relationships

Why women come out later in life.

Cynthia Nixon. Christine Forster. Meredith Baxter. Elizabeth Gilbert. They all have one thing in common.

Each of these women faced the eye-opening discovery that they were gay late in life.

When Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert made the announcement that she was leaving her husband for her dying best friend today, her dedicated followers were shocked. And then they were thrilled. For anyone to find truth and love in their life is a beautiful thing, whoever it is with.

elizabeth gilbert partner
Elizabeth Gilbert with partner Rayya Elias. Source: Getty Images.

Another woman on the list of late-blooming lesbians is 81-year-old Dorothy McRae-McMahon. Dorothy is a renowned feminist, peace activist and former Uniting Church Minister.

And Dorothy opened up about her self-discovery on the Just Between Us podcast, including the difficult process of coming out to her church.

"Looking back on my life, I think I was always a lesbian," she admits. But it took a long time for Dorothy to reach the point of acceptance.

"It was just the generation I was in and all the things that happened in my life that stopped me really looking at myself and thinking about it properly," she says.

As the daughter of a radical Methodist minister, Dorothy grew up in a very conservative family.

'I don't think I even know the word homosexuality when I was young!' she says.

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Dorothy married young and had four children. It wasn't until years later that the gay community even came to her attention. With a brain-damaged toddler who needed 24-hour care, there simply wasn't time to consider it.

"I was diverted very strongly from really exploring my sexuality until 18 years after I was married, at least," she says.

"I couldn't even think about who I was."

When Dorothy and her husband put their son in full time care, she realised that she could finally come to life. She joined political parties, travelled the world working in international aid, and started socialising in a new circle.

"It was later on, when I became a strong feminist moving around a lot among radical women... that I began to think 'OH!'" she says.

Family Ties star Meredith Baxter embraced her sexuality at 59 years of age. 

The first time someone asked Dorothy if she was a lesbian, it hit her, "oh, I might be bisexual."

The woman asked her out for dinner, "and that was the beginning" she says.

Dorothy ended her marriage at 50 because she could see the truth at last, but coming out was a difficult step, especially for a minister.

"We were an inclusive congregation... but I hadn't explained that I was a lesbian."

When she went in to make the announcement, Dorothy's fears began to surface.

"I remember sitting there and thinking, god, it feels like I'm going to step off a cliff I could lose everything."

"Claiming my sexuality could have been a very costly thing for me to do as a member of the clergy. At that stage our church hadn't formally decided whether it would allow homosexual people to be ordained."

Cynthia Nixon married her partner in 2012.

Her family took the news extremely well. Her son said, "about time!" and her two daughters warmly accepted the news. She also added that she's still great friends with her ex-husband.

And although many people were supportive, there were others who were violently opposed to her change in heart.

"For two years the Neo-Nazis stalked me outside of my house, and they threw vomit and faeces all over the front of the house and put lesbian slut on my fence."

Whenever it happens, coming out can be one of the most confronting and brave things a woman ever does. So brava, Liz G.

For more stories about coming out later in life, you can listen to the full episode here: