The Strange Sad Story of Josh Weed

BrokenGlass

In 2012, a post by the Mormon blogger Josh Weed went viral. In it, he told the story of why he, a gay man, chose to marry a woman – who knew and accepted that he was gay. Not only that, he insisted he and his wife were happy together:

In my case, I am attracted sexually to men. Period. Yet my marriage is wonderful, and Lolly and I have an extremely healthy and robust sex life.

To anyone who dismissed this as impossible, Josh asserted that he and his wife Lolly had a spiritual connection that ran deeper than mere sexual attraction:

…when sex is done right, at its deepest level it is about intimacy. It is about one human being connecting with another human being they love. It is a beautiful physical manifestation of two people being connected in a truly vulnerable, intimate manner because they love each other profoundly… 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).

But most of all, Josh says, it was the Mormon beliefs he and his wife had in common that made their life together not just possible, but fulfilling. He was certain that he was living the way God wanted him to live, and that faith brought him an abiding peace and joy that far outweighed the paradoxical nature of their relationship:

I believe the doctrine of the Mormon Church is true. One of the key doctrines of the church is that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children”… I also believe, and my experience has shown me time and time again, that when I follow the teachings that I know to be true my life is blessed and I find immense joy and peace. I feel that this joy and peace is a direct result of my connection to God’s spirit as a result of living in a way He approves of… I believe that to live my life this way is being true to myself, and to go down any other path would be egregiously inauthentic and self-deceptive.

Well.

If you read all that waiting for the other shoe to drop, here it is. Six years later, Josh has written an update: he and Lolly are getting divorced.

If your mind went there immediately, Josh says he didn’t have an affair. Instead, what ended their marriage was a slow drip of contradictions: an accumulating weight that built up until the dam broke and they were both forced to confront the impossibility of what they were trying to do.

In his update, Josh admits that what he said about the joy and peace he gets from following God’s plan was a half-truth at best, a falsehood at worst. In fact, he and Lolly had been suffering profoundly for years from the lack of romantic connection in their marriage, but they were both in denial about it:

Our marriage… contained an undercurrent of pain that we were not able to see clearly or acknowledge for many years, which made continuing in it impossible.

…we were suddenly able to see more clearly the pain that my sexual orientation brought to our marriage. It hurt us both very deeply, and we spent many long nights holding one another and weeping as we thought of the decades to come for us, neither of us experiencing real romantic love.

In his day job as a marriage therapist (!), Josh saw many people in similar circumstances as himself. What he came to realize is that the Mormon church’s teachings cut off LGBT people from what humans really need: a genuine, romantic, passionate relationship with someone they love who loves them back in the same way. It forces them to live life without hope. And the natural result of this “attachment blockade” is suicidality:

These were good people, former pastors, youth leaders, relief society presidents, missionaries, bishops… They were dying before my eyes. And they would weep in desperation — after years, decades, of trying to do just as they had been instructed: be obedient, live in faith, have hope… As a practitioner, it became increasingly obvious: the way the church handled this issue was not just inconvenient. It didn’t make things hard for LGBTQIA people. It became more and more clear to me that it was actually hurting them. It was killing them.

Josh wasn’t immune to this. Contrary to what he said about “immense joy and peace”, he now admits that he grappled with bouts of emotional agony and suicidal terror:

With no context and no warning, I would occasionally be brushing my teeth or some such mundane task and then be broadsided with a gut-wrenching, vast emptiness I can’t put into words, that felt as deep as my marrow – and I would think in a panic “I’m only 37. I’m only 37. How can I last five more decades?” That thought — the thought of having to live five more decades, would fill me with terror.

…I have thought of putting a gun in my mouth more times than I can count.

As Josh now acknowledges, he’s never had a “reciprocated romantic crush with a person I was attracted to who could like me back”. He’d never held hands with such a person, never danced with such a person, never kissed such a person. He literally had no experience of what a loving, romantic relationship felt like. Therefore, he was able to convince himself that the pale shadow of it he felt with his wife was the real thing.

In a part of the post that she co-wrote, Lolly said she suffered from a similar naivete. Although she’s straight, they married very young and had almost no dating experience. She too had no knowledge of what a romantic relationship was supposed to feel like – “it was just a concept to us”.

People who read our previous post might be confused because we mention having a robust sex life. That was true. We put forth a lot of effort and were “mechanically” good at sex — and it did help us to feel intimate, and for a time that closeness did help us to feel content in our sex life — but I don’t remember him ever looking at me with passion in his eyes.

…Platonic love is simply not enough, no matter how much we hoped it was.

Both Josh and Lolly apologize to anyone who felt “false peace” or “false hope” because of their story. Most of all, Josh writes, he’s sorry for the ways his story was used by ignorant, bigoted people as a club to force others to behave the way church dogma said they should:

One person wrote — and I’ll never get the horror of this out of my head for the rest of my life — saying that he went to see his family for Thanksgiving during his second year of college, where he was an out gay man who openly had a boyfriend. When he got home, his father pulled up our story on the computer and then physically assaulted him, beating him as he had often done during his childhood, saying “if this guy could avoid being a faggot, so could you!”

The truly strange part of this is that Josh still believes God directed him to marry a woman in the first place. He says that in 2002, “I heard a voice in my head say ‘ask her to marry you,’ and I did”. Nothing in his new post contradicts this. And Lolly concurs, “We talked about how Heavenly Father asked me and Josh to get married and now he is asking us to take this next step because gay people should be loved for who they are.”

Not to sound callous, but do they think God was just jerking them around for fifteen years? Why put them through this ordeal of misery, why torment them to the point of suicide, if he had a different end in mind for them from the beginning?

Most of all, why do they blame themselves if they were doing what God told them to do? If their story gave false hope and false peace to countless young gay Mormons and was used by others as a justification to torture and abuse their LGBT children, isn’t it really God who deserves the blame for that?

It’s a microcosm of the “so wrong for so long” problem, where liberal religious people can’t answer why God allowed evil to flourish for centuries before delivering a revelation to gradually end it. Of course, this pattern makes perfect sense if there is no god delivering revelations, only human beings and their gradually awakening moral sense, which expands over time to embrace possibilities once unthinkable.

Even more perplexingly, in spite of everything, Josh wants to remain a Mormon:

I can choose to attend the Mormon church — the faith tradition of my youth and of generation after generation of my family — until the day I die. I cannot choose what the institution does to me/with me. But I can choose to be in that pew… though the institution itself might consider me an outsider, and though the institution might not let my youngest two children be baptized if I partner with a man and my children live with me full-time as Lolly and I have planned.

He’s not kidding about that bolded part. As I wrote in 2015, the Mormon church has adopted an egregiously cruel policy that excludes children of gay people unless they disown their own parents.

You can be forgiven for feeling incredulous at this. Josh Weed believes the LDS church’s teachings on homosexuality are cruel and archaic to the point where it’s literally killing people like him. He believes it will exclude his own children from belonging because of who he is. And yet he still wants to belong to it? Am I the only one thinking he has reservoirs of denial that he hasn’t come to terms with?

From my outside perspective, I don’t blame Josh or Lolly for getting married and trying to make it work despite their incompatibility. I can accept that they were well-intentioned people trying to do what they thought was right.

The real villain of this story is the Mormon church, which indoctrinated people like them with the false and harmful idea that there’s one correct way to live and every person should fit into the same mold. It dangled illusory promises of perfect happiness, while watching people break themselves into pieces in a vain effort to reach them. Then it tells those broken people that they should blame themselves – that they failed because they didn’t believe enough, didn’t try hard enough, rather than because the goal was impossible.

I don’t think we’ve heard the conclusion of this story. While Josh and Lilly understand each individual step of why the church’s teachings are wrong and how those teachings hurt people, they haven’t taken that reasoning to its logical end point. I won’t be surprised if we see another post from one or both of them a few years from now, saying that they’ve had another change of heart, and explaining why they’re leaving the Mormon church.

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