Brokeback Marriage

You are a happily married wife and mother when suddenly you find yourself attracted to … another woman? It happens more often than you think, which is why one Chestnut Hill therapist is busier than ever

The reason, according to Fleisher, is the depth of intimacy women are capable of sharing. “It can be as powerful as an addictive drug,” she says. “Women tend to be more intuitive, nurturing, in tune with and willing to share feelings. Imagine these qualities free-flowing back and forth. Now add to that someone who can navigate your body almost as well as you can.” It’s a heady combo, she says.

WHEN DANA TOLD her husband, he was devastated. Had everything been a lie? He wanted to know. No, she explained — she still loved him, the kids, and their old life, but she could never go back. Her boys took it surprisingly well, though the youngest is angry with her for leaving his father. For months, Dana vacillated between returning home to her family (she and her husband agreed not to uproot the boys) and trying to live an honest life. She chose the latter, but hasn’t filed for divorce. “The most excruciating part is feeling like I’m a terrible mom,” she says. “A divorce is hard enough. Then you add this element. How much damage am I going to do?”

It’s an issue Fleisher sees repeatedly. Women tend to put their families’ needs first, and feel selfish if they don’t. But she tells her clients: “When you’re being your true self, when you’re feeling fulfilled, everyone benefits. You’re a better parent, partner, friend.”

Considering the complex issues and the number of gay, married women out there, the conspicuous lack of support for them — outside of Fleisher — is a mystery. Ample support groups exist for married gay men, and unlike women, men avoid support groups like the plague. It may be that in the interest of protecting their families, mothers don’t go looking — except late at night, on a secure computer, when everyone’s asleep.

If they’re lucky, they find Fleisher’s site,, or her Internet message board, featuring links to the day’s discussions: “How do you know?” “When to tell H [husband]?” “Married and scared to lose my children” — a sad reality in some places. “Are you staying in a marriage because of financial security?” One can pore over the personal stories and find solace, advice, camaraderie. Those who are “stuck” speak of spiraling depression. Those who’ve left mourn the loss of former lives and dreams. They discuss relationships, the logistics of female orgasm, and not being readily accepted into the lesbian community, where they’re seen as married women out for a fling. Fleisher’s name pops up frequently: “Thank God for Joanne.” “Check with Joanne.” “Joanne’s book says … ”

1 2 3 4 5< Previous Next >View as One Page

Around The Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • Colette
  • Anonymous

    As a husband of a woman who came out in her 50s i can tell you that it is a devastating experience to discover that your life as you knew it has changed completely overnight. I would urge woman to be as honest as possible and to deal with their husband;s before they enter into affairs. The more honest and understanding they can be the friendlier the process of divorce and coparenting. For spouses of gay women I would recommend that they go to for support. It isn’t only the gay spouse who needs help with this crisis although that side of the story tend to be more attractive to journalists.

  • Janet

    I’m the straight ex wife of a closeted gay man, & I don’t think he deliberately lied, but since he lied to himself so well, he lied to me. Straight Spouse Network has been a real help. I just don’t understand how someone can go their whole life and not know who they are. And I got real tired real fast of being told that I was the crazy one because “everyone is a little gay”. I call that kind of thing being Kinsified. I do not understand why gay sexuality is celebrated while mine and the sexuality of straight husbands I know is eviscerated in counseling, sneered at, laughed at, and blamed. Now this appears to be “glamourous” and kids think is is no big deal, but when they get married, they find out that it is more than any of these so called open minded people will let anyone talk about. Why is there never any emphasis in these coming out stories on the true effect on the husband? Is the last word on being married to a lesbian a Howard Stern joke?

  • n/a

    Finally an article which covers this sensitive topic without judgement or drama. Joanne and basically saved my sanity. Robyn, Thank you for sharing Dana’s story and acknowledging Joanne Fleisher’s good work.

  • Maureen

    It is painful for everyone when a married person comes out. The closeted person feels guilty, the left spouse feels betrayed and rejected, the children feel abandoned and confused. I hope that the responsible media begin to cover the whole story.

  • Geoff

    Doesn’t the possibility exist that they were straight at some point an sexuality isn’t completely DNA-based?

  • Andrea

    Amazing, how completely accurate this article is. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    It was so unacceptable to be gay back in the 80’s that it could be completely repressed. As a middle-aged married mother I can tell you that it is not easy to live your life in denial; and frankly, it’s kind of shocking when you come to realize that you have. I’ve made a life with my husband of 20+ years but in the introspection that one is wont to do with age, I’ve come to realize that I am gay. I love my husband very much but am not “in love” with him. What kind of life do I choose to live going forward? What will this realization do to my kids? Will everything feel like a lie to them? It really is not easy.

  • Kathy

    These woman are no different than Tiger Woods. Cheating, is cheating.

  • JP

    How can you compare them to Tiger? Tiger has money and power. Which can not and will never buy you the love of another and certainly does not give you the joy of being a father either. Because the maid changes the diapers 24/7. Instead Tiger has his bithches. Which makes that way different then a woman or a man who have struggled to pay the bills, make a good life for their kids. And, during that time tried to keep an intimiate relationship. Some survive, some stay stuck, and others realize that they are missing something. And, yes, maybe they should just divorce first before they cheat. But, honestly, who knows what makes you happy until you try it or it smacks you right in the face one day. Another person, right in front of you, making you laugh, making you feel things you haven’t felt in years. Another individual fulfilling all those needs. Happiness is what you make it. And, everyone has a right to it, even if it causes you to make a few mistakes along the way.