Shaken Up

Monday, November 01, 2010

Question

What steps should be taken once you know that your husband is gay? I have suspected for a long time that my husband was different from other men. This may sound weird, but he was just too empathic. He seemed to know too much about how I would feel about or react to certain situations. I have often felt like I had a girlfriend instead of a husband.

I came home early from a trip and caught him in our bedroom trying on my clothes. He was wearing heavy makeup and a wig. While he was struggling to take this crazy stuff off and get dressed in something normal, I went through his half of the dresser and found some lingerie in very large sizes.

This is so disturbing to me. I have hardly stopped crying since I left the house and went home to my mom's place. She says I should divorce him. My brother, who is a minister, says there are treatment programs that will help get him back on track. He does not believe in divorce and is urging me to try to hold the marriage together. Fortunately, we do not  have any children. My husband always wanted to put off beginning our family.

Can he stop being gay? That is my first question. But the second one is, if he can be cured, what do I do with my memory of walking in the bedroom door and catching him looking so bizarre and so guilty? I can't get it out of my head, it is like a horrible snapshot branded on my brain. How could I relax and enjoy lovemaking with him, and feel that it was sincere? The man I thought I married doesn't exist. He is a stranger to me. If he wants to be with men, I just can't compete with that.

Answer

It is very difficult to suddenly discover that someone close to you has a big secret. It's even harder to cope with such a discovery when the secret makes them look like a bad person. Then you feel deceived and betrayed. You've allowed this person into you life under false pretenses. You can't help but relive the moment of discovery over and over again, and reviewing the past, replacing your experience then with how you would feel if you knew the truth about your partner.

These are all reactions of a person who has been traumatized. If you are having trouble sleeping or going through normal activities, you might need some supportive counseling or medication to help you cope. But I assure you that you are not alone, and whatever decision you make about your marriage, this is not your fault.

What I'm going to ask you to do next will probably sound too difficult. I want you to remember how you fell in love with your husband, and why you married him. (I'm assuming this relationship was founded on romantic love rather than financial convenience or some such unpleasant arrangement.) Your husband possesses all of the traits that made you fall in love. He is still the same man who loved you. What you have discovered adds to your image of him, but it does not wipe out all of his good qualities.

It sounds like the most upsetting thing about this is your belief that your husband is gay. But I doubt very much that this is true. Dressing up in women's clothing means he is probably a transvestite, not a homosexual. There is a sizable group of straight men who use women's clothing to turn themselves on or to express their affiliation with or admiration for female values and graces. Many transvestites have a hard time coping with their need to cross-dress. They, too, may wonder if they are gay. While there certainly are gay men who dress up in women's clothing, this is usually done for the purposes of entertainment, theatrics, and social satire. Very few gay men find cross-dressing erotic.

If a man who likes to cross-dress searches for information about himself, he may come across some psychiatric literature that is very judgmental and shaming. He may feel that he is mentally ill, even though cross-dressing does not affect his ability to form close relationships with others, pursue education or a career, and function well in all other areas of his life. So he may go through alternating phases of acceptance versus self-hatred. He might accumulate a wardrobe, find the privacy to dress up, and gain a measure of comfortand peace, only to slide into a phase of guilt and condemnation where he vows to give this habit up, and destroys all of his accessories. Then the collection process begins again.

Some transvestites decide that they are not hurting anyone, and refuse to feel guilty about what they do. They may join or even begin support groups or clubs that circulate education about cross-dressing and provide a safe place to enjoy the activity. Some groups even include spouses, and endeavor to put them more at ease with their partners' attraction to femininity.

I wish that your husband had been able to tell you about this very important aspect of himself before he proposed marriage. You have every right to be angry with him for keeping this secret. But can you honestly throw the first stone? Are there any parts of your past or your personality that you would rather he never encounter? If you had done something or desperately wanted something that everyone around you said was sick and crazy, how open would you be about it?

As a therapist, I have little faith in the power of religiously-based programs to cure gay people or other so-called deviants. Even the terminology of these efforts is judgmental and condescending to the client. Sex research seems to indicate that sexual orientation and gender identity are established well before elementary school age. These aspects of the individual are so deeply seated that it is no mean feat to uproot or alter them. Sometimes the best that can be achieved is to put the person on a testosterone blocker and other drugs that dim the libido, then condition him to feel so much shame about his innate nature that he agrees to strive to be celibate. This seems to me like a terrible way to live.

I have worked with many people who've gone through treatment for breaking the rules in their churches. It is very difficult to counter years of scolding and persecution. I would not be surprised to learn that the suicide rate among such people is higher than average. Remember that you hold your husband's well-being in your hands. While you certainly need to blow off steam and tell him how angry you are, if you could avoid attacking his worth as a human being, that would be a kindness. He is going through his own crisis right now. You have the support of an entire family and society. Who is on his side? Think about how alone and frightened he must feel.

People keep secrets for many reasons. Sometimes they do it to hide evil deeds, so they can complete a crime and then depart with ill-gotten gains. But it is more common for people to keep secrets because they are trying to protect somebody they love. Parents don't tell their oldest child that mom was already pregnant when they got married. Families sweep abortion, incest, and less important bad news under the rug. Your husband was trying to fulfill a need that he can't erase, a need that is part of his basic self, and still perform as your loving spouse. So he kept this activity away from your view. He assumed (correctly) that you would not approve of it or accept him. So he went into hiding, perhaps because he could not imagine being without your love. It is also possible that he believed getting married would cure him of the need to cross-dress. He may have honestly thought that being in love and absorbed with building a good marriage would remove those urges from his psyche.

There are a lot of resources out there for women in your situation. That's not surprising, considering that there are millions of cross-dressers in the United States alone. One website you might want to look at is www.CrossDressersWives.com. The woman who founded this site had a very negative experience when her husband came out to her, including sexual experiences that traumatized her and dealing with his use of cocaine. This website sees cross-dressing as an anti-feminist form of sexual addiction. She strongly believes (as do I) that women have a right to know about the cross-dressing activity BEFORE the relationship becomes close or a commitment is made. The site includes many forums, support groups, resources, and other material. If you need to express your shock and anger, I don't think anyone on this site will scold you for being intolerant or politically incorrect.

On www.GenderTree/com/Helping Wives of Cross Dressers.htm, there is an article written from the perspective of encouraging the female partner to understand her lover or spouse in a more open or accepting light. Cross-dressing is presented as the natural outcome of feminism. Just as women have gained more social latitude to dress or engage in activities that were once considered masculine, men too need the space to express their complete natures, which include (for some) feminine apparel or behavior. This article claims that a cross-dresser whose partner knows and accepts the activity becomes a happier person and a better husband who is less likely to cheat. There is also a good list of items to negotiate if the relationship is to continue. This is a page from the Phi Epsilon Mu website. This group is devoted to providing support for cross-dressers and those who care about them.

Laura's Playground has forums on many types of differently-gendered identities. Go to www.Lauras-Playground.com. The educational material presented here annoyed me because of the many tyographical and grammatical errors, but it is a warm-hearted site that can provide conversation with others who are in the same situation. Finally, the Tri Ess group (the three "s's" are support, serenity, and service) has a very interesting Bill of Rights page that features items for both wives and cross-dressers. These are very fair and objective, with no favoritism toward either party. This can  be found at www.tri-ess.org/Wives_CDs_BofR.html.

There are two books I can recommend if you'd like to sit down with a sheaf of print and mull things over. Learning that you are not alone, getting more information about cross-dressing and marriages that include this activity, or about divorces and breakups, can really ease the pain. The first book is by Joann Roberts, Coping with Cross-Dressing. Roberts is a knowledgeable and compassionate author who really understands this topic. Virginia Erhardt penned Head over Heels: Wives Who Stay with Cross-Dressers and Transsexuals. Both book are available through amazon.com.

This is the kind of experience that can make someone doubt their own value, and cause long-term problems with trusting any close relationship. Wives and girlfriends frequently blame themselves. They sometimes think, "If I were more of a woman, or enough of a woman for him, he wouldn't need to do this." But this just isn't true. Don't hesitate to get some help for yourself outside of your immediate family. They have no experience dealing with this issue, but there are many folks who have. I hope with the right kind of support, you can get through this crisis with a minimum of damage. Your husband, too.

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