Extend the Outrage
BY Amity P. Buxton
May 12 2009 12:00 AM ET
As long as gay husbands stay carefully closeted and deny they are gay -- even if their after-hours gay-related activities or same-sex relationships are sighted -- their wives remain in the dark, especially if they are preoccupied with raising their children. Some may become suspicious, but typically continue to trust, having no reason to think their husbands wouldn't be the straight persons they present to them, their family, and the community. Some also fear what people would think or say if the men turned out to be gay, given prevalent stigmatization, stereotyping, and homophobia. Yes, many people, gay and straight alike, refuse to believe that "the wife didn't know." But based on the 25,000-plus spouses with whom I have been in contact since 1986, most have no clue, and if someone raises the possibility, many dismiss it. "After all, he married me and we have children."
As the politicians in the film come out of hiding, they feel liberated. Former governor McGreevey shares his happiness from being totally immersed in and empowered by the truth. Meanwhile, his former wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, in her short segment, speaks of the destruction of her and her daughter's lives that followed his truth-telling. Her words echo those spoken by the tens of thousands of straight spouses who seek help from the Straight Spouse Network after their husbands or wives come out or are found out. Once they find out the truth about their mates, their own identity, integrity, and belief system are shattered. Trust, hope, and a sense of reality disappear. At this point in the marital relationship, the tables turn. While the gay spouses, freed from guilt, shame, and fear, no longer fear "outing," their straight partners find themselves in the closet, blaming themselves, hurt and fearful as they deal with a lie they didn't know they were living, one that torpedoes their lives as they believed them to be. As their gay partners move on to a fulfilled, truthful life, they go through their own struggle to find whatever truth is buried in the leftover debris.
The straight spouses of the politicians in Outrage may be a side story in the film, but their experience is just as devastating on a personal level as the effect of the politicians' hypocrisy is on their fellow gay men and lesbians and their constituents -- and is just as related to the need for the acceptance and equality of gay people. The struggle of straight wives as they try to rebuild their destroyed self-concept, moral compass, and assumptions about gender, sex, marriage, and their future mirrors that of their partners. However, their confusion and pain is not caused by their own moral and sexual dilemma, but rather by their husband's hiding of identity and belief system in the face of the women's trust, the core of a marital relationship. At the same time, wives fear rejection by friends and family, fellow workers, community members, and fellow congregants in their churches, temples, or mosques -- as their husbands did. If they dare tell anyone, the typical responses either minimize their issues or question why they didn't know their mates were gay. Friends, family members, and professionals, including therapists and clergy, do not understand their unique issues. As a result, many go back into their spouses' closet to cope alone Some seek help and find the sole support system available to them in the Straight Spouse Network. Even so, they are isolated locally, coping with complex concerns by themselves. Isolated, they remain invisible, their voices unheard, while their husbands find not only support to heal but also venues in which to express their truth.