An Open Conversation on Mixed Orientation

A “mixed orientation (M.O.) marriage” is where one spouse is straight while the other opposite-sex spouse is attracted to the same sex. History has seen many such marriages end in much pain and

Brian Gee

Brian Gee

confusion—especially if kids are involved. Given their destructive potential, mixed orientation marriages are rarely viewed as an option for people who experience same-sex attraction.

However, I have two friends who are in such marriages. A couple months ago, I posted an interview with Nate and Sara Collins, who are in an M.O. marriage. Today, I interview my good friends Brian and Monica Gee who are also in an M.O. marriage.

 

PS: Thanks, Brian and Monica, for being willing to answer some questions on my blog. Would you mind starting off by telling us about how you both met?

BG: Thanks for having us on the blog. We’re both nerds at heart, so it’s no surprise that we first met each other through our shared Biblical Greek and Orchestra classes at a small, conservative Christian college in California. For a full semester, we knew each other from an arm’s length, but we didn’t really get to know each other. I also didn’t know that by the end of that semester, Monica had developed a crush on me.

By that point in college, I had been out as gay (actually, at the time, I would have said that I’m same-sex attracted) to myself and to a growing group of others for some time, and I wasn’t looking to date or marry. Based on my conservative theology and commitments, I generally assumed I would be celibate. I remember telling God that while I also wouldn’t outright dismiss heterosexual marriage, I wouldn’t consider or look for it unless he made it very obvious that it’s what I should do.

At the start of Spring semester of 2005, I had at least eight friends in a span of two or three weeks ask me if I had considered dating Monica. The night that the eighth friend asked me, Monica and I were both at a friend’s recital. Afterward, we were standing outside the recital hall when Monica came up to me and said, “Brian Gee, what makes you tick?”

At that point, I had started to pay more attention to Monica. I wanted to know what she was all about and whether or not God was actually taking my caveat more seriously than I had thought he would. When she asked me that question, I told her that I’d need more than a couple of minutes to talk about it. That question led to our first four-hour conversation where we both realized how we were probably meant for each other. I also started to experience something I very much was not expecting – attraction to her.

 

PS: Monica, when did you first find found out about Brian’s sexuality, and what did you think about it at the time?

MG: The short answer? Brian told me on our first date that he had experienced same-sex attraction (how he described it back then) and I said, “As long as you are attracted to me, I’m ok with it.” The long answer is, as you can imagine, much more complicated. As much as Brian was up-front with me on that first date, I also heard what I wanted to hear and decided I didn’t really want to think about it much more. It was a topic that occasionally came up while we were dating and engaged, but mostly in the form of “are you sure you are really attracted to me?”

It was an awkward spot in our relationship for some time. I had previously been involved with a guy that was same-sex attracted, so I had a lot of baggage. But because of that relationship, I had also worked through a lot of my fears, biases, and theologies about sexuality. When that other relationship ended, someone I respected told me, “Anyone you marry is going to have some major stumbling issue; it’s just a matter of which one.” So in that respect, I looked on Brian’s sexuality as the major issue we’d have in our relationship, and I decided I was willing to go with it.

 

PS: Why did you both go ahead and get married? What were some of your fears and some of your hopes and expectations?

BG: By the time that Monica and I started dating, I could honestly say that I was physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually attracted to her. The first of those four was as much a surprise to me as it is to anyone reading this. I did not and do not identify as bisexual. But considering we both believed in a God who works in unusual or unconventional ways, it didn’t feel disconnected from the bigger picture.

With that physical dimension (seemingly, at the time) resolved, we got married for two very normal but important reasons. First, we were in love with each other in every way that one experiences love in the early days of a relationship. Second, we were convinced that we could help others better together than if we were apart. At our core, we knew God was bringing us together so that we could serve more effectively together. That formed the basis of our best hopes and expectations for our marriage. Looking back, we could never have imagined what this would blossom into through the years of smiles, trials, and pain.

I think our fears were aligned, even if we didn’t talk about it much. I feared that this unexpected attraction would go away, and Monica feared that I wouldn’t be attracted to her. But those were underlying emotions that neither of us spent time thinking deeply about. We were genuinely in love, after all. So those emotions were simply there, waiting to return to the surface.

 

PS: Looking back now on over 8 years of marriage (and three kids!), what were the major turning points that came about as a result of your unique relationship?

MG: The first three years of our marriage were ignorantly blissful on my part. There were a few signs that we weren’t always on the same page physically, but in general we had a seemingly healthy relationship, and the sexuality conversation was on the backburner. On the other hand, Brian was privately attempting to deal with emotions that I didn’t know about. By our fourth year of marriage, Brian was at an emotional breaking point. He wrote me a letter opening up to me about the emotions he’d been dealing with for some time.

That letter began the hardest month – the hardest year – of our relationship to date. It brought up hurts, fears, realities, and suffering for both of us. Brian finally used the word “gay” to describe himself (not same-sex attracted or any other safe, Christian phrase) and admitted to me that his physical attraction towards me had vanished soon after we were married. He hadn’t wanted to tell me because he wanted to protect me, knowing that this would be unbearably painful. In the meantime, he had bottled up his emotions and experienced confusion with – and anger toward – God.

During that time, we realized that in our marriage, we were both being called to live with form of suffering if our relationship was to continue. I say ‘called’ because it certainly wasn’t our choice, and yet it was exactly where God had directed our lives. In remaining faithful, Brian suffered by not experiencing the fulfillment of many of his physical and emotional needs. And by remaining in our marriage, I suffered by having my deepest fears realized and feeling a deeply painful form of rejection. We both realized that this suffering wasn’t going to be temporary and would probably never find resolution in our lifetime. And yet, this common suffering that we experienced united us to Christ’s suffering and to each other in an inexplicable way. We began to take solace in this unity, a unity that would become a keystone for our life and work together in the years that have followed.

 

PS: You’ve had many mixed-orientation (and even some heterosexual) couples seek you out to talk about their marital experiences. Can you share any recurring themes or lessons that have come out of those conversations?

BG: To be honest, these conversations are some of the toughest that we have. We tell couples and families that we’re not counselors, that we won’t try to solve their issues, and that the only thing we can speak to is our own experience. We’ve also had to learn to be OK with opening up about the most private parts of our life together. But through this openness, and through spending hours upon hours listening to others open up about their most private and painful struggles in their relationships, we’ve learned about the nature of marriage itself.

For me, one of the most important themes that I’ve seen rise to the top is that sexual satisfaction is not and cannot be the foundation of a healthy Christian marriage. That may sound intuitive, but there are hundreds of subtle ways that we betray that simple principle. When we talk with couples that are at a marital breaking point, it’s never the sex or sexual compatibility that’s at the heart of the problem. Plenty of heterosexual couples experience similar levels of sexual discord.

Even when one or both partners have cheated, it isn’t the act of cheating itself that destroys the marriage. It’s a permissive bitterness that slowly enters into the relationship. Couples stop communicating, which means they also stop sacrificing for one another. One betrayal – be it physical, emotional, or relational – gives a sense of permission that leads to the next. Instead of seeking a love that bares all things, good and bad, each person starts looking for ways to protect him/herself from more hurt.

But what is at the foundation of a Christian marriage except the charge for both spouses to continually serve and sacrifice for one another as Jesus both served and submitted to the Father, even in the face of certain failure, pain, weakness, or suffering. We know that as humans we do fail, we will be hypocrites, and we will cause those we love pain. Like anyone, I’m not exempt from that, and no amount of self-protection will change that reality. So when real sexual hurts and unspeakable relational betrayals go unforgiven or even unaddressed, it’s not the initial incompatibility that makes the relationship insolvent; it’s the progressive lack of willingness of one or both spouses to lay down his or her own desires for the sake of the other, especially in the face of certain future pain.

MG: I’ll answer this question from the “straight spouse” perspective. Most of the mixed orientation couples that we talk to want to talk primarily about the gay individual and how that person should act. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that there is a lot that the straight spouse can do to support and nurture the gay spouse. When we feel threatened, it is human nature to shut down. Our first inclination is to avoid talking about homosexuality and to prevent the gay spouse from talking about it with others or associating with other LGBT people (affirming or non-affirming Christians, unbelievers, or otherwise). But in silence and isolation, discontentment grows. That is especially true here.

If LGBT individuals are isolated in the church (and they most often are), then mixed-orientation couples are even more so. It is a minority of a minority, and finding open and honest community is very difficult.

We’ve received a lot of well-meaning advice that has turned out to be very harmful, but possibly the worst is to avoid other LGBT people. The assumption and fear is that if Brian befriends another gay man, of course he’ll cheat. While there is wisdom in maintaining some physical, emotional, and relational boundaries, isolating oneself completely is extremely harmful. Brian’s friendships with other LGBT people have been a significant contributor to his emotional health.

My encouragement for the straight spouse is to allow these types of relationships, even to welcome them. I trust God first and foremost, but I also trust Brian and demonstrate that trust by loving his LGBT friends. In fact, they have become my friends too and help me to better understand Brian as well as how faith and sexuality intersect for a variety of people.

 

PS: Thanks so much for your time and openness. I have one more question, so feel free to answer it and also add any closing thoughts you might have. Here it is: sexuality is such a large discussion both in the broader culture and in church culture. What’s your experience been like at the intersection of those two (often opposing) places?

BG: We’re sort of go-betweens, and it is isolating for those of us who find ourselves at this intersection. On the one hand, we’re generally viewed as the ugly stepchildren of the LGBT movement. This means that our motives and marriage are constantly questioned. Many assume we’re just another version of Joe and Harper Pitt from Angels in America. In a movement full of inclusivity and openness, we’re often told we can exist if we just keep our heads low and stay silent. I get why we’re viewed like this. Stories like ours have been used to promote orientation change, reparative therapies, ex-gay movements, and other unhealthy and dangerous ideologies. Some in our place have even promoted this kind of rhetoric. But that one reality is no excuse to suppress out of hand an entire category of gay people and their straight spouses who are in loving, committed relationships with one another despite the additional challenges that sexuality brings. We need community and love and support as gay people and those who love them as much as anyone else.

Through our friendships, we have found that these biases ease once people have interacted with us personally, but until that’s happened, the general narrative is that I’m somehow not being true to myself, or I’m simply naïve toward the better life that I could be leading if I were to embrace God’s approval of my sexuality. Most assume our relationship is doomed, and they’re just waiting for us to prove them right so we can go down as another “told you so” in their book. (Imagine for a moment anyone looking at and talking about your marriage, whether gay or straight, in that way!)

It would take another post to unpack all of this, but suffice it to say that the former narrative is a misunderstanding of what living into a true self is while the latter story is not due to any gross deception or lack of understanding. As those who know us closely can attest, our relationship is sincere, and it comes with all of the love, trials, failures, redemptions, and temptations (though perhaps intensified at times) that are common to other marriages, along with a host of pressures from both sides to become what others want us to be.

On the other hand, as with many celibate gay Christian friends, we are viewed with just as much suspicion by the conservative churches and institutions that learn about us. We face questions and critiques about everything from what words we use to describe ourselves to confrontations about what a lack of faith it is to not embrace a hope that I will one day become straight.

Because we are married, we also deal with a couple of other issues unique to our situation. First, we are always watching out to make sure our experience isn’t being used as any sort of normative example for what gay Christians should expect for their own lives or the lives of their kids or loved ones. This is something unique to us, and we don’t believe we are normative or prescriptive for others, even if we do believe it’s important that we are acknowledged as people worthy of dignity, respect, and a voice.

Second, we deal with pastors, counselors, and sometimes even peer groups that have little to no actual experience with a couple like us. Instead of sitting with us to listen and learn from our experience, many have attempted to counsel, mentor, or share based on what they deem to be analogous experiences and wisdom. This has rarely helped. It only communicates that our experiences are somehow beneath those that they have had and can be quickly and easily resolved. Instead, it would be better for those in both communities to walk quietly with us as we process through our life and our choices, our struggles and our fears.

In that holy tension of not delivering a quick or easy answer, there is the echo of Christ’s unanswered call to the Father while on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

MG: On the other hand, we have found in many a beautiful picture of what the church should be: an eye learning that it is not a foot and benefiting from what they eye has to offer the body. We have definitely found community and sustenance, even among those who don’t fully understand or agree with everything we believe. I feel like our marriage has actually made us more effective in relationships and in ministry. Being open about our life has allowed for great depth in friendships, which I wouldn’t give up despite the pain it has sometimes caused. Whatever suffering we have endured, whether internal or external, it has all served to knit us together and to hopefully make the gospel attractive by our continued love for Christ and his church.

 

 

About Preston Sprinkle

Dr. Sprinkle serves as the Vice President for Eternity Bible College's Boise extension and has authored several books including Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence (David C. Cook, 2013), Paul and Judaism Revisited (IVP, 2013), Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us (David C. Cook, 2014), and the New York Times bestselling Erasing Hell (David C. Cook, 2011), which he co-authored with Francis Chan. In December 2015, Preston will release two books on homosexuality: People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is not just an Issue, and Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen's Guide to Homosexuality, both published by Zondervan.

Preston also hosts a daily radio program and podcast titled Theology in the Raw, which can be listened to live online (941thevoice.com) or via the Theology in the Raw podcast in iTunes.

Preston frequently speaks at various venues including college chapels, churches, music festivals, men's retreats, youth camps, family camps, conferences, and anywhere else where people desire to hear relevant Bible teaching. If you want to have Preston speak, you can contact him directly through his website: prestonsprinkle.com.