Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dear Anonymous: The Matter of “Being Someone You’re Not”

This is the second letter to Anonymous, who posted the following comment a few days ago with respect to a post on my blog (the gist of the comment being that that I should go back into the closet because 20 years of “sowing wild oats” was not worth giving up “exaltation”):

“Sincere question for you here … Assuming you're 45, and will live to be 76, you're approximately 60% of the way through your life. Up to this point, you've been a faithful member of the Church, paid your tithing, etc. So, you've only got 40% of life to go and if you can just keep on the path for that last stretch, you'll very likely receive exaltation and be together with your family, as the LDS Church teaches.  On the other hand, if you choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, you've got, on average, 31 years (assuming you're 45) left. Keeping in mind that after 65 you're pretty much "old" (no offense intended) which brings the "wild oats" years down to roughly 20. Are those 20 years worth it … [i.e.,] worth what you're giving up?”

Since this comment struck me as representing what is unfortunately common thinking among most members of the LDS Church with respect to homosexuality, I asked for readers of my blog to contribute their own responses to Anonymous’ comment. 

Yesterday, I posted a first letter to Anonymous in which I discussed common misconceptions that being gay and coming out and “living” as gay are choices of the will.  Today, I discuss, both through my own words and those of others who posted replies to the original comment, another commonly-held belief among Latter-day Saints, i.e., that even if one accepts (a) that being gay is not a choice and (b) that for a gay person not to live as a gay person is not realistic, it is nevertheless possible and desirable for a gay Latter-day Saint to, in essence, ignore who he really is and pretend to be something he’s not.


Dear Anonymous,

I hope you’ve had a chance to read and think about yesterday’s letter. I’d be interested in your comments and wonder if you have any questions.

As I mentioned yesterday, your comment contains a number of implicit premises and assumptions which I think are common among Mormons. Yesterday’s letter addressed the commonly-held belief that being attracted to persons of one’s own gender is a choice. (It’s not.) It also addressed the absurdity of calling a homosexual’s desire to live as he is a “choice” (i.e., does one “choose” to live as a heterosexual?). 

Today, I want to move beyond these two foundational premises and discuss yet another belief that is common in LDS culture, viz., that regardless of whether homosexuality is a choice or the morality of expecting a homosexual to not live as a homosexual, it is nevertheless not only desirable but possible for a gay Latter-day Saint to, in essence, ignore who he really is and pretend to be something he’s not. (Note:  even though I shall speak in terms of gay men, much of what I am writing applies equally to lesbians.)

Before getting into a more general discussion of this belief, however, I want to first address a premise that I believe was implicit in your question to me, i.e., that I had “chosen” to end my marriage. 

Specific Premise:  You “chose” to “leave” your family

If you had read much of my blog, you would have learned that I did not “choose” to end my marriage; my wife did.  We had been having serious marital problems for years, particularly the last three years, and my homosexuality was not a factor (per se) in the breakdown of our marriage.  My wife had already so much as asked for a divorce before I came out to her in October. Me finally telling her that I am gay was “the cherry on top” that led to her asking for a divorce and me agreeing to the proposition.

A similar situation was described by Dad’sPrimalScream in his comments to my original post:  “[Anonymous’] question,” he wrote, “implies that there is a “decision” [to embrace homosexuality and “leave” one’s family] and that that decision is all ours. Not only did I never “choose” to be a homosexual, I did not choose to leave my wife and children. What I did choose was to be honest about it …  There was never unfaithfulness, but my ex-wife with the encouragement of the church chose to divorce.”

The question in my particular case,” he continued, “is [why didn’t] the church and my ex-wife not see the last 20 years of our lives to be a worthy investment for their brand of eternity?  As much as it hurt and felt wrong at the time, in the end I believe it was the right thing to do. Since there are two in a marriage, shouldn’t our wives have equal say and equal opportunity to find an eternal companion with whom THEY want to spend that last 20 years? The easy assumption is that is was all our doing, but it’s not always the case.”

General Premise:  It is desirable and possible for mixed-orientation marriages to work

There was a time, not so long ago, that it was policy of the LDS Church to encourage gay men to marry women as a means of “curing” them of their homosexuality. Underlying this policy were the twin beliefs that (a) homosexuality is a choice and is curable and (b) heterosexual marriage is ordained by God and is the one and only path to exaltation. I have already addressed the first belief, and the second belief will be addressed in a later letter. Suffice it for now to say that this policy created many “mixed-orientation” marriages and has since been discontinued by the Church.

Beyond this overt policy, however, there are and have always been extremely strong religious and cultural pressures for gay Mormon men to marry. To put it bluntly, many gay Mormon men, believe and have believed (not surprisingly) so strongly in what they have been taught about celestial marriage and the plan of salvation that they have been and (still) are willing to try to stifle their true natures in order to live the “plan of happiness” – even if it kills them.

(Anonymous, as an aside, I’m going to acknowledge here for the benefit of some who will read this letter that there are many gay Mormons in mixed-orientation marriages who have been able, for various reasons and due to various circumstances, to make their marriages “work.”  These marriages, however, are the exception, not the rule; and my objective is not to argue that mixed-orientation marriages cannot work, but rather that they should not be forced to “work”.)

The fact of the matter is that your average run-of-the-mill Latter-day Saint, because of what they have been taught and because of the culture in which they live, believes that homosexuality is a choice, that accepting and validating homosexuality is even more of a choice, and that, because of these beliefs (which is why I wrote about them in my first letter to you), a Mormon man should be able to “swallow” any homosexual inclinations he has and make a heterosexual marriage work (which, believe me, requires varying degrees of an enormous amount of effort).

This belief, however, is utterly false (keeping in mind the exceptions I mentioned above).

I have written extensively on my blog about the price that was exacted as a result of my mixed-orientation marriage, about my belief that I could make it work, about my absolute dedication to making it work, about my failures in spite of my very best efforts.  Others have written about this as well, and you can find here a list of posts on my blog that address the subject of mixed-orientation marriages. 

You can also read some of the comments that were left in response to my original post, such as these poignant comments from Trey Adams:  “I lived in marriage for 33 years suffering in a way you cannot know unless through experience. I was a faithful husband and a father of six beautiful children. I served a mission and held high ward and stake callings. But all the while I waged a secret inner war that nearly destroyed me. I had no lasting peace, and no joy. I hoped for death and contemplated it many times. I prayed and fasted, sought counsel and received blessings from my church leaders, and when that didn’t work, I prayed harder.  I longed for freedom and identity of self. At times I would have willingly traded twenty years of my remaining life for one day of peace, freedom from pain and pretense, and for sense of self.”

Then there were these comments from Alex, a young man, married for only a few years, who has recently come to terms with his homosexuality:  “I’m young and married. I have been debating a lot of things. One of which was, ‘Well, shouldn’t I just stick out my marriage for the rest of my life for the sake of eternity?’ The answer I got was a resounding no. God does not want me or any of his children to be deliberately miserable. Why would he ask me to choose something that would bring me, my wife, and others such unhappiness?”

I’m all about learning from trials,” he continued, “and life not being easy. But our Heavenly Father does not want us to be self flagellating monks, blindly obeying laws and policies. Rather he wants men of faith who follow him with trust. You can only have that trust, when what God gives you brings you joy. I’m not saying that life isn’t going to bring you lots of sadness. But when was the last time you [Anonymous] followed the commandments, knowing that doing so meant cutting part of yourself off, repressing it, stuffing it away? When doing so made you suicidal or depressed?  I’m not talking about “bridling” your passions, but rather choking them off forever. Making yourself a false persona, pretending.  All of these are kinds of experiences that you probably haven’t and never will have to face. Is that what God wants for his children? I don’t think so.

There is, in my view, a reason most mixed-orientation marriages eventually fail. It’s like trying to force two magnets together: one can try and try and can, with enough force, hold them sort of together. All the while, however, there is a tremendous countervailing force, pushing the magnets away from each other.  Eventually, the effort to keep the magnets together becomes overwhelming and, ultimately (in most cases) impossible to maintain.

And it’s not just about sex. It is about trying to make a man (or, in the case of a lesbian, a woman) someone he isn’t. It is as much or more about intimacy, identity, authenticity, validation and acceptance, as it is about sex.  And this will be the subject of my next letter.


  1. Well done, as usual! The magnate metaphor is particularly eloquent.

    A force, a feel, a gravity,
    A polar charge that renders me
    A natural contrarity.

  2. It is I, Anonymous. My name is Bryan. I meant to put that in the original post, but in my haste, neglected to do so.

    Few points.

    1) There were many sincere responses to my initial question, and I appreciated that, because my question was sincere. And, one premise you've not mentioned implicit in my question is that it be directed toward someone who still believes the LDS Church is the Lord's true Church. I believe that "Dad's Primal Scream", and other responders, mentioned that they no longer believe that. I wouldn't have directed the question to you if I hadn't understood you to believe the LDS Church was true because of course if you disbelieve the Church, you will have no problem going against
    it's teachings and will likely not believe you're giving anything up by doing so.

    2) I do not believe, as a general proposition, that ATTRACTION is a choice. Why would someone with a testimony of the LDS Church say "Hey, I'd really like to struggle with attraction to my own gender so I think I'll choose that." I think you'd find that most LDS people would agree.

    3) However, your suggestion that living a homosexual, or heterosexual, lifestyle is NOT a choice is one with which I disagree. I live a heterosexual lifestyle, by choice. There are people who live a nonsexual (i.e., celibate) lifestyle, by choice and those who life a homosexual lifestyle, by choice. Any type of voluntary, sexual (non)behavior (or any voluntary behavior of any kind) is, by definition, a choice.

    4) I think I can see a bit where you're going with the identity issue. However, I don't think that attraction and identity are the same thing. While an attraction is a part of identity, it isn't the ENTIRETY of our identity. I believe another of the commenters made this same point.

    5) I have to mention that I disagree with your interpretation of some of the Church's teachings. E.g., I think that President Packer's quote condemned ONLY the action, not the individual who, through no fault of his own, had the attraction.

    I think these last two points are very common in discussions of this kind. And as far as your letters go, I imagined a 3 or 4 sentence answer to my question, but I have been reading your letters with interest and appreciate the responses.

  3. "(Anonymous, as an aside, I’m going to acknowledge here for the benefit of some who will read this letter that there are many gay Mormons in mixed-orientation marriages who have been able, for various reasons and due to various circumstances, to make their marriages “work.” These marriages, however, are the exception, not the rule; and my objective is not to argue that mixed-orientation marriages cannot work, but rather that they should not be forced to “work”.)"

    I spoke with you on this issue and have also discussed it with my happily-married-to-a-woman law school male friend. I think you both take a tack similar to mine. I acknowledge that many mixed-orientation marriages work with reasonable success, but I contend that such marriages are on average exposed to predictable and greatly elevated risks, including some centered around mental health issues of peace, identity, and authenticity, and compared to opposite-sex marriage present elevated and harms to children and spouses of these relationships. Also, because some manage success in such relationships doesn't prescribe to other homosexuals a mandate to select the same alternative any more than the fact that many black folks managed to make it work (reasonable levels of functionality and happiness) in slavery would lead to the conclusion that all should volunteer for the institution. I assert that a superior institution to the status quo is to have same-sex marriage as a robust and honorable alternative to opposite sex marriage for homosexually oriented persons. I'm not yet persuaded that the homosexually oriented should be pressured or encourage to marry a member of the same sex; rather, it seems to me at the moment best to encourage them to marry, but leave the choice of who (male or female) up to the individual. I think there are important reasons to maintain the marriage norm by, in general, applying social pressure to marry; however, I think it best to leave the comparative cost and benefit analysis of what individual (and what gender to marry) to the individual. Just thinking out loud here, no hard conclusions yet.

    " It is as much or more about intimacy, identity, authenticity, validation and acceptance, as it is about sex."
    That's been about what I've picked up from hearing/reading MOM stories, and is about what i would expect.

  4. @Anonymous (Bryan) - Hi Bryan, I'm glad to hear from you. I felt your original question was sincere, and that (as I've written) your comment represented an opportunity to address what I (and others) believe are common perceptions/beliefs among many LDS. I'm only part-way through a series of responses, so stay tuned this coming week.

    In response to your comments above, I would offer these thoughts (with reference to your enumerated points):

    1) I will be writing about belief. The relationship of gay Mormons to the Church and the Gospel is complicated and covers a wide spectrum of belief.

    2) I believe attraction is what it is. Though I do believe that there are many Mormons who would acknowledge this, I don't agree that most LDS see it that way.

    3) I will be discussing the use of the term "lifestyle" in a future "Letter to Anonymous". (Even though we now know your name, I will keep the title because my letters are addressed beyond you to the many.)

    4)I agree that attraction is only a part of identity. I don't think, however, that you and I approach these concepts from the same viewpoint. Again, I will be addressing this in a future post.

    5) I strongly disagree with your comments regarding Elder Packer's talk. His original comments were quite clear and reflect a strain of thought within the LDS leadership that goes back at least 4-5 decades. I will also address this more fully in a future post.

    As to your concluding comments, I found these interesting and revealing. Again, I don't doubt your sincerity, and I respect your points of view. However, I would invite you to reflect upon the fact that, while you expected only a few lines in response, your original comment generated many comments. I hope you understand why: the premises, assumptions and attitudes that were reflected in your original comment evoked strong feelings. Again, I'm not doubting your sincerity, but the mild surprise you expressed is indicative of what we see in the larger LDS culture: a surprise that attitudes commonly held by many LDS (which they believe are reasonable and righteous) could be found offensive by gays. This is part of the disconnect we experience in the LDS world: until straight LDS can appreciate how their attitudes and beliefs are perceived by their gay brothers and sisters, they cannot truly understand us. Again, I will be writing about this in a future post.

    Stay tuned, and, as always, please continue to feel free to participate in the discussion.

  5. @ Brad - I appreciate your comments and viewpoints as one who has a "straight eye for the queer guy" so to speak. :) Your research and interaction with the gay Mormon community is welcomed and has no doubt increased understanding among straight LDS folks. I hope that you will continue, as this particular series of posts continues (as well as with respect to other posts), feel free to add your valued insights, information and perspective.

  6. RE: ". . . when was the last time [anonymous] followed the commandments, knowing that doing so meant cutting part of yourself off, repressing it, stuffing it away? When doing so made you suicidal or depressed? I’m not talking about “bridling” your passions, but rather CHOKING THEM OFF FOREVER. (my emphasis)

    Thank you for this extraordinary bullseye. It completely reframes the shame based comment that I have heard time and time again. I'd be more than happy and have been more than willing to bridle my passions. But it has been a fruitless and injuring 25 years in choking my passions, my authenticity, my CORE BEING. You see, Anonymous, we're not talking about the natural man here. We're talking about something far more integral - we're talking about my spirit as well as my body.

    I have posted this idea to others in the past year but here goes my driving metaphor: Consider the periodic table that many of us learned in high school Chemistry class. We then learned about ionic bonds and covalent bonds. NaCl (sodium chloride) being a very strong example of the former. Helium (He2), Oxygen (O2) being of the latter. I am utterly convinced that heterosexuality is the example of an ionic bond. And that homosexuality is the covalent bond. BOTH are found in nature. I believe that BOTH are NEEDED in creation. And the implications, then, are that we are ALL God's creation.

    And so, what I'm asking Latter Day Saints now to do is to wish me well (and maybe even assist me) in fulfilling the measure of my DIFFERENT creation. Because while we might be born equal, some of us are born different. And it has come time to upgrade our understanding of having to all be red tulips for the celestial garden. I think there is certainly room for a variety of splendor. The time has come for such a "revision in our vision". Thank you, Bryan (and others) for taking time to consider this.