Ask a Queer Chick: Should I stay married to my husband even though I’m gay?

Omar Bustamante/FUSION

Happy National Coming Out Day, everyone! I have complicated feelings about this day. There are a lot of good reasons people might not choose to live publicly in their LGBTQ+ identities, and pressuring anyone to come out before they’re ready—or making assumptions about their lives—is really shitty. Still, the increasing visibility of queer people being honest about who they are is a powerful force for good. Not to mention, it feels awesome to proclaim your truth without apology.

If you choose to come out today (or any other day), know that I adore you, admire your bravery, and think your hair looks so great like that. Below are two questions from people working through different stages of the coming-out process, known respectively as the “can I really do this” stage and the “fuck you if you don’t like it” stage. Wherever you are in your own process, enjoy!

I’m a married, 29-year-old woman with a young child, and I’m gay. My husband knows this. His family knows this. And my closest friends know this—but that’s not enough for me, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

I grew up in an incredibly conservative and religious household, and being a lesbian was just about the worst thing in the world you could be. I fit every single stereotype my parents had of lesbians, and I think it freaked them out, so they advocated against it even harder. Needless to say, it took a really long time for me to actually come out to myself, much less anyone else.

I have had two relationships in my entire life. The first was with a woman and the second was my husband, whom I met when I was 20. My husband knew about my brief same-sex relationship, but it was easy for both of us to chalk it up to some experimental phase (yeah, I know those don’t typically really exist). I did/do really love my husband. I enjoy his company (as a best friend) and think he’s a great dad. When I met him, I wasn’t attracted, but I thought that would come later. Like I said, I didn’t have a whole lot of relationship experience to base things on. I waited and waited, but I just thought this is how things are supposed to be. It took me eight more years and a slew of intense female crushes to realize this isn’t just the way it is.

This summer, I asked my husband to separate and he said no. He was hurt and angry and it crushed me. I wasn’t trying to be selfish. I’m not particularly fond of breaking up my family either, and I really do enjoy spending time with him. I have no plans of cheating. If I could call myself a lesbian, and basically remain celibate but married, I would. The problem is, that feels offensive to every queer person who has fought to live openly, not just safely, like I’m doing. It also feels disrespectful to my husband to openly call myself a lesbian.

The staying married route feels like a cop out. If my husband knows all the facts and still doesn’t want out of the marriage, what do I do? At this point, I feel like I am being re-closeted, and I don’t like it. I feel so alone and like I cannot talk to any other queer people about my situation or even identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. Will this always feel so bad? Will I always be seen as selfish?

You won’t always feel this terrible, I promise. But it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.

You’re in a holding pattern right now, afraid to commit to any clear plan of action because it will cause pain to either yourself or someone you love. You either have to make up your mind to stay with your husband—giving up any hope you might have of being romantically or sexually satisfied—or you have to break up and weather the emotional, legal, and financial turmoil of divorce.

I think the right answer is to leave him. I know he refused to separate, but the fact is that you can and probably should initiate a divorce unilaterally. Marriage requires the commitment of both partners. If one person’s heart is out the door, the marriage is over. You know that you’re not in love with your husband—you see him as your best friend and co-parent, but he’ll never be your soulmate. He, on the other hand, assuming he is in love with you, may feel right now that it’s better to browbeat you into staying in a charade of a marriage than to lose you. But in the long term, the knowledge that he’s sharing his life with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the full range of his feelings will devastate him emotionally.

I’m not here to argue that romantic love is the sole purpose of existence—if you’re happy being celibate and married to your dear friend and co-parent, that’s a totally viable life choice. However, you entered into this arrangement with your husband under the assumption that attraction and romantic love would develop over time. You wanted that kind of partnership for yourself, and I don’t think you should give up on it yet. Plus, I don’t think your husband should give up on the possibility of marrying someone who occasionally wants to make out with his face.

I know that what I’m suggesting is immense and agonizing. But I think it’s what will be best for you and your husband—and, not insignificantly, your child—in the long run. You want to live openly as a lesbian, to be part of the LGBTQ community, and I think you’re right that you can’t do that while maintaining the relationship you have with your husband. As long as you stay with him, you’ll be walking this weird tightrope between the truth of your identity and his attachment to an idea of your family that was never really true.

And you say you’d be happy being married and celibate, but I wonder if that’s just inertia talking—a perfectly understandable reluctance to make the drastic changes you would have to make in order to go after a real, hearts-and-guts-on-the-line kind of love. I wonder if, should your husband agree to stay married and acknowledge your identity as a celibate lesbian, you wouldn’t find yourself chafing at those restrictions a few months or years down the road. I wonder how you would feel if a woman came along who moved you way down deep in that place you always hoped your husband would eventually reach (mind out of the gutter, folks, I’m talking souls, not G-spots). I wonder if you’d find yourself wishing you were free to go after her, and maybe even deciding to go after her anyway, with far more messy and painful consequences than what will happen if you divorce now.

Look into your heart and be searingly honest with yourself: If you stay married to your husband, is there a chance you’ll eventually cheat? I suspect there is. Although it hasn’t gotten much exercise in the last few years, it sounds like you do have a sex drive, and that’s an awfully difficult thing to just ignore for the rest of your life. You’re young, dude. You have so much life ahead of you. You don’t really want to spend the next 50 or 60 years wondering “what if.”

So leave. Resign yourself to the heartache of losing your husband as a friend—maybe for a little while, maybe forever. Come out to your family and your friends and accept no attempt to shame you for the truth of who you are. Cut off contact with anyone who is not down to help you heal and grow and glory in your truth. (You can reopen negotiations later if you want to, but right now, figuring out how to co-parent your child after a divorce that one party does not want is going to be complicated enough—everyone else in your life needs to be firmly in your corner or make themselves fucking scarce.)

Reach out to the LGBTQ community that surrounds you, either in person or online. There is no shame in asking for help. Other people have been through this, and they will offer you advice and wisdom and hugs and possibly whiskey. Find your fellow LGBTQ parents—there are lots of us out here, and in my experience, we bond FAST. Go to one or two gay mom meetups and you will have a squad for life.

You are standing in front of a door that will be incredibly painful to walk through. I’m not telling you it will be easy. I’m telling you it will be worth it. The beautiful, brave, queer life you can have is on the other side of that door. Go fucking get it.

I’ve been taking hormones to transition to my true gender—female—for more than a year now. I have been living full-time as a female since August of 2013. And this October marks three years since my parents disowned me, because being trans goes against their religious views. I know I need to move past this but I haven’t. I am still very angry and very hurt by them choosing their religion over me. They refuse to see me as their daughter; they still see me as their son that is gay. I am a straight trans girl. They think that since I like boys and boys alone, I am a gay and feminine man—but I am a woman. Any advice?

I’m getting the vibe that you began this letter trying to ask for the advice you know you should want—how to move on from your parents’ rejection and build a fabulous life without them—and got sidetracked by what you really want, which is the perfect combination of words to convince your parents that you’re right, they’re wrong, you’re a woman, and they should welcome you back with open arms.

Well, you are right and your parents are wrong, but unfortunately I can’t do fuck-all about it. There is no way to stop people from being wrong until and unless they are ready to stop. If they were willing to cut off contact with their own daughter rather than acknowledge the validity of trans identities, I think it’s safe to say that they’re extremely attached to their wrongness and I do not have the power to change their minds.

So the only thing left to do is change your own mind—that is, to let go of the hope that they’ll recant their previous transphobia and love you in the way you deserve. You do deserve that, and it’s totally normal and healthy and OK to want it and to be angry that you don’t get to have it, but what’s not healthy is continuing to cling to the hope that there’s something you can do or say that will make things different. You can’t make yourself responsible for other people’s incorrect beliefs or behavior, because you’ll only end up hating yourself when nothing you do works.

The fact is, this is on them. They are choosing ignorance over their daughter. That is a shitty choice. Be mad as hell about it, but let go of trying to change it. (And to everyone who emails me that I’m being too hard on intolerant parents whenever this issue comes up, you might as well not waste your time. You’ll never convince me that disowning your child for being trans is understandable or excusable. I know we all have our own journey, but I have no sympathy for anyone who sits down in the road and screams that they’re never ever ever going to move.)

It might be helpful to find a trans-competent therapist who can help you work through your anger and disappointment. If you’re in touch with local LGBTQ community resources—which, in general, I think all queer and trans people should be—they may be able to help. Some community centers even offer on-site counseling.

But even if you don’t want to pursue therapy, you should take some time to process your feelings. Get a journal, a punching bag, a friend with a lot of free time—whatever helps you express what you’re dealing with rather than internalizing it and letting it curdle into “maybe if I just call them…” You need to mourn the loss of your relationship with your parents, and it’s okay if that process takes a long time. Be patient with yourself. Just know that none of this is your fault, and that by choosing your authentic life without them in it, you are doing something incredibly brave and awesome and strong. If they’re not proud of you for that, well, fuck ‘em, and surround yourself with people who are. I’m one of them, by the way. I hope my child turns out as rad as you.

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