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)


  1. I had to leave the church but it was a painful decision. The analogy I finally came up with (and wrote about in my blog on the Church's website) compared flora and fauna and their contradictory needs for carbon dioxide and oxygen. Carbon dioxide is poisonous to animals but gives life to plants. The church is poisonous to me as a gay person, but I saw how it gave life (purpose and structure) to some of my straight relatives.

  2. That's a cool analogy. I agree with you that it often gives a lot to straight people. Some gay people get a lot of pleasure out of it. I personally had to stop going for me own well being. I wish it didn't have to be that way.