Christine Grimaldi visited a support group for the straight spouses of formerly closeted gays and lesbians:
Straight spouses are largely absent from the national conversation about gay marriage and the modern family. Certainly, it’s easier to talk about two moms or two dads who have been together from the start than to talk about why Mom left Dad for another woman, or why Dad left Mom for another man. (Forget about it if Mom or Dad is elsewhere on the sexuality and/or gender spectrum.) But we need to include straight spouses in that conversation, because as tolerance for LGBTQ people spreads throughout the culture, more closeted spouses will undoubtedly come out. While for them, the light beyond those doors can be liberating, for the straight partners stumbling out behind them, it can be quite harsh.
The Straight Spouse Network is attempting to kick-start the discussion by creating a safe place for straight spouses to share their stories.
Grimaldi also talks with psychotherapist Kimberly Brooks Mazella, who treats straight spouses:
“Straight spouses are often struggling with competing emotional experiences—their own feelings of grief and loss, anger at the gay spouse’s betrayal, and compassion for their partner’s own painful journey,” she says. Empathy for gay spouses is not unusual among the straight spouse community. Degrees vary based on personal experience, as in any divorce. But ask a straight spouse, any straight spouse, what awaits him or her on the other side of the closet door. The most common answer is a deep sense of isolation.
“Most [straight] spouses endure their pain in silence on their side of the closet, while their gay, lesbian and bisexual partners find support from their respective communities,” SSN founder Amity Pierce Buxton wrote in her 1991 book The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families. From her years treating straight spouses, Mazella adds a few more factors to the mix. The straight spouse can be blamed as complicit in the closet. A gay spouse’s infidelity can be viewed as an expression of his or her true self instead of an act of unfaithfulness. “How did you not know?” is a common question. There are those who are dismissive of the entire marriage, as Mazella encountered. “People said to me, ‘Oh, it wasn’t really a marriage anyway,’ ” she says.