As a white, straight, cisgender male studying sexual and gender minorities, I am constantly discovering my blind spots. In my attempts to accurately represent the populations I study I constantly seek out people who hold the identities of those I serve and study. These friends and acquaintances act as invaluable resources, guiding me as a researcher and clinician. I share this to position myself and make my own limitations as transparent as possible.
Recently my professional focus has turned me towards mixed-sexuality relationships where partners come from conservative religious backgrounds. It has been estimated that up to 2 million (likely more now) lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals have or currently are married, and that not all these sexual minorities come out prior to marriage in opposite-sex relationships (Buxton, 2004). Typically, resources on mixed-sexuality relationships focus on opposite-gender couples where there is a straight spouse (typically the wife), and a gay spouse (typically the husband). The plethora of books and articles on this type of relationship seems to drown out many of the other formations of mixed-sexuality relationships.
These relationships come in many varieties and are not specific to the gender of each partner. Examples might include: a same-sex couple where one partner is bisexual and the other is exclusively gay or lesbian; an opposite-sex couple where one partner is straight and the other is bisexual; or an opposite-sex couple where one partner is straight and the other is questioning, pansexual, bi-romantic, fluid, or asexual. The combinations seem endless.
When individuals are raised in religious settings, navigating a mixed-sexuality relationship can be difficult. Conservative religious settings often encourage heterosexual living, loving, and family life. Religious and spiritual privileges can also be attached to being in a heterosexual marriage. As same-sex sexuality is already stigmatized in society, conservative religious circles compound this stigmatization, creating little mental and emotional space for individuals to even consider same-sex sexual exploration. When sexual minority individuals decide to enter heterosexual marriages before exploring their identity, they risk potential strain on their relationships if such identities are disclosed. Following disclosures, feelings of betrayal can ensue for the heterosexual spouse. If disclosures are not made, sexual minority spouses may experience an isolating experience as their self-awareness of their identity grows.
For individuals raised in conservative religious settings, navigating sexual minority identities and identity disclosures is incredibly diverse. And thus, may not be exactly generalizable to most of resources for the straight wife and the gay husband. However, there are some principles that might apply to mixed-sexuality relationships generally.
Figuring out who you are is important (Kort, 2018).
This does not only apply to the spectrum of sexuality (i.e. straight, bi, gay/lesbian). Asexuality, aceflux, sexual fluidity, pansexual, biromantic, aromantic, hetero-emotional, homo-emotional are just a few of the sexual minority identities that do not easily fit into the gay/straight binary. Figuring out who you are requires familiarity with language. And this language empowers you to navigate relationships with greater clarity.
Resist blaming the coming out partner if doing so negatively effects the relationship.
Because society suppresses sexual minority identity exploration, this identity development can often be delayed into adulthood (i.e. often in marriage for many raised in conservative religious settings). Fighting a homophobic and heterosexist society together is more effective than fighting each other.
Sexual minority identities are not just about sex.
Typically, when I am discussing this in writing or in therapy I am trying to highlight a few things. Sexual minority identities are often over sexualized in society. They can include romantic, emotional, and/or physical components. Becoming more self-aware of this complexity takes time and requires patience for sexual minority partners and straight partners.
Learning you are in a mixed-sexuality relationship can be disorienting for people coming from conservative religious upbringings. When it is disorienting, couples learn to navigate successfully by first finding language for their experience. The following list are additional resources for those in mixed-sexuality relationships wanting to better understand their experience.
Buxton, A. (2004). Works in progress: How mixed-orientation couples maintain their marriages after the wives come out. Journal of Bisexuality, 4, 57-82.
Kort, J. (2018). LGBTQ clients in therapy: Clinical issues and treatment strategies. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Jimmy Bridges, LMFT is a couple and family therapist, and provides therapy and coaching services related to anxiety, mood disorders, LGBTQ+ affirming services, gender issues, faith transitions, and couple’s counseling. He offers online services for teens, adults, couples and families.