TLC’s weird upcoming show My Husband’s Not Gay has sparked a wave of a new kind of coming-out: Christian men who are open about their same-sex attraction, despite being married to women.
NPR recently featured one of these stories, about a Presbyterian pastor in Pennsylvania who has experienced same-sex attraction since he was a kid. His name is Allan Edwards, he’s married to Leeanne Edwards, and they’re expecting a baby in July.
In the NPR story, he talks about how his faith has shaped his identity:
I don’t personally find it helpful to use my experience of sexual attraction to define myself as a person, so I’m Allan. I’m Donna Mary’s son. I’m Leeanne’s husband. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. Those things are just more important to me, I guess, than the experience of same-sex attraction.
Host Rachel Martin struggled to find the proper phrasing for Edwards’ situation, and when she asked if he’s “suppressing’ a part of himself, he got a little defensive:
the word suppress is a pretty loaded word in this whole conversation, isn’t it?…
I think we all have parts of our desires that we choose not to act on… So for me, it’s not just that religion was important to me but communion with a God who loved me, who accepts me right where I am — all of that is so transformative that the practical living part, the OK, I need to now decide what I do with my sexual orientation, what I do with my experience of sexuality, that kind of comes after this experience with a very transformative and gracious God.
So for me, not choosing to use the identity language, that was a choice. There are friends of mine who identify as gay Christians, and they believe that for them, a life of celibacy is necessary. I think I made conscious choices along the way to say this is something I experience but this isn’t the thing that defines who I am personally.
This is Edwards’ stance throughout the conversation. Martin brings up that there are numerous LGBT-friendly churches in the world, even some that marry same-sex couples. He says it’s not for him. She asks if he thinks it’s a sin; he tries to talk his way around the question by denouncing hateful Christians who attack LGBT people, but eventually says (as nicely as he can) that yes, it is sinful to be gay.
Well, it’s not that I wouldn’t use that word [“sin”]. Here’s the thing. People in the Christian tradition who come to some of the same conclusions I come to have said some incredibly hurtful things and demeaning things about people in the LGBT community. And being hurtful and vitriolic is also outside of the Christian ethic. It’s not true to the Gospel of God’s grace.
So I want to try to speak in a clear way but also a gracious way. So friends of mine who are in the Christian tradition who don’t see homosexual relationships or activity as outside of the bounds — I think that they’re in error. And I would say that especially pastors and Christian teachers who tell people it’s OK to engage in homosexual behavior that they’re leading people astray, they’re leading people away from something really beautiful that God offers, and that is wholeness, redemption, grace, yeah.
Kindly as he puts it, the center of this turmoil is a deeply rooted internalized homophobia that won’t allow Edwards to see that times have changed, and that there are plenty of gay Christians out there who would welcome him with open arms. On the other hand, the angry bisexual activist in me is also baffled at the general lack of consideration that maybe Edwards — or any other man at the center of this media circus — is bi. Certainly that wouldn’t excuse his anti-gay beliefs — that kind of self-hate doesn’t discriminate. But it would make it much easier to wrap our heads around why he’d marry a woman, or more importantly, why she would be okay with it.
When describing how he met his wife almost a decade ago, Edwards’ voice is at the brink of breaking; he describes their partnership as an “intimate relationship” and his voice softens when he talks about how great she is. Leeanne joins the radio interview unexpectedly and tells the host about how she did worry that Edwards’ same-sex attraction would interfere with their relationship. She doesn’t really give an explanation of how they overcame it. She says:
The way that we think about sexuality is not that it’s always based on a sexual attraction. There’s [the same] likelihood of being attracted elsewhere in a opposite-sex relationship as there is in somebody who’s struggling with same-sex attraction.
Edwards then adds:
I think the expectation of the world around us is if you struggle or experience same-sex attraction and you get married to a woman, you will suppress, suppress, suppress until you explode.
Folks have said that to me. They said, you know, one of these days you’re either just going to ruin your family’s life or you’re going to commit suicide. And that’s hard to hear, obviously. But I guess my response to that is everybody has this experience of wanting something else or beyond what they have. Everyone struggles with discontentment. The difference, I think, and the blessing, I think, that Leeanne and I have experienced is that we came into our marriage relationship already knowing and talking about it. And that actually, I think, is a really powerful basis for intimacy.
From an outsider’s perspective, it is unclear whether Edwards is attracted to his wife. They told the host that they do have a sexual relationship, but there was no elaboration. I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that (clearly unwanted) bisexuality is an accurate description of his situation, so that his feelings for men don’t negate his feelings for his wife. Again, I’m not excusing this couple’s aversion to the concept of same-sex attraction, but for the sake of his family I want to believe that he loves his wife for more than her friendship. But I don’t know, and it’s not my place to guess.
I wish the best for Edwards and his wife, whether their relationship includes any level of attraction or not. They’re free to do whatever works best for them — as long as they don’t try to convince the rest of the world it’s the only way to be.