No one knows exactly how many gay, lesbian, or transgender people there are throughout the world.
This is so partly because some of these gay folks don't know it themselves and partly because they know it, but they don't want to share this information with others (namely their family or government).
And it is with good reason that people hide their sexual preferences. In cultures where homosexuality is less accepted, the consequences of being queer range from being ostracized to bringing shame to your family to being killed.
According to a March 2010 Economist article on homosexuality in China, due to the tremendous pressure on men to produce an heir, there are "millions upon millions of women are trapped in loveless and often miserable marriages to homosexual men."
The article goes on to say that, "It is estimated that 15-20% of gay men in America marry heterosexual women." Gayhusbands.com estimates that there are 4 million women in this country who are currently married, or who have been married to gay men. Those are some staggering numbers.
In the "culture" of marriage here in the West -- while no one will be beheaded for coming out of the closet -- it is definitely not cool to be gay while married to a member of the opposite sex. Yet it happens. Even in a day and age when there is so much freedom to be who we really are, there are still people who marry a heterosexual out of pressure to get married, pressure to please others, or in an attempt to suppress their true sexual orientation (some gays are actually homophobic themselves!).
Being left by a spouse who says that the marriage is over is difficult, and coming to terms with the loss can be excruciating. But when the marriage is over because your spouse turns out to be gay, there is a whole different layer of thoughts and emotions to contend with.
On one hand, while it never feels good to be left for someone else, it can feel less bad to be left for the opposite sex rather than wondering what it was the "other man or woman" had over you in the way of looks, physical attributes or sexual prowess (some may wonder about personality traits but the initial concerns are often about the external). A justifying reaction of, "It's not that you don't like me personally, you just don't like men (or women, as the case may be)," is common.
Of course, on the other hand, realizing that this person you married -- and thought you knew so well -- is not the person you married -- nor do you know much about them -- can be devastating. There is often an accompanying sentiment of hurt (and perhaps rage) at having been betrayed not by a one-time tryst, but by a complete lifestyle lie.
Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed., came to specialize in helping women face this unanticipated reason for the demise of their marriage after her own marriage collapsed by virtue of her husband being gay.
Kaye reports that when a woman learns the reason for the problems in her marriage -- namely, homosexuality -- she goes through a wide range of emotions from devastation, shame, guilt, responsibility, and perhaps even to repulsion. Men seem to have a similar set of emotions, according to StraightSpouse.org.
"In almost all cases," Kaye states, "women with gay husbands are unaware of their husbands' homosexuality at the time of the marriage."
It makes people wonder if their spouse was ever really attracted to them; if they were ever loved; and if they ever really wanted the things they had worked so hard to build (home, family, community).
Indeed, the spouse who is coming out for the first time may be asking the same questions.
The answers to these questions depend on if the gay or lesbian spouse knew and tried to repress the homosexual attractions, whether he or she didn't know they were gay, or if they are bisexual (attracted to both genders) or pansexual (attracted more to a person's spirit or personality rather than a person's anatomy) so the attraction to their spouse was real, but not limited to one person or gender.
Coming to terms with one's own sexuality is almost always an intensely personal process, but we expect most people to come to terms with it as they come of age. People who come out as older adults have a steeper hill to climb in creating a new life and in gaining acceptance by friends and family. This is even more true when the person is married and has children.
These seems to be no shortage of support out there on this subject matter and I also came across several books on the topic that may be of help to both the gay and straight spouse.
You're What?! Survival Strategies for Straight Spouses, by Heather Cram
My Husband Is Gay: A Woman's Survival Guide, by Carol Grever
Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson are collaborating on a project on reimagining marriage. If you interested in being a part of their research, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.