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"I Realized I Was Gay": Men Who Came Out Later In Life Are Sharing What It Was Like For Them To Reveal That Truth And Live Authentically

"I realized I could still give my beautiful wife of 17 amazing years the life she deserved, with a man that wasn’t living a divided life."

When I found out earlier this month, along with the rest of the world, that one of my favorite actors, Kal Penn, is a fellow gay man and now engaged to his long-time partner, I was so happy that he was openly living his truth.

Kal Penn, right, watches a basketball game in New York with his romantic partner
James Devaney / Getty Images

"I discovered my own sexuality relatively late in life compared to many other people, Penn told People Magazine last month. "There's no timeline on this stuff. People figure their shit out at different times in their lives, so I'm glad I did when I did."

Kal's journey to living openly got me thinking of all the other queer men who came out at an older age and how we don't hear enough of their stories.

My curiosity led me to u/cloakeslayer's call for delayed coming out stories from men who came out later in life. He wanted to know why and when they finally left the closet.

Here are some of their responses:

1. "I realized I was gay last year, after 36 years during the lockdown. I kind of always knew, but I wasn't sure. I live in a small town. There's no queer representation here. After seeing a gay guy I could see myself in, I started to question myself more. I told one of my friends a month later, and after a couple more months, I told the whole world."

A person in a blazer and suspenders holds up a Pride flag during the 2021 Paris Pride Parade
Nurphoto / NurPhoto via Getty Images

2. "I'm 61. I came out as bisexual at 44 after my stepson came out as gay at 11 years old. This pushed me to be truthful. As a very confused teenager who didn’t understand the double attraction and had no one to talk to, I kept it private for years."

NBC / Via giphy.com

3. "I came out at 31 — one wife, daughter, and son later. For me, it had to do with my personal happiness and my desire to be the best parent I could be. Knowing that I couldn’t be completely happy in my current situation, I took a risk that paid off for us all. My kiddos are grown and successfully contributing members of society and my ex-wife is still one of my closest allies. I’m thankful it worked out well for me."

"I started dating about a month after coming out. There was no Grindr or Scruff, only gay.com (which was a chat room site at the time). It took over a year after my divorce to find something serious. It’s been 16 years since I came out." —u/ksaim

4. "I moved to Ireland just before the referendum that legalized gay marriage. I was 32. After I experienced that, it felt surreal that I was still hiding myself and denying myself happiness. That was my turning point. Once the country around me changed and I started seeing more gays in the community, it felt safer, and I felt more comfortable to come out. My family was nothing short of amazing and it really made me feel dumb for denying myself of myself all this time."

Thousands of people take part in a march and rally calling for legislation for same-sex marriage on June 13, 2015 in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Charles Mcquillan / Getty Images

5. "I was about to turn 38 and my beautiful wife of 17 amazing years was about to turn 33. One night, she looked amazing in a red dress. In that moment, I realized that I still had an opportunity to give her a life that she deserved, with a man that wasn’t living a divided life. I am 42 now and she and I are the best of friends."

u/MexiTot408

6. “I'm 40. I came out about a year and a half ago. My wife died in January 2019. We happily married at 18. We had a normal sex life and two kids. About five years prior to her death, I started to realize I wasn't straight. I'd fantasize about men and watch gay porn. I kept it to myself. I'd never cheat on my wife, and I couldn't imagine hurting her or the kids by coming out and getting divorced. Having a sexual or romantic experience with a man was something I could never have. I resigned myself to holding onto this secret forever. After she passed away, I started seeing a grief therapist. Part of me felt responsible for her death, as if being bi or gay and my feelings of regret somehow caused it. I eventually came out to my therapist, then slowly others. Living with the grief of losing my best friend and partner plus raising our two kids on my own can be difficult and painful, but I am able to recognize the silver lining: I am now living my true self.”

Father and daughter laughing in bedroom
Momo Productions / Getty Images

“I'm now ‘out’ out — my kids, family, and friends know. I even posted something on Facebook on National Coming Out Day and outed myself to the larger community of my Facebook friends. I also realized that the label of ‘gay’ made more sense for me than ‘bi.’

Thinking back through my past, I think all of the signs were there as early as 12 or 13, as I can remember having crushes on boys as early as then. But I've always been a ‘follow the rules’ type of person, and marrying a woman and having kids was what I was ‘supposed to do.’ This was motivation enough for me to avoid all of the signs.

I can't predict what would have happened if she hadn't passed away. Maybe those feelings of regret would have become unbearable after a while, and we would have ended up divorcing. But there's no way to know, and I consider it fortunate that we had our happy years together, and that my future, though different, will feature my true self.” —u/drfinale


7. "I lived in a small town in Florida with no queer people so I didn’t question my sexuality, even though there were obvious signs. But when I moved to California and saw more gay people, then I really started to realize it."

u/cloakeslayer

8. "I met the love of my life. I downloaded Grindr drunk one night and 'matched' with a super cute twink from work. We were in lockdown, so we e-dated for a few weeks and then met in person. We kissed and I knew I was never going to let him go. Now he's moved in, we're engaged, and honestly, I think about him every second of every day. I was so awestruck he loved me back that it seemed dumb not to come out!"

Grindr / Via giphy.com

9. "I am 80. I was married with two daughters and grew up in a liberal state, but it was a very different world back then. I admired jocks but didn't have thoughts of actual sex with men. There was no porn or role models in those days. At age 30, I decided I wanted to explore sex with a man while I was still young. It happened at age 31. My first time blew me away, the feel of that hard jock body under me. Eventually I came out to my wife and we had an open relationship, but there came a point when we realized we should separate. Life got complicated, though I came to realize that I wanted more than sex with a man. I guess that's the point I fit the definition of 'gay' rather than bi. I found my now-husband when I was 40 and he was 26. The turning point was gradual. I never 'came out' so to speak, I just lived my life openly and discovered I was very much out in my community and state without making any sort of announcement."

Couple of senior gay men sharing stories in park on a sunny autumn day
Nicolasmccomber / Getty Images

"My children and grandchildren love my husband as much as they love me. My husband helped raise my daughters from the time they were in middle school and in ways they are closer to him than to me.

It has been hugely validating to be open and share my husband with the world. I have a lot of stories about folks who were homophobic but came around to accepting me and honoring me for being a gay man, once they got to know me beyond what I do in bed." —u/fhilton41

10. "I’m 50. I accepted my bisexuality at 45, but had my first experience with a guy at 32. I spent the next 13 years debating if I liked the experience or not. In the meantime, I kept watching gay porn but wouldn't accept it and felt guilty after jerking off to it. Eventually, I got the courage to go out and have sex with another guy. Afterwards, I was at peace with myself. I had a few hookups until I found a guy that I developed mutual feelings for. So I told my wife about it. It almost broke our marriage. We're still working through it. I still get urges, but I can live with them. Turning point: the guy I had developed feelings for."

u/guajiro12003

11. "Divorce. I came out to my wife many moons ago but it took us a long time to realize that praying the gay away wasn’t working. I’m doing amazing now. She has since remarried and is content herself. I’m in a good place right now and share my home with gay friends, as well as adult children. I basically created my own gay community."

u/stopthemadness2015

12. "I finally started seriously questioning in my early 40s and quickly realized I was gay. In retrospect, it seems bizarre it took so long, but I really didn't have good information to work with as a teenager. My knowledge of sex was limited pretty much to reproduction. I had zero sexual experience and I was in denial about guys I was attracted to when I was a teenager. I convinced myself I admired them because they were better than me or crap like that. Plus the ‘80s was not a particularly good time to be gay — I think fear of AIDS was possibly one thing that had me in denial."

Tom Hanks cries in the glow of red light in "Philadelphia"
TriStar Pictures

"I never pursued any sort of relationship in my 20s or 30s. I was heavily tied down at one point with family issues. Even when I did come out, the trend of no relationships continued. I'd noted practical problems in my life that I thought made me a difficult 'sell.' 

I'm now profoundly pessimistic, and think the journey for me pretty much ends with self-acceptance. I wonder if I'd accepted I'm gay when I was 20, if things would have been much different. Hard to say and hard to imagine that alternate reality." —u/odd-scholar-99

13. "I'm currently 39, and came out around age 27-28. I was raised in the religious 'you can change' culture. I was fairly certain I wouldn't change, but I felt like I owed it to God to try. After spending years doing all the manly things that were supposed to straighten me out, I had a particular weekend — a men-only whitewater rafting trip — when I realized I did all the things I was aiming for that were supposed to change me, and I was still 100% gay. Once I knew the gay wasn't going anywhere, I figured I wanted to be open and honest with people from then on, regardless of how the rest of my life went. I only waited so long to spare myself, my conservative friends, and family from the grief and heartache of my coming out, just in case I ended up changing. Now, I've been married to a great guy for eight years!"

Newlywed gay couple dancing during wedding celebration
Rawpixel / Getty Images/iStockphoto

14. "The turning point for me was when I had surgery and had a piece of my kidney taken out. I came out when I was 46 and I will be 49 soon. I was married for 23 years and we have three kids. After my surgery, I had to live my life happy. I'm not saying I wasn’t happy with my family. I would do it all over again for them. My kids were old enough to know and understand when I did. When I came out it, was the biggest relief off my shoulders. I am truly happy. I met a guy who could pass for my son and we have been together for almost two years. I always wanted the friends-with-benefits status but after 8 months he came in my life and we haven’t looked back. It was a struggle at first with his parents but they love me because they know I love their son and I make him happy. All my kids love him as well. I could go on, but I won’t."

Gay man with gray beard is embraced by a younger gay during a Pride event
Fg Trade / Getty Images

15. "I am 47 now. I was 13 in 1986 and there was no chance of coming out then in Orlando, FL. The last thing, you wanted to be was gay, at least in my mind. It wasn't until I was 26 that a very good friend finally asked me when I was gonna come out of the closet. I was so freaked out that I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. Eventually, after a lot of booze and tears, I finally admitted I was gay. So my friend got me to talk to other gay guys and try and accept myself. I couldn't. Then I moved and got into a job that put me in a lot of small towns. I went back in the closet big time. During this time I saw several co-workers get together, get married, and have kids. It made me really sad. Over the past 2 years, I started seeing a therapist and finally came out for real to myself. I am still struggling, but now I don't put sex into 'right' or 'wrong' categories. I'm learning that being gay is normal and not really a big deal."

Marchers carry signs that read, "We Are Orlando," while walking down Santa Monica Blvd. during the annual Gay Pride parade in West Hollywood on June 12, 2016
Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

"Life can be brutal, terrible, and lonely for everyone regardless of sexuality. I'm still struggling with a lot of self-hate/self-esteem issues, alcoholism, weed abuse, and suicidal thoughts, but it's getting better." u/[deleted]

16. "It’s still fairly new to me. I’m 46, was married for nearly 24 years, and came to terms with my sexuality in 2020. I came out to my wife and family towards the end of last year after seeing a therapist. I always found sex with my wife difficult and it got to a point where we had started to drift apart. He helped me confront that I was gay and fancied blokes. After the first lockdown, I went and met with my dive buddy for a dive trip. I came out to him. He smiled and said, ‘I know. I am too.’ Fast forward to late 2020, I came out to my family and wife. It was hard, but I had to be honest. It’s taken a while, but my wife has been amazing. So have our kids and my parents. Even more amazing was when my dive friend told me he loved me. We kissed and it was like electricity. I felt like I was ‘me’ for the first time in my entire life. We spent a weekend together and it was the most amazing weekend I have ever had. I have a soulmate who is now also my boyfriend."

Lesliei Cheung and Tony Leung dance in a small, poorly-lit kitchen in "Happy Together"
Orange Sky Golden Harvest

"I met my wife when I was 23 on a scuba dive trip. She was my first relationship and the only girl I’d ever been attracted to. I don’t know if it was lust rather than love, but we got on well and got married. Over the next few years of having kids and settling down, rather than finding normality and feeling ok, I progressively got more and more depressed. I felt something was wrong with me. One weekend, I ended up going on a scuba diving trip with a close male friend who I’d known online for ages. We started chatting about stuff and the conversation got onto mental health. We were talking about depression. He could see when I was taking that there was something there. My eyes just looked sad. At one point he hugged me and said ‘It’ll be ok.' I could feel something well up inside me, a whole load of feelings came up, and I cried. I felt myself suddenly realize something but couldn’t deal with it. 

I ended up being sent away to the USA for work for a few months which gave me time to reflect. When I got back, it was lockdown. I was so depressed, I ended up going into the garage to try and kill myself using an exit bag. I passed out but my family found me. I ended up seeing a therapist. We dug into my past trauma and also my sexuality. 

All this is still very new to me. I’m only a few months in. I’m still very nervous. Very shaky, but for the first time in many years I don’t feel depressed. I feel energized and enthusiastic for the future. The therapy has helped wonders, but so has being honest with everyone." —u/bantamw

17. "I’m in the process of coming out right now to my wife of six years. We’ve been together for ten years. I’m 33 years old. It wasn’t until a few years ago I started to be sexually attracted to one of my male friends, though nothing happened. I always rejected that part of me and forced myself to be straight. In Latin America and my country of Venezuela, being gay is associated with being less of a person. I grew up like this and these beliefs are rooted in me. When I found my wife, I met my soulmate. We had great sex the first few years. She’s my best friend and pillar. I know she loves me deeply, but I want us both to be happy. I don’t think she’ll find that long lasting happiness by my side. I’m still in the process of accepting myself after all these years of self-shaming and rejecting my true self because of the beliefs that were instilled in me. Call me a romantic, but I want to be with my right partner and create the life of our dreams, whoever he may be."

Armando Espitia as Iván and Michelle Rodríguez as Sandra in "I Carry You With Me"
Sony Pictures Classics

"My wife knows I’m in this process of discovering who I am and she’s fearful of losing me since I told her we’ll eventually have to break up. The sex drive wore off like two years ago after she discovered my sexual orientation. Eventually we just stopped having sex. She's just waiting for me to finish the therapy and make my decision. She thinks I want to leave her at 34 because I am selfish and I don’t love her! Or because I want it! I wish I didn’t have to go through this. I'm afraid of losing her and where this life will take me. But I know I want kids, a beautiful family, and marriage with the right partner for me." —u/Key-Masterpiece3769

18. "I'm bi, but for the longest time I was only ever romantically attracted to women. Physically it was both, but emotionally, it was women only. I'd never crushed on a guy, wanted to date one, or dreamed of a future with one. I'd had sex with guys, but that was all. I had a FWB at the time, and one morning while lying in bed reading, I realized I was daydreaming about waking up next to him and heading out together to go do our things. It threw me for a loop. I was 33 and had never come out because I hadn't needed to. But I'd fallen hard for him. I had to consider what to do next: keep it casual or try to move into a relationship? And if we were to make it more official, it wouldn't be fair to keep him secret. After asking if he wanted to take the next step — he did — I summoned up the courage to sit my oldest friends and family down and tell them."

Steve Grand / Via giphy.com

"Friends were great, family was very mixed which was upsetting. But it needed to be done The relationship didn't last, but it was a big and necessary step that I'm glad I took." —u/flyboy_za

19. "Doing it now at 34. I’d say I always knew more or less. When I was a kid, I went through all the dumb pre-internet gay kid things like lingering in the JCPenny's men’s underwear section. I come from a strict Irish catholic family, so any of my mannerisms or actions that were ‘too gay’ were discussed by my family. They’d try to figure out how to fix me. It took until my 30s to discuss my sexuality with my family. I know it was their fault that I felt I needed to hide who I am so desperately, that they’re the ones who made me think if I slip up that I’d be disowned or beaten more. That made me terrified. But I don’t care anymore. I’ve missed so many milestones, lost so much time. I see the lives of so many others, some younger, some older, and I can’t be a bystander anymore. Shutting myself off like I have, it fucking breaks a part of you and I don’t want to be broken anymore. That starts and ends with me."

A pair of queer people flaunt the rainbow and bisexual flag at Milan Gay Pride held at the Arco della Pace
Mondadori Portfolio / Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

"Coupled with general emotional abuse and generic derogatory comments about LGBTQ+ issues from my family, I learned to curb, hide, or suppress most of my emotional impulses by grade school. High school was rough, but I dated girls, blended in with my friends, and hated myself inside. I saw no future for myself and honestly just wanted to end things but didn’t have the balls to really go through with it. All that catholic school I guess. I tried enlisting, but I couldn’t because I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

For college, I continued dating women with little success. My self-esteem went to shit. Undergrad was a lot of rough isolated emotions. Grad school was the first time I was around people who seemed to genuinely not care or treat people different because they were gay. By this point, I was hiding in the closet mostly by telling my long-time friends and family that I was just too busy with academia to date, which worked well enough, I suppose. By the time I graduated, I had told a few of them and the reception was generally positive." —u/redfield021767

"While you may have 'missed' some milestones others have because you came out later, you get to experience so many more now that you are out. Think of all the awesome things that will be coming your way." —u/cloakeslayer

20. "I stayed in the closet until I was 22. Behind closed doors, I was cyber sexing, camming, and phone-sexing people I met online or in chat rooms. Then my friend died by suicide. He was someone I wanted to come out to but I never got the chance. So, I took it upon myself to set myself free and come out. I hooked up with a guy I met online. He was my first kiss and everything — definitely not how I pictured my first time being with someone. I came out to family and friends as 'bisexual.' At the time I really thought I was. But as the years passed, I realized I was definitely gay. Over the years, I had my late bloomer-ho phase. That time left me with a lot of emptiness on the inside. Deep down, I wanted something real. Now I’m 31 and I feel that I don’t need to go back to that time in my life. It taught me a lot and scared me many times, but it gave me the chance to see what I liked here and there and take risks with people of all different walks of life."

Leslie Cheung and Tong Leung in Wong Kar Wai's "Happy Together"
Orange Sky Golden Harvest

"I definitely miss the sex." —u/texasnerd89

21. "I came out to myself at 36 after therapy. I thought I was going to die in the closet. I'd repressed it for so long, but my wife and I were not getting along. I wanted to start couples therapy, but she insisted that I go to therapy. When I reconnected with my best childhood friend who came out to me as bi, I was inspired and told him I was gay. That started it all for me. I got a new therapist and made a plan to come out to my wife. It was so hard, but also so freeing. We have two kids and are going through all of the not-fun parts of the divorce, but we’ve been good co-parents. We don’t hate each other. It’s just all raw at the moment and that kind of stuff takes time. I wouldn’t change anything about my past because my kids are my world, but I am so happy that I can finally be truly happy. I thought I was happy before and sure there were moments of happiness, but this part of me was missing and I’m glad I found it."

Mother watches from the car as her daughter runs towards her father with open arms
Peopleimages / Getty Images

"I hope that once we put this part behind us, my ex-wife and I can be some sort of 'friends' someday." —u/thelinedpaper

22. "I'm 32, came out at 29. Growing up was the whole ‘religious upbringing/internalized homophobia’ dance: I liked gay porn, but couldn't admit to myself I was gay. Fast forward — I'm married to my best friend (a woman) and we’re having a child. I thought of all the things I hoped for my daughter. I wanted her to feel loved and able to be always true to herself. It got me thinking: how can I hope for her something I haven't been able to do myself? At that point it became important to come out as the gay man I've always been. Telling my wife was hard, along with my mom who fears losing time with her grandkid. My wife and I are going to counseling together to work through things and while ‘us’ has a shelf life, I'm focused on figuring out what being gay means to me. I'm mad I didn't do this sooner. I could have experienced being myself as a teen, in college, and the rest of my 20s. But I wouldn't change a thing that led me to being a father."

FilmDoo / Via giphy.com

"Everyone else has been supportive of me, but it doesn't do much to help with the overwhelming guilt I feel for dragging my wife through this. I’m trying to work through my baggage before I throw it back on her or on someone else." —u/maddoal

23. "At around 28 years old, I had a decent grasp that I'm overwhelmingly gay, with some rare and specific attraction towards women. I wasn't interested in doing anything sexual for the first 23 years of my life, including masturbation. Then my internal sexual ‘switch’ was turned on. I gradually developed more and more sexual tension to the point it was feeling distressed. After a few months of experiencing very novel and intense sexual feelings, I overcame my fear of masturbation and started doing it to various kinds of straight and gay porn. It didn't take long to figure out that I liked men to an extent, but it took me years to flesh out the details."

"At 30 years old, I experienced sexual attraction to a man for the first time after we’d been online friends for a month. I came out to some close online friends and got into online dating for the first time. Then COVID happened and online dating became too stressful, so I'm holding off on meeting prospective partners until it’s more safe. 

My next goal is to tell my parents and family about my sexuality. That's still a work in progress." —u/rbtur

24. "I eventually came out at the age of 31 after my ex-wife cheated on my with my best friend. We had a young son together. After the divorce, I came out to my close family and friends and started my journey of figuring out how to be gay. I found out it actually wasn’t a huge deal to my family. They were just sad that I hid my true self for so long because I thought they wouldn’t accept me."

"I always knew since I was about ten. However due to community and family influences, I never felt safe to come out." —u/[deleted]

25. "Things started to unravel last year. During lockdown, I had a major fight with my wife. In no uncertain terms, she told me to f-off from the house...but I couldn't due to the lockdown. After seven weeks of being confined in the same space, I was in a very dark place. Once the lockdown was lifted, I started on antidepressants. Next was therapy. At that stage, I knew what was going on, but was really scared. Telling my therapist I'm gay and uttering that simple word changed something in me. I came out to my best friend; she was so understanding and supportive. Then another friend; I felt lighter. Finally, my wife; she took it badly. But she accepted it over time. We still live in the same house and take care of the children together. I've convinced her we should seek therapy to figure this out. I don't want to mess up my children's life completely, but I know that our relationship came to an end. We just have to figure out a civilized way forward."

A middle age father sits with his young daughter on the floor, teaching her to read
Layland Masuda / Getty Images

"During the second lockdown, I could barely sleep. I’d lay down and think about my situation for hours. The feeling of being locked in was completely overpowering. After about three more weeks of that, I couldn't see a way forward at all. If it weren’t for my children, that’d have been the end of my story.

I'm still coming to terms with my sexuality. When Pride month comes around, I plan to attend as many events as I can." —u/Medium_Run7354

26. "Coming out was a process that started when I was 27. I always repressed that part of me because I thought I could live happily in a straight relationship or lifestyle...until I met someone. I thought they'd just be a hook-up. Turned out to be a person I connected with like never before. He made me realize there is someone out there just like me and felt like a life partner. There was no way a relationship could work with me being in the closet, so I made a decision to come out. I would never suggest coming out for the benefit of someone else, but this was the push I needed to make the jump to wake up to myself and live my life authentically."

Peccadillo Pictures / Via giphy.com

"We met at 25, I came out slowly to friends and family in the following two years. He was good enough to stick by me and put up with my bullshit and drama and emotional breakdowns during the whole process." —u/EquivalentFar396

27. "I am a major outlier statistically. Coming out to myself was a very long process that culminated in my acknowledgement that I am not 'straight' at the age of 65. I was deeply repressed. I had a miserable sex life until I stopped having sex altogether when I was 58. Sex stressed me, and gave me no joy. Then I found myself fantasizing about giving blow jobs...constantly. That first experience rocked my world. It was the first sexual experience in my memory that was free of anxiety. I treasure that memory as one of the most joyful and happy experiences of my life. Literally overnight everything changed for me. I saw and understood myself differently. I was happy in my own skin."

Nicolasmccomber / Getty Images

"Since coming out, I have recovered lots of memories, including a memory of my father telling me, ‘No matter what, we love you. You can tell me anything.’ I couldn't respond. Now I know that they knew. But I couldn't open the door even an inch to the idea that I was homosexual. It is one of those moments I wish I could travel back to and relive with my current self awareness. I wonder what my adulthood would have been like had I known myself better and been less afraid.

I was with my friend for a bit more than three years. I discovered with him all of the joy of sex that I had previously believed was ‘the Big Lie.’ I buried him in February 2018 after he died of a pulmonary disease. Even with my sadness, I feel gifted and blessed to have come to this point. I realize that there was a real possibility I could have continued to live in denial and die never meeting my whole self. My lover Bick and I used to marvel at the notion that 'God has saved the best for last.'" —u/lpoulain


Reading these men share their stories reminds me that it's never too late to live authentically. If you also came out later in life, what's your experience?

And thanks to r/AskGayBrosOver30 for creating a space for queer men to be vulnerable and empathize with each other.