A post-review of TLC’s My Husband’s Not Gay
Last week I defended TLC’s right to air the show My Husband’s Not Gay, and I stand by my words. Namely, sexuality is complicated and fluid, and at least we’re having a conversation about being “same sex attracted” and married. While those are true, the show clearly exhibited that we still have a long way to go to address religious homophobic bigotry. I suspect that ten years from now, watching this show will be as uncomfortable as watching an episode of All in the Family now.
While watching My Husband’s Not Gay, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking back to the conversations we had in the Love in Action offices when I worked in the ex-gay ministry. The off-color and sometimes sexually suggestive jokes we had amongst our ministry staff were much more telling than we allowed ourselves to admit. An attractive guy didn’t go unnoticed, as we traveled the country speaking our message of freedom from this “same-sex attraction.”
Like these guys, who, by the way, are involved in the Mormon version of pseudo ex-gay ministry, NorthStar International, we made a distinction between our “godly lifestyle” and the “gay lifestyle.” Godly meant patriarchal marriages, children, prayer, Bible reading and church. Gay meant sex, sex, sex. You know, like ALL gay people do all day long.
We, too, chose our words carefully when discussing our “same sex attractions.” It was impossible for us to be gay because we were Christians. Being gay was simply unacceptable to God. To prove we weren’t gay, we didn’t have gay sex. If we had gay sex, then we would be gay because that’s what gay people do. They are incapable of love. The Bible says so.
After several of us ex-gays married, we talked in the office about sex with our wives. Sometimes we giggled like schoolboys, and all but admitted there were certain things we weren’t about to do. Sex was usually awkward. Nevertheless, we were fulfilling our mission to live our godly, straight lives. We believed things would just continue to get better.
The show did a fabulous job (and I hope fabulous isn’t too gay of a term) of representing homophobic religious bigotry in all its glory, poignantly highlighting the religious stereotypes of what men do – play basketball, perform sex and choose their wives, and what women do – giddily proclaim, “he chose me!” have babies, and go on hikes with their girlfriends. One wife said of the men that it was “healing to have good non-sexual relationships with guys that they can just go and be guys with.”
(For the record, we gay people have non-sexual relationships with the guys we hang out with, too.)
A mixed orientation marriage is never a “normal” marriage. If one of the partners is straight and the other partner gay, unable to be sexually and romantically attracted to the straight partner, there is an added layer that is very difficult to overcome. On one level, a mixed orientation marriage is like everyone else’s marriage. Living with someone in the same house and sleeping in the same bed is difficult. Finances, child-rearing, and home responsibilities can put a strain on any relationship. But, no matter what they say, same sex attraction is almost always in the forefront of their minds.
In fact, at the point that one of the husbands told his wife he was going to go on a camping trip with a few men, the fear in her eyes, along with the barrage of questioning made it quite clear she was concerned. He acknowledged that when some men had stayed at their house in the past, something inappropriate happened. The viewers were left to figure out what that meant. Once trust has been broken in a marriage where one is gay, it is difficult to get back. Unless the straight partner has buried his or her head in the sand, the suspicion always remains.
On that note, I found it ironic that the men told their friend, whom they’d set up on a blind date, to not tell his date of his attractions to men. “No way I would tell her on my first date,” one of them said. Is this the Christian honesty they are supporting by lying to potential mates about being gay?
Herein lies the main problem with homophobic bigotry from religious organizations. The ideology becomes the Holy Grail. One lie serves to protect God and faith from another lie. The act of lying about sexual identity and dating a woman until she’s emotionally involved with a man before he tells her he’s gay is manipulative. It’s what most of the men did on the show, and then turned around and told their friend to keep that information from her on the first date.
I recently interviewed John Paulk for an upcoming documentary. He shared his experience on the Oprah Winfrey Show when Oprah asked him if he was still attracted to men. “No,” he said, “I’m no longer attracted to men.” The audience laughed. Paulk went on to share that in hindsight they laughed because they knew he was lying. He was unprepared to face his own homosexuality and, in fact, proclaimed he had been changed for nearly 20 more years.
For most sane, reasoning people, the show was an obvious farce. Exchanges between spouses and friends felt awkward. We easily read between the lines, though we may have respected their desire to honor their faith. For those trapped in conservative religious ideology, the show offered an “alternative to an alternative lifestyle,” as one of the men said. It held out false hope to people who believe that their Bible tells them there is something wrong with them and they are broken.
So, yes, I’m glad the show aired. I’m glad the conversation is being had and I know there are many people who could identify with the struggle these couples experience. While I believe in every person’s right to choose the way he or she wants to live, it is evident that the choices are still highly influenced by homophobic bigotry. Conservative religious people have been sold a bill of goods, that homosexuality is a single lifestyle, it is unnatural, and that people cannot live happy, fulfilled lives, even having a relationship with God. That’s the part that still needs to change.
Photo – TLC