“‘I think I know why you have writer’s block,’ my wife, Lolly, said. I was lying on our bed, complaining that I couldn’t think of what to write on my humor blog, The Weed, which had gained a bit of a following. My mind was stuck. Something was preventing me from coming up with a new post. ‘I think you aren’t being yourself. I think you need to come out of the closet.’
She was right.
Lolly had known I was gay since I was 16 years old. We’d been best friends growing up, and she was the first person I came out to, at the end of one of our first dates.
Lolly and I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a young Mormons we were taught many positive things. We were taught not to drink or smoke, we were taught to exercise and take care of our bodies by eating healthy foods, and we were taught to be respectful and kind and honest.
But we were also taught that, as a gay person, I was not acceptable in the eyes of God. We were taught that the way my body sought romantic and sexual attachment was evil, and that the way my body expressed love and sexuality was an ‘abomination.’ These teachings were very damaging, and they impacted my whole life. They deteriorated my self-worth in ways I could barely see.
When I realized I was gay early on, my parents and church leaders didn’t know what to do. The only counsel I was given–and I was given it a lot–was to take a ‘Godly’ or ‘Eternal’ perspective and to push aside the ‘same sex attractions’ that Satan, himself, was tempting me with. I was told that if I did this well enough, God would heal me of this ‘affliction.’ Most importantly of all, I was taught that the only legitimate path I should follow in this life, and the only way I (or anyone) could live with God again, was if I married a woman in the Mormon temple.
I was assured by many people over the years, including church-employed reparative therapists, that if I was faithful and followed this path, I would be ‘healed’ of my sexual orientation and this horrible journey of being the ultimate square peg trying to fit, so to speak, into a round hole, would be over.
I bought into this. I had no other modeling around me. I had never met another gay person. I truly believed that if I had faith and married a woman, things would be made right by God.
By the time I came out to Lolly at age 16, we were so immersed in this type of thinking that the question we were asking in our hours-long conversations of the topic wasn’t ‘should Josh marry a woman?’ It was, ‘what kind of girl might be good to marry in this complicated situation?’
Lolly said she thought I should marry a prudish Mormon girl who didn’t want sex. I thought it might be better to marry someone like her–an open, communicative girl who did want sex. For many years, she deflected the possibility of being the girl I married, but when I dated one of her best friends in college, and she saw me playing the part of a ‘straight boyfriend’ (which I honestly thought I was becoming, awaiting the change that had been promised to me by so many people I trusted), she began to see me in a different light. She began to fall in love with me.
The truth of this came out in a hilarious way, as we picked up Lolly’s old roommate who was visiting from her flight to Portland where we lived. You see, neither Lolly nor me is really fond of people watching. Instead, she and I enjoyed being people watched. When we were bored at college, we would sometimes do this thing where we would pretend to be other people having a conversation or interacting, or most fun of all, fake fighting. We would sit there, passionately embodying characters that weren’t us, and allow the people around us to eavesdrop on our melodrama for their own entertainment and for ours. Then later we would laugh and laugh about how things went.
In this instance, we must have been particularly bored, because we really went for it. Lolly pretended to be getting off a flight, and I pretended to be coming to see greet her (this was a year or two before 9/11, when you could come to meet people at the terminal as they got off their flights). I meandered down the terminal slowly until I saw her from a distance, and she fixed her eyes on me. She called out a random name (‘Jason!?’) and I made her name up too (‘Christine?!’) as we picked up momentum, eventually full-on running into each other’s arms as we spun and exclaimed, ‘It’s so good to see you!’ By this point, plenty of people were watching our heartwarming performance, and we kept these characters going.
Jason and Christine had soon grabbed a bite to eat in a little cafe right there in the terminal, and they were catching up. And before long, Lolly and I entered the familiar terrain that was most fun of all: a fake fight. The fight came to our characters spontaneously, and we improvised it to its most intensified point. Jason was getting after Christine because he couldn’t understand why she had dumped their mutual friend, and Christine was defending ending things with their mutual friend, claiming I could never understand why she’d had to let him go. Jason was acting very hurt for Christine’s old flame. Finally, at the most heated, intense moment of the fight, Chrsitine turned to Jason and said, ‘the truth is, when I think of all the guys I’ve ever known, and consider what I want in a husband, what I don’t want to admit is that I already know who I want to be with. And the honest truth is that I am falling in love with you, okay? I think I want to marry you.’
Suddenly, we were no longer Christine and Jason, and we knew it. We were Josh and Lolly, and Lolly had just told me she wanted to marry me. I was elated, and so was she. And just then, before we had any time to actually talk about what had just happened, the flight we were waiting for landed, and we had to end the melodrama there. But in our hearts, we were both elated. We couldn’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together.
Fast forwarding to the day Lolly suggested I come out publicly on my blog so I could live more authentically, we had been married 10 years, and I can honestly say that our marriage had been wonderful. Lolly and I were best friends and we had such a joyous life together! We had three little girls by that time (a fourth came a few years later), and we looked the very picture of a young, delightful family. We drove a mini-van, went on dates every Friday night, and binged Netflix shows in the evenings when we weren’t working or going to grad-school. (Both of us are now psychotherapists practicing in the Seattle area.) By this point, we had given up on the idea that my sexual orientation would change like we’d been promised by so many leaders in our community over the years. Instead, we were enjoying our marriage for what it was, and relishing in the beauty of our life together, and our commitment to our family, regardless of my sexual orientation in this life.
This is why, when Lolly suggested coming out, the idea hit us both so hard. It was an idea I had never really considered fully as this part of our marriage seemed so private to us. But as she suggested it in the context of authenticity, I realized she was right. This was a step I needed to take in order to live an authentic life. I may have been married to a woman, but she and I were both beginning to realize that I really was gay–not just same-sex attracted as church leaders had tried to tell us–and I needed to be able to be open about that part of my life. We were still so rooted in Mormonism that we were sure that my sexuality would be changed by God after we died, and we would still go on to heaven together, side by side. But as far as life here on this planet, it was clear that it wasn’t enough to have a few very close family members and friends who knew the truth about me. I needed authenticity in order to love myself.
So we went for it. She and I carefully planned a coming out post. We wrote it over the course of months, wanting to be sure to be validating to other LGBT people while also explaining the uniqueness of our situation. We systematically told some family and friends every week about what we were doing so fewer people would find out online (though of course we couldn’t get to everyone). We thought we had our bases pretty covered. We booked a trip to Las Vegas for our 10-year anniversary, and decided to post it while we were there, away from the kids. We planned to post it at the beginning of the trip to get it out of the way early. On the day of our actual anniversary, June 7th, 2012, we worked hard to get the post finished and published so we could race to the show we had tickets for (The Blue Man Group), and then just sit by the pool reading and relaxing for the remainder of our kids-free vacation. Ah, the stress free, relaxing vacation we would have!
Oh, how hilariously naive we were. To our shock, the day after pressing ‘publish post’ our coming out post went massively, millions-of-views viral. It felt like our most intimate, private life-story was a runaway train that we just couldn’t get ahold of. We spent the rest of that vacation holed up in our hotel room talking to media outlet after media outlet, ordering room service, and wondering just what had happened to our private little life. It felt exhilarating in the most awful way–like how it must feel if your parachute isn’t working at first after jumping from a plane. Whee! This is fun! Oh no, wait! There is now way to fix this! It is spiraling out of control! Nothing will ever be the same! LIFE AS WE KNOW IT IS GOING TO END!!!!
Life didn’t end, of course. But it never was the same. We were on shows like Nightline and Dr. Drew and the reboot of The Ricki Lake Show. People recognized us in airports. Our friends and family were stymied by it all. The church released me from my volunteer position teaching youth because they were afraid I would negatively influence them. (Coincidentally, several of those students were LGBTQ and have come out to me since.) And, most influential of all, we were contacted almost every day by multiple people who had stories of pain and abuse from religious organizations, most especially Mormonism. Getting to know those stories opened our hearts in so many ways. We felt more understanding of the LGBT community as a whole, and we understood so much more about the way organized religion has hurt that vulnerable population. We also began to really understand one very difficult (for us) and very true thing more and more deeply: that being gay is not something that needs to change either here on Earth or after we die, but instead is a beautiful and natural variation of human sexuality that should be cherished and celebrated.
The more we understood this truth, the more we recognized what an injustice our marriage was. To both of us. It was an injustice to me because I had never experienced love–I’d never held a man’s hand, never had my first kiss, never enjoyed any of the trappings of what is such a fundamental part of human existence–and worst of all I had no hope, whatsoever, of finding an attachment with someone I was oriented towards. There were times when, deep down in caverns of self I wasn’t being willing to look at, that lack of hope tore me to shreds emotionally, and even made me suicidal. Our marriage was an injustice to Lolly because she was married to someone who would never, ever be able to appreciate her beautiful sexuality for all that it is–to a man who, while kind and loving as a best friend, would never be able to truly love her, to feel the butterflies of infatuation for her, to comprehend the gift she was giving me by loving me with all her heart every single day. The gift she was giving was falling on deaf ears–on the ears and heart of someone who had never experienced romantic love of any kind, and who had no idea what he (or she) was missing.
These realities slowly deteriorated our health and happiness, even though so many other things in our life were truly beautiful. It affected us on almost every level–physically, emotionally, romantically, spiritually. Our marriage was slowly killing us. And what’s worse, people in the religious community had, since the day we came out, used our story to pressure and belittle vulnerable LGBTQ youth. We were trapped, and our marriage was damaging us and being used by religious folks to pressure others. Something had to give. Which leads me to part II of my version of our story: ‘What it was Like as a Gay Man to Experience Love for the First Time, at Age 37.’ I’ll be sharing my story of falling in love with a man soon with Love What Matters – stay tuned.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Josh Weed. You can follow his journey on YouTube, Instagram and his blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Josh’s ex-wife’s powerful backstory of their marriage:
‘Are you gay?’ ‘No,’ he said immediately. I looked at his wounded face. It turns out, I was right.’: Husband comes out as gay, couple divorces but continues to live together happily co-parenting, ‘I have chosen to continue to love Josh as my family’
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