Friday, July 30, 2010

Closeted Married Men

A kind and thoughtful reader, A Guy Stuck in the Aerospace World, recently made the following comment:

"Being the only way to live otherwise, yes you are wasting your time. You said youre doing it for your kids, why? You said its because you hope maybe your relationship with your wife will improve, it won't. Maintaining a status quo to protect the happiness of someone else isn't living or even self sacrifice, I would compare it to self destruction. ... Even tho you may not end up with an ideal adonis type mate you will find someone and if not, well you lived your life honestly in the end and that's the way we enter this world. Naked and Honest."

The comment was directed to me but I think the sentiment represents how many out gay men feel about closeted married men: the only way to be happy is to be out.

For the typical out gay man, his sexuality defines him. His self-image, his day-to-day activities, his friends, his thoughts - all of those things are intimately and inexorably tied to his sexuality.

For the typical closeted man, his sexuality does not define him. Instead he is defined by other roles and priorities. Many closeted married men are not gay men in waiting. They are men who have decided to make other parts of themselves priorities instead of their sexuality.

Most closeted married men are bisexual. Many grew up with an image of themselves as straight men. When they come to recognize and accept their attraction to men it is an add-on to their sexual attraction to women. One does not replace the other. The idea of fundamentally changing their self-image based on an additional sexual attraction is not a priority. The attraction to women, and all the other choices in life that flow from that, cannot be instantly and irreparably changed. Nor is there a desire to do so.

A smaller number of closeted married men are gay. Many of those are closeted because of fear. They fear being rejected by their friends and families.

Others are closeted for the same reason bisexual married men are closeted - other parts of themselves and their lives are more important priorities than their sexuality. The two primary ones are career and parenthood. In my case it's parenthood.

Whole books are written about parenting but to greatly simplify the subject I will say that there are at least two levels of parenting. There's the caregiver level where you are involved in all or most of the daily activities of the child and there's the provider level where you're not nearly involved with day-to-day activities but you still have an on-going commitment. Many men play the provider role and that level is quite challenging and rewarding on its own. However, the intensity is no where near the caregiver level. A caregiver parent lives in a world of selfless sacrifice and humility - that's what it takes to raise a child.

Being the primary caregiver is one of those experiences where you cannot truly understand what it is like until you actually do it yourself, full-time, for an extended period.

As a caregiver parent you spend most of your life tending to the basic needs of your children. When you are not feeding them or cleaning up after them you are tending to their minute-by-minute needs. It's neither fun nor glamorous work. And throughout each day, week, month and year, you have to strive to raise your children. You have to instill values, a work ethic, empathy for others. You have to help them help themselves by encouraging them to be independent, to be open to acquiring new skills, and to take responsibility for themselves and what they do.

I could go on and on, in a vain attempt to explain the tremendous responsibility involved in being the go-to parent. There are plenty of joys - the greatest joys of life - but mostly, being a caregiver requires that you give of yourself until you know of no other way to live.

I have spent more than 16 years caring for my children. They are not spoiled with material things but they are spoiled by their carefree lives. In recent years I have been coaching my oldest in an attempt to get him ready for real-life responsibilities. He has a long way yet to go. The two younger ones spend most of their day acting silly, as children their age should.

Unless you have cared for your own children, I don't think you can realize how fundamentally wrong it feels to contemplate a selfish action that would shatter the world of innocent, playful children.

Coming out may seem like the best answer for every closeted married man but often it's just not that simple. More than happiness, it's a matter of responsibility.

Timing and circumstances can make all the difference. Two bloggers with school-age children who have come out to their wives within the past year are Jim of Conflicting Clarity and NewLeaf of My Travels Out of the Closet. I know that both of these men are fantastic fathers. I also know that both of them have amazing, supportive wives. The children may be vaguely aware of the change in the relationship between their parents but their worlds have not been turned upside down and their innocence remains in tact. Only NewLeaf and Jim can answer but I wonder if either of them would have come out at this time if they felt that doing so would be traumatic for their kids.

As extremely supportive as their wives have been, both men are changing their day-to-day lives very gradually. I think both families serve as good examples of how to positively transition from a traditional marriage to something more evolved.

I don't know what I want to do for myself. But I do know that I MUST do the right thing by my children. And like most aspects of parenting, that means putting their welfare ahead of my own.