Weed, Mormonism, and the Language of Sexual Politics

The Josh Weed story continues, as evidenced by the recent ABC News Nightline interview and continuing articles, blog posts, and mushrooming comments. The country is fascinated with this homosexual man with a purportedly happy and [even sexually] fulfilling marriage of over ten years.  He has raised interesting questions about the nature of homosexuality, marriage, and self, that I think have done a great deal to deepen and broaden the conversation.

In tackling one of the many elephants in the Mormon room, I am not going to attempt to explain what Mormons believe about gay marriage or homosexuality. My primary purpose in this post is to explore why these discussions can be polarizing and overly binary.  Part of the reason could be that some of the language used is employed as self-evident concepts, while conveying different meanings to different people. Words like “authentic,” “love,” “self,” “marriage,” and even “homosexual” are used as hinges in these discussions—but do people agree on what they mean? What might some Mormons, or other Christians, be hearing?  (A caveat: religious and civic discussions about gay marriage have different parameters; I will be focusing mostly on the former. Last point: keep in mind that I am trying to show the dialogue is complicated. Not how it can be resolved.)

Let’s take “self.” One of the reasons Josh Weed has been such a lightning rod is because he complicates the idea of being “true to yourself.”  Often, proponents of gay marriage argue that homosexuals  who do not express  their sexuality lead a false life of suppression or denial of who they “really are.” Underlying this assertion is the assumption that there is a cohesive, unitary self that should be freed from cultural, religious, etc., pressures, to be happy.  Josh Weed, to some proponents’ horror, claims that he is being true to himself.

The question is, which self?  As he has tried to explain in his interviews and posts, Weed finds himself conflicted by competing commitments and desires. This alone makes him no different than the rest of us—what makes him different is the extreme mutual exclusivity he sees in some of the more significant desires and commitments he experiences: his spiritual identity and his sexual identity. While we all make choices that liberate one identity while oppressing the other (choosing to be the “responsible self” over the “fun-loving self,” or the “serviceable self” instead of the “self gratifying self”), the choice between his sexual identity (attracted to men) and his spiritual identity (including the commitment to hetero-monogamous, family-oriented teachings originating in Mormonism’s dualistic, heterosexual divine model) was obviously more poignant.

In his words, “I feel like I am being true to myself and that I have looked at these two components of who I am and for me it was a matter of mutual exclusivity… I simply had to know myself and know what… would be best for my life and best for what I wanted for myself.”

John Dehlin, perhaps like many others, saw this choice as sacrificing an essential part of Weed’s identity for a constructed one: “Using religion or spirituality as a way to manage your sexual orientation…as a way to sort of suppress those feelings, or control yourself, is the most damaging way to cope with your same-sex attraction,” Dehlin said. The difference is clear: here, religion is an instrument, and sexual orientation is the essential identity. Josh Weed, as well as many other Mormons, may beg to differ.

While Mormonism still has much to explore by way of determining what parts of our identity are eternal, or essential, and what parts are ephemeral and constructed, it is not incoherent for Josh Weed to make the choice that his spiritual identity is essential and eternal, and his sexual identity is not, and to act accordingly. This consistency, at the very least, can be respected.

Furthermore, this pluralism of selves is at the heart of the Mormon–and Christian– paradigm.  Read Paul’s writings and try to find where his cohesive, unconflicted self is—he may have a thing to say about the dualistic battle between the carnal and spiritual man. Or peruse the Book of Mormon for the Anti-Nephi-Lehites’ opinions about what the atonement means for their rebirth, and the sacrifice of their former familial and cultural identity. Or we could wrestle with what Christ’s paradox of “losing our lives” to “find them.”

“Self” is just one example. If time permitted, I would try to do the same analysis with “love.”  Does “love” mean unconditional , comprehensive acceptance?  Or does it refer to an enabling esteem and compassionate regard?  One Christian might find the commandment to “love one another” to mean we should extend marriage rights regardless of orientation (though perhaps discriminating on number of partners). Another might find that same commandment, and it’s follow up “as I have loved you”, to mean that we treat fellow humans as beings of infinite worth, and to whom unqualified acceptance would be cheap and easy, unlike Christ’s invested and loving devotion (see C.S. Lewis’s “unstoppable surgeon.”)

Or we could do the same with “marriage” (consensual contract between two adults? consensual contract between any adults? consensual contract between two heterosexual adults with the explicit purpose, in principle, at least, to rear children?…) or “homosexual” (unchangeable essentialist identity? biological, chemical, or hormonal condition? preference?…) and the list goes on. Religious discussants on both sides would benefit from sacrificing some sound-bite slogans and pausing to clarify these terms for productive dialogue.


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  • Corajudd

    The language of sexual politics is ambiguous, and using Weed to legitimize a Mormon definition of “gay marriage” is being done almost exclusively by straight people – how political is that?
    Regardless of what Weed’s sense of self includes, he isn’t a model. He is both the experiment and the outlier and that should eliminate him from a rational conversation. But he is a gay man in a straight, Mormon marriage and this carries a lot of weight with true believers. For Mormons to be logically consistent, the many, many gay and lesbians members who rejected their sexuality, married straight, started families and then fractured everyone’s lives when the farce became unbearable should carry proportionally more weight. It’s incredible (but predictable) that this isn’t the case.

    • Rachael

      Cora, I’m not sure to whom you are referring; I have not seen anyone using Weed to legitimize a Mormon definition of “gay marriage,” nor have I done so in this post. I also find the argument puzzling- that Weed, because you deem him an “experiment” and “outlier,” should be eliminated from “rational” conversation. By that same argument, someone could argue that we should eliminate homosexuals from any rational conversation about marriage because they only constitute 3-7% of the population and are thus “outliers.” I doubt that’s what you would like; perhaps what you mean is not that you’d like to eliminate him from “rational” conversation, but that you want his model proprotionately represented in the discussion, and not inflated. As far as I can tell, that is the case; I think people widely recognize that mixed orientation marriages tend to fail more than succeed (at least, according to the current stories that have been voiced), but that some like Josh Weed, Ty Mansfield, and others, along with their spouses, find it to be a successful and satisfying arrangement. As I see it, these cases affirm that homosexuality is complex, and not as static or monolithic as some might argue; this kind of enlightenment is valuable when there is still much to learn about homosexuality, and as I argue in this post, further illuminates how “selfhood,” “love,” “authenticity,” etc., are also complex concepts.

      • Corajudd

        Is it even possible to discuss the Weeds without the subject also being about how to reconcile homosexuality with the Mormon belief that the sexual expression of it is a “very bad” sin? My alarms sound when the Weeds are idealized, obliquely or directly, because of this: the target audiences include young, ordinary gay Mormons who, in trying to heroically square their sexuality with their Mormon upbringing, may try to pattern their own lives after an anomaly — but not a benign one. The outcome is stastically more likely to be lasting pain and destruction than a loving, sexually gratifying marriage like the Weeds’. Like the warning on cigarettes, maybe there ought to be a little contextual reminder of this hazard at the bottom of every discussion…

        • Rachael

          Cora, I think the question about reconciling Mormon beliefs and the moral status of homosexual behavior is an interesting, if separate, topic, in regards to this blog post. Your comment reflects a similar paradigm that I pointed out in John Dehlin– assuming that someone’s religious identity (to which you refer to as only an “upbringing”) is constructed, imposed, or nonessential, and that someone’s sexual identity is nonnegotiable, static, and/or essential. I will simply have to take your word for it that people everywhere are idealizing the Weeds; I must not be reading the same sources. Either way, making absolute calls about the state and outcome of such arrangements, particularly when overriding the subjects’ own claims, is a kind of bias that I find unhelpful in understanding and taking seriously other people’s points of view, for purposes of dialogue (legislation and legalization is another matter; my post was concerned with the first steps of dialogue, and understanding terms).

          • Don Harryman

            Rachael–I couldn’t agree with you more regarding two of the above statements: ‘reconciling Mormon beliefs and the moral status of homosexual behavior is a separate issue’ and ‘legislation and legalization is another matter’. Exactly.

            That is the entirely my position. The disposition of the first issue is yours to be held within your Church. I don’t care what Mormons believe or practice, so it doesn’t involve me. However, if you choose to bring that discussion into the public square and of course you are welcome to do it, and to use it to promote or codify into law your beliefs, then you must be prepared for people to disagree, and you cannot expect to receive deference for your views because they are informed by your religion. Thankfully, your right to believe and practice–including marriage–within your Church is sacrosanct and protected by absolute language in the First Amendment. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or restricting the free exercise thereof.

            The law–which you address in your second statement is separate, and involves the contract law made between consenting adults. That is the only portion of the marriage debate which gay people can or want to be involved in. The 14th amendment of the US Constitution requires equal protection under the law–in this case, the marriage contract law between consenting adults. The founding fathers thought this all out quite well I think.

            Eventually, equal protection under the law will win the day, and the First Amendment right to private religious practice will remain intact–as one has nothing to do with the other.

  • http://www.getmeontop.com/ gabrielamable

    Absolutely u got this one down right man.. Keeped me entertained for ages.

  • jerry lynch

    Who I am is not what I have made of myself. This is the “self” I need to surrender, allowing an ever-deepening love to fill the vacuum. God is love and we are made in this image and likeness. Love is the I AM both of God and man. Our true potential, identity, and purpose only find expression through love, otherwise the results are nil. The self I made has a good dose of the yeast of worldliness. The “self” I have made is a false image and likeness of God.
    “While we all make choices that liberate one identity while oppressing the other…” I see it differently.
    To make of myself a “living sacrifice” is to forsake all identification with this “self” as who I am. In effect, what I “sacrifice” is only that which stands in the way of my greatest freedom and deepest joy in Christ, Eternal Love. Sanctification is the steady removal of what oppresses, not a more spiritual oppression.
    There is one type of love, Unconditional, which finds Its expression in various forms, such as for spouse, friend, neighbors and enemies.

  • http://ielastiffc.info/ Branden Waeckerlin

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  • Rachael

    Don, I think you are missing a substantial part of the discourse surrounding same-sex marriage; while some have voiced their dissent in religious language, plenty of others have expressed sociological concerns that are not tied to any particular faith claims. Also, perhaps another blog post sometime could explore the difference between separation of church and state, and religion and politics or religion and morality. This might help elucidate some of the misunderstandings you seem to harbor about those who support traditional marriage and about the role of religious beliefs or moral views in public discourse. This article, however, may be informative in the mean time: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/religion-reason-and-same-sex-marriage

    • Don Harryman

      This article is a tired rehash of the same argument–religious views somehow deserve deference because they are founded in religion–particularly ‘Christian’ religion. Astounding, as Christ said NOTHING about homosexuals. Nothing. Your condescending suggestion that I harbor ‘misunderstandings’ about those who ‘support traditional marriage’ is predictable and as tired as the article you referenced. What I understand clearly is that Prop 8 was not about supporting anything, but about demonizing homosexuals and removing rights under civil law, using a pack of lies and cheap fear mongering to accomplish it. Where did Jesus justify lying? Or is that another special right claimed by those in ‘the Only True Church’?

  • chilegirl

    I realize that the article was about Mr. Weed and what he is doing is what is best for him. Mr. Weed’s path is his and everyone should respect it. It works for him and others like him. Why is it that the Catholic church is not getting the negative press like the Mormons are? The Catholic church, along with other religions, were involved with Prop. 8 just as much as the Mormons were.!!! So why is the Mormon church seen as the sole enemy when clearly the Catholics and other faiths were involved with Prop 8? The gays, who are physically and verbally attacked, turn around and display the same behaviors towards the Mormons.