The NYTimes has a story today on what happens when gay men marry straight women--or what's now being called the Brokeback Marriage phenomenon:
. . . an estimated 1.7 million to 3.4 million American women who once were or are now married to men who have sex with men.
The estimate derives from "The Social Organization of Sexuality," a 1990 study, that found that 3.9 percent of American men who had ever been married had had sex with men in the previous five years. The lead author, Edward O. Laumann, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, estimated that 2 to 4 percent of ever-married American women had knowingly or unknowingly been in what are now called mixed-orientation marriages.
Such marriages are not just artifacts of the closeted 1950's. In the 16th century, Queen Anne of Denmark had eight children with King James I of England, known not only for the King James Bible, but also for his devotion to male favorites, one of whom he called "my sweet child and wife."
Other women include Constance Wilde, Phyllis Gates, Linda Porter, Renata Blauel and Dina Matos McGreevey, wed respectively to Oscar Wilde, Rock Hudson, Cole Porter, Elton John and James E. McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey.
Although precise numbers are impossible to come by, 10,000 to 20,000 such wives have contacted online support groups, and increasing numbers of them are women in their 20's or 30's.
On the whole these are not marriages of convenience or cynical efforts to create cover. Gay and bisexual men continue to marry for complex reasons, many impelled not only by discrimination, but also by wishful thinking, the layered ambiguities of sexual love and authentic affection.
I'm glad that The Times did not devolve into the gross, ubiquitous generalization that gay men marry because they need a "beard." Nope. Sometimes the men don't even know they're gay until later on:
"These men genuinely love their wives," said Joe Kort, a clinical social worker in Royal Oak, Mich., who has counseled hundreds of gay married men, including a minority who stay in their marriages. Many, he said, considered themselves heterosexual men with homosexual urges that they hoped to confine to private fantasy life.
"They fall in love with their wives, they have children, they're on a chemical, romantic high, and then after about seven years, the high falls away and their gay identity starts emerging," Mr. Kort said. "They don't mean any harm."
These men want homes, and children...they want that Suburban Dream that all of us want. They want to be upstanding members of the community, they want their marriages to last. They, truly, do not mean harm.
Men do many things to deny their homosexuality--they compartmentalize it, go on the 'down low' (as Oprah likes to say), they even go to pro-dommes to be punished for their feelings while indulging in activities their bodies crave.
Sexuality is very, very complicated. Intimacy is very, very complicated. We can't just compartmentalize it away, and hope that our Higher Natures will carry us thru to do The Right Thing at all times.
We are, after all, human. With feet of clay. Bound to fail. or at least fall over...
But the article has a couple of serious flaws. It never deals with men whose marriages end because their wives discovered they are lesbian. That happened to a couple I knew back in New Jersey--friends of my ex-husband. He ended up with the kids. Not because she was a lesbian, though...because she really didn't want to care for them. Who knows exactly why she felt that way. But it was, I'm sure, sad for both of them...
And I remember, when I was a kid, the couple that lived across the street. My mother hated the woman because she had a lover. Turned out that her husband, who she divorced, finally, when her daughter was old enough to understand, was gay. Geri and Paul had worked out an arrangement--they had separate sex lives--that worked for a time. But who knows what happened there. Maybe her lover wanted to marry her after years of being the Other Man. Maybe her husband wanted to have his own lovers at his house rather than catting around...
Who knows? None of us knows.
Now, I can hear young friends of mine, in their 20's and 30's saying "that's right!Dump his ass! He might come home with AIDS!" But dumping a person one loves isn't always easy. And someimes women marry gay men who don't know they're gay for the women's own reasons:
Mr. Kort, however, said that women should look deeper. "Straight people rarely marry gay people accidentally," he wrote in a case study of a mixed-orientation marriage published last September in Psychotherapy Networker, a magazine for which this reporter is the features editor.
Some women, Mr. Kort said, find gay men less judgmental and more flexible, while others unconsciously seek partnerships that are not sexually passionate.
That, apparently, was the case of Cole and Linda Porter, who were devoted to each other, not just because he was gay, but because she had her own issues with sex and preferred to live with a man who did not demand that from her.
Women, too, compartmentalize. For their own reasons. Women sometimes want the affection more than the sex.
Yet sex is easy for some of us--and Love is difficult. Sometimes love, without sex, or sex dwelling separate from the love relationship, is far easier to deal with, and to understand, than that messy combination of sex/love/marriage/baby carriage.
We all have our reasons for staying with a person--reasons many times others outside of our relationships are not entitled to know. We all have our reasons for forgiving someone for not being Perfect. We all have our reasons for staying with someone, and staying in a relationship that might not be the Whole Enchilada that we are brought up to believe every relationship is supposed to be--because maybe there's a part of that Enchilada that is far sweeter and more comforting than soldiering on alone, and waiting for Mr. or Ms. Wonderful.
And maybe it's just that, as we get older, we understand that sex/love/marriage/baby carriage are a phase of life, that it's not all of life for ever and ever until death do us part as those vows say. Maybe we understand that marriage, as it is constituted by both Church and State, is a social contract; and that the heart and sex organs can't be reigned in forever and ever under such an enduring and legally complicated contract.
Paulette Cormack, a teacher who lives in Napa, Calif., has been married to her husband, Jerry, a retired city planner, for 36 years. For 34 years, Mrs. Cormack said in an interview, she has known that although she and her husband are sexually active together, his erotic desires otherwise focus almost exclusively on men. "It's not easy, but I truly do love him," Mrs. Cormack said.
Mr. Cormack is now involved with another married gay man, and Mrs. Cormack has had extramarital relationships. Neither has explicitly discussed this with their son, who is 25.
They remain intensely committed to each other. Last year Mr. Cormack nursed Mrs. Cormack through four months of treatments for cancer of the fallopian tubes. She eventually made a fully recovery.
"What is intimacy?" pondered Mr. Cormack, as the couple sat in a coffeehouse in Berkeley, Calif., after watching "Brokeback Mountain" with others in similar situations.
He added: "I am totally committed on all levels to Paulette. I felt so intimate with her when I was caring for her during her cancer treatments — to me, that's a stronger expression of love than whether I'm having anonymous sex with a man."
How we live, how we love, can be trivialized and called things like "Brokeback Marriage" but the thing is, we cannot understand the nature of another couple's relationship. And, for most of us, we can't even judge our own--because we might not know the true nature of our partner's deepest, darkest needs.
Because maybe, out of fear of losing us, they can't tell us.
We can rest our minds in certitude, in a self-righteous "I know my partner better than anybody" mindset-- but, truthfully, life has taught me that we can never be certain of some things about our partners. And, sometimes, perhaps, it's the unconditional love and devotion, devoid of the heavy words of the marriage social contract and mandatory weekly sex, that is, in the end, what holds some couples together.
Nothing, and no one, is perfect. That we love, and are devoted, is sometimes perfect enough.