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On Our Radar – The Straight Spouse Network

by Jean Ann Esselink on January 29, 2012

in Coming Out,Don't Ask Don't Tell,families,Jean Ann Esselink,Living,Marriage

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What should you do when you suspect your spouse is having an affair with someone of the same sex? How should you react when you finally get up the courage to ask your husband if he’s gay and he answers by getting angry with you for asking such a question? How do you start a new life after your wife tells you over breakfast that she is in love with another woman, and she is moving her in, and you out of the family home you bought, and furnished, and lived in together? There is an international support group with people who have answers. It is called “The Straight Spouse Network” and today it is On Our Radar.

The week before Christmas, I wrote an On Our Radar column about The Cathedral of Hope, a primarily gay church in Dallas, Texas that finally had enough children to hold their first ever children’s Christmas pageant. What I remember from researching that column is that most of those children were from previous heterosexual marriages. The marriages broke up when the gay or lesbian spouse acknowledged their orientation, and the children of that marriage eventually came to live in a new family dynamic, in which the parent who finally came out found a same-sex life partner.

When I wrote that column, I thought about the kids. I imagined a little shepherd boy, with his grandpa’s cane for a shepherd’s crook and a little blonde angel in white with a tin foil halo. I remember wondering if we could get video of the pageant to post here on The New Civil Rights Movement as a way to demonstrate to the skeptical world that gay families are not so very different than straight families.

I also thought about the two dads or two moms watching with pride from the audience, doing the things all parents do, like the surreptitious wave as their little one comes on stage, their slightly anxious face searching the audience for family, breaking into a smile when they see their moms or their dads are out there. I imagined the flash of relief two dads exchange when their kindergartener flawlessly speaks the line they rehearsed with him a thousand and one times. Or maybe he flubs the line, and the dads squeeze each other’s hand in shared parental emotion. In my mind’s eye, I saw proud, smiling parents jockeying for a good vantage point with their video cams and cell phones. At that time, I saw only what a personal victory it was for all those happy-at-last same-sex couples and their children, making Christmas memories.

What I didn’t think about was the parent who was not there. The straight spouse. The loving parent who no longer had a place in this happy holiday picture. The starry-eyed young woman or young man who promised to love, honor and cherish someone they thought was their soul mate. The parent who devoted years, sometimes decades, to making a family, only to have it run through their fingers like sand.

So why am I thinking about them now? Because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed.

In the world of unanticipated consequences the end of DADT has spawned one we should have seen coming. Soldiers are coming out to their spouses. Soldiers are ending their sham marriages. People are hurting. Hearts are breaking. Families are changing. And neither the straight community nor the gay community has shown a large measure of compassion to the abandoned straight spouses trying to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

They can be spurned on all sides you know, these blindsided castoffs. Spurned by the gay world as an impediment to the LGBT partner knowing true happiness. Spurned by the straight world as someone who after two kids and all those years, must be a “freaking idiot” not to have known. These straight spouses are every bit the victim as the spouse who was forced to lie about his/her sexual identity for so long, yet sympathy has been no group’s default position. No one’s but The Straight Spouse Network’s.

For twenty-five years now the Straight Spouse Network has been offering the heterosexual spouse “information, support and affirmation.” They have eight on-line support groups, most with real time chats. Their website offers a blog with practical suggestions on everything from what questions to ask if you suspect your spouse is gay, to how to reinvent the holidays after your marriage dissolves. Most importantly, they offer peer-to-peer contact with someone who has gone through a similar hell and made it out the other side.

There is no charge for the Straight Spouse Network services. The organization is supported entirely by donations and staffed with volunteer counselors. So if you are one, if you are married to one, or if you know someone dealing with their spouse coming out, let them know there are people who can help.

Gay or straight, let’s all reconsider the lack of empathy we have collectively shown toward the anguish of these straight spouses, and keep the good work of “The Straight Spouse Network” On Our Radar.

Image, top, by Clearly Ambiguous.

Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.

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BartDavid January 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm

As a straight spouse, recently divorced, thank you for considering our perspective and lifting up the work of the Straight Spouse Network.

cmsvmom January 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Thanks for this. Cant tell you how horrible it was to be invisible to all, especially since my ex remained closeted and in denial, even to himself. Gay community was no help for affirmation, I got the sense that they were hiding something. Straight advocates for gays were all about how hard it is for gays. No one affirmed or noticed me. I nearly lost custody of my children to an abusive gay man in denial because he had to control the story – and no one in my liberal church cared because I am not gay.

CF1997 January 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

This is a wonderful analogy from you…. "The parent who devoted years, sometimes decades, to making a family, only to have it run through their fingers like sand."

I always compared this experience of having a gay spouse to standing on the transparent, stable, safe platform at the Grand Canyon, and suddenly having it shatter beneath me. What was once secure suddenly turned to shattered glass.. my life in sharp slivers and jagged fragments around me… as I fell and fell. When my husband came out to me, we'd been together 16 years, I was no longer in a corporate career to be home with our four children (ages 3-11), and I'd been homeschooling for two years. I'm now trying to take all those glass pieces, figure out what stays, what goes, and what is completely different in my life and me personally. I've truly been changed to the core and as many do, battle the unique insecurities and emotional trappings that come with finding out your perfect relationship was in part, an illusion. I'm working hard to have a solid relationship with him as a co-parent… he is an awesome dad… while 19 months later, still trying not to be in love with the man who I thought was my soulmate, best friend, and my everything. Thank you so much for sharing part of our story. The support I've received from other straight spouses… especially in person… has been more healing than all the therapy in the world (which I'm also doing).

jph_ssn January 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Jean – Overall I thought your article was great. I am a "straight spouse", part of the SSN, and had a relatively minor experience, in that my spouse had not cheated or "explored her sexuality" before confiding in me. I belong to an open and affirming church and firmly support gay marriage and equal rights.

One phrase stood out though as it highlights the problem so many of my peers experience: "These straight spouses are every bit the victim as the spouse who was forced to lie about his/her sexual identity for so long, yet sympathy has been no group’s default position. " If the gay spouse knew about their real orientation going into the marriage, as so very many actually do, people need to realize that those specific individuals made a conscious effort to victimize/defraud their straight spouse of their life, using them as a disguise and frequently exposing them to health risks, without regards to them as people. This is in no way the same as a marriage falling apart due to drift or a later infidelity; in this scenario the straight spouse's life has been invalidated because life choices were made for them 10, 20 or 30 years ago, just so someone could have their cake and eat it too.

amindmakeover February 12, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I am a straight spouse – I found out my husband was gay after 27 years of marriage. … and yes you can start a new life with compassion… even re-marry and have a family network… I wrote You Celebrate You to assist in the transition, to heal and empower available at BARNES & NOBLE | You Celebrate You by Carolyn M. Brown, iUniverse, Incorporated | NOOK Book (eBook), Paperback, Hardcover

SFConnects March 8, 2012 at 1:47 am

The founder of South Florida Connects, a community outreach and peer support organization for minority and immigrant straight spouses, has just returned from a healing weekend retreat for straight spouses, hosted by the Bonnie Kaye Straight Spouse Support Network, in Houston, Texas. After hearing from many straight spouses from varying social, religious, cultural, ethnic, socio-economic, and professional segments of society, It's interesting to note that you also believe that straight spouses are getting a bad rap.

I read a quote by Dr. Susan Weitzman of the Weitzman Center, where they treat victims of upscale domestic violence, and if I didn't know the context of the quote, I could easily have thought she was referring to straight spouses and all the difficulties that they experience.

Here is her quote,"The astounding lack of understanding and acknowledgment of this phenomenon among helping professionals results—too often—in women being inadvertently re-victimized by the very systems and professionals that ought to be in place to help the abused. Everyday across the nation, women are losing custody of their children, as they do not have the resources to fight frivolous lawsuits. More often, they are becoming impoverished and overwhelmingly depressed in their efforts to fight injustice and abuse by partners who exploit them further through the legal system. Isolation, a by-product of this lack of awareness by professionals, leads to more hopelessness, fear, and further depression."

This is the experience of many straight spouses. Until individuals and organizations with clout, local legislatures, and others in positions of considerable power, start advocating for straight spouses, like they do for victims of domestic violence and abuse, (some straight spouses are also victims of DV), straight spouses will continue to be marginalized and victimized by their gay spouses.

Straight spouses are only asking for mainstream society to acknowledge their plight, and help alleviate some of their unnecessary, and prolonged suffering, that is often perpetuated by their selfish gay spouses. Someone in the legal community needs to stand up for straight spouses who are been bled dry of what little resources they may have by spiteful, gay spouses who keep using the courts, filing motions after motions, in an effort to further victimize and abuse their already suffering straight spouses.

Until that happens, South Florida Connects through it's website Connecting The Down Low Clues, will continue to provide education, validation, empowerment and peer support to straight spouses. everywhere.

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