Okay, I’ll admit that I sometimes watch reality shows about family situations that are different from my own. I’m interested in what makes people tick, in how they are different from me, and in how we are the same.
This last week, I was really impressed with the positive way that Mariah’s coming out as gay was portrayed on Sister Wives. With so many people watching this series, I believe that this has real potential to make an impact on people’s attitudes. While TLC did make the decision to sensationalize the title of the episode, calling it “A Shocking Revelation”, that probably increased viewership and, therefore, the potential impact.
Sister Wives is a TLC series which follows Kody Brown, his four wives Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn, and their 18 children. The Browns are members of a fundamentalist LDS (Mormon) religion which follows the practice of polygamy (unlike the mainstream Mormon Church). The family’s stated goal in originally doing the series was to show that people living this lifestyle could be nice normal folks (with big families) and not be the creepy men we see on trial who marry off their underage girls to older men.
On the most recent episode, Mariah (first wife Meri’s 21-year-old only biological child) informed her 5 parents and grandmother that she had something to tell all of them together. With two of the other older girls recently having announced their engagements, there was speculation that it might be something along those lines. Instead, with much nervous excitement, Mariah grinned and burst out with, “I’m gay!”
Almost immediately, the parents and grandmother told Mariah how proud they were of her and how happy they were for her. Asked to share her story, she revealed that she had from time to time felt attracted to other girls, but had always pushed the feeling away, having been told that being gay was “evil”. Kody, at that point was horrified and asked, “Did we make you feel that way?” Mariah was quick to reassure him that it was never the family, but it was their church and its teachings that made her feel she had to be something she wasn’t. She said later that she had never been afraid to tell her parents, but rather was happy and excited to share what she had learned about herself.
While all of the parents had been surprised by the news, Meri had the hardest time, even though she smiled and told Mariah she loved her. Their relationship had been strained for some time by what Mariah saw as her mother’s betrayal of the family during a “catfishing” fiasco where Meri had been targeted by a “man” (long story…). Meri felt bad that they weren’t close enough for her daughter to have shared her journey with her.
Later, when alone with Kody and Robyn, Meri asked Kody and Robyn how they had seemed so happy for Mariah. Kody said that it wasn’t that they were happy that she was gay per se, but rather that they were happy that she had discovered her true self. Kody had had to re-examine his attitudes about gay people years earlier when Robyn came into the family, because she had several gay friends. He also realized that with 18 children, the chances were that at least one of them might identify as gay. He decided that his job as a father was to love his children and to create a space where they would always feel safe, no matter what. He has always expressed openness towards his children choosing their own spiritual and life paths. A very enlightened man, in many ways, even though his collective households run somewhat as a patriarchy.
All in all, the love, unconditional acceptance, and joy that were expressed to Mariah must have made the coming out experience a very positive one for her. Viewers were treated to a family truly being happy for their daughter, in that she had come to know herself and to find out what she believes will make her happy. Mariah later said (in People magazine) that she hopes talking about her sexuality on TV will help others who are like her. “Not everyone will accept you, but you deserve to be happy, and I want them to know it’s okay.”