Her monthly newsletters were so educational and she sent me back copies with so much information which I consumed hungrily. She helped me put the straight spouse thing all into perspective. Back in 2010 she wrote this open letter to straight spouses and I want to share it with my minority and immigrant straight spouses. Those of you who live in Jamaica, this is for you too.
Every few years, I have an epiphany. You know what I mean—that “Aha” moment when things you were gray about become black and white. In the past six months, this has happened to me in terms of the always present issue of WHAT TO TELL THE CHILDREN.
Okay, I admit I was on the fence for the past 25 years. And believe me when I tell you I struggled with this throughout the time of my own children growing up, as well as your children growing up. I really vacillated because I felt that every situation was so different. It depended on:
1. The age of the children
2. The location of where the family lives
3. The willingness of the father to reveal the information
4. The acceptance of the mother of her husband’s homosexuality
I used to think that if a child was younger or older, the news would be better accepted. I really did “fear” telling children in their adolescent years for fear of them questioning their own sexuality which might further complicate their teenage years.
Let’s start with the question “why do they need to know?”First, the truth may hurt some of you reading this, but it’s better to face the reality than live in the fantasy. Although our husbands may be award-winning actors as they portray their parts as “straight husbands” during your marriage, you, the straight wives, have not developed that same talent of “acting” like you are happy when you know that there is something missing and wrong in your marriage.
Most of you are spending hours every week wondering what the problem is and how you can fix it, and when you find nothing is changing no matter how monumental your efforts are, you become depressed. There’s no shame in this, trust me. I was there. It’s really hard to keep laughing while your sense of self and sexual esteem is plummeting downwards daily. When the extent of your intimacy with your husband resorts to being a quick peck on the cheek, it’s hard not to feel that sense of rejection.
It doesn’t take long before you move from a state of “living” into a state of “existing.” Yes, you wake up, do your chores, go to your job, get through the days, take care of the kids and husband, but you’re on auto pilot. In most cases you have no idea what is going wrong in your marriage, but you do know it’s not what marriage was supposed to be like. And even when you suspect the worst—namely the truth—you’re doing your best to believe the lies your husbands are constantly telling you hoping beyond hope that lies will miraculously turn into truths--but they never do.
Next is the issue of the children knowing and feeling they now have to keep this news a “secret.” This puts them in a very dark space that they don’t want to be in. They feel they are caught in a web of deceit affecting both of their parents. They don’t want to be the cause of the breakup of a marriage. They know their fathers are cheating but they are afraid of hurting their mothers. They don’t want their fathers to be mad at them, so they keep silent seeing their mothers hurting and feeling helpless to do anything to help their mothers.
Yikes!!! What are we doing to these precious children? We are giving them all the wrong messages about love, marriage, and trust. How are they supposed to find positive relationships in their future when they look at their “teachers”—namely their parents—and feel such a sense of confusion?
Yep, this secret should not be a secret—it should be discussed as soon as the wife has time to process it. And it should be told to the children by BOTH parents. However, some of the fathers refuse to do this, still thinking about protecting themselves before protecting the mental health of their children. In that case, you will have to become the teller of the news on your own. Give your husband a chance to tell it with you, but if he refuses, be firm and tell him that you will do it yourself.
I look at this like a domino effect. Your husband has no choice in his homosexuality. He married you with the hopes and dreams of being a good “straight” husband, but it’s not happening over time. So he’s falling and knocks you down. Now the pressure of both of you falling is knocking down the children. Who are the real victims here?
Mis-marriages (or mistakes in a marriage as I call them) happen. The issue of fault is not the issue when it comes to the children. Gay men make the mistake and most often unintentionally—but they can fix it. They don’t have to linger in your life forever making you feel more trapped than they feel being where they don’t belong. As adults, you have the power to rebuild your lives again even though many of you feel very powerless. With help, counseling, and support—it does happen all the time. But who is there to rebuild your children?
As far as how to tell them, well, that’s another story. It can’t be told with anger in your voice and venom in your heart no matter how you are feeling at the moment. Remember—this is NOT about you—it’s about YOUR CHILDREN. When you talk about their father in a derogatory way, don’t think they won’t be internalizing it because they will. Your children don’t have to be your allies—you have friends and families for that.
The children need to feel a sense of security and love from both parents, even when one of them may be acting like a total jerk. And to my gay men reading this, trust me—it’s not the “gay” that makes these men jerks—it’s the lack of responsibility financially and emotionally to the families after they leave. And while I’m on that subject, I don’t really care about how gay husbands now have the chance to “find themselves” after being tormented in a mis-marriage for years. The family STILL has to come first. That’s the correct, responsible thing to do. I make NO excuses for irresponsible gay husbands who are too busy having fun in their new found freedom to remember their grieving families. NONE.
When you do find out the truth, if you don’t leave the marriage, you are covering up the truth. Like I said, YOU are covering up the truth. By the time you find out, your husband has now let down his defenses and started to get careless. Almost all of these children found evidence of their father’s homosexuality before you did via the Internet, cell phones, or pornographic material in the home. But now you feel backed against the corner to keep HIS secret. Let me tell you as a fact—this kind of secret destroys families.
I can understand the fear that gay men have of their families finding out. I work with many gay men who are going through this process and I do hurt for them. I really do. But I also tell them they need to do the right thing and TELL THE TRUTH. Now I’m telling both our women and gay men you need to tell the truth to your children.
Children don’t have to “visualize” their father’s sex habits in order to know about homosexuality. It’s bad enough that you are smacked in the face with it—but you’re an adult. It’s hard enough for you to figure out—don’t expect them to be able to deal with those thoughts. They shouldn’t have to. They do need to know this:
1. People are born differently. Some are tall; some are short. Some are white; some are black; some have blue eyes; some have brown eyes; some are straight; some are gay.
2. People don’t “choose” to be gay. They are born that way. They don’t always know it because there’s no big “G” sign on their bodies when they are born. The homosexuality develops at different times of each person’s life. Some people know it early; some know it later. There’s no set time which is the problem. For those that develop this later, they don’t understand or know it at the time they are getting married. The marriage was brought together by love, and the children were born out of this love.
3. When a man realizes he is gay, he needs to love his wife and children enough to be honest with them because he doesn’t want his family to suffer anymore. As a gay man, he can’t be the kind of husband the wife needs, but he can still be an important part of the family.
4. A gay man can still be a wonderful father. His love for his children hasn’t changed even if the marriage does change.
I wanted them to feel secure that their parents loved them regardless of the fact that we couldn’t live with each other. I also knew that children are created from two parents. If they believe that one of them is “defective,” they internalize that something within them is wrong. It deteriorates their own sense of self-esteem which affects their future as far as positive relationships. I see it all of the time as our children find themselves in destructive relationships as they grow older because they don’t feel worthy of anything better.
And guess what? I told my children when I felt I had no choice. My ex refused to tell them even though I repeatedly asked him to. They would be in his home and find things as children do—magazines, videos, and other things. They would see him in bed sleeping with other men. By the time they were in their early teens, I felt I had no choice. They were confused, and I felt that as they grew into their teenage years, they needed to understand what was going on. And so, with great sensitivity, I told them because their father couldn’t—or shall I say wouldn’t.
Once my ex knew I told them was he mad? Infuriated is putting it mildly. He told me that I had no business to tell his business. But I told him he had no right living a life that the children were seeing and pretending like it wasn’t happening. How confused were they supposed to be growing up?
We didn’t speak for nearly a year after I dropped the news, but I had no regrets. In fact, in later years when my daughter came to terms with her homosexuality, at least she understood that she didn’t have to live her life in a closet pretending to be who she wasn’t because she didn’t have to feel the shame her father felt throughout his life.
My daughter was far more accepting of her father’s homosexuality than he was of hers--ironically. My son, on the other hand, felt it was his secret to keep from his friends. And that was his choice. He loved his father dearly, but he didn’t want people to know he had a gay father. I respected that decision. My son was certainly pro-gay, but he didn’t want people to know his father was gay. You see, if your children choose to keep the secret from their friends, that’s fine. But at least give them the knowledge to make that choice.
So, yes, there are no easy answers in this most complex situation. But as I tell the men who come to me, the truth will set you free. I am now telling you that it will also set your children free. Please think about this and feel free to get back to me with your thoughts and stories. We owe this to our children.
And speaking of children, we launched our adult children support group in November. If you haven’t told your children about this yet—please do. They need the support as much as we do. Have them write to Bonnie at Bonkaye@aol.com.