With trepidation I watched “My Husband’s Not Gay.” I feared that it would be an effective tool to recruit impressionable youth into “ex-gay” programs, promote junk science, and airbrush the pain that often results from unstable mixed orientation marriages.
To my surprise, this show backfired. It may actually help the LGBT community, while harming the very “ex-gay” programs that this show sought to promote. The featured subjects appeared insincere, unconvincing, and gayer than Liberace in spandex.
Indeed, to my surprise I found the show somewhat enjoyable. After all, what gay man wouldn’t enjoy a frivolous hour of cute gay men ogling even cuter gay men? The wives, in many cases, were mere onlookers while their husbands cooed about one stud after another.
This was probably the gayest production I’ve watched since The Birdcage, with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Far from an effective advertisement for sexual orientation change efforts or reparative therapy, this show made a mockery of it.
Ex-Gay organizations have long mimicked the LGBT movement. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), for example, is a rip-off of Parents, Families, and Friends, of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Voice of the Voiceless aped Gay Pride by hosting its failed Ex-Gay Pride that drew less than 20 participants.
“My Husband’s Not Gay,” (airs on Sunday) is the latest attempt to impersonate the LGBT movement. The show’s gay Mormon protagonists use the device of coming out, hoping to gain sympathy for their decision to marry women.
Instead, they came across as sexually stunted, immature men who married delusional women who desperately clung to wishful thinking. Far from the sympathy and sunny optimism these couples had hoped the TLC special would generate, most viewers will simply feel angst and pity for the protagonists.
The poor wives of these uber gay men. They try mightily to keep a brave face and express confidence in their marriages. However, the façade often cracked and revealed deep anxiety. At several points, their husbands appeared one wink or gay kiss away from leaving them for men.
This was evident when Jeff said to his wife Tanya: “I think me and the guys are going to go camping in a few weeks.”
Tanya looked like she had seen a ghost, or at least Brokeback Mountain on cable TV. “Camping,” she nervously replied.
Jeff got defensive and asked, “What’s that look for?”
Tanya explained: “When my husband goes on camping trips I get concerned, because anything can happen. Remember the incident that happened in the house a couple of years ago?”
Put in a corner, Jeff sheepishly admits: “There was one time a couple of years ago a couple of guys slept over my house, and let’s just say that things got a little out of control.”
Poor Tanya, she must be neurotic. Her husband also admitted: “Who will I notice first, a beautiful man walking down the street or a beautiful woman walking down the street? I’ll notice the beautiful man 9 times out of 10.”
Indeed, it seems that Jeff spends half the show scheming to jettison the wife to carve out private time with guys. Whether camping, playing sports, cruising for men with his friends, or sleepovers (slumber parties at his age??) Jeff has no shortage of ingenuity in finding ways to metaphorically seduce dudes into visiting his man cave.
The show is also packed with convoluted thinking and circular reasoning. For example, despite her husband incessantly commenting on men he would sleep with, Tanya cheerily chirps, “It’s not gay, it’s SSA,” which means “same sex attraction.”
Another wife, Megan, echoes this bizarre reasoning when she explains, “I think there are so many people in our church that don’t know the difference between a gay lifestyle and having these same-sex attractions.”
The tortured and conflicted gay men are equally in denial, personified by Tom who says, “I don’t feel like I fit the mold of guys that are attracted to other men, other than my deep and abiding love for Broadway show tunes and the attraction to males.”
Tom’s cognitive dissonance continues when he says, “I’m interested in men, I’m just not interested in men.”
This reality clown show becomes downright absurd when the men unveil their 1-4 “danger scale,” as if their sexual orientation is a tornado. They assign a 1 to simply looking at a man they find attractive and a 4 if they are ready to break out the lube and poppers, presumably on one of Jeff’s titillating sleepovers.
One of the more revealing moments comes at a restaurant, after Jeff and Prett openly gaze at a hot waiter in front of their poor wives (see pic). Jeff mentions that he had recently seen a 4: “He was at the gym weighing himself and he looked like Superman.”
Jeff’s wife, Tanya, quizzically replies, “I’ve never heard you talk about a woman on the danger scale.” Jeff and Prett try to recover by groveling and telling their wives how beautiful they are. But we all know that the damage is done and that deep down these wives know the truth. At least we hope they do.
One scene is a perfect metaphor for the entire “ex-gay” movement, as well as “My Husband’s Not Gay.” Jeff and Prett are setting Tom up on a blind date with a woman. Tom is clearly nervous about the situation and not sure how to handle it: “Does this girl know I’m super into dudes sometimes?” he asks, before revealing he has a “crush” on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Tom is frumpy, overweight and tags along with his sexier married friends. As a perpetual third wheel, he desperately wants to join the “marriage club” and is frantically hunting for his wife, like a college freshman rushing to get accepted into a popular fraternity.
In this defining scene, the friends drag Tom into a mall so he can buy fancy clothes for his date, although he makes it clear that he strongly prefers wearing a T-shirt and basketball shorts. It is jarring to watch this pathetic charade where these “friends” are helping Tom buy a costume he doesn’t want to wear, for a date with a woman he doesn’t want to touch, while openly cruising the gay store clerks. They are literally drowning in inauthenticity and constructing a façade to erase Tom’s true identity.
The big date finally arrives, with a dinner party hosted by the SSA friends and their wives, where they can’t reveal their peculiar marital arrangements. It is an awkward situation because these characters have little depth. They are brought together by homosexuality and without this topic as the glue, they have little else to discuss. Somehow they manage to keep their secret, but do so by making their guest uncomfortable with endless inside jokes.
The stilted date mercifully ends and Tom walks her outside. In a burst of courage, Tom comes out of the closet. He tries to assuage the date’s fears by saying, “I’m attracted to women too. I wouldn’t be on a blind date if I wasn’t.”
Herein lies the danger of the “ex-gay” movement. At the beginning of the show Tom admits that he is a 34-year old virgin who has never kissed a guy or a girl. His religious views may have kept him from making out with men, but if he were truly attracted to women, what stopped him from kissing them? His story seems implausible and an unseemly attempt to manipulate a woman, with little regard for her feelings or how his lie might impact her life.
If the characters on the show appear devious, it is because they are. TLC was negligent, if not unethical, for failing to disclose that the subjects featured are more than simple Mormon families. They are hardcore, agenda-driven, anti-gay activists, seven of whom were staff members of the “ex-gay” organization Evergreen International, and now are affiliated with a group called North Star. Both organizations peddle junk science and work to browbeat gay people into marrying the opposite sex.
One of the subjects, Pret Dahlgren, was recently deposed as a witness in a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawsuit against the “ex-gay” organization, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). In this role, Dahlgren spoke in favor of discredited reparative therapy, which is compared to child abuse and is banned from being inflicted on minors in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
While “My Husband’s Not Gay” was amusing, it was laced with toxic messages that explain why these gay men had married women. Jeff explains his choice by parroting the LDS’s backward (yet evolving) stance on homosexuality: “We’re Latter Day Saints or Mormon and the only acceptable expression of sexuality and romantic feelings is within a marriage between a man and a woman.”
This is a poisonous idea that has caused tremendous harm to LGBT people. It creates a false narrative where a gay person must choose between his or her spiritually and sexuality. TLC could have spared 30 seconds to include the voice of a pro-gay religious figure to dispute the lie that religion is uniformly anti-gay.
Of course, the theological inflexibility displayed by Jeff can undermine critical thinking. For example, Jeff is so extreme that he has written that “it would have been wrong to ordain a black person in May of 1978, even if you knew with a certainty that is changing the next month,” referring to the fact that, before 1978, black men could not be Mormon priests, and that both black men and women were generally prohibited from full membership in the church.
The answer to why these men would psychologically torture themselves and rope women into their drama is revealed when their heterosexual friend comes to Jeff’s home to pray:
“I see you showing up with your beautiful wives and you look just like regular people to me,” he says.
The not so subtle message: Without your wives (beards) you are abnormal and not regular people. You are outsiders, maybe freaks, who don’t belong in our special, exclusive group.
Although these men claim religion is their motivation, it’s likely that cultural intolerance plays just as big a role. Facing such prejudice and discrimination, it makes sense that some LGBT people would feel enormous pressure to unwisely marry the opposite sex. They do so to fit in, avoid public humiliation, and be accepted by their faith community.
This inevitably leads to tragic results. Support groups, such as The Straight Spouse Network and Bonnie Kaye’s Gayhusbands.com are left to pick up the pieces of these shattered marriages, and help thousands of men, women, and their children rebuild their ruined lives. Those who push such unstable unions love to celebrate the wedding photos, but rarely show the divorce papers and custody battles that occur down the road.
Sadly, TLC’s reality show, “My Husband’s Not Gay,” airbrushed this harsh reality. For my radio show, “I’ve Got Issues,” on Chicago’s WCPT that airs on Saturday from 4-6 PM, I interviewed Barbara Leavitt. (Hear excerpt now) She is a Mormon woman who was married to her husband Lester for 24 years – before eventually divorcing him after he came out as gay. Barbara offered her sage advice to those who try to promote such doomed marriages:
“Stop. It’s not fair. It’s not nice…it’s horrible to try to make people be something other than who they are.
It can also be psychologically damaging. Every respected medical and mental health organization, including The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics say that homosexuality is not a mental illness and that efforts to change one’s sexual orientation can he harmful. The American Psychiatric Association has said that trying to go from gay to straight can cause “anxiety, depression, and self destructive behavior.”
Interestingly, the show did not openly promote reparative therapy. However, the message of reparative therapy was littered surreptitiously throughout the entire show, with all of its stereotypes and inaccuracies.
Let’s begin with the term SSA (Same-Sex Attraction). Reparative therapists use it to make homosexually sound like a disease such as ALS or SARS. The notorious “ex-gay” therapist Richard Cohen goes a step further and calls it Same-Sex Attachment Disorder. It is worth noting that the men featured in this show attend Journey into Manhood retreats, which promote Cohen’s theories. One of these guys admitted at Journey into Manhood that he fantasizes about men while he has sex with his wife.
Next, this show employs the reparative therapy strategy of portraying “ex-gay” men as brave rebels who are bucking societal trends. Tom regurgitates the Party Line when he says that these men are an “alternative to an alternative lifestyle.”
Jeff mimics reparative therapy when he explains why he plays sports:
“I’m playing basketball to feel connected to a part of masculinity I felt excluded or rejected by.”
This idea of male bonding and faux masculinity come directly from Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a cofounder of The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). In his book, “Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality,” he talks about male bonding though sports, which leads to some bizarre exchanges with clients.
One client tells him: “I played racquetball the other day, then we got the usual after game drink, Gatorade…That’s what you’re supposed to drink. It felt good to be sweaty.”
Another client said: “When you hear a bunch of straight guys speak to each other, they say things like, ‘hey, bud’ and ‘hey dude.’ I used to think that sounded so stupid. But you know, now I really like being called that.”
Clearly, the men in “My Husband’s Not Gay” have imbibed the reparative therapy Kool-Ade (or maybe it’s Gatorade). But in contemporary times, when we have had professional athletes like football’s Michael Sam, basketball’s Jason Collins, soccer’s Robbie Rogers, and rugby’s Gareth Thomas, such stereotypes seem outdated and quaint, very much like the lives of those featured on TLC’s show.
“My Husband’s Not Gay” fails for the “ex-gay” movement because it doesn’t pass the Dan Savage test, which asks whether a father would want his daughter to marry an “ex-gay.” I can’t imagine a loving parent happily sending his daughter down the aisle with any of these gay men. The idea is as implausible as the longevity of the marriages featured in this show.
If history is a guide to these wives’ future, it would have been appropriate to end “My Husband’s Not Gay” with the Phil Collins Song “Against All Odds”:
So take a look at me now, oh there’s just an empty space
And there’s nothing there to remind me,
Just the memory of your face
And you coming back to me is against all odds
It’s the chance I’ve got to take
Take a look at me now.