Mormon Erotica, Mormon Romance

Mormon Erotica, the new novel from Donna Banta, is a joyous page-turner that, despite the title, is far more concerned with love and romance than sex. While the book contains plenty of reflection on Mormon attitudes toward sex and marriage, the action depicted is strictly PG. As with so many romance novels, the suspense lies not in whether it will end with its hero and heroine poised to live happily ever after, but what sorts of personal discoveries and growth will make them worthy of that reward. I was always curious about and frequently surprised by the routes the characters forged to true love.

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If you don’t like romance novels, there’s a chance you won’t like Mormon Erotica. To me, this post-Mormon twist on the romance novel is a breath of fresh air, but then, I have a fondness for romance novels, having read dozens if not hundreds of them, from cheap formulaic paperbacks I checked out from the public library when I was in junior high to great classics of English literature like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. For that matter, as a teen I even read a few Mormon romance novels, such as those by Jack Weyland. I think Mormon courtship and marriage make great material for narrative, and I’m glad writers are tackling it in fiction for an audience beyond active Latter-day Saints. It’s especially nice to read a novel that takes you on a good-natured romp through the subject.

One of the best elements of Mormon Erotica is the main character, Jim, who is devout but not fanatical. Jim’s first marriage was disastrous and brief—but his ex-wife still plans to be married to him for time and all eternity, since they didn’t get a temple divorce to go with the civil one. Jim is comfortable in his role as a single dad too lazy and jaded to attempt another marriage—until he sees an old college girlfriend, Sadie Gordon, at a wedding reception. She’s hot, charming, and completely inactive, and she’s written a novel full of Mormons having sex. The title of Banta’s book refers to the way Sadie’s novel is characterized.

Less compelling are a couple of the supporting characters. Jim and Sadie each have a relative who seems like a caricature of the most awful Mormon you can imagine: small-minded, judgmental, and completely unable to understand boundaries. I’m certain there are Mormons like that, but they were so consistent and predictable that I was aghast at their actions without being surprised, a fact made all the more obvious given that Jim and Sadie did surprise me in interesting ways.

Occasional chapters are from the perspective of Jim’s teenage daughter, Julia. I don’t spend enough time around teenagers these days to know if Banta got twenty-first-century teen lingo and social interactions exactly right, but I thought she did a great job making the basic psychology of adolescence interesting for an audience of adults. Julia was so compelling that I’m now interested in reading The Girls from Fourth Ward, Banta’s murder mystery about four girls who hope to go to BYU.

The book is published under the imprint of the Mormon Alumni Association, and the cover art (which, you discover about halfway through the novel, makes particularly good sense) is by Chanson.

It Even Gets Better for Straight Spouses

Here’s an “It Gets Better” video made by a group of straight spouses in MOMs:

OK, I can’t make the embed code work, so here’s the link to the youtube page: http://youtu.be/xkKoD1uVbrE

The “about” page of the website of the group that produced the video, Straight Spouses, states

We started as an informal group of LDS women with children, on a journey to find peace with our religion and our lives, the center of which seemed to always be the fact we are or once were married to a gay or bisexual spouse. Soon our group began to grow, including men and people from other religious (primarily Christian) backgrounds.

I find it interesting that a couple of spouses claim that divorce actually saved their relationships with their (former) spouses and their families.

 

 

Put on your own oxygen mask first

A while ago, we had a medium-sized crisis involving one of our kids. One of the first thoughts that raced across my mind was “Just when I finally thought I had my act together — now this!!” Then I immediately caught myself. Would I rather it happen while I’m drowning in three other crises? Or when I feel like I’m in a position to let everything else slide for a bit while I focus on my child’s problem?

Meanwhile, my husband jumped up to the plate as well, and we both found solace and emotional replenishment in each other’s arms while dealing with the problem.

This incident came to mind when I read the following comment:

Excuses like the kids would want me to be happy that adults use to justify their divorce (news flash your kids dont give a damn if youre happy. Kind of like how you dont give a damn what they think about the divorce. Funny how that works).

Sure, most kids (being, by definition, immature) don’t consciously care much about other people’s happiness. But having the emotional and physical energy to deal with crises (as well as with day-to-day parenting) is not something you can fake or simply conjure up by force of will. It’s the parents’ responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for their kids, and it’s the adults’ responsibility to figure out what they need to do to create that environment. It is the couple that knows whether their marriage is a source of comfort and solace or whether it is a source of additional stress, hindering the parents’ efforts to focus on their kids’ needs.

When people say that no-fault divorce is destroying the family, I take issue with that personally — because if it weren’t for no-fault divorce, I probably wouldn’t have the happy family that I have today. I remember thinking that if the point of restricting divorce is for the sake of the kids, I shouldn’t have even had the six-month waiting period for my no-fault divorce. If a childless couple has already decided to call it quits, the last thing you want to do is insist on giving them another opportunity to bring a child into this picture. Of course, even for couples with kids, if they’ve decided to split amicably, it’s not necessarily in the kids’ interest to insist on turning it into a fight.

Now, I know that the defenders of traditional marriage will say that the point is that if they create more obstacles to divorce, maybe the couple will choose not to divorce. Because that’s what a stress family needs: more obstacles. (Aside: A historian studying Victorian-era illegitimacy told me that there was a high rate of cohabitation and illegitimacy due to one or both partners being unable to obtain a divorce from an earlier union.)

Studies on kids’ “outcomes” have shown that kids whose parents stayed married do better than kids whose parents are divorced. But if these studies are used to tell people that they need to stay together “for the kids” (and they are used for that, consistently), then the fact that some of families in the “married” category actually didn’t even want to split up is a major factor that should not be glossed over. The only relevant studies are the ones that specifically compare outcomes of families where the parents wanted a divorce (but decided to stay together for the kids) to the outcomes of families where the parents divorced and cooperated in child rearing. And, to be credible, such studies should be free of major funding conflicts of interest.

Sometimes I get the impression that people who want to “defend” (heterosexual-only) marriage don’t really think very highly of marriage, even straight marriage (see this recent critique of straight marriages where the spouses are in love with each other). Personally, I think marriage is a commitment rather than a prison, and — even though it represents some amount of work — on balance it is a comfort and joy rather than a punishment.

The Happiness Factor

Over the years, I’ve watched former mormon blogs come and go. And posters on various former mormon boards join and leave. (Kiley recently talked about it here). From what I can discern, there appears to be a cycle that some former mormons run through. At first there can be a lot of emotions; hurt, betrayal, anger or fear. But generally, after some time, people stop posting. In the least, they stop posting about mormon culture, leadership, history, etc.

Why is that?

My theory can’t be sustained by fact. After all, most people will say they are happy or content with their lives. Both mormons and former mormons have a vested interest. Most people (mo and non mo) have a strong inclination towards denial “it’s not that bad”.

Seth studied ex-mormon narratives some years back. I suspect that ex-mormon narratives are quite a bit like conversion narratives (I agree with runtu here). A person holds one belief (or hasn’t thought about it) and then revisits that belief (sometimes with severe personal consequences). Parents disown children; children disown parents. Couples divorce. Lifelong friends stop speaking to one another.

After some time, this social upheaval stabilizes. Relatives and friends accept that the original person hasn’t fully changed, although some of their outward beliefs may have changed. There’s an acceptance that they are no longer are true believers (if they ever were). They come to terms with the divorce (if one happened). Both sides either come to an uneasy truce or end the relationship (even a familial relationship).

Personally, I strongly suspect that it’s the social upheaval that creates the majority of the angst (if angst is the right word). It’s the feelings of betrayal (on both sides). One side thought love was unconditional (beyond faith). The other side thought a family member would be strong enough to remain in the faith, would overlook truth claims or political controversies.

So it becomes an interpersonal conflict, the personal becoming the political. And after a few years, everyone basically accepts the new reality (ex. aerin is no longer officially mormon, not married to a mormon, not going to raise her children mormon). While both sides may challenge the status quo, things stabilize.

And some of this prediction take into account mormons who return and mormons who leave and never write anything on the internet.

And despite all the protest to the contrary, most former mormons (who’ve gone through this process) appear to be doing just fine. They live different lives. They make different choices in relationships. They may go to a church, they may not. But just like mormons they find themselves content with their lives.

For me, it was hard at first to watch some of the bloggers that I have loved reading over the years stop posting as much. But then I realized that this appears to be a cycle of sorts. And that it’s healthy, in fact, for people of all backgrounds to grow and change. Sometimes that growth means not posting as much on the internet. What was fascinating is not as consuming as it once was.

Gay Mormon Fatherhood

A week ago, I wrote a post on my blog about coming out as a gay father. I mentioned strands of Mormon thinking which, I had come to realize, were woven throughout my psyche as a gay father, along with the strands of general homophobia, shame and self-loathing that are endemic to gays and lesbians everywhere, particularly those who came of age a generation ago. I wrote that I had been going through a process in which I became aware of these strands and aware that they were unconsciously affecting me and my relationships with my children.

I was going to expound a bit in this post on these strands, but as I sat down to write a follow-up post for my blog, something different evolved. I had planned to only briefly discuss another aspect of coming out as a gay father, particularly in the Mormon world, but these other thoughts sort of took over where I had planned to go.

I want to preface my comments by saying that I in no way want to minimize the difficulty that young (single) Mormon men experience in coming to accept their sexuality and all that this means within a Mormon context, including how they reconcile their sexuality with their faith. I know this process can be, and often is, excruciatingly difficult and has on more than one occasion resulted in suicide.

That being said, however, I think it bears pointing out that the coming out process for men who were married, had children and were active in the LDS Church is uniquely challenging.* Not only must such men come to terms with their true innate sexuality, but they must also if they make the decision to come out, or if it is somehow made for them go through a process of coming out as a gay father.

They must reconcile the Plan of Happiness (i.e., the Church’s plan for a happy and fulfilling life, involving heterosexual marriage, children, church activity, etc.) which they have tried to live for years or even decades with who they really are.

They must find meaning in having lived what in most instances amounted (to one degree or another) to a lie however well-intentioned to themselves and/or to their spouse and their children.

They quite often find that the belief system that framed their entire existence during their marriage – and provided a purpose to life – is no longer valid.

They discover that their role as a father was so tightly entwined with LDS teachings, Church activities and Church culture that, once they have either chosen or been forced to leave the Church, that role must to one degree or another be reinvented.

They find themselves ostracized not only as a gay man but also as a gay father. They are often accused of choosing to abandon their wife and children just so they can go out and have gay sex or live a gay lifestyle. In the process, they are frequently demonized and dehumanized, their most inner selves laid bare to assault and ridicule.

They are faced with helping their children cope with a situation that not only (usually) results in/contributes to divorce, but also in trying to help them get to know a man they thought they knew, but who in reality was largely a shell, a false persona, an actor on a stage who was trying as best he knew how to play his part.

They are faced with efforts by others to shame them, to deny or erase their existence, to cover-up who they are, to make excuses for them, and to deny access to their children.

Quite often these efforts to shame succeed at least temporarily aided and abetted by our own internalized homophobia. I was reminded of this as I recently read about efforts by the so-called Million Moms to force Toys-R-Us to remove an Archie comic book from its stores because the cover of the comic featured two men (of different races, no less) getting married. I read about this on Box Turtle Bulletin, and Id like to quote some passages from their blog post in order to make a point about the experience of gay Mormon (i.e., who either were or are members of the LDS Church) fathers.

Anti-gays have an immense sense of entitlement, wrote Timothy Kincaid. They should not ever have to be confronted with the fact that gay people exist, and especially not at a family venue like Disneyland, a park, [or] a toy store Because the mere existence of a gay person will have catastrophic results to the psyche of children who will be forced to ask questions far beyond their age appropriateness [These people believe] its best if gay people are invisible where children might be present. Or so the AFAs Million Moms have decided.

Kincaid then quoted from the Million Moms website, the salient part of which follows:

Unfortunately, children are now being exposed to same-sex marriage in a toy store. This is the last place a parent would expect to be confronted with questions from their children on topics that are too complicated for them to understand. Issues of this nature are being introduced too early and too soon, which is becoming extremely common and unnecessary. A trip to the toy store turns into a premature discussion on sexual orientation and is completely uncalled for.

As I read this, I couldnt help but think what many gay Mormon fathers have faced with their families and/or in a predominantly Mormon culture. We are not supposed to exist. Our mere existence, who we are, is treated as an affront that could have catastrophic results to the psyche of [OUR OWN] children who will be forced to ask questions far beyond their age appropriateness.

The sad thing is, we gay Mormon fathers often accept this state of affairs, whether consciously or subconsciously, in our dealings with our children and former spouse. We may subconsciously try to fit within the Mormon construct insofar as our dealings with our children are concerned. We may feel without really being conscious of it that we must not only bow to the Mormon worldview but support it by refraining from doing anything to upset or contradict it (which our mere presence has a tendency to do).

But we do not have to do this. There is an alternative. In a future post, I hope to discuss this alternative and reflect upon how the challenges I have described above can be used to make us even better fathers and healthier persons than we were before coming out.

I certainly believe this is possible. Im counting on it.

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at MoHo Sapiens.

* There will no doubt be some who read this who will say, But what about the wives? What about what they have gone through? I have written extensively on this subject in my former blog and acknowledge the very real pain that the wives in mixed-orientation marriages go through when reality finally trumps pretense. But in this post, I am a gay man, writing about gay fathers, and though I in no way want to diminish what wives go through I would hope that this would be understood.

 

A road-trip out of crazy: “Hippie Boy,” by Ingrid Ricks

Dad was a master salesman who could talk anyone into anything, and life on the road with him was the wildest adventure any kid could possibly imagine. Unfortunately, since he was often unreliable and occasionally violent, it wasn’t always the good kind of adventure — but it was a great escape from a home run by a crazy (and also occasionally violent) control-freak of a step-dad, who reeked of the meat that made up his entire food pyramid. That’s the world of teenaged Ingrid Ricks in the story Hippie Boy: A Girl’s Story.

The fact that her family is Mormon is important for the story, yet Ricks does an exceptional job of keeping Mormonism as the background setting instead of focusing the camera on Mormonism itself. It shouldn’t be exceptional, but when the events of a story rely heavily on things that are peculiar to Mormonism, there’s a great temptation for the author to put his/her arm around the reader’s shoulder and say, “Let me tell you what Mormonism is like…” Or to write a story that is self-consciously dripping with Mormonisms. Ricks succeeds at making the Mormon themes clear without shoving Mormonism in your face.

The most Mormon-specific aspect of the story is the mother’s fervent belief that she needs to rely on priesthood authorities to make her most important life decisions for her. No matter how much bad advice she gets (and acts on), she has a terrible time letting go of the belief that the advice must a priori be good advice that comes from God. This point reminded me quite a bit of Emily Pearson’s story Dancing with Crazy. But one interesting part of Ingrid Ricks’ story is that you see that the priesthood leaders’ advice isn’t always bad. Ingrid’s mom makes some harmful decisions — based on massively bad advice from the first bishop in the story — but the second bishop helps solve their problems (with the assistance of Ingrid’s older sister Connie, who engineers the flow of good advice). The second bishop also gives good advice to Ingrid, and the cool part is seeing her learn to analyze that advice herself, and decide what is the best course of action for herself and her family.

This is one of the most successful bildungsromans I’ve ever read. It’s clear to the reader from the beginning that the family has some pretty dysfunctional parenting. But it’s also clear that the young Ingrid views her parents with the eyes of a child who has never known anything else. Her (often absent) father, in particular, is a larger-than-life figure for her. Through the course of the story, she learns to see both of her parents in a more realistic light — as people who actually weren’t doing too badly, considering the major demons they were battling themselves. And it’s inspiring to see Ingrid and Connie take charge of their own lives (even as teens) and grow up healthy and sane, climbing the obstacles strewn in their path. I hate to use a clich like “triumph of the human spirit,” but at least I’ll say it kind of reminded me of this Suzanne Vega poem:

Kids will grow like weeds on a fence
She says they look for the light they try to make sense.
They come up through the cracks
Like grass on the tracks

If you’re looking for an entertaining adventure that’s more than just fluff, pick up a copy of Hippie Boy!!

Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues: The Challenge

So I found out a friend from my freshman ward is doing the “I’m in the closet and I mess around with guys but I’m not gay and I plan on marrying a girl in the temple” thing. I feel really bad for him. Not much I can do, but it’s sad That makes 8 gay guys from that ward. Recent comment on MoHo Facebook Forum

[G]ay men who court and marry straight women have privilege, power and information their wives lack. Gay men who court and marry straight women might have been deceived and victimized by the church, but they subsequently deceive and victimize their wives, and they can and should stop. ~ Holly Welker

This is not a post about the appropriateness of facial hair. It is about gay Mormons men who have married, or perhaps plan or hope to marry, a woman. More to the point, it is ultimately about the women in such marriages: the beards of their gay Mormon husbands (in that they are used as a spouse to conceal the husbands sexual orientation).

The Challenge

I was challenged to write about this topic by a commenter who participated in a long string of comments in response to an essay I published here on Main Street Plaza called Reflections on An Overwhelming Emptiness. The MSP essay (which I had also published on my own blog) consisted of a review of and commentary on comments left on my blog in response to a couple of posts about Mormon mixed-orientation marriages (MoMoMs).

The challenge was framed by the following comments by Holly Welker:

Anyone looking at the images [on your blog] would think that a straight woman/gay man [Mo]MoM is entirely about the man in it and from every gay male MoMoM blog Ive read, that would be a reasonable inference. What could you do to bring more attention to the woman in a/your marriage? Could you have images of women beautiful, broken, defiant, angry, weeping? Could you write posts with titles like Remember: Youre marrying a WOMAN, not an Idea and Whats Going to Happen to Your Wife When it All Falls Apart?

[Y]our marriage is not about only you, and I am suggesting that it might be a good idea to demonstrate in your writing and on your blog more awareness, concern and compassion for what your decisions have cost your wife, because by doing so, you can get single gay men on the verge of repeating your mistake to factor in more accurately and appropriately to their decision what that decision will cost any woman they might marry, and I would hope most devoutly that they would actually care about that.

I had several knee-jerk reactions to what Holly wrote. My initial reaction was that my blog is written (1) by a gay man, (2) about gay men, (3) to gay men; it is not written by, about or for women. I also frankly resented what to me was the patronizing insinuation that I needed to demonstrate on my blog more awareness, concern and compassion for what my decisions had cost my wife. Furthermore, I am not a woman, and could not, even if I chose to, purport to express a womans feelings, let alone my own wifes feelings.

For these and other reasons, I extended an invitation to Holly to write a guest post for my blog that would bring more attention to the woman in a [MoMoM] and achieve the other goals she described. She declined to do so, however, referring me instead to an article she wrote for Sunstone on the subject (to which I will refer in later posts).

In the weeks since that post on MSP, I have thought about Hollys challenge and about some of the issues raised by commenters to the MSP post. I decided I would try to put together a series of posts on my blog that address these issues albeit probably in a manner different than Holly (or any other woman) would have. This is the first of these posts that will be published in the coming days. I anticipate that there will be at least an additional four, perhaps more (published on my blog), depending on comments received to this and subsequent posts. I am hopeful that these essays will generate a lot of discussion on a subject that desperately needs to be discussed openly.

What Did You Know and When Did You Know It?

This question, a paraphrase of a famous question posed by Senator Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings, is about as good a place as any to start.

In one of her first comments to my MSP post, Holly wrote:
[However,] a major concern in all of this remains the timing of gay mens deep concern about the welfare of the women they marry. I wish it happened sooner as in, before courtship. I cant help feeling that so many MoMoMs happen because the person with the incompatible orientation doesnt think through the anguish theyll be creating for a partner who is deeply in love with a spouse who cant reciprocate.
She was responding to the following comment I had made: Every gay man I have met, either in person or online, is a real man (with reference to [a] term [used by another commenter see below]) who has expressed deep concern for the welfare of his wife, even in the cases where the wife has initiated divorce proceedings. Myreference to the term real man relates to a comment left by Seth a heterosexual married Mormon:

[I]f your marriage is wrecked, divorce if you must. But dont delude yourself into thinking that youre just setting [your wife] free to fly off and find love. For a lot of single moms out there, there is no second shot, and no one else waiting out there. Sure, she may have been miserable WITH you. But that doesnt automatically mean shell be less miserable WITHOUT you. A real man faces that fact, and takes accountability for it. No matter what his sexual preferences [emphasis added].

In a follow-up comment, Seth wrote: I dont really think a gay guy has any better reason for divorcing his wife than your average straight guy who no longer finds his wife sexually attractive, or doesnt love her, etc.

Well, besides the issues I had with Seths tone and choice of words, I was left with the firm impression that Seth has little or no understanding of what it means to be gay or what it feels like to be in a deeply troubled marriage.

But enough about Seth.

Lets get back to the question: For those guys out there with beards, what did you know about your sexuality and when did you know it? And the $64,000 question when did (or have) you disclosed the fact that your gay to your wife? For those gay guys out there who are considering damning the torpedoes and proceeding with a traditional Mormon marriage, in spite of the fact that you know or strongly suspect you are gay gay gay, when do you plan to tell your young lady about it?

I have to admit that my initial reaction to Hollys comments, quoted several paragraphs above, could be characterized as irritation. She certainly seemed to be saying (or implying) that young Mormon men should, prior to even courting a girl, (1) know their sexual orientation, (2) embrace that orientation enough to be able to take responsibility for it, (3) feel comfortable enough about that orientation to be able to come out to a girl, and (4) have resolved any conflicts between their sexual identity and LDS teachings concerning homosexuality, eternal marriage and the entire Plan of Salvation.

The Gameplan

I want to address each of these points in subsequent posts, as well as Hollys statement that so many MoMoMs happen because the person with the incompatible orientation doesnt think through the anguish theyll be creating for a partner who is deeply in love with a spouse who cant reciprocate.

Because I feel I should put some skin in the game and respond to Hollys challenge, to the extent I am able, I will devote a couple of posts to my own experience and marriage (making it clear that I have always been very protective of my wifes privacy and will continue to be so). I will also examine the factors that have resulted and continue to result in MoMoMs, including addressing issues relating to female sexuality in the Church (relying heavily on comments left on the MSP post by Holly and Chanson). I am hopeful as well that I will be able to include remarks by women who are married to gay men.

Though my initial reaction to the implied points listed above and to Hollys comment (about thinking through the anguish created for a beard) was again – one of irritation proceeding from a perceived lack of understanding on Hollys part and the imposition by her of unrealistic expectations on young Mormon men, this reaction has been tempered somewhat by thought and time, and this will be reflected in subsequent points.

I do believe that Hollys main point is valid and true: As difficult and painful as MoMoMs are for gay men, they are likely to be equally, if not ultimately more, painful for the woman involved. And more often than not, she is likely to be ignorant, going into the marriage, of her husbands true orientation. Gay Mormon men have to take responsibility for that ignorance.

As Holly wrote, men have more agency and control in the matter of courtship and they have privilege, power and information their [future] wives lack. As such, it is incumbent on young gay Mormon men in no small part because they have the ability to do so now more than ever before to come to grips with their sexuality prior to any kind of a marriage. Gay men who court and marry straight women might have been deceived and victimized by the church, Holly concedes, but they subsequently deceive and victimize their wives, and they can and should stop.

I would alter Hollys statement to say that gay Mormon men have [not might have] been indoctrinated, deceived and victimized by the Church in a number of ways that I will discuss in subsequent posts. As to the rest of her statement, however, she is absolutely correct. The downstream deception and victimization of women – which is foreshadowed by the other quote at the beginning of this post – needs to stop. And the moral responsibility of the Mormon Church to do something about this situation can no longer be ignored.

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com.

The second installment in this series is posted here.

The third installment in this series is posted here.

Reflections on An Overwhelming Emptiness

About ten days ago, I published a post on my blog (invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com) entitled An Overwhelming Emptiness. It was Daves story, the story of his struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and identity in a Mormon mixed-orientation marriage (MoMoM). Then, on Wednesday of this past week, I published another post, entitled Falling Away, in which James described his struggles with his MoMoM.

These posts have, to date, generated over 30 comments and have racked up more page views in a shorter period of time that virtually any other post since I started blogging last October. An Overwhelming Emptiness, in particular, generated some wonderful comments that I wanted to highlight in this post, along with some of my own observations, around some general themes of concerns faced by gay men in MoMoMs.

Accepting Who You Are

Dave had written that his counselor had suggested that being honest about his sexuality with himself and others is a first step. But, asked Dave, will that lead to happiness? MoHoHawaii responded to this question by writing that coming out to yourself and those closest to you is only a first step. By itself, it may not make you feel better, but it can be the beginning of a longer process that may result in significant life improvements [After all,] coming out is scary. It has ramifications. It may introduce changes in some significant relationships in your life, including your marriage. If you’re ready to start this journey, give it a go. If you need more time, then wait.

For those of with a Mormon background, coming out to oneself may be one of the most difficult things one has ever done, every bit as difficult if not more so as coming out to a spouse. The reason: because we finally not only admit to ourselves what was previously unadmittable, but also accept it and most difficult, but which provides the greatest degree of health embrace it.

Once that hurdle is overcome, however, peace can come. As Alex (who has only recently come to terms with being gay and has reached a decision with his wife to divorce) wrote: I can totally relate to what youre going through. You feel at peace for the first time with yourself because you can accept something that youve been trying to change and fight for years. But it scares you because you dont know what that means for your future, for your marriage.

Like you [Dave], he continued, I spent some time with Evergreen. I went to the conferences, read their books, went through the manual – all the time believing that if I just prayed long enough, worked through enough, I could diminish my feelings of same sex attraction. I dont have a condition called same sex attraction. Im gay. Im homosexually-oriented. And what that means is not just that I have a sexual attraction that I have to keep in check, but that I want to be emotionally and physically intimate with a man. If you know what orientation is, you realize you want fulfillment.

In response to Alexs comment, Dave wrote: Until I reached this point [where Im at right now], I didn’t understand the dimension of emotional love that is missing. As you point out, it’s not confined by the generic “same gender attraction” term, it is my sexual identity, which is part of me; it’s who I am. At the same time, accepting my true identity makes me want to live in harmony with my identity …

Gay + Heterosexual Marriage = Happiness?

In response to the (theoretical) question of whether a gay man can be happy in a heterosexual marriage, MoHoHawaii responded: It depends on how gay you are. A minority of gay people appear to be capable of relating romantically with a person of their non-preferred sex. These folks are capable of maintaining acceptable opposite-sex marriages and making the necessary compromises. For the rest of us, an acceptable level of satisfaction in a mixed-orientation marriage is just not possible.

However, MoHoHawaii continued, the statistics no matter how dismal aren’t really relevant to any individual case. The relevant question here is where you fall on the Kinsey scale, from super straight to super gay. The fact that you are 14 years into a relationship and still feel a severe inability to achieve a passionate emotional connection with your spouse could be seen as evidence that you’re more on the gay side of this continuum. People on the outside can’t really advise you here. You need to look into your own heart and decide if you can continue along your current path, or if real change is needed.

Don wrote: I’ve seen many gay men leave their religion and marriages and find happiness but I’ve never seen gay men find real peace and happiness in a [Mo]MoM or in a religion that doesn’t fully support their natural state of being. Religion and fear seem to be the drug of choice and those who give advice to continue on that path are enablers. Misery loves company. The real truth is all of this can just go away. It happens every day. Men choose to step out of their old way of life that was never really working and into a new life of self acceptance.

Giving Yourself Permission to (Even Think About) Divorce

In addition to all the other issues gay guys in MoMoMs have to deal with is the issue of divorce itself. With the Churchs emphasis on the stability of marriage and the additional (very thick) layer of the doctrine of eternal marriage on top of that, it is extremely difficult for many Mormon men to allow themselves to even contemplate the possibility of divorce. To do so carries not only the normal anxieties that most (non-Mormon) men would face while contemplating divorce and all of its ramifications; it all carries the ponderous and excruciatingly weighty concerns over the crushing failure that divorce represents in the temporal (i.e., the here and now) Mormon world and culture and in the context of Mormon theology and the entire Plan of Salvation.

As I have written before, I refused to allow myself to even contemplate divorce for most of my married life. My parents had been divorced; one set of grandparents had been divorced; my siblings had been divorced. I was determined that this would never, ever happen to me and my family. As it turned out, I was willing to force myself to go to great lengths of unhealthy behavior to ensure that it never happened.

When my wife started floating the prospect that our marriage was seriously over, I panicked. I couldnt allow myself to contemplate this. Until I had what I can only describe as an epiphany last summer well before my Packer-induced gay crisis whereby my mind and heart was suddenly opened to the concept that there could be life after a divorce; and not only could there be life, there could also be happiness. This experience prepared me for what lay ahead in the next few months.

For these reasons, I was pleased to read the following advice to Dave from MoHoHawaii: I do think you might be happier if you entertained the possibility in your mind that you might end your marriage. What this thought experiment does is help reduce any feelings that you are trapped in your situation. It’s one thing to choose to stay in a marriage because of various practical reasons; it’s another thing to feel trapped and hopeless in such a situation. Staying married should be something that you actively choose, not something that’s forced on you. If you seriously gave yourself permission to get divorced and considered it as a real possibility, you might still choose to stay married. I think the fear of divorce causes a lot of stress that can be alleviated by simply admitting that it’s one of the real possibilities and then starting to work systematically on the underyling issues.

The Wife

Of course, there are always two people in a MoMoM, usually a gay husband and a straight wife. Guilt and concerns for a woman that a gay husband often feels a great deal of love and affection toward are also issues that weight heavily upon the mind of the husband. Often, these feelings of guilt and concern are so strong that the husband may not even allow himself to consider that perhaps his wife might be happier as well if the marriage was ended.

Dave described his feelings in this regard in a follow-up comment: Believe me when I say that I care a great deal about how my choices have affected my wife. Much of the anger, despair and self-loathing I’ve carried around is related to this very issue and what my choices have done to her and my family. And although I noted that we discussed my SGA several years ago, I didn’t explore the depths of my sexuality enough to really understand and explain what this means to me and my wife and our relationship. Instead, I bought into the notion that I should determine the causes (distant father, etc.) and thereby understand solutions, which allowed me to go back into the closet.

This time, I hope to behave differently. This includes bringing my wife into this process. She has to understand the journey I will take to explore my future. And she needs to know that accepting my sexuality means I will not swallow all the koolaid. And I need to learn to live honestly. The lying that is required to masquerade in the role of perfect Mormon husband/son permeates many aspects of my life. By being honest about this process, what I’m feeling, what my goals are, etc., I hope that she will be able to decide for herself what she wants and not feel that she has to settle for an incomplete marriage because of all the baggage the church piles on top of us.

Alex, who recently came to a decision with his wife to divorce, wrote the following: Its been a hard process talking to my wife. Having to go back and tell her that I don’t fill emotionally fulfilled by sexual intimacy with her. Having to explain that the attraction I feel for her isnt the same as the attraction I feel for men. It hurts me and her I thought that could change. But I really feel that with the lack of emotional intimacy that should come with physical intimacy [is] probably not going to change. And why should she or I accept anything less than a true marriage?

[S]he asks herself if shes doing something wrong. And she asks herself if she just isnt pretty enough. And a lot of things As I opened up to her, she opened up to me. Ive been withdrawn from my marriage. I havent put myself into the relationship like she has. I realize what Ive put her through. My wife has been suffering from this. Telling her didnt necessarily make it worse. It just helped me open my eyes to the reality of my situation.

[The bottom line is that] Im not getting divorced so I can go be with a man. Im getting divorced because I realize that we cant make our marriage work. Living together as roommates, best friends, sure. But marriage? No way.

For the Kids Sake

Right behind the concerns over getting a divorce are concerns over any children of the marriage. Of course, almost any father contemplating divorce would be concerned about the effects on his children. However, once again, in the case of MoMoMs, there are additional layers of concern arising out of Mormon culture and theology that may prevent a gay father from allowing himself to gain more perspective on the situation.

Once again, MoHoHawaii framed the issued succinctly: Would your kids benefit if you could relate to them from a place of happiness instead of despair? Not to plug the institution of divorce, but just because you have a bad marriage doesn’t mean you can’t have a good divorce that includes respect, affection and a significant improvement in the outcomes of everyone involved.

Ill close with these words of Don: To think that the best thing for your wife and kids is an unhappy, unauthentic father is delusional. When the plane is going down put on your own oxygen mask first and then help others. You are of no use to those around you if you are suffocating. There’s lots of air available, all you have to do is breathe.

 

The Toll: Inside a Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriage

Losing you [when you joined the church] was like a guillotine blade that beheaded the loving richness I had in my life. [After you joined the church] I saw you withdraw from life. The relationship between your withdrawal from life and your involvement in the church appeared to be proportionally related: the more you became fervent about the church, the more withdrawn and less talkative and sadder you became.

It was surely due to the instinct for survival that you beheaded your true self, or tucked him away under the folds of your memory and heart. In order to survive and achieve a happy life that the church promised to be yours after so much trauma, guilt, shame and lack of love [in my childhood and youth], you had to get rid of your Self. As you couldn’t actually kill that self, you had to pretend that it never existed.

So wrote my sister last fall after I began the process of coming out. Her very astute perceptions about what happened to me when I converted as a young adult validated very strongly what I already knew. I sensed this even while on my mission, which I served after joining the Church. But this realization was locked away a long time ago and frankly took a back seat to the consequences that flowed from my decision to reject my gayness and abandon much of my old self when I got married.

I use the term reject deliberately. Paradoxically, it was on my mission that, for the first time in my life, I came the closest to truly accepting my gay identity and choosing to live life as a gay man. I also felt that, toward the end of my mission, I was starting to recover some of who I was before I joined the church.

Then I came home and embarked upon an extremely tumultuous courtship with the woman who became my wife. One of the reasons for the tumult was my struggle over what to do with my life: gay or straight; active Mormon or leave the church; married or not married?

Ultimately, I made my choice: heterosexual; married; Mormon. I knew I was gay; my wife knew (before our wedding) of my struggles involving attraction to men. However, in getting married (and buying into everything that went along with that) I felt that I was making the righteous choice, i.e., the choice sanctioned by God and his church. I would get married because it was the right thing to do; and, similarly, I felt I could reject my gayness and repress any homosexual inclinations because that, too, was the right thing to do. I had decided that I wanted to, and could be able to, function as a righteous heterosexual priesthood holder should.

I did not then realize the toll that this choice would exact upon me and ultimately upon my wife as well as my children.

I use the word toll deliberately, in the sense of one of its definitions: a grievous or ruinous price. Only after coming out, in hindsight and after finally accepting who I am, did I begin to understand the nature and extent of this price the price I paid to deny and betray my true sexual identity, and the price I paid upon abandoning many aspects of my identity.

In turning away from my true sexual identity, I think subconsciously that my gay self felt that it had been betrayed. It had emerged to some degree on my mission, but now it was to be repressed and discarded, not only temporarily, but forever. But one cannot deny the essence of who one is and remain healthy, mentally, emotionally and even physically. Perhaps for a time; but not, I have learned, in the long run.

Though consciously I felt like I was willingly making this choice, it was only after coming out that I started to realize how deeply that betrayal of my gay self affected me subconsciously. It created a tension in the very core of my being that gradually built up resentment and anger, continually being added to and hardening like the dome on a volcano. In retrospect, I now clearly see the presence of constant pressure, which made day-to-day life a challenge, difficult, frustrating, void of happiness, full of stress. This pressure would also build up and erupt from time to time, expressing itself in anger that, combined with the after-effects of child abuse, made for a toxic mix.

The situation might have been different if I had not been on the priesthood path if there had not this constant pressure to be a model husband, a model father, a model provider, and a model priesthood leader, i.e., if I had had just a little more freedom to be me. But I was determined to do everything expected of me, everything asked of me, in order to prove (to myself, ironically) that I could overcome my same sex attraction and be a faithful worthy priesthood holder, a successful Mormon husband and father. I became my own worst enemy.

As it was, my rejection of my gayness was virtually complete and total as I steered clear of any distractions (i.e., any situation that would in the remotest degree entice or tempt me to indulge to the slightest extent my gay self). Meanwhile, the subconscious pressure created by the truly existential bind I had put myself in manifested itself in migraine headaches, irritability and a general sense of deep unhappiness.

However, in addition to this existential bind resulting from a betrayal of my gay self, I now see that I also abandoned many other aspects of my identity at the time of my marriage. Because I felt the need to commit myself heart and soul to the marriage, I felt that I not only needed to repress the gay me, but I also had to abandon many other aspects of what had been my identity.

Why? Because the old me the one who loved music, drama, art, literature, history was tainted with homosexuality. The presence of the old me would only have been an embarrassment; he would have been a third wheel in our marriage, out of place in the new order of things.

How a third wheel? Well, letting go of my old identity, I embraced a new one. My wife and I really had very few things in common; our interests are quite different, even divergent. The one thing we had in common when we got married was a belief that we were supposed to get married to each other, along with a belief that as long as we remained faithful in the church, everything would work out.

The situation might have been different had my wife been interested in the same things I was, but she was not. If I had not been determined to do practically whatever it took to make my marriage a success (partly because of my parents failed marriage, but also to overcome the gay factor), if I had not had the specter of my homosexuality always in the background, threatening to out me and destroy my celestial marriage (perhaps it was my gay self, seeking revenge), then I never would have subjected myself to this abandonment of my old self.

I now realize the toll that this abandonment exacted. Subconsciously, it created another huge conflict that only added to the conflict I felt after betraying my gay self.

Looking back on it, I can see how much I subconsciously raged against this abandonment. I had abandoned my core, but yet I raged against feeling that I had to adopt someone elses core as my own. I raged against feeling like I had to be a certain way in order to be accepted, to be true to the path I had chosen. Yet I had to be accepted in order to fulfill the path I had chosen. It was a hopeless conflict that played itself out day after day, month after month, year after year, adding to my sense of unhappiness, alienation and lack of fulfillment, exacting a terrible toll.

Let me state plainly that I am not blaming my wife for any of this. No. This was my problem, my fault. And I am not prepared to say that getting married was a mistake, nor am I saying that my marriage was all bad; far from it. But, in terms of my identity, my psyche and, as a result, the mental and emotional health of me and my family and children in terms of all this, my decision to get married took a dreadful toll.

So, where did I go upon coming to these realizations? Well, I began. I began by deciding to affirm my sexual identity instead of continuing to try to repress and deny it.

I then began the process of trying to recover my identity the person I was before my marriage, then the person I was before I joined the church, and ultimately – the person I was or might have been, but for the abuse I suffered as a child. Next comes the process of mourning and healing: mourning lost opportunities, mourning unintended consequences of living a lie, mourning pain inflicted on others as well as self. Then, hopefully, healing.

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com.

Why Would Heavenly Father Do That?

This now-infamous question (slightly paraphrased) posed by President Boyd K. Packer at this past October Conference will, I think, reverberate in the minds of many church members for years to come and not just with respect to sexual orientation. I cant help thinking that Elder Packer may for many members have, in a moment of startling but unintended candor, inadvertently let the genie of existential doubt out of the bottle of complacent certainty, and that it may be impossible for some people to ever get the genie to return to its comfortable but confined space. I believe I may be one of those people, for I have recently had some rather bitter experience with this question.

Scene One: Our Son

Our oldest son came home unexpectedly almost half-way through his mission to the Eastern states, suffering from depression. He had never been diagnosed with depression. I was caught unawares and desperately attempted to understand, over the course of the ensuing weeks, what had happened and what was happening to him. I felt, however, like I was continually trying to play catch up in this game of understanding, and I always seemed to be behind the curve.

Before I knew what was happening, I was taking my son to the emergency room, from which he was admitted to a psychiatric ward. I will never forget going to visit him during the week he was a patient there, thankful that it was only one week. And I will never forget asking myself over and over: Why is this happening? Why would Heavenly Father do this to my son and to us?

But there were more challenges ahead. Our son seemed to be improving after being in the hospital; his medication had been changed, and he was thankfully no longer suicidal. He tried to put together some plans for how he could move forward with his life. But he met with disappointment after disappointment.

Finally, a few weeks after coming home from the hospital, he broke down in a fit of anger and despair. He had been praying for help with his life and had felt good about a job interview; but it had turned into another dead end. He snapped. He turned to me with an anguished look on his face, eyes red, tears streaming down his cheeks, and shouted, Why is God doing this to me? I trusted Him! I did what I thought He wanted me to do! And I keep running into brick walls! Im never going to trust Him again!

Scene Two: Me and My Wife

My wife and I basically got married because we both felt that this was what Heavenly Father wanted us to do. I realize how incredibly nave that sounds, to put it charitably. We both had strong testimonies and felt that we had received a witness that we were meant to be together, despite the fact that we were very different from each other, had different interests, came from differing family backgrounds, and basically couldnt let two days pass without getting into an argument.

But because we felt we were supposed to get married, we trusted God to bless us with happiness as we worked away at this arranged marriage. But more arguments and adjustments followed the wedding. We continued to experience problems, and I think it could be said that we were both unhappy, but we felt that we were doing what we were supposed to do.

As the years passed, we continued to proceed on the path (i.e., actively following the Churchs prescribed plan of happiness for families) me working away at my career and in church callings, she bearing additional children and taking care of things at home. The main thing we had in common by this point was raising our children and staying on the path and working on other goals for our family.

This was the situation for much of our marriage: blindly working away, but (both of us) feeling an underlying sense of unhappiness, disconnection with self, and a growing suspicion that we had badly miscalculated Gods plans for our lives. Finally, however, the badly worn covering of faith that we had been stretching for years over the deep fissures and cracks in our relationship ripped open, revealing the truth of what lay underneath. After trying for years to do the right thing, we have finally decided that the right thing would be to separate and ultimately divorce.

Like my son, I now pose the question: Why? We trusted God with our lives and honestly tried to do what we thought He wanted us to do. Why would He do this to us?

Scene Three: Our Daughter

During the course of a discussion with my college-age daughter a couple of months ago, we talked about the Church. It turns out she was doing a lot of soul-searching. She has always had what I would term a strong testimony, but she also has a strong, independent mind and spirit that has never felt comfortable with the softball answers that are common in your average Sunday School class.

At one point in our conversation, she said, I dont understand why Heavenly Father would do this to us. We have always tried to do exactly what He has asked of us yet look at the situation our family is in! You always hear that if you keep the commandments and do what God asks you to do, Hell bless you. But He hasnt done that for us. And I dont understand that.

What could I say? She was echoing my own thoughts. She knew that the pat Sunday School answers (as she put it), would not cut it. She remarked that people typically would say one or more of the following in response to her question: God wont try you beyond your capacity to endure; or, you receive no witness until after the trial of your faith; or, faith precedes the miracle. But all of these simplistic answers are just so much verbiage thrown at a life that is complex, perplexing and sometimes deeply disappointing by people who never want to honestly discuss the stark realities that lay just beneath the (rigidly) placid surface of Mormon life.

So Whats the Point?

So what are the lessons I have learned from these and other similar experiences?

First, though implicitly encouraged to do so by the Church, dont surrender authenticity. I dont believe God requires us to do that. In fact, I believe He wants us to do just the opposite! When we surrender who we truly are in order to fit the parameters of another person or an organization or a belief system, from that moment, we begin living a lie. And the longer we live the lie, the deeper will be the damage, disappointment, resentment and unhappiness that result from living the lie.

Second, recognize and reject the steady diet of conformity and blind faith to which we modern-day Mormons have, in general, been exposed. Implicit in much of what the modern Church teaches and does is that sameness and uniformity and conformity are all desirables that should be embraced. Deviance from the path is discouraged; differences are often suspect; lack of conformity to established standards results in judgment and ostracism; and free-thinking and faith outside the parameters established by the Church are viewed as tantamount to apostasy. Again, most of this is implicit, woven so tightly through the fabric of life as a modern-day Mormon that it becomes virtually indistinguishable and unrecognizable.

Third, recognize and reject another one of the most engrained premises of modern Mormonism, i.e., ascribing everything in life, no matter how small or detailed, to divine intent, design or intervention. Rejection of this premise not only correlates with one of Mormonisms central tenets, i.e., free agency, but it also places squarely on ones own shoulders the responsibility of living ones life, of learning and growing, or seeking and pondering, of choosing and rejecting (a position which one would think would be axiomatic in the LDS universe, considering that a core belief of Mormonism is that we are here on this earth in order to progress toward Godhood).

In pondering the question that is posed in the title of this post, I have realized that, at various points in my life, I have sacrificed authenticity because I was told and believed that I could obtain a higher blessing only by doing so. Secondly, I have bought into concepts of conformity, uniformity and blind faith that have channeled my thinking into certain narrow streams of thought that ultimately proved to be invalid. And thirdly, perhaps most damaging of all, I bought into the premise that many aspects of my life were subject to divine intent, design or intervention, and in so doing, I effectively surrendered responsibility for living an authentic, deliberate life.

So, in the final analysis, I have realized that I have asked the wrong question. Instead of asking, Why would Heavenly Father do that?, I should instead ask, Why did I do this to myself?