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Ashamed, Confused And In The Closet

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

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Today the Sugars hear from a man who is married to a woman and thinks he's gay. He says his marriage to his wife is fulfilling in every way except for their sex life. Now he doesn't know what to do. What should his next step be?

To help sort things out, the hosts are joined again by Maria Bello, author of Whatever... Love Is Love.


Dear Sugars,

I am a 36-year-old man, married to a lovely woman. We have a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. I have a thriving career, and we have a wonderful life. Everything appears to be OK from the outside, but in reality, my marriage seems all but over.

The problem is, I am gay, or at least bisexual and strongly tending toward gay. I haven't always been this way. My wife and I first started dating a decade ago. Back then, I considered myself straight. In hindsight, I may have been bi-curious, but nothing more.

I've always heard that gender and sexuality were fluid, but I never really believed it, or at least I paid the idea no mind until about five or six years ago.

My current reality is, of course, a big problem in my marriage. My wife and I don't have a sex life anymore, mostly because I just can't get into it. I wasn't able to communicate this change in my sexuality with my wife because I was confused and ashamed. Instead, about a year ago, she checked my Internet browsing history, and you can image what she found. Her reaction was shock, hurt and betrayal. My reaction was further confusion and shame.

Since then, I committed to therapy and discovered the source of my shame: being raised in a culture of religious homophobia. I'm slowly working through it, with the goal of achieving total transparency, acceptance and a healthy degree of self-love. I know now I owe this to myself and to the people around me.

Sugars, my wife and I truly love, respect and appreciate each other. We are best friends. We work together in businesses we own, co-parent amazingly together and laugh together. But we do not have sex. We do not even share the same bed.

I wasn't always gay, but I now want to be with men. I know this, but I don't know what to do with this reality. As you can probably guess, I am not out. That is something I will deal with in good time. My wife loves our life as much as I do, but we are both so lonely in a way that we can't help each other with.

My wonderful therapist has suggested separation counseling for my wife and me, because she says we both deserve to have fulfilling love lives. She also tells me that we can remain in a nontraditional marriage if that works for us, but I don't believe that will work for my wife. She is a good-hearted, traditional sort of gal.

I cannot believe that this is now my story and the story I wrote for my wife. I am still ashamed of that. I do not know what my options are from here. I've never heard of someone else in this story, so I feel in uncharted waters, without a paddle.

While I am working through the shame, the confusion only festers.

Please help, Sugars.

Signed,

Ashamed and Confused

Cheryl: My heart hurts to read this letter. This is somebody who is really suffering. Ashamed and Confused, you are a partner with your wife, but I do think you need to transition out of this traditional marriage. Whether that means divorce or not is something for you to decide. But you don't have to lose every aspect of this relationship by changing it.

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You now understand that you're gay and you want to be with men. That's some clarity you didn't have before, and that's a gift. That doesn't mean everything has to be destroyed with this woman whom you love and respect and have a friendship with.

Steve: I think we have this compulsion to say, "You're this or you're that. Figure it out and keep your identity static so everyone knows what to call you." Ashamed and Confused, right now, it's clear that you want to have men as sexual partners. That might shift. It might not.

But the idea that you're just out of the closet now is part of the trick we are playing on ourselves — that we can only be one thing or the other. You are what you are at this moment. Your desires are what they are at this moment, for this partner. They could change over time, and the world just has to deal with that and accept it.

Maria: Ashamed and Confused, you don't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Your wife sounds like a wonderful partner and person in so many ways, whether you're sleeping in the same bed or not. Change is hard, but being honest and getting to the other side was one of the most freeing things that I've ever done.

A great therapist of mine has this exercise that involves going into a body of water, and even though it's cold and waves might be coming, you just keep walking and you say, "Bring it on, bring it on" — meaning all of the truth. Let it wash over you. I know it's scary, I know it's cold, but bring it on. Because eventually, that will calm down, your body temperature will adapt, and you'll be still and free and more comfortable.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear from more people questioning their sexual feelings.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email dearsugarradio@gmail.com and it may be answered on a future episode.

You can also listen to Dear Sugar Radio on iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app.