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World AIDS Day is Today, December 1

Posted by on Dec 1, 2016 in Blog | 1 comment

World AIDS Day is today, December 1. It is a day to remember the 35 million people who have died from AIDS related illnesses, and show solidarity with the 78 million people around the world who are currently infected.  It is also a day to recognize that many people who are infected are unaware that they are HIV positive, as they have never been tested.

AIDS world_logo1Many partners of HIV positive people are unaware that they need to be tested, or that they are at risk for HIV and AIDS.

According to the World Health Organization, testing remains low among groups who are considered to be “key populations” and their partners.

“Testing also remains low among “key populations” and their partners – particularly men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and people in prisons – who comprise approximately 44% of the 1.9 million new adult HIV infections that occur each year.”  – World Health Organization

Yes.  That includes straight spouses.  We are partners of men who have sex with men. We are partners of  transgender people.

And many of us don’t know that our husbands are having sex with other men.  Many of us are unaware as of yet that our spouses are transgender, or struggling with gender identity.

Whether you are sure or not, whether you have proof or not, whether you have a spouse who you trust or not, you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself.  And if you know your spouse or partner is engaging in high risk behaviors, even if you believe they are taking precautions – you still have to take care of yourself.

Get tested.  HIV is not a death sentence anymore.  AIDS is not curable.  However, it is treatable, and people who have it lead long, productive lives when they have treatment.  But first, you need to be tested.

Getting tested is not as difficult or as scary as it used to be. If you are comfortable with getting tested through your family doctor or gynecologist, do so.  There are testing services offered by hospitals and clinics in many communities.  In some parts of the world,  self-testing is possible, meaning that you can perform the initial test in privacy, and then follow up with a medical professional for further testing if the results indicate that you need a second test. You can read the WHO guidelines on self testing here.

Find a way to get tested.  And do it.  Now.  Early detection is key to treatment having a good outcome. Community health clinics and local health departments offer testing, and many times it is free. Many clinics are opting for self testing, or rapid testing, with just an oral swab or a small needle prick.  Results are often available in as little as 20 minutes, and follow up is available for those whose rapid tests indicate a  person has HIV.

There are also HIV test kits that are sold through pharmacies.

Getting tested doesn’t mean you are unsupportive of your spouse.  It doesn’t mean you don’t trust them.  It means that you know or suspect that they are engaging or could possibly engage in high risk sexual behavior.  It means that you don’t trust the people they may be having sex with.  But most of all, it means that you are taking care of yourself.

Living in someone else’s closet can be dangerous to your health, even fatal.

Don’t wait until you’re sure about your suspicions about your spouse.  Don’t wait until you have “proof.” That day may never come.  But you have many more days ahead of you, and you deserve to live them in good health.

And if you’re wondering about all the powerful emotions you have about even HAVING to get tested – you are not alone.  You’ll find that many straight spouses understand the feeling all too well.

Stay alive.  Be well.

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Straight Out Loud

Posted by on Feb 23, 2016 in Blog | 3 comments

By Jennifer Ferrante

An Ottawa radio station recently held a contest called “The New Normal.” It was open to Canadians identifying as transgender who want, or are in the process of transitioning.

During the contest I wrote the following to the radio station. Although I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get a response, it made me even more aware of the need to share my story.

help-and-supportI am a straight female but in the past two years my life has been directly touched by sexuality and identity issues. I am what you would call a Straight Spouse.

My husband was cheating since the day we met 7 years ago; with women from work as well as female escorts. We had only been married a year when I found out. Prior to discovery I always thought that if anyone cheated on me I would leave them immediately; but life is never as black and white as we think it will be.

We went to therapy for two years. He told me the cheating was because he felt self-conscious and insecure about certain aspects of his personal life. He seemed so heartbroken and was clearly hurting so deeply that I believed him and chose to stick by him to get help and work on things together.

Things got better and he wanted to start a family. We got pregnant and I gave birth to twins. While I was on maternity leave my contract ended and didn’t get renewed, so we found ourselves in a situation where the primary provider was unemployed. That of course is when I discovered that my husband was not only cheating again but he finally confessed that he was interested in pursuing sexual relationships with transgender individuals and possibly even men. I say confessed but really it was more him being found out because I discovered he used a secret credit card to pay female escorts in what I am told was a desperate attempt to convince himself that he was straight and to drown out thoughts of wanting to be with transgender individuals and men.

Not wanting to get caught, he left a balance on the card for two years, only paying the minimum by withdrawing more money from the card. Eventually he paid off the card by borrowing money from his parents, but asked them not to tell me. To this day I still have no idea how much money he spent over the years.

So now there I was, a first time mom of 6 month old twins who just lost her job and was now dealing with the total betrayal of her best friend and life partner as I dragged him kicking and screaming from the closet. We lost our house, our cars, and had to declare bankruptcy. Now I live in low income housing, even though I am well educated with a lot of experience.

This is the real damage that homophobia and transphobia causes. Despite everything I experienced I believe my soon to be ex-husband would be the first to say that I tried everything I could to support him and help him find the path to self-acceptance. Even though I was devastated and my heart was breaking, it was breaking even more for him. I can’t imagine hating yourself so much that you feel forced to live such an elaborate lie that even you start to believe. Although I still struggle  with some of his choices and the betrayal, I try to imagine how he must have felt growing up with family and friends he thought were too homophobic to confide in.

As a straight spouse we are the victims of the victims of homophobia. While my soon to be ex-husband may not be transgender, he is truly confused and full of self-loathing because of his attraction to the same sex. I think he is still a long way away from knowing and accepting who he really is, and that just breaks my heart. More than anything, I want him to be healthy, happy and to accept himself so that he can continue to be a good father and role model to our children as they grow, teaching them to love and accept themselves and others.

Although I am straight, I and my children are in many ways a living example of the collateral damage that the trans and homophobic attitudes of society have caused. Straight spouses are often silent in the background when a loved one comes out because they are ashamed, embarrassed or afraid of sounding homophobic, when in reality, most of us are allies and want equality.

There are support groups for those struggling with gender and sexuality issues. But sadly, there is little attention and even less support given to the straight spouses and children that are left behind when a loved one comes out. Too often this results in the straight spouse retreating into the same closet that their partner just vacated.

Everyone deserves the right to live the life they want; an authentic life unimpeded by fear or hate. I have seen firsthand the damage that fear and hate can cause because society has created a world in which people don’t feel safe to be their authentic selves.

There has to be a way to support both sides without playing a blame game. The conversation has to start somewhere and if there is any blame to be had it is not on the individuals but on the archaic prevailing social attitude of hate and discrimination. With proper dialogue, inclusion and support I believe that straight spouses and their partners can be allies and should both be able to hold their heads high and work towards a world where one day there will be no more straight spouses.

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The Portrait of Caitlyn Jenner

Posted by on Jul 3, 2015 in Blog | 8 comments

By now the portrait of Caitlyn Jenner has been everywhere. The iconic photo of Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation has generated much attention and comment. The photo says a lot about what is physically possible with a world renowned photographer, money for chemical gender reassignment, plastic surgery, hair removal, and Adam’s apple shaving. And clothes. Really nice clothes.

Yes, Caitlyn went through a lot to be female. And now the transformation is proudly displayed in a world class artistic glamour shot.

There’s more to being female than glamour. Even Joan Rivers would have told us that!

Bruce Jenner had money and three gorgeous wives, each of whom are the mothers of his children. But for the rest of us, particularly straight spouses, we are just ordinary people, leading ordinary lives. For women whose husbands are transgender, this can mean a complete lack of affirmation for our desire to be glamorous, or for our own sexuality as we deal with the reality of daily living.

The portrait of Caitlyn Jenner, like all glam shots, sets a standard that is out of reach for most people, including transgendered people. Gender reassignment is a long and painful process. The photo is visual testimony of triumph over that process. It does not speak to the truth of being female, but rather to an idealized appearance and a highly monetized personal victory.

Most 65 year old women would not pose for a magazine cover in their lingerie with a come hither seductive look – unless they wanted to show off their well toned bodies, proclaiming sexual viability is still part of their lives. The sexual suggestion of the photograph is nothing new – drag has been around a long time. The difference, of course, is in revealing a female body shape without padding or corsets. And that takes money, and the lifetime of being a celebrated athlete who remained in better than average condition.

Caitlyn’s photo is an ideal for transgender people. But it is a sexualized ideal, one that many women have a problem accepting as an image to be presented of celebrated femininity.

The photo evokes painful memories for some wives and ex wives of transgender husbands. “At least Caitlyn’s wearing her own undies,” commented one ex wife in a support group discussion. Many wives of transgendered husbands have experienced missing bras and panties only to find them returned later, stretched out and unlaundered. The underwear makes their husbands feel sexy. Yet, when the women wear it, their sexual attractiveness is not validated in their marriage. As their husbands progress in the transformation, they are lauded as brave people claiming their true identity. However, the shattered sexuality of their wives seldom merits attention or compassion.

For many people the iconic image of Bruce Jenner will always be the indomitable champion of the 1976 Olympics, when he won the grueling decatholon, besting a Soviet athlete who had world class training and resources. Yes, Caitlyn is the same person, older, and still much more capable than most people of physical triumph and endurance. Yet, the soft and sexual image of Caitlyn has elicited a kind of public realization that the man who was a heroic Olympic champion is gone.Voss Events

Many spouses, parents, and children of transgender people experience a grief process. It can take time to reconcile the loss of a husband who has now become female. Time, affirmation, and patient understanding of the full range of emotions spouses experience all support us in moving toward the acceptance of the new directions of our lives and that of our spouses.

With the groundbreaking decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is likely that more LGBT people will emerge from leading closeted lives, not needing the cover of a marriage to someone of the opposite sex. In addition, new awareness of the transsexual experience and gender fluidity is allowing many people to discard the conventions of their heterosexual marriages. It is important – vital, even – that the needs of straight spouses in these mixed orientation families are not discarded along with the new wave of acceptance.

Here at the Straight Spouse Network, our sole mission is to support the straight spouse by listening, affirming, providing information and resources, and peer to peer guidance in a completely confidential setting. We know the diverse stories that the rest of the world never hears, and we support one another, no matter where you are on the journey. We recognize the experience of countless millions of straight spouses worldwide, in diverse cultures and locations.

Reach out. Heal. Build bridges – to yourself, to us, to people who affirm you.

You are not alone.

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Bruce Jenner and His Wives

Posted by on May 2, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

We watched. Even though many of us didn’t really want to.

Bruce Jenner Interview With Diane Sawyer - Credit ABC News

Bruce Jenner Interview With Diane Sawyer – Credit ABC News

And whether we wanted to watch or not, none of us could really look away for long from Diane Sawyer’s two hour interview of Bruce Jenner on ABC, or the promotions leading up to it, or the mediastorm afterward.  We couldn’t look away even if we wanted to because so many of us have similar stories – and we needed to hear this one, or at least parts of it. 

The interview was carefully laid out, to avoid sensational vulgarity and to educate the general public about the experience of being transgender.  Some of the more important points included the difference between sexuality and gender.  Bruce refers to his inner person as “her”, but has not yet made the physical transition, so still accepts being called “he”.  But his sexuality has not changed – he still desires women.

That clearly can be a problem for a woman who wants a man.  Yet, in the interview, he says that if it had been ok with Kris, his third wife, it probably would have all worked out.

This is the type of comment that causes straight spouses to shake our heads and say “WHAT????”

And yet, there are couples who do stay together after a transgender process is complete.  They are rare.  But it happens.  This is a highly individual experience for the spouse.  Remember, marriage involves two people.

Diane Sawyer did a very good job of establishing a timeline of disclosures.  Bruce told his first two wives during the marriage.  In fact, he said began to transition back in the 80s when he was married to his second wife, Linda Thompson.  Linda herself confirms this in her excellent article for Huffington Post.

So…if Bruce was growing breasts when he was married to wife #2, well then, what about wife #3, Kris Jenner?

Straight spouses know all too well the interrogation that happens when we disclose the truth about our spouses, or when they come out. 

You know, the constant harping on “what did you know and when did you know it?  Oh, you HAD to know. ” or “REALLY?  Are you sure??? How long have you known this?   What makes you think this…”   Often these phrases are followed up with advice to just get over it, stop dwelling on it, stop talking about it, or just plain “nah, you’re wrong”. Some of us literally have nowhere to turn. That is why the Straight Spouse Network exists.

We don’t care what Kris Jenner knew and when she knew it or what she should have known.  Because even when we think we know, we really don’t know the full impact of our LGBT spouses’ true identities on our lives.  People talk a lot more about transgender issues now than they did when Kris and Bruce were married. We hope the media and the general public will treat her with compassion and cut her some slack.

Two of Bruces wives wished him well with statements featured on the broadcast.  He was joined by four of his children.  Kris had no comment.  We understand her desire to not comment at this stage of the disclosure.  This is a shattering experience for spouses.  It takes years for many of us to truly get to a point where we can sincerely wish our spouses well, as Bruce’s first two wives have done.

Linda Thompson commented on how shattering the experience was for her, and how it caused her to question her own sexual worth. This is a woman who first laid eyes on Bruce during his 1976 Olympic Decathalon competition as she watched on TV while in bed with Elvis.

Yes. Elvis.

She went on to become a television actress, a Malibu mom, well known for her fitness and beauty.  If this experience causes such an obviously physically beautiful woman to question her sexual worth, imagine what it does to the average wife. None of Bruce’s wives are average people – and yet – it takes time to heal.  As many of us know, it can take a long time.

The Straight Spouse Network exists to give free, confidential peer to peer support for the heterosexual spouses, ex spouses, and partners of LGBT people.  It doesn’t matter if they are in or out of the closet.  It doesn’t matter if they admit what you know.  It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure and are wondering.  If this is an issue in your relationship, we are here for you.

There will be more attention paid to transgender families in the media – there is already a series “TransParent” on Amazon, and a new series is coming to ABC Family.  It is our hope that the real story of our families can be told – the path to acceptance and support, the grief process, and all the complicated issues that are present in families of all types are clearly a big part of our story.  Much of what we see portrayed in the media is only supportive family members after they’ve resolved their own feelings, or the destructive emotions of those who disown transgender youth.  We are here to support all our families telling their stories, in safety and truth.

The Straight Spouse Network has an online support list – TransFamilySpouses, an email list for spouses or partners of transgender men or women, including transvestites and transsexuals at any stage of transitioning. Join the list at groups.yahoo.com/group/TransFamilySpouses

 

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Keeping Up With Transgender Families

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015 in Blog | 27 comments

There has been a lot of attention in the mainstream media of late concerning Bruce Jenner’s sex change.  The fact that an Olympic champion can want to live his life as a woman and declare it publicly at age 65 seems to have the whole world talking.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09:  Kris Jenner filming on location at "Kinky Boots" on Broadway for the new talk show "Kris" (which will premiere on FOX Television on July 15th) at The Al Hirshfeld Theater on July 9, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)Some of the comments on news stories are really painful to read, for trangender individuals and their families.  There is a great deal of speculation on Jenner’s motives for going public with this personal detail, as he is a reality show star.  He was divorced last year from his wife Kris, who is the matriarch of the Kardashian clan.  She and her daughters are well known to the American public.

Kris Jenner is in an unusual situation for the spouse of a transgendered person.  She is famous, and her marriage has been viewed by millions.  Consequently, the peek into her life via television can give some an impression that they know her, know what she thinks and feels.

Comments and social media discussions speculate on what she did or did not know, or surmise that she drove Bruce to it.  Others think its just a publicity stunt.  Many of the comments in general are painful for families and transgendered individuals to read, as they are rife with misinformation, personal perspective, and just plain snarky. The social media storm is a reminder to many trans families that the general public regards their family life as a freak show.

Many of us know from our own experience that people make assumptions about us and our lives that just are not based in fact.

Kris is welcome to contact the Straight Spouse Network if she wishes, as are all of Bruce’s former wives.  They will receive the same highly confidential support and acceptance that we offer all straight spouses of LGBT people.  Their stories are their own, and right now they do not appear to be sharing much. We cannot really comment on their experience, or what it must be like for them.

Being the spouse or family member of a transgender person is one of the most widely misunderstood experiences that anyone can have. We are sharing a story from Rose, one of the ladies who has been part of our network for several years, in the hope of letting others know that you are not alone.

—–

It started December 9, 2009. My husband never came home from work.

By the time I got off work at 10 p.m. I didn’t know what to do. I called the priest he said call the police.

Long story short he checked himself into the mental hospital. He would not take calls or see me or my son, who also lives in the same area. He was there for nine days.

Looking back on life I must say those days were the worst days of my life as I had no idea what was wrong.

We started right away seeing a psychiatrist and therapist. He was doing weird things like plucking his eyebrows, wearing nylons, shaving his legs, pierced his ears. At first the therapist thought he was a cross dresser. But then he started wearing lipstick, eye shadow outside where neighbors could see him. I was so embarrassed I didn’t know what to do. At that time we had been married 39 years.

I stayed with Jack for three years trying to get him help. He didn’t want help!

Those three years were the darkest deepest hole I have ever been in. Things that I would find, womens clothing, lipstick, it just went on and on. He would steal my jewelry, my underwear. I was so beside myself I had nowhere to turn.

He served in the United States Army for 20 plus years. The VA helped him enhance his breasts by hormone shots. They gave him a letter so he could change his name and sex on his driver’s license.  He is now transgender but has not had the surgery.

We separated in December of 2012. The stress I went through in those years was unbearable.

Thanks to my adult children I’m now divorced as of July 1, 2014.

My life for almost 43 years was all lies.

Jack ( Jackie ) was in debt right away. Nothing is easy for him/her. The lies are still there and may never go away. But I can now sleep at night and not go around looking and wondering what he/she is doing.

I went through grieving therapy. I found the straight spouse group which I feel saved my life. My family and friends were there for me but they really didn’t understand what I was going though. Only a person that goes through what I have been through will understand that pain. To know there is someone there in the group at anytime and will not judge you for the way you feel, is the best feeling.

I have three adult children. The oldest I adopted; his/herdaughter. She has nothing to do with him/her. We have a daughter who does stay in touch but knows he/she isn’t the same person he was. Yet he/she tells everyone he/she is the SAME. We also have a son.  He talks to him/her but has a very hard time with all this. There are 8 grandchildren. It just makes me sick to think about what must go though their minds.

My family all is in grieving. My grieving therapist told me it was worse than a death, as that person can try to come back into your life even if you don’t want them to.

It’s been very hard to try and pull my life back together as I never knew anything but being married. I don’t think I ever really loved him/her. And I’m now finding out who I am. I do know I’m strong. And life will go on.
Rose

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