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OutServe Magazine | October 20, 2013

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He Came Out, So I Went In

He Came Out, So I Went In

One straight military spouse’s tale of hope

By Meredith Simpson

Everyone has a story to tell. My story became a tale of adventure when I married a Marine almost nine years ago. When we met, I didn’t know what a Marine did. I had no military background, no military experience, and no military affiliations. Ignorance was bliss, and I used that bliss to carry me through three deployments, five household moves and numerous family separations for training. My family expanded to include my Marine Corps family—those other military spouses who became close through shared adversity. I experienced the birth of my twins, the death of friends’ husbands in war, numerous holidays, and the challenges of deployment, all with these Marine friends at my side. I embraced the military lifestyle, and it embraced me. I gained friends, a community, and an identity tied closely to the traditions and customs of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Eighteen months ago, I was a Marine wife who had just moved her family across country (again) at the request of the Marine Corps. I busied myself plugging into my base housing neighborhood, my husband’s unit and various community groups. I started volunteering on base, continued wrangling kids as a stay-at-home Mom, supported other families as the commanding officer’s spouse during the deployment work-up—all while still unpacking boxes. Little did I know that the life I was leading was a lie. 

Everyone has a story to tell, but part of mine was written for me.

After we moved and my husband assumed command of an infantry company preparing for deployment, things became strained between us. I chalked the tension up to the long nights, the month-long training, and all of the rigors of moving. I knew things were off, but I had no clue what was about to hit me. On a late October evening in 2010, my husband of almost eight years told me he is gay. I was totally blindsided. I remember sitting on my couch, looking up at the pictures on the wall—engagement, wedding, family. Things that normally made sense had just been turned upside down. Nothing was clear, nothing made sense, and nothing was true. I had no clue who the man I married really was, what my marriage really meant, or where I was in all of it. I kept wondering where I had been and how I had missed this. That night was a blur, as were the following days and weeks. The tears were blinding, and the fear was paralyzing. I slowly realized that when he came out of the closet, I went in.

I found myself trapped in the closet, wondering who I was going to let in and how I could protect those who were there with me. One thing was clear: my family was still MY family. Life was changing, but my parenting style, my family focus, and my love for my kids was not. My twins were four years old at the time and hadn’t asked for any of this. As far as they knew, life was no different, and I wanted to keep it that way as long as I could. I was determined not let homosexuality, the Marine Corps, or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” make my children collateral damage.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was still in effect and I lived most days in fear. I was afraid of someone finding out, afraid of a court martial, afraid of judgment, afraid of failure. How was I supposed to advocate for my kids if I couldn’t even talk about what was happening in my life? It seemed that everywhere I turned, I found death. Death of my friend, death of the man I thought I married, death of my marriage, death of my family, and my own death as a military spouse. My heart ached from the grief, but my children deserved more. They deserved hope above the grief. I began to approach our marriage as a business, where our product was happy, healthy children.

We agreed that my husband’s choices or lifestyle would not change the life that our children enjoyed. This meant that it was business as usual during the week. The long hours of an infantry company commander preparing for deployment meant that we weren’t accustomed to family dinners during the week. Friday nights, when possible, were our nights as a family. After the kids were in bed, we often sat and talked about what was next, how we would eventually end our marriage, where the kids and I would live, and what exactly we would share with the kids about what was happening in our family. Saturday mornings were filled with kids’ sports and family outings. Once the kids fell asleep during Saturday naps, he left until Monday. We spent Thanksgiving with 35 of our neighbors, Christmas in our home with my mother visiting, and we prepared for a February deployment—all with a big pink elephant in the room that only we saw.

We agreed to keep things quiet during the deployment, especially in light of the pending repeal of DADT. While he deployed, the kids and I stayed in California. They did what normal four-year-old military children did:  school, play, and sleep. I worked, parented and tried to heal. All was well until parts of “my story” appeared right here in this magazine. When I read my husband’s portrayal of our life, it felt like I was walking around with my insides on the outside. After the article was published, people knew things about me, very personal things, which I didn’t even know about myself. Despite the hurt and fear, this was when I knew that I could no longer do this alone.

September 20, 2011, was no different for me than most other Wednesdays. I hardly noticed the repeal until my husband returned from deployment, returned to work, and came out to his peers and his Marines. The repeal of DADT didn’t open doors for me. In fact, it closed them because it was, in many ways, the beginning of the end. It meant that the lies could finally stop. No more lying about who he was, which meant no more lying about who we were. It meant I could finally take deep breaths because I no longer lived in fear that he would be separated for being a gay Marine. I fought back lots of tears as I noticed people avoided me at school pickup. Shortly after he came out at work, I walked up on a conversation at the neighborhood playground where two acquaintances were talking about the “gay company commander.” They couldn’t believe what they heard and that he supposedly lived in their neighborhood. They were talking about the novelty of a gay Marine, but they had no idea they were talking about my family.

It is amazing how falling apart naturally lends itself to putting oneself back together. While I didn’t see this opportunity in the beginning, it became the hope I clung to as I began to heal. I had no clue, initially, how far I would actually fall. The early days of my husband’s coming out experience were all about his experience, his emotions, his plans and his future. I felt like I was nowhere in that experience, and I quickly lost my voice. Looking back, I’m glad I lost my voice because there is no telling what I would have said. Truth is, I didn’t know what to say, but I knew that, despite the hurt and anger, there had to be something good in all of this. The silence forced me to turn inward, to start an introspective journey towards becoming whole again. While this approach won’t work for everyone, it worked wonders for me. I spent a lot of time writing in a journal, reading others’ stories and identifying with empowering quotes. I began to see that the options were limitless when it came to who I wanted to put back into my life, where I wanted my life to go, and how I wanted to get there. I learned to make the most of the situation, and that gave me hope when I needed it most.

One of my biggest hurdles was fear. I was afraid of the ‘what ifs’, the ‘might happens’ and the one-in-a-million odds. I was afraid the side-effects of discovering I had a gay husband were worse than the actual discovery. In my mind, there was no solid ground except for the deep love I felt for my kids and my intense need to protect them. I felt like a baby learning to walk who just couldn’t let go of her parent’s hands. Yet, I also knew that forward progress was a sign of hope and healing, so I timidly learned to walk again. With my kids in mind, I began to proactively pursue alternative divorce options.

The last thing I wanted to do was drag my kids through a messy divorce, a heated custody battle or court appearances. I also knew that I did not want a judge (read: a stranger) telling me how my kids were going to be raised. This was my family, and while it wasn’t normal to most people, it was still mine. I read everything I could get my hands on and spent countless hours researching the collaborative divorce process. I finally approached my husband about it, and he agreed to proceed. We did not hire attorneys or ever appear before a judge. We discussed our priorities for our children as they came to us, sometimes via internet chat, sometimes via phone, and sometimes over a bottle of wine after the kids went to bed. It was harder than expected to condense almost nine years of marriage and forecast almost fifteen years of childrearing into a dollar amount. All of the issues are emotional, but even the difficult ones like custody and visitation were discussed and resolved amicably. We were a business after all, and our product’s success was paramount to our personal desires.

After our discussions, I wrote up the marital separation agreement, filed the motions and orders with the court and made an appointment with a mediator. After the mediator checked our terms and re-wrote them in legalese, we spent one morning at the courthouse together to file the paperwork. A couple of hours, tons of copies, a book of stamps and some deep breaths later, I filed the paperwork and prayed that it all met the state minimums. And so began the waiting game. When the envelopes came back through the mail with the giant red stamp saying ‘judgment filed,’ I breathed a sigh of relief and choked back some tears. I didn’t have a law degree or any experience writing a divorce, but I am a friend and a mother who knew that collaborative mediation was the best for my family.

As I write this today, I am 1,500 miles from my old life. There are parts of my life that made the move with me, and parts that did not. I will always be thankful to the Marine Corps for sponsoring the adventure of the past nine years. The Corps taught me that I really can pack up and move anywhere, and bloom wherever I am planted. During deployments, the Corps simultaneously nurtured my sense of independence and exposed my vulnerable emotions. It provided me an opportunity to serve my community, show my pride in our service members, and establish forever friends. The first few bars of the National Anthem or the Marine’s Hymn will forever make me swell with pride and look back with fond memories of my time as a Marine spouse.

Eighteen months ago, I had no idea how quickly my life would change. I felt alone, afraid and ashamed. The circumstances may be a little different, but I pray that my story reaches someone else going through a similar process. You are not alone, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and hope is hiding somewhere in this big mess. I genuinely hope that I am a dying breed and that there won’t be many more straight military spouses of LGB service members. The repeal of DADT provides hope for openly gay service members, but it also prevents the hurt and brokenness for straight spouses. To put it bluntly, if you are gay or think you might be gay, re-read this story before you consider marrying a straight spouse. Think about him or her and think about your future children. While I wouldn’t change this part of my life, I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone. Part of my story was written for me, but I’m working on the next chapter all by myself. My kids and I have moved out of the state, into a new home, and I’ve started a new job. We’re enjoying a soft landing into our new life and our new future. I’m still defining ‘normal’ while healing and nurturing our children, but I am confident that hope lies on the next page of the story of my life.

Meredith Simpson is the former spouse of Marine Capt. and OutServe Editor Neal Simpson. She currently lives in Texas with their children, where she works for a university teaching leadership development while enjoying the next chapter of her life.