How I Divorced My Husband of 5 Years, Came Out at 28, and Married a Woman

What Pride means to me, a few years after coming out

I grew up in a semi-Catholic, liberal family in a Bay Area suburb. Our neighborhood was made up primarily of white and Asian families with 2.5 kids, tons of SUVs, and Golden Retrievers. This was not the land of diversity. My parents had a couple of gay friends, and one of my dad’s cousins is gay, but other than that I’d never really met any gay folks. The only queer people I knew of were men and a couple of butch lesbians. At the Catholic school I attended, we were taught that homosexuality was a sin, yet the gay people I’d met sure seemed nice enough.

I told myself it was a phase

I was ten years old when Ellen DeGeneres came out, and at that point I didn’t really have a clue even what was going on in my body anyway. It had to be a phase, right? The Internet was still basically brand new, so I didn’t have the ability to just simply Google to get more info. As I got older, things just continued to become more and more confusing. And since I was a feminine, sorta sporty teen, I thought there was no way I could be gay.

I told myself that if I just kept dating guys, I’d find the right one. I just hadn’t met him yet. So I went from boyfriend to boyfriend, all the while having a secret crush on a girl I knew. But then right when I started college, I did meet a really great guy. One who I had a ton of things in common with, who I loved hanging out with, and who I fell in love with. I figured this was it: I’d finish college, get married, have a family, do all the things I knew society—and my family to some degree—expected me to do. It was also during this time that my parents ended their marriage and my whole world came crumbling down. I adored my boyfriend’s family and clung to them, hoping to have a sense of what I had lost in my own family.

Creating What I Thought Was Normal

I married that guy when I was twenty-three. I’d been open with him and told him I’d had feelings for girls, but that it was just a girl crush. I decided to go about my life trying to just do all the “right” things, and figured that everyone had weird feelings they had to push away. I honestly thought that if I went through all the motions that my body and mind would align with what I told myself was “normal.” My life felt like it was out of control; at the time my parents were still fighting, and I dropped out of college after switching schools and then my major multiple times. I felt like if I maintained a stable relationship with a guy and family I loved, I could get it together.

A couple of years into my marriage, I became a hairstylist and started working at a salon. Between clients, I’d join the gaggle of straight girls and gay guys to talk about our relationships and sex lives. I started to realize that the way I’d been approaching sex in my marriage, as if it was more of an obligation, was not exactly the norm. You mean they actually liked giving blowjobs and didn’t fantasize about women during sex? Soon after starting at the salon, I became close friends with a couple of gay guys. I started going out with them to gay clubs and bars, to drag shows, and Pride, all under the guise of being the token straight girl. And as a fairly feminine appearing person, I was given the privilege of being able to pass as straight, which, as it turns out, can be a blessing and a curse. Yet somewhere in the depths of those gay bars, I realized that what I had been feeling most of my life wasn’t going away.

As I spent more time in gay spaces and met more folks, the sense of not being able to see myself reflected in the world around me began to dissipate. Gay friends of mine got married and started families, they were out to their employers, and they were living authentically. More diversity started showing up in the media. And I realized that the life I had dreamed of was possible, outside of a heterosexual relationship.

A Brutal Divorce, And Coming Out

After five years of trying to make my marriage work and live the life I thought I should have, I finally made the decision to live the life I wanted, and frankly needed. The fear of losing not only my family, but a family I’d married into and loved as my own, was finally outweighed by the fear of completely losing myself. I ended my marriage, and in the process lost the man who was my best friend, who I admired and loved deeply. Somehow I’d convinced myself that we would still be friends, but I had to respect the fact that I was no longer welcome in his life. My mother-in-law and I had been extremely close, talking daily, spending lots of time together, so coming out to her was truly harder than coming out to my own parents. She was so kind and supportive in the time that followed, but I knew her son needed her and that I could no longer expect to continue our relationship. And while time has eased the hurt and I still talk to her around birthdays and holidays, I know the relationship can never fully be restored.

Coming out to my own family, while stressful and scary, ended up bringing me much closer with all of them. I’m fortunate that every single person was accepting, albeit confused, but all found their own ways of talking with me to learn more about what I’d been feeling. They felt sorry that I hadn’t been able to come to terms with things earlier, but understood the societal pressures that LGBTQ+ people face. As I continued to come out to my friends and clients at the time, I was met with an overwhelming amount of love. People were very shocked initially but immediately switched to saying they could tell how much lighter and happier I was.

However, at the time there were a few people I was uncomfortable about coming out to. A client of mine in particular I had put together from chatting that she wasn’t exactly accepting of gay people. So I avoided the subject entirely, leaving out parts about who I was dating or where I had moved to. We became friends on Facebook after I had made a career change and was no longer taking clients. Soon after she sent me a message that shook me to my core. Upon finding out I was gay, she’d reconsidered her beliefs about it being wrong to be gay and reached out to talk to me about it. I immediately felt badly for not giving her a chance to know this vital aspect of my life. Another client I chose not to tell, found out through a friend of mine, and also reached out to offer support and talk to me about the experience. I had passed judgments on both of these women out of fear of being judged myself. In those moments I realized that I must never hide who I am.

I Did Have A Happily Ever After

Over the next nine months I became an entirely new person, or more accurately, the person I’d always been but couldn’t show. I’d lost over sixty pounds, changed jobs, moved, and met my now wife, Karyne, on OKCupid. Karyne is seven years older than me, and had been out since her freshman year of college. She helped me navigate the feelings I was still dealing with and understood the complexities of my situation. When Pride rolled around that year, one of my closest, oldest friends, Alex, whom I consider to be my brother and helped me so much when I came out, asked me if Karyne and I would like to walk in the San Francisco Pride parade with him, his husband, and their son. We immediately agreed, thinking really only of how much fun it would be to spend time with them (though I still think Karyne was really in it for the free T-shirt we got; she really loves a free T-shirt). We lined up early near the Embarcadero, surrounded by folks dressed up, rainbows everywhere, music blasting. And while none of this was new to me, it suddenly felt so very different. As our group turned the corner onto Market Street, we were met with crowds of cheering, smiling people, rainbow flags waving wildly, and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. I fought back tears the entire parade. It was like being in a dream, but it was my real life. I was no longer an outsider to the community I belonged to.

I know that I’m lucky to have a supportive family, and live in a part of not only our country, but the world, where being openly gay is accepted. I don’t take that for granted. The most important thing I’ve learned from coming out is the importance of visibility. Because as we very well know, there are LGBTQ+ folks everywhere. In every job, in every race, in every religion, in every inch of our world. Gay characters in movies and TV shows are often still the token gay first, and then whatever the rest of their character is supposed to be. And while we have been fortunate to be in a country that, up until recently, was pushing for equality and visibility, we haven’t yet reached a point where LGBTQ+ folks are fully integrated into mainstream society.

But We Turned Away From Equality

After marriage was legalized in 2015, it became easy to feel like we had finally turned the corner on LGBTQ+ rights, especially living in the Bay Area, where it is common, even in the suburbs, to see gay couples and families. But over the last six months under this new administration, I, like so many others, have had to go back to wondering if these rights will remain intact for our entire country. My wife and I have a sense of security living in California, but we’re all too aware of the very real fears so many folks are feeling right now. Hateful actions like the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the murders of at least twelve trans people this year alone, along with our current administration’s lack of acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community on its website, the Census, and even denying Pride month itself, threaten our visibility.

I have had the privilege of standing on both sides now. And even though I’ve lived more of my adult life in hiding rather than out, I will never take for granted the importance of living a visible life that is full and authentic.

Pride is a reminder to us that the fight isn’t over. Until we are more equally visible among lawmakers, armed forces, workplaces, families, media, and all communities small and large, we still need Pride. We will need Pride until no person, upon their realization that they are gay, has to take pause, consider the possible consequences, and make a choice to possibly deny their very being.

What does pride mean for you and your communities? As an LGBTQ+ person, what Does Pride and visibility mean to you? Did it change after you came out? As an ally, what do you or can you do to step out of your comfort zone to create safe spaces and support visibility?

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  • scw

    this was the most beautiful way to start the week.

    (more personal essays from kate, please.)

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  • Emily

    Don’t mind me, just happy crying on the train into work. Lovely lovely article!

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  • anon

    I’m glad you found your happiness. I hope it is not out of line to call some special attention to the incredible pain this sequence of events can cause. A dear friend of mine is going through a divorce in which his wife of 6 years came out as gay. It is a unique kind of devastation. I know identity and sexuality are complicated – I support gay rights and have marched in pride parades – but it is hard not to feel angry, hard not to see this as a betrayal of him, herself, their daughter… I don’t know.

    It’s complicated.

    • Amy March

      I’m not sure that Kate’s post about her life and how she is feeling about pride is an appropriate place for this discussion. It’s hard for me to read your comment as anything but a critique of Kate, who just shared a personal vulnerable explanation of how her feelings about her sexuality changed over time, and was seemingly careful to speak of her own story, not that of her ex-husband.

      • Jane

        And when she did mention how this impacted her husband, she said she respected his choice not to have her in his life anymore, and understood how it would change al of her relationships with his family. So it’s not like she just pretended that her acts have no consequences. It’s just not what this essay is about, and that should be fine. With stories this complex and personal, not every essay is going to reach every angle.

        • It’s also generally not appropriate to do a deep dive into a personal relationship you had with a past partner who’s not necessarily a consenting party to having their life written about on the internet. Beyond mentioning it and moving on, I think we can agree that’s a story left for someone else to tell.

          • Jane

            Excellent point! Especially since she’s not anonymous on here.

      • different anon

        I agree that Kate’s words about that relationship and her ex-husband were careful and kind. I do wonder if the choice of headline (perhaps not her choice) may have centered him in a way that’s a little uncomfortable/out of step with the general non-focus on/anonymity of his role? Like maybe that was not the intent but is part of what’s prompting focus on it in this comment thread.

    • K. is skittish about disqus

      I agree with Amy that this is neither the time nor place for this discussion, but I also want to just note that the last thing I got from this [very] personal essay was a lack of awareness and empathy on the inherent complexities. I found Kate’s writing here to be open, vulnerable, and deeply kind towards the situation in both its difficulties and joys.

    • Loran

      It is complicated, and contrary to others who feel this isn’t the place for this type of discussion, I think it’s quite appropriate. Kate spoke eloquently about living a lie – to herself, to her family, to her clients, and yes, to her husband. While ideally we’d all love it if everyone was always self-aware and not self-deceptive, it’s unrealistic. Kate shares about coming to terms with who she is, instead of who she thought she was supposed to be – and shares how that personal arc took a toll on the relationships in her life. Of course it’s angering. Of course it can feel like a betrayal on the other side of things, it’s part of human growth and growth within a relationship. It could be very much the same if Kate was in a marriage with someone who wanted kids, and all of a sudden they didn’t. Or suddenly quit their bread-winning career. Or realized they’re transgender. It’s not a slam on Kate or her exceptionally well-written and vulnerable story to recognize that creating a society wherein everyone has the ability to self-examine and come to their own truths and own selves is the goal – but we’re not there yet (don’t know that we ever will be entirely there) and that in the meantime, human stories like this have fall-out. That’s part of why it takes such courage to go through them and then to share them. Kudos to Kate!

      • SarahRose472

        “It could be very much the same if Kate was in a marriage with someone who wanted kids, and all of a sudden they didn’t. Or suddenly quit their bread-winning career. Or realized they’re transgender.”

        Yes, this. Of course there is a lot of pain and complications in being on both the giving and receiving end of this kind of a revelation, but it’s quite a normal thing that happens in relationships for all kinds of reasons, not just when it’s about discovering your sexual identity.

        • Loran

          Exactly. Any relationship is entered into under circumstances and with rules/boundaries and expectations in place. When those boundaries or circumstances change, there’s always the potential for hurt and for an end to the relationship. One hopes that discussion and compromise and a willingness to support each other is always present, but sometimes there is no compromise and as Meg said above, “the fundamental point of gay rights is that we can’t ask people to stay in the closet to help make other people happy. Full stop.” So yeah, if your SO figures out they’re gay and y’all are in a hetero relationship, then continuing that relationship as it currently exists is pretty much off the table. And that’s gotta suck for the other person, but it would soul-suck for the person who is gay to pretend that they can go on as they have been.

    • I think Kate is painfully aware of the pain that finding her truth caused for her ex and his family. That said, we’re born with our sexual identity, and live in a world where it can be hard to realize it fully. Living your truth CANNOT be a betrayal of yourself or of your children. Living a half life as someone you are not can only ever be a betrayal of both parties, however. Sometimes one people have to live through that, but it’s still a painful betrayal of self, and the awful way to have to model life to your children.

      As for the pain that coming to your truth later can cause on relationships, well, that’s between those two people. And I should point out that plenty of relationships end for all kinds of reasons unrelated to gender or sexual identity. Whether or not that’s a betrayal? I think only those two people can say. But betrayal or not, it’s often a fact, plain and simple. Relationships end, it’s sometimes awful, full stop.

    • Jenny

      Sure, it’s painful, and it’s complicated, as are most reasons that relationships end. I wish this had been a comment about how our society is constructed in a way that makes this kind of pain more likely to happen. And that the pain of not being able to be one’s true self ripples into other relationships in deep and meaningful ways. Instead this feels like an indictment on Kate’s story, whose essay was deeply personal. I’m not sure it’s the appropriate place.

    • JenC

      I think when relationships end, it is devastating. Particularly if it’s not mutually agreed upon. However, one partner coming out as gay shouldn’t be more devestating than the many, many other reasons a relationship can end. Is it any more devastating than your friend’s wife generally not being in love with him anymore if he is still madly in love with her? Or if she feels suffocated by the family life? Or if she was leaving him for a man?

      I think being angry that a marriage ended and hurting for your friend is valid. I don’t think that highlighting the wife coming out as gay should be a worse ending somehow. I also don’t see why it should be a betrayal of her husband, herself and her daughter. If she’d had left him for another man, sure there would be anger that she couldn’t figure whatever out without finding someone else but eventually people would be saying that she’s happier. People change in relationships all the time and if that change leads to a relationship ending, it shouldn’t be seen as a betrayal of anyone, let alone themselves.

      • Marian

        Could she have ever really loved me? Or found me attractive? Was I just a convenient way for her to avoid conflict with her family? How long did she know and lie about it? Was she lying to herself or just to me? Is there something wrong with me that I couldn’t tell?

        I can see why this specific situation would be especially hard for the partner left behind. Like it or not the unhealthy social pressures around hetero/homosexual identities apply their own kind of pressure and would definitely affect both partners in this situation.

        • idkmybffjill

          I agree – I think it’s a very unique kind of pain that’s not the same. I also think it can be compounded by the fact (particularly if you support gay rights), that one would feel like they should automatically be happy for the person because they’ve found themselves, even though one has been profoundly heartbroken.

          This is why we have to build a society where heteronormativity doesn’t saturate our ideas about how life should look. I was surprised that Kate grew up in a family where gay people were present in her life, but still didn’t know – but I think that’s probably not as rare as one might think! When life is presented as “you marry a person of the opposite gender” it can be difficult to question that.

        • JenC

          I get what you’re saying but I think those specific questions actually relate more to the dynamic that Kate found herself in, rather than her coming out. Kate’s dynamic is marrying someone when she isn’t necessarily 100% in and not necessarily realising until 5 years into her marriage. Those questions would still exist if Kate had not realised she was gay or if she had not left her husband for another man. Or even if she had married a woman but the wrong woman and still realised this. So what we’re doing is putting more emphasis on the questions because she came out, rather than the dynamic that led her to marriage. So we feel it’s worse, it’s a bigger betrayal because that person couldn’t figure out their own sexuality before marriage but if they can’t figure out their own emotions before marriage then that’s better?

          • Marian

            I didn’t mean to suggest it was worse – I don’t think anyone did. But there are vulnerabilities surrounding sexuality and cultural pressures surrounding homosexuality that make the situation uniquely difficult. idk gives a perfect example as to why.

        • HarrietVane

          You can have ALL of these feelings whenever someone leaves you, for any reason. I’m sure that it WAS hard for her husband… but taking this extremely personal, painful experience and making it about him is all about silencing her voice.

    • I mean, in short, the fundamental point of gay rights is that we can’t ask people to stay in the closet to help make other people happy. Full stop.

      • idkmybffjill

        I see this as adjacent to the idea that “men need feminism too”. Straight people need gay rights too…. because this kind of stuff happens when people don’t feel like they’re able to find their identities before others are involved, because our society doesn’t create a safe space for that questioning and exploration to happen.

    • idkmybffjill

      You know, this same thing happened to my mother in her first marriage. It was devastating – and I think it’s a casualty of a society that oppresses people’s identities. I don’t see my mom as a victim of her first husband’s identity, rather as someone else who suffered because our culture didn’t accept homosexuality the way it accepts heterosexuality.

    • different anon

      So, this isn’t equivalent at all but is my experience – I was in a relationship for 5 years with a man who, it turned out, was cheating on me the whole time with men. It was…shocking…and unfortunately it took me finding out to end the relationship – not him making the decision to be honest with me. So I was pretty traumatized (by the cheating and lying about it, as well as by the relationship ending), and I dealt with a LOT of angry/hurt/betrayed feelings for a long time, but even in my darkest time I knew that the root of the problem was a society (and in particular his family) that caused him to totally repress his feelings and be unable to be truthful about himself, and I knew how terribly that must have hurt him his whole life. I won’t pretend I was a saint about it or forgave him immediately, because I didn’t, but many years out from that pain I mostly have kind of an abstract sympathy for him and hope he’s found a way to live the life he needs to (I ended all communication shortly after it all blew up). And like, yes, I wish I didn’t have to experience that, but once I finally sorted out the complicated feelings of pain on my behalf vs. empathy for him, I didn’t feel like what happened to ME was the worst part of that whole mess.

      • HarrietVane

        Feeling betrayed by someone who hurt you (even for complicated reasons) is perfectly understandable. This commenter took a conversation about the pain of being in the closet and coming to terms with gay in a straight world and derailed it by saying ‘but think about how hard this is for a straight person’.

    • HarrietVane

      This is totally inappropriate to say here. Full stop.

    • Sarah

      Anon, you were not inappropriate. In these situations there is nothing anyone can do, everyone is heartbroken. But I think you raise a very valid point: the straight person in the relationship is aching and feel betrayed (there is no point comparing pains: it’s like someone having an headache and someone saying “oh stomachache is terrible too”). It’s unfair to look at one story from just one perspective (no matter which perspective it is).
      In your friend situation, I would say for you to try replacing you anger with compassion towards everyone involved, specially your dear friend.

      Having said that, I think Kate was gracious enough not to speak too much about her ex-husband.

    • Sarah

      Sorry folks. Not inappropriate AT ALL. Someone writing an essay and posting it in a blog is opening themselves up to opposing viewpoints. This comment is not a personal attack on the blogger.

      If my husband came out as gay, I would be devastated. In a perfect scenario, the author would not have carried on a long-term relationship with someone of the opposite sex if she was homosexual. Because she chose to do that, her ex husband got hurt. Yes, of course, outside pressure is overwhelmingly to blame for creating an environment in which the default relationship is heterosexual.

      This doesn’t mean that the author was wrong to leave the relationship. Only that we should all be aiming to help folks figure things out earlier rather than later so there is less hurt for everyone.

  • Leah

    Thanks for the gorgeous essay! It’s so wonderful to highlight people living their authentic-self lives even in the face of hardship, to have Pride show how much love can help make everyone’s lives lighter, brighter, and more inclusive.

  • Kalë

    From experience, I know how easy it to write people off who you may think of as living in the past, or only see them judgmental assholes for some ignorant comments they’ve made in the past. And sometimes that’s the best and most healthy thing to do for yourself, because some of those people just straight up suck and I’m sad and sorry they still exist. I’m delighted you were wrong about those two women in this case. My favorite part of this whole essay was that they both reached out to you in support and with expanding worldviews – a great reminder that even shady seeming people can surprise us in the most unexpected, beautiful ways.

  • BSM

    Not totally the point, but Kate, you look GORGEOUS in that photo!

  • Jess

    This is the importance of Pride and addressing homophobia – so many are hurt by intolerance and the way it forces people to deny who they are.

    It makes my not-really-explicitly-out bi self feel all the feels about visibility and pride.

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  • Jessica

    Beautiful. I’m so glad you found happiness.

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