Mixed-orientation LDS couples count on commitment, work and love to beat the odds
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Posted: 9:48:54 AM- OREM - Ben Christensen, who is gay, knows the odds are against his marriage. Jessie Christensen, who is not, knows it, too. Still, the Christensens are cautiously optimistic that their mixed-orientation relationship can work.
They were not naive, stupid or ignorant about the risks they faced when they married in the LDS Temple nearly five years ago. Before he proposed officially, Ben told Jessie about his homosexuality. They talked a lot about it. They prayed about it. They both felt it was what God wanted them to do.
Now Ben and Jessie have two children, 3-year-old Sophie and 2-month-old Timothy. They have shared their experiences with other Mormon mixed-orientation couples who have established a community in cyberspace. In the past year, Web logs dealing with their issues have proliferated. The conversations are wide-ranging, poignant and often eloquent.
Brigham Young University students, Sunday school teachers, missionaries, at least one Relief Society president and even the occasional Mormon bishop talk about trying to change, their temptations, addictions to pornography, guilt and denial as well as faith, their marriages and their notions of eternity. The story of Mormon gays who have left marriages and the church is well-known, they feel, while their attempt to balance both in an open, realistic way rarely gets much attention.
There are, of course, reasons for that.
A gay man marrying a heterosexual woman "is just wrong," says Craig Steiner, an activist who was married for 12 and 1/2 years and has two sons.
"You are not being true to who you are and it traps women in an unhealthy relationship," says Steiner, co-director of Wasatch Affirmation, a support group for Mormon and former Mormon gays. "The church is making these men think they can win and they can't."
Statistics seem to back him up.
Idaho State University professor Ron Schow has studied LDS homosexuals. Of 136 he surveyed in 1994, 71 percent were returned missionaries and 36 had tried marriage. Only two of the 36 were still married.
"Many of these mixed heterosexual/homosexual marriages, even when they do not end in divorce, result in marriages in which there is no true intimacy nor a mutually nourishing relationship," Schow reported.
Naturally, Ben and Jessie hope their eyes-open commitment will prove to be the exception.
Ben had been through therapy before and after his two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That helped him resolve issues with his father and other men, but it didn't diminish the strong attractions he felt for other men. He doubted those would ever go away. He felt strongly that God wanted him to marry anyway.
Jessie had few illusions about the magic of "I do." She had watched her parents' marriage teeter on the brink of dissolution over her father's addictions, but the union grew steadily strong and healthy through years of commitment, work and love.
As they went ahead with wedding plans, Ben's resolve occasionally faltered. He wanted more than anything to marry Jessie. But was it fair? Was it right?
"I didn't want to marry her just to prove to myself and others that I was normal, or to avoid hurting her feelings, or because it was the right thing to do. I wanted to marry her because I loved her and I wanted to be with her. Which I was pretty sure I did," Ben wrote last year in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. "What it came down to was making a decision between doing what my heart wanted or doing what my libido wanted. I wished I could have both, but I knew that was impossible."
Later, he received a kind of divine assurance, urging him to "Jump. Jump into the big, scary, unknown darkness. Don't look back."
And so he jumped, and he doesn't regret it.
Sexual intimacy is something they have to work on, they say. Sometimes it's a problem, many times it's not.
Right now Ben is happy, but he knows there may be periods in his marriage when he might not be. He hopes to weather those downtimes and, he says, "not make any rash decisions."
Sometimes Jessie is scared about the future, but she doesn't spend much time worrying about it.
They agree that openness is essential.
That's why Jessie encouraged Ben to use their story in his creative-writing class. She approved his publishing the Dialogue piece, "Getting Out/ Staying In: One Mormon Straight/Gay Marriage." She has no problem with his going public about their delicate balancing act.
"I don't think God really wants us to lie in order to make people think we're 'normal,' but Mormon culture sure expects us to," Ben writes.
Few other Mormon gay bloggers are as candid about their identities as Ben and Jessie.
That's because the emotional costs of openness are real. The LDS Church says it's not a sin to have same-sex attraction, only to act on it. Still, very few men or women want to stand up at church and say, "I'm gay," even if they are doing what the church recommends. It violates a strong social taboo.
Landon, not his real name, dated his future wife at BYU, but the relationship did not progress from friendship to romance in a conventional way, and she became frustrated. On the eve of leaving for medical school in the Midwest, he told her he was gay. It was the first time he had told anyone, including his family. She said she had suspected as much but that it didn't matter. She loved him anyway.
Eventually, she moved to the Midwest to be near him and see if they could "deepen the relationship."
He promised he would always be faithful, even if attracted to men, and so they married four years ago. Now they have one child and another on the way.
Sex is "more complicated than for most other people," Landon said in a phone interview. "Concessions are made. That's the nature of making an unconventional relationship work."
He doesn't believe he chose to be gay, so he doesn't feel guilty about having same-sex attractions. He agrees with the LDS Church's distinction between desire and actions and is trying everything he can to resist those desires, or even overcome them.
The key to being hopeful, Landon says, is believing that "God has an individual answer to me. God will grant me 'miracle upon miracle.' "
At first, blogging was his wife's pastime. Then they started a family blog and finally, she suggested he create his own blog to explore homosexuality and Mormonism. He began writing about his experiences, his thoughts about the church and his feelings of isolation. It was therapeutic.
"I could make it anonymous. I could have others respond to my ideas. I could serve other people and give advice," Landon says. "I have made a number of close friends that I could never have known because I am completely closeted."
Someday, he believes, he will no longer have homosexual attractions. But that might not be until he is resurrected from the dead.
"The purpose of sexual attraction is supposed to be for procreation. That's part physiological and part psychological," Landon says. "It is something that can and will be changed in order to become like God."
Jason (not his real name) thought he was just a late bloomer because he didn't have the normal feelings for girls. By eighth grade, he realized what was going on, so he told his dad, who downplayed his concerns. Two years later, they again talked and both knew these attractions to men were not going away.
At 16, he told his best female friend. Her grandfather had died of AIDS after leaving his family, so she was keenly aware of the issues. She was kind and empathetic and encouraged him to talk with his Mormon bishop, who directed him toward LDS Family Services.
With the help and prayers of his female friend, parents, bishop and therapists, he decided to serve an LDS mission. He was "100 percent honest" with church leaders about his feelings before he left, he says, which didn't stop them from sending him to South America.
"It was a great experience because I saw it as an opportunity to really build my relationship with other men in a healthy way. Through the Lord's help, I was able to develop a lot of masculine qualities and hatch some very genuine friendships that have been of great value to me subsequently," Jason says. "Contrary to common misconception, I was never attracted to my [male] companions, and there was very little risk of problems arising from my attractions. It was a wholesome, formative experience, and was a paramount time period in my development and manhood."
After he returned from his mission, the friend in whom he had confided became his wife. They now have a 2-month-old daughter and recently moved from Utah to the Northwest.
"The special circumstances of same-sex attraction have made us extremely close," Jason said in a phone interview. "Closer than I think either of us could have been in any other relationship."
Jason has accepted his gayness and doesn't care if it never goes away.
"My attractions are as potent as any normal male's. I feel stirrings for other men with the frequency that men feel sexual stirrings, and let's be honest, that's a lot," he says. "On the Kinsey scale, I'm as gay as they come."
As Jason anticipated making love to his wife for the first time, the thought was repulsive. He had a gnawing anxiety that he wouldn't be able to do it. But he was.
"I am surprised at how fulfilling my sex life is with my wife," he says. "It definitely exceeded my expectations."
In conversations online, Jason uses the name "Another Other" to symbolize his outsider status. He doesn't belong to the straight world because of his attractions to men, but he's not part of the gay community because of his marriage to a woman.
"I am accepted neither by the normal Joe nor by the group that shares my plight," he says. "To one I am an anomaly, to the other I'm some sort of traitor to the cause."
He started his blog, gaymormonandmarried.blogspot.com, so people could know there are options other than celibacy, a totally gay lifestyle or "marrying a girl to see if you can get better."
Voices in the gay ex-Mormon community are very loud online, Jason says. They are adamant that the church's position is wrong and that living as a gay man is the only viable, authentic choice. Jason disagrees.
"I wanted to disprove the idea that those that got married only did so because they hadn't accepted their gayness, or were in denial, and that their marriage would inevitably end in failure," he says. "I wanted people to know that there is hope for genuine happiness, which is something I honestly feel every single day."
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