Telling Our Stories by Speaking Out Loud
Our stories as straight spouses must be told. We are a diverse group of people, male, female, divorced, married, never married, from different countries, races, and cultures. The stories of our relationships with our LGBTQ spouses and partners are all different and distinct.
There are millions of us around the world. Yet our perspectives are seldom considered in any reporting of LGBTQ events and issues. So we have to do it. We have to tell our stories, speak our minds, give our opinions, come out of our closets.
We have to speak, because no one will speak for us.
This doesn’t mean outing your spouse in hostility or revenge. It means speaking up and speaking out.
Our voices must be heard. The Straight Spouse Network blog Straight Talk, and our social media outlets on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are dedicated to making the voices and experiences of straight spouses heard and seen.
Getting the word out through other news outlets can be frustrating at times. We’ve had some good coverage recently, including an article in San Jose Inside, and this Canadian broadcast. Dear Abby has mentioned us several times in giving advice. Several years ago a very expansive article appeared in Slate. But in general, when the Straight Spouse Network is approached by media, the story is already written and they just want a comment or someone to interview quickly.
You wouldn’t believe some of the requests we get.
There’s the purely exploitive request – you know, the one that wants “couples” so that they can film the big reveal of a gay spouse coming out, and then record the shock, grief, pain, and provide counseling to wrap it up in an hour, or over a series of a few weeks. Then there’s the “happy and gay” approach: they want “couples” again so that they can show how people really can get along, either remaining married or being best friends after divorce. (It’s never just amicable – it’s always “best friends”). Or they want to interview a straight spouse but first they need to use their real name and get permission from the gay spouse and nothing bad must be said that might offend LGBTQ people. So, the story of how humiliated you were when you told your doctor you needed testing for HIV is not likely to be shared there. Nor is the story about how things were relatively smooth with your lesbian wife until her girlfriend moved in and started shoving you around.
We do have media requests that we can help with occasionally. When they want a quote on research or statistics, we refer them to our founder, Amity Buxton. She also assists with some requests for couples that are from legitimate news sources. Sometimes we connect reporters with a local straight spouse who will share their story, but we do so carefully. We never reveal anyone’s information, and always have the approval of the straight spouse first. We never recommend that anyone who is new to this experience speak to the media. There is too much opportunity for distortion and exploitation – or misrepresentation.
It can be very disappointing to give an interview, be filmed, fill out surveys, and never have anything come of it, or find that what eventually is printed or aired is NOT the story you thought was being told.
Then there’s the comments in social media and on news sites. Most of us know that we proceed with those at our own risk.
It’s also painful to watch some author/celebrity interviews descend into the Grand Inquisition of “what did you know, when did you know it, how did you know”, or a request for the “Top Ten Signs That Your Husband is Gay”. (It’s never about the wife being a lesbian, guys, sorry….mainstream media doesn’t go there much, leaving the whole subject for discussion in “adults only after dark” programs where again, your point of view is discarded.)
That’s why it is important for straight spouses to speak out, speak up, and tell the truth about our lives, our families, and ourselves. Even if your LGBTQ spouse has forbidden you to talk. Even if they deny the truth that you know so well. Come out of their closet and live in your world. We know that for many people this is still impossible as some straight spouses have much to fear physically, legally, and financially from an LGBTQ spouse in denial as well as from society in general. But find someone you trust and tell your story, whether it is a close friend or relative, or another straight spouse. Find your voice and speak for yourself.
When you are ready, tell your friends and family. Sure you should be selective; it is not safe to tell everyone, and not just because LGBTQ people are targeted for hate. We are targets too. Many of us find that we become the target of bullying, hatred, jokes. Or we find out that they don’t believe us, or subject us to the Grand Inquisition.
We invite straight spouses and their adult children to share their stories with us. On our website, you can view different people telling their own personal experience. If you are not ready to be quite that forward, you can write about your experience to us for this blog. Guest submissions should be about 600-900 words. This is not to defame or out your spouse, it is to speak of your own experience.
Here are some suggested topics:
The coming out experience
Living with a spouse in denial
How your children have adjusted
Meeting your ex spouse’s new partner
Living with an STD or fear of having one as a result of same sex infidelity
“Pretzel logic” – twisted justifications from your ex about their behavior or statements about their orientation. For example “I’m not gay, I just enjoy having sex with men”, “everyone is gay what’s wrong with you”, “Its not cheating because you’re the only person of the opposite gender that I have sex with.”
Moving forward in a new marriage or relationship
We can publish articles under pen names if requested. For article guidelines and details, please contact Janet McMonagle, Communications Director.
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.
For those of us who discover that we are married to a gay husband or lesbian wife, the different decisions we make going forward are influenced by one common factor.
We must live in the truth. We may not like it, we may rebel against it, but we must live in it.
We cannot go forward living someone else’s lie, someone else’s story of how it SHOULD be.
Your gay husband may say he’s not really gay, he’s just curious. He was molested. All guys do this. Well, maybe he’s a LITTLE gay, he’s trying to figure out if he’s bi. Or he might declare himself cured of all things gay and now it is YOUR FAULT if the marriage does not work.
None of those things account for your experience, so they do not open the path to living in truth.
Your lesbian wife might say she’s exploring her sexuality, she was raped, all the girls do it now, and what’s the matter with you anyway, real men think this is hot, you must be inadequate. But no one is considering what her involvement with or sexual attraction to other women is doing to you.
That too is not living in truth.
Those of us who have heard our spouses say “honey I think I’m gay” are actually in a better position to recover from the shock, because we go forward with the truth. We get therapy, set boundaries, take the time to really figure out what we want from the relationship, whether or not the marriage continues.
But there are those of us who never hear those words. Instead we hear that we are making it up, we are crazy, we are lying. Or we are told to NEVER TELL ANOTHER PERSON WHAT WE KNOW. Those of us who make and keep those promises for years and years pay a heavy price in addictions, weight gain, stress related illnesses, depression, internalized anger. When we inevitably tell a friend, family member, or counselor, we endure heaps of recrimination from ourselves and our spouses, because YOU SEE!!!! YOU BROKE YOUR PROMISE!!!!!
Imagine your husband or wife cheating on you with a member of the opposite sex, and being told that you have to promise to keep quiet about it.
To LIVE the truth, we must also TELL the truth. That doesn’t mean shouting it from the top of tall buildings, but it can mean telling our trusted friends and family members. It doesn’t mean telling everyone. But it does need some telling, and speaking out loud.
There is no reluctance on the part of our spouses or many of the people who surround us to tell the truths about us. We’re fat. We’re messy. We’re ugly. We let ourselves go.
Then there’s the perceptions of us that pass as truth. We’re depressed. We’re too wrapped up in work. We’re unresponsive. Those may be true, but they are usually not the WHOLE truth. Telling the whole truth, even among just a few people, even between the couple and their advisors, is really necessary.
Unfortunately, there are those of us who continue to be caught and imprisoned in a spouse’s closet. We cannot emerge due to financial threats, actions to take away our children, actions to scare off any new love interest we may have, even after divorce. The need to control the “story” translates into custody litigation, prolonged divorce trials. The world must not know the secret, and the straight spouse must be discredited so that no one will ever believe them. The “story” can be that the gay spouse is cured, or never acted on their impulses, or that it just never happened and the experience of the straight spouse is all a lie. Or the story is that the straight spouse is PERFECTLY OK WITH EVERYTHING – and life is compartmentalized to the hilt so that truth and real life never meet. The effects of such isolation, pressure, and social shunning of the straight spouse are profoundly destructive.
Even when the gay spouse is out, there sometimes is a need to villify the straight one for every aspect of life together. Somehow, the idea that a gay person did something horrible by lying to a straight spouse is diminished if they can prove that the straight spouse is a horrible person anyway. The straight wife is a terrible mother, a slovenly housekeeper. The straight husband is insensitive, works too hard, is inattentive, or is hostile. Sometimes any expression of the normal anger we feel is portrayed as abuse, and we wind up defending ourselves for being human. Some of us who have been “single married moms” find we are struggling to maintain custody of our children, buried under an avalanche of legal bills, investigations, constant motions, and legal abuse. This type of harassment is certainly not confined to mixed orientation couples, but when the intent is to perpetuate the myth of the “not so bad after all” parent, or to cover up homosexual activity, the effect on a family is devastating for years and years.
The Straight Spouse Network is here to support all heterosexual people who have a gay or lesbian husband or wife, or who are divorcing one. We are peer to peer support. We’ve felt the anger, we’ve survived the divorce process. Some of us have stayed married, and can share some wisdom about that. There is no “right” way to feel, and we come from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all perspectives. We help one another to heal and move forward – in truth.