“That’s so Mormon”…? Dan, no!

Dan Savage Hypocrisy It Gets Better Parenting

Recently, a reader wrote to Dan Savage with the following suggestion:

I’ve decided to start saying “that’s Mormon” instead of “that’s gay” and encouraging my friends to do the same. It’s more accurate and plus it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.

Dan replies:

  • A Mormon kid in high school would wind up hearing “That’s Mormon” ten thousand times a day if your proposal caught on, LDS, while a Mormon adult would rarely if ever hear the expression.
  • Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.
  • And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.
  • teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry
  • So I will allow it.

How is this idea wrong? Let me count the ways:

#1. Are you against bullying? or are you simply against people you can relate to being bullied?

As I discussed in Is anti-bullying education possible?, it appears that a lot of bullying is a cultural phenomenon — and kids can learn not to do it. (Even if up until quite recently childhood bullying has been seen as inevitable in our culture.)

Sure, it’s easy to say to kids “Don’t bully this kid — that other kid is even more of a loser, bully him!” It’s hard to persuade kids just to leave less popular kids alone. But this is not a situation for doing what’s easy, it’s a situation for doing what’s right.

#2. “Mormon kids, of course, have the family support so many gay kids lack and they’re not committing suicide at greater rates.”

As I said in the comments of my bullying education post, I think that having supportive parents makes a huge difference. However, it doesn’t turn bullying into a minor or trivial problem for the kid that gets bullied. I don’t think suicide rates should be the only measure of the harm of bullying, but, for example, some recent gay teen suicides I’ve read about were kids who actually had supportive parents, but killed themselves anyway.

#3. “it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.”

I’m sure that the blame for anti-gay bullying can be be placed squarely on the leaders of various churches, including on the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS. But, as noted above, those perpetrators aren’t the ones who will suffer if kids are bullied for Mormonism. And even if the Mormon kids themselves were entirely to blame, does that call for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? Is that the kind of ethics we want to teach our kids?

#4. “And you know how Christians get off on feeling persecuted.”

Yep. And what do you think you get when you fight hate with more hate?

If there’s hostility between Mormons and gay people, we have nothing to gain by throwing fuel on that fire. And I can hardly think of anything more counter-productive than creating real evidence to back up the (usually ludicrus) claim that the Mormons are the victims in this struggle.

#5. “teachers and school administrators wouldn’t hesitate to confront kids who used the expression. The exact same school officials who turn a blind eye to casual-but-harmful expressions of anti-gay bigotry”

This one is the closest one to being half-reasonable. But teachers have enough to deal with. And for the past century or two in the US, various authority figures have had a less-than-stellar record of keeping kids from bullying each other for all manner of things that kids should never be bullied for.

Personally, I recall being bullied for being nerdy and unpopular and for having various social problems, but not specifically for being Mormon. But others report having been bullied for being Mormon. That shouldn’t happen.

Young people across the board — including in the most socially conservative denominations — are dramatically more likely (than previous generations) to be accepting of their LGBTQ peers. This trend didn’t come about by gay kids picking fights with kids from religious families. It came from positive visibility. If the leaders of the CoJCoL-dS are teaching hateful messages, let’s reject the hate, and encourage kids to respond with reason and friendship and understanding instead.

32 thoughts on ““That’s so Mormon”…? Dan, no!

  1. If theres hostility between Mormons and gay people, we have nothing to gain by throwing fuel on that fire.

    Really? I don’t see the Church ever changing its policy on homosexuality without being “bullied” into thinking it’s wrong. More “education” just seems to give tools to maintain a status quo. For example, the Church has come out against “gay bullying,” but doesn’t seem at all willing to tackle the foundations of it (i.e, gender role maintenance).

    I might be OK with Thats so Mormon General Authority, though.

    And what would happen if Mormons say that you’re insulting their leaders, which is an offense to them? At what point do all the bullies get to be victims, too?

    I guess that’s how I read Savage’s thought-experiment. Someone calls him out and says that Utah has a high rate of suicide, too, and he asks how many of those Mormon kids are gay. He’s throwing out ideas tongue-in-cheek, adding fuel to the fire if you will, because it’s easy to paralyze discussion when there’s a victimhood bandwagon.

  2. And what would happen if Mormons say that youre insulting their leaders, which is an offense to them? At what point do all the bullies get to be victims, too?

    Criticising adult leaders and taunting unwitting teens are two very different things, and I’m not going to toss them into the same basket as though they were equivalent.

    Hes throwing out ideas tongue-in-cheek

    Great. And as a parent, I’m providing some feedback on this brainstorming session.

  3. Criticising adult leaders and taunting unwitting teens are two very different things, and Im not going to toss them into the same basket as though they were equivalent.

    What if some Mormon kids told you that “That’s so Mormon GA” amounts to bullying, because they love their church and don’t want their leaders equated with everything awful? That’s what I read you and kuri to be talking about @1&2… what to replace “That’s so gay” with.

    I wouldn’t allow “That’s so Mormon,” either. But I also don’t think there’s a line between childhood and adulthood on the matter of bullying, nor a line between the individual and the group. As much as it might clear our hearts to blame the Quorum for anything bad that’s also Mormon, at some point, I have no problem blaming all the little people, too. Even the kids.

  4. Interesting that Savage answers by considering that “so Mormon” intended insult within the context of a school/juvenile setting.

    I do feel sorry for all kids who struggle with various social problems, even Mormon kids. Kids who struggle with acceptance come in all stripes. Thinking back, if I’d been accused of being “so Mormon” in a derogatory manner, at worst it would have been hurtful in a way that I once lacked the insights and coping skills to deal with. At best it would have aligned the “so Mormons” against the “so not Mormons.”

    A much better approach is to educate kids to be inclusive. They are often more receptive to that humane idea than their parents. This is one reason why the cult is losing youth in record numbers. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. They should not be punished for the errors of their parents and church leaders.

    Many Mo kids come from families that are emotionally distant (moi, for example), so the perceived “support” is often illusory. In my view, Mo kids are particularly vulnerable because of that lack of emotional support and because they don’t live in reality (again, speaking from my own perspective). Add to that the normal teenage angst and it’s a recipe for a shitty self-image.

    I agree with you, chanson. There are much better and more effective ways to give shit back to a group that has notoriously (and proudly!) given so much shit to gays (and women, etc.). Straight talk (no pun intended ) and education come to mind. One of the best persuasive methods (IMO) is to make fun of their bassackward bigoted beliefs with satire — but aim it at the adults and those who are really responsible.

    The devout and the Mo marketing machine will resist logic and reason no matter how persuasive. But no one likes to be laughed at.

  5. What if some Mormon kids told you that Thats so Mormon GA amounts to bullying, because they love their church and dont want their leaders equated with everything awful?

    It’s an interesting thing about the CoJCoL-dS. Because of there’s such a strong belief that the leaders are on a direct line with God, criticizing the G.A.s is like blasphemy to them. However, as much as religious people often believe that blasphemy against a given religion is a personal attack on its members, it’s not. I’m not going to humor or encourge the belief that it is.

    At best it would have aligned the so Mormons against the so not Mormons.

    Exactly — it’s polarizing. And encouraging the kids to group into separate, enemy camps doesn’t help.

    A much better approach is to educate kids to be inclusive. They are often more receptive to that humane idea than their parents. This is one reason why the cult is losing youth in record numbers. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. They should not be punished for the errors of their parents and church leaders.

    Many Mo kids come from families that are emotionally distant (moi, for example), so the perceived support is often illusory.

    Yes, and I think these points illustrate that Dan Savage didn’t think it through, and didn’t remember to see the Mormon kids as kids too.

    That post is so G.A.

    ROTFL! perfect! Chino once again demonstrates the power of editing out the less-important bits. 🙂

    This new phrase is perhaps a bit too much of an inside joke to catch on in the general population, but could seriously catch on among Mormon and exmo teens. I suggested it over on the exmormon Reddit — they’ve apparently got a lot of young readers.

  6. criticizing the G.A.s is like blasphemy to them

    I’m confused. Again, @ 1&2 I thought you and kuri were advocating “That’s so GA” as a new catch-phrase for everything a person thinks is dumb, which is how “That’s so gay” is currently used. Now you’re talking about the right to “criticize church leaders.” I don’t know where the leap was made. If you’re advocating equating the GAs with everything that’s dumb or offensive, then I would think the anger toward that from Mormons would be warranted.

  7. But I also dont think theres a line between childhood and adulthood on the matter of bullying

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. I think there is a huge difference between childhood bullying and adult disagreements — primarily because kids (and even teens) are still learning about social interactions and how to treat people. If I see a kid bully another kid, I would not assume that he really understands the effects or necessarily meant to hurt another kid (or even that he will habitually be a bully in the future).

    This point is one of the main differences between Savage’s “That’s so Mormon!” suggestion and Savage’s treatment of Rick Santorum (who is a grown-up, and hence should be responsible for what comes out of his mouth).

    Ideally, I’d like to see constructive, civil discourse. However, Santorum’s obsession with gross-sex discourse (comparing loving gay couples to man-on-dog sex) is the opposite of civil discourse — and should be dealt with at its own sewer-discourse level. And the fact that Santorum is so clueless about the how and why of his “Google problem” (“I suspect if something was up there like that about Joe Biden, theyd get rid of it”), is the icing on the cake.

  8. I thought you and kuri were advocating Thats so GA as a new catch-phrase for everything a person thinks is dumb, which is how Thats so gay is currently used. Now youre talking about the right to criticize church leaders. I dont know where the leap was made.

    To clarify: I advocate the right to criticize and mock the church leaders.

  9. I think there is a huge difference between childhood bullying and adult disagreements

    And I also think there’s a huge difference between childhood disagreements and adult bullying. But I was talking about bullying generally; it doesn’t matter whether a person is a child or an adult. Adulthood bullying takes more insidious forms than a punch in the nose or name-calling.

    I’m not a fan of the whole “innocent until baptismal age” logic. I am a fan of clearing youths’ criminal records when they become legal adults. But there isn’t a magical age where people suddenly have the social skills to not bully each other, or engage in boundary maintenance discourse. Perhaps a definition for “bullying” is needed here.

  10. And I also think theres a huge difference between childhood disagreements and adult bullying. But I was talking about bullying generally;

    OK. I was talking about youth/childhood bullying. And I think Dan Savage was too.

    Im not a fan of the whole innocent until baptismal age logic.

    Fab, me neither. Nor did I say anything about “a magical age where people suddenly have the social skills to not bully each other.” People learn social skills gradually over time. Some people never learn many social skills.

  11. Hey, good luck getting the kids to use “That’s so G.A.!” If it becomes popular, I’ll be sure to paint it on a few of the signs we’ll be carrying at the direct action I’m planning called #OccupyCOB …

  12. I certainly get criticisms raised in the OP and the comments. However, I have to wonder if Savage’s suggestion isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the movement to use it is geared intentionally toward: (1) getting people to think about the words they use, and (2) intentionally short-lived.

    I have advocated calling the LDS Church a hate church over homosexuality:
    http://mainstreetplaza.com/2009/02/19/its-official-the-mormon-church-is-a-hate-church/
    My rationale was that the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the leadership that they are teaching hate. Being provocative may help get that message across. Doing so at the youth level might do this as well.

    So, I guess my question would be: does motivation matter? If the goal is to get people to stop saying, “That’s so gay.” and to get members of the LDS Church to realize how hateful their religion is towards homosexuals, is that a bad thing? I would say that it is a bad thing if the motivation is to spread hatred toward Mormons, but I don’t think that is the goal.

  13. It’s possible that he’s just trying to be provocative in order to generate discussion. If so, mission accomplished! 🙂

    I agree it’s a good idea to encourage people to think about the words they use.

    Another [kind of Machiavellian] discussion point is the following: If bullying gay LDS kids makes them desperately wish they were not gay (to the point of wanting to try all manner of unhealthy “cures” for homosexuality), wouldn’t it be better to bully them for being LDS instead? That’s something they actually can change — and arguably they’d be happier in the long run for shaking off their Mormonism.

    But personally I agree with CD @6 that a much better approach is to educate kids to be inclusive.

  14. How/when would we decide that it didn’t work? Cultural norms can change in surprising ways — and sometimes that change is slow.

    Personally, I don’t think that encouraging further [polarizing] bullying is a constructive solution. However, people who disagree are welcome to present their case.

  15. fckh8.com is taking on “That’s so gay” in a campaign that I gotta admit makes me cringe. Or maybe (ex)Mormonism has just made me allergic to triumphalism. If “That’s so Mormon” ever gained currency, I suspect it’d only be in locales where Mormon kids are already considered oddities.

  16. If Thats so Mormon ever gained currency, I suspect itd only be in locales where Mormon kids are already considered oddities.

    As I said above, even though I was occasionally bullied for being a nerd, I was never bullied for being Mormon. I think this was because (in my area) Mormonism was so rare that kids were hardly even aware of it. In my graduating class of 550, I was one of three Mormons (one of the other two was a popular guy on the football team), there were none in the class just younger than me, and I think my brother was the only Mormon in the class just older than me. I suspect it’s worse in situations like Runtu’s or Joanna Brooks’s (linked in the OP) where Mormons are a minority but still common enough that the other kids have some awareness of Mormonism.

  17. But personally I agree with CD @6 that a much better approach is to educate kids to be inclusive.

    How/when would we decide that it didnt work? Cultural norms can change in surprising ways and sometimes that change is slow.

    All the problems of adult exclusivity are thought to be somehow fixable in children. But if we adults can’t do it with each other, even with all our great social skills, then what makes us think we’re even good teachers? Well, regardless, we must be teachers to children because they’re the “future.” There is a sentimentality that arises around children that’s about more than just their vulnerability.

    When it comes to adults talking about childhood bullying, the following passage expresses my feelings about it better than I can:

    As an adult I admit to finding news of teenage suicide heartbreaking. But I am young enough to remember a time when I confess to finding the phrase teenage suicide hilarious, reeking as it did of concern. That is, of the condescending, sentimental and moralistic attitude parents, teachers and adults take to the aggravations and ambiguities of being an adolescent, which you kind of have to survive in spite of their help.

    (Edit: This is why I tried above to push the discussion above to one that includes adult bullying, too.)

  18. All the problems of adult exclusivity are thought to be somehow fixable in children.

    Is this just a general remark, or are you suggesting that I somehow implied that “All the problems of adult exclusivity are … somehow fixable in children.”?

    I think you’d have better luck steering the discussion if you’d stop trying to debate against points that nobody made.

  19. I have advocated calling the LDS Church a hate church over homosexuality

    BTW, ProfXM: to clarify, I think this is a slightly different issue.

    The main problem with both “That’s so gay!” and “That’s so Mormon!” is that kids and teens will be saying it in front of gay and/or Mormon kids and teens, and in that context it’s senseless taunting.

    If you call the CoJCoL-dS a “hate church,” it’s possible that that can foster attitudes that could indirectly lead to bullying (in the same way that preaching against homosexuality from the pulpit can foster attitudes that eventually lead to bullying). However, by the same token, any time you teach kids “X is wrong” (whatever X may be), there’s a chance that it could indirectly lead to bullying.

    I’m not arguing for a blanket moratorium on passing your own values/opinions along to your kids, nor am I arguing that we must avoid negative labels under all circumstances. I think these sorts of questions are complex and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Your suggestion of encouraging youth to think about why/whether the CoJCoL-dS deserves to be called a “hate church” may well be a constructive strategy.

  20. Thanks SLK! I usually agree with Dan too. Of course, if the idea had been promoted by someone I normally disagree with, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write a whole post about it.

  21. I just saw an excellent post over on Friendly Atheist that is related to some of the points we discussed here: Being a Dick is not Binary

    What we should be asking ourselves, when choosing a message, is this: How offended do we want people to be, and offended how?

    For example, I still stand behind my support of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day it did cause a lot of offense, but it offended people in the right way: by intentionally disregarding the Islamic demand that we respect their prophet. That was the goal shocking people into paying more attention to a dogma which wouldnt stand up to scrutiny.

    On the other hand, I wouldnt support using mockery in a one-on-one conversation with a creationist. When were trying to educate someone, a small amount of offense is useful to catch their attention say, by openly disagreeing. But mockery is a different kind of offense, one that reduces our chances of convincing them.

  22. What if some Mormon kids told you that Thats so Mormon GA amounts to bullying, because they love their church and dont want their leaders equated with everything awful? Thats what I read you and kuri to be talking about @1&2 what to replace Thats so gay with.

    As a gay, I actually would like it better if we turn “That’s so gay” into a compliment. I’d say thanks if a Mormon would throw a “That’s so gay” my way.
    Mo: You cook like a gay!
    Smorg: Gee thanks! I didn’t think I did that well myself. 😀 I’m a gay! I’m a gay! Yippee!

  23. My suggestion was mostly tongue in cheek. I’d generally prefer to avoid using any group of human beings as slang for things that are stupid or boring. Even if they “deserve” it (hmm — “That’s so Westboro Baptist”? “That’s so KKK”?), it’s still dehumanizing.

  24. As a gay, I actually would like it better if we turn Thats so gay into a compliment.

    That’s a reasonable strategy, especially considering that the gay community has increasingly positive associations.

    Even if they deserve it (hmm Thats so Westboro Baptist? Thats so KKK?), its still dehumanizing.

    Another problem with Thats so KKK: the KKK’s not funny.

    But seriously, the logic of the idea’s originator is quite interesting here:

    The funny thing is that “that’s gay” is rarely used to disparage things that are generally fancied by gay people. “You like Lady Gaga? That’s gay.” No, it’s more like, “You like Billy Joel? That’s gay.” And then it suddenly hit me: the shit that my friends and I called “gay” was all the stuff that the Mormon kids at my high school liked […] it gives shit to a group of people who have extremely backward views about homosexuality.

    So Mormons should be teased for their hip-to-be-square nerdiness — (at least in part) as a punishment for something else.

    But what about The Book of Mormon (the musical)?

    In that case, the writers are specifically making fun of exactly the same thing: this goofy, campy streak in Mormon culture. But they’re doing it because the goofy, campy streak in Mormon culture is itself fun and funny. Personally, I’d make a distinction between the former and the latter, though I wouldn’t necessarily call either one “dehumanizing”.

  25. On the other hand, it did help her write a poem that I enjoyed.

    So maybe a little more hate directed towards LDS kids will make them more poetic in general and more inclusive.

    Isn’t that what it has done for others?

  26. When my daughter got bullied over being LDS, once her teachers realized that was the reason, they just walked away.

    Yes, that’s essentially what I was saying in #5 in the original post: maybe the teachers will put a stop to it, but I wouldn’t bank on it.

    So maybe a little more hate directed towards LDS kids will make them more poetic in general and more inclusive.

    Hardships often have the potential to be valuable learning experiences. But kids will end up with challenges. Bullying is sufficiently harmful that I wouldn’t intentionally toss it into a kid’s path.

    It reminds me of that Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue where the father names the son “Sue” specifically to insure that the kid will be bullied. A very bad idea, IMHO.

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