Dunne (2001) 'The Lady Vanishes? Reflections on the
Experiences of Married and Divorced Non-Heterosexual
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Received: 21/9/2001 Accepted: 26/11/2001 Published: 30/11/2001
So at 21 - so this was during my university time - And I think I was desperately trying to fulfil [Mum and Dad's] expectations. And they were ambitious for me and I sort of picked up some of that. And in this period - in terms of my emotional development - I became aware of gay tendencies, but despised them and serviced them occasionally, but really felt they were perverted and disgusting. And needed to be held at bay... I think fitting-in was very important to Mum - and that transmitted itself to me... And so this sort of stuff rearing its head wasn't fitting-in and wasn't wanted.
I can remember the scene now. My very first thought was that here was someone who had been hurt. She struck me as nervous and vulnerable and tender, and someone who'd been through a lot. [I: And did you mention anything about your feelings about men?] No, no, I didn't. I was in love and I still am in love with her ... my wife has the sweetest nature of anyone I've ever met ... she's lovely.
It would make me more normal and acceptable to the job that I was in and smooth the way to promotion. Also I was looking to get married because getting married was finally going to help me achieve this pushing-down of these revolting, disgusting, perverted feelings back to where they needed to be. Battened down in a box. And getting married would help me do that.
At the age of 37 or thereabouts, I met Paul at a gay Christian meeting group. And started having a relationship really... well I think at the age of 37, I came out to myself. At that age I felt I could put my hand up and say: 'Hey, I am a gay man and that's actually okay - it actually makes me special - and that's actually what I am and it's nothing to be ashamed about'. And Paul helped me do that.
This is why I go to counselling weekly. It's a lot for me to bear as well. The deceit I find very difficult to bear. But, knowing my wife as I do, my greatest fear is that if all this all came out - and certainly if all this came out in a uncontrolled way - it might seriously unhinge her. It would be like ripping open the stomach of a goat in this room and having all the entrails and everything fall out on the carpet and trying to clear that one up. It would be uncontrollable... I bear the knowledge that she has had bad relationships with men in her life. I sort of am more aware of that, almost more than she is. And I wonder at a very deep level whether I'm trying to make up for that.
I wanted a permanent, stable loving relationship and didn't think, at that time, I could find that in a gay relationship. I loved her, and in those days there was an awful lot of pressure, you were supposed to marry.
I was born in 1958 in Corby, a working-class area and my father worked in the steelworks, my mother as a machinist. We moved to an estate on the outskirts of the town when I was 10. I was aware through secondary school and college that I preferred the company of and was attracted to boys rather than girls. But I never had any physical contact with either. I went through the stages of looking up homosexuality in encyclopaedias etc, and later while at college buying a gay magazine from a shop. The only other gay person who I was aware of, through the media and local gossip, was a guy (transvestite) called 'Candy' who lived locally, in the next town. This kept my sexuality still in turmoil because I wanted to be with other males but I did not want to dress as a female or act camp in any way.
... she was 16 and [worked locally]. Some of the other staff arranged dates etc and it just went on. I suppose I was very naive. The relationship with my wife continued and progressed to engagement and then marriage. Mainly because I did not have access to other Gay men apart from loitering in toilets, but also because that was what was expected by my family, workmates and society.
I had realised I needed to get out of the relationship for my own good, but was torn between selfishness and the two girls and my wife. I thought it through and came to the conclusion that I could not just dump them. I tried to prepare the ground for making a break. I persuaded my wife to get a job. I pushed her onto college courses, this worked really well because she managed to get on an access course and is now working as a staff nurse. I was really pleased about this because it gave her some independence from me..... She works full time now.
I had no inclination that I was attracted to men. I had had several relationships with women during adolescence, was perhaps a bit shy. When I met my wife we were blissfully happy together, the sex was great, and getting married felt like the right thing to do.
After 6 months I decided to tell my wife everything - I couldn't live a lie. She said, `Thank God its not another woman'. I guess she felt that it was something in my make up and nothing could be done about it. She said, `you must continue your relationship with Ric. But this doesn't change my wanting to be with you!'
I know we'll have to have a re-think in the future if it doesn't work out. One day we'll want to move in together, but I don't want to hurt people and let my children down. I would hate for them to think I wasn't a good father. I love my wife and have lots of respect for her, and I love family life, it's comfortable, it's familiar. My wife is an amazing person, very loyal and has given everything to her marriage - she's not the kind of woman who would easily start over with someone else.
I was aware I was different and that I found boys 'interesting' from at least the age of 4. Way before I could have known what homosexuality was. The first game of 'you show me and I'll show you' was with a boy called Zac in Infants when I was 5. The next such encounter was with Al in 3rd year Juniors at about age 9. Then, alas, a gap of many years until my first adult encounter when I was 20. So, in short, I was well aware of my sexuality when I married and had no doubt I was gay and not bi-.
I wondered about what led you on the pathway to marriage? The 17:15 train from Fenchurch Street to Basildon to be quite honest with you. Sis, looked like a nice person and I was in need of someone to keep me awake on the journey home. I discovered, when she got off the stop before my stop, that this was a match made in heaven... My intent was to doze off during the journey and she could wake me up just as she was getting off. What happened was quite different and surprised me no end. We talked all the way and I loved it! For the first time... ever... I had found someone I really got along with and I liked it. The thing was we talked endlessly. Sis had had many disasters with men, abortions, miscarriages, rapes.. Oh the whole bag, loads of shite from men. She said she felt 'safe' with me. She, after a month or so, said she found gay men really exciting and felt they were the best kind of men. We got to a point where I decided that I could not live without this person so I asked her to marry me. I had a deep feeling too that I really wanted children. I truly loved Sis by now and knew this was really not very likely to happen again.
I never spoke to Sis about it until we had been married for six months and already had a child. She said fine! She thought it was fun talking about attractive men to me! She started throwing things at me! [joke] She hit me a few times! [joke] After a year or so, we went back to fine.
We came to the conclusion that there was no way we could pretend we were compatible between the sheets. We simply were not and it was driving a wedge between us. We decided after the fourth child was conceived that sex would stop and we would have separate beds. This moved onto separate rooms a year later in 1995 and then last year we decided we were ready to allow the possibility of other people in our lives.
What do you think are the main reasons for remaining in your marriage? Love, it is the only reason. We could blame the kids and say they hold us together but it would not be true. We simply love each other but just happen to be sexually incompatible. What do you think is the secret of maintaining a relationship in marriage? No excuses, no blaming sexuality for everything that goes wrong, always hugging and not going silent, always talking about problems, even if it means a major argument, it's better than not doing anything.
What do you think wives, or women in general might gain in their relationships with gay men? Better wallpaper! No seriously... A genuine friend I would think is the main gain, certainly not a demanding sex life which I'm sure some women would appreciate. Probably more understanding of family issues, especially in relation to the children. I think it is possible gay men are more in touch with their feelings. I don't want to say that as a blanket comment though as a lot of gay men could not give a monkey's about anything other than themselves. It has to be the sort of guy that wants children.
2For example, it is safe to assume that the particularities of their situation have led to the under-representation of married gay fathers.
3The study was widely publicized during and after it was carried out. Following media interest in my earlier study of lesbian parents, it received much interest in the gay press in this country and abroad. Consequently, the study extends beyond national boundaries and includes four respondents living in New Zealand, eight in Canada and 13 in the USA. In addition I have received many letters, telephone calls and e.mails from gay fathers who read about the study after it was published, and few of the stories communicated since have contradicted the findings in this study. The methods used in this research are interesting (see details in Dunne 1999b), as it combined a qualitative approach to gain depth and quantitative to gain breadth. Each participant completed a short questionnaire; in-depth life-history interviews (n=7) were conducted with respondents in each of the main categories identified. In addition, often very rich qualitative data was collected via an email dialogue with 63 respondents. This was supplemented with telephone interviews. A detailed questionnaire was distributed to 81 respondents.
414 have become fathers via donor insemination (usually in collaboration with lesbians but sometimes with heterosexual women), 13 are foster carers, and four have children via surrogacy or adoption (these men live in North America). There were eight social/non-biological dads who were parenting with their male partners or female friends, and 11 are in the process of becoming fathers either via donor insemination or fostering.
5I have yet to come across a definition of `lesbian', `bisexual,' `gay' and indeed `heterosexual' that fully and discretely captures experience (see earlier lesbian feminist attempt in Rich 1984). If, for example, one takes participation in sexual activity as a signifier, one is faced with the problem of persons who are celibate, and men who can routinely engage in homosexual sex without shifting from an identification as `100%' straight - a common experience according to respondents who have engaged in casual sex. In my work I use the term non-heterosexual in an attempt to highlight ambiguity in and the impoverishment of existing social categories of sexuality (although non-"heterosexual" might convey this more accurately) - both in wider society and amongst the definitions and life-histories of the women and men who have participated in the different research projects that I have conducted on lesbian, gay and bisexual experience.
6Ironically, we find in our work on young gay men that they report having been very likely to have formed close friendships with girls during their schooling (Prendergast et al. forthcoming). I am arguing here that this ability to get on well with women appears to continue into adult life.
7Obviously, this is a very one-sided account and, again, I am relying on Gochros (1989, 1985) and French's (1991)research for a sense of what women themselves might say.
8The significance of friendship in lesbian and gay people's social networks of support has already been identified as a dominant feature of non-heterosexual communities ((Weeks et al. 2001, Weston 1991). My work suggests that this feature can be extended to incorporate significant others who are heterosexual. In addition the experience of gay men who combine forces with lesbian women, or sometimes a heterosexual women friend to have children illustrates another important dimension. Often these men were actively co-parenting and in doing so, applying creative thinking to how practical care could be shared more equally (Dunne 1999a,b, forthcoming).
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