I’ve just been reading a book titled The Other Side of the Closet. It’s a discussion of what often happens when a gay / bisexual spouse comes out of the closet–and the straight spouse (and children) may find themselves pushed in!
Let me say right at the beginning that I am very supportive of equal rights for members of the GLBT community. I have heard too many stories from people who knew they were “different” from a very early age (5 or 6) to believe that homosexuality is a choice…and I wonder who would “choose” to live in such a way as to be constantly demeaned, attacked, denigrated…
Having said that, though, I’ve come to a new realization and understanding that there’s a hidden challenge..a part of the process that sometimes makes victims of others innocently involved. I believe that those tensions and challenges can be worked through–but not without difficulty and heartache. The largest percentages of marriages with mixed sexual orientation partners seem to end in divorce, but I did find some hope in this book that it may be possible to work through the challenges faced when one partner comes out.
When GLBT individuals come out, there’s often a sense of relief and freedom–an acknowledgement that they are no longer living a lie. But for the straight spouse, there can be a new sense of imprisonment and concern. Who knows about the change? Who needs to know? What will the ramifications be?
So much of society seems to be non-supportive just at a time when the entire family needs to be upheld–the GLBT partner in dealing with what it means to be authentically themselves…and the straight spouse at figuring out who they are and–with their children, what this means to the relationship. To find that someone you thought you knew intimately has hidden a significant part of themselves from you can raise many questions that need to be carefully worked through.
Faith communities can help or hinder this process. My hope and prayer would be that they help, but far too often we tend to draw rigid lines that reflect our own personal understandings and that create more hurt than healing. If only we could live by what one author refers to as the “Rule of Love.”
The Rule of Love goes back at least as far as the fourth century and probably before then. It is essentially this: if a passage in Scripture appears to contradict the essence of Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength or to love our neighbor as ourselves, then the passage, or our interpretation of it, must be held suspect. (Eric Elnes, Phoenix Affirmations, p. 20)
That doesn’t mean that we’re all going to suddenly agree with each other or all have the same understanding. But living by that Rule could, I believe, help bring healing to fractured relationships, help individuals see their own worth, help us learn to value (not just tolerate) the diversity in our creation as beings created in God’s image.
While we celebrate–rightfully–the new possibilities of authenticity that coming out of the closet brings for members of the GLBT community, I would simply suggest that we be careful in our words and actions that we not force straight spouses into the closet. Both need to be free to discover who they are and how they relate…