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.
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.
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.
By Joanna Ravlin
I was terrified of coming out of the closet. It wasn’t even MY closet! It was this bizarre rabbit hole I fell down without even realizing I’d gone through the looking glass. Even now it’s difficult because the person whose closet I was stuck in still hasn’t come out. I doubt he ever will. After 12 years of marriage, I know him pretty well.
I am a STR8 SPOUSE. My ex husband is gay. Not according to him though. He’d prefer nobody knew. But I am the woman who endured years of his same sex affairs, his abuse, (Which I’m sure was fueled by his shame and frustration) the weight of his secrets and for too long, the suffocating prison of his closet. My ex husband is also mentally ill.
To be honest, I do empathize with how difficult for him it must be to feel stigmatized by both mental illness and homosexuality. Neither is wrong. Neither was his choice. They aren’t synonymous either.
Homosexuality isn’t a disorder, but several therapists he’s seen over the years have explained away the same sex affairs by accrediting the behavior to being bipolar. Instead of treating his Bipolar disorder and counseling my ex husband about his shame and denial, they led him to believe his sexual preference was a symptom of his abnormal psychology. All it did was make him more ashamed and more secretive. He didn’t need his gay reasoned away. His sexuality isn’t abnormal. He needed his sexuality and his mental illness to be seen as separate aspects of his being. Instead what he heard was his attraction to men is attributed to being sick. Closets are built out of shame and secrets.
Perhaps selfishly I’ll add that the lack of adequate counseling for him also contributed to my time in his closet. I wish that instead of all the effort put into explaining away the gay, someone had told him gay is normal but it’s not normal or okay to trap another person in an inauthentic marriage.
It’s hard to discuss being a STR8 SPOUSE of a closeted spouse or ex spouse. I can tell you that I am still confused by it, so I understand how confusing it must be for others hearing my story. There is no lexicon of half secrets. We’ve created celebratory rituals around coming out as gay, but how do we respond to the heterosexual (ex)spouses? And what do we say to the heterosexual (ex)spouses who leave the closet when the gay spouse remains in it?
I so want a party! And a parade!!
I survived some crazy shit, I deserve it.
Okay, no parade. Just believe me if I trust you enough to tell you my story. And don’t ask me how I didn’t know…because I didn’t.
I’m not telling people that my ex husband is gay out of spite, or anger, or vengeance. For years I told no one because I feared him, because I pitied him and because I was ashamed. I questioned whether I even had the right to out him. But eventually I realized that I couldn’t ask for help or support without telling my story. All of it. I could keep his secrets or I could escape the oppression of his closet. But I couldn’t do both.
So I’m telling my story about my marriage because it helps me heal. Another STR8 SPOUSE told me at the beginning of my journey, “It’s not your shame.” It’s true, it’s not my shame so I refuse to keep carrying it. Secrets are toxic and until we stop using them to build closets with there will continue to be people trapped inside them. I choose to use my truth to tear closets down.
Its not uncommon that well-meaning people give advice to straight spouses that sounds good, but is actually devastating. They say “Time to move on” we hear “time to stop talking about it, you’re being annoying”. They say “have you tried counseling” we hear “you’re not trying hard enough to make the marriage work”.
People don’t mean to be insensitive, but this misplaced advice can often cause the straight spouse to retreat to a closet of secrecy and isolation. There is often much affirmation today for gay couples who come out of the closet, gay celebrities, and support for same sex marriage. The straight spouse usually receives none of that affirmation.
We’d like to thank “Just Jane” of the London Daily Star, for saying all those well intentioned right things in the completely wrong way to a straight spouse.
The headline is one that we are all familiar with: “Ex-husband’s gay bliss is torture because our love was one big sham.” The writer explains to Jane that her ex has moved on rather quickly. He’s moved in with a man, and talks about marriage. She has difficulty with the fact that he moved straight from their house into another man’s arms. They were married twenty years, and she had no idea. She admits that things went wrong in the marriage ten years ago and she had an affair. But she says she still loves her ex husband and is having difficulty healing. His family tells her to just get over it and move on and stop being so dramatic.
Jane gives some advice that on the surface seems good – not to waste any more years, to not waste another second and focus on the positive. But she also says that the ex husband is no longer the woman’s concern – and he’s always the father of her adult child.
Much of her advice zeros in on the affair the woman had. “Of course you’re confused, unhappy and frustrated, but you have to admit that something must have been wrong as far back as 2005 for you to have an affair with a colleague. Why did you feel the need to seek out another man for sex? What was missing from your marriage back then? I suspect that you and your ex were guilty of burying your heads in the sand for a very long time. He now admits that he suppressed his true sexuality for a long time.”
“What was missing from your marriage back then?” Well, we can guess. Sex. Love. Affirmation. Affection
“And now he has admitted his true sexuality.” No guilt there. But this response certainly leaves a grieving woman with a heap of guilt for having normal feelings and seeking affirmation.
It’s not that it’s bad advice, or that the pity party needs to go on forever. But several things are missing here. Acknowledgement of the straight spouse experience, for one. . Understanding at the hurt of being cast aside, for another. And of course, grief over the end of the marriage, no matter how bad it was.
After ten, fifteen, twenty, forty years of marriage, when gay people decide to come out of the closet and move forward, they do so quickly. They have had their entire lives to figure this out. The spouse is devastated, and expected to pick up the pieces quickly and follow along in the name of tolerance, forgiveness, and the advantage of coming out, living honestly.
There is a lot of support now for LGBT people to come out – and not a lot for the grief experienced by their straight spouses.
All that good advice might have been easier to swallow in smaller doses, without a huge side helping of guilt. Because, you see, one thing we never have the opportunity to examine post divorce is our part in it. We could be the best or the worst spouse, and the result is the same. We married someone who is LGBT. It can sometimes seem that the justification for years of deception is that we were not faithful, not attractive, or practiced deceptions ourselves.
Even if we were the truest and most loving and noble husbands and wives in the world – the result is still the same. Our spouse is gay, the world cheers, and we must move along now…..
That’s right. Time to move forward. Move along. Get a move on.
We can take the hint. We are being put aside, told to get out of the way. Because the affirmation, sympathy, acknowledgement that comes our way is minimal, and is often tinged with questions about what did we know, when did we know it, how did we not know, why were we in denial, and of course an admonition to not hate gay people.
We’ve been lucky to have some advice columnists send straight spouses to us. Dear Abby is one of our most visible public supporters in the USA. She always tells straight spouses to contact us. We offer peer to peer support. We WILL help you move on, but on your own timetable. We WILL affirm your feelings. We WILL LISTEN. And we will never tell you to just get over it.
Jane, honey, a little affirmation goes a long way with us. Next time, offer the straight ex wife or the straight ex husband some real help for healing. Tell them about the Straight Spouse Network, or the Straight Partners ( firstname.lastname@example.org) group in the UK.