Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mormon Beards – Exploring the Issues: Patriarchy and Duplicity

This is the fourth in a series of posts addressing issues relating to gay Mormon men marrying heterosexual women.  The first post was published on my own blog as well as Main Street Plaza [LINK] (“MSP”).  The next two posts were published only on my blog, and beginning with this post, the rest of the series will be posted dually on my blog as well as MSP.

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 past two posts, I have discussed my own personal situation regarding my mixed orientation marriage.  I’d now like to turn to a discussion of why Mormon Mixed-Orientation Marriages [MoMoMs] continue to happen. 

So why do guys keep doing it?

Why do gay Mormon men keep marrying Mormon women?

DISCLAIMER:  Let me say right here and now that I KNOW there are some MoMoMs that work, where both the husband and wife are happy and fulfilled.  HOWEVER, the odds against a successful MoMoMon are extremely high, and information pertaining to the issues and problems endemic to such marriages needs to be made available to help such persons make informed, moral decisions as they contemplate traditional marriage.

As I have previously written, 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)].”  (This challenge was in connection with a post published on MSP in early April.)  In the second and third posts in this series, I wrote about myself, believing that it was only fair that I have “some skin in the game.”

Beginning with this post, I’d like to take a closer look at the factors that have contributed and continue to contribute generally to the creation of MoMoMs, including Mormon doctrinal background, the Mormon understanding of homosexuality (particularly within that doctrinal context) and Mormon sexual mores generally.  My hope is that an examination of these factors will lead to alternative ways of thinking about these factors and, ultimately, in more enlightened, reasoned and responsible choices and actions as gay Mormon men confront the prospect of heterosexual marriage.

Before turning to the other factors mentioned, however, I want to first address one of the key factors that Holly Welker believes contributes to MoMoMs: “patriarchy.”  In her Sunstone essay entitled “Clean-Shaven:  No More Beards – Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism” (located here) , she writes:

“I know it can take a while to figure out one’s sexual identity, and that people who eschew sexual behavior during their teens only to marry in their early twenties might not have a firm handle on their sexual orientation … But I also think from observing various marriages and divorces that there’s something different happening when men who know ahead of time that they are gay marry women they know are straight, particularly in Mormondom. I submit that patriarchy endows men with a sense of entitlement … that blinds them to the real cost of their actions …”

In a couple of separate comments left on Monday’s MSP post, Holly wrote:

“What I am actually saying is that Mormon men who know they are gay prior to marriage should be real Christians and put the happiness of any woman they might consider courting above their own. They should work out their ambivalence about the plan of salvation without threatening the happiness and well-being of another.” “I’m saying that men who know about their sexuality at the time they’re courting straight women, and fail to tell those women, are engaging in patriarchy and misogyny.”

It seems to me there are (at least) a couple of points to be made about Holly’s comments. 

First, though I don’t know exactly how Holly defines “patriarchy,” I would agree that the Mormon Church and, by extension, Mormon culture, is “patriarchal.” Wikipedia, that ever-trusty source, defines “patriarchy” as “a social system in which the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property … [implying] the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination.”

I do not personally want to get into an academic discussion of patriarchy (for which I am not qualified or equipped); I do not believe the parameters of the definition are particularly relevant to the ultimate objective of these posts.  I do believe, however, that the patriarchy that is reflected in Mormon theology, church administration and culture has historically been and remains an important factor in the creation of MoMoMs, though in ways that are (still) not immediately apparent to most Mormon men, gay or straight.

For this reason, I would personally be interested in Holly’s comments (as well as those of others) as to examples of patriarchy in the LDS world and how this patriarchy “endows men with a sense of entitlement … that blinds them to the real cost of their actions.”  This is a sincere request.  I do think such information would be extremely germane to the overall objective of these posts.

In the mean time, I think Alex, a gay Mormon who recently came out and is now divorced, provided some useful observations in this regard in comments left on Monday’s post on my blog:

“I've seen that even as a gay man, I treated my wife according to family customs and religious practices that were extremely patriarchal … I wanted to have kids right away, wanted her to stay home. I expected her to clean while I was at work, cook dinner, etc. We didn't have kids right away and she worked, which I supported, but I didn't necessarily pick up the slack. The "perfect Mormon family" image, strict gender roles image was hard to break for me. I did help clean and cook but not to an equal degree as my wife. The fact that I'm gay doesn't undo these societal values and norms I've been instilled with … Even if I outwardly disagreed, it takes a lot of work to fully change your attitudes beliefs and behaviors.”

In a comment to the original MSP post, Alex wrote:

“I … tended to approach my marriage in a very patriarchal way. I wanted to be the one who earned the money so we went with my career. I wanted to be the one to provide for my wife while she stayed home with kids. I always insisted that we should think about having kids soon. I’m grateful we didn’t. It goes beyond this, but my point is that it can be very difficult to unthink this, forgive the overused term, ideology.  The church likes to view itself of being above and outside ideologies. But there is no question that at the very least the institutional practice of running the church is influenced by a heteronormative, patriarchal way of thinking. Gay men marry women because even if the church doesn’t counsel anymore to get married as a fix or cure, it is virtually impossible to ignore the culture and ideology that teaches that every man should be married, and be out dating women. Just listen to the last general conference. I couldn’t help but feel for the thousands of gay Mormons out there that hear the message that men are not being responsible enough, and will make like I did the unfortunate choice to get married to a woman.”

A second set of observations about Holly’s comments relates to her references to men who “know” they are gay while dating or at some point prior to marriage. 

This matter of “knowledge” (i.e., of one’s sexuality and what this means) is one of the most complicated aspects of the creation of MoMoMs, and will be addressed separately later.  However, I would like to make some comments about men who truly do know they are gay and/or those men who like to tell themselves (i.e., pretend) they are not gay, yet (in the words of one of the introductory quotes from Monday’s post) “mess around with guys.”

I don’t know about Holly’s use of the term “misogyny” in connection with such guys. (Again, I haven’t done enough reading in this area to comment intelligently or even coherently.)  I will say, however, that – in my view - Mormon men who

(A)  truly know they are gay gay gay (e.g., they’ve had sex with guys, they know what it feels like, they know who they’re attracted to and know they don’t just “have SGA”) and/or Mormon men who tell themselves they aren’t gay yet go out and “mess around” (read, have sex, though I realize that, in some circles, there is some dispute as to what the definition of “sex” is; thus, the use of the more inclusive term, “mess around”) and who
(B)   nevertheless – in today’s world - court, become engaged to and marry women without having disclosed their true sexual orientation to their girlfriends, fiancés or wives,

have a lot to answer for. 

Why?  Well, to quote from a comment Chanson left on Monday’s MSP post: 

“Young people of my generation [i.e., 30-somethings] (even sheltered Mormons like me) had at least a vague awareness of homosexuality, and hence had more tools for understanding their situation than earlier generations did. Kids today [however,] have to be living in a cave not to be aware of homosexuality, hence are better equipped to analyze their own sexuality (and to reject hateful messages about it) than kids of my generation.” 

With such knowledge and understanding comes a corresponding requirement to act responsibly and morally in accordance with the knowledge and understanding.

Such men as described above are, in my view, either amoral or immoral.  These are not men who are truly, sincerely struggling with, or are functionally ignorant of or blind to, their true sexual orientation.  These are not men who are sincerely grappling with issues of faith, obedience and identity.  In short, these are not men who are trying to do what is right; they are rather men who are doing what is expedient.

I am reminded of the story a gay friend of mine told me of attending, within the past year or so, a wedding reception in a suburb of Salt Lake.  He and his former wife were approaching the newlyweds when he suddenly realized that the groom was someone he recognized from having seen on more than one occasion in a Salt Lake gay bar.  The recognition was apparently mutual, for my friend thought the groom seemed extremely uncomfortable as he and his wife approached and greeted the couple.

One wonders if the bride knew that her new husband, fresh from a temple sealing room, had fairly recently frequented gay bars.  Ummmm.  Somehow, I doubt it (although it’s possible). 

There is to me, and I think to most reasonable people who are to any degree knowledgeable about issues relating to MoMoMs, a vast difference between the young, faithful (read sincere), moral (moral, not necessarily “morally clean”) Mormon man who is honestly trying to do the right thing and the cynical, immoral (immoral, not just “morally unclean”) Mormon man who is using his wife as a cover, a  way (in Holly Welker’s words) “to preserve his own respectability and righteousness.”  

In both these cases, however, it is likely that many of the same factors propel these men to the same temple sealing altar.  It is to these factors that I will next turn.

1 comment:

  1. I was wondering if the question "Why do gay Mormon men keep marrying Mormon women?" has been turned around? What I mean is, why does a Mormon woman who knows that her future husband has same sex attractions, move on with the marriage? Of course the answer is different for each couple, maybe she deeply loves him, and thinks she can deal with it? Or maybe she thinks that he can be cured by a heterosexual marriage? Or many other reasons probably. I'm neither Mormon or gay, and I'm looking at this from far away, but it intrigued me.