Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues: My Story, Part 1

This is the second in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women. In yesterday’s post, I explained that “beard” refers to a slang term for the heterosexual spouse of a gay Mormon who is effectively used to conceal the husband’s sexual orientation. 

As I wrote yesterday, I was challenged by Holly Welker – a woman who fell in love with, but ultimately did not marry, a gay man and who has written about homosexuality and Mormonism - to “bring more attention to the woman in [a Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriage (MoMoM)].” 

I am suggesting,” Holly wrote, “that it might be a good idea to demonstrate in your writing and on your blog more awareness, concern and compassion for what your decisions have cost your wife, because by doing so, you can get single gay men on the verge of repeating your mistake to factor in more accurately and appropriately to their decision what that decision will cost any woman they might marry, and I would hope most devoutly that they would actually care about that.”

Both because I believe I should have some skin in this game, so to speak, and because I think I can use my own situation to illustrate points I will make in subsequent posts, I am going to write once again about my own marriage and the events leading up to it.

First of all, like most men of my generation (and even like most young LDS men today), even though I knew from a young age that I had feelings of attraction for men, I didn’t know and didn’t believe that I was “gay.”  I had dates in high school, and always had dates for fraternity dances in college, but beyond that, I never dated.  I certainly had no real experience with “relationships” prior to meeting my future wife.

I wasn’t raised in the LDS Church, and when I was introduced to it after I graduated from college, one of the main reasons I embraced it was because I thought the “Gospel” would cure me of these feelings of attraction and that I, too, could have an idyllic Mormon family and be redeemed from “Homo Hell.”

It wasn’t until I was out on my mission that I came to realize that the “pray the gay away” formula wasn’t working.  Furthermore, it was on my mission that, for the first time in my life, I allowed myself to even consider living as a gay man upon returning home.

I had, however, prior to leaving on my mission, met a woman that I felt some attraction to.  I had written to her throughout my mission, and we had had serious discussions about the possibility of getting together upon my return home.  I frankly thought, both before and early in my mission, that God had blessed my efforts to overcome homosexuality by bringing this woman into my life. 

In a post I published back in early December of last year, I described the internal struggle I went through in deciding to get married (over 20 years ago).  I had been surprised to discover that I had not excised passages from my journal over a six-month period after my mission that documented my thoughts and feelings at the time.

I am still dealing with a problem,” I wrote, “which has plagued me for some time – accepting myself as I am and acknowledging that I am sinful [i.e., gay].”  This may sound like a strange statement to some who read this; it certainly does to me, and I wrote it!  But it was a genuine reflection of well-entrenched (by that time) Mormon thought.  For those familiar with Mosiah 3:19 (from the Book of Mormon), I was telling myself that I needed to accept the fact that I was gay, but only in the sense that an alcoholic has to admit to his problem before he can get on the road to recovery. 

Here’s the scripture for the benefit of those who are not familiar with it:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Instead of affirming the fact that I was gay, I believed that homosexuality (1) was of the “natural man,” (2) made me an enemy of God, and (3) could be “cured” or, more appropriately, forgiven and washed away by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  (The trick was to figure out how this was to be done.)  In other words, I had to accept that I was gay before I had any hope of ceasing to be gay.

I continued writing:  “How proud I am!  I have such a difficult time accepting that I may be (am) bad by nature.  I wonder, “Why me?!”  “Why I am this way?  I know it’s wrong, but I’m that way by nature.”  Why can’t I be like others who seem to have such an easy time with the commandments?  It’s sometimes very easy for someone to say, “Repent!”; but it’s another thing entirely to deal with feelings, emotions and one’s very nature.”

On the one hand, I thought that if I could just accept myself as by nature (i.e., inherently) bad because I was gay (which premise, you will notice, I accepted without question), then I could be changed.  On the other hand, I nevertheless seemed to recognize that changing homosexuality was not a matter of repentance, but involved somehow being able to change one’s very nature.  (It didn’t even occur to me last December when I first wrote this how damaging that must have been to me to consider myself inherently bad because I was gay, which of course is what every gay and lesbian person raised in a conservative Christian environment thinks about themselves.)

I wrestled with what I should do about getting married.  On the one hand, I felt like marriage would be a mistake; on the other, I thought maybe this was how God was going to “cure” me, i.e., through the love of a good woman and my own dedication to following the “priesthood path.” [Note the emphasis.] In other words, “faith precedes the miracle,” and I would “receive no witness until after the trial of my faith.”  Translation:  I would have to steadfastly walk the “priesthood path,” and I would eventually discover that my same sex attraction was fading away like mist before the sun.

I wrote in my journal:  “I am passing through hell, or so it feels like at times.  I have never come so close to feeling that everything could be lost [translation:  that I would abandon the gospel and leave the church and “give in” to my baser (gay) nature].  I’m so very, very confused … The choices facing me are:  (1) abandon the standards I have strived to maintain for almost three years [i.e., since I had joined the Church], leading to a life of inactivity and possible excommunication [i.e., live as a gay man], or (2) marry [my wife], or (3) ? … The time has come for me to accept my past and who I am.  If I want to stay in the Church, then I’m going to have to make some compromises.  I do want to stay in the church.  I want to feel the power of the Atonement change my nature – but I know it can rarely be done overnight.”

Bottom line is that I had swallowed the Church’s line, hook, line and sinker:  homosexuality was a choice, and I was being confronted with a choice.  On the one hand, I could choose to accept the fact that I was gay, then “apply the Atonement” so that I could be changed/cleansed of this affliction, i.e., I could try to asphyxiate my gayness and tell myself that I merely experienced an attraction to men which could be overcome through marriage and commitment to the priesthood path.  Alternatively, I could choose to accept the fact that I was gay and choose to not put forth the effort to change, i.e., give in and live life as a gay man.

I ultimately chose to do the “right thing,” i.e., get married.  I had told my future wife before we proceeded with an engagement that I had experienced attraction to men.  I told her that I had fallen in love with a guy when I was in high school and that I had had a couple of male-male sexual experiences years before.  But I did not tell her I was “gay.”  Why not?  Because I didn’t think I was gay

As is reflected in my journal entries from the time, I believed that homosexuality was a weakness (similar, as many LDS are wont to say, to alcoholism) that, ultimately, could be overcome through the love of a “good woman.”  According to this belief, choosing to live as a gay man would have constituted a choice to succumb to my baser nature, the natural man.  I never entertained any thoughts that living as a gay man was a healthy, let alone righteous, choice.

As best as I can recollect, my wife’s reaction to my confession was one of compassion (and no doubt surprise), and that was about it.  The matter was closed and never talked about again for many years.

So, what were my “decisions”? 

First, I decided to accept the fact that I had always experienced an attraction to men and that joining the Church and serving a mission had not “cured” me, i.e., made these attractions go away. 

Second, I decided to exercise faith in what the Church taught, i.e., that if I went ahead and got married and benefited from the love of a good woman (and remained “faithful”), these feelings of attraction would diminish and eventually go away.

Third, I decided to tell my wife, in as much honesty of which I was then capable, that I had experienced same-sex attraction (or whatever the hell it was called back then).  (I wonder if I secretly hoped she’d call everything off?  I honestly cannot remember.)

Fourth, I decided to commit myself firmly and irrevocably to my marriage and to living the Gospel – both of which were (aside from being valid goals in and of themselves) seen as essential in “killing the gay” in me.

Those were my decisions.  In the next post, I’ll address the motivations that lay behind these decisions and what I think these decisions “cost” my wife.


  1. President Hinckley counseled, “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices..." I'm glad that the church DOES NOT teach that marriage will fix the problem.

    Do you really believe that homosexual attractions cannot be changed? Are those who claim change simply decieving themselves?

  2. Yes, this statement was made by President Hinckley. The Church no longer teaches what it used to, back in my day and well up into the 90's, i.e., that marriage would "fix" same-sex attraction. However, Elder Oaks has gone on record as stating that it would be appropriate for those with homosexual feelings to get married if they "have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity." The $64,000 question is whether and to what extent "these feelings or inclinations" can be dealt with and how they may impact the marriage. I will return to this point in a subsequent post.

    I personally believe that "homosexual attractions" cannot be changed. Behavior can be changed, but attractions cannot. I will not make any comment concerning those who claim change, except to say that there is plenty of information out there from people who were once involved in Exodus, Evergreen and similar programs.

  3. As a follow-up to my response above, here is a link to material about "ex-gay" organizations, and here is a link to the page on this site about Evergreen (an organization catering to gay Mormons).

    And here is a link to an excellent video clip, done by a Mormon couple, talking about their experience as the husband came out over 20 years into their marriage.

  4. My husband is transgendered. it's something "we" have spent much of the 20 years of our marriage fighting about. Now since I left the church, I've been able to let go of the shoulds, and feel comfortable with both of us being true to our natures. For me, that means separation, if not divorce, because I want to be with a man if I'm going to be with anyone. It also means that he have the freedom to be himself/herself if he chooses to go that route. It's hard, because we both love each other a lot. But that love isn't enough, I think. And that's not a bad thing. It's the way things are. If he hadn't been taught that he is not acceptable before God, that these feelings of being a stranger in his own body were something that he had to overcome, I think his life would have been so much richer and fuller than it has been to date. I don't regret marrying him, because we've had some incredible experiences together, but I am definitely ready to move on.

  5. @Anonymous - Thank you so much for sharing your experience - which is actually the first I have read involving a transgendered spouse. I like so much of what you wrote: about letting go of the "shoulds" and just accepting reality; about recognizing that "love isn't enough" in many, if not most, mixed-orientation marriages; and about how what your husband was taught negatively affected his (and your) life. Thanks again for sharing!

  6. You story so far mirrors mine. Complete with the same 4 decisions. Looking forward to your next installment.

  7. Thanks for posting this series. So many similarities to my story.

  8. This is my story almost to a T. Can't wait to read about the costs to the women who have us as their husbands.