Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Understanding Homophobia

I want to talk about bigotry. And racism. And make plain something that isn't obvious.
This is a difficult topic to broach. Whenever you talk about racism or homophobia people just want to ignore it or rationalize it or accuse people of being "over sensitive." No one wants to be a racist. And no one wants to be bigoted.
When I tell them I think the church is bigoted, homophobic, prejudiced, whatever name you want to call it, they think of the worst expressions of that. And that's plainly there. I grew up in the Central Valley of California, and I heard plenty of that from my friends at church, or even from adults. I was there for the fundraising of Proposition 22 (the earlier incarnation of Prop 8) that happened in Stake Priesthood meetings. And the things said even over the pulpit were inconsistent with followers of Christ. When I moved to Utah, any semblance of civility was swept away as people bashed gays during Prop 8.
I've had a bishop apologize to me because he said he would like to dedicate a fifth sunday to the topic, but was worried about the kinds of things people would say (as in discriminatory things) if the topic were brought up. I think he's right.
And yet, I believe that the majority of bishops, and members of the church wouldn't react in such a negative way. That isn't the problem. The problem is actually in denying the existence of homosexuality. This is a much subtler form of homophobia. To ask members to deny the existence of a gay identity, to ask them to love the sinner but hate the sin, to talk about "so-called gays and lesbians" is derogatory.
Why? Why should I want to take a phenomenon, a physical, sexual, romantic, emotional attraction to the same sex and label it, identify it? That's legitimizing it, making it normal, making it natural.
Exactly. This is what the church wants to avoid. What members are taught to shun. For example, Elder Oaks in his Q&A with Elder Wickman told parents they shouldn't have to accept a visiting partner because that would grant legitimacy to such a union, and that's unfair to the parents.
Is it? To recognize that your son or daughter is in love, even if you don't agree with "such a union", is that unfair? Is that wrong? It isn't. It's what I would hope anyone would do.

One day after a particularly difficult discussion with my cousin about me being gay, I asked myself, do I exist? Of course I exist, and of course this part of my identity exists, but in their minds and in the minds of many in the church, my purpose is to procreate and be bonded to a woman. That is the purpose of life. And if I can't do that, I don't exist on the same level as my friends and family who can do that. That's frustrating.
During this discussion my cousin told me, "You just think that you're gay. Try not to think about it so much. It's like an alcoholic thinking about alcohol" I'll admit, as will many of you, that I'm guilty of over thinking. Of worrying about it too much. Of stressing about what people would think if they knew.
But that isn't what she meant. She was talking about if I could think I was straight, I would be able to be straight. "As a man thinketh.." Or something like that. But really? I was married three years. Many other people have been married longer than that. If I could think myself straight I would have.
But you can't. I can't undo biology, or the complex interaction of physiological and psychological processes. It's unethical to try (and believe me, people try, and have all kinds of advice on how to do so). Imagine, taking a straight man, and making him gay by sexual experience, by getting at the root of his "opposite sex attraction", of telling him that God loves him even though he struggles with opposite sex attraction, that he just shouldn't think about it so much, that he should marry a man anyway if the right guy comes along.
I think this would be fascinating. Fascinating, but unethical. There are standards for therapy and there are standards for experimentation. We also wouldn't show the man pictures of naked women and shock his genitals until he turned gay. Or lobotamize him (See The Mormon Proposition). Or alter his physical body or attempt to screw with his psyche to get him to change his sexual orientation. Or make lame analogies about dragons (see Jeffrey Robinson...or don't.)
Guess what? When you sleep, when you dream, it's there. Subconsciously, no matter how hard you try, your need, your desire to be with a man is there. It's what you want. And it isn't wrong. It isn't sinful. It just is. And it's going to be there the rest of your life.
One of the saddest things is that we gay men internalize the homophobia and repeat it. I'm guilty of this. For years I participated in it. And I apologize for it.I hope that I can overcome it fully. Because when you deny yourself what you want, you make sure others can't have it. Or when you indulge in self-loathing and shame because you are gay, that shows in the way you hate others. Sometimes this is subtle too. People can be compassionate and still be against "acting on same-sex attraction", but there's a subtle jealousy there, a subtle desire to have what they have, and it shows in how strongly they react against it.
I believe in the gospel of peace and love. And homophobia in any form is inconsistent with this. So is racism. As time goes on, the parallels between the two become more and more obvious. I'd like to see this change in the church. I'd like to be part of it, but as they say it's important to put your own oxygen mask on first. Or in more Mormon terms, it's important to handle your own stewardship and provide for your own emotional health and that of your family first before helping others. I can and must forgive, but that isn't the same as tacitly accepting it over and over and over again. I can't intentionally subject myself to it like I have been. Not now that my eyes are open.


  1. Excellent post. I might just link to it. I wrote a post about trying to stop homophobia, but you do a much better job than I at explaining all the subtle forms of homophobia we are all guilty of.

  2. GREAT post. This is wonderful! I am copying it to my OneNote notebook of stuff I like.