When My Wife Came Out

The following post is by Jason Bilbrey, our Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation.  You can read more from Jason at his blog, www.jasonbilbrey.com

I was homeschooled all throughout high school. I had a job gathering shopping carts from the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store parking lot at closing time. I’d get home close to midnight, wake up my younger brother and we’d tiptoe to the living room where my sleeping parents’ worst fears would be realized: two back-to-back reruns of Friends, followed by a Seinfeld. We sat close to the TV with the volume turned low and fed our ferocious hunger for all things secular.

It was from Friends that I first learned about one-night stands, drugs, and abortion. And it was when Phoebe brought her guitar to a third-grade classroom that I first learned what a bisexual was.

Some men love men.
Some women love women.
Then there are bisexuals,
but some just say they’re kidding themselves.

Ten years later, that refrain would echo from somewhere deep in my subconscious on the night my wife came out to me. She was bisexual.

It was December 2011. We had been married for four years. We had a two-year-old daughter. And I knew how this was supposed to go. I had seen it happen in season one when Ross’s wifeleft him for another woman. It was the first time we ever talked seriously about divorce.

If you had stopped me on the street the day before and asked what I thought about bisexuality, I probably would have given a fairly dispassionate response, something along the lines of “bisexuals are attracted to both men and women.” I certainly wouldn’t have recited verses, neither from the Bible nor from Friends. But I suddenly found myself very dogmatic.

My conservative upbringing had taught me that homosexuality was a threat to the family, a threat that suddenly seemed very real. The sanctity of marriage–our marriage–felt under attack, just as I had been warned. I was becoming more traditionalist by the minute. Even though I understood why my wife had repressed this side of her sexuality until now, unready to come out even to herself; even though my wife hadn’t cheated on me and stated flatly that she never would; even though my wife was, she explained, attracted to me and other men as well as women…I couldn’t help feeling betrayed. Like our marriage was a joke.

“I feel like you’re not hearing me,” Courtney said finally, head in hands. “I don’t want a divorce. Of course not. I chose you. I’m attracted to you. I made a commitment to you and I meant it.” She was right. I wasn’t hearing her, and it was a long time before I could. I had to listen to her talk about all this, of course, because Courtney wouldn’t let me pretend like nothing happened. That was my inclination: to coax her back in the closet. She wouldn’t have it. She wanted to be out. Vocally out. She wanted to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community and combat the stigma that society casted, a stigma that I bought into and buckled under. And it was there, within our monogamous marriage, straddling that fine line between commitment and imprisonment, that I listened. I had to.

The above photo was taken right around that time. I can see the exhaustion on our faces. (Not to mention, why is my wife carrying our bags and our daughter, while my hands are empty? I know there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.) It’s to my Courtney’s credit that we made it through that season. She was both patient and tenacious. She fought for our marriage.

And she won me over.

This is simply what it came down to for me: I chose to believe her. I gave myself permission to accept her experience at face value and to empathize. I say this as if it was a single event. It wasn’t. I’m still choosing to let my wife teach me and (if we want to go really biblical and maybe a little subversive) to submit myself to her in love.

And of course we came out…together. To her family. To mine. To our church. Even if we were a monogamous, straight couple with a family, our marriage was decidedly not traditional, and we told people about it. It felt humbling to be on this side of that conversation.

Courtney helped me to open my world up, not only to her experience, but also to those of other LGBT folks–experiences that hadn’t fit within my world before. I listened afresh. It’s not that I immediately identified with every story I heard, nor endorsed every viewpoint, but I was willing to let competing ideas sit together in conflict. It’s a process I’m still engaged in.

That’s what led me to work at The Marin Foundation. And having been through this journey, it’s now my privilege to hear other people’s stories, and walk with them through their journeys. That’s actually the majority of what I do here. And I love it. So shoot me an email (jason@themarinfoundation.org) or comment on this post. I’d love to hear your story.

Much love.

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Zen Cataldo

    First off, I want to thank you for sharing your story, I have a deep appreciation for any perspective that can be shared respectfully, whether I agree or not.
    I was raised in the church, dogmatically fed the “love the sinner, hate the sin” concept and knew from the earliest age I can remember that they were talking about me. So I hid. I hid and pretended I was just like everyone else in those pews reciting scripture. That fear of being hated drove me into dark places of separation from God, allowing for some horrible experiences at the expense of my innocence. If only I had been shown acceptance, I would have had the courage and confidence to evade those predators of the weary and broken.

    Many (even in the LGBT community) have not chosen to look at the effects being a closeted child has on their ability to stand up for themselves against sexual crime. Almost every gay friend I have has the same story… We knew we were gay from the beginning, we felt shame due to the judgment of the pulpit, we became weakened by this oppression and inevitably fell victim to sexual predators that fed off of that very weakness. I obviously cannot speak for every LGBT individual, however the many that I know have this tragic story in common.
    It is because of people like you that we can have hope in a future of children feeling the acceptance and love that breeds the kind of confidence predators cannot attack. You and your family are bringing light to this community by speaking out on its commonality. We are your daughters, your wives, your mothers, your brothers and fathers. We deserve the same love and acceptance EVERY human should be given. So thank you Jason, by breaking that silence, you are making this possible for all of us.

    • Donni Steen

      Oh how I know this story! Me too….

    • Jason Bilbrey

      Thank you, Zen, for sharing your story also. It’s difficult enough as it is to come out as LGBT much less to open up about being a survivor of abuse. I’m humbled by your strength in the face of those experiences, and echo your desire to ensure that our children never have to endure the pain that you and so many others endured. So encouraged by that thought! Thanks again for sharing!

      Much Love!

    • letjusticerolldown

      This is a question coming out of ignorance–and with no expectation that you desire to expend energy responding on a public blog.
      What do you mean about “the fear of being hated?” Do you think your childhood fear of being hated was distinct from what other children in the church experienced??

  • Dori

    Thank you for sharing, Jason. It meant a LOT to me. :D

    • Courtney Bilbrey

      :)

  • Elaine S. Hansen

    thank you for sharing your story. When people have differences in beliefs, values, gender issues, and political issues, there is no conversation. Too often people get uncomfortable and leave before they really hear each other. I’m glad you and your wife stayed in the conversation and held the space for each other.

    • Courtney Bilbrey

      Thank you Elaine. I like your phrase ‘held the space for each other’. Powerful.

  • Angie Raess

    Excellent post! Thank you for hearing your wife and ultimately for staying with her. I’m so happy you were able to be honest with each other, God and your community. And thank you for the work you do for the church and LGBT community.

  • letjusticerolldown

    I don’t know. Honestly. I don’t know.
    I think bad systems of thought most frequently produce reactive systems of thought.
    I wish as followers of Jesus we would together be more inclined to fulfill the law instead of worshipping it or rejecting it. I wish we would seek the Kingdom instead of trying to impose it, overthrow it, deny it, or run from it.

    All my 50+ years I have been unable to connect the amount of gracious love that one person has to another based on their complex perspectives of the appropriate boundaries of human sexuality. I have yet to find a person with a switch on the back of their head with three selections: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual. And I do not think it helpful to construct all these realities that if now someone in a marriage decides to reveal they have sexual desires more, different, beyond, less than, than what was presumed–that now we go through some dramatic scenario of becoming part of a despised class trying to find a place of justice.

    I am always surprised that when persons discover how powerful a culture can be in defining how one knows the world around them, how one names the world around them, what the content of that understanding is, what becomes acceptable and not acceptable, etc. they so often think that the new paradigms they accept arrived here from some fantasyland called Freedom.

    I’ll take one hundred persons committed to walking on a path of grace, mercy and love towards the rule of Jesus over 10 people who have arrived at the conclusions I have any day of the week.


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