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."


austin said...

Alan, thanks so much for your feedback, and also I love you blog! Interestingly enough, it was one of my gay friends here at BYU who recommended I change phrases like "experiences SGA" in my first draft to "struggles with SGA" since that is his preferred terminology. In a way, it's part of the big debate among church members about words concerning homosexuality: do we want to use the word gay or homosexual, should it be an adjective or a noun, same gender attraction or same sex attraction, and so on.

However, I do agree with you that use of the word "struggle" is particularly troublesome because it does connote a problem on the gay person's part. Looking at one's homosexuality as a burden isn't a healthy (or accurate) way to look at it, I agree. It's very difficult, though, to tread the line. Most (all?) of my gay friends who are still in the church do see their situation as a struggle, whether that's to not act on homosexual attractions or to suppress them or try to be accepted in Mormon culture for who they are or some combination of the above. Most of them aren't at the point you are at, where they can see their homosexuality as something they don't want to get rid of, much less something they can cherish. I'm not exactly sure how to respond to them, because I think their feelings stem from a desire to stay completely active in the church. And as I've read on your blog, although your faith in Christ and the Atonement is stronger than ever, you mentioned that it's hard to stay active in an institution that believes so differently on the nature of homosexuality. I don't want to undermine their efforts to be 100% committed to the church, even when I completely sympathize with your concerns, and to a lesser extent (probably because it's less personal for me) feel them myself.

The point is, I think I'll remove/re-word that phrase at least some of the times I used it for my final version (they haven't published it yet, but the editor says they're going to). Thanks so much for reading it, enjoying it, appreciating my good intentions, and even caring enough to offer an honest response. I hope this long comment makes at least some sense!

Captain Midnight said...

I felt the same way about the article. I think it's good to get a positive perspective on homosexuality out there in the BYU mindset, but I really hate the word "struggle." However, it might be necessary to say "struggle" at first just to get them used to the idea that gays aren't evil. I think we'll find that there are a LOT of people at BYU who are very much against homosexuality to the point that they won't even begin to listen to a pro-gay argument. If we add the word "struggle" in there, maybe we'll at least get some pity. Haha.

sentient said...

This is part of their intentional disinformation campaign. If they can portray us as pitiful cripples, "struggling with same-sex attraction", then they have more power over us. Members can content themselves with feelIng condescending sentimentality they mistake for "compassion" for LGBT folks who submit to their "struggling" characterization.

They prefer this over story lines based on equal rights, human rights, or civil rights — the idea that we are being true to ourselves, to the powers imbued by our creator to live freely, fall in love, form stable relationships, and be happy.

It's about controlling the narrative.