Telling Other People When My Partner Came out as Gay
When my long-term partner, the father of my children, announced that he wanted to separate, and subsequently came out as gay, it came as an enormous shock to me. It was a very difficult time, even though for some time I had known things weren't 'right'.
The process of him leaving was a huge emotional upheaval. The hardest part for me was probably watching him pack up his things and gradually transport them to his new home in our family car. I felt bad for myself but even worse for the children. It was never meant to be like this. I had never imagined that one day they would watch their father leave home forever. It cut me to the core.
It was the tail end of the school summer break, which meant that the children had to start a new school year and a new family situation all at the same time. It also meant that I had to stand in the playground amongst the usual familiar parents, and chat with them for the first time in six weeks. No one knew about the situation at home; I hadn't even indicated to anyone that things weren't going well. I felt like almost like a fraud as I stood there. I dreaded people asking me how my summer had been. And not saying anything felt like a massive lie.
Perhaps even worse were the times I casually passed by other mums in the street or walking through the playground. They would wave, call out a quick 'hello, how are you?' as they hurried along without stopping. 'Hi, yes, fine," I would call out in return. It was hardly the moment to stop them in their tracks with 'Oh, well, actually I'm terrible. We split up because he's gay.'
Walking past, smiling and acting as though everything was swimmingly fine, I felt as though I had just told a massive lie. But exactly how do you fit something like that into a conversation lasting...well...seconds.
The answer is, you don't.
Why I Found it Hard
For me, telling people about my partner leaving was a bit like wearing a mask and having someone rip it off. I think most people saw us as a rock solid couple. We'd been together a long time - twenty years - and to any outsider we were your average two-children, two-parent family. People saw us out in the park at the weekends; at school events together; on days out. We appeared, on the outside, to be stable. Telling people made me feel like we'd failed. That it had all been a lie all along.
Of course, that's not true. It hadn't all been a lie, because we had lived a life and there had been good times and two children. But still, when I did tell people about my partner seeking a new life as a gay man, I knew there would be one question in everybody's minds.
Why Didn't I Know?
Telling people your partner has come out as gay and left you is not the same as telling people your man was having an affair with a woman, or you just grew apart. It could be the same, but it's not. People react differently. It's not a case of 'b*****, you're better off without him,' but more a case of, 'Wow, did you know?'
Even if they don't actually say it, you know it's in the air. Didn't you know? Why didn't you know? How could you not know?
The truth is, although many years ago I had had a suspicion, that was in the past and I had long since convinced myself it was nothing to worry about. I had really believed the difficulties we were having were due to some sort of mid-life crisis; an underlying discontent with work, or life in general. He was inconsistent—sometimes I would feel that he really didn't love me anymore, even that he actually detested me, and sometimes he would buy me presents and we'd do ordinary family stuff, and nothing would seem any different. Looking back, I suppose it was his own confusion that caused this alternating behaviour.
When I Told People We Had Split
Of course, I did tell people. In the end, little moments presented themselves, and I just had to bite the bullet. I started off by just telling a few people here and there. Reactions were varied - some people seemed obviously shocked and surprised, as though I was describing an episode from a soap opera; others were much more 'normal' about it.
In fact, one of the most common reactions friends had when I told them was to tell me about all the people they knew who had experienced the same thing. It taught me that a spouse or partner in a heterosexual relationship suddenly announcing they are gay is not a particularly rare occurrence. In fact, almost everyone I spoke to already knew of someone this had happened to.
What I had perceived to be a difficult conversation actually became a comforting eye-opener. It was not as hard as I had thought, and it definitely helped me to feel that I wasn't as alone as I first believed. Some people didn't really know what to say, but that's true to any situation. A casual friend once told me she had divorced her husband because he'd been in secret contact with 300 other women and had also made advances towards one of her friends. That was really shocking to me, perhaps more so.
In the Open
We live in a much more tolerant world than twenty or thirty years ago, and that is a very good thing. It means that, in more than sixty percent of countries in the world (sourced from Guardian newspaper, 25 July, 2017, which lists 72 countries where gay relationships are still criminalised, as well as the countries which accept gay marriage and civil partnerships), people can be who they really are, and live the kind of life that is right for them. I believe that because coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is accepted now more than ever before, individuals who were afraid to come out as young people are no longer prepared to hide who they are. They want to live life as the person they are inside, and at last, they have the confidence to do so. Is that why so many adults who have lived in heterosexual partnerships, and sometimes even have children with their partners, have broken down the barriers and started new lives? I believe it could be.
I also believe that, if you are the partner of someone who has just come out as gay, telling people might feel really difficult, but in reality, it will be easier than you think.