Friday, March 31, 2006

Homosexuality and Mormonism

As I look over what I've written on my blog since I launched it in late February, I see that I have never explicity stated my views on homosexuality even though I think my point of view has come through clearly in my blog posts and comments on other gay Mormon blogs. Because Mormonism has been such an important part of my life and has deeply impacted how I view the world and God, I think it makes sense for me to outline these views in a comparative way.

I'll start with where the LDS Church stands.

The Church posits that homosexuality is a challenge: a test or trial to be endured or a cross to bear. Homosexual inclinations or tendencies may not be chosen by those who experience them, but they should never be acted on. Homosexuality has no role in the Plan of Salvation except to frustrate it and efforts to normalize homosexuality and homosexual relations should be resisted at all levels--personal, societal, spiritual, and theological.

This approach finds expression in the language the church uses, even when it comes to the words used to describe the issue at hand. The euphemistic "same-sex attraction" or "same-gender attraction" are the preferred terms. "Gay" and "lesbian" and "homosexual" are never to be used as nouns and should not be the linguistic basis around which to build an identity.

The most authoritative direct statement on homosexuality comes in the form of an article by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, published in 1995. The most authoritative indirect statement is the Proclamation on the Family, issued in 1995 as well in part as a response to gay marriage initiatives in Hawaii and Alaska. Homosexuality is seen as a threat to the institution and doctrines of the family.

The Church tacitly supports organizations such as Evergreen International, which encourages (mostly) gay men to work to curb, control and overcome their same-sex attraction and is supportive of reparative therapy. Though the Church concedes that sexual orientation may never be overcome "in this life" (making it clear that it is an imperfection which will likely be corrected in the next), it also does not close the door on the possibility of change. This can be found in the statements of various church leaders, including in Elder Oaks's 1995 article, and in Church-published or Church-approved literature (including books such as Born That Way? and In Quiet Desperation. The message frequently delivered in Church statements and media is that to deny the possibility of change is to deny the power of the Atonement.

Theologically, there is no place for homosexuals in the Mormon conception of heaven--at least not at the highest level. A recent discussion on Times & Seasons illuminated the theological obstacles to accepting homosexuality as anything other than, at best, defective. The underlying assumption in Mormon thought is that homosexual behavior (i.e., sex) is always sinful and that even homosexual thoughts and desires, while not chosen, should be controlled and resisted.

Mormon thinking on homosexuality has evolved over the years. In one of his most famous books, The Miracle of Forgiveness, Spencer W. Kimball compares homosexuality to bestiality and describes it as a sin against nature, almost as severe as murder. Homosexuality was assumed to be a chosen behavior rather than an innate orientation. Homosexual men were often encouraged to marry as a way to "cure" their homosexual inclinations. These are no longer features of the Church's official posture on the issue, though remnants of these ideas linger in Mormon culture. Mormons tend to reduce the question of homosexuality to sexual desire.

I take a different view and reject most of this.

I believe that homosexual orientation is innate, unchosen, immutable and morally neutral.

Because I believe that orientation is immutable, I am largely unconcerned about its causes. That said, I think there is ample evidence that orientation has deep roots in biology and genetics.

Homosexuality is a minority expression of normal, healthy human sexuality. Homosexuals are most likely to find genuine and lasting happiness and mental health by embracing and accepting their sexuality and integrating it fully into their personal identities. This includes opening oneself to the possibility of giving and receiving love--emotional and sexual--to another of the same sex. Resisting one's homosexual orientation is largely an unhealthy exercise in futility and can be emotionally damaging. The American Psychiatric Association suggests that reparative therapy is ineffective and can be detrimental to the patient.

I believe that committed homosexual relationships are the moral equivalent of committed heterosexual relationships. Promiscuity, infidelity and deception are always sinful, whether indulged in in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. I do not believe that homosexuality need be a barrier to deep religious faith or a connection to God. To the contrary, my own experience tells me that denying one's homosexuality can in fact alienate one from God.

As it is currently understood and articulated by those in authority in the Mormon Church, I cannot reconcile with LDS doctrine a view of homosexuality as morally neutral and homosexual relationships as valid and righteous--at least not as it pertains to exaltation. I suggest that the gap that exists, however, is a manifestation of a deficiency in LDS theology resulting from a deep societal and cultural bias against homosexuality, particularly among men of the generation that lead the Church.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Shout out

I just wanted to say that I'm honored to be in the company of the men who make up the gay bloggernacle. I was thrilled--thrilled!--to see that Foxx has added me to the gay blogroll on his site (freaky dream, man). Elbow and L also link to this site from their blogs, and I just discovered that DCTwistedLife has me on his as well. Another Other and I have had a nice e-mail exchange. And Hawaii Dave is something of an Obi-Wan Kenobi to me--a wise gay Jedi master.

It's been a little crazy over on Gay Mormon's blog, in case you haven't been following it.

Thanks, brethren. I'd link to your sites as well, but I don't know how and don't care enough to figure it out. Sure love ya, though.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Trembling no more

Saturday night I finally sat down and watched "Trembling Before G-d," a powerful documentary about gay Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. Though I'm not Jewish, there was so much in this film that I could relate to. Mormons often think of themselves as Israel, as God's chosen people, so it was easy to put myself in the place of the Jews on the screen. As my wife remarked a couple of times as we watched, "They could be Mormon. They sound so Mormon!"

The film included the stories of gay men and lesbians; some married, some not; some still trying to fit into the community, others long out of it. Particularly touching for me was the story of David, a gay man from Los Angeles who travels to Israel to confront a rabbi who two decades earlier set him off on a course to fix his sexual orientation. David returned to tell him that therapy had failed and to ask this man--someone he had loved and looked up to--what now? The rabbi said that like all "evil inclinations," homosexuality was to be resisted and overcome. In the Jewish tradition (as I understand it) such inclinations are, in fact, created specifically by God to be resisted and overcome by those who experience them. David clearly accepted that interpretation for much of his life. It was moving to see him confront this rabbi and demand to know what this man expected of him now. Celibacy, he was told, is the only option.

Thank you, Bishop, er, rabbi.

For many of these men and women, there is no way for them to be gay and Orthodox. The two are incompatible. And so these gay Jews tremble before God, unable to accept themselves as fully Jewish or fully gay--and pained deeply that they can be neither.

I felt this conflict for many years as a closeted gay Mormon. But, now, finally, I no longer tremble before God. I've come to believe that the fear I felt about standing before God as a gay man was in fact fear of myself. We are created in the image of God, but I could not find anything gay in God. And so I feared what I felt. I denied it. But since I no longer fear myself, I no longer fear God. I don't feel judgment or trepidation. I have finally been able to offer love and acceptance to myself--and in so doing, I have finally been able to feel it from God, offered unconditionally. And this is no surprise, for God is love. I find God in the love I feel for my family, for my friends, and for myself. My failure to love and accept myself created a barrier between God and me that is finally melting away.

I am gay, and God loves me. Mazel tov!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Identity and Religious Belief

My wife has been taking a class on human psycho-social development as a first step in preparing for a new a career as a social worker. A discussion we had a couple of nights ago about identity formation led me to reflect on my transformation over the past several months, including the evolution of my religious beliefs.

I've never been an orthodox Mormon. I've lived with doubts, some of them profound, ever since I joined the church in my teenage years. But the natural evolution and maturation of my beliefs accelerated over the past year as I felt my emerging gay identity come into ever sharper conflict with what I thought I believed or what I wanted to believe or what I thought I should believe. I think one thing common to the gay Mormon experience is cognitive dissonance. You are taught to believe one thing, but your experience comes into conflict with it. This happens to other people, of course, but I think it happens to almost all gay Mormons at some point. And that usually leads to a crossroads of sorts: continue to believe what you have been taught and redefine (or deny) your own experience, or accept the truth of your experience and let your spiritual and religious beliefs adapt. Throughout my life, I've tended to the latter option. That is particularly true now.

I've never been a literalist and I've always had my doubts about certain "truths" as the LDS Church teaches them: the nature of God, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the claim to authority among them. I don't think I've ever hid my skepticism--not from my friends, not from my family, and not from my church leaders. But I adopted the Mormon view as the lens through which I chose to understand God and experience spirituality (and resolve the problems or gaps that emerged in my understanding), so I didn't ever feel especially conflicted in my younger years. As I have better understood how we form our identities, I have come to better understand why I joined the Church when I did--as a teenager--and stayed despite a lack of faith in some of its teachings. It seems clear to me now that when I was a teenager I was so uncomfortable with my emerging sexual identity, that I was quite happy to take on a Mormon identity instead--an indentity which was handed to me complete and which was then reinforced on my mission and in Church service opportunities that bonded me to the community and that provided a very real and meaningful vehicle for experiencing God. It was easy to set aside some of my own personal doubts or ignore the shallowness of my faith in some areas when the Church was providing so much meaning in my life and was helping me build a sense of self and an identity that was more in line with what I thought I wanted.

That's not to say that I didn't truly believe or develop a "testimony"--I did. I just never believed in the same way that I think many other Mormons do. In fact, an in-law of mine once remarked to me that I seemed to lack a big conversion experience, a moment when I felt God speaking to me and cofirming the truth of all things, as Moroni promises. I think I did lack the big experience. I had a conversion "story" -- a narrative that explained my transition from non-Mormon to Mormon, but I didn't have that moment. Instead, I grew into it and became comfortable with the identity the Church was offering me. I don't think I really felt converted to the Church in a meaningful way until my mission, even though I felt affection for and loyalty to it before then. I better understand why now at this stage in my life. I needed a Mormon identity as much as I needed a Mormon testimony.

So where am I now? I am constructing a new identity as a gay man--a more authentic identity. I've rejected my Mormon identity because of the conflict I perceive in keeping it while adopting a gay one. I'm starting over with my religious beliefs, as I realize how much my "testimony" has changed to integrate with my new identity. My faith is now more genuine. Mostly I'm content to think of my beliefs as my own rather than a part of any system or formal theology. My faith is part Mormon, part liberal Protestant, probably even a little Catholic, with a healthy dose of agnosticism tossed into the mix. For now, I'm very happy not to box myself in.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Disciplinary Action

Before I came out to my wife, I made contact with a kind man in Washington, D.C., named Buckley Jeppson. He is part of a group called gamofites that I turned to for support as my life started to come crashing down. Buck was married for many years, has a daughter, and he provided some valuable support to me at a very difficult time. It was a relief to talk to someone who had experienced what I was going through.

Buck is openly gay, but he has continued to associate with the LDS Church, though in a less engaged way than he did when he was still married to his wife. A couple of years ago, Buck and his partner of several years went to Canada and got married, but he continued to attend sacrament meeting periodically. It was important to him because it was his heritage and he enjoyed the fellowship of the saints and hymn singing. He never asked for a calling or a temple recommend. He just liked going to church from time to time.

Buck is now facing church discipline because of his current same-sex marriage. You can read more of his story here.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Last week I read a post in the gay bloggernacle that haunted me. It was written with love, eloquence and sincerity and reflected the complexity and depth of human relationships. As I read it, I felt fear. I felt fear I might become a lonely old gay man, alienated from his former wife and children and longing for the comfort of home and family.

I think it is probably impossible for a gay Mormon man not to struggle with fear of this sort. We hear from church leaders and fellow saints that true happiness if found only by following a straight and narrow path, and it is abundantly clear for Latter-day Saints that a homosexual life lies outside of that path. We are often told that the "lifestyle" is hedonistic and selfish. We hear this even from other gay Mormons, who convince themselves that living a gay life would be merely giving in to physical desires and temptations. Even now, I will admit, thoughts similar to these creep into my head from time to time, especially now as my wife and I continue the process of separation.

Which is why I am using this space on my blog to declare that my destiny need not be unhappiness or misery or alienation from my family even if I chose a gay life, a life more authentic for me, a homosexual man. It need not be what others tell me it might or should be. I need not look to the experiences of other gay married men and think that it is directly applicable to me. My destiny is mine to create. My role as a father--and, God willing, a grandfather--is mine to fulfill. For me and my family, what has made all the difference is honesty and understanding. I do not make the choices I make in a vacuum without consideration of needs and wants of my family, including my wife.

This is not an easy path. For many, it may well be the wrong path. But I am in control of my life, and am in the best position to know what will bring happiness to me and my family. I choose to accept myself, proudly and happily, as gay and to start life anew as a gay man. And how blessed I am to have two children who will remain the central focus of my life and a wife who has supported me on this journey and accepted the new possibilities it has opened up for her and our family.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I'm just travelin' thru

I've been through a couple of emotionally wrenching and draining days. I plan to write more about that, but not tonight. I'm spent. Instead, I'll share the lyrics to a song that has brought me some solace the past couple of days. (You might have seen Dolly Parton perfom this at the Oscars.)

Travelin' thru

Well I can't tell you where I'm going, I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin' till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit

Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song

I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Questions I have many, answers but a few
But we're here to learn, the spirit burns, to know the greater truth
We've all been crucified and they nailed Jesus to the tree
And when I'm born again, you're gonna see a change in me

God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain
Oh sweet Jesus if you're listening, keep me ever close to you
As I'm stumblin', tumblin', wonderin', as I'm travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Oh sometimes the road is rugged, and it's hard to travel on
But holdin' to each other, we don't have to walk alone
When everything is broken, we can mend it if we try
We can make a world of difference, if we want to we can fly

Goodbye little children, goodnight you handsome men
Farewell to all you ladies and to all who knew me when
And I hope I'll see you down the road, you meant more than I knew
As I was travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin'
Drifting like a floating boat and roaming like the wind
Oh give me some direction Lord, let me lean on you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Like the poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find my own way home
Oh sweet Jesus if you're out there, keep me ever close to you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', as I'm travelin' thru

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Straight Spouses

"It's ok, you said it. That was the hardest part. I love you. It's ok."

Those were the words my wife spoke to me immediately upon hearing from me that I, her husband of ten years, am gay.

L and Elbow have both written affectionately about their wives in recent posts, and L asked me earlier about my wife on my opening post on this blog. I'd like to tell you a little bit about her, and also what I've learned about the plight of the straight spouse in a mixed orientation marriage.

My wife is remarkable, but her Mormon story is also very typical in some ways -- descendent of pioneers on both sides of her family, raised in the Church, faithful and committed for most of her life. She and I became the best of friends in college and when the relationship took a romantic turn, I was both surprised (because I knew then how difficult it was for me with women) and delighted (because, hey, maybe I'm not gay!). It was never hard to be with her and each new step we took felt natural and right. As I've worked through the guilt of keeping a secret from her for all of those years, I keep coming back to what my therapist told me when I described our romance and engagement, "Why wouldn't you go with it?" Indeed. It seemed the right thing to do, in every way.

Even physical intimacy wasn't a problem for us for most of the marriage. We eased into it so slowly with our friendship and courtship, that when it was time to perform, I wasn't afraid. It came as naturally to me as I think it could, and I felt so close to her. In fact, the relative lack of sexual disfunction in our life is one of the reasons she never really suspected that I was gay. (And once she found out that I was, she immediately opened up to the idea that there were ways to bring my homosexual desires into our sex life. I'll say no more than that, but some of the things that L has talked about with his wife have been regular parts of our conversations and considerations.)

When my life started to fall apart last year, it was my wife who demanded that I put it back together. She didn't know what she was really asking me to do, but she knew she couldn't live with a man who was so distant and withdrawn. She'd had it, and she was closer to leaving me than she or I realized at the time. Her insistence that I address my issues and include her in the process was terrifying to me. I didn't know how she would react to my news, and I feared the worst. But I was also certain that I knew this woman and that I knew her heart. So her words of love and acceptance upon receiving this devastating news from me were a relief to me, but not a surprise. They simply confirmed that I really knew her.

We entered into a period of uncertainty in our marriage after I came out. I couldn't think beyond that moment when I came out to her, and so I didn't really know what it meant for our future, nor had I spent much time thinking through what I wanted from that point forward. She was understandably fearful about our future and she wanted to know where we stood. We took a few deep breaths and decided that we would try to begin life anew and that we would envision two futures, one together and one apart. That carried us through some of the darkest moments of last fall.

At the beginning of December, I began to feel trapped. I developed serious doubts that I could carry through with the idea that we should try to stay married. More and more I realized that I wanted that for her, but not for me. I finally allowed myself to admit that what I wanted was a new life with a man--and I wanted it more than I wanted my marriage. And so we once again faced each other and I told her that we would have to end our marriage. She again reacted with understanding and acceptance, though she also went through a period of intense anger focused squarely and understandably on me.

But we got through that and are now living in a period of transition. During this period, I have made great strides toward self acceptance. I have new gay friends and have been embraced by a community that I am slowly making my own. My wife faces a much more challenging road, in many respects. There are not many resources for straight spouses. Many have been deeply hurt and betrayed--even put in grave physical danger by the extramarital sexual behavior of their gay husbands. Many have suffered years of emotional isolation and distance from their gay spouses, only to face new isolation as they begin to pick up the pieces. Until September of 2005, my wife's identity could be defined in three words: wife, Mormon, mother. In short order, she's been reduced to mother, and she struggled with motherhood for a time after I came out to her as well. A friend of mine who is married to a gay woman described the plight of the straight spouse on his blog recently. Though each experiences this in a unique way, I think he hits on many things common to all such experiences. Just as I have finally started constructing an identity that feels more natural and authentic, my wife has to reconstruct hers.

How has my wife reacted to all this? She has consistently chosen the way of love. She has consistently affirmed that this life is better than the life we knew before our hurricane. She has resisted the urge to simply toss me out. She has resisted the urge to flee. And always those urges seem to be replaced with a resolve to work together supportively and figure out what is in the best interests of our children and for each of us as individuals. And she has found her own voice and independence in a way that she never has before. She is confronting her long unacknowledged depression. She has gone back to school. She is facing her issues with the LDS Church. She has become a better mother. And she is asserting her needs, not simply waiting for life to get the best of her. She is seizing the moment.

She is, in short, a hero to me. She has faced adversity with grace and courage. She has acknowledged and experienced pain and hurt without allowing bitterness to take root. And she has allowed me to finally accept myself and find joy in my being. I still struggle on an almost daily basis with the cost that comes with all of this. But we are moving forward confident that better lives lie ahead for us and our children.

I have been reminded over the past two weeks that there will be wrenching pain during this period of transition. Letting go of marriage and a life together is extremely difficult. But we will continue to try to chose the way of love--and it is my wife who deserves most of the credit for that.

If I want, I can go to the gay pride parade in New York in June and celebrate my gay identity with my new community (however I chose to define it). My wife -- and many other straight spouses -- deserves a parade and a celebration as well. They deserve more than "I'm sorry." They deserve happiness and joy and fulfillment every bit as much as we do. They deserve our support and they deserve to have their sacrifices honored.

Here are a couple of resources for straight spouses:

Straight Spouse Network

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Traveling hurricane

I've been mulling a few post ideas in my head for a couple of days, but I'm on the road and won't have a chance to put anything together until Saturday at the earliest. Stay tuned!