Father Tony

Your Wife Already Knows Your Little Secret

Filed By Father Tony | October 16, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: advice column, coming out of the closet, gay husband

Father Tony,

You want everyone to come out. But why? Is it because you did it and you'll feel better? Misery loves company? I am married to a wonderful smart woman. I love her. Our kids are grown and still I will never tell her I have a gay side. I made that decision way before I met her. I wanted to as you say to the gay priests "do the right thing". Why should I rip it apart now. She deserves better. This is what I chose. My bed to lie in. Why can't I be respected for this?

-- One of many you will never see.

Dear One of Many,

I do see you. I see you all the time and everywhere. Your children see you. And, I'd be willing to bet that your smart wife sees you too.

I have obviously touched a nerve in my attempt to rally all the closeted gay Catholic priests, and in my urging them to show themselves and to support the newly suspended Father Geoff. I referred to them as a "third army" in the battle raging within that church between the traditionalist bishops/pope and the free thinkers who want women, gay and married priests as well as celibate ones.

I am thinking of your letter in tandem with a painfully moving comment I received on that "third army" post on my Farmboyz blog:

Anonymous said...
Here I am, in the third army. I had bought the line, and been ordained, and surrendered my independence. In religious order vows, I have no savings, no retirement, and no recent economic track record. I have no health insurance, except that which is provided for me. If I left, I would be penniless, a couple of years shy of social security, with no hope of ever being economically viable. It is one thing to leave at 30. But, tell me, what should I and those like me do?


In your case, and his, a longterm decision was made that involved a deception. (Even if a person is never confronted about his sexual preference, subscription to a "Don't ask don't tell" way of life constitutes a sugar-coated deception. I know you won't like hearing that, but there is really no way to soften that fact.) Both of you have surely done many admirable things in the course of an inauthentic situation. You have probably treated the people in your lives with great care, but I think that in the long run, you may have short-changed them. I also would assure you that coming out does not wreck all that you have built. It may not even dismantle your marriage. As is the case with the "third army" of priests, there is a third army of married folks who have decided to keep the fact that one of them is gay entirely private, and those couples cannot be counted because they aren't talking.

I am going to keep to my premise that it is better to disclose what you quaintly call your "gay side". A priesthood or a marriage that is built on a weak foundation is not so good. As Dietrick Bonhoeffer said, "If you board the wrong train, it's no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction."

Let's say that you lost all the hair on your head at an early age. You were mortified by you baldness, so you took to wearing a baseball cap 24/7. Of course you had that cap on your head when you met your wife. She made it clear that she liked her men with thick wavy hair. Your courtship progressed and you never took off the cap when you were with her. On your wedding night, you ducked into the bathroom of your hotel room and put on a wig that you had stashed under the sink before you lowered the lights and got into bed with your new wife. Every time you made love to her over the years, you wore that wig. One night, when the two of you are in bed that wig falls off your head. You are horrified and distraught over the revelation of your smooth head, but your wife assures you that she already knows. She had it figured out on your second date. It didn't matter to her because she could see that you were a prince of a man, because you treated her with unfailing devotion, because you were a good father, because you made her the focus of your life.

Feeling a bit relaxed? Ready to sink into your golden years without the possibility of ever having the sex you really desire? Not so fast. I want you to consider the possibility that you could share with her your gay side. If she understood that your orientation is beyond your control, and if she was confident that you were not going to seek romance but only sex, she might even let you off the leash from time to time, and certainly that would be a benefit to coming out, would it not?

You might even get to the point of telling her your most private fantasies so that she could see that they are not about love but purely about sex. How threatened would she be if you told her the following:

"Honey, what I would like is to have my breathing alarmingly interrupted by an aubergine dick the length, width and density of a Louisville Slugger while a Cuban voice whispers 'Ai, Papi, take it.'"

Or, if you said,

"You know, honey, in summer, when he is wearing shorts and those sensible shoes, I would like the UPS man to ring the doorbell, tackle me, drag me inside , bind me with his package tape and use his box cutter with the embossed UPS logo to cut a wide opening in the seat of my pants and then mount me like a big brown dog. I would like a policeman (called by an observant and concerned neighbor) to break down the door, find us on the living room floor and decide to take turns with the UPS man."

Or,

"I would like to spend 48 hours in a cheap hotel room near the Jersey Turnpike with three young slender male red-headed orthodox rabbinical students who are crazed with the desire to surrender to me their 18 year old virginity together, in every way possible and repeatedly to exhaustion." (OK, so this last one might be more my fantasy than yours, but hey.)

Anyway, it is noteworthy that gay men in marriages may choose to come out just to their wives and enjoy the possibility that their wives may still love and keep them, whereas gay priests who come out to their congregation pay a huge price.

But you want me to address the fact that coming out late in life is extremely difficult and in some ways pointless and foolishly hurtful to those closest to you. I agree that it is extremely difficult but I do not agree that it is hurtful.

Men like you fear the bloodshed that goes with being truthful. You see coming out as a bloody mess but you do not understand that all surgery is bloody. All surgery involves the knife. Surgery is by nature messy but it is performed to restore the health of all concerned. The blood stops. The incision heals and life is better.

Unlike the priests of the third army, you can do this surgery at home. Talking to your wife about your gay side is like handing her the knife. Something tells me she won't use it to kill you.


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This is where the concept of bisexuality is useful, even as the term itself is problematic.

Alternately, One of Many is a closet case and can't even imagine that one day his intelligent wife might get tired of keeping up appearances and leave him. Or he has imagined the possibility and this has lead him to wander the internet to Father Tony, who does appear to be seeking company, with rabbinical students no less, but not to share misery!

In your considerations of these issues you have talked basically about people being gay. The whole "getting on the wrong train" approach. But many of us who are married are bi and are out to our partners and sometimes to everyone. What if it isn't the wrong train what if he also truly loves his wife? I am bi and happily married, the fact that I do find myself attracted to men and have dated men in the past does not lessen my desire for my wife or mean that we should not be together. I too am a clergy person and have had to help people with these issues and I would not take the approach that you take to this. You also maintained that his attraction to males was just purely about sex, perhaps something else in his letter told you this but not in the information given and so he may have an emotional component to his attraction. I do agree that being honest and open is the better choice and that he should come out.

Dear Rob,

The letter as printed is all I got from him. I made some assumptions that may not be accurate but I hope they will drive some issues that will guide his course of action. I assume from what he tells me that he wants to remain married to his wife. I assume he would also like to indulge his gay side but cannot find a way to do it without upsetting the neatly stacked pyramid of shiny apples that is his life. I assume that he loves his wife and would only seek sex (not love or romance)with men. This last assumption may be a stretch, and I am extremely interested in knowing how you manage to stay married while "dating" men occasionally. Let's take the gloves off here for a moment. When you say "dating", do you mean "fucking", if you'll pardon the clarifying French? Also, since you conclude at the end of your comment that you agree that he should come out, would you specify to what extent? To just his wife? His family? The world? What approach would you have taken with him if you had to counsel him?

Also, I am finding that I have to make huge efforts to keep my responses from being too lengthy. Even I glaze over when I proof them. This means editing out some thoughts that I hope careful observers like you will add back in. So thank you, and please say more. A married, bi clergyman? Hot.

I am bi and a widower from a loving wife of 23 years. I was open to her about all aspects of my life, and it strengthened our marriage. We were sexual for several years and then it tapered off into love, friendship and companionship. She died and I miss her. I now have a husband (sometimes I make a mistake and call him by my wife's name) and we experienced the same thing. I can't understand why sexual orientation is the determining factor for identity when you love someone, whether that love is a man or woman. Sexual orientation is political and some people have made it a non-profit career, especially gay pastors, leaving behind a loving heterosexual wife and children for a dick or piece of male ass. (Mel White and Bishop Robinson for instance) The family may have understood and could come to an agreement. Marriages are worth working out regardless of sexual desire. Love lasts, sexual desire doesn't.

"Why can't I be respected for this?"

Because it's a lie and dishonesty is almost never worthy of respect.

Father Tony, you give excellent advice as always, but to me the answer to this letter is short and sweet.

This isn't directed at you specifically, Father Tony, but the language of honesty that surrounds coming out and coming out imperatives is starting to wear on me, and I'm trying to pinpoint why.

Because it seems to me that coming out is a rhetorical descendant of confession, that we're asking people to mark off one area of their sexuality, make it an important component of their identity, and the use that identity to police our own thoughts, actions, and desires. And is that liberation?

It's just starting to seem to me that we apply these artificial labels onto someone (like black, hispanic, lesbian...) and expect everyone else to come from the same background we do and place the same importance on that taxonomy system that we do, and call any answer that the rhetorical system doesn't presume "dishonesty," even if the response is simply someone who's unwilling to buy into such a system.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I'm sure in a few months this will all be an unintelligible post. And while I'm not the first one to make observations like these, it's starting to become pretty real to me.

Either way, though, enjoyed your fantasies!

Alex, I agree. It's the "imperative" aspect of it that makes you feel uncomfortable. And I was thinking the same thing while responding. I ended up with an exhortation to truth with the wife because I feel that a strong relationship must have it.

There's a really good topic for more discussion in all this.

"Is coming out the new lock-step? Tomorrow, on Bilerico."

And please don't mind me pretending like I understand the relationship between confession and coming out more than a gay priest.... :)

Alex, have you read any of Michel Foucault's writing? The relationship between confession, identity, and policing the self is one of my favorite aspects of his writing. You should really check out the various volumes of History of Sexuality... maybe follow it up with Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Based on this comment, I think you'd really enjoy digging into his works.

I do need to read more Foucault. I've read his History of Sexuality and a few of his essays.

But I hesitate to cite him because his work, as it related to sexuality, is generally understood to be "everyone's really bi and some people put a label on it like gay or straight." I don't think that's what he meant, and I don't experience my sexuality that way, but it just ends up confusing things!

In my case my dating was done prior to getting married. I dated men and women but mostly men. Since I have been married my wife has suggested that i find a man to have some involvement with in a deep friendship based relationship that is sexual. But it hasn't happened yet and may never though it is possible.
I'm not suggesting that he date men since that is a personal detail that he has to work out.
I myself am out for myriad reasons and in the end it helped my own son to come out safely. As for him, I think that he should come out first to his wife and family and then to friends and then the world.
The approach that I would have taken to him would include that his coming to me for this discussion was a type of coming out. His asking questions and even challenging my position was a good sign in as much as he is still challenging ideas within himself. I believe that the cornerstone of a marriage is an honest and sincere relationship and I would have to ask him to what extent does he feel those two things are important in his relationship and does he feel that they are both present where this issue is concerned. And then comes trust, and he should consider if the trust that his wife places in him is misplaced.
Then there is a family and his children who look to him for an example and any one of which could also have an issue that may need to be dealt with and this could help that child. I remember my teenage son shaking in fear because a church trolling the internet found out that he is gay and decided to out him to me and I was easily able to deal with it where most parents can't and I had to tell him what was going on and I remember him asking me to tell his mother about him. We were lucky because I so clearly understood what he was experiencing personally and he felt comforted by knowing this about me.
And I would agree that his wife and family may very well know because often the secrets that we hold so dear are only secrets that others in their kindness allow us to keep. I would ask him how much trust, sincerity and honesty there can be felt in a relationship where a person keeps a secret and the others silently allow him that secret.
My grandfather came out to me, my uncle and his partner were out, my sister is out, I am out and my son is out. And we can help one another but his family has a closet and maybe closets and can't support one another.

I believe in life, that we keep repeating the same mistake over and over and are stuck in it, until we finally learn something from it?

Does he feel like he's repeating the same mistake "of staying in the closet" over and over, or has he learned something ? And if so what ?

My goodness, you guys could form a fine subset of this blog called "Bi-Lerico." I am of the opinion that "bi" is not just the new black but it is the future.

Wow--if there could be a better support for the "gay gene" theory than Rob Barton's family history, I can't imagine what it might be.

While he makes a point about balancing marriage and being with other men with his wife's knowledge and consent, in my observation of real life there are very few women who would be open to such an arrangement.

In my own case, after twelve years of indoctrination in Catholic school and being raised by parents who were repressed about ANY sex let alone gay sex, I had bought the "a good woman will cure you" line and married. It was only when I ended it and came out (with the full support of my daughters) that I had any sense of honesty and calm in my previously conflicted soul. My entire life turned around and has improved in ways I could never have imagined.

Will, I'm glad that you were able to come out and get your life sorted. The coming out issue is different for everyone. For me there was no big event or big admission. My grandfather gave me "the talk" and it included both boys and girls. I can't imagine the difficulty of being gay and suppressing that or keeping it secret. It must have been hard for you but you are past that now.
I guess that for me it is more of a case of I dated until I was married, most of the people were male. I also just as easily could have married a man. But I did not marry early. This is actually my second marriage.
I wrote a thing on the habit of secrecy many months ago. I still think that a lot of the closet problem is that it has become a habit for many and so they stay in the closet out of habit rather than for specific reasons.

"I would like to spend 48 hours in a cheap hotel room near the Jersey Turnpike with three young slender male red-headed orthodox rabbinical students who are crazed with the desire to surrender to me their 18 year old virginity together, in every way possible and repeatedly to exhaustion." (OK, so this last one might be more my fantasy than yours, but hey.)

I'm not 18 nor red headed, but I'm willing to convert if that'll get me in the hotel room too. *grins*

Bil, last room on the left. Knock three times. Bring pork chops. These boys really wanna let loose.

Father Tony your post sounds much to me like one I read by Joanne Roberts six years ago. The call to get out of one's box and become the person we really are inside. To take responsibility and move on with life.

"Surgery is by nature messy but it is performed to restore the health of all concerned. The blood stops. The incision heals and life is better."

Looking back to that night six years ago in June 2002, I still wonder if I made the right decision. Yes I am at a much different place today - a post-op retired woman living alone in a one bedroom apartment. I am at peace with my life, even though I struggle each day. I often feel very alone. I pray to God for comfort. I give thanks for my two cats that I share life with. Once the words, "I am transgender" came out of my mouth there was no turning back. I was set on my journey of transition alone to whereever that might led.

The incision was made - "and life is better." That is yet to be determined. Coming out is perhaps the biggest step one can ever take. It requires courage and the realization that you may lose all that you hold dear. But life does go on. It is then time to take responsibility and begin your new life with no assurances with where it might one day lead.

I'll see you both there.... but we're gonna need more redheads at this rate...