‘Situational heterosexual’ is a term I’ve used for several years to describe myself when people have asked how I could have been married for so many years and yet be gay. This term has also helped people gain a clearer understanding of what really happens when someone who is homosexual marries someone of the opposite sex and claims change. Confusion about what really happens in these situations (mixed orientation marriage) still exists and often wrongly reinforces the ‘homosexuality is a choice’ and ‘homosexuals can change’ concepts.
How often have you heard someone say something like this ‘They couldn’t be gay, they’re married’, assuming that having a wife by your side and produced children means a person must be straight.. When someone says that to me, I just smile ….remain silent (having been a gay man in a heterosexual marriage) and wait for what I’m actually thinking to sink into the consciousness of the person who made the naïve statement.
The term ‘situational homosexuality’ is frequently used to describe same sex behaviours in prison, the military, single sex boarding schools, or other sex-segregated communities, where members of those communities might engage in homosexual activity or even relationships. Once they come out of that situation though they have not become homosexual, they revert to their natural orientation; sex and relationships with the opposite sex. It’s only the situation that created the behaviour; the orientation wasn’t changed.
Confusion over behaviour vs orientation
People who believe that a heterosexual marriage and children are proof that a person is no longer homosexual are ignorant of the true dynamics of sexual orientation and have a simplistic view of sexual behaviour. Alfred Kinsey’s ground breaking research (late 40’s and early 50’s) in the area of human sexuality revealed many things. Whilst not all his discoveries have become standard psychological practise he opened the way for us to look at human sexuality in more realistic terms instead of making assumptions based on a Victorian, repressed and ignorant cultural mindset.
Kinsey developed a seven point scale with 0 representing individuals who had only heterosexual intercourse and with 6 representing those who engaged in only same-sex activities. This created the concept of bi-sexuality and that some people may, from time to time, engage in same sex behaviours but not actually be homosexual in orientation. Kinsey and his associates found that 37 per cent of the males and 13 percent of the females in their sample had had at least one homosexual encounter. Are these people homosexual in orientation, bisexual or heterosexuals who were playing up, being opportunistic or experimenting?
Further research over the last five decades has given us a more comprehensive understanding of sexual orientation.
Our sexual orientation involves brain wiring, thought processing, hormones and release of chemicals in the body with the final outcome demonstrated in our behaviour.
Our true sexual orientation is reflected by:
1. The gender we are attracted to physically
2. The gender we fantasize about
3. The gender we desire intimacy and affection with
4. The gender we are likely to fall in love with
5. The gender we want to partner with
6. How we identify ourselves
7. With all social, religious and legal restrictions removed and the opportunity to have sexual experience with either gender, which one would we honestly chose. Or as one person put it to me recently ‘In the morning, whose arms would you like to wake up in.’
So a person’s sexual orientation is determined by much more than their sexual behaviour. Or to put it another way our sexual behaviour, solely, doesn’t indicate our sexual orientation. Genuine bisexuality would also include all of the above with either gender. Some people think they are bisexual because they have had sex with both men and women. I thought the for many years but this is not necessarily true. For some people using the bisexual tag/identity is a useful and safe place for them to pause on their journey to accepting their gay self/identity. Others try to live in denial.
Confusion over Same Sex Attraction (SSA) vs Sexual Orientation
I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve received an email from someone seeking help telling me they are ‘struggling with same sex attraction’ (SSA). The term SSA is frequently used in the ‘ex-gay’ world by individuals and always mentioned in their literature. The phrase ‘same sex attraction’ has been deliberately chosen to move the person’s perception of their sexuality away from an orientation (which gives it a scientific basis and is innate) to a behaviour (which can be suppressed, denied or ‘possibly’ changed).
So what is ‘situational heterosexuality’?
‘Situational heterosexuality’ is when a person who is same sex oriented enters a heterosexual marriage and has a degree of ‘heterosexual functionality’. This is not a change in orientation only behaviour; which is created by that situation only.
Homosexuals in a heterosexual marriage – what is really going on
You will often find men and women in the ‘ex-gay’ world speaking of their marriage as evidence that they are no longer homosexual. Those who are honest though, tell us they still have to deal with temptations, thoughts and desires towards the same sex. Some ‘ex-gay’ leaders in Australia have been honest enough to admit to ‘strugglers’ that ‘they will always walk with a limp’, meaning the gay never really goes away. Alan Chambers, the director of Exodus (the global umbrella organisation for ‘ex-gay’ ministries), sent shock waves through religious circles, when he stated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, that, "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," and that he was uncomfortable with the term 'ex-gay' as he doesn't think he's ever met one. Even after years as a husband and father he has to admit that thoughts he previously had hoped would go away still exist.
It’s not uncommon for men who have suppressed, denied and hated their same sex orientation to develop a sexual addiction or obsession. When they get married they have a sexual outlet which is free of shame and guilt and much more socially and religiously acceptable. This is a great relief for them to finally feel ‘normal’, ‘wholesome’, even ‘pure’. As one research project clearly pointed out they had had sex with 100’s of men once and sex with one woman 100’s of times. It is easy to see how they and others confuse this new found experience with the opposite sex as evidence of change. They do however conveniently ignore the fact that any infidelity within the marriage would never happen with another female, it would only ever be with a man.
What many of us have found out, finally leaving the heterosexual marriage to live as openly gay men and lesbians, that being true to yourself, instead of moving us into a life of promiscuity and sexual abandonment, actually released us from the obsessions and a new sense of morality and control emerged. Why didn’t someone tell me that when I was 18?
From my experience, working with 100’s of people in these situations, ‘situational heterosexuals’ rarely experience the depth, frequency or diversity of sexual experience that heterosexual couples do. One client sadly admitted to me that after many years of marriage he couldn’t recall one moment of intimacy, even though they had sex regularly throughout the marriage. I just thought I was doing the right thing. He didn’t actually know what intimacy was as his previous sexual experiences with men, driven by his addiction and clouded with shame, were mostly brief encounters with no affection or real connection,. It wasn’t till he came out and fell in love with a man that he discovered intimacy within that relationship and had a life experience to make a comparison. Others confessed that, in order for them to perform in the bedroom, they had to fantasise about having sex with men. Others, in the end, just tried to avoid sex with their heterosexual partner after years of feeling a sense of duty and obligation no longer worked. These are tragic circumstances for all concerned.
The saddest things about this situation
This false assumption by many that a heterosexual marriage means a person is no longer homosexual has caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
1. Well meaning Christians will often use these ‘ex-gay’/heterosexual marriages as examples that change is possible and pressure their gay or lesbian children and friends to reject their natural orientation. They do this with limited knowledge or complete ignorance of sexual orientation or of the finer, personal details of these marriages. Too often parents and friends have been quoted as saying ‘look at so and so ….they changed…..they are now married with children. You can do it too with prayer and faith’
2. Seekers of sexual orientation change who come to ‘ex-gay’ ministries are tormented and desperate. Because of all the negative beliefs about being attracted to the same sex, they hate being gay and will latch on to any possibility of change. The ‘ex-gay’/heterosexual marriage modelled by the ‘ex-gay’ leader is the answer they seek. They look at the marriages and selectively ignore the honest confessions that these people still ‘struggle’. This false hope leads people into many wasted years trying to do the impossible, that is, turn from gay to straight. As one former ‘ex-gay’ leader in Australia said to me recently, after he could no longer live with the internal fragmentation , ‘For 20 years I was sold a very cruel lie, one that my wife, children and myself are now paying the price for’ or as Scott from Perth said ‘I lost my entire 20’s. Those years were spent struggling, feeling bad about myself and constantly being encouraged that change was possible. I felt like I was robbed of what should have been enjoyable days of my youth’.
3. The heterosexual partner often feels a ‘call’ to walk the journey with their partner to ‘heterosexuality’. As history shows however, these marriages rarely last, leaving the heterosexual partner with a sense of betrayal and the feeling that they may have contributed in some way to their partner not changing. Or they are resentful that they have given the best years of their lives to a person who promised to love and be with them for life. A promise they were unable to fulfil.
4. And finally the children. One thing many people want in this situation is children. We want to be parents. I know I wanted to not only be husband but also a father. I believe now, I was more in love with the idea of being a husband and father (ie being ‘normal’) than I was in love with my wife. When the marriage finally breaks down, often during mid-life, the children are also traumatised and have to deal with the added shame that their Dad has ‘become’ gay or their Mother ‘become’ a lesbian. As many of these kids are a part of a Christian community the scandal and sense of shame is intensified. As my daughter Hannah said recently in an interview on the ABC ‘If you are gay and get married hoping it will change you, then it is a very selfish act as you don’t know what hurt you will create in the generations to come.’
These are all very tragic and unnecessary outcomes for all concerned.
1. The person living with the false hope that one day they will be straight
2. The straight partner who is doing everything possible to help create the ‘miracle’ and
3. The children who are anticipating a lifetime of security with a Dad and Mum that will live and love together till death parts them.
Whilst I’m grateful for the years of married life and the lovely children and grandchildren I have, I also have to live with the knowledge that I have been the source of the greatest trauma, pain and shame in the lives of the people I cared most about. With what I know now, could I turn back the hands of time, I would not have chosen that for them or myself.