The Westchester Closet
Still alive and well, and full—of married “straight” people
Married Looking to Service - 35 (Northern Westchester)
Cute married guy looking to service a...buddy at my place this afternoon. Looks not so important…other married guys welcome.
Older Married Men Into Intimacy - 45 (Westchester)
I am into older married men who are into intimacy with another married guy. Let me do to you what your wife doesn’t. Please give me a detailed description of yourself and what you are into. I cannot host! Serious replies only.
Married, looking - 30 (White Plains)
Hey, 6 foot, 150, brown hair and eyes in downtown White Plains. Wife is out of town, looking to experiment. Into my age or younger, fit, preppy, and fun. Hit me up with some pics.
MWM hosting Monday afternoon - 53 (Briarcliff Manor)
Tall, married, discreet looking for versatile guy to come over Monday afternoon for kissing...I am a very masculine guy, but am also very sensual and passionate. No kissing = no interest on my part.
Check out Craigslist any day of the week, and you will see dozens of personal ads for “men seeking men” in Westchester. Many of the ads are from men who are married… to women.
This publicly straight, privately gay phenomenon is hardly unique to Westchester. There are, of course, more such postings in Manhattan on Craigslist on a daily basis than there are for Westchester.
“It’s amazing how many white, professional, married dudes are out there,” says Jim*, who lives and works in Westchester. “One time, about ten years ago, I was at a cruising spot, and my friend’s father was down there.”
Like all of the closeted people interviewed for this article, Jim answered the Craigslist ad Westchester Magazine posted seeking to interview local married men who have sex with other men. And, like everyone we spoke with, he asked to be anonymous. Most of them had never told anyone about their experience. Their silence and the silence of many others like them makes it hard to quantify them anywhere. “It’s been a challenge for all research of sexual orientation to study scientifically,” admits Chris Kraft, PhD, co-director of Clinical Services of the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “A lot of it has been field work and anecdotal evidence.”
Jim, who lives and works in Southern Westchester, is 37 and has been married for 13 years. He and his wife have two young children. He has never cheated on his wife—with another woman. “I can’t explain it to you,” he says, “but that seems more wrong for some reason.” Cheating on her with men? “It is purely sexual.” He says sleeping with men is less “an attraction than a compulsion.”
Jim used to go to male cruising spots until he heard about Craigslist. “I was surprised by all the activity on the site,” he says. Now, about once every month or two, he meets up with other men he has found on the site. Jim says he loves his wife and “would love to be married to her for the rest of my life. We enjoy each other’s company, and have a reasonably normal sex life.” Jim admits that he’d be “devastated if she found out. I do enjoy being with men while it happens. I don’t enjoy the potential consequences—the impact on my wife and all that stuff. I erase any traces of my online activities, but there’s always, in the back of my mind, the ‘what if?’”
Jim says he also occasionally worries about HIV and other STDs. “It’s just another one of those things that’s in the back of my mind, like getting caught, beat-up, or arrested. But I’m responding to age-appropriate-type people, and trying to minimize my risk,” he says.
Will they ever come out?
Most of the men interviewed had no interest in leaving their wives. Jim says he could never picture himself in a relationship with another man. “I’ve thought about it a lot,” he says, “but I can’t see myself hanging out with another guy—not in a relationship way. There’s never been a bit of love involved.”
Peter, who lives in Northern Westchester and has been married for 30 years, says he’s always been attracted to men, but first acted on it five years ago, after his sex life with his wife had diminished to nearly non-existent. “I think many men in my age group want sex and women don’t,” he says. But his relationship with men is more than just sexual. “I think I have a need for male bonding,” he says. He has men he meets up with every month from Craigslist—some of whom he meets up with regularly. “The ease and comfort we have with each other is different than I have with women. We know to ask and be blunt.” Like Jim, Peter identifies as bisexual. He says he couldn’t see having a relationship with a man, because of family pressure. “I come from a conservative, old-school background,” he says.
Rob, 48, says bisexuality is the first step towards gayhood. “Most married men go through a stage where they think they’re bisexual. Then a large percent realize they’re not bisexual—they’re gay,” says Rob, who has attended New York City’s Married Men’s Support Group, which is held at the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. Westchester has no equivalent group. But Kraft says not all people searching for sex with men on Craigslist are gay or bisexual. Sexual desire and behavior, he maintains, are not always linked. “Sexual attraction and arousal are very different than behavior. Attraction and what actually makes someone get aroused isn’t so fluid, but what people can do behaviorally is all over the map.”
Jeremy Lees, facilitator of the Married Men’s Support Group, says he thinks the rate of men who are attracted to men but married to women is probably in line with the national statistics about homosexuality. “I would say it’s more common than people think. But the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t seem to be interested in finding this out.”
Lees is in one of those marriages, but his is somewhat unusual, in that, after coming out to his wife in 1983, the couple decided to stay together; they credit finding a good therapist to help them work through his revelation. “Every marriage is different. For my wife and me, we decided that, with our love, we could get our platonic needs satisfied within the marriage without having to go outside of it. Each partner has to say, ‘This is what I want. Can we negotiate that within the marriage?’ I’m fairly unusual—I don’t need to be in an emotionally intimate relationship with another man—and my wife has a low sex drive, for whatever reason.”
Lees says that men he sees eventually do get caught, “whether inadvertently or purposely. My own observation is that, usually, the guy is ‘careless’—it was eating away at him, and he grew tired of trying to hide it.” A bereavement counselor by trade, Lees says most married men are eventually happier after coming out. “I tell them, ‘This is a grieving process.’ Anger is very frequently felt by the wives; you see all of that emotional turmoil going on. You have to be comfortable with who you are. Trying to be something you’re not is slow suicide. Usually, once they have come out they’re in a better place emotionally.”
One person we spoke to on Craigslist lives in Southern Westchester, where he owns a business. “I’m the last person you’d think is a cross-dresser,” Steven says. But on Craigslist Steven is “Stephanie,” who has felt like a woman since he was eight years old.
“I’ve always had a fascination with women’s stuff,” he says. “I’d buy stuff, and I’d throw it away. It was sick. My wife kind of knows I cross-dress a little bit. As far as she’s concerned, I barely ever do it—she thinks I just dress alone in the house. But that gets really old in a hurry.”
Although he assumed that he’d stop cross-dressing when he got married, he continued, first dressing up alone at home, then meeting other people, first in AOL chat rooms, then on Craigslist. At first, he had no interest in sex with men; he wasn’t attracted to them. “Just wearing the panties or a little lipstick made me feel good enough,” he says. But with time, he also found that he wanted to have “sex with men, dressed as ‘Stephanie.’ That’s how some women please a man. I want that.” Because his body is not completely shaved, he says, it limits the number of people interested in him. So he hooks up with other closeted cross-dressers. Although he desires to be a woman, Steven says he has no interest in living as a woman full-time, particularly after attending a gathering of transgender women in Dutchess County. “Some of them look better than women do. But they weren’t any happier. Many had given up lives, families, and jobs just to go from Jack to Jane. Why go through all of that if you’re not going to be any happier? Why would I risk losing my family and my wife and my kids for that?”
And though he says he loves his wife, he admits that, even if she accepted his cross-dressing, he’d still want to be with men. “To be female to me means to be accepted by others besides my wife—to be taken as a female with a male.”
What about closeted women?
Jennifer, 34, has been married for seven years and, last summer, sought out women on Craigslist. She says she sees herself eventually being in a relationship with a woman. “I’m having an affair with a woman, and I think it’s better than my relationship with my husband.”
While there are a few closeted women searching on Craigslist, Kraft notes that they are less likely to search on the Internet, and thus more difficult to find and quantify. “From what we know about men’s and women’s sexuality, men want to have as much sex as possible,” he says. “Women searching for a woman usually aren’t doing so out of sheer sexual desire—they are more likely wanting to find a longer-term partner.” Besides, he notes, a closeted woman is more likely to employ non-Internet options, such as approaching a woman that she knows or suspects to be gay.
And men are much more accepting of their wives’ desire to have sex with a woman than a woman is of her husband’s desire to have sex with a man. A study of how accepting college students are of cheating was released by the University of Texas at Austin in January. In the study, 50 percent of male students said they would continue to date a partner who had had a homosexual affair while 22 percent would continue if a girlfriend had had a heterosexual affair—and 28 percent of the female students said they’d continue to date a boyfriend who had had a heterosexual affair while 21 percent would continue if their boyfriend had had a homosexual affair.
Straight Spouse Network
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, all of those interviewed for this article said they take great pains to hide their homosexual dalliances from their spouses, but, of course, there are no guarantees. Cellphones and the Internet have made keeping secrets more difficult. And many spouses often suspect that something is terribly wrong.
Amity Pierce Buxton was raised in Bronxville and was married to a man for 23 years before she found out he was gay. “He had become more and more distant,” recalls Pierce Buxton. “I finally suggested that I move out, because I didn’t want to live with a stone wall. I had noticed his changing wardrobe—wearing less-conservative clothing. I later found out that he had a gay lover when he met me and had jilted that lover to marry me.”
Pierce Buxton says her first reaction was “relief” that her husband’s distance wasn’t her fault. She says most straight spouses go through stages of grief. “The major emotions are shock, devastation, and then anger for feeling that you’re living someone else’s lie. Then there’s the fear: ‘No one will ever want me.’ ‘What will happen to the kids?’ ‘Will I have AIDS?’ And then comes the grief. We, just like our husbands and wives, suffer a crisis of identity.”
In 1991, Pierce Buxton founded the Straight Spouse Network in California, where she was living, to connect to others in her situation. “We are overlooked,” says Pierce Buxton, who now is remarried and lives in Oakland, California. Her nonprofit support group has since expanded internationally and maintains a website (straightspouse.org); the Westchester chapter holds meetings in Scarsdale.
“We have people at various stages of discovery and disclosure,” notes Sarah, a long-time Straight Spouse Network member and the Westchester chapter’s spokesperson. “Some families divorce immediately. Others stay together, open their marriages, or find their ways together. We’re there to support them, whatever they decide to do.”
According to Pierce Buxton, two million gay and lesbian Americans have reported having had previous heterosexual marriages. She estimates that it takes about six years for straight spouses to move on with their lives. She says about a third of the marriages break up right away, a third last for a year or two, and a third choose to stay together; half of that third are still together after three years. “Once they accept what happened, they can move on and reconfigure their lives,” she says.
With gay rights becoming more accepted, and gay men and women less likely to feel the pressure to conform, Sarah hopes that their support group outlives its necessity. However, she is doubtful. “We’re very in favor of everyone having the right to marry,” she notes. “But there may always be gays who will still marry people of the opposite gender.”