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).
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.
[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.
[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.
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.