Saturday, December 11, 2010

Questions and Answers: Standing Up To Live

This has been a week of asking questions and receiving or providing answers. After considering what to write about next, I decided to share and reflect upon some of the questions I have asked in my postings during the past week, as well as some that others have asked, and upon answers that I have both received and given to others.

Before launching into that, however, I wanted to express gratitude for all the support I am receiving from some of you “out there.”  I couldn’t be doing what I am doing without that support and friendship, and I just wanted to say “Thank You!”.

In thinking about this post, I consulted my trusty Oxford Concise Dictionary, which I find I am turning back to more and more, like an old friend whom I’ve neglected.  Perhaps this is because I am more concerned these days about the true meaning of things, rather than what may appear on the surface.  Words are often like that:  beneath casually accepted meanings, there are often additional lawyers of meaning waiting to be mined. 

So, in consulting Oxford, I found that the word “answer” is defined as “something said or done to deal with or in reaction to a question, statement or circumstance.”  Here, indeed, were hidden layers of meaning to a word that is casually defined as a verbal response to a question.  I then looked up “question” – a word so commonly used that everyone knows what it means, right?  Yet, I found Oxford’s definition thought-provoking:  “a sentence worded or expressed so as to seek information; a doubt about or objection to a thing’s truth, credibility or advisability.”

With these definitions in mind, I now turn to some posts from the past week or so. 

Pre-Marriage Anguish

A week ago yesterday, I posted Pre-Marriage Anguish using newly re-discovered journal entries to describe the turmoil I went through before deciding to get married.  Reviewing these entries and what my thought processes were at that time helped me to think through and analyze, with the benefit of years of hindsight, why I made that decision.  My question then was whether I should buy into the Church’s line on same-sex attraction and get married, believing that the attraction would go away.  My answer was “yes”, i.e., I bought in.  My question 20+ years later was, “Why did I do that?”  My answers came as I reviewed my journal and questioned, i.e., objected to and expressed doubt about the truth and credibility of, the premises which had factored into making that decision.  This was a valuable exercise because it not only helped me to understand what had happened then, but also to be able to better answer the questions I am facing now.

I received some interesting comments to this post. Apronkid, who is college-aged, Mormon and gay, commented that “Sorting through all this and giving us the privilege to do the same informs everyone and helps others. It helps me. The struggles with being a "sinner" and the feelings you had about marriage are meaningful to me, because I feel all Mormon gays have to wade through both issues and go through a lot of dark places. For me, to have someone else's experience with these issues is very valuable.  I was glad that my questions and answers were helping to inform the inquiry of other gays, particularly those younger ones who might be facing the decision I made when I was their age.

MoHoHawaii provided this powerfully perceptive comment:  I think it's interesting that you find such relevance between the issues you faced in your twenties and the issues you face now some decades later. I think this is a deep truth. We think, when we are young, that entering a mixed-orientation marriage settles the matter of homosexuality while in fact it resolves nothing. The issues get buried but they don't go away. They haunt the marriage, and years later you can wake up and find that you more or less exactly where you were. I hope young people will read this blog post and understand its implications.

I completely concur with what MoHoHawaii wrote.  Furthermore, I would venture to suggest that an answer to the implicit question that MoHoHawaii poses in his comment (i.e., why would a young gay Mormon today make the same decision I did those years ago) is that Mormon society today, as well as society at large, is very different than it used to be, the Church’s position on how to “fix same-sex attraction” has changed rather dramatically, and all those premises upon which I and many others made decisions (as described in the “Anguish” post) are now open to so much more question than they were then.  I, for one, would encourage young gay Mormons to ask those questions (see definition above) and to provide answers that correspond with the results of asking those questions.

Thankful to Be Gay? - Reprise

The “Anguish” post was followed by an essay entitled Thankful to Be Gay – A Reprise which recounted some of the answers that had come to me since posing the question in a post on the day before Thanksgiving of whether and how one can be grateful to be gay.  In “Reprise,” I said that one of the principal things I had learned was to be aware of, look for and reject all sorts of false premises and frameworks that we as Mormons have been taught and that affect how we process and think about homosexuality.  This was and is an answer, i.e., something done to deal with a circumstance. 

We answer false constructs by rejecting them.  This, however, is often easier said than done, and as we begin to do so, we often find that we may discover additional false constructs that have impacted our lives, so that recovering or discovering our identity becomes like unto peeling the proverbial onion.  As Mister Curie commented in response to the Anguish post:  So many of my decisions in life have been made because of being raised in the church. I was a very strongly believing member and when I lost confidence in the church, I have had to re-evaluate a lot of my life and I often have to tell myself ‘Look, you genuinely believed that the Church was true . . . You were trying to apply those teachings to your life and make decisions based upon them, desperately trying to do the 'right thing'.’ I am now trying to determine how to move forward and live a life of integrity with my current beliefs and to live without regrets. It's a long process that I'm still working through.” 

Outed By My Teenage Daughter

A couple of days after posting Reprise, I posted Realtime: Outed by My Teenage Daughter.  In this post, I described how my daughter, while home for Thanksgiving break, had asked a couple of questions of my wife.  These led to her discovering, without my knowledge, that I am gay.  Once I learned of this, I had to provide an answer, i.e., I had to do something to deal with this circumstance.  My answer was to arrange to see her as soon as possible and present what I had not had the opportunity to provide:  the background to my coming out. I also implicitly posed a question to my daughter:  Will you accept me and still love me even though you now know I am gay?  My daughter’s answer to this question was a very loving “yes,” for which I am deeply grateful. 

In response to this post about my daughter, Beck posted an interesting comment:  Obviously, you are changing faster than even you thought. The whirlwind that started two months ago has transformed you in ways that you didn't even notice, but your daughter did. I've been a voice of caution and patience at the speed with which I've seen you change in your perspective even from one post to the next. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe the speed with which you are changing into the person you have always been, shedding the dead and decaying outer shell of your closeted life is the correct way to do it. It's like ripping off a bandage. Maybe my approach of being much more cautious and careful and measured … leads to no such change at all...

As I commented back to Beck, I think there is an implicit question and answer in his comment, viz., Is there a “correct” way for a married man (or, for that matter, a single guy) to “come out?” I think the implicit answer he gave, but questioned, is “yes”.  I responded by writing, “I am new at this, but I don't think there is a "correct" way to do this. I certainly haven't planned what has transpired in the last couple of months. I didn't ask for my response to President Packer's talk; it just happened, and it was not really controllable. I didn't ask for my wife's response to my coming out to her; what originally started out as me just telling her what was going on in my head was turned by her into something much bigger ... Nor did I ask for what my daughter did. In short, none of these happenings were part of a conscious strategy; all of them have just happened, and I'm not sure I could have done anything any differently.

Perhaps some of these developments could have been avoided if I had not come out to my wife.  But someone recently referred me to a passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that I think is relevant:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

I have been in the shallows for far too long, and when the tide rose and the current passed, it carried me with it.  I know I must be prudent, but I also know that the tide is going out, and I must go with it.

Why Would Heavenly Father Do That?

With my next essay, entitled Why Would Heavenly Father Do That?, I consciously decided to write about belief patterns that I espoused for years as a Mormon, but which I now repudiate.  These belief patterns don’t have anything to do, per se, with the “core beliefs” constituting a “testimony” of the “Restored Gospel.”  They have everything to do, however, with how one lives one’s life.  After describing events in the life of my son, my daughter and in my marriage, I tried to articulate some lessons I have learned:  first, don’t surrender authenticity; second, recognize and reject a steady diet of uniformity and conformity which permeates Mormon culture; and third, recognize and reject another premise that permeates Mormon life, i.e., that God is interested in and wants to micro-manage our lives.

This post generated several interesting comments.  I’d like to quote from three of them: 

First, from MoHoHawaii:  I take comfort in the randomness of the world. The world isn't out to get me. It isn't my enemy. The forces of evil aren't conspiring against me. Things don't happen ‘for a reason.’ Instead, I'm part of a larger whole, and it's up to me to make prudent decisions. The outcomes of my decisions aren't assured … I do the best I can given the knowledge that I don't control every aspect of the system. The randomness and complexity of existence have a kind of inherent beauty. (The Himalayas are majestic because of their roughness and irregularity, not in spite of it.) I am grateful to be here in this beautiful, chaotic existence … Accepting that the world is random and unpredictable doesn't make life meaningless, as is often argued. For me, meaning doesn't come from the outside. Meaning is found within us … Where I find meaning is in my appreciation of the beauty of existence and in my relationships with other people. In other words, it is possible to reject the idea that God micromanages every detail and at the same time find great meaning and richness in life” [emphasis added].  If I had to distill these excellent thoughts down to one kernel of wisdom and truth, it would this:  “Meaning is found within us.”

Next, from Miguel: “In the LDS culture (not gospel) it is so important to show that all is well and put on a good front no matter how bad our lives may be or how badly we're doing because those who suffer are not following the gospel. So we're taught at a very young age what to say, how to act and how to always put on that happy face. I always wondered how could I possibly be going through so much pain and misery yet the rest of my ward were so happy, what was I doing wrong? Turns out we were all on the same boat of life and being humans being challenged, maybe some happiness and misery, yet putting our happy masks every Sunday... [emphasis added].”  Note Miguel’s passing reference to one of those insidious, virtually hidden premises that is woven throughout Mormon thought and culture, i.e., that if we “follow the gospel” we will not suffer, and if we do suffer, that means we’re not being righteous enough.

Next, from James, another young gay Mormon:  Mormon culture is to follow the handbooks and Sunday school answers like lemmings right off a cliff if that's "God's will". I feel like I've jumped off the cliff so many times and I'm sick of it. I think that often "promptings" by the Holy Ghost are manufactured based on our own insecurities about what we *must* be doing wrong and so we have a *revelation* that we need to do something else that's illogical and difficult. I completely agree that a more deliberate and reasonable manner of living would be not only more fulfilling to many members, but also more in harmony with the gospel principle of agency and personal responsibility.”

“I went to the woods
because I wanted to live deliberately,
I wanted to live deep
and suck out all the marrow of life,
To put to rout all that was not life
and not when I had come to die
Discover that I had not lived.”

~ Henry David Thoreau ~

Standing Up To Live

All this philosophizing and soul-searching has its place, of course, but the bottom line is that theory without experiment, without action, is never actualized.  To cite another one of Mr. Thoreau’s aphorisms:

“How vain it is to sit down to write
when you have not stood up to live.”

I see that as my task now: to stand up to live.  And I know I am not living in a vacuum.  Every day, I go home to my wife and family.  Things are strained between my wife and me.  I fully anticipate that our marriage is in its waning days.  We can never go back to where we were.  So the question becomes, where do we go from here?  Where do I go from here?

This is where some of the theory from this past week’s posts comes into play:  I must take charge of my own life and forge a path instead of waiting for God to reveal a path, as I might have been inclined to do in the past.  I must, from this point forward, actively create my own life, rather than surrender responsibility for my life to God or to my wife or to anyone else.  This is where I must remember and live the concluding lines of Invictus, the poem I love:


  1. This post makes me sad. We're only "master of our fate" for a brief time, and in a limited way. God is the ultimate Master of our fate, is He not?

    I have a favorite scripture I turn to often that helps me keep things in perspective:

    Mosiah 3:19
    For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

    I think this sums up what the Lord expects of us. Are we willing to submit? Patiently? Humbly? Do we say "Thy will be done", or is it "My will be done" ? I have to step back and ask myself that question a lot...

  2. Neal - I understand how you feel and where you are coming from. I am very familiar with Mosiah 3:19. With respect, however, I think that we are as ships passing in the night, in that we are really referring to two different things.

    I am talking about taking responsibility for one's life; I believe you are referring to another concept, i.e., acknowledging our relationship to God. I do not believe that they are one and the same; in fact, I firmly reject this.

    Just as a responsible and effective parent would not want an adult child to be unhealthily dependent on him or her, I believe that God wants us to rise to our potential,"a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" [Eph. 4:13].

    I would invite comments from other viewers of this post, because I happen to believe the concept that is being discussed here is of paramount importance to all of us, particularly those of us who are gay Mormons. I, for one, would be very interested to others' viewpoints.

  3. P.S.: Neal, I would also invite you (and others) to read the post at the following link, wherein I discussed the poem Invictus and why I chose it as part of my moniker:

  4. Yes, I remember reading that before.

    I think we cannot rise to the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" if we leave God behind. Yes, he wants us to make decisions and be resonsible, but the real test is if we choose to put His will above our own. That is the example Christ showed us. That is the stature of the fullness of Christ. Will we know what His will is if we just "forge ahead" without Him? Maybe that's not what you were saying, and I'm just misreading here. If I've misinterpreted, my apologies.

  5. Where do we go from here? My X and I got stuck in that question for almost 10 years after she found out I was gay. Neither one of us wanting to make too many waves and avoiding the possibility of suffering while we were miserable inside so something finally had to give and the rest is history.

    Where do you want to go Invictus? There are no manuals, pat answers and/or scripts for your life. The real question here is what you want to do with your life? There's always a price to pay for anything you want to do (even for not wanting to do squat). You can look at it from the religious standpoint but I'm here to tell you that you can make just about any decision and not ever leave your spirituality out of it by whatever choice you make, no religion or scripture or church can come between your relationship with God.

    So maybe take some time away from everything (good luck!) and as selfish as it may sound, what does Invictus Pilgrim (not what does the church, the family, society expects) want? We could think of rewards in heaven and all of that, but the reality is that you only get 1 chance at life. Whatever the choice, you have a community here to provide support and a listening ear and that is not just a clique, it is as real as it gets!

  6. Thanks, as always, Miguel for your comments. I particularly appreciated what you wrote about nothing coming between my relationship with God and about having only one chance at life. I agree. And I am SO grateful for the community that has indeed been supportive and lent a listening ear. This has given me so much hope in the future as well as faith in myself.

    Hugs back.

  7. This post really made me think a lot. Mostly because I often think about what my decisions now will affect years down the road. I agree a lot with what Miguel said about what do YOU want.

    The trouble with that in regard to popular Mormon culture is that you're not likely to get told what to do (and thus alleviate the pressure and responsibility of making the hard choices yourself) not from a friend, not from a family member, not from a bishop, not from God himself. I have been slowly coming to this realization myself and it's not easy, but I can see that as I start to make my own decisions that I'm leaving behind so many of the comforts I've been so used to. This means leaving deviating from the universal story of a "strapping young man" in the church, not marrying a "nice" girl, going to BYU and raising 3-6 kids etc. I am starting to realize the heavy toll that will take on my family, my prior idea of the future, and *sigh* my eternal state of affairs... but I feel good in making my own choices at least, and now I feel like I am making more informed choices because of my acceptance of myself and consciousness of what affects my perceptions. That awareness and deliberateness in my decisions helps me to feel more confident in them despite the struggles I face.

    I share this all out of hope that it relates somehow to you and can be of benefit, not to toot my own horn. :)

    Best of luck and know my prayers are with you,

  8. Thanks James for your comments and kind thoughts, which I reciprocate.

    I'm not sure I did a very good job expressing my current thoughts in this post, particularly in the last section. I've started several times to write a response, but in the end, I think I will defer additional thoughts to a future post, when I hope I will be able to be a little more articulate. :)

    Except - to say that the main point I was trying to make is to say that I must (1) act (2) deliberately. I do know where I want to go, and I am taking steps down that path. I will write more about these steps later.

  9. If I may, I would like to make a comment regarding your post and Neal's "answers".

    One: I believe that your approach to looking at questions and answers is a positive approach. It enables you to sift through things to arrive at the essential: what is it that you want to understand and how is it that you come to understand.

    With this in mind, I find it admirable that you have realized the importance of your responsibility, i.e. the ability for you to take control of your life. You are certainly able to deal with the unraveling of your marriage, which has been unraveling for quite some time, it seems. You are also able to acknowledge and understand your relationship with God, your children and other friends and family.

    This brings to light another question: Can we as humans be responsible for our actions and lives while still engaged in an unhealthy relationship where we are not true to our self? I think that the answer is no, as is being revealed to you and as you are witnessing. To be true to every aspect of your being, to love your self and to then allow yourself to be in an unloving relationship that does not inspire love nor nurture your true self would be to act irresponsibly, I believe, towards yourself and towards the other. You only know where you are inspired peace, love and growth. That is my answer to a question I read in your post.

    Secondly, I also see the underlying question of: Can one assume that his/her actions are theirs for which consequences will result and still believe in a higher spiritual being? Does one exclude the other? Does one have to exclude the other? Does questioning the church mean that you abandon God? Did Christ come to condemn the world or to love the world through acceptance and teach us to love ourselves and to love others? I personally believe that one can be responsible for one’s actions and consequences while still believing in a higher spiritual being. I don’t believe that they are mutually exclusive. I don’t think that questioning the church means that you abandon God, nor does God abandon you. I don’t believe that Christ came, nor should we for that matter, to condemn but to build love, communication and thinking and tolerance. He was a philosopher seeking to inspire others to think and to feel peace and love.