Random Thoughts on Exgay Marriage

November 5, 2006

I said in the comments of the previous thread:

On a side note, I think it’s fine for people to enter into hetero marriage even if they haven’t experienced much attraction change as long as they are clear with themselves and their prospective spouse about what the score is.

Lynn from Noli Irritare Leones replied further downthread:

I see two issues: 1) Honesty, with yourself and your prospective spouse, and 2) Not marrying in the anticipation that you or your prospective spouse will radically change. I wince at accounts of ex-gay marriages where it took months or a year or whatever to consummate the marriage, not because everyone has to consummate their marriage on the wedding day (or even ever) – that’s up to the two people involved, as long as they stand by their vows to each other with whatever sexual relationship they actually have. No, it’s more when those stories wind up sounding to me as if people are being told, well, maybe you’re not attracted to your future spouse yet (or maybe your future spouse isn’t attracted to you yet), but give it time, and eventually, some good long time after the wedding, you’ll both desire each other.

I agree with her very strongly overall, but might differ a little in the details. A couple of additional thoughts sparked by her comments.

Sex:

One thing I realize is that in my initial statement I was primarily thinking about homo-attracted women. I have some slight reservations about exclusively homo-attracted men. That’s because while I think that heterosexual attraction is optional in a marriage, I think heterosexual activity is somewhat less optional. So there’s the issue of male “performance.”

Now, I personally suspect that many if not most exclusively homo-attracted men could perform heterosexually without relying on sinful fantasy, as long as they had a little understanding assistance from their wives, but I am hardly an expert about such things. I was only ever intimate with one gay guy, back in high school. (Remember how my mom told me I had to go get some hetero experience?) He didn’t appear to have any trouble, but for all I know he could have been dreaming about hunky guys the whole time. So, if I’m wrong about this, and if homo-attracted guys are truly permanently incapable of having sex with a woman, then I retract my initial bold statement.

I just feel a little weird saying it’s okay for a couple to marry with the intention of never having sex. I don’t want to get into iron-clad rules here about What Marriage Is For and who should or shouldn’t get married (life is complicated!!!), but I’d be inclined to ask each half of such a couple: Why are you getting married? I’m not saying there’s absolutely no way they could answer that question correctly, only that I think there’s a real question there.

A hetero woman said to me the other day, “You know, I realized that all the things I want in a guy, I can find so much more readily in a dog.” I don’t fully approve of her view (even though I am a “dog ex-lesbian” rather than a “cat ex-lesbian”), but at least she’s thinking outside the box and asking the right question: What am I looking for, and what kinds of relationships can provide it? Some homo-attracted people say they want to get married simply so they don’t have to be alone. But there are other ways of not being alone. They’ve been much neglected as of late, but they’re out there.

Along the same lines, I don’t really understand those exgay marriages that take months or years to consummate. I especially don’t understand the exgay endorsement/acceptance of such a pattern. From an article in the NY Blade on the 2005 Exodus conference:

“Men are ready for marriage when their desire to be protected becomes a desire to protect,” Worthen said. “A man should also have three years of celibacy,” he added, “and have been free of pornography and masturbation for some time.” [...]The Worthens said physical intimacy should proceed slowly, and it is best to wait until marriage to experiment with deep kissing. There should be no commitment to sexual performance on the wedding night, they said, and some prudent couples wait a year after marriage before even attempting sexual intercourse.

I have no desire to be the marital sex police, and I don’t want to be mean or judgmental toward the people who take a while. But that this should be considered all well and good, par for the course, etc.–that concerns me. The way I see it, if you don’t think you’re going to be able to attempt intercourse with your spouse for a year, then why don’t you wait a year to get married? A “desire to protect” just may not be enough. If you’re going to get married, then I think you should be ready to at least try to do the things that generally go along with being married. It’s one thing if you run into unexpected difficulty, but to plan on taking a year…that sounds bizarre to me. It seems too entangled with the sort of expectation that Lynn mentions, the assumption that something will be radically different a year from now. Well…maybe it will, and maybe it won’t. It’s fine to hope and dream and pray, but you’d better be prepared.

Conditionality:

Lynn mentions how she “winces” at the implicit exgay suggestion that, “maybe you’re not attracted to your future spouse yet (or maybe your future spouse isn’t attracted to you yet), but give it time, and eventually, some good long time after the wedding, you’ll both desire each other.”

I wince at this too. I think such a couple has all the reason in the world to expect that their relationship can change, grow, and deepen. But I don’t think they should expect that romantic/sexual attraction will necessarily be part of that (especially if there isn’t any to begin with), or that the degree of change will make everything picture-perfect.

What I would be even more adamant about, however, is that they be resolved that their marriage will not be conditional on any attraction change occurring. I worry that some people’s attitude (maybe conscious, maybe subconscious) is as follows: I’ll do this marriage thing, because God will make it work out (even if it doesn’t look promising right now.) God will make me love and desire my spouse in exactly the same way I loved and desired all my same-sex partners, if not more. If He doesn’t, then it’s clearly not a real marriage or what He would want for me, so I’ll divorce and get a gay partner.

Over and over (and over) again I read exexgay testimonies where the exexgay goes on and on about how much he loved (and in more than a few cases greatly enjoyed sex with) his wife, and loved his kids, but how it just wasn’t the same as with a man, how he was more his “true self” with a male partner. He loved his wife and maybe loved sleeping with her as well, but his “true sexual orientation” was still gay. When I read such stories I can’t help but wonder if the difference between exexgays and happy exgays isn’t so much a difference in experience as it is a difference in perspective. When they get to that “being true to my true sexual orientation” part, I find myself thinking “So what?”

I’ll be blisteringly honest with you. (A pleasant change from my usual sugarcoating and whitewashing, eh?) For all I know, my “true sexual orientation” might still be more suited to a gay relationship than a hetero one. Developing a sexual appreciation for men (and my husband in particular) hasn’t brought about an amnesia regarding the finer points of the fairer sex. There are trade-offs. Women will always be beautiful and amazing, and I don’t think I would really want to become blind to that, even if I could. And whether it’s because of some Innate True Authentic Ultimate Eternal Deep Homosexual Self, or because of the simple force of habit from thinking, feeling, and loving one way for so many years, or because of some other reason, there are undoubtedly ways in which loving a woman would feel easier, more comfortable, more natural to me right now. And maybe it’ll be that way for the rest of my life. Old dogs and new tricks and all that.

But this doesn’t bother me, because for me there is no competition between the two, no decision to be debated, no weighing of alternatives. However natural a gay relationship might feel, it has not been a viable choice since my conversion in ’98, when the good Lord sat me down and had a little word with me about my woman-lovin’ ways. And, far more importantly, I’m married now. So even if I were someday persuaded that God smiles on same-sex coupling, it would still not be an option for me. I said “forsaking all others,” and I meant it, and by God’s grace I plan to live it.

I just don’t see my marriage as being conditional on how much I’m enjoying it, on how fulfilling I find it, on whether it’s more appealing to me than getting a girlfriend. As it happens, right now I’m in love with my husband and very much attracted to him. I pounce on him when I see him. Just looking at him makes a smile break out wide enough to about split my head in two. He delights me more than any other human being I have ever known.

Yet I know that could fade or change over time. This could all be a phase, a mere blip. I have, after all, spent most of my life as a sexual being drawn solely and overwhelmingly to women. I could “revert” tomorrow. Of course, I hope that doesn’t happen! But even if it did happen, my marriage would still be a true marriage. It would still be a commitment, a covenant that God calls me to keep, and one that I would fully intend to honor by God’s grace and in His strength. And there would still be plenty of ways in which I could love my husband, and bless him as his partner in this our shared life together, and plenty of ways in which he could love and bless me in return. We could still enjoy our many shared interests together. We could still be each other’s best friends, constant and faithful. We could still take responsibility for each other’s well-being, and be committed to caring for each other til death do us part. And if God sees fit to bless us with children or to give us the opportunity to adopt, we could still share that awesome responsibility of loving them and raising them, and setting before them an example of what it means to be a man or a woman, a husband or a wife. These are the things I see as being the very heart and substance of marriage, and are things that don’t depend in the slightest on sexual passion.

I know that such a marriage, like the kind of never-mutually-attracted exgay marriage discussed above, would be considered “loveless,” a “sham,” and a “lie” in the eyes of some. I know that some would insist that if my attraction for my husband falters, and my homosexual desires come rushing back in full force, the right thing for me to do would be to “set my husband free” so he could be with someone who could “really love” him. But you know, I didn’t promise my husband that he will ever have the wife he deserves, the wife who will be able to “really love” him as she ought. No, I promised him that he will have me, straight or queer, crappy wife or great wife, come hell or high water, for as long as I have something to say about it. :)


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