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.”
Since a lone gunman committed the worst mass murder in American history at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, June 12, the entire nation has been mourning in shock. This in itself is somewhat shocking to many LGBTQIA people and their families. For once, they are not regarded as “other” people, but as American sons, daughters, friends, lovers, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The picture that has emerged in the past few days of the Pulse nightclub is of a place where gay people, friends and family could come together in a safe place and have a great time.
When news of the massacre first broke, straight spouses on our online discussion boards and in private conversations expressed concern that there might be a straight spouse of one of the victims who was just getting the news that their husband or wife was socializing at a gay club, and might therefore be gay or lesbian. Or perhaps there was a straight ex-spouse somewhere who had moved on, and the attack brought back all kinds of feelings of grief, pain, anger. We reached out, and we continue to reach out to any current or former straight spouse of an LGBTQ person who needs support.
There is speculation that the gunman was himself gay. We have no way of knowing if he was a gay man full of self-loathing, or a terrorist intent on targeting LBGTQIA people for other reasons. We recognize the irony that his widow or former wife may at some point be interested in the resources that the Straight Spouse Network has to offer.
We also know that there is a terrible violation of personal safety for LGBTQ people and their families and friends which cannot be undone.
What has come out among straight spouses over the past few days is a deep sense of shock and anger, and also an uncomfortable recognition of how vulnerable we are. We have always been vulnerable to homophobia, whether it is mean jokes, bullying of our children, closeted spouses gaslighting us from a state of permanent denial, or well-meaning friends and family telling us that it can’t POSSIBLY be true. But now, personal safety is front and center for many of us. Some of us are parents of LGBTQ children; some of us are still married to our LGBTQ spouses; some of us share child custody with our exes and their current partners or LGBTQ spouses.
The gunman was known to be scoping out the Pulse club, and the Disney Springs Resort. Patrons of the club also say that he had a profile on gay dating apps, such as Jack’d and Grinder. This brings up a very frightening concern – when you connect with someone on a dating app who appears to have been part of your local social scene, you expect to proceed with caution. But you seldom expect that they are using the app to track you and possibly target you for murder.
He wanted to kill gay people, lesbian people, bisexual people, trans people, queer people, intersex people, asexual people.
And you know what? He’s not alone in that! LGBTQ people know this all too well. So do their parents. So do their children. So do their current and former straight spouses.
In the days since the attack, some of the straight spouses in our various groups have expressed deep anger, and a resurgence of fears and feelings they thought were resolved. Parents of LGBTQ adult children have been racked with grief at the thought that their son or daughter could be next. Some have even relived the trauma of being the parent of a child who was bullied, attacked, beaten – for no reason other than that they were openly LGBTQ, or that they were perceived to be as a result of having a parent who is not heterosexual.
Others have wondered if the next time a happy, safe place for LGBTQ people is decimated by a gunman or a bomb, they will need to be the support for their children who have lost a parent, their family and extended family who have lost a loved one. Even if there is a bitter and angry relationship after divorce, no one wishes this fate on anyone. And certainly, no one wants their children and loved ones to grieve a death that has come as a result of sheer terrorism against LGBTQ people.
49 people are dead, 53 are wounded and some of those are still fighting for their lives. It will be a long road to recovery. All because someone hated gay people enough to kill them for being gay.
Let’s start being honest about the tremendous depth of the homophobic hatred that has existed for a very long time, and is widespread enough to include family members and former spouses. Let’s wake up and not only worry about the next shooting – as a society, let’s say no to the next person who wants to bash a few queers in the wee hours on New York City’s Christopher Street. Let’s say no to the next person who wants to beat a transgender person. Let’s say no to the next person who thinks that raping a lesbian will teach her a lesson. Let’s say no to the people in our midst who want to fix gay men in the name of God by having them marry heterosexual women. Let’s say no to the family member who can’t stop joking about straight spouses, our children, our ex spouses, our friends.
Sure other people are beaten, raped, made fun of, bullied, murdered. But LGBTQ people, their children, and their families endure this constant threat for one reason only. That reason is that someone whose heart is filled with hate and lust for power has decided to kill them just because of who they are and who they love.
Whether we like it or not, straight spouses ARE a part of the rainbow family. Perhaps more people now fully understand that family is more than what they thought it was. The dead and injured from the Pulse nightclub were someone’s child, someone’s mother, someone’s spouse, someone’s favorite cousin or aunt or uncle, someone’s best friend. For so many people in so many places, they are FAMILY. Not a threat to the American way of life. Not a force that will destroy traditional marriage. Just FAMILY. Friends. Lovers. People.
Everything DOESN’T happen for a reason. Hatred has no reason. It is just evil.
All we can do as we rise from the devastation of this profound epidemic of hatred is show our love for each other in action.
The murder of forty-nine people and the wounding of fifty-three more in the early morning of 12 June 2016, represents not only the irrational violence of a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS with his hatred of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It also represents one of the greatest fears of straight spouses.
We mourn those who have died because they are LGBTQ, particularly in a place where they were intended to be safe. We hope the physical wounds of those victims who survive will heal speedily, even as the emotional wounds take much longer. Our hearts go out to friends and family members, children and spouses who grieve for those who were killed and will keep vigil for the wounded survivors.
We know that quite likely, among those who mourn or keep vigil, are one or more straight spouses or fiancées of the LGBTQ victims. Perhaps they are learning for the first time that their spouses are LGBTQ when receiving a call from the authorities informing them of the wounding or death of their loved one. The Straight Spouse Network stands ready to support to those straight spouses.
As straight spouses, often bound by parenting children together, we know better than most the prejudices that face LGBTQ individuals. Even as we have to build new understanding of our lives after we learn of our LGBTQ spouses’ orientation, we continually fear that prejudices against them will bring them harm. In a nightclub in Orlando, at the hands of man whose hatred led to violence, our fears were realized – not for our own LGBTQ spouses, but for those who could be. For their sake, for the sake of their friends, and for the sake of their families, including straight spouses, we encourage every effort to undo the patterns of prejudice against LGBTQ people.
I am thinking of those who have suffered in the years leading up to the current rainbow-fest and those who will continue to suffer, due to lingering homophobia and religious intolerance or condescension.
I am also definitely thinking of the far-too-many brave straight spouses who have endured years of a mismatched marriage, because someone who was gay felt unable to be honest with themselves or accept their same sex attraction, choosing instead to marry a straight person, taking them (without their knowledge) into their closet of shame. For these straight spouses, the glut of rainbows all over Facebook brings up a mix of emotions, some of which are very, very painful, yet some of which have a scent of hope that perhaps others will not suffer as they have.
I am thankful for the brave souls who dared to be true to themselves even when most of society judged or bullied them. The ones who dared to come out when the world shouted, hide away!
I am hopeful that there will continue to be a growing acceptance of people, not “in spite of” their sexuality (eg. “love the sinner hate the sin”), but inclusive of it, recognising that someone’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of **who they are**, not an addendum, or a choice.
I am hopeful of a better tomorrow for all people, regardless of race or gender or sexuality. But as we welcome that better tomorrow, let’s not forget those who have suffered along the way and continue to do so.
I am hopeful that with a growing acceptance of homosexuality there will be less bullying, less suicides, less unhappy lives lived inside a closet of shame, and less suffering straight spouses who unknowingly marry someone who is definitely not straight but wishes they were.
A new and better tomorrow really is possible. It is up to us.
For some straight spouses, the journey to building a new life can take a while. Healing for us is done at our own pace, in our own time. For some of us, not being able to be fully “out” of the closet, or coping with a spouse or ex spouse in denial can continually open up wounds and vulnerabilities, taking a long time to finally find a path to restoring our lives.
When straight spouses tell their stories through books, blogs, and other media, we are always happy to share. Chances are, the questions they had and some of the answers they have found will apply to others as well. We may be unique individuals, but we are not alone.
Annie Tulk is a long time straight spouse living in Canada, who has recently written a book about her story. A first responder for the Straight Spouse network, she has written How to Move Beyond the Pain of a Spouse’s Homosexuality, a book of reflections that will inspire and motivate others.
Tara Mullin Lowney has published a book of poetry that she wrote to help her get through the difficult days of being a straight ex wife and a single parent. Life After, Forever is now available on Kindle from Amazon.
You can find a list of books written by straight spouses here on our website, as well as other resources.
The Straight Spouse Network is the premier support network for heterosexual current and former spouses and partners of LGBT people. We offer entirely free, confidential peer to peer support. And we want you to know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.