Did She Know?

"Did your wife know you were gay when you got married?"  It's an honest question and one that I've been asked countless times in the past many years. In fact I've often found myself asking the same thing of other gay men who married women. It's not an easy question to answer and I sometimes find myself struggling to answer it. It's not a question I take lightly though and the last thing I would ever want to do is diminish the honesty and the beauty of the love that my ex-wife and I shared at the time we got married in the early days of 1980.
The answer is basically yes. My ex-wife knew that I'd been with both men and women. I told her as much on our second date. But I think both of us were just young enough, in love enough and naieve enough to believe that because we were in love the homosexual thing was behind us. It's an answer however, that opens up a whole Pandora's Box of caveats and implications.
Yes, I had been with men before I met my ex-wife. And I'd been with a few women too. In terms of a sexual response there was no question in my mind about which was stronger and more satisfying. Sex with men rocked my world and sex with women was something I had to work at. But in my mid-twenties and having denied myself any sexual experience at all until I was 21, I had enough hormones raging in me to handle whatever situation happened to present itself. It was a very confusing time though as I was trying to sort out my sexuality, my relationship to the Mormon church and my desire to be married to the woman I loved all in the same breath.
One thing was for sure - when I met my ex-wife I fell head over heels in love with her and wanted nothing more than to be married to her and have a life with her; the house with a white picket fence and the whole nine yards. It was all there. It was my fantasy. But it was also my reality considering who I was and how I'd been brought up in the church. I tried to be as honest with her as I knew how to be at the time. The fact is, I didn't really know what was going on with me. I just knew that I loved this woman and for awhile everything else pretty much seemed to take a backseat to that. True too is the fact that I had no idea two men could even have a relationship, much less enter into anything even remotely resembling a marriage. For all I knew back then, it was just about the sex.
For a long time I tried to tell myself that I was bisexual because I was having sex with both men and women and that seemed the only logical way to explain what I was experiencing. When my ex-wife and I got married I pretty much assumed that the whole homosexual thing was behind me, while not really abandoning the idea that I might be bisexual. But it wasn't very far into the marriage before I began to realize that my desires for men were getting stronger and more irresistible than ever. I tried to justify my infidelities by telling myself that because I wasn't having sex with another woman I wasn't being unfaithful to my wife. But it wasn't long before I realized what a crock that was.
The thing is, the marriage was good, our love was strong and we soon had a beautiful daughter together. I was happy with what we had and I had every reason in the world to try and make it work. But there was this gnawing issue of my desire to be with men that never, ever went away. It was always there, lurking in the shadows like some kind of a magnet to my soul. The harder I tried to resist my desires, the stronger they got.
She knew. She always knew. And once in a moment of stupidity while we were living in Italy a couple of years into our marriage, I unburdened myself of my guilt by telling her about the men I'd been with since we'd been married. It was a moment of devastation for her that she never recovered from. The trust had been broken and though we struggled for the rest of our time together to repair it, we were never able to. Sometimes things just get broken so badly that you can't fix them. I do regret hurting my ex-wife. I regret it deeply because it wasn't my intention to do so. I loved her. I just didn't know how to do without this other part of my life. It was like I was convinced that if I really worked hard enough at it I could get oil and water to mix.
But I couldn't.
So yes, she knew. But I think she thought as I did, that our love for each other cancelled out the other part of me. And it didn't. We struggled along for over ten years with lots of great adventures and the joy of raising a beautiful daughter together. But in the end we both found ourselves with no steam left to keep the relationship going. It didn't help matters either that I was definitely on my way out of the church during our time together while she was more determined than ever to be involved and faithful. Our differences truly became irreconcilable.
By the time our marriage ended I had long since stopped my extra-marital affairs, but it didn't make any difference. Every man that ever walked in front of me became a suspect. And with a never-ending parade of models, athletes and actors wandering in and out of my photography studio, the distrust became too much for both of us.
During a visit to her folks place in Nebraska I got a call from my ex-wife during which she said simply, "This isn't working for me anymore. I want out of the marriage." And that was that.
It was over.
I knew she was right. As devastated as I was by her words I also felt an enormous swell of relief come over me. I hung up the phone, picked it back up again and called a guy that I'd been shooting a few days before and asked him what he was doing that night for dinner. We ate, we talked for a long time and we made love. He was the first of my many hundreds of clients over the years that I ever had sex with. But at that point I knew that my marriage was over and I was tired of trying to fix something that was hopelessly broken. So I gave in and did what I'd been accused of doing all along. I didn't feel good about it - I just felt relief.
Yes, my ex-wife knew what was what when we married. But like me she didn't have enough pieces of the puzzle to make any sense of the life that lay before us. And when you're in love you see only the person you're in love with and everything else just seems to disappear. But who can argue with love? And who can argue with a marriage that brings a precious child into your lives? We both entered into our relationship and our marriage with as much honesty and love as any two people could ever hope for. That one of us was gay became more than we'd bargained for and more than we knew how to handle.
I've heard it argued that if the Mormon Church had better counseling available, was more realistic about the nature of homosexuality and worked more closely with young homosexual members rather than being so intent on changing them, that not so many of them would end up plunging into ill-fated marriages like they do. In a perfect world that would be the best solution and hopefully one day we'll see it happen.
That said however, I'm grateful that things worked out the way they did for me. I wouldn't trade a day of my marriage for anything. I loved my ten years of being married and the great gift of my daughter that came out of it. She made it worth every difficult moment and I hope my ex-wife could say the same thing, though I certainly can't speak for her. She was the one who carried the greatest pain during our time together and that made her experience a very different one than mine.
When I draw the bottom line and add everything up, having this beautiful daughter is the only thing that matters. And I wouldn't have her in my life today had I not married her mother some 26 years ago.  Sometimes you have to simplify the past, distill it down to its essence and look at how much good came out of a particular experience...
...and then let the rest of it go.
In all honesty though, I think it's probably wise to consider that marriages between gay men and straight women rarely last and often go through so much heartache getting to the end that you have to wonder whether it's really worth it.
Most women in these situations are left holding a mountain of pain and self-doubt: "What did I do wrong? "Why was I not good enough for him? ""What's wrong with me that he couldn't love me the way I loved him? ""I could have competed with another woman, but with another man?"
And the oft heard comment that is so hard to reconcile: "Our whole marriage has been a lie."
Every woman needs and deserves to be loved by a man who can do it fully and without reservation. Most gay men are simply not capable of giving women the satisfaction they desire when it comes to a sexual relationship. And on the other side of the coin, most gay men are never going to get from a woman the intimacy and sexual fulfillment that they most need and want.
Whatever the upsides are, and in my case there were many, the downsides are such that they can leave so many scars that it can take years to heal them, if they can ever be healed at all. There are countless instances in which men have been denied custody of their children during a divorce because the battle became ugly and the man's homosexuality was used successfully as a weapon against him. The deep anger and pain that a woman sometimes experiences in learning that she's been unwittingly married to a gay man are almost incalculable.
Some marriages end amicably as mine did with custody being shared jointly. But this isn't always the case and the devastation of losing access to one's children is a heavy burden to carry. Sometimes kids find their way back to an estranged parent, but sometimes they don't, and it's hard to imagine anything more difficult or heartbreaking.
Perhaps even more tragically, there are those gay men who have made their wives unwitting partners to disease by living out their homosexual desires clandestinely and carelessly. That's the kind of heartache that never goes away and the kind that no one should ever have to experience. How I managed to dodge that bullet I have no idea. I'm just glad I did.
There are of course, no easy answers. It's almost impossible to walk away from love as many of us know from experience. And sometimes the good really does outweigh the bad - even a failed marriage can have its silver-lining. So maybe it all boils down to a crap-shoot in the end; certainly there are those who have made non-traditional marriages work even though the odds were stacked against them.
So yes, my ex-wife and I both kind of knew what was what when we married. But what we didn't know far outweighed what we did and it was in those places of not knowing that we ultimately found our reasons for ending the marriage.
In the words of the immortal Bard:"O, how this spring of love resemblethThe uncertain glory of an April day;Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,And by and by a cloud takes all away."My experience has been that most marriages between gay men and straight women don't last. But maybe while they do there's enough good there to have made them worthwhile.