Jul 04 2008

Name Withheld

Editor’s Note: The writer of this this personal story has requested that her name be withheld.

I grew up, like most little girls, dreaming of my wedding day. A kind and handsome young man in a tuxedo taking me off to the temple, starting a little family of my own, having a little house with a nice garden out front . . . it seemed a simple enough wish. Several years ago I met a tall, dark-haired guy at my Institute. He was a return missionary, a talented musician, and very intelligent. We hit it off right away, engaging in stimulating intellectual discussions and discovering we shared the same passions. We started dating and got along very well. He was attentive, eager to please, and treated me as an equal. A few months later, he asked me to marry him and I happily said yes. We planned a June wedding and a Hawaiian honeymoon.

Our wedding day was perfect. Beautiful weather, a relaxed and elegant reception in the family garden, and then a sunset retreat back to our apartment. It seemed fairy tale perfect. Except when I found that the privilege of intimacy I had waited for turned out to be a confusing and harrowing experience. Sex was perfunctory at best. Usually it was painful and it was almost never meaningful. Every attempt I made to introduce intimacy or bonding into our marriage was met with reluctance. My husband attempted to do things that I was not comfortable with, and seemed repulsed by my body. He touched me as little as possible and finished as quickly as he could. My feelings rapidly changed from romantic enthusiasm to grudging acceptance of my duty as a wife. I blamed myself. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t kind enough. I wasn’t spiritual enough. I didn’t do enough to make him happy. Apart from this, though, our marriage was fine. We went to movies, had dinner with friends, and had enjoyable conversations.

Just before our first anniversary, it clicked, and I asked him: “Are you gay?” I expected his response to be shock, or horror, or even anger. But instead his response was: “How did you know?”

What followed was several years of secrecy and pain. We began with our own research and exploration of mixed-orientation marriages. We read dozens of books and researched every scholarly source we could. We attempted turning to church works but found nothing but unscientific and intolerant viewpoints that collided with the realities of personal experience. After several months he decided it was dishonest for him to remain married to me. He came out to his parents, telling them that he wanted to have our marriage annulled so he could date men. I broke the news to my folks, who stared at me in horror and then told me to pack my bags and come home.

We separated, and within a few hours he begged me to come back. The fallout from his confession was immense. His parents had been indignant and were convinced that he was confused and making a dreadful mistake. His mother claimed I planted the idea that he was gay in his head, although she knew of a homosexual encounter he’d had in high school, years before he met me. We went to therapy, individually and as a couple. Our parents and priesthood leaders insisted that we only go to LDS therapists. I found therapy unhelpful– nothing but a string of questions like “how does that make you feel” and “yes, that must be difficult.” Eventually my therapist hinted subtly that she was convinced that nothing would change and that we should divorce, but she could not say so or she would lose her endorsement from LDS Family Services.

Our bishop was a kind man who meant well, but he made the mistake of meddling in psychological counseling that he was not qualified for. He believed homosexuality was not a legitimate state of being and that my husband’s feelings could be redirected if I didn’t abandon him. He pushed strongly for us to get back together, coaching my husband on ways to woo me and telling me that the marriage “could and should” be saved. When he told me it was my duty to do everything I could to repair my marriage, I cried with a broken heart. I knew I couldn’t make my husband become heterosexual, but at that time I still believed that if a priesthood leader said it, it had to be the word of God. Our bishop truly believed that he was saving an eternal marriage and therefore our souls, but his error in judgment would put me in grave psychological and physical danger.

When I moved back in, things were pleasant for a day or two. My spouse behaved like a three year old given a lollipop to stop them from crying; he had gotten what he wanted, nobody was angry with him anymore, and we could all just pretend it never happened. But things rapidly became worse than ever. Our relationship deteriorated. I knew he was looking at increasingly hardcore pornography, and there was always a guilty look in his eyes that gave me suspicion. But I stood by him because I felt it was a matter of personal honor to do my best and, after all, I did love him. About a year later, I discovered that my husband was advertising himself as “married but looking for friends” on a gay dating website, and that he had met several men for sex. That day I decided that I would no longer place blind faith in any priesthood leader claiming to speak for God when my own heart spoke so loudly to the contrary.

I was a faithful wife, but my husband put me at risk for dangerous diseases through sex with strangers. He betrayed my trust and lied to me. I told my parents, who immediately helped me move out for good and file for divorce. He pressed very hard for me to return to him, denying his sexuality and behavior every step of the way, but I was done. I no longer cared what my church leaders had to say. My hopes and dreams were being destroyed by my marriage to a repressed homosexual and I would not wait for my health to be taken away as well.

Since this time, I have been able to heal and rebuild but at immense cost to my health, resources, and career. My ex-husband has not been so lucky. His life has spiraled rapidly downward ever since the day I left him, and he is now mired in personal and legal trouble. While he bears his share of personal responsibility for his dishonesty to himself and those around him, his parents also bear a share of the blame. Their refusal to acknowledge their son’s concerns was a major factor in creating a person who believed the only way to get along was to repress the truth, deny it if it is discovered, and pretend it never happened after the fact. In turn, the hostile attitude in LDS culture toward homosexuality made it impossible for him to consider ever turning to someone else for help. Over time, the pressure of denial and secrecy distorted a decent human being into a mockery of what he once was.

While many of the Mormons I know support my decision to leave a toxic marriage, I have been stigmatized for failing to “cure” him, and my parents have been stigmatized for rearing a deficient daughter. After all, if there is no such thing as homosexuality, naturally I must have been unloving or lacking in my testimony. It took a lot of effort to learn to ignore these sinful and un-Christian attitudes. Many people never consider the collateral damage of homophobia, and I can say that the personal anguish and stigma suffered by myself and my family has been just as cruel as that experienced by a homosexual enduring gay-bashing.

While I have been able to forgive and forget my ex-husband, the greatest wound I carry from my marriage is picked open time and time again by my own extended family and friends at church, who frequently engage in raucous gay-bashing sessions. They do not know any homosexuals, so their thoughtless words are spoken without any attention to the consequences. Even if someone regards homosexuality as a sin, it does no good to behave like the angry mob trying to stone an adulteress in chapter 8 of the Book of John. Jesus instructed: “let the one without sin cast the first stone.” The private sufferings of an individual struggling with the lack of resolution between LDS doctrine and undeniable feelings are agonizing. Being married to someone with this struggle is just as painful. Casting stones at those who are already suffering does nothing give the impression that Mormons lack compassion for anyone who does not measure up to their preconceived notion of perfection.

I have learned not to attempt to explain at church that homophobia only compounds the difficulties of a very complex situation. It isn’t worth the negativity I get in return. Luckily my parents have stood by me unwaveringly. Some church leaders have acknowledged that I made the right decision. However, I see locally that those who witnessed my marriage first-hand have learned very little. Nothing is being done to discourage the pervasive environment of hostility toward homosexuality that encourages people with same-sex attraction to repress, deny, and try to force it to go away. Seeking help or guidance from church leaders is felt to be impossible, as condemnation and stigma will be the only reward for honesty. More young men will ruin the hopes of innocent women by lying to themselves in the hopes that they can force themselves to be straight.

If you read this and feel a blush of shame at realizing that you are part of the problem, I’m happy. I hope that as you read this you realized how often thoughtless comments pop out of your mouth. I hope that you realize that someone close to you may have had these feelings. You could have been a friend they confided in, but they did not feel safe. They feared you would judge and reject them. You could have been a source of comfort and shelter.

It is not too late. You can change. You can correct someone when they say cruel things. You can openly state that you have respect for people who are honest with themselves and refrain from committing to an inappropriate marriage. Marriage does not cure homosexuality, and intolerance toward homosexuals aggravates the problem. Even if you have the most conservative viewpoint possible on marriage and sexuality, increased kindness toward homosexuals can actually help you protect healthy marriages by preventing miserably inappropriate ones from ever taking place. On top of that, if you do not lend a friendly ear to a fellow church member with these problems, you are failing in your duty to comfort and support those who are weary and lonely.

Our attitudes must change. Our culture must change. This is difficult, because everyone is part of the problem, so no one is. Please take up your share of responsibility. Rather than running to find someone you feel is imperfect so you can stone them in the street, look inward. Examine what you see there, and consider if you like it. Then change. I know you can.

Comments Off