Straight spouses whose husbands and wives come out tend to fly under the radar. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Far from it. In fact, Dr. Amity P. Buxton, founder of the Straight Spouse Network, believes that straight spouses often go overlooked because the gay or lesbian spouse tends to receive the most attention for sharing the “big” news. But the reality is both partners need a support system.
“The coming out tends to be kept private to avoid negative reactions at work,” she says, “in the community, in church or temple, or at schools and neighborhoods. Everyone’s in the closet.”
But as more people feel comfortable being honest with themselves – and their families – about their sexuality, more married couples are facing uncertain futures.
And that’s why Buxton created the online network, which provides support for spouses whose significant others come out, as well as offering tips on how to come out to your husband or wife (and kids).
To start the conversation, Buxton, along with a straight spouse R.L. Pinely, have gathered stories and emails written by a diverse group of more than 40 women and men in Unseen-Unheard: the Journey of Straight Spouses. The personal accounts range from the first revelation about their gay or lesbian spouse, as well as what it can be like working through the coming out process and knowing how to ask for help and to, ideally, move on in a happy and healthy way.
“We wrote for four audiences,” says Pinely, “straight spouses themselves, so they’d learn they’re not alone; other people facing traumatic crises, so they’d see how these courageous men and women coped and conquered; professionals, so they’d have information to better help straight spouses; and finally, the community at large, so they’d grasp the extent of the unintended collateral damage done by society’s ‘one man-one woman’ prescription for marriage.”
The stories, while sometimes painful, can also be funny, informative and inspiring. “They reflect the diversity of the people and the experiences of straight spouses,” says Buxton. “Our hope is that they shine a light on a part of the community often forgotten and ignored.”
Here are seven tips for coming out to your spouse:
1. Be honest. While your spouse may be hurt, confused and even angry at first, it’s important to put into words why the relationship is not working.
2. Avoid using important events, like Valentine’s Day or a birthday, to share the news.
3. Tell them who you really are. Don’t provide hints that can be misconstrued. Come out and tell the truth.
4. Don’t use the time to point out their faults. Talk about your own feelings as lovingly as possible.
5. Be honest about any affairs you’ve had and encourage your partner to be tested for any diseases that may result from extramarital activity.
6. Realize that while you may have had a lifetime to contemplate your decision, your spouse may have had only a few moments to realize it. Give them time.
7. Consider seeing a therapist together or seek out LGBT groups that provide support for coming out and families of LGBTs.
Unseen-Unheard is available by Creative House Press and at most bookstores.