Snake in the Weeds: Issues with Mixed Orientation Marriages
My latest post, Club Unicorn: How a Marriage Subverted Modern Sexual Thought, is up at Wheat & Tares. It is my reaction to the viral post from Josh and Lolly Weed coming out about their mixed orientation marriage.
As is usually the case with my Wheat & Tares posts, preparing for and writing this post was difficult. I was collecting material for days, and although I was able to write the first draft in one (rather draining) sitting, I realized that at 2300 words, the post was far longer than I wanted it to be. However, I wanted to try to cover all the bases.
Even more, though, I wanted to keep the post streamlined and avoid derailing the post. So I eliminated some sections that I thought commenters would latch on to if they were present. Of the sections I eliminated, the one section that I wish I could’ve kept the most– and thus I will include it here below — was the following section on the heartache found from many mixed orientation marriages. See what I had for that section below:
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Heartache from Mixed Orientation Marriages
Many people are skeptical of what Josh and Lolly are doing. They point out that the idea of a mixed orientation marriage isn’t anything new, especially given historical social, cultural, and religious pressures for men to marry. These skeptics point out further that of the many mixed orientation marriages that have existed, many of them haven’t exactly ended well. Laurie’s post today at Doves and Serpents provides a testimony of the heartache experienced from mixed orientation marriages, but there are so many blogs and so many articles and so many books I could link to here.
In fact, today, Slate discussed (and dissected) a study that at first glance appears to show that the children of gay and lesbian parents perform worse on a range of economic, educational, social, and psychological outcomes. Ultimately, another Slate author pointed out that the study’s methodology mean that the results actually show that mixed orientation marriages — and particularly those that break apart or end in divorce — are correlated with those worse outcomes. As William Saletan writes:
What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. But that finding isn’t meaningless. It tells us something important: We need fewer broken homes among gays, just as we do among straights. We need to study Regnerus’ sample and fix the mistakes we made 20 or 40 years ago. No more sham heterosexual marriages. No more post-parenthood self-discoveries. No more deceptions. No more affairs. And no more polarization between homosexuality and marriage. Gay parents owe their kids the same stability as straight parents. That means less talk about marriage as a right, and more about marriage as an expectation.
…so it seems like the skeptics have reason to be cautious of Josh and Lolly’s marriage.
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…that was the section I had cut out. But now that I have a full post to work with, I want to elaborate. As I mentioned above, there are so many blogs and so many articles I could link to about mixed orientation marriages that have ended in heartache. The sad reality is that many, if not most mixed orientation marriages don’t work out. Here’s one story from a woman who was in a mixed orientation (as the straight wife) that was posted today, also in response to Josh’s blog. A snippet of Ashley’s story with Matt:
Neither of us understood at the time that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is at the very core of your essential being. I can base this belief on my experience with Matt and the fact that throughout my life as a Mormon in the theatre community, I have yet to meet one person who said that they used to be gay, but now they are as straight as an arrow.
That night with Matt in his car, I didn’t understand even a little bit, that he, as a true-blue homosexual, was not able to appreciate my femaleness in the way that I would need, that women need. During our marriage, we did have sex. It was mechanical. It felt wrong. It was like a chore. It was a way to relieve tension…sometimes. Other times it only created more tension. It was not intimate in any way. Oh, I had orgasms…from time to time…especially once I hit my 30′s. But I could also give myself orgasms, if you know what I’m sayin’.
We both were on our own individual roller coaster of depression, denial, angst, and wanting to die. A roller coaster we stayed on for 13 years. And while we were each on our own separate coaster, our kids were on the ground watching us, wondering why we were on a ride that we weren’t enjoying, and why we couldn’t be on an enjoyable ride all together.
Good times existed. Like I said, we were best friends. We enjoyed many of the same things. We laughed a lot. We were both hilarious. Both involved in theatre, heavily. Also, because we were in therapy off and on our entire marriage, our communication skills were superb! But there was always a pit in my stomach. A voice in my head telling me, “There is something more,” over and over.
It seems uncouth to me to point out that Ashley’s experience is the majority experience in relation to mixed-orientation marriages. I don’t like to emphasize that, because I understand how pointing that out may feel dis-spiriting to those who are in mixed-orientation marriages and are making them work. But it’s a fact, and facts cannot in their nature be uncouth. We have to learn to adjust to them and incorporate them into our understanding of reality.
And unfortunately, there are far too many who have abused, are abusing, and will abuse stories like Josh Weed’s… Who seem unwilling or unable to incorporate that fact about how this works for the majority into their understanding of reality, and who seem unwilling to hear stories like Ashley’s. So, uncouth or not, it feels necessary to put it out there.
So that’s that. For the rest of the article, I would like to talk about other reservations and problem points I had with Josh’s article.
Choice and Agency?
Josh writes in his original post:
One of the sad truths about being homosexual is that no matter what you decide for your future, you have to sacrifice something. It’s very sad, but it is true. I think this is true of life in general as well. If you decide to be a doctor, you give up any of the myriad of other things you could have chosen. But with homosexuality, the choices seem to be a little bit more mutually exclusive. If you are Mormon and you choose to live your religion, you are sacrificing the ability to have a romantic relationship with a same-sex partner. If you choose a same-sex partner, you are sacrificing the ability to have a biological family with the one you love. And so on. No matter what path you choose, if you are gay you are giving up something basic, and sometimes various things that are very basic. I chose not to “live the gay lifestyle,” as it were, because I found that what I would have to give up to do so wasn’t worth the sacrifice for me.
He phrases his choices in terms of comparing sacrifices (and after this section, lists that he would have to sacrifice biological children, the church, Lolly, etc., if he pursued a gay relationship.) But there are several issues with this discussion.
Firstly, he has no basis for comparison. Part of what makes his rave reviews of his own sex life problematic is that he has no way of comparing sex experiences, since Lolly is the only person with whom he’s had sex. He can’t compare the intimacy-rather-than-lust-based relationship he has with Lolly to a gay relationship, because he’s never pursued any gay relationships.
Secondly, though, the playing field is not level. Many of the sacrifices he alludes to throughout the post exist because society doesn’t accept and support gay relationships as well as it could and should. John Gustav-Wrathall has made this point on his blog:
Imagine a Church where there are no penalties for being gay and in a same-sex relationship. Where no one views me with a jaundiced eye, no one treats me differently, where, if I want my relationship to be blessed by the Church or sealed in the temple, all I have to do is present myself and my husband just as anyone else would present themselves. Imagine such a Church.
Then the onus of figuring out the ethical, spiritual, and personal dimensions of choosing a same-sex relationship versus an opposite-sex relationship would be totally on me.
Would that make such a choice easier or harder? I don’t know. But would it instead allow me to focus on the qualities of each type of relationship choice, the inherent limitations and opportunities presented by one type of a relationship versus another, rather than social pressures? Yes.
The Meaning of Sexual Orientation
Josh describes his choice as a choice to select “intimacy” over “visual attraction, lust, and passion.” He even claims that he has a happier marriage as a result of this more intimate connection than many of his (straight) friends! The problem is that Josh’s understanding of sexual orientation doesn’t seem to match what many people’s understanding of it is. To quote Nick Literski’s comment at my Wheat & Tares article:
As you mature, however, you realize that relationships and sexuality are about more than sex. Homosexuality isn’t just about who you’re sexually attracted to; it’s about who you’re emotionally and romantically attracted to. It’s about the kind of genuine intimacy that nearly every person wants to experience in their primary relationship. For a gay man, that kind of relationship is ultimately going to be found with another gay man, not with a woman. As one matures, the need for that intimate relationship becomes more important than the sex—and the fact that it’s missing is much more painful than just missing out on the sex you want. If Joshua Weed genuinely thinks homosexuality is just about “passion” and “visual attraction,” then I’d suggest that tells us about where he is in his own sexual/emotional maturity. It’s certainly not a prescription for the masses—even though the opponents of marriage equality will certainly treat it as such.
The reduction of sexual orientation to sex is convenient for Josh’s narrative, but it doesn’t ring true.
And for that matter, that’s what plays into two of the most common reactions to Josh’s story. After reading his post, two reactions I saw so often were: “Josh must be bi” and “Josh’s marriage will never work out.” The former response took him at his word that he has a sexually fulfilled relationship with his wife, but if that’s the case, then that suggests he is in part “emotionally and romantically attracted to” women, thus moving him in the bisexual category.
The latter response, however, takes him at his word that he insists he is gay, not bi. If this is true, people point out, then Josh’s relationship is inevitably going to produce the sort of sentiments that Ashley writes about.
The Elephant in the Room: Conflicts of Interest in Therapy
The biggest concern I had with Josh’s post, however, was the fact that he serves as a marriage and family therapist…now, this, on its own isn’t really problematic. But as a person who assists gay and lesbian individuals and who counsels them, the question would be: what advice does he offer them?
Already, it’s pretty clear that no matter what caveats he has on his blog entry, there will be those who will take his words and say, “If this gay man can do it, then anyone can!” Notwithstanding that 1) it’s not guaranteed that he can do it (Josh and Lolly aren’t out of the park, so to speak), and 2) even if they can do it, it’s not certain if Josh has a similar definition of “gay” as the rest of us do.
What’s interesting is doing some digging around about Josh’s therapy practice. On his professional website, among his specialties, he mentions:
Unwanted same-sex attraction
So, what is he telling those who struggle with “unwanted same-sex attraction”? Is his goal to get them comfortable with their sexuality…and with their potential to love and engage in relationships with members of the same sex?
Just for fun, I googled “LifeSTAR ex-gay.”
First result. It got worse.