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.’
Carolyn Moos, Cosmopolitan
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.
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.