Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues: My Story, Part 2

This is the third in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women. As I have previously explained, “beard” (as used here) refers to a slang term for the heterosexual spouse of a gay Mormon who is effectively used to conceal the husband’s sexual orientation. 

In the last post, I wrote about the “decisions” I made prior to and at the time of my marriage.  Today, I would like to discuss what these decisions have “cost” my wife.  Before doing so, however, it occurred to me that I should perhaps describe why I wanted to get married.

By way of reminder, I was not raised in the Church, but had converted as a young adult, shortly after I graduated from university.  My parents separated when I was an adolescent and went through an extremely bitter divorce. In addition, as I’ve written about elsewhere on my blog, there was a fair bit of child abuse, substance abuse and other dysfunctions that occurred in our family when I was a child.  The divorce and these other issues took a toll on my older siblings, who acted out, got into drugs and made other “bad choices” (a good Mormon term).

These things took a toll on me as well, but I was wired (both by circumstance and, I suppose, disposition) not to act out but to strive to be the perfect child.  This is one reason – among others - why I would never have allowed myself to come out as a teen or college student. I had a role to play, and that role was to be the white sheep, the good child. To admit that I was a homo, a queer, a fag, would have destroyed that role that I had taken on.

Thus, when I was introduced to the LDS Church, it resonated with this “perfect child” role, it appeared to offer me a way out of “homo hell” (through its teachings that homosexuality could be “overcome”), and the idyllic concept of the perfect, happy Mormon family strongly appealed to me, especially given my family background.  Thus, I suppose it could be said that joining the LDS Church was, partly consciously and party subconsciously, a means to several ends.

It would simply not be accurate, however, to say that I viewed my marriage as a means to an end.  I did not come into marriage with all the typical Mormon baggage of “no empty chairs in heaven,” and the life-long indoctrination that celestial marriage was the supreme goal of life, let alone all the cultural trappings associated with temple weddings.  I did not view my wife as a “cover,” nor as my ticket into the celestial kingdom.

Leaving aside all the issues relating to me being gay (which I wrote about yesterday), I made a decision to get married because I wanted to have a happy, fulfilling marriage and a family.  I wanted everything that my family of origin wasn’t.  I had faith I could, with my wife, create this marriage and family; and this faith sprung in large part from a firm belief that God wanted me to not only get married, but to get married to this particular woman – my wife.  She, too, firmly believed that God wanted us to get married to each other, that it was the “right” thing to do, that it was what we were “supposed” to do.

Looking back on that time, with the benefit of all the experience, wisdom and understanding that the intervening years have brought (garnered through much heartache, difficulty and despair), I can now clearly see a number of things.

First of all, I wasn’t “in love with” my wife when we married.  I didn’t really know what love was, frankly.  I had had almost no experience with relationships and had never dated much.  I often thought of what Prince Charles prophetically stated when asked, after his engagement to Diana Spencer was announced, whether he was in love with her.  The first part of his response, as I recall, was “Yes”; but it was the second part of the response that was memorable:  “… whatever ‘in love’ means.” 

But though I think I realized that I wasn’t “in love with” my wife when we married, I truly believed that this would come in time. 

I have also realized that I had been affected by and had bought into the whole “companion” thing:  in the Mormon Church, we speak of “eternal companions,” never of “eternal lovers.”  (Male) Leaders are constantly referring to their “sweet companion.”  (Am I wrong, or do women in the Church rarely if ever refer to their husbands as their ‘companion’?  Frankly, the thought of calling my wife my “sweet companion” just about made me ill.)  The whole message is that marriage is about being chums, sweethearts, faithful co-laborers in the familial and churchly vineyard.  Passion, romance and consuming love are rarely talked about openly. 

Thus, the fact that I wasn’t “in love with” my wife didn’t raise any red flags for me at the time of our wedding.  I truly believed God wanted us to get married; I liked my wife and I felt that I could in time grow to love her.  But, perhaps more importantly (to me at the time), I felt that we could be good “companions” for each other.

It has really only been since coming out that I have realized/accepted that, though I grew to truly love my wife, I don’t know that I was ever “in love with” her. 

Do I feel I “cheated” my wife in this regard because I was gay?  No.  This is partly due to the fact that I had told her before we married that I had “struggled” with “same-sex attraction” since puberty.  It is also due in part to the fact that I know my wife brought her own emotional “handicaps” into our marriage which then entered into the total mix. 

Whether my wife feels she was cheated, however, is another question, and one that I cannot and will not try to answer (at least not publicly) – except to say that I sensed that my wife, the older she became, felt that something was missing, something she wished she had. 

What I do see now that I do feel very badly about, however, is the deep-seated unhappiness in me that infected our marriage from the very beginning.  Though I tried my very best (I honestly believe I couldn’t have tried any harder or done any better) to be a faithful, devoted Mormon husband and priesthood holder, the fact of the matter is that I was denying who I really was. 

I now realize that, subconsciously, I was deeply unhappy and even angry and resentful. And I realize that my wife (and my children) suffered as a result of this.  I was resentful of the role that I was playing (I now see) and was continually “on guard” lest any of my gay self be showing.  I over-compensated.  I tried even harder to be a “better” father and “better” husband.  But this only made things worse. 

I was trying extremely hard to be something I could not be.  The tragedy is that I didn’t realize it.  And my wife suffered as a result of it.  Though I couldn’t see this, she would sometimes tell me that she felt resentment coming from me.  This, of course, would make me defensive because I immediately became concerned that my true gay self was showing through, which made me try even harder, which made me even more resentful.  And my wife suffered. 

I would try to tell myself that I was the one making the sacrifice, I was the one who had had to overcome, I was the one who was denying himself in order to “do the right thing.” I was the one who was suffering.  But the effort to play my role, to keep up the act, to “do the right thing” was so all-consuming that I was blind to what it was doing to my wife and to my children, and for that – both what I did and the fact that I was blind to it – I feel very deep regret and sorrow. 

It was with this deep regret and sorrow that I apologized to my wife last night and asked her forgiveness for the pain that I caused her.    

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, soror,
quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.

Tu es mon Rédempteur.
 En toi je jette mon fardeau.
 Expie, Seigneur, de mes actions.
 Accorde de la pitié pour ce qui a été blessé.
 Adoucis et chauffe ce qui est devenu froid et dur.
 Guéris ce qui est cassé.
 Remplis ce qui est vide.
Aide nous tous à vivre la plénitude
pour laquelle nous avons été créé.


  1. Thank you for your willingness to share such a personal story.

    Re: Am I wrong, or do women in the Church rarely if ever refer to their husbands as their ‘companion’?

    Not so. Women use the term "eternal companion" to refer to their husbands frequently. A typical use is illustrated in this song.

  2. I think that the wives in mixed orientation marriages may be experiencing a range of emotions, though this full range might not be felt in exactly every specific marriage:

    - The disappointment of unfulfilled expectations - that the highest Mormon pinnacle, marriage, is not bringing the level of happiness that the wife had hoped for prior to the marriage
    - Sadness that she cannot feel the needed level of emotional intimacy from her husband in the marriage
    - Sadness that she cannot provide for all of her husband's emotional needs, or sadness that he looks outside of the marriage to some degree for fulfillment of those emotional needs
    - Disappointment over problems with physical intimacy
    - Feelings of inadequacy
    - Anger or sadess over perceived deception - obvious or unintended - on the part of the husband
    - Isolation
    - Unease over uncertainty about the future
    - Powerless over her husband's attractions
    - Difficulty balancing practical thoughts and ideals

    Being the gay spouse, I feel like I have limited ability to understand. Wives, what specific emotions are hardest to work through?

  3. But the effort to play my role, to keep up the act, to “do the right thing” was so all-consuming that I was blind to what it was doing to my wife and to my children, and for that – both what I did and the fact that I was blind to it – I feel very deep regret and sorrow.

    Thank you. Thank you. This is the realization I am hoping gay Mormon men in MOMs will come to and share.

    I wish you and your family all the best, and hope you will all be as happy as possible from here on out.

  4. @CJ - For being the "gay spouse," I think you appear to have a very good handle on what straight spouses may be feeling. Of course, each marriage is different and has its own chemistry - but I would say that your list is a pretty good overview of what wives of closeted gay husbands may be (and likely are) feeling, either consciously or subconsciously. I would hope that these posts will prompt gay men in MoMoMs (whether out to their wives or not), as well as young gay men contemplating marriage, to ponder these things.

    @Holly - Thank you for your kind words and best wishes. Last night was a turning point with my wife. There is much yet to talk about with her, and more apologies to make (on my part), and I'm grateful that I was prompted to search my soul, to recognize what I saw, to take responsibility for it, and to seek forgiveness (which was granted).

  5. This post makes me think of the broader universe of Mormon marriages, both MOM's and non-MOM's (for more of my thoughts on marriage, see Non-MOM's, too, usually begin with high ideals, the partners feel they're doing what they're supposed to do, don't know fully what love is, and are mostly "living on a prayer" in expectation that their faithful action will be rewarded with greater happiness and peace in the long run.

    I think patterns similar to the unhappiness->resentment->suffering described above are observed in many straight-to-straight opposite-sex Mormon marriages. Quite often, some human need of one of the partners is not fulfilled. Because of the high expectations of marriage (why else would one leave a reasonably happy life as a single person?), the unfulfilled spouse feels cheated, inadequate, or both, and fulfills the spouse/parent role with resentment. Of course, the other spouse senses the resentment. Had the spouses the benefit of hindsight, should they then have chosen not to marry instead?

    Sometimes life gives you a choice between two or three great options. Example: what book to read next out of the three you've been just waiting for the time to get to. Other times your choice is merely between two options that really suck, one perhaps slightly less than the other (think cancer- would you prefer chemotherapy, or to do nothing?). Now let's look at the choice of marriage or non-marriage. I'm struggling to escape the conclusion that luck will largely determine whether these options suck for you vs. whether at least one option is overwhelmingly positive. Say you're a gay man who is not cut out for marriage to a woman, and you were born in 1940- a very happy marriage may just not be "in the cards" for you. Let's say you're a naturally highly-conforming Mormon woman, born in 1950 in Mexico. You meet a handsome, stable, good providing man of similar expectation, relative naivete, religion, affect, and upbringing. The Mormon marriage ideal may just "work," by and large, for you.

  6. Now _which_ partner married can make a difference- but only for some people. For others, no partner in the world would make marriage substantively "work" for him/her (no marriage is perfect, of course, but let's say potential for 90% or more contentment/fulfillment is the threshold for "works"). For example: say one is fiercely polyamorous or a pedophile by nature (I hope none would deny that some people truly are "this way," as much as homosexually oriented people are gay). For that individual, marriage to a single adult, whether of the opposite or same sex, will likely never make marriage a 90%-plus proposition. Skillfully answering the "which partner" question bring them from a 40% to a 60%, to illustrate, but no farther. Similarly, though they may try their hardest, as Invictus above, to make the marriage work, to be a great father, to be a great husband, etc., such efforts will go only so far in bridging the gap imposed by who they are. For others, of course, efforts at nurturing their marriage and fulfilling roles will suffice. When it comes to marriage, some classes of people truly are, quite simply, unlucky.

    Now, individuals in these categories may still marry. If their expectations are low, it might even be a sensible choice. However, I don't think it's realistic for them to have a ton of faith that a righteous marriage will result in the level of peace and happiness the church usually promises those who get married in the temple and then subsequently do all they can to nurture their marriage. Most people marry hoping it will bring them and their partner greater happiness and fulfillment and purpose than non-marriage. Thus, a single person looking at marriage needs to not only consider her commitment to the endeavor and her potential partner- she also needs to look at her expectations and whether she is "cut out" for success in the institution. It may be that, despite what her best efforts could accomplish, she just may not be. In that case, she must look at how much it sucks to be single, then decide whether even a moderately terrible marriage would be an improvement. If so, and the opportunity cost is similar for the partner, it makes sense for them to wed. For me, that is a hard result. I'm a pro-marriage, pro-family advocate. I also believe strongly in personal freedom and preference utilitarianism (the best guide for moral behavior is generally the path which results in the greatest utility/happiness for the greatest number). Combining the reality described above with these allegiances results in a tension I find troubling.

  7. Brad, thanks for your comments and insights. And to CL and MoHoHawaii - Thank you. I know you each have a sense of what writing this meant/means to me.

  8. Do I have the courage to send this post to my ex-wife, who was so hurt by the shattering of her Mormon dream? She has not felt comfortable enough to really talk with me about anything since I left 7 years ago.

  9. Martin, this is obviously up to you. I would hope, for your sake as well as hers, that you and your wife can reach a point to be able to talk through "stuff." The other night was the first real conversation I've had with my wife in several months, really since December. She wasn't ready, and I wasn't ready - until just a few days ago. There is still much to process and discuss, but this first conversation gave me great hope for the future of our family.