I came out to my wife

Now that I've told her I'm gay, I don't suppose I can stay. But I want to be a father to our 3-year-old son.

Published May 3, 2006 10:40AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm 36, have been married for six years and have a 3-year-old son. I always knew (well, since I was 10 years old anyway) that I had a serious same-sex attraction, but I was raised in a conservative Christian household and lived in deep denial for a long, long time.

I think I thought a good heterosexual marriage would "cure" me. So I fell in love and got married at age 30. The sex was fulfilling, but much to my dismay, the same-sex attractions continued. Several years ago, not long after getting married, and quite by accident, I deconverted. I would now consider myself an agnostic, though my wife remains a committed Christian. While she was pregnant with our son, the sex began to drop off in frequency, naturally I suppose. I filled the space by taking things firmly in hand (ahem), and realized finally that there was something there, that I might be defined by another term.

For some time I kicked around "bisexual," but it always felt like a cop-out. Finally, last year, I realized one day that even if there was a "God," whom I love was likely not its concern. In one fell swoop the realization struck: "I'm gay" -- with no guilt. Since that time, I have been unable to perform sexually with my wife. I entered professional counseling to determine a sound course of action. This led to a conversation a couple of months ago with my wife in which I finally outed myself. Needless to say, she was devastated. She surely saw it coming, though: The sex has dropped off, I never initiate, and oh, did I mention that she caught me with gay porn a couple of years ago?

Despite all this, she professes to be shocked, which I don't believe, and hurt, which I believe.

My quandary is this: Do I stay with her and try to make it work somehow? I feel like if I do, I am betraying the self-realization I finally achieved. I also seriously doubt I can stay faithful to her. The siren call of the young man in heat is far too strong! On the other hand, I am not a "leaver." I do not see myself as an abandoner. I know I must be authentic and true, but it seems as if this is a wretched, lose-lose situation. I either stay and deny myself, or leave my family. Did I mention that I am a serious, responsible, highly involved father? The thought of missing out on the day-to-day life of my son is almost unbearable. Can you help? Is there a middle way that involves honesty without destroying lives?

Finally Out

Dear Finally Out,

You may not see yourself as a "leaver" but you can hardly be a "stayer." Whether a middle way can be found that avoids destroying lives depends on how you and your wife handle this. If you and she can separate and continue to raise your son together then perhaps that will constitute a middle way in which no lives are destroyed. It's certainly a vision that you and she can strive for.

How to achieve it may seem baffling now. You can only do it one step at a time. Ask your counselor to help you through this as you take the necessary steps to separate from your wife, establish a separate household, finalize a divorce and come to an agreement about how to share the raising of your son.

That sounds so simple to say! For such an emotional situation it all seems remarkably clear-cut. Perhaps that is partly because you seem to have an orderly mind. There will of course be obstacles. What they are may not yet be apparent. Expect the unexpected. It can't be this easy.

In trying to ferret out potential problem areas, I would focus on this for starters: You say you do not believe her when she says she is shocked. "Shocked" can mean many things. It may mean surprise and it may hint also at disgust and revulsion. Do you mean that she must have known and therefore is being dishonest when she says she is shocked? Perhaps there is more to it than simple surprise. It would be natural for her to deny or misinterpret whatever evidence she saw of your attraction to men. Consider the extent to which you yourself minimized it, and who could know you better than you? So she certainly may feel surprise. But it may not only be surprise; she may also feel a certain visceral repugnance. And that, I would think, would be very hard for you to accept. How terrible it would be to find that the mother of our child, the woman we love, the woman we married, finds our essential nature repugnant or revolting! Having after much fear and self-doubt finally arrived at the truth about ourselves, how painful to find that we are reviled by those closest to us!

This is just one area that you will want to explore in the coming months as you try to create a new life. Considering that you were raised in a conservative Christian household yourself, it would not be surprising to find that you yourself harbor some ambivalence about your homosexuality. When your wife says she is shocked and you do not believe her, perhaps that is a clue to something. Perhaps you are having trouble accepting the extremity of emotion that this revelation engenders -- not only in your wife but in you.

You sound very cool-headed. And ideally, what should be upsetting about your realizing that you are gay?

But do consider your wife. She could hardly bring herself to share your satisfaction in having attained self-knowledge, could she? Your self-knowledge means only a great loss to her. How greatly, how unselfishly would she have to love you in order to celebrate this with you, when it means the loss of marriage as she knew it? This thing you had together, this sexual love, is gone. Having to experience losing that, she may feel bitter anger toward you. She may feel she has been deceived. The fact that you did not consciously deceive her but were yourself unsure of your condition likely will not temper her feelings of betrayal and loss. She will have a tough time of it. Think of what she must feel.

There is nothing you can do about that. Your nature has been revealed. There is no unrevealing it. It would be not only pointless but cruel to pretend.

I hope that you and she will find a way to share the raising of your child, that you will find happiness as a gay man and that she will eventually move on to find a new partner. It won't be easy. It won't be pretty. Do what you can to protect your son, love him and raise him well. He had no say in any of this.

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