I was deeply moved by Julie Hinds’ story, recently told on MercatorNet: “Alternative Truths: A wife’s view of a gay coming out”. I am another ex-wife of a homosexual. Our stories have been too slow to come to light.
In the 30 years since Bill* left me and embarked on the gay lifestyle, I’ve struggled to recover from the deep wounds left in the wake of his deception.
People think that homosexuality is about whom one wishes to have sex with, but it is really about one’s orientation to the other in every dimension of a human relationship. The non-sexual aspects of marriage are at least as important as the sexual, if not more so. As Herman Wouk observed in Winds of War, “talk, not sex, constitutes most of the intercourse between a man and his wife.”
A man concerned only with having a wife as a public face is not inclined to treat her as his spiritual and intellectual companion, any more than as a lover. This was my experience.
Billy and I grew up together, started dating after high school and married while still in our teens. We’d been married two years when, during an argument about his non-communication and lack of attention, he broke down and told me he’d been seduced, at age 14, by an older man. “I’ve always been afraid that, if you hadn’t fallen in love with me and married me, that’s where I would have ended up,” he told me. There was not a word about his loving me.
I was young and naïve, I wasn’t close to my parents, and in my community in the 1960s and 70s, nice people just didn’t talk about some things. I was afraid my pastor would contact Bill’s boss if I went to him, so I didn’t get any sort of counseling until Bill eventually left me. In fact, after being physically sick for several days after that revelation, because it was just too much to deal with
, I tried, rather too successfully, to put it out of my mind. We had three children (because I refused to take No for an answer, if you want to know), and we were active in our church all that time.
When, after 11-and-a-half years of marriage, Bill announced his intention of leaving me, my immediate reaction was relief. I’d grown to hate him, over the years, for not taking me seriously as a woman, as a human being. Bill has never been able to see that I possessed any real value or interest in my own right. Most of our arguments were over that. I didn’t or couldn’t remember his earlier admission about the seduction, and he always tried to deflect the blame for his lack of attention back on me: I wasn’t a good housekeeper, so he was too uptight to be affectionate or companionable, or some such thing. But I couldn’t leave. Our religious beliefs, as I understood them, prohibited divorce. I was also afraid of being alone. But now he was leaving. I was going to be free, at last.
I didn’t realize until five months after he moved out, and I ran into him and his partner at the grocery store, what had been going on. The electricity between the two men was palpable. I realized, They’re in love with each other! and remembered the disclosure he’d made years before. Oh, thank God! I thought. If I’d been perfect it still wouldn’t have been enough!
But there was also shock and fear. The realization of just what it meant, that Bill was gay, was a terrible blow. I had been, in gay slang, a “beard,” a false front to give him an acceptable public identity. Everything I had thought was true about myself and my world was suddenly proven false. I didn’t know what was real in my world, any more, or who I was in it. I teetered on the brink of a nervous breakdown for several years after that night, and only slowly recovered some sense of normality.
My work during the first few years of being single had me connecting with a variety of mental health professionals in our city. I wanted to understand what had happened to me – and to Bill; I asked them, Is there any literature about the impact of a husband’s homosexuality on his straight wife? No, they said. Thirty years later there still isn’t. This is why our stories are so important – they comfort us in our basic shared experiences, they assure us we are normal.
Maybe, some day, the psychological community will decide we deserve attention, and studies and papers, too. I’m not holding my breath: an industry that has defined its terms based on politics (as happened following the 1973 American Psychological Association convention, which decided to remove homosexuality from the manual of mental disorders) is not likely to give credence to a point of view opposing that position.
Our struggle is made harder than it ought to be by several factors. The lack of available information about what has happened to us is one. Another is the current political climate that lionizes homosexuality and dismisses us. Our gay husbands are so courageous, so heroic for coming out and claiming their truth . . . They are the important ones, they deserve so much respect and esteem just for being gay.
“Don’t you want Bill to be happy? Doesn’t he have that right?” a gay co-worker asked me at one point. His own partner was formerly married with two children.
“What about my right to be happy?” I countered. “He made me promises. Don’t I have a right to see those promises honored?”
“I’ve never thought about that,” he admitted.
Additionally, when we do share our stories on public media, we get attacked. Comment boxes are full of contemptuous responses: “Sour grapes,” are blamed for our dissent from the celebration of gayness. Misogyny is rampant: we can’t be rational creatures with legitimate, carefully-considered opinions; we can only be harridans seeking revenge.
At the same time, and often by the same people, our tragedy is used to promote gay marriage: “This is why we need gay marriage. If these men could have married, then none of these sob stories would have happened.” This is a false conclusion and an obfuscation of the truth.
The desire for a traditional family is a natural one. Marriage is a uniting of complementary opposites, beginning with the fundamental opposites of male and female. Gay “marriage” does not resolve the deeper wounds of same-sex-attraction and its impact on wives and children, but it does insult our unique identity – our inherent value as woman and as wife. It is also an affront to Christian morals and to natural law. For these reasons I do not recommend some of the online resources like the Straight Spouse Network – their support of gay marriage is counterintuitive to self-respect and healing.
Even worse, for many of us, is that the churches where we ought to find refuge and help are places that foster confusion and a false sense of guilt. My own church and pastor at the time of my initial discovery would have been most supportive and helpful had I had the clarity of mind to seek help. I’ve since converted to Catholicism, which recognizes that homosexuality is a grave impediment to a sacramentally valid marriage. But many in the evangelical and fundamentalist communities encounter a legalism founded on poor theology that employs guilt and coercion to wrongly assign responsibility rather than to support hurting spouses.
Some women decide to stay with their gay husbands, and, in my opinion, there are some very good reasons to stay, if that is agreeable to the spouses. I’m not sure it’s healthy, but there are extenuating circumstances which deserve respect. One woman I know has a disabling condition; her husband has chosen to remain married to her so his insurance is still available to help her in her illness, and their relationship is such that she has found that agreeable.
Another woman I know has been married for more than 40 years and chose to stay because they provide one another a degree of stability and lifestyle comfort. Both these women live with their husbands as if they were brother and sister. I couldn’t do that, but it is working for them – for now. And a wife who would stay with her husband for the sake of his soul – because her presence in the home is a testimony and an encouragement to chastity – is also deserving of respect.
But we can’t win for losing. Even staying in the marriage, women face criticism. An article in Huffington Post expresses great empathy for the gay husband’s sufferings in coming to terms with his attractions. But not a word does the article offer regarding the sufferings and the deep loneliness experienced by the woman married to him; in fact, the article tacitly blames wives for adding to the difficulties their husbands face, or for choosing to remain married to them even knowing the truth.
“By the time married men decide they need to come out, they are wracked with guilt. Some have cheated on their wives, while others have struggled silently. Their minds race with fear at the prospect of losing their families, churches, support groups and friends. They are often depressed and terrified of rejection. Many feel they alone are responsible for making their wives miserable and they are all too ready to give their wives anything and everything she asks for as a sacrifice of contrition for the pain they have caused.
“Of the many stories I’ve heard over the years, there is another element to the issues inside mixed-orientation marriages. Wives who are fully aware of their husband’s sexual orientation . . . are willing to stay married and deal with it. Years later, when the marriage inevitably falls apart, some of these same women are quick to call foul and take the martyr’s role.”
First of all, it’s not inevitable that the marriage will fall apart. Men who are willing to brave the hard work of reparative therapy – not “praying the gay away,” but a wholistic combination of recognized and respected therapeutic techniques – can find wholeness and a deep happiness in marriage. Of course, men who want to call it “trying” when they merely show up to cohabit at the same address are only fooling themselves. From my experience, Mr. Rymel gives the gay husband far too much credit, and his premise is insulting to us wives.
Moreover, husbands can manipulate us, too. Lying about his homosexuality, or about the nature of his relationships is common. And even when a man is straightforward with his wife, promises to work a program, promises to “be good” can fall apart when a man decides there’s no point any more and vacates the marriage. In such a case, a woman might well be justified to “call foul and take the martyr’s role.”
I’ve become friends with women who knew before they married that their husbands struggled and were getting therapy for same-sex attraction (SSA) and/or sex addiction (SA). “But I had no idea what that actually meant, or what I was getting myself into,” they’ve said. There’s no way to anticipate the struggle of living with SSA, how it will affect the relationship in close quarters, how difficult it will be for a man with SSA to be intimate with his wife – sexually and emotionally. Sometimes it’s terribly lonely. And it can be scary (is he cheating when he’s out with a group of men friends?) But they stay, and their husbands work their own program. This is their choice, and they – both! – deserve to be honored for it, not ridiculed.
Besides, whether she stays or goes, or is left, a wife suffers. When the most intimate of her relationships is warped, when she is found fundamentally undesirable – again, in every dimension of relationship – she is wounded, and those wounds go deep and are hard to recover from. The memory of Bill’s recoil from ordinary gestures of affection lingers with me to the point I have feared resting my hand on my friend’s shoulder or forearm. I’m still deeply humiliated by the memory of his telling someone what a let-down he found our wedding night and the consummation of our marriage: “. . . disappointed . . . don’t know what all the fuss is about.”
But there is healing, and there is peace. It’s not an easy path, and there are too few resources for us. I found Wives’ Healing Journey enormously beneficial, but this is the only program I know of. While our gay husbands have public support, networking, and other venues available to help them transition into the gay community, there is almost nothing for the wives they left in pursuit of self-fulfillment. That must change. And I expect it’s going to have to change with us.
Being the ex-wife of a homosexual does not have to dominate our lives. It does not define who we are. But we must support one another, and our voices deserve to be respected.
Laura Lowder is a freelance writer who lives in the US. Her website is www.survivingtherainbow.com. Presently she is working with another ex-wife to develop a network for the support of other women and families affected by a loved one's homosexuality, transgenderism, and other related issues.
* I’m using pseudonym for my ex-husband, not only to protect his privacy, but also that of his parents, who are elderly and unwell, and our daughters, who aren’t accountable for my opinions or choices. Thank you for respecting that decision.