Thursday, December 30, 2010

"A Situation That Defies Our Nature"

Following on yesterday’s post, I have had some private correspondence in the last couple of weeks with a couple of gay men who are each in a mixed-orientation marriage (MOM).  Though not the same age, both men have been married about the same length of time and each has several children ranging in age from about six to young teenager.

After reading these men’s stories, I felt they needed to be told in a forum such as this.  These are more real-life stories of good men who entered into a MOM in good faith, but who have reached the end of their respective ropes.  I have asked both of these men if I could post some of their words here, and each has given their permission.  I wanted them to be able to speak with their own voices.  Each faces monumental challenges, each has become, to one extent or another, disillusioned with the Church (but not, at least in one case, with the Gospel), and each could benefit from counsel offered by you guys (and gals) “out there.”

“The core identity we possess does not change”

The first man I’ll call James.  This is part of what he wrote to me following the series of posts on MOMs a couple of weeks ago:

All the discussion about Moho's in MOM's has left me in deep retrospection.  I do realize that we all have different situations, and one solution may not fit all circumstances.  There is a common undercurrent though, that runs through almost everything I have read.  Without any exception that I can think of, Moho's who have gotten married, and who are still married, find a part of them that wishes it had never happened. 

At its core, we are gay men living in a situation that defies our nature.  Yes we may have a loving and understanding spouse, but we are the other half of the equation that cannot make the whole no matter how hard we try.  We can sacrifice, compromise, work hard, and even have joy and happiness for ourselves and our spouse, but we cannot give all.  That part of us that is gay, that core identity we possess, does not change, and is not satisfied in a heterosexual relationship. 

That brings me to another point.  When I first went through a crisis last year [when I accepted the fact that I am and always will be gay], I emailed Carol Lynn Pearson for her perspective and asked specifically if it was possible or even desirable for a gay man to remain married to a straight spouse.  In her response she told me to "live with as much honesty and integrity as possible."  I thought about that statement as if it were a new found concept.  I felt I finally had the key to my happiness.  It was then I finally internalized, recognized and acknowledged that I was gay, and that it was normal and good and beautiful.  I am so thick-headed to have missed that concept years ago [before I married]. 

This knowledge presents me with a dilemma.  I do want to live with more integrity, or more authentically as I have heard it put more succinctly.  If I am authentic then as a gay man I should not be married, and reason would have it that I should also seek a relationship that will make me whole.  If I am authentic then as a father I cannot abandon my family to whom I am morally and emotionally committed.  This sucks. 

When this whole episode in my life burst open, I felt comfort, for lack of a better term, that I had experienced [as a young man living as a gay man] a somewhat authentic life and authentic love.  At least I knew and had experienced what some could only guess at.  Increasingly, that memory stings me.  I feel like a coward for running back to the Church [after several years of living as a gay man], and running back into the closet because I couldn't handle the truth.  I couldn't face my family … and turn my back on a pioneer heritage that included so much personal sacrifice for the Church.  If they could scratch out a living in desolate Utah, then [I figured] it must be a worthy cause and surely I could make my own sacrifice.  I felt that if I openly came out as gay, then I would negate all my ancestors’ efforts …

My wife did know about my same sex attraction before we married, but it wasn't until last year that I really understood that it was a part of me that was not going to go away, and that pushing it away was killing me.   

I responded to this e-mail (and others) with my own thoughts, but rather than present those here right now, I’d invite those who read this to offer their thoughts and support to this good brother.

“I would rather die.  And so I am dying.”

The second man, I’ll call Scott.  I received the following message from him this week.  (By way of background, he has been seeing a counselor, but is considering switching to someone else, as he finds his present counselor unhelpful.)

I am so fed up, it's unbelievable. There is no simple solution. No single right answer.  I have to answer to so many. A family who needs me, but I am dying emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Though I can pretend!  If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is how to pretend, to be what everyone else needs, to sublimate my own needs/desires/self so that others can have what they need.

I don’t care about the Church any more.  They offer me nothing, but expect me to deny everything about myself.  Yet, when I read the scriptures, they say something entirely different.  When I attend the temple, I get answers I need, not the lame half-answers the Church hands out.

God says one thing... while the Church says something else.

I am not happy in the life they said would bring me happiness. Yet to leave my children, to cause pain to both them and wife - that is something that is not me, not something I would deliberately do, let alone choose to do.  I would rather die. And so I am dying.

I am depressed most of the time. It sucks. I want to be happy. I want to be happy with my kids. I want to be a real person. But it doesn't look like it ever will be in my cards.

Guys (and ladies) out there – as with James, I have told Scott that I would solicit your counsel, support and advice on his behalf, so please comment if you feel so inclined, even if it is just to express your support for this good man.


  1. To both of these brothers:

    I've been where you are, in so many ways. You have both correctly sized up your futures within the LDS Church. After a couple years of wrestling with it myself, I came to the conclusion that despite the fumbling, probably good-faith intentions of the LDS organization, there really is no reconciling being gay with Mormon theology. You have to give up one of them eventually in order to really live with honesty and integrity. I think experience shows which way most end up going.

    For a while I too couldn't see my way forward and was dying inside. I don't know how your paths will play out. Just don't give up. There was a time in my life when I truly, honestly thought I couldn't go on. I never thought of taking my own life, but expected I would probably just slip away in my sleep or something because I really didn't think I could continue.

    Thankfully, that didn't happen. Transitions can be difficult, but having been through most of it now, I can say that in so many ways life is so much better, almost miraculous even. So whatever you do, don't give up. Happiness and honest living with integrity is possible. And it doesn't have to cost your relationship with your kids; mine are 100% with me and I know I'm very blessed.

    The other thing you should never forget is that you are not alone. Over two years after coming out, I continue to marvel at how so much of my own experience, right down to little details, is shared by so many others! One of the most pernicious results of the Mormon approach to gay people is we're made to think we are completely alone, that nobody else could be as off the mark as we are. Well it just ain't so. I can guarantee that virtually everything you've thought and felt has been thought and felt by so many others, you'd hardly believe it. So don't be afraid to share your hearts and thoughts and feelings; reaching out online or by blogging is a great way to do that. You'll find amazing support from other guys who totally get what you're going through 'cause we've been there too. Please don't fail to take advantage of that community support. It's been a lifeline for me and can be for you as well.

  2. I don't know. I hope you don't mind that I quote some excerpts from this post in my book. I see the sharp dilemma and am at a loss for how to proceed- I'm sorry.

  3. These stories are heart-rending. Rob's comment summarizes my own feelings about the situation, but I'd like to add a note about depression. Depression results from hopelessness, a feeling of having no options. I think there are options here. The most obvious involves the trauma of major life change, but there are other options as well. Coming out to family and friends is possible. Acquiring new friends who support you is another. The first step in this this kind of situation to break the silence and get a discussion started.

    I wish institutional Mormonism and LDS culture in general were a friendlier place for gay people than it is. It's a grave complication in situations like these. We need to be realistic about this and proceed from there. Some orthodox views may have to be discarded for the sake of health and sanity. Some friendships and even family relationships may not survive. Coming out can be a painful process, but it's the only thing I've seen work in cases like these.

    Your kids aren't best served when you are barely functioning emotionally due to depression and unhappiness. I know in my own case that my ability to parent improved after I came out. I was more present and more able to give my kids what they needed. Yes, divorce did involve a number of difficult problems, yet on the whole I'm convinced that in my case it improved the lives of every person involved-- my ex-wife, myself and my children. You don't leave your children when a marriage ends. This is a complete myth.

    I think there is reason to hope. The first step is to reach out to people who can help. I'd suggest a gay father's group as a starting point.

  4. It is interesting how all of our stories are so similar.

    I realized there was no cure for the "curse" four years into my marriage. That's when I told my wife that I was gay. We could have divorced then, but were equally committed to providing our children the best possible opportunities in life and we did love one another. We determined as the closest of friends to make our marriage work and build a solid Gospel-centered family.

    It was not easy. In fact, it was at times impossibly difficult. But my wife and I remained true to that commitment.

    The result is that each of our five children went on missions, graduated from BYU and were married in the temple--all that the stereotypical Mormon parents could ask.

    Last year when the last child married, I felt my responsibility to them was finished and determined that I could move forward with my life.

    And I have. It has been glorious--like a second birth.

    While I readily advise no one to follow my path, for the most part it has worked for me. In the end, my former wife and I made what could have been an impossible situation acceptable and even satisfying with tremendous rewards for our sacrifice.

  5. James and Scott - I left my wife and children six plus years ago in order to stop dying emotionally. The depressions, to be sure, had been getting worse every summer for about five years. What has happened is that my life has been filled with amazing experiences, a hospitalization, new friends (a couple of whom will probably be lifetimers) as well as very lonely seasons. Slowly, I have come to see that life continued. For better. And, yes, sometimes, for worse.

    I miss my kids (now 17, 15, 13) EVERY day. The pain never stops. But what I remember most about those crazy days in which I knew it had come time to make the Big decision was this: I was emotionally killing my wife; I was allowing myself to become next to nothing. I chose to stop the slow motion dying. Save two adults; pray for three kids. Both my ex and I have really grown, although she wants no part of me now.

    I left the church (Utah county actually) to begin to heal. I didn't know if I would ever return. Not because I was becoming promiscuous. But because I came to see quickly that I would no longer away my power of conscience to straight men who truly did NOT "get" me. In the process of stepping away (and moving to my roots in New York City), I came to see that the gospel is actually pretty huge. And that I could forgive men (it was in my power to do so) for being so clueless (but, of course, meaning well). I have come back into the church. But, with much greater caution.

    I guess what I did was to let go of everything. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. But, in the process, I learned a lot. To live a life of significance. To serve with no expectations back. To love - whether colleagues at work, the missionaries, or a sad one sitting next to me on the subway. I am free to be the powerful man that I am. Rather than "cutting things off".

    Choices DO have consequences. But, lest we forget, sometimes choices are a mixed bag - some good, some not so good stemming from them. The choice then, did not lead to a solution. It led me, simply, to now.

  6. I don't believe that it is impossible to reconcile the basic core principles of the restored Gospel with being gay. Some people see these things as black and white or mutually exclusive. I do not. It's not that simple. Mormonism is very complex and yet the Church as an institution has dummed its own history and the Gospel down as they have tried to simplify everything. In that process they have actually ignored many great and important principles. The Church needs its gay members but it needs them out and honest even if they need to interact with the Church from a safe and healthy distance. The more this occurs (along with the rest of the country and the world acknowledging our equality) the more the LDS Church will be forced to begin to reconcile this issue and the Church as an institution will be put in our shoes and have to wrestle much as we have with this struggle to reconcile the two. They are reaping what they have sown. They must go through this as well.

    If you have ever read the writings of John Gustav Wrathal you'll understand what I mean. Look him up. He's a gay man who's core Identify is also LDS. He has reconciled his God given gift of being gay with his LDS faith to the degree that is possible for him and left the rest of it up to God. He is deeply spiritual and very happy as he has been in a relationship with his partner for many years. It's gay men like him who are the change that the LDS Church needs for what is the Church if not for its members including families with LGBT members? (continued)

  7. I think the most profound thing you wrote here was when you said "I don’t care about the Church any more. They offer me nothing, but expect me to deny everything about myself. Yet, when I read the scriptures, they say something entirely different. When I attend the temple, I get answers I need, not the lame half-answers the Church hands out. God says one thing... while the Church says something else."

    That is profoundly true and it is a tragic reality that the Church is plagued with. There is a definite cognitive and spiritual dissonance between the Church and the scriptures as well as the temple. I believe that God has sent and is sending many gay children into LDS households to shake the Church up and to wake them up to that reality. To me the truth never hurts, only the lies that are believed are what people become painfully aware of in the presence of truth. The truth is the Church has painted themselves into a corner on the gay issue and several other important issues as well. Yes the family is important but the family also consists of single people, widows and widowers, divorced individuals, re-married (mixed families), same sex households where gay couples are raising children, single gay men or women raising children and so on. Joseph Smith, Jr. the prophet's all encompassing statement about this is found in his grand fundamental principles when he said that "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism". The Church rarely if ever quotes this anymore. That's another tragic loss in understanding because that statement by Joseph Smith, Jr. is far more in line with the teachings of Christ than the Proclamation on the Family. Terry Tempest Williams (a wonderful poet and naturalist/environmental activist) has made many statements about being a Latter-day Saint at heart (her heritage, etc.) but being in deep disagreement with the LDS culture (the institutional Church) especially in Utah. Many of her statements have resonated with me not only as a gay man but as an environmental activist as well. She once wrote "What happens when our institutions no longer serve us - no longer reflect the truth of our experience? What we know is not what we hear." Terry Tempest Williams from her book entitled LEAP.

    The main reason the majority of LGBT Latter-day Saints end up leaving the LDS Church is obviously because we do not feel welcome, included in the divine plan, part of the family so to speak. Unfortunately that family (the LDS Church) happens to be dysfunctional right now and though many of us need to love that family from a distance, our growth and integrity DOES affect the LDS Church and does affect change for the better.

    I have found the more that we as a LGBT community (collectively) are in integrity and being true to ourselves the more mature and strong we become. How can the LDS Church not be affected? Whatever road you choose I know you will choose the one that brings you into an ever increasing place of self-discovery, happiness, deepening integrity and many wonderful surprises that you never dreamed of. You do not have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In fact that would be tragic if you did. You do have the joyous blessing of sifting through everything and holding close those values that serve you and that bring forth love which is the only thing that really matters.

  8. The segment of your post from "James" resonates with me about being authentic, "If I am authentic then as a father I cannot abandon my family to whom I am morally and emotionally committed".

    While I no longer believe in the church and have that tying me to my family, marriage vows and fatherhood responsibility do.

  9. Thanks to all who have left comments for James and Scott. I am sure they were and are appreciated.

  10. Now that several days have passed and others have had opportunity to comment on James' and Scott's situation, I thought I'd post extracts of my own reply to James after he wrote to me:

    As to your decision to leave your gay lifestyle and come back the church and eventually marry - please, please, please do not berate yourself. You did what you did then for honest, valid and authentic reasons. You are not the same person today that you were then, and you were not the person then that you are today. You, like many of us have the propensity to do, are judging yourself as you were then based on what you know and understand now. This is not at all fair to the person you once were. So I encourage you to "forgive" yourself and decide that what really matters is what you do from this point forward, not what you did 25 years ago. (I'm trying very hard to apply this same counsel to myself.)

    This brings me to your statements: "If I am authentic then as a gay man I should not be married, and reason would have it that I should also seek a relationship that will make me whole. If I am authentic then as a father I cannot abandon my family to whom I am morally and emotionally committed." With regards to the first sentence, I think this is where Carol Lynn Pearson's advice comes into play. I think the question is not what you should or should not do, but rather what you are capable and not capable of doing, living with honesty and integrity. If you come to a point where you feel you are not capable of continuing in your marriage, then you should perhaps consider making a change for your own benefit as well as that of your wife. Only you can make this decision. I know this decision is more difficult and complicated where, as in your situation, your wife is truly your friend and has shown a willingness to "work with" the situation. It has been made dramatically easier in my situation because my wife wants to proceed with separation and, eventually, divorce.

    With regards to the second sentence, I would suggest for your consideration that being true to your gay nature does not necessarily mean that you cannot be an "authentic father" and that you would be "abandoning" your children. Leaving aside the gay issue, and speaking in very general terms, if a couple are having serious marital problems and they decide to separate, does that necessarily mean the father is abandoning his children? No. Is the situation any different when the father decides that he can no longer function in a marriage because he is gay? I would submit that the answer to that question is "No." The reasons, facts and circumstances may be different in each instance, but the end result is the same: one or both spouses decide that he/she/they can no longer continue in the marriage.

    No matter what the reasons, separation and divorce does not necessarily = abandonment of children by their father. In fact, quite the opposite may end up being the case, i.e., despite the fact that the father may not be there for all the day-to-day happenings in the life of his children, he may end up having a much closer and more authentic relationship with his children because of the separation / divorce than he otherwise would have.

    Obviously, these are very difficult questions/issues. As I said previously, I feel your pain.

  11. what i've realized in my own recent therapy sessions is that we absorb an incredible amount of guilt as we decide to come out. one of the ways i coped with leaving the religion i loved behind so i could forge a new life worth living was to see the mythology in my favor: eve has a choice, to stay or to leave. she knows that if she eats the fruit, she'll die, and bring the fall into the world-- pain and sorrow for everyone. but she did it thoughtfully, and she did it anyway, because she knew greater truth would come of it. in this way, i felt i could decide to leave the lds garden with a clear conscience. when i rehearsed this story to my therapist, he sat back and said, "what it sounds like you're saying is that you are responsible for everyone else's reactions to your coming out." he then drew up this lengthy stone-hitting-the-water metaphor, but that the water the stone hits is an equal agent and can decide whether or how to accommodate the thrown stone. it's taken me a while to realize that my family and friends who can't and don't accept me for who i am have their own issues they need to deal with, and it isn't my fault. so many friends told me that for months and months, and it never sunk in until i was in the middle of it, therapist in hand, and could see that yes, my sister does have her own issues and fears. they're hers and no one else's. relationships really are the most important things in the world, but they are also just one of those things we don't have complete control over. it takes two. i never got into a MOM, so i really don't have the experience to tell, but i think it's possible for families to survive this issue. i do! i say that and i'm only half-out to my own family. but i think you can keep your kids and you and your wife can move on and maintain healthy relationships-- with enough work and love, i think it's possible. the church doesn't have everything figured out, and at a certain point we really have to take our lives into our own hands, like eve, even if it means being cast out, breaking commandments, seeing the hurt outside ourselves. but trust me on this one-- YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL OF THE PAIN. it's not your fault. you are so awesome exactly the way you are, and the world needs that more than anything. authentic, beautiful, you.

  12. @ju - Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I really appreciate both your Eve analogy (which I think is quite profound) and what your therapist said about letting other people own their own reactions.

    I agree that these things "must needs be so." Adam and Eve had to leave the garden to fulfill their destiny and, ultimately, to live who they were created to be.

    Very best wishes as you continue on your journey.

  13. Although I am a heterosexual,I too am dying emotionally. I am female married 25 years. I have adult children. Although I am married, I too, discount and deny a part of myself. I am married to a man who does not feel me. This may sound trivial when compared to being in a MoM. Let me assure you, it is not. There is not a day that goes by without aching for him to see me, know me, choose me over baseball games. Not a day goes by without my wondering what could have been. Am I being authentic to my self? It doesn't feel like it. He is good and kind to me. He provides for me. He loves his mind. I feel solo in a marriage There has been no sexual intimacy for years. I have made the decision to stay so as not to disturb my childrens' lives. I love the man as well. The love is caring...I have a part of me dying as well due to my choice. But I will do anything...give anything...even give up the intimacy (emotional and sexual) of love, for my children. All this to say that gay or straight, we can have the same problems, challenges,etc. It is authenticity to self, not just to sexual orientation that is so important. I wish you all the best in your journey and in an odd way, its nice to know I'm not alone.

  14. Anonymous - Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It sounds as though you might have a similar experience to many wives in mixed-orientation marriages, though it sounds like your husband isn't gay, just detached. And you're right: authenticity to self embraces more than just sexual orientation. Best to you, too, in your journey.