I am gay and have been living a terrible lie

I have been married to a beautiful woman for the past 30 years and I can’t bring myself to tell her

PROBLEM: I am in my early 50s and have been married to a beautiful woman for the past 30 years. I have just started to realise the truth of my situation. I have been living a terrible lie all these years that is truly unspeakable, that I am gay.

Of course, I knew this as a young man, but growing up then it did not seem an option I could have taken, so I decided to have a girlfriend instead, like all my mates. Things progressed from there, and we married young, again as most people around me were doing.

Things have only started to come into perspective for me about these years as we were completely shocked when our youngest child told my wife and me that he was gay, just as he was leaving to take up a course in college.

Of course, we were going through the shock of all this but really what was happening for me at the time was that I was no longer able to maintain my denial, at least to myself. I have no idea what to do from here and I know I just could not tell my wife.

ADVICE: It sounds like you are in shock, as if all that denial has finally come to the surface and you are faced with the truth of your sexuality and your life. My guess is that you and your wife are open to your son’s sexuality, and it is a very good thing that he felt able to tell you before he embarked on his life in college.

He will be very supported in college, with societies, friends and students union all providing years of experience and advocacy for same-sex life. Hopefully he will also get a chance to have relationships in the open, without any hidden aspects, and his life can be authentic and he can be loved wholly for who he is. Student counselling will be available to him should he find he needs psychological support, and, at the very least, he can have three to four years of enjoying who he is and developing his potential.

No doubt you are grateful for the opportunities afforded your son but as he moves away from family, you are left with the truth of your own situation. For many gay people, 25-30 years ago was a very difficult time: Aids was rampant and Ireland was only beginning to open up to acceptance of non-straight possibilities.

If it was discovered that someone was gay, their employment or livelihood could have been at risk and whole communities might have rejected the gay person. So many people had little choice but to submerge their sexuality and join the heterosexual norm of the time.

Things have changed considerably, and now it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, and the right to express sexuality is seen as a human right. This is now the world in which you live. Do you have the same rights as your son; to live authentically and be fully accepted for who you are?

Of course, your wife also has rights, and if you are to disclose your sexuality to her it will probably shock her to the core – or perhaps she has some inclination from the years of intimacy or non-intimacy you have had.

Many couples are facing the same issues you are, as the possibility of expressing varied types of sexuality is opening up in society. You do not know what the outcome is before engaging in truthful conversations. You could stay together with an agreement regarding other sexual relationships, you could separate but jointly parent, with friendship as your bond, or you could choose to continue as you are.

The difficulty now is that you are faced with choosing to continue with the dishonesty, and you can no longer operate from denial.

There are consequences to living your intimate and private life in a pretend manner; often depression and anxiety are an outcome, and your wife might blame herself for the downturn in the relationship. Surely you owe it to both yourself and your wife to take the courageous step of being honest. Your son has shown you the way to do this and you can follow his direction.

Have faith in what you have built together; the principles of love, fairness and authenticity are worth standing up for. Both you and your wife will need lots of support, and this is readily available: your GP should be able to recommend counselling, and gay organisations will have recommendations, experience and advice to offer.

You both have a lot of life to live and you both deserve to do that with integrity.

LGBT helpline 1890-929539