CHICAGO – A lot can be hidden behind marriage. For Brad and Cindy Marler, they were both gay.
A few years after their marriage, they told each other their secret. Then, for more than three decades, they told no one but themselves.
“We’ve always said we’re against the world,” Brad said.
After living what they call “all-American life” in the small Illinois towns of Smithton and Friborg, the Marlers, both now in their late fifties, decided they needed to “live authentically.” They are out with their two adult children – a son and a daughter – and making a new life in Chicago.
While research from the Williams Institute of Law and Sexual Orientation at UCLA shows that people in the United States are coming out younger than previous generations, Brad and Cindy are part of a segment of the LGBTQ community that waits until later. In life.
The community is still inhospitable. “This doesn’t negate many astonishing shifts in public attitudes, in laws, in policies, but it has not eliminated a hundred years of homophobia in society,” said Ilan Mayer, a senior research fellow in public policy at the Williams Institute.
Bob Mueller, 75, who grew up in a suburb of Chicago and now lives in Iowa, breathed nothing about his sexual orientation to his family until he was 40, when he wanted them to meet his partner. And he still didn’t tell everyone.
“It was common to stay in the closet if you wanted a job. I didn’t officially go out to work until 2005.
Having grown up in religious families in small Illinois communities, going out wasn’t an option for the Marlers, who celebrated 32 years of marriage in September.
“Being gay, you’ll go straight to hell,” Cindy said of what she and Brad had learned.
Even when strides were made nationally for gay rights, the Marlers feared they would be discovered. They built houses, raised their children and did not move away from their marriage. In public, they were sure to maintain traditional gender roles: Cindy kept her hair long, and they never mentioned that Brad was the one who decorated their house.
“We wanted the house, the dog, the two kids—and we did it all,” Cindy said.
“We made a decision to make it work. That’s what we were going to do,” she added.
But there was a limit. Brad said it was a house of cards that had to come down.
He got very depressed and started working on his inner homophobia with the help of weekly therapy.
“For a long time, I hated that part of me. I didn’t understand why what I had with Cindy wasn’t enough,” he said.
The couple also say they couldn’t get out if their parents were still alive. Brad noted that the shame he was associated with his sexuality arose after his mother confronted him when he was 16 about the possibility that he was gay. “She just said, ‘If you were, that’s not good. You wouldn’t do this to the family.’ He remembers… We didn’t talk about it again.
Another big factor is that their daughter came out as a lesbian.
“It was an urgent need to protect her,” Brad said.
The Marlers lived together until March when they retired and sold their home, moving into separate apartments in Chicago to explore life as part of the LGBTQ community for the first time.
Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, said the nonprofit is helping thousands of older Americans on their next journey. He says the unique obstacles they face can include higher levels of fear and anxiety, as well as managing the expectations of others.
Paulette Thomas Martin, 70, got out after 20 years of marriage and when most of her children were adults.
“It was very painful. She said… I was calling them and they wouldn’t come back.
Thomas-Martin says it took several years before her children started talking to her again, but eventually brought her closer to her family.
“My son recently sent me a text telling me how proud he is of me. It came out better for my kids. I’m happier. I feel more joy and peace,” said Thomas Martin, who lives in New York with her wife.
Moving out later in life may make socializing and dating more complicated, Adams says.
Brad describes her as having a second adolescence.
He said, “Everything is new.”
Cindy focuses on discovering herself before pursuing a relationship with a woman.
“It’s like removing that filter and asking myself, ‘What am I?'” she said. “
Although the Marlers now live separately, they have no immediate plans for a divorce and still see each other almost daily.
“We’re still best friends,” Cindy said.
Despite some difficulties, they believe that things have improved for them.
“Our whole dynamic is better now,” Brad said.
Their daughter recently wrote to her parents a letter about the experience.
“She wrote that she was happy to see that I was happy,” Brad said.