The NYT dives headfirst today into a discussion of married men who discover or realize they’re gay, yet continue to want to hold on to married life: “Even after a pained awakening or acknowledgment of their sexual orientation, these men want to save their marriages…either by lying, promising their wives they will not have sex with men or persuading them to accept their double lives.”
For gay men, the desire to stay married to a woman, the denial of actually being gay, and the unwillingness to commit emotionally to a partner of the same sex seem to go hand-in-hand. Yet how often these “Brokeback marriages” happen is up for debate:
Data on these marriages is scarce and unreliable because of the various ways of defining “gay’’ in demographic research. Studies in the 1970’s and 80’s, using inconsistent methodology, found anywhere from one-fifth to one-third of gay men were or had at one time been married. All the therapists and gay men interviewed for this article assumed that percentage would be far lower in today’s more accepting society.
But Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a research group that studies gay issues at U.C.L.A., blended data for The New York Times from the 2000 Census and a 2002 federal survey of family configurations, and found that the percentage of gay men who had ever been married could be as high as 38 percent — or as low as 9 percent — depending on whether respondents were asked their sexual orientation, whom they had sex with or whom they found attractive.
Of the 27 million American men currently married, Mr. Gates found, 1.6 percent, or 436,000, identify themselves as gay or bisexual. Of the 75 million men who have ever been married, 1.8 percent, or 1.3 million, identify themselves that way. But, in both cases, when the men are asked about behavior if they have ever had sex with men, not what they consider their sexual orientation, the number of men who have ever been married doubles.
Some interesting statistics. So things haven’t really changed much over the years, and in today’s political climate I doubt those stats are likely to change very quickly. The NYT paints a fairly emotionally poor picture of men clinging to these marriages.
While reasons for staying hitched that have to do with family and children are understandable, there are throngs of out, emotionally honest gay men out there who would love to adopt, get married, and start a family but can’t. Do closeted gay men who cling to family situations which encourage secrecy, deceit, and facilitate shame help the situation? Probably not. If every gay man who was in a dishonest heterosexual marriage suddenly came out would it be a revelation to many? Probably. But does gay culture provide a hospitable environment for middle-aged gay men to do that? And is the reason there’s no hospitable environment for middle-aged gay men to find their way into gay culture a result of the shame expressed by the many that are closeted?
It’s a fairly complex Catch-22 in a lot of ways. But there are ways out, and when you look at a relationship like the one I posted about yesterday — Ray Vahey and Richard Taylor — members of that so-called “silent generation” who came out to one another but kept their happiness quiet, and then finally found their way out of the closet, the sadness of many of these emotionally dishonest marriages seems even more tragic.
Political Lives, Brokeback Wives [tr]