Bi/Gay Heterosexually Married Men
By Merle Yost, LMFT
Many years ago (more than I sometimes want to admit) when I was an intern, I posted an ad in a throw-away local newspaper for a coming out group for gay men. I was overwhelmed with the number of bi and gay heterosexually married men who were looking for help in dealing with their feelings that they most desperately wanted to go away.
The power to change sexual orientation is not within the ability of a psychotherapist or even an individual. Coming to terms with who you are is the challenge. Some of these men leave their wives and many do not. Each must choose the path he can live with.
There are many bi and gay men in marriages and heterosexual relationships. Craigslist is heavily populated by them in the "men seeking men" categories. The gay community has been dramatically impacted by formerly married men. I have heard estimates as high as 80% of the AIDS generation has died, and the men that were heterosexually married missed the initial onslaught of the epidemic. Thus, I believe there are a disproportionate number of them in the current gay community.
Brokeback Mountain was a watershed movie for many of these men, because they saw their story and for the first time, many felt they were not alone.
This part of my website is an attempt to share some of the knowledge that I have gained over the years working with this part of the population, in hopes of making the journey easier for the men who are trying to come to terms with themselves now.
The article I have written is largely a 12 page outline of the book I have always wanted to write on the subject. Perhaps I will someday, but for now, I hope that you find it helpful.
Coming to terms with being gay or bi and coming out
Internalized homophobia is the biggest issue for bi and gay heterosexually married men. They have spent a lifetime being who others wanted them to be. In an attempt to fit in and be accepted by society, they have rejected who they are. To be gay or even bi, and out, would make them unacceptable to themselves and society as they see it.
In most cultures, shame and guilt are a large part of sexuality. Shame is feeling badly about who we are, while guilt is feeling badly about what we have done or want to do. For most, there is an overlap between shame/guilt and sex/sexuality as they are deeply intertwined. To be out as a gay or bi man, some of that shame and or guilt must be addressed and worked through.
The Internet, tea rooms (public bathrooms where men have sex), bathhouses, and adult bookstores are full of men that have not come to terms with their sexuality or shame. They are lost in their erotic feelings of sex, while desperately trying to avoid any real intimacy that would force them to really look at themselves and accept who they are. Burying the shame of being gay will only bring more pain as they make poor choices in partners or do other things that are self-punishing.
Spending time alone and being engaged in the community are both required to move through the process of redefining who they are as men, humans and gay. It takes time and feeling to move through the self-loathing and self hate. To be healthy sexually and emotionally, it is necessary to move beyond just the erotic as the motivation for male-to-male sex, on to love as the foundation of being gay.
Too many guys want the fun of gay sex without any of the work of gay relationships. They cannot really comprehend a gay relationship, because have been socialized to believe that marriage or other serious relationships require a woman. To be in a wrong relationship (by sexual orientation) also means a lack of profound sexual attraction or excitement. Gay men can have sex with women, just as straight men have been having sex with men forever, but it is not the same as sex with the appropriate gender for a man’s sexual orientation. I believe that in part, it has to do with the age-old issue for men: the separation of sex and intimacy. Men are not socialized to combine the two. It is sometimes called the whore/Madonna complex. "Sex is dirty and therefore not to be done with someone I love." I think more often this is the result of emotional incest by the mother, and when someone gets very close emotionally, all or most sexual desire dissipates. If your model for intimacy is a parent who has consumed and overwhelmed you, then being loved is a bad thing since you risk being consumed and overwhelmed. By staying on a solely erotic or sexualized level, the risks of real intimacy are minimized.
Men who are coming out of a marriage rush out and look for their fantasy man/boy. They are in the heat of adolescent lust, and mistake that for love and rush into a relationship. I have seen too many men who start to come out, find the "perfect" young man who fulfills all their fantasies, at least on a physical level, and think that they have fallen in love. They invest time, and often a lot of money, into keeping the boy. (I am using "boy" as the description of a younger man in an older/younger relationship between two males of legal age.) Most of these dalliances end in sadness if not tragedy. I have heard from many who have blown a huge amount, if not all, of their retirement savings on this sort of "love." Eventually, they retreat back into the closet or make huge generalizations about what it means to be gay, thereby solidifying their internalized homophobia. They run away, and stop trying and growing.
It is the equivalent of being three and stubbing your toe on a door. This experience causes you to decide that all doors are dangerous, and you are never going through one again. The journey of coming out really begins when you start telling people who you really are, and facing possible rejection because of it. This coming out is a rite of passage for an "out" gay man, and it is one that was avoided by men who got married and have played the "fit in and belong game."
Even for an adult, the beginning of the coming out process is in an adolescent mindset. Adolescents do not make the best decisions, and neither will a man coming out without information or guidance. Being gay or homosexual or queer is about the combination of love and sexual attraction. Sex and love is not about sexual orientation; it is about lust and sexual expression. As a man comes out, he enters that painful exciting stage of an adolescent. He is experiencing what many of his heterosexual peers did in junior high and high school. It is a process that, if short changed, is damaging to the man and any relationship he will enter into afterwards.
I strongly recommend that a man who was married to a woman wait at least two years after the divorce before getting into a serious relationship. That time is needed to reorganize one’s identity. Being in a relationship interrupts that process. We get to know ourselves best when we are alone. A serious relationship before the two-year maturation period is a distraction from oneself, especially in the beginning. Being gay is different from being straight. It is not just a matter of having a different hole to use. There is a very important process that must take place so that a man is able to fully be present in a relationship. A gay identity is not easy, especially for a man who is used to all the societal benefits of being heterosexually married.
There is healing from the divorce. There is financial recovery. There is the discovery of a different world. There is moving beyond an adolescent fantasy of every available sexual permutation. There is a new set of values that relate to a different paradigm. There is facing the self-hatred that comes from being gay in a straight world. And that process of discovery and healing never stops, but it does get much easier to face and deal with and can become an exciting part of being a live and growing.
REASONS GAY GUYS MARRY WOMEN AND/OR PATHS TO DELAYED COMING OUT
1) Kids/babies have one big job while growing up. They have to figure out how the world works. So they try to understand and make sense out of what they encounter and see. One of the big ways they do that is to swallow the values and beliefs that their families, teachers and society tell them about being an adult. The good kid who downloaded all the programming about who he was supposed to be in life is typical of a man who comes out late in life. Not being a questioning or introspective type of guy, he will either stumble over a guy that he falls in love with, or have a mid-life-like crisis. It will be at this point in his life that he finally figures out that he is unhappy. Suddenly, his life will not be fulfilling, and it is then that he really starts to search inside of himself and starts the process where he hopefully will figure out what is missing.
2) Some men acknowledge that they have had feelings for other boys and men while growing up, may have even had several sexual experiences, but feel that they cannot still be loved and be gay. They may continue to have sex on the side or not, but they feels like imposters as they act and do what is expected of them, even as they die inside.
3) Another possibility is that, as a boy, he was sexually abused. Whether he identified what happened as abuse or not, he uses those feelings as the basis for the belief that he would not be having those feelings towards men if it had not happened to him. This man is deeply ashamed and full of self-loathing. He desperately wants to be normal, and is angry about what was done to him as child and how it is keeping him from feeling/being normal.
4) Any and all of the above maybe tied to a religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. A common part of the self-hatred that makes up the core of how a gay man or boy may see himself is due to buying into the belief system that who one is, or what one does, is bad. While religion can and does play a positive role in many people’s lives, when a religion tells its believers to hate themselves for being who they are, it is criminal, and creates unnecessary pain in the world.
FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS
Throughout this section I will be addressing emotions and feelings. For some men this is a foreign concept. I believe that as a rule, men are not taught an emotional vocabulary as they grow up. If a man does not have an emotional vocabulary, then he cannot develop his emotions as a part of himself, and he is not going to be happy in any relationship. Society has made women the keeper of feelings, and both men and women, and especially relationships, have suffered as a consequence. Feelings start as a thought that is then felt in the body. Memories are feelings that are stored in the boy. Letting those feelings move through the body is the path to healing and release.
Feelings and emotions can feel good or bad, but they are never irrelevant or invalid. Trying to control them is usually a losing battle. Traditionally men have been taught to ignore and suppress their feelings. But a man’s job is to manage his emotions, and hopefully understand them so that he can learn more about himself and his experiences with others in the world. How we feel when we are with someone, even casually, tells us a great deal about him or her. Deciphering this puzzle, of "what does this response to them" mean, makes the experience of being in the world much easier.
Again, psychotherapy may be needed to assist in discovering the emotional self. It can speed up the journey and make the process easier. It can help to have an ally. The discovery, work, and feelings are the individual’s, but having a coach on the road will make the journey a lot less lonely and much faster.
GRIEVING YOUR HETEROSEXUAL LIFE/IDENTITY
Coming out means potentially losing a lot. It is possible to lose one’s family (both immediate and extended), friends, home, job, etc. Coming out is never done without cost. At the very least, one’s self-image must be reinvented. This reinvention requires that part of one’s self-image must be changed, and part of that process is to grieve one or more losses. Each person grieves in his own way, but the stages of grief apply to most:
Denial: I am not different. This will be easy. Nothing will change except having sex with men rather than women. A relationship is a relationship, just different parts. No one needs to know, this is private.
Anger: This is not fair. This should not be happening to me. It messes up everything. People will not like me anymore. They will only see that I am gay and I can’t handle that. Why me? I did not ask for this. I don’t want it. I won’t do it.
Bargaining: I will only tell a few people. I will only have sex or be gay when I am out of town. I will only get sucked or do the fucking because that means I am not gay. I am not like that.
Depression: I don’t see a way to be happy. I can’t be gay. I can’t come out. I can’t stand this lie anymore. It is killing me. There is no happy ending for me.
Acceptance: It won’t be easy, but I will do what I have to do. I want to be happy; I want to be who I really am. I am worth it and people who love me will love me no matter what.
The loss can include loss of social status, loss of relatives and friends, loss of jobs, loss of church/religion, and loss of money. Each loss has its own process and consequence. Some men pay higher prices to be who they really are and live in integrity. For the vast majority, the journey is worth the price and they become much better, happier people. But it is crucial that the stages of grief be felt and expressed in whatever way is appropriate for each individual.
PATHS THROUGH GRIEF:
- Support groups
- Reading others stories
- Physical expression of feelings
With every loss there is a gain. In this case, gains include a truer sense of self, rightness with being in the world, and most importantly, learning who really loves us for who we are, not who they thought we were or who they wanted us to be. So, be sure to celebrate the gains. It is like graduating. We should always take time to celebrate the good that comes, just as we need to acknowledge the losses.
Several times, I have mentioned the importance of being alone. At the end of any relationship, and especially the end of a long term one, it is imperative that time be taken to re-discover you. To be in any relationship requires that a certain amount of reorganization of an individual to be part of a couple. When the relationship ends though divorce, death, or separation, it is necessary to take a new inventory to see who you are now, because the person who existed before the relationship does not exist anymore. You have changed. You have much more life experience and you have seen the world through a different set of experiences. This is time to figure out who you have become so that when you are ready to couple again, you will know who you are bringing to this new relationship.
SUGGESTED WAYS OF HEALING AND TAKING INVENTORY
- Live alone if possible
- Travel alone
There is nothing fun about divorce. It is painful for everyone involved. Most men are glad to move on with their lives. By the time they decide to divorce, they just want it to be over. Many of the men that I have worked with feel a lot of guilt about the divorce, and often give away all of their assets to compensate for this guilt. It is important to be fair but not to "give away the farm." Depending on the age when the divorce happens, there are custody and childcare issues, and retirement and property settlements.
All too often, the wife attempts to use the sexual orientation card in the divorce, and it can be really ugly. That sweet woman you married may turn out to be your worst nightmare.
Be sure to get the best, most experienced divorce lawyer you can afford, especially someone local that understands the courts, the judges, and the local prejudices and approaches. There is little to no advantage to stretching this out. Get it done as quickly and fairly as possible, but get it done. You new life cannot really begin until the old one is finished, and until you are divorced, you cannot really grieve or move on with your life.
I have heard many rationales for continuing the marriage on paper only. "She needs the health insurance" is the most popular one. If you were straight and divorcing or separating from a wife, the new girl friend would not tolerate your continuing to be married, and frankly, neither should you future boy friend. While you may no longer be emotionally tied to your wife, the piece of paper that binds you to her is an energetic link that keeps you from really being free and available for another. It is saying "my gay life is not as important as my straight life or commitment."
In some ways it is much easier to be straight or gay than truly bisexual. The old joke is that if you are bisexual, you have twice the chance of a date on Saturday night. The real punch line is: but only if you are in the closet. Bisexuals are much less accepted than men on either end of the Kinsey scale. What I mean by "bisexual" is a man who is both emotionally and sexually attracted to both sexes and able to be in love with either gender. Many "straight" men, in my observation, have sex with men. For them it is easy—there are no emotions involved, and since they are with a man it does not feel to them like they are cheating. It is just sex, getting off, nothing more. So to be truly bisexual is rare and difficult, in my observations.
Most bisexual men that I know are married to women. The payoffs in this society are so great to be straight that there is little incentive for these men to deal with the extra stress and issues of being in a gay relationship. Recently, there has also been an increase in the number of men in open and polyamorous relationships. This allows them to attempt to have various relationships as a way of trying to get their various needs met. I think it is acting with integrity.
At the core of insecurity for men and women is the question: "How can I satisfy the needs of my bisexual partner if I am not everything that they want or need?" The fallacy here is that any one partner can ever completely satisfy the needs of another. When we choose to be in a relationship, particularly a monogamous relationship, we are agreeing that the other person meets enough of our needs to be happy. If a man cannot be happy enough in a monogamous relationship, and knows it, then he should either not be in that relationship or should be clear, from the beginning, that he is only interested in an open or polyamorous relationship. Honest conversations in the beginning about what the relationship means and represents will save a lot of pain and betrayal later.
However, in my experience, many men attempt to have it both ways by having sex or relationships on the side without their wives’ knowledge. Hiding a relationship is to have shame about it. Being married to a woman and having the man on the side says that the male relationship is about sex, not love, with the exceptions noted above. Infidelity does not destroy relationships, dishonesty does.
This is a term that I have only heard in the San Francisco Bay Area. It means that a straight guy who is emotionally and sexually attracted to women at the same time can enjoy the intimacy and occasional sex with another man. Such men are confident in their sexual orientation and open to pleasure and contact from anyone that attracts their attention. I believe that a lot of the men that are soliciting sex from other men fall into this category. They may be getting little to no sex from their wives, and by having sex with man there is no chance of emotional entanglements and they don’t feel like it is cheating. They are not bisexual and they are not gay. They do have some type of homosexual sex, occasionally or frequently.
REDEFINING BEING A MAN
What is a man? This is a question that haunts all men—straight, gay, bi, and transsexual. We strive to answer it as best we can, given whatever role models we grew up with. Many years ago, when I was managing convenience stores, I had a handsome Latino vendor that came in one day and announced that his girlfriend was pregnant, and that he was now a man. One of society’s prejudices against gay men is that they do not procreate, and since they don’t, gay men are not really men.
You will have to decide what it means for yourself. I think that as a whole, we have moved beyond the "John Wayne, strong, tough, unfeeling" manhood stereotype, but each man must find his own way in life. Can you be a man and get anally penetrated, or perform oral sex on a man? To accept or come to terms with what it means to be a gay man, may, and probably will, mean grieving what you thought made a man. As we let go of our fantasies and ideas about who we are, then grief is a natural process that follows.
For most, being with another man emotionally, sexually, and physically means that you do not have the defined gender roles of a man and woman, either sexually or practically, in a relationship. Most men are, to some degree, sexually versatile, and who cooks, washes the dishes, cleans the house, or does the yard work has to all be negotiated. It is not just assumed, based upon gender, what each man’s role is going to be. So does trading roles make you a partial man? Personally, I think that being a man is about knowing and expressing all the parts of you, the masculine as well as the feminine, the top and the bottom, all defined as a fully integrated you and how you choose to express that. Being gay is an interesting journey, one with less societal rules, and thus more room for creative exploration.
Shame is a poor substitute for self esteem. Men who post personal ads without faces are telling you they are ashamed of being gay. And if the ads are just dicks or naked pictures with no faces, they are telling you that being gay is just about sex. They have not fully created a three-dimensional self-picture of being gay. The Internet is by far the method of choice now for hook ups (finding sexual partners). When reading profiles, read between the lines. Look for what is not there. Ask questions. If a question is asked and not answered that is a bad sign. The same thing can and will happen in a relationship or hook up. What else are they not telling you? I think it is called sins of omission.
Is the picture current? Is your picture current? If the profile picture is ten years or 40 pounds out of date, then the posters are lying to you and themselves. They have not accepted themselves so they are not ready to be in a relationship. Pictures in a profile should be updated at least yearly. It is pretty easy to take a new picture.
Is there more than a one-sentence description, or is all of the description about the kind of sex they are seeking or the kind of body they are looking for? I call the later "parts shopping." They are not looking for a person; they are looking for the fantasy parts that will make them happy, at least for ten minutes or so. Having a pretty boyfriend will not make you happy. It might distract you for a while, but over time, it won’t work. There has to be more to the person and the relationship than the external appearance.
Links of Interest
GAY/BI MARRIED MEN SUPPORT GROUPS
- NYC (Yahoo Groups page)
(email group owner for info on NYC support group)