Growing up Southern as a lesbian late bloomer

Guest post by Heather Sexton
Growing up southern as a lesbian late bloomer
“Y’all Means ALL” LGBTQIA Pride Bumper Sticker from SWBookstore

Growing up in a southern town, I don’t think I met a single solitary gay person until I was an adult. There were people who later came out as an adult who I knew in high school, but being raised in a very Christian community didn’t lend itself to very much self discovery.

I remember when I first started feeling attracted to others, I remember being attracted to movie stars and musicians but I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. Was it wrong to think Aaliyah was drop dead gorgeous if you are a little southern “straight” girl? In hindsight, probably should have tripped an alarm or two but, I had always thought of myself as being “very good at recognizing beauty.”

The straight life path

When you’re raised in a way that shields you from anything that’s different, it alters your ability to think outside of the small little box that’s your world.

When I thought of the future, I thought about the things I was supposed to do: having a house and kids with a husband somewhere in the picture. I honestly didn’t barf at the idea of marrying a man, I just knew it was what my future was supposed to look like and I was okay with that.

When you’re raised in a way that shields you from anything that’s different, it really alters your ability to think outside of the small little box that’s your world. Had I met someone when I was younger who was gay or bisexual, maybe there would have been bells and whistles going off and I wouldn’t have been clueless for so long. Who knows? But I was blind for a very very long time. I met a guy who I married, had a couple of kids, and that’s how the story was supposed to go…

…only it didn’t.

Here’s how I came to be a lesbian late bloomer in the conservative South…

Is this it?

Now don’t get me wrong, as I became an adult, I started meeting gay folk and I was honestly super duper curious. I have always asked questions I shouldn’t and been way too open with gay boys, but I think I was searching for something. I wasn’t as lucky as a lot of people who say they knew when they were in third grade in love with a girl on the playground. Honest to goodness, I was oblivious and just thought I was straight. I never really latched on to dudes and could date and break up with them without ever really giving it a second thought. I lost my virginity to a boy and my thoughts were, “is this it?” Sadly, that thought never really ever went away as years went on. I explored my sexuality with men and just kept thinking, isn’t there more? Well I find out there is, just not for me and the male species. Oops.

I never had an opportunity to peer through someone else’s eyes and realize that I didn’t feel the way I should.

I never had an opportunity to peer through someone else’s eyes and realize that I didn’t feel the way I should. Given, I had an extremely bad marriage and spent a lot of years with someone who was not the nicest person to put it kindly; but now I know it wouldn’t have mattered. I could have been with Prince effing Charming and it wouldn’t have mattered. I have been playing on the wrong team all this time.

Fast forward through high school with a little teenage promiscuity and college with a few drunken nights, on through adulthood, I just was blindly floating through my life. I knew I was different. I never really knew in what way specifically, but my ex thought having a wife who loved looking at women as much as he did was the bees knees. What guy wouldn’t want to have a wife who let them look because, hell, she was looking, too. Being able to be openly attracted to women as an adult was a nice bonus and it continued for years without consequence; then shit got real. We moved and met a couple of lesbians with who we started spending oodles of time. Uh oh. I started realizing finally that me looking at women was more than just an admiration of beauty. Finally I started gaining a bit of clarity, the quintessential late bloomer.

That’s when my world turned upside down.

Meeting the one… the right one

Meeting Jackie was the light bulb moment in my life. I cannot even put into words what meeting her did to me. I started to realize what I had been missing in my life all this time, and it was terrifying. It was also the most exciting, and for her to be the most amazing woman was extraordinary.

For so long I had been thinking that this is all there was. I really thought I just was not going to ever be satisfied and always searching for something. I had never in a million years thought my sexuality was the reason for my restlessness. I didn’t know sexuality really even mattered. Now I know it’s the difference between living a numb and passionless existence and being deliriously happy.

That’s pretty significant.

How I was outed to my family

The only problem was I didn’t know what in the blue hell I was going to tell everyone back home who knew me as this straight married mother of two; what would they think? What was I going to say? The problem was solved when my ex-husband decided he would do it for me. A phone call to my parents later, he pulled the biggest dick move imaginable: he called my parents and outed me.

I think the two conversations I had that day were probably some of the hardest conversations I’ve had with my parents ever. I can’t imagine what it was like for them, but for me it was torture. The conversations I had with them that day still replay for me. I remember my dad telling me what a big pill this was to swallow and my mom having a complete meltdown on me. All I was thinking was will this storm ever pass? Will things ever be okay again?

The answer in my life was thankfully yes. I know not everyone else who comes out is that lucky, and I know it is something that happens differently for everyone, but it’s a significant moment in your life. It’s one I won’t forget. Lucky for me, I had two very southern and Christian parents who were able to embrace me and accept something they knew nothing about. I was pretty fortunate and really loved.

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Comments on Growing up Southern as a lesbian late bloomer

  1. Thank you for sharing this. There’s this narrative where people always knew they were gay, but it doesn’t have to be the only narrative. Some of us don’t feel things that way, or were raised with so much heteronormativity that we mixed up attraction and friendship, or simply life experiences unveil other preferences with self-growth. Looking back, I can see some child and teenage behaviors of mine as showing an attraction to girls and women, but at that time of my life, I just didn’t have the tools to recognize them as such. I’m at this stage of life where I’m married to a man and I care for him, but if this relation ever breaks up, I’m pretty sure I’m not interested anymore in romantic or sexual relationships with men. Thanks for this brave piece.

    • Thank you for reading and understanding. Everyone has a different story and path they follow, I just want anyone who is struggling to figure it out to know they don’t have to fit a mold. I wish you all the happiness in the world, wherever you end up!

  2. I grew up in/live in New England, but I was raised in a moderately conservative Catholic family and I am a late-in-life lesbian as well. I started to identify as bisexual/queer when I was about thirteen, and I didn’t realize I wasn’t attracted to men at all until I was in my early twenties. Even after I came out as gay, I still tried dating a couple of guys. I knew on some level it wouldn’t work but because I had been bombarded with so many heteronormative messages growing up, I couldn’t shake the fantasy of ending up with a man. The thing was, the relationships I *did* have with men never lived up to the fantasy, because I wasn’t a straight girl. It didn’t help that I was exposed to/dated a lot of (pardon the offensive term) “gold-star” lesbians who totally didn’t understand what it was like to experience that kind of confusion. I would watch “Imagine Me and You” on repeat and tried desperately to expose myself to lesbian rom-coms (btw, why are so many GLBTQ+ movies depressing af?) as I went through a grieving process, because that 50% chance of being in a “normal” relationship and having my family’s and society’s full support was gone. There are times when I still question things, and I stop and realize… No, if I was in a relationship with a man, I would not be happy. I really appreciate you sharing your story and I relate to it so much.

    • It’s been a struggle and I really think it’s something that’s not as understood. I have even had my wife scratch her head and not really understand why I didn’t know when I was younger. It makes you question yourself especially early on ya know. Now I embrace being a late bloomer more and know my journey was MY journey and it’s okay for it to be different and it is you too. You know when there is just something missing ya know… I’m so very glad my story touched you, that’s exactly why I wanted to get it out there. I have struggled with identity and that’s okay.

  3. Thank you for being so vulnerable in sharing this piece, Heather, as well as all your other posts on Offbeat Home.

    I had a “second” coming out of sorts in my early thirties (ahem, literally last year): my life is so much better now but it’s been a painful and messy process. I don’t know if it was the same for you but I found that coming out also made me reexamine and revise many other parts of my life and identity. I’m still working on all of this.

    I ID as queer/pansexual (for those in the know!) and gay/bisexual (for those less aware, which is still so many.) I’ve always known it but clung to straight-passing privilege for a long time out of fear and internalized homophobia. I also didn’t relate to the (at the time) very limited stereotypes of lesbians; now LGBTQ+ identities are so much broader and diverse, thankfully. (I am super grateful to the older generations for their work to make the present possible!) I was always aware of my attractive to various genders *but* bisexuality was still not commonly respected by many gay and straight folks alike and so I chose to ID as bi to friends but live a very straight-looking life. The kicker is that I grew up in a liberal East Coast metro area and always had LGBTQ+ role models and queer friends!! However, slowly but surely, I found myself going back into the closet when I moved to my current Southern small town almost a dozen years ago.

    I’m completely out at work (and it’s good!) and throughout my life (never going back to being closeted!) but I had some very-real fears back in the day about getting fired over it. (I’m a teacher of a rare subject.) I spent a lot of years thinking staying here was a form of activism; it was but isn’t worth it anymore for me. I think small towns have many advantages but I’m ready for some fun and ease and anonymity for once. I’m so, so, so grateful things are much better for LGBTQ+ folks in 2017; despite the current political situation, there are advancements that can’t be dialed back. I feel so incredibly lucky to have met my amazing partner (with a totally different set of life experiences) while living here. We’re about 1.5 hours apart but make the drive a few times a week, and hope to move to a more liberal city in the next year or so.

    I am happy for everyone who comes out, be it at 6 or 66, and know we all have our individual journeys. While I’d never judge or criticize anyone else for this, I have SO much shame for not having come out earlier and lived a more authentic life. I don’t regret having dated men — I found them attractive and enjoyed the sex — but would have preferred to have dated different men and way more women. Like you had expressed in an earlier piece, dating women just feels so much better to me, and I wish I had gotten over my fears earlier! Also as you had expressed, all of this is something that can be hard for people to understand and relate to if they came out at a younger age. On one hand, plenty of mainstream celebrities like Glennon Doyle and Elizabeth Gilbert are coming out now (hooray!) On the other hand, there are not a ton of 30something lesbian late bloomers either! I work with teens and I’m so happy that they are feeling more confident and supported in coming out earlier.

    Thanks again to you and also the commenters for sharing. <3 I appreciate being able to share my story, and look forward to reading more of your writing here!

  4. I’m also a late bloomer – for me a large part of my confusion is that based on my background I should have known. 50-70% of my community is and has always been queer. I had/have lesbian teachers and neighbors and best friends and coworkers, and my family is open and comfortable with diversity. I am not from a religious background or a conservative part of the country. And yet here I am at 34, 15 years in to a relationship with a man (2 years married) and I just figured out this year that not only am I not at all straight I’m not even particularly bi…

    My background and community means there is very little anxt about the implications of this (except in regard for the married to someone I adore but have minimal desire for) but it also is giving me a rather gigantic case of the WTFs.

    I really had no clue. Apparently my husband knew I was attracted to women but I didn’t (?).

    The human brain is powerful in what it can filter out, apparently.

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