I don’t normally take calls from readers. After all, I’m a writer, not a therapist. Emotions scare me a little, to be honest. But I made an exception after receiving an email from an especially stressed woman pleading for help.
As it turned out, she was an award-winning author who decided to write about her own journey of what it was like being married to a gay man. They were now divorced. It was years before they got there. Too many years too late, she told me.
Like so many women I’d met in the evangelical faith, she and her husband first confided in their pastor about his same-sex attraction. And like so many men I’d met, he was told he needed to pray more, be accountable, and memorize and internalize the Scriptures. His affairs surfaced and he was directed to an Exodus, International ministry.
This lady and her husband lived on the East Coast, close enough to fly to one of the oldest “ex-gay” ministries around, and meet with the director and his wife. It all happened quickly and seemed ordained by God. If anyone knew what to do, my writer friend thought, certainly it would be them. But as the ministry director and her husband went off to talk in one room, she was whisked away with the director’s wife in another. What she heard was nothing like what she expected. “The reason he is acting out,” the director’s wife told her, “is because of you.”
For the next several hours she listened to this woman explain how she could be more compassionate toward her husband, better satisfy his sexual needs, and stop nagging him. Back home, her church leaders reiterated the “Biblical” message she’d learned, admonishing her to become a better wife. In obedience to her faith, she complied. She submerged her own feelings of anger, betrayal, and resentment while praying for God to make her a better, more understanding person. In the mean time, he continued cheating, followed by repentance. She quietly took the blame.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise when he announced he was leaving her for another man, but it was. She’d done everything she was told to do to be a faithful, submissive woman of God. She, too, prayed and pleaded for God to change her. She wrote stories of God’s faithfulness through the trials and spoke at Women’s conferences on the goodness of God. Now, her husband was gone. Instead of vindication, her church ostracized her. They disposed of the whole ugly mess, sweeping her, her family, and their story under the rug as though it never happened.
I sat speechless at my desk, occasionally wiping away a wayward tear. “I’ve never shared a word of this with anyone,” she confided in me. I could tell. With each sentence her mood swung wildly between cynical laughter to inquisitive ponderings to bitter tears. Now in her mid-50s, she was starting over. She was alone in a small apartment away from the glory days of seminars, conferences, and award platforms she’d graced for so many years while living in a large home in the suburbs and looking like the perfect, god-fearing American family.
I have to admit of all the stories I’ve heard, this one was more dramatic and heart breaking than most. Yet, there are common threads. It’s not unusual for women to be blamed for not sexually satisfying their husbands, for not holding their families together, for not being spiritual enough, or for lacking the appropriate amount of faith to ward off their husband’s same-sex attractions.
“When a husband turns out to be gay, his wife is suddenly faced with challenging questions including confusion about her own identity, integrity, and belief system, as well as the future of her marriage and family,” says Dr. Amity P. Buxton, founder of The Straight Spouse Network.
Christian fundamentalism, in its haste to support theological rightness and ideological purity, too often sacrifices the humans to whom its rules apply. Entire families are caught in a web of Scriptural interpretations spun to blame adherents, not theology. At no point does the content of the teaching come into question. That would be heretical. So wives often quietly, submissively, and piously take the blame. Sadly, churches too frequently go silent. The entire scenario of a gay husband and straight wife somehow not working out is outside the narrow fundamentalist biblical understanding.
Dr. Buxton added, “There is no one best solution to this situation, because each post-disclosure couple is different and the circumstances in their individual lives are unique. To resolve these challenges, each wife needs several years to restore her own self-confidence, establish her moral compass, and to reconfigure her belief system to include the new reality in her life.”
Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources for women and families struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality. Books, such as Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, written by straight, evangelical minister, Kathy Baldock, provide Scriptural Interpretation in an historical, psychological, and medical context. Groups, like PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, provide a place to talk.
The Straight Spouse Network provides online and Face2Face support groups. Carol Grever, founder of the Straight Spouse Connection shared her story in the book, My Husband Is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis, and offers advice in her book, When Your Spouse Comes Out: A Straight Mate’s Recovery Manual.
I never heard from my author friend again after our phone call, though I did ask her to keep in touch. She took the first difficult step by reaching out and talking to someone, even if it was a stranger. In the next few years, she must separate truth, who she is, from fiction, who she was told to be by her husband and her church.
Originally Published on Tim Rymel
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