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Unreal Reality

By Janet McMonagle
Communications Director, Straight Spouse Network

From time to time, the Straight Spouse Network receives requests from media organizations who claim they want to connect with real live straight spouses. They want to tell the stories of our mixed orientation marriages, and feature actual people as part of the story.

These organizations appear to be interested in actually telling our stories. But many times, the story has already been written, and they want to dress it up. The truth of our experiences may or may not survive in their version of our own reality.

To our disappointment, such was the situation when we were contacted by a producer of popular reality show company. The producer had previously established a personal connection with our Facilitator Liaison, Linda Ehle-Callens, who is also our Creative Director/Web manager. Representatives started to informally float the idea for a new docu-series about Straight Spouses. Linda told them that we are so much more than straight wives, and the “club” spans the globe, with men and women of all ages, races, cultures and religions.

Wow. That was REALLY interesting. Representatives of the production company set up a meeting to discuss thenext steps with the Linda, our Executive Director Daphne Callen, and me, the Communications Director.

During our hour-long telephone meeting with the company’s top executives, producers and creative team, we shared our stories and spoke at length of the many situations that straight spouses encounter; divorce, staying married, discovery without disclosure, the increase in spouses of transgender people seeking our support, single parenting, the challenges of raising LGBTQ children, and the often perplexing attitudes of family and friends. They assured us that their idea was not a tawdry “straight wives club” but a more in-depth presentation, such as found in “Born This Way.”

We asked that the Straight Spouse Network be engaged as a consultant, not just a supplier of names and phone numbers or source to research potential cast members. We emphasized that the real reality cannot be scripted by people who have not experienced what we have experienced, and that the Straight Spouse Network input would be needed throughout the project. We also wanted some means of ongoing support for our real people, who would be telling real stories but might encounter the spin of some alternate reality in the name of ratings and social media traffic either during or post production.

In short, we wanted the assurance that our people to be allowed to really tell their real stories. We also told them that any involvement of the Straight Spouse Network would need the involvement of the Board of Directors, and that they would need to consult with our Founder, Amity Buxton, the most renowned expert in the sadly not too populated field of support for straight spouses.

At the end of our meeting, we were promised an outline of their creative concept. A week later we received a one page presentation; a potential pitch to networks that would air the show. It featured a headshot of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, and stock photos of mostly white people in their 30s in fairly standard poses suggesting marital discord.  One featured a gay male couple in bed with the wife sitting on the edge pouting. (Yes, really.) The promotional text emphasized an “ensemble” of straight spouses, more along the lines of a group of people who form a false community in one location, similar to the real housewives shows.

We repeated that our group is diverse and many are a lot older than the models, having been in long term marriages. We also repeated our terms that the Board and Amity would need to be involved, and the Straight Spouse Network would do more than just supply names and numbers.

Suddenly they were not so interested in our help. They wanted the ensemble format, and did not want to cede any creative control. While this is certainly understandable, creativity in the realty show genre can take on an interesting meaning, where alleged reality is semi-scripted or a situation is set up.

Also, they preferred to deal with Linda as a sole contact, and not even involve Amity. Linda was not willing to take this on as a private project since s represents our organization, along with the rest of the Staff and Board.

In the end, we told them we chose not to go forward with supporting the project at as presented. They were not willing to deviate from their regular Reality format. So, yet again, there went our hope for true recognition. Perhaps they will come around again, and it will be workable.  Perhaps not.

We needed to tell you this story because, if you are contacted by anyone from a reality show, know that it didn’t come from us, and you need to tell us about it right away. More importantly, we realize that no one can tell our stories like we ourselves can.

Here’s the true reality of our lives – We ourselves need to tell our stories, and get them to be heard. Listened to. Acknowledged.

Many of us cannot even safely share the truth about our own personal experiences with our friends and family members. This is why the Straight Spouse Network is important. We must keep telling the truth about straight spouse experiences, male and female, married and divorced, around the world.

We do this through our website, and through social media. We do this when contacted by media for quotes and information about straight spouses. We do this when our people are contacted to speak to organizations in their communities about the straight spouse experience and share the support offered by the Straight Spouse Network. We do this when our people attend events sponsored by other organizations in the Rainbow World, such as PFLAG, or the Small Change conference, or the Human Rights Campaign.

WE. Do. This.
This is OUR reality.

In the future, we hope to create a regular podcast on our website which will highlight the experiences and perspectives of straight spouses, letting the world know about the truth of our lives, in our own words. We want to educate people who think we’re crybabies, or that we all hate LGBTQ people.

We’re still developing the programming and process for that, along with the funding. And we even have bigger dreams of one day finding funding to make our own documentaries and short films.

If you have experience with creating podcasts, and would like to volunteer your support, we would love to hear from you. In the meantime, if you have a story to tell, you can contact us about sharing it on our blog. Though I will need to know your true identity, your name need not be published. Our guidelines for submissions are here:

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7 Comments

  1. Why wait for production crews to come to us? Could the SSN create its own you-tube channel, where members who wish to do so could create their own videos and tell their own stories. With some proper guidelines for posting and appropriateness, I’m sure some of us would contribute. We could submit them to a moderator to make sure we meet whatever guidelines SSN would want to establish to present a consistent and appropriate public face. There are already guidelines for blogging and commenting, couldn’t they be extended or adapted for video as well? Guidelines would be to set a tone and PR image. Look at what Dan Savage did a few years ago with his “It Gets Better” campaign for suicidal teenagers. This way we’d control our own message. And I like Sheri’s idea of having our gay spouses say their side too, so that the public does see this is not about taking sides, it’s not about “us v. them”, it’s about letting people know this happens so that it happens less. I think some of us whose husbands are still friendly with us might contribute. That would be one way to fight the prejudice, the ignorance, the insensitivity and the homophobia, all those systemic forces that Amity Buxton talks about.

    I like this woman’s video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPBLwI9m7Ik

    • You know, if some exes would be willing to do it, those who did it amicably would be setting an example for other closeted spouses, and that is needed as much as anything else. I was looking for you-tube videos and I saw a few gay ex-husbands and ex-wives who had come out and how it affected their wives and families, and it wasn’t ideal of course, but most of them were finding ways for everybody to get along and make it work without all the acrimony and nastiness. It’s proof that it doesn’t have to go south and it’s what our closeted spouses need to see – that they can do this, they can come out and do it right and fairly, if they can see examples of how others have done it.

    • Thank you for these ideas. We’ve been attempting to develop our own videos, but the idea of a channel which people could contribute to is fantastic. Not everyone wants to share their story in writing.

      This is great!

  2. Awesome example of “due diligence.” You rock! Years ago I contacted a NYC firm interested in doing a video story on straight husbands, a request referred by SSN. When I started asking questions, it became clear I would not have control of the message. I declined to participate. I am SO glad you are lprotecting straight spouses, already victimized, from being victimized again.

  3. One of my good friends is an editor for a popular “reality show” (I’m not going to say which one) and I can confirm from the behind-the-scenes stories she has told me that there is nothing “real” about so-called reality shows. What isn’t scripted ahead of time is either edited in or out, or else participants and situations are manipulated into reacting in ways that manufacture hype and drama (i.e., ratings). They’re about advertising dollars, and have next to nothing to do with “reality.” I don’t know if the production company mentioned here creates those kind of shows, but it sounds like you made the correct call to back away from the project. We’ve already been used as theater props. I like the idea of SSN being able to produce its own material.

  4. If we really want to be included more broadly in articles, tv, radio, and other media platforms to bring greater awareness about the experiences of spouses in MOMs, then we need to represent that greater diversity we know is out there. There are some who want the primary message to be about those who married mentally ill, spouse abusers, or criminally deceptive sociopaths.

    Those straight spouses are important parts of our community and need more support than most, but they’re not the majority of straight spouses. That’s a very narrow message and representation of straight spouses/LGBT husbands — sure many husbands are super-selfish a-holes for a while but they’re not perpetrators, abusers, or criminals.

    That as the core message and as our representative group does not represent our diversity, broad range of experiences, and disparate voices.

    It also has some self-defeating effects such as:

    -turns off many straight spouses from fully engaging because it’s tiring fighting that battle when that’s not representative of most of us

    -it turns many people and organizations that might be allies away (not off, but away) because there’s nothing they can do for people in marriages dealing with mental illness, abuse, or criminality.. there are other organizations to deal with those

    -it keeps gay husbands, who could be our most powerful allies, from joining in sharing our stories/messages because they don’t need the stigma of being lumped in/portrayed as victimizers, abusers, perpetrators, sick, etc.. when most are not. It’s too easy for those outside our community to get the impression that most are and lump them in with pedophiles, mentally ill people, etc..

    -yes, we have struggles and difficulties, some tougher than others, but if the extremes of our community are going to be represented as the typical experience, then we can expect to continue getting nowhere fast

    Thanks for letting share my two cents.. I look forward to everyone’s input.

    • Thank you for saying that, Sheri. Not only are we a diverse community, but reaching a point of peace and acceptance is a process, we all go through it differently and at our own pace. Ours isn’t one common story, it’s many stories with many different outcomes. We’re not a single photograph, we’re a collage and our experiences run the gamut.

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