This is part II of a two-episode series with Dr. Ty Mansfield and his wife Danielle where we talk about their personal experience with their mixed-orientation marriage.
In this episode, we dive deep into spiritual themes, as well as how we can support men and women experiencing SSA or GD in our communities. How important is recognizing one's Divine purpose in our individual and collective journeys? What can Muslims learn from the Mormon experience in providing appropriate safe spaces and support systems for men and women experiencing SSA or GD? What are ongoing projects that we can help support and learn from? These and other relevant questions are explored in this episode.
References mentioned in the episode:
- North Star International
- Voices of Hope project
- Voices of Hope: Latter-Day Saint Perspectives on Same Gender Attraction- An Anthology of Gospel Teachings and Personal Essays
- In Quiet Desperation: Understanding The Challenge Of Same-gender Attraction
- Voices of Hope podcast
Assalamu alaikom warahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh, and welcome back to “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, this podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and Islam. I'm your host, Waheed Jensen, and thank you for joining me in today's episode.
Today's episode is part two of our conversation with Dr. Ty Mansfield and his wife Danielle Mansfield. As you guys remember, in the previous episode, we started talking about their own individual and collective journeys, their perspectives on marriage, living in a mixed-orientation marriage, and having kids, and the struggles that come with that. And in today's episode, inshaAllah, we continue this conversation, and we talk a lot about spiritual themes, as well as some practical ideas that we can all benefit from, whether we are part of a mixed-orientation marriage or going into one, or if we ourselves are struggling with same sex-attractions or gender dysphoria but don't intend on getting married maybe, or we’re parents or family members, there are a lot of gems in this episode. So, I hope that you find it beneficial and helpful, and you take a lot of useful stuff from it, inshaAllah. And we will pick up from where we left off last time. So, let's get started, inshaAllah.
While I was listening to one of your interviews, it was the first time that I discovered this differentiation of attractions, you were the first person to actually educate me on the different types of attractions. You said, at some point, that there are romantic, aesthetic, physical, emotional attractions, and so on and so forth. And it hit me, because I always kind of associated attractions with like sexual attractions, and it was the first time where I was like, “This actually makes a lot of sense! And it's very helpful to kind of differentiate these different types of attractions.”
So if I were to ask you, Ty, if you were to compare your current state right now to the one before marriage, or maybe right at the beginning of marriage, do you evaluate any change in your sexuality or your level of attractions? What can you tell us?
Well, maybe to go back to the domain, so the dominant or the main domains that… Because I think you're right, I think most people, when we say attraction, we mean, well, there's just such a strong social kind of connotation in the script of attraction, that it's probably sexual, maybe romantic, does that make sense? But the six domains that I will talk about with people are erotic or romantic, those are given, aesthetic, affectional, social, and spiritual.
And I do think attraction is important, but I think we, as a culture, have put so much weight - and when I say attraction is important, I think like the net attraction with all of those domains - and we, as a culture, have just put so much emphasis on the other, we just tend to devalue the others. Now, the domains, the other four, again, affectional, aesthetic, spiritual and social, those can exist independent of erotic and romantic, they can be purely platonic. A heterosexual individual could experience any of those, and likely does, for other same-sex friends or others. But they can also overlap and intersect with erotic and romantic. So just the general theme is that those are all important. Because I think in some of those domains, again, you have sort of a general experience, and then you can have a person-specific or a situation-specific attraction, right?
So, I have a woman that I'm working with, therapeutically, and she's been married for 35, maybe close to 40 years, and she has only recently, in the last couple of years, started really addressing her attraction to women. And she has a really good, like a very strong marriage, and she said, “So that's not my issue”. She's like, “I love my marriage. I want to stay married. I need to figure out how to manage the attractions that I'm feeling to women.” But you know, she made the comment, because I have an assessment that I'll do with people, and she said, “Well, are we talking about men, or are we talking about my husband? Because my answer is different.” So there's what I call kind of more orientational or persistent patterns of attraction. But then you can have situational patterns of attraction, and I think it's a little bit more common with women, but I'll occasionally see it with men as well, where even predominantly heterosexual individuals will find themselves really strongly attracted to someone of the same sex, but it's not general attraction of the same sex, it's a person-specific attraction, right?
And so, what I find is that most people that are in happy, successful mixed-orientation relationships are one of two things: It's either a very strong person-based or situation-based attraction - I mean, it's always going to be situational, in some respect, right? But it's either going to be a very strong attraction to this person, not necessarily the gender, but this person, or this kind of net experience of attraction. It's like net-net, someone might have a very strong attraction, even romantically, to the opposite sex, you know, so maybe erotic might be lower, the romantic could be really high, affectional could be high, spiritual, social, all these other ones could be high, and so even if it's more representative in how they might feel toward the opposite sex, the pattern is positive, does that make sense? Or the net experience can be positive. So those are the two major things.
So, on a personal level, I would say, I would probably put myself maybe a little bit in both of those. When Danielle and I started dating, it was easy, there was a strong spiritual component, because it felt very spiritually guided. But also, it was easy, like I just felt a really strong draw to her personally, that was easy in ways that had never been easy in dating women. So it felt situational in that way. It also, in some ways, it felt representative, because I'd always, I think, when I was younger, like as an adolescent teenager, even in my early 20s, dating was really hard for me, there was this roadblock. I just couldn't quite get past. But I could imagine myself being happily married. Like the idea of being in a marriage, being in a relationship, raising kids, like this idea of being in a relationship with somebody that I was already connected with, I could imagine that, I just couldn't get to that connection, since that was where the block was.
And so what we have is something that I always kind of imagined probably could be, I just couldn't ever get there. And I've constantly had this feeling of “stuckness”. And then, when I met her, I was in my early 30’s. When I met her, it just felt really… Granted that dating was always a little bit of like a honeymoon phase. When we look back, it's like, I felt like I really knew her, and we've had conversations. It's like, I felt like I really knew her, then we look back and we’re like, “We did not know each other!” But we're just kind of lucky that it worked out the way that it did.
So in terms of now, as opposed to before, that there's been a level of maturity and getting to a place where you're more in sync, as opposed to the beginning of the relationship, correct?
Ty and Danielle 08:45
Cool. Well, adding to that, there's another question, and I got this from a couple of brothers who actually wanted to ask you this. So, do you ever have moments of panic, or like suddenly kind of regretting this choice of your own lifestyle, or maybe you feel that sometimes life gets too much. “I feel so burdened. I have a full time job, I have a family, it's too much!” Do you feel like, at some points, you just want to take off? And if you do get these feelings, how do you push past them?
Do you want me to leave the room while he answers?
Haha! No! And the same question goes to Danielle, of course, we’d like to hear from both of you.
She’s probably had more moments of wanting to bolt!
I have had my moments of wanting to bolt! Motherhood is very hard, especially when you're a stay-at-home parent.
No, I mean, there have been times of stress, but it's felt more like lifestyle balance issues, like it's never felt connected to orientation or sexuality. Well, A., I’ve never, I would never put it in the category of panic. I've never felt panic or regret. I don't think I've ever experienced a moment of regret. There have been moments when I felt super stressed. I was way more productive when I was single, and so like, there are times when it's like, there's a little bit of looking back. And it's, I mean, there's sometimes, if anything, there are tradeoffs, right? There are liberties to being single, and there have occasionally been times where I'm like, wow, I was really like, it wasn't even about freedom, because I've loved our relationship. It was more about like, productivity. Like, I just felt like I had more like discretionary time to do what I wanted. But it's a tradeoff, like I wouldn't trade this for that, ever. And I've never felt like I would trade it. It's always felt like, net-net, I would choose this again and again.
So I've never felt that. But I have felt a lot of stress, at times, in trying to balance work and family time and couple time. And, I mean, we have this talk pretty occasionally, because we tried to do like date nights and things, and it just seems like, a lot of times, something gets in the way. Like we were supposed to have a date night this Friday, but then three of our kids were sick. And so, it just feels like there's always a little bit of needing to reassess and recalibrate and balance.
And I have felt a lot of stress with balance. I think, with people that I talk to, well, there's obviously like a therapeutic context that I talk with people, but even just outside of that, like friends and other people like it's just a pretty universal challenge. And so I never once felt like, “Oh, this is because I'm attracted to guys.” It's like, it's never felt like that at all. It's because it’s hard being married with five little tiny kids, and trying to work to support a family, and wanting the kids to feel like you actually live at home, like that they see you. And so, I would say yes, absolutely stress, never regret, and never panic.
Right. Which is absolutely a universal human experience, regardless of people's orientations or whatever; any person who goes into a relationship is going to feel the same way. So, it's just all across the board, for sure.
And I would give the exact same answer even if Danielle had left the room.
Awww, that’s sweet! Haha!
I would agree with that, too. I feel like, you know, I've never regretted the choice to marry Ty. I felt really blessed and really lucky to be married to him.
I was just thinking something, I think I even texted one of my friends or something this week, just saying that I felt super lucky to be married to Ty, because you don’t marry an orientation, and you don't even marry… When you get married, you don't marry so that you have a sexual partner for life; like you marry someone because you're like marrying the whole person, and you're engaging in this life that you're going to build together, and so it's like the entire accumulation of all their traits and everything, the aggregate, you know. So, I mean, to be honest, if there's anything that I've ever felt, it's not even regret, but if there's anything like any trait that I've ever felt a little sad, it's like that, “Hmmm, too bad he's an introvert!” Because I'm really an extrovert, and we're limited in what we do socially by his introversion. So, I wouldn't say we're like hampered or majorly restricted, but we're limited by stuff like that. But you don't think, “Man, I wish I had married an extrovert!”, you know, you just think, “Oh, that kind of makes it not fun, he doesn't want to have people over for dinner as much as I would”, you know, or “He's probably not up for this game night.” But, you know, things like that.
And she's really good at saying like, “We're gonna do this thing, we can take two cars, you’re welcome to leave any time!”
Yeah! “You can use the baby an excuse!”
That's actually happened just recently, like, “You can use the baby as an excuse to go home and put her to bed.” Because she's an extrovert whose love language is quality time. I'm an introvert whose love language is not quality time. And so, those are kinds of like the dynamics that come into play with them.
Oh, yeah. I think especially like when we would meet new married couples, we have really good friends from Texas who are actually also in a mixed-orientation marriage, but they're both major extroverts, and I was like, “Well, that's nice!”
Yeah, there’s a little bit of jealousy. So yeah, because I'm definitely not that. But she's also been very generous and accommodating with things like that. Because whether it's her family, like I adore her family, I love her family, but I just can't do like sitting around and talking for hours. But she loves that. That's like one of her favorite things in the world, and it makes me want to claw my eyeballs out. And so, she will very often say, “We're going to go to my family's house, like, if you want, we can take two cars, you can leave any time.”
He doesn't even have to use the baby as an excuse at my family's house. They already know, Ty’s going home.
Exactly. “I’m just leaving. Bye!”
Yeah, so people get it. And so I appreciate that, I appreciate that she's willing to work with me, because I'm happy for her to have that. I just don't want for her to need me to have that as well, and vice versa.
Yeah. So I guess like my answer is, there's definitely tricky things to navigate when you're married. Tricky things to navigate around time. You just have normal, like two humans together, regardless of what relationship they're in, things that come up, where you're just like, “Oh, that's annoying.” But you never would look at a friend and be like, “Argh! They don't want to do this; I'm looking for a new friend.” You know? Like, I feel very happy to be married to Ty, I love him, and we have a really great life together. We're really in sync in the most important ways. But yeah, like, there needs to be a word for that - not mixed-orientation, but a mixed extraversion/introversion - we're in that relationship. But never panic, never like, “Did I make the wrong choice? I have regrets.” You know, things like that. Nothing, on that level. Things just like the normal things that you feel in a marriage that don't have to do with regret, just have to do with “This is hard”, or like, “This is tricky. We have to figure this out.”
And here's another thing that I think is really important to that, there's our story, but I see so many differences in different people that I work with, therapeutically or that I talk to, and one of the big differences, because I work with a lot of people who are starting to come to terms with addressing sexuality issues post-marriage. That's never been a thing for me. I think I had years to just really figure out who I am and what I want before I ever made that choice. So there was never any looking back. Like I always knew that was the direction that I wanted. I just wasn't sure that it was going to happen in this life. But I was willing to live for it should it happen. Does that make sense?
So, I think, for a lot of people, they didn't make that choice, they made that choice when they weren't very integrated, they didn't have a strong sense of self, they were making the choice because other people were telling them that they should. And when you're not owning it, when it's not you making that choice because it's what you want on a deep level - it could be spiritual commitments, it could be personal values, it could be a number of things, but it's really clear, “This is what I want”. I think there's much more room for regret. Again, I was in that place for years. It wasn't on a whim that I made this choice, and it certainly wasn't motivated by what other people wanted for me. So I think that's really important too, that if people want it, it can certainly be a healthy choice. It just has to be made from a very clear, centered place, individually and ultimately with God.
Now speaking of your family, so you said you have five children, may God bless them, and you said that your life is an open book, you know, you're very open to talking about your life experiences with everyone. My question is, how do you bring this topic up to your kids, especially that Ty is “out” about his story, and he is outspoken about the topic. Have you had the chance to talk to them about this? Or if you haven't yet, how would you address this, age appropriately? For our listeners to kind of learn how to also open up this topic to their own kids, if they're in a mixed-orientation marriage, what advice can you share with us?
That's a little trickier, because we haven't talked about that at all. And I think, going into marriage, it was like, “We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get there.” And I don't know that it's ever been a big concern for either of us.
I'm not concerned about my kids knowing, as long as we can sort of talk to them about it in an age-appropriate way. But our oldest is 10, and he's uncomfortable talking about puberty. And so, I'm like, you know, to even have just general conversations about sexuality - like we’ve had talks, we sat down, and we were reading a book, like on puberty and just what to expect as kids, and I think it was really uncomfortable for him. And even last night, I was like, “Do you want to sit down and finish that book?” And he's like, “No.” And he's told me, he's like, I mean, and this is just a very educational, kid-friendly book on what to expect as your body is changing, and he's like, “I mean, some of the pictures were kind of realistic, it made me feel really uncomfortable.” So, he’s just a sweet little kid, we want to keep this open, healthy conversation with him, and you got to do it on their terms too, right?
So our focus has been, I want my kids to just have a healthy understanding of sexuality, period, before we start getting into more complicated variations of that. And we haven't even got there yet. I mean, we've taken him to dinner and had kind of one of the initial - the idea is like, we're not having a talk, we want it to be a conversation. But I think we started it with a talk. And I think that talk might have been a little bit traumatizing for him.
So, he's still just like, I think, figuring out how to talk about those things. So, we both had conversations that, at some point, we want to have those, I'm not worried about having those conversations. And I'm not worried about any of our kids knowing, you know, if we can contextualize it. We kind of thought we need to have it probably sooner rather than later, only because in their school class, they were learning how to google, or to like do search phrases. And he googled or YouTube searched my name. Of course things come up. But I think the first thing that came up was, he didn't read the titles, and then there was one that talked about mindfulness and meditation to a group of people.
There was a video we did with him as a baby, but he didn't listen to any of it, which is kind of good. It was a video that we did, I think we had been married for a year and a few months, and he was really little. And we were just sitting together holding him. He's like, “Yeah, I saw this video…”, and I said, “Oh, yeah, don't google us!” And he doesn't care, you know, he's just like, “Okay!” And that Google experience is probably maybe two or three years ago, it was before we talked to him about sex. And so, he would have no context to even understand what they were talking about. Like, he was little enough that I think he may have watched the first couple minutes, and he thought it was boring. And he's just like, “Oh, yeah, I was a baby, and you were holding me.”
So, we have not had those conversations, we want to have those conversations, and so it's kind of navigating these sensitivities between where he's at, you know, what he's learning at school, and just like technology and googling your parents, and then there's just wanting him to have a really normal like, because again, I think sometimes we have like, “Oh, we need to talk about homosexuality better”, And like, we suck at talking about sexuality, period, as a culture, I think often. Let's talk about like normal stuff, and get a really kind of healthy foundation of that. And that's been my bias, because I wanted to just have a normal, like, just feel like a normal kid where things are normal. With these other things, I think they’re important, but there’s an order of operations there. And we just haven't gotten to those pieces. But again, I don't think either of us is worried about it.
Yeah. And I think, too, like our kids understand some level around these issues. You know, they talk about homosexuality, some people are gay, some people are lesbian. They have a first cousin who's nonbinary. So, we talked about these issues to some degree. It almost feels like, at some point, it will be kind of as-an-aside, “Oh, yeah, your dad has those feelings.” You know, like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, you can make choices around it, but your dad feels those feelings,” like almost a non-issue kind of thing. It's like, connecting the pieces. Ty and I have talked about it, like “When do we talk about this? How are we going to talk about this?” And I think our approach is kind of a non-issue, so we don't want to make it an issue, like “We need to sit down and tell you about your dad's feelings.” We have friends who do actually do that, and that's fine, too. And we have really good friends who have one child, and that child has known since they were like two or three that that was part of their father's experience. And so, I think people do it differently, they do what feels right to them and feels right given the context.
Another thing, too, is we have five [children], and they're all different ages, with all different levels of understanding about different issues. I mean, the four youngest don't even know what sex is. They have some context of how babies are made, they don't understand how the connection between, you know, the father seed and the mom's egg come together. Like to try to have those sorts of discussions when they don't even have like a rudimentary understanding of some basic things just feels like, like Ty said, it feels out of order. And with our oldest, we felt he wasn't mature enough for us to talk to him about sex, until maybe like a year or two ago. And our second, we're like, she's not ready. She's not ready for this discussion yet.
I'm going to ask you a spiritual question. So, I've heard you in an interview online, you were responding to the interviewer about viewing same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria as a form of a test, and that you said that the test language is tricky. And I'm going to be quoting you a little bit here, where you said, that you believe that “Everyone comes to this life with experiences that are designed to help us develop different capacities or godly capacities. While certainly some experiences pose certain challenges more than others, I don't believe that there is any experience or condition that prevents anybody from fulfilling the purpose that we came here for.” And then you mentioned the family focus of Mormonism and how valuable that is. But you also say that, and again, I'm quoting, “In some ways, we shoot ourselves in the foot by over emphasizing marriage and family to other reasons that we came here, which is to develop a capacity for love. And that we're here to love God, to love each other, to learn how to be godly” meaning conscious of God and to follow His path. And I absolutely adore that, I love that, and I agree with you 100%. Because we also, as Muslims, you know, we shoot ourselves in the foot, we overemphasize marriage a lot, and we kind of overlook other aspects of life that need to be emphasized as well. So, can you elaborate on this to the audience who's listening to you today? How much has faith helped you personally? How much has your relationship with God helped you in your journey, both individually as well as in your family?
Well, it's been foundational, because I think so much of how we experience the world is story, right? How do we story our lives? We have a narrative brain that makes sense of the world through stories. And I think, in theology, cosmology, spirituality, all of that gives us a story that we're living out. And one of the things that I think, you know, coming from a Latter-day Saint tradition, one of the key doctrines in Mormonism is that all of us are kind of literal children of Heavenly Parents, we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, and that we all lived with God before we were born, and that we were growing and developing there, and that coming to earth and having a mortal experience was part of a tutorial.
And, as a sort of an example of this, I've been interested in near-death studies for a long time, like people who have near-death experiences. And, sometimes, there's a sub-genre of near-death studies called pre-birth experiences, where people will have like, they're talking to a guide, sometimes it's God, and they'll say, “Would you like to see yourself before you were born?” And there's a woman who had an experience, she's not Latter-day Saint, she came from a fundamentalist Christian background, and her tradition does not have a theology of pre-mortality, that we’re kind of birthed into existence as we were birth into mortality. That was kind of the tradition that she came from. And so, she has this near-death experience, where this guide says, “Would you like to see yourself before you were born?” And she said, “I didn't have any concept that that was even a thing.” But I said, “Sure, why not?” And so, she saw herself in her in a room making choices, being presented with “there are possible experiences that you can have.” And, within LDS theology, this is probably more detailed than any prophet has ever taught. But it's consistent. It's just more detailed and would be an official part of our theology.
But the idea is that, you know, we're all growing beings, and the idea of mortality was that we have more opportunities to develop divine attributes and godly qualities, we call them “Attributes of Godliness.” And, you know, you can choose which qualities do you want to focus on developing? And what experiences do you want to have? And it was a lot more choice that we were a part of. And she said, “I saw me making choices for my life. And some of them were very hard.” And she said, “I chose many opportunities.” And then she said, in parentheses, “In mortality without an eternal perspective, we would call them ‘adversity’.”. She's like, “But with an eternal perspective, we just saw them as opportunities.” But then she made a comment that I've always really liked, she said, “It's kind of like a study abroad. It was like, we were doing a study abroad. And I know, it's gonna be a really hard semester, but I can handle anything for a semester; 16 weeks, and then it's over.” She said, “That was the feeling that we had as we were making these choices there for the kinds of experiences that we would have.”
And one of the things that actually sparked my interest in this kind of pre-birth studies was, I had an experience once, it was just a very strong spiritual impression, that was very clear that came to my mind, was that “You knew before you were born that this would be a part of your experience, and it would be tied to your mortal mission.” And I was like, “Huh!” Because I was like, “I knew before!”
Because, in our theology, it's very clear that we knew that we would come to earth to get bodies, and it would be part of our growth, but in a very broad-brushed, kind of a high-level, there's purpose to mortality, and it's part of this divine plan that the level to which we make particular choices about what we would be experiencing is not an official part of our doctrine. But I would keep having that experience, I wanted to read everything I could find from LDS church leaders, and then LDS writers, and then they would quote this kind of broader genre of near-death literature and just these themes as they show up in other traditions and that kind of thing.
And so, that's kind of what led me down that path. And all this was happening when I was still single, but this feeling that “I'm not a mistake, this experience is not a mistake, that there's purpose in design”, even though I don't believe like homosexuality is an eternal condition. All of our experiences, even really difficult ones, and even ones that we might, through a mortal lens, think of, “Well, that's not fair”, or “That's unnatural”, or whatever. I think, in an eternal perspective, there is purpose and design to everything we experience. I mean, even with this one woman, and again, kind of coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, one of the things that she chose was that she would be abused by her parents or father. And then there's a whole kind of predestination thing that I think that complicates it. But anyway, she said, “It wasn't that anyone was predestined to abuse me.” She said, “My father wasn't predestined to abuse me. But I knew that I would be placed in circumstances where abuse was likely to occur.” And she said “I wanted to learn the power of forgiveness.”
Oh, I see.
It was about forgiveness. And you can't learn to love unless you're in a relationship with people who are hard to love. You can't learn patience unless you're in relationships with people who challenge your patience. You can't learn forgiveness, unless there are people who have hurt you in ways that you have to learn to forgive. Does that make sense?
And so, all of these experiences, on this side of everything that I've learned, I can look back and think like, I understand fully why I might have chosen these things, in what it's taught me about God, and what it's taught me about love, and what it's taught me about patience and faith and trusting God above all other things, and putting God first above all other things. And so, absolutely, I can see why this could have been a very meaningful and purposeful experience. Well, it certainly has, and if it was like proposed to me, “Here's the things you could learn.” I'm like, “Sign me up!” Because, you know, it's like, there's a lot of things that we have that we get really optimistic about and then, you know, somewhere mid-game, we're like, you know, “Why did I sign up for this?” Or “Why did I think this would be a good idea?” But on this side of it, you know, someone asked me, and again, I can't remember if I said this before, it was a Christian guy, he said, “If the Bible didn't prescribe homosexuality, would you have chosen this?” It was a fair question. And I said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would choose it again and again. If I didn't know, I would have done what was most natural to me at the time.” If it was like all things being equal.
But the things that I've experienced in my marriage, with kids, I feel like I know love. I mean, with kids, you just, I feel like I understand God's love better than I ever had any conception. Because the love that you feel for kids, it's just like overwhelming sometimes. And then like, these experiences that we've had growing together and creating this life together, like, I would choose it again in a heartbeat. So I think, anyway, all that to say, I think that every experience that we can have in this life, there is divine design that is intended to teach us something about loving God more, loving God better. We have the Great Commandments that Jesus taught, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And then, the second great commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The longer I live - and it feels kind of trite to say that - the longer I live, the deeper and more significant it becomes.
But every experience that we have or could have, including sexual or gender identity issues, is designed to help us and to challenge our love of God, and to challenge our willingness and ability to put God first in our lives, to love God better, so that our capacity for love can grow. Our capacity can't grow unless it's challenged. And, so, we have to have experiences that challenge and grow our capacity to love God better with our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to challenge our capacity to love each other better, right? And there's a Latter-day Saint apostle, he's passed away now, but he gave a talk, kind of a sermon once, on patience, and he said, “Part of understanding and learning patience is understanding that even when we may have had enough of a particular learning experience,
the Lord will leave us in that learning experience, because it's an important part of the learning environment of others.” That our challenges and the experiences that we have aren't just for us, that other people that maybe – and this might be sounds a little negative - but part of my life or my experience, or me, is challenging somebody else's capacity to love. So they’re given these opportunities to learn how to love better, because they have to deal with uncomfortable things, or learn how to love somebody who is different or whose experience is foreign to me, etc. Does that make sense?
100%. Absolutely love that. Yup.
Yeah. Everything has Divine design. There's sort of a little bit of a sentimentalist trope that like, you know, “I was born perfect, and God doesn't make any mistakes, and therefore, God wants me to pursue a same-sex relationship, because that's what's most natural.” And I just think that's a little bit short-sighted, that certainly there's a spade, but then, the other side of that, that “I'm broken, I’m a mistake, and this is just disordered, and God would never so and so”, and all these kinds of things, I just think both of those are really short-sighted. There is purpose and design, none of our experiences are by mistake, but that doesn't mean that just because I'm having this experience, that the Divine design is now to go like marry a man, right? Or pursue a same-sex relationship, or, in the case of gender identity, just to transition.
And so, I mean, there's a lot of complications in all of this, but I think that, certainly, it's not beyond me to see all of these experiences as purposeful and by Divine design, purposeful design, and for God's commandments to still be what they are, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that the broader frame of design is still true, and our individual variances and the different experiences that we have can still also be very purposeful in how they bring us closer to God and closer to each other.
Brilliant answer! I'm just floored at this, I really appreciate these wonderful, wonderful reflections.
Now, if you were to take this further, what you said about the ideas of spirituality and the idea that everything has a Divine purpose, you know, you deal with a lot of religious clients who come to you as a therapist, and let's say they're dealing with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, from your own community or maybe other religious communities, and who believe in that purpose, but sometimes, you know, life gets very burdensome, and they might feel that their religion or their beliefs are kind of restricting them in that regard. Like, “We really want to just have that aspect of our lives, but we know that we can't, because we have those restrictions.” How do you support these men and women, what advice would you give them? They're craving same-sex intimacy or partnerships, and they feel that they're being restricted, but they're also kind of like, “We understand the Divine wisdom”, they’re kind of in between, so how would you counsel these men and women?
So, first and foremost, one of the things that I tell people is, “I can talk to you about the how, but I can't give you your why.” So people have to know what they want, and why they want it, and I can help them, I can talk about how to do that in a healthy way. But I think, without really having a vision that is ours, where we feel internally motivated versus externally motivated - there's this interesting bit of research that was done, because in the field of mental health, and looking at spirituality and mental health, most of the research shows that for highly spiritual people, the spirituality becomes a protective factor against a lot of health issues. But sometimes you'll see variations of that, like sometimes spirituality, or religiosity, which becomes kind of a proxy for spirituality, negatively impacts mental health. And so, there were some researchers that were trying to look at, you know, why is that? And why do we see some of those differences? And they were exploring motivation as a moderating variable. And what they found was that that really did seem to be a key in determining those differences; for people who are highly religious but internally motivated, religiosity and spirituality became a protective factor. It was positive for mental health. But for people who were highly religious and externally motivated, it actually negatively impacted mental health. It correlated positively with higher rates of depression and anxiety.
And so I think, for that, and that's kind of my frame coming in, like, I'm not going to tell anybody what to do. Like everybody gets to decide how they want to live their life. But if that's what they want, and they're feeling some of those conflicts, we can work through that, and we can talk through that. And then we can talk about the how, because I think that, at the end of the day, sometimes there is just a process of kind of maturing into our why, where I think sometimes, developmentally, if we don't have the full picture, you know, it's like our kids, they might kind of get like, eating healthy food is like a good idea, because we care about our bodies, but like, we really want that cake, and I’ll be really mad if you're going to tell me that I can't have that cake. And that's just a process, I mean, I think developmentally, that's normal. But it is an immature place to be, right? I don't mean that pejoratively.
So, there is a sense of, over time, being willing to trust my wife, or to trust this, or I need to be able to find within myself, my reasons for leaning into this, and trusting in this wisdom, even if I don't fully appreciate it or fully understand it. When it comes to gender identity, it’s a little bit of a different issue, but when we're talking about sexuality, I think we all, at a very deep level, hunger for connection, intimacy and belongingness. And I think because of the way that a lot of our western culture has evolved, those things have been too strongly connected with these ideas of marriage and romance and sexuality. And, you know, I don't know how it is in all cultures, but at least you know, in a lot of Western culture, we use the word “intimacy” as a euphemism for sex, and it's one of the worst things we could do.
So, I think helping people also to find ways that what you're hungering for, at its core, is good. It's divine, right? We want this sense of intimacy in the true sense of that term, the sense of connection, and seeing and being seen, and knowing and being known, and feeling a sense of belonging. And it's harder to get those needs met outside of romantic or sexual context, but it's certainly not impossible. And I think, to live out your values, and to see it, as you know, these are not restrictions. Because the way we see it a lot, especially people that are in in the Latter-day Saint tradition or community who have kind of taken a more LGBT-affirmative approach, that “the church is wrong on these issues” kind of frame, or, you know, “the church is telling you, you just have to live a lonely, isolated, desolate celibacy.” I mean, these are all the worst things you'd wish on anybody, right? And it's like, well, that also feels kind of shallow, in the sense that like, no, that's not what they're saying. And I don't think that's what God says, and I don't think that's what the Scriptures say.
But what it does say is that we have to rely on God first, and that we're not… There's a Catholic writer who wrote a piece, his named Henry Nouwen, and he wrote a piece called “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.” And he said that there's an order of operations there. And he uses this event when Jesus goes out in the wilderness and talks, you know, spends 40 days or 40 nights in communion with God. And he said that, if we don't come to God first to get those needs that only God can fill, that intimacy with God, that only God can offer us, if we don't do that, then we start looking for humans to give us what only God can give us. And that's going to be a very frustrating venture. And so he said that we have to come to God first, and then when we have those needs met, those Divine needs met in God, then we can allow other humans to be more human. And there are still needs for human connection and belongingness, and unity and intimacy and all that. But we're not looking to humans to give us what only God can give us. Otherwise, you know, we have too high of expectations, and then we're likely to be disappointed.
So all that to say, I think that there are ways that people can stay in harmony with their values and still get those needs met. And it doesn't mean that they might not be tempted, or that they may not desire those things. But sex is not a need; sex is an appetite. But if we conflate an appetite with the core needs of belongingness, connection, intimacy, feeling seen and known and all those sorts of things, and then if we can't disentangle those, then they feel like they're one and the same. And that can set people up for a really lonely, isolated existence.
But I think that's necessary. And I would say, most traditions, on some level, get on board with that, right? And so that will be my starting point: How do we meet these core needs in ways that are consistent with those values, but give you a place to go with this, again, rather than just not acting on it. You're acting, you're an agent who needs to feel like you're operating from a place of power, to act, to create, to grow. You're not just kind of passively sitting around not acting. I think that kind of fosters a feeling of isolation, but, anyways, act on it in the right ways, in ways that are in harmony with your values and gives you a place to go with it and offer you a kind of creative power to nurture meaningful relationships, but that are in harmony with your faith.
Brilliant, thank you so much for that answer. Now, you also touched upon the people who leave the church, maybe they're struggling with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, they might leave the church, they might leave religion altogether, because they want to live that lifestyle, and they cannot find a leeway within their particular belief system. How do you think that we can help those individuals as religious communities? How would you counsel these men and women? I know that a lot of them are coming from a reactionary place, like their fight-flight-freeze response is activated. It's all black-or-white. But I feel that, as religious communities, we also have the obligation to kind of, you know, provide a supportive environment for them to feel that they are sheltered, that they're still welcome if they choose to come back to the community, that we're here for you, that we have our value system, but that we still honor you as human beings. How do you feel that we can work to achieve that and help those men and women? What are your thoughts on this? And, Danielle, feel free to pitch in if you like.
Well, I think I mean, as you can see, listening to Ty, he has such a great understanding of these things, and he can express stuff so eloquently. So, I mean, I have thoughts, but I'll let him go first, and sometimes it triggers things that I want to add.
Well, I think this maybe still higher level than what you're asking, meaning I just think maybe a little less practical, but, again, what people are looking for at is, at its core, good. They're looking for love, they're looking for connection, they really want intimacy, they want to feel seen and known and loved, and I think the core heart of those things are deeply good. It's just that they feel limited in the ways that they can get those needs met. And I think the more religious communities can help meet those needs, or like, really speak in to those needs, and the more that feels real to those people, if the option is like either “I'm feeling this over here, but over here, it's just a hypothetical”, I'll choose what's real versus the hypothetical. Does that make sense? And so, the more we can make this real to them, and the more individuals are getting these needs met here, and feel that sense of meaning and belonging and community and all those sorts of things, I think, the easier it is to say, “Okay, I guess it kind of levels the playing field a little bit more. I can live over here and still be happy.” Again, there might be some tradeoffs. “But I can still be happy, and I can still be healthy, and I can still live congruently with my faith.”
I have a guy that I'm working with who had left the church, the LDS church, about 20 years ago, and he's married to a man. About three years ago, he woke up just one day with this like insatiable desire to go back to church, and that God's calling him back to church, like there was this. And so, he started going back to church, but still married, and started slowly kind of living the commandments more and more, and, in our tradition, we don't drink or smoke. So he started living the word of wisdom, again, which was like, to his husband, who came from a big wine tasting family, and they would do these big, extended family trips to Italy and these wine tasting trips, and he's like, that is like betrayal to his husband, who was like, “I can't believe you're doing this.” But he started just living all the commandments, and, eventually, even though he was married, but he was going back to church and building the sense of community, and developing these relationships with people who knew his situation and just loved him and welcomed him.
He couldn’t get re-baptized into the church. You can’t get re-baptized into the church when you're married in a same-sex marriage. But at some point, that's where he was, and just recently, he and his husband decided to separate, but after three years of him [rediscovering his faith]. But I think the husband was kind of like, “I think if this is the direction you're going, I don't know if I want this for me.” And so, it was a gradual process of him really feeling loved and feeling the sense of belonging in his congregation that made that choice, and the love felt, you know, again, real and nourishing, and it made that choice still hard. I mean, he's like, “I still love my husband, but it's like, this is where I feel like God is calling me.”
So, anyway, I think the more that we, as communities, can make God's love real, and our love real, and invite people in and help them to feel that sense of nourishment, emotionally, socially, and spiritually, the more sustaining that is, the easier that choice is going to be for people to make, to align their lives more and more. And that might be a process over time. Because, you know, for the last year and a half, they've been in a celibate marriage, by his choice, you know, but the celibate part, the not being sexually active, was easier for his spouse than the wine tasting. So the only thing that has kept him from being re-baptized is the legal piece, the fact that he's legally married to a man.
So, a long answer to a short question, but I think, the more we can do to make that real, the better. And I think that what that looks like practically speaking on the ground, there's probably an infinite number of ways to do that, and I think that's where we seek the Spirit, because it's going to look differently in different people's experiences, to seek God, seek God's wisdom, seek the Spirit to know how to do that in real time. I think it's a very individual process.
Can you tell us a little bit about “North Star International” and the “Voices of Hope” project for the listeners who are not familiar with these initiatives? Like, what are the different projects involved? And, you know, are they open to individuals, regardless of their religion, for example? What can you tell us about the mission and the vision, briefly, if you like?
Yeah, so North Star was designed to be kind of a “for the people, by the people” kind of organization, it was more community-oriented. It's not a therapeutic organization. But its aim was to provide a social support and spiritual support for people, specifically for those who are wanting to navigate this within the teachings of the LDS church. And certainly other people are welcome, but the doctrinal frame is very much explicitly LDS. And there have been people, we've had a woman who was Baha’i, who was involved for, you know, some time, and because there were no resources in her faith community, they just didn't have anything like, a pamphlet, I think. And so, she found us, and she was very, very welcome to come. She actually served in leadership for a while. And so, anybody is welcome to come. It's just that the doctrinal frame, the language, how we talk about things is very kind of explicitly Latter-day Saint, but that's not restrictive.
So, again, it’s very community-oriented. At our conferences, we have some online communities, but online communities can be a little bit of a mixed bag, right? Because a lot of times, people who are in support communities or people who need support, and they're struggling, and so sometimes it has a little bit of this, like, you know, is everybody struggling, right? Because the people who are doing well tend to kind of fade into their own lives, and they just want to move on.
I'm in some spouses groups, and I'm like, “I have nothing to add!” Just because I'm like, “With those issues, I don't know how to help you. Talk to a therapist.” But, anyway, go on.
The online communities are a little bit trickier. But we have an annual conference, and we have maybe a handful of smaller conferences, too. But those are all, I mean, like people come and it's just more of like, kind of family reunion, so to speak, where it's like people are in a good place, and it's very uplifting. And that social support, where you see that there are lots of other people who are trying to navigate this within these values. And a lot of them are doing really, really well. And so, the idea of the “Voices of Hope” project was to say - because when I started, and it kind of grew out of my own pain. Robert Bly, you know, he said that wherever a person is wounded, that is where their genius will be, and that is what will grow the greatest gift they have to give to the community. I think that really kind of is where the “Voices of Hope” project started. Because when I was coming, you know, really starting to come to terms with things and looking for mentors or role models, or somebody that could say, “This is how you do it”, or “This is least how I did it.” I couldn't find anybody.
And, at the time, you know, this was back in the early 2000s, a lot of the online communities and resources weren't there. I could find one support group. And, again, everybody in the support group was there because they were struggling. And it just seemed like, “I'm not doing this for the next 10 years”, you know. And so, I kind of felt like, “I've got to figure this out for myself.” But then, once I did, I came to a really good place and then wrote my story as part of In Quiet Desperation. Tons of people were reaching out to me privately saying, “Oh, yeah! Me too!” I'm like, “Where were you when I needed you?” Like, it was all, I mean, because they just were doing their own thing. They were living their lives, and they were happy.
And so, the idea of “Voices of Hope” was to kind of provide that, at least a book, you know, not the video, you know, having people get on camera. Because when we started “North Star”, I was the only person initially who was even willing to use my real name, you know, that's kind of where we were as a community. Well, there was one other person that was willing to use a real name, and they had left the church for like 20 years and had organized marches on Washington, and then later, you know, came back to the church, but I think they've since left again, and that's a whole other story, I think they were kind of a little activist-oriented. But I think that, over time, more and more people have been willing to use their real names and realize there's nothing to be ashamed of. And like that openness has been really healing for a lot of people.
And the “Voices of Hope” project was designed to say like, here are a lot of personal stories that look very different. Because I think one of the things that was important to me, at various points was, my story doesn't need to look like your story, my story can be my story, but I can learn things, I can learn some things from your story and some other things, and to have a lot of different people who are telling their stories, that has been very powerful for a lot of people. So that's what the book was designed to be. And then, later, after the book came out, more and more people came, so we started this online project, and then the videos. And so the whole purpose was just to say there's power in stories, and there's power in real people showing up and using their real name, and there's nothing to be ashamed of, sharing their experiences and feeling happy in their lives. That these can be done in happy, productive ways.
And so that's been the design of the project and of the organization. Even in our conference, a lot of the workshops are kind of mental health-oriented, and we have therapists who do a lot of the presenting, and we have a lot of people presenting who are not therapists. But the idea is, there's a lot of focus on how do you navigate this in healthy ways, like the spiritual values are the guiding frame. And there's a lot of kind of spiritually uplifting things as well. But a lot of that focuses on spiritual upliftment and health in how do you do this well, and a lot of them had to kind of have a bit of a mental health focus, if it's going to be sustainable, you've got to figure out how to do it, you know, healthy, and those kind of nuts and bolts.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for your answer, I will be adding links in the episode description for all of the listeners to check out including the website links, as well as links to your books. Hopefully, we'll all benefit from the content. Now, a couple of years back, when I started my own personal healing and growth and recovery journey, I would go online and check out some of the resources that were published by your community, and I was really floored at how the Mormon community, in particular, was really accepting of mixed-orientation marriages, particularly like the “Voices of Hope” really gave me personal hope that “Man! Look at those men and women who just know about each other, they love each other, they're willing to live a life that is true to God to their religious beliefs and their values, and to live righteously and dedicate their lives to God, to their family, to their community.” And then I would tell my friends, like “I wish our Muslim communities would have the same kind of like initiatives.” And I know that a lot of people would be willing to help, but we don't have, you know, it was still at the beginning. And, nowadays, we do have our own support systems and resources, which are kind of, you know, picking up the momentum, as they say, but not as established as you guys in your own community. So kudos to you, God bless your efforts.
My question to you is, what can we learn from your community, you know, in terms of supporting men and women who deal with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, the acceptance of mixed-orientation marriages, the support that you give to those individuals on their path to God, what advice can you share with us, Danielle and Ty, both of you?
So is the question, like, how do you create something similar within your own community?
So, if I were to rephrase that, like in terms of the Mormon community, what is something that you have noticed that your community has that makes it easier, maybe in terms of like acceptance of individuals who have same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, or like the acceptance of mixed-orientation marriages within your community, as opposed to other communities’, where there's a lot of shame maybe attached to that, or a lot of misconceptions? Like, what are some valuable lessons that we can learn from your experience, within your community, that maybe are lacking in our community? Does that make sense?
I think so.
I think our doctrine allows for separation of temptations and actions. And so, I think that's really key in that people are able to separate themselves from, you know, feeling guilty or feeling shame around the issue, because there is no problem with having those desires, there's no problem with having those kinds of feelings. And I don't know about other faith systems, because I think, some other faith systems would actually say that even having those thoughts or those desires is wrong. But we say that's just part of your mortal experience like that. So I would say, that's one thing, just to start off, that makes it possible, because people can say, you know, you don't need to feel bad about this. But then I think also, we just have a culture. And, you know, individuals are different. But I think, as a culture, we really do try to create a feeling of love for people wherever they are. And so I think that helps as well.
So, I think, there's a couple things, and it's been a growing journey over time. Because, at one point, even in our community, there's been a lot of growth, but 40 years ago, people were excommunicated for saying that they were attracted to the same sex, you know. And so, there's been a lot of growth and development over time. And a lot of that has been kind of, I think, both on the level of community, but also leaders, really listening to stories and figuring out how are we differentiating behavior from identity, from temptation, from sin, right? And that is to be attracted, or to have a temptation, is not the same thing as indulging that, even in thought, right? Like to be attracted to someone, it's not the same thing as lusting after them, right? Obviously lust would be a problem, that scripturally we're commanded not to lust. But that's not the same thing as feeling attracted.
And so all of these kind of nuancing that's happened over time, and I think even where the church has been very clear is with behavior. I think understanding the nature of attractions, and “Can they change? Can't they change? Don’t they?” I think there's been some shifting and nuancing over time, I think even with identity, the church has tried to be, over time, and this has been even a more recent development, just in the last maybe 10 to 15 years, where like, whatever words you use to describe yourself; some people may be comfortable with a gay identity, other people are not - the church doesn't take a position on that, if you're willing to live the commandments, which are defined more behaviorally, you can participate fully on all levels of the church.
And I think, certainly, there might be certain understandings, you know, because identity, I mean, people even use the word “gay” differently. I mean, some people have more of this “gay liberation” ideology, which is problematic theologically, but other people are just using it as shorthand, right? And it's just like, “Well, it's just kind of a mouthful to say that sometimes I'm attracted to people of the same sex, maybe sometimes emotionally, sometimes romantically, etc.” You know what I mean? It's a lot to say.
So the church doesn't take a position on that, and North Star has chosen not to take a position on that, because you have people who are equally committed to living their commitments to the teachings of the church, but they just might have different storying, they may have different variations in how they see it, and some variations in how they identify and whatnot. But a lot of those, and I would say all of that evolution, whether it's on the level of the community, or even in some of the nuances of the teachings of the church leaders, has happened because of exposure, right? There have been more people, they've heard more stories, and they've listened to more people, and they see that this person, you know, even though they're kind of open about this experience, we can see their hearts, and we can see that they're committed to doing right.
Because even when I first opened up, it wasn't a church leader, but he was a pretty high-profile psychologist who tried to paint me as a “wolf in sheep's clothing” and like, “I'm a danger to the church, I'm a danger to the youth of the church.” And a big part of that was that I wasn't taking the strong like reparative therapy approach; it was more of just a spiritual kind of ministry approach. And he's like, “I've never seen anybody who used their real name who stayed in the church.” That was his premise, that to use your real name, that train moves in one direction, and “These people are on their way out, and we don't want them to have too much influence, because then, as they leave, other people will.”
So, I think, this idea of just cutting through the shame, the cultural taboo and the cultural shame, that only happened as more and more individuals have been willing to cut through it in their own life, and to be willing to speak through into the community. But there's kind of a critical mass that's happened, right? Anytime you try to transcend any cultural center of gravity, that gravitational force is going to be very powerful. But as more and more people are willing to do it, and you get a critical mass, that's been very helpful. There's been more and more of a critical mass of people who are committed, who are saying “We're in, we're in, and we just don't want to have to carry the shame around. And we don't want to have to live with the baggage of what is cultural versus our commitment to what is doctrinal.”
And so, I think having that and kind of teasing that out, and I think we've transcended a lot of those cultural problems, while also being firmly anchored doctrinally, and as more and more people have seen, “Oh, that is possible”, they've been more and more embracing. Does that make sense?
It makes perfect sense.
And so I think it really requires more individuals to show up and to be willing to kind of sit in some of those tensions of other people not being comfortable, but like, not taking it on, and getting a critical mass. And I think, in North Star conferences, we've had various leaders of the church on various levels. We haven't had anyone on the highest levels, but we've had some speakers from some very high levels of church experience and leadership serve as keynotes. And one of the speakers, she's the daughter of a former president and prophet of the church, and she had served as a leader in one of the high level women's organizations, but that her dad was like the prophet for a number of years. And we invited her to come and she keynoted, and she emailed me afterwards, and she still had kind of an advisory role within some of the central church organizations and committees, and she said, “It was such a remarkable experience for me, I could feel people collectively reaching for the Savior… It was such a sweet, beautiful experience.” And then she's giving that feedback to people that are talking to her about that, and that kind of thing.
And so, I think that, as people have seen it, felt it and experienced it, I think it does sort of become a kind of leaven in the culture as a whole. And, again, we're not seeking doctrinal change, it's not like we're like activists, you know, we just want to people to feel a greater sense of safety, a greater sense of peace, a greater sense of joy, a greater sense of intimacy, community and belonging within the doctrinal framework of the church, and the fact that we are committed to that. We're really insiders who people kind of haven't historically known what to do with, right? It's not like we're outsiders trying to change the system, or at least theologically. We've been able to have a lot of, I think, positive influence there.
So, it's a matter of time, I think. And so, I think, in any community, it just takes that group of people who are willing, really willing, to show up and to try to have a positive influence. But our focus was never on trying to change the church, even culturally, our focus was on providing a system of support, our primary focus was providing a system of support for individuals and empowering them to go in and, you know, have an influence in their own communities, sub-communities, their congregations and whatnot. And I think, we're now about 16 years in, no, when did we start? 2006? Right? Yeah, I guess we're about 16 years in. And I feel like there has been a lot of positive cultural change, but I mean, you have to kind of moderate expectations on how much impact you're going to have, and just be clear about the reasons, to help people, etc. And as long as people are feeling helped, you know, whether that's the individual or the family or the congregation, it feels worth it.
As final messages to everyone listening to you today, particularly men and women who struggle with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, what are the messages that you would like to tell them in today's episode?
So, my thought is, when it comes down to the nitty gritty details of like, how do you navigate all this and those kinds of things, I'm not great at that. That's like Ty's domain, he has all the experience and the understanding. But I will say that, for both spouses and individuals, I feel like it's possible. Like, I think what people want to know is, is it possible to be happy? I think, I just want people to know, it's possible to be blissfully happy in a mixed-orientation marriage. And it's possible to be very, very happy being single as well and living your faith. You know, we have so many friends who are in mixed-orientation marriages, and so many friends who are single, and there's so much happiness that people experience, that I think, when you're on the outside, or when you're currently struggling, it's hard to see that. It's hard to believe that it's possible, but it is.
I had a lot of thoughts while we were talking this morning, but one of them was around when Ty was talking about the near-death experience of that woman, and how she felt like and how she chose things. It's funny, because I was talking to my siblings earlier this week about - I was talking to my brother, actually, his wife died almost two years ago of cancer. My sister who has a child who has gone through leukemia, he's in remission, but like, it was a really hard long process for probably three to four years, where he was going undergoing treatment, and he just recently had a seizure, they're not really sure exactly where it came from, and just some new concerns that they're having. And that same sister has a daughter with type-one diabetes, and I was talking to my brother and I just said, “You guys have been called to experience so many hard things in this life!” And I said, you know, like, “I don't want a hard life. I don't want hard experiences.” Ty is looking and like, “Yes, that is my wife, she doesn't like hard things!” But my brother responded to me saying that I (as in, Danielle) have my own mission, I have my own things that I'm going through.
But like, as we were talking, I thought, “Oh, I guess some people could really see this, like being married to a man who experiences same-sex attraction, some people could see this as a real struggle or trial, and I just don't!” It wasn't even on my radar as I was talking to my brother about the hard things that he and my older sister have gone through. Like this, to me, is not a hard thing. In fact, I was talking to two friends, so we were talking about “Voices of Hope” earlier, and part of “Voices of Hope” that they're doing lately is to create podcasts for people to talk about different experiences and their different stories, and I am matched up with - my podcast partner is another spouse. I’m the host, and it's another spouse who is like one of my very best friends. And so we talk to people. But, anyway, I was talking to one of our future guests and to my co-host, and I was just saying, “In so many ways, I feel very, very lucky to be married to a man with same-sex attraction, because there's so much blessing, and there's so much good.”
As Ty was talking earlier about, would he choose this again? I just think this experience has made Ty who he is, it has made him the thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, kind person that he is, who's very intentional and desires like goodness and righteousness and who seeks after God. And so I am so grateful for those experiences in his life, and I'm so grateful to be married to someone like him who has so much depth of character, so much goodness, and beyond that, in our community, there's so much joy and happiness to be felt as we strive to live more intentional and more fulfilling and mentally healthy lives, where I think so many people get into a place where they feel stuck, and they just go through the motions. But I feel like these kinds of experiences give you an opportunity to actually break out of the autopilot of life, and to be more intentional, and to more actively choose what it is that you want for your life, and what it is that you want for your faith.
So I feel like, there's so much blessing and richness, and when you're in the struggle of initial discovery, or initial confrontation of what this experience means for you, then it can feel like so hard to see past that, and to see that there's so much good. But I promise that there is good, as you do the work of understanding, and the growth and the beauty that will come from it is beyond what you can ever dream of. I'm like sitting here with a beautiful baby and this really wonderful husband, and I just think like, we're so lucky, we're so blessed, and other people can have that, and other people can get to a place where it doesn't feel any more like struggle, and it feels like a part of their experience, but it doesn't feel like a struggle and trial.
Amen. Thank you, thank you so much. Thank you for being very open and vulnerable and courageous with us. I really appreciate that. And I couldn't agree more. You said it so beautifully. God bless you, thank you so much.
She's really sweet. She's a keeper.
She is, indeed! Yes.
And in light of what she was just saying, there’s Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who is a famous psychiatrist who identified the five stages of grieving. One of my all-time favorite quotes is from her, and she said, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” And I think, at the heart of this, every experience that we have, whether as a spouse or as an individual navigating sexual or gender concerns, I think every experience is designed by God to help us become the beautiful souls that we are and will be even more beautiful, to rely more on God, to be more humble, to be more submissive to God, and more kind to others, compassion and all these things. And I do think, you know, as they say, challenges can make you or break you. And, I think, really surrendering to God allows Him to consecrate these experiences for our gain, and for our glory, and His glory, and, you know, all these sorts of things.
And so, I think, the main thing it ultimately comes down to, for individuals, I think there are a couple things - one is spiritual, and that it's seeing that there is Divine purpose and design in this, and that God wants to do glorious things in and through each of us. For some of us, that requires us dealing with hard things. Again, as Daniel was saying, this doesn't feel hard to me anymore. It felt hard early on in my journey, but it doesn't feel hard at all today, and it hasn't felt hard for years and years. Sometimes talking about this as like a trial or something, it feels really kind of foreign to me now. But I think, ultimately, it started for me, because I just made a choice. It wasn't just easy to make that choice, I don't want to oversimplify that, but it came down to me making the choice to be all in. I was all in, and this wasn't a church journey for me, it wasn't an LDS church journey, it wasn't a gay journey. It’s been a God journey. It's been a God journey. And so, to really allow this to be just between me and God, and to seek God, to know God, to be led by God, and to learn what He wants me to learn, and to grow in all the ways that He wants me to grow. That's a very personal journey that's going to look a little bit different for everybody.
So, first and foremost, let this be between you and God, and trust that He wants to do beautiful, good, remarkable things in and through you. And that doesn't have to require anything inconsistent with these kind of core theological values. And then there's the practical piece: How do I learn how to flourish on a day-to-day level? What are the principles of flourishing? And living out a healthy why in my life, and letting this be a part of it, that this can be a very kind of central and not just in the periphery to that piece. So, I don't know, that's doesn't maybe fully answer the question.
Brilliant! It does.
But choosing, you just have to make the choice to be all in, regardless of what that looks like. And some people can have really healthy marriages. I mean, I feel like, for us, marriage has been really easy. We also know that people who are committed to their marriages, but they're harder. And you know, we know a lot of really healthy, positive, life-giving marriages, and some people who struggle in marriage, and people who are heterosexual who have life-giving marriages, and people who are heterosexual who are really struggling in marriages. A lot of people that I see in marital therapy don't struggle with same-sex attraction. But they really struggle in their marriages. And there's times where I come home and say to Danielle, I’m like, “I think we don't even know how good we have it!” There are people whose heterosexual marriages I would never choose. Does that make sense?
So, I think, to not see marriage is the panacea for all of our problems, but to be able to see, like, you know, maybe it's in the cards for some people, and maybe it's not for others, but God can still bring a lot of beautiful, good, rich compensatory blessings into your life, if you really surrender your life to Him. And then there's people like Mother Teresa, who was doing this amazing service to mankind. And, in her journal, she said that, for like 12 years, she felt really alienated from God, but that also was part of her journey, and part of what made her so beautiful, is that she just stayed in the work, even when she felt really distant and disconnected from God. And then, eventually, she learned some of the why for even that. So, we just don't want to see things as platitude, right? “Turn your life over to God and everything's gonna look beautiful and great, and you're gonna have everything you want.” And I think that's a problematic way of approaching God. But whatever your life looks like, all of it can help bring you more deeply into God, and can help you love other people and have greater compassion for other people. And we have to see those as the ultimate ends, and the rest is just means.
Brilliant. I couldn't agree more. God bless you. Thank you so much for this wonderful answer. And if I were to ask you the same question, so what final messages would you like to give to any spouses who are listening to us on this podcast, or to any family members or relatives of individuals who deal with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, what advice would you like to give them?
I would say, at least on the marriage front, if you're going in healthy and asking all the right questions, and you both are in, you don't have anything to be afraid of. I think some people are worried about “Well, is my spouse gonna cheat on me?” And it's like, well, you make sure you're marrying somebody who's really committed and who’s really in, and that they have a strong sense of self, that they know who they are, and they know what they want. And if they're living that out, then you don't have to worry. If somebody’s hiding or they still are in a lot of shame, I mean, yeah, I think you're right to be cautious. I think you want to marry somebody who has a strong sense of self, and they're committed to you, regardless of what that looks like.
But I think, sometimes, what I wouldn't want people to say is, “Oh, here's somebody who's modeled this, and they're saying that you can be happy. So let's just go do it.” I think there are reasons why it's been so good for us, and understanding all of the nuts and bolts of that is really important. So, I mean, I would say it's certainly possible, and I do that with a lot of cautious caveats, that if you're doing it from a really healthy, centered and grounded place for the right reasons, and it's internally motivated, and you have a lot of healthy resources and support to help you along the way, I mean, it can certainly be both happy and sustainable. And so, yeah, so it certainly is possible within the right circumstances. The right component parts have to be there, or it won't be as happy or sustainable. And so, if that's something you want, I think it's possible, but you got to do it right.
Danielle, any thoughts on that?
Amen! To parents or family members who are listening to you today, any messages you'd like to give them?
You can stay strong in your faith and love people more fully wherever they are, you know, even if their life paths divert from what you would want for them. To have an influence in their life, you have to be in their life, but don't be in their life just to influence their life; be in their life just because you want to love them and be with them on their life path. Those two things don't have to be mutually incompatible.
Amen! Wonderful. Ty, and Danielle, thank you so much for being wonderful guests on this podcast. It’s been an honor to speak with you and learn so much from the both of you. Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for your precious time, I know you've been very busy with your family. But thank you for making time to be on this podcast. I'm sure that the audience members have appreciated a lot of the gems that you've shared with us over these two episodes. God bless you both. And I encourage everyone to check out Ty's books and read them. And to keep you and your family in our prayers. May God bless you in this life and the Next.
If anyone would like to get in touch with you, what would be the best way to do that?
You can find us on Facebook. It’s probably the easiest way to do it.
Actually, I don't know if I'm findable on Facebook. Ty is findable on Facebook, right?
I think so, yeah.
So if you can find Ty, it links him to me, if anyone wants to talk to me. If you just put in my name, I don't think I come up. But you can get to me through Ty's webpage. And I think Facebook Messenger probably is the best, because I'm not consistent with checking my emails, because I have five little kids. But I do, even if I'm slow, I will eventually see all my Facebook messages.
Wonderful. Great. So through Facebook. And email or any other website for people who are not on social media maybe?
Yeah, so I think for people who are not on social media, they can just email me at Ty(AT)TyMansfield(DOT)com.
And if they want to get in touch with me via email, probably email Ty as well.
I’ll forward it.
Yeah, because then he'll tell me. I mean, when you're not at a computer all day, emails get lost so easily. But thank you so much Waheed, it’s been a pleasure.
Thank you very much.
Thank you! Thank you for your time. I really appreciate that. And I hope we can stay in touch. If there's anything I can help with in the future, I'd love to be of service. So thank you so much.
Ty and Danielle 1:32:37
Yes, God bless you.
God bless you too.
And with this, we have come to the end of today's episode, which wraps up our conversation with Ty and Danielle Mansfield. I hope that you guys have enjoyed it and found it beneficial, inshaAllah. Please make sure to check out the resources that I've added in the episode show notes, including different books and different websites, that we spoke about earlier in this episode. In the next episode, inshaAllah, Br. Yahya Van Rooy is joining me in an episode that's dedicated to teachers and educators, and we will be talking about a lot of relevant themes pertaining to educational systems as well as parents and families whose children deal with same-sex attractions or gender dysphoria, particularly in this time and age, and in school systems that are pro-LGBT. So, until next time, stay safe and healthy. This has been Waheed Jensen in “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, assalamu alaikom warahmatullahi ta’ala wabarakatuh.