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.
I 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.