When we think of a mixed marriage, we typically imagine two individuals of different races or religions. But the mixed-orientation marriagewith one straight spouse and one whos gay or lesbianis just as real, though far more likely to operate underground. This long-shrouded partnership burst into public view in August 2004, when New Jersey Governor James McGreevey went on national TV to come out as a "gay American," while his wife, Dina, stood stock-still by his side, her mouth arranged in a frozen smile. More recently, bestselling author Terry McMillan (How Stella Got Her Groove Back) publicly denounced her husband, Jonathan Plummer, for carrying on clandestine affairs with male lovers. Suddenly, America was buzzing about the "horror" and "tragedy" of straight and gay individuals united by marriage.
Let me be clear at the outset: Im not against mixed-orientation marriages per se. They can, and do, work well for some couples. What I dont support are mixed-marriages that are steeped in secrecy, which is how these relationships too commonly operate.
Living a Lie
During my first appointment with Eric, he told me that hed had some homosexual experiences and wasnt sure whether he was gay, bisexual, or a sex addict. The manager of a major export company, 48-year-old Eric had been married to his wife, Ann, for 25 years, and the couple had a teenage son and daughter. But even before hed gotten married, Eric admitted, hed had frequent and elaborate sexual fantasies about men.
When he was 21 years old, a college therapist told him what he badly wanted to hear: that his urges were simply sexual perversions that would pass. The therapist further advised him not to act on these "perversions," but to go forth and lead a healthy heterosexual life. Deeply relieved, Eric decided to marry Ann, whom hed dated during his senior year of college, and to keep his homoerotism to himself.
At first, Eric felt he pulled it off pretty well. He loved his wife and enjoyed sex with her, though he often used images of men to stay aroused and reach orgasm. For a number of years, he didnt act on his homosexual urges, so he didnt feel bad about them. Occasionally, hed masturbate to porn, but he was careful to throw the magazines out afterward. Overall, Erics lack of romantic feelings for other men convinced him that his urges were "simply" sexual, not part of full-fledged gay identity. He told himself he was "heterosexual with a bit of kink."
Then, several years into the marriage, the couple bought a home computer, and Erics delusions quickly began to unravel. Secretly, he began surfing gay-porn sites and entering chat rooms. Before long, he found himself meeting men for anonymous sexual encounters. "But all this time, I loved Ann and believed in monogamy, so I felt horribly guilty for cheating," he told me.
One night, as he surfed the web, he stumbled upon an internet club expressly for married gay men who wanted monogamy with another man without leaving their wives. He immediately joined the group, and soon afterward met Harris, who lived in a nearby city and was also married. They clicked online, met soon afterward, and agreed that theyd found the perfect arrangement. They told their wives theyd met at a business conference and discovered that they both enjoyed fly fishing, which gave them the excuse to spend whole weekends alone together, for enthusiastic sex andfor Eric, at leastdeepening intimacy.
But their idyll was short-lived, for Harris soon announced that he wanted to have sex with other men. Eric was devastated. He plunged into a depression so black that Ann couldnt help but notice. Finally, sleepless and distraught, he called me.
After listening to his story, I pulled no punches. "Youre not living with integrity," I told him.
He exploded. "This from a gay therapist? For a response like that, I could have called Dr. Laura!"
I assured him that I didnt necessarily disapprove of his having an intimate relationship with a man, even though he was married. "The issue is that youre keeping secrets, deceiving your wife, and arent being congruent with yourself." I said. "If you both had an open relationship, with informed consent on her side, that would be different."
"You have no idea what my life is like!" Eric shouted. "Youve never had a wife and kids you loved, and because of it, faced giving up someone youre mad about." He started crying. "Maybe youre not the right therapist for me," he said between sobs. "I need someone to support me and help me make this work."
"Make what work?" I inquired.
"Having a relationship with both my wife and my boyfriend. I dont want to lose either of them." ...read more