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.
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.
When I first spoke to any of the pastors at my church about my divorce it was merely out of necessity to inform one of them that they would not be seeing our family attending events as a family unit anymore. Frankly, I simply couldn’t stand hearing about what happened last week when my husband was there and I wasn’t. I had to let one of them know that I had filed for divorce. It had been several months since I had filed, so I asked if we could meet and talk.
I didn’t expect what happened next.
In the midst of me trying to be matter-of fact about the whole thing, my pastor kept asking questions about why we were divorcing and I kept trying not to blurt out “because my husband is gay” because my husband was in such angry denial. I wasn’t prepared to utter the words out loud that day.
But after the persistent questioning I spilled the entire truth there in that church office. My husband is gay, he is in denial and has me so caught up in a web of emotional abuse and lies that I have finally decided to get out.
He went on to ask about how exactly I knew my husband is gay if he hadn’t said the words, and so I was forced to describe some very intimate and uncomfortable details that I wasn’t prepared to share.
I felt a certain amount of relief that I had said the words out loud and was hopeful that maybe some form of support would come of it. After all, this is a pastor whose job it is to reach out to offer support to the congregation, right?
I never heard from this pastor on the issue again.
There was never a follow-up call, no email, no contact even just to see how I was doing.
I was left wondering what pastoral care really was and why this pastor kept digging for my truth when he wasn’t prepared to support it. I fear that all my conversation did was create awkwardness. I simply chalked that up to the fact that the topic was just too uncomfortable.
I would wager that church leaders have heard just about every confession and emotional upheaval possible. Despite that, I highly doubt that their college and seminary education could have touched on how to deal with parishioners divorcing because one of them is gay, especially if the gay one is in denial and making the straight spouse’s life a living hell. Even so, why not try?
Aside from my most trusted friends and family, I kept quiet about my journey in my community in an effort to respect that outing him was not my responsibility. I pressed on. I had found the Straight Spouse Network soon after I filed for divorce, so I focused my healing journey on sharing it with others who had been or were going through the exact same thing. I healed and created a new life for me and my kids.
Fast forward to five years post-divorce. Having become a referral contact for the Straight Spouse Network and experiencing the support of the organization, I felt it was necessary to reach out to my senior pastor in an effort to be sure that the pastoral team knows about the organization. I am fairly certain that there are other members of our congregation that are in the same kind of marriage I found myself in and I want them to know that they are not alone. I didn’t want them to hit the same wall by reaching out to church leaders that I did.
I reached out to my senior pastor to get the word out about the Straight Spouse Network and we met. I feel as if the purpose of me reaching out to him seemed to get lost.
The bulk of the conversation seemed to be a barrage of questions from him trying to figure out whether my ex-husband really is gay or not. He dug for a timeline of marital conflict, divorce events and whether I know for a fact that my ex is having sex with men.
Five years post-divorce, I really do not care. It was weird rehashing how the divorce played out.
It was moot to describe the intimate details of how I knew my husband was gay. It was pointless for me to have to prove that he is gay.
If he can’t see that my ex-husband is gay now, it is not for me to prove.
I was there to share a resource so that his pastoral team would have something to give congregants who had any suspicion, proof or disclosure that their spouse is not straight. I had to repeat that mission several times during the conversation. He did say he would share the Straight Spouse Network information with the associate pastors and I hope he did.
I have yet to hear from him again.
So now what?
How can we get the word out to our churches that we exist when spilling our guts to our pastors seems to go nowhere?
When will our church leaders be ready to accept that what we say is true without doubting us? Is it that churches like mine are not ready to hear that homosexuality exists in our church?
Do they not want to believe that the act our gay spouses have put on is a lie? So many of our gay in denial spouses use their church as a stage. They want to appear straight and rely on people believing their straight act. Are churches like mine afraid to really consider what it means to have someone living a lie in positions that influence other parishioners?
Some of our gay in denial spouses are leaders for the youth, leaders for men’s groups, Sunday School teachers, you name it. Is it that churches like mine don’t want to confront their own perception of our gay in denial spouses because they have to consider how their lies might be influencing others? Are they afraid to know that men in the church are on the down low, cheating with other men while they keep their wives in the dark?
Was my pastor relieved that I had no “admissible in a court of law” evidence that my ex-husband is gay?
Is it that neither of the pastors that I spoke to actually care?
Straight spouses do exist. We deserve to not only be heard behind closed doors, but to be believed and supported.
Straight spouses are developing support networks around the world. As technology driven media makes it easier to share information, many people living in countries where homosexuality is not even discussed are able to ask and answer their questions online, and connect with support groups.
Being a straight spouse is not confined to just one country, continent, or group of people. Just as homosexuality is global, so are the incidents of gay and lesbian people marrying a heterosexual person, for a variety of reasons.
International straight spouses face different obstacles. In some parts of the world, it is not only taboo to discuss or acknowledge homosexuality, but it is also frowned upon for women to speak of sex at all. In some places, homosexuals are targeted for prosecution, persecution, and death. Spouses, family, and children may also share in the social condemnation.
When a marriage is arranged or the result of two families coming to an agreement, finding out that a spouse is gay can have serious consequences beyond the marriage. We have known of straight spouses who were pressured into silence, or discredited and disgraced for proceeding with divorce in situations where marriage is a contract between famiies.
We know of groups that meet in Australia, New Zealand,India,the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and Canada. We’d like to hear from straight spouses in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America. Our communication is always confidential and will not be shared with anyone else.
We invite anyone, male or female, who is married to or divorced from a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender spouse to get in touch with us. Our services are free and confidential. Fill out the form in the Find Support tab, and we will respond. If there is a contact in your country who has been vetted by us, we will advise you and let them know too. If not, then you can explore the online support systems we have.
By Kelly Wilkins
“You have to understand”
When you’re a straight spouse, you hear those words a lot from the LGBT activist and ally community. You end up saying them a lot too, especially if you’re trying to express your feelings on what it feels like to be a straight spouse and you start going what I call “off script” – that is, when you start talking about your pain and the damage that your former spouse’s coming out may have done to you, rather than strictly upholding the ally party line.
Because in my experience so far on this muddy, twisted, rutted road of coming out of my ex-husband’s closet is that neither the activist/ally side nor the homophobe side really WANTS to understand what it’s like for the straight spouse. We’re too messy, too confusing, too problematic. Many of us are the walking wounded, trying valiantly to put our lives back together and hold the lives of our children together in this new post-closet world. Sometimes, we do a good job of it. Sometimes, we don’t. We fall. We’re angry, we’re bitter, we’re hurting, we’re all too human. But, we don’t get the same “pass” that our former/current gay spouse is getting from the same community. It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to be ourselves, trading one kind of closet for another.
Friends in the activist/ally world, is that really what you want from us? Don’t we deserve the same kind of compassion and understanding from you that you ask us to extend to our gay spouses? It doesn’t take much, just an open heart, a listening ear, and a little common sense. When a straight spouse shares their story with you, don’t rush to excuse the behavior of the gay spouse. Don’t tell the straight spouse that we have to be the ones to understand and be the bigger person. If you’ve never lived in our shoes and felt this particular kind of pain, don’t be so quick to dismiss it, which is exactly what you’re doing when you rush in to tell us that we need to forgive, maybe our spouse didn’t know when they married us, maybe they weren’t ready to admit it to themselves, etc. It’s almost as if you think we’ve never heard these things or thought them before.
Not all straight spouses are bile-spewing homophobes who tried to force a poor gay person to be straight. Many of us are LGBT allies ourselves. We walk in Pride Parades; we give our time and efforts to eradicating the very hate that helped create us. Rather than assume you need to make an excuse for the behavior of our former spouses, try just listening to us. Seek to understand us, before you seek to be understood.