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How Can LGBT People Support Straight Spouses?

It’s a troubling reality that many LGBT people recognize all too well:  the jokes, vulgar remarks, threats, loss of friendships when they come out or someone finds out the truth about their sexuality.  They along with many others are often surprised to discover that straight spouses of LGBT people also experience these same hateful things.

girl reach rainbow“Well, hey”, we hear, “can’t you take a joke?”  Or “how DARE you say such a thing?” when we confide in someone about why we can no longer stay married to a closeted homosexual. There are also guesses as to our sanity, our intentions, our competence.  People we thought were our friends are suddenly gone, either because the reality makes them uncomfortable, or because in our grief and anger we become “difficult”.

But you want to know what really surprises us?  When that hostility is directed at us by LGBT people themselves.

Our presence, and our anger or grief is often at odds with how other people want life to be.  We are not out and proud.  We are distraught.  We are in shock. We are often angry. It can make others uncomfortable.  We sometimes seem to be stuck, processing the whole experience slowly, while others want to feel good about supporting the gay spouse coming out.

Our LGBT spouses have had an entire lifetime to figure out their sexuality.  We haven’t had that whole lifetime.  It can take a while to emotionally sort everything out when our lives are upended with disclosure or discovery.

Here are a few things that LGBT people can do that straight spouses have found to be very supportive and meaningful:

1.        Come out, at least to us.  We know it is difficult, but when our spouses come out to us, at least there is a disclosure which enables ultimately moving forward. When you don’t come out, or when you deny to us that you are attracted to the same sex, we endure self doubt, the doubt of others, and a lack of resolution.  This affects ongoing communication within our families.

2.       For some reason that straight spouses don’t fully understand, disclosure or discovery seems to happen often with an anniversary, holiday, birthday, or event as a trigger.  Please be aware that when a special day or occasion is marked by us learning that our husband or wife desires someone of the same gender, or wants to change genders, the joyous celebration becomes an anniversary of our lives being traumatized.  It’s common for us to relive the trauma on that day for years to come. We prefer that you are honest with us, but it would be great if our memories of Thanksgiving family reunions, children’s birthdays, or family anniversaries aren’t forever associated for us with a sad and disturbing memory.

3.       We know that when you come out, you want to move on with lightning speed.  After all, you have waited your entire life to be your authentic self.  We need you to understand that your spouse and sometimes your children need time to deal with what your new relationships mean and how they impact our lives. In divorces, courts often instruct straight spouses very firmly about exposing the children to our new dates and love interests, until we are certain the relationship will last and they have time to cope with the new adjustments in their lives.  We ask the same of you.

4.       We know that you may want to create a two mom or two dad family in your new relationship.  Please understand that in many of our families, our children may accept your new husband or wife, but they do not consider them to be a mom or dad as they already have a mom or dad  in that role.  There’s nothing wrong with having a mom, dad, and stepparents.

5.       Please stop referring to us as beards and breeders, and accepting these terms when you hear others use them.  These are hateful words.  We ask that you recognize us as the people whom you chose to marry, and often to be the other parent of your children.

6.       Let your spouse know about the Straight Spouse Network.  Let anyone you know who is going through a mixed orientation marriage or divorce know about us.  We offer support for men and women who are heterosexual and need to work through the emotional roller coaster of disclosure and discovery when their spouse comes out or is discovered. Our services are free and confidentiality is paramount.  We encourage building bridges where possible, establishing healthy boundaries, and moving forward at each person’s own pace.

Many of us have continued to be “straight allies” in the struggle for marriage equality and standing up to homophobia.  We now need you to be our “gay allies.”  You chose us to be part of the rainbow family, regardless of which colors on the spectrum we and our children represent.  We choose to rebuild our lives by moving forward day by day in a positive, independent direction.

9 Comments

  1. Hi,

    I belong to an on-line group called “HOW,” an acronym for “Husbands Out to their Wives.” I have heard over the years that for SSN, the jury came back in long ago, and that their presumption is that a mixed orientation marriage can’t work, so I really am not surprised not to see links or references to HOW or to a yahoos support groups called MMOMW (for “Making Mixed Orientation Marriage Work”) or Alternate Paths (for straight wives of queer men).(I will be surprised if you leave this comment letter intact, in fact.

    I just want to share, “it ain’t that simple.” I was at a gathering recently of a local HOW-related group with five other married queer men, some of whom identify as gay, some as bisexual, and we realized that at this particular gathering, the least number of years that any of us had been married subsequent to coming out to our female spouse was eight years. (I came out to my wife over 12 years ago, and our marriage is actually stronger than it was before.)

    Yes, this really isn’t all that simple.

    RH

  2. Imagine someone is a slave. They get rented out as a nanny/cook/ect to this really nice people who don’t know they’re slaves and who treat them well. The people love them and the slave loves the people back.

    After many years the slave escapes slavery…. and the people find out the person they love was a slave…. and the people say things like “well you’ve had your whole life to know you were a slave, we only just found out”.

    When there are children involved it definitely becomes a family trauma that must be overcome together. The spouses, straight or gay, have a primary responsibility to children. However, when it’s two adults each takes care of themselves. If they can’t take care of themselves it’s a failure of the adult that can’t be blamed on the other adult. Coming out or being discovered isn’t the fix to a problem they were mulling over their whole lives, it’s a catalyst to change they may or may not have been planning. Straight spouses can get rumors or lose friends, the reality of homosexuality is that you may be killed for being what you are…. It’s like being young and in school and comparing being made fun of one semester for a bad haircut to the kid that was literally tormented and beat up every day for 12 years. It doesn’t compare.

    Yes, it’s definitely a real thing and this is a good resource to have for “kids that were bullied that one semester” but the semester will end for you. You are currently in it and it may seem that the semester will never end, but it will. Asking that the kids who have been bullied for 12 years be nice to you or take your situation into account is super entitled, after 12 years and a big catalyst maybe they have nothing left to give.

    • Well, first off I’m not a straight spouse. I’m not a member of the LGBT community either. I come to this website quite a lot, because I find it interesting seeing the situation from the flip side of the story, and it has helped me to become more open-minded.

      You can’t go around comparing someone’s level of pain. Yes, your situation of being a slave is terrible. That doesn’t mean everybody else can’t afford to feel pretty terrible about their situation too. Straight spouses asking for the recognition and support they deserve is not taking the attention away from the LGBT community. They aren’t even asking for much; just that you do not call them offensive terms, that you respect the boundaries of them and their children, and that you tell your straight spouse about this website. That isn’t entitlement, that’s asking for needs every human deserves to ask for.

      Some people won’t get over their grief within a term. Some people struggle with grief for years. I’ve seen one person on this website comment that they have attempted suicide a few times. Grief, if left unsupported, can be a terrible, terrible thing to live with. And that isn’t changed by the fact that other people have it worse.

    • This presumes the ‘slave’ had absolutely NO idea what they were. Being gay does not happen overnight, it does not happen suddenly, usually, there is an inkling of it for many years for the gay person – I don’t really know of many gay people who just woke up and decided one day to be gay. For years, months, or longer… They wonder, they ponder, perhaps they dabble in the notion of it, prior to fully coming out, the point is MOST gay spouses don’t share their confusion about their gut feelings, and when they do they have had time to process this and perhaps even accept it as who they are. I think we (straight spouses) would have liked and appreciated and certainly deserved some authentic sharing regarding these “inklings” so perhaps we too could have had time to absorb this possibility before it utterly shatters our families and the gay spouse gets to skip off into the sunset because they’ve come to terms with it all. My analogy to others is this: My husband told me while we were attempting to have sex, literally the most intimate thing a couple can do AND on Christmas eve, that he thinks he might be ‘Bi-sexual’. In my mind I felt as if a bomb had exploded in the middle of my family and I’ve been running around since then trying to put body parts back and match them up with the correct child or adult. Of course this is not possible, but like a good soldier I’ve been desperately trying. I feel as tho our marriage has been murdered and much like a murder, sudden and traumatic, it cannot be undone, nor can the damage that it has inflicted on others be undone!!!

  3. I suspect that the issue of time is one of the keys. Our non-straight partners have had years, decades to come to terms with their sexuality. We may not be able to afford decades, but we need to be given time, compassion and understanding of the profound nature of the shock. I realize that I now face the challenge (in my 60s) of building an entirely new story of my life, that makes sense. Otherwise, I can only see my life as a tragic failure and waste.

    • I can totally relate to the notion of tragic failure and waste and my dilemma is helping my children sort thru this shattering realization (which they do not even know yet) and to try to rebuild my life (in my 50s). Very grateful and hopeful for support groups and sites like this!!

  4. Great article! Now, if we could only get this published in the mainstream media and raise awareness.
    I particularly liked # 2; my discovery happened at Christmas last year. But, surprisingly, this past Christmas was the best I had in a long time. For once I wasn’t walking on eggshells for November and December. He always pouted about visiting my family every year and I somehow felt responsible.
    Thanks again for a new and spot-on perspective of our predicament.

  5. Great article! The SS community absolutely needs buy-in from the LGBT community in order to be fully recognized.

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