This blog is from the heart, informed by having been married to a closeted gay man and understanding how that experience changed the trajectory of my life, both as a woman and as a psychotherapist. Please add to the conversation and "Follow" if you're so inclined; all voices are welcome!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Modern Family: Married...and Trans

Friday night's interview with Bruce Jenner by Diane Sawyer was a turning point in our collective understanding of the struggle of transgendered people. To know that this All-American hero, the perfect specimen of handsome masculinity and fitness, has been tormented by gender identity confusion since childhood, was painful to hear. Reading Twitter and Facebook posts during and after the interview revealed expressions of compassion and encouragement. His first two wives and the majority of his children offered their unconditional love and support, with sincere wishes for his happiness. 
He's out. The burden of the secret has been lifted. He can finally move forward with his transition into Her. Pictures taken of him yesterday morning revealed the smile of a man who was free at last. And the morning after, we celebrated his courage and feel empathy for the years of pain. I, for one, am genuinely happy for him. Everyone deserves to live an authentic life.
But Jenner's somewhat tidy ending misses a huge chunk of the story, because his life overlaps so many others'. Although life can't really be neatly depicted in a drawing, I think my Venn diagram (below) pretty clearly lays out important relationships that are now being or have been affected by Jenner's gender identity struggle. And it's not just in his case, of course, but is true for every LGBT person who comes out during a marriage. Every circle has an equally important story to tell. 

First, let's look at the kids. It's not unusual for a child to sense that something is "off" in the family. They may find evidence that Mom or Dad is LGBT; it might be a photo, a text accidentally read, or maybe one parent has a new same-sex friend that they're spending more time with. Or in Jenner's case, being "caught" wearing women's clothing. And for the child(ren), the internal dialogue might sound like this: "Who do I tell? Can I ask my parent(s) about it? I have this secret and it's too much for me. I'm so mad at my mom for marrying him! I'm so mad at my dad for being gay! I'm so embarrassed! What are my friends going to think? Does this mean I'm gay, too?"

The second circle represents the "straight spouse." Or, as one attorney I worked with so indelicately put it, the "left-behind spouse." That spouse just had his/her world turned upside down. Sometimes it happens abruptly, and sometimes there is a growing suspicion that reveals itself over time. There are often years of a sexless marriage. We wonder, "Am I not attractive enough? Sexy enough? Manly enough?" We buy satin sheets, sexy lingerie, her favorite flowers. We make his favorite meal. Sometimes we even directly ask, and get a defensive denial in response. It is crazy-making and self-esteem shattering. 

The strongest punch to the gut for the straight spouse is finding evidence of infidelity. The genitalia close-ups on Craigslist's M4M page. The sex toys discovered in a suitcase after a business trip. Love letters left out in the open. For your LGBT spouse, it's a new life. For you, it's the death of everything you thought you knew or thought you had. 

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between the kids' and the spouses' internal experience. The description I hear most frequently is feeling like Alice in Wonderland after falling down the Rabbit Hole. Things you thought were real aren't, and beliefs you had about life are blown to smithereens in an instant. And if no one is talking about it, it's all that much more discombobulating.

The final circle is the person who is coming out as LGBT. Bruce Jenner's description of his years of internal conflict was heartbreaking. Although times are changing, the truth is that historically being gay or transgendered has been more than just "not OK"; people are rejected by their families, kicked out of churches, denied jobs. Even killed. I know one person whose mother threatened to kill herself if he was gay. So he's married instead. And miserable. As Bruce Jenner has shown us, it can take decades to come to terms with one's gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and the process for some is agonizing. And lots people get hurt in the process, even if that was never the intent. Some LGBT folks truly believe that if they can just find that right person, they can create a "traditional" life and tamp down those authentic-but-unacceptable feelings. Too many of us know, of course, that it simply doesn't work that way.

Every person in that Venn diagram has a story to tell. Some experiences and feelings are the same. Some are different. And all of the stories are valid and true.

Let me say that again: All of the stories are valid and true. My truth doesn't negate yours. And the LGBT person's truth doesn't negate the straight spouse's.

Which brings us to the heart in the middle of the circles, that place where all of the lives overlap. It's the place of communicating and understanding one another's experience, one another's feelings. Understanding does not mean forgiving; it may not even mean you're less hurt. Less angry. But seeking to dwell in that heart space MUST be the goal if we're ever going to heal as family members, as individuals, as a society. That heart is the place where four things must happen:
  1.  You must allow your partner/child to tell his/her story
  2.  You must listen and hear without interruption. (It should be no surprise that this is the hardest  one.)
  3.  You must validate. Or, to borrow from Harville Hendrix, you say something like, "It makes sense that you feel that way." And mean it!  (Note: This is different from agreeing.  Remember, "all of  the stories are true and valid.")
  4.  You must express genuine remorse. "Dad, I'm sorry I ignored your calls and texts. I just didn't know what to say to you."   "Honey, I'm so sorry I didn't tell you before we got married. You deserved to have known."   "Dave, I'm sorry I called you those terrible names."
What does your Venn diagram look like? Are you firmly planted in your circle, certain that yours is the only story that counts?

Or are you moving towards your heart?



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Question: What's funny about this picture?


So I attended a wedding yesterday. The son of a lifelong friend and his girlfriend of 6 years, both in their mid-20s. After the priest asked if anyone in the congregation knew of any reason why the couple shouldn't marry, he then asked the couple the same thing. "Do either of you know of a reason why you shouldn't marry? If so, please confess it now." In the silence that followed the question, I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart.

I've felt an unshakable sadness for the rest of the weekend, and even now as I write this. Would my ex really have come clean? Would anyone? I asked my ex-husband directly before we ever became engaged, and he said no. Not gay. Nope. Nada.  Would it have been harder to lie to God, in front of witnesses? Or is the lie the most important thing?"

("Hey, ha ha, if I can't marry my boyfriend, then I'll marry your daughter!")

You know what, laughing guy? You SHOULD be able to marry your boyfriend. Absolutely. Let's all work towards that. It's only fair and it's just. Everyone should have equal rights under the law. In fact, many of us would (and have) marched right next to you.

But to take such a cavalier attitude about all of the broken hearts of those unsuspecting daughters who you gleefully suggest gay men marry? So you ask for respect -- but think it's funny to shatter other people's lives? 

Here are some of the responses to my Facebook post, edited for anonymity and privacy. They are from both men and women who have been on the receiving end of your taunt. Put your sign down and have a listen. Pretend it's your mom, your sister, your best friend speaking:

"My sorrow is that the priest who married us knew my ex had same-sex attractions, but told him to marry me and they'd go away. All these years later, I've lost my faith. And I'm still not healed from all the levels of betrayal."

"That's the moment I've run through my head so so many times. I always fantasize someone from the back shouting out 'He's gay and gonna dump you when you're [in your fifties]!'"

"It appears the lie was the most important thing."

"His father, brothers, his ex, and probably many others knew."

"Exactly. There were people in the crowd that knew. The guy from [another state] who showed up unannounced, for one."

"This hit too close to home. My husband admitted when confronted last year that he knew the truth even as we were meeting with the priest prior to our marriage. So no, he would have kept quiet if that had been asked at our wedding. Instead, I have lived an entire marriage based on a lie. Even found out he had been having sex with men in my home. I told him he had the chance to call off our wedding. I had already been divorced once and lived through it. I certainly could have done it a second time. Instead, I have to start my life over at [this age]."



"After months of lies and manipulation after he came out, he finally admitted that he knew since ever he could remember. I stumbled onto the fact that he'd had sex with men in high school and college, and all throughout our marriage. I clearly remember my wedding day knowing this was the best and right thing, and that we loved each other. I had known him and his family for years."

"My ex hit on one of our groomsmen, [who] told me only after I filed for divorce 30 years later. I'm not sure I will ever get over [those betrayals]." 

"When we were at the altar the priest's first words [to me] were, 'This is your last chance,' with a grin on his face. My ex looked me right in the eyes and said 'Go for it.'"

"I am not a religious [person]. I find the universe, creation, almighty in its own rights, and dogmatic storytelling a distraction that gets in the way. So when I stand before and give my word to my concept of God and before my fellow Man, it means a lot to me. It did.

And then it all washed away."


********************************************************************************


So, Laughing Guys, here's the answer to the question, "What's funny about this picture?"


Nothing. Absolutely nothing.



To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at www.straightforwardcounseling.com.  For information on our developing program of personal empowerment weekends for straight spouses and adult children who have had a parent come out, visit my Facebook page, Kintsukuroi.