“Str8” spouses, those of us who were or are married or committed to gay, bi, trans, etc., partners, are a crazily diverse bunch. On Facebook or Yahoo! forums, it quickly becomes clear that there is no ‘type’ more vulnerable to being duped, cajoled or otherwise convinced to marry outside their orientation.
But there is one thing I’ve seen many of us have in common: being ridiculously careful with our gay spouse. It starts as a vague, maybe unconscious realization that something just ain’t right here. If we just tried harder, were more accommodating, did our share of the chores, let them have their way, etc., then maybe things would turn around. I mean, marriage is not easy, right? If we just tried harder, gave more, complained less, whatever, we’d change it. That’s what we’re told.
But here’s the thing: you can’t change gay. It just is and anybody who has seen a gay person try to suppress themselves and stay married to a straight person, knows that if there was a way–pill, prayer, iron will–they’d have done it.
For a man, this is especially damaging. I can’t tell you the number of articles I read that told me to help around the house more, and she soften to me; take the kids more; be more of a man; be less of a man; make a perfect romantic night out… (Aside about that: she once told me she didn’t like going out and having fun because I’d ruin it by wanting to have sex.) And there were so many ways more subtle, from caving in on what I believed in an argument, to being belittled in public and feeling no choice but to shut up and take it.
It’s not uncommon for men to hand over their power to their wives or partners, something I recognize all the time now in the peculiar lament “You’re not the man I married.” (No, he isn’t. You worked on him to be more like your woman friends and now he isn’t the guy you were once attracted to. And he let it happen.) But add to that the odd feeling that something is off, something we can’t figure out, something even she can’t identify, and it’s truly insidious.
I marvel now in how long I let it go on. How I gave away my power. How even now I tread carefully in leaving her, working on mediation papers, getting my own place. It’s a hard thing to break, and it drove my next lover mad: I looked like a man, felt and smelled like a man, talked, moved, wanted her like a man. But I wasn’t. Not really. I was a bundle of uncertainty about what she wanted, because trying to figure out what ‘she’ wanted and hoping for intimacy that rarely came, was a two-decade habit.
So that’s me, a straight dad too careful for his own good. Still.