Mormon Beards Exploring the Issues: Patriarchy and Duplicity

This is the fourth in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women. The first post was published on my own blog as well as Main Street Plaza. The next two posts were published only on my blog (here and here), and beginning with this post, the rest of the series will be posted dually on my blog as well as here on MSP.

As I have previously explained, beard (as used here) refers to a slang term for the heterosexual spouse of a gay Mormon who is effectively used to conceal the husbands sexual orientation. In the past two posts, I have discussed my own personal situation regarding my mixed orientation marriage. Id now like to turn to a discussion of why Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriages [MoMoMs] continue to happen.

So why do guys keep doing it?

Why do gay Mormon men keep marrying Mormon women?

DISCLAIMER: Let me say right here and now that I KNOW there are some MoMoMs that work, where both the husband and wife are happy and fulfilled. HOWEVER, the odds against a successful MoMoMon are extremely high, and information pertaining to the issues and problems endemic to such marriages needs to be made available to help such persons make informed, moral decisions as they contemplate traditional marriage.

Beginning with this post, Id like to take a closer look at the factors that have contributed and continue to contribute generally to the creation of MoMoMs, including Mormon doctrinal background, the Mormon understanding of homosexuality (particularly within that doctrinal context) and Mormon sexual mores generally. My hope is that an examination of these factors will lead to alternative ways of thinking about these factors and, ultimately, in more enlightened, reasoned and responsible choices and actions as gay Mormon men confront the prospect of heterosexual marriage.

Before turning to the other factors mentioned, however, I want to first address one of the key factors that Holly Welker (who originally issued me the challenge to write these posts) believes contributes to MoMoMs: patriarchy. In her Sunstone essay entitled Clean-Shaven: No More Beards Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism (located here), she writes:

I know it can take a while to figure out ones sexual identity, and that people who eschew sexual behavior during their teens only to marry in their early twenties might not have a firm handle on their sexual orientation But I also think from observing various marriages and divorces that theres something different happening when men who know ahead of time that they are gay marry women they know are straight, particularly in Mormondom. I submit that patriarchy endows men with a sense of entitlement that blinds them to the real cost of their actions

In a couple of separate comments left on Mondays MSP post, Holly wrote:

What I am actually saying is that Mormon men who know they are gay prior to marriage should be real Christians and put the happiness of any woman they might consider courting above their own. They should work out their ambivalence about the plan of salvation without threatening the happiness and well-being of another. Im saying that men who know about their sexuality at the time theyre courting straight women, and fail to tell those women, are engaging in patriarchy and misogyny.

It seems to me there are (at least) a couple of points to be made about Hollys comments.

First, though I dont know exactly how Holly defines patriarchy, I would agree that the Mormon Church and, by extension, Mormon culture, is patriarchal. Wikipedia, that ever-trusty source, defines patriarchy as a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property [implying] the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.

I do not personally want to get into an academic discussion of patriarchy (for which I am not qualified or equipped); I do not believe the parameters of the definition are particularly relevant to the ultimate objective of these posts. I do believe, however, that the patriarchy that is reflected in Mormon theology, church administration and culture has historically been and remains an important factor in the creation of MoMoMs, though in ways that are (still) not immediately apparent to most Mormon men, gay or straight.

For this reason, I would personally be interested in Hollys comments (as well as those of others) as to examples of patriarchy in the LDS world and how this patriarchy endows men with a sense of entitlement that blinds them to the real cost of their actions. This is a sincere request. I do think such information would be extremely germane to the overall objective of these posts.

In the mean time, I think Alex, a gay Mormon who recently came out and is now going through a divorce, provided some useful observations in this regard in comments left on Mondays post on my blog:

I’ve seen that even as a gay man, I treated my wife according to family customs and religious practices that were extremely patriarchal I wanted to have kids right away, wanted her to stay home. I expected her to clean while I was at work, cook dinner, etc. We didn’t have kids right away and she worked, which I supported, but I didn’t necessarily pick up the slack. The “perfect Mormon family” image, strict gender roles image was hard to break for me. I did help clean and cook but not to an equal degree as my wife. The fact that I’m gay doesn’t undo these societal values and norms I’ve been instilled with Even if I outwardly disagreed, it takes a lot of work to fully change your attitudes beliefs and behaviors.

In a comment to the original MSP post, Alex wrote:

I tended to approach my marriage in a very patriarchal way. I wanted to be the one who earned the money so we went with my career. I wanted to be the one to provide for my wife while she stayed home with kids. I always insisted that we should think about having kids soon. Im grateful we didnt. It goes beyond this, but my point is that it can be very difficult to unthink this, forgive the overused term, ideology. The church likes to view itself of being above and outside ideologies. But there is no question that at the very least the institutional practice of running the church is influenced by a heteronormative, patriarchal way of thinking. Gay men marry women because even if the church doesnt counsel anymore to get married as a fix or cure, it is virtually impossible to ignore the culture and ideology that teaches that every man should be married, and be out dating women. Just listen to the last general conference. I couldnt help but feel for the thousands of gay Mormons out there that hear the message that men are not being responsible enough, and will make like I did the unfortunate choice to get married to a woman.

A second set of observations about Hollys comments relates to her references to men who know they are gay while dating or at some point prior to marriage.

This matter of knowledge (i.e., of ones sexuality and what this means) is one of the most complicated aspects of the creation of MoMoMs, and will be addressed separately later. However, I would like to make some comments about men who truly do know they are gay and/or those men who like to tell themselves (i.e., pretend) they are not gay, yet (in the words of one of the introductory quotes from Mondays post) mess around with guys.

I dont know about Hollys use of the term misogyny in connection with such guys. (Again, I havent done enough reading in this area to comment intelligently or even coherently.) I will say, however, that in my view – Mormon men who

  • truly know they are gay gay gay (e.g., theyve had sex with guys, they know what it feels like, they know who theyre attracted to and know they dont just have SGA) and/or Mormon men who tell themselves they arent gay yet go out and mess around (read, have sex, though I realize that, in some circles, there is some dispute as to what the definition of sex is; thus, the use of the more inclusive term, mess around) and who
  • nevertheless in todays world – court, become engaged to and marry women without having disclosed their true sexual orientation to their girlfriends, fiancs or wives,

have a lot to answer for.

Why? Well, to quote from a comment Chanson left on Mondays MSP post:

Young people of my generation [i.e., 30-somethings] (even sheltered Mormons like me) had at least a vague awareness of homosexuality, and hence had more tools for understanding their situation than earlier generations did. Kids today [however,] have to be living in a cave not to be aware of homosexuality, hence are better equipped to analyze their own sexuality (and to reject hateful messages about it) than kids of my generation.

With such knowledge and understanding comes a corresponding requirement to act responsibly and morally in accordance with the knowledge and understanding.

Such men as described above appear, in my view, to be either amoral or immoral. These are not men who are truly, sincerely struggling with, or are functionally ignorant of or blind to, their true sexual orientation. These are not men who are sincerely grappling with issues of faith, obedience and identity. In short, these are not men who are trying to do what is right; they are rather men who are doing what is expedient. I would like to think, and trust, that they constitute a small minority of those gay Mormon men who enter into mixed-orientation marriages today, but I’m not so naive as to think that they don’t exist.

I am reminded of the story a gay friend of mine told me of attending, within the past year or so, a wedding reception in a suburb of Salt Lake. He and his former wife were approaching the newlyweds when he suddenly realized that the groom was someone he recognized from having seen on more than one occasion in a Salt Lake gay bar. The recognition was apparently mutual, for my friend thought the groom seemed extremely uncomfortable as he and his wife approached and greeted the couple.

One wonders if the bride knew that her new husband, fresh from a temple sealing room, had fairly recently frequented gay bars. Ummmm. Somehow, I doubt it (although its possible).

There is to me, and I think to most reasonable people who are to any degree knowledgeable about issues relating to MoMoMs, a vast difference between the young, faithful (read sincere), moral (moral, not necessarily morally clean) Mormon man who is honestly trying to do the right thing and the cynical, immoral (immoral, not just morally unclean) Mormon man who is using his wife as a cover, a way (in Holly Welkers words) to preserve his own respectability and righteousness. Again, I would very much like to think such men are a small minority of those who enter in MoMoMs.

In both these cases, however, it is likely that many of the same factors propel these men to the same temple sealing altar. It is to these factors that I will next turn.

21 thoughts on “Mormon Beards Exploring the Issues: Patriarchy and Duplicity

  1. I would personally be interested in Hollys comments (as well as those of others) as to examples of patriarchy in the LDS world and how this patriarchy endows men with a sense of entitlement that blinds them to the real cost of their actions. This is a sincere request. I do think such information would be extremely germane to the overall objective of these posts.

    For starters, I’d suggest looking at Leslie’s post on a lesbian/straight-guy MoMOM, and her observations about what lesbians give up in a MOM that gay men do not.

    http://mainstreetplaza.com/2011/05/12/mormon-beards-%E2%80%93-exploring-issues-patriarchy-duplicity/

    Also consider something like “Fascinating Womanhood,” which tells both women and men that every failure in a marriage is the wife’s fault. Men must be taken for who they are, and women must adjust to that.

    I’d also refer you to “You and Me (But Mostly Me” from The Book of Mormon musical.
    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=136054170&m=136021600
    It works perfectly in the show with two male missionary companions, in part because it’s an attitude enough 19-year-old Mormon guys have. But imagine it sung with a young Mormon man and his fiance: it works even better. Both of them very likely accept that she is “the side dish on a slightly smaller plate,” precisely because that’s how they’ve been trained to see marriages: he is the captain, she is the mate.

  2. Well, I tried to leave a response to your question, Invictus, but it seems to have disappeared. I’m commenting now to ask you or one of the other moderators to look for my comment, and to sign up for followup comments.

  3. @Holly – Thanks for your comments, and particularly for the link to the song. I hadn’t listened to any of the songs from that musical yet. I LOVED this song and I HEAR what you are saying. (I also listened to “Turn it Off” which I MUST use with a subsequent post.)

    As I was listening to this song and “Turn it Off”, my thoughts turned to the famous (at least in the Church, in certain quarters anyway) talk given by President Kimball entitled The Gospel Vision of the Arts. I thought how ironic that others outside the Church are opening up windows into our collective soul so that we can examine ourselves as a people, culture, religion and church.

    The concluding words of President Kimball’s talk were:

    We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God. If we dont care much about these basic things, then such not caring carries over into the work we do, and our work becomes shabby and shoddy.

    Real craftsmanship, regardless of the skill involved, reflects real caring, and real caring reflects our attitude about ourselves, about our fellowmen, and about life.

    I couldn’t help but see a tremendous amount of irony in these words. His words are true enough, but not in the way he intended them. (I won’t say any more, cuz I feel a post coming on.)

  4. Young people of my generation [i.e., 30-somethings]

    Well, more like thirty-to-forty-somethings. 😉

    I’m turning 40 this year, and I my experience with this subject was closely tied with that of my older brother, who’s 41.

  5. Thanks for this, Invictus. There is indeed a difference between those “moral” and “immoral” gay men.

    I don’t think there is an objective way of looking at patriarchy and heterosexism. I believe this where Holly and I lose each other.

    I mentioned on the previous thread how when I went to Sunstone and I met older gay LDS men married to women, and they told me about how they hurt their wives, patriarchy was obvious to me (and to them). What does not follow from this is me thinking patriarchy itself is manifested in my view of the situation. I was looking at the situation as someone who has never married a woman (and looking back, never considered it), and whose “coming out” experience (although it was less of a coming out, and more like, I was just myself) was not too difficult.

    Think about the “It Gets Better” campaign. The assumption behind the campaign is that it will get better, that heterosexism is disappearing slowly everyday, perhaps because if we point out who’s moral and who isn’t, we’ll shape a better future. But I come from a philosophy that a moral world isn’t shaped this way. For me, a big part of patriarchy and heterosexism is an insistence on “one” morality.

    I would like to tell a story to try to convey this point.

    Ananda was the Buddha’s male attendant. When the Buddha refused to ordain women, Ananda talked to the Buddha and helped him see why he should ordain women.

    Many Buddhist nuns today revere Ananda. But others think that had the Buddha not been sexist in his refusal to ordain women in the first place, Ananda would never have had to intercede. So, they question why the nuns would revere Ananda.

    The nuns tell those who think the Buddha was sexist: actually, the first woman — specific woman — to ask for ordination was the Buddha’s aunt, who was a queen with a lot of power. To frame the story as one about “female ordination,” as opposed to a story about “the ordination of Buddha’s aunt” is part of the problem of sexism.

    The moral of this story is that one cannot liberate women without also somehow marginalizing them as women. Which is why liberation is an individual matter. When we look at patriarchy, we have to be nuanced. That’s why I appreciate you laying out the difference between “moral” and “immoral” gay men in the current situation (in which knowledge about homosexuality is more likely to be known prior to marriage). But as the times change, we will constantly have to reevaluate the boundaries of morality and be humble about those boundaries.

  6. As another example, if a gay man were to come here to try to uphold the Church’s current position, as APL in the last post did — to try to work creatively where he’s at with what he’s got — and we were to shout him down as “perpetuating heterosexism,” and not work with him, I would consider ourselves to be acting heterosexist.

    I was reading about a lesbian activist whose Mormon mother accepted her and how this has affected her politics. She seems, like I am, to be more comfortable in meeting people where they are, rather than insisting on a given morality. She recognizes in her own mother the ability humans have to hold contradictory viewpoints.

    In my own experience, as I was growing up, I tried to force my mother to resolve the contradiction, as if she wasn’t truly loving me or supporting me unless she was fighting for me in a specific way. But then I realized how selfish this was.

  7. I dont think there is an objective way of looking at patriarchy and heterosexism. I believe this where Holly and I lose each other.

    I don’t think there’s an objective way of looking at patriarchy and heterosexism. I don’t think you have enough insight into my position or your own–as I pointed out, you agreed with me on a point but continued to argue the opposite–to have much clue as to where we lose each other.

    But I did think we were going to try to drop the previous disagreement. You did not, after all, need to invoke me or my position here, or to drag the previous discussion to this one. I was ready to let it drop–indeed, I had made no mention of it on either or the subsequent threads. I had imagined that dropping it might be part of what you would want–had you truly been interested in making MSP a safe and welcoming place. But as I also said, I had imagined that you weren’t really sincere about that.

    p.s. Just out of curiosity, are the views you express here ones you REALLY hold, or will you admit in a few more comments that you actually think the opposite?

  8. Alan @6:

    What does not follow from this is me thinking patriarchy itself is manifested in my view of the situation.

    Well, DUH.

    That’s part of how privilege works: those who have it often find its impossible to see how it colors their view of the situation.

    Invictus, you wanted an example of how patriarchy blinds men to the cost of their actions: Alan just gave you an example. Women here tell him repeatedly that he exhibits sexist thought and behavior; he responds, “I don’t see that.”

    He carps about humility and the need to listen, but he can’t listen to women tell him, “Dude, maybe you need to reexamine some of your attitudes about women and the treatment they get from men.”

  9. Sorry, I guess I misread you when you said on that other thread

    I suppose since we are dropping this matter after this comment I wont get an answer, but I do wonder why…

    I thought you were requesting an answer. But yes, let’s drop it.

  10. Id also refer you to You and Me (But Mostly Me from The Book of Mormon musical.
    http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=136054170&m=136021600
    It works perfectly in the show with two male missionary companions, in part because its an attitude enough 19-year-old Mormon guys have. But imagine it sung with a young Mormon man and his fiance: it works even better. Both of them very likely accept that she is the side dish on a slightly smaller plate, precisely because thats how theyve been trained to see marriages: he is the captain, she is the mate.

    So true!

    Wow, I should have listened to these earlier!!!

    When the reviews of this musical first started appearing, I remember there was a lot of focus on whether they got the doctrinal details right (Is Kolob a planet or a star? Does God really live there? etc.). But it appears that what they really got right is unique character of Mormonism — what it’s like to be Mormon!

    And, really, caring less about the precisions of doctrines (like Kolob) and caring more about Mormon practice and attitude is, itself, quite accurate.

  11. @4

    I thought how ironic that others outside the Church are opening up windows into our collective soul so that we can examine ourselves as a people, culture, religion and church.

    Parker and Stone have talked about doing and obviously indeed do a great deal of research and fact-checking about Mormon doctrines, attitudes and behaviors. Their interest is in portraying Mormons accurately–including their contradictions, such as their arrogant niceness–instead of reinforcing the basic tenets of the faith and avoiding raising difficult questions. So it’s not surprising that their portrait of Mormons is faithful and accurate as opposed to faith-promoting and proper.

  12. They are to be commended, I think, precisely because they “nailed it.” Their research and insights into Mormon faith and culture are impressive – and refreshing and illuminating.

  13. I know a gay Mormon who wants to “spare” his wife the pain of knowing he is fooling around with men, so he simply tells her he has to go “home teaching” when he has appointments with guys. He says he fully believes in the Church, so how he can justify his actions, I don’t know.

  14. Their research and insights into Mormon faith and culture are impressive and refreshing and illuminating.

    it doesn’t hurt matters either that the insights are delivered in a show that is entirely hilarious and utterly joyous. :-)

  15. I’m about a decade older than Chanson, and I’d like to take a crack at my generation’s experience.

    Imagine you’re a young man, in an interview with your mission president before going home. It’s time to marry, he says. Plan on getting it done in the next few years.

    You’ve observed church standards, so you’re a virgin who has theoretically not even thought about sex for a couple years. You know you’re gay, and you’ve never felt any sexual attraction to a woman. You learned about homosexuality from sources like The Miracle of Forgiveness, which says that everyone is innately heterosexual, and that homosexuality is the result of a long apprenticeship in lesser perversions. You’ve masturbated, but who hasn’t, and that’s all. You have never had any heterosexuality to work with. How did this happen?

    Is a sexual relationship with a woman even possible for you? The church says yes, just get married and you’ll get over the “phase”. Will that work if you can’t even do it with a woman? Can you even bear for your wife to know something so terrible that you’ve never told anyone? If you were Catholic, you could become a priest. You fantasize about having an accident that leaves you physically incapable of sex. The price of exaltation is one that seems impossible for you, but how do you know, really, if you haven’t tried? So, you are left to try to imagine two unimaginable things, exaltation and heterosexual marriage, and make a decision.

    Where is the woman in all this thought process? Absolutely nowhere. She’s a phantom, and a goal, and something you need but don’t want. She needs you, too, of course. Does she want you? Well, that’s a question that never came up in Aaronic priesthood.

    If you somehow reach the point of discussing marriage, will you be able to see your potential wife as more than a passport to the celestial kingdom? Will you be able to understand that you’re not the only one who might be be attempting to do the impossible? To some extent, no doubt. But a lot will depend on your ability, and hers, to see past the framework you’ve lived your life in up to this point.

    Things have changed a lot for young gay men and women. But the view of marriage as something you need to get done Real Soon Now for your eternal well being seems to be alive and well. The church talks out of both sides of its mouth about heterosexual marriage for gay members, but at least some of the time, probably most of the time through the more official channels, it says it may not be the right thing to do. I wonder, though, if the young women’s lesson manual ever mentions that it’s ok to say no if a gay guy proposes to you.

  16. Badger — That’s exactly what I was talking about with my remark about the different experiences of the different generations. It’s only quite recently that there’s been widespread awareness that orientation isn’t just about sexual desire; it’s also about falling in love and forming an emotional bond with your partner.

    If all you’ve heard is “everyone is innately heterosexual, and that homosexuality is the result of a long apprenticeship in lesser perversions,” then there’s no particular reason it would occur to you that there’s something a straight man offers a straight woman that the gay man is not offering her. Sure, it’s theoretically possible to intuitively figure that out, but it’s not the same as if you’ve been exposed to the idea of orientation and information about how it works.

  17. Badger – Thank you for your comments. It sounds like we are contemporaries, and your comments are validating of my own experience as well as thought-provoking.

    I suppose that one of my hopes/goals for this series of posts is for those of us who are of a “certain age” to be able to better understand what happened to us and our spouses, to obtain new insights and ways of looking at our common experiences, to (as you put it) “see past the framework [we’ve] lived [our] life in up to this point.”

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