Monday, August 29, 2011

Therapy (Again)

Today was my last appointment with the therapist I've been seeing for the last 7 months.

I stepped into the university counseling center in January of this year. The first day they asked me to fill out a survey. I was asked to identify my sexual orientation on the survey and state my reasons for coming to counseling. I didn't quite know what to say. I checked the box that said "questioning." I put I was there because of my sexual orientation as well as for depression. It wasn't as if I didn't know that I was attracted to men. So I didn't know if "questioning" or gay or bi was the right word for a formerly somewhat out gay man who tried to change his sexual orientation and was currently married.

I went in because something in my life wasn't right. My wife and I had moved to California, and the last couple of months had been hard. I'd stay up late crying. I pulled out the evergreen manual wondering if there was something in there that could help me. I didn't seem to find resolution or answers. Finally in January I told my wife, "I'm gay. I know I told you before, but there's more to the story than when I first told you."

We hadn't talked about it since I told her right before we got engaged. I wrote a letter. I had her read it, and then we talked about it. I told her in that letter I'd realized this was something I couldn't change. I told her I thought about doing therapy, but I was worried that they would convince me I was gay, or convince me to do something against the teachings of the church. Even though we were worried about that, we decided it'd be best if I went to therapy anyway.

So as I sat telling my counselor about how I'd gone to evergreen and how I'd gone 10 years since then avoiding a "Gay lifestyle" she seemed surprised. I told her though that I'd realized recently that no, my efforts to diminish my same sex attraction hadn't worked. I was still as attracted to men as I ever was. In all that time, I wasn't exactly in denial about being same-sex attracted, but I just sort of put it in a unresolved box that said, someday God will take this away. Confronting the reality that it wasn't going to change was difficult for me.

The next time we met, she pulled out a paper with a scale on it and explained that sexuality is complex and not as simple as gay/straight. I told her how much I loved my wife, but how I wasn't sure what to do about the fact that I was sexually attracted to men.

I didn't know exactly what I felt for my wife. Was I gay? Could I be in love with a woman as a gay man? As the weeks went on, we explored this conflict that I felt between having sex with a woman but being attracted primarily to men. It didn't really make sense to me at first. I thought, is she telling me it doesn't matter that I'm attracted to guys and married? She said she understood why I would feel a conflict. But in my way of seeing the world, I just didn't get it at first. It took some time, and education to learn what sexual orientation was, what "being gay" meant.

Contrary to what I feared originally, never once did my therapist tell me what to do, or convince me to be gay, or live any lifestyle. But as I went into this space where I was free to talk about what I wanted, what I was feeling, I realized for myself I felt a lot of conflict about being married. I was somewhat uncomfortable saying I was gay or bi, but accepting that my same-sex attraction was natural was affirming. I became more comfortable saying I was gay over time, because it was a way to view myself as a whole rather than shoving my "same-sex attraction" into a box that read "wrong, evil." I'd been told my whole life that somehow I was deviant, or unnatural. But finally I wasn't.

Therapists tend to affirm you as an individual.I don't believe this is wrong. She was with me and understanding and affirming when I talked about my conflict. But she never convinced me to label myself as gay, live a gay lifestlye, divorce my wife, or anything. My LDS therapists were for the most part unaffirming. They denied that I was gay, and lead me to do the same. They did steer me toward what they thought I should do. This is at least somewhat unethical. A therapist is supposed to do what the client wants. To try and push your client a certain direction because of your personal view point is, according to my understanding, against the standards of the profession.

As I came to an understanding that it was alright that I was gay, something I'd felt myself in prayer, then I had to figure out where to go from there. Being gay and married is not something I'd ever really come to terms with. I'd always lived believing that being gay was something wrong, and that my same-sex attraction was something that would someday be changed. The attractions and feelings were to be changed suppressed, ignored, prayed against, and I believed God would help me overcome them.

He didn't. He lead me to understand it isn't wrong to be attracted, sexually or otherwise, to men. It's not my fault that I am, it's not because I had gotten too close to my Mom, or because of abuse, or any reason other than it just was.

Sometimes people ask, well, you seemed to deal with being Mormon and gay and married really well for a while didn't you? What changed? I can't say exactly. It's hard to explain. I think after enough years of having my interest piqued every time a gay themed story, or movie, or book, or even lesson in church came up, it gets to the point where you can't ignore it anymore. After enough years beating yourself up because you notice a good looking guy, or noticing how you don't check out the pretty girl down the hall, or in a movie, you can't help feeling different. You can't help but start to question your choices, and the path your life is on.

So what do you do about it? I think a lot of things. I think we all have to make our own decisions and live with our choices. A healthy way seems to be to say, I'm attracted to men. Awesome. And then move on. Or saying, I'm attracted to this guy, we like each other, I'd like to see where this goes. An unhealthy way seems to be to try and root it out, beat yourself up for it, seek for causes and roots, and reasons that are invalid. It's pretty disappointing when after years and years of believing a lie, you confront the reality of that.

I don't believe that everyone in a "Mixed orientation Marriage" should just get divorced. I don't even believe that everyone with "same-gender attraction" should resign themselves to celibacy to stay in the church or leaving the church to have a relationship with a same-sex partner. We're all different. Human relationships and human sexuality is so complex. At the same time, I don't believe that it's healthy to just ignore conflict, ignore the way it affects the sexual relationship and other aspects of a relationship. I think honesty before marriage and during marriage goes a long way. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it helps avoid a lot of heartbreak down the line. Being honest with yourself and others is one of the most important things. For me and my wife it wasn’t enough. I don’t have the answers for other people, I just know for myself what I’ve lived and been through.


  1. Alex,

    I thought this was a great post. I'm glad you had a therapist that was professional and did it right. And I'm gald you've come to terms with who you are. It took me over three decades to come to that realization, and I didn't have a therapist to help me. I did, however, have a Stake President that steered me clear of the Evergreen thing and helped me realize that I was gay and I would stay that way. Saved me even more years of "wrestling" with an issue I shouldn't be wrestling with in the first place.

    So now, the question we all must answer for ourselves is; "Where do we go from here?" Take my advice - there's no need to rush on this one...

  2. One of the things that I have learned through my experience,(which is far from over), is that we are all different in our sexuality. That's one of the things that I've found that most people, in the church and out, don't recognize, including my wife. They think that gays are all alike, that it's black or white, gay or straight.

    I wish it were easier to be just "be"...

    Thanks for posting your experiences....Adrian

  3. I agree with a point you made towards the end of the post: honesty is critical in mixed orientation marriages. There is structural hurt and difficulty built into these relationships, but it can be reduced through honesty and communication.