Coming out as a(n obvious) butch dyke when I was previously known as, and basically looked like, a heterosexual woman, was like my very own social experiment about the effects of sexual orientation and gender presentation.
I've written previously about happy surprises that coming out brought to my life. I've talked less about the unhappy surprises; I'll hit some of those now.
Here are some ways my interactions with others changed when I came out:
As I said, I'm only listing the negative or neutral things here, and I'm making a lot of generalizations. So please don't take the list too literally.
Still, it was incredibly trippy to feel like I had stayed the same, but all these elements of the social world had suddenly changed around me.
Do any of these hit home with you?
_This is the second part of a two-part post written by my dear ex-husband (DXH). Before you read this, please check out the first part, below.
To be clear, this period of my life was not good. I was separated from and not talking to my wife (at the suggestion of her counselor), living on my friend’s couch with about a car trunk’s worth of belongings, starting a new job in a new profession, and incredibly isolated because nobody else knew about it.
I kept my back straight and shoulders square for two reasons. First and foremost, I knew that what ever I was going through, BDubs had it worse than I did.
She needed me. I promised to be there for her. As she has written about, though we had a great marriage, there were still problems and I just wanted her to be happy.
I was also proving something to myself. Years before I met BDubs, I let down somebody else to whom I owed support. I disappointed her and myself. It had deeply affected me. In fact, when BDubs called that first time, I literally thought, “Here is your chance.” This was my chance to stand tall during a crisis and to redeem myself to myself. I set out to do so.
In support of BDubs, I buried a lot of my emotions. I also buried myself in my new job because it gave me control over how I spent my time and did not highlight so clearly the fact the BDubs was not next to me. I kept such a tight grip on my emotions that I actually created a playlist called "Release" comprised of songs such as "Anybody Else but You" by the Moldy Peaches and "Troubled Mind" by Catie Curtis. I would listen to this list at night when it was quiet, away from work, and just cry. Then I would collect myself, go to bed, and start over the next day.
One of the places I found solace was a Yahoo group called “Men Married to Lesbians.” It is a hard place that is full of men in severe pain. The intent is to be a place where men can go to try to figure out how to make a mixed-orientation marriage work. It is also a landing spot for men whose world has been turned upside down. One man came home on a Friday to his wife telling him that she was gay, having an affair, and was leaving him and the kids. She moved out on Saturday. On Sunday she sent an e-mail to all their friends and family explaining the situation. It made me feel lucky.
I admired the way that BDubs handled herself through this process. She was always honest and earnest. She went out of her way to be sensitive to me and was deeply respectful of our marriage. She was a most reluctant lesbian. She is a woman of the absolute highest integrity and I cannot tell you how much I respect what she has done over the past couple of years.
More than one of you has asked whether I regret marrying BDubs. I have never regretted it for a moment. There were dark moments when I was angry about the unfairness of it all. But I always felt lucky to know and to have been married to BDubs. Living with her was like getting a graduate degree in critical thinking. She pushed and challenged me in a way that I had not been before. We had some great times together and some tough times, but I definitely grew and improved as a person through it all. We did great things for each other. She taught be how to use a semicolon and I taught her how to do shots and listen to music that was not created by her parents' generation.
In writing this entry I thought a lot about how alone I felt in the process. I was very scared to lose my friendship with DBubs and there was not a blueprint for how to keep it. We ultimately decided to dissolve our marriage in order save our health and friendship. It is heartening to hear that others have been able to do the same and I look forward to some random couple finding this entry in a Google search and hope that it will give them a little light.
Here, I need to stop for a moment and say thank you to my wonderful, extraordinary DGF. I could sing her praises in a lot of different ways, but I want to focus on one. My DGF and BDubs are friends. Actual, legit, not bite-my-lip-forced, friends. I really admire the DGF in this way because I can see the myriad of ways in which this would be difficult, but she recognizes the importance of my ongoing relationship with BDubs and accepts it as a part of me. That takes a lot of trust and a textured view of relationships. I admire her for that.
In the years since our divorce, I have watched BDubs's shoulders relax as depression and anxiety have loosened their long grip. Earlier in her blog, she described being with a woman as natural, like she did not have to pretend or guess. That natural ease has really permeated many parts of her life now in a way that is profoundly related to her being able to square her sexuality.
Where she once moved through life with sheer determination and grit she is now moving with purpose and self-awareness. It is a beautiful thing to see.
BW talking now: Thanks for reading this. Even though the DXH and I talked throughout the process, reading his story from beginning to end like this was newly powerful for me. I hope his perspective has been useful to you, too, and that you'll pass our story along to couples who might benefit from it.
And from the bottom of my heart (and I do not use sentimental phrases lightly), thank you to my DXH for sharing what he went through. Writing about my own coming out was incredibly tough, and I know you went through something similar in writing this, DXH. Without you, I would not be who I am now, and I doubt I'd be half as happy as I am now, either. You are a brave, strong, courageous man, and I consider myself damn lucky to have gotten to be married to you back then, and to still be in your life now.
_As regular BW readers know, I recently told my coming out story ("Coming Out Married") in five parts (links: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V). When my DXH (that's Dear Ex-Husband, for the uninitiated) offered to tell his version of the story, I jumped at the chance. I think this side of the story--that of those to whom we come out, and whose lives are dramatically altered as a result--deserves to be told, and heard.
My DXH's story will be posted in two installments. His story starts during the business trip I describe in Part III. (Oh, and he refers to me here as "B-Dubs," short for "BW.")
BDubs called and asked me if I had time to talk. Very uncharacteristically, I said, “not really” because work was overwhelming. But she persisted and I relented. After a little hedging, she said “I am not sure I am 100% straight.” Laying on our bed, I let those words sink in a little bit. I asked her what she meant and she said that she wasn’t sure, but she needed to tell me. In that moment, I straightened my back, squared my shoulders, and told her that it was going to be all right, that we were going to be all right. She was coming home the next day and we could talk then.
Then I hung up the phone. And cried. For about an hour.
In that moment, I did not take what she said to be fatal to our marriage, but it was profound and I could hear the pain and relief in her voice.
I did not know then that we would be separated within six weeks and divorced within the year (at least we would decide to be divorced. Paperwork was never our strong point).
When BDubs got home the next day we left the airport and grabbed a late meal at a diner. There, we began a relationship talk that would last about a year and continue through separation, dating, holidays, and isolation. The constants were that we loved each other, we would do our best to take care of each other, and that we trusted each other.
What was I thinking at the time? In the early going, I felt very clear that this would be a fairly quick and clear issue. In the beginning I, very logically and cleanly, divided the process onto two steps. First, we had to figure out BDub’s sexuality; then we could figure out the implications for our marriage. I figured it was no use to contemplate the implications until after you knew what the issue was. If she was a “5 percenter” then it may not be a big deal for us. Clear.
Clear and fanciful.
In short order, it became obvious that this was not going to be a clean and quick process. First, BDubs was very reluctant. She did not want us to get divorced and she was facing the prospect of a very scary change for her life. And so I found myself trying to get my wife to kiss a girl (but not in the typical male way).
Second, underlying this neat intellectual, two-part framework was a profound and dark fear that I was going to lose my best friend. I met that fear the first night she stayed over at somebody’s house. That somebody happens to be her current DGF. I think that might have been the worst day, or at least in the top five of worst days. The night before I had practically pushed her out the door with a charge to sleep with somebody else (as long as the somebody was a female). By the time she came home, I was a wreck. Out of my head pacing the apartment. I envisioned BDubs and this woman having morning coffee and contemplating how to break it to me that she was going to be moving out and I would lose everything I had.
And thus emotion eats intellect for lunch.
We had to separate. We had to figure this out, but neither of us could handle living together as it was happening. Our lease was up, and she moved to a place where we had been planning to move together, and I moved to my friend’s couch (the separation day and the initial splitting up of our house was torturous and also in the top five worst days). We settled into what we knew was going to be a longer process...
It's BW talking now: Wow, right? Wow. Even now, years later, I get choked up when I think and read about this. I'll post the second half of his story in a day or two. Meanwhile, how about some comments from readers who have gone through something similar? Any men reading this who are, or were, married to lesbians?
I realized I don't know how to write this last part of my coming-out-married saga, because in some ways, I'm still going through it. Not that I'm struggling with my sexual identity, or that I wish I still lived with my DXH, or anything like that. But in a way, I think all of us who come out later in life feel as if we've lived a split existence, and I'm not sure this ever disappears completely.
I moved in with the DGF a couple of days ago, and the act of relocating spurred some tough memories for me. There is something about combining households, about figuring out whose toaster to use or whether to mix our books or where to put the spoons, that makes me think of all the moves I've made before, and all the moves I might make in the future.
My DXH and I have a good relationship. We are great friends, we trust one another deeply, and I am certain that we will always be important people in each others' lives. Part of this is because he is generous and forgiving. Part of this is because of our honest communication during my coming out process. And part of this is because we both understand sexual orientation and sexual attraction as things beyond our own willful control.
Even though we are good friends, we spend less time together than I would prefer, and sometimes I still miss him. How can I not? We spent ten years together--the vast majority of our adult lives. We helped shape each other into the people we are now. We learned together, made mistakes together. We navigated car purchases and family holidays. We fought, made up, lived in four different places, adopted a dog. I am thankful that I got to spend the years I did with him, and I am also thankful that I had the courage to be true to myself and come out as a lesbian and live on my own.
To people who meet me now, I'm an out-and-proud butch lesbian with a secure identity and a great DGF whom I love dearly. This is all accurate. But even though no one can see them, the remnants of that other life are still inside me. I still think about them, and they still affect who I am. I don't think this is a bad thing at all.
Since coming out, I've met dozens of other gay people, men and women both, who used to be in heterosexual marriages. Sometimes they treat their prior life as a shameful secret, and this seems to be particularly true of butch women. I don't know why this is. Maybe we're ashamed not to have known something so fundamental about ourselves. Maybe we'd like people to think we've always been as comfortable in our own skin as we are now. I can understand this impulse, but I think it's important that we tell our stories--whatever odd, convoluted tales they may be--so that other people can see them and know that they are not alone.
I'll conclude my own little coming out saga with a message to any lesbian or questioning women currently married to a man: If you are true to who you are, things will get better than they are right now. Not in some cheesy, perfect, your-life-will-suddenly-be-awesome way. But in a quieter, more gradual, process of self-definition. It might be a hard road (and I'll offer more advice for navigating that road in a future post). But just because you didn't get it right the first time doesn't mean you don't get another chance to be happy.
Note: This is the fourth installment in my coming out story. If you haven't checked out parts I, II, and III yet, you should read 'em below so that this makes more sense.
In the two months after I got back, my DXH and I talked ceaselessly about our relationship. We wanted to stay together, but we wanted to be honest with ourselves. We mulled over "mixed-orientation" marriages. We pondered polyamory. We read message boards about couples who had gone through this. Eventually, we decided to separate as a trial, and to give me a chance to figure things out. He moved about an hour away, but we kept the separation secret from nearly everyone who knew us (family included). And even the very few who knew we were separated didn't know why. I was deeply ashamed and didn't want anyone to know what we were going through—specifically, what I was going through.
Even now, it is hard to find words to describe how dark that year was. I remember very little of it. I remember endlessly long walks with my dog in the chill of November. I remember being depressed by the emptiness of the house that my DXH and I were supposed to live in together, but in which I now lived alone. I went to work, faked it, came home. I don't know if other people noticed anything different, but anyone who was really looking would have seen that I was just an uptight, anxious shadow of a human being. Every now and then, my DXH would come back and spend a couple of weeks living at home. It was fraught with all kinds of tensions, all forms of guilt and worry. I felt anxious when he was around, and destitute when he was not. Every time he left, I spent several hours crying. Each departure was worse than the one before it. I felt like my insides had been cut out of me.
At my DXH's urging, I started trying to date women. (One of my first relationships was with the wonderful woman who is now my DGF. But ours is another story, and I will tell it another time.) I was struck by how natural dating women felt. I didn't have to think about every little move I made; it just happened. Granted, I was awkward. Granted, I had no idea how to ask a woman out, or how long I was supposed to wait before calling her. Somewhat amazingly, the DXH coached me on these points. He wanted me to figure my sexual orientation out, while I was more reluctant--deeply afraid of what I would learn.
And yet, some things were clear. I was starting to dress in a way that was more natural for me. A few men's shirts and a sweater vest had wormed their way into my wardrobe, and I wore them with great enthusiasm. And kissing a woman to whom I was attracted made fireworks explode in my tiny BW brain. I'd always thought that this was something that only happened in the movies, or to hopeless romantic types--not to pillars of logical thought like yours truly! Uh-oh, I thought again. Uh-oh.
To be continued...