We’ve started the year with a bang. More people than ever are contacting the Straight Spouse Network for support when they discover that their spouse is LGBTQ.
So what are their stories?
Some are spouses of transgender individuals. Some are married to people who deny being gay or lesbian. Some are struggling to understand bisexuality, and determine if this is the truth about their spouse, or another way to admit that their spouse is gay. Some have had a full disclosure from a newly out and proud spouse and are reeling from the shock and pain, while the rest of the world seems oblivious.
More than a third of the people who contact us are men.
Some of the people who contact us want to stay married. Some aren’t sure. Some were never married.
Each person who contacts us has a different story. Some are grieving the loss of a marriage. Some are in complete shock, not just about infidelity, but questioning the reality of the life they have led. Was anything ever true? Can they ever trust their own judgement again? Can they ever believe what their spouse tells them?
Some situations are more complicated. Some straight spouses are surviving abusive situations, and struggling to remain safe while emerging from an abusive spouse’s closet. They are often told that they cannot tell anyone what they know or the entire world will collapse and it will be their fault. Or they are ridiculed for knowing, told that it is all their imagination, or they are vicious liars.
They may find that they are further isolated from any source of help – because they are perceived as being troublesome, disturbed, and uncooperative. Or they are told that they just have to go along with their spouses demands – or else they are homophobic haters.
Others remain married, seeking help as individuals and as couples, dealing with the emerging changes in their marriages, and coping with family members’ reactions.
What do we do? We connect people. We either connect straight spouses online or in face to face support groups where they exist. We aren’t therapists. We don’t tell you what to do. We offer free, confidential peer to peer support from a network of volunteers.
We are also a point of contact for others who want to learn more about straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages. We have spokespersons who can speak up about the straight spouse experience on panels, in print, and to local groups. we also can serve as points of contact for local journalists, wishing to write about the effect on a family of coming out – or not coming out.
In some places, our volunteer force is thin. But we do help with online connections for support, and phone calls.
We also build connections. We are not a political organization. However, you will sometimes see our local chapters represented at gay pride events, being visible, being out, and being available to help the straight spouses of the people who are celebrating. Sometimes the LGBTQ people we meet at these events are out to everyone – except their heterosexual husband or wife.
Our founder, Amity Buxton, has worked with thousands of mixed orientation couples over her long career by her estimate. She has published research on counseling straight spouses, which is available through our website.
If you want more information, or would like to volunteer to help other straight spouses, please contact us here.
Let’s talk about the F word.
No, not THAT one.
Let’s talk about the F word that has been mentioned by many straight spouses and ex spouses of LGBT people since the Supreme Court decision affirming same sex marriage in June 2015.
Yes, in the midst of all this celebration, and affirmation of same sex marriages, some of us are realizing that we THOUGHT we had a real marriage, based on real love, real commitment. But many of us have come to realize that our marriages were a sham. A fraud. Legal fakery.
So, were our marriages based on fraud? Some were. Some were a reaction to living in a world that demanded that men and women marry and produce a family in order to be respectable. Some were less the result of the lies that were told to us, and more a result of the lies our LGBT spouses told themselves.
Think about it. As painful as it is, it’s kind of difficult to assign fraud to a spouse who married you because they were fond of you, so their parents, counselors, pastor, etc, told them to get over this same sex thing and marry that nice girl or good man, and make lots of babies and forget about all that gay lifestyle nonsense. Only they found after they married us that they couldn’t just forget it.
Some of our marriages were clearly based on a fraudulent assumption. Some of us were married to people who knew for a long time that they were attracted to the same sex, and had no intent of refraining from that activity. For some women, the answer to “well why did you marry me, then?” has been a brutally honest response that the husband was looking for a hostess, gatekeeper, or a possible nurse for the future. For some men, the answer has been that the wife wanted a baby, or financial security.
Often, there is no remorse expressed by the gay spouse in answer to that question. There is often no acknowledgement of the effect that the decision by an LGBT person to marry someone of the opposite sex has on their spouse. Many of our gay spouses have already dealt with stages of grief and emerging from their closet can be a relief, a cause of joy, of determination to move ahead. But the straight spouse is JUST STARTING to grieve loss and deal with change and a strong flood of emotions.
So our timetable for dealing with this is not the same – and not acknowledged by our spouses or many times by our families, friends, and counselors. Many of us never have an affirmation, or an admission, or an apology. We are relegated to the less than human status of “collateral damage”.
Collateral damage refers to the civilian casualties of war, such as when a bomb wipes out enemy supplies and fuel and kills civilians living in the region. Too bad, so sad. War is hell.
Who knew our marriages were a war? Most of us didn’t say “I do” to the promise of being a human shield against homophobia. Yet, when our husbands or wives disclose their true sexuality to us, or when we discover that they are having a same sex physical or emotional affair, we often are in the front lines of homophobia, and all the ridicule and hatred that comes with it.
By the same token, our pain and anger is unacknowledged or passed over by many LGBT people and straight allies – explained away, because it just isn’t relevant to the political struggle of LGBT people, whom we just HAVE to understand.
No one ever seems to feel they have to understand us.
Then there are those of us who continue to live in the aftermath of a fraud – divorcing a spouse who will never admit to having an LGBT relationship, affair, or sexual orientation. We will never have an admission, let alone an apology or acknowledgement that wrong was done to us. We may be forced to dance the eggshell two step for many years, while our spouses and the courts demand a waltz in three quarter time. All because when we speak the truth, we are asked for “proof” and belittled or demonized or even threatened when somehow our experiences and observations don’t meet the legal test.
So, should we go after our ex spouses for fraud? Be careful here.
The answer is best given to you by a lawyer who specializes in family law in your state or country. And even if you CAN, consider if you SHOULD. The key question is – what do you want to accomplish, and will it benefit you? What will be the outcome for your children, if you have any? How will it help you going forward? Is it worth the legal cost and effort?
Some people will move ahead, maybe become friends, or friendly at least. And some will need to pursue their ex spouses for damages, financial and otherwise. But many of us will get the legalities done, and then face the long haul of maintaining a relationship if we have children. Some of us have come to find out that the lies continue, in one way or another. Our recovery, our healing, our reclamation of our own lives can be a slow process, requiring distancing, putting ourselves first, and changes in our lives that WE choose. It’s difficult to take these necessary steps when we are still vulnerable to hurt, shame, blame, and deception post divorce.
Many straight spouses have supported same sex marriage, and consider themselves to be “straight allies”. Perhaps it is time for LGBTQ people to be our “gay allies” as well. We don’t need a banner, a flag, a parade or a celebration – just inclusion in the rainbow as we move ahead into new directions with honesty, understanding, respect, and compassion. Even if we are still hurting, still angry, still grieving – or moving ahead faster or slower than anyone expected, we are still inescapably part of the rainbow family.
Some of us have postponed watching the acclaimed Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” which has now been renewed for a second season.
The series is the story of how two affluent families cope when the husbands, longtime friends and law partners, tell their wives at dinner that they are gay, in love with one another, and planning to marry. It’s a comedy, but with a cast led by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston, and Martin Sheen, it is anything but shallow. The good news here is that it is actually a well rounded story of two families, and relationship issues as we age. It is not shallow, slapstick, predictable, or derogatory toward us or our gay spouses.
Yes. It is safe for most of us to watch it. Some of us can binge watch, some of us can take it in small pieces. But all of us should look at it when we are at a point in our healing where we can do that.
We Are Familee
Many straight spouses who have connected to support through the Straight Spouse Network will recognize the situation of suddenly being at the end of a marriage which no one else understands except another heterosexual person who has experienced being married to an LGBT spouse. We may have that in common, but we are all radically different people, from diverse backgrounds, cultures, opinions, tastes, and interests. We call the friendships we form with each other “familee“. Grace and Frankie are very different people – they don’t even really like each other – but they become familee for each other, despite their differences.
The program has a general appeal, because it explores relationships with adult kids, the awkwardness of dating in your 70s (even when you look as good as Jane Fonda) and the process of moving forward. We also recognize the disingenuous surprise shown by the gay husbands that this is a lot more difficult for their wives than they expected it would be. Some of us recognize the tension that results for our gay spouses in the new relationship when they remain friendly and connected with us.
It’s good news for straight spouses and mixed orientation families that this series has been renewed. For once, there is a quality light hearted program that does not reinforce stereotypes or cast us as angry fools, or victims to be blamed, or portray our gay spouses as swishy guys who are either heroes or despicable villains. The characters are fully developed human beings with complicated relationships. And suddenly, people who watch this show are realizing that they know someone this happened to….and recognizing that we are not alone.
And oh yes – there IS a support group for that. And it isn’t limited to women in their 70s. Its for men and women of all ages, cultures, and races to share our stories and our strengths.
Some of us might feel some envy at the first episode – the husbands disclose their homosexual relationship. Many of us have experienced discovery and denial, but not disclosure. It would be wonderful if Grace and Frankie connect with other straight spouses in future episodes, and maybe find the humor in life with a husband who says he isn’t gay, he just likes having sex with men. For many in that situation, the lack of affirmation and appreciation for honesty is devastating.
As for dating, if they are like many of us, the real Grace or Frankie might actually wind up dating men whose wives left them for other women. We know full well that some of those relationships result in wedding bells, some of which have been shared at our gatherings.
We are looking forward to a second season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, and getting to know these characters better.
Straight spouses are entitled to know if their husband or wife is being unfaithful to them with a same sex partner. It also is helpful for them to know if a gay husband or lesbian wife is unsure of their sexuality. Many straight spouses blame themselves for any sexual dysfunction in a marriage. It can be a relief to know that no matter how fat, thin, bald, attentive, or attractive they are, no matter what kind of surgery they have had or physical changes, no matter how many babies, no matter how perfect or imperfect – the reason that the the spark isn’t there is because their husband or wife prefers to have sex with someone of their same gender.
So how do you tell your husband or wife that you are gay, or at least not completely heterosexual? How do you tell them that you aren’t sure but you think so?
Honestly. And with kindness, compassion, and all the love you can.
This is not a conversation to have on Valentines Day, your wedding anniversary, someone’s birthday, a major holiday, or any day that gets commemorated annually or is a special celebration. Choosing to have this conversation on those days, because that is when you have time to be together, will ruin the celebration or commemoration of those days for your spouse for years to come. It will always coincide with the anniversary of when they learned the painful truth. But there are plenty of other days to have this conversation, and the sooner the better.
Some LGBT people think it is kinder to disclose their sexual realization in small doses. It really isn’t. Your husband or wife deserves to know the real truth about who you really are. This isn’t the time to list their many faults, or go over what they could have done differently to make the marriage better. This is about you telling them who you really are.
If you’re not sure, say so.
If you are a man who has had an affair or is seeing someone, or you have had anonymous sex in a park or public restroom, please say so. Even if you are being so careful so you just know that no one will get HIV from you. Your wife is entitled to know. Despite assurances of nothing to worry about because you were careful, a straight wife will likely get tested – for her own health, safety, and satisfaction about her own health and future. And she’ll probably be very angry that she is in a position of needing to be tested, particularly if she has been faithful to you.
A straight husband or wife is entitled to know that you are GLBT because they are a person in their own right who needs to make decisions about how they will live their lives in the light of the truth about their marriage to you. Some may tell you what they want to do right away, others may just be stunned and emotional, and totally blown away by the information. But they need to know. Honesty is the best, and healthiest, policy for you both. And kindness, courtesy, sympathy, listening, and understanding go a long way. Maybe not right away, but they do help to smooth later conflicts.
Coming out in a mixed orientation marriage is a bit different than coming out as an individual. There is a partnership, a family, and obligations. These don’t go away just because you realize that you are homosexual. Your coming out is a family affair when you are married – and your spouse may not be as ready to come out as you are. Your husband or wife may want to be more open about it, and not remain the keeper of someone else’s secret. Regardless of the outcome, straight spouses deserve to know. When you are honest, you can then work out through counseling what the ground rules are for you and the family being out of the closet, or remaining discreet depending on what is best for all of you.
Remember, even if you are realizing your true sexuality later in life, you have had your whole life to figure this out about yourself. Your spouse has had maybe only a few minutes, a few months, a few years. It will take time to sort it all out, process the grief, anger, and for some the shame and self doubt, before they come to an acceptance and are ready to move forward. For many people, it can take years to work through all of this. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes.
When you come out to your husband or wife, please tell them that there is support for them through the Straight Spouse Network. Tell your therapist about our resources for counselors of mixed orientation couples. And most important, tell the honest truth about yourself.
Fran Drescher has been making the rounds of the morning shows promoting her new comedy about life as a straight ex spouse, “Happily Divorced“. We like what we are seeing in the clips that are shown.
Drescher has drawn her experience on real life, and is amicably divorced from her husband of 20 years, who was a producer of her hit series “The Nanny”. Happily Divorced shows a couple who divorce but cannot separate until they sell the house – which many of us know can take a while. For many of us, the premise of the sitcom is more real than a reality show!
One promotional clip shows Fran’s character telling the gay ex husband that she is dating. He becomes very annoyed and jealous, telling her she can’t date. She tells him he cant be gay AND jealous. That certainly resonates with many women who contact the Straight Spouse network!
A second clip shows a tearful Fran telling her parents that her ex husband is gay. The parents tell her they always knew that. Incredulous, she exclaims “YOU KNEW AND YOU DIDNT TELL ME??? WHY???” The answer? “We thought you knew”.
How many of us have heard that one before????
“Why would I want to marry a gay man???” Fran continues. The parents just shrug their shoulders. We know that reaction too!
On our email lists and in our face to face meetings, many of us find that humor is often something that really helps our own healing. It can seem to be something elusive, especially if we do not have a “happy divorce” or are subjected to abuse and shunning. The Straight Spouse Network is here for all the millions of us who find that we are married or in a long term relationship with someone who we find out is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or just not sure about that. We’re here for the people who are sure that their spouse or partner is gay, despite the denials. We’re here for the people who stay married, are happily or unhappily divorced, or never married. And we’ve been here for all of us for 25 years.
We appreciate Fran’s humor, and her perspective. Far from being a show that ridicules the straight spouse, or celebrates the gay one, “Happily Divorced” appears to be written with a very realistic perspective of all the crazy things we endure in mixed orientation marriages and divorces, happy or not. And for putting one of many experiences out there so brilliantly and so publicly, we are very happy!