Not chipper

When I re-read yesterday’s post, it sounded pretty flat to me — devoid of emotion. Or even worse, it might have leaned toward chipper. And I definitely don’t feel chipper.

Twelve months ago, more than twenty years after the first time, I came out to my wife again. It was terrifying and traumatic to both of us, in different ways. Her trust in me was shattered, she was plunged into doubt about our past life together and our future, and she began to mistrust her own perceptions of the world. If she had been wrong about this, what else might she be wrong about? She’s cried many tears since that day.

For me, the trauma was in the years leading up to that talk, beginning from the earliest days of our relationship. As I mentioned yesterday, I told my wife about my same-sex attraction before we started dating. Yet we were naively optimistic about the future (young love is like that sometimes, I suppose). We greatly underestimated the ramifications, and we moved on into dating and engagement, encouraged by those around us that we were on the right path. I think that she and I and our friends all shared a way of thinking common in Christian circles. The basic tenets are these:

  •  Same-sex attraction (SSA) is not inherently sinful, but it is disordered, out of line with God’s perfect plan.
  •  Acting on one’s SSA is inherently sinful, and must be avoided.
  •  Christians who experience SSA have two choices: remain celibate or marry an opposite-sex partner.
  •  God can heal, and those who love and obey God will be blessed.

So there we were — both deeply committed Christians, active in our churches, committed to daily prayer and Bible study. We both had set out to be missionaries before we met, and we still considered that a likely future. As our love for each other grew, we found ourselves to be wonderfully compatible on a day-to-day basis, and our friends encouraged us onward in our relationship. Eventually the day came when we started discussing marriage.

Ironically, being gay might make a guy more attractive to some girls – especially Christian girls. In Christian purity culture, overt and covert messages clearly communicate that sexual desire is wicked.  And if sex is bad, the controlling your sexual urges must be good. So a young Christian woman who finds herself in a relationship with a guy who doesn’t push the boundaries might take that as a sign of his godliness. And the gay guy may feel relieved that she’s not pressuring him for sexual experiences he’s not ready for.

An so we moved onward. Got engaged, planned the wedding, and through it all were very happy together. The wedding day came, and it was a beautiful sunny day. A wonderful wedding, surrounded by friends and family, many of them relieved, (those who knew, at least), that I had sidestepped that whole gay thing. Our early years together were wonderful. I was in graduate school and she was working as a teacher, leaving us lots of free time. We loved being together — running, playing tennis, going to the beach, going out to eat, or just snuggling on the couch in our apartment watching TV. Summer breaks gave us a chance to travel all over the US visiting friends and family. And after a few years we felt ready for kids.

Sex is complicated in a mixed-orientation marriage. I’m sure every MOM couple has their own unique experiences depending on where the gay spouse is on the Kinsey scale. But for us, sex was frequent enough and always enjoyable. Intimacy was a genuine expression of love and affection, but it wasn’t driven by passion — something that I often regretted for her sake. But the specifics — the details, the motivations — weren’t natural to me.  I often felt lost, uncertain, inadequate.

Once again, there’s a way of thinking common among Christians that makes this all seem virtuous: agape love is higher, more virtuous, a better love than lowly eros. Brutish animal passions should be put away. By denying the errant lusts that afflicted me, and choosing instead to pursue a love blessed by God (a heterosexual love), wasn’t I doing good? And wouldn’t this likely be the path through which God would bring me healing from my malady?

I bought into that way of thinking for most of my life. But I was wrong. Sexuality is a basic part of who we are, a fundamental human need. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sex goes along with food, water, breathing, and sleep.

This is one place where I’ve heard straight people make an ill-fitting comparison between the sexual desires of a gay person and the illicit sexual desires of a straight person. “Sure, I might like to sleep with younger prettier women, but I don’t because I’m committed to my marriage. Can’t you do the same?” The difference is that they have an appropriate, socially-sanctioned outlet for the expression of their sexuality. Maybe in their current relationship; maybe in the past; or if not, there is at least the possibility that someday they may be in a situation where the expression of their sexuality would be celebrated, admired, joyful. For gay people in many religious contexts that is not the case. I internalized the belief that the only proper response to my sexual nature was to reject it. There was no context in which I could ever express my natural sexual identity without guilt, remorse, and shame. Unless, of course, God would change me. If he would make me straight, only then could I fulfill that essential human need.

And that line of thinking subtly subverted our married sex life. The honest expression of love and tenderness could never be separated from the need to walk in a hetero identity that I so much wanted to embody. Sex became a sign of the hope that God was doing what we both wanted. He was making me straight.

Fast forward through ten more years of marriage and the birth of our four children. Throughout that period our sex life was up and down; I’m sure it’s hard for any couple with four small children to maintain the passion and zeal of their youth. Then midlife crisis hit me hard. Job turmoil, financial troubles, deaths of loved ones. Along the way I made some choices I  regret. And then one day I just realized, with crystal clarity, that God hadn’t changed me. He wasn’t making me straight. I am today who I’ve always been — a gay man in a straight marriage. And though I’m still me, and I’m still gay, there’s one thing that has changed — I no longer have hope that I will ever be anything else.

So for the past year we’ve been reeling, trying to find the ground under us; trying to find our way to a hopeful future. I’m really not sure whether we’re succeeding or not.

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19 comments

  1. Greg, I could relate to much of what you shared. I was married for 30+ years. I am currently separated and hoping to get divorced sometime this year. Very early on in my marriage, I realized that sexual intimacy with my wife felt awkward and unnatural. Unlike you in your early years of marriage, our times of intimacy were few and far between. More than once, I heard my new bride speak the words that I dreaded to hear, “We need to talk”. Translation: We are not having enough times of sexual intimacy. After the first 10 years of our marriage, we mutually agreed to ‘give up’ the sexual part of our relationship.

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    1. Thanks for sharing a piece of your story, Bruce. It highlights two observations I’ve been seeing lately – there are common threads woven into many of our stories, and yet the individual patterns are unique. The former gives us hope when we realize we’re not alone; the latter makes it important for us to hear one another’s stories.

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  2. I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years. I just recently admitted I’m bisexual. Since I’m married, I can’t go out and experiment with another woman. My question is, do you plan on staying faithful and be celibate as a gay man, or do you have the freedom to explore that part of you? I’m not trying to be rude, I just want to know how other people handle that part of things.

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    1. Thanks for the question ellendolfan. I am currently celibate as a gay man, though in the past there were several times when I was unfaithful to my wife. We are one year post-disclosure and still trying to figure it out. We’ve heard lots of stories from other people – if you haven’t already found them, you might find it helpful to join MMOMW (Making Mixed-Orientation Marriages Work) and MonMOM (Monogamous Mixed-Orientation Marriages). Both are Yahoo Groups whose members are in mixed-orientation marriages, and there’s a wide range of approaches people have taken in response to their situations.

      I want to write a bit more about celibacy in a separate post when I have time, but for now I’ll just point out that there are significant repercussions for both spouses.

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  3. Powerful words! Thank you for sharing. My wife of 25 years and I are now in counseling and on this journey. After 40+ years of trying, praying, begging, and pleading, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I am who I am.

    The words that ring true to our current journey are these: “And then one day I just realized, with crystal clarity, that God hadn’t changed me. He wasn’t making me straight. I am today who I’ve always been — a gay man in a straight marriage. And though I’m still me, and I’m still gay, there’s one thing that has changed — I no longer have hope that I will ever be anything else.”

    Your blog gives me hope in that I know that I’m not alone in this journey as I try to live a faithful life as husband, father, and Christ-follower.

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    1. Thanks tibo – you’re right that you’re not alone in this! I know all too well that sense of isolation that has stretched on for so many years, and the relief of connecting with others who understand it. Since I started this stage of my journey a year and a half ago, I’ve encountered numerous people through GCN and online support groups who have similar stories. If you read any more of my blog, please overlook the ugly bits that creep in when I’m feeling especially low; I hope instead you can find some encouragement or compassion.

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      1. Want you to know that your words are highly encouraging and compassionate. I am deeply grateful for your spirit of transparency.

        But, I also think that you need to know that the “ugly bits” are also helpful to read and digest. Because I have them, too. And sometimes, we just don’t know how to articulate our feelings…then we run across someone who has done it for us. Just like you have done for me. So, yes, the “ugly bits” are needful.

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  4. I was in my senior year of church school when others noticed I never had a girlfriend. I simply said I had no time or some other excuse, yet it became clear that at this point in my life from both students and faculty, I was expected to have a “Girl”. I am not sure which was worse the staff or students but it became clear I was breaking some unwritten rule and I had to be brought in line or expelled. Now I had know I was gay a long time, I had dealt with it and some what excepted it, even if I had no idea how to court a boy lover. So much to the embarrassment of my school, when was confronted, I picked the TWO most unpopular girls in our senior years and took both of them to all events and claimed they were my girlfriends. One later became a nun? Wonder if I had something to do with that. The other wrote me when I was in the Army and dating with several guys, and asked me if I was going to come home and marry her. I said truthfully no. She married a guy she divorced. My point is that while the school tried to force me to be something I was not, I did not do it, and I never indulged with either girl. However their attempt to manipulate us may have ruined others lives, not mine. The school authorities were way out of line trying to force a sexual belief on me I did not have.

    My point is be who you are and be proud of it. Own it. If you have already gotten involved as you have, and have kids, own that, but don’t torture everyone in the family this way. Ether you and the wife agree to have “separate needed sexual encounters” or split up and let each of you start the families that nurture you. Your children will thank you for that as right now they are getting such confused messages. Hugs

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  5. Just found and scoured most of your blog. I hear you…. am on a similar journey as my husband came out to me almost seven years ago while in a ministry position at a church. I’m sure your journey is complex, just as ours, and it cannot be oversimplified… If your wife would appreciate having contact with someone who is walking a similar–but also surely different–journey, I would love to make some friends who can understand my side of the journey. I have just started to articulate our journey on my own blog, if it interests you. You are not alone.

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    1. Thanks – glad we’ve connected and I look forward to more from your blog. This line of yours caught my eye “If [our marriage] was loveless, our future would be clear, cut-and-dry. If it was loveless, one of us would have left a long time ago…” How I can relate. Someone once joked to use “You’re screwed. Because you obviously care about one another. It would be much easier if you didn’t.”

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      1. Oh how I resonate with that. We have said something quite similar about ourselves, about how much easier it would be if we didn’t both care so deeply–we have been together since we were 13 and 14 (which has been 15 years now). It often feels like our very beings are intertwined.

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  6. Yes, I know the pain and the confusion. And the wrong belief/hope that God will take away same-sex attractions. My wife’s taken most of a lifetime to accept that she’s a lesbian, which explains why she has no desire for me, and why our sex life has gone from low to none. But understanding doesn’t make it any easier to accept. So we’re both mourning the love and the love-life that we’ve never experienced and will never experience. As long as we remain faithful to our vows and to each other.

    I feel that I’m the victim of a cruel joke. We both are. We talked about sex when we were both virgins, before we married, and we both agreed that we wanted lots of sex and lots of children. And here we are with neither. As my attitudes to sex have evolved and ‘liberalized’, as I’ve become increasingly accepting of my body and it’s desires, we have distanced and gone from little sex and minimal cuddles and contact to none. And we seem to have gone from an acknowledgement by my wife that I make her happy (most of the time) to an admission that she was never given (by God) the feelings for me that she thought would come. Thirty plus years to discover that the love was never really reciprocal. So how to live a Christian life, how to be whole, and integrated as a person, how to express my sexuality when I have and can have no sexual relationship with my wife?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing Brassyhub – so important to hear the voices of all those impacted by society’s push ( especially some religious segments of society) for everyone to conform to traditional cis-hetero marriage norms.

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