Sunday, April 30, 2006
I see the value and beauty of finding another person to love. Knowing that person and feeling his pain as your own. Feeling his successes as your own. Making him happy… and having that reciprocated. Reaching this ideal of having someone as an intimate partner makes life so much better. Having recently gone from no intimate partner to having someone who is on my side no matter what, the contrast is fresh and stark in my mind. It is truly amazing.
And why not? As I explained in the other post, the central objection I have is based on my view of the afterlife and my understanding of God’s commandments and the reasons behind them. In my belief, the reason we are living at all is to become divine, and this process ultimately excludes gay relationships for logistical reasons (and presumably broader reasons known only to God). But, putting that aside and viewing the matter from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know about God’s plan (or doesn’t believe), I see gay love as just as high an ideal to achieve during this life as straight love. At least they have equal potential to be moral when the love is unselfish and pure.
Whether or how gay relationships will last and ultimately bring long term happiness or disappointment, I think is irrelevant. For the same reason I claim the privilege to marry my straight wife and work out our own unconventional happiness in the best way possible, I believe in extending that privilege to everyone.
Unfortunately, Mormons are so zealous and full of love for their fellowmen, that they at times fall prey to the notion that compulsory obedience to God’s commandments is better than disobedience. This is not born out by scripture—at least, it is contradicted in many cases. The articles of faith make it clear that we ought to tolerate those who believe differently than ourselves. It’s part of the Golden Rule. It’s part of Jesus’ teachings. And for those to whom the veracity of the church is unknown, there should be freedom to pursue virtuous ideals such as love, support, fidelity, and contented partnership in whatever way is mutually satisfactory and does not detract from the rights of others.
There are terrible problems with communicating religious ideas, and I’ve posted on this before. So let me clarify that there are multiple meanings to words like sin, evil, and damnation—and they’re not all frankly pejorative. Sin in one sense is acting against the will of God, but in another sense is knowingly acting against the will of God. One obviously brings far more culpability than the other, but both kinds of sin will keep us from achieving the goals God would have us reach. To what level a person must know his behavior is sin, I can not say. Hence my emphasis on listening to conscience and vigilantly pursuing spiritual communication.
So, although I hold the view that gay love will ultimately damn a person (that is, keep them from achieving the potential God intends), I also believe that gay love can be a virtuous aim for those whose belief system accepts it. It is, in a word, moral. And at the same time, evil. Understanding how that is possible requires sophistication unachievable for some. And understanding how such a view is based on love and faith rather than fear and hate may be equally impossible for those whose own belief system is a scaffolding of dogmatic coping mechanisms.
Most immediately, I believe in religious and social tolerance, and that compels me to support my gay friends as they pursue the happiness they desire.
Friday, April 28, 2006
Despite the oft repeated quip “P=MD” (i.e., pass gets you the degree, no honors necessary), getting honors grades makes a big difference when it comes time to compete with all the other medical graduates in getting that perfect residency spot. Or even the specialty you want. Some students go for honors at all costs. These folks are called “gunners,” a reference to the gunman on the back of an army truck taking out anyone who might be following and trying to keep up. Tactics include checking out all available texts from the library right before the test so nobody else can study them, or providing notes to other students who missed lectures that are deliberately incomplete or incorrect. But most of my classmates aren’t like that. It’s a wild ride anyway you look at it though.
I tend to provide excuses when I fail to achieve honors when the reality is I just didn’t put in the effort. Some students don’t even try—it’s much easier that way.
Now, consider this: “…studies show that out of [the] 15% of couples who try to make [their marriage] work, only about 7% make it long term after learning one spouse is gay.” So, the way my analogy works is that, if I’m at the 85th percentile of couples with one gay partner, I’ll get near honors (trying to make it work) and if I’m at the 93rd percentile, I’ll get honors and my marriage will last.
My marriage grade is not random though, it’s based on my desire and determination. My hard work and tenacity. My personal grit and effort. And on my spouse. But for marriage honors, there need be no gunners. The marriage Dean doesn’t restrict the honors to the top 15% of the class [unlike the med school dean whose house I will egg tonight], He leaves the possibility open to all.
If you happen to be gay and married, your goals may not align with mine, and I certainly don’t mean to offend you with my analogy. But if you happen to be gay and a practicing Mormon, you may find that the blessings of marriage are achievable for those who desire them, find the right circumstances, and then work like hell [ahem… starting with communication]. The statistic that is more frequently used to discourage you could just as well encourage you.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Although I’ve been mulling this for a while, there are others who seem to be plenty done mulling. For example, DW said with finality during a recent discussion: “like every other person on the planet who regards homosexual behavior as by definition morally inferior to heterosexuality… Their position is not debatable. They. Are. Just. Wrong.” Arguing the point seemed to be just asking for more punctuation. It frustrates me to no end that many gay advocates are incapable -- psychologically incapable, I believe -- of entertaining the slightest notion that religious people are precisely as entitled to a moral viewpoint as themselves.
So, I’m going to today examine the morality of gayness from a Mormon point of view. After all, that’s easiest. It’s my own.
For Mormons, God is the source of right and wrong—the ultimate last word on what is moral. And he says gay sex ain’t right. From a Mormon’s point of view, mind you. This, to a non-Mormon, may appear to be completely arbitrary. And it is, in fact, actively criticized as completely arbitrary by some opponents of the view rather than them making any attempt to understand.
God’s laws are not arbitrary. Right and wrong are right and wrong because they either do or do not lead us to the end which He intends. Even if that end point is a complete mystery to us, the reasoning behind it is sound and the law is not arbitrary. But in the case of gayness, the reasoning is central to the doctrine of the church—anything but mysterious.
Our ultimate destiny is to become like God. Being divine in character, in manner, in exactness, in our physical nature, in our familial role. The familial role, in particular, is as a husband and father.
See? Not arbitrary.
Anything less than becoming like God, no matter how good, is actually evil. It is wrong because it thwarts God’s plan. It thwarts our divine destiny. Good is the enemy of better and better is the enemy of best. Gay sex, to the best of my understanding, is wrong not because it’s bad but because it’s not good enough.
I realize this leaves us gay Mormons in a place we loathe—unfulfilled in some fundamental ways in this life. But life isn’t played out between the bookends of birth and death, it extends beyond in both directions.
I’m a med student. My life practically defines “delayed gratification”. And I just signed on for one of the longest residencies there is. But, I’m a BIG believer that a million bucks tomorrow is of more value than an ice cream cone today. It takes faith. And a lot of learning and growing to stay on the narrow path. But I know it will be worth it. I can’t not say I know it.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The amputation was necessary because the gentleman had intractable infection from an ulcer on his foot that was caused because neurological damage had dampened his ability to feel pain. That's right, without pain, he was unable to properly care for himself and react to what would otherwise be noxious stimuli. We followed up my amputation a few days later with another hack, this time just below the knee. He felt fine after both surgeries--no pain. Then he died.
There are times when pain is not helpful. Cancer patients often have intractable pain that offers no physiological benefit. Luckily, physicians know when pain is helpful and when it isn't and can agressively treat pathologic pain.
Then there is guilt, angst, shame, etc.--all forms of psychological pain. All of which, I believe, are normally healthy important parts of the human experience. There are exceptions to be sure, but I have less confidence in those who claim to know when psychological pain is good or bad for you. Oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anti-social personality disorder--these are only a few examples of disorders that are associated with feeling no guilt or shame.
Pain (whether somatic or psychological) is inherently uncomfortable and we will try to rid ourselves of it. But, stepping outside ourselves, we should see that it serves a purpose. It's crucial for the management of the creature. I remember on my mission when a stake missionary got into a debate about relativism with a woman we were teaching. She said she left God because she was sick of all the guilt. He pointed out that if it's true that there's a God, then the guilt is a good thing. It's a way for your conscience to guide your actions. It was all in all a very interesting conversation. One that happened long enough ago that I don't remember all the details. The only thing that stuck with me was that guilt could be a good thing.
I'm very cautious before dismissing feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety, even though I know some of it is harmful. I also recognize that fear has a much more important and legitimate place in our lives than some are willing to give it. Sorting out when pain is relevant and when it is pathological is a great challenge, and I'm reluctant to accept the advice I see so often that happiness and a pain-free existence are some sort of ideal. They are not. And I've got two legs to prove it.
I've tried to leave this vague enough that specifics of when guilt or shame is or is not appropriate does not become the focus. But I would challenge all who feel negative feelings to consider that they may be more valuable than you realize. They may be telling you something crucial about yourself. You might consider them part of the wholesome spectrum of the human emotional experience, not something to battle. For one thing, you won't win that battle. If you do, you've lost in other ways.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Not coming out has at times subdued my response on topics that I feel strongly about during medical school. It affects my credibility. You would think most doctors-in-training would be understanding about the issue and not be judgmental. You would be wrong. I've seen some alarming bigotry around here. And it's a good school that includes cultural competency in the curriculum. They can test us on it, but they can't make us buy-in. The point is, there are advantages and disadvantages to being out or not being out.
In the past I've been happy to not draw attention to being gay. I told myself my comments on gay topics would seek to be objective and it shouldn't matter what my orientation actually is. That hasn't always panned out though. One comment I wrote on an electronic message board elicited the angry response that I should put myself in a gay man's shoes before being so judgmental. The irony! But being called names for disagreeing is something I'm getting used to. Anyway, not being out seems to allow people to be more at ease. It loosens them up when we talk about it and I think I'm a more effective advocate for both gays and Mormons. Or at least, I did.
Today I wanted to really communicate with someone. I wanted to share personal stories. Stories that wouldn't make any sense unless you knew this about me. So, I shared. I came out. For the first time to someone I could look in the eye who wasn't a professional or spiritual advisor, a lover or a potential lover, I came out. I'll let you know more about it later...
Words are powerful. They are used to spin, relate, persuade; used in propaganda, lobbying, white papers. They are the meta-currency in which our society deals. All the more reason to speak a little louder, a little more insistently, and hopefully escalate the actual word count. At least, that's the line of thinking I suspect pervades... all the more reason sophistry irritates the hell out of me. There are plenty who seem to believe, subconsciously or not, that the end justifies the means.
To be clear, this blog is metaphorically the journey of a young man with same-sex attraction who belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or, less precisely, a gay Mormon journey. The church prefers not to be called Mormon, and prefers its members not to self-reference as gay. This is understandable considering the vagueness of these terms. The church, in a word, prefers precision over succinctness. I, on the other hand, usually prefer to be brief, and that's why you will find me frequently self-referring as "gay" while I have no internal confusion over the distinction between same gender attraction and participating in intimate gay relations. Maybe it's my laziness, I don't know. The problem is when this brevity results in misunderstanding. Hell, that's been a big problem with society at large for millennia.
Take, for example the words "homophobe" and "pervert". The line of comments on this post led me to consider them together. Neither are words I care for because of their vagueness. Either can be used to correctly describe something horrible, but frequently they are used to vilify something that is less than horrible... probably misunderstood. They are used to remove all question by turning it into something horrible. I don't think this is always deliberate. But it's always regrettable.
May our words always reflect respect, charity, and consideration even when we feel them most powerfully.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
I feel I owe it to the hordes and hordes of you who have sent me bags of fan mail to let you know about a great resource for gay Mormons. That is, practicing Mormons who struggle with SSA, not gay men who are working to separate themselves from the church (although I can certainly direct you to applicable resources for those as well). There is a Yahoo! group called disciples2 that discusses gay Mormon issues with a fierce intensity and regularity (there are over 250 members). There have been times I've been unimpressed by the dialog, but generally I find there to be some meaty discussions going on several times a week. Try starting here.
But come back, dear readers. Don't leave my blog alone here to decay with no attention. Support it in its flourishing popularity.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
In a passage commenting on a critic of the narrator's faith, he says:
[He] doesn't imagine the possibility of an existence beyond this one, by which I mean a reality embracing this one but exceeding it, the way, for example, this world embraces and exceeds Soapy's [the cat's] understanding of it. Soapy might be a victim of ideological conflict right along with the rest of us, if things get out of hand. She would no doubt make some feline appraisal of the situation, which would have nothing to do with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat or the Manhattan Project. The inadequacy of her concepts would have nothing to do with the reality of the situation.And here's a thought I've been mulling how to convey but not yet gotten around to. Maybe now I won't need to...
There are two insidious notions, from the point of view of Christianity in the modern world. (No doubt there are more than two, but the others will have to wait.) One is that religion and religious experiences are illusions of some sort (Feuerback, Freud, etc.), and the other is that religion itself is real, but your belief that you participate in it is an illusion. I think the second of these is the more insidious, because it is religious experience above all that authenticates religion, for the purposes of the individual believer.
Authentication. What an interesting word choice when I hear it so often used in attacks against religion, as if participating in religion necessarily diminishes a person's personal involvement in his spirituality or as if to be authentic one must embrace the natural man rather than be dissatisfied with him.
Oh. And here's this bit about Truth with a capital T and tolerance that I enjoyed.
And I felt, as I have often felt, that my failing the truth could have no bearing at all on the Truth itself, which could never conceivably be in any sense dependent on me or on anyone. And my heart rose up within me--that's exactly what it felt like--and I said, "I have heard any number of fine sermons in my life, and I have known any number of deep souls. I am well aware that people find fault, but it seems to me to be presumptuous to judge the authenticity of anyone's religion, except one's own. And that is also presumptuous."
How nice to feel validated by a Pulitzer Prize winner... or at least the narrator of her book. I appreciated the peaceful sentiments in this very beautifully written book. I recommend it to anyone. The second half is better than the first, so be sure to stick through til the end!
Sunday, April 16, 2006
Although the pitfalls of life are real and the consequences are real as I mentioned in my last post, so are the peaks and victories and celebrations. No failure ever need be final. And that's a good thing for a person like me--a person faced with lots of weaknesses and character flaws.
I remember hearing that Benjamin Franklin used to choose a virtue to focus on each week of his life, and that week he would put forth his best efforts to improve himself in that area. I think he was an incredibly remarkable man--far from perfect, but always improving. Of course, there is a subtext there. An acknowledgement that imperfections are always present and always to be battled, notwithstanding the importance of appropriate self esteem and self confidence.
With personal determination, healthy attitudes, and appropriate support from others, I do believe triumph over challenges and even previous tragedies is a real possibility.
Index of "I believe" posts
Articles of language, faith, and clothing (or lack thereof)
I believe in belief
I believe in equality
I believe in more
I believe in tolerance
I believe in science
I believe in gratitude
I believe in tragedy
I believe in triumph
Saturday, April 15, 2006
Watching the world play out on the blogosphere can be, at times, disheartening. People wear their heart on their sleeve, and it's sometimes easy for me to think I have some pretty good answers. Answers for myself. Answers for everyone else. But, ultimately, it's a solo journey through life. Everyone makes their own progress at their own pace. Help may or may not be there, but it's no good unless it is accepted.
Life can change in an instant. People may go out for a coffee break and never come back. Get hit by a car. Have a stroke. But, really, although I just finished a biography about grieving and read pages upon pages of how hard it is to deal with death, it's not that big of deal for me. I'm around it all the time, and I think my religious beliefs make everything a little less tragic.
However, there are other tragedies. Heart wrenching, gut twisting, anguish provoking tragedies. Take, for example, David in the bible. Bathsheba. Sex. That was a tragedy I feel acutely. There are other famous books, movies, plays... friends, neighbors, family members... that also figure in my mind as being examples of terrible tragedies.
What makes tragedy so horrible is not merely the loss of life, but rather the unnecessary suffering. Suffering that has no purpose, no productive reason that can later be cited. Suffering that is caused by stupid mistakes and aggravated by pride.
Ultimately, tragedy is real. And that's what makes it hard. Tragedy hits us all in small or large ways, often or infrequent, but everyone gets a piece. Those tragedies that are unavoidable, let's face with dignity, but let's be wary enough to distinguish the ones that are our own making.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Several years ago I read a book by Nicolosi, this reparative therapy guy who has done research on orientation change over the decades. He had plenty of examples of success in his work, but his work has not been embraced as legitimate, and I'm not entirely sure why. I read the book before my science training so maybe I'll have to go back and read it again now. Regardless, he seems like a genuine enough person that is honest in his observations and can't be wholly disregarded as "in the pocket of the religious right" as is the trend in this area. (As if having a conflict of interest automatically invalidates actual scientific inquiry--it doesn't. It makes it suspect, not invalid. When scientifically principles are rigorously adhered to, results are results.)
[Note, I wrote in my last post that the preferred term is "conversion therapy" because I had read that the implication of defectiveness connoted by "reparative" was offensive and inaccurate, but then my counselor told me yesterday that neither term is really adequate or favored. He said it's closer to "reparative" because theoretically you are repairing personal emotional deficiencies, not repairing your sexuality directly. But you are certainly not "converting" in a manner of forced orientation assignment either. Anyway, I'll probably use both terms interchangeably without realizing it since I have no better term. And I'm lazy like that. ;-)]
Anyway, my current counselor is such an example of turning straight. I thought, after discussing it with him briefly, that he meant he has successfully managed his marriage despite the occasional SSA temptation. Not so. He corrected me once, when I suggested as much, by firmly asserting that he is no longer even attracted to men. Ever. He's sitting there telling me that he has changed his orientation so thoroughly (not just Kinsey 5 to Kinsey 2) that he no longer ever looks at men that way. Woah.
I admit, I'm skeptical. But I know him, and he's not a liar.
But, as much as I think that would be great for myself, is that what it would take for me to feel like my therapy has been successful? No. I'm just looking for a bit of relief from the anguish that I feel when I'm so completely aroused by men and then when I lay next to the person I love more than anybody in the world, I'm barely aroused at all. (But the mechanics of that scenario, I'll not delve into just now.)
So, I continue to hope that change in some form or another is possible. And since starting my voyage (not too long ago), I HAVE found a number of examples of success. There's my counselor. There's Nicolosi's examples. There's Richard Cohen, author of Coming Out Straight. There's a few other authors of similar books. There are the speakers and staff you run into if you attend Evergreen meetings, Journey to Manhood events, etc. There are the 200 research subjects in Spitzer's widely discussed and controversial study (which I will talk about more later). And then there's one other person. Someone I met on the gay Mormon blog circuit. Someone I feel like I KNOW better than the others. And trust. Someone who is still attracted to men, but seems to have actually inched down the road to success. In my mind, he is doing what I want to do. He is an example of straight success.
I define success for me as being appropriately adapted in my situation. For mine to be one of the few marriages that starts with a gay partner and doesn't end in divorce--one of those where both partners are happy. And ideally, but not necessarily, success will include being attracted mainly or exclusively to women.
Now I feel like there is a very real possibility that I will have success--somewhere along that spectrum from "well adapted" to "completely straight" and I have the examples to give me the confidence to try.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Factually speaking, I have few qualms with the post. However, the distinction between same sex attraction (SSA) and gay behavior is central to the church's position, not to be dismissed as "euphemistic." I have unsuccessfully attempted to defend this distinction in the comments of other posts by offering examples of sexual behavior that are widely considered to be unacceptable in order to show that society MUST accept that inclination and behavior are separate if there is to be any accountability for sexual behavior whatsoever. And when I say “unsuccessfully” I must disclose that I consider my own explanation to be fine, it’s the folks I was talkin’ to who I wasn’t sure got it. Should I risk this discussion again? :-) I’ll spare you. Unless you say something that equivocates gay behavior with SSA in the comments. Then, oh yes, then you will receive the wrath of my analogies!!!
I just took the opportunity to read a couple of Kimball’s chapters again. I didn’t find where he compares homosexuality to bestiality except where he notes that they were both capital offenses under the Law of Moses. He uses tentative language in a few places that makes me think he recognizes that he is writing as himself, not as a prophet. And he himself equivocates SSA and gay behavior at the most alarming point (when he’s worked up by the pro-gay argument that people can’t “change” themselves—I’ll give it the charitable interpretation and read the equivocation as referring to behavior only, not inclination). Ultimately, it’s not the most carefully written exposition on doctrine relative to homosexuality and to criticize it as if it is representative of the church is probably inappropriate.
I will venture a comment on why scriptures suggest sexual immorality is “next to murder” in seriousness. This was once explained to me in seminary to be because murder and sexuality both deal with giving or taking life, the rules of which are the alleged province of God only. It is not suggesting, I was told, that a murderer and an immoral person are equally depraved in intent. Murder is bad not only because you slaughter another human being, but because from a plan of salvation point of view, you limit that person's ability to progress in this life and continue in the plan of salvation. Similarly, sexual immorality may change an unborn person’s opportunities in life. This is not church doctrine, just one way of thinking about it that was suggested to me.
Homosexuals are most likely to find genuine and lasting happiness and mental health by embracing and accepting their sexuality and integrating it fully into their personal identities.
I sort of agree. I feel like I’ve got some pretty genuine happiness and I’ve embraced and accepted my sexuality although I have no doubt you won’t count it as “fully integrated” into my identity. I am who I am. I’m attracted to men. And there’s no shame in that. But as something that hampers my goals, I’m going to try to change it. I've already used the obesity analogy in a previous post, but I like it well enough to repeat it. Obesity itself is not a disease—it is an adapted normal response that is only bad if you don’t happen to want to be obese (and because it puts you at risk for disease). This is similar to the way I see my SSA. It’s not evil and people shouldn’t be killing themselves over it. But, it’s not unreasonable to want to change it for personal reasons. And it does put me at risk for sin. [obligatory disclaimer—yes, I KNOW you don’t think it’s sin]
The APA's position, as well as the dozen or so other medical societies’, is an unfortunate example of the drawbacks of organized medicine—politics. This is the same organization that said homosexuality was a DISEASE not too many years ago. Both positions—the former and the current—are based on delegates who vote in the context of a consensus building process; a process that is intrinsically fraught with internal lobbying and (when the issues are controversial and the stakes are high) fervor to the point of misjudgment. I've voted as delegate or alternate in four different policy making bodies in organized medicine, so rest assured I like the idea most of the time. But because I'm familiar with how it works, an appeal to THAT authority gets little more from me than derision in this specific case.
This specific position statement is a vestigial remnant of a paternalistic medical system that seeks to tell people what choices they should make for themselves rather than supporting them by minimizing the risks of the choices they do make. It's like having a society sponsored position discouraging patients from being gay because it increases the risk of HIV transmission rather than just teaching about condoms. How would you feel about the APA if it held such a position?
And that Wikipedia article on “reparative” therapy (not the preferred term by practitioners of “conversion” therapy) was just annoying. Oh, if only I had three lifetimes to document all the crap in that puppy.
But, I want to end on a good note. Hurricane is one of the most careful and eloquent bloggers I know. He doesn’t just slap down whatever is running through his brain, and this post was a fine example of careful thinking. And conscientious principles. I commented a bit more than I usually do, but these thoughts were long overdue anyway. I respect and appreciate Hurc’s unique way of sharing the many things he has learned. Thanks, Hurc.
Establishing something or other as a civil right is sort of the holy grail of public dialog. Hence, you get politicians using the term all the time, as well as lobbyists, pundits, and apologists all of whom slip it into their vernacular in places that are not widely agreed upon, but in so doing advance their own cause by degrees. It's the holy grail because once something is deemed a civil right, you can't argue with it anymore. It's a given. It's final. It's basic. Entitlement takes over.
You can define civil rights variously as those rights guaranteed by the constitution, rights guaranteed by citizenship, or just rights developed over time that may or may not be protected by the government. But this last definition is closer to human rights, and I think civil rights are more properly validated by the judiciary. The courts are the arbiters of social contract.
Which brings me to polygamy and gay unions. Marriage has long been a part of accepted societal practices. Polygamy and gay unions have not. Including specific departures from monogamous heterosexual marriage as marriage should involve public discourse and be legislated through representative government as a matter of community standards. Community standards. NOT civil rights. And, in my opinion, the burden of proof lies with those seeking to change long standing traditions.
In terms of my personal views, I’m for legal gay marriage. I think our communities ought to celebrate commitment and love in this way. I’ll have to post about how my view fits with the church’s position some time. I include this just to show that there is a (hopefully) sensible position that supports gays without caving to fallacious civil rights arguments.
For now, I just cringe whenever I hear “civil rights!” bandied about like it’s some sort of battering ram, forcing acquiescence rather than coherent public debate.