Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mutually exclusive yearnings

There was even a period when I no longer wanted the gospel truths I had been taught and grown to love to be true so the incongruities in my heart and mind would be less agonizing.... For a while, the only thing that kept me from fully following through with my attraction and seeking a long-term homosexual relationship was not that I believed I couldn't find some level of genuine fulfillment or temporal happiness in such a relationship, if it were loving and committed. Rather, it was the simple truth that I knew my having a romantic relationship with a man could never be eternal, and I didn't want to give my whole heart and soul and life to a relationship that could not last beyond this mortal existence. One thing I've always held a firm conviction of--even in my moments of doubt and wavering faith--is the eternal nature of the family.
Ty Mansfield in In Quiet Desperation

And there you have it.

Here is such a succinct assessment of the conflict a gay Mormon faces, and yet there are still scores of folks who don't seem to get it. People think you can just choose not to believe the church anymore if its teachings make life harder. They think that a gay Mormon's choosing not to have a gay relationship is caving to an arbitrary and discriminatory decree from old-fashioned leaders who aren't familiar with scientific fact. They think it's giving up a part of your humanity for nothing but depression, self-hate, and denial.

No, it's not like that. It's having faith in eternal families--a principle that burns itself into your heart and isn't easily erased; a beautiful and inspiring principle that holds more joy than any other pure concept from life I've experienced. And yet, I too have wanted at times for it to be untrue because my deepest visceral yearnings pull me in another direction--a mutually exclusive direction that finds immediate joy in experiences that are antithetical to eternal families.

Ty is a smart guy. It would have been interesting to hear him speak at Evergreen Conference.


Master Fob said...

Did he speak at Evergreen? He doesn't seem the Evergreen type, meaning just that he's more the deal-with-it-because-it's-not-going-to-change kind of guy and EG is more the you-can-change-if-you-have-enough-faith kind of organization.

Chris said...

I know a guy here in New York who knows Ty through a reparative therapy group they both attended (he's not LDS but a still faithful evangelical Christian). I think Ty is in the it's-probably-not-gonna-change-but-I'll-keep-trying camp.

Scot said...

This certainly is what makes the LDS different in this debate. It seems many Christians take some of Jesus’ word to indicate there are no familial relations in the afterlife. But that still leaves them with similar “mutually exclusive yearnings”.

“…for nothing but depression, self-hate, and denial.”

It’d be just as silly to think people choose to be gay as it would be to think people aren’t getting some pleasure (or avoiding pain) out of keeping a belief that causes them conflict. But you’re “giving up part of your humanity” for both of those. I mean, what’s more characteristically human than faith and religion, particularly when it’s attached to their family and culture?

Now, what exactly is antithetical to the eternal family, in the LDS faith? You can have all the love, dedication, and familial joy (no, not only the “immediate” or “temporal” sort :-)), and is that antithetical to the eternal family if the sex organs aren’t shaped a certain way?

I was hoping you’d address this with regards to Middlesex. People are born and exist with on all sorts of gradients between male and female, from brain characteristics, to personality traits, to those in their anatomy and genes. An important part of you, L, is what most put into the female category of that black and white world, and you’ve married a female. I mean, can a true hermaphrodite (a 50/50 mosaic) bisexual have any sexual or familial “experiences” that aren’t “antithetical to eternal families” in the LDS faith? Can they do it with a clear male or female? I’d hope to understand how the line is drawn.

Robert said...

I am a gay male who left the LDS Church years ago. I admire the courage Ty has to remain active and to continue to believe in the eternal family concept. Leaving the church years ago was painful and left me scarred emotionally. However, I do see some positive changes coming from Salt Lake. There seems to be more compassion towards what they term "same sex attraction". I had a visit years ago from the local bishop who was very supportive to me as I lead a celibate life now.

Best wishes and you have my support.

-L- said...

Scot, briefly, the LDS view of eternal families is not just keeping your earthly family, but continuing to build your family eternally. That involves a discreet gender identity (no 50/50s in the afterlife), and heterosexual pairings. Period. Whatever ambiguities there are in gender will be resolved one way or another in the afterlife.

I have no problem with folks who don't believe that, but that's what I believe and my understanding of the LDS view.

Scot said...

I’ve no problems with you believing it either; I’m all about the practical effects of any faith.

Anyway, we’re back to why in both our cases isn’t the best “ambiguity” in our gender “fixed”, if it must be? For you it’s best to make the female part of you male. For us it’d be best to fix the reproductive ability as would be done for our hermaphrodite friends, and leave the female part of us alone.

"Whatever ambiguities there are in gender will be resolved one way or another in the afterlife."

Man, I get this is a matter of faith, and it's probably not productive trying to work this out, but it is interesting and I hope you don’t mind me pushing into your belief some more. It seems you’re saying one half of the 50/50 mosaic person, or another must be wrong, in an eternal sense. But whatever half gets eternal life, the other gets “repaired” out of existence? Or do they become two new bodies, new souls, one the completed male part of them and the other the female? You know some of these people can be split right down the middle, male/female cells, brains and all.

Still, do you know whom they can marry, in this life? Does the LDS church tell them? I think RCC priests don’t even allow them to marry. Is it that, if they pick a male spouse they’re made female in the afterlife but male if they pick a female? What if they marry a male, their spouse dies, and then they want to marry a woman?

Intersexed aside, it’ll simply be fascinating to see how the church reacts to, say, the first children originating from two females (you see the research on stem cells from females producing sperm?).

-L- said...

Definitely an interesting topic. One I gave a lot of thought to during medical school. [Another interesting tidbit is the proportion of conceived and aborted embryos for every successful term pregnancy--very alarming for the type that believes life begins at conception and that God actually wants people he sends to earth to experience mortality for more than a few moments or days].

I think the difference between the way you are describing gender and the LDS position is in the perspective. If gender is an eternal attribute, our eternal gender has always been fixed whether a physical condition obscures it or not. Knowing what that eternal gender is can be tricky, though. So, revelation, guidance from priesthood leaders, and family prayer figure in pretty heavily in the cases where the family must make a decision regarding surgery, etc. If you see someone's identity as based on their physical body (and not being eternally contextual between the bookends of the pre-earth life and the post-earth life), it brings up the stickiness about changing identity that you mention.

There's still plenty of opportunity for errors, and that goes into the big explain-away that God will sort it out in the end. Pat, but not really.

santorio said...

i'm wary of any lifestyle decisions based on anyone's speculation about the 'afterlife' i can no more understand eternal life than a man blind from birth can understand color. but i can understand what makes me a good person; kindness, reaching out to enemies, forsaking the material world-- principles can be translated into real goals. if it is obvious that the best way to reach these goals is through a gay relationship, then so be it. if this means forsaking the celestrial kingdom and eternal chumming around with boyd packer and orin hatch, then what can i say?

Scot said...

To be clear, I define gender and sex the same way I define “adult” and “minor”; they are arbitrary discretizations of a real continuum that make thinking of, and describing the world in language simpler for us. I think it’s a continuum for both personality and body as that’s what the observations tell me; I’ll change if given contrary observations.

I don’t “see someone's [gender] identity as based on their physical body.” I don’t want to fight a transsexual, and I know heterosexual men more effeminate than a pink lace doily :-). I’d also not want to be in your shoes and tell an intersexed person that half of them is just plane not who they are, really. Tough stuff.

In fact, the female part of us is what plays out in our minds, though the cause may be in the brain. But what part of your personality isn’t in your brain? To mind comes the latest research that showed magnetic stimulations of a certain region can make people far less likely to be vengeful, or the instances where brain damage leaves people with different personalities altogether.

Anyway, I guess I’m saying I’d love to sit down with you with a nice cup of?… root beer (I can’t stand coffee either :-)) and discuss this.

-L- said...

Santorio, you crack me up. You seem to take the cynical view of Pascal's wager (and so do I), but the afterlife isn't so uncertain. There are folks who have seen it (prophets) and I'm happy to take their word for it that gay love is not only not the best route, but makes it harder to get back to the best route. Enter faith, etc.

Scot, your view seems somewhat like mainstream secular view (that I'm quite familiar with), but takes it a few constrained steps further. Gender, at its core is wrapped up in sexual reproduction, and there's no continuum in how conception takes place--one contributed cell comes from the male, one from the female. That's it.

Gay Mormon said...

I love the principles of the gospel. I may not always live them, but I like them a lot. You're absolutely right: choosing to believe or reject the gospel principles will not change their truthfulness. Either they are true or they are false. Period.

I happen to believe they are true. Though I have a very hard time with many of the leaders, many of the members, many of the teachings, and many of the beliefs, I doubt I'll ever stop believing.

I just hope the atonement is as comprehensive as I've been taught. And I really hope God is more merciful than I think he will be. That's basically my only hope for salvation. :)

Chris said...

A question for Gay Mormon or anyone who cares to answer on the idea that the gospel principles are "true or not" --

What are you referring to when you say "gospel principles"?

Are we talking about the ideas of atonement, charity, personal revelation, etc.? Or are we talking about "the Church"? Both? Neither?

I ask because I believe in "gospel principles" as well. I just don't subscribe to the idea that "gospel=LDS doctrine."

Scot said...

your view seems somewhat like mainstream secular view (that I'm quite familiar with)

Is that some sort of dismissive pejorative ;-)?

Where do you disagree, then? People aren’t physically between what most call male and female or that personalities aren’t between the stereotypes?

Gender, at its core is wrapped up in sexual reproduction, and there's no continuum in how conception takes place--one contributed cell comes from the male, one from the female. That's it.

Not necessarily. When contrary observations come in, you don’t want to be the guy, as has happened in the past on other issues, claiming it takes two people of opposite genders because that’s how it’s seemed.

While there are many asexual creatures, the benefits of sexual reproduction are well worked out from a genetics and survival perspective, and humans take advantage of those benefits. But we are likely to relatively soon see viable embryos from cloning and, maybe even sooner, embryos from gametes from people you’d perhaps want to place in the same gender slot. Already we see humans naturally come from more than two cells to create mosaics. You may think such humans shouldn’t exist morally but the mere existence brings and will bring the questions.

Not that I’m betting it’ll matter much; large religions have faired much worse in such ways and come out okay, from the JWs to the Scientologists.

Secondly, that does nothing to change the fact that the continuum is real. A person in the middle, with both sexual tissues, is no less who they are, in the middle, because others on the extreme ends can make babies with one sex. Fertility for those not intersexed is similarly on a continuum. I mean, you can’t claim there’s no continuum in human strength because some people, the “strong”, can lift more than 200 lbs and others cannot, the “weak”.

-L- said...

Oh, Scot, I'm glad for that wink. I would never be so foolish as to pejoratively dismiss someone as well-informed as yourself. I'm just brief sometimes.

The secular view is that so much more is involved in gender identity than reproduction. But in the LDS view, whether you act like a man, feel like a man, or try to be a man doesn't affect whether or not your soul actually is a man. That's the difference between the secular view and the LDS church's by my estimation.

I'm not saying that I know better than anyone else what gender any particular individual may be. But I am saying that they have a discreet gender and that their body does not necessarily define it. If a man is castrated, does he lose his gender? Similarly, a mosaic cell line doesn't emasculate a man either. It's an artifact of our mortality and our imperfect physical states.

Scientific manipulation of gender or reproduction is irrelevant. If God's intends eternal families to reproduce via the fertility clinic, He's welcome to do make it so. But I believe He does not intend any such thing for perfected individuals, and for his own sufficient reasons, sex is how babies get made in a best case scenario, and it's sex between a male and a female. [Disclaimer: fertility clinics are great. I love 'em. They just aren't ideal.]

Even when cloning is done with gametes from the same gender, their union still approximates and simulates reproduction with a male and a female parent cell.

I've got nothing necessarily against fertility clinics or adoption or any other reproductive health intervention. But they're special cases necessary because we're in an imperfect world. When we're in an ideal world with ideal bodies, our genders will be indisputable, regardless of feelings or previously ambiguous body phenotype.

I hope you realize I have made no statement whatsoever assigning a morality to mosaic celled folks. Nor do I think gender, in the most fundamental sense, is analogous to strength in the least. Attraction? Perhaps. Masculinity vs femininity? Perhaps. Gender? No way.