Walking the [Gay] and Narrow Path

Last week, a blogger by the name of Josh Weed, posted a personal story that quickly went viral. Why? Because Josh Weed came out as a gay Mormon man who is happily married to a woman. I’ve decided to write a response to Weed’s story, not so much because of what he said, but mainly for what was not said: his omissions and the implications of his story on the wider LDS and LGBT communities.

You can read his story on his blog, The Weed, here: Club Unicorn: In which I come out of the closet on our ten year anniversary.

Josh Weed’s story is quite unique and was obviously well thought out, as I suppose most stories are when one doesn’t fit the conventional norms. “Most people just don’t think about their sexual orientation because they don’t have any reason to.” Josh and his wife, Lolly, co-wrote the blog post, feeling that it was time they added their voices to the public discourse on the topic of homosexuality. Their relationship has its roots in childhood, both being born into LDS families in the same ward, but really only beginning to develop into something more while in their later teens. Josh was aware of his attraction to men by the time he was eleven years old, and disclosed his homosexuality to his parents shortly thereafter. He describes his parents’ reaction as being loving, accepting, and non-judgemental, and attributes this to why he “is so well adjusted today”. At the age of 16, he told Lolly about his sexual orientation while they were on their first date. She determined that she would be an ally and friend to him, but didn’t think their friendship would grow to be anything more.

Due to Josh’s devotion to the LDS Church and belief in its gospel, he wanted to follow its central tenants: to serve a mission for the Church, then get married to a woman and have children. Obviously the latter two are complicated for someone who readily acknowledges his homosexuality, but he was determined to father “children that were biologically the product of me and the one I love.” After years of close friendship with Lolly — occasionally toying with but quickly dismissing the idea of marriage — they each realized that the other was exactly what they were looking for in a spouse, with the obvious exception of their mismatched gender attractions. After careful thought of what they each considered essential to a happy marriage — which consisted of downplaying sexual attraction to focus on emotional intimacy — they determined their love for each other was sufficient. They have now been married for ten years, claim to have a great sex life, and have had three young girls together.

Josh and Lolly’s decision to go public with this story should be admired simply for the strength it takes to expose ones self to the potentially harsh reactions of your peers (both in- and outside of the LDS Church) by challenging their perceptions and assumptions. I know from personal experience the kind of anxiety they must have felt leading up to their publication.

As a supporter of equal rights and gay marriage, I feel that I am in no position to suggest that Josh and Lolly’s marriage is in any way less “real” than anyone else’s. I believe he, as with all LGBT, has every right to marry whomever he wants, provided of course that he is upfront and honest about who he is, which is exactly what he has done. I feel that Josh is the only one who is capable of determining his own happiness, and he has described nothing that would suggest he isn’t happy. I do feel however, that he is quite unique in that he has been able to make such an arrangement work. I don’t think there are many gay men who would find a marriage to a woman to be sufficiently fulfilling, and I have serious concerns as to why he felt marrying a woman was necessary for him in the first place.

As a self-described “devout, believing Mormon”, Josh clearly communicates that his worldview is set within the framework of Mormon theology. The importance of this cannot be understated, as this framework forms the boundaries wherein his life is contained in order to fulfill his believed duty to god. Stepping outside of this framework, while still believing in it, would be tantamount to completing spiritual suicide. Mormon theology is centred around the heterosexual nuclear family unit, and is the paramount goal in order to obtain the highest degree of exhalation.

“Our eternal destiny—exaltation in the celestial kingdom—… is only available to a man and a woman who have entered into and been faithful to the covenants of an eternal marriage in a temple of God ”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 7)

With such a heteronormative, universally applicable, proscriptive life path, one can start to see the severely limited options available to a Mormon who finds himself to be gay. The following are some quotations from LDS lesson manuals and leaders that illustrate the negativity around homosexuality and the importance of the heternormative end-goal (emphasis mine):

There is no fullness of joy in the next life without a family unit, including a husband, a wife, and posterity. Further, men are that they might have joy. In the eternal perspective, samegender activity will only bring sorrow and grief and the loss of eternal opportunities.
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction“, LDS Newsroom, 2006)

“There is no such thing in the Lord’s eyes as something called same-gender marriage. Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin.
(Elder Lance B. Wickman, “Same-Gender Attraction“, LDS Newsroom, 2006)

[Sexual immorality] can lead to acts of homosexuality, and they are evil and absolutely wrong. …sexual conduct [outside of marriage between a man and a woman], including … homosexual and lesbian behavior, is sinful. Those who persist in such practices or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline.”
(First Presidency letter, 14 Nov. 1991, as recorded in “Lesson 14: Withstanding the Evils of the World,” The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, 110)

“The Lord specifically forbids certain behaviors, including all sexual relations before marriage, petting, sex perversion (such as homosexuality, rape, and incest), masturbation, or preoccupation with sex in thought, speech, or action … Homosexual and lesbian activities are sinful and an abomination to the Lord (see Romans 1:26–27, 31). Unnatural affections, including those toward persons of the same gender, are counter to God’s eternal plan for his children.”
(“Lesson 14: Teaching Gospel Principles to Children (Part 2),” Marriage and Family Relations Instructor’s Manual, 67)

“Let it therefore be clearly stated that the seriousness of the sin of homosexuality is equal to or greater than that of fornication or adultery; and that the Lord’s Church will as readily take action to disfellowship or excommunicate the unrepentant practicing homosexual as it will the unrepentant fornicator or adulterer”
(The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], pp. 81–82, as recorded in “Lesson 28: Withstanding Temptation,” Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, 114)

“there is a distinction between [1] immoral thoughts and feelings and [2] participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behavior.”Although immoral thoughts are less serious than immoral behavior, such thoughts also need to be resisted and repented of because we know that “our thoughts will also condemn us” (Alma 12:14). Immoral thoughts (and the less serious feelings that lead to them) can bring about behavior that is sinful.”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 7)

It is with this environment in mind, that I find Josh’s story to be rather unbelievable. This is not because of their situation, but because of the rose-colored struggle-free telling he presented. If you are to take his story at face value, you would have to believe that the negative view on homosexuality within the Mormon environment had little to no impact on how he viewed himself or his desires. You’d also have to believe his devout Mormon parents and friend/wife had no problems with his homosexuality and supported him in whatever decisions he decided for himself. The glaring omission is that of the conditions attached to such love and support: ‘we will love and accept you as gay, provided you do what is expected of straight people and don’t act on your homosexual attractions’. This conditional support is what is being taught by LDS leaders, and is common among parents within Mormonism. It is used as a way to encourage obedience and conformity, and prevent the spread of unwanted ideas. This is clearly seen in how Elder Dallin H. Oaks responds to hypothetical questions about what he would do if his son told him he was gay and wanted to bring his partner home for the holidays:

‘My son, if you choose to deliberately engage in this kind of [homosexual] behavior, you’re still my son… [but] It will cloud your perceptions of what is important in life. Finally, it may drag you down so far that you can’t come back. Don’t go that way. But if you choose to go that way, we will always try to help you and get you back on the path of growth.’

‘Please don’t do that. Don’t put us into that position.’ Surely if there are children in the home who would be influenced by this example, the answer would likely be that. [Or] ‘Yes, come, but don’t expect to stay overnight. Don’t expect to be a lengthy house guest. Don’t expect us to take you out and introduce you to our friends, or to deal with you in a public situation that would imply our approval of your “partnership.”’
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction“, LDS Newsroom, 2006)

Josh doesn’t appear to have considered a life outside of this Mormon framework, and has even conformed to the heteronormative life that he believes God (as told to him by the LDS Church) wants him to be on. This is shown by not having mentioned exploring the gay dating world to any degree, and actually telling of having dated multiple women. This is likely why his parents were seen as supportive, as he hasn’t presented anything that would suggest he deviated from the ‘straight and narrow path’ (pun intended). I find it sad that due to the social conventions and pressures of his LDS upbringing, it would seem that a life with a male partner was simply not even a considered option: “I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ as well as the Mormon Church, which I consider to be His restored organizational unit. I did not want to give that up.” Within the framework of Mormonism, he was left with two options: remain celibate his entire life (betting on the belief of an afterlife where he will no longer be gay and will have the opportunity to have sex as a straight male with a woman whom he posthumously marries), or conform and marry a woman. Given that choice, I think most would choose the one where sexual contact of some kind is still possible.

“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 [your religion and] the ability to have a biological family with the one you love.”

In speaking about his choice to marry Lolly, he shows the extreme importance he places on the specific gender he is willing to marry. Interestingly, in order for this to be accomplished, he paradoxically downplays the importance of gender for sexual purposes and prioritizes other aspects of companionship, such as intimacy and friendship. This becomes particularly troubling when one factors in his belief that God is rewarding him for the actions that result from this attitude. Josh believes God approves of his choice to marry a woman, is blessing him for it, and is going to ensure an eternal life of happiness as compensation for denying himself his ideal sexual partner.

“I believe my joy stems from living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and trusting God and his plan for me even when it was really hard and scary.”

“…when I follow the teachings that I know to be true, my life is blessed and I find immense joy and peace. I feel that this joy and peace is a direct result of my connection to God’s spirit as a result of living in a way He approves of.”

The implication of this is that he believes this sacrifice is beneficial, even desirable, while choosing otherwise is, at best, deprived of such rewards. This becomes compounded when one considers that these beliefs are based on Mormonism’s theology, which is believed to apply to everyone equally, and not based on an individualistic path to God. Therefore, his belief that God is blessing his choices in life, imply that he believes he is on the one right path that all who find themselves in his position should choose. And yet he paradoxically states:

“I want to make it very clear that while I have found a path that brings me profound joy and that is the right path for me, I don’t endorse this as the only path for somebody who is gay and religious. I will never, ever judge somebody else’s path as being ‘incorrect’ and I know many people who have chosen different paths than myself.”

Josh is saying that others’ choices that lead them down alternate paths should not be judged or viewed as incorrect, but are not deserving of the approval and blessings that come from God. The only way he could suggest that people who make different choices would be able to receive the same blessings from God, is if he allowed for the possibility of multiple approved paths. This of course does not fit within the Mormon paradigm of a singular ‘straight and narrow path’. Wanting others to share this path and have these same blessings and opportunities in order to receive eternal exhalation, is the very basis for many of the practices that Mormons cherish, such as missionary work. Josh seems to be negotiating two competing philosophies that present themselves in these contradicting ideas.

One area that Josh seems to have no ambiguity is that of his identity, for which I’d like to commend him. He takes ownership of his homosexuality by clearly stating that his orientation as a critical part of who he is. He doesn’t try to pry himself apart from his homosexuality by referring to it as some kind of susceptibility to overcome. Instead, he states:

“I, Josh Weed, am homosexual.”
“I am sexually attracted to men. I am not sexually attracted to women. It is very simple.”
“I am attracted sexually to men. Period.”
“I am gay. I am Mormon. I am married to a woman.”
“I’ve never been shameful about who I am, or about this feature of me as a critical part of my person…”

I find this important because it is in contrast to the rhetoric used by the leaders of the LDS Church, where they delegitimize homosexuality as part of an identity. This is most clearly evidenced by Elder Dallin H. Oaks when he said,

“We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage.”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 7)

Josh does not say directly whether he views his own homosexuality as the potentially eternal-life-threatening temptation that the LDS leadership suggest it is, or if he sees it as a normal variation in human sexuality (I hope for the latter, considering his profession as a family therapist!). Though he does seem to share one view in common with the LDS leadership, in that homosexuality is only sinful if acted on, while the feelings and inclinations themselves do not constitute sin. This is clearly seen when, in speaking to other gay Mormons he writes:

“I want you to stop battling with this part of you that you may have understood as being sinful. Being gay does not mean you are a sinner or that you are evil. Sin is in action, not in temptation or attraction.”

What’s problematic is the idea that while one can have a positive view of one’s homosexual attractions, one cannot receive God’s approval/blessings when choosing a life path that includes a same-sex partner. The importance of this is seen when considering the wider social and political consequences, to which Josh has omitted any reference. He does not say whether he supports gay marriage, which would be contrary to the LDS Church’s campaigning, even though it would fit within his idea that there can be other paths for people. The implications of his perspective on discussions of legal rights and discrimination laws, may only be one of perpetuating the heteronormative ideology. By posing the issue as one about how to live a gay-identified hetero life, they can continue to demonize and dismiss other more common ways of living a gay identity.

I’d like to give special thanks to my wife and partner, Eileah Trotter, as well as Travis Benson for their insightful help in preparing this post.

Advertisements

Posted on 2012-06-17, in Culture, Mormonism, Sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this response. I would like to add that although Weed says he is emotionally connected to his wife, I do not see how they can have true intimacy as a couple since he isn’t sexually attracted to her. He is therefore denying her a real loving and involved relationship; and that is a shame.

    • That was my initial reaction when I read his story too. However, I don’t see how it’s my place (or anyone else’s) to tell them how they are supposed to achieve intimacy.

  2. I agree Tom. I have to admit I feel admiration for this man who has the strength to follow his convictions to the point of denying himself what I believe would be true sexual fulfilment for himself. I don’t doubt his wife is happy with the situation, but what about him? I envy him for the kind of reception that his parents met his disclosure with and I can see that it would have had a significant effect on how he perceives himself but there is no way he can completely ignore the fact the he is feeling impulses that are deemed vile by the beliefs he bases his life on. There has to be some sort of inner struggle happening inside of him, and I can’t see that being a peaceful way to go through life. Obviously I have no idea how he really feels so I’m kind of pulling this out of the air. I don’t mean to disrespect him or his family.
    It was a pleasure reading your article!

  3. After the second read through I have to say it’s a great article, Tom. I can’t really imagine how conflicted Weed must feel. I am forced to wonder, as we discussed previously, if (or more likely when) the LDS church decides to change heir stance on same sex rights and marriages, what would Weed feel then?

    • Agreed. When the Church eventually accepts homosexuality, I fear what that would do to his relationship with his wife. Would he want to leave his wife to be with a man or stay with his wife? Either way he will be trapped in yet another difficult position.

  4. Let’s say this story is genuine. Let’s say it is not a cute little story the Mormon church has so many of to prove some point.

    Of course they look happy on their wedding day. Anybody within the Mormon church is happy to pass that finish line which is „sealing“. My guess is, the more limited one knows one’s options are, the happier one looks when passing. A happy face is no proof life from entering the Temple onwards is not deluded nor anybody getting married at such young age (whatever religious mindset) truly has the maturity to know what they’re doing. Maybe they look happy because they were high on wedding cake, who knows.

    I’ll state now what gives me the creeps about the story. Note that all my arguments are valid for any „I don’t truly love my spouse“-setting, not limited to the gay thing.
    I) WHO THEY ARE It scares me that he is a counselor and that she remembers precisely one single friend with one single and, for that matter, stupid, reasoning for the marriage which she then easily applied (maybe it was even meant against the entire thing but she didn’t quite grasp it). Maybe he tricked her using his psychologic skill and she, being uprooted from her home town and unable to find a new support system of friends, all whilst pressured from early childhood on to mindlessly breed in the Mormon way, fell for it.
    II) HOW THEY MET To top it all off, they have known each other since childhood. Yuck! I cannot imagine their parents sane and loving. Sounds more like medieval arranged marriage to join properties at the sacrifice of the children than good parenting from both their backgrounds.
    III) WHAT THEY HAVE BEEN DOING Remember the introductory words? After ten years of marriage they want to come out of their double-closet. Those poor children who have been raised in a family with a secret! All the shame within the house must be unbearable. They may be too young to articulate but they have sensed from birth onwards that there is something not intact between mom and dad. They know their family to be „different“ and they know the obstacle being a shame not to be uttered. I’m not saying gay equals shame; I am saying keeping a secret for a decade equals shame and secrecy and unhealthy environment. Please, kids, don’t go to daddy’s office for therapy.

    When they were two lone youngsters they got the „authorities“ to seal them. (Rather, they submitted to what opportunities they were allowed to even think.) Wow. Way to feel good about yourself. Technically you abide by Mormon law. I bet you feel your reward about having kept your virginities until marriage and having procreated since on a daily basis. Keep reiterating it and you will. However, in case you ever want to know God: he wants you to be free, truly free, free forevermore. Yahwe of the Bible, that is – not that regular fella of a god which is sexist and racist and far from di-vi-ne which is constructed in the Mormon doctrine. I mean, a person can make money or status their god. The gospel teaches the distinction.

    As for enjoyable sex: Surely erogenous zones can be triggered by anything. (That’s why men fondle sheep and vacuum cleaners.) However, good sex is really on the brain. When the brain is occupied by „I need to try harder because in reality he is gay“ and „I’d rather imagine her as a guy“ or alike thoughts, no good sex is really going to happen. You’re almost each individually raping yourself. How if you sleep around and find out what you’ve been missing. Cherish better experiences.

    I pray that you’ll both find better mentors than your parents, better friends to support you, and partners just plain suitable. Even more, I pray that his counselees be undamaged and their children be sent to humanitarian summer camps.

    I hope in the church’s debate following „homosexual“ will not equal „male homosexuality“ making women go disappear once more. I hope womankind will be seen at each place they live and not just the limited and madly objectified view of daughter and wife as in „Would you want your daughter to be the wife in a mixed-orientation temple marriage?“ I hope lesbians will have a safe enough place to speak up rather than go into hiding.

    • Very good comment, European76. Someday, I hope very, very soon, a whole lot of Mormons (not just the gay ones) are going to wake up to the fact that their entire lives have been based on the lie that is the LDS church. Thanks to the internet, among other things, the fact that their church was founded by a crook named Joseph Smith, that modern DNA research has made a mockery of the tenets of the church will enable them to see clearly and leave this cult.

      This children of that weird marriage are going to grow up so damn confused. That’s the tragedy here.

  5. I know “I believe I am gay”! So what can I do to improve on my life? I now know it is a lie for the LDS Church to believe in THE History of
    Joesph Smiths STORY! When you read what sort of a fellow he was….he used the LDS teachings to solve his childhood. His family was of nothing….and he needed sport from his family to go on! He used all of his material from his job of getting in to history. His believe in his dad (being the God he saw on a prayer) was the answer! I lived a life in the LDS Church to know that it was just a gig to believe it! I got a divorce from my wife to know that she was cheating on me with other men! I spent most of my life in the gay world knowing that I still had a love for Jesus Christ! I took on a the story of AIDS with a Pine Cliff Week End for 23 years! It was a chance for people with AIDS to go for a week end with their friends and family to enjoy the time. I told my story about my life with the group. The group had to change from AIDS to lesbians and homosexuals to get with a Church people! We had a Service on the subject, we all had a place to share our feelings! After it was over, two couple
    of the Church came to me and ask if I was interested having a place to go to? I said yes! So I went to the First Baptist Church and it is over with.

  6. When you judge someone’s relationship, it doesn’t matter how many times you tell us you are pro-gay rights. You, like the churches you criticize, are trying to tell them about their own sexuality and how it affects their lives. If that story was co-written, they probably really do love each other and believe that they have achieved ultimate intimacy. How would you react if an internet blogger that doesn’t even know you publicly questioned your relationship with your partner?

    • As I noted in the post, I do not believe it is my place to judge Josh’s relationship with his wife as being anything less than what he describes it to be. My blog post was simply trying to illustrate the social and theological environments that underly and contribute to such relational decisions made by self-identified LGBT Mormons.
      Also, if Josh did not want his story to be commented on, then I would assume he would know better than to post his story online.

      If you have any particular criticisms about my post, I invite you to make them so that I may consider them.

  1. Pingback: Main Street Plaza » Sunday in Outer Blogness: Exciting Discussions Edition!!

  2. Pingback: It’s Hip to Raise Your Arm to the Square | Mitch F. Mayne

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: