Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism (the excerpt)

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Here are some excerpts from the paper I presented as part of this panel.

As part of my presentation, I pose this question, "why isn't it politically correct for a gay man to venture into the exclusive territory of straight men--to marry a woman and have a family--if that's what he chooses to do?," first posed by Ben Christensen (whose temple garments are all in a twist because I claim the right to think he's a self-deceived, selfish gas bag--see the comments on this post) and cite ancient Athenian and Hebrew society (both of which required men who had sex with men to nonetheless marry women) to support my contention that Christensen's basic assumption is flawed. As it happens I am all for opening what has been the exclusive territory of straight men--to marry a woman and have a family--to gay WOMEN. But Christensen shows little care for the rights and opportunities of women, gay or straight: his concern is with preserving the privileges of MEN, straight or gay. Thus remains a question needing an answer, which is this:

What does it mean for a homophobic, patriarchal, misogynist society to require men to marry women and impregnate them as part of their duties as members of the community?

Why should a gay Mormon man give a damn about women's sexuality, since doctrine created by straight Mormon men doesn't? Consider Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants (a.k.a. the "new and everlasting covenant," a.k.a. polygamy): a man can have an infinite number of wives who belong to him, but no more than one man can belong to a woman, because women are given to men to multiply and replenish the earth. Women's pleasure and subjectivity aren't factors.

I know it can take a while to figure out one's sexual identity, and that people who avoid sexual behavior during their teens, only to marry in their early 20s, might not have a firm handle on their sexual orientation. I've known people who figure out after a decade or two of marriage that maybe they're not straight after all. I know from watching friends go through it that it's profoundly painful. But I also think from observing various marriages and divorces that there's something different happening when men who know ahead of time that they are gay marry women they know are straight. Whether or not these men are seeking some kind of "cure," they still seek to assuage their own suffering and discomfort through means that create profound suffering and discomfort for women, suffering and discomfort women have been trained to believe they should accept. I submit that patriarchy endows men with a sense of entitlement--witness Christensen's resentment that marrying women and fathering children is still the "exclusive territory of straight men"--that blinds them to the real cost of their actions, whereas women are trained, through doctrines like the new and everlasting covenant, to expect that they will not have the exclusive regard or affection of their husbands, that indeed their feelings about their marriages are less important than the patriarch's wielding of authority.

Both Fales and Christensen stress that they informed their wives of their homosexuality before the wedding. They did NOT make this revelation at the start of the courtship; they waited until marriage had been discussed. If a gay man truly wants to be honest and honorable, the real time to make this admission is on the first date, before the woman is in love and has a vision of her future with him. Admitting to a serious girlfriend that you're gay ends the deception, but I doubt it improves the chances for success of any subsequent marriage, given how naively and earnestly hopeful Mormon women are about marriage--and how ignorant they are about sex if they've obeyed the law of chastity.

In his commentary to Christensen's essay, Ron Schow notes that Christensen oversimplifies "his options as either temple marriage or ‘a rampant life of unrestrained queerness.' Obviously," Schow points out, "there are many choices between the two extremes" (139). Christensen ends his essay by relating an epiphany that occurred after a "BYU fireside where they tell you to get married. I'd pretty much tuned out the entire thing," he writes, "because it didn't apply to me, but then I got home, sat on my bed, and had a distinct impression that yes, it did apply to me. Yes, I was gay, but that didn't mean I was excluded from Heavenly Father's desire for his children to marry and have families" (131).

I am glad Christensen had that epiphany--I accept its truthfulness. What I don't accept is his oversimplified and religiously predetermined interpretation, that any marriage he might have must be with a woman for whom he feels little sexual desire. While I acknowledge the right he and his wife have to do as they please, I have the right to find their efforts foolish and destructive rather than admirable. Why should he settle for a partner he doesn't desire? Why should his wife settle for a partner who doesn't truly desire her? The fact that they're willing to doesn't strike me as adequate justification.

I want for these gay men who marry straight women what they seem unable to want for themselves or their wives: to be able to form their families and raise their children with a partner beloved, cherished and desired body and soul, and I think the world will be a better place for me and all other straight women and men when gay women and men have that right.

4 Comments

I don't know much about Mormon doctrine, but does it worry about desire and sexual pleasure for anyone? Or does it treat sex as something one does in order to produce children?
I've heard that Jewish doctrine (particularly the more mystic aspects) actually does prioritize the enjoyment of sex -- that Jewish men are religiously obliged to ensure their wives' sexual pleasure. More reason to look for a nice Jewish boy ;-)

I don't know much about Mormon doctrine, but does it worry about desire and sexual pleasure for anyone?

people argue about this, but I feel strongly that the whole point of polygamy was to satisfy Joseph Smith's lust, and that an inordinate concern for male sexual pleasure is the basis for the doctrine that finally got the saints kicked out of Illinois.

Do you think the satisfaction of male lust is the reason for polygamy in other religions? A Muslim friend explained to me in high school that Muhammad called for polygamy because of the unequal sex ratios after war decreased the number of Muslim men available to be married, and left too many Muslim women unprotected. She also claimed that Islam requires husbands to love all of their wives equally, and if they cannot satisfy this requirement, does not permit them to marry more than one woman at a time. (These justifications and rules obviously have gotten pretty bent over time.)

Do you think the satisfaction of male lust is the reason for polygamy in other religions?

Despite any other altruistic justification applied to the situation, yes.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 1, 2006 9:20 AM.

Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism (the introduction) was the previous entry in this blog.

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