Coming Out To Your Wife

5483577072_7bbd91a701_b.jpg

Dennis Milam Bensie needed a straight marriage and inspiration from a controversial film to come out. 

Last night, I watched the movie Making Love for the umpteenth time.

The 1982 film starred Kate Jackson, Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean and came out (excuse the pun) when I was in high school. It was the first mainstream Hollywood movie to center around a husband coming out of the closet to his wife, and the end of their marriage.

I was more than a little curious when I saw Kate Jackson on The Tonight Show plugging the film. She mentioned that the movie was about homosexuality and my heart stopped for a moment: there were laughs and gasps from The Tonight Show studio audience. I didn’t want to appear too interested in the movie because my mom was sitting ten feet away from me. She said nothing. The jeers had more of an effect on me than the clip they showed from the movie.

We became obsessed with our wedding so we could prove to the world that we mattered.

At that time in rural Illinois, the nearest cinema to me that would have played such a controversial movie was hours away. No way in hell would I have been brave enough to buy a ticket and walk in to see a GAY movie when I was seventeen years old. The threat of being humiliated, even attacked, would have been too great.

I Needed To Be Married

I  knew I was gay when I proposed to “Jessica”. So did she. There were plenty of clues, especially in the bedroom. My wife once claimed that I said to her before our wedding that, “…if I was going to cheat on you it would be with a man.” I don’t remember saying that to her, but I don’t deny saying it either.

Jessica was a heavy-set woman eight years older than me. Before we met, neither of us ever felt like we would ever have the honor of getting married. It seemed like a great idea to take our two painfully low self-esteems and weld them together into one (flawed) relationship. We became obsessed with our wedding so we could prove to the world that we mattered. I couldn’t wait to see my wedding picture in our small town newspaper.

On our wedding day in 1984, I had no idea what my future held for me. There were no great options for gay people living in rural Illinois and I was too scared to go to the big city. I naively figured I would just deal with my homosexuality later…if and when there was a reason to.

I didn’t see Making Love until after I came out of the closet to Jessica in 1986. There was still some shame in renting the VHS tape at the video store, but I had to see if my relationship fell apart like the one in the movie. I couldn’t believe was I was seeing on my television. The details of my marriage and divorce were a little different, but the theme was identical.

This was years before Amazon.com. I wanted to own a copy of the film but there was no way to purchase it in rural Illinois. I used my portable tape recorder to record the audio of the intense coming out scene. Kate Jackson screamed at her movie husband. I felt like I needed to hear what she was saying over and over. I was punishing myself until I was ready to cleanse myself.

I wondered if I had seen the movie four years earlier, when I was still in high school, if I would have still married a woman.

The truth was I just needed to be married, and Making Love wouldn’t have stopped me.

Entitled To My Own Divorce

I really did love Jessica, but I knew I would not be married to her for life. It hurts me now to admit that. I was so mad at the world for having to live a lie that I didn’t feel too guilty for indulging in marriage until I could figure a few things out. Divorce—heterosexual divorce—was everywhere. I had aunts, uncles and cousins who had all gotten divorced. I was entitled to my own divorce, too, when I was ready.

I can’t speak for what was going on in Jessica’s head during our marriage. It would be presumptuous to say that she was using me as much as I was using her. But why would a woman marry a man she knew was gay?

If I ever cheat on you it would be with a man.

Like the characters in Making Love, I enjoyed spending time with my wife. We were best friends. Jessica still is a good person. We had fun times being coupled and getting all the perks of being in a marriage. It was validating for me to be able to say, “my wife.” I was proud of the gold ring on my finger.

It took just one irresistible dark-haired guy named Stephen for me to face the truth. The young man with pretty blue eyes freed me, then pushed me aside. There are scenes in Making Love where the dialog between Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean is almost the same, word for word, as scenes from my life.

I was divorced by 1988.

Bittersweet

I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. No regrets. In 1990, I asked my ex-wife if she regretted marrying me and she said no. She and I ran out of things to say to each other by the early 2000s, but I will always wish her the best.

Thank goodness we didn’t have any kids.

About once a year, I watch my DVD copy of Making Love.  It’s still a cathartic experience. The happy ending in the film is actually about a bittersweet divorce. I understand that. The movie pays homage to an important time in my life. It also has a place in American gay history. 

 

Image Credit: PhotKing ♛/Flickr 

 

Read more on Marriage at The Good Life.

 

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Dennis Milam Bensie

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. Bensie’s first book, Shorn: Toys to Men was nominated for the Stonewall Book Award, sponsored by the American Library Association. It was also a pick in the International gay magazine The Advocate as “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011″. The author’s short stories have been published by Bay Laurel, Everyday Fiction, and This Zine Will Change Your Life and his essays have been seen in The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. One Gay American is his second book with Coffeetown Press, which was chosen as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards. He was a presenter at the 2013 Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at the Montana Gay Pride Festival. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs.

Comments

  1. Well said, Dennis. So many gay men and women of our generation, and earlier, went through the ritual of marriage, knowing in our deepest, secret place that it could never work.

    I remember standing at the back of the room as my soon to be wife walked down the aisle as our two gay male friends sang Morning Glow from Pippin (we met in musical theater -go figure) thinking, “well, we can always get a divorce.” My ex-wife also knew, on some level, that I was gay, at the time we got married. We both were in such denial, and had such a strong need for validation, that we did it anyway. Like you, I do not regret the marriage, and my ex-wife and I are friends – but what a lot of pain along the way.

    I would like to think that our younger brothers and sisters no longer have to go through this ritual – but then I also like to think that we have wiped out homophobia, violence towards LGBTQ people and families who will disown their own for not being who they want them to be – but, of course, that is not the case. I know that there are still young people out there who are desperate to be anything but who they really are.

    Coming out has so many phases, and so many possible scenarios, and marriage is one that many of us have experienced. Would it have been better if we had been able to accept ourselves before jumping into the ill-advised marriage? Perhaps. But that’s not how our coming out process played out, and we are the gay men we are today in part because of those experiences. We move forward and hopefully are able to embrace each part of who we are and have been.

    Thank you for your articles, Dennis, and for sharing your stories.

    • Kristie says:

      “My ex-wife also knew, on some level, that I was gay, at the time we got married.” How do you know? I have to wonder if this is something you need to believe in order to avoid feeling as guilty for deceiving and hurting her. My ex-husband’s new boyfriend said that to me early in their relationship and I wish I had corrected him. I forgave my ex-husband for deceiving me and I understand the reasons he did it, but no one should get to minimize my feelings either.

      • I’m confused. Are you Robert’s ex-wife?

      • How do I know? Because we’ve talked about it. Remember the part where I said that we are friends? Also, I told her early into our relationship that I “thought” I might be gay, but we both quickly backed away from that possibility. I was quite young when I met my ex-wife – I was 19 and she was 30 (we married when I was 21 and she was 32) She already had one marriage to a gay man in her past, so she was naturally sensitive to the issue. Sensitive, but not realistic. It should also be noted that she left me for another man, not the other way around. I didn’t come out until we had been separated for over a year. Hope that clears it up for you.

  2. You are very welcome.

  3. I believe that this happens more than people realise. A friend of mine got married, had a child and then got a divorce when both of them admitted to each other that they were gay. Their little girl now lives a pretty typical life of a child of divorce the only difference really is the fact that one house has two mum and the other house two dads.

  4. Lucille Grant says:

    But it’s all about YOU, isn’t it?

    How does your ex-wife feel? Especially as she had already married a gay man. And don’t give us the pathetic excuse that she must have known because you said if you cheated on her it would only be with a man..

    You should NEVER have married her. It was selfish when you knew deep down than you were gay even then. And I agree with Kristie’s comment.

    All I can say is thankfully you had no children who would have suffered when they learnt of your lies and deceit as many children of hidden gay parents do, when they find out the truth (not that the parent is gay, that is not always the main problem, but the fact that they lived their lives as a lie and hid behind their wives and famjlies)

    • Do you have any idea what it’s like to want so desperately to be someone other than who you are? This is just one of thousands of reasons a person might enter into a marriage that is not going to work. All kinds of people make mistakes in getting married. It certainly isn’t just gay men, or lesbian women, who marry for all the wrong reasons. Are you willing to condemn every person who makes a mistake in marriage, or do you just reserve your obvious contempt for gay men? And do you see the value in initiating this conversation, because it affects many people, or do you imagine that selfishness and guilt were the only reasons Dennis, after 30 years, decided to write this article?

      • Lucille Grant says:

        I speak from experience. My husband confessed to being gay after 30 years of marriage. Not only that but he’d been in a sexual relationship with anther man for the previous seven years. Please don’t preach to me about ‘wanting desperately to be someone other than who you are’. He was two people in the same skin and was only to happy to hide behind our marriage for as long as it suited him.

        I know a large number of other women (and men) in this situation…we are the ones left to pick up the pieces that gay husbands and wives leave. That is what I am angry about -the deceit and the using of straight women/men to hide behind.

        Until the final revelation my ex would ask me never to leave him, and I wouldn’t have done but once I knew he’d been lying to me all his life (he admitted he knew he was ‘different’ as long ago as junior school!) there was no option – as he said ‘the marriage is a farce’ . Who made it one – he did!

        Lives have been and are destroyed by gay people too afraid to be honest not just with others but also with themselves. Please DON’T under any circumstances marry straight people. it is the most selfish, deceitful and unkind thing you will ever do in your lives.

  5. You can judge me, but you weren’t there. I don’t need your affirmation.

    You were also not there when my wife told me she wanted to say married to me despite my homosexuality.

    I judge you right back for your tone.

    • Lucille Grant says:

      Affirmation? Who’s talking about affirmation. You’re gay. End of. But you also lied to everyone, including yourself. And I see nothing anywhere in your post that considers your ex wife’s true feelings cos she probably didn’t tell you. But don’t kid yourself that you haven’t; damaged her more than she already was.

      It is pretty usual with wives married to secret gay men that initially they also don’t want the secret to come to and want to stay married. It can be a knee jerk reaction to the shock of the discovery that the man they thought they married turned out to be somebody else.

      There is absolutely no excuse for gay men anywhere to hide behind straight women, A bit of humility in your original post would not have come amiss.

  6. Dennis Milam Bensie says:

    Unless you personally know me or my ex-wife, you have no way to know our situation from a 900 word essay. You’ve stated you opinion about my choices almost 30 years ago and that is fine. It takes two to tango.and I have nothing more to say to you.

    • Lucille Grant says:

      It takes two to tango? What did your wife do wrong in the marriage that you can say that!

      Guess I hit a nerve there, Dennis.

  7. I should just kill myself.

    Note from a moderator: As Dennis explains below, this comment was made in jest. However, if you are feeling suicidal there are resources that can help:

    Need help? You don’t need to ask Siri. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached toll-free at 1-800-273-8255, TTY at 1-800-799-4889. The Samaritans offer similar services in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

    • BTW- my last comment was in jest.

      I’m here, I’m queer, and I used to be married to a woman.

      I offer no apologies.

      • Lucille Grant says:

        But you should apologise to your ex wife, if you haven’t already done so.
        Apparently the majority of men in your situations NEVER apologise to their spouses for the pain they have caused them. You just consider your own pain for the years you were secretly gay.

        You’re gay and proud and also childish by your ‘jest’ remark about killing yourself.

        • I am not YOUR ex-husband.

          I apologized to my ex-wife. Many, many times. After some initial weirdness, She and I were actually good friends for at least ten years after we were married. We don’t live near each other any more and we grew apart. I have not seen her since 2004 and have not spoken to her since 2006.

          Here’s the deal: you would like to think that every gay person who married a straight person is like your gay ex-husband. That is not true. I am sorry you married a gay man. You sound like you are stuck in your unfortunate past. You sound like you are still angry. You are bitter.

          You have a right to feel that way for a while, then it is time for you to put on your big girl panties and get over it. Life sometimes sucks.

          My ex and I both moved on a long time ago and we both have hearty and happy lives apart. We have mutual friends that report she is doing well. I hurt her 25+ years ago, but I did not destroy her life.

          But I doubt you would believe that because you are still in a red, hot rage over your own divorce. You are trying to take gay prisoners by lumping all the ones who married a straight person together into one basket.

          You, Madame, are the one that needs to grow up and are immature. If you do not let go of your past, then you are destroying your own life.

          Forgive your ex-husband for deceiving you. It’s done.

          Forgive yourself for being duped.

          Get some professional help.

          • lucille says:

            Thank heavens you are not my ex husband. Am glad you apologised to your ex wife. Most gay husbands dont.

            Bitter is not a word in my vocabulary and what anger I do feel is not so much against my ex but against all gay men who knowingly marry straight women under false pretences just as you did many years ago.

            FYI I have moved on thanks to support from family; friends and the love of a man, thank you; my life is good but the effects on my children are ever lasting. This is not something you can understand as you have no children.

            I grew up a long time ago and have no need of your immature remarks like ‘ big girls panties’ whatever that might mean.

            I shan’t be communiating on this thread again but I do reiterate my hope that
            men like you of a new generation DO NOT marry straight women. That is not too much to ask.

            • This is why I write about my life.

              There was no Will and Grace yet when I was growing up. Gay people were invisible and had no guide. There is value to me and other gay people telling our stories so that young gay people don’t make the same mistakes we did.

              I don’t advocate gay people marrying straight people today. If i knew then what I knew now, I would have never married a woman. But I have to forgive myself or I can’t be a productive member of society.

  8. which reminds me of the funniest thing the mother of my children ever said—
    One day BK casually states that JG left AG for a woman.
    JG is some kind of Lebanese/Italian stunner, AG is a manly motorcycle riding, deer hunting 1st generation Italian American concrete and masonry contractor.
    I come home and ask the bride if she know about this- I know she & JG have offices in the same building. She tells me this is yesterdays news- but she didn’t tell me because my imagination of JG with another woman……
    I stew on this for a bit and opine that. especially for a guy like AG, this is just about the worse thing that could happen… His wife leaving him for another woman– what a blow to his macho core…
    And the mrs retorts– “No that’s not the worse, what’s worse is when a man leaves his wife for another man.”
    I chew on that and ask “Just what in the hell is the difference?”
    To have her explain “Every family could use another wife, I’m wondering why the hell I have even one husband”

  9. Thank you for your story. There are a lot of women/people who think sexuality is a choice, with enough prayer and divine interaction. They will be cured, and they go on to marry the wrong person. This wasn’t your situation but its a belief I see in my religious friends even today. They know but the excitement of being someone’s wife and the belief they can be cured, leads them to a hopeless marriage.

Speak Your Mind