When I had a boyfriend in high school, it was the first time I realized I could hide. I got it that if I had him, I could present myself to the world as a normal person. It was a relief, but it was also incredibly depressing. I knew it meant that, to be OK, I couldn’t be who I was. This seemed like a lot to handle when I was 16 because the road ahead of me felt so long. It turned out I could only manage it another five years before I just had to come out and live with the consequences of being “a shameful person.”
I’ve learned a lot since then, mostly—and most importantly—about myself. It has become clear to me, for example, that my sexual preference and my identity are as valuable a part of me as anything else. I have also realized that I do not need to hide. Other people’s notions of me as unacceptable and shameful are more about them than about me. It’s probably one of the biggest lessons we learn as grown-ups—that we are who we are.
I am acquainted with enough people who hide some part of themselves ... that I know how much we all need to embark on a journey of owning who we are.
But, as I have gotten even older, I have discovered that I need to do more than simply accept who I am. Accepting the fact that I’m a lesbian feels like, “Well, I could have been better than this, but I’ll live with what I am.” The older I’ve gotten, the more I know what a disservice that is to myself. Gradually, I've grown to love who I am as a lesbian, and it feels good to own it proudly now.
If you’re reading this and you’re not gay, you may think this has nothing to do with you. But I am acquainted with many people who hide some part of themselves, or hate some part of themselves. I know how much we all need to embark on a journey of owning who we are. If we struggled in school, suffered from illness, had a crazy family, got addicted to something, had destructive relationships … whatever held us back or made us feel held back—these are all things we hid. They are also all things we need to love now—things we need to see as part of what makes us so amazing.
Much of this late-life self-love journey is simply what we need to do as humans. We are presented with this soul, these bones, this heart, these feelings. They’re ours, and they’re ours to learn and to love. It takes a long time. It’s what we do as we’re tearing pages off the calendar. It simply cannot be that our goal is to just tolerate ourselves on our way out the door. It makes more sense that we need to love this person with all of our energy.
And I love being on such good terms with myself. When I was squinting back in high school and figuring that I was pretty much stuck with the boyfriend route, I never imagined feeling as I do today. I never dreamed I would grow up to be a person that I like as much as I do. I thought I would learn to tolerate myself in the same way I’ve grown accustomed to asparagus or living on a budget.
But we also need to show younger people the path to this same self-love. We need to let them see that we can do, and have, and be all of those things we were ashamed of—and still feel loved and lovable. There is no greater lesson than seeing someone standing strong in themselves. If I can be a loved, loving 67-year-old woman who has goals and dreams and huge plans for my life, isn’t that exactly what I want to offer young gay people coming after me? I think it’s what we want to offer everyone. This is what’s possible when we realize how lucky we are to be us.