A Husband, A Father, A Mormon... And Gay?
Josh Weed is a husband, a father, a member of the Mormon Church -- and he's gay. Earlier this month, he and his wife coauthored a post on his blog, The Weed, in which Josh came out and elaborated on how they have made their marriage work these past ten years. Josh writes:
When I say I am gay or homosexual or same-sex attracted (and I use these terms interchangeably, which is a personal decision) I refer specifically to sexual orientation. I am sexually attracted to men. I am not sexually attracted to women. It is very simple. I have many, many years of experience which confirm this to be true, but it's really as simple as what a girl asked me in junior high -- and I'm sorry if this is a little blunt, but I've never found a question that cuts to the heart of the matter more effectively -- "so, if everyone in this room took off their clothes, would you be turned on by the girls or the guys?" My answer, which I didn't say out loud, was unquestionably the guys. And it was unquestionably not the girls. And that still is my answer.
By the time puberty had set in, Josh knew he was gay. When he turned 13, he told his father, a leader in the Mormon Church. His parents were loving and accepting, but even so Josh chose not to disclose his sexual orientation to many other people. The one person he did tell was Lolly, the childhood friend who would one day become his wife. Lolly writes:
We talked at length that night about the reality of being gay in the Mormon Church. He told me that he believed in the doctrine of the Church and that he wanted to do what God wanted him to do. During the course of that conversation, my mind became overwhelmed by the complexities of the issue he was facing. And how alone he felt in facing them.
I was determined to be an ally and friend to him in regards to this issue. [...] The possibility of us becoming more than friends would come up every now and then, but I would dismiss it quickly. My parents did an amazing job in teaching their children about the proper role of sexuality. In our home, sex was viewed as sacred, enjoyable, and something to look forward to in marriage. I saw the important role that intimacy played in successful marriages and that was one aspect of marriage that I was greatly anticipating. Therefore, in my mind, marrying someone gay was completely out of the question.
In college, Josh got a girlfriend and Lolly began to feel jealous. She realized that -- "except for the huge fact he was gay" -- Josh was everything she wanted in a husband: he was dedicated to God, he was honest, kind, and fun, and Lolly connected with him in ways she hadn't connected with anyone else. They decided to date and, eventually, Lolly decided that the relationship they had could weather any trials and circumstances. Including the fact that Josh was gay.
For Josh, who saw the gay lifestyle as being incompatible with his faith, marriage to a woman was the only option he could imagine pursuing. His understanding of his faith also made the notion of having a family and being gay mutually exclusive -- "children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows and complete fidelity." Choosing to embrace his sexual orientation, for Josh, meant forfeiting his faith and his ideal of a family. He chose to deprioritize his desire, keep his faith and have a family.
Photo by Lee J. Haywood. (Flickr)
So Josh and Lolly got married. Today, they have three children and have worked to ensure their sex life is satisfying for the both of them. "When sex is done right, at its deepest level it is about intimacy," Josh writes. "It is beautiful and rich and fulfilling and spiritual and amazing. Many people never get to this point in their sex lives because it requires incredible communication, trust, vulnerability, and connection. And Lolly and I have had that from day one, mostly because we weren't distracted by the powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession that usually bring a couple together (which dwindle dramatically after the first few years of marriage anyway)."
I think the overall message of this story is positive. We're all born with drives, develop unique identities and are raised within cultures and belief systems that expect things from us. Alarmingly often, these things don't fit well together at all. The general approach has been simple: give up the culture or faith and go where you are accepted, or actively deny yourself to remain within the culture or faith.
In this post, Josh Weed shows how he has managed to remain within his chosen culture and faith not only without self-loathing, but without denial. That is important. One may not agree with his faith, may wonder whether it's healthy to embrace a life with no possibility of the sort of sexual satisfaction that comes from being intimate with someone to whom we're attracted, but at the end of the day, there is more power in self-truth and self-acceptance than anything else.
I know people who married someone to whom they were so very attracted and now only have sex a few times a month, if that. I know people who have kinks they only get to fantasize about because their long-term partners don't want to have anything to do with it. I know all kinds of sexual situations. If you asked me now whether it was something I could compromise in a relationship, I would respond with a resounding "No!" But I have in the past, and I will undoubtedly do it again. Sex is important, but relationships are a lot more than sex, whatever your reasons may be.
The path Josh has chosen works for him and for his wife -- and that's worth applauding. If while sharing his story, he is imparting the message that homosexuality is not a choice and that people who are same-sex oriented are not the spawn of Satan (as he does), so much the better.
But there are a couple of things that are troubling about the narrative that are also worth pointing out. The first, which was identified by the columnist Dan Savage, is that Josh seems to look down on relationships forged in the powerful chemicals of desire. While not an uncommon perception, to espouse the idea that the attraction we experience for others is a base thing to be denied does a terrible disservice to people who select partners in this way, and completely ignores the biological basis for attraction. In truth, the function of "lust" (our ability to experience attraction, desire, and arousal) is something that has been biologically honed over millions of years to ensure the survival of our species.
The primary purpose of attraction is to enable us to find partners that are the best genetic candidates for procreation. What may seem to us a random choice may not be so random, as Claus Wedekind found in 1995 when he asked 49 women to smell the shirts of 44 men and rate them in terms of attractiveness. What he discovered is that women had a tendency to feel attracted to the scents of men whose immune systems differed from their own. The reason for this makes sense: a child born of the union of parents with different immune systems has the best odds of being born with an immune system that can handle a wider number of health threats.
Lest the above should suggest that homosexuals have no such responses because they're not capable of procreating, let's skip over to a study by Ivanka Savic, Hans Berglund and Per Lindstrom which used brain imaging to determine how a testosterone derivate found in men's sweat and an estrogen-like steroid found in women's urine affected straight men, straight women and gay men. Smells, as you can imagine, activate specific areas of the brain used to process scent, so when researchers gave the sweat compound to straight men to smell, those were the areas that they saw light up. The same happened when straight women smelled the urine compound.
When straight men were given the urine compound (with the estrogen), however, the activity was primarily in the hypothalamus, which comes into play during sexual arousal. This also happened with the straight women who were exposed to the sweat compound (the testosterone derivative) -- as well as with the homosexual men.
Attraction, we have found, doesn't just help us identify suitable mates, it also works to establish long-term viability for relationships. For instance, an update to the study of the implications of immune system dissimilarities found that women that have more similar immune systems to their partners are more likely to cheat on them. Cheating is worth mentioning because it's often cited -- somewhat unfairly -- as a problem of our biology. What we seem to miss in these discussions is that biology has provided us with mechanisms to ensure long-term relationship viability.
As Jon K. Maner, David Aaron Rouby and Gian C. Gonzaga write in "Automatic inattention to attractive alternatives" for the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, research suggests that "humans possess psychological mechanisms designed to help them maintain their commitment to a long-term relationship, particularly when faced with attractive alternative relationship partners." This is possible through the bonds we develop with a partner, and they have as much to do with our biology as they do with our psychology.
So I don't think we should be so quick to scoff at those who come together as a result of the "powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession." Just as we should accept Josh's choice to de-prioritize sexual attraction in his marriage, we should accept those who forge their relationships in the biological fires of passion. That is what acceptance is all about: not enshrining something as ideal, but accepting all the possibilities.
The second concern raised by this story is that it does nothing to further the rights of same-sex couples. A valid concern raised by Savage is that many in the anti-gay camp may see Josh's story and hold it up as proof that there is no need to recognize same-sex couples under the law. It's a valid concern: while Josh asks everyone love and accept gay people in their lives and fight the urge to pressure them to live in a way that is not genuine to them, he doesn’t say anything about gay marriage. It’s clear that in his mind, in accordance with his faith, marriage between anyone other than a man and a woman is not acceptable.
But there is something valuable, if distasteful in that message, too, because it shows privileged groups (in this case monogamous heterosexual couples) that being anything but monogamous and heterosexual frequently requires people to make really painful, sometimes completely alienating choices in their lives. Not often are the heterosexual, monogamous types, forced to choose between everything we know and who we are.
But within Josh's choice, which I have said is valuable to consider, I also see something that is of particular concern: the expectation that children must be born of a man and a woman within the bond of marriage.
I understand that this is a question of faith and appreciate that Josh made a point to clarify that he doesn't think of children born outside the bonds of matrimony between a man and wife to be "counterfeit," but I nevertheless worry about the trend in various religion toward reproductive oppression.
Only a few months ago the Pope spoke out against in vitro fertilization, calling fertility treatments a sin, telling Catholics worldwide that creating a child outside the act of sex between a man and a wife is inhuman and undignified. One more moderate Lutheran paper on the topic warned that many see the donation of sperm or eggs as adultery, even if no actual sexual act occurs to conceive the child. The same, it should be noted, is believed of surrogacy and embryo transfer. In “A Biblical Response to Baby-Making,” Dawn McColley writes:
Not only is it permissible that only married couples attempt to have a baby, but because of the exclusivity of the relationship, it is important that only those two be involved. Some call the use of third party donor gametes (i.e., sperm and ova) adultery, even though there has been no physical unfaithfulness. Regardless of the name given to it, the use of donor gametes is an act that includes a third party in an event that was meant to remain strictly within the marriage covenant.
Because of the special union in marriage, problems such as infertility are shared by both spouses and should be borne by both. Our traditional marriage vows say, "for better for worse… in sickness and in health." By using the gametes of a donor, the fertile spouse refuses to share the burden. This refusal to share burdens is not a Biblical response to God's will, nor is it the way Christian spouses ought to treat each other. Children are not the sole, sacred purpose of marriage. If God has chosen to withhold that blessing from one spouse, He necessarily chose to withhold it from the other.
Adoption may be viewed as a Christian act of charity, and children may be welcomed into the fold, but recent emphasis on reproductive policy among various faiths has made it painfully clear to me that acceptance is not always a given. Just last week I was told a terrible story of a woman who stopped speaking with her brother because he and his wife, who could not conceive, had decided to adopt a little boy. Instead of being glad to see her brother finally starting a family, the woman asked him and his wife to look into themselves and question whether they were doing the right thing. Clearly, God didn’t see fit to bless them with children. How could they so openly defy Him?
It’s a very complicated issue, and deeply troubling, for rarely within the arguments will you find anything resembling love for one another, gentleness and kindness -- only shame and judgment.
I don't think that was Josh Weed's intention when he decided to sit down and share his inner truth with the world, but his truth does raise some very important questions about what our choices signal to other people. It is my hope that those who read this will take away his message about how important it is to accept one another and love, and not hold his story up as something to further oppress and hurt the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or anyone who doesn't fit into the perfect, cookie-cutter mold that, somewhere along the history of our species, we decided was the only combination worthy of rights and acceptance.