A reader writes:
Andrew, I've been reading your blog for about three years and feel like you're someone who can understand how I'm feeling right now. My ex-husband and father of my two oldest sons passed away of kidney cancer last November. We had been divorced since 1984 and hadn't spoken for the last ten years. He was my first love – I was 17 and he was 24. We married six months later. The first year was the happiest. I gave birth to our first son two years later and another two years after that. By the tenth year it was over.
The first hint I got was from my Mom; she called to tell me she read his obituary in the paper and wanted to know why the memorial service was being held in a "gay church".
I laughed and told her that "churches can't be gay". She just said that that was what she had heard. I didn't think anything else about it until my oldest son came home for the service and during dinner I jokingly repeated what my mom had said expecting my son to laugh along. He didn't laugh. He looked down and said "Mom, there's something I have to tell you: Dad was married to a man for the last five years of his life."
At first it wouldn't sink in. I couldn't even process it much less believe it. I protested that there was no way he could have been gay; we were young and in love and he had a wife before me and one after me!
It took a few days, but then the memories started flooding back – the times he would disappear and I wouldn't know were he was. The coldness when I questioned him about where he had been. How he could be such a good husband and father most of the time and then a complete stranger at other times.
When I finally left after ten years, I didn't even know why – I just knew something was missing in our relationship. I still had feelings for him and wanted it to work but when I tried to explain to him how I felt he could only reply "Well, I kept a roof over your head and you never missed a meal". I wanted us to stay friends, but he was so angry with me it was impossible. For years I felt guilty, responsible for breaking up our family. When he married his third wife I was relieved and happy for him. After 15 years he left her and had a girlfriend that my sons described as a "skank". They were relieved when he broke up with her and moved in with a "room mate".
The gay marriage debate lately has had me thinking about him again and feeling so sad. How he tried so hard to fit into the mold society demanded and how much emotional pain and turmoil caused to all our families when he couldn't.
I always thought gays should be allowed to marry but didn't think it affected me personally. Now I know better. This is why we, as a society, must love and accept everybody the way they are and not the way we demand they be. I can't regret loving him because of the wonderful sons we have. I only regret not being the one he could trust with the truth of his life.
I'm crying now writing this. It's been 38 years since we married, 28 since we divorced and six months since he died, and I am still trying to finally have some closure.
This is the flipside of the social conservative debate. One of the great threats to successful marriage in this country is the way in which fundamentalism and homophobia coax gay people into straight relationships which are, at root, based on a lie. The human pain and wreckage this causes – to both gays and straights, and especially children – is immense. Yet so many on the right seem not to care or even notice. They just want us to disappear. It was so much easier when we didn't so obviously, you know, exist.