Thursday, August 03, 2006

Husbands Who Have to Go Be Gay Still Can't Bear to Think About the Kids

Judith Wallerstein, the famous researcher on the effects of divorce on children, marveled that in the whole "no-fault" divorce debate in the '70s, the only issue was whether it would make the exes happier – no thought was given to the kids. The effect on the kids, in case this is still a mystery, is gut-wrenching, scarring, and long-lasting.

Now the fashion has turned to married fathers who decide that they are really gay, and therefore have to leave their wives. The New York Times article, "When the Beard is Too Painful to Remove," cites the estimate of UCLA's Gary Gates that between 1 and 2 percent of married men, or formerly married men, are gay or bisexual. The article portrayed some men as trying to have a gay life while remaining married, but most of the subjects seemed to be heading toward divorce. To be gay and still married was thought to be living in denial.

A number of the men in the article were fathers. Yet not a word, by the men, their wives, the researchers, or the reporters, was spent on the effect on the kids of dad going off to be gay. To the kids, though, their father's deepest identity is as "dad."


Anonymous said...

I read this article as well and I agree with your assessment. What I would be interested in seeing is a similar analysis of married women who are lesbians. I would speculate the the women would be much more concerned about the effect that divorce would have on their kids than about the need to hold on to their husbands.

Anonymous said...

I discovered after my father died that he probably was gay. It explained a lot of things in our painful family history. He wanted to have children and in his day, had no other options. He probably wanted to live a "normal" life.

As painful as our history was, I am grateful that my parents stayed together. There is no easy answer to a dilemma, this I know. I can say, from my experience, that my father sacrificed much and endured much for me and my siblings, as did my mother. I don't know a more beautiful way to love someone.

TheRev said...

I wrote an article a few years back about the difficulty of being the child of a homosexual.

As you all have pointed out, and as I point out in the article, it does seem like the children often get lost in the shuffle. Looking back, I can't say whether or not I wish my dad would have just stayed in the marriage. The difficulty for me is to differentiate between the repercussions I felt from being the child of a homosexual and the normal repercussions all children of divorced parents endure. My guess is, I'll never know the answer to this.

Mark Smith said...

I have to wonder whether or not this particular problem would exist if gay marriage were legal.

The child in question would have either been adopted or born from a surrogate mother. That child would have grown up in a loving family (or at least as good a chance at a loving family as a straight couple). It would have a "different" set of parents, and we could discuss the implications of no female parent, but at least Dad wouldn't have left.

It seems that this situation is caused by one of two factors:
1. Not being sure (or correct) about your sexuality before marriage.
2. Marrying hetero because it's the only way to have kids.

Legal gay marriage would solve #2. #1 is tougher - though I think it would be easier for each person to sort out their sexuality if there weren't a stigma on one of the orientations.

And therev - Thank you very much for sharing your story.

Gruntled said...

I think there is always a market for ideologies that makes us feel better about putting our own desires ahead of other people's needs, especially dependent people. The ideology that sexual orientation is an over-riding identity is, I think, one of those convenient ideologies. Moreover, the fact that there are millions of married fathers who love their wives, in addition to having homosexual inclinations, suggests that the gay/not-gay theory is also more ideology than plain fact.

I thank those telling hard stories. I was thinking of students who have told me of fathers who "had" to leave because they discovered that they were gay.

Anonymous said...

I really don't see what the "gay/not gay theory" has to do with anything.

To attempt to summarize, in a bumper sticker, the complex range of emotions and decisions going on between a husband, wife, and family during a divorce (and at the same time trying to score some sort of rhetorical points about homosexuality) seems pretty futile.

(Not to mention, anyone who has ever read a newspaper should know that often reporters focus one one angle and exclude lots of other things. To conclude that the parents don't care about the kids because they weren't mentioned much in the article seems a little naive about how newspapers and reporters work.)

People divorce for all sorts of reasons, and most of the time the divorce is lamentable. There are plenty of gay dads who are fulfilling their parental responsibilities, both those who are still married, and those who are not. And of course there are a great number of wonderful gay men whose primary identity is "Dad" both to themselves and to their kids.

Gruntled said...

The relevance of the "gay/not gay" theory is that it lets some people think, and even makes some people believe against their will, that if they "are" gay, then it would be dishonest and even existentially wrong to live a straight life, even if they still love their wives and want to live with their children. See my series of posts, from June 7 -9, on Michele Wolkomir's Be Not Deceived.

Anonymous said...

"The relevance of the "gay/not gay" theory is that it lets some people think, and even makes some people believe against their will, that if they "are" gay, then it would be dishonest and even existentially wrong to live a straight life, "

Feh. Sorry to be dismissive, but I don't buy it -- particularly the "against their will" part, which seems designed to rhetorically signal the evil "gay agenda." :)

If someone is that weak, it doesn't have anything to do with being gay or not. If a man's marriage & family is that unimportant to them, then if it weren't sexual orientation issues, it would simply be something else that eventually ends their marriage.

Even, if this is indeed about identity, then it's pretty clear that you're talking about a group of men who have no identity of their own and instead simply find their identity from other people's labels.

I wouldn't put too much stock in Michele Wolkomir's book. Interesting? Yes. Conclusive about anything? No. Research that is generalizable to a population? Not a chance. The plural of "anecdote" is not "data."