What about the Spouse?

(Note: I talk about my sex life in this post!)

After screening the Fish Can’t Fly film at a conference of gay evangelicals, a woman who had been married to an “ex-gay” for many years asked me, “What about the wive’s stories? Why aren’t they included in this film?”

Indeed, when watching the documentary I can’t help but notice who is NOT represented. The former wives of “ex-gay” men can boldly say, “We too exist!” (And to a lesser extent, the former husbands of once-former lesbians), even though I rarely see them.

Terry McMillan, the author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, recently candidly shared her experience of being married to a man who turned out to be gay. Most women in the same situation are not invited to tell their story publically.

I was married to a woman for five years before we separated then divorced two years later (while I was at Love in Action). I don’t write or talk much about my former wife mostly because it is too personal. Recently though I was asked the same question twice in the same week, and it got me thinking about my former wife and some of the pain she suffered in our marriage.

The question:

When you had sex with a woman, did you enjoy it? Did it feel good?

(Yes, sometimes audiences get all up in my business.) I could have passed the first time I was asked, but it was a small group and I felt safe.

I explained that yes, the sex act itself felt pleasurable. Sex feels pleasurable. We stimulate the right parts and it feels VERY good (which is why we want to go back for more). Just because I enjoyed the physical sensation of sex with a woman, that did not make me heterosexual, bisexual or even “ex-gay”.

Sadly I never felt physically or sexually attracted to my wife. Not because she wasn’t beautiful and sexy (she turned heads all the time) but because I have never felt sexual attraction towards women. When married, in order for me to reach climax, I had to think of men, usually naked men.

When I did this, (which was every time but once in five years) I felt so awful, so guilty, so bad because here I was physically with my wife yet in my mind I was with a man. I felt I betrayed her time after time. In fact, I wanted to have sex less and less not so much because I was not sexually attracted to my wife, but because of the infidelity I felt I committed during our love making.

I can only begin to imagine what it must feel like to be in an intimate relationship with someone only to find out that your partner does not find you sexually attractive. No matter what you do to your hair, your body, the bedroom, your partner feels no stir of desire when he or she sees you, no longing, none of the erotic sexy eagerness that Solomon and his lover enjoyed.

Not that a life partnership is all about sex. In a healthy relationship we love each other on many levels. We fall in love with a whole person–their mind, their talents, their funny little quirks (“The way wear your hat, the way you sip your tea…”). But how dreadful for a person to endure a marriage where the partner feels nothing sexually except for people outside of the bedroom.

In the nearly two decades of knowing people in the “ex-gay” movement I have seen scores of marriages fall apart because the “ex-gay” husband left his wife or the wife left the “ex-gay” husband (or the marriage simply fell apart). Often we men have gone on to “find ourselves” and our gayness. We come out of our closets to live new lives– honest and often joy filled lives. Our heroes’ journey gets told in films and on stage.

I don’t know what happens to the wives. (My former wife and I do not communicate). Do they have a chance to come out too? And if so, as what, as who? Do they feel pressure from their church that they were somehow responsible for the breakdown of the marriage? Do they harbor self-doubts? Do they feel relief to be free of a beached whale of a love life? Do they feel rage towards their husbands for being unfaithful and faithless? Do they feel anger at the church and “ex-gay” ministries for enabling a marriage that had very little chance of survival and no chance of success?

Now I know there are married “ex-gay” leaders who claim they have successful and happy marriages. I cannot say if that is really the case; only time will tell. The motivation for a family and the accountability of a national ministry can help hold a couple together for many years.

But isn’t it beyond cruel to sanction a union between a man and a woman when one of the two knows and feels daily that s/he does nothing to arouse the sensual passion in the other? They proceed in the sex act out of obedience and obligation and a stretch of faith, but neither can be fully present in the love making.

(Gay marriage DOES undermined the sanctity of marriage–that is when a gay man and a heterosexual woman enter into the marriage contract and are expected to perform miracles in the bedroom.)

Involvement in an “ex-gay” ministry brings devastation to many lives, not just the man or woman who endured the treatment. Spouses, children, parents, friends, so many people get deluded into believing the impossible. When things fall apart, as they almost always do, who is there to help pick up the pieces and when do the spouses get to tell their stories and find their healing?

This post has 23 Comments

  1. Jennifer on November 28, 2005 at 1:43 am Reply

    Peterson,
    All that I can say right now is WOW! That is a tremendous amount of information to take in through one blog. It’s also a lot of personal stuff to share with others, some who are reading your blog for the first time, and others that are veterans to this.

  2. Christine on November 28, 2005 at 2:07 am Reply

    Peterson, you are so right on about this stuff. I know that some marriages based on deep friendship (without a mutual sexual attraction) can work, but I’d imagine only if both parties are able to live with how things are.

    I can only imagine how difficult it must be to find out that the person you are/were with does not find you sexually appealing. I was just talking with someone who saw the Fish Can’t Fly documentary, and he was questioning why a women would be OK with marrying a man that they know is “struggling” with being gay, or who is ex-gay. I have often wondered this myself. I am curious to know if it is the same type of thing that comes into play with those of us who pursue a change in orientation. Is it just that our desire for change is so strong that we fool ourselves into thinking it has happened or is possible? Do these spouses think that their love will be able to overcome all the odds and that they will be able to be another instrument of healing and change?

    I know love is a very strange thing and can make you think that there is nothing that can’t be overcome. Sometimes I compare my own ex-gay journey to a relationship gone bad…where at the beginning you think it can’t possibly go wrong; you can’t possibly end up being hurt; everyone else who ended up shipwrecked must have done something that surely you won’t do; etc. Then there’s the honeymoon bit where it seems like it’s actually working (mostly because the desire to have it work pushes reality away). And then the awful time where you realize that you had been ignoring all the flashing lights and warning bells. And then the part where you try desperately to rescue things, thinking that surely you can still turn things around. And then of course, the inevitable. When you realize and start to see how doomed you were from the beginning. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.

    I just think that it must be something like that for people who willingly enter into a marriage relationship with someone who is gay.

    Thank you for making yourself so vulnerable and posting so openly. I hope that just like we are starting to hear more from ex-ex-gays, we will start hearing more from the spouses who have lived this sadness and (often) nightmare as well. Their stories need to be told. Those of us who have lived to tell the story of our ex-gay time are not the only ones who suffer pain and damage from these lies.

  3. Mark on November 28, 2005 at 3:43 pm Reply

    Christine’s description resonates with me. My former wife knew I was attracted to men before we got married. We were young. We were full of faith. We believed that if we stayed in God’s will that all would work out. In my case, she and I still have a friendship (we share 3 children and that’s a factor). She’s remarried and I’m genuinely happy for her. One thing she said during the divorce process was that she was glad she wouldn’t have to wait for the other shoe to fall. She was always wondering when & if the event would come along that finally did. That isn’t to say she was fully glad for the divorce. She mourned our marriage and so do I. The pain is tragic. The miracle of having had a part in creating and raising 3 wonderful children is beyond regret, though.

  4. Anvilcloud on November 29, 2005 at 4:38 pm Reply

    Wow! You bring a whole perspective to things for me. And you make me wonder if these ex-gay people are doing the same thing as you were. I wonder if it is even possible to be ex-gay?

  5. Brady on November 30, 2005 at 3:40 pm Reply

    Great post, Peterson!

  6. Crystal on November 30, 2005 at 11:00 pm Reply

    Hello, IM doing a speech for my english class about people trying to change their sexual preference.
    Would you mind if I use some of your journal entries here to argue my point in the speech?
    Please let me know, e-mail me at bloody_thorns@hotmail.com

    thank you,
    crystal

  7. Ann on December 1, 2005 at 12:43 am Reply

    As you know, Peterson, I worked with the wvies that came to LiA, without or without their husbands. I also worked with a few husbands as well, but that’s another story altogether.

    My experience found that often the women, in particular, were very sexually naive and theologically conservative. Thus they didn’t know what they “should” expect sexually from a husband. Most were operating under the whole male headship/female submission model which kept them from questioning these vague unnamed feelings they had. They turned out to be feelings of rejection and being used among others.

    A good deal of the women I worked with did not know of their husband’s struggle prior to marriage. Far too often, it came to light after “something” happened. A few did know of the husband’s struggle/past, but as I imagine Mark and his ex-wife experienced, they were really let down by the church. Premarital counseling is usually limited to 3 sessions (with one given to wedding planning)in many circumstances. Any real expertise in sexuality/sex education/a theology of sex is fairly non-existent among the vast majority of clergy.

    In conservative circles, add another element to the lack of sexuality training and misinformation. If the spouse struggles and/or is ex-gay, adherence to the church’s ideology regarding homosexuality is more important than really confronting the couple with what they are truly going to face. We, the Church, have done such folks a great disservice.

  8. missinu3400 on December 2, 2005 at 10:42 am Reply

    You are very correct in saying that the wives or husbands emotions and effects are not shared in the coming out. My husband came out to me several months ago but has no clue in the world what I feel about the whole situation. I know he feels bad for letting me believe for so many years, but still . . .
    Television only focuses on the gay person. Many gay men were once in a relationship with a woman. Where does this come into play? Do we just disappear? Don’t think so.
    But at the same time, I understand there is a stigma associated with being married and being gay. According to my husband, you are never fully accepted into the gay community. When we go out, I am his best friend and roommate, not his wife. His friends do not know he is married. Is that fair?
    I think sometimes we are just a fallback person, a safe place. We sometimes support them until they are all grown up then bye-bye! It’s like we never existed.
    I don’t know how my story will come out yet. Take life one day at a time.
    missinu3400

  9. mdh on December 2, 2005 at 3:07 pm Reply

    PT writes: “I don’t know what happens to the wives.”

    Well, Terry McMillan’s comments are fairly typical…revealing the pain and anger of betrayal.

    I was married to a woman who identified as bi all of her adult life, until she left me for a lesbian relationship. They’ve got cute little rainbow bumper-stickers on their cars. I’ve got the wreckage of a relationship based on a lie. Long story short, it was horrifying to watch–and be a part of–her agonizing, incremental, year-by-year acceptance of her homosexuality.

    Many straight spouses have horror stories to tell, as well as exhilerating “survivor” strategies to share. Any straight spouses who feel the need should check out the Straight Spouse Network at http://www.ssnetwk.org (look for the “online forum” link on homepage).

    Best wishes,
    mdh

  10. Anonymous on December 3, 2005 at 4:55 am Reply

    Peterson – I’m glad you at least are considering the spouses. I am currently separated from my gay husband, and I hurt from it every day. I love him, he loved me. However, for his entire adult life he has denied his orientation. He was taught by other Christians that if he married a woman he really loved, all these “feelings” would go away. How untrue, and for over 25 years he has made all the effort he could to be straight. This left him depressed and suicidal, and he told me and our [grown] children almost a year ago that he is gay. We aren’t through this, but he has to move into his true identity, and I’m alone. This is intense, and it’s real. I know if ANYONE could change, it is my husband. I only wish that Christians could learn, or at least admit, that orientation isn’t “changeable.”

    I appreciate your blog, Peterson. Keep writing.

  11. Peterson Toscano on December 3, 2005 at 8:45 pm Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your honest and moving comments. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate hearing the voice of the straight spouses of gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Please continue to post your thoughts and feelings hear as you feel comfortable.

    I appreciate the honesty and the willingness to share your pain.
    Peterson

  12. sadia on December 4, 2005 at 3:26 am Reply

    Hey Peterson…

    Timely information, and thanks for so candidly sharing. A good book to for the non-gay spouse to read is Amity Buxton Pierce’s “The Other Side of the Closet”, which shares stories about the paths of a number of straight spouses. She is a great friend to glbt folk and to straight spouses, and the founder of the Straight Spouse Network. http://www.ssnetwk.org is the link for SSN. Ann and I had the opportunity to help her at the SSN booth for the 2000 March on Washington, where we represented some of the folks in the SOTTS email list, which is sponsored by SSN (SOTTS = Spouses out to their Spouses). They also run a couple of other email lists, one for the straight spouses only, and a mixed list with both the straight and gay spouses. SSN is a very good resource for straight spouses, and they have regional groups in many parts of the country as well.

    Sadelle

  13. Trillian on December 4, 2005 at 3:18 pm Reply

    Very powerful words! I have been married to a gay man now for going on 24 years. I found out that he was/is gay after 17 years of marriage and 2 children. We very nearly divorced the first year. But then we looked at the life that we had built together and decided it was worth saving. All of the comments about how can this work when the spouse is gay and therefore not sexualy attracted to the spouse.. although true on some level, just didnt apply to my marriage. I know my husband is sexualy attracted to men. So what. He loves me and I love him. We opened up our marriage about 5 years ago. Which means he and I are free to develope sexual friendships outside the marriage. This is a very controversal solution to our problem.. however it works well for us. The thing that seems to be ignored the most by outsiders looking at our marriage is that we have something far greater than sex. We are soul mates. Put aside the pain of discovery and look at what we have together as husband and wife and its much easier to see how we manage to be happy with one another. Sex just is not everything in life. I am approaching 50 years old.. and I dont feel like my whole life has been a sham. Rather I feel blessed to have found the love of my life. I see so many marriages that are sexless and miserable yet hetro. I dont want that for myself.. I deserve better. By opening up my marriage I am free to express myself as str8 and he is free to express himself as gay, yet we retain the life we have worked hard all these years to build. If his friends didnt except him as a married gay man, then they really arnt his friends.. we do not hide our orientations from them or our children. I realize that my viewpoints dont match yours or many others.. and thats ok. I just wanted to say that at least for this couple.. we are happy together and we do not wish to change that. Its so hard to get past what everyone in society expects is the best scenerio for marriages. I never met a man other than my husband, that fit my needs and had a personality that made me want to live with him for the rest of my life. When we make love, its all about pleasuring one another.
    hugs
    trill

  14. Peterson Toscano on December 30, 2005 at 5:03 pm Reply

    Eugene writes about the fate of these gay/straight marriages and provides clear Biblical analysis for in support of considering same-sex partnering. Read it here

  15. Anonymous on February 6, 2006 at 11:57 pm Reply

    Thank you for these comments on straight marriage and being gay. I am one who has been married for almost 28 years and serve as a minister in a prestigious church in NY and have come to the understanding that I have always been gay. My wife and I rarely talk any more and are looking to divorce after raising our children. I hope that many others will read this and realize their mistakes far sooner. Lee

  16. Anonymous on December 7, 2006 at 5:14 am Reply

    Peterson, I would like to comment, since I am the wife (married for over 17 years) to a man who I found out a year ago…..is gay. This guy was the love of my life. I “saved” myself for him. I was faithful to him. Even when our sex-life was extremely lacking and I felt unloved by him, I was in it for the long haul, and never cheated on him. We have young children. Today, we are separated and headed toward divorce. It is like a bad dream on one hand, and pure relief on the other hand. Bad dream – well, that’s obvious. Pure relief…..well, that is because I finally know it wasn’t ME! That whole time I felt responsible (i.e. not pretty enough for him, not cooking his favorite things for him enough, etc…) for his lack of love toward me, it wasn’t anything having to do with ME, it was his orientation. His confusion. His secrecy. As a Christian, I believe that God looks down MORE on my husband’s dishonesty with me all those years than on his “being gay”. This has torn me up, and has torn up the whole family. Very painful! We are seeking to continue to be partners in raising our kids, and we will continue to be friends, especially for the kids’ sake. One last thing I’d like to mention is that a HUGE struggle I have is trying to reconcile my “best friend” with the man who has “covered up” his homosexuality all these years of our marriage, cheated on me during the marriage, and is emotionally cold toward me and to what this has done to me. They seem like two different men. To all you single men out there: PLEASE…..if you are struggling with your orientation (even a little), do NOT pull a woman into your struggle with you. (At least not through covert operations)! It’s not a good deal. Not for you, not for her. Give her the gift of being able to wait for a man who is secure in being able to commit to a heterosexual relationship with her. Nuff said?

  17. Peterson Toscano on December 7, 2006 at 5:43 pm Reply

    Lee, wow, 28 years. That is a long time. Yes, hope many will read this and take warning. It is so easy to think, well, that won’t happen to us.

    Anonymous, thank you for sharing about your 17+ marriage and for you words of advice to gay men considering marrying women. So much pain for all of you. I can’t imagine how to savage a friendship after deception and betrayal. I guess for some it is possible, but for many the loss of the frienship is yet another casuality. So tragic.

  18. JLove on March 21, 2007 at 7:17 pm Reply

    I just starting reading your blog today and all I can say is thanks, you have so much helpful information this is helping me deal with everything. I am still married but he has not denied it or admit to being bi or gay he just has many profiles up on gay sites. Any input on that for me?

  19. Peterson Toscano on March 21, 2007 at 10:29 pm Reply

    jlove, I am so sorry to hear that. I am not exactly sure what to tell you. Chances are he may not be forthright when questioned, but you know him better than most.

    I think it would be good to talk to someone at the Straight Spouse Network.

    Sounds like you are looking for answers and trying to connect with people. I imagine that is an important step in all of this to build a support system of people you can trust as you go through whatever lies ahead for you and your family.

    I will pray for you and your family as you seek for light.

  20. Melissa McCutcheon on June 1, 2007 at 4:36 am Reply

    The emotional earthquake caused when a person finds out his or her spouse is gay can be devastating. I was married to a gay man for 38 years before divorcing him. I did not know when we married that he was gay.

    i have learned through my experinece that there are few resources for the straight spouse. In my work as a life coach, I encourage people to cast a grateful eye toward what was good in the relationship so that moving on can be a creative process rather than one fueled by resentment and anger.Those feelings are definitely there at first, but the energy of them can be used to create a new life.

    I have also found that many gay men have made the mistake of thinking that since the straight wife was friendly and understanding with other gay men, she would accept her husbands desire to live the life style. It came as a bit of a shock to mine that I divorced him.

    It would be helpful for gays married to straights to have an understanding of what their spouse might experience beforer they come out to the spouse.

    Good article! Melissa McCutcheon

  21. Porkyvore on September 12, 2007 at 8:33 am Reply

    I have read this article and the other articles that you posted re: gay men marrying straight women. I am inlove with a gay guy and I knew right from the start that he’s gay. He is very open about his sexual orientation but I still fell inlove with him. He is my bestfriend and he admitted a lot of times that he loves me as well but up to a certain extent. For months I have been vainly trying to search for articles on the net about gay guys and straight girls having a successful marriage but to no avail. Well this is the most intelligent site I have encountered so far that deals with the topic of gay guy-straight girl “romantic” relationship. I just want to say thank you so much for posting well-written articles. Now I know that there is 0% possibility that a gay guy will ever love a straight woman romantically. It hurts a lot but I know I have to deal with it. I don’t know if I am still making sense since I am crying so hard right now. Thanks again.

  22. Peterson Toscano on September 12, 2007 at 8:07 pm Reply

    Porkyvore,
    I feel grateful that you have found this blog helpful in looking for answers. Sounds very painful. It’s good that you and your gay friend can be honest with each other. That makes a huge difference.

  23. Anonymous on September 8, 2008 at 3:11 am Reply

    I am a married, likely bisexual man. I had some “light” gay experiences as a teenager, along with plenty of hetero experiences. I joined a church as a teenager which is really “pushy” to say the least, but I believe/d in it. I dated and enjoyed dating, and fell in love and married a woman with two children from a previous marriage. I didn’t know at the time what “issues” she really had about sex. We have had 2 wonderful sons together, and many great times. But, over the last 11 years, she has gradually become less and less interested in sex. She never seeks it, never initiates it, and even “reacts” when I am trying. I still find her body attractive, but it is growing harder and harder. She won’t kiss me or really touch me in an intimate manner. She was previously married to an abusive man. She had years of counseling before our marriage, and I know she needs it again. She doesn’t seem to have any confidence that it will help her.

    Meanwhile, my same sex attractions are coming back with a fury. I see cute guys and my body reacts. What does a person do. So far, I’ve done nothing, but I could sure benefit from anyone’s experience. 1410SW1@gmail.com

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