I believe with some uncertainty that I am a 60 year old gay man. I have been married for 36 years and I am recently out to my wife. Coming to this conclusion has brought a lot of questions as to am I really gay or am I just bisexual. I need to find a way to decipher between the two. It is important that I have some clarity as to which I am. I heard many therapists tell me that a label is not important but it is to me as to how I see myself. Would love to discuss this aspect of my sexuality. - Gay or Bisexual?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and posing this question. I have considered your situation at length and I find I have several unanswered questions that make it challenging to give you a direct response. I will share my thoughts with you and hope that some of my guesses accurately address your concern.
I hear that to you there seems to be a big difference between being gay and being bisexual. You use the phrases “really gay” and “just bisexual”. Although both identities involve having a physical and/or romantic attraction to a person of the same sex, being gay appears to be more serious in your mind, whereas being bisexual may not be quite as definite. Perhaps identifying as bisexual would feel less threatening to you? Or maybe you don’t think you deserve the label of “gay”?
You mention your age in your question, which says to me that it is a significant factor in your self-identification. I imagine that changing your sexual identity at this stage in your life comes with a host of heavy feelings. You may wonder if it is possible to identify as gay after living a heterosexual life for so long. Only you know how long you have felt attraction towards men. Perhaps you have noticed and suppressed feelings for other men for some years. You do not mention where you are from, but there are very few places where, in the 1950s and 60s, homosexual tendencies were openly accepted and honored. You grew up in generally conservative times when being straight and getting married were societal expectations.
You and your wife may have questions about the validity of your lifelong partnership; have you or she wondered whether you have been “living a lie” all these years? In my opinion, to sustain a partnership with someone for the length of time you have, it has required great caring, commitment, and compromise throughout the years. Your relationship with your wife is to be honored for exactly what it was and is; it is no less meaningful now that you are ready to explore new romantic territories. And even though you have been in a relationship with a woman for many years, this does not have to be a factor in how you identify your sexuality now, if you don’t want it to be.
Sexuality absolutely can change and evolve throughout a person’s lifespan. Not only might feelings and desires change, but confidence grows over the years and priorities shift as one ages. Whether you are finally accepting your homosexuality after many years of suppressing it or it if you are newly discovering it now, you are free to identify yourself in any way that feels right to you.
Only you know whether your same-sex attraction is primary, meaning that your thoughts, fantasies, and desires only involve men, or if you also have sexual and romantic interest in women. Only you know the level of attraction and romance that brought you into the relationship with your wife. Regardless of the reasons that brought you to your marriage, your current sexual identity gets to be a reflection of how you feel today. Even if you were deeply in love with your wife thirty-six years ago, it is entirely possible that your sexuality has changed over the years. This is called “sexual fluidity” and it is a concept that has been researched over the last decade or so. In your case, you may be experiencing a fluidity from pure heterosexuality to pure homosexuality (gay) or from primarily female-attracted bisexuality to primarily male-attracted bisexuality. Or maybe some other combination altogether.
Keep in mind that the term you use to describe yourself is most meaningful as a way to help others know and understand you. When deciding how to identify yourself to others, you might consider how you want to present your newly-accepted homosexuality. You may identify as gay if you want others to know that you are now solely interested in relationships with men. If you identify as gay, people will wonder about your marriage, how long you have “known”, and why you are coming out now. If you identify as bisexual, others may assume your feelings for men are new and/or developing, and your sexual identity may be perceived as a temporary phase. I imagine other people’s thoughts and opinions may factor heavily into your decision about how to identify your sexuality; it certainly is a significant consideration.
I hope the ideas I have presented will help you gain clarity around this issue. I think it might be beneficial for you to work with a professional to sort out all these possibilities and to talk about the various considerations and challenges you are facing now. Perhaps therapists have told you that labels don’t matter because they believe that what is in your heart is real and true, no matter what you call it. I understand that this is a big change for you and that you have many people and circumstances to consider as you embark on the next stage of your life. Good for you for reaching out for help! Best wishes to you on your journey.