I came out in the early 1980s -- into a thriving lesbian community that was fueled by the feminist movement and had some overlap with the gay male community. I always knew that there were different realities for gay people and that many still were in the closet. I dismissed these realities as not being connected to mine. It wasn't until I met Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed., and read her books (her latest is a memoir, Jennifer, Needle in Her Arm: Healing From the Hell of My Daughter's Drug Addiction) that I began to reconsider.
Kaye is an internationally known author and counselor to straight women who are married to gay men. She also counsels closeted gay men on how honesty can help them and their female spouses.
An opinion piece in The New York Times reports that "the openly gay population is dramatically higher in more tolerant states...." Based on factual research, the author concludes, "The evidence also suggests that a large number of gay men are married to women."
Of course, there are also many closeted lesbians who are married to straight men, something that was documented on The Huffington Post.
There are many similarities, but there are also some differences. Every relationship is different. But I came to the conclusion that homophobia is hurting us all -- the straight spouses, the closeted gay or lesbian spouse, the children and particularly the children of closeted gay parents who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning). Ultimately I was left with more questions than answers. Here Bonnie answers them.
Janet Mason: Could you please explain the nature of your counseling work and how you came to be involved with it?
Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed.: My counseling work specializes in straight women who unknowingly married gay men, and gay men who were hoping they were straight and believed marriage would "cure" those attractions for other men. I started this counseling after the end of my own marriage to a gay man in 1978. Since that time, I have worked with over 100,000 people in this situation, 96 percent women and 4 percent gay men. I currently have a mailing list of over 7,000 people who receive my monthly newsletter.
Mason: What are some of the signs that straight women might be involved with and married to gay men?
Kaye: I have a checklist that is on my website at gayhusbands.com. The checklist includes a decline in sexual activity early in the marriage, a lack of interest in foreplay, unexplained absences of their husbands, a lack of emotional intimacy, viewing gay porn, extensive homophobic remarks, stating he's "confused," and accusing his wife of being too sexually aggressive.
Mason: When a woman discovers that her husband is gay, does the marriage necessarily have to end?
Kaye: I believe these marriages are toxic. Marriages are based on honest communication, intimacy on a physical and emotional level, and fidelity. A gay husband isn't able to provide this to a woman in a sustaining way, as his urges to be with men heighten as the years go on. In many cases, the husband becomes either emotionally or physically abusive due to his frustration of being in the wrong place with the wrong gender. The marriage needs to end because both parties are losing out on what they deserve. However, families can be "redefined" after divorce and remain close as each partner has a chance to find his and her true soul mate.
Mason: Watching the HuffPost Live segment on the Straight Spouse Network, I noticed two things in particular. A gay man mentioned that he became a much better father after he came out, and a straight woman mentioned that her closeted gay ex-husband was homophobic for the 15 years of the marriage before he came out. What are your thoughts on this?
Kaye: Living a lie takes its toll on the whole family unit. They say that secrets destroy families, and this is certainly true. Most children are so sophisticated today that they learn the secret before their mothers do. Then they become keepers of the secret, which tears them apart. If they tell their mothers, they fear it will destroy her life. If they don't tell her, they feel a sense of betrayal because their father is cheating.
Mason: There is an apt saying: "You're only as sick as your secrets." I've known several lesbian friends who have unsupportive closeted gay fathers. Could you elaborate on how having a closeted gay parent can be particularly damaging to someone who identifies as LGBTQ?
Kaye: Children who are gay struggle so much more with dishonest gay parents. Children can sense or know when they have a gay father. His rejection of their homosexuality makes their struggle that much more difficult. They start feeling that "If even my gay father won't accept me, how will others?" In my recent book about my lesbian daughter's life and early death from drugs, Jennifer, Needle in her Arm, I discuss how her gay father's rejection of her lesbianism hurt her deeply. He called her dirty names on a regular basis and told her to make sure not to tell any of his business associates, in case they would think he was gay.
Mason: Obviously, society has to change for the temptation to pass as straight to lose its appeal. Meanwhile, straight spouses of gay partners have to protect themselves. Do you have any final words of advice?
Kaye: Straight spouses need to find support to go through this grieving process in order to move on. Gay partners have to learn that they have the responsibility to help with the collateral family damage that will take place once this revelation is out. The beginning is always filled with turmoil and angry feelings, but the goal should be to redefine the family but work together as much as possible. Sadly, many gay partners are so happy to finally be "free" they pursue what they feel they've missed for so many years and don't provide that support.