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.
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.
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.
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.
Let 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. I 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.”
Ok, 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.
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.
For almost 30 years, no one seemed to know the Straight Spouse Network existed. Now, thanks to the miracle of social media, we are known as an organization. We also are aware of what others say about us, from reports by straight spouses and from what we see in the media. So here’s a sampling of some of the misconceptions – and our responses.
1. “My wife/husband was perfectly accepting of me before joining THAT GROUP. THEY convinced him/her to divorce me. I blame THEM for our divorce”. Marriage is a process. At sometime in the process of a mixed orientation marriage, one or both partners may decide it isn’t working and they need to move on. “Accepting” doesn’t mean doing everything one person’s way, or substituting one lie for another. That holds for both partners.
When straight spouses meet and share their ideas, questions, and deep hurt, they often find that someone else in the group is giving voice to a feeling or idea that they had not previously dared to express. We encourage everyone to live in truth. That doesn’t mean shouting and outing, but it does mean honestly acknowledging our feelings and our desires for the future.
2. “SSN says there’s no such thing as bi”. False. Patently false. We have NEVER taken this position. If one of our leaders or contacts is saying this, please contact us, and we will be happy to set them “straight”.
It is entirely possible that within a group meeting or discussion you will find people who are of the opinion that bisexuality does not exist – because for so many of us, “bi now gay later” is a frequent experience. Many of our spouses do not come completely out of the closet to us, and instead tell us another lie – that they are bi when in fact they are gay, and in deep denial.
3. The forum on the SSN website is not moderated and full of people who don’t know what they are talking about. False. The forum on the SSN website IS moderated and full of people openly discussing various aspects of mixed orientation marriages. It is also a public forum; some LGBT people participate. All participants are expected to talk about their lives and perspectives, without defaming others. The forum is moderatedfor safety and standards of a civil online community.
We don’t tell people who express their ideas there what to think. The ideas expressed on the forum represent the beliefs of the participants, not our organization. There are also several private or secret Facebook groups or email lists where straight spouses find support. Some of these are affiliated with us, others are not, but often have members who have benefited from contact with SSN. Most of those are moderated in much the same way as the forum, with the exception that members have to be approved before joining and having access to what others share.
4. From time to time people mistakenly think well known author and counselor Bonnie Kaye represents our organization. While many women who contact us have found her to be helpful and recommend her to others, Bonnie is not affiliated with the Straight Spouse Network, and her views are her own. We offer support to both straight husbands as well as straight wives, while the bulk of Bonnie Kaye’s writings are targeted to straight wives only.
5. The Straight Spouse Network doesn’t support staying in a mixed orientation marriage. False. We support straight spouses no matter where they are on their journey. The decision to stay in a mixed orientation marriage (MOM) can be made for many reasons. It does happen and we support those who choose this path. Some mixed orientation marriages may break up down the road, as one or both partners desires something different, but some do last. A breakup is not inevitable, and it doesn’t mean that someone has failed – it is part of the ongoing process of the relationship. We refer many people who come to us wishing to remain in their marriage to specific online groups listed on our website or to individual contacts who have decided to stay married.
6. The Straight Spouse Network doesn’t allow gay people to participate, and is therefore exclusive and discriminatory. Yes and No – ONLY straight spouses can participate in many of our face to face groups and in some online groups, as they need a safe and confidential environment to be free to tell their full story and receive support. However, we do encourage public participation by everyone, including LGBT people, in our public forum, and we do refer couples to online or face to face groups where they may both participate. 30 years ago we started as a task force of PFLAG in California after a group of gay fathers asked Amity Buxton to help them understand their wives’ perspectives. Our purpose is to provide support for the straight spouse.
So, when a community center says we cannot use their facilities for meetings of straight spouses seeking safe, confidential support because we don’t allow gay people to participate in that particular meeting, that says to us that they really do not understand or want to understand our purpose.
We are a support group for current or former heterosexual spouses or partners of LGBT people. That means we support men and women. That means we support married or divorced or separated. That means we support people who are angry. That means we support people who are at peace and have forgiven their spouse. That means we have speakers available to address any group that wants to know more about the straight spouse experience. That means we reach out, and promote healing and building bridges. To know who we are and what we do, visit our website.
Contact us. Ask questions. Comment. Share. We look forward to all inquiries
Happy New Year, Man
By Ron Exler
While we often hear about women learning about their husband / boyfriend is gay, men also have wives / girlfriends that come out. Straight Spouse men face many of the same issues as women, and there are also different challenges.
According to Amity Pierce Buxton in Straight Husbands Whose Wives Come Out As Lesbian or Bisexual: Men’s Voices Challenge the “Masculinity Myth” – “Numbers of straight men seeking help from the worldwide Straight Spouse Network have increased, and differences between their experiences and that of straight wives have become evident. Most important, straight men themselves say they want their collective voice to be heard.” The Straight Spouse Network estimates that 30 percent of inquires originate with men.
Men need our voices to express our experiences and be heard. While it’s not politically correct to say so, research shows that men are different from women in more than physiology.
- What women do in pursuit of their self-awareness is often different from gay men.
- How the women tell men they are lesbians is unlike how gay men disclose to their women partners.
- How we handle finding out that our wives/girlfriends are lesbian is usually different from how women handle learning their man wants other men.
- How men might fare as a result of our circumstances differs from how women might fare.
- Men and women grieve differently.
Masculine grieving is different, as expressed so well in Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing . The genders sometimes differ in their perceptions of life’s events, as discussed extensively in Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. The emotional recovery for many men is different than it is for most women. It’s not that one way is right or wrong; we all must take our own journey through partner’s disclosure.
When we get the news of our woman being gay, many of us experience great sadness, anger, feelings of betrayal, and maybe even disgust. Men want to get past the emotional messiness as quickly as humanly possible and deal with the logistics. As men, we want a roadmap for moving forward. A shortcut. A formula. That doesn’t mean we are avoiding our feelings — of course we feel intense pain.
Whether she’s with another woman in reality or whether she wants to be, it doesn’t matter. Your role as her sexual partner is in the best case diminished and ultimately eliminated. She might have never wanted you, or something changed so that she stopped wanting you. The two of you can still perform the physical acts of sex, but she’s likely thinking of her, not you.
You’re also no longer her protector, which you’re likely slow to accept. She might still want your protection, and sometimes she’ll beg you not to change how well you treat her. Yet you cannot protect her from herself, and figuring out she’s gay is not a thing you should work to prevent anyway. The inevitable changes in your roles in her life are a huge blow to your masculine ego.
Sometimes men need to talk with other men about what’s happening. The Straight Spouse Network is for women AND men seeking support. If your local group has no men, or you aren’t near a group, and you’re a man who wants to talk with another man who understands, there are many of us available
Ron Exler is the Vice President of the Straight Spouse Network Board of Directors.