09 August 2009

What's To Fear? Maybe This?

Past presidents of the Church used to preach that God's children with black skin were inherently inferior and that racially mixed marriages should be punishable by death.

Oops. Glad we corrected those.

Now, the Church's Proclamation on the Family says "gender is an eternal characteristic," something most Mormons take to mean "boys are supposed to be attracted to girls and girls are supposed to be attracted to boys and anything else is wrong and a temporary aberration." Nice and black and white and easy.

But it doesn't say that, folks. First of all, the Proclamation isn't canonized scripture. Conservative orthodox Mormons treat it as if it were, but it's not. There's a process for that which the Proclamation hasn't gone through. So we're free to construe it how we will. And to me, "gender is an eternal characteristic" has nothing to do with homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada.

So apart from the purely theological objections to gay marriage--which have no business as a basis for civil law--I am still scratching my head as to the reasons for the Church's furious opposition to it and to any expression of gay affection (e.g. the recent kerfuffle over the kiss near Temple Square), even in a purely civil law context. Is it just ingrained cultural hostility? The same prejudice and conviction that underlay the Church's opposition to civil rights 40 years ago? The arguments and rhetoric certainly are startlingly similar.

Maybe, though, what really worries The Top Fifteen is people like Lisa Diamond, Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah. She recently released a book that, while focusing primarily on womens' sexuality, talks in general terms about the whole issue in ways I suspect would make the average Mormon cringe. If she's right, lots of black & white thinking about this subject may have to go out the window. And in a Church which--culturally, at least--strongly prefers everything "by the book," there isn't much tolerance for ambiguity, especially on such a sensitive subject.

Prof. Diamond quoted a 1994 study which said that the majority of Americans surveyed and who confirmed same-sex attraction aren't actually doing anything about it. "They are just going about their lives, having attractions and doing nothing about it at all. That’s the majority of individuals with any aspect of same-sex sexuality. Then you have a group of individuals who engage in same-sex behavior, but don’t identity as gay and don’t even say they are attracted to the same-sex. That’s what they report. That group is half the size. And the smallest group, are those who identify and are also having sex and claiming same-sex attractions. So the prototype in our mind of a gay person who identifies is actually the least representative type. And studies in other countries have found the same thing. It’s a small population. So if you broaden up your categories you realize that there are whole bunch of people who have one aspect of same-sex sexuality that is relevant to their lives, and other aspects that are not. We have no theory at all in the social sciences about what these divergences mean. We’ve been studying everything all wrong." And THAT prospect, I think, could seriously scare some of the Mormon leadership.

Oh no, maybe there's actually a lot more o' them dam homos out there than we thought, Martha! Better start totin' a shotgun to church again jes' in case one o' them looks at us funny!

It also means, as Prof. Diamond goes on to discuss, that sexual identities may actually be more fluid than a lot of people would like to believe. Of course this has the prospect of seriously pissing off agenda-driven people on both ends of the spectrum. It also has the prospect of creating more cognitive dissonance for Mormons who want to cling to the belief that being straight is The Eternal Norm and anything else is just a matter of choice, limited to this life only. I'd be less than honest if I didn't confess to a bit of schadenfreude when I think of Molly Mormon's and Peter Priesthood's discomfort with that idea. Not that most of them will read or care about this research, but still . . .

Bottom line is there's still much we don't know. But the trend seems to be clear: things just aren't as cut & dried as the popular Mormon interpretation of "gender is an eternal characteristic" would like to believe. And after a century of furious declamations about racism being The Word Of The Lord, only to find past generations were totally wrong, why can't we point out that the same rhetoric's being used today to denounce gay marriage, and wonder if the Church isn't taking a second lap round the same track?

More on Prof. Diamond's book here.


Lisa said...

And to me, "gender is an eternal characteristic" has nothing to do with homosexuality. Zero. Zip. Nada.

That's always been my head scratcher, too. I keep hearing close friends cite the Proclamation as a reason the church is against gay marriage, but...uhm. I don't get it either.

And the proverbial mormon "shelf" begins its crumbling when a member discovers and acknowledges for the first time that things aren't black and white and easy. And every member, I'm confident to say, has a shelf.

With the APA coming out against reparative sexual therapy and the psychological community's growing understanding of what gender really means, the church will have to throw its arms in the air. About something.

Besides, it's not like it hasn't happened before.

Fantastic entry.

Anonymous said...

walk into some lds homes and you see the proclamation framed and hanging on a hall. funny there's no framed sermon on the mount.

there is an underlying fear that loosening social taboos against gay behavior will be akin to opening pandora's box: gay behavior will become the norm.

my daughter went to a liberal womens college with lots of experimentation. most of her friends experimented with same-sex relationships. Several years later all are in straight relationships. the fear is unfounded.

Quinn said...

Can you produce quotes and sources for those past presidents?

AmbiguouS One said...

You are right in saying that most Mormons won't believe any "affirming" research because "they are activists, agenda-driven, etc..." AKA it-didn't-come-out-of the-Prophet's-mouth-so-it's-not-true syndrome.

Anyway, tons of people, not just Mormons, have no clue how fluid sexuality really is. I read the conclusions of a research study in a college psych class that "2/3 of ALL American men have had at least one same-sex sexual experience." For most of these men it is out of curiosity or experimentation, and they later get on with their lives - they may choose to partner with a man or a woman depending on their experience.

The bottom line is that most men, by definition of this study, are not 100%, or exclusively, heterosexual.

Something to think about...

Alan said...


Here you go.

"Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of priesthood and the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning. Enoch saw the people of Canaan, descendants of Cain, and he says, 'and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people." Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, pp. 101-102.

And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the Devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God" John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 22, p. 304.

"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p.110.

Scott said...

@santorio (re: the fear of the "normalization" of homosexuality)

I've thought a lot about this lately. We're very open/out with our kids, and our 11-year-old son, especially, has embraced his dad's gayness without reserve (he wears a rainbow tie to church every week).

I've wondered if our acceptance of homosexuality will give our kids license to explore their own sexuality in a way that most kids do not (or cannot). I've come to realize that it almost certainly will, and that that is almost certainly a good thing.

I've come to believe (rather firmly) that sexual orientation is not "chosen", so I don't believe that my kids are going to choose to be gay because their dad is. On the other hand, if any of them are gay, I'll be thrilled if they're able to discover that fact without any anguish or strife, because of the accepting atmosphere we've created.

It's entirely possible that societal acceptance of homosexuality will result in a rise in the percentage of self-identified homosexuals--but it won't be because more people have chosen to be gay. It will be because fewer people will be hiding in their closets, afraid to admit to the world--or even to themselves--who and what they are. That's a good thing.