Gays who show up later in life face unique obstacles

CHICAGO (AP) – There can be many things hidden behind a wedding. For Brad and Cyndi Marler, it was that they were both gay.

A few years after the marriage, they told each other their secret. Then they didn’t tell anyone else for more than three decades.

“We’ve always said we’re against the world,” Brad said.

After living a so-called “all-American life” in the small towns of Smithton and Freeburg, Illinois, the Marlers, now both 50, decided they had to “live genuinely.” They came to their two adult children – a son and a daughter – and navigate for new lives in Chicago.

While research by the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy shows that people in the U.S. appear younger than previous generations, Brad and Cyndi are part of a segment of the LGBTQ community that awaits later. in life.

“Society is still inhospitable. This does not negate so many incredible shifts in public attitudes, in laws, in politics, but it has not washed away centuries of homophobia in society, ”said Ilan Meyer, a distinguished senior public policy expert at the Williams Institute.

Bob Mueller, 75, who grew up in a Chicago suburb and now lives in Iowa, didn’t say a word to his family about his sexual orientation until he was 40, when he wanted them to meet his partner. And he still didn’t tell everyone.

“It was common practice to stay in the closet if you wanted to have a job. It was only in 2005 that I officially came to work, “he said.

Growing up in religious households in small communities in Illinois, the Marlers, who marked 32 years of marriage in September, had no chance to step out.

“Because you’re gay, you’re going to go straight to hell. There are no two ways to do this, ”Cyndi said of what she and Brad taught them.

Although steps were taken nationally for gay rights, the Marlers feared they would be discovered. They built homes, raised children, and never strayed from marriage. In public, they were convinced they were maintaining traditional gender roles: Cyndi had long hair and they never mentioned that Brad was the one who decorated their house.

“We wanted a house, a dog, two kids – and we did it all,” Cyndi said.

“We decided it would work. That was what we intended to do,” she added.

But the limit has come. It was a house of cards that had to go down, Brad said.

He became deeply depressed and began to deal with his internalized homophobia with the help of weekly therapy.

“I’ve hated this part of myself for so long. Em I didn’t understand why what I had with Cyndi wasn’t enough, ”he said.

The couple also says they could never have come out if their parents were still alive. Brad noted that the shame he associated with his sexuality was triggered when his mother confronted him when he was 16, over the possibility of him being gay. “She just said, ‘If you are, that’s not right.’ You’re not going to do that to your family. ‘ … We never talked about it again, ”he recalled.

Another important factor was that their daughter turned out to be a lesbian.

“There was a great need for protection,” Brad said.

The Marlers lived together until March, when after retiring and selling their home, they moved into separate apartments in Chicago to explore life for the first time as part of the LGBTQ community.

Michael Adams, executive director of SAGE, said the nonprofit is helping thousands of older Americans on their journey. He says the unique barriers they face can include higher levels of fear and anxiety and coping with the expectations of others.

Paulette Thomas-Martin, 70, came out after a 20-year marriage and when most of her children were adults.

“It was very painful. Bi I would call them and they would not call back, ”she said.

It took a few years before her children started talking to her again, says Thomas-Martin, but in the end it brought her family closer.

“My son recently texted me and told me how proud he is of me. It turned out better for my kids. I’m happier. I have more joy and peace, ”said Thomas-Martin, who lives in New York with his wife.

Adams says quitting later in life can also make socializing and dating difficult.

Brad describes going through his second adolescence.

“Everything is new,” he said.

Cyndi focuses on finding herself before continuing her relationship with the woman.

“It’s like removing that filter and asking yourself,‘ What am I? ’” She said.

Although the Marlers now live separately, they do not intend to separate immediately and still see each other almost every day.

“We’re still best friends,” Cyndi said.

And despite some difficulties, they believe things have improved for them.

“Our overall dynamics are better now,” Brad said.

Their daughter recently wrote a letter to her parents about the experience.

“She wrote that she’s happy to see that I’m happy,” Brad said.

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