What can the straight spouses of gay parents do to protect their children?

by Moira Greyland Peat, child of gays and author of The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon

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(Laura’s Preface:  I’m honored and grateful to God that I can call Moira my friend.  I met her through mutual friends, and we struck up an acquaintance which has grown into an important – for me – friendship. I don’t know many people who manifest the courage and faith this woman has done, although I think it’s a matter of standing up and being strong or go through life being a victim, weak and defeated; this is an option that is simply antithetical to what I know of Moira’s spirit.  Both her parents were gay, and quite notorious for it. She suffered terrible abuses from both of them, and now has joined the growing ranks of Children of Gays who are speaking out in prophet voices to tell all the rest of us that, despite the gay-controlled rhetoric, homosexuality is bad for children.  She’s generously written this for Surviving the Rainbow, and I hope she’ll be writing more.)

What can the straight spouses of gay parents do to protect their children?

I have been asked to respond to this question, and I admit I am at a loss.  This question is not about Spouse A being right and Spouse B being wrong.  It is about humanity splitting itself in two, usually for completely stupid reasons, and the devastation  it wreaks upon the children.

When a spouse, usually a wife, discovers she is married to a man who has decided to pursue a gay lifestyle, she is already enduring her own heartbreak, shock, and betrayal.

Not only will her children be enduring the likely destruction of their home life, but they will be asked to endure a culture shock which will force them to confront adult questions that no child should be forced to endure.

It is bad enough to know your parent has left your other parent for an ordinary relationship.  When your parent abandons his former faith, his wedding vows, and his cultural norms and values, the child is in a position of having to choose, which amounts to choosing one’s left hand or one’s right hand.

Socially, children will generally choose the path which minimizes the negative repercussions.  It is understandable both to want to avoid conflict and to want to continue to be a “fan” of the straying parent.

Watching the heartbreak of the abandoned parent is awful, but cannot silence questions about the whole situation.  If Mom was abandoned, thinks the child, did she do something wrong?  After all, our parents are both right, they have to be, or the entire world is split in two.

Most likely the children will feel forced to choose, even if this choice has nothing whatsoever to do with either objective reality or with their own interest.  Male children may choose to side with the father, because it is emotional suicide to reject the primary male figure in their lives, even if he is tarnished beyond belief.

In my own family, my brother chose my father over my mother, which in some ways made sense, because he was kinder and less cruel.  In other ways, it made no sense at all, because he brought home a long succession of teen and preteen boys for sex, and he endlessly pressured my brother to have sex with them—and with him.

I also chose my father in some ways, because he was less cruel than my mother.  But ultimately, I chose neither one, because neither one chose me.

We learn how to be people from our parents.  When our parents choose sexual folly over keeping the home together, children learn that sex is more important than people, and much more important than we are.  If our father rejects our mother, we learn that women are unimportant and can be abandoned on a sexual whim.  If our mother rejects our father, we learn that men are disposable.

Most catastrophically, if our father decides to “become a woman,” it can provoke terrible anguish in the children.  For both girls and boys, their father is literally gone, and “replaced” with a human who is doing disgraceful things for reasons which make no sense to a child.  In a boy, it can cause them to fear that their own masculinity can be lost at any moment, and that they might inadvertently be turned into a woman.  In a girl, it can make them conclude that no man will ever want them, because if their own father abandoned their mother and turned into a female, it must be because they have failed.  Deep down, that failure will always be present, even if unspoken.

In my own family, where my father did not actually choose to “become a woman,” he absolutely refused masculine and feminine gender roles, which left me feeling like I was a nothing, neither male nor female.  I was “less than” any boy, because he preferred boys for sex and denigrated girls for “wanting relationships.”  If I was a girl. i was “one of them,” those foul creatures rejected by my father.  Of course, my attempts to masquerade as a boy were never enough.  I became adept at fencing, but any kind of fighting was too stereotypically masculine for my father, so again I had failed.

When a father leaves, either physically leaving the family, or by abandoning his gender for his sexual whims, the sun falls out of the sky for the children.  Their very existence as males and females is called into question.  Also, the mother is devastated by her own perceived failure and deep, deep grief.

If there is a custody battle, the children are figuratively torn in half for reasons that will never make sense.  The wife is likely to be devalued even more in a divorce from a gay man than in an ordinary divorce, partly because of the legal climate, and partly because she will blame herself for failing so deeply as a woman that her man abandoned manhood and straight love altogether rather than remaining with her.

The children will naturally fear being abandoned by a gay spouse in their own future.

The original question was this: is there anything an abandoned wife of a gay man can do to protect her children?  The answer is no, and a qualified yes.

We cannot stop the pain.  We cannot stop the grief or the feelings of abandonment.  We cannot stop the nightmare or the moral outrage. We cannot even stop the gay parent from allowing his new “friends” from terrorizing, molesting, or even raping the children.

In such a situation, what hope can I give?

We can stay aware that our children are hurt, and that their hurt must be handled as more important than our own.  It is important as much as possible, to not allow them to see our grief in all of its fullness, not to allow them to think we are forcing them to take sides.  Their relationship with their father is about learning their place in the universe, not about us.

What we must do is to remain a safe place.  We have to be the one they can express their doubts and fears to.  If they have to defend their father, they will be silencing their own agony to do so.  This means we must be Switzerland, not taking any side but theirs.  If their father commits a bad act, we must listen attentively, and respond from the perspective of helping them, not persecuting their father.

Even if their father is the worst villain imaginable, they will never abandon him.  I know this, because my own father is a serial rapist of children, and I am the one who put him in prison for molesting an eleven year old boy in front of me.

I cannot abandon my father, even though he blamed me for his imprisonment, and he most certainly abandoned me.  If that is my position as an adult, how likely is it that a child will be able to abandon a father for much smaller crimes?

We abandon our own hearts.  We do not abandon our parents.  All we can do is teach our children to pay attention to their own discomfort and encourage them to protect themselves against anything which feels wrong.  We can also teach them to speak up firmly, even when they are afraid.

In a way, it feels like I am trying to explain to a fish how to be comfortable while being eaten by a shark.  My advice might reduce the pain slightly, but we did not cause the injury, and we cannot prevent the pain altogether.

Let them see that you are not rejecting yourselves, nor will you reject them, even if they side with their father.  It hurts, it is appalling, but it is unavoidable.  Any boy around eight or nine is going to detach from Mother to a large degree and seek out his father as his primary role model.  If his father is a horrible role model, telling him that will not alter his need for his father at all.

What you can do is to make sure your sons have better male role models in their lives, whether sports coaches, teachers who will mentor them properly, or relatives they have cause to admire.  I did mention not telling them that you are doing this, yes?  Just do it, and do not say why.  The last thing they need to hear is that you are rejecting their father, because any rejection of him will feel internally like a rejection of them, no matter what you intend it to be.

My own sons identify strongly with their football coaches, thank God.

Above all, let your children know through your own conduct that being normally male and female is good and right, and that they have the right to be themselves, even if some people might want them to change into something else.

I wish I had more comfort to offer you.

All my best to you,

Moira Greyland Peat

“We are still married”

Email from a young woman:  “Do you ever write about women still married to men struggling with SSA?” (Same-Sex Attraction)

There are a couple of reasons I haven’t, to date.  The obvious one is that I don’t know many women who are knowingly married to men with SSA. And of those whom I do know, roughly 1/2 have ended up divorced.  One of the still-married ones is going to talk with me soon (after some family member’s surgery is completed and life slows down a bit for her) — and I expect to learn a lot from her.  Yes, the conversation will be made available here when we’ve had it.

The other reason is that I’m pretty sure my attitude isn’t one people want to hear. Why?

Well, in order to be successfully married, both parties have to be fully committed to the marriage:  the creation of a new family unit, the intimacy and the bonding and interdependency with this other person. Both have to take the responsibilities of their role in the marital union deadly seriously.

Now, my experience is that men with SSA have a hard time with responsibility and self-denial.  And self-denial is 100% of the nature of marriage, for both the spouses:  we serve the good of our spouse, not our own. We embrace a wholly new identity as the “one flesh” creation with our spouse. SSA men, in particular, have a hard time with this.  The SSA spouse has to be willing to suspend his own biases and prejudices in favor of this mystical reality of the nature of marriage. He has to reject the onslaught of messages that he’s “entitled” to gratification, or having his needs met, or that he’s somehow a privileged class because of his SSA.

Moreover, the SSA spouse has to be determined to renounce his “right” to have sex whenever and with whomever he wishes; he has to be fully engaged in  his volitional decision to be faithful to his marriage vows.  It’s been the experience of my friends and acquaintance whose husbands were ambivalent, who even flirted with ambivalence — they end up separating/divorcing as the husbands yield to the same-sex attraction. And the unhappiness and difficulties that precede that separation are just heart-breaking.  I believe a divorce from a SSA spouse is a lot more complicated than a regular divorce between OSA couples, especially when children are involved.

And when we live in a society that glorifies homosexuality and insists that sexual gratification is the most important part of life, it’s hard to defy those “norms” and to stand for traditional moral values and the sanctity of marriage.

And the straight spouse has to be even stronger, and wiser, and more mature than him. She has to accept the uncertainty that this man she’s giving herself to is going to be serious in his declarations and that he’s sincere in his desire to get well, to grow into a full union with her, spirit and intellect, not just the perfunctory sexual obligations.  She lives daily with the risk that he’s going to break over and fall. She lives with risks to her physical health if that happens.  She lives with enormous risk to her mind and heart, even if he doesn’t break over — because what if he never reaches a point of being able to really, truly, love her with a mature man’s love?

SSA men are deeply wounded. We might well call it a catastrophic wound, it goes so deep.  His sense of himself as a man, emotionally and spiritually and psychologically, far more than physically, is poor. He’s probably been belittled, he’s almost certainly been exploited by older men exploiting his need for affirmation in his maleness in order to gratify their lusts.  Emotionally, psychologically, his development is compromised, even more than an alcoholic’s (an alcoholic’s emotional maturation is arrested at the age he begins drinking). The behaviors  and the persona that help him get along within the distortions of the gay community are not authentically masculine but a false mix of the masculine and feminine.

He is probably very fragile, psychologically and emotionally. I keep hearing of anxiety disorder, depression, and narcissism being rampant in the gay community, and common among SSA men married to women.  Now, as women, it is our nature to care for others, to help, to serve. . . but often our care is exactly what our SSA husbands would resent.  They are afraid of failure, of their inadequacy . . .  but when we try to make things easier for them, when we try to “help” them, they hear only the amplification of their own self-doubts:  I am not good enough, I have to have a woman do all this for me.  I am weak and worthless. 

The hardest thing for a woman to do in the face of such hurt and fear is to stand back and to say, with firm conviction, “You can handle this. You’ve got this.”  Because, frankly, when we see him so anxious and uncertain, we don’t know whether he can or not. A straight man? No doubt! but the SSA man is somehow a more tender and fragile plant and our instincts move us to want to cushion this boy-man from the cold hard world and treat him more like an orchid when he needs to be exercising and developing some hardier stuff.

And when those instincts kick in and dictate the wife’s behavior, she’s met with his resentment and an even deeper threat that he’ll break over and go (back) to the gay lifestyle. Because he resents the echoes he hears in her of all the insults and belittlements of his lifetime. She’s supposed to be his #1 ally? but instead she’s as convinced of his helplessness as all the others in his life . . . and he will despise her as much as, or more even than himself.

So the straight wife has to be a diplomat and a therapist and have wisdom and flexibility and clarity of understanding . . . and I think it’s a helluva lot to expect of anyone. Especially when children enter the picture.  Which is fodder for another post.

God bless y’all.

 

 

 

On Love, Part Three

In my last post, I pointed out that loving turns a spotlight on us.

My marriage to TFP was a desert, emotionally. Sometimes I would try to contort myself into odd configurations to try to get his attention and make him take me seriously.  Sometimes I just fought him. All the things I was told a Christian marriage was supposed to be simply were not there for us, and I was resentful of his scorn and derision of those ideals, as well as of me.

When I was dating my second husband, a bad alcoholic and probably an undiagnosed bipolar, there were a lot of good things going on. What TFP had criticized and ridiculed about me, H2 found cheerful and welcoming and enjoyable.  When I cooked a meal, H2 appreciated it and told me so (and he ate with a hearty appetite).  When I re-arranged the furniture, he said it looked nice — not, “Why did you do that?”  There was a neglected, wounded domestic side to my nature, and H2 seemed to enjoy the fruits of my efforts in that direction, which flattered my feminine ego. The rest of my personality. . .  I was convinced (by TFP, in part) that my complexity was at least partially to blame for my inability to be happy; I was ready to narrow my life down, I thought, in order not to be alone.

But human nature won’t be narrowed down. H2 and I weren’t “equally yoked.”  H2 was straight, he thought I was bright and funny, he told me I was beautiful and he made me laugh and we had a lot of fun together — fishing, camping, and so on.  But I was better educated than he was, and after we were married, the flattery changed to complaining about the “junk” that marked some of the things I like best about myself:  my books, music, art.  He had bragged on how smart I was, before we were married, but afterward he found that threatening — he resented the clutter of my library and writing, in a temper would talk about backing a truck up to the back door and hauling off “all that junk.”  He decided he disliked my friends, even my blue-collar friends like himself, friends I’d had since high school; he only wanted to socialize with his family and friends. He was very demanding in that regard, and I lost touch with people whose company I had enjoyed, before. We had different religious and political values — again, revealed only after we were married.

So — you see, although I had a sort of love for H2, it wasn’t a mature or healthy sort of love for marriage. It was more along the lines of what C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, refers to as storge — an affection given to one’s family, or to a dependent or inferior.  It is, he said, the sort of affection a dog might have for the cat doing figure-8s around its legs, “although no self-respecting dog would ever confess to it.”  — or something along those lines; I don’t have the book in front of me.  It’s not at all the sort of respect-based love a woman ought to have for her husband.

Which brings me back to loving, and to what loving DF has taught me about the nature of love — and about myself. Love devoid of respect and esteem might do in some passing and mediocre, inessential relationships, but not in our most intimate, our deepest friendships. Let the romantic element of love be unrequited or unfelt in life’s various challenges; the respect and esteem can still stand strong and vigorous and healthy in the face of all things.

This is important. After the demoralizing experience of having been married to a man who couldn’t appreciate our femininity, who scorned us for being women — after trying to adapt to the impossible in hopes of becoming lovable in his sight — we need the experience of loving, and even more than of being loved, in order to be healed.  Loving wakes us up. It makes us whole. It reveals to us what is real and important about ourselves.  It shows us our dignity, our strength, our beauty, and our worth. It affirms our authenticity while leaving us free to discover just who we are.

After the destructiveness of past self-denial, loving gives us back to ourselves.

 

On Love, Part Two

Life was so much easier, back in the day when the only thing that mattered about a boy was that he be cute and like horses!  But we are women, now, and love isn’t about an infatuation-attraction.

“Love is blind,” the old saying goes. Well, no, it’s not. Love turns a spotlight on the character of our Beloved. And on ourselves.

On the one hand, we have what Dr. Alice von Hildebrand called the “Tabor Vision,” seeing our Beloved in the divine light of who he was created to be at his best. This isn’t the sort of false vision that marks infatuation and emotional need; need tends to manufacture this idea of good and virtue, and, furthermore, build on it to create almost a character in a story we want to live out — something quite unrelated to reality.

But on the other hand, Love also shows us how our Beloved’s humanity plays itself out – in real time:  what his flaws and weaknesses are, his temptations, his Achilles’ heel. And love won’t let us hide from these failings, nor pretend they aren’t there.

Seeing a person as he really is, and not as we want him to be, takes time. DF and I have been friends for more than twelve years. Twelve years is brief in retrospect, but seems interminable in anticipation.  I had no hope, when we met, that we’d be friends now; I thought he was just one more person I was chatting with online who’d fade into the interweb echo chamber as we moved on from that web site and were occupied with the conversations of other people. As real life dominated.  I didn’t know he’d become part of the fabric of my real life. And, because I wasn’t “In-ter-est-ed” (in my best Bugs Bunny as Madge The Beautician voice while I bat my eyelashes) the friendship developed on its own timetable, in its own way, with its own integrity.

There’s a reason I speak of liking DF, of my respect, admiration, and esteem for him:  those were there first.

Love is a powerful force:  it is concerned with our investment in the good of the Beloved. Even our serving that good (not a popular concept in a world that insists we demand our own rights and deserts!) — which involves some varying degree of self-denial.

But it also, at the same time, builds us and strengthens us, so that if we must stand alone, walk in solitude, we can do it. Love of the Beloved teaches us our greater strength and worth.

 

On Love

I am almost afraid to write this one.  I’m afraid of overplaying my hand, of jinxing myself. Of looking stupid.  I also have a strong reticence about publicly discussing something very private and even more holy to me.

I did not expect this, not at this time of life, and not! with this man (DF).  My first reaction, when I realized, when the recognition burst upon me like the brilliant lights of an elaborate fireworks display — “No. Oh, no. No, no, no, NO WAY!” because he’s my friend, and that was the start and finish of it, and  because he is warm and comfortable and funny and so remarkably safe, and I don’t want that disrupted.

When I became friends with DF, it was with absolutely zero interest in love. This was important because, I now realize, I had been too quick, following my divorce from TFP (The Fairie Prince) to imagine virtue and character in a man before it was really demonstrated. I’d also been slow to admit grave defects of character of a couple of the men I’d dated.

I’d come into the acquaintance with  DF with a whole stack of chips on my shoulder, because of those other relationships, and because he is better educated than I, and because I was defensive about that, and about being (seen as) a subordinate, defiant against a presumed dependency  . . .  yes, an entire stack of chips! and those gradually, with his good humor and patience, gingerly laid down . . . It was years in coming;  I didn’t want any of it upset.  And it all seemed so impossible —

The experiences of an abusive marriage (and marriage to a gay man is abusive) make it difficult to trust.  It’s not just that it’s hard to trust someone not to be playing me false, pretending to be someone they’re not. A man will pretend to love us in order to use us for easy sex, for instance. That one is pretty easy to suss, actually.  Or maybe he’s a Peter Pan looking for a surrogate mother to take care of him while he’s an overgrown child — a bit harder to recognize when boyishness is so endearing and normal (to a point) at any age.

It’s hard to trust someone to be authentic with me. To be honest and consistent about who he is and what he’s willing to bring to a relationship. To be able and willing to stand toe to toe with me, as an equal. I’m an “alpha female;” few men can stand with me as my equal, much less my “lord and master.”

Nor am I willing to be treated as a remodeling project — for the life of our marriage, more than a decade, TFP persisted in telling me I’d be great if only I’d alter this or that (usually my domestic failings), which was never enough — Or found fault with and punished for trivial disputes or failings.  It takes a lot of proving to reach a trust that someone will be loyal and won’t abandon me, not even when I am not all sweetness and light. When self-doubt blankets me. When I’m not good enough. Even when one knows the criticisms and punishments are a deflection from the real issue, and the abandonment was the other’s great flaw, there’s the nagging worry:  what if he (TFP) was right? and there is all this stuff wrong with me? There is no peace in trying to contort oneself into being “good enough” to “earn” someone’s love. But one tries, none the less.

So this friend, dear DF, has patiently earned my trust, and, what’s more, my respect and esteem . . . this man whom I admire so greatly, is far dearer to me than I ever expected him to be.

By not looking for, in fact by immediately and very decidedly ruling out, all the “interesting” stuff, I actually served myself well by allowing the friendship with DF — with the trust, respect, and esteem that give foundation to that friendship — to find its own level. To grow into its own time and sphere, without being forced or manufactured, or manipulated by wishful thinking. And I think that is important: we have to learn the patience and we have to find the peace with ourselves to allow every relationship to find its proper level in our lives.

There is no compensating for the losses of our youth, or the wounds that come from our failed marriages. Yet we are so often driven to try, come hell or high water. DF is not a replacement for TFP; he is his own man, with his own integrity; at the same time, because we do not exist in stasis, I am not the same woman I was in the early years of my friendship with DF, much less the early period after the divorce from TFP. Consequently, my esteem for DF and the friendship we share have an integrity and a dynamic – almost a life – of their own.

Again and again, I am left in awe after a conversation in which DF has made it very clear that he has no agenda to remodel me, that what he wants for me is that I be faithful to myself, that I live with integrity and strive to be my best in all that I do, in every sphere of my life. He makes me want to stand a bit taller, be stronger and better . . . but he leaves it to me to determine just what that means.

This is unexpected freedom.

 

My Affirmation

I have said it before:  The suffering we experience, being married to a gay man, does not define us. It does not limit us.  It does not reflect who we are, or our worth.

I have said, and I repeat:  there is nothing that can happen to us that God can’t use for our greater good and for His greater glory.

It is not God’s will that we suffer these abusive relationships, but part of the manifestation of His love for us, and His power, is that he uses them — defies them! turns them inside out and upside down! — to open doors of beauty and goodness that surpass our greatest imaginings. Our lives, our world, become bigger, and more filled with beauty, than we could anticipate, even before our sorrows.

A friendly reminder:

Being the “beard” does not define who we really are.
This experience does not negate our value.
The abuses we lived with do not determine our future.
We are NOT condemned to mediocrity or failure or a life of loneliness.
This does not limit what we can achieve or who we can become.

God can, and will! bring enormous good from your sufferings.