In June of 2010, Doug Dittmer, a superb peer counselor for the many gay husbands who have contacted me for support with their coming out issues, was kind enough to answer the 12 most asked questions by straight women about their gay husbands.
The article was so powerful, I wanted to re-print it for our June's newsletter if you joined my support network after that or need to hear it again. I am hoping Doug's words will help you get a better understanding what is going on with your gay husband and how things fell apart. Doug is the primary author and researcher of the book we produced together titled Over the Cliff: Gay Men in Straight Marriages. He did a phenomenal job interviewing 17 gay husbands who were truthful with him as far as why they left or stayed in their marriages. You can purchase it on Amazon on my website at www.gayhusbands.com by clicking into the picture in either hardback or kindle. It is also available through all large booksellers.
I asked Doug if he felt that anything needed to be changed after six years, but he said no--the story is still the same--and I agree.
FATHER’S DAY TRIBUTE - JUNE 2010
Once a year during the month of June, I like to dedicate this newsletter to the gay husbands/ex-husbands who are really doing their best to right the wrongs of their marriages. In this year’s June issue, I imposed on my male gay peer coach Doug to answer 12 of the questions that women ask me most often.
Before I give you Doug’s answers to these questions, I would like to remind our women that not all husbands/ex-husbands are irresponsible, cruel, or detached from their families. I know that many of you do have husbands who seem to have been transformed into strangers in your midst—but not all of them.
There are some wonderful gay men who found themselves caught up in their own confusion throughout their lives. When they have the courage to be honest and leave the marriage, they remain faithful to their families emotionally and financially. I have met some of these men, and you have read some of their letters throughout the years.
Doug is a hero to me. I have never personally met him, but I have seen the life-saving work he has done with the men I send him who want to do the right thing, as well as the women who I have sent to him to help them understand the dynamics of our situation from a gay man’s point of view. He has personally helped hundreds of people in clarifying the reality of this situation so that they can move ahead in their lives. I am in awe of this man because he is so generous with his time and efforts to help people in our network.
Although we don’t always agree 100% of the time, we agree almost all of the time. And I guess in this situation where emotions and feelings run so high, that’s the most anyone can ask for. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Doug’s thoughts, I know you will find them honest, insightful, and heartfelt. Hopefully, you will learn some of the answers that you wonder about that have remained unanswered.
If you have questions or comments for Doug after reading this, please send them to me at Bonkaye@aol.com and I will forward them to him.
Here are Doug’s answers to the 12 most often asked questions that come my way from my straight wives.
1. Was my husband gay when he married me?
Science still has not determined why some people are gay but the research since the 1970’s has focused on genetic and/or biological factors. It appears that our sexuality is hard-wired in our brain before we are born. It occurs throughout the world in all cultures and it has been observed in over 100 species. Researchers have also identified structural differences in the brains of gay and straight men. In addition, all those old psychoanalytic theories about absentee or ineffective fathers and dominant mothers have since been disproved. Whether we are gay or straight, it appears that is determined sometime while we are developing as a fetus. Was I gay when I married my wife? Absolutely. I was gay the day I was born but no one in my family knew it or suspected it – including me.
2. Did my husband know he was gay when he married me?
The answer to that question depends on how one defines gay and straight. There is a difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity. Sexual orientation is based on our natural sexual attractions and responses toward the same or opposite gender and it does not change over time. There has never been any documented cases of anyone who changed his sexual orientation. Even the reparative ministry folks do not claim to be able to change someone’s natural attractions and desires. But sexual identity is based on how we perceive ourselves and that self-concept DOES change as we gain experience and become aware of our natural feelings and responses. For example, I knew I was attracted to other guys during my teen years and young adulthood. But the attraction was just physical. I had no interest in any kind of emotional relationship with another male. Therefore I did not define myself as being gay. My concept of the average gay man was shaped by a culture that failed to show me any positive gay relationships and treated them as perverts and felons. Remember, it was only a few years ago that the Supreme Court struck down felony offenses for consensual gay sex. And in most States in America, it still is legal to discriminate against gay people in employment and public accommodations. The only images I had of gay men were those who were gender non-conformists – males whose outward behaviors and interests were feminine and those who were shunned as outcasts in our society. That was not how I saw myself. I saw myself as an average guy who was in a heterosexual marriage. Even though I knew that I found some guys attractive and had natural sexual feelings for them, I did not view that as being homosexual. Like most husbands in these situations, I had limited sexual experience when I married and I married when I was young. I believed that those homosexual feelings and desires were probably present in most men, but the average guy was able to suppress those feelings and form a love bond with a woman, get married and have children.
Like most gay men who marry women, I didn’t define ‘gay’ in terms of sexual attractions. I defined ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ in terms of emotional attachments and/or outward masculine behavior. I couldn’t see myself ever loving another man and I wasn’t into cross dressing or other overt feminine behavior. I couldn’t even imagine it. I never met two guys who loved each other so I had no role models to compare with. The only way that I knew how to live was to love a woman and marry her and have kids. There were no other options in life.
3. Did my husband really love me when he married me or was he trying to escape who he was?
We have all read accounts about gay Hollywood stars who entered marriages of convenience. They didn’t really love their wife. It was an arrangement made by the studio execs or their managers to squash rumors of homosexuality. Being gay in Hollywood is still pretty much a career-capper. Ditto for politicians. Former Governor James McGreevy knew he was gay but got married because he needed a cover. In his book he admitted he knew he could not have a successful political career without a wife. So he married twice to protect his political career. But that’s not the case in most of the gay married guys I’ve met and coached. In fact, most of the husbands describe their marriage in terms of ‘soul mate’ and ‘best friend’. Part of the reason that these marriages are so very difficult and painful is because the relationship between the gay man and his wife is so very close. I’m not surprised. If the brain science is correct, our brain is most similar to those of straight women. We have skill sets most resembling those of women. We have the same high language skills and intuition and empathy. Why should it then be a surprise that we form very close relationships with women? In some ways, we are like the sister our wife always dreamed of having. It is much easier to end a marriage when two people have simply fallen out of love. It is far more difficult and painful to end that marriage when you still love each other but you know that it cannot work. You’re not just losing a spouse. You’re losing the best friend you ever had.
4. If my husband was gay, how was he able to have sex with me?
Men and women experience sexual desire very differently. Researchers had control groups watch porn movies. Using various instruments and brain imaging, they were able to measure sexual arousal. By tracking the retina, they were able to zero in on what the subject was watching or focusing on when they became aroused. It was determined that women tend to focus on the context of the scene – the situation and the romance and intimacy. However, gay men and straight men alike tend to focus on body parts. That probably also explains why women are twice as likely to have sex with men or women. The plumbing equipment and the visuals are not as important to them as the romance and emotional love bond. Men however, are highly visual and respond to visions of genital activity. In addition, a young man’s body is flooded with high levels of testosterone which amplifies emotions. One female researcher began taking testosterone injections equal to about 10% of what the average male her age would have in his system. She discontinued her experiment within just a few weeks. She reported that all of her emotions were heightened to the point where it was difficult to control them. That makes sense. All of our lives, boys have to deal with hyper-activity and out-of-control emotions. But it is that testosterone that pushes us to have sex. It’s the same stuff that makes us fall hopelessly in love – or lust. For most of us in our teens and early adulthood, ANY sex is good. There is no such thing as unfulfilled sex at that age. The very thought of having sex resulted in arousal.
5. Was my husband fantasizing about men when he had sex with me?
Some men do use homosexual fantasies to perform with their wife but that was not my experience nor does it seem to be the case in most that I’ve worked with. Fantasizing about a penis while you’re playing with a vagina just doesn’t work for most of us. If we start thinking about some guy we want to have sex with, and then see our wife making love to us, it usually results in a deflated penis. Most married guys separate our two realities. We live in a heterosexual world and heterosexual marriage and we try to play the role of a heterosexual husband and father. Our homosexual nature is assigned to an alter-ego and we keep that persona locked up in the closet until we can let him out in private – or with another guy. I was sexually active with my wife up until our separation. However for several years of our marriage she was aware that I was also having sex with men. When I had sex with her, I was doing it for her and trying my best to please her. I was able to bring her to orgasm and myself as well. But it felt academic. I was doing those things to please her. But when I was with a guy, whatever activity I was engaged in with them was shear lust and hunger. I wasn’t doing it to please him. I was doing it to please me because I desired it. I think that’s a significant difference that defines what sexual pleasure is. Are you doing it to please the other person, or are you doing it because it turns you on and you hunger for it? As gay married gay men grow older, the testosterone poisoning can no longer be relied upon. The levels begin to drop in the late 20s and 30s. Now he has to rely on desire to make it work.
6. Why couldn’t my husband be honest with me before he cheated with a man?
Most gay husbands married when they were young and had limited or no sexual experience with other men. We try to understand our attraction to other men but some things in life cannot be learned academically or through cognitive reasoning. Logic doesn’t teach us about our sexuality. These are complex physical and emotional responses that we have to experience. But we have no personal experience to draw from so the only way to discern whether this is just some crazy fantasy or something much deeper is through experiential learning. In that type of learning process, we experience something, then reflect on that experience, draw conclusions, and then adjust the experience and try it again. We keep repeating variations until we are able to learn from it and answer the questions about ourselves. Gay married guys are not willing to hurt their wife and family and risk destruction of the marriage over what may turn out to be some phase or ridiculous fantasy. We are not about to do that when it’s just possible that we could try it and come away with disgust and disillusionment. It’s one thing to put ourselves at risk of getting emotionally hurt but we are not willing to destroy our family without knowing the truth about ourselves. But the dilemma is that he cannot go have a full relationship with another man. He cannot experience that because he is married so he never truly gets the answers he needs. Very frequently, it sets him up in an approach-avoidance conflict where he reaches out for something but then pulls back because if he achieves what he desires it will hurt his wife and cause him more pain and guilt – which he tries to avoid. In my own life, I searched for those answers and tried to find fulfillment. But I couldn’t let myself fall in love with another guy and went to extremes to avoid it. That set up a sexual compulsion where I tried to use quantity as a substitute for what I really needed and desired. Until I understood that I was sabotaging myself in the hopes of avoiding painful situations for her, it was a constant compulsion that preoccupied me.
7. Why did he constantly blame me for his unhappiness in the marriage?
In my own marriage, I knew that we had once been sexually happy but didn’t understand why that was changing. Sex was becoming more like a duty or work for me. I saw my own struggle - working hard to try to keep romance and lust alive. However, I didn’t see her working at it at all. It felt like I was the only one working to keep the romance alive and she just took it for granted and didn’t see or appreciate what I was doing to keep it going. It was faulty reasoning. Of course she didn’t have to work at it. She loved me and I turned her on. She didn’t want anyone else. It wasn’t work, it was pleasure for her. But I was wrestling - trying to stay motivated. Yes, I loved her. But I didn’t desire her body. I desired and needed men, and I never had to work at that. It came automatically. And it wasn’t just about a penis vs. vagina. She could have sex reassignment surgery and get a penis – but she would still be a woman with a penis. I desired and needed a man. No matter what she did or how hard she tried to please me, she couldn’t be a man for me. But at the time it was happening, all I could see was that somehow I used to be motivated to have sex with her and now I was struggling and having to work at it. But I didn’t see her putting in the same amount of work/effort that I was. I remember thinking, if only she would be more aggressive in bed, or be more spontaneous and take the initiative. If only she would try to find ways to turn me on. The “if-only” kept coming up until I finally hit the truth. If only she was a man.
8. My husband said that I didn’t want to have sex enough so he turned to men. Is that true?
This is another “if-only” excuse. Quantity is sometimes used as a coping strategy to keep a guy’s mind off of sex. He figures if he keeps himself sexually satiated he won’t think about sex and won’t be driven to have sex with men. He figures it’s her job to keep his sexual energy drained and that way he won’t fantasize about guys or desire to have sex with them. But I learned that staying sexually drained might keep my mind off of sex temporarily, but it still wasn’t going to get me what I needed to be happy.
9. My husband says he is bisexual. Does that mean he can stay happy with me without having sex with a man?
For the most part, bisexuality among adult men tends to be a transitional state. When you look at the statistics by age group, those who identify themselves as being bisexual tend to be in late adolescent years or early 20’s. As we humans sexually experiment and learn about ourselves, we tend to change our ‘bisexual’ self-identity to that of heterosexual or homosexual. By the time we are in mid-life, the number of people identifying as bisexual drops dramatically. In my own case, I identified as being bisexual for several years because I loved my wife and was sexually active with her, but at the same time I was sexually attracted to men though I had no interest in a love relationship with a man. So I didn’t seem to fit in either the heterosexual column or the homosexual column. But as I learned more about me and experimented with men physically and emotionally, it became clear that I was predominately sexually and emotionally attracted to men. I had been subconsciously trying to avoid emotional bonds with men because I instinctively knew that it would be a life altering experience that would threaten my self-concept and my marriage. I could have sex with men but as long as I didn’t love them, I wasn’t gay. Inevitably however, I met a man who I fell deeply in love with. I had an emotional response that I had never known existed. Limerence, that feeling of deep love that has an obsessive-compulsive quality to it, is something I never knew existed. I had never experienced it in my life until he came along. The feelings were so deep and overwhelming that it instantly destroyed any self-concept of bisexuality. I wasn’t caught in the in-between world of loving a woman and yet being physically drawn to men. I was fully engulfed in physical and emotional desire for another man. I couldn’t possibly be any more gay – not by any stretch of the definition.
10. Now that my husband has found his new life, why does he treat me like an enemy?
As I pointed out earlier, these mixed-orientation marriages tend to be extremely close. It is easy to walk away from someone with whom we have fallen out of love. Leaving someone you love feels like pulling live flesh from your body. It’s very common for the husband and/or the wife to assign blame to each other and treat each other badly as a means of making it easier to let go. Also, he has been struggling with his sexuality for a long time. There has been an internal war going on and an identity crisis. Eventually he hates the situation he is in and it doesn’t seem that he will ever be able to be happy and fulfilled because for most of his life he stifled his own needs to maintain his dysfunctional marriage. But eventually the disdain he has for the marriage becomes personified and he begins to see his wife as a block in his path to self-actualization and happiness. Subconsciously he begins to feel as if his wife is the warden and he’s a prisoner. When it reaches that point, any attempt at showing him love is rebuffed. The experience has taught me that people can love us but if that love is not coming from someone we love, it doesn’t feel like love at all. It feels like we are being stalked.
But it need not go from a love relationship to a hate relationship. Many couples find ways to stay friends and co-parent their children. My advice is to not wait until you both become bitter and cynical. Have the courage and grace to admit that the marriage cannot work. Have the caring and love to let go and help each other find someone else who can give them the love you cannot give each other. Hold onto the good memories and hold onto the respect for each other. But let go of the impossible marriage. You are doing no favors to yourselves or to your spouse or children in clinging to a marriage that is dysfunctional and failing.
But know that this situation was not caused by the wife. It didn’t happen because you weren’t sexy enough or you weren’t aggressive enough. It happened because he is gay and despite all the years of war within himself, he cannot change it no matter how much he loves you or how much you love him.
11. My husband tells me that he is gay because he was sexually molested when he was younger. He claims this is a learned behavior that he can un-learn with therapy and support. Is this true?
This is the favorite fodder for anti-gay religious groups such as the Family Research Council or NARTH. These organizations tout statistical studies that report that gay men are more likely to have been molested by adult males as children, and therefore jump to the conclusion that childhood sexual experience with a male causes homosexuality. It begs the question: Is heterosexuality caused by sexual molestation by someone of the opposite sex??
But seriously, the statistics they cite are erroneous or taken out of context. It is true that gay men are more likely to report sexual experiences with adults when they were under the age of 16, but in the majority of those cases (one study reports it as 68%), they had already self-identified as being gay before the molestation had occurred. A closer look at those suspect statistics reveals definitions that become problematic. A boy of 15 who had a sexual experience with a boy of 18 would have fallen within the definitions of having been molested. But most of us would not view sex between a 15-year-old and 18-year-old as a predator molestation.
This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about it in May, 2000:
"No specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual."
Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual."
The national Organization on Male Sexual Victimization stated in 2004:
"While there are different theories about how sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation.”
Sexual abuse can interfere with a person’s sexual enjoyment and may even contribute to a condition referred to as Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in which a person keeps checking to reassure himself that he’s not gay. But childhood sexual abuse does not create a person’s deepest passions, attractions and desires.
12. What do you suggest about telling the children?
I think the answer to that depends on the age of the children. Generally speaking, kids don’t want to hear about anything sexual associated with their parents. It conjures up images of what Mom or Dad does between the sheets. There’s a strong “yuck” factor to it. Husbands and wives divorce every day but they don’t usually share their bedroom disappointments with their children. That being said, if Dad has found a male partner, or if other situations arise that make it necessary to have that conversation with the kids, I believe it should be couched in terms of affection and love rather than complicated and ambiguous labels. Children understand love and affection. But terms such as ‘sexual orientation’ are generally beyond their level of comprehension. Unless they are in their late teens, anything about their parents that includes the word ‘sexual’ is toxic. Wherever possible, the child should be given support he/she is going to need to cope with the knowledge that they have a gay parent. If a child shares that information with friends, they can quickly become the target of mean-spirited taunts. I urge parents to work with a therapist or family counselors in discussing it with kids and I recommend they also have a conversation with the school counselor so the kids have someone supportive they can turn to at school.
Thank you, Doug, again for helping us clarify so many of the complicated situations.
Have a wonderful month. If you need support, write to me at Bonkaye@aol.com.
Support is a "click" away!
LOVE, BONNIE ♥