There are thousands of songs and stories in popular culture about women whose husbands leave them for other women, and men whose wives leave them for other men. There aren’t that many about straight spouses and our experiences.
Consider a woman who has suspicions about her husband. Yes, about a third of the people who contact the Straight Spouse Network are men with lesbian wives, but for this example, we’ll consider a woman. Sure, she knew before they were married that he was a ladies man, but that was THEN. So she confronts him, and he admits, yes, he’s spending a lot of time looking at porn. But he says he’s never acted on it. He loves her. He wants their marriage to work.
She knows about the porn. She wishes he spent the time he spends on that actually making love to her. They go to counseling. She works on losing weight, being more attractive, being a better wife. She then discovers that he is actually “acting on it”.
Now here is where the story changes. If he’s “acting on it” with another woman, everyone understands the rage, the hurt, the rejection, the deception. Counselors, clergy, and therapists might actually have a clue on counseling women in this position. Maybe a family member went through this in their marriage and has some advice on healing. Maybe she does need to work on herself.
But if he’s “acting on it” with a man, the wife hears that if she really loved him she would understand that he needs this. If she knew that he was bisexual before they married, she may hear that well, what do you expect, he needs this and YOU KNEW. Counselors will not have a clue as to her feelings about having her life torn from her, those years of thinking it was her fault, her appearance, her shortcomings. Many of them will tell her she needs to understand why she married a gay guy. Worse, they may tell her that everyone is a little gay, come on, what’s wrong with you.
When a marriage breaks up where the husband is a known womanizer, most wives may hear “Well I am not surprised. Wondered if he could stay true.” Most of them don’t hear “well what do you expect? AND YOU KNEW.”
She may hear from her spouse and others that if the marriage weren’t such a train wreck in the first place, he wouldn’t have had to de-stress by having sex with men, by fantasizing about them with porn, by checking out gay fetish websites.
When they are divorcing, a husband who leaves his wife for another woman is told to not introduce the kids until the divorce is final, and then not until he knows the relationship is stable. Husbands who leave their wives for men often don’t get this lecture. Some are in such a hurry to resolve their life conflicts that they will force the inclusion of a lover into family gatherings, into contact with wife and children, even before the divorce is final. Often, the wife is told to get over her anger and accept the gay lover as a step parent for the children. How many women are expected to accept the female lover of their straight husband in a step parent role before a divorce is final? Many women do have good relationships with their ex husband’s new boyfriend or gay husband, but these relationships take time to build.
When a heterosexual man says he’s sorry and begs to come back to the marriage, the wife can decide does she really trust him not to stray again, and can also bring to the marriage some changes in herself. When a bi-gay man says he’s sorry, he doesn’t want to lose the marriage, the wife does not have the same choice – she wonders if she is being set up again, she wonders if this is going to continue on some other level because this isn’t just about a relationship, it’s about his nature.
And of course, we encounter much of the same homophobia that openly gay people encounter. We are shunned, we are stupid, we are the punch line of a joke. Our kids sometimes endure bullying because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Or, our kids become bullies because they have anger at the gay parent and no one wants to hear about it.
At the end of the marriage to an LGBT spouse, we are left to wonder if the marriage was real, if they ever really loved us, ever really were attracted to us, because the core of our sexuality is not what they are attracted to, or what they need. We go forward healing in a world with very little affirmation. After all, “it’s all the same, get over it already”.
Many of us join divorce support and recovery groups, and find that no one else there can relate. That is why the Straight Spouse Network exists – so that no one need ask these difficult questions or go through this experience alone.
The Haggards are back, and Oprah’s got ’em!
Gayle Haggard is on a publicity tour for her new book “Why I Stayed“. It’s an interesting perspective on remaining married after same sex infidelity and betrayal. It is very clear that a major factor in this decision is that Gayle genuinely loves her husband, Ted Haggard – and he loves her right back! That alone is a story that many straight spouses never get to live. Those who remain in mixed orientation monogamous marriages know that love, trust, and communication are paramount in importance – and have to be mutual.
Gayle made an appearance on Oprah, with Ted, and carried herself very well with Oprah’s proclaimed “non judgemental” interview. Oprah appeared incredulous that Gayle still loves her husband! This is not so incredible to those who remain in long term mixed orientation marriages. Oprahs questions were probing, insightful, and brought out a lot of good points about the entire experience. It was a great interview.
However, Oprah lost us on one train of thought:
“Would this have been the same were the infidelities with women? I wonder if yeah, I just wonder, if and I’ve interviewed other women who found out their husbands were in relationships with men, who found out their husbands were gay, for some women it’s easier if the other man is gay. ….if its another man, there’s nothing you can do about that…for some women it makes it easier because you think well no matter what I would have done, well, you know, I’m not gonna be a guy!”
In our experience, it’s unusual for a straight woman to find infidelity with a gay husband to be preferable to infidelity with another woman, or even “the same”. The realization that “it’s not me” does not come quickly for everyone, especially when you may not be able to disclose the reason for divorce, or confide in friends and family members. As Gayle says, “It’s different”. Women who have attended our face to face meetings across the world and right there in Oprah’s home town, Chicago, say the same thing. In a private, confidential, peer to peer setting, they share the stories of deception, betrayal, and the unique shredding of their own sexual identity that often comes with marriage to a closeted gay husband. For many women, the rejection of their female body and passive aggressive denigration of everything about them by their closeted gay husband comes before any actual infidelity. After discovery or disclosure, there can be a sense of relief that “it’s not me”, but they are left to rebuild who “me” is after so much tearing apart.
Gayle is telling her story, and emphasizes that it is hers and no one elses. We applaud her for that, as we all have different experiences with our spouses and families. Her story will share some common threads with many.
If Oprah were to interview other straight spouses, she would gain an understanding for herself and to her audience of the many different experiences and perspective concerning the experience of straight spouses, from “honey I’m gay” to “no, I’m not gay, you are crazy” to “well, you just have to let me be me and tolerate my same sex relationships” to “Im not gay, I just like having sexual encounters with men”.
The Straight Spouse Network is the pre eminent peer to peer support group for the heterosexual husbands and wives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. There is an active face to face support group right there in Oprah’s back yard. We encourage her to keep on interviewing women whose husbands are in relationships with men, and men whose wives are in relationships with women.
And Oprah, the next time you interview one of us, a straight spouse like Gayle or Dina, we’d appreciate it if you would let your large audience know that yes, there’s a support group for that – a big one, which spans the globe!
Well, it’s infidelity. Lies, cheating, deception and all that. Just like in REGULAR divorces. So just because your spouse has left you for someone of their same sex, you shouldn’t think you are any different from anyone else, right?
It is different. Way different. For the straight spouse, anyway.
When a man discovers his wife cheating on him with another man, he has a basic primal urge to beat up the intruder. When the other man is a woman, he has that same urge. But oops! Can’t hit a girl, you monster you. Well, just be more understanding and deal with it. Don’t express any anger, any hostility, any real feeling. Ah, drinking again I see. Well, just remember, if you’d been a better provider, lover, friend, housekeeper, father, etc, things would be different.
Now a man whose wife cheats on him with another man might own up to all the negatives in the last statement. He might own his part in the breakup of the marriage eventually, because as all counselors always tell us (or so it seems) “it takes two, you have to own your own issues”. But when a man’s wife has an affair with another woman he is left to wonder just what he could have changed about himself that would have mattered – because she’s gay and just not attracted to him really.
For those who think that having your wife involved with another woman is hot, consider this: How hot is it for most straight men to be nagged in stereo, or whipped by two women – and not be able to strike back or express anger because everything about being a man is viewed in the negative? How much of a turn on is that? It may be a staple of the porn world, but in the real world, it is not much of a turn on at all. How many straight women expect to come home to their husband after breaking up with the other man, and tell him the whole sobbing story about how they were dumped by the other man, or had a fight with him? Not many, but this experience happens with some frequency to men who are married to emerging lesbians.
Now lets talk about straight women and their gay husbands’ infidelity, or in many cases, infidelities. Along with straight women whose husbands are also straight, it certainly is possible that infidelity could happen because the guy married them for all the wrong reasons: money, position, appearances,baby making, mommy. But then there are the problems of the marriage that go with being unloved or unappreciated or devalued. She “lets herself go” and puts on weight. He tells her she’s unattractive. She’s a mess. She doesn’t do anything right. She’s depressed.
So they get divorced, they go to counseling for family issues. Somehow, her issues are the problem. The fact that he exposes her to AIDS, devalues her womanhood in subtle and not so subtle ways, and is on the “Down Low” or prefers anonymous bathroom nookie with a man he’s never met before to her love is supposed to be the same as if he cheated on her with a woman. That means she’s not worth so much after all. If he is cheating on her with a man who is the love of his life, that says to her that not only is her marriage over, but it was a total lie – and she is left to wonder if the problems with depression, unattractiveness, weight, housekeeping, etc are really her issues or if it was just a cover for him getting ready to discard her now that he’s done.
Yet, many gay husbands think that this means they are not cheating – after all, it’s not a relationship, or it’s not sex with a woman.
You never get a chance to work through what you could bring to the marriage to make it different, to possibly change the outcome if you choose to. No matter what you might do, your spouse is gay. You don’t have the equipment, and they’ve probably found ways to tell you how inadequate you are before they admitted the real problem.
You never get to own your own issues, because in many of these marriages you own nothing but the lie from the start.
Counselors need to recognize in working with mixed orientation couples that talking about the issue of homosexuality in the marriage IS working on the marriage, and that the straight spouse has legitimate reasons for bringing up their feelings in regard to this. Our need for affirmation at this time is often pretty keen, because so much of our own sexuality and personhood has been disaffirmed during the course of marriage.