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Lambda Lore

Same-sex love

Well there certainly is a hullabaloo on Facebook over The Learning Channel’s newest attempt at dumbing down America, as if Honey Boo Boo wasn’t enough. Now they are promoting a program called My Husband’s Not Gay. I know, all our eyes just rolled to the back of our heads. While there are defenders of this type of programming, I find that the idea of marrying a woman to overcome “same-sex attraction” is a dangerous throwback to the days when gay men were counseled repeatedly, often by well meaning LDS bishops, to marry and that filthy homosexual desires would fade with the shimmering magic of vaginal intercourse.

Nearly 20 years ago, Mormon church president Gordon B. Hinckley said “Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices.” And at the same time for the past 20 years, LDS-affiliated reparation therapy groups such as Evergreen and North Star (isn’t that the home of all the Lost Boys?) are again pushing this notion that with enough grit and gumption, by golly you can have sex with a woman if you try hard enough and close your eyes. (Reverse that image if you are a lesbian married to a straight man.)

LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, in 1971, made a bold generalization about gay people when he said at a conference, “There are said to be millions of perverts who have relinquished their natural affection and bypassed courtship and normal marriage relationships. This practice is spreading like a prairie fire and changing our world. They [the perverts] are without ‘natural affection’ for God, for spouses, and even for children.”

Thankfully times have mostly changed and gay people are not called perverts by general authorities anymore, well at least in public, but gays of my generation, the Baby Boomers who came to age in the 1970s, were bombarded with negative messages about homosexuality. And nowhere were these barrages more incendiary than in the Mormon Church.  We were called “the molesters of children; the corrupters of youth.”

The July 1974 issue of Ensign had this to say, “Many homosexuals seek to introduce others into their practice, often those in their tender, impressionable years. Many studies have indicated that such early homosexual experience may interfere with normal sexual adjustment in subsequent marriage…Just as the Word of Wisdom is the Lord’s way with or without medical proof of its value to our health, so likewise the moral law taught by the Church does not require any medical proof of its value to our spiritual and physical health. It is sufficient that the Lord has told us to marry, to have children, and to do this according to the righteous ways of the law of God. In this lies physical health, emotional stability, and true happiness.”

It is not unfair to say that Kimball was obsessed with homosexuality. As an apostle he was called to counsel men with homosexuality tendencies, and perhaps it scared the bejesus out of him to know there were so many queer men in Zion. He once said that he found it hard to believe that one would make a conscious decision to be homosexual; instead he concocted the idea that homosexuality had to be a spiritual disorder based on pure “selfishness.” Without any data to support this, he went on to maintain that homosexual behavior was changeable. Kimball used as a measurement of success at “changing” by the amount of homosexual men who married after being counseled by him. This was proof to him that behavior could change. It might be well noted that Boyd K Packer, Thomas Monson, and Dallin Oaks are all contemporaries of Kimball and sustained his theories that a cure for homosexuality is possible.

Dr. Robert D. Card, M.D. was the go to guy in the 1970s on issues regarding homosexuality for the LDS Church. He also supported Kimball’s belief that marriage equaled a cure. When asked about the success rate for curing homosexuality, which at the time also included shock treatments; many done on BYU students by Dr. Card, he replied in 1975, “As to ‘curing’ homosexuality, I’m afraid that the measure of success that I’m looking for is marriage.”

All this is background material on why so many LDS men married women in the 1970s and 1980s. We were told time and time again that marriage would take away these “unnatural feelings.” After all, homosexuality was what we did not who we were. When I went into counseling as a BYU student I was told by a therapist not to think of myself as being a homosexual because then change is impossible. It was only something I experienced or felt. I was young I was naive and I believed his bullshit.

The following year I fell in love with a young man who later I learned was married and had a son. He too had been persuaded to marry as a cure. I was devastated when BYU and Utah County police did a raid to purge the hidden gay community at BYU. The young man I was in love tried to commit suicide but I managed to save his life.

I was barely 25 years old, alone and scared when I was disfellowshipped and kicked out of BYU. Because my offense was homosexuality, I was not allowed to attend my former student branch. I was contagious. I was diseased. I had to be quarantined. The irony is that if I had fooled around with a girl, yes I would have stilled been disfellowshipped, but I could have remained in a BYU branch.

None of my family was Mormon. The kids at BYU were my family. They even put us in groups and called us a family. But now I was in exile. Expelled from Paradise and I was back then “a true believer.” Additionally, each bishop I went to during my disfellowship counseled me to marry. I was young. I was smart. Homosexuality was a phase. Get married. Once you are with a woman all will be right. Wrong desires would be replaced with holy ones.  Get married, have children, expand your priesthood and all would be made right in the sight of God. Blah blah blah. But I obeyed.

Nine months after being disfellowshipped, living in a cold dark miserable apartment in the Avenues, before they became gentrified, I was a very lonely boy.  I would sing myself to sleep singing Queen’s “Find Me Somebody to Love.” At the time I was working as a sandwich maker at the University of Utah where I met a very fun vivacious student who acted like she liked me. We dated. And to my great surprise I got an erection with her and I knew I better take advantage of this anomaly and marry her right away. I asked her to marry me on New Year’s Eve and we were married Jan. 7.

Our honeymoon was held at the Gray Lynn Apartment in the Avenues, on the top floor of a small steam heated flat. I had been taught all my life that being intimate with a woman would be fireworks, earth shattering, cosmos splitting and an orgasmic deluxe. Perhaps I was expecting to much. It was nice. It was pleasant. But deep in my soul I knew that it was never going to be satisfying, passionate, nor joyful. I felt betrayed on my wedding night by all the lies told to me by heterosexual love songs.

Now in my defense, I did not try to hide my past. My wife had read all my journals and never once saw the mention of a girl in them. Just John this and Larry that. She also told me she had a gay friend named Michael who she adored at the university. She was no dummy.

I found myself at the age of 25 in a paradox. I was a husband and she was my wife. It seemed so backassward. Over time my wife and I became best friends and companions. I did my husbandly duty as expected but not with much enthusiasm. I used our religion not to do sexual things that appalled me like oral sex. Back then it was an LDS no no. We were just friends but best friends, with some benefits.  I loved her. She loved me. But I was never “in love” with her. Not the way I had loved John Cunningham whose memory I kept locked safely away. That was the only to hold on to that part of me that was at my authentic core. So I lived a lie to please my church, my family and my wife. Slowly dying.

As I began my 30s, I grew more and more unhappy with life. I stuffed my feelings down, became numb to any real emotions, I was devoid of any human sentiment. I was actually dead. However by mere chance I discovered through a 12-step program that I was unhappy because I was refusing the gift that God had given me. My gayness. The essence that made me compassionate, nurturing, understanding, creative, expressive, a whole human being.  But how do you unwrap nine years spent with your best friend? How do you tell her you have to leave her? We only had each other.

The mid 1980s was a horrific time to come out as a gay man. AIDS was decimating homosexuals without a cure or even a knowledge of how it was spreading. To be gay was a potential death sentence. I knew if I was to die I wanted to die an authentic human being. I wanted to die as a gay man. But I didn’t die. Instead I went on to help start the Wasatch Affirmation with Russ Lane in 1986 and in the fall of that year I started a group that many older members of the community might remember. I called it Married and Divorced Gays and Lesbians. It was pointed out to me that the acronym was MADGAL, which of course many of the wives were.

There were so many gay married people coming out of marriages that a support group for them was truly necessary. Broken lives and homes from promises made that were lies to prop up doctrine. The consensus of all those meetings was that being married cured nothing. Because being gay is not what we do. It’s who we are. Who we fall in love with. We are not attracted to the same sex; we fall  in love with the same sex. Being gay means getting our heart broken by the same sex … going a bit crazy over desire for the same sex.

I don’t know what same-sex attraction is, but I know what same-sex “passion, desire, love, lust, heartache, and complete joy” is. Being gay is not an attraction, it’s the feeling that a part of you is missing when you’re not with the one you love. It’s that feeling when  the entire room lights up and everything else disappears into the shadows when the person you love enters. Can someone please explain to me why it’s  not called “same-sex love?”

As for my wife, she made every attempt to try and make it work. She attended all the gay groups I was going to. She loved all my new gay friends. But at last it was time to say goodbye. After 11 years, we held each other one last time. We kissed and she left. That was 25 years ago. Maybe I did love her because certainly my heart was broken … because I had broken hers. That to me will be the real tragedy for these TLC couples — when the time comes that these men break their wives hearts.

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Ben Williams

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