Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Short documentary film

Here's a new short film (26 min) about three young gay Mormon men. It's nicely done.

Disciples by Jordan Currier.

Monday, November 22, 2010

It gets better, 5

From the folks at Pixar Studios, here's a heartwarming "It Gets Better" video. I wish I could play this at a BYU devotional, at an MTC devotional and as a public-service announcement right before General Conference. This is a message that needs to be heard.



(Why is everyone who works for Pixar so danged cute?)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moms are the best

From Momastery, the reflections of a mother of Christian faith about what she would say if her child told her he was gay:
And I don’t mean, Chase, that we would be tolerant of you and your sexuality. If our goal is to be tolerant of people who are different than we are, Chase, than we really are aiming quite low. Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated.

"Traffic jams are to be tolerated. People are to be celebrated." How I wish her sentiments were the mainstream LDS view! Read what she has to say.

Via: D. Gregory Smith

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

M&P*

*(If you know what the acronym M&P stands for, you're a real Mormon.)

I want to take a minute to comment on what the new LDS Church handbook says about masturbation and pornography (yes, M&P). What's most surprising is what's not said.

M

Masturbation is mentioned in only one place in the handbook and that is in an instruction to bishops and stake presidents about what does not warrant a Disciplinary Council. (The handbook refers to it with the archaic term "self-abuse.")

That's it.

Masturbation is not mentioned in the section of the handbook that describes the law of chastity. The chastity section includes language that prohibits "unholy, unnatural or impure practices." You might imagine that masturbation could be construed as one of these practices, but there's a bit of evidence against this interpretation. The very next sentence says that engaging in these practices will result in Church discipline, which is not the case with masturbation. Breaking the law of chastity appears to require more than one person in the room.

While there still is a strong LDS cultural prohibition against masturbation, we're seeing less emphasis from Church leadership. There's virtual silence on the subject of masturbation from the pulpit in General Conference. It seems as if it's evolving into a don't-ask-don't-tell situation.

P

Unlike masturbation, pornography has been a common topic of discourse in General Conference. Yet, from the handbook you wonder what the fuss is about. The handbook mentions pornography in exactly the same section as masturbation: it's in the list of issues that don't warrant a Disciplinary Council. Like masturbation, pornography is not mentioned in the section that defines standards for the law of chastity.

Pornography gets its own dedicated section in the handbook. However, this section mainly presents pornography using a medical metaphor: the use of pornography is seen as a kind of addiction. The language in the handbook focuses on counseling and treatment options; it contains contact numbers for LDS Social Services.

-----------------

Frankly, I'm puzzled by what's going on here. I think the silence about masturbation is a sign that some kind of change is in the works, perhaps a movement toward the more mainstream view that masturbation is benign. The silence about masturbation seems at odds with the increasing rhetoric over the pulpit on the subject of pornography, rhetoric that is not backed up in the handbook by policy. Is it possible that pornography for the LDS hierarchy is more of a symbolic issue? I'm wondering if the fight against pornography is really a fight against cultural change and secularization. I don't have evidence for this conjecture, but it's an idea I'd like to explore further.

Do you have any thoughts on M&P and why the new handbook virtually omits them?

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Un)holy, (un)natural and (im)pure practices

There's a recognizable phrase that's been floating around the Church for about 30 years. The first use that I can find occurred in a letter to bishops from the First Presidency dated January 5, 1982:
The First Presidency has interpreted oral sex as constituting an unnatural, impure, or unholy practice.

I remember when this statement came out. It was mostly ignored by my liberal, East Coast university ward.

The phrase "unholy, unnatural or impure practice" appears to be an expansion of a warning in the temple ceremony against some fairly venal sins such as "lightmindedness." We are to avoid these venal sins and "every other unholy and impure practice." The context in the temple is not at all related to sexuality, so I have to conclude that the the use in the 1982 letter was a novel one, only coincidentally related to the similar language used in the temple except to give the phrase extra authority by unconscious association with the temple rite. Also, the word "unnatural" is significant addition-- it's a word that is loaded with all kinds of sexual connotations. These days it usually refers to anal sex, but it has also been used to make reference to all sexual acts that don't have the possibility of pregnancy. For example, LDS texts in the 1950s to 1970s referred to the evils of "unnatural" methods of birth control.

Shortly after the First Presidency's letter was received by bishops in 1982, a question about "unholy, unnatural, or impure practices" in the marital bed was added to the list of questions used in temple recommend interviews. There was almost an immediate backlash. The first indication of the backlash was a second letter, just about one year later, from the First Presidency saying that bishops were not to pry into a married couple's sex life. (!) Eventually, by 1986, the question was deleted from the temple recommend interview entirely.

Of course, since that time, the Church has further backed away from its prohibition of oral sex in marriage. The most recent guidance seems only to say that "if you feel guilty enough about it to ask, you shouldn't do it." The most common advice you'll hear from bishops is that if the wife objects to it, a husband doesn't press her. In general, Mormon ideas of acceptable sexuality stick to a narrower range than the mainstream culture. For the most part, heterosexual anal sex, the use of pornography as a couple, role play or any kind fetish or kink are pretty much off limits for Mormons. Sex toys (for example, a vibrator) seem to be the wild frontier for the most adventurous Mormons, but even then the Relief Society sister with her trusty strap-on and a mischievous gleam in her eye is beyond imagining.

Although the sin it originally named is no longer a sin, the phrase "unholy, unnatural, or impure practice" is still with us. It is now found in section 21.4.5 of the Church's 2010 Handbook 2:
Adultery, fornication, homosexual or lesbian relations, and every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice are sinful.

What the current phrase means is left to the imagination. You might be tempted to view it as a reinstatement of the old prohibition against oral sex or any other "unnatural" act that doesn't lead to possible pregnancy. However, the idea that sex needs to be procreative to be holy, natural and pure is contradicted by section 21.4.4 of the handbook:
Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purposes of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.

This all leads me to the problem that Judge Walker addressed in the court ruling that invalidated Prop. 8. Essentially, the problem is that once you define marriage as a loving partnership that includes relational aspects and not just procreation and the control of property through coverture or inheritance, it makes no sense to exclude loving same-sex couples. In other words, when the Church adopts the position that sexual relations are pure, natural and holy on their own when performed by a loving couple who are emotionally and spiritually bound to each other, then it's much harder to argue that same-sex couples who use physical intimacy to strengthen these kinds of bonds are sinful.

(To be continued...)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Church changes stance on gay marriage in CHI 2010

The 2010 edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI) contains a very different position on gay marriage than the 2006 edition. Here are the edits, with deletions in strikeout and additions in italics:

Same-Gender Marriage

Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God. The Church accordingly opposes same-gender marriages and any efforts to legalize such marriages. Church members are encouraged "to appeal to legislators, judges, and other government officials to preserve the purposes and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and to reject all efforts to give legal authorization or other official approval or support to marriages between persons of the same gender" (First Presidency letter Feb 1, 1994; see also "Homosexual Behavior" in the previous column).

As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to God's the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

The powers of procreation are to be exercised Sexual relations are proper only between a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family. The Church accordingly favors measures that define affirms defining marriage as the legal and lawful union of a man and a woman and that do not confer legal status on any other sexual relationship.

While opposing same-gender marriage, the Church reaches out with understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. See also "Homosexual Behavior" on page 187.


This is a large change. The Church rolls back overt support or opposition of any specific marriage statute and replaces it with a vague statement that "affirms defining" marriage in a way that would exclude same-sex couples. ("Affirm" could mean just about anything in this context. It's not a strong word.) The admonition for members to get involved politically has been entirely deleted as well as opposition to civil recognition of same-sex relationships that falls short of marriage.

It's not exactly "I'm sorry, gays" but who am I to quibble? This is progress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kremlinology, con't

Project Mayhem reports that the 2010 edition of the Church Handbook of Instructions has a significantly revised section on homosexuality.

Comparing the 2006 edition with 2010, here are the changes reported on Project Mayhem's blog. Deletions are in strikeout, insertions are in italics:

Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel. Those who persist in such behavior or who influence others to do so are subject to Church discipline. Homosexual behavior can be forgiven through sincere repentance.

If members have homosexual thoughts or feelings or engage in homosexual behavior, Church leaders should help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth. Leaders also should help them accept responsibility for their thoughts and actions and apply gospel principles in their lives.

While opposing homosexual behavior, the Church reaches out to understanding and respect to individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender. [This was moved from being the 2nd to 3rd paragraph]

In addition to the inspired assistance of Church leaders, members may need professional counseling. When appropriate, bishops should contact LDS Social Services to identify resources to provide such counseling in harmony with gospel principles.

[If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support and encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity and to control unrighteous thoughts. These members may receive Church callings. If they are worthy and qualified in every other way, they may also hold temple recommends and receive temple ordinances.]


Okay, folks, this is a pretty big change. The biggest part is the Church's discontinuation of support for scientifically discredited therapeutic techniques that attempt to change sexual orientation. Homosexual orientation is now recognized to exist and is morally neutral. The Church now asks only for celibacy; you don't have to repent anymore for being gay.

I am especially gratified to see distorts loving relationships removed from the text. Break out the champagne, boyfriend! Our love isn't a perverted caricature of human affection after all!

There's a lot that's missing from this section. For example, the CHI is still silent on the advisability of mixed-orientation marriages, even though official statements of the Church have discouraged them. This lack of clarity does a lot of damage.

Winners: good sense and reason. Losers: LDS Social Services and the reparative therapy industry.

UPDATE After posting this, I was able to review for myself the relevant section in the 2010 CHI. The section on LDS Social services is *still* in the handbook, contrary to the report I relied on for this post. Therefore, the conclusions reached in this post are not valid, and I retract them.

The rewording in this section of the CHI does reinforce the notion that homosexual orientation is morally neutral, but it does not retract the Church's support for LDS Social Services.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Colt Hansen - Rest in peace

Three days ago in Salt Lake City, Colt Hansen, a young gay man from a Mormon family, took his life. Colt participated in the SLC gay community and had worked at Try-Angles, a local gay bar. Colt's friends report that he struggled with his family over their refusal to accept him. This came to a head the night before Colt's death, when he and his father argued for the last time.

The obituary prepared by Colt's family is stunning. I'll quote a little of it. The whole thing can be found here.

Our beloved son, brother, grandson, and uncle passed away peacefully in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 3, 2010 after a severe battle with depression.


There is nothing peaceful about suicide. It is an extreme form of violence. I can assure you that Colt's last hours on this earth were the exact opposite of peaceful. It breaks my heart to think of it.

How much of Colt's "severe battle" was caused by familial rejection? Academic studies show that young gay people whose families exhibit rejecting behaviors toward them are eight times more likely to attempt suicide.

Colt loved being around his friends and family. ... Colt loved his dogs, Kasha and Travis. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This paragraph breaks my heart. The last communication Colt had with his family was an argument over his rejection of the LDS Church. I guess the family got the last word on the subject. Even in death they couldn't leave this one alone. I guess it could be wishful thinking on the part of the parents or attempt to reduce the family's shame over having a gay son. In any case, identifying Colt as a member of the LDS Church dishonors his life.

Colt is survived by his loving parents, Rick and Connie Hansen

I know that I in similar circumstances would not have the gall to editorialize about myself in this way. Is that adjective really needed under these painful circumstances? Does no one feel even partial regret about actions they might rethink in the face of tragedy?

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the LDS Church Missionary Fund.

This part is over the top. I am speechless at the insensitivity. The subtext is one of utter cruelty. It almost gloats. It says that Colt's life, what he chose for himself, the hopes and dreams that he nurtured, are of no importance. This one statement is the complete invalidation of a particular human life.

Colt will be buried on Tuesday, November 9.

Reading reports of the needless deaths of our beautiful young gay Mormon people should distress us all and motivate us to action. We must stanch the flow of blood.

Via: Eric Ethington

Friday, November 5, 2010

WWJD

I read the following letter to advice columnist Dan Savage.

I'm a 29 year-old gay ex-Mormon who has been almost completely estranged by my extended family since coming out at 16. They live in dense Mormon communities where homosexuals have to be closeted or risk being ostracized by literally their family/friend/church communities (I lost everyone and moved out of the state, alone, at the age of 16).

I was shocked this morning to find out that I have a 16-year-old cousin who is gay and tried to kill himself a few weeks ago. Because i'm not on speaking terms with anyone outside of my immediate family—and those connections took 10 years to reestablish—the news arrived to me as gossip.

Luckily living in 2010 it wasn't hard to track him down on a social networking site. I've had a few conversations with him, but in spite of the fact that my page is covered with "It Gets Better" videos and pictures of me with various boyfriends, he's still trying to keep up a straight facade—which is the only way he can survive in Utah.

When I was his age I was the victim of a gossip torrent outing me to everyone I knew that nearly pushed me to suicide. He knows I haven't spoken to any of his family in 13 years. I don't want him to feel like this is gossip rippling through the family (which it is) or that he's been outed to his whole family (which he has).

What advice can you give me Dan? I want to respect his right to come out to me when he feels comfortable, but I also don't want to overwhelm him or wait for the next attempt. There are zero resources in his (almost 90%) Mormon community, and at least for now it won't get better.

[FMB]


Dan writes back:

Don't fuck around, FMB.

Get this boy's number, call him, tell him you're gay, and tell he can come and live with you, if he needs to, and that he can finish high school in a saner place, surrounded by sane people, a place where it will get better for him.

Step up, FMB, and be the hero this kid needs.—Dan


FMB replies:
Should have thought of that—got him a ticket to come out next week. Thanks.—FMB


This, dear readers, made me cry.

Why I love Mormons

I love Mormons... because of Mormons like William Bradshaw.

[Note: This video is not Bradshaw's recent lecture on homosexuality. Instead, it's a recent interview about his personal experiences with his gay son and Prop 8.]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Younger and blonder wives

I have a guest post at one of the Mormon group blogs. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

LDS Church redefines marriage language

Here’s what I noticed in the statement issued yesterday by the LDS Church in response to a letter it received from the Human Rights Campaign. The statement was read by Michael Otterson.

1) LDS Newsroom has begun to use words gay and lesbian without prefixing them with "so-called" or placing the words in quotation marks. You can see this in several places in Otterson’s statement.

Further, Otterson uses these words as nouns as well as adjectives, which is something you still won’t hear in General Conference. LDS PR is taking the next step in saying that people known as gays and lesbians exist.

(Prior usage would have been the clumsy and demeaning phrase "people suffering from same-gender attraction."

It’s also interesting to note that the use of the word gay is so new to the Church that its copyeditors didn’t catch the nonstandard phrase "gay young men" and replace it with the more idiomatic "young gay men." )

2) LDS Newsroom used the term sexual orientation without prefixing it with "so-called" or putting it in quotation marks to delegitimize it. The idea that sexual orientation exists is very new to LDS official discourse. This may be the first use of the term in any kind of official LDS statement.

3) The statement explicitly calls out the fact that the Church recognizes that same-sex attraction is not lust. Otterson offers that there are "emotional, social, and physical feelings" involved. The implication is that sexual orientation is important to the formation of pair bonds. This an important change in thinking and strongly contradicts Elder Packer’s remarks. (Elder Packer admits only sexual desire, and not the social and emotional bonding that exists for a same-sex couple.)

4) LDS PR speaks the name "Human Rights Campaign" and says that the Church shares some goals with HRC. This may be the first time any offical statement by the Church has dignified a gay-rights group by speaking its name. (Prior usage would have been "Some say that..." or "While proponents of so-called 'gay rights' claim that...").

You can look back on previous statements from the Church to see how novel the current language is. For example, even as late as the Oaks/Wickman interview, the Church used quotation marks to indicate that the word relationship when applied to same-sex couples could only denote a risible counterfeit of authentic human experience. That’s now gone.

Kremlinologists (and copyeditors) take note. Change is afoot. :- )

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It gets better, 4

This one moved me greatly.



I myself was that boy on the bridge at a particular moment in my youth. I'm glad I chose life.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

It gets better, 3

This is for all of the young people who might be following this blog.

(No Mormon references in this one.)



A lot of the videos in this series make reference to high school as the difficult years for young gay people. Watching these, I keep thinking of all the gay undergraduates at BYU who have such a hard time. When you watch these videos, just substitute "BYU" whenever you hear "high school."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It gets better, 2



There's a special Mormon shout-out at 0:36 to 0:39.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It gets better

Advice columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry have started a YouTube project to prevent gay teen suicide. The theme is to tell young people who might be struggling that it gets better. There is something to hope for. You can contribute your own video. Here's Dan's and Terry's:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Movie review: Patrik, Age 1.5

Tobi and I saw the gay-themed comedy/drama Patrik, Age 1.5 this week. This Swedish film had received very mediocre reviews, so we made sure to go see it during the discount show so that we weren't too invested in the outcome. :- )

Sometimes I think how well you like a film is related to your prior expectations. If you go in thinking you won't like it, you are often favorably impressed that it was better than you thought. If you expect it to be great, it's often a disappointment. True to form, this poorly reviewed movie surprised us. Tobi and I really, really liked it.

The story is about a married male couple, Sven and Göran, who have been cleared to adopt a child. They are expecting a toddler but bureaucratic mix-ups cause them to get a homophobic 15-year-old juvenile delinquent instead.

The twists and turns of plot that occur after the initial mix-up aren't particularly original, but the film has many other charms. For one thing, the acting is a delight. There are a number of characters, and all of them have colorful parts. There wasn't a single actor in the film who showed anything other than mastery of his or her part. The various technical aspects, such as cinematography, editing and soundtrack were top notch. The script, despite its many weaknesses, was entertaining and at times even touching. And, of course, the details of Swedish culture are interesting, too (Sven and Göran joke that they could take a baby of any nationality except Danish).

If you can bring yourself to forgive the less-than-plausible premise, this movie really has a lot to offer in terms of characters, humor and appreciation for the fact that loving families come in many flavors. If you can't catch it at your local independent theater, I'm sure the DVD will be available soon.

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dealing with LDS families

There's an interesting thread on Mormon Matters about LDS families with gay children. Readers of this blog may want to check it out and possibly contribute their own stories.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Carol Lynn Pearson - podcast

Mormon Stories has a podcast with Carol Lynn Pearson, the author of Goodbye, I Love You, Facing East and No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones.

The podcast is lengthy but very worthwhile. My favorite section is Part 4 where Sister Pearson talks about supporting gays in the Church and society.



This section is about 1 hour and 15 minutes long. It is worth every minute. Here's a quick guide to Part 4 of the interview:

1:05 Writing Goodbye, I Love You
2:00 LDS reactions to Goodbye, I Love You
10:00 Carol Lynn begins to get letters from gay people and their families
11:20 Writing Facing East (a play about parents who deal with the suicide of their gay son).
15:45 LDS reactions to Facing East
16:30 Writing No More Goodbyes
19:27 Prop 8. and its aftermath
29:20 Attempts at reconciliation by the Oakland Stake
33:02 Advice for young people wondering if there is a place in the church for them
37:45 Advice for a person considering entering a mixed-orientation marriage
41:10 Advice for a gay person trying to make a mixed-orientation marriage work
44:13 Advice for navigating a divorce
45:10 Advice for gay Mormons with respect to same-sex relationships
48:20 The possibility of long-term same-sex relationships and the benefits of social support for gay relationships
50:52 Comments about this moment in history
52:05 Are long-term gay relationships even possible? (rebuttal to hostile interview question)
58:50 Advice for a man who chooses celibacy
1:01:10 The need for partnership
1:06:25 Advice for parents of gay children
1:11:15 Suicide

You can view the entire interview (parts 1 - 5, about 4 hours) here.

Pearson is compassionate and wise. She has keen emotional intelligence (I believe this is what has helped her avoid run-ins with LDS leaders). Her activism on this issue within the framework of the Church shows tremendous moral courage. I don't when I've ever seen gay people better defended within the Mormon context.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A mixed-orientation analogy

Anyone who's read this blog knows that I don't think we should be encouraging young people into mixed-orientation marriages. My outspokenness on this issue tends to offend people who are already in mixed-orientation marriages, even though my position on existing MOMs is positive. I support these couples 100%, wherever their paths take them.

I finally came up with an analogy that might make this clearer. Bear with me.

We all know that it's not a good idea for teenagers to get married. Marriages between 17 year olds have a very high rate of failure. Those that don't end in failure are often stormy. The couple often find themselves growing apart by the time they are 30. Etc. We can point to specific reasons why early marriage is an extraordinarily bad idea. There's no need to recite the list here.

Now, let's suppose you and your spouse did marry in your teens, and your teen marriage happens to be one of the exceptions to the rule. You've stayed married for two or three decades and are satisfied with your marriage. Maybe there have been some rough spots along the way but all-in-all you are content with the family structure you have built.

Question: Does the fact that your teen marriage is doing well decades later mean that we should soft-pedal our advice to young people who might be contemplating such a union today? Is the fact that we strongly discourage marriage between teens on practical grounds showing a kind of disrespect for your successful marriage?

I think it's pretty easy to see that the answer to these questions is no. No one is showing intolerance for your marriage by strongly advising young people against marrying when they are 17. That some couples are capable of maintaining their teen marriages into middle age doesn't change the fact that young people considering this step should be alerted to the extreme inadvisability of teenage marriage.

Now, suppose that you are well versed in the many problems of teenage marriage. Maybe you even were in one of these, and it was a spectacular and painful failure. Maybe you are acquainted with a large number of couples who have experienced sorrow as a result of underage marriage. Maybe you've read the statistics and the academic literature on the subject. Then, you happen to meet a happy couple who years earlier married young. What would your feeling be toward this couple? Would you disdain their relationship? The answer is no, of course not. You'd be happy for them.

What if you met a couple who happened to be struggling as a result of problems connected to marrying so young. Would you hope for them to fail as a way of validating your own anti-teen-marriage ideology or would you empathize with their issues and hope for the best? Again, it's not a stretch to imagine that you'd be on their side.

Finally, what if your own teen-aged son or daughter came to you and asked your advice whether they should marry their sweetheart. Would you encourage the pair of enamored 17 year olds to pray about it and ask God if they should marry? Would you pass along anecdotes of couples who married young and beat the odds? I don't think so. You'd tell them in clear terms what the story was, with no ifs, ands or buts.

In my mind, the parallel between these two situations (teenage marriage and marriage between people of unmatched sexual orientations) is strong, yet I end up thoroughly offending people in mixed-orientation marriages on a regular basis. I have yet to offend anyone who married young. My theory about this is that people in mixed-orientation marriages can be a lot touchier about the issue than people who might have married as teenagers. I'm not exactly sure why.

I'd love to hear from any of you in mixed-orientation marriages or from anyone else with an opinion on the topic. Does my analogy make any sense to you? I'm happy to take criticism. If you think I've been smoking something, let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Best anti-plagiarism video ever

I love this video. Be sure to turn on the subtitles if you don't speak Norwegian.

No gay or Mormon content-- it's a video produced by the University of Bergen to encourage students not to plagiarize someone else's work. There's enough going on that I recommend watching it high-def, full screen.



(After you watch it, you can see one of the many hilarious references here.)

Via: Stephen's Lighthouse

Monday, May 31, 2010

Brodie love

I am a big fan of Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History, a historically accurate and extremely readable biography of Joseph Smith. There was an interesting discussion of this book on a Mormon-themed blog recently.

The interesting thing about this book is that the Church has spent two generations painting it as the personal vendetta of an apostate bent on destroying the Kingdom. The church's own apologist-in-chief Hugh Nibley did a particularly unscrupulous (and embarrassing) hatchet job on it and this has been continued by the FAIR and FARMS crowd. However, when Richard Bushman, a faithful LDS historian, finally got around to writing Rough Stone Rolling, the closest thing there is to an uncontested Joseph Smith biography, he borrowed so heavily from Brodie that he effectively vindicated her. The Church does not contest Bushman, but his book contains the same facts as Brodie! (In fact, I argue that it adds so little, it should not have been written.) The only difference is that Bushman changes the tone and paints Joseph Smith as more of a passive observer rather than a charismatic leader. The blog post I mentioned earlier has an interesting comparison between Brodie's Joseph Smith and Bushman's. For my money, Brodie's book is much, much better written. She has a gift for narrative that Bushman lacks. And after all those years of Brodie-hating, the Church has effectively granted all her points. I guess it's too much to expect an apology. In any case, I can't recommend NMKMH too highly.

To fill in the gaps left by Brodie, I also like Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Newell and Avery. Emma Smith's story is fascinating and puts a lot of the other material in context. Official Mormon history pretty much leaves women out. If your only exposure to LDS history is the correlated version you read in the lesson manuals, you really owe it to yourself to read these two books.

One more book I want to mention is Roots of Modern Mormonism by Mark P. Leone (Harvard Univ Press, 1979). This very readable book shows how Mormonism went from an interesting and freewheeling band of outsiders to end up as the stodgiest kind of establishment religion imaginable. Leone shows how Utah's statehood and its aftermath changed everything. It was a remarkable transformation. If you read Brodie and wonder what ever happened to that church, Leone's book tells you.

(I also want to plug the recent podcast about correlation, described here.)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Happy 101 Sweet Friends

Reina La Reine tagged me. I guess that means I have to quit being a curmudgeon for ten minutes. I suppose it won't kill me.

I, MoHoHawaii, would truly be ungrateful this day if I didn't stand before you and express my gratitude for:

1. Reason and empirical methods. I stand in awe of people like Newton and Einstein and Alan Guth. What we now know about the natural world and the cosmos is mind boggling. Why don't we spend a three-hour block every week studying this?

2. Art. Art produces a feeling of transcendence in me that has kind of replaced what I used to look for in religion. It was a life-changing experience when I took my son to see the Ghent Altarpiece.

3. Friendship and love. This life is lonely. I couldn't do it without the people I love.

4. Books. My childhood was saved by books. They were a lifeline into a world outside. I never outgrew the habit of reading them.

5. The Internet. Delete items 1 - 4 if you must. I'll take the Internet over any one of them. (Just kidding.) Number 5a on this list would have to be FedEx and UPS. I list them in this section because they're as much a part of the Internet as HTTP.

6. The Performing Arts. I am a fan.

7. State and national parks. These restore my soul.

8. Museums. These are my holy shrines. See #2 above.

9. Food culture. Fresh, well-prepared food served with an appropriately matched fermented beverage and eaten over leisurely conversation is one of life's great pleasures. This gets such a bad rap in Mormonism. We learned at a young age that "eat, drink and be merry" is Very Bad. It is against the rules in Mormonism to serve meals that last more than 15 minutes. Individual servings (as opposed to "family style"), not to mention actual courses, are the first signs of apostasy, as bad as that subscription to Sunstone or Dialogue.

10. Japanese spas. My boyfriend introduced me, but now I would go even if he didn't ask. (The Japanese word for these is onsen.)

According to the rules of the meme, I'm supposed to tag 10 other people. I cannot in good conscience bring myself to do this. If you have read through this list, consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Teach the controversy!



Funny stuff. :- )

--

Just as an aside, a recent Pew Research Center study showed that belief in the scientific basis of biology is lower in Mormons than any other religious group measured by the study, except Jehovah's Witnesses. Also, and completely by accident, I ran across an Ensign article explaining that both the Flood and the Tower of Babel are fully historical events. (Look it up on lds.org if you think I'm kidding-- The Flood and the Tower of Babel" by Donald W. Parry, Ensign, January 1998.)

This has kind of sneaked up on me. I had forgotten that Mormons are (officially at least) Biblical literalists and what the implication of that really is. It's been a long time.

I remember when I was in the MTC, our branch president, who was a BYU humanities scholar in his 50s, was reading aloud an Old Testament passage that mentioned a prophet (I don't think it was Methuselah) who died at 900 years of age. A young Elder in my group involuntarily gave a short laugh of surprise. (I was well aware of Biblical longevity claims so I knew better than to laugh.) Our branch president looked up briefly from the passage he was reading and made eye contact with the Elder. The room got quiet and the Elder blushed. I still clearly remember his narrow face as it went to pink and then to red. It was an awkward moment. Nothing was said. The BP looked down and continued reading aloud. To me, the message was very clear, and I felt a slight shadow of fear pass over me. Point out the obvious, and you'll be punished. It wasn't a big deal, but on the other hand I've never forgotten that day.

Facts matter. Nobody ever lived to 900. There, I said it. After all these years.

Photo via: LOL god

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Polyamorous mom

I just ran across a blog by a woman from an LDS background who practices polyandry. She has a husband and a male partner who himself is married to another woman. Everything is out in the open; there's no sneaking around involved.

The blog pretty much speaks for itself and doesn't need my commentary. Check it out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

APA v Evergreen/NARTH

The American Psychological Association has a Web-based pamphlet with basic, factual information about homosexuality. (Also in PDF.) It's a good introduction and something that you could point your friends and family to.

One of the things it addresses is the fact that sexual orientation is distinct from the masculine/feminine gender spectrum and that sexual orientation is also not only about modes of sexual behavior. Sexual orientation is a determining factor in the formation of intimate attachment. It determines, in a profound way, which relationships are possible for most people. The basic distinctions between gender expression, sexual object choice and potential for nonplatonic relationships are hopelessly conflated in the Evergreen/NARTH/LDS literature, and in fact it simply sweeps the entire issue of relationships under the rug.

From the APA pamphlet:

Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological, and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).

Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one's sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people. [Emphasis added.]


I thought of this when I chanced upon this comment from an anonymous LDS reader of another blog:

I'm a married (15 years, 5 kids) gay man and I can attest that one should never go into a marriage when one partner is gay thinking everything will be all right. I told my wife before we got married that I had "been gay" but was now over it. I thought over time my "gayness" would diminish and I'd end up being an almost normal LDS married man. (Evergreen needs to be banned). Last August I had a near mental breakdown. Since that time, my wife and I have had some excruciatingly difficult discussions. We are still married and highly motivated to make it work. I cannot say with certainty that it will, but I do know that it is extremely difficult. Like it or not, sex is a huge part of any union. You simply cannot have a true marriage relationship without it.


When we say things like "sex is a huge part of any union" we mean more than the physical aspects. The make-or-break problem with mismatched sexual orientations isn't just an asymmetrical desire for sex (A wants it more than B does). Instead, the crucial problem is the inability to form a durable pair bond in such a relationship (this is evidenced by an enduring feeling of loneliness or separateness). Having matched orientations (not the sex act itself) is the secret sauce.

I've heard the argument that putting your cards on the table before entering into a mixed-orientation marriage resolves the ethical issues and levels the playing field. The idea is that if both parties go into marriage with their eyes open, then problems can be avoided. I view this argument with skepticism. Going into a marriage with low expectations for sexual relations does nothing to prepare you for the inability to develop deep emotional attachment and comfort in the long term. That's the gotcha, and Evergreen doesn't even acknowledge it exists.

To all of you in mixed-orientation marriages, I wish you the best. The outcomes and experience will vary by age, duration of the marriage and temperament. Nothing is foreordained.

To those of you who are single, please take this seriously. Get information from the mainstream scientific community and not just from official-sounding repackagers of religious views like Evergreen and NARTH.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sweet Mormon Boy

This is for all of you returned missionaries out there. It's a song by the Seattle Men's Chorus about a Mormon missionary. (Words after the video.)



Lyrics:

One Thursday in July, 'bout a quarter after four
I heard a gentle knocking at my door.
I opened up to find a sight I'd witnessed before:
A pair of Mormon boys.

They stood at my door, this missionary pair
With name tags and perfect Disney hair,
With a burning in their bosom they simply had to share.
Oh, such faithful Mormon boys.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
'Elders' at age nineteen.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
They keep their habits clean.
Sweet Mormon boys.


I asked the fellows in and poured some lemonade.
I said I'd be a tough one to persuade,
Still they forged ahead, unfazed and undismayed.
Oh, such loyal Mormon boys.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
On missions for two long years.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
They keep their aspirations clear,
Sweet Mormon boys.


The taller of the two was delightsome to the eye,
Handsome and strong but shy.
His smile seemed to say that at any moment he might cry,
A peculiar Mormon boy.

His eyes were deep and gentle, a shocking shade of blue,
Intent, it seemed, at staring at his shoe.
He caught my gaze and blushed and looked away
And then I knew:
Oh, that poor Mormon boy!

A curious hour passed. I listened for a while.
The eager Elder talking all the while.
But all I could think of was the other fellow's trial
And the torment he must be going through.

If he truly is peculiar that's a rocky row to hoe,
Temple lost, he'll have no place to go.
They'll shun him all the way from the Salt Lake to Provo,
A lost Mormon boy.

They shook my hand and left; I stood waving from the door,
Wondering what their mission had in store.
Memories came to surface from many years ago,
Oh, when I was a Mormon boy. I was a Mormon boy.

They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
No looking back, their hand to the plow,
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
A Mormon always keeps his vow.


They go two by two, day by day, door to door,
Doing the work of the Lord.
Earnest as an apple and wholesome to the core,
But what if there's a secret, one that cannot be ignored?
What happens to such a Mormon boy?
Such a sweet Mormon boy?
Such a sweet Mormon boy.

You, me and the Church

I came across an episode of the radio program This American Life where a young Mormon woman received annual birthday letters that were written to her before her mother died of cancer when the girl was 16. Her mother wanted to have an influence on her daughter's life, so she wrote a series of letters, essentially from her deathbed. (You can listen to the episode here. It begins at 9:25.)

Each year, following the wishes of her deceased mother, the young woman's father would mail one of the letters to her. There were 13 of them. At first the letters were comforting and a reminder of her mother's love. But they also contained counsel and moral instruction from an LDS perspective that over time became problematic. I recommend listening to the story.

I have often thought that in marriage the LDS Church is the third person in the bedroom (in kind of a creepy way). Something like this is also the case with LDS family relationships. The young woman in the interview eventually diverged from traditional LDS belief and went on to medical school. She was conflicted, though, because her mother's continuing instruction to her couldn't be reconciled with the person she was becoming. She was not a person of faith, but her life's work involved compassion, science and commitment to others. It was not a comfortable place for a young Mormon girl to be. Eventually, the letters stopped, and life went on.

I have tried with my own LDS family members and LDS friends and acquaintances to bridge the gap. From my side, I don't see why this shouldn't be possible. It's certainly not necessary that we all share the same opinion on matters of faith. I'm sorry to say that the results are not what I would have hoped for. (Interestingly, things were better before the Prop. 8 debacle.)

It's truly unfortunate that the quality of family relations seems to vary inversely with the doctrinal orthodoxy of the family member in question. For example, a gay Mormon friend of mine comes from a family of eight siblings. He’s in his fifties and his parents are still living. Some of his family members are close to him and treat him with kindness, even though they all have to deal with the dissonance that arises in the Church from having a gay family member. Others take a harder line and refuse to justify sin by allowing my friend to visit or associate with their children. If you line up his family in order of orthodoxy (liahona vs iron rod order), you see a correlation. The iron rodders just can’t deal with him. His parents, who are pretty much on the iron rodders side, are caught in the middle. It’s a big source of stress for the entire family. It's also complicated by envy-- my friend has had professional and personal success that some of his siblings resent. (Oddly, it's again the more orthodox siblings, which I can't explain.)

In my own case, the kindness toward me shown by the less orthodox members of my family is noticeably greater. (The exception is one TBM sister who has always had a soft and loving heart.) I’ve also noticed a huge difference between my generation (I’m 50) and my siblings’ children who are now in their 20s and early 30s. Across the board, my nieces and nephews treat me better than the older family members. I have had excellent relationships with my nieces and nephews since they were born. (The only problem areas are one or two very orthodox spouses who have recently joined the family.) My LDS parents have passed away, but I always had a very close relationship with them.

You might say, "But, MoHoHawaii, you're such a pain in the ass, of course your LDS family and acquaintances keep their distance." :- ) I don't really buy the charge. The problem is that it's a triangle-- it's not just "you and me," it's "you, me and the Church." And we know what the Church's position is-- it would shun me by powerful ritual if I hadn't left first. It seeks me out in the political sphere and tries to do me harm. It's hard for you to love me when this other thing you love hates me. If it were just "you and me" I think we'd be okay.

Maybe we will be someday. I haven't given up on my efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable with my LDS family and acquaintances. Sometimes it works; sometimes not so much. Sometimes it’s my own fault. In any case, it’s an ongoing effort.

--
Note: Radio program via Times & Seasons

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Quote of the day

Always remember and don't ever forget, my darling poppets: Men of science walked on the moon; men of faith stole airplanes and flew them into buildings.

- Muffy Bolding


Oh, and speaking of men of faith, George Rekers, NARTH board member, Baptist minister, prominent anti-gay activist, co-founder of the virulently anti-gay Family Research Council and expert witness against gay adoption in Florida, was caught taking a 10-day European vacation with a male prostitute from Miami. For real.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Celebrity crushes - science edition

Crush #1 - Lawrence Krauss, physicist

This lecture is one of the simplest and clearest explanations of basic scientific cosmology I've ever run across. If you've ever wondered how we know things like the scale of the universe or its age or why we observe that all stars are moving away from us, watch this lecture. (Running time: ~1 hour)

(Warning: Krauss's point of view is secular, and he doesn't tiptoe around the idea that religious stories of origin are not factual. Some believers may be offended by his jokes.)



Crush #2 - Hot brain-on-brain action: Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss discuss topics related to science education. (Running time ~120 min.)



Now I need to go take a cold shower!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blessing

For all you who are in the process of coming out, here's a song.

This is American Idol's season one finalist and Christian recording artist, RJ Helton, singing Scott Alan's 'Blessing', a song that asks parents to accept a gay son, at Birdland, New York City, April 12th, 2010.



There are several versions of this on the net. Lyrics are here.

Via: Towleroad

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Joke of the day

Q: What are crows?

A: Seagulls that refused to eat crickets in the pre-existence.



:-)

I think I have a new favorite joke.


Via: Mild-Mannered Musings

Friday, March 12, 2010

Glee's not Buffy

I finally got around to watching Glee (on DVD). It's a cute show, and I recommend it. People smarter and hipper than I am recommend it, too. (There are a few holdouts.)

I think the script has been influenced by shows like The Office. The characters are crude stereotypes with not much depth, but the lines are funny enough to make up for other faults. Still, when it comes to dysfunctional high schools, I miss Buffy. It makes perfect sense that a high school might be situated on top of the Hellmouth.

I do have to say that Glee's music makes me feel old. I know all of the show tunes and standards better than is seemly, and I don't get the hip hop at all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sentimental disbelief

Nonbelievers have a problem with public relations.

One popular stereotype portrays atheists as cold and overly analytical, all logic and no heart. They are thought to have a deaf ear when it comes to feelings. "What is this thing you call love?" asks the alien of science fiction in a robotic voice. From an LDS viewpoint, this type of nonbeliever lacks the gift of faith and can be pitied. This kind of nonbeliever prays but receives no answer.

Another kind of nonbeliever in the popular imagination is the arrogant professor, exemplified Richard Dawkins. Too smart for his own good, this kind of atheist talks down you, and nobody likes a smarty pants. In the LDS world, this kind of nonbeliever gets 2 Nephi 9:28 thrown at them: "when they are learned they think they are wise, [but] their wisdom is foolishness." (Unfortunately, this familiar ad hominem attack doesn't say how to refute the facts and arguments presented by the unpleasant person of learning.)

To sum up, nonbelievers either lack feeling or they lack humility. As bad as this is, it gets worse. In many cases, nonbelievers are evil.

Joseph Smith took on the theme of the public skeptic in the Book of Mormon with the character Korihor. Korihor is definitely a nonbeliever we can love to hate, since he follows the conventions of villains from melodrama. Korihor isn't just a nonbeliever; he's dastardly. He's the third kind of nonbeliever: the villainous deceiver. What distinguishes Korihor is the fact that he means to cause harm. The moral of his story is that nonbelievers are evil people who want to lead us astray. We learn that they must be dealt with by force, either human and supernatural. Interacting with them or trying to understand what they are saying would be as ill advised as inviting a vampire to cross your threshold.

Clearly, nonbelievers have a public image that could use some polishing. Let's see-- as a nonbeliever you can be lacking in feeling, lacking in humility or just plain evil. These are not attractive options.

When I wonder what kind of nonbeliever I am, I start with these three possibilities.

The first one (Mr. Spock) might fit in some ways. I certainly had tremendous cognitive dissonance when I was a believer. Getting an answer to prayer that I could believe in was next to impossible. However, I am intuitive and also very emotional. I *never* (even to this day) have had any problem feeling the rush of affirmation that that people describe as feeling the Spirit.

When I compare myself to Prof. Dawkins, the second kind of nonbeliever, I think we might be getting closer. I can't really say for sure. I will say that one of the most profoundly moving moments of my life was when I really understood the implications of the scientific method. I'm the kind of person who gets very excited by repeatable experiments. So, I guess I have to leave option two as a maybe. It's possible that I lack humility, since I do value knowledge deduced from empirical data, and I prize academic achievement.

I feel pretty good about ruling out the last kind of nonbeliever, the ill-intentioned deceiver. I know my own heart pretty well, and if anything it's my commitment to independently verifiable facts that keeps me in a state of disbelief. I certainly have no desire to cause harm.

Ultimately, though, I don't feel comfortable with any of these atheist personas. My attempt to find a path through this life is no different from anyone else's. I'm as bewildered by this life as the next person. I'm just as awed by the magnificence of creation as the believers I know. Maybe I'm a sentimental nonbeliever. Is that a new category?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The celibacy timeline

I have never met a man who made it from youth to age 45 as a celibate gay Mormon fully active in the Church.

There are lots and lots of 25-year-old men in this category, and you see the occasional person who perseveres to thirty-five. By 45 no one's left.

It's as if there's some kind of built-in term limit for men on the celibate gay Mormon role. Most leave the Church or at least quit participating; a few enter into mixed-orientation marriages at ages greater than the standard LDS marrying age.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On the nature of advice

I like giving advice. It's kind of a hobby. Recently however, I came across this explanation:
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.

This is true, breathtakingly, maddeningly true.

I hate the person who wrote this.

One of the blogs I read is by a young Mormon man who is trying to pray away the gay. As I read his blog I'm struck by how history repeats itself over and over and over again. His story was my story when I was younger. Is there anything I could tell this young gay Mormon man that he could actually hear? Isn't it the case that he would have to go through what I went through himself? Isn't free advice is worth what you pay for it? For the record, I don't comment on the young man's blog even though that's my impulse.

I go back and forth on this. I'm not convinced. Young gay Mormons already get a lot of advice, most of it over the pulpit, some of it quite damaging. Maybe there needs to be a counterpoint for balance. On the other hand, I can't deny that my inclination to give advice comes from my own ruminations about the past I've lived. These memories come with a sharpness that is sometimes painful. Passing them to others feels redemptive but is probably nothing more than the sentimentality of the aged.

I think I'll be offering less advice in the future.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A few good posts from 2009

Here are my 2009 Brodie nominations. The list is by no means exhaustive. There were a lot of memorable blog posts this year.

Best YouTube channel: MorMenLikeMe. With the goal of preventing suicide in gay Mormon youth, this YouTube channel has interviews with men who survived growing up gay and Mormon. (Many now work in the performing arts in NYC.)

Most poignant story: Dear John by Utah Cog. Cog decides that Utah is no longer a safe place for his family.

Best doctrinal topic: Unconditional Love by BiV. BoredInVernal critiques the growing LDS tendency to make God's love conditional.

Best book review: It's Time to Play: Anti-Mormon... Or Not?. Chanson review asks the question: "Anti- or Not?" as she reviews recent LDS-themed books.

Best post on religious differences: Andrew S on Internet Mormons and chapel Mormons.

Best discussion of political issues: Holly Noelle on why the Church's PR about the Main Street Plaza kiss wasn't credible. Holly gets right to the bottom of it.

Best polite call to repentance: D. Michael Quinn on Marriage Equality. Historian Michael Quinn suggests a few things the Church could do to make things better for gay Mormons.

Best total freak out: The Faithful Dissident on commercial hunting reserves owned by the LDS Church. Honestly, I had no idea about this either.

Funniest post: Emily Pearson's Mormon lightbulb joke.

Best response to apologetics: profxm's discussion of Bruce Hafen's anti-gay rhetoric.

Most poignant story: Lorian's post-Prop. 8 guest post on Feminist Mormon Housewives

Best deconversion post: Evolving Lesbian on why gay Mormons leave the Church.

Most poignant story: Scott on selfishness in marriage.

Overall a**-kicker of the year:
Chino Blanco
. Chino Blanco is a straight ally for gay rights.

Overall most faith-promoting: J G-W. Did you have any doubt?

Best investigative journalism: Chanson visits the polygamists!

I hope you all have a great year blogging. Keep cranking out those posts! All of our voices need to be heard. Your voice needs to be heard.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On the ethics of courtship

I recently read a personal essay by a middle-aged gay man named Patrick Muirhead who wants to have children and a stable home life. Disillusioned by twenty years in the gay demi-monde, Muirhead has an epiphany when he sees a father and his young son at a barber shop. He writes:

A handsome young dad entered with a small, fair-haired boy at his side. The man took a seat and hoisted the wide-eyed child proudly on to his knee. The first haircut, I speculated inwardly, as an unfamiliar fatherly glow and feeling of mild envy swept over me. I could not tear my attention away from the mirrored reflections.

From time to time, the dad leant forward as they waited and whispered close to his son’s ear, tenderly kissing his fair head. Touching stuff.

But then my eyes lowered and I became transfixed by the sight of the boy’s tiny pink fingers gripping his father’s huge, workman-like fist. And I almost wanted to burst into song.

I think my life changed at that moment.

That’s love, folks. Simple really. A proud dad, an adored little boy and a beautiful display of dependence and responsibility. It was the epiphany I had needed and I emerged with a dashing new haircut and a desire to procreate.


His solution is to find a woman to marry and reproduce with.

But before he goes out and does that, he feels the need to write a number of paragraphs generalizing his own unsatisfactory experiences into general condemnation of gay couples. For example,

[Same-sex marriages] really are little more than theatrical shams involving men making a point in matching wedding cravats, of embarrassed grandparents and monstrously camp multi-tier cakes.

I wince when gays describe boyfriends as “husbands”, subverting a solemn institution created to provide stability for child-rearing.


[Etc.]


Muirhead's intent to marry a woman is fueled by two things: 1) his desire to be a father and 2) by his own disdain for all things gay.

I find it fascinating that these reasons were precisely what motivated me as a young gay Mormon man to find a woman to marry those many years ago. Having been raised in the LDS Church, I had only heard the lie that gay people were sexual outlaws who took drugs and lived trivial lives of dissipation and excess. Although I had had no sexual experiences with either sex, I knew that what I perceived to be the "gay lifestyle" was not for me. I wanted a life of substance and responsibility. I knew I wanted children and that I could be a loving and devoted father. I knew I wanted to settle down and not be alone. As a result, I courted and married a young woman.

It ended, not surprisingly, in almost unimaginable sorrow.

Like me at the time of my marriage, Patrick Muirhead does not claim to have changed his orientation, despite the curious fact that the title of his essay is The Day I Decided to Stop Being Gay. He writes:

Does this mean that I no longer like men? No, of course not, and I won’t pretend.


He then pulls out a familiar chestnut, one that I used myself:

But in the streets and avenues of this country there must be many husbands whose interests are divided but whose choices are determined not by sexuality but emotionality.


This is exactly what I thought. To put it another way, "sexual attraction is a base motivation that can be trumped by duty, self-control and a higher, nonsexual kind of love."

I cannot tell you wrong this turned out to be for me and my wife. This view simply does not account for the unbridgeable incompatibility that can arise in a relationship when sexual orientations do not match. I'll say this until I'm blue in the face: it's not about sex, it's about the dynamics of pair bonding.

Forming a durable pair bond with a special person is a compelling and nearly universal human need. Once this bond forms, if you or your spouse had physical injuries that prevented sex, you’d still have each other. You would still be each other's beloved. Mature, loving couplings have remarkable durability, in sickness and in health. (Let's just say that it’s not unfulfilled sexual desire that causes all those suicides in gay LDS youth.)

There is no loneliness in this world like the loneliness you can feel as a part of a poorly matched couple. There is no more painful kind of rejection than what a spouse can feel when her husband can't love her back "in that way." It can destroy a person's sense of self.

I feel for Mr. Muirhead. I really do. The desires he expresses are human ones. They are universal aspirations. It's just that determination and grit are usually not an adequate basis for forming a durable pair bond with another person. Sexual orientation matters. This is inconvenient and frustrating, but it matters. The amount of silent misery that this issue causes is astonishing.

I feel even more for the woman Muirhead might marry. He concludes:

And lately I have, almost imperceptibly, been laying the groundwork to make parenthood happen in the old-fashioned way. I have been flirting with someone at my local pub, thinking about her at odd times, making excuses to call her and wondering if she likes me. It’s rather strange.


Yes, it is strange, as well as extremely dubious from an ethical perspective. He doesn't even pretend to be looking for a companion; instead, he's "laying the groundwork to make parenthood happen." WTF?

A man who is fully aware of his homosexuality and who courts an unsuspecting straight woman because he wants to escape the gay lifestyle and use her as a means of achieving parenthood is ... well, you don't want to know what I think.

Ah, you might say, but what if the man discloses his homosexuality before the marriage and the woman consents? Doesn't this fix the problem?

Not really. In my own case, I fully disclosed my sexuality to my future fiancee and her family after just a few months of dating. This was three months before we decided to get engaged and almost one year before the marriage. Of course, I'm glad I told her, but I don't think this lets me off the hook. When a person is in a state of limerence (as she was), powerful biological forces are at work that conspire against rational evaluation of the situation. In that state you don't really understand the ramifications. You think that you will beat the odds.

Most don't.

My biggest problem with Muirhead's essay is his attitude of women as chattel. He is blind to the fact that a marriage involves two people. Not once does he consider what consequences marrying a gay man might have on the woman he plans to seduce.

Via: -L-

----

Note to readers who find themselves in mixed-orientation marriages. I know that some of you think I am attacking your marriage or showing disrespect. This is absolutely not my intent. I fully support you on your path and wish you the best.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On mixed-orientation marriages

I made a comment a few days ago about the structural difficulties of mixed-orientation marriage. J G-W followed up with a post in a similar vein. This spurred a bit of controversy, which I want to respond to here.

Carol Lynn Pearson talks about mixed-orientation marriages in her book No More Goodbyes (pp. 9-10). She says:

I have gay friends who have married heterosexual partners. Most of those marriages have ended in extreme sorrow. A few of the marriages are still intact, with the partners experiencing some satisfaction along with significant difficulty. They believe this is the right choice for them. I respect that choice, and I wish them well.


Carol Lynn has had more exposure to mixed-orientation marriages than any person I know. Since her memoir was published in 1986 she has been sought out by countless LDS folks (hundreds if not thousands) who find themselves in mixed-orientation marriages. She is also a very wise and compassionate person. This all adds up to making her a very reliable witness.

My own experiences and what I've seen in others are consistent with Carol Lynn's conclusions.

Carol Lynn observes that "most of those marriages have ended in extreme sorrow." This is also what I have seen in the more than 25 years since I have been talking to people about this issue. (My own marriage was one of these casualties some 22 years ago.) Most of the mixed-orientation marriages I have been aware of over the past two and a half decades have in fact ended by now. (I think the general MOM divorce statistics are in the 90% range.) "Extreme sorrow" is a poignant and accurate term for these breakups. If you doubt this, read Amity Pierce Buxton's The Other Side of the Closet.

Carol Lynn says, "A few of those marriages are still intact, with the partners experiencing some satisfaction along with significant difficulty." Again, this exactly mirrors what I've observed. I know a few mixed-orientation marriages that have stabilized and are no longer at risk of divorce. (In all of the stable MOMs I know the spouses are age 50 or older.) Carol Lynn's characterization of these surviving marriages is apt: some satisfaction along with significant difficulty. (In contrast, I would characterize most matched-orientation relationships I know, both gay and straight, as having significant satisfaction along with some difficulties.)

Carol Lynn says, "They believe this is the right choice for them. I respect that choice, and I wish them well." I can absolutely relate to this. I also respect the choices that my friends in mixed-orientation marriages have made over the years, and I support them. Like Carol Lynn, I wish much success to anyone reading this who finds himself or herself in a mixed-orientation marriage and wants to stay there. You deserve our love and unconditional support. I do not doubt your devotion or level of commitment to your spouse!

The ethical dilemma I face is this: what do I say to young people who might be contemplating entering into a mixed-orientation marriage? I might be tempted, out of consideration for the sensitivities of people already in mixed-orientation marriages, to soft pedal my advice. Maybe the point of contention is whether I should downplay the seriousness of mismatched orientations as a problem for long-term marital satisfaction. Knowing what I know after all these years, I cannot in good conscience do that. I can think of no circumstance where I would advise young people to enter into a new mixed-orientation marriage.

I don't see it as contradictory to root for those who are currently in mixed-orientation marriages and at the same time to recommend that new mixed-orientation marriages not be formed.



-----

If I have hurt your feelings during these discussions, please accept my apologies. I do support you and wish you well. It's possible that our life experiences lead us to different conclusions about what general advice should be given to young people who are not yet married, and that's fine, too. Mine is just one voice arising from personal observation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie review: A Single Man

While I was in New York City between Christmas and New Year's, Tobi and I decided to go see the new movie of Christopher Isherwood's novel A Single Man. I was interested because this novel, written in 1964, was the first of a new genre of fiction that portrayed realistic gay characters without apology. The movie differs in some details from Isherwood's story but retains its spirit.

The story is a day in the life of a man whose longtime lover has been killed in an accident eight months previously. Set in 1962, the world that the protagonist inhabits treats gay relationships as if they do not exist. As one reviewer put it, it's the story of a grief that can't speak its name.

There are a number of interesting aspects to this movie, and I have to concede that it's one of the best gay-themed movies I've ever seen.

The movie was directed by fashion designer Tom Ford and as a result has an unusually stylish look. I at first found this odd, but as the movie progressed it started to make a more sense given what you learn about the characters. Ford spends a lot of effort getting the details of 1962 America to read on film. (The art direction was by the same people who are responsible for the TV series Mad Men.) The result is as visually stylized as a perfume commercial. Some find this distracting; I liked the effect.

The acting, especially the roles played by Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, is excellent. There will be Oscar nominations for these roles.

The film is currently in limited release. I understand that it will roll out to more theaters in April (i.e., after the Academy Awards provide all that free publicity). If you live in one of the major metropolitan areas where it's currently playing, definitely check this one out.

Here's the trailer:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Resolutions for my bishop

I have some New Year's resolutions for LDS church leaders. Let's make 2010 the best year ever!

Resolution 1: End the outdated practice of ritual shunning through excommunication.

Like many things in the church, change is underway, but it appears to be happening slowly as part of a gradual process. I'm old enough to remember the bad old days when BYU security conducted secret investigations and kept lists of suspected homosexuals. I'm old enough to remember when they announced the results of church courts publicly in Priesthood meeting. I'm old enough to remember when you could be excommunicated merely for admitting homosexual orientation. I remember when excommunicated members were treated as if they were radioactive.

A lot has changed. Church discipline today is used much less often. It mostly depends on the views of the man who happens to be the bishop or stake president. Over time the importance of Church discipline seems to be diminishing.

Let's just put a bullet in this thing now. As a call to repentance, it's ineffective. As a social practice, it's barbaric in its cruelty.

Resolution 2: Repudiate the theological justification for rejecting gay family members.

In October 2009 LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks gave a speech in which he encouraged parents to withhold familial love from adult children who do not follow the LDS life template. Oaks provides a theological basis for rejecting gay family members, arguing that since God's love is conditional ours should be, too. I have read a number of blog accounts of how this advice has been applied by families against gay family members.

(Oaks is also known as the person who encouraged LDS parents not to acknowledge the same-sex partner of their adult child socially or provide hospitality.)

Carol Lynn Pearson's No More Goodbyes argues eloquently against the doctrine of conditional love. Someone should tell the correlation committee about this one.

Resolution 3: Train bishops in basic social service practices and ethics.

LDS bishops engage in counseling with no training in suicide prevention, family systems or ethics for providers of social services. A small amount of training would help avoid cases of pastoral malpractice such as this one:
I have asked Bishops if it was better for me to kill myself or live my life with a husband and they told me they didn't have the answer.

Bishops, let's work to make 2010 a year when we work to prevent the suicides of gay Mormon youth, not cause them. We've come a long way from the days when General Authorities would say that it was better for us to tie a millstone around our necks and throw ourselves into the Great Salt Lake than be gay. In 2010, let's make this official.

Resolution 4: Allow openly gay members of the Church to participate in meetings.

Again, I see a lot of gradual change happening here. I know of several folks who have married their same-sex partner and still attend church. Although the official rules require that these believers remain mute, church leaders appear to be unofficially easing this restriction.

It's a trend that many have been praying for.

Resolution 5: Don't withhold temple recommends from supportive family members.

There seems to be wide variation in how gay-supportive family members are treated in church. There have been reports of bishops and stake presidents who refuse to give temple recommends to members of the church who are otherwise eligible but who are too "gay friendly".

The start of a new decade would be a great time to quit pushing away sincere adherents.

* * *


I was going to end with a resolution about staying away from anti-gay politics, but thankfully this one was implemented in 2009.

Happy 2010!