Beards, Masks and MetaFilter: New Perspectives

The use of Mormon Beard or beard perpetuates a second class status to ALL straight wives married to gay men, and denotes an ugliness.

So wrote a commenter to a post I published last Friday, which was the fifth in a series of posts whose titles began with the words, Mormon Beards Exploring the Issues. The purpose of the series was to focus on the wives of Mormon gay men and, in a broader sense, to explore a number of issues relating to mixed-orientation marriages, including a discussion of factors that lead to the creation of such marriages.

The term beards was selected, admittedly, to be provocative; but its use was specifically intended to refer to women who enter into (typically temple) marriages with Mormon men without knowing (or without fully knowing and understanding) that their husbands are gay and thereby assist (again, unwittingly on their part) in masking their husbands gay sexual identities.

Last Friday, I received the following comment from a woman who was formerly married to a gay Mormon man:

While I have enjoyed your series over the course of the last few days, I have to say I cringe every time I see the title Mormon Beards because I find the slang term highly offensive. I am Mormon and was formerly married to a gay man. The term Mormon Beard is very derogatory and an ugly slang term. When I hear the term to describe a Mormon woman married to a gay man it makes me feel like a sub-par individual lacking any value. And that feeling is universally true among straight wives of gay men.

I dont believe you are using the term to be offensive, and you probably did not realize how offensive it is to straight wives, but like any slang term, when it is used in ANY context it perpetuates making it a commonly accepted word or phrase. I know there are lots of slang words that straight people use when referencing gay people that gay people find highly offensive. I have seen the outcry from gay individuals to stop the use of these slang words because they perpetuate hate, and that outcry is justified because those slang terms do perpetuate hate.

The use of Mormon Beard or beard perpetuates a second class status to ALL straight wives married to gay men, and denotes an ugliness. How about you stop using a slang term that is offensive to straight wives so that we too can rise from the ashes, just like our gay husbands.

I truly regret offending this woman (who uses the online moniker “Pieces of Me”) or any other woman who may have been offended by the use of this term. Even though Pieces of Me believed that I wasnt using the term to be offensive to women (which was true), it didnt change the fact that the term was offensive to her. So I will no longer use it.

I would, however, be interested to hear from other women regarding the use of this term, particularly in light of Pieces of Mes comment that the term makes her feel like a sub-par individual lacking any value and that this feeling is universally true among straight wives of gay men. I also invited her and other straight women who have been or are married to gay men to comment on these posts.

Having abandoned the term beard, however, I was left in a bit of a quandary. I wanted to use a term that could refer globally to all of the issues that surround mixed-orientation marriages: why a young Mormon man would enter into such a marriage in the past as well as currently -, what issues arise inside of and as a result of mixed-orientation marriages and what factors contribute to the formation of mixed-orientation marriages.

After giving it some thought, I decided to use the word masks. This term seemed to me to be reflective of

  • the efforts young gay Mormon men make to hide their sexual orientation, both from themselves as well as others;
  • the efforts of older gay men who are in mixed-orientation marriages to hide their true orientation, both from themselves as well as their spouses, and to cope with painful, perhaps subconscious feelings; and
  • a number of other aspects of Mormon culture and belief that impact or otherwise relate to the larger issue of mixed-orientation marriages.

Incidentally, as I was working on this post this past weekend (and after having already deciding to go with the term masks), I received an e-mail from a friend who told me of the tragic suicide a few months ago of a young Mormon man who was gay but had gone ahead and (in my friends words) married to mask the gay. Ultimately, he apparently couldnt deal with the situation. Now, he is gone and his young wife is a widow because of a mask that couldnt be removed.

MetaFilter: New Perspectives

Before Monday, I dont think I had ever heard of MetaFilter. (Okay, so Ive lived a cloistered life.) On Sunday night, I received a notification that there was some sort of link going on with respect to a post I had published on Main Street Plaza back in March, then I noticed my number of page views climbing dramatically unprecedentedly.

On Monday morning, I looked up MetaFilter and learned that it is a community weblog where members post what they consider to be the best of the web things that they have encountered on their perambulations around the web that they share and upon which other members then comment. I discovered that someone had stumbled across several of my blog posts dealing with mixed-orientation marriages and had crafted a post on MetaFilter that contained links to several of my posts.

I then found the page where these links were posted and discovered dozens of comments left by MetaLink members not on my posts, but on the subject matter of these posts. Because I think a number of these comments would greatly contribute to this discussion about mixed-orientation marriages and homosexuality in general (bringing as they do new and fresh, yet familiar, perspectives), I decided to repost some of them here.

Half of my gay Mormon (or ex-Mormon) friends are in various stages of coming out to their spouses, their families, their friends. When you’re a member of a church that tells you if you just work hard enough at being straight, that you can do it, means there are a lot of people who think that doubling down and getting married and having kids will push them over the edge to being straight. Accepting who you are (provided you don’t fit the block hole) is a failure in their culture, something a lot of people are not capable of handling. Failure in the LDS church is more than personal, it’s eternal. It means no celestial kingdom, no love from heavenly father, denied access to all you’ve worked for and failure for your family and your kids. While calling for an end to “beards” is a right thing in that it means more people are living honestly, perhaps the better option would be to have a church that doesn’t put such crushing weight on the successful righteousness of their members. mbsutah

Mormons aren’t the only ones who do this. I joined a dating website geared towards my religious denomination and there were PLENTY of gay men who knew and wanted a sham marriage to present to family and society. There were a few souls that were still in denial and hoped that this would change them, but most of them were perfectly aware and accepting of their sexuality. okay, “accepting” might not be the right word here. neekee

Telling gay people to act straight and marry people they aren’t attracted to creates unstable and unhappy marriages. That’s a far bigger perversion of marriage to me than violating a “tradition” of a cultural institution that’s always been in flux. mccarty.tim

So the idea becomes that the faithful choice is [for gays to] somehow live an orthodox LDS life, reaping at least the blessings of being woven into the circle of family relations and community, if never finding the fulfillment of the private passions that drive you. You actually see this show up in a few spots in [Orson Scott] Card’s fiction (I’m thinking one of the geneticists in the Shadow books) as well as in the counsel of some Mormon leadership. Some people find that choice unacceptable. Some people find it acceptable. This isn’t where the tragedies lie, I think. Those are for those who find it acceptable *in theory* but in practice find out it simply will not work for them and/or that the cost is more terrible than they’d ever anticipated. – weston

To [all who] have had to struggle with such things [i.e., being gay in a conservative religious environment] …who have done the hard work…and who have carved identities for themselves that are not founded on rage or resentment toward their origins: I salute you. To go all biblical on you: And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. Yeah, but you know what? Some fell in the cracks of the rocks, and lived in the dark, and suffered and starved, but nevertheless survived…and grew strong…and split that rock wide open…and found the earth beneath…and thrived. – perspicio

I was inculcated by my parents (who were lapsed — my father a lapsed Mormon, my mother a lapsed Catholic) and by the churches to which I belonged [including Jehovahs Witnesses] to believe that the only path to a true and happy life was to find a woman to marry and to build a family with. Never mind that my own family was highly dysfunctional and that any marriage or family I pretended to build was doomed from the start because of my attraction toward feelings about other men. I had an overwhelming crush on my mentor and Bible study instructor, for Christ’s sake. Never mind that the one woman I had a relationship with in college never forgave me when she realized that I had been, in essence, leading her on all along — that I wasn’t really in love with her, but with what she represented. Even though what I was doing was working through my own overwhelming sexual confusion, it was still using her not to be honest with her about my real feelings from the beginning, and for that I wish I could go back in time and undo the damage I did – blucevalo

There were a number of other comments posted, including some that were lengthy, extremely interesting and poignant. I intend to post a few of these in subsequent posts.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous please says:

    Personally I don’t have a problem with the word beard, but I like your choice of mask to describe the straight partner of a homosexual spouse.

    I’m posting this anonymously because I don’t want to cause any potential injury to my husband. He is transgendered, and is really struggling right now with what to do. We’re on the brink of separation and divorce (my idea), and it terrifies him. I think, though, that part of the reason it is so scary to him, aside from the fact that we really do love each other, is because he’ll then have to make a decision. Does he pursue gender reassignment surgery, like he seems to want (he’s been getting electrolysis on his face, taken hormones to get breasts, etc.)? Or does he continue to live as a man in his professional life, and live as a woman outside of that? He did tell me, when I pressed him, that if I weren’t living in the house, he would be living as a woman when he was at home.

    When we got married, I sort of knew about his issues. What I didn’t know was how deeply entrenched they were. It’s not “problems” or “issues,” really, even though I use that word to describe it to people who don’t know what’s going on, because it’s none of their business, it’s part of who he is. And the church has made him feel ashamed and guilty of that, just for existing outside the standard of heterosexual man that they say is the only way. So I thought that being happily married would help him decide that he didn’t need it.

    The results? A virtually sexless marriage. A lot of fighting and arguing. A lot of tears and pain and sorrow. Finally when I left the church, I was able to stop and set aside my mormon blinders, and recognize what this was doing to the man I love. I want him to be free to be himself, even if I can’t stay married to him. I honestly think we’ll both be happier apart. If I’m going to be married, I want to be married to a heterosexual man who is happy to be that way. And if my husband wants to be a woman, I totally support him in that, but I can’t be married to him.

    Make sense?

  2. Anonymous – Thanks for being willing to share some of your thoughts and experiences concerning a situation that one would never hear discussed at church, or many other places for that matter.

    Just a point of clarification – I am not using the term “masks” to apply to the straight spouse of a GLBT partner. Rather, I am using it as a generic term with respect to the masks that gay men or lesbian women might wear in order to mask their true identity, especially from a straight spouse, to masks that GLBT people may wear to mask their true identity from themselves, to masks that we put on to either hide who we truly are from other people (outside of our marriage) or present a face to the outside world that conforms with expectations, and indeed to masks that we wear to hide ourselves from life itself.

  3. leftofcentre says:

    I can see why a straight woman might be offended at being labelled a ‘beard’. However, it’s never been used, to my knowledge, as a pejorative term for her. The slang, as I know it, goes back to a time when men grew facial hair as a way of disguising their identity. The woman is simply used as a disguise, or in the case of lesbians marrying gay men to protect each other’s lives/identities, becoming a disguise. However, I would put forward that people in power tend to create popular language but the GLBTQ underground had to create its language for survival. Maybe it’s time for straight women to think of their own term that has a certain ‘catchiness’ but without the offensiveness.

    How about ‘shield’? It denotes a certain strength and ability to protect, but it’s also the object that has to take the onslaught of arrows or projectiles.

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