Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gays and

Last week's release of the new website,, was met with a variety of reactions, ranging from positive spin to a visceral attack on the church and the people still loyal to it. These reactions are telling of the anxiety and interest in homosexuality in the church.

In the virtual realm of the web, there are various competing positions, some complementary, some diametrically opposed, as to how one is to be "Mormon and gay." There are lots of Mormon and gay.coms, facebook groups, blogs, all representing their various takes on the seemingly impossible and insolvable problem. Speaking from my own position, I can say that I first reacted emotionally to an official church website. "The church is finally welcoming gays!" "It's accepting that I'm gay."

For various months of my life, I stood immobilized by a triangle relationship of being Mormon, gay, and married. There was no resolution to all three; something had to give. After unsuccessfully trying to erase being gay through therapy, prayer, fasting, Evergreen, and marriage (and failing), I realized I had to renegotiate this conflict on new terms; I had to accept that I was gay and that wasn't going to change. 

The new website offers, I think, a more acceptable position. Accepting (finally) scientific consensus on the immutability of homosexuality, the church instead simply maintains a moral position that behavior and not being is wrong. This is progress. It sets a new baseline from which to talk about homosexuality in the church. It prevents destructive behavior like SOCE (sexual orientation conversion efforts aka reparative therapy) and discourages MOM's (Mixed-Orientation Marriages). Quick caveat, I'm not saying that all these marriages are doomed, I'm just saying it's a risky undertaking given the high divorce rate of such couples (and my own experience).

But though the position the website takes is more acceptable, it is ultimately untenable. How can you separate doing and being in a culture where you are constantly taught you are what you do ("By their fruits ye shall know them")? How can you be gay but not do "gay things"? For my grandpa, I wasn't gay if I didn't "act" on it. But I was gay before any action on my part. That message is you can be born gay, and even if you can't change, you're still suppose to fit and and try to be as straight as possible. Or at least not "act" gay. 

The problem with the website, which became clear to me after my initial excitement faded, is that the church's acceptance is conditional. You can only be part of the club if you come in on our terms, which are celibacy and a commitment to upholding our heterocentric view of the universe.

I for one refuse to be partially accepted for who I am. And now that I've had some time and I'm in a relationship, I know that much of the information I was fed about promiscuity, AIDS, etc. was distorted or just plain wrong.  From this position, it's hard to look at the website as much progress. The central problem remains, that gays (and other LGBTQ's ) are relegated to a sub category, where we aren't accepted for who we are but for who we can theoretically be; straight members just like everyone else in the next life.

I know that this position will be appealing to many gay Mormons. I know at some point I believed this, and even desired it with all my heart. I wanted to be like everyone else, to be accepted by my family. But you can't compromise yourself to be what other people want you to be. At some point, you have to get over the fact that you've been shamed into submission to a heteronormative universe, that worse, is extremely patriarchal, and openly and proudly so.

Mormon culture makes it hard to be gay. It's hard enough to be gay even if you aren't Mormon, though the doctrinal and cultural forces that pressure you to fit a norm make difference that much more difficult. As more and more people open up about their experiences it becomes clearer and clearer the anguish people have gone through trying to come to terms being Mormon and gay. A lot of us end up becoming healthy well-adjusted individuals. But others turn to excessive drinking, risky sexual behaviors, and dangerous drug use. I want to be clear that this isn't because they're gay. They're trying to cope with the shame they've been made to feel for being different, and rather than facing their demons, try to escape that pain and shame through these behaviors.

In other words, we need support. Many of us need the church, but the church doesn't offer us what we need. I had to come to this realization the hard way. The church offers you some of what you need. And the gay community may not provide you all you need. A partner, or a wife, will never provide you all you need. The only way to get what you need is by taking care of yourself, and being willing to go and look places you've never been before to meet those needs. I think we all have a different path to do that, but looking for the church to change and provide what we need through a new website is naive.

The church needs to accept, or at the least stop demonizing, those who are openly gay and in relationships of love. That's the only true progress that can be had. And we can help by not demonizing other gay people. If we would reach out to each other, change could happen. But the shame placed upon us by a heteronormative society makes it all that much harder. And feeling like we don't belong in the gay community cuts us off from the support we could receive there. I think that's what's behind all the gay and mormon.coms, finding a space in between.

One might ask what any gay person is doing in such an environment, a criticism popular among those who are "outside" the (LDS) church but still ever commenting on issues pertaining to it. But one can hardly blame them for the criticism or their participation in the debate.  I think their continued participation in various Mormon Stories or Moho or other web communities shows that participation in Mormondom goes far beyond doctrine, practice, or ideology. It's family, it's community, it's politics (especially in Utah). For most people, there is no way to fully get away from it. Thus, while some might tell us to shut up and leave well enough alone, we simply can't. The church affects our lives, and even a conscious decision to resign from the church is evidence of the influence being Mormon had and has over our lives.

And yet their criticism sometimes fails to take into account the complex environment that LGBIT people have in the church, and the intricacies of a personal faith journey to reconcile spiritual witnesses, personal convictions, and family and community realities. For some people, there is no outside the church, and rather than encouraging a one size fits all solution, would better serve by talking about their own experiences and helping people see the various options and paths rather than prescribing a path for other people, (a habit, likely left over from service or experience in the church, where an awful lot of that happens). Though some may object to being included, "big tent" Mormonism has a place and includes many of us on the fringe who never really know where our place is inside or outside the church.  And in this vulnerable, border position, in which many of us find ourselves, let's make sure we make room for other who don't agree with everything we say or do. After all, we're trying to get away from the exclusivity and narrow mindedness that, unfortunately, sometimes exists within the communities we come from.

(Edited and Re-posted 1-15-2013)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Moving (Forward)

What a strange journey it's been these last two years. I went from being married, separated, then divorced, to being in a committed relationship, and am now living with my boyfriend.

For some reason, during the holidays, things get more intense emotionally for me. It brings up a lot of issues that tend to stay tucked away, like my relationship with church, my family, and my ex-wife. It's been hard for me not to look back to a time where I thought I had all the answers, where I thought I knew my plan.

I lived for a time naively, never really questioning the assumptions I'd made that therapy and Evergreen had helped me diminish my same-sex attraction. But then reality hit me. I couldn't hide the fact that I was gay from myself or my wife anymore. We both knew it, but it was something we didn't want to acknowledge.  I've talked a lot about that in this blog, and I'd like to revisit that more sometime with time and perspective. But for now I want to talk about moving forward.

After months of feeling like I was doing nothing to make things better, I finally decided to get out to church today. Not an LDS church. The First Congregational Church. It felt really good, to walk into a place where I'm welcome, affirmed, and celebrated as a human being. To me, that's what Jesus taught, the true message of the gospel, to love and welcome and affirm each other. 

For months I've felt without a home or a center. I think after the pain I've been through, I'm hesitant to recreate that sense of family and home, after trying so hard to do so, only to find out that it was an illusion. Sometimes I've been trying to go it alone. This is somewhat selfish of me, as there are many around me with open welcoming arms ready to embrace me as I am.  I think it's good to develop resilience and independence. But we're social animals, and we need community, support, love, and family.I'm grateful for the people who provide that for me. I need to embrace them, and thank them, and show them how much I appreciate that.

Now I'm in a relationship, and trying to move forward with my life. At times though, I let the past, anniversaries, holidays, all of that, get in the way. Like Lot's wife, I look back, towards "Sodom and Gomorrah", a place where I was unwilling to move in spite of the problems I knew were there, unable or unwilling to acknowledge my doubts and questions about my faith and sexuality because they would force me to do something about them. I have. I've acted. I've left that place and I can't look back now. I don't think I'll be turned into a pillar of salt or anything, but looking back hurts me. It prevents me from living in the present, from going forward; it's a dark depressing place, and not the place for someone given the chances that I have to be happy with a wonderful man and with a wonderful life. 

As I look to my past, growing up Mormon was in many ways a beautiful thing. My service, my mission, learning Spanish, going to BYU, teaching at the MTC, have all been things that have profoundly influenced my life. But the LDS church is not presently a welcoming place for me or other LGBT people. I appreciate the efforts to make it so. I feel welcome in this in between space that people are trying to create to make church welcoming for all and make our communities more welcoming. But there will always be struggle and conflict and disagreement on this issue. I think that's healthy, because there are a lot of things for the church and it's members to come to terms with on this question. But I don't know that it's a place I can call home anymore.

My family home is still not a place where I am totally welcome and accepted. It's getting better, and I don't mean to discredit the effort or the progress that's been made.  But  there's a reason I didn't go home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas may be difficult. I can't make everyone ok with me being in a relationship, and I can't force my partner to go into an environment where we aren't totally welcome and accepted for who we are. There are people in my family who welcome me, and us, with loving arms. But some people won't change, and likely will not change for years to come. 

And so it's time to create a new home. When the Mormon pioneers felt persecuted, they had to leave their homes in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. They fought to create home wherever they were, despite the persecutions they endured for their beliefs and lifestyle. But ultimately, none of those places were safe. They preferred to go West, and create a new home rather than continue to fight and die in their old one.

For a long time, I've been in exile, and I've longed for home. Part of the reason holidays are hard is that longing.  I've been unwilling to find a new home. But after wandering in the desert, it's time to find a new home. That doesn't mean I abandon everyone or everything that made those places home, but it does mean being independent and free to go to new places where I haven't allowed myself to go before. It's time to create home rather than waiting for a home to be created for me. And together with my partner, that's exactly what I need to do. I can't stay stuck in the past forever. It's time to move forward.