Random Thoughts on Exgay Marriage

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. :)

32 Responses to Random Thoughts on Exgay Marriage

  1. pam says:

    wow. just wow.

    you certainly nailed my circumstance square on the head.

    *sigh*

  2. Vanessa says:

    I’m really glad that you don’t post that often. This is such a heavy topic. It would be too much to think about if you posted every day.

    As I was reading your entry, I couldn’t help but think about Ted Haggard. I’m not convinved that Ted is gay. I think he got intrigued by something that’s considered taboo. But I’ve been wondering, what if Ted is gay but he chooses to stay with his wife? My guess is that he has had/would continue to have the kind of relationship you describe here in your post.

  3. Jay says:

    Let me just diva out for a moment and say “You go girl!”

    Okay, now that I’m back, let me just say that was an amazing post. You’re the first ex-gay blogger I’ve seen to recognize that there might be a difference between an ex-gay man and an ex-gay woman. That’s something I’ve always thought about, but I haven’t raised it because I’ve been too afraid to offend people’s sensibilities. But you’re right. There is a difference. Personally, I don’t know if I’d be able to perform sexually if I just had to rely on the stimulation of a woman. And asking for her “assistance” just seems unfair to her. Doesn’t a woman deserve a man who can love her fully–because he is attracted to her mind, body, and soul? Maybe there are some truly generous, amazing, and self-sacrificial women out there who would be willing to put up with the difficulty of having me for a husband. I just don’t know where to look for them, which is why I’m not. Plus, I don’t want anyone to have to sacrifice for me.

    BTW, I just blogged about Calvinist vs. Arminian theology (particularly my problems with Calvinism). If you’d like, I’d love to hear your perspective, since you seem to have a great understanding of theology and Scripture.

  4. New reader says:

    What a fascinating post.

    I’m a new reader, and am certainly enjoying your particular style of exgay(whatever)ness. The idea that god blesses a marriage where both (or more worryingly, only one) of the participants feels romantic/sexual attraction to the other is quite challenging. On one hand, as someone who’s been married for 14 years, I understand that sexual attraction, even if it is overwhelming strong in the beginning of the marriage, typically fades after a few years – and this certainly isn’t a reason I’d choose not to honor my marital commitment and vows. But the goal of simply being celibate for the past three years seems like a dangerously flimsy base for a marriage. Covenant or not, we’re all human (ref. Ted Haggard), and if that’s the best one can get to (extended celibacy), maybe marriage isn’t meant for you?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great, honest thread. Love it! :-)

    A few thoughts. Frank Worthen is probably one of the most solid, stable leaders in ex-gay ministry — after 20 plus years no scandals, etc… That says something even to my cynical mind.

    Bearing that in mind, I am surmising that he probably knows the ex-gay story better than anyone (or at least as well as anyone). So, what he is describing — a marriage that the majority of straight would find untenable at the very least, gays *might* find reasonable and normal.

    Why get married? Oh, to have someone to come home to, to have someone’s shoulder to cry on when the biopsy comes back positive, to have a soul mate, a companion. And, if one is a Christian, I can certainly understand why an opposite sex partner would be chosen, yes even sans sex.

    Gay men and lesbians have married throughout time immemorial. Who is to say that their “sex lives” are less pleasing in the eyes of God than my straight parents’ was. And according to the Catholic Church, God was not happy with my mom and dad cause they used birth control.
    There will be always a human being (myself included) willing to give a critique. Humans being human.

    Now, the issue of can or can’t gay men have “successful” (focused and completed)sex with a woman — I am on a wonderful website called gaychristian.net

    There is such honesty because there is nothing to prove or gain by lying at this point in time for many of us. Many men *will* discuss their attractions and attempts to have sex with women in very honest (not graphic) terms. I believe them. There is no reason to lie. Anymore.

  6. jerubaal says:

    I’m a behaviorist when it comes to psychology. As such, I think anyone, and I mainly mean men but also women, can be trained through reward and punishment to have a sexual response to a given stimulus – and I mean ANY stimulus. I think the existence of paraphilias proves this out. Consequently, I think theoretically any marriage can work eventually.

    Whether that’s fair to the other person is a different question that depends on honesty and a host of other factors.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jerubaal,

    I am interested if you mean solely a *physical* response of pleasure or if you are referring to emotional/pleasure interest as well.

    Plenty of gay men and women have been “elsewhere” mentally during their hetero encounters. (Raises hand and am definitely not the only one ;-)

    On the surface the Pavlovian response sounds physical at best — which I guess would reduce us to our mammalian relatives. Something many Christians find distasteful at the very least.

  8. jerubaal says:

    Yeah, but I’m only targetting that one problem. I’m presuming that if you’re in the position of being trained (using behaviorist language) by your wife to have a sexual response to her, that you love her and are interested in her.

  9. Pam,

    Yeah, honestly I’ve got some issues w/ anger vs. Tdub. I just don’t understand. I know that sounds stupid…if YOU can be gracious and compassionate and forgiving towards him, why the @#$% can’t I? He certainly don’t owe me nothing. But for some reason it hit me really hard.

    Also, I’m sorry if I said something stupid. I’m pretty new to this marriage thing and no doubt very naive and idealistic in some ways.

    Vanessa:

    About the heaviness, yeah, I don’t know what to do about that. I do want to start posting more often. My cup runneth over with ideas…and I’m eager to try to get more of them out of my head. But at the same time, like you, I often find myself glad that I’m only posting every few weeks…simply because of the heaviness. Sometimes I wish I were just a little less intense. But I’d probably find that rather dull.

    About Haggard…I’ve been slow to say anything about him. This post was actually mostly written before the crap hit the fan with that. But in retrospect I guess it’s relevant. I suspect he is attracted to guys, but you’re right that the taboo effect is a real possibility, one that probably is a factor at least in part for some good little evangelical boys and girls. If he is exclusively same-sex attracted…ugh…yeah I guess on principle I’m bound to say that I hope he and his wife can work things out and restore their marriage. But honestly, if I were her…I gotta admit I really don’t know what I would do. I suspect it wouldn’t be very Christ-like.

    Jay:

    Now Jay, don’t diva out on me. You’ve been making such good progress! ;)

    I’m not saying that exclusively same-sex attracted people *should* get married. I think there are some enormous obstacles involved.

    Particularly this one: Even if we can intellectually recognize that for much of human history, romantic attraction had little to do with marriage, we can’t so easily escape our present reality. We all are born into and live in a culture where we dream of being madly in love with and wildly hot for the one we marry. So I think even a couple that could cerebrally accept the validity of a marriage without a lot of passionate attraction would be haunted by that dream. Which would be real hard.

    And wow…an invitation to hold forth on Calvinism! *salivates* You’re going to be sorry you asked! :)

    Other people: more replies a little later, hopefully!

  10. “I know that sounds stupid…if YOU can be gracious and compassionate and forgiving towards him, why the @#$% can’t I? He certainly don’t owe me nothing. But for some reason it hit me really hard.”

    I think sometimes it’s harder to be forgiving when it’s something you may have feared for yourself. At least, I feel that way sometimes (about temptations in general, not just sexual ones). Not that I think you (or I) will be leaving your husband for another woman any time soon. But still.

    “Even if we can intellectually recognize that for much of human history, romantic attraction had little to do with marriage, we can’t so easily escape our present reality. We all are born into and live in a culture where we dream of being madly in love with and wildly hot for the one we marry.”

    Yes, I think it’s really hard, in this culture, to build a marriage that doesn’t start with that passion. It reminds me of one of my uncles, who wrecked his marriage by first marrying, in what he thought was a rational way, a wife he wasn’t in love with, but who suited him in other ways, and then telling her after he’d married her that he’d never been in love with her. She never forgave him, and they soon divorced.

    In another culture, one might be able to build a marriage on much less romance and passion. But then it wouldn’t be going without the normal marriage based on falling in love that everyone else seems to have; it would be having the normal, not particularly passionate marriage that everyone else seems to have.

  11. New Reader:

    Welcome and thanks for the encouragement and sharing your perspective. Yeah, I share your concern and skepticism about the sufficiency of three years of celibacy to be a reliable guarantee of readiness for marriage.

    Anonymous:

    Yeah, I didn’t mean to diss Worthen. I really liked the account of him and his program given in Tanya Erzen’s Straight to Jesus. And he’s certainly been the stablest one of the bunch!

    I do understand why same-sex attracted people marry heterosexually. It’s just that part of me wonders if a better solution (at least in some cases ) would be to expand their relationship options. I think some might be better off with a deep kind of non-sexual friendship, or perhaps some kind of intentional community? “It is not good for man to be alone”…but it seems to me that there are different ways of not being alone. I just wonder if we are hurting same-sex attracted people by presenting to them only one alternative for companionship: hetero marriage. Because right now, that’s how Christian society tends to see it. Get married, or be lonely.

    I’m not trying to criticize anybody’s sex life. I’m just trying to brainstorm about ways in which to address the problem of troubled exgay marriages. I’m pretty sure that honesty and being realistic have got to be essential parts of that. I’m wondering aloud whether not marrying unless they’re feeling ready for heterosex would help too. I’m quite possibly full of @#$% on that. Your feedback welcome. :)

    I’ve heard conflicting things about homo-attracted male hetero performance. Some claim they had no trouble whatsoever with hetero sex, that they enjoyed it just fine. Some say that homoerotic fantasy is necessary to do anything. Others suggest that with the proper stimulation, it doesn’t matter much. Still others suggest that with intentional effort (I think of the behaviorist “training” sort Jerubaal mentions) it can be made to work. I’m no expert on male sexuality, hence my caveat. I’m not accusing anyone of lying…I’m just ignorant. :)

    You mention GCN–Is there a GCN discussion on this subject in one of the open forums? (I lurk occasionally, but I’m not registered.) If so, could you post the link?

    Jerubaal:

    I suspect you’re right that behavioristic “training” would work, but that sort of stuff makes me kinda squeamish, at least in a formal therapeutic context. I’m not sure who it is or isn’t fair to. It’s certainly not my ideal.

    I mean, I’m all for a very mild and gentle sort of behavioristic approach: i.e., try to make the experience as pleasant, comfortable, and enjoyable as possible for the person, try to create as many positive associations as possible. But beyond that, I guess it should be up to the couple in question.

    Lynn:

    “I think sometimes it’s harder to be forgiving when it’s something you may have feared for yourself.”

    Yeah possibly, but it’s a little more complicated than that. I think a lot of my emotional response had to do with the trust and vulnerability of marriage, which I’m still getting used to and which I still find a little bit scary. It doesn’t make it easier that, should our soon-to-commence intentional efforts to procreate succeed, we are planning on doing a rather “traditional” set-up where I will be the full-time parent, sans career and financial independence. (We have good reasons for this which have *zero* to do with rigid conceptions of gender roles.) So…seeing marital trust and vulnerability betrayed is really upsetting to me in ways that are pretty much independent of the whole homosexuality business. Marriage means (among other much brighter and happier things!) providing fallen human beings with an unusual ability to hurt us and mess up our lives in various ways. That’s scary to me…and the whole Tdub and Grace thing really played into that.

    (ack! more on your uncle and cultural views of marriage tomorrow. My eyelids are drooping!)

  12. einy says:

    I really feel like saying thanks for your intelligent blog DM. I’ve found it’s quite difficult to manoeuver the stormy seas of gay and exgay and identity issues. As your blog isn’t as agenda driven as many others I’ve read, it makes for an enlightening read with a lot of helpful insights.

    There are a few things in this post I’d like to comment on.

    First of all, the issue of homosexuals or lesbians in hetero marriages.
    I’d think, as mentioned by Leones, that honesty upfront must definitely
    be the way to do it. It must add so much strain to a marriage if this is kept
    as a secret. I’d not be able to feel real closeness with a wife if I knew that I
    kept this from her (and this includes both emotional and physical closeness).
    I’d also think that being able to be THIS honest with a prospective wife tells
    her a lot about ones intentions of honesty and openness in the relationship.

    However, if the guys that DO marry but keep this a secret is anything like me, they
    might be uncertain about their sexual preferences (for many reasons) at the point of
    getting married, and so the secrecy might be understandable. Still, I do feel that if one has
    issues with ones sexuality, the only right thing to do is tell her (him) about it upfront. It’s not strange to me that marriages where this is never talked about until years after the wedding ceremony, often ends in a break up. But I would think that many of the wives or husbands in question have a greater problem with accepting they’ve lived in a lie, than
    accepting the sexual issues of their better (!?!) half. Especially if the sex in the marriage has been fulfilling (enough) for them, and they haven’t suspected the other person had SSA issues.

    With regards to the issue of a gay guy being able to perform with a woman; This is actually a really interesting question. I’ve found myself thinking that if the problem only is the erection, then the only difference between a gay guy and a straight guy could be solved through a Viagra and a glass of water. I suspect this often isn’t the key problem, though.

    For myself (gay or not gay, that is something I’m trying to work out), I don’t think I’d have trouble performing with a woman. From my limited experience (one girlfriend), making out with her was often really nice, and it was better the closer we got emotionally. We didn’t have sex because we’re both good Christian people (wink) , but sometimes even looking her in the eyes would make little einy wake up, so that shouldn’t have been a prob.

    A greater problem for me would be the issue of feeling bad for my wife everytime I looked at guys or felt something for a guy. But, as a Christian, I guess I should see this as any other temptation, no different from being tempted by a girl or whatever.

    So the main thing must be honesty. I have nothing againts SSA-guys or girls getting married to a hetero partner, and it makes me angry when someone doomes an honest attempt, especially when the marriage is based on trust and honesty from the onset. I also agree with DM in saying that marriage (at least this should be the goal for anyone marrying, and especially Christians) is a really serious commitment, and so a disclosure of this magnitude (if it isn’t already revealed before the wedding) shouldn’t mean an automatic filing of a divorce.

    A marriage is whatever the people involved expect it to be (and then their willingness to make an effort), as long as they’ve been honest about their expectations and preferences upfront. If a girl told me she was a lesbian, but she really liked me, and vice versa, and we knew that there was a realistic chance for a good sexual relationship, and a great lifelong friendship, and we were both commited to our marriage wovs, I wouldn’t care if someone told me that I was denying my true self. I would probably think ‘ how good it feels to be (gay)politically incorrect! ‘

  13. Ron Belgau says:

    DM writes: I do understand why same-sex attracted people marry heterosexually. It’s just that part of me wonders if a better solution (at least in some cases) would be to expand their relationship options. I think some might be better off with a deep kind of non-sexual friendship, or perhaps some kind of intentional community? “It is not good for man to be alone”…but it seems to me that there are different ways of not being alone. I just wonder if we are hurting same-sex attracted people by presenting to them only one alternative for companionship: hetero marriage. Because right now, that’s how Christian society tends to see it. Get married, or be lonely.

    I think this is a very important area to explore, but it’s not always easy to see the way forward here.

    First, the broader culture is so caught up in the post-Freudian and post-sexual revolution assumption that the need for sex is the most central human drive, and that thwarting that is disastrous. It’s therefore difficult for some people to conceive of celibacy in anything but negative terms.

    Second, Christian circles are so marriage-centric that most people don’t have any real conception of how one can have a deep and meaningful emotional commitment apart from marriage. Thus, I find that when I try to talk to people about “a deep kind of non-sexual friendship,” it appears that more often than not, they are thinking of “something like a marriage, only without sex,” and they think this would be a bad idea, because you’d go insane being that close to someone you “love” without being able to have sex. I think that this is the wrong way to think about friendship, and I think that this attitude reveals how much we have lost the concept of friendship in contemporary culture.

    With respect to the question of a deep friendship vs. an intentional community, I think that from a practical perspective, a single deep, non-sexual friendship is probably going to be a more realistic solution than an intentional community for most people. Our culture is extremely mobile, and one of the reasons that deep friendship of any kind is rare is that it is hard for people to remain connected over the long term, because people move around. In order to make an intentional community work over the long term, all of the members have to commit to staying in the same place for life. That may not be a realistic solution for most people. I think more temporary forms of intentional community can be helpful in the short term (I’ve certainly benefitted from living in intentional community situations, but those were all known from the get-go to be temporary arrangements). But a series of short-term intentional communities doesn’t seem to me to be an ideal situation.

    However, I think that the concept of a deep, committed, and non-sexual friendship just doesn’t exist in most people’s minds in any coherent form. It’s so foreign to many people’s experience that they can’t even begin to imagine what it looks like. Many seem to equate “non-sexual” with “frigid” or “emotionless,” which makes the whole enterprise seem cold and unhealthy.

    Unfortunately, I think that in this department we’re probably even farther behind than in the ex-gay marriages department. I think many people have unrealistic views of ex-gay marriages, and some of the public spokespersons for such marriages seem to me to be at least skirting dishonesty by presenting a one-sided view of their own experience. But though the concept is at times distorted, it is at least out there. I think in the case of committed non-sexual friendship, the concept isn’t really even there for a lot of people.

    All this makes me move rather cautiously, because I see a lot of pitfalls in this territory–it’s easy to see such a relationship in romantic terms, and doing so, I think, can set up serious conflicts down the road. I’m slowly working on trying to say more about this–I gave talks on friendship at the 2004 and 2005 Courage conferences, and would have done so again this year if work had not conflicted with the conference. I’ll also be dealing with this in greater depth in my GCN keynote speech in January.

    In the meantime, for those who are interested, I would recommend finding a copy of On Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx. It’s an excellent treatise from the 12th century, and even deals in a limited way with SSA. Another useful source is Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a cycle of poems composed in memory of his friend Arthur Hallam. And finally, I think there’s a significant amount of wisdom in C. S. Lewis’s chapter on friendship in The Four Loves.

    I would also (in passing) recommend Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, which says some sensible things about friendship. Although I have to admit that I’ve had a hard time doing much more than dip into it here and there–the prose can be fairly dense and a challenge to follow. This may be a problem with the translation in my edition of Aristotle’s works. But it seems to me that most of what is useful in Aristotle can also be found in a more developed and Christianized form in Aelred of Rievaulx. There is also something of value to be found in Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus. However, I think those works are also seriously deformed by the Greek acceptance of pederasty, and one must sift very carefully to separate wheat from chaff.

    – Ron

  14. pam says:

    DM,
    You are not alone in your anger against Tdub. Across the board….without FAIL….I have had this response. And no less so from my openly, politically active, ex-gay Watch and all that goes with it, friends. I believe it comes from a love and willingness to protect ME more than any outright ill-will toward Tdub. Hope that helps you and makes sense. It’s going to be okay. It really is.

    Love and Grace,
    pam

  15. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know of any *specific* link off hand. I was referencing the experiences given by some divorced members as they shared the situations of their marriages. Given time I may be able to research it but there are many posts. Maybe a thread could be devoted soley to this topic if the members are open to having one.

    BTW who is “Tdub”? Is this a private conversation? I’m not trying to be intrusive, but I would imagine that public posting is public discussion. Yes? Or not?

    (Shows how much I am coming to like your blog.):-)

  16. Tdub is pam’s husband, was ex-gay, I guess is now ex-ex-gay, since he’s left her. I don’t think it’s entirely private, since she was already keeping a blog and interacting with ex-gay and ex-gay-critical blogs at the time he left, and so publically blogged about the separation (I only know what I know from lurking on her blog). But at the same time it’s obviously very personal to pam.

    First, the broader culture is so caught up in the post-Freudian and post-sexual revolution assumption that the need for sex is the most central human drive, and that thwarting that is disastrous. It’s therefore difficult for some people to conceive of celibacy in anything but negative terms.

    For me, there’s got to be some place to conceive of celibacy in other than negative terms, because, well, experience and observation say it isn’t always negative, even if most people find it so for the long haul. So, any gay friendly reading of Christianity would have to come, not from the sense that celibacy is impossible to be lived well by anybody, but that not all gay and lesbian people are in the set of people who should be expected to be celibate for life (and not all in the group who should be expected to be heterosexually married).

    And, if you’re not coming from the perspective of Dignity, Integrity, Louie Crew, and the like, but rather believe that acting on homosexuality remains wrong for Christians, then ruling out celibacy as a possibly positive option really doesn’t seem to me to work.

    With respect to the question of a deep friendship vs. an intentional community, I think that from a practical perspective, a single deep, non-sexual friendship is probably going to be a more realistic solution than an intentional community for most people.

    Part of me thinks that an intentional community ought to be better at providing support for celibacy than just a single friend. Though I’m not sure of this, since I’m hearing scandals these days about monks as well as secular Catholic priests. And it’s certainly harder to form a lasting intentional community than to form a single lasting close friendship.

    However, I think that the concept of a deep, committed, and non-sexual friendship just doesn’t exist in most people’s minds in any coherent form. It’s so foreign to many people’s experience that they can’t even begin to imagine what it looks like. Many seem to equate “non-sexual” with “frigid” or “emotionless,” which makes the whole enterprise seem cold and unhealthy.

    Which attitudes really kind of suck if you’re bisexual. Even if you’re married, your husband can’t really be your only close and lasting friend.

    In the meantime, for those who are interested, I would recommend finding a copy of On Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx. It’s an excellent treatise from the 12th century, and even deals in a limited way with SSA. Another useful source is Tennyson’s In Memoriam, a cycle of poems composed in memory of his friend Arthur Hallam.

    I love In Memoriam. I’ll have to look for Aelred’s book.

  17. Ron Belgau says:

    Lynn Gazis-Sax says:

    Part of me thinks that an intentional community ought to be better at providing support for celibacy than just a single friend. Though I’m not sure of this, since I’m hearing scandals these days about monks as well as secular Catholic priests. And it’s certainly harder to form a lasting intentional community than to form a single lasting close friendship.

    I don’t think it would be wise to have just one single friend, any more than I think it would be a good idea for a heterosexual married couple to invest all of their emotional energy in their relationship with each other. However, while it is helpful to develop a network of friendships with a variety of people (both male and female), I think that if one is talking about a more committed arrangement, it seems to me that there are fewer pitfalls in a strong friendship than there are in an intentional community.

    This is not to say that there are not serious dangers in a strong friendship. But in my experience, there are some guys who (to quote Mel White), “fit my mysterious sensual grid” and some who do not. With the ones who do, I’m pretty careful. But with the ones who don’t, I find that I can develop a quite close friendship without drama or serious issues. If I were contemplating a committed friendship type of relationship, I would definitely limit my choices to friends from column B (the low-drama, non-sensual-grid column).

    When developing a normal social network of friendships, there is a natural progression where some friends are closer and others not as close. When I find that a friendship is a source of drama and temptation, then I am more cautious, and don’t get as close to the person. Those who are closest in my social circle are those with whom I am able to share a close relationship without emotional/sexual drama on either side. I would think those contemplating a committed friendship type of relationship should think of it developing out of a network of healthy friendships, where one friendship naturally grew particularly close (in a healthy way). At a certain point, it would be appropriate in such a friendship to open a discussion to work out the level of commitment on each side (a sort of “define the relationship talk”).

    I think it would seem, intuitively, like an intentional community would be less likely to cause drama than a committed friendship type of relationship. But I think that an intentional community needs a committment to the community as a whole, a commitment which can be undermined by relationships within the community. It seems to me that emotional “pair bonding” between two guys (or two gals) in an intentional community would have the potential to cause strain in the larger community. Also, if a new member joins the community who happens to fit my “mysterious sensual grid,” I can’t as easily keep my distance, as I can if such a person just wanders into my social network.

    For all these reasons, it seems to me that an intentional community made up of SSA members has some difficult tensions to manage. Because the single committed friendship within a larger network of friends model is simpler, it seems to me easier to find a compatible friendship that can be stable over the long term than it is to find a group of SSA individuals who can form a stable community.

    But I also think that either the stable, committed friendship or the long-term intentional community are probably not the place to start thinking. I think the initial focus should instead be on developing a healthy network of friends, or finding short-term intentional community. I think this answer is frustrating to a lot of people, because they naturally long for the security that comes from a deeper level of commitment. I certainly sympathize with this. But in my experience, trying to rush too quickly towards the deeper relationship ends up causing unnecessary drama, which is even less satisfying than temporary, but non-dramatic friendships.

    I would also say that different people may well find different solutions to be more effective for their own situation. I know some SSA men who claim that their SSA is largely physical. If they want to “get off,” then they want another guy. But unless that’s their goal, their friendships with other guys are not that much different from straight friendships. For them, the exclusivity pulling against community issue would not be as big of an issue in an intentional community, although they would potentially still deal with the “mysterious sensual grid” dynamic. However, such guys appear not to be interested in a committed friendship kind of relationship. They would prefer an intentional community or a network of friendships.

    Anyhow, these are some of my thoughts on the topic. As should be obvious, they still need a lot of development. And I apologize if this is too much drift from the thread topic of ex-gay marriages. If nothing else, it gives plenty of fodder for a new thread on SSA and friendship.

    – Ron

  18. I would love to see a new thread on SSA and friendship.

  19. Perhaps it is the fact that we are both dog people that I agree with you so much in this post.

    I am so glad that you distinguish between former gay men and former lesbians in regards to marriage. Jay is right; I rarely (never) here this distinction.

    No doubt marriage remains a challenge for all regardless of orientation. And when it comes to mixed-orientation, 1 size does NOT fit all.

    Mixed oriented marriage have existed for centuries with and without Jesus and an exgay movement. Some can work. Perhaps most don’t, particularly when the man is primarly attracted to other men.

    Some men are less sexual than others. I often wonder about the libido levels in the succes or failure in mix oriented unions.

    Some men are more committed to building a family and becoming a dad. That can be a strong motivatation.

    Some men are more bi-sexual than others (although some believe bisexuality typically does not exist in men. I tend to disagree). I wonder how many exgay marital success stories stem from a bisexual orientation that awakened once the man opened his mind to the possibility that he could live outside his homo box.

    My biggest concern with marriages where the husband is gay or exgay and the wife is straight is that the wife can get the short end of the stick (yes, feel free to snicker)

    In our society where boys are raised to think they are more important than girls and men believe their needs, opinions and desires always trump those of the “fairer sex”, a strong imbalance occurs where the husband has most of the power in the relationsip (and the marriage bed) and the wife has to wait on the husband until he comes around.

    I have met many women who married gay or exgay men. The pain they experience can be deep and often silent. As the “help mate” they endure it often without support from chuch or family who are likely to be as quick to hurl stones as they would give unhelpful advice.

    I imagine it is different for the ex-lesbian and the lesbian. Even w/out exgay therapy.

  20. Ron Belgau says:

    I was browsing the Exodus FAQ this evening, and came across a response authored by Nancy Brown. Her name reminded me of something that I came across a few years ago: the testimonies of Nancy and her husband, Don.

    Don’s testimony (http://www.lifeguardministries.org/testimonies/don.htm) was a typical ex-gay testimony. He did the sex thing, he did the emotional dependency thing, Satan attacked him several times, he was in a downward spiral, etc. Then he got turned around, and got married. “I was married to Nancy (my wife of now almost 22 years) a few months later… You know there’ve been hard times and good times, but living free as a child of God within a marriage blessed by Him is the wonder I never dreamed possible. I thank God, I thank Rick and I thank Nancy, my wife.”

    Beautiful, isn’t it?

    No, it isn’t quite. Turn with me to Nancy’s testimony (http://www.lifeguardministries.org/testimonies/nancy.htm). Nancy has a lot to say about the sorts of dysfunction that the wives of ex-gay men struggle with. One sample:

    When I married I was eager to fulfill God’s design for me, but I soon realized that I had married a man who really had no desire for a woman to stand beside him and support his decisions and actions. He did not want to be the head of the household when it came to making the decisions, but he became infuriated if they were not made in accordance with his — often unspoken– will. Because my husband had developed a degree of misogyny (the objectification of women) he wasn’t able to process how he was hurting me. And because he was emotionally an adolescent it didn’t seem important to him anyway. Over and over I heard him respond to my wounded attitudes by saying, “Go ahead and cry, it doesn’t bother me a bit.”

    Today my husband has grown to the place that he understands that he did not “love” me when we married. He was confident and safe in the realization that I loved him and he wanted the approval of being married. He understands love much better now. My hope is that one day he will love me as I love him.

    And it goes on. And it’s not pretty. At all.

    To be fair to Don, Nancy does not come across as an easy woman to live with. And one cannot easily judge, from this distance, how many of their marital problems are due to Don’s ex-gay issues and how many are due to other issues.

    I’ve noticed that many ex-gay testimonies, like many fairy tales, end with the hero getting married, with the implication that they all lived happily ever after. However, this seems to me a very unrealistic approach, and one that neglects that marriage itself is very hard work. I’m glad that some individual voices within Exodus have begun to address these difficult questions. But I think that it’s an issue that needs to be addressed much more openly than it has been.

    And I think that the conclusion would be that it is a mistake to push marriage for ex-gays as strongly as it is pushed. It may be right for some. But not for the majority. And that means spending more time talking about friendship, intentional community, and other healthy ways to live a celibate life in the world.

    In Christ,

    – Ron

  21. pam whitley says:

    Wanted to stop by and let you know that I’m truly thankful for you; your voice, your message, your unconditional love for others that’s evident in both of the former. I’m even thankful for the “righteous anger” you have on my behalf against you know who! hehe! ;)
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    pam

  22. Lynn:

    That’s really sad about your uncle’s experience. It sounds like upfront honesty would have been really key there.

    I agree with you that in most cases, choosing a marriage sans passion would be awfully hard in most cases because of our cultural context. But to me that looks like a sort of catch-22. On the one hand people will be happier with a marriage like their friends’, a marriage that at least starts out fulfilling the dreams they can’t help but have. But on the other hand, I think our contemporary emphasis on romance and passion in marriage is a Real Bad Idea. I’m no expert, but anecdotal evidence suggests three apparent problems to me:

    1) Some people make poor spouse choices because romance/passion blinds them to warning signs of compatibility issues.
    2) Some people unrealistically expect romance/passion to last throughout the marriage, and feel as though the marriage doesn’t mean anything or isn’t real if the “spark” disappears.
    3) Some people have a sense of “romantic entitlement,” and if they aren’t “feeling it” with their spouse, then they “need” to find somebody they can feel it with.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that, while it would be difficult (and probably not advisable in most cases) for individual couples to choose a marriage that doesn’t conform to the cultural norm, I think the cultural norm hurts a lot of people in the long run, and so it’s kind of troubling that every marriage made for reasons that conform to the norm serves to support the norm and reinforce it.

    Einy:

    Thanks for the compliments and for your thoughts on this stuff. Your experience with the sexual side of things is very intriguing to read. I’m learning a lot on this thread about boys. :)

    My thoughts on temptation are like yours. I used to be like “Oh wouldn’t it be terrible if I ever noticed a girl!” But then I was like, “How would that be different than if I ever noticed a guy?”

    I definitely think the “politically incorrect marriage” could work for a certain sort of person. I’m guessing it would work best if both parties were predominantly SSA/gay–that way there would be more of a symmetry in the feelings each person had for the other.

    (more replies to comments later)

  23. Good points, DM, and I agree that there can be problems with the degree to which we emphasize romance/passion in marriage in our culture. Especially when it’s taken to the point where it means something’s gravely wrong if the spark isn’t constantly there in the marriage.

  24. Ron and Lynn, there will be a post/thread about SSA and friendship shortly. (If I say “this weekend”, then it definitely won’t happen this weekend; if I just say “shortly”, maybe there’s a chance.) My own contribution will undoubtedly suck. I just don’t have any good ideas about this stuff right now. But I really do look forward to hearing what you two (and others) might have to say.

    Peterson, I think you are onto something with how the power differential between the man and the woman in a conservative Christian marriage could interact in a bad way with the man’s being exclusively homo-attracted. I don’t personally know many current or former wives of ex-gay men, but what I’ve read (like in Michelle Wolkomir’s Be Not Deceived: The Sacred and Sexual Struggles of Gay and Ex-gay Christian Men) about the plight of those wives is absolutely appalling. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around what these women put up with!

    And as Mark Driscoll’s recent commentary on the Haggard scandal (HT: Lynn with commentary) shows, there is plenty of willingness in evangelical circles to blame the wives for their husbands’ problems. (grrrrrrr.)

    Also no doubt making further trouble for the wife of the exgay man is this stupid idea that all women don’t care about sex, and so it’s all right if he just sort of ignores her physically. Hello! Martin frickin’ Luther, hardly a sensitive ‘Nineties man, knew better than that. I don’t want to attack my sisters who happen to have a low sex drive, who care more about candlelight and cuddling and talking about their feelings or whatever, but seriously! Okay, end rant.

    Ron, regarding Nancy Brown’s and Don Brown’s testimonies: As we discussed via IM, I’ve seen the same “mismatch” before between another happy exgay husband who thinks everything is all roses and his wife who has a slightly dimmer view. The particular pair of testimonies I’ve been thinking about have been taken offline, even cleared from the Google cache, so I won’t name names. (Maybe there’s been a fall?) These mismatches seem related to the struggles of wives of exgay men that Peterson was talking about–some “successful” exgay husbands seem to have a very self-centered view of their situation.

    Pam, you’re awesome. And I don’t doubt that my love for you explains much of my strong feelings towards Tdub. At the same time, the fact remains that on the day I read your sad news, I angrily swore to my husband (totally out of the blue, without any provocation on his part) that I would make him very, very sorry if he ever tried to leave me. I don’t know if that can really be chalked up to my love for you. :) So, yeah–I think I had a lot emotionally going on in response to the Tdub thing.

  25. I’m wondering what your thoughts would be on what should happen with same-sex couples who have civilly married or had spiritual committment ceremonies or what have you, and one partner decides to pursue change. Perhaps they have adopted children together. Obviously this would not be seen in the same light as what what would be considered a true heterosexual marriage, but on the other hand real commitments have been made to another person and there would be real consequences for any children involved, etc.

    PS – Love the blog. The most thoughtful Side B space I’ve encountered I think. Which comes as no suprise to me.

  26. jasmine says:

    your “blistering” honesty is really amazing…

    of course its true that just because something might feel more “easier”, “comfortable”, & “natural” doesnt make it right

    you keep me thinking…

  27. Saul says:

    I don’t know when this will be continued, but if anyone’s reading, I think the ‘true self’ bit, in my experience, at least, is very powerful, and is the one thing I have to properly deal with.

    I’m a bit like einy in that, from experience, I know that, would I marry, both my wife and I would be perfectly content in terms of eros. Even better, I suppress my same-sex eros so well that I’ve never even had a same-sex fantasy, let alone anything beyond, so temptation wouldn’t be much of a problem. But, I know that I’m biologically attracted to males and hardly to females.

    Yet, I can’t get beyond that ‘true self’ bit. My God wouldn’t want me to do that, I tell myself. Then the Gollum in my head shirps up and says, This is your true self; if your Jesus doesn’t know it, he’s wrong, or find another Jesus.

    Let’s pray that we all win over our little Gollums.

  28. [...] troubles me as a scientist (the attempted re-training of gays within the church). Instead I found this post on marriage and this follow-up and in combination they just about sent me over the edge. A few of my own [...]

  29. Coleman says:

    Disputed Mutability:

    Thank you for posting this. It really helps me. I’m a guy struggling with unwanted SSA and reading an ex-gay story that’s not “I found God who cured me, now I’m happily married and everything’s going my way!” is very comforting. It’s also nice to hear that you’ve told your husband about your attractions and yet you’re both still together. I read somewhere that you don’t become of one flesh unless you tell your spouse about your SSA (whether it’s gone or not).

    I, like so many others, want to get married and have a family but these attractions set me back. I guess I’m just afraid that if I tell my spouse the truth, she might leave me. Society today orders us all to take on these one-dimensional labels that don’t really mean much. But reading your story gives me hope that I can find someone who would be willing to stay with me “till death do us part.” I want to give myself to someone unconditionally while they give themselves to me. And I want that someone to be a woman. I envision what it would be like with a man and for awhile I started to believe that it could work. But then I realized what Christ said in Matthew 19:5 “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” When I really analyzed that verse, I knew that being with a woman wasn’t just about satisfying whatever my hopes and dreams were, but about serving God. Sometimes, that is more important than serving yourself, no matter how difficult it might be.

    So, thank you. Thank you for your honesty, courage, and devotion to your husband, family, and God.

    With Christ,
    COLEMAN

  30. Jenny says:

    It is so refreshing to hear someone who is in a similar situation to me! I was 16 when I became pregnant. On purpose. I was convinced that a family as soon as possible and a husband, etc were what I wanted. I wanted to be married and my husband was the first guy who would have me. eventually we did get married, but I always hoped I was only attracted to women “also” like he told me. Which, he was fine with. Then closer to the wedding, with my son already on my knee and the invitations sent out, I realized I was gay. I told him and he married me anyway. Its been almost 4 years since this happened. I fell for girls. Several, but one more than any. It took me 3 years to realize that it was just not meant to be with this person. I had thought my marriage was what kept me from her, but I really realized my marriage was something I just took for granted. I turned away from my faith for this girl and I turned away from my marriage. I neglected my husband and I took my children and family life for granted. Right now, I’m fighting for my marriage. I do want to say, it IS possible to be gay and one day find yourself attracted to the opposite sex. I realized now it was a mental block I’d put up for myself, and, like you stated, I will always find the fairer sex awe-inspiring, but I do not think that my path lies with a woman and I don’t believe I want to give up on my marriage, even as my husband is walking out the door. I’m going to fight for it and I’m going to turn inwardly to do it. I did some living, I broke my vows (though not without his encouragement, but it was still wrong and still hurt my future) and now I just want to get back on the right path. I don’t know if God can forgive me for what I did I just hope that he can bring my husband back around, if not for my sake, then for our kids’. My husband has been faithful and patient for 4 years but with our anniversary approaching, I think he just got tired of being with a lesbian. I wish that he would read this article (he won’t, of course) and that he would realize I was just a fool and people do change, and, yes sometimes overnight. When they realize we are made for marriage not for dating and fun. I also, to anyone who reads this, recommend the book “living two lives: married to a man, in love with a woman” and it is good for the husband or the wife to read. Very informative and it helped me more than I can say. Good luck to anyone out there going through a similar situation, and I’d appreciate the prayers if you’d like to give them :)

  31. robin yeagley says:

    I AM an ex-wife of an “ex-gay so-called reformed Christian man”…for me, it was over 12 years ago and the most horrible, abusive, dark time of my life. I believe that because he forced himself to deny who he TRULY was, he took tat frustration out on me. I endured almost 1 year of this horrid union, and I still am haunted by it to this day. The mental, verbal, emotional, spiritual, and finally physical abuse are things that I will carry with me forever…and the Christian community that I turned to at that time did nothing to help me, penniless and homeless when I left…

    • Robin,

      Thank you for sharing a little about your experience here. I am so sorry that you went through such abuse and such pain…and that the Christian community was not supportive in the aftermath of that.

      Though I’ve long known that many ex-gay marriages don’t work out, only in the past couple of years or so have I read about nightmarish stories like your own–where the gay spouse brutally takes out their issues on the straight spouse. It was (and is) a hard thing for me to fathom–how could someone mistreat and abuse someone who was out of love taking significant risks and possibly making big sacrifices for them?

      This post was written five years ago, and some things just weren’t on my radar back then. When I revise/update my thoughts on the subject, I’ll be taking a more cautionary tone, and paying more attention to the potential for disaster and abuse, as well as the experience of the straight spouse more generally. Thank you again for adding your voice to this conversation–I realize it may have been awkward or difficult to do so.

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