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.
By Adrienne Doyle
Editors note: The story of the straight wife married to a gay man is not always about recovering after he comes out. Some women deal with gay spouses who are closeted and abusive. This is a declaration of independence and healing from one of those women.
Ok, this is how it is.
I’m done with all that.
Yes, I know I have been done with the marriage for a while. Yes I have heard that I ruined our family and didn’t work hard enough on the marriage because I am so selfish and other straight wives don’t think this is such a big deal.
Yes I hear that you don’t want to be labeled. I’ve heard of this fluid sexuality you speak of, this temptation, this sex addiction you have to recover from if only I will stay married to you. You want to have sex with other men, but somehow, you are not gay.
I know about that. And I am done with it.
I’m also done with trying to figure out if you are gay or bi. I’m done with trying to convince our relatives, our children, our pastor, my mother that you’re gay. Because you say you are not. And I know you are.
You cheated on me. And you lied. And you continue to lie.
And everyone thinks you’re a hero. A brave man who is struggling with coming out. Or a brave straight guy whose evil wife wants revenge and says he’s gay.
Or they think you’re a victim. Society oppressed you. Or you’re “struggling” with “Same Sex Attraction” and I am supposed to remain in a celibate marriage with you.
But poor woebegone you. You married me, the angry woman. And no, I cant just get over it. I had this funny idea that marriage was two people in love going the distance.
That woman doesn’t exist any more. Your lies suffocated her. Also your nasty publicly “constructive” and privately abusive comments about her appearance, cooking, housekeeping, mothering.
And her femaleness. As if being female were a fault.
Back in those days, when I heard you say “I’m not gay, I just fantasize about having sex with men” I asked you – Why did you marry ME?
You said, quite incredulously, with raised eyebrows and indignant tone that you wanted a wife and you wanted children. You wanted to be married. And you thought I wanted that too. Your voice trails off and the fake sobs and crocodile tears run down your cheeks – just a little, just enough for the drama.
Well I did want those things. But here’s the kicker: I loved you. I believe that having marriage and children means you love one another. It means loving the person, loving the woman without fantasizing she’s a man, caring and showing it in so many little ways.
You never loved me. I know that now. But you lied and said you did. You had no idea what love was. That’s why you belittled all the signs of affection I gave you. That’s why you sneered at me for envying happily married couples who make time for each other and share a life together, and suggesting that maybe we might want to do some fun stuff together like that. Oh my, what was I thinking?
Then you met another guy. And all the things you said weren’t important in a relationship suddenly were.
Yet you still wanted to stay married. And I was supposed to be ok with that. I was supposed to watch you go out. I was supposed to keep tripping over your Craigslist profile. I was supposed to never ask who you were talking to 18 times a day on the cell phone. I was supposed to never ask about those expensive gifts and trips that showed up on the credit cards. OUR credit cards paid with OUR money.
And I was supposed to keep your secret.
And I am so not ok with that.
So that means to you that the breakup of the marriage is my fault.
You continue to lie. To yourself. To me. To others.
So I’m done. Done with you mattering to me. Done with your attempts to control me through money and children, and pressure me into silence or keep anyone around from believing me or befriending me. That’s your choice if you want to keep trying to oppress me that way, but I will resist and live my life in truth and not be controlled by you. If you harm our children by continuing to shame and degrade me, I understand I cannot control you and there are many who believe you have that right. But my compromises and getting along with you for the sake of the children will not help our children. It will just encourage you to hurt them more, because you will continue to hurt me through them.
Gay, bi, trans, cross dressing and straight, on the down low, I don’t care. That’s about you. Whatever you are, whoever you are, you lie.
I am a heterosexual woman. I will live my life in truth, accept who I am, and not concern myself anymore with you figuring out who you are. You don’t get to tear me down anymore to build yourself up. You don’t get to abuse me into going along with your lies. I am living in the truth. And I am not silent, no matter what price you demand as punishment for my truthfulness.
Yes. Truth. Going forward. Having a life. That doesn’t center around you.
And I’m worthy of being loved by a man, and loving myself.
Deal with it.
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”.