Centering the straight spouse and the route to self
On their wedding night, Kylie’s husband came out to her as bisexual. (He now identifies as gay.) Six months later, as they were moving into a new apartment, he confessed he’d been cheating on her with men. So they did what many devout Mormon couples would do and called their bishop. They turned to that local Church authority even though, since they were so new to the neighborhood, they hadn’t even met him. Mormons are trained to follow the rule book.
For generations, men who told their bishops about their ‘struggle with same-sex attraction’ were urged to get married right away and never tell anyone, certainly not their future wives. It’s a recipe for years of misery and heartbreak, and not everyone makes it out alive. Fortunately, there are now countless stories of gay men’s journeys to self, how they worked their way out of the closet and into authentic lives.
But their straight wives who get their hearts broken also have to start new lives. That’s made harder not just because the arc of progress is less clear but also because of the passive role society casts women into.
Kylie’s story was part of a special episode of the Husband-in-Law podcast, which Jessica Frew (pictured above) hosts with her gay ex-husband Steve and straight husband Matt. (Jessica is also hosting a free online workshop on this topic on Wednesday, January 19 at 7p MT. Here’s how she described it: “Do you feel left behind and alone while your partner/ex is riding the rainbow? They are flying that flag loud and proud while you are feeling unseen, unheard and unsure of where to go from here.” Registration here)
Coming out stories have a familiar feel-good arc, but I don’t think that’s the only reason straight wives’ stories are overlooked. Feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray posits that Western society tends to view women as commodities and not as active subjects. (This would also help explain why most mixed orientation marriages seem to be a gay man and straight woman: Unmarried women are seen as unwanted passive goods while unmarried men are pressured to marry.)
Irigaray’s research showed that, when men and women were asked to make up sentences, both avoided using ‘she’ as the active subject of a sentence. (Actually, the word was ‘elle.’ She worked in French.)
Crafting a better life requires you to be an active subject. It’s essential to what Jessica calls throwing out the manual. To recognize your ability to set your own rules you have to recognize yourself as an active subject. This was called “owning your agency” on a Questions from the Closet podcast featuring Jessica. I’ve been thinking of it as a self-realized self.
The journey of how to get to a self-realized self starts with self-recognition. The essential lesson is that no one owns you, and you don’t own anyone, Jessica explains. That lets Jessica manage as an active Latter-day Saint who can co-parent joyfully with a man now outside the Church.
A self-realized self is essential to having healthy relationships. After three years, a couple babies, and many cheating incidents, Kylie and her spouse ended the marriage. They’ve both left the Church and fel better about their lives. Kylie describes realizing that she had three distinct roles with him: the best friend, the ex, the baby mama, and that it was up to her to figure out what she wanted from each.
‘Follow the path,’ we’re taught as Mormons. Sometimes it’s only when that’s impossible that we ask a better question, one only a self-realized self can ask ‘how do I proceed?’
“I feel like I’ve gotten to know myself better,” another woman (also named Kylie) tells Jessica, describing what it takes to manage a relationship with her ex. That’s an accomplishment of the self-realized self.
The reward is love: authentic relationships with yourself and others.
[Update Jan 19: I edited this slightly and added a quote]
PS: Don’t forget to vote for the Brodie Awards (exMo books, podcasts and more). Polls remain open until Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 10:00 a.m. Switzerland time.