Gay and Mormon: Such Diversity!

Affirmation is in the news lately. It is standing up and actively using the words Gay and Mormon in public statements that are getting press.

The issue of same-sex marriage and LDS Church involvement with it is a much-ventilated one that I am not going to engage here. Instead I wish to write about some of the social background and public appearance of an organization and a movement positively claiming both the appellatives Gay and Mormon together.

The term Gay has been a matter of some controversy among Latter-day Saints, with its proud and open proclaiming, as a noun, of what many would rather have as a rather embarrassing adjective. And, rather than a three-letter word, they would have preferred the long, pseudo Latinate “homosexual”, or the rather awkward phrase “same sex attracted”. Any word one chooses and the parts of speech one attributes to it are fighting words for many, at the same time they are terms which people use to find self-identity.

For many Latter-day Saints the conjunction of Gay and Mormon seems an oxymoron, since the first term might seem to imply sexual activity that would be unacceptable under the second term. However the word “gay” (whether in caps or lower-case) does not necessarily index sex but rather desire. That desire has proved so difficult to regulate and that Mormonism casts deep taproots in people’s psyches opens the door for this marriage of terms, Gay and Mormon.

In this joining is something sociologically important. It declares a strong public identity that, in the mere sequencing of two words, defies mainstream and official logic. The words increasingly, as the social climate of the nation evolves, seem to fit together smoothly. But this joining is not only uncomfortable for many Latter-day Saints and perhaps General Authorities, it is also uncomfortable for many gay people of LDS background who simply feel that if one is gay one should just let go of the Church and be Gay. For many this letting-go is part of overcoming ones inner homophobia by giving up those things inside that would deny one the possibility of a positive self-identity.

The words, whether Gay or Mormon, are difficult and somewhat dangerous. In them one finds deep and differing emotional attachments that are often un-analyzed in the face of the simplicity of words. Desire and its suppression or realization have deep wellsprings and can leave deeply resonant marks on persons. Similarly people have differing levels of internal attachment to Mormonism.

(Curiously, I wanted to write “religion”, in order to use a more general category and keep the rhetorical parallelism of moving from specific instance to broader issue. But I could not. Mormonism is so much more than a religion that I could not find a more general term and could only restate the specific.)

For some people Mormonism is something one can easily take on and easily leave. But for many others, Mormonism is so deep within them that it may indeed be prior to their own egos and something on which their ego depends for value and worth.

The joining of these two things, desire and Mormonism, does not lead to a single kind of people, despite the universalistic pretensions of both Gay and Mormon. Instead one finds variety. Just using a formal combination of notions of weak and strong homosexual desire and weak and strong attachments to Mormonism (without getting into the very complex issues of identity) one comes up with four types. These are people who have both strong sexual desire and strong Mormonism, people who have weak sexual desire and weak Mormonism, people who have strong sexual desire and weak Mormonism, and finally people who have weak sexual desire and strong Mormonism.

In reality people do not come in classifications such as this formal grid. They are a range. But strength of desire and strength of attachment to Mormonism are two variables that locate them differently on the range, particularly as they are conjoined. The four types simply are descriptors to allow us to see the range and differences along its course.

For me, the interesting question is how many people in the Latter-day Saint community, or who are from that community, might fit into the different categories. I have no empirical information on this, although I wish I did.

Nevertheless it would seem to me that the bulk of the people fall into the middle, where one term is relatively weak and one term relatively strong. The dynamism of which is weak, which strong, and how weak or strong they are, would explain a lot about how people feel about the Church, their sexuality, and their own experience of self.

It would be very difficult to get information about the weak, weak classification. I suspect these people pass well below the radar. The last category, the strong, strong one is also difficult, but for the opposite reason. This category is composed of people who live a lot of tension between their demanding sexuality and their demanding attachment to the Church. Their lives and tensions demand visibility.

Gay and Mormon are becoming so natural, when joined together, as to almost pass without comment. That, of course, is part of what enables Affirmation to stand up and speak out and part of what makes the Church’s position on homosexuality difficult. Nevertheless, underlying both Affirmation and the Church’s official stance is a diversity of Mormon selves with a variety of experience and realities. That diversity and its relationship with, as well as separation from, the rhetoric of labels is all I wanted to make write about today.

Comments

  1. Randall says:

    David,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. When I came back to BYU in 1998 to complete doctoral work, I was in a very different place than when I first joined the 1990 freshman class.

    I had become convinced that there was a whole network of people at BYU who were struggling to find themselves on your grid. I already owned a condo, so I decided to convert it into an aegis for the gay students at BYU. With almost no effort, my place quickly became the headquarters for BYU’s gay underground. My housemates would have upward of 50 people over each week for Sunday dinner.

    Sadly, the confluence of Gay/BYU/Mormon, tends to create turbulent waters. Opening the door to gayness tends to also open the doors to many other activities not permitted at BYU (i.e. coffee, alcohol). 3 of the 5 people living in the house graduated, as did a number of others. But, at least half of the gay students I knew ended up getting kicked out or moving on voluntarily.

    One thing that surprised me was the deep tap roots of Mormonism that David describes. While many of them had become disillusioned by the end of their BYU experience, they were still proud to be BYU grads and wanted some connection with the church. It was the culture of their families, childhood and missions, and they attempted to carve out a unique place within it for themselves.

  2. --I am I-- says:

    Interesting post, and I hadn’t really considered all the implications of this. For me sexuality is such a part of who I am that it is difficult to conceive of not acting on the desire (my pre-marriage days were rather difficult).

    To me, the idea that some people are openly homosexual in desire, but still are strongly convinced of the truthfulness of the gospel is an amazing thing. I respect them and salute them, and hope the very best for them as they struggle with finding their way in this life. I won’t be so arrogant as to say they should simply ‘pray’ and then every thing will get better, because I know it’s rarely that simple.

    I came to the conclusion a couple years back that the homosexual impulse is much like any other temptation that mortal man or woman may face–something to be wrestled with. Like a person who loves strong drink or is by nature has an addictive personality, they must seek to control this part of their nature. It is not easy, I am certain, and made doubly difficult because they cannot simply marry and then satisfy the desire in a legal fashion (which is what makes the alcohol comparison so apt for LDS folks, in some ways).

    NOTE: If anything above is offensive in any way to anyone, I deeply apologize. That is not my intention. I know this is a difficult and painful subject at times, and I am trying to be sensitive to what I know is a painful topic at times.

  3. Intersting, David.

    Fwiw, those who are “strong/strong” Gay Mormon and stay in the Church amaze me. If you told me that I had to live a celibate life while living with (or even simply loving) my wife, I’m not sure I could do it – and we can see clearly in the case of religionists who are required by their roles to remain celibate the terrible cost that unnatural restriction often brings. My testimony is rock-solid, but that is a standard that would test me to the core.

    Add to that the idea of trying to teach the Gospel to a gay investigator living with a loved companion . . . I can’t begin to imagine what it would take in the way of spiritual confirmation for that person to accept our standards – or the emotional betrayal both partners would feel. It’s one thing to say to a straight, cohabitating investigator, “You will need to get married;” it is quite another to say, “Gotta’ stop now – and there ain’t no end in sight. Say goodbye to what you have fought so hard to create – for eternity.” That simply would be brutal, and it’s easy to lose sight of that very real pain and loss of hope when the discussion stays in the abstract.

    All other issues notwithstanding, I hope that we as a people will understand better what we are asking of those who are gay AND Mormon – and that we find a way to carve out a real place for them in our community of believers that includes real opportunities for service and fellowship. If we can do so, even if we can’t compromise our core principles, I think we will have accomplished something wonderful.

  4. When this subject first came up on my radar, I was baffled by the dichotomy of the active gay/active Mormon. I found the condition impossible and later, as I heard about more and more of them, I decided it can only be a tortured life. Also, being married to a designer who works with gay men every day, I learned how BYU boys are humorously deemed as prized quarry just waiting to be awakened. These days I’ve been more interested in the gay Mormons and the “beards” who love and marry them. I would think most enter marriage unaware of their spouses’ preferences, but believe many are fully aware and either A) feel they can fix them, or B) love them enough to turn the blind eye, perhaps to help them sustain an appearance of normalcy. Either way, that’s a research paper I’d love to read.

  5. MikeInWeHo says:

    One might speculate that those in the strong/strong category are also the ones who wind up committing suicide so frequently and might be worthy of some kind of special consideration by the Church to prevent that outcome. What that might look like, I don’t know. There are some people out there working along these lines independently, through a much less well-known group called North Star.

  6. However the word “gay” (whether in caps or lower-case) does not necessarily index sex but rather desire.

    I’m going to quibble and assert that the word “gay” is not about desire. To me the word gay indicates a particular orientation of the natural human instinct for pair bonding, which is much more fundamental to personality than sexual desire alone.

    For example, mixed-orientation marriages (one gay and one straight partner) are tortured, not because the gay partner must reign in his (illicit) desire; they fail because there’s not enough emotional glue. For better or for worse, sexual orientation matters when it comes to developing intimacy with a spouse. The issue is not about sex acts or the desire for particular sex acts; it’s about the dynamics of pair bonding.

    The church’s current emphasis on life-long celibacy for its gay members may lack compassion, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Mixed-orientation marriages are not the solution.

    I have hope that change is afoot. Someday being a gay Mormon will be possible without drama.

  7. david knowlton says:

    MoHoHawaii. Your quibble is well received. I was simply emphasizing desire, as one aspect, in order to make a point. Your position is also valid from my point of view. Richley Crapo, of Utah State makes a strong argument that things are changing quickly in terms of the discourse the Brethren use on homosexuality. If he is right, your dream may be possible before too many more decades pass.

    To MikeinWeHo. nice to talk with you again. Thanks for the reference to NorthStar. Groups such as this, though not politically correct, perform an important function in finding a space where people can be both religious and sexual, although it may seem otherwise. That at least seems to be the gist of the social science literature on them I have read.

    Raymond, once a taboo is breached people tend to have little sense of how to move in a suddenly open space. There are some often problematic consequences, it seems to me, of taboos and their breaching.

    To Ray and IamIam: I know quite a number of people who fit into that category. You might wish to look at the powerful argument made by Ty Mansfield on this subject, wherre he uses his own life as text.

    I want to acknoweldge as well that I owe the distinctions fo desire and attachment to Mormonism, as important variables of diversity, to Gary Horlacher and his work, although the four categories and rough structural classification are my own thinking. Gary’s work is far more elegant and I recommend it to anyone interested in these issues.

  8. I am very interested in what will happen in California this November. If you recall, the anti-gay measure, prop 22, which prohibited CA from recognizing gay marriages from other states, passed by a relatively small margin. Also, I believe, just from personal observation, after the church’s strong support, the baptism rate fell to about 1/2 of its previous level.

    The CA supreme court recently awarded gay couples the same rights as straights. (Stands to reason: strong pair-bonding has lots of advantages. How can we, as a civil society, prohibit these advantages to gays?)

    Is the church going to support the push to pass an amendment to the state constitution to define marriage? I suppose it will, but there is a chance it will not because of all the damage it does to the church’s PR and the baptism rate.

    Also, think of all the GA’s who have gay children. It must be seeping into the collective consciousness of the upper echelons of the church how destructive the anti-gay sentiment is.

    I guess it also depends on the church’s target market. Do they have market research on this? You would think so.

    California may be some indication.

    However, how do strong/strong Mormons integrate within the homophobic society? My cousin, John Wrathall, is such a man. (He has published in Dialog about this subject, so I am not outing him.) It was very painful for him to come home from a mission where he was assistant to the president and find himself same sex attracted. He left the church but is (or was) now attending even over the hatred of some of the members of his ward, as a non-member.

    As an aside, in many ways a committed gay relationship can be much stronger than a committed heterosexual bond because of the huge sacrifice which needs to be made to make it happen. (There must needs be opposition…) That sacrifice adds to the depth. Looking at John and his partner I see a depth of commitment and love which is enviable.

  9. BobW:

    If you recall, the anti-gay measure, prop 22, which prohibited CA from recognizing gay marriages from other states, passed by a relatively small margin.

    In fact, that’s not how I recall it. It passed by an overwhelmingly large margin. 4,618,673 to 2,909,370. You must be thinking of some other proposition.

  10. matt w. says:

    It’s odd that you can say that mixed marriages don’t work so casually. It’s like you believe sexual attraction is more important than intellectual or emotional attraction. Since men and when are equal, isn’t the probability for mixed marriages just as workable, and in perhaps just a little more likely to succeed in a situation where both partners have a strong religious and spiritual connection to mormonism, rather than both having a strong homosexual orientation? ( assuming our spiritual needs to be more fundamental than our sexual needs)

  11. matt w. says:

    when should be women. stupid phone…

  12. david knowlton says:

    I appreciate AJ’s posting of John Donald Gustav Wrathall’s Sunstone piece. There are good “testimonies” in the witness sense already in the LDS literature of a diversity of experience.

    Please, everyone, let’s not have another conversation on marriage here. That hot button political issue can take away from dealing with other concerns.

    I think the ethics and complexity of gay men and straight women entering a marriage though deserves more thinking and discussion. It is not a simple nor a one dimensional issue.

    Two further points. If Richley Crapo is to be believed a careful study of Church writings on homosexuality shows precisely what BobW was referring to, a shift in the way sexuality and specifically homosexuality is discussed such that ideas such as Gay and Mormon together become more conceivable and more tenable. I suspect some of the evolution does stem from personal and family struggles around sexuality in the extended families of GAs, but a lot also comes from parents writing to the brethren, constantly, I imagine, as they work through their children’s sexuality. One should not discount furthermore the struggles of Bishops and stake presidents when they have to think through the lives of the members of their wards and stakes and they report to higher authorities.

    Ron Schow and others have been working for many years to subtly open discourse and change perceptions in Church circles.

    At the same time latter-day Saints live in a wider society where Gays are ever more normal and natural. They are so unremarkable that some people even speak of the end of Gay as a separate, enclaved culture.

    All of these things have impacts and cause rethinkings a struggles.

    My second point is one from sociologist Rick Phillips who writes that part of the difficulty faced by LDS Gays is the lack of proximate religious organizations they can join that would be more accepting and affirming of their sexuality. This is not the case for evangelical and fundamentalist Christian Gays. The Mormon experience then is somewhat distinctive.

  13. Re #12 (matt w.)– The problem isn’t just sexual attraction. My point is that it runs much deeper than that. Intellectual and platonic friendship can rarely substitute for a true marital bond. Platonic friendship, although valuable and worthwhile, is generally not a suitable basis for building a home and life together.

    Again, it’s not just about sexual needs and desires. It’s about the realities of how human beings form pair-bond attachments. Most couples can’t devote their lives to each other because they happen to like the same books.

    I am a gay Mormon whose mixed-orientation marriage failed. Since my divorce about 20 years ago I have run into numerous people in various stages of this situation. Believe me, it causes an unbelievable amount of misery, on all sides.

    Mine is just one voice of many. I certainly don’t claim to have the last word on this topic, but I can’t deny my experience and that of the many others I have talked to.

  14. #11:
    It’s odd that you can say that mixed marriages don’t work so casually. It’s like you believe sexual attraction is more important than intellectual or emotional attraction.

    This statement reflects a common misunderstanding about homosexuality. Many people seem to assume that homosexuality is only a matter of sexual attraction. Perhaps that makes it easier for them to condemn homosexuality, since such a viewpoint separates actual love from the issue, leaving only so-called “animal” desires.

    As a gay man who was married to a woman for 18 years, I can tell you that the physical, sexual desire to be with another man, though very real, was not what led me to finally come out of the closet. Rather, as I matured, I longed more and more for what you call “intellectual or emotional” intimacy with another man. That need/desire was much harder to ignore/deny/resist than any sexual attraction could be.

    ( assuming our spiritual needs to be more fundamental than our sexual needs)

    In the view of many religious people, “spiritual needs” are indeed “more fundamental” than sexual needs. I’m not so sure they can be separated as clearly as you imply. After food and shelter, perhaps the most powerful human need is LOVE, which includes emotional, “spiritual,” (not necessarily “religious”) intellectual, and yes, sexual aspects.

  15. #13:
    One should not discount furthermore the struggles of Bishops and stake presidents when they have to think through the lives of the members of their wards and stakes and they report to higher authorities.

    I am aware, both through personal experience and the experiences of others, of several cases in which devoted bishops and stake presidents have verbally acknowledged their discomfort with how the LDS church handles this issue. In most cases, this has been in the context of discussing a gay member’s decision to have his name removed from the records of the LDS church. These good leaders are expressing their own heartfelt feelings, and doing so with a certain amount of courage, in my opinion. I agree that it’s likely these men are, in at least some cases, sharing those concerns with those to whom they report.

  16. I agree with MoHoHawaii (#6) and Nick (#15) that a person’s sex drive hardly has any bearing on the question. Certainly all people, gay or straight, have stronger or weaker sex drives. Moreover, the degree of an individual’s sex drive generally varies over time, as a person ages. However, there’s more to the desire to get married than wanting sex. Most people are also interested in things like love, emotional support, companionship, avoiding loneliness, and the like. Some people may well be willing to live without all of that and without sex too, but as big a deal as it is to give up sex, living life single is actually giving up a lot more than just sex.

    I think it’s critical for gay Mormons to mentally separate their Mormon identity and their concept of Mormonism from a single (albeit important) institution within Mormonism, the LDS Church. If Mormonism is your heritage and identity, then it’s automatically bigger than any single church. With that understanding in mind, a person is free to consider what aspects of their Mormon ethnicity and heritage they value most. It’s then potentially possible to embrace aspects that the person values, while ignoring or rejecting the position that the institution has staked out for the time being.

  17. Matt W. says:

    Nick:

    This statement reflects a common misunderstanding about homosexuality. Many people seem to assume that homosexuality is only a matter of sexual attraction. Perhaps that makes it easier for them to condemn homosexuality, since such a viewpoint separates actual love from the issue, leaving only so-called “animal” desires.

    Nick, are you seriously trying to tell me that I can’t, as a heterosexual man, have intellectual or emotional intimacy with other men? Frankly, I find that offensive.

    Further, Are you saying a woman could not fulfil those mental or emotional needs, like women are inferior to men? I disagree with that as well.

    (I know the above sounds like an ad hominem attack. Please Please take it as sincere questioning)

    Back to my point, all other tihngs being equal, if I were a very devout mormon, and sexually attracted to men, I think I’d have a better chance of bonding longterm with someone who matched me as a devout mormon rather than as someone secxually attracted to men. But granted, I am not very culturally literate outside of Mormonism.

    Besides, wouldn’t you say, Nick, that you follow that pattern. When you were a “strong” Mormon, you stayed in your marriage, but when you no longer believed, you left your wife. (As you’ve said in the past)

  18. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 8 How are John and his partner doing with their foster-child, Bob? FWIW, I was honored and delighted to meet him and his parents last year at Sunstone. He’s a remarkable man and seeing their pride as he gave his talk touched my heart.

    re: 17 I agree with you completely, John. To a large extent that has has worked out very well for me. I gave up on the idea of being connected to the institutional Church ages ago, but have stayed connected to my Mormon identify more as a friend of the Church. I think I’m a much happier and healthier person as a result.

    You guys are right that this is really about pair-bonding more than sex. That gets lost in these conversations all the time. And let’s not for get those cute gay penguins!

  19. Mike,
    I believe the proper term is gaynguins.

  20. Nick Literski says:

    Nick, are you seriously trying to tell me that I can’t, as a heterosexual man, have intellectual or emotional intimacy with other men? Frankly, I find that offensive.

    Sorry Matt, but I really have no idea where you think I said any such thing.

    Further, Are you saying a woman could not fulfil those mental or emotional needs, like women are inferior to men? I disagree with that as well.

    Are you saying that for you, a man would fulfill your mental and emotional needs (major parts of what we might call “romantic” needs) in the way that a woman does? It’s not a matter of superiority or inferiority, Matt. It’s a matter of orientation.

    Besides, wouldn’t you say, Nick, that you follow that pattern. When you were a “strong” Mormon, you stayed in your marriage, but when you no longer believed, you left your wife. (As you’ve said in the past)

    That would be a very skewed version of what I said, Matt, so please let me clarify a bit. Religious conviction can make people do some rather extreme things. There are, as you know, people who crawl the streets of Jerusalem on their knees, and others who inflict grevious wounds on themselves with whips and other weapons, as demonstrations of their faith. There have been many in history, in fact, who have willingly died, rather than violate their religious convictions. Both you and I would find most of these people horribly misguided, but that arises primarily from the fact that we don’t hold to their particular theology. Among “their own people,” they are martyrs, heroes, etc.

    In my own case, I endured 18 years of marriage to a woman, which for me was an entirely unnatural, and often very painful, state of affairs. As a result, I was sometimes quite unkind to her, lashing out against my own feeling of being trapped and unhappy. You might imagine that this did not encourage loving behavior on her part, either. Why did I do this? I did it because I had an immensely strong belief in a religion which taught that deity expected this from me. Why didn’t she divorce me first, on the basis of my unkindness, and the fact that for about 11 years of that marriage, she knew that I was gay? For the same reason. It certainly wasn’t because our religion made us compatible.

    If one of the “extremists” I described earlier loses their faith, they will undoubtably cease the “extreme” behavior their faith once motivated. I was really no different.

    I hope this clears things up a bit for you, Matt.

  21. Mike, those penguins will reap their just reward.

  22. Matt W. says:

    Nick,

    Are you saying that for you, a man would fulfill your mental and emotional needs (major parts of what we might call “romantic” needs) in the way that a woman does?

    Perhaps a major barrier for me is I don’t really believe in “romantic” needs. Men do fulfil mental and emotional needs for me in ways women (even my wife) do. I am married to a woman, and can still have intellectual and emotional intimacy with men.

    To be fair, and to give myself an out of this conversation for now (as I am some what embarrassed to be threadjacking here), I am more than willing to admit that it is more often than not my concept of love that does not match the understanding of those around me than vice versa. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that most people have a rather distorted view of love.

  23. Consider this entry (available publicly on the web at-large) from my high school class reunion website. I have edited out a few details, preserving the substance without personal details. I figure that if he’s willing to post this on the web, he’s comfortable sharing it. But delete this if you like, mods:

    Well, these past 10 years have certainly flown by! . . . I was very quiet and shy in high school. I would actually go several days without saying a single word at school. Oddly, I was in A Cappella . . . [but] I was so shy that I could only mouth the words all year! Someone eventually caught on to me, but I still couldn’t cave in to using my voice.

    After high school, I went to [ ] for 2 years and worked at [ ] for 3 years. I received a mission call to the [], but I canceled my mission because I didn’t feel like I would be a good missionary. I was too afraid of making mistakes. I moved with my family to [, and] I was totally depressed about canceling my mission and I felt like I had gone back in time to my childhood. I needed to get away, so after 7 months I moved to [ ] and spent some time with my brother and his family. I worked for [ ] and I was able to go on “splits” with the local missionaries almost every night, and the experience helped heal my wound. I was there 7 months also, and then returned to [live with my parents]. I have worked for [a Native American - related entity] for 5.5 years, the last 2.5 years as a division manager responsible for 24 employees and 10 programs. I have grown to love the [specific Native American tribes]. I love my job and it is very challenging and rewarding work.

    I love to travel. I have developed this “urge” to visit every county/parish/borough in the United States. Thus far, I have visited 49 states, 1 district, 939 counties, 20 parishes, 1 borough, and 15 independent cities. Hawaii is the only state that I have not yet visited. I also have visited the United Kingdom, and more specifically 2 constituent countries (England and Scotland), 11 administrative counties, 1 metropolitan county, 6 unitary authorities, 23 non-unitary authorities, 3 metropolitan districts, the Greater London Authority, and 14 London boroughs.

    I am single and gay. I choose not to have any relationships and am active in the LDS Church. I am close to my family and have several close friends who keep me sane. I live alone in a townhouse with two cats, Honey Head and Muffin Head, and when I am not working or traveling, I love to read, research genealogy, and watch art house films.

    I left the cat names in there = no harm?

    Now, I might be a crazy apostate; I am at very least unorthodox. But, for me, being a Christian means allowing this guy to have a normal fulfilling life with satisfying companionship, rather than a life of depression, fear and anxiety.

    I admire his commitment immensely, but I think that our Church is crazy to force that kind of commitment, and that it takes an incredibly rare sort of gay man to commit to it–most of whom eventually give up on the dream.

    Not trying to threadjack, but I thought this was germane.

  24. At the beginning of this thread, David wonders if “gay Mormon” is an oxymoron. He resolves this by proposing that if you interpret “gay” to mean “homosexual desire” then there is not necessarily a conflict. You can have strong or weak homosexual desire and strong or weak affiliation with Mormonism. In his thinking this gives rise to four categories.

    John H. suggested that the way to resolve the dilemma posed by the phrase “gay Mormon” is to interpret the word “Mormon” as meaning a tradition that produced a number of sects. In other words, he uses Mormon as a cultural term rather than as a name for the LDS Church. He suggests that one might have a strong identification with the tradition and history of Mormonism without being an active member of the LDS Church and that this is a healthy solution for people with significant cultural ties that might be painful to break. “Gay Mormon” might mean “gay cultural Mormon.”

    I pointed out that orientation may be a better mental model than desire for the purposes of this discussion. The problem, to my way of thinking, is that the word “desire” confines the gay experience too narrowly to its sexual aspects. Instead, I see being gay more as an orientation that affects the dynamics of pair bonding.

    In my view, being gay isn’t a propensity to sin; instead, it’s a kind of difference. It’s not the presence of particular sexual urges that makes a person gay, it’s that their ability to love and form intimate relationships is focused on the same sex instead of the opposite sex. What makes a mixed-orientation marriage so difficult is not the presence of illicit desires (these can be curbed), it’s the absence of the “spark” that forms a strong pair bond.

    There are many different life situations for those whose orientation makes same-sex relationships more natural. People may be single and sexually active, celibate, in a monogamous same-sex relationship, in a mixed-orientation marriage, faithful or not. Further, they may be culturally affiliated to the Mormon tradition or a recommend-carrying member of the LDS Church or anywhere in between. All are gay Mormons.

  25. Nate W. says:

    Another Gay post at BCC–and just in time to kick off Pride in Salt Lake City! Just a coincidence, or have the admins at BCC been compromised by the Affirmation fifth column? We report, you decide.

    Just kidding, really. But it is Pride in SLC this weekend. Just thought I’d mention it.

  26. norm,

    Everything else on this thread aside, it strikes me that you are being unfair to the person you refer to in #24 by assuming he has an unfulfilling life full of depression, fear and anxiety. But I am with you in admiring his committment. It must take incredible courage to live the kind of life he has chosen.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    SLC gay pride, really? I just told Pete “We have to go to Utah this weekend!!” His response (edited for family audiences): “Are you out of your mind?”

    I see they’re going to have a performance by The Kinsey Sicks (click on the link below and scroll down). If you happen to be in SLC this weekend, check them out. They’re fun.

  28. Mathew,

    You make a good point–and perhaps I am being unfair. It may be that I project too much of my own thoughts (and sympathy to closer friends of mine) onto him.

    However, in fairness to my choice of words: he described himself as “afraid,” (of trying to serve a mission) and “depressed” (after not serving one) and as having a “wound” that he must heal (or perhaps has healed?), as well as having friends “who keep me sane.” Adding in his description of his shyness and rather OCD rundown of his travels, I think that “anxiety” is reasonable assumption–though not a necessary one.

    On the other hand, a “challenging” and “rewarding” job does suggest fulfillment. And perhaps fulfillment is possible without dating, kisses or sex. For me, I think it is not–but there are many heterosexual LDS who go without these.

    —-

    More generally,

    In my simplistic missionary explanations, I was fond of saying that we do not have celibate clergy because God’s plan was for us all to have each of familial/fraternal/erotic love–i.e., that there is something divine (and divinely necessary) in each. That same simplistic inner-missionary voice still believes that ascetically denying oneself one or more of these (forever), is not only unhealthy, but is wrong. (Unorthodox, even apostate, I guess.)

    At risk of sounding like certain critics of FLDS and LDS (e.g. “these women have no hope of a fulfilling sex life” (i.e. many partners and much exploration)), I will say that even a challenging and rewarding job, and friends who help to keep one sane, are scant substitute for intimacy and sexuality, love and/or family.

  29. oops. for familial/fraternal/erotic, please substitute your personal favorite translations of eros/philia/agape

    (i forget to go back and replace my placeholder before posting. i’m still not sure, even after pondering a few, the best translations for the terms.)

  30. In my view, being gay isn’t a propensity to sin; instead, it’s a kind of difference.

    I think, though, that a huge part of this discussion is the fact that part of embracing one’s identity as gay entails rejecting the notion that gayness is a propensity toward sin. Yet that, for all the changed rhetoric and injunctions toward understanding and outreach, is still how LDS discourse treats it. It is a burden to be borne, a predisposition toward behavior that is an abomination before God. Hence, the tension between the two identities, a tension resolved, as David points out in this thread, in a number of varied ways by people who seek to retain something of both.

  31. Re #31 (Brad)–

    I concur. Also, you summarize the current LDS position clearly:

    It is a burden to be borne, a predisposition toward behavior that is an abomination before God.

    What I am trying to add to the discussion is that the LDS official view misses the point. Mixed marriages don’t fail because of the presence of a predisposition to sin, they fail because of the absence of the glue (or “spark” or “pixie dust” or “attraction” or whatever you want to call it) that causes couples to form intimate, romantic pair bonds.

    This, as they say, is an inconvenient truth.

  32. david knowlton says:

    I am going to ad just a bit more to what Brad and MoHoHawaii, as well as others, are writing. Part of the issue in marriage concerns the development of “companionate marriage” as an ideal and expectation. This kind of marriage is not universal nor does it have a very long history,according to people I have read who write on the matter. It is rather a fairly modern assumption.

    In places where marriage is not assumed to have the strong emotional, sexual, and such attachments as its primary bond people who might have sex with their same gender or desire such also find themselves married. marriage has other ends. The development of norms of companionate marriage make sexual orientation a problem. This also needs consideration and analysis in this discussion.

  33. david knowlton says:

    It would be useful to look at changing norms of marriage within the LDS tradition and how they relate to the rise of Gay Latter-day Saints.

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