when certain girlfriends got boyfriends. I thought I was just a really dedicated and close friend to a lot of girls. 😉 Sexual attraction wasn’t on the table at that time though, in my mind that wasn’t an option.

    Fast forward to now, living two years in a foreign country and finally feeling comfortable enough to start exploring this. I only started having heterosexual sex at age 30! I think finally having sex opened me up to what I really want, and I wish I’d started YEARS ago. I haven’t ever kissed or slept with a woman and I’m terrified to start. It’s like I’m reliving high school all over again! And I’m navigating it in Spanish! I went to a Pride event in my region this weekend but it’s kind of hard to meet women in my city. Oh, on top of all that, I worry about eventually coming out to my extremely devout southern Christian parents.

    Thank you for giving us a place to feel at home and answering all our awkward questions. I can’t wait to read basically every article on this website. 🙂

    • although it was earlier for me, being in a different country did help me realize my sexual orientation. being outside my comfort zone and so far from anyone who knew me or had expectations.

      but then it was also lonely, feeling so different and also so far from everything familiar. thank God for the internet.

      and navigating it all in a foreign language is an extra trip! but I found sometimes it helped because even though words were harder to find, sometimes it is easier for me to talk about personal things in a foreign language (French for me) because it always just feels a little bit like a barrier, I can be a bit more detached from what I am saying.

      but it will all be worth it. 🙂 congrats on going to Pride!!! and good luck with your parents.

  60. The answers below (and above!) here has been so enlightening, helpful and also confusing. I’m 22 and I’ve slept with several men, been in a couple of relationships with men but recently I’m questioning whether I really am straight. What confuses me the most is all the comments about how it can be possible to realise you’re bi/gay (i have no fucking clue you guys) so late in life, after always having believed you were straight. I feel this so much!! I’ve always been infuriated by the slightest hint of homophobia, I have queer friends of all kinds and frequent gay clubs. If I really am queer i completely accept myself. However I’m terrified I might just want to be? That i just love the lgbtq+ community? At the same time, knowing how difficult things have been at times and still can be for my queer friends surely I wouldn’t fake it? Or fake the feelings I’m experiencing? I have moments where I go “Oh my god I’m so gay” but being as…liberated? as I am, how am I just realising this now? I feel like my past experiences with at least some men are definitely valid but right now I really do not fancy men at all and do not feel any deep connection with them (I keep looking at random people’s faces to “check” if i can imagine being with them… what the actual fuck)
    This is turning into such a rant, i was planning on writing just a line or two but seeing that i don’t even know for myself what I am I haven’t really talked properly with any of my friends about this. I’m so grateful for this site and all of you amazing people sharing your experiences here. Thank you.

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