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In Kansas, life was very much in black and white. My husband, “Rev. Gale” and I both came from clergy families in different Christian churches. Life in the ministry was all we knew, and we eagerly followed this family tradition. For me, homosexuality was entirely off my radar. I knew that some people were gay, but I was not likely to meet any (so I thought) as I moved in very restricted church circles. To be honest, I wasn’t extremely concerned with their lives. Like many Christians, I thought that SSA (same-sex attraction) was just another kind of cross– like cancer or disability– and that gay people should be pitied, but preferably from a comfortable distance. I thought that the idea of same-sex marriage was ridiculous; gay people could simply marry someone of the opposite sex if they wanted family life.
In Kansas, my marriage was also in black and white. My husband and I always knew that we were different from other couples. We were primarily friends with a common cause, but I always believed that if I could only do more, be more, pray more, then the relationship would grow. Someday I could be enough to make him happy. I was often troubled by a nagging fear that my husband didn’t really love me, a feeling that he didn’t fully value me in the way I valued him. I never allowed myself to openly acknowledge these fears, but they were always there, causing anxiety and tension. Also, I learned early on to avoid disagreements at all costs. In an argument, it became too hard to ignore the fact that my feelings mattered very little; only the issue at hand mattered. Over time, I became the very picture of a virtuous Kansas clergy wife, but with deep insecurities and unvoiced questions about my worth as a person, even to God.
For many people in my position, the cyclone begins with some event that makes the spouse reexamine their lives, such as the death of someone close. For us, the cyclone that changed our lives forever began as a series of crises: a miscarriage, difficulties in the congregation… I soldiered on as my husband struggled with debilitating depression and suffered multiple stress-related health issues.
He was fighting an inner struggle to come to grips with a fact that he had spent a lifetime trying to deny to himself and the world: he is gay. (Let me be clear– when I use this term, I am not implying any sexual activity. He has been faithful to his vows to me and our church.) He is gay, even though he was raised to believe that homosexual orientation is a terrible sin, even though as a teen, his family helped him explain away his “lack of interest in girls” in other, more acceptable ways. His sexuality, he realized now, was not even just about physical attraction, but about how he related to anyone, male or female, on an emotional level. If homosexuality is a sin, how do you struggle against something that colors every aspect of your human interactions? But acknowledging the truth of his orientation meant risking the love and respect of his family, his friends, his church community, and most importantly, of God Himself. I am grateful that this cyclone did not lead to his suicide, as it does for many people. Instead, the cowardly lion found his courage. The tin man discovered his heart.
Like the other, more famous Dorothy Gale, however, I found myself in a new and initially terrifying reality. My husband was gay; for that matter, any of my children might be gay. I felt lost and devastated by the confirmation of my unspoken fears. Everything I had believed and worked for was called into question. We were certainly not in Kansas anymore.
The Land of Oz.
In the early days, as I first tried to know what I was supposed to do (black-and-white Kansas wives would never ask any other question), I had one rule to go by, “The truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32) Facing this truth was initially so painful that it felt like the world had ended, but at the same time, I knew that we could not build a good marriage on lies and self-deception. I knew that wherever this yellow brick road might lead, it was clearly the right path.
Over time, I have come to appreciate living Somewhere Over the Rainbow. With truth comes the possibility for healing and for love, for real joy as well as pain. I am beginning to relearn that I have worth, to have the confidence to undertake new endeavors. Rev. Gale’s health has greatly improved, and his spiritual life has deepened. He preaches about the profound love of God with conviction and tenderness now, a side of him that I rarely saw before. He and I are able to have a stronger friendship: one based on honesty with ourselves and each other, and the understanding that it is friendship, not romance. We have each realized that we must live authentically if we are to be able to have true and deep connections with others. This matters a great deal, as we both continue to struggle with acute loneliness.
We face a dilemma. Because of the fear and stigma associated with homosexual orientation, we cannot talk openly about our situation as long as we remain in ministry. Regardless of how we resolve our family difficulties, the church urgently needs to discuss the issues that gay people and those close to them face. Our family is far from unique.
- There are an estimated 1.7 – 3.4 million gay men married to women in the US.
- A leading counselor in this area, Bonnie Kaye, reports that she has personally counseled 80,000 such wives since she began her practice in 1985.
- Other countries have even higher numbers, such as China with an estimated 16 million gay men married to women.
- In the US, at least 8 million people identify as LGBT; 19 million admit to a same-sex relationship or sexual encounter; 25.6 million report that they have experienced same-sex attraction.
As Christians we cannot continue debating issues like same-sex marriage without also making the effort to understand the lives and struggles of gay people. God loves all people, including LGBT people, unconditionally. “In wisdom hast thou made them all.” (Ps. 104:24)
I would also direct any other Dorothys in my situation to the Straight Spouse Network (SSN). where they can find a support group of others in our same situation. There is also support available for our children.