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:

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.

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. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 211 articles for us.

146 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. I made an account just to say this. Your list of celebrities that came out later in life is pointless because they just came out publicly later in life. Who knows how old any of them were when they came out to the people close to them.

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