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Two Realities

Posted by on Jul 31, 2017 in Blog | 10 comments

Two Realities

By Ron Exler

Nine years ago, after my then-wife told me she was in love with someone else, I didn’t want to be in that place. That place of confusion, anger, sadness, questioning, regret, hunger, and darkness. I wanted that place to disappear. Maybe if I acted as if nothing changed, it would become so. Maybe if I denied the truth, something else would become the truth. Maybe if I closed my eyes, I would open them up seeing something different. Maybe if I just tried harder, prayed more, waited longer – she would change her mind. Maybe we could live our outward-facing pre-disclosure lives to protect the children and ourselves from the disruptions and pains of change.

So, I lived two realities – as many of us do at the beginning. There is the outward reality – the one others see – which many of us paint on social media. All the good stuff. The celebrations. The travels. The additions. We sprinkle in some politics, humor, and maybe share some memes. Perhaps we tout a cause or two. We stay where we are. Because what’s familiar is supposed to be comfortable. At first, I didn’t change how things looked to others and told only a few family members and friends. I stayed living with her for 19 months after disclosure. I did nothing that could repaint the picture for those seeing my everyday interactions.

Yet there was a different inner reality. Where the feelings lived. The place of tears, of questions, of fear. I could see where I was but could not see where to go. I could cry but I couldn’t imagine when the sadness would end. I could not figure out what exactly was happening, let alone what to do about it. I knew that change was inevitable, but remained steadfast in not altering my ways. I struggled every day. That guttural pain would not subside. I was trapped in this thing – this awful unfair crazy place.

Two realities. It’s how many of us protect ourselves at the start, and the path I chose. It was all I could do to keep functioning in my job and personal life. It became almost normal after months of living that way. And it was difficult, exhausting, and only made me sadder.

Now, more than nine years since disclosure and I almost forgot about my two realities. When I saw them in someone else the other day, I flinched. Wait a second – they just told me their spouse disclosed. Why are they doing that? And my dear wife, also a straight spouse, reminded me that I did the same types of things. Her comment ripped through me like a sharp knife. Why are you saying that? That hurt my feelings! She apologized profusely. The next morning it struck me that she’s right. That was me. I was in the two realities.

How did I get out of the two realities? The first step was finding the Straight Spouse Network. I went to a meeting and was surprised I was not alone. I got online and communicated with other straight spouses. I learned the stories of those further along in their journeys. I increased the frequency of my counseling visits, from which I learned I could not blame her for the two realities. They were of my own making, and to create one I needed to act. Slowly, I took small steps to change the two realities into one. A painful journey but also one of growth. Then, I was in trouble. Today, I am fine, in one reality.

If you live the two realities, know that the people in the Straight Spouse Network understand. It’s part of your process. We can help. If my story reminds you of the way you handled this, then please remember how you moved forward. Pat yourself on the back for your progress. And chip in with your time or money to help the Straight Spouse Network help others as it helped you.

Ron Exler
Board Member

Ron Exler is the Vice-President of the Straight Spouse Network Board of Directors.  He co-facilitates a face-to-face support group.  We thank Ron for sharing his personal perspective.

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All 2 Million of Us and Counting – Because We Count Too!

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Blog | 6 comments

June is Pride month, a time when LGBTQ people tell their stories out loud. Once upon a time, they could not do that without fear of being arrested, beaten or killed. Now, it is a time for straight spouses to tell our stories as well, because we count too.

Pride month occurs in June to commemorate the Stonewall uprising.  On June 28, 1969, New York City police raided a popular Greenwich Village gay bar, the Stonewall Inn.  The reason given was that Stonewall was serving liquor without a license, but it was well known that police often targeted gay bars for raids at that time. However, this time was different. No one had ever fought back before.

As gay men and drag queens were being loaded into police vans, the crowd started throwing bottles.  The police called for backup, and rioting ensued on the neighboring streets.  In the following days, LGBTQ people demonstrated for their civil rights – the first time that demonstrations for their civil rights had ever taken place. Today, it remains important for people to live authentic lives, without fear or shame because of their sexual orientation.

And that includes us, the heterosexual current or former spouses and partners of LGBTQ people. There are millions of us – all around the world.

The long-held estimate of 2,000,000 straight spouses in the United States was always a conservative one.  Our founder, Amity Buxton, arrived at this figure when performing research for her book “The Other Side of the Closet” in the 1990s. She said:

“The 2,000,000 figure is derived from a conservative estimate of the incidence of more or less homosexual behavior (a mid-range figure of four accepted percentages of gay men who marry (twenty percent) and of lesbians who marry (eighteen to thirty-five percent), the percentage of bisexual men and women (at least twice as many as homosexuals) and the percentage of married bisexual persons (undetermined). 

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetObviously there is a greater likelihood that as more LGBTQ people tell their stories and live openly, the numbers change.  What was a conservative estimate of 2 million 20 years ago is now likely to be a very low estimate.  It remains difficult to calculate these numbers with certainty.  However, there is one thing we do know: the demand for assistance from the Straight Spouse Network has grown exponentially.

We used to get a few requests a week for help.  In April 2017, 188 new requests came in through our triage system. In addition, our website has seen a spike in hits.  We seem to attract a lot of hits from the Googled question “is my husband gay?” People seeking information on transgender spouses and lesbian wives also find us through Google. They comment on this blog, Straight Talk, on articles they find from these searches that we published years ago.  They message us on Facebook, thinking they are alone.

They join divorce support groups, only to find that there is much about their experience which is unique, and not understood. They join groups for spouses of recovering sex addicts, only to find that again, their experience is different. Some LGBTQ people are sex addicts.  But not all. They try talking to good friends and family, clergy and counselors, only to find that other people want to back off once issues pertaining to  having an LGBTQ spouse are raised.

Amity stated the problem for us clearly in the forward to “The Other Side of the Closet:

“Because the trauma is so profound, the process of recovery and transformation is long and arduous, requiring courage, patience, and persistence. It typically takes at least a year to resolve the pragmatic issues of damaged sexuality, changed relationship and conflicting parent-spouse roles. Two or more years are generally needed to resolve the more complex issues of fragmented identity, integrity, family configuration and belief system.  All told, it usually takes more than three years to construct a new life, and far longer to look dispassionately at the experience.”

– Amity Buxton

The Other Side of the ClosetIt’s an uncomfortable truth for many LGBTQ spouses, advocates, clergy and counselors to acknowledge – that the effect of living in a marriage or long term partnership with an LGBTQ spouse or partner is devastating to the heterosexual spouse, requiring, time for recovery, support, adjustment, and eventual healing. But it is true. This isn’t the same as any other infidelity.  It isn’t the same as any other lie.  It causes us to question our own sexual self worth, our ability to trust in relationships. And it takes TIME to work through it all.

Many of us do become advocates for LGBTQ rights.  Some of us are parents of LGBTQ children. And for some, being among advocates who seek positive changes in society while living honest authentic lives themselves is refreshing.

But for so many of us, it remains difficult to tell our stories, or have anyone truly listen without proposing a quick fix, or an admonition to “just get over it”.  And that is why the Straight Spouse Network is invaluable in the global support we provide. It often shocks many straight spouses to discover that they indeed are not alone – and that there are millions of us. 2 million in the USA and counting.  There are active chapters of the Straight Spouse Network in Canada, Australia, India, the UK, and there are contacts in Asia, Europe, and South America.

We don’t have a chapter or contact in China – not yet anyway. Scholars believe that 80% of the male homosexuals in China marry a woman, who is known as a tongqi. Approximately 31.2% of all tongqi marriages end in divorce.  Being married to a gay husband is not recognized as legal grounds for divorce in China, and many tongqi are financially dependent on their husbands.  Estimates of the number of tongqi in China range from 10 million to 20 million.

And that’s just wives of gay men. We haven’t found any statistics on men who marry lesbians in China.

When LGBTQ people cannot live authentic lives, that creates a greater likelihood of mixed orientation marriages. So during Pride month, as we support the rights of LGBTQ people, we remain dedicated to telling the stories from the other side of the closet. There is no need for a straight spouse to suffer in silence. We offer free, confidential peer-to-peer support, either in local face to face groups, or in secret online communities.

And we will continue to tell the stories of all straight spouses, male and female, married and divorced, whether there has been a “honey I’m gay” disclosure, or a denial resulting in questions that never seem to end.

2 million and counting in the USA.

 

Millions more across the planet.

 

We are not alone.

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News From Our Board

Posted by on May 27, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

ssn logoBy Laura Long, Board member, Straight Spouse Network
Most of us are familiar with and all are grateful to Amity Pierce Buxton, who founded the Straight Spouse Network in 1986 and continues to play an active role in the organization. Some may also be aware that as a non-profit 501 c(3),  SSN is governed by a Board of Directors. But most probably don’t know much about the Board.

Our current Board of Directors is comprised of nine volunteer straight spouse members, four men and five women. We meet at least once a month, connecting via conference call from coast to coast and into Canada, with board members from CA, MI, MD, PA, NY, MA and Ottawa. As a Board, we represent straight spouses everywhere, our varied journeys dating back to 2000, and beginning as recently as 2014.

Our mission of reaching out, healing, and building bridges among straight spouses and with the wider world is our common goal. The recent media coverage of Ellen DeGeneres publicly coming out in 1997, reminds us how far attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals have evolved. “The character on my show was clearly struggling. It was pretty clear it would be an easy transition for her to realize she was gay, which was why her relationships with men weren’t working out,” Ellen said in her interview with ABC news. Ellen’s subsequent personal and professional struggles and successes are well known and rightfully respected.

Our struggles, and those of our spouses, are mostly private. Societal recognition and media portrayals of LGBTQ challenges has grown exponentially over the past two decades, but recognition of the straight spouse journey remains limited.

As individuals and as an organization, our outreach extends not only to straight spouses, but to the wider communities we are all part of. As individuals, all of us on the Board are grateful for the peer support we received through SSN. And as an organization we remain committed to making sure that support is there for you and others we continue to connect with.

Laura Long 2016 BoardLaura Long grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In 1978 she went off to Boston College, where she majored in nursing and met her future husband. Married nearly twenty years with two preteens, Laura discovered quite by accident that her husband was gay and essentially leading a duplicitous life.

They endured a turbulent transition as a couple but kept their priorities focused on the needs of their sons, who have grown into terrific adults. The Straight Spouse Network was an invaluable cornerstone of insight and support via the local support group, and online, throughout the many stages of the Straight Spouse journey. The Unitarian Church, also a place of healing, was where Laura met her second husband. They have a son together. Over the years they’ve continued to share holiday and family celebrations with Laura’s ex and his various boyfriends; scaffolding together their own version of a modern family.

Laura has a PhD in health policy and works in home healthcare and hospice.

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How Do We Help?

Posted by on Jan 31, 2017 in Blog | 9 comments

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.

rainbow handsWhat 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.

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Frankly My Dear, I am the Victim of Homophobia Too!

Posted by on Aug 1, 2016 in Blog | 61 comments

Frankly My Dear, I am the Victim of Homophobia Too!

By Kristin Kalbli

Recently, author Rick Clemons published an article in the Huffington Post, ‘Frankly My Dear…Gay Men Marry Straight Women! Here’s Why!” 07/19/16 

In the article Clemons asserted “if you haven’t lived and breathed sexual orientation confusion, felt gay shame, or laid awake at night wishing that you really could pray the gay away, then honestly, you’ve nothing to contribute to this discussion.” As the ex-wife of a gay man (who was in denial during our marriage, but came out after divorcing his second wife), I know that I do have something to contribute to the discussion; and I have earned my place in the conversation.This is not what I signed up for

It is an utter travesty that homophobia still exists in our culture to such a degree that self-loathing and fear still infect perfectly wonderful people who happen to be LGBT. Recently the Archbishop of Philadelphia said that gay couples should be abstinent. Preachers still promote disproven and insulting “reparative therapy” and advise gay men to marry straight women (as if our lives are suitable sacrifices on the altar of their religious homophobia). This is baldly discriminatory and deeply harmful to LGBT people.

denialism1final

But when my ex-husband chose to marry me (knowing he was gay), he compounded that harm, spreading the trauma and devastation to two lives, rather than confining it to one. I am the victim of homophobia too. Many LGBT people may not want to acknowledge this, thinking it detracts from their very real suffering. I certainly understand that they may not want to share that particular medal in the Oppression Olympics. 

I am not invalidating the brutal homophobia that sent people like my ex-husband so deeply into his closet that he had to use me as its door. I am saying that my life was ripped apart by that homophobia too. And I am in pain, and angry. Very, very angry. 

My justifiable anger should not be confused with homophobia. I am not, nor have I ever been, homophobic. I have officiated at LGBT weddings, and count LGBT people among my closest colleagues and friends. This shared trauma should make us allies against the injustice of homophobia and its consequences. But often, criticism of behavior like my ex-husband’s (deceiving a straight spouse into marriage) is spun as anti-gay rhetoric. And that is dishonest, dismissive, and divisive. 

I unequivocally sympathize with the struggles of LGBT men and women, although I don’t know what it is like to question my orientation.  But I do know what it is like to have my own sexuality deeply shamed, rejected and damaged. 

pinocchio-970x545Let me explain: I was abjectly and repeatedly sexually rejected by my ex-husband, in the most intimate way a person can be rejected. But I had no idea why. I intuited that he might be gay; I even prayed that he was, because it would have explained the soul crushing rejection. I asked him on different occasions; he always denied it. He left me to guess, to ruminate, to wander in a desert with no answers, to live in an ether of doubt and questioning. And he left me to conclude I was the problem. My body image suffered, my self-esteem collapsed, my soul was damaged, my trust obliterated. I was devastated not to feel desired by my own husband; I was devastated my own husband did not want my touch. My sexuality was a threat to him, a reminder of his own homosexuality, which he was desperately running from. So he had to shame my sexuality and shut it down. 

He did the exact thing to me society did to him. And almost a decade post-divorce, I am still recovering from this form of sexual abuse, this gas-lighting, this mind-f**k. 

Clemons is correct that LGBTQ people are often cruelly “shamed and belief-poisoned” into hetero-normative marriages, but I take exception to his inclusion of the term “forced.” As the ex-wife of a gay man, I say with confidence that I was forced into a mixed orientation marriage against my will, without my knowledge or consent. I did not know he was gay at the time of our marriage, but he did. I would not have married him had I known the truth. was forced, not him. My ex-husband was not “forced” to lie to me, he was not “forced” to marry me, and he was not “forced” to stay in the closet. Not by me, at least. 

Because of my experience, I question Clemons’ narrative that gay men who marry straight women are merely the victims of cultural and familial homophobia and are entirely without responsibility or culpability for these deceptive marriages and their fallout. The homophobia of our culture, vast and grotesque as it is, is not an excuse to rob someone of agency, truth, and the ability to consent. 

It is the definition of entitlement for one person to use another as a beard, a shield, a prop. My ex-husband stole years of my life, depriving me of the love, sexual intimacy and pleasure I might have found with a heterosexual husband. And he did this knowingly. He is responsible for that choice.

In a somewhat cavalier tone, Clemons continues “So the burning question that some of you may still be asking is, ‘Why do gay men marry straight women?’ Frankly My Dear because, sometimes it takes time to live the life your meant to live.”  

crazypillsOk, fair enough. I get that. But what happens in the meantime to the straight spouses waiting for the truth while their gay spouses have “experiences not yet experienced,” as years of their lives are sacrificed on the altar of their gay spouse’s self-discovery? 

Is the straight spouse’s life disposable because it “takes time to live the life you’re meant to live?”  I cannot imagine anything so disregarding, so dismissive, and so self-serving. 

OH WAIT, yes I can, because I lived it

Yes, it is true, that “true freedom comes from trusting yourself enough to be yourself,” but let’s encourage each other not to learn that lesson at the expense of someone else’s life. 

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