Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pet parrot attacks Mormon missionaries

OK, this is just a diversion from our normal fare. It's a short clip (2'38") of a pet parrot who goes after two Mormon missionaries.

I have to say that this brought back some memories. A missionary companion and I were once attacked by two geese with serious anger issues. Ah, the memories!

Via: Reuben's Cube

Monday, December 12, 2011

Toward a post-heterosexual Mormon theology

One of the big Mormon blogs had a discussion on a recent Dialogue article that explored the potential for a gay-affirming version of LDS theology. It took me a couple of hours to read the article and the long thread of comments. It is an interesting presentation and discussion. If you have a couple of hours to burn, check it out.

The article questions whether gender exists and if it exists whether it is eternal. It then argues that if gender is not an essential, eternal attribute of a person, our expectations for straights-only exaltation might be open to revision. (This is a gross abbreviation of a much longer argument.)

Here’s my reaction, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure the point we should be considering is whether gender matters or is eternal. I think it’s pretty obvious that gender matters– if it didn’t then gay Mormons would just marry members of the opposite sex and those marriages would do as well as any others, or equivalently, it would easy for straight people to successfully marry members of the same sex. Clearly, this is not the case. When it comes to the formation of durable pair bonds, gender matters. A lot. We shouldn’t be arguing for the elimination or negation of gender.

It’s also easy to imagine that gender identity persists in the hereafter. LDS tradition tells us that there will be a continuity of personality and identity between our mortal and post-mortal selves. Given how deeply rooted gender identity and sexual orientation seem to be in people, this doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for Mormons to accept theologically. Eternal life where we are not “ourselves” is something other than eternal life.

I guess my question on the theological issue is how eternal the concept of patriarchy might be. Using Wikipedia’s definition, in patriarchy "the role of the male as the primary authority figure is central to social organization." In other words, it’s not so much that gender exists and is important to relationships, it’s whether gender disqualifies a person from participation in all aspects of society, including marriage and social leadership. This is a much, much bigger issue than just how we treat gay people.

It's interesting to note that there is a strict correlation across cultures in how women and homosexuals are treated. Compare, for example, Holland versus Saudi Arabia. In strongly patriarchal cultures like Saudi Arabia women are excluded from public life, and homosexuals are put to death. Cultures that have rejected patriarchy, such as Holland, open their society to participation by women in every way and see families headed by same-sex spouses as equal to all other families. Does the society of the Celestial Kingdom more resemble Holland or Saudi Arabia? Right now, the CK is trending toward the Saudi way of doing things-- our Heavenly Mother is mutely sequestered away, polygamy worthy of the FLDS is still the social order, and gay people are excommunicated from the Kingdom by male agents of a male deity. It couldn't be more of a sausage fest.

Thus, the question isn't whether gender is eternal, it's whether eternity is led by the male gender.

Of course, there is an ongoing conversation in Mormon culture on this topic. It is one of Mormonism’s central tensions right now. The earthly church is straining in the direction of Holland even as the folks with their hands on the tiller are pointing it toward Saudi Arabia.

I'm an optimist. The winds will prevail. Tulips and cheese are in our future.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crazy Mormon love

The radio program This American Life had an episode where a young gay Mormon describes his (inappropriate) crush on another Mormon guy. It's funny, poignant, utterly insane and oh so Mormon. You can listen to it here. It's called "Benny Takes a Jet" and runs 13 minutes.

You have to listen to this. It's a great story.

Update: Benny has a longer video interview here if you're curious about the person behind the story.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A professor talks about her gay Mormon students

I read a very good essay by a non-Mormon Utah State professor about her experiences in rural Utah. What she has to say about her gay Mormon students is particularly interesting.

I won't quote her. Instead, I recommend just reading the whole article.

Via: Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Linens for the sacrament table

For as long as I can remember as a child and adolescent my mother would care for the linens used at the sacrament table. I don't think anyone asked her to do this. She was never called and set apart, yet she carefully washed, starched and ironed the sacrament linens regularly. The sacrament table, when prepared, was always perfect in a way that only freshly starched linens can achieve. I also have a (vague) memory of her buying linens for the sacrament table with her own money. I don't know if this was standard at the time in the "mission field" where we lived, but my mother made sure that the tablecloths were of very high quality. I remember that they were of a luxurious weave and had white embroidery.

When I became a teenager it was my job as a male, of course, to help prepare the sacrament. I noticed at the time a difference between the attitude of devotion that my mother had in caring for the sacrament linens (I should also mention that she treated the cloth itself with respect, as if it were holy) and the casual, sometimes disrespectful manner of the boys who prepared the sacrament table. This difference in attitude registered with me, but as a teenager I didn't have the maturity to understand what it meant.

I doubt that my mother ever got a word of thanks for the many years of service she performed. I know that she was not looking for thanks. I think it was simply an act of worship.

Today I have mixed emotions about what my mother did. On the one hand, I admire her devotion, constancy and willingness to honor to symbols that were sacred to her. On the other hand, I have a hard time reconciling that with the public gratitude that was often expressed over the pulpit for the pimply, barely interested adolescent boys (myself included in this sorry lot) who performed the ritual. I have a hard time interpreting this as anything other than even more evidence that men and boys are valued and celebrated in ways that women and girls are not in LDS culture.

My mother (who was born in the first quarter of the 20th century) was of another era. She was extraordinarily bright and talented; she gave up graduate school in a scientific field to marry my father (women's options were not then what they are now); she raised five children. She was my father's equal in every way, yet it was my father who as stake president called bishops and organized the multimillion dollar building program of our stake. My father got an incredible amount of adulation for what he did while my mother starched the sacrament linens, unnoticed. I wonder in the end whose act of devotion meant more.

I think the LDS insistence on "eternal gender" is misplaced. There's absolutely no reason to segregate men's and women's ecclesiastical responsibilities. There's no reason whatsoever to value the contributions of one group of people over another and to exclude whole categories of people from leadership. I, for one, would love to see Carol Lynn Pearson called to the Quorum of the Twelve, and I think my mother should have been the bishop of my ward.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Humanists

I read in the paper the a few weeks ago of the death of General Authority emeritus Marion D. Hanks. Elder Hanks very nearly had the privilege of being the first person I ever came out to.

Here’s the story, which happened some 32 years ago.

My father was a stake president during my adolescent and young adult years. We lived “in the mission field,” and in those days the General Authorities made frequent visits to stake conferences. They would arrive on a Friday night and leave on Sunday afternoon. They lodged with president of the stake they were visiting, who was responsible for their food, transportation and housing.

My mother was always stressed by these visits. We went into overdrive cleaning the (already clean) house and making sure there were no failures of hospitality. Of course, occasional lapses did occur. I remember one unfortunate day when after frantic and thorough cleaning of the guest bathroom, someone forgot to replace the towels. The bathroom itself, however, could have been used as an operating theater for brain surgery. It was my job a few hours later to hand in a towel to the naked and dripping member of the Quorum of the Twelve who had stepped out of the shower into the towelless (but very clean!) bathroom. My poor mother almost died of shame. The houseguest in question is still one of the Twelve.

These visits by the Brethren were surprisingly intimate. I’m the youngest child in my family, and for the last several years of high school I was the only child living at home. Therefore, at meals, it would just be my parents, me and the visiting GA. Being a teenager I was, of course, not fully mature, but I was an avid reader and had developed fairly good powers of observation. I studied these men carefully as they sat at our dinner table, rode in the car, spoke in Church and chatted informally with my parents.

I learned something from these visits about General Authorities. I learned that they were usually brusque and impatient men who lacked personal warmth in one-on-one situations. One member of the Quorum of the Twelve (not the one I gave a towel to) struck me as particularly short tempered, even hostile. Only later in life did I learn that the “G.A. personality type” I had encountered was really just an example of the more general executive personality type. I started to run into men like those GAs all the time when I entered corporate life. They usually had titles of Vice President or Chief Whatever. The business executives I saw were efficient time managers who had deep affinity for quantifiable results and were allergic to excuses offered by their underlings. I learned later that everyone who manages an organization of more than 1,000 people has this kind of personality. Unlike virtually every other religious denomination, the LDS Church uses a corporate style of governance. It’s no wonder that the top LDS leaders act like executives when they conduct church business. I’m not offering this tidbit in the spirit of criticism. It’s really just background for what happened next.

When I was a freshman in college I came home for spring break, and the visit happened to coincide with stake conference. Our visiting General Authority was Elder Marion D. Hanks. Elder Hanks had a bit of a cult following in the Church due to his compassionate sermons. I was eager to meet him. At this time I was actively preparing to submit papers for my mission. When I met Elder Hanks, the first thing I noticed was the total absence of the “G.A. personality.” He looked into my eyes, and I immediately understood that he cared and that he was interested in who I was. We chatted about my college experiences (I went to a well-known East Coast school) and some other topics that I don’t remember well. I was completely enthralled by the holiness and compassion of this man. Normally I was reserved, even cautious, around the visiting G.A.s, but not this time.

The stake we lived in was geographically large. At one point during the weekend Elder Hanks needed to be conveyed from one location to another, which would have entailed a car trip of approximately one hour. My father asked me to drive Elder Hanks where he needed to go.

My mind raced: I would have an hour alone with someone who I thought had the answers to the Big Questions. As you can imagine, I was completely preoccupied, prior to my mission, with trying to deal with my homosexual orientation. Like many young people, I thought G.A.s had a direct pipeline to God. A thought came into my head: I could ask Elder Hanks about my big secret.

Fate intervened, however, and I never got the opportunity to have that talk. My father’s schedule cleared, and he was able to drive Elder Hanks himself. I remember my father telling me that he needed to discuss some church business during the drive. The two of them traveled alone.

Thinking back on this I wonder what could have been, and I’m supremely grateful that I did not have the opportunity to bare my soul to that kind-hearted visiting church leader. I have absolute faith that Elder Hanks would have treated me with dignity and compassion. He was that kind of man. Nonetheless, this was during the era of the Church’s most hardline stance against homosexuality. The official thinking was that homosexual orientation could be changed by a process of repentance. Young people were routinely counseled to enter mixed-orientation marriages. No matter how compassionate Elder Hanks might have been, he wouldn’t have had any way to help me, and it is likely that he would have told me to confide in my parents, which at that time would have been a disaster. I might even have ended up in hands of LDS Social Services and who knows where that would have led. This was in the era of aversion therapy and Freudian nonsense. (Which is worse, being thrown into a pit full of behaviorists or Freudians?) It’s hard to remember today how bad the Church used to be on this issue. As bad as it now, there's been a big step forward from when I was a young person.

When I read the Elder Hank’s obituary, I was pleased to find out that he was active in humanitarian causes and had been an early champion of LDS service missions. Even after all these years, I am filled with respect and admiration for this man.

After my mission I went back to college and encountered someone who reminded me of Elder Hanks. It was the famous anthropologist Ashley Montagu. Professor Montagu had pioneered research into the maternal-infant bond. As I got to know him in a small seminar, I was amazed at how profound were his understanding of and affection for the human animal. He had a great influence on my thinking. It was the first time that I realized the power of the humanist point of view and how much it had in common with the highest ideals (as I understood them) of my religious tradition. It was the first time I got a glimpse of the idea that you could be good without God. Of course, I was a closeted, active Mormon at this time on the brink of entering an extremely ill-advised mixed-orientation marriage. He probably thought I was a mess (which I was).

Both Elder Hanks and Professor Montagu have passed on. In the end, I don’t see these men as very different in outlook, even though one of them was probably a nonbeliever (we never discussed it) and the other was an LDS general authority.

[Related note: Interestingly, Elder Hanks was later sidelined in a manner to similar to Marlin Jensen more recently. It seems that sidelining the most compassionate General Authorities is something that repeats itself in every generation.]

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Film - Lead with Love

There's a good video for parents of gay children that's recently been produced by some folks at the University of Utah. You can see it here. It runs for 35 minutes (well worth the time).

I like the fact that the psychologists in the film gave four concrete suggestions for parents. They used the mnemonic LEAD for these:
  • Let your affection show.

  • Express your pain away from your child.

  • Avoid rejecting behaviors.

  • Do good before you feel good.

This is useful advice. If you want to skip into the section of the film where these are explained, jump to approximately the 20 minute mark.

I think these points are helpful as background for gay people who come out to parents. When you come out, you should realize that even the most accepting parents are going to have powerful emotions and will probably go through a period of adjustment that feels like grieving. Your parents may seem to withhold affection from you and push you away with rejecting behaviors at first. It helps to understand that this is just their way of reacting and that given time their attitude toward you will improve. You just have to be patient and not react strongly to their rejecting behaviors. Maintain faith that they still love you, even if you can't feel their love at first. In my experience, families do come around. It just takes time in some cases.

Here's a preview clip (2 min 39 sec) of the film:

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drinking 101: A word of wisdom

This post is directed at Mormons, gay and straight, who drink or are open to giving it a try. The problem with being raised LDS is that we have parents who don't drink and who therefore have taught us nothing about how it's done. We don't know how to do it! It turns out that, like almost everything, there are sensible, even stylish ways to go about this as well as ways which range from the merely boorish to the downright self-destructive.

This brief guide is intended, dear reader, to spare you much heartache. Trust me, you don't want to learn how to drink in a gay bar. :- )

So, without further introduction, here are MoHoHawaii's guidelines for successful drinking. Prost!

  • Know what a drink is. A drink is a fairly standard measure of alcohol. It's equal to 12 oz. of beer, 6 oz. of wine and 1.5 fl. oz. of 80 proof spirits such as gin, tequila, whiskey or vodka. When we talk about how many drinks a person has had, we're talking about these measures, regardless of the number of glasses that have been used.

  • Drink socially. Drinking is an extraordinarily useful social lubricant. It's been around for millenia. When you start to drink, do it with friends. It's many times more pleasurable than drinking alone.

  • Drink slowly. There's no need to rush. Pace yourself. Drinking too fast is a classic newbie mistake.

  • Don't forget food. Alcoholic beverages are best enjoyed with food. If you have friends over and offer them drinks, serve snacks as well. Wine or beer is naturally paired with dinner. Mixed drinks are a good aperitif, or pre-dinner drink to get the conversation flowing.

    It's generally a bad idea to drink on an empty stomach. An empty stomach will cause you to absorb the alcohol very quickly. You can feel drunk on a single drink if your stomach is empty. This is not a good idea.

  • Measure. If you mix drinks for yourself or friends, you should always measure the booze you use. There are several reasons for this. The first is that cocktails (mixed drinks) that are too strong don't taste good. The second is that if your drinks are too big, they are likely to lead to overdrinking. This is bad. You can always have, or offer a guest, another drink later. Leave the supersizing to Slurpees and Big Gulps. Serve, or consume, a single drink at a time.

    Note: Some bars (outside of Utah) serve large drinks, drinks that really count as doubles (i.e., two drinks in a single serving). If this happens, realize that you are drinking two drinks and adjust accordingly.

  • Try drinks that are slightly sweet if you're new to drinking. People who are just starting to drink generally like flavors that are slightly sweeter than people who have been drinking for many years. For example, you may want to try wine, such as Riesling, that is not fully dry ("dry" means "no sugar"). Similarly, some mixed drinks are sweeter than others.

  • Drink in moderation. It turns out that drinking is good for you. No kidding. People who drink in moderation, which for a medium-sized man is defined as one to four drinks per day, have lower mortality than nondrinkers and heavy drinkers. The effect isn't subtle. Daily moderate drinking adds 3.5 years to average life expectancy. To put this in perspective, access to everything modern medicine has to offer adds seven years to life expectancy, compared to no health care whatsoever. HOWEVER, the health outcomes of heavy drinkers (for example, men who consume more than 5 drinks per day) get worse and worse as the amount of alcohol increases.

  • Know your limit. It turns out that people metabolize alcohol at different rates. Men who are between 150 lbs and 200 lbs can metabolize about one drink per hour. Most women are somewhat lighter than this, and should adjust accordingly. If you take SSRIs (anti-depressants), be aware that these drugs tend to affect your ability to metabolize alcohol. If you're on anti-depressants, you probably should drink to drink less than your peers who are not on these medications. Also, if you are completely new to drinking, you should take it easy and start slow. To get started, I recommend one drink per hour, with a maximum of four to five drinks in any 12 hour period. If you feel sick the next day (i.e., have a hangover or can't remember the previous evening), it's a sign that you've drunk too much. Don't do this. Being drunk is impolite. You will annoy your friends, and possibly endanger yourself.

    Since everyone metabolizes alcohol at different rates, I recommend just being aware of your body. If your speech is slurred, and you feel that your motor coordination is impaired, slow down.

  • Drink lots of water. Alcohol tends to dehydrate you. You should drink one 8 oz. glass of water for each drink you consume. You'll be glad you did the next day.

  • If you're old enough to drink, you're old enough to drink decent stuff. Please, don't buy rotgut (the cheapest brands). You don't necessarily have to drink top-shelf hooch, but in general, quality makes a difference. If you like beer, try beer from local breweries. In Utah, Squatter's and Wasatch make decent beer.

  • Use the right glass. There are different kinds of glasses for different kinds of drinks. Use the right one; glassware is not expensive (try Ikea). And no plastic cups!!!

  • If you live in Utah, buy your beer at the State Liquor Store The beer sold in Utah grocery stores is watered down, 3.2% beer, which is generally nasty. Skip this and go for the good stuff.

  • Don't drink and drive. This is a big subject, but the best advice I have is to have a designated non-drinking driver or to take public transportation if you're going to be drinking.

  • Don't drink much before sex. This is also a big subject. The synopsis is this: alcohol reduces inhibition, which is one of the reasons it's so valuable socially. Parties go a lot better, and people will be less shy if there's something to drink. However, if you're in a situation where you expect sexual activity, you should exercise caution with alcohol. One of the biggest cofactors with HIV infection is intoxication-- you are more likely to forgo precaution against infection (or sleep with the wrong person) if you are drunk.

  • A lot of people who start drinking wonder if they might be prone to alcoholism. There's an easy test. If drinking a little compels you to drink until you get very drunk, and you have a history of not being able to drink moderately, you're probably a person who should be drinking at all. There's no shame in this; if that's you, just don't drink.

    I have a personal testimony of drinking. It's a wonderful way to connect with other people socially. It's a great addition to delicious food and congenial conversation. It's a well-established part of social camaraderie, going back at least 18,000 years of human history. I love to think of our hunter-gatherer ancestors sitting around sharing a brewski and telling stories around the campfire.

    Finally, here are a few tips for things to drink.

    Beers: try microbrews, or beers from Belgium or Germany. Mass-market American beer really isn't fit to drink.

    Wine: start with sweeter wines and work your way to drier wines. Wine can be expensive. If you're budget conscious, beer or mixed drinks are probably a better deal. Wine generally means "red wine." White wine is inexplicably popular in the U.S. It's perfectly fine to pair red wine with seafood dishes.

    Mixed drinks: There are a lot of choices. Here are a handful classic cocktails that get served to guests in the MoHoHawaii household. Be sure to make these with good quality spirits.

    2/3 oz. Rose's Lime juice
    2 oz. gin (Beefeaters or Plymouth)

    Shake with ice until very, very cold; strain into a cocktail glass.

    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, etc.)
    1 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    Dash Angostura bitters

    Stir with ice (don't shake, or you get unappetizing foam on top); strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry.

    Manhattan (variation)
    2 oz. bourbon whiskey (Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, etc.)
    1/2 oz. sweet vermouth (Noilly Prat, red label)
    1/2 oz. coffee liqueur (Kahlua)

    Stir with ice until very cold; strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a preserved cherry. This is amazingly delicious and doesn't taste like coffee.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    My MoHo weekend

    My boyfriend Tobi and I had a houseguest for the four-day Pride weekend: Invictus Pilgrim! It's the first time that I've hosted a blogging colleague at my home, and IP's visit also corresponded with a reconnection of sorts for me with my LDS roots. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about the Church, spirituality, coming out, family relationships, etc. (Both IP and I like to talk. A lot. From about 8am to midnight. You can't shut us up. No surprise there. Tobi was very patient. :- ))

    My friend John G-W has written before on his blog about the unique kind of fellowship he receives from his MoHo friends. I can really relate to that. I live my life in a very non-Mormon environment (although I have a large LDS extended family), so it was nice to be able to connect with a friend who understood the Mormon side of me.

    Tobi, IP and I had a very full weekend. We had dim sum with a very charming straight couple who are active in the Mormon Stories organization. We went to a very well-attended MoHo breakfast (thanks, Moving Horizon, for hosting that). There were several concerts, street fairs, festive dinners at home and, of course, the main event which was our local Pride parade. The parade had 400,000 spectators this year.

    I don't really have any deep insights to share in this post, except to express gratitude for the possibility of friendship in this life. We can love each other. We can support each other and bear each other's burdens. And, when that happens, it feels great. Thanks for being there, IP. I'm honored to have you as a friend.

    To one and all, Happy Pride!

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Patriarchy, redux

    A recent post on a Mormon-themed group blog asked the question What are some of the common themes that emerge in patriarchal societies? It then compared these societies with Mormonism. There were a number of parallels.

    To me, the most interesting aspect of this article was what it didn't mention. Here are the salient items that I thought were missing:

    • Persecution of homosexuals. Iran and Saudi Arabia prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality. Other patriarchal societies criminalize it. In Mormonism, homosexuality is the sin next to murder, and the Church uses its political muscle against gay civil rights.

      Homosexuality, especially male homosexuality, is a repudiation of the patriarchal order’s insistence on strict sexual roles. Gender roles, as Elder Bruce Porter recently put it, are “woven into the very fabric of the universe” for patriarchal cultures. They are the one nonnegotiable item of patriarchal power structures.

      The Church’s most strongly worded statement of patriarchal gender roles, The Family: A Proclamation to the World, was issued in response to increasing civil tolerance for homosexuals. This isn’t a coincidence.

    • Male preoccupation with female modesty. Patriarchal societies in the Arab world and elsewhere enforce restrictive clothing standards for women, up to and including full veil.

      In LDS culture, female modesty is a frequent sermon topic. (“Male modesty” doesn’t exist. The shirts and skins basketball game in the Cultural Hall is still around. Male modesty can only jokingly be referred to in LDS circles, usually in relation to homosexuality. Like a lot things in LDS culture, “modesty” involves gender.)

    • Denial of female sexuality. Patriarchal cultures do not generally do not admit the possibility of women as people with legitimate sexual needs of their own. Instead, women are viewed by their “roles” as wives (providers of sexual release to men) and mothers (asexual nurturers of children).

      In Mormon culture, you often see women put on the pedestal of motherhood in a way that neglects the existence of female sexual desire and the need for female sexual fulfillment. The sexually empowered woman is not an LDS archetype.

      An odd reflection of the patriarchal denial of female sexuality can be seen in how partriarchal societies treat male homosexuality compared to female homosexuality. In places like Saudi Arabia, female homosexuality is not against the law. Basically, it is not acknowledged to exist. The reason is that the patriarchal view of sex requires a penis to be present. No penis, no sex. No penetration, no sex. In LDS culture, male homosexuality receives the lion's share of attention. Lesbians are rarely mentioned by Mormon leaders. (Penises are, like, way super important in the dudeocracy.)

    • Polygamy.Patriarchal societies, such as Islam, often practice polygyny (and never polyandry).

      Mormon culture has polygamist roots, and elements of polygamist teachings (D&C 132, along with asymmetrical rules for the sealing ordinance, for example) are still on the books.

    • Placement of responsibility for male sexual behavior upon women. Most patriarchal cultures view male sexual desire for women as a consequence of female seduction. In these cultures, women who are raped are punished for inflaming male desire.

      In LDS culture, there have been recent sermons that tell young women that they are responsible for the moral purity of young men.

    I'm probably not alone in finding this list a bit creepy.

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Change is good

    One of the weirdest things that ever happened was when my college-age son and I were going through some old boxes and he found a copy of the Book of Mormon with his mother's and my photo pasted in the front with our testimonies. The photo was older than he was. This was from one of those ward missionary projects where everyone had to make a bunch of these personalized books and give them to the missionaries to hand out.

    The stiff smiles in the photo and the boilerplate confession of faith (including set phrases!) sent me back years. I recalled the person I was at the time of the photo-- closeted, nearly suicidal, and just barely managing to keep the cognitive dissonance from leaking out. And judgmental.

    My son was not raised in the church, so the whole thing was extra strange to him. I looked at him sheepishly and gave a what-can-you-do kind of shrug. It was awkward and funny at the same time.

    Anyway, changes can be profound. To all of you who are in the process of reevaluating your position with respect to the Church, here's to you! Change is good.

    Sunday, June 12, 2011

    Coming out video

    Here's a short coming out video that I enjoyed. It's by a very well-spoken young gay Mormon. I wish him well. He deserves all the happiness that life has to offer.

    (Running time 4:11)

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    LDS message for Pride

    Timed for the annual gay pride celebrations, the LDS Church's official magazine, the Ensign, has an anti-gay manifesto in its current issue.

    The article is written by Elder Bruce D. Porter a General Authority who was formerly a political science professor at BYU. The article's subject is political, not spiritual.

    Placing political op-ed pieces in the Church's educational materials is not a good idea. In fact, mixing politics with religion, in general, is a bad idea. It results in bad politics and bad religion.

    Three things struck me when reading the piece. First, there's the virulence of its anti-gay sentiment. The article contains no words of compassion, just condemnation and a call to political action against families the Church doesn't approve of. Then there's the cowardice. The article doesn't mention gay people by name, and it doesn't use the term homosexuality. It is written entirely using code words. And finally, the article repeatedly claims victim status for the Church. It evades all responsibility for the disaster that was Proposition 8.

    You can read the essay for yourself, but I will respond to a few of the most egregious parts.

    The first four paragraphs lay the foundation of a straw man argument. Porter presents as controversial the completely uncontroversial position that the family is an important social institution. (Can you see where this is going yet?) After this set up, Porter gets ready to attack his straw man:

    [M]any of society’s leaders and opinion-makers increasingly seem to have lost their bearings when it comes to understanding the vital importance of the family.


    We live in a day ... when good is called evil and evil good. Those who defend the traditional family ... are mocked and ridiculed. On the other hand, those ... who seek to redefine the very essence of what a family is, are praised and upheld as champions of tolerance. Truly, the world has turned upside down.


    For the record, those of us who are on the receiving end of the Church's political campaigns do not mock the Church. We disagree with the Church's political actions, and we are harmed by the practical consequences of those actions. There's a difference between disagreeing and mocking, even if the Church doesn't see it.

    As for the argument that proponents of marriage equality want to "redefine the very essence of what a family is," one can also ask if President Kimball redefined "the very essence" of LDS priesthood in 1978. Extending the rights and benefits of marriage to a small minority of people has no effect on existing marriages, just as giving the LDS priesthood to blacks did not "redefine" the priesthood already held by others.

    As usual, just exactly how same-sex marriage is an attack on the traditional family or on traditional marriage is not explained, it is merely taken for granted. For a thorough discussion of these issues, I would recommend to Elder Porter the transcript of the federal court case that overturned Prop. 8 in California. (Why was Elder Porter, an expert from BYU, not a witness at that trial?)

    Next, Porter dismisses tolerance as a virtue while simultaneously accusing any who engage in debate over gay issues as intolerant:

    Latter-day Saints are often accused of narrow-mindedness or lack of tolerance and compassion because of our belief in following precise standards of moral behavior as set forth by God’s prophets.... Until recently in our national history, tolerance referred to racial and religious non-discrimination....

    Today, however, the world is in danger of abandoning all sense of absolute right or wrong, all morality and virtue, replacing them with an all-encompassing “tolerance” that no longer means what it once meant. An extreme definition of tolerance is now widespread that implicitly or explicitly endorses the right of every person to choose their own morality, even their own “truth,” as though morality and truth were mere matters of personal preference. This extreme tolerance culminates in a refusal to recognize any fixed standards or draw moral distinctions of any kind. Few dare say no to the “almighty self” or suggest that some so-called “lifestyles” may be destructive, contrary to higher law, or simply wrong.

    When tolerance is so inflated out of all proportions, it means the death of virtue, for the essence of morality is to draw clear distinctions between right and wrong. All virtue requires saying no firmly and courageously to all that is morally bankrupt.

    I don't know where to begin with this kind of twisted and self-serving statement. First of all, the Church is hardly in a position to bring up racial tolerance. Its racist policies were firmly in place within recent memory (I grew up with them), and it used virtually the same language in arguing against civil rights for blacks as it now uses for gay people! The argument, then as now, was (mis)framed in terms of morality and supporting families.

    Now, as then, the Church seems unable to distinguish between what influence it should exert over civil laws and the influence it has over religious laws. Why isn't Elder Porter railing against the evils of alcohol and coffee? Where's the Church's support for a referendum that would outlaw alcoholic beverages and Starbucks? And if religious views are so important to respect, where's Elder Porter's support of gay-affirming churches who want to bless gay unions?

    The theme of Mormons-as-victims continues:

    Curiously enough, this new modern tolerance is often a one-way street. Those who practice it expect everyone to tolerate them in anything they say or do, but show no tolerance themselves toward those who express differing viewpoints or defend traditional morality. Indeed, their intolerance is often most barbed toward those of religious conviction.

    In other words, Porter thinks the right of free expression is stifled by open political debate. Porter confuses the right of free expression with an (imagined) right to say whatever one wants without having others who disagree get their chance to present their own arguments. But, apparently, the opinions of others (including those actually harmed by the Church's political actions) don't matter. According the Porter, the Church knows better than the people whose lives it seeks to disrupt:

    By defending the traditional family [i.e., legislating against families the Church doesn't approve of], Latter-day Saints bless all people whether others recognize it now or not.

    Excuse me for not extending my thanks as I watch my partner lose his right to live in the same country as me due to the Church's efforts to "bless" my life whether I recognize it or not. Please, spare yourselves the effort! The Church is accruing some pretty bad karma with its effort to 'bless' people like me by attacking the one thing in our lives we care most about: our families.

    In the middle of all the politics, Elder Porter does bring up one religious point. However, it's the heretical idea that has recently been introduced by LDS leaders to the effect that God's love is conditional.

    God’s love is sometimes described as unconditional.... But while God’s love is all-encompassing, His blessings are highly conditional, including the very blessing of being able to feel and experience His love.

    [This is an example of bad religion, and it's not coincidental that it is linked to unjust politics.]

    Finally, it's back to politics for the wrap-up, with a call to political action:
    The Church is a small institution compared with the world at large. Nevertheless, the Latter-day Saints as a people should not underestimate the power of our example, nor our capacity to persuade public opinion, reverse negative trends, or invite seeking souls to enter the gate and walk the Lord’s chosen way. We ought to give our best efforts, in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions, to defend the family and raise a voice of warning and of invitation to the world. The Lord expects us to do this, and in doing so to ignore the mocking and scorn of those in the great and spacious building, where is housed the pride of the world.

    The sense of persecution is just breathtaking, and in case you missed it, the call to "give our best efforts" means to donate money, and to do this "in cooperation with like-minded persons and institutions" means to give money to groups like the National Organization for Marriage, a political organization that was created by the Church to get Prop. 8 on the ballot in California. (Elder Holland's son Matthew was a member of the original board of directors.)

    But there's more:

    May we as members of the Church rise up and assume our divinely appointed role as a light to the nations. May we sacrifice and labor to rear a generation strong enough to resist the siren songs of popular culture, a generation filled with the Holy Ghost so that they may discern the difference between good and evil, between legitimate tolerance and moral surrender.

    Many younger LDS people are not okay with this message. It is not "popular culture" that makes young Mormons sensitive to the plight of their gay peers; it is an emerging sense of justice. I know many devout members of the Church who are heartbroken over the harmful ideas that Elder Porter repeats here. Many members are ashamed of what their Church is doing, and rightly so.

    Elder Porter, please know that demeaning someone else's family does not strengthen your own.

    I thought things were changing with these folks. Apparently, they are not. Is the Church warming up for the fight in Minnesota in 2012?

    There is a silver lining here. It's clear that Elder Porter's op-ed sermon is very defensive. He knows that the Church's position is unpopular with many members of the Church and that its involvement in Prop. 8 was a PR disaster. The subtext of the article is a sense of panic that the Church is losing this one.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    It Gets Better - Background

    This is a recent talk by Dan Savage, creator of the It Gets Better project, given at Google. He explains the origin of the project.

    What Savage says in this talk is very relevant for Mormons and quite thought provoking. Effectively, it's a story about the power of social media and the inability of institutions to control the channels of communication to young people.

    (Run time 46:43, very worthwhile)

    The It Gets Better project has had a big impact. While browsing through some of the videos, I found this one by an LDS lesbian which had an intriguing comment:
    Natalie, I just wanted to let you know that my awesome BYU professor showed your video in class to help us understand a little more about how hard it would be to be LDS and struggling with ssa. Thanks for sharing!

    They're showing friggin' It Gets Better videos in BYU classes now. Let that one sink in for a minute.

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Bundles of sticks, and stones

    I have a good straight friend who used to call me a faggot. He just thought it was a funny kind of put-down. I knew he meant no harm (he's a great guy and very gay friendly), but I just never could get comfortable with him doing that. Eventually, I figured out why. Then, I sent him this e-mail.

    Dear ___,

    Just FYI, and I don't mean to bust your butt here, but as a word "faggot" is equivalent in violence and malice with nigger, kike and cunt. Imagine you were chatting with a black friend and said "you're great, even if you are just a fucking nigger halfbreed." Or to a trusted female colleague you say "I think you do a great job; too bad you're a fucking bitch cunt and not a guy." You can say these things, and it's possible that they would be perceived as funny, but more likely they'd fall flat at best. They are violent words.

    In the case of "faggot," you should be aware that this is the word you hear right before you're beaten by drunk homophobic thugs. Like virtually every gay person I know, I've had epithets hurled at me on more than one occasion. In virtually every case "faggot" was among them. I don't think you know this, but I was once assaulted on the street when I lived in Salt Lake City. The cops showed up before I got hurt, but I'll never forget the reptilian look of hatred in those men's eyes, and I've never forgotten the words they used. My assailants called me a faggot. I don't take offense at what you say to me because I know your intent, but I do want to do a tiny amount of consciousness raising here. When you use words in a joking way that are expressions of violent hatred you may evoke associations and memories in your listener that you do not intend. This happens even if the person knows you're joking.

    Again, please don't take this in the spirit of reproach. I really just mean to clue you in to the way I and, I expect, others who have been on the receiving end of this kind of stuff react. We don't do this because we are thin skinned or politically minded or out to prove a point; we do it because of the context in which those particular words have been used with us in the past. It's an involuntary response, like shielding yourself from a blow. Anyway, I hope you can understand where I'm coming from on this.

    He quit using those words.

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    How change happens

    The law firm of King and Spalding has withdrawn from defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court. The elite firm had been hired by the U.S. House of Representatives after the Obama administration announced that it considers DOMA to be unconstitutional and will no longer defend it. Shortly after taking the case, King and Spalding had a change of heart and claimed that its engagement had been improperly vetted by internal review.

    The Economist has an interesting spin on the significance of King and Spalding's rejection of the case. I think they put it nicely:
    This is the way social justice happens. Not with a bang, but with white-shoe law firms becoming uncomfortable taking certain kinds of cases.

    I've noticed a change recently on the large LDS blogs I read. Virtually no one defends the LDS Church's position against civil recognition for gay families anymore. Virtually no one tries to justify the Church's blanket condemnation of committed same-sex relationships anymore. There's been a huge change since Prop. 8 several years ago, when you would find bloggers on the large LDS blogs standing up for the Church on this issue. That's all gone now.

    To paraphrase The Economist: This is how social justice happens. Not with a bang, but with well-educated Mormon bloggers becoming uncomfortable taking certain stands on social issues.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Things that shouldn't be celebrated

    N.B.: This post has nothing to do with the usual subject of this blog.

    Three thousand people were killed on 9/11.

    The wars that resulted from 9/11 have caused the deaths of 1,000,000 people, about half of them civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's payback of 300 to 1, if anyone's keeping score or if your morality requires an eye for an eye, which I hope we can all agree is a kind of thinking that really has no legitimate role of any kind in public policy decisions.

    To dispatch these 1,000,000 people, we've spent 3 trillion dollars on two wars that have lasted ten years and show no signs of stopping. To put that in perspective, consider that 3 trillion dollars is 3,000 billion dollars. This means we have spent a billion dollars, or 1,000 million dollars to avenge the death of each and every person killed in 9/11. A billion dollars. Per person. So far.

    My heart is sick over the public reaction to today's news about the death of Bin Laden. I have no idea if extra-judicial killing (by order of a U.S. president) in the case at hand is legal or advisable. Perhaps it is both; perhaps neither. I'm not going to weigh in on that question as tempting as it is. But I do know that dancing in the streets over the violent death of another human being is not something I will ever do. Ever. I don't care who the person was. Whether the killing had to be done or not, it's not something that requires a party.

    Sometimes I feel very, very out of touch with the spirit of the times.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Gay history 101

    Here is a recent documentary from PBS. Worth watching.

    Running time 1':20".

    Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

    There's a blog post about this film on one of the big Mormon blogs. The comments on that post are almost all pro-gay. (LDS Newsroom, if you're reading this, go read those comments on fMH.)

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Movie review: Eyes Wide Open

    Eyes Wide Open (2009) is a remarkable gay-themed movie from Israel that Tobi and saw recently.

    It's one of the few movies made on the subject of mixed-orientation marriage, and it's the only one that I can think of that takes place in a conservative religious setting. The film very well done and in fact is so well done that at times it's painful to watch.

    The world of conservative Judaism is foreign to outsiders, but I think the movie's setting will resonate with Mormon viewers. Group identity is so strong in this movie that a viewer can really understand why the characters see no way out. Nothing can replace their membership in the tribe. It's not so much that there are disincentives toward leaving; it's that the only life that can be imagined is within their community of believers. Religion colors every aspect of life from the moment these characters get out of bed in the morning.

    I don't want to give spoilers, so I'll just summarize the plot as the story of a married Hasidic man and the younger man with whom he falls in love. The character of the wife is played with heartbreaking reality. To its credit, the movie never portrays the wife as a shrew. She is definitely a bystander but in a way that is human, believable and very poignant.

    This action of the film is slightly more understandable if you already have some significant cultural exposure to Judaism. There are events in the movie that might seem poorly motivated without familiarity with practices like the mikvah (purifying bath) and the Hasidic concept of tzaddik (a righteous man of special devotion).

    In terms of style, the film is clear-eyed and unsentimental. It has compassion for communities of faith and for those who don't fit the mold. It understands the emotional violence of ritual shunning and the compelling nature of the universal human desire to live among one's people.

    There's a lot here that Mormons will recognize, a lot that gay Mormons will recognize, and a whole lot that Mormons in a mixed-orientation marriage will recognize.

    (FYI, this movie is available in streaming format from Netflix.)

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Letter to a 17 year old

    A Mormon-themed blog received this question from a reader:
    I'm a 17 years old and I think I might be gay. I don't know who to tell because there really is no one. I have a very good relationship with my parents/family and I don't want to ruin it, but I can't seem to stop the way I feel. I don't want to be gay but I have never felt sexually attracted to a single girl. The only way I know how to describe what I feel is that when a cute guy walks past I stare at him, I feel interested. I don't even notice girls or if they are cute. Is there anything I can do to stop these feelings? I don't want to be gay.

    The blogger, a "Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist," gave an answer which you can read for yourself. Her answer included a statement to the effect that contrary to the claims of organizations like Evergreen change therapy doesn't work. I'm glad that some therapists who are active in the LDS Church are willing to take stands such as this, but I thought the overal tenor of the advice was too tentative.

    I left a reply addressed to the original questioner that said:
    The first step is to break the isolation by finding a trusted person in your life with whom you can discuss your feelings. This person might be a teacher, a school guidance counselor, a family member or a friend. This is NOT a problem you can or should carry around alone. You need support, and you need it now. It's that simple.

    I agree with the other advice given above, but I have to add one thing. There's an elephant in the living room, something that everyone knows is there but won't talk about. It is this: the official opinion of the LDS Church toward homosexuality is not held by many informed LDS people. As a result you will find that informed LDS people (such as [the blogger who answered your question]) will not steer you in the same direction as your bishop might. The answers you hear in Sunday School won't be enough, and you shouldn't assume that every active LDS person around you accepts them. As you start the journey of coming out, you will need to seek answers for yourself and evaluate what many people have to say. You're going to have to think for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

    In all of this, be aware that you are not alone. Many of your peers share this issue (for example, on this blog). Others of us, myself included, have had to come to terms with our orientations during our lives. We can promise you: it gets better. It really, really does.

    Stay safe and be gentle with yourself along the way.

    Readers, what would you say to this 17 year old?

    Wednesday, March 30, 2011

    Pure and empty vessels

    We sometimes forget how strongly the idea of patriarchy informs LDS cultural views on sexuality and the expression of gender. I was reminded of this recently when I read a blog post on Feminist Mormon Housewives. For those you who don’t follow fMH, it’s a group blog written by fairly mainstream LDS women about religious and cultural issues in Mormonism. It’s a pretty orthodox crowd, but being from a younger generation they prefer a more egalitarian approach to marriage and church governance.

    The post I read took issue with the fact that LDS leaders make women the gatekeepers of male virtue. The case in point was a speech by General YW President Elaine Dalton which claimed that young women shouldn’t send racy text messages or photos to young men because doing so might “cause [young men] to lose the Spirit, their Priesthood Power and their virtue.”

    What I find troubling here is the implicit assertion that as sexual beings young men and women are not of equivalent vigor and passion. In other words, we can’t contemplate the idea that a young woman might have sexual motivations of her own; instead, we can only talk about the effect of her actions on the (well acknowledged) sexuality of young men.

    The sexuality of men is affirmed in many ways in LDS culture. Lust should be controlled and channeled in specific ways, but male sexuality in general is thought to be a productive and creative aspect of life. Female sexual desire, on the other hand, is one of the topics in LDS culture that is simply never, ever mentioned. Basically, it doesn’t exist in LDS culture. A sexually empowered woman is not an archetype that Mormonism generally allows.

    Negation of women as sexual beings is also evident with the LDS focus on female modesty. The idea of female modesty affirms the existence of male sexuality only. Women are the objects of male desire and as such must take care not to inflame male desire by exposing their bodies. On the other hand, the absence of any real concept of “male modesty” (it’s almost a funny term) is one of the signs of vastly different views of young men and women as sexual beings. In LDS thinking, there’s no concern that young men by their manner of dress might inflame the desire of young women. It’s a nonissue because female desire is not really acknowledged to exist.

    For young women, not being given any validation of one’s sexual nature, being placed in the asexual role of guardian of what is possessed only by another, is a denial of full personhood. It’s an anachronism that needs to be called out and challenged, and I’m glad that Mormon women are taking this on.

    One woman commented:
    I believe the whole message of making women responsible for the sexuality of men has greater implications for a girl than just keeping her from getting pregnant as a teen. Once married … where is her sexuality in all of that? I went for a year or more thinking it was all about him… with no orgasms of my own to show for it. Once I could operate sexually more fully, I was left with a huge level of guilt, even though I was married and faithful. I felt guilty for simply being sexual. This went on for over 20 years… what a loss.

    When women are given responsibility for something they can’t control, like the thoughts and actions of their husband, they are forced into a very controlling (but uncontrollable) position. If their husband looks at porn, whose fault is it? If their husband lusts after other women he sees… whose fault is that? So much of the time, a wife is blamed for her husband’s infidelity of any kind… and the teachings featured in the post are laying the foundation to make women responsible for something they cannot control.

    Assuming responsibility for something you cannot control results in anxiety. How many Mormon women are on anti depressant and/or anti anxiety medication? I, for one, remember how desperate I felt in the quest to keep my husband virtuous. I’ve given up that responsibility only recently and cannot express the freedom I feel in only being charge of myself.

    When we teach our girls that only men are sexual creatures and that women are in charge of men’s uncontrollable sexuality, what are we setting our girls up for… for life? My answer? A life of guilt and anxiety.

    This comment resonated with me because as a closeted gay Mormon adolescent my sexuality was also completely denied by my surroundings. My culture provided no context for me to live and develop into a sexually mature adult; eventually I had to get this education outside.

    It’s hard to describe the effect of having one’s sexual identity erased. If you don’t have a confident and well-grounded sense of yourself as a sexual being, it’s very difficult to assume the full mantle of personhood. You remain diminished or infantilized, with a distinct second-class status. This is one of the ways that patriarchal nature of LDS culture oppresses women and gay people. It’s a connection I hadn’t noticed before.