To Young Men Only: The Gay Version

This post is inserted as a sort of intermission into the series on issues relating to mixed-orientation marriages that I started last week. A substantially similar version of this essay was first published on my blog in late December of last year, following a series of posts addressing issuesrelating toMormon mixed-orientation marriages (MoMs).

In the wake of those posts, I received several comments and e-mails from young gay Mormons, expressing gratitude for those older men who had shared their experiences and requesting advice concerning their own situation. I pondered what they had written, and in doing so, I found my thoughts turning to (yet) another infamous talk given by Boyd K. Packer entitled To Young Men Only.

For many of us older gay Mormon guys, the attitude of the Church toward homosexuality was succinctly stated in this talk, given by Elder Packer in priesthood session of conference in October 1976. This address was subsequently printed in pamphlet form and became the standard reference for many years for bishops in dealing with worthiness issues among young men and contained the party line with respect to the issues of homosexuality and (among other things) masturbation, both of which were condemned in no uncertain terms.

Interestingly, this talk (alone, apparently) is omitted from both the General Conference section of the Churchs website, as well as from the online edition of the Ensign for November 1976. Curious. If you conduct a search of the entire Church website for the title of the talk, you will get only one hit an article published in the June 1980 Ensign about chastity. Curious. Yet, as already indicated, the talk was published in pamphlet form and was used by bishops for years and years as they worked with young men. Curious. Therefore, in order to help make the text of the talk more readily accessible, I have posted the text of the talk on my blog here.

Any Mormon man who came of age in the late 70s through the mid-90s is probably familiar with the pamphlet containing this talk, or at least with the principles set forth in the pamphlet. These principles, along with other Church practices that were intended to deal with homosexuality (e.g., reparative therapy and encouraging gay men to marry with the assurance that same-sex attractions would be thereby cured) were the frame of reference for many of us when we made the decision to get married and start down the path. As was expressed the December posts on MoMs, there are many Mormon men who went down that path, only to realize later that it was impossible for them to continue.

As I read the private messages I had received from young gay Mormon men, as well as comments that were left on my blog in response to these MoM posts, I came to realize (duh) how relevant the experiences of those who had entered MoMs were to these younger men. One guy wrote in a comment:

I too am young and single. I agree that these blogs are great resources to those of us who are trying to figure out what being a gay Mormon means for our future. I rarely go on dates for similar reasons (other than lack of interest), but I don’t want to develop a serious relationship with a girl because I would feel dishonest about my intentions. I would be pretending to be in love with her while she would just be an experiment to see if I could eventually fall in love. I can see myself married in the future, not because I look forward to or imagine any real relationship with a future wife, but because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one. I may eventually marry if I find a girl that I can be completely open with, but for now I am choosing to stay single.

Another man (who has given me permission to share this) e-mailed me and wrote:

I’ve only dated one girl in my life I was hoping desperately that one day I’d wake up and *click* I’d be in love. But that never happened. I loved her, but wasn’t “in love” with her. I guess the point in emailing you is to let you know how relevant the MOM discussion has been for me. In that relationship, I was determined to just make it work, because I’d never dated before, and didn’t know what a relationship was like. I was disappointed because all I was ever told about how great relationships are, seemed to be false. I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn’t. My willpower to resist and maintain my identity was slowly sapped away. When we finally broke up, I was broke up, because my identity as a straight guy was shattered. She was the foundation of that facade. (Of course, that wasn’t her intention, she just was.)

Every once in awhile, that little voice sneaks into my brain and tells me that I should give dating girls another try. I could make the relationship work, and eventually marry. It tells me I could be happy, and maybe I would for a short period of time. But I think what makes me gay is, not only am I attracted to men, but my long-term happiness can only be sustained by one. In short, I want to be happy, and I think God wants me to happy, too. So will I ever get married to a woman? I don’t think so.

I felt that these two young men demonstrated a great deal of maturity and integrity in dealing with the conflict between their sexual orientation and the teachings and expectations of the Church with respect to heterosexual marriage. But the doctrine of eternal marriage (and everything it implies), central as it is to everything the Church is and stands for, represents a significant (and for some, insurmountable) barrier or challenge to young gay Mormon men who are attempting to deal with their sexuality and, by extension, their identity eternal and otherwise.

This concern is reflected in another private message I received from yet another young gay Mormon man who, after stating that he is gay and that he had been reading the posts about MOMs, wrote, I am just thinking that I should get married and have kids. I really want to go to the celestial kingdom, but I am so worried about being married or having kids. I don’t know [however] if I am strong enough to do it. He then asked for my advice.

Believing that what I wrote may be of some relevance and use to other young gay Mormon men, and with the consent of the man to whom I was writing, I am including here most of my (slightly edited and updated) response to this young gay brother, which I now entitle:

To Young Men Only The Gay Version

It sounds like you are obviously an active member of the Church and that you have a testimony of the reality of God and of the ability of the Holy Ghost to inspire and enlighten you. Because of this, my first bit of counsel for you would be – if you haven’t already done so – to specifically pray to know whether Heavenly Father accepts you as you are – gay. However, in doing so, I would remind you of Moronis admonition: seek wisdom, be sincere, and ask with real intent (and I would suggest that asking with real intent requires that you push away from you everything that you have been taught about the nature of homosexuality and approach God as much as possible with an open mind and heart). Then there is James admonition in James 1:5 (which, of course, prompted Joseph to go into the grove of trees): If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you [New International Version, emphasis added].

I can and will give you my own conviction that God accepts you just the way you are, but it is obviously no substitute for your own witness (in whatever form that may come, e.g., whether as a flash of insight, an impression in your heart and mind, a feeling, or a settled conviction). My own witness of this, which I have described elsewhere on my blog, came to me on my mission, the most sublime spiritual experience of my life. This experience, as well as those of other gay men who came to feel divine acceptance of their homosexuality, are described here. I urge you to read the stories of these men.

Based on these witnesses, I can testify that you were born the way you are and that God accepts and loves you the way you are. President Packer notwithstanding, you did not “choose” to be gay. You just are

If God accepts you as you are, which I believe He does, then you next need to think and pray about the consequences and ramifications of this knowledge. Would God damn you for something that He has told you is “ok”? Would He expect you to do something totally contrary to your nature, failing which you would be damned? My answer to these questions, after much experience, pondering and prayer, is “no.”

The truth is that God’s ways are not our ways. In Isaiah 55:8-9, we read: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. We – President Monson included – understand and have had revealed to us only a tiny fraction of what God knows and understands. Joseph Smith himself said that if he told the Saints everything he knew, the apostles would leave his side and the saints would “fly apart as glass.” (And remember he went in to the Sacred Grove expecting one answer and came out with a mind-blowingly different answer, one that he could never have anticipated.)

My own deep personal conviction is that there is much we do not know and understand about homosexuality. But there is something each one of “us” can know and understand: God loves us just the way we are (i.e., gay) and He does not expect us to live a lie. Should we who are gay, alone among God’s creations, deny ourselves and have denied to us the opportunity to fulfill the measure of our creation? Again, my answer to this question is “No.”

This is obviously a very personal issue. But I believe that if you open your heart and try to push away what you have been taught about homosexuality and ask God with sincerity and full purpose of heart, He will reveal to you the truth of who you are [i.e., in your heart and/or your mind in a way that is appropriate to you] I wish you the very best, which I’m sure you deserve.

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13 Responses

  1. Holly says:

    Should we who are gay, alone among Gods creations, deny ourselves and have denied to us the opportunity to fulfill the measure of our creation?

    succinct, elegant summary of an attitude that is anything but elegant.

  2. Thank you, Holly.

  3. Seth R. says:

    That is really interesting that this particular talk is apparently being quietly buried online. Makes one wonder if we’re entering a new era in the LDS Church on this.

    Personally, I never found Elder Packer’s approach to masturbation to be productive. It seems more a recipe for crafting an entrenched neurosis than really dealing with an addictive behavior.

  4. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    In assembling a torrent of LDS documents a few months ago I tried to find this talk and eventually went to the BYU library because I wanted to ensure I was getting it from an official LDS source such as a copy of the original pamphlet. The library had no copies of the pamphlet available at the time and the talk was never even published in the Nov 1976 Church magazines (so let’s calm down about the idea of the Church rewriting history at least in regards to this talk; not publishing the talk was a conscious decision probably made before it was even presented at the Priesthood meeting). In the end, the only place that I *could* find this talk at the HBLL was in the small “Conference Report” booklet.

  5. MoHoHawaii says:

    I took time to reread the two speeches you link to. I assume that the pamphlets based on them are also no longer available. I have to confess mixed feellings here. Although they way they have silently disappeared is creepy (like the way the Soviets used to erase disfavored people from historical photographs), it’s probably a very good thing that these two speeches are no longer in general circulation.

    Erasing speeches from the historical archive is something the Church does only rarely. The only other case I know of when this happened is Ronald Poelman’s 1984 conference talk, which was (surreptitously) rewritten, rerecorded in an empty tabernacle and spliced back into the original video recordings after the fact. The original speech exists in video form today (you can see it on YouTube) only because of home VCRs.

  6. Alan says:

    I would be pretending to be in love with her while she would just be an experiment to see if I could eventually fall in love.

    I would like to point out that gay Mormon men don’t only treat women this way. They also often treat the men they date this way, too: as experiments. This is because the Church leads them to think that dating men is experimentation, and the feelings of “in love” aren’t real.

    Those who have the sense to not marry a woman often feel like if they go the gay route, they have to give up everything for a man, so that man better be perfect. When they realize they had an idealistic version of a man in their head, they get drawn back to “reality,” which for them is, the Church says I should be with a woman. There’s this strange interplay between “reality” and “idealism” that happens, which actually serves to put the gay Mormon even further from reality, because (a) there is no “perfect” man to help you make your two identities congruent, and (b) there is no “perfect” woman who can endure your “trial” with you.

    In the end, their partners are left feeling deceived and heart-broken, because the gay Mormon man inevitably says: “I want to be with you” and then he takes it back if he hasn’t figured himself out.

    I’m always glad to hear about those who have the sense to stay single until they get a handle on how the Church has shaped them to be so self-seeking and have unrealistic expectations of others. Those who do a lot of research on the subject and then still enter MoMs, well…good luck.

    because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one

    As I was growing up, I hit this barrier, too, where I was like, “What if I want kids?” But then I met same-sex couples with kids, and I was like, “Oh.”

    I think this is something that those gays in MoMs can’t really help with in terms of informing the next generation. Because MoMs often provide children.

    Currently, I’m “Uncle Alan” for my partner’s niece and nephew. I have a family greater than just me and my partner. If the Church ever jumps onboard with gays, then they’re going to have to develop some resources about “being in a family when you’re gay.” Because this current nonsense about being gay means you don’t get a family is very harmful.

  7. chanson says:

    The only other case I know of when this happened is Ronald Poelmans 1984 conference talk, which was (surreptitously) rewritten, rerecorded in an empty tabernacle and spliced back into the original video recordings after the fact.

    Ah, the information that ironically disappeared in exactly 1984!!

    I’m a huge public transportation fan, and I’m fascinated by the subway maps from the Berlin wall period. Have a look at this post, and especially note how East Berlin is diminished in this map from 1984, and how West Berlin doesn’t even exist in this map from 1984. And this is a transport system that was totally integrated before (and now is integrated again).

  8. Seth R. says:

    Out of curiosity, do Church sources really go to great lengths to keep and preserve ANY of the old manuals and pamphlets that were in circulation?

    I mean, Invictus discovered this one merely because the pamphlet has a controversial background, but would he fare any differently trying to track down any of the old manuals and materials from the 70s and 80s?

    Perhaps we are merely running into a standard Church practice of not preserving “old news.” What do you guys think?

  9. @6 – Alan – Thanks for these insights about gay “experimentation”, Alan. This is an aspect that I had not previously considered.

    To the other commenters, concerning the availability (or lack thereof) of Packer’s talk, I just thought it was curious. I can see why they might not have included it in the Ensign (back in 1976, attitudes being what they were) because of the subject matter; but to not include it in the General Conference online archives at this point is strange. Perhaps no one at HQ has ever turned their mind to this; perhaps they have. The important point for me remains the effect that the talk had on several generations of Mormon young men.

  10. Holly says:

    Personally, I never found Elder Packers approach to masturbation to be productive.

    I’m pretty sure Packer’s approach to masturbation was designed not to be, uh, “productive.”

    I’ll resist inquiring about approaches to masturbation that have been “productive” for you.

    Because this current nonsense about being gay means you dont get a family is very harmful.

    Absolutely. This is one of the biggest myths we’ve got to combat.

  11. Scott says:

    “For Young Men Only” was still being given to all of the young men in my stake as recently as two years ago. I believe it is still available to local authorities.

  12. @11 – Thanks for the update, Scott. Do you mind me asking whether you live in Utah or another area where there is a large concentration of Mormons?

  13. Scott says:

    I live in New York

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