Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To Young Men Only - The Gay Version

A very interesting discussion about mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) evolved in a series of posts on this blog two weeks ago.  (See here, here and subsequent posts.)  Since that time, I have received several comments and e-mails from young gay Mormons, expressing gratitude for those men who shared their experiences and requesting advice concerning their own situation.  I have thought a lot, over the course of the past two weeks, about these young men.  In so doing, I found my thoughts turning to (yet) an(other) infamous talk given by Boyd K. Packer entitled “To Young Men Only.” 

For many of us older gay Mormon guys, the attitude of the Church toward homosexuality was succinctly stated in this talk, given by Elder Packer in priesthood session of conference in October 1976. (Elder Packer subsequently gave another notorious address to a multi-stake fireside at BYU entitled, “To The One,” which will be the subject of a later post.) This address was subsequently printed in pamphlet form and became the standard reference for many years for bishops in dealing with “worthiness” issues among young men and contained the “party line” with respect to the issues of homosexuality and (among other things) masturbation, both of which were condemned in no uncertain terms. 

Any Mormon man who came of age in the late 70’s through the mid-90’s is probably familiar with this pamphlet, or at least with the principles set forth in the pamphlet.  These principles, along with other Church practices that were intended to “deal” with homosexuality (e.g., reparative therapy and encouraging gay men to marry with the assurance that same-sex attractions would be thereby “cured”) were the frame of reference for many of us when we made the decision to get married and start down the “path.”  As was expressed in the posts and comments a couple of weeks ago, there are many Mormon men who went down that path, only to realize later that it was impossible for them to continue.

Not only were the comments and experiences shared relevant to gay men who are currently in a MOM, but it also became apparent that these comments were relevant to young gay Mormons who are still single but are approaching “marriageable age.”  A couple of these men left comments on my blog concerning the subject of MOMs.  One wrote:  I too am young and single. I agree that these blogs are great resources to those of us who are trying to figure out what being a gay Mormon means for our future. I rarely go on dates for similar reasons (other than lack of interest), but I don't want to develop a serious relationship with a girl because I would feel dishonest about my intentions. I would be pretending to be in love with her while she would just be an experiment to see if I could eventually fall in love. I can see myself married in the future, not because I look forward to or imagine any real relationship with a future wife, but because I miss being in a family and see getting married as the only way to be back in one.  I may eventually marry if I find a girl that I can be completely open with, but for now I am choosing to stay single.”

Another man (who has given me permission to share this) e-mailed me and wrote:  I've only dated one girl in my life … I was hoping desperately that one day I'd wake up and *click* I'd be in love. But that never happened. I loved her, but wasn't "in love" with her. I guess the point in emailing you is to let you know how relevant the MOM discussion has been for me. In that relationship, I was determined to just make it work, because I'd never dated before, and didn't know what a relationship was like. I was disappointed because all I was ever told about how great relationships are, seemed to be false. I felt unauthentic, guilty, ashamed, broken. I wanted to be in love, but I wasn't. My willpower to resist and maintain my identity was slowly sapped away. When we finally broke up, I was broke up, because my identity as a straight guy was shattered. She was the foundation of that facade. (Of course, that wasn't her intention, she just was.)

“Every once in awhile, that little voice sneaks into my brain and tells me that I should give dating girls another try. I could make the relationship work, and eventually marry. It tells me I could be happy, and maybe I would for a short period of time. But I think what makes me gay is, not only am I attracted to men, but my long-term happiness can only be sustained by one. In short, I want to be happy, and I think God wants me to happy, too. So will I ever get married to a woman? I don't think so.”

I personally feel that these two young men have shown a great deal of maturity and integrity in dealing with the conflict between their sexual orientation and the teachings and expectations of the Church with respect to heterosexual marriage.  But the doctrine of eternal marriage (and everything it implies), central as it is to everything the Church is and stands for, represents a significant (and for some, insurmountable) barrier or challenge to young gay Mormon men who are attempting to deal with their sexuality and, by extension, their identity – eternal and otherwise. 

This concern is reflected in another private message I received from yet another young gay Mormon man who, after stating that he is gay and that he had been reading the posts about MOMs, wrote, “I am just thinking that I should get married and have kids. I really want to go to the celestial kingdom, but I am so worried about being married or having kids. I don't know [however] if I am strong enough to do it.”  He then asked for my advice.  Humbly, but believing that what I wrote may be of some relevance and use to other young gay Mormon men, and with the consent of the man to whom I was writing, I am including here most of my (slightly edited) response to this young gay brother. 

It sounds like you are obviously an active member of the Church and that you have a testimony of the reality of God and of the ability of the Holy Ghost to inspire and enlighten you. Because of this, my first bit of counsel for you would be - if you haven't already done so - to specifically pray to know whether Heavenly Father accepts you as you are - gay. However, in doing so, I would remind you of Moroni’s admonition in Moroni 10:  seek wisdom, be sincere, and ask with real intent (and I would suggest that asking with real intent requires that you push away from you everything that you have been taught about the nature of homosexuality and approach God as much as possible with an open mind and heart).  Then there is James’ admonition in James 1:5 (which, of course, prompted Joseph to go into the grove of trees):  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” [New International Version, emphasis added].

I can and will give you my own personal testimony that God accepts you just the way you are, but it is obviously no substitute for your own witness (in whatever form that may come, e.g., whether as a flash of insight, an impression in your heart and mind, a feeling, or a settled conviction).  My own witness of this (as pertaining to myself) is described here and in my coming out letter here).  I know of others who have had comparable experiences. Based on these witnesses, I can testify that you were born the way you are and that God accepts and loves you the way you are. President Packer notwithstanding, you did not "choose" to be gay. You just are …

If God accepts you as you are, which I believe He does, then you next need to think and pray about the consequences and ramifications of this knowledge. Would God damn you for something that He has told you is "ok"? Would He expect you to do something totally contrary to your nature, failing which you would be damned? My answer to these questions is "no."

The truth is that God's ways are not our ways. In Isaiah 55:8-9, we read:  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  We - President Monson included - understand and have had revealed to us only a tiny fraction of what God knows and understands. Joseph Smith himself said that if he told the Saints everything he knew, the apostles would leave his side and the saints would "fly apart as glass."  (And remember – he went in to the Sacred Grove expecting one answer and came out with a mind-blowingly different answer, one that he could never have anticipated.)

My own deep personal conviction is that there is much we do not know and understand about homosexuality. But there is something each one of "us" can know and understand: God loves us just the way we are (i.e., gay) and He does not expect us to live a lie. Should we who are gay, alone among God's creations, deny ourselves and have denied to us the opportunity to fulfill the measure of our creation? Again, my answer to this question is no.

This is obviously a very personal issue. But I believe that if you open your heart and try to push away what you have been taught about homosexuality and ask God with sincerity and full purpose of heart, He will reveal to you the truth of who you are [i.e., in your heart and/or your mind in a way that is appropriate to you] … I wish you the very best, which I'm sure you deserve.

I realize I am opening myself up here to all sorts of comments about where I’m “at.”  Fire away.  But I would also encourage older men to share their comments for the benefit of our young gay brethren, regardless of where you fall on any of a number of “spectrums” of thought, church activity, attitude toward MOM’s, etc.  

Realistically, it is only on blogs such as this one (and others, obviously) that many of these young gay brethren will be able to find thoughts and advice concerning a subject which is of critical importance to them, but which is very likely hidden away deep inside them and which they are afraid to talk about.  We can all relate, can’t we? 

So I hope that many of you will offer your thoughts – for their benefit.  I also hope younger guys will join in this discussion, as their peers may benefit greatly from the sharing of experiences such as the ones described in this post.


  1. I'll give it a go.

    When I came home from my mission and felt the pressure to date and make the next logical step (marriage) I had no clue how to even get started. I made attempts to date girls back home in TX and when I moved to UT but it never felt right. When I spoke to the bishop at the student ward at the U his pat answer was that I needed to get married and my SSA attraction would be cured, as he said I'd have a sexual outlet that would take care of the need--boy I wonder how many answers like this he gave and how many more followed his advise...

    By this time my roommates and friends were all getting married, I wanted a fairy tale wedding too, not to mention family & social pressure and all else. I didn't have internet nor a Moho Directory and the only gay references I'd ever heard of were Miracle of Forgiveness, For Young Men Only and To the One---none of which offered even a slight inkling of love of God or anyone for me, so the only option was to bite the bullet and get married. My ex and I were good friends and although I never felt that euphoria of loving/wanting/longing for someone I figured that those things would come eventually in our relationship. We had a good friendship and managed possibly a good 5 years or so of a good marriage, but there was always that lingering thought that I was never comfortable for the next 10 years or so. I failed to tell her about my issues before we married which is my #1 and only regret.

    Forgive me for being candid here, but as far as the sexual aspect, as a young 25 year old I was capable of having sex with a woman, no issues there but it is part of the normal male drive. The older I got the harder (no pun intended!) it became to be able to perform which was a huge wedge in our intimate life, I even tried to take Viagra which in my late 30's which is not normal at all and it would cause all kinds of side effects--I've blogged about it in the past--I seriously don't recommend anyone entering into a MOM because the sex may be great in the beginning but then there's very little left when there's no emotional bond down the road. If a young guy wants to go into a MOM I'd say let his future bride know, this way she can make an informed decision and at least know what they're both facing and in my mind, it is a recipe for disaster (sorry to those who are in MOM, I suppose it is just my experience). Sorry to take so much space here, but I feel all these points (and probably more I didn't get to) are important.

  2. :) What a fantastic post!

    I think I was given To Young Men Only on three different occasions. I'd always hide it in the back of my scripture case because I knew any guy who saw it would immediately identify the pamphlet and label me "sinner." Now that I think about it, I probably also hid it because whoever illustrated that pamphlet drew some really attractive men, and I didn't know how to react to that. Haha, it's kind of funny now, but oh how I hated To Young Men Only. Maybe it's just me, but Packer's message seems to suggest that men are uncontrollable sexual savages. It also suggests violence is an appropriate response to a gay person's interest. Whatever happened to, "No thank you, I happen to not like men?" As a gay guy, I'd much rather have a man say that than have him punch me in the face.

    But now I'm ranting. Sorry Invictus. As a younger gay man, I do value your perspective, and yours Miguel, and I value the thoughts of everybody else who comments and blogs about these topics. They are really helpful as I continue to form my own opinion and ideas.

  3. Thanks for you input Apronkid and Miguel. I also appreciate Invictus's thoughtful response encouraging seeking personal revelation.

    I also anticipate the "To the One" post.

  4. We think when we are young that we are the only one. It's not until later that we find out that countless others have preceded us.

    When we are young we overestimate our chances of overcoming the odds when we embark on a path that is known to have low odds of success.

    Still, it's worth having the conversation between the generations.

    My message to young men and women only, speaking as a person with a number of decades behind me, would be 1) claim your right to exist in this world and 2) do not enter into a mixed-orientation marriage. About the first point, Carol Lynn Pearson puts it like this: "Don't believe in anything else until you believe in yourself."

    I can't comment on this topic without mentioning the risk of suicide that so many young gay Mormons face. The first priority if you are feeling self-destructive in any way is to reach out and get help. I wish that ecclesiastical support were available, but the fact of the matter is that talking to church leaders often makes the situation worse for gay youth. In any case, the first priority would be to do whatever it takes to save your life. There are people you can reach out to. Find them.

    A second priority would be to heal your self-image. This is what Carol Lynn is talking about when she says to believe in yourself first before believing in any creed or god. A big part of self-acceptance involves reaching out out to those who will love and celebrate you instead of those who will judge you. There are people around who will love you as you are, but they may not be in your current social circle. You may need to look outside of your current circle in some cases.

    A third priority would be to avoid the pitfall of early, inappropriate marriage. (I stumbled into this pitfall, and to say that the result was a disaster is an understatement.) Marriage to a person of incompatible sexual orientation is no solution at all. It magnifies the problems many, many times. Knowing what I know I cannot recommend this course. As Sister Pearson says on this topic, "The risk is just too great."

    Finally, I'd say to live your life with passion. You can find joy in friendship and in a life-giving bond with a special person with whom you share your life and your love. You can find it in meaningful work and in contribution to your community. You can find it in education and in all manner of worthy causes. Options are open to you to raise children and to participate in society in ways that were unavailable to previous generations. LDS society is just a small sliver of what's available, and it's not particularly representative.

    Your life is worth something. It is precious. You can find a place where you will be loved for who you are and not tolerated in spite of who you are. You are not a person to be tolerated. How low we aim when we speak of tolerance! You as a young gay person are to be celebrated for all that you are and can become.

    [Footnote: if you are already in a mixed-orientation marriage, see here.]

  5. I have a nephew who recently returned from a mission, and I can see that he is gay (he's never said anything, but when you live it, it's easier to see in others). When I told my wife that he was gay, at first she didn't believe me and couldn't see it, but after further discussion, she realized that I was probably right.

    I am concerned about how my sister (his mom) will react. She's very conservative and "company-line" Mormon (her house is decorated with more "Return with Honor" and other religious paraphernalia than I can stomach, but that's my issue).

    When I recently came out to my parents, I told them that I was a bit worried about my nephew and they way my sister would react if/when she finds out. I don't want him to be emotionally and spiritually abused as too many are when they tell their parents. And I wouldn't want him to think that something like suicide was an answer.

    Anyway, a few weeks after my initial conversation about this with my wife, my wife asked me, "What advice would you give your nephew?" (about getting married.)

    I saw this as the loaded question that it was. If I told her that I would tell him he shouldn't get married because it leads to too much pain, conflict and dishonesty, and that any struggle he's feeling now will only get worse as time goes by, she would think that I regretted ever marrying her and internalize that in ways that I don't want to deal with right now.

    I certainly knew that I could never recommend that he try to ignore or "overcome his gayness" and get married. So the answer I came up with, was a semi-vague, "I'd tell him to be true to who he is." Of course, my wife didn't get what I was saying and asked again, "Well, yeah, of course, but what would you tell him he should do?"

    At that point, I asked her, "If our daughter was faced with the choice of marrying a really good man who struggled with homosexuality, would you recommend that she marry him?" I guess one could look at this as my loaded question re-aimed back at her, but it absolutely was not what I was thinking (hey, I may be gay, but I'm not a girl - lol.)

    After thinking about this for a minute, she said, "I see what you're saying. I wouldn't want this for our daughter."

    "That," I answered, "Is what I would tell my nephew."

  6. @Miguel - Thanks for starting things off, Miguel, and for your thoughtful and candid comments.

    Since you brought up the subject of sex, I feel duty-bound to chime in. Your experience in this regard was very similar to mine. Great in the first 15 years or so, but the older I got, the harder it became (no reverse pun intended; oops I just went back and read your comments and see that you used that one, too; oh well ...). It became more and more of a mental effort, and there was always the concern lurking in the background that my wife would think that it was attributable to my attraction to guys.

    @ApronKid - Rants are allowed here. :) I had no idea that the pamphlet is still being used. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion - and best wishes as you head back to BYU.

    @Brad - Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comments. The "To the One" post requires some leavening. Probably a week or so before I'll be ready with that one.

    @MoHoHawaii - What can I say? Your comments are beautiful - obviously heartfelt; articulate; wise; tactful; and respectful of how others in our community approach this subject. Thanks so much for your thoughts, concern and insights.

    @Utahhiker - Thanks so much for your contribution to this discussion. You write beautifully, and I for one appreciate you sharing both the story of your nephew and sister, as well as the account of the conversation with your wife.

  7. My Thoughts:

    Sexuality in general is not well understood by anyone. No one has a bead on what makes us 'attracted' or 'not attracted' to other people, and the jury is still out on the causality of homosexuality. In my mind that's not really important. If you are a homosexual then that's what you are. You can't wash it off. :)

    The advice not to get involved in a mixed orientation relationship is good advice, in general. I think it IS possible for some to have MOMs that work for them, but I would advise extreme caution, transparency and conservatism if you feel pulled in that direction. From a Gospel persepctive it isn't necessary for you to be married in this life if you're gay. You'll get that opportunity later if you're faithful.

    Which brings us to pursing homosexual relationships - my advice is don't! Here's why..

    From the perspective of God, all human beings are in a fallen and mortal state. We are all "carnal, sensual and devilish" in His eyes - the scriptures call this the "Natural Man". We're full of passions, desires, appetites, wants, etc. Makes no difference if you're gay or straight, we're all in the same boat. This earth life has become a probationary state for us, the purpose of which is to "see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them". That's the bottom line. Will we obey God or will we follow the Natural Man? One of my favorite scriptures sums the situation up:

    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."

    Right now, there isn't a single scripture or utterance by any Prophet of God that supports the notion that gay relationships are OK. Not one. If you are a believer, that means you cannot pursue a gay lifestyle without giving up some pretty precious things; like the Priesthood, Temple Blessings, membership, etc. In the Temple we covenant to keep our sexual behavior within the Lord's boundaries, not our own or the World's. Sometimes that may not be convenient, but that's the standard which He has asked us to follow. There aren't custom-tailored versions of Gospel standards that make special exceptions for certain people or groups. God is "no respector of persons".

    So my advice is to stay true to the Gospel. Put off the Natural Man as Mosiah admonished us and become a Saint. Pray about it - yes, of course. Always do that. Get a testimony of the path your are taking. But realize that only after the trial of your faith will you realize the blessings the Lord has promised to those who remain faithful. I have done it - imperfectly - and still try to do it, and I have been blessed for it. You can too.

  8. @Neal - With respect, I disagree with your interpretation of Mosiah 3:19. This scripture, as well as that well-worn phrase "carnal, sensual and devilish", refer to the fact that man is cut off from the presence of God, spiritually and physically, and it is only through the At-one-ment of Jesus Christ that we can bridge that gap.

    One of the things that attracted me to Mormonism those years ago when I was baptized as a young adult was that Mormonism had seemingly simply cut the Gordian Knot when it came to the nature of man. Philosophers had been arguing since time immemorial whether the body is good or bad, whether "spirituality" is better than "corpality", etc., etc. This favorite pasttime of Greek scholars greatly influenced early Christian thinking, which rejected basically any concept of the corpality of God except as incarnate in Jesus Christ while in mortality.

    Mormonism, however, rejected this false dichotomy and embraced the inherent divinity of man and the purpose and importance of the human body in the "scheme of things." I personally believe Mosiah 3:19 to be a beautiful scripture, but I reject the Platonic interpretation that essentially implies that we are just a bunch of sex-starved animals unless we keep the commandments. In my opinion, that minimizes the supreme and transcendent importance of Jesus Christ and reduces the gospel to following a set of rules - a common complaint of certain Christian denominations as applied to the LDS Church.

    You are correct in your statement that there is no scripture or utterance of a prophet that condones or authorizes a "gay lifestyle." (I suspect, by the way, that there are many conscienscious, sensitive men who take issue with the perjorative implications of this phrase. I think your first choice of "gay relationships" is much better.)

    On the flipside of that equation, however, there have been "prophetic utterances" as recently as three months ago that state in no uncertain terms that homosexuality is a "choice" - a position that, despite Elder Packer's comments, has now been repudiated by the Church. Consider.

    Further to my comments about use of the phrase "gay lifestyle", the same considerations apply to the use of the phrase, "Sometimes that may not be convenient." These phrases and words, to me, are code words for the well-worn LDS position that homosexuality is a choice, and/or that any man who enters a gay relationship is licentious and immoral.

    I respect your position, Neal. I simply do not agree with it.

  9. And if I may chime in, I believe that man is not divided: He/She is carnal AND spiritual. I don't believe we have to rid ourselves of society or sexual thoughts to get back to a natural and pure state. Nor do I believe that we need to alienate ourselves from purity in order to experience passion and pleasure.

    We are given bodies to enjoy pleasure, sex, feelings, sensations, from which we feel, from which we are stimulated to think about things ... I don't have a scripture to back this up. I just cannot conceive of why heterosexual sex would be ok and not homosexual. It is the union of bodies, of hearts and minds. Because churches do NOT authorize same sex marriages, or governments for that reason, individuals are forced to consider either remaining celibate or living "in sin". Why such a binary view of life? Convenience and nice, tidy, wrapped-up answers? Diversity bothers, deranges and goes against "normalcy".

    As IP pointed out in his initial post today: we cannot begin to fathom Life, God ... we only use such a small percentage of our minds as it is. Why do we put our minds and hearts to sleep under such limiting views?

  10. Pilgrim,

    Its OK if you disagree with me. I certainly don't agree with you at times, but I do love and respect you.

    I think Mosiah 3:19 is clearly about submitting our life - our will - to God, just as Christ submitted to God. The imagery is that this may not be easy or pleasant, and I think the use of the word "inflict" in this context is significant. I think the act of submitting to the inevitable trials and the way we subsequently respond (humble, meek, patient, full of love) is what purifies and sanctifies us and makes us ready to recieve the promised blessings of God.

    In my mind we have little concept of love as God experiences it or as we may experience it in the next world (See my blog post called "Higher Love"). We do not need to be ashamed of our bodies or our sexuality, but we have been commanded to bridle our passions and to use our sexuality within the bounds and limitations that God has set. I believe those limitations are clearly defined; both in the scriptures, the words of the prophets, and in the Temple.

    I've posted my own thoughts on Packer, which you can read on my blog.

    And I do consider gay relationships "immoral" (sinful), at least as they relate to keeping the commandments of God, just as I consider heterosexual relationships outside of marriage immoral in the same way.

  11. Neal,

    Does the "natural man" definition really include throwing out all sexual desires and actions. No--in fact the LDS faith is rather unique in that we believe that physical relationships will continue into the next life after the resurrection. We believe that intimacy does continue. I think broadening your definition of "natural man" might be advised.

    I was listening to someone a couple days ago at the gym talking about those who really made the Savior mad during his time on earth. It wasn't the woman taken in prostitution or people who were just common sinners by biblical definition. It was those who thought and acted along the lines of the Pharisees. Hypocrites who rigidly followed the law, yet had no love or charity in their hearts.

    Perhaps this all comes down to who you really feel God is. This is perhaps my most fundamental of disagreements with the LDS dogma these days. I just do not see God in their rigid terms any longer. Frankly, I couldn't even back when I was a missionary--though I wouldn't have admitted it then.

    To those of you who read this creation of our friend Invictus: you have just been blessed with something far better than any publication created by the LDS Church. I wish all of you the best in finding out what God wants for each of you in your lives.

  12. I am heartbroken every time I come across another young man or woman who feels like they must fight against their inner desire to love. They struggle with all their might against chains that are imposed not by God, but by their fellow man, and in some cases themselves. In all too many cases they end up strangling themselves in the process. Either spiritually or physically.

    I know I am just one insignificant voice, but I wish I could tell each of these individuals that they are enough. That they have something special and unique to offer the world, and that they have a future partner out there who needs them.

  13. @Joe Conflict - Thanks for your comments, Joe. My hope is that this discussion will make a difference in some young man's life.

    @El Genion - Yours is not an insignificant voice. Thank you for adding it to this discussion. I frankly wish that more who perhaps consider their voice insignificant would do the same.

  14. @El Geni*o* - Sorry for the keyboard slip. :)