My experience at Sunstone

Sunstone was an interesting experience for me. I was there Friday and Saturday, and Saturday morning I presented my paper “Two Paradigms for ‘Gay’,” which compared themes/reception of Langford’s No Going Back (which if you overlay onto the categories at the right, takes a North Star-like stance), and my novel Ockham’s Razor (which takes an Affirmation-like stance).

The presentation itself went very well, and will probably translate into some sales (for example, Michael Quinn came up afterward and asked for my website). Hugo Olaiz, website administrator of Affirmation, also expressed further interest in doing an interview and spoke fondly of my novel on more than one occasion… (I love Hugo. So personable.)

[click here for a copy of my presentation]

I went to lunch with some folks and heard some insider gossip. For example, Langford’s novel was pulled from BYU’s shelves because of Dean Byrd. This means that Byrd (who would be backed by someone like Boyd Packer or Bruce Hafen) still actively prevents the distribution of alternative voices. By alternative, I do not mean that someone like Ty Mansfield who is already well-known within the “gay Mormon” world, and who has reviewed Langford’s book positively, does not have his own kind of clout; rather, Mansfield and North Star do not have that much power to sway discourse for the Church generally. And well, it was Byrd who introduced Hafen at Evergreen’s conference last year. And something more interesting, and insider-ish, is that the GAs were not happy with Hafen after his speech, because he stepped too far out on his own accord. From what I understand, he has been relocated.

To know that the GAs are not happy with another GA takes a bit of insider status, because the public face for the Church is meant to be monolithic and all the GAs are meant to be in agreement (which explains why Hafen’s speech remains on the Church website). Anyone who knows how the GAs really feel on a particular matter, or how they squabble on a particular stance, is an “insider.” For most Mormons, this squabbling is moot; they would rather uphold the notion of GAs as prophets (and how can prophets “squabble?”). To not uphold them this monolithic way gives many Mormons a visceral feeling of vulnerability. A GA could say, “This is a Mormon play, so I want those colored kids replaced with white kids,” and people will quietly obey, seeing the racism, but at once forgiving it, because the man is a church leader. This movement toward a monolith is poison, IMO. John Gustav-Wrathall has mentioned that “masculinity” in Mormonism includes the ability to be obedient, and that is fine to an extent — I respect humility. But humility has its place. There is a lot of value in making power dynamics clear, even if you do so quietly.

Insider gay male Mormons who are married and hold important callings might also hold knowledge that can’t be made public, often including their own sexualities, or their contacts might drop away, fearing for their own piece of the Mormon pie. I know a lot of folks don’t view the pie as a “pie,” but I think people are blind to their privilege and/or mistake “the power to define what constitutes faithfulness” with “faithfulness” itself. In his presentation, John put it this way: “Spiritual immaturity is when one assumes that communal error makes the Church false. Spiritual maturity is when one can entertain the possibility that communal truth might be false.” I guess I would side with someone like John who as an excommunicated person has really no power in the Church, but hopes to change hearts and minds through one-on-one discussion. I have no power in the Church (not really interested in it) but I still see outlets to create change, because I see how the power works and can speak to changes in discourse as an “outsider.” Yes, the GAs who make policy are the most important ones to sway, and you can’t just barge into their offices unless you have clout, but the GAs must ultimately bow to the membership as a whole. (I also think Mormon policy on the topic of homosexuality is unsustainable because of forces outside the GAs’ control — i.e., gender dynamics in twenty-first century America and changing discourses about the place of sexuality in marriage.)

The weekend was fascinating for me as a younger gay, not-all-that-Mormon male primarily interacting with older gay males who are very Mormon. One thing I noticed was how often the Holy Ghost came up to describe personal affirming revelation. Gustav-Wrathall mentioned in his presentation that the Church literally pulls gay Mormons in “two,” but I couldn’t help but feel that this “Holy Ghost” was a continuing feature of being “pulled in two,” a mind split by a heterosexist culture. I do not wish to step on these gay Mormons’ religious experience, but I wouldn’t need a Holy Ghost to tell me that I’m equal to other church members. Why can’t this Holy Ghost be a little more helpful by perhaps speaking to ignorant church members? In my novel, the character of Micah puts it this way to his mother: “I don’t exist so that people can learn to treat me the way they should already be treating me.” John does plan to publish a book about his religious experience, but there is a real question of: “If you’re considered outside the Church, then won’t your religious experience be dismissed by those who think you don’t have access to the real Holy Ghost?” John and I talked on the way to lunch, as he was interested in my presentation when I talked about gay Mormon fiction versus nonfiction. The nonfictional gay Mormon narrative can often backfire, but I’m sure John is considering the nuances.

I found myself so wrapped up in these connections that when I was asked if I had met anyone my age (and yes, there were some hawt gay guys my age there), I disregarded the question. “Sex isn’t in the picture if there’s a big age difference,” I was told by my 60+ friend, “which makes talking easier.” This is true, but I also felt not-Mormon enough at times that attraction-being-in-the-picture seemed like a good enough reason as any to potentially connect with those younger guys, lol.

14 thoughts on “My experience at Sunstone

  1. Thanks for posting your Sunstone presentation.

    Speaking of NGB, I saw this profile of a real-life Paul over at the new mormon.org:

    About Me

    I am Mormon with same gender attraction (outside the church, usually referred to as “gay”). Many people think that’s a contradiction. It’s think that’s part of the purposes of God for me and the role I play in the Plan of Salvation.

    Someone should send Janice Graham the link.

    By the way, why aren’t you advertising your novel here at MSP? You should post an ad right under the one for ExMormon.

  2. Alan – I’m glad you were at Sunstone, and it was great finally meeting you in person and getting to know you better there.

    I did find myself occasionally scratching my head, and wondering “What’s his interest here?” Not just because most of us were older and/or not in the market for a relationship! :) But because you seem pretty detached from the Church and ready to move on in circles that have nothing to do with Mormonism…

    Your take on my presentation is interesting. Your paraphrase of my take on spiritual maturity and the search for truth captures at least some of what I was trying to say. (I’ll probably publish my talk on my blog in the next few days.)

    BTW… The Holy Ghost generally won’t shout us down. There are exceptions to the rule. Alma the Younger and Saul of Tarsus come to mind. These two individuals the Lord essentially clocked on the head and said, “Stop what you’re doing!” But the Lord had special purposes for Alma and Saul. The usual mode of operation is through the “still, small voice.” The vast majority of scriptural texts addressing this talk about people’s blindness and deafness, people’s unwillingness to listen. And you won’t hear it if you don’t listen. And the Lord will let you go on in that way for a very long time indeed…

    I did have a little bit of the “clocked on the head” type of experience (the experience I alluded to in my talk in August 2005). But that has not been the norm. Some of the most significant spiritual experiences I’ve had have required me to seek, to ask, and to listen. And listening means opening up to the possibility that I might be wrong, which means, in essence, facing our demons. It’s a process, BTW, that won’t work for us if we pray once a year, or whenever we’re desperate for answers. It’s an incremental, day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) kind of process.

    The one nuance I feel you’ve gotten a bit wrong in terms of my position is that, yes, I would like to see people in the Church have their views of homosexuality transformed, and yes, I believe that I will inevitably have a role to play in that process. But it’s not my process. I don’t control it, it’s not my agenda. It’s the Lord’s Church, it’s his process, and he’s in charge of it. And of course the agenda, as I perceive it, is not about transforming attitudes toward homosexuality per se so much as embodying the kind of love that we find in Zion, “the pure in heart,” where we are of one heart and one mind and dwell together in righteousness (love).

    My only goal/agenda — the only person I am or can be working on — is me. My struggle is not to transform the Church, it is to transform myself. To open myself more fully up to God so that I can be more truly harmonized with him, and so that I can “take up my cross” and follow in Christ’s footsteps…

  3. Oh, and I already told you in person, but I’ll tell you again publicly… I did very much enjoy your presentation, and I did find it very interesting to think about how fiction works as a persuasive medium, especially in an area as contentious and polarized as this. (And I LOVE your picture of the books on sale at Sunstone. Nice encapsulization of the fundamental views of homosexuality in the LDS community…)

  4. JGW@2:

    My only goal/agenda the only person I am or can be working on is me.

    As I’ve noted before, since you have a husband and folks at church know this, this could be perceived as “having an agenda.” Even you saying “it’s only about me” might be perceived as an agenda to reduce “same-sex marriage” to a “non-agenda.” But once people realize it is just you, hopefully things start to click for them. =)

    Chino@1:

    By the way, why arent you advertising your novel here at MSP?

    Chanson is the administrator, right? If she’s okay with it, I suppose I could make an ad the same dimensions as hers.

  5. Well, yes. At times I’ve actually been self-conscious about the fact that my presence would be perceived as some underhanded attempt to change the Church. But I’m there on the Church’s terms not mine… Impossible not to be reminded of that every day, as I can’t take the sacrament, can’t speak, can’t pray out loud, etc. My primary reason for being there is to learn. As I said, I can’t take responsibility for what other people think or how they react…

  6. Alan — Yes, prepare an ad for your book the same size as mine.

    I just got back from Italy, and now I’m setting off for the US on Monday — so I have a lot of stuff on my plate — but here’s an overview of my plan:

    I’d like to do a separate page (or set of pages) on MSP (permalinked from the sidebar) describing all of the exmo lit books that I know of. We can’t expect even borderland LDS sites to do it, and naturally this info belongs here. 😉

    However, regular contributors to this site deserve to also have individual ads for their books on the main page, and we can do that part right away.

  7. Oh, chanson, thought you might be interested in this: In the comments after your review of my novel, Bigelow stated: “…sodomy within hetero marriage is ‘dont ask, dont tell.'” The Sunstone audience laughed at this. And then when I quoted you: “So youre saying that oral sex isnt necessarily a sin or vice if its man and wife?” The audience also laughed, but in a more embarrassed kind of way. Then I further quoted you: “What if its the wife pegging her husband with a strap-on?” The audience make a strange, almost offended noise here, and one person audibly said, “Oh, dear.”

    So odd. I mean, here you are basically stating what “hetero sodomy” might entail to inquire about the double standard, yet there’s the extreme between it being funny and offensive.

  8. Alan — ROTFL!!! Now I really wish I’d been there! 😀

    BTW, did you tell the Sunstone audience that I asked that? Not that it’s important.

    (Sorry I haven’t read your presentation yet. I have a bit of a backlog of reading to do, but it’s on my list.)

  9. OK, I just read it — great job!!

    So odd. I mean, here you are basically stating what hetero sodomy might entail to inquire about the double standard, yet theres the extreme between it being funny and offensive.

    I think a lot of people at Sunstone would be interested in talking about that double-standard, but there are also a lot who will recoil in horror at even approaching such an explicit question. You’ll note that Bigelow never came back to answer my question…

  10. usen el traductor de Google , que al pedo estan Uds. muchachos, no soy un santo absoluto pero les digo arrepientanse pronto antes que sea tarde. Hugo Olaiz que profunda decepcin es ver tu intelecto desperdiciado en defender lo indefendible. PATETICO ES LA PALABRA QUE MEJOR DEFINE sunstone y todos estos sitios que lo unico que hacen es perder tiempo y esfuerzo

  11. Jaime — If you have some constructive criticism to make, you are welcome to do so. But you’re not going to convince people to repent by simply calling them pathetic.

  12. im not trying to convince anybody,it`s my point of view how expend time and energy in change something that will never change. Pathetic is the word, if you are out of the church why make the war against in something that you are not believing? Expend your efforts in study different knpwledge than poors mormon doctrine, or assume that you are nut and stop it with so poors arguments. Are you mormon? Practice the gospel that Christ left us, are you a sinner? Ok, repent of your sin. But it`s no sense argue against the truth, the simple and irrefutable truth. Excuse my english.

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