We had a tremendous response in this blog and in social media to Frankly My Dear, I am the Victim of Homophobia Too, Kristin Kalbli ‘s response to Rick Clemons’ article in Huffington Post, Frankly My Dear…Gay Men Marry Straight Women! Here’s Why!”. Comments mostly centered on the phrase “you have no right” when in fact straight spouses are part of the coming out experience for the LGBTQ people who have married us, and we do have a right to have our say.
The responses appear to have been taken to heart by Rick, who presented a special two-part podcast for National Coming Out Day on October 16, featuring straight spouse Emily Reese, author of the blog Same Sides Support.
The podcast goes into detail about Emily’s experience, and her perspective. There is still much work to be done to get the straight spouse point of view even considered by mainstream media and by many LGBTQ activists. In this podcast, Emily goes into detail about what was helpful for her, and what was not helpful. It really does turn Rick’s perspective around.
The Straight Spouse Network is the global source of support for all straight spouses, male and female, married or partnered or divorced. Demand for our free peer to peer support has been increasing steadily through the years. This year it has exploded. As more LGBTQ people become empowered to come out of the closet, more straight spouses are dealing with the aftermath of disclosure or discovery.
Denial of true sexuality happens before and during our marriages. For many of us, the denial continues after our marriages, after our divorces. We stated in an earlier article “…the closeted behavior of denial eviscerates a spouse sexually, spiritually, and emotionally.” Yet this level of personal destruction is seldom recognized by our mainstream media, by therapists, or by our LGBTQ spouses, family, or friends.
Anger, pain, and grief are normal reactions when a heterosexual person finds out that their spouse or sexual partner is not heterosexual. Even if they thought they knew, many find that they did not know what this truly meant for their relationship. In the podcast, Emily speaks of the sense of being shattered in her own identity. It takes time to resolve this and to rebuild ourselves. It takes time to work through the profound anger and grief before this can happen. Many counselors, clergy, and therapists want to treat us as if we are going through any old divorce. This is not applicable to us. We have much more to specifically rebuild and recover.
The consequences for us of expressing the anger, pain, and grief, even when exercising self-control, are often that we are told to suppress our feelings even more. After all, the gay spouse needs to be encouraged to come out, and here you are, all angry and ugly, well, what do you expect of course they will stop being honest. We hear this so often. But what we need is affirmation, listening, and strong support through the ocean of grief, anger, and shock.
For LGBTQ spouses, facing our intense reactions is a consequence of coming out after having married us, even if they are only coming to realize the true nature of their sexuality. Just as honesty in coming out is important, honesty in addressing our anger and grief is important. That doesn’t mean we get to be abusive or hateful, but it does mean that our undesirable emotions are something that we and our spouses will have to live with for some time. It’s important for therapists and counselors to recognize that suppressing this does not mean it will go away.
It is important for us to be heard, seen, and understood. Not shut down and shoved away. Not dismissed for not being perfect, for making others uncomfortable with our reality.
If there were messages that the straight spouse could get out to the LGBTQ community, Emily feels this is the most important. “Just don’t forget that because you have come out, there’s still a bunch of stuff that we are going to need help with getting through,” she says. This not only includes emotions, but practical things such as car repair, lawn care, finances and other day to day things. Even if we have assumed the primary responsibility for those aspects of life, it is different to take them on alone.
This is an important dialogue for anyone who is in the counseling profession to hear. There is absolutely no excuse for any counseling professional to have no idea how to help mixed orientation couples or straight spouses. There are resources available through the Straight Spouse Network, including scholarly research.
It’s also important for straight spouses to hear this dialogue, when you are ready. For many of us speaking this openly is not a safe thing for us to do, either because of continued abuse from our spouse in denial, continued homophobia from society in general, or reverse homophobia – the act of those around us who affirm the gay spouse and believe that the straight spouse’s reaction is one of hate, rather than normal anger, grief, and pain that is not addressed with any healing action or presence.
Whether he meant it or not, the glib manner in which Clemons wrote previously struck a nerve – because we are treated in a dismissive and flippant manner in mainstream culture as well. Straight spouses did talk back to this, in comments on his original article and in dialogue on the response we published. But there are many who cannot talk back, and have reason to be afraid to speak for themselves.
We appreciate the opportunity he has given to Emily to discuss her journey openly and share the difficult message of the process of healing. There is just not enough support for straight spouses and for people in mixed orientation marriages in the general media, and this podcast is a healthy start.