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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

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

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."

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

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."


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

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."


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!"

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

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."


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."


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"

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

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

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

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"

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"

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."

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

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"

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

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."

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

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."

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."

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.