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October 24, 2018 6:25 pm  #1

Out of the blue

(My apologies. I should have posted this when I first joined. Much of this post is gathered from stories I've told over in the Strategies for MOMs forum... if you are curious about the possibility of making your own MOM thrive, I look forward to meeting you over there!)
As of October, 2018, we have been together for just over nineteen years, fifteen of those married (his first marriage, my second after a divorce from my college sweetheart, 17 years of not much bliss, and three kids). He was out to me before we ever got together, so I thought I had the advantage of knowing what I was getting into. I always had unrequited crushes on my gay buddies, but when this one decided to take a chance on me, I really felt like I'd won the lottery. I feel our longevity is due to lots of communication, lots of honesty, and lots of laughter.
We've had plenty of challenges over the years -- multiple pregnancy losses, parent deaths, financial trouble, foreclosure, unemployment, four teens, several cross-country moves -- but the first that actually came between us exploded in December of 2017, when, from out of the blue, he told me that he wanted to go onto PreP and have sex with other men in local bars and bathhouses. We'd had a few "special guest stars" in our sex life before our son was born in 2004, but nothing since then (though our sex life has always been great).
With LOTS of talking, tears, and therapy, he determined that his desire stemmed more from his traumatic coming out in his teens, as well as feeling lonely and isolated. So he's working on processing his repressed pain with his counselor, he's joined an LGBT sports team that he works out and socializes with twice a week, and he participated in our local Pride event for the first time this summer. His self confidence has soared, and he's very clearly a MUCH happier person today than he was last winter.
I am still mourning the relationship I thought I had. While we (thankfully) did not have deceit or infidelity, there was still a huge sense of betrayal and abandonment. But I can now see that, while I am dealing with my own trauma issues after the disclosure of his desires, it was HIM that had to deal with that trauma leading up to his request, and that it was incredibly painful and difficult for him to both bear quietly for years, and to finally open up to me about. And then the guilt that set in for him when it was clear exactly how upsetting it for me was only exacerbated things. An awful lot of our progress has been about ME learning compassion for HIM, as well as him having to learn it for me.
Part of our healing was my decision to start treating our MOM as a viable and honest and intentional thing, not something to omit or hide away. I know so many women (including me, at first!) who felt that, as their husbands emerged from the closet, they found themselves unwittingly thrust into one. If I've learned nothing else from living with a gay man, I know the closet is only fit for growing mold and mushrooms; it is not a place of light and respect and truth. So as he began his more authentic, honest life as an openly out gay man, I also chose to step out publicly as my own authentic, honest self: the wife of a gay man, and a conscious, willing member of a thing called a mixed-orientation marriage.
This is SUCH a hard thing to do in our society! If you are different from the established norm, you are supposed to hide it, be ashamed, feel sinful. This is the attitude that causes things like an honest, kind husband to hide his true self from his beloved wife! We never, ever want to participate in that kind of censorship again. Yes, we are different, but our love is just as real as anyone else's. It was a loving but stern talk from my dear friend Janet Hardy (aka the author of The Ethical Slut, and who is thriving in her own MOM), that finally helped me see the light. I discovered that I am the only one who can put myself into a closet, and I am the only one who can haul my considerable ass out of it.
One thing I had to consciously decide as I walked along this path was whether to wear the role of victim, to nurture that sense of being wronged, to continually make my husband feel guilty and bad, to punish him, to be Right over everything else. Or...  to willingly take off that self-righteous cloak of misery, to stand firm in my own power, to generate and practice compassion for myself AND my partner, to intentionally prioritize the health of our partnership over my innate Need to Be Right (this particular step was a VERY tough thing for this control freak!). It was NOT an easy choice, and I have been learning a lot of empathy for those who cannot make the same decision. I was certainly miserable for months, and my chronic health conditions responded to the stress by wracking me with constant pain in my joints, tendonitis, migraines, insomnia, gall bladder flares, anxiety attacks, hypertension... and my husband wasn't much better off, believing he deserved every minute of pain and sadness and guilt and penance. Yes, he brought me flowers and gifts, but we couldn't do much more in bed besides hold hands and cry. THAT was certainly not the marriage I'd signed up for, either! So that's how I came to choose to remove that martyr's mantle.
We each will make our own choices. And those choices will evolve with time, as we learn more about each other and make decisions about what we want our lives to look like... decisions that we should revisit regularly and update when necessary.  I still have flare-ups of Righteous Indignation: "This sucks! This isn't what my life should look like at 55! I deserve to have what I want and expected, RIGHT NOW!" And we are still struggling with our sex life... my libido has tanked, even though he has agreed to indefinite monogamy, and done everything possible to reassure me that he desires me, loves me, and will always put me first. I'm hoping this is just a lag between my heart and my brain; in other steps along this journey, I've seen that I sometimes still have a terribly difficult time accepting something I KNOW in my head is fine, only to see my resistance and fear die down with time and patience.
It easily could have gone the other way... if I was younger, healthier, parents still alive, with better income and health insurance, no kids depending on me, no debts, I could easily have seen myself standing up when he made his request to have sex with other people, and walking away from our marriage. I cannot for one single second judge anyone who does so. But I've decided that it was worth fighting to save us, that I DO have choices (even though at first I felt cornered), and so far I'm not sorry. Ask me tomorrow, I might have a totally different answer!
I'm very intentionally focusing on the good parts of our relationship, because the emotions and characteristics that you spend time on will be the ones that grow and flourish (like that old Tony Robbins saw: where focus goes, energy flows). So that's how I'm approaching our MOM. I've met women who love their gay husbands more and more every year, who are happier than they've ever been in their lives, and I'm modeling my actions and attitudes upon theirs -- because in ten years, I want to be that woman in the successful MOM giving hope to the new member who just logged in full of fear, worry, and sadness.

We are still rare creatures, women who are happy with our bi/gay husbands, so it's not really that strange that we're not represented as much as we'd like to be. And we all know how vital representation is for peace of mind and a sense of community. All I can do is risk being vulnerable, put myself out there, and hope that others who see me and are in this situation themselves will feel free to reach out... thus, we will build our own community. Indeed, one young friend did reach out after I made my own "coming out" post on Facebook, and her surprise at finding out that she wasn't alone, she wasn't crazy for trying to make this work, and that it was indeed possible... well, her relief was palpable.

 I do think it's getting better. I've started to see MOMs mentioned in places like PFLAG and community resource pages, HuffPo articlesTed Talks, and among "pansexual" kids who don't really recognize the boundaries of social gender expectations anymore. And have you seen the online book, Mixed Orientation Marriages: Pathways to Success, and the Alternate Paths website? Being a member of an MOM doesn't mean instant divorce anymore.

I have a theory that gay men who came of age during the AIDS epidemic -- curse you Reagan, you homophobic, short-sighted, greedy idiot! -- and who went underground to avoid certain death, were forced to play straight, marry women, and tamp down their true selves for decades. And when they hit middle age and their midlife crises, like every other human being fortunate enough to live that long, all that repressed desire and shame and loss came to a head, resulting in an epidemic of either disclosure or deceit/discovery, and a wave of women suddenly finding themselves in an MOM. So I'm hoping that this wave has crested and will begin to die down, as LGBT people finally receive the rights and recognition they should have had all along.
I'm working with a local LGBT resource center here in Chicago to try to launch some kind of MOM support system. I've arranged local MOM gatherings (message me if you're in the area and would like to join us... you will be welcomed with open arms!). And I transferred my healthcare to the local LGBT clinic, so that if I ever have health concerns related to my MOM (STI testing, for instance, if we ever decide to go down that route), I know I will not be judged or shamed. My (gay) doctor did raise his eyebrows when I told him my history, but then he asked some really good and insightful questions that told me he was truly interested and invested in my care.
So yes, we successful MOMs are not quite mainstream yet. I'm taking it upon myself to get the word out, to create the spaces and support systems I'd wished I'd had available before now, to bring a positive spin into spaces that might feel a little hostile to those like me who are trying to nurture our MOM. Who knows how successful I'll be? But I know that if I don't even try, nothing will change.


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