If you had a gay friend who asked you to marry him just to hide his true sexual identity, would you do it?
Women have been "bearding" for men for decades. In Hollywood alone, female stars have covered for some of the biggest names in show business. The truth eventually came out, but at the time, supporting a friend and protecting him from being discriminated against seemed to take precedence over all things.
Actress Linda Evans bearded for actor Richard Chamberlain back in the day. Elizabeth Taylor bearded for Forbes magazine owner Malcolm Forbes. Barbara Walters bearded for Roy Cohn, the flamboyant, controversial defence lawyer who was chief counsel to Joseph R McCarthy's Senate investigations in the 1950s into Communist influence in American life, who later died of Aids-related complications. Actress Debbie Reynolds bearded for actor Tab Hunter in the 50s.
Locally, one of the earliest recorded relationships in the same vein was that of artist Amy Leong Pang and English-born archaeologist Dr John "Bully" Bullbrook. Leong Pang was a founding member of the Society of Trinidad Independents (now the Art Society of T&T), a group of local painters, poets and writers who met to discuss ideas and themes to paint in the early 1930s. Both she and her husband were gay.
One woman's story
Alisha Damian (not her real name) 30, has always been gay, but it was only in her mid-twenties that she began living an openly gay life.
Asked why her sexuality was a secret during his earlier years she said she chose to protect her family.
"I felt if I were to say that I was interested in the same sex, that would bring societal shame and disgrace to my family,"explained Alisha.
"When I went to university I encountered my first same-sex relationship. My mother was not aware of this and I kept it from her. At the time I was also engaged to a heterosexual man, who constantly questioned my"friendship" with my then secret partner. He suspected that she was gay but he had no evidence."
Alisha, a former advertising executive, had a gay male friend, Joseph.
"We both discovered our homosexuality together, but he had already experimented."
Alisha said Joseph often tried to dissuade her from homosexuality, saying the lifestyle was unsuitable for her and would bring her much hurt. This confused Alisha as she could not understand why a gay man, and more so her best friend, would not support her decision.
She said he eventually explained to her that once her sexual identity was revealed she would have to prepare to deal with familial and societal pressure.
He later suggested that the two wed in order to save each other's reputation as working professionals in the fields of education and communications.
But Alisha decided against this, and faced her fear of being discriminated against.
She could no longer live a lie and eventually opened up, first telling her mother–the one person she dreaded would find out the truth.
"Once I told her, I felt comfortable letting it out slowly but surely," said Alisha.
Today Alisha lives an openly gay lifestyle without fear. But she often reflects on the years when it was frightening just to consider accepting her sexuality. She says there is still much to be done and a long way to go, because even though people are more open about their sexuality in the 21st century, there are still many who believe that homosexuality is impure and evil–a one-way ticket to hell.
Colin Robinson of the NGO Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (Caiso) told the Guardian the longer the government takes to guarantee the rights to sexual orientation, the more economic and psychological damage will be inflicted upon homosexuals and their families.
Robinson said gays and lesbians often have to lead a deceptive lifestyle, just to fit in and be accepted."So far the government has failed to provide the simplest protection against discrimination for homosexuals," said Robinson.
He said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar promised she would not support discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered people, but was yet to make good on her promise.
He said just recently Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Marlene Coudray said the issue of discrimination based on sexual preference was not included in the draft gender policy.
On the issue of covering up one's true sexual identity, Robinson reiterated there is nothing to protect homosexuals from being discriminated against.
"No one is saying that you have to accept gays and lesbians, but you must respect that they are human beings too and should be treated as such–having the same opportunities as heterosexuals when it comes to the social and economic aspects of life," Robinson related.
He said today people are still being discriminated against in the workplace, schools and by their families.
He highlighted a 2011 incident when a young boy was severely beaten by family members and neighbours when it was discovered he was gay. Robinson said that kind of thing must stop and people must be allowed to live their lives as they choose.
He said a "cover-up" marriage can do more harm than good at times.
"There are the occasions where the marriage is based on a mutual agreement. But what is damaging is when one party is unaware that they have married a person who would rather be having sex with their own kind. This causes tremendous emotional and psychological hurt on the woman and children in that marriage.
"It also brings confusion to that man as even when he moves on and is in a homosexual relationship: he may have become accustomed to deception and so the habits that were practised in his heterosexual marriage, he may take into his gay relationships. So it is really good for no one–much like a two-edged sword," said Robinson.
He said the national population had been moving away slowly from intolerance, but the politicians and religious leaders were still living in the past.
Secretary of the T&T Association of Psychiatrists Varma Deyalsingh said over the years it was found that in a lot of divorce cases the underlying reason cited was infidelity–with the outside partner being of the same sex.
He said statistics show one third of married men enter into gay relationships at 40 and over, and explained this occurs in most instances because a person's true sexual orientation may have been suppressed for years.
"When you are younger you think a lot about what society says. You have religious teachings that state what is right from wrong and your family may not approve of your chosen lifestyle. Therefore a gay person may have stifled their true desire all their lives, just to make others comfortable. But it is really living a private life of torture for that individual," stated Deyalsingh.
On men entering into heterosexual marriages knowing that was not their true sexual identity, Deyalsingh said it could do no good for any of the parties involved.
He said gays enter into heterosexual marriages for a number of reasons: not wanting to be judged by society, their positions on the job, familial pressure or even the issue of inheritance–having to produce an heir.
Even when the marriage might be a mutual agreement, he said, there is still that fear of someone finding out.
"You live like you are under a microscope...you cannot go out freely with your partner because you are so afraid you may get caught. Living that lifestyle is nothing short of pure anxiety. In our society a gay identity is not easy to have."
He said in a case when the woman is unaware her husband is secretly gay, it poses more of a troubled situation for the man because he is not only having an extramarital affair but one with another man, and she is in the dark about both.
The trauma experienced
Finding out that your husband is gay can rock your world, said Deyalsingh. A woman may go through a range of emotions, from shock, denial and depression to even becoming violent–displaying homicidal behaviour. She may hurt her husband or herself to avoid shame.
"Forty to 100 per cent of men hide the fact from their spouses. A woman who experienced this told me during counselling the act of infidelity inflicts so much emotional and psychological pain upon someone–but more so when the 'other woman' is a man.
"I also spoke with other women who supported that patient's view. They said they too would be more hurt to find out that their husbands were cheating with men," said Deyalsingh.
They told him they felt if it were another woman they might still have a fighting chance, but questioned how they could compete with a man.
"Other women whom I have counselled through a divorce in which the same-sex issue was the basis, said they often asked themselves how could they not have known."
Deyalsingh said there are some signs one can look for. They include lack of intimacy, spouse secretly viewing gay porn, text messages from men that may seem inappropriate, the constant interaction with unmarried men and some even disguise themselves as metrosexuals.
Deyalsingh said while the man might seem free to be with his real partner after disclosure, he is still going through a period of adjustment. He may have lost his children as a consequence, in-laws may become bitter and much of his life might come tumbling down. During this period of adjusting, Deyalsingh said he too would need counselling and support.
"The consequences of disclosure could be very negative and if a man is going to come out of the closet about his sexuality he must be prepared to go through a rough period in the beginning.
"The family must also be counselled if children are involved, as they are hit the hardest–teenagers specifically are quite disturbed, and young adults would be more judgmental."Not surprisingly, he confirmed that most marriages end in divorce once a truth like that comes out.
What is a Beard?
The term "beard" simply means a woman used as a cover for her gay boyfriend/husband. According to urban dictionary.com the word originated in the mid-60s and is used to describe a straight woman married to or involved with a gay man to protect his true identity.