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.
Let’s talk about the F word.
No, not THAT one.
Let’s talk about the F word that has been mentioned by many straight spouses and ex spouses of LGBT people since the Supreme Court decision affirming same sex marriage in June 2015.
Yes, in the midst of all this celebration, and affirmation of same sex marriages, some of us are realizing that we THOUGHT we had a real marriage, based on real love, real commitment. But many of us have come to realize that our marriages were a sham. A fraud. Legal fakery.
So, were our marriages based on fraud? Some were. Some were a reaction to living in a world that demanded that men and women marry and produce a family in order to be respectable. Some were less the result of the lies that were told to us, and more a result of the lies our LGBT spouses told themselves.
Think about it. As painful as it is, it’s kind of difficult to assign fraud to a spouse who married you because they were fond of you, so their parents, counselors, pastor, etc, told them to get over this same sex thing and marry that nice girl or good man, and make lots of babies and forget about all that gay lifestyle nonsense. Only they found after they married us that they couldn’t just forget it.
Some of our marriages were clearly based on a fraudulent assumption. Some of us were married to people who knew for a long time that they were attracted to the same sex, and had no intent of refraining from that activity. For some women, the answer to “well why did you marry me, then?” has been a brutally honest response that the husband was looking for a hostess, gatekeeper, or a possible nurse for the future. For some men, the answer has been that the wife wanted a baby, or financial security.
Often, there is no remorse expressed by the gay spouse in answer to that question. There is often no acknowledgement of the effect that the decision by an LGBT person to marry someone of the opposite sex has on their spouse. Many of our gay spouses have already dealt with stages of grief and emerging from their closet can be a relief, a cause of joy, of determination to move ahead. But the straight spouse is JUST STARTING to grieve loss and deal with change and a strong flood of emotions.
So our timetable for dealing with this is not the same – and not acknowledged by our spouses or many times by our families, friends, and counselors. Many of us never have an affirmation, or an admission, or an apology. We are relegated to the less than human status of “collateral damage”.
Collateral damage refers to the civilian casualties of war, such as when a bomb wipes out enemy supplies and fuel and kills civilians living in the region. Too bad, so sad. War is hell.
Who knew our marriages were a war? Most of us didn’t say “I do” to the promise of being a human shield against homophobia. Yet, when our husbands or wives disclose their true sexuality to us, or when we discover that they are having a same sex physical or emotional affair, we often are in the front lines of homophobia, and all the ridicule and hatred that comes with it.
By the same token, our pain and anger is unacknowledged or passed over by many LGBT people and straight allies – explained away, because it just isn’t relevant to the political struggle of LGBT people, whom we just HAVE to understand.
No one ever seems to feel they have to understand us.
Then there are those of us who continue to live in the aftermath of a fraud – divorcing a spouse who will never admit to having an LGBT relationship, affair, or sexual orientation. We will never have an admission, let alone an apology or acknowledgement that wrong was done to us. We may be forced to dance the eggshell two step for many years, while our spouses and the courts demand a waltz in three quarter time. All because when we speak the truth, we are asked for “proof” and belittled or demonized or even threatened when somehow our experiences and observations don’t meet the legal test.
So, should we go after our ex spouses for fraud? Be careful here.
The answer is best given to you by a lawyer who specializes in family law in your state or country. And even if you CAN, consider if you SHOULD. The key question is – what do you want to accomplish, and will it benefit you? What will be the outcome for your children, if you have any? How will it help you going forward? Is it worth the legal cost and effort?
Some people will move ahead, maybe become friends, or friendly at least. And some will need to pursue their ex spouses for damages, financial and otherwise. But many of us will get the legalities done, and then face the long haul of maintaining a relationship if we have children. Some of us have come to find out that the lies continue, in one way or another. Our recovery, our healing, our reclamation of our own lives can be a slow process, requiring distancing, putting ourselves first, and changes in our lives that WE choose. It’s difficult to take these necessary steps when we are still vulnerable to hurt, shame, blame, and deception post divorce.
Many straight spouses have supported same sex marriage, and consider themselves to be “straight allies”. Perhaps it is time for LGBTQ people to be our “gay allies” as well. We don’t need a banner, a flag, a parade or a celebration – just inclusion in the rainbow as we move ahead into new directions with honesty, understanding, respect, and compassion. Even if we are still hurting, still angry, still grieving – or moving ahead faster or slower than anyone expected, we are still inescapably part of the rainbow family.
There’s an old saying “Denial ain’t just a river.” How well many of us know this! For some straight spouses, it can feel like we have been swimming upstream trying to get an admission of truth from our current or former LGBT spouses. We know what we know, and yet when we ask “are you gay?” we are told an emphatic NO. For many of us, the lies hurt worse than the truth.
Many of us ask “are you gay?” and are told no, of course not. Sometimes a challenge follows the denial. How could we ask that? What on earth would make us think that? (“Oh I dunno, gay porn on the computer,texts on the cell phone, close friendships that exclude the spouse, not to mention that weird phone message on the voice mail from a complete stranger and pictures of someone’s penis in the sock drawer…) Perhaps there are now too many ways to evade answering the question “are you gay?” when a straight spouse asks it in frustration. After all, many counselors will look at a distraught straight spouse in couples counseling who outlines all the reasons they think their husband or wife may be gay and tell them that none of this makes them actually gay, so why do YOU think so?
Perhaps the best way to question a closeted gay spouse in denial is to ask more specific questions, yucky though it may be. “Are you having sex with other men/women? Are you having sex with (name)? Did you meet those people from Craigslist for sex? What do you find attractive about this type of porn?” Even with such pointed questioning, some spouses in denial will still continue to evade answering or accuse us of being delusional, or making something out of nothing. After all, some have convinced themselves that oral sex isn’t real sex, or having sex with someone of the same sex isn’t cheating on a heterosexual spouse, or that they are not really LGBT, they just fell in love with the person.
Some of us will never hear the truth – and many people around us will never want to hear the truth. Homosexuality is still a very uncomfortable subject with many people – including the some who are actually homosexual and dont want to be! Sometimes gay and lesbian spouses in denial resort to proclaiming us to be crazy – and often many family members and friends will believe them. Its easier for some people to believe that we are crazy than that they are gay and in denial.
One of the most wonderful things about the Straight Spouse Network is that we are peer to peer and confidential. One of the things we affirm for each other is this: You know what you know. We don’t demand “proof”. We don’t tell you that you aren’t an expert on sexuality so you don’t really know. You DO know. You are an expert on YOUR life and YOUR situation. And it is safe to share your questions, confidences, and observations with us. Chances are, someone in our group has had a similar experience. We wont tell you that you are going crazy. Instead, we might have some ideas to help you keep from going crazy!
During times that media focuses attention on high profile cases, we often find that we are contacted by straight spouses who recognize the similarities in their own lives. If you believe you are the straight spouse or significant other of a gay person in denial, we welcome you to contact us and get free, confidential support for yourself in a safe atmosphere. You need it – and you deserve it.
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By Cathy Wos
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.” – Isak Dinesen
A Box of Darkness is the story of the 46 year marriage of Upton and Sally Ryder Brady and her desperate need to come to terms with his secrets after his unexpected death. Along with the crippling debt, Sally discovers gay porn among his belongings. Years earlier, Upton confessed to a drunken tryst with a family friend and then they both buried the secret, never to discuss it again.
After his death, Sally must confront these secrets. What was real and what was a sham? Did he ever truly love her and did he know how much she loved him? Was he a repressed homosexual or did he live two completely separate lives?
It is clear to the reader that Upton had many demons. He was a belligerent and violent drunk who struggled to remain sober. He was a devoted Catholic who believed that homosexuality was a sin. He shared a close relationship with his brother that turned violent and ugly when both drank heavily and distant when Buff came out of the closet and contracted AIDS.
Despite the abuse Sally endures, the love she feels for Upton shines through on every page. Her beautiful writing portrays a complicated man in a sympathetic light. Upton was the center of her life and she struggles with putting the pieces of their life together and how to now live without him. The reader can’t help but hope that this book provides her much-needed closure and
a chance for her own brilliant light to shine.