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-

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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.



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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!