Straight Spouses – Fake News and the Real Story
It usually starts out like this:
A reporter or writer contacts the Straight Spouse Network. They want to tell the story of actual real straight spouses.
This makes us really excited! We want our experiences to be known and acknowledged. We want more people to know about the Straight Spouse Network, so they can know they are not alone when they find that their husband or wife is LGBTQ.
Sometimes it’s not all that exciting however. Sometimes it’s downright infuriating.
We never respond to the people who want to cast a reality show where the big secret will be divulged on camera, and the straight spouse will be “helped” by an “expert” to move beyond their pain – quickly.
Sometimes when we respond, we find that the story has already been written, and all that is needed is a few quotes to back up the story that has already been written. “Don’t you have any people who stay married? Can they tell us what that is like?” Well, yes we do, and yes they can, if they choose.
But sometimes they don’t choose to allow their names to be published. There are many reasons why a straight spouse or a mixed orientation couple might want to tell their story but still maintain some privacy. It’s not always life in a homophobic hating world. Sometimes they want to consider the effect on family members, children, their relationship, or their place in a community of having personal and intimate information out there in public.
Sometimes the straight spouse wants to tell their story and speak with a journalist – but wait, we need the permission of your ex spouse to write about it…..or confirm it…..For us, this is often a huge roadblock, along with having to divulge our own identity.
It’s also a deterrent to acknowledging the truth – the real truth – the real news is that our experiences are surprisingly common, and yet there is surprisingly little information available outside of what the Straight Spouse Network is able to supply. Unless of course, it comes with juicy details, or can be used as an affirmation of being out and proud.
Sometimes writers have specific criteria. They may want to speak with wives only, in a certain metro area. They may want wives who are friendly with their husband’s new partner. They may want only spouses of transgender people. They may only want to speak with people whose husbands or wives actually came out, and not those whose LGBTQ spouses remain in the closet of denial. They may want a happy ending.
We are always careful about guarding confidentiality and introducing straight spouses to writers. It can be very painful to tell the whole truth to a writer only to find it has been rewritten to minimize some of the pain. One freelance writer once said to us “Don’t you have anyone I can speak to who isn’t so…. so…angry? I really don’t want to write anything that might offend gay people.”
Truth must be told. Anger is part of the straight spouse experience. Grief is part of the straight spouse experience. Surviving for a long time with complicated emotions, financial, social, and family fallout is part of the experience.
Our experiences are diverse. They are painful to us, and may be painful to hear about. But truth is not offensive. Sometimes truth is painful.
Being forced into a closet is offensive, and many of us are forced there by our LGBTQ spouses and our families. Being forced into a closet because someone might be offended at your response to being a straight spouse – finding your story is “cleaned up” for publication – being silenced – now THAT is REALLY offensive!
We’ve had a few good mentions in the press, and were encouraged last year by this excellent article. Dear Abby mentions us in her column at least once a year. We are the go-to resource for global information on straight spouses and mixed orientation marriages.
And in this era of “fake news” and not being able to believe what you read, we will continue to tell the true story. That true story is yours. And you can share it with us!
If you’d like to contribute your experience to this blog in the form of an article, please see our guidelines here. Yes, you may use your real name, or an alias. The important thing to us is that straight spouses get to speak and have our say.
Straight spouse truth is shared every day on our public forum, in comments to our blog articles, and in our private online groups. It is peer to peer support like no other. We will continue to speak the truth of our lives.
We had a tremendous response in this blog and in social media to Frankly My Dear, I am the Victim of Homophobia Too, Kristin Kalbli ‘s response to Rick Clemons’ article in Huffington Post, Frankly My Dear…Gay Men Marry Straight Women! Here’s Why!”. Comments mostly centered on the phrase “you have no right” when in fact straight spouses are part of the coming out experience for the LGBTQ people who have married us, and we do have a right to have our say.
The responses appear to have been taken to heart by Rick, who presented a special two-part podcast for National Coming Out Day on October 16, featuring straight spouse Emily Reese, author of the blog Same Sides Support.
The podcast goes into detail about Emily’s experience, and her perspective. There is still much work to be done to get the straight spouse point of view even considered by mainstream media and by many LGBTQ activists. In this podcast, Emily goes into detail about what was helpful for her, and what was not helpful. It really does turn Rick’s perspective around.
The Straight Spouse Network is the global source of support for all straight spouses, male and female, married or partnered or divorced. Demand for our free peer to peer support has been increasing steadily through the years. This year it has exploded. As more LGBTQ people become empowered to come out of the closet, more straight spouses are dealing with the aftermath of disclosure or discovery.
Denial of true sexuality happens before and during our marriages. For many of us, the denial continues after our marriages, after our divorces. We stated in an earlier article “…the closeted behavior of denial eviscerates a spouse sexually, spiritually, and emotionally.” Yet this level of personal destruction is seldom recognized by our mainstream media, by therapists, or by our LGBTQ spouses, family, or friends.
Anger, pain, and grief are normal reactions when a heterosexual person finds out that their spouse or sexual partner is not heterosexual. Even if they thought they knew, many find that they did not know what this truly meant for their relationship. In the podcast, Emily speaks of the sense of being shattered in her own identity. It takes time to resolve this and to rebuild ourselves. It takes time to work through the profound anger and grief before this can happen. Many counselors, clergy, and therapists want to treat us as if we are going through any old divorce. This is not applicable to us. We have much more to specifically rebuild and recover.
The consequences for us of expressing the anger, pain, and grief, even when exercising self-control, are often that we are told to suppress our feelings even more. After all, the gay spouse needs to be encouraged to come out, and here you are, all angry and ugly, well, what do you expect of course they will stop being honest. We hear this so often. But what we need is affirmation, listening, and strong support through the ocean of grief, anger, and shock.
For LGBTQ spouses, facing our intense reactions is a consequence of coming out after having married us, even if they are only coming to realize the true nature of their sexuality. Just as honesty in coming out is important, honesty in addressing our anger and grief is important. That doesn’t mean we get to be abusive or hateful, but it does mean that our undesirable emotions are something that we and our spouses will have to live with for some time. It’s important for therapists and counselors to recognize that suppressing this does not mean it will go away.
It is important for us to be heard, seen, and understood. Not shut down and shoved away. Not dismissed for not being perfect, for making others uncomfortable with our reality.
If there were messages that the straight spouse could get out to the LGBTQ community, Emily feels this is the most important. “Just don’t forget that because you have come out, there’s still a bunch of stuff that we are going to need help with getting through,” she says. This not only includes emotions, but practical things such as car repair, lawn care, finances and other day to day things. Even if we have assumed the primary responsibility for those aspects of life, it is different to take them on alone.
This is an important dialogue for anyone who is in the counseling profession to hear. There is absolutely no excuse for any counseling professional to have no idea how to help mixed orientation couples or straight spouses. There are resources available through the Straight Spouse Network, including scholarly research.
It’s also important for straight spouses to hear this dialogue, when you are ready. For many of us speaking this openly is not a safe thing for us to do, either because of continued abuse from our spouse in denial, continued homophobia from society in general, or reverse homophobia – the act of those around us who affirm the gay spouse and believe that the straight spouse’s reaction is one of hate, rather than normal anger, grief, and pain that is not addressed with any healing action or presence.
Whether he meant it or not, the glib manner in which Clemons wrote previously struck a nerve – because we are treated in a dismissive and flippant manner in mainstream culture as well. Straight spouses did talk back to this, in comments on his original article and in dialogue on the response we published. But there are many who cannot talk back, and have reason to be afraid to speak for themselves.
We appreciate the opportunity he has given to Emily to discuss her journey openly and share the difficult message of the process of healing. There is just not enough support for straight spouses and for people in mixed orientation marriages in the general media, and this podcast is a healthy start.
Today is National Coming Out Day. It is a day that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has designated as a day to celebrate and support those who live openly as LGBTQ people or as their allies.
This year, the HRC honors all who have come out as LGBTQ or as straight allies for equality. They recognize that this takes bravery.
The Straight Spouse Network is an LGBTQ ally organization that serves straight spouses who may or may not be what the HRC considers allies. We serve the people who have it together. We serve the people who are falling apart. We serve the angry, the devastated, the isolated. We serve the recovering, the wounded, the people who have healed and are moving forward.
National Coming Out Day is a very difficult day for us. Here is why:
- Every year, the Straight Spouse Network sees an increase in the number of people who need us. National Coming Out Day triggers just that – an increase in the number of people who come out. And we, their straight spouses, are among the people they come out to.
- Coming Out Day reinforces the pain of those of us who are still forced into a closet by our LGBTQ spouses and ex-spouses. Many would like to come out as a straight spouse or as an LGBTQ straight ally, but cannot do so because it might endanger their lives or their livelihood. The threats are not always posed by the general culture. Sometimes the LGBTQ spouse threatens retribution or legal action if the straight spouse speaks openly.
- Some of us do take the opportunity and support provided by National Coming Out Day, to come out of our straight spouse closets. We may or may not be LGBTQ straight allies, but we make the decision to live in truth and stop hiding what happened from others who matter to us. Sometimes our coming out is welcomed, sometimes it is a cause for more ridicule, abuse, and attempts at gaslighting and isolation. Our coming out is seldom seen as a cause for celebration or an example of personal bravery. Yet it is a milestone in our lives which requires courage and strength.
We encourage all straight spouses to live honest, authentic lives in accordance with what is best for you and your family. Coming out for a straight spouse is not a matter of revenge, or getting even. It is a matter of refusing to live in someone else’s dark closet.
On National Coming Out Day, coming out is for straight spouses as well. When you are ready to tell your story – your own story, not the one other people think you should tell – we are here to support you taking a brave step forward. And we are here to support you as you struggle to find your way out of a closet that is not yours.
Sooner or later we are going to be told that we have to forgive.
Friends, family members, therapists, pastors, counselors, or our LGBTQ spouses themselves tell us that we can only heal if we forgive. We’re told that we can only move forward if we forgive.
You are still riding that roller coaster, wondering where the next drop will occur where you summon all your strength to just hang on and wish it were over. You may be struggling with depression, and deep pain and anger. Then there are the day to day issues of taking care of children, getting to work on time, preparing meals, paying bills.
You’ve been gobsmacked and thrown down hard. Getting up and beginning to heal is an all-out effort.
“Though society pressures you to forgive the person who wronged you, the truth is that forgiving may be the worst thing you can do,” writes Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D in Psychology Today. “Many religions and therapies focus on forgiving a perpetrator so that the victim can ‘move on.’ The goal is to make sure that the victim does not become fixated on the hurt. This element is critical because if you become completely obsessed with your victimization, you will not be able to function. That is a fact. Fixating freezes you.”
“However, forgiveness is not something that just happens,” continues Schurman-Kauflin. “Some people find it helpful to release their anger while others find the idea disgusting. I have dealt with my share of parents of murdered children and victims of sex crimes. Though many find a way to move forward in life, forgiveness truly eludes them. This does not make them bad people. This just means that it is not healing for them at this time.”
Yes. Forgiveness is important. Forgiveness takes time. Forgiveness does not come right away.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It does not mean agreeing to remain in a relationship that damages you continually. It doesn’t mean that everything goes back to the way it used to be.
Sometimes our spouses, children, friends, family or counselors demand that we forgive. Here are some classic demands that people who have contacted the Straight Spouse Network have heard:
“You’ll just have to forgive me. You can’t go on being all angry like that. It’s for your own good.” (note the implicit veiled threat in that statement.)
“You chose to not forgive dad, so we choose to not forgive you for everything you ever did.” (Maybe what you did is difficult for your adult children to forgive, but true forgiveness is not a barter or exchange.)
“Please forgive me and we can go back to the way things used to be, I promise.” (But, maybe the way things used to be weren’t really so good after all. And can you trust someone’s promise when they lied to you before?)
“I can’t help you until you can forgive your wife. Maybe then you’ll understand it’s good for her to be honest about her sexuality.” (Find a counselor who understand why it is good for YOU to be honest about your feelings and helps you deal with them.)
“Christians have to forgive. Jesus said so. What kind of a Christian are you anyway, if you refuse to forgive?” (Many straight spouses find that their religious faith sustains them. Some find that statements like this mean that they are being rejected.)
If someone wants to be forgiven, then forgiveness should be requested, not demanded, and not extorted. It should be requested with an understanding that it takes time. It may take a long time. Healing, safety, security, all need to be established before true forgiveness can be freely given.
If we say we forgive in order to receive help, maintain family relationships, comply with the wishes of a counselor or clergy, avoid further abuse, and then the circumstances which wound us continue, we will be trapped by our own words.
Sometimes other people are really uncomfortable with the truth of a straight spouse’s experience. It can be difficult to be around us when we are more angry than we have ever been in our lives, and the anger remains for a long time. It can also be difficult for others to appreciate or acknowledge just how deep, profound, and smoldering that wound is. We have to learn how to manage our anger, and we often need to seek help from others to take control of our feelings. That doesn’t happen if our anger and reactions are continually suppressed or held up to criticism and judgement.
Picture this – you are knocked down and break your leg. People respond to your calls for help by getting you to the hospital. You get medical treatment setting the break in a position for it to heal. Perhaps you need to remain off your feet. Then you take guided steps, with the help of a cast, crutches, a walker. Eventually you walk again. Then you can run and jump again. Family members take up extra chores, people bring in meals since you cannot cook or do much housework.
Now picture this – you are knocked down and break your leg. People respond to your calls for help by telling you that the best thing for you is to get on your feet and take a few steps and push yourself, no matter how much it hurts. If you show that you can cooperate, then we can get you to a hospital. And if you don’t heal, it’s your own fault.
That’s the difference between asking for forgiveness and demanding it.
That’s the difference between freely giving forgiveness and complying with a demand.
That’s the difference that promotes healing, not rewounding.
When met with a demand for forgiveness, a response that has worked for some straight spouses is to say “in time, perhaps.” That says you are not there yet but don’t discount the possibility that forgiveness may happen at a later date. If you feel that you can never forgive, say so. “I don’t see that happening now or in the near future.” Then tell others what you need from them. Affirmation. Understanding. Time. Lots of time.
Straight spouses who have forgiven their LGBTQ ex husbands and ex wives say that it is the most liberating thing they have done for themselves, as they move forward in a life they never expected. But few have done this instantly. It takes time, growth, and support.
World Beard Day is September 3
Here at the Straight Spouse Network, we thought folks might like to know that Saturday, September 3 is World Beard Day.
That’s right. World Beard Day. This is really a thing, around the world.
It’s a day to celebrate people’s beards, in all their variety and distinction. It’s a day to honor those who really grow a nice beard. Long beards. Curly beards. Braided beards. Beards shaved in a shape, in a design.
So we thought we’d take the opportunity to educate the general public about the difference between women and beards.
We have noticed that many of our gay husbands and their friends seem to think that we, the women they married, are their beards. At least, that’s what they call us. And that’s what their friends call us. And that’s what people who want to talk about the agony of a married man coming out of the closet and admitting he’s gay want to call us.
Yes. They call us beards. Any woman who a gay man hides behind to pretend he is straight is called a beard.
For some reason we do not fully understand, people think this is perfectly ok. Yes, the brave soul came out and his wife, the mother of his children was his beard for many years.
And it just doesn’t feel good for a woman to be called a beard. Especially when her feminine attributes are often unappreciated by her closeted husband.
So we wanted to clear up the confusion.
This is a woman.
This is a beard.
This is a bearded lady.
Some women have beards. Not many, but some do. And they are still women. And they are beautiful.
This is the famous poet, Walt Whitman.
He was gay and he had a beard. On his face. He did not have a wife or girlfriend.
Some women become wives. Wives are sexual beings in their own right. They are living human beings whose femininity and female sexuality should be respected and appreciated. They are not facial hair. They cannot just be shaved off your life. And when you try to get rid of them, and they reappear after you have cut them down, it’s not because they are stubble. It’s because they are human, with a human connection. And human emotions. And human resilience.
It really doesn’t feel nice for a woman whose femininity and female sexuality is not appreciated by her closeted gay husband to be called a beard. For a woman who strives to remain feminine and values her female sexuality, being called a beard is downright insulting. It is the negation of all that is feminine about her.
Beards on the other hand, are something that you grow on your face. They are a part of you. Some people grow them better than others. Some people should really never attempt to grow them. But for those who are gifted with a healthy bush of facial hair, there are so many creative things you can do with a beard. It’s part of you. It’s part of your facial expression. It’s part of your choice about your grooming and appearance.
But it’s not a woman. A beard is not a wife.
So on World Beard Day, we have one thought for you.
This is a wife.
This is a beard.
LEARN THE DIFFERENCE.
Oh and if you are gay and not out to your wife – yeah, do that. Grow your own beard if you must, but come out to your wife. We can help.