Masks: Its the Longing that Gets You

Homosexuality LGBT

Mormons are sometimes accused of being insular. Even when we Mormons disagree with or among each other about a policy or practice or doctrine of the LDS Church, we tend to think of these policies, practices and doctrines in uniquely Mormon ways.

This is one reason I was delighted to discover that some of my blog posts about mixed orientation marriages (MoMs) had jumped the Mormon firewall to a world outside the (current/post/active/nonbelieving/liberal/somewhere over the rainbow) Mormon community and had generated a discussion on the subjects of MoMs, homosexuality and religious beliefs in general.

I wrote about this phenomenon yesterday: someone had posted a front-page MetaFilter post about several of my blog posts, generating a huge increase in the number of page views of my blog as well as a number of very interesting comments. I posted some of these comments yesterday. Today and tomorrow, Id like to post several more lengthy comments because of what I believe these stories and viewpoints bring to our discussion on this side of the firewall.

A Visceral Reaction

This first lengthy comment was written by Hippybear and is a poignant account of his coming to terms with his conservative Presbyterian background in light of his homosexuality.

I’m having an utterly visceral reaction to reading these articles [i.e., my blog posts that were linked in the MetaFilter post]. This is so difficult. Typing is a huge challenge to me right now. I wasn’t raised Mormon, but this was so nearly me, it’s shaking me to my core.

I grew up in a very conservative Presbyterian congregation. I was a darling of the church. Stellar in Sunday School, deeply committed to Jesus, thirsty for spiritual knowledge. Active in youth group and youth choir, by the time I had finished high school, I had written and directed two Christmas programs for the church … I had even preached from the pulpit in Sunday. Twice. This is pretty much unheard of for a layperson in the Presbyterian church. There was no doubt about it — I was headed toward the ministry.

All along, I had found it quite easy to avoid a lot of the boy-girl pitfalls a lot of my peers were stumbling over … It was totally easy not to be interested in dating. What I didn’t realize was that the reason that the girls didn’t do anything for me was because I had an eye for the boys. How could I? The town in which I was raised had no gay community, no visible context for what I was really feeling.

The cracks in my facade started when I went out of country as an exchange student at the age of 18. Without the context I had been immersed in, I started to suspect that things weren’t as simple as I had made it out to be until then. In college, I had my first real crush. Only I didn’t have a real name for it, or even know that what I was feeling was what it was. It completely stopped me in my tracks, however, and without any clear coping mechanism or even support structure, in my confusion, I didn’t leave my dorm room for 3 weeks and was asked not to come back to school after the end of the semester.

Back in my home town, as my awareness continued to become more complete, I finally went in to the pastor at the church in which I had been raised and asked the pastor there whether there would be a place for me in the congregation if I were gay. He said there wasn’t. And that was the last time I walked into that building for over a decade.

Until I had my process … Until I actually came out to myself (which has to happen before anyone can come out to other people), I had thought that I’d probably meet some woman at some point and marry her and continue life as I “should”. It never occurred to me that other men in the world didn’t feel exactly the same way that I did. All the warnings about homosexuals painted an odd dual picture in my mind. On the one hand, the homosexual was a mythical boogeyman, nothing that actually existed but was warned about constantly because homosexuality was a symptom of a fallen soul and a diseased mind. On the other hand, because I had no external context, it seemed to me that all the guys everywhere could always be on the verge of falling into homosexual behavior. It was something that drew me, so it MUST draw all the other guys, and it was only sheer willpower coupled with the fortuitous discovery of that One Special Woman who you would marry and live with forever that could keep those feelings at bay and banish them for always.

I spent years praying. Praying that these feelings wouldn’t be so strong. Praying that I would be delivered from my interest in men. Praying that I would meet that woman who would be my wife. Praying with other people. Praying with people laying hands on me. Praying for demons to be cast out of me. Praying for ANY KIND OF DELIVERANCE FROM THIS SIDE OF ME.

The path from those days to where I am now has not been an easy one. It’s involved many years of anger and bitterness and resentment toward the church my parents still attend. It’s meant wholesale rejection of the entire worldview I was raised in for over 20 years and not a short time afterward floundering about with no direction or focus. It’s meant a continually compromised relationship with my family; my parents barely recognize my now-nearly-18-year relationship, and my sister (who is getting married for the 4th time this summer) has yet again refused or “forgotten” to include my partner in the wedding invitation. It has colored and tainted my relationship with old, dear friends as I acted out the rejection I felt I was sure to receive from them during my coming out process and then have had to reach back out to find reconciliation after years of separation and lost time.

My heart goes out to anyone who finds themselves in a religious setting who is homosexual and feels they have to find ways to hide who they are in order to continue living their lives. I so nearly devoted myself to a life where I would be hiding and lying and perhaps even not understanding why or what I was doing. I only hope, as our culture continues to evolve and grow, that fewer men and women find themselves hiding and lying for the sake of their religious beliefs.

Perhaps voices such as these linked [here] will help change things for the better. If I have any prayer to offer, if I have any God to pray to… that is the prayer I say right now.

A Mercy That Rests Forever on the Absence of a Real Person

The following comment was left by PinkMoose.Though some of the punctuation and grammar is unconventional, it is a poignant, powerful essay.

It’s the longing that gets you — it’s the desire for flesh, and the refusal of flesh, it’s the guilt and the exhaustion and the hunger that grinds you down, and its the sadness that one can always desire and never eat.

It’s never just sex with men. It’s the bishops interviews. The bishop you see on Sunday, and Tuesday, and usually one day other a week. If you live in a small town, it’s the bishop you see in the grocery store, and the gas station and picking up videos. You tell the bishop, that you masturbate, that you cheat on yr taxes, that you over eat, that you f–k your wife, or don’t f–k your wife, and about all the other things you want to do, or think about doing, in that interview–with you in a suit and him in a suit, and the weight of that.

Or it is to be 18, and to spend all of yr time with a male companion, and mistaking god and intimacy and desire, and love, and never having an answer. Or it is just before you are 18, and the prophet tells you that all worthy males should serve a mission and the idea of intimacy with a man thrills you and frightens you and the mix of dread and hope refuses the holy–is so unholy that you will never be worthy. It is missionaries and young men’s leaders and fellow scouts all saying you know why aren’t you going on a mission.

It is before, you are 18. And the endless church dances, the earnestness, and the dancing far apart so the holy spirit can have room, and being warned about the wiliness of the girls–but girls are safe, and the feel of flesh on satin is much calmer then the feel of flesh on white cotton–and the boys play all sorts of butch games, because music and dancing and girls and being pure are horribly complicated. They are horribly complicated for you to, because you are convinced that there is a special kind of evil, an evil out of exception, in the hunger of yr cock and yr belly. You are separate.

It is also having your reading, and yr music, and yr television and yr movies, and everything that could possibly tell you about another world, cagily censored by salt lake, by other church members, and the deepest irony of this–is that they love you. they give you meals, and provide you places to rest, they pray with you and they sing with you, and you help each other clean up, and move, and work together, and you know that their desire for you to be saved, is how they imagine a desire for you to be well, to be happy, and to be self-contained.

Or it is when you are 12, and you want to go to the temple, which is so deep in yr soul, but you can’t because you have sinned. Or you go to the temple, and you worry about the change room, because sex is so evaded and so desired, and if you think yr most private thoughts in the change room–then is the baptism for all those souls in heaven invalid…

and it is before that. It is having yr friends go to the temple, to be sealed for all eternity, to love yr family so much that you want to spend the rest of yr life with them, or to sing families can be together forever–and so the only way that you can make heavenly father truly and utterly happy, is to submit to the will of God–a will of God that prevents yr family, or any family that is not heternormative in the extreme to be given refuge.

but, you also remember, and it isn’t much talked about–that their are prophets who had other kinds of families, and descendent’s of those prophets ended up in yr sunday school classes, and occasionally teaching you. and so, this tension can only be smothered, and so you serve and you pray, and you try desperately not to be turned on, and you get baptised for the dead, and you do the work in the temple, and you sublimate it all–and in this sublimation is kindness, and mercy, but a mercy that comes from ignorance, and a mercy that rests forever on the absence of a full person

Invictus Pilgrim blogs at invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com.

14 thoughts on “Masks: Its the Longing that Gets You

  1. On the one hand, the homosexual was a mythical boogeyman, nothing that actually existed but was warned about constantly because homosexuality was a symptom of a fallen soul and a diseased mind. On the other hand, because I had no external context, it seemed to me that all the guys everywhere could always be on the verge of falling into homosexual behavior. It was something that drew me, so it MUST draw all the other guys, and it was only sheer willpower coupled with the fortuitous discovery of that One Special Woman who you would marry and live with forever that could keep those feelings at bay and banish them for always.

    This is exactly what I was talking about in some of my earlier comments.

    People naturally use their own feelings and experiences to understand the experiences of others. If you lack the idea/theory of “orientation”, then you have no way to understand how your own feelings towards men and women compare to others’ feelings. You have no reason to see courtship as deceiving a woman (or cheating her out of an emotionally satisfying marriage) if you have no idea that straight men’s emotional connection with women is in any way different than your own.

  2. I agree, Chanson. Which is one of the reasons why Packer’s “To the One” speech (and the mindset reflected by it) was so damaging to young men: he deliberately made those with homosexual feelings/attractions feel isolated and alone, that everyone else besides them were “normal.”

    The Church’s changed position toward actual “feelings” (or “attractions” or whatever term one considers correct, i.e., no longer being considered sinful in and of themselves) will, and perhaps already has, open(ed) up a window for many young gay Mormon men (and young Mormon lesbians) to allow them to even acknowledge these feelings. This, along with the advent of the Internet, which allows and facilitates the sharing of so much information, will go a long way toward a much healthier perception of “orientation” among young Mormons (and older ones, for that matter). I personally believe this will inevitably lead, sooner or later, to not only changed attitudes, but continued changes to doctrine.

    And coming back to the concluding sentence in your comment, I think it is probably the experience of many gay men that either try to marry or do marry a woman, that they really have no basis for comparing/understanding/having true perspective on their emotional connection to that woman (or any other woman) unless and until they have experienced emotional intimacy with another man. Which comes back to the subject of “experience”, which was discussed in comments to my post in early April that resulted in this series of posts exploring issues relating to mixed-orientation marriages, to which subject I plan to return later in this series.

  3. I’ve argued elsewhere that “orientation” is arising in the Church as an internal anti-bullying mechanism. This is because the current policy, that of a separation between “innocent susceptibilities” and “evil thoughts and actions” can lead straight members to still condemn queer people for their thoughts alone. But if you throw orientation into the mix, people tend to have more understanding.

    If you lack the idea/theory of orientation

    In what the man is saying, the logic of orientation is actually present…just half of it. If we think about how the closet works, straight people can often know a person is gay before the gay person does, which points to a “universalizing” aspect of orientation: the idea that homosexuality affects us all…or that desire can have a tendency to “sweep us off our feet.” What is missing in what the man is saying is the “minoritizing” aspect, that some people “really are gay” (well, he’s heard of it in terms of a mythical boogeyman). Faiths such as Mormonism function at the barrier of these two aspects, because they cannot allow people to be fully “gay” due to their doctrine, but they’ve come to acknowledge, as Oaks puts it in a 2006 interview, “that some people perhaps have this tendency that others do not.”

    For more on the minoritizing/universalizing dialectic, and how it manifests in the Church’s thinking on homosexuality, see my Dialogue essay. =D I theorize an affective binary of “mercy/wrath” in the Church’s dealings with homosexuality that really puts queer people in the Church in an awkward, confusing, contradictory position, like what the man talks about above where his identity is always one step ahead of him.

    The ultimate goal, IMO, is for gay/straight to not be that important in our dealings with each other, so that queer kids don’t have to “come out” at all. They can just be themselves. The Church tries to use this logic when it talks about “not using your sexual feelings to define yourself,” but with hetero marriage as the only option, they’ve put themselves in a corner. By the time a kid reaches their 20s (usually before), they’re still going to have to grapple with the closet somehow.

  4. Alan – Can you repost the link to your essay that you refer to?

    I love what you wrote:

    The ultimate goal, IMO, is for gay/straight to not be that important in our dealings with each other, so that queer kids dont have to come out at all. They can just be themselves. The Church tries to use this logic when it talks about not using your sexual feelings to define yourself, but with hetero marriage as the only option, theyve put themselves in a corner.

    As is apparent from the comments on the post a couple of days ago concerning Packer’s “To the One” speech, and as you have observed, the Church has indeed painted themselves into a corner over this whole issue and has also, in my view, gone into almost impossible contortions in order to ostensibly be able to adopt a more progressive policy toward gays. This whole discussion of the distinction between thoughts, attractions, temptations, orientation, actions, etc., etc., becomes impossibly twisted and frankly ridiculous.

    To me, the weirdness of it all becomes apparent when one looks at the same issues in a heterosexual context: Is it “normal” for a guy to feel attracted to a girl? Yes. Are these attractions sinful? No. They’re normal. Is it normal for a guy to have thoughts about how pretty/shapely/attractive a girl is? Yes. Are these thoughts sinful? No. They’re normal.

    If one looks at what I’ve just written in a homosexual context, however, the official position of the Church (if there is one) immediately becomes horribly complex, contorted, distorted, and just plain weird. What should be extremely straightforward, in my view, becomes impossibly convoluted. And as long as the Church continues this game of splitting hairs in order to avoid the concept of orientation (or whatever you want to term being hardwired as gay), this contortion and convolution will continue. Course, that’s just my opinion.

  5. Is it normal for a guy to feel attracted to a girl? Yes. Are these attractions sinful? No. Theyre normal. Is it normal for a guy to have thoughts about how pretty/shapely/attractive a girl is? Yes. Are these thoughts sinful? No. Theyre normal.

    Well, yes and no.

    In a Mormon context, even straight people are taught to keep their thoughts “pure”, to chase away sexual thoughts as quickly as possible, and not to entertain sexual fantasies. That whole “sing a hymn to chase away certain types of thoughts” wasn’t invented just for gay people. Look at this recent survey — Mormons came up #1 for feeling guilty about sex, and that’s not just the gay people.

    Also, I agree it would be nice if people could be comfortable just being ourselves — not needing to specifically “come out”. However, I disagree that the church’s stance “not using your sexual feelings to define yourself” is constructive. If I say “I’m a software engineer” or “I’m a mom” or “I’m an American”, the church isn’t going to say to me “ZOMG, don’t define yourself by your profession or by your nationality or by your reproductive status!”

  6. n a Mormon context, even straight people are taught to keep their thoughts pure, to chase away sexual thoughts as quickly as possible, and not to entertain sexual fantasies.

    True enough, but I was trying to draw a distinction between merely appreciating someone’s beauty/attractiveness vs. the next “step,” which is imagining them without clothes on, or imaging having sex with them. Those thoughts would be considered sinful. The purpose of the exercise was to illustrate the difference in how thoughts that are considered “normal” and “non-sinful” (in and of themselves) in a heterosexual context are looked at differently in a homosexual context.

    I read you and Alan as being on the same page regarding sexual orientation to define (at least in part, and an important part) one self. The Church’s refusal to recognize sexual orientation and to acknowledge it as a means of defining one self (e.g., as a gay man or as a lesbian) is, of course, ridiculous (IMO); but it’s part of a convoluted effort to herd up all the gays and lesbians and put them in the “control your thoughts, be monks (or nuns), don’t even think about kissing, let alone sex, do this and we’ll still love and accept/tolerate you for who you are, so long as you don’t insist on defining yourself as gay or lesbian” box. (Oh, do I detect a note of cynicism there? Sorry.)

  7. Yes, I agree with the distinction between what’s considered OK for gay vs. straight attractions. I think it’s pretty well summed-up in the popular LDS missionary proverb:

    If you dont look once, youre not a man, but if you look twice youre not a missionary.

  8. chanson @6:

    However, I disagree that the churchs stance not using your sexual feelings to define yourself is constructive.

    I didn’t say it was constructive, but that it’s trying to be. LDS leaders think that they’re helping those with this “problem” live a righteous life by telling them to not concentrate on the “problem.”

    Holland uttered what he did in an article titled “Helping Those With Same-Gender Attraction.” His article defined people by their sexual feelings in order to try to tell people to not define themselves by their sexual feelings. His words don’t make a whole lot of sense because of this basic paradox. The only way the problem can go away is to stop seeing it as a problem.

  9. I didnt say it was constructive, but that its trying to be.

    Right, that’s our point of disagreement. You want to give the brethren the benefit of the doubt that they’re trying to be constructive. but I don’t believe they’re even trying.

    The thing it reminds me most of is a certain South Park episode. One character says to the other “Don’t be so hard on yourself — you’re not really a Jew!” And the other says, “But I am a Jew!” And the more the Jewish guy insists, the more the other repeats: “Don’t be so hard on yourself!! You’re not really a Jew!” It’s not a compliment to the person who feels comfortable in the identity “gay” (respectively Jew), and it’s not a compliment to gay people (resp. Jews) in general.

  10. You want to give the brethren the benefit of the doubt that theyre trying to be constructive. but I dont believe theyre even trying.

    I see that they’re trying to create stigma for the gay identity in an age when many people don’t see it as a stigma. I see this as working against something, or trying to not be constructive to a particular goal. But that’s because they don’t share this goal, they see their truth as bigger, so they are trying to be constructive in some “larger” way.

    Are we still in disagreement?

  11. *sigh*

    When it comes down to it, I have to admit that I can’t read their hearts. And then there’s the question of what it even means to try to help someone when you have zero empathy for the other person’s situation…

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