Brokeback Mountain isn’t that far away.

Pete, a 45-year-old financial consultant in Chicago, recalls how, more than a decade ago, he became distant from his wife.

“I began to have these feelings and felt unable to communicate them to her, knowing that could be the end of our relationship,” Pete says. “We were both at a point that it was difficult to live day to day until we discussed this.”

For as scared and confused as he was, Pete was able to be the one to tell his wife.

Just as there’s support for people coming out to parents and friends, there’s support for people coming out to spouses. Through Web searches, Pete found M Group, a support network in Oak Park for married gay and bisexual men.

“I was 35 years old the first time I went to the meeting in Oak Park,” says Pete, who is now involved in several gay support groups. “Walking into that meeting there was fear that someone there might know me. But I had been in a panic and knew that I needed to address what I was feeling somehow.”

Husbands who find M Group range in age from their 20s to their 70s. Some are working to preserve their marriages. Others are working to separate or divorce peacefully. Many share Pete’s story:

“I did the things that societal pressures led you to do: go to college, get a degree, land a good job, get married, have a couple of kids, live in the suburbs,” says Pete, who has two children.

“That was the track I was absolutely on, and I had enjoyed it. I ignored any gay inclinations or feelings I had had. I simply suppressed them, thinking that I was the most normal person out there and everyone must feel this way.”

When Pete told his wife he was gay, he says that she at first said she understood. But then, he says, a few hours later, she became emotional and told him that she did not want to stay together if in 20 years he would want to be with a man instead of her. They separated and, within two years, divorced. Pete, who now lives with his partner of five years, sees his teenage children four times a week and almost every weekend at his ex’s house.

“Even today there are times when we have the exact same discussion we had 12 years ago. She’ll ask me, ‘Why did you marry me, and why did you do this to me?’ And I tell her, ‘When I walked down the aisle with you, I had no reservations and I thought we would be together forever.’ ”

Coming out at a later age may be like being a teenager again, says Susan Abbott, director of Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association’s youth program: difficult as you explore what’s new, but also exciting.

Abbott also oversees an OPALGA program called Women Like Me, a support group founded three years ago for women who are married, separated or divorced and think they may be lesbian or bisexual.

She mentions the 2005 romantic drama Brokeback Mountain and the wow moments that film could have stirred.

“I certainly think there are lots of people unhappy in marriages for lots of reasons. And this is one of them,” Abbott says.

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....