My name is Ashley. I am 36 years old. I have four kids, ranging from seven to 14. I am a part-time professional actress. I have been divorced for two years. Technically speaking, I'm a Mormon.
Yep, I was baptized when I was eight. I went to Brigham Young University where I received a bachelor's in Theatre. I married a returned missionary in the Mt. Timpanogas Temple. We were full tithe payers. I fulfilled several callings diligently, including serving as Primary President for two years.
About a year after my divorce, I was chatting with my new bishop, who I had known for several years prior to that. He asked me, "So, Ashley, why did you and Matt get divorced?"
I replied, "Matt is a homosexual." I just looked him in the eye after I said this and waited a few seconds while he absorbed it.
Then he asked, "Well, was there another problem as well? Like drinking? Or gambling?"
I looked him in the eye a second time and replied, "Nope. Just that."
He was genuinely confused.
I was in a mixed-orientation marriage -- a marriage between someone who is gay and someone who is heterosexual. I would venture a guess, an educated one at that, that spouses of mixed-orientation marriages understand homosexuality better than any other "category" of people, besides homosexuals themselves. Why do I say this? Because the marriage relationship is meant to be a sexual one.
Now, let me give you a few seconds to absorb that.
Club unicorn wasn't for us. | Photo by Rob Boudon. (Flickr)
Why do I need to share my experience with you?
Because it's okay. It's okay to talk about homosexuality and how it affects us.
Because there are homosexuals, Mormon or not, who don't know that it's okay. It's okay to be gay. It's okay that you are attracted to people of the same gender that you are. You didn't ask for this. And it's okay.
Because there are moms and dads and brothers and sisters and children and friends and neighbors who don't know that it’s okay. It's okay for gay people to be gay. It's okay for you to know gay people. To love someone who is gay. To treat homosexuals the same way they would treat heterosexuals. It's okay for them to be gay.
And, also because, frighteningly, there are straight, or heterosexual, spouses of homosexuals who don't know that THEY are okay. There is nothing wrong with you. You may feel trapped. You may be deteriorating. You mistakenly, and dangerously so, take on the responsibility of "fixing" your spouse, or at least, the responsibility of lessening your spouse's homosexual desires by doing your "duty" as a sexual partner. And that is incorrect.
All of you know someone who is gay. And if you doubt that, it's because you just don't know yet that that someone is gay. But not everyone understands what it is -- what it means -- to be homosexual. Unless you are gay yourself, you'll never really know. However, if you put aside judgment, put aside fear, and put forth love and an accepting mind, you can get a grasp on it. You really can. Talk to your gay loved ones. Actually, let them talk while you listen. Let them cry. Let them scream. Let them explain.
Let me tell you how my perspective on homosexuality has changed throughout my life.
In high school, my best friend, Chris, was gay. He was not out, or openly gay, not even to me. We all knew he was gay, I think, but we didn't want to think about it. It was the early 90s and it was Oklahoma. It was simply not accepted by society. For example, it was a common occurrence to hear football players comment aloud in class that they'd seen a couple of "homos" at the store or elsewhere and wanted so much to "bash their faces in."
So that experience didn't necessarily help further my understanding of homosexuality.
Then there was BYU and the theatre department. All I was willing to perceive was that there were some men that seemed more masculine than others. I didn't entertain the thought of anyone being gay. We were all at BYU for heaven’s sakes! The two things just didn’t go together. The end.
Then there's Matt. Matt is the man I married.
Before I tell you about my experience with him and our marriage, I want to tell you a few things first. He is still my best friend. He knows me better than anyone on the planet, and visa versa. And, yes, I knew he was attracted to men before we got married. But that’s not what he said when he told me. He didn't even say, "I'm gay."
We'd been dating for a few months, when he introduced me to his lesbian sister. He'd told me that she'd been openly gay for several years and was not a practicing Mormon.
At some point after I'd met this sister, and we'd already said our "I love you's" and were quite seriously dating, Matt said to me one night, "There is something I should tell you. I have the same problem my sister has."
The word "problem" denotes that there should be a solution. Or that something is wrong. That the situation can be fixed. And, oh, boy! That was the first thought that came to my mind! "I will fix it."
What neither of us realized at that time, was there was nothing to be fixed. There was nothing broken. There was no perversion within Matt. There was no disorder or distortion or "problem." Everything about him is right and beautiful.
This is how I now see my best friend and ex-husband.
But at the time, when we were dating at BYU, we were temple-minded. We were two people on the path to a life dedicated to eternal marriage, children, and life-long service in The Church.
After he told me he had the "problem," the rest of the discussion went like this:
I was quiet at first. He couldn't look at me as he said it or after. But I just sat quietly and supportive in the passenger seat of his car.
He went on, "I've never acted on it. I don't want to."
We were both quiet.
Then I spoke, "I don’t care. It doesn't matter."
"I want to go to therapy when I am making enough money to afford it. There is a certain type of therapy that fixes it."
All of these things sounded very reassuring to me, a 20-year-old. Naive, hopeful, and in love.
Neither of us realized at the time that it doesn't go away. 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 thirties. 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 that there was something more, over and over.
At the altar of the Mt. Timpanogas temple on the day of our sealing in 1997, my subconscious was screaming at me, "What are you doing?!" On our honeymoon, it was yelling, "What have you done?!" But it had been drilled into me my entire life to achieve temple marriage at all costs. That programming made it very easy to shut out my subconscious and its urgent cries.
About two years into our marriage, Matt went to therapy. A wonderful, loving therapist gave Matt the first outlet he'd ever had to talk freely about his sexuality. He went to group therapy. He did art therapy. He did free-writing therapy. He took Prozac.
He was very gung-ho, but no matter what he did, he still had several bouts of depression -- depression so deep that I could feel it whenever I walked into any room he was in. This cycle continued our entire marriage.
Matt served a mission. Matt went to church. He paid a full tithe. We prayed together. He accepted callings. He blessed our babies when they were born. He baptized two of our children. He gave me blessings from time to time.
A mission, marriage, the church, and therapy did not make Matt heterosexual. He didn't become less homosexual.
A few months before we decided the marriage should end, he announced to me that he was "taking a break" from the church.
"Oh? Why?" I asked.
"Because the only thing I've ever gotten out of it is guilt."
I looked at him with compassion and said, "That's awful. I wouldn't want to continue on that way either."
I began to perceive a new Matt. The weight of the world, and the solar system, and the galaxy were lifted from him. When people would ask me about Matt's choice to stop going to church and if it upset me, I would always reply, "This new Matt is so much more pleasant to live with. I will take this Matt over the old one any day."
Now let me back up.
I began therapy about the same time as Matt did -- a couple of years after our wedding. I didn't understand why I was so angry all the time, and I hated how I felt. The therapist, though I liked her a lot, never entertained the idea with me that I might be unhappy because of my marriage to a homosexual.
I started taking Zoloft.
I prayed. Lots. Not about my mixed-orientation issue, but about how to be happier and better, because I believed the misery of the marriage was my fault. I believed I wasn't trying hard enough. And I didn't want to try, and that made me feel guilty. And now I know I was in a severe, deep, dark depression myself. It was a miracle that I got out of bed every day to take care of our baby.
I cried. A lot. I ate. A lot. I slept as much as I could. I tried to get out of the house if I even felt the slightest inclination to. Take a shower, round brush my hair, put on make-up and get out. But somehow, that always made it worse.
I threw myself into callings. Obsessed about them. I took a teaching job at a college that was an hour and a half drive each way, twice a week, just to get away from what I didn't want to face. What I could not let myself accept.
It was five years into the marriage when I finally did.
Fast-forwarding to 2002. I knew Matt had looked at porn before. And, yes, of course it was gay porn. But I thought it was over and repented of. I didn't feel a threat necessarily when I learned about the porn. I felt compassion. I felt sorry for him. I knew it was an act of desperation. But then, in our fifth year, I discovered he was still looking. And this time, I didn't feel compassion, because it made me feel like a joke. "I am married to a gay man!!! Matt is gay!! Why am I in this marriage?! We are both miserable!! Why do I continue to kid myself that this will make me happy?!"
Once I admitted this, accepted it, looked it in the eye, I went back and forth between feeling trapped and complacent for the next eight years. It can make one's head spin.
At one point during those last eight years, I wanted to die. I wanted to cease to exist. Living was awful. It felt impossible.
Maybe you're getting the idea. I share this brief version of my experience with you so that you can see through my eyes what it means to be gay, and even more specifically, gay and LDS. The damage was, of course, not just happening to me, but Matt and I were both deteriorating. That slow, but constant, state of deterioration is easy to mask. We masked it with things like eating (that was a big one for us) and the self-satisfaction of living the Mormon dream (or fairy tale as I not-so-lovingly call it) -- sitting in sacrament meeting each week, looking our best, singing the hymns, smiling and judging everyone else but ourselves.
If you can deepen your understanding of homosexuality, and I'll quote Carol Lynn Pearson from her book, No More Goodbyes, then: "parents at home and leaders at church will be able to respond without shock, with more responsible information, more compassion, and more humane guidance."
I like the phrase, "responsible information." I would offer to you that irresponsible information would be things like, "go on a mission and it will go away" or "get married and your wife will fix it" or "fast and repent and pray and serve and you will be made whole."
I feel a responsibility to tell you that our gay loved ones are whole.
I feel a responsibility to tell you that your sexuality does not go away.
I feel an acute responsibility to tell you that marriage does not "fix" a homosexual.
The book I quote from by Carol Lynn was published in 2007. She cites that in that year, roughly one in 175 children suffered from autism. We all know someone or at least know of someone who has autism. She goes on to point out that in that same group of 175 children, eight of them will be gay.
These are our children. Or your niece or nephew or grandchild. Right now, today. They need love. It's that simple. Love without judgment. Love without disappointment. That is called unconditional love.
Who do we believe loves us unconditionally?
Do the Heavenly Father or the Savior ever state anywhere in the Scriptures to love conditionally? To love only our heterosexual children? To love only our children that please us all the time or follow the path we envision for them? No.
Think of how it feels to feel the Spirit, to feel the Holy Ghost. I believe with all my heart, that it is God's Love that we feel in those times. Is that what a father is feeling when he tells his gay son to leave the house and never return? Is that how a mother is feeling when she tells her gay daughter that she would rather she'd never been born?
A 20-year-old SUU student put it so perfectly when he said, "Can't I just love who I want to love? I didn't ask for this!"
If I, as a heterosexual woman, decided to completely commit to another woman in a romantic, sexual relationship for deeply held religious beliefs, I would be lying through my teeth if I ever told anyone I was truly happy and fulfilled.
Sometimes, perhaps, a lot of the time, our homosexual loved ones will choose to love as they feel naturally inclined, in same-sex relationships. I believe that they are choosing joy. I've known too many gay men and women personally who have attempted either celibacy or relationships with the opposite sex, because of their strong testimonies of the church, and they DO NOT experience joy.
Men are that they might have joy.
Members of the church who have never deviated from the church's teachings expect the reward of joy in return. Gay members who have never deviated from the teachings of the church expect the same. Many times they do not find it. So they choose another path, and many times that path, living true to their orientation, keeps them from committing suicide. Because they have finally experienced joy.
When my husband came out, a friend he's known for several years contacted him and told Matt he was also gay. He is also LDS and has never acted on his desires. He went on to tell Matt that many times he'd seriously contemplated suicide. Some of those times, he actually planned out the suicide. He knew exactly how he was going to kill himself, but when the time came to go through with it, he couldn't. His words to Matt were, "everyday I regret that I did not have the courage to end my life." Again, this man, never has acted on his desires and remains faithful to the church. Where is his joy?
So in the title of this post, I mentioned a certain other blog post that seems to have gone viral. I am frightened at the message that the other post is sending. Some couples might be able to achieve what the Club Unicorn couple is (hell, Matt and I did when the denial and repression were working), but in most cases that type of arrangement can only end badly ... and where children are involved, let me tell you first-hand ...
I am frightened that the message that other post sends will further encourage Prop 8- or Prop 22-mindedness.
Let me ask you this: How did those Propositions protect my marriage, my family? Hm?
Ashley Wilkinson is a single mom of four who started to blog after a certain post about mixed-orientation marriage went viral. Having been married to a homosexual man herself, she knows striving for Club Unicorn can do more harm than good. You can read her other thoughts at Ashley's Tiny Crumbs, where this post first appeared.