I’ve recently heard from three people regarding an article I wrote a while ago on closeted gay men.
- One man described himself as openly gay, but frequently falling for men who were either married or in the closet. This has brought him much frustration.
- Another man described his dilemma as really wanting to be with a woman…but having a persistent attraction to masculine men that didn’t fit with his understanding of himself.
- In addition, I recently spoke with Bonnie Kaye, M.Ed., who runs www.gayhusbands.com, a website for wives who find themselves married to gay men, about her advocacy for women in these situations.
When I hear different people bringing up closely-related topics, I try to pay attention. What, I wonder, are the common concerns being expressed?
Even in a year when marriage equality is all over the news, the closet is still very much with us. William Gibson once said, “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” That is very true for the emerging equality of LGBT people; for many, equality is a given nowadays. For others, though, especially for those in midlife, a lifetime of censure isn’t undone by “Modern Family” or same-sex weddings.
The struggle for authenticity is by its very nature an individual one. We are influenced by what goes on around us, but we must struggle within ourselves to find what is true for us.
Sexual orientation is a complicated thing. If everyone fell into neat categories –straight or gay/lesbian – then answers would be clearer. But labels rarely fit the complexities of human life, particularly when it comes to sexuality. Orientation is more than just the gender of the person we want to have sex with. Fantasies sometimes conflict with emotional attraction and self-identification. When that’s the case, simple answers evade us. Another favorite quote: Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” When we over-simplify sexual orientation, we are actually doing a sort of violence to those who don’t fit into a box.
Bisexuality exists, though I sometimes wonder if the term isn’t so broad that it confuses more than it enlightens. Some of us are attracted to partners regardless of their gender. Others of us find that our attractions are a mélange that isn’t entirely consistent. Those who have clear, consistent, enduring attractions and orientation can be very confused by the realities of those who don’t.
Sexual orientation can’t be changed by therapy. I’m very encouraged by the moves in California, New Jersey and elsewhere to prohibit so-called “reparative therapy” aimed at changing gay people. Yes, some people’s orientations may be a bit fluid over a lifetime. That reflects the complexity of human sexuality, not the ability of sexual orientation to be changed. People who try to change their sexual orientation are often vulnerable individuals who are most in need of competent professional help, not snake oil “therapy” that is often motivated by religious values and prejudices, not science or concern for the client.
That complexity doesn’t give you a free pass. You still have to decide how to live your life in a way that works for you, is authentic and leads to relationships of integrity. It is the responsibility of the individual to wrestle with this. This is your life, regardless of whether labels or expectations fit you as you’d like. A life well-lived requires accommodating these realities and finding peace with contradictions and paradoxes. It also means not harming others with whom we find ourselves in intimate relationships.
And when we encounter others who have a path that is more complex than our own, we do well to face up to that reality, whether we’re the wife of a gay husband or the gay man attracted to married guys. You may wish things were different with all your heart, but things are the way they are. Happiness is possible. A happy life begins with understanding and accepting those things we cannot change rather than insisting that reality should be different than it truly is.