10 November 2010

Pioneering paths and pitfalls

Note: this post began as a comment on my previous post and became a monster.


As is reflected in many of my posts, I'm quite skeptical of aspects of JIM, which skepticism is partially why I don't know if I'd ever be welcome even if I did have the money for it...that and my non-theist bent...and refusal to unquestioningly accept, even if I'd listen to and consider, a "life coach's" insistence about the causes and sources of my deepest emotional needs in a moment of cathartic vulnerability.


But I've always said I don't doubt I could learn a lot about myself from one of those weekends, even if I am comfortable being my own man whether or not I fit anyone else's idea of "masculinity" and whether or not I think the weekend has anything to do with changing my attractions. ...And whether or not I think some valuable tools and true principles are attached to potentially completely wrong paradigms and assumptions, something I admit I may not be able to know unless I actually went and experienced it for myself...kind of like being in a healthy same-sex relationship, eh? But hey, reservations aside, I've been learning to 'follow my heart' and be willing to experience and listen to different things and take the good from them that I find and leave the stuff I consider superfluous or invalid.

I could imagine going to a JIM weekend under no false pretense if allowed, learning some cool stuff about myself and gaining clarity on a thing or two, quietly acknowledging the exercises or ideas I think are overwrought or contrived without imposing my skepticism on someone else's experience, maybe being surprised by the intensity of my own experience, giving consideration to the explanations given, and using what's useful and disagreeing with what I think is wrong, being open to the possibility that much less is wrong than I suspected.


As for the statistical odds for 'mixed-orientation marriages', I don't know that I've seen reliable studies about it, but my observations seem to confirm that they aren't great. After all, I personally know several people who couldn't hold their marriages together, say they are happier in a long-term same-sex relationship than they ever were in their marriage with someone of the opposite sex, or who have held their marriages together but who (whether the SSA person or the spouse or both) confide to a few that they're quite unhappy and don't know if happiness is ahead but will probably never end the marriage out of obligation to their children and covenants, making it look to most people like a 'successful' marriage just because they're still together. I know many gay people who say they've never known a gay person in a mixed-orientation marriage who didn't eventually get divorced, didn't cheat on their spouse (usually often), and didn't confide in them that they weren't happy. But most of these cases, when pressed, admit their homosexuality either was not discussed before marrying, still hasn't been discussed or addressed openly, or was only discussed after being caught cheating or viewing pornography and therefore 'didn't go so well' and was off to a rough start.


I believe there are happy MOMs, but in order to know the couples who are happily married, you probably have to be in the right 'circles'. You often don't find them at Pride, or otherwise hanging out in 'out and proud' circles, or frequenting comments on The Advocate. They're most often quietly living their lives, often relying on a support network of other similar couples. Maybe they'll 'go public' more as society learns to accept and tolerate them, rather than pigeonholing them as doomed to failure and a threat to gay self-acceptance, and they're free to 'come out'. I personally also know several mixed-orientation couples who have been happily married for years, some for well over 15 years, a couple for decades. And because I personally know some of them fairly well, and a couple of them very well, I don't find it hard to believe they are, in fact, as happily married as any other married couple. Many or most of these were communicating openly about the issue from the beginning, and almost all of the rest weren't but have become so, with support systems in place for both spouses to help them through. Some observers say they'd rather not 'have to' have such a support system to stay married, myself included, but that's every individual's choice to make. Many of these have had rough spots, maybe more so than your average couple or maybe not--I can't know for sure. But they also usually confidently say they wouldn't trade what they have for the world and are glad they married and/or are glad they stayed together. And I typically believe them. But yes, many of them have been married fewer than 10 years. We'll see, but how disgusting might it feel to know the vultures are just waiting for your relationship to fail? I believe in optimism tempered with realism, but when it comes to hoping for friends' happiness, I try to let faith win out.


Probable statistical odds conceded, we don't know the statistical odds for the subset of couples who married having communicated openly about the issue before marrying and throughout the marriage, having done therapy and support group work to explore their emotional needs and fill desires and needs for friendship and non-sexual intimacy in certain ways, developing their sex life, etc. Whether it's about "changing orientation" or about coping mechanisms or emotional fulfillment, I'd guess the success rates of that particular subset are much higher--though even if so there will still be ended/failed marriages, yes, and I wouldn't know what consolation to offer those in that group--than those who "had the right intentions" and tried to "make it work" in a diffuse sort of way or maybe even went to couple's counseling. It's possible that of the however many percent of mixed-orientation marriages which ARE successful and happy, many of those share common threads which, if identified and applied on a larger scale, could greatly improve similar marriages. Who knows? Some try seemingly weird things in the process of learning what makes the best relationships tick, and unless there's demonstrable evidence that particular practices are harmful for all people, why not focus on cautioning those who want to try them rather than simply squashing the whole thing? As for JIM in general, my personal conversations and reading tell me claims that the weekend was traumatizing or harmful overall are the very small minority. But these are the kinds of questions some are willing (and yes, sometimes desperate) to explore and experiment on because it matters so much to them to try, both the gay/SSA people and the ones who love them and want to be with them, challenges and all.


I am concerned about guys who see examples like Preston's and think, "He's my hero! I'm going to be just like him!" First of all, Preston's journey and those of others who have done similarly are unique to each person in their challenges and timelines, and their journeys aren't as perfect as many guys wishing for the same seem to think when they see stuff like this Nightline condensation of the last several years of his life in a snapshot now. When do you think people agree to be interviewed for shows like that? When they're struggling and down, or when they're on a high and have been doing pretty darn well for a while? Do you think they're never going to have some down times again in their long, gradual personal progress, at least like anyone else in the world dealing with a long-term challenge? There have been times I'm pretty sure they'd describe as 'difficult', not just an 'adventure', especially when they don't feel pressured to represent an organization or program which has helped them approach those difficulties better equipped and with more courage but are speaking on a purely personal level. But though I may wish they'd be more up front about it, many of them will admit to honest questioners and newcomers privately, where it can be discussed in a trusting environment, that it's not always easy, and they'll discuss the challenges and realities, and they'll reassert their belief that it's been worth it and is getting better all the time with the things they've been learning. Many of those I know try to help others learn from, rather than repeat, whatever mistakes they may have made and prepare them for the inevitable ups and downs by sharing what has brought them greater peace and happiness each step of the way. Such is the pattern of pioneering, mentorship, building on the knowledge and experience of those who dared to go before, whether or not the idea or practice being pioneered proves 'true' in the long run or right for everyone.


I've never let anyone showing me statistics about the success rates or longevity of gay relationships or 'explaining' to me the realities/superficiality of homosexual love make my decision for me as to whether I dare to try to defy the odds or find out for myself what that love can be. I've processed the information I've found and referred back to my own perceptions, experience, beliefs, and 'moral compass'. I've asserted there were other confounding factors involved, and my experience needn't be that of the majority, particularly if I wasn't going about it in the way the majority seems to. I wonder if I'd have a harder time forging my own path if I lived in a time when the majority of the scientific community did think homosexuality was a mental disorder, and you'd have been hard-pressed to find a gay man who believed in monogamy and long-term commitment between two men, much less had lived it.

I've also seen guys (and gals) try to do all the 'right' things, go to the 'right' groups, and keep the 'right' perspectives, and end up bleak and unhappy, a few even attempting to take their own lives when they can't understand why they're not so 'successful' and happy in that path as their testifying counterparts seem to be. I want to make sure folks like that know that there are options, that they haven't lost their only hope if they can't seem to bring themselves to marry a woman (or a woman to marry a man) in whatever timeline they'd imagined. I want them to know how to find others who won't insist they abandon their personal beliefs, values, or principles in order to conform to a prepackaged path.

I cannot make the decision for anyone else or predict who will thrive in a certain path and who will despair...nor presume to know exactly why. The best I can do is raise a voice of caution when I'm genuinely concerned, show others what has worked for me, listen to and learn from the experiences of others, encourage others to seek truth and happiness the best they know how and to live by their proven values and principles rather than letting anyone else prescribe their decisions, offer my ear and voice as they explore, and offer my hand if they want to walk with me.


If a mixed-sex couple in which one spouse experiences predominant same-sex attraction grow old together, having a rich and fulfilling life together with their children and grandchildren, I suspect hearing "well, you were the exception to the rule" or "your example led to suicides of those who never knew you, never bothered to ask you about the realities of your situation or whether you believed all people should do it the way you did it, bought into a version of your story promulgated by those who thought you would fail, and consequently despaired when they didn't become straight within a year or two like they presumptuously thought you had" is highly unlikely to quell their gratitude for their decision to determine their own path to truth and happiness.

And I will determine mine.


BLB said...

I keep no scorecard in my head. I will become concerned when overzealous folks on both sides use failures of individual relationships to pursue an agenda. I think some gay men are fit to be in relationships with women, while some are not. In the same way some straight men are fit to be in relationships with women, while some are fit to be neutered. =]

Lee said...

Marriage between two heterosexual people is a gamble as well. Here are the 2009 stats:

•Number of marriages: 2,077,000
•Marriage rate: 6.8 per 1,000 total population
•Divorce rate: 3.4 per 1,000 population (44 reporting States and D.C.)
Source: Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional Data for 2009, National Vital Statistics Report, National Center for Health Statistics, Division of Vital Statistics.

I don't know how these stats compare with those of MOMs and SSA partnerships, but they illustrate that successful hetero marriages require the same level of commitment as any lasting relationship.

The choice is very personal, and I believe the chance for success and satisfaction in any relationship rests more on the individuals involved than on the sexual orientation of the couple.

You're right about being honest and open from the beginning, no matter what kind of relationship you choose. No secrets, no surprises, a serious commitment, sacrifice and hard work. However, referring back to another of your recent blogs, no one ever promised it would be easy, only that it would be worth it. I can attest to that.

Original Mohomie said...

In response to public and private comments, let it be known I _do_ believe a mixed-orientation marriage is not just a marriage with a challenge like any other. I do believe it's a challenge above and beyond what other marriages entail. I believe it has all the inherent issues of any other marriage, plus some pretty basic and complex intimacy navigation beyond what other couples have to deal with, even the ones with intimacy issues, because it's not just about the relationship but also (some say primarily) about one partner's needs for intimacy with members of the same gender.

The people I know who have done it without it being an extremely rocky road were in therapy or support groups or involved in things like JIM for years before they got married or before they really stabilized in their marriage. And for every one of those steady group or JIM attendees who has gotten married or stabilized, I know at least two others who are still taking the steps, still working at it and not sure if they'll ever be ready or who are having a really tough time in their marriage. I just believe it can be done, and happily so, by at least some people.

And maybe my two-to-one ratio only includes those who have been pretty steadily "trying" for several years, casually off the top of my head. It doesn't include those who either marry more hastily (a few) or who "give up" on therapy rather than staying in it beyond a year or few (very, very many), which makes the discrepancy much larger. Of course, it can always be said that if they only tried harder, longer, they might have done it. Maybe that's true in some cases. Everyone's gotta weigh their options and how much they believe it's their only or best option.

To be frank, I get sick to my stomach at the thought that people in my life might rejoice if I announced I was dating a girl just because she's not a man. It truly makes me feel ill and is probably by far the most significant thing making me want to run screaming from the whole idea. In other words, I want to tell them not to start thinking this means I'm about to play it straight and to get used to the idea that I'm going to find a great guy to settle down with because to be honest, that's still by far the more likely option, if I'm to be with anyone at all.

MoHoHawaii said...

You'll forgive those of us who have been chewed up and spit out by the intsitution of mixed-orientation marriage if we hyperventilate from time to time on the topic. I'm not going to do that now.

Instead, I'll just quote what Carol Lynn Pearson said recently. She's seen hundreds if not thousands of these marriages over the years. In her Mormon Stories interview she responds to a question about what she would say to a young woman who came to her for advice about marrying her homosexually-inclined boyfriend or fiance. Pearson's answer was clear. She says something like "Knowing what I know, with all of the experiences of my own life and all of the experiences I've seen in the lives of others, I cannot recommend that you marry a gay man. The risk is just too great." The interviewer presses her for excreptions and caveats, but she shakes her head and repeats, "The risk is too great."

(This starts at 37'45" in part 4 of the interview.)

Original Mohomie said...

Understood. And it's fair.

And yes, forgiven, and hopefully you'll forgive those who have been chewed up and spit out by gay culture and trying to date men who hyperventilate and caution others in their specific demographic against trying it because they've seen too many people get withered away by it before coming back to the faithful fold to be open to a possible future mixed-sex relationship but happily single until then and finding light and joy in denying the 'natural man' even though it's hard at times.

That's not to dismiss your concerns or Carol Lynn's. It's just to acknowledge the existence of unique circumstances and occasional exceptions and caveats, particularly among certain groups or common life experiences and beliefs.

I'm preaching to myself as much as you, here. I have tended to forget certain things, or what it was really like, and I'm trying to bring that voice back to see if I really, rationally disagree or if it comes down to, "Given certain beliefs and circumstances..."

Bravone said...

I haven't blogged much or read others blogs lately, but I did skim this a while back. The following partial paragraph still evokes the same emotion in me, so I guess I'll give you my thoughts about it.

I suspect hearing "well, you were the exception to the rule" or "your example led to suicides of those who never knew you, never bothered to ask you about the realities of your situation or whether you believed all people should do it the way you did it, bought into a version of your story promulgated by those who thought you would fail, and consequently despaired when they didn't become straight within a year or two like they presumptuously thought you had" is highly unlikely to quell their gratitude for their decision to determine their own path to truth and happiness."

The part that bothers me the most is the implication that my seemingly "successful" marriage might lead others who aren't able to attain it to commit suicide. While I suppose it could be true, I think the same could be said for those who see seemingly "successful" same-sex relationships, either in real life or media, and end up taking their lives because they can't find happiness in a same-sex relationship either.

I think it is unfair to lay the burden of responsibility of one taking his life at the feet of anyone else. It probably wasn't exactly what you intended to portray.

Original Mohomie said...

Bravone, I think you may have misread my comment. It was a bit of a jab, but it was a jab at those who try to blame people like you for pursuing happiness in your way for the misperceptions and self-hatred others create. I think someone who pursues your path and tells others they should be able to do it easily or just as well as you does assume some responsibility for the consequences of that portrayal, but I don't think anyone rightly deserves the blame for somebody else's inability to cope.

Bravone said...

I think I've been fairly consistent on my stance of the feasibility of marriage for gay individuals. It is working for me, and I am grateful for it. It hasn't been and still isn't always easy, but I am lucky enough to find happiness within my marriage.

I definitely don't advocate marriage as a cure for homosexuality. Doing so would be dishonest and irresponsible. While I don't outright discourage marriage homosexuals, I don't outright encourage it either. I believe each has not only the agency, but also, hopefully, the wisdom to know what is best for their own situation.

I don't think it is wise for many. As a married man, I hope that doesn't sound condescending. I frankly was lucky/blessed to find a wife that is quite remarkable, as you would probably agree. I was set up on a blind date the first week of the semester. It is a miracle that our marriage has worked, but I'll gratefully take it!

I didn't tell my wife about my attractions before we married. Hell, I couldn't even admit them to myself. I put her in an unfair situation by not telling her first, and strongly encourage full disclosure before marriage. She may still have married me, I'm not sure, and neither is she. She said she isn't sure she had the maturity to understand and deal with the accompanying issues a mixed orientation marriage brings.

Some may never have a high enough level of attraction physically and emotionally to the opposite sex to marry, and forcing it would be unfair to both spouses. For those individuals, I respect their agency to choose celibacy or to choose a partner of the same gender.

Choosing whether to marry or who one should marry is such a personal and life altering decision, that I don't pretend to know what is best for anyone but me. Even then, had I been more self aware when I was 22, I can't say with any level of confidence which choice I would have made.