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Suzette Mullen lives out loud in ‘The Only Way Through is Out’

Author to present coming-out memoir at Village Books

Author Suzette Mullen is a writing coach based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She'll be in Bellingham on Thursday, Feb. 29 to present "The Only Way Through is Out," which is both her "coming-out and coming-of-age story." (Photo courtesy of Suzette Mullen)
By Cocoa Laney Lifestyle Editor

From the outside looking in, Suzette Mullen had a perfect life: financial security, a solid 30-year marriage, two young adult sons and a career. But a midlife revelation “completely rocked [her] world”: She was in love with her female best friend. This realization was the first in a series of events that would radically alter the course of her life.

Seven years later, Mullen’s memoir, “The Only Way Through is Out,” recounts her journey towards accepting her sexuality and living authentically. She’ll be presenting the book to the Bellingham community on Thursday, Feb. 29 at Village Books.

“I was a very risk-averse person. I was taught that, you know, life is about not making mistakes, playing it safe, following the rules,” Mullen said. “And so when I was confronted with this thunderbolt revelation … I mean, I think it’s challenging for anybody, especially when you have an established life.”

“The Only Way Through is Out” was published by University of Wisconsin Press in February 2024. (Image courtesy of Suzette Mullen)

Spoiler alert: Mullen did walk away from her established life, and is now remarried to a woman and working as a writing coach in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. But although she’s made it to “the other side,” the process of getting there wasn’t straightforward. 

Mullen spent 18 months unpacking “decades of denial;” first acknowledging and accepting her attraction to women, then figuring out how to move forward. She even confessed her feelings to her best friend — and although they weren’t requited, the confession helped Mullen to understand how her attraction wasn’t limited to just one person.

Now, almost a decade removed from the events in her memoir, “I’m living joyfully — and all the other people are OK, too,” Mullen continued. “My husband is happily remarried. My kids are thriving. And was it hard? Was there pain? Was it difficult? Yes. But I don’t think staying in a relationship where both people can’t be fully themselves is ultimately the answer.”

Finding resources and community

Mullen’s story, while noteworthy, isn’t uncommon. There are many reasons why someone might not contend with their sexuality until adulthood, ranging from family expectations to shame, a lack of queer role models and heterosexuality being seen as a societal “default.” According to Pew Research Center, 7% of American adults identify as LGBTQ+. Within that demographic, 8% say they weren’t certain about their sexuality until their 30s or older. 

Bellingham has a variety of resources for folks navigating similar identity issues. PFLAG Whatcom (pflagwhatcom.org) provides LGBTQ+ advocacy and education and hosts a community support meeting on the first Tuesday of every month. The Bellingham Queer Collective (BQC) also hosts a monthly “late bloomers” meetup; more info can be found online at bellinghamqueercollective.org.

“For me, it was really important that I had other people to talk with, who identified with what I’ve been through,” said Lyn Salazar, who facilitates the BQC Late Bloomers meetups. “When you’re coming out when you’re older, it seems like a lot of us just feel kind of like, ‘What do I do? How do I navigate the queer community?’ And so it’s really helpful to meet other people.”


Mullen also agreed that support systems are imperative.

“You do need to find community,” she said. “This is not a journey to embark on on your own. I was fortunate to eventually find a therapist that was very helpful, and I speak in the book about a later-in-life support group Facebook group that really was a lifeline for me.”

Finally, while fellow queer individuals are at the core of Mullen’s intended audiences, Mullen said her book has lessons for readers outside the LGBTQ+ community. She believes many people — especially women at midlife — have a sense that something is missing.

“The message that I really want people to take away from my book,” Mullen said, “is that it’s never too late to live out loud or live authentically.”

Mullen will be presenting her memoir, “The Only Way Through Is Out,” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 29 at Village Books. Info: villagebooks.com.

Cocoa Laney is CDN’s lifestyle editor; reach her at cocoalaney@cascadiadaily.com; 360-922-3090 ext. 128.

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