Sunday, May 06, 2007

Email from a guy with a closeted boyfriend

About a week and a half ago, I received the following e-mail:

Dear GB

I am a 22 year old gay male in a relationship with another guy for nearly four years now. I am out to my family and friends but by partner is not out to anybody, and it makes it very awkward as we live together. We often have to pretend that I am not there with him if somebody rings, and also leave the house if one of his friends is coming over. He says that he will come out and that all he needs is for me to give him time. I'm not sure if he really will come out though, as he is 42 years old and I am his first homosexual relationship. He tells me that he has always known that he was gay, but found it hard to admit in the early stages of his life and then it got to a point where he found it too difficult to come out at all. His last relationship was with a woman for three years and he claims that he rarely slept with her but I do occasionally get very upset thinking about this.

My partner and I have also never had anal sex with each other as he claims that he is not comfortable with it. I sometimes worry that his extensive past with women and not wanting to come out or have anal sex means that he is not actually gay. He swears that he loves me, but he used to say that to women not that long ago, so how much can it mean? I really need some advice because I have no idea where this relationship is going.

He works in a relatively dangerous place and I sometimes worry that something will happen to him when he is away working. In a make believe situation, if he died, and has still not come out to anybody, would it be right for me to tell everybody about him as I would want to have some part in the funeral and so on. It's a very strange question, but something that I worry about.

I hope to hear from you soon...

I replied immediately, suggesting a Dear GB posting, and asking for his consent. Most readers who send me Dear GB emails reply quite quickly, but in this case no reply arrived. The reader must have been discussing everything with his boyfriend because while I was debating whether or not to do a Dear GB posting anyway, the following email landed in my inbox:

Dear GB,

I have now spoken to my boyfriend, and sort of come to an agreement. He has told me that he won't say or do things purely to appear straight. He doesn't feel like there is any need to actually tell people about himself being gay, but we have agreed that if anybody asks he has to tell them the truth.

So basically he said that he won't hide the fact, but won't go spreading it either, as he believes it's nobodys business but ours. I asked what happens in the future with our relationship, and he told me that he believes eventually everybody will just come to know. He also said that after some time when they do, I will be able to come to family functions and so on.

Sometimes I think that he finds it harder to come out because of the extra fact that I am so much younger than him. The fact that he was with women until we met only four years ago means that he was still with women when he was 38! It's sounds stupid but I worry a lot that he mightn't even be gay, even though he talks about buying a house together but won't officially tell anybody he's gay and just wants to let them figure it out for themselves.

Even though we had this chat now, I would still like your thoughts if possible. Thank you!

Unless I'd received a reply asking me not to, I was probably going to post the first email anyway, because I always try and make sure that there's no way the person who emailed me can be identified so I don't see what harm there could be. But it's better to have consent of course. The whole situation raises some fascinating issues.

It seems to me that the reader's boyfriend has a lot of self-loathing in relation to his homosexuality. I decided before the second email arrived that the fact that the boyfriend had got this far probably meant that he is gay, and the fact that the boyfriend has made some concessions now seems to confirm my thoughts. None the less, it's clear that he's still very uncomfortable with it.

I don't think the fact that the boyfriend hasn't had anal sex with the reader necessarily indicates anything other than his dislike for being gay. I reckon anal sex is one of the first things that homophobes think about with disgust when they think about gay guys, so given that the boyfriend has been a gay homophobe, perhaps it's not surprising that he hasn't had anal sex with the reader. When I've been cruising online I've definitely had gay guys say to me that they don't enjoy anal sex, however the implication is that they've done it and just don't like it, whereas perhaps the reader's boyfriend has never tried. I reckon being gay is about who you love emotionally rather than how you express that love physically, because there are lots of ways of enjoying the physical company of another guy.

For me, the most upsetting aspect of the reader's first e-mail is the way his boyfriend's homophobia has affected their life together. After living with the guy for four years, it really shouldn't be necessary to pretend that he's not there when the boyfriend takes a phone call, and worse, to leave his home when the boyfriend has a visitor. It's not clear from the second email whether this will continue to be the case, hopefully not.

Also, given that the fact that the boyfriend doesn't like himself in relation to being gay, the fact that he works in a relatively dangerous place is worrying. It's easy to imagine a situation where the boyfriend takes some inappropriate risk on a day that he's feeling particularly bad about being gay, and has an accident. The reader is right to worry about this, because if the boyfriend was involved in a fatal accident, the reader would be in a terrible position if he's the partner that nobody knows about. When a close friend or family member dies, it's important to be able to grieve properly to help get over the loss, and this would be almost impossible for the reader in this situation.

I've never met a single gay person who's not been much much happier after they've come out to all their friends and family, so I think it's right for the reader to try and push his boyfriend down this path. Although the reader must love his boyfriend to still be with him in these circumstances, it's less clear how much the boyfriend loves the reader. Looking at it another way, how much can the boyfriend love the reader given that he has made him live as the unseen partner for so long? If the recent progress stalls, I think this has to be the key point in the subsequent discussions between the reader and his boyfriend: "If you love me you wouldn't make me pretend that I'm not your boyfriend"!

However, I'm not so sure that there's no need to tell anyone about their relationship. An important milestone in the development of this situation will be the agreement that the reader never ever has to leave the house when the boyfriend's friends visit. Perhaps the reader's presence can be explained away as a housemate, but the familiarity between them makes this seem unlikely to me. So if there are friends or family of the boyfriend that visit regularly, a discussion about how the reader's presence can be explained would be a good idea in the context that the boyfriend has agreed not to do anything purely to appear straight. Better still, a discussion about a strategy of coming out to them properly seems appropriate. If the reader can get his boyfriend to make a plan in this respect, then the reader can then monitor progress in relation to this plan, and slowly help him to come out.

Going forward, if every time the reader brings up this subject the boyfriend says "I don’t want to talk about it any more, I'll do everything in my own time" then it's clear that in reality the boyfriend is stuck and not moving forward. Perhaps getting the boyfriend to come out becomes the taboo topic of conversation, but even in these circumstances I think it's important for the reader to keep raising the subject. If the boyfriend becomes angry then so much the better, because it might help bring the situation to a conclusion. I don't think the reader should be scared of this, although if the boyfriend owns the home they share, if things are going in the wrong direction perhaps the reader should somehow make provisional arrangements to move out in case the boyfriend forces him out. If that happens, or if the boyfriend becomes violent, then a choice has been made and the reader must move on however painful that may be.

Whatever happens, I don't think that the reader should take matters into his own hands and out the boyfriend at all. That is likely to end the relationship for sure, and be very counterproductive for all involved. Persuading and helping the boyfriend to come out is a much better strategy.

Given that they've been together for four years, it does seems sensible to try and make the relationship work. But no one should have to pretend that they don't exist, so this situation can't last much longer. Hopefully the second email proves that progress in the right direction has been made.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on this subject?


Anonymous said...

Well, I am being anyonymous here, and I know I will get some flack for this, but here goes:

I do not agree with GB's recommendation to try to force readers' boyfriend out. This can be very dangerous for someone who is not mentally ready to be ousted. We all know historical figures who committed suicide when being outed against their will. Living a straight life for 38 years, I can understand that readers' boyfriend may not necessarily have a problem with being personally gay, but may have a problem with other people in his life (friends and foes) getting to know that he has lied to them all his life, and may very well have a problem dealing with the repercussions that such an outing may have on his career, personal and relationships he has worked hard to build all his life. Some of us still think that sexuality is a personal matter and that it should not be something that should define who we are and/or what we are capable of. Despite this, there are still a lot of prejudice and hatred in this world that not everyone is ready to face.

As to readers boyfriend relationship with women. I can tell you from experience that a man can have the capability of truly loving both man and women and is not necessarily lying. Sexuality is not binary.

In my opinion, if reader cannot accept his bf (and this is readers choice), then he should discuss this fact with bf, and at worst they should agree to lead separate lives, but one should never force someone to come out before they are ready. Not everyone has the mental strength to deal with this, despite being built like an ox. It is too dangerous to play with.

GB said...

Perhaps I wrote some of this posting a bit too strongly because "force", the word used by the anonymous commenter, wasn't my intention. And I did say "... I don't think that the reader should take matters into his own hands and out the boyfriend at all".
GB xxx

Anonymous said...

I think he has to either come out or the relationship needs to end.

I've been there (5 years), got the t-shirt and deep emotional scars too.

Why would you want to be with anyone who isn't happy to shout from the roof-tops to anyone who's listening that he wants to be with you?

It simply is not sustainable and causes huge amounts of damage to both sides.

He's either out or, err, out.

Anonymous said...

I met my BF 4 years before. He is 10 years older than me. Both of us were quite closeted and also we were just arriving at the UK. We had difficulty to be out and to build up our network, especially for my BF. I am quite sociable even before being out; however, he is quite shy when facing people and probably too used to live in the closet. He was only totally comfortable to talk with me. At first, when we started living together, I kind of feeling trapped. I felt I got fewer friends compared with my closeted life. But we soon learnt to comprise each other and realized if we want to be together, we must help each other out. For the past two years, he has been confident enough to take me to his company’s Christmas Party. He was still shy when talking to people there but I can see he was happy to take me there. All I have to do is to lead the group conversation into some topics my BF can talk. (Although my native language is not English, I am very good at this…:-) All I want to say to the guy in the Email is your closeted BF definitely loves you or he wouldn’t change his life dramatically to be with you. You must help him out for the sake of you two’s relationship. But be wise and gentle, coz even Pope cannot change one’s personality. If he is shy, let him be. Lead him not pushing. Everything will be fine…:-)