Is My Husband’s Not Gay Really Worth Getting Upset About?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 14 2015 @ 12:18pm

The trailer for TLC’s special, which aired on Sunday:

Zack Ford provides some background:

When TLC announced it would air a one-hour special called My Husband’s Not Gay about Mormon men with same-sex attractions who pursue relationships with women, the LGBT community was understandably upset. Over 75,000 signed a petition calling on the network to cancel the show because it “promotes the false and dangerous idea that gay people can and should choose to be straight in order to be part of their faith communities.” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis denounced the show as “downright irresponsible” and potentially harmful to young people.

Juzwiak defends the show:

I did not find the [“same sex attraction” (SSA)] guys aspirational, just like I don’t find the majority of people on reality TV aspirational.

I think much of what they do is ridiculous and the show is peppered with winking moments that reveal the underlying absurdity of their situation (“I don’t feel like I fit the mold of guys that are attracted to other men by other then my deep and abiding love for Broadway show tunes and my attraction to other males. Those are the things that are kind of gay about me,” says the single guy, Tom). We read story after story about the failure of reparative therapy, and if you know anything about sexuality, you know how suppressing it is a setup for failure.

But look, what My Husband’s Not Gay presents is an actual phenomenon within American culture, an imperfect way that people negotiate themselves with their religion.

But Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart finds fault:

The fact that most gay men do not experience attractions to the opposite sex, or feel that their sexuality is fluid, is not addressed. It is, however, referenced briefly by a guy identified as Shaun, who spends a few seconds acting as a pro-gay foil for the show’s protagonists. Shaun says that he feels no attraction to women, only to be told that his lack of ”familiarity with the equipment” doesn’t mean that he could never learn to enjoy sex with a woman. In that moment, when a gay man’s assertion that he is not and could not be attracted to women is challenged, the pretense that the show deals only with these particular men’s individual experience evaporates. They do not believe that they are different from gay men because they are also attracted to women; they believe that it is possible for gay men to become attracted to women, and they explicitly say so.

Emma Green levels a different sort of complaint:

The show is a pre-packaged TLC special on yet another group who “live their lives a little … differently,” offering neither the courtesy of creative production nor moments of true feeling. This makes it it very difficult to find empathy for these men, who believe God made them to be flawed, nor the women who love them. Watching My Husband’s Not Gay is like the passive emotional experience of wandering through a low-budget carnival, gawking at the sideshow freaks for a short moment before losing attention and moving on.

Moze Halperi denounces the special:

For every Mormon man who vocally discusses his attraction to men in order to move on to lead a normative existence, there’s a Mormon kid who might bravely come out as “gay, not SSA”, and who might be subjected to bigotry: getting excommunicated from the Church and ostracized by his families. This is the other story that My Husband’s Not Gay isn’t interested in showing. It won’t present actual tragedy, because it wishes to be amorally lighthearted.

J. Bryan Lowder, on the other hand, has difficulty getting outraged:

[M]y main reaction to the show was, to be honest, something of a shrug. Over the course of the hour, I did not see an advertisement for ex-gay therapy (despite some of the men’s involvement in related organizations), nor really a suggestion that “curing” homosexuality is even possible. (These men are very clearly still homosexuals, by the strictest definition, in theory if not practice.) What I did see was a model of living and relating to others that felt not only alien, but also pointlessly difficult and inadvisable—and yet, in no way offensive or illegitimate.

We can read all kinds of condescending things into the psychology and motivations of these men (and, for that matter, their wives and dates), but in the final analysis, it’s not really for us to judge the validity of how consenting, informed adults build their lives or pursue happiness: Gays should know better than most where that logic leads.

On this, I’m with Lowder. I watched the show and was riveted by it for a simple reason: it shows a big shift in social and religious attitudes toward the reality of gay people in religious faiths. I don’t expect their path forward to be linear; and I found the show oddly affecting. These people deserve to have their story told as well.