We’ve started the year with a bang. More people than ever are contacting the Straight Spouse Network for support when they discover that their spouse is LGBTQ.
So what are their stories?
Some are spouses of transgender individuals. Some are married to people who deny being gay or lesbian. Some are struggling to understand bisexuality, and determine if this is the truth about their spouse, or another way to admit that their spouse is gay. Some have had a full disclosure from a newly out and proud spouse and are reeling from the shock and pain, while the rest of the world seems oblivious.
More than a third of the people who contact us are men.
Some of the people who contact us want to stay married. Some aren’t sure. Some were never married.
Each person who contacts us has a different story. Some are grieving the loss of a marriage. Some are in complete shock, not just about infidelity, but questioning the reality of the life they have led. Was anything ever true? Can they ever trust their own judgement again? Can they ever believe what their spouse tells them?
Some situations are more complicated. Some straight spouses are surviving abusive situations, and struggling to remain safe while emerging from an abusive spouse’s closet. They are often told that they cannot tell anyone what they know or the entire world will collapse and it will be their fault. Or they are ridiculed for knowing, told that it is all their imagination, or they are vicious liars.
They may find that they are further isolated from any source of help – because they are perceived as being troublesome, disturbed, and uncooperative. Or they are told that they just have to go along with their spouses demands – or else they are homophobic haters.
Others remain married, seeking help as individuals and as couples, dealing with the emerging changes in their marriages, and coping with family members’ reactions.
What do we do? We connect people. We either connect straight spouses online or in face to face support groups where they exist. We aren’t therapists. We don’t tell you what to do. We offer free, confidential peer to peer support from a network of volunteers.
We are also a point of contact for others who want to learn more about straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages. We have spokespersons who can speak up about the straight spouse experience on panels, in print, and to local groups. we also can serve as points of contact for local journalists, wishing to write about the effect on a family of coming out – or not coming out.
In some places, our volunteer force is thin. But we do help with online connections for support, and phone calls.
We also build connections. We are not a political organization. However, you will sometimes see our local chapters represented at gay pride events, being visible, being out, and being available to help the straight spouses of the people who are celebrating. Sometimes the LGBTQ people we meet at these events are out to everyone – except their heterosexual husband or wife.
Our founder, Amity Buxton, has worked with thousands of mixed orientation couples over her long career by her estimate. She has published research on counseling straight spouses, which is available through our website.
If you want more information, or would like to volunteer to help other straight spouses, please contact us here.
Holidays are wonderful times for families to get together and renew relationships, celebrate traditions, and share the latest news. For straight spouses undergoing the stresses of divorce, or the recent discovery that a spouse is gay, those same holidays can be awkward and painful. It can hurt to see traditions discarded, or to be excluded from family gatherings, or be told that the spouse has to be excluded or included.
Some new dilemmas for straight spouses include basic things, like “whose house are we going to for dinner and who will be there” to “telling the kids mom is gay” before or after the holiday, to a lack of money to keep up all the traditions. They can be as complicated as “will Daddy bring the boyfriend to Grandma’s this year” or taking the kids shopping to buy a present for Mom’s girlfriend. A straight spouse might feel a rush of anger at seeing an expensive present that was lavished on a boyfriend or girlfriend, that was never considered for them, or seeing the gay couple take the trip of a lifetime that the spouse had thought would be a special second honeymoon.
Then there are always the friends and relatives who have their own opinions about things – and express them loudly. That could mean saying negative things about the gay spouse in front of the children, or a tentative hint around the kitchen table that “you can still be married, just live together like brother and sister”. It can be the brother in law who keeps asking “ya want me to ‘fix’ his car?” or the cousin who just CANNOT believe that this is true, and YOU must be mistaken. Add to this family stew a gay spouse who is worried that nothing will be the same “because I’m gay and nobody accepts that”, and your happy holidays turn into an occasion of dread.
How about those friends who are determined to be fair and friendly and invite you both to a party? You venture out, and find your spouse there with a date – and the group of friends is affirming “coming out” but ignoring how devastating this is to you. Isn’t it funny how the rules for divorcing heterosexual couples don’t apply to us?
The best advice we have for the holidays is to view them as an opportunity for new traditions affirming you and your values. Accept that things will be different. The first year it is a discovery process, finding what works and what doesn’t. After that, it does get easier.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with friends and relatives, and establish what is appropriate and what is not. Tell the brother in law to fix YOUR car since you need help. Tell the cousin that believe it or not, it’s true and you’re not discussing it right now. Tell the person who wants you to stay married that you can’t. It really is not possible to ignore a gay spouse’s sexual activity, no matter how discreet. It is different. And if you are staying together, you are making your own rules. Just don’t totally alienate people who truly love you. Remember, they are struggling to understand what has happened, and want to know how to help you.
Holidays can be a bridge that we cross from an old life to a new one. Sometimes it is a painful bridge, but we do get there! The important thing is to keep going.
World AIDS Day is today, December 1. It is a day to remember the 35 million people who have died from AIDS related illnesses, and show solidarity with the 78 million people around the world who are currently infected. It is also a day to recognize that many people who are infected are unaware that they are HIV positive, as they have never been tested.
Many partners of HIV positive people are unaware that they need to be tested, or that they are at risk for HIV and AIDS.
According to the World Health Organization, testing remains low among groups who are considered to be “key populations” and their partners.
“Testing also remains low among “key populations” and their partners – particularly men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons – who comprise approximately 44% of the 1.9 million new adult HIV infections that occur each year.” – World Health Organization
Yes. That includes straight spouses. We are partners of men who have sex with men. We are partners of transgender people.
And many of us don’t know that our husbands are having sex with other men. Many of us are unaware as of yet that our spouses are transgender, or struggling with gender identity.
Whether you are sure or not, whether you have proof or not, whether you have a spouse who you trust or not, you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself. And if you know your spouse or partner is engaging in high risk behaviors, even if you believe they are taking precautions – you still have to take care of yourself.
Get tested. HIV is not a death sentence anymore. AIDS is not curable. However, it is treatable, and people who have it lead long, productive lives when they have treatment. But first, you need to be tested.
Getting tested is not as difficult or as scary as it used to be. If you are comfortable with getting tested through your family doctor or gynecologist, do so. There are testing services offered by hospitals and clinics in many communities. In some parts of the world, self-testing is possible, meaning that you can perform the initial test in privacy, and then follow up with a medical professional for further testing if the results indicate that you need a second test. You can read the WHO guidelines on self testing here.
Find a way to get tested. And do it. Now. Early detection is key to treatment having a good outcome. Community health clinics and local health departments offer testing, and many times it is free. Many clinics are opting for self testing, or rapid testing, with just an oral swab or a small needle prick. Results are often available in as little as 20 minutes, and follow up is available for those whose rapid tests indicate a person has HIV.
There are also HIV test kits that are sold through pharmacies.
Getting tested doesn’t mean you are unsupportive of your spouse. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them. It means that you know or suspect that they are engaging or could possibly engage in high risk sexual behavior. It means that you don’t trust the people they may be having sex with. But most of all, it means that you are taking care of yourself.
Living in someone else’s closet can be dangerous to your health, even fatal.
Don’t wait until you’re sure about your suspicions about your spouse. Don’t wait until you have “proof.” That day may never come. But you have many more days ahead of you, and you deserve to live them in good health.
And if you’re wondering about all the powerful emotions you have about even HAVING to get tested – you are not alone. You’ll find that many straight spouses understand the feeling all too well.
Stay alive. Be well.
No preparation. No warning. No clue. Just the announcement: “I’ve decided I’m transgendered.” We’ve been married for thirty-three years.
The details come out: for the past several years he’s been fishing my discarded underwear out of the trash, trying them on when I’m not home. Reading lesbian romance novels on his e-reader, a private account he hid from me. Watching “Transparent” at night after I’ve gone to bed. He’s already talked it all over with a mutual friend, one who is a counselor, “so it’s ok.” He thinks he’ll transition, but not just yet. For now, he says, he’s not planning to come out publicly. Just like that, I’m pulled into his closet.
More revelations. He wants to “act the part of a woman” in bed. He wants to wear women’s lingerie, satin and lace. He wants to lie back, spread his legs; he wants me to lie on top of him between his legs. He wants to be penetrated. He thinks if he’s sexually submissive he’ll feel “like a woman.” For him, I do these things, although we’re not trading places, because I’ve never worn what he’s wearing, felt what he’s feeling.
He also wants us to be two women together; he wants to “act as a lesbian” to me. When he buries his face between my legs he moans with the pleasure of accessing what he wants for himself. He can’t get enough of me. He’s so in love with me, so grateful; he’ll never forget the wonderful gift he’s been given. At first, it’s wildly exciting.
But then it isn’t. I want my husband back; I want our two bodies to talk together as they used to do. Out of the question: that’s now forbidden. He tells me he hates his male body, rejects male sexual response. He likes “being taken” and “giving himself up.” I don’t recognize his version of female.
He shaves off his beard. He shaves off his chest hair. He shaves under his arms, between his thighs. He says hair is male, and women are smooth. But he won’t shave his legs, because someone might “guess.” I have hair, too: on my legs, under my arms, on my face. When I shave my face I begin to feel shame; as a woman I’m clearly a failure.
He buys himself women’s clothes to wear around the house: a white slip, a swishy skirt. He adopts new mannerisms: simpering, dipping his chin, he coyly drops a slip strap. He grows emotional, makes a show of crying openly. A caricature of woman.
When I express my discomfort, my doubts, my pain, he tells me I’ve shamed him; he calls me cisgenderist, transphobic, a TERF. Yet living in his closet—where I never agreed to live—I have no one else to talk to. I can’t tell my family, my friends, my colleagues; to do so would be to “out” him.
No preparation. No warning. No clue. Just the announcement: “I’ve decided I’m transgendered.” We’ve been married for thirty-three years.
The author has requested that her name not be published.
In recent months, the Straight Spouse Network has seen an increase in requests for help from straight spouses of transgender people. These requests are mostly from women, and many have been in long term marriages of over 20 years.
As is common with all straight spouses, no two requests for support are alike. Some people are coping with cross-dressing husbands. Others have been told after 40 years of marriage, with retirement on the horizon, that their husband is now transitioning to female, with or without surgery.
Transgender Awareness week will be celebrated November 14-20. During this time, many transgender people will be coming out and speaking out. For straight spouses, already coping with a lot of changes and new information, this may be welcome or it may be overwhelming.
We would like the month of November here at the Straight Spouse Network to be Transgender Straight Spouse Awareness month. We can start by telling our stories as spouses of transgender people.
Yes. We want your stories. We want your comments. We want to know the good, the bad, the real.
We need to know who you are, but we can agree to not publish your name publicly.
We want your input. Each person’s experience and situation is different. We want to make the public more aware of what the straight spouse goes through when a husband or wife is transgender.
If you’re a straight spouse and would like to write an article for us, please see our article guidelines here. If you just want to contact us with comments for articles that will appear in this blog or in our newsletter, please comment below. Please note that your full name and your email will not be displayed with your comment, and all comments are moderated.