The day before Thanksgiving, I posted this post which posed a number of questions around the concept of being grateful to be gay. I invited comments, and Rob Donaldson over at Scrum Central devoted an entire post on his blog to providing answers to my questions. He also gave me some homework to do. Thanks, Rob!
I’d now like to write about what I think I have learned since making that post.
A Spectrum of Same-Sex Attraction
One of the first realizations that came to me (and I recognized that this sounds terribly naïve) is that there is a spectrum of "same sex attraction" among those persons referred to as "MoHos", i.e., Mormons who have acknowledged (at least to themselves) that they experience some degree of attraction to persons of their gender.
It occurred to me that this level of attraction can frame how one answers the questions I posed. A MoHo with a "lower" degree of attraction (or perhaps a bisexual person) can, theoretically, have little problem functioning within the church and views their attractions as something ancillary to their main identity. Others (and I would include myself in this group) identify much more strongly as being gay and recognize such as being a fundamental element of their identity. To such persons, the answers to the questions I posed can be very different.
Premises and Frameworks
The next realization that came to me, with Rob’s prompting, is that one must never forget to examine premises on which statements are made and the implicit framework that is being used in formulating questions and arguments. As I pointed out in a comment to Rob’s post, this is elementary logic, but how often are we influenced and (mis)guided because we fail to question a statement’s premise or the basis upon which it is framed?
There is an understandable tendency for persons who have been raised or otherwise steeped in the Mormon religion and culture, when coming to terms with their homosexuality, to operate based on certain premises and frameworks that are an intrinsic part of such persons’ worldview and mode of thinking. They are often not recognized until a detached observer reveals them for what they are.
There are many of such premises that could be discussed; I will mention only two. One of the most fundamental of these premises was referred to by Rob in his post in response to my question of why God would “make” some people gay. He wrote that most Mormons have “a relentless habit of ascribing everything in life, no matter how small or detailed, to divine intent, design or intervention.” In Protestant theology, this is called “Sovereignty of God,” and given that a fundamental doctrine of Mormonism is free agency, it is somewhat ironic that this framework is so pervasive in the Church.
Such a framework, in the context of the origins of homosexuality, can lead to (among other things) an exhaustive and ultimately fruitless quest, once a Mormon has accepted that he is gay, to find some divine purpose in, and/or reason for, his homosexuality. This could be instructively compared to parents praying and agonizing over why a child with Down Syndrome was born to them; or to a person born with hemophilia, or diabetes, or any other genetic disease, seeking to understand the divine intent in “making” them born that way.
So, I think I have learned that it is much healthier for me to simply accept the fact that I am gay and not assume that there is some grand purpose to this, or that God even made a conscious decision that I would be born gay. As Rob pointed out in his post, “Evidence is overwhelming that, whatever the reason, being gay is an intrinsic part of one's nature that can't be eradicated [and therefore] suggests it is a natural and morally neutral phenomenon.”
Another premise that is woven into the very fabric of everything Mormon was the subject of a very intriguing post that Pablo published last summer on his blog. In his post, Pablo told the story of how the CTR ring was adopted and how there was some discussion on the Primary Board of using the phrase “Choose Right” instead of “Choose the Right.” Eventually, the word “the” was kept because, in the words of a Board member, “choosing right could mean many things, but choosing the right meant there was only one way.”
As Pablo pointed out, “this ‘only one way’ belief is one of the pillars of Mormon culture and theology ... How different would the culture of the church be and how different would my and many others’ experiences in the church have been had the Primary Board in the 1970s decided the ‘the’ issue the other way or chosen a less exclusionary phrase?”
As it is, this “one way” belief breeds smugness, narrow-mindedness and intolerance throughout the membership of the church, even (or especially) in the minds of people who have “good hearts” but who are largely ignorant of just how smug, narrow-minded and intolerant they are. In the context of coming to terms with one’s homosexuality, one fights against this “one way” mentality that is woven into, through and around us from the time of our infancy, and it often requires an enormous effort to recognize and reject this premise.
The Gay Response Spectrum
Having accepted that being gay is an integral part of a person’s make-up and is a morally neutral phenomenon, Rob succinctly wrote that “… the only question then is how one can best deal with it. Asphyxiate, stifle, deny, endure, tolerate, accept, value, embrace?”
I found Rob’s choice of words intriguing and enlightening, as they describe a spectrum of responses to one’s homosexual nature. Upon consulting my trusty Concise Oxford Dictionary, I find the following meanings: Asphyxiate – to cause a person to have a lack of oxygen in the blood, causing unconsciousness or death; Stifle – to cause to experience constraint of breathing; Deny – declare untrue or nonexistent, repudiate or disclaim; Endure – undergo, e.g., a hardship; Tolerate – allow the existence or occurrence of, to leave unmolested; Accept – submit to; Value – to have a high opinion of, attach importance to; Embrace – accept eagerly, adopt.
I’ll leave it to the reader to determine where he might currently fit on this spectrum. I think one’s progress along this spectrum, and how one has progressed or is progressing or can progress from one “point” to the next on the spectrum, could easily be the subject of a lengthy blog post. But I am not qualified to write such a post. It would need to be written by someone who has already made that journey; I’m still in the middle of mine – probably somewhere along about “Accept.”
Being Gay: Celebration vs. Shame
In my original post, I requested specific instructions as to how a gay person who is steeped in the Mormon faith and culture can come to celebrate his gayness rather than feel shamed and cursed by it. Rob responded to this request by offering the following suggestions:
First: “Stop thinking of [the fact that you are gay] as something shameful. This is a process and will probably require you to reject much cultural Mormon programming.”
Second: “List all the things that make you happy when you are conscious of the gay part of yourself. Imagine how your life would be without them.”
Third: “List the ways you think you are a better, kinder, more understanding, intuitive, loving, caring person as a result of being gay.”
Fourth: “Think of all the ways you're happier since you started coming out. Of all the art, music, creativity, the beautiful things in life you appreciate more than straight guys might.”
Fifth: “Think of all the friends you've made since you started the journey and how they may have enriched your life.”
Regarding the first suggestion, I think the key word is “process.” I have started this process and am continuing to sift, sort and eject. For me, the process started in the middle of Boyd K. Packer’s address at this past General Conference, and it has received a couple of turbo boosts since then (see, e.g., here).
As to the fifth suggestion, I freely acknowledge and thank my new friends who have indeed enriched my life and affirmed my newly-emerging gay self. How can I measure the worth of statements such as this one, made to me by one of these new friends: “You are a bright, articulate and talented person. Whether you remain with your wife or eventually follow another path won't change the fact that your life is precious. Your spirit burns bright and comes across clearly in what you write. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you are of lesser worth. You are who you are *because of* your gayness, not in spite of it. It is part and parcel of your soul. You have every right to hold your head up high and look everyone you meet in the eye.”
In response to these comments, I wrote the following: “I’m not ashamed to say my eyes watered as I read it and I had to fight back tears. I’m simply not used to hearing or seeing such things said or written about me. I don’t think I’ve truly considered my life as being “precious” for even one day of my life. Nor have I thought of my spirit as “burning brightly.” And I certainly have never thought of myself, in a positive way, as being who I am *because of* my gayness. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to hear that I have, rather, always thought of myself as the hobbled, handicapped, deeply scarred person I am *in spite of*, among other things, my homosexuality. I hope – someday – to truly affirm my gayness as part and parcel of my soul, to embrace and love it – to love myself.”
So, yes, I am extremely grateful for my new “cyber friendships,” and I look forward to converting many of them to “real” friendships as I meet an increasing number of these special men.
As to the second, third and fourth suggestions, I have given these a lot of thought. Since coming out (to the extent I have), I have definitely embraced parts of me that I had entombed long ago. In particular, I have gone back and embraced those parts of me that love and appreciate (to quote Rob) “art, music, creativity [and] the beautiful things in life.”
I feel I have also made huge progress in de-fragmenting my personality and my life. As I have gone back and looked at my life through a “gay lens,” memories have opened to me like spring flowers, which I believe will continue as the boy and young man in me feels more comfortable and secure in yielding up feelings and memories and melds into and with the older man I became. I am also allowing my authentic gay self to emerge and to communicate with other parts of my self.
Beyond this, however, I don’t think I am yet in a position to properly respond to Rob’s suggestions. Why? Because, in a way, I am still very much in the closet. At this point, other than a couple of lunches with other MoHos, I have yet to actually engage with other gay men in real social situations. I won’t feel qualified to answer Rob’s questions until I have placed myself in situations where I can fully function as a gay person, where I can live the gay me “out loud”. Does that make sense?
That being said, I have already seen that everything I have been experiencing over the last couple of months has made me more confident in “normal” social situations: I am more sure of myself, more comfortable in my own skin. I feel I have a long way to go in this regard, but to the extent I have noticed a difference, I have felt empowered and attribute it to the fact that I like myself more and an more comfortable with myself since “coming out”.
So, am I grateful to be gay? Am I grateful to be attracted to men? Considering what I have recently learned, I have come to the same conclusion as have others: these are the wrong questions.
My current feelings: I am gay. I am attracted to men. Have I accepted these basic facts about myself? Yes. Have I gotten over feeling shame about my homosexuality? Not totally, but I’ve come a long, long way. Do I feel better about myself? Yes. Do I feel healthier? Yes. Do I feel more like a whole person? Yes. Does it feel good to embrace core parts of my identity that have been buried for many years? Yes! For all of these things and more, I am grateful. Do I consider it a blessing that I have been able to make the progress I have made over the past two months? Yes.
For me, for now, this is enough. Two months, six months, twelve months down the road, I hope to be able to list other things I am grateful for in my journey as my gay self continues to grow stronger and more empowered. My task now is to continue on the road, engaging with fellow travelers, learning all I can and sharing what little knowledge I have accumulated in my wanderings.
Meanwhile, I am able, for the first time in a very, very long time – perhaps the first time in my life – say that I no longer loathe and despise myself. I am learning to love myself. (Isn’t it a little sad that one has to learn to love one’s self; makes it sound like a Calculus problem.)
For this, I am truly, deeply grateful.