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   Home  > Books

The Other Side of the Closet

By Amity Pierce Buxton

Review

What happens to spouses and children when a husband or wife comes out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual? At least 2,000,000 families in the United States have faced (or will face) this question. The Other Side of the Closet provides an answer, reporting on common issues spouses have experienced and the different ways they resolved them. For each issue -- such as, sexual rejection, threat to the marriage, parent-child concerns, or deception -- personal stories (including those of a gay father and a lesbian wife) illustrate the variety of ways spouses worked through the problems, whether or not the couple preserved their marriage. The book isn't a guide for how to stay married or what route a spouse should take. Rather, it focuses on how heterosexual spouses forged their paths through and, in many cases, grew from the crisis.

Research began in 1986, requested by the Gay Fathers of San Francisco, who wanted to understand their wives' or former wives' reactions. Soon, the study included spouses of lesbian or bisexual partners and eventually children of such marriages. By now, well over 4000 spouses and long-term partners of gay, lesbian, and bisexual mates have shared their coming-out stories with me. Theirs is a common tale of a painful but often transforming journey from shock, hurt and anger to facing the truth of the disclosure and their own pain, to acceptance and grief, and finally to healing and reconstructing their lives, whether they stay married, separate, or divorce.

The Other Side need not be read cover to cover or at one sitting. Some spouses wait until they are beyond their initial shock or denial. Others dip into a chapter according to where they are in their struggle to cope and understand. Those trying to maintain their marriages turn to Part Two, "Trial and Error," and two stories, "Fine Tuning" and "We Wrote the Script." Spouses who are also parents read "Growing Pains," the section describing how parents come out to their children and help them deal with their parent's new identity, and "Family Voices," the section that presents children's issues from their perspective. Some gay, lesbian, and bisexual spouses read the book before coming out to their wives or husbands in order to be prepared for reactions they might encounter. After disclosure, couples often read the book together. A number of straight spouses in later stages of recovery reread sections for which they weren't ready before, such as "What About Me?" or "Breaking the Mold."

A reviewer quoted from The Other Side: "The goal is to stop seeing the coming-out trauma as a gay versus straight conflict but rather as a universal paradox. The truth that frees one person may hurt the other. Hurt and love coexist in life." Yes, the book was written out of compassion for all members of a family facing this dilemma, with hope that the complex problems that arise might be resolved with a minumum of pain and increased understanding for everyone involved.

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