This blog is from the heart, informed by having been married to a closeted gay man and understanding how that experience changed the trajectory of my life, both as a woman and as a psychotherapist. Please add to the conversation and "Follow" if you're so inclined; all voices are welcome!

Friday, April 12, 2019

I carry the trauma of a thousand women

“I carry the trauma of a thousand women”

That phrase appeared in my head this morning as I was doing a yin yoga class. The instructor, a wise and talented friend and therapy colleague, was talking about protection and vulnerability. As I breathed into the pose, shoulder blades “sliding down my back,” those words emerged as if watching them being typed onto a screen:

 I carry…the trauma…of…a thousand...women.

As a therapist, I’ve been a container for trauma for over thirty years. And as a straight spouse whose focus is helping other straight spouses, the trauma of my former husband – a man I loved dearly – coming out as a gay man gets mixed in the emotional soup. 

There are times when I am so triggered that I want to scream. Not triggered by my clients and fellow straight spouses so much, but rather on their behalf, particularly when talking to people who don’t/won’t/can’t understand the straight spouse experience. “NO!” I say, “It is NOT just like other divorces!” The invalidation is a dull knife to the heart; not a clean incision, but rather a painful jab jab jab

**Note: Before I continue, let me make clear my compassion for the LGBT spouse’s experience, which, although differently painful, is just as real. In this moment, though, I need to write about me. And Us. The “left-behind spouses,” as one divorce attorney very indelicately put it.

Even though I’m thirty years out and happily remarried, I can return to my own despair in an instant. That exact moment that I knew…which was decades beyond when he knew. The smirking faces of people out in public, like old girlfriends and other gay men. Crying quietly in bed beside him as the minutes to our inevitable separation ticked away. The nights of waking up to find myself wandering around my apartment, looking for him, then remembering he was gone.  

But every day, I carry the trauma of a thousand women. And men. The broken-hearted spouses in my office. The thousands of straight spouses on Facebook with our many secret groups and private rooms. The people who email me, usually starting with “I just discovered…”

I carry the trauma of a thousand women, just as they carry each other’s. 

And mine. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Bechdel

Days and days and days
That's how it happens 

Days and days and days

Made of lunches

And car rides 
And shirts and socks
And grades 
And piano 
And no one clocks 
the day you disappear

Days and days and days 

That's how it happens
Days and days and days
Made of posing, and bragging, and fits of rage
And boys – my God, some of them underage!
And, oh, how did it all happen here?

That's how it happens
Made of bargains I made because I thought
As a wife I was meant to,
And now my life is shattered and made bare.
Days and days and days and days
And days and days and days.

Welcome to our house on Maple Avenue. See how we polish and we shine.
We rearrange and realign.
Everything is balanced and serene.
Like chaos never happens if it's never seen.
               - "Days and Days" from Fun Home: The Musical (sung by Helen)

Fun Home is a musical based on Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir of the same name. The musical tells the tale of Alison's sexual awakening as a lesbian woman and her conflicted relationship with her closeted gay father, Bruce, who took his own life four months after she came out. Fun Home was nominated for twelve Tony Awards in 2015 and won five, including Best Musical.

When Amie Shea of the Gay Dad Project asked me to contribute a Mother's Day blog post, I wanted to speak about the "straight spouse" experience from a different perspective, with a fresh voice. As a psychotherapist, I've seen any number of mothers whose husbands either came out as -- or were discovered to be -- gay. And as a member/facilitator of multiple private online groups, I've read hundreds of stories, and have shared my own. All different...and all the same. And too often only heard by other straight spouses. Heartbreak in an echo chamber.

But then, as I was contemplating writing this blog post, I saw Fun Home twice in the same week. (Yes, it's that good!)  Alison Bechdel's book came to life on stage, giving voice to not only Alison and her gay father, but also her mother Helen. It's one of the few times that the straight spouse has been an important part of the narrative.

Jesse Green, the theater critic for New York magazine, described Helen's song "Days and Days" (partial lyrics above) as "murmurously devastating." 

Helen, like most straight spouses, quietly implodes behind the scenes. The closeted gay husband/father and the lesbian daughter are the main characters, and therefore their struggles are front and center. This particular story is, after all, written from the daughter's perspective about her own sexuality and her father's turmoil about his.

Oh, but Helen. My eyes were on Helen throughout the show. At one point in the song she appears physically broken, as if she finally gives in to the weight of the secret and the betrayal and the deceit. Gives in to the devastating realization that all the years spent over-functioning and holding the family together were for naught. Gives in to the agonizing possibility that her best years are gone, offered up to someone who may or may not have ever truly loved her. 

I want to know what's true
Dig deep into who
And what and why and when
Until now gives way to then...
               - "Helen's Etude" from Fun Home: The Musical (sung by Alison)

Alison Bechdel says of her mother, "Like Odysseus' faithful Penelope, my mother kept the household going for twenty years with a more or less absent husband." Helen was a devout Catholic who not only worked and pursued a Master's degree, but also raised three children while coping with a husband who had sexual affairs with multiple men, both before and during their marriage. He was given to fits of unprovoked rage. He also brought young men around to the house and was arrested for plying an underage male with alcohol. On one occasion he brought home body lice. (None of these are uncommon events in the straight spouse experience, by the way. The trauma is about so much more than just a husband coming out.)

In her memoir, Alison describes a photograph of her mother as of a woman whose "luminous face has gone dull." In another photograph, her mother is curled up in a chair, "literally holding herself together." Murmurous devastation.

Another straight spouse story. All different. All the same.

Except for this unexpected twist.

While doing research for this blog, I came across the real Helen Bechdel's obituary from 2013. I was struck by the photo of this beautiful woman, with compassionate dark eyes and a Mona Lisa smile. Here are a few lines from her obituary:

"Helen was a devoted mother, a gracious hostess, a superb cook, and a consummate housekeeper. And she managed all these things with apparent effortlessness while working full time and pursuing her creative interests with both passion and discipline."

While living in New York City, Helen "attended as many plays, operas, poetry readings, concerts, and jazz performances as was humanly possible."

She was "a gifted pianist" and had "a passion for opera."

"For many summers, Helen was involved with the Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall, either performing or working on costumes— often both."

"She delighted in her grandchildren."

In other words, Helen was so much more than a woman bowed by her husband's closeted homosexuality, infidelity, and suicide. She both survived and thrived. She was actively engaged with the world. She didn't curl up and die, as much as she may have wanted to.

This is the part of the straight spouse story that doesn't get told nearly enough. Stories like Helen Bechdel's. Straight spouses are brave, out of necessity if nothing else. We are resilient. We keep functioning when NOT functioning would be so much easier. We come through the fire that much stronger. Murmurous devastation gives way to intrepid determination. 

So Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. Bechdel. And to all the rest of you incredible women who are not defined simply by being a straight spouse. You know who you are...and what you're made of.  

I know you.
I know you. 
I know you.
               - "Ring of Keys" from Fun Home: The Musical (sung by Alison)

Related links


To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at

Monday, January 23, 2017

Why do people have a problem with closeted gays?

"Why do people have a problem with closeted gays if they are perfectly happy with that choice?" 
Question from "RightWinged-LGBT-Man" in TrueAskReddit

My response
That anyone should have to live a closeted life because of their sexual orientation is a tragedy. Although society as a whole increasingly embraces diversity, one's sexuality too often remains up for others' discussion, rejection, and/or derision. There remain any number of pockets of rejection that keep folks hidden — religions, family beliefs, workplaces, etc. One only needs to look at things like Westboro Baptist "Church's" URL ( to know that each and every day, the LGBTQ community is acutely aware that someone, somewhere, hates them. Between 30 and 40% of LGBTQ adolescents attempt suicide, many by the age of 15.
So while we've come a long way, there is still much work to be done.
That said, let me mention the collateral damage done by gays who feel pressured to live a hetero life. They marry, usually hoping that the feelings will go away...and of course, it doesn't work like that. So you have millions of "straight spouses" like myself who marry without knowing their partner's true orientation, and in 5, 10, 25, 40 years realize that they were never truly loved, and that all those years without sex and intimacy were not, in fact, their fault. We straight spouses generally get lost in the conversation, and when talking in public forums like this about our half of this painful equation, are often on the receiving end of unkind comments and ridicule.
I am working in my own small way towards a world where everyone can live an authentic, fulfilling life, and part of that work is through creating understanding. No one should have to live in a closet; not one they choose out of fear...nor one they didn't choose at all.

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at

Sunday, October 2, 2016

My Most Sincere Condolences for the Loss of Your Marriage

Yesterday, the New York Times published a story called "The Art of Condolence," about how difficult condolences can be to express. How it can be challenging to find just the right words. How awkward it can feel to comfort others in times of loss. 

*From October 1, 2016 
Straight spouses are often on the receiving end of awkward condolences...if they receive condolences at all. "How did you not know?" "At least s/he didn't leave you for another wo/man!" "You're so lucky you didn't have children!" "So does that mean you're a 'fag hag?'" (I was personally on the receiving end of that one.)

Insensitive comments and intrusive questions are part and parcel of the straight spouse experience. 

As Jean Schaar Gochros wrote in her 1989 book, "When Husbands Come Out of the Closet," straight spouses experience a profound sense of "unique isolation." One aspect of this isolation is what we call "disenfranchised grief." That is, grief that others -- society, our families, our ex-spouses, the LGBT community, the church -- don't feel we're entitled to. Because perhaps we're somehow complicit in the deceit. Because we stayed. Because we didn't know. Or because we loved and married a closeted LGBT spouse, we deserve ridicule, not compassion. But just as our exes deserve compassion for their struggle, so do the unsuspecting spouses who are left devastated by the lie. 

You can simply say, "I'm so sorry. I can't imagine what this must be like, but I'm here for you. And I care that you're hurting."

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Modern Family: Married...and Trans

Friday night's interview with Bruce Jenner by Diane Sawyer was a turning point in our collective understanding of the struggle of transgendered people. To know that this All-American hero, the perfect specimen of handsome masculinity and fitness, has been tormented by gender identity confusion since childhood, was painful to hear. Reading Twitter and Facebook posts during and after the interview revealed expressions of compassion and encouragement. His first two wives and the majority of his children offered their unconditional love and support, with sincere wishes for his happiness. 
He's out. The burden of the secret has been lifted. He can finally move forward with his transition into Her. Pictures taken of him yesterday morning revealed the smile of a man who was free at last. And the morning after, we celebrated his courage and feel empathy for the years of pain. I, for one, am genuinely happy for him. Everyone deserves to live an authentic life.
But Jenner's somewhat tidy ending misses a huge chunk of the story, because his life overlaps so many others'. Although life can't really be neatly depicted in a drawing, I think my Venn diagram (below) pretty clearly lays out important relationships that are now being or have been affected by Jenner's gender identity struggle. And it's not just in his case, of course, but is true for every LGBT person who comes out during a marriage. Every circle has an equally important story to tell. 

First, let's look at the kids. It's not unusual for a child to sense that something is "off" in the family. They may find evidence that Mom or Dad is LGBT; it might be a photo, a text accidentally read, or maybe one parent has a new same-sex friend that they're spending more time with. Or in Jenner's case, being "caught" wearing women's clothing. And for the child(ren), the internal dialogue might sound like this: "Who do I tell? Can I ask my parent(s) about it? I have this secret and it's too much for me. I'm so mad at my mom for marrying him! I'm so mad at my dad for being gay! I'm so embarrassed! What are my friends going to think? Does this mean I'm gay, too?"

The second circle represents the "straight spouse." Or, as one attorney I worked with so indelicately put it, the "left-behind spouse." That spouse just had his/her world turned upside down. Sometimes it happens abruptly, and sometimes there is a growing suspicion that reveals itself over time. There are often years of a sexless marriage. We wonder, "Am I not attractive enough? Sexy enough? Manly enough?" We buy satin sheets, sexy lingerie, her favorite flowers. We make his favorite meal. Sometimes we even directly ask, and get a defensive denial in response. It is crazy-making and self-esteem shattering. 

The strongest punch to the gut for the straight spouse is finding evidence of infidelity. The genitalia close-ups on Craigslist's M4M page. The sex toys discovered in a suitcase after a business trip. Love letters left out in the open. For your LGBT spouse, it's a new life. For you, it's the death of everything you thought you knew or thought you had. 

As you can see, there is a lot of overlap between the kids' and the spouses' internal experience. The description I hear most frequently is feeling like Alice in Wonderland after falling down the Rabbit Hole. Things you thought were real aren't, and beliefs you had about life are blown to smithereens in an instant. And if no one is talking about it, it's all that much more discombobulating.

The final circle is the person who is coming out as LGBT. Bruce Jenner's description of his years of internal conflict was heartbreaking. Although times are changing, the truth is that historically being gay or transgender has been more than just "not OK"; people are rejected by their families, kicked out of churches, denied jobs. Even killed. I know one person whose mother threatened to kill herself if he was gay. So he's married instead. And miserable. As Bruce Jenner has shown us, it can take decades to come to terms with one's gender identity and/or sexual orientation, and the process for some is agonizing. And lots people get hurt in the process, even if that was never the intent. Some LGBT folks truly believe that if they can just find that right person, they can create a "traditional" life and tamp down those authentic-but-unacceptable feelings. Too many of us know, of course, that it simply doesn't work that way.

Every person in that Venn diagram has a story to tell. Some experiences and feelings are the same. Some are different. And all of the stories are valid and true.

Let me say that again: All of the stories are equally valid and true. My truth doesn't negate yours. And the LGBT person's truth doesn't negate the straight spouse's.

Which brings us to the heart in the middle of the circles, that place where all of the lives overlap. It's the place of communicating and understanding one another's experience, one another's feelings. Understanding does not mean forgiving; it may not even mean you're less hurt. Less angry. But seeking to dwell in that heart space MUST be the goal if we're ever going to heal as family members, as individuals, as a society. That heart is the place where four things must happen:
  •  Allow your partner/child to tell his/her story
  •  Listen and hear without interruption. (It should be no surprise that this is the hardest one.)
  •  Validate their experience. Or, to borrow from Harville Hendrix, say something like, "It makes sense   that you feel that way." And mean it! (Note: Validating is different from agreeing. Remember,          every story is valid and true)
  •  Express genuine remorse. "Dad, I'm sorry I ignored your calls and texts. I just didn't know what to say to you."   "Honey, I'm so sorry I didn't tell you before we got married. You deserved to have known."   "Dave, I'm sorry I called you those terrible names."
What does your Venn diagram look like? Are you firmly planted in your circle, certain that yours is the only story that counts?

Or are you moving towards your heart?

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at Or contact me at

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Question: What's funny about this picture?

So I attended a wedding yesterday. The son of a lifelong friend and his girlfriend of 6 years, both in their mid-20s. After the priest asked if anyone in the congregation knew of any reason why the couple shouldn't marry, he then asked the couple the same thing. "Do either of you know of a reason why you shouldn't marry? If so, please confess it now." In the silence that followed the question, I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart.

I've felt an unshakable sadness for the rest of the weekend, and even now as I write this. Would my ex really have come clean? Would anyone? I asked my ex-husband directly before we ever became engaged, and he said no. Not gay. Nope. Nada.  Would it have been harder to lie to God, in front of witnesses? Or is the lie the most important thing?"

("Hey, ha ha, if I can't marry my boyfriend, then I'll marry your daughter!")

You know what, laughing guy? You SHOULD be able to marry your boyfriend. Absolutely. Let's all work towards that. It's only fair and it's just. Everyone should have equal rights under the law. In fact, many of us would (and have) marched right next to you.

But to take such a cavalier attitude about all of the broken hearts of those unsuspecting daughters who you gleefully suggest gay men marry? So you ask for respect -- but think it's funny to shatter other people's lives? 

Here are some of the responses to my Facebook post, edited for anonymity and privacy. They are from both men and women who have been on the receiving end of your taunt. Put your sign down and have a listen. Pretend it's your mom, your sister, your best friend speaking:

"My sorrow is that the priest who married us knew my ex had same-sex attractions, but told him to marry me and they'd go away. All these years later, I've lost my faith. And I'm still not healed from all the levels of betrayal."

"That's the moment I've run through my head so so many times. I always fantasize someone from the back shouting out 'He's gay and gonna dump you when you're [in your fifties]!'"

"It appears the lie was the most important thing."

"His father, brothers, his ex, and probably many others knew."

"Exactly. There were people in the crowd that knew. The guy from [another state] who showed up unannounced, for one."

"This hit too close to home. My husband admitted when confronted last year that he knew the truth even as we were meeting with the priest prior to our marriage. So no, he would have kept quiet if that had been asked at our wedding. Instead, I have lived an entire marriage based on a lie. Even found out he had been having sex with men in my home. I told him he had the chance to call off our wedding. I had already been divorced once and lived through it. I certainly could have done it a second time. Instead, I have to start my life over at [this age]."

"After months of lies and manipulation after he came out, he finally admitted that he knew since ever he could remember. I stumbled onto the fact that he'd had sex with men in high school and college, and all throughout our marriage. I clearly remember my wedding day knowing this was the best and right thing, and that we loved each other. I had known him and his family for years."

"My ex hit on one of our groomsmen, [who] told me only after I filed for divorce 30 years later. I'm not sure I will ever get over [those betrayals]." 

"When we were at the altar the priest's first words [to me] were, 'This is your last chance,' with a grin on his face. My ex looked me right in the eyes and said 'Go for it.'"

"I am not a religious [person]. I find the universe, creation, almighty in its own rights, and dogmatic storytelling a distraction that gets in the way. So when I stand before and give my word to my concept of God and before my fellow Man, it means a lot to me. It did.

And then it all washed away."


So, Laughing Guys, here's the answer to the question, "What's funny about this picture?"

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at                                                                             

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Straight Spouse Goes to a Dinner Party

This is a wonderful blog post from the Straight Spouse Network's website ( It very eloquently describes the uniquely awkward position of the straight spouse. I hope anyone reading this, LGBT and straight alike, will come away with a better understanding that 1) it is possible to hold these two seemingly opposing points of view simultaneously; 2) the damage done to straight spouses is very real and can take years to recover from; and 3) that ultimately this is a societal issue, and we all need to work together to ensure that no LGBT person ever feels/he has to enter into a traditional marriage to be "socially acceptable" AND that no unwitting person ever again marries someone whose heart and desires lay outside the marriage. If we can come together in understanding, then we can help make sure that this never has to happen to anyone again.

‪                                        A Straight Spouse Goes to a Dinner Party
                                                         by Kelly Wilkins

“Well, isn’t it better this way?” the lady across from me asks brightly, a dinner companion at a party for a mutual friend. “Aren’t you happy for him that he’s living an authentic life now?” She’s overheard me talking about my ex-husband to my friends seated beside me.

I keep a pleasant smile on my face and my body language as neutral as I can. Inside I’m wary, tensing up for the conversation that’s to come, wondering how it’s going to go and playing out the ways other, similar conversations have gone before. I’ve stepped into a conversational minefield, and I’ve got no way to tell yet if we’re going to make it out of this conversation in one piece. I can only move forward and hope.

“Yes,” I reply, keeping my tone level and pleasant, “It’s great that my ex-husband is living his authentic life now. “ The lady beams at me. I’ve clearly said what she wants to hear.  Taking a breath, I continue. “But it took him 20 years of MY life to get to that point.” She frowns at me, a look of disapproval pulling her eyebrows together and her eyes taking on a harder look than before. I’ve just gone off-script, and she doesn’t like it one bit. I’ve messed up the narrative that a gay person’s coming out after a long time of denial or hiding is always a wonderful thing to be celebrated by everyone, all the time, when in fact, there can be real damage and real casualties left behind when it happens.

“Well,” she says a bit sharply, “You can’t blame him for that. Not everyone has the courage to come out right away, and sometimes people are confused about their sexuality for a long time. You’re both free to move on to new relationships, so it’s all worked out in the end, right?”

 It all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it?  But I’m hard pressed to not see red and want – just for a moment – to verbally behead this woman, who is now looking at me like I’m waving a “God Hates Fags” sign at a Pride Parade.

What do I say? Do I say what I’m really thinking? And more to the point, do I even know what I’m really thinking as the words all line up on my tongue and batter at my vocal chords in their need to be spoken? Do I say that people who are homophobic make me want to alternately scream at them or crawl into a ball, weeping that there are people in the world who can hate someone else because of who they love and seek to destroy others in the process either directly or indirectly by their policies, actions, and just plain pig-headed hate? That their hate helped to create me and others like me?  Because that’s true.

Or do I say that hell yes, I CAN blame my ex-husband for stealing 20 years of my life and putting me through a hell of emotional and psychological abuse by throwing me into his closet. That he didn’t have to have the courage to come out, he just needed to have the figurative balls to not use someone else as his beard or to destroy what had been a loving friendship. Because that’s true too. Or do I say the thing that’s hammering the hardest to be said in this momentary lapse of politeness – that LGBT activists and allies like her are just as blind and as callous as the homophobes on the other side – by refusing to believe that a straight spouse has been harmed by being a gay person’s beard, or by minimizing the damage such relationships do to the straight people in them and only focusing on the gay person’s feelings.

I’ve got split seconds to decide what to say. I really want to keep the peace here, if only for the sake of my friend and his party, and the friends sitting close to me, who are currently keeping silent on the exchange. Deep breath. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, and all that. I’m hoping what I’m about to say will exhaust most of the words trying to get out. Here goes everything.

“From where I sit, my ex-husband does bear responsibility for his actions. We were both adults when we married, and he had plenty of time and opportunity to state his misgivings to me, even if he could not disclose his sexuality. He didn’t. His actions in leaving our marriage were cruel and destructive, and he bears responsibility for that, too. I’m thankful that I have such loyal, loving friends, a really fantastic therapist, and loved ones who have supported me in a very difficult time and helped me rebuild my life to the point where I am now.

Did you know that the suicide rate for straight spouses is significantly higher than that of two straight divorcing partners? Did you know that there are so many of us in the US and elsewhere that we have our own term for ourselves? Did you know that this is still happening to millions of men, women, and their children if they have them?
Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to do everything in my power to make sure this tragedy never happens again to another person, gay or straight, because I wouldn’t want anyone, anywhere to have to live a minute in my shoes if I can help it.”

At least, that’s what I thought I’d said. It’s what I was trying to say, anyway. In reality, I probably got through the first quarter of it and then everything started coming out in a flood of words and tears, because talking about this topic for too long still makes me cry, and crying doesn’t exactly help your public speaking skills. Still, I was hoping she’d get the gist of it.

 The lady’s mouth, open to make some kind of rebuttal, snaps shut. Her face doesn’t lose that disapproving look, but her eyes soften a bit.

Maybe, just maybe, she sees me – the young, madly in love girl who married her sweetie, truly believing the relationship was an honest, reciprocal love that would last forever and the older, wiser, much more emotionally battered straight spouse who has dealt with the kind of cruelties and betrayals that no person ever wants to face and who still refuses to let those who would hate another human being for loving who they love win by becoming like them, while realizing both sides of the argument would be happier if I and others like me simply didn’t exist

We screw up the way the story is supposed to go for both of them.

And in that moment, I want to say one more thing to her, but I don’t. The thing I want to say is this – we don’t want to be celebrated for being straight spouses. We don’t want a parade, or a special day, or some kind of party. We want you to see us, and to take a moment, in the admirable rush to accept others being their authentic selves, to accept us too.

To schedule a face-to-face or FaceTime session with Kimberly Brooks Mazella, LPC, please go to my website at