Sunday, May 29, 2011

Redefining the Tradition of Bullying

In Mormon circles and elsewhere, opponents of gay marriage are continuing to claim that some high-profile folk in their ranks are being bullied and intimidated. 

The most recent examples they offer are Peter Vidmar, the accomplished Olympic athlete and LDS church member (who just days ago resigned his position of chef de mission for the U.S. Olympic Committee), and Paul Clement, the former Solicitor General of the United States (who in late April left his law firm to continue representing Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives in their effort to continue enforcement of the federal Defense of Marriage Act given the U.S. Justice Department's decision to no longer defend this unusual statute that carves out an exception to the application of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution). 

These gentlemen made their decision based on public pressure. I haven't seen any evidence of threats of violence or physical intimidation against either of these men. In other words, they haven't been bullied or intimidated. Not unless gay marriage opponents are trying their hand at redefining some terms of their own.

Do these people even know what bullying is? Do they realize the horrific impacts of actual examples of bullying against gay people, especially youth?

The claim is that Vidmar and Clement, who, of their own free will and choice, placed themselves in prominent public positions as advocates for opponents of gay marriage, lending what weight and credibility they may have to that cause, are being bullied by people from a historically marginalized and vilified group of people that is now finally beginning to have its voices broadly heard on issues of equal justice. I hope they let us know when to cue the violins.

So it appears that some of the opponents of gay marriage want "bullying and intimidation" to mean whatever serves their purpose. They who are carrying on the tradition of heaping on decades and centuries of shame on gay people, resulting in trauma, injustice and even death, both told and untold, are now claiming shamelessly that they and their advocates are being bullied and intimidated. And then they ask for civil discourse. Really?

Perhaps these opponents could take a couple of hours out of their long days spent in ivory towers of moral superiority and certitude and go to a gay community center to sit with a survivor of actual bullying and genuine intimidation. They could listen to first-hand accounts of what it's like to be on the receiving end of true bullying, hatred and violence. Here in my town or Portland, Oregon, there is an example from only a few days ago of an assault on two gay men. Unfortunately, we could find others as well. Even here in gay-friendly Portland. Sadly, we could find examples almost anywhere---in public venues, in workplaces, in schools, in churches, in restaurants, the list goes on. For the most vociferous opponents of gay marriage, it's not about marriage at all. It's about clinging to beliefs that gay people are broken, rebellious and inferior.

If these opponents can't bring themselves to sit with a gay person, perhaps they can sit with a person who was beaten, bullied and intimidated during the long years of the Civil Rights Movement and who was told that they were by law "equal" but in fact must remain separate, that their tax dollars were good enough, but their money at the lunch counter or in other public accommodations was unwelcome, that they could not marry the person they loved because the traditional definition of marriage, unchanged for thousands of years (as the argument goes), forbade it because of that person's race.

As it stands now, these assertions of bullying and intimidation ring as hollow as the yells of a kid who cries foul to the duty teacher on a playground who breaks another kid's arm and who is pushed back by the other kid in self-defense.

I can only hope that these opponents will begin to see that they are acting very much like the George Wallace of the 1960s, grasping at the last threads of unjust and inhumane beliefs. I also hope, that, like George Wallace of later years, they will see what they have done in the name of their religious beliefs and weep. And then rejoin the rest of us with our complex, multifaceted society working to advance opportunity and justice for all.

While they catch up, we'll focus on things like remembering that it really does get better.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Memorial Day Weekend

Just some light humor as we start the long weekend. The only requirement is you say this out loud (either to yourself or to a friend with a good sense of humor) in a raspy voice somewhere between Lionel Barrymore and Ronald Reagan with your fingers tented maniacally in front of you just below your chin. Then, release the hounds!
Mr. Burns: So, Smithers, what are you doing this weekend. Something gay, I expect?
Smithers: What?!!
Mr. Burns: You know, light and fancy free! Mothers, lock up your daughters! Smithers is on the town!
Smithers: Oh! Of course.
On a more serious note: Thank you to all those who have sacrificed so much for our country, in particular for protecting and advancing the principles and ideals we strive for and struggle with as a people.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gay Mormon Identity

The question of identity is a perplexing one, especially among gay Mormons. Discussions of labels (gay, SSA, SGA), the viability of mixed-orientation marriage, the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, and other topics surrounding the issue of sexual identity and orientation can be difficult and sometimes inflammatory. Those discussions can also be enlightening. For me, two of the most troublesome words used frequently in some circles are "affliction" and "struggle." I believe those words pre-emptively limit our chances of having open discussions about what the full experience of homosexual orientation means for individuals, families and society in general.

I can't help but think that unless there is an openness amongst the hierarchy and general membership of the church regarding the legitimacy of other paths, institutional Mormonism will not be a place where that vital, lifelong process a good friend of mine spoke of---"form[ing] a complete identity that includes every aspect of our personalities, goals, desired, weaknesses and strengths"---can occur.

By insisting upon using terms like "affliction" and peudo-clinical acronyms, many LDS leaders and members end up defining people primarily by sexual orientation (seen by many true-believing Mormons as having to do mostly if not exclusively sexual acts or non-sexual physical intimacy some believe to be inappropriate). Because of this, their interactions with gay people---however they define themselves or live their lives---are all too often limited in the very way those leaders and members say gay people should not limit themselves in understanding their identity. To put it bluntly, saying that gay people are fixated on their sexual orientation is engaging in the dangerous fallacy of blaming the victim. When the presumption is that we as gay people should work toward removing our "disordered" homosexuality and focusing our efforts toward healing from an "affliction," there is no space to incorporate our sexuality into our whole selves, or accept that there are multiple legitimate ways to live a good, meaningful, fulfilling life as a gay person.

If I could have a conversation with anyone within the church hierarchy or other influential Mormon thinkers willing to have a real conversation about this, I would ask him or her to consider how religious conviction is any different than a person knowing deep down that they are gay. Both are deeply personal. Thoughtful people arrive at either one through a process of deep pondering and reflection. In other words, laying aside the religiosity part of a Mormon testimony, what is the difference between the two convictions "I know the gospel is true" and "I know I am gay," at their most fundamental level. I would really like to have a conversation about this with a thoughtful LDS church leader or member.

Some Mormons are literally obsessed with defining every aspect of their lives by their Mormon identity. Even most church leaders would see that lack of balance as at least somewhat unhealthy. At the same time, most church leaders would likely say that being a Mormon should frame and inform every other aspect of life. So, in a lot of ways, most discussions about being a person who is gay and from a Mormon background come down to a question of what is the overarching part of identity for each person. And in the case of far too many Mormons, that requires denigrating and even altogether delegitimizing certain parts of identity other than religious identity.

I deeply believe that most Mormons are decent, compassionate, honorable people. Most Mormons know gay people (even if they aren't aware that those people are gay) at work, at school, in their neighborhood, at church, among their friends and within their family. Those people who are gay experience and frame their identity in different ways. I think if Mormons gave themselves permission to interact with the gay people around them at the ground level, person-to-person, honestly and openly, everyone would benefit. While I am very pessimistic about the LDS church as an institution ever fully accepting gay relationships, I do hold out hope that Mormons as individuals, families and friends will have those awkward, challenging and ultimately wonderfully transformative personal interactions with the gay people around them, and share in the beauty of their common humanity.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Schmiracle of Forgiveness

Sometimes, a book that may contain positive, helpful and uplifting information is overshadowed by other information it contains that is dehumanizing, destructive and even deadly. The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball is such a book. Many people have written about this book. In case you're wondering, I side with who view it mostly as something that is usually left in the street behind a parade of horses.

There are many thoughtful and skillful critiques available. However, I want to add my voice to the thousands of others who were told by trusted leaders, advisers, family and friends to read that book and rely on it to save our eternal souls---only to find that it mutilated our souls instead. A genuine miracle is that so many of us survived. A genuine tragedy is that so many us did not.

I share some responsibility for the spiritual, emotional and psychological trauma I experienced which was caused by the attitudes and actions The Miracle of Forgiveness espouses. I chose to absorb the misguided speculation passed off as fact and lived my life for many years as though the falsehoods in that book were truths. I'm in a much better place now psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. To be sure, I still have things to work through. Some might say I'm on the wrong path. But I know I'm on the right one for me.

The teachings in The Miracle of Forgiveness related to homosexuality are enough to shock the conscience. Miracle schmiracle. What kind of miracle can come about when the title of the chapter dealing with homosexuality is titled "The Crime Against Nature" and gay people are labeled as a threat to family life and the survival of civilization itself?

In a tragic coincidence, the book was published the same year as the Stonewall riots that began the modern Gay Rights movement in earnest. As Spencer Kimball was putting the final touches on his magnum opus, using the complete assortment of misguided falsehood to vilify homosexuality, a groundswell of new thinking began in other quarters. As Kimball and other prominent Mormons smilingly led a backward-looking crusade against gay people, psychologists, activists and others with ACTUAL training and experience started unshackling themselves from dangerous assumptions and moved forward.

And yet here we are in the year 2011, with this book still available for purchase at Deseret Book, owned by the LDS church and whose board is comprised of senior LDS leadership and other prominent Mormons. As recently as 2004, a senior LDS apostle, Richard G. Scott, proclaimed that book to be a "masterly work." Ezra Taft Benson, Kimball's successor in the presidency of the church, speaking as President of the Church and not as an individual stating an opinion, urged all members of the church to read and re-read that book. I presume Benson meant for people to also apply the principles in the book and not merely read the book for leisure.

Several months ago, the book Mormon Doctrine was at long last pulled from the shelves of Deseret Book. Citations to Mormon Doctrine are beginning to be whitewashed out of church publications, although much of the content remains under different attribution. Perhaps The Miracle of Forgiveness is slated for similar treatment. Even if that's true, it will be at least a generation before this dangerous book is removed from the collective Mormon memory.

If any book published by an apostle of the LDS church ever deserved formal repudiation by the current President of the Church, it is The Miracle of Forgiveness. But for that to happen, it will take a miracle.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Of Parenthetical Gay Mormons and Well Seasoned Perspective

I try not to criticize other bloggers in public or in my own posts. People have a right to post what they want on their own blogs. A variety of perspectives, opinions and life experience is a good and important thing. As bloggers, we all need the freedom to blog in ways that work for us at whatever stage of life we may be.

Anyone who has read anything I've written here will know I have some strong opinions, and that I try to support those opinions with some substance. From time to time, my posts have focused on individuals who put themselves out into the public square as experts, heroes or vanguards. I am a bit uncomfortable writing this post, but I'm going to take a risk here. Today, the straw broke on the back of the proverbial camel. Therefore, I present for your consideration my take on a blog that has received some notoriety:
(Gay) Mormon Guy---(G)MG for short

Read the blog for yourself. Take special note of the Saturday, May 7 post, which prompted me to finally publish this post of my own. News from friends of a suicide and an attempted suicide also played a part in this post. I am deeply sad and angry to hear of two more examples of how dangerous internalizing false hope and false promises can be.

I'll try to be fair. But I'll be using some strong words that a lot of people probably won't like. I won't censor comments (unlike the (G)MG blogger), unless they violate the Blogger Content Policy. While some may believe otherwise, I'm not attacking (Gay) Mormon Guy as a person. Disagreement or expression of a differing perspective doesn't equal personal attack. But, to be sure, I am raising questions and concerns about the content of the (G)MG blog and its effects.

I have no personal vendetta against the person (or persons) who post at (G)MG. I don't know him/her/them. The blogger(s) there does/do not explicitly purport to speak for all Gay Mormons. It is mostly a blog about personal experience. I am not writing to quibble with someone's personal experiences. Much of (G)MG's May 7 post is heartfelt grappling with the difficulties surrounding discussing sexuality and personal issues with parents.

However, there are times when the phrasing and the tone of (G)MG's posts involve a staggering level of pontification and condemnation of the paths of other Gay Mormons. This may be unintentional. My fear is that it is intentional, under the guise of "being helpful." There are some throw away lines in some posts about it being fine for other people to take other paths in life. But the crystal clear implication of far too much of the content on the (G)MG blog is that there is one true, legitimate and righteous way to be a Gay Mormon.

There is no vocabulary in any human language adequate enough to describe how much arrogance there is in the following statement in the May 7 post: "I've had the daily opportunity to touch people's lives and help them find the faith to avert suicide, fix broken marriages, and pursue lifelong dreams." How a person who has never been in a mixed-orientation marriage could presume to "fix" what he/she/they see has a "broken marriage" is laughably presumptive. The naked hubris and self-glorification of such a declaration are disturbing.

In my view, the (G)MG blog is a bright flame attracting moths that generally fit into three groups: 

1.     The young Mormon mommies who are deathly afraid of their sons being gay (and I do mean sons, because the misogynist undercurrent in the culture of the LDS church barely recognizes the paths of lesbian and bisexual Mormon women), some of whom may be married to gay men or men who they suspect might be gay, and looking to any example of the “gay but righteous Mormon”---all while being infatuated with the homoerotic “Twilight” phenomenon, especially with main character Edward proving that even vampires don't have to give into their temptations and urges (sigh);
2.     The still-active in the church looking for heroes who are “struggling with SSA” but still “stalwart," many of whom are looking to marry someone of the opposite sex despite the overwhelming odds that marriage will result in trauma and sadness; and
3.     The people like me who read occasionally and whose personal experience is a living testament that neither religious zeal nor a mixed-orientation marriage are effective or healthy means of confronting sexuality and sexual identity, and who are alternatively frustrated and saddened by the rose-tinted posts and comments that dominate the (G)MG blog. 

Bright flames like this usually burn out. Heaven knows all blogs eventually come to an end. Even if the (G)MG blog is written by committee, which is one of the possibilities, it will likely burn out in the relatively near future. Or, its nature and focus might develop over time when the volatile fuels of dogma and certitude within the writer(s) begin to run low.

Right now, however, there seems to be plenty of fuel for a fabulous flame. Perhaps the most frustrating thing is not the content of blog posts, but how so many people choose to use it. I know dozens of people whose family and friends point to statements made by (G)MG and people of (G)MG's perspective as "proof" of the best and only legitimate way for Gay Mormons to live. This isn't a debate about abstract social issues, or a battle about legal definitions. There are ground-level, personal, emotional impacts in the lives of real people. 

One friend put it this way: "My straight friends sometimes post or send me things (Gay) Mormon Guy writes about having to do with the GLBT-LDS community. It bothers me because it makes people feel like, 'See! He's gay and it doesn't bother him. He can follow church standards and be happy. I now feel justified in invalidating all Gay Mormons.'" None of us can control what readers do with what we write. But all of us can be thoughtful about what we post and how we phrase it, especially when we know our primary audience. As readers, we can be cautious about how we use what we read.

There is such a wide array of blogs written by Gay Mormons, without parentheses, that we probably shouldn't worry too much about a disproportionate impact of the (G)MG blog. The blog may have 600+ followers, but one blogger is one voice with one perspective. It's worth noting that most of those 600+ followers jumped on the bandwagon following (G)MG's post about Boyd K. Packer's October 2010 conference talk. You know, the one about homosexuality that wasn't about homosexuality, and then everyone figured out it was, and then the PR people made Packer change it, and the changes didn't make it any better?

Some people may listen to only one voice. Some people may prefer to put on blinders and see only one perspective. There will always be those who limit themselves to latching onto information that serves only to further entrench themselves in their willful ignorance rather than searching for understanding. That is their thorn in the flesh to struggle with. Hopefully, they can find healing by opening their eyes, their minds and their hearts to the legitimate experiences of others someday.

I don’t assume every Gay Mormon will leave the church, or that every Gay Mormon should. Everyone has to find their own path that is emotionally healthy, spiritually fulfilling and personally safe for them. Sometimes that path changes over time. Based on extremely sad experience, however, I DO assume the LDS church will never leave us gay people alone, unless the church goes through monumental changes in its doctrine and culture. I also assume that many of us who have at times walked the path the (G)MG blogger is attempting will be vilified by some if we ever take another path. Many other Gay Mormon bloggers have experienced and written about this.

Another good friend of mine suggested that the (G)MG blog is a "gateway" for some people to begin to listen to a broader range of experience among Gay Mormons. I like the hopefulness of that thought, but I’m not sure that holds true for most of the people following it. The blog is merely a reflection of the current positions of the institutional church and the prevailing views of modern Mormon culture. I think there will be a few people who “move on” from that blog to others, as they understand themselves and those around them in a less dogmatic way. But I’m afraid most of the followers of the (G)MG blog are there to affirm their dogma rather than find ways to approach life on a human level.

My hope is that however and whenever and for whatever reason people come across a Gay Mormon blog, they will look to a variety of other perspectives to frame their understanding of Gay Mormons. Then they will be better able to fill that frame with personal discussions and friendships with Gay Mormons who may be following different, and legitimate, paths as complete human beings. Reading, hearing and chewing on many perspectives has certainly helped me. 

The food critic Anton Ego from the Pixar film Ratatouille said it well: “You know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?”