Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads

I’ve been active on this blog since chanson reviewed my gay, Mormon novel Ockham’s Razor last October. I will be presenting a paper about my novel at this year’s Sunstone Symposium titled “Two Paradigms for ‘Gay.'” (Half of my presentation will also concern Jonathan Langford’s novel No Going Back–also reviewed by chanson). Gerald Argetsinger, who is an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, founded at last year’s Sunstone what he’s terming “The Gay Mormon Literature Project.” Check it out if you’re interested.

Right now, however, I’ve decided to open up this 7700 word article (note: article published — see my website) titled “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads” to the community for feedback. This is also mainly to share my scholarship, as I think the arguments I make in the article are important and timely. The article is under review with a couple of journals, a process that takes usually a few months. In terms of public scholarship for “gay Mormon” stuff, an academic journal is not as helpful to the community as distribution to other outlets, such as Affirmation or North Star. But I am interested in publishing and going back to school for a PhD someday…plus, I figure Affirmation/North Star would be more interested in published scholarship, anyway.

23 thoughts on “Mormon and Queer at the Crossroads

  1. Alan — That’s great that you’re presenting at Sunstone this year! I had such fun there last year. (Unfortunately, I can’t justify the travel expenses to go there again.)

    Your paper looks quite interesting — I’ll see if I have any comments after I’ve read it.

  2. Alan – this was an interesting paper. I was hungering for you to go into more depth at the end what you mean by “Queer Mormonism” as “a site where Mormons with queer desire are neither assimilating to heteronormativity nor strictly opposing the concept of eternal gender, but are transforming their culture from within for reasons of survival and belonging,” and where you see that happening.

    Keep us posted about whether (and where) this actually gets published.

  3. alan, i’m not sure how to get in touch with you privately. could you please email me at urbanmormon AT gmail?

  4. Alan — I just read your paper. Thanks for posting it! It’s a fascinating explanation of the evolution of LDS theory and discourse on gender and sexuality.

    @3, regarding Queer Mormonism transforming culture from within, isn’t that your area of expertise JG-W? Do you have some of your own thoughts on the subject to add?

    Also note: Alan’s paper talks about the fact that “eternal gender” within Mormonism has consistently been used to imply eternal heterosexual gender roles. However, the theology of eternal gender doesn’t inherently have to imply heterosexuality. This is an idea we’ve discussed here at MSP before.

    It started with this post at ZD’s where Chris Bigelow argues:

    unless God himself could be gay and still be God, then theres no room for homosexuality in Mormon doctrine.

    And Kiskilili responds with:

    Unless God himself could be a woman and still be God, then theres no room for women in Mormon doctrine.

    Personally, I think that if you’re going to believe not only that God exists but that God has a body and uses it to have sexual intercourse, it’s not much of a leap to suggest that God could be gay. But whatever.

    Following up on Kiskilili’s point, I wrote this post arguing that it would be possible for the prophet to have a revelation clarifying eternal gender roles, for example adding a cool, alternate plan of salvation for gay people.

  5. chanson – I guess it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say I’m interested in this question.

    Though I hasten to add that from a faithful perspective (which is where I’m coming from), it’s important to distinguish between culture (which comprises the human approach to things) and eternal truth/law/principles. The former is inherently perverse, and demands constant criticism and correction. The latter is revealed by God through priesthood authority.

    So I think it’s legitimate for queer activists to draw attention to the idolatrous (including heterolatrous) tendencies in the former.

    But we also have to be extremely careful in relation to the latter — in relation to the question of seeking revelation from God. There, our primary agenda should be to cultivate a state of soul that will prepare us for revelation. Preparation for revelation requires obedience, patience, and stillness. Kind of the opposite of the traits that are useful when you’re busy being an activist and trying to transform the culture.

    From a faithful perspective, I think preparing the soul for revelation is more important than trying to transform the culture. So, for instance, it’s important not to let our anger about injustice overshadow our love and patience. But drawing attention to idolatry is still an essential task. So can never just lose our cultural critical perspective. We have to keep both perspectives in tension.

    I guess that would be my one critique of this paper… It seems to me there’s an assumption (common in liberal academic religious studies) that everything is culture, it’s all human enterprise. So there’s nothing for queer activists to do but keep pressing for change. But I think if we take that as our perspective, we are lost.

    I think Alan’s written a great paper here… But if I had written it, I probably would have been careful to preface by framing activism and cultural change in terms of anti-idolatry work, and pointing out that this is a small part of the larger picture of seeking God’s will.

  6. JG-W@3 & 7: The sentence about “queer Mormonism” was meant to capture the contradictory space that people such as yourself live in. The section prior to the conclusion, in which I was talking about the “activism” of queer Mormons considered “legitimately Mormon,” for example, was a representation of this space. Ethnic/queer studies scholar Jose Esteban Munoz has called this process “disidentification” — a kind of “I have no choice but to change my culture.” He argues that it’s sometimes one of those live-or-die situations, and sometimes isn’t enough, which points to the Stuart Matises of Mormonism. I think you’re right that I can better infuse “religiosity” into the concept of “activism,” as changing Mormonism for the sake of “survival and belonging” is certainly not idolatrous. This is really a matter of the politics of language, in which “activism” is seen as something selfist, but yet, somehow the Church’s support of Prop 8 was “holy.”

    This points to my discussion in the paper about how homosexuality was framed prior to the 1980s as mere “selfishness”…whereas now, “acting on your attractions” is what is considered idolatrous. I can be clearer about this framing.

    chanson@6: In terms of a separate plan of salvation for gay people, I think this would be like giving into minoritizing discourse, so I’m sure the Church won’t go there (and I actually think this is a good thing). Rather, if the Church does decide to include gay people, they would need to reconfigure their notions about desire and “natural man,” and they only need to look to other faiths who have done this. As it is, the rise of “same-gender attraction” as a concept is representative of reconfigured desire anyway.

    On page 12:

    Given that Mormons had adopted the view that a happy sex life was important to a successful marriage, any dismissal of non-reproductive sexuality carried a tinge
    of hypocrisy by the 1980s; Mormon leaders by this decade had ceased condemning birth
    control. Classifying homosexuality as gender dysphoria resolved this hypocrisy insofar as by linking all moral sexuality to gender, non-procreative sexuality was made acceptable if it occurred within the intimate bounds of one man and one woman.

    This is perhaps one of the more hefty arguments in the paper.

    Note: One reader has suggested that I change instances of “fixed in Heaven” to “repaired in Heaven,” since “fixed” can also mean “stuck.” =D Yes, being gay is fixed in Heaven. Gay people are gay forever, lol.

  7. In terms of a separate plan of salvation for gay people, I think this would be like giving into minoritizing discourse, so Im sure the Church wont go there (and I actually think this is a good thing).

    Right, but I was specifically talking about people who aren’t opposing the concept of “eternal gender.” Once you’re granting that it’s OK to consign women to their own separate role in heaven, it’s hypocritical to say that it’s not OK to separate out gay people in the same way. Especially considering that the gay eternal role doesn’t have to be nearly as crappy as the eternal reward in the Mormon women’s plan of salvation… 😉

  8. More thoughts for JG-W@7: I agree that if you see power structures at work, you have a choice to be humble or an activist. But in my mind, good activism is never either/or, and always both/and.

    For example, I mentioned in the paper how Lance Wickman compares homosexuality to disability, bringing up his disabled daughter who will never marry in this life. This was to suggest “humility” among those who whose “differences” do not place them beyond the realm of marriageability. Here, we can clearly see how the concept of “humility” is used to basically say, “shut up, and sit down” — when really, disability is being used here to shoulder the weight of heterosexism. In other words, humility is often just one more tool in the master’s house, particularly in Mormonism, and as Audre Lorde said: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” (Thx for reading the paper, BTW :))

  9. Hi Alan,
    This is a really interesting and important article and I hope that some version does get published. I appreciate you opening up an advance copy to the readers of this blog and Ive enjoyed the critical engagement with your work so far. I have a number of comments, so please forgive the longish response, but I will try to organize them into themes around writing, argumentation, and clarification.

    1. I found the use of quotation marks confusing, often when you are attributing positions to the church in quotes, like the Church reminded these queer Mormons that ones eternal identity is more important. and The question is said to be resolved in Heaven, where same-gender attraction will disappear. If these are actual quotes you need to provide citations. If not, lose the quotation marks, but you still need to provide evidence that these views are held (this shouldn’t be too hard since you are citing all the relevant works, so just use the actual words). In some cases you use these phrases in quotation marks long before you give the citation from which they come, especially in the introduction.

    1. The question of the timeline- This sort of unidirectional history I think may be useful schematically, yet it also fails to account for real diversity since every statement must be read as either progress or regress from some ideal point. I think that at times the historical narrative employed here relies on a periodization schema that doesnt always match up. A rather minor point about this periodization is your emphasis on the 80s as a turning point away from the procreationist perspective of sexual relationships. This needs considerable evidence and is likely going to run into problems. The advent of birth control is arguably the time when the procreationist view begins to lose ground among Mormons, in spite of leaders’ warnings against it. See M. Proctor, “Bodies, Babies, Birth Control,” in Dialogue.
    2. You say: “Religious discourse to this effect can be summarized by the phrase love the sinner, not the sin. Though this phrase is oft used in LDS discussions of homosexuality, and you may even find a GA expressing this idea, I’m not sure that this is an accurate reading of the position outlined by Oaks that you discuss. In fact, in this view, the person who experiences SSA is not a “sinner” at all. Rather, Oaks is attempting to chart out a new space in which those who experience homosexual desires should not be considered homosexuals at all, which to me is quite different from a sinner/sin distinction. There is no sin here to hate if one experiences same sex desires, and certainly no sinner.
    The same can be said for your discussion of Holland’s view. You say that it is “In other words, the young man is a heterosexual son of God who struggles with desire on this mortal plane.” Yet, I am not sure that Holland’s view implies a sexuality at all, but rather makes the move to displace sexuality as a part of one’s identity. I see this as being an incredibly important distinction. It is certainly open to critique in the way that it displaces homosexuality as an identity and (maybe???) assumes a deferred heterosexuality, but it does not suggest, in my view, an inherent heterosexuality. In this way, I would distinguish between an eternal heterosexuality and an inherent heterosexuality. Though an unfortunate analogy for lots of reasons, the comparison to disability does capture this idea: one may be eternally able-bodied (or, heterosexual), even if mortally disabled (or, homosexual).
    3. In your description of Sedgwick , you say: “anyone can be gay (or not gay) by engaging (or not engaging) in particular acts agreed upon as homosexual acts (adjective)” Im not sure this is quite accurate for Sedgwick since “to be ‘gay'” is a use of the noun, the minoritizing view. Rather the universalizing view denies that anyone is “gay,” only that anyone can engage in “gay” activities.
    4. One of the interesting results of the universalizing view is that it reveals, as you say, the instability of heterosexuality. Yet, you never seem to pick up on this in your analysis of this discourse. Even for someone like Byrd, heterosexuality is seen as extremely precarious. Perhaps this is more my bias for Butler than my rather shallow familiarity with Sedgwick in comparison, but the constitutive instability of heterosexuality in the universalizing view seems like an extremely important argument, to me at least.
    5. The question of the link to AIDS is interesting, but the use of the Oak’s quote to prove this point is out of context. The “risk” he is talking about is not AIDS, but unhappy marriage.
    6. The use of the Pritt’s is interesting, but you need to demonstrate that this article represents larger views in church leadership about homosexual neutralization. It seems to me that Hinkley blunted the idea of homosexual neutralization as a precondition to marriage. Perhaps you can clarify what you mean by that. (In some ways, this problem may be related to the #1 point I raise here about periodization as an analytical tool. It might prevent you from seeing the multiplicity of positions that may happen at any one time, that is, seeing the Pritt’s in opposition to Hinkley).
    7. You say: “When the Church stated after the Proposition 8 campaign that it is not anti-gay, this is what it meant: that gay does not exist.” This seems like an extreme overstatement, especially given your acknowledgement of the gay rights issues that the church does not oppose, and even has supported! To reduce the stance that the church is not anti-gay to a linguistic trick seems disingenuous.
    8. The mercy/wrath distintinction just doesn’t make sense to me, and I think that you really fail to argue for it convincingly. Your analysis of Holland and a handful of other quotes dont really use the terms mercy or wrath. Besides, I just don’t see it mapping onto Sedgwick at all. Her argument, as I understand it, is that there is a paradox in the minoritizing and universalizing discourse about homosexuality. I dont think that you show that same paradox in the churchs discourse since it seems rather consistent at least in its new distinction between desires and actions. I dont see the desires/actions distinction to be the same as the minoritizing/universalizing paradox. Further, “wrath” seems an awfully strong word that I don’t think accurately reflects how LDS leaders act or are expected to act with respect to homosexual activity.

    1. What do you mean by “the church”? Who is included? Are you analyzing only “official” statements made by 70’s and above? What is the role between the reality of how these things are practiced on the ground and the official discourse you are analyzing? How do people like the Pritts and Byrd relate to the church?
    2.I think that the use of “queer” in this paper needs some defining. You seem to use it as interchangeable with homosexuality, though I object to the collapsing of the distinction between homosexual and queer. It can either be an umbrella term to include LGB and Trans and Intersex (the latter two you don’t seem to be particularly interested in for this paper), or even “heterosexual” practices like BDSM and polyamory (like polygamy!). Inasmuch as this paper is particulary interested in hetero- and homosexuality as traditionally understood, and in my reading does not engage in “queer” readings of LDS texts or practices, I am not sure the term is entirely appropriate (in spite of the use of Sedgwick).
    3. You say: Such a declaration is common in evangelical ex- gay culture, where the opposite of gay is described as holy and not as straight. [citation?]
    4. I don’t think you mean to say “same-gender attraction as normative” but perhaps “normal.” Normativity has a sense of authoritativeness that is not what is advocated by activists (well, except a very few lesbian feminists like Wittig that come to mind). Rather, I think you just mean that SGA as accepted.
    5. You say: “With regard to accounts of American sexual history, Mormonism queers the understanding of this history as a singular emergence of the homo/hetero dyad.67 Although the Church engaged with the dyad as early as the 1950s, it did not subscribe to it until the 1980s when its own sexual mores had changed and heterosexuality was deemed the norm.” This is an interesting idea about queering, but it appears to be new in the conclusion, and it is not entirely clear that an uneven historical process of the emergence of the homo/hetero dyad constitutes queering.
    6. You say: “Americans are clearly leaning more and more toward acceptance of same-sex desire and intimacy as normative and morally neutral.” This assertion requires some evidence, and it also imagines a narrative of historical progress.

    So, those are my varied reaction while reading it! I really enjoyed it and I think more of this kind of analysis needs to be made. Good work!

  10. I can’t say that I comprehended this as well as others (TT, you’re making me look bad, here!), but I will say that one thing I noted was similar to TT’s claim (Argumentation 2) relating to what Elder Holland said.

    It seems clear to me that Holland was not establishing eternal heterogender with his comments or supporting that. Rather, he was denouncing the idea of *sexuality* completely. I think this goes well with what you had been saying about the “minoritizing” or noun form of things. You could probably make your point stronger if you interpreted Holland’s point as saying that people are not Straights (noun) and Gays (noun), but they are all sons and daughters of God who deal with hetero/homosexual (adjective) desires, and must channel these desires in appropriate ways (sex only within marriage.) It just so happens that marriage is an appropriate gender role for one man and one woman (as you discuss elsewhere), so gay people are stripped of any such outlet.

  11. Hmm…I appreciate all that, TT.

    In terms of the timeline, it might just be a matter of stating that every moment is always multi-vocal (which I figured the reader would take for granted), and that I have chosen to use the “1980s,” “90s,” and “2000s” as lax reference points for overall movements. I think that the acceptance of birth control/sex-as-more-than-procreation is a clear historical phenomenon and it’s safe to say, “Okay, now Mormonism asserts sex is about more than procreation,” which was the late 1970s/early 1980s. “Same-gender attraction” as a concept finding standard use in the 1990s is also pretty clear. I’m not sure how much evidence is required to make these assertions and how much I need to make them more fuzzy — because I certainly have to make them concrete, and I do this by providing an entire decade.

    Setting Byrd next to Mansfield in the 2000s demonstrated diversity within the Church. Your point of the Pritts (or the social service sector) vs. Hinckley (the policy sector) in the 1980s might simply require a few words about the relationship between these two sectors.

    It seems to me that Hinckley blunted the idea of homosexual neutralization as a precondition to marriage.

    This is where I’m confused about your reading. The idea of “neutralizing” homosexuality is different than the idea of “curing” homosexuality (I hope this was clear) but both are in service of what I label “married life.” Thus, when I get to Holland and he talks about not using your sexuality to define yourself, that’s fine, but coupled with the doctrine of eternal marriage, which is now coupled with sex as desire within marriage = now you have an “eternal heterogender.” I fail to see how this is a leap, particularly given the ways that church leaders talk about “same-gender attraction” as being “repaired in Heaven” (though admittedly, I see what you’re saying about my overuse of quotation marks…)

    About AIDS and Oaks comment; he says: “…we are not going to stand still to put at risk daughters of God … Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith.” Then he mentions being attracted to a daughter of God as also a precondition for marriage. To me, this is about disease, not happiness. Of course, the man is not going to say, “Gayz are diseased,” but the point is that Hinckley’s statement was issued in an article about AIDS, not in an article about happiness. (see the citation) …I might have to cover my back here, though, because I can see how Oaks covered his. :p

    Lastly, about the “mercy/wrath” and Sedgwick, I would like to know other people’s reading of this. I’m leaning toward Sedgwick’s training as a literary theorist and her use of metaphor. But I think “wrath” is perfectly applicable beyond metaphor, because behind all the niceties, church leaders have no qualms with making statements like “Homosexual behavior is and will always remain before the Lord an abominable sin.” Whereas they certainly aren’t wrathful in their dealings with gay people, as “prophets,” they are wrathful when they “speak frankly as God’s witnesses” about homosexuality for those within the Church.

    I dont see the desires/actions distinction to be the same as the minoritizing/universalizing paradox.

    “Same-gender attraction” as desire is minoritizing, and “not acting on same-gender attraction” as an action is universalizing. It seems to fit to me…

  12. Andrew @12: Okay, this is where I think the confusion lies. Holland says “Don’t use your sexuality to define yourself — homosexuality/heterosexuality are just adjectives.” BUT, as I mention earlier in the essay, using the adjective (or the noun) is writing yourself into the noun/adjective dialectic. You can’t just pick one or the other. So, perhaps I shouldn’t say that Holland himself is implying the young man is a “heterosexual son of God,” but that rather all the surrounding discourses imply this.

  13. I realize this can be confusing. It doesn’t make sense to say Holland is saying don’t use sexuality altogether, because the church obviously concerns itself with sexual behavior (adjective), which is sexuality. If Mormons didn’t use their sexuality to define themselves, then they couldn’t utter a sentence such as “sexuality should only occur within marriage.” What I’m saying in the paper is this: If you have marriage, and sex is not just for procreation, but also desire between a “male” and a “female” within marriage, then you have “heterosexuality.” You have the noun/adjective dialectic whether you want it or not, and you have the “homo/hetero” dyad.

  14. Same-gender attraction as desire is minoritizing, and not acting on same-gender attraction as an action is universalizing. It seems to fit to me

    I guess I can see where you are coming from, but I still don’t think that it fits. In Sedgwick’s account of the minoritizing view, homosexuality as a noun is not restricted to desires, but specifically includes both desires and actions as characteristic of a minority “homosexual” class. In her account of the universalizing view of homosexuality, a whole range of activities and desires may potentially be classified as homosexual, and are not limited to that minority group, but must be guarded against by everyone. This is the noun/adjective distinction that you use.

    The LDS desires/actions distinction doesn’t follow the noun/adjective distinction since in both cases desires and actions are considered adjectives, nor does it pose the same type of paradox in the universalizing view. I think that you are right that the concern over desire does take part in a minoritizing discourse in that it acknowledges that some people experience these desires, but I think that the concern over actions follows on that same discourse, rather than departing from it. That is, the concern over homosexual actions is not something that all are universally at risk of, but rather those with homosexual desires are uniquely at risk of, and it is they who should guard against them. I guess that I see the LDS desires/actions distiction as having a somewhat complicated relationship with Sedgwick’s categories since on one hand they both terms are considered adjectives in that there is no essence of a homosexual, but at the same time acknowledges that these are experiences of a minority class.

  15. I guess that I see the LDS desires/actions distinction as having a somewhat complicated relationship with Sedgwicks categories, they both terms are considered adjectives in that there is no essence of a homosexual

    Yes…thank you for this very thoughtful post. This is why I state in the paper that “although the Church has never considered anyone to ‘really be gay,’ its insistence upon essential heterosexuality for all people brings the dyad into view.” In other words, the dialectic is taking a [somewhat] unique form, but it’s still there. Now, my assertion of an “essential heterosexuality” or an “eternal heterogender” as present within the culture is based upon the evidence I provide, namely:

    (a) “same-gender attraction” as said to be “repaired in Heaven”
    (b) homosexuality framed as “gender dysphoria” by both church leaders and therapists
    (c) sex within marriage for desire, not just procreation

    To the point that the desire/actions distinction is for a “minority” class and not for everyone, I think you are quite mistaken. The Church makes statements like “there is only one standard of morality, and that is sex within marriage” …Oaks has put it in terms like this: “no one should feel like a pariah, but if they have sex outside of marriage, then perhaps they should.” This was as an answer to a question by a reporter specifically geared toward minoritization (i.e., “what would you say about gay people being pariahs in the Church?”). IOW, Oaks is universalizing.

    This is part of the nature of the dialectic in Mormonism. On the one hand, church leaders talk about “same-gender attraction” in a minoritizing way, as if this “affliction” only affects some people, but on the other hand, they’re framing it terms of afflictions generally (alcoholism, gambling addiction, disability), rather than making it a unique affliction. As I state in the paper, it’s a motif of “all human beings suffer, so your suffering is no different than mine” — a kind of universalizing humility that plays back into an “eternal heterogender.”

    Note: I’ve added this passage to the paper, which I hope alleviates a lot of the confusion:

    In sum, “same-gender attraction” is understood to be just like any other “affliction,” and is therefore framed as “not unique,” although paradoxically talked about as uniquely “afflicting” some people. This is the contradictory minoritizing/universalizing dialectic at work within the culture.

    So, the universalization in Mormonism isn’t so much that “everyone can be gay,” but more like “everyone can choose (or not choose) to act on this affliction (if one is indeed afflicted).” Again, I think this is consistent with the desire/action schema, but I can see how my paper might need some more clarifying.

  16. Even for someone like Byrd, heterosexuality is seen as extremely precarious. Perhaps this is more my bias for Butler than my rather shallow familiarity with Sedgwick in comparison, but the constitutive instability of heterosexuality in the universalizing view seems like an extremely important argument, to me at least.

    This might also explain away some of the theoretical issues you were having, TT. Heterosexuality is not viewed by those like Byrd as precarious, but rather as the “natural programming” of human beings. The “universalizing” view does provide the discursive framework by which the “straight person performs gayness by acting gay,” but it also allows the gay person to “perform straightness by not acting gay.” So, while the Church is acknowledging a “minority” in its use of “same-gender attraction,” the universalizing view is used to bring this minority back into the fold.

  17. Just wanted to let everyone know, the essay has been officially accepted to appear in the Spring 2011 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. It’s been much improved since the version I posted here. I look forward to the discussion it generates.

  18. Congrats Alan! The paper I have in the works is nearing completion and will be on its way to you soon (maybe another couple months).

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