Mormonism, disability, same-gender attraction

From Alma 34:

40 And now my beloved brethren, I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions; that ye do not revile against those who do cast you out because of your exceeding poverty, lest ye become sinners like unto them;

41 But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.

At one point, my mother was married to a disabled man. Even though my mother is LDS and I’m gay, we occasionally talk about sex. I was curious about my mother’s sex life at the time of her marriage to this man. When I asked her about it, she smiled and said that she looks forward to when her husband will have a “perfect body.” This statement really bothered me.

There is a way in which believing that a disabled body will be “repaired” in Heaven maintains ableist thinking. It reduces the disabled body to a position of being lesser than. Certainly, if one’s hearing or sight gets worse as one ages, it might be nice to think that in Heaven one will have perfect hearing and sight rather than have to wear a hearing aid or have contact lenses. But this is using the able body as a point of reference. As a teaching aid, one might ask a question of, “Are there eyeglasses in Heaven?” — which can help LDS children think about ableism in their culture — but adults should be more critical. Consider the person born deaf, who learns sign language as a child, is involved in deaf culture throughout her life, and has no desire to be hearing after death. Is it appropriate to assume this person will be hearing in Heaven? The answer: No, it is not.

In Mormonism, considerations of disability have carried over to the question of “same-gender attraction.” In the last decade or so, there has been a rise of church leaders comparing “same-gender attraction” to disability, as something that will be “repaired” in Heaven (before this, there was a focus on “cure.”) In the Church, disabled people are pitted against gays as a way to instill humility. For example, in a 2006 interview with Dalin Oaks, Lance Wickman spoke of his disabled daughter who

stand[s] at the window of my office which overlooks the Salt Lake Temple and look[s] at the brides and their new husbands as theyre having their pictures taken. . . . [S]hes at once captivated . . . and saddened.

Her image served as a call for humility among those whose “differences” do not place them beyond the realm of marriageability in this life. From Wickman’s perspective, his daughter won’t have to be saddened in the afterlife because there she will be “repaired” and will marry (and even have children). What I see happening here is ableism being put in the service of heterosexism. It’s pretty awful.

There is a way in which LGBT politics often intentionally divorces itself from disability politics, because of (1) ableism in the gay community, and (2) gays want to move as far away from the idea of “homosexuality as a disability” given a very hurtful history of attempted “curing” and being considered lesser than. But what Mormonism makes clear is that even if a culture largely ceases trying to “cure” homosexuality, it can still maintain “same-gender attraction” as lesser than, a “disabling” factor to be “repaired” later. LGBT and disability politics have to join forces to address this.

168 thoughts on “Mormonism, disability, same-gender attraction

  1. it appears to me that to assert that at all times non-heterosexuality is a norm alongside heterosexuality, there has to be some pervading *thing* to represent non-heterosexuality.

    A “thing?” What about the fact that you can’t have heterosexuality without homosexuality? They are philosophically dependent on each other. I have stated this already.

    A lot of what is happening here is a conflation of population regeneration throughout the ages (or a survival of the species) with “heterosexuality,” and a reduction of homosexuality to “feelings and actions.” You might not think this is a “reduction,” because to be “fair,” heterosexual people have turned the idea of “feelings and actions” toward themselves as well, to complete the sexological classification system. But you have to remember that the homo/hetero binary was created for the sole purpose of explaining the “illness” of homosexuality and to normalize heterosexuality. When people tell the story of history (such as chanson does above), they continue along this line of thinking: normalized heterosexuality. You will be hard-pressed to find studies to locate the “heterosexual gene” because of the assumption that heterosexuality is natural for population regeneration. When people look at history, they see “male” and “female” pairings, and associate this with today’s “heterosexuality.” Meanwhile, they strip away the patriarchy that maintained this system throughout the ages.

    It’s very difficult to do lesbian history not because of the historical subjugation of women’s bodies to include those who might “ordinarily” have been “lesbian” — but because of the fact that because ALL women’s bodies were subjugated, so there was no lesbianism or straight women to speak of. Sure you’ll find instances here and there of female same-sex relationships and of women speaking frankly about their desires for men. But my point is, if you take away population regeneration for the purposes of labor or whatever, there is an influence on the sexuality of a society. It is hard to see this change because it often spans centuries. In ancient Greece, homosexuality among the male aristocrats was much higher than it was today, not because there were no women present (AKA situational homosexuality), but because gender was viewed differently in Greek society. What I would really like from you is an explanation of how if there is such a thing as biological “orientation” that predetermines who people are attracted to (in which heterosexuality is a norm and homosexuality is not), how you can have a culture for whom this mysteriously does not apply?

  2. I don’t think we’ll ever see a society where we both recognize a variety of sexual desires and refrain from categorizing ourselves. Just think of the confusion on personal ads and dating sites. 😉

  3. What about the fact that you cant have heterosexuality without homosexuality? They are philosophically dependent on each other. I have stated this already.

    But to move away from philosophy into real life, you can’t *just* have a philosophical dependence. This isn’t like ideal forms. Rather, what’s important is that there are people who actually *are* attracted to the same sex, not that theoretically, the *idea* of people attracted to the opposite sex necessitates the *idea* of people attracted to the same sex.

    You might not think this is a reduction, because to be fair, heterosexual people have turned the idea of feelings and actions toward themselves as well, to complete the sexological classification system.

    Why is it that heterosexual people have turned the idea of “feelings and actions” toward themselves to be “fair,” rather than to more accurately reflect reality? Do heterosexuals not have feelings and actions?

    When people look at history, they see male and female pairings, and associate this with todays heterosexuality.

    So, hold on. When people assert that the closet has existed in the past, and that there have been mixed orientation marriages (which means that they see “male” and “female” pairings and do *not* associate this with today’s heterosexuality necessarily), you disapprove. But when they don’t, you disapprove.

    because ALL womens bodies were subjugated, so there was no lesbianism or straight women to speak of.

    Are you trying to say that in the past, women simply did not experience sexual attractions to men or women?

    In ancient Greece, homosexuality among the male aristocrats was much higher than it was today, not because there were no women present (AKA situational homosexuality), but because gender was viewed differently in Greek society.

    When you say “homosexuality among the male aristocrats,” are you saying “homosexual behavior” or “homosexual attractions”? And how are you telling the difference. How do you tell the difference between a philosophical zombie (or even a heterosexual) who engages in “homosexual behavior” and a person who experiences the homosexual qualia — the internal feelings and attractions, so to speak?

    This distinction is important because:

    What I would really like from you is an explanation of how if there is such a thing as biological orientation that predetermines who people are attracted to (in which heterosexuality is a norm and homosexuality is not), how you can have a culture for whom this mysteriously does not apply?

    I don’t see from these examples how this “mysteriously does not apply.” It is very easy for me to conceptualize people engaging in sexual relationships with people to whom they are not sexually attracted — ESPECIALLY in cultural conditions where relationships do not prioritize sexual attraction to begin with.

    But it’s not so easy to conceptualize at all that the actual attractions or feelings have changed over time and culture.

  4. Jonathan, but you’re still assuming that there is no orientation change or flexibility possible!!!!

    Why would we need to categorize ourselves if the entire pool of humanity were appealing and attractive to us?

    It doesn’t seem realistic to me or you, but apparently, our current foundation just won’t work and is horribly “heterosexist.” Or whatever.

  5. Andrew, I’m not the one using a philosophical Platonic ideal and badly associating it with reality. Did you miss the whole transgender part of this conversation? What we think about as sex is actually gendered body parts — body parts that are gendered and given meaning by culture. This explains how a heterosexual man can unwittingly date and be attracted to another person with a penis without knowing that person has a penis.

    So when I say that there was no “lesbianism or straight women,” I am not saying there was no desire, I’m saying that the binary gender system that you’re clinging to does not manifest the same way across time.

  6. I didn’t pay all that much attention to the discussion (except through my email notifications), but I didn’t see much problem, at all, with the transgender part of the conversation. It hasn’t seemed like it has much of a problem with sexuality.

    So when I say that there was no lesbianism or straight women, I am not saying there was no desire, Im saying that the binary gender system that youre clinging to does not manifest the same way across time.

    OK…

    so, hmm…

    (lightbulb dimly lights)

    Would race be a good analogy? We view race kinda in terms of “racial body parts”, but the body parts (and other aspects of race) are “racialized” by culture. Different culture = different idea of race. We never look the appearance of blue eyes or blond hair or dark skin or a broad nose, but the association of them in racial packages changes depending on the culture we have. If we aren’t in a specific culture (say, we don’t come from Brazil), then even though we can see the physical traits that are wrapped up as a particular “race,” they won’t make sense to us.

    Is that on track?

  7. Well Holly @ 148, I’d say that actually ended quite well. It is nice to have the confusion worked out. I for one appreciate it. To the extent that you saw me “pursuing this disagreement,” it was mostly in reaction to your accusation that Alan’s argument had utterly failed, and that he should apologize to you. I didn’t see it that way at all, and wanted to pick up the argument that Alan and I had been advancing from early on. In any case, it seems all cleared up now and so we’re cool.

  8. it was mostly in reaction to your accusation that Alans argument had utterly failed, and that he should apologize to you.

    But that statement was not referring to something from this thread.

    Given that I acknowledged in my last comment a move that could have saved time had I not made it, and given that there are repeated references in this thread to another thread, and given that nothing in this thread corresponds fully to the situation Chanson, Alan and I were discussing in our back-and-forth, I have to ask: why didn’t you ask me to explain that comment instead of asking me to explain my view of gender, essentialism and embodiment?

    Anyway. As I wrote in @136 here, that was about an exchange that happened on the thread “Mormon Times say religion can be bad but not theirs.” Starting @26, I said “The culture [of Mormonism] is thoroughly misogynist.” Alan said, “Blanket statements like this seem unhelpful,” because they upset his mom. He later acknowledged that he himself would, in certain circumstances, say that the culture is thoroughly misogynist. This and subsequent comments are what chanson was referring to when she made the comment in this thread about “why poison the well by lecturing us as though we’re neophyptes” on the topic of feminism etc.

    As I think about it, I can’t help noticing that Alan wants to toss out a discourse about queerness that many are still using with some success, NOW, because he thinks it’s the best way to make change happen for the LGBT community. He knows this will upset people but doesn’t care. It’s what has to happen. We must be bold. We must plunge ahead.

    But when it comes to feminism…. Well, we still need to be conservative and cautious. We can’t move too quickly, and upset people. Can’t use terms or ways of speaking that others will find jarring.

    For me, that’s really what these two threads, which I saw as overlapping (there were several references in this thread to that thread, and vice versa), came to be about. The most important point I made here, the one that summed up what I really wanted to get at in this thread, was @86:

    Alan: there are phenomenological problems with the concept of orientation.

    Me: Well, yes. There are problems with most if not all human concepts. But it does not necessarily follow that the concept has outlived its usefulness and must be discarded NOW, as you advocate, or scrapped entirely at any point. At this time in the current debate, there are still people working toward the same goal youre working toward who find it both useful and necessary.

    If it truly does become useless and entirely at odds with what else we know about sexuality, it WILL go away and we will cease to use it, in the same way we no longer discuss sexuality in terms of inverts and perverts (except a casual use of the latter).

    I don’t claim to know the etiology of human sexuality. I’m open to what others find out. I truly do believe that if orientation doesn’t work as a way of framing desire, we’ll stop using it, and I won’t mourn it, any more than I mourn the categorization and treatment of temperament and illness according to four humors.

    But if you told people who were managing their health well enough under that system that they had to abandon that idea NOW because it A) didn’t work and B) wasn’t “philosophically satisfying,” they might well have disagreed.

    To suggest another way of getting people to move on from a reliance on unchosen orientations: a few years ago I published a piece on mixed orientation marriages between gay men and straight women, provocative enough that it’s taught in law schools and gender studies programs across the country. Although I don’t think this statement isn’t applicable to the situation, I didn’t say that people had to stop entering MOMs because they A) don’t work and B) aren’t “philosophically satisfying” from many perspectives except rigidly patriarchal ones like Mormon theology; instead, I said that people can do whatever they want, but given how often and how badly MOMs fail, it did seem like everyone might be happier in the long run if straight women married straight men, and gay men married each other. I know there were gay men who found it persuasive.

    it’s about multiple audiences.

    To bring it back to Alan’s argument: I was thinking about how the issue he wants to advance plays right now to multiple audiences, and how he could appeal to those audiences.

    On the other thread, @43, Alan wrote to me:

    My point is that there is more than just one feminism. This is not to downplay the social justice element of equality that I think you and I both share, but simply to recognize the reality of how feminism is taken up by multiple audiences.

    More than one feminism…. as if anyone involved in Mormon feminism could miss that fact, as if those of us active in Mo-fem stuff don’t moderate what we say according to which of those audiences we’re addressing. Chanson called his full comment “infuriatingly reductionist and polarizing.” In response he wrote,

    Im merely reporting on the polarization, not saying that the Church and feminism are mutually exclusive. In fact, I stated above that they are not mutually exclusive because of the fact that there is no single feminist position.

    there’s no single feminism, he tells us approvingly, but gay activism and discourse has to be unified, he argues. In fact, he writes @57 here:

    Look, the discussion has got to move in this direction if youre going to see movement in conservative cultures like Mormonism.

    but, he suggested on the other thread, if we want to see movement in conservative cultures like Mormonism with regards to feminism, we can’t have unity, and we shouldn’t make “unhelpful” blanket statements or call LDS culture misoygnist – even on MSP – because such statements upset his mom.

    That’s the argument I thought failed utterly. Having analyzed it here and compared it to his argument in this thread, I think it’s even more of a failure.

    Alan said @107 here:

    I apologized to Chino because he attempting bridge work. On the other hand, you seem consistently antagonistic.

    OK, I seemed consistently antagonistic. Chanson, however, attempted bridge work after reacting in anger to his “lecture.” Her bridge work, however, didn’t warrant any acknowledgment from Alan. I rather thought it should have. And given that he has underscored the heterosexism here, I hope he will acknowledge his own sexism. Because when you consider it all – the way he talks to women, the way he wants women to behave (he can call LDS culture “thoroughly misogynist,” but we really shouldn’t), the way he seems to think we don’t know our own history, the concern he has that feminism not make people uncomfortable – that’s really what it looks like.

    Huh.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to think through and write this, TT.

  9. Holly, you have been calling for a unified feminist politics, but saying that there cannot be unified queer politics because people “might well have disagreed” with what I was saying. Throughout this thread, I have been trying to demonstrate that the essentialism/biologisim currently used to “unify” queer politics has run its course. It has run its course because (1) it is not philosophically sustainable, and (2) there are many, many queers who hate this politics, have always hated it, and have never felt represented by it. Perhaps if their voices were on this thread, rather than just mine and TT’s, you would have changed your tune long ago, rather than arguing tooth and nail with me and TT. In terms of feminism, it is also the case that essentialism/biologism is (1) not philosophically sustainable, and (2) hated by a lot of women.

    The difference between your arguments and mine is that I don’t find essentialism to be viable for either feminist or queer politics. You were seemingly okay with using it to unify both. The fact that on this particular thread that I’ve been writing about a unified queer politics under a new banner of “choice,” and that I talked about on the Mormon Times” thread of a divided feminist politics, does not make me “sexist” — but is circumstantial to this particular conversation.

    As a counter-example, on the Patheos site after Kathryn Soper’s reply to a bunch of Mormon feminists, I posted: “I take…offense to Kathryn’s categorization of Melissa [Proctor] and Tresa [Edmunds] as ‘feminists,’ and therefore out-of-step with the ‘average’ Mormon reader.” And guess what happened? Soper said, “Alan, I’m a feminist myself, so please be offended on my behalf as well. ” Another woman said: “It seems to me that one of the problems Kathy was trying to address in the response you found offensive, Alan, is that the audience Kristine [Haglund] and some of the other respondents appear to be writing for is different than the audience Kathryn was trying to engage in her initial essay … As Kristine noted, ‘How we talk about feminism matters.'”

    IOW, if you begin a conversation with “LDS culture is thoroughly misogynist,” how many people do you think will leave the room? Well, if it’s a Mormon audience, the answer is a lot. I pointed this out not to lecture you (because I know you know it), but because you make statements like that alongside statements of “respecting” queers who feel they are “born that way.” So, if you’re willing to “respect” those queers in the language that you use, I could only wonder why you aren’t “respecting” Mormon women who don’t think LDS culture is misogynist through the language you use — e.g., my mother.

    [Edit]: Oh, and in response you said that MSP is a site where you figured you could speak frankly about LDS misogyny — so I thought that was cleared up. But apparently the part where I’m somehow “sexist” and should apologize hasn’t been.

  10. you have been calling for a unified feminist politics

    No, I have not. I don’t know why you fabricated that belief, Alan, but that’s what you’ve done.

    I defy you to find a comment in either of the two threads under discussion – or, for that matter, any of my work – where I have called for a unified feminist politics.

    Instead, I have been quite adamant about saying that LDS women get to approach feminism as they see fit.

    I can only wonder why you arent respecting Mormon women who dont think LDS culture is misogynist through the language you use e.g., my mother.

    Your mom’s not here, Alan.

    I am pretty careful about the way I discuss feminism in my published work – for instance, my last two essays in Dialogue, to use an audience you’re familiar with. You were talking repeatedly about your Dialogue piece, and I was responding to the way you characterized it.

  11. Holly @ 148:

    I decided this morning that I dont actually accept the distinction Alan made @129 about body parts, since people dont generally experience themselves as parts. I can see its rhetorical usefulness, but I dont think its what life feels like for most people.

    I hope you’re not saying that you’re going to privilege the experiences of those who feel female and have a vagina, over those whose who feel their vaginas have nothing to do with their genders. Your insistence on “grounded experience” is noble, but I also think it tends to pull you back into problematic essentialist positions.

    OK, I seemed consistently antagonistic. Chanson, however, attempted bridge work after reacting in anger to his lecture. Her bridge work, however, didnt warrant any acknowledgment from Alan. I rather thought it should have.

    Chanson’s way of addressing me has been polite and cordial, but I still saw her as not making room for difference in her arguments. Being polite and cordial is not itself “bridge work.” Chino, on the other hand, was making an umbrella observation concerning activism/academics. It pulled me out of the fray, and I apologized to him for not more readily entering that new context.

  12. I defy you to find a comment in either of the two threads under discussion or, for that matter, any of my work where I have called for a unified feminist politics.

    When I said @107 that “the power of Mormon feminism is that it breaks down essentialism,” you said @110 that “the power of feminism is that it breaks down essentialism, which is an essential part of Mormonism. Hence the incompatibility.”

    Whereas my characterization of “Mormon feminism” has room for movement of multiple perspectives, your characterization of “feminism” AND “Mormon feminism” requires the first agenda item to be making Mormonism and feminism “compatible” AKA a unified feminist politics.

  13. I hope youre not saying that youre going to privilege the experiences of those who feel female and have a vagina, over those whose who feel their vaginas have nothing to do with their genders.

    No. I’m not even going to talk about gender. I’m going to say that most people don’t think “oh, look, that’s my foot, which is only a part of me, stepping off the curb, thanks to my knee, another part, bending, and my hip bone swiveling in its socket. Here is my hand, which is a part of me, reaching into my pocket, as my thumb and fingers try to find my chapstick. Here are my eyes, which are a part of me, looking to see if traffic is coming, thanks to my head, another part of me, turning first one way then the other.” Instead, most people think, most of the time, “I’ve stepped off the curb; I’ve reached into my pocket for chapstick; I’m looking left and right before I cross the street.”

    Most of the time, we think of our bodies as us. We don’t say, “My body is walking down the street;” we say, “I’m walking down the street.” We don’t have to check our balance; we have a sense of wholeness that lets us move without falling down. It’s typically something like illness or injury that makes someone see their body as parts or as “Not Me”–a broken leg, a recalcitrant body that won’t obey mental commands to sit up after something like surgery and seems to thwart one’s will for oneself.

    No vagina or even gender mentioned at all in that scenario. Like I said, I’m interested in bodies–which means everything from toenails to armpit hair to earwax to me, not just the bits between the legs.

    your characterization of feminism AND Mormon feminism requires the first agenda item to be making Mormonism and feminism compatible AKA a unified feminist politics.

    That’s ludicrous.

    There is neither an agenda nor a first point on it. I’m reporting, as you did, on something – the fact that many people firmly believe you can’t be both Mormon and feminist. I was identifying one reason as to why.

    I see Mormonism and feminism as incompatible. But as I also said, I recognize that many incompatible things–spouses, political parties, personal ideologies–often exist in the same uneasy space.

    And if I did have an agenda with a first point on it, as you claim I must certainly do by deeming Mormonism and feminism incompatible, it most definitely wouldn’t be the one you say is required by that incompatibility.

    I’m mildly curious to see if you can come up with it. It shouldn’t be too hard if you’re at all interested in working at it. It might be worth your time to attempt it, since I know Mo feminists who do have this goal.

    Of course, I also know Mo feminists who want to stop it.

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