Coming Out

How Three Gay Dads Found Peace With Their Ex-Wives After Coming Out

Making amends with an ex-wive is not always an easy or short road for many gay dads. Here's how three gay men and their ex-wives managed to find themselves at peace after a coming out process.

Author Jason Howe takes a looks at how three gay men managed to navigate the process of coming out to their wives and children to ultimately find peace and acceptance.


What stays with Trevor is his wife's expression.

“The look on her face is forever imbedded in my mind, a look I never want to see again," he said. “A look of pure pain and fear, all in one."

The two had been married 19 years when, while attending a semi-annual meeting of the Mormon Church with his wife, Liesl, the words just came tumbling out. He was gay.

“I remember not wanting to have the kids around when I spoke to her. We were watching a Mormon General Conference. During one of the talks I just blurted it out; I could no longer hold in my secret. Probably not my most shining moment."

For Trevor, now in his mid-40s and living in Salt Lake City, it was the culmination of years of a growing awareness of his sexual orientation. While he had experienced boyhood crushes on other boys, he always had a girl on his arm and had never dated a man. “I was late into my adulthood, mid 30s before I came out," he said. “I tried everything to maintain, but ultimately was not healthy to anyone in my life and we separated. How could I ask Liesl to live a life without intimacy. How could I ask that of myself?"

His main fear was how it would affect his three children, Jeff, Laura and Rick, now aged 19, 17 and 13: "I had to be ready to lose everything in my life as far as a family, home, and stability."

For Liesl, Trevor's announcement came as a total shock.While she had been struggling with what she felt as his lack of sexual interest in her, she never suspected its cause.

"The most difficult part for me was the loss of trust when out of the blue, for me, he told me he had something to tell me and told me," she said. “I honestly did not know what to say or what to think; when I finally responded it was to say, 'At least it wasn't me.'"

Trevor's ex-wife Liesl and her three children

Forty-year-old Hollie Warner teaches sixth grade in Sterling Heights, Michigan. A sense of relief was the only surprise when her husband John told her that he was gay. “I had been working on him to come out for quite some time and when he finally did, I just felt so relieved," she said. “It was a huge weight off me; perhaps that my earlier suspicions weren't unfounded. There's something to the whole gut feeling thing and I guess I felt relieved that that wasn't wrong."

John, an illustrator in his early 40s, says that one of the main reasons he got married was because it was what people did after graduating from high school in his small Michigan town.

“I grew up on a horse farm there and it was a rural community of about 2,500 people," he said. “My primary memory of growing up there was wanting to get out of it. Too small, too boring, too dirty, too much labor. I really didn't feel like I belonged."

He thought he found some of that sense of belonging when he met his wife-to-be, Hollie. “My sister introduced us and we hit it off very quickly as friends and found we shared the same sensibilities and sense of humor. It was very easy to be around each other and never had any trouble conversing until wee hours of the night. We were always very excited to see each other. Looking back, I can now see that most of it was based in great friendship and that the romantic or sexual component was not what it should have been."

After a wedding that both remember fondly and a Disneyworld honeymoon, things went well – for a while. The two enjoyed each other's sense of humor and raising Parker, now 12, and Dillon, now nine. “They are the absolute best," added Hollie. Occasionally, she says, things felt off. “I had my suspicions or just wondered sometimes but there wasn't ever anything super obvious. I asked John a few times but was always pretty satisfied with his answers and at a certain point, I accepted them as fact because I liked our life and the family we were building."

But at some point during their 13-year marriage, Hollie's suspicions deepened. By 2011, John says that she “pushed the issue."

“The coming out process was horrible," he said. “There was a growing feeling of disconnect that was palpable. I confided in my mother that I was gay and she immediately told my niece and then it spread through the family. I really couldn't come out to anyone but friends and co-workers, none of whom were surprised."

John's husband Matt, son Dillon, John, Pete, son Parker, John's ex-wife Hollie, Andrew, and Hollie's boyfriend Dave; Pete and Andrew are Dave's sons.

David Hall, a probation supervisor in his late 40s who lives in Hannibal, New York, sounds sadly resigned when he talks about the demise of his marriage.

“Because she always really knew, the only surprise was that she had the affair," he explained.

He met his wife Susan, also 47, in college and already was aware of his sexual orientation. But because he grew up in a rural area and was afraid of disappointing his parents, he felt that life as a gay man was impossible for him. “I felt that I needed to do the 'right' thing and get married. And, since she seemed willing to marry a man with this issue, I decided I needed to marry her. I had convinced myself that it wasn't possible to be happy as a gay man or to have a normal life."

“Dave was upfront and honest with me about his struggle with his sexual orientation," said Susan. “We were very close friends and dated all through college. I think the thought of him coming out to his family and to himself was just too overwhelming and it seemed easier to try to do the 'right' thing and just get married and have a family."

But in spite of the births of Ethan, now 17, and Jillian, now 14, both knew deep down that the issue of David's sexuality had never gone away.

“There just came a point where our relationship was not enough for me," said Susan. “I needed more. I knew that I deserved more. Unfortunately, I made the choice to have an affair; at first just to experience what it was like to be with a straight man sexually, but I ended up falling deeply in love. The fact that I broke the trust of our marriage was the biggest challenge. That issue is still there, regardless of everything else."

The Process of Splitting Up After Coming Out

It's virtually impossible to estimate the number of gay men in heterosexual marriages. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, some 3.6 percent of Americans are lesbian, gay or bisexual. But according to one study, for every gay man who is open about his sexual orientation, at least another 1.5 are still in the closet. How many of them are married to women? Hard to say, but the study found that of all Google searches beginning “Is my husband…," the most common follow-up was "gay," 10 percent more common than the runner-up, "cheating." While the study put no number on how many suspicious wives are out there, the number appears to be substantial. Easier to grasp than the numbers are the emotions involved.

Liesl was angry. “I was angry and hurt that he was changing the plans that we had made together, the life we had talked about having was no longer going to happen, the life I had always dreamed of," said Liesl. “I was angry that Trevor was not willing to fight for our family and fight those feelings of wanting to be with someone else, not even specific to it being a man, but just not being me. I was angry at myself when I realized that I was asking the person I loved, my best friend, to hide his true feelings; to suppress the feelings he had and to move forward with me, even though his feelings and desires were elsewhere? How could I ask this of someone I loved?"

David Hall struggled with how best to tell his children and family. “The most difficult part for me was worrying about my kids and how they would adjust to living between two homes, and having a gay father," he said. “It was also very difficult explaining it all to my parents. While I'm happy with my life now, I still felt a sense of loss when my marriage ended. If nothing else, she and I were friends and had chosen that life together."

For John and Hollie, his admission touched off an intensely painful period as they negotiated their divorce for nearly a year and a half. “I was advised throughout that entire time that I not socialize, move out, date or reduce my contact time with the kids outside of work, a support group or therapist," said John. “I felt completely trapped and suffocated. It was crushingly difficult to be in the same house when we desperately needed breathing room. It almost felt like I was competing for the kids' time in the house, trying so hard to protect my relationship with them. My parents, her parents, and especially her attorney, advised her all along the way to deny or limit my parenting time to an unacceptable degree for me."

“The hardest part for me was feeling like we were failing our boys by not keeping our family intact," Hollie added. “The other really difficult part for me was that I had a vision of how life was and was going to be and I felt like that was all falling apart."

In fact, for straight spouses of gay men, losing that vision can be akin to a death of a loved one. According to the Straight Spouse Network (SSN), a support network for straight women or straight men who are married to gay men or gay women:"The process straight spouses go through is often described as being similar to the grieving process after the death of a loved one. Many of the emotions you might go through are similar to the loss of a spouse. However, in the case of a straight spouse, frequently the LGBT spouse is still around and involved in your life to some degree, and thus there is no clear point at which grieving ends."

While most couples end up divorcing, some end up in mixed orientation marriages, possible, according to SSN, only with clearly defined ground rules. All the couples interviewed for this piece chose to separate, and David is skeptical about whether such a mixed orientation relationship can ever be truly healthy. "While it may seem like staying together is the best for everyone involved, especially for children, I believe that on some level neither can ever be truly happy. And, my belief is that you can't be the best parent you can be if you aren't happy."

Telling the Kids

In a video he made for Gays With Kids, psychotherapist James Guay says that children are resilient and that it's never too early or too late to come out to your kids. It's important to allow plenty of time for questions and to have access to resources especially for kids on hand, such as COLAGE, a support group for children of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents. In John's case, it helped to have a room already decorated, too.

“We chose tell them in a local Starbucks and kept is short and simple. We said we were separating because of some problems we were having and that living apart would be the best solution. They were both initially shocked and emotional, but very quickly began asking questions about where we would live, about having two homes, etc. We took them right after to the condominium I had leased and they saw their room already decorated and I think immediately had a sense of comfort."

Picking up the pieces

And in the end, it was their kids that led the couples interviewed to work past any acrimony surrounding their divorces. John, who married his partner Matt in a ceremony last year in New York's Central Park, realized that Hollie was still his best friend. "We were in it for the kids' sake and decided we, not the court, would make all of our decisions regarding them. We decided flexibility was key and over time have moved from being friends for the kids' sake to being best of friends for all of us. There is nobody else outside of my marriage that I trust more."

Hollie, now in a relationship for the past two years, was frustrated that people around her felt she should be more resentful. “I think that not being angry and bitter is a choice I made for myself. You can certainly let those feelings in and they will take over or you can choose happiness. I am a super easygoing person by nature and I just let that override some of the other things. I also think that having it not be a complete surprise made a difference in my not being bitter."

Liesl found comfort and acceptance in her Mormon faith. “My faith in a loving Father has helped me in every aspect of this process. Good, amazing people do not always fit into some mold we make for them, they are amazing because they are who they are. I think this has given me the ability to have always been okay with Trevor being gay.“

Now, she, Trevor, and Trevor's soon-to-be husband, Jackie, spend holidays, birthdays and other special occasions together.

“Trevor is still one of my very best friends, he is one of the people I want to share good and bad news with first," she said. “I love him and always will love him. He and I, from the beginning, have always attempted to put our children first to allow them to know and feel that our love for them did not change even if our household looks much different."

Susan, now remarried to husband Jeffrey for four years, is hopeful her relationship with Dave will continue to improve. “Dave and I are still friends and work together for our children," she said. “I would say we have a good relationship. But I do hope that someday in the future it can be stronger and include both of our new partners. I do know that it is very powerful for our children to see us still getting along together as friends – and as they get older and have their own families that will be even more important."

David still harbors resentment about how their marriage broke apart, but agrees that the wellbeing of their children is foremost. “I think overall our relationship is positive and healthy. We always try to put the kids first. Although I will always feel anger and disrespect over the way the marriage ended, by her having an affair. As I have told her, the end didn't justify the means. However, that being said, we are both much happier than we ever were when we were together."

Trevor with his three kids and his partner Jackie

Guay says that complete honesty eases the coming out process, and paves the way towards a healthy relationship between ex-spouses in the future. That includes being frank about sexual experiences outside the relationship, so a spouses can better evaluate their own health and use the information as they move forward. He says an apology may also be in order, not for being gay, but for not coming out sooner.

“I feel that honesty is always the best, including with the children, obviously depending on their ages and maturity," echoed David, now in a three-year relationship with partner Chris. “The bottom line is that, after getting past the initial heartache and confusion, things will get better. The man needs to remember that his intent was never to hurt the woman he married. And, the woman needs to remember that her husband didn't choose who he is and that he may have done his best to make her happy."

Liesl says the signs were there as Trevor became irritable, distant and preoccupied. She advises that any gay man married to a woman should take stock of his own feelings and come clean. “It may be time to decide what you want to do and how you want to proceed. Lots of people are touched by any decision you make, but I wonder if the hurt is lessened even a little if honesty about the feelings is approached sooner. Not just the hurt for the woman, but also the hurt and anguish the man must be feeling inside, living a lie and feeling one way, but expected to act and behave another. I can't imagine how that conflict inside feels."

Trevor agrees. “There will be hurt, there will be pain and tears. Put the kids first; as a parent they should always be the most important part. Take mom and dad's feelings out of the equation and their feelings first, always allowing them to vent. Be true to yourself and your feelings: you will have guilt and tears, but allow yourself to forgive and heal. If you need assistance, seek it from a professional or local LGBT centers. Most of all, it gets better. Never give up on yourself or those you love."

*Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed at the request of interviewees.

Show Comments ()
Gay Dad Family Stories

One Gay Dad's Path Towards Realizing Being Gay and Christian are Not Mutually Exclusive

Gay dads Matt and David Clark-Sally talk about coming out, parenting as gay men, and reconciling faith and sexuality.

Coming out in your 30s is difficult. But coming out while blending a family, parenting two kids, and reconciling faith and sexuality? Some may call that crazy.

For gay dads Matt and David Clark-Sally, that's just what they did. And they couldn't be happier!

Keep reading... Show less
Change the World

Republican Utah Lawmaker, and Dad of Two, Comes Out as Gay in Moving Video

Nathan Ivie has many important identities he's proud of: Mormon, Republican, Utahn, father of two... and gay.

In a moving video posted to Facebook, Republican lawmaker Nathan Ivie finally admitted publicly something he's known since the age of 9: he's gay. Ivie, who serves as a County commissioner, is now the first openly gay Republican elected official in the state of Utah. His coming out video has already been viewed more than 25,000 times:

"There's no easy way to say this, I might as well just jump up and say it: I'm gay," Ivie says in the video. "That's my reality and that's what I need to talk to you about today."

In the video, Ivie reveals that he and his wife has separated. He refers to her as his "best friend and supporter," however, and that he is continuing to co-parent their two children with her.

"It's ok to be different, it's ok to live authentically," Ivie says in his video. "You can be gay and a Republican. You need to trust that people will love you for who you really are."

Jackie Biskupski, Salt Lake City's openly lesbian Democratic mayor, praised Ivie via Twitter, writing: "All the best to you, I love how a simple act of love among strangers helped you find your truth and that you are being embraced by family and friends."

Gay Dad Life

Gay Muslim Single Dad Writes Op Ed on His Path to Self Acceptance

Maivon Wahid writes about the challenges of reconciling three separate, but equally important, identities in an opinion piece for Gay Star News

Maivon Wahid, a gay Muslim single dad living in Fiji, wrote an opinion piece for Gay Star News about the challenges he's faced on his road to self acceptance.

"I feel pressure on how I am supposed to behave and how I am perceived," he wrote oh how these competing identities play out for him, day to day.

Maivon described himself as an "odd" kid, who never quite fit in--something he still relates to today as an adult. "When I enter the masjid (mosque), I am always judged and questioned," he wrote. "Sometimes it's curiosity, but sometimes it's borderline bullying." He said he found a way to be both gay and Muslim, three years ago, when he met an openly gay Imam at a conference in Australia. "It was through him I was able to first appreciate who I was, then love who I had become and celebrate it."

Being gay in Fiji, he says also makes him feel the need to hide certain parts of himself. "In Fiji, I find the need to hide so many aspects of my authentic being," he wrote.

He also wrote of complications familiar to many single gay men who became dads from previous straight relationships. He writes: "As a single parent to the most beautiful son – I was married to my ex-wife for nine years – learning to become and celebrate the person you want to be is about more than just me; it's a legacy I want to leave for him and the next generation. Although it's hard to meet like-minded people (my dating life is non-existent!), in being myself, I believe I can show others it's OK to be you, and to love whoever you want to love."

Ultimately, despite the challenges he's faced, Maivon says he has found a way to reconcile these three identities into one. "Whether you're gay, Muslim or a single parent – or all three – there is a place and space for everyone," he wrote. "I have found my place in Islam, and am comfortable being the best version of gay I can be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

Read the whole article here.


Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Do We Have a Biological Right to Fatherhood? Absolutely, Says This Gay Dad

Jay Bostick, a gay foster dad, responds to Kevin Saunders' controversial essay "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children"

Editor's Note: Below is an essay by Jay Bostick who eloquently lays out many of the reasons why he and many other readers were upset by a post we ran yesterday by Kevin Saunders titled, "Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children." This post clearly touched a nerve! (Check out the ongoing discussion on our Facebook page.) While some of our readers appreciated Saunders' viewpoint, many others felt slighted by his reasoning for not having children, calling him everything from "self-involved," "selfish," and an "insufferable narcissist." Many other readers rightly questioned why Gays With Kids would even run an essay from a man who does not want children on (of all place) a parenting website.

The former point is a matter of opinion, but I'll offer some clarification on the latter. We agreed to run this post for two reasons. First, Saunders' perspective is unique among many adopted gay men. We have run countless essays on this site featuring adopted gay men who, inspired by their own upbringing, decided to give back by opening up their homes to children who need them. Saunders' experience, however, led him to conscience decision not to have children, a perspective worthy of discussion particularly by anyone who has been touched by adoption in some way. Secondly, as a 52-year-old gay man, Saunders is starting to find himself alienated from many in his LGBTQ peer group for his decision not to have kids. Again, we are so much more familiar with the opposite perspective on our page: when they become parents, many gay men find themselves ostracized from the broader, childless LGBTQ community. That the inverse is also starting to become true is a testament to the increase in LGBTQ parents in the United States, and an interesting dichotomy we believed warranted further exploration.

All that said, Saunders' essay is a matter of opinion, and one our readers (nor we) certainly don't have to agree with. This is why we were thrilled to receive this "counterpoint" to Saunders's essay from Bostick. We, at least, are enjoying the respectful exchange of ideas, and hope you are as well. Give Bostick's essay a read, as well as the original, and then let us know what you think in the comments or at dads@gayswithkids.com.

--David Dodge, Managing Editor

Keep reading... Show less
Adults

Why This Adopted Gay Man Will Never Have Children

Do we have a biological right to parenthood? Kevin Saunders, a childless 52-year-old gay man, says no.

Guest post written by Kevin Saunders.

Two dear friends of mine, each partnered, capable gay men of relatively sound mind and body, have recently decided to become fathers, and I could not be more unnerved. The expense, the risk, the potential for disappointment, the logistical complexity that they must navigate leave me baffled and at times enraged with the lingering question that I have, out of respect, refrained from asking, "WHY, WHY, WHY do you want to do this?!" These feelings toward what most would consider a happy occasion beg a reciprocal enquiry: "Why do you care?" The answer is rooted in a disposition and a history that has left me skeptical of the innate right to biological parenthood that many, gay or straight, seem to feel entitled to.

Keep reading... Show less
Gay Dad Life

Gays WITHOUT Kids (If Just For a Day...)

Andrew Kohn explains why he decided to leave his kids at home this Pride

I'm not a monster. Yes, I saw the wagons carrying lovely toddler children waiving their flags and eating their graham crackers. The children were plentiful wearing their Pride family shirts, bejeweled in rainbow. The weather was perfect and the crowds were as prideful as ever. But my husband and I had a day where we didn't have to worry about someone else, not on the constant lookout for the next available bathroom or calming emotions because we could buy one unicorn costume and not every unicorn costume. We had a day without kids.

Yes, Pride has become commercialized. Some companies want my gay money, but others march and have a presence because one gay voice spoke up and asked why the company hasn't marched. I marched in the parade with my employer – who marched for the first time this year – because I started the conversation about why we hadn't marched before. My husband and I were present. We honored Stonewall. And praised Nina West. And we did it without carrying a bag with extra panties and a couple sippy cups.

Believe me, I get sharing the day with your children. With your family. But in my house, we live Pride every day. Two white dads caring for two black kids makes us walking billboards for equality, love, and acceptance. I don't need a day to celebrate my family with my children. We do it in the grocery store. We do it at preschool. We recognize our uniqueness and celebrate it. My children don't need a meltdown and a long walk to tell them about their history and their fathers' connection to the past.

Instead of worrying about where we would find lunch and, again, where the closest bathroom was, I saw beauty that took me by surprise – and I was able to be in the moment with it. Trans men waking boldly and bravely around only wearing only their bindings. Watching high school kids sitting in the grass, wearing crop tops and eating french fries, literally carefree looking up at the clouds. We experienced a community that was free and uninhibited, if just for one afternoon, where who you are isn't odd or something to be hidden. But rather something that is a definition of you and should be your reality 365 days a year.

I know that being gay and having kids can be overwhelming at times. We ask ourselves if we're representing our community adequately (or have we become too heteronormative?). If we have children of a different race, are we giving them the experiences they need to know who they are, as well as navigate that world with gay parents? Are we so embraced at school functions because of our contributions to community or are we a token family? And yes, I'll ask it, are we good enough for acceptance by all gay families, who as if we're single again, judge each other on wealth, looks, and status? No family is better than any other, and gay parents certainly have opportunities to be better towards one another.

Our Pride ended in a small fight while walking to the car, like all good Pride's should. But it wasn't about kids bickering, or kids getting upset they didn't get the right treat. It was about us centering ourselves in a community that isn't exactly welcoming in certain spaces to gay families other times of the year. It was about us catching up with our past while also seeing our collective future.

And the kids didn't seem to mind. They had fun with a babysitter and lived their Pride out loud when they shopped for daddy and papa gifts for Father's Day. That's our Pride. Maybe when the kids are older, and really get the meaning of Pride, we'll start marching together in solidarity. But for right now, daddies needed a little time alone to reconnect with their LGBT family. And while there may be too many beer ads and not enough voter registration tables, we celebrate visibility and love. And my husband and I had time together, reminding us of who we are, who our original family was, and how we will connect who we are now, and our children, with that family as it grows.

At the end of the day, we're all in it together. And my children will be enriched by the experience. Just not this year. This year, we fertilized our roots so that our branches can grow.

Antwon and Nate became dads through the foster care system. Nine months after becoming licensed, they received a call on a Tuesday, and two days later, their daughter moved in. "It was very quick," said Nate. "Honestly, it was more just shock and nervousness for me."

As new parents, Nate took unpaid leave for two weeks, before going back to work part-time. Antwon didn't receive any leave.

"It's definitely important to have time off to bond, but it's also important to be financially stable when you do it," said Antwon. "I don't think you should have to choose between staying financially afloat or showing your kid love... and I don't think anyone should have to make that choice."

Only 15% of dads in the U.S. have access to paid paternity leave. We want to change this.

Watch Nate and Antwon's video to find out how:

Sign the pledge: www.dovemencare.com/pledge

Like Antwon and Nate, we're helping Dove Men+Care advocate for paid paternity leave for *ALL* dads! Over the next three months, we will be sharing stories of gay dad families and their paternity leave experience. Our goal is to get 100,000 folks to sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Dove Men+Care has collected over 30,000 signatures on the Pledge for Paternity Leave in three short months, in a mission to champion and support new legislation for federally mandated paid leave laws in the U.S. With the conversation growing on Capitol Hill, Dove Men+Care will target key legislators to drive urgency behind paid paternity leave policy and provide a social proof in the form of real dad testimonials, expert research and signature support from families across the country.

Our goal is to help Dove Men+Care bring 100,000 signatures to key policymakers in Washington, D.C. for their Day of Action on the Hill, and drive urgency behind this issue.

If you believe *ALL* dads should receive paid paternity leave, sign the Paternity Leave Pledge.

Fatherhood, the gay way

Get the latest from Gays With Kids delivered to your inbox!

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse