No longer invisible: Latter-Gay Saints
They try to convince gay people that itâ€™s in their best interests to be straight. In fact, they try to convince them that theyâ€™re already straight. (from “Ockhamâ€™s Razor”)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a gay problem. Specifically, the church has a plan for how to build eternal families — with non-negotiably gender-specific roles — and gay people are the fly in the eternal ointment. If only they could be convinced that they’re not gay — that there’s no such thing as being gay! — and that they can make a straight family work if only they’re faithful enough. Or, failing that, they should just stay single until they’re cured in the afterlife. Then the Plan of Salvation will go back to fitting everyone!
The trouble is that these are real people with real lives that the CoJCoL-dS is performing this experiment on.
One way to combat invisibility is to tell your stories. That’s what 25 authors have come together to do in the anthology Latter-Gay Saints, edited by Gerald S. Argetsinger (with Jeff Laver and Johnny Townsend). The stories are all fiction, but they paint a vibrant and true-to-life portrait of the gay Mormon experience. Naturally, the stories cover topics like missions and mixed-orientation marriage, AIDS and suicide. Some of the most disturbing scenes involve private worthiness interviews in which a priesthood leader probably sincerely believes he’s being helpful through intimate and emotionally invasive counseling sessions where the gay person — by definition — cannot be “worthy.”
The characters in the stories are fleshed-out people whose lives included homosexuality and Mormonism — they’re not just stand-ins in a morality tale of the intersection of these two central topics. A couple of the most outrageous ones hardly touched on Mormonism at all, like Dirk Vanden’s visionary “Gay Messiah” or Ron Oliver’s “Nestle’s Revenge” — which started out wild and exploded from there! Bernard Cooper’s “Hunters and Gatherers” roped a bunch of unsuspecting gay folks into a Mormon-style fun activity (with a poignant edge of keeping up appearances, Mormon-style), and for further fun, Donna Banta threw in a gay Mormon murder mystery! I’d like to discuss them all, but I don’t want to turn this into a tl;dr. People who have read it are invited to please add your own remarks in the comments!
One weakness that disappointed me a bit was how few lesbian stories were included. The introduction repeatedly refers to “gay and lesbian” stories, but the anthology includes only one story where the main character is a gay woman, leaving the lesbian Mormon experience as invisible as ever. Perhaps we’ll hear more from the ladies in the next volume…?
Overall it’s great collection; an enjoyable, edifying, thought-provoking read. Pick up a copy if you’re a fan of gay Mormons or simply of interesting stories!
I agree with your that the lesbian story is left out and missed. As a gay woman I had hoped to read more from a female perspective. Like you I hope there will be more books like this and that the women’s stories will be added. I’m curious what the authors reasoning around this was. It is so blatant that it must have been intentional and with good reason.
I enjoyed the stories that were shared and I did relate to the challenges and hardships endured by the characters. However, I am looking forward to volume 2: ‘Lesbian Gay Saints’.
I agree with you both completely that there should be more lesbian material, but there just isn’t that much to choose from. Jerry has commented on that in his speaking and wondered why lesbians from a Mormon background don’t write more fiction about it. We almost included “Happy Little Secrets” a wonderful lesbian Mormon play, but it had already been anthologized elsewhere. We’ve wondered if gay Mormon women are better able to leave their Mormonism behind than gay men? Who knows? But women– get writing! We want more for the next edition!
By the way, I did write a short story years ago with a lesbian Mormon protagonist.
I’ll have to go order this now.
Many lesbians I know left Mormonism behind, not over gay issues, but the sexism.
If one define Mormon literature expansively, then it’s out there.
Suzanne, you’re right. Lesbian Mormons write, just not so much in ways that fit the parameters of this anthology or The Gay Mormon Literature Project. Jerry (lead editor of Latter-Gay Saints) just sent me an email summarizing what he has been saying in his presentations. “Lesbian and gay male Mormons seen to react differently on leaving or being excommunicated from the LDS Church in terms of their writing. Gay men seem to write about their experiences: growing up, first time, mission, coming to terms with, and so on. There are now almost 200 works by gay (ex)Mormon men. However, lesbians seem to leave the LDS Church and just put it behind them. There are only five works by lesbians about their Mormon experience. There ARE lesbian writers, however they tend not to write about things Mormon.”
Maybe next time we could include some things feminist but not completely “gay Mormon.”
Here on MSP, a number of lesbian Mormons have stopped by over the years when lesbian topics are discussed — some in the Church, some not — each with their own story. I bet that if a call was put out asking for lesbian LDS stories with at least a year before the due date, enough would be received for an anthology. But you’d also want to invite to the project some female editors. =p
I write about my gay, Mormon experience; however, I write in a very personal, non-fiction, ‘journal’-istic sort of way. I write for myself and maybe a small audience. I don’t often think of expanding my writing for a larger audience. I have never presumed there would be interest in my stories. Or that my writing would be good enough. Maybe there’s an unconscious belief that since my female experience was not of value inside the church why would it be of value outside the church.
I left the church behind for many reasons; one of them being that I am gay. Another reason I left was because I no longer believed in the teachings of the church. I chose to leave I never felt ‘kicked out’ or banished.
As I think about it there is a similar phenomenon in the gay social scene. Meaning, there are a lot more gay bars (male) than there are lesbian bars. Also, I hear about the unfortunate stories of young, Mormon men committing suicide far more than I hear of young, Mormon women doing so.
Is it because there are more gay men? No
Is it because gay men have more to lose? No
Is it because gay men have a more difficult time in our society so their experiences are more poignent? Perhaps
This is an interesting point. A number of possible reasons come to mind:
(1) Boys are less conditioned in how to talk out their feelings, so they become more bottled up.
(2) Boys are more likely to use firearms, increasing the chance of committing suicide. From what I’ve read girls actually attempt suicide much more frequently than boys in the population at large, so there may be a hidden history in the Church of girls — including queer girls — attempting suicide.
(3) A subset of gay males (those who are more feminine), and transfemales, may face more discrimination than anyone else on the gender spectrum.
(4) Males may perceive their sexuality as less fluid than females.
I wonder how universal this is, “I have never presumed there would be interest in my stories. Or that my writing would be good enough. Maybe thereâ€™s an unconscious belief that since my female experience was not of value inside the church why would it be of value outside the church.”
Speaking for myself, two words in my standard self description–dull and boring. Outside of a few snarky comments, what could I say.
That may be true. However, the editor explained in the introduction to the anthology how difficult it was to find the works because they weren’t all grouped or anything.
I think there’s a good chance that if you’d had a lesbian on board (as Alan suggests @6) you might have found some more. The “Mormon women writers” Facebook group has some lesbians.
@8 Do males commit suicide at a greater rate than females in general?
A fifth guess I would add to your list is that Mormon girls have lower expectations placed on them. I don’t mean that the standards they’re expected to conform to are less stringent (quite the contrary), but rather that they get the message that they are not very important.
Perversely, this could be protection from the overwhelming guilt and despair that come from feeling that you’ve let everyone down. If you’re a Mormon girl, you may be shamed, humiliated, and pitied for being a lesbian (or worse: for being fat and/or ugly), but ultimately you don’t get the impression that your failure (to meet expectations) affects anyone but yourself, which may make it more bearable.
Yes, in most Western countries, this seems to be considerably the case, sometimes by a 10:1 margin. But again, females attempt suicide more, by a sometimes 3:1 margin. (China is the only country where women actually commit suicide more than men). Age wise, females are less likely to commit suicide as they get older, but for men, the rate stays the same throughout the life span (spiking in old age, I imagine because old men often have trouble adjusting to a perceived loss of masculinity)….
(Wikipedia article on gender differences in suicide)
This came to mind for me, too, but then I got to thinking about patriarchy generally and not just Mormonism. I wasn’t entirely convinced that patriarchy makes women feel that their roles are necessarily less important; rather their roles can be deemed so important that they’re restrictive and overwhelming (such as perhaps familial expectations in China).
It may be the case that the reason Mormon patriarchy is so hard to topple is because of the importance placed on “the family” and Mormon women’s belief that they are Ã¼ber-important in the scheme of things (going back to my last post: the need to think about the victims’ role in the atrocity). This feeling would exist alongside the feeling other Mormon women feel in terms of not feeling important — and actually, the paradox often probably plays out within individuals. So, I wasn’t sure how to incorporate this complexity into thinking about causes of suicide.
If any of you find more fiction that deals with both lesbianism and Mormonism, please let me, Jerry or Johnny know. The bibliography in Latter-Gay Saints is as of Dec. 2012. There have been a few more things added since that time I believe. As we put this anthology together we were painfully aware that it would be better with more lesbian stories. Believe me, we wanted more. Our parameters were Gay Mormon Fiction. So, as I said above– women get writing! Whether you’re a gay woman or just someone who has something to say about lesbian Mormons, please do so.
Another thought might be that:
When a male leaves, or is kicked out, of the church he loses his power, control and mantle of importance. When a woman leaves the church she doesn’t lose her motherhood or her femininity. (Which is what the church recognizes as the important role of women.)
This is not to say that it isn’t crazy difficult for a female to leave the church because it is. (The whole you’ve destroyed the eternal family unit and ruined your children, blah blah blah). However a woman leaving the church ultimately gains control and power over her life. So a woman is more likely to move on and leave the oppression behind.
Or as Chanson says there are lower expectations for women than men. Even though, as Alan stated the role of woman is said to be uber important. The male patriarchy only talks about how important women are they don’t follow that up with important callings or by granting them authority over men. Once a male is 12 years old he will never answer to a woman as a church as a leader again.
I totally agree with Alan’s statement that ‘Males may perceive their sexuality as less fluid than females.’ When I was a young woman I was naive to my sexuality because no one saw it as strange that I was a total tom boy and I did not find it odd that I liked my girlfriends ‘a lot’. I thought of them as ‘soul mates’. Female sexuality is perhaps more hidden than the male penis erection is.
All that being said. Jeff if I wanted to submit a writing where, how, when? You say let you, Jerry or Johnny know but how does one find you? I’m not a professional writer; I don’t know if anything I would submit would qualify but I would be willing to give it a shot.
Jill, we’re not working on another LGS right now, so the best approach would be to start trying to publish. Published works would likely make it to Jerry’s bibliography. Go to http://www.lamdaliterary.org and look at Calls for Submissions. Submit to Sunstone. Self-publishing is available. Create Space, an Amazon company is an option. There are writers here at Main Street Plaza who sometimes critique each other’s work. I just joined their Facebook group.
If (hopefully) our publisher wants us to do another book we’ll have to consider Alan’s suggestion that we put out calls for submissions in advance and look specifically for lesbian work.
I hope this information is helpful to you and others who might want to start writing.
I’m really bad at critiquing other writer’s work, but if you wanted to contact me, send Carol a request she could forward.
Re: women’s importance in Mormonism:
You can’t take talks like Ballard’s at face value and say: “The leaders are always giving talks about the importance of women, therefore women must be Ã¼ber important in Mormonism.” Really, it’s the opposite. They have to try to use talks to convince people that women are important because every aspect of Mormon culture tells people the opposite.
And even if you believe that “women” (as a group or concept) are Ã¼ber-important to God’s plan, Mormonism generally teaches girls that they are not important as individuals. If a Mormon girl excels at leadership in intellectual pursuits (or other similar), the culture treats it somewhere on the spectrum between being an unexpected surprise and being a weirdo aberration.
When they teach girls that their primary (really, only) life’s ambition should be to marry in the temple and raise a family, they’re telling girls not to aspire to do anything more than what a typical Mormon woman does. And I’m saying this as a mom — my kids are the most valuable thing in the world to me — but parenting is not a place where one should try to “excel.” When you try to stand out as the best parent ever (tiger mom, etc.), you’re doing it wrong. Part of being a good parent is erasing your own ego and not having the task be all about yourself.
This ties back in with what Jeff was saying about lesbians @2. If you are a woman raised Mormon, and you have learned to value your own voice and your own stories, then there is a very high probability that you learned it from some community or culture that has nothing to do with Mormonism. And maybe you stayed there and contributed there, instead of contributing to the narrative tradition of Mormonism.
Ballard’s talk addresses a segment (perhaps a growing segment) of feminist grumblings. By and large, the Church has its members convinced that the roles are equal, because if they weren’t convinced (if there was a belief that women got the short end of the stick), then the religion wouldn’t stick. For there to be such conviction, there needs to be more going on than “trying to use talks to convince people.” In other words, I don’t agree with the statement “every aspect of Mormon culture tells people the opposite,” because that doesn’t make logical sense (to me, at least).
Consider this: only 10% of Mormon women want the priesthood, but 48% of Mormon men want Mormon women to have the priesthood.
This is to point out that most of the backlash toward a group like Ordainwomen.org is from Mormon women, not Mormon men…. (again, why I think we need to be more critical about the victimsâ€™ role in the atrocity).
I don’t think it’s right to chalk it up to something like mass Stockholm Syndrome. There’s more to it.
I see this as both/and, not either/or. The Church both teaches girls that they’re important as individuals and they’re not (to be not “selfist”); which is similar to what the boys are taught, except the boys are given more power to operationalize their individual selves, which in turn wears down the self-image that girls have.