Toxic Shame by Debra Sutton


Lithograph By Oldrich Kulhanek

The closeted gay husband transfers all their fear, shame, anger, and rage onto their wives. This deep-seated toxic shame they feel is at the core, and because they don’t feel validated they will strip their wives of any validation. The closeted gay man will seek out artificial validation. It can come in the form of purchasing material possessions for themselves such as a new boat or a car, another example would be having sex with strangers. These things can only bring a temporary hollow validation. This superficial addictive validation is fleeting. It creates a cycle to fill a void that can never be filled.

I often wondered once they leave their marriages to women if they go on to find happiness with a man. I just read the book called The Velvet Rage By Alan Downs. I was surprised to learn that many of their relationships with men end up no better than the marriages they had with their straight wives. Some of the longer lasting relationships end up much like our marriages, the sex ends, they each retreat to their own side of the bed not wanting to touch each other. They bring all their abusive, and destructive behaviors into their relationships with men. A lot of these men end up much like the straight spouse with PTSD from the trauma of the relationship. Many of these men end up seeking counseling. Most of these relationships do not last long, and they move from one relationship to the next. Once they reach a level of acknowledgement about their sexuality, they are entering a new phase of the process, but this is by no means authenticity. When they go on to live with a man many cheat on each other. They don’t like being cheated on even if they were cheating too. I’m quoting Alan Downs here “The first time a man is hurt by another man, they may go running back to a woman”.

Alan Downs writes about three stages a closeted gay man goes through coming to terms with his sexuality. Each stage can be delayed, or foreclosed on. This meaning some never reach the end stage, never truly coming to terms with who they are. He states they have spent most of their lives avoiding toxic shame. He also says because gay men feel invalidated they become hypersensitive to minor infractions they perceive as slights, thus becoming so angry that it leads to rage. He writes about what leads to the closeted gay man’s feelings of invalidation. Starting early in childhood from being different and not feeling accepted by their fathers, or society.

Many of us were not given the validation we needed as children. As human beings we all want to feel validated. We don’t destroy others in our need for validation. If you are married and just finding out your husband is gay. He may not want out of the marriage at this point he is just delaying his process of acceptance. Some stop the process altogether, never completely coming out. If he does want out, he may be starting to accept his homosexuality. He still has a long way to go. He will still carry with him the toxic shame he feels about himself. At this point he is destructive in any relationship.

We as straight wives are witnessing the toxic shame of these men who are struggling with their sexuality. They are either delaying the process of their own acceptance, or stopping it altogether. This creates a limbo like existence for both of you. As these marriages go on in years they can feel like slow-moving death. I’m sure many straight wives have experienced their husband’s anger and rage. Many closeted gay husbands drink or do drugs, because they have a hard time dealing with these feelings. They have split themselves into two parts. One living the straight life with you, and the other watching gay porn and meeting men who are complete strangers for sex. We can let go and heal ourselves. Staying can only lead to more suffering.

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7 thoughts on “Toxic Shame by Debra Sutton

  1. Well that was really fascinating Debra. I never thought that far ahead. I thought if himself could only come out and stop denying who he is and then get into a relationship with a man, that he would miraculously become authentic and maybe achieve happiness (not that he deserves it).
    I’m supposing that what the ex gay husband does then is go for a codependent man, if he is a narcissist as I suspect practically all gay husbands are (otherwise how could treat their wives in the despicable way they do?). So we have to assume they get together with a more decent gay guy who hasn’t spent half his life or more tricking a woman.
    In my journey of discovery, trying to make sense of what has been done to me I have now gone from researching gay husbands, to narcissists, to psycopaths and sociopaths, on to the subject of emotional abuse and have just arrived at codependency – annoyingly, I now have the label of codependent. Thanks to that little shit!
    Anyway, also this idea of shame is interesting. He said he was ‘filled with shame’ on the night his 15 year old daughter blew the lid on his wicked and treacherous behaviour. ‘Was he feeling shame when he was doing it with the men?’ she enquired to me. Uh no, because I don’t think you can get it up if you’re feeling shame…
    The next day, after having taken the dogs for a walk, he said ‘I felt terrible. I wanted to just lie down in the woods and die.’ ‘Join the bloody club!’ I answered, ‘I’ve often felt like that.’ It was a new feeling for the thicko, but a very old and regular one for me. Like you say above, it was because I had been living almost suffocated, in a deathly zone, brainwashed (despite thinking I was clever with my PhD). I was blind. I’d done something I’ve recently read about – I’d had my expectations ‘managed down.’ I didn’t expect romance, I got used to no sex (knowing that it can tail off in relationships), and I was putting up with his awful moods and confusing and inexplicable outbursts.
    I thought it was a phase and he would go back to how he was at the beginning of the relationship eventually. I got the crazy idea in my head that he followed after his mother, she’d apparently been a bitch for a decade or two and then she’d come good again. Sometimes you can get hooked on an explanation which is completely false, unfortunately.
    I swallowed a lot of other nonsense too. I was always afraid of being on my own. That was my greatest fear. But what I didn’t realise is that it was HIS greatest fear. And I am not alone (now that I’ve kicked him out – of course, I did it very nicely, gave him plenty of time, sorted out where he’d live etc. – us women are too damn nice). I have my beautiful kids (for a few years anyway before they go off to University etc.). But I think even if I didn’t have the kids, just the peacefulness of doing your own thing and not having to think about when HE gets home and dealing with those awful moods and the atmosphere – I say to any woman fearful of being alone as I was, yes, it is tricky getting to sleep without a man in the house for a while, but it’s getting easier. And the freedom is wonderful. I am in no rush to get together with a man again and may never. Frankly I think now that most men are shits and not worth the bother.
    Thanks for a great piece. It’s really been food for thought.

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    1. Thank you so much Becky. I also found that I am, or was codependent. I no longer feel this way, now that I am away from him. I’ve been on my own 3 years now. I don’t feel like I want another relationship at this point. I felt more alone when I was married to him than I do now.

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  2. Well, I’ve just ordered a copy of the book by Alan Downs. Christ, we women become experts on subjects we previously thought had no relevance to us. A little while ago, looking for an insight into ‘the gay lifestyle’ I read Joe Orton’s diaries (he was an English playwright in the 60s) – luckily I got the book from the library as I wouldn’t have wanted to pay for it. Lots of boring stuff interspersed with descriptions of anonymous sex in dark toilets where people couldn’t even see each other and with penises going into different orifices. What an ugly and shallow way to lead your life. And of course Orton was winding up his partner (who eventually killed him with an axe). Of course he was openly gay and therefore I thought he would be in the ‘good’ category (but he wasn’t – for example, he would have sex with a man about to be married and there was never a thought for the woman), and it was a shallow life, in my opinion and one with no honour, if you can’t be faithful to your partner and you have sex with people not caring if they are committed to someone else or not.
    So the point about our gay husbands’ later relationships with men (if they ever manage to get one together) being similar to ours, now that I think of it a bit more, is not surprising – the idea that they repeat their usual relationship dynamics and therefore get into cheating and anonymous sex even when in a relationship with a man.
    The danger for us women is that we’ll also repeat our patterns if we start up a relationship again. I think two out of my previous three boyfriends prior to him were closteted gays now that I think more clearly about them. But I defy anyone to have guessed that my gay husband was one. He could win an award for the most convincing straight husband ever. He could beat most genuinely straight husbands. He was never openly anti-gay, was never camp, was good at cutting hair, admittedly and was good with the children when they were babies – he just seemed like a genuine, down-to-earth man who was happy with himself and who he was. If I’d previously been married to a gay man and had met my husband I would have thought he was a safe bet as he was so clearly straight. That’s one of the awful things about it – because how could I ever trust my judgement again?

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    1. Becky you are so right unless we heal our wounds, and learn to love ourselves we are most likely to end up in another toxic relationship. It is so difficult to trust our judgement again. I don’t know if it is possible for me to trust again.

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  3. Yes, these closeted husbands resent us as women and even resent our female bodies. They self-loathe and also loathe us in definite ways. They need our straight image as a facade to life but detest the fact that they do. They project their anger and loathing onto us and accuse of of loathing them when we really are just trying to love and compassionately understand them, all the while not knowing that it is men they sexually crave. Out of principle and our commitments to marriage and family, we straight wives tend to be long-suffering. Yet, once we figure out that most of our marital conflicts and that the sexual rejection we experience comes from a husband having same sex attraction, most of us can no longer stay committed to a liar when we are often the type to value genuineness and truth. The deception is profound and shocking as the straight spouse discovers that her marriage is to a pathological liar.

    Closeted husbands will only go so far as admitting about themselves what the most key people in their lives will accept. Key people typically excludes the wife because she often is merely a tool for societal acceptance rather than a person whose feelings are being considered never mind prioritized. Often it is whether or not the parent of the adult child will accept the truth about their closeted life which creates the catalyst for disclosure. If the key person will not accept the fact that they have same sex attraction, they put the lid on the truth about their sexuality and make their straight spouse look crazy or that she just read into things. It is not uncommon for a parent of a closeted husband to prefer to see a child’s marriage disintegrate as long as it covers up the truth about his/her son right along with it. Anything is better to the parent than the truth that a his/her married son (in a male/female marriage) is really gay.

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    1. Jill you articulate this so well. I agree with everything you said, what particularly resonates with me is the parent of the closeted gay son preferring to see the sons marriage disintegrate as long as it covers up the truth. This was certainly my experience as the ex in law new the truth, but wanted me to go away quietly.

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