Friday, December 17, 2010

Family: Necessary, But Not Sufficient

This post continues the discussion that has evolved this week on mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs). This is a conversation that is highly relevant, not only for gay Mormon men who are currently in a MOM, but also (I would submit) for any young single gay Mormon man who is wrestling with questions concerning family, how the “Plan of Salvation” applies to someone like him and whether marriage to a woman might be desirable despite an attraction to men.

Yesterday’s post generated only a few comments, but – wow! – what comments!  I want to thank CJ for what to me were the amazingly insightful and articulate comments she has left over the past few days, and particularly for the one she left yesterday.  Though, as she states, she is not gay and is very happily married to a man (kudos!), she has experience with her own family and friends who have struggled with their orientations and have worked toward and have found fulfilling relationships. 

I would submit that one does not necessarily have to be in a MOM to make highly relevant comments concerning marriage, such as these by CJ: “Nobody needs to settle for a relationship that ‘can work out fine’”, CJ wrote yesterday.  "We all deserve--and can achieve--a relationship that makes your toes tingle …”  I have to pause here I say that I love that turn of phrase:  a relationship that makes one’s toes tingle.  I’d like to take a poll of my readers and ask how many have been or are in such a relationship? (HINT.)

I can't even begin to imagine,” CJ continued, “how painful it must be to be married to someone you can love, but can't be *in love* with.”  [Ok, this is getting a little uncomfortably close to home.]  All that foundational material--shared goals and values, etc--is as they say in the legal world, necessary but not sufficient. Whatever it is that creates the mutual love and dependence of a fulfilling relationship can only grow, I think, between a couple who can truly, truly be *in love*.”   

Wow!  If these comments aren’t food for thought, I don’t know what is.  Obviously, I have freely cribbed from CJ’s comments to come up with the title of this post, and I have chosen to do so because I think that this pithy little phrase succinctly captures what, for many of us, is a defining characteristic of a MOM.  (I won't comment further on this; I'd just invite readers to ponder it.) And how painfully truthful is her phrase “ … someone you can love, but can’t be *in love* with.”  Truth is sometimes extremely painful, but only when it is faced and embraced can it cleanse, purify, enlighten and empower.

CJ’s comment was followed by a beautifully articulate commentary by Mark, who has been in a MOM and speaks from first-hand experience.  For those who haven’t done so, I would highly recommend reading his entire comment, as I am only going to focus on a few select gems, such as this one:  Unfair compromises,” he wrote describing his marriage, “were made on nearly a daily basis where someone else got to win and I lost a piece of my soul, bit by bit, day by day until I was emptyWhat kind of compromise on my part had been so important as to render me emotionally and romantically impotent?

I can “testify” of these feelings.  I particularly loved Mark’s use of the phrase “emotionally and romantically impotent,” which precisely characterizes how I came to feel about myself after struggling for years to fulfill what I perceived to be my duty in my MOM.  The more I attempted to “do the right thing” and to love my wife as I felt she should be loved, the more impotent, depressed and discouraged I felt. 

I finally came to the same conclusion that Mark has expressed:  While some remain in MOMs and are finding happiness, unless rigorous honesty and intent are present, where BOTH the husband and wife's needs are honored, I can see no point being in the marriage. If shame is the tool by which the gay partner's sexuality is still being managed, ultimately that partner is still dying inside, their self is being rejected and they are merely biding their time until the day when they feel worthy to be loved; loved in a way that fulfills them, sustains them and transcends like no other love they've felt.”  I can certainly understand and relate to Mark’s comments about using shame to “manage” gayness in a MOM, and the effects that this has on one’s sense of Self.  I cannot yet comment on his concluding comments, though I can imagine.

A couple of comments were left on my Facebook page by men who are or who have been in a MOM.  After reading yesterday’s post, one man wrote, “Have you been reading my journal again??? You once again are writing my story.”  To this, another man responded:  “With a few disparate details, he’s writing all of our stories!”  As I wrote in reply to these remarks, comments such as these indicate how much commonality there is among the experiences of gay men in MOM.  To me, this in turn indicates a high level of truth in what we are experiencing or have experienced – an extremely relevant fact both to those in MOMs as well as to those who are trying to understand them.

Lastly, a comment was left by a father whose daughter is married to a man whom the father suspects is gay.  He posed a very valid and pertinent question:  How fair is it to the straight spouse to continue in a MOM where the man knows he is gay?  Quoting Mark’s concluding words, this man asked, “How fair is it for the partner who doesn't feel ‘worthy to be loved, and loved in a way that fulfills them, sustains them and transcends like no other love they've felt’? … If [my son-in-law] is gay, I can't help but feel resentment towards him for staying married to [my daughter] when neither of their needs are really being met. My daughter deserves pure passion like her husband does. What happens next?”

Indeed, what happens next?  This man raises, to put it mildly, an extremely valid question.  I don’t have an answer to this question (and I invite, even solicit, comments in this regard), except to say that questions such as this raise issues of morality – of a morality that calls upon us to transcend pithy, Sunday School-esque, overly simplified, black and white answers out of the Gospel playbook. 

Questions such as these force us, who may be accustomed to wearing a ready-made suit of morality off the “Mormon rack,” to realize that the ready-made suit doesn’t fit, that we must examine these issues in a manner to which we may not be, and probably aren’t, accustomed.  This may very well (and likely will) seem uncomfortable, even frightening; but I submit that we have to move “outside the box” to ask hard questions of ourselves whose answers can only come out of ourselves, and to confront larger issues involving honesty, integrity, fairness and love. 

This does not mean our religion, our belief structure, cannot inform this process.  However, I would submit that it is in honestly confronting such questions and seeking answers thereto, that it is in bravely moving outside the box to stand naked before God (and ourselves), that we will not only find enlightenment, but also discover the ennobling power of grace that reveals Self, exalts our humanity and brings us (authentically) closer to God.


  1. Part I

    Thanks :-) I'm glad my comments have been helpful. This has been a really great, and interesting discussion. I really admire your courage for sharing your thoughts and feelings so honestly.

    I love your metaphor of the "ready-made suit of morality". I think that sums it up so well. I've struggled to put this same observation into words, for years; reading that was like scratching an itch. Aha! I finally have a way to verbalize it, both to myself and to my friends, who wonder what the heck I'm on about sometimes.

    I saw, firsthand, how the church rejected my family members' relationships: both those in MOM's, and those in homosexual relationships. If I had to guess, I'd say that many couples in MOM's face the same silent discrimination: nothing is ever quite good enough, nobody is ever trying quite hard enough. I think, on some level, this passive aggressive BS comes from others' knowledge of their sexuality. Whether they're "out" or not, the church's emphasis on crushing, blind conformity attunes everyone, pretty highly, to ferreting out real (or perceived) differences. It's a multi-front war: you have to make compromises at home, like Mark expresses so beautifully, and you have to, at the same time, fight a battle to be perceived as "normal" at church.

    And, of course, we all know what happens to you if you're openly gay. I'd grown up seeing my gay relatives being abused, just for being themselves. What I didn't expect, though, was that something similar would happen to me when I started dating my now-husband.

  2. Part II

    Hate is a sickness and, like all sicknesses, it's virtually impossible to contain. I know people who think they're "only" intolerant of homosexuality; they're fooling themselves. Once this "I'm better than you, simply for being born the way I am" mentality infects you, it's only a matter of time before it spreads.

    My husband isn't a member. Never was; has no interest. That suited me fine. I was dating, and marrying, the man--not the religion. Which, of course, was a highly unacceptable attitude. At first, everyone pretended it was "OK", and said things like, "maybe he'll convert". There was some discomfort when I said, basically, I'm happy with him just the way he is. I neither wanted nor needed him to change.

    Several of my LDS "friends" dumped me immediately. One dumped me right before my wedding--and she was a bridesmaid. She told me she'd only be in my wedding, and be our friend, if my husband came to the Temple and repented, personally, to her and her husband (who is an abusive drug addict, but nevertheless "righteous" because he pays lip service to the church's teachings) of being an evil, Satan-possessed apostate.

    So I left the church. I chose my husband, and my marriage, over the church's obsession with conformity. Honestly, I've been *so* much happier. It was lonely at first, but, at the same time, my decision opened the window to making so many more friends.

  3. I am glad to hear that you find CJs comments useful despite her not being the "targeted" reader of your blog. I have wondered about how to interact with recent posts, as I am
    1) a former LDS
    2) not gay but have had experiences where I can understand this and have friends and family who are homosexual
    3) am married, have been divorced

    For all of these characteristics about myself, I feel that I can relate to your questions and evolution. At the same time, because I am not MOM or MOHO, I have felt unable to give "testimonies" that you or others may be seeking.

    After reading your post today and the appreciation you have for her comments, I feel that a door is open to interact with your blog again.

    While I empathize with inner turmoil and pain associated with
    1) accepting and coming to terms with one's sexuality that goes against the norm of such an absolute religion
    2) understanding how this affects your relationship within a church that goes against who you are
    3) negotiating or refusing a marriage in order to allow yourself to live and evolve as a complete being
    4) finding one's place in society where your identity is determined by the label of your sexuality and being judged, often very unfairly, because of this

    ... I also believe that any identity differences that go against society's or group's norms can cause the same sort of turmoil.

    I consider myself to be non-traditional. I always have been since I was a child: not because of my sexuality but because of the way I think. As a child around 6, I was preoccupied with things that didn't fit with others my age nor did I know how to articulate this due to my age:
    1. understanding the meaning of life, who I was as an individual living inside of my body with my family
    2. contemplating nature and the incredible alive-ness that I felt spending hours in the woods, touching and smelling rocks and feeling the cool, velvety clay-earth
    As I grew and evolved, I always stood out from the norm: going away to school for high school, traveling, quitting college to follow my heart, moving to another country, leaving a marriage that didn't allow me to be me ... going back to school and completing a PhD in my forties, not having a nest egg, not always acting my age ... etc.

    Understanding and respecting the components that make up one's identity is a universal quest. This quest can reveal different treasures and opportunities for all: discovering one's sexuality, one's passion for learning, one's talents etc. This is what we ALL share. Please don't think that I am trying to belittle coming to terms with homosexuality and the LDS church, but I am simply trying to point out what makes all humans a family.

    My sister is dealing with many of the issues that you mention. I am always there for her. While I see her embrace her new family of sisters, I can only secretly hope that she will include me in that family EVEN THOUGH I am not a member of the "family".

    I will write about marriage another time, because boy do I have experience with marriage and divorce!, but let me just say that it is not always romanticized. It isn't always tingles, but I always am in love and love my new life partner. We both seek to support each other in love although due to our human-ness, this sometimes turns to frustration or even anger. Yet we both help each other recognize this, understand it, talk it through and move forward together. We have an extremely passionate relationship that adds to our friendship and soulship. It's not fusional but we have our own independence while sharing Life together. We do try to live, as you eloquently said: we stimulate each other to dare to live: "“outside the box” to ask hard questions of ourselves whose answers can only come out of ourselves, and to confront larger issues involving honesty, integrity, fairness and love"

  4. I left a MOM over six years ago, after all I could do. We had had six solid years (having three children), and then six sinking years (both of us seeing that we were only co-parenting).

    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. Where was hope? That is would all work out one day? No. That wasn't it.

    Some of us were raised with the Langston Hughes poem "what happens to a dream deferred?. . . Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or does it explode?" Well, I have a follow up to that. "What happens to hope deferred? Does it reemerge as faith past the tears of defeat? Or does it implode?"

    I stand now as a witness to the powerful fact that 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.

    Thanks for all you are offering to us, Pilgrim. Your forays into late night examinations are daily noted amongst a couple of my friends. All I hope for you is to find a way to have the pre-sets be halted for a season. And then to begin writing your own. I, for one, have found that the cacophony of New York City while first annoying to no end, has resulted in forcing my hand to define who I am as a Saint in the City, what I feel as a homo in the ward, and how I want to proceed in these latter days as I create an overlay, a descant for the theolo-sexual story that has not yet been completed.

    Gee, that was fun. You inspire well, Pilgrim.

  5. @ Libellule, I take it you don't find my comments useful? And, is there really a "targeted" reader of anyone's blog? It seems to me that the readers we're targeting are the readers who relate to what we're saying. I write a politically slanted, primarily civil rights-themed blog, and most of my regular readers don't agree with 85% of what I say--but so what? One of the biggest and best benefits to blogging, as I see it, is the opportunity it offers for people who, surface-wise, don't have much in common to connect with each other. And, as I think many of us have discovered, our identity doesn't lie in our sexual orientation, or gender. Our experiences are universal.

    I'm certainly not romanticizing marriage. To say that everyone deserves someone who makes their toes tingle--and they do--isn't to say that marriage is always perfect, or that nobody ever gets angry. Sure, things go wrong, stuff happens--but, in a healthy relationship, even when you want to throw someone out the window, they still make your toes tingle. You still love them, and trust them, and respect them, and they still love, trust, and respect you.

    I'm sorry you feel like (because of my, or other's comments?) there's no door open to "interact". We don't always formally invite each other to contribute, but the invitation is, I think, always there. Just like writing a blog is its own justification, so is commenting.

  6. I mostly agree with this post and some of what's been written here, but I think there's more to it than is being said.

    We live in a society where romantic love has been bloated beyond all realistic proportions. I still think that romantic love, including sexual attraction, is one of the greatest things in the world, but I disagree with the Beatles that "Love is all you need." Call me a "murderer of love" if you will, but "that lovin' feeling" is only half of what makes a relationship work.

    Sooner or later, toes will stop tingling and reality sets in. When a couple isn't feeling all that giddy about each other, it is easy to feel bitter and angry and depressed and mope about our own unmet needs. It takes courage (and grace) to pick yourself up and focus on your partner's needs instead of your own, giving yourself freely to him/her. That's what love is. When both partners try to do that, the flame will flare up again, but it takes selfless giving of oneself first.

    I think the Savior gave the example on how to love. His love was not about self gratification or fulfilling his needs, but about giving himself away completely, whether or not the world loved him back. I think the fact that he compares himself to the bridegroom in a marriage relationship with the world should teach us something about our own marriages and families.

    I am not saying this as a judgement on marriages that end in divorce. This life is too complicated to talk individual cases. But the principle is true, I think, that "true love" should be about concentrating on giving yourself away to the other person, rather than feeling discouraged about your own needs are not being met.

    This is true of both gay and straight marriages. When BOTH partners are selflessly focused on each other, that's when marriages make it.

  7. CJ, just let me say that I think you misinterpreted what I was saying!

    I was thrilled that Invictus found your comments useful!

    If you observe the blog from nearly its beginning, you will see that I have always interacted with the blog. I've stepped away from interacting on the blog front when I felt that the topic was focused on asking for other "MOHO or MOM" "testimonies", which I cannot provide because I don't fit into those categories.

    My post of today was to articulate a bit more about my identity, who I am not, how all human beings in some way deal with the turmoil of going against the grain, and how sometimes we can get caught up in our own labels.

    I've never read your blog. I have no idea about the political slant. I did not pick up on this on the two recent posts I've read from you. So, all I can say is that you may have picked up on some meaning that was personally intended at you, which was obviously not my intention. I have re-read what I wrote and just can't see where I said anything against you. I am sorry if you've taken it that way.

  8. @ Libellule, I didn't think you said anything against me; more, you seemed to be saying that you found my comments inappropriate since I'm not in this blog's "target audience". Moreover, disagreeing with my assessment of relationship dynamics isn't saying something "against me". It's one thing to disagree with a person's point of view, but that's not personal. It's only personal if we make it personal.

    I brought up my own blog, not because I think you've read it (I assumed you hadn't), but to illustrate a point about audiences. Sometimes, the audience we expect isn't the one we get, and that can be a good thing. For me, it's been a growth experience. My observation was that I think the same thing happens on other blogs; it's certainly happened here.

    The actual content of my blog isn't relevant at all to this discussion; rather, the fact that my readers aren't homogenous is. Personally, I think self-categorization is unhealthy. If you have something to say, say it! I'm sure others will find it interesting. Who cares if you don't fit into a "target audience" box?

    It's tough, for those of us who grew up in an LDS environment, to let go of this idea that there are "appropriate" and "inappropriate" contributions. And no, I'm not talking about manners. Rather, women, particularly, are taught to keep silent unless spoken to. If we offer our thoughts in a situation where someone hasn't directly solicited them, we're somehow "disempowering" the Priesthood. What a bunch of drivel.

  9. @ Other CJ, well, like I said in the beginning, romantic love is necessary but not sufficient ;-)

    To use another legal term, I think you're setting up a straw man, here. You're presenting it as a choice between idealized romantic love and moping around with unmet needs. What I get from what you're saying is, "reality" equals "unmet needs". "Once reality sets in...." And, well, I disagree with this basic premise. People aren't always happy; that's life. But to blame all unhappiness, in life or in marriage, on unmet needs is simplistic and unfair.

    in a healthy relationship, our basic needs should *always* be met--but that doesn't mean we won't be unhappy, or disappointed, or angry. The foundation of any long-term relationship is shared goals, values, and aspirations. I think a lot of people let themselves off the hook with their lives--not just their relationships--by telling themselves, "this is normal". First, it's not, and second, so what if it is? Let's say everyone you know is miserable; why does that mean *you* need to be?

    It's important, too, to distinguish between "normal", everyday problems couples face (breakdowns in communication, disagreements about how to handle problems, etc etc etc) and fundamental flaws in the relationship--e.g., differing values and goals. Transient problems are reconcilable; permanent problems (for example, completely different life or lifestyle goals) aren't.

  10. I also disagree that happiness in marriage requires being selfless. Nobody should ever be invisible. Ideally, you find a partner who wants to work toward the same goals. You can work toward them together. This is going to sound really harsh, but I think that, honestly, if getting along in marriage requires being "selfless"--i.e. subliminating your own goals, and wants, and needs--you're in the wrong marriage. The right relationship should always make you feel good about who and what you really are.

    Listen, I've been with my husband for seven years. Of course there've been times when we've wanted to chuck each other out the window. Wanting to chuck your spouse out the window is totally normal; actually doing it isn't. But recognizing the reality of marriage (it's work) isn't the same thing as settling for a marriage that always feels like work.

    You can retain your sense of self *and* have your needs met. The issue isn't marriage (a marriage certificate, even one from the Temple, is just a piece of paper) but the people in it. If the only way you can feel happy in your marriage is to pull a Mother Theresa, then, quite frankly, you deserve better. And so does your partner.