Wednesday, January 7, 2015

To Gay Men Who Choose to Marry Women Because of Your Faith

Last week the cable network TLC announced a new special titled “My Husband’s Not Gay”, a reality show featuring Mormon men who are attracted to other men, but who choose to marry women.  Two days later NPR covered the story of a pastor who “felt called to marry a woman” and who consciously chose not to act on his same-sex attractions.  These stories were shared on the timelines of my Facebook friends repeatedly.  Each time the headlines popped up on my newsfeed, my heart sank and my soul was left feeling unsettled. Before I proceed, let me be clear:  there are few people I feel compassion for more than those whose acceptance by society is denied to the point that they feel forced – consciously or subconsciously - to succumb to the more “traditional”, more predominant lifestyle.  This is not what I’m talking about.  This is not what unsettles my soul. 

I’m talking about the men (and the entertainment and news outlets that sensationalize them) who publicly tout themselves as pinnacles of spiritual strength and discipline for making the choice to marry a woman rather than act on their same-sex attractions.  Men who are basically saying, “Look at my selfless sacrifice.  Look at how much I love my God.  If I can do it, you can, and should too.”  That does not settle well in my soul and before I go on, let me assure you, I am  uniquely qualified to have an opinion on this matter.

I am the ex-wife of an ex-straight man.  Well actually, he never was straight, but he fought desperately to be straight for the first 30 years of his life, because he didn’t know he had any other choice.  Because well-meaning people in his community, in his church, in his own family told him that his God would not, could not, love him otherwise.

We were together for nearly a decade when one day, just like that, he no longer had the strength not to face himself, and he left me.   Out of respect for the fact that he has his own story to tell, I won’t linger here for long, but let me at least say that to this day (it’s been ten years), I thank him for having the courage to leave me.  We've both gone on to find love and lead happy, fulfilled lives.  I am however, deeply saddened that he – that we – don’t live in a world that could have given him the space and courage not to marry me in the first place.   

While I consider my ex-husband to be one of my best friends, his journey towards self-acceptance (one that I have whole-heartedly supported), unintentionally had the consequence of greatly altering and forever changing mine.  I wouldn’t give up those ten years for the world, but I would be lying if I said the experience didn’t change me in profound ways.

And that is why I see no entertainment value in exploiting the real life experiences of others, by watching a train wreck in the form of a TLC reality show - why I cringe when I hear the coverage of the NPR story, reducing something so unimaginably complex to a single intentional decision “not to act on an attraction”.   As if the “chosen” wife and any future children won’t potentially be impacted by this act of “martyrdom”.  As if the man making the choice won’t spend the rest of his days silently battling himself for feelings he will never be able to quell, for feelings he shouldn’t ever have to quell.

While I have genuine compassion for men who feel that they have to choose this path in order to have a place in their faith communities, I find it problematic when these personal experiences are used to suggest that others can and should follow that same path. That one can and should reject their homosexuality simply by marrying someone of the opposite sex.

It implies that people have to make a choice in order to be a part of a faith community.  Simply put, it suggests that you can’t be gay and still love God.  Or worse, that God can’t possibly love you if you’re gay.  And I for one am tired of straight people hijacking religion.  If my ex-husband had felt accepted and supported within his faith system early on, he probably wouldn't have felt so pressured to spend a third of his life desperately trying to fit into a certain mold.
It’s irresponsible.  It puts young, not-yet-out, questioning members of the LGBTQ community in incredibly vulnerable and dangerous positions – to remain closeted, to feel shame, to become isolated, to feel pressured to change who they are, and then in turn face the serious emotional and psychological consequences of attempting to do so.
It reduces women to human shields whose main purpose in life is to guard their husbands...from themselves.  If you really believe that your faith prohibits you from being with a man, then don’t be with one.  Rather than treat a woman like some sort of personal training tool, why not go try to work out your spiritual system, take some time to figure things out?   But don’t suddenly walk around like a man of God just because you decided to use another human being to distract you from becoming who you really are.
I consider myself fortunate to have shared in the extraordinary journey of a dear friend who took three decades to finally learn to love himself.  But I also can’t sugar coat the fact that I not only witnessed, but personally experienced every excruciating pain and struggle of that journey.  While I have no regrets, I don’t wish this “marriage of convenience” on any gay man or straight woman.  And it's not because I can't respect the individual choice of a gay man to choose to marry a woman.  It's because I just can't accept that we live in a world where  certain belief systems continue to make gay men feel that they have no other choice but to marry a woman. 

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