My gay husband: why it took so long for me to leave him
In a 1988 article that appeared in The Times, a reader revealed her anguish at discovering that her husband was gay. She has remained in the marriage since then. Now, in an open letter to her spouse, she explains why she is ending it.
I didn’t intend sending you this letter, but to use it only as a means of catharsis and, possibly, a justification to myself for the leap in the not-so-dark I’ll take once the house is sold and we start to live totally separately.
What made me change my mind was recalling that you said you were a little “confused” about my motives and reasons for such a serious step, radically changing a relationship that has spanned 40 years. You became angry and upset; yet you have often said in the past that you wouldn’t be able to tolerate our situation, were the roles reversed. So may I plead a little confusion also?
Maybe the simplest way of looking at the separation is to think of it as part of an evolving process. First there was your revelation that you were gay (which took me many years to accept), then, later, our decision to combine your need for liberty and a degree of licence with your determination to remain at the core of the family. This led to your move away to live in London during the week and our children and friends accepted the explanation that you were under pressure at work. But the truth of course left me with all kinds of imaginings: what were you doing, who had you been with when you came home to me on a Friday night?
As time passed and you established yourself as part of the gay community, your weekends at home became a moveable feast and emotionally you withdrew from me, no longer showing the same interest in my thoughts or feelings; my internal life. That was inevitable, I now see. And yet I felt I remained on your radar from habit, guilt, or as a refuge from your frequent emotional turmoil, drawing me in whether I liked it or not.
Somehow we had to deconstruct our notion of what a marriage is and create a relationship that could accommodate who we had become. I had to convince myself that your “other life” was only a threat to me if I allowed it to be; but this turned out to be a persistently difficult exercise and one that provoked frequent fiery discussion. You are an extremely honest person; also I think I invited your confidences to seek the reassurance, which I seldom got. It was a poisoned chalice: I was afraid of these spectral figures, these men who threatened my security; yet I thought that if you had the freedom to be with them then you would be nicer to me, a happier person and easier to be with. My instinct then was for self preservation, indistinguishable from my need to preserve the family unit. I had to learn acceptance, as did our children and friends when, later, we told them the truth.
Over the years we have tried to establish boundaries – you would continue to join in family occasions and to share our social life as a couple; I would meet and enjoy the company of your gay friends – although never the ones you were emotionally involved with. At the mixed parties we attended together you would occasionally forget which persona you inhabited – comfortably married spouse or gay social butterfly – with sometimes comical results.
But, in truth, you were probably trying to reconcile the irreconcilable: your gay life and your family life. I doubt if equal weight could be given to these two elements – one has to remain in the shadows, the other can grow in the sunlight. Only so much time and energy can be devoted to the pursuit of relationships (and/or sex) without other aspects of your life suffering. It seems to me your dedication to this need determines all aspects of your life leaving me to wonder about my role and identity within the marriage.
Am I wife? Legally, yes. Partner? Probably not. Lover? Certainly not. Confidante? I doubt it. Close friend? I hope so. Now you are probably going to scold me for trying to pigeonhole what we have, but I don’t have sufficient sense of myself in this. I can’t place myself in the hierarchy of your relationships, or try to compete with a “rival” because this life of yours is something completely apart. Your homosexuality is not negotiable and it permeates everything: the films you sometimes watch, the jokes you share, the clothes you wear – the prism through which you see the world. The potential for establishing an equilibrium within the marriage, which some of our friends now enjoy, perhaps after years of tension and difficulties, isn’t available to us.
The need to walk the line between preserving our life together and respecting your separate one has eventually proved too difficult. I am tired of treading on eggshells, trying to avoid any hint of possessiveness or pressure. I might ask if you were free to accept a dinner invitation to both of us from old friends and you would not want to commit, preferring to remain open to other possibilities, finding the division of loyalties irksome. Accommodating each other comes at too high an emotional price for both of us. So, what else is there, except friendship?
Explaining my decision to our friends isn’t easy: they have become used to our idiosyncratic domestic arrangements over the years, even though understanding how we have coped at all is almost beyond their grasp. Why would I suddenly choose to live independently, after all this time? They compare us with the conventional example of a husband who has affairs but still considers his wife the most important person in his life. But, of course, in our case, the opposite is true: you are continually looking for that man who could be the most important person in your life. That usually stops them in their tracks.
The children, now well-established in their own relationships and careers, can take a more detached view, for their focus has shifted.
What impresses you and me about them is the absence of taking sides, so common in the breakdown of relationships. As they dealt with the knowledge of your sexuality all those years ago, when in their late teens, so they will respect this new shift in their parents’ lives with maturity, empathy and discretion. With what remains of my life, therefore, I’d like to remove once and for all the shackles of expectation and assumption, the huge margin for misunderstanding and misjudgment, and hope that greater independence will allow us to respect and value each other much more.
I’ll never forget what a loving father and caring husband you were – and are still. Not all wives can say that. I hope I can now tuck the past away, beat back any resentment and concentrate on forming a close friendship with you for our own sakes and for our children and grandchildren. I don’t expect you to agree with or accept what I’ve said as your perspective must be very different. Even so. I hope what I’ve expressed is viewed neither as critical of you, nor insensitive to your heroic efforts to be true to yourself and supportive of me. What has partly sustained our relationship for such a long time has been a sincere attempt to understand our respective difficulties.
Love always, Gail
I felt despair after he told me
Here is the article written by Gail Fielding and published in The Times in 1988
About eight years ago, while holding me close, my husband told me that he was gay. For days after this revelation I wrestled with its implications, trying to recall looks or observations that should have sparked more than a suspicion.
Our three children involved us, our sex life continued, and my husband seemed unaltered: no horns or cloven hoofs. But one cannot always bury a timebomb of this magnitude for ever, although I am told there are “hundreds and hundreds” of gay husbands whose wives do not know of, or will not acknowledge, their husbands’ homosexuality.
Sometimes my wall of detachment would be breached. My husband developed shingles. Blandly the doctor observed that his immune system had broken down, not realising the crushing impact of his words, for Aids had just begun to haunt the researchers. Our eyes met in fear, but we could not discuss it, my wall was still too firmly in place. After recovering, and showing great courage, he took the test for Aids, happily negative. And if at coffee mornings, dinners or during the course of my work as a market researcher in unblemished Berkshire, someone sneered at gays or made the ritual remarks, my smile would be careful, my reactions noncommittal. Despite my terror – for that is what it was – I could not betray my husband by joining in.
Together we tackled the subject of homosexuality, my husband as homosexual and the implications for our marriage and children. Our teenage children, constantly at war with each other, are united in their love and respect for their father. But they share the preconceptions of their peers at the local comprehensive school.
For a while I hated gays, the camp and the subdued alike. Across a great divide there was territory I could not invade and could not understand.
I was very frightened. Eventually my despair was total, and yet I spoke to no one. Though I felt I could count on my friends’ support, was it fair to impose such a burden. They too would experience conflict and insecurity, a discomfort felt when views are challenged and affection tested. When I did tell some of them, gently encouraged by a marriage-guidance counsellor, filtering through the astonishment and disbelief was sympathy – for both of us.
For two years we attempted to establish a modus vivendi, some way of allowing my husband to be what he is without causing me too much pain.
It did not work: the combination of concessions (my perception) and constraints (his) were very difficult to reconcile. At present he loves and is loved in return. We are looking at separation, particularly how it will involve and affect the children (to tell or not to tell?) and are terrified of gambling with their emotional welfare. Professional opinion, however, seems to indicate that the sooner they are told of their father’s homosexuality the better, on the grounds that unexplained tension between parents is worse.
I do not want a separation but despair of a working alternative. If someone were to ask me if I would marry my husband again I would probably say “no”, but with hesitation. In so many ways my marriage has been an enriching experience. Clause 28 could encourage more cross-sexual marriages (homosexual married to heterosexual) because homosexuals will feel less secure about their sexual orientation. Those involved may not be as lucky as I.
This is long but good. Tell Gail Fielding what you think by posting your comments in our blog? I’m very proud of Gail.
Reformed Straight Man” of the year, Ted Haggard, Posing as a Straight Man Born-AGAIN at least this week!
Ted Haggard was the head of the largest ecumenical church in America. For years, he was very much on the straight and narrow—until it was revealed that he wasn’t straight at all. He was “dethroned,” kicked out and put into exile after the news came out about his affair with a young man whom he claims there was no “real sex.” Whatever. For the next two years, the Haggard family wandered trying to find a way to live. Their multi-million dollar anti-homosexual operation was taken away from them—the one he created. He was left floundering through life, trying to find his way and where he fit. If I don’t sound sympathetic—well, I’m not. I have no sympathy for people who spew venom against homosexuality while practicing it themselves. But that’s me.
Anyway, Ted Haggard had a few pathetic years to dream up his newest money making scheme. He and his wife Gayle decided that they could give new false home to homosexuals by making them believe they have choices. Now Haggard hasn’t proclaimed he is gay—rather, “straight—with issues.” Of course those issues are homosexual issues. You know what I say—if you want a penis—you want “gay.” You can wrap it neatly in a box and call it whatever you want, but the bottom line is the bottom line.
What I resent about the Haggards is that they are putting back the whole issue of homosexuality 50 years. Through psychotherapy and prayer, a “straight man with issues” can lead a straight life. His wife Gayle bragged about their great sex life on national television to convince us of that. It’s that old line that even if people are gay, they can make choices. They can make a choice not to act on their homosexuality. I’m not quite sure how they can make a choice to make passionate love to their wives without having the ability to greatly fantasize that they are with a man, but maybe there’s a secret that hasn’t been revealed to me yet.
The sad thing is that the Haggards will make more money now than ever because they found the “solution” to the gay thing. This will give new fuel to all of those religious fanatics that believe homosexuality is a sin that doesn’t have to be acted on. This will drive religious gay men deeper into their closets than ever before. People will be paying the Haggards money to learn how to live this straight with issues life that certainly sounds better than “gay.” And so many more women will keep suffering while their husbands pretend they have “found the light” from the darkness they were lost in before Ted Haggard showed them the way.
Do I feel sorry for Gayle Haggard? No, not at all! She has found a comfortable way out of reality and a way to keep misleading women into staying in their ridiculous marriages. She will no doubt profit from the new prophet of “straight with issues.” She will teach women how to love their gay husbands unconditionally enough to help them refrain from their indiscretions that no doubt will continue to happen. She will also be financially rewarded for her false hopes that she is selling. Look, they already made an HBO special that will undoubtedly be followed by a hit book in the near future. They have to do something to make a living. Coping in the real world just didn’t seem to do it.
Ironically, the same week of the Haggards’ national appearances on every major media show, a movie was released on Lifetime called “Prayers for Bobby.” The show was about a deeply committed Christian woman, Mary Griffin, who did everything possible to try to change her son, Bobby’s, homosexuality into heterosexuality based on her strong religious faith after he came out to her in his late teens. At first, Bobby agreed to try everything from therapy to prayer to not be gay. In the end, he told his mother that he has no choice. She never stopped prodding him to keep trying lest he be damned forever, but he just couldn’t do it. In 1983, Bobby killed himself unable to live with the pressure. Mary went through her own “reformation” and became a great activist for gay rights as a leader in the PFLAG movement. (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Mary, unlike Ted Haggard, understood the pain and torture of forcing something to happen that by nature can’t happen. This is the meaning of change—the way it should be.
Until people recognize that gay is not a choice and accept homosexuality for what it is, people will continue to lead tortured lives—especially the wives of gay men who can’t be honest or won’t be honest.
Ted Haggard, former Evangelical minister who was outted by a gay prostitute, resurfaced this week on television talk shows to promote his new book and a special on HBO. In exchange for a cash settlement of 12 months’ salary, Ted agreed to undergo ‘restorative’ therapy. The mega church he founded also demanded that Ted disappear – leave Colorado with his family, remain in exile and not talk to the press. After therapy by the ministry to restore Ted’s masculinity, and several months undergoing psychological therapy, Ted says he finally understands his sexuality. Ted now defines himself as “heterosexual with issues.” I tried looking that up, but it doesn’t appear anywhere on the Kinsey Scale of sexuality.
Listening to Ted’s wife is a lesson in denial and rationalization. Gayle Haggard says she rejects labels. “We don’t have to become our identity,” she stated on Oprah Winfrey’s show, “we can make choices.”
When Oprah asked Ted whether he was heterosexual or homosexual he denied being either. He explained that it is just too complicated to reduce to those terms. “I am a person.”
It seems that after two years of therapy, the only progress that has been made is Ted’s list of personal fables. He is no closer to the truth than he was when he hit on a young parishioner, or partied with drugs and hustlers. True, we do make choices in life and we must accept personal responsibility for our choices. However, sexual orientation is not a choice and it is very much a part of our identity. Ted’s refusal to accept his homosexuality and adapt to it was the only choice he made and it just continues the disingenuous narrative of Ted Haggard. Sadly he is stuck in that stage of denial and trying to cope with the cognitive dissonance between the truth of his sexuality and the public persona he chooses to project. Ted, like many gay husbands stuck in this phase, is driven by fear. In the HBO special Ted revealed that he fought against his sexuality all of his life because he feared loss of his friends, loss of the church and his ability to make a living. Living in isolation and without means to earn a living, Ted is facing his worst fears and he is dragging his wife and sons with him through his personal hell. Ironically, he has been forced into exile and isolation by the anti-homosexual monster he created. But the real victims here are his wife and his two teenage sons who have been dragged through the muck as a result of Ted’s personal demon.
Ted Haggard’s Wife to Oprah: I Knew About Gay Desires
Gayle Haggard thought her husband Ted could control his sexual urges, but she was wrong. And the ramifications would put her family in the national spotlight.
What is it like being married to a gay husband?
Gayle, the wife of former Colorado New Life Church Pastor Ted Haggard, will tell Oprah Winfrey today that she knew about her husband’s same-sex struggles for years and had hoped he had a handle on things. But then, in 2006, their world came crashing down when a male prostitute came forward about a relationship with Haggard. “The first words out of my mouth were, ‘Who are you?’” she said, according to a publicity release issued Tuesday by Harpo Productions.
Adding to the Haggards’ lack of marital bliss is the news this week that Haggard also masturbated in front of a then-22-year-old church volunteer in 2005. The volunteer, Grant Haas, told KRDO in Colorado Springs that Haggard also sent him illicit text messages including “all kind of weird things, texting me about all the different sexual positions, practices he was engaging in and it was just really weird.” The church and the man reached a settlement in 2007. Haas says he spoke out now to protest a new HBO documentary on Haggard. Haas says that film, directed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra, seems to paint Haggard as a victim, a label Haas simply couldn’t accept.
Why, you may wonder, would Haggard agree to such a project? “He talked to us because he had nothing to lose,” Pelosi said. “He was down and out.” But apparently Haggard isn’t too thrilled about the movie. He told the LA Times that he trusted his friend, Pelosi, not to invade his family’s privacy and he wasn’t comfortable with her using videotaped footage for the film. But Pelosi said she wanted to tell his side of the story, since the media did “a disservice” to him.
The documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard,” premiers Thursday at 8 PM ET.
Books that we recommend;
by Dennis Schleicher
Forbidden Love with a Married Man: E-mail Diaries
by Angelo Pezzote
Straight Acting: Gay Men, Masculinity and Finding True Love
by Bonnie Kaye
Be safe, Dennis Schleicher
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