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.
For some straight spouses, the journey to building a new life can take a while. Healing for us is done at our own pace, in our own time. For some of us, not being able to be fully “out” of the closet, or coping with a spouse or ex spouse in denial can continually open up wounds and vulnerabilities, taking a long time to finally find a path to restoring our lives.
When straight spouses tell their stories through books, blogs, and other media, we are always happy to share. Chances are, the questions they had and some of the answers they have found will apply to others as well. We may be unique individuals, but we are not alone.
Annie Tulk is a long time straight spouse living in Canada, who has recently written a book about her story. A first responder for the Straight Spouse network, she has written How to Move Beyond the Pain of a Spouse’s Homosexuality, a book of reflections that will inspire and motivate others.
Tara Mullin Lowney has published a book of poetry that she wrote to help her get through the difficult days of being a straight ex wife and a single parent. Life After, Forever is now available on Kindle from Amazon.
You can find a list of books written by straight spouses here on our website, as well as other resources.
The Straight Spouse Network is the premier support network for heterosexual current and former spouses and partners of LGBT people. We offer entirely free, confidential peer to peer support. And we want you to know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
By Emily Reese
In the last decade, whenever I’ve shared the story about my ex coming out of the closet, with the deception, hurt, anger and tragedy, I almost always hear the phrase “I wouldn’t have been able to do it” or “I couldn’t do it.”
I suppose there were times when I didn’t think I could do it, either. There were numerous nights, after the kids and my ex went to bed, that I couldn’t sleep and found solace in my minivan parked in the garage, crying primally and spinning my wheels about how I could fix things and make everything perfect again. So many of those times I thought I had reached my limit and that I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
But somehow, I continued to deal with it. I just kept going.
There is no getting around it: There’s nothing good about a spouse coming out. (Except the fact that finally you are living in truth, which is unfortunately a nightmare most of the time.) Were there times I wish I could have had a Delorean and gone back in time to change things to make our situation better? Sure. But that wouldn’t have been truthful, and ultimately, we all deserve to live in truthfulness, even when it hurts.
When people say “I couldn’t do it” or “I wouldn’t have been able to handle it the way you did,” I usually retort: Yes, you would have. It’s called survival, and that drive within our human spirit is very strong.
I had this goal, like most people do, to find some light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t always see it, and I didn’t know what the end would look like, but I had to believe that it was there. It was tough to remember this hope at times, especially when I had so much anger and bitterness and felt justified in continually punishing my ex. The divorce sucked. Realizing that my own kids would be hurt was horrible. However, I came to understand that they wouldn’t feel the same kind of hurt that I did because they weren’t in love with the man like I was. He was their dad… and always would be… even if things would look different in the future. They weren’t divorcing their dad. I was. A few years later, my middle daughter was asked what she thought about her dad coming out of the closet. She said, “When he told us he was gay, I don’t think I was too surprised, not because I knew, but because it didn’t make him any different to me.”
This greatly changed my perspective about how I was putting my own hurt and feelings onto my kids, expecting them to feel the same way that I did. It caused me to focus on my own emotional health without thinking my kids were going to be scarred for life. In other words, they may have things that they have to work through because of it, but their experience was not going to be like mine, which brought me some peace in my own journey to let go of the things and people I could not control.
I found that sharing my story with others and finding spouses who had gone through something similar was the best healing balm for me. Yes, I went through counseling, but knowing I wasn’t alone was the biggest band-aid for the gaping gash in my heart. Because of the support of others who had traveled down this road before me and turned out fine, I was able to get through it.
I am thankful to be further away from those first few years of hurt. Being able to help others through their trauma continues to help me, even now, and gives me some sort of purpose behind this experience that was so tragic.
Believe me when I tell you: You can do it. You are stronger than you think you are. The support you find here and through others will be the best medicine you can ask for.
Emily Reese is a straight spouse who blogs about her experiences at SameSides
When our spouse or partner reveals they are gay, many of us are flabbergasted. We thought we were with one person, yet we were really with someone different. We thought we knew them. We thought they were open and honest with us. And after disclosure we oftentimes spend quite a bit of time dwelling on the question, “Who is (s)he?”
Of course we do. We are confused. Hurt. Deceived. Angry. Who is this person? At some point, we realize they are what they are. They do what they do. We might not understand their resulting actions, or their new looks. While understanding that being gay is not a choice, we might seriously question their new choices on other matters, knowing they would have decided differently before. It’s confusing, so we ask, “Who is this?” Sometimes this question consumes our lives.
The most important question, however, is the one your gay (ex)-partner has probably long been grappling with — the real high-impact question for any of us.
Who am I?
We are shaken by the disclosure. Shaken to the core. We have huge looming decisions, most probably new to us. Yet if we keep asking why they are who they are, without asking ourselves those same questions, then we miss a huge opportunity. Yes, opportunity. Because this is the time to stop, evaluate ourselves, and decide who we are, who we want to be, and who we can become.
Each of us has obligations and responsibilities. We all have desires and regrets. There are many ways to explore who we are:
- Taking time off from the normal activities
- Hiring a life coach
Why does it matter? We all want to find our purposes. Most of us want to do more. The shakeup makes us realize that nothing is permanent. Nothing should be taken for granted. Our time is precious. We each deserve to pursue what we need and want. The angst, inaction, and guilt from not exploring who we are can be physically self-destructive.
Yet we are convinced, many of us, that this sort of thinking is selfish. We are given life to serve others, and/or a deity. Perhaps that’s the way you were raised as a child. This line of thinking is not a free pass. We still need to decide how we will serve others. Also, until we take care of ourselves, we are not fully available to help others. Pushing our real selves down pushes down the potential to do more for others.
We also need to frame how we will act now, in response to them being gay. How will we treat them? How will we deal with shared assets? How will we handle the children? To direct our positions in those decisions, we have to have a foundation of self.
So when you’re finished asking who they are, start exploring the more important question, “Who am I?”
Sometimes, we just get it all wrong.
I was there. Angry that my ex-wife was gay and left me. Early in the process it was tough to separate the reality that she was homosexual from the hurtful behaviors. It is easy to mix up – she’s gay, she’s pissing me off, therefore it must be the gay thing that’s the problem.
Except it’s not.
I now can see clearly that what hurt me was her behavior. The deception. The lack of communication. The unrealistic expectations. The pretzel logic. The rejection.
But we often focus on the homosexuality and blame that. We focus on their changed looks. We focus on their new partners. We focus on where they go and what they do. We exude vitriol at their gay lifestyles as if that is the reason for our personal agonies.
As a straight spouse, I see a lot of energetic, passionate, sometimes even eloquent communications about our gay partners – how they look, who they are with, where they go, what they do – oftentimes with strong tones of disapproval or outright obvious disgust.
That’s all wrong.
Because the fact that they are gay is not why we hurt. We hurt because somehow, somewhere in the process of their coming out, they hurt us. The pain is real and we want to blame something. Since the homosexuality is often central to our breakups, it is the obvious target.
Yet we know that many couples amicably break up after one spouse comes out. We see that many of the gay spouses remain good parents to their children. Some straight spouses even remain friends with their gay exes.
As straight spouses we need to be careful – careful to avoid gay bashing. Careful to not blame the homosexuality when the real cause of the pain is the other person treating us wrongly. Careful to not focus so much on what the gay spouse is doing that reflects them being gay.
Why? We can never recover from the hurt of learning they are gay when we focus on what gay thing the ex-spouse is doing now. We can never recover from the rejection when we reject them simply because they are gay. We can never communicate with them effectively when our language about them is filled with shame or hate.
So sometimes, we just get it all wrong. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s think about what we are saying, writing, and doing. Each of us has our imperfections, things others may not agree with, appearances others may not prefer. Healing, in my view, requires acceptance. Not agreement necessarily, but acceptance. Without acceptance we remain mired in the anger, unhappiness, dislocation, and regret.
How can we live this change? Stop focusing on the appearance of the gay spouse. Stop focusing on what parades they go to or bars they frequent. Think about what you say or write before spewing it out there – is it hurtful, shaming, blaming, or bashing? If so, think about how you might feel if your ex were to say such things about you.
Why not focus on making ourselves better by doing what we like, spending more time with the people we love, and embracing causes that matter to us? We’ll all be better off if we spend our limited energies wisely, towards positive change.
The Straight Spouse Network wants to thank Ron for sharing his perspective and experience.