Wednesday, March 29, 2006
There are a whole lot of good things going on in my life. Even apart from family and career goals, my life is really really good. I'm healthy. I never have pain. (Well, except when I read the recent comments on GayMormon's blog.) I'm capable enough to do exactly what I want to do throughout the day.
I should ask, why me? Sometimes I'm pretty pissed about the whole gay thing. I don't want to be gay. But really, that aside, I have the charmed life. And I'll bet anyone who has the means to be reading this could say the same for themselves. Why us? There are billions of people who would love to be in our position.
I can't stand "entitlement" arguments. The word itself is just repulsive to me. And in the context of religion and homosexuality, there are a lot of people thinking they are entitled to something. Entitlement is the antithesis of gratitude. After all, if you are entitled to something, it was your right and no special concession worthy of thankfulness was involved.
We're not entitled to love. We're not entitled to sex. We're not entitled to life. They're all gifts from God. And that's why even when it's hard, I try to be grateful for the things I have rather than curse God for the things I don't.
Monday, March 27, 2006
Although I find 'intelligent design' arguments to be compelling and interesting philosophically, they are not science. There's a place for both philosophy and science in the public schools, but they should be appropriately designated (not masquerading as one another).
I suppose this division in my thinking also applies to religion and science. Mormonism, at least, operates with different assumptions than science, and so comparisons of science and religion are often erroneous from the start. For example, in science, natural laws are thought to be consistent everywhere and at all times. In religion, on the other hand, this idea is specifically denied, making miracles and other scientifically impossible phenomena (omniscience, omnipotence, separation from time and space) possible. You can't get valid conclusions when you are combining two different universes of discourse where the axioms don't match up.
Further, much of religion is presented in a metaphorical manner that is appropriate for a particular society, and making strong conclusions from the specific language of scripture leads to misunderstandings regarding the scientific veracity.
There have been times I've attempted to really understand some particular conflict between science and religion. There are professors all over the country looking at some of these issues--anthropological, physics, genetics, etc., and they bicker (sometimes in professional journals) about how it all relates to different religions. A little research turns up many resources claiming an impartial presentation of the facts on a given topic. However, the more I read the more I find rebuttals and rebuttals of rebuttals and eventually realize the impracticality of learning the issue well enough to really judge for myself. There's no easy way to tell when writers have an agenda that makes them less than candid. Conflicts of interest are seldom transparent. And the issues are often very very complicated.
'Appeal to authority' is a well known type of fallacy. You can play the experts against each other till the cows come home. So, my current plan is to not give the conflict between science and religion much credence. I don't have the time or qualifications to really weigh in on whatever issue du jour happens across my way. I also feel completely comfortable disregarding the army of pundits who get in my face and claim that "science has shown that..." or "there is undeniable evidence that...". I DO know enough about science to know that many of these people are disingenuous, or at best, idiots. So, I don't feel the need to justify myself.
Ultimately, as in the words of Bruce R. McConkie, "truth will never be in conflict with itself." We just have to be cautious and not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Both science and religion are clarified over time.
I love science. I revere science. And when science seeks to tell me something about religion, I seek to tell science to go to an unfavorable religious destination. Same goes for religion attempting to short-circuit scientific inquiry by asserting its various tenets as scientifically relevant.
There are genuinely difficult issues with stem cell research, cloning, animal research, and how morality in general plays into the scientific establishment. Here alone I feel compelled to find common ground in my own mind. And sometimes I don't find it. But luckily, as such problems relate to the whole of society, they can be appropriately codified into our laws when the need arises through public dialog and representative government.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
I've previously mentioned gay rights and women's rights. I'll continue that thought by affirming my support for equality regardless of gender, sexual preference, etc. Whether or not marriage is defined in a way to accommodate gays or whether it is a civil right, I'll not discuss. But someone taking a position for or against these views is acceptable, even if I think they are flat wrong. It does no good to excuse my own intolerance because the opposing faction is hopelessly wrong, because it only leaves me feeling abused and persecuted when they are intolerant to me in kind. I've written about this hypocrisy several times now, but I still see it reflected everywhere and it beckons me to work through the issue more.
Instead of feeling victimized and outraged when I perceive someone to be violating my personal rights with their social views, I should attempt to understand their motivations and work through and advocate for the issues as agreeably as possible. On widely controversial issues, asserting that there are no good arguments opposed to my views serves to outline only my own limited capacity to understand the arguments or my prideful unwillingness to acknowledge their validity. Validity, of course, refers only to internal consistency, not actual truthfulness. And that being said, I believe there are points of view along the entire spectrum of religious and gay thought that are valid and acceptable, and there are views all the way along the spectrum that are logically faulty and/or bigoted and inappropriate.
I'm all for free thought. I try not to begrudge the people who hold these disparate views. But what do you DO when you disagree with someone? Do you engage them in a confrontational debate? Do you step outside to resolve your differences like men? Do you lobby for public policy that supports your own view to the exclusion of others' views who also have a stake? Do you take it upon yourself to deliver the wrath of God (or passively think someone 'had it coming' when misfortune hits them)?
I suppose that's the real trouble with moral thought. It no longer has the appeal of being a detached academic exercise for those intimately involved. People or practices are labeled as "evil" rather than just plain "wrong" and then people feel better about themselves stepping into a role to "fight evil" rather than seeing it as disrespecting a person with different values. And public policy values affect everyone--there are always winners and losers. And that makes people fight dirty.
And I'm not choosing favorites with this post. I condemn hypocrites on both sides. While gays don't usually call religious people "evil", there's no substantive difference in their response to what they perceive as, shall we say, moral bankruptcy.
I've seen this in med school way too often. And my med school claims to have a curriculum that specifically helps doctors be more tolerant--more culturally sensitive. And yet, I've been discriminated against as a gay Mormon by both the Christian club and the gay club. Neither one could support their own explicit mission statements in my case because they didn't like WHO I was. And when I led a small group discussion about abortion, I attempted to show that there are legitimate arguments for both sides of the debate and there should be empathy for the other view rather than polarizing stodginess. Boy, did that backfire. I was with friends and barely escaped alive!!!
I've seen the same thing in censorship discussions. When libraries manage their collections, they attempt to represent a wide range of views and topics. Many people don't like the books that are chosen because they disagree with them, but librarians insist on tolerance. But I've seen librarians go beyond declining censorship and pass harsh judgment on people who favor a particular conservative view. Hypocrisy!
I was reading a popular non-fiction book about sex last night that I find fun to read and quite informative. But when the discussion of religion came up, intolerance stepped up to the plate. In the author's zeal to scold the religious crowd for interfering with other people's sexuality he went a little too far and hypocritically denied the religious any regard for the way they view their own sexuality. Hypocrisy!
Chide to mormons regarding gays:
A person who experiences love differently than you is still a loving person. Although everyone would be better off following God's teachings, you can't expect them to know that. If they don't believe in those teachings, forcing compliance is nothing short of Satan's plan for compulsory obedience. If you refuse to allow people to pursue their own happiness and own spirituality, you are denying your own articles of faith and are a hypocrite.
Chide to gays regarding mormons:
Religious people have been unfairly labeled, categorically criticized, and discriminated against. Sound familiar? The mormon view seems arbitrary to you, but mormons attempt to do what they believe is best for everyone--individuals, families, and society. They believe sexual restrictions are for sound reasons, although perhaps unknown. By all means disagree, but can't you have some respect for the undeniable good in them and their intentions?
Chide to you:
Just pull your fingers away from that keyboard for a minute and think about what you're going to write in your comments. If it's to convince me that there's no tenable position other than your own, then you should probably go back to the beginning and read this post again.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
I've mentioned before that what happens to us here on earth happens within the context of an infinitely larger social system--one with rules which we can't possibly understand in mortality because of our human limitations. There has been and will be an arrangement of grouped relationships in families outside of this world. There will be friendship. There will be sex. And the sex will be really good, because we'll all be resurrected and have the body of Jude Law. :-)
God talks about spheres of truth. He notes that we don't understand his ways. We should hardly be surprised then when things don't make perfect sense. The confusion may lie in the pain and suffering God allows us to experience. The confusion may lie in some other seemingly unreasonable cross we have to bear. It may lie in scientific or anthropological discrepancies (which I'll address in a future post). But ultimately, we're just little kids who are entirely dependent on our Father. He tells us stories to help us understand how the world works, and we get it... a little bit. As we grow, we get it more. Unless we just jam the scissors in the power outlet anyway. Then our fried fingers may find fewer opportunities to trust.
You can easily see where I'm going with the gay issue. Despite all the talk, there remains a big fat question mark shadowing the whole topic. Some demand answers from the church--after all, the church claims to have a link from God, so let's have the straight dope. Knock and it shall be opened to you... and yet my bloody knuckles have been knocking for years. All I can say is, God must be on his own timetable for some damn good reason.
There's much, much more that we don't know. I spend a fair amount of effort keeping myself from forcing the issues. I want the answers now... in mortality. But that's impossible. And if I have faith in an afterlife at all, it's an unnecessary demand.
What we do know now is that families are destined for eternal durability. There is an eternal social structure in which mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, are an integral and necessary part of the eternal human economy. Their eventual roles are specific and largely unfathomable to us now. So, in my view, there's no use rationalizing away that eternal gay love is just as legitimate. It's like a toddler claiming that because candy is good, there's no need for vegetables.
We also know that physical imperfections will be gone in the resurrection. My personal view is that same-gender attraction is a physiologic imperfection similar to obesity--it's not a disease unto itself, it's the body working in a completely adapted normal way that happens to produce an effect that is a risk factor (not a cause) for actual, serious diseases. And obesity (I believe) will be gone in the resurrection. Perhaps then, after a life of struggling and searching for relief, I will also be more attracted to my wife when I am resurrected. I can think of nothing more wonderful to hope for. And while such a prospect may seem disgusting to you (I don't WANT to be attracted to women... I like myself just the way I am), I doubt it would bother you so much in the actual application. As for me, bring it on! I'll be keeping all my male friends, I just won't be inclined to awkwardly check them out all the time when they aren't looking.
This all seems pretty clear to me, despite that I see lots of consternation on the topic among my friends and fellow bloggers. And though it's clear to me logically, it doesn't assuage the very real dread pit of longing in my stomach.
I have more difficulty applying this reasoning to women. Presumably, there is some larger reason that women don't hold the priesthood. We're told that they are equal partners with men, but then the actual practice is to relegate women to mostly non-leadership positions. It's just plain contradictory. Women can take upon them the name of Christ, but not the power and authority of the priesthood. How does that make any sense?
Well, an appeal to the same logic I've used above covers it. But for me it seems less adequate in this context. People talk about motherhood as the supernal role balancing out the lack of priesthood. But I think there are some women who would trade in morning sickness for the chance to lead a ward. But, fairly, I should also say there might be men who would trade home teaching responsibilities for the chance to be the most important single person in a baby's life.
The doctrine of eternal gender identity (i.e., I am who I am and the gender that I am for some sufficient reason that will allow me to fulfill the measure of my creation) combined with the promise of equal blessings to men and women for obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel seem to mollify me. But is there a promise of equal blessings? I'm not so sure on that off the top of my head. The example I can think of puts man between woman and God in a key way. That doesn't seem equal.
Regardless, my wife and I are pretty invested in the whole thing, and it has worked well so far. She's a feminist and I'm gay. And we are both active and practicing Mormons. The union between my wife and I is one of the most boring appearing, and yet remarkable and fascinating commitments I know of.
And though I intended to address gay and women's rights in this post, I'm going to put that off. I started writing more and there was just too much for this post. The central issue of this particular post is humility when we consider how little we know and how much God has in store for us. And I look forward to the time I can get to know a little "more".
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
I was apalled when some animal rights activists in my community destroyed a laboratory that claimed to humanely treat its research animals. But I do think causing animals to suffer unnecessarily is wrong. Does an animal have an equal philosophical claim to life? Some say yes. Is a cricket equal to a dog? Is a microbe equal to a man?
The conversation is confounded by unstated assumptions of what exactly is being compared. Intrinsic value of the being? Value to society in terms of productivity? Equality in terms of capability? Complexity of life or future potential? Equality in terms of 'human rights'? Value as a 'child of God'?
Frankly, I've been disappointed with the church's past stance on black men having the priesthood. And I've been confused by why women can't have the priesthood or hold more leadership positions. The church has been charged as a racist, misogynistic cult because of these issues, and in my mind there is no easy defense. Why would God, who has made it clear that men will be punished for their own sins and not Adam's transgression, seem to place limits on people for some intrinsic aspect of their identity that is nothing to be ashamed of--no fault of their own?
Either there is no God, God is a bigot, the church doesn't accurately speak for God, or the reasons behind actions of the church are not well understood. I take the last view, although it feels awfully apologetic. There are examples of seeming inequality in all faiths I can think of--a prophet is blessed above his peers, a nation is intended to impose their theocratic rule, etc. But ultimately in the Mormon view, God's purpose is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man. His purpose is not to make life easier. His purpose is not to make sure life is fair--he only promises the afterlife will be fair. I realize this isn't a perfect answer, but it seems passable. Inequality and mistakes are indefinitely tolerated because of mortal weakness and the fall of Adam. The world is a crucible. Cultural change happens in pockets and waves--never a homogenous revolution. And this is the context in which the church operates.
But a perfect church led by a prophet in direct communication with God should be above the fray. It should be progressive--ahead of the curve. And because we judge where the head of the curve is based on our human bias, it is often difficult to understand. We have no idea what the consequences would have been if God had arranged things more equitably more early with blacks and the priesthood, but He does know. It is not unreasonable to assume that in his omniscience he did what was best for all, the nuances of which we can't comprehend. OK, perhaps it's not unreasonable, but it does take a pretty active suspension of disbelief to throw Occam's razor out the window.
At the same time, deliberate guidelines on gender roles and permissible sexual conduct are reportably not tied to cultural issues, but rather reflect a societal structure that transcends this world altogether. I'm going to discuss this hairy issue more in a later post.
Not everyone gets a fair shake in life. For that matter, pretty much nobody gets a fair shake. Equality, in this sense, is meaningless. I can't tell you how sad it is to see some of the young people in clinic who have debilitating health conditions that make it impossible to have a normal life. Some will never walk, some will never have sex. We do our best to assist them in reaching whatever level of normal function is possible, but often it's not much, leaving a glaring example of 'inequality' in our society. So, I tend not to believe in this type of equality. God doesn't 'owe' us equality in this sense. He doesn't owe anyone a sexually satisfying life. He doesn't owe anyone the chance to be an Olympian.
However, equality is an ideal I believe in when speaking of a person's worth. God is "no respecter of persons," and He will accept all who repent and come to Him. Further, equality of opportunities is something that isn't inherent in life, it's something to fight for. Cultural limitations on opportunities can be codified in policy or they can just be steeped in the societies' habits and practices themselves. Cultural limitations should be battled, and for their courage and success we honor folks like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Nevertheless, culture is a hard thing to change. Even today, there is lasting oppression. Today it is just as important to battle for parity in opportunity.
Some argue we should also fight for the other type of equality. Everyone deserves a perfect body and limitless experiences--regardless of the cost to society. We are all "entitled". I can't think of very many uses of the word "entitlement" that don't really bother me. Sure, we should help and serve the less fortunate among us, but feelings of entitlement are counter-productive as they encourage unrealistic expectations and sometimes flagrant selfishness.
Ultimately, I don't really understand why the church has unpleasant blotches on its past in terms of racial equality. But I'm reluctant to dismiss all the good and beautiful I've seen in the church because of something I know little about that happened in a time and place that is completely different. I doubt any of us have the context to understand it. Passing judgment is so easy, but God is the only one who does a good job of it. So, I'll leave it to him.
I'll try to address equality as it relates to women's rights and gay rights in the next post. In the mean time, here's a more complete treatment of Mormonism and race
Saturday, March 18, 2006
I don't see anything wrong with believing the church to be true to the exclusion of other religions. There, I said it. The single most insulting and confrontational belief of the Mormon church has my buy-in. And frankly, I'll go one bold step further and say what the church does NOT say, and that is that to harbor a vitriolic, venomous, caustic grudge against the church for this position is intolerant and bigoted. I mean, think about it. If one resents any institution that claims they are right and you are wrong, one is oneself an institution claiming that "I am right and you are wrong." It's hypocritcal.
I've already written a bit about my views on tolerance (near the end of the post), so I won't completely rehash them here. Have a look at that before you flame me. The point is just that I am fine with my baptist friends thinking I'm going straight to hell. I'll chat with them about it and then we'll go to dinner together. I have no problem with them urging me to change my ways and believe the bible. But when their admonitions are thereafter filled with hate and they refuse to be civil to me, walking on the other side of the street or some such nonsense (and hopefully nothing worse!), I think that's just not right. Same goes for my gay friends. I don't mind that they think I'm brainwashed by religion and voluntarily abandoning the free life I could be enjoying by believing gay behavior is a sin, but I think it crosses the line when my med student buddies wear pins that say "straight but not narrow" thus contradicting their own values of being tolerant by categorically insulting the religious demographic as "narrow". Yes, yes, I've heard the argument that they are just affirming their support and intended no insult to religious people. But if you stop and think about it, that's bullshit. The message is a clear allusion to a religious metaphor and it has no clever zing whatsoever if you don't interpret it that way. Regardless, it's a soft offense. Much worse things have been done to both gays and religious people...
But I digress. Back to belief in belief.
You can learn things in two ways--take it from someone who knows, or figure it out for your own damn self. The problem is that there are plenty who claim to know, but actually are either wrong or have ulterior motives. These ulterior motives can be self-deception, personal gain, conscience relief, or whatever. On the other hand, figuring it out yourself is just plain too inefficient. If I were to try to learn medicine by 'figuring it out myself' rather than accepting the facts others feed me, I wouldn't graduate med school in five lifetimes.
So, then there's just a lengthy interplay between hearing ostensible claims of moral or religious fact, and then testing the veracity in some manner that persuades me they are true or false. This is the scientific method of religion. You plant a seed and if it is good it springs up into a fruit bearing tree. That is, if you don't decide to install a jacuzzi right over the saplings to have your gay buddies over for a skinny dip. The whole venture is perilous no matter who you are, but especially when you are filled with angst and want some fast answers or some fast relief. If you try to force it, you may one day realize the quick growth was only a thistle and the real tree died long ago.
On the other hand, I can go overboard with my interplay, fulfilling Tim's prophesy that in the last days men would be "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2Tim 3:7).
Or, I can wrest the scritpures to my own destruction if I decide the end from the beginning and try to twist some dead branches and green spray paint into a tree looking structure so I can have the tree on top of the jacuzzi.
I take a deep breath. I realize my beliefs are fluid, not yet the rocky foundation I need. And I examine the evidence. All the while, remembering the admonition that if I don't nurture the tree--if I give up along the way and neglect it--I shouldn't be surprised when it slowly withers away and dies. At least that's what I've been told. And that's what I've seen happen with others' trees.
I want a majestic oak with gnarled mature branches, and a thick tapered trunk. There are people around me who have what I want from life. They have that oak. And so I trust them when they tell me how to nurture my own. I believe them.
It's sometimes scary too. But I don't want to modify my beliefs in a reactionary way. I believe in belief.
The church is true. You know which one I mean. The church. And what do I mean by "true"? Well, accurately or metaphorically reflective of reality, fact, and the state of being of the universe, of course. Ire invited, blood boiling? Good. Then read on.
One of my favorite posts is Protean's "I believe" which challenged me to determine a list for myself. Then Elbow's recent post mentioned what he knows "Thus Far" and gave me the impetus to actually do it. But I'll do it in my own style. I'm far from "that guy" with unwavering confidence in the church. I'm not the guy who never doubts, never questions, and has fortified himself with a philosophical barrier that accepts all positive evidence as affirming while denying all contrary evidence a priori. But I've squarely faced my doubts and examined them. With some, I continue to struggle. I've weighed the evidence and decided how much of an investment in faith is necessary, and I've decided it's a blue chip effort.
Like many gay Mormons, I stand here under this beautiful tree munching on some damn good fruit, when I get distracted by some jeering. On the other side of the river is a large, beautiful building with a bunch of hot guys inside joking around and having a good time. The bare-chested Calvin Klein model on the patio pulls up a chair and gestures for me to come join in and have some fun. It's not an illusion, it's real. And I have to choose between the sweet fruit I have, and the glitzy indulgence across the river. Maybe I can load a backpack with fruit and take it with me? I could try, but it's probably a delusional effort because the river I would have to cross has a pretty stiff current. And look there are men drowning there now... I've been given some good advice on what to do, assuming 1) I'm not dreaming, and 2) the fruit is real.
I believe in the church, and that ends up sketching an outline for my entire belief system despite the doubts. My doubts in the church center on perceived conflict between science and the church, the church's cultural and social positions both currently and in the past, and doubts about actions of the leadership--both locally and globally in the church. I'll talk about these doubts and my faith in the next few posts. As always, civil comments will be appreciated.
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
Friday, March 17, 2006
And that brings me to my request. I realize that I'm at your mercy. I continue to post more and more details of my life, and avoiding personally identifying details is sometimes burdensome. Already, you could probably identify me pretty easily, but I ask that you don't. And if you do, I ask that you respect my anonymity by not sharing what you know or interacting in my life in a way that jeopardizes my anonymity.
This post is prompted by the fact I've picked up a troll on my family blog--someone who posts unwelcome anonymous comments. I doubt it's any of you. Those of you who do know my identity wouldn't go out of your way to be annoying, right? Well, someone is. And it's raining on my blog parade.
And for those of you who are also anonymous, know that I completely respect and support that decision for yourself.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
I was on a business trip in New Orleans, and as is often the case I found myself mesmerized by the amazing looking men all around me. Bourbon Street was a modestly interesting diversion, but my friends knew I was Mormon and assumed I wasn't interested in more. I probably surprised them with my laid back approach to things they were sure I would find offensive. Later in the trip I excused myself from the bar we were in for some fresh air, and I headed to the gay bars at the far end of the street.
I had never been in a gay bar before, and it took some courage to overcome my reservations. But I could see through the door exactly what I wanted at that moment--hot dancers. Long story made short and boring: I went in, I made some friends, I got pretty hot and bothered and ended up a few hours later in line for admission to a so-called "Turkish Bath". I didn't know exactly what was behind those doors, but I knew it would be gratifying, and at this point someone could have brushed me with a feather and made me explode.
After waiting several minutes in line and speaking briefly to the anonymous older man standing near me in line, I realized how out of control (and out of character!) this was for me. Some younger guys came in and took their place behind me in line. I realized that I was attracted to them, and for the first time in my life, here was an immediate opportunity to actually follow through on that attraction.
I walked away. And I told my wife. And life was hell right after that, as you can probably imagine. And now, quite a bit later, I am very happy I had the courage to choose the path I did. I exchanged the long term regret of having gone in, for the lesser and immediate regret of not getting off that night. And the pattern of exchanging gay regrets for family regrets has brokered me quite a good life currently. I have a beautiful little son who I can't get enough of, and an open-minded and brilliant wife who is as understanding as she is hilarious. And for this, I have no regrets.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
It reminds me, actually, of a quote from John Barrymore: "A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams." I'm not that old, although sometimes I feel like it. And I still have plenty of dreams!
But, unfortunately, I do have some regrets mixed in there. I regret that I spent all that time volunteering instead of masturbating... no wait, that's not it. Seriously now, I regret losing a friend. My roommate from college was my best friend for years. We were "joined at the hip" and everyone said our names in rapid succession--never one without the other, but I haven't heard from him in over 5 years (since starting med school). I've heard about him--we still keep in touch with mutual acquaintances--but we don't speak anymore. And we probably never will.
Let's call my friend Ben. Ben and I loved each other in a completely appropriate, beautiful way. When I was busy being stressed out about my thesis, he would make me dinner or rub my shoulders. When he was under the wire I would help him with his laundry or whatever. We became the kind of friends that shared everything, could usually complete the other's sentences.
It was when I was his roommate that I decided to explore my gay side--although I was 'out' to nobody. I went on a date with a guy I met online. I was looking at porn. I was thinking about the possibility of moving my life in that direction. But I didn't. I never once thought there was even a remote possibility of being with Ben, since he was straight and was very into the church.
Long story made short and boring--we became so close that the backrubs turned into full body massages, turned into making out, turned into both of us going to see the bishop. I won't give you the mechanics of it all, but I still believe he's straight, it was just an odd thing you do with someone you trust who let's you down because of selfishness (that would be me doing the letting down). Once we worked it out, we ended up getting into trouble a couple more times. Never anything "serious," but enough that Ben decided we couldn't be around each other anymore. And that was it.
And I regret that.
Now, I hope that I am wise enough to see that although there are many beautiful, wonderful, desirable things in my path, only measured care and the advice of Someone who knows will help me to discern which will have untoward consequences, and which are really worth pursuing. I see mistakes made all the time, I just hope they can be avoided by myself and those I love. And I sincerely believe I love many of you who will read this.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
It's nice to know that the reason for this is that I care about people. Yes, I'm patting myself on the back right now in a pathetic show of self-congratulations. But I recognize what's going on because I've felt this way before.
One other time I've felt this way was when I started being an activist on a particular health-related topic. I felt so strongly about it that it compelled me to put lots of time and effort into the cause. I went to D.C. and lobbied. I wrote in the newspaper. Hey, I was even on a panel on TV. And then when the outcome wasn't what I wanted, I felt depressed. How could the world not see things my way?
In the gay Mormon blog world, I get disappointed when I think people are looking at something the wrong way, or when they make a decision for themselves that I think is a big mistake. But I'm reluctant to say much--because it's not my place. But I care anyway. And so I've gotta take a break.
Anyway, life outside the blog is happier. Tomorrow I go on a business-ish trip. And I like those. Especially when they're paid for by someone else. And I stay at a super-nice hotel. And the family comes along. And we eat stuff we would never ever pay for out of our pockets because we're complete cheapskates. I can't wait. What this means for the blog is that--and listen carefully--nobody is allowed to say anything interesting while I'm gone. Hear that, internet? Just stop what you're doing and come back in a week.
I have so much I want to say on the blog--things about sacrifice and faith and my son and why hedonism is really not the best way to go from my experience, but I don't have time. And I probably won't have time for a good while. After I get back from said trip, I'll be in one of the most time-intensive rotations of med school.
So, for now, let me just say, thanks for reading my blog over the last two weeks, and if I never make it back, do what I would do. ;-)
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
I've decided to give conversion therapy a try. From what I've seen on the gay Mormon blog circuit, I think I'm the only one giving this a try right now. I had a bit of a debate about it in the comment section of this post. After this dialog in which I was advised to proceed with caution, I've decided I'll keep right on with it. But I recognize the chances of success are low. And I'll tell you one of the reasons I think that is true.
Like Augustine, I want something, but not all the way. I really want to be closer to my wife. I want to fully connect with her sexually. I want to feel closer after sex, not further apart. But I also want to stop denying that integral part of myself that desires the love of a man. I ache for a man to love me, to understand me, and to be a loyal friend. It's what my bones tell me I need while my mind tells me I need something else--like a thirsty man surrounded by salt water.
Cognitive dissonance is kind of a buzz term these days. I understand it simply as holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. It can tear you apart if you let it. And it creeps up on me all the time. It rears its head when I decline to watch r-rated films because I'm being good, but knowing I watch much worse than that when I'm being bad. It shows up when I take the sacrament even while I have my questions about several doctrinal and historical points in the church.
But inner conflict should hardly be surprising to a latter-day saint. We fast deliberately to train our bodies to be subject to our minds--to symbolize and actualize sacrifice. But then that ends after 24 hours. Wouldn't it be nice if my gay fast could end tomorrow?
I'm left with my faith and my marriage vows, and the hope for a happy solution in this life that is against all odds.
Scientific sideline: when you read that a study has "shown something to be true" it usually means that there is a less than 5% chance that the outcome of the study was the result of chance alone. That's the arbitrary cutoff most scientists use for what's called a p-value: 5%. So, one in twenty statistically significant "conclusive" studies are actually the result of chance. And people wonder why science appears so inept.
Knowledge is relevant to my faith because there's no way to amass enough evidence to have a 100% possibility of being correct, unless you accept something supernatural as evidence (aka the Holy Spirit). And the Holy Spirit is something that can't be replicated like other evidence one might provide. Therefore, coming to a 100% knowledge of something may be personally irrefutable, but impossible to convey to others. When 2 people claim to have a 100% knowledge of contradictory things, one or both of them are mistaken. There's no need for intolerance or bickering, it's just something where you have to agree to part ways and disagree. In matters of public policy or science, supernatural evidence should not have any bearing relying instead on objectively measurable evidence or majority opinion as appropriate.
Metaphysics is the study of the nature of being and existing ("beyond physics"). It's beyond what we can measure, so you have to resort to philosophy to figure it out, and it may be a little less precise consequently. For example, time and space are thought by Kant to be intuitions--conditions of the brain that don't reflect the reality of being, but are a necessary framework on which we place our consciousness and understand our lives and our interactions with the universe. Esoteric and boring, I know.
This is relevant only because I've mentioned in an earlier post that I believe that the purpose of our lives, the ontological meaning of our existence, is beyond our capacity to understand as mortal beings. We don't and can't fully understand it except as we increase past a mortal level of capability. That may come here on Earth to some particularly enlightened folks, but will probably happen for most after this life is over. Whether being gay and happy or Mormon and repressed makes sense to you or not is important. But pursuing ultimate ends like happiness or a personal road to fulfillment may completely miss the metaphysical mark, so to speak. In my view, the best road is to rely on a being that has the capability to know the end from the beginning--who has the perspective to give reliable advice. And that advice may not make sense, but that's the whole point--if we could make sense of it on our own we wouldn't necessarily need the advice.
This is at least somewhat relevant to Foxx's impressive post.
Logic is correct reasoning. There's a whole study of the rules, and I liked it enough to get a minor in it. Some of the interesting points of logic relative to our gay Mormon discussions are:
- Straw man fallacy: inaccurately or weakly characterizing a particular point of view so that it is easier to argue against and defeat. This is a favorite tactic of bloggers everywhere, politicians, journalists, and pretty much everyone. Keep your eyes open and you will see it all the time. Hell, I've probably committed it a couple times in this very post.
- Slippery slope: taking a particular action opens the door to or increases the likelihood of taking subsequent actions that are less desirable. For example: legalizing gay marriage would open the door to legalizing any kind of sexual union. No, it would legalize gay marriage and a healthy public debate would precede any recognition of other kinds of sexual unions. The slippery slope can be a real thing, but usually it's the basis of fear mongering and propaganda.
- Appeal to authority: Argument in which an authoritative source is considered to be the last word on a topic. Usually this is a fallacy. For example, scientists are smart but not always right. The data and logical argument they present should be evaluated for validity, not accepted carte blanche, and good scientists readily admit this. Beware the claims of science proven penis enlargement. If only it were true. Anywho... However, accepting God's or prophetic words as infallible is not fallacious since it is consistent with an entire belief system. When infallible authority is axiomatic, an appeal to that authority is valid. The degree or manner in which prophetic and religious appeals to authority should be tolerated is open to debate, in my book.
- Relativism: Wikipedia: Relativism expresses the view that the meaning and value of human beliefs and behaviors have no absolute reference. I just can't buy it. And this is where I probably offend the most people. I'm all for individual accountability, autonomy, and self-actualization. But to actually say that truth itself changes based on your opinion? Maybe I misunderstand. [My wife pointed out that I commited the straw man fallacy here by criticizing "truth relativism" with general relativism. See--it's everywhere!] Hence, my post about the importance of fact to me as a Mormon. The importance here is that there is a trap in believing that some personal road to God is gonna be good enough. If spirituality is a soft, make-it-into-what-you-want-it-to-be, sort of thing, then sure. But for me, spirituality is an attempt to transcend into a higher metaphysical realm--into something that is independently true and real and separate from myself. I must conform with it if I want a particular result, just as I must have a parachute and not just a good heart if I'm going to jump off a cliff.
Tolerance: not a philosophical topic, but extremely germaine. Even necessary, given that I fully anticipate having just offended at least a few people. Should we be intolerant of intolerance? I don't know. My gut reaction is that when intolerance is academic in nature, then yes we should be tolerant of intolerance lest we be ourselves unwittingly intolerant. But if the intolerance actually infringes on the lives of others by taking away their freedom or personal rights, it can't be tolerated. This may look like mental masturbation, but it really has a point. I find it completely acceptable to have a world view that the Mormon church is infallibly correct, being gay is absolutely immoral, and attempting to reconcile the two is absolutely misguided. I disagree, but I find it to be an acceptable point of view for someone to have and it doesn't hurt me a bit for them to have it. However, if that person then commits a hate crime as "God's will," because they think it's consistent with God's punishments they are, in my humble estimation, a psycho loon. (Same for bombing abortion clinics, grayer when it involves conscientious objectors in medicine... all interesting topics, but not gay Mormon focused.)
Likewise I feel it is perfectly acceptable for someone to believe the Mormon church is a cult, it is repressive and damaging to gay men and all women, and has a history of irrational discrimination. Again, I would tend to disagree. Oh hell, I would think you were an idiot, what can I say? But it's an acceptable point of view. It's when you then burn down Mormons' houses, call for legal extermination of Mormons, plan all medical student activities on Sundays, plan medical student classes on sexuality as if relativism is a fact... wait, am I getting too autobiographical? Anyway, that's not cool.
There's plenty of room in the world for different points of view. I appreciate that. But being tolerant doesn't mean you can't believe that someone else is wrong, it just means that you recognize their right to be wrong and live their lives independent from you. Tact dictates a certain reluctance to call someone plain wrong when you disagree with them, and humility dictates that you recognize that intelligent rational people may come to different conclusions than yourself.
Thank you, this concludes the longest stream-of-consciousness blog post ever written by the pseudo-philosopher, L!
Monday, March 06, 2006
But one of the reasons it was so powerful for me was probably unique. I see it as a metaphor for myself and my situation as a gay Mormon. Specifically, Ennis made it clear that it wasn't "gonna be that way" with his lover. He recognized that the harsh realities of society would make it impossible to live a happy life in an overtly gay situation. It wasn't that it wasn't something he wanted, it was just a plain impossibility to carry out without dire consequences. He saw what happened to gay men when they were found out. And found out they would be if they shacked up together as ranch partners. And he was right.
So, me and gay love. It's just not gonna be that way. I want it. I want it badly. But the reality of my life and my faith makes it an impossible thing. Granting the tenets of the Mormon faith, accepting a gay lifestyle would be a deathwish. It would be a beautiful and happy thing, but would end in spiritual death.
I really was touched by this movie. There's so much hate and intolerance and it deserved to be given a healthy dose of media attention. And luckily for me, the anguish I saw in the movie when they couldn't be together (and felt second hand!), is greater than the anguish I feel right now. Although that anguish is real, I'm trying to believe that it's a happy sacrifice--one that will keep my lover alive if unhappy (no, wait... uh... one that will keep me with an eternal family). :-)
In honor of the oscars. Sorry BBM, you were my first choice!
Saturday, March 04, 2006
I've seen the angst described much better than I could myself. The hopes for a future with a wife, and the hopes for an unknown future that may not include a wife. I've seen the temptation described similar to those I've faced myself. There are those who believe that being gay and being a part of the church are not mutually exclusive, those who think it abundantly clear that they are indeed impossible to combine, and those who have left the church to find their peace. And many kind, supportive, and understanding comments throughout several blogs from one who is a "recovering Mormon" and one who has little to do with the church but is genuinely concerned with gay men struggling with their sexuality.
How in this maelstrom of thought, anguish, and faith can all these different conclusions have come about? Is consensus possible, or desirable? Should I indulge my desire to win people to my own way of thinking or just sit back and enjoy the diversity? If I seek to influence others am I motivated by my own smug pride or a genuine belief that I might help them?
I think most of all I like the idea of fellowship. Perhaps even in a one-sided way in which I have a window into someone else's soul, but they don't know (or don't care) that I'm there. Thanks to all whose blogs I did or didn't mention who have strengthened, informed, and challenged me.
Anyway, in my last post about my view on Mormonism, I tried to explain (but not very well) that my interest in religion is an interest in facts. As far as Mormonism goes as a cultural paradigm, I like it, but what I'm really concerned about is whether or not the claims of the LDS church are actually facts. I like going to church, having friends there, eating casseroles,... whatever. But for me, the green jello just isn't worth it if there's no God, no "true church", no plan of salvation. For those of you who have expressed respect for the ideal of tolerance of other churches, I say, I also respect and appreciate other churches and all those in them. However, getting back to facts--they're not subjective. And no matter how much you like a lifestyle or a doctrine or a spiritual road to enlightenment, if it doesn't actually reflect cold incontrovertible reality, it's not in the same category that I believe the Mormon church is. Whether you believe that about the Mormon church probably ought to play into whether or not you are a member of said church.
So, if it is true that gender identity and sexual expression are intended for the purpose of eternal families and eternal procreation (as it says in the Proclamation on the Family), and I believe it is true, that throws a wrench in my plan for a manage a trois with Elbow, despite the appeal. It precludes any gay sex whatever, and therefore, probably eliminates the possibility of fully satisfying sexual expression at any time in my life.
But what about happiness?!? I hear you all pleading. God can't expect you to be unhappy, can he? He can't if he loves you, you insist in a Disney withdrawal fit of "ever after" spasms.
Oh contrare, queer friends. Be ready to be Job. Be ready to be Joseph Smith. Be ready to be Jesus. All of these men gave all or part of their happiness up because of a higher cause--something that most people don't even recognize is possible. I've spent most of my life with a delusional understanding of the idea "men are that they might have joy," as if joy is what I want it to be. It's my own road to find what I like and what I want to pursue, I thought.
Well, now it seems to me that my former ideal of joy was just hedonism on steroids. Ultimately the pursuit of joy, happiness, pleasure, self-fulfillment--makes very little sense in an eternal scheme. We are here for reasons outside ourselves. And yes, I believe joy on the part of everyone to be a good and important part of that, but it's not principle and it's so damn distracting to most people I'm tempted to just leave it out altogether. I've specifically avoided the distinctions between joy, happiness, and pleasure that always get debated in discussions like these, because to me they're largely irrelevant. My point is that they all have one thing in common: they're focused on me and me alone--an attribute that forces me to mentally minimize their ultimate importance.
So, to summarize. I just don't buy arguments including the phrasing "God must" or "if I'm wrong, God..." or "my heart is in the right place." Nuh uh. The Mormonism I believe in is based on the factual state of the universe, not a blog poll. God's relationship with us is changeable on only one end, ours.
But realizing this helps me avoid looking for happiness in impossible places. Places that have a sense of certain plausibility based on my current life, my feelings, my ideals. But places that I'm told won't leave me where I want to be in the next life, or maybe even later in this life (I don't know). Thus Mormonism becomes, for me, a huge exercise of faith, of further study, of meditation, of (sometimes, unfortunately) sacrifice.
And even now I can hear keyboards across the blogosphere hammering out angry rebuttals in which my take here is criticized and your personal view on Mormonism defended. (At least, I would hear keyboards if 1. I had bionic hearing and 2. anyone actually read this blog). Well, in a self-absorbed sort of way, I'm just explaining why being gay and Mormon is hard for me. And because of my strict view of Mormonism it probably is harder than for some. I hesitate to compare myself to other gay Mormons, but I wonder if it's much less of a challenge if you don't have a testimony and your threatened divorce from Mormonism is cultural only. Or if you can genuinely lose your testimony over time. Deliberate or subconscious, it is probably an effective coping mechanism. I've lived in the land of cognitive dissonance for so long, I think I'm getting pretty good at just accepting my imperfections without resorting to defensive attacks on the church's stand on homosexuality (or other doctrinal issues that could convince me to abandon my testimony). But the legitimate questions about the church are still a challenge for me, as they are for others, and that's why I want to be an "ardent Mormon" even when I have my struggles with the church. That's my spiritual goal for now.
Friday, March 03, 2006
But now that I'm getting the hang of it, I have to re-assess why I'm blogging at all. Sure, it's a nice diversion, but I've found that I get wrapped up in it too easily. I've tried to comment when I have something to say, but not too frequently. I've tried to chime in on discussions when they are interesting, but I don't want to be too critical of others' thoughts. I want to be insightful and exercise my writing skills, but I also want to feel comfortable leaving a one-liner comment about nothing in particular. I'm just too dang wussy for blogging!
But even more of a problem than that--I'm an approval whore and I want to solve everyone else's problems! I think if I can just comment enough, write enough, think enough, I can single-handedly be a therapist for billions of internet users. And I don't even have my own high-speed connection (thanks, anonymous wireless neighbor). Maybe I'll just back the Internet up on to my flash drive for later perusal.
The other problem is that I fully anticipate getting sick of this and moving on at some indeterminate point in the future. Hopefully I will have gotten out everything I wanted to say on this blog as an effort to gain further insight for myself. But, it kind of makes me want to just skip the whole thing. I can't go and get attached to you all! The Internet makes for fickle friends. You'll probably all go and break my heart. And when life gets busier, I just can't imagine it going another way. But for now, thanks for being my new blog friends.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Being gay means I have a hard time reciprocating my wife's sexual interests. I'm pretty much on the gay end of the Kinsey scale. And that, as I'm sure you can imagine, complicates life. But far from the gay Mormon man's marriage portrayed in HBO's Angels in America, ours is a lot more fun, understanding, and yes, even sexy.
I grew up feeling extremely sexually repressed. I never stole glances. I never looked at porn when another kid had it. And I never played doctor (maybe that explains my decision to go to med school... ha!). Which is why I find it really surprising that my wife and I are so comfortable with all things sexual. We talk about everything. She knows how I feel, she knows about porn, she knows about everything. It's too bad I couldn't have told her several years earlier that I was gay and then I wouldn't have broken her heart repeatedly at BYU when I never managed to take our relationship to the "next level". I didn't want to get too close and hurt her, but she was already closer than I ever imagined. She wasn't surprised when I told her I was gay. And she didn't care.
She's the best wife a gay Mormon could ever ask for! She's more gay friendly than I am. Her best friend in high school was a gay guy. Her best friend in college came out at BYU and has been a happy lesbian ever since. And then there's me. The queer guy she fell in love with before she knew I was gay.
Unfortunately, (and you all probably saw this coming) the marriage and honeymoon haven't been as smooth as we both hoped it would be sexually. I couldn't "finish" sex without resorting to hands for the first six months of marriage. I even went to a doctor about it (the dimwit). It got better over time and as we became more honest with ourselves and each other.
As has been observed in other blogs, the Mormon church is big on the prohibitions to gays, but not so big in the area of advice and creative solutions to the problem. So we're trying to work this marriage out the best way we can think of. She says she just wants me to be happy--she would even divorce me for my own happiness if I really thought that's what it would take to make me happy. But I assure her it is not. What will make me happy is her and our family. Other than the sex, it's a dream come true.
Knowing that I'm turned on by guys, we tried to think of acceptable ways to modify our sex life. My wife suggested we film ourselves having sex because she knows I like watching people have sex. Unfortunately, I would rather watch nice looking people have sex, so that didn't really work too well. She offered to let me masturbate whenever I want--as long as she's there. We even once discussed having a threesome with a man. Oooh la-la. My goody-goody side vetoed that one in a typically confounded gay Mormon way. I figured we would both enjoy it and it would probably serve some of the ostensible churchy purposes of sex--making us closer--but because I thought it would be bad for the third party's spirituality I regrettably nixed (I sure saved that whore, didn't I?).
I never did manage to get her to offer to watch porn with me. Now that would be the best of both worlds! We could both watch some hot guy peeling off his clothes and both be satisfied. Right? Well, when it comes down to it, she's turned on by me and she wants me to be turned on by her. She knows she can't expect it, but I can tell that's what she really wants.
So for now, we live as the odd couple. Me leaning conservative, her liberal. Me having voted for Bush (dumbass that I am), her for Kerry. Me reluctant to endorse gay rights issues, her vehemently outspoken in favor of them. Me married to her partly because of my faith, her with a wavering testimony and supporting gay affirmation.
I love this lady and I can't imagine living without her! But I want to have sex with every non-obese 20-something male I see with reasonable hygiene. So, what's with the paradox? If, like her, I didn't believe in the church and believed in affirmation I wouldn't have even married her! We help each other through our respective trials, and ultimately, I'm really happy with that. So happy, it's probably worth not having the best sex.
Probably the most amazing thing about it is that our relationship has been the result of a lot of deliberate work. I think it's something I could have built with a man, perhaps more easily, but I didn't. And now I've got what I've got. I think the term "making love" should refer to what my wife and I do on a regular basis that has nothing to do with sex--increase our love through conscious effort. At certain times, I could wish my troubles on everyone, because this is a good life. And reflecting on what Elbow recently said about growing old with a gay companion, I see my wife as the best companion imaginable. Now it's just a matter of what to do about the sex... anyone want to come over for a threesome?
I believe, and I always have, that there's more to life than we see. I'm not talking about spirituality in the amorphous, everybody has their own, kind of way. I'm talking about the factual state of the universe that we just plain don't get because of our mental and physical limitations. I've come to believe that the purpose of life is one of those things--something of substance, something real--that we don't fully understand. God tells us bits and pieces that give us guidance about how to get ourselves to the point where we can learn and know more, but the fact that they are so sketchy makes it hard to "buy in" all the time.
Some of those bits and pieces that I happen to believe are that there was life before and will be life after mortality. The conditions of that life are described in terms that I believe are a mix of fact and metaphor so that we can understand them--we were with a family, we will continue to be in families, and relationships will endure. The emphasis on connections with other people make it clear that we need to have as much love for others as possible. Further, happiness is desirable--but only a certain brand of happiness, the kind that doesn't distract from a larger, as yet incomprehensible, destiny.
Part of me is happy when my body tells me I'm happy. Putting a physiologic spin on it, the pleasure centers of the brain make you happy when you obey your body. Drink when you're thirsty, succeed in a high-pressure situation, have sex. But the body's feedback is limited and I have to rely on higher brain functions to discern whether what makes me feel good is really helpful. Quenching thirst is important when you're thirsty, unless it's quenched with anti-freeze. Endorphin release in a high-stress situation is good, unless it's from a drug addiction that will ultimately kill you. And sex is good when it draws you closer to a person in love and/or results in the responsible creation of another human life. But sex can be selfish and destructive too.
I see several roads to happiness based on my life right now, but none that I find satisfactory. To break it down as simply as possible, the two opposing things that make me happy are my family (my wife, son, and extended family) and gay sex and/or affection. I see no obvious way to reconcile the two and have them both (which I so much want!), so I have to decide what to do. Pursue the greater happiness--which will go irrevocably in one direction or the other--or turn to something as uncertain as my faith and trust that I'll be best off with a particular course of action regardless of the consequences to my happiness.
This post is already way too long, so I guess I'll have to make it a serial story... more later!