Mum-of-two Anna Martin, 37, from Cornwall, had been with her husband for 16 years when she came out to her family as a lesbian. Now divorced, she is happily in a new relationship with a woman.
I met my husband when I was 19 and at the time, it felt right. We clicked, he became my best friend and I loved him in every way.
Things moved fast. I found out I was pregnant with our first child a few months into the relationship and we settled into family life. We married, bought a house, our second son came along two years later, and I really was happy. He was lovely to me.
After a few years though, he began to say he felt like I was holding back, that something wasn’t quite right. I started to feel that I wasn't completely happy any more. I always felt restless, like I was searching for something, but I didn't know what it was.
There wasn’t one defining moment where I realised, ‘That’s it, I’m gay’ but when I look back the fact I liked girls was always there. I knew I was more attracted to women than men. I’d watch a film or gossip with friends and they'd talk about crushes on male celebrities. I just didn't have those feelings.
Watch: 'The day I came out as LGBTQ+'
I never confided in anyone about how I was feeling and I’d squash the thoughts down, thinking the grass isn't greener on the other side. We had a happy family life and I didn’t want to rock the boat.
By 2020, our relationship broke down. We weren't arguing, but we’d become like housemates. We enjoyed each other's company, had a laugh and were still close, but it wasn't a husband-wife relationship anymore.
I’d always joked that if we split up, I’d never be with a man again, but it wasn’t really a joke. We sat down and had a conversation where he asked me if I would go with someone else. He said, ‘What about women?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I’d date a woman,’ and he said, ‘You’re gay, aren’t you?’
I was terrified of what his reaction would be when I said yes, and it was the first time I'd truly admitted to myself that I was gay, so it was a big deal. I knew that it was the final nail in the coffin of the relationship. There would be no going back from that, so I was feeling very tense.
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But my husband just looked totally blank. I think he'd probably gone into shock. It's hard to tell what he was thinking. Perhaps he wasn't all that surprised because he'd always said I was holding something back, so I think it was a real 'penny drop' moment for him.
He appeared to take it so well at first that it was a massive relief. It felt so good to be able to say it aloud, and start being who I really was. I was aware of how it might affect him and he said he wanted to tell his mum, which is understandable because he needed somebody to talk to.
I asked him to wait because I wanted to get my own head around it before I came out to my parents, to do it in my own time, in my own way.
But he wouldn't, so I had to tell them over the phone there and then, which was really hard. Mum was stunned and said, ‘You never do things by halves, do you?’ but she was immediately supportive. My parents were brilliant but everything was moving at a million miles an hour, and I just had to deal with it.
I had my children, who were then 15 and 12, to focus on as well. They were faced with their mum and dad splitting up and their mum coming out as well, but thankfully they were amazing about it.
They were both shocked because, of course, it was a big part of their mum's identity that they didn't know about, but somehow they didn't really question that at the time.
I think as parents we have lots of different identities, we are different as mothers, different on nights out with friends and for them, they just see me as mum – the bigger thing for them was their mum and dad separating because that affected their lives more.
The reality of it sunk in more later, because they did find it weird when they saw me holding hands with my first girlfriend and being affectionate towards her.
My youngest especially found that difficult and uncomfortable and, when I split up with the first woman I was seeing, he asked if I would go back to men now. But we've always been very open, there are no taboos.
We have a lot of LGBTQ friends and they've been brought up with it not being an issue that some men like men, some women like women and everything in between.
My husband moved out a few months later and it was scary because I felt like I was losing my best friend. We’ve since divorced and I don't have much of a relationship with him now. He’s with someone else and there's no ill feeling, we’re just moving on and living our new lives.
The real me
I decided to join dating sites and the first time I went on a date, it was nerve-wracking – in much the same way if it was a man, because I’d been with the same person for 16 years – but it also felt great because it was like, ‘Finally, this is who I am.’
I felt so much more comfortable. My sons found it difficult but I don't think it would have been any different if I’d been with a man – it was just Mum with someone that isn't Dad.
Dating women is so different to men though. Women are so much more intense, which can be an amazing thing, but oh my god, it can be full on. Break-ups – which I’ve experienced a couple of now – are just a whole new level.
I'm seeing someone now – it's a new relationship, but it's all going very well and she's fantastic.
We live in a little town in west Cornwall where I literally feel like the only gay in the village. I do sometimes get the feeling that if the neighbours were to talk about me, I’d be known as ‘ the lesbian’ but I’ve been really lucky.
I was worried about any potential bullying for the boys but nobody seems bothered. It could have been very different when I was their age.
Still though, I’m moving to Manchester to start a new chapter. There’s a much bigger gay scene and I want to have new adventures and experiences.
I’ve even got a new career out of all this. I didn’t know anyone else who’d been married to a man and come out as gay and it was lonely, so I talked to a life coach, who suggested I’d be good at coaching too. Now I coach other people in the LGBTQ community.
A lot of people, like me, are coming out later in life. They try to go along with the status quo because heteronormativity has made us think this is how we're meant to be, and so we plod along, trying to make the best of it. But it comes to a point where you think, ‘No, I just can't do it anymore.’
A couple of years ago, if you’d said I'd be out, in a relationship with a woman and moving to Manchester, I'd have said, ‘Not a chance’. I’m so much happier and far more comfortable with who I am. I've reached a level of contentment I didn't know existed.
For details on Anna’s life coaching, see www.annavmartin.co.uk