By Bonnie Kaye
I receive several letters each week from men who are struggling to come out to their wives. I respond quickly to these men in hopes that my support and encouragement will give them the courage to be honest with their spouses. I also receive several letters each month from gay men who find my website or see my book who commend me for the work I am doing in helping people understand the complexities of straight/gay marriages.
Two months ago, I received a letter from a man who was about to become an important part of my life. Jay is an attorney in Pennsylvania. He is the first man I have ever met who can write words in a manner that clarified all of my own thoughts and feelings allowing me to conceptualize a key to the problem of straight/gay marriages that I will share with you. Jay’s sensitivity and honesty reflects what most of us would like our husbands or ex-husbands to tell us. Too few of us ever get to hear these words. I asked Jay if I could reprint some of his thoughts because I believe it validates so much of what all of us feel and need to hear. After reading his words, I am sure you will appreciate not only what he says, but also the beauty of how he says it.
Jay’s first communication to me in early February stated:
I thanked him for his kind words, and his response was this:
." I think that both men and women in these circumstances must recognize that there are no winners but there are survivors who create new ways to relate, maintain, support and redefine their family. In the process of ending my marriage, I lost my best friend and the dream we had of growing old together. Slowly, we have worked to continue to parent our children in accordance with the many values that we continue to share. There are many things I would, in retrospect have done and handled differently, but my single largest regret is that I did not deal with the secret of my sexuality while still in my marriage and in the years of counseling before divorce. So to those men who you counsel , I would urge them to give the woman they chose to love and bear children the earliest chance to deal with the truth. They probably will not have a marriage together, but they will at least have a chance of preserving the love that once brought them together with hopes and plans for a lifetime.
More words of insight kept coming as the weeks progressed. I will highlight just a few of these pearls that will lead to my conclusion:
I keep reminding myself of the shame that fueled my own 'denial' and kept me closeted for most of my life, however I also know the damage that secrets do to those who keep them and would like to teach that lesson to my kids as well.
…my kids have always been a priority. I can recall vividly, my own frustration at seeking advice on how to come out to my kids and finding little support from the gay or straight communities. Of course, I was looking for the right way to do it and assure that the kids would not go off the deep end or reject me. No one could have given me the surefire approach. However, I think there is a real void. God knows there are self help books out there on everything else.
No woman deserves to be in this situation. In the past, I spent a lot of time searching my own soul, trying to figure out how much of the failure of my marriage was attributable to homosexuality and how much was the struggle for control, neediness and other dynamics extant in any couple relationship. My ex-wife and I hurt each other a lot. There are still things about her that I dislike, but I have concluded that the presence of my secret in that relationship was the primary poison. Much of the rest of our conflicts flowed from it....the absence of trust, the neediness, possessiveness, the anger and ultimately the conflict that I both created (even if it was not by premeditated design) and used to find the impetus despair and courage to leave. Accordingly, as painful as it is to admit, I know that the secret and immutability of my homosexuality is inextricably bound up in all that was wrong in our relationship. Yes, I had difficult issues to confront. As with any person facing difficult times, some of them I handled quite poorly. I could empathize with your own horror and dismay at how you thought and acted at various points.
I share your belief that bisexuality is often a transitional label and crutch used by homosexuals unable or unwilling to come to terms with their natural orientation. I lived that myself. After my separation from my wife, I woke one morning after a date with a woman and was appalled by the self discovery that I might do this to another woman because I hated who and how I was.
And the most profound words were yet to come:
I was much more demanding about the order around me when I was married to my ex-wife. While I still like a nice home, I find I am less compulsive about cleaning and demanding that those around me keep things tidy and neat. I believe that my need for external order in my prior life was a way of coping with my own internal chaos (and tension created by my attempts to compartmentalize my being.) Of course, my discomfort with disorder at home also served to legitimize my disappointment in my ex-wife as a homemaker. "If only she were a better wife.......we would be happy" was my mantra. Indeed, she was disorganized and sloppy, but as it turned out, I have realized that IF ONLY SHE HAD BEEN A MAN, I WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE TOLERANT. Ouch.
All of Jay’s words allowed me come to a great realization. For those of us who have or had gay husbands who complained actively or passively about our inadequacies and faults as wives, I have another thought:
Who would we be today if we had a straight husband? How would our destiny have changed if we were loved, nurtured, sexually desired with passion and tenderness, given emotional support and encouragement, and made to feel like we were part of a real couple in tune with each other’s needs, wants, and aspirations? What if we didn’t have to spend countless hours each day wondering why we were failures as wives, women, and lovers—ripping away our self-esteem layer by layer until we became strangers unto ourselves and others? What if our husbands’ dishonesty and cheating didn’t change us to become untrusting, suspicious, and doubting wives, forcing us to question our ability to make rational decisions? How many of us were sidetracked through those “detours of deceit” that diverted us from the direction that life might have taken otherwise?
Bottom line—no matter how much a gay man loves a straight woman, it is not the kind of love that fulfills the basic human need that all of us have. It can never be the kind of love that inspires the music that becomes classics or the poetry that makes the heart flutter. It is not the kind of love that can ever be returned to the degree that you are giving it. Even the best of relationships are barely more than great friendships—not the passion and excitement that make us thrive and look forward to waking up each day. And even these relationships are woven with dishonesty, distrust, infidelity, resentment, and frustration. Life was not meant to be this complicated.
What Jay has done for me personally is say what I am still waiting for my ex-husband to say after 20 years. Occasionally, a word of wisdom will float out from my ex-husband expressing how “screwed up” he was through the years. Does it change anything? Not really. But yes, knowing the truth does help validate who we are, what we became because of our gay husbands, and how we can change and now move forward. It’s the first step towards healing the scars, bridging the understanding, and bringing closure to a chapter in our lives.
Thank you, Jay, for sharing your thoughtful insights with all of us. Jay has also graciously volunteered to help men who are going through the struggle of coming out. He has been very valuable in this role over the past few weeks. If you know of anyone who may need guidance, direction, and a supportive voice, let me know and I will forward your information to Jay. If you have any personal questions you would like to ask him, he is happy to respond. Just let me know.