The first time I saw a link to Josh and Lolly Weed’s post “coming out” as a mixed orientation (that is, featuring one straight and one gay person) marriage, I paid it little attention. I’ve seen plenty of posts from individuals — especially gay Mormon men — in (or now out of) mixed orientation marriages, so what could be different about Josh and Lolly’s story?
…But over time, I saw it linked again and again. I realized that this article had become conversation material for people other than Mormons when I saw it linked as a front page post at MetaFilter. In the first four days of the article’s published life, it has attracted over 2,700 comments. Within the comments both at his site, on MetaFilter, and elsewhere, some offer praise and best wishes for Josh and Lolly. Some are skeptical of his statements, pessimistic of the future of his relationship, or cynical about his intentions in writing the post. Regardless of where a person stands, the fervor from each side suggests that the “Club Unicorn” is causing plenty of folks to re-think their basic assumptions about sex, sexuality, and relationships.
The Basics of “Club Unicorn”
I hope it goes without saying that if you don’t read anything else I link in this article, you should read the original post I linked that explains the stories and the details. Here are the basics:
- Josh is a gay man. Lolly is straight woman.
- They are happily married, and have a healthy and robust sex life.
[pullquote]You mainstream couples are distracted by your chemistry and sexual infatuation. ~MetaFilter commenter[/pullquote] The rest of the post is Josh’s anticipation of and answers to various questions that people may have for his situation. Questions like: how can he be gay? Maybe he’s bi instead? (Answer: Nope. Firstly, sexual orientation is not defined by sexual experience, so his sex life with his wife doesn’t make him bi. As far as attraction, he’s only sexually attracted to men and not to women.
That, of course, leads into the second question: then how can he say he has a healthy and robust sex life? How can he enjoy sex with a woman if he’s gay? Answer? …let me just let Josh speak for himself here:
Here is the basic reality that I actually think many people could use a lesson in: sex is about more than just visual attraction and lust and it is about more than just passion and infatuation. I won’t get into the boring details of the research here, but basically when sex is done right, at its deepest level it is about intimacy…Many people never get to this point in their sex lives because it requires incredible communication, trust, vulnerability, and connection. And Lolly and I have had that from day one, mostly because we weren’t distracted by the powerful chemicals of infatuation and obsession that usually bring a couple together (which dwindle dramatically after the first few years of marriage anyway). So, in a weird way, the circumstances of our marriage allowed us to build a sexual relationship that is based on everything partners should want in their sex-life: intimacy, communication, genuine love and affection. This has resulted in us having a better sex life than most people I personally know. Most of whom are straight. Go fig.
Did anyone else do a doubletake when he was all like, “You mainstream couples are distracted by your chemistry and sexual infatuation. You have know idea what real intimacy and sex are like. Seriously I feel bad for you.”
How hipster is that, right?
While I don’t think Josh intends to condescend to anyone, this comment captures the sense that Josh and Lolly are a living criticism of “mainstream” thinking about sex and relationships. No matter what you feel about the prospects for the continued success of the marriage, whether Josh is professional or personally conflicted in counseling any gay or lesbian clients he may have, or how quickly people will hijack his message to advocate that all gay folks should Get Like Josh (despite his explicit statement that this shouldn’t be viewed as the only path for those who are gay and religious), we should consider the underpinnings of relationships.
Queer Theory and Modern Conceptions of Relationships
[pullquote]…Gay marriage becomes thinkable. Even more; it becomes obvious.[/pullquote]
A while ago on my personal blog, I wrote that (traditional) marriage is dead…and furthermore, we have killed it. I think that the reasons for this are many, but ultimately, as a society, we have shifted our understanding of relationships and marriages to being things about the emotional well-beings of the adults participating in those relationships. This manifests itself in many ways: we marry for love of one another rather than because our parents have arranged it. We take the continued emotional tenor of the relationship into account when deciding whether to end the relationship.
These changes, along with a few others, make certain thoughts thinkable. For example, if we believe marriage is about love, and if we believe some folks are not oriented to fall in love with a member of the opposite sex (but are perfectly capable of expressing love for another member of the same sex just as legitimate as the love one might feel for the opposite sex), then why not let two same-sex individuals marry? Thus, gay marriage becomes thinkable. Even more; it becomes obvious.
But where does this end?, some folks counter. Could this be the slippery slope to accepting pedophilia, bestiality, and other horrorterrors of even modern morality?
The answer is simple: the modern paradigm isn’t one of lawlessness. Rather, it is just a different standard, based on love, consent, and nonexploitation. Challenging other kinds of relationships amounts to showing how one or more of these factors are not secured.
Those who challenge Josh’s mixed orientation marriage generally come from the “love” angle — either Josh must be misdefining “gay” or perhaps he simply can’t be right about the health of his sex life. (Laurie’s post at Doves and Serpents hints upon the difference between love and being in love.) Others critique mixed orientation marriage on the consent (some gay men withhold their sexuality from their wife, feeling she wouldn’t have agreed if she knew) or non-exploitation (discussions about MOMs from the man’s perspective often discount the woman’s perspective) angles.
…Yet in Josh’s case, both knew about his orientation beforehand. He seems to understand that he is sacrificing one thing to have this opportunity. And so you have those who are praise Josh’s marriage…I’ll post a sample of non-Mormon comments from the Metafilter conversation for example:
…I can’t judge this guy, because what he and his wife are doing is between two consenting adults.
I do have sort of a dog in this race, since I self-identify not as bi, although I had an ongoing relationship with a pre-op transgirl (which did include some mutual activities that would not be considered straight hetero), but as “non-judgemental.” By that I mean that if you dig someone, go for it! After the digging someone part, it’s only a engineering problem. Not sure if that invalidates my sexual orientation or what, but any relationship is all about digging someone deeply. After that point, sex is only (for me) about bringing them pleasure and receiving pleasure from them. Thus the flippant “engineering problem” comment.
This is complicated, but I see it as a positive development. Isn’t the point of today’s queer sensibility “Do consensually what you want to do, and be honest”? This person decided to trade in a fulfilling sex life for some privilege. Not the choice I or most people would make. But millions of people sublimate some part of themselves for privilege every day– let’s blame the dishonest ones, not the transparent ones.
Without getting into the complications of queer theory (for that, see this earlier post I wrote), the point is that from this framework, one should be able to commend Josh and Lolly’s choices. But this seems counterintuitive to many, and so in this way, Josh and Lolly’s relationship subverts modern attitudes about relationships and sex.
Where do we go from here?
This post has gotten a bit long-winded, so I’d like to wrap things up with something Alan Jacobs wrote at More than 95 Theses:
What this story is pointing to is the possibility of personally chosen, not arranged, marriages built around a kind of regard for one another that is not primarily erotic, in the narrower sense. Here the key word is “intimacy.” These people married each other because they loved each other and wanted to share deep intimacy, but that intimacy was not characterized primarily by sexual passion. And yet the couple insists that they have a strong sexual relationship. The really interesting thing about the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, but with the possibility that our society has the logic of attraction all backwards: we start with sexual desire and hope to generate other forms of intimacy from that, but this model suggests that it could make more sense to start with the kind of intimacy that is more like friendship than anything else, and to trust that sexual satisfaction will arise from that.
I don’t think this is a new idea, but it feels new. When we read Jane Austen novels we think that the attraction between the protagonist and her beau had to have been primarily sexual but the topic just couldn’t be broached in those prudish days, but what if that’s just our narrowly sexual cultural formation talking? Maybe we need to think more seriously about the Weed family as a model for others — and not just for people who, as we Christians often say, “struggle with same-sex attraction.”
Let’s discuss this. The questions for today are as follows:
- What is the role of sexual orientation in relationships? What even is sexual orientation? Is it just “passion” and “visual attraction,” or is it something more? Do you agree with Josh’s mindset?
- If you agree with Josh’s viewpoint, do you think the church does a good job of encouraging this kind of thinking? Does it cultivate intimacy beyond sexual attraction, even for straight members?