03/15/2014 12:20 EDT | Updated 05/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Vancouver man shares loneliness of coming out later in life

A 69-year-old gay man who lived most of his years in the closet says coming out later in life can be lonely, and there are few support networks of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Vancouver who have been in similar circumstances.

Andrew, who is not openly gay beyond his immediate family and partner and therefore wants to keep his last name private, grew up in England in the 1960s where, he says, the idea of being gay was unacceptable. 

"That was the kind of atmosphere I grew up in. I grew up in a homophobic home, where there's lots of jokes. It's just not an acceptable lifestyle. I guess when I was a teenager I really realized what my preferences where, but there were no outlets for those preferences."

Married family man

When he immigrated to Canada, a woman asked him to marry. He said yes.

"I met a woman who proposed to me and I thought, 'Okay.' So I got married, all the while knowing that the real me was deeply hidden inside. I'm a Gemini by birth, so I feel like I'm twins. I have this inner person who is gay and has all these thoughts about being gay, and then this other person who I show to the world who's straight — a married family man who raised children, a professional, that person got married."

After he was married, Andrew watched as the gay community fought for, and won, greater social acceptance.

"In the 1960s, things began to change: the stonewall riots, decriminalizing of homosexuality, and then gay liberation and the start of the pride parade. It was much more acceptable to be out. But by that time, I was sort of trapped in the world I'd created. To break out of that seemed an impossibility."

In the late 1990s, while still married and after having two children, Andrew fell into depression.

"I had a real breakdown. I cried a lot. I was very down. At that point I made a decision that the best route for me was to opt out of life. And actually, for the next 10 years, I spent speculating about how I'd end my life."

The truth comes out

But one day, at home with his wife, Andrew blurted out the truth.

"We were in the kitchen. I'll never forget that. One of the moments in your life that you never forget. I just burst out and told her. I said, 'I'm gay.'"

But since the couple had already built a life together, Andrew says he and his wife resolved to stay together. The depression stayed as well.

"We continued in that arrangement for quite a number of years. And all that time I was thinking, 'How can I get out of this situation?' I couldn't see any ways out. Except one. The only good thing I could do was just leave life."

Andrew did try to kill himself, and was hospitalized.

The loneliness of being gay and grey

While getting psychiatric help after his suicide attempt, Andrew decided to end his marriage and live as a gay man. He went to bars on Vancouver's Davie Street and tried to start relationships with other gay men. But trying to live as a gay man, while pretending to be straight for 60 years, has its own challenges.

"It wasn't long before I realized that I didn't really like that lifestyle. Part of me rejected that lifestyle for homophobic reasons."

Andrew did end up finding a partner — a much younger man — but he says he is now lonely and worried about getting lonelier as he ages, with no one to talk to who went through the same experience.

"People with [the] best will in the world, they're not going to really understand if they haven't been there. Where do we go? Where do the older people go?'"