First, breathe. OurPath is here to help, and you will be OK.
The disclosure or discovery that a partner is LGBT+ is often a very confusing and highly emotional experience. For the Straight Partner or Partner of a Trans Person, it is often as if their world has been turned upside down, and the experience can be even more complex if they have children with their LGBT+ partner. There is no rule book for the Straight Partner experience, and no one path works for everyone. Getting support is a good first step. OurPath can provide peer Support Contacts and virtual support meetings, as well as other resources. In addition to the support OurPath offers, individual and/or couple’s therapy with a competent therapist is a good place to get support.
OurPath does not condone careless disclosure or “outing,” (publicly disclosing an LGBT+ Partner’s sexual orientation or gender identity before they are ready), especially for malicious or spiteful reasons. The repercussions of outing can be traumatic for entire families, including children, and can end up backfiring, with negative consequences for all involved. OurPath is here to help you find ways to cope constructively with your anger. Outing creates more problems than it solves.
That said, Straight Partners and Partners of Trans People need, deserve and have a right to support from others. The closet is an isolating and traumatic place, and it is not healthy to be in there alone, especially when the closet you are in is someone else’s. Support is critical to the mental and emotional well-being of anyone navigating a major change in their relationship like this. In order to get that necessary support, Straight Partners and Partners of Trans People must be able to reach out to someone. We recommend negotiating with your LGBT+ Partner (if possible) to tell a small circle of agreed upon confidants: a counselor, therapist or spiritual leader, and a close friend or a family member.
The question of disclosing to family or a wider community invites other negotiations. Straight Partners may choose to remain in the closet with their LGBT+ Partner for a time while the questions of whom to tell and how to tell them are considered by the couple. Coming out to any children, family, friends, faith communities and colleagues are different processes and the consequences of coming out publicly (family, social, communal, financial, emotional) must be weighed carefully.
Ideally, a couple will navigate this coming out process as a team. But that is not always possible. Disclosing your partner’s LGBT+ status is even more complicated if your LGBT+ Partner is not willing to negotiate in good faith, is hostile to the Straight Partner’s need for support, if there is abuse, (physical or psychological), gaslighting, trauma or infidelity that threatens the health of you or your family or threatens to expose the LGBT+ in some unflattering way. In these cases, Straight Partners and Partners of Trans People need to make their own decisions about who to tell in order to get the necessary guidance and support they need to protect themselves and their families. But be wary of any potential legal ramifications of public disclosures.
Over the longer term, many Straight Partners and Partners of Trans People have intense and deeply personal stories that need and deserve telling in a larger context once time and distance have brought new perspectives to their experiences. Just as every LGBT+ Partner has a story, every Straight Partner or Partner of a Trans Person has a story. We all get to decide to whom we tell our own stories and when. In telling our stories, we heal each other. Check out the OurVoices Podcast to hear more Straight Partners’ and Partners of Trans Peoples’ stories.
While the last few years have seen a dramatic rise in people identifying as transgender or nonbinary (identifying as neither male nor female), the majority of trans people who transition at midlife are MtF (male to female). When a transgender person transitions at midlife, often it is after marriage or partnership and families have been formed. This transition has profound impacts on the Partner of the trans person and on any children they may have. The overwhelming majority of Partners of Trans People that OurPath supports are straight women whose spouses have transitioned or are transitioning from men to trans-women. However, OurPath also supports men whose spouses are transitioning from women to trans-men.
When a partner transitions genders, everyone in the family is impacted. In order for the entire family to find a healthy new normal, the Partner of the Trans Person needs a neutral and supportive space to explore their own complex and shifting emotions regarding their partner’s ongoing transition. Questions of identity and sexuality will come up for the PTP. They are attempting to integrate their trans partner’s new gender identity, behaviors and appearance into their marriage, family and future. These changes occur on a continual basis, and the Partner of the trans person needs a non-judgmental space to process and adjust to these changes, and explore all the experiences and emotions of the transition process. Not all partnerships survive a gender transition, although some do. OurPath is here to support Partners of Trans People no matter what happens in their relationship, and we have resources specifically geared toward Partners of Trans People.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) is a term that dates back to at least 1990. According to the National Institutes of Health, the acronym MSM (and more recently, WSW, or women who have sex with women), was used in medical research to get around the problem that the stigma associated with AIDS created in getting accurate information. The AIDS stigma was unfairly attached to gay men and lesbians and that association impeded accurate data gathering, which further impeded getting medical assistance to those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Today the terms are controversial because they imply a rejection of a gay or lesbian identity (and the broader LGBT+ community) by the person engaging in the same sex sexual behavior.
Still more controversially, other professionals argue that men can have sex with men (or WSW) and still identify as straight or heterosexual. They believe men are more sexually fluid than our culture acknowledges. Whether or not this theory is accurate, this can be very confusing for the Straight Partner who is trying to understand the implications of their partner’s same-sex sexual behavior for their own relationship.
While labels and identities are still in flux, focus on behavior. Is there still a healthy intimate connection between both partners in the relationship? If yes, then the partner acting on same-sex attraction may indeed be bi-sexual. If no, then it is possible the non-straight partner is not heterosexual. Either way, it may be time to explore these issues more deeply in a therapeutic setting.
In brief: kindly, truthfully, respectfully, and transparently. According to the Pew Research Center, “For lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people, realizing their sexual orientation or gender identity and sharing that information with family and friends is often a gradual process that can unfold over a series of years.” It is important to remember that the years of your life it takes you to come to terms with your sexuality are also years of your partner’s life. You may have been grappling with your sexual/gender identity for weeks, months, or years; if you have not disclosed this to your partner, they have not had nearly as long to come to terms with your sexuality as you have. All the burden, pressure and fear you may have felt while you were “in the closet” is immediately transferred to your partner upon disclosure, and they will need time and space to process this information, what it means about their past history with you, your family, your children, and what it means for the future of the relationship. The more compassion, respect and honesty you can bring to these ongoing conversations, the better for all involved. And the sooner you are able to make this disclosure, the sooner everyone in the family can live honest, authentic lives as all people deserve.
Please refer to our Resources for the LGBT+ Partner for our comprehensive Guide to Coming as LGB to Your Spouse or Partner and our Guide to Coming Out as Transgender to Your Spouse or Partner for more information.
Maybe. The most current research indicates that sexual orientation is determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Many children do question their own sexual orientation or gender identity after the disclosure of a parent. For this reason, how the Straight Partner or Partner of a Trans Person talks about the LGBT+ Partner will have lasting impacts on any children that may be LGBT+ themselves. Be supportive of your child no matter what their sexual identity turns out to be. For a child who is questioning, therapy may be a good option to help them explore their feelings. Teaching our children to be true to who they are is one of the most important gifts that we can give them.
One parent is never responsible for or able to control the relationship of children with their other parent. But according to the Institute for Family Studies, parental conflict is harmful to children, and high conflict divorce is toxic for children. For that reason, it is important that Straight Partners or Partners of Trans People encourage a continued good relationship with the LGBT+ parent, especially in divorce cases. This is challenging at a time when the Sp/PTP may be grieving and angry. It is one of the most difficult tasks of parenting to set aside personal feelings of hurt and betrayal to encourage a healthy relationship with all parents, but if it can be done, kids fare better.
Do your best to resist the urge to use the children as “go-betweens” for yourself and your partner/ex-partner or vent to your children about their other parent. Allow children to establish their own relationship with their other parent. Situations where the children’s health and well being are in jeopardy are obvious exceptions, and legal guidance on managing high conflict divorce is recommended.
Colage.org is a national organization that supports people with one or more LGBT+ caregivers or parents. They have a variety of online support groups as well as local chapters and peer pen pals.
We highly recommend the book The Jigsaw Jungle, by Straight Partner Kristin Levine. It is a middle grades book that features a 12-year-old girl whose father comes out as gay.
Children are perceptive. They pick up on what’s happening in a home, even if they don’t know the specifics. Family secrets often have negative impacts on children into their adult lives. In general, transparency and truth are always preferable to secrets and hidden truths. Indeed, many of our LGBT+ Partners felt compelled to maintain their true sexual orientations or identities as secrets.
If the SP/PTP and the LGBT+ Partner are amicable co-parents, telling the kids together, as a family, in age-appropriate language, is often best. The focus of both parents can then be on the children and their responses, and both parents can be ready to provide any emotional reassurances needed. Both parents should emphasize that no matter what effect disclosure has on the marriage, they will still have two parents who love and care for them. Parents who have been through this report that their best results have come from stating the facts simply and honestly, and then allowing the children to ask questions for clarification as needed. Planning the disclosure in advance or with a therapist can help prepare you for possible questions the children might ask and could allow you to practice the discussion to make it more comfortable. Most children are more concerned with what the disclosure means to them and where they will live, rather than the fact that Daddy is gay or trans, that or Mommy is lesbian. Be prepared to discuss their concerns. Children often adjust quite well to having an LGBT+ parent. The key is how their parents treat each other.
It is not always possible for disclosure to be a team effort. If the LGBT+ Partner is still closeted, in denial, or unwilling to come out to the children, this creates distress for the Straight Partner or Partner of a Trans Person who struggles with how much and when to disclose to the children. In general, the minimum amount of need-to-know information that gives children enough of the truth to feel grounded in reality, is recommended. Tread carefully here. Disclosing LGBT+ status to children, when the other parent is not out, can create other complications. Working through this with a therapist or family counselor can be helpful.