There are many things that make life challenging for homosexual men, and coming out is certainly one of them. However, coming out late in life has its own unique set of challenges.
In his new book, Finally Out: Letting Go Of Living Straight, Loren A. Olsen draws upon his own experiences as a self-described late-blooming gay man and psychiatrist who often treats men like himself. His book explores the question: Why do some mature men find it so difficult to come out?
“All memories are but reconstructions, but what I can affirm without qualification or reservation is that, until I was forty, I had no idea I was gay. Before that, I suffered from a sense that things weren’t quite right inside me,” writes Olsen.
Like many homosexual men, Olsen struggled with a disconnect between his rational thought (that men should love women) and his feeling thought (that he is attracted to men). It is this feeling of being somehow different that often supports the inner conflict that gay men face.
Yet, despite this feeling of differentness, many gay men live a straight life for years before ever coming out. 53.4 percent of the gay men Olsen surveyed during his own research had been married to women before. And according to a 2006 study of men in New York City which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine, nearly 10 percent of “working class” and immigrant men who labeled themselves heterosexual reported having sex with other men.
The fallout of this disparity – created by the conflict between who they are and who they think they should be – is self-hatred.
“Sexuality is far more complex than body parts. It includes sexual fantasy, sexual behavior, sexual preference, sexual orientation, and sexual identity; it also includes emotionality and romance. At times, these forces contradict each other even within the same individual,” writes Olsen.
What is often misunderstood – due to what Olsen calls “willful ignorance” – is that gay men are born and not made. Pointing to the fact that in identical twins, if one twin is gay, a much greater likelihood exists that the other twin is gay than in the case of fraternal twins, he describes homosexuality as a result of multifactorial inheritance. According to Olsen, when a genetic predisposition combines with the right environmental conditions, certain traits – like homosexuality – can develop.
In Olsen’s case, it was his father’s death – which he witnessed at the age of three – and the lack of a role model that laid the foundation for his feelings of being an unfinished man.
Yet from religious condemnation, to moral and social shaming, to being denied health insurance coverage, there are many reasons for a gay man to remain closeted.
“As a mature gay man with a same-sex attraction, despite being well liked in my heterosexual community, I barricaded myself emotionally,” writes Olsen.
Holding on to the secret of being gay, however, is much worse.
“Secrets are like abscesses waiting to be lanced so the pain will disappear,” writes Olsen.
Coming out then, is often a matter of not just facing secrets, but also of letting go of the idea that you should be someone, or something that someone else has constructed for you.
Three helpful steps that Olsen offers are: take control of the ideal self and make it your own; learn to see yourself as you are, avoid exaggerated self-criticism; and look inside yourself for strength and confidence.
Coming out at a later stage may also coincide with midlife. As one looks back upon life finding the shame, stigma and secrecy no longer appealing or even possible, he may want to explore a greater range of social, and even sexual roles that are complex, ambiguous and uncertain. It is also here that men often confront the stage that Erik Erikson called “integrity vs. despair,” asking themselves if it is possible to find integrity rather than despair in a new life as a gay man?
Yet midlife, Olsen says, is also a time to grow. Men in their sixties report sexual satisfaction comparable to men in their forties, and confront – and ultimately shatter – the stereotypes of what it means to be gay. As
“What I discovered as I grew older was that I had made two false assumptions – that I am powerless, and that others had unlimited power over me. I discovered that the meaning I was looking for was in fact within me,” writes Olsen.
Filled with insightful research, powerful examples, and a compelling narrative, Finally Out is a much needed resource for gay men – one that informs, inspires, and ultimately encourages gay men to claim their rightful place as respectable members of society.
Finally Out: Letting Go Of Living Straight
Loren A. Olsen MD
Oak Lane Press (2017)
Softcover, 260 Pages