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The Late-in-Life Lesbian Experience Blossoms Online

When Ms. Terpening came out in 2014, she said, some people she had known since childhood started to look at her askance. Online, however, she found more supportive communities, which, along with her family, helped her find her footing as a late-in-life lesbian. She is still legally married to her husband; they still share a home, too — but not a bedroom.

Ms. Terpening now runs an organization offering services to teenagers in rural areas who identify as L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+. Some of them, she said, have also helped people who came out later in life like herself. “The bravery of generations younger than us encouraged us to not suppress ourselves any longer,” Ms. Terpening said.

A recent Gallup poll reported that nearly 8 percent of Americans identified as L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ in 2023, about two percentage points more than in 2020. About 15 percent of those respondents identified as lesbians in the latest poll, up from about 12 percent. Members of younger generations — Gen-Zers, millennials — identified as L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ in far greater numbers than Gen-Xers and baby boomers; this was the case in the previous poll as well.

Miriam Grace, a 58-year-old psychotherapist in Britain who came out when she was 50, surveyed more than 2,000 late-in-life lesbians between the ages of 40 and 65 for the book “Queering Gestalt Therapy,” which was released last year. (The title refers to a form of psychotherapy.)

She said some of those women said that they had always thought that they were lesbians, but had heterosexual relationships because they feared personal or professional discrimination. Others said that they had considered their sexuality to be fluid, and came out as lesbians after developing a strong attraction to another woman. A third group consisted of women who said they were not able or willing to embrace their lesbian identity in earlier years, but that, reflecting on their lives, they could see that they were always lesbians.

“Women who devoted themselves to motherhood, or who believed their sexuality is irrelevant or dirty, may be unaware of their authentic sexuality until space opens in later life,” Ms. Grace said.


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