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Thursday, May 14, 2009


Outrage, the recently release documentary by Kirby Dick about the outing of closeted gay politicians, is getting rave reviews, for its documentation of the hypocrisy of closeted gay politicians who hew a "straight" line to the point of denying their fellow gays equality and justice and then engage in double talk when found out or express relief when they finally own up to the truth. The film is on target with its message that America is not well served by politicians who seek power and forget the truth of who they are and that all Americans would fare better if gay and lesbian persons were accepted in their own right as decent, honest human beings and elected for their ability to serve the common good.

However, the missing and important sidebar story shown throughout the film is one that bears further exploration: the painful impact on the straight wives of these closeted gay politicians when they discover they were unknowingly in their husband's closet. These women are not isolated cases. They are among the nearly 2 million straight spouses from every walk of life in the United States who were or are married to gay and lesbian partners. The frozen faces, confusion, and pain we see on screen is evidence of the harm done to straight spouses, too, when gay people pretend to be straight in heterosexual marriages. Their plight, too, calls for outrage and action.

"At the time a heterosexually married gay person comes out, there is a huge difference between his or her experience and that of the straight partner," says Amity P. Buxton, author of The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families. "In the film, former New Jersey Governor McGreevey who finally declared himself a gay American on national television exudes happiness from having his burden lifted and now being totally immersed in and empowered by his own truth, while, his former wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, describes the destruction she and her daughter experienced after he disclosed to her. Her words echo those of the tens of thousands of straight spouses who seek help from the Straight Spouse Network after they discover their husbands or wives are gay or lesbian. The realization that they have been living someone else's lie without knowing it torpedoes their lives, as they believed them to be. Yet their trauma in the wake of their partners' revelation is not recognized or understood."

The film's exposure of harm done by closeted gay politicians is a rallying cry for outrage and activism against hypocrisy in government. "May it also be a wake up call to increase awareness of the harmful effects on straight women and men of gay men or lesbians who are closeted in marriages in communities across the country, "says Kathy Callori, Executive Director of the Straight Spouse Network.” They remain an invisible minority, first hidden in their partners' closet and then overlooked in the excitement of their partners' disclosure. As their gay and lesbian mates move on to fulfilled, truthful lives, the straight spouses suffer their own struggle to find whatever truth can be found in the leftover debris."

Despite recent increases in the percentage of Americans who accept gay persons, many gay men and lesbians continue to deny their orientation and marry straight persons as the "right thing to do." Most eventually come out, as documented by the more than the hundred-plus straight wives and husbands who contact the Straight Spouse Network every month. Their plight is the news between the lines of the film, thanks to the shots of the wives involved. They are unintended victims of the very homophobia and heterosexism that caused their partners to deny and hide who they were. As second-level casualties of antigay attitudes and pro-straight expectations, they desperately need help to untangle the lies they were living unknowingly so they can rediscover their own identity, integrity and belief system so they can stabilize their families devastated by the disclosure. They can find help through the Straight Spouse Network at Their experience will keep being repeated in other marriages until we change the underlying cause by the social action called for in the film.

The most effective action to be taken to change antigay stereotypes and mindsets is, as Harvey Milk's words say at the end of the film, that gay men and lesbians become open about who they are to family, friends, workplace, and community. Personal truth telling will shatter stereotypical assumptions, antigay attitudes, and heterosexist paradigms. The more people who understand and interact with gay people who are honest about who they are, the more likely all-gay individuals will be accepted on their own merits. The long-term result will be more honest leadership at state and national levels and more responsible formation of couple relationships. Fewer families will be devastated by the disclosure of a spouse and parent. There will be fewer divorces. The Straight Spouse Network can go out of business. Until then, the Network will keep helping spouses and their families and educating the larger community about the imperative to achieve equality and social justice for the greater good of the greater number of Americans.


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