In today's interconnected world, exploring one's sexuality in later life has become increasingly common. The influence of globalization and the pervasive presence of the internet expose us to alternative possibilities, encouraging the evolution of our authentic selves. However, amidst the celebration of diversity within the LGBTQI+ and CNM communities, it's crucial to acknowledge the challenges that can accompany such self-discovery, especially for older adults.
I was recently reminded of the costs that can be associated with experimentation and questioning in later life; something which can easily be overlooked by out and proud members of the LGBTQI+ and CNM community such as myself.
In particular, ‘coming out’ about one’s sexuality or shifting from a monogamous relationship model at later stages in life can lead to overwhelming feelings of loss and grief and in certain situations extreme feelings of guilt.
The Cass identity model (Vivienne Cass, 1979), a canonical tool used to describe the 6 stages of ‘coming out’, was theorised at a time when society was far more rigid in its heteronormative values. Nonetheless it provides an interesting framework with which to consider the various (not necessarily linear) stages which that process may involve. It also has useful application when considering the stages that couples may move through in moving away from a mononormative relationship model.
Occupying the phases of identity tolerance and identityacceptance (the 3rd and 4th stages of Cass’s model) are often the most critical and feelings of loss, grief and guilt can be the most challenging to overcome.
Internalised societal norms centered on heteronormativity and mononormativity accentuate such feelings and may be so entwined with one’s sense of identity that they cannot be overcome, leading either repression or splintering of one’s desires to explore the possibilities in search of authentic self.
For me personally, the recent reminder of the mentaldistress that can arise, particularly in older adults, has been humbling. My own experience of youthful noticing of my identity was truly a blessing. It allowed me to forge ahead without the consequences of making changes to a life already blooming with history and memories. I have a renewed respect for those exploring their identity at a later stage and wish them every success and happiness for the future.
I would love to hear from you about your personal experiences and reflections on navigating sexual fluidity and relationship questioning in later life!