Saturday, March 04, 2006

Straight Spouses

"It's ok, you said it. That was the hardest part. I love you. It's ok."

Those were the words my wife spoke to me immediately upon hearing from me that I, her husband of ten years, am gay.

L and Elbow have both written affectionately about their wives in recent posts, and L asked me earlier about my wife on my opening post on this blog. I'd like to tell you a little bit about her, and also what I've learned about the plight of the straight spouse in a mixed orientation marriage.

My wife is remarkable, but her Mormon story is also very typical in some ways -- descendent of pioneers on both sides of her family, raised in the Church, faithful and committed for most of her life. She and I became the best of friends in college and when the relationship took a romantic turn, I was both surprised (because I knew then how difficult it was for me with women) and delighted (because, hey, maybe I'm not gay!). It was never hard to be with her and each new step we took felt natural and right. As I've worked through the guilt of keeping a secret from her for all of those years, I keep coming back to what my therapist told me when I described our romance and engagement, "Why wouldn't you go with it?" Indeed. It seemed the right thing to do, in every way.

Even physical intimacy wasn't a problem for us for most of the marriage. We eased into it so slowly with our friendship and courtship, that when it was time to perform, I wasn't afraid. It came as naturally to me as I think it could, and I felt so close to her. In fact, the relative lack of sexual disfunction in our life is one of the reasons she never really suspected that I was gay. (And once she found out that I was, she immediately opened up to the idea that there were ways to bring my homosexual desires into our sex life. I'll say no more than that, but some of the things that L has talked about with his wife have been regular parts of our conversations and considerations.)

When my life started to fall apart last year, it was my wife who demanded that I put it back together. She didn't know what she was really asking me to do, but she knew she couldn't live with a man who was so distant and withdrawn. She'd had it, and she was closer to leaving me than she or I realized at the time. Her insistence that I address my issues and include her in the process was terrifying to me. I didn't know how she would react to my news, and I feared the worst. But I was also certain that I knew this woman and that I knew her heart. So her words of love and acceptance upon receiving this devastating news from me were a relief to me, but not a surprise. They simply confirmed that I really knew her.

We entered into a period of uncertainty in our marriage after I came out. I couldn't think beyond that moment when I came out to her, and so I didn't really know what it meant for our future, nor had I spent much time thinking through what I wanted from that point forward. She was understandably fearful about our future and she wanted to know where we stood. We took a few deep breaths and decided that we would try to begin life anew and that we would envision two futures, one together and one apart. That carried us through some of the darkest moments of last fall.

At the beginning of December, I began to feel trapped. I developed serious doubts that I could carry through with the idea that we should try to stay married. More and more I realized that I wanted that for her, but not for me. I finally allowed myself to admit that what I wanted was a new life with a man--and I wanted it more than I wanted my marriage. And so we once again faced each other and I told her that we would have to end our marriage. She again reacted with understanding and acceptance, though she also went through a period of intense anger focused squarely and understandably on me.

But we got through that and are now living in a period of transition. During this period, I have made great strides toward self acceptance. I have new gay friends and have been embraced by a community that I am slowly making my own. My wife faces a much more challenging road, in many respects. There are not many resources for straight spouses. Many have been deeply hurt and betrayed--even put in grave physical danger by the extramarital sexual behavior of their gay husbands. Many have suffered years of emotional isolation and distance from their gay spouses, only to face new isolation as they begin to pick up the pieces. Until September of 2005, my wife's identity could be defined in three words: wife, Mormon, mother. In short order, she's been reduced to mother, and she struggled with motherhood for a time after I came out to her as well. A friend of mine who is married to a gay woman described the plight of the straight spouse on his blog recently. Though each experiences this in a unique way, I think he hits on many things common to all such experiences. Just as I have finally started constructing an identity that feels more natural and authentic, my wife has to reconstruct hers.

How has my wife reacted to all this? She has consistently chosen the way of love. She has consistently affirmed that this life is better than the life we knew before our hurricane. She has resisted the urge to simply toss me out. She has resisted the urge to flee. And always those urges seem to be replaced with a resolve to work together supportively and figure out what is in the best interests of our children and for each of us as individuals. And she has found her own voice and independence in a way that she never has before. She is confronting her long unacknowledged depression. She has gone back to school. She is facing her issues with the LDS Church. She has become a better mother. And she is asserting her needs, not simply waiting for life to get the best of her. She is seizing the moment.

She is, in short, a hero to me. She has faced adversity with grace and courage. She has acknowledged and experienced pain and hurt without allowing bitterness to take root. And she has allowed me to finally accept myself and find joy in my being. I still struggle on an almost daily basis with the cost that comes with all of this. But we are moving forward confident that better lives lie ahead for us and our children.

I have been reminded over the past two weeks that there will be wrenching pain during this period of transition. Letting go of marriage and a life together is extremely difficult. But we will continue to try to chose the way of love--and it is my wife who deserves most of the credit for that.

If I want, I can go to the gay pride parade in New York in June and celebrate my gay identity with my new community (however I chose to define it). My wife -- and many other straight spouses -- deserves a parade and a celebration as well. They deserve more than "I'm sorry." They deserve happiness and joy and fulfillment every bit as much as we do. They deserve our support and they deserve to have their sacrifices honored.

Here are a couple of resources for straight spouses:

Straight Spouse Network


-L- said...

Now, I want to marry your wife! She sounds like an incredible person. And thanks for the links for straight spouses. I'll pass those along to mine.

I can understand wanting to start a life with a man (I assume you don't have a boyfriend yet) so that you can make your relationship as complete as possible, but with your well-expressed appreciation for your wife I imagine it's extremely difficult to contemplate leaving her for another soulmate you don't even know exists, even with all the rest.

Also, you are a great writer. I'm jealous. ;-)

Chris said...

I imagine it's extremely difficult to contemplate leaving her for another soulmate you don't even know exists, even with all the rest.

It's heart wrenching that something so painful can also feel right.

Elbow said...

I am overwhelemed by the experience that your wife is going through. I know what it is like to be you, but I can't even begin to imagine the things that your wife has had to experience in order for her to get to where she wants to be.
I respect both of you. Your post was brilliantly important. I want so badly to have clarity, and you seem to help me go in that direction.
Thank you for expressing your feelings about this difficult and rewarding time. It is profound.
Your wife seems like an amazing woman, please tell her that I too think of her as a hero.

Bea said...

My husband could have written this post. Please keep posting.

I feel your wife's pain. I wish she would blog too. I haven't found any blogs by straight spouses yet.

his blog: The Accidental Christian

my blog: sh-out

cate said...

I am a straight spouse and I am starting a blog: The thing is, I know that he is gay, I think that he knows that he is gay, but I don't know if he knows that I know that he is gay. And I don't know if he would admit it if I approached the subject. I haven't got anything significant on the blog yet, but please check back often and share your thoughts with me. I need all the support and input you want to give.