Imagine you're in a straight marriage and wondering if you might be gay. Maybe it's clear that you are gay.
Now what do you do?
That was my situation 15 years ago. I was living in Pittsburgh with my wife and two young sons, and I found myself thinking more and more often about other men. I wasn’t thinking about going to a Steelers game or playing pool. I was thinking thoughts that I felt no married man with kids should be thinking.
I had never considered the possibility that I might be gay. All my life, I wanted to meet the woman of my dreams, get married, and have kids. And that’s what I did. It never occurred to me not to get married. Everybody gets married.
But somewhere along the line, something changed — it wasn't working out the way I thought it would.
I knew I had to tell my wife what I suspected or, maybe, knew to be true about myself.
Eventually, I knew I needed to come out and be the gay man I was. But all I had were questions and fears. How do I do that? Where do I go? What do I need? How can I be true to myself and not hurt my family? How will this affect my children?
Going through a divorce is hard enough. But when you’re considering leaving a straight marriage to come out as gay, that stress is magnified immeasurably. You’re dealing with the emotional trauma that anybody goes through in the divorce process, while at the same time changing your sexual orientation. It’s a lot to deal with.
With nowhere else to turn, I started visiting Internet chat rooms. There I discovered lots of men in situations just like mine. Being able to identify with others and hear their stories gave me the support that was essential for me to move forward.
Twenty-five years ago, I was barely conscious that the gay world existed. Today, after having been married for more than a decade to a woman and fathered children who still live with me, I know that I am a gay man. I’ve come out and now identify myself as gay. I’m living the life I knew I had to create for myself. But getting to this point wasn’t easy, and because it was so tough, I decided to write a book to support others who are in the same situation I was once in. I wrote the book I wish I’d been able to read when I was in a straight marriage and starting to question whether I might be gay.
I’m not an academic, and I’ve never written a book before. I decided to take on this project because I run into a lot of men who are just like I used to be: married to a woman, often with children, and dabbling in having sex with other men. Most of them seem clueless about what they’re doing — a lot like I was.
I have quite a few gay friends who used to be married to women. I asked them if they’d be willing to tell their stories in a book, and several agreed. After I started writing, I decided to include the stories of women as well, mainly because I noticed that the lesbians I know who’d been married to men seemed to handle the transition to homosexuality more gracefully and with more integrity than my male friends and I did.
In all, I included the stories of eight people — four men and four women — in my book. All of us were in straight marriages. Most of us have children. Three of the eight — Adam, Gene, and Trudy — knew from an early age that they were not straight, but each for his or her own reasons chose to get married. The other five of us didn’t realize that we might not be straight until sometime in our 30s.
We each had our own way of coming out. Some of us were able to speak with our spouses about what we were going through. Grace and her husband talked for a year and a half — and their relationship became much closer — before they decided to separate so that she could explore her feelings for another woman. For others, the conversations did not go so well. When Kathy initially spoke with her partner, he offered to pay for therapy and gave her a few weeks to “get fixed.”
Some of us were not able to talk with our spouses at all. Drew couldn’t discuss anything with his wife. They had a physically abusive relationship, and he got the worst beating of his life after she discovered that he’d been visiting gay chat rooms online.
Most of us came out at least 10 years ago, and some of what we went through probably reflected the time when we came out. When I came out, for example, there was no gay marriage. There may have been some states that recognized civil unions at that time, but gay marriage was unheard of. It was a very different cultural environment.
Erin and Trudy had to take precautions so as not to lose custody of their children. Now in their 60s, they each got married after college. Both came out after they separated from their husbands while their children were still young. Both spoke about how careful they had to be before their divorces were final so as not to risk losing custody. Erin didn't even tell some of her lesbian friends that she had come out because she was afraid that if her husband sued her for custody, her friends might be subpoenaed, and she didn't want to put them in the position of having to lie or betray her.
All eight of us have our stories. We all successfully made the transition from a straight marriage to homosexuality. We're all stronger and happier for it.
In addition to asking these people to tell their stories, I also asked each if they had any advice for people who are in a straight marriage and questioning if they might be gay. One of my favorite pieces of advice was from Adam, who said, “Here’s my advice to a man who’s married to a woman and attracted to men: Enjoy your attraction to men without acting on it. If you’re in love with your wife, don’t feel that you’ve got to step away from that. Enjoy another man’s beauty, but recognize that there are limitations and boundaries. Commitment is commitment. On the other hand, if you really are gay and married to a woman, free yourself and free her. But do it in a loving way. Try to preserve what brought the two of you together in the first place. Preserve what you can. It’s worth it in the end.”
What I discovered in writing my book is that coming out is about telling the truth and being true to yourself. The eight of us all survived that process and are thriving. I also discovered how much I learn when people share their stories with me. I wrote my book and I’m writing this op-ed to contribute my story and those of my friends to others. I may never understand or know what difference it might make. That’s OK. For me this book is just one of the many gifts that following my heart and being willing to tell the truth have given me.
MICHAEL TESTA is a business owner who lives in Pittsburgh with his two sons. When Opposites No Longer Attract is his first book. Contact Michael or purchase his book at TestaPublishing.com. It's also available on Amazon.com.