If the news of a divorce from a gay spouse is ever good, this would probably qualify as one of the best case scenarios we’ve ever seen.
Popular parenting blogger, Jill Smokler, of Scary Mommy announced her upcoming divorce from her husband on her website after careful consideration. Then, her husband submitted a guest article on his perspective.
“Once I came to terms with the fact that I was gay, I figured I had two options,” Jeff Smokler wrote. “I could die — either from my intentional neglect of my health and well-being, or perhaps from something even more tragic — leaving my children fatherless, or I could come out and hope that I remained surrounded by the love of my friends, family, wife and children.”
“For many years, I chose option one; letting myself slip into unhealthy habits and depression,” he continued. “So how then do Jill and I now find ourselves in this moment? What changed? The truth is, nothing changed. We were simply ready.”
The couple is committed to being honest, and to continuing to create a stable family for their children, and be supportive of their children.
The struggles of coming out, and of coping with the devastating realization for the straight spouse, are not easy. The Smoklers acknowledged that they experienced many years of tremendous stress and difficulty before arriving at the resolution: a divorce that is done as openly as possible.
Jill Smokler is among the luckiest group of straight wives. Her husband struggled with honesty and included her in his discovery and disclosure. They mutually share a partnership of family and personal connection. Letting go of the secret is freeing for both spouses when it is done together. For many of us, that is not an option. We are consigned to closets, experiencing ongoing denial, or threats or shaming by the gay spouse. We’re put off on the question of telling the kids, or we’re cast aside – as if the disclosure only belongs to the gay spouse.
The Smoklers have shown that coming out isn’t just a matter for the LGBTQ spouse. Coming out is a family matter which includes the straight spouse. Not everything is going to be easy, or smooth, or go according to one person’s desires and plans.
They aspire to show that divorce can come from a place of love – and there is no shortage of love in their relationship. We are all uplifted by this affirmation! Yet, a number of straight spouses are experiencing pain along with that sense of “Oh, OK, so it doesn’t always have to be terrible and terrifying for everyone.” It’s a relief that not ALL mixed orientations marriages that end in divorce end with abuse, gaslighting, deception, and shaming. It’s a relief to know that not all straight spouses go through the process of being discarded, or living down the writing of an untrue script.
What are some examples of untrue scripts?
1. This is no big deal. Other couples stay married. Other straight wives are SUPPORTIVE! (after all, look at Scary Mommy!)
It is a big deal, and the Smoklers have said so. And their support is for each other – and has developed throughout the 15 years of marriage. Many times, the feelings of the straight spouse are discarded, denied, ignored, or just plain unacknowledged. We discover that we don’t matter. The Smoklers matter to each other.
2. My wife chooses to be angry. She’s very bitter and hateful. No one can make you angry (unhappy, sad, distraught). Only YOU can make you angry.
Anger is a normal response, and it is a consequence of being hurt and deceived. It can take a while to work it through. And, it takes professional support, patience, and respect of boundaries and personhood. Also, wanting to have equitable distribution of marital assets, and adequate financial support or a fair decision on child custody and support is not about anger. It is about survival. It is about going forward as a family, in the best interests of everyone in that family, and it may not always be clear and easy to determine.
3. Everyone is gay. You are just repressed (judgmental, crazy, narrow-minded, etc)
No. There is a spectrum of sexual orientation, and many people are just plain heterosexual. They marry with the expectation that their spouse is heterosexual, or is willing to commit to a marriage.
4. My kids don’t accept me because my husband/wife’s family is religious.
While religion might inform some children’s beliefs, problems in relationship often have a lot to do with the relationships that have been formed throughout their lives.
We’re really encouraged by the honesty shown by Jeff and Jill ending a mixed orientation marriage with divorce in an honest, deliberate, and considerate way that affirms the entire family. For those of us who have not shared this kind of connection in our marriages, it is also affirming to know that it can be done, if the gay spouse is honest and loving, and the blame games are set aside.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support all straight spouses, male and female, of LGBTQ people. Whether or not your spouse has come out to you or is in denial, whether you found out by discovery or disclosure, we are a peer to peer network that can affirm your experience, offer connection, support, and confidentiality. Your experience may or may not be as ideal as Jill and Jeff, but we are here for you, around the world.
Straight Spouses – Fake News and the Real Story
It usually starts out like this:
A reporter or writer contacts the Straight Spouse Network. They want to tell the story of actual real straight spouses.
This makes us really excited! We want our experiences to be known and acknowledged. We want more people to know about the Straight Spouse Network, so they can know they are not alone when they find that their husband or wife is LGBTQ.
Sometimes it’s not all that exciting however. Sometimes it’s downright infuriating.
We never respond to the people who want to cast a reality show where the big secret will be divulged on camera, and the straight spouse will be “helped” by an “expert” to move beyond their pain – quickly.
Sometimes when we respond, we find that the story has already been written, and all that is needed is a few quotes to back up the story that has already been written. “Don’t you have any people who stay married? Can they tell us what that is like?” Well, yes we do, and yes they can, if they choose.
But sometimes they don’t choose to allow their names to be published. There are many reasons why a straight spouse or a mixed orientation couple might want to tell their story but still maintain some privacy. It’s not always life in a homophobic hating world. Sometimes they want to consider the effect on family members, children, their relationship, or their place in a community of having personal and intimate information out there in public.
Sometimes the straight spouse wants to tell their story and speak with a journalist – but wait, we need the permission of your ex spouse to write about it…..or confirm it…..For us, this is often a huge roadblock, along with having to divulge our own identity.
It’s also a deterrent to acknowledging the truth – the real truth – the real news is that our experiences are surprisingly common, and yet there is surprisingly little information available outside of what the Straight Spouse Network is able to supply. Unless of course, it comes with juicy details, or can be used as an affirmation of being out and proud.
Sometimes writers have specific criteria. They may want to speak with wives only, in a certain metro area. They may want wives who are friendly with their husband’s new partner. They may want only spouses of transgender people. They may only want to speak with people whose husbands or wives actually came out, and not those whose LGBTQ spouses remain in the closet of denial. They may want a happy ending.
We are always careful about guarding confidentiality and introducing straight spouses to writers. It can be very painful to tell the whole truth to a writer only to find it has been rewritten to minimize some of the pain. One freelance writer once said to us “Don’t you have anyone I can speak to who isn’t so…. so…angry? I really don’t want to write anything that might offend gay people.”
Truth must be told. Anger is part of the straight spouse experience. Grief is part of the straight spouse experience. Surviving for a long time with complicated emotions, financial, social, and family fallout is part of the experience.
Our experiences are diverse. They are painful to us, and may be painful to hear about. But truth is not offensive. Sometimes truth is painful.
Being forced into a closet is offensive, and many of us are forced there by our LGBTQ spouses and our families. Being forced into a closet because someone might be offended at your response to being a straight spouse – finding your story is “cleaned up” for publication – being silenced – now THAT is REALLY offensive!
We’ve had a few good mentions in the press, and were encouraged last year by this excellent article. Dear Abby mentions us in her column at least once a year. We are the go-to resource for global information on straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages.
And in this era of “fake news” and not being able to believe what you read, we will continue to tell the true story. That true story is yours. And you can share it with us!
If you’d like to contribute your experience to this blog in the form of an article, please see our guidelines here. Yes, you may use your real name, or an alias. The important thing to us is that straight spouses get to speak and have our say.
Straight spouse truth is shared every day on our public forum, in comments to our blog articles, and in our private online groups. It is peer to peer support like no other. We will continue to speak the truth of our lives.
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.