I really liked this interview with Joanna Brooks by Kendal Wilcox as part of the Far Between project. Wilcox asks Brooks, “What do you think it’s like to be gay and Mormon?” Brooks replies, “I can’t say for sure, but I think it must be something like this…” and goes on to explain how she felt at BYU when feminists were excommunicated. She really connected to the gay Mormon experience through her own experiences and demonstrates a keen sense of empathy and understanding. This one is worth a watch.
In a not-so-recent discussion with a friend I was asked about my past (a true-believing Mormon or TBM) and how I got to where I am now (partnered to someone of the same sex). That’s not an easy question to answer but I’ll do my best to answer this question. My assumption is many who read my blog have this same question. And before I answer this question I’d like to openly state that my purpose in explaining these things is not recruit any one to my way of thinking; it’s merely to explain for those who would like to understand. Hopefully it will also explain how other people also get from point A to point B in their own “spiritual journeys”.
To start, I’ll take you down memory lane. Around my 18th birthday is when my spiritual journey started. Growing up in Utah, the religion to which I was exposed was the Mormon church. Due to the passing of a family member, I began to take religion more seriously: Is there life after death? Will I be with my family in the after life? Am I worthy to live with them in the Celestial Kingdom? Those are the questions I asked, and I decided the answers to questions were an emphatic yes and subsequently served a full-time mission for the LDS Church. I was called to the Baltic Mission (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), served two years, and loved almost about everything about it (at the time). More on that later.
In preparation to serve, I went through the temple in Logan Utah. I think this is when my first doubts about religion began. Sitting in the temple ceremony I asked, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” I felt like I had hopped on the wrong bus and it was taking me somewhere I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. My main concern was the subordination of women to men and the realization that LDS women will probably never be equal in status to LDS men. If I marry a woman in an LDS temple one day, could I ask her to submit to me? And would I be okay with my role as a mediator between her and God — that her relationship with God would be defined not as a direct relationship with God but her relationship to me as I sort of shield her from God. Another concern was the fact that I couldn’t get up and leave without being stigmatized and without embarrassing my family or letting them down.
You see, social pressure is a huge part of Mormonism. I couldn’t acknowledge my true feelings about that experience for fear of being kicked out, both in the literal sense of being kicked out of the temple and in the metaphorical sense of being rejected by Mormons. Actually, I did acknowledge my thoughts to a few close friends shortly after going through the temple for the first time. They asked, “So, what was it like?” and I resisted expected responses like “I felt like I was home” or “I felt so close to heaven”. I said, “I had a testimony of the Church until now.” As another blogger explained, the LDS Church is really good at enforcing social expectations to keep everyone “in the bounds of ‘acceptable’ behavior”. He speculated that the LDS Church provides a place of community (but you have to give up individuality to fit in). So, to fit in, I didn’t talk about those feelings with any one else. I didn’t want to lose friends; good friends are hard to find.
My experience in the Church continued to be one of living up to social expectations. That’s just how it seems to works. As a missionary, I tried to live up to the expectation of being a challenging and testifying missionary. My very first day in the mission field I was challenged by someone from another faith. My testimony about my church was met by the testimony from someone else about her church; she spoke with as much conviction as me. The solution other missionaries seemed to use was to speak down on members of other religions: “He’s such a good person. Too bad he’s Lutheran; he won’t make it to heaven.” As a lay service member of my local congregation (post-mission), I continued to live up to social expectations despite not really feeling all the things I was supposed to be feeling about the Church.
What was I supposed to be feeling? No one really seems to know. It’s not science. You’ll just know when you feel it. Boyd K. Packer claimed it’s just like trying to explain what salt tastes like:
Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, “Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.”
“Of course I do,” was his reply.
“When did you taste salt last?”
“I just had dinner on the plane.”
“You just think you know what salt tastes like,” I said.
He insisted, “I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.”
“If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?”
“Now you are getting juvenile,” was his reply. “Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.”
“Then,” I said, “assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.”
After some thought, he ventured, “Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.”
“You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.”
My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like.
And that’s the whole crux of Mormonism: it’s true because you just know it is even though you can’t really explain how or why. But as a Mormon you can’t stop there. You then have the responsibility to share what you know with others (even if you don’t really know). Packer continued:
Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it! Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that “leap of faith,” as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and stepped into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.
My service in the Church was exactly that: me telling others what I knew to be true before I ever felt or believed it was true. That is the part of the mission experience I didn’t like. As Viktor Frankl contended, it seemed my whole mission experience was “depict[ing]…God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specified creed at that” (Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning, p. 17). Those experiences didn’t stop there, however. I continued my service in the Church for several years after returning home from missionary service. I continued to tell people I knew things I didn’t really believe hoping to have the promised experiences.
So what do I believe now?
Saying that one religion is true is like saying that one point in the evolutionary history of a species is “true.” religions are cultural institutions and as such are subject to eventual and gradual change as they adapt. Those members of the religion that hold counter-productive views will not spread those beliefs and those that have effective, pro-social views will pass on the traits of their religion. This is how a religion, like a species, evolves (B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p 128).
Dan Pearce wrote a blog post a while back on Single Dad Laughing titled I’m Christian, unless you’re gay. In the post he describes a phenomenon I think just about everyone is familiar with. It expresses itself sometimes as “I love gay people (or some other group). I have a gay friend.” Other times it expresses itself as “Love the player, hate the game” or “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. Sometimes it even expresses itself as “You’re a bigot” or “It’s not bigoted of me to defend marriage as between one man and one woman”. And other times it expresses itself as Dan Pearce described. His friend Jacob related to Dan over the phone one day:
“Dan, you are the only friend I have that knows I’m gay… Every single person I’ve told has ditched me. They just disappear… They can’t handle knowing and being friends with a gay person.”
The phenomena is dismissing a person, invalidating their arguments, and withholding humanizing love simply because the person possesses some characteristic you’ve associated with “bad”. The logic is something like this: my religion tells me gay people are bad/sinners and therefore anything they say, do, or believe is bad. But as Dan points out, it’s not specific to religion. So that might mean society tells us people from Mexico are this that or the other and therefore… -or- people who do drugs are this that or the other and therefore…
Today, I want to explain the opposite of what Dan explained. What happens when I reverse the roles and put myself in the shoes of my antagonist: I’m gay, unless you’re Christian. I do it all the time. Does that mean I’m just as “bad” about tolerating others as the Christians (or anyone, really) who don’t tolerate me? I don’t know.
Reading over Pearce’s post helped me consider the possibility that perhaps — just maybe — I’m guilty of the very thing he (and I) accuse Christians (or whoever) of doing. Just maybe. Before I go any further, I’d like to clarify what I mean when I say I’m gay, unless you’re Christian. Some of you will interpret this next part as me — a gay person — complaining about being gay, complaining about the world in which I live, complaining about the way people treat me, and complaining about our laws and other civil rights issues. In short, many of you will be tempted to say “Dude, relax! Not everyone hates you.” So, I’ll start by first pointing out that not everyone hates me; this I know. I had a conversation with my brother a few weeks ago over the phone that left me feeling glad I have the family I have. My mom stopped by for a visit around that same time, which reminded me I’m fortunate to have a mom who is part mama bear (she’ll stand against anything to defend her cubs) and part teddy bear (soft, kind, compassionate). Even my dad, who can be grizzly at times, has been known to defend his cubs — even me, his gay son. One of my grandmas has also been supportive. She called me once to let me know that God still loves me and that she still loves me. Her message to me was direct: life is about loving people.
But there’s something interesting about love. Just as easily as love can knit a sweater to keep you warm on the coldest of days, hate unravels it with a single thoughtless gesture leaving you naked, defenseless, and exposed to judgement. Despite all the warmth extended by friends, family, and Christians, a few conversations — that’s all it takes — leave me feeling homeless and confused from time to time.
So what exactly do I mean when I say I’m gay, unless you’re Christian? For reasons I don’t completely understand, when someone identifies as Christian (of any brand), my stomach cringes, I put my hand in my pocket to hide my ring, and I find every excuse to tap out of the conversation or bail out of the situation. Why? I don’t want them to know I’m gay. Why? I guess it’s because of what Christians say about gay people in general and thus indirectly about me. The part I don’t understand is the fact that I’m surrounded by Christians and — for the most part — they have been supportive, accepting, and tolerant. I have few reasons to believe they would be anything but that.
After acknowledging that most Christians in my life are supportive, accepting, and tolerant, I’d like to go into more detail about how the outliers — the extremists — skew my perspective and cause me to fear the possibilities. Here are a few headlines, some recent and others not so recent:
A lot of people are fixated on gay sex. They assume every gay manwants to have sex with every other man as if their sex drive is the sole driving force for everything they do. Here are examples:
- Rick Santorum (who alludes to being Christian by appealing to Biblical, traditional marriage)
- Gays “eat da poo poo” and should be hanged
- More on the anti-gay push in Uganda here.
- Iowa Baker Denies Wedding Cake to Lesbian Couple
- (Mormon) Michael Crook quotes the Bible to justify his views on gays and lesbians claiming they are criminals. (I’m hesitant to link his blog because he’s been known to stalk any one who speaks against him and posts their personal information on his blog. If you want to find his blog, just Google his name or go to his Twitter page.
- BYU student compares gays and lesbians to prostitutes and serial killers http://thestudentreview.org/2011/11/18/no-my-dads-arent-serial-killers-daily-universe-letter-to-the-editor-sparks-controversy/
Most recently, my sister was married; we took family pictures in front of an LDS temple. I worried what would happen to us as it would be clear from the pictures that Dan and I are a couple. I worried about expressing any affection because of what happened at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
Everything worked out aside from the dirty looks we got while holding hands on temple grounds.
So maybe — just maybe — I’m no different than those who are “Christian unless you’re gay”. I’m not really sure, but I’m glad there are Christians in my life who are capable of loving and accepting me and who are incapable of saying intolerant things.
This story from the New York Times is all too familiar in the gay Mormon community: a gay man, who doesn’t understand his attractions for the same sex, marries a straight woman. (These marriages are referred to as mixed-orientation marriages.) When women are viewed as the ticket to heaven (or exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom), the situation can be quite complex. Emily Pearson, daughter of Carol Lynn Pearson, tells about her experience and the experience of her mom in her I’m an Ex-Mormon video.
Many people assume cats aren’t trainable; have you ever seen a cat play dead, roll over, bark on command, or play fetch? And if you don’t believe cats are trainable, would you believe goldfish are trainable?
This isn’t an Onion video! And it isn’t a gimmick to get people to buy a fancy, expensive training kit for their lazy, boring goldfish. Ogden Lindsley, one of B. F. Skinner’s first graduate students, had his students train gold fish. He explains the process here.
I’ve recently learned just how trainable cats are: After a few days of a several 5-minute clicker training sessions, Misha and Carmen seem to be picking up on target training. Either that or they just like to chase the fuzzy orange pipe cleaner attached to the end of the target stick. I suspect this isn’t the case, though, because most of the time they walk up to the target and sometimes even touch the target with their noses. Maybe I’ll collect and graph data on their performance… Anyway, Carmen seems to be a little more challenging: She’s a picky and slow eater and hasn’t shown much interest in dry treats, which have been easier to use than wet food. When I tried training Misha with wet food he went a little crazy (watching him you’d think he hadn’t eaten in days) and training sessions ended with him covered in pulverized fish guts (i.e., the wet food).
Regardless, I’m excited to continue clicker training our cats Misha and Carmen, and who knows, maybe they can learn to play dead, roll over, and play fetch.
In this post I would like to describe, in a little more detail, my experiences as a same-sex or same-gender attracted (gay) Mormon through the story of Steven Wilson (as interviewed by Steven Densley Junion of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research). In short, I would like to tell the story of nearly every gay Mormon and their pursuit of happiness. In the interview (Why would a gay man with AIDS join the [LDS] Church), Wilson describes his experiences of meeting a returned missionary at a gay bar, eventually moving in with him, joining the Church, and how his association with members of the LDS faith helped him abandon “the homosexual lifestyle”.
Wilson’s story isn’t completely unfamiliar to me. I attended support groups (e.g., LDS Family Services, Evergreen) and firesides intended to fortify my relationship with the Church, its leaders, and members. At Evergreen support groups, I learned that if I want to stay in the Church I need to stay single and celibate and wait for the resurrection or marry or woman.
As I became more entangled in Evergreen and other support groups, I learned that it’s possible to pray away the gay. The solution to the gay problem is simple: keep every commandment and get plenty of (nonsexual) healthy touch from other men. Voila! You’re cured. Let me explain the concept of healthy touch (for those who aren’t familiar). The theory behind male homosexuality is gay men didn’t bond enough with their fathers and/or male peers and sexualized their need for male affection to make up for it. So, you need to bond with other men, even get in some “healthy touch” (e.g., hugs, cuddles, holding), to mitigate the sexual attractions. (Be warned: the next video clip has some vulgarity).
I was actually invited to a “holding party” once. Well, two holding parties (but the second wasn’t advertised as a holding party). I didn’t go to the first one because when others described their experiences, it freaked me out. I was informed that I would be held by an older member of the group (as a father might hold a young son in his arms) and I would talk to him about my experience: how does it feel, what am I thinking, what am I feelings, etc. The experiences of others included talking about how it aroused them and learning to “talk through it” rather than fantasize about it. The other holding party didn’t involve older men, so I went. It was an emotional roller coaster as I watched guys (some of whom were engaged to girls at the time) snuggle up with any and everyone present. The sexual tension was high. And what should I have expected? A bunch of gay Mormon guys who aren’t getting any visiting a place far away from home (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas kind of a thing).
I learned there are a number of additional organizations to help facilitate change in orientation:
- North Star (Ty Mansfield)
- People Can Change (Rich Wyler)
- Exodus International
- NARTH (A. Dean Byrd, George A. Rekers)
- New Warriors
Although not all of these organizations are designed to cure same-sex attraction, many gay Mormons recommended these programs to me as helpful in resolving the underlying causes of “the gay”. The most interesting to me is Journey into Manhood (JiM). For those wanting to know exactly what happens at Journey into Manhood weekends, Ted Cox describes his experience with alarming detail. Here’s a thoughtful perspective on JiM by the Original Mohomie. And for the lazy reader, here’s a little clip about JiM:
It’s weird to watch that video clip because I know most of the guys interviewed.
At firesides, I learned that if I want to stay in the Church I need to hate everything that is or might possibly be gay and fight against it. A man at one particular fireside shared a story similar to Wilson’s experience: he lived “the homosexual lifestyle”, turned away from his life as a porn star and addict, and converted to the LDS faith. Like Wilson, he referred to “the gay lifestyle” as a lifestyle of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. He encouraged everyone present to avoid the very appearance of evil: don’t date members of the same sex, don’t do drugs, don’t drink alcohol; in short, don’t be gay. At the time, I had already begun dating and learned enough to know that “the gay lifestyle” he spoke of was nothing more than “his lifestyle“. I didn’t think it was fair to pass judgement on an entire group’s lifestyle based on personal experiences.
But I was used to judgement being passed. In Logan, I organized social events which later took on the name “Logansides” — firesides for gay Mormons in Logan, Utah. The firesides were intended to be nothing more than a social gathering for members of the LDS faith who are gay/lesbian or know someone who is gay/lesbian. Advertising was complicated: People not of the LDS faith thought I was starting an ex-gay ministry and people of the LDS faith thought I was spreading the infamous “gay agenda”. And then there were the ultra conservative gay Mormons who were vocal about the fact that I organized firesides and dated men (and eventually married). I learned for myself that it’s next to impossible to unite liberal and conservative Mormons when it comes to this social issue.
In short, what turned me off to the Mormon solution to the gay problem is the unkindness and intolerance experienced at the hand of gay Mormons. Oh, and none of these Mormons solutions I discussed made sense to me. Ultimately, these “solutions” led to an increase of unhappiness and frustration. Thus, I began my own pursuit of happiness that steered me away from the traditional gay Mormon path and away from experiences like those of Steven Wilson.
According to Stephen and Janice Graham of the Standard of Liberty, and authors of Chased by an Elephant: The Gospel Truth About Today’s Stampeding Sexuality, BYU appears to be too liberal (especially when it comes to gay issues) for the following reasons:
- “Department heads, professors, [etc], [preach]…socialism, radical feminism, anti-Americanism, [etc]…and popular homosexualism”
- “…BYU has made concessions, step by step, for homosexuality as an alternative sexual identity to be accepted and respected” Examples include:
- changes to the BYU Honor Code in 2007
- “accepting of openly gay instructors and students”
- “advocating of homosexuality”
- BYU allowed Soulforce onto their campus
- the “vocal home-grown student advocacy group…called USGA“
- BYU is too “concerned about ‘bad publicity'” regarding the firing of a gay man for reasons other than being gay
- removal of a letter from The Daily Universe that compares gays and lesbians to serial killers and prostitutes
I didn’t think it was possible to accuse BYU of being too liberal in regards to their stance on social issues like homosexuality. I was wrong. Surprisingly, it seems their efforts to fight “the gay movement” were inspired by their experiences with their son when they learned he is gay. But don’t worry, he found the box that’s gay and crushed it (so now he isn’t gay any more).
If you’re interested in reading more about the founders of the Standard of Liberty, I thought this was a thoughtful (albeit subjective) analysis of their work.
Anyway, I wonder how many out there agree with Stephen and Janice Graham of the Standard of Liberty that BYU is too liberal on gay issues (I think I know how many disagree)…