We have been together in love, in a mixed orientation marriage since 1968. These years have not always been easy, but they have been years of much joy and fulfillment for us. We are looking forward to more years together. They have also been years of learning about aspects of human sexuality and companionship that we knew little or nothing about at the time of our marriage. We do not take our love relationship for granted. Our commitment to stay married and enjoy our life together is based on our strong emotional bond and is intentional.
When Ruth and I were talking recently about our life together, I made the comment: "When I got married, I would have denied being gay." This surprised me, and Ruth, too, but it is true! How did I get where I am today?
I am the youngest of five children, three girls and two boys. My brother, who is the second child, could not have been more different from me. He is bigger than I and was always athletic and interested in boy things. I was not interested in athletic things and, while I liked cars, I was not interested in trucks. When I was a child, my brother and I had a difficult time getting along with each other, but I was comfortable with my two oldest sisters. I did not relate well to the sister just older than I until we were in college. I am pleased that we all get along well together now. They all know of my bisexuality and continue to love and support us! Basically, I had a happy childhood and felt loved and supported by my parents.
Before I went to school, my closest friend was a neighbor boy. After beginning first grade, my closest friends were primarily girls. I did not like the athletic activities, which other boys seemed to enjoy, but preferred being with girls. I was frequently called a sissy on the playground. This was very painful and difficult for me; I didn't know how to respond and did not feel I could talk about it with anyone. As I reflect on this, I think I knew it was true but had no idea what I could do about it. The strong social message was that I was different and it was not acceptable. One elementary school year I was the only boy in my class. The principal phoned my mother to ask if this would be a problem. Mother assured him it would not be a problem for me. Fortunately, I was a good student in the classroom and that was acceptable, but it did not carry over onto the playground or into gym class.
My interests were in the arts. My parents did not discourage this, but one of my earliest interests in becoming an interior decorator was not encouraged. In seventh grade, I became the manager of the basketball team, which I continued through high school. This helped me to have a relatively good relationship with my male athletic peers. Though I felt good about that position, I was becoming more aware of being different. I wonder now what the gym teacher might have known or suspected, because he facilitated my being the basketball team manager and was always very nice to me.
The awareness of my sexual attraction to my own gender made me uncomfortable. I did not understand this, but was aware that I should not talk about it. I also felt other boys were uncomfortable with me. (Now, with hindsight, I think it probably was projection on my part.) I also enjoyed dating during high school and assumed that I would eventually marry, have a family, and live happily ever after. There were no gay role models and no discussions about homosexuality. I was very aware of the negative feelings about homos and I knew that sex between two males was not acceptable.
My childhood church was a place where I felt loved and cared for. Most of my family's closest friends were from the church. Now that I have been involved in other Mennonite churches, I realize how cohesive that church community was and how important it was to me. My father was a well-known and highly respected public school teacher in my hometown. He was an intellectual, but did not deal as well with emotional issues. In contrast, my mother, while an intelligent woman, was not so intellectual but much more emotional. I recognize some of both in myself. Even though I can get emotional, my faith has always been more intellectual.
I am a Christian today because I have experienced Jesus as the best teacher and example of a life of love and concern for others. Christ's message of redemption for my (our) brokenness draws me to faith in God. This belief has enabled me to come to self-acceptance and an awareness of God's love for me. It has also influenced how I read and understand the scriptures.
I enjoyed my years at Bluffton College, a Mennonite liberal arts school in Ohio. There were occasional academic discussions about homosexuality. I recall a bull session in my dorm room with about eight other fellows when the topic of conversation turned to homosexuality. At one point, someone commented that about 10% of the male population is homosexual. I vividly remember wishing that I were not there when someone wondered aloud who that one was in this group! Fortunately, that point was not pursued.
During my senior year of college, I was accepted into a master's program in international relations; however, later that spring (1964), I received my greetings from Uncle Sam and had to change my plans. Instead of graduate school, I went to Kings View Hospital, one of the Mennonite mental health facilities, in Reedley, CA, to do my 1-W service as a conscientious objector. This work was in lieu of military service. On my first day, June 22, 1964, I met Ruth Hartzler, a staff nurse there. The milieu at KVH focused on being a therapeutic community. I learned a lot about myself and mental health, became more aware of my feelings, and was able to be more honest with myself. Ruth and I soon became good friends.
The path to our marriage commitment had a very traditional start. I was born in the mid 1930s on a small farm in northern Indiana into a rather conservative Mennonite family. My parents took their faith seriously and were active in our local Mennonite congregation. My father was definitely the authority person in our family on most matters. In addition to farming our few acres, my father worked as a machinist in a factory.
My mother, a full time homemaker, had lived in Ontario until she married my father. She was a gentle caring person. As an adult, I am aware that my parents loved us and took good physical care of us. They were usually not explicit in affirming our gifts and achievements or helping us deal with our emotional concerns. Responsible behavior and good grades in school were expected. As the oldest child in a family of seven - four girls and three boys-I learned early the expectations of obedience and compliance. Questioning the views and decisions of parents and elders was not even considered. Overall, my childhood was a comfortable balance of play and work, although we took life very seriously.
At the age of 12, I responded to the invitation to accept Christ during annual revival meetings at my church. I was baptized and became a member of our local congregation. I tried to follow the teachings of the Bible as my congregation interpreted them. Although my faith in God was sincere, my perceptions of the emphasis on obedience crowded out a meaningful sense of God's love and redemptive work for me.
In my baccalaureate nursing education at Goshen College, a Mennonite liberal arts school in Indiana, I became vaguely aware of homosexuality via lectures, textbooks, and conversations with other students, but it did not seem relevant to me or to my peers. I occasionally heard certain students described as homosexual, and the implication was that such a condition was not consistent with the values of the college. An instructor at the state hospital where we received our clinical psychiatric nursing experience was rumored to be a lesbian. This did not seem to be an issue for any of us. We liked her as an instructor. Later, while working at Kings View Hospital, I learned to know some gay and lesbian patients, but their sexual orientation was not addressed as something to be changed. There was little, if any, education for staff about sexual orientation or sexuality.
When I met Jay at Kings View Hospital, where we were employed, we were both dating other people fairly seriously. Jay and I soon found that we had many common interests and enjoyed doing many things together. We became good friends. Several years after we met, the serious dating relationships we each had with others ended. I began to seriously evaluate what I wanted in a marriage partner. My work in psychiatric nursing and observations of couples that I admired for a good relationship helped me see that much of what I hoped for was available in my relationship with Jay.
As I was reflecting on this awareness, I was surprised to receive a letter from him, which clearly indicated that he was also realizing that our relationship could be more than just friendship. He was attending graduate school in Pennsylvania at that time. We had corresponded occasionally after he left California. After an intensive exchange of letters for several months and a visit together, we decided to marry a few months later. I had been concerned about some of his feminine characteristics, but gradually these became less objectionable. Our mutual friends were very affirming of our decision to marry. Some even shared that they wondered what took us so long to recognize that we belonged together!
Early in the first year of our marriage, I knew that my sexual attractions to men had not gone away and were not going to. I gradually told Ruth about my homosexual feelings, and she tried to understand. As a result I began to be very concerned about being a good father; consequently, we decided not to have children, even though we both are very fond of children. Instead, we have chosen to enjoy the many nieces and nephews our siblings share with us.
Ironically, it was during our first year of marriage that my gaydar began kicking in. I began picking up signals from other gay men. Why this did not happen before marriage, I do not know. Subsequently, I occasionally acted on the signals. This eventually led Ruth to ask questions which I answered truthfully, and I agreed to see a psychiatrist. He helped me to become more comfortable with myself. I soon realized that I was not going to change my orientation.
After that period of counseling, I occasionally acted on my feelings, and I again sought counseling. This time I made an appointment with a psychologist from our church. We met only a few times, but he, too, worked with me to become accepting of who I am. In addition, he talked with Ruth and helped her view these events less painfully. After this counseling, Ruth and I talked about whether or not to stay together in our marriage.
This psychologist was the person who first told me about BMC (Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns). He had recently learned about this organization. I promptly phoned Martin Rock, the founder of BMC, took a day off work, and drove to Lancaster County, a few hours away, to meet and talk with him. This was in January 1977. I have been involved with BMC ever since.
Shortly before this, some friends gave us a house gift subscription to the magazine, Faith at Work. One issue had a small ad from Kirkridge, a Christian retreat and study center in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, for their first Gay and Christian conference. We decided to go. We were scared, not knowing what to expect. This was in May 1977. We were the only married couple there, but I was NOT the only married man. The group composition was about one-third clergy, primarily from the main line protestant denominations and the Catholic Church. There were only six women, including the mother of a lesbian and Ruth. Father John McNeil, a Jesuit priest at the time, was one of the resource persons. His book, The Church and the Homosexual, had just been published. We found his book very helpful in understanding the clobber passages in the Bible and we still highly recommend it. The retreat was extremely helpful to us. We learned that couples such as us are described as mixed orientation marriages.
Although we can talk about this time rather calmly now, it was a very painful and difficult time for both of us. I think the Kirkridge conference was one of the major turning points to help us be more understanding and accepting of the impact that my orientation was having on our relationship.
It was also about this time that I came out to a gay graduate student I learned to know in the sociology department where I worked at Penn State University. He organized a men's lunch group on campus to provide an opportunity to learn to know other gay and bisexual men, some of whom were also married. It was a great thing for me. I was not alone. He also organized a group for wives that Ruth participated in.
Ruth learned from a friend about “Lifespring”, a human potential education program, and decided to attend it. This program helped her to live more comfortably and confidently in her interpersonal relationships. With her encouragement, I also took the “Lifespring” courses and they had a major influence in my life. I faced myself as I never had before, both the positive and the negative, and was able to accept both in my life. I became a changed person
Prior to that, I was a very cynical person. After the “Lifespring” experience I was not the cynic I had been. I was able to accept others where they were more easily, and I became more concerned about and aware of what was going on in other people's lives. I was able to accept my sexuality. It was such a freeing experience. The “Lifespring” events were the safest places I had ever experienced. While we had told a few close friends about me, after “Lifespring” it was easier for me to do so.
When we married, I had not heard the word bisexual, much less, mixed orientation marriage, so I did not know such marriages existed. Both of us were serious about our commitment to live as faithful Christians and to marry for life. I assumed that our love could handle any concerns! I soon learned that my assumption would have some big unexpected challenges. We were not long into our marriage when Jay shared with me that he still had fantasies about having homosexual sex. I did not know how to respond except to continue to love, try to understand, and hope the fantasies would not interfere too much with our life. I certainly had no understanding of the implications of this for our relationship. We had no idea what to do.
About the time we were making the decision not to have children, I was offered an opportunity to begin a career change to nursing administration as Director of Nursing at our community hospital. I continued to work in nursing leadership positions until I retired from full time work in the fall of 2000. Jay's support and encouragement for me in these challenging, fulfilling, and sometimes difficult positions, has strengthened our marriage. My work in nursing leadership has also contributed to my increased confidence to speak out for justice in the church.
Fortunately, Jay's work in administration at the University gave him the opportunity to learn to know gay individuals and discover more about gay orientation. He shared information with me as he learned it and thus furthered my education. We also learned to know some other married gay men and their wives. The support group for wives of gay men was very meaningful to me. It was helpful to hear each other's stories and to learn more about this complex issue. While we did not find any solutions, it was reassuring to know that we were not alone.
During this time we were somewhat aware that the church viewed homosexuality as being sinful. But why? If it was wrong, why was it so much a part of one's being? Why did homosexual persons report that from as far back as they could remember they were attracted to persons of the same gender? What truly is sin?
Jay and I prayed about his orientation, but soon decided that prayer was useless to bring about any change. Then I learned about Troy Perry's book, The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay. It was enlightening and reassuring to learn that a Christian gay man had experienced God's love and grace in his life. His story was convincing and moving. It was a big first step on my journey to eventually believe that the Church has chosen to misinterpret the Bible on this subject.
Another step was reading the stories by Bible translators about scripture concepts or passages difficult to translate. It is quite possible that some of our scriptures have not been translated or understood accurately, given our limited knowledge of the culture and word meanings of that day. This seems to be especially true regarding the few passages now used to condemn homosexuality, which are meager in comparison to other concerns like greed, love of money, selfishness, abuse of power, wrath, and gluttony.
During these years we experienced some difficult times in our marriage and wondered if we could live with Jay's continuing homosexual attractions. At one point we seriously considered whether to stay married or to separate. However, we recognized that our love for each other was strong and that our marriage provided much happiness and satisfaction to both of us. Jay made it clear, emotionally and by his behavior, that his commitment is to me and to our marriage, and that he is not interested in having a gay partner. This commitment has continued.
We concluded that we did not have a good reason to give up our marriage and that we had many good reasons to stay together! We continue to be happy with this decision. Both of us are free to discuss and question each other about any issue. This has helped us learn from and build trust in each other.
An important source of support and information came from the gay and lesbian friends we learned to know through BMC. In the 1980s I was invited to be the first non-gay member of the BMC board. This service on the Board with many fine committed Christian gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons gave me a very special and welcome opportunity to develop good friendships with them. It also put me in touch with the terrible pain that many of these persons experience as they seek to accept and treasure their orientation as a valid part of God's creation. The pain is often intensified by the rejection they experience from persons who are significant to them and by exclusion from their faith communities.
Serving as a board member was a special privilege. It gave me a greater understanding and desire to work to ease the pain that many GLBT individuals experience as they come out to themselves and to others. I treasure the board service for opening a very large window to a world I was struggling to understand and have found very fulfilling to be part of.
Jay and Ruth
Over the years we have met a number of mixed orientation couples, often through BMC or mutual friends. Many of these couples eventually decided not to stay together after the gay, lesbian, or bisexual partner learned about and acknowledged his or her orientation. We did meet a few couples that, like us, want to stay in their marriage. Our support of each other has been very satisfying and important.
We quickly learned that each mixed orientation couple is different and will have their own way to work on their relationship. Sharing our story with other couples does not necessarily help them know what to do about their marriage, but sharing our stories has often been comforting. It always helps to know we are not alone
We have become more courageous to speak up about the injustices we see in the Church and in society toward GLBT individuals. We share our story humbly because we believe others can benefit from it. We believe we have been able to stay together by the grace of God and are very grateful for the life and love we share. We feel very cared for and supported by our loving Creator God and our church friends.