Straight woman, gay husband
After being paired with the cute boy about her height in her Hillcrest High School madrigal choir, Sarah Nicholson followed the Mormon dream. She sent that young boy on a mission for their church and 10 days after he returned, they were engaged. Three months after that, they were married.
Fast-forward 13 years and five children later, the marriage was going along smoothly. Both she and her husband are employed and her kids are healthy. But one evening there was something her husband, Scott, wanted to tell her.
“He was standing there and he told me there was something important he needed to say,” Sarah said. “I started to get nervous. I asked him if he had cancer, if he was sick, if he lost his job. I just needed to know.”
It was more difficult to tell her than he thought it would be, Scott said.
“She finally turned around so I could say it to her back. And I said it. I told her, ‘I’m gay.’”
Sarah laughed at first and almost felt relieved, until they tried to sleep.
“I didn’t sleep at all that night. I just sat there wondering what would happen to our family. What would happen to us?” Sarah said. “I so desperately wanted him to promise that we would make it through it. But he couldn’t, and deep down I knew that.”
Scott said he didn’t realize he was gay until later in his life, and as soon as he came out to himself, he told his wife.
“I thought that I just admired muscles and popularity. I thought being gay was this terrible deviant and bad behavior,” Scott said. “But when I came to the realization, I knew I had to be honest. Our relationship has always been based on total honesty.”
After countless conversations about how to handle the situation, the couple told their children, and began to develop a plan for how to go forward.
“We’re separated and he lives in the basement, but our lives are still interconnected. We still eat dinner together as a family and we all get along,” Sarah said.
Scott said he occasionally dates men, when he can find time. He has even brought a date home to help with yard work and carve pumpkins.
Sarah said she is not interested in dating at this point.
“I just hope I don’t end up alone. At this point, that’s all I’m worried about and no matter what happens or is said, I always tell the children and everyone else that he’s a good man.”
As painful as it may be, Sarah’s case is far from unique. A study by the University of Chicago indicated that up to 3.4 million married men in the United States have homosexual sex. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there are approximately 27 million married men in the United States. The number of married men that had sex with other men did not appear to be increasing despite the relative accessibility to being an open homosexual, said Joe Kort to the New York Times. Kort is a psychotherapist and has counseled hundreds of gay men married to women.
“They fall in love with their wives, they have children, they’re on a chemical, romantic high, and then after about seven years, the high falls away and their gay identity starts emerging,” Kort told the Times. “They don’t mean any harm.”
After meetings with bishops and even an experience where Scott stood in front of the entire congregation and told the members he is gay, Sarah had to go through the coming-out process almost as much as her husband. She stuck up for him, and gay people in general, in her female-only classes in church. But soon after, lessons were given where gay-rights supporters were called wolves in sheep clothing.
“It’s been tough, and not at all what I expected for my life,” Sarah said. “This isn’t how it was supposed to turn out. He was supposed to be my knight in shining armor. He was supposed to be my prince charming.”
“The hardest thing has been watching the pain (Sarah) has had to go through,” Scott said. “I wouldn’t ever recommend that gay people get married to women. It just doesn’t work and it causes too much pain.”
Struggle to suppress homosexuality
In the months leading up to a wedding, most people discuss issues such as drapes, china choices and how many kids they want to have. But for John (name has been changed), he had something much more important to discuss.
“Before we got married, I told her that I was attracted to men and that at one time I had been in love with a guy,” John said. “We never discussed it openly again.”
The attitude most Mormon men have to face is that being gay is a temporary condition or a choice that must be overcome, John said. After serving a two-year mission in Europe for his church, he realized he wasn’t going to change, but he thought it was something he could ignore or suppress.
“I knew I would have to devote my whole heart mind and soul, and I thought it meant I would have to leave behind a lot of who I was,” John said.
Denying his sexuality meant more than not dating men; it meant dispelling all aspects of his life that could be considered gay. He ignored his appreciation of classical music, and visiting art galleries had to go. He knew he couldn’t be sensitive or show a feminine side.
After being married for more than 15 years John never even entertained the idea of exploring that side of himself. He served faithfully in church callings, or positions of leadership, including serving in the elder’s quorum, the high council and a variety of other positions.
“Living the life I chose was to experience heartache,” John said. “I don’t regret my adult life anymore, especially my children who I love dearly, but there’s a lot of pain associated with it.”
When he came home from serving his religious mission, John said there was no doubt that his counsel was to get married. Finding a faithful woman, getting married and having a family was the only option for him and his church made that abundantly clear, he said.
“That was the culture and it was all part of an ideal that we all tried to live up to. I was totally faithful and fully believed that it was what God wanted me to do,” John said.
Young, gay men in the Mormon Church are pressured constantly to conform and at the time John was married, the counsel from the church was that being gay was a choice and something that simply had to, and could be, overcome.
“And even now that the official counsel is that being gay is not necessarily a choice, the leaders still advise young gay men that if they feel they can deal with it, they should get married to a woman,” John said. “What 21-year-old faithful returned missionary is going to think that they can’t deal with it? Essentially the counsel is the same, just worded in a more politically correct fashion.”
John never questioned if he would remain married and Mormon until a speech in October 2010 given by the second in command of the Mormon Church, Boyd Packer.
“When I heard the words come out of his mouth calling gays “impure and unnatural,” and saying that a loving god would never make his children gay, I just knew. Something just snapped and I knew I was done,” John said.
John decided he was done living the lie, started reading and drew courage from gay Mormon blogs, which inspired him to start his own blog at InvictusPilgrim.Blogspot.com, and he came out to his wife, again. She didn’t take it well.
“I thought that it (coming out and getting divorced) would mean my entire adult life was a waste,” John said. “But it really wasn’t. I have my children and everything that I’ve learned. But I would not advise it for anyone else.”
“I would tell all other young gay people not to get married. No matter the pressure you feel from your church or families, it just isn’t worth the heartache and pain. And the divorce I’m going through could have been avoided altogether.”
Redefining traditional marriage
There’s no one, true definition for love, in or out of marriage. At least that’s what Tina Bergstrom and Daniel Ott, who are engaged, say.
“I’m gay, she’s straight,” Ott, 24, said while laughing and looking at Bergstrom on the couch next to him. “I love her so much. More than I ever thought I could.”
“And I love him too,” Bergstrom said. “It might be a little different than other people’s definition of love, but it works for us, so who cares?”
The couple met online through a mutual friend on Facebook in 2008 and has been nearly inseparable for years. Working through difficult times together, Bergstrom and Ott grew to trust one another unlike they’ve ever trusted anyone else.
“I originally proposed to her because I wanted someone to help take care of me, if things go downhill,” Ott, who is HIV-positive, said. “I trust her to make sure everything I want to happen, if I do end up having troubles.”
But the wedding became more than just a simple way to ensure that medical decisions could be made. Bergstrom and Ott are rarely seen apart, even though Ott is currently dating another man. The three live together and make up a small family unit.
“We make sure to eat dinner together most nights and we like to plan out the meals to make sure it can happen,” Ott said.
“Which usually translates to me cooking them,” Bergstrom laughed.
Both Ott and Bergstrom acknowledge that this is not a traditional relationship and wouldn’t work for everyone.
“You have to be careful about jealousy,” Bergstrom said. “It’s not a problem for me, I know he’s going to date other men. And I were to ever find someone that I wanted to marry, he’s OK with me being with him. But I don’t think that will happen. I hate straight men.”
The couple will be having a civil union ceremony later this month with only a few friends and family members in attendance. Later next year they plan on making it official and legal.
“A lot of people are confused when I tell them about it,” Ott said. “But it works for us. I know we sound like a sitcom, but it doesn’t feel that way. We love each other and I am so glad to have Tina in my life.”
“We’re not the traditional family that you see on TV,” Bergstrom added. “But we’re happy. It’s what we both want and I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is all I would really want in a family.”