If there is one thing the straight community is finally starting to recognize about the LGBTQ com it is that homophobia kills. We’ve learned this lesson in the high-profile gay youth suicides, six in one month that were reported nationally. The gay bullying that lead to these deaths is nothing short of murder. One thing nobody has acknowledged is how homophobia maims some straight people, too.
As the former straight spouse of a gay man, I can’t begin to tell you just how much I’d like to see an end to homophobia for good. I often wonder just how different my life would have turned out if the man I’d married had felt comfortable enough with his own sexuality to have lived his life on his own terms. Sadly, I will never know.
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. It’s an important day in the LGBTQ community for many reasons. It is a day that encourages all those who still live their lives tucked away in a “closet” to come out into the light of acceptance. I can surely understand why many people would rather stay hidden inside the dark, cramped space their own closet provides. Just this weekend, eight gang members were charged in the kidnapping and torture of three men in New York City suspected of being gay. That is just another reason homophobia needs to end right now. There are so many more.
They’re here, they’re queer, get to know them
Growing up, I remember the first time I learned someone in my life was gay. One of my aunts by marriage had married a gay man and had a child with him. They divorced when my cousin was still a baby. The man apparently didn’t want to be a father to his daughter and preferred to be referred to as “Uncle Marc.” When my aunt married my uncle, I was still young enough not to know all the configurations of family. When I called Marc my uncle, my mother corrected me later.
“Marc is not your uncle,” she said as we drove home from a holiday gathering at my grandparent’s house. I wanted to know how that could be since my cousin, Desiree, called him uncle. My mother explained it all then spilled the beans; Marc wasn’t even Desiree’s uncle. He was her dad. He was a man who loved men and didn’t want to be with my aunt. My mother said he was gay.
I remember giggling at the concept of two men loving each other the way my mother explained. I was probably eight or nine at the time and it seemed a bit funny. I realize now that was because I had not seen any gay couples together. It was out of my scope, so it seemed odd. In time, however, that would change.
I met Eric, a handsome, James Dean look-a-like, the day he transferred into my Utah high school from Detroit. I was reading Truman Capote’s “Music for Chameleons” and left the copy on my desk during our Driver’s Ed class. The tall shadow swept past me and whispered, “Great book.”
Eric told me that because I read Truman Capote, he knew we could be friends. At the time, I had no idea that Capote was gay. I was given the book by an older man I’d harbored a crush on for some time. Rex was a lean, handsome cowboy who was also surprisingly well-read. He wasn’t gay, but he knew great literature. When I announced to him that I wanted to be a writer, he lent me a few books he felt were “must reads” for my education. I’ll always be grateful to him for that and because it’s how Eric and I became friends.
It didn’t take long to figure out that Eric was in fact, gay or at the very least, bisexual. The longing looks he shot certain members of our school’s football team gave him away, as did his distinctive lisp and the way he always joked about wanting to have sex with me. Had he ever backed up those declarations with more than comment, I would have given in to him. But he never did. He had crushes on boys and eventually started teaching me who in our small Mormon town was just like him. It was a whole new world for me.
When Eric graduated, I was sad. He was a year older than me and was planning to move back east with his family. I remember crying the day their moving van pulled away from our town. Thankfully, I was left with my other gay friend, David, who would watch scary movies with me and gossip about cute boys. Though both boys were pretty firmly entrenched in the closet, most people figured out they what they really were.
‘Gay’ is not a dirty word
“I think our neighbor is a fag,” my mother whispered under her breath when I returned home from school one day. The very word sent shivers down my spine. It was as ugly a world to me as the “N-word.”
“Mother, don’t you mean ‘gay?’”
By this point in her life, my mother had become a hard core Christian fundamentalist. A former free spirited hippy, she was now a sad, intolerant bigot. “Your friend Eric was a fag, too, wasn’t he? I don’t want you hanging out with people like that, Kat.”
I dismissed her ignorance as just that—ignorance. I would not let anyone dictate to me who I could be friends with or not. It seemed like such a ridiculous thing to even care about. That was until the day my friend, Samantha, showed up on my doorstep with two bloody wrists.
Until she’d attempted suicide, nobody knew that Sam was struggling under the weight of her secret sexual orientation. She was such a good friend to me and my sister. We’d spent so many crazy, silly adventures together, it was shocking to see her standing in front of me and my sister with blood running down her arms. She could barely speak as we brought her inside and wrapped her arms with dish towels and called for an ambulance. Being a gay kid in such a small town (Population 5,000) was almost too much to bear. She survived, thankfully, and met her first serious girlfriend in college where she found it okay to be open about her sexuality. She’s alive and well today. I am so happy for that.
Oh to be young, in love and confused
It never surprised me that I fell in love with and married a man who would eventually identify as gay. Since the time I was a little girl, I’d also been an includer. I hated anyone to feel left out or less than. I was the girl who our school principal had take all the foreign exchange kids around. When I met my ex-husband, I had no idea he’d spent the past six years struggling to come to terms with his own sexual orientation.
It wasn’t until 10 years into a roller coaster ride of a marriage that I learned the truth: he was gay and had been cheating on me for at least the last three years of our marriage. During that time, we fought almost constantly. Our sex life disappeared and so did my self-worth. When the truth finally came out one truly horrible morning, I crawled into a closet of my own.
Over the next year, my husband finally began his coming out process (and trust me, it is a process) as I learned all the ways I’d been lied to and deceived so he could protect his carefully-constructed image from the rest of the world. I found out about a boyfriend he maintained for two years while he was in the Marine Corps. I discovered how he’d met with countless strangers at their homes and at so-called “glory holes” where he could have anonymous sex with other men. What shocked me most was hearing from him that many of the men he’d met or hooked up with were also closeted married men.
“I figured they were safe when saw the wedding band on their hand,” he tearfully confessed to me one late night as we discussed his hidden life. I knew I wasn’t alone, but that didn’t make me feel any better.
I’ll never get over you
I found help in a Straight Spouse Network support group, but all the support in the world couldn’t shake the horrible feelings of being lied to and controlled for years. My trust in almost everyone, but especially myself, was gone. I considered suicide, too. Why would I want to live in a world that would let someone treat me with such callousness and then expect me to just “get over it” when the truth finally surfaced? Death seemed so much kinder.
I found a good therapist and spent two years in her care. Yet even now, I often find myself scared of ending up with another man like my ex-husband. Not the gay part, but the part that decided his own agenda of looking “normal” was more important than my right to be in a kind, loving, mutually-respectful relationship. I have to constantly remind myself that not all men are this way. There are good guys out there. It still doesn’t make the hurt go away.
Looking back on our life together, I am forced to wonder what, if any of it, was real. Did my ex-husband ever love me at all? Or was I just a pawn all along in his game? I will never know and that thought alone often keeps me awake at night. I really do wish I’d just be done with it all.
Put yourself in his shoes
I am not unsympathetic to what my ex-husband must have been going through for all those years. I can understand why a man who is told his whole life that his true sexual orientation is wrong would want to do anything to change that. I can see how it would seem easier to try and be like the majority than march with a very small minority. I’m sure it was a unique sort of hell. It is why I don’t hate my ex-husband. I’m not focused on hurting or ruining him. I just wish the whole thing had never happened.
When people still feel its okay to use the word “gay” like an insult, I know I still have work to do. Not just for my friends who are gay, but for the many hidden victims like me who are often the subject of ridicule for not knowing we had inadvertently married a closeted gay person.
As crazy at it may sound to some, I, too, have been a victim of homophobia and I’m straight. Maybe a straight person you know has been a victim of homophobia, too. Isn’t it time, for the sake of humankind, to put an end to the hate?
I hope you answer, “Yes.”
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