By Kelly Wilkins
“You have to understand”
When you’re a straight spouse, you hear those words a lot from the LGBT activist and ally community. You end up saying them a lot too, especially if you’re trying to express your feelings on what it feels like to be a straight spouse and you start going what I call “off script” – that is, when you start talking about your pain and the damage that your former spouse’s coming out may have done to you, rather than strictly upholding the ally party line.
Because in my experience so far on this muddy, twisted, rutted road of coming out of my ex-husband’s closet is that neither the activist/ally side nor the homophobe side really WANTS to understand what it’s like for the straight spouse. We’re too messy, too confusing, too problematic. Many of us are the walking wounded, trying valiantly to put our lives back together and hold the lives of our children together in this new post-closet world. Sometimes, we do a good job of it. Sometimes, we don’t. We fall. We’re angry, we’re bitter, we’re hurting, we’re all too human. But, we don’t get the same “pass” that our former/current gay spouse is getting from the same community. It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to be ourselves, trading one kind of closet for another.
Friends in the activist/ally world, is that really what you want from us? Don’t we deserve the same kind of compassion and understanding from you that you ask us to extend to our gay spouses? It doesn’t take much, just an open heart, a listening ear, and a little common sense. When a straight spouse shares their story with you, don’t rush to excuse the behavior of the gay spouse. Don’t tell the straight spouse that we have to be the ones to understand and be the bigger person. If you’ve never lived in our shoes and felt this particular kind of pain, don’t be so quick to dismiss it, which is exactly what you’re doing when you rush in to tell us that we need to forgive, maybe our spouse didn’t know when they married us, maybe they weren’t ready to admit it to themselves, etc. It’s almost as if you think we’ve never heard these things or thought them before.
Not all straight spouses are bile-spewing homophobes who tried to force a poor gay person to be straight. Many of us are LGBT allies ourselves. We walk in Pride Parades; we give our time and efforts to eradicating the very hate that helped create us. Rather than assume you need to make an excuse for the behavior of our former spouses, try just listening to us. Seek to understand us, before you seek to be understood.