Gayle Haggard has written a book about why she stayed with her husband Ted after he confessed to having sex with a male prostitute, and now she's going on talk shows claiming her marriage is "the best it's ever been."
Yesterday, Gayle and Ted both went on Oprah to talk about how therapy has cured Ted of the "issues" that caused him to buy meth and sex from a man named Mike Jones. Haggard spoke as though he's been treated for OCD, saying that since therapy, "I have not had one compulsive thought or behavior." The conversation felt creepily glib, especially when Haggard asserted that "we have a lot of evidence" that he's completely heterosexual — presumably referring to his five children.
Gayle Haggard's appearance on this morning's Today show was more nuanced. She still talked about her husband's homosexual desire like it was a mental illness, speaking of "compulsions that were unwanted" and hinting that they stemmed from childhood abuse. But, she added, "that's not true for everybody, that's his story." Of course, the idea that homosexuality can be cured with therapy isn't true for anybody, and Haggard's claim that her husband's homosexual behavior was a result of some sort of disorder will surely be music to the ears of homophobes. Still, she doesn't do any overt gay-bashing in her Today interview, and she's far from the biggest enemy of gay rights today — what's upsetting is not so much her politics but her performance as a certain kind of wronged woman.
As Jenny Sanford and now Elizabeth Edwards have shown, not every wife of a prominent philanderer has to stand by her man. But it does appear to be de rigeur to write a book about the experience, and I do have to wonder what's in it for them. Perhaps once her marriage's dirty laundry had been aired in front of the entire country, Haggard felt she might as well cash in. Or perhaps she honestly wanted to tell the story of a time that must have been extremely painful for her. But part of the impetus for the wronged woman memoir may be public appetite — for some reason, we seem to expect that these women will tell their stories, and we snap these stories up when they appear.
For whatever money and catharsis she gets for her book, Haggard does have to sacrifice even more privacy. Like other women whose husbands have been accused of gay dalliances, she has to publicly affirm how hot her sex life is: "throughout our marriage, Ted and I have had a wonderful sexual relationship." And she makes claims about her marriage that will ring false should her husband ever give in to his "compulsions" again — post-therapy, she says, "our relationship is better than it's ever been. Going over this mountain together has given us the marriage that I've always longed for."
If Ted and Gayle Haggard were different people, they might have done the gay community a great service by talking honestly about what happens when a spouse comes out as gay or bisexual in a heterosexual marriage — especially a Christian one. But that was never in the cards, and Gayle Haggard's talk of therapy and compulsions is disappointing, but not surprising. It's also not surprising that she chose to make her story public, especially given that it may serve as a kind of image rehab for her and her husband in certain quarters. Still, there's something depressing about our public hunger for the story of the woman wronged, and about the predictability with which a husband's indiscretions now become a wife's memoirs. It's not that I begrudge these women the right to tell their stories — it's just that these stories often play into an American desire to examine powerful men's infidelities by examining their wives, and these examinations are usually not only fruitless but somewhat misogynist. And I think Mike Jones's book might be more fun to read.