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Gay men, straight lives: like a certain governor, many gay men married to women are now coming out, longing to live the life they've been missing.

On a second date in the early 1980s, Michael Sklar took his girlfriend to see Bloolips, a popular British show featuring gay men in drag, in Manhattan. Outside the theater his date told him that he seemed remarkably open-minded for a straight man. "That was my moment of opportunity," Sklar says. "I told her I wasn't exactly straight. I said, 'I think I'm bisexual.'"

His date wasn't surprised or upset. Instead she calmly pointed out that most of her rune friends from high school and college were gay. The pair continued dating, and within a couple of years they were married. Today, they live in New Jersey with their 15-year-old son. Sklar, now 46, describes himself as "a gay man in a straight marriage," but he has been thinking about leaving. "I'm approaching 50," he says. "How long do I wait before I start my real life? And how fair is riffs to my wife? We're best friends, but there's no intimacy in our relationship."

Some estimates put the number of gays and lesbians who have or have had a straight spouse at around 2 million nationwide. Gay men like Sklar who are 40 or older grew up at a time when they were expected to get married. They wanted careers, children, and the societal acceptance that came only with marriage to a woman.

However, with recent advances for gay rights, including the fall of sodomy laws and the legalization of same-sex marriage, many married gay men now see the possibility of a gay life that didn't exist before, and they are coming out and leaving their wives. Though he was seemingly forced out, the dramatic picture of New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey publicly announcing that he is gay, with his wife at his side, highlighted the phenomenon for the nation.

But there's a big price to be paid for coming out and ending a marriage. "A lot of times there is anger from the spouse and the children, and that has to be repaired over time," says Joni Lavick, director of mental health services at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. "But at a certain point many of these men overcome their own internalized homophobia and can't live a lie anymore. The pressure of keeping a secret is so great that dealing with what is going to happen is less toxic than staying in the closet."

When Sklar got married he didn't see a choice. "I grew up in a Jewish home," he says. "It was kind of expected that you get married and have children. Besides, I had been in relationships with men, and they didn't seem to work as well as my relationship with this woman. Also, in the early '80s there was still a freakish air about gay people. I was not going to be part of that hinge element."

Sklar's wife, whose name he declined to give, boasted about getting along better with gay men and was attracted to his "softer side." Throughout their marriage she has been OK with Sklar's dating men as long as be doesn't talk about it. "She says [my being gay] is just not that crucial to her," Sklar says. "She's much more concerned about the closeness and companionship [of our marriage]."

Sklar's story fits with his age, says David Leddick, author of The Secret Lives of Married Men. He interviewed 40 gay men, age 29 to 88, and broke them into three age groups: 40 and younger; 40 to 50; and 50 or older. People in the younger group were fluid in their treatment of sexuality, he says, and their reasons for getting married varied too greatly to define in simple terms. The middle age group, like Sklar and McGreevey, typically got married for what Leddick terms "socially responsible" reasons: Family and society expected it, so they did it. "And the older group really married for social advancement," he says. "Many of them married women of wealthy backgrounds whose families made it possible for them to have successful careers. And they had a whole thing about wanting to have children."

That was flue for Jim, who is currently married and declined to provide his last name. The 70-year-old resident of Massachusetts's Cape Cod was married right out of college because he wanted a career and a family. And he didn't identify as gay. "I was attracted to men, and I was attracted to her as well," he says. "I thought everything would work out just fine, and I very much wanted to have children. We had three."

Jim made regular trips to New York City to have sex with men and never told his wife. But the marriage ended in divorce after 22 years, and he married a second time. Then he discovered the Internet. "Suddenly the pieces fell into place for me," he says. "In investigating Internet sites and exploring porn I began to understand my sexuality. I found it liberating to discover that I was part of a large bunch of married [gay] men." After his stepdaughter discovered some gay material on his computer in 1997, Jim came out to his current wife, to whom he has been married 21 years. "She felt betrayed," he says. "We went to couples therapy together, and I began to build a whole new life with her. I describe myself as a person who wants to be married. I have no desire to leave any of this behind. We don't have sex anymore, but we do cuddle."

Jim has since come out to everyone and belongs to rile Boston Gay and Bisexual Married Men's Support Group. The group, which meets twice a month, has about 15 regular members, some of whom have either ended a marriage or are on their way out of one. After 32 years of marriage, three children, and a divorce, Eric Kurtz, 68, of Arlington, Mass., met his current partner, Dick, at the group, which he describes as a place to "work out your own destiny." Despite his attraction to men, Kurtz got married because he wanted to have children and because he fell in love with a "wonderful" woman, he says.

"I didn't want to get divorced," he says. "I wanted to have a loving wife, and I wanted to have a loving [boy]friend, and I wanted to have sex with both of them." But years of gay sex on the sly created an overwhelming sense of isolation for Kurtz. Only after joining the Boston group did he discover he wasn't alone. "Every city has men like us," Kurtz says. ",Some of them are men who have sex in the parking lot. There are guys who are best friends who get together and have sex and don't tell their wives. There are thousands of men doing this, and they feel very lonely. Who do you talk to? You can't talk to your wife. You can't talk to your married friends. And it's very hard to talk to other gay men. It's a lonely place to be."

Once a gay husband comes out, however, that loneliness is often transferred to the wife, says Amity Pierce Buxton, author of The Other Side of the Closet, a book about the straight spouses of gay men and lesbians. Not only are they devastated by the news, she says, "the spouse usually feels rejected, because people kind of minimize their issues. That's why that image of McGreevey's wife at his side during the press conference was so striking. You couldn't ignore that there's someone else involved."

Buxton has interviewed over 9,000 gay and straight spouses since the mid '80s. When one partner in a marriage comes out as gay, site says, about a third of the couples break up right away, a third break up after about two years, and a third stay married indefinitely. Buxton's husband came out to her in the early 1980s after 25 years of marriage. As a Catholic he saw marriage as the only realistic path in life, she says, even though he had had a boyfriend before her. Toward the end he became withdrawn and depressed, and Buxton began to suspect he was gay. "When he told me the whole story, we both were laughing because it was just like a soap opera," she says. "We separated, and he became healthy and happy again, but he was no longer available to me as a husband."

At the time of their separation, Buxton's husband, like Sklar, also fit the profile of the average 40- to 50 year-old married gay man. Not only have men this age typically married for social reasons, Buxton says, in many cases by the time they reach middle age their children have grown up, their careers have been established, and a longing for an openly gay life becomes strong.

After finishing her book, Buxton launched the Straight Spouse Network in 1991, which provides support and information to the spouses of gay men and lesbians. In the past few years, calls to the network have doubled, she says, including an increasing number of straight men whose wives have come out as lesbian. All this coming-out could signal the beginning of the end of file married gay man, Leddick says. As society becomes more accepting, the James McGreeveys of the world may be disappearing. "It was harder and harder to find people to be interviewed [for the book]," Leddick says. And all but four of the men had come out and left their wives.

Bill Rizzo, 40, of West Palm Beach, Fla., has left his wife and hopes to convince other gay men to avoid leading a dual life. "It's so stressful," he says. "It's not a good way to live." After a one-year relationship with a man, Rizzo got married at age 25, a marriage that lasted for 12 years. "At the time, I considered myself bisexual, but I had only had sex with a man," he says. "I wanted kids. And this was in the '80s. Being gay was not as accepted as it is today. I told her about the boyfriend, and she married me anyway." But after their two children were born, the marriage went downhill, eventually ending in divorce, Rizzo says. Now he shares a home with his 52-year-old partner of 2 1/2 years, Robert Hobbs. "I regret not coming out in the '80s and really being comfortable with it," Rizzo says. "I always find it fascinating to talk to the older people in the gay community and hear their stories. The young ones just don't get it. They have no idea what it was like, how much harder it was."

Sklar agrees, but unlike Rizzo he doesn't have any regrets. And while he risks having them in the future, he's not sure if leaving his wife would be worth it. "Sometimes we'll go to events in New York attended by a lot of gay men," he says. "I'll see gay couples and I'll feel like I should be with them. But a couple of things are holding me back. Somebody's going to get hurt, and there's an awful lot of comfort in being married for 22 years. When I project myself into a future without my wife, I get very sad. There's a lot invested in this marriage. I love my wife. I "always have."
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Title Annotation:Coming Out 2004
Author:Caldwell, John
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 12, 2004
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