30 March 2011

To Anybody Still In The Closet, Listen Up

On a brief break this morning I skimmed a blog or two and ran across a friend's post that talked about his hours of chat with a 20 year old closeted gay Mormon guy from the Salt Lake area. Apparently the guy texted next morning and said please delete my number, I don't want to talk anymore, and "I need to do what I need to do not what I want to do."

I can't describe how sad that made me. Because I know what's ahead for this guy and I would save him from it if I could. I would at least try to persuade him to not be scared by learning from others' experiences, it could save him a lot of grief. But to put it bluntly as Will Rogers did, "some people just have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."

So I got to thinking. If I could talk to this young guy in Salt Lake, what would I say to him, knowing what I know and having experienced what I have? What would I say to any young gay Mormon guy in his position? And the thoughts came tumbling out. Here's what I'd say.

1. It's okay that you're gay. No, really. It's OKAY. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. God made you this way and countless others like you. You are a person of worth and value, just as you are.

2. The church and culture around you will try to define your life and your purpose for you, instead of letting you do it yourself. And their definitions won't allow you to be gay. They will set up this conflict within you and then expect you to comply with their definitions because, they'll tell you, God and your family will accept nothing else and if you don't agree, you'll be doomed for eternity. Recognize that this is extremely high-pressure, even if it's couched in the most apparently loving of terms. This will be very hard for you to deal with, because your whole life and family and identity and feelings of security and happiness may be wrapped up in your church and its culture. I know, I've been there myself. But remember also that even God Himself honors and respects freedom of choice.

3. As long as you yield the decisions for defining your life and your purpose to someone else, whether it be a church, or a parent, or societal pressures, you will feel conflict and unhappiness.

4. Shame and silence are deadly. They will kill your heart and hopes. The culture around you conspires to keep you silent and conforming and wracked with guilt just for being the way God made you. Don't give in to that! It's spiritual suicide. Please don't be afraid to reach out and talk to others. There is a huge new family out there waiting to welcome you with open arms, to support and comfort and teach and encourage you. I know what it's like to stay scared and silent in the closet for years. I was stupid. Don't do what I did. Check out the It Gets Better Project to learn about others' experiences, to learn that you're NOT alone, and to see what could be ahead for you. And check out Empty Closets too.

5. You're going to need courage. Things are a lot better than they used to be, but we still have a long way to go. As you reach out, talk with others, learn, grow, you'll get stronger. You'll be able to talk frankly with family and friends. You'll be able to stand up for what and who you are, without the shame and fear and guilt. You'll be able to define your own life and your own purpose instead of abdicating that privilege to somebody else or to an organization. And that, my friend, is when all that guilt and conflict inside you will finally stop. You will still have all of life's challenges, but you'll have them with a confident and peaceful heart.

27 March 2011

Sunday Thoughts

After a frenetic week and a Saturday busier than expected, today is my one day to actually rest. And I found myself recreating a pattern from a while back when I would sometimes end spending weekends in the Bay Area. Drive up to the city for Sunday morning services at the majestic, awe-inspiring Grace Cathedral, then drive west on California Street across Van Ness to the Whole Foods market, get something healthy from their buffet for lunch, drive northwest to Lafayette Park (on a mid-city hilltop with views of the bay in two directions), and sit under some beautiful old trees, soak up the sunshine and the views, eat my politically correct organic natural lunch, read, savor the fresh air and sunshine. Those Sundays were truly days of rest.

And today I found myself doing almost the same thing without realizing it. Went to church here in San Diego, then ended up at Whole Foods for a bit of lunch and was planning a stop in the park. Ran out of time though, had a rehearsal. But it was fun walking through the Whole Foods after church, made me feel like I was back in San Francisco. I sure love that place. I don't know if I'll ever find the words to say how much I love Gothic architecture and its soaring sunlit spaciousness.

It's been unseasonably cold here lately. Today was more like the temperature we're used to. I love spring, because I love summer most of all. And anticipation is wonderful.

Hung out earlier this week with a buddy and his kids. They were all smart and funny and we had a delightful time. When we get both sets of kids together they will forget all about the dads, I'm sure.

One of the things I like about waking up in the morning is a bowl of Grape-Nuts, soaked to slightly soggy, and a ripe banana. I don't bother slicing the banana into the cereal, I just take alternating bites. One of the best breakfasts ever.

Simple pleasures are often best. A small group of us in the Master Chorale performed Ralph Vaughan-Williams' "Serenade to Music" with the symphony a couple weeks ago. I normally sing the low bass part but this time I was tasked with singing baritone, which meant I got to belt out the B natural that made the major chord at one of the climactic moments of the piece. I never get to do that. I felt like Pavarotti. We got a great review. Another one checked off the bucket list.

Found a great place to hang out downtown. Relaxed atmosphere, great food, great music. Spent an evening working there this past week. And another exploring some other places with friends. Walked into one last night around 11:30 and it was packed, but virtually silent. Every single person had a laptop or other screen-equipped device and was staring into it. The baristas were making most of the noise, other than occasional keyboard clacking from patrons. Weird.

I've been part of a discussion this week about Brandon Davies being kicked off the BYU basketball team. Friends from across the spectrum have participated and I've learned a lot about everybody that's taken part. In some ways I was reminded of the Proposition 8 campaign when tempers and tolerances were being pushed to extremes. And I was lucky enough to run across something very insightful from Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby. He's the author of the classic humor piece Five Kinds of Mormons.

Only this time Kirby was a little more serious, and made some excellent points. It'd be nice to hear someone speak in church with these thoughts as their theme.

Basically, he pointed out how conservative religions--not just the Mormon Church--often end up enforcing a culture of facades and deception as everybody tries to look like they fit the orthodoxy they think everyone else expects. "Honesty can be a real liability at church, which is funny considering all that emphasis on love and compassion and truth. While a certain amount of conformity is expected in any group, you don’t have to step too far out of line at church before you start scaring people."

And then the money quote: "Ironically, few things scare us more than the possibility of not being completely right about something far too big for us to fully comprehend in the first place." Oh boy, how true that is. Especially for a lotta Mormons when they confront the gay people in their midst. Mormon culture fosters such a high-voltage attitude of "gotta be certain about as much as possible as often as possible", and the thought that The Gay could be anything other than All Kinds of Bad is, to quote Vizzini, "absolutely, totally, and in all other ways inconceivable."

But we know so little. The most brilliant inspired people can't explain most of what surrounds us in the world. Or what happens when we die. Or how/why the Big Bang started. Or why a beautiful rose is so beautiful. Or how a baby feels as he/she finally figures out how to walk for the first time. And they certainly can't explain what God might have in store for girls who love girls, or boys who love boys. And there have been millions of them. Yet so many insist on "being completely right" about this thing that's "far too big for [them] to fully comprehend in the first place."

I certainly stopped worrying about all of that a while back, and I find I'm much happier as a result. Focus on what I can do and influence. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. Seek justice, speak out against unfairness of any kind. Try to treat others as I hope they'll treat me. And let God sort out the rest of it.

Another of life's simple pleasures. Working away on something and having a chat screen pop up from a friend. Somebody actually cares enough to reach out. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Priceless.

20 March 2011

Q&A: "I Was Married to a Gay Mormon"

The following article appeared today in the San Jose Mercury-News. It's worth reproducing here in full. I hope my LDS friends and family members who read this blog and who believe I've gone off the rails will suspend such judgments long enough to really consider these real-world results of what they believe. Remember, "by their fruits ye shall know them."

Q&A: 'I was married to a gay Mormon'
By Michelle Beaver

This woman, who was raised in the Mormon church and the Bay Area, was married to a gay Mormon and shares her story here. She requested her name and other details not be published, saying, "Please do not use my name, age, or city as it would be easy to identify me and church authorities would likely punish me and my faithful family members for my participation in this (article). You may mention that I am a 'disaffected Mormon who lives in the Silicon Valley, but cannot formally resign from the LDS church as it would likely result in irreparable harm to family relationships.'"

She continued, "I am willing to share my story in the hopes that it will help others going through the same thing, or help others to avoid ever falling into this trap."

Any further details, such as how long she was married, are not included.

Please give an overview of your marriage.

I was married to a gay Mormon who repressed his sexuality in an effort to fit in. Our marriage was a painful mess, and our religious authorities placed the blame on my shoulders for failing to have enough faith to make him turn straight. A seriously overlooked aspect of homophobia in religious cultures is the damage it does to the women they deceive and marry.

How much pressure is there on gays in the Mormon church to change their behavior?

I'm trying to think of a superlative that can describe it enough. Immense? Mandatory? Total? Is there a word strong enough? This is an organization that has heterosexuality written into its plan for getting into heaven. There is simply no place for homosexuals in LDS doctrine. My ex-husband knew he was gay since he was 12 years old. But the consequences kept him from opening up to his parents and religious leaders -- the first people he should have been able to turn to --and instead he learned to repress, deny, and go through the motions in the hopes that he would finally be "normal."

Once I discovered that my ex was gay, there was an immense burden on me to "fix" him. My bishop's exact words were, "I know this marriage can and should be saved. If you have enough faith then his confusion will vanish. You have a duty to stand by your temple covenants."

"Straightening out" my husband became my responsibility. The period of time in which I did everything my priesthood holders asked of me was the most miserable time of my life. I had no peace of mind until I was able to shake myself free of the idea that the men in charge of my soul might not be speaking for God after all.

I stuck it out and stuck it out until I found out my ex was meeting men on the Internet for sex. At that point, I wasn't going to stick around to wait for him to bring HIV home to me. I didn't care what my priesthood leaders said anymore. My male Mormon leaders and their male Mormon God could go to hell.

I knew in my heart that it was cruel and unfair to expect any woman to risk her happiness, health, and sanity for the sake of making sure that every member of the church fit into the exact same mold.

How were you treated by members of the church when it was discovered that you husband was gay, and that you were getting divorced?

Nobody ever discusses the collateral damage that is done to women because of religious-based homophobia. It's hard enough being gay and feeling deficient in God's eyes, but it's just as bad to be made responsible for curing something that can't and shouldn't be fixed.

In Mormon communities, women who fail to "pray the gay away" are viewed as failures. The implication is that you have no faith. The guilt and sorrow is crushing. My ex's parents to this day blame me for "giving him the idea" that he was gay, although he knew that he was homosexual long before he met me.

Shortly after leaving my ex and moving back in with my parents, an older woman at church pulled me aside and said, "I never thought that you would show such little faith and break your temple covenants. At least you didn't have any children in this mess."

It took me a long time to break free from the church's control over my mind. I had finally begun to feel that, having been married in the temple under false pretense, I was justified in walking away for the sake of my own health and safety. But this comment and many others like it really wounded me.

Being divorced brings enough stigma to Mormons and their family members, but divorce due to homosexuality is a truly gossip-worthy scandal. The Mormons in my life who really know me and what I went through do not blame me for what happened. They know I tried my hardest. But more general acquaintances have not been kind or understanding.

In your opinion, how angry is the gay population of the Bay Area toward the Mormon church for its involvement in Proposition 8, and do you think those feelings will change?

Pretty much everyone I know regards Mormons as backward, ignorant bigots who do what their cult leader tells them to. People generally acknowledge Mormons to be kind-spirited, family-oriented, clean living, but very deluded. Whenever I acknowledge that I am a Mormon, I am quick to explain that I am disaffected and my ties are familial and cultural rather than ideological. I am often embarrassed to be affiliated with such a bigoted organization, even if I was born into it and so had no choice.

In your opinion, is Evergreen -- a support group for Mormons who are having homosexual thoughts, and that coordinates reparative therapy for patients -- affiliated with the LDS Church?

Absolutely. Evergreen utilizes LDS-owned buildings for meetings, describes itself as a service for Latter-day Saints, and LDS authorities regularly speak at Evergreen meetings. LDS bishops are instructed to refer gay Mormons to Evergreen. I don't know how you could make the claim that the two organizations were not connected, any more than you could make the claim that the LDS Church and the National Organization for Marriage are not connected.

How did your family's involvement in the passage of Prop. 8 affect you?

It wounded me very deeply. When I saw that my own father contributed money toward Prop. 8, it broke my heart. My own parents opened their wallets and paid money toward a cause that will guarantee that more women will end up like me, unhappily married to a repressed homosexual who felt deception was the only option. I opposed Prop. 8 not only because I feel gays deserve full equality, but also because I feel it's pointless to attempt to legislate morality.

... Although I never publicly voiced my opposition, my failure to jump to attention when the Mormon leaders rallied the troops was obvious to my family. I received many hateful e-mails from aunts and uncles who said I had no faith and was under the influence of Satan. My counter argument, that the LDS Church was showing no faith in its members by ordering them to take political actions that, theoretically, they should have chosen on their own, fell on deaf ears.

17 March 2011

Bucking The Trend

I talk a lot about Mahler and philosophy and stuff like that. Then I go and shock my own kids by telling them I love banjo music. So here's another something that may surprise some people. I really like this video a lot. I like the energy, I admire the skills on display, and I like the message. Wish I could have been part of it.

15 March 2011

The Ills of Modern Society

Every once in a while I run across commentary elsewhere that is so good, so perceptive, so prescient, that I can't help mentioning it here. There's lots of commentary around about various reasons for societal problems, and particularly the effects of tolerating or accepting "the gay lifestyle". Perspectives differ, of course, but yesterday I read a piece that was remarkably insightful. Whether you agree or not, it's worth a read.

Click here.

08 March 2011

Joyful Noise

Well that was one of the most unusual and delightful experiences I've ever had.

Today is Mardi Gras, the last big blow-out before the start of Lent's period of sober self-assessment and self-denial, leading up to Easter. Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. of course reflect New Orleans culture, and a key element of that culture is zydeco. Never heard of it? It's wonderful music, born in Louisiana, that mixes African rhythms with blues, rock, and swing, played on accordions, guitars, string bass, drums, and even washboards sometimes.

Religiously conservative readers, hold up your hands in horror now as I tell you of the zydeco mass I attended this evening at St. Paul's. It was a regular church service with music provided by Theo and the Zydeco Patrol, with clergy dancing up the aisle instead of the regular stately, slow procession, and congregation doing some dancing in the aisles too, many of them decked out in the most lavish Mardi Gras costumes. There to the right is my friend Chris, who's on staff at the cathedral and obviously a very good dancer, even in liturgical robes.

The dean of the cathedral gave a short sermon whose basic message was this: "We are all children of God, and children need to play. There are good ways and not so good ways to play. Tonight in our worship service we let loose the children within all of us for a little bit of the good kind of play, as we celebrate all the good things of life and all the blessings we have." A very good message indeed, I thought.

And with that, more music started, and more dancing in the aisles ensued. Spouses with spouses, parents with kids, friends with friends. Even your humble correspondent took the opportunity to dance in the aisle with the assistant dean of the cathedral, who also happens to be a 5th great-granddaughter of someone you may have heard of, one Joseph Smith. It was delightful. That's her in the center of that photo down below to the right.

The Bible speaks of singing and dancing "before the Lord" and making a "joyful noise." And that's certainly what we did tonight. And you know what? I came away from that delightful hour just as exhilarated and spiritually fed as I ever did from any other worship service anywhere. Church doesn't need to be somber all the time. Sometimes it's good to just bust out and do what King David did. We have so much to celebrate, why not let it loose once in a while?

Just down below there is how the service ended. No doubt some would call it irreverent and even sacrilegious. Meh. It was a delightful celebration of so many divine gifts. And I will definitely be going next year. In a costume.

05 March 2011

More Random Thoughts

The kids having gone off in different directions to hang out with friends for a bit, I might as well make some productive use of the time, in case anybody actually still reads this blog. Warning, some stream of consciousness ahead. Don't expect linear progression along a single thematic line.

OMG, who actually talks like that, spontaneously? (looks in mirror, aghast)

One of the fun things about life is trying to figure oneself out. Most of the time I think I'm pretty ordinary. Then I stumble over a reminder that I may not be The Average American. I don't know anybody else who enjoys watching rugby matches on TV with a Brahms chorale ("Wo Ist Ein So Herrlich Volk") playing on the iPod speakers. And I'm still laughing at the kids' astonishment when I recently divulged my deepest secret: Not only do I love Bach, I love banjo music too. They couldn't believe it. I wish somebody would write some banjo fugues, or a concerto for banjo & orchestra. How sad Mozart isn't still around, bet he'd tackle it and have a great time too.

And true to form, I'm excited to attend the zydeco Mass at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral this Tuesday evening. Never heard of zydeco? Look it up. Then imagine a church service in that style. Now that's a joyful noise.

Dad and step-mom are coming for a visit week after next. He promised no surprises at the end of the visit this time. We both laughed. It will be nice to see them again. FB buddy arriving later this week on an impromptu road trip from frozen climes to the north so I'll get to play tour guide. Fun times.

Rugby season winding down. Baseball season revving up. Alles gut either way.

I've received inside information that during next month's LDS General Conference, the ridiculously named Jimmer Fredette will be named General Young Men's Program President and also a member of the First Quorum of Seventy as a reward for boosting BYU basketball to its highest prominence ever. But the church PR people are going to require him to go by James, because let's face it, "Jimmer" sounds like the little kid in 2nd grade with bottle cap glasses who was already reading Einstein, had snakes for pets, and couldn't find his own way to the bathroom.

OK, the male half of The Twins (a.k.a. "Thing Two") is home now so we're going to walk to the store for a few odds & ends, including supplies for another couple of batches of marzipan snickerdoodles which all his school friends are already willing to pay 50 cents apiece for. Evidently thanks to those things my fame at his middle school is growing, even amongst the faculty, and I'm being encouraged to turn myself into the next Mrs. Fields. Maybe we'll make the cookies 30% bigger so he can charge a buck apiece. Let him buy his own iTunes cards.

Peace out.