Coming out in your 40s... when you're Tony Abbott’s sister.

Realising that you are gay and coming out to your family is hard enough for young people.

But imagine having that revelation and then having to tell your husband. And your kids. And imagine if it then became a national news story.

On Debrief Daily’s new ‘Just Between Us’ podcast, we talk to two late-blooming lesbians who did just that. One of them is the Prime Minister’s sister.

Christine Forster.

You can listen to the podcast on iTunes here.

Christine Forster is now 50. But when she was in her early 40s her entire life was turned upside down. Christine says she was living the dream – an idyllic suburban life with a happy marriage, four beautiful children and a house on Sydney’s North Shore. Then, she fell in love with another mother from her son’s Catholic school. She says it was a seismic upheaval.

Christine Forster says her family reacted with great surprise when she ended her marriage. While some friends thought she was gay, no-one in her family had any suspicions at all. But she says, contrary to popular perceptions, her brother Tony Abbott was the most supportive of all in her family and the least judgemental.

Read more: Tony Abbott’s sister is lobbying the government about the marriage equality bill.

Forster admits that the break-up and coming out was extraordinarily difficult for her daughters who were then teenagers. She told us she was acutely aware that any public scrutiny would make their struggle harder so she was glad the story that publicly outed her was so sympathetically told and her kids were kept out of it.

Tony, Christine and her partner Virginia.

Christine Forster feels she was probably always gay but because she was raised in such a conservative family on the North Shore of Sydney she just didn’t know any gay people in her formative years. By the time she was at University and encountered the scene she was on a certain path in life that included university, travelling and marriage. So when she met “a fine man and fell in love” she followed her path because her psyche was that she would be a “North Shore woman with a big house and a career”.

Dorothy McRae-McMahon says she didn’t even know the word ‘sexuality’ when she was young. The Peace Activist and retired Uniting Church Minister came out at 50 after she had been married for 18 years and had four children. After dedicating 16 years of her life to her disabled son, Dorothy began moving in feminist circles with lesbian women. She feels she was probably always gay but because of her generation and the life she’d led it stopped her from doing anything about it.


Read more: This rant about marriage equality is so utterly ridiculous it’s almost funny.

Dorothy’s children were by then adults and were accepting. Her son even said ‘about time’ and her husband Barry remained good friends after the split up. But for Dorothy as a member of the clergy there were some huge costs and awful experiences from neo-Nazis.

Christine with her partner Virginia.

Even after such horror Dorothy says she felt free after coming out and she doesn’t regret it.

Nor Christine Forster.  Christine says the most liberating thing about coming out was that it gave her the confidence to go into politics like her brother (she is now a Sydney City Councillor). She revealed that it was a liberating, exhilarating, transformative and painful experience that changed everything.

Dorothy and Christine’s stories are unique but not uncommon. The TV Mum we all grew up with on Family Ties Meredith Baxter recognized she was gay aged 59, after three marriages. Joey Grey from cabaret came out at 82 after being married for 24 years (his daughter is Jennifer Grey from Dirty Dancing). The film Beginners is based on director Mike Mill’s father who came out at 75. Writer Jeanette Winterson is in a relationship with Susie Orbach who had been with a man for 30 years before they met. Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda in Sex and the City was in a heterosexual relationship for 15 years came out during the series.  Lauren Morelli, the writer of ‘Orange Is The New Black realised she was gay while writing the series and found the characters Piper and Alex (an on-again off-again lesbian couple) were a mouthpiece for her own desires.  Lauren divorced her husband who she’d only married months before and now dates Samira Wiley who plays the fabulous Poussey on the show.

Christine at a game of two up.

Coming out is never easy but embracing your true self at any age is extremely liberating, transformative and exciting.

We wish them luck.

What is your stance on marriage equality?

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