How gay is Big Love?

Hold on to your hats and glasses, folks; this week’s query is bound to be a wild one.

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

A lot of my gay and lesbian friends seem to love show Big Love. Why?

Signed,

JKL

First, JKL, a true confession: I don’t watch Big Love. I know Mormons who do watch it.  I know Mormons who love it.  And I know Mormons who hate it, especially since the show televised to the whole stinking world portions of sacred temple ceremonies reserved only for the most dedicated members of the faith. Yup, that really bothered me too.

But my distaste for the show didn’t start there.  It started much earlier, as in the first time I tuned in and beheld how the plot line in those early seasons revolved around poor Bill Paxton and all the stress he felt from taking care of all those wives and children. How was poor polygamous and hyperpatriarchal Dad to achieve any kind of work-life balance?   Boo-flippin’-hoo!

Some may ask:  “Oh, Mormon Girl, why must you be so cranky about polygamy?”  To which I’ll reply that A) I just finished reading a slew of “I escaped from Warren Jeffs” memoirs and B) on the rare nights I do get to chill out in front of the television, I prefer shows that don’t send my mind hurtling back to the days when I used to debate myself over whether or not I’d share my husband for the eternities if it meant helping a righteous sister-Mormon get into heaven.  That just doesn’t feel like diversion to me.

Phew.  I feel better.  Thanks for listening, JKL.  Oh, and now to your actual question, which I must hazard with some diffidence, since I am neither gay nor a watcher of Big Love.  And not yet having conducted a field poll of a representative sampling of gays and lesbian Big Love fans to provide a data-based answer, I will offer only my personal and totally unverified suspicions on why Big Love might be queer-attractive.

Theory one:  Maybe queer folks love Big Love because according to the definition of queer developed by self-identified queer folks over the last decade polygamy is totally queer:  it does not conform to state-sanctioned monogamous companionate heteronormativity.  Yup, it might make Warren Jeffs or Merrill Jessop’s heads explode to think it, but according to some definitions of the term, some folks might describe polygamy as a queer lifestyle.

Theory two:  Perhaps there’s a particularly charged cultural energy between gay folks and Mormons right now.  We Mormons have been putting a lot of thought and energy into gay issues over the last decade, and so is it any surprise (as the marvelous Sister Dottie herself has said on this subject) that gay folks are interested in our business as well?

What say ye, readers–whether Mormon, gay, neither, or both?  How do you feel about Big Love?

Do you have a query for the Ask Mormon Girl column? Email askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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4 Comments

Filed under polygamy

4 responses to “How gay is Big Love?

  1. Roslyn Johnson

    I love the blue skies and sunshine of Big Loves’ setting in Utah. Not forgetting the wonderful Chloe Sevigny as second wife Nicki. Such a contrast to all the dreary British programme repeats and repeats and repeats one has to put up with here in Yorkshire.
    You can imagine how unhappy I was when Big Love was cancelled in the UK. Personally I suspect pressure was forthcoming from your own dear church.

  2. Nadia

    I’m not Mormon (though one of my best friends is so I do know about the doctrine and a whole lot about the overall culture), or gay but I watch Big Love every Sunday (it’s Lent and I’m working on honoring the sabbath day so I watched it on Monday this week). Since Big Love started there has been an underlying tension for one of the main characters, Alby (he is the 2nd wife’s brother, and the leader of the compound’s son), about his sexual orientation. This season in particular we’ve seen him enter into a secret homosexual relationship and episode from a couple of weeks ago was especially heart wrenching but I won’t go into any detail for those who watch the show and haven’t gotten to it.
    It does make my mormon friend uncomfortable that I’m an avid watcher of Big Love, it’s fair to say I’m addicted, but I always assure him, there’s no confusing the main characters with the LDS church. The LDS church isn’t painted in a good light but think about the Sopranos, their enemy was the FBI, same idea, although I definitely understand the controversy.
    As for the temple scene last season…it took awhile for me to see the whole scene because I was extremely surprised that it was being shown. I knew the basics of an endowment ceremony were and why it was important but as soon as they showed the 1st wife at the temple I covered my eyes and told my dad, “We are not supposed to be watching this!” Since then I have seen the episode in its entirety and it does make sense for the character and the story line but a part of me wishes that the writers would have come up with a more creative way for the 1st wife (a life long member, 6th generation Mormon) to handle the problems she was facing. The scene wasn’t disrespectful, only disrespectful in the sense if was included at all.
    I started to watch Big Love because the idea of a mainstreamed polygamous household fascinated me. Add in a father-in-law with questionable morals, Alby’s inner conflict about his homosexual feelings and wanting to please his father, 1st wife still grappling with leaving the LDS church for polygamy, 2nd wife trying to fit in to mainstream society unable to shed her prairie garb, and 3rd wife finding her way to be equal with her sister wives plus a whole lot of other drama and it’s simply entertaining. My straight laced Catholic family enjoys the show and within a few episodes you mostly feel like you’re watching a family drama and the whole “oh, my this is about polygamy!” isn’t so strong. I could definitely love if there weren’t any sex scenes though, it’s been toned down a lot from the first season but it’s still there.

  3. Aaron

    I actually do watch the show and my sister does too (although I am a convert to the Church and the rest of my family are not members). She constantly asks questions about our views and history on polygamy as well as other doctrine that is briefly mentioned in the show. She once asked, based on one episode, whether or not we believed that Native Americans have dark skin because they were cursed by God.

    Anyways, since I am a convert, I am not as easily offended by the show (maybe because I didn’t grow up in the Utah or Mormon culture). However, I do agree with you that the show makes Bill out to be this innocent victim which would come off as offensive to most LDS (especially the sisters of our Church). Not to mention that he drugged his first wife into this mess. I also have two gay friends who both love this show. The reason they like it is because it shows Mormons as being people who live alternative lifestyles (the fundamentalists). To them, living polygamy is no different than two men or two women living together as partners. I do think the added controversy of Prop. 8 especially helped to bolster the shows popularity in the gay community because it shows the LDS Church as hypocritical (living a alternative lifestyle past only to be a foe to others living alternative lifestyles).

  4. Paul

    This is a rather old thread, so perhaps interest in the topic has waned. I grew up in an extremely Mormon household, I am queer, and I watched the entire series. The draw to the show is Chloe Sevigny. She is a strong female and overtly sexual. She had already played very visible roles in Boys don’t Cry, Gummo, Brown Bunny and several others that cast her as a gender and sexuality outlier. She performed these roles in a way that brings sympathy and depth to the fore. Add on her uncanny fashion sense, her rocking body, her outspoken nature. Remember that Madonna, Cher, and Britney are as important to the gay community as any gay male icon. Go from there and discover the gay story line of Alby, the Prop 8 curiosity, and the notion that polygamy has a relationship to queerness that is overtly explored in the TV series. You can expect with all that that there is going to be a queer following of the show.

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