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?”

8 comments:

  1. I hate the idea of living in shadows and not being able to be MYSELF without censoring. That's why I left BYU and it's (part of) why I'll leave the church. I cannot ever agree with someone who actively advocates denying that a part of yourself exists. I can understand that in many social situations, it's not prudent to be really open and out...but denying this very important part of yourself completely to every single person you know? No. Never.

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  2. The (G)MG blog is the single biggest monument to agenda-driven aspirational arrogant self-delusion in the MoHoSphere. Your analysis nailed it, and was probably kinder than I'd be if I cared enough to write about it.

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  3. My favorite sentence:

    "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?"

    I'm sure you're right about the number of people for whom his blog will actually and ultimately act as a gateway to a more nuanced approach to the topic. I guess I hold out hope for that minority.

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  4. I was fascinated by that blog at first because it reminded me so much of my dogmatic, 22-year-old self people told was "wise beyond my years" and had things so figured out. I was deeply, deeply in denial about many things (including some of my own thoughts and feelings), not very good at true, vulnerable intimacy and connection on a really human, personal level, and really adept at dismissing evidence, experience, and realities carried through to conclusion. My perspective pandered to those seeking "simplicity" and "clarity" due to it's absolutist tendencies and ignorance of human experience. In short, I was a living template of sorts. I probably project some of that into (G)MG since his blog voice recalls my own past thoughts.

    But the comments, on his blog, of people who clearly don't "get it" but surely will use the blog to preach to their "less faithful" family and friends, and the (I believe) unintentional arrogance of it (again, which reminded me of my former humble-but-unwittingly-egocentric self) frustrated me after a couple of weeks, and I stopped even skimming it. I think it's precarious business, though, to judge even a statement too harshly. I suspect (G)MG is as sincere as they come, and the truth is that people like him do exist and speak up, even if I wouldn't want to be like them or "go back" to that kind of thinking, and I think such perspective rarely persists very far into life, whether or not it "should". And I suspect people could level some pretty horrible judgments against me and blame me for letting down people looking for a specific kind of "hope". So I just acknowledge my bias where (G)MG is concerned, disagree with his perspective, voice my own, and urge people, as you're doing, to talk to many individuals and couples if they want a complete picture.

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  5. This reminds me of arguments about the blog 'feminist mormon housewives' and the varied opinions of it. Is it an oxymoron. They get accused of not being feminist, of not being Mormon enough, I don't think anyone bothers to challenge the 'housewife' claim, or maybe they do.

    Ramble ramble. My point was going to be that fMh was, for me, a 'gateway drug'. It was very useful to me when I was first 'coming out' (of the Mormon church). Now I don't visit very often and the posts and comments tend to leave a bad taste in my mouth now. I am glad that it exists though. I think that it helped me think outside of the box, even if it wasn't very far outside it was still outside and bit by bit (with plenty of other help of course) I decided to leave the church behind.

    I haven't read much over at (g)mg but I am also hopeful that it is useful for people who are still very much struggling with belief and who need a 'gateway drug'. I also agree with you though that it lulls many people back into thinking "all is well" when really you just want to yell at them "all is not fucking well" but my experience is that people don't hear that message until THEY are ready to hear it. I do still think that it is good to stir the pot though and require people to THINK!

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  6. Maureen, I had PRECISELY the same thought as you, with the parallel between G(M)G and fMh as "gateway drugs". In my case, I never saw the allure of fMh and jumped straight to Sunstone and The Exponent. However, in my case I was further along on the feminist path when I first came across fMh, and so to me I had much the same reaction to fMh as Pablo has here to G(M)G - feeling that the blog possibly does more harm than good.

    That said, I think that G(M)G has a much stronger potential to do more harm than fMh does, because at least the comments at fMh are less-moderated and there is more tolerance for alternative viewpoints, even if they aren't the norm.

    Also, Pablo, I think you left out one crucial category of people from your list of moths attracted to the G(M)G flame: Single heterosexual women. The whole idea that a righteous man who tries hard enough can "marry away the gay" does a HUGE disservice to the single female population in the LDS church. These women have been fed a diet of Pres. Kimball's notorious statement:

    "'Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion [...] it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price." - Ensign 1977

    There are many women out there who are attracted to and would happily marry a righteous, uber-faithful SSA man. You don't have to look further than the Pearsons for proof.

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  7. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Maureen and Madame Curie: Thanks for bringing up fMh.

    Madame Curie: Single heterosexual women is indeed a crucial category missing from my post. Thanks for adding it. (In lawyer speak, I am incorporating by reference your full comment herein). Ok, back to English. The SWK quote you cited, along with many like it, are not only a disservice to the single female population of the church, but a danger. And the impacts are multi-generational when kids are born into mixed-orientation marriages, especially those founded on, to be blunt, delusional thinking regarding the likelihood of success. That doesn't mean a mixed-orientation marriage is all misery. But going into it knowingly tends to add staggeringly difficult issues for all involved.

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  8. I should clarify my "delusional thinking" comment above. I meant this in the sense that there are many young, naive couples who get married fully knowing that one partner is gay (or SSA, the term which most of those couples would prefer) beforehand. It is an altogether different matter for one partner to come to terms with their sexuality later in life. This comment is somewhat self-serving, I realize. But the multitude of similar experiences from so many others leads me to believe there really is a fundamental difference, including how a couple in a mixed orientation marriage of the latter kind works through the complex dynamics.

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