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.
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 Elyse C.
I am a 51 year old woman about to be divorced. That, in and of itself, could be depressing. I hear a common lament from women in my age range that they feel like their lives are over and I can certainly sympathize, or, rather empathize with those women. Being in my 50’s and single are not my idea of a great time. Statistically, I probably stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning than of getting remarried. Well, I don’t exactly know if that last statement is true. I don’t have actual numbers to back me up.
But wait a minute! What about me? What about using this divorce as a springboard for self-discovery and personal growth? Yes, the financial reality may be dismal, at least initially. But what an opportunity to start over! To grow, to learn, to change, to simplify, to eliminate the negativity from my life! OK, so maybe there are a few wrinkles, gray hairs, body parts that hurt, body parts that don’t want to work the same as they used to work—-but so what? Life can still be good—-heck, it can be better!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m as nervous as hell about change in my life. I tend to give homage to the status quo. It is certainly easier not to change. To stay in the old, familiar patterns is comfortable. It’s less dangerous, less risky, etc. Nice and safe, just like I like it.
Well, like it or not, my husband came out of the closet, wants out so that he can start his life over and the sooner it happens for him, the better. I could fight it, dig in with both heels. Stall things or bring them to a screeching halt. Hang out for a few more years if I feel like it. But I don’t want to do that. The trouble is, I never saw myself as a divorced person. After 24+ years of marriage, one would think that things wouldn’t change dramatically. But life goes on, whether I agree with the premise or not.
I used to attend church faithfully every week, even several times a week. Lately, I haven’t been going anywhere to church. I intend to remedy that someday. Right now, I’m working on weekends, so it is next to impossible to get to a service. I have wrestled with faith issues since the gay thing entered my life more than 6 years ago.
One thing I remember from my years of growing up in the church is a quote from Hebrews 1:11, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This applies to my life in the here and now. I have such hope for the future. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know that all of it will be good. I certainly have hope that most of my life will be even better than it has been up until now.
I hope that most of you aren’t groaning and saying to yourselves, “She’s done gone and gotten all religious on us now!” I just have such hope for my future and the futures of all of us here, men and women alike. I can’t help but to focus on women in my age range, since they ARE my own kind. I feel like hope is central to all of our lives. If you are new to this, my message may not be something that you can digest or you may be annoyed with my perspective. That’s OK—we all find our own way, in our time, in the way that is right for us. The important thing is simply to open yourself to change, growth, progress, happiness (and perhaps, sadness), love, all the wonderful things that make us human. I can hardly wait!
The Straight Spouse Network invites the perspectives of various individuals who wish to share their unique experiences. We thank Elyse C for being our Guest Blogger today and permitting us to print her article about her experience.
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.