Mixed Orientation Marriage

Grace & Frankie: Hollywood vs. Reality

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As a straight spouse myself, I’m always interested in how the media depicts our situations.  In most cases I shake my head as I see cartoonish one-sided clichés.  Lately it’s been Christian couples who have vowed to pray away the “same-sex attraction” in a miserable and strained marriage.

So I was a bit nervous about the new Netflix comedy, Grace & Frankie.  The premise of the show involves a double divorce of two closeted men who have had a 20-year affair while married to women.  In the first episode the announce they are leaving their wives for a new life together and hilarity ensues.  Actually most of the humor comes from the unconventional friendship that develops between their two dissimilar wives – The hippie Frankie, played by Lily Tomlin and the former model turned beauty executive played by Jane Fonda.  I genuinely loved the show, the characters are three-dimensional and multi-layered, the acting is brilliant and both straight spouses are extremely funny and sympathetic.  As much as I liked it, I was somewhat frustrated by the sugar-coated Hollywood take on everything.

Since I write about being a straight spouse and have been very public about my story, I’ve encountered literally hundreds of other straight spouses.  I’ve read their stories on private Facebook groups, and listened to harrowing details in my local straight spouse support group. No two mixed orientation marriages are quite the same, and our experiences do fall in a spectrum of outcomes. However, certain patterns are quite common and we often remark that we feel like we married the same person.  There was so much good in Grace & Frankie but I feel the need to break down Hollywood fantasy vs. reality.

Hollywood – Both of the gay men find the courage to finally come out to their wives, and reveal their 20 year-long affair.

Reality – I’d say with full confidence that in probably 80-90% of mixed orientation marriages, the closeted spouse doesn’t disclose anything. Most of us find out the hard way after months or years of searching for evidence.  In some truly horrific cases, a spouse finds out the truth accidentally.

Hollywood – 20 years of infidelity are forgiven rather easily and the relationships remain close and intact

Reality – For most spouses, finding out your partner was having a secret affair with his or her best friend for the past 20 years would be devastating.  The pain and betrayal would cause so much damage, it would be quite difficult to repair any sort of relationship.  A person might question literally everything.  Which business trip was really a liaison?  Which emergency meeting at work was really a hook-up?  How many times did my spouse blatantly lie to my face?  Twenty years of lies and betrayal are hard to forgive regardless of the circumstances.

Hollywood – Both couples have quick and simple divorces and both gay husbands are greatly concerned for the emotional and financial welfare of their wives. 

Reality – How many couples have an “easy” divorce?  Most drag on for several months if not years. Some partners do everything they can to block and stall to delay the inevitable.  Just like any divorce, a straight spouse will endure multiple court cases, shady legal maneuvers, psych evaluations, hiding of assets and vicious custody battles.  Some spouses are completely abandoned when their partner come out.  As soon as they are open about their orientation they want to discard their old identity and life.  Divorces between mixed orientation couples are no different than the general population – many are brutal, long, inequitable and devastating.

Hollywood – Both gay husbands immediately openly declare their sexual orientation to anyone and everyone

Reality – If a person has lived a lie for a couple of decades, they rarely switch to immediately proclaiming the truth.  I’ve known straight spouses who have watched their exes marry a same-sex partner and STILL not label themselves gay, bisexual or even hetero-flexible. They simply insist they’re straight despite their new gay spouse.  It’s baffling but it’s incredibly common.  Some closeted partners are so self-loathing they retreat back into the closet and marry another straight partner.

Hollywood – Both couples are financially well off, and no one suffers economic ruin.

Reality – Most television shows center around wealthy people.  The trials of paying bills on time and making ends meet just isn’t compelling and set designers would rather feature beautiful sprawling homes than sad depressing ones.  Grace & Frankie is no different.  Of course most straight spouses suffer tremendous financial problems from foreclosure to bankruptcy just like any other divorced couple.

Hollywood – Even though both women are in their 70’s there is seemingly a limitless supply of available partners.  Both women have love interests almost immediately.

Reality – As much as loved Frankie & Grace – This is pure fantasy.  

Hollywood – Both husbands admit fault for cheating, lying and destroying their marriage.  

Realities – This one is probably the most egregious.  Although I do know some closeted men and women who do take full accountability for their actions, many more admit no fault whatsoever.  Excuses abound from

  • You knew I was gay the whole time
  • Everyone knew I was gay
  • My orientation had nothing to do with our divorce
  • You made me gay
  • If you were there for me I would have never turned to men/women
  • If you were just more understanding about my cheating we’d still be together
  • It was just sex, it meant nothing, I don’t know why you care so much
  • I’m not gay, I was never gay, I’m just working some things out

Very few people actually admit they have done anything wrong, in a mixed orientation marriage or otherwise.

Hollywood – Both gay husbands seem to have healthy psychological profiles and don’t have any personality disorders

Reality – Most of us learn through therapists that our exes are narcissists. Narcissists rarely take responsibility for their actions and have a tendency to blame everyone around them for whatever damage or chaos they’ve caused.  They lack empathy and view themselves as the ultimate victim.  Narcissists are often charming and charismatic but ultimately they are extremely difficult partners in a marriage. Of course our spouses do NOT represent the larger LGTB community as most LGTB people would never marry a straight person.  Narcissism has nothing to do with sexual orientation but more to do with someone marrying another person under false pretense.  Of course not all closeted men and women who marry straight partners are narcissistic but it is such a common problem that I would be remiss not to mention it here.

There were some things the show got spot on.

Denial & Co-dependence 

One of the wives remains in a deep state of denial despite the obvious evidence.  She accepts her husband is gay but continues to use him as her main source of emotional support.  She acts out in very co-dependent ways and won’t accept that he’s treated her horribly.  This is quite common for many straight spouses as denial is the glue that keeps these marriages together for so long.  It’s difficult to suddenly turn on the light and see reality.

Resentment & Sadness

The show also captured the deep resentment and sadness that both women experience.  In reality it would most likely stretch out much longer and be more intense, but at least the producers and writers allowed both characters to get angry, meltdown, and process real emotions.  The disclosure wasn’t just a punchline, it given real gravitas.

Conflicted emotions in adult children

The adult children of both couples also expressed deeply conflicted feelings towards their fathers.   As adults they still saw that their fathers had both cheated, lied and betrayed their mothers while setting them adrift in their old age.  Despite their love for their dads, they couldn’t ignore their misdeeds.

Realistic gay couple

Another thing I liked about the show is that the gay partners act like any couple, they fight, they get frustrated with each other, they have bad communication skills but ultimately love each other very deeply.  They were a fully dimensional and believable couple.

Most mixed orientation marriages would make extremely boring and sad television shows,  Our lives don’t get nicely wrapped up in cute 30 minute episodes.  Many of us live with emotional damage and shattered trust for years.  With all of this though, I’m glad our stories are getting told at all.   Just a decade ago it would have been unheard of to have a show explore this topic. I hope one day people may wonder why anyone would marry someone to hide the fact that they were gay.  It simply won’t make any sense to do something so against one’s nature.

I laughed and cried while watching Grace and Frankie and I can’t wait for the next season.  Even though it’s largely a best case scenario fairy tale, at least both straight spouses are sympathetic and likable and their struggles and obstacles are given respect.   I’m thankful to both Fonda and Tomlin for having the courage to tackle this subject and to make an entertaining and funny show about it.

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Dear Rick Perry, Being Gay is not a Disease

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Rick Perry, you really don’t understand homosexuality.  To quote you directly.

Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry said. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.

You also advocated for the widely discredited, reparative therapy for homosexuals.  To quote the Southern Poverty Law Center 

Conversion therapy – sometimes known as reparative or “sexual reorientation” therapy – is a dangerous practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally “converting” from gay to straight. Conversion therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal ideation.

You might also think that homosexuality is a disease, but the medical community would strongly disagree with you.  To quote psychiatrytoday.com 

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association’s Board of Trustees removed homosexuality from its official diagnostic manual, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Second Edition (DSM II). The action was taken following a review of the scientific literature and consultation with experts in the field. The experts found that homosexuality does not meet the criteria to be considered a mental illness.

I hate to break this to you but, gay men and women have existed in every culture on the planet, long before a few scant condemnations in the Old and New testaments of the Christian bible  Despite the importance some Christians have placed on the evils of homosexuality, Jesus Christ didn’t think it was worthy of discussion.

Rick, do you ever wonder what happens to gay men and women when they try to force themselves to live a lie?  Do you think that it’s just a matter of self-control?  Do you think once they get married, settle down and have a few kids that those urges and attractions will vanish?

Well Rick, I’ve got news for you.  Most mixed orientation marriages end catastrophically with both partners greatly damaged.  I was in one of those marriages.  I had no idea my husband was gay when I married him.  He was full of so much self-hate about his sexual orientation he thought he could change himself.  He was basically lying to me and everyone else close to him in his life for years.  He tried desperately to change, but realized he couldn’t.  He is gay.  He was gay before we got married, he was gay during our marriage and he’s gay now.  It’s a fundamental part him.  It’s not a weakness of moral character, it’s not a lifestyle choice and it’s not an addiction.  He lived in misery because he was desperately trying to be something he wasn’t.  Now that he is out and proud, he’s a much happier person.

His self-loathing and shame came from the false belief that being gay is a fault or shortcoming.  When I first confronted my ex-husband about his sexual orientation he would have given anything to change it.  Luckily for both of us, he has grown to accept and love himself.  We are both better off now living authentic lives and not trapped in a sham marriage.

There are millions of other straight spouses like me all over the country.  Most of these marriages leave a path of destruction in their wake.  I know women who have buried their husbands with full-blown AIDS, others who have contracted the virus from their spouse. I have heard of suicides and even homicides when these marriages disintegrate  Parents who lose access to their children, and children who now have to split time between two homes.  I’ve met damaged and broken men and women on both sides of these doomed partnerships.  I suffered from a massive depression, I was nearly financially destroyed, I’ve had to accept that I’ll probably never have my own children and at my worst I was suicidal.  It’s hardly been an easy road for me, and I know it’s a daily struggle for many of my straight spouse counterparts.

If our spouses were happier in their own skin, if they could envision a happy and healthy life for themselves, they never would have entered into these fraud marriages.  If you claim to champion family values, you would never encourage a gay person to try to force themselves to be straight.  You would never expect someone to try to change something so fundamental about themselves.  Rick, do you think you could force yourself to live as a gay man?  Do you think you would be happy if every day you had to live a lie?

Your words have consequences.  You lead a state with over 26 million people.  Every time you condemn homosexuality you reinforce the bullying, the discrimination and hate that leads to misery, self-destructive behavior and even suicide.  LGTB youth are more than twice as likely to try to commit suicide than their straight peers.  When you call for medical quackery like reparative therapy you cause more suffering.   Homophobia affects more than just the gay people you target.  The hate splinters out like broken shards of glass cutting into everyone around the intended target.  Relationships between parents and children are destroyed and families are torn apart, and all for something that cannot be changed.  My own life was greatly harmed by this nonsense and I’m not going to be silent when you perpetuate myths and misinformation.

Homosexuality is just another way of being human, and there are a lot of beautiful LGTB human beings in your state.  They just want to live their lives authentically and without shame.  They want to raise families and grow old with their partners.  They just want to live like any other Texan.  You can remain in the dark ages as states around the country legalize same-sex marriage and end discrimination against LGTB people.  I know not every Texan agrees with you.  Hopefully more and more of them will speak out against this bigotry.  Which side of history do you want to be on?

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Straight Spouse: Myth #1 – We Bounce Right Back

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Mixed orientation marriages are fraught with misunderstandings and misconceptions. When disclosure occurs many falsely believe that both partners are immediately healed.  The most common comment I get is:

“So you guys are still friends?”

Second only to:

“Well you’re both doing great, right?”

Everyone wants a happy ending, but these marriages rarely resolve well.  Of course not every mixed orientation marriage ends in divorce, and not every divorce is catastrophic. Regardless, in most cases life doesn’t go back to normal.

A few of my critics have argued that as a straight person I don’t face the same types of challenges my ex would as a newly outed homosexual.  They’re completely correct – I have no idea what it’s like to come out as a gay person after concealing my sexual orientation for most of my life.  I also have no understanding of what it might be like to grow up as a gay child, or to have my family reject me because of my sexual orientation.

The flip side of the dilemma is of course, that a gay person doesn’t know what it’s like to live as a straight spouse.  Although our marriages run the spectrum, for many of us deception, infidelity and betrayal defined our partnerships.  Taking the gay issue out of the equation, years of lies and cheating cause severe damage for anyone of any orientation.  Our partner’s sexual orientation disclosure creates causes more obstacles.

When do we tell our children? – Will they be ridiculed because of it?  Will they face depression or anger? Will the disclosure cause friction between our children and our former spouse?  If the truth is accidentally revealed will our children get angry with us for hiding the truth?  Some parents choose to keep this part of their marriage secret for years.  To say that this is a difficult burden would be an enormous understatement.

What do we tell friends, family and co-workers?  – Ultimately the reasons for our divorces are no one’s business.  What happens though, is if we don’t give people a reason, they might invent one.  I had to deal with so many rumors and outright lies after my marriage fell apart.  Some criticized me for publicly outing my ex-husband on social media, even though my ex-husband and I had both agreed that for us it was the best way to handle it.  Many straight spouses enter into a closet that our spouses left, some hiding the truth for decades.

Have I been exposed to HIV? – Even though HIV isn’t the automatic death sentences it once was, people are still dying from AIDS.  Of course HIV exposure is a risk with any cheating spouse, but the chances of infection are higher if the spouse is engaging in high risk behavior.  I’ve met more than one woman who have recently buried their spouses from full-blown AIDS.  Some extremely unfortunate partners have contracted the virus from a cheating spouse.

How do we live down the stigma? – Just as LGTBQ people have to deal with prejudices and hatred so do straight spouses.  I’ve gotten comments such as:

  • You had to have known he was gay
  • You turned him gay – this one happens more than you would think, I even once got it from an openly gay man.  I wish i had the power to change a person’s sexual orientation but that’s not a super power I posses.
  • There’s something wrong with you, and that’s why you married a gay man
  • You’re gay yourself
  • You’re sexually repressed, frigid or hate sex
  • Your ex is bisexual, no one is gay or straight everyone is bisexual – the term is sexual fluidity and I respectfully disagree with their opinion about human sexuality.
  • Your poor husband, that must have been so awful for him – I would never deny that it was easy for my ex, but it’s really the worst thing to say to me right off the bat
  • Maybe your ex is just using it as an excuse – Are you sure he’s gay?
  • Gay people are disgusting, evil and against God – people who make comments like these usually expect me to chime in.

Severely damaged sexuality – There is no way to sugarcoat this one.  Most straight spouses experience major problems with their own sexuality and self-esteem.  It’s soul crushing to discover that the person you thought was the love of your life had little to no sexual attraction to you.  To act as if we can simply brush this off and go back to a normal life is naive at best.  Of course we do heal and move on with our lives but the negative sexual aspect of our marriages cannot be denied.

It’s not easy to date again – That’s true of any divorced person especially past the age of 35.  I have no idea how difficult it is for gay men and women in the dating scene.  I would never even try to speculate at the specific challenges LGTBQ men and women face every day.  I just know my own experience has been bleak.  I’m nearly five years out and have had nothing even close to a normal relationship.  I’m somewhat isolated in my job, I’m over 35, I live in a big city, I have massive trust issues and difficulty bonding – whatever the reason I’m perpetually alone.

Our unique circumstances separate us from the general divorced population.  We have a suicide rate that’s over three times as high as people going through a typical divorce. Anecdotally I’ve found most of us have problems with bonding and trust and many of us have difficulty forming intimate relationships.

I’m not writing this to discourage straight spouses.  I just want to counter some of the biggest misconceptions about our experiences.  These marriages cause extreme damage to both partners.  Any privilege we have as straight people in a homophobic society doesn’t equal the destruction to our self-esteem, sexuality, trust and shattered families.  It’s not easy for us, or our closeted gay partners.  Despite the estimated 2 million people affected, the straight spouse community is largely hidden and underground.  Many of us suffer in isolation without knowledge that there are so many others.

I have nothing but love and empathy for LGTBQ people, and I hope that one day no LGTBQ person will enter into a fraudulent marriage.  If two people want to openly forge a mixed orientation marriage knowing the truth, that’s something else entirely.  Marriages like mine based on lies, are not victimless situations.  I will continue to write about being a straight spouse and be an advocate for our community until this finally stops being a problem.  I have tremendous hope for future generations.  LGTBQ people will be able to marry and live whomever they want.  Until then I will share the brutal realities in the hopes that truth will set us free.

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Dating Online: I am a Closet Case Magnet!

A wall closet in a residential house in the Un...

A wall closet in a residential house in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have horrible and lingering doubts about if I will ever have a significant relationship with a heterosexual man.  I know this is paranoid thinking, but is it? I don’t know or meet a lot of age appropriate men that I would want to date in my social or professional circles.  So like a lot of people in my situation I turned to online dating.  Match.com, OKCupid and eHarmony, and I hate to admit it but…..I seem to be a closet case magnet.  Something about me must attract men who are not quite sure or their sexual orientation, desperate to cover it up.  Is it my take no prisoners personality?  My blonde hair?  My obnoxious stage persona?  I have no idea. So far I have been extremely passive on the sites, I usually don’t go out looking for men, instead I wait for the men to come to me.  I get anywhere from 1-10 emails a day.  Out of the men that have emailed me or “winked” at me I have seen the following….. Photos of them dressed in the following

  • A feather boa
  • A tiara
  • A skirt or dress
  • Women’s wigs
  • Pink Leotard – It was a ballroom dancing photo and he looked quite happy wearing it.

Of course there is nothing wrong with a man who wears pink, or dons a tiara as a joke, and many cross dressers are actually straight men.  But when a profile looks and reads like a gay man’s profile – that’s a red flag. My favorite profile is another man’s description of himself (I edited it a touch to protect his identity)

I love watching old movie classics, listening to music and singing (especially Nat King Cole)good conversations about “great” literature (Les Miserables, Sister Carrie, Anna Karenina and modern history,dining out, wine tastings, going for long walks in Central Park, doing impersonations, watching plays (I have acted off-broadway), learning historical trivia & sharing it, learning languages, going shopping with a date and helping her select and buy a new dress (and all she needs to wear with it)!!
I wanted to grab this man by both shoulders, look him directly in his eyes and say – “You’re GAY!  You know you’re gay.  You’ve probably known since you were very young that you like other boys.  Maybe you think you can run from it, hide it or suffocate those feelings.  But I KNOW DEEP IN MY HEART, that you will be so much happier when you just accept who you are and celebrate it.  Stop trying to live a lie and start living!”
And then today there was this, the man only had two photos of himself and this was one of them.
Nothing gay about a unicorn pissing a  rainbow with a hot male human ass?  I think he thought it was funny, but it just sent a huge mixed message.
Online dating seems to attract men who have had problems dating in real life.  I would be the amount of closeted homosexuals on dating websites is actually higher than the general population.  Out of frustration and a deep desire to live as someone they’re not, they turn to the internet to order up a girlfriend or a bride.  Despite their attempts to mask their true sexual orientation, it’s usually quite apparent.  Of course there is a spectrum, and they could be bisexual or just very feminine men, but in most cases I would suspect these guys are just kidding themselves.
I got stuck on an actual date with a man who had claimed he was 43 on his profile only to admit he was 51 on our date.  He had every stereotypical mannerism of a gay man, but he really convinced me of his inner self loathing when he made a homophobic remark.  One of the ways I pay my rent is by working as a face and body painter. He wanted to see some photos of my work on my phone.   When he got to one of a gay man he said, “That’s gross.  I don’t like that design.  He looks ridiculous”  I had shown that same photo to countless people and never had that reaction.  It was completely clear to me he really hated himself, and was just projecting his own self-loathing onto another human being.  Online dating isn’t going to fix anyone’s sexual orientation.   I wish these men would learn to love themselves as they are, and embrace their homosexuality.  Until then I’ll avoid the boa wearers, the men who claim their love for Madonna, and the self-loathing homophobes.
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