25 February 2009

I Don't Feel Burdened, Don't Treat Me That Way

Tonight I ran across Austin's blog post about a BYU Daily Universe guest editorial he wrote to appeal for tolerance and understanding of gay Church members. I don't know if his editorial was published, but I applaud him for his efforts.

I also saw running through his proposed editorial a perspective which I've seen is very common among straight Church members, even those who really do try hard to be charitable and understanding. And I couldn't help responding to it. This was the pattern of speaking of homosexuality as a "burden," an "affliction" to "struggle" with. I know Austin spoke in complete good faith, and I also believed such words had to be addressed. When I finished my comment, I realized I'd just written my next blog post. So here it is, verbatim from my comment to him. If you're reading this, Austin, thanks again for your efforts.

"I join others in applauding your efforts to reach out and be so supportive.

May I share with you a perspective that may not have occurred to you, but which has been the subject of some recent discussion by myself and other blogger friends of mine.

It's the use of the word "struggle" and other words which imply a burden, an affliction, a tragic cross to bear. I realize that you have spoken in complete and supportive good faith and so I don't feel hurt or offended by your use of such words. And I hope you will not be offended by what I say here, because that's not my intent at all. I simply wish to give you some additional insight.

Words like this come across to many gay Mormons, myself included, as condescending and patronizing. While being gay and LDS is of course difficult, it's not because of the characteristic of homosexuality itself. It's because of what the Church and Mormon culture make of it. THAT is the struggle.

I and many of my gay Mormon friends value this part of our lives. Shorn of the opprobrium which the Church and Mormon culture impose on us for something we haven't chosen and can't change, it can actually bring much happiness. This is probably difficult to comprehend for an active LDS person who is not gay and whose only perspective on it is filtered through what the Church and Mormon culture say about it. But I assure you it is true. I would not change this part of myself even if I could.

I hope that doesn't come across as unweening pride. It's not. It is simply a confident acceptance that this is how God chose to make me, and since He "don't make no junk", I cannot and will not accept the idea that He somehow deliberately "burdened" me with an "affliction" against which I have a responsibility to "struggle" throughout my life.

The true affliction and struggle was the years of toeing the Church line and trying to pretend that this was not part of who I was, of imagining that with sufficient effort I could one day just "pray away the gay," and of believing that I was somehow less acceptable to God because I was gay.

Finally I realized that none of that was true and that such a "struggle" would forever be unavailing. Since accepting that, and being open & honest about who and what I am, there has been peace in my life and heart as never before. My prayers are as heartfelt and more joyous, and I believe the influence of the Spirit in my life is as strong as ever. As one of my blogger friends said, I don't "struggle" with being gay, it comes quite naturally to me. Life has been so much happier since I stopped that fruitless "struggle."

Perhaps you can see now why those of us who have found so much happiness in accepting who we are would dislike the insinuations carried by words like "struggle" and "affliction" and "burden." Many of us feel afflicted only by what others choose to unjustly or unthinkingly project onto us, not by what we ourselves feel.

Many Mormons resent anti-Mormon Christians telling us what we "really" believe, when we know they are completely off the mark and driven by a hostile agenda. In exactly the same way, many gay Mormons resent other Mormons telling us that we are "afflicted" or "burdened" with a "struggle" when we truly feel none of those things, and in fact often feel the opposite. If anything afflicts us, it is the treatment which many homophobic Church members continue to dish out in defiance of counsel from their leaders, and the unnecessary pity which other Church members no doubt feel for us in their innocent and uninformed good faith. When it is not necessary, deserved or wanted, pity can be infuriating.

I do not feel broken and don't want to be treated or thought of as if I am. All I want is the same respect and decent treatment, without all the culture-specific suspicion and innuendo, which any other child of God deserves for how God made them.

Thanks again for putting yourself out there on behalf of charity, understanding and tolerance. It really means a lot to me and I'm sure to many others."

23 February 2009

Wackiness Break

Time for a bit of fluff. Believe it or not, a close family member brought the vid below to my attention. Seriously funny and cute. Enjoy.

21 February 2009

Alan Comes Out Again

Tonight I came out to my sister, so far the only one in the family I've told. We went for a long drive and she read a 9 page letter I wrote to her which basically explained the whole story of my life from the time I first realized around age 14 that I might be gay, up till just about a week or so ago. She took a long time to read it while I waited.

Then she embraced me and held me tightly, with tears in her eyes. I smiled and said Why are you crying, there's no need to cry. She wasn't sad. She was touched. She already knew, she said. That's why I chose to come out to this one of my sisters, the others would not have been so intuitive or understanding. What followed was another 90 minutes or so of driving around and talking about much of what I've previously posted about, frustrations, freedoms, the relief of finally being myself. For the first time in my life it was safe to talk with a family member about my feelings, my disappointments, the missionary companion I fell head over heels for, how I couldn't help dreaming of what it'd be like to have a life partner that I could love and make a family with, how blessed I was to have kids who were so totally understanding and accepting, how I prayed that someday the Church would receive more instruction that would fill the huge gaping black hole in our knowledge about this whole issue. Such a relief to feel safe letting all that spill out. We talked about gaydar, about movies and music, about my MoHo friends and Scott's parties, and more. And she understood it all, and shared all my views. No judgment. Just love and acceptance. "I don’t understand it as a concept," she said, "because I'm straight, but I see that this is you and I love you and I know you are a good man who only wants what is good and right." Boy did I luck out in the sister department. What an incredible relief to be able to talk freely about all of this with her!

We were at a big family function earlier this evening with lots of relatives, including some by marriage whom I actually hadn't met before. And when I said "Have I seemed different at all to you lately," she immediately said "Yes!" How, I asked. She said "When you were talking to [certain people] tonight, there was a different spirit about you. I know you're a smart guy and all," she said, "and sometimes in the past that's made you come across as kind of distant. But tonight you were different. You talked to everybody on their level. You were completely approachable and open with no pretenses. You were just a regular guy, open and honest and friendly and accepting of everyone. It was different than you've ever been before."

And I said "Well, now you know why. It's because I've unlocked who I really am and let him out. No more pretenses. I don't feel anymore like I have this relentless pressure to conform to a railroad track of what I have to do and who I have to be. I am so much happier now, I would be surprised if it didn't show through." And she said yes, it did.

We went for milkshakes and talked some more. I made her promise that she wouldn't ask me if I thought any particular guy was hot. She laughed. We headed home, she saying she felt honored that I would trust her with this knowledge, me feeling grateful for her love and understanding and freer than I ever felt before.

I am so blessed.

17 February 2009

Make A Heaven of Hell

Reading blogs is dangerous for someone like me. At any time I could read a post by someone else that triggers a whole new round of thought and analysis and I am suddenly and helplessly cranking out another new blog post myself.

Actually, though, this one has been on my mind lately before Scott's latest post jump-started me. And since my last post was a long, intricate rebuttal of a long, intricate fantasy, this time I will be merciful to any readers I might have left and keep to short, succinct bullet points. And though I usually can't help throwing in a joke or two somewhere, this one is (almost) completely serious.

Theme: How I'm Different Since I Came Out.

1. I'm happier all the time. Doesn't matter what I'm doing or thinking, I'm just happier. If I could dance worth a darn and wouldn't make a fool of myself, I would practically dance everywhere instead of walking.

2. I smile constantly, even at total strangers (especially the good looking guys).

3. I feel like I finally exhaled after holding my breath for--well, basically my whole life.

4. I am still careful, but I don't live in fear anymore. "And I will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid!"

5. I no longer feel like I have to hide who I am from God or pretend in my prayers that this part of me doesn't exist. I have new and complete confidence that He knows and loves me for who and what I am.

6. My testimony of the Savior and the Atonement is stronger than ever.

7. I've learned in a new and deeper way that I have to take responsibility for my faith and what I believe, rather than just drifting along on a cultural tide because it's easier.

8. I've made a boatload of new friends who have blessed my life immeasurably.

9. I take much better care of myself.

10. I am kinder, more tolerant, more charitable, more of a peacemaker, because I have been on the receiving end of unkindness, intolerance, hostility and aggression.

11. I have more self-confidence. I have done this incredibly difficult thing and not only survived, but thrived. Maybe I have more strength and stamina than I thought.

12. I no longer live under a cloud of guilt and shame because of something I didn't choose. I have learned to accept and be happy with every part of who and what I am.

A few times in my life I have done things that seemed totally innocuous and ordinary at the time, but later events showed me indisputably that I had been prompted by the Spirit to do or say what I did. In one such case I was able to save the Church itself and some of its representatives from serious public embarrassment and possible criminal exposure.

Looking back on the day I decided to come out to Friend #1, I realize that it happened very suddenly. I had never before even allowed myself to think of doing it, but it was like a voice inside that said "You could come out to him safely. Do it." And the instant I heard that voice, I knew the decision was made. I went through the internal debate because I'm the type who always has to debate out of principle, if nothing else, but I really knew already that I would go ahead.

And now, looking back on the results these past six months, I have to wonder if that wasn't the Spirit whispering. "It's time, Alan. Time to step out into the sunlight. God your Father knows what you are, and He approves. Time to stop pretending and living in fear. Light and truth will disperse darkness and fear. Time for you to embrace both more than you ever have before."

I know full well that being gay in the Church can be a tough road, I've made that abundantly clear in other posts. But I never imagined there would be so many wonderful things about coming out either. It's like that song in "Were The World Mine" using Shakespeare's lyrics: "make a heaven of hell." Lots of people may think it's hell, but in some ways, coming out has brought me a lot closer to heaven.

15 February 2009

Danger, Jeff Robinson

Dear Dr. Jeffrey Robinson:

Wow! Where have you been all my life?

I just read your 2002 presentation on homosexuality, your theories about its causes, and "what works and what doesn't work" to "cure" it. I checked your Web site advertising "context specific" psychotherapy services which promise to change sexual orientation if a person has "resolved to do whatever it takes" to "be free from homosexuality." I thought Hooray, this is what I've been looking for! For years I have been resolved to do whatever it takes to be free from homosexuality. For a long time I did "confront" and challenge my own "longstanding and comfortable patterns of behavior, thoughts and beliefs" in order to get there, just as your Web site says is required. I committed time, effort and resources for years and years. Wow, I am the perfect candidate.

I read your presentation and found that I even fit many of your posited background characteristics for what tends to make a gay Mormon boy: more emotionally sensitive and introspective than some others, a strong sense of right & wrong, a stellar "Church resume". Puberty kick-started the attractions to guys, I still remember the day it hit me quite forcefully. And I loved it and hated it at the same time. Yes there was some isolation and secrecy. I too made up my mind early on that I would never violate the law of chastity with a woman, and thoughts about men did seem less "dangerous" because, you're right, nobody at church ever talked about that. Respiratory problems prevented me doing team sports as a kid but not individual sports, and I had more musical ability than most of my friends. Yes, I did some comparisons to other guys, sometimes wished I could be more like the jocks (what non-jock kid doesn't). But I didn't obsess about it. I generally fit your pattern, to this point. All of this told me that yes, absolutely, I should be a prime candidate for your therapy and should be able to completely change my sexual orientation and "be free from homosexuality." What a miracle!

Your treatment is so simple: basic behavioral therapy. If I act straight for long enough, with enough reinforcement of my masculinity, I will "learn" how to actually be straight, and that's what I'll become. You tell me that part of that is to seek and build strong non-sexual male friendships, participate in things like Journey Into Manhood, that sort of thing, to boost a sense of masculinity and the fitting in that you believe I was denied in my formative years. Premise: sexual orientation is 100% malleable and being gay results from not feeling sufficiently "manly." So if I do all this for long enough, then I should become straight! Hooray! The whole world should know about this! The cure has finally been discovered!

Oh. Wait a minute. I've been doing all of that for a couple of decades now. How do I measure up against all the things you say I should do in order to turn straight?

I've been out of college long enough to marry and have a couple of kids who are now in Primary. Pretty straight-acting. I was made a high priest at a pretty young age and I remain active in the church. Check, pretty straight there. I was married for a number of years because that's what the Church told me I should do and the marriage was reasonably happy for a while until it broke apart because of problems my wife had that were unrelated to homosexuality. I acted pretty straight when I was married. Yes, even in the bedroom. She actually complained about how straight I acted, if you get my drift.

Ever since high school I have been blessed with numerous strong and completely non-sexual male friendships. Just like you said I should do. I've even had remarks from other guys about how unusual this is and how they envy these relationships I've built and still maintain to this day. In high school, college, and afterward, I played and continue to play sports in addition to my musical pursuits; I work out regularly and even play rugby. Check that one off, pretty straight and masculinity-affirming. I have a successful and rewarding career in a profession that is not for the faint-hearted. Check that one off. I've served in Church leadership at ward & stake levels and in the temple and derived great satisfaction from doing so. Check that one off.

I have had plenty of healthy, non-sexual relationships with other men and women and have been, in your words, "socially comfortable, open and honest, direct, caring" in those friendships. Just like you said I should. I have learned on my own not to unduly focus on or obsess about attractions to men. Check that one off. I have "left it alone" for years as much as humanly possible, just as you recommend.

I've been blessed with a number of remarkable spiritual experiences. I have always had the desire for evil to be removed, and I embrace the Atonement as applying directly to me--something you say that perfectionist gay LDS boys usually don't fully accept. That faith in the Savior and the Atonement is the absolute core of everything else I believe and rely on.

It all falls right into line with a successful course of your therapy, doesn't it. I've done everything that you say "works" to eliminate attractions to men and make a gay Mormon boy straight. The envelope please! And the winner is . . .

Well, sorry Dr. Robinson, it ain't you.

All that effort has changed nothing. In every way, I am still attracted to men, not women.

This attraction transcends sex, which becomes almost an afterthought. It is an attraction of the soul and spirit, not just the body. I have spent over two decades behaving as a grown-up heterosexual and actually doing everything your presentation promises will eliminate homosexuality. I was resolved to do "whatever it takes" to "be free" of it. I did that for many many more years than it took to go through puberty and "learn" to be attracted to other men as your theory assumes. Because I was so absolutely determined to eradicate this "affliction," I have never had the slightest bit of actual homosexual experience. If your theories were correct, the learning would have sunk in by now and I would be a happily hetero guy.

Sorry, didn't happen.

I'm mature enough now to look back with some objective self-assessment on how I grew up, developed, thought, reasoned, reacted, and rationalized. And I see that even though I did enjoy socializing with girls and managed to make a marriage that was outwardly successful for a while, my heart was never really there. On every level, in every way, I feel and have always felt more at home, more of a "fit" with a man than a woman. It was not a learned behavior as you seem to believe. It was this way when I was a young boy. Puberty kicked it into overdrive. And all the years since then of desperately trying to do every single thing you advocate as successful therapy for changing that orientation have only confirmed to me that at the very bottom of my soul and heart, I'm attracted to men more than women.

So the most charitable thing I can say about your theories and recommendations is that they're not 100% reliable or universally applicable. And I can't be the only one for whom this is true.

I think your theories fall short in a number of ways, actually.

One, the premises of your presentation are by definition applicable only to active Mormon boys. The vast majority of gay guys grow up outside the Church and your theories for the origin and treatment of their orientation can't possibly apply to them. Almost all of them don't have the law of chastity drummed into their heads such that they resolve never to touch a woman inappropriately so they go for the loophole of fantasizing about guys instead. Almost all of them don't serve in Aaronic Priesthood leadership, or as a result of immersion in the Mormon faith develop a particularly strong sense of right & wrong.

Two, I have gay friends who are much like me, similar backgrounds in the Church, who are still married, and agonizing because their orientation has never changed either despite in some cases decades of effort and never a single breach of their marital vows. They are angst-ridden precisely because they've tried much of what you advocate and it hasn't worked. I think they're starting to realize that this part of who they are really never will change and they are wondering if they're going to end up wasting their lives in a miserable and futile effort to try.

Three, a generation ago the Church and your Ph.D granting institution, BYU, were using electroshock aversion therapy to eliminate homosexuality. This caused incredible damage and suffering. No doubt you know of Spencer Kimball and Mark Peterson's descriptions of and attacks on homosexuality. The atmosphere they created in the Church has led to incalculable despair and to multiple suicides. Now it's becoming clear that their ideas and opinions--which many people took as "the mind and the will of the Lord" just because of who said them--were off the mark, and that's putting it kindly. People took their own lives as a result of what those two men said and did. And now, years later, every reputable professional organization I know of that can give a credible opinion says homosexuality is not a disorder or a mental illness and that reparative therapy is ineffective and can in some cases do harm. Even the Church now officially concedes that sexual orientation is a "core characteristic" that may never change during this life, and it can only speculate about the next. Yet you line up on the other side of all of that. The evidence is against you for now, so I can't trust your theories or claims that sexual orientation can be successfully changed.

Four, my own experience contradicts you. I have been married and acted straight in every way for years and years. I knew my duty as the Church told me, and I tried hard to make a success of it. If she hadn't had the problems she did and left the marriage I would still be with her. I am not even remotely effeminate. When I recently came out to a friend, he was floored, absolutely astonished because I seemed so straight in every way to him. I have plenty of self-confidence in my abilities as a man, a father, an athlete, a professional, a friend. I have done everything you advocate as necessary for a successful change of sexual orientation. And it has changed nothing. In fact, it has confirmed to me that my orientation is ineradicable.

When I see or imagine an expression of love within a committed same-sex relationship, it's like taking a drink of cold water in a desert after thirsting for hours. You know that feeling of absolute, complete, fulfillment and satisfaction as the cold water quenches your thirst? You feel it in every cell of your body and you say "Ahhh." You know what I'm talking about. That's what it's like with a guy for me and all of my gay brethren. It was never that way with any girl I dated or the woman I married, despite years of doing everything you recommend.

I don't feel this affinity for my own gender because I feel deficient as a man or because "they" didn't accept me earlier in life. I am attracted to men simply because I like them better than women, always have. I am a guy, proud to be so, I like everything about guys, and I feel emotional and spiritual and even romantic connections with them that I never felt with a woman, even when I was married. Years of trying to act otherwise made no difference.

I resent any suggestion that this is a "terrible problem" or a "burden" or something to "struggle" with, or is pathological and needs treatment. I do not believe any of that because my own life shows to the contrary. I know how I feel when I imagine myself with a partner that I love completely, and it is none of what you claim. It's the opposite. It is joyful and fulfilling and exultant and complete. Clearly you believe that context is important, so I will respond that I think the context the Church creates for gay men is what makes it a "terrible problem", not because the characteristic itself is inherently so.

My testimony of the Atonement and the Savior has always been strong and is stronger now than ever. When I finally started coming out, I did so because I could no longer live with the guilt and the opprobrium that the Church and Mormon culture had heaped on me for most of my life over something I never chose. I am not gay because of my own fear that I could never measure up, or that the Atonement didn't really apply to me, or that I could never be perfect (as your theory suggests). It was the Church that told me that because of this feature of who I was, I could never measure up. That wasn't my idea. It was the Church that persuaded me that in order to be "good enough" I would have to get rid of this part of who I am. And with all due respect, I see theories like yours as perpetuating that idea, and you are building a business on spreading it, making money off the fear and confusion of my brothers. Only after I rejected that whole approach did I finally start to find some real peace. I do not want to be married to a woman again, now or ever. I want to be with another son of God. That is the most honest and deepest and truest desire of my heart. It always has been, and a lifetime of trying to change it, using the methods you prescribe, has had no effect whatsoever.

Every aspect of my life is better, calmer, more peaceful, and happier since I stopped trying to do what you claim is an effective strategy for eliminating same sex attraction. My testimony of the gospel and the Savior is stronger. I am kinder, more tolerant, more patient, loving and charitable. I am more of a peacemaker in my own family and among my friends. Prayer is more meaningful, and the voice of the Spirit is as strong as ever when I truly seek it. I have seen the fruits of that inspiration and they have been nothing but positive. Everything about what I imagine a partner to be makes me feel uplifted, ennobled, makes me want to be a better person, a better Christian, because of and for him. And I want to help him to be the same. If we are to judge all things by their fruits as the Savior said, then I see nothing but good fruit coming from this desire.

You may say that this fits your model of the results of finally coming to terms with this part of my life. While it may seem that way, there is a crucial difference. Yes I am at peace, BUT I still am not and do not want to be straight. Ever. I have no intention of wanting or trying to change or to be heterosexual. I like me just the way I am. If this part of me changed, I would no longer be me. What use is exaltation if it's given to some stranger that I'm suddenly transformed into and who my earthly self wouldn't recognize? That wouldn't be me. So I don't believe the latest theorizing about how sexual orientation is confined to this life only. I see no scriptural basis for that, in fact, I think the scriptures point the other way. That's a pretty thin thread on which to hang one's eternal hopes and the conduct of one's whole life. Entirely insufficient, in my view.

No doubt you will tell me that this attitude alone dooms any hope I might have of successfully changing through your therapy because I don't seem "committed to doing whatever it takes to change." And that would be a neat bit of circular reasoning, and it would ignore one basic fact. Dr. Robinson, I've already been there, done that. For twenty-plus years, I was just that committed. And it didn't work. Didn't make a dent.

So, Dr. Robinson, you have some interesting theories and initially they sound plausible. But I don't think they stand up to examination. I think the tide of history, research, scholarly opinion and countless individual experiences is against you. If you were right, I would be the poster child for every success you promise. But oops--I turned out completely the opposite. Sorry, four strikes, you're out. So to speak.

11 February 2009

Back On The Record

The other day I chatted with another blogger who shall remain nameless, and I ended up opening the valve and letting loose with a pretty concentrated blast of frustration. He listened with the kindness and charity that is typical of him, for which I'm grateful.

I later mentioned some of the same points in a chat with another friend on line who's been "summoned" by his bishop who wants to "help him" deal with this "burden" in his life. Said friend is no pushover and is going to thank the bishop politely for his concern and will assure him he needs no such help and doesn't require the bishop's intervention. He is also outspoken enough that he's likely to give the bishop an earful of just what he thinks of the Church's whole record on this issue. Wish I could be a fly on the wall in that interview. He even said he might use my rant as talking points in his chat with the bishop.

I didn't think what I'd said was was anything special, just off the top of my head stuff, but he got me thinking. And I started getting a little curious, wondering what all my friends out there in the 'sphere would think of my little impromptu jeremiad. So with original chat partner's identity cloaked, said outburst went as follows:

Me: Thanks for taking time to listen. I still feel like such a baby with all this, even around guys who are younger than me. Almost everybody I know has been out longer, they have more experience dealing with this. I'm just trying to learn from them all.

Him: Why?

Me: I first came out only 6 months ago.  Have only been blogging a little over 4 months. After years of trying to deny even to myself who I really was, and building my life around a faith model that seems to say NO NO NO don't even THINK about this.  It's like a paradigm implosion and I am trying to get back on my feet and get my bearings again.

I haven't completely lost my faith in God or the Savior, that's as strong as ever.  But to be brutally blunt, I don't have nearly as much confidence in the Church as I used to. I am still confident that overall it has more truth than any other Christian denomination. But I just don't know if I can trust it as an institution unreservedly anymore. I have been in it long enough to see for myself how individual agendas can masquerade as "inspiration" and to see how personal politics and preferences often determine what's done.

So coming from such a background, now I read confirmed news reports that for over 20 years now the Church has been actively but secretly planning political strategies with PR firms, hiring lobbyists and setting up lobbying organizations as a front designed to disguise Church involvement, taking and making financial contributions, hiring teams of lawyers, and holding confidential strategy sessions with the Catholics and others in order to influence elections, overturn court decisions, push and influence statutory and constitutional legislation, all in an effort to prevent not only same-sex marriage but even civil unions in some cases.

Then I see the FP letter urging support for Proposition 8 and know that for many California Mormons that letter was the first they'd ever heard of such efforts by the Church and in their innocent faith they thought "Well, this is the prophet speaking, it must be the will of the Lord, we have to support it," and I think "No, I know this history, this isn't inspiration, this is just the next step on the political agenda that's been tracking for two decades now. There's no 'thus saith the Lord' here, this is the political campaign of a handful of senior Church leaders. If it really were revelation, they would have announced it as such from the very start instead of all this cloak and dagger stuff."

And then I read of how comparatively tolerant the Church was of homosexuality before Spencer Kimball and Mark Peterson came along and launched their years-long campaign against homosexuals in the Church that resulted in disgrace, excommunications, and even suicides. I recall their years of speaking and writing about homosexuality itself as a horrible abomination and I recall the members who were excommunicated just for being that way. Then I look around me and see the genuine love and happiness in committed gay relationships that I personally have seen and know of, that obviously has done nothing but good for the partners, yet the Church threatens and punishes and kicks them out, and it's all just too confusing. Too many contradictions. I don't know what to think or who to trust anymore.

There is this gaping hole in Church doctrine, it just can't explain how God's gay children fit into the eternities other than to say "after you live a lonely, loveless life, your reward might just be that you get transformed into the thing you never wanted to be anyway." I'm not interested. Hence all the wrangling in my Letter to Mom post earlier.

This is awful.  I hate feeling so helpless, not being able to learn something as essential as what we don't know yet about all this. It's like "You have to risk your whole eternal future on a roll of the dice because the Church can't tell you either way the results of either choice."

Him: It is frustrating.  The prophets are clear that they view homosexuality as sinful if acted upon.  The confusion you feel is that you are not sure if they are speaking for the Lord, or from their own personal experiences and biases.  Right?

Me: Bingo. I am very persuaded by the fact that all the latter-day scriptures which are supposed to be specifically for us and our day say NOTHING about this issue. And every verse in the Bible about it is, in my opinion, open to serious question when the actual texts and contexts are examined in detail, not just glibly tossed off as "well, it's an abomination, end of analysis."

That leaves us with the statements of Church leaders about it. And in light of the Church's checkered history on this, and when I read other statements by LDS leaders about, e.g. mixed race marriages should be punishable by death, birth control is contrary to the teachings of the church, and other such claptrap that was accepted as gospel at the time just because of who said it but has now been completely reversed, you can see why I feel very unsteady if all I have to rely on is today's Church leaders' individual statements on this topic too.

Him: I think you are entitled to know what is right for you.  Seek God's help and then trust in the promptings he gives you.

Me:  I want to believe that.  But it's kind of scary too. I think I will get there eventually but a process like this doesn't happen overnight.

I have made this a matter of a lot of prayer already. It was so stupid, for a while I felt like Huck Finn, you remember that chapter called "You can't pray a lie"? Well that was me. For most of my life even in my prayers I pretended I wasn't gay. Pathetic, eh. That's how scared I was of it. I rationalized that because dating girls was fun and all, and I did want to be a father and have kids someday, I wasn't "really" that way. No more though. After a while of finally saying in my prayers "this is who I am, this is what I want, it's time to be honest," one day that still small voice finally spoke. The way you tend not to forget because it's pretty rare. And the words were crystal clear: "I know what you are, and I approve."

That helped a lot. A lot more peace in my heart, more confidence in myself, and frankly, a lot less patience with anybody inside or outside the Church who insists on treating homosexuality as a "burden" or an "affliction." Unfortunately, it also brought into even sharper focus the dilemma that I and others face in the Church. I guess I need to keep after this and get more clarity, and that's going to take a while.

Therewith ended the rant. Comments welcome. Am I off base anywhere? Does anybody else think like this?

09 February 2009

Another "It" In A Nutshell

A very interesting discussion going on right now over at Mormon Matters, about celibacy and sexuality.

The "Money Post" winner so far comes from none other than MoHoHawaii, who has an admirable ability to condense the heart of an issue into a small and compelling statement. What he says should at least prompt serious internal debate about the Church's stance for any LDS critic of homosexuality or same-sex marriage who is not beyond the reach of Christian charity, or who may accept the "one standard for all, regardless of sexual orientation" myth:

Forming a durable pair bond with a special person is a compelling and nearly universal human need. If you or your spouse had physical injuries that prevented sex, you’d still have each other. You would still be each other’s beloved. Mature, loving couplings have remarkable durability, in sickness and in health.

Contrast that to what we ask of gay and lesbian members of the Church: utter, lifelong loneliness with not a shred of hope for love and companionship. It’s not unfulfilled sexual desire that causes all those suicides in gay LDS youth.

When I came out twenty years ago, my kindhearted LDS parents chose me over doctrinal purity, and it made all the difference in my life. Loving someone gay . . . seems to be what finally opens people’s hearts to this issue.

Not much else to say. For those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

08 February 2009

Closing Hymn

I'm glad I sometimes have days like last Tuesday because it makes days like today easier. Sacrament meeting a litany of encomia for The Classic Traditional Intact Mormon Family. And the closing hymn: Count Your Many Blessings.

Well, I have lots of blessings to count. But I am also part of a Church that tells me that the thing I don't have, don't want, am not capable of, is also the one indispensable requirement to get where I want to go with the family I do have, a church which is actively hostile to people like me just because of how God created our hearts to love, and which doesn't seem interested in resolving the impossible dilemma into which its theology places us.

So once again, as many times before, today my own closing hymn lyrics were by Thomas Hardy:

Let Me Enjoy (Minor Key)

Let me enjoy the earth no less
Because the all-enacting Might
That fashioned forth its loveliness
Hath other aims than my delight.

About my path there flits a Fair
Who throws me not a word or sign
I'll charm me with his ignoring air
And laud the lips not meant for mine.

From manuscripts of moving song
Inspired by scenes and dreams unknown,
I'll pour out raptures that belong
To others, as they were my own.

And someday hence, toward Paradise
And all its blest—if such should be—
I will lift glad, afar-off eyes,
Though it contain no place for me.

Snapshots, Rants and Pith

One of the most worthwhile LDS-oriented blogs on the Web is Feminist Mormon Housewives. One week ago a gay guest poster there tried to answer the question Can the Church Be a Hostile Place?

The original post has generated a staggering 424 comments since 30th January. It would take hours to read them all, so your humble correspondent has done some sifting and herewith presents some of what he believes are the thread's more interesting and thought-provoking comments from across the Bloggernacle about Prop 8 and the position of gays & lesbians in the LDS Church. These are all quotes from other posters (except bracketed text inserted by me when context or simplification requires). Enjoy.

1. In 1948 two gay BYU students met with Pres. George Albert Smith to discuss their situation - they were lovers and felt guilty. They stated their case and acknowledged their love for each other. Pres. Smith treated them with great kindness and told them, in effect, to live the best lives they could. They knew they could have been ex’ed but remarkably, they went away feeling understood and valued. Things changed very dramatically shortly after that - Spencer Kimball and Mark E Peterson - contributing much to the hysteria with their “heinous sin” and “despicable practice” and “the abominable and detestable crime against nature” kind of stuff. I would suggest that this change was more influenced by Senator McCarthy than by revelation.

Our church does not approach this issue in a reasonable or compassionate or Christlike way. It generates hatred - yes hatred - for gays. I can’t believe there isn’t a more worthy cause for $20m to be pumped into than Prop 8. I’m ashamed and I hope my lovely gay neighbors never find out that I am Mormon.

I often wonder if this issue is another kind of test for us - whether we will ultimately choose compassion or code.

2. The church can be a hostile place, but that’s precisely because of the position it is in. As long as it is more concerned about maintaining its theological model, it’s going to be hostile for some (in particular, for gay members.) It doesn’t have much room to do anything except say, “Sorry guys, you’ll just have to be celibate for the rest of your life and then in the hereafter, hope things are better.” There are immense theological difficulties in such an issue, and so for the time being (and for quite a bit of time in the future), I guess we will see the church keeping positions close to its current ones instead of making radical new changes to accommodate certain individuals.

3. I am really glad that organisations like Affirmation exist. Of course I’d rather we were just more willing to embrace our GLBT brothers and sisters. I think the church is missing out on a lot more than it’s gaining by its exclusion of entire groups of people. And of course Mormons aren’t alone in this. I think of my friend S who is gay, who was raised Catholic and has turned his back on the church he loved because it turned its back on him first. There’s a lot of hurt there . . . Why is it that religious people who claim to be acting in God’s name, can do the most hurtful things to each other?

4. As long as the church wants to maintain its current position (or something like it), it will bring nothing but a life of denial and misery to its gay members. This isn’t something the church can get away from. I’m certainly sure that members of the LDS or Catholic or whatever church are very sincere in their positions…but since this sincerity has only come out as a kind of pity ("well, it’s unfortunate that you guys have to be celibate forever, but that’s the way things have to be if you want to be righteous by our guidelines"), it really isn’t good enough. I mean, it’s much better than a position of hostility that was present in the past ("shun your gay friends and don’t be seen with gay children and their partners in public!")…it’s not good enough.

5. As a non-Mormon with many Mormon relatives, I never found the LDS Church, at least as represented by my Mormon family and acquaintances, overtly hostile towards me as a lesbian until just this past year. I had experienced the Mormons of my acquaintance as loving people, devoted to family, with a strong work-ethic and love for their neighbors. While I’m sure many may have held their opinions of me close to the vest, they were never anything less than hospitable and kind to me.

Then Prop 8 happened, and my heavily-Mormon neighborhood suddenly grew fangs — most of them with a Prop 8 sign mounted on top.

I have no problem with the Mormon (or any other) Church’s position on granting sacramental marriage to gays (or temple sealing), or even denying membership to gays entirely (though from my own perspective growing up in a fundamentalist pentecostal denomination, I recognize how very painful it is to be rejected by the church in which one was raised). But those policies should apply to those who desire membership in the church, not be projected outwards onto those who have nothing to do with the church or its beliefs.

I’ve had a very painful time trying to discern how best to deal with the Mormon people in my day-to-day life (including a family whose home I will no longer go to, because I know that they donated money to harm my children by passing Prop 8). Sorting through the emotional wreckage left in the wake of last fall’s campaign, I found that my feelings towards the LDS Church and some of its membership had changed dramatically. I DO see it as a hostile church. A hostile church which is good at concealing its hostility, but when the hostility is let out of the cage, look out!

6. The way the teachings are now, it seems almost an impossibility to reconcile homosexuality with theology. And that is what saddens me. Aren’t we supposed to be Christians? And isn’t Christianity about love and acceptance? If God is Love, why don’t we practice that more fully?

I don’t doubt the sincerity of Mormons or Catholics; but sincere people are just as capable of committing great evils as insincere people - perhaps more so. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the religious wars that have plagued us since the days of Abraham, acts of Islamist terrorism - all are perpetrated by sincere people. Sincerity is not enough to guarantee sainthood, or even goodness. Nor is integrity.

The LDS church has so much vested in traditional gender roles (which were only ever traditional in a very specific cultural context) and homosexuality threatens those gender roles. But I don’t think those gender roles are essential to Mormon doctrine.

7. I experience a great deal of frustration because the LDS Church has progressed to a significant-enough degree that it recognizes that homosexuality is not something people choose, but rather an immutable trait. This seems like an extremely positive step, as compared to the Assembly of God denomination in which I was raised, who attribute attractions to ones own gender to things like demon-possession or just plain wicked stubbornness.

The frustrating thing, though, is that, in spite of acknowledge [sic] that gay people’s orientation towards their own gender is a permanent trait which cannot be “prayed away” or “cast out,” still the church treats gays differently from straight people. It’s kind of like telling left-handed people that they cannot hold the priesthood or be a bishop because everyone knows that left-handed people are “sinister” — but we recognize you can’t help being left-handed, so just refrain from using your left hand for writing or eating and we’re all square, okay?

The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

8. If your best defense for the church’s position on homosexuality is that homosexuality won’t exist in the afterlife (which is something we won’t even know whether it exists or not until after we’ve lived this life), then that seems an unconvincing reason to tell people to live their lives in suffering for that day. And just as well, this idea that people are magically transformed in the hereafter, seems inimical to the entire point of living here in the first place.

Let us say what awaits us in the hereafter is celestial polygamy. If heaven rewrites the minds of women who are opposed to polygamy in this life to be supportive of such an idea in the next life, this not only is a violation of one’s own identity and experience of oneself, but also makes exaltation itself lose its value. What use is exaltation if it’s not you who experiences it, but some transformed version of you who you never would’ve recognized on this earth and who doesn’t share your feelings. Really, if this is the case, then I can’t blame any and every gay member who leaves the church at any time. [Dallin Oaks, are you listening?]

9. Of course, even as bigotry and contempt subside, it appears that the only emotion that members can have [for gay people] in this doctrinal framework afterwards is pity. The doctrine does not have much room for much else.

10. It is profoundly homophobic to tell gay members that they must be forever celibate or face church discipline and de-facto cultural shunning. Don’t kid yourselves.

11. I do believe the Church can be–in fact, is, definitely–a hostile place. I think deep down we all realize that. Some enjoy and perpetuate the hostility, some time to live with it gracefully, some ignore it, some pray for it to change, and some get the hell out while they can.

I’m one of the last category, having gone through all the other stages. The straw that broke my back was when I lived in Massachusetts, before and during the period where gay marriage was legalized. I actually rejoiced and thanked God that gay marriage was made legal, because I actually felt that this was an answer to so many gay members’ prayers–they could finally marry and express themselves sexually in a “legal and lawful” manner–just as the law of chastity mandated! It really felt to me that this was a good thing: that the Church leaders would finally welcome back the co-habitating and surreptitiously dating gay couples, they would encourage marriage and discourage promiscuity; they would put their money where their mouth was.

Boy, was I wrong! Fast forward several years, and the Church is now actively fighting against gay marriage rights. If that’s not hostile–I don’t know what is! The Church is effectively telling its gay members: “We love you–just promise to never, ever, ever date, have sex, masturbate, or think about sex, and maybe if you’re good in every other area of your life, you can turn straight after you die and (neener, neener, neener!) marry a woman!!!!”

How sadistic!

12. The Church picks and chooses which sins it tolerates and which it doesn’t. White collar criminals in my prior ward still held callings; but a lesbian couple cannot. The former actually harmed many people, including fellow members, whereas the latter did not harm anyone. At the same time, the Church turned a blind eye to Joseph Smith “marrying” already happily married women, an activity which has no support biblically whatsoever.

The point is: be very careful deciding who is more worthy. Be vary careful in deciding which sins are worse than others. Be very careful in making absolute statements about Church doctrine because there are likely lots of skeletons in that closet.

13. Blithe statements like "the BIG problem remains sex outside the bounds the Lord has set and that affects gays and heterosexuals alike" always bug me. You compare your (theoretical) desire to cheat on your wife with my desire to have a lasting, loving, supportive, monogamous bond to [another] woman who is the love of my life. You claim we are both in the same boat because the Church says we can’t have what we want. Dude, what’re you smokin’?

When the church tells YOU that in order to please God you must live your lifetime in absolute celibacy, then we have something to talk about.

14. The Bible says very little about homosexuality and what is there remains highly controversial and subject to debate. The other scriptures say nothing on the topic at all! The Church has proven itself well able to accept new light on old issues. If it can overcome verses in the Bible and Book of Mormon that for over a century were interpreted in very racist ways, a change on homosexuality would be a piece of cake by comparison.

15. What is the Church, anyway, but a school for forever families–all families, except those headed by gay couples–which by LDS definition, will never be forever? How is that not hostile?

16. Just as was demonstrated by the delay in the restoration of the priesthood to black men- who were originally perceived as inheriting the sins of their ancestors (something we supposedly don’t believe according to AoF #2). Prophets and GAs are human too, just as susceptible to those formative norms as the rest of us are. Oh, and as far as declaring what is true doctrine, there were plenty of members who knew keeping the priesthood from blacks was wrong before a prophet declared it.

But as a member of a faith that asserts that our actions are judged as the greater demonstration of our faith and hearts than our words are… I will have to respectfully disagree [that there was "much love" coming from Church leaders urging support for Prop 8]- urging and pressuring LDS members to raise 20 million dollars towards a cause that defeated the hopes of an earnest cohort of people striving to give their unions the same weight as heterosexuals- was not an act of love…however pretty worded the pontification. Geez, I’m not homosexual and I understood it was hostile.

17. Given that the entire issue of Prop 8 was a push not to take a stand on homosexuality in the Church, but rather an effort to use government force to push their moral beliefs upon the general populace–not to mention the heavy-handed way the Church pushed members to participate in the political activity–I think the entire push can be seen as hostility despite the kindly words.

18. If someone takes bread from your starving child’s mouth, but tells you they are doing it out of love, would you be grateful, or would you consider it a “hostile act”?

Prop 8 took away civil rights from children. It did not just affect “dirty homos” in the streets of San Francisco. It affected real families with real children, who deserve to have the same rights guaranteed by the constitution as other children, regardless of how one may feel about who their parents are. How can I not view something as an “act of hostility” if it is directed towards taking civil rights protections away from my children? Of course it’s a hostile act, and no amount of mouthing “Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin” is going to change that fact.

19. There is a requirement of a certain “facade” placed on gay and lesbian members who wish to remain in good standing. They can “feel their feelings” all they want, but they can’t act upon them. They have to maintain an appearance of “chaste wholesomeness” in spite of experiencing attractions which the church (while acknowlegding they cannot be changed) still does not consider “wholesome.” And from what I read, many gay Mormons who DO take this path and attempt to remain in good standing by adopting a life of celibacy, still cannot be “themselves” in community with other Mormons, as they will experience distancing and rejection based upon their openness about who they are and what they feel.

That’s a facade. And a painful one, at that.

20. [In response to an observation that there is lots of hostility toward the Church and there has to be a better way to disagree than to "undermine and malign the other"] Here, you are attempting to make a moral equivalence between those who would work to remove an existing right from their friends and neighbors (marriage) (yeah, you.) and those who are upset that their rights are being abridged. These positions are absolutely not morally equal. The poor slaveowners in the south lost their slaves. Boo hoo. The slaves wanted to be free. Tough, the slaveowners had their god-given rights to own them. (St. Paul, anyone?)

Smiling sweetly, no matter how appropriately dressed, does not make an immoral position any less immoral.

21. The Yes On 8 people turned a dark, hateful corner when after the election they attempted to void the marriages which had already taken place. They didn’t ask the state to convert them into domestic partnerships, they sought to nullify them completely. This showed the true stripes of the people leading the anti-SSM movement in CA. How could any reasonable person not see this as a direct attack on the families that were targeted?

22. I really get a kick out of the posters who refer to the commandments in the Bible. They do not reference all of the other commandments in the bible that we do not adhere to. In addition, we have had Church leaders openly break biblical commandments (such as Joseph Smith’s “spiritual marriages”) and yet that is somehow okay.

23. Ok I am a gay Mormon male living in California who attends a singles ward. Can it be hostile? Of course. Its also hostile in many ways to my other secular beliefs like Darwinian evolution, and being pro choice from a legal stand point. But is it the church itself or more the members who are arrogant enough to spout off homophobic remarks thinking they're doing God’s will? I was against prop 8 personally and in the end just didn't vote on the thing because both sides were so ridiculously polarized. Do I think gay marriage is this huge evil threat to society and the family? No. But I also don't believe that those who are reluctant to support it are automatically homophobic. . . My priesthood leaders and others were very supportive towards me and my Bishop encouraged me to vote my conscience and not simply vote yes because “the Prophet said.”

24. When I got back from active duty in the military, I could not help but compare the male officers I knew in the Army with many of my neighbors. At age 20-25, Mormon men tend to race ahead of their peers in emotional and spiritual maturity because of obligatory missionary service (this is an impression held by ESPN commentators, als0–I feel redeemed!). Then, self-righteous confidence begins to creep in, while men elsewhere begin to discover their purpose and discard their wild oats. Mormon men can do this, too, but it is difficult. By age 40, non-Mormon men begin to ripen into mature and stable adults. Without great care, Mormon men start to rot on the tree, set in their intolerant ways.

This is not universal, but is a trend. And I speak only for men because I am one, and because in a patriarchal church men have a lot to do with the level of hostility.

25. I’m not asking the Church to change, I’m just asking them to not expect our entire society to fall in line with their teachings. Prop 8 would not have- despite the false rumors and outright lies- forced the LDS Church to seal gay members in temple marriages. It would have just allowed people protection under the law, and access to the federal benefits that come with marriage. This situation still allows the Church to stand firm on their moral ground, while allowing society to function as it will.

I do think sometimes people don’t see the parallels between our Christian dynamic here and the Muslim dynamic in other countries when it comes to trying to control society. If morality were legislated in line with a religion, what pride could we take in exercising our free will according to our faith? We wouldn’t be faithful to our God, we’d just be following the laws of our country for fear of being prosecuted.

26. The LDS Church is not the parent of the entire country or the state of California, or, for that matter, me. If the LDS Church steps into the political arena and forces its doctrines into state law, this is NOT the act of a benevolent parent watching over it’s young.

This is the action of a parent down the street grabbing my child on the way home from school, dragging her into their living room and force-feeding her anti-gay literature and telling her that her mom is a pervert. This is the act of a parent thinking she has the high moral ground and trying to take away my rights to protect my children under the law because she thinks I’m not as good of a parent as she is. This is the act of a parent telling my children that our family is not as good as her family and telling my children that her parents shouldn’t have given birth to her and shouldn’t be her parents.

If you think that there is ANY WAY on GOD’S GREEN EARTH that Prop 8 could be seen as anything OTHER than hostile, then you didn’t have to leave your home every morning for two months and drive your children to school, passing sign after sign proclaiming that our family shouldn’t have the same rights as other families. You didn’t have to hear little children ask their moms or dads, “If Prop 8 passes, will you still be my mom?” “If Prop 8 passes, will we still be a family?”

It broke my heart. Every morning. It still breaks my heart, even though most of the signs and bumper stickers disappeared the moment the election was over. I still had to drive past the bedraggled tatters of them on street corners until the city got around to tearing them down. And even now, the places where they stood on my neighbors’ lawns and cars, declaring that my kids were not as good as their kids and don’t deserve the same rights their kids are entitle to, those places are emblazoned in my memory. I will never be able to look at those people quite the same way again.

Yeah, I’m sure every one of them would have said, “I did it out of love! It wasn’t PERSONAL! I just believe that marriage is between a man and a woman! (And therefore, your children don’t deserve the same rights and protections under the law as mine do, because, in my book, their parents aren’t good enough).”

Yeah, no hostility there. :sigh:

07 February 2009

Long Way To Go, Folks

Trying to rev the brain down after a very busy week here, and browsing through some favorite blogs. I ran across one that discussed what modern versions of "priestcraft" we might see in the LDS Church. I agreed with most of it, but that's not the point of this note.

Reading down through the comments, I ran across a statement that told me just how entrenched is the mindset that makes things so difficult for gay Mormons:

"When I see the books available to my children to read even in the school library I’m so grateful for books like Tennis Shoes Among The Nephites series that inspires them to search the scriptures, as opposed to books like Billies Two Daddies or anything filled with worldly “wisdom”.

I think that pretty much speaks for itself. Why am I suddenly thinking of the Scopes Monkey Trial? Sheesh.

05 February 2009

Alan Was Right Again

A few days ago I waxed snarky about the tag line in the Church's press release that left a hole so big you could sail the Titanic through it: no objection to a variety of rights for same-sex couples as long as they didn't "infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches." Gotta hand it to whoever wrote that, it's slipperier than Bill Clinton in a press conference.

It wasn't rocket science to deduce that the Common Ground Initiative died because the Church's silence on it spoke volumes. I concluded that its opponents believed it was exactly what the Church's press release said, an infringement "on the integrity of the traditional family."

And whaddaya know, guess what kids. The Sutherland Institute, which obviously doesn't hesitate to rush in where the Church fears to tread, now says that's exactly what the Common Ground Initiative meant to do: impinge on the "traditional family." "I believe their ultimate goal," spokesman Jeff Reynolds said, "is to provide a way where same-sex marriage is legal in Utah." There it is, exactly as your humble correspondent predicted. The Titanic-sized opt-out clause in full resplendence. Click here for the full story.

The Sutherland Institute was founded in 1995 by the ironically named Gaylord Swim. From the looks of its Web site, it wants to be a Utah-centric Focus On The Family type organization with some libertarian politics thrown in. And everyone in Utah knows libertarian leaning is The Only True Political Perspective Acceptable to God, right? BYU-connected policy wonks and business managers abound in Sutherland's leadership--more of the fatal shift Hugh Nibley warned against.

Obviously Sutherland's ready to say what the Church isn't willing to. They bear watching.

04 February 2009

Reality Check

Once in a while I have to remind myself that it's not all sturm und drang. Yesterday was a particularly good day professionally, a cause for much celebration. I got sick of the desk, the chair, the office, so toward the end of the day I decided to clear my head and remind myself of why life was good. So I changed to shorts and t-shirt, headed for the beach, and practically ran down the stairs to the sand.

The sun had set, but the horizon still glowed with radiant pink and gold against the blue-black waterline. Further up in the sky, the brilliant colors faded to softer, darker pastels and gradually to the deep blue of twilight. Venus shimmered a perfect solitary silver. The beach was virtually empty. The moon overhead was so bright that I could see my shadow on the water even as the sunset still glowed on the horizon.

The tide was mostly out, the water cool. MP3 player plugged in with "I Don't Feel Like Dancin" in my ears (it's over there on my playlist, I dare you to listen and not start dancing in your chair!) I began to race barefoot through the waves like a little boy just let out of school. Each time a subsiding wave crest approached my foot, I jumped high in the air over it and whooped and hollered. Life is great! I have so much to be thankful for! Health, family, the world's most wonderful kids, a great job, faith in God and friends who welcome and accept me for what I am, this beautiful world all around me. And so much more. Who wouldn't jump in the air and whoop it up? I have no idea why I got so lucky, but I'll take it and be grateful for it!

There was one other guy on the beach, playing frisbee with his dog. He watched me race up and down and must have thought I was nuts. Who cares. I was elated. And still am. As darkness fell I walked back to my car, only this time a few inches above the ground.

This morning I'm back in the office with a ton of work ahead, but filled with new energy. Shout out to all my friends in the blog world: you're the best. I wish I could give each one of you a big bone-crushing rugby scrum hug. You are a big part of why I am still whooping it up inside.

02 February 2009

A Letter to Mom

Dear Mom

I hope this won't disappoint you but I don't know if you know everything going on in my head so I'm writing it out so you can see, I hope.

If you've been watching me then you know about all the changes in my life over the last five months or so. I wonder if you always knew. These changes were inevitable, I just couldn't hold the floodgates shut anymore against this part of me that's always been inside. I don't want to be with a woman anymore, I tried it and it didn't work. I did love her sincerely as best I could and was doing what the Church always told me I should do, following what it said I should want. If she hadn't left I would still be there. But she did, and now it's time for me to be honest. I don't want to try it again. I want to be with a guy. This is what I really have always wanted but have been too scared to say. But not anymore. I'm not focusing on sex here. I'm talking about every aspect of a complete intimate relationship: the emotions, the love, the caring, the support, the trust, the roughhousing and playing, the tenderness, the holding, the knowledge that someone will be there for me and I for him. Just the thought of it is more fulfilling in some ways than the reality ever was with a woman. It feels right. It feels like home. It feels like where I belong. I lie in bed at night or early in the morning and dream about how wonderful it would be to cling to each other, to be completely vulnerable and safe with him. Holding nothing back. I always had to withhold part of myself with her. I don't want to do that ever again.

It's taken me a lifetime to work up the courage to actually say stuff like this, but I'm there now. I know I dated girls and liked several of them very much and even married one. I managed to be adequately happy because I was doing what I'd been taught was essential to get where I was told I ought to aspire to go in the eternities. But you know what, Mom? It never felt completely totally 100% unreservedly right. It was never a 100% fit. And you know what became of the marriage. If women are capable of doing what she did, and obviously they are, then the thought of being married to a woman for eternity is no longer my idea of heaven. I would never feel safe, could never trust again without reservation. If that's wrong, then God will have to change me later, because I can't change myself. Honestly, I don't even want to. I like where I'm at. I'm finally being honest with myself and with God about who I really am and what I want.

This puts me in a terrible dilemma. I've served enough in the Church to gain a testimony of the gospel. Yet the deep desire of my heart is contrary to what the Doc. & Cov. says is an essential requirement for the greatest eternal blessings. I have no idea how to resolve this. I don't think it can be resolved from what we now know. I can't help what I feel, and I can't change what the book says. They clash, end of story. There's no way to reconcile them. One of them has to yield. Thank God we believe in an open scriptural canon, and I cling to that hope because I just don't see myself ever being able to change what I have been my whole life.

Unfortunately, at present the Church as an institution and culturally is very hostile to people like me. It has no idea what to make of us or how we should fit into the organization. It says we're welcomed, but most gay Mormons will tell you otherwise, once their "special status" becomes known. My sense of personal social connections to the Church has almost completely disappeared. I don't participate in any ward or stake social activities, why would I? Nobody there is like me, nobody has a clue about what's really going on in my heart. I feel nothing in common with anybody in my ward except for job connections, and that's not enough to create or sustain real friendships. I've read the Scriptures countless times and think I know them quite well. I pray every day and do my best to live my life in accordance with gospel standards, to keep the covenants I've made. I don't have all the answers to life's questions but the institutional Church is certainly not capable of giving me any answers to what's in this letter.

My life is moving into uncharted waters, Mom. Nobody in the family has a clue about any of this or can give me any advice. Nobody in the Church is equipped to do that either, other than to say You must deny and stifle your feelings, live a life of loneliness and celibacy from here on, as the price of—well, of what? Nobody in the Church knows what happens to God's gay children in the eternities, not even the prophet, and he doesn't seem to consider the question very important. I don't believe the latest new theory that sexual orientation will vanish at death. I see nothing in the Scriptures to justify that. I think it's just a convenient dodge to avoid explaining what is otherwise unexplainable in current Mormon belief: how could God create or allow to exist such a core characteristic that leads those who have it to want, hunger for, ache down to the very bottom of their souls for something that they feel is good and natural for them but the Church says will bar them from exaltation? I don't buy the Church's line about "one standard of morality for everyone." There isn't one standard, there's two. Single heterosexual Church members at least always have the theoretical hope of being able to marry in this life and the Church encourages them to pursue it with vigor. Single gay members of the Church not only have no such hope, they're told they must never act in the slightest on even their most innocent feelings of attraction if they hope to stay in the Church's good graces. No hope. No hope, Mom.

To resolve this conflict, either that characteristic or LDS theology has to change. And most Mormons, though they claim to believe in continuing revelation, have shown that they are still like the Saints of Joseph's time, when he complained that getting any new ideas into their heads was like trying to split hemlock knots using a pancake for a wedge and a pumpkin for a hammer. So the idea of sexual orientation being "fixed" or disappearing in the next life is a much more convenient deus ex machina than to concede that there might be gay people in the eternities. Horrors! That would mean lots of people would have to abandon their precious prejudices, wouldn't it? After the Church rose like the proverbial Royal Army in the hymnbook and singlehandedly financed the passage of Prop 8 in California because Pres. Monson summoned them to, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that he would reverse himself and say Oh never mind, we now accept gay members in full fellowship. So I am not going to see any resolution of my dilemma in my lifetime.

And that is so profoundly, deeply depressing I can't tell you. To realize after years of Church service and study and faith and testimony that this deepest desire of my heart, this part of who I've always been, which I never chose, will never be satisfied while I live and that if I follow it and seek out the same love and companionship most people take for granted, I would be knocked out of being with you and my kids in the eternities—that is just too painful to contemplate. Yet that's my situation, IF the Church's current position on homosexuality is fixed and doesn't change.

The gospel is supposed to give us hope, not despair. But the more I think about this horrible, unavoidable choice between my church and my heart, the less hope and the more despair I feel. I can't change the feelings of my heart. I've been trying to do that my whole life and it hasn't worked. I didn't choose them. One day they were just there. I was never abused or molested or exposed to anything that current theorizing says might trigger this. So I have to conclude that this is just part of what makes me me. Like my other talents that you said emerged when I was very small, I wonder if I just brought it with me. But the origins aren't as important as the fact that this is who I am, here and now. Wherever this came from, it's part of me. It ain't goin' away.

What makes me angry is that the Church treats this as a "burden", an affliction, a handicap, a "struggle." I really resent that. I feel patronized. I don't feel guilty in the slightest about these feelings or think I need to be "fixed." I'm tired of reading blogs by gay LDS guys who moan and groan on and on as if they're St. Sebastian, tied to a post and shot every day with arrows of pain and anguish and wallowing in the Scriptures trying to pray away the gay. Yeah, being gay really stinks in some ways but why does it have to? When I imagine myself with a guy who is my soulmate partner I don't feel afflicted or burdened, I feel elated, exultant, ennobled. Every feeling of love and attraction in my heart feels good and pure and lifts me up and makes me want to be a better person in every way that the Saviour taught, for the sake of the guy I love. Imagining him calls up every virtuous, romantic, wonderful, giddy, loving, enrapturing feeling that any heterosexual person feels for their own significant other. Why are those feelings suddenly bad just because the gender of the other person is the same as my own?

For me, all this rhetoric from the Church is like Shakespeare's Romeo said: "they jest at scars that never felt a wound." They just can't believe I'm not suffering and struggling because of this. Well, fact is that I do suffer, a lot, but not for the reason they think. I suffer because of their externally imposed opprobrium and shame and guilt trips and Sophie's Choices and judgments and ostracism and efforts to shoehorn me into a one-size-fits-all-for-salvation template which I don't fit and their assumptions that never never ever in the eternities would God permit me to have what I really want and their lectures about "abandoning my eternal potential" because of something I never chose, never asked for, which I can only explain by believing God placed it in me because it feels good and right for me and I can't deny that any longer. What kind of crazed idiot would choose this or stick with it voluntarily, in such an environment? If all that hostility would stop, I could be as elated outwardly as I feel inside. I refuse to think of this as an "affliction." The affliction is in being made to feel such shame and fear over having feelings that to me are good and pure and natural. THAT is the burden.

Now that I'm breaking away from the old fears, I don't feel "afflicted," I feel liberated. Lighter by half. Like I'm finally out of the shadows and into glorious light. Yet the Church to which I've devoted most of my life and faith now tells me that if I follow the deepest desires of my heart and proceed on this path that has so far been nothing but wonderful and liberating for me, I will be kicked out, all my blessings and privileges revoked, my sealing to my kids nullified, and my eternity damned.

No! I say. That can't be right! My heart cries out to God: How can you allow this? Is there no relief? How can the price of eternal blessings be to give up all hope in this life? Where's the joy in that, the joy which the Book of Mormon says is the purpose of our creation? How could you make me want something that the organization claiming to be your true church tells me I will be damned in the eternities for pursuing? What if I really and truly don't want and am not capable of what the Church says I have to want and do in order to qualify for the highest blessings? What if I don't want to give up this part of myself, as Lance Wickman theorizes will happen at death?

If I ever did consider marrying a woman again I would have to be completely honest with her about this part of myself. What LDS woman would want to marry such a guy? And honestly I don't want to marry another woman anyway. OK, since according to current Church doctrine, heterosexual temple marriage is a requirement for entrance into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, the real and honest desires of my heart now shut me out of that possibility, at least as far as we now know. In which case, why should it matter if I pursue a temporal relationship and even marriage with another guy for the rest of this life? I won't be capable of anything else anyway, and the reasons don't seem to matter much, because that's the end of the equation. If I don't have a temple marriage in this life, I don't have a temple marriage. It is what it is. I'm knocked out of the running there. I don't say this lightly. I know the doctrinal implications full well. But I can't pretend anymore for the sake of outward compliance with others' expectations, I have to be completely honest about what's in my heart. I don't want to be married to a woman, now or ever, and temple marriage at present is possible only with a woman. End of analysis.

So my choices are either (1) stay celibate and lonely for the remainder of my time on earth because the Church says I should although it's really vague as to why and what I could hope to gain by doing so, or (2) since I can't sustain a temple marriage anyway, go ahead and find a guy with whom I can have the happiness and comfort and companionship I have always longed for, at least for this life, and let God sort out the eternities. He knows that I have an infinite amount of love and caring in my heart to give to my family and friends and others, that I want so much to be His hands in this life and beyond, and that I want nothing more than to be part of an eternal family unit, together with my parents and my children forever. He also knows that my heart just isn't capable of what the LDS Church says is an absolute requirement for that last bit.

There is no way to resolve this conundrum in this life. Yet if the Scriptures are true that He will reward us not only according to our deeds but also the desires of our hearts, and he knows I can't honestly sustain the temple marriage requirement in this life, why would I be shut out of all celestial blessings later on, even if I did marry a guy just for this life only, knowing it wouldn't last in the eternities? Or would it? Joseph Smith said that even the apostles would kill him if they knew what he knew about how heaven worked. He must have known some stuff that would have been violently repugnant to everything even the apostles thought they knew about God and heaven. Could anything be more objectionable to "traditional Christians" than the thought of eternal same-sex marriages? I may be totally off base here, but if we truly believe in an open scriptural canon and the 9th Article of Faith, wouldn't it be presumptuous in the extreme for us to say absolutely no doubt never never never would God allow such a thing?

I have a testimony of the Savior and the atonement. I have seen and exercised the power of the priesthood in my own and others' lives. I don't want to abandon the Church or my faith or the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life. I don't want to give any of these things up. And I don't want to be straight, either. I'm sorry, Mom, but that's the truth. I tried my best to be that way for a long time because that's what the Church said I should want and do, and I ended up in a marriage that went so wrong that I know I could never do it again. I have no energy left to try to maintain the facade like I did before.

No doubt many in the Church would say "well, you should still remain faithful and active and keep all the commandments and be chaste and celibate because you'll be able to stay in full fellowship with the Church and go to the temple and have the Spirit in your life and your faithfulness will be rewarded in the next life and your 'burden' will be removed then." To which I say: what's the point? I am already incapable of reaching for the brass ring. I don't want to marry a woman, now or ever. I tried it because that's what the Church told me I should want, and it was a disaster. If the same spirit that occupies our bodies in this life will be unchanged in the next world, as the Book of Mormon says, why should I expect this part of me to change just because spirit and body separate for a time?

The whole point of all the compliance and endurance and denial and frustration urged on me is to achieve the blessings available only in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. If I already don't qualify to get in there because I can't ever imagine wanting what the Church says I have to want and have, why should I care about meeting the other requirements for top tier celestial glory? According to current Mormon doctrine it's not going to matter anyway. Why not be happier in this life, accepting that I can still live at a standard that should qualify me for a wonderful future nonetheless, since I'm shut out of the top level already?

My marriage was adequately happy for a few years but never in my life have I had the true, unreserved, unqualified intimacy and fulfillment that I crave and I think every person wants. I'm finding that no other pursuits in life can compensate for its absence. And now even after being set free from that marriage, the Church tells me that the price of vague blessings in the future is that I give up all hope of ever having that in this life, even as there are signs that the Church itself is slowly changing its former "doctrine" on homosexuality and who knows if it might not do so again and in some future day that might not be the price of those eternal blessings after all, in which case I will have wasted my life for a myth?

I don't even want to change in the eternities what the Church says makes me ineligible now. I can't imagine not being gay in the eternities, I wouldn't be me anymore. And I'm pissed off about this conundrum forced on me because I don't see or feel anything wrong with what's in my heart. What if the Church does end up being wrong about this and the problem right now is just that the Saints are still too "bound down by the traditions of their fathers" to accept new revelation that will upend their prejudices? I can't see that attitude changing for a long time, certainly not in my life, but I don't think we can say absolutely never it will never never never happen. So I'm being asked to give up all hope of true happiness and intimacy in this life maybe because other people are just too bigoted to accept new instruction? I have to live a lonely, single life because somebody else can't stop being narrow-minded, and that's the price of my eternal progression? Letting someone else's flaws set the boundaries for my life's choices and my path after this life is over?

I have no intention of abandoning my faith in the Savior or the gospel, or my efforts to live my life according to His teachings. If I leave any of this behind, it will be because the Church forces me out. But the feeling is growing stronger that I do not want to live the rest of my life as an LDS monk. It is not good for man to be alone, said God. Yet the Church tells me that I must do just that--the thing which God Himself said is not good--if I hope to qualify for . . . well, for what? The Church can't really tell me. I've heard all the vagaries about "every blessing available to everyone". Huh? What does that mean? Does it mean I'll suddenly be transformed into a heterosexual and be married by proxy to a woman after all, so that I can qualify for the celestial kingdom later on?

But I don't want to be straight, now or in the next life. I like me just the way I am! So the prospect of being "fixed" is no incentive whatsoever. This is how God made me. If He's truly "no respecter of persons", would He make me in such a way as to automatically shut me off from all blessings He's said are available to all? I can't believe that, it sounds totally Calvinistic. I'm sure it's not what the LDS Church teaches. Am I wrong for saying I don't want to be "fixed"? Who knows. The only thing I know is that that's what my heart says right now. Could it change? I know, never say never. But I can't imagine it ever would, not after all the years of praying and worrying and sweating and laboring like Hercules to keep the real me buried out of fear. It didn't work. My gay side is not going away. It's part of me. If it's so strong, so intrinsic, how could I imagine being otherwise, ever? How could I expect this would fade with time? Why would I even want it to be taken away? I don't!

Try as I might, I just don't see this as a flaw. I've heard others compare this "struggle" to other "burdens" that some people have, like a propensity to pedophilia, or alcoholism, or anger, and solely because of that comparison they conclude that like those other things, being gay is also dangerous and wrong, pernicious, and can be "cured" by the Atonement or can even be overcome with "treatment" in this life. I don't believe it. It's a false analogy. All those other things, if acted on, hurt other innocent people. For the life of me I can't see how feeling or acting on an emotional attraction and attachment to someone of the same gender hurts anyone, if done within the same bounds of propriety as for a heterosexual marriage. If two guys, or two girls, find each other and bond, love each other and want to commit to each other, and remain faithful and true and loving and supportive, just as any heterosexual couple would, how does that hurt anyone? Doesn't that help not only them but society as well?

I am not interested in any other kind of relationship with a guy. Promiscuity is indefensible regardless of the genders involved. I am not interested in some hedonistic, sex-crazed, gender-bending substance-abusing irresponsible self-indulgent life. Even if I were outside the Church, I would still keep its standards, including being chaste. I have no interest in "the gay lifestyle" or its bed-hopping. The thought revolts me. Like I said before, when I imagine being with a guy who is my partner, the one I love above all others, every feeling of my heart is pure and noble and uplifting. I want to be with him not just because he's a guy, but because he's the guy. I want to be better because of him. I want to help him be better too. I want us to live our lives together pursuing everything that is good and true and praiseworthy and charitable, supporting and caring for each other and reaching out to share the pure love of Christ with others. Just like any heterosexual couple would.

The Savior said we should judge all things by their fruits. The fruits of what I want are nothing but good. I want a guy to be with, in this life and the next, for all the right, good, true, loving, pure in heart reasons, and to spend this life and the next with him pursuing all that is virtuous and praiseworthy and bringing to pass much righteousness. Is there any bad fruit there? No. Yet the Church says I can't do that and retain my membership, the right to perform priesthood ordinances for my kids, or the hopes of being with them and the family I love in the eternities. Why? Why? The Savior may have stood at a door and knocked a long time ago, but now it's me banging on the door till my knuckles are bloody, pleading for answers. And all I hear is silence.

Oh God help me. Mom, pray for me. I don't know what to do.

Your Son

01 February 2009

One Standard For Everyone? Oh Really.

How many times have we heard that from the Church. "There's one standard of ethics and honesty and morality for everyone. We don't treat gays and lesbians any differently than our heterosexual members. As long as gays and lesbians keep the law of chastity just like straight people, they are welcome in full fellowship in the Church." One standard for everyone, remember.

Now, compare.

Post Prop 8 Church press release: "The Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches."

Note the "so long as" clause at the end. Kinda short on specifics.

Equality Utah then takes the Church up on its statement and proposes the Common Ground Initiative package of legislation which specifically addressed health care, housing and employment rights, would create a cause of action for wrongful death of a partner and a state domestic partner registry. Exactly what the Church said it didn't oppose. Great. An olive branch stretched out to the Church. Countless people praying it would reach out in turn.

Everyone waited. And waited. Ultimately in vain. The Church made no public statement about the Common Ground Initiative. And in Utah, where legislative leaders meet regularly with LDS leaders to hear the Church's position on various matters, that kind of silence is enough.

Result: the Initiative is dead. Killed by the Church's de facto pocket veto. By not publicly supporting in Utah that which it said it did not oppose in California, the Church deftly signaled to the LDS majority in the Utah Legislature what it wanted them to do. No doubt those legislators also knew exactly what the 2006 General Handbook of Instructions said: "Church members are encouraged "to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to . . . reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender." "Church Handbook of Instructions", book 1 p.187 (thanks Abe for the quote).

The SL Tribune reports that "Conservative activists carried the day before Buttars' Judiciary Committee, arguing that the probate bill would chip away at the legal framework that upholds the traditional family and male-female marriage. They compared the Common Ground bills to a "slippery slope" that could lead to court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage." Never mind that Utah's Constitution already bans same-sex marriage. Can't have that slippery slope, even if it hits a brick wall that prevents what you claim. Gotta love that opt-out clause in the Church's press release. It's like Gumby, bends any which way you want.

Apparently "rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights" are okay in California for Church PR and damage control purposes, but they're not really okay generally, because they "infringe on the integrity of the traditional family", at least in Utah. Nice opt-out clause, Church PR Dept.! How else to explain the Church's silence and the message it sent?

Reprise: There's one standard of ethics and morality and honesty for everyone, right? If the Church doesn't object to "rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights, or probate rights" in California then it shouldn't object to them in Utah. Unless, ah, well, um, it really, like, sort of, did object to them in California but didn't get there in time to shut them down, so it just put lipstick on the pig till Prop 8 passed. But when the chance came to kill off those rights before they emerged in its own backyard, well, that's different. This time, silence starved the piglet.

One standard. Uh huh.

Beck said if the Church stepped in to block the Common Ground Initiative, he would start to come apart at the seams. Well, Beck, the Church didn't overtly step in. It knew exactly what it was doing. But it created the same result as if it had. So get out your fiberglass strapping tape Beck because you'll need it to hold yourself together.

You know, I've been an active, faithful Church member all my life. I served a mission, I've kept my temple covenants. But this kind of behavior by the Church is really really starting to get to me. Anybody else?