Sun | Jul 21, 2019

'Straight' spouses at risk

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Carolyn Cooper

No matter how hard I try to filter out spam, I end up getting all sorts of unwanted email messages: fraudulent appeals from friends supposedly stranded abroad who need large sums of money to help them come home; sales pitches from China offering goods and services I don't need; notices that I've won huge sums of money in lotteries for which I don't even have a ticket. You know the usual thing.

The most interesting bit of unsolicited mail I got last week was from South Florida Connects, Inc. Its tag line is 'No Straight Spouse Left Behind: Straight Spouse Awareness'. The language is old-fashioned, but the issues are current. The website reveals that "You are a straight spouse if you are a heterosexual individual married to or dating someone who is secretly gay, bisexual, lesbian or transgendered."

I immediately wondered how you would know that your allegedly heterosexual partner is not what he or she appears to be if his/her double life really is a secret. That's the trouble with being an English teacher. You constantly pay attention to the meaning of words. All the same, I suppose secrets have a way of slipping out, especially if the spouse in hiding secretly wishes to come clean.

The website offers the assurance that "[i]t is better to be hurt by the truth than to be comforted with a dangerous lie". Then again, proverbial wisdom advises that "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise". Anyhow, I called the number on the website (954-815-6563) and left a voicemail message.

PAINFUL RELIGIOUS HARD TALK

The night before I got the 'straight spouse' email, I watched 'Religious Hardtalk', hosted by Ian Boyne. It was painful. I saw my friend Annie Kitchin valiantly trying to engage in intelligent conversation with the Rev Clinton Chisholm. She had a hard time. Rev Chisholm defines himself as a "Christian apologist". This is not the same as an apology for a Christian. Annie declared herself to be an atheist.

The problem with being an apologist for any cause is that you often end up appearing irrational. Even if, as in the case of Rev Chisholm, your cause is proving the rationality of Christianity! An apologist takes a position and refuses to budge. On the subject of homosexuality and the Bible, the good reverend seemed unwilling to concede that the laws of Leviticus which sentence to death perpetrators of "unnatural" acts are unconscionably outdated. Well, that's how it sounded to me.

Annie was on form, completely dismissive of the backward view that all Old Testament laws have validity in modern times. She systematically demolished Rev Chisholm's arguments. But, of course, he may not agree. In any case, it is precisely this hanging on to irrelevant biblical codes of conduct that makes us so unwillingly to accept the fact that the human rights of all homosexuals in Jamaica ought to be protected under the law. Not only those whose class privilege usually gives them immunity.

And just as the rights of lesbians, all-sexuals and gays need to be protected, so too 'straight' people should be protected from the guile of deceitful spouses. We need a 'straight spouse' support group in Jamaica. It's the flip side of J-FLAG. I searched the Internet to see if we already had a support group here. I ended up right where I started: on the South Florida Connects, Inc website.

NO SEX ON HONEYMOON

Debbie Thomas-Brown, a Jamaican nurse and former schoolteacher, founded the association based on her own experience and the fact that her research showed there was no support for immigrant straight spouses like her. Right off the bat, she said the fundamental problem is that Jamaica makes being gay a crime. Our society does not allow gay people to be their authentic selves. So many pretend to be heterosexual for an easy life.

Their spouses pay the price, especially innocent young women raised in Christian homes who have little sexual experience and no point of comparison to measure their spouse's performance - or lack of it. Debbie told me about a young couple who had no sex on their honeymoon. The husband had absolutely no interest. Then the wife caught him with a huge erection, pleasuring himself with the help of gay porn. You can just imagine how she felt.

Deprived of sex, neglected wives start to believe that something is wrong with them. Their husbands tell them they are too thin or too fat. They are just not sexy. In some instances, their husbands have sex (with them) only once a year. Debbie argues that gay men tend to marry women with low self-esteem, who often have anxieties about their attractiveness.

Another target group is women in service-oriented professions who have been trained to keep secrets: nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers, lawyers and police. They are not likely to 'out' their partners. And if the women do confront their husbands in private, even with very good evidence, the men usually accuse their wives of being 'crazy'. And the women start to doubt themselves because that's the last thing they really want to believe.

I learnt that there's a Grindr app designed for gay men that facilitates quick hook-ups. It's available all over the world. Say you're in the National Stadium at a football match and you send out a message that you want a 'Canadian'. In the jargon, that's an uncircumcised penis. In two twos, the app will locate several willing members nearby. It's as easy as that.

Debbie said she would love to be a guest on 'Religious Hardtalk'. She has a particular burden for Christian women who get caught in relationships with men on the down-low. And it's not only women who are conned. Heterosexual men also end up marrying lesbians in the church. Finding a 'good' man or woman in the house of the Lord is not as straightforward as we once thought it was. Over to you, Pastor Boyne!

Carolyn Cooper is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Visit her bilingual blog at http://carolynjoycooper.wordpress.com. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.