Today is National Coming Out Day. For the straight spouses of closeted gay people, this has special meaning.
Closets stifle us and our families. When we have to keep the secret of a gay spouse, and pretend to the world that all is well, that things are really just as they appear, it stifles us. Some of us keep those secrets for personal reasons, others for professional reasons. The secret has a cost to everyone who keeps it.
For the straight spouse whose husband or wife denies being gay while showing a sexual attraction to the same sex, the closet is particularly stifling – and dangerous. Many straight spouses of such people have found that once we know the secret, either through discovery or disclosure, great efforts are directed at keeping us silent – or should we choose to emerge from the marital closet, making sure that what we say is unbelievable.
Outrage is being shown on HBO this month. It’s an opportunity to catch a controversial film about closeted homosexual politicians who consistently vote or advocate laws and policies that are not in the best interests of homosexuals. Such powerful policy makers not only slam the closet door on themselves and their families, they manage to crush others caught in the emergence from that same closet.
Outrage features a few minutes with Dina McGreevey, as well as her ex husband, Jim McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey. Their story of emerging publicly from the closet in 2004 is well documented, as is the tragedy of the public spectacle of their divorce. For many of us, that divorce and the publicity surrounding it was a lesson in what happens to straight spouses when we depart from the script of the gay partner, and speak with our own voice. It has been reported in several blogs that McGreevey was unhappy with the inclusion of his ex wife’s perspective in the film. We hope that is untrue speculation. For straight spouses, her testimony to her personal experience in this film confirms what many of us have also experienced.
Jim McGreevey is now out of office. Can you imagine the agony of a straight spouse whose husband or wife is still holding public office, or an important leadership position in business, clergy, or social policy making – and the silence they must keep or else risk humiliation, denial, and devastation? How many of those are there? We suspect that for every Dina McGreevey who is recognized and speaks out, there are several others who are unknown and suffer anonymously and in silence.
Today, we encourage all gay people to come out to their families. If you are married to a straight person, come out, honestly, compassionately. If you are a young person who is not out to your parents or siblings, share your secret if you feel it is safe to do so – you may find that although they grieve the loss of their expectations, they will still love you. Remember, as you come out, there are support groups for you and for your family. Tell your straight spouse about us. Tell your parents about PFLAG.
Today, if you are a straight spouse married to someone who is deeply closeted, come out of isolation by contacting the Straight Spouse Network. Our services are free, and completely confidential. Come out of that closet enough to know that you are not alone.
By Cathy Wos
I am obsessed with the show Mad Men. The writing is superb, the actors are phenomenal and the wardrobe is stunning.
It’s the 1960’s, and while an interesting era to watch, certainly not one I want to live in. The world of a 1960’s housewife was stifling. She was to been seen and not heard. Her husband was the breadwinner and he made all the decisions. If the couple divorced, ostracism was certain. She dealt with her isolation through therapy, cocktails and pills, and not necessarily in that order.
In Mad Men, each character struggles with the role he or she plays in society. It is most apparent with Salvatore Romano: Madison Avenue Advertising Art Director and closeted homosexual. In pre-Stonewall society he has no choice but to remain in the closet and play the part of red-blooded hetero male. In Season 2, we are introduced to Kitty, his adoring wife. Sal has invited a co-worker to dinner and Kitty tries to hold her own in the conversation, only to be cut off. This goes deeper than the usual friction between husband and wife. The viewers can see that Sal has a crush on him, but Kitty doesn’t. All she knows is that something in this marriage is missing and she doesn’t quite understand.
Approximately 2 million men and women have been in Kitty’s role: straight spouse. Mad Men may be set over 40 years ago, but that doesn’t mean the closet has completely opened. Each day more and more people seek support from the Straight Spouse Network. The difference now is that they have somewhere to turn. The difference now is they do not need to stay in their gay spouse’s closet.
As the season progresses, I hope the writers at Mad Men treat Kitty with respect and empathy. My biggest hope is that characters like Kitty continue to exist only on-screen and not in real life.