I Think My Husband Might Be Gay

Dr. Olson:

My best friend recently told me that she thinks my husband might be gay. My initial reaction was to tell her she’s crazy and to mind her own business. But now that I’ve had some time to think about it, I wonder if she could be right. I’ve seen the signs for some time but always made excuses for Daniel since he’s a good husband and great father to our kids. What’s the best way to bring up the subject with him? Should I be blunt and just ask him if he’s gay?

If you ask your husband directly if he’s gay, he might automatically deny it, just as you initially denied the possibility when your friend suggested it. Then you’d be left wondering if he’s being truthful—either with you or with himself. 

A better question might be whether he’s attracted to men, whether he’s ever fantasized about being with a man, or whether he’s ever had sex with a man. That is, if you want to get to the truth, ask about his behavior instead of his sexual identity.

Recently on Voices, the Straight Spouse Network podcast, host Kristin Kalbli interviewed Dr. David Malebranche for the excellent episode “What’s the Difference? Men Who Have Sex with Men vs. Gay.” I highly recommend that you listen to it. It’s such a thoughtful and interesting discussion of the differences between same-sex behavior and gay identity.

Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure I’m the person Kristin mentioned in this episode who suggested she’d asked her husband the wrong question when she asked, “Are you gay?” and that a more appropriate question might have been, “Have you ever had sex with a man?”

The question of gay identity is very complex. For example, when the evening news has a segment on PRIDE parades, it typically shows three things: young men in Speedos on a float blowing bubbles, an outrageous drag queen, and “Dykes on Bikes.” Many men who are questioning their sexuality have these stereotypes planted firmly in their minds and they think, “I’m not like them!” Or they say, “I am not a part of that scene,” and they aren’t.

What they don’t realize is that stereotypes are always true for some but never true for all, and their limited exposure to the diversity within the LGBT community has never challenged such stereotypes.

So if you ask your husband, “Are you gay?” before he’s dealt with the stigma and his internalized homophobia, he will likely say no. I believe that if you want a true answer, you are better off asking about behavior (attraction, fantasy) and not about identity. Developing a gay identity can be painfully slow, and for some, it just never happens.