C o l l a t e r a l D a m a g e
Several years ago when I learned that an acquaintance of mine was divorcing her husband because he came out as gay, it never occurred to me how horrible this must have been for her. Everyone who knew her husband assumed he was gay. I know I did. I figured she must’ve known also. It turned out he had told her he was “bi” and that he loved her and was monogamous. How would she ever have known that he was really gay? He claimed, later on, that he didn’t know he was gay himself. But when they were middle aged he came out and she was left alone. She was beyond furious. At the time I really didn’t “get it.” I recall thinking, “The man is gay! What should he do? Spend his whole life pretending he isn’t?” I understood how scared she felt about her future, but I didn’t understand her anger.
Looking back, I understand why I felt that way. Part of me felt like she should have known. That she took a chance and it didn’t work. That’s the breaks. Marriages break up for all kinds of reasons, right?
If my acquaintance had told me her husband had cheated on her, I would have been entirely sympathetic. So why was I so unsympathetic about him being gay? Both of these would lead to the same result for her: deceit, pain, and divorce. And I sometimes get similar responses from people who learn of my situation. My spouse has to “express” their real self. Whatever the cost to me. Whatever the consequences. I should not blame him/her. But the truth is, I can and I do. And so do the spouses of other gay and trans individuals.
Yes, marriages do break up for all kinds of reasons. People change. People cheat. But in most cases there is a chance it can be worked out, no matter how remote. The two people involved could decide to put in the effort to heal the relationship. But when someone is gay or trans, no amount of effort by either spouse, will “heal” that. We all know better, don’t we, than to think someone can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. When someone comes out as gay or trans, (or is found out) we straight spouses call that “D-Day”: discovery day. In that moment the relationship comes to a sudden stop. Therapy often follows but “healing” will never involve the gay/trans spouse not being gay/trans. There is no hope. There is no path to a loving romantic/sexual relationship. There is only loss.
I’ve given quite a bit of thought to the difference between victims of spousal infidelity and the situation of straight spouses. I would never minimize anyone’s pain. Deceit is deceit. It is devastating. But straight spouses often feel like we are treated as “collateral damage:” that our hurt is “incidental” to something that had to happen. And if it was inevitable, why get so worked up over it? Get over it. Move on.
But I am not collateral damage. Nor are the thousands of other married people, the future straight- spouses-to-be, who right now have no clue that their mate will “inevitably” be lost to them.