29 November 2011

Conversations about the future

…some thoughts recorded over the last two months or so which will be edited eternally if they are not posted…

It has been several months now since I have told family members and a number of close friends that I am gay; a few have known for a little longer. I think that I am more eager than my friends to bring up questions about the future of my marriage and family in these conversations. Most friends have thus far shied away from directly offering opinions (if they have them at all). But at certain times I feel the need for feedback, for information and perspective that would help me map the emotional and relationship terrain ahead. Of course I don’t expect anyone to have any solid answers for me. How could anyone possibly be able to figure out all of this out, especially when it has not been directly experienced?

A number of close friends have been pretty direct in private conversations with my wife, however. She is an amazing person who has garnered deep respect from people that know her. One close friend of my wife who has read this blog wondered a while ago why I have not expressed remorse about the difficult situation that I have put her in by marrying her in the first place.

It is true that I have said very little even in private conversation, but I am saddened that our situation is so difficult on my wife. I’ve had some deep emotional experiences thinking about the pain that I have put her through and the uncertainty that she now feels. I’ve made life difficult for her despite her generous protestations that I have been a good husband over the years. Over the course of our marriage I’ve given her the best I am able to offer: honesty, hard work, apologies, adventures, some laughter, and years of setting aside my natural romantic and sexual interests. On the other hand, I’ve not given her things that are really hard for me to offer: complete emotional dedication, marital passion, and complete sublimation of my sexual identity. I truly don’t want her to suffer; one of my guiding spiritual values is to avoid harming others. I’m willing to incur difficulties for others; I am often willing to pull more than my fair share in a relationship.

I truly wish that I had had the courage to confront my sexuality in a more serious way before we were married. I think I did my best at the time. At that time the Church path was such an omnipresent structuring force in my life, that I don’t know how I could have realistically accepted that life might have options for me other than heterosexual marriage or life-long celibacy. Today I think a more courageous decision would have been to forgo heterosexual marriage as a future option for myself. But the missing pieces of cognition at that point in my life were a much deeper understanding of my sexuality, an understanding that faith, time or hard work truly wouldn’t be able to change my sexuality, and a belief that I really could be happy in a same-sex relationship. Those critical points, though so much more transparent to me today, run contrary to two fundamental tenets of the Church that are taught ad nauseam: if you have enough faith anything is possible, and if you are obedient to the commandments, you will be blessed. Steeped in these beliefs, to accept homosexuality was to give in to failure. Church leaders put significant pressure on single guys to get married and not delay starting a family. Some gay Mormons emerge from this pressure cooker choosing a life of celibacy, but I don’t think I ever felt that was going to work for me.

There are times when the spiritual ideal of ‘no harm’ comes in direct conflict with other very important facets of life. How does one prioritize these values and needs? Sexuality and the broader issue of attraction are so integral to the expression of individuality that they cannot be ignored or minimized without substantial effects on the development and well being of a person. Sacrifice is an integral component of deep relationships, but should there be limits? Is it healthy for a marriage to be a relationship where sacrifice is the principal pillar on which it stands?

When a satisfactory compromise of conflicting identities and divergent needs can be found in a mixed orientation marriage, a workable relationship may emerge for both spouses. The usual optimal manifestation of sacrifice in a relationship involves both partners giving some and taking some, but both finding that growth in the relationship compensates for anything that was given up. It is difficult to think of such a compromise when matters of identity and love and self-esteem are involved. Can the gay spouse choose to be half gay or to be half married? Does the straight spouse want or deserve half a companion? Those kinds of options don’t really make much sense in the traditional conception of marriage and monogamous relationships.

It cannot be easy to be a straight spouse married to a gay person. Does the straight spouse doubt her attractiveness, her past decisions, her future dreams, her identity? Does she blame herself for the complex circumstances of a mixed-orientation marriage? I can protest that I am the one with the problem, that our troubles with intimacy are solely due to me, but that does not remove the emotional difficulty that my wife experiences. She is not the source of our challenges, but she a full participant in their consequences. We have both been strongly influenced by a Church culture that emphasizes that faith and obedience can solve anything. But, when faith and hard work fail to heal something that is not broken – when faith and hard work are useful tools applied to the wrong problem – disappointment and frustration can set in.

As we come to a place of greater comprehension about my identity and greater honesty in our relationship, we come to a crossroads as well. Like a scientist with new data, the old ideas should be reassessed. We have to ask of our relationship: what are we fighting for or working towards now? Are we fighting for what is best for us? Are we going to choose one valid existence over another? Are we working to honor someone else’s hopes and dreams for us? Are we fighting mainly for a concept?

Where do we walk from here on out? At some point final decisions will be made and we will move forward. It is not realistic to think that we’ll stay on the fence forever; that is not an outcome that will be emotionally healthy for either of us. While some may disagree with the decisions we will eventually make, I have confidence that those who genuinely care for us and who invest the time to understand the complexity of our situation will wisely leave judgments to us. Coming out involves risks with unforeseen consequences. The world may not yet be sympathetic enough to the gay experience to forgive a gay married man for not getting things right the first time around.


  1. Yikes!

    Been there, done that. It will be 3 years in the spring and every time I read about someone about to embark in a similar road it kind of brings back PTSD flashbacks...

    I was struck by your last sentence: "The world may not yet be sympathetic enough to the gay experience to forgive a gay married man for not getting things right the first time around" My experience has been mixed but for the most part I've found the support I've needed in the most unexpected places. I hope the same goes for you. Please feel free to reach out when/if you need support.

  2. Interesting.

    One thing that really strikes me is the complete inability of straight people to be able to understand anything outside their own experience. They simply cannot do it.