By Rob Watson
Sunday night was a cornucopia of LGBT television. First came the Golden Globes with a full offering of heartwarming equality affirmations from wins for Transparent ,including a call out for Leelah Alcorn, to a win for Matt Bomer in which he again asserted his standing as a proud gay dad in the world, to the hint of a host-ship next year for LGBT icon Margaret Cho, who was hilarious as a North Korean journalist/general invading this years show. LGBT euphoria turned to LGBT dismay as, with a turn of the channel, I landed on The Learning Channel’s My Husband is Not Gay reality TV special.
My biggest question after watching that train wreck was, “What exactly are we supposed to learn from this Learning Channel?”
Reality TV is not an area in which I have much comfort. I don’t know what a Kardasian is, and I am not clear on the point of real housewives or bridezillas. There seems to be a pre-occupation in this “reality” world with the breadth of “traditional marriages” from Bachelor mating rituals, which are tacky at best, to extreme retro “traditional” with multiple wives or 19 kids. Again, I am not quite clear on what the learning curve is here. Possibly the point is that those who are screaming to only have “traditional” marriages allowed in society need to be careful for which they pray.
Judge Judy is my one “reality television” guilty pleasure. On the trials on her show “the cases are REAL, the people are REAL” and the viewer gets to watch as these participants come on and lie their pants off. Judge Judy suffers the fools only so far as she quizzes them on specifics while working her personal vendetta to determine the real truth. Once she is satisfied at finding it, she has no restraint in bending forward and screaming out to the disingenuous “YOU”RE A LIAR!” Some might find the judge’s loud candor abusive. I find it actually a bit refreshing.
There has been much legitimate concern about the show and its ties to harmful “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy. Although undisclosed, most of the participants on the show have supported organizations behind such pseudo-“science” that all the major American and Canadian mental health organizations have condemned. The premise of the show, three gay, oh, I’m sorry, “same sex attracted” men are married to straight women and raising families. The show tries not to present this as a “gay men SHOULD do this” but it definitely tries to raise the question “CAN” gay men do this?
On the journey of this show, the men and their wives testify as to how their lives are wonderful, rewarding, desirable to them, even if they fall short of being perfectly ideal. Through out, at several junctures, I was dying for Judge Judy to come popping out screaming “YOU’RE A LIAR!”
The men on the show hold all the cards in the situation. They have constructed their lives in such a way that they get everything they want between being openly ga— sorry, same sex attracted, and living up to the rigid and specific family design of the Mormon Church. (The Mormon Church itself no longer recommends their choice, however. On its site, mormonsandgays.com , it states “Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. “)
The men have laid down the terms of their lives, and found women who agree to support those terms. The concept of what is needed and required around “same sex attraction” has been taught by the men to their wives who then move forward with a sensitive “understanding.” Most of the “knowledge” and “ssa facts” are fabricated. It reminded me of a fictional story about vampires where the author has to craft all the “rules” for the beings’ survival. This ignorance is understandable given that the people involved come from a world in which one of their straight friends first observations when the same sex attraction topic comes up is, “ oh yeah, there is a big problem with SSA in Argentina.” Say what? Argentina? Cue Judge Judy. What these wives have been given as the foundation to their marriages is a crock.
The men have set the stage with the premise that while they each are very “same sex attracted” — it is described by one as “out of 10 attractions, 9 are men, 1 is a woman” to another saying that he is “super into dudes sometimes.,” that they are also attracted to the women in their lives. This is a claim made through out the show, and one that the women cling to fiercely. One wife has memorized a phrase for herself hinging on the idea, “He loves me so much, he picked me over all the other men AND the women.” She has repeated this not only on the show, but on other videos, seeming to hope that through repetition like the Coca Cola branding, that she will be convinced that it is “the real thing.”
It is not the real thing. That may be a ridiculously bold and inappropriate statement by me, a stranger, to make, but the fact is obviously true. If these men were truly “also” attracted to their women, they would be simply bisexual. Like real bisexuals, the concern about other people regardless of gender with whom they have attraction, would have no bearing on their primary relationship. I may be attracted to furry white men, and also to tall African American men, but when partnered with one of the other, I do not need a whole system to deal with my other attractions.
Hold off on Judge Judy, however. Are these men lying? They seem to be skating into a loop hole, ala Bill Clinton. Where Bill needed to dissect what the definition of “is” is, these men need to clarify what their definition of “attracted to” is. They never really do, but another couple, Mikeal and Mandi, who are in the same situation, have delved into a far clearer discussion of this. Their video is here. They describe an attraction that is functional and mechanical, but not the same as the intimate innate attraction most other couples experience.
Who they are attracted to, how they are attracted, and what happens with the objects of their attraction, rules the world of the men in “My Husband is Not Gay.” It appears to be a complete and total obsession of their lives. The word “object” is key. Their wives are objects—the women willing to sacrifice lovers who are truly passionate about them for best friends and a family structure; and the men they ogle constantly are sexual toys that they are permitted to gaze at, place it on a rating scale, but are not allowed to touch (or at least, touch certain parts of…the terms are unclear.) The core of their concern is their own perceived sacrifice and not being able to exercise the part of themselves that calls out frequently.
In my opinion, these men should not be the focus of whether or not this practice is harmful. Certainly, they are victims of the church, homophobia and fallacies as to how limited family roles need to be. I understand what they are trying to do. I was not Mormon, but I am one of these men. I remember the dilemma of realizing my instinctual self and the life I predetermined I must lead did not match. I listen to how they prayed, and the peace they got in the answer back “ to be themselves.” We only differed in how we moved forward. They molded them into the dogmatic system and have attempted to play by its rules. I stepped out and fought for the right to have an equal system that allowed me a spouse, a family and home, that fits who I am, rather than is forced to accommodate me.
I have a partner who is not made to feel like a life compromise. I have two magnificent sons that I adore. I am the dad I have always wanted to be. Like the men in this television show, I feel my life is the one destiny wanted me to have.
Their wives here are the real victims, in my opinion. The wives are vulnerable to what they are being told on all sides. They are told by the church that they will ultimately be rewarded for their sacrifices. They are told by their husbands that they must put up with behaviors that are mandated in their particular situation. Here is where I can hear Judge Judy swooping in, yet again, in the face of both the Church and the husbands declaring “You’re a LIAR!”
The men have somehow convinced their wives that it is completely appropriate for men in their type relationship to discuss their sexual attractions to others constantly. They have convinced their wives that it is a healthy thing to hang out only with other couples who have a spouse who similarly wants to display their outside interests. The wives have been placated to believe that their men going on overnight camping trips with the objects of such attraction is just a normal thing that should be accepted, otherwise trust will be called into question. I wonder how many straight women would support their husbands’ needs to go camping with a bunch of other women, so he can get “girl time.”
The women’s buy-in on this set up is so complete that when in a dinner party situation where a friend is trying to keep the topic of “same sex attraction” quiet, they cannot keep themselves away from the topic. It is the constant elephant in their living rooms.
Despite protestations to the contrary, each woman displays a sadness, a wound, in her eyes that is unavoidable. Mandi addresses the sadness in her video, but the women of “My Husband is Not Gay” do not. They do not bring up the fact that while their husband might have to give up the ideal sex life he desires, they are forced to live with THE man they desire and every day of their lives be reminded that he is not attracted to them, not really. It is this fact that gives their eyes this slightly hopeless sadness, the kind you might expect from a woman trapped in a home plagued by spousal abuse and cannot bring herself to leave.
I thought the most poignant, ironic moment of “My Husband is Not Gay” came at a dinner party as the group endeavored to match up “same sex attracted” Tom with a single young woman. Tom discussed his passion, musical theater, and specifically the play Les Miserables. She had never heard of it. “It is just this musical where a girl loves a guy and he doesn’t love her back.”
“Oh, that’s the WORST!” she exclaims.
An hour later, Tom is telling her that he is same sex attracted, but wants to see her again anyway. He is essentially offering her, what she had described earlier as “the worst.” He softens that offer with the fib, “But of course, I am attracted to YOU too.”
Cue Judge Judy.