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 ()
Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

Only so much growth and learning can occur when we limit ourselves to our fears. If people never did anything they were afraid to do, life would be incredibly boring and far too predictable. At some point we must face the things we fear and just go for it not knowing what will happen next.

After finally coming out to my ex-wife after ten years of marriage (see previous articles for that story), and eventually telling my family I knew there was one more step I needed to make.

I am a business owner. I am a structural chiropractor and am highly specialized in my field. Nearly four years ago I opened my own clinic, Horizon Chiropractic Center, in Phoenix, Arizona. I poured my whole heart, body, and soul into the creation of my practice and its growth. Opening a business fresh out of school is no simple task and I worked hard to build my practice with close relationships and word of mouth referrals. I established myself as an expert and built a strong reputation as a family man, and my ex-wife and kids were the face of my practice.

I loved and do love every person who has ever come into my office and treat them like family. We laugh together during visits, celebrate wins, cry together, often hug, and cheer each other on regarding various things in our life. That's also a large part of who I am: a people person. I enjoy spending quality time with those I am privileged to help. No one comes in my office and only sees me for 2-5 minutes.

Even though there was so much good that I had built into my brand and reputation fear eventually found its way into my business too. I was afraid of what would happen if people found out the truth. Would they be okay with having a gay chiropractor? Would they still trust me to be able to help them? Of course, the story in my head I was telling myself was much bigger and badder than it needed to be.

When we decided to get a divorce, I felt strongly that I needed to face these fears and begin telling a number of patients the truth of what was happening in my life. I know in reality it is no one's business but my own. However, I felt like I needed to let my patients who had become like family to me truly see me for who I am, and who I always was. And so slowly, case by case, I began to tell a select number of people.

I'll never forget the first patient I told. She had been coming in for years and was bringing her son in to see me who is on the autism spectrum. It was the day after my ex-wife and I decided to get a divorce and she could tell something heavy was on my mind. I eventually came out to her. The first words out of her mouth were "I am so proud of you!" We cried and hugged and it was the complete opposite of what I ever expected. And it was perfect. I felt loved. I felt accepted. I felt seen.

As time went on it got easier. And overall the responses were all completely positive and supportive. Out of all the patients I told and those who found out from other circles, only three stopped coming in to see me. Since coming out, my office has grown tremendously. My reputation hasn't changed. If anything, it's solidified. I can't help but think that part of that is due to finally embracing all of me and allowing others the same opportunity.

I read somewhere once that you never really stop coming out of the closet. And I've noticed that too. Sure, not everyone needs to know; it isn't everyone's business. And I hope that one day we live in a time period where fear doesn't prevent anyone from being seen. I want to contribute to the upward trajectory I think our society is headed of understanding, acceptance, support, and equality.

I would love to be able to say that after coming out publicly I no longer feel fear; but I do. And I think in some ways I always will no matter what. But that's part of life, right? Recognizing fear when we have it but then choosing to move forward out of love – love for others, but maybe more importantly love for ourselves.

Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

Coming Out to My Kids Was the Most Raw and Tender Moment

Cameron Call, a newly out gay dad, wonders how to come out to young kids who can only understand so much.

Cameron Call, who came out in summer 2019, has generously agreed to chronicle his coming out journey for Gays With Kids over the next several months — the highs, lows and everything in between. Read his previous articles here.

I always wanted to be a father. I am so glad that as messy as my journey might have been it got me three beautiful kids. I can't imagine my life without them. No matter how dark some days are as I navigate coming out and getting divorced I can always remind myself that my journey got me my kids. And I am so grateful for that.

When their mom and I decided to get a divorce I still hadn't told our kids that I'm gay. But once it was decided the best decision for us was to end our marriage, I knew it was time to tell them the biggest reason why. And I was terrified. Even though my twin boys are only seven and their sister is five I was scared to death to be so honest with them.

Some could argue that my kids didn't need to know but I feel strongly that they deserved to. They deserve to know their dad fully. And they deserve to know one of the reasons their parents decided to get a divorce.

Without much preparation or planning, we sat down on our couch as a family one Sunday afternoon and their mom let me speak. I trembled as I attempted to formulate words into sentences. How do you come out to young kids who can only understand so much? I stumbled for several minutes as we discussed the previous year. I asked the kids about their thoughts and feelings as they had witnessed countless arguments between me and their mom, heard several doors slam, and seen a lot of tears. They each expressed how scared and sad seeing their mom and I fighting so frequently had made them.

I explained that after a lot of conversation and prayer we decided we weren't going to be married anymore. But that wasn't enough. I could tell they were still confused and I felt uneasy. And then it hit me. I knew what more I had to say.

I looked at my oldest son and said "You know how God made you with handsome bright blue eyes?" Then I looked at his twin brother and asked "And how He made you with a cute face full of freckles?" Then I looked at my daughter and said "And you know how God made you with the most contagious belly laugh that fills the room?"

They all nodded and in their own way replied, "Yeah."

"Well," I said. "God made me to like boys more than girls. And that is part of the reason why your mom and I aren't going to be married anymore."

And I left it at that. They asked a few questions and I attempted to explain to them that their mom deserved to be with a man who loved her in a way I couldn't. And I told them that I wanted to love a man in a way I couldn't love their mom. I said again, "We aren't going to be married anymore." And that's when reality started to sink in a little bit.

My two boys immediately started crying. They both just wanted to be held. I was squeezed so hard as I hugged my son while he cried in my shoulder for several minutes. I couldn't hold back tears either. It was one of the most raw and tender moments I've ever experienced as a dad. It was a new type of pain I had never felt before. But it was also very healing. My daughter was kind of clueless as to what was going on and she didn't understand. As a five-year-old there's only so much she can grasp. She didn't even cry or ask a single question that day. But I knew we were laying the foundation for the growth that was to come as we navigated this new journey. And we've come a long way.

After holding our sons for a few minutes the conversation continued and I knew I had done right when my son said "A happy mom and dad is better than a sad mom and dad." I was blown away at his wisdom and understanding at such a young age.

As hard as coming out to my kids was, I am so glad that wasn't the end of the conversation. We continue on almost a daily or weekly basis to circle back to their thoughts and questions surrounding having a gay dad. And there continues to be highs and lows. But I'm grateful we are talking about it. I'm grateful they aren't afraid to share their feelings, fears, and thoughts.

While I cannot control or protect my kids from everything, I can control what I say and teach them, especially in regards to the gay experience. And I hope that I am up for the challenge.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

Dating a Single Gay Dad Is a 'Package Deal'

When you date a man with kids, you get the "whole package," says Kyle Ashworth

I am a package deal.

That is a phrase I have continued to tell myself since entering the dating scene. I say it because it's true. You see, I was previously married to a woman for ten years. From that relationship came four wonderful children who are the lights and loves of our lives. Seven years into our marriage I made some hard decisions. The most monumental of them all was coming out to my wife. Everything about being gay and living a life of authenticity felt like a fantasy to me. I didn't know what to expect, what to believe, or where to begin. I just knew I wasn't straight and living in that closeted space was destroying my life.

People often ask me what the hardest part of the journey out of the closet has been. That is a difficult question to answer. Coming out was hard because you'll never get a chance to go back in the closet—once you are out, you're out. Divorcing my wife was hard, because it meant that everything comfortable and "normal" in our lives would be disrupted. Losing friends and family members to bigotry and ignorance was difficult.

So why do we come out? What compels us to turn our whole world upside down?

Keep reading...
Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Gay Dad Gains Clarity After a Health Scare

A recent health scare helped give Erik Alexander clarity.

Sometimes fear can cripple the mind and hinder ones judgement. Having children of my own, I have come to grips with accepting the things I cannot change and learned to take action when there is no other choice. When it comes to my own personal health, the future and well being of my family gives me all the clarity I need to make the right decision about any kind of health scare.

This episode is dedicated to all the parents out there that are going through or have gone through similar situations.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Family Stories

This European Couple Became Dads Through a U.K.-Based Surrogacy Program

Janno, from Estonia, and Matthias, from Belgium, were accepted into the "Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy" Program.

Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.

Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."

Keep reading...
Surrogacy for Gay Men

Interested in Surrogacy? Check Out These Bay Area Events This Weekend

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, two major events are happening that will be of interest for dads-to-be and surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF)

If you're in San Francisco or the surrounding area, clear your calendar this weekend. Two events are happening simultaneously that are significant for dads-to-be AND surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF). For an outlines of both events, check out below.

Keep reading...
News

Gay Dads Show Up at Boston Event to Drown Out Anti-Trans Protesters

When Trystan Reese found out protesters were planning to show up to an event in Boston he was presenting at, he put out a call to his community for help — and gay dads showed up.

A couple months ago, Trystan Reese, a gay, trans dad based in Portland, Oregon, took to Instagram to share a moving, if incredibly concerning, experience. Reese, who works with Family Equality Council, was speaking at an event in Boston, and learned before his appearance that a group of protesters were planning to attend.

"As a trans person, I was terrified to be targeted by anti-LGBTQ people and experienced genuine fear for my own safety," Trystan wrote. In response, he did what many LGBTQ people would do in a similar situation — reach out to his community in Boston, and ask for their support. "And they came," he wrote. But it wasn't just anyone within the LGBTQ community that came to his defense, he emphasized — "you know who came? Gay men. Gay dads, to be exact. They came, ready to block people from coming in, ready to call building security, ready to protect me so I could lead my event. They did it without question and without reward. They did it because it was the right thing to do."

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

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

Follow Gays With Kids

Powered by RebelMouse