'Could I be gay after all these years?' For these women, the answer was 'yes.'

I was 19 when I met my wife, but it took another decade before I got comfortable with words like "lesbian" and "bisexual."

Since then, I've openly shared my life and relationship — in essays for publications like Cosmopolitan and on Bravo television.


Then a funny thing happened this year: Women began coming out to me.

Women reached out to me through various forms of social media.

When we think about coming out, we usually think of that awkward adolescent time of emerging sexuality. But for older women, coming out can be a whole other experience — an especially challenging one that creates a delicate new identity.

Take Sarah, who came out at 28, after nine years with a man to whom she was also engaged.

In an email to me, she explained, "I had to confront a lot of internalized homophobia in myself, even in subconscious ways like being ashamed to appear gay or let people find out that I was."

Sarah (right) and her partner. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Then, there was the email from "Jen" (not her real name) — over 1,000 words long — sent from a fake account.

She was 41 when she reached out to me. "How did you reconcile with the fact that you'd be with a woman the rest of your life?" she asked. Jen told me she made a female friend at work in 2007. The woman had a husband and Jen had a boyfriend. They became inseparable. They've kept this secret for eight years, and Jen confesses of her girlfriend, "One of her sons told her he'd never talk to her again if he found out something was going on with us." The e-mail closed with: "I've changed our names to protect our silly secrets."

The secrets she shared didn't feel silly. They were about love — both romantic and familial — and lies.

They were about unexpectedly falling in love with another woman and the ways in which it could change both of their lives at a point when they thought they were already settled in their identities. They were about guilt and fear and doubt.

Sure, we all expect to change some as we grow older, but we expect certain things — seemingly core parts of our identity we take for granted — to stay the same.

Says Jen, "For 30+ years I envisioned myself with a husband, not a wife."

Dr. Darcy Sterling. Photo by Omar Guerra, used with permission.

Dr. Darcy Sterling, whose practice Alternatives Counseling specializes in the LGBT community, knows this struggle firsthand. "As someone who came out later in life, I too wanted certainty around my orientation." She explains, "I didn't dislike sex with men but I preferred it with women." Ultimately she made peace with her fluid sexuality and chose to identify as a lesbian. "I find it easier to wrap my complicated head around than making overarching declarations about my orientation, past, present or future," she says.

Kathy Prezbinkowski, Ph.D., M.S.N., and leader of the Washington-based support group Coming Out Women, points out that older women who come out often have to confront a lot of ingrained expectations. The group aims to create a safe space for women to listen and share stories and strives to help them break out of the "mold to fit in the heterosexual box." Women in the group range in age from mid-30s to their mid-70s, and many have already started families. Prezbinkowski says:

"More than 50% of the 2000+ women at our group had been married to men — some still in marriages — and had children, and even grandchildren. The vast majority knew that they had attractions to women, but followed the societal norm."

Admitting their feelings to strangers is one thing, but opening up to loved ones remains a daunting conversation.

"I practiced saying the word 'gay' to my infant," Natalie, 34, told me by email. She had both a husband and a newborn before she identified as a lesbian.

Natalie (right) and her wife Carrie. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Christi, a 38-year-old mom twice married to men, admits that telling her kids wasn't easy. In an email, she said she was worried about hurting her relationship with her daughter: "There is a lot of fear and guilt involved in coming to terms with your own sexuality and many more layers of it when it comes to telling other people."

But there are also some benefits to coming out when you're older and wiser. As Christi put it:

"I didn't understand what I was feeling when I was younger. For me, coming out at 35 was a million times easier than it might have been in my teens or 20s. By 35 I had a lot of life experience, more confidence, and I cared less what other people think."

Coming to terms with a new identity is hugely challenging, but for many of these women, it marked the beginning of their path to real happiness.

Not long after our initial correspondence, Jen wrote to me again, sharing her real name and information. She said that talking to me about her identity helped her to see her life in a new light. "I feel forever indebted to you," she wrote. The reason our conversation changed Jen's life? I listened with openness and compassion. That's it.

She shared another secret: She proposed. The couple is not fully out to their families yet, but they're working on it.

Jen and her fiancee with their new rings. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Meanwhile, Christi and her wife are expecting a baby this winter, and Sarah and her wife were married earlier this spring.

Sarah says this is not how she pictured her adult life when she was little, "but I'm ever so glad that I'm here."

Coming Out Women's mission statement asserts that all women deserve empowerment, authenticity, and wholeness. That doesn't begin with having all the answers. It can begin simply with finding someone who will listen. We are all empowered when we project the compassion we seek in others.

"When women first arrive at group," says Prezbinkowski of those who gather at Coming Out Women, "perhaps after numerous attempts, they know they are 'coming home.'"

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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