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Network offers support to straight exes of LGBT who come out

Jo Christian Oterhals/flickr

Divorce is complicated. Even more so if there are children involved. But, for Carter Cortelyou there was another layer to his divorce that made it difficult for him to talk to about it, until now.  

In 2009, his wife came out to him — told him she is a lesbian. Since then, Cortelyou has gone through grief, isolation, financial challenges and re-entering the dating world unexpectedly.

“My first thought was there goes our 25th wedding anniversary (laughs), we were 24-years-married at the time and…there goes our 25th.”

Cortelyou, 51, can joke about it now, but six years ago he was crushed after his wife came out to him. And, he didn’t even see it coming.

“There was not a point at which I thought this is not quite right, and we’d been in marriage counseling for many years and often found a great deal of help in that. But, there was a moment of realization for her and it explained a great deal looking back, particularly of struggles with physical intimacy over the years in our marriage, and we both really quickly realized it just explains so much.”

Cortelyou thought his marriage was like many others. He and his wife had kids, they did the counseling thing but, after 24 years, the marriage he thought he knew was over.

“It’s disorienting is one really good word for the experience because everything you’ve oriented you’ve life by really seems to be in question… and for me it wasn’t a difficult thing to believe, though it was a painful thing to accept.”

'The straight spouse doesn't fit the narrative'

It is pretty normal for someone to wonder, well am I gay too? Is that why I was attracted to this individual?

Divorce happens all the time, but this was different. Cortelyou was at a loss. And after several days of processing what had just happened, a quick Google search led him to the Straight Spouse Network.

“I became aware of the Straight Spouse Network in the fall of 2009, shortly within a couple of weeks after my ex-wife realized that she is lesbian. They put me in touch with a large number of other straight spouses… before too long I ended up hosting one of these meetings at one of my churches.”

Cortelyou is a United Methodist pastor and his ex-wife is also a pastor now at a different church. He says LGBT people have been oppressed for years; it’s no wonder they get caught up in relationships and even marriages that do not represent who they truly are.

Credit Carter Cortelyou

“The straight spouse doesn’t fit into the narrative that says homosexuality is a choice and so the straight spouse is there to support someone who has a same-sex attraction but really needs the support of the spouse to squelch that. Nor does the straight spouse fit into the narrative that the LBGTQ individual has been oppressed by the theological norms for so long that we simply need to celebrate their independence, their authenticity, their expression of who they truly are. Well that expression of authenticity which can bring so much life to the LGBTQ individual is absolutely devastating, shattering to the straight spouse. The common expression and I remember the feeling is you just want to curl up in a ball in the closet and cry, because the person you've planned to live your life with is probably not going to be available.”

Moving on to happiness

Cortelyou didn’t linger in bad feelings towards his ex-wife. He knew that her coming out was the best thing for both of them. But, he says it’s not so straight forward for everyone. And then, there was the question of his own sexual identity.

“That’s part of the disorientation when one of the rock solid convictions of your life has been the heterosexual orientation of your spouse and that’s gone it pretty normal for someone to wonder well am I gay too? Is that why I was attracted to this individual? And I have known of heterosexually married couples where they both realized over time that they were both  homosexual…It’s funny how life works (laughs) and you move on to happiness.”

Today Cortelyou has moved on with his life. He’s now the president of the board of directors for the Straight Spouse Network. He’s also the pastor at Wayne First United Methodist Church. And, he's even found love again.

“I married a year and a half ago my wife Andrea, we met online, we are a thoroughly modern couple in that regard (laughs), and um, my ex-wife and I have a good relationship, we are still colleagues in pastoral ministry. And, for me life has gotten much better, there’s been a lot of help along the way, a lot of support. And, it’s become more important for me to tell the story, for those who are in the crisis of it, and for those who are moving on.”

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network. 

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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