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Two Realities

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Blog | 11 comments

Two Realities

By Ron Exler

Nine years ago, after my then-wife told me she was in love with someone else, I didn’t want to be in that place. That place of confusion, anger, sadness, questioning, regret, hunger, and darkness. I wanted that place to disappear. Maybe if I acted as if nothing changed, it would become so. Maybe if I denied the truth, something else would become the truth. Maybe if I closed my eyes, I would open them up seeing something different. Maybe if I just tried harder, prayed more, waited longer – she would change her mind. Maybe we could live our outward-facing pre-disclosure lives to protect the children and ourselves from the disruptions and pains of change.

So, I lived two realities – as many of us do at the beginning. There is the outward reality – the one others see – which many of us paint on social media. All the good stuff. The celebrations. The travels. The additions. We sprinkle in some politics, humor, and maybe share some memes. Perhaps we tout a cause or two. We stay where we are. Because what’s familiar is supposed to be comfortable. At first, I didn’t change how things looked to others and told only a few family members and friends. I stayed living with her for 19 months after disclosure. I did nothing that could repaint the picture for those seeing my everyday interactions.

Yet there was a different inner reality. Where the feelings lived. The place of tears, of questions, of fear. I could see where I was but could not see where to go. I could cry but I couldn’t imagine when the sadness would end. I could not figure out what exactly was happening, let alone what to do about it. I knew that change was inevitable, but remained steadfast in not altering my ways. I struggled every day. That guttural pain would not subside. I was trapped in this thing – this awful unfair crazy place.

Two realities. It’s how many of us protect ourselves at the start, and the path I chose. It was all I could do to keep functioning in my job and personal life. It became almost normal after months of living that way. And it was difficult, exhausting, and only made me sadder.

Now, more than nine years since disclosure and I almost forgot about my two realities. When I saw them in someone else the other day, I flinched. Wait a second – they just told me their spouse disclosed. Why are they doing that? And my dear wife, also a straight spouse, reminded me that I did the same types of things. Her comment ripped through me like a sharp knife. Why are you saying that? That hurt my feelings! She apologized profusely. The next morning it struck me that she’s right. That was me. I was in the two realities.

How did I get out of the two realities? The first step was finding the Straight Spouse Network. I went to a meeting and was surprised I was not alone. I got online and communicated with other straight spouses. I learned the stories of those further along in their journeys. I increased the frequency of my counseling visits, from which I learned I could not blame her for the two realities. They were of my own making, and to create one I needed to act. Slowly, I took small steps to change the two realities into one. A painful journey but also one of growth. Then, I was in trouble. Today, I am fine, in one reality.

If you live the two realities, know that the people in the Straight Spouse Network understand. It’s part of your process. We can help. If my story reminds you of the way you handled this, then please remember how you moved forward. Pat yourself on the back for your progress. And chip in with your time or money to help the Straight Spouse Network help others as it helped you.

Ron Exler
Board Member

Ron Exler is the Vice-President of the Straight Spouse Network Board of Directors.  He co-facilitates a face-to-face support group.  We thank Ron for sharing his personal perspective.

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Unreal Reality

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017 in Blog | 7 comments

By Janet McMonagle
Communications Director, Straight Spouse Network

From time to time, the Straight Spouse Network receives requests from media organizations who claim they want to connect with real live straight spouses. They want to tell the stories of our mixed orientation marriages, and feature actual people as part of the story.

These organizations appear to be interested in actually telling our stories. But many times, the story has already been written, and they want to dress it up. The truth of our experiences may or may not survive in their version of our own reality.

To our disappointment, such was the situation when we were contacted by a producer of popular reality show company. The producer had previously established a personal connection with our Facilitator Liaison, Linda Ehle-Callens, who is also our Creative Director/Web manager. Representatives started to informally float the idea for a new docu-series about Straight Spouses. Linda told them that we are so much more than straight wives, and the “club” spans the globe, with men and women of all ages, races, cultures and religions.

Wow. That was REALLY interesting. Representatives of the production company set up a meeting to discuss thenext steps with the Linda, our Executive Director Daphne Callen, and me, the Communications Director.

During our hour-long telephone meeting with the company’s top executives, producers and creative team, we shared our stories and spoke at length of the many situations that straight spouses encounter; divorce, staying married, discovery without disclosure, the increase in spouses of transgender people seeking our support, single parenting, the challenges of raising LGBTQ children, and the often perplexing attitudes of family and friends. They assured us that their idea was not a tawdry “straight wives club” but a more in-depth presentation, such as found in “Born This Way.”

We asked that the Straight Spouse Network be engaged as a consultant, not just a supplier of names and phone numbers or source to research potential cast members. We emphasized that the real reality cannot be scripted by people who have not experienced what we have experienced, and that the Straight Spouse Network input would be needed throughout the project. We also wanted some means of ongoing support for our real people, who would be telling real stories but might encounter the spin of some alternate reality in the name of ratings and social media traffic either during or post production.

In short, we wanted the assurance that our people to be allowed to really tell their real stories. We also told them that any involvement of the Straight Spouse Network would need the involvement of the Board of Directors, and that they would need to consult with our Founder, Amity Buxton, the most renowned expert in the sadly not too populated field of support for straight spouses.

At the end of our meeting, we were promised an outline of their creative concept. A week later we received a one page presentation; a potential pitch to networks that would air the show. It featured a headshot of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, and stock photos of mostly white people in their 30s in fairly standard poses suggesting marital discord.  One featured a gay male couple in bed with the wife sitting on the edge pouting. (Yes, really.) The promotional text emphasized an “ensemble” of straight spouses, more along the lines of a group of people who form a false community in one location, similar to the real housewives shows.

We repeated that our group is diverse and many are a lot older than the models, having been in long term marriages. We also repeated our terms that the Board and Amity would need to be involved, and the Straight Spouse Network would do more than just supply names and numbers.

Suddenly they were not so interested in our help. They wanted the ensemble format, and did not want to cede any creative control. While this is certainly understandable, creativity in the realty show genre can take on an interesting meaning, where alleged reality is semi-scripted or a situation is set up.

Also, they preferred to deal with Linda as a sole contact, and not even involve Amity. Linda was not willing to take this on as a private project since s represents our organization, along with the rest of the Staff and Board.

In the end, we told them we chose not to go forward with supporting the project at as presented. They were not willing to deviate from their regular Reality format. So, yet again, there went our hope for true recognition. Perhaps they will come around again, and it will be workable.  Perhaps not.

We needed to tell you this story because, if you are contacted by anyone from a reality show, know that it didn’t come from us, and you need to tell us about it right away. More importantly, we realize that no one can tell our stories like we ourselves can.

Here’s the true reality of our lives – We ourselves need to tell our stories, and get them to be heard. Listened to. Acknowledged.

Many of us cannot even safely share the truth about our own personal experiences with our friends and family members. This is why the Straight Spouse Network is important. We must keep telling the truth about straight spouse experiences, male and female, married and divorced, around the world.

We do this through our website, and through social media. We do this when contacted by media for quotes and information about straight spouses. We do this when our people are contacted to speak to organizations in their communities about the straight spouse experience and share the support offered by the Straight Spouse Network. We do this when our people attend events sponsored by other organizations in the Rainbow World, such as PFLAG, or the Small Change conference, or the Human Rights Campaign.

WE. Do. This.
This is OUR reality.

In the future, we hope to create a regular podcast on our website which will highlight the experiences and perspectives of straight spouses, letting the world know about the truth of our lives, in our own words. We want to educate people who think we’re crybabies, or that we all hate LGBTQ people.

We’re still developing the programming and process for that, along with the funding. And we even have bigger dreams of one day finding funding to make our own documentaries and short films.

If you have experience with creating podcasts, and would like to volunteer your support, we would love to hear from you. In the meantime, if you have a story to tell, you can contact us about sharing it on our blog. Though I will need to know your true identity, your name need not be published. Our guidelines for submissions are here:

Blog Guest Writers Guidelines

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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 2

Posted by on Jun 19, 2017 in Blog | 45 comments

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 2

By Kristin Kalbli

In the absence of a therapeutic environment willing to acknowledge a complex interplay between our spouses’ recently acknowledged homosexuality and our spouses’ narcissism (or otherwise disordered psyches), straight spouses are often left to their own devices to make sense of their experiences. To be in recovery from one of these marriages often means becoming a self-taught amateur sleuth and psychiatrist.

We are undoubtedly unqualified to diagnose anyone, perhaps most of all our own ex-spouses, with whom we have been in a tangled psyche-web of co-dependence, projection and transference from which we are working to heal. But it is also unlikely that we will ever receive the validation of a confirmed diagnosis of our spouses (narcissists aren’t known for their affinity for therapy of self-reflection).

Yet the need to understand what we have just endured, the need to make sense of the nonsensical, the need to process the incomprehensible, can drive us down intense rabbit holes of research into narcissism, passive aggression, sociopathy, sadism and Cluster B. We may need to stare the monster in the face, and in coming to know it, demystify it.

Understanding dawns as we recognize behavior patterns in our spouses, and symptomology in ourselves. Sometimes we discover exact behaviors that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists experiences: the types of denials, the kinds of degradations, the ways of gas-lighting. Sometimes we discover exact feelings and emotions that are consistent among other straight spouses of narcissists in recovery: the brand of depression, the nature of the sexual damage, the disorientation and loss of self.

We can become consumed by it sometimes. My own bookshelf is a library of modern personality psychology. And each book or article tackled only one particular slice of my particular marriage puzzle: one book on passive aggressive men, a YouTube channel on cerebral narcissism, an article on the signs of a gay husband, a blog post on emotional sadism.

None have managed to unite and discuss all these factors in one place: one book, one resource. And none have been able to robustly or satisfactorily elucidate the complication interaction between our spouses’ latent homosexuality and their narcissism or other disorder.

I have found a few snippets in books and on the internet that resonated with my experience of my ex husband.  This quote from Dr. Roberta Cone begins to address the thick tangle of psycho-sexual energies and complexes we unwittingly fall prey to in our marriages:

“The narcissist is threatened by a partner’s sexual and emotional needs and believes they are out to trap them and suck them dry.  This is the narcissist’s classic projection of their true inner self.  Because of this projection he or she tortures and abuses…Most narcissists prefer pornography and masturbation to emotionally attached, mature, adult sex… Their sexuality is not a connected and balanced part of life.  Sometimes they are latent homosexuals or secretly bisexual…Punishment by emotional withdrawing and abstaining from sex is inflicted on loving partners to maintain control.  The narcissist sadistically frustrates for pleasure and can become celibate within a relationship. Sex then is only performed to keep their partner from leaving or for the demonstration of physical and psychological domination.  They are incapable of true emotional intimacy and dread the needs of a lover…The life force is sucked out of the partner leaving them hollow.”

This was the most succinct characterization of my own marriage I could find. But “latent homosexual” is dangerous terminology in this context, because there is an implied connection here, albeit a fuzzy one, between the pathology of the narcissist and the suppressed psyche of the closeted homosexual. In this paragraph, the condition of narcissism and the circumstance of closeted homosexuality form an interlaced and interdependent complex. And while there is so little research into this, I know I lived it.

In denialI often want to ask people, when they immediately shut down a conversation if the words ‘gay’ and ‘narcissist’ appear next to each other, if they really think it is impossible for an LGBT person to have the same mental illnesses we see in the heterosexual population. The past linkage of homosexuality and psychiatric disorders has made us unwilling to open that conversation and look at the very real and unique ways that being gay or gay-in-denial influences our narcissist spouses to act.

For instance, when our spouses are in denial and making a great effort to throw us off the trail, the very air in the home is made of a deception we breathe every day, a deception about who our spouse is on a fundamental level. A deception that comes at tremendous cost to our sense of reality and emotional stability. Being married to a closeted gay person colors the kinds of sexual neglect or sexual abuse we may suffer at the hands of our narcissist spouses, and this neglect and abuse varies from that inflicted by a heterosexual narcissist. If you put clams in spaghetti and marinara, it’s still spaghetti, but it’s also a completely different dish. If you add closeted homosexuality to a marriage with a narcissist, it’s still a destructive, abusive marriage to a narcissist, but it’s also a totally different marriage than a marriage to a heterosexual narcissist.

I get that this is tricky terrain to navigate, but we must.  Straight spouses are often deeply suffering from PTSD, or “post narcissistic abuse syndrome.” They struggle to find experts capable of guiding their  healing through the nuances of recovery from being married to a narcissist who is also gay-in-denial.

The truth is, while we are not claiming that our husbands and wives were narcissists because they were gay, we are claiming, unequivocally, that when our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, the mental illness interacts with the homosexuality in a way that leaves us particularly wounded. We need support and resources from professionals who  are capable of taking into account that our spouses are both gay and mentally ill, without silencing or shutting us down as we reveal our own stories and tell the truth of our own lives.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

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Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Part 1

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Blog | 28 comments

Shhhh…Don’t Say That! Why Can’t We Talk About Coping With Our Gay Spouses’ Mental Health Issues? Part 1

By Kristin Kalbli

Recently, a fellow straight spouse contacted me to express frustration over a response she’d received from a closed online support community for victims of narcissistic abuse. In a bid for more tailored support from this group, the straight spouse mentioned that her narcissistic abuser happened to be her closeted gay husband, and that there were nuances to that experience that differentiated it from that of typical heterosexual narcissistic abuse.

The moderators of the closed group told her “not to mention sexual orientation because there is no link between sexual orientation and narcissism.” She was immediately shut down, and she felt marginalized and invisible, condemned for and tainted by the faint whiff of having said something “wrong.” She was shushed, and shamed, and scolded by the admins; then she was ignored. She said she felt like she “could only tell one part” of her story. Only half her story was legitimized, the narcissistic abuse survivor part. The other part of her story, the gay husband part, was not welcome in the discussion.

And that’s a problem. Not all straight spouses were married to closeted LGBT people who were also narcissists, or sociopaths, or Cluster B types. But many of us were and are. And we face an uphill battle in getting support as women and men recovering from the narcissistic abuse of spouses who are simultaneously closeted or in-denial homosexuals.

When we try to tell our stories publicly, or build awareness around our uniquely traumatic marriages, we run into the circled wagons of the progressive LGBT ally community (I am one, by the way), and the therapeutic community who assiduously guard against any conflation of homosexuality with mental illness. It is a common experience for a straight spouse to be rebuked by a therapist with the refrain, “there is no link between homosexuality and mental illness.”

This rainbow wall of silence is extremely uncomfortable with any conversation that links the words “gay” and “narcissist”; it is bordering on offensive to utter the word “homosexual” in conjunction with any personality disorder listed in the DSM V, let alone the word “sociopathy”. And to do so is to risk raising the ugly specter of homophobia. It harkens back to the ugly days when homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and homosexuals were persecuted (often tortured) in the name of treatment for their “conditions.”

Back in the day, gays were thrown in asylums, confined to psychiatric wards, and subjected to “aversion therapies” which included traumatic electro shock therapy. Today, in religious circles, the harmful practice of gay conversion therapy, which has no efficacy record whatsoever, is based on the premise that being gay or lesbian is inherently disordered (from a religious, if not psychological perspective). And in more repressive foreign countries like Russia and Uganda, where homophobic violence is state sanctioned, the discrimination and trauma those LGBT communities endure is more likely to be the understandable cause of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Given the history, this reticence to talk openly about people with severe psychiatric illnesses who are also homosexual or bisexual is largely understandable. Therapists are accurate when they point out that scientifically there is no causal link between narcissism (or any mental illness or disordered personality) and homosexuality (or any sexual orientation). And there is no equivalence between homosexuality and mental illness. One is not the other. Period. The American Psychiatric Association rightly disavowed that homosexuality was a mental illness in the 70’s. And some supporters of LGBT people (like my friend’s online support group) diligently police those associations and call out any hint of a connection in an extremity of caution.

So this dark and damaging history of the harmful linkage between homosexuality and mental illness lurks just behind any conversation about our specific kinds of mixed orientation marriages – marriages to closeted or in-denial LGBT people who also have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies or personalities. Our mental health culture is gun shy when it comes to talking about personalities in which narcissism and homosexuality exist simultaneously (even if causally unrelated), lest there be any whiff of conflating being LGBT with a psychiatric disorder.

This schism is exemplified by another straight spouse’s experience: she recently shared with me that in her search for appropriate therapy for her family during and after divorce, once she “said the ‘g’ word, the whole tone changed.” She was “lectured about homosexuality and mental illness.” She was told that being gay was not mental illness and that she should “heal herself by advocating for gay rights.” She was admonished to be more sympathetic to her gay husband, and when she tried to articulate the nuanced challenges of living with a deceptive gay spouse, she was told by one therapist, “it’s the narcissism, dear.”

We already know it’s the narcissism, not the gay, that precipitates these harmful behaviors. But there is also an alchemical reaction between the narcissism and the homosexuality that manifests in unique ways in these marriages that must be addressed, not dismissed.  Yet patronization and dismissal are present nonetheless in some therapeutic settings. It is as though therapists and allies forget that being LGBT does not inoculate a person from having a psychiatric disorder; that although homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder, some homosexuals have psychiatric disorders, just as some heterosexuals do.

Where does this leave the straight spouse who not only grapples with healing from the deception and betrayal of the closeted gay or lesbian spouse, but also the gas-lighting and script flipping, or sometimes even intentionally sadistic mental and sexual torture? The two cannot be teased apart. We cannot separate healing from a narcissist and healing from a gay spouse. These two dimensions of our spouses’ personalities do not exist in monolithic silos, as though column A is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were secretly gay and kept it from us, and column B is filled with the issues and damage caused by the fact that our spouses were sadists or narcissists.

We cannot tease out the healing of these traumas either. Medically there may be no link, but behaviorally, they are intricately and intimately linked. And we need a therapeutic response from professionals who  have the courage to recognize that.

The Straight Spouse Network thanks Kristen for her perspective.  We invite straight spouses to share their stories, experiences, and thoughts with us in this space. To find out more, please email the editor at janet@straightspouse.org.

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

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Blog | 6 comments

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.

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