by Bonnie Kaye
Yep, that recurring question really needs to be discussed from time to time, and this is once again the time. Trust me—this issue is controversial with many different opinions. And I must admit my opinion has changed in recent years which I think is good. I think it’s good because as people, we need to keep evolving and challenging ideas that may be different than ours. So let’s start with my greatest change—namely telling the children.
For nearly 25 years, I didn’t believe that the children needed to necessarily be told that their fathers were gay prior to adulthood. I used to think that telling them would be an enormous burden to have to carry around through adolescence. I still do believe there is some validity to feeling that way. Twenty some years ago our country was in the middle of AIDS hysteria, so anything having to do with gay was scary. I saw children of gay men—including my own—being punished by peers or the parents of their peers when the news came out. Those were horrifying times.
had just appeared on the Sally Jessie Raphael show several months before which was aired here in Philadelphia at 5:00 a.m. At that time, I was trying to be cautious because I knew my children were in pre-school, and I didn’t want them to be tied into this subject. I had a different last name than they did, so I felt I could avoid too much connection if the show was aired at that time.
It just so happened that one mother who had a son in the pre-school saw the program. When she heard my son was in the hospital, she assumed because he had a gay father, he must be sick with AIDS. My ex-husband did not have AIDS, and neither did my son. But this woman went hysterical telling all of the other parents and formed a petition to have my son removed from the school because he posed a threat to the other children.
Thankfully the nursery school stood behind me and my son, but at what cost? I was forced to remove him because the other children wouldn’t play with him due to the hatred and fear of their parents. Yes, those were very dark times in our lives, and we were just family members. You can imagine why so many gay men ran into hiding back then.
I knew other children of gay men back in those days who were also being persecuted. One family of three children comes to the front of my mind. Their father was still in the marriage but openly gay. Other kids in their high school would bully them and harass them so greatly that they had to quit school. Times were really bad.
In retrospect, that period of time influenced my thinking that children didn’t need to be told about their gay fathers. Society was very screwed up when it came to gay. Add to that the fact that sexuality is so confusing during the teenage years. I had a number of teenagers with gay fathers tell me they questioned their own sexuality because of this. That sort of sealed the deal for my thinking. Why make our children go through more than they have to go through during those tough adolescent years?
Sometimes women have no say in this decision because their gay husbands are insistent on telling the children or leading an openly gay life in front of the children. But in other cases, women are just as determined to keep this a secret as their gay husbands are. Even in this day and age, some couples take the route of keeping the secret not only from their younger children but also from their adult children. It still amazes me when women write to me telling me that they refuse to tell their adult children because it will place such a “burden” on them.
Anyway, my opinion on telling the children changed last year after hearing enough stories from young adults about the effects the “big lie” had on their lives. I learned that most children today know something is wrong in the marriage. They see that their parents don’t interact the same as other parents they know. There is a lack of affection, loving support, and intimacy. In many cases, children discover their fathers’ viewing habits of gay pornography on the computer long before their fathers are ready to come out.
The letters I have from adult children from these families truly makes me cry every time I read them. The children feel betrayed—and they also feel they are betraying their mothers. They have been living this lie with their fathers by keeping quiet. They feel torn loyalty. They don’t want to be responsible for breaking up a marriage if they tell their mothers. They don’t want to reveal the secret of their fathers. So they sit and watch a dysfunctional marriage around them without knowing what to do.
Some children confronted their fathers when they found the information in front of their eyes and realized it wasn’t a“pop up.” Their fathers begged them to keep the secret because it would “destroy” their mothers. Why hurt her when it is not necessary?
What message is this giving our children about life and marriage? Not a good one. It gives the message of infidelity, lies, and mistrust. That is why parents owe their children the truth. It doesn’t have to be a conversation about sex—it just needs to discuss differences in people and how it happens. It can be a positive conversation. It doesn’t have to be a disaster. But even if your child is hurt, she/he will be less hurt in the end. Children can work easier with the truth than with lies.
Many of our women are torn about telling their children, family, and friends long after the marriage has ended. Sometimes it is because they are afraid of people viewing them as failing in the marriage. This is really sad, isn’t it? They think that people will judge them as not being “woman enough” to keep their men interested. Does this sound silly to you? It’s a reality for thousands of women who write to me.
Other women are sworn to silence by their husbands. Even after numerous betrayals by their husbands, they are still compelled to have some kind of unexplainable loyalty. Trust me—I’m not pointing any fingers because I’ve done my fair share of this as well. I guess this is because we still love these men even though we can’t have them anymore. Or maybe it’s just because the overwhelming majority of us are warm, loving women who are still trying to take care of everything that is out of our control.
Here are my thoughts. How do you explain a marriage breaking up without a reason? Look how many children blame their mothers for leaving the marriage when it had absolutely nothing to do with the real reason. All of a sudden a couple “grows apart”? Well, that’s the excuse so many gay husbands use when they don’t want to tell the truth. Once again, that puts the blame back on YOU. Does that make any sense? No, not to me. It’s bad enough that your marriage is down the tubes. It’s devastating enough that you have no control over what has taken your husband away. But now you have to pretend it’s due to “growing apart”? Yikes. This is one more punishment for you.
It’s 2011. I’m not saying that homophobia isn’t still running rampant. In spite of gay rights and legalized gay marriages in some states, many people still have hatred towards gay. I’m not telling you to“out” your husband publically, but I am saying you don’t have to make this your secret to keep. You should feel fine with telling close family members and friends. You should figure out how to tell your children because they deserve to know. And you need to tell your children without hatred and vengeance. While you are in that mode, it is not the right time to tell them.
Your children will have a hard enough time dealing with the breaking up of the family unit and having a gay father. Remember—children are made up of both parents. They can’t feel good about themselves if they don’t feel good about either one of their parents. That’s why I learned to bite my tongue early in the game until it popped out of my mouth. But I refused to berate my ex in front of my children no matter how difficult that was because I never wanted them to feel bad about themselves.
It always amazes me when I see gay ex’s leading gay lives with live-in partners, but they want you to keep their gay secret. Even long after ending the marriage, they are still having their cake and eating it too. Your recovery has to be your most important goal. Unless you can share this information with those who are closest to you, chances are recovery will not happen for a long time or ever. Taking back your life means being able to dump some of the baggage you’ve been carrying for far too long.
Think about it—if your husband can tell who he wants and lead a gay life, why do you have to make this YOUR secret? He certainly isn’t doing it, and you don’t have to either.