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All 2 Million of Us and Counting – Because We Count Too!

June is Pride month, a time when LGBTQ people tell their stories out loud. Once upon a time, they could not do that without fear of being arrested, beaten or killed. Now, it is a time for straight spouses to tell our stories as well, because we count too.

Pride month occurs in June to commemorate the Stonewall uprising.  On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a popular Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.  The reason given was that Stonewall was serving liquor without a license, but it was well known that police often targeted gay bars for raids at that time. However, this time was different. No one had ever fought back before.

As gay men and drag queens were being loaded into police vans, the crowd started throwing bottles.  The police called for backup, and rioting ensued on the neighboring streets.  In the following days, LGBTQ people demonstrated for their civil rights – the first time that demonstrations for their civil rights had ever taken place. Today, it remains important for people to live authentic lives, without fear or shame because of their sexual orientation.

And that includes us, the heterosexual current or former spouses and partners of LGBTQ people. There are millions of us – all around the world.

The long-held estimate of 2,000,000 straight spouses in the United States was always a conservative one.  Our founder, Amity Buxton, arrived at this figure when performing research for her book “The Other Side of the Closet” in the 1990s. She said:

“The 2,000,000 figure is derived from a conservative estimate of the incidence of more or less homosexual behavior (a mid-range figure of four accepted percentages of gay men who marry (twenty percent) and of lesbians who marry (eighteen to thirty-five percent), the percentage of bisexual men and women (at least twice as many as homosexuals) and the percentage of married bisexual persons (undetermined). 

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetObviously there is a greater likelihood that as more LGBTQ people tell their stories and live openly, the numbers change.  What was a conservative estimate of 2 million 20 years ago is now likely to be a very low estimate.  It remains difficult to calculate these numbers with certainty.  However, there is one thing we do know: the demand for assistance from the Straight Spouse Network has grown exponentially.

We used to get a few requests a week for help.  In April 2017, 188 new requests came in through our triage system. In addition, our website has seen a spike in hits.  We seem to attract a lot of hits from the Googled question “is my husband gay?” People seeking information on transgender spouses and lesbian wives also find us through Google. They comment on this blog, Straight Talk, on articles they find from these searches that we published years ago.  They message us on Facebook, thinking they are alone.

They join divorce support groups, only to find that there is much about their experience which is unique, and not understood. They join groups for spouses of recovering sex addicts, only to find that again, their experience is different. Some LGBTQ people are sex addicts.  But not all. They try talking to good friends and family, clergy and counselors, only to find that other people want to back off once issues pertaining to  having an LGBTQ spouse are raised.

Amity stated the problem for us clearly in the forward to “The Other Side of the Closet:

“Because the trauma is so profound, the process of recovery and transformation is long and arduous, requiring courage, patience, and persistence. It typically takes at least a year to resolve the pragmatic issues of damaged sexuality, changed relationship and conflicting parent-spouse roles. Two or more years are generally needed to resolve the more complex issues of fragmented identity, integrity, family configuration and belief system.  All told, it usually takes more than three years to construct a new life, and far longer to look dispassionately at the experience.”

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetIt’s an uncomfortable truth for many LGBTQ spouses, advocates, clergy and counselors to acknowledge – that the effect of living in a marriage or long term partnership with an LGBTQ spouse or partner is devastating to the heterosexual spouse, requiring, time for recovery, support, adjustment, and eventual healing. But it is true. This isn’t the same as any other infidelity.  It isn’t the same as any other lie.  It causes us to question our own sexual self worth, our ability to trust in relationships. And it takes TIME to work through it all.

Many of us do become advocates for LGBTQ rights.  Some of us are parents of LGBTQ children. And for some, being among advocates who seek positive changes in society while living honest authentic lives themselves is refreshing.

But for so many of us, it remains difficult to tell our stories, or have anyone truly listen without proposing a quick fix, or an admonition to “just get over it”.  And that is why the Straight Spouse Network is invaluable in the global support we provide. It often shocks many straight spouses to discover that they indeed are not alone – and that there are millions of us. 2 million in the USA and counting.  There are active chapters of the Straight Spouse Network in Canada, Australia, India, the UK, and there are contacts in Asia, Europe, and South America.

We don’t have a chapter or contact in China – not yet anyway. Scholars believe that 80% of the male homosexuals in China marry a woman, who is known as a tongqi. Approximately 31.2% of all tongqi marriages end in divorce.  Being married to a gay husband is not recognized as legal grounds for divorce in China, and many tongqi are financially dependent on their husbands.  Estimates of the number of tongqi in China range from 10 million to 20 million.

And that’s just wives of gay men. We haven’t found any statistics on men who marry lesbians in China.

When LGBTQ people cannot live authentic lives, that creates a greater likelihood of mixed orientation marriages. So during Pride month, as we support the rights of LGBTQ people, we remain dedicated to telling the stories from the other side of the closet. There is no need for a straight spouse to suffer in silence. We offer free, confidential peer-to-peer support, either in local face to face groups, or in secret online communities.

And we will continue to tell the stories of all straight spouses, male and female, married and divorced, whether there has been a “honey I’m gay” disclosure, or a denial resulting in questions that never seem to end.

2 million and counting in the USA.

 

Millions more across the planet.

 

We are not alone.

6 Comments

  1. When we tell our stories, we need to make the resistance to hearing us, be a piece of the story we tell, and mention it up front. That is a big part of our stories, and it’s the part that gets in the way of being heard. We need to address it quickly and in the beginning. When we meet with that resistance, don’t try to to attack it or accuse it or fight it. Simply point it out and ask where is it coming from, so that the other person can respond.

    For example, “It seems like my talking about this makes you nervous.” (or uncomfortable, or argumentative, or defensive, or whatever it is). “Am I reading you correctly? What is it about my story that is difficult to hear and talk about? I’m trying to understand it myself, but if I can’t talk about it, I won’t be able to understand it. Help me out here, so that I can understand this.”

    Something like that. The resistance to hearing us needs to be part of the conversation, and the other person who resists it, is not going to bring it up if we don’t. It’s easy to shut someone down if they just seem to be complaining or feeling sorry for themselves. It’s a lot harder to shut someone down who is asking for help. The way we present our stories has a lot to do with how it is heard. We need to ask.

    • About the resistance. One tip I learned in my group therapy was to avoid asking questions that start with “Why…?” They sound like an accusation almost every time. I never thought about it that way before but she was right. There’s a difference between asking “why do you do that…?” and “how are you able to do that…?” Or “why is it so hard for you…” vs “What makes it difficult for you…?” Asking “why” sounds like you’re saying there’s something wrong about the other person but asking “how” or “what” makes it about the behavior, not about the person. You have to practice it and practice it, but I’ve found that it really does work better. Make it about the behavior, not about the person, and you’re more likely to get somewhere.The other thing is that when someone asks us about our experience, is to not get defensive or assume it’s an insult or an offense. It’s more likely that they just don’t have enough information yet. We’ve been hurt and it’s natural to be defensive, sometimes when it’s not necessary. We need to be alert to that when we react defensively.

  2. I think one of the difficulties is that it’s hard to know what the story is, even for ourselves, because it is a story always in motion, about change. We ask our own coming-out questions. “How did this happen?” “Whose fault is this?” “What part did I play?” and ultimately, “Who am I?” This was my process, in any case, and I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that others go through a similar process. I try my hardest to rely on principles that better writers have expressed more eloquently:

    “Know thyself.”

    “Everyone was very helpful and misleading. The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.”

    “Question everything you’ve been taught or told, and hold onto what is true.”

    “Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well. One always loves just a little bit more, and the other loves just a little bit less.”

    “Don’t apologize for having loved someone.”

    “Years from now, when you look back on this, be kind.”

    “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, “is to learn something. That’s the one thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil…, There is only one thing for it then — to learn. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never fear or distrust, and never regret… Learning is the thing for you. Look at how many things there are to learn.”

    And more recently:

    “For some, being among advocates who seek positive changes in society while living honest authentic lives themselves is refreshing.”

    Thank you for saying this; this is who I want to become; I want this to be part of my…

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful article, reminding us that we are not alone. 11 years ago when my husband came out, I thought I was the only one and felt totally alone just for a short while because as soon as I googled “gay men who marry women” I immediately found SSN and my local support group. My lifeline!!
    9 years divorced. I could not have come this far without the support of SSN.
    The Gay Thing diminishes day by day as I take over my life and my destiny.
    I feel for all of us, we’re in this together.

  4. Magnificent piece. Thank you. Because we DO count too. Our journey is often a nightmare. For those who question? Be as gay as you want to be. Just don’t marry me.

  5. Thank you for this, and thank you for all your work. For those of us who chose to stay in our marriages, to stay with our non-straight partners, there’s no closure, the trauma goes on, and we find ourselves, whether we like it or not, forced into our partners closet. If they are not ‘out’ in public, we cannot be either, just to our personal survival network of close friends.

    Can I, must I, just decide to stop thinking about it, about TGT, The Gay Thing, about sex, about what I cannot enjoy, ever, as long as I honour my marriage vows? But yes, I’m now an LGBTQ ally (at least a closet one!), because I’d like to see my experience, our experience help others to avoid the pain we’ve known.

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