My husband just found out that his parents are divorcing after 38 years of marriage because his father is gay. My husband is supportive of gay rights, but right now he is shocked and incredibly upset. He feels deceived by his father for keeping this secret for so long and for deserting his mother. Are there any resources out there for this type of situation?
You said your husband has been supportive of gay rights, and that’s great. I hope he’s not confusing being angry at his dad with being homophobic — these are too different issues. Along the way, he will probably be labeled “homophobic” by judgmental people who don’t understand why your husband isn’t immediately cheering his dad on. It’s not a contradiction to support gay rights, but not be ready to be supportive of a recently-out parent.
Of course your husband feels deceived; he has learned that his parents’ reality is very different from what he was led to believe for his entire life. Parents coming out after decades of marriage is more common than most people think. Whether a mom and dad stayed married for 10 or 20 or 30 years before the outing depends on how long the closeted parent was “successful” in suppressing their true identity — but the shock and betrayal and anger all come from the same place. These stories are rarely told — especially from the “kids'” point of few, for a number of reasons:
They don’t know their parent is gay. Adult children not living at home anymore are not privy to the clues that typically force a parent to come out, such as discovered love letters, a cyber trail of gay porn sites or an increase in mysterious phone calls that just don’t add up.
They are not “out” about their parent being gay. Now grown, these children often doubt it is “their business.” They might not ask their parents about it — and they certainly don’t tell their friends about it.
They don’t connect with community resources. Adult children who lived in what appeared to be a heterosexual family for their entire childhood are less likely to seek support from LGBT-family organizations, assuming they don’t “belong.”
Reassure your husband that he is not alone. Adult children can connect with others in similar situations by contacting COLAGE. Ask about the “Adult” listserve, which is for sons and daughters who are 22 – 100 years old. This will be a great way for your husband to hear from other people who have experienced similar family dynamics. (It’s a closed list only for sons and daughters so your husband would have to do that himself if he’s interested…you cannot investigate that on his behalf.)
Finally, your mother-in-law may also be interested in resources for herself. Tell her about the Straight Spouse Network, and the book, The Other Side of the Closet by Amity Pierce Buxton.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
See Chapter Two in Families Like Mine: “Coming Out: A Family Process.” Additional insight into parents coming out later in life is included in the chapter “Second Generation” –children recall the hostility they faced when coming out to a parent — only to find out later that the parent was hiding the truth about their own sexuality (pp. 184-187).