It started, as many queer stories do, with a woman at a bar. Anne-Marie Zanzal was 19 years old, and when she saw the beautiful woman that day, something moved in her. “Wow!” Zanzal, now an author, grief counselor, and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, said to herself. But as quickly as the feeling flared up, Zanzal squashed it. It was the 1980s, the AIDS crisis was at its height in the queer community, and for many young people, the prospect of coming out was difficult, if not a death sentence. “The homophobia was just rampant,” Zanzal says.
It would take Zanzal thirty more years, four kids, a career, a marriage to a man, and an ordination to come out as a lesbian. When she finally did, in 2016 when she was in her early fifties, the process was terrifying. Her marriage ended, she experienced discrimination at work, and she endured the upheaval of publicly becoming a member of a marginalized community. “I spent six months in the fetal position,” Zanzal says.
Today, as an out lesbian soon to be married to her current partner, Zanzal couldn’t be prouder. “I was so done being closeted,” she says. As a counselor and a community leader in an online lesbian group, she’s turned her experience into a source of strength for other women coming out later in life.