A safe space. That’s what the Straight Spouse Network offers to the men and women who contact us. A safe space where we can vent, ask questions, make friends, get answers. The peer to peer support we offer on a daily basis is vital to those who have discovered that their husband or wife is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Its also unique.
Ours is an extremely diverse community. We are global. We are male and female. We are old and young. Most of us divorce, many don’t. Some of us have never been married to our significant others who emerge from the closet of denial. Some of us have children, some don’t. We listen to each other, learn from each other, and make new friends with each other.
In all of the places where straight spouses connect through SSN, there is one quality that makes us a safe and secure place to talk about our lives. That quality is confidentiality.
Yes its true. We meet for gatherings at fun places. We meet face to face in some locations, going out to dinner or for social activity. We meet online in affiliated listservs, and connect privately on the internet. But we do observe confidentiality.
What happens at an SSN group stays at an SSN group. When someone crosses the line usually by accident, they usually hear about it very quickly. Its pretty amazing that a large group of straight spouses recently shared a weekend gathering in Florida – over a hundred of us – and pictures abounded – but everyone is mindful of confidentiality. The pictures are shared privately – and recipients are reminded to not post them publicly or tag them. People come to gatherings and face to face meetings knowing that it is a safe place to meet with others in similar circumstances, and that they are free to be themselves without fear that anything they say or do could turn up on the internet or reach the ears of a separated spouse or family member. Many of us are in situations where we would lose family support and possibly expose ourselves to recriminations if our spouses or family members knew that those monthly “dinner parties” or the memorial day barbeque over an hour away or the vacation trip was really a chance to connect with other straight spouses.
Confidentiality includes respect of one another, and respect of our spouses and family privacy, no matter how angry we might be. Coming out is not just a process that affects gay people – it affects their families as well. Our purpose is to support the straight spouse in a safe and open way – and that includes respecting the privacy of their spouse and family as well.
Sharing our stories with each other often leads to making new friends, and moving forward in ways we had never anticipated. Some of us refer to those friendships as “familee”. We have family – and we have the “familee” of former strangers who know all too well about having an LGBT spouse or former spouse. We may not all be friendly with each other, in fact, we may not all like each other at times, just like in any family or group. What’s special about each of us is that we respect privacy while encouraging straight spouses to emerge safely from whatever closet they are shut up inside of. We don’t tell tales. We keep it in the familee!
If you were in the woods and got shot with an arrow would you pick up a bow and shoot a second arrow into yourself? Probably not.
But too often when I get shot by an emotional arrow I do, indeed, shoot myself with a second arrow.
Here is how it happens: My husband comes out of the closet and says he wants a divorce. (First arrow) I tell myself that I am unlovable. (Second arrow) I should have seen this coming. (Yet another arrow) I’m stupid, ugly, undesirable, naïve, and now my life has been wasted. (Entire quiver of arrows)
As stupid as it seems to imagine physically shooting ourselves with a second arrow after being hit by a first one, one would think that we would realize how wrong it is to shoot ourselves with additional emotional arrows. But we all do it. And we often inflict much more damage to ourselves than was caused by the initial emotional arrow.
This pattern happens in other situations outside the world of the straight spouse experience, too.
First ArrowSecond Arrow
Someone else is selected for a job. “I’m a loser.”
My child gets a bad grade at school. “I’m a terrible parent.”
My neighbor is mean to me. “I must be doing something to deserve it.”
Isn’t it bad enough that we got shot once? And who taught us that it makes sense to add injury to injury? “Well look at that! I just got shot!” *sigh* “Hand me my bow, I’ve gotta shoot another arrow into myself.” Senseless as it may be, we do it way too often.
The straight spouse experience has given me many opportunities for target practice.
When my gay ex husband was reveling in his new found freedom and honesty, I was telling myself that living with me must have been really crappy for him to be that happy to get away from me. When I began to dabble in the online dating scene, and experienced being told “You aren’t the right one for me,” I added the arrow of “I am too fat—I will always be alone.” Now that my ex is in a committed relationship with another man I tell myself “Look, a lying, cheating narcissist can find love. I must really be terrible.”
Step away from the arrows! Stop the madness! Just deal with the first arrow, gently remove it, put on a bandage, and go buy some Kevlar protective clothing. I am doing a lot better, now, stopping myself from inflicting Second Arrows on myself. I sometimes have even been known to murmur to myself, “Put down the arrow, one wound is plenty.” I’m becoming almost Zen-like in my ability to observe an initial arrow and then move on with my happy life.
Someone else gets the job? If I was not the best choice, I would not have been happy in that job.
A neighbor is mean to me? That says a lot about him and nothing about me.
No follow up phone call after a first date? Next!
Gay ex husband (who always refused to go on vacations) is going on frequent vacations now with his boyfriend.
Yes, there is life after the experience that many straight spouses call “The Gay Thing”. There is a happily ever after, and some straight spouses manage to find it together with each other.
Take a look at Hannah and Michael in Australia. In fact, if you live IN Australia, you can take a look at them on the show “Big” on Channel Nine every Wednesday.
Both Hannah and Michael contacted the Straight Spouse Network when their marriages to gay and lesbian spouses broke up. At that time, there were no face to face support groups in Australia, although there were several spouses throughout the country who had connected with us. Hannah and Michael connected online, and together started face to face support groups in Australia.
Of course along with the blooming of a healthy romance, family life, and new friendships came the realization that they had to do something healthy for themselves. Hannah was the first to have gastric sleeve surgery, and has lost a tremendous amount of weight. Michael took it a step further, changing his life on television. Yes, diet, exercise, surgery, and..marriage! Definitely something to live for.
Those of us who attended the Florida gathering last year were so honored to see them wed in a surprise civil ceremony on the beach. It was truly a gift to all of us to see that life, hope, and family do go on, along with regaining health. They later had the big wedding for family and friends in Australia.
Today, the Straight Spouse Network is alive and well in Australia, with face to face groups meeting throughout the country, and an annual gathering in a different state each year. Australian and international straight spouses have found that hidden group communications on Facebook have been a great way to keep in touch and support one another over a distance.
All of us have a tremendous gift in the hope, energy, and healing of these two tremendous people through love, companionship, and honesty.
As straight spouses find the support they need with the Straight Spouse Network, inevitably the talk in our face to face and online groups turns to gatherings. What is a gathering?
Gatherings are social occasions, not organized under the sponsorship of the Straight Spouse Network, but by those who connect with people who become friends and then want to have fun, socialize, and take some time for themselves. They can be as simple as a weekend barbecue in someone’s backyard with overnight accommodations at nearby hotels or homes of other straight spouses, or they can be larger events.
The largest and longest running gathering is the Florida gathering, which takes place every fall on the gulf coast. Usually well over a hundred people attend, and enjoy several days of sun, surf, and friendship. In addition to great food, good times, and socializing, there’s a healing circle, and also a tradition known as the burning cauldron – where participants who choose to can write down the negative problems they want to shed, and toss them in the cauldron.
It’s a wonderful time, a great connection with people you may have met only on the phone or online, and very affirming. Yes we do exist. Yes, we do go on. Yes, we do have fun, live, laugh, and make new friendships again. Yes we do go forward.
The Florida gathering has also been a place where some weddings have taken place between participants who have met there, courted, and decide to marry at the place where the relationship began to bloom. Last year, the wedding of Hannah and Michael, the coordinators of the Straight Spouse Network in Australia, was a complete surprise to all – and very meaningful to everyone who was there.
Other gatherings have taken place in Chicago, Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut, the Grand Canyon, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Sydney, Australia. Not all the gatherings are annual events. We often share information about them on our private email lists and facebook group, and in face to face meetings. Not everyone who wants to attend a gathering is ready to have it known to friends and family what the nature of the group is, so we are not very public with the details.
Reaching out, healing, building bridges. Healing. Moving Forward. That’s what we’re about here!