'The truth about why I stayed married to my gay husband'
As the wife of gay rugby player Keegan Hirst opens up about their relationship, another woman reveals how she discovered her husband's secret
When Keegan Hirst became the first rugby league player to come out as gay, I was thrilled for him. As the likes of Emma Watson and Stephen Fry applauded the 27-year-old's courage, I waved my metaphorical rainbow flag from the sidelines.
But my heart also went out to his wife. For she is now part of a group which I am a member - a straight woman who, unwittingly, married a gay man.
There are a lot of us out there, but this surprisingly large community is as closeted as any 19th-century MP. As our spouses are praised for coming out, supported by a well-organised community - Hirst got a roar of approval last month when he was brought on stage by Sir Ian McKellen at Manchester's Mardi Gras - we often find ourselves feeling more isolated than ever.
In 1992, I met my husband at work. We were both single, in our late 20s, and had had several previous relationships. It didn't occur to me to question his sexuality when one day he asked me out.
We dated for four years before getting married, in a church surrounded by all our families. I sold my city apartment and gave up my job to set up a home with him in the country. At no stage did alarm bells ring.
My husband is fantastically untidy, can't cook and doesn't like musicals. But that doesn't make him straight. He was in the Territorial Army, so it wasn't unusual for him to spend weekends away. He'd been doing this his whole adult life, and I'd never be sure how late he'd be home on a Sunday.
Being the trusting soul that I was, I believed him when he said that training had overrun again, the traffic on the way back was terrible. It was not until I started looking that I found out why.
My first inkling that something was amiss came 15 years ago, and it was nothing short of a bombshell.
Tidying the house one day, I found a postcard he had been using as a bookmark. It had been sent to him by another man, one he had clearly been seeing for some time. Its content was graphic and entirely unambiguous.
We sat at the kitchen table and talked and cried. I realised there's a difference in finding out about an infidelity, and that your partner is gay. As Sara Hirst, Keegan's wife, recalled at the weekend: "I was shocked, but… it was almost like 'Oh, you're just gay…' It was surreal, but I was kind of fine. I was never angry because he was gay".
I was thinking 'Was it all a lie? Why have you strung me along? Was our marriage all a sham?'
The biggest shock was that he didn't come out to me: in fact, he denied he was gay at all. We went to counselling, together and separately, and he persuaded both me and the counsellor that he was, infact, bisexual.
He was adamant that he wasn't "100pc gay". It's very hard to grasp that someone is not who you thought they were - but I wanted to believe him. I was, and still am, in love with him, so I gave him another chance. If he was bisexual, couldn't we just resume our marriage?
We tried starting a family. I was 37 at this point and we'd been talking about having a child for a while. I knew my clock was ticking, and if I split up with him, by the time I found someone else, it would have been too late. If I'd been 25, I probably would have ditched him.
Fundamentally, our relationship was good: we converted a barn in the country, we loved our dogs, we had a great set of friends.
We both loved gardening, travel, art and architecture. This was the life I wanted. I was committed as much to the lifestyle he offered as much as the man himself. After we went to counselling, I chose to stay with him.
A lot of wives wouldn't have - but I'd never wanted a marriage in which I was constantly on his case. That was 15 years ago.
Did I never suspect? Not once - though when I found out, it was as if I'd put on glasses and everything came into focus. I had queried whether the relationship was right, but not his sexuality.
What hurts most is that he has never been monogamous. Perhaps foolishly, I've never looked elsewhere myself. I'm terminally monogamous, and didn't want to go down that route. In my darkest moments, I think I am simply a front, and I weep for my precious memories of our sex life, when I can only suppose he was pretending to enjoy himself.
At other times, I think he cares for me very deeply and our sex life was, if not all he wanted, at least a part of it. We haven't had sex for a decade, but we don't have separate rooms. We're still quite touchy-feely. Is this so different from any more conventional marriage?
I Now in our 50s, we will soon be going through a divorce without being open about the real reason: many will be bemused and uncomprehending; why on earth am I tearing apart my very nice life, and at my advanced age?
Those who do know are equally bemused; why, if I've known for 15 years, bother to divorce him now? Well, to be honest, I'm just tired. Since I found out, I have been waiting for the sword to fall.
But if my husband ever chooses to come out, I know I won't be surrounded by a wave of support as I face up to life on my own. I won't be a hero - though I am as much a victim of society's bigotry as my husband.
For our estranged partners, it is the end of a painful journey. For us, it is just the beginning. (© Daily Telegraph)