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that the belief system that framed their entire existence during their marriage – and provided a purpose to life – is no longer valid.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.
The whole “age appropriateness” thing is a misnomer. Basically, these people are hiding behind their own children’s ignorance about the world, by saying, “My child doesn’t know about this, and I don’t want to tell them about it or for them to know about it because I think it’s a sin; therefore it’s not age appropriate.”
Meanwhile, the aspects of homosexuality that are 18+ are the same aspects of heterosexuality that are 18+.
I like this take from a parent (found it after a Guardian [UK] post about the Archie comic):
Love it, Alan. Thanks for sharing the Guardian comment.
I read that Box Turtle Bulletin post too, and I thought it was great that (despite the hateful boycott), the issue sold out!!
It’s horrible that people are conditioned to feel that they need to keep their true selves invisible to protect their own children!! It makes no sense when you point it out — so thanks for pointing it out, to help others analyze, question, and overcome this destructive idea they may have internalized.
I know this is nothing compared to the situation of feeling you have to be invisible to your own kids, but this point reminded me of a couple of other posts in my weekly blog reading. Having your very existence be a threat to some people isn’t just for gay people: see here and here.
Naturally. You certainly shouldn’t feel that you need to stay silent about your experiences simply because others’ experiences with MOMs are different. Whose perspective are you best equipped to describe? Your experience doesn’t invalidate someone else’s.
Regarding the experience of the wives in MFMoMOMs, if you’re curious about their perspective, one just posted this past week an interesting kind of flip-side to what you’ve described above, see here:
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chanson. There are definitely two sides to the coin, two people in the relationship, two who struggle and work through pain.
@IP- I know this is a dead post, and my comment is fairly irrelevant to your post overall, but I’d like to point out that the original Million Moms group has abandoned that group and it has been picked up by a pro-LBGT group. I thought that was a kind of cool irony.