Friday, October 13, 2006

Weakness

Some do refer to same-gender attraction as their "weakness," as if it were some kind of spiritual illness, often quoting the words of Moroni about the Lord giving "men weakness that they may be humble" (Ether 12:27). But to refer to same-gender attraction as a "weakness" can be misguided. Our challenges and our temptations are not what should be considered "weak," for it is through challenge and opposition that we are made strong--if we will turn to Christ and to the power and grace He offers through His atoning sacrifice. Our challenges simply reveal unto us our true weaknesses or spiritual illnesses--the doubt and fear of putting our lives completely in the Lord's hands--and the weakness of faith in God that would allow us to submit to whatever challenges or temptations beset us. Christ was tempted, and He had challenges, but He was never weak.
Ty Mansfield in In Quiet Desperation


It occurs to me before I get started that I may just be splitting hairs. But, actually, that's what I do sometimes. ;-) I have to take issue with Ty on the weakness issue (and probably with a majority of everyone else too!). I consider it wholly appropriate to refer to SGA as a "weakness" or a "problem". That's exactly how I think of it. However, in my mind, there's no moral culpability with that. So, yes, I agree at least that it isn't a spiritual weakness.

Let me make an analogy to, well, weakness itself. After a stroke, a person may have weakness. There's nothing "wrong" with that person in the moral sense, no reason to discriminate, but it's a real weakness nonetheless. There's something "wrong" with them in the physical sense. One might apply Ty's argument to say, "Our challenges [like muscular weakness] are not what should be considered 'weak,' for it is through challenge and opposition that we are made strong--if we will turn to Christ and to the power and grace He offers through His atoning sacrifice." After some physical therapy, muscular weakness may be made strong, but there's a chance the effects of the stroke will be permanent, through no fault of that person's. It may be that the person is "made strong" by accepting appropriate occupational therapy to learn new ways to accomplish activities of daily living given the permanent residual weakness. So one can be strong in one's weakness. But it's still a weakness.

I can understand the sense of celebration associated with Coming Out Day considering the importance of achieving conceptual maturity by accepting oneself as gay and not being ashamed. But, for me, accepting myself as gay (or, more specifically, as same-gender attracted) without shame achieves that same celebration-worthy insight while I still believe there's something "wrong" with it. Being attracted to men isn't wrong in the moral sense, but it's definitely wrong in the reproductive sense, an important part of who I am eternally. It's a weakness--one that may or may not be changed in this life--but, as Ty apparently doesn't care to hear, it's a weakness that I believe Moroni's words very much apply to, and that one way or another can be made strong.

10 comments:

Loyalist (with defects) said...

is it the look but don't touch idea that you are hinting at?

like you, i dont dispise or thing that the ssa is spiritual weakness unless I let it control my life.

santorio said...

loyalist has a point: the 'weakness' is not the inherent sexual orientation but in the decision making process that goes with it. my cousin who is in his third marriage because of infidelity is not weak because he likes women [a lot!] but because he is dishonest...

-L- said...

Which is, I think, Ty's point. And which I'm disagreeing with. I think it's the being attracted to men itself that is a weakness in a very real sense. In a way that being attracted to women is not.

It's not a spiritual imperfection, but an imperfection nonetheless.

ty ray said...

Actually, -L-, I do care to hear it. ;) (This is Ty.) I appreciate the thoughts and feedback on what I shared here. As I continue to think about and discuss issues surrounding homosexual attraction in individual’s lives, and hear others’ feedback, my understanding has continued to mature and evolve.

I want to share a couple more thoughts on the “weakness” idea: I can understand what you are saying here, and on many levels I agree. But there is a metaphor that has been meaningful to me in my growing understanding of this issue in my life…

Actually, let me back up with an anecdote. I was meeting with a therapist I was seeing at the time, and I asked him something about overcoming this and he said, "Overcome WHAT, Ty? SSA is about healing from emotional wounds and insecurities, when applicable and necessary… you don't 'overcome ' the need to heal… you seek healing. SSA is also about meeting essential needs for healthy male connection and intimacy—you don't 'overcome' that need. You fulfill it. There is nothing to ' overcome' about SSA."

Granted, that’s his opinion, and I’m still not sold on all the plethora of opinions around reparative therapy, but that conversation has sparked a lot of thought… and I came to understand that my perspective of the issue was, perhaps, more of a problem than the issue itself.

That’s where the metaphor comes in that has been meaningful to me on some level.

If someone has a feeling of hunger, do we think of that feeling as a “weakness” or a “problem”? Maybe some do, but I don’t. I think of world hunger as a HUGE problem, but that problem does not lie in the hunger itself; it’s in the lack of ability (or, in some cases, willingness) to help see that hunger satiated. When I’m hungry, I simply see it as a message from my body; I need something in order to remain (or become) healthy. How I respond to that hunger—false beliefs I have about what/when/how much I should/shouldn’t eat, or willingness to eat as I know is most healthy to me—are much more of a problem than the fact that my body is sending me a message.

Or, perhaps, we could use pain as a metaphor. Is pain a “problem”? Not *really*. Pain is a natural and important message our body sends us about other problems. We can ignore pain, try to escape it, or try to self-medicate in unhealthy or unnatural ways—and we may do so at our peril, depending on the seriousness of the issue the message of pain is addressing.

So, what does this have to do with some of the attractions I feel, at times, to other men? For years, I hated what it was I was feeling. I tried to pray it away, fast it away (you know, all the things Mormons tend to do that that we’ve heard about so much they are now near-cliché), ignore it, serve, or ‘live righteously’ it way. But those things didn’t work for me. The most helpful approach for me personally has been to learn to not see same-sex attraction as a ‘problem”, but rather to listen to the feelings, honor them, see if there is something else they might be telling me about other “problems” in my life. As I’ve done that, and tried to really follow what I perceived the message to be, they have (more often than not) become much less of an issue in my life. I no longer wish them away any more than I would wish hunger away, or pain away (not that I like pain, but rather in the sense that I’m grateful my body works in such a way that I DO feel pain when something is wrong with it—so I can address it).

What I see as the biggest problem in my life—and I emphasize that I’m speaking only for myself and my own situation—is my tendency to ignore, suppress, or respond unhealthily to the messages I’m receiving. The “weaknesses” I deal with are the false beliefs, unhealthy attitudes, and dearth of understanding that keeps me from embracing the good that lie in a positive approach do dealing with these issues.

I choose to *embrace* the parts of my attraction that I believe are healthy and eternal in nature, and to *resist* only the parts that I feel are more “natural man” in nature.

ty ray said...

...as a point of quick clarification, the therapist I was seeing is someone who identifies as a former homosexual. He claims that that homosexuality is no longer an issue in his life, and from the nature of our interactions, I believe him. There are some who claim the same that I'm a little more skeptical of...

Unusual Dude said...

I think I side more with -L- on this one, although I definitely agree with the ideas Ty brought up about fulfilling a need rather than overcoming an issue. I like that perspective.

However, I don't think the parallels to hunger and pain work. Normally, when I feel hunger and pain, they don't make me desire to do anything morally wrong. SSA, on the other hand, doesn't do anything BUT cause a desire to do something I consider wrong. So, I think of it as a weakness and a need simultaneously - a need that can be fulfilled (at least to a certain degree) in healthy ways, that allow the desire to diminish and not take control of my life. It's a weakness - definitely doesn't have to be a crippling one - but I still see it as a weakness, too.

-L- said...

Ty, we actually agree on everything but the semantics here, and I pretty much figured that from the start. But it's far less fun to agree. ;-)

A couple different bloggers in these parts have mentioned being bothered by Pres. Hinckley calling homosexuality a problem on national television. I find it a perfectly apt description depending on how you interpret his meaning.

I agree, for example, that pain is not necessarily a bad thing. But I deal frequently with pathologic pain--the kind that isn't signaling a problem to the body to prevent illness, but is itself the problem. Same could be said for hunger. Hunger itself isn't a problem, it's hunger when no hunger is necessary or the lack of hunger when you're cachectic and starving that there is a "problem".

Sexual attraction isn't a problem, but categorically misdirected sexual attraction is.

On the other hand, your point here and in the book are well taken that it's far less important than how we deal with it. The more meaningful test or weakness or problem manifests itself in how we interact with the world, not in the state of the world itself.

So, yeah. Thanks for the comment. It was fun to hear from you. I guess I'll have to scrap my next 10 posts where I scathingly dissect and attack the last half of your book. j/k

****
Picture Ty and me in algebra class.

Teacher: -L-, what did you get for problem 12?

-L-: Ummm...

Ty: Hey, wait a minute. Where are you, anyway? Are you talking about opportunity 12?

Teacher: Well, whatever you consider it to be, it's numbered 12 on the page.

Ty: I just don't see how it's a problem unless you miss it. That's all I'm sayin'.

-L-: The dog ate my homework.

Teacher: -L-, go sit in the corner.

Kengo Biddles said...

I was going to comment, but Ty and -L- have taken any wind out of my sails. Well spoken, gents.

-L- said...

By the way, Ty, I wonder if we had the same therapist. Who knows?

-L-

ty ray said...

Nice dialogue. :) The teacher really should have known better.

I've worked with two different therapists; one was at BYU and the other--the one that made the particular statement I mentioned here--was in the DC metro area.