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.
Kimball was not perfect. I do agree that what he said has hurt people. Only Christ was perfect. Yes, ideally he should have rephrased it in such a way that what he said wouldn’t have been misinterpreted 30 years down the road even if the vocabulary he used was drastically altered. That would have been ideal, but that would be a next to impossible feat. Reading his other works in context, I can see what he was trying to say, and being alive in today’s society, I can see where people get the opposite interpretation.
I had a similar experience. I fought against ever coming out. I too felt it was okay to be gay, but then a very strong rebuke against same-sex relationships. It is incredibly difficult to be gay in this world, and I don’t for a second look down on people who choose to be in a same-sex relationship, because asking them to learn to overcome their sexuality is tough. I am sure God will judge everyone according to their understanding and capabilities.
At the same time, I know that one of Satan’s greatest tools is to mix scripture with the philosophies of men. Quotes from general authorities can do the greatest harm when they are misinterpreted. That is why I worry so much when people misquote Elder Packer.
Why do tendencies only have to do with homosexuality? Yes, we have tendencies towards the impure and unnatural, but so do straight people. Everyone has them, but as Kimball and Packer has said, the difference is whether we overcome them, or we give in to them.
The man in the example had a heterosexual tendency towards pornography, and he did not learn to overcome it. It applies just as much to him as to us. Did the man need to change his sexual orientation? No, so why do you think we do? Why make a special case for homosexuals. Packer included us and treated us like heterosexuals. He made no distinction for us. Why do you want to make a distinction for us?
Did you read the link I provided? It had several quotes from other places talking about the need to overcome. It isn’t just gay people who need to overcome. We all need to overcome our sexual desires.
Elder Packer has said that same-sex attractions “may be a struggle from which you will not be free in this life.” Why would you think he is now saying that we can free ourselves from this struggle?
The widespread misinterpretation of Elder Packer will do more to increase gay suicide than anything Elder Packer could have said or done.
@Alex – Thank you for sharing your very personal thoughts and experiences.
I agree with your observations in #150. Some of the things you touch on are subjects that I want to cover in more depth later in this series, the title of which I chose carefully: I really do hope this can be an exercise in exploring the issues. As I’ve said many, many times on my blog, EACH MoMoM is different, the dynamics are different, the people are different, everything is different. Probably the only similarity they share in common is their complexity. Every couple has to work things out in a way that works for them.
As to dear President Packer, well, some people’s minds just simply are not going to be changed. Such people even refuse to believe that thousands of people could come to the same conclusion as to the import of his remarks. To such people, such conclusion is invalid. So be it. It doesn’t change the facts one iota, however. As has been commented, perception IS reality in this case.
What bothered me as much as or more than his actual comments, which were hastily edited after an early Monday morning meeting with President Monson (so word on the street has it), was the outpouring of “support” for him on FB pages, etc. I was sickened by the many, many anti-gay homophobic comments that were left on these sites. Regardless of what Packer meant or didn’t mean, that incident unveiled the ugly truth about many members of the Church. I found it extremely upsetting, and it is one of the factors that led to me saying “enough is enough.”
Alan — I’m glad to see that you’re feeling more welcome here, and that you’re contributing constructively to this discussion.
Since I specifically asked Holly to lay off you, and since she has been considerate enough to comply, I feel I should reply personally to this point where you’re commenting on some of Holly’s remarks:
Sure, perhaps no two orientations are identical. But claiming that spouses should feel no responsibility to be forthcoming to each other about their sexuality (including but not limited to orientation) doesn’t follow from that. And no one suggested that encouraging people to be more forthcoming sexuality-wise prior to marriage is the complete, simple answer to educating people about the pitfalls of MoMs.
I’m late to this thread, but I have gone through the post and the comments. I have only a couple of points to add.
I don’t want to spend time reconstructing what we think Elder (later President) Kimball’s understanding of homosexuality was, except to say that he was born in 1895 and was known to have views that were consistent with his era, his rural background and the most socially conservative positions of his time. It was between 25 and 40 years ago when President Kimball’s teachings on the subject of homosexuality were the official LDS positions on the subject. In recent decades those views have been repudiated by the Church in several important ways, and it’s not helpful to deny that this change has taken place.
I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that the LDS conception of homosexuality during the Kimball era was very, very different than today’s official stance (but, oddly, not different from what LDS hardliners continue to believe). From 1976 through the mid-eighties, you could be excommunicated for a mere admission of same-sex orientation. Sexual orientation was otherwise NOT acknowledged to be real. Instead, you had “tendencies” that could be diminished with “normal” sexual relations or at least managed. To this day, I still recoil at the word tendencies. It is a word that I find to be be misleading and oppressive. My innermost, most fundamental ability to love another person is not comparable in any way to alcoholism or kleptomania or adultery. If that’s your position, the conversation is over before it starts.
It was the policy of the Church when I was young to encourage gay people to enter mixed-orientation marriages. This policy had disastrous results, and the Church has backed away from it. I remember in 1988 when my father, distraught over my pending divorce, went to Church headquarters and met with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve whom he knew. The Apostle nearly barked my father out of the room as he shouted, “I can’t believe how much trouble this causes!” At the end of the interview my father left disillusioned and absolutely empty handed. The Brethren are aware of the misery caused by the institution of mixed-orientation marriage and they no longer prescribe it as a cure.
I like Carol Lynn Pearson’s perspective. She counsels against entering into mixed-orientation marriages, saying that in her experience and those of the many couples she knows, the risk is just too great. I agree with her, and I would never advise a young couple to go into a mixed-orientation marriage, eyes open or no. You think you understand the risks, but you don’t. I fully disclosed my orientation to my future wife when we had been dating only two months. That disclosure did nothing to prevent the train wreck that was our subsequent marriage. We thought we were going in with our eyes open. We had no idea of what lay ahead.
Even if we can agree that the formation of new mixed-orientation marriages is ill-advised, couples in mixed-orientation marriages deserve our support. I’ve written about this subject here. It’s like teenage marriage– we wouldn’t ever advise two 16 year olds to get married (or ask them to pray about it), but if we meet a couple who happened to marry young we would only wish them well, whether or not they were having troubles that were caused by their underage marriage.
As a reader, I appreciate it when thread comments are respectful and free of personal attack and any presumption of bad faith on the part of other commenters. All of the comments on this thread don’t meet this ideal, but I still want to thank Invictus for starting a useful discussion.
A final thought:
Contemplating a mixed-orientation marriage is like planning a day hike that goes wrong. You get out your sandals and day pack and make some sandwiches. What you encounter later on, however, are the Himalayas.
I find the fact that gender matters as much as it does in the formation of pair bonds to be one of the most intriguing (and inconvenient) mysteries of the human condition.
this is heartbreaking to me and only reminds me of the privilege i experience as a straight male. mixed-orientation marriage is such a delusional construct, so profoundly disrespectful of both parties and of the truth of human sexuality. it is as barbaric as the arranged marriages practiced in some parts of the world. my heart tears for the gay people who closeted in shame and fear, and i also feel for the humiliated straight women trapped in sexless marriages (while the men are def getting some somewhere, I have enuf gay friends to know that)
This is a bit of a stereotype. Some gay men in MOMs do cheat (and cultural attitudes tend towards the idea that a sexually unsatisfied married man is justified in cheating), but that doesn’t mean all gay men in MOMs cheat sexually.
Chanson @153: — what would be the parameters of being “responsible” and “forthcoming” when it comes to the process of coming out of the closet? Shouldn’t it be an individual matter?
Think about a queer kid. Everyone knows he’s “gay” except for himself. If asked if he’s gay, he says, upset: “I’m not gay!”
Now, is it his fault he lacks the “responsibility” and “forthcoming” to “be who he is?” Or is it society’s fault for putting him into a position in which he feels he has to conceal (and, in many cases, have already revealed indirectly) some “truth” about himself?
Holly has no qualms taking a route that the queer kid lacks “integrity” if his upsetness makes another person upset, if there’s some “greater” evil afoot: patriarchy. The queer kid, if now a man thinking he should marry a woman, needs to pull himself up by the bootstraps, stop his sniveling, and think about someone other than himself, because as she says @20, if gay men “know about their sexuality at the time theyre courting straight women, and fail to tell those women, are engaging in patriarchy and misogyny.”
Her logic @ 107 is telling:
She plays a game called “Who is More Oppressed ” in order to determine what the most important battle is, and where the integrity should lie, who should be more “selfless” so that someone else can get to be “selfish” for a change.
But of course “Who is More Oppressed ” was a terrible game to begin with. It is liable to cause more injustice in the world, which I see her as causing. Are there more women in the world, or people of color? Since the answer is the latter, does that mean racism is more important than patriarchy?
Any woman of color will tell you sometimes racism is more important; sometimes patriarchy is. Taken together, they’re both important. The same is true for heterosexism and patriarchy. It is senseless to treat these concepts as monoliths and then deal out prescriptions to everyone, as if all women experience patriarchy the same way, which is indeed what Holly implies when she calls closeted gay men who don’t come out to their potential wives “misogynists.” That’s just not helpful at all.
Alan @158 — OK, that’s about what I thought you thought on the subject. Thanks for summing it up in one single, concise comment.
Now, I would like to invite Holly to make one single, concise rebuttal to this (if she so desires). Then — since it appears the sides will not be reconciled — I hope that we can wrap up the discussion and trust that readers can read the two positions and evaluate them for themselves.
Oh, and Invictus & Alex, my article is here. I warn you, it’s somewhat dense.
Not automatically. I have no problem at all with “that queer kid” refusing to say one single thing about his sexuality to anyone he is not planning to sleep with, as evidence by my statement @42:
back to Alan @158:
I suppose that is a reasonable paraphrase of me, in a Sunstone article, quoted @2:
I stand by that position as reasonable and sound, particularly in light of statements like this from Invictus Pilgrim in a recent post on his blog:
Indeed, my position is so reasonable and sound that Alan himself writes @48
I suppose since we are dropping this matter after this comment I won’t get an answer, but I do wonder why Alan insists on arguing positions he does not actually hold, why he condemns me for holding a position he actually agrees with.
If these women of color tell you this, are they playing ‘a game called “Who is More Oppressed ,'” or are they simply acknowledging something true about the world?
It might not be helpful to YOU, Alan. But it has been helpful to other gay men, to some gay women, and to some straight women.
I would point out that if it is “senseless to treat these concepts as monoliths and then deal out prescriptions to everyone,” then you should not write @24
that is a prescription, Alan, for what women should be able to expect from men who court them, borne of your treating heterosexism as a monolith.
I will go back to your discussion of racism and misogyny: I don’t think it’s OK to tell a white woman, “Look, it’s OK for to you hold off striving for more awareness, generosity, compassion and ‘integrity’ [provided it’s not in the sense of ‘knowing how to work the system’] in how you deal with people of color until you yourself suffer less under patriarchy.” But that’s essentially what you are saying to gay men about how they should treat women they marry. It’s neither helpful nor logical, as you well know since you wrote @48
I really don’t understand why you are continuing to argue a position you have already renounced. I suppose you don’t understand it either.
I would also call attention to Leslie’s recent post on lesbian-straight-guy MoMOMs. Among other things, she writes:
Here is evidence, Alan (and there is more in the full post), of how patriarchy benefits queer men in MOMs in ways it does not benefit queer women in MOMs, and hurts queer women in MOMs in ways it does not hurt queer men in MOMs. I do not think that by pointing out this imbalance, Leslie is “playing the game of who is more oppressed,” and I hope you would be decent enough not to assert that she is.
Finally, I want to address this:
Saying to women, “It’s OK for men like me to lie to people like you, even if it hurts you, as long as it protects us, and how DARE you suggest that patriarchy has a hand in how men choose to treat their wives” does not create a safe and welcoming space. Neither does arguing vociferously a position you do not actually hold, and demanding that people take seriously a position you have already renounced.
I must conclude that this is yet another example of Alan taking a position he does not really hold. He clearly thinks it’s fine to sacrifice safety and welcoming-ness at MSP if it serves his own agenda.
OK, I hope we can now agree that these two positions are now clear, and don’t require further clarification.