Josh Weed is screwing with my narratives. Let me back up. The blogosphere this week has been discussing this piece from Mormon writer and humorist, Josh Weed. He came out this week as gay. And married to a woman. With children. And happy about it.
When I saw the article, I tweeted it with the comment, “I truly don’t know what to do with this.”
And that was the truest expression of my sentiment in that moment. I truly didn’t know. I'm still wrestling with it. This story messes with my narratives about faith and homosexuality and marriage and sex.
There’s no box I can put Josh in because he doesn’t fit into my predetermined narratives. The labels and narratives people live within must be the ones they choose for themselves and we have to allow room for them to shake them up. So when I can’t put Josh and his family into a box, that’s probably a good thing.
I also worry, almost uncontrollably.
I worry about the influence that Mormon theology – theology which states, in its essential doctrine, that a woman cannot be “saved” if she is not married – had on this couple and whether this was a choice made to kowtow to a sexist theological standard.
I worry that this is a soft-sell for ex-gay ministries – Weed is a marriage/family therapist who specializes in “unwanted same sex attraction,” which is common parlance in ex-gay circles.
Most of all, I worry about what this will do to the conversation surrounding marriage equality and LGBT rights, because, sometimes, I’m very cynical.
I’ve had conversation after conversation with people who don’t understand what living as an LGBT person is like for most of the LGBT identified people in the US. I myself don’t fully understand it, but as a straight ally, I try to listen. And, when I discuss it, I try to get across that being LGBT is not a choice, that, no, they can’t change and most don’t want to, and that we need to be supportive of them in their life choices. I also feel that we should allow them the space for a love life because “love the sinner hate the sin” is nonsense.
So when Josh’s story came out, I sighed. I worried about the inevitable discussions that would bring this up – this Mormon guy lives like a straight person! They don’t need marriage equality – they just need to find the right opposite sex partner, and commit to them! Sex isn’t THAT big of a deal! I worried that it would strengthen the argument for those who believe that gay people just need to make the choice not to be gay and can marry a person of the opposite sex without consequence.
In some ways, I wanted to say to Josh, “Don’t tell your story. It makes things more complicated for me.”
I wanted to cynically push aside his story, label it as a masked campaign for ex-gay ministries. I wanted to ignore him, his wife, and their three daughters. I wanted to tell them that they make things unnecessarily complicated for my side of the aisle, that he just made it so much more complicated for people like himself to move beyond the heteronormative “this is what a family looks like” ideal that has been part and parcel of Americana for so long. At my most cynical, I wanted him to shut up.
But he cannot untell his own life story. The truth of it is, he believes himself to be happy in a life in which he is living as a gay man married to a straight woman, and I must take him at his word. People like him exist. He exists.
That, ultimately, is what made me say that I don’t know how to respond. If Josh is happy, then he is happy. What we should take away from the story is not “being ‘ex-gay’ is possible!” but that this decision worked for his life at this time. There is no one right way to be LGBT, just as there is no one right way to be a woman or a man or a person of color. Just as it would be wrong for someone to take Josh’s story and use it to promote the idea that gay people can and should be in straight relationships, it is wrong for me to say to Josh, “You cannot possible be happy with that.”
This was hammered home for me just last night when Rachel Held Evans posted another link to yet another statement from yet another male pastor, telling me what it means to be a woman:
So that as you walk in on Sunday morning and strong singing, led primarily by men, and then a voice from God is heard, and women are loving this, they're radiant, they're intelligent, they're understanding, they're processing, they're interacting. ...when you look at a woman who is dominantly and prominently feminine, she will have a backbone, she will be articulate, she will be thoughtful (things we tend to think are male).
Here was yet another man telling me what it means to be a woman. Another man slapping a label on me and saying that I must only exercise my natural talents and gifts within a protected male space. Here is another man telling me what my label is and how I must see myself.
I broke down. I started crying right there in my living room.
Trusting that the decisions other people make for their lives are what they need to do is an important step in developing empathy. We can offer advice, ask questions, and push back on those decisions – if we have a standing relationship with them that allows us to do so (and an understanding that they are allowed to reject our advice at any time, just as you are allowed to reject mine).
But we cannot define other people's stories for them. We cannot make broad sweeping declarations of "this is what gay looks like," or "this is what 'woman' or 'man' looks like."
Narratives, labels and boxes can be important and useful at times, but we must alter them to accommodate real live people, rather than altering the people to fit our narratives.