This past week, actor James Franco has attracted a storm of attention on social media for his statement that in his personal life he is straight, but in his professional life he is “a little gay”. Franco was commenting on playing the role of a gay man in the films “I Am Michael” and “Wild Horses”, and his newest role in “King Cobra.”
James Franco attends a signing for his new book “Straight James/Gay James” at Book Soup on March 6, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images
The phrase “a little gay” might be a shocker to the general public, but it is no shock to straight spouses. Many of us have heard it before. We’ve heard it as part of a lie, a belief that some of our spouses have had that it is better to tell us the truth in small pieces, than just admit “Honey I think I’m gay.”
If they admit it at all. Some never will.
For many of our spouses, saying they are “a little gay” conveys an expectation that since they aren’t TOTALLY gay we should just deal with it, and if there is a problem it is our fault.
We are the last people to ever define who someone else is in terms of their sexual identity. Heck, some of us have been accused of MAKING our spouses gay, as if we had that power, or of being gay ourselves and thus “obsessed” with accusing our spouses. When our husbands or wives come to us with the truth about their sexuality, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, we are devastated. But at least we know. We can make choices for moving ahead in our own lives, and decide if we want to stay married, pursue an “open marriage” or get a divorce. We can also begin to put the pieces of our own shattered self image back together.
For many of us, a declaration of being “a little gay” is a lie that is intended to erase a bigger lie. Being “a little gay” hints at bisexuality, but doesn’t actually admit it. Sometimes a declaration of being “a little gay” is accompanied with the statement that EVERYONE is “a little gay” and that WE are the liars for not admitting that in our heterosexuality. Consequently, when something goes wrong in the relationship, or if we react negatively, it is seen as being our fault. Straight spouses are certainly not without our faults, but we don’t have the option of truly examining how they affect a relationship if the other person in the relationship is lying to themselves and to us about their sexual preference.
Some of us have also seen over the years that our spouses who claim to be “a little gay” become “a lot more gay” as time goes on.
James Franco’s personal sexuality is his own business. He should realize, if he doesn’t already, that saying he’s “a little gay” triggers misgivings in women who have experienced deception from a gay or bisexual lover, or who are children of mixed orientation marriages. His personal honesty in his private life is his business. We do have some questions, however, for him and for other actors who play characters that are not like them.
If playing a gay character can make Franco realize he’s “a little gay”, can playing a straight character make a gay actor realize he’s “a little straight”?
Both Tom Hanks and Tom Selleck have played gay characters and yet they live lives as heterosexual men. Did playing those roles make them “a little gay”? Or did playing those roles make them reach into all the human qualities that they understand and can interpret, making them great actors?
And just who is the real Walton Goggins anyway? He’s played a transsexual (Venus on Sons of Anarchy), a tough and tender outlaw who is obsessed with a woman (Boyd Crowder on Justified) and a deranged fight club trainer who tortures enslaved fighters (Django Unchained). Is he a little trans? Or a little deranged? Or a little obsessed? Or is he a really talented actor who brings great depth and understanding to complicated characters?
For that matter, going back to a time when gay actors could not be their true selves in private life, did playing straight men who loved and charmed the ladies make Rock Hudson “a little straight” in his private life? What about Robert Reed, the iconic husband and father on The Brady Bunch? Did playing the perfect husband make him “a little straight”?
Susan Olsen played Cindy Brady, the youngest daughter on the popular television series which ran from 1969-1974. “Bob was a family man,” she said on her Facebook page in 2013.”Had he been allowed to form a relationship with another man, he would have been the best husband ever and might still be alive.”
Apparently he brought those qualities to his role as Mike Brady, a beloved heterosexual husband and father. However, his talent and performance did not make him “a little straight” in his very private personal life.
We live in an era when definitions of gender and sexuality are sometimes perceived as being fluid. Lets just make sure that all that fluid doesn’t wash away the necessity for honesty in relationships and being true to one’s self.
For almost 30 years, no one seemed to know the Straight Spouse Network existed. Now, thanks to the miracle of social media, we are known as an organization. We also are aware of what others say about us, from reports by straight spouses and from what we see in the media. So here’s a sampling of some of the misconceptions – and our responses.
1. “My wife/husband was perfectly accepting of me before joining THAT GROUP. THEY convinced him/her to divorce me. I blame THEM for our divorce”. Marriage is a process. At sometime in the process of a mixed orientation marriage, one or both partners may decide it isn’t working and they need to move on. “Accepting” doesn’t mean doing everything one person’s way, or substituting one lie for another. That holds for both partners.
When straight spouses meet and share their ideas, questions, and deep hurt, they often find that someone else in the group is giving voice to a feeling or idea that they had not previously dared to express. We encourage everyone to live in truth. That doesn’t mean shouting and outing, but it does mean honestly acknowledging our feelings and our desires for the future.
2. “SSN says there’s no such thing as bi”. False. Patently false. We have NEVER taken this position. If one of our leaders or contacts is saying this, please contact us, and we will be happy to set them “straight”.
It is entirely possible that within a group meeting or discussion you will find people who are of the opinion that bisexuality does not exist – because for so many of us, “bi now gay later” is a frequent experience. Many of our spouses do not come completely out of the closet to us, and instead tell us another lie – that they are bi when in fact they are gay, and in deep denial.
3. The forum on the SSN website is not moderated and full of people who don’t know what they are talking about. False. The forum on the SSN website IS moderated and full of people openly discussing various aspects of mixed orientation marriages. It is also a public forum; some LGBT people participate. All participants are expected to talk about their lives and perspectives, without defaming others. The forum is moderatedfor safety and standards of a civil online community.
We don’t tell people who express their ideas there what to think. The ideas expressed on the forum represent the beliefs of the participants, not our organization. There are also several private or secret Facebook groups or email lists where straight spouses find support. Some of these are affiliated with us, others are not, but often have members who have benefited from contact with SSN. Most of those are moderated in much the same way as the forum, with the exception that members have to be approved before joining and having access to what others share.
4. From time to time people mistakenly think well known author and counselor Bonnie Kaye represents our organization. While many women who contact us have found her to be helpful and recommend her to others, Bonnie is not affiliated with the Straight Spouse Network, and her views are her own. We offer support to both straight husbands as well as straight wives, while the bulk of Bonnie Kaye’s writings are targeted to straight wives only.
5. The Straight Spouse Network doesn’t support staying in a mixed orientation marriage. False. We support straight spouses no matter where they are on their journey. The decision to stay in a mixed orientation marriage (MOM) can be made for many reasons. It does happen and we support those who choose this path. Some mixed orientation marriages may break up down the road, as one or both partners desires something different, but some do last. A breakup is not inevitable, and it doesn’t mean that someone has failed – it is part of the ongoing process of the relationship. We refer many people who come to us wishing to remain in their marriage to specific online groups listed on our website or to individual contacts who have decided to stay married.
6. The Straight Spouse Network doesn’t allow gay people to participate, and is therefore exclusive and discriminatory. Yes and No – ONLY straight spouses can participate in many of our face to face groups and in some online groups, as they need a safe and confidential environment to be free to tell their full story and receive support. However, we do encourage public participation by everyone, including LGBT people, in our public forum, and we do refer couples to online or face to face groups where they may both participate. 30 years ago we started as a task force of PFLAG in California after a group of gay fathers asked Amity Buxton to help them understand their wives’ perspectives. Our purpose is to provide support for the straight spouse.
So, when a community center says we cannot use their facilities for meetings of straight spouses seeking safe, confidential support because we don’t allow gay people to participate in that particular meeting, that says to us that they really do not understand or want to understand our purpose.
We are a support group for current or former heterosexual spouses or partners of LGBT people. That means we support men and women. That means we support married or divorced or separated. That means we support people who are angry. That means we support people who are at peace and have forgiven their spouse. That means we have speakers available to address any group that wants to know more about the straight spouse experience. That means we reach out, and promote healing and building bridges. To know who we are and what we do, visit our website.
Contact us. Ask questions. Comment. Share. We look forward to all inquiries
On a recent episode of Law and Order, Detectives Lupo and Bernard are protecting a witness who has had what she describes as a “down low” lesbian affair with a murder victim. The program shows them hiding in a hotel, passing the time. The witness decides she likes Lupo, and asks Bernard “Does he have a girlfriend?” Detective Bernard’s response is to look at her wide eyed and say “YOU had a girlfriend”. The witness looks surprised, but they cannot continue the conversation because they are interrupted by a knock on the door from the prosecutor.
Some of our gay and lesbian spouses do not acknowledge the label of “gay” or “lesbian”. They may even reject being called bisexual, since this is just about one person. They have affairs with someone of the same sex, but do not believe that makes them “gay”. For the straight spouse, coping with this complex situation can be frustrating, an unending riddle.
When our marriages end because of our husbands and wives have an affair with someone of the same sex, the words “honey I’m gay” can provide a sense of finality, a definite scenario. “Honey I’m bi” doesn’t seem to be said quite so often. Rather, the disclosure to a straight spouse might be “I might be a little gay”, or “I fell in love with just this one person”, or “everyone has these feelings, you’re just repressing yours”. Some men did know their wives had been involved with women – but they had no idea what that would really mean in a marriage. There may be further complications after divorce when the bisexual spouse begins to date other people of the opposite sex. If the couple is still connected through children and step parenting, the dilemma of whether or not to tell the new lover what actually happened and spare them the pain of deception is a painful one. The risk of course, is that no one will believe what they say, and attribute it to maliciousness.
For us, unresolved issues of our spouses sexuality are a part of denial in marriage. We may hear that it isn’t really cheating because they never cheated on us with the opposite sex. We may hear that since they aren’t happy in the marriage they decided to become intimate with someone of the same sex. And of course, we’ll be told in counseling and by well meaning friends and family that the unhappiness in the marriage “takes two”. We are left to ponder the impossible task of satisfying a spouse who cannot be happy with someone of the opposite sex.
The healthy skepticism that Detective Bernard showed in the Law and Order episode is refreshing to see on television. “Everyone” does not have sex with someone of the same gender, only gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do. A straight person who becomes involved romantically with someone who has had a same sex affair needs to know what it really means – and their friends, family, and counselors should not be afraid to speak openly.
Open that closet door. Put the “down low” on the “up and up”.