We’ve all heard it before. Someone wants to be nice, acknowledging what happened in our marriages when our spouses came out of the closet. Sure, its bad for us, and not our fault but, hey, they’re so brave! They finally came out and are publicly living an authentic life. And….wait for it……you know it’s coming…..
They’re a hero.
That’s right. A hero. There is a widespread perception that coming out takes bravery, even if it is after decades of marriage to someone of the opposite gender who tried so hard to make things better, believing that perhaps they were not enough or were at fault for whatever problems surfaced.
Now it is true that coming out of the closet for LGBT people is very difficult, and being married to us makes it more difficult. Coming out is the right thing to do. Many of our spouses never come out; instead they deny the obvious and attempt to convince themselves and others that we are lying or crazy. But some of our spouses realize the necessity to do the right thing, and be honest with us, painful as that may be.
Doing the right thing takes some bravery. But is it heroic?
Does anyone ever tell the husband who cheats on his wife with other women that he’s a hero? Maybe they tell him that they understand why he goes outside the marriage for sex, maybe they sympathize with him. But even if he is doing what he needs to do, is he a hero?
Many straight spouses wonder on what planet is it heroic to lie to yourself and others about your sexual orientation, marry someone of the opposite sex, and then realize you have made a mistake and admit it. Yes, admitting it is the right thing to do. And sometimes our LGBT spouses are heroes. But not always.
We are heroes too. Maybe not always, but often. And few people ever recognize that or tell us how brave and strong we are.
Surviving a tragedy, a divorce, a disaster does not make us heroes. But we develop heroic qualities. We rebuild our lives. It is often not easy.
For one thing, when our husbands and wives come out of the closet to us and to our families, they tell their own stories. They don’t tell our story. Meanwhile, many of us go into a closet that is not of our own making. Many of us make a vow of silence at first, to not tell. After all, that would be “outing”. And of course, that would mean we are haters. Or, we feel the need to protect our LGBT spouse and our family from public discrimination and ridicule. So we are silent. And sometimes in our silence, we are blamed for the end of the marriage.
Sometimes when we break our silence, we have to stand up to our spouse’s anger. After all, you SAID you wouldn’t tell anyone and now you did! Some of our husbands and wives believe that when we tell the truth as we must, and stop shouldering the burden of secrecy alone, that this makes us liars too, and evens everything out. Or we have to face well meaning friends, family, co-workers, and counselors who tell us they know what we are going through, but…..
…but we shouldn’t tell. It’s not good to out someone.
…but we need to just get over it and move on. Now.
…but it’s all for the best. After all it can’t be easy for a gay person to pretend to be straight all those years.
…but everyone knew all along anyway so who cares what you have to say.
All the while, we discover the life we have been missing. We reconnect with ourselves. We do what we need to heal and move forward. Some people do not consider that to be brave. They consider it selfish.
When we do what needs to be done, moving forward, being civil, being honest, even in the face of unkind comments, misunderstandings, and even threats, we are being heroes as well. What’s important is that we are empowered to tell OUR stories, especially to those who give us strength, support, and courage.
Telling our own stories, not in anger or out of revenge, but as a way to speak the truth of our lives, is vital to our healing. It requires some bravery. And at times, it is heroic.
Just going forward into new relationships is heroic for some of us. We deal with our trust issues, and learn over time what intimacy can be – and what it wasn’t. Sometimes we do this at an advanced age.
Sometimes we never get the chance to have a sexual relationship with another human being. But we do go forward. We meet ourselves again.
Speaking the truth takes courage when others don’t want to hear, when others are more comfortable with silence or their own version of what our lives should be. There may not be a parade, a greeting card, a congratulation, a celebration, or a pass for everything we have done wrong. That’s ok. We are the heroes of our own lives.
By Karen Bieman
Before every rainbow there is a storm.
I am thinking of those who have suffered in the years leading up to the current rainbow-fest and those who will continue to suffer, due to lingering homophobia and religious intolerance or condescension.
I am also definitely thinking of the far-too-many brave straight spouses who have endured years of a mismatched marriage, because someone who was gay felt unable to be honest with themselves or accept their same sex attraction, choosing instead to marry a straight person, taking them (without their knowledge) into their closet of shame. For these straight spouses, the glut of rainbows all over Facebook brings up a mix of emotions, some of which are very, very painful, yet some of which have a scent of hope that perhaps others will not suffer as they have.
I am thankful for the brave souls who dared to be true to themselves even when most of society judged or bullied them. The ones who dared to come out when the world shouted, hide away!
I am hopeful that there will continue to be a growing acceptance of people, not “in spite of” their sexuality (eg. “love the sinner hate the sin”), but inclusive of it, recognising that someone’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of **who they are**, not an addendum, or a choice.
I am hopeful of a better tomorrow for all people, regardless of race or gender or sexuality. But as we welcome that better tomorrow, let’s not forget those who have suffered along the way and continue to do so.
I am hopeful that with a growing acceptance of homosexuality there will be less bullying, less suicides, less unhappy lives lived inside a closet of shame, and less suffering straight spouses who unknowingly marry someone who is definitely not straight but wishes they were.
A new and better tomorrow really is possible. It is up to us.
By Georgia Lynne Pine
Looking back, I should never have ignored that sharp, spinning sensation in my mind when I found concealer under my new boyfriend’s bed. If I am honest with myself, and these days I try very hard to always be honest with myself, I knew his explanation wasn’t the truth.
“It’s from my old girlfriend,” he stammered. “I didn’t know it was here.”
I offered to throw it away. I was right near the garbage can.
“Well, I use it, sometimes, to cover my pockmarks.”
But my own father had rugged skin. Clint Eastwood! Pockmarks are masculine. Sexy. Nothing to hide.
Of course, he never looked like he wore concealer. And he still wouldn’t throw it away. It was just something he wanted to keep, even though it had no meaning for him and he never really used it and he hadn’t realized it was there anyway. I should just hand it to him and forget it.
It was the first of many times that I chose to ignore the voice in my head, and accept the story he told as “close enough to the truth.”
Sometimes, my boyfriend was going to lie. And as a good girlfriend, I was going to let him. Because men are fragile and sensitive and their egos can’t handle too much direct confrontation. He had that concealer for some reason, and he didn’t want me to know why, and for god’s sake he had proposed to me. He was committed. He loved me. Right?
A wedding, two international moves, and four children later, I was organizing my lingerie drawer and all my good stuff was gone. The red, lacy panties. The black ones with the narrow straps at the hip. The deep, emerald green. The leopard print. After a few weeks of wondering what the heck happened to all my fancy lady gear, I found it all, in the bottom of the laundry hamper in the basement. Stretched out, covered in dried semen, and rolled in a towel.
My husband emerged from his office–directly off the laundry room–and I confronted him about what I called, “Victoria’s Other Secret.”
“If you’re going to wear women’s underwear, the least you can do is buy your own. This is all stretched. And gross. It’s gross that you’re wearing my underwear to masturbate.”
He kind of ducked his head, and smiled, and said it was fun. I shouldn’t think much about it.
It wasn’t all that fun for me. I had a husband who wouldn’t have sex with me, and now all my best underwear kind of felt like it had been stolen. Used. And yet I washed it, and put it back in my lingerie drawer, and got back to the business of raising my children and keeping my questions to myself.
A few years later, he asked me to swap clothes with him, “just to see. Just to try. It could be really sexy.”
I was so desperate for him to touch me or look at me or want me, by then, that I was willing to do just about anything he suggested. So, I gave him free access to my closet, and I wore the outfit he chose for me. I can’t remember what he wore, that night, but I remember he put me in a pair of his khakis, a yellow, Oxford-cloth shirt and a tie. He let me wear my own loafers, because they were masculine enough.
I spent the entire sex act staring at the top of his head.
Afterward, he asked me.
“Was it hot? Did you like being in men’s clothes? We could do it again, if you’re into it, sometime. For you.”
I told him the truth–that it was neutral, for me. After all, a shirt and khakis are clothes I might wear, anyway. He seemed disappointed, even though he was glad that I was willing to do it because I loved him and it mattered to him (and I wanted my husband to have sex with me, but what was the point of beating that dead horse?) Then he asked another question.
“Was it hot to see me in your clothes?”
He seemed stunned when I said it wasn’t. That I had had to try not to see him dressed as a woman, to be able to have sex. That it was gross, but I had been willing to try it because it mattered so much to him.
“Well, fine, then.”
He went back to his office, next to the laundry room, where he spent so much of his time. And I went back to the business of raising my sons, and working up the courage to leave my closeted, gay husband.
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.
By Cathy Wos
This week I am so sad and so tired.
Tired of being a Dirty Little Secret.
What’s my secret and my crime? Falling in love and marrying a gay man.
I had plans – I had a future. I was supposed to be married, living in my dream home and raising my 2.5 children. But life got in the way of my plans.
And now I belong to the club no one wants to join.
For two years I kept my husband’s secret. I told THREE people he was gay. After we separated I waited six months before I told anyone at work. I was
scared and I was ashamed. I look back and I can’t even remember why. Was I protecting him? Was I afraid of what people thought? Was I shamed by my
Church, which told me it was a sin to be divorced and for him to be gay? Probably all of those reasons and many, many more.
But then I found the Straight Spouse Network. And I found people who loved and accepted me for who I was: the quirky, sarcastic girl with the heart that was black on the inside. The girl whose only crime was falling in love with a gay man.
Two things changed a few years ago. I left my job and no longer had to worry that my work with the Straight Spouse Network might be a conflict of interest and I became Communications Director. It was then that I decided that I had to be fully out of the closet. My name was attached to the Straight Spouse Network and there aren’t a whole lot of Cathy Wos’s out there (besides my mother). I had to stop caring what people thought, so that I could be effective.
You know what my Dirty Little Secret is now?
I DO want to belong to this club. I am honored to be a part of this organization. I no longer think that loving a gay man was my sentence or my crime.
And my greatest hope is that with extra money from a big corporation, and all the extra exposure that goes along with it, no straight spouse will have have to feel ashamed or guilty or alone.
Because then this journey will be worth it.
During the month of July please vote for the Straight Spouse Network’s Pepsi