Mixed-Orientation Religion: A Cautionary Tale

Published anonomously

This is confusing, but maybe it is the best place to begin. . . .

When I was a sophomore at BYU, I had a peculiar run in with the Honor Code Office regarding LGBTQ students and behavior.  It was 1989, and I was playing viola in the orchestra pit for an on-campus production of the Tragedy of Carmen. Given common artistic temperaments, a mixed group of singers, dancers and musicians would bond by going to Denny’s after rehearsals and hosting Sunday dinners together. A line from the opera–“You’re mine, daughter of Satan”– would often be belted out ironically when I made my entrance to any one of our shared gatherings. 

Eventually,  I began to pick up enough bits and pieces of conversation to realize that a good portion of my male friends from this production preferred relationships with men rather than women. That was wonderful for me, as it allowed me to play the role of the classic art-diva gal pal. I didn’t have to worry about dating or wonder if I would be safe late at night while with a group of men. I liked this group. More importantly, I believed in them, because they believed in me.

One day, another of our group, a woman dancer and Young Ambassador, showed up to our shared hangout in the Cougareat, holding out her left hand and squealing with delight about just getting engaged to a fellow Young Ambassador — someone who was not part of the opera production but was well known on campus as an incredible singer and dancer. 

After she left, one of my most quiet and trusted gay friends, a returned missionary and grad student, leaned over and told me “She can’t marry this man, or if she does, she needs to understand more about his past.” I asked, “Are you absolutely sure about this one?” And without saying too much, he confirmed that he was definitely sure. 

The woman was a friend of mine, but I’m no snitch. So I reached out to her fiancé, assured him I would not speak of it to her or anyone on campus, but told him, and hoped that he would agree, that a conversation between the two of them about his sexual history would be the honorable thing to do. 

Two days later I got a call from the Honor Code Office. The fiancé had called them and reported me as a student in the music program who is connected to the closeted gay art scene at BYU. He apparently decided to act preemptively by accusing me, just in case I went against my word and reported him. He told the Honor Code Office that I had called him and accused him of something totally false, and he didn’t want to lose his standing in the community. 

I was shocked. 

When I arrived at the office two Honor Code Office officials, an older woman and younger man, began to drill me. I was handed a pen and paper and asked to write down the names of all the current students at BYU who I knew to be gay—and to provide any other details I might know about their private lives. My first response was to ask which Honor Code rule I had broken? What had I done to warrant being called in, and where was that rule written, so I would know in the future not break it? There was no answer to my honest question, only more pressure to start making that list. And it had better be complete. 

When I declined to provide any names, the woman warned me that they had contacted my student ward bishop and scheduled an interview with him on my behalf. They told me to return after the interview and report what was decided by my bishop. This was prior to ecclesiastical endorsements, and felt like I was having more than my access to an education called into question. It seemed like it was a review of my access to, and membership in, the church itself. 

My bishop had only known me for a few months, and the interview was brief. I recall him saying, “You should tell them everything you know, because I don’t want any of my tithing dollars going towards any of those gays.” I left upset and under a double pressure. It seemed that I could not, after all, avoid becoming what I had been ironically labeled: a “Daughter of Satan”—either for telling the Honor Code Office what I knew and bringing condemnation on my friends, or by not telling them anything, losing my standing in the Church, and quite possibly permitting a man to marry my friend under false pretenses. I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t.

Frustrated, I called home and spoke with my dad, explaining the situation and explaining that anyone I named to Honor Code Office could be expelled, namelessly dropping into the dark shadow economy others kicked out of BYU were now struggling through—many times in life threatening ways. In 1989, the repercussions were devastating. Dad actually chuckled, and said, “They really have no idea what they are dealing with by calling you of all people in, do they? You’ll figure out how to do the right thing, and tell the truth.”  Light bulb.

The next day, I walked into the office, sat down, and told them I had met with my bishop, thought and prayed an awful lot about the situation, and they were right. I needed to tell them the truth and exactly what I know — everything I know. “I know …(pause) that no man has ever been in a homosexual relationship with me. That’s what I know. With total certainty, I can guarantee no BYU male student has ever engaged in any homosexual behavior with me. Outside of this true thing, anything I could add would only be rumor. And I don’t do rumors.” 

The bad-cop woman officer was visibly angered by this, but the good-cop officer could not contain his genuine laughter, and having no other actual violation to keep me in the interview, said I was free to go. 

Soon after the opera closed and we—as dancers, singers and musicians—went back to our individual departments. I lost touch with my dancer friend. I believe she had the conversation with her fiancé, though I cannot attest to whether or not it was a wholly honest one — which, as I can attest to, often happens in the face of this system. Last I recall, the wedding had been postponed, but I don’t know if they actually married, or if the marriage lasted. But I do know that there were two people who mattered in this scenario, not just one. 

It matters that a man was being pressured to lie about his nature in order to be married and maintain membership in the Church. And it matters that a woman was being lied to, and possibly lead into a marriage that might never result in genuine intimacy, in order to perpetuate the culture’s ideal of marriage.

In a system where marriage is solely between a man and a woman, who is that woman? Do we know her name? Is her unseen exile into shadow economy any less concerning than the often-named men who also navigate hard in our mixed-orientation religion? 

As we debate the place of same-sex affection at the BYUs and within the Church, let us also broaden our vision to see the other silent and unnamed sitting among us—women and men in mixed-orientation, same-faith relationships? Because they are there. We are here. 

These stories matter.

Comments

  1. Horrifying.

  2. Unfortunately I know too many stories. Yes the stories matter. Yes the individual men and women in all parts of the stories matter.

    I suspect we will hear, in comments here and elsewhere, that things are different now, that 1989 was a long time ago. In detail and particular ways that is correct. However, in any system or practice that strangles open expression and partnering (if people so choose) of any individual of any persuasion, people will get hurt and the injuries will not be limited to one or two. Too many, too often, almost every time.

  3. Kristine says:

    Things are not nearly as different from 1989 as they should be.

  4. No name give says:

    How do you know that a mixed orientation marriage could could never result in genuine intimacy? I enjoy true intimacy through faithfulness before and within marriage, faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and serving in his Church. I have an eternal marriage and a wife and children who love me. Why should I give all that up for the counterfeit intimacy of chasing after sex with other men? I won’t claim it will work for everybody but it’s what I’ve chosen and I wouldn’t give up what I have. Stop telling me that I don’t exist.

  5. @No name give 7:13pm
    You are right. Nobody can say that a mixed-orientation marriage could never result in genuine intimacy. But they can simply look at:
    1. the overwhelming numbers of broken mixed-orientation marriages
    2. the decreasing numbers of individuals on the former mormonandgay website as they find partners
    3. their own experiences with their partners/spouses
    Similarly, how do you know that intimacy is counterfeit between two men or women?
    If one’s goal is to “chase after sex with other men” then I could understand the falsity. Please don’t make the same mistake that you accuse others of.

  6. It’s human nature to judge by the stories we know. Some of the stories I know involve multiple parties–2, 3, and more–with different points of view and different joys, and injuries, and 20 years or more spans of time. It has made me cautious about judging from any one point of view or short span. I think that’s one important lesson of the OP.

  7. What JD said. What Christian said.
    Except for me only that some of the stories I know span 50 years or more from my first knowledge of the same-sex orientation of friends at BYU. I am not inclined to judge intimate relationships as “counterfeit” — as far as I can tell there are real counterfeit “intimate” relationships between men and women (and NOT only in mixed-orientation marriages) as well as in same-sex relationships. I’d best leave “counterfeit” evaluations to the participants in the relationship.

  8. real and counterfeit

  9. Kirsten says:

    I am that woman. And it nearly destroyed me.

  10. Having spent four years in the singles scene in NYC long after this I can assure you, as of a few years ago, this was an ongoing issue. Devastating for both parties.

  11. Happy Hubby says:

    @Kirsten – <3

    I hope you can heal and move on.

  12. Nate S. says:

    I am always horrified by stories I hear about tactics applied by the BYU Honor Code Office. At the risk of validating Godwin’s law, I won’t make any direct comparisons. However, I will be so bold as to say that, although I did not attend BYU, and although I do not have children and will thus avoid the hand wringing of deciding where to attend college, I am nevertheless extremely troubled by the attitudes and policies directed at minority group and LGBTQ students at BYU.

    I am seriously “troubled-enough-to-consider-leaving-the-church” levels of troubled by what the BYU HCO does to LGBTQ students and students who have been sexually assaulted, and these things never even happened to me. So, I can only begin to imagine how OP and others feel when they receive such treatment firsthand.

    The fact that the church enables, condones, and encourages such heavy-handedness against students is unconscionable to me. Where is the greater law in any of this?

  13. As I read this, what struck me most was your absolute hubris that it was your “duty” to interfere in another person’s private intimate relationship. You were somehow going to save your friend from a fate worse than death and liberate her partner to be his true gay self. Did it ever occur to you that he disclosed his past to his intended eternal mate? If not why is it your business? How good of a friend could she be if you don’t even know if she got married? You got exactly what you desired, to be in the middle of a drama triangle, Classic drama triangle requires a victim, rescuer and persecutor. A player may switch positions at any time, the rescuer may become the victim. Google it.

  14. Wondering says:

    I wonder what sense of duty impelled CB to post that comment. I didn’t find the word “duty” in the OP. Neither did I find in the OP any necessary implication of duty on the part of the author. I think I miss a lot.

  15. CB, good people do stupid things. I am sure she had only the best intentions. Hubris is a very strong word for trying to avert, what appeared to her, a disaster. This is like a story of the switchman who saw a train coming down the track toward an unknowing, innocent victim. The switchman throws the switch to route the train onto another track without understanding the outcome of that action. This is not a bad act, not hubris, only desperation.

  16. CB–if you think that the author of this piece was acting based on inadequate information, wouldn’t the counsel to avoid barging in apply in spades to your effort to psychoanalyze and judge someone based on a few paragraphs of a blog post?

  17. Anonymous says:

    How honest as the author do you want me to be? Many prefer I remain silent.

  18. Jd,
    Those statistics are garbage. They are by definition based primarily on failures. Likewise, if you survey everyone in the hospital with a virus you’ll find a higher motility rate than you would in the general population.

    And when all of society is telling you that you can’t be happy unless you’re with the same sex, you’re bound to create a lot of failures. The phrase false consciousness exists for a reason and it applies heavily in areas where sexual desire meets cultural hegemony. This should be obvious based on drastically different sexual preferences in appearance and behavior across time and region.

    The smart charitable people on this website are too quick to turn into what they seemingly despise – cultural hegemons who marginalize those who don’t fit within their preferred world view.

    So what’s a man or woman of faith to do? I don’t know… How about, follow the prophets! It’s clear where they are pointing on this issue and how they are acting. That will offer the most charitable opportunity for everyone.

    By choosing to negatively overemphasize everything they do to support God’s law of chastity, there is far far more harm than good being done here.

    Our sex drives are important for a reason. But they aren’t all who we are and they change drastically over time even within one person, to say nothing about the cultural, regional differences across time.

  19. Anon for this says:

    EtuBr,
    It is important to listen to the prophets. But it is also important to listen to people with personal experience in these kinds of marriages. Sexual desire is not the only component of orientation, and those marriages are profoundly difficult in many ways, not only because of the sexual incompatibility.

    Following the prophets doesn’t have to mean minimizing suffering that you don’t understand.

  20. A Fellow Traveler Along the Path says:

    CB et al: You seemed to miss an important point made in the OP: She wasn’t looking to out the young man in question to the HCO, his fiancé, or anybody else. She was just advocating that he be completely honest with his fiancé and they have some conversations about how his orientation could effect their future relationship.

    It’s the same way you should disclose and discuss and plan for anything that may have an effect on the rest of both your lives and your primary relationship. Things like having a progressive, debilitating health condition, mental health challenge (“PTSD is a gift that lasts a lifetime.”), or being a philosophical vegan (someone who won’t use animal products due to the treatment of animals) marrying a devoted carnivore. Or if one party is a devoted and active political progressive and the other is just as active a far right conservative. It’s not that those relationships are doomed and shouldn’t happen, but these things will add stressors to the relationship and both parties should have their eyes wide open when they commit to each other and have plans in place for how to mitigate their potential (negative) effects on the relationship.

    (And no I’m not saying SSA is any of those things. A “progressive, debilitating health condition” jumps to my mind because I DO have a slow moving, progressive, debilitating condition and it is something my sweetheart and I discussed at some length in considerable depth over a period of time when we became seriously involved. I wanted to make sure he viscerally knew exactly what he was getting involved with and its impact on him, what he would be required to do around the house, and our ability to be physically intimate in the future. It was time very well spent. It has impacted our relationship in many ways over the years. I tried to make sure he had no illusions about my “getting fixed” in the future. He has no regrets after 25 years of good and bad times together.)

    Emotional intimacy demands honesty from both parties, even radical honesty. Both people need to have as much information as possible about each other prior to making their commitments. “As honest with you as I can be with myself and I will try to be as honest with myself as possible.” Having faith, a strong testimony, and a sincere desire to make a relationship work does NOT overcome all obstacles in a marriage, especially when the parties begin and go on without being honest with one another.

    That was what I saw the OP asking her gay friend to do: give his fiancé full information to make her own decisions with. Then SHE could decide if it was something she could live with for “time and all eternity,” before she made any binding commitments.

  21. OP,

    Thank you for your compassion for all involved.

  22. @EtuBr

    I assume you mean mortality rather than motility. (Motility is the ability of an organism to move independently, using metabolic energy.) And since you brought up the idea of statistics not representing the whole story, I’ll assume that you know that death rates are a poor gauge of hospitals, since only 1 in 20 hospital deaths are believed to be preventable, since many patients are too sick to be saved once they are admitted to a hospital.

    Let’s talk about more of the story.
    I always find it funny when someone critically says “all of society is telling you that you can’t be happy unless you’re with the same sex.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that “the very key to happiness” is heterosexual married sex. President Packer explicitly and the remaining general authorities consistently taught for over a century that the formation of a family and the making of children is the primary purpose for our existence. Gay individuals grow up hearing this message every week. All other parts of life are considered consolation prizes. That desire for marriage and family (for many people) doesn’t simply disappear even if one is gay.

    I appreciate the call to follow the prophets. Through the years their prophetic words on this issue were based on their admitted ignorance. Reparative therapy expected because of the impossibility that the gay could be part of biology. Marriage commanded as an example of obedience, because the Lord would never create someone as gay, and the Lord would remove the temptations after the first experience of married sexuality. We are fortunate today that through the years they have been strongly and repeatedly encouraged to accept the possibility that the gay could be based in biology, and that marriage and heterosexual sex won’t cure the gay, and that gay people have a place in the Plan of Salvation (even though they admit they have no idea what it is.) I’m grateful that the testimonies of gay individuals and allies discarded more and more false traditions among the FP/Q12- even the ones the prophets wrongly said were directly from the Lord.

    Since we don’t know the specific day that the prophets stopped teaching their own false traditions and listened to the Lord on this issue, perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to still listen to the testimonies of our gay brothers and sisters, and not still encourage mixed-orientation marriages.

  23. Therighteousone85016 says:

    Jd
    perhaps it isn’t a bad idea to still listen to the testimonies of our gay brothers and sisters
    As one who lives with SSA I want to tell everybody I can it is not helpful when members support gay marriage.

  24. @Therighteousone85016
    Thank you for sharing that. Please elaborate – why is it not helpful for you when members support gay marriage?

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