Friday, August 15, 2008

Preventing suicide

There's a thread on one of the Mormon blogs about how to prevent suicide in gay youth.

Here's what I added to that thread:

I am a gay Mormon, so I read this thread with interest. I have a few comments. I know my perspective isn’t exactly the same as yours, but I hope you’ll be interested in the view from my side of the fence.

In #8 Katie said:
Homosexuality carries a stigma that other sins do not. After all, we do not feel that awkward fellowshipping a pregnant teenager, or a couple that has to postpone their temple marriage.

This is true. The Church, like it or not, is a tremendously hostile place for gay people. All you have to do is say you are same-sex attracted and you will be marginalized, even if you are sexually abstinent. For example, you are likely to be barred forever from working with youth. I’m sorry, but this is the reality. The stigma is not so much against homosexuality as it is against homosexuals.

In #19, Clay Whipkey said:
You know, I do feel some sympathy for faithful LDS who find themselves in this position between the rock and the hard place.

I feel this, too. The official stance of the church is that any expression of same-sex love is a sin just one notch down in severity from murder. Yet, people who have any real-life contact with gay folks don’t smell the stench of evil. Gay people seem pretty wholesome and decent up close. And this is not the case with other “near-murderers” like rapists, child abusers, wife beaters, etc. Something just doesn’t click. It’s easy and fun to share laughs and gardening tips over dinner with your friendly and outgoing gay neighbors. It’s not as much fun doing this with embezzlers, drug runners and pimps. Too bad we’re morally equivalent. :- )

In a number of comments people mentioned that a better way to think of homosexuals is as disabled. The problem is... the people you're calling disabled don’t feel disabled. Trust me, I am just as capable of love, commitment and intimacy with an appropriate member of my own sex as you are with the opposite sex.

When you think of me, does it really come down to a choice between pity and contempt? Are these honestly the only options?

In #24, Russell Stevenson writes:
If they are TRULY converted to the gospel of Christ and don’t just view that church as a powerful, teetotaling community with a compelling story, then they believe that in the afterlife, all will be made up to them. They will NOT be eunuchs for the Lord forever…these feelings have nothing to do with their spirit.

With respect, I have to disagree in the strongest possible terms. Homosexuality is a fundamental part of me. If you were to slice it away with a scalpel, the remaining bits of personality would be unrecognizable. My sense of humor, my creativity, my intelligence and my passion are completely intertwined. The recent (one year old) doctrine being floated by Elder Holland that homosexuality will be “healed” in life hereafter is deeply offensive to me. I guess sometimes you have to destroy a village in order to save it.

In #27 Ray said:
In fact, the current stance essentially is not different for homosexual members as it is for ALL single adults: don’t act on your natural sexual inclinations outside of marriage.

Hmmm… Homosexuals will be kicked out of BYU (or Sacrament Meeting) with dispatch simply for holding hands. (!) Exactly how is this the same standard as is used for heterosexuals?

Does anyone besides me see the irony here? Homosexuals are promiscuous fornicators! That’s why we must do everything in our power to prevent them from forming stable, committed and loving partnerships! Get out your pitchforks... oops, I mean checkbooks and yard signs!

You know, I would have less of a persecution complex if everyone wasn’t out to burn down my house and break up my family. :- )

In #27, Ray mentions a number of concrete steps that might be taken. These make sense to me. If we simply tone down the rhetoric (and stop the excommunications), I think things would be a lot better, and you would see a lot fewer suicides. Sometimes people in the Church think that we homosexuals are asking for more than we really are. Here’s the agenda: 1) don’t encourage our families to disown us and 2) treat us like anybody else in the civil sphere.

When I was a young missionary in the MTC I remember being devastated by the story told by a visiting General Authority about the Church leader who told his son that he would rather see the son return in a coffin than come home from his mission having lost his virtue. Can you imagine the effect that stories like these have on deeply conflicted gay youth?

What can you do to prevent suicide? Stop telling faith-promoting stories like this. Instead, you can tell gay youth that their lives are more important than meeting a heterosexual standard. Tell them that it is better to leave the Church and live with love and integrity if it comes to that than to die by their own hand.

Thanks to all of you who are making an effort to improve the situation for gay people in the Church. It matters. Trust me, there are people in your own ward (and more than just a handful) who are silently trying to deal with this issue.


Anonymous said...

we study history to learn from the past. i recently heard a talk about the mountain meadows massacre in which the goal was to protect the image of brigham young. i would much rather have heard the speaker ask, what can we learn from this tragedy?

well, "tone down the rhetoric" is the lesson i learn, and i wish church members/ leaders could learn it as well.

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: If you were to slice it away with a scalpel, the remaining bits of personality would be unrecognizable.

Have you read Connell's story?

Randall F. Hyde (now an adjunct professor at BYU and chair of the Psychology Department at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo) put me through several sessions of extremely debilitating hypnoerapy, which culminated in a session during which Hyde hypnotized me and then had me split myself into “Gay Connell” and “Straight Connell”. He then had me visualize Jesus coming down through the ceiling and utterly destroying Gay Connell to dust and then a wind blowing all the dust away. This is the most emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually damaging experience of my entire life. Some 18 years later I am still healing from that traumatic “therapeutic” experience.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Santorio,

I agree that simply by dwelling less on this topic the Church could do itself and all of us a big favor.

Hi CL,

Yes, I've read Connell's story and seen him speak. Mixing authoritarianism and psychology always seems to produce a toxic result. I stayed far away from BYU as a young person, and I think that was motivated by a sense of self-preservation, even though I wouldn't have put it in those terms at the time.

Damon said...

It's true. The Church has got to find a way to protect it's gay youth. Thanks for breaking down the realities for us.

It is amazing to me that Church Leadership refuse to see the need to protect their protect families.


Deva said...

You write very well.