(Laura’s Preface: I’m honored and grateful to God that I can call Moira my friend. I met her through mutual friends, and we struck up an acquaintance which has grown into an important for me friendship. I don’t know many people who manifest the courage and faith this woman has done, although I think it’s a matter of standing up and being strong or go through life being a victim, weak and defeated; this is an option that is simply antithetical to what I know of Moira’s spirit. Both her parents were gay, and quite notorious for it. She suffered terrible abuses from both of them, and now has joined the growing ranks of Children of Gays who are speaking out in prophet voices to tell all the rest of us that, despite the gay-controlled rhetoric, homosexuality is bad for children. She’s generously written this for Surviving the Rainbow, and I hope she’ll be writing more.)
What can the straight spouses of gay parents do to protect their children?
I have been asked to respond to this question, and I admit I am at a loss. This question is not about Spouse A being right and Spouse B being wrong. It is about humanity splitting itself in two, usually for completely stupid reasons, and the devastation it wreaks upon the children.
When a spouse, usually a wife, discovers she is married to a man who has decided to pursue a gay lifestyle, she is already enduring her own heartbreak, shock, and betrayal.
Not only will her children be enduring the likely destruction of their home life, but they will be asked to endure a culture shock which will force them to confront adult questions that no child should be forced to endure.
It is bad enough to know your parent has left your other parent for an ordinary relationship. When your parent abandons his former faith, his wedding vows, and his cultural norms and values, the child is in a position of having to choose, which amounts to choosing one’s left hand or one’s right hand.
Socially, children will generally choose the path which minimizes the negative repercussions. It is understandable both to want to avoid conflict and to want to continue to be a “fan” of the straying parent.
Watching the heartbreak of the abandoned parent is awful, but cannot silence questions about the whole situation. If Mom was abandoned, thinks the child, did she do something wrong? After all, our parents are both right, they have to be, or the entire world is split in two.
Most likely the children will feel forced to choose, even if this choice has nothing whatsoever to do with either objective reality or with their own interest. Male children may choose to side with the father, because it is emotional suicide to reject the primary male figure in their lives, even if he is tarnished beyond belief.
In my own family, my brother chose my father over my mother, which in some ways made sense, because he was kinder and less cruel. In other ways, it made no sense at all, because he brought home a long succession of teen and preteen boys for sex, and he endlessly pressured my brother to have sex with themand with him.
I also chose my father in some ways, because he was less cruel than my mother. But ultimately, I chose neither one, because neither one chose me.
We learn how to be people from our parents. When our parents choose sexual folly over keeping the home together, children learn that sex is more important than people, and much more important than we are. If our father rejects our mother, we learn that women are unimportant and can be abandoned on a sexual whim. If our mother rejects our father, we learn that men are disposable.
Most catastrophically, if our father decides to “become a woman,” it can provoke terrible anguish in the children. For both girls and boys, their father is literally gone, and “replaced” with a human who is doing disgraceful things for reasons which make no sense to a child. In a boy, it can cause them to fear that their own masculinity can be lost at any moment, and that they might inadvertently be turned into a woman. In a girl, it can make them conclude that no man will ever want them, because if their own father abandoned their mother and turned into a female, it must be because they have failed. Deep down, that failure will always be present, even if unspoken.
In my own family, where my father did not actually choose to “become a woman,” he absolutely refused masculine and feminine gender roles, which left me feeling like I was a nothing, neither male nor female. I was “less than” any boy, because he preferred boys for sex and denigrated girls for “wanting relationships.” If I was a girl. i was “one of them,” those foul creatures rejected by my father. Of course, my attempts to masquerade as a boy were never enough. I became adept at fencing, but any kind of fighting was too stereotypically masculine for my father, so again I had failed.
When a father leaves, either physically leaving the family, or by abandoning his gender for his sexual whims, the sun falls out of the sky for the children. Their very existence as males and females is called into question. Also, the mother is devastated by her own perceived failure and deep, deep grief.
If there is a custody battle, the children are figuratively torn in half for reasons that will never make sense. The wife is likely to be devalued even more in a divorce from a gay man than in an ordinary divorce, partly because of the legal climate, and partly because she will blame herself for failing so deeply as a woman that her man abandoned manhood and straight love altogether rather than remaining with her.
The children will naturally fear being abandoned by a gay spouse in their own future.
The original question was this: is there anything an abandoned wife of a gay man can do to protect her children? The answer is no, and a qualified yes.
We cannot stop the pain. We cannot stop the grief or the feelings of abandonment. We cannot stop the nightmare or the moral outrage. We cannot even stop the gay parent from allowing his new “friends” from terrorizing, molesting, or even raping the children.
In such a situation, what hope can I give?
We can stay aware that our children are hurt, and that their hurt must be handled as more important than our own. It is important as much as possible, to not allow them to see our grief in all of its fullness, not to allow them to think we are forcing them to take sides. Their relationship with their father is about learning their place in the universe, not about us.
What we must do is to remain a safe place. We have to be the one they can express their doubts and fears to. If they have to defend their father, they will be silencing their own agony to do so. This means we must be Switzerland, not taking any side but theirs. If their father commits a bad act, we must listen attentively, and respond from the perspective of helping them, not persecuting their father.
Even if their father is the worst villain imaginable, they will never abandon him. I know this, because my own father is a serial rapist of children, and I am the one who put him in prison for molesting an eleven year old boy in front of me.
I cannot abandon my father, even though he blamed me for his imprisonment, and he most certainly abandoned me. If that is my position as an adult, how likely is it that a child will be able to abandon a father for much smaller crimes?
We abandon our own hearts. We do not abandon our parents. All we can do is teach our children to pay attention to their own discomfort and encourage them to protect themselves against anything which feels wrong. We can also teach them to speak up firmly, even when they are afraid.
In a way, it feels like I am trying to explain to a fish how to be comfortable while being eaten by a shark. My advice might reduce the pain slightly, but we did not cause the injury, and we cannot prevent the pain altogether.
Let them see that you are not rejecting yourselves, nor will you reject them, even if they side with their father. It hurts, it is appalling, but it is unavoidable. Any boy around eight or nine is going to detach from Mother to a large degree and seek out his father as his primary role model. If his father is a horrible role model, telling him that will not alter his need for his father at all.
What you can do is to make sure your sons have better male role models in their lives, whether sports coaches, teachers who will mentor them properly, or relatives they have cause to admire. I did mention not telling them that you are doing this, yes? Just do it, and do not say why. The last thing they need to hear is that you are rejecting their father, because any rejection of him will feel internally like a rejection of them, no matter what you intend it to be.
My own sons identify strongly with their football coaches, thank God.
Above all, let your children know through your own conduct that being normally male and female is good and right, and that they have the right to be themselves, even if some people might want them to change into something else.
I wish I had more comfort to offer you.
All my best to you,
Moira Greyland Peat