What’s love got to do with it?

Book Review Homosexuality Mixed Orientation Marriage

I’ve just written a review (here) of Steven H. Lee’s compelling memoir Falling into Life. One thing I didn’t mention in the review — but one of the most fascinating aspects of it — is that it represents perhaps the most complete two-sided portrait of an LDS mixed-orientation-marriage that exists.

It turns out that Steven’s ex-wife Jennifer wrote her own memoir about their marriage a few years ago (My Ex is Having Sex with Rex), which I reviewed here. And — as Steven explains in his book — he never read his ex-wife’s book. So you see two totally independent perspectives on the same story.

It is fascinating to read these two heartfelt (sometimes heart-rending) accounts back-to-back. To give you a taste, I’ll just quote a few of the passages where they each describe how they felt.

First he says:

There wasn’t any way for me to escape thinking about men. And as time wore on, it became the most insidious problem of my life. I did not want this. It scared me, and I ran to it. The more I lied, the more I felt like it was an addiction of sorts, and I began to mentally see it as such. (The Evergreen program would prey on this feeling later in my life with great success.) The harder I fought against it, the more pull I felt to do it. What scared me the most was that in those moments when I was with a man, it felt so natural, so wonderful, so complete, much more so than when I was with my wife. Men created a spark in my heart.

I felt sick all the time, and the only things that would stop it for awhile was to give in to it. Attending church never helped it, attending temple ceremonies never helped it, doing every single thing I had been taught my entire life to end sinful behavior never helped it. What the fuck was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I ditch this? I had everything I needed to stop it, but I couldn’t. The structure was perfect, the Gospel was true, I was the problem. I began to attack myself even worse. And the lower I got, the only recourse was men.

There were a few close encounters when she asked me point blank in those first four years, I always denied it, and I simply cranked up the sex. I was good at sex, although I rarely instigated it, and we learned to have it well together, I think. I was never good at oral sex; I only tried a few times when she requested me to stop. We kept it always in missionary mode and for the most part, all sixteen years were pretty frequent. I never stopped having sex with her because I did enjoy it, and because it meant I was a straight, good husband. Hell, I was queer and I performed better than most Mormon men did, and we had more sex in one month than most Mormon men have in a year.

and:

After we consummated our marriage, I knew I was doomed. The spark was not there. I was lost. I had been counseled that marriage would make me straight, and in that one moment, in my first thrust, I knew it was a lie. I wanted my heart to pound, I wanted this so bad, and it was not happening. It was not going to save me, it was not going to happen. She was a virgin who was saving herself for marriage, only to marry a gay man. I knew it was a tragedy of epic proportions.

I didn’t give up. Maybe God could still save me somehow. It was a sin, I was hell-bound, and she was going to be my salvation.

Here’s what she says:

One of the men said his sex life was like going to the theater when no movie was playing.

Yes, that’s sometimes how my marriage to a gay man felt. The funny thing is, I was happy. I now realize that the happiness derived primarily from our family life. We didn’t fight much about kids or money, and we’d settled into a groove regarding shared responsibilities. We talked and laughed a lot. We had festive times and fun on family vacations.

Now, the times when Steve and I share a joke or I make him laugh really hard are the times I miss our marriage relationship most. On the other hand, our fights mostly centered on communication: How we said something, why we said something, or why we didn’t say something. We could fight for hours over communication issues. During our fights, I used to say that his way of communicating and behaving made me feel not loved.

In a sense, I was dead right. He wasn’t capable of loving me as I loved him. I believe the foundation of his love for me was focused effort and suppression. That is, he focused his effort and attention on having a wife and family while constantly fighting to suppress a strong biological drive. But the more he suppressed the drive, the more he was driven towards it. What did that make me? The obstacle.

Out loud, Steve has said that religion was the major obstacle, but I was the one he was committed to, the one he had children with, and the one he had a shared life with — for sixteen years. I was the one crying and screaming in front of him. He made a good effort to love our way of living, but I think ultimately when you live with an obstacle, you eventually itch to move that obstacle — either consciously or subconsciously.

I often felt desperate in our marriage — desperate to feel fully loved, highly desired, and truly content. I would glimse these things and try harder at the marriage. My counselor calls this “variable ratio reinforcement” — an intermittent type of reinforcement. I experienced a brief glimse of what I wanted and it was wonderful. Then it would vanish and I’d eagerly await its recurrence. I became hooked on a relationship that lacked the fundamental connection that provides the foundation for most heterosexual relationships. My self-criticism soared. Because I believed Steve was the only man who would love me, I created a fictitious ideal of what our relationship could be. I believed that if we overcame insurmountable odds, our love would be incredible.

And today? He says:

After all this time with Rex, I have come to understand what it is that heterosexual marriages have had all along. It’s an ease of love and life, an inherent desire for that person you live with at all times, drawn to them as they go about their life activites, suddenly taken aback by their courtesies, their graces, their sweetness. Sleeping in those positions where you feel so safe, snuggling off to sleep, and waking in the night feeling so drawn to that person next to you. I am finally in the right place at the right time. I don’t even think about “being gay” now. All the pain of the past has drifted away from me, and I have found something indescribable, something just right. I feel safe and sound.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any info on what she’s up to these days. I hope she’s doing well. Maybe she’ll come by and give us an update. 😉

4 thoughts on “What’s love got to do with it?

  1. As a gay male who has only dated males, I’m a little disconcerted with the way “fitting with someone so snugly” here is so closely linked with gender. The narrative (at least what you’ve posted here) focuses on a kind of essential brokenness that all of a sudden is fixed when “orientations” match. Perhaps there is a universal brokenness in mixed-orientation marriages, I really wouldn’t know. But didn’t the two learn a lot about relationships with human beings during their relationship with one another? I’m sure they admit this, but I’m always surprised with how gendered the discourse becomes, anyway.

    Psychologist Lisa Diamond’s work about sexual fluidity in women tends to be interpreted as women are “wired differently than men,” which explains the lesbian who finds herself suddenly attracted to men. But my interpretation is that women’s sexuality has historically been either forced to perform certain functions (such as childbearing) or ignored altogether, which has allowed the woman “who is freed from patriarchy (mostly)” to essentially get away from a lot of gendered baggage in her sexual and emotional life. Men’s sexuality has, arguably, more distance to travel to get away from patriarchy. I have no doubts that my generation of gay-identified men who grew up with little to no shame about being gay and loving men will increasingly engage psychosexually with women. Eventually, being “out of the closet” will cease to have meaning. *fantasizes about such a world* This is not to say everyone is “bisexual”; I’m just saying that “homo/bi/hetero” framework isn’t “eternal.”

    In the case of the narrative above, what I see is: “I didn’t get to do what I wanted for soooo long, and now that I am, it feels sooooo right and good,” which seems more infused with discourses about shame/pride than anything universal about the human condition. This is, of course, not to say, that the Church can continue on the course of compulsory heterosexuality (because “God’s law” is “objective” and narratives like this are only “subjective”); rather, I’m just pointing out that I don’t like the idea of compulsory homosexuality, either, which is what I feel the narrative leans toward.

  2. Wow. Just read your review on LFaB. This whole discussion is fascinating.

    I’m too lazy to find the thread about a year ago that ensued after you reviewed Langford’s book, but I think this juxtaposition supports the aptness of your observations there about the way the wife was depicted as an obstacle, and how that does suggest that her husband is gay.

  3. Alan — When it comes down to it, this is just the experience of one couple. I don’t mean to imply this is the universal experience of mixed orientation marriage.

    When I first thought of posting this, I was going to post my own remarks and interpretations. But I thought better of it (especially considering how much trouble I’ve gotten myself into lately, lol), and decided to just post their experiences in their words without commentary.

    The remark I wanted to make, however, is that we shouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming that one person’s experience negates someone else’s personal experience.

    I’ve read studies that claim that adult single women are happier than married women. Additionally, there are plenty of examples of people who have grown old living in a non-romantic relationship (such as with a sister, mother, family member, friend). So it is clear that people vary in terms of their need/desire to be in a pair-bonded, romantic-type relationship.

    In this case, the marriage was fundamentally broken, and gender was absolutely a part of it. (You can go debate Steven and Jennifer on this point if you like.) However, their experience doesn’t make any claims about anyone else’s marriage being broken in the same way. Like any personal experience, you can read it and contemplate whether (or not) it yields insights about your personal situation. If it doesn’t, fine.

    Holly — the thread is here.

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