My coming out story has taken a back seat to my grief story. My life twisted and turned in ways I never expected after my wife passed unexpectedly from metastatic breast cancer in 2017. My personal path has been a lesson in grief and starting over yet again. The hope is that my words will offer some comfort and insight to those who may need encouragement during difficult times whether on the coming-out journey or not.
I came out in 2011 after falling in love with my best friend of 10 years. Between us, we had two husbands and four children who were going to have the trajectory of their lives altered by our realization. We were scared but determined to step into our true selves. It has been almost 10 years exactly since coming out. A decade that has brought many changes, victories, and devastating loss.
My story is not unlike many, but each story is uniquely different. With the luxury of hindsight, the journey of coming out later in life is not for the faint of heart, but rather highlights the strength, courage, and resolve inherent in our humanity.
I was fortunate to be among the early members of a private group that is in the process of being archived. Watching it grow and seeing the relationships forged by those who share a common experience has been uplifting, heartbreaking, and inspiring. Celebrating and embracing authenticity has been the driving force in my life since I came out. Admittedly, some days I am more successful than others.
The decision to publish my memoir, Switching Teams: What Coming Out Later in Life Taught Me About Love, Conquering Fear and Accepting Change, was not an easy one. Revealing the process in such a personal way challenged me in more ways than I can count. My goal was to be able to help other women who found themselves in the same situation realize that they were not alone in their thoughts, feelings, circumstances, or fear of the changes which were inherent in stepping into a new phase of life.
In some ways, the most common thread in coming out stories is the fear of the unknown and the guilt that ensues when a family is affected by the unexpected and difficult process. My battle with guilt and fear was short-lived when the thought of staying where I was for the sake of my family came into focus.
The difficult days are still fresh in my mind, but I have learned that those hard moments are part of the process. Moving forward in authenticity required a resolve and an unshakeable desire for my kids to have a mother who was willing to honor herself above all else. We are all worthy of joy, peace, and the freedom to make choices that others may not understand. Causing pain or grief to our families is never enjoyable but sacrificing ourselves to prevent upset is the ultimate sabotage of ourselves.
For those who remain stuck in the fear of losing a family unit, damaging their children, or bucking the traditional path, my advice is simple. Follow your gut. Regardless of how you came to know or began questioning your sexual orientation, you cannot undo the knowing. The knowing is our inner voice telling us that something requires our attention.
Ignoring the little voice means ignoring your authentic self. Shifting the mindset away from the impact on others and back to self is the beautiful part of the journey. My children were 14, 12, and 8 when they were told their father and I were divorcing and that I was a lesbian. The adjustment to the divorce was the most difficult part for them. Ten years later, my youngest is about to graduate high school, my middle about to graduate college, and my eldest is graduating from an electrician apprentice program and studying for the journeyman test.
I am certain that remaining in my own guilt would have rendered completely different paths for all of us. It was not easy, but at the end of the day, they deserved to have a mother who chose her authenticity and was able to live her life outside of the closet. Learning to listen to your inner voice is a tall order for women, and mothers especially.
Wherever you are on the journey know there are others who have been exactly where you are now and have lived to see the other side. On the days when everything feels heavy, it is okay to sit in it and feel the loss, fear, and sadness. Allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions and they will become lighter. Eventually, you too will be able to reflect on the darkest of emotional days and feel peace.
Life is filled with situations that stop us cold and bring fear to the forefront, but it also filled with opportunities to rise above the fear and grow determination and fortitude. Growing is a lifelong process and the ability to look at challenges as opportunities have been the most important lesson for me personally. The learning curve is steep but remaining grateful during the storms helps tremendously.
Whatever you may be facing, may you have the courage to stay the course and adapt where needed. You are worth it. Your life matters.
Dawn Elizabeth Waters
Dawn Elizabeth Waters is a real estate broker and freelance writer in Orlando, Florida. She studied sports administration at Stetson University and is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She enjoys working with the Florida Guardian Ad Litem program, advocating for youth protection, creating wellness programs for women, and writing. She and her current wife, Dawn, have four sons and live in Debary, Florida.