I have to admit I rolled my eyes when I first heard this show was going on the air. I despise reality TV. It seems like the sole purpose of these shows is to scrape the bottom of the barrel of humanity and exploit it for advertising dollars. It’s no wonder patriotism is so low in this country. If Housewives and Kardashians represent the rest of us, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We’re a nation with too much money and not enough self-respect.
This show, however, is different. I believe it is truly representative of what has been going on in our culture and churches. For decades. Society, usually influenced by conservative religion, tries to force people into neat boxes of gender and sexuality.
We, as human beings, like categories and labels. I made a point of saying in my book that as long as we can neatly put someone in a box – black people are dangerous, gay men are promiscuous, white evangelicals are greedy republicans, etc. – then we don’t have to waste our time getting to know people and share in their humanity. It’s easier to point fingers, criticize and blame. By exempting ourselves from the problem, we exclude ourselves of the responsibility of finding a solution.
TLC’s show does two things: It stretches the boundaries of sexual orientation labels and it brings attention to the plight of people trying to reconcile their lives with their religion.
Let’s Remove the Labels
I have often said that if it weren’t for many of the other issues my ex-wife and I brought into our marriage, we would probably still be married and I would still be in the ex-gay movement. Does reparative therapy work? Absolutely not. There is not an ounce of credibility to people attempting to change their sexual orientation from gay to straight. However, research has shown that people’s sexual fluidity can expand, meaning we are not stuck in the 0-6 model of the Kinsey Scale. It’s not as cut and dry as we once thought it was and it is possible for a man with gay attractions to be married to, and satisfied with, a heterosexual marriage. The same can be said of a woman with primarily lesbian attractions.
Getting married for love, mostly a Western idea, is not the only reason to get married. There are those who choose to marry for financial reasons, religious reasons, or cultural reasons. Marriages are sometimes arranged. Even those who marry for love, are not necessarily physically, or sexually attracted to each other. There are different kinds of love.
People can be romantically attracted to one gender, sexually attracted to another gender, or even asexual, not sexually attracted to anyone. Humans are a complex mixture of DNA, biology, psychology and social influences. Our brains contain the ability to adapt and physically change, building new neuro pathways for our situations. So, as much as we would like to say to the bisexual, “Make up your mind!” He or she is wired to experience sexual attraction to both genders equally.
Our American society is divided by race, gender, politics and even sexuality. We’ve been conditioned to look for people “on our team,” instead of learning to embrace and accept people as they are, wherever they are on their journeys. Not being able to categorize and label makes us uncomfortable.
The question to ask ourselves is, why do we feel the need to tell someone who is gay they must live the lives WE think they need to live? Isn’t that what the conservative extremist religions do? How are we any different? How can we say the churches don’t have the answers but we do?
Let’s Get Real
My biggest problem with the conservative church isn’t that gay people marry straight women. I know a number of them who have married straight women. Yes, I could tell stories of cheating and struggle. Certainly, there are those who wish they never married a woman. But then, I could tell the same stories of straight couples who cheated, struggled and wish they had never married. My biggest problem with the conservative church in regards to mixed orientation marriages has been the dishonesty. When one partner claims to be straight through a religious experience, though he is not, or denies feeling attracted to the same gender while hiding the shame of gay pornography is a lie.
The families in the TLC show have the courage to do something it took me years to admit, they are same-sex attracted. Okay, so they don’t want to call it gay. Whatever. Besides, let’s be honest, part of the reason it took so long for me to take on the gay label is because I wasn’t about the stereotypical gay pride parades, gay bars and gay culture. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, something with which I could identify.
At least now we’re talking about this. At least now these men aren’t sitting alone with their own thoughts figuring out deceptive ways to look normal in their religion, appeasing their parents and lying to themselves. At least now they are not actively searching, or attending an ex-gay ministry to try and fix them. At least now the very real internal battle is something we can see and talk about. This show wouldn’t have aired ten years ago, or maybe even five years ago. It’s a baby step, but it’s still a step in the direction toward an honest conversation.
So you’re gay and you want to get married to a woman and have children. As long as it’s all on the table, you’re being honest with the person you’re marrying, not telling people you’re something you’re not in the name of religion, then more power to you. I wish you a happy life.
That being said, do these men feel they have to marry the opposite sex to be happy and appease their religious ideologies? The very real truth of the matter is that homophobia is ingrained in our culture. It almost always comes from conservative religion and it’s taught us as a society to be ashamed of being different, or not fitting into a category. Sadly, I suspect the show will highlight the very real internalized homophobia these men feel.
I support TLC’s decision to air the show because I believe the religious audience, some of whom send messages to me on a regular basis, will be able to identify with the very real situation these families are in. As much as I despise reality TV, when there is something in it with which we as a country can relate, it becomes more about reality than TV. Let’s hope that’s the case next Sunday night.
Photo: Screen Capture/TLC Video