Monday, July 31, 2006
As it turned out, I was able to not merely read something by Drescher, but to meet the man and hear him speak in person at a professional meeting not long afterward. Unfortunately, a few days later I moved across the country and have yet to find the handout and my notes from the presentation! So, regrettably, all I have to go by now is memory.
He introduced the science, the politics, and the history of reparative therapy. The interplay between homosexuality and medical and psychiatric scientists is pretty darn dramatic. Gay advocates got some traction from a gay psychiatrist who agreed to be part of a panel at a national psychiatric conference--as long as he could wear a rubber Nixon mask! Drescher discussed the remarkable way gay rights activists organized and started a cultural revolution of gay tolerance. They began framing homosexuality as an identity characteristic that requires non-discrimination protection under federal law. It was brilliant.
But alas, it wasn't long before Drescher began bashing. It always amazes me how people can become so committed to a worthy cause like opposing hate and bigotry that they then slip into allowing themselves to hate and be bigoted against those they see as enemies. Drescher sees nothing, nothing at all, redeeming about what reparative therapists do. He sees it as unethical. He sees it as harmful. And he sees it as something to spend a great deal of his time and effort to write and speak out against. I respect all of this. It's when he then falsely described the methods of reparative therapists, vilified the practitioners, and derisively described religious conservatives as hypocrites--not some, but all--that I started losing respect. He called NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) Narth Vadar. Clever. Especially if you're a propagandist. I expect something a little less sensational and perhaps respectful from a scientist.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
But I've never actually had sex with the same sex. I never had sex before my wedding night. Depending on your definition of sex, it actually took quite a while after that. :)
A 1994 University of Chicago study by Edward Laumann et al measured 7.1% of men as having had same sex behaviors, 7.7% as having had same sex desires, and 2.8% as self identifying as gay. I can understand why folks don't want to think of themselves as gay. Society does that to us. Other scientists like to break down sexual identity into constituent parts: gender identity, sex role, and sexual orientation (I think they mean preference of attraction by that last term, but it's hard to say). The LDS church, on the other hand, prefers the term "same sex attraction" over "gay" to avoid the implication of immutability that comes with accepting a gay identity for one's self. Joseph Nicolosi distinguishes between "homosexual" and "gay" by accepting the former term as a description of sexual preference and the latter as a declaration of a chosen lifestyle.
Does this seem overly complicated to anyone else? I like guys. So I call myself gay.
So, there it is on the record. That's what I mean when I say gay. But I've never been with a guy and never intend to be. I don't accept any particular political philosophy that using the terminology may or may not imply. Maybe a better term is "gay-ish." Regardless, you know where I stand!
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Thank you for calling the Gay and LDS too hotline. Your call may be recorded for training or vindictive purposes. Please choose from the following options:I think pretty much everyone hates automated customer service lines. I've worked in customer service, so I recognize why they are a big help to the company's bottom line, but they annoy customers. They try to anticipate every possible customer need and solve all your problems by interacting with a numeric keypad.
- Press 1 if you choose to remain faithful LDS and stay celibate for the rest of your life
- Press 2 if you choose to be true to your gay feelings and abandon your LDS background
- Press 3 if you choose to have one foot in and one out of the LDS church while you flirt with gay love
- Press 4 if you choose to remain faithful LDS and plan to ruin your spouse's and children's lives by trying a mixed straight/gay marriage
- Press 5 if you choose to live a fully gay life and pretend that it is not inconsistent with your LDS faith
- Press 6 if you are foolish enough to believe that reparative therapy is worth a try--don't worry, you can come back to this menu when you fail
- Press 7 if you find none of these choice to be acceptable and you wish to commit suicide
- Press 8 to repeat this menu.
Maybe it's just me, but life seems too complicated to be boiled down to a nested series of numbered lists. I usually end up wading through the system for about 5 minutes until I've listened to 3 or 4 submenus and it finally gives me the option to speak to a person. I could have told them my situation was going to require a real human brain from the beginning, they just didn't give me the option!
Why do I constantly hear the options for a gay LDS man presented as tidy false dilemmas?
"I had to decide between being true to myself and living a life of misery."
"I could never be celibate for my entire life and that's what staying in the church would mean."
"I could never marry a woman--it would be unfair of me even to ask. And it wouldn't be fair to my kids."
"I tried reparative therapy and it didn't work. I tried hard. For approximately 30 seconds."
Being gay and Mormon can be played out a lot of ways. The very real conflict I face seems to be described with glib empathy issuing from gay-friendly folks all the time. There's no help and no workable solution coming from the church, they say. I once commented on a gay thread with my real identity (not out) in an online forum discussion. I was criticized as being unempathetic--I was told to imagine myself as a gay man and I would see why I never should have said such things.
Well, guess what? I do say such things. And I happen to be gay, thank you very much. I think a gay man can live a life inside the church happily, sexually active, and worthily. Sure, it took me 4 or 5 years of dating for me to finally come out to the woman who would soon afterward be my wife. Sure, it hasn't been a bed of roses. Sure, I'm not a perfect LDS member. But, I think all things considered, God has had good things in store for me, and they showed up in his good time. I'm happily married, true to the church, and no longer lonely and celibate. I think he intends the same for everyone. And by "the same" I mean wildly different but still ultimately good.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Some people think being queer makes you less of a person. I think conventional thought for many years--maybe centuries--has been that being queer is a result of personal deficiency of character. It's been thought to show a lack of willpower, a refusal to conform to societal norms, a willful perversion. And although society is now more tolerant and understanding, some form of these ideas is always being projected by individuals, by organizations, and just by frank tradition.
I personally think being gay makes you a deeper person--with a greater potential to understand, be sensitive, and perhaps positively develop one's character. I think gays are to be universally commended for the way they constantly face struggles and misunderstandings resulting from our current societal temperature. Unfortunately, they are instead berated by themselves or society for being different. Or weak. Or freaks.
I think my view is largely attributable to a particularly insightful bishop who shocked me by expressing his deep admiration for the strength I've had and the persistence I've shown in trying to be worthy and be true to the gospel. I expected him to condemn me for my failings, which have been more than a few and have persisted over many years. But his reaction showed an amazingly merciful and, I believe, Christ-like view of the issue. God certainly knows that what I'm attempting to do is beyond difficult.
And now that I've deliberately mulled it all around for a few months, talked to a counselor, and blogged through discussions with friends and foes, I feel I'm in a pretty healthy place. I still have setbacks, and communication problems, and times when I feel pretty worthless. But I continue to try. I'm ardent. And I feel that resilience puts me within the boundaries of the atonement.
Now when I'm in crisis mode--my desires are pulling hard and I feel out of control--I remember that I'm a biological creature and this is something I deal with. And I deal with it well. If not in the moment, in the following minutes and hours and days. And because of this, I feel better. Even in the moment.
I think life is a balancing act between being malcontent and being satisfied. I think I generally err on the side of being a perfectionist (as many folks with SSA do). But, for whatever reason, for the last several years I've given myself permission to not feel as guilty with my imperfections and my struggles. It's not that I accept that striving and change are unnecessary, it's just that I realize the guilt and self-punishment can be counterproductive. I'm not less of a person for my struggles, rather I'm more of a person for the honorable way I persevere in dealing with them.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
My dog is great with kids. He's tender and gentle all the time, and toddlers seem to have a special affinity for him. I think he has helped rehabilitate a lot of kids who were previously scared of dogs! When it comes to other animals though, he's a complete wuss. I've seen him startled by rabbits before and high tail it away before they can capture him in their evil clutches. Let's just say some of his instincts are a little mixed up. Anyway, this is all to say that his personality is sensitive and guileless. And every once in a while it reminds me of myself.
The relationship between me and my dog is a metaphor for my relationship with God. And now that I'm sans family for a while, I can't help but think I'm just like my dog off leash. He loves the opportunity to let loose. He'll sprint until he can't sprint any more. If I call him, he will come. Most of the time. But if he really wants to explore and he's feeling a bit oppressed, he'll take his time coming when he's called. If he's out of sight, he might not come at all. And when he's off leash and having a hey day, he might even roll in something smelly. I often wonder if there isn't a better way to help him understand that I call him to come when he is in danger. He doesn't realize how easily he could be hit by a car around here. He just thinks "come" means an end to his fun. An end to his freedom.
When he finally does come and he's covered in duck crap, I can be pretty pissed off. But I can't scold him because he did come after all. It would be a mixed message. I bathe him and help him get cleaned up again. And then when he's dry we'll snuggle in a frenzy of reciprocal affection. And I just try to remember to reinforce his obedience by rewarding him when he does come and letting him know that I love him regardless.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Erzen wasn't interested in collecting fodder for political battles, though, and that's what makes "Straight to Jesus" so enlightening. As an ethnographer, she made every effort to listen to and understand everyone at New Hope Ministry, whether or not she agreed with their beliefs (and it's fairly clear that most of the time she didn't). That's practically unheard of in most popular discussions of charged issues like homosexuality -- and rare in scholarly discussions, too. Nowadays, everyone's convinced that they already know everything the other side has to say and that actually having to listen to it would constitute an insupportable demand on their own patience. Everyone thinks their side of the argument never gets any exposure, yet rabid, ranting opinion of all varieties howls at us everywhere we turn.
Hey crazy lady, have you looked at yourself? You are a loon who I doubt would know a politically neutral position if it bit you on the ass. As evidence:
In fact, scandals involving the sex lives of ex-gay movement leaders are so common (even one of the straight leaders, Kent Philpott, got busted for fooling around with his adopted daughter), that it's hard for anyone outside the evangelical right to take them seriously. Add that to several prominent cases of parents forcing their gay teenage children into scary camps like Love in Action's Refuge, an "intensive discipleship program" -- and the fact that no reputable professional psychological organization endorses the idea that homosexuality is a mental "disorder" that can be "cured" -- and the image of a pack of dangerous cultists is cemented.
I have heard this same ridiculous song and dance over and over in the discussion. Attack carefully selected ex-gays' credibility, then generalize that character attack to all and conclude none can possibly be honest, have anything relevant or cogent to say, or be motivated by something good, and you should fit right in with the howling you describe. Or, better yet, go with nuance: "a pack of dangerous cultists."
Because they could never reconcile these deeply rooted beliefs with their homosexual behavior and relationships, those behaviors and relationships could never be truly joyful or satisfying, and because they had never had joyful or satisfying homosexual experiences, they assume that gay life is inherently empty and destructive.
Still, whatever the benefits these men get from evangelical Christianity, their religion is no more a rational choice than their sexuality is. Even when opting not to believe seems the only and obvious healthy, life-affirming alternative, these men -- some of them educated and sophisticated -- can't manage it.
Yes, conclusions about gay life are all about irrational religious beliefs by those with no positive gay experiences. It has nothing to do with statistics about suicide, drug abuse, promiscuity, life expectancy, etc. Clearly because they are religious they are irrational, and because they disagree with you, they are wrong.
I commented on Protean's post a bit about this, but I wanted to go into a little more detail. I don't mind the idea of the book--it sounds like a good read. I don't even mind the author's personal position on ex-gays and reparative therapy in general. What I do mind is the incessant character attacks on the religious, reparative therapy practitioners, and ex-gay ministry leaders. It's hateful, venomous, hypocritical, and I'm sick and tired of the unfettered hate hefted out there on the public like so much flying manure to fertilize the grassroots efforts of activists.
Monday, July 17, 2006
You are a man of science and rationality. Your chosen profession of medicine demands it. You have written often and eloquently of the need for rigor in understanding scientific data. And yet, you do not seem to demand the same kind of rigor when it comes to matters of religion, even when it impacts you in a profoundly personal way.
Religious thought should receive the most scrutiny and the most rigorous examination of any human endeavor, in my opinion. Certainly, not less than science. But the kind of scrutiny is totally different. It's a different universe of discourse with different assumptions and different endpoints. Science is determined to describe the truth about the natural world we find ourselves in. It lends itself perfectly to empiric investigation. Religion (to me) is an investigation into the truth about the supernatural world. It's why we've found ourselves anywhere at all.
Supernatural and natural inquiries have different sets of rules, and because I've written a little on this before I'm somewhat surprised you would characterize my religious views as not rigorously examined. I suspect this may be a form of this idea: if you and I haven't come to the same conclusion then you just haven't thought about it enough.
Additionally, I want to go on record with some qualifiers. I am flattered that you have described me as a man of science and rationality. But one of the things that rationality has given me is a healthy skepticism for science. Science done correctly has done immeasurable good for our society. And science done badly has done (and continues to do) immeasurable harm. There are lots of reasons why scientifically accepted dogma is plain wrong. The data was measured wrong. The methodology was flawed. The analysis was biased. Over time we've improved as a society in picking out these errors and building safe-guards into the methodology. And over time the spin-masters, the marketers, and the plain liars have gotten better at obscuring the scientific flaws (perhaps sometimes deliberately). Gay issues are a major caution zone, I've noticed.
Qualifier two is that not all the rules are different for scientific and religious inquiry. Naturalism, yes. Inviolable physical laws, yes. Absolute consistency, yes. But God Himself asks us to "prove me now herewith"... to test things for ourselves. I can think of a number of "clinical trials" in the scriptures, so to speak. I can think of favorable references to logic and reason. It's a big part of what God expects of us. And far from accepting the premise of your first question, I believe my faith to be perhaps one of the most exquisitely consistent and logical of any I know. But ultimately it's a "faith" and not a "science". And therefore I'm okay when people disagree or come to different conclusions. I expect the same courtesy of them, even if what I believe bothers them. And that's the beauty of America--it was built on a constitution codifying just such a sentiment.
By the way, I've written on this before. Oh, and here and here.
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Landon. That’s who I am. But what part of that identity is necessary? What parts, if taken away would make me cease to be myself? I love my family, and I don’t want to do anything to hurt them or jeopardize the beautiful life we share. We are happy. And that happiness comes from many things, but chief among them is my faith that being married and having children is a situation that will persist outside this world and beyond death—something that I believe is impossible for me in a gay relationship. This decision for myself on how to deliberately address my cognitive dissonance in what I hope is the most honorable way is constantly called into question by life. By family. By peers at school. By yearnings that influence my actions like marionette strings.
And yet, I sit quietly at the back of the gay Mormon congregation. Everyone else may get up and leave. The chapel may fall down around me. But I have the authenticity I seek. The personal insight. The affirmation that what I am doing is acceptable before both myself and God.Index for A Congregation of One
Saturday, July 15, 2006
I wasn’t particularly surprised to find the Planned Parenthood presenter a bit off-putting. The last lecturer I remembered from Planned Parenthood staff had played a phone recording from an abortion hotline in which a young woman wailed about the physician who had turned her away. This was the type of thing that brought people to attempt abortions on themselves with coat hangers, we were told. Valid point, certainly, but perhaps she could have emphasized it more with bright lights shining in my face after a period of sleep deprivation.
There was no attempt to address the elephant in the room—what were physicians to do when their personal values held performing an abortion to be immoral? Ignore or change their values? It was an interesting question that was smoothly bypassed giving the impression there was only one answer—physicians were to put aside their personal issues in the best interests of the patient.
Now, this new Planned Parenthood lecturer had asserted with complete finality that reparative therapy had been shown to be “ineffective, unnecessary, and harmful.” In an e-mail I requested primary sources for this claim. He directed me to the American Psychiatric Association’s position statement on the topic. I responded by quoting their position statement: “To date, there are no scientifically rigorous outcome studies to determine either the actual efficacy or harm of ‘reparative’ treatments.” Changing tacks, he asked why I was so interested in the topic. I replied that I was concerned that science and not politics inform our medical education. Then, he wanted to know why I was bringing politics into the discussion at all.
Why indeed. There’s nothing political about homosexuality. Oh no, nothing at all.
He suggested if I had further questions to direct them to the course directors. I did, but I never heard back. I didn’t really expect to. I had spent hours and hours—collectively, probably days—filling out evaluation forms, but I had never received any indication that my feedback on sensitive issues was heard or appreciated. Sure, when I suggested they change the date of a test it was given some thought. But when I evaluated FCP’s sexuality course, I imagined they had done the opposite of my suggestion the following year just to spite me.
So, again, I was left to wonder about reparative therapy all on my own. Was it just “psychobabble”, as one of my psychiatry mentors had derisively dismissed it? Irresponsible and unethical therapists preying on desperate gay men with nowhere else to turn, now exploiting guilt and shame to promote their own political agenda while ignoring the diabolical risks of failure, despair, and suicide?
Please. I couldn’t believe the pervasive ignorance on the subject among the ivory tower that was my medical school. I had read some books, and they made sense to me. I had a friend who was undergoing reparative therapy and he seemed far happier than before. I had been referred to a reparative therapist for myself, and he claimed to be a man who had changed his sexual orientation many years before. He had written a book about his experience. I read it. I doubted. I hoped. I wondered.
Was this my coat hanger? Too bad the APA had encouraged therapists to turn me away, to attempt to abort my homosexuality in a closet at home with nobody to watch for side effects. Nobody to mitigate the risks.Index for A Congregation of One
Friday, July 14, 2006
I was not well. Becky, my wife, was in class in the Library and Information Science Lab in the main campus library while I was sitting on a toilet on the second floor. And had been for a while. Oddly, a foot belonging to the man in the next stall inched toward me under the wall. It started tapping slowly and insistently. Deliberately. I recognized the proposition. One of the many skills my 35 grand yearly tuition had paid for. Placing catheters, IV lines, and recognizing anonymous gay sexual propositions.
Human Sexuality was an integral part of the Foundations of Clinical Practice course in medical school. Our small group was visited by a member of “the community” in an educational venture that was criticized by conservative students for its irrelevance and liberal students for its sensational “petting zoo” feel. There we were edified on the definitions and customs of tea rooms, Turkish baths, and “the family” by a middle-aged gentleman who audibly sighed as he expressed his deep regret that barebacking with strangers was no longer safe. When the meeting was over and the physician facilitator was gone, two of my peers began loudly endorsing the lesson, among other things. “I can’t believe people in our class are so narrow-minded. I mean, those guys who left the cerebral palsy video the other day just missed out on the most profound lesson we’ve had in months.” They were referring to an optional video in which sexuality for handicapped individuals was eplicitly explored. During this exchange, the two students steadied their gaze far away from me—a subtle clue that this conversation was being broadcast in my direction. They knew I was Mormon. And, I doubted the fact had escaped them that I was one of those who excused myself from the video. They didn’t know that my reason was a scheduling conflict. Or that I was gay.
Gay, perhaps, but uninitiated. Thanks to my tea room friend, I knew that the main library second floor bathrooms were once the best place on campus for gay pickups. Ostensibly in the past. And yet, there was the tapping foot.
Had I been tripping gaydar? I knew I had in the past. When I left my long-time girlfriend before coming to medical school, I finally decided to level with her. We sat under the stars on the edge of a playground in
What tipped her off, I wondered? How many people suspected? Would most people be surprised if they knew, or would it have been like me with Jeremy—a confirmation of what had already been suspected.
The foot tapped.
This was ridiculous. I was in a filthy restroom feeling sick, and yet there was a feral urgency in me that wanted to tap my foot back. Something was inexplicably taking hold of my thoughts and desires. Allowing me to wonder what would happen if I tapped back.
After coming to medical school, my long-time girlfriend moved to
I had read on a gay Mormon blog once,
In my studies of relationships, I've come to understand that every pairing, after two years on average, settles into things, and whatever feelings of infatuation they had for one another dissipate and either the union crumbles (if there is no fundament of true friendship and real love) or is replaced by a more profound love (if it is founded on true friendship and love). I avoided that entirely. I don't have to worry that one day I will wake up and not be "in love" with my wife because those twitterpations that convinced me to forge a union with her have dissipated... no. Our love HAD to originate from the real and the profound and the deep swellings of actual interpersonal comprehension and appreciation and real communication and mutual desires for true happiness... the things that LOVE truly is.
A few minutes later, the foot walked past me in the library hall while its head glanced sideways and then steadied its gaze ahead.Index for A Congregation of One
Thursday, July 13, 2006
“Landon, when are you going to know where you matched?” Mom asked. The fact she knew so little about my current life was testimony to the ever decreasing phone calls between us. I had always been “special” to her in a way unique from my other brothers and sisters. And yet we were growing apart now. And the hundreds of miles separating us had very little to do with it.
As she jabbered away asking questions and filling me in on all the latest
“… the doctor bills for the surgery, and Meg’s epilepsy, and of course, you know about Adam…”
“Uh, no. What about Adam?”
“Well.” There was a conspiratorial pause. She whispered, “He’s a homosexual.”
I hadn’t known that about Adam. Officially, anyway. “Uh… so?”
“So, you can see how that is a terrible stress on his parents. They beat themselves up about it all the time. And he blames the church,” she finished with resignation.
“Well, I think he needs to be true to himself. If he doesn’t believe in the church then there’s no reason he shouldn’t be doing what he thinks will make him happy. He should be with the person he has chosen to love.” Actually, I didn’t say that. I just wish I had. I don’t remember what I said. But it was probably some numb affirmation. I felt sick.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
“Landon. I’m not trying to give you a hard time.” Jessica was one of the sweetest people in the world, but she was standing here looking me in the eye and pleasantly telling me that the Christian Medical Association was deliberately discriminating. “We love you and want you to be included. But we can’t show the video.”
My neck itched. The sun glared and I couldn’t see a damn thing. “So, it’s not because of what’s in the video, it’s because of where it’s from.”
“So, it is discrimination then.”
“Yes… if you insist on thinking of it that way.”
I couldn’t imagine thinking of it any other way. A classmate had offered to bring a completely innocuous Easter video portraying Christ’s life to the Christian Medical Society’s lunch meeting and was flatly denied because he was a Mormon. It had nothing to do with the content of the video and everything to do with who he was.
My mind was numb. I remembered how Mormons weren’t allowed to vote in the 1800s just for believing in a church that opposed anti-polygamy laws—not for what they did, but who they were. And this codified religious bigotry was upheld repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court. I remembered that Governor Lilburn Boggs signed an “Extermination Order” making it legal to murder Mormons as a political necessity in
And here was Jessica, smiling placidly. Golden curls backlit with sunshine. A Christian angel.
I sneezed.Index for A Congregation of One
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I, a tormented and angst-riddled student, sat in the last computer from the door in my student life lounge as I e-mailed the MEDQ co-presidents a question. MEDQ was the GLBT medical student club. I was feeling lonely and depressed, and I really wanted to talk to someone. I needed more support. Perhaps from peers. Maybe someone who had been there. I wrote:
I've got a quick question for you both. In the spirit of your upcoming "coming out week", I was thinking about my situation and why it is that I feel that I have to keep it private. I'm unique in that I have been attracted exclusively to men my whole life, but I have made the conscious decision not to have gay relationships because of my conservative upbringing. Unfortunately, straight relationships just don’t appeal to me. But that’s the decision I’ve made and I seem to feel discrimination from the gay community for it (not to me personally, since I’m not “out”, but against the idea as “wrong”). So, I was just wondering what the position of the MEDQs is. Is tolerance a buzzword that applies only to gays, or does it apply to those who believe, for themselves, that gay relationships are wrong? Does discrimination apply only to anti-gay discrimination, or does it apply to anti-Christian discrimination for a personal moral position? And does coming out for someone like me have to be just as threatening because I fear how my gay peers will treat me? This is not a tirade and these are not rhetorical questions. I’m really interested to see what you have to say.
The response I received several days later warmed up by quoting the MEDQ mission statement. Then it got straight to the point of politely destroying me. Here is the end of their reply:
We do not believe in discrimination or harassment of any kind. Our group is tailored to providing a supportive environment for GLBT identified or questioning persons in all stages of the coming out process.
We feel that the questions you posed are philosophical questions that you need to answer for yourself, however if you would like to meet with either of us in person to discuss them, we would be happy to do that. We just do not feel that email is a proper forum for these issues.
In other words, go screw yourself. We exchanged one more message each, them remaining firm in their conviction to ignore me unless I met their terms and came “out” to them in person. I thought, how dare they send me their mission statement and then categorically deny it. They seek to “raise awareness of issues concerning GLBT patients and students” unless an issue doesn’t fall in line with their own bias. They promise to “[educate] about healthcare issues specific to GLBT individuals” as long as those healthcare issues are politically aligned with affirming gays. What about the perils of reparative therapy? Who would engage me in a dialog on the subject when I knew damn well that the American Psychiatric Association’s position statement was dripping with political motivation and biased science. Why on that subject do we, as a healthcare industry, seek to dictate to people decisions they should make rather than attempting to minimize the risks of the decisions they have made for themselves? And most reprehensibly the mission statement bellowed, “[provide] a social support network for GLBT and straight people in the
Also, we hate you.
Monday, July 10, 2006
“Oh, Landon. That shouldn’t have happened.” Bishop Peterson peered intently over his desk. I looked away. For some reason I could never hold eye contact for long these days.
My bishop was a dean in the
My previous bishop had actually been my brother, fourteen years my senior. I had just recounted to Bishop Peterson that while in my brother’s congregation I had met with a church social worker who had recommended counseling to appropriately address my “same sex attraction.” When I showed some concern over the cost, he said the church had a policy to fund such counseling. He would notify my bishop that I had need of counseling services, all while respecting my confidentiality by not disclosing the specific issue, and I wouldn’t have to pay a thing. I agreed. Only a short time later after being “released” from my job in the church teaching the teenage men in the ward did I realize there were probably very few situations that warranted unquestioned subsidization of counseling services by church offerings. Undoubtedly, my release was not coincidental. I had unwillingly been outted to my brother, but not in a way that would ever allow either of us to address it directly. From then on and forever more it would be the elephant in the room.
I have long been very comfortable with my situation. I wouldn’t mind family or church members knowing I’m attracted to men if I could just have a guarantee that they wouldn’t treat me any differently. Some would and some wouldn’t. So I see no benefit and plenty of risk. And I wouldn’t mind my gay friends knowing that I’ve chosen to be married and have a conventional family because of my religion if I could just guarantee that they would be understanding and supportive and wouldn’t try to “out” me for my own good. Or do something worse. There are bigots on both ends of the conservative-liberal spectrum. I was safe from neither.
“Well, bishop, it’s okay. I understand nobody meant it to happen that way.”
“Well, I think it’s inexcusable. However you decide to deal with this, I’m so glad you are willing to let me help bear this burden. I’m here for you to talk to whenever you may need it. And I’ll try to think if there’s anything else I can do.” He paused and leaned back in his chair. “I obviously don’t have any training in this area, but I want to help however I can.”
Unlike some encounters I had heard of between gay Mormons and their bishops, mine had been wonderful. I actually felt better about myself walking out of the room than I did walking in. I felt like a courageous person who was dealing admirably with a challenge that few could ever understand—not just being gay, but being gay and Mormon simultaneously. Really gay and really Mormon. I was managing.Index for A Congregation of One
Sunday, July 09, 2006
A Congregation of One
I feel like I’m in a place a little left of reality. Or a little right. I’m happy. And conflicted. Mormon and gay. I’ve been discriminated against by gays and Christians, Mormons and doctors, conservatives and liberals. I belong nowhere. I’m a middle class white male. I’m a minority among minorities.
“Landon. Come on.” She gave me that look. The head slightly tilted and cocked eyebrow that screams, “How oblivious are you?”
After a pause: “Jeremy.” Yeah. That made sense. The New Med News article in which he defensively railed on religious bigotry directed toward gays was the tip off. I took the revelation in stride and just said, “Yeah, I had an idea on that one.” It was down time on the wards and our political banter had led to gay marriage and then to gays in our class. I, clueless as a rule, didn’t know any gay class members. Or, rather, I didn’t know who they were.
But now I did. I had speculated as much since meeting Jeremy for the first time as we both sat waiting for Sacrament Meeting in the local Mormon congregation for single students. Mormons are odd like that—divvying up congregations by demographics. Our unknowing congregation of two had settled near the back. Despite that we both had attended BYU, we both had majored in the humanities, and we were both in the same med school class, we never hit it off as well as I would have liked. We were always friendly, but where I was the ardent Mormon, he was the skeptic and seemed reluctant to appreciate someone so willing to fall in line with the saints.
“Hey Jeremy, great article.” I said one day just entering Epperson Research Building from the CCOMF bridge.
“I sort of disagreed with a few things, but overall I loved it.”
His face fell slightly. “Interesting. Like what?” We chatted. It was a great discussion. What neither of us knew, but perhaps both suspected, was that each of us secretly being in the gay Mormon congregation had clarified our reasoning on this topic. We both had insights perhaps beyond what you would expect from a typical Christian or a typical queer. We ended up e-mailing on the topic to pick up where we left off the spontaneous exchange.
And then, there I was receiving confirmation during our pediatrics down time. I felt a little cheap. Like a fourth grader wanting to hear who liked who—but unwilling to fess up to his own crushes. Coming out, even though not directly to me, had signaled shifting loyalty in my friend. Or, at least, clarified his long-standing loyalty. My congregation was now officially a congregation of one.Index for A Congregation of One
Saturday, July 08, 2006
This experience had sort of a strange effect on me. It made me feel so hopeless. Hopeless about the healthcare system. Hopeless about the ignorance people have regarding gays. Hopeless about people that I usually work so hard to believe the best about. It's also a feeling that hits me every time I read an editorial lambasting religions as categorically intolerant, which seems to be happening with increasing frequency. It's a hopelessness that just hits me when people insist on being stupid even when I feel they've been given ample opportunity to widen their understanding.
The second step in 12 steps is based on hope. I haven't really worked my way up to that point yet (yes, at this rate I will reach step 12 when I'm about 147 years old). But it occurs to me that I am quite hopeful regarding myself and my own progress--and shouldn't that matter most? Why should I let ignorance and bigotry from conservatives and liberals alike interrupt my personal progress and peace? Well. I guess I'll just keep trying to have hope on both levels--personal and societal.
Friday, July 07, 2006
One thing that always stands out to me: why do they never cover the folks who are gay but choosing to follow the teachings of their sexually strict religion anyway (ahem, like me)? Apparently that's not perceived to be as interesting a conflict.
In my opinion, it's very dramatic. And continues to be.