Five-and-a-half years ago my wife, Lolly, and I sat together at a hotel in Las Vegas, nervously composing a coming out post that would, unbeknownst to us, change our lives in nearly every way imaginable. We were so, so nervous. But we were sweet and earnest, and we had been feeling the cosmic drive to do this for months . . . we knew, without a doubt, that it was what we were supposed to do, even though it felt totally out of left field, and we had no idea why. Our post went massively viral, and we were featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.
That act of authenticity brought many of you who will read this into our lives. Finally, we were able to live authentically, instead of this life of quiet struggle we had existed in for a decade. Finally we were able to be honest with our community, our friends, our colleagues, our families about our marriage, and about me—that I am a gay man, and that Lolly and I had gotten married knowing this about me. That I always have been gay. That it was not something I had chosen—it just was— but that I loved my wife and my life.
Finally, Lolly and I were out of the closet.
And it has been wonderful. The five years since that post have been largely the same as the previous ten years—deeply wonderful, beautiful years, filled with family-connection and love. We’ve continued to raise our girls. We’ve built memories. We’ve grown. We’ve had family home evenings every single Monday, prayed together every night, and read scriptures together every morning as we eat breakfast as a family. We’ve gone to church and filled church callings and hung out with friends and taken our girls on approximately four hundred million play dates. Lolly and I have loved each other deeply and generously, and we’ve woven a tapestry of beautiful connection and communication together that I daresay stands up against the connection and communication of any marriage anywhere.
In fact, it’s the depth of that connection—and the unrelenting transparency with each other that we share—the genuine, honest, loving nature of our communication with one another—that leads us to where we are today—to this very difficult, very unexpected post.
Today, we need to let you know that Lolly and I are divorcing.
I can imagine that reading that sentence will evoke a lot of emotions in anyone who has heard about us over the last five years. (And believe me, there are a lot of emotions—some of them very devastating–as we write those words.)
I can only imagine the range of reactions to this news we are sharing.
Surely, there will be those who are amused or overjoyed. (One of the most common things that brings people to our blog from Google these days is the phrase “are Josh and Lolly weed still married.”) There will be those who feel Schadenfreude and who might relish in our pain, and in the embarrassment we might feel in having to own up to our current reality. If that is you, I respect your reaction—I’ve reacted similarly to distant events in the past myself, and I know how it goes. I think this is human nature.
But along with this, there will be people who are very hurt, very saddened, very disturbed, very troubled, or whose very faith might be challenged by the sentence above. If that is you, I yearn for Lolly and me to be able to sit with you. Cheesy as this is, I wish we could all hold hands as the solemnity of what I just said above washes over us, so that we could then lean over and tell you: “it’s going to be okay.” Because it is.
We are going to do our level best to explain how a marriage as beautiful and sweet and loving as ours has been can also be a marriage that—for very legitimate, important reasons, and what we feel is the urging of God himself—needs to end.
In our original coming out post, what we were sharing was so complex that, to try to be as efficient as possible, we went with a question/answer format. Because I’m a sucker for things going full circle, and because we’ve spent the last four months telling people this news and getting a feel for the most common questions, we’re going to structure this post the same way.
1. Okay, wait. So what happened? I thought things were going so well…
So did we. And really, things were going so well.
Our marriage was absolutely beautiful as we described above. Yet it contained an undercurrent of pain that we were not able to see clearly or acknowledge for many years, which made continuing in it impossible.
Thus, the answer to this question is impossible to describe in linear fashion. Instead, I can tell you that there were three main sub-currents or tributaries that fed into where we are today, all of which culminated “coincidentally” on the day of my last blog post, as it turns out: the Fall Equinox—the day in which my denial crumbled, and the internal defenses allowing me to live my life as a gay man in a straight marriage shattered, mercifully and irretrievably.
I’ll share those three tributaries.
First: Love for the LGBTQ population: The first tributary that God used to bring us here was our love for the LGBTQ population. When we came out in 2012, Lolly and I had very little exposure to other gay people besides myself. Our post went viral in the very same year I opened my private practice, and suddenly we were thrust into the world of LGBTQ Mormons. And what we saw as the years moved forward was at once inspiring and utterly heartbreaking.
We got to know many, many people. We heard their stories. We met children, youths as young as 13 years old, so heartbroken by what they were feeling and what they were being told by their faith community—kids with no hope for love in the future if they wanted to be acceptable to their church and family. Young bright faces who were being told not to love who they fell in love with, looking up to us as some kind of beacon of hope. Our understanding of this issue changed with every person we met, with every single story we heard. We went from thinking this was an issue that affected a few burdened souls like ourselves to understanding more and more that this issue actually touches almost every life. Nearly everyone you know either is LGBTQ or has a first-degree relative who is. Many, many millions of Americans are LGBTQ. And hundreds of thousands (and possibly more than a million depending on the statistics you look at) of Mormons are LGBTQ. It affects so many people. Close relatives of ours have come out. Two of the seminary students I taught the year we posted our post have come out (and I didn’t have a terribly high number of students).
You see, LGBTQ people aren’t “the world”—we aren’t outsiders that the Mormon Church needs to protect itself from. We are you. We are students sitting in a seminary class, and the seminary teacher at the front of the class. We are the hurt youth pouring out his or her heart in a bishop’s office, and we are sometimes the bishop himself, with a painful secret guarded carefully, eating away at his heart. As our awareness and love of the LGBTQ contingent increased, our hearts were softened to their struggles, and our understanding of the Gospel of Christ, of mercy, of the atonement, and of God’s love and intentions for His LGBTQ children were forever altered, little by little, by Him, in the temple and in sacred spaces, in ways that felt as tender as they sometimes felt radical.
Second: Love of self as a gay person. The second tributary was related. About three years ago, I finally saw how important it was to love myself, to truly love myself as a gay man. It happened when my dear friend Ben Shafer (who himself is straight) turned to me one day and said “Josh, you realize your sexual orientation is beautiful, right? Not just tolerable. It’s beautiful . . .” I could hardly even register what he was trying to say. “What do you mean?” I asked. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. “What about the fact that it’s a biological aberration?” I challenged. “I mean, I get that It’s not an abomination like they used to say when I was a kid. But what about it being something so obviously not what God or biology intended? I’ve just always believed that I was meant to be straight, and that God will fix me someday so that I fit in with the rest of His children. I’ve always believed I was a broken straight person . . .”
And it was as I said those last words that my therapist-brain kicked and listened to the words coming out of my mouth. And I was stunned. People who view themselves as fundamentally broken, I knew, are not healthy. What I had just said was not healthy. Yet, part of me remained unconvinced. “But what about biology? What about homosexuality makes any sense at all? Why would it even exist? How could you find it to be beautiful?”
We went on like this for a long time, and I challenged Ben, sometimes with a bit of anger, as my entire concept of self, harmful as it was, was challenged by his persistent love and acceptance. I made him explain it as clearly as he could, in various ways. “How could an aberration be beautiful,” I was insisting. “How?” He finally thought of two analogies that broke through my resistance. The first was eyes. Blue eyes, he pointed out, were an aberration form the norm. Dark eyes were the biological default in humans, and blue eyes were an aberration, a genetic defect even. Yet some consider them to be very beautiful. Then he moved on to the second example. “Josh, there’s beauty in variation. So much of what we find beautiful is variation! Like, look at the Grand Canyon. People travel for thousands and thousands of miles to see the Grand Canyon and its majestic beauty. And what makes it so beautiful? It’s an aberration. It is a variation of the norm. And we love it.”
At last it clicked in, tentatively. Was it possible that my sexual orientation was beautiful? That it was beautiful in the same way blue eyes can be beautiful? In the same way the Grand Canyon is majestic and lovely, attracting admirers from around the world? Could it be that my sexual orientation wasn’t a mistake? That it was part of the diversity and variety that brings nuance to our planet and to humanity? And that God meant it to be that way?
That night I talked to Lolly and told her all Ben had said, still with a vein of skepticism. “Can you believe he said that?” was the feeling behind my words. And she sat for a moment thinking, then said something that surprised us both. “Josh, Ben is right. You aren’t just a broken straight person. Your gayness is a part of who you are. And your sexual orientation is beautiful. You are as God intended you to be.” Though we had never fully embraced these ideas as reality before, we felt the spirit confirm them powerfully in that moment. The truth of Lolly’s words rang in our bodies.
And if I wasn’t a broken straight person, and my sexual orientation was beautiful—if in fact I wasn’t a mistake–what did that mean for us and for our marriage? At the time, the implications didn’t matter to us. We had both promised to be together, to be a family. We are both true to our word, and we both adored in many ways the life we’d created together. We assumed God would never lead us to feel otherwise. But we were suddenly very, very interested in making sure that other LGBT people felt the beauty of their sexual orientation just like we had come to know the beauty of mine. And 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. We were determined to work hard to help make sure that nobody else felt pressured to enter into marriages like ours, or had to feel the intense pain our love for each other brought us during those long, dark nights.
Third: the death of my mom. The third tributary that led us here was my mom’s death a year-and-a-half ago. It was after her death that we were no longer able to be sexually intimate. Grief has that affect on a lot of people—it often affects libido. But for me, as the months after my mommy’s passing continued to tick by, combined with all I’d recently learned about my own identity as a gay man, and what God really thought of me, and the beauty and legitimacy of my sexual orientation, I simply was unable to authentically engage in heterosexual sex again. This was very disturbing to both Lolly and me. We both hoped for a time that I’d be able to somehow function sexually like I had before. But, looking back on it now, it’s clear: so much of that was the denial. So much of that sexual activity was a belief that deep down, somewhere in me, I was actually straight, and that having sex with a woman brought me closer, somehow, to who I was always meant to be. Now, though, I knew that it did the opposite. It brought me away from who I am. It was an act of incongruence. That while sex had served to complement in some ways the beautiful connection Lolly and I shared, more than that it was an act that distanced me from the core of myself. And after my mom’s death, something in me just shifted. Seeing the woman who bore me there in that wooden box—feeling and knowing the reality of death and the shortness of life—rendered me somehow incapable of telling myself the half-lies required for me to believe that sex with a woman was okay for me, and that allowed me to ignore the ways sex with a woman was hurtful, was dishonoring on an intrinsic level, to the core of who I am.
So those were the three tributaries that we can identify that God used to guide us to this point. Not one of these three things led us to think “hey, I know of a good solution to these complex problems! Divorce!” It wasn’t nearly as simple as that, and Lolly and I—both of us being deeply committed, deeply idealistic, and deeply devoted people—had no intention of ever breaking the covenants we made together in the temple. To do so was unthinkable, as in, it literally never even crossed either of our minds in a serious way. Instead, these things set the stage for what God Himself was going to ask of us.
2. In your original coming out post, so much of what you said seemed to align with the Mormon church’s stance on the issue of homosexuality. Is that different now?
Let me see if I can explain this.
I have spent my entire life conforming to every standard of the LDS faith because I believed it was what God wanted me to do.
I believed this because every mentor, every exemplar, every religious teacher, every therapist, every leader I ever grew up listening to and trusting told me that that was the only way I could return to live with God. There was an emphasis on “perfect obedience” and yet, over the course of my lifetime, the list of things said by these trusted leaders about my sexual orientation was profoundly inconsistent and confusing. These individuals told me, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that:
1. My sexual orientation wasn’t real
2. My sexual orientation was evil
3. My sexual orientation was an abomination
4. My sexual orientation was tantamount to bestiality and just shy of murder
5. My sexual orientation was a crime against nature
6. My sexual orientation was just a feeling
7. My sexual orientation was very small–merely a temptation and a tendency
8. My sexual orientation was something so huge and dangerous that it led to Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction and could lead to the downfall of civilization
9. My sexual orientation could change in this life if I had enough faith
10. My sexual orientation was a “trial” to bear
11. My sexual orientation maybe couldn’t change in this life after all
12. My sexual orientation could be managed with faith
13. My sexual orientation could be endured
14. My sexual orientation was my own fault (for, as stated in The Miracle of Forgiveness written by the Mormon prophet, Spencer W. Kimball: “Many have been misinformed that they are powerless in the matter, not responsible for the tendency, and that ‘God made them that way.’ This is as untrue as any of the diabolical lies Satan has concocted. It is blasphemy. Man is born in the image of God. Does the pervert think God to be ‘that way?’”—which was the quote that finally made me, as a 14-year-old reading those words alone in my room, throw the book across the room in horror. It was the word “pervert” that really shook me—I knew I hadn’t brought gayness upon myself and that I was not a pervert, even at that age)
15. My sexual orientation was NOT okay to have and needed to be rooted out (The Miracle of Forgiveness even recommends a type of counseling that will help, claiming many had changed)
16. My homosexual feelings WERE okay to have because they can never change, but were never okay to act on
17. It was not okay to be referred to as “gay” but instead only as “Same sex attracted”
18. Homosexual feelings should never lead to a person identifying himself/herself with the word “gay” as a noun
19. It IS okay to be referred to as “gay” but only in certain circumstances…
. . . and on and on and on.
I could keep going, but hopefully you see the point. These mixed, uninformed messages all came out during the course of my lifetime. Sometimes, they said the exact opposite of what was said before. And yet, I was instructed, continually, to listen to the men saying these things and obey what they were saying, and that if I didn’t, I was faithless and apostate.
That is a problem. While I can absolutely accept that the men who said this wide array of often damaging things were called of God, I think it’s clear from this list that the people that lead the LDS church 1. often share opinions about subjects like this, and not necessarily the will of God and 2. often change those opinions over time and 3. are sometimes totally inaccurate in their assessment of social issues. And I mean no disrespect as I point out this obvious reality.
The thing is, for people who are not gay or LGTBTQ it might feel like church leaders should have room to express and explore opinions like this over time, even in General Conference, and that it it’s okay that sometimes those opinions aren’t accurate in the long run. But for the lesbian girl in the back row of General Conference, wondering what her bleak future could possibly look like as a member of the church? For the sweet 14 year old boy reading a book by a past prophet/church president in his spare time because he wanted to be a better person and do what was right? These shifting opinions and incorrect, often psychologically damaging utterances are more than a thought exercise. This is our lives. Our futures. Our hopes and dreams. And so when you get mixed messaging from leaders about something so personal and so relevant, eventually you realize you can’t rely on those flimsy, topsy-turvy opinions to direct your life. You realize it rests upon you to get your own answers from God himself, very much in the spirit of Joseph Smith and his prayer in the Sacred Grove.
It was not until my 30’s that I even attempted to seek my own answers, and I mean really seek. This felt imperative when I became a professional psychotherapist and had to assist others with these issues. As I did this, and sought research to help clients, I began to realize that there was actual science around this issue, and that that science actually made the statistical difference between gay people beginning to live a healthy life, and gay people exhibiting symptoms that, if not treated, would go from severe chronic depression/anxiety to psychosomatic illness to, eventually, death.
For me, though, it all came down to the people I met with–the actual human beings who were coming to my office. They would come and sit down with me, and they would tell me their stories. These were good people, former pastors, youth leaders, relief society presidents, missionaries, bishops, Elder’s Quorum presidents, and they were . . . there’s no other way to say this. They were dying. 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. They would weep with me, and ask where the Lord was. They would sob. They would wonder where joy was. 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.
Around this time, a dear friend of mine—a lesbian I adore—called me. Her voice was clipped and panicked. “Josh, I, uh . . . I need your help. I’m thinking of killing myself. I want to die. I can’t do it anymore . . .”
Guys, this person is an incredible human being. This person’s faith was rock solid. If you knew her, you would see a pillar of strength, of will, of resolve. She is one of the strongest people I know. This is not someone who is easily offended, or was not trying, or who “didn’t have an eternal perspective.” Think of the strongest person you know: that’s who this is equivalent of.
Lolly and I went to see her immediately. When we got there, she played with my girls for a while, and then she and I went on a walk. She was so physically weak, she could barely stand. I will never forget the feeling of physically holding this strong woman up as we walked around a yard.
This is what the church’s current stance does to LGBTQIA people. It actually kills them. It fills them with self-loathing and internalized homophobia, and then provides little to no help when the psychosomatic symptoms set in, instead reacting to this unexpected by-product (after all, living the gospel isn’t supposed to bring misery and death! It’s supposed to bring immeasurable joy! Right?) with aphorisms like “have more faith,” or “have an eternal perspective” or “be grateful.” And the LGBTQIA person is left even further alone, now having been shamed by having it implied that their unhappiness and lack of health is their own fault because they aren’t being righteous enough, or trying hard enough. And so, they try harder. And they get sicker. And the cycle continues. It is a sick, pathological spiral. Worst of all, and what amounts to the very crux of the problem: the church also deprives them—us—of attachment, and a natural, verified, studied reaction to attachment blockade is suicidality.
I know this is true on a personal level.
Probably the most motivating factor of all that got me to actually really consider what God had been telling us for a while was my recognition of my own internalized homophobia—the layers of disgust and self-loathing I felt for myself that I was in denial of—and the way that lead to my own suicidal ideation.
Please understand my context. Suicide is a very real thing for my family. My Grandpa Woody’s grandfather, uncle and son all took their own lives. Most recently, on my mission, I was horrified when my mom called me to let me know my poet-uncle that I’d always looked up to jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in this context, seeing my family history of suicide, that my denial was stripped away as I started to really look at the fact that I had regular suicidal ideation. Guys, my life was beautiful in every way. My children, my wife, my career, my friends. It was filled with so much joy. The things I talked about in my coming out post in 2012 weren’t false. The joy I felt was real! The love I felt was real, but something in me wanted to die.
It’s the thing that wants to die in all of us when we don’t have hope for attachment to a person we are oriented towards. It’s actually a standard part of human attachment: when we don’t have attachment—and have no hope of attachment–our brain tells us we need to die.
My suicidality was not connected to depression. That’s how my mind could hide it from me. 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. It was inconceivable for a few moments.
And then it would pass.
But the other thing I hadn’t been looking at was something I read, with horror, in a text message I sent to a dear friend during my week in Jacksonville. By the time I read what I had sent, the denial had broken down. Lolly was sitting next to me, holding me as I wept, and I was reading these text messages to her, and it felt like reading the words of another person, yet I also knew it was true:
The text I had sent one week earlier said: I have thought of putting a gun in my mouth more times than I can count.
And it’s true. Even now, I can taste the cool metal of the pistol in my mouth from those fantasies.
Do you realize how wrong it is that I have had to face the following cost/benefit analysis: if I stay in my marriage then I won’t disrupt my daughters’ sense of continuity. But I also might take my own life. And if I did die, wouldn’t that end up being WAY worse for them in the long run . . .? Is it worth the risk?
And I want to make a definitive point here. This risk for death is higher, statistically, for any person who has no hope of orientational attachment—not to mention the higher risk attendant to internalized homophobia/transphobia. This is not just the case for me. This is the case for any LGBTQIA person who chooses, or is pressured, to forego human attachment. Your gay brother. Your Lesbian cousin. Your Trans nephew. They are all, by very definition, at higher risk of death if they are choosing to forego attachment for any religious or cultural reason. Literally.
In the end, the correct choice is obvious. We choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.
We should always choose the option that makes sure people stay alive.
I wish LDS people had more modeling of this.
This brings us to the next question:
3. You keep saying you were in denial but I don’t understand? What were you in denial of?
My denial hid itself really, really well.
One of the main things I internally lied to myself about was my level of attraction to Lolly, both physically and romantically. I remember being interviewed by Nightline five years ago and at one point being asked if I found Lolly sexually attractive. I said “yes.” And I wasn’t lying—I believed that was true. But I was in denial, meaning that there were parts of that question or issue that I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge or understand. What I told myself was something along the lines of, “Yes, when we have sex I get an erection and I find her beautiful and I’ve had an orgasm during sex with her hundreds of times and I love her dearly and we connect emotionally like gangbusters and have sex, with orgasms, often, so the answer to this question is ‘yes.’”
But there were some MAJOR holes in that logic that I wouldn’t let myself look at, and MAJOR problems I simply didn’t understand existed. For one, I had never, not one time in my life, allowed myself to have a developmentally appropriate, reciprocated romantic crush with a person I was attracted to who could like me back. I had never held hands with a person I was attracted to; I’d never had a first kiss; I’d never danced with someone I was attracted to at a dance; I’d never been asked ‘who I liked’ in a way that allowed me to even think about ‘who I liked”; I’d never even felt the chemistry of bumping into someone who I was attracted to and who might be attracted to me, the casual grazing of hands that sends a tiny spark of electricity through both people—the simplest of things. So what possible frame of reference did I have for what love and attraction felt like in a romantic and sexual relationship?
I had never, not once, been told it was okay to be attracted to someone I was attracted to, and then allowed to feel that attraction. So when I held Lolly’s hand and casually liked it, or kissed her and had a vague sexual stirring cuz, hey, two human bodies were doing the kissing thing, it was very easy to believe that these tiny stirrings—stirrings two straight people of the same gender might feel if they touched each others’ bodies or felt comfortable holding hands—were romantic and sexual feelings, or at least were some lesser approximation of those things. How would I have ever known otherwise? I knew I was sexually attracted to men’s bodies, sure, and not really visually attracted to women’s bodies, including Lolly’s. I gave myself that one. But the rest? All the other trappings? I allowed myself to believe that there were levels of attraction and connection on a sexual and romantic level that weren’t actually there. Lolly often said “something is wrong” in our intimate relationship, and I poo pooed it. She could tell something was missing—she had grown up straight, and she knew something was missing. I was none the wiser.
4. Did you fall in love with someone? Was there infidelity?
A personal question, but I can see why people would want to know. It would probably be easier for some people to process this if there were some specter, some secret thing that explained why this is happening. But, there isn’t. No, I did not fall in love with anyone else. In fact, there was never any infidelity on either mine or Lolly’s part at any point in our marriage. Gay love was honestly the furthest thing from my mind when my denial crumbled all around me. (Which was kind of the point.)
5. What about Lolly? What does she think of all that is happening?
Let’s let Lolly speak for herself.
Hi guys. Lolly here, sharing the deepest parts of my heart. Just like last time.
Back in September, Josh and I realized together, crying in each other’s arms, that the best thing for both of us, and our children, would be to end our marriage. It was heartbreaking and it was not a decision we took lightly.
For me, giving my whole heart to Josh while knowing that he did not love me the way a man loves a woman has always been devastating. We were best friends, but he never desired me, he never adored me, he never longed for me. 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.
After talking about this with my sister-in-law, she said, “but you guys have such a special relationship. You’re intimate in so many other ways. Believe me, sex is not worth throwing away the connection that you two have.” From the outside looking in, I can see why she would think that, but the truth is our relationship was missing more than just a primal sexual connection . . . it was missing romantic attachment.
Josh has never looked at me with romantic love in his eyes. He has never touched me with the sensitive touch of a lover. Whenever he held me in his arms, it was with a love that was similar to the love of a brother to a sister. That does eventually take its toll on your self-esteem. No matter how much I knew “why” he couldn’t respond to me in the ways a lover responds to a partner, it wears a person down, as if you’re not “good enough” to be loved “in that way.” And what I didn’t realize is that as human beings, we actually need to feel loved in that way with our partners.
This deficit started to mess with my self-esteem. I almost felt if only I could be thinner, prettier, sexier, maybe it would be enough to catch Josh’s eye, to help him want me in the way we need to be wanted by our attachment partners. In reality, Josh was GAY and it had nothing to do with me. This is where it doesn’t make sense. I knew he was gay. I didn’t think his sexual orientation was going to change. I could have been the hottest woman on the planet and he still would not have felt any different toward me. No matter how clear I was on the technicalities of this reality, it was impossible not to internalize his complete lack of attraction toward me. Subconsciously, it was a constant message. You aren’t attractive. You aren’t wanted. You aren’t beautiful. You aren’t a good enough woman.
It was making me unhealthy. I gained a lot of weight. My self-concept was diminishing over time. What was worse, I knew my little girls were watching me as their example of what a woman can be, of what healthy womanhood looked like–and they were also watching my marriage. I knew they were getting messages and concepts from me that were not setting them on a path of self-esteem and self-actualized womanhood. It was breaking my heart to see this.
The truth is, Josh and I didn’t understand how to conceptualize our relationship. We knew we had a deep love for each other, but honestly, neither one of us had ever loved anyone in a true romantic way. We got married so young and had dated so little, neither of us had really experienced what true romantic attachment felt like. It was just a concept to us, and as such we were able to be in denial about it. We told ourselves that our love was similar to that of an elderly couple after infatuation and physical attraction had died away and what remained was a tender bond of love. That was the framework we used to understand our relationship. Using that framework, I was willing to sacrifice that sexual component because Josh was worth it to me.
However, as the years went by, and the holes in our souls grew larger and larger, we realized that our relationship was not like an elderly couple because, although the elderly couple’s sexual relationship had dimmed, their romantic adoration for one another did not. When we wrote our viral post five years ago, we were still stuck in this delusion, thinking that our relationship had no deficits, and that choosing to love was enough. But eventually we realized what we were missing. We realized the thing that so many people had tried to tell us: that we didn’t have romantic attachment. That romantic attachment was essential to a functioning marriage. And that it was something that we never had and, hauntingly, that we never would.
I remember talking to my mom about this and explaining that the void in our relationship was not even really about sex. If it were just about sex, we could handle it. We would be willing, and were willing, to sacrifice that. People can live without sex. Then I asked her what it would be like if she had to marry her best female friend, Joyce, whom she loves dearly. I asked if it would be as fulfilling as her love for my dad because she also loves Joyce. She said, “No, it would be different because I don’t love Joyce in that way.” To which I said, “But you do love her and you could live a nice life. But, would it compare to your life with Dad?” She said “no.” Then I asked if the difference in a life with Joyce and a life with Dad was just about sexuality. Would the only difference in a relationship with Dad and a relationship with Joyce be between having sex with a man versus having sex with a woman? The answer was clearly no. That is because she is not romantically attached to her best friend. And that is what human beings need to be healthy. All of us. Romantic attachment. It’s one of the main purposes of life!
I remember telling my mom, trying to help her understand that this was about so much more than just sex: “if the only thing missing in mine and Josh’s relationship was his sexual attraction to me, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, right? I mean, especially for me. I’m a heterosexual woman married to a man. In our marriage, I could have sex with a man whenever I wanted! Yet there is always something missing for me. There is a void in our connection and it wasn’t about sex. It is real, and it is damaging to who I am as a person.” And my mom and everyone who loves me can see it.
Platonic love is simply not enough, no matter how much we hoped it was. God designed us to need and want romantic attachment.
One thing that has been interesting to me is how people have reacted when I have told them about our decision to end our marriage and how hard it has been to love Josh with all my heart and to not have him love me back in a romantic way. Almost everyone has said to me, with an air of protective emphasis, “Oh, but Lolly, you deserve to be loved that way! You will find someone else who can love you like that. You deserve to love and be loved in that way!” And I agree with them. The thing that I find interesting is that these are all straight people looking at me, another straight person, and being able to see the injustice of me not experiencing true love. They see that it is wrong that I have never felt that love. They feel it. They can put themselves in my shoes and realize how hard that would be for them. They can see it because it is presented from a straight perspective.
The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person. I mean, isn’t the same true for LGBT people? Shouldn’t we feel the exact same intuitive injustice at the thought of them deserving to be “loved like that”? When the tables are turned and we are talking about LGBTQ individuals, somehow people don’t see the parallels. Why am I, as a straight person, entitled to reciprocal, requited romantic love while an LGBTQ individual is not? I am not sure how a straight person can look at a gay person and say, “I deserve love, but you don’t! If a straight person doesn’t get romantic love it is an injustice. Everybody deserves that kind of love, if you’re straight. But gay people? Well, that’s another story…”
I am asking everyone who knows us to please, please not blame Josh for our marriage ending. I deserve love and so does Josh! This decision was just as much for me as it was for him. While our marriage was beautiful and full of so many wonderful things, it also contained a lot of heartbreak for both of us. The one thing we have learned in the last five years is that no one should be asked to live a life without romantic attachment. All this talk of “love” is actually talk of the basic human need for attachment. It is inhumane. We need it, or at least we need the hope of being able to find it eventually, in order to be healthy.
Being in a marriage where both of us thought we would live a life without ever having romantic connection was getting unbearable. Yet, we could not imagine our lives without each other because we do love each other so deeply. That was hell. Feeling like no matter what we did, we would be suffering. If we stayed together, our souls would be missing a huge part of the human experience. If we separated, our souls would still ache for our best friend. That is why the only thought that brought us peace was the thought of ending our marriage, but still remaining a family. Still raising our kids together.
I love Josh so very much. I do not regret the 15 years we were married. If I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing. I am a better person because he is in my life and he will ALWAYS be in my life. In the Weed family, no one gets kicked out for being who they are, and everyone is allowed to find the kind of attachment they were made for. Josh. Me. Our children. Hopefully our grandchildren. Everyone is of equal worth, no matter who they were born to love, and they will always, always have a place at our table, and I know they will also have a place at the table of Christ. And the way Josh and I are moving forward, together, is the greatest example we can set of those truths.
6. What will happen to your family?
The night Lolly and I realized that the only way to heal the things that had been broken in us by being married, and the thing God was asking us to do, was to separate, we were lying on the couch downstairs, holding each other, sobbing. It was one of the most heartbreaking conversations I’ve ever had. At first, the thought of separation was absolutely anathema—my mind couldn’t even consider the possibility as being viable. As we talked and wept, and looked in horror at what such a decision would mean we were losing, Lolly had a memory come to her. “What about our homestead?” she asked.
When we were in California last year giving a talk together, I had given her a priesthood blessing in which we were told that soon we would acquire a homestead. And that was the word that came—homestead. We had both been intrigued by this. We have wanted to buy a home for many years, and each time we have thought to do so, when we prayed about it, we both got the same answer: wait. This had been the case for over a decade. And now, this blessing had finally indicated that we would buy not only a home, but a homestead where our family could gather for decades to come.
When she said this I was confused for a moment. Yes, what did that mean? Did that mean we weren’t supposed to separate after all? And then, the realization hit me: a homestead is 160 acres! It is not a house, per se, but a property where families can live together, side by side. “Oh my gosh, it said homestead, Loll. Maybe we don’t have to live apart! Maybe we don’t have to break our family up…. ever, and just add future partners to it when the time comes!” The thought was so powerful, so sweet, so right. “I cannot imagine my life without you,” I said. She hugged me as we wept in relief, and said, “Neither can I.” And it was in that moment that I realized we, coincidentally, were positioned the exact same way—lying together on a couch in the living room holding one another—as we were the night in 2002 when I heard a voice in my head say “ask her to marry you,” and I did.
So, this is our plan. We are in no hurry. But we will be acquiring a property that will accommodate our family, and the addition of future partners if that time comes. (Because remember, the thing that is most cruel to religious LGBTQIA folks is not the lack of partners, but the lack of hope for a partner—that is the thing that makes them want to die. Not the loneliness, per se, but the decades and decades before them with no hope of attachment. It is for this reason that comparisons of gay people to simply single people who have not married yet are so woefully lacking in nuance. I once heard the difference between these groups stated this way and it’s always stuck with me: single Mormons go to bed every night pleading with the Lord that they will fall in love with someone tomorrow; gay Mormons go to bed every night pleading with the Lord that they will never fall in love with someone.)
8. Have you told your girls? What has their reaction been?
We’ll have Lolly answer this question.
Hi guys. Lolly again.
To answer this, I’ll share a journal entry from November.
“We didn’t want to tell the girls until we had something more solid to tell them, but they knew something was going on because we were locked up in our room a lot talking and crying. On Friday, I was driving in the car with the girls. Josh was on his way to Portland. Anna asked if Josh and I were going to get a divorce. We never want to lie to our kids. I was praying that I would know the right thing to say. So, I pulled over and called Josh. I explained that Josh and I love each other very much. Then I made a parallel between Josh and Stellaluna.”
Okay, let me break away from the entry for a second so I can explain that part before I continue with the entry. A few years ago, Anna came home from school with a book she had checked out from the library. It was Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. It’s a charming story with beautiful illustrations.
Stellaluna was a tiny baby fruit bat. One day, Stellaluna’s mother was out flying with Stellaluna, when suddenly an owl attacked them. The owl knocked Stellaluna out of her mother’s grasp, but luckily she ended up safely in a bird’s nest. Stellaluna was allowed to stay in the bird’s nest as long as she acted like a bird. She ended up giving up all of her bat ways—she slept at night, ate bugs, and never hung upside down because Mama Bird told her that those things were wrong. Stellaluna tried very hard to be a good bird, even when it was very difficult. One night, Stellaluna ended up finding her bat family who convinced her that her bat ways were not wrong for her—that they were part of who she was. Maybe they were wrong for a bird, but not for a bat. They fed her delicious mango and taught her to fly at night and she realized she never had to eat bugs again. When she finally accepted her identity as a bat, she found happiness she never knew.
The first time I read this to Anna, I had no idea what the book was about. When I finished it, I felt absolutely sick in my heart because I could instantly see the parallels between Stellaluna and Josh. Josh was a bat trying to be a good bird. I knew that he didn’t want to eat bugs and that he wanted to hang upside down, but everyone around him told him it was wrong. He was gay, trying to live a straight life. That is the essence of internalized homophobia—trying to be something you’re not because you think it’s “bad” or “wrong.” Religion has told us that homosexuality is bad and wrong, but I started wondering if these beliefs were a result of our heteronormative culture. Like in Stellaluna, the birds thought flying at night was bad, and they were right. It was bad for them, because they were not made to fly at night, but a fruit bat was born to fly at night.
Anyway, back to the journal entry:
“And so I explained to the girls that Dad was a bat trying to live like a bird. I explained that he needed to love himself and be a bat. We told them we would always be a family and that Mom and Dad would always love each other and that we wanted to still live in the same house but that we might find other people.
They cried at first and said they felt like they were in a nightmare. Once we explained that we would still live together and always be a family, they became calm. Anna even said, “Mommy, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but the spirit is telling me that this is the right thing to do. Even though it will be hard. You guys aren’t suppose to be married anymore. When I think of you separating I feel good inside. And when I think of you staying together I feel yucky inside.”
It was hard because Josh was just on the phone and he has been out of town this whole time. Friday night, I picked Anna up from Janey’s birthday party and we had a talk. She was a wise little oracle. She said, “I’m worried that people will say, ‘See! I knew their relationship wouldn’t work!’ But, the thing is, your relationship did work, just not the way we expected it too.” I also told her about how Dad has been struggling to love himself. She said, ‘Dad is perfect the way he is. He should love himself. He has done nothing wrong.’
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. I told Anna about how there are many young people who kill themselves because they feel so bad about their life because they are gay. This is what Anna said. “Mom, we need to go on the Ellen show. We need to tell people that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you, you need to follow your heart. This is my mission. I need to tell those gay kids ‘I love you! You matter! You are important!’ They have done nothing wrong.”
She also asked if Josh and I were still having sex and I told her no. That Dad could not do it anymore. She said, “Mom, he did it for 15 years though with you. And he did it because he loves you. Just remember that. He did it because he loves you. Even though he doesn’t LOVE LOVE you, he still loves you more than he would love a friend.”
I am kind of flabbergasted by her insight and wisdom and caring. Both Anna and Viva have said that they feel it is the right thing for Josh and I to not be married anymore and that they feel that through the Spirit.”
This is Josh again.
We have some things we want to apologize for.
We’re sorry for some of the things we said in our original coming out post in 2012. There are several ideas in that post that, though well-meaning, we now realize stemmed from internalized homophobia. We’re sorry, so incredibly sorry, for the ways our post has been used to bully others.
We’re sorry to any gay Mormon who even had a moment’s pause as they tried to make the breathtakingly difficult decision that I am now making—to love myself fully for exactly what God made me—because of our post. We’re sorry for any degree that our existence, and the publicity of our supposedly successful marriage made you feel “less than” as you made your own terribly difficult choices. And we’re sorry if our story made it easier for people in your life to reject you and your difficult path as being wrong. If this is you, we want you to know: you were right. You did the correct, brave thing. You are ahead of me in the sense that you have progressed through things I have yet to progress through. You listened to your gut and to God and did a brave, brave thing. Now I’m following your example.
We’re sorry to any gay Mormon who received criticism, backlash, or hatred as a result of our story. It wasn’t long after our post that we began to get messages from the LGBTQIA community, letting us know that their loved ones were using our blog post to pressure them to get married to a person of the opposite gender—sometimes even disowning them, saying things like, “if these two can do it, so can you.” Our hearts broke as we learned of the ways our story was used a battering ram by fearful, uninformed parents and loved ones, desperate to get their children to act in the ways they thought were best. 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!”
Think of that. If we heard about our story being used in that way, I cannot even imagine the stories, all along the spectrum of manipulative horror, that we have never heard.
We’re sorry to anybody who felt a measure of false peace because of our story. There are many people who have good hearts, who were grappling with the issue of homosexuality before we came out, and who were having difficulty reconciling the church they loved with the things they knew about their gay loved ones. Our coming out post gave a false hope: “See? I just knew there had to be a way for gay people to stay true to their faith by denying themselves and live a happy, healthy life!” We’re sorry to perhaps send you back to the state of confusion you were in before you saw our story—but at the same time, that state of confusion is necessary. Something is wrong. It really doesn’t add up. As I have said in thousands of prayers over the last half-decade as I have come to know more and more LGBTQIA individuals and the ways they have been hurt, as well as have realized the impossibility of a God that would set up a “plan” that is totally impossible for a huge segment of His children to participate in, all within a church whose policies and positions assert that that is exactly what God has done: something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong with how things are currently set up. I don’t know yet what is right. But, Father, something is so incredibly wrong.
We’re sorry to any LGBTQIA person who was given false hope by our story, or who used our story as part of the basis for their life-decisions. We honor your decisions, whatever they are, and we’re sorry for any way in which our current trajectory might be unsettling or alarming.
I, Josh, am sorry to the many LGBTQIA people over the years that I subconsciously saw myself as different than. I am no different than you, and any degree to which I held on to the idea that I could be gay without beinggay was, I see now, a manifestation of lingering internalized homophobia born of decades of being told this part of me was evil. It was an effort to belong to the “in-group” (heterosexual members of the Mormon Church) that I was actually not a part of.
I have had to eat a lot of crow in these last four months. I have had to look at things Lolly and I thought and believed for decades and realize that we were misguided in our thinking—that there were deeper truths about me and others that we weren’t allowing ourselves to look at. I have had to look over things we’ve said or thought or done over the last five years (and before) and accept that we were very wrong on some key ideas—and that I was hiding things from myself that many others could see. Some of these things I said or did were on camera in front of millions of people. There is no taking that kind of thing back. I take comfort in the fact that those uncomfortable doses of denial can now be refuted and put to bed. That footage, those blog posts, were genuine—they were written and said in good faith, and though I now realize I was wrong, I was never dishonest or disingenuous. I hope people will have a stance of generosity with me (as I will try to do with them), recognizing that humans are dynamic, always learning, and capable of both profound goodness and profound error.
That is how I view the LDS Church (along with other religious denominations), in fact. Institutions that are dynamic, learning and growing, and capable of both profound goodness and profound error.
I hope as we have this conversation that we all can hold that space of generosity for one another. We are all learning. We are all aching to understand truth, and we all love the ones we love. I hope this post helps push the conversation forward.
What have you learned from all of this?
I have spent this week listening to the song “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons, trying to get up the nerve and stamina to post this post. I have felt deeply inspired by Dan Reynolds and his loving, noble stance of activism for gay Mormons—and I cannot wait to see his documentary Believer (which, if it’s any indication of quality Hans Zimmer agreed to score. How amazing is that?). The song has been helping sustain me. During the final chorus, where you can hear him saying “never give up” in the background, I tear up every time, and feel like I can face whatever difficult consequences taking this stand, making this choice, and fully embracing my sexual orientation—in the only way that leads to health for LGBTQ people, including embracing and participating in romantic and sexual attachment—will bring me.
Guys, I can’t tell you how difficult it is to look into an abyss you were told was evil and filled with lava and poisonous snakes your whole life, only to be told later by God, “you know that pit you have been drawn to and taught to hate your whole life? Well, I’m gonna need you to jump into it. Without a parachute. Into pitch black. I promise you won’t get hurt. I promise to catch you. I promise to help you fly.” It is absolutely terrifying. It is putting my faith to the test in ways I have never imagined.
But I’m here to say that I will never give up. I will never give up on my daughters and I will never leave them. I will never give up on my familial connection with Lolly, who is my very best friend, and who has been my greatest advocate since I was a child. I will never give up the fight for my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. I will do everything in my power to help ensure our health, our well-being, and our safe space to live and love in the way we were made to by God Himself. I will fight and do all in my power so we don’t lose one more LGBTQIA youth to suicide—the loss of these beautiful souls is not just a loss to their families and dear friends. We all, as a church, as Christians, as a nation, are losing some of the sweetest, best, most thoughtful, most creative, most articulate and most faithful individuals on this earth.
Our original coming out post has a title that makes me laugh now. In it, I was inviting people into “Club Unicorn”—a club of people who had seen a gay person married to a straight person who was healthy and happy and content—a rare, unique thing that most people never get to see. The thing that’s funny though, and that I wasn’t seeing then but so clearly see now: unicorns don’t actually exist. The idea of our marriage as successful and healthy, we have finally realized, is just that: mythical. Impossible. Not real. And we had everything going for us: same religion, same socio-economic status, same ideals, great communication, similar life objectives. Heck, we even both became marriage therapists. If any marriage like this were going to be functional, it would have been ours.
But it’s not. Not because the marriage was bad. But because the foundation we were building it on was a mirage. The most integrated, sound home will fall to a shambles if it’s built on a sinkhole. Our marriage was built on a sinkhole. Gay people and straight people cannot attach to one another.
One thing I am learning is that there are some things you can choose in life, and some things you can’t. One of the guiding principles in our original coming out post was the idea that no matter what life gives you you can choose your own destiny. I truly, deeply believed that was true.
I’ve learned though that there are some things you simply can’t choose. A bird cannot choose to be a dog. Like Stellaluna, a bat cannot choose to be a bird. And a gay person cannot choose to live the life of a straight person—not without serious consequences to their mental health that will endanger their life.
All of this notwithstanding, there are still things I can choose.
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, and I can choose to sit with my children and best friend and honor what I love in this faith tradition, which will inexorably be part of me, 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.
I can choose faith.
I can choose to never leave my babies, and to be there with them every day of their lives.
I can choose to love. I can choose to love my friends and my family, even if they struggle with who I am. I can choose to love my enemies. I can choose to love the leaders of the LDS church, and to view them in the most generous light, as I too hope to be viewed in the most generous light. I can choose to love my family—the one that Lolly and I created together. I can choose to love Lolly with every ounce of love a gay man can have for a woman. And I can choose to find a partner and love him as well, adoring him and attaching to him in the beautiful way I was always intended to. And I can choose to support Lolly as she does the same. And we can support one another and our children, together in our homestead, watching the years tick by, continuing to have Family Home Evening every Monday, and continuing to say our prayers together every night, and continuing to read scriptures together as we eat breakfast in the morning, and to attend church every Sunday.
We can continue to be the family we have always been, and we can add to that family. This is a concept I learned from my step-mom, Laura. When she married my dad, she told me that her vision was not one of two separate family groups awkwardly interfacing from time to time, but instead a family unit where everybody in her clan and everybody in our clan felt loved, included, accepted and embraced, fully and completely. And that is how we will treat our family. It is a beautiful vision. Nobody rejected. All invited to the table. All members loved unconditionally, no matter what.
In this way, families really can be tied together—knit together in bonds of love that are unbreakable. It is in this that families can be together forever. It is accomplished by loving and welcoming and embracing one another—all of us. In so doing, we can create the legacy of love and acceptance and inclusion that will last through generation after generation, and onward into Eternity.