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    Thursday, March 09, 2006

    "Brokeback marriages"

    I always look to the New York Times for information on *NEW TRENDS*, for example, the "Brokeback marriage", wherein a gay or bisexual man is partnered with a heterosexual woman within the bonds of matrimony.

    Mrs. Remmele — now married to a farmer who raises cattle, corn and soybeans — is one of an estimated 1.7 million to 3.4 million American women who once were or are now married to men who have sex with men.

    The estimate derives from "The Social Organization of Sexuality," a 1990 study, that found that 3.9 percent of American men who had ever been married had had sex with men in the previous five years. The lead author, Edward O. Laumann, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, estimated that 2 to 4 percent of ever-married American women had knowingly or unknowingly been in what are now called mixed-orientation marriages.

    Such marriages are not just artifacts of the closeted 1950's. In the 16th century, Queen Anne of Denmark had eight children with King James I of England, known not only for the King James Bible, but also for his devotion to male favorites, one of whom he called "my sweet child and wife."

    Other women include Constance Wilde, Phyllis Gates, Linda Porter, Renata Blauel and Dina Matos McGreevey, wed respectively to Oscar Wilde, Rock Hudson, Cole Porter, Elton John and James E. McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey.

    Although precise numbers are impossible to come by, 10,000 to 20,000 such wives have contacted online support groups, and increasing numbers of them are women in their 20's or 30's.

    So, in case you weren't paying attention to literature, pop culture, or politics, this has happened before.

    On the whole these are not marriages of convenience or cynical efforts to create cover. Gay and bisexual men continue to marry for complex reasons, many impelled not only by discrimination, but also by wishful thinking, the layered ambiguities of sexual love and authentic affection.

    "These men genuinely love their wives," said Joe Kort, a clinical social worker in Royal Oak, Mich., who has counseled hundreds of gay married men, including a minority who stay in their marriages. Many, he said, considered themselves heterosexual men with homosexual urges that they hoped to confine to private fantasy life.

    "They fall in love with their wives, they have children, they're on a chemical, romantic high, and then after about seven years, the high falls away and their gay identity starts emerging," Mr. Kort said. "They don't mean any harm."

    elen Fisher, a research anthropologist at Rutgers University, said in an interview that human partnerships are shaped by three independent neurochemical brain-body systems, responsible respectively for sexual attraction, romantic yearning and long-term attachment.

    "The three systems are very fickle. They can act together, or they can act separately," Dr. Fisher said. This, she said, helps explain why people can be wildly sexually attracted to those they have no romantic interest in, and romantically drawn to — or permanently attached to — people who hold no sexual interest.

    "Once the system is triggered, it's so chemically powerful that you can easily overlook everything about that person that doesn't work for you," Dr. Fisher said. "Even straight people have fallen in love with people they could never make a life with," she said.

    This is cold comfort to women who lose not only the men they love, but also their faith in how to parse reality. "A lot of women feel that they were just used as covers, but I know in my heart of hearts he loved me," Mrs. Remmele said. "You can't fake the way he used to look at me.

    "I had no suspicions whatsoever. He's very masculine looking. It's not like he had Barbra Streisand or show tunes on."

    Wonkette responds: Oh, honey, you should know better. Gay men come in many different shapes and sizes! You need to look beyond the stereotypical signifiers of homosexuality.

    Next time around, instead of checking for Barbra Streisand albums, just make sure your husband isn't fucking men.

    Back to NYT:

    The survival of even a small minority of these marriages calls into question the conceptual shoe boxes into which human partnerships, affection, attraction, commitment and sexuality are often jammed. Describing their permutations and combinations turns out to be much more complicated than checking a box on a form labeled "gay," "bisexual" or "straight."

    Not to be annoying, but why doesn't "bisexual" apply here? Is it just because we don't use "bisexual"?

    Paulette Cormack, a teacher who lives in Napa, Calif., has been married to her husband, Jerry, a retired city planner, for 36 years. For 34 years, Mrs. Cormack said in an interview, she has known that although she and her husband are sexually active together, his erotic desires otherwise focus almost exclusively on men. "It's not easy, but I truly do love him," Mrs. Cormack said.

    The good ole "mixed orientation marriage"- friends: not so rare.

    Everyone else is talking about this, though.

    I mean, the first thing you have to mention is that NYT tendency to "name" something ridiculously, like "Brokeback marriage", that has been going on forever:

    Mark Liberman of Language Log:

    You've got to be quick in this business. A couple of days ago, Matthew Hutson wrote suggesting that "I believe we are witnessing the birth of a new snowclone: Brokeback X". I wrote back asking for examples, and Matthew responded yesterday with a few (see below), so I put it on my to-blog list. But today I see that we got scooped by Wonkette -- who else? -- in a post observing that Brokeback Mountain "may have lost at the Oscars, but it’s winning the battle of spawning irritating yet irresistible neologisms", and linking to today's NYT article by Katy Butler, "Many Couples Must Negotiate Terms of 'Brokeback' Marriages".

    And TGP: Before Brokeback, we just called them beards.

    Beyond the language issue, some Christians had their say:

    Father Jim Tucker weighs in:

    Lynn links to a fascinating article in the New York Times on the subject of heterosexual women who find themselves married to homosexual men, and the different ways in which those relationships play out in real life. Often it turns out like Brokeback Mountain, but I've also gotten to know couples in which their love for each other leads to heroic virtue in keeping the marriage together and faithful, in spite of what might seem like (and can in fact be) an insuperable difficulty.

    One always presumes that properly-exchanged vows result in a valid marriage, and the presence of some degree of same-sex attraction does not automatically result in an invalid marriage. Depending, though, on the degree of that attraction, as well as intentions regarding fidelity and children, together with the possible presence of deception, there may in fact be very strong arguments in favor of nullity.

    You've gotta love the name of his blog: "Dappled Things". Perfect title for a priest blog.

    Oh How I Love Jesus:

    Jeanette says "Yuck!" and uses a vomity emoticon. Then, she rethinks:

    My first comment sounds as though I am being critical of gays. That was not my intent. The “yuck” meant loving someone you thought was straight and then finding out he loved another man, and staying with him in some cases. This is irrresponsible in my mind because the offending partner can get diseases and pass them on to the spouse without her/his knowledge or consent.

    I apologize for offending anyone.

    Then, Don notes: I don’t claim to be perfect by any means, I’m a sinner just like the rest of you but at least I know what sin is and homosexuality is a sin period. And I for one am sick of seeing it on TV, in politics (gay marriage) and now in the movies. GIVE IT A REST PEOPLE, IT’S WRONG!!!!
    One more thing. The Chronicles of Narnia made over 300 million and wasn’t even nominated for best picture. HMMMMMMM, makes you think don’t it?

    You know what? I agree that, if Lord of the Rings and Titanic were nominated and WON, whatever had the biggest box office should forevermore be a shoo-in.

    At any rate, the Christians seem particularly fearful for the spouses that might contract some disease from their same-sex-philandering-husbands. Because you can be sure that People Like That don't use condoms. And you can also be sure that the classic husband having an affair with his secretary does.

    Love Hope Sex Dreams wants a more complex analysis.

    Yeah, me too.

    This phenomenon (and by "phenomenon" I don't mean *New Trend*, I mean "thing which happens") is yet another example of why the expectations of both heterosexuality and monogamy are so harmful. (And not just harmful because the Times might feel compelled to make a new, stilted, and pop-py term out of it.)

    We worry about these "poor wives" who are shocked and hurt to find out their husbands are "not who they pretended to be". Now, I wouldn't like to find out that my partner was living some kind of secret either, because I want us to be intimate. But these men are all but forced to keep this from their wives for years.

    Don't you think that part of the "poor wife" thing (and I truly do have compassion for these people) is the sadness that they "put all their eggs in one basket" when their partner didn't? I think a lot of "jealousy" and hurt over extra-marital/partner affairs is also rage at one's having stuck to the limitations when one's partner did not.

    This is not altogether different from most partnerships, regardless of the genders and sexual orientations involved. In most relationships, extra-curricular sexual experiences happen and are kept quiet and cause pain because of their secretiveness. I think that jealousy would be diminished if both partners were allowed a certain degree of sexual autonomy (with the caveat that safe sex was practiced in every sexual interaction).

    I am also frustrated by how, despite this article's random drop-ins of "bisexual", the assumption of monosexuality (homo- or hetero- exclusively) is so prominent. The article tries to undermine this assumption, but is slave to it all the same because it keeps going, "these guys might even love their wives," as if such a thing is out of the realm of normal consideration. Being in a relationship with one person is not imagined to circumscribe all sexual attraction, desire, interest, fantasy, etc, to that one person, so why is it that your partner's gender circumscribes all of the above to that particular gender?

    Maybe I'm crazy and overly hopeful in the future of the cuddle-puddle, but I really, really think that, in twenty years, this monosexism will be heading toward extinction. And I can't wait.


    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    My husband has never been able to make love during the day or when he is sober. He swears he loves women and is not gay. His father is gay, and one of his sister's is gay.

    He says he loves me with all his heart. He says he has no confidence to make love without alcohol.

    I tried for 10 out of our 12 years to do EVERYTHING to make our sex life work...I'm tired of it. I have never had trouble with my sex life prior to this.

    He has tried everything to assist...viagra, testosterone, reading materials, and hit and miss counseling (won't see the same person more than once or twice).

    What's up?

    6:20 PM  

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