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

Straight up the middle

The quarterback snaps the ball, and, darting first to the right then the left, suddenly puts his head down and goes straight up the middle of the field, plowing through the opposing team members like an icebreaker through Arctic waters.

It makes a good metaphor, you know? Life hands us the ball, a situation we didn’t know we were going to have to face. We can’t just stand there; life demands we move. And time moves us whether we wish it or not. We cannot throw that ball down, it will rebound into our hands. If we try to duck to right or left there are opposing forces waiting to trip us up and to lay us down to the ground, to pile on us in a mound. But those forces also loom at us from the road ahead as we can see it, and we don’t have any easy alternatives.

It’s a very human response, wanting to avoid pain and suffering.  However, there are those events we simply cannot avoid in any healthy way. YIELD! the crisis demands, and we must, or the hardship and suffering will follow us and haunt us and be dragged out far longer.

There are several ways we try to avoid our suffering:

Alcohol and drugs.  You may have seen the story from more than three years ago of the friend whose doctor placed her on an addictive sedative and left her on it for eight years. The addiction didn’t give her time for the pain to go away; it held that pain at the ready for a more sober occasion, it actually compounded that pain to her grief and adjustment. “Gina’s” story does not have a happy ending:  nearly three years after I wrote that post, she was found dead of alcohol poisoning by one of her children. Beautiful and stylish, funny, brilliant, enormously talented . .  but it wasn’t enough. She was absolutely certain she couldn’t cope with the situation she was living with. She tried so hard to avoid hurting, at all costs, but there was never a full payout to be free. And in the end, her avoidance method killed her and left her family coping with the collateral damage, in its wake.

Relationships and sex. We were lonely in our marriage, and the fear of unending loneliness is huge. We also have to recognize that the very disordered marriage to our SSA spouse left us feeling unattractive and disordered in terms of our own value. Consequently, when we start dating again, when other men pay attention to us and put the moves on us, it’s a heady experience. The energizing rush of a potential romance is a welcome relief after living in an emotional desert.  But the hormonal rush of sex masks a multitude of problems.  It covered them in our marriage for a while, and to a degree. Now it’s easy to use “romance” and sex to hide from our fear of being condemned to a loveless life.  But we need time to heal and to find our own integrity, and a hasty relationship can be as bad, in a different way, as our mixed marriage to a gay man.  I briefly remarried an alcoholic Peter Pan who was, in the end, as selfish and disinterested in me as DH had been.  I recently met a woman whose second husband was a serial womanizer.  This is something to protect ourselves against.

There are other forms of escape:  Work. Absorption in our children. Church. Injudicious and uncontrolled spending. Fantasy and daydreams. Anything that is good in our lives and a good in itself (imagination is a very good thing, for instance) can take on inordinate importance, and gives us a false sense of being protected from our reality or a respite from it. We have to be circumspect. Always.

Because some things in life — and grief and loss are among them – cannot be escaped. There are no shortcuts. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. One has to go straight up the middle of the field. The only way through it is straight through it.

 

 

Springtime of the Soul

Winter doesn’t last forever. Thankfully, that’s not only true in our calendar or climatic seasons, but also to life seasons.

I usually live with depression of some description and to some degree or other from the first of October until mid-January.  That’s the season of all the family birthdays and some anniversaries, not to mention the great hype of Thanksgiving and Christmas as family holidays. But this year was different.  I got through the fall and the holidays fairly well, but I got hit hard in mid-January, just at the time I’m usually beginning to feel more myself.

It didn’t take much reflection to realize that I was very conscious of the 30-year anniversary of my separation from DH and the discovery he’s gay, but it took a little longer to realize that this anniversary reaction was compounded by the shadowy memories and continuing influences of other things that happened during the separation. My parents are dead, now, so it won’t shame them if I state that they were no help to me at all, and, in fact, abandoned me, even after they realized for themselves that DH is gay.  They blamed me for the divorce. I was in college, a single mom, and they didn’t come see me in two and a half years (they lived only an hour away from me, and my dad was in my town weekly for work purposes). I needed them and they weren’t there. That, as it turned out, was the largest factor of my descent into depression.

I don’t advocate the sort of self-absorbed introspection that renders us victims or traps us in an emotional childishness or leaves us with a myopic perspective; still, there are some things that need to be recognized and dealt with. I believe that if we are still and wait, if we look carefully, these issues will become clear enough that we can recognize them — and be given the means to lay them to rest. I’ve used the term “exorcise” and that’s not inaccurate, either.  The thing is, I believe, to be fully submitted to a discipleship in Christ, and not experimenting or immersed in any New Age or nonChristian framework; otherwise one might find oneself going into unhealthy spiritual and emotional places where one did not intend.

When I had realized that what was most deeply troubling me was the memory of my parents’ non-support — indeed, their abandonment — I was able to deal with it. There are techniques — you can find them in articles about mental health, or in talking with your own counsellor — but the one that turned the tide for me was pretending my Dad, especially, was sitting in the chair opposite me in the living room.  I gave him pure-T, unreconstituted hell for several minutes, and by the time I got to, “You used to call me your Winesap because I was the apple of your eye. How in HELL could you just abandon your little girl like that?” the cork popped and the tears started flowing —

I don’t cry easily or often; it had been more than two years since my last good cry.  Tears contain hormones, I’ve read, that influence or even control moods. Being unable to cry means that all those little bitty biochemical mood influences were trapped in my body and causing me to sink lower and lower and lower.  I told one friend it’s like standing on the wrong bass pedal of an organ — all that loud, discordant noise is there and can’t be ignored, no matter what delightful little fugue one might be playing on the manuals.  It’s an unpleasant weight around one’s soul.

Being able to cry was the wonder drug of the year. I followed up with a chat with a friend who does counseling and who knew my parents (that was important to me).  “Laura, I just never would have thought that your Daddy would have treated you like that.  I wish you could have told me – – ”  See? I’m not crazy and I’m not hateful.  Yes, I had a nervous breakdown. Yes, I was abandoned shamefully by my parents.  Yes, I forgave them (again).

YES. I SURVIVED.

And I survived the extreme depression season.  Crying worked it out of my body.  I found energy and interest and joy again.

Please note:  if you are trapped in severe depression so that you really can’t function, or are always sad, or can’t pull yourself out of it via ordinary means – sunshine, fresh air, exercise, a good venting cry or talk with a friend — do give some serious consideration to consulting your health care provider.  Life’s too short to spend it trapped in a misery which might find relief through medical treatments.

Also — I NEVER thought of harming myself:  life belongs to God, Period.  If you do think of hurting yourself, then I beg you to get some medical assistance. Your life has value and meaning and importance, even when you are temporarily unable to see it.  And, yes, it is temporary (even though sometimes it’s a long temporary) — the light of day always comes round at some point.  There is a redemptive end to all this.

 

Lancing the boil

Every now and then, a flood of very ugly, bitter memories overwhelms me. This week has been one of those seasons. I hate it when it comes, but there it is. This morning I woke up, feeling much better after talking with a lifelong friend, last night.  I called this process “lancing a boil.”

The years immediately following DH’s leaving me were more horribly difficult than I can begin to describe. In common parlance, I had a nervous breakdown. Okay, for the sake of accuracy, I’m told there’s no such thing, medically speaking, as a nervous breakdown. The term is a sort of lay umbrella term that is so nonspecific that it doesn’t really mean anything.  It covers dozens of situations and so becomes pretty meaningless. The neighbor who had a bipolar episode requiring hospitalization could just as well be said to have have had one as I could, dealing with the nightmare stress and anxiety of going through the separation and discovering DH is gay.

More, at the time, I was under the impression that a nervous breakdown meant someone had been found curled up in the fetal position mumbling incoherently to herself, and couldn’t be pulled out of it. I wasn’t nearly so bad, I thought; I was functioning (more or less). Besides, I couldn’t think of things like that, there was too much at stake, I had a family to take care of, and I had to keep going.

But this is what I experienced. I am sharing so that others going through this can know they’re not losing their minds, but experiencing something not at all uncommon among us:

* I couldn’t concentrate.  This was particularly inconvenient since I was in college at the time, and English majors read a lot.  I’d look at a page for long minutes and not be able to figure out what it said. I’m not really sure how I was able to graduate and keep a B average.
* My mind was all over the place. Mostly, as I remember, was a litany of “I’m so afraid” or “I don’t know if I can do this” sorts of thoughts. Worse, a lot of my thoughts, and the interior voice that comes when one is reading silently, were screaming at me.
* I wanted to sleep all the time. Sleep was an escape. Plus, I was so, so overwhelmingly tired all the time. I could drop off to sleep so easily, and I hated waking up and having to be in the real world again (I still love to sleep, my dreams can be so entertaining! but I am also glad to wake up again.)
* I felt tense and anxious all the time. I came to refer to it as feeling as if I were living on the epicenter of an earthquake. Every single thing I did, no matter how normally inconsequential, seemed to loom in front of me as possessing potential for catastrophic consequences. I was certain that whatever I did, even to choose the pink button-up blouse over the blue knit pullover, would be WRONG.
* I couldn’t cry.  I just couldn’t. Still don’t. I pretty much isolated myself with my children and tried not to go to pieces. Complete isolation was impossible, being in college, living on campus in married student housing, having children. But I curtailed a lot of activities and kept to myself, still and quiet, as much as I possibly could.
* I felt on edge, had “the jitters,” all the time. No respite. For years.
* I had already established overeating, and eating the wrong foods, as a way of self-medication during the bitterly unhappy marriage. This continued through the Dark Days following the separation and the discovery that DH is gay. I’m not sure it actually increased, but it might have done.
* For months, people urged me, “Don’t deny the rage.” I didn’t know what rage was — until a horrible tragedy befell a friend, a year after DH moved out, and the cork popped.  Once it popped, there was no shoving it back in, and I seethed and boiled and simmered with rage. It wasn’t just that I developed a short-fused temper (also connected to my fear of catastrophe striking again at any minute) but my usual sense of humor turned sharp-edged, sarcastic, “black.” The negativity and resentments came out sideways. So did an overabundance of profanity.  Frankly? I didn’t like myself at all during this time. But I couldn’t seem to stop.

These things I simply attributed to “stress,” but it was stress to the breaking point.  For fun, I took one of those “stress tests” that assigns number values to different stressors — highest number for the death of a loved one, down through a series of other situations to more minor situations like car repairs.  A test similar to this one. The test warned, if one scored above an 85 over a six-month period, one’s health might be in jeopardy from excessive stress over the time indicated.  I scored 320.  Okay, I stretched the six months to 18 months or thereabouts because most of those issues were still currently causing problems.  But that was still a frighteningly high number.

Being unable to recognize what was going on, I didn’t seek professional assistance. I’d already dropped out of therapy because DH cashed and kept the Blue Cross/Blue Shield benefit check that was supposed to have gone to our therapist for “marriage counseling,” and I was terrified of debt. I didn’t realize that I might be in need of medication to see me through the worst of it. I couldn’t see that continuing in therapy would have been a very sound investment for my recovery and my future life.

I had no family support. None. Due to problems in my own family, some of which deserve a post of their own, I had no help or support whatsoever from my parents. My evangelical church, which DH left as soon as we separated, was no help; the pastor laid the whole burden of blame on me. The support and encouragement I did have came solely from the college community, from faculty and administration who knew me.

It’s hard to look back and to see just how bad things were. I shed a few tears, yesterday, thinking what I’d had to go through, and how utterly alone I felt (and, in fact, was).  “Bleak” skims the surface, and I don’t know of a better word to describe the experience — a thesaurus of words, maybe, would be required.

A regular divorce is bad enough. Stress enough. But a divorce PLUS the discovery that one’s spouse is gay? The world that I thought I knew was suddenly revealed not to have actually existed. The most essential realities of my life suddenly — not true. Or vanished altogether. The world had collapsed, a new world had to be recognized, and I didn’t know who I was in this unfamiliar place.  I was terrified of failure, but failure seemed inevitable.

This is NOT the end of the story — but it will suffice for now — again, as an assurance to other women going through this nightmare:  your experience is not singular, you are not in completely unchartered territory, although it’s not a well-travelled path.  You can survive this.  You can probably come out of it better than I did. Take comfort from my experience, and learn from my mistakes.

(To be continued – – – God’s Grace Carries Us)

 

Thirty Years, Part II

So, Tuesday, the 16th, was the 30th anniversary of the day DH actually moved out of our home.  The day passed quietly, even cheerfully, with work.  I was surrounded by people who like and respect me and I wasn’t troubled by depression at all.

Late last week, however, I experienced a personal challenge which has left me reflecting on these years.  I have spent more than 2/3 of my adult life alone, now.  Emotionally, I have spent the whole of it alone.

When I was a little girl, I wanted a boyfriend, and to be grown up, and to be married and have a home and a family and the whole “white picket fence” scenario.  I never was interested in a career, I never wanted anything other than to be part of a We.  I got a good college education, later on (graduated age 32) and thought of going on for advanced degree, but being a mom was much more important and, furthermore, there was that hope in the back of my mind that I might marry and have a second family . . . so I wanted to be “flexible” . . . which never happened, and now I’m 60 and I realized, last week, it isn’t going to happen.

I don’t know whether being single is my actual vocation, or whether it has become my vocation by default, but here I am.

“Don’t give up,” says a friend.  Don’t burn my bridges, he means.  Easy for him to say, fond as he is of me — but when I think of what I want from marriage, how unlikely it is I should find anyone at this point who would be an equal spouse  . .  I have friends, yes.  Good, decent men — but . . .

There’s that fundamental little trust issue. Thirty years — thirty damn years! — after I was “liberated” from the psychological abuse (okay, the “Free At Last!” day came later, with the divorce, but still – !), I still cringe at perceived disapproval. “Did I just blow that one to smithereens?” I’m still tormented by DH’s contempt.  There are still scars and sometimes they sit on raw nerve.

I expect to be abandoned again, I expect to be emotionally betrayed, so I try to anticipate that crisis before I become too irrevocably invested. I love my friend — admire, esteem, even trust — but I push, sometimes hard. Because everything in my gut says the abandonment will come and let’s get it over with now before it can hurt more than it already will.  I just don’t believe in someone being wholly committed to me. Even in friendship.

The odd thing is that I’ve never really worried about loving a gay man again. That’s not what has tormented me. It’s these other, more universal issues.

Choices.

I don’t mind being an ex-wife defining my work. This is something I do, it’s part of how God redeems that experience and brings something out of it that, I hope, helps others.

But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit back and let being the ex-wife of a homosexual define my life.  Even after thirty years. The warping of the psychological and emotional abuse of that decade-plus may be too much to overcome, and I may not be able to find happiness in married love, but I will not go through my life as a victim.

A “wounded warrior,” maybe, but not a victim.

A friend I dearly love made a remark – I’m sure, now, it was innocently-intended – that set off a chain reaction of memories. . . miserable, bitter memories. And a knee-jerk reaction, “I hope you don’t mean to imply . . . ” that I’m cringing over, now — but that’s okay, he’s tough and he can take it. My life isn’t endangered because of an accidental trigger.

Memories. Weaknesses. We think we’re sailing along in calm waters, we think that, because it’s been a long time since we have been tormented by thoughts and memories and reactions that we’ve finally come clear of them, and WHAM! something slams into our gut and there they are again.

As far as I can see, there’s only one thing for it: grit my teeth, fight my way to the surface of the wave, and ride it out. If I have a hard time getting my thoughts back under control, I have a local counsellor I can talk it out with. I have friends who will support me. I have this writing as an outlet.

I’ve been through this before, I know it will pass.  And it takes less time, now, than in the early years.