Saturday, August 02, 2008

SO DO I...

Anna, whose posts at Kids of Queers have brought a lot of us up short, writes in response to comments:

I think the harm caused by living a lie is huge. There is another choice that can be made that I rarely hear discussed. The man who discovers he is gay later in life could actually start being honest with his loved ones, and choose to stay in the marriage and be loyal to the vow he made his partner for life--the whole life--and to his children and his own integrity as a man--and live up to his commitments. I think the coming clean about his gayness would go a long way.

Everyone in a marriage is tempted to have sex outside of marriage. Deciding you are gay should not automatically entitle you to have sex outside of marriage. You DEAL with it, and remain in your commitment, include your wife in the struggle you are going through, get therapy, etc. Once you make a life commitment you don't get to have sex outside marriage - gay or straight matters not.

I have to say, I think you sort of missed my point. First of all, as Jen pointed out in her reply, coming out to your wife and family but not ending the marriage closets the family, unless you expect to share with the community that you are in a mixed-orientation marriage.

Second, the point of my post was that everyone should live an authentic life. You're making it sound like the decision is totally in the hands of the gay partner, when of course the straight partner can choose whether or not s/he wants to be married to a gay person. Why should your wife have to settle for someone who isn't attracted to her? Can a marriage really recover from a shock like that? Whether or not she ever finds anyone else, she deserves not to be shackled to someone who isn't interested in her.

I realize that is a controversial statement. I didn't realize just how controversial until I got into a discussion about this with Sam in the comments of a previous post of Jen's. My interchange with Sam got me thinking about a lot and gave me a lot of insight into how it was possible for my dad to honestly love and cherish my mom despite his sexual orientation. And I understand there are a lot of reasons to stay married beyond sexual attraction.

Heck, lots of straight couples stay together long after sexual attraction has waned. But we're talking about all of this as if being gay or straight is ONLY about sexual attraction, and I don't think that's true. I also think the the effects of being in such a marriage long-term, even if the homosexuality of one partner is known to both partners, would be devastating.

Surely there must be exceptions. But I can't imagine them. I take your point about not being allowed to have sex outside the marriage just because you're gay, but sexuality is different than lust. A man who has never known the love of another man is in a totally different boat than a man who wants to bonk the hot young secretary. Understand I am am coming at this from a position of thinking there is nothing wrong or sinful about being (or acting on being) gay. If I thought being gay was wrong or immoral, I might take a "love the sinner, hate the sin" approach and say that you should be honest about who you are, but never act on it and never leave the marriage.

But I think that one partner discovering/admitting they are gay is an atom bomb in the relationship. You may be able to get back to some semblance of normal, but things will never be the same. You deserve better. Your partner deserves better.

I wanted to address another comment by
Bose, who says: "One of the hardest parts of that process, though, was that the person I cared for so deeply and never wanted to hurt was not just hurt, but became convinced that our 10 years together had been an elaborate scheme in which I had defrauded and manipulated her from day one."

Bose, does it make you feel any better to know that every wife I've ever talked to who has been in this position feels the same way? And probably most children, too? I'll tell you one reason why: the gay parent has had a long time to come to terms with his/her homosexuality. Coming out and embracing the gay lifestyle is fun. It's a relief. Sure, it may be scary, but it's also exciting. It's a second adolescence of sorts: very self-centered, appearance-obsessed, dramatic, emotional, etc.

The point is that there are good parts and bad parts for the person coming out. For the family, at least initially, there are only bad parts. So if the couple separates and the gay partner is dating and exploring gay culture, it looks to the family like that person got exactly what they always wanted, while the straight partner gets shit. It's hard not to believe it was all calculated.

And you DID defraud and manipulate her from day one, whether you did it intentionally or otherwise. Sounds like in your case, you also defrauded and manipulated yourself (if you didn't really know you were gay, which by the way, is also what my dad says. He could have written your description of why you didn't know you were gay until later in life. Wait--are you my dad?? Just kidding, you're much younger.).

You constructed a life and a marriage to protect yourself from the truth about yourself, which obviously became so overwhelming that you couldn't keep it in anymore. How could your wife NOT feel defrauded? She thought she was marrying one thing, she got another. Either she believes you are gay from birth (in which case you lied to yourself and to her) or that you chose to be gay despite being married (which means you are a real asshole).

For the record, obviously I believe people are born gay and not that they choose it, but you have mentioned your family is religious, and I know sometimes religious people believe it is a choice. So if you were born gay--how could you not know it? How could you marry her anyway? I don't mean to be directing any of this specifically at Bose, who seems like a thoughtful person who is genuinely tortured at the way things went down.

But it is a pet peeve of mine when the gay partner feels surprised and shocked when the straight partner is not only hurt, but ANGRY. Is the straight partner supposed to be just quietly and meekly weepy for awhile and then get over it? Imagine if you were dating a man who came to you one day and said, "I have something to tell you. I'm actually attracted to women." You would flip out! You would feel lied to, betrayed. It would be impossible for you to believe that he didn't know this in some corner of his being and that he hadn't been using you.

I know coming out is really, really, really hard. And I think sometimes people don't want their families to make it any harder than it already is. But that just isn't fair.

Whether or not you divorce or separate, admitting homosexuality is breaking the marriage vows, and that is a betrayal. It's a shame that it has to be that way, but to pretend otherwise isn't fair to the family.

This is a cleft stick for me, without question, which may explain why I glommed onto Anna's post in the first place. I certainly knew I was bi (I was actually there most of the time I was growing up and acting out, after all), but believed I could make a choice and stand by that choice. And I did, more or less happily, for almost twenty-five years. It was a choice that went with a similar degree of commitment from Isis, and when I began to feel (not necessarily correctly) that that commitment was no longer there, I began to question the whole bargain.

I have to take violent exception to the statement that "admitting homosexuality is breaking the marriage vows... and is a betrayal." That is in one case at least, errant nonsense. Isis knew when she married me what my past was, and believed me when I said that I had made a choice to leave all of that behind me. I have written far too much on the fact that "all of that" had not agreed to be left behind, as I discovered many years later; in fact, I had no problem being (to whatever extent) gay and being married at the cost of my supposedly all-important sexuality.

What brought the house down was the recognition of what connecting the dots about leather did to my view of my entire life, including but by no means exclusively, my marriage. Those were two things I could not hold in my hands at the same time and still be the person Isis wanted me to be. She is called Isis here for a reason: she is the wife/mother goddess of Egypt, that fabulous paradise of fleshpots we are always called to leave to find liberation, even if it means forty years of wandering in the desert. She too is a jealous god, and would brook no other gods but her.

When it came down to choosing between a life I knew and loved and finding out what the other side of myself (the "dark side of my moon") actually was, I chose to leave. Not because I loved her any the less, but the conditions were too exacting: I had promised never to act on the other half of my desires if I could only be open about who and what I was, and that was not good enough. She needed me to promise to be emotionally faithful, and that was a promise which, in the midst of my flaming upheaval, I could not make.

It's not like I don't understand: as it is, Isis feels that she has been publicly shamed and humiliated, and adding on top of that the public judgment of her staying in the marriage would have been intolerable for her, as it probably would be to most women.

It's not like I don't understand: what human being does not want to know that he or she does indeed come first, no matter what else may be going on?

But the human heart does not conform to any set of neat, little rules, let alone the insane Procrustes bed of American middle-class morality. We aren't here, in John Patrick Shanley's profound phrase, to make things perfect:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess.

We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.

The storybooks are bullshit.

What Anna says about the fact of homosexuality, or bisexuality (if it exists, and isn't just people unable to make up their minds) being a breach of the marriage vows, approaches storybook status, and condemns people who acted in good faith to being by definition the sole guilty parties.

In a marriage of any kind, in a relationship of any kind, there is never one guilty party. If only life were that simple.

1 comment:

  1. A striking post MCT.

    What I have learned in the last year or two, is that nothing is simple or black and white. There are a mass of grey areas.

    All to often the title "gay" leads to a number of presumptions. One of promiscuity and infidility. I get irked when being gay is reduced to a mere sex act. It runs so much deeper than that.

    I have no doubt though, I am an equal party to the failure of my marriage. In a twisted way I am happy I was able to give a woman I still love in a fashion, an absolution , by coming out gay and admitting my own failings.