Listen to Bill, 71, a retired lobbyist in New Mexico:
"I'm probably the oldest of the callers, and I've been involved, off and on with men -- discounting my Boy Scout and teenage years -- since I was in my forties. I am married."
Listen to another Bill, 55, from Boston:
"There's so many of us out there, it seems like it's very, very good to communicate and support one another. . . . I feel like a typical male with an extra bonus, perhaps. My wife does not know."
The Bills (along with Steve from New York, Joe from western Massachusetts, a nonprofit executive from the Washington area who won't give his first name and a preacher from Toronto who also won't give his first name) leave three- to five-minute voice messages, once or twice a week, in a "Voice RoundTable" created and facilitated by John N. Craig of Fairfax. Callers also listen to the others' messages, making this a support group built around an answering machine, where no one interacts live.
That's not all. Since 1990, Craig has organized dozens of three-day and one-day conferences for more than 200 complex closeted cases, white bisexual and gay men (where, exactly, is the line?) who are predominately in their forties, fifties and sixties. He has advertised for these gatherings -- held in California, New York, Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and Massachusetts -- in magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic and Harper's.
Most participants are married.
Many have grown children.
Most hold high-ranking, leadership jobs.
That this is confidential with a capital C is understandable.
Craig, 52, is openly bisexual and holds a master's degree in social work. "I'm strongly sexually attracted to men. I'm strongly attracted to women," he says, sitting at a coffee shop on 14th Street NW yesterday morning. He was still trying to make sense of the spectacular disclosure Thursday by New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey -- twice married with two daughters -- that he is gay.
Spectacular not only because it was unprecedented, but also because McGreevey, in this Age of Queerness, is hardly alone.
Whether they call themselves gay or bisexual, McGreeveys are everywhere: in Red America and Blue America, in suburbs and cities, in corporate offices and city halls (and the governor's mansion). They are the white guys on the DL -- the "down low," which describes black men who sleep with other men, popularized (some say ghettoized) by the best-selling book "On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep With Men."
Regardless of their race, these men are living double lives, talking in doublespeak. "I'm gay," one says, "but I like to call myself bi." "I'm married," another says, "and I only play around with other married guys."
Cruising-for-sex spots, in Rock Creek Park and Meridian Hill Park, just to name two, are attractions. Profiles in chat rooms and postings on Web sites are written in code. "Bimm" translates to bisexual married male; "m4m" translates to "married male for married male."
Yesterday at 12:09 a.m., AOL's chat room listings included rooms such as "BiCuriousMarriedMen" (36 people there), "dallas bimm4bimm" (36 there, too), and "Bostonbimm4bimm" (another 36). Hook-up ads (sex ads) such as this one in the "Casual Encounters" section of CraigsList.org read: "Traveling to Reston area for business. Handsome, bi married 38 [years old] . . . looking to meet another bi married man for safe . . . "
Of course, not all bisexual or gay married men simply look for sex. That's where the Voice RoundTable serves as an uber-anonymous forum, an emotional and intimate sounding board where men such as Bill and Steve can call early in the morning, when the wife is still asleep, or during lunch break at work.
"These men don't know where to turn to," says Craig, the roundtable's organizer. "Who will understand them?"
On July 8 at 5:44 a.m., Bill, the 55-year-old from Boston, leaves this message: "I'm delighted to be a part of this group." He then talks about his wife and how her knowing of his same-sex attraction "threatens" and "hurts" her.
Later that day, at 12:11 p.m., Steve, a 48-year-old who works in photography publishing, says this of his situation: "Basically, it works about as well" -- he laughs a shy laugh -- "as something like this can work. It's a difficult life."
Steve, who lives in New York, has been married for 27 years, a "great father," he says, to his two preteen boys. His wife knows of his ongoing affair with a 47-year-old teacher. (The two practice safe sex, he says.) His wife, "in one way or another," he continues, has come "to accept it."
He explains in a phone interview, "There are no road maps here." He pauses. "I don't think I'll live my life as a gay man -- ever. It's clear in my mind that I'll get older with my wife. I love my family. I'm very committed to my family."
Ralph Roughton, on the faculty of the Emory University Psychoanalytic Institute, is familiar with that inner struggle: How to tell a wife, after nearly 30 years of marriage, that you're attracted to men, too? How to tell two grown daughters about this very personal part of daddy's life?
But he went through it: He came out to his wife in 1989. Their divorce became final in 1998. The two still talk. He attended Craig's conferences three times in the 1990s, and these days, he refers to himself as "gay," not "bisexual." "That period of going to the conferences was a period of transition for me. That's true of a lot of people," Roughton says in a phone interview. "But there are true bisexuals out there, and it's a long, gradual process to come to terms with it.
"It's still a continuing process for me."
As for McGreevey, Roughton says, "Most men who are in his situation are confused about their real feelings. . . . They may be sexually attracted to men but genuinely in love with their wives. It's possible to feel both those things at the same time."
The nonprofit executive from the Washington area -- he's 34 -- was married for seven years. Their friends and families thought they were the "perfect couple," with the "perfect baby girl."
"I decided to get married," he says, "fall in love with a woman and do all those kind of things that we're supposed to do."
But he had been attracted to men since junior high, when he was growing up in the Midwest. But who do you tell? Where do you go? Finally, in October 2002, he told his wife. "It was a complete surprise to her" is all he would say. They are now cordial. Their divorce will be final in a few weeks.
Listen to his message, left on July 7 at 12:40 p.m:
"Today, I'm still struggling with the fact that even though I've opened up to my now-ex-wife . . . I think I find it hard to talk to people about all of this because I still want to lead that normal life."