Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Prophet’s Voice

What does the Church’s narrative look like for people who experience same-sex attraction? What would their ideal journey be? I have read the words of prophets and apostles, and as best I can tell, this is what they envision for us.

A boy1 is born, and either through latent biological factors or sociological and environmental influences, this boy develops feelings of same-sex attraction during his pubescent years. He is concerned, but has read the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and knows that if he experiences these feelings he should go to his parents and bishop for counseling.

Once seated before his bishop, he is assured that he is still loved and in no ways a less valiant child of God. As this young man has not committed any transgressions, and merely has feelings of same-sex attraction, there is no need for repentance or church discipline. This bishop is well versed in the words of modern apostles, and directs the youth towards resources such as mormonsandgays.org or the seminal talks of Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffery R. Holland. The young man understands that he is first and foremost a child of God, and only secondarily a being who experiences sexual feelings. Instead of fixating on what makes him different, he instead focuses on his Church callings, on preparing for a mission, and on service to his family and ward members. He should not associate with any groups that identify primarily by their sexual orientation. Dating is reserved as a group activity where he becomes good friends with the young women in his ward and develops good social skills.

He serves a mission and returns with honor. Because he was so focused on missionary work, issues of same-sex attraction were not a temptation. He enrolls in a good university to continue his education and prepare to provide for a family.

Dating becomes a new goal in order to reach marriage. The young man is perturbed by how difficult this may be, for his feelings of same-sex attraction have not lessened. He goes to speak with his bishop again for more advice. After studying the words of the apostles, his bishop instructs him that he should continue to date lots of different women and make strong friendships with them. He should not marry a woman unless he feels genuine attraction towards her. Otherwise he should continue to serve diligently in the Church in order to keep his feelings of same-sex attraction in the background.

At this point there are two possibilities for the hypothetical young man. If his feelings of same-sex attraction are not overly strong and he also experiences attraction for the opposite sex, then he will in due time find a woman to whom he is attracted and be able to marry in the temple. At this point his feelings of same-sex attraction are just like any other extra-marital attraction: they are to be managed carefully in order to maintain fidelity in his marriage. In some cases, he may develop a strong romantic attraction to a woman without the accompanying sexual attraction. In this case he may make the decision to enter into a committed marriage and rely on his covenant promises to make the marriage a success. In both cases, his continued commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ will serve as the bulwark of his marriage.

The other possibility is that his feelings of same-sex attraction are so consummate that he experiences no attraction to the opposite sex. In his case, he should continue to make strong friendships with women in the event that one of those relationships might flower into attraction and subsequent marriage. However, he is not expected to marry in this life. Instead he should devote his energy and resources to the Church, ensuring that the Gospel is foremost in his life. His relationship with God and with the Savior Jesus Christ should be the focus of all that he does. In this way his primary identity is that of a child of God, and he should be able to maintain ascendency over his sexual feelings.

When this man dies, he will be released from the imperfection of same-sex attraction. It is an affliction of this life only, tied to the physical and imperfect mortal body, and will be healed in the afterlife. If he married, his love for his wife will be made perfect and whole. If he did not marry, his sexuality will become whole, and he will find a righteous woman to marry in the spirit world, for the prophets have frequently promised that all the blessings of the Gospel will be made available to those who are righteous in this life, including marriage for those who, through no fault of their own, were not able to marry in this life.

At times in his life, this man may stumble. He may allow his thoughts to fantasize about a homosexual relationship, masturbate, view homoerotic pornography, or even have a homosexual affair. All these can be repented of through the man’s diligence, the counsel of his bishop, and most importantly, the atonement of Jesus Christ. With time he should learn the self-mastery necessary to not indulge in any of these temptations. While acknowledging that these feelings of same-sex attraction will most likely never go away, by focusing on the Gospel and making Jesus the center of his life, the man will be able to choose not to act in this manner, and the feelings will become of secondary importance. He will find fulfillment in this life and eternal life in the next.

This is the story that Church leaders weave, the mythos2 by which they would have me live. While others find it compelling, it fails to resonate with me. When I picture myself as that man, as the depicted life as my life, I break down in tears. I do not believe that such a path could bring me happiness. And yet I still ask myself if I could not choose to believe it, to drift through life shrouded in in the certainty of the official LDS narrative. Perhaps I could, but for now a different path calls, one I must forge between the two narratives of Queer and Mormon.

At the same time, I cannot fault others for choosing this life and this story. What does not hold the ring of truth in my ears may harmonize well in another’s. And who am I to demand that Church leaders change their tune? I have the spiritual autonomy to sing my own melody and delight in the dissonance, and I should also allow them theirs.

But that autonomy was hard won, pried from the ridged grasp of prophetic infallibility and nursed into the supple song I now enjoy. And sometimes a young mind can find no peace in this narrative and no escape, shaking with the clanging incongruities until it shatters and is silent, a voice that will sing no more.


1) Curiously enough, there is no narrative for women who experience same-sex attraction. It is conceptualized primarily as a male problem. One would assume that women should follow a similar pattern for their spiritual journey. This article suggests some interesting theories as to why no such female narrative exists.  

2) Mythos in the sense of a culturally significant narrative that aids in the creation of a cosmology. It is neutral in terms of truth or factuality.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Can Oil and Water Mix?

I’ve had mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) on the mind of late. Marriage is complex enough when both spouses are attracted to one another, let alone when one or both do not experience typical sexual or romantic attraction for their partner. In these instances we usually hear of gay men marrying straight women, though lately more stories of gay women married to straight men are beginning to emerge. I did some digging into the history of MOMs in the LDS Church and found some heartbreaking stories, as well some interesting developments in modern MOM culture. So let’s begin.

As best I can piece together the narrative, Church leaders used to counsel gay members to marry members of the opposite sex, possibly as late as 1987, as a means of curing homosexual feelings. The idea was that if people were to have heterosexual sex and realize how wonderful it was, as well as have children, they would live out the heteronormative lifestyle and find true happiness therein. Unfortunately, such a plan didn’t work out terribly well. Many families ended in heart-wrenching divorce, the most famous of which is Gerald and Carol Lynn Pearson. Some time after the divorce, Carol Lynn would ask her ex-husband:
“What would have happened if--if you had just made yourself stay where you were with us? If you had just forced yourself to put your other needs away?
Gerald thought a moment and then replied. “I would have become increasingly bitter and empty--just like Frank.” Frank was an old friend whom Gerald had recently run into. He was a homosexual who had married and stayed married and had gained eighty pounds in the last two years and hadn’t touched anyone during those two years, not even his wife. “I had to do what I’ve done. I haven’t done it perfectly. I would change a lot if I could, but I had to do it.” Had to? All that we had, all that we lost… Could not other choices have brought us to some better destination? (Carol Lynn Pearson 204)

With time it became apparent that marriage alone was not enough to make MOMs work. It was then that the leaders of the Church allied themselves with reparative therapy. The basic idea of early reparative therapy (aimed almost entirely at men) was that those who experience homosexual feelings had some form of arrested development that prevented them from fully growing emotionally or mentally into men. By teaching participants to act manlier and deal with childhood traumas, therapists promised that homosexual feelings could be cured. And so a new generation of young Mormons took the plunge into a new round of MOMs. Ironically enough, Emily Pearson, the daughter of Gerald and Carol Lynn, would follow in her parents’ footsteps and marry a gay man, Steven Fales. He even told her of his attractions in a place which was most symbolic of history’s tendency to repeat:
Why the hell had I brought us there to talk of all places? To the house where my mother had found out that her husband was gay? (Emily Pearson 225)
Yet Emily and Steven pushed forward, convinced that they could do better than previous generations:
Steven: We were gonna write a different story. We had faith in this new “reparative therapy”, in the Church, and in ourselves. We could lick it! We were supposed to be together. We had fasted and prayed. We had all the right confirmations. We would succeed where the previous generation had failed. We would defy Good-bye, I Love You and write Hello, I Love You (Fales 20).
Emily: Maybe together we had a “greater than us” work to do. Maybe we could marry and actually be successful at it. Maybe we could write a book together -- a far different book than the one my mother wrote. We would conquer successfully what my parents had failed miserably at. Steven and I could be the poster children for reparative therapy (Emily Pearson 227).
Steven took therapy sessions from the head of NARTH himself, The National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality. He was taught the importance of connecting with his primal masculine energy, of behaving like a real man, and even quit his dream of theater and Broadway because it wasn’t masculine enough. But the wheels of history continued to turn, and soon Emily and Steven’s marriage ended in an even more bitter divorce than Gerald and Carol Lynn’s. It seems that being manlier wasn’t any more successful at curing homosexuality than heterosexual sex. 

And that brings us to today. The current Church policy is less ambiguous, though not widely known:

“Marriage should not be viewed as a therapeutic step to solve problems such as homosexual inclinations or practices” (Hinckley) and “Persons who have this kind of challenge that they cannot control could not enter marriage in good faith. On the other hand, persons who have cleansed themselves of any transgression and who have shown their ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background, and feel a great attraction for a daughter of God and therefore desire to enter marriage and have children and enjoy the blessings of eternity — that’s a situation when marriage would be appropriate” (Oaks and Wickman).

Elder Oak’s assumption that homosexuality is solely a male experience is a topic for another blog post. For now let’s focus on the rest. There is still some debate of exactly what “ability to deal with these feelings or inclinations and put them in the background” means. As far as I can tell, people should at least have some bisexual or biromantic tendencies before entering into a heterosexual marriage. Those who have exclusively homosexual/romantic feelings should remain single and celibate.  

Whether or not people can change from homosexual to bisexual or heterosexual is also uncertain. The official Church stance seems to be: sometimes.

Case studies I believe have shown that in some cases there has been progress made in helping someone to change that orientation; in other cases not (Oaks and Wickman).

People have found a diminishing of that same-sex attraction, almost to the point of vanishing, and others not at all. (Christofferson)

Elder Oaks didn’t rule our conversion therapy completely, but also spoke out against pseudo-therapies in general:

The Church rarely takes a position on which treatment techniques are appropriate, for medical doctors or for psychiatrists or psychologists and so on . . .The aversive therapies that have been used in connection with same-sex attraction have contained some serious abuses that have been recognized over time within the professions. (Oaks and Wickman).

So to sum up the principle: if you feel genuine attraction towards someone of the opposite sex, the Church says yes to marriage. If you don’t, the Church says no to marriage. Maybe therapy can reveal some bisexual tendencies, and maybe not.

There are still plenty of people in the Church today who would classify themselves as predominantly gay, yet have entered into MOMs. In one case a man said he experienced a singular instance of opposite-sex attraction towards his wife. In another a man was biromantic, though homosexual, and felt that this was sufficient to build a marriage on. In both cases these men were open about their feelings with their wives before marriage and had accepted their sexuality as something that wouldn’t change and are candid about it with friends, family, and ward members. I imagine that they suffer considerably less stress than their predecessors, as they don’t pressure themselves to change their orientation or gender expression.

The question is will the marriages work out this time around? The average MOM lasts 16.6 years (Dehlin et al. 299), yet this new practice of accepting a queer identity in a MOM is less than a decade old. It’s simply too early to have any data on whether or not this mentality will prove effective. History seems to show that many MOMs don’t make it. As of 2014, the divorce rate was 50%, projected to be 69% if conditions remain unchanged (Dehlin et al. 299). Yet many of these marriages were made when the stress of shame of queer opprobrium dominated. Genuine self-acceptance and acceptance of a queer identity coupled with open communication between spouses might prove the key to a successful MOM. Or it could be the newest fad that grinds another generation into crippling divorce. For my friends’ sake who are in MOMs, I certainly hope and pray the former is the case.

The sad part is that the Church now counsels queer members to ignore their sexuality as much as possible, focusing instead on their identity as a child of God. While these two identities could theoretically co-exist peacefully (and give MOMs the best chance at survival), pitting these two identities against one another as antithetical could produce similar stress factors which collapsed the marriages of the last and second-to-last generations.

So here are the questions for the day. Are the current methods of maintaining MOMs more successful than those that have come before? And if not, will humans discover or God reveal the right formula for a successful MOM? I personally do not believe a MOM is for me, but I also wouldn’t rule it out for others.

For now I will watch, wait, and see.
Works Cited:
Christofferson, D. Todd. “Purpose of This Website.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2012. http://mormonsandgays.org/ Accessed 8/15/16.

Dehlin, John P., Renee V. Galliher, William S. Bradshaw, Katherine A. Crowell. “Psychological Correlates to Religious Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction: A Mormon Perspective.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health 18 (2014): 284-311.

Fales, Steven. Confessions of a Mormon Boy. New York: Alyson Books, 2006.

Hinckley, Gordon B. Reverence and Morality. Ensign. April 1987. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1987/04/reverence-and-morality?lang=eng. Accessed 8/15/16.

Oaks, Dallin H. and Lance B. Wickman. “Interview With Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman: ‘Same-Gender Attraction.’” Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2006. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interview-oaks-wickman-same-gender-attraction. Accessed 8/15/16.

Pearson, Carol Lynn. Good-bye, I Love You. New York: Random House, 1986.

Pearson, Emily. Dancing with Crazy. USA: Hulabaloo Press, 2012.