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.