Married, Gay, and Coming Out
Leaving a marriage to begin a new gay life is like a second adolescence.
Posted March 17, 2023 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- Men and women who consider coming out as gay while in a heterosexual marriage often think about—and many have attempted—suicide.
- After leaving their marriage, they often experience a period of hyper-sexuality, but they lack information and experience to make good decisions.
- Those who leave heterosexual marriages to come out as gay are relationship-oriented, and they often find casual sex unsatisfying.
- After coming out as gay, they must seek a partner who will accept their need to split priorities between a new relationship and their children.
"I believe in the sanctity of marriage, but if I enter a gay sauna, all bets are off.” A young gay man who had recently left his wife made this statement.
Religious and cultural prohibitions against same-sex relationships teach that marriage is only between a man and a woman, and sex outside marriage is sinful. Same-sex attractions must be buried or cured.
A predicament is a situation in which one sees only bad and worse options; no good options exist. An Australian psychiatrist, Saxby Pridmore, described a phenomenon called “predicament suicide,” which occurs when an individual with an undiagnosed mental disorder completes suicide to escape intolerable circumstances.
People often misunderstand the pain that men and women caught between conflicting desires can feel. They are accused of having deceived their spouse from the start. Or it is dismissed as a narcissistic midlife crisis.
The LGBTQ+ community defines "a gold star gay" as a man or woman who has never had sex with someone of the opposite gender. Some in the LGBTQ+ community may disapprove of those who have been in heterosexual marriages.
Yet, many of them entered their marriages in good faith. Marriage, and especially their children, remain their highest priority. They have tried to ignore or control their same-sex desires. Or they have tried to endure them while remaining married. Many have struggled, sometimes for years, because of their predicament. But at some point, their desires reach a point of crisis. Many have considered or attempted suicide.
For these people, it isn’t so much coming out as letting people in to see a hidden side of themselves.
The Second Adolescence
A "coming out crash" or "second adolescence" often follows leaving a heterosexual marriage. Like teenagers, these individuals lack good and bad experiences from which to make rational judgments. Some have underlying questions about dating in a world where all the rules have changed.
This period also parallels adolescence's lack of a basic understanding of sex. One man said, "I just need to know how to have sex!" Sex preoccupies the thoughts of people in this situation, with elemental questions like, “Who does what to whom?” and, “How is that negotiated?” Sometimes their only exposure to same-sex behavior has come through internet porn. Casual, anonymous hookups may have left them feeling cold and empty.
Sexual desire naturally diminishes in midlife. When anticipation meets opportunity, a youthful sexuality re-emerges. It parallels the hypersexuality of adolescence, and these individuals often have no idea how to direct it. They face a sense of urgency about making up for lost time.
During this transitional period, many are lonely. They may still grieve the loss of the family they once had. They may seek a quick escape from the darkness through anonymous, online dating apps. Ultimately, this is often unsatisfying.
Men and women tend to enter heterosexual marriages because they are relationship-oriented. They want a person who is sensitive and caring, and one who believes in long-term commitment. Like an adolescent, this may lead them to fall in love precipitously.
Falling in love is irrational, and often that first idealized love is transitional. We choose someone who meets our needs and discover only later who that person is.
Conquering the Coming-Out Crash
Sometimes, sex is transactional: something is given for something gained. There is no intent for anything more. Some will find long-term partners through transactional sex. But long-lasting relationships are infrequently found in quick, one-off sexual encounters. Casual sex can also reinforce feelings that being gay is dirty and perverse.
Is transactional sex wrong? No universal right or wrong answer exists. Each must answer this moral question individually.
Some Amish have a rite of passage called rumspringa. It translates into English as "jumping or hopping around.” During this time, youth face fewer restrictions on their behavior. They are not subject to the community norms that govern their sect. Teenagers may be encouraged to explore otherwise forbidden or strictly regulated behaviors.
Those who come out later in life may need their own rumspringa. They need time to explore behaviors outside of their community norms. They need to do it without guilt, shame, or judgment. It is a time to examine old rules and recommit to them or to design new ones.
A New Sexual Self
Coming out is a process of discovering a new sexual identity. The first task should be to develop a small circle of friends. You need friends who will not judge you. You need them to be with you through the good and bad times. You need someone who answers your naïve questions.
Then, we can focus on developing a consistent sense of our new sexual "self." A period of sexual freedom may be an important part of that experience. During this time, a person can enjoy the feelings of desire and being desired in ways they never have.
It is important to educate yourself about safe sex. Excessive use of alcohol or recreational drugs will cloud your judgment.
Many who have been in heterosexual marriages value a loving partner more than sex. But they may go through a time of reckless, casual sex, like the Amish rumspringa. They have a chance to re-examine their values. Many will discover their values haven’t changed. Only the way they live those values is different.
In seeking a long-term partner, a person must look for a person who shares similar values. If they have children, their partner must accept their need to split their priorities.
Searching for a partner who will be the right one for you can be long and frustrating. The more exhausting the search, the less likely it will be successful.
The excitement of this new life will fade. But it is a time to discover what you enjoy sexually and what kind of person you want in your life. It allows people to become exactly the man or woman they were always meant to be. It is truly a new adolescence.
Men or women, gay or straight, will have times in their lives when casual hook-up sex will tempt them. Being in a committed relationship doesn't change that. Passion disconnects our rational brains and leads us to making poor choices. In a trip to a gay sauna, all bets are off.
I’d like to thank the members of Gay Fathers Worldwide whose comments informed this essay.
Pridmore, S., Auchincloss, S., & Walter, G. (2015). Predicament suicide: An update. Australasian Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1177/1039856215588227