29 November 2009

The Talk With Dad, Part One

Yes, this is word for word. Dad's in regular font, I'm in italics.

What does that really mean? I don't understand this when you say I am gay? You like boys better than girls, in simple terms?


Do you believe that was something you were born with?


It's not genetic.

Well, you know, the research on that is ongoing.

Yeah, I know, it's inconclusive.

Not according to every professional organization's report I have read

Yeah I read that stuff. It's inconclusive.

All of them are unanimous that there appears to be a genetic component. Nobody says it's absolutely indisputably programmed in the DNA, but the conclusion of everybody that has studied it is that there are definite indications of a genetic component to it.

Well the stuff you sent me that I read doesn't say that. It says they don't know whether it's in the home or genetic.

OK well I can send you more if you want, 'cause trust me, it's there

No, I don't need any more. It doesn't matter. What wolf are you feeding?

Tell me what wolves you see. I know the story of the wolves.

There's the dark side and there's the light side or whatever term you want to use. And homosexual behavior is abnormal. Sexually abnormal.

In your opinion.

No, it's not a question of opinion at all.

Then define normal.

Well, you have a normal distribution curve, and you've got got sexual activities, and you've got people at one end, and you've got people at the other end, they're eunuchs who don't have sex at all, then you have this large population in the middle that tends to be normal, and it's very consistent with the Lord's commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, and that's the first commandment, and people who are homosexual can't do that. And that's abnormal.

So you see the purpose of sexual activity as procreation?

No, I didn't say that.

It sounds like it.

That's the first commandment, they can't do that. There's a lot more to sexual relationships than having kids. There's passion, there's love, there's intimacy, all of that.

All of which exist in same sex relationships as well. It's a constant, it's existed throughout history. So I see it as normal.

Yes, you can do that, you can take that argument, you can take the distribution curve and make another distribution curve and say here are all the people that are eunuchs and that's normal, and you can take another distribution curve, and . . .

OK I guess the way I see it is it's not a question of normal as defined by a given culture. It's a question of is this a component of human behavior throughout history.

No that's not where I am.

Well that's how I see it. It's always been there, there's always been a portion of the population that is this way.

That's right, and there's always been a portion of the population that are pedophiles, there's always been a portion that are prostitutes.

Dad, that's a non sequitur. There's always been murderers too, but you can't say that because there's always been murderers and there's always been anorexia, that therefore murder and anorexia are morally equivalent.

Well I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm saying the analogy you use I could take and apply it to every form of behavior in society. And it would be equally valid.

But you're drawing a moral conclusion for two different types of behavior.

I'm not drawing a moral conclusion at all, I'm drawing a statistical conclusion. It's not moral at all.

But from the statistical behavior you're then saying one is normal and one is not.

No I didn't say "not".

You said it was abnormal, though.

No, I'm focused on your statement that homosexuality is normal because it's always been part of the population, it's always been there. I'm saying if you use that argument, then you can say that about any form of behavior, because there's always been murders, always been prostitutes.

So then we have to conclude from that that it's morally neutral.

No no no, I didn't say anything about that. I'm talking about behavior, not morality.

OK I understand. What I'm talking about is the orientation, not just the behavior

Well you can say the same thing about sociopaths.

Same logical error then, Dad.

Not in my view. The behavior's what I'm talking about. The morality is a matter of what man creates in his mind or revelation or what God has told us to do, what is moral or what isn't moral. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about behavior. And I'm saying that if you use the argument you use which is the argument homosexuals use, then any form of behavior can be normalized in that population group.

If you define normal as what people do, then yes, understood. I understand your logic and see the point.

Well it's not logic, or maybe it is. It's purely a function of behavior. So I have this normal distribution curve, I've got a group of people who are murderers, that's normal behavior among murderers.

OK, I'm taking a more expansive view. I see the range of sexual behavior, and I see a predominance of heterosexual behavior, . . .

Of course. If you lump everybody in that same normal distribution curve, not morality, let's talk about behavior. I've got a bunch of people who are eunuchs, and among them . . .

Understood. I'm looking at the whole thing and saying "where are the boundary lines for normal"?

Well, you'd have to say the sixty-eight percent in the middle.

And what's the source of that determination?

Just a normal statistical distribution of population.

So normal is what most people do?

Yes. And then you have standard deviations that go out . . .

Sure, I took statistics, I understand.

And then the same thing is true with alcoholism and any abusive kind of behavior, you have a certain percentage that do crazy things with their bodies, and you can do the same thing with sex. It's an argument that's been made for hundreds of years. So your "social behaviors" separate from sexual behaviors are not in the center part of the normal distribution curve, they'd be to one side.


That's all I'm saying. You belong to a small percentage of people, or you feel like you belong to a small percentage, or you do belong to a small percentage that would not be within the statistical realm of "normal".

As you've defined it, that's correct.

And that's fine. As long as you're willing to accept the consequences, both spiritually and otherwise of your behavior.

And I lived with the other consequences for long enough to know that I couldn't continue to do that.

That's fine.

So the answer to your questions is yes.

Yes you're willing to live with the consequences?


OK. As long as you're willing to do that, regardless of what they are at this stage of the game, we don't all know what they are, it's just like any choice. Maybe I see it in a different way. When we talked about it before, I believe that the scripture that says where much is given, much is expected, and I also believe that the more talented you are spiritually, the bigger the challenges you have. And you've been blessed a lot in your life. Far beyond what most people have been given. And it just may be you also then were cursed in some ways, because you know there are blessings and cursings, whatever you want to call it, but the challenges of your life are going to be equal to the blessings.

23 November 2009

The Thanksgiving Post

I went to a funeral last Sunday. A co-worker's father passed away recently. I never knew him, but since I was in the city as usual on a Sunday, it was right and proper that I attend the memorial service and support my friend and his family.

The service was held at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco, a beautiful Romanesque church well over a century old. And apart from the magnificent pipe organ which I was allowed to play and invited back to play again anytime I wanted, woot woot, I was struck by one key thing at this service.

Frankly, it might as well have been held in a hotel conference room or in a park. It was warm and human and funny and contemplative and there was not a single mention of God or faith or resurrection or the Savior or eternal life. There were no prayers. This good man's wife of 28 years, sweet and smiling as she was, seemed to have the attitude "oh well, it was nice while it lasted." Even the minister, a man in his 60's with weatherworn face, ponytail, and a silver hoop in his left earlobe, spoke only of hope that my friend's father had now finally found some answers to "the eternal mysteries of existence." I understand why a Unitarian prayer begins with "To whom it may concern."

I don't say this to diss anyone. All in attendance were wonderful people I'm sure, and faithful in their own way. But wow, what a contrast between that almost completely secular approach and the faith I have. It really got me thinking about how lucky I am to know what I know.

This week is going to see a flurry of Thanksgiving-related posts. That's great, and as it should be. I've always felt lucky that gratitude and a "glass half full" attitude seems to come easily for me. And I do have tons to be thankful for: health, my wonderful kids, my faith, my family, my work, my friends, opportunities for service, the steal of a deal I got on a Calvin Klein suit recently. But this year I'm going to focus this post on one particular thing.

Last year at Thanksgiving I had only been out a couple of months and was still kind of giddy, bewildered, even disoriented. I hadn't met any other MoHos in person and was still figuring a lot of things out. This year, what a difference. I'm out to my dad and half my family (and don't worry, I'll blog about our upcoming conversation separately), I don't bat an eye if the fact that I'm gay comes up in casual conversation, I have an incredible new virtual family of dozens of brothers and sisters all over the place. So add to the list for this year "solid confidence in who I am." I feel kinda stupid that it took me so long to get here, but as I've said before, I may be late to the party but at least I showed up.

Since I'm a musician, I can't express those thoughts better than with what I wrote last year around this time. So forgive the re-run, but it's even more valid now than before. Some customized lyrics to the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth":

For the beauty of my bro's,
For the beauty in their eyes,
For the love that each one knows
Over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of my friends,
For their hearts and helping hands,
For their support that never ends
Stronger still than iron bands,
Lord of all, to thee I raise
This my hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of brothers' love,
Giv'n by God to each and all,
Friends on earth and friends above,
Firmly standing proud and tall,
Savior, Lord, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.

20 November 2009

Next Letter To Dad

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts about my Dad's letter and how to respond. I agree it's going to be a long process and I can't expect him to instantly embrace something like this when it took me so long to do it, and his cultural . . . well, I'll call them what they are, prejudices, are a lot deeper than my reticence was. I realize that it's almost miraculous that he and I are even talking about this, since as a lot of you know, just a couple of months ago I expected we would both live the rest of our lives without any mention of it.

So I used the time during today's flight to draft the next letter to him. Thoughts and comments welcomed.

Dear Dad:

First of all let me say again how truly grateful I am that you're willing to continue our dialogue about a challenging subject. No two people ever see things exactly the same way all the time, but as long as we continue to talk and try to understand each other, that's what counts. It took me a long time to accept this part of myself and to learn that I really would be (and have been) happier since acknowledging that this is who I am, who I've always been. So having taken that long myself, I can't expect you or anyone else to instantly acclimatize and accept this disclosure, especially coming from the perspectives that I know you have. Patience will be a good thing for both of us.

I regret that my last letter made you sad and disappointed, and I understand your reaction based on the opinions you've expressed. This subject is giving not just you but the whole church fits right now, and it will continue to cause some of the greatest individual and collective wrestling matches and difficulties the church has faced in decades, as old notions and paradigms are challenged and changed. A friend of mine is well-acquainted with several members of the Quorum of the Twelve and quotes them as saying even the apostles and First Presidency have widely differing opinions over this whole issue and how the church should address it. Some people will choose to see the resulting current and inevitable future social changes as the biggest attack on the church and society in their lifetimes. I see them as an opportunity to participate in ending a history of centuries of terrible prejudice, abuse, and faith-based persecution of a group of God's children who've asked for nothing more than the simple freedom to be who they are and love who they love freely and without fear, things that everyone else takes for granted. Some decry that as "against the natural order of things." But remember that slavery, strict racial segregation and discrimination were also accepted for millennia as God's will too, part of the "natural order of things" and defended with scripture, even by LDS apostles and prophets who clung to their racism long after much of the rest of the country had abandoned it. Until suddenly all the LDS assumptions were completely up-ended. So there is precedent, Dad, for change that could well shock everyone.

It seems clear from your letter that you believe being gay is a choice: "It is also a choice and not something you were born with." You state that there is "not one scientifically valid longitudinal study that has been done that connects your DNA with homosexuality." We need to reach a common understanding on this point above all others.

Dad, do you really believe that after all I have learned and done and the ways I've served, the faithfulness I've exhibited, the desire to follow the Savior that has characterized my whole life, that I would suddenly choose to dump all of that and plunge headlong into a debauched "lifestyle"? What Mormon guy in his right mind, knowing what the church currently thinks of homosexuality, would consciously choose this? What sane person would say "Hey, I think it would be fun to volunteer for membership in a persecuted misunderstood minority that is shunned and ostracized and called perverts and feared and discriminated against and possibly beaten up and threatened with hellfire and loss of eternal blessings"?

I'm sorry but with all due respect, that just makes no sense! Only a crazed idiot would choose to be gay in such an environment, knowing those likely consequences. Homosexuality is as old as history. There is no eradicating it. Evidence shows it is consistent across all cultures in roughly consistent percentages of a given population. That sounds quite "natural" to me, as natural as hair color or any other consistently recurring biological feature.

But beyond that, Dad, beyond all the scientific studies which do say there is likely a genetic component, beyond the evidence that this feature of someone's personality can't really be changed, I ask that you simply trust me and my knowledge of my own heart. I don't know where my being gay came from. But I know it's always been there, as deep and as permanent as my musical talent or anything else about me. I didn't choose it. I was as surprised as anyone could be when I realized this was part of me. You accept the testimony of the witnesses who saw the gold plates; you've never met those witnesses but you accept what they wrote as true. Can you also accept the testimony of your own son, whose goodness and honesty of heart you've known all his life, that he never chose to be this way? Can you accept, based on what you know of him, that there are countless others who tell the truth when they say exactly the same thing? As a lawyer, I submit to you that such a body of witness testimony is as compelling as any group of Latter-day Saints testifying of the truths they know.

I hope you'll read the materials I put on that CD for you, particularly the pieces by Gary Watts. He has two gay children and has studied this issue for a very long time from your same perspective, that of a traditional conservative LDS parent. I hope you will therefore trust his observations and conclusions. Please Dad be willing to consider that some things may not be as you have thought or been taught. I don't expect that you will ever fully comprehend my perspective on this issue, because you're not gay. And that's fine. But I hope you will keep in mind that I haven't told you anything new. Yes, I did make a choice. But that choice wasn't whether I should be gay or not. The choice was simply to be honest with myself and my family about who I've always been. I chose to no longer live my life in fear, but to embrace everything about the way I was created. I was gay when I was in high school, when I served a mission, when I went to college and law school, when I embarked on my career, as I've built that career and accomplished all of the things I have. Think of every time I've ever said or done anything to make you proud, any achievement I've reached, any service I've rendered, and then please also remind yourself "that was my gay son." Everything in my last letter to you was as true years ago and all along that path as it is now. The only choice that's been made now is to acknowledge it to myself and to tell you about it too.

You've asked a number of valid and pointed questions. I'm going to defer those until after you've read all the materials on that CD, because I think they will give you many of the answers you seek. So please let me know when you've finished reading all that stuff and I'll be delighted to continue our discussion. Looking forward to seeing you next week.


18 November 2009

Latest Letter From Dad

Sigh. Dad has responded to my letter below. Last time I saw him, I left on his desk and told him about a CD full of materials from Family Fellowship and other really good resources that I thought would help him understand this subject better. But it doesn't appear that he's read any of that. I asked if he had, but he hasn't responded yet. If he hasn't, then I'll wait to reply to his latest letter till after he's done so because I think that material could give him some new perspectives. But if he has read it and still replied as he did, then I'm going to be seriously depressed. That will be some of the result I always feared. He will continue to show love and concern but he will also live the rest of his life believing that I have chosen to not just drift from but to bolt away from The One True Path at the cost of his family's eternal integrity and my own & my children's eternal blessings.

(P.S. He forgot all about the CD so obviously hasn't read any of it. Whew! I reminded him about it so I'm sure he'll read it now. And that will be a very interesting conversation after he's read so much new scientific information and statements from multiple church members that directly contradict his perspectives!)

I don't blame him, in a sense. He had a very rough childhood and is a convert to the church. Everything stable, hopeful, loving, secure, trustworthy, and beneficial in his life has come from that conversion. It literally saved his life. So he is simply not going to consider the church in any other light.

Here are salient points from his letter. I welcome any and all thoughts on how to respond. No matter what, I want to keep this dialogue going. Mind, though, I will delete any comments that gratuitously diss my Dad.

I have read your letter of the 9th with a deep sense of sadness, disappointment and wonder. I appreciate your efforts to help me understand the decisions you have made about your life-style as you go forward, and your sensitivity to the importance of propriety regarding the family. I sincerely appreciate your concerns and love you for them.

So you will clearly understand where I am on this choice you have made, please know that I do not accept homosexual behavior as a normal social or sexual behavior nor do I accept the life-style as one that promotes a stable, emotionally and spiritually healthy society. A man can have a long-term emotionally close and healthy friendship with all of the characteristics that you describe with other men and not live in a homosexual relationship. It is also a choice and not something you were born with. Lest you believe everything you have been told; there is not one scientifically valid longitudinal study that has been done that connects your DNA with homosexuality. A lot of self-serving homosexual professionals have tried, but to date they have not been successful.

I do not have any difficulty with men who have a close personal friendship like David and Jonathan, a brotherhood of sorts. There is nothing to imply in the scriptures that they had a homosexual relationship. Lots of “gay” leaders have tried to make those connections with other notable people, even Abraham Lincoln in the past, without success. That kind of brotherly relationship can be found by any two men. It is that kind of thing that has led to all kinds of men’s groups being formed about the world for hundreds of years. But the thought of my wonderfully talented and loving son having sex with another man I find morally repugnant. It is as Paul said, “without natural affection.” That is what homosexuality eventually leads to and I am sure you can understand my concerns. I might add; that it is difficult for me to believe that you believe that the Savior would tell you that he finds the behavior you have chosen to be acceptable and within “the bounds the Lord has set.” particularly after your work in the temple.

Be that as it may; what is, is what is, and we both need to move forward, even though we believe different things. The answer to this dilemma may be found in the future. In the meantime and I have some questions of concern. What are you doing to deal with the issue of your personal exaltation as explained in the covenants you made during your endowment? What will tell your children about their eternal relationship to you and their mother? What do you see in your future regarding the sealing to our family? Are you giving up all those future blessing as a result of this choice? What are you going to do if it turns out you have been and are wrong?

My final concern: “Me thinketh thou protestest too loudly.” Homosexual marriage is an abnormal social contract and a moral issue. A normal marriage contract is between a man and a woman, not two men or two women. You know that. The long-term social impact on our culture could be devastating and that is why the Church must take the position it has taken. Your temple experience must have told you that. The Lord is not going to change that and it surprises me that you would expect that to happen. My concern is that you find yourself “kicking against the pricks” as you move forward and find yourself totally alienated from your family and your Church. I sense the anger and intolerance in your choice of words when you describe the position of the Church.

To my knowledge there is not a civil right that “gay” members of our culture do not have that any married couple has. If there are I am not aware of them.

13 November 2009

Judge Westermark's Opinion

Okay fasten your seatbelts, this one is kinda long. But you know how lawyers are when they get passionate about something. Especially when they're trapped on a plane with nothing better to do than spin out arguments onto a page.

More than once I've been told I should become a judge. I honestly have no idea why someone would say this. I'm not going to do it though, it'd be more work and less pay. But just for a moment, I will talk like a judge and say, in response to the Salt Lake City Council's passage of an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, that I am taking the matter under advisement. That's judgespeak for "I'm not going to decide right now, I have to reflect on this for a while, so come back later and I'll tell you what I think." That's why I haven't posted anything about it before now. I'm still thinking about it. But I do have some interim thoughts that I haven't seen anywhere else.

I've seen the effusive encomia that the Church is finally "doing the right thing" with its "stunning reversal" of public position. Andrew Sullivan said "good for the Mormons" and wishes more Christian churches would follow their lead--itself a stunning change of direction in commentary. I've seen hostile hooting saying the Church's announcement is all a sham, a smoke screen, opportunistic piggybacking on a vote that was already in the bag, a too little too late attempt to repair the damage done by Prop 8, the attitude that says why should we thank the Church for finally doing what's right. I was honestly surprised that Chris Buttars acquiesced so meekly. And I'm also surprised and offended that the good name of Utah's only United States Supreme Court Justice, George Sutherland, has been desecrated by the frightening bigots at the Sutherland Institute, whose leadership has now confirmed that their individual willingness to follow their church's leadership will cave in to their intense and publicly stated hostility toward God's gay children. I've heard cynical speculation that the Mitt Romney campaign has pressured the church to take a pre-emptive strike against the further damage that will be done by 8: The Mormon Proposition in order to bolster Romney's 2012 presidential candidacy.

Lots of heat there, how much light? So as I said, Judge Westermark will, for the time being, take the matter under advisement, to see if the Church actually walks the talk later on with the Utah state legislature and in the face of the Sutherland Institute's defiance. He is willing to give the benefit of significant doubt, to believe that Church spokesman Mr. Otterson is a decent man who, like many Mormons (probably most) has no overt hostility toward gays and lesbians. I'm sure he and many of them are honestly puzzled by accusations that they are hateful because they oppose anything other than one man/one woman marriage.

Deeda Seeds of the Salt Lake City Council referred to the real "pain and fear" she found prevailing within the LDS church over this issue during discussions that preceded this week's actions. Somehow we have to find ways to reduce that "pain and fear." First step is to understand where the "pain and fear" come from. I think there's a mix of factors.

First, LDS Church history is filled with anti-Mormon bigotry and mistreatment. A persecution complex is thus more deeply engraved into the collective Mormon psyche than the characters were on the gold plates. And even though the Mormons have now reached a position of strength that they can stand up and say "we're not going to take that anymore," the collective hypersensitivity to perceived persecution remains. So when Mormons exercise their political clout and then receive the blowback that everyone in the political arena but them clearly foresees, the lag between that clout and their self-image as a hunted, persecuted minority clearly emerges as they say "What, us? We don't hate anybody, why are you doing this?"

Note to Mormons: You aren't at Haun's Mill anymore. You are a politically potent organization and if you want to play in the big leagues, you had bloody well better expect to be beaten up sometimes. You'd better be able to take what you dish out and more in this roughest of rough games. There's no place for individual or collective naivete here. You picked this fight and, whether you believe it or not, your actions have hurt thousands of people not within your religious jurisdiction who resent your political and legal interference with their personal choices. You'd better recognize that result, whether you intended it or not. You may not hate them individually, but what you have done to them is so hurtful they can't explain it any other way.

Second, Mormons aren't very good at separating church and state when the church has taken a stance on a political issue. Church rules for participation in the religion are fine as long as they prevail only within the church, but when that church starts trying to foist those rules on everyone else outside the church too, there will be problems. Mormons tend to be very patriotic as a principle of their faith, but when asked to choose between church and state they will choose church every time and will try to push church-favored policies into the state, solely for religious reasons. The Church has the right to speak publicly, of course. And those who don't share its beliefs are just as free to fight any effort to push a religiously based definition of marriage into secular law that governs people who want nothing to do with living LDS rules.

Third, Mormons cling furiously to the idea that allowing same-sex marriage will somehow "damage" traditional marriage. This is one I just don't get. Empirical evidence that this just isn't true is piling up every day. Denmark is one of the best examples; the same almost hysterical arguments about the demise of traditional marriage were made there years ago when Denmark adopted marriage equality, but now even conservative Danish clergy are conceding their fears were overblown. Massachusetts' divorce rate among gay couples is far below that of straight couples, and nobody there has noticed a rush of formerly straight people to enter into gay marriages, or any militant army of gay spouses pushing campaigns to restrict or destroy straight marriages.

I think the "it will damage traditional marriage" argument is really just a disguise for "it will make homosexual relationships seem normal and our religion (or cultural bias) can't allow that." In short, once again it comes down to either "God said so" or "that's disgusting." And neither one of those is an acceptable basis for secular public policy in the United States.

Fourth, the homophobia and misinformation spread by generations of Mormon leaders amongst membership trained to accept those leaders' words as inspired is deep and latent. It will take a long time to rinse all that toxin out of Mormon culture. LDS teachings on race up to 1978 provided a convenient cover for horrific racism to flourish in the Church long after it became unacceptable everywhere else. The same pattern is playing out with anti-gay prejudice; homophobic Mormon bigots can still hide behind the Proclamation on the Family as they kick their own gay children out onto the streets on the advice of Church leaders who say such perversions shouldn't be tolerated in LDS homes. Like I said, toxins.

Fifth, Mormon culture stresses certainty, not just belief. We don't hear people in church on the first Sunday of every month say they "think" Joseph Smith was a prophet. And in a church whose whole purpose is to get every single person ever born to the altar of a temple for sealing in a heterosexual marriage, the whole notion of homosexuality can't be explained, it doesn't fit. So it's a threat to the Plan of Salvation. And those who push its acceptance on the church are seen as trying to force the church to embrace something that, in Otteson's words, "does violence" to the core of LDS theology. No wonder Mormons--who always pick church over state when forced to choose--recoil. Hence the "pain and fear" that Deeda Seeds mentioned.

I understand all of this. But my fellow Mormons, you're going to have to face and learn to live with the fact that you have already lost this battle. Marriage equality is here to stay and it will only expand. Its supporters are legion, aren't going away, and there are more of us than many of you want to admit. We don't want to damage your marriages or your families. We just want you to stop trying to foist Mormon religious standards onto people who aren't Mormon and have no interest in living Mormon rules. LDS standards are fine within the church, but you have got to let go of the idea that our religious beliefs give us the right to impose them on everyone else. Civil marriage equality does not threaten your religious or political freedoms. That's what Jesus was talking about when he said render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

The Scriptures also talk about how great truths are often intuitively sensed by children, the simplest among us, while escaping the grown-ups who think themselves wise and sophisticated. When I first explained Proposition 8 to my 10 year old daughter, she thought for a moment and then said "How does two guys getting married hurt someone else's marriage"? She got it, right off. And she's been an ardent marriage equality supporter ever since. She scoffs at the "pain and fear" those older than her seem to experience over this issue. She doesn't share their prejudices so she is equally happy when John loves and marries Jane, when Clarisse loves and marries Laura, and when Daniel loves and marries Michael. She knows intuitively what the Savior said, that love is the greatest of all. And if Mormons really believed the 9th Article of Faith, I think they'd have a lot less "pain and fear" over marriage equality. They'd be content to know that everything is ultimately in God's hands and He will make all things work out for the good of those who trust Him. Who knows, maybe God has more blessings in store for His gay children than today's Mormons can imagine. And maybe civil marriage equality is the first step to learning what those are.

08 November 2009

Next Letter to Dad

Here's the next letter to Dad. I'm pretty settled on this text but will entertain comments if anybody thinks I'm seriously off base anywhere.

Dear Dad:

In our recent correspondence you stated your definition of "the gay lifestyle" and then asked whether I intended to pursue it, and if not, why I had come out. That's a very good question and I've been thinking about it ever since. And now I'm ready to answer, because there are several reasons.

First and simplest is to say yes, the type of relationship you described is what I want: a committed, loving relationship, a marriage. I don't want to be alone for the rest of my life any more than you did after Mom died. But I haven't taken this decision because I've suddenly decided to abandon all previous standards or to give in to physical impulses. Ever since I was a teenager I have always wanted that kind of relationship with another of God's sons, the kind David and Jonathan had, and more. But I was just too scared and intimidated by the surrounding society, culture and church to say so. And it seemed quite impossible anyway. But think about it, Dad. Re-read your description of that "lifestyle," remove the issue of orientation from it, and you'll find that you have described what almost everyone wants in their life: steady, reliable intimacy and companionship, love, caring, and giving all that to someone else in return. Gay or straight, doesn't matter, everybody wants all of that and the resulting fulfillment.

You are a bright, perceptive, intelligent guy, Dad; I hope you will be able to see past the myth so many have that the "gay lifestyle" is one of hedonistic self-indulgence that assumes impermanence and isn't interested in fidelity. Certainly there are gay people like that, but there are a lot more straight people like that. Personal irresponsibility isn't a function of orientation. The growing energy in the fight for marriage equality should tell you that a huge number of gay people want exactly the same stable, loving relationships in their lives that straight people do. You and Mom had a wonderful marriage. And that's exactly what I want: all of the love and support and companionship and caring and everything else you two had. The idea that this is possible for two guys may startle you, but I assure you that it's not only possible, it's been done countless times already and there are thousands of such couples all around you right now.

Second reason for coming out is that I could no longer endure the increasing difficulty of hiding my true self from the family and friends I cared about. Imagine spending most of your life in love with Mom and feeling like you had to hide that from everyone, worried that if anyone found out about your feelings or about her you would be ostracized from your entire network of support, from your church, your family, your friends. Imagine being raised to believe in the teachings of a church that told you that if you ever lifted a finger to act on that love for her, you could be excommunicated and cut off from your own family not only for this life but for eternity. Imagine the deception you would be forced to adopt in order to preserve what love and stability you already had, and which you knew you couldn't survive without. Could you sustain all that? For years? Imagine what torture that would be.

That's what it was like, Dad. Every day of every month of every year, I felt like I had to deceive you, mom, all my siblings, extended family and friends as to who I really was and what I really wanted, out of fear that you would reject me, ostracize me, that the church would kick me out, all because of something I never chose and can't change. Thank God I finally mustered the courage to say "No more." I am so grateful for your reassurances and your efforts to understand. I have friends whose parents have not been nearly so Christlike as you have been, and I realize even more now how lucky I am that you're my dad. I know this is not easy for you. I know that in many ways throughout my life I have pursued things that are different from what you would have chosen and in some cases what you advised me to do. No doubt some of this has been puzzling for you, and I'm afraid I've ended up saving the most puzzling thing of all for last. But I am so grateful for your consistent support through it all.

My third reason for coming out is that I realized I had a responsibility to speak out not only for my own peace of mind and heart, but also to use whatever voice and skills I had to make sure that those around me and who come after me don't have to endure what I did. John Donne said no man is an island, and you know that when you have kids all perspectives change. You stop thinking of yourself as an independent, free-standing entity, and you start to realize that you are actually a link in a chain that stretches far back in time and will continue on far into the future. I believe each of us has a responsibility to live so as to improve the lives of those we love and all those around us whom our influence can reach. This extends beyond our own family and circle of friends. I am nobody famous or special, but like everyone else I do have a small measure of skill in certain things, and I have a responsibility to use those skills for the benefit of those around me. You always said that despite my surface cynicism I had Mom's loving heart, and you were right. And it's because of that, because in the last year I have come to love and care for so many whom I've met as a result of coming out, that I can no longer sit idly by, fearful in my own closet, without protesting and doing my best to fight the prejudice, ignorance, harmful myth-mongering, and discrimination I grew up with, so that my gay brethren and sisters in the future will not have to endure what I did.

You've talked about the legacy of alcoholism in our family down the generations and how at some point somebody has to stand up and say "I'll take the hit, I'll bear the brunt of this, but it has got to stop with me. No future generations will be hurt by this in the way I was." And that's exactly what I've decided to do with this issue, Dad. Not just with our immediate family, but for everyone else whose lives I can reach and in every social circle I touch. This includes the Church. I am no longer silently acquiescing to the hurt and shame and misery that ignorance (often innocent, but ignorance nonetheless) perpetuates. I'm going to spend the rest of my life speaking out, advocating, fighting for understanding and tolerance and acceptance because I believe the Savior would have me do nothing less.

As I said before, I retain my faith in the principles of the gospel. But if we are to judge things by their fruits as the Savior said, then in all good conscience I can't go along with the Church's efforts to deny to so many all of the benefits of marriage purely because of this one unchangeable characteristic I share with them. By seeking to prohibit that option, the Church perpetuates all the pathologies it preaches against, and not only for its own members but for everyone else. The Church makes it impossible for God's gay children to adhere to the very standards of morality that it then condemns them for violating. How is this fair, or Christian? The Church's fight against marriage equality seems directly repugnant to the Doctrine & Covenants' affirmation that we do not believe it is right to mingle religious influence with civil government. As such, I cannot accept that these efforts by the Church are inspired. There is ample precedent in Church history for change and even revelation to come as a result of efforts and advocacy and questions and debates and discussions from within the membership. This is where I see myself serving in the Church for the rest of my life, so that future Davids and Brians and Scotts and Michaels and Troys and Drews and Christophers and Jacobs and Steves and Bens and Austins and Todds and Daniels and more like them will not have to go through what all of us have. Yes, those are all real people, all priceless friends who grew up like I did and who share my perspectives.

Coming out was one of the most frightening things I've ever done. But now, 14 months later, I still can hardly believe how much happier I am. How much more peaceful. The hurricane inside is gone, my heart is calm and quiet. I'm no longer two mortal enemies struggling silently inside and ripping my spirit apart in the process, suffering completely alone in fear of my own family and friends. I am just me, one unified, contented, honest boy who has faced squarely who and what he is, and has found a new level of courage and purpose. It is a miracle that for most of my life I never thought possible. I hope you can be happy for me, Dad, like I said before, you and mom always just wanted us to be happy, and with me at least, you've got your wish.

Your son

07 November 2009

To Be A Jerk, Or Not To Be A Jerk

It's Saturday night and ideally I should be out partying. Instead, I'm home for one precious full day, catching up on a thousand domestic details, doing laundry, and re-packing for tomorrow's flight. But the lure of blog surfing is strong, and I just ran across one that prompted some uncomfortable self-examination.

Through a series of clicks from Facebook I found myself here. I wanted to see what kind of blog was maintained by an LDS woman who said elsewhere "Yes on 8. This isn't about hate. It's just about defining marriage between a man and a woman. I don't hate anyone. The LDS church does not believe in hate. They do believe in marriage being between a man and a woman." I was honestly curious to find out about someone who would so blithely say that with such apparent innocence. It sounded so innocuous when she put it like that. So simple.

But I've been around long enough to know that nothing in life is that simple. So I read through several pages of the blog produced by this person who seems to think it is. I wanted to see what else of herself she had revealed. And guess what.

I found her blog utterly revolting. It actually made me nauseous. I'm not kidding. It was so cutesy artsy-fartsy, so sweetness & light & kittens & lollipops, so high fashion decorating brought to you by Target home furnishings designers, so desperate to be poetic, so tantalizing in its tiny little snapshots of her life and thoughts so perfectly staged but utterly superficial, that I finally had to stop reading. I had just eaten dinner, after all.

Then as I sat trying to recover my gastronomical equilibrium, I thought "Wait a minute. Am I just being a massively uncharitable jerk here? Did I loathe that slog through an online California version of a Mormon Handicrafts store because of how my perspective on the Church has changed over the last year? If I profess to be a follower of the Savior despite my differences of opinion on certain issues with the institutional church, should I allow myself to think or feel this way about someone I've never met? Or would I have felt that way regardless? If I'm going to walk the talk, then I have to correct myself too if I realize I'm not doing it. So where does this one fall on the scale?"

Some uncomfortable self-reflection ensued, and I figured it out.

I didn't react like this because of how my opinions have changed over the past year. I have always detested superficiality and shallowness. Like Emerson said, "Give me truths, for I am weary of the surfaces." And while I try to be charitable, it is sometimes difficult to do with people who seem either satisfied with shallow superficiality or unwilling to consider that there might be more to things than meets their eye. And Mormon culture, especially the feminized version of it that's taken hold over the last 20 years or so, often tends to emphasize appearances and outward conformity. So when I see content like this woman's blog that reveals a person so supremely self-assured in her apparent superficiality, so completely content to be a mile wide and an inch deep, and then I see her blithely opining in just a few sentences on a socio-political and cultural issue that has profound effects for countless lives when it seems clear those effects have never even occurred to her, well I get angry. And nauseous.

If that truly is the best she can do, then of course I must be charitable. I've said many times that everyone is at a different point on the path. But the fact that she has a blog, the evident time and care she has lavished on it, on so carefully arranging its every element as if it were a massively intricate Relief Society lesson tabletop, tells me that this is not a person bereft of capacity to think. Yet the result of all that time and energy and care remains so startlingly pretentious and saccharine that I am almost speechless. How could so much effort result in so little substance?

So I'm satisfied that coming out hasn't made me into an angry jerk. I've always been impatient with kitsch and with people who presume to opine on difficult subjects without a shred of effort to understand them. Especially when there are so many of them and collectively they are capable of injuring others with their ignorance at the ballot box, while denying any responsibility for those results. I think it's the crashing disconnect between such sweetness and light on the one hand, and the unbelievable ignorance of the issue and the terrible effects that people like her have on so many others--that's what made me recoil and nearly lose my dinner.

I hope I don't sound like a total jackass here. I tried really really hard not to be, and I tried really really hard to understand where this woman was coming from. I know there will always be people like her, and I know that for a lot of them stuff like her blog really is all meant in good faith. Fine, I get that. It's not my cup of tea, but if it makes her happy, God bless her. But when that superficiality in the aggregate ends up setting public policy and denying countless numbers of God's children legal rights & protections they should in all fairness have, that's when my patience runs out.

Saturday Humor

05 November 2009

Bullseye Series, Chapter Three

Thanks to Paul Swenson, guest blogger over at Mormon Matters (see my sidebar below) for this gem.

The Whole Enchilada

So what?
So, what if
I’m one of those
cafeteria Mormons?
No offense.
More like it
makes some sense,
since my Mormor
(Swedish for
maternal grandmother)
ran a cafeteria,
and had to forgo
coffee (drinking it,
serving it)
just to join
the Mormon church.

Just because
she gave up caffeine
didn’t miss her chance
(between husbands)
to answer life’s
tough questions.
To pick and choose
to make a living.

“Smart,” my mother
said of Mormor –
“smart businesswoman.”
That was before
the patriarchy
gave their wives
the business
about a woman’s role.
Coffee rolls (kaffebullar)
were what my Mormor
baked and sold.

Sorry, whole different
time now, but an old
story. Comes
to spiritual food,
cannot order
off the menu.
“No substitutes,”
my waiter scoffs.
I complain –
Maitre d’ informs
me it is the chef’s
night off. Wrong
venue — “this is
no cafeteria.”

Not as if
I object to eating
But if every bite
is planned for me,
might lose
the nerve
for that unique
hors d’oeuvre –
free agency. Takes
the edge off

Say I appreciate
the main course, yet
cannot swallow
everything –
therefore leave some
garnish on my plate.
Would the omission
seal my fate — damnation
for my soul? No
satisfaction? Nada?
Forgive me if I take
the risk. Refuse to eat
the enchilada, whole.

03 November 2009

Thank You Maine

Dear Maine Majority Voters:

Thank you. Seriously. I mean it. So many have so much to thank you for.

Thank you for confirming that some things in life never change, including the fact that ignorance can be nearly impossible to eradicate despite relentless, repeated doses of new knowledge and pleas to progress for everyone's benefit.

Thank you for continuing the great American tradition of trying to infect secular law with religious bigotry and for showing those of us capable of distinguishing between the two that we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Thank you for proving I was right to worry that, even in Maine which allegedly prides itself on insular independence, too many of you are susceptible to the cynical pre-packaged politics of fear imported from outside your state by mercenaries who sell their amoral silver tongues to whoever can pay.

Thank you for giving a dose of reality to thousands of your fellow citizens who have now learned the hard way that many of their neighbors will go out of their way to prevent them and their kids from having the same legal stability most take for granted.

Thank you for teaching the children of those families that they and their parents have a place in American history: the same place as the families of African-American slaves before the Civil War with no legal status and which were ignored by the "masters" who broke them up at will with impunity, convinced it was their right to do so.

Thank you for teaching those kids that when they get older, they can never take legal guarantees of equality for granted and must fight you and your perniciously prejudiced kind with every ounce of strength, every hour of every day, every day of every year for as long as they have breath. God willing, you have just forged the next generation of pro-equality activists within your own citizenry who will not stop fighting until your brand of bigotry is dead, dead, dead.

Thank you for confirming the consistency of human nature in clinging furiously to prejudices with no rational basis, just because they are familiar, comfortable, and require none of the work or thought or worrisome self-questioning that progress always demands.

Thank you for saving me and many others expensive plane fares, since I and countless other Americans will now vote with our wallets and will stay away from a state so demonstrably hostile to basic fairness and equality, despite its own rhetoric. We can now relinquish you to what you obviously want to remain: a hard to reach, off the beaten track backwater, determined to resist any leadership role and content to stay at the back of the cultural bus.

Thanks for giving those who hoodwinked you another reason to demonstrate their insufferable arrogance on a national stage, so that we who oppose them will be re-energized to continue fighting the hubris that thinks it has the right to tell all Americans who and how to love.

I promise you, Maine majority voters, that you are on the losing side in a much bigger battle. You may have fended off fairness, equality and justice for now, but those tides cannot be stopped. Your re-enactment of California's Proposition 8 will have the same effect as it did on the other coast. You have only injected new energy and new determination into the hearts of those who will one day drag your state, kicking and screaming along with others, into the sunlight of the equality and fairness that the Constitution and our national sense of justice demands.

It's not over.