***DISCLAIMER*** Before reading any of the posts below, click and read the About page, linked to at the very top of this page. Read on at your own discretion.
Hey everyone, happy May! I hope your Spring is going as well as mine, now that Winter has finally decided to go home like that awkward guy at the party that just doesn’t seem to know when to leave. Unfortunately that annoying neighbor Summer is calling from next door already, asking if you want to hang out. No, Summer, I don’t want to hang out yet!
Anyway, moving past the weather, I’m sorry for my disappearance in the month of April, I spent most of it recovering from mono after a day in the ER not knowing why it hurt to breathe and why my heart rate and blood pressure were through the roof. That was fun.
Now that I’m back, and feeling mushy and nostalgic, I wanted to tell you a story from my mission and bring it to today. Disclaimer, I’m about to get disgustingly mushy, those with severe aversion to “Awwww,” should leave now. ;)
I’m something of an eclectic music lover and honestly one of the hardest things about my mission in terms of the wacky rules was the restriction on what kind of music was allowed. Now, this isn’t something the church spells out explicitly in the white handbook, but most individual missions have their own rules and for most of my mission ours was pretty ambiguous as long as you could explain its existence to your zone leaders. A very popular one among a lot of missionaries, that I actually discovered through one of my first ZLs was Josh Groban’s album, “Closer.”
It’s actually a great album and something that I still pull up on my iTunes pretty regularly. I bought this album when I was about three months in to the two years and listened to it constantly. My family had bought me about twenty or so Mormon Tabernacle Choir albums, and they were really good, but eventually they get old and this one at least felt somewhat modern and closer to music I listened to back home.
I remember sitting in a little apartment in Murray, Utah, with my headphones in listening to this song. This all took place around the same time I had started reading the book that started me down the journey of accepting my sexual orientation. (See my second post I turned to track #5 and really listened to it for the first time and I was overcome with the beauty of the music and the lyrics. It is an incredible love song. Here’s a video for it, take a listen, and I’ll post the lyrics too.
“When You Say You Love Me”
I hear your voice and suddenly
I’m falling, lost in a dream.
Like the echoes of our souls are meeting,
You say those words and my heart stops beating.
I wonder what it means.
What could it be that comes over me?
At times I can’t move.
At times I can hardly breathe.When you say you love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When you say you love me
For a moment, there’s no one else alive
You’re the one I’ve always thought of.
I don’t know how, but I feel sheltered in your love.
You’re where I belong.
And when you’re with me if I close my eyes,
There are times I swear I feel like I can fly
For a moment in time.
Somewhere between the Heavens and Earth ,
And frozen in time, Oh when you say those words.
When you say you love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When you say you love me
For a moment, there’s no one else alive
And this journey that we’re on.
How far we’ve come and I celebrate every moment.
And when you say you love me,
That’s all you have to say.
I’ll always feel this way.
When you say you love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When you say you love me
In that moment,I know why I’m alive
When you say you love me.
When you say you love me.
Do you know how I love you?
I sat back in my chair and let the music wash over me and felt the familiar mixture of a thrilling happiness and an aching pain as I imagined some future day when someone would be in my life that would fit this song. Looking back, it all seemed like a fantasy, a dream to pursue and to cling to, something that helped to push me forward each day. Seven years, and some change, after that day, and just over a year ago now, my dream became a reality. I met the man that I would be able to sing this song to and mean every word of it, and the last thirteen months have been the best of my life.
So, for the man that has stolen my heart, I’m adding this song to our growing list of ‘our songs.’ A list I know will continue to grow.
I love you.
Hello faithful blog readers! Another topical one today, away from my personal story, though it contains a little bit about me of course. There has been a certain article floating around by a guy named Mainwaring called “I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage.” I’m writing a response to this because I’ve seen too many people read this and say, “Aha! See, he doesn’t want gay marriage and he’s gay, that means something!” I hate to burst your bubble, but it does not mean anything for the millions of gay people and our allies who are fighting for Marriage Equality, and it certainly has no legal relevance.
The article in question can be found at http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/03/9432/
First let’s get the topic of slant out of the day. Mainwaring’s article is an opinion and anecdote article, and my response will be the same, so the political stances of each author will be important for anyone who plans to read them.
The author, Doug Mainwaring, has been described by the Human Rights Campaign stating, “This Doug Mainwaring is not just some random gay man but rather a Tea Party activist who has adopted opposition to marriage equality as a major (if not most major) focal point on his conservative agenda. He is an advocate who, increasingly, seems to be working with (if not for) NOM [National Organization for Marriage]. (http://www.hrc.org/nomexposed/entry/nom-determined-to-make-doug-mainwaring-seem-like-a-coalition-rather-than-an#.UVR6rxyG1yw) In the article itself, at the end it reads, “Doug Mainwaring is co-founder of the National Capital Tea Party Patriots.”
The publisher, the Witherspoon Institute, is described by its Wikipedia article (go there for further sources) with “The Witherspoon Institute is a conservative think tank in Princeton, New Jersey. Founded on religious principles, the group is opposed to same-sex marriage, stem cell research, and abortion.”
As for me, if you’ve read my blog you know I am a non-religious, gay man who believes in full, federal, legal, marriage equality regardless of gender. I was raised in an active Mormon household and have a solid grasp of typical LDS and also mainstream, Christian theology.
Now, with all of that aside, time to dig into the guts of Mainwaring’s article. If you haven’t read it and would like to, please go do so now.
The very first thing Mainwaring does it use a quote from Reagan to cast the entire issue in a right vs. wrong, good vs. evil battle, stating that what it is good will always triumph. While perhaps a little dramatic, this is a very sensitive issue, one that both sides imbue with a lot of passion, some with some supernatural involvement, so I understand why he might go there.
He makes a lot of statements near the beginning of his article that he never goes on to substantiate or give any evidence or reason for. The first glaring example is, “The notion of same-sex marriage is implausible… Genderless marriage is not marriage at all.” Why? No reason. He doesn’t even attempt to give any of the typical, though refuted, positions of procreation, benefit of the children, nothing. He just moves on.
Obviously I disagree with his notion here. Marriage is the legal and sometimes religious recognition of a commitment between two people to love, support and protect each other as long as they are able to do so, typically with a ‘till death do you part’ at the end. You can’t just say something you disagree with isn’t marriage without offering a definition yourself, at least if you want to be taken seriously.
Mainwaring’s next issue is perhaps my favorite issue with his entire article. “As a young man, I wasn’t strongly inclined toward marriage or fatherhood, because I knew only homosexual desire.”
I’m sorry… what? This is a classic black and white fallacy that creates a false dichotomy. In his mind, these two ideas are mutually exclusive. You may have one or the other, but not both. You can’t have any inclination towards fatherhood if you also have homosexual desire. My experience and the experience of millions of other LGBT people utterly discount this statement. I want to be a father someday, whether that’s through adoption or some other method. My lack of any interest in being intimate with a woman has absolutely no bearing on that.
Also, I’m curious what this has to do with marriage? I’ve been to a few weddings in my life. Traditionally, the vows uttered were not focused on children, or the commitment to having children. Marriage simply cannot be about children only for gay people if we do not also hold straight couples to that same standard.
The next mistake he makes is in regard ‘Philos love’ and ‘Eros love.’ These are Greek words used by ancient Greek Philosophers such as Plato to describe relationships and the world itself. Not only does he show a blatant misunderstanding for the definitions of these types of love, he also makes the mistake of assuming they are mutually exclusive. I’m seeing a pattern of very strong black and white thinking that is pervading every view this man has.
He talks about friends he made in his twenties, “I had many close friends who were handsome, athletic, and intelligent, with terrific personalities. I longed to have an intimate relationship with any and all of them. However, I enjoyed something far greater, something which surpassed carnality in every way: philia (the love between true friends)—a love unappreciated by so many because eros is promoted in its stead.”
Ask any happily married couple or really any dedicated loving couple, gay or straight, and I bet they would tell you they have both philia and eros love in their relationship with each other. In fact many psychologists would argue that the best romantic relationships must contain both due to human nature.
Back to address his definition issues, I turn again to Wikipedia where you can follow the sources there to find more information on the subject. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_words_for_love)
“Éros (ἔρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Modern Greek word “erotas” means “intimate love;” however, erosdoes not have to be sexual in nature. Eros can be interpreted as a love for someone whom you love more than the philia, love of friendship. It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage.”
“Philia (φιλία philía) means affectionate regard or friendship in both ancient and modern Greek. It is a dispassionate, virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. In ancient texts, philosdenoted a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.”
I hope you can see through this where his entire notion of Eros vs Philia goes out the window. Of course all of this is completely beside the fact that he fails to mention Agape or Storge love in any way. (See the Wiki article).
Moving on, I’m not trying to be mean with this next point, because I know it is heartbreaking, but am I the only one who sees the irony that after deciding to marry a woman, he discovered they were infertile as a couple and were forced to seek out adoption, and then later divorced?
He proceeds to go on making more unsubstantiated claims: “ Over several years, intellectual honesty led me to some unexpected conclusions: (1) Creating a family with another man is not completely equal to creating a family with a woman, and (2) denying children parents of both genders at home is an objective evil. Kids need and yearn for both.”
There are so many issues with this single statement that it’s almost difficult to enumerate them. What is intellectual honesty, aside from a way to call people who disagree with you intellectually dishonest? How is creating a family with another man not equal to creating one with a woman? How is the denial to children of parents of both genders an ‘objective evil?’ What evidence do you have that kids need and yearn for both?
All of this is utterly opposed to all, if not most, of the major psychological and sociological associations in America. The most recent of which, the American Academy of Pediatrics, that just came out in support of marriage equality, stating that it is in the best interest of the kids already being raised in loving, supporting families with same-gender parents.
Am I the only person bothered by the fact that this man, whose own children had to live in a broken home without both parents for ten years due to divorce, has the gumption to criticize loving, same-gender-parent families? It just blows my mind.
It gets better… He goes on to say, “One day as I turned to climb the stairs I saw my sixteen-year-old son walk past his mom as she sat reading in the living room. As he did, he paused and stooped down to kiss her and give her a hug, and then continued on. With two dads in the house, this little moment of warmth and tenderness would never have occurred.”
He’s absolutely right. If Mainwaring had been married to a man, the son might have paused, stooped down to kiss his loving dad and given him a hug before continuing on instead. How terrible that would be! The reason Mainwaring thinks this won’t work is revealed in his very next sentence, where he displays his staggering gender issues:
“My varsity-track-and-football-playing son and I can give each other a bear hug or a pat on the back, but the kiss thing is never going to happen. To be fully formed, children need to be free to generously receive from and express affection to parents of both genders. Genderless marriages deny this fullness.”
Obviously. Only women can be hugged and kissed by sons. Only men can give bear hugs and manly pats on backs to their sons. There can be no gender crossing of any kind! Men cannot hug! Women cannot give bear hugs and pats on backs! What is this, the 70s with your free-flowing love fest? We’ll have none of it! (He seems to say).
Sarcasm aside, let’s be honest. I know men much more loving and sensitive than many mothers I know, and I know women who are tougher and stronger than a lot of fathers I know. The idea that each set of husband and wife will be this perfect 1950s cookie-cutter dynamic with the strong, protective man and the doting, sensitive housewife, is a notion we gave up a long time ago. Well, at least for straight people we did. Two opposite-gender people can get married that we know will be absolutely horrible parents, and we don’t care when they want to get married. When it’s two men or two women we suddenly declare that they must prove their ability to be good parents? Where did that come from? Two men can be caring, and strong, and sensitive, and compassionate, and protective, and a provider for their children. The same is true for two women.
Moving beyond sexism, we run into another great nugget of wisdom from Mainwaring:
“Here’s a very sad fact of life that never gets portrayed on Glee or Modern Family: I find that men I know who have left their wives as they’ve come out of the closet often lead diminished, and in some cases nearly bankrupt, lives—socially, familially, emotionally, and intellectually. They adjust their entire view of the world and their role within it in order to accommodate what has become the dominant aspect of their lives: their homosexuality. In doing so, they trade rich lives for one-dimensional lives. Yet this is what our post-modern world has taught us to do. I went along with it for a long while, but slowly turned back when I witnessed my life shrinking and not growing.”
Perhaps these men should never have felt pressured to be married to women in the first place?
Living proof of the falseness of his statement can be seen all around. My sexual orientation is definitely an important aspect of my life, and a source of great joy and pride, but it is not the only thing that defines me. I’m still a brother, a son, an uncle, a boyfriend, an employee, an IT professional, an on-and-off again college student, an atheist, a skeptic, an activist, a musician, a gamer, a nerd, an avid book reader, a Science Fiction/Fantasy fan, a huge Star Trek and Star Wars nerd, and so much more.
Coming out and searching for real love and happiness in my life didn’t diminish my life at all! Do you know what I’m not anymore now that I’ve come out? I’m no longer a liar, a pretender, afraid, self-hating, unhappy, alone, and I’m no longer content with living my life for someone else’s happiness at the expense of my own. Embracing my sexuality has done wonders for me, I’m sorry that it never did for Mainwaring.
People don’t become financially bankrupt because they’re gay. They become so because they make bad financial decisions. Also to assume that people become intellectually bankrupt by living how they choose is not only insulting, it’s blatantly inaccurate.
I’ll agree with Mainwaring on one point, “Same-sex relationships are certainly very legitimate, rewarding pursuits, leading to happiness for many, but they are wholly different in experience and nature.” At least we have a tiny sliver of common ground.
He dwells briefly on the slippery slope argument about polygamy or polyamorous relationships, which gay people are not pushing for by the way, so I won’t spend any time refuting that particular red herring. Oh and he also cites the scholarly mocked, and apologized for on behalf of the author himself, study by Mark Regnerus that has been widely refuted.
Over and over Mainwaring rejects any notion that any of his decisions have been based on religious or ‘traditional’ views, that it all comes from experience and reason. He then chooses to end his article with a very curious statement:
“Marriage is not an elastic term. It is immutable.”
First and foremost, unless belief in a higher power or some kind of eternalspiritual code is part of your motivation, marriage is just a word that describes a legal contract. Languages evolve every day. I mean, look at how we speak compared to ten years ago, fifty years ago, one hundred years ago. Terms and definitions, especially legal ones, change all the time. Marriage is no exception. It used to mean a man’s acquisition of a female by trading work or goods to that female’s father. We’ve evolved past that decision.
To show how marriage has changed even in the past century, I’ll use the following example: I have two very close friends who are married. They are both atheists, come from two different racial heritages, and were married in a beautiful bed & breakfast inn by a female judge in the presence of friends and family. They have absolutely no interest in having children, and have taken steps to ensure they will have no children.
To recap: no church, no minister, no children, interracial, all reasons people in the past might have used to keep them from marrying. Yet absolutely no one bats an eye at the legality of their marriage because they’re the correct gender, and because we’ve come to a point in our culture where we accept that they love each other, want to commit to each other and spend the rest of their lives together and be afforded the rights and benefits of a married couple.
So if theirs, why not your gay relatives or friends?
I’m taking another shift in my ‘normal’ routine. This is another topical, current event perspective on the Boy Scouts of America ban on openly gay scouts and scout leaders. I wrote a rather long response on a friend’s Facebook thread, a thread that is already over 70 comments long, and I realized that as I wrote it, I was putting as much, if not more, time into it as I would a blog post, and I’m interested in more people knowing my opinion on it. So here it is, with some modifications (removed specific references to comments made earlier in the thread that will not make sense to anyone reading it here )
Personally, I think the BSA delay is cowardly. The major lobbying push to get this to happen has been going for well over a year or two. With the general issue the writing has been on the wall for well beyond that.
I’m a very practical guy when it comes to stuff like this, and assume it mostly comes down to money. While they are a non-profit organization, they have to maintain certain operating costs and they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are losing corporate donors such as UPS, but if they change their policy they could lose the participation of the LDS church, which would devastate the program just in terms of sheer numbers of participants and annual events. However… it doesn’t take another three months, in addition to the years they’ve had to see the polling and read the culture shift, to run the numbers and projections and make a decision.
If you’re taking the position that it’s a moral choice based on religious principles, then the BSA needs to be clear which religion they’re basing their core values on, and I’m sorry but “Christian” is way too broad a term. Christians can’t even all agree on the nature of God, predestination, revelation, authority, even what version of the Bible to base their teachings on, and even today, there are Christians on both sides of the gay rights debate. There are even agnostic Christians (which some could say Thomas Jefferson was, google the Jefferson Bible) that believe in the moral and philosophical teachings of Jesus but don’t claim belief in a supernatural God.
As to whether the BSA should change? I actually don’t care. This isn’t like Chick-fil-a where the owners are also advocating and donating money to anti-gay hate groups. They want to be an old-fashioned boys club? That’s their prerogative. I think that the people who want to change the scouts should just make a better organization that includes boys and girls, gay and straight and everything in between, oh yeah and the atheists too. Let me be clear, I think it would be wise for the BSA if they decided to lift the ban, because that is the way culture is shifting, and since they are in fact not a church, they have the freedom to move any way they like.
A brief side bar for internet and Facebook discussions in general and the people that engage in them: I love that you’re participating in discussions like this. It’s a good sign of an open mind and a willingness to be challenged that can actually serve to strengthen your faith, despite what some will say. It will also lead to people understanding your views better, and you understanding theirs with more clarity as well.
To dispel a few things I see being posted a lot, ad nauseum, from people seeming to think they are the first to make this point… being gay is not something that needs to be cured or ‘overcome.’ Being gay does not mean you are more likely to be a pedophile, or a murderer, or a rapist, or any of the other things. Can we please just put this to rest? It’s utterly silly and the fact that I constantly find myself having to refute it in people’s logic is staggeringly exhausting.
In a similar vein, I know that Mormons tend to have their own special definitions of these terms, due mainly to the leadership of the church avoiding saying the words gay or lesbian for decades… Let’s be clear. Homosexuality and same-gender attraction(SGA), or same-sex attraction (SSA) are synonyms. They mean the same thing. Homosexuality is what the rest of the world calls it. This is because homosexuality is a subset of sexuality, which deals with the capacity for sexual feelings. Look it up. It is the physical, mental, emotional, and social attraction to other human beings, and in the case of homosexuality, the attraction of the same gender.
When it comes down to it, you people who know me treat me differently, because you know me, than they might strangers you might be treated as the caricature (for good or bad).
I have a special request for all of the active LDS people, and other actively religious people, and all parents in general who might be reading this. What I would stress to you is to remember that these 11 and 12 year old boys you are so worried about have a roughly one in ten or one in twenty chance, depending on the study, of being gay themselves. Think of the messages you are sending these children, many of whom I guarantee you are just starting to figure out what this means for them in their life. I was in 6th grade when I first put a name to what was going on in my life, which is the 11-12 age bracket. It was then when I first started to label myself as broken, an abomination, and told myself that this was something I absolutely had to keep secret, that I couldn’t even trust my parents with, because I was so ashamed of myself, and was afraid (wrongly) that they couldn’t love or accept a gay son. I hated myself for who I was, convinced that somehow God had punished me with this, wondering what I had done, maybe in the pre-earth life, to have warranted it.
Now, to be fair, the LDS church has come leaps and bounds forward on this issue since that time period, stressing the love and acceptance that people need to have. Keep in mind that when you tell your future son that you don’t want him associating with gay people because what they do is wrong, etc, etc, that you might be informing your child what you think of him (or her).
I’m not saying any of you would do this in the wrong way, but please keep in mind, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, that there are absolutely gay kids in your wards and congregations right now, that are paying very close attention to what is being said in sacrament meeting and in sunday school, by their parents, and by their leaders, and they hear and internalize every single word.
Please, think about what messages you want to send with positions on subjects like this. Make sure you are very, very clear how you want them to hear about the love and acceptance first, and then the ‘spiritual danger’ that ‘those people’ bring to the table secondly.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment below and tell me your thoughts.
Posted in Discussion, Entries, Topical | Tagged boy scouts of america, current-events, exmormon, gay, gay ban, gay mormon, gay scout leaders, gay scouts, human-rights, LDS church, mormon, mormon church, politics, post-mormon, religion, society | 2 Comments »
Happy New Year! I have to apologize for the short hiatus I went on at the end of 2012. Writing is one of my passions, but as some of you know I was enrolled in a Comp 2 class online last fall. Writing 1000 word papers just about every week was a fun exercise and helped me grow as a writer, but it did leave me very unmotivated to write here for the simple joy of expressing myself. That class recently culminated, successfully I might add, in a brilliant research paper and I’m now back to my own devices in terms of writing.
It’s about 9 pm here so I don’t know how long this is going to be, but I felt like writing and didn’t want to pass on that motivation. I’m doing another break from the ‘my story’ format to do something topical. I’m sure I’ll get back to that next time. Also, if there’s something you’d like me to write about specifically, drop me a line in the comments or send me a message. I’m happy to fill in the gaps if you guys think something is missing from my story or want my take on a specific topic. The reason I’m addressing this topic is because it is something that weighed heavily on my mind as I considered leaving the church. These are the kinds of thoughts I went through while trying to make that decision.
With that, on to the topic. As I’m sure the title gave away, I’m wanting to dig into a curious phrase I found on the church’s website today while doing research for a future blog post. Here’s the quote:”As we seek to be happy, we should remember that the only way to real happiness is to live the gospel.”
As someone who enjoys writing, you might imagine I enjoy words. I love playing with them, learning their meanings, discovering new words… I’m just kind of a big word nerd. I also find that, especially in print when much is left up to the imagination (e.g. tone, body language, etc), the question of ‘Why did the author choose to use a particular word in a particular place?’ is especially interesting to unravel. So what is ‘real’ happiness? As always with endeavors like this I turn to the dictionary, which recently is Google. (Did you know you can just do a Google search with “Define <word>” and it’ll give you the definition? I love Google).
Google gives us the following for happiness: “[The] state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” How about for real? “Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.” A few synonyms include actual, veritable, and factual. So, logically, when you’re talking about real happiness, then you’re talking about the opposite of fake or pretend happiness.
Chew that over while I switch gears before I bore you all to tears with the word nerd stuff. This isn’t a new phrase to me, or even a new idea really. Anyone who’s been around the LDS church has heard it dozens, if not hundreds of times. Whether it’s from parents, teachers, leaders, friends in the church, you’ve probably heard the,”Yeah, but they’re not really happy.” Or maybe you’ve heard, “They only think they’re happy.”
It’s easy to deduce where this thinking comes from. Two scriptures jump to mind. One is from King Benjamin in Mosiah where, and I’m paraphrasing, he asks the reader/listener to consider the blessed and happy state of those who keep the commandments of God, for they are blessed in all things. The most quoted, hands down though, is “Wickedness never was happiness,” which comes from Alma the Younger’s counsel to his son Corianton (the one who got too friendly with the harlot, and doomed some Zoramites with his unrighteousness… that’s a whole separate post.) The passage is the end of Alma 41:10, but what most people don’t look at when using the scriptural soundbite is the following verse which puts it even better:
“11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.”
To piece together the logic behind the cultural interpretation that many have from these scriptures and others, you have the following idea: 1) People who follow the commandments of God are happy. Pretty self-explanatory. 2) Those who don’t follow the commandments after being convinced of the truth of them are almost always unhappy, depressed, and cursed in some way, especially in the Old Testament. 3) Those who are in their ‘natural state,’ those who haven’t yet heard the Gospel or haven’t become convinced of it, are living in a state devoid of ‘true happiness.’ They might think they’re happy, but it’s like comparing a candle to a furnace, they just don’t get it.
Confirmation bias is especially fun when dealing with this kind of paradigm. The hardest part about belonging to such an all-encompassing faith and world view is that it is very difficult for many within it to even consider the views of those that exist outside of it. I mean, why bother? Everything good you see in life is confirmation of a blessing from God. Everything bad that happens to those outside of the church is confirmation of their lack of blessings from God. However, things get trickier, and indeed apostles have dedicated entire sermons to this, what about when things don’t work out this way? Well, then it’s conveniently labeled as a Job-type experience that is meant to test your faith and boom, all is well. After all, I’m sure God will get around to blessing you more for your obedience when he’s finished finding your neighbor’s keys, right? I jest.
So what about those of us who do experience positive feelings after leaving the church. I mean, the pleasure from all the sinning I’ve been doing has got to wear off soon, right? What are these feelings that myself and billions of others feel on a daily basis? As a missionary I always taught new investigators about the fruits of the spirit from Galatians. The ‘warm fuzzies’ of happiness, peace, love, contentment… the super positive feelings that can only come from God, which Satan tries to counterfeit with adrenaline rushes, lust, drugs and alcohol. One of the issues I suddenly found was that I felt those feelings when I wasn’t doing things that were particularly ‘spiritual.’ Like while watching Lord of the Rings, or reading The Giver.
The most poignant example for me was the feeling I got when I held my boyfriend for the first time. I’m not talking about anything coital or sexual in any way. We were watching a movie together, he turned and leaned into me. I wrapped my arms around him as he rested his head back on my shoulder as we watched whatever it was. Now, I’d cuddled in the same exact situation in college with my female friends, and I’ve given loving embraces to my male friends in the past, but this was something so incredibly different from any of that. Holding someone to me that I cared about and was starting to fall in love with, wrapping my arms around him was the first time I’d understood anything from those funny romance novels I used to peak at that my Mom would bring home while growing up. Words fail to express it, but it was as if a surge of pure joy and peace rushed up my spine and it was so powerful it almost brought me to tears when it happened. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Want to know the best part? That feeling hasn’t gone away, I still feel it almost as strongly every time I see him and pull him into my arms. I still get emotional and teary from good movies like The Help, I still feel inspired by the President’s speech in Independence Day. What do my family and LDS friends think about this? What would their explanation be for what I’m experiencing? Who knows. Likely it’s an elaborate ruse from Satan as he leads me carefully down to hell or something of that nature.
So what is happiness, and how does one know it’s real or not? I mean, even if a person thinks they’re happy… aren’t they happy, even if you don’t think so? That would seem to be my take on the situation. I think my opinion can be surmised by Morpheus from the Matrix:
“Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure it was real? What if you were unable to awake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?
What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
So what is real happiness? Maybe they’re right and I’m imagining it, maybe I’m not ‘really’ happy. Who really knows I suppose. All I know is me, where I was before and where I am now. I used to live with a constant ache in my heart. Something that would throb with pain every time I saw a happy couple, or an attractive guy, and that ache was absolutely persistent no matter how much I prayed, or fasted, or studied my scriptures, or did service, or focused on work, or school, or anything. Every year that ache seemed to get heavier and harder to deal with. There were times in church I felt like I would be physically torn apart by it, because on the one hand I was feeling the spirit, or so I thought, and feeling comforted by the teachings I had always been taught, and simultaneously I was being swallowed up by the pain from this ache in my heart.
Today? The ache is gone. It’s been filled by a love for and from an amazing man. Filled by being able to be honest with people. Filled by choosing my path, and owning my own destiny.
What is real happiness? Who cares. I’m happy.
Hello again! I seriously cannot believe it is October already. In planning for my blog posts I realized I started this blog by telling my story and need to get current before I get too topical…if that makes any sense.
So, to do that I suppose the natural order of things would be to return to what happened after I decided to leave BYUI. I left in April 2010. Interest in school became kind of erratic in the next two years. I’m only now really going back to school in a serious way, and finally recapturing what I’d loved about school when separated from a religious context.
When I got home I went back to attending my local young single adult congregation and participated in an admittedly limited way. I think on some level I realized I was already losing the battle in my desire to remain in the church. I came out to my bishop, assuring him of my worthiness but worried about my faith and testimony. He gave me the book for the church’s addiction recovery program… yeah… That interview could have gone better.
While I became less active in my ward I actually increased my prayer and scripture study. I was determined to find answers that the church couldn’t or wouldn’t provide me. I was always disappointed listening to General Conference and frustrated by their inability to address much outside of, ‘Pray, read your scriptures, pay your tithing, etc, etc.” Also the more I read about the history of the church and conference talks, and from the scriptures was compounding the frustration. I mean, I believed in a church which claimed direct, prophetic revelation from God. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young certainly never took half measures much of anything. Joseph once pointed at a rock in Missouri and said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘That’s the altar where Adam prayed after being kicked out of the garden.’ Young talked about what kind of food we would be eating after the resurrection! Where was the revelation about why people are gay, about when the spirit enters the body, about if stillborn children will be resurrected or not? Those issues, God is silent on, but celestial cucumbers, that’s essential to our salvation?!
Then the straw that broke the camel’s back arrived. It stemmed from a General Conference talk from Boyd Packer, an Apostle in the LDS church, that he gave in October 2010. I don’t want to get too much into this talk right now because I think it could be an entire post in and of itself. It set off a firestorm among gay rights activists, Mormon and non, and I hear it caused quite a stir in Provo (site of BYU) and Salt Lake City.
It was in a reaction to that talk in my singles’ ward though that set off the final chain reaction. While sitting and listening to a Fast and Testimony Meeting (where members of the congregation are invited to the podium as they want to speak on their beliefs and ‘bare their testimony’) a guy in his early-twenties, who was in a leadership position, went up to the podium. After beginning the usual way, he took a tangent and began talking about how he had a friend in Provo and how they’d been discussing Packer’s talk and the resulting fallout. He went on to affirm Packer’s words about how God would never make someone gay, that it must have originated by some kind of choice, or as a consequence of some action taken during life. He was certain in his belief that the Atonement of Christ can and would fix anything, and that those who were struggling with this just simply were not trying hard enough.
I looked around and saw the huge number of people in the congregation nodding in rapt approval and agreement.
To them, and apparently so many LDS people, it’s just that simple. I hadn’t prayed hard enough, hadn’t fasted earnestly enough, and hadn’t searched the scriptures well enough to find the answer that would just make it all okay, that would make Christ’s Atonement finally work for me. Even at my most devout, doing all that I knew how to beg God’s intervention in my life, they were telling me that hadn’t been good enough, and that was that. Well… I certainly wasn’t going to rise above the level of faithfulness I had on my mission and just after, so I was doomed, according to this logic.
I suddenly and immediately had enough of it. Luckily he was the last person to speak before the meeting was closed. I walked out and that was the last time I attended church as a believer.
I drove to a large park near the church I attended and parked in my favorite spot overlooking this little lake and just sat there fuming, trying to relax and reflect. I stared at the beautiful sight and just contemplated everything, all of it seeming to rush through my head at once. I had recently come out to my non-member friends (another blog post to come) and I contrasted their love and acceptance with what I was hearing and feeling at church. I thought of my family and how they would react. How any decision I could make would affect them. Scriptures in my mind flooded to the surface like I was reading them out loud, in my head. Passages from Luke, and Genesis, from 2 Nephi and Alma, it was a very intense experience. I was angry, and frustrated, and hurt, and afraid, and sobbing like a mad man.
Despite all the emotional and irrational chaos in my head, one thought kept emerging from it. Despite every reason to stay, or go, despite my feelings on everything I had experienced, it stood alone. “I’m not happy.” The church culture and doctrine on homosexuality was choking me and I knew I had to leave. I said a prayer and told God what I had decided. I didn’t feel any doubt, any fear anymore, no hesitation and I made the decision firmly and committed to it.
Two things happened pretty simultaneously. The first was a huge realization of what I had just ‘given up.’ It cut straight to my heart with all the implications as if my head was warning me, “You know this is going to have a lot of social and familial repercussions, massive ones. Be sure this is what you want.”
The second came in the form of utter elation. You know that feeling when you eat your favorite flavor of ice cream, or the peace of reading a book during a thunderstorm, or the feeling of a high-speed dive on a roller coaster? It was like all of that at once. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, and a massive, two-decade weight flew from my shoulders. Despite trials that would follow, so many things in my life started locking into place in a great way, helping give me confirmation that everything was going to be alright, eventually.
I really need to get back into this more than once a month, though I suppose I’m happy I’m doing this well. No blog before this has had this much success for me in terms of how often I write. Some news outside of this blog for anyone interested: I’m back in school, taking two classes from my local community college, Comp 2 and IT Intro Networking. Both are going swimmingly, but have started to take up more of my time. Rehearsals also start back up tonight for the Heartland Men’s Chorus which I’m a member of. It’s going to be a very exciting, very busy fall. I can’t wait.
I’ve decided to take a break from the chronological narrative this post. My next in that vein is going to be about my main theological snag that ‘broke the camel’s back’ as it were and led me to leave the church. However, it is appropriately complex and deep, and I’m still working on it. I want to give it the justice and time it deserves. It’s important to me that people reading this understand all my thoughts in the clearest way I can give.
So instead I’m doing a topical post, which is something I’ll likely do more of in the future. When you come out to people, you get, understandably, a lot of questions. The first is always “When did you know?” One that invariably comes up is the depressing, “Did you ever consider suicide?” I’m lucky that, in the strictest sense, my answer is no.
I add that little caveat because though I never got anywhere close to doing action in taking my own life, there were periods on my mission where I wanted to die, and not because I was sad, depressed, or sinful, but because I was worthy, and I wanted to stay that way.
About four or five weeks into my mission I confessed to my Mission President my pre-mission transgressions that I should have taken care of, according to LDS theology, before my mission and before going through the temple. I sent letters to my Stake President, and Bishops to whom I had been less than truthful during my temple and missionary interview process, apologizing for my deceit. Once through the repentance process, I felt better about things because I had gone through the process taught to me and in my mind, things were back on track. I had done the remorse thing, the penance thing and lots of praying and asking forgiveness. A month or so later I felt worthy, happy, and gung ho about the mission again.
The oddest feeling struck me about six months into the mission. Everything was going rather well. I was in a good area, the people were nice, and the work was successful. We were walking down 13th East back down towards our apartment in Draper, for lunch. I want to say near 126th South? It’s been a while. It’s a decently busy area and a fun hill to drive down and offers a beautiful view of Corner Canyon near where we could see the Draper Temple being constructed.
We had decided to walk up the area to some of the neighborhoods in our area to go tracting for exercise and because we wanted to save on miles for the car. As we were walking down the hill, and I looked at the temple construction site, I had this weird thought cross my mind. ‘Given your same-gender attraction, this might be the best things get for your spiritually.’ I was a temple-worthy missionary. I was as close to pure as I was ever going to reach. I had given up my normal life to do God’s work to preach, there was no greater calling, right? I had the clear and distinct wish, almost a silent prayer, that a car would jump the curb and strike me dead at that moment so I could return to heaven, clean and pure, and not ‘ruin it’ for myself after the mission.
Think about that for a minute. It’s not technically a suicidal thought, as the definition of suicide implies intentional taking of one’s own life, but what would you call it? Spiritual death wish? It wasn’t isolated either, that thought would occur to me more times throughout the next eighteen months. What lead me to this?
It would be easy for me at this moment to blame the church and church teachings about worthiness, cleanliness, and the afterlife. Yet LDS belief about judgment and the afterlife is actually among the best in Christianity, in my opinion. Christ, the man who had suffered all, and knew my pain intimately, would be my judge. Someone with infinite knowledge of my life and my struggles, about my intentions and the nature of my heart, he would be the one to pass judgment on me, and I knew, according to church teachings, that I believed in a merciful, loving God and Savior. To throw the LDS church a bone, because some think that I’ve somehow made it my life’s mission to destroy it, as if I could, the church has some really great views about suicide and the afterlife, as much as is possible anyway.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking at the funeral of a good friend who took his life, stated:
“God has said ‘You leave this to me.’ We’re not wise enough to make judgments in such matters. We don’t know enough. We did not walkwith Karl in that dark night. As much as we have known him and as much as we have loved him, we have not been able to imagine whatKarl must have been thinking. Because we can’t and because God can, he has said, ‘You leave this to me.’ And in such times when we do not know why this would happen, then we cling to what we do know. Itis a great rule of life: When we come to things we do not know and donot understand, we hold more firmly to things we do know and do understand. We know that God lives and loves Karl. We know that Christ went into that Garden and to the summit of Calvary, for Karl. We know that life is eternal. We know that the plan of salvationis perfect. We know that redemption, renewal, restoration and resurrection are great principles of the gospel, great images ofChrist. And so we don’t throw any rocks and we don’t fail to forgive. Inthis case, we probably aren’t able even to understand. We simply yield to God in this.”
Yet the simple fact remains, there is an epidemic of young, gay, Mormons who are committing suicide each year, added to the numbers of non-Mormon gay kids who are also taking their own lives. Then you have others like me, simply wishing they would die so as not to ‘ruin’ their worthiness.
My only conclusion I can come to is that theology plus culture is creating this problem. Life for many can be an isolated hell. Life just gets hard to deal with. When you add to that a teaching many in the LDS church believe as doctrine, that the lowest of the three Kingdoms of Glory (one of the three heavens people will go to after judgment day) is so beautiful and peaceful, is it a wonder some might see the afterlife as immensely preferable to this one? I’m afraid that so much emphasis in the LDS church on worthiness and working towards perfection creates psychological side effects for some people that are hard to identify and to combat.
I’m really just speculating. I don’t have any degrees in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or even theology or philosophy. I just know that this is happening, and we need to watch what we say to young people in our lives. Remember that your children hear every word you say and internalize it as near absolute truth most of the time. Constantly tell all in your life that they are loved and wanted right here, that it really does get better. No matter how bad, or even good, life is, it can and will get better.
Previously on… can you tell I miss my regular TV shows?
Anyways, back to discussing the ultra-conservative atmosphere on campus at BYUI. Back when this was going on there was one main area everyone bottle necked because of construction. This was the Mainwaring Center (MC) where the bookstore is and the food court area. It was late September 2008. This was before all the spiffy new additions that are there now. Anyway, there were these two areas of the lower lobby that school clubs could reserve to hand out flyers or get signups for this, that and the other. One day I was walking through and saw this giant bulletin board that said “Campus Republicans – McCain 2008.”
One of the student volunteers must have noticed my eye roll from across the lobby area because he made a beeline for me. He was one of those guys with the “Hey, man,” attitude (the ‘bro’ stuff hadn’t reached Rexburg yet) with his very conservative LDS, middle of Idaho, football quarterback look about him. I’d be lying if I said he didn’t distract me a little bit from what he was actually saying, but when I got back around to paying attention I just politely said that I wasn’t interested. He asked if I just didn’t like politics. I shook my head and informed him that, no, I was interested in politics, but I was planning to vote for Barack Obama. I swear his eyes narrowed at me like I had become Korihor the anti-Christ. It would have been amusing if I’d been a spectator and not the source of the glaring. I didn’t want to get into a debate at the time, mostly because I still had half the campus to cross to get to my safe haven of wonderful people, the Snow Building. I apologized, sidestepped him and went on my way.
Thus began my exposure to the presiding cultural attitudes towards Obama at BYUI. Just like Prop 8, it was everywhere. If you wanted to derail and entire class away from a topic at hand, something I might have done on purpose once during a music theory class when my brain was hurting, all you had to do was bring up either Obama or Prop 8 and boom, class was over, political firestorm.
I found allies in unlikely places, one of my favorite professors, who had a stint as the Men’s Choir director, not to mention one hell of a French Horn player, had an Obama sign up in his office and I knew it was a safe place to discuss things with him on a political scale, which being in the leadership of the Choir I was able to do during that semester. Plenty of other teachers and students were able to be found if you knew what to look for. We were never so numerous, or annoying, just my opinion, as the Campus Conservatives. To give you a brief insight into their ridiculousness, they held “debates,” and even called them that…and didn’t bother to invite anyone of the opposing viewpoint. Utter hilarity.
I still remember the excitement the morning the election results came in and Obama had won. I felt elated and excited and posted about it on my Facebook page. Later that morning I received a text message from a rather closed-minded individual whose message was comprised almost exclusively of scriptures in the Book of Mormon talking about anti-Christs, the end of the world, and what will happen when the voice of the people choose evil over good…it was…special.
I received a few more of those kinds of messages on Facebook and in classes and from texts and was pretty baffled. I mean, I know people find politics very strong, but it was the first time I’d realized that people’s religion could dictate their politics and the reaction therein. It was fascinating and disheartening. The worst part was a story related to me by a professor, I think it was my Book of Mormon teacher at the time. He was a really good guy, great teacher, very religiously open-minded but very knowledgeable and had a strong testimony. His son was around second grade age and came home to tell his dad what he’d been told by another kid at school. This second grader had told this other second grader that Obama would need to be killed soon to fix the country. Fantastic, right? His parents, who I’m guessing he heard this from, would be so proud…
Now, let’s be clear, I’m not attributing any of this to church doctrine, necessarily, but I think we can all agree that church culture allows for and sometimes promotes this kind of thinking, and at least seemingly does very little to stop it.
I hope this gave you an idea of the culture that surrounded me in Rexburg as I began the fledgling thoughts to take my life in a different direction.