Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Beards, Masks and MetaFilter: New Perspectives

 "The use of 'Mormon Beard' or 'beard' perpetuates a second class status to ALL straight wive married to gay men, and denotes an ugliness."

So wrote a commenter to a post I published last Friday, which was the fifth in a series of posts whose titles began with the words, “Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues.” The purpose of the series was to focus on the wives of Mormon gay men and, in a broader sense, to explore a number of issues relating to mixed-orientation marriages, including a discussion of factors that lead to the creation of such marriages.

The term “beards” was selected, admittedly, to be provocative; but its use was specifically intended to refer to women who enter into (typically temple) marriages with Mormon men without knowing (or without fully knowing and understanding) that their husbands are gay and thereby assist (again, unwittingly on their part) in “masking” their husbands’ gay sexual identities.

Last Friday, I received the following comment from a woman who was formerly married to a gay Mormon man:

“While I have enjoyed your series over the course of the last few days, I have to say I cringe every time I see the title “Mormon Beards” because I find the slang term highly offensive. I am Mormon and was formerly married to a gay man.  The term “Mormon Beard” is very derogatory and an ugly slang term. When I hear the term to describe a Mormon woman married to a gay man it makes me feel like a sub-par individual lacking any value. And that feeling is universally true among straight wives of gay men.

“I don’t believe you are using the term to be offensive, and you probably did not realize how offensive it is to straight wives, but like any slang term, when it is used in ANY context it perpetuates making it a commonly accepted word or phrase. I know there are lots of slang words that straight people use when referencing gay people that gay people find highly offensive. I have seen the outcry from gay individuals to stop the use of these slang words because they perpetuate hate, and that outcry is justified because those slang terms do perpetuate hate.

“The use of “Mormon Beard” or “beard” perpetuates a second class status to ALL straight wives married to gay men, and denotes an ugliness. How about you stop using a slang term that is offensive to straight wives so that we too can rise from the ashes, just like our gay husbands.”

I truly regret offending this woman (who uses the online moniker Pieces of Me) or any other woman who may have been offended by the use of this term.  Even though Pieces of Me believed that I wasn’t using the term to be offensive to women (which was true), it didn’t change the fact that the term was offensive to her.  So I will no longer use it. 

I would, however, be interested to hear from other women regarding the use of this term, particularly in light of  Pieces of Me’s comment that the term makes her feel “like a sub-par individual lacking any value” and that this feeling is “universally true among straight wives of gay men.”  I also invited her and other straight women who have been or are married to gay men to comment on these posts.

 Having abandoned the term “beard,” however, I was left in a bit of a quandary.  I wanted to use a term that could refer globally to all of the issues that surround mixed-orientation marriages:  why a young Mormon man would enter into such a marriage – in the past as well as currently -, what issues arise inside of and as a result of mixed-orientation marriages and what factors contribute to the formation of mixed-orientation marriages.

After giving it some thought, I decided to use the word “masks.”  This term seemed to me to be reflective of

  • the efforts young gay Mormon men make to hide their sexual orientation, both from themselves as well as others;
  • the efforts of older gay men who are in mixed-orientation marriages to hide their true orientation, both from themselves as well as their spouses, and to cope with painful, perhaps subconscious feelings; and
  • a number of other aspects of Mormon culture and belief that impact or otherwise relate to the larger issue of mixed-orientation marriages.

As I was working on this post this past weekend (and after having already deciding to go with the term “masks”), I received a message from a friend who told me of the tragic suicide a few months ago of a young Mormon man who was gay but had gone ahead and (in my friend’s words) married “to mask the gay.”  Ultimately, he apparently couldn’t deal with the situation.  Now, he is gone and his young wife is a widow because of a mask that couldn’t be removed.

MetaFilter:  New Perspectives

Before Monday, I don’t think I had ever heard of MetaFilter.  (Okay, so I’ve lived a cloistered life.)  On Sunday night, I received a notification that there was some sort of link going on with respect to a post I had published on Main Street Plaza back in March, then I noticed my number of page views climbing dramatically – unprecedentedly.

On Monday morning, I looked up MetaFilter and learned that it is a community weblog where members post what they consider to be the “best of the web” – things that they have encountered on their perambulations around the web that they share and upon which other members then comment.  I discovered that someone had stumbled across several of my blog posts dealing with mixed-orientation marriages and had crafted a post  on MetaFilter that contained links to several of my posts.

I then found the page where these links were posted and discovered dozens of comments left by MetaLink members – not on my posts, but on the subject matter of these posts.  Because I think a number of these comments would greatly contribute to this discussion about mixed-orientation marriages and homosexuality in general (bringing as they do new and fresh, yet familiar, perspectives), I decided to repost some of them here.

“Half of my gay Mormon (or ex-Mormon) friends are in various stages of coming out to their spouses, their families, their friends. When you're a member of a church that tells you if you just work hard enough at being straight, that you can do it, means there are a lot of people who think that doubling down and getting married and having kids will push them over the edge to being straight. Accepting who you are (provided you don't fit the block hole) is a failure in their culture, something a lot of people are not capable of handling. Failure in the LDS church is more than personal, it's eternal. It means no celestial kingdom, no love from heavenly father, denied access to all you've worked for and failure for your family and your kids. While calling for an end to "beards" is a right thing in that it means more people are living honestly, perhaps the better option would be to have a church that doesn't put such crushing weight on the successful righteousness of their members.” – mbsutah

“Mormons aren't the only ones who do this. I joined a dating website geared towards my religious denomination and there were PLENTY of gay men who knew and wanted a sham marriage to present to family and society. There were a few souls that were still in denial and hoped that this would change them, but most of them were perfectly aware and accepting of their sexuality. okay, "accepting" might not be the right word here.” – neekee

“Telling gay people to act straight and marry people they aren't attracted to creates unstable and unhappy marriages. That's a far bigger perversion of marriage to me than violating a "tradition" of a cultural institution that's always been in flux.” – mccarty.tim

So the idea becomes that the faithful choice is [for gays to] … somehow live an orthodox LDS life, reaping at least the blessings of being woven into the circle of family relations and community, if never finding the fulfillment of the private passions that drive you. You actually see this show up in a few spots in [Orson Scott] Card's fiction (I'm thinking one of the geneticists in the Shadow books) as well as in the counsel of some Mormon leadership.  Some people find that choice unacceptable. Some people find it acceptable. This isn't where the tragedies lie, I think. Those are for those who find it acceptable *in theory* but in practice find out it simply will not work for them and/or that the cost is more terrible than they'd ever anticipated.” - weston

To [all who] … have had to struggle with such things [i.e., being gay in a conservative religious environment] ...who have done the hard work...and who have carved identities for themselves that are not founded on rage or resentment toward their origins: I salute you. To go all biblical on you:  “And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.”  Yeah, but you know what? Some fell in the cracks of the rocks, and lived in the dark, and suffered and starved, but nevertheless survived...and grew strong...and split that rock wide open...and found the earth beneath...and thrived.” - perspicio

“ … I was inculcated by my parents (who were lapsed -- my father a lapsed Mormon, my mother a lapsed Catholic) and by the churches to which I belonged [including Jehovah’s Witnesses] to believe that the only path to a true and happy life was to find a woman to marry and to build a family with. Never mind that my own family was highly dysfunctional and that any marriage or family I pretended to build was doomed from the start because of my attraction toward feelings about other men. I had an overwhelming crush on my mentor and Bible study instructor, for Christ's sake. Never mind that the one woman I had a relationship with in college never forgave me when she realized that I had been, in essence, leading her on all along -- that I wasn't really in love with her, but with what she represented. Even though what I was doing was working through my own overwhelming sexual confusion, it was still using her not to be honest with her about my real feelings from the beginning, and for that I wish I could go back in time and undo the damage I did …”-  blucevalo

There were a number of other comments posted, including some that were lengthy, extremely interesting and poignant.  I intend to post a few of these in subsequent posts. 


  1. slang term for straight man married to gay woman-Merkin.

  2. Before I even got to your your emphasis in red (I wasn't really in love with her, but with what she represented), I jumped out of my skin and felt "yes, there is the right phrase for it all". Taking it a step farther, as a Mormon, I realize that my entire conversion at 31 is grounded upon what Mormonism represents, no matter how many accounts of the First Vision there are. Which means that truth, like beauty, is indeed in the eyes of the beholder.

    So, as a gay divorced Mormon, I didn't fall in love with being in love - I'll save that for describing my adolescence - I fell in love with the portrayal of the church video that intimated that she could be the object of my desires. Rather than the subject of my love. e.g. YOU are the wings beneath my feet". But there's the problem. It's not semantics here. It's about focus. On her. Rather on me. OR even us. Or even celestial glory. Or even the children we were blessed to have. It's about her.

    And so, with only three cylinders firing for her, when one broke down, all I was left was a two -cylinder Vespa (if you'll follow my metaphor) - which might be fine as kids in love, but thank you, she said, I choose as an adult not to ride with you on this thing anymore. I want (and she deserves) a real vehicle for the long haul into middle age and beyond.

  3. Beautifully and insightfully put, Martin. You touch on something that looms large, but in the shadows, of Mormon thought and theology - that of offering up (sacrificing) our SELVES in order to obtain the ideal that we yearn for; but of course the ideal without the self is empty, fake.

    Furthermore, your extension of the phrase by applying it to your conversion is a brilliant insight which I now have to go away and think about in the context of my own conversion.

  4. Thank you very much for your post and for re-posting my comment so that others can understand the context of how the slang word "beard" impacts a straight wife.

    I wanted you to know that before I left my comment I posted my comment on a bulletin board that is a forum for straight wives. I did this because I wanted to get some feedback before I left the comment to ensure that I was not the only one who felt this way. Universally the other wives agreed with me that the term was offensive and SEVERAL of them had been following your series, and enjoyed what you wrote.

    Most of the wives in my group are still married to their husbands for a variety of reasons. In our group they feel very free to express themselves, and do so. The impression I am left with is that commenting outside the group really opens them up to a certain vulnerability that most of them are not willing to take on. Especially on a blog that is written by a gay man for other gay men.

    I can't speak as to why they read MOHO blogs, but I can tell you that I read MOHO blogs to better understand my ex-husband. Its a bit easier for me to comment because being divorced I am much more emotionally removed than I was when I was still married.

    On a final note, I am mulling over how I feel about the term "mask" It certaintly is an improvement, but I am not sure it is the right word. To me it denotes and intent to deceive, and if a couple is going into the marriage with full knowledge then I don't think anything is being "masked" Yes they may be "masking" it from their family, friends, ward members, but there are all sorts of things we "mask" from other people. Our public persona is often different from who we are in private.

    For those for whom there was no disclosure before marriage, I still don't know if "mask" fits the bill. For those who are still in their marriages, and the spouse now knows, again their is no "mask" between the spouse, and again there are all sorts of things that occur in any marriage that are not shared with others outside the marriage.

    I do think the term "mask" does fit for those who are married and have not told their spouse, but have come to acknowledge it to themselves.

    I know for me, I did not know when I got married, and my ex-husband had not really admitted it to himself. He had not fully acknowledged that part of himself. I did not feel during those early years that he was masking anything. I did feel during the last two years of our marriage that he was "masking" because by then he had acknowledged that part of himself and hid it from me.

    While we may "mask" from family, friends, ward members, etc., I think in a married relationship partners can't "mask" or hide things from one another, it ultimately destroys the relationship. And to me that is true whether it is sexuality, money, relationships or any other issue.

  5. PoM: Thank you so much for your comments. The additional background information adds a lot of context to your original comments and is appreciated.

    I totally understand the reticence to comment outside the group and the reluctance to thereby be exposed to unwelcome and/or uncharitable comments. I am, however, sincere in my desire to share your viewpoints and perspectives, as well as other women in your group. These are the types of perspectives and comments that young gay Mormon men, as well as gay Mormon men who are currently in MoMs, need to read. They are the types of comments that they will likely not find anywhere else, if not on blogs such as this one. You commented that (as I had previously commented) my blog is written by a gay man to gay men. This is true, and this is precisely the reason why comments and perspectives by and from you and other women in your group would be so valuable.

    I would therefore invite, and even request, that you and other women write to me at Use an email account that conceals your true identity if you wish; use a pseudonym if you wish. Any identifying information will be kept confidential, and any comments shared in this manner with me would be used to craft one or more posts, exactly as I have done in the past when men have written to me. My agenda is to get information out there and promote understanding; that's it.

    As to your comments regarding "mask", I understand them; but I think I will continue to go with this term. The plain fact of the matter is that many of us (men and women) wear various kinds of masks without even realizing it; they're subconscious or unconscious masks. When it comes to issues of sexual orientation, there are various types, shades and degrees of masking going on, much of it unconscious, some of it conscious but not necessarily intentional (if that makes sense), and some of it very much conscious and intentional.

    In the end, though, it's only a word that I'm using to try to gather up a herd of issues that are not easily categorized. The important thing is the issues themselves.