Dear Patrick: I am a gay man who got married in my twenties because I wanted to have a family. Now I am in my fifties and I feel very bitter toward the young gay men who are getting married and raising children together. Why did I waste so much of my life pretending to be straight? Why couldn't I find the courage to be gay and a father when I was still young enough to attract a lover? I recently came out to my wife, and she wants a divorce. I am not sure if I want one or not. We are kind to each other, if nothing else, and a separation will break our children's hearts. It will also mean that I lose my job as a minister. My denomination would never tolerate a gay man in charge of one of their churches. But the truth is I no longer believe in the religion that paid for my college education. I go to great lengths to find topics for my sermons that don't involve quoting the Bible. I told my wife that if I was to get a divorce and move out, I would never be able to have sex with another man. So now she questions whether I am really gay or not. To her, being gay is 100% about indulging carnal appetites. She is as confused about gay marriage and same-sex parents as I am envious.
I am noticing signs that I am losing control over my emotions and over my life. Why is this happening to me? I tried to live up to the values my parents taught me. They were so proud when I accepted Jesus as my savior, got baptized, and started training to become a minister. I'm glad they have passed away so they won't be ashamed of me. I couldn't bear to see the disappointment and nausea in their eyes when they hear I am gay.
What am I going to do, just allow things to deteriorate until my wife leaves me? Am I forcing her to make the decision? Can you point me toward any source of pride or stability? No one seems conflicted about being gay nowadays, they are full of pride and ready to air all the details on talk shows. If I did try to make contact with the gay community, they would not want me. Or understand me. So what is the point? I wish my wife had never discovered my chat room conversations with other men. I never intended to act on them. She saw it as infidelity, but if no sex is involved, why couldn't it just have remained a secret safety valve that allowed me to continue to pretend?
I don't want to be different. I want to fit in. I want to be like everyone else. And I don't want to go against God's teachings. You seem like the last person on earth who would understand me, but it's late, I can't sleep, and e-mail is free. You certainly can't make my situation worse.
It sounds like you did not make a decision to come out to your wife. Instead, you got busted flirting with other men on-line. No wonder you feel angry and confused about what happens next. I suggest that a useful first step might be to stop justifying your electronic same-sex fantasies as nothing more than a safety valve. Healthy heterosexual, monogamous couples don't usually need a safety valve. Instead, they enjoy sex with one another. If you weren't pretty clear about being a gay man, you wouldn't have told your wife that you are one. And she wouldn't have believed you. She is well aware that this marriage has not been a happy one. You have wasted many years of her life in a situation that was not fulfilling for her. She did not deserve this deception or the shame and disappointment. According to your own values, you were cheating. You may even have subconsciously arranged for her to discover what you were up to because you were sick of leading a double life.
If all of your information about being gay comes from a handful of television programs, you could be excused for believing that the gay community is full of self-accepting men who eagerly anticipate same-sex marriage and parenthood. Not so! Parents like yours still abound. And as long as there are homophobic parents who teach their children that being gay is a disgrace and a sin or a mental illness and a crime, there will be gay people who try to hide their identities and force themselves to become somebody else. The end results are often as tragic as your situation. This is usually too big a lie to maintain indefinitely. When the truth comes out, it is devastating to everyone involved, including the unwilling gay person.
Can you understand that your parents' beliefs about homosexuality are beyond your control? You were raised with values that promoted several falsehoods about being gay. One was the ridiculous idea that God hates those who love or desire members of their own sex. There is an extensive literature about gay Christians that refutes this bigoted theology. Look for books by Troy Perry and then follow up with authors he mentions. Get in touch with your local Metropolitan Community Church, an ecumenical congregation that serves the spiritual needs of LGBT people. Track down your local gay community center and get some counseling. You need the help of an advocate who can keep you on track so you can sort out a better way to live. You can take responsibility for your mistakes without globally blaming yourself for everything around you that may be difficult or scary. You have reacted to intense prejudice against your deepest nature. You tried to survive in a hostile environment, as best you could. That doesn't make you a monster.
Our culture's bias toward youth also colors the gay community. But there are many organizations that provide support and social opportunities for gay men over 50. You are not the only man who came out later in life. I've met many older gay men who have worked hard to create self-respect and decent relationships. They have friends, careers, and an opportunity to give back to the next generation. You can, too. But it's not going to happen without effort on your part, and it will take time to create that much personal change.
For many of us, dealing with the truth about our desires and romantic needs was painfully complicated by the need to please our parents and maintain the respect of our communities. Coming out can be dangerous, even in this new millennium, and involve many losses. You are at risk of losing your marriage, children, and vocation. Of course this is confusing and agonizing for you. Once again, I urge you to find counseling so your self-destructive feelings don't get even worse. I can't tell you, for example, whether to divorce your wife or come out to the administration of your denomination. These are huge decisions that need to be examined carefully so you can minimize the harm to yourself and your loved ones.
Whether you are a bad person or a good person is a separate issue from the question of sexual orientation. There are gay scoundrels and gay angels, and most of us fall in between. Your values are overdue for a major shakeup and spring cleaning. But once this difficult process is done, you can start over and create a new life that is honest and unselfish. I hope you make it. Feel free to write to me again. Nobody deserves to die because they are gay. Nobody.