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Today Is National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day.  It is a day that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has designated as a day to celebrate and support those who live openly as LGBTQ people or as their allies.

National Coming Out Day 2016This year, the HRC honors all who have come out as LGBTQ or as  straight allies for equality. They recognize that this takes bravery.

The Straight Spouse Network is an LGBTQ ally organization that serves straight spouses who may or may not be what the HRC considers allies.  We serve the people who have it together.  We serve the people who are falling apart.  We serve the angry, the devastated, the isolated. We serve the recovering, the wounded, the people who have healed and are moving forward.

National Coming Out Day is a very difficult day for us.  Here is why:

  1. Every year, the Straight Spouse Network sees an increase in the number of people who need us. National Coming Out Day triggers just that – an increase in the number of people who come out. And we, their straight spouses, are among the people they come out to.
  1. http://www.jennamcwilliams.com/2012/10/12/national-coming-out-day-smash-all-the-closets/Coming Out Day reinforces the pain of those of us who are still forced into a closet by our LGBTQ spouses and ex-spouses. Many would like to come out as a straight spouse or as an LGBTQ straight ally, but cannot do so because it might endanger their lives or their livelihood. The threats are not always posed by the general culture. Sometimes the LGBTQ spouse threatens retribution or legal action if the straight spouse speaks openly.
  1. Some of us do take the opportunity and support provided by National Coming Out Day, to come out of our straight spouse closets. We may or may not be LGBTQ straight allies, but we make the decision to live in truth and stop hiding what happened from others who matter to us. Sometimes our coming out is welcomed, sometimes it is a cause for more ridicule, abuse, and attempts at gaslighting and isolation. Our coming out is seldom seen as a cause for celebration or an example of personal bravery. Yet it is a milestone in our lives which requires courage and strength.

National Coming Out Day LogoWe encourage all straight spouses to live honest, authentic lives in accordance with what is best for you and your family. Coming out for a straight spouse is not a matter of revenge, or getting even.  It is a matter of refusing to live in someone else’s dark closet.

On National Coming Out Day, coming out is for straight spouses as well. When you are ready to tell your story – your own story, not the one other people think you should tell – we are here to support you taking a brave step forward.  And we are here to support you as you struggle to find your way out of a closet that is not yours.

ally

 

 

26 Comments

  1. This is something I said on a different site already, but I’m still working out my thoughts about this, so I thought I’d try to say it again in a different way.

    I think everybody agrees that coming out is about letting go of the shame that society puts on gay people, and that makes sense. But today I read a newsletter that said “The problem in our marriages is the homosexuality.”

    That’s not a helpful way to say it, and it’s not even accurate, and it doesn’t convince people that we aren’t homophobic; it confirms that we are. The real problem in our marriages was the shame our husbands felt about being gay, not the fact that they are gay. So what do we really need to get rid of, if we want these marriages to stop? We need to get rid of the shame that society puts on gay people. We don’t want to get rid of gay people themselves. We are not anti-gay; we are anti-gay-shaming. The real problem was the shame our spouses believed in, not our spouses themselves.

    Isn’t that less homophobic than “the problem in our marriages was the homosexuality?”

    • “We don’t want to get rid of gay people themselves. We want to get rid of the shame that society puts on gay people. We are not anti-gay; we are anti-gay-shaming.”

      Slightly re-arranged, but very well-said, Corena. I like it. We are not anti-gay; we are anti-gay-shaming.

  2. I am a straight spouse. I found out 9 yrs ago, after only being w/ my husband for almost 5 ys (married 3). I know in my case I’m lucky that I found out so soon & didn’t have to live for yrs w/ the lies…sort of. Instead I have lived w/ keeping the truth from our daughter who was only 3 at the time.
    This yr, right before her 12th bday (literally days) he decided to come out to her (good) but there was no warning or build up, he just dropped it on her, and then no follow up, he left that to me. Didn’t even tell her that him being gay was something I already knew, so she was afraid to tell me.
    Now I have been an ally all my life, something he knew fairly soon after we met. My children (2 others that aren’t his & my daughter) have been raised that love is love. So while she doesn’t have a problem w/ him being gay in theory, she is struggling to accept that her father who she has believed is straight all her life is not. And on top of that other issues stemming from his lack of interest in her life & how she feels like he never wanted her.
    So now he is out of his closet, I am finally out of my closet now that my daughter knows, but she has suddenly been thrust into a closet herself. This has left me 2nd guessing my decision to not tell her myself yrs ago when she started asking why the marriage ended. I planned on telling her when she was older if he hadn’t come out by then.
    So yay for him getting to live an honest life, but when does he have to live w/ the consequences of his lies & selfishness? I was honest & I have suffered because of his choices. And when I was in a place where it was starting to heal, he finally tells my daughter, so the pain starts all over again.

    • It’s puzzling that if you raised her to believe that love is love, and that being gay is itself not a problem, it’s odd that she would have a problem with her father being gay. Somehow the lesson you have been teaching her about being an ally has not sunk in all the way; that is, she has not applied it to her own circumstances.

      You say you were honest and suffered because of it, but you also kept “the secret” from her. So you too engaged in the lie with her. (I’m not passing judgment on you for it, but pointing out a contradiction in the story you are telling yourself.) Both of you kept her in the dark; that’s the story you’ve told. Have you explained to her why it was something you already knew, but you didn’t tell her?

      There is never a warning or a build-up to someone’s coming out. If there were, it wouldn’t catch us by surprise the way it usually does. That you call it a “warning” or “build up” says something. A more neutral way to describe it would be that there was no “plan” or “preparation” or “assessment.” But a “warning?” What is that about?

      There is more to the story than his coming out. You say you are a supporter, and “yay” and “good” that he came out, that you yourself have now come out, but then you turn all that into wanting to punish him for his lies. Instead, I would be having a heart to heart with my daughter, explaining why I was just as wrong as he to keep the information from her, and reassure that she is loved, and that when her father and I made her, we were in love. That we are no longer in love with each other does not mean that either of us has stopped loving her. She needs that reassurance, but she won’t hear it if your attitude about it is that he needs to live with the consequences of his lies. Coming out is the first step in being honest and undoing those lies. Don’t punish him for being honest now; encourage him to do more of it. Does he stay away to avoid his daughter, or to avoid you?

    • Don’t express your anger at your ex to your daughter; you don’t know how her sexuality might develop. She could be lesbian herself, and you don’t want to confuse her or make her feel ashamed by implication. You send her a mixed message when you say gay is okay, but that he still needs to be punished for it. If she’s lesbian, or questioning her own sexuality, that is going to confuse her. It’s an opportunity to show how difficult it can be for gay and lesbian people to come out; that’s how hard it is, that even her own father couldn’t do it until he was ready, and it doesn’t need to be that way for gay and lesbian people.
      And let her know that when the two of you both kept a secret from her, you both did it because you believed it was in her best interests, not because her father is a bad person. He did the right thing by being honest with her finally, even if he could have done it in a better way. But don’t make him a bad person for keeping it a secret when you did it too. She’ll see right through you.

    • Jessica,
      I wonder whether Ed or Bonita have ever been in your shoes, and understand that it’s possible to be an ally and still be devastated by the experience of being lied to and on the receiving end of your ex’s thoughtless and selfish behavior.
      The problem is not you and your behavior (and it’s not your husband’s gayness); it’s your husband’s willingness first to marry you to hide his gayness and then his desire to keep his sexuality from his daughter and ask you to do the same thing, compounded by his hit-and-run disclosure to your daughter.
      The reality of having someone one has known as one thing suddenly morph into another is an emotional hit that does not negate one’s intellectual understanding that “love is love.” Love is love, yes, but to be told at the point of adolescence that one’s father is not hetero but gay is not only to put one’s entire past–her very existence–into question, but to change fundamentally one’s understanding of one’s parent. The process of re-working one’s ideas of one’s parent is not a matter of intellect alone.
      You did the best you could in a difficult situation. You are to be commended, and you deserve sympathy for your position, not a lecture.

      • Ally, I only have two points to make about your comments.

        1) You fault her husband for “his desire to keep his sexuality from his daughter and ask you to do the same thing” and you fault him for telling during adolescence as turning her world upside down. You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s a good idea to wait until they’re older or not. It can’t be both. It would have been better if they told her together. But you focused on the “keeping the secret” and “age” issues.. so when do you think it’s best to tell a child? Who decides it?

        2) I take issue with your depiction:

        “to be told at adolescence.. puts one’s entire past–her very existence–into question”
        I told my children at ages 8 and 11 and they adjusted wonderfully. The idea it would put “one’s entire past” or “very existence” in question needs to come from somewhere. Why would they question their past or existence? You make it seem like parents never have things they don’t tell children until they’re older – that happens in just about every family. That doesn’t make kids question their past or existence.

        Jessica clearly points out there was serious dysfunction already due to “other issues stemming from his lack of interest in her life & how she feels like he never wanted her.” It’s terrible that her daughter has had to go through that at all but let’s not make believe it’s a common thought any child goes through due to divorce and/or dad being gay/bi. There needs to be serious dysfunction for a child to question their past/existence.

        I’m not forgiving any wrongs committed by the father but we are talking broadly here since we know nothing about Jessica or her ex.

        3) For Jessica: Why would you 2nd guess not telling her years ago if you think it hurt her being told at 12?

        4) Why would your daughter be thrust into a closet? Unless you didn’t teach her love is love and thinks there’s something wrong with dad being gay.

      • I have been in a position similar to Jessica’s in that I am a straight spouse, and I had children who needed to understand what was happening to their family. I would not have agreed to lie about it. I want my children to be able to trust me with anything. If my wife had tried to say I was undermining her relationship with them, I would have told her she was doing that to herself.

        I am sorry you took it to be a lecture, my concern was for the 12 year old child first and foremost. This is one of those times where we, as adults and parents, set aside our own pain and focus on our children. If the child has been lied to by both parents, then both parents have repair work to do. If the daughter is now in a closet, it is the parents – both of them – who put her there when they both decided to lie. That’s what the closet is – shame and lies. The way out of the closet is admitting the truth and letting her see that parents and adults admit when they’ve made a mistake, and apologize and ask to be forgiven.

        I am not exhonerating her ex. From the child’s POV, her mother and father both lied to her. That’s one issue among several, but it’s still an issue.

        The only way to undo a lie is to admit it. The child deserves that, it will help her to see that adults can admit when they made a mistake. What’s she going to learn instead is that lying works, as long as you can get away with it, even better if you can blame someone else. That’s one thing the daughter is observing now, whether she can verablize it that way or not.

        Neither parent’s honesty depends on the other’s honesty. This story came across as assigning blame, not about helping the child.

        A lie is a lie and it hurts, of course. We don’t commend our spouses for telling their lies, why would we commend a fellow straight spouse for telling the exact same lie? I don’t understand that.

      • Look for the teachable moment instead of looking for blame. That’s one of the best things my therapist said to me. There’a a lot of teachable momemts to be learned in this story.

  3. I see that most of these comments are from a year ago, was that intentional? It would be interesting to see if or how anybody’s viewpoints or circumstances have changed in the past 12 months. I’ve realized a few things:

    Attitude really does count for a lot of how we experience life. 10% is what happens, 90% is how we react to it. We can’t control the 10%, but we can control the 90%. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier the more you do it.

    The closet is about shame. Anyone who is in the closet is there because they are feeling shame, that’s goes for both the gay person and the straight person. Being in the closet means we are agreeing with the people who shame us, otherwise we wouldn’t put up with it, we’d fight back. We need to stop agreeing with the people who shame us.

    If the Tom above is the same gay man who was posting last year about this same time, I remember him saying the way out of the closet is to talk about it and refuse to be silenced and to refuse to accept someone else’s shame.

    For a while I was saying we don’t get pushed into a closet, we go there on our own out of our own sense of shame. I’ve altered the way I think of it now – we don’t go into it, and we aren’t pushed into it. We were already in the closet with our spouses, we just didn’t know it. But it’s when they come out that we realize we were in there with them all along. If and when they come out on their own, it means they’ve figured out how not to be ashamed of it anymore. We still have to figure that part out.

    If you think about it, their coming out doesn’t really push us into a closet, it’s more like we get outed – exposed – against our will and without warning, we didn’t know we were already in the closet too.

    The closet is believing that being gay or lesbian is shameful, and that’s true whether you’re gay or straight. To come out of the closet we have to give up the belief that being gay is something to be ashamed of.

    • Yes, this article was published last year and republished again. But the discussions are worth continuing!

  4. What are the legal ramifications for a straight spouse coming out when their ex-spouse is still very much in the closet?

    • Hi Incubator,

      This is Janet, the editor of this blog. We cannot give you legal advice – you should consult a lawyer for your situation. I can however tell you my personal experience, as my former husband is in denial and has been for many many years, at least as far as I am concerned.

      Coming out for me was not about his experience – it was about mine. It was about me being free to tell the story of having suspicions, being ridiculed by his openly gay friend, and finding the exclusively gay pornography. It was about being free to tell the story of the gaslighting, the ridicule, the mysogyny that was my experience. It was also about telling my kids in an age appropriate way about what I knew, since they were the subjects of a lengthy custody battle based on proving me incompetent – because I knew the truth. They are grown up now. They have a close relationship with him still. I think this was possible because I insisted on honesty with them, and they have the tools to have a mature relationship with their dad as adults, knowing the truth.

      It was about me speaking openly to my pediatrician, counselors, pastor, and several intimate friends about the effect his “not my boyfriend” had on my oldest son, whom he appeared to be grooming. It was about being able to discuss if that was actually real, or if I was being baited. It was about having my children’s counselors know that there was this great big closet in the middle of their family living space.

      It wasnt about shouting “HE’S GAY” from the rooftops. It was about openly acknowledging it with family and close friends. And yes, I was punished for it – continued litigation for many years about custody of the kids, and loss of friendships, for being perceived as a crazy vindictive homophobe.

      I figured that the story of what he did to me was MY STORY to tell. The story of how I survived his decision to NOT come out was MY STORY to tell. And it also happened to be the truth. I have come out carefully. We do not share the same last name, I am careful about my presence on social media, and I now live in a completely different state. I have no wish for him to come to harm, or to shame him. He still is not a safe person for me to be around. Some people do not fully understand that.

      I have heard over the years that he acknowledges that he is not completely heterosexual and then gives a long boring lecture on the Kinsey scale and how he is normal and this gay stuff shouldn’t have mattered to me. He has never and likely will never acknowledge this to me. Having an honest conversation with him has always been impossible, and I no longer attempt to initiate it. But I am not silent about MY life.

      The key here is for you to live YOUR BEST LIFE. It is YOUR OWN.

      Speak to an attorney if you are concerned about legal matters, and I strongly advise that you get counseling for yourself from a therapist or pastor. I found that counseling did a world of good for me and the kids, and the reality check from a lawyer was good too.

  5. My gay husband of 21 years planned on staying in the closet forever. I found out 9 months ago he has been sexually involved with men for at least the last 7 years- probably more . Why not stay in the closet when you can have the best of both worlds? He was heterosexual to the community, had a home with a supportive wife that also worked, and the excitement of a secret sex life. I don’t feel he has any remorse what so ever in using me for his cover. He has no desire in coming out of the closet because he sees no point in it. I am slowly telling my story to friends and family but there is a definite twist to the story when you say your husband is gay. I am divorcing but more because of the lieing and cheating. My husband’s first gay experience was at the age of 20, he is now 64. 44 years of living in the closet is a long time. I am so glad that young people today can get the support and acceptance they need if they are gay.

  6. I can’t thank you enough for this. Simply reading these words is so helpful. Life is so complicated as the ex-spouse of a closeted gay man. I wish I knew about this day before it passed. I realize that I don’t really need a day, or permission, but the invisible prison that I was in is still loosely in place despite my divorce. I feel that I will never truly be free or at peace until everyone knows the truth, including our children. I am engaged now to a wonderful man and I have never been happier. I have moved on personally and I am emotionally healthy. Yet this will continue to haunt me as his lies continue to build. After 20some years (a lifetime for him) it’s time to start living in truth and reality. As you said, I should not have to live in someone else’s dark closet, past, present or future. It is courage, and not revenge. Thank you for this support, it is so welcomed and needed.

    • “It is courage, and not revenge.” Well said. Attitude and words make a difference. How we come out of our closets says a lot about us and where we are in the process:

      “I’m a straight spouse but my ex is still hiding and pretending, because s/he’s a snivelling, lying coward and a fraud; s/he should be in jail… it’s disgusting…”
      Revenge. (I was doing that one for a while.)

      “I’m a straight spouse but my ex is still hiding and pretending, because so many people react out of ignorance and s/he doesn’t know who s/he can trust… it’s sad…”
      Courage. (It took some time for me to get this.)

      “I’m a straight spouse, my ex has come out, and while it was rough going for a while, today we’re both doing fine.”
      I can tell you that it really is possible to reach this place. It takes time and work.

  7. The point of Coming Out Day is to shine a light on the dangerous power the darkness of the closet can hold over any of us, gay and straight spouse both. It’s not a day of celebration as much as it is a day of awareness, PR and education. Straight Spouses can benefit from it too by coming out and declaring that they are a straight spouse.

    It’s ironic in a way that a designated day is set aside for it, because the reality is that “Every day is Coming out Day” or at least, can be, once you realize that you – gay or straight spouse alike – can decide not to remain in the closet. It’s not a one-time, once-a-year event. You decide it on a daily basis.

    Did I say it was easy? NO. It’s difficult. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it or shouldn’t do it; some of the biggest rewards in life require doing some of the hardest work.

  8. It’s sad people lie and have children them one day day oh I’m not straight. It’s dishonest and cruel.

    • That’s not necessarily what it means. Many simply haven’t done the self-searching yet and think they HAVE TO live in a hetero normative family unit, without considering their own attraction. Calling the non-straight spouse a liar doesn’t help any aspect of the situation: either spouse, or their family. It’s simply about coming out to your new truth and working together to redefine family.

    • Coming out does not mean confessing to a cruel and deliberate hoax or admitting an orchestrated lie. Coming out means finally realizing and accepting a basic truth about yourself even when people around you don’t want to hear it or talk about it and possibly revile you for it. But suggesting that it’s dishonest or cowardly or deliberarely cruel, that it was a lie all along, reminds and reinforces for the closeted person all the reasons he or she should NOT come out. It’s vilifying him for finally telling the truth. If he has reason to think that is what’s likely to happen, he won’t be motivated to come out.

      • I am a woman who was deceived and lied to for 15 years. It is cruel, it is dishonest and I can not tell you the damage this person has done to me and our daughter. If he had been honest about everything – it might have been different but it was a LIE. I lost 15 years that I could have been with someone who really did love me. I hope he rots in hell!

        • You wrote: “deceived and lied to for 15 years,” “cruel”, “damage done to me and our daughter”.. because he lied and had affairs? Are you describing a cheating and lying husband or a sociopath? They are not the same thing.

          There are plenty of people who lie to, manipulate and deceive their spouse, sometimes for the entire duration of their marriage.. I’m not saying it’s okay because it’s not… but we need to acknowledge the distinction between men who felt some sort of pressure or fear to be a closeted gay or bisexual man while married and men who set out to use a woman and their marriage for his personal benefit regardless of the harm it causes.

          My husband didn’t purposely hide his sexuality from me and our kids so he could have fun living a secret life or to use us when convenient for a story or image or something like that. If you married a sociopath then you need to address that which is much bigger and scarier and nothing to do with being gay or bisexual.

        • At what point during those 15 years did you realize that you and your daughter were being damaged? Did you realize it during the 15 years you stayed with him, or did you determine that only after learning that he was closeted?

          There is a lot of talk about who the “real heroes” are when gay men come out of these marriages. Some say the real hero is the gay person who never got married, some say it’s ANY gay person who finally sheds the homophobia that surrounds and closets him, some say it’s the straight wife who remained in a miserable or damaging marriage and kept trying to fix it. Some even say the wife who subjugates and martyrs hersself is the best kind of wife.

          To me, the real hero is the straight spouse who admits that she’s miserable, that the marriage isn’t working, who figures out that her fixes are ineffective, and decides to leave a situation that makies her miserable. Whether the spouse was gay or not is a mere detail. The spouse might be alcoholic, or violent, or criminal, and I would say the same thing – the real hero is the one who recognizes that she is hurting and her child is being harmed, and takes steps to ensure her well-being. Especially heroic if she sets an example for her children, and any others in a similar situation. It’s not heroic to stay behind and allow yourself to incur more damage.

          In that way, the straight spouse who takes her life into her own hands is the real hero, just as a gay person who finally comes out is also a hero. They are letting go of a bad situation and taking ownership of their lives, without regard to what anyone else says or thinks about it. Being yourself and standing up for yourself – that is heroic.

  9. All relationships are difficult… but one specific pain/problem of Mixed Orientation Marriages is the shadow that they throw on the past. It’s not, ‘We’ve grown apart, we’ve fallen out of love, all things change’, but rather, ‘Was it all a mistake? How come we didn’t see it?’ Even when there’s no infidelity or lying, as is pretty much our case. My wife and I have good lives, share so much, but there is this big hole at the heart of our marriage: there’s no desire, on her side, and perhaps there never has been, and there never can be. And desire is hard to fake or find when it’s just not there.
    The spiritual councilor that I continue to see talks of gradually lessening pain. But the pain’s still there, and always will be. And part of the pain is its invisible nature. An illness, a death, there’s a place for public mourning and sympathy. Our pain is almost entirely invisible even to most of those close to us. Yes, the pain of living in our partner’s closet.

    • I find beliefs/assumptions about MOMs vs Non-MOMs interesting. I’ve known many couples who divorced (my father 1x, mother 2x, 2 of my kids, friends, coworkers).. some included infidelity.one was a MOM like mine. All had at least one spouse who felt their heart ripped out and a big shadow cast over everything. They all questioned, reexamined, what was true/not about their spouse and marriage. That’s not unique to our situation at all. I wonder where that myth comes from?

      For people I know I always saw anguish, feelings of failure, especially in a 1st marriage. They dissected everything. Why did he marry me then? Why didn’t he tell me then he felt that way? How could he/she do that to someone they love? Etc, We only know our own experience and can’t compare my pain vs your pain. It’s dismissive and condescending to think my pain is greater than your pain. If my husband had said “I don’t love you that way anymore” or “we’ve grown apart” or “I met someone else”.. it would rip out anyone’s heart and feel devastating. If lying, cheating, manipulation, betrayal.. happens to you there’s no comparing my pain versus yours. Who lied more, longer, about bigger things, etc.. Pain is pain. Who wants to win the award for more pain/trauma than others? Except some who have to keep that kind of score.

      I’d like other people’s input on questions like:

      1) Why doesn’t “things change” apply to our marriages just like any other when we don’t know anything about what things changed, why, or how in other marriages except that we make assumptions.

      2) Why do some people need to perpetuate what I think is a myth, but at least at the individual level.. why do they need to perpetuate their assumption that “our” situation is “worse” than others?

      The “best” answer I’ve heard is that our situation is “so different” as though we/they know what I went through, what every other straight wife has gone through, what every other non-MOM couple went through that ended their marriage…

  10. This is very timely with the Jewish day of atonement beginning tonight at sunset and what would have been my 25th wedding anniversary occurring tomorrow. After my husband’s revelation a bit over two years ago, I am just now in a position to begin to give voice to my odyssey. Tonight as part of this intense and reflective religious observance, I will reenter a community for the first time in three years. Knowing that this is National Coming Out Day makes that all the more significant and, hopefully, meaningful. Thanks for posting.

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