Roanoke, VA Roanoke, VA
Roanoke, VA Roanoke, VA

George & Peggy, Roanoke, VA - married 1956

The Straight Spouse Network (an international support group for heterosexual spouses of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender mates) estimates that in at least 2 million marriages, a spouse has come out of the closet.  As one of those marriages, it was with some trepidation that George and Peggy Pruitt, a retired Episcopal priest and his wife of 47 years, agreed to sit down and discuss their marriage with me.

Their initial reluctance was followed, however, by a lengthy and candid talk.  The Pruitts courageously shared many details of their life’s journey with me—their Georgia roots; the death in infancy of their second child; the choice to leave the Baptist Church and become Episcopalians; the joint decision for George to enter seminary; the considerable pride they have in their three grown children; their love of camping and the outdoors.

George has battled depression for much of his life, and was hospitalized for it in 1990.  In the ensuing years, through therapy and treatment, he finally came to accept what he had denied for his entire adult life: his homosexuality.  Since coming out of the closet to his wife and children at age 60, he and Peggy have weathered a tempestuous seven years together—years of uncertainty and argument, of compromise and negotiation, and of enduring love.


George:
We fell in love, and of course, at the period of time we was raised in, that was the way you went.  Coming out of the deep south, I think that was expected of everybody, and I think my family expected it.

Peggy:
I think so, I think that’s what we were looking for.  We met at a junior college in the hills of North Georgia; and it was a very fundamentalist Baptist College.  I worked 2 years, saved my money, to go off to school.  Got very little encouragement from my family.  ‘Cause they were totally against girls going to college, ‘specially my dad.  He just discouraged that; there was no reason for women to go to college.  Only two reasons they went was to find somebody to marry or to learn all these big words to make him feel dumb.  That was his remarks.  So I saved my money and then went off to school two years after graduating high school.  We just started going together, and it just seemed like the thing to do.

George:
I guess we were comfortable with each other.  More than anything, and… fell in love, whatever that word means.  Just, you know, one of those progressions.

Peggy:
That was what everybody expected, you know.  You didn’t think of anything but that, because everybody was expected to grow up and get married, so that was your basic goal.

George:
I think especially for females at that period of time, they were expected to get married, not particularly career-oriented.  For me, knowing deep down that I was gay, this was one way to prove to myself—when I look back at it, one way to prove to myself—that that’s not so.

RF:
That was something you knew, even then?

George:
Yeah.


RF:
What was your definition of a marriage at the time that you entered into it?

Peggy:
I think it was a lifelong commitment.  And I don’t think a lot of people look at that today like we did at that time.  It was no expectation of ever divorcing or anything.  And soon as we were married, we started talking about children; in fact, we had a son born eleven months after we were married, that we really hadn’t planned on that quick, ‘cause we’d had all these plans of us finishing college and all these things.  At the time, we were even talking about having at least twelve kids.  You know.  We were just all into family and having kids, and raising a lot of kids and stuff.  And I think in raising our children, we did a lot different from some people.  You know, we didn’t have this male-female thing.  We taught our boys to cook in the kitchen as well as the girls have cut grass or whatever.  And so many now, I don’t know if that’s more south, or what; that you had these typical roles, that the males did all the grass cutting outside, or whatever they did, the girls did things inside.  But I think we sort of mixed those roles, even with our kids all along.  So I think we maybe started out with a different value system with that.

George:
Everything we did, it always felt like it was just as much my responsibility to take care of the house, especially when she was pregnant, or we had small children.  That wasn’t "her" job; it was our job.

Peggy:
In the first six years we were married, I was pregnant five times.  ‘Cause I had a miscarriage and lost another.  Tubal pregnancy, and I almost died at that time.  And then we have three healthy children that survived, so—we did have one that died, of pneumonia.

RF:
I’m curious as to how you handled the grieving process, how much of that was individual, how much was together; whether it deepened the bonds between you?

Peggy:
I think we have always relied on each other.  We’ve always been there for each other.  And being so involved in church, even growing up I was always very involved in church, too.  So maybe that’s what drew us together, was that bond of church.  But when our child died, I know we felt guilty, because we didn’t go to church that Sunday, ‘cause we felt like, "well, you don’t just go to church when your child has just died." And I remember feeling that way, yet that’s where we wanted to be, is to go to church, but we didn’t feel right in going… when he had just died.  But I think we pulled together, and… maybe this faith, or this church really helped get us through it.

George:
I guess it… pushed faith, threatened it in some way, but not extensively.  You know, "why did this happen?" The thing that any parent asks when they have a child that died.  I guess neither she nor I have ever been one of these things that, "this is the way God was punishing [us]," of course that goes through your mind, but deep down I don’t think we ever, even once, said, "why did God do this to us? God don’t do those things to us."


RF:
How do you handle disagreements? Has that changed? Have you mellowed, or… (they start laughing.)

George:
(Laughing.)  No, not at all.  In a way.  I’m a perfectionist; I expect perfection out of myself; and then, her more than I did the kids.  I have a very short fuse and a hot temper.  I would lose my temper very easily.

RF:
You say you would, like that’s not the case anymore?

George:
No, it still is.  Maybe not as much as it used to be, but it still is.  Some of the time, since I’ve been on antidepressants, or whatever medication I’m on, it hasn’t been bad; but right now the one I’m on doesn’t stop that completely.  I’m, in some ways, verbally abusive; and I think a lot of that is the failure of my acceptance of myself, so I transfer that to somebody else.  Peggy came out of a family where the wife was very subservient to the husband.  When her dad said, "jump," her mother said, "how high?" And in some ways, I would see her having gone into our marriage with the same understanding, and the same feeling; and that has been a sore spot.  Especially since I came out of the closet; that she’s fought to change that a great deal more.

Peggy:
And I don’t know if it was just when he came out the closet; I think the women’s movement, and—

George:
And when you were breadwinner—

Peggy:
Yeah, ‘cause when he went to seminary, then I had to start working to support the family.  So I’ve always worked at one job or another, to help support.  So I think gradually I became more and more aggressive that way, standing up for my rights, or whatever.  But I think he tends to look at it, it’s a thing because he came out gay.  But I think I have become much more verbal and much more standin’ up to him since then.

George:
I remember way back, my mother said that if I ever got married, I’d be henpecked.  And part of my domineering was to prove the fact that no, I never would be.

RF:
So when you do disagree now, you say you’re hot-tempered, etc.; how do you actually reach a solution?

Peggy:
Sometimes I don’t know if we ever reach a solution.  I think we still have a hard time communicating, or I don’t feel like he hears me, and things, that he still wants to be that dominating thing.  And my feelings, or my say-so in anything is ignored.  And I guess we argue over that as much as we do anything else.  You know, I have a right to be heard, or to have my feelings, or to share my feelings.  And I don’t think that’s ever really resolved.

George:
And even when I agree that she’s right, it’s extremely hard for me to acknowledge that.

Peggy:
And usually he doesn’t.

George:
Usually I don’t.  (Peggy laughs.)

RF:
Do you just know?

Peggy:
Sometimes… and other times it still makes me furious, you know; even though I might know that.  That he just won’t acknowledge it, or he won’t at least say what I need to hear him say, just to say it’s okay.  But we do get into it verbally a lot.

George:
And sometimes I’ll stomp out—and I’m the one that stomps out—or I’ll sulk, or I’ll go somewhere else in the house and after a while it sorta disappears.  It doesn’t, but it… it cools down.


Peggy:
I think it was only after he retired that we really dealt with the issues and felt like we could—that you were free at that point, so to speak, to deal with ‘em; and I think we went through so many dynamics, ‘cause he felt like—it’s almost like a eighteen-year-old, for the first time in his life—he could be who he wanted to be, because he’d retired, or whatever.

George:
I came out of the closet and I told her—we wasn’t sure we were gonna stay together, and I asked her if she’d stay at least one more year, and I’d work one more year, until I turned 61.  We kept it quiet; a couple of people found out, that it was all right to find out.  My bishop knew.  And was halfway supportive.  So we just felt like it was best for me not to work any longer than that.  Then when we moved here, I guess I, like she said, became the eighteen-year-old.  I had a freedom.  I was involved in a lot more gay stuff—I was on the Pride of the Park committee the first summer after we moved; we belonged to PFLAG [Parents, Friends & Family of Lesbians and Gays]; and a few other things.  And more involved in the gay community, which I’m not as much now.

Peggy:
I think he had to work through that, and sorta level off.  I think we did have a lot more arguments during that time of adjustment until he sort of levelled out with how he felt.  ‘Cause, at that time, I didn’t know from day to day if he wanted to leave me, or I’d see him next week, or whether he was gonna be around, or whatever.  So it was a lot of tension and stress, I think especially for me, because he didn’t know what he wanted to do and wouldn’t make any promises or commitments toward anything.  But I think now, since he’s levelled off, he’s decided that he wants to stay in the marriage, and we’re really working at it at this point.

George:
But in with that, my staying is with the understanding—and she can disagree with me here—that I could have somebody else in my life.  Whether I do or not’s unimportant; but just saying I can.

Peggy:
And I think I’ve come a long way in adjusting to that point.  Because I never thought I’d come to that point.  It was almost like, "well, if you see anybody else, that’s the last straw; then I’m leaving, or you’re leaving." You know, when this first started out.  So I think we’ve probably both levelled out and worked on things to come to a sorta level point.

George:
It took me working through a lotta stuff, and not sure if I wanted to stay in the marriage, and not really caring.  And a lot of fighting, those first few years.  When I became involved in the support groups on the internet, and saw that they was so many more couples that’s in the same boat that we’re in—and listened to some of their things, and how they handled them, and this advice and support from other people—that got me to thinking, "okay, we can live together, we can make this work." But I had to have somebody.  And since then, it’s sorta like, "if I do, okay.  If I don’t, I can’t change that." I’m open to it, but it may never happen and probably won’t ever happen.  Because in the gay community, when they find out you’re married, you become a minority, or a leper within that same community.  A minority within a minority.  I know there’s probably a lotta other gay men that’s married in Roanoke, there’s a large gay community here—yet they’re well hid within their own closets.  And my opportunity to find somebody that would make it convenient is almost nil.  But I have learned to live with that.  I get sad, I get down, that I’m not involved in anything in the gay community, and I live with one foot in two worlds.

RF:
What is the reasoning that you’ve arrived at? That makes you say, "okay, we can manage this, we can stay together?"

Peggy:
I guess that’s how we’ve always faced everything, all along the way.  We had a threat that our son had leukemia one time.  You know? We faced all these other obstacles.  And when he first told me he was gay, I said, "okay, you’re gay, we’ll deal with it and go on." You know? Not knowing some of the dynamics that would come afterwards.  But I guess it’s the same thing.  I think I wasn’t willing to give up, and I guess I’ve always been the one that way, when it comes to staunch—

George:
Yeah.

Peggy:
—commitment; it wouldn’t have taken much more, I think, for me to have just called it all off.  But I think it’s always that commitment that I come back to.  That one way or another that we can work this out.  I think shortly after we were married we even said somethin’ about, there’s so much more to a marriage than just sex.  And I think we’ve built up this long-time commitment, and other things, that children are important, and our friendship, and we enjoy doing a lot of things together; so I think it was just getting down to all of those things.  And the financial part of it.  Because we could not afford to live separate.  We don’t have a lot of retirement, and we got down to the basics of what it would cost if both of us were livin’ separate from each other.  We just couldn’t afford it.  So we go over all the pluses and minuses—I think we just came to the conclusion that one way or another, we need to work this out.

George:
And I think the love helped, as far as I’m concerned.  And I was determined, if we separated, I would do everything possible for her to keep the house.  ‘Cause she’d been there for me all those years, and had sacrificed a lot.  But… I think, you spend forty-something years together—and we, in September, will be forty-seven years—that it’s not easy to walk away from that.

Peggy:
And it may have been different if it had been years ago, and younger.  At the age I was, I knew I couldn’t go back to work.  Or get a job really making anything at the age that I was.  I didn’t want to go back to work.  So all those things, I think, played into our decision to work it out.

George:
Hasn’t been easy.


Peggy:
One thing, in the wives’ support that I belong to, that is of wives of gay men, that most of us have brought out is that they are attracted to gays, I guess, because they’re more compatible, they’re not these macho people, they can be your good friend, they have so many qualities like that that you’re lookin’ for in someone.

George:
Even though none of ‘em knew their husbands were gay when they were married.

Peggy:
Right.  So I guess that’s part of it, or something.

George:
I admire her… hangin’ in there and puttin’ up with me all those years.  Being there for me, when I was a horse’s ass and hard to get along with.  For being there when I wanted to go to seminary, and then it was our decision, and I moved a lot, I was always chasing, things are goin’ be better.  And I was running away from myself, I think, and running away from the fact that I was gay.  But I guess, just being who she was.  I don’t mean she’s perfect—we still argue a lot about some of the things, the way she is.  And the way I am.  Lord God, I wouldn’t put up with me, a long time ago, I’d-a give up.

Peggy:
He puts himself down about not being a good father, but I think he… really has been a good father, for the kids.  And I think they appreciate him, and see that more than he sees it himself.  He has a problem with puttin’ himself down about things like that.

George:
Before I came out, all my career, when I said, "God loves you no matter what," knowing deep down that I was gay, under my breath it would be, "that don’t count you." I was the exception.  I was gay.  I wouldn’t say the words, but I knew what I was talking about.

Peggy:
So it was almost like you were always preaching to everyone else, but it didn’t count for you.


RF:
I’m curious what thoughts you have about what you’ve observed in the way marriage has changed in the last two generations.

George:
We’ve become too lax about a commitment.  We as a society.  I think we’ve raised people to, got to have the best of everything from day one.  We grew up that we had lived in a furnished apartment.  There’s not many young people today that would marry and would be willing to live in a furnished apartment.  They’d want a house, a car, and then all the nice furniture that goes in it.  They can’t always have it, but that’s what they want.  I think it’s easier to get mad, walk out the door and never go back.  And I’m not against divorce, because sometimes two people cannot live together.  Sometimes people grow apart and they shouldn’t live together.  I will support divorce until my dying day, but I think sometimes some people take it too lightly.  I think it’s gotta be a serious situation to look at, not just, "oh, I’m tired of this, let’s walk away and do something else." Nothing in this world is black and white.  I think the world is made up of a lot of gray areas.  I think we need to look at marriages, we need to look at families, and we need to describe it better.  We need to get rid of the old description of it.  Families can be made up of a lot of different ways in this day and age.  I’m very strongly in support of gay marriages.  You know, there’s a lot of times when it’s not always a husband and wife and children.  There’s a lot of single families.  And they need to be supported as well as everybody else.  I don’t know, I’m very open-minded, and very… I think the older I get, the more liberal I get.  But like I say, I do think sometimes we’ve made some things too easy.

Peggy:
I think even with all the lessening of commitment, I think there’s more opening as far as diversity goes.  To accept people a lot more… and maybe that’s what he was saying by saying, "how do you describe a family?" But I think, kids coming up, even in high school now, are much more accepting of diversity of people, whether it be race, or sexual, or whatever, than our generation, maybe even generations beyond ours, that’s not as old as us.  So I think that’s a good thing coming out of all of it.  But I think we do still need more solid commitment for whatever these relationships that wants to make a commitment.  I think they need to look at it as a lifelong commitment.  It may not always be that way, but I think many marriages now do start out, "well, if it don’t work, you know, we can always get a divorce." Maybe if it was harder, or they had more commitment into it, I don’t know.  So I can see good and bad from it.  I think the generation coming up is more open-minded and more open to diversity; but I think somewhere it needs to be that commitment, more stronger than it is now.

RF:
So is marriage still a necessary thing?

George:
Huh-uh.

Peggy:
I don’t know what you call marriage.

RF:
The legal institution of marriage.

Peggy:
I don’t see that as important, I guess I look on the commitment part of it.  I don’t know that there was always this legal document that said somebody was married.  If you go back to biblical times, they didn’t always have this legal document.  I feel like it’s the relationship, and the commitment, it’s the livin’ together, that makes a marriage.  So whether they have that legal paper sayin’ they are, that’s what makes a marriage to me.  I guess I have really changed and gone from one end to the other on that, and feel a lot more different because of all that we’ve gone through with him being gay—that it’s been a lotta good, it’s been a lotta bad, ‘cause I think my faith in church has changed so much, and has lessened.  And I have less faith in people because of what I’ve been through; and maybe that’s why I’ve changed on my status on what I consider as marriage has changed so much.  From what we’ve been through.


RF:
Are you going to stay together?

George:
(Quietly.) Yeah.  (Pause.) And nobody—I can’t say what will happen tomorrow.  I can’t say what will happen next year.  But as of this minute right now, yes.

Peggy:
And I think I feel more secure in that.  Because for a long, long time I did not feel that from him.  It was almost like, "well, he may not be here next week." But I feel like he has made this commitment now, that this is really what he wants to do.  And like I say, either one of us might change our mind, we don’t know what’s gonna happen; but I think right now we have this solid commitment to each other.

George:
We do have a lot going for ourselves; we do enjoy being with each other—we’re, I guess, good friends more than husband and wife, and yeah, you get angry, even at a good friend once in a while.  And I know, I feel like more than she does, that we do not need to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week together.

Peggy:
I guess I look at it almost like On Golden Pond.  They were an older couple that really spouted off at each other, but even through all of that you could see the love for each other, and I guess that’s how I look at our disagreements and our spouts with each other.  But I think when it gets down, deep down to it, that we enjoy being together, we are each other’s best friends, and I think that could go for a lot of older, heterosexual couples as well.  That many times, I think, the sexual thing, if that’s primary, diminishes in older age, and it comes to be the friendship and the things you’ve gone through that’s important.  And we enjoy family, and kids and grandkids, and so I think we got so much more that we do enjoy together, that we can somehow work through the things that we don’t enjoy or that we can’t do together.

RF:
Peggy, what about the fidelity issue? How do you feel about that, and is it different than if it were infidelity with another woman?

Peggy:
So many of the spouses in this spouse support group say that is would be harder to accept if it was another woman in your husband’s life than it is another man.

RF:
Do you feel that way?

Peggy:
I can see that side of it, and I guess I would.  It’s hard to say I would, ‘cause I’ve never experienced that.  It’s taken me a long time to come to this point, that if he has a friendship with another man, then—and that’s what he needs, that’s fulfilling a need that he has—that I can accept that as long as I get my share of his time and attention and our friendship goes on without changing.  But that’s evolved over six, seven years that we’ve been working through this.  Which I never thought I’d come to that point.