When I first spoke to any of the pastors at my church about my divorce it was merely out of necessity to inform one of them that they would not be seeing our family attending events as a family unit anymore. Frankly, I simply couldn’t stand hearing about what happened last week when my husband was there and I wasn’t. I had to let one of them know that I had filed for divorce. It had been several months since I had filed, so I asked if we could meet and talk.
I didn’t expect what happened next.
In the midst of me trying to be matter-of fact about the whole thing, my pastor kept asking questions about why we were divorcing and I kept trying not to blurt out “because my husband is gay” because my husband was in such angry denial. I wasn’t prepared to utter the words out loud that day.
But after the persistent questioning I spilled the entire truth there in that church office. My husband is gay, he is in denial and has me so caught up in a web of emotional abuse and lies that I have finally decided to get out.
He went on to ask about how exactly I knew my husband is gay if he hadn’t said the words, and so I was forced to describe some very intimate and uncomfortable details that I wasn’t prepared to share.
I felt a certain amount of relief that I had said the words out loud and was hopeful that maybe some form of support would come of it. After all, this is a pastor whose job it is to reach out to offer support to the congregation, right?
I never heard from this pastor on the issue again.
There was never a follow-up call, no email, no contact even just to see how I was doing.
I was left wondering what pastoral care really was and why this pastor kept digging for my truth when he wasn’t prepared to support it. I fear that all my conversation did was create awkwardness. I simply chalked that up to the fact that the topic was just too uncomfortable.
I would wager that church leaders have heard just about every confession and emotional upheaval possible. Despite that, I highly doubt that their college and seminary education could have touched on how to deal with parishioners divorcing because one of them is gay, especially if the gay one is in denial and making the straight spouse’s life a living hell. Even so, why not try?
Aside from my most trusted friends and family, I kept quiet about my journey in my community in an effort to respect that outing him was not my responsibility. I pressed on. I had found the Straight Spouse Network soon after I filed for divorce, so I focused my healing journey on sharing it with others who had been or were going through the exact same thing. I healed and created a new life for me and my kids.
Fast forward to five years post-divorce. Having become a referral contact for the Straight Spouse Network and experiencing the support of the organization, I felt it was necessary to reach out to my senior pastor in an effort to be sure that the pastoral team knows about the organization. I am fairly certain that there are other members of our congregation that are in the same kind of marriage I found myself in and I want them to know that they are not alone. I didn’t want them to hit the same wall by reaching out to church leaders that I did.
I reached out to my senior pastor to get the word out about the Straight Spouse Network and we met. I feel as if the purpose of me reaching out to him seemed to get lost.
The bulk of the conversation seemed to be a barrage of questions from him trying to figure out whether my ex-husband really is gay or not. He dug for a timeline of marital conflict, divorce events and whether I know for a fact that my ex is having sex with men.
Five years post-divorce, I really do not care. It was weird rehashing how the divorce played out.
It was moot to describe the intimate details of how I knew my husband was gay. It was pointless for me to have to prove that he is gay.
If he can’t see that my ex-husband is gay now, it is not for me to prove.
I was there to share a resource so that his pastoral team would have something to give congregants who had any suspicion, proof or disclosure that their spouse is not straight. I had to repeat that mission several times during the conversation. He did say he would share the Straight Spouse Network information with the associate pastors and I hope he did.
I have yet to hear from him again.
So now what?
How can we get the word out to our churches that we exist when spilling our guts to our pastors seems to go nowhere?
When will our church leaders be ready to accept that what we say is true without doubting us? Is it that churches like mine are not ready to hear that homosexuality exists in our church?
Do they not want to believe that the act our gay spouses have put on is a lie? So many of our gay in denial spouses use their church as a stage. They want to appear straight and rely on people believing their straight act. Are churches like mine afraid to really consider what it means to have someone living a lie in positions that influence other parishioners?
Some of our gay in denial spouses are leaders for the youth, leaders for men’s groups, Sunday School teachers, you name it. Is it that churches like mine don’t want to confront their own perception of our gay in denial spouses because they have to consider how their lies might be influencing others? Are they afraid to know that men in the church are on the down low, cheating with other men while they keep their wives in the dark?
Was my pastor relieved that I had no “admissible in a court of law” evidence that my ex-husband is gay?
Is it that neither of the pastors that I spoke to actually care?
Straight spouses do exist. We deserve to not only be heard behind closed doors, but to be believed and supported.
If you are a heterosexual who has discovered that your husband or wife is having an affair with a person of the same sex, or has an interest in same sex pornography or cross dressing, you are a straight spouse.
You might hear that your husband or wife is not “gay” – they are just on the down low, or they have a fetish, or a “same sex attraction”. For most heterosexuals, all of these equal the same thing – they have discovered that their husband or wife prefers sexual activity with someone of the same sex. And this is when their world shifts on its axis.
Straight spouses often feel tremendous anger at having been deceived in this most fundamental way. They may find that their trust in others and in their own judgement erodes significantly. The behavior of the gay spouse, whether out of the closet or still secretive affects their family life, their children’s lives, their social life. And in therapy and counseling, focus is often on understanding the gay spouse, rather than giving attention to the process the straight spouse must go through in order to find healing for themselves. Many counselors and clergy get a handle on the initial crisis, but not on the ongoing process of healing and rebuilding a life for the straight spouse, which can take years depending on the relationship. Some couples remain married, some divorce but remain friends, and for others divorce is complicated, lengthy, expensive and involves a restraining order or two.
This blog is written by those who have experienced this painful deception, and who go forward along the various paths of our lives. Many people tell us that they know what they would do in our situation, but they really don’t know unless they have been there.
One of our stories is finally told in song and video. And it’s pretty real.
In Far Away, Marsha Ambrosius gives us the gift of a lyrical and soulfully poetic expression of all the emotions women have when they discover the man they love is gay. The video shows her coupled with a man who kisses another man full on the lips and is seen walking hand in hand in the park. That alone has attracted some controversy. Later, as the gay couple is walking in the park, a mother pulls her children away from them and the same hooded teams beat the man who is Marsha’s friend. The video ends with his suicide and a plea to end suicide. The images of the video don’t really suggest much about a sexual relationship between the man and woman, but the words are clear:
Ooh tear stains on my pillow
Tryin to forget you
Don’t know what I’m gonna do
More days and counting
I’ve been laying and staring
Myself in the mirror
All alone in my room
I can’t feel this way again
Gotta think with my head
Cause my heart is what got me here
So hurt from what you’ve done
More than enough reasons for me to move on
This is so much a piece of all our stories. The grief, the humiliation, the anger and shame – and the fear that if we speak too loudly, if we tell our stories, our gay exes will be the target of violence.
Some of us have also lost a gay relative or former spouse or lover to suicide.
In an interview on NPR, Marsha speaks of a gay friend who attempted suicide. She also says that she wanted to put the experience into song that was not like the usual loved and lost type of lyric. She has certainly succeeded.
The NPR commentary continues on to cite Pew foundation research that Black people are reluctant to deal with the real dynamics of having a gay man in the family because of the Black churches and other social factors. We find this type of over generalization to be very harmful. Black women are not the only ones affected by having a gay husband and facing up to his double life. Relegating the experience to the “down low” suggests that it is not as mainstream or as common across races, cultures, and religions as it is.
The other songs on the album are unusual, individual, clearly Marsha’s unique perspective. How refreshing!
We want to thank Marsha for singing about what was on her mind and in her heart. Finally, a song that many straight spouses fully understand, a song that tells of our feelings, our conflicts, and what is on our hearts.
Oprah’s interview this week with author <a title=”Terry McMillan” href=”http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Author-Terry-McMillan-and-Her-Ex-Jonathan-Plummer” target=”_blank”><strong>Terry McMillan</strong></a> was extremely valuable for straight spouses. Five years after the explosive interview that Oprah conducted with Terry and her ex husband Jonathan Plummer, the perspective of having the immediacy of the marriage, breakup, and litigation behind them served as an example of one possible destination on the road map of long term recovery and restoration for the straight spouse.
Terry makes no secret that the anger was powerful, but the anger is not as consuming as it was, and she is moving forward with her life. She says she can trust men, and that after the interview five years ago, she was hurt by the allegations that she was homophobic. “When I was ready to run him over, it wasn’t because he was gay”, she said. “I never hated his guts because he was gay. … And that was one reason why I sued, because I hated the idea of being known as a homophobe. Jonathan deep down inside knew I wasn’t homophobic. I have too many gay and lesbian friends. Too many.“
Many of us have the same experience. We don’t hate gay people. Our spouse’s lie has an effect on the core of our marriage and our being. Terry was able to win a lawsuit that she will never collect on, and have it dismissed. That is the victory that is craved by many who have been victims of this particular type of marriage fraud.
Not all <a title=”mixed orientation marriages” href=”http://www.straightspouse.org/blog/?tag=mixed-orientation-marriage” target=”_blank”><strong>mixed orientation marriages</strong></a> are based on fraud, as many gay people have late in life realizations about their true nature. But the continuation of the deception, or the expectation that the straight spouse will somehow just disappear from view or become a cheerleader for the coming out process is an additional devastating blow that many of us continue to bear.
This “You don’t hate him for being gay, you hate the deception” mantra opens us up to another misconception – that the deceit is “just like any other marriage that break up”. We hear that so often. For us, the situation is unique. Many of us endure social shunning and avoidance, humiliation, sneering. Terry endured this too with her public divorce. Seems everyone knew that Jonathan was as Oprah put it “Not just on the down low but on the high low”. Everyone but Terry. We know. We’ve been there. We’re either faulted for not having accurate “gaydar” or faulted if we conclude someone is gay because we’re stereotyping. Everyone’s a critic!
What is unique to our experience is that the deception is twofold – not only is the gay spouse lying by cheating on us, but they lied about the fundamental core of the marriage, and about who they are. They may have lied to themselves, and thus been utterly convincing. Or they may have deliberately set the gay side of their lives into one compartment, and spouse and children into another. This deception rots the core of the marriage from the start, and in some cases, rots the straight spouse’s sexuality as well.
This duality of deception and betrayal is often the part of the experience that is glossed over when the straight spouse looks for support from family, friends, clergy, and counselors. Likening it to any other experience feels as though we are being again diminished, faulted for our natural anger, shamed for not just getting over it.
Terry’s got a new book, a sequel to “Waiting to Exhale” called “<a title=”Getting to Happy” href=”http://www.amazon.com/Getting-Happy-Terry-McMillan/dp/0670022047/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286060654&sr=8-1″ target=”_blank”><strong>Getting to Happy</strong></a>”. The four characters are now in their fifties, and going forward in their lives and marriages. We know how Oprah loves to promote books!
We find it interesting that Oprah keeps going back to the topic of mixed orientation marriages – her interviews with Terry and with Dina McGreevey, with lesbian wives, and older broadcasts – but never mentions the Straight Spouse Network as a resource for healing. Perhaps our experiences are too diverse, too broad, and too unpredictable. No one in broadcast media seems interested in our actual stories, which are varied, deep, and complex. They’re also quite inspiring.
Instead, when our stories are told, they are buried in features about coming out, gay marriage and other issues that affect gays. It confirms an experience many of us have had – we cease to be perceived as people in our own right, but only in the light of how others perceive gay people and their issues.
The Straight Spouse Network is a small grassroots organization that has worldwide impact. We’ve got face to face chapters in the United States, Australia, and Europe. We are the preeminent source of support for both women and men who have a gay spouse, or who think they might have a gay spouse. Yet millions who need us, who remain buried and isolated, have never heard of us. We may not have books to sell, or be the most outrageous hype that supports the bottom line, but we are at least interesting and informative. We have helped over 20,000 people since our inception.
Would it hurt to include us in a list of resources the next time there’s a show about how straight spouses cope, heal, recover? We think it would only help.
Hey Oprah! Why not have your people call our people?
On a recent episode of Law and Order, Detectives Lupo and Bernard are protecting a witness who has had what she describes as a “down low” lesbian affair with a murder victim. The program shows them hiding in a hotel, passing the time. The witness decides she likes Lupo, and asks Bernard “Does he have a girlfriend?” Detective Bernard’s response is to look at her wide eyed and say “YOU had a girlfriend”. The witness looks surprised, but they cannot continue the conversation because they are interrupted by a knock on the door from the prosecutor.
Some of our gay and lesbian spouses do not acknowledge the label of “gay” or “lesbian”. They may even reject being called bisexual, since this is just about one person. They have affairs with someone of the same sex, but do not believe that makes them “gay”. For the straight spouse, coping with this complex situation can be frustrating, an unending riddle.
When our marriages end because of our husbands and wives have an affair with someone of the same sex, the words “honey I’m gay” can provide a sense of finality, a definite scenario. “Honey I’m bi” doesn’t seem to be said quite so often. Rather, the disclosure to a straight spouse might be “I might be a little gay”, or “I fell in love with just this one person”, or “everyone has these feelings, you’re just repressing yours”. Some men did know their wives had been involved with women – but they had no idea what that would really mean in a marriage. There may be further complications after divorce when the bisexual spouse begins to date other people of the opposite sex. If the couple is still connected through children and step parenting, the dilemma of whether or not to tell the new lover what actually happened and spare them the pain of deception is a painful one. The risk of course, is that no one will believe what they say, and attribute it to maliciousness.
For us, unresolved issues of our spouses sexuality are a part of denial in marriage. We may hear that it isn’t really cheating because they never cheated on us with the opposite sex. We may hear that since they aren’t happy in the marriage they decided to become intimate with someone of the same sex. And of course, we’ll be told in counseling and by well meaning friends and family that the unhappiness in the marriage “takes two”. We are left to ponder the impossible task of satisfying a spouse who cannot be happy with someone of the opposite sex.
The healthy skepticism that Detective Bernard showed in the Law and Order episode is refreshing to see on television. “Everyone” does not have sex with someone of the same gender, only gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do. A straight person who becomes involved romantically with someone who has had a same sex affair needs to know what it really means – and their friends, family, and counselors should not be afraid to speak openly.
Open that closet door. Put the “down low” on the “up and up”.