My gay divorce made me whole again. But first it was the loneliest experience in the world.

Karl Dunn Headshot/"How to Burn a Rainbow" book cover
Photo: Provided

The following is an excerpt from “How to Burn a Rainbow” by Karl Dunn, available on Amazon everywhere and select bookstores in the US, UK, and Europe.


Way back in 2012, when I walked into the office on the Monday morning after I’d proposed, my work partner saw the ring on my finger and was instantly out of his chair.  

“You did it!” he yelled, bear-hugging me off the ground. News spread and soon every other married guy in the office came over. Straight guys I’d only ever seen in meetings served up huge congratulatory hugs and smiles. Champagne and paper cups appeared out of nowhere.

I was taken aback by what a big deal it was for all the married guys I worked with. Then I realized we may never completely understand each other’s lives, but every married straight guy knows what it is to get engaged. To buy that ring, organize the moment, get down on one knee, pop the question, and then slide that ring on the fourth finger of the left hand of the person they love more than anyone else on Earth. We had that in common now.  

There were even a few good-natured laughs as one guy asked, “Wait, who proposed to who?” and I talked them through how I’d popped the question with a second ring in my pocket for Gunnar to put on my finger.  

I can only speak for myself here, but I believe this would ring true for a lot of gay men my age: I’ve had a lifelong mistrust of straight guys. They were the ones I tried to imitate for years growing up. The bad ones beat me up in high school, and the worst ones write laws that make the whole LGBTQ+ community suffer. Ever since I’d come out, I’d always hung back a couple of degrees from hetero men till I knew I could trust them. I know there are lots of great ones—some of my best friends are straight guys—but even with them, I find myself envious of the ease with which they move through this world.

Then suddenly, those feelings were gone. For the very first time in my life, standing among all those straight guys in my office with that ring on my finger, I truly felt like I was their equal. One of the guys even said to me, “Now that you’re engaged, you just made my marriage bigger.”  

I know I’m not supposed to say, or even think, that I needed straight men’s validation to believe that I was as good as them. I know that’s not PC. It’s not what we gays say to each other in the fight.  

But it was true. I loved how it felt. And I hated how much I loved it.  


Returning to 2017, it was the second Friday night since I’d been back in the house. My wedding ring sat in a box on the mantlepiece but sometimes, when its presence was so loud I couldn’t ignore it, I’d take it out. That night, I palmed it gently, missing the superpower of equality it had once given me. Now I was a married man on his way to not being one. I was thinking about how there isn’t even a word for it, like “un-fiancé” or something, when Brian called.  

“You. Me. Drinks. Now.” 

“I’m not feeling it, Brian…” 

“C’mon, man. Let’s go. You’re such a shut-in…” 

When I continued hemming and hawing over the phone, Brian finally said, “B*tch, if you want to have a social life, that’s gonna require you to actually leave your house and let people see you.”  

Couldn’t really argue with that. 

So I scanned my bedroom floor, put on a T-shirt that passed the sniff test, then tried to compensate by hiding it under my most expensive jacket. I fixed my hair, hated it, and gave up as I walked through the mess to the downstairs garage, past the dirty dishes covering the kitchen counters. 

It was a vibey Friday evening at the Eagle, our local gay bar. And as Brian and I got drinking and chatting, I was surprised to discover that I was actually having fun. I breathed in the LA autumn night air from the bar’s courtyard, watching the silhouetted skyline of stucco apartments, palm trees, and power lines. It felt good to be out of the house and out of my head. A good-looking guy came over and started chatting to the two of us. He seemed to be really into Brian and as they started talking away, I stared off into the distance for a minute. Then he turned to me. “So, Karl, are you single?” 

I stared back at him like a deer in headlights. As the ever more uncomfortable silence stretched out, Brian had to intervene: “He’s getting divorced.”  

At first the guy nodded in commiseration, but it was a reflex. Then his brow twisted up. “Wait… From a woman?”  

“No, I was married to a man,” I replied. 

The guy put his hand on my shoulder. It seemed like he’d lost his balance. Then he looked me right in the eye. “Jesus! Are we getting divorced now?” 

I said the same thing to him that I’d said to Gunnar. “I’m sorry, I tried.”  

The guy blinked a little.  

“OK,” he said shakily, and then wandered back to his friends. They all had “so-how-did-it-go?” looks on their faces. The guy said just a couple of words, then they all looked over at me like I had leprosy. 

“You alright?” Brian asked. 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. 

As I drove home, I realized the absolute, number one, sh*ttiest thing about being the only gay man you know getting a divorce, is that you are the only gay man anyone knows who’s getting a divorce.  

Karl Dunn was the global advertising lead on several world-famous brands like MINICooper, Levi’s, and ASICS. He spent over two decades as a multi-award winning advertising creative working in Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. His career culminated as the Director of Innovation for a powerhouse global advertising network. Then it all burned to the ground when he told his husband he wanted a divorce. Just a few months later, Karl was sleeping on an air mattress in a former squat in Berlin with no job, visas, or money left.

Using his divorce as his crisis of identity, Karl chronicled the whole experience in his book “How To Burn A Rainbow”, where he gave up chasing everyone else’s dream to find his own. It’s an “Eat Pray Love” style, riches-to-rags journey from LA to Berlin; an intimate, honest, and revealing story about divorce and self-love that questions and reframes the entire institution of marriage. 

As Karl says in his book, “My marriage didn’t make me whole, my divorce did.” Interested in the themes of self-love, LGBTQ+, and social justice, Karl’s career as an author is just beginning as he seeks to show that the question we should be asking is not if LGBTQ+ people should exist, but why LGBTQ+ people exist–a question he believes is of crucial importance to the world. Karl lives between LA and Berlin and also works as a freelance advertising consultant to cause based brands and LGBTQ+ endeavors by businesses.

Don't forget to share:

This article includes links that may result in a small affiliate share for purchased products, which helps support independent LGBTQ+ media.

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated