It’s the stuff of nightmares: the news flashes a headline, “Local Public Leader Resigns after Criminal Charges . . .” Prominent local figure caught in flagrante delecto in a public park, engaging in homosexual acts. Local story gets picked up by all the state news agencies (after all, this man has held a very prominent position in his community) complete with all the lacivious details of how police officer observed . . .
But that’s not the worst of it.
The man is married.
Tacky as local news write-ups can be, as sensational and even salacious (after all, the point of journalism is to be read), my compassion is rather thin for the man. He made some damned bad choices. He violated public trust of his position in the community. He engaged in irresponsible as well as immoral behavior in a public place frequented by children. If the law enforcement officer’s account is even remotely accurate, he has been quite practiced in his shenanigans. Let him cope with the loss of his profession and the public humiliation and derision he considered worth less than a half hour’s thrill and excitement with — the other man says he’d never met him before (I don’t quite believe that). He’ll go to court, the matter will be put off a few times, and ultimately he’ll get a slap on the wrist and a fine of some description. His punishment will in no way compensate for his betrayal of the public trust.
But there will be no real penalty for the betrayal of honor, dignity, and respect due his wife. She has the public humiliation and the loss of the privacy in which she should have been able to learn and to deal with this crisis. The common greeting “how are you doing?” will never again be that innocuous thing we carelessly exchange with one another; from now on, those words will be laden with meaning, a reminder, “I know, we all know . . . ”
But do “we all” know? No.
No one knows what it is like to face the revelation that the husband to whom one has been bound for many years has held one in so little regard; that one’s comfort, security, and peace have been held so cheap.
No one knows the dynamics that have played out in the years preceding this bombshell. No matter what warm and congenial public face has been put on it, you can be sure that in the private life, the relationship between the two, apart from any sort of audience, has been empty and hollow and miserable.
Her emotions will probably run a huge gamut in the months ahead. Has he admitted to her that this has been an ongoing, long-term pattern of behavior? Or has he said, “oh, I’ve never done this before, I don’t know why . .. ” —
And if the latter, she will be sorely tempted in the shock of these early days to simply accept without challenge anything he has to say to her. She may not be able to cognitively weigh out what has happened, she may not be able to consider that a straight man does not engage in homosexual acts, and that her husband was far more familiar with location and behavior than can excuse the one-time plea.
And if she is able to realize that this issue is serious, she will have to make some very hard decisions. Some women choose to remain with a husband caught in the act; the adjustment to a celibate marriage is easier and less frightening than separation and divorce. But most women can’t accept that option, and I suspect, once a man has been outed, he would find it very unappealing to go back into the old closet.
No, she’ll have a lot to process and a lot of decisions to make, and even as she makes them she will still find herself feeling as if she’s standing, as one friend puts it, on the epicenter of an earthquake. The decisions, the choices, won’t bring a resolution or peace; the ground will continue to rock for years.
So my heart is strongly bent toward a woman I didn’t even know existed until about 24 hours ago. She’s facing a devil of a time. My own crisis seems rather easy by comparison.