Saturday, May 31, 2008

Moms are the best

Here's a letter to the editor of the New York Times in response to the recent action taken by the governor of New York directing the state to honor same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

God bless Gov. David A. Paterson! I am crying tears of joy as I read this article. We have been waiting so long for a person in a place of power to boldly step forward with courage and love for the gay community.

So often, politicians lose their passion to do what is right and just when they reach the point where they can make such a huge difference.

Governor Paterson will have a place in our hearts all of our lives. We have been married for 36 years and are blessed with four children. Our youngest, Jacob, happens to be gay. Three of them were married in the last couple of years. It has been a time of great joy for our family as they wed the love of their lives.

When our oldest son, Benjamin, got married, he asked Jacob to be his best man. Then our son Joshua got married and again Jacob was his best man. When our daughter, Britta, married her dear Matthew, she didn’t have a maid of honor. She had a man of honor, and it was her brother Jacob.

At each wedding, as Jacob stood by his siblings and signed the papers to make it legal, he did it knowing he did not have the right to marriage himself.

As a mom, I find that hard to understand and heartbreaking to know it is true. How can this country treat people in such a way that something as basic as finding love and being married can be denied to a whole segment of society?

We will do all that it takes to make sure our dear son Jacob can marry the love of his life. But right now, I want to send our love to Governor Paterson. He makes me want to move to New York!

Randi Reitan
Eden Prairie, Minn., May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why do I do the things that I do?

When I was a young person I struggled with doubt. You might say that I wasn't born with the "gift of faith." Don't get me wrong. I believed what I was taught; it just took constant effort. I served a mission, married in the temple, had kids, went to church, performed my callings, honored my parents, etc. In retrospect I think my efforts were no less sincere than those who felt they knew with certainty.

Mormons say that anyone can gain a testimony through prayer, fasting and study. I did all those things and really never had anything to show for it except almost overwhelming cognitive dissonance. When I eventually lost my faith, I felt a sense of relief. It was like putting down a heavy stone.

You might chalk this up to a moral failing on my part. Like many people, though, I think my behavior improved after I discarded my prior system of belief. I became more generous with others, less judgmental of difference and showed more personal integrity in various areas of my life. (My theory: people tend to behave better when they are under less stress.)

A question I have is this: why does belief come easier for some people than for others? Is it just a character trait like curiosity, assertiveness, extroversion, etc.? If you can get past the official position that prayer works for everyone (it doesn’t), what are you left with? The usual LDS explanation (faithfulness in the pre-mortal existence, being a "choice spirit," etc.) just deflects the question by pushing it back to a hypothetical earlier phase of existence.

This is not an easy question.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Inside the great and spacious building

Tobi and I took advantage of the three-day Memorial Day weekend for a quick trip to visit my friends in Utah.

While we were there, Tobi got the bright idea that he wanted to go hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform. (He can be such a Japanese tourist sometimes. I honestly think he was born with palm-sized digital camera in his hand. And, yes, it's one of the reasons I love him.)

We figured out that the best way to see the famous choir in action was to go to the Sunday morning "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast. In case you don't know, this broadcast moves to the Conference Center on North Temple during the summer. In the winter it takes place in the Tabernacle. (I think it has to do with the summer tourist crowds.)

I don't know if I'm the only person who's noticed this, but the conference center seems to be the realization of the "great and spacious building" from Lehi's dream in The Book of Mormon. Not only is it gargantuan, it has terraces that overlook the recently uncovered City Creek and hanging gardens on the roof. Go back and read the description in the BoM and compare it. Seriously.

[While I'm on the topic of architecture, I have to say that Salt Lake has some pretty interesting examples that range from amazing to embarrassing. My personal favorites are the new public library (I want to move in), the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Moran Eye Center and the old library on State Street, next to the Alta Club. The biggest architectural embarrassment is the overtly phallic LDS Church office building, with its two large globes flanking a tipped tower.]

Anyway, on Sunday Tobi and I walked into the Conference Center. I was wearing sandals because I didn't pack any dress shoes, and of course there's the small issue of my goatee. Tobi was his usual adorable self. No one hassled us exactly, but we did get a little more attention from security than the other folks walking in the front door. It's a Utah thing (or just xenophobia). Mixed-race couples are not very common in Utah.

The program inside the Conference Center had a Memorial Day theme, and consequently there was a bit of flag waving. The Temple Square Orchestra accompanied the choir. I thought of Peter Danzig and his wife who last year would have been on stage with the orchestra. Too much information. I tried to focus on the music instead of the unfortunate political purge.

Overall, I felt a sense of contradiction. I was glad to show Tobi a little bit of the culture that produced me, but the experience was bittersweet for me. It was probably the unreasonable scale of the building that caused me to feel this way. You shouldn't put an orchestra in a hall the size of four airplane hangars. :- )

[BTW, the flowers on stage were hideously arranged, and I'm just being objective here, not critical. Memo to the powers that be: orange and fuschia zinnias are all you get when you're mean to gay people.]

To make a long story short... the choir did its thing, and we escaped back to our natural habitat: brunch at the Oasis Cafe (151 S 500 E, SLC).


P.S. Here are a few Japanese restaurant recommendations, which are the result of Tobi's digging around. Takashi (18 W Market St, SLC) is probably the best Japanese restaurant in Salt Lake. A less expensive but still excellent alternative is Kyoto (1080 E 1300 S, SLC), which is also very authentic.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hope from the bloggernacle

Here's a comment posted to a Mormon blog thread about the California marriage decision.

These debates are so interesting for me, having been on both sides of the fence on this issue. For many years I held a very traditional conservative-LDS view on homosexuality and gay marriage, and would have agreed wholeheartedly with Adam’s [hostile] position. However, about ten years ago my brother revealed to his family that he was gay, after spending his teen years in depression, misery, self-loathing and guilt. It was a terrible blow to our very active LDS family, but as the years have passed we’ve adapted to having a gay family member, and have had our perspectives shift 180 degrees as we’ve watched our brother and son learn to accept his biological make-up, date men, and get married! (We are Canadian.) He has never been promiscuous, He just couldn’t face a lifetime of celibacy and loneliness.

Nowhere along the line did I have a dramatic moment where I rejected the church’s teachings on homosexuality, but gradually over the years, it just became a non issue. I am fully active in the church and committed to its teachings, but for me and for many others who know and love gay people, the church’s hard-line doctrines on gays create a lot of disconnect for us. Is it really the Lord talking? Or is it just cultural, like the issue of race was in decades past? So California is going to allow gay marriage. Big deal. It is not good for man to be alone. Let them live with dignity. My point is, that those who see this decision as an act of wickedness, and predict mournful consequences and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the state of California maybe don’t see the whole picture. I’m not trying to judge or preach, I’m just saying that if my POV can change, maybe yours could too. Go talk to some gay people. They’re really nice. And often very well dressed. Maybe this isn’t the end of the world.

The comment was signed Sister Anonymous.

People like Sister A. keep my faith in the church and its ability to eventually emerge with a more compassionate policy toward its homosexuals.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The LDS Church and Marriage Equality

What will the LDS Church do in response to California's recent legalization of gay marriage?

There are some interesting signs of retreat from its earlier position.

You may recall that a member of the church's orchestra at Temple Square named Peter Danzig wrote a letter to the editor in the Salt Lake Tribune in support of gay marriage. Danzig ended up being removed from the orchestra against his will and eventually resigned from the church. There was some press coverage. In response, the church took the extremely unusual step of commenting publicly about an individual.

One of the things the church included in its press release about Danzig was a flat denial that it had ever asked its members to support anti-gay amendments and ballot measures. Speaking of its request from the pulpit that its members engage in unified political action in support of the anti-gay amendment to the U.S. Constitution proposed by the Bush administration in 2006, the church said:

In reality Church leaders had asked members to write to their senators with their personal views regarding the federal amendment opposing same gender marriage, and did not request support or opposition to the amendment.

Cynics might see this as dissembling. I see it as major, major backpedaling.

Fast forward a few months to today. The California Supreme Court has invalidated on constitutional grounds an anti-gay ballot measure passed in November 2000.

In response, the LDS church issued a statement that began in this way:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recognizes that same-sex marriage can be an emotional and divisive issue.

In my memory, this is the first time that the church has recognized the possibility that right-thinking, ethical people might have legitimate differences of opinion on the topic of marriage equality.

There has been some discussion on the Mormon blogosphere about this. For example this post asks forthrightly members of the church "How should we feel about this?". I found it interesting that in the many comments, there was very little support for the idea that the church should get involved again politically, as it had in the promotion of the original California ballot initiative. In fact, many of the (faithful LDS) commenters said that they would refuse to put signs in their lawns for the proposed anti-gay amendment to the California constitution if the church asked them to this time around. Several expressed regret that they had gone along with the church in 2000, with the original, unconstitutional ballot measure.

What has changed between 2000 and 2008? I can think of three things.

The first is a general change in public awareness about the injustice of denying marriage to gay people. The experience of Massachusetts (as well as Canada and almost all of Western Europe) has made people realize that allowing its gay citizens to enjoy the security and responsibility of family life promotes social stability, not instability.

The second thing that has changed since 2000 is a general sense of fatigue in the electorate for social wedge issues. The Bush/Rove campaigns of 2000 and 2004 have pretty much used that technique to its limit, and in the current climate, this kind of scapegoating is seen as distasteful. Senator Obama has pointed this out a number of times, and people are responding to the inherent sense of decency that his rebuke of Bush/Rove tactics entails.

And finally, the LDS Church has a new president who may be much more sympathetic to gay issues than his predecessor. And in any case President Monson is much, much less political than President Hinckley, so regardless of his views on the issue of marriage equality, the church with Monson at its helm may be much more circumspect about any kind of overt political action.

Thus, I'm predicting reduced involvement by the church in the effort in California to encode discrimination against homosexuals by means of a referendum that amends the state's constitution. I'm hoping the church will just sit this one out. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Transgendered kids

NPR had a recent report on two children who exhibited early signs of being transgendered.

The report is fascinating and challenging. Check it out at here. It's a 23 minute segment but well worth listening to.

In the report there are two sets of parents. The two sets of parents respond to their child's gender preference in very different ways. One set of parents allows their son to live as a girl; the other enforces behavior that is consistent with their child's biological sex.

Check out the story and draw your own conclusion. How we respond to this dilemma is a window into our own views and prejudices about gender. A knee jerk response to this story might be skepticism. If you listen to what the parents have to say you begin to understand that this is a real issue in these families, and the choices are not easy.

I wonder what would happen if one of these children had been born into an LDS family. I can imagine nothing but grief, given the fact the the church has a strong essentialist view of gender. Not only is gender biologically obvious in this view, it is also an eternal aspect of the soul. Therefore, transgendered children can't exist. (Yet, they do.)


I can also recommend some interesting commentary about this story, which is found here.

Also, there's a second, very moving report of parents who consider whether to allow medical therapy to delay puberty.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Tim Gunn on FLDS fashion

Project Runway's Tim Gunn talks about polygamist fashion:

Gay superpowers, activate!

Via: Sullivan

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The ensemble

There's a recently posted YouTube site with hour-long interviews with five gay Mormon men. Go here for a listing.

The guys are all in the performing arts. Most seem to live in New York City now. I think all of them went to BYU.

I think the interviews are useful data points, especially for people who might feel isolated. All are worth watching, but I especially like the interview of Nathan, who manages to keep a real sense of perspective.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Back home

I'm back in the States after my one month trip to India, Holland and Belgium. It was a long trip, and I'm really glad to be home.

There's always a change in perspective after a trip that long. For one thing, I don't see why we are bellyaching so much about gas prices. In India, where the average income is probably 1/4 what it is in the US, gas costs more than $5 per gallon. In Holland, gas is approximately $9 per gallon. We still have cheap gas in the US. The trouble is that we have built our country on the principle of low-density sprawl with the assumption of very cheap gas in perpetuity, which of course is impossible since fossil fuels are a finite resource that is gradually being depleted. The European and Indian models of city planning provide for more population density and as a result have more efficient transportation. You don't see SUVs in Holland or India! There are wind turbines all over Holland and Belgium these days. I don't see much of that going in the U.S. We really need to wake up on the issue of energy.

After my business trip to India, I stopped in Amsterdam and met my 23-year-old son who flew in to meet me from Boston. I have to say, going to Europe made me feel poor. I decided to economize and stay in budget accommodations with my son. The cheapest you can do is about $55 per person per night, even if you have a shared bathroom, youth-hostel style. Regular hotel rooms are substantially more than this. You can really tell that the dollar is low right now. Restaurants seemed particularly expensive ($40-$65 per person total for dinner at mid-range restaurants).

But my son and I had a great vacation. We kicked around, drank some beer (my son is an enthusiast of high-quality brews), and saw some priceless art treasures. In particular, I can recommend the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck. It's one of the earliest known oil paintings (1432) and is absolutely breathtaking. We spent more than an hour looking at it. It was truly one of the highlights of the trip.

I also like Belgian French fries, served in paper cones with mayo. Yum.... The beer was extraordinary. We traveled to a remote Trappist monastery called Abdij St. Sixtus in Westvleteren, Belgium for what is considered by beer connoisseurs to be the best beer in the world. You can only buy this stuff at the pub run by the monastery. Well, I have to say that the connoisseurs were right; it was an absolutely incredible beer, by far the best I have ever tasted. I bought a few bottles and took them back in my suitcase. I have one still sitting in my fridge.

Wouldn't you know it, we also ran into the missionaries on the street in one of the Flemish towns we visited. We stopped and chatted with them, asked them where they were from, etc. I think they were a little spooked, since we didn't fit into any category that they recognized. In general, they were a little stiff and formal. Talking to them definitely brought back memories. I forgot to ask them how the branch was doing in that town.

I don't know what to say about India. I'm biased against that country because I always get sick when I'm there. Haha. It's no fun having your GI tract in an uproar for an entire month. On this trip I had more of a chance to talk to some of the locals on non-work-related topics. I found out a lot about their marriage and courtship practices, which as you might guess, are extremely conservative. There's really no such thing as 'dating' in India. Marriages are arranged with the help of the parents. In fact, it was funny to see the personals ads in the Sunday paper... they were placed by parents for other parents to answer. A couple is only allowed to go out for dinner and a movie after they are formally engaged to be married.

I did meet one gay guy in India. He is the friend of a Canadian guy that Tobi knows. So I invited him over for brunch at my hotel. The guy is a 25-year-old Muslim medical student who is deeply closeted. I think I was the second openly gay person he has ever met. We had lunch and talked. He wants to do a medical residency in the U.S. (surgery), but visas appear hard to come by for young Muslim men. Aarggh!

Anyway, I'm back home now and trying to get back to normal. I'm certainly not sorry to have missed the past month of the Democratic primary. Haha. My sleeping schedule has been topsy-turvy and I've been eating a lot of plain white rice to get my stomach reset. But other than that, things are getting back to normal. :- )

I went to the airport yesterday and picked up my boyfriend Tobi who had been in Japan visiting his parents for part of the time I was gone. His suitcase weighed a ton. It was full of sake for me and two bags of groceries. Even though we have really good Asian food stores here, he wants his familiar foods from Japan. It was kind of cute. We came home from the airport and I spent the day with him. We snuggled for a while and then went out for Mexican food and a long walk. We were both so jet lagged that it was funny. We were kind of stumbling around, trying to stay awake.

So that's the news from these parts. I'll post some pictures and more comments about India later.