Friday, June 23, 2006
I am perplexed by the tenor of the blogger's comments re his account of informing his wife that he is homosexual. He seems to suggest that he has started on a path that irrevocably leads him away from any notion of a hetersexual lifestyle. Therapist Floyd Godfrey of Mesa, AZ and Evergreen have successfully counseled many a struggler to understand the genesis of his homosexual feelings, address the relevant factors and revive his heterosexual feelings. If that is the path that Hurricane wants to explore, he should vigorously investigate. Signed, a fellow struggler.
Other gay Mormon bloggers have spent far more time on the question of changing one's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual than I have. The reason for this is pretty simple: I don't believe it's possible.
Our anonymous friend here suggests that the work of Evergreen International and a therapist in Arizona have helped many understand their homosexuality and begin to change it or, at least, cultivate some heterosexual feeling. Though I myself have never been through reparative therapy, I know many who have, and I am familiar with the work of Joseph Nicolosi and NARTH, and I assume the aforementioned Arizona therapist subscribes to the same essential theories about male homosexuality and its origins.
The biggest issue I have with the approach of Evergreen, Nicolosi, NARTH and the broader "ex-gay" movement is that their theories about the origins of homosexuality have never resonated with me. Nicolosi points to an overbearing mother, an absent or distant father and the resulting early eroticization of male relationships. He describes how this precludes some men from forming close non-sexual relationships with other men; all of the male relationships become sexualized. Moroever, Nicolosi, et al, theorize that such men are uncomfortable in the world of men--they are more effeminate and sensitive; they are more artistic and less athletic. In other words, they are more stereotypically gay.
I am not stereotypically gay. I have, over the years, had close relationships with heterosexual men that I felt very comfortable with. I don't paint, sing, dance or act. I played sports willingly in my youth and on most days can tell you the score from last night's Red Sox game. Though my parents were divorced and my family dysfunctional on many levels, my mother was not particularly overbearing. I am not effeminate. (But I will plead guilty to being sensitive.)
It also seems to me that many of the things that those in the Nicolosi camp describe as the social and environmental causes of homosexuality are in fact the effects of a biologically-determined sexuality and the social distress that results from it. Do young boys who are alienated from their fathers become gay because of that? Or are they alientated from their fathers because they are gay and different from other "normal" boys? The latter is a more plausible explanation for me.
The general lack of success that reparative therapy has in changing one's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual cannot be overlooked. All discussions of politics in science and political correctness aside, there is just no solid evidence that it happens in anything but the rarest of circumstances--and even then, definitions cloud the picture enough for me to be skeptical. The many men I know who have been through such therapy are as gay now as the day they began any systematic and therapeutic efforts to change. That's not to say that such men are not out there. They may well be. I, however, have never met one. Moreover, many of the men I do know who have been through reparative or change therapy come out of it feeling damaged. (Though, to be fair, many have also described the experience of bonding with other men like them and of learning how to be more comfortable in the "world of men," as healing. Still gay though.)
And, finally, after all these years, I simply don't want to pursue reparative or change therapy because I don't want to change. I hated myself for being gay for so long. I desperately wanted to change for many years. Not anymore. I'm comfortable with myself. I accept that I am gay and always will be (and always was). More than accept it. I am happy that I am gay. I feel complete now in a way that I never did when I was in the closet and struggling against my sexual orientation. I am more myself than I ever have been, and I think that is overwhelmingly a good thing--for me and the people I love.
I can understand why the anonymous commenter is perplexed by the tenor of my comments on this blog if he still believes that his own homosexuality is something to be overcome. But I don't look at it that way. It's not something to be overcome. It's something to be accepted and embraced.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
First, sharq, though I don't know you, I feel confident in saying after this brief interaction that I'd like to know you. You seem to be a person of compassion and commitment. A long lost friend of mine wrote recently to say that good friends are hard to find, so we have to hang on to them when we do. He's right. I imagine that you are a good friend to many.
Second, I want to thank you for reminding me of some of the things I love about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hadn't forgotten those things, but the focus of discussion in recent weeks has not been on the things I love. I'm glad you brought them back.
Third, you have done what I hoped someone would do. You have given me things to consider that I hadn't previously. I value that.
Let me address each of your suggestions.
1. Don't remove your names from the records of the church. It will make things easier for your family members and friends, and you can still choose to consider yourself "Mormon" with whatever definition you want to give that term.
I have pondered the status of my church membership over the past couple of months and have felt unsettled. I appreciate your perspective here, particuarly as to the impact on family and friends.
2. If you follow #1, there will be some ramifications you'll have to accept. Accept home teachers. Let active members of the church into your home, and both you and they will be blessed. Most likely, they will bend over backwards to be non-offensive, but in the event somebody starts in on the condemnation track, you can cut them off and let them know it's not appreciated. Sure, it would be awkward, but I think those odds are slim and you will benefit far more than you stand to lose.
We have had active members of the Church into our home on numerous occasions over the past several months. We have not had home teachers. Honestly, I can't imagine that having them over would be beneficial for any involved at this point, but I'm willing to keep the door unlocked.
3. Occasionally accept invitations to attend church functions. My ward recently made a serious effort to invite a gay member and his partner to the annual high priests' barbecue, and we were thrilled when they showed up. They seemed to enjoy themselves as well. If it seems like these sorts of things would be too painful, you've got to make the call, but I think eventually you'd be able to enjoy something like that.
In time, this might be something I could do. KK would have to decide for herself.
4. Chris, when you find a partner, expose him to the positive aspects of the church. You'd probably have to do this no matter what, or else he'd never understand you. Have the missionaries teach him the lessons (clueing them in to the situation beforehand). Take him to church at least once, and introduce yourselves to the bishop. He'll certainly have to understand the negatives as well, in order to fathom what you've gone through. But never deny that the Church influenced you in a number of positive ways, and don't be shy about owning up to that.
Wow. If I end up with another Mormon, I can skip some of this. If I don't, I'm not so sure about the missionary discussions. That said, the essence of this suggestion--that I share the positives of my church experience with a future partner--is something I absolutely can and will do.
5. KK, when you remarry, see #4.
KK gets to respond to this one on her own.
6. Live within walking distance of each other. That may be quite a challenge, but there is nothing to compare with being able to visit your mom or dad whenever you want, unfettered by custody schedules, distance, etc. Divorce brings real negative consequences for kids, and it's your duty as parents to ameliorate those as much as possible.
This suggestion brought tears to my eyes, and is something that we've already talked about at length. I have every intention of staying close to my family (and that includes KK) and we have talked about me finding a place very near to the house--something walkable.
I am a child of divorce, and one of the things I have lamented about my experience is that my parents were never close to each other. Not emotionally and not geographically. I never could approach my parents as a unit--a "Mom and Dad." I had to deal with Mom, and then I had to deal with Dad. It sucked. Keri and I want our children to know that they still have a "Mom and Dad" that they can look to and that will be guiding them along and cheering them on. Future partners for each of us could complicate things, to be sure. But if you've learned nothing about us from reading this blog, I hope you've learned that we've come to embrace life's complexities.
So thank you especially for this suggestion.
7. Accept that by retaining a connection to the Church, people will occasionally set out to reclaim you. Be patient with these folks. Virtually all of them have the best of intentions. Don't worry about giving them false hope or leading them on--if you are upfront with them about your situation you will be fine. You may win some friends, open some minds, and feel the true love of Christ.
I love too many Mormons to not keep some connection to the church, so I think this is very good advice regardless of how involved I/we might be with the actual ward we live in.
8. Likewise, never worry that you're somehow mooching off the church by accepting the benefits of membership without actively contributing. You've done your time. Let the home teachers move your piano up the stairs. Go to the high priests' barbecue. Read those tear-jerking stories in the back of the Ensign about people who feel the hand of God blessing and protecting them, and allow your tears to be jerked. Anybody who is allowed to serve you in any capacity will enjoy the blessings of God, and your sincere thanks will mean the world to them.
I have to confess to you that with the exception of my mission I've never been a faithful Ensign reader, but for the First Presidency message when I was home teaching (which I did with irregularity) and a bishop. But I will keep my subscription to Sunstone current. Does that count?
9. Find your own ways to serve. If you're not actively involved in the Church, you need to find a way to get outside yourself and make a contribution. Volunteer at your kids' school. Tutor an immigrant. Better yet, ask your home teachers if they need any help, and give them a hand with their piano. I imagine that if you think back on your best experiences in the Church (especially as bishop), you'll see that nothing is quite as rewarding as service. If will keep you spiritually healthy.
Here you have brought forward one of the things I loved the most--and now miss the most--about the LDS Church. KK and I are each wading into new communities. As a family, we have waded into a new faith community. As individuals, we are entering new communities as well. It will take some time for us to find our places in these new communities, but I think I can speak for KK when I say that we are both actively looking for opportunities to serve.
10. Allow your kids to be Mormon if they want to. I bet they love Primary, and they'll probably be invited to attends all sorts of events during their growing-up years. They may get exposed to some anti-gay rhetoric that will be hurtful, but you'll be in the best position to defuse those sorts of crises. Be willing have friends take them to church, and be willing to drop them off when a ride falls through. Attend their baptisms (if they get to that point), and show up when they're going to give a talk or a musical number in sacrament meeting. With any luck, somebody will recognize you from the barbecue and you'll have a pleasant chat before the meeting starts.
This one is harder. My children will, no doubt, be exposed to anti-gay rhetoric as they grow up. My oldest daughter, E, is already a champion of sorts of gay rights, so I don't have a lot of concern that they won't be able to handle that. Of course, I wish they didn't have to confront pain and unpleasantness, but having a gay dad is their reality. People will be unkind. So KK and I have no intention of regularly putting them in an environment where they not only might hear such rhetoric but where the things they would be taught about homosexuality run counter to what we believe.
That said, my children are the great-great-great-grandaughters of a Church president. They have ancestors who crossed the plains to get to the Great Salt Lake Valley. I want them to be proud of their pioneer heritage. I want them to know their own Mormon history. We will teach it to them. Their grandparents and aunts and uncles will teach it to them. If, in time, they decide on their own that they want to be Mormons, I will honor their choice. But it will have to be something they come to on their own, born of their own desire. They will have to become Mormons much as I became a Mormon if they decide that is what they want.
Well, that's a lot of advice from a perfect stranger, but you can't say it's unsolicited advice. It comes from a faithful, heterosexual Mormon who will never have to stand in your shoes, so you're certainly within your rights to disregard it entirely. But it also comes from somebody who has stood on countless doorsteps with a membership record in hand, looking to determine whether a new move-in will or will not accept visits. I am always thrilled when the response is positive, and the person is willing to interact with the Church on his or her own terms.
This touched me. I've been that Mormon, too, standing on a doorstep or stoop, looking for the lost. When I was bishop, we tried our best to track people down and hear their stories so we would know, and so we could take care of them--even if that meant simply honoring their wishes to remain unengaged. This is the best part of the Church. It's not dogma or doctrine. It's just good faithful people looking after one another--and the others who struggle with faith or commitment or testimony. This is the Church I loved and still love.
sharq, thank you again for your kind words of advice.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
It's easy to have compassion for someone who is in a difficult situation that you've been in before, or that you can easily relate to-- rejection while dating, losing a job, becoming ill, etc. It's also relatively easy to have compassion for someone who experiences a loss that you can't imagine, but is common within human experience, such as the death of a child or spouse.
It's one of the hardest things in this life to have real compassion for those you don't understand, and I wanted to thank all of you who have expressed that for us. I have felt so much love over the past few weeks, and though I feel the need to explain my choices so that you might gain greater understanding, I did not want it to go unsaid that I am incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love we've received. I am proud to have surrounded myself with such a generous group of people, and know that I can expect to receive love and support from you in the future, no matter what.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Yesterday I had lunch with someone I consider a dear friend and one of the very best Mormons I know. He is kind, caring, compassionate, and tolerant. He is faithful, but not dogmatic. As we have talked about difficult issues over the years, I have always felt that he has carefully examined all sides. He seeks understanding for its own sake. He acknowledges that sometimes there are gaps in our understanding or that teaching and reality don't always seem to line up as nicely as we would like.
So it was no surprise to me when he told me yesterday that though he is sad to see me leave the Church and thinks that it is in a very real way the wrong thing for me to do, he also understands as well as he thinks a faithful straight Mormon guy can why I have made the decision to no longer associate with the Church. He then told me that what has been really hard about my coming out is not that I'm gay (which he seems genuinely okay with), or even that KK and I are spliltting up (though he seems less okay with that), but that I have decided to leave the Church.
This puzzles me.
I have heard this from others in comments here on the blog. I have heard it in e-mails from friends and family ("I hope that in time you will return to the fullness of the gospel.") . I have heard it in phone calls ("I know that you have a testimony that the Church is true and I hope you'll return to it one day."). Anonymous Jerk and others have been pointed in telling me that I have broken my covenants and that the path I am on now leads only to unhappiness. "I hope you find what you are looking for, " I hear. "But you won't," seems to be the unspoken conclusion from many.
On one level, I understand this. These are expressions of faith and testimony offered in love and conviction. These comments come from people that I know genuinely believe that the best--and often only--path to true happiness is found within the teachings of the LDS Church, which includes marriage and commitment to covenants.
But mostly I'm puzzled.
To those who think the choices I am making now are wrong and lead nowhere but unhappiness, I ask this, in all sincerity: What should I do?
Each time I ask this question, I get no answer. I'm told what I shouldn't do, but no one seems willing or able to tell me what I should do.
First, marriage. I don't know how KK and I could stay married. We had reached a very unhappy place in our marriage before I came out. And while coming out opened up new (and old) lines of communication between us that restored much of our relationship, I came to realize that I could never feel as though I was free of the self loathing I felt for so long unless I was able to live a gay life (life--not lifestyle). What could we go back to?
I know other mixed orientation couples that are trying to make it work. Those I know most intimately have had tremendous challenges and I think the jury is still very much out on whether or not they can--or even should--continue to try to make it work. I'm acquainted with other gay married Mormon men here in the gay bloggernacle, some of whom seem to be having greater success. Yet even there, there seems to be so much angst.
The research KK and I have done into mixed orientation marriages suggests that most of those that last do so because a) their is openness in the marriage and b) the gay spouse at some point is permitted to pursue same-sex relationships on the side. Are there exceptions here? Absolutely. Is this the life I want? Absolutely not. Is it the life KK wants? Absolutely not.
Next, faith and testimony. I simply don't know how to stay in the Church. The underlying assumption in LDS thinking about homosexuality is that it is aberrant and wrong and must never be acted on. Could I live life as a celibate gay LDS man? No, I don't think I could. And it's not because of the sex. It's because it would require me to think of myself as somehow defective (even if it's not my fault). I feel as though I could only stay Mormon if were willing to accept that my homosexuality is a pathology, akin to alcoholism, compulsive gambling or some other affliction that draws one into sinful behavior. Plus, my faith shattered last year. And as I have put it back together, it is something new, something more symbolic and metaphoric and less literal. Something not quite Mormon anymore.
I've been accused of constructing a new belief system to justify my new identity and (again, largely unspoken, but implied) my sinful behavior. Why then do I feel a sense of integrity I've never had before? Why do I feel fundamentally honest in a way that I never have before? Why do I feel God's love in a way that I never have before? How can what I feel now fit with what the Church teaches and expects of me?
Someone take up the challenge here, because I really want to know. If you think what I am doing is wrong and will lead only to sadness, offer me something better. Share a possibility I haven't considered. Tell me how you think I can be happy (and gay--because that's not going to change).
Let's bring this back to choice. I have choices. Being gay isn't one of them, but what I do with it certainly is. I am making what I believe to be the best choices I can for myself and my family. Are there better choices here?
I await your responses.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
What I want to say is this: Chris and I are each doing the very best we can to salvage the love and family that we want to continue to share. We are doing the best we can to remain close to God and to our Savior. We are doing the best we can to give our girls a spiritual and open environment where they can feel free to explore their own beliefs as they get older, but where we make it clear to them what we believe.
A lot of people have said that they've seen this situation before, and that it never ends well, never results in happiness for either of the parties. While Chris has already pointed out that we do know a few couples who have made it work pretty well, I agree that when a husband comes out of the closet, it rarely translates into a positive thing for the family.
I would venture a guess that because this situation is so personal to me, I have done more reading and research on this topic than most of you. From that reading, I've gained a bit of perspective as to why this is so. First, many husbands who have come out do so only when either their adulterous homosexual activities are exposed, or when the guilt stemming from those activities is so overwhelming they cannot take it anymore and have to confess. Many husbands struggle with their homosexuality alone and rather than include their wives as helpmates in this struggle, try to "get it out of their system" by exploring anonymous sexual encounters, or even real relationships with men unbeknownst to their wives. Beginning the conversation with "I'm gay, and here's what I've been doing about it" is not the best way to explore healthy dialogue regarding the future of the relationship, and leaves many wives feeling so betrayed and angry that there is no hope of a family.
Chris did not choose this path. He chose to begin the conversation by saying, "I'm gay, and I don't know what to do about it, but I want you to be a part of whatever comes next." He chose to remain faithful to the marriage vows he took until he is released from those vows. He chose to talk rather than act. He trusted me enough to know that I would be a partner in finding a way for our family to find the most happiness.
Second, even when there has been no infidelity, but especially when there has, many wives react to their husbands' news with disgust and horror. Many choose to cut off contact, to start their lives over and forget they were ever married to a gay man. Sadly, this sometimes includes cutting their children's father out of their lives as well. This can't be the way a family finds happiness.
I was blessed to have an immediate empathy for Chris, and during our first long night of discussion after he came out to me, I gained an understanding of homosexuality that I can only attribute to God. I believe He allowed me to ask the questions I needed to, and enlightened my mind with true empathy. This wasn't sympathy, as in, "This must have been so hard for you, tell me all about it, I'm sorry you had to do this alone, I'm your friend, I'm here for you." This was a completely real feeling of BEING Chris, of looking back on his life and heartache and actually feeling it as if I had been in his soul with him. I saw things from his point of view, I cried as if I had been the one traumatized by my self-hatred and fear of judgement. It was only one of many miracles given to me that have enabled me to not just "get through" the last nine months, but to grow from it and have a restored faith and hope in the future.
I did not walk away from the church lightly. I did not follow Chris out without considering my beliefs for myself. The first week after the coming out, I had such spiritual experiences that my testimony of God as my true Father was undeniably strengthened, and I felt Him holding me and comforting me in a way that I had never understood before. I knew He was there, and since the only way I had come to know Him was in the Mormon church, I wanted to find a way to make it work for me. In another post, I'll talk more about my spiritual experiences and my rebuilding of my faith. For now I will simply say that I asked in earnest of God how I could reconcile my newfound knowledge of homosexuality and my unshakeable witness that everything Chris had shared with me about his experience was true, with the doctrine the church has given on the subject. They were completely at odds. This struggle took me to Elder Oaks's article (which Chris referred to in an earlier post) and to various church-sanctioned sites such as Evergreen International, and took me to my knees, and took me to my ward, and took me through long nights of discussion with Chris.
I know that many of you will perhaps be even more saddened by what I concluded. I know that many of you will believe, and some will say, that there is no way the Spirit of the True and Living God would ever lead someone away from the LDS church. I know that many of you will decide that it is an evil spirit that pursuaded me of this, or that Chris's influence on me was too strong and I couldn't stand on my own. Our beliefs differ here, friends, and only I know what I felt and the strength I have gained from the Spirit on this topic. I cannot explain it. I cannot tell you why I was blessed this way. But neither can I deny it.
So my choice was not simply to follow Chris, but to follow God. My choice was to turn my path over to Him and allow Him to guide me, cautious step by cautious step, along the high wire that has been my life over the past year. My choice is to pursue the happiness that He has in store for me, in the only way I know how right now.
Matthew 7: 18-22:
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring
forth good fruit
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn
down, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know
Some of you may not see the good fruit that has come for us in the past year. Some of you may view our decision to leave the church as proof of evil fruit from a corrupt tree. I respect that belief, and wish you the peace an happiness you are entitled to from searching out a path for yourself on which God will walk with you. From my viewpoint, every person this experience has touched, really touched, has been the better for it, and those are the fruits I see. Is it easy? No. Will it be easy in the future? No. But I believe Elder Monson once said, "That which is easy is rarely right." (Sorry, can't find the exact reference right now...) I am following the path I believe is right, but not easy, not by a long shot. So when you say to me that we're in for a rough time, or that the way will be hard for us, or that we have no easy choices, I say you're right. I embrace the roughness. It will polish me. I embrace the choices I am making, because I am making them with God.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Rather than bore you with biographical details, I will make this short and simply tell you that Chris is one of the most honest, trustworthy, caring, talented, intelligent, articulate individuals I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Our friendship began over twelve years ago, after we had been acquaintences and "ran in the same circle" for a few years. He had been on a mission, where we had exchanged a few brief mailed words, and we were both attending the University of Utah. One snowy January day in 1994, my family experienced the tragic loss of my two-year-old cousin to congestive heart failure. I had spent many hours with this precious little girl over the course of her short life, and with her parents and siblings, on the roller coaster that only those with a terminal illness can appreciate. On the morning she finally died, I saw her in her father's arms and was distraught. I had, of course, classes scheduled and although I didn't feel like going, something compelled me to campus. Instead of sitting in my class, I simply took my usual path from one building to the next, where I often ran into someone I knew. I thought I would feel better if I could just tell someone what had just happened. Chris was one of the first people I saw, and though he was with a couple of other friends with whom I had a closer relationship, he didn't hesitate to hug me tight and express his sorrow at my loss. From that moment, I knew he was someone I would connect with, and we began to hang out together all the time.
We have recently been able to return to that friendship, but on a deeper and more meaningful level as our relationship was enriched by the ten years we spent as a married couple. Chris and I are committed not only to our children, to our collective future, and to our household as a loving and spiritual home, but to each other as important partners on the journey of life. I have been struggling over the past few months to come up with something we can call each other, something that means not spouse, since we are no longer that, but more than friend, since that is thrown about so casually. We simply cannot invoke the term "ex," as it sounds so bitter... We need a word that conveys the importance of our relationship, the nature of our partnership, while still leaving room for potential spouses for each of us in the future. Chris has taken to calling me "WINO" (Wife In Name Only), but obviously, I think we can do better.
The recent hub-bub over the book and film The Da Vinci Code has thrown the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene into speculation. I don't mean to digress, and I won't, except that some of the confusion seems to stem from a word used to describe Mary Magdalene as Jesus's "companion" in the gospel of St. Phillip. Some have commented that since in Jesus's tongue of Aramaic, the words "companion" and "spouse" are the same, that they must have been married. Some have pointed out that this particular gospel was written in Coptic or Greek, and the word used to describe her was koinonos, which means "religious partner," "friend," or "companion," but NOT spouse. Perhaps we can start using this term, but it doesn't roll off the tongue that easily.
So I don't know what to call myself, and I don't know how to convey to others in simple terms what our relationship means to each of us. Perhaps there will never be a concise way to describe it. I will tell you that I am not the wife or ex-wife of Chris Williams, nor just his friend, but myself, Keri-Kathryn (Fowles) Williams. I can't think of any other name I'd rather have.
It is rather long, however, so on this blog I will be known as "KK." I don't know if Chris plans to continue posting under the name "Hurricane," or if he'll adopt a username closer to his own now that we have no secrets. I invite anyone who wants to post here to be as courageous as we have been, and let us know who you are and if you are personally acquainted with us. Friends, come out of the closet.