If you’ve read the novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” recall the words of Atticus Finch: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I had the chance to climb into my ex-wife’s skin and walk around in it one day. I didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did. D-day had occurred a couple of years before, the divorce had been finalized, my ex was gone, I was seeing a therapist, but something my ex said kept nagging at me.
I had asked her why she felt she had to keep her secret from me, of all people; she had known me since college; she knew I wasn’t anti-gay or homophobic; I would never have hurt her; why did she think she couldn’t tell me, of all people? She couldn’t answer in a way I understood, only that it wasn’t me she was afraid of, but what I represented; as she said it, it felt fabricated, and I thought it was a load of crap, frankly. But it stuck in my mind, I must have done or said something at one point but I couldn’t figure out what.
During our divorce my best friend died. I had been best man at his wedding, we had grown up playing basketball and baseball at first, then it became tennis or jogging, joining a gym as we got older, and finally it was golfing or hiking. We were each other’s go-to person for cleaning out the garage or painting the house or helping move. (Anyone who is willing to help you move or clean out your garage is a real friend.) He was also the first in my own age group to die, and that hit me real hard. The reality of what it means to be mortal, of limited time, of “gone forever,” got to me for the first time. Talk about feeling alone and abandoned. Not only was I losing my wife, but my wing-man at the same time: both were gone in the same month. You only live once, and it’s already later than you think.
I remember my therapist asking which loss was worse, and I couldn’t choose. What a question! It was like asking if I’d rather cut off my left or my right arm, and then taking them both anyway. But it motivated me to find a way to start living again. On someone’s advice, I signed up for an “experiential” weekend in Los Angeles and at the pre-interview told about my wife and our divorce and not understanding why it happened; I didn’t get the part about “what I represented” that my wife had been unable to articulate.
Everybody in the seminar, about 50 of us, was given a task based on the pre-interview. Mine was to wear a button that said “I’m not gay but my boyfriend is.” It was pink with big black lettering, very obvious. I was to wear it all day, lunch, breaks, about town, and pay attention to what I was thinking, feeling, and especially pay attention when I took it off. This was Saturday morning. It didn’t bother me a bit to wear the button, we had all met the night before, and we all knew what each of us was dealing with and that we were there to support each other.
But I took that button off during lunch; I didn’t want people to think I might be gay while I was out buying a bagel sandwich. How stupid, right? I’m not gay, I know this is just an experiment for the day, and I don’t know any of these people at the bagel store, I’ll never see any of them again, so who cares what they think, right? Nope, that isn’t what went through my mind at that moment. I worried that total strangers might think I’m gay and so I took that button off. I didn’t even make to lunch.
I had fallen into a trap of projecting my own stuff onto my ex. I am speaking for myself now, but I do think it’s safe to say that many of us go through a stage like mine early on: angry and hurt, I had begun to characterize my ex as a coward, a manipulator, a liar, a deceiver, and so forth. Liar, narcissist, manipulator. Coward. Coward. Coward.
And here I couldn’t even wear a stupid pink button for a few hours because I was afraid that people I don’t even know might think I was gay while I was buying a bagel sandwich, when I knew perfectly well that I’m not. That was enough for me to chicken out and take the button off. I didn’t even do it consciously, or think about why I did it – which is what the assignment had been in the first place: to notice what I was feeling when I took the button off. The fear even overrode my assignment instructions. It was pure, unthinking instinct. And I didn’t even get that lesson until I got back to the seminar room and tried to explain myself to the group – justify, really – why I felt I needed to take the button off, and so quickly. That’s just what any of the rest of them would have done, right? Wouldn’t they?
I was afraid, it didn’t feel safe, I didn’t want people looking at me sideways or judging me; I worried that someone might think something bad about me. It seemed the normal thing to do, to hide that button or get rid of it. My ex lived like that every hour and every day of her life, and here I didn’t even make it through lunch. Yet I had the audacity to call her a coward, convincing myself at the same time that there was not a single shred of homophobia anywhere in me. They say confession is good for the soul, and humility is healing. Today I feel okay telling my story, but on that Saturday… I had never felt so ashamed of myself in my life. Now I consider it the day my healing began.
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 dohave something to contribute to the discussion; and I have earned my place in the conversation.
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 Iwas 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.
Since a lone gunman committed the worst mass murder in American history at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, June 12, the entire nation has been mourning in shock. This in itself is somewhat shocking to many LGBTQIA people and their families. For once, they are not regarded as “other” people, but as American sons, daughters, friends, lovers, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The picture that has emerged in the past few days of the Pulse nightclub is of a place where gay people, friends and family could come together in a safe place and have a great time.
When news of the massacre first broke, straight spouses on our online discussion boards and in private conversations expressed concern that there might be a straight spouse of one of the victims who was just getting the news that their husband or wife was socializing at a gay club, and might therefore be gay or lesbian. Or perhaps there was a straight ex-spouse somewhere who had moved on, and the attack brought back all kinds of feelings of grief, pain, anger. We reached out, and we continue to reach out to any current or former straight spouse of an LGBTQ person who needs support.
There is speculation that the gunman was himself gay. We have no way of knowing if he was a gay man full of self-loathing, or a terrorist intent on targeting LBGTQIA people for other reasons. We recognize the irony that his widow or former wife may at some point be interested in the resources that the Straight Spouse Network has to offer.
We also know that there is a terrible violation of personal safety for LGBTQ people and their families and friends which cannot be undone.
What has come out among straight spouses over the past few days is a deep sense of shock and anger, and also an uncomfortable recognition of how vulnerable we are. We have always been vulnerable to homophobia, whether it is mean jokes, bullying of our children, closeted spouses gaslighting us from a state of permanent denial, or well-meaning friends and family telling us that it can’t POSSIBLY be true. But now, personal safety is front and center for many of us. Some of us are parents of LGBTQ children; some of us are still married to our LGBTQ spouses; some of us share child custody with our exes and their current partners or LGBTQ spouses.
The gunman was known to be scoping out the Pulse club, and the Disney Springs Resort. Patrons of the club also say that he had a profile on gay dating apps, such as Jack’d and Grinder. This brings up a very frightening concern – when you connect with someone on a dating app who appears to have been part of your local social scene, you expect to proceed with caution. But you seldom expect that they are using the app to track you and possibly target you for murder.
He wanted to kill gay people, lesbian people, bisexual people, trans people, queer people, intersex people, asexual people.
And you know what? He’s not alone in that! LGBTQ people know this all too well. So do their parents. So do their children. So do their current and former straight spouses.
In the days since the attack, some of the straight spouses in our various groups have expressed deep anger, and a resurgence of fears and feelings they thought were resolved. Parents of LGBTQ adult children have been racked with grief at the thought that their son or daughter could be next. Some have even relived the trauma of being the parent of a child who was bullied, attacked, beaten – for no reason other than that they were openly LGBTQ, or that they were perceived to be as a result of having a parent who is not heterosexual.
Others have wondered if the next time a happy, safe place for LGBTQ people is decimated by a gunman or a bomb, they will need to be the support for their children who have lost a parent, their family and extended family who have lost a loved one. Even if there is a bitter and angry relationship after divorce, no one wishes this fate on anyone. And certainly, no one wants their children and loved ones to grieve a death that has come as a result of sheer terrorism against LGBTQ people.
49 people are dead, 53 are wounded and some of those are still fighting for their lives. It will be a long road to recovery. All because someone hated gay people enough to kill them for being gay.
Let’s start being honest about the tremendous depth of the homophobic hatred that has existed for a very long time, and is widespread enough to include family members and former spouses. Let’s wake up and not only worry about the next shooting – as a society, let’s say no to the next person who wants to bash a few queers in the wee hours on New York City’s Christopher Street. Let’s say no to the next person who wants to beat a transgender person. Let’s say no to the next person who thinks that raping a lesbian will teach her a lesson. Let’s say no to the people in our midst who want to fix gay men in the name of God by having them marry heterosexual women. Let’s say no to the family member who can’t stop joking about straight spouses, our children, our ex spouses, our friends.
Sure other people are beaten, raped, made fun of, bullied, murdered. But LGBTQ people, their children, and their families endure this constant threat for one reason only. That reason is that someone whose heart is filled with hate and lust for power has decided to kill them just because of who they are and who they love.
Whether we like it or not, straight spouses ARE a part of the rainbow family. Perhaps more people now fully understand that family is more than what they thought it was. The dead and injured from the Pulse nightclub were someone’s child, someone’s mother, someone’s spouse, someone’s favorite cousin or aunt or uncle, someone’s best friend. For so many people in so many places, they are FAMILY. Not a threat to the American way of life. Not a force that will destroy traditional marriage. Just FAMILY. Friends. Lovers. People.
Everything DOESN’T happen for a reason. Hatred has no reason. It is just evil.
All we can do as we rise from the devastation of this profound epidemic of hatred is show our love for each other in action.
The murder of forty-nine people and the wounding of fifty-three more in the early morning of 12 June 2016, represents not only the irrational violence of a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS with his hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It also represents one of the greatest fears of straight spouses.
We mourn those who have died because they are LGBTQ, particularly in a place where they were intended to be safe. We hope the physical wounds of those victims who survive will heal speedily, even as the emotional wounds take much longer. Our hearts go out to friends and family members, children and spouses who grieve for those who were killed and will keep vigil for the wounded survivors.
We know that quite likely, among those who mourn or keep vigil, are one or more straight spouses or fiancées of the LGBTQ victims. Perhaps they are learning for the first time that their spouses are LGBTQ when receiving a call from the authorities informing them of the wounding or death of their loved one. The Straight Spouse Network stands ready to support to those straight spouses.
As straight spouses, often bound by parenting children together, we know better than most the prejudices that face LGBTQ individuals. Even as we have to build new understanding of our lives after we learn of our LGBTQ spouses’ orientation, we continually fear that prejudices against them will bring them harm. In a nightclub in Orlando, at the hands of man whose hatred led to violence, our fears were realized – not for our own LGBTQ spouses, but for those who could be. For their sake, for the sake of their friends, and for the sake of their families, including straight spouses, we encourage every effort to undo the patterns of prejudice against LGBTQ people.
An Ottawa radio station recently held a contest called “The New Normal.” It was open to Canadians identifying as transgender who want, or are in the process of transitioning.
During the contest I wrote the following to the radio station. Although I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get a response, it made me even more aware of the need to share my story.
I am a straight female but in the past two years my life has been directly touched by sexuality and identity issues. I am what you would call a Straight Spouse.
My husband was cheating since the day we met 7 years ago; with women from work as well as female escorts. We had only been married a year when I found out. Prior to discovery I always thought that if anyone cheated on me I would leave them immediately; but life is never as black and white as we think it will be.
We went to therapy for two years. He told me the cheating was because he felt self-conscious and insecure about certain aspects of his personal life. He seemed so heartbroken and was clearly hurting so deeply that I believed him and chose to stick by him to get help and work on things together.
Things got better and he wanted to start a family. We got pregnant and I gave birth to twins. While I was on maternity leave my contract ended and didn’t get renewed, so we found ourselves in a situation where the primary provider was unemployed. That of course is when I discovered that my husband was not only cheating again but he finally confessed that he was interested in pursuing sexual relationships with transgender individuals and possibly even men. I say confessed but really it was more him being found out because I discovered he used a secret credit card to pay female escorts in what I am told was a desperate attempt to convince himself that he was straight and to drown out thoughts of wanting to be with transgender individuals and men.
Not wanting to get caught, he left a balance on the card for two years, only paying the minimum by withdrawing more money from the card. Eventually he paid off the card by borrowing money from his parents, but asked them not to tell me. To this day I still have no idea how much money he spent over the years.
So now there I was, a first time mom of 6 month old twins who just lost her job and was now dealing with the total betrayal of her best friend and life partner as I dragged him kicking and screaming from the closet. We lost our house, our cars, and had to declare bankruptcy. Now I live in low income housing, even though I am well educated with a lot of experience.
This is the real damage that homophobia and transphobia causes. Despite everything I experienced I believe my soon to be ex-husband would be the first to say that I tried everything I could to support him and help him find the path to self-acceptance. Even though I was devastated and my heart was breaking, it was breaking even more for him. I can’t imagine hating yourself so much that you feel forced to live such an elaborate lie that even you start to believe. Although I still struggle with some of his choices and the betrayal, I try to imagine how he must have felt growing up with family and friends he thought were too homophobic to confide in.
As a straight spouse we are the victims of the victims of homophobia. While my soon to be ex-husband may not be transgender, he is truly confused and full of self-loathing because of his attraction to the same sex. I think he is still a long way away from knowing and accepting who he really is, and that just breaks my heart. More than anything, I want him to be healthy, happy and to accept himself so that he can continue to be a good father and role model to our children as they grow, teaching them to love and accept themselves and others.
Although I am straight, I and my children are in many ways a living example of the collateral damage that the trans and homophobic attitudes of society have caused. Straight spouses are often silent in the background when a loved one comes out because they are ashamed, embarrassed or afraid of sounding homophobic, when in reality, most of us are allies and want equality.
There are support groups for those struggling with gender and sexuality issues. But sadly, there is little attention and even less support given to the straight spouses and children that are left behind when a loved one comes out. Too often this results in the straight spouse retreating into the same closet that their partner just vacated.
Everyone deserves the right to live the life they want; an authentic life unimpeded by fear or hate. I have seen firsthand the damage that fear and hate can cause because society has created a world in which people don’t feel safe to be their authentic selves.
There has to be a way to support both sides without playing a blame game. The conversation has to start somewhere and if there is any blame to be had it is not on the individuals but on the archaic prevailing social attitude of hate and discrimination. With proper dialogue, inclusion and support I believe that straight spouses and their partners can be allies and should both be able to hold their heads high and work towards a world where one day there will be no more straight spouses.