Protests are mounting against the unfortunate TLC reality show My Husband’s Not Gay, airing this Sunday. The special describes itself as following “four men living in Salt Lake City, Utah, who don’t identify themselves as homosexual despite having an attraction to men.”
Almost immediately after the program’s teaser was released in December, the protests began. Change.org has launched a petition that, as of this afternoon, had garnered 67,900 e-signatures. “I’m urging you to cancel your upcoming special, My Husband’s Not Gay, which promotes the false message that gay people can and should choose to be straight in order to be part of their faith communities,” begins the petition.
Meanwhile, the co-hosts of The Young Turks freely share their opinions. The female host is hyper-critical of the men’s wives, whom she sees as exploiting their husbands and forcing them to conceal their homosexual identity. (This point about secrecy is sorely undermined by the families’ apparent agreement to tell their stories on national television.)
“. . . for a woman who . . . knows that her husband is gay and that he’s forcing a heterosexual relationship, well then you’re stupid. You really shouldn’t enable that.”
But the Young Turks are missing a key component of the subject matter here, which is that these women and their gay husbands have been taught to not even have “gay” as a category. There’s a third option between open-mindedness and stupidity, which is church-sanctioned denial. These women can say with a straight face that their husbands find men sexually attractive but are not gay, because that’s what they truly believe.
There is room now for same-sex attraction in the LDS Church—“a struggle to be overcome!” —but there is not yet room for a homosexual identity.
This insistence on homosexuality being a struggle to overcome can lead to tragic consequences when LGBT young people find that, in fact, they can’t overcome it. Suicide and homelessness are realities for too many LGBT Mormon youth.
And when the denial of a person’s sexual identity leads to the extreme measure of taking on a “straight” marriage in order to remain fully in the fold, it is, ironically, damaging to the family, the very institution that the LDS Church claims to be defending.
As a Mormon I’ve known three women who married men they later learned were gay; one of those women, the writer and poet Carol Lynn Pearson, wrote the beautiful memoir Good-Bye, I Love You: The True Story of a Wife, Her Homosexual Husband, and a Love Honored for Time and All Eternity.
Her family’s heartbreak occurred in the mid-1970s, when Mormon men were told in no uncertain terms that homosexuality was “an ugly sin . . . degenerate . . . revolting . . . [and] unnatural,” in the words of then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball. Men who were attracted to other men were taught to marry women to conquer those urges.
It’s safe to say that the Church as an institution has quietly stopped telling gay men to marry women, so we can count that as a small win compared to 40 years ago. Instead, LGBT Mormons are now the religion’s only people to be steered toward a celibate life—forever.
But while the Church as an institution is no longer pushing gay people into heterosexual marriage as a “cure,” some individual Mormons who are trying to be faithful to the gospel are still embracing that dubious solution—hence the TLC show.
I didn’t sign the petition because I haven’t seen the program. I suspect it will be critical, even mocking, of these families’ choices rather than “promoting” them, which the petition seems to assume. Mormons who watch the show may cry foul at the way our religion is portrayed, and indeed it could well be entirely one-dimensional—it was reality television, after all, that brought us such gems as Amish in the City. The throwback music and old-fashioned ice skating depicted in the trailer for My Husband’s Not Gay do not bode well for a nuanced portrait of our faith.
However, I expect that Mormon discomfort with the program will also stem from a sinking realization that these couples’ lives—and, more sadly, their children’s—are constructed on a cracked foundation.
And this is a fracture that the Church has encouraged—either in actual policy, as in Pearson’s day, or in ethos, as in ours. If any good comes from this unfortunate reality show, perhaps it will be in putting a human face on the problem.