I have been reading Amity Pierce Buxton’s The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses and Families.

 

Amity Buxton’s first husband came out in 1983, and she has since devoted much of her life and career to doing research and helping the straight spouses and children of gay men and lesbians come to terms with their situation.

 

I really like the way the book is set up. Each section starts with personal stories about specific families, which is followed with information and practical help for dealing with the issues raised. The sections cover the experiences of the gay spouses, the experiences of the straight spouses, the experiences of the children, challenges to traditional marriage styles, and dealing with the deception and the feeling of having lived a lie.

 

It’s hard to say who this book is designed for – I have found it helpful in coming to terms with what my coming out my mean for my children, and understanding the feelings my wife is currently going through. However, it seems to be designed more for the spouses and adult children of gays and lesbians, and for counselling professionals who might be working with them. Having said that, I think this book might instill more fear into many spouses and children than it would courage. It is very realistic, and the personal stories are very emotionally raw. From the gay husband whose wife and children totally reject him because of their fundamentalist religious beliefs, the wife whose gay husband becomes physically abusive towards their children while suing for custody after he leaves, to the children who talk about the bullying they experience when their whole community finds out that dad is gay, this book leaves little to the imagination.

 

While the forthrightness of this book has meant that it has taken me some time to get through it, I recommend it for the following reasons:

·        This book is totally accepting of any sexual orientation. While painful stories are told, the blame for the pain is placed where it belongs. Sometimes that is on the coming-out parent/spouse, where he or she has been abusive or deceptive. Sometimes it’s on the homophobic attitudes that prevail in our communities and churches. Hence, this book both affirms my sexuality and makes me soberly consider how to be respectful and honest as I work towards living a life of authenticity.

·        This book has helped me consider some of the reactions my children may have when I come out to them. It’s helped me realized that ‘sooner’ is better than ‘later’. But it’s helped me think about how it can be done gently.

·        This book has helped me understand and consider the feelings my wife is going through as she begins to stop denying the fact that she is married to a gay man (not that I feel any better equipped to support her!).

·        This book has helped me understand the source of much of the homophobia in our society. LBGT men and women have been very deceptive (sometimes for good reason), but that very deceptiveness leads others to distrust us. They see the pain that happens to others when we come out, and then want to blame us for causing that pain.

 

On the negative side, this book has increased my fears about coming out, and the impact that will have on my children. So far, I am only out to close family members and church friends, and some of my professional colleagues. This has been affirming enough to reduce my fears about coming-out to others. But I realize that my wife and my children will their own coming-out to do, as they tell others about their spouse/dad. They will need my support if I make them go through this process.

 

This book was first published in 1991. I wonder, if a similar book were written to do, would the stories be much different? I think our society is much more accepting of homosexuality today than it was then, and the stories of spouses coming out in the current decade would likely be different than those of the twenty years ago. Nonetheless, this book is strongly recommended for men and women who need to be prepared for what coming-out means for their families.

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