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Gay Fathers Who Come Out in Mid-Life

A Personal Perspective: The struggles some men have faced.

Key points

  • Gay fathers who come out in mid-life may struggle with guilt or shame that can make them feel hopeless and have thoughts of suicide.
  • Intense memories are connected to intense emotions and may be triggered when we experience something similar much later in life.
  • In mid-life, we can begin to re-examine our choices from a new perspective and re-construct a different value system.
 kwest/DepositPhoto, used with permission
Source: kwest/DepositPhoto, used with permission

I often hear from men who make statements like this: “Hopelessness and despair persist in my head like a sinking ship taking on water.”

My 40-year-old correspondent, “Jay,” went on:

“After many years in a straight marriage, I realized that I am attracted to other men. It’s taken a toll on my marriage, my work, and my mental health. I feel desperate with dwindling options and overwhelming darkness. The best years of my life are gone.”

Jay is experiencing what has been described as “predicament suicide.”

Making decisions with bad information

Those of us who have lived this are often asked, “If you are sexually attracted to men, why would you marry a woman?” The answers are many, variable, and complicated. The harshest criticism comes from the LBGTQ community, as if you’re only legitimately gay if you knew by the time you were 20.

Jay wrote, “When I married, I was looking for the perfect wife to make the perfect image of the perfect life. We sold each other a fake bill of goods. I knew people would feel I made a perfect choice.”

Even as he was getting married, he knew that he made a bad decision. “I bowed to the pressure of friends and family to be a husband and a father.” For some of us, this need for approval is so powerful that we compartmentalize our desires and believe that we’ll be able to deny or control them.

But there’s more to Jay’s story. At age 14, his father discovered gay porn on his computer. “Dad exploded, asked me if I was a faggot, and said he wouldn’t have a faggot for a son.” Shame and guilt set in immediately and he had his first thoughts about suicide. He thinks of it daily. Only the thoughts of his children have kept him from acting on it.

The damage of his father’s comment cannot be emphasized enough. I recently met a woman whose son had told her grandson, “I will not have a gay son,” and her grandson shot himself.

Jay lives in a culturally conservative state. He wrote, “Anti-gay, hateful rhetoric comes up every day in casual conversation here. ‘The fags.’ ‘The queers.’” These trigger his memory of “I won’t have a faggot for a son.” He continued, “If I come out, my parents would rather not have a relationship with me.”

Triggers and trauma

I hesitate to use “triggers” and “trauma.” The overuse of these words has relegated them to meaningless jargon. I have struggled with equating interpersonal traumas with the tragic casualties of war, but my conversations with Jay have given me a deeper understanding of PTSD.

Jay’s father told him he would not have a gay son. Jay knew that he was—and always would be—gay. No escape. Being bombarded with gay epithets re-traumatizes him as surely as a car’s backfire re-traumatizes a veteran.

Jay and his wife went to a faith-based therapist who told Jay, “Your view on marriage is contractual, not spiritual.” In other words, he had to get right with God. Jay went to see a lawyer about divorce. Without revealing he is gay, the lawyer advised, “The judge will make custody supervised and restrict contact if a husband lives outside a meritorious (Christian) relationship.” The lawyer told him of a husband who “went queer and never saw his children again.” He sought a second legal opinion and was given a similar appraisal.

Jay concluded, “How can I prioritize my happiness at the expense of my family, my marriage, and my children?”

 Lexa_1112/Deposit Photo, used with permission
Source: Lexa_1112/Deposit Photo, used with permission

Because he lives in the Bible Belt, he has felt isolated, and as I’ve written before, loneliness is a killer. He sought an online therapist, but he found that the online therapy platforms made it clear that their services “are not appropriate to address issues that involve thoughts of suicide.”

Jay experiences a lot of regrets: “I’ve carried this shame and guilt for more than 25 years, and it’s f***ing depressing! What a waste! Opportunities have been foreclosed. My best years, gone.”

Jay examines his early life decisions from a perspective he could not have had at a younger age. He didn’t have the information he has now. He could not have made a different decision. We all make the best choices we can make with the information we have available at the time. If more information becomes available later, it can change our future but not our past.

We are not what we were

Jay and his father are not the same men they were. I can’t predict Jay’s father’s reaction if he comes out, but I do believe his father’s love for Jay will supersede everything else. It may take some time, if it happens at all.

 olly18/DepositPhoto, used with permission
Source: olly18/DepositPhoto, used with permission

I challenged Jay, “You were a child then. Your responses were those of a child. But you are a man now. You can choose to respond in a different way. Now you can say, 'This is who I am. Take it or leave it. I hope you'll take me as I am, but I will not pretend just to please you.’"

Jay needs to stop looking backward and to look forward. His earlier life is a sunk cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. He must challenge his own prejudices about what it means to be gay.

Jay is depressed because he is not living the life he was meant to live. He needs to shake up his life and rearrange it. By taking back control of his life, he can feel the freedom that may compensate for the losses he may experience.

References

Pridmore, Saxby. (2009). Predicament Suicide: Concept and Evidence. Australasian psychiatry : bulletin of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. 17. 112-6. 10.1080/10398560802614158.

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