Bigsmiles saidYou aren't being naive, but because of your age, a little lack of perspective. I'm 61 and when I was in the 'formative gay' years we had no role models, no positive media or social support. If you went to the library (no internet) all you found were books that described your 'condition' as a perversion.
All of the literature, movies, etc. had sad homosexuals that committed suicide at the end rather than face the world.
I did get married to try and change. I felt that if I changed my behavior, I could change my thoughts. I hoped and prayed it would work. It didn't.
Luckily, we have a wonderful son and I have a relatively good relationship with my ex wife.
Now why gay men marry women NOW, that is a puzzle.
I agree with others here who are suggesting that the opportunities
It is difficult to imagine the world pre-internet and how difficult it was to rationalize homosexuality back then. I would say the internet was the biggest single factor in my coming out to myself.
Let's turn it around and look at a case of someone who came out in pre-Internet 1984, but in a decidedly post-Stonewall time (aka The 1980s in a Mid-Southern Town). Most "gay" (Kinsey 5 or 6) guys like me even as late as the 80s would've stayed closeted for much longer than I did.
But, for the first time ever, there were resources if you could find your way to them--whether you were 19 or 39. There were bars, bookstores, cruisy places, and in some cases, organizations, religious groups, etc providing resources and a capable person could put it all together in a way that wasn't completely free of marginalization but not 100% subject to it either.
Right after I did come out--I worked in a bookstore that had a gay section of books, as well as the Advocate, and New York Native et al. Even Louisville had a gay newspaper by then and the bar scene was stable. Only 25 yrs prior to then such publications were illegal (de facto illegal since the US Postmaster censored any use of mail for gay topics until One v. US in 1959.
Prior to coming out, I was masculine-oriented, team-sports-friendly, easily got along with other males, etc. Dated women successfully (if not fulfillingly) during college. Was in a Greek fraternity, held office. In other words, all the makings of perfect candidate for a closeted life with marriage. I fit in, mostly.
In my specific case several things then happened (and I don't believe they could have happened even half a generation prior to the 1980s, at least not in Kentucky):
1) I got gaybashed by five young men in a public park while I was leading a double life. Far from accepting this as my fate, I was defiant both during and after this assault. It turned the LIGHT ON in terms of the disadvantages of the closet and of whether I was worth defensing AS IS.
Being a victim didn't appeal to me and when combined with profound, affirming sexual connections I had with another man by my early 20s, it all made me realize that being gay is good (if you're gay).
2) I'm from a large Catholic family that rather than being reactionary was progressively committed to intellectual pursuits. I had 5 older brothers, 2 older sisters, and a younger brother. I had learned to fight for myself in other contexts. In a family like that you learned to fight with no expectation to win but because your cause was right.
My father encouraged open debate about politics and everything was open to discussion. You'd have to know my Dad to understand that I was unusually free to define myself as a person and expect, well, acceptance. WWII war hero, hard worker, family man, conservative when that meant devoted to honest truth and to the real, loving God (not even parochial school could knock that out of his kids haha). When the time came, he accepted my explanation of myself and although I cant say he was pleased, he began to educate himself.
3) AIDS. The emergence of HIV right as I was coming of age and facing the truth, combined with #1, made coming out inevitable if you cared enough.
While our enemies greeted the disease with a rhetoric fully prepared to ignore it, it just made it impossible for the gay issue to go away. It was in the newspaper everyday and issues like hospital visitation, AZT, and many more drove in depth discussion of sexuality in every context imaginable. Also, if you went to bars here, then, you knew people who were dying and not always overnight like in the beginning. So, you had to help them even if you were in a closet. You had to be honest and open yourself on some level.
This change affected everyone--I am HIV negative to this day but probably because of other gay men who thought up "Safe Sex"--and yet I can still easily say that the moral imperatives provoked by AIDS formed my entire moral and intellectual life as a gay person and easily as much as organized religion has done.
By the later 80s, after an initial period of shock and depression the presence of HIV had compelled "us" to begin to take direct action. ACT UP, Queer Nation, and normal joes and janes coming out on network TV in the pre-DADT, the Clinton presidency, and the 1993 March on Washington soon followed. I was in The Castro enough in both 1986 and in 1994 to observe that they were two very different places--1986 was a grieving time, things closed, people died or went away. 1994 was energetic, cautiously optimistic but out of a much more mature resolve than before.
Then, the Internet hit. In Louisville, I had my first command line Internet account by late 1992. By 1994, the web had pictures. I guess the point there is that it amplifies the access to resources that for me had to be sought out. Now those types of resources are built right into even our cruisiest web sites; and there is no one who can prevent you from knowing others of your kind both locally and globally.
It remains to be seen what the current generation will make of it all, but it did change things greatly even for those of us who were considerably older before coming out.