Frankly My Dear, I am the Victim of Homophobia Too!
By Kristin Kalbli
Recently, author Rick Clemons published an article in the Huffington Post, ‘Frankly My Dear…Gay Men Marry Straight Women! Here’s Why!” 07/19/16
In the article Clemons asserted “if you haven’t lived and breathed sexual orientation confusion, felt gay shame, or laid awake at night wishing that you really could pray the gay away, then honestly, you’ve nothing to contribute to this discussion.” As the ex-wife of a gay man (who was in denial during our marriage, but came out after divorcing his second wife), I know that I do have something to contribute to the discussion; and I have earned my place in the conversation.
It is an utter travesty that homophobia still exists in our culture to such a degree that self-loathing and fear still infect perfectly wonderful people who happen to be LGBT. Recently the Archbishop of Philadelphia said that gay couples should be abstinent. Preachers still promote disproven and insulting “reparative therapy” and advise gay men to marry straight women (as if our lives are suitable sacrifices on the altar of their religious homophobia). This is baldly discriminatory and deeply harmful to LGBT people.
But when my ex-husband chose to marry me (knowing he was gay), he compounded that harm, spreading the trauma and devastation to two lives, rather than confining it to one. I am the victim of homophobia too. Many LGBT people may not want to acknowledge this, thinking it detracts from their very real suffering. I certainly understand that they may not want to share that particular medal in the Oppression Olympics.
I am not invalidating the brutal homophobia that sent people like my ex-husband so deeply into his closet that he had to use me as its door. I am saying that my life was ripped apart by that homophobia too. And I am in pain, and angry. Very, very angry.
My justifiable anger should not be confused with homophobia. I am not, nor have I ever been, homophobic. I have officiated at LGBT weddings, and count LGBT people among my closest colleagues and friends. This shared trauma should make us allies against the injustice of homophobia and its consequences. But often, criticism of behavior like my ex-husband’s (deceiving a straight spouse into marriage) is spun as anti-gay rhetoric. And that is dishonest, dismissive, and divisive.
I unequivocally sympathize with the struggles of LGBT men and women, although I don’t know what it is like to question my orientation. But I do know what it is like to have my own sexuality deeply shamed, rejected and damaged.
Let me explain: I was abjectly and repeatedly sexually rejected by my ex-husband, in the most intimate way a person can be rejected. But I had no idea why. I intuited that he might be gay; I even prayed that he was, because it would have explained the soul crushing rejection. I asked him on different occasions; he always denied it. He left me to guess, to ruminate, to wander in a desert with no answers, to live in an ether of doubt and questioning. And he left me to conclude I was the problem. My body image suffered, my self-esteem collapsed, my soul was damaged, my trust obliterated. I was devastated not to feel desired by my own husband; I was devastated my own husband did not want my touch. My sexuality was a threat to him, a reminder of his own homosexuality, which he was desperately running from. So he had to shame my sexuality and shut it down.
He did the exact thing to me society did to him. And almost a decade post-divorce, I am still recovering from this form of sexual abuse, this gas-lighting, this mind-f**k.
Clemons is correct that LGBTQ people are often cruelly “shamed and belief-poisoned” into hetero-normative marriages, but I take exception to his inclusion of the term “forced.” As the ex-wife of a gay man, I say with confidence that I was forced into a mixed orientation marriage against my will, without my knowledge or consent. I did not know he was gay at the time of our marriage, but he did. I would not have married him had I known the truth. I was forced, not him. My ex-husband was not “forced” to lie to me, he was not “forced” to marry me, and he was not “forced” to stay in the closet. Not by me, at least.
Because of my experience, I question Clemons’ narrative that gay men who marry straight women are merely the victims of cultural and familial homophobia and are entirely without responsibility or culpability for these deceptive marriages and their fallout. The homophobia of our culture, vast and grotesque as it is, is not an excuse to rob someone of agency, truth, and the ability to consent.
It is the definition of entitlement for one person to use another as a beard, a shield, a prop. My ex-husband stole years of my life, depriving me of the love, sexual intimacy and pleasure I might have found with a heterosexual husband. And he did this knowingly. He is responsible for that choice.
In a somewhat cavalier tone, Clemons continues “So the burning question that some of you may still be asking is, ‘Why do gay men marry straight women?’ Frankly My Dear because, sometimes it takes time to live the life your meant to live.”
Ok, fair enough. I get that. But what happens in the meantime to the straight spouses waiting for the truth while their gay spouses have “experiences not yet experienced,” as years of their lives are sacrificed on the altar of their gay spouse’s self-discovery?
Is the straight spouse’s life disposable because it “takes time to live the life you’re meant to live?” I cannot imagine anything so disregarding, so dismissive, and so self-serving.
OH WAIT, yes I can, because I lived it.
Yes, it is true, that “true freedom comes from trusting yourself enough to be yourself,” but let’s encourage each other not to learn that lesson at the expense of someone else’s life.
We’ve all heard it before. Someone wants to be nice, acknowledging what happened in our marriages when our spouses came out of the closet. Sure, its bad for us, and not our fault but, hey, they’re so brave! They finally came out and are publicly living an authentic life. And….wait for it……you know it’s coming…..
They’re a hero.
That’s right. A hero. There is a widespread perception that coming out takes bravery, even if it is after decades of marriage to someone of the opposite gender who tried so hard to make things better, believing that perhaps they were not enough or were at fault for whatever problems surfaced.
Now it is true that coming out of the closet for LGBT people is very difficult, and being married to us makes it more difficult. Coming out is the right thing to do. Many of our spouses never come out; instead they deny the obvious and attempt to convince themselves and others that we are lying or crazy. But some of our spouses realize the necessity to do the right thing, and be honest with us, painful as that may be.
Doing the right thing takes some bravery. But is it heroic?
Does anyone ever tell the husband who cheats on his wife with other women that he’s a hero? Maybe they tell him that they understand why he goes outside the marriage for sex, maybe they sympathize with him. But even if he is doing what he needs to do, is he a hero?
Many straight spouses wonder on what planet is it heroic to lie to yourself and others about your sexual orientation, marry someone of the opposite sex, and then realize you have made a mistake and admit it. Yes, admitting it is the right thing to do. And sometimes our LGBT spouses are heroes. But not always.
We are heroes too. Maybe not always, but often. And few people ever recognize that or tell us how brave and strong we are.
Surviving a tragedy, a divorce, a disaster does not make us heroes. But we develop heroic qualities. We rebuild our lives. It is often not easy.
For one thing, when our husbands and wives come out of the closet to us and to our families, they tell their own stories. They don’t tell our story. Meanwhile, many of us go into a closet that is not of our own making. Many of us make a vow of silence at first, to not tell. After all, that would be “outing”. And of course, that would mean we are haters. Or, we feel the need to protect our LGBT spouse and our family from public discrimination and ridicule. So we are silent. And sometimes in our silence, we are blamed for the end of the marriage.
Sometimes when we break our silence, we have to stand up to our spouse’s anger. After all, you SAID you wouldn’t tell anyone and now you did! Some of our husbands and wives believe that when we tell the truth as we must, and stop shouldering the burden of secrecy alone, that this makes us liars too, and evens everything out. Or we have to face well meaning friends, family, co-workers, and counselors who tell us they know what we are going through, but…..
…but we shouldn’t tell. It’s not good to out someone.
…but we need to just get over it and move on. Now.
…but it’s all for the best. After all it can’t be easy for a gay person to pretend to be straight all those years.
…but everyone knew all along anyway so who cares what you have to say.
All the while, we discover the life we have been missing. We reconnect with ourselves. We do what we need to heal and move forward. Some people do not consider that to be brave. They consider it selfish.
When we do what needs to be done, moving forward, being civil, being honest, even in the face of unkind comments, misunderstandings, and even threats, we are being heroes as well. What’s important is that we are empowered to tell OUR stories, especially to those who give us strength, support, and courage.
Telling our own stories, not in anger or out of revenge, but as a way to speak the truth of our lives, is vital to our healing. It requires some bravery. And at times, it is heroic.
Just going forward into new relationships is heroic for some of us. We deal with our trust issues, and learn over time what intimacy can be – and what it wasn’t. Sometimes we do this at an advanced age.
Sometimes we never get the chance to have a sexual relationship with another human being. But we do go forward. We meet ourselves again.
Speaking the truth takes courage when others don’t want to hear, when others are more comfortable with silence or their own version of what our lives should be. There may not be a parade, a greeting card, a congratulation, a celebration, or a pass for everything we have done wrong. That’s ok. We are the heroes of our own lives.
By Joanna Ravlin
I was terrified of coming out of the closet. It wasn’t even MY closet! It was this bizarre rabbit hole I fell down without even realizing I’d gone through the looking glass. Even now it’s difficult because the person whose closet I was stuck in still hasn’t come out. I doubt he ever will. After 12 years of marriage, I know him pretty well.
I am a STR8 SPOUSE. My ex husband is gay. Not according to him though. He’d prefer nobody knew. But I am the woman who endured years of his same sex affairs, his abuse, (Which I’m sure was fueled by his shame and frustration) the weight of his secrets and for too long, the suffocating prison of his closet. My ex husband is also mentally ill.
To be honest, I do empathize with how difficult for him it must be to feel stigmatized by both mental illness and homosexuality. Neither is wrong. Neither was his choice. They aren’t synonymous either.
Homosexuality isn’t a disorder, but several therapists he’s seen over the years have explained away the same sex affairs by accrediting the behavior to being bipolar. Instead of treating his Bipolar disorder and counseling my ex husband about his shame and denial, they led him to believe his sexual preference was a symptom of his abnormal psychology. All it did was make him more ashamed and more secretive. He didn’t need his gay reasoned away. His sexuality isn’t abnormal. He needed his sexuality and his mental illness to be seen as separate aspects of his being. Instead what he heard was his attraction to men is attributed to being sick. Closets are built out of shame and secrets.
Perhaps selfishly I’ll add that the lack of adequate counseling for him also contributed to my time in his closet. I wish that instead of all the effort put into explaining away the gay, someone had told him gay is normal but it’s not normal or okay to trap another person in an inauthentic marriage.
It’s hard to discuss being a STR8 SPOUSE of a closeted spouse or ex spouse. I can tell you that I am still confused by it, so I understand how confusing it must be for others hearing my story. There is no lexicon of half secrets. We’ve created celebratory rituals around coming out as gay, but how do we respond to the heterosexual (ex)spouses? And what do we say to the heterosexual (ex)spouses who leave the closet when the gay spouse remains in it?
I so want a party! And a parade!!
I survived some crazy shit, I deserve it.
Okay, no parade. Just believe me if I trust you enough to tell you my story. And don’t ask me how I didn’t know…because I didn’t.
I’m not telling people that my ex husband is gay out of spite, or anger, or vengeance. For years I told no one because I feared him, because I pitied him and because I was ashamed. I questioned whether I even had the right to out him. But eventually I realized that I couldn’t ask for help or support without telling my story. All of it. I could keep his secrets or I could escape the oppression of his closet. But I couldn’t do both.
So I’m telling my story about my marriage because it helps me heal. Another STR8 SPOUSE told me at the beginning of my journey, “It’s not your shame.” It’s true, it’s not my shame so I refuse to keep carrying it. Secrets are toxic and until we stop using them to build closets with there will continue to be people trapped inside them. I choose to use my truth to tear closets down.
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.
Some of us have postponed watching the acclaimed Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” which has now been renewed for a second season.
The series is the story of how two affluent families cope when the husbands, longtime friends and law partners, tell their wives at dinner that they are gay, in love with one another, and planning to marry. It’s a comedy, but with a cast led by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston, and Martin Sheen, it is anything but shallow. The good news here is that it is actually a well rounded story of two families, and relationship issues as we age. It is not shallow, slapstick, predictable, or derogatory toward us or our gay spouses.
Yes. It is safe for most of us to watch it. Some of us can binge watch, some of us can take it in small pieces. But all of us should look at it when we are at a point in our healing where we can do that.
We Are Familee
Many straight spouses who have connected to support through the Straight Spouse Network will recognize the situation of suddenly being at the end of a marriage which no one else understands except another heterosexual person who has experienced being married to an LGBT spouse. We may have that in common, but we are all radically different people, from diverse backgrounds, cultures, opinions, tastes, and interests. We call the friendships we form with each other “familee“. Grace and Frankie are very different people – they don’t even really like each other – but they become familee for each other, despite their differences.
The program has a general appeal, because it explores relationships with adult kids, the awkwardness of dating in your 70s (even when you look as good as Jane Fonda) and the process of moving forward. We also recognize the disingenuous surprise shown by the gay husbands that this is a lot more difficult for their wives than they expected it would be. Some of us recognize the tension that results for our gay spouses in the new relationship when they remain friendly and connected with us.
It’s good news for straight spouses and mixed orientation families that this series has been renewed. For once, there is a quality light hearted program that does not reinforce stereotypes or cast us as angry fools, or victims to be blamed, or portray our gay spouses as swishy guys who are either heroes or despicable villains. The characters are fully developed human beings with complicated relationships. And suddenly, people who watch this show are realizing that they know someone this happened to….and recognizing that we are not alone.
And oh yes – there IS a support group for that. And it isn’t limited to women in their 70s. Its for men and women of all ages, cultures, and races to share our stories and our strengths.
Some of us might feel some envy at the first episode – the husbands disclose their homosexual relationship. Many of us have experienced discovery and denial, but not disclosure. It would be wonderful if Grace and Frankie connect with other straight spouses in future episodes, and maybe find the humor in life with a husband who says he isn’t gay, he just likes having sex with men. For many in that situation, the lack of affirmation and appreciation for honesty is devastating.
As for dating, if they are like many of us, the real Grace or Frankie might actually wind up dating men whose wives left them for other women. We know full well that some of those relationships result in wedding bells, some of which have been shared at our gatherings.
We are looking forward to a second season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, and getting to know these characters better.