I have a very special guest on the blog today. My friend Ben* shares his story of separation after 17 years of marriage and 3 great kids, coming out to his family and friends about his sexuality and his subsequent re-partnering.
I’m 44 years old, the youngest of eight kids from a devout Catholic family who grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. I have worked for 21 years in an industry that has slowly evolved from the ‘boy’s club’ it used to be into a more accepting and open environment. I met my wife through a work colleague and I did what was expected of me by family and society.We started going out and eventually got married.
We were together for 17 years and had a lot of good times. As a result, we have three amazing kids together: a 14-year-old son and two daughters aged 11 and 7. Towards the end of our marriage I started to question myself, my sexuality and my overall happiness. I realised that I had always been gay but had been suppressing it and I was tired, so very tired, of living a lie and not being true to myself. When the marriage ended I decided it was a perfect opportunity to start my ‘transition’. So in September, 2013, we ended our marriage and I moved out of the family home. For the first 12 months, I lived in shared accommodation that wasn’t suitable for the kids to stay over in, which was really hard. However, that changed about a year ago. My partner and I decided to make a home together, meaning the kids could come and stay with us.
Coming Out to the Family.
I’m the youngest of eight kids in a fairly staunch Catholic family and five of the eight live in regional areas. Despite this I resolved that regardless of how long it took me I would tell my family members face to face. At this time, my ex-wife had (actually, still has) a close relationship with my family and parents. But I wanted each of them to hear the news from me, personally. No texts or calls or Facebook.
I did a lot of research before I told them. I pretty much googled that shit for weeks on end to find the best way to do it. My research led me to a TED talk on YouTube which was absolutely fantastic and gave me the tools and confidence to begin the process. It was a talk by Ash Beckham about ‘coming out of your closet’. I have watched and re-watched her talk many times and I continue to use her strategies when I must have those difficult conversations with anyone.
When I was ready to tell my ex-wife and family, I decided to tell three of my sisters who were the closest to my ex first, so that she would have people to talk to and have their support. I had gone over everything in my head a million times and I thought I had the answers to any of the difficult questions that she would fire off at me. Things like ‘Was it all a lie? Did you ever love me? How long have you known?’ When the time came and I spoke with her she didn’t ask me any of them. She sat there and listened to what I had to say. She did ask me a few questions about my ‘flatmate’ and I did answer those questions for her. In all honesty I think that my coming out in itself answered many questions for her.
My family has been absolutely fantastic with it all. They have all been supportive of me and have told me that it makes no difference to them. Some of them I knew it wouldn’t make any difference to. Others I expected a bit of grief from… But it just never happened. I actually found their calm acceptance of the news kind of underwhelming – I was expecting some sort of backlash from a few of them but I never got any, which was absolutely wonderful.
The hardest people to tell, harder even than my ex-wife or kids, was my parents. They are both 85 years old, both staunch, church-going Catholics. I was dreading it and I put it off and put it off for as long as I possibly could. They should have been among the first that I told in the family after my ex and kids but it made me so nervous; I was sick to my stomach with worry thinking about it. So I left it to until they were close to the last to be told. I eventually worked up the nerve to tell them and my father said that he was annoyed with me. He said that he was annoyed because they should have known first. He asked me what I was worried about, did I think that they would disown me or something? It broke my heart. I did actually have to admit to them that I had been worried about that very thing. Mum and Dad reassured me that I was their son, always would be and they would always love me regardless. Dad did throw in that it was against the teachings of the Church but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from him. I was emotionally drained that day so I didn’t have it in me to argue.
Coming Out to My Kids.
When I told my kids my son was 13 and my daughters 10 and 6. I told them the same day I told my ex-wife. She wasn’t keen on my telling them at that time, but I felt it was my story to tell and I wanted them to hear it from me and no one else.
We sat down together and I told them that I needed to have a difficult conversation with them. I remember their expressions because the last time they’d heard me say those words was when we sat them down to tell them that their Mum and I were separating. I was extremely nervous but I soldiered on. We talked about the separation and how nothing that they had done had caused their Mum and I to separate and how we loved them all very much. I explained that when we first separated there was a lot going on for me that I hadn’t been able to talk about, but I was ready now to tell them about it now. I was pretty emotional, in fact, I was a blubbering mess. I eventually got it out; I told my kids that I was gay. I remember my son asked me why I was crying and I said that I didn’t want to disappoint them. My son replied that I was their father, they loved me and that I could never disappoint them. That made me a bit more of a blubbering mess and they all came in for a group hug and said that it was okay.
My ex-wife and I have a quite a few friends that are gay, some single and others in relationships and some with kids. We’ve always agreed to be open with our kids, if they ever had a question about why Adam and Steve lived together or how come Andrew has two mums but no dad. We’ve always had an answer ready, but they’ve never asked, not once. I guess that’s a good reflection of the way we raised them, they are so open-minded and accepting.
I realised that it wasn’t just about me coming out to them. It was also about them ‘outing’ me to their friends. We talked about how it was all about them and how I would not make it common knowledge amongst their school community until they were ready for it; until they felt able to deal with that one inevitable school yard bully that might tease them about their father being a ‘poofta’ or a ‘homo’. I wanted them to be able to be confident and ready to own that situation and deal with it. I said that they may be ready to talk about with their friends next week, next month, next year or maybe even never. It was all down to them.
I had the kids for the next four days and it was just them and me. I’d planned it that way as I wanted them to have time to absorb my news, so they could talk to me. I wanted to be there and be able to answer any questions they had. I promised them that I would, like always, answer them truthfully. They asked me a few questions about how long I had known I was gay and if I had known when I moved out. To be honest, they weren’t hard hitting questions at all. They weren’t questioning my sexuality, they were just trying to get the timeline sorted in their heads, putting together all the pieces of the puzzle as they saw it.
Meeting Someone New.
Re-partnering has been an interesting aspect of my transition. I met my partner old school – in a pub. There were no websites or apps involved! We got to know each other after having a few beers together in our local pub (it was a gay pub but, nonetheless, it was a pub).
We did all the normal things. We spoke about work, interests, family and the like. It was several weeks into our relationship that I discovered that my new ‘boyfriend’ actually had met my ex-wife through working in the same company! Had I had found that out on our first or second meeting I would have let it go- I didn’t need further complications! When I did eventually find out I guess we were too invested in the relationship for it to matter too much. What are the chances of that happening?
To date, my partner has not been to a proper family function. I’ve tried to set up a meeting between my ex-wife and my partner to try to make it easier for everyone but she hasn’t been willing thus far. I am so hoping that we can get to a stage where there will be no anxiety or hostility and that we can all go to our family functions together.
Introducing Him to the Kids.
My partner and I had been dating for about six months and I was living in a small share house and he with a flat mate. The day after I had received notice to vacate due to the owner returning from overseas, my partner’s flatmate announced he was moving out. We’d never really spoken about living together at that stage, however it seemed that our stars were aligning and it just made sense. When we moved in together, I was finally living somewhere where my kids could come and stay. I was still a fair way off being ready to publicly acknowledge my sexuality so when they did start staying over, my partner was just my flatmate who happened to be there sometimes. He traveled a lot for work so there would be times when he was away and the kids wouldn’t see him for weeks. This continued for about four months. My kids would often be playing a board game or something and would invite my partner to join in or would invite him to come swimming with us.
They got to know him as my friend initially and built a relationship with him that way. I thought it was a good way to do it, so that when the I was ready to tell them that my flatmate was really my boyfriend, they already had that relationship with him. Thankfully, it hasn’t been an issue for them at all. My kids have a really good relationship with my partner. I think he was relieved that it happened this way as well as the kids could ease into getting to know him. It was gradual; our relationship wasn’t forced upon them before they were ready.
My Partner as a Step Dad.
I guess my partner and I have been quite fortunate in this aspect of our relationship. There’s no other children or step parents involved so we’ve never faced those sorts of issues. My ex-wife and I still have the same values and style of parenting the kids and that has been consistent regardless of where they are or who they are with. My partner and I have never really had to have a conversation about his parenting role. He has always known that he’s not their father, of course, and he doesn’t feel comfortable in disciplining my kids at all. In saying that, there really hasn’t been the need for this. I’m a realist; I know my kids aren’t perfect but I know that my ex-wife and I worked really hard when they were younger so they know the behaviours that we both expect of them. Like any step-family, we have determined what works for us.We don’t have too many problems; my kids have never been ones to throw tantrums or to be terribly unruly.
We are so blessed; we all get on really well and have a good laugh together.
*Names and certain identifying details have been changed for privacy reasons.