It’s a troubling reality that many LGBT people recognize all too well: the jokes, vulgar remarks, threats, loss of friendships when they come out or someone finds out the truth about their sexuality. They along with many others are often surprised to discover that straight spouses of LGBT people also experience these same hateful things.
“Well, hey”, we hear, “can’t you take a joke?” Or “how DARE you say such a thing?” when we confide in someone about why we can no longer stay married to a closeted homosexual. There are also guesses as to our sanity, our intentions, our competence. People we thought were our friends are suddenly gone, either because the reality makes them uncomfortable, or because in our grief and anger we become “difficult”.
But you want to know what really surprises us? When that hostility is directed at us by LGBT people themselves.
Our presence, and our anger or grief is often at odds with how other people want life to be. We are not out and proud. We are distraught. We are in shock. We are often angry. It can make others uncomfortable. We sometimes seem to be stuck, processing the whole experience slowly, while others want to feel good about supporting the gay spouse coming out.
Our LGBT spouses have had an entire lifetime to figure out their sexuality. We haven’t had that whole lifetime. It can take a while to emotionally sort everything out when our lives are upended with disclosure or discovery.
Here are a few things that LGBT people can do that straight spouses have found to be very supportive and meaningful:
1. Come out, at least to us. We know it is difficult, but when our spouses come out to us, at least there is a disclosure which enables ultimately moving forward. When you don’t come out, or when you deny to us that you are attracted to the same sex, we endure self doubt, the doubt of others, and a lack of resolution. This affects ongoing communication within our families.
2. For some reason that straight spouses don’t fully understand, disclosure or discovery seems to happen often with an anniversary, holiday, birthday, or event as a trigger. Please be aware that when a special day or occasion is marked by us learning that our husband or wife desires someone of the same gender, or wants to change genders, the joyous celebration becomes an anniversary of our lives being traumatized. It’s common for us to relive the trauma on that day for years to come. We prefer that you are honest with us, but it would be great if our memories of Thanksgiving family reunions, children’s birthdays, or family anniversaries aren’t forever associated for us with a sad and disturbing memory.
3. We know that when you come out, you want to move on with lightning speed. After all, you have waited your entire life to be your authentic self. We need you to understand that your spouse and sometimes your children need time to deal with what your new relationships mean and how they impact our lives. In divorces, courts often instruct straight spouses very firmly about exposing the children to our new dates and love interests, until we are certain the relationship will last and they have time to cope with the new adjustments in their lives. We ask the same of you.
4. We know that you may want to create a two mom or two dad family in your new relationship. Please understand that in many of our families, our children may accept your new husband or wife, but they do not consider them to be a mom or dad as they already have a mom or dad in that role. There’s nothing wrong with having a mom, dad, and stepparents.
5. Please stop referring to us as beards and breeders, and accepting these terms when you hear others use them. These are hateful words. We ask that you recognize us as the people whom you chose to marry, and often to be the other parent of your children.
6. Let your spouse know about the Straight Spouse Network. Let anyone you know who is going through a mixed orientation marriage or divorce know about us. We offer support for men and women who are heterosexual and need to work through the emotional roller coaster of disclosure and discovery when their spouse comes out or is discovered. Our services are free and confidentiality is paramount. We encourage building bridges where possible, establishing healthy boundaries, and moving forward at each person’s own pace.
Many of us have continued to be “straight allies” in the struggle for marriage equality and standing up to homophobia. We now need you to be our “gay allies.” You chose us to be part of the rainbow family, regardless of which colors on the spectrum we and our children represent. We choose to rebuild our lives by moving forward day by day in a positive, independent direction.