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.
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.