Friday, June 15, 2012

Recent Hype over Mixed Orientation Marriage

Over the last two months there has been an influx of discussion on the topic of mixed orientation marriages, primarily within Mormonism. In fact, the discussion has been so big that it's very possible that little if any of what I post here will be new to my readers. I think the conversation is far from over, which makes me tired just thinking about it. But I feel like it is finally time for me to compile some of my favorite quotes from the discussion along with a bit of my own feelings.

It all seemed to start with the cover and associated article of the May/June 2012 issue of LDS Living magazine, which is published by LDS church owned Deseret Book. The cover photo is a happy close-up shot of gay LDS author of In Quiet Desperation and Voices of Hope Ty Mansfield along with his wife Danielle and their young son. A large title adorns the page: "Our Story: Living with Same-Sex Attraction."

My first impression of the cover without reading the story was rage. How dare Deseret Book set up and encourage families like mine that will easily end in disaster for everyone involved, including children?

On May 3, I posted a link to the cover of the magazine on Facebook with this comment:

I'm really concerned about the cover of LDS Living Magazine. I haven't read the article yet, but even just the cover might give people the wrong idea about mixed orientation marriages (MOM). So here is my disclaimer--while being married to a gay spouse may work for some, please don't expect that everyone can make it work. In fact, in my experience with the many many Mormon MOM couples I have met, most can't. So please don't use this as ammunition against anyone in my situation, and don't judge them for making the decision that is best for them.
An active discussion ensued on my post, and became somewhat lively. I appreciated learning from the contrasting views, and I really did appreciate all sides. Following are some of my favorite comments.

First, a furious gut reaction from another straight ex-wife friend of mine that remembered Ty possibly having spoken on a panel at BYU that she attended.
"Well, if he's the same guy who spoke at BYU, I worry about it too. The other speakers said they couldn't imagine themselves in a MOM. He seemed to embrace it and say it was working great. Even made a joke about how he and his wife both think Ryan Reynolds is hot. It made my blood run cold! Not funny and not a healthy marriage!!! They are so young and foolish and perpetuating a course of action that is doomed to failure. We all know it's a bad idea! I hate that they are being set up as a model solution for an unsolvable problem. I see only destruction in their future and it makes me sick to think of other young couples who will think they can make it because of articles/ examples like this. :("
My lesbian blog friend is amazing. So much faith and tolerance and love for everyone. She shared her view.

"They say that it won't work for all. They are merely sharing their story, much like we'd like to share ours. They freely and readily admit that what they have is a rarity and they do not recommend it for all. The fact that they share their story is being questioned here as if it was some bad move against all gay people, which simply is not the case. They have an experience, they find joy and happiness in it, they have the right to share that. And I applaud them for it.
Sure, many will indeed use this story as a means of htting the rest of us over the head with comments like, "If they can do it, so can you." Or "Why can't you be that righteous?" Etc. You can all think of the comments we've all heard before. But those will come, and we get to determine how we'll respond to them. Are we seriously pissed off because Ty and Danielle are "causing" more negative comments directed toward those of us who don't/can't choose that path? Seriously ... we're all smarter than that. They're sharing their story, and what people come up with after reading it is really the readers' thing, not Ty's or Danielle's.

It feels like you'd all rather silence them rather than allow them the same equality and publicity that you'd like same-sex couples to have. They have an experience to tell about and they have every right to tell it. It doesn't match my experience, it doesn't match the experience of many MoMs I know, but it does match the experience of some I do know. Because it's rare, it shouldn't be told? Maybe that's exactly why it should be ....

You don't have to agree with someone's choice for it to be a worthwhile story."
And then of course Scott has such a way with words and saying exactly what needs to be said.

"I haven't read the article, but on another thread Ty said that he and Danielle tried to make it clear that their path isn't for everyone (and they wrote the article themselves, it wasn't written about them by someone else). Assuming that's true, it would be inaccurate to say that the article espouses MOMs as the only way to go. 
BUT, the fact is that this pseudo-official church magazine IS highlighting a "successful" MOM without (from all I've heard—again, I haven't actually read the article) providing a counter-example. 
I'm realistic. I don't expect an LDS-positive magazine to trumpet the dismal statistics of MOMs. But I do think that it's irresponsible of them to run a story like this.
I'm less concerned about people judging ME for MY choices (though I don't doubt that some of my family might use this article as support for their judgment). I've actually gotten really good at not caring about that sort of thing.
What I AM concerned about is the young Mormon man who is "struggling with same-gender attraction". He hears in church every week how important marriage is. How it's the only way to be happy. How central it is to the plan of salvation. He believes those things, and he wants desperately to be married. Perhaps he even believes that marriage will "cure" him, and it's even possible that he's been told by his priesthood leaders that this is the case (yes, I've heard of people being told this even though the church itself explicitly discourages marriage as a "cure").
If this young man doesn't know of any successful MOMs, he might second-guess his desire to be married, and he would be wise to do so.
But if he sees in a semi-official church magazine that the Mansfields have DONE IT! his hope is kindled, and he makes marriage his goal.
I know this is what will happen, because when my blog was active and Sarah and I were together and trying to find a way to make things work, WE were the ones who were seen as having cracked the cipher and made a MOM work. I had at least a dozen young men email me, hoping to learn the secret so that they, too, could find a woman and marry her and have a family and make it to the celestial kingdom.
I always tried to dissuade them from their dream of marriage. But had I allowed myself to be seen as an example, I believe I could rightly be blamed (to an extent, at least) if these young men married and, a dozen years and four kids later, decided that they couldn't take it any more.
I think that LDS Living can similarly be held accountable to some extent for tomorrow's failed MOMs.
Can a MOM succeed? I believe it can, if the right people are willing to sacrifice enough (every single day for the rest of their lives) to make it happen.
Is a MOM *likely* to succeed, even with the best of intentions? No. The burden of the aforementioned sacrifice is impossible to estimate, especially for a young man so desperate to do the "right" thing, and no matter how fervently he believes he's up to the challenge, statistics prove that most ultimately can't sustain the effort forever (or even "til death do us part").
That's why I believe it's irresponsible to hold any "successful" MOM up for public adulation.

I support my friends who have chosen to marry and to work to make that marriage successful. I would never counsel a MOM couple to divorce (at least on the basis of orientation). I'm happy to do all I can to honor and respect their decision and their relationship. I don't actually know Ty and Danielle personally, but I'm completely willing to believe that they are happy with the choices they've made, and I think that's beautiful—as long as they don't position themselves (or use the position they are already in, due to Ty's semi-celebrity status among gay Mormons) as an example that anyone could emulate.
And I will also vehemently discourage a single gay man from marrying a woman (or a single gay woman to marry a man), and I will continue to discourage them until they change their minds or until the "I do"s have been said. Because I know (from my own experience and from that of literally hundreds of formerly married gay men I know personally) that they are setting themselves up for, AT BEST, a life of challenge that far outweighs what a typical married couple faces."

From the mother of a gay son:
"When I was first "investigating" this topic and was told by my bishop that many gay LDS men were in traditional marriages successsfully I said, "If that's true, then why aren't they standing at the pulpit, trumpeting their success?". I guess here is my first couple doing just that. Had I seen this article at the time, I would have waved it in front of the face of my son and told him that he too, could "change". So, I fear this is what will happen to many young people in the weeks to come. Yes, I believe it's possible to have a successful MOM marriage, but not probable. The general public does not understand how the Kinsey scale would come into play here."

My view? I am concerned by their motives. I think it is definitely their right to share their story just as it is my right to share mine. I am unhappy with Deseret Book for putting it on the cover, unless they also plan to give equal time to a divorced couple too (maybe one where they are still both active in the church but decided it best for them not to stay together). And as expected, many of my single gay friends have been bombarded by family sharing the magazine as evidence and hope that they can fully live the gospel plan in a heterosexual relationship. I hope Ty and Danielle are not doing this for their own publicity or for the praise of church leaders, but rather just to give voice to an otherwise taboo subject among many LDS members.

The next phase of the discussion came from a popular blog called Feminist Mormon Housewives. On May 4 they started a weekly series called "A look inside your neighbor's window." Although I don't yet know everyone who has submitted their stories, several of them are close friends in my straight spouse group. I believe that my own story will be published there tomorrow. I'm excited to share my story, but I'm also nervous for the potential comments and discussion on the post.

The most momentous event in this MOM hype came with the publication from a blog called "The Weed". This post from Josh Weed and his wife Lolly titled "Club Unicorn: In which I come out of the closet on our ten year anniversary" went viral on the Internet within a few days.

When I finally found time to read the whole thing, I was actually pretty impressed. One of the first things I liked a lot was his use of the word "gay" and clarifying that for him, he used the word interchangeably with "homosexual" or "same-sex attraction." So many members of the church are stuck on thinking that the word gay means living the gay lifestyle, which to them also means sin. It is frustrating to have a conversation with a bishop or brother-in-law that refuses to use anything but "same sex attraction", as though the individual is suffering from a chronic disease.

The next thing that I remembered that I really liked was his personal story of the bullying he endured in junior high. I hated that he went through it, but I liked that he shared this with thousands of people who might not understand just how difficult it is to be an obviously gay kid in junior high and high school.

I also enjoyed hearing about how he was accepted and loved by his parents regardless of his sexuality and coming out to them.

And I really appreciated his thorough disclaimer of mentioning that living a heterosexual married life is not for most people in his situation.

These were my thoughts as I remember them (since I haven't re-read the post), but I mostly kept them to myself as I watched Facebook explode with posting, sharing and commenting about this blog post. Some of my Facebook friends that never post anything gay-related, nor comment on my gay-related posts were sharing this link and singing its praises. I began to hear stories of friends and family posting it on the Facebook walls or timelines of gay loved ones, as an example of how to be gay and continue to live the gospel plan. One of my straight spouse friends was angry because a friend posted it on her wall. She had this to say in our private Facebook group:

"I had a "friend" post it to my wall in my regular facebook! I keep asking myself why she would want to hurt me so much!!! I have told my ex that he is the one that should share with people when and if he wants. I will not out him unless he gives me permission. NOW all my regular facebook friends that saw the post to my wall knows the reason he and I divorced. He keeps saying, "It is what it is." I guess it is but that doesn't make it any easier when you are not ready to address everyone's questions!"

Another dear single gay friend posted this comment to his wall:

"I have a question, I am playing devil's advocate and I hope not to offend anyone, but I have been thinking about this post all day and so I had to respond after many of my straight Mormon friends have posted this article. I read the article and all I can think is good for them, but what makes a same sex couples story of commitment and love any less amazing. Just this weekend I met my friend Benny's boyfriend for the first time and heard the story of how they met. It was incredibly romantic and uplifting. I could see the love that they had for each other. It was so beautiful. 
But that is just one journey. There are those who decide to marry a woman and those who don't, but I think all choices are right for the individual. I just feel like this article and the comments on many postings (while it is working for them) makes it seem like this is the path that all should strive for, and I do not believe that this is the case. I am happy where I am and know I could never have married a woman. I am not married to a man either (yet) but I hope my Mormon friends and family would support that union of love and devotion as much as they have been towards this couple or any heterosexual couple."

I read the discussion and added my thoughts from doing so:

"Scott and I made it 14 years with what I considered to be a really good relationship, and one of those years past his "coming out." Scott and I really publicized our success that first year on our blogs. I really hoped it would last forever. But things change. Maybe they will change for Josh, maybe not."

Then a comment from the mother of a gay son that I quoted previously in this post:

"When [my son] first came out and I was talking to my bishop, he commented that there were many men in mixed orientation marriages and that it was possible for [my son]. I got very frustrated and asked him if that was true, why weren't those men up at the pulpit proclaiming their accomplishment? So, I guess this is one guy who is answering my prayer, but about 6 yrs too late! Thank goodness for that, as I might have missed being mom-in-law to [a] terrific [son-in-law]!"

Scott decided to write up his own response because he was so frustrated with these same issues with straight Mormon families and friends:

"This post has been going the rounds the last few days, and I’ve seen a wide gamut of reactions. Here’s mine:
I’m gay, and I was married to a woman for fifteen years. I was happy. I loved her. I STILL love her. But ultimately we (mostly I, but with her support) decided that it wasn’t enough for me to be with someone I loved—I wanted to be with someone I am actually IN LOVE with, on every level. That simply isn’t possible with a woman.
Since we separated I’ve been happier, more fulfilled, more complete, and more ME than I ever was with her. And she will acknowledge that since we separated she has gained a great deal of strength and independence that has been good for her.
She struggles with the separation more than I do, because she WAS (is?) in love with me, in a way that I could never return. We are both hopeful that one day she will heal enough to find someone who is IN LOVE with her (something I could never give her), because she is amazing and she deserves it.
There is a temptation among active Latter-day Saints to point to stories like this one and say “See? It’s possible” (with the implied—but hopefully unspoken—”…and if you can’t do this, you just aren’t trying hard enough, aren’t faithful enough, etc.”)
Please don’t.
For one thing, for every story like this there are ten stories like mine. And for every story like mine (in which my ex and I have been able to remain friends, remain supportive, continue to co-parent the kids, etc.) there are a hundred stories that ended in bitterness, venom, drawn out custody battles, and a great deal of misery.
The fact that this couple has managed to stay together happily for ten years means NOTHING to anyone else. They are individuals. They are unique. Even their RELATIONSHIP is unique, since they have known each other since they were toddlers and been best friends for decades. If they happen to have hit on the right combination of friendship and self-denial and faith and conviction and bisexuality and sacrifice, that’s *fabulous* for them. But nobody else is them, and nobody else should be expected to follow the exact pattern of their lives.
Mr. Weed even says this himself in the post. Of everything he writes this, I believe, is the MOST important bit:
“I want to make it very clear that while I have found a path that brings me profound joy and that is the right path for me, I don’t endorse this as the only path for somebody who is gay and religious. I will never, ever judge somebody else’s path as being “incorrect” and I know many people who have chosen different paths than myself.
… If you know and love somebody who is gay and LDS (or Christian), your job is to love and nothing more. Let go of your impulse to correct them or control them or propel them down the path you think is right for them. Do what you need to do to move past that impulse. Do not condemn the choices your loved one makes. Love. Only love. Show your love in word and deed. Embrace them, both literally and figuratively. I promise they need it—and they need to feel like they can figure out this part of themselves in a safe way without ridicule and judgment. It’s what Christ would do. It’s what your loved one needs. Accept them. Love them. Genuinely and totally.”
Even posting this article on a gay friend’s wall is a step beyond love into correction or coercion or control. Please don’t go any further than that.
You may have beliefs about homosexuality that you feel strongly about. That’s wonderful, and if you derive value from the belief system that you subscribe to then please continue to believe and have faith.
But nobody else is you, and despite how ABSOLUTELY right YOU feel your beliefs are, at the end of the day they are ONLY beliefs. They have been “proven” to you by a very personal, subjective, and intimate experience, and they are yours alone. Please allow others the privilege of their own personal, subjective, and intimate beliefs, so long as their beliefs do not attempt to infringe on yours."

In the midst of all of this, one of my straight spouse friends has another friend that started a blog just to respond to the viral response to "The Weed". She shared it with our private group right after it was posted and I immediately shared it on my Facebook wall. This was late one night this week, and by morning, gay friends were posting links to this new blog all over the place. I'm pretty sure it is not going to get the same attention that the other post did, but it is still getting a lot of hits and comments and keeping the conversation going among many.

She wrote the response that needed to be written, the response that was in my heart and that of my straight spouse friends. I related completely to her story, other than the fact that she knew her ex husband was gay before they married. She has come to about the same place I have as she and her ex are good friends and she is not really active in the church any more.

Some are taking her story (and those of us that are sharing it) as criticism of Josh Weed and his post. That is not my intent. I still really recognize the value of Josh's story and am glad he shared it. But the other side of the story must be told and listened to.

And that is why I interviewed with Kendall Wilcox last week for his "Far Between" documentary.

And that is why I am sharing my story on Feminist Mormon Housewives.

And that is why I am talking to Salt Lake Tribune reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack this coming week.

Our stories must be heard and some of us are going to keep telling them and telling them and telling them so that we can make a difference for one family or one gay child or one potential straight spouse. One at a time.

We can make a difference. And we will.


MoHoHawaii said...

Thanks, Sarah, for a great overview of the recent discussion and for your perceptive and compassionate thoughts.

I think there's a big hole in the discussion of Ty Mansfield's and Josh Weed's public statements: they are both are socially conservative therapists who specialize in helping gay people remain celibate and in mixed-orientation marriages.

Weed's professional web page says that he deals with clients who have unwanted same-sex attraction. These are the code words that are currently used by the (very discredited) "ex-gay" NARTH organization for what used to be called reparative therapy.

With both Mansfield and Weed, money is on the table. If they changed the course of their personal lives, their careers in LDS counseling would be over, and they could no longer help clients with "unwanted attractions" struggle to do what the LDS Church demands of them. Given these stakes, what can else can they say than that things are great between them and their wives?

This overlooked detail of financial interest completely destroys any credibility they might have with their public statements about the quality of their own marriages. What their marriages are like, no one can say. The odds are that are a very mixed bag, like those of others in this situation. The point is: their stories are not case studies; they are billboards for their respective businesses.

Similarly, the LDS Living article is commercial in intent. It is not a case study. It is a polemic. It is a thinly veiled attempt to defend the LDS Church's anti-gay politics and policies with an example of a generally unworkable alternative presented as the ideal. (When has the Church ever done that before? :- ))

Contrast these situations to that of Ashley, whose one-post blog you've linked to. She doesn't have a cash-generating therapy practice to defend, and she isn't being paid to mitigate the political missteps of a multibillion corporation. There's no money involved.

It's a crucial detail. Cui bono?

Philip said...

Hi Sarah,

When I was a young man, I was such a mess. The thought of being gay was so horrific and I was so terrified of morphing into some kind of monster. And I wanted to be a father desperately.

Then when I married I was part happy, part miserable instead of just miserable.

So I guess you could say I was relatively happier.

I even remember thinking other gay men should marry.

I was so incredibly ignorant of my sexuality to think that just willpower could overcome it.

If I have learned anything about same sex marriages is that time will tell.

People can be in denial or they may be in the throes of the honeymoon period that for some last years.

Or any number of other scenarios including a few MOMs I know that are successful and not monogamous.

I am suspect of folks in MOMs that only have good things to say about their marriage and lives.

I don't trust folks that feel it is bad form to talk about negative things so you think they have the perfect marriage right up to the moment the marriage crashes and burns.

I know they are fun to be around (all that positivity) but how can one cope with the baggage that MOMs bring if the first rule is not admitting anything negative is going on.

It's just not realistic.

I hope this young couple good luck but LDS Living is not doing young people any favors if they don't talk about all the negative stuff and the terrifically long odds of such marriages working.

Of course, the people that need to hear the negative stuff the most are often the last ones that want to hear it.


Mary said...

As a secular, gay-married lesbian with a child, I find it in my best interest to be accepting and non-judgmental of the life choices of others. We need all the allies we can get, even if we don't agree on every issue. But I really struggle with the idea of MOMs, particularly when they are entered into after one or both partners has a self-aware gay identity.

I recently read "Why Marriage?" by George Chauncey (a good read), and that led me to think that MOMs are really a throwback to a pre-1960s era when many people we would today think of as gay had gay desire or gay sexual experiences without a gay identity. So, gay was an action rather than a category of being. But today, our understanding of gay as an identity is so pervasive that I think it's really hard to maintain the sort of compartmentalized identity and experience needed to make a MOM work.

A really feel for those who need to find a way to reconcile their faith and their sexuality, but I do worry that straight spouses are being led into relationships that will bring great sorrow-and without a full understanding of what it means to consent to such a relationship.

Sarah said...

MohoHawaii: I'm glad to see you sticking with my blog! Thank you for your point of view. The tribune reporter claims that Josh honestly feels bad that people are questioning his motivations, and I believe her. As for Ty's article, I completely agree and am still disappointed in Deseret Book for doing such a thing.

Sarah said...

Phillip--I have always enjoyed reading your thoughts. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, even when I stopped posting very often. I hope you and your family are doing well.

Sarah said...

Mary--thank you so much for sharing your point of view. I appreciate reading your thoughts. I will have to find and read the article you mentioned.

Andy said...

As a gay married man to a straight woman, I first saw the Weed story as being an affirmation of the efforts my wife and I are making to keep our marriage intact. As I read comments to the blog post though, I started feeling despair.

You can bet that if two men (or women) were celebrating 10 years together in a blog post there wouldn't be nearly the positive feedback from members of the church.

The fact is, the gay "lifestyle" is once again being relagated to second class status. The message is clear that heterosexual relationships are superior to homosexual relationships. All this does is once again make struggling gay youth to feel inadauate, not enough, not worthy.

Although I applaud the Weeds and their story and wish them the best, I fear for even the one gay person who marries someone of the opposite sex because of their example.