Today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has designated as a day to celebrate and support those who live openly as LGBTQ people or as their allies.
This year, the HRC honors all who have come out as LGBTQ or as straight allies for equality. They recognize that this takes bravery.
The Straight Spouse Network is an LGBTQ ally organization that serves straight spouses who may or may not be what the HRC considers allies. We serve the people who have it together. We serve the people who are falling apart. We serve the angry, the devastated, the isolated. We serve the recovering, the wounded, the people who have healed and are moving forward.
National Coming Out Day is a very difficult day for us. Here is why:
- Every year, the Straight Spouse Network sees an increase in the number of people who need us. National Coming Out Day triggers just that – an increase in the number of people who come out. And we, their straight spouses, are among the people they come out to.
- Coming Out Day reinforces the pain of those of us who are still forced into a closet by our LGBTQ spouses and ex-spouses. Many would like to come out as a straight spouse or as an LGBTQ straight ally, but cannot do so because it might endanger their lives or their livelihood. The threats are not always posed by the general culture. Sometimes the LGBTQ spouse threatens retribution or legal action if the straight spouse speaks openly.
- Some of us do take the opportunity and support provided by National Coming Out Day, to come out of our straight spouse closets. We may or may not be LGBTQ straight allies, but we make the decision to live in truth and stop hiding what happened from others who matter to us. Sometimes our coming out is welcomed, sometimes it is a cause for more ridicule, abuse, and attempts at gaslighting and isolation. Our coming out is seldom seen as a cause for celebration or an example of personal bravery. Yet it is a milestone in our lives which requires courage and strength.
We encourage all straight spouses to live honest, authentic lives in accordance with what is best for you and your family. Coming out for a straight spouse is not a matter of revenge, or getting even. It is a matter of refusing to live in someone else’s dark closet.
On National Coming Out Day, coming out is for straight spouses as well. When you are ready to tell your story – your own story, not the one other people think you should tell – we are here to support you taking a brave step forward. And we are here to support you as you struggle to find your way out of a closet that is not yours.
This past week, actor James Franco has attracted a storm of attention on social media for his statement that in his personal life he is straight, but in his professional life he is “a little gay”. Franco was commenting on playing the role of a gay man in the films “I Am Michael” and “Wild Horses”, and his newest role in “King Cobra.”
James Franco attends a signing for his new book “Straight James/Gay James” at Book Soup on March 6, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images
The phrase “a little gay” might be a shocker to the general public, but it is no shock to straight spouses. Many of us have heard it before. We’ve heard it as part of a lie, a belief that some of our spouses have had that it is better to tell us the truth in small pieces, than just admit “Honey I think I’m gay.”
If they admit it at all. Some never will.
For many of our spouses, saying they are “a little gay” conveys an expectation that since they aren’t TOTALLY gay we should just deal with it, and if there is a problem it is our fault.
We are the last people to ever define who someone else is in terms of their sexual identity. Heck, some of us have been accused of MAKING our spouses gay, as if we had that power, or of being gay ourselves and thus “obsessed” with accusing our spouses. When our husbands or wives come to us with the truth about their sexuality, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, we are devastated. But at least we know. We can make choices for moving ahead in our own lives, and decide if we want to stay married, pursue an “open marriage” or get a divorce. We can also begin to put the pieces of our own shattered self image back together.
For many of us, a declaration of being “a little gay” is a lie that is intended to erase a bigger lie. Being “a little gay” hints at bisexuality, but doesn’t actually admit it. Sometimes a declaration of being “a little gay” is accompanied with the statement that EVERYONE is “a little gay” and that WE are the liars for not admitting that in our heterosexuality. Consequently, when something goes wrong in the relationship, or if we react negatively, it is seen as being our fault. Straight spouses are certainly not without our faults, but we don’t have the option of truly examining how they affect a relationship if the other person in the relationship is lying to themselves and to us about their sexual preference.
Some of us have also seen over the years that our spouses who claim to be “a little gay” become “a lot more gay” as time goes on.
James Franco’s personal sexuality is his own business. He should realize, if he doesn’t already, that saying he’s “a little gay” triggers misgivings in women who have experienced deception from a gay or bisexual lover, or who are children of mixed orientation marriages. His personal honesty in his private life is his business. We do have some questions, however, for him and for other actors who play characters that are not like them.
If playing a gay character can make Franco realize he’s “a little gay”, can playing a straight character make a gay actor realize he’s “a little straight”?
Both Tom Hanks and Tom Selleck have played gay characters and yet they live lives as heterosexual men. Did playing those roles make them “a little gay”? Or did playing those roles make them reach into all the human qualities that they understand and can interpret, making them great actors?
And just who is the real Walton Goggins anyway? He’s played a transsexual (Venus on Sons of Anarchy), a tough and tender outlaw who is obsessed with a woman (Boyd Crowder on Justified) and a deranged fight club trainer who tortures enslaved fighters (Django Unchained). Is he a little trans? Or a little deranged? Or a little obsessed? Or is he a really talented actor who brings great depth and understanding to complicated characters?
For that matter, going back to a time when gay actors could not be their true selves in private life, did playing straight men who loved and charmed the ladies make Rock Hudson “a little straight” in his private life? What about Robert Reed, the iconic husband and father on The Brady Bunch? Did playing the perfect husband make him “a little straight”?
Susan Olsen played Cindy Brady, the youngest daughter on the popular television series which ran from 1969-1974. “Bob was a family man,” she said on her Facebook page in 2013.”Had he been allowed to form a relationship with another man, he would have been the best husband ever and might still be alive.”
Apparently he brought those qualities to his role as Mike Brady, a beloved heterosexual husband and father. However, his talent and performance did not make him “a little straight” in his very private personal life.
We live in an era when definitions of gender and sexuality are sometimes perceived as being fluid. Lets just make sure that all that fluid doesn’t wash away the necessity for honesty in relationships and being true to one’s self.
Today is National Coming Out Day. It’s a day that has some painful significance to many straight spouses.
We wish the LGBT people we married had come out much earlier; come out to us, and to themselves.
With all the publicity around coming out, it can feel like the stigma is gone, and coming out as a gay person might even seem trendy. It can seem like every day, a new celebrity or sports figure makes the announcement.
Yes, coming out is still difficult, and often unsafe, for gay people. Many people recognize that it is difficult for gay people to come out. But no one ever considers that while there is much celebration when a gay person comes out and is lauded for their honesty and bravery, their straight spouse is hurting and not flying the rainbow flag in celebration. Yes. we also are part of the rainbow family, even when we are angry, hurt, grieving, or just plain nasty.
That’s right. Straight spouses should be able to come out too. We should be able to tell our stories without fear, shame, or punishment. We had no control over what happened to us. We didn’t make our husbands gay or our wives lesbian. And we aren’t stupid.
Rather than being discarded as “collateral damage” by the gay community, we straight spouses have a need to come out as well. Our coming out stories are not causes for celebration. They are a chronicle of pain, deceit, and sometimes abuse.
Sometimes, it seems that there’s one person in our families or among our (former) friends who thinks that we are the punch line in bad jokes. Whether we are ridiculed for having no gaydar or cast aside because our anger is really inconvenient right now, or shunned or shamed for not trying hard enough to keep the marriage together, we experience all the homophobia that is heaped on gay people. Only we are not supposed to talk about it. If we talk about it, someone may be offended, or uncomfortable. Or someone may try to hurt our gay spouse. Or someone may hassle our children. Hey, does the apple fall far from the tree?
Or we might have to listen to the misbegotten advice of others who do not see us or our experience, only their own feelings about gay people and gay marriage. We might have to hear again that the way for us to heal is to join the fight for gay rights and march in the next gay pride parade. Or we might have to listen to another lecture about saving the marriage, God hating divorce, and living together as brother and sister (as if that were marriage).
So, for those of us who cannot come out, the Straight Spouse Network has done the job for us. This press release was widely circulated in the media today, and has been shared on Facebook and social media. It caused quite a stir in some of our networks. Here are some comments:
“I wish I could post this on my wall. I can’t be out because my ex is not out.”
“Oct 11 is the anniversary of the day she told me she was a lesbian and my world changed forever”
“October 11 is my wedding anniversary”
“People don’t realize ‘the closet’ includes wives, husbands, and children who had no say in how they were used by someone they love to hide behind”
“I never thought of myself as an LGBT ally – thanks to my ex, I am part of their family.”
“I decided to come out on National Coming Out Day as a straight spouse. I wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper explaining about the Straight Spouse Network and what my experience was like. The following year, the paper contacted me in advance of October, and featured a piece on straight spouses for coming out day.”
Some of us cannot safely come out about being straight spouses publicly. But we should be able to come out to family, close friends, counselors, pastors, and whomever we choose to tell, without fear of recrimination, ridicule, accusations, and shame.
We must live in truth in order to complete the healing journey toward being our authentic selves as we rebuild our lives. For most of us, coming out is a private experience, involving our families, close friends, counselors. There’s no parade. No one tells us how heroic we are. Some fear how honest we are.
National Coming Out Day is our day too. Our lives matter.
This article originally appeared in 2014.
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.
2014 seems to have been a year of coming out. It seems that hardly a day goes by without reading that another celebrity has come out as LGBT. In sports, in music, in movies, coming out is a new celebration.
And we think its great that people come out, because we dont want to see any more straight spouses forced into someone’s closet while they lead an inauthentic life.
But here’s the kicker – When an LGBT person comes out, many times the straight person they married is driven deeper into the closet. Even if its been a while. Even if they were supposed to be over it. The closet of judgment, shames, and shoulds.
Coming out announcements are seldom scheduled with the ex in mind. In cases where the ex did not know and was never given the explanation, it can hurt to see all the hoopla about coming out. Its hard to be happy for someone who is celebrated for refusing to live the lie that they lived with you.
Then there are times when the announcement leads to speculation about the straight ex spouse. Some of the crazy things we hear when our spouses come out publicly are:
1. Well of course she knew. I mean really how could she miss it?
Whether we know that our spouses have been attracted to the same sex or not, we enter into marriage with the expectation that it is for two people. We enter into it with an expectation of honesty. We do not enter into it with an expectation of being constantly devalued, bitchified, and being reduced to functioning as breeders, gatekeepers, or paychecks.
2. Dayum, so his wife was into women? Whats the problem here (Usually said with a smirk and a crack about the husbands manhood)
Even when a man thinks that having a lesbian wife means bonus threesome sex, he is often not prepared for the fact that he is second in her heart, and often just a paycheck. Many men are also not prepared for the systematic devaluing of their manhood, or for the process of blaming them for everything that goes wrong – because they are men, and cannot keep a lesbian woman happy.
3. You must not have been a very good wife. If you loved him you would be supporting him.
This one is really cruel and judgmental, often coming from people who preach at us about being judgmental homophobes. If he loved her he wouldn’t have lied. Coming out would have been a mutual decision. The fact is, you can be a very good wife. But you cannot be a good husband.
Imagine a woman whose husband repeatedly cheats on her with women. After a number of years he finds the girl of his dreams and decides this is the one after all. He divorces the first wife, and enters wedded bliss with the second. Everyone agrees, he made a mistake. But is anyone really expecting the first wife to celebrate and be supportive? Cooperative maybe, forgiving maybe, but supportive and happy for him? Likely not.
4. I dont see why you had to divorce. Can’t you live together as brother and sister?
Really? Is that what marriage is?
5. God hates divorce.
Well, that may be true. But we have it on authority from various straight spouses who are clergy of diverse denominations that God hates a lot of other things too. Like living a lie.
6. You have no idea what gay people go through. Stop being so selfish.
And why is it that no one wants to know what some gay people put US through?
7. You need to get over it and move on.
Well yes, and this is a core message of the Straight Spouse Network. But we will tell you that it is difficult to move forward when the straight spouse is silenced or dismissed or discarded. Some of us are survivors of spousal abuse, which complicates “getting over it”. Our lives and the reality of what has happened to us make many people uncomfortable.
8. You must have married him with the idea you could change him. Well, now you know.
Few straight spouses marry someone gay with the idea that they can change them to straight. There are however some cultures and religions that encourage gay people to marry that nice boy or girl and make babies and get over it. That doesn’t change them either – and it often leads to a crisis for the straight spouse of having been used and set up. The crisis is exacerbated when they are blamed for the failure of the marriage or for their own misery.
Coming out for an individual is a personal decision. But coming out for someone who is or has been married to a straight spouse is a family affair. Our spouses may decide that they are remaining closeted, but we may refuse to live that lie. Or our spouses may decide to come out – without consideration for what the impact of the big reveal on ex spouse or family.
We believe that coming out is a brave choice. But if you do so without acknowledgement of the effect on your straight spouse and family, or recognition of the privacy and affirmation they need for their own healing, then don’t expect those of us who have survived a mixed orientation marriage to wave the rainbow flag and proclaim you a hero.
Our heroes are the honest gay people who recognize their mistakes and openly and compassionately consider the effect on their spouse and families. Coming out is a process of truth telling. Not all the truth is pleasant.
Like it or not, straight spouses are part of the rainbow family. We may not be the most agreeable family members, but we are affected by much of the same discrimination against gay people – and we are hurt by the continued acceptability within the gay community of derogatory terms used to describe us such as “beard” and “breeder”.
We may or may not be allies, but we are family.