By Joanna Ravlin
I was terrified of coming out of the closet. It wasn’t even MY closet! It was this bizarre rabbit hole I fell down without even realizing I’d gone through the looking glass. Even now it’s difficult because the person whose closet I was stuck in still hasn’t come out. I doubt he ever will. After 12 years of marriage, I know him pretty well.
I am a STR8 SPOUSE. My ex husband is gay. Not according to him though. He’d prefer nobody knew. But I am the woman who endured years of his same sex affairs, his abuse, (Which I’m sure was fueled by his shame and frustration) the weight of his secrets and for too long, the suffocating prison of his closet. My ex husband is also mentally ill.
To be honest, I do empathize with how difficult for him it must be to feel stigmatized by both mental illness and homosexuality. Neither is wrong. Neither was his choice. They aren’t synonymous either.
Homosexuality isn’t a disorder, but several therapists he’s seen over the years have explained away the same sex affairs by accrediting the behavior to being bipolar. Instead of treating his Bipolar disorder and counseling my ex husband about his shame and denial, they led him to believe his sexual preference was a symptom of his abnormal psychology. All it did was make him more ashamed and more secretive. He didn’t need his gay reasoned away. His sexuality isn’t abnormal. He needed his sexuality and his mental illness to be seen as separate aspects of his being. Instead what he heard was his attraction to men is attributed to being sick. Closets are built out of shame and secrets.
Perhaps selfishly I’ll add that the lack of adequate counseling for him also contributed to my time in his closet. I wish that instead of all the effort put into explaining away the gay, someone had told him gay is normal but it’s not normal or okay to trap another person in an inauthentic marriage.
It’s hard to discuss being a STR8 SPOUSE of a closeted spouse or ex spouse. I can tell you that I am still confused by it, so I understand how confusing it must be for others hearing my story. There is no lexicon of half secrets. We’ve created celebratory rituals around coming out as gay, but how do we respond to the heterosexual (ex)spouses? And what do we say to the heterosexual (ex)spouses who leave the closet when the gay spouse remains in it?
I so want a party! And a parade!!
I survived some crazy shit, I deserve it.
Okay, no parade. Just believe me if I trust you enough to tell you my story. And don’t ask me how I didn’t know…because I didn’t.
I’m not telling people that my ex husband is gay out of spite, or anger, or vengeance. For years I told no one because I feared him, because I pitied him and because I was ashamed. I questioned whether I even had the right to out him. But eventually I realized that I couldn’t ask for help or support without telling my story. All of it. I could keep his secrets or I could escape the oppression of his closet. But I couldn’t do both.
So I’m telling my story about my marriage because it helps me heal. Another STR8 SPOUSE told me at the beginning of my journey, “It’s not your shame.” It’s true, it’s not my shame so I refuse to keep carrying it. Secrets are toxic and until we stop using them to build closets with there will continue to be people trapped inside them. I choose to use my truth to tear closets down.
We have often advised straight spouses to follow the ten steps for distancing, and to establish safety away from unsafe people. Unsafe people might include their LGBT ex, or the ex’s new love interest. But unsafe people may also be found among our social and family connections too.
We can only begin to heal, and even forgive if we choose to, when we are safe. If we are not safe, then healing and forgiveness can seem to be ways to be more vulnerable.
Here are some ways to identify unsafe people. We thank the American Psychological Association for these.
Unsafe people are:
1. Unwilling to admit their weaknesses. They focus on YOUR weaknesses instead
2. Religious instead of spiritual. They’re big on using religion as a hammer against others, or cling to an organization and its rules to avoid their own issues. (Many devout churchgoers are also spiritual and prayerful)
3. Defensive. Unsafe people are not open to criticism or feedback
4. Self righteous instead of humble. These folks set themselves above others, often projecting their faults onto other people
5. They apologize without changing their behavior. Its easy enough to apologize, but not recognize that the actions need to change.
6. Unsafe people avoid facing their own issues. They blame others for their problems, and dont have empathy for someone else’s troubles. They often fail to forgive others for their mistakes
7. Flatter you instead of talking to you. If someone truly cares about you, they share concerns about you with you. Someone who does not care will just try to keep you liking them.
8. Demand trust instead of earning it. Trust must be earned. Unsafe people want you to trust them right away and often belittle you or pressure you if you don’t.
9. Unsafe people lie. For us, often the fact that we have lived someone else’s lie to us and to themselves is the most damaging aspect of being a straight spouse. Rebuilding our lives in truth becomes a challenge, as many are not confident in their ability to see what the truth actually is. Everyone lies sometimes, but with unsafe people, it is a pattern.
10. Unsafe people don’t grow. Everyone has areas that need improvement. Safe people are open to acknowledging these areas and working to develop them. Unsafe people shut off growth through patterns of deception, blame, projection, and avoidance of the truth.
It’s very important that when we are vulnerable and hurting, we don’t trade one unsafe relationship for another. This happens when people marry to leave abusive parents, or leave an abusive spouse and connect with another abusive person as a lover. Recognizing safe people can help us be safe people ourselves, and build solid boundaries that allow us to heal and grow stronger.
By Adrienne Doyle
Editors note: The story of the straight wife married to a gay man is not always about recovering after he comes out. Some women deal with gay spouses who are closeted and abusive. This is a declaration of independence and healing from one of those women.
Ok, this is how it is.
I’m done with all that.
Yes, I know I have been done with the marriage for a while. Yes I have heard that I ruined our family and didn’t work hard enough on the marriage because I am so selfish and other straight wives don’t think this is such a big deal.
Yes I hear that you don’t want to be labeled. I’ve heard of this fluid sexuality you speak of, this temptation, this sex addiction you have to recover from if only I will stay married to you. You want to have sex with other men, but somehow, you are not gay.
I know about that. And I am done with it.
I’m also done with trying to figure out if you are gay or bi. I’m done with trying to convince our relatives, our children, our pastor, my mother that you’re gay. Because you say you are not. And I know you are.
You cheated on me. And you lied. And you continue to lie.
And everyone thinks you’re a hero. A brave man who is struggling with coming out. Or a brave straight guy whose evil wife wants revenge and says he’s gay.
Or they think you’re a victim. Society oppressed you. Or you’re “struggling” with “Same Sex Attraction” and I am supposed to remain in a celibate marriage with you.
But poor woebegone you. You married me, the angry woman. And no, I cant just get over it. I had this funny idea that marriage was two people in love going the distance.
That woman doesn’t exist any more. Your lies suffocated her. Also your nasty publicly “constructive” and privately abusive comments about her appearance, cooking, housekeeping, mothering.
And her femaleness. As if being female were a fault.
Back in those days, when I heard you say “I’m not gay, I just fantasize about having sex with men” I asked you – Why did you marry ME?
You said, quite incredulously, with raised eyebrows and indignant tone that you wanted a wife and you wanted children. You wanted to be married. And you thought I wanted that too. Your voice trails off and the fake sobs and crocodile tears run down your cheeks – just a little, just enough for the drama.
Well I did want those things. But here’s the kicker: I loved you. I believe that having marriage and children means you love one another. It means loving the person, loving the woman without fantasizing she’s a man, caring and showing it in so many little ways.
You never loved me. I know that now. But you lied and said you did. You had no idea what love was. That’s why you belittled all the signs of affection I gave you. That’s why you sneered at me for envying happily married couples who make time for each other and share a life together, and suggesting that maybe we might want to do some fun stuff together like that. Oh my, what was I thinking?
Then you met another guy. And all the things you said weren’t important in a relationship suddenly were.
Yet you still wanted to stay married. And I was supposed to be ok with that. I was supposed to watch you go out. I was supposed to keep tripping over your Craigslist profile. I was supposed to never ask who you were talking to 18 times a day on the cell phone. I was supposed to never ask about those expensive gifts and trips that showed up on the credit cards. OUR credit cards paid with OUR money.
And I was supposed to keep your secret.
And I am so not ok with that.
So that means to you that the breakup of the marriage is my fault.
You continue to lie. To yourself. To me. To others.
So I’m done. Done with you mattering to me. Done with your attempts to control me through money and children, and pressure me into silence or keep anyone around from believing me or befriending me. That’s your choice if you want to keep trying to oppress me that way, but I will resist and live my life in truth and not be controlled by you. If you harm our children by continuing to shame and degrade me, I understand I cannot control you and there are many who believe you have that right. But my compromises and getting along with you for the sake of the children will not help our children. It will just encourage you to hurt them more, because you will continue to hurt me through them.
Gay, bi, trans, cross dressing and straight, on the down low, I don’t care. That’s about you. Whatever you are, whoever you are, you lie.
I am a heterosexual woman. I will live my life in truth, accept who I am, and not concern myself anymore with you figuring out who you are. You don’t get to tear me down anymore to build yourself up. You don’t get to abuse me into going along with your lies. I am living in the truth. And I am not silent, no matter what price you demand as punishment for my truthfulness.
Yes. Truth. Going forward. Having a life. That doesn’t center around you.
And I’m worthy of being loved by a man, and loving myself.
Deal with it.