When Bruce Jenner came out as transgender, it made me think about boomers coming out of whatever closet they've spent much of their lives in. Whether transgender, gay or lesbian, as a straight, male boomer I wanted to understand their experience, to know how it feels for someone who decides to come out late in life. What did their journey reveal about their authentic selves?
Taboo in the 50s
When I was a boy no one ever talked about being gay or lesbian, which many Americans viewed as perverted, and transgender wasn't on most people's radar. When Bruce Jenner won the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics no one suggested he'd be transgender some day, although he says he had those feelings then.
Had Bruce Jenner announced he was going to transition after the 1976 Olympics the world would have caught its collective breath. In 2015, while surprising, it isn't nearly as shocking. America has come a long way since the 70s in terms of gender morality, right? I decided to interview a few, better known boomers who came out late to understand why they did and to find out what their experiences have been.
Two Fascinating People
I interviewed Leslie Ezelle, a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader who came out as lesbian later in life, and who married a woman after leaving her husband. And Bob Page, the CEO of Replacements Ltd., a 400-employee china and crystal company, who came out as gay in his mid-forties and married his partner of 25 years. Leslie and Bob both feared rejection decades before coming out, but finally decided their public lives should reflect their true natures.
Fellow cheerleaders told Leslie "Oh my God I can't believe you're a lesbian," which Leslie hated, preferring gay. Leslie had kept that part of her life quiet because Ellen and Rosie hadn't come out yet and the Dallas Cowboys organization wasn't keen on her coming out in the late 1980s.
Leslie's family rejected her lesbian partner for several years before coming around. Bob had similar experiences, and while his two brothers supported him when he came out, his sister hasn't spoken to him in years. She insists he'll go to hell.
Leslie and Bob moved to cities with large gay and lesbian populations where they felt safe after coming out. Leslie moved to Los Angeles and then New York, and Bob moved to New York. But Leslie and Bob eventually moved back to Dallas and Greensboro, North Carolina, their respective home communities.
Both are raising children. Leslie is raising hers from her previous marriage as well as infant surrogate twins with the partner she married. Fifteen years ago Bob and his partner married and adopted seven-month-old Vietnamese boy twins. Leslie and Bob had strong feelings about creating families and raising children.
But Leslie and Bob experienced trying times. Leslie went to a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader party in the early 90s with some gay friends and the people who threw the party pretended it was over early so Leslie and her friends would leave.
Bob's business has been vandalized several times, and a Greenville, North Carolina reporter wrote an article about Bob and his partner that received an equal number of letters in favor of and condemning his lifestyle.
Leslie and Bob have become advocates for gays and lesbians who want to come out but fear the consequences. Bob purchased a house that he rents for $1 a year to an organization that feeds AIDS patients.
Leslie advises gay women to come out and embrace it because she believes health is linked to happiness. She knows several women who haven't come out and decided they simply can't until their kids graduate from school. One is a judge.
Bob says there was a lot of social pressure to be normal, and he knows several men who fathered children even though they knew they were gay. Bob feels that remaining closeted eats away at you. Bob isn't a Quaker but he funds a private Quaker school named after him, and while it has only 300 students, 15 have same sex parents.
Both Leslie and Bob have benefited from gay marriage becoming legal. The ramifications are important in terms of inheritances and healthcare directives and decisions.
Bob feels younger folks are far less concerned about someone's sexuality than boomers who he feels have shown less tolerance.
Sexual Orientation Doesn't Matter
I spoke with Leslie and Bob for an hour each, and what I took away was what warm, loving, caring people they are. The Supreme Court is considering gay marriage. After talking with Leslie and Bob I can't fathom why gay marriage is even a legal issue.
We Need A New Moral Compass
Moral and religious hypocrites aside, it's difficult to imagine why anyone opposes another American's right to marry whomever he or she chooses. Boomers marched for civil rights because we were appalled everyone couldn't vote, eat in restaurants, buy homes, or go to racially mixed schools. Gay rights weren't even on the horizon then, and I admit I was clueless about them until decades later. It's time to embrace the notion that who someone chooses to marry is his or her personal business. Bigotry has no place in America, whether related to race or gender.
I encourage comments from boomers who have come out later in life as gay or lesbian, as well as straight boomers with opinions. This is a long overdue dialogue that will benefit from some daylight.
Visit www.kensolin.com for boomer dating articles, blogs, videos, and information about Ken's new book, The Boomer Guide to Finding True Love Online.