If Your Husband's Not Gay, He Was The Other Night (TLC Teevee Review!)
Over the past few weeks, there has been a bit of a hubbub over a teevee program on the educational network TLC by the name of "My Husband's Not Gay." Due to its depiction of Mormon men who freely admit that they are really into the nude male body, but yet are married to womenfolk, activists claimed that the show sent harmful messages to LGBT youth about a false choice between spirituality and sexuality, and a petition asking TLC to cancel the program garnered over a hundred thousand signatures. TLC did not cancel the program, because they are America's preeminent educational teevee network, desiring nothing more than to teach Americans about these Mormon gay dudes, who are not gay.
The show was marketed and sold as a look at some innocent Mormon people who, because of their faith, are simply choosing not to act on their demon urges to have sex with menfolk, but the truth is that the stars of the show are well-known "ex-gay" activists:
It is ... disappointing, if not unethical, that the reality show’s subjects were falsely portrayed as normal Mormon families.
In reality, they are hardcore anti-gay political activists. Several of the show’s subjects were staff members at the now defunct “ex-gay” organization Evergreen International and currently work on behalf of another such group, North Star.
One of the subjects, Pret Dahlgren, was recently deposed as a witness in a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lawsuit against the “ex-gay” organization, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). In this role, Dahlgren spoke in favor of discredited reparative therapy, which is compared to child abuse and is banned from being inflicted on minors in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia.
[Jeff] Bennion identifies himself as a co-founder of North Star, and he has written quite publicly in defense of ex-gay therapy. In 2013, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Post defending JONAH, a Jewish ex-gay ministry that had been sued by several patients under consumer-fraud laws. (That suit is ongoing.) Bennion lauded sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) as part of his own therapy, “all aimed at helping me better manage my homosexual attractions within the context of my value system.” In fact, he credited SOCE entirely for his ability to “experience how fulfilling sexual expression can be for me within the confines of a lifetime commitment to a woman.”
Not to get too deep into the rabbit hole here, as we have dick jokes to make, but that lawsuit against JONAH involves "ex-gay" counselors making their clients take their pants off and hold onto their junk in front of the mirror and stuff. You know, typical therapy sessions. That's what Jeff 'n' Pret were speaking out in support of, probably because they're not allowed to fulfill their desires to hold junk in any healthy sorts of ways, due to the Mormon Truth that every time a guy touches another guy on the Down Theres, Mormon God knocks a continent off the planet they all get when they bite it.
The fact that these dudes admit that they want to have many kinds of sex with men is immaterial -- because these people can no longer claim that therapy changes anyone's sexuality, they're rebranding. Gone is "I prayed away the gay!" and in its place is "I have SSA but I assure you I really want to have sex sometimes with my wife." "SSA" stands for Same Sex Attraction, and they bandy the term about like "SARS" or "TLC."
And before you go feeling too sorry for the wives, you can rest secure in the knowledge that they're involved in these "ex-gay" organizations as well, so your pity, while lovely, is unnecessary.
So, that all being out of the way, let's get to the fun part. How gay for men are these dudes, really? I wanted to know, so while all the rest of you were watching the Golden Globes or the NFL Playoffs, I was watching the TLC to find out the answer. (Actually, that is a damned lie, I watched it last week because I got an advance copy due to Important Person -- when the show aired I was drinking beer and watching basketball.) The result? It was the gayest hour of television I have ever seen my entire life. I am sure they were hoping that they would come off as a buncha brahs who just happen to suffer with the SSA, and that somebody in America would take their message seriously, but that's not what happened.
I'll introduce you to the characters and explain to you some of the important parts of the program now:
Jeff and Tanya Bennion: Jeff and Tanya are kind of the Main Couple of the show, and the main takeaway is that Jeff is the creepy, skeezy one. He is pictured above, flirting with a waiter at a restaurant and stealing glances at said waiter's wang. During a memorable moment in the program, Jeff announces to his wife that in a couple of weeks, he and some of the boys are going on a camping trip. Sad trombone plays as Tanya reminds him of what happened "last time." Jeff explains to the camera that one time (just one time, we are sure) a few years back, there was a sleepover -- because all straight guys in their 30s have sleepovers -- and things got "out of hand." I don't want to presume, but I think they were talking about constant gay sex, from the moment they got there until they heard Wife open the garage door. In a Nightline interview that aired a few days before the show, Jeff explained that his attraction to men is like his attraction to delicious donuts, whereas his choice to have sex with his wife is like eating healthy food so you don't get fat. You can't eat donuts all the time, you see. It's best to have them on camping trips and during sleepovers, I guess. For this reason, though, I have nicknamed Tanya "Sprouts." Look at Jeff 'n' Sprouts in this interview:
Also, the kitchen of Jeff and Sprouts is to DIE for, and really, why wouldn't it be?
Pret and Megan Dahlgren: Pret and Megan are the runner up to the First Couple, and they look like this:
Pret is my favorite, at least when it comes to me being shallow and gay for men who are completely attainable targets. This would be a good time to mention that Pret and Jeff banter like a gay couple the entire show, and check out men together CONSTANTLY. However, as the program establishes, they have different types. Pret is more into the tall, athletic "guy's guy" type, whereas Jeff seems to be into anything that currently is in possession of a working penis. Pret and Megan met in high school, where she had a major thing for him, but he wasn't into her because, HIS WORDS, "obvious reasons." Megan is the girl who actually got to marry the gay BFF, instead of viewing it as a learning experience and realizing that it takes a lot more than his-and-hers eyebrow waxing sessions to make a marriage.
Every time Pret talks about sex with ladies, he seems like he's desperately trying to vomit out the words without choking on them, like he's having to convince his very kissable mouth that what he's saying is true. He also seems to sort of have a soul, unlike his friend Jeff. Put it this way: I think they both go on a lot of camping trips, but I think Pret feels guilty for three whole days afterward, whereas for Jeff it's more of a schtick. Jeff's got it all, you see. Big house, dutiful wife, a platform where he can find hot new Mormon boys to Minister To on the regular, and he gets to go camping and stuff!
There is a weird moment when Jeff, Pret and the two other guys go to "play basketball," which Jeff admits isn't really about their love of the sport, but is more a way to check out men and put on the airs of their warped, transmogrified sense of what it means to be a man. He actually says these words, on camera:
"I don't think I'm playing basketball to make me more manly," he says. "I'm playing basketball to feel connected to a part of masculinity I felt excluded or rejected by."
Uh huh. Because in 2014, there just aren't any examples of gay men who love sports, or of straight men who don't care about them. While on the basketball court, we are introduced to their Danger Scale, which goes from one to four, and ranks men by how likely they are to make Jeff or Pret or one of the others say, "ya know what? Running a whole Mormon planet after I die seems like a lot of work anyway, I think I'll just do this guy a lot."
Before long, Sprouts and the other girls show up at the court and ruin dick gazing hour. Sprouts later talks about how important it is for them to have Guy Time, and she gets her back up at the suggestion that their husbands are gay. "It's not gay, it's SSA," is their motto that will never, ever catch on in a million years. At one point in the show, Sprouts leads the girls on a hiking trip, which seems to consist of each of them saying, during awkward silences, "it's really good...to have...girl time...just us girls...girl time...with the girls."
Curtis and Tera: These two are some of the most human-adjacent people on the show, which is why we suppose TLC chose not to focus on them too hard. They're part of the group, but their story is a bit different. Whereas the other men told their wives about "their SSA" long before marriage, Curtis didn't come out until he had been married to Tera for 16 years. It also appears to be Common Knowledge to Sprouts 'n' the Gang that Tera and Curtis have the best sex life. My guess? Screwed up religion and stuff, but Curtis may be bisexual, at least enough that he can hack it in marriage. Whatever. Tera is the one who describes her husband as also being kind of a girlfriend, which sort of negates the need for above "girl time." They're boring, moving on...
And then there's Tom: Tom has never kissed a boy OR a girl, and his story provides much of the arc for the show. You see, Tom really wants to be in Mormon Planet Club, meet a nice lady and get married. Also, he is not stereotypically gay like the others, though he freely admits that he's really, really, really into guys. He likes to wear basketball shorts and T-shirts and isn't all that into gay things like shopping. He's probably the most likable, overall, and you just wish he would meet a nice guy and shut up about all this "SSA" stuff. Instead, Sprouts decides that she's going to set him up with a lady, and they arrange a "blind date" in their fabulous kitchen with all their friends around, because that's how normal people do first dates. When he meets his nice lady date, he is "relieved" that he finds her attractive. Maybe he thought he would see her modestly dressed female figure and lose his lunch right there, I do not know. She was cute! I noticed that, and I also freely admit that I'm really, really, really into guys.
Tom asks his friends, "hey maybe you guys shouldn't lead with discussion about how we're only friends because we have a Mutual Admiration For Men" (HIS WORDS) and the group is like "yeah whatever, we have no depth as human beings and our lives are centered around the ladies in this room holding the men back from doing daily cannonballs into the deep end of Dick Ocean, so we'll see." They then proceed to make Mormon Gay Jokes the entire dinner, which leaves the date kind of confused. At the end of the night, Tom awkwardly walks her to her car, tells her all about how he likes dudes, and they agree to go out again. (!!!) He explains that all the guys at the party have "SSA," and then lies and says he's also into women, so she's probably thinking, "oh, um, okay, well as long as he's into girls too." Bad news, blind date lady! Hopefully she watched the program on Sunday night and has a better idea of what she's getting herself into.
The main takeaway from the show comes when the guys are shopping for clothes (because of course) for Tom's date. Tom does not want to be there, because he is not into buying clothes. But these very gay men are very committed to putting together a fake ensemble for Tom's fake date. While there, Pret and Jeff are checking out everything in the store that has a Y chromosome, and realize they know a couple of the guys from way back. These guys are gay, and they are utterly bemused by the fact that Tom is going on a date with a woman. Pret and Jeff awkwardly try to convince the gay dudes that a life of heterosexual duty sex is hotter than being gay (and Pret does that "I'm going to throw up face" again). Jeff says something very weird about "just because you're unfamiliar with the equipment doesn't mean it's not a fun learning curve!" (This is not something that heterosexual men say about vaginas, for the record.) The gay dudes are like "whatever, have fun on your quote-unquote Date." They end that segment telling the camera, "if you like guys, like guys!"
And that really is the long and short of it! This show featured more gay cruising than a street corner at Southern Decadence, because every man on the show is gay and trying to actively repress that side of himself. And you almost feel sorry for them, for a second, until you remember, oh yeah, these guys AND their wives are actively working to push "ex-gay" therapy, testifying in lawsuits on behalf of abusers, and generally trying to take others down the sad, pathetic path in life that they're on. So, ew.
Enjoy your Not Gay lives, y'all, and I'm sure Jeff will be sending you a Facebook invite for your next wilderness orgy before the week is over.