Saturday, January 1, 2011

Guest Post: Choosing a Life of Happiness

Today’s post is the first of (what I hope will be) a number of guest posts written by a new friend, Utahhiker801, a gay Mormon who is also in a mixed-orientation marriage.  The title, pictures and subject of the post are entirely of his choosing.  I hope you will enjoy his writing as much as I have and that you will show your appreciation (and your thoughts about what he has written) through your comments.  Happy New Year, everyone!

About three years ago, my wife and I were at the Utah Arts Festival where they were showing various independently made short films.  One was a documentary that explored how members of the LDS Church dealt with being gay.

As it started, my wife asked if I wanted to leave, but I told her no, I wanted to see it.  The topic can obviously be sensitive to her given our situation.

The film looked at a few individuals who decided that it was more important for them to live true to their "inherent" nature.  As a result, those individuals basically left the church and accepted their gayness.  It wasn't necessarily an easy thing for them to do.  It broke my heart when one young man submitted his paperwork to go on a mission and received a letter back from the Church telling him that they would not call him on a mission.  He described it as the worst day of his life. (According to the hand-book of instructions, anyone who has had homosexual relations cannot serve a mission.  This wasn't in the film, but since I'm in a bishopric, I'm familiar with it.)

The second group of people interviewed for the film were people who were dealing with "same-sex attraction" and yet made the decision to stay in the church and live according to the expectations and covenants of the church.  They expressed firm testimonies that they were living according to God's plan, and that despite the difficulty involved with denying some deep desires, they firmly believed this was what they should do.

And lastly, they spoke to a young man who was beginning to come to terms with his SSA.  At this point in his life, he was trying to decide whether or not he should live as the church taught or if he should accept that he was gay and move that direction.

The film was impressively well-balanced.  As we all know, it could be easy to use that forum to trumpet one position over another, but it was very sympathetic to everyone involved and did not express any type of judgment for any of their decisions.

As we left the theater and drove home, it made for interesting conversation with my wife.  She made an observation that I would not have dared bring up to her.  She said, "Did you notice that the people who accepted that they were gay seemed happier than those who struggled with it and stayed in the church?"

She was right.  And being one of those who has struggled with it and stayed in the church (so far), I see that as well.

People often use the phrase "living the gay lifestyle" as a pejorative term for someone who has decided to leave the church and embrace the fact that they're gay.  My wife has even said that she is concerned that if we split that she doesn't want our children exposed to "the gay lifestyle."

"First off," I asked her, "What kind of guys do you think I'm attracted to? Rainbow-flag waiving go-go boys?"  I'm attracted to guys who are like me; clean-cut, down-to-earth, often returned-missionary types.

And the other question I have is, What does "gay lifestyle" even mean?  There are enough closeted gay men who are married, that it should meet the definition of a gay lifestyle, but that's definitely not what those who use the term mean.

Are they referring to guys who go drinking and clubbing every weekend and have sex with multiple partners?  Sure, some choose to do that, and hopefully they grow towards more stability before their lives fall apart, but that's not everybody.

A good friend of mine from college has been with his boyfriend for at least 8 years.  Is that the "gay lifestyle"?  Or maybe they're referring to having a well-manicured lawn and a propensity for spontaneously singing show tunes (seriously, any song from 'Yentl' gets me.  How is that not a universal reaction?).

There is no more a "gay lifestyle" than there is a "straight lifestyle."  People who use that term are being dismissive of those who are different from themselves. 

There is no "lifestyle"; there's just living.

And if that means falling in love with another man, or getting my heart broken, or having a crush on a cute guy at the gym who I can barely bring myself to talk to, or waking up in the morning and just staring at the guy I love who is still sleeping next to me, or wanting a future where I don't have to be afraid of my feelings, then that's what I want.

If someone chooses something different, I completely respect that.  But don't dismiss those who disagree with you as choosing the "gay lifestyle."   It is a simplistic, reductionist view that ignores the deep complexity involved.

If the natural man is an enemy to God, then I guess I'm glad that I was recently labeled as being "unnatural."  Because if you misapply mathematical principles to that sentence, an unnatural man is *not* an enemy to God.  I believe He loves and accepts us the way we are.

8 comments:

  1. IP Thanks for sharing Utah Hiker with us.

    Utah Hiker, I agree with you totally. When someone with whom I'm very close used the term "gay lifestyle", I too wondered what that stood for in their minds. People often love to use labels, stereotypes to categorize something that they don't understand, or fear. By labeling, the unknown fear is transformed into a familiar distancing: what an oxymoron to become familiar enough with something to only distance it and reject it.

    There isn't one lifestyle for any type of person. There are millions of colors and shades of lifestyles, each one created by the persons in that lifestyle: I say persons (plural) because a couple is two people who bring with them their own palettes of colors.

    Finally, I commend you for saying that your "natural" man is loved by God. I continue to believe that God, not religion, loves each of us for who we TRULY are, and who we masquerade ourselves to be: he accepts it all. The biggest question for me is: how do I love my self and my life best: that is the path for me and is a path that can spontaneously detour and travel, but it will always be my path.

    May you find and trace yours, Utah Hiker!

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  2. Hate to say it, but I didn't get much of the post read. The pictures were much too distracting.... especially the one of the guy with the "pecs". :-). Where do you guys find this stuff????

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  3. Clive - As nice as the pictures are that Utahhiker picked out, his writing is even better. The pictures are supposed to enhance the post, not the other way around. :)

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  4. Utah Hiker - I remember reading something years ago (Village Voice, 1990s?) that pointed out that for many Americans, the single most difficult obstacle for most straight men to "jump over" regarding gay men and their sexual habits was "the ick factor". It was the thought, abhorrent to them, of pitching and catching. (hope this clears the reviewer). I do not mean to offend here -just shed light on the story that sought to identify what else there was beyond the appeal to Holy Writ, beyond the determination to protect children, beyond the jealousy of "dual income, no kids".

    I showed Rent to my children soon after leaving the house and setting up my own place - back in 2004, they were then 11, 9 and 7. I will NEVER forget my youngest's reaction with Angel in the hospital, dying, being cared for by Tom Collins. She sobbed, and through a sudden gush of tears, uttered "now THAT'S love". OUt of the mouth of babes. . .

    So, what exactly is the gay lifestyle? The only place in my lifetime that stands out re: the term "lifestyle" was "Lifestyles of the rich and famous" on TV in the 80s (?). It showed us gorgeous travel destinations and sumptuous homes/furniture/automobiles. There were never any people interviewed- just things. So, I would presume that gay lifestyle would entail (in the minds of straight people), any possible stereotype that they could conjure up from the extremes of the media. But more importantly, it might conjure up that which is not simply unattainable (because that is not desired here), but unknowable, mysterious, and pertaining to others who might just be hated.

    Suburbia does not welcome gay couples very well. Rural America - well, I have little experience there. And of course, Mormon suburbia has a whole nother twist going. Deep in Utah County and with little kids, I was insanely unaware of what was happening in American culture. Even before I moved to Utah as a convert, I had almost no exposure to gay "culture" until I went to my first Pride march in 04. The only thing I knew were INDIVIDUALS - secret trysts with college buds who revealed that we wanted more than friendship. Believe it or not, that is the story for many of us in the days before the internet.

    In a similar vein, I had little experience with the richness of black culture until I came to NYC four years ago - now I know the difference of many shades of subcultures that I had absurdly reduced if I remained seeing story from the vantage point of skin color. What was needed was to tear down a convenient construct, giving myself permission to not do my homework to learn differences of story.

    Is it a surprise to us that straight folk simply throw us into a 5 second "mind-bite" when they let us know that what they see is "lifestyle"? I believe that they construct us to be part queens in the parade, part pedophile (their darkest fears that OUR group would be the ones to hurt their children), part irresponsible (because no one is acknowledging that their lives are indeed difficult, raising kids and having their economic focus be no longer upon themselves), part "don't even try to talk with me" because they don't want to have to think through this issue -it's too much work for them. That's my take on why the term "lifestyle".

    Anyway, I just saw Angels in America Part I and II this week (front row!) and I'm still working through the stereotyping that I myself fell for about income and intelligence, about simple moms and powerful love, about arrogance and folly. When someone is not yet ready to learn, we just can't force them.

    My New Years Resolution? I must live yet again - no apologies. But, let me not forget my Creator, so that I have a shot at spiritual peace as I know I can no longer count on the support of my ward acquaintances, playing out their cultural dysfunctionality with us in their throwaway bin.

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  5. Mormon culture is generally very, very hostile to gay people. Like other male-dominated cultures, any perceived feminine behavior by a man is an unpardonable crime because it challenges male privilege. There's nothing worse than a sissy in male-dominated cultures. Gender nonconformity evokes a primitive kind of fear, and violence is just under the surface.

    If a straight person uses the phrase "gay lifestyle," then I think it's perfectly legitimate to refer to that person's spouse as their "friend" instead of husband or wife. If you ever actually do this, you will see an amazing amount of consciousness raising. :- )

    Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words frame the debate.

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  6. Wonderful post!! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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  7. I've noticed a similar trend as far as gay couples seeming happier on average than some other population subsets. I remember that perception striking me as strange about four years ago when it first struck me in DC. I thought that living the gospel was the only thing that brought lots of happiness, and how could they be so happy in such a sinful relationship? My views on homosexuality (http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2010/10/homosexuality-straight-byu-students.html) and happiness (http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com/2010/07/evidence-based-happiness.html) have changed a lot since then.

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  8. I especially love the challenge to the "gay lifestyle" stereotype. It's a scare tactic, used to convince people that LGBT people have significantly different (and decidedly bad) values and morals than so-called "normal" people do. Excellent post.

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