There are few moments in a straight spouse’s life more devastating than when our husband or wife tells us that they are gay. Or they are not sure but having some kind of sexual encounter with someone of the same sex.
Maybe we suspected. Maybe we didn’t have a clue. Maybe others tried to tell us and we brushed it off. Because we just were not ready to hear something this unbelievable.
There are few things worse than hearing your spouse is gay, especially when we are told on a holiday or anniversary. The day lives forever in our memories, not as a celebration, but as the day our life was upended.
Not ever hearing those words from a gay spouse is one of those things that is worse.
Denial can come in many forms. Maybe we suspect something: find gay pornography, strange text messages and emails, or find apps like Grindr on the phone.
Maybe we come across a Craigslist ad our spouse posted which comes up when the computer cache is not cleared. And we ask, sometimes in anger, grief, or concern “are you gay”?
Instead of the truth, we hear “how could you think that?” “you’re crazy, what will you be accusing me of next”. Or we hear a derisive snort, and are subjected to a stream of ridicule – as if we are to blame for everything that is wrong in the marriage.
Or we hear “I will NOT dignify THAT with a response”. Men might hear “YEAH YOU WISH”.
Sometimes we hear the truth. Sometimes our spouses tell us the truth AFTER we discover whatever prompts us to ask the question.
Denial is a river that swells and crests. We know the truth and it must be denied. Family members distance themselves from us. Family friends explain to us why we are wrong to think such a thing. When confronted with truth, they sometimes become former friends. Our children face the truth and don’t have the same perspective that we do – sometimes they are more concerned with separation and divorce than having a gay parent.
And then, there are those who admit they have a same sex attraction that is like an addiction and they go to church based counseling and are saved. Everyone welcomes the newly redeemed. They do not welcome the straight spouse who knows the truth that is denied. Some of us are shunned out of the churches that we were raised in if we refuse to live a lie and proceed with divorce.
Time has a way of dealing with truth.
After a while, some of our closeted spouses DO begin to live more openly in same sex partnerships. They stop hiding the fact that they socialize in gay clubs, or visit gay bars. They stop pretending that their lover is just a roommate, even if it is only to a few people. They are heroes. They are brave. Yet….
We still never hear the words from their lips. “Yes, I am gay.”
Some of our mutual friends hear it from our former spouses, and tell us, or hint to us. Some of our family members hear it. Maybe our kids hear it. But it is not to be discussed with us. Especially if we have been sworn to secrecy for a number of years. Because, you know, it would just KILL my parents. I’ll lose my job. They’ll kick me off the church council. I cant be a boy scout leader. And it will all be your fault if YOU TELL.
So we are left to wonder – did he ever tell the children’s grandparents? The sister in law who is suddenly cordial again, does she know? Does she know I know?
This is childish nonsense, and it is oppressive, manipulative, and abusive. Many straight ex spouses continue to live their lives in the closet of fear and isolation they were confined to in marriage.
Of course, it could be worse. We could go on with our lives, not really clear on why the relationship broke apart, and suddenly our exes come out in a very public way. Think back to the experience of Carolyn Moos, the WNBA basketball star who was engaged to Jason Collins. When Collins came out after their breakup via announcements on television and in Sports Illustrated, it was news to many people. It was also news to Carolyn, who handled the media attention and intrusiveness with grace and maturity.
“I had no idea why. We had planned to have children, build a family. Nearly four years later, I got my answer. My former fiancé, Jason Collins. . . announced last spring in Sports Illustrated that he is gay.’
Straight spouses and fiances are often the very people who were part of the story that the other person was building – and when that story is ended or scrapped, some of us are discarded or erased. We are out of the life script.
Only it doesn’t really work that way. Often we remain connected, especially if we have children and share custody. We are worthy of disclosure, no matter how unpleasant the LGBT spouse finds the uncontrollable or unpredictable outcome.
Telling us the truth with consideration, compassion, and concern is an affirmative act – even if we are not ready to hear it. Even if we deny it. Even if we react angrily to it. Even if we fall on the floor in uncontrollable sobs. Even if we tell you to pack your bags and get out of the house. Our primary need is to be affirmed for who we are – heterosexual people who have discovered the truth about our spouse’s sexuality.
It is becoming widely recognized that living an authentic life is good for LGBT people. That goes for us, too.
We watched. Even though many of us didn’t really want to.
Bruce Jenner Interview With Diane Sawyer – Credit ABC News
And whether we wanted to watch or not, none of us could really look away for long from Diane Sawyer’s two hour interview of Bruce Jenner on ABC, or the promotions leading up to it, or the mediastorm afterward. We couldn’t look away even if we wanted to because so many of us have similar stories – and we needed to hear this one, or at least parts of it.
The interview was carefully laid out, to avoid sensational vulgarity and to educate the general public about the experience of being transgender. Some of the more important points included the difference between sexuality and gender. Bruce refers to his inner person as “her”, but has not yet made the physical transition, so still accepts being called “he”. But his sexuality has not changed – he still desires women.
That clearly can be a problem for a woman who wants a man. Yet, in the interview, he says that if it had been ok with Kris, his third wife, it probably would have all worked out.
This is the type of comment that causes straight spouses to shake our heads and say “WHAT????”
And yet, there are couples who do stay together after a transgender process is complete. They are rare. But it happens. This is a highly individual experience for the spouse. Remember, marriage involves two people.
Diane Sawyer did a very good job of establishing a timeline of disclosures. Bruce told his first two wives during the marriage. In fact, he said began to transition back in the 80s when he was married to his second wife, Linda Thompson. Linda herself confirms this in her excellent article for Huffington Post.
So…if Bruce was growing breasts when he was married to wife #2, well then, what about wife #3, Kris Jenner?
Straight spouses know all too well the interrogation that happens when we disclose the truth about our spouses, or when they come out.
You know, the constant harping on “what did you know and when did you know it? Oh, you HAD to know. ” or “REALLY? Are you sure??? How long have you known this? What makes you think this…” Often these phrases are followed up with advice to just get over it, stop dwelling on it, stop talking about it, or just plain “nah, you’re wrong”. Some of us literally have nowhere to turn. That is why the Straight Spouse Network exists.
We don’t care what Kris Jenner knew and when she knew it or what she should have known. Because even when we think we know, we really don’t know the full impact of our LGBT spouses’ true identities on our lives. People talk a lot more about transgender issues now than they did when Kris and Bruce were married. We hope the media and the general public will treat her with compassion and cut her some slack.
Two of Bruces wives wished him well with statements featured on the broadcast. He was joined by four of his children. Kris had no comment. We understand her desire to not comment at this stage of the disclosure. This is a shattering experience for spouses. It takes years for many of us to truly get to a point where we can sincerely wish our spouses well, as Bruce’s first two wives have done.
She went on to become a television actress, a Malibu mom, well known for her fitness and beauty. If this experience causes such an obviously physically beautiful woman to question her sexual worth, imagine what it does to the average wife. None of Bruce’s wives are average people – and yet – it takes time to heal. As many of us know, it can take a long time.
The Straight Spouse Network exists to give free, confidential peer to peer support for the heterosexual spouses, ex spouses, and partners of LGBT people. It doesn’t matter if they are in or out of the closet. It doesn’t matter if they admit what you know. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure and are wondering. If this is an issue in your relationship, we are here for you.
There will be more attention paid to transgender families in the media – there is already a series “TransParent” on Amazon, and a new series is coming to ABC Family. It is our hope that the real story of our families can be told – the path to acceptance and support, the grief process, and all the complicated issues that are present in families of all types are clearly a big part of our story. Much of what we see portrayed in the media is only supportive family members after they’ve resolved their own feelings, or the destructive emotions of those who disown transgender youth. We are here to support all our families telling their stories, in safety and truth.
The Straight Spouse Network has an online support list – TransFamilySpouses, an email list for spouses or partners of transgender men or women, including transvestites and transsexuals at any stage of transitioning. Join the list at groups.yahoo.com/group/TransFamilySpouses
Robert De Niro’s documentary “Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr” is currently airing on HBO, after much publicity. The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Festival in January. A notable aspect of this highly personal retrospective is that De Niro shared that his father was gay, and separated from his mother when he was very young.
The deeply personal nature of this revelation, and the appearances that the actor made publicizing the film in which he discusses his relationship with his dad in all candor, resonate with today’s children of mixed orientation marriages. We cannot say this enough – our families matter. Our relationships past and present with our gay spouses and ex spouses matter, as long as there is a family connection. And when a mixed orientation marriage produces children, there remains a family connection. It is not often perfect. But it is there, and it matters.
We live in a society that often views our relationships with gay family members as a judgment on who we are. “My son is inspired to know someone as famous and manly as Robert De Niro also has a gay dad” says Hannah Geraghty, a leader for Straight Spouse Network Australia. “He is trying to feel ‘normal’ and like having a gay dad doesn’t define him as weird or strange.” She continued to say that her son writes stories about adults who have gay parents, and admires De Niro for telling his own story.
De Niro’s story of his relationship with his father is personal. He grew up in New York City’s Little Italy, living with his mother. His father was within walking distance. In those days, homosexuality in a family was not spoken of. He had a loving relationship with his father, but describes that they sometimes were not close. He told OUT Magazine when asked about his father’s homosexuality “Yeah, he probably was [conflicted about being gay], being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate… I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”
De Niro also mentioned to NBC’s Matt Lauer that he did not discuss his dad’s sexual orientation with him, as it was not something that directly affected him as his son. Instead, he focused on the love they had for each other, and the respect he had for his dad, the artist.
In our current era, when gay rights and acceptance of homosexuals have become political statements, it is refreshing that one of the most well respected actors of his generation tells this personal story – and tells it as a personal, human, family story.
Gay people have families. Often they have families with heterosexual people, straight spouses like us. And the family continues. Sometimes it’s loving, sometimes it’s not.
Our children have their own stories. We are deeply appreciative that Robert De Niro has shared his.
As the debate continues to rage over The Marriage Equality bill in New York, I can’t help but feel a bit ticked off at the situation. I’m sure that many people feel that way and normally, I try not to emote during my blog sessions, but I just have to get this off of my chest. In my conversations and discussions with people on growing up with a gay parent, someone always points out to me that it is clear that I am advocating for gay people. They say that I am not proposing a debate on the issue so much as telling them why I am in support of equal rights for gay couples. Well, yeah, that is kind of the point of my whole presentation. In one session, I even had someone ask me if I was going to try to hide my gay mother and her wife from my children. I had to stop myself from losing my temper and instead calmly responded with, “If I was really going to ‘hide’ them from my children, would I be here talking to you about this right now?”
Of course, I am in support of marriage equality. My whole goal is to try to open people’s minds by talking to them about my life experiences being raised by a gay parent. I guess it is fair to say that I am I biased. I certainly should be. Not only was I raised by my two great moms, but I also have several close friends who are gay as well. To put it simply, I have grown up around a lot of gay people. Some of my best friends are gay.
Even though I don’t like it, I can understand how someone who has never met a gay person might not know how to react to them. I can also see why a person who was raised in a homophobic environment, a household with very specific gender roles, or even some strict religious families might not understand or even like gay people for that matter. I can comprehend this because I am human and have had my own reservations about things and cultures that I am unfamiliar with. I also know that I am blessed because I was raised to keep an open mind to everyone’s lifestyles and traditions, and that other people have not necessarily had this type of upbringing. However, I believe that everyone has the power to change and that most people are genuinely good and don’t want to see others suffer. I could be wrong. I could be naïve, but those are my beliefs. I have to hold on to the hope that everyone can change if given the chance, and that we can help make things better through educating people about the diverse society that surrounds them.
My mother taught me that one of the most important things is to have compassion. I have compassion for people who are against gay marriage because they are blind to how their actions and words are hurting others. Well, it is our job to open their eyes and help them see. Given my background, I feel that it is my responsibility to help in this fight. That is why I speak. This is not just about New York or even the United States. This is about reshaping our thinking as a society. I not only speak in defense of my mother and Elena, but also for all of the gay people that I know and love. Every time I get up to speak to a group of people or write this blog, I see their many faces swimming before me, and I know what I must do. I must keep sending out the message. Yes, I am for marriage equality. Yes, I am an advocate for gay rights. Yes, I am ‘biased’ as they say, but I have a right to be. Now I ask you to ask yourself, wouldn’t you be if you were me?
The Straight Spouse Network invites the perspectives of various individuals who wish to share their unique experiences. We wish to thank Tara for allowing us to reprint her blog post. She is the daughter of a mixed orientation marriage and was raised by her lesbian mom and stepmom. Her views represent one perspective of one adult child. As a resident of New York State she is very interested in all our families having visibility and speaks with college groups about her experiences growing up.
At least where many of us live, if our husbands or wives are gay, getting help for ourselves does not mean a death sentence to our LGBT spouses.
Yes, in many countries, it is actually illegal to be gay. In January, Ugandan legislators proposed a law to make being gay and participating in specific sexual acts punishable by death. Last week, a Ugandan tabloid published the names of the “100 top homos”. Many of these people are in hiding, fearing for their lives. A tag on the front page reads “hang them”. Bulleted points mention “recruiting” a million innocent kids, and “parental heartbreak as homos raid schools”.
And of course, opposition is from outside agitators with an agenda. Of course.
There is no mention in mainstream media accounts of the effect of this action on these people’s families. However, it is also illegal to assist homosexuals. So if you advocate for them to be treated as regular human beings in Uganda, you can also be prosecuted, arrested, jailed for life.
So just imagine the unimaginable. You discover you are married to a gay person. WHAT?? Hey, that never happens. After all, they married YOU, and have children, so how can they be gay? What is wrong with you marrying one of THEM? Maybe YOU are one of THEM. Nevertheless…
You discover you are married to a gay person.
You want to be tested for STDs. You want to tell your best friend how hurt you are. You want a divorce.
If you do those things, your spouse could be arrested. Imprisoned. Lynched.
Maybe you want to tell your priest, your minister. But…
This whole push to execute gays in a country where homosexuality was already illegal was started by three American missionaries who self styled themselves as “experts” on homosexuality. Churches in Uganda largely view homosexuality as a threat to the African family. So now, the hunt is on to purify Uganda…and of course, the missionaries now say, well, wait a minute, we didn’t say to KILL people….You’d think that these “experts” would know what would happen as a consequence of their expertise in a country in a volatile region with a history of violence against its citizens. But hey, who knew? After all, it’s not like homosexuals marry anyone and have famiies like everyone else….not like they marry straight people, because if they did that would make them straight….uh, right?
Of course there is no outreach to you. And in the west, there are scant resources for you. Churches often are not much of a resource for us, either supporting the gay person and not helping us through our long and profound grief, or requiring us to be “accountability partners” so the homosexual can rid themselves of the “addiction”. But with all the money spent on supporting and opposing gay marriage, there are no significant ministries to straight spouses and their families.
Well, at least no one has to die.
At least here in the west, you are free to contact the Straight Spouse Network for free, confidential peer to peer support. We operate on a shoestring. We do not have the golden coffers of the “agenda” organizations of either right or left wing. We struggle with invisibility, ignorance, bigotry. We struggle with financial survival.
But at least we are not facing watching a parent of our children die by hanging. We are not facing having our children endangered, our lives ruined by violent vigilantes encouraged by our legislators and our clergy.