My wife and I watched the highly highly controversial TLC special My Husband is not Gay tonight along with some friends of ours. I think uniformly, our reaction to the show was that it certainly wasn’t as good as it could have been, but also wasn’t as bad as it had the potential to be. Our main criticism was that the interactions within and between the couples just felt inauthentic and inappropriate at times.A lot of that might be skewed by the bias of those filming and what they were hoping to see.
For those who haven’t been following the show, it focuses on three mixed orientation marriages in Salt Lake City as well as a single adult with same-sex attraction. In each, the husband has same-sex attraction but does not identify as Gay. Each seem to be happy and successful. I enjoyed seeing the couples and thought they had a good relationship with each other. I thought that there were some very positive aspects of the show. Mostly, I loved that it showed that a healthy and loving relationship could exist in such a situation.
However, there were a lot of problems with the show that took away from the positive message:
First of all, practically the only thing the three couples talk about throughout the show is same-sex attraction. We learn very little about them aside from that. We learn that one of the husbands is a nurse and that his wife is pregnant after having a miscarriage. Other than that, we know little to nothing about their occupations, hobbies, callings etc. Instead, in practically every seen we see them talking about same-sex attraction (or SSA as they call it – I was also bothered by how the couple’s continually referred to their attractions as SSA. Not same sex attraction … SSA) They repeatedly used this acronym to the exclusion of other terms. ). This was very strange to me and perpetuates stereotypes of these men as repressed and obsessed with their attractions.
This was especially problematic in the scenes where the men spent time together. They continually spoke about the guys around them that they found attractive. They developed a danger scale to rank guys on attractiveness from 1-4. They even joked about how attractive they found men around their wives. I found this incredibly distasteful. I would never think about talking to my wife about how attractive I was to the waitress or to someone I met at the gym. I would never joke with guy friends about wanting to sleep with another women, or how hot she was on the danger scale. The couples claimed that this openness was helpful for them, but you could see the hurt on the wive’s faces as these conversations proceeded. There are just certain things that one should not to in a committed relationship or marriage. Such conversations seem to me to invariably lead to jealously and trouble.
Indeed, I was generally bothered by how much these couples talked and joked about sex and sexuality. Especially knowing the church culture, this seemed quite inappropriate. It seemed like being attracted to people of the same sex was an excuse to repeatedly joke about things that otherwise would be completely taboo. Of course, having a support network is helpful, but it seemed that here the support network of these couples instead obsessively focused their thoughts on sex, sexuality and attraction.
Probably the worst moment of the show was when one of the husbands discussed with his wife a camping trip he wanted to go on with some guy friends. His wife interrogated him about who the guys were. This really grated me, because it just felt like it perpetuated the stereotype that guys who are attracted to guys of the same sex cannot have healthy relationships with those of the same-sex. Especially if someone is going on a trip with a group of supportive guys, it seemed really strange to have the wife so lacking in trust.
I think a lot of these problems that I raise are ones that are made worse by the choice of those filming. Most of all, they reflected the choice of those producing the show to only focus on three couples who all saw their sexuality in the same way. I wish they would have shown couples where the husband does identity as gay,or even more of those who chose otherwise. I would have loved to see couples who did not spend all their time with other couples with the same challenges and see these couples interacting with other friends and members of their wards and communities. The myopic focus of the show was distorting and problematic.