Harold and Gail’s
first meeting was the unlikely product of an extraordinary series of
occurrences: Gail was driving her aunt and grandfather from Michigan
to California; they intended to go by way of Seattle, but a snowy cold
front kept forcing their itinerary further south. By chance, they
stopped overnight in Fort Collins, CO, the very same week that Harold
arrived there to begin a student teaching job. Harold was living
with his aunt, whose address he had given several months earlier to
an acquaintance who was a member of his home-based Christian fellowship
network. Though he had forgotten all about it, the woman had by
chance passed the information to Gail (who also practiced the same faith).
Thus it was that, on a September evening, in search of a bible study
meeting, Gail knocked on a stranger’s door and Harold opened it.
They were married the following June in Carlsbad, CA.
After a couple of years,
Harold returned to school and Gail worked two jobs while he completed
his Masters’ Degree in Arts Administration. He taught for
a while, then they went into private enterprise together. They
first operated a retail flower shop and then, in 1981, set up their
home as a long-term senior care facility, which they continue to operate
today. Their house is filled with birdsong; the property has dogs,
cats, chickens, and a large garden. During my visit, I witnessed
a number of seniors being fed, entertained and cared for by Harold,
Gail and their small staff. I was treated not only to a delicious
meal, but a performance at the piano, usually reserved for the residents—a
medley of musical theatre selections, which they clearly love to perform
After 30 years of married
life together—graduate school, three children, entrepreneurial
ventures, shared tragedies and triumphs—their world was turned
upside down when Gail discovered a secret that Harold had kept from
the family all along: that he had same-gender attractions and
was having casual encounters with men. The crisis that ensued
forced them to recognize and evaluate what Harold refers to as the “capital”
they had built up over three decades together. Through counseling,
quarrel, faith, love and a fierce sense of commitment, they drew heavily
upon that capital to forge a solution: a dynamic, harmonious,
newly-defined marriage contract in which there are no secrets; a lifestyle
where diversity and individuality are embraced.
The evening that
Gail and I met, I was sitting in Bermuda shorts and some thong sandals,
grading papers, and a knock came at the door. I opened the door,
and there was Gail. It was sort of like God was lowering this
goddess, on a silver charger. And I’m supposed to say, “No,
God, I don’t want this one?”
So I went down and got Grandpa and he visited with Harold’s
aunt for a couple of hours, and I talked with Harold for a couple of
When it was over, I couldn’t remember her name. But
I knew what kind of a car they had, and where they were staying.
And it was on my way to where I was student teaching the next morning.
I went by, before they were up (Gail laughs), and I left this
note on the windshield.
It was meant to be.
“Now that you know what my address is, you might want to
try to use it again sometime.” We got married the following
It sounds like the home-based fellowship you talked about was really
a pretty major guiding element in your lives. Was that equally
true for both of you, would you say?
Yes. That was one of the things that—you know, when
I opened that door and saw Gail there, I had absolutely no reservation
about asking her in. Because I could tell by her very appearance,
and her demeanor, that she was one of our friends. So that was
So you had that foundation right away.
We talked about some pretty deep topics in that first visit.
I had the sense we learned a lot about each other in a short period
I’m a direct and straightforward personality—it’s
kind of a family trait. Beyond that, my upbringing hadn’t
taught me caution or self-guarding behaviors, especially with others
within our Faith. There was (and is) an instant feeling of unity
and trust, of no need for protective barriers, with someone who is also
of the Faith of our family.
I have felt some
guilt because I didn’t, or couldn’t, find a way to address
sexual orientation issues while we were still dating. On the other
hand, I somehow had an intuitive sense that if these issues ever became
important enough to require open address, we’d find a way to deal
with them at that time. I guess I didn’t want to borrow
trouble ahead of time.
We didn’t have kids for eight years.
Was that by choice?
Well, that was by design.
He went back to get his Master’s degree before we moved
back here, to just get it over with—
His school didn’t let out quick enough for him to get back
there; so on our anniversary, with my corsage on, I would get on the
train in Santa Ana and go to Colorado; and I would register for him,
and go to class for him for… a week?
Something like that.
‘Bout a week, or a week-and-a-half.
‘Til I could get free of my teaching responsibilities here
So that was an interesting couple of years. And when we
went back full time, I worked two jobs. So when they say the wives,
you know, starving grad students together is—
You get a P.H.T. degree: Putting Hubby Through. But
as we talk about it, I think that, even at that point, we had begun
the practice of sort of filling in for each other and supporting each
other in various things. She supported me in my work on my Master’s
program, and did a lot of things like that. I think I probably
did my share of supporting her also. So we had begun the process
of sort of matching with each other. Instead of there being a
straight line of demarcation between she and me, there was a curvy line,
and some places I would flow towards her, and other places she would
flow towards me. Even from the beginning, that was happening.
He was teaching, and after school put on plays and did things
for the kids on his own time. If I wanted to see him, I went and
helped on the sets, too. That was just something that I felt I
needed; to be there, and be a presence, you know?
I was aware from the very beginning that her attraction to me
wasn’t because I was a Monday night armchair quarterback with
a three-day beard and a beer belly. She was attracted to me because
I was articulate, and creative and talented and musical, that we had
a lot of things in common from that. So, evidently, she wasn’t
looking for a man who reveled in macho heterosexuality.
I never liked men like that. Never. I never dated
them, I didn’t like them at school.
I have to say, about Gail, something that really touches me and
really moves me about her: I can tell that she has a real profound
love and connection and conviction and commitment to family. And
that that’s an unconditional thing. It’s just not
on the agenda that you would throw someone away if something came up
that was troubling about the other person. About someone in the
When I was really young, I saw people turn against their own family
and I just said, “I don’t care what anybody ever does, I
will never, never do that.”
Can you reflect on how, years later, you hit a crisis
Well, it was because it was something that Harold kept from me.
And that was what was causing the trouble. We think.
Gail came to a place where she felt that our life was invalidated.
That’s when I was in crisis.
Right. And the therapist asked her to bring pictures.
Of our life.
Our wedding, our kids…
And here Gail was, saying, “all of my life
was a waste.” I’m paraphrasing. “All of
my life was a waste; it’s just blown away, there’s nothing
to… and I’m so distraught, and hurt over the whole thing.”
So, she brought the pictures, and the therapist looked at them with
her, and she says, “well, these show happy people. There
must have been some happiness back there.” And it was, in
a sense, that Gail just couldn’t deny, yes, there was. And
it was a matter of the therapist being able to bring the focus back
to the things that were good, and the things that were connected.
And the things that were worth keeping in the relationship, as opposed
to being focused on the things that were problematic, and dysfunctional,
and stressful and hurtful.
At that time.
I think that that is a strategy that we certainly learned in counselling,
but found ourselves doing even unconsciously—sometimes your frame
of mind is really your choice.
She said that probably the reality of your worry was less than
you really think, and more than you would want. And she was able
to really sit on me at times. Like, I would have Harold read to
me. I couldn’t read more than about five minutes, and I
was just… I couldn’t see. So he would read, and I
would feel the warmth of his body and the timbre of his deep voice,
and I would just—there were like two parts of me. There
was this really angry, striking-out, judgmental part, and it was very
loud and more vocal; and then there was this loving, forgiving, non-judgmental,
caring, you know.
And the therapist, I remember, in one session, observed to her,
“that angry, hurting, striking-out part of your personality, feels
like it’s in charge right now. Do you really want it to
Yeah, she just sat on me in one session, and she said, “are
you aware that it’s trying to crush the loving side of you?”
“It’s in control. And do you want that to be
And that was a big deal, that day. I was really
in turmoil. So she sat on me that one day, and she said, “is
that what you want? What a way to live.” And I was
logical enough, somehow, she got through to me.
The issue of finding out that there was a part of my personality
that had attractions to men—that sort of dissipated quickly.
And her bottom-line issue is that she didn’t want to be abandoned,
and she wanted to be included in my whole life—my whole personality—rather
I don’t think we would have made it without the counselling.
It wasn’t because we weren’t intelligent enough to do it
ourselves. It was just that a third party can see you doing things
you don’t see yourself. They give input that is amazing.
And one of the things was never to say, “well, if you don’t
do this, or if you do that, I’ll…” and name a price.
It was a big deal. And when you’re hurting, or you’re
having a problem in your marriage, you tend to wanna say, “I’m
gonna leave.” The problem we were having at that particular
time, I don’t know how many times in about three days
we’d, each of us, said we were gonna leave. And our therapist
said the reason we were saying that is that you’re fearful that
the other one will hurt you; so, you’ll leave so they don’t
To escape being hurt again.
How did you find reassurance that you weren’t
going to have that pain
inflicted from the other one? Once you both realized that that’s
what you were fearing?
Well, I think the counselling helped us to just take one step
at a time, learning to communicate so that we could talk together.
Just sitting and listening to the other one, and not talking while the
other—when you hear them, it doesn’t mean that
you are gonna take on all those beliefs, or all that; it just means
that they need to know that you did hear them, and they need
to hear you. Somehow, talking about things gave us time.
I was dealing with something I didn’t know anything about.
But I didn’t realize that was what was the biggest issue;
that I didn’t know anything about it.
And from my standpoint, you know, I didn’t know what to
do either, except that I felt the only choice I had was to take her
at her word. I felt, “I’m the one where all of this
sort of resides in the relationship; so I’m the one that needs
to take the lead, I suppose, in trying to find a way through the thicket.”
We entered, then,
a period of trying to do as many creative and innovative things together,
as opposed to my doing things separately. We did a lot of reading
together; we were in support groups; we were in counselling; we did
lots of things that put a more personal and a more human face on people
who are lesbian or gay, or that kind of thing. It brought us into
contact with people that we really appreciate. That have meant
a lot to us.
In some ways, we were very lucky. Harold was at peace with
himself, and loved himself. So he was totally free to be there
for me, to answer questions, to reassure me, and to help me try to process
this new set of issues. Up to that point, he’d had to protect
and hide a big part of his self from me, for fear of me.
So when I finally figured out that it wasn’t his choice to have
been—you know, women that would say—and I did that for a
while, too—“you’ve betrayed me, you’ve lied
to me,” everything you could think of to say. Or what is
the trust issue.
I say, well, “hey,
you were the one that made him do that. You
were the one, not him. He would have been glad to tell
you. But he was fearful of you.” But it took
me a long time to get to that point, to see, “okay, he’s
been living my way for thirty-two years”—thirty-two
years? (Figuring out the dates.) You were 52, thirty
years married. When this hit us.
(to Gail.) It
sounds like you assume a responsibility for that limitation.
Well, it took a while to get to that—
I don’t know that she felt responsible for that, but she
could see, certainly, that she played a role in providing a sense of
openness where I wouldn’t feel punished by addressing sensitive
issues. Or issues that were sensitive to her, you see? We
see some people who blame the other person: “Why didn’t
you tell me this before?”
Well, the reason
that they don’t tell ‘em before about a particularly troubling
issue is because they’ve learned ahead of time, probably non-verbally,
that they’re liable to get their hand spanked, or their neck cut
off. So they aren’t going to be open. And
it’s a real challenge in a relationship. To learn the ability
to be open enough so that you aren’t part of the stuff that’s
keeping communication from flowing.
The romantic view going into a marriage is about this
wholehearted trust. That there are no secrets, and that that trust
exists no matter what; and any realization that that trust isn’t
100% is a betrayal. Can you address the idea of a successful marriage
where trust is something that evolves, or maybe even more than evolves,
but is wrenched
into perspective, or into the light, even after 30 years?
Well, at one point in the crisis—we were both worn out,
and we were exhausted, and finally Harold said—he had said he
wouldn’t leave, unless I asked him to leave. And then, this
one time, he said, “I think that basically you’re not processing
this, you’re not making any progress, you’re in too much
pain, and I think basically you’re telling me that I need to leave.”
Well, in a sense, all this stuff was going on and everything else was
solid and secure. History together, you know… children,
businesses, starving grad students together… life.
We had history together that held through this crisis time.
that before, from one gal that had cancer, and the husband, you know,
they lived through those things together. And they had a child
that was autistic or something. And they lived through those times
together. And then this comes up, it’s just another
thing in life. It isn’t like it should threaten the whole
base; and somehow, I was able to see that. When he said that,
it really scared me, because I really thought everything was pretty
secure. It was like that security was gonna go away.
I spent the night
in conflict and resolved, in the morning, that I didn’t care what
I had to do. Or what we had to do together. That our relationship,
and our history together, was worth more than whatever this was that
I didn’t know anything about. And we could get through it.
It was worth fighting for. Something that was really, really special.
So I made this decision that no matter what I had to do, that I was
going to do whatever I had to do to make this work.
It was like riding a wild horse, and a merry-go-round and a roller
coaster all at the same time. But I was able to tell her, from
the very beginning, “this isn’t about me going away unless
you send me away,” but, at the same time, “these issues
can’t be put back in the box any more. They just won’t
What I meant was
that if we were to continue in a relationship and as a married couple,
we had to deal with my sexual orientation issues openly and
honestly. It wasn’t an option to go back to a time or a
strategy where I would or could promise to practice suppression or denial.
She didn’t know what in the world those two statements meant.
She now knows more what that meant—because time has passed and
I have rebuilt the confidence, as we were talking about.
can happen, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation.
And some things probably can’t be excused. We haven’t
seen many things, though, that can’t be understood, and through
that understanding be processed and resolved. Things can be rebuilt.
But they can’t be rebuilt alone. I couldn’t
have done it alone; she couldn’t have done it alone.
It was only as I was willing to make a statement, and then
stand by that, as time went by, that she began to believe what I had
said. If I had said, “this isn’t about me going away
unless you send me away,” then I had to stay around. And
I wanted to stay around. That was the honest truth.
Because of the willingness to go forward with whatever situation
we had, because of our history together, because I loved him—I
knew that for sure, I wouldn’t be going through all of
this pain if I didn’t—then suddenly it was like a whole
new picture. It was like the reason I didn’t gain anything,
or get anywhere, is because I didn’t know anything about the subject.
I was absolutely clueless. And I’ve learned that knowledge
dispels fear. I think most of my crisis was fear.
Gail, can you point to a specific moment or insight when
you said, “oh, this is possible”?
Time took care of all the answers to that. Suddenly I’d
say, “hey, I’m feeling fine. I’m not worrying
about that, or fearing that any more.”
My observation of Gail and the situation at the time was that
the hinge pin really was: (a) coming to the idea that she realized
that she didn’t know; (b) that she had ownership of the solution
for that. She had to take hold with her hands. And she was
willing to do that. That was an observable turning point to me;
because, by making the commitment, and to be open and to do this and
to do that or try a variety of things, then that answer came sort of
along the way.
We went to a variety
of events and excursions and things like that, that had to do with the
LGB community. I remember that we went to Pride the first time.
Here we are, looking like a couple from Nebraska. (They laugh.)
It was, in a sense,
quite a mind-blowing experience. Lots of eye candy, and lots of,
you know, just things you just don’t ever see anyplace else.
We went to dinner after that, to a nice place we’d been wanting
to visit. But it turned out to be the “straightest”
environment you could imagine, compared to the Pride environment we
had just left and… I crashed. I just went into a depression—
I was scared to death. I thought something terrible was
Finally, we realized that what was happening was… culture
shock. That we had just been—Gail and I together—had
been exploring a part of, or an activity, that had always been a part
of my personal and private life. And here we were, in an activity
that wasn’t personal and private. It was sort of like we
were just ripping ourselves open like that. There was no owner’s
manual how to do all this. We realized after doing something like
that: we went to that place, and we came back.
And we were the same people.
The world didn’t fall apart.
We didn’t have to buy a new car, we didn’t have to
change jobs, we didn’t have to live in a different house, we didn’t
have to wear different clothes, you know? We didn’t have
to buy a different Bible.
Making an excursion like that was opening and expanding our experience.
We would go the restaurant, and we would sit there and look at the couples;
and we would see things that we couldn’t believe.
We were both flirting with the waiter. And—what a neat thing,
you know? But it didn’t really change basically who we were
That’s one of the things that we see people are so
afraid to do. And it doesn’t have to be over LGBT issues,
it can be just about anything. Is the fear of writing your own
script, or creating your own universe. And that if the paradigm
that you get off the shelf doesn’t fit—like if you go to
the shoe store and the shoe doesn’t fit, you’re not at all
afraid to get a larger shoe, or a shoe that does fit.
But if it doesn’t fit, there are so many people, like the ugly
sisters in Cinderella, who try to cram their feet into an ill-fitting
shoe. The same way with this; I mean, some people just cannot
bring themselves to break free of convention and tradition and create
a relationship environment that is appropriate for them.
How have you then redefined and restructured the marriage?
In order to write that next chapter, in order to make it work for yourselves?
We had been living with issues; we just hadn’t addressed
them. And that was making one of us sick. It was making
Harold sick. And it was probably affecting me more than I realized,
too. So, when I was willing to learn, and open my mind and see
if I was going to be able to process all this information, I could see
that we had been living, happily and just fine, and it had been there
all the time. In a sense. Now that it was open between us,
we were really happier, and closer, and we had more to talk
about, we didn’t have anything to hide from each other.
I don’t know whether those are typical problems in marriages or
not; but I think so, because we learned to talk together about anything.
I think that people need to be separate from one another, I mean—for
years and years, we really didn’t do anything except just together.
And I think that couples should do that, but I think they should also
have their own space and be a little more autonomous.
And give each other privacy. Some kind of privacy.
But at first the word autonomous just made me mad, when we were
in crisis. It really, I think, is good for you to find a strong
place so you’re both dealing with… you are here because
you choose to be here, not because you have to be, or you—
Expect to be.
We both knew that each other had chosen to keep the relationship,
and we felt that we had monogamy, in that we were each married to one
person; and we had fidelity, in that we remained in agreement with one
another. And we have forged on like that.
And if we have, along the way, gone back to our agreements and
revisited them, and carved them in a new slab of granite, that’s
good, I think. I just don’t have much patience with people
who, early in life—when they don’t know who they are and
don’t know the other person very well—expect themselves,
in that sort of frothy, romantic mindset to make a set of agreements
that are going to last them as they mature and evolve and emerge and
change. The agreements between us have to be current. Sometimes
it’s an everyday kind of thing, you know? The idea isn’t
to forge an agreement. But staying in agreement as you
How do you differentiate that from avoiding responsibility
for your actions? If you’re always able to customize the
You can’t unilaterally customize the parameters. It’s
something that we have to sit down together and work through and find
the common ground. That we can move from this point of
commonality into this point of commonality. I don’t
think either of us are afraid to say—any more—“I’m
not comfortable with that.”
I think that the comfort zones come gradually. There were
things that I said, I would never, I will never, I won’t,
I can’t, I’m not. And I probably… none
of those are true today.
I don’t even like the word compromises. Because
compromise, if you compromise something, it means to me that
you weaken it. I mean, it can have that connotation.
That if something is compromised, then it’s weakened.
It seems like we’re stronger together now than we were before.
Sure, there have been many, many things that I have had to put
away, or to not think about, or to not experience, or to not enjoy,
because my feelings for Gail are important enough that I know that if
I were to do those things which—I am free, I am an adult, I’m
a free agent, I could do those things—but I know that at the same
time, I would erode the relationship we have. And I think that
we both have that sense of respect for each other and love for each
other, so that that relationship is really important to us; and we,
by this time, know the things that would tend to do that.
As people of strong
faith, how do you reconcile or justify this lifestyle, this definition
of marriage in the context of what so many people would say, what about
adultery? What about fidelity?
According to what I’ve always been taught, and always learned
and known, is that what will serve me after life is over is the relationship
I have with my creator. Not the approval I have with the body
of believers. Because, according to the Bible story, we were created
out of the breath of life from God, and the dust of the earth, we can
never be fully spiritual in life, and we can never be fully temporal.
There is a dichotomy there. And until life is over, and the spirit
goes back to the creator, we will have that temporality, that carnality
about us. And there are some things about human nature, and about
being temporal and carnal, that are not very attractive. You have
to give people permission, and yourself permission, to be temporal
and carnal. I don’t expect myself to be wholly and 100%
spiritual. I can’t do that. It isn’t the time
in my existence, in my spirit’s existence, to be fully spiritual.
an awful lot of what people believe in the name of religion, or in the
name of Christianity even, that is puritanistic, that is nowheres near
what was taught and lived by the man himself, by Christ himself.
So in a sense, to me, the approval of the body of believers is sort
of like a popularity contest. It really doesn’t matter to
me about the body of believers. Because they’re not the
ones that will support me in the afterlife. It’s my relationship
with my creator. That’s the only thing.
From the beginning, as I look back on it now, it seems we were
weaving together a relationship that was open, creative and resilient.
Without knowing it, we were moving towards a relationship that would
be able to stand the stresses and challenges involved in dealing with
something like sexual orientation issues at some later point.
We’ve both agreed, though, that even if I had found a way to bring
the topic to open discussion early on, we probably would have married
How prepared would we have been to deal with the issues?
What did we know? We were brought up in a time and in families
that didn’t talk openly about sexual issues in general, much less
Providence, then, seemed to bring these issues into the open for
us when we were more prepared to deal with them than when social or
psychological theory might suggest it to have been more timely or appropriate.
By the time all of this was upon us, we had found ways to deal
with lots of challenges. Being starving grad students together;
moving from being employed to being self-employed entrepreneurs, working
all night in the florist business because of weddings, funerals, holidays,
or the prom; having and raising three children in the middle of it all;
business failure and bankruptcy; the disintegration of closeness in
the extended family when my parents divorced after over 40 years of
marriage; a whole house remodel; and living more than 20 years with
a business in our home doing caregiving for older people and their families.
I was upset and devastated, sure—but I also felt that if we had
lived through all those previous things, certainly it wouldn’t
be impossible to work through this business of sexual orientation.
I think that what we have done is that we have taken hold with
our hands and kept an issue that in so many other cases has broken apart
a marriage, and not allowed it to do that. We found—with
resilience and good humor, and understanding, and empathy and compassion,
and love—we have found a way to keep that from happening in our
relationship. Because we believed in our relationship, we believed
in each other, and we just didn’t feel that we should be such
slaves to convention and tradition. That there were other ways
to be authentically, and ethically, and morally—there was some
way through the forest that we could do it and not have to throw the
How do you define
Well, it’s a coming together of two… individual people
that it takes a lifetime to… know. I think it’s
a certain willingness to want to connect with somebody that you’ve
put a lot of effort in learning to get along with, or learning
to learn their habits or whatever, and some of ‘em you don’t
like, but it doesn’t break it just because you don’t like
The C-word is big when you talk about marriage, and I mean Commitment.
But the litmus test for commitment in our culture is sexual exclusivity.
And there are lots and lots of ways to demonstrate and to live and to
have commitment one with the other, that are additional to that.
Like I said before.
There isn’t anything that I can think of about my marriage where
I’ve named a price. In other words, “I’ll break
it up, or I’ll ditch it if this and such happens.”
That, to me, is a sense of commitment.
In other words,
I’m saying to myself and to her, “I stand ready to work
through anything that I can think of, or things that I can’t
think of.” And that’s a lot more profound to
me than whether you have affectionate feelings for someone. Other
Harold used to say that he felt like, if he had gone off or something,
that by the time he tore himself loose from our connection and commitment,
what would there be left of him?
If I pulled the stem and vine of my life out of her, and out of
my family—and I pulled the stem and vine of their life out of
me—I wouldn’t be anything much more than a quivering pile
of hamburger. And to go into a relationship with someone else
at that point is expecting them to help me with a lot of healing.
And why should I? Why should I do that? Unless
she were to say to me, “get out of my life. I don’t
want you here anymore.” Then that’s a different story.
But if we both want to be with each other, then it should be our business
how we do it.