Monday, June 18, 2012

Takes all kinds? UPDATED

Long post, main point in bold:

This is going to be my third - and last - attempt at a post about the question of the wives of gay men who, for religious reasons, choose to marry opposite-sex partners, in reference to a blog post by a man named Josh Weed who, along with his wife Lolly, is in this situation. Is my post going to be about this couple? Yes and no. As I mentioned numerous times in the previous two attempts (which are both down, so you may take my word for it, seek out cached WWPD, whatever), whenever people spill about their personal lives on the Internet, specifically whenever they do so and solicit comments (there are over 3,000 currently on the post in question), they kind of relinquish the right to go about their business without strangers judging - not harassing, but judging - said business. Kind of.

However, the only possible way to read an overshare post* is as an example of a situation, and not as a full and complete assessment of the lives discussed. We might judge, but we're not really judging these people, so much as a situation they've described, which has so many nuances - perhaps key details - that aren't available to us. Because we're not judging them, precisely, it can't hurt to point that out, right?

Furthermore, as much as it would seem that people who put their lives on display, that a man who announces that he can't be attracted to women but marry a woman he did, that a woman who writes, "In a moment of honest reflection, I realized that Josh was everything that I wanted in a husband. (All except for the huge fact that he was gay.)," that such individuals are requesting commentary, they probably are not. They aren't (far as I know) public figures, aren't accustomed to having their business that on display, and, if the history of responses to overshares is any guide, could well take it very personally if any of the comments are anything other than, 'wow, what fine life choices you've made!' Actually, in this case, we don't even have to speculate on their feelings about being judged:
Also, generally, please feel free to use the comment section to discuss this matter if you wish. However, remember that this is our lives you are talking about. Please feel free to say what you need to say, but we would ask that you be respectful of our decisions and the decisions of others if you decide to comment.
What complicates matters further - and what came up in a conversation I had about the general outlines of this bloggy kerfuffle with a friend off-blog, so credit is due where no link is possible - is whether or not a 'this is just my story' really is just that. Rhetorical question not intended to derail: was the Tiger Mom's story a memoir and thus not to be taken as a parenting guide? Sometimes personal histories are meant as didactic, sometimes not. So here, the question was, is this about whether a gay man could, in theory, marry a straight and not-asexual woman? Or are these people telling their story as a model for others? My sense from the post was that it was the latter, but I never spelled out why that's how I read it, nor did I highlight the passage where the guy writing it basically says this. So, for your perusal:
Why have you decided to share this information?

We have several reasons for opening up about this part of our lives. First and foremost, my clinical work as a therapist is taking me in the direction of helping clients who struggle to reconcile their sexual orientation with their religious beliefs. I have decided to be open with these clients about my own homosexuality, and in doing so have opened the door to people finding out about this in ways I can't control. Therefore, we thought it would be wise to be the ones who told those we love about this part of our lives. Posting on the blog was the simplest way to make sure that happened as it would be impossible to sit all of the people we have known and loved in our lives down and share this personally.

The second reason is that the issue of homosexuality is not very well understood. We wanted to add our voice and experience to the dialogue taking place about this very sensitive issue.

Thirdly, I (Josh) feel the desire to be more open regarding this part of my identity. I have found that sharing this part of me allows my relationships with others to be more authentic. It has deepened my friendships and enhanced my interactions, and it has also helped me to feel more accepted by others as it allows others the opportunity to choose to accept me for who I really am.
The third reason is the only 'this is just my story' reason, and it's given last. The first two make it abundantly clear that this life choice is one this couple is attempting to advise to others. We learn from item one that this is a man who is providing therapy to men in his exact situation, and from item two that he's weighing in politically. If you believe that same-sex marriage is a civil right, or that it's what society needs in terms of stability, if you think therapy that urges gay men to marry women is dangerous both to those men and to the women they wed, you object to Weed's agenda, even if you don't object to his personal choices.

Forget the specifics of which issues are at stake. Is it ethical to use your private life as an example for others, indeed vast swaths of others outside your friends-and-family, and then to turn around and explain that your feelings will be hurt if others criticize your decisions? It's a sneaky move, because it puts your opponents in a bind. Rules of civility would seem to prevent arguing these points on the very terms in which they've been presented.  The temptation is to "discuss this matter" in a way that isn't "respectful of [their] decisions," even if you respect their decisions as individuals, if you do not, as a rule, respect decisions along these lines.

And personally, as I believe I made abundantly clear in a post I now somewhat wish I hadn't taken down, but down it shall remain so I'll continue, while I completely respect the choice of a gay man to decide that his socially-conservatism or religion means more to him than would a stable same-sex marriage or serious relationship, while I have no doubt as to the fact that friction is friction, that babies have been born to parents with same-sex attraction since time immemorial, and thus that it's entirely possible for a gay man to be husband-and-father in the "traditional" sense, I'm not convinced it's OK for such a man to marry a woman who is not in an equivalent situation herself.

There are - as I mentioned in that earlier post - certain risks, possibly physical but more-than-likely emotional, a woman takes in marrying a man for whom being with a woman, any woman, as opposed to a man, is a constant struggle. (If you think this struggle is anything like what any orientation-matching monogamous couple might face in terms of the vast world of other people, then perhaps you don't believe in sexual orientation, or that it is negligible in terms of finding a spouse. If you think this, I'm almost certain I can't convince you otherwise.) The fact that milieus in which gay men think to marry women also tend to be ones that encourage reproduction and/or discourage contraception doesn't help. If we think cheating and divorce are to be discouraged, we want to discourage unions that, while not doomed to go either route, certainly have an edge.

But even if such a relationship "succeeds," as in till death do us part and no infidelity, this still involves a man depriving a woman of the opportunity to be with someone she does it for. I don't only mean physically. While, in a typical marriage, the spouses might doubt that they do it for each other, in a marriage along these lines, that one doesn't do it for the other is known from day one.

What with the internal dynamics of marriages being unknowable, we might say that of course certain women will agree to this set-up, will even seek it out. But here, going by the facts we're given, this was not a case of a woman wanting marriage and kids without intimacy. What this didactic autobiographical snippet tells us is that it's not only acceptable but admirable for a gay man to marry a woman who wants the usual things out of marriage.

While we might say that if a man can repress his same-sex desire, surely a woman can repress hers to be desired, and while this probably does explain how some such marriages work, there are a couple reasons why, paradoxically, the wife in this scenario is in a worse spot than the man who genuinely prefers not acting on very real same-sex urges to acting on them. Most obviously, a woman in this situation likes men, and perfectly well might have ended up with one who desired her, and still followed the rules of whichever belief system they adhered toBy having a relationship with her, the gay man in this scenario - leaving Josh Weed in particular out of this - denies the woman the opportunity to meet and fall for men who aren't gay. And some women - especially naive and inexperienced ones - aren't able to grasp what it means to marry one's gay best friend. After all, a straight woman can be attracted to a gay man, and a gay man, insofar as he's a man, can provide the social and biological functions of husband and father, respectively. But even those who can, on paper, explain why this would pose a problem are in an awkward spot once they've already fallen in love with that person.

While indeed, nobody's perfect, and while it's certainly much less bad if, as Josh Weed evidently did, a man in this situation is honest from the get-go about his limitations, these are some immense limitations. Sufficiently immense that any kind of blanket advice along these lines to gay men, even ones who (at least at this point in time) believe themselves capable of marrying a woman and not straying/leaving, strikes me as borderline unethical. Unfair to the men for obvious reasons: while it's possible for a gay man to prefer his faith/values to his sexual orientation, this probably works out for only a tiny percentage of such individuals, the rest of whom, if they make it out alive, find another church - or none at all - and move on with their lives. So telling men that they can be gay, Mormon (or equivalent) and married to a woman is... problematic in basically the same way as any "conversion" case would be, except marginally more honest about the permanence of sexual orientation. But it's also unfair to the women who get roped into this, and for less obvious, but potentially at least as compelling, reasons.

*Announcing that you're gay is of course not overshare. Announcing that you're a gay man married to a straight woman might be, depending on how it's done, which is to say, depending on whether it's presented as an invitation to discuss how that works. I think, in life, if you suspect a couple has an arrangement along these lines, if you know or suspect a man to be gay and lo and behold, his wife, you'd simply assume these are friends who love each other, or that he's bisexual, or that he sets off gaydars but is straight, or that what they've arranged makes sense to them but is unknowable to you, and that would be that. Announcing that you're a gay man married to a straight woman, and that the two of you "have an extremely healthy and robust sex life," and going on to explain how that works, this most definitely counts, even if we aren't getting a play-by-play. This is already far more information than one has if a blogger reveals himself to have a sexual orientation, a partner, which are basic biographical facts, not a window into the bedroom.


Read this account from a Mormon woman whose ex-husband is gay. The coverage of the Weed post has virtually all been about whether it's OK for gay men to deny their true selves, as if by marrying, these men were not also including another party in their, for lack of a better term, mishegoss. 


PG said...

Good post, especially highlighting that Weed's professional role is what first motivated him to "come out," and that he is using his own story (and has done so previously, albeit under a pseudonym) to advise others that they can stay in the Church despite being gay. He's part of a significant movement in the Mormon Church to "reconcile" gays. It's different from reparative therapy because it accepts "same-sex attraction" as essentially something they can't get rid of, but it still fits with the Church's strong political role in denying same-sex marriage rights. As the Dan Savage post you linked in one of the deleted posts notes, Weed's all full of love and hope for his suffering gay brethren, but he never indicates that he supports their legal right to make a different choice than his own. Going by that post, Weed may well think that gay sex, never mind gay marriage, should be illegal and criminally prosecutable.

Re the asterisked point, I think once you declare yourself to have a better sex life than most straight-identified people, you're kinda asking for it in terms of people's saying OH REALLY? I could disclaim out the wazoo, but if I wrote a post about how I could live on bacon and never exercise while being the picture of health and thinness, I'd be laying out a welcome mat for the internet hordes to express skepticism. As T-N Coates recently said in a mostly different context, "The burden is on the contrarian, and the contrarian who truly revels in the contrarian's role will accept that burden as an obligation to do more, not a license to do less."

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for the extra background on Weed's bloggy/theraputic activities. I wish I'd had space, in this post, to again get into the gender dynamics of why gay man-straight woman marriage poses unique issues (as vs., most obviously, straight man-lesbian marriage), but the more I thought about it, the more the bigger issue seemed to be that the couple was trying to have it both ways with the post, to have their individual "unicorn"-like personal choices respected, and to advise others to follow their lead.

"I think once you declare yourself to have a better sex life than most straight-identified people, you're kinda asking for it in terms of people's saying OH REALLY?"

I agree. Which is why it's all the more unsettling that this post presents itself as somehow untouchable. Look, a sweet picture of our family, these adorable children who owe their very existence to our unusual set-up! How dare we say anything mean about these nice people! It's above and beyond the usual questions that emerge when the thin-skinned, against their better judgement, start soliciting commentary from strangers on their life decisions. It's not even thin-skinned-ness so much as manipulation.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Also, FYI, it continues in a more recent post:

"Sometimes the comments are very biting. Sometimes my sweet Lolly cries at things people say and it breaks my heart."

Think of his "sweet Lolly" and her tears. Not of the multitudes of gay men and their families whose lives are ruined by the kinds of choices Weed is advocating.

PG said...

Weed refers to the book for which he wrote an essay under a pseudonym in his original post:
"Well… I’ve actually published an essay which tells the whole story in an anthology published by Deseret Book. Here the book is, if you're interested:
[Insert Amazon link that's tagged to send money back to Weed for any purchases made while on the website.]
The book was compiled by my friend Ty Mansfield, and my essay is called “An Unlikely Gift” under my old pseudonym, Jason Lockhart."

Weed's essay is in the section: "Eternal Marriage: Principles, Possibilities, and Promises."

Basically what this reconciliation movement is about, is getting away from the idea that Mormons' opposition to same-sex marriage is based on "H8," as the face tattoos would have it. No, no hate here! They loves them some gays! They are not to be confused with that church! They also oppose bullying! And they are offering gay people the Hope that they can be gay while acting straight.

I know the exclamation points make it sound like I'm being sarcastic, but honestly I do think the Mormon Church is genuinely interested in finding a way to get gay-identified peope into heaven. Male-female marriage is deeply central to the Mormon religion in a way that is simply not true in (the rest of) Christianity. Paul in 1st Corinthians Ch. 7 tells the Corinthians that it's better not to marry if they can be chaste as he is; one of the standard lines for Mormon missionaries attempting conversion is to tell you how wonderful it would be to spend eternity in heaven with your spouse.

Mansfield's essay says: "I felt enveloped by the Spirit as it taught me that whether I ever married or achieved my desired transformation in this life, I was infinitely loved and accepted of God. ... I was assured that I would eventually receive ever y promised blessing of the gospel, including eternal marriage, whether in this life or the next." (He now has "a healthy marriage to [his] beautiful and supportive wife.") Mansfield also says,

"A friend of mine, a lifelong and seasoned member of the Church who has experienced significant resolution to his homosexual feelings, shared with me the following as he contemplated how open he should be when sharing his story: 'When I made the final decision to use my real name, knowing the ptoential for backlash, I decided there is a war being waged, and our side is losing while gay cultural ideologies are winning. We are losing because people like me feel the need to hide and pretend.'"

And finally: "...the Church's teachings regarding homosexuality will increasingly affect how people respond to our message."

The tipoff for me that Weed was unlikely to have as much respect for, say, Dan Savage's marriage as he would demand Savage have for Weed's, was when Weed said, "I find that when I think of what alternative lifestyles could offer me, they pale in comparison to the full, joyous, bounteous life I live." Gay people in monogamous relationships who are raising children have lifestyles, while Weed has a life.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Gay people in monogamous relationships who are raising children have lifestyles, while Weed has a life."

Yup. For me, the tipoff was how he ends the post with a photo of himself, his wife, and their kids, grinning and sitting a field, captioning it, "This is what it's all about." As if, had he succumb to same-sex desire, this would have meant not sitting in a field with another man and their kids, but god knows what bathhouse circa 1978 scenario.