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.
Bisexuality. It is Real
Some organizations explicitly state that there is no such thing as bisexuality. The Straight Spouse Network is not one of them. Since 1992, the Straight Spouse Network has had among its core beliefs that bisexuality does exist. Our Support Groups include many Straight Spouses of bisexual partners.
When you first suspect or find out your spouse is bi, it is shocking and disorienting. You do not need to make any instant decisions. Give yourself time. Talk to us. No matter what you decide to do, you’ll get all the support and understanding you need with the Straight Spouse Network’s support groups, Support Contacts and other resources we’ll provide to you.
Bisexuality is a complicated orientation. Like all sexual orientations, bisexuality is multidimensional; individuals changes over time, and their bisexual orientation is determined by their own self-identification, not by outsiders’ labels. While bisexuals are attracted to both sexes, it’s rarely a 50/50 balance. They usually lean more toward one sex than the other.
When a bisexual spouse comes out, the Straight Spouse has to deal with the unknown same-sex attraction that exists alongside the known opposite-sex attraction. This creates cognitive dissonance as well as sexual confusion. As Straight Spouse Network’s founder Amity Buxton stated in The Journal of Bisexuality, “one has to break through the ‘either/or’ binary perspective by which most of us tend to look at the world, and instead look at life through a ‘both/and’ lens”. One Straight Spouse explained their husband’s bisexuality by saying, “he does not see gender”; a small statement which goes a long way in helping us understand bisexual persons.
Adding to the confusion, there are times when a spouse will come out as bisexual and later tell their Straight Spouse that they are gay. The reason for this could be that at the time of coming out, they did not realize where they were on the preference balance. Some believe that at times someone will tell their Straight Spouse that they’re bisexual to ease the shock of their coming out.
What will you do?
When a true bisexual marries a straight person without telling them about their sexual orientation, and then comes out, there are options. Staying together is not for everyone. For some bi/straight couples, marriage may have a better chance of continuing than a gay/lesbian-straight marriage. Amity Buxton’s research and group member’s experiences have shown that post-disclosure spouses can create unique strategies for maintaining their marriages. This may involve a great deal of patience, creativity and open-mindedness, but it can work. The bond bi/straight couples form during the process of redefining their relationship is often stronger than that of many heterosexual couples. Some Straight Spouses are not suited for such a challenge, and should do what is best for their own future and peace of mind. But it’s good to know there are options and that you have a support system within the Straight Spouse Network to help you explore them.