Recently, my Facebook account has been flooded with headlines and opinions on TLC’s “My Husband Is Not Gay,” which features four Latter-day Saint (Mormon) men who, despite being attracted to men, have chosen to marry a woman. Comments have ranged from calling it “the most unbelievable reality show” to saying it “proliferates a damaging–and even deadly–message.” Since the men featured in the show are associated with an organization called Northstar, Northstar’s president, Ty Mansfield, has responded to criticism, defending the show and stating that “LGBT, Inc., is threatened by the fact that our very existence challenges its identity, its distorted socio-cultural narrative, and its socio-political agenda.”
Having not seen the show yet, but having seen the small video segments out there, I have some thoughts to share to both sides of the argument.
- We need to respect people’s identities. Genderqueer, polysexual, pansexual, biromantic, two-spirit… The number of identities in existence may be as large as the number of people on this earth. However, just like it is extremely important to not misgender someone, it is also important to respect the labels and adjectives that somebody uses to describe their sexual orientation/gender identity/gender expression. And yes, this also applies to people who admit to being attracted to men but do not identify as gay. Comments like “Your Husband Is Definitely Gay,” by the Daily Beast, aren’t only dismissive, but they’re also offensive. If we truly intend to promote respect, this respect should be given to everyone, regardless of how they identify. One person’s identity does not threaten, dismiss, diminish, or take away from the identity of another individual.
- It is time we stop looking at sexual orientation and attraction by themselves and realize that an intersectional approach is necessary. While arousal and eroticism do play a role in sexual orientation, there are other factors that come into play. Race, socioeconomic class, age, and yes, even religion all contribute to an individual’s sexual behavior and sexual identity. While religion may not contribute into it for many, it is a reality that, in Utah, Mormonism affects how many individuals approach their sexuality. One cannot be disconnected from the other for them. If we fail to even attempt to understand how this might be, we are taking away the rights of others to shape and identify their own experiences and orientation.
- Christian people who identify as SSA need to be very careful when sharing their narratives. While some men who are attracted to men may be able to marry a woman and find satisfaction in it, many other individuals’ sexualities aren’t as plastic. Many, many queer LDS youths hear these narratives and use them in unsuccessfully trying to change their sexual orientation. Mormons need to be especially careful. With our history of reparative therapy, electroshock therapy, and high rates of LGBT youth homelessness in Utah, we need to be extra careful. Our history is plagued with continual instances in which LGBT members of the church have been rejected, ostracized, and mocked. While you aren’t responsible for what people do with your story, your narrative should be told in such a way that it is evident that it is only yours and should not be used against others. Please share your story, but think of those who are and will be affected by it. I hope to see the same amount of effort put into clearing misconceptions as you put in telling your stories.
- People in general (and especially Mormons) should understand that these stories belong to the individuals telling them, and to nobody else. Just because these men chose to marry women doesn’t mean that others should or can do the same. Do not use these narratives to harm, hurt, coerce, or try to change, heal, or correct others around you. If instead of doing that, you choose to listen to both narratives and validate both, you will learn more. Also, do not use these stories as signs of righteousness, repentance, or favor from God. The men in the show aren’t more righteous, more repentant, or loved more by God than anyone else. If they married a woman, it was their own personal choice, and assumptions about other’s relationships with God should never be made.
Last I want to speak to LGBT friends who may feel hurt by this show:
- To those who feel like a failure because you feel like these men could change and you could not: you’re not a failure. You are different from them. You have your own path, which will be beautiful and full of surprises and victories. Do not compare yourself to them. Your circumstances are different, and you are successful. Please understand that you are loved and you can find peace. It may not be the same type of peace these people express, but yours will be just as good.
- To the people featured in the show: I am sorry you have to go through this hell. I do not know you personally, but you have been very courageous in sharing your face to the world. Know that I respect your identity and I wish you the best.
I hope we can all learn from every experience and we can choose to listen, and not assume; as well as be careful with how we tell our stories, and how they will affect others. As we do this, we will find ourselves on the higher path to understanding.