Editors’ Note: During our honeymoon, we've asked a few friends to write guest posts around the topic of faith and sexuality. This week we offer a reflection from a friend who is a gay male married to a woman. For the privacy of his family, we are not using his name.
Constantino and David asked me if I’d be interested in writing about my experiences as a gay man in a mixed-orientation marriage. I was humbled and deeply honored that The Boys™ asked me to contribute to their blog. The honest words these two men have written as they’ve documented their prayerful entry into the holy covenant of marriage have, on more than a few occasions, pierced my heart…and caused my eyeballs to leak.
My story doesn’t have an ending yet, and so my beginning still feels muddled and pointless. I don’t feel qualified to write about what I’ve experienced, because I’m still stuck in my story’s second act. I’m gay; I’m married to a woman; she married me knowing I was gay; and we got married believing we were doing what God wanted us to do. That’s a great setup for an interesting story, but what happens next?
Despite my reservations about what I would write, I told fear to hop in the back seat and let me do the driving. After a failed first attempt, several sleepless nights, and a lot of soul searching, I finally came up with a list of the six things I’ve learned from being in a M.O.M.
Good God, psychology, could we not have come up with a better acronym?
1. God is not in the business of changing sexual orientation.
It took nearly 35 years of old theology, being bullied, guilt, shame, self-loathing, suicidal thoughts, reparative therapy, thousands of dollars in counseling fees, dying-to-self, getting married, confused as to why I didn’t “work right,” reading every Joe Dallas book I could get my hands on, memorizing Bible verses, praying more, trying so hard to be somebody I’m not, and a heart-felt conviction that God had the power to change me, before I finally conceded that the belief system under which I’d been operating just didn’t work.
I never believed that getting married would make the gay go away. But I did believe that God would honor my decision and give me the strength and the desire to make it work. I didn’t get married for love; I got married for God. Don’t ever get married for God. I wrongfully accused God of making false promises. It wasn’t God who vowed to bless my obedience, or to give me a big family, or to change my sexual orientation. Those were all promises made by people in the church, and unfortunately it was God who received the brunt of my anger when none of those promises came true.
Isn’t it funny that the “homosexual experts” in our churches are usually the people who have no familiarity with homosexuality whatsoever? Apparently a handful of dubiously interpreted Bible verses and the “gross out” factor trumps the experiences of real people who are daily working out their salvation as they try to figure out what it means to be unchangeably gay and in love with God all at the same time.
A milestone of spiritual maturity is when a person, in all humility, is able to let go of the dogmatic teachings of their youth and trust the wisdom they’ve gleaned from a lifetime of experiences. My experiences have emblazed upon my heart one simple truth: God loves LGBTQ people, exactly the way they are—no change required.
2. I am responsible for my own decisions…but it’s OK to get mad about it from time to time.
I did blame the church, God, and everyone else for years. And to be honest, many of those people should shoulder some of the culpability. With great authority, they preached a damaging and destructive message during some of my most formative years. And they told me that if I didn’t espouse their beliefs, the loving God that we worshipped on Sunday, the same God who loved “all the children of the world” would cast me into the fiery pits of hell and forget about me for all eternity. Not really a belief system you want to instill into an 8-year-old who is already prone to fear and still learning not to pick his nose.
The story of how my heart and mind began to change in regard to my acceptance of my own sexuality is a long one (which I’ll save for another time). But unfortunately it was a process that didn’t begin in earnest until after my wife and I walked the aisle.
There I was, a brand new husband suddenly struck with the possibility that maybe God didn’t really care all that much about my sexuality after all.
Really bummer timing, God!
I was so angry that somebody (ahem, God) changed the rules after I started playing the game.
But eventually I learned that moving forward in life was only going to happen if I owned my decisions, even the decisions I made based on bad information, even the decisions I could rightfully blame on others. I needed to go through a season of hurt and finger pointing; I needed to be the victim for a while. But I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life from that place and expect to grow at the same time.
3. If you are waiting for the world to change before you change, you will never change.
This may be the greatest lesson that I learned over the last 10 years. It’s one thing to stop blaming people; it’s another thing to release them from the expectation of changing. I got over my anger at the church, but deep down inside I still wanted my former pastors and Sunday school teachers to send me letters of apology for the decades of damaging theological instruction they had thrust upon me.
Even though my parents did the best they could, I wanted them to become enlightened and own the fact that they raised me in an environment of fear and legalism; I wanted them to suddenly love me for who I was and joyously sign the proverbial “permission slip” that allowed me to go forth and become the man I was created to be (yes, even at 41, I still yearn for my parents’ approval).
Even though my wife knowingly married a gay man, I wanted her to acknowledge the fact that maybe we made a mistake; I wanted her to release me from the heavy chains of heterosexual expectations that hang around my neck every single day; I wanted my wife to want me to be the fullest version of myself, even if that meant loving me enough to let me go.
But I now know that most of these things will probably never happen. It was a day of awakening when I came to the sobering realization that I was putting the burden of change on everybody else. If the world changed for me, then I didn’t have to assume responsibility, and if things went wrongly, I could just call myself a victim.
I’m still married; I’m still sorting it all out, and I’m still wrestling with this particular lesson. But down deep inside, I know that the responsibility of change rests on me.
4. Not all mixed-orientation marriages are doomed to failure.
As an 89.9% liberated gay man, I’m supposed to hate those reparative therapy groups to which I devoted so many hours. But I do not.
I’d be the first to advocate for the total eradication of such groups, especially for minors and young adults. But even through my broken experiences with Exodus and other like-groups, I still uncovered a nugget or two of human truth.
These groups exposed me to a diversity of people in a spectrum of situations. It didn’t take long for me to see that no LGBTQ person is knitted together in the same way. All of our stories, our sexual proclivities, our attractions, our emotional and physical needs are as complex as the depths of the oceans and as unknowable as the breadth of the cosmos.
For me to assume that I am so enlightened that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt the path another human being should take is, in my opinion, the height of human arrogance, and it debases the dignity and self-worth of the life-experiences of others. I know gay men in mixed-orientation marriages who claim to be happy. Who am I to question their happiness? But their happiness is not proof that their path is the right path for me or anyone else.
5. I am missing out on a deeply physical and emotional relationship with a man—but so is my wife.
For years, I played the victim. I bemoaned the fact that I was walking through this life without intimacy, healthy sexual fulfillment, or that deep companionship that everyone longs for in a committed relationship. And then one day, it hit me: My wife is walking through life in exactly the same way.
And some days I wonder if, perhaps for her, the experience is even worse. She has all of the natural yearnings that any healthy heterosexual woman should have. She wants to be loved, cherished, empowered, encouraged, supported, sexually desirable, and reminded that she is beautiful in every way. My wife wants me, and yet I walk through the door every single day, not wanting her physically. I can’t imagine what that does to the fabric of her soul. I do love my wife, but it’s a platonic love, and nobody writes poems about that.
But despite all of our struggles, my wife gets out of bed every morning with a smile on her face and a skip in her step. She credits God for the joy that seems to pour out of her. Neither one of us has fully abandoned the possibility of discovering what we call a “third” choice—a magical, ne’er-before-considered option that would sustain and fulfill our relationship. But that option has yet to present itself, and so we stagnate in this uncomfortable limbo.
I often tell people that the decision to stay or leave would be so much easier if my wife was a horrible person, but dammit, I picked a good one. I’d be an utter fool to leave a woman who loves me this much…wouldn’t I?
I’ll spend the rest of my life going out of my way to discourage people from knowingly entering into mixed-orientation marriages—and you’d be shocked by how many people I still meet who are considering it. But for the men and women who are already in one, I will never tell them what to do.
I have two groups of friends, those who don’t know my wife and those who do. The first group is typically cavalier with their advice. They say things like, “I know it’s hard, but divorce will set you both free.” But the second group, the group who knows us both, is far more cautious with their words.
If you know someone struggling in a mixed-orientation marriage, they have very likely played out the scenario of divorce a thousand times in their minds. And if they still haven’t figured out what to do, your loving, stern advice isn’t going to make their situation any easier. Just love on those people: validate the seemingly impossible nature of their situation; give them permission to make whatever decision they need to make; do a whole lot of listening; and don’t get frustrated when you think they’re moving slower than they should. There is definitely a time and a place for objective opinions and definitive interventions, but the older I get the more I realize that those times are exceptionally rare.
6. I Corinthians 13 has absolutely nothing to do with romantic love.
I was told that “I Corinthians 13” love was all I needed to make my marriage work: patience, kindness, selflessness, blah blah blah. Not true. While all of those traits are fundamental aspects of love, marital love includes one more critical attribute: sexual desire. Without it, even the greatest of marriages amounts to two good friends sharing a house together. What’s missing is eros.
Eros is a frightening type of love, full of sensual, romantic, intimate feelings that most Christians don’t want to talk about. We owe our species’ existence to eros. It is because of eros that two lovers feel a deep connection when their bodies, vulnerable in their full nakedness, come together and engage in an indefinable exchange of spirit. It’s an experience so strong that poets have speculated that, in sex, we transcend reality and soar with the angels. Eros binds two people together. It transcends the notion that love is simply something we cognitively choose to do.
I don’t know if I can take one more sermon that references I Corinthians 13 as the ultimate standard of marital love, especially sermons that fail to mention the importance of sexuality and the need for sensual connection. There is a time and a place for New Testament love in any relationship, including marriage, but if the quality of love you have for your cantankerous next-door neighbor is the exact same love sustaining your marriage, your marriage is in trouble.
Well, there you have it. These are just a few of the lessons I’ve gleaned while traversing harrowing twists and turns of a mixed-orientation marriage. I have no idea how all of this ties together or how my story ends, but each new day and every new experience brings about just a tiny bit more clarity.
If I were to ask for prayer my request would be this: Whatever path my wife and I take next, our steps would be illuminated, and whether our paths diverge or remain one and the same, we’d be in agreement about how we should move forward. But in the event we cannot reach an agreement, I pray that neither one of us will remain imprisoned in our situation or demand imprisonment of the other.
And my prayer for those of you who are in mixed-orientation marriages is that you will be able to find life despite the weight of your situation, and that if you need to make hard decisions you will find the courage to do so. I urge you to reach out to the growing number of LGBTQ Christians and their allies who would be honored to love you and listen to you through your process. You are not, by any means, alone!
Oh wait. I thought of a seventh thing...
7. I like flowers.
Despite all of the pain and agony of being in a mixed-orientation marriage, it is often within the beauty of the tiniest things that I see God. I see Him in the beauty of nature and I see Him in the gifts that we give and receive.
And, to be perfectly honest, I hope someday I get to experience what it feels like to get the gift of flowers from a man.
And that is all I have to say about that.