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Op-ed: I’m Sorry, But Your Husband Is Gay

Op-ed: I’m Sorry, But Your Husband Is Gay


One gay man who spent time researching the lives of gay Mormons already knows what TLC's upcoming show is all about.

When I first saw the trailer featuring a fresh-faced straight couple pop up on my Facebook feed with the title My Husband's Not Gay, I knew immediately what the show was about without clicking the link. In 2006, I spent a year living in Salt Lake City, discovering Mormon culture from the inside through the eyes of gay Mormons.

I was researching their actual lived experience, as told to me in their own words, and their attempts -- usually unsuccessful -- to reconcile their sexual identity with the stringent moral requirements of the Mormon Church, while living under the threat of excommunication and possibly even shunning by their family and community. I uncovered not only the painful stories of gay Mormons but the story of how the Mormon Church is able to bring to bear its formidable monetary, organizational, and human resources to serve its conservative political and social agenda, directly affecting the lives of millions of non-Mormons. Encouraging struggling gay men within the fold to marry with the promise of salvation (both within and in the eternal life) was a common practice. Just when you think we've seen it all, it seems our shock entertainment culture has hit an all-time low on TLC (let us not forget Honey Boo Boo and how that ended).

The tenets of the Mormon religion are deeply entrenched in all aspects of Mormon culture. There is virtually no corner of people's lives that is not prescribed by church doctrine and laws. Home and family are at the very heart of Mormonism, and those are conceived exclusively in heterosexual terms. In fact, marriage and the "eternal family" are considered essential to being saved and partaking in the benefits of heavenly happiness. Obedience is another cornerstone of Mormonism: to God, to church authorities, to Mormon laws, and within the home, school, and workplace.

The regressive antigay doctrines and practices of the Mormon Church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, cause misery for thousands of gay Mormons and their families. The church has taken the position that homosexuality is immoral and that gay Mormons must eradicate homosexual thoughts and behaviors or subject themselves to discipline by the church. Gays are prohibited from serving in administrative positions in the church, excluded from the temple in Salt Lake City, and considered unworthy of attaining the highest spiritual level, since that requires marriage and total sexual abstinence outside marriage. Homosexuality is grounds for excommunication from the LDS Church -- in the same category as murder, rape, sexual abuse, theft, drug dealing, and fraud. So it's not difficult to see why gay Mormons are convinced to marry and live a heteronormative life.

In Utah I sat with families who were going through heterosexual "conversion therapy." I attended a reparative therapy conference at the now-defunct Evergreen International, which has reemerged as North Star. My interviews revealed that the damage caused by these experiences is sometimes irreversible. I found no proof of the success of conversion therapy, despite the organization's claims.

In a 2006 interview on Nightline, Daniel Holsinger, a gay Mormon, described a torturous regimen of efforts to stop being gay:

"I fasted. You deprive yourself of food and you go for a period of time in meditation and prayer. ... I figured if I did everything in this course, eventually that prayer would be answered. Eventually this nightmare would go away. Eventually I wouldn't hate myself because a new part of myself would appear. This new heterosexual part of myself would emerge. And it didn't."

Then there is Ty Mansfield. Mansfield, who wrote about his struggles as a gay Mormon in the book In Quiet Desperation, is the unofficial poster boy for the I'm-gay-but-not-gay Mormon fraternity. He is a family therapist and doctoral student in marriage and family therapy at Texas Tech University who says he has accepted that same-sex attraction is part of who he is, but he is able to look beyond the attraction, and he remains a devout member of the church. He met his now-wife, Danielle Palmer, at Brigham Young University. The two graduated from BYU and went their separate ways but remained in contact via the Internet. After some long-distance flirting, Mansfield proposed to Palmer by changing his Facebook status to "engaged."

Palmer writes, "Things were feeling pretty set already ... and then Ty changed his relationship status on Facebook to say he was engaged to me. When I confirmed, it automatically changed both of our statuses to show we were engaged to each other and THAT is how it became official. Because unless it's on Facebook, it ain't real." The two were married in the Salt Lake temple May 22, 2010. Prior to his marriage, in a 2005 interview with Salt Lake City's Deseret News, Mansfield tackled the issue of marriage and dating women while struggling with same-sex attraction:

He said he would never suggest marriage as a way of trying to banish same-sex attraction.

"I know some individuals who feel they have overcome the attraction, have married, and it's not a problem for them anymore. ... I know many more who have the type of life they want--married with a family. They still experience the attraction, but that's all they see it as."

Though he understands his own dynamics, he says he's not sure if his attractions will ever leave him entirely. He has only a smile and a polite "no" for fellow Latter-day Saints who try to line him up with women, and no definitive answer for those who ask if he'll ever marry.

Some he knows have left the church and are living a homosexual lifestyle. When they ask why he doesn't just give in, he answers, "I feel I'm being true to my eternal self."

Having Mansfield as their "success" story surely injects a sense of hope into "gay strugglers." As a public figure and celebrity on the strugglers' circuit he offers encouragement and an "If he can do it, maybe I can too" mentality.

The experience of gay Mormons reveals essential truths about Mormon religious doctrines and the very wide shadow of authority that the church casts over the lives of its members. The LDS Church has entrenched itself in an ideology and practices that are deeply unaccepting of thousands of gay people who have grown up in the church, whose lives revolve around the church, and who mourn the loss of their affiliation with the church when they are cut off from it.

With My Husband's Not Gay, TLC has decided to showcase this heinous and sometimes deadly reality gay Mormons combat daily. What is hiding behind this veil of shock entertainment and what viewers are most likely not going to see is the daily pain and struggle, the fruitless attempts to literally eradicate homosexuality from their very being and live up to the standards of moral perfection of the Mormon Church and avoid the ever-present threat of church discipline if they can't. What viewers won't get to see are the secrets that lie hidden beneath the calm, controlled exterior of morality and family life of the LDS Church that could account for so many suicides by gay Mormons.

There is little place for gays within this conservative, authoritarian social structure. It is impossible to conceive of being truly Mormon without adopting this prescribed lifestyle, including marriage and family. And yet for most gay Mormons, it is equally impossible to conform to those demands of their religion. No matter how hard they try, they have no way of reconciling their sexuality with the prescriptions of their faith. It's disheartening that TLC thinks there is a place for them on their network.

ROMAN FEESER is a writer and producer in New York City. His play Missa Solemnis or The Play About Henry, about gay Mormon Henry Stuart Matis's suicide was produced off-Broadway in 2008 and was also presented in Salt Lake City.

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