2014 seems to have been a year of coming out. It seems that hardly a day goes by without reading that another celebrity has come out as LGBT. In sports, in music, in movies, coming out is a new celebration.
And we think its great that people come out, because we dont want to see any more straight spouses forced into someone’s closet while they lead an inauthentic life.
But here’s the kicker – When an LGBT person comes out, many times the straight person they married is driven deeper into the closet. Even if its been a while. Even if they were supposed to be over it. The closet of judgment, shames, and shoulds.
Coming out announcements are seldom scheduled with the ex in mind. In cases where the ex did not know and was never given the explanation, it can hurt to see all the hoopla about coming out. Its hard to be happy for someone who is celebrated for refusing to live the lie that they lived with you.
Then there are times when the announcement leads to speculation about the straight ex spouse. Some of the crazy things we hear when our spouses come out publicly are:
1. Well of course she knew. I mean really how could she miss it?
Whether we know that our spouses have been attracted to the same sex or not, we enter into marriage with the expectation that it is for two people. We enter into it with an expectation of honesty. We do not enter into it with an expectation of being constantly devalued, bitchified, and being reduced to functioning as breeders, gatekeepers, or paychecks.
2. Dayum, so his wife was into women? Whats the problem here (Usually said with a smirk and a crack about the husbands manhood)
Even when a man thinks that having a lesbian wife means bonus threesome sex, he is often not prepared for the fact that he is second in her heart, and often just a paycheck. Many men are also not prepared for the systematic devaluing of their manhood, or for the process of blaming them for everything that goes wrong – because they are men, and cannot keep a lesbian woman happy.
3. You must not have been a very good wife. If you loved him you would be supporting him.
This one is really cruel and judgmental, often coming from people who preach at us about being judgmental homophobes. If he loved her he wouldn’t have lied. Coming out would have been a mutual decision. The fact is, you can be a very good wife. But you cannot be a good husband.
Imagine a woman whose husband repeatedly cheats on her with women. After a number of years he finds the girl of his dreams and decides this is the one after all. He divorces the first wife, and enters wedded bliss with the second. Everyone agrees, he made a mistake. But is anyone really expecting the first wife to celebrate and be supportive? Cooperative maybe, forgiving maybe, but supportive and happy for him? Likely not.
4. I dont see why you had to divorce. Can’t you live together as brother and sister?
Really? Is that what marriage is?
5. God hates divorce.
Well, that may be true. But we have it on authority from various straight spouses who are clergy of diverse denominations that God hates a lot of other things too. Like living a lie.
6. You have no idea what gay people go through. Stop being so selfish.
And why is it that no one wants to know what some gay people put US through?
7. You need to get over it and move on.
Well yes, and this is a core message of the Straight Spouse Network. But we will tell you that it is difficult to move forward when the straight spouse is silenced or dismissed or discarded. Some of us are survivors of spousal abuse, which complicates “getting over it”. Our lives and the reality of what has happened to us make many people uncomfortable.
8. You must have married him with the idea you could change him. Well, now you know.
Few straight spouses marry someone gay with the idea that they can change them to straight. There are however some cultures and religions that encourage gay people to marry that nice boy or girl and make babies and get over it. That doesn’t change them either – and it often leads to a crisis for the straight spouse of having been used and set up. The crisis is exacerbated when they are blamed for the failure of the marriage or for their own misery.
Coming out for an individual is a personal decision. But coming out for someone who is or has been married to a straight spouse is a family affair. Our spouses may decide that they are remaining closeted, but we may refuse to live that lie. Or our spouses may decide to come out – without consideration for what the impact of the big reveal on ex spouse or family.
We believe that coming out is a brave choice. But if you do so without acknowledgement of the effect on your straight spouse and family, or recognition of the privacy and affirmation they need for their own healing, then don’t expect those of us who have survived a mixed orientation marriage to wave the rainbow flag and proclaim you a hero.
Our heroes are the honest gay people who recognize their mistakes and openly and compassionately consider the effect on their spouse and families. Coming out is a process of truth telling. Not all the truth is pleasant.
Like it or not, straight spouses are part of the rainbow family. We may not be the most agreeable family members, but we are affected by much of the same discrimination against gay people – and we are hurt by the continued acceptability within the gay community of derogatory terms used to describe us such as “beard” and “breeder”.
We may or may not be allies, but we are family.