Saturday, December 18, 2010

Family: Hammering Away at Our Souls

Today’s post continues a discussion about issues involved in mixed-orientation marriages and the relevance of these issues to both gays who are currently in MOMs as well as to single gay Mormons who are perhaps wondering about the possibility of eventual marriage to a woman.

I want to again thank those who contributed comments, both publicly on the blog and privately through e-mails.  After yesterday’s post, I received one such e-mail from a young gay Mormon who didn’t think he should comment on the blog because he didn’t want to inject his comment into what he perceived to be a discussion among men in MOMs.  After reading his e-mail, I wrote to him and told him that, quite to the contrary, I think this discussion is extremely relevant and important to young Mormon men who are perhaps considering the concept of marrying a woman, thinking that perhaps they could find a degree of happiness in such a marriage.

With his permission, I am quoting from this man’s comments:

I've only dated one girl in my life, and we were together for about a year and a half. I still feel like you and all that have commented on your last couple of posts have described how I felt in that relationship. I was hoping desperately that one day I'd wake up and *click* I'd be in love. But that never happened. I loved her, but wasn't "in love" with her …

“I guess the point in emailing you is to let you know how relevant the MOM discussion has been for me. In that relationship, I was determined to just make it work, because I'd never dated before, and didn't know what a relationship was like. I was disappointed because all I was ever told about how great relationships are seemed to be false. I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn't. My willpower to resist and maintain my identity was slowly sapped away. When we finally broke up, I was broke up, because my identity as a straight guy was shattered. She was the foundation of that facade. (Of course, that wasn't her intention, she just was.)

“Every once in awhile, that little voice sneaks into my brain and tells me that I should give dating girls another try. I could make the relationship work, and eventually marry. It tells me I could be happy, and maybe I would for a short period of time. But I think what makes me gay is, not only am I attracted to men, but my long-term happiness can only be sustained by one. In short, I want to be happy, and I think God wants me to happy to. So will I ever get married to a woman? I don't think so.”

I personally found it very interesting that he used terms in describing his courtship that sounded eerily familiar to those that Mark and I have used to describe some of our feelings:  “I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken … my identity was slowly sapped away.”

Another commenter, Martin, wrote of the struggles he had in his MOM, which ended in divorce:  There was practically no opportunity to gain perspective, living behind the Zion Curtain (sorry, Utah County). The script screamed to us, over and over, of what we must look like. And so, we hammered away at our souls, efforts made daily that did nothing to stem the flow of futility from our core desire to love and be loved.”  I found the phrase, “hammered away at our souls,” so compelling that I used it as the title of this post.  I hope Martin doesn’t mind.

I also hope Martin doesn’t mind that I recast slightly and present here his beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking prose about his identity as a gay Mormon:

I Stand As a Witness

I was not formed
To fit inside of a proclamation.

Rather, I am an explanation point,
Waiting to be examined
In all my complexity.

Not as part of a myriad of rows
Of Dutch tulips stand I.

Rather as a wonder of God's creative juices,
Humiliated not by the consternation of man.

Humbled by my own contemplation:
That this creation
Can never be reformatted
Into the image of your Thou.

Instead, it is I who must remain.

Your thorn.
My identity.
His work.

And somewhere in that intersection
Lies a brave new friendship.

Thank you, Martin, for sharing these beautiful thoughts and feelings.  I hope you will share more of your thoughts in the future.

Lastly, I wanted to address some comments that Cj shared about romantic love and marriage.  With respect to yesterday’s post, he said he agreed with “the post and some of what’s been written.”  He then went on to express his opinion that marriage is more than romantic love, that a relationship involves more than just focusing on one’s own needs, and that in order to “make it work,” one needs to focus on the other partner’s needs through selfless love.  I think this is a fair summary.

Well, (the other) CJ posted her thoughts on Cj’s comments, which can be read on yesterday’s post, and I would recommend reading them, because I think she makes some valid points.

My response to Cj’s comment basically comes from a different angle.  I agree with the theory behind Cj’s comments, but I don’t think they are applicable within the framework of the discussion about mixed-orientation marriages.  Cj disagreed with the Beatles that “Love is all you need.”  I agree with him! 

Many gay Mormon men enter into a MOM thinking that “love is all I need,” thinking that if I just work away at this hard enough, if I am selfless enough, if I focus enough on my wife’s needs, I can make this work.  But this is a fallacy.  In my opinion, in many if not most instances, love will never be enough in such a marriage, and the end result of selfless devotion to a marriage that is doomed never to be truly fulfilled and fulfilling is the death of self (to one degree or another).

This is not to say that MOMs cannot “work.”  As has been discussed this past week, each MOM is different and is the product of a number of different factors, including in no small part the willingness of the man to forego fulfillment a fundamental element of his nature and identity.  I respect each gay man’s individual journey as he comes to terms with his MOM in a way that is authentic for him. 

However, it simply will not do to cast such a soul-wrenching process as a struggle between focusing on one’s own desires versus selfless dedication to the marriage.  This facile paradigm is simply not applicable to the terribly complex dynamics of a mixed-orientation marriage and, in my view, does a disservice to the men who struggle daily with the issues that have been described over the past few days.

It is also my view, with sincere respect for Cj and his views, that his concluding comment also represents an insidious fallacy, particularly in the Mormon world.  He wrote:  When both partners are selflessly focused on each other, that's when marriages make it.  This is what we are taught in the Church.  And there is some truth and validity in this statement – when it is applied to a straight marriage or even to a gay marriage (as Cj points out).  However, in the context of a mixed-orientation marriage, it is, to one degree or another, a death sentence; for this approach, this mantra, requires that both the husband and the wife kill part of themselves for the “greater good.”  The marriage becomes a mutual suicide pact, rather than an agreement to affirm the best in each other and create something new and beautiful out of the freely-given contributions of each partner.

I will reiterate that I honor, understand and respect the views and comments of gay Mormon men who are committed to making their MOM work.  But I think it is critically important that the issues involved in mixed-orientation marriages be faced and discussed critically, honestly and openly.  And this process in part involves recognizing and rejecting fallacies that, while perhaps applicable to straight marriages, contribute to and mask the destructiveness of mixed-orientation marriages.

I could write more, but I think I'll leave it there for today. 


  1. I enjoyed your critical eye this morning. I too enjoyed reading Martin's thoughts yesterday. I had intended to comment but got a bit sidetracked:) His words resonate, for me, with a purity that left me in awe. I had to reread his poem several times to capture it all, and to see if I had missed quotation marks: from what famous poet did these words come?!

    I believe that when the mantra of the greater good in straight marriages means denying a part of your identity, then it is also, as you expressed it so well, a mutual suicide pact. Any part of identity being denied, stifled, repressed or sacrificed can be a step towards danger. It is like a mine that has been buried and can explode at any time: sometimes destroying limbs, sometimes destroying the complete person beyond repair.

    I would imagine this phenomenon to be even more true in MOM when sexuality is repressed, stifled or sacrificed. I believe this to be true because it seems to me that living one's sexuality openly and fully is such an important part of marriage. It is a means of mutually expressing who you and the partner are, through the unification of your body, mind and soul and loving the other in such nude intimacy. This is my take on it. Perhaps for some couples, there are more layers of opacity in marriage and less transparency. There are different dynamics for each couple.

    What I find extraordinary, is that you propose to SEE and ACT upon fallacies, or myths, that don't work for you. As a straight member of a marriage, I also believe that my husband and I must work to overthrow fallacies and myths that don't work for us. It takes experimenting so that neither of us lose parts of ourselves along the way, but it is a process, a continual revolt to which we are engaged in order to continually BECOME who we are.

  2. Thank you, invictus pilgrim for including my thread as you weave so cleanly and carefully a tapestry of voices for your blog. It was to be sure my first ever attempt with the poetic structure for my writing. I am honored that you would see it, craft it and present it to your readers. Martin in NYC

  3. Martin - If this was your first attempt with poetic structure, you must promise to continue to write, because you obviously have a gift for expression. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Libellule - Thank you, as always, for your comments and for your additional insights!

  4. Martin’s poem is well done – artistic, and soul-filled. And I felt the pathos in the words he wrote in his post “And so, we hammered away at our souls . . .” myself having somehow survived the “flow of futility” for 32 years. It reminded me of a Hodgson’s poem: The Hammers.

    Noise of hammers once I heard,
    Many hammers, busy hammers,
    Beating, shaping, night and day,
    Shaping, beating dust and clay
    To a palace; saw it reared;
    Saw the hammers laid away.

    And I listened, and I heard
    Hammers beating, night and day,
    In the palace newly reared,
    Beating it to dust and clay:
    Other hammers, muffled hammers,
    Silent hammers of decay.

    In his La Commedia Divina, Dante wrote:

    In the middle of the road of my life
    I awoke in a dark wood
    Where the true way was wholly lost

    I nearly waited too long to awaken. These silent hammers pounding away at my identity as I desperately tried to build from the “script” nearly destroyed me. And the specters of a life too-long-beaten down haunt me still a year-and-a-half after separating. Some days I have to fight very hard to dispel them.

    I recommend a reading of Matthew Arnold’s The Buried Life. It is a bit long to include in this post in its entirety but I will end with these few lines and this advice: Don’t wait too long.

    Fate, which foresaw
    How frivolous a baby man would be--
    By what distractions he would be possess'd,
    How he would pour himself in every strife,
    And well-nigh change his own identity--
    That it might keep from his capricious play
    His genuine self, and force him to obey

    But they course on for ever unexpress'd.
    And long we try in vain to speak and act
    Our hidden self, and what we say and do
    Is eloquent, is well--but 'tis not true!

  5. Trey - Wow!! Thank you for your beautiful, powerful, soulful comments.

  6. I too am young and single. I agree that these blogs are great ressources to those of us who are trying to figure out what being a gay Mormon means for our future.

    I rarely go on dates for similar reasons. (other than lack of interest), but I don't want to develop a serious relationship with a girl because I would feel dishonest about my intentions. I would be pretending to be in love with her while she would just be an experiment to see if I could eventually fall in love. I can see myself married in the future, not because I look forward to or imagine any real relationship with a future wife, but because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one.

    I may eventually marry if I find a girl that I can be completely open with, but for now I am choosing to stay single. My one roommate is the worst one for trying to encourage me to date more regularly (As in more than once every 2-3 months), but I'm afraid to give him my real reasons for not dating since we share a bedroom and I'm not sure how he'd feel about our living situation if I came out to him. ;)

  7. Joe - Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences, which I'm sure are helpful to others in similar situations.

    You wrote, "I can see myself married in the future, not because I look forward to or imagine any real relationship with a future wife, but because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one." Joe, I would encourage you to think deeply about what you have written and to then look at all the gay couples who have adopted and are creating families. I'm not saying don't get married to a woman under any circumstances; but please, for your sake as well as that of a possible future wife, accept yourself and be honest with yourself and then move forward on that basis.

    Thanks again for your comments!