(Or are we only just now noticing it?)

Suddenly, cases like Meredith Baxter's are everywhere: mature women coming out as gay years after having married and raised kids. As the Philadelphia Inquirer summarizes the "phenomenon,"

Recent media attention to the topic includes a More magazine story headlined "Over 40 and Over Men," dubbing older self-outers "the gay-and-gray generation." Oprah Winfrey dedicated a show to late-blooming lesbianism, as did an episode of the WE reality series Secret Lives of Women. The documentary film Out Late, by Beatrice Alda, one of Alan Alda's daughters, looks at the lives of five women who decided to live gay lives after age 50.

Many of these women did not overnight "become gay"; a lot of those interviewed said, being human, it wasn't that binary: some just fell in love with women. Others developed the feelings earlier. But because we're giving the phenomenon attention now doesn't mean it's new. While the Inquirer piece makes the point that such relationships wouldn't have been feasible in a time when women were economically dependent on men, I'd be very surprised to learn that , after a family is out of the house, they are such a 21st century novelty; "romantic friendships" are as old as humanity. Of course, what is new is treating it like some cute novelty, like "cougars"; and giving it the Oprah treatment makes me a little uneasy in some ways. Of course, anything that normalizes phenomena and opens doors is overwhelmingly positive. But I'd be willing to bet that "over 40 and over men" would be a gross oversimplofication for any woman who's actually struggled with issues of identity, family and late-in-life change.

The Older Lesbian, Coming Out Late [Philadelphia Enquirer]