Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dear Anonymous: The “Gay Lifestyle” and “Sex”


This is my fourth letter to Anonymous, who posted the following comment a few days ago with respect to a post on my blog (the gist of the comment being that that I should go back into the closet because 20 years of “sowing wild oats” was not worth giving up “exaltation”):

“Sincere question for you here … Assuming you're 45, and will live to be 76, you're approximately 60% of the way through your life. Up to this point, you've been a faithful member of the Church, paid your tithing, etc. So, you've only got 40% of life to go and if you can just keep on the path for that last stretch, you'll very likely receive exaltation and be together with your family, as the LDS Church teaches.  On the other hand, if you choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, you've got, on average, 31 years (assuming you're 45) left. Keeping in mind that after 65 you're pretty much "old" (no offense intended) which brings the "wild oats" years down to roughly 20. Are those 20 years worth it … [i.e.,] worth what you're giving up?”

As I’ve written previously, this comment struck me as representing what is unfortunately common thinking among most members of the LDS Church with respect to being gay.  So, I asked for readers of my blog to contribute their own responses to Anonymous’ comment, then last Friday, I commenced posting responses to Anonymous in the form of letters which address various premises and assumptions that are implicit in the comment. 

"Anonymous" later posted a subsequent comment, identifying himself as Bryan. But because I believe his comments are representative of beliefs held by many anonymous Mormons, I will continue to address the letters to "Anonymous."  Today’s letter addresses the implicit premise in Bryan’s original comment that the only reason I would come out at this point in my life is the ability to “live a homosexual lifestyle” and sow some wild oats for 20 years or so; or in other words, that homosexuality is all about sex. 

___________________________

Dear Anonymous,

As I’ve mentioned in my previous letters, your comment contains a number of implicit premises and assumptions which I think are common among Mormons.  Moving beyond the foundational premises concerning “choice” and “attraction” that I discussed in my first three letters, I want to focus today on another premise and common belief, i.e., that being gay is all about sex.

The “Gay Lifestyle”

Let me first of all say that, though this may surprise you, many if not most gays find the term “gay lifestyle” extremely offensive, particularly when used by believing LDS or other conservative religious groups. This is partly because the use of the term implies that a homosexual orientation is not innate, but is rather a choice, such as choosing whether to live in a high-rise apartment building in Chicago or on a mountain-top in California, whether to get a job or be self-employed, whether to drive a car or ride a bicycle, or whether to work in a high-stress/high-paying job or a low-stress/lower paying job, etc.

Other reasons why gays dislike this term were aptly described in a guest post on my blog written by Utahhiker801:

“People often use the phrase "living the gay lifestyle" as a pejorative term for someone who has decided to leave the [LDS] 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. Secondly, 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 ... 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.”


Premise:  Being Gay Is All About Sex

Anonymous, you make it pretty clear in your comment that you believe the main reason I would want to come out at this point in my life is because the clock is ticking and I only have so many “good” years left in which to engage in “sowing my wild oats”, i.e., to engage in gay sex. I wonder if you have any idea of how offensive that comment is, on several levels.

First of all, the implication is clear that you believe the principal reason one would live as a gay man is so that he could engage in gay sex. 

This belief, which I think it is probably safe to say is shared by many members of the LDS church, completely ignores the complex gamut of human emotions described by Judge Hanson (quoted in yesterday’s letter) as characterizing “an essential component of human identity and life.”  This belief assumes that only heterosexual men and women can form, again in Judge Hanson’s words, “intimate personal relationships … to meet their deeply felt needs for love, attachment and intimacy.” This belief further assumes that only relationships between heterosexual men and women are capable of or characterized by bonds that (again in Judge Hanson’s words) “encompass not only sexual behavior, but also nonphysical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment.”

I again think it is probably a safe assumption that you, Anonymous, as well as most faithful members of the LDS Church, do not believe that a same-sex relationship is capable of or characterized by the qualities Judge Hanson accepted as fact. Such a belief then makes possible the rejection of any possibility of real love, attachment and intimacy in a same-sex relationship.  With these higher, human qualities safely out of the way, gay relationships are thereafter reduced by such persons to their lowest, most animalistic form, i.e., of pure, unadulterated, decadent, “unnatural,” sex.  And as further evidence of and in defense of such a position, such persons often embrace stereotypes conjured up by “flag-waving go-go boys,” as described above by UtahHiker.

Secondly, the implication is equally clear that you believe that the principal reason I would live as a gay man is to be able to engage in gay sex.  In so doing, you reduce all the complex emotions, thought patterns and beliefs that make me who I am, to one thing:  sex.  As Wayne commented the other day in response to my original post concerning your comments:  “You [Anonymous] talk about those 20 years of “wild oats”– like that’s what gay is all about. It is very possible that Invictus could meet someone in the next couple of years and then using your numbers have some 25+ years of sharing a life with someone with which he can connect to emotionally, spiritually, intimately, etc. A life filled with love and happiness.

Wayne then went on to write, “I know a couple of men who met in their early 20’s and have been together for almost 40 years, building a life just the same way a man and a woman would who couldn’t have children. I have been in their home and experienced the feeling of a loving home.”  Another commenter, Trey Adams, who lived in a heterosexual marriage for 33 years until he suffered almost a complete breakdown, wrote, “I am alive again for the first time in 33 years. I have a very loving, supportive, joy-filled relationship – with a man. To you that may appear repugnant. Our relationship is every much as beautiful as the best “love-at-home” Mormon family. We pray together, we go to church together; we live in harmony and mutual support. We feel God’s love and acceptance. LDS people think they have a monopoly on spirituality and on God’s blessings and acceptance. They generally have no idea concerning the breadth of God’s love” (a topic I will cover in a future letter).


All the foregoing being said, you and other members of the LDS Church need to understand that, though gay relationships are not just about sex, sex is nevertheless an element of gay relationships, just as it is in heterosexual relationships. As difficult as that may be for you or other heterosexuals to understand or accept, gay men are wired to find ultimate romantic, emotional, and sexual fulfillment with men, not women. This was beautifully described by UtahHiker801 in a comment he left on my original post, with which I will conclude. “For right or wrong,” he wrote, “several years ago, I met a guy who was in the same situation as I was, and we connected on such a deep level, it was incredible. It was the first time that I understood the romantic feelings that my wife had for me[!]. Because of our situations, this [“relationship”] didn’t last very long, but the main thought that hit me was, ‘How have I lived this long and never felt this way?’ … I’m embarrassed to admit this, but sometimes I flinch when my wife touches me … But when this friend would put his hand on my knee, I suddenly felt like all the stress in my life melted away … I hope that one day I can be with a guy with whom I can truly be myself. Whether I live another 31 years or just 5, I truly seek the joy that comes from being honest with myself and with God.”

Amen.


14 comments:

  1. Aw, Invictus, you quoted me. Thank you. I appreciate the validation of my feelings. That means a lot to me.

    I don't know if you realize the value of your blog. It's one of the first places I go in the morning. I value your friendship as well as your reasoned thought.

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  2. I think that any one who is guided by a moral compass pointed towards the hereafter will be disappointed. If I can't understand calculus, let alone the string theory, how can I understand eternity? Right now I'm trying to develop Christian love towards a colleague who has threatened my professional career. When I have overcome today's challenges, maybe then I'll worry about exaltation.

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  3. I don't know what bothers me more, the idea that you're expected to live a lie for decades in order to achieve hetero-bliss in heaven, or the thoroughly age-prejudiced presumption that nobody older than 65 is getting it on or enjoying sex.

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  4. Carla ... why choose? they both are ridiculous in my book.

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  5. Invictus,

    Thanks for all your thought in responding to "Anonymous." It was well written and well meant. I hope you understand my comments are in no way an attack on anyone. They are written in an argumentative tone, but directed only to the human race as a whole.

    I have a slight hesitation on part of the discussion. I don't believe anyone truly intends harm with their words, but it does potentially leave a little bit of a negative spin for some of "us."

    I once wasn't afraid of "Rainbow-flag waiving go-go boys" and skipped my first Pride because of it. I had been out for 5 months, but couldn't see that I was one of those "boys." I was "masculine" and a "normal" guy. I refused to lump myself into that community. How tragic.

    "Rainbow-flag waiving go-go boys" makes me uncomfortable in a similar fashion to "gay lifestyle." While I doubt it was intended this way, it creates an "us" vs "them" within our community. They are the "others." Language is used to define and separate things. Gay did not exist per se til someone named it as such. I am concerned that those who are "Rainbow-flag waiving go-go boys" would feel categorized and separated when they shouldn't be.

    They are human as are we. If we expect hetero couples to allow us to live and let live, we should expect ourselves to allow our brothers and sisters the same right. They aren't just "Rainbow-flag waiving go-go boys," they are people with names like Brent, or Eli, or Joseph, or Dan etc. They have hearts, they have minds, they can love, they can hate. They breathe oxygen and they put on pants the same way (albeit possibly more flashy jeans than me). They are my brothers. I love them.

    "Masculinity" far too often is cherished above simple authenticity. There are very few people, even gay men, that have even had the slightest inkling I was gay until I told them so. So what? I get uncomfortable when someone points out my masculinity as a valuable characteristic. I am no better a person than anyone else. There are some that have flames that shine brighter and more publicly than others. Get me in a kitchen and: flame on. Put me on a football field and I'll look intimidating, but won't have a clue what to do.

    I sometimes wonder if my masculinity has some responsibility in keeping me in the closet so long.

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  6. Invictus Pilgrim,

    Frankly, I get the impression that your "letters" in response to my original post are becoming increasingly antagonistic and misrepresentative of my position and beliefs.

    1. 'There is no more a "gay lifestyle" than there is a "straight lifestyle."'

    There IS a straight lifestyle, just as there is a homosexual lifestyle. Pursuing or maintaining relationships of a heterosexual nature is living a heterosexual lifestyle. Replace "heterosexual" with "homosexual" and the same is true. Both are voluntary choices.

    2. "First of all, the implication is clear that you believe the principal reason one would live as a gay man is so that he could engage in gay sex."

    I disagree. The implication is that one would "live as a gay man" to pursue and maintain relationships of a homosexual nature. Whether or not sexual activity is involved is not really the point I was making.

    3. "Secondly, the implication is equally clear that you believe that the principal reason I would live as a gay man is to be able to engage in gay sex."

    Again, I think you're inferring a premise that was not made. I don't really know why you're doing what you're doing, which led to my original question. The term "wild oats" for lack of a better one, simply refers to pursuing and maintaining relationships (in your case I assume homosexual relationships) outside of marriage. If an LDS guy I knew (or knew of) decided that after his marriage ended he was going to pursue relationships with other women I would have asked the exact same question (changing homosexual to heterosexual). The only difference would be that pursuing relationships with women could possibly lead to a future marriage, and the person (and his wife) could then, potentially, return to the Church, etc. Obviously the LDS Church's teachings on the subject of homosexuality foreclose that possibility.

    Which raises my final point. It was my understanding that you believe the LDS Church to be correct, but I didn't ever clarify that with you. I'm going to assume from your letters that your answer to my question was that you feel confident about your choices. But, I have to ask, do you believe the LDS Church's teachings on the subject or homosexuality are correct? I suppose if the answer was no, that would make most of my question moot.

    Bryan

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  7. *correction. 3rd paragragh should read "I once *was afraid..." I should really proof read before and not after posting.

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  8. To Invictus.

    I have enjoyed the masterful, eloquent way you have unraveled the generally held opinions of the LDS and other cultures toward gays. I believe this message needs to be voiced to help dispel largely media-originated, stereotypical mindsets.

    To Anonymous,

    I also would like to comment on your post. First, I too welcome your comments and responses to Invictus’ letters. You need to keep in mind, however, that, while your original post was the catalyst, the letters are directed toward and are intended as a response to ALL who have misconceptions and/or who have been misdirected concerning gay men – LDS or otherwise: Hence the name Anonymous instead of Bryan.

    And, you have to admit the point that we generally do not use the lifestyle-label when referring to heterosexuals. It is, in fact, used as a sort of gay descriptive with pejorative inferences. No question about it. You should also be willing to concede the generally-held opinion that “gay” is strongly equated with willful sex. Again, you may not personally hold these opinions, as you indicate, but many to whom these letters are intended - do. Believe me, we know.

    I must also – respectfully – take a fairly strong objection to your reference to “church teachings” on the subject of homosexuality. That is a can of worms you really do not want to open. If by the “church” you mean comments by men in local and general leadership positions down through the ages regarding the position and disposition of homosexual men and women, then you do not know the history. These “teachings” have changed over time – a lot! There is much disagreement among these leaders – there is no real church doctrine. AND (a very big AND indeed) the “church” has perpetrated horrible crimes against gay men in the name of religion, not altogether unlike The Inquisitions. Check it out.

    Please do not equate the “church” with the opinions of influential men – they are not the same. Invictus will elaborate in later letters.

    Respectfully,
    Trey

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  9. @Ben - I appreciate your comments; they add another element to the discussion, and you make some excellent points. That being said, UtahHiker's comments were not meant to be pejorative, and my reference was to a common stereotype held by straight people.

    @Anonymous/Bryan - Good to hear from you again. I haven't forgotten your additional comments made on Saturday and plan to address those in the next (and final?) letter.

    Regarding your comments above re "lifestyle", you have read my and others' comments regarding the use of the term "gay lifestyle." I cannot really add to these.

    Regarding the use of the term "wild oats," I would simply say that words have meanings, and if one uses words, one must accept responsibility for how those words are interpreted, particularly when the words have a commonly-accepted meaning.

    Concerning the statement you in make in your point #3, i.e., that you still don't know why I'm doing what I'm doing, I can only conclude that you have not understood/"processed" what I have written to date. I hope that the final letters in these series might make more clear why I'm doing what I'm doing.

    With respect to your last paragraph, I will defer my response to my final letter.

    Meanwhile, with respect to some of Trey's comments, I might suggest you read, for starters, this post: http://invictuspilgrim.blogspot.com/2011/01/homosexuality-ebbs-and-flows-of.html

    @Trey - Thanks so much for weighing in. Your thoughtful comments are always appreciated and valued.

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  10. Dear Anonymous/Bryan,

    I'm going to most address your comment to this post, but I may refer to other things you've said. I feel you're being either coy or disingenuous...your position is a bit inconsistent.

    In 1), you say that there is a straight lifestyle as well as a gay lifestyle. In 2) and in 1), you argue that a "gay lifestyle" isn't just about sex, because a gay lifestyle is about "pursuing and maintaining relationships of a homosexual nature" (like a heterosexual "lifestyle" is pursuing and maintaining relationships of a heterosexual kind.)

    This is actually quite consistent with something you said in a previous comment. In another post, you commented that there could be a nonsexual (i.e., celibate) lifestyle.

    However, in order to be consistent, this means that a heterosexual lifestyle and a homosexual lifestyle MUST be about "sex". Otherwise, they would be nonsexual lifestyles.

    Consider this: two men just play basketball together. What kind of relationship do they have? Is it chaste?

    Consider this: two men play basketball together, but they also hold hands, cuddle, and kiss. They do not have any sex at all. What kind of relationship do they have? Is it chaste?

    Consider finally: two men play basketball together, but they also hold hands, cuddle, kiss, and have sex. What kind of relationship do they have? Is it chaste?

    You say in 3 that sowing wild oats is not about sex but is about pursuing a relationship outside of marriage.

    But again, you have to be clearer than that. What KIND of relationships equate to pursuing wild oats? Are the two men who ONLY play basketball together "sowing wild oats"?

    Suppose there is a man and a woman who work out together...are they sowing wild oats?

    Suppose there is a man and a woman who are dating. They cuddle, hug, and kiss, but do not have sex...are they sowing wild oats?

    Suppose two men or two women are legally and lawfully married in one of the countries or states that allows for gay marriage...are they sowing wild oats just because the church does not agree with the law?

    As another person has already mentioned, terms like "wild oats" have WELL established meanings. If you don't want to have your meaning confused, maybe you should be a bit more precise in what terms you use.

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  11. Trey, IP, and Andrew,

    I disagree that the term "wild oats" has ANY concrete, precise meaning. It's an idiom and, by definition, is very loosely defined. And, are we really accepting the premise that IP intends to remain celibate for the rest of his life?

    And I think my point was missed: I would have asked the same question to a friend of mine whose marriage had ended if he expressed to me a desire to purse relationships with women other than his wife outside of a marriage context.

    Again, I feel that the tone of the letters, and comments, has become increasingly antagonistic toward my beliefs concerning the LDS Church. That was not my intent. My guess is that IP's stance regarding the Church's teachings on homosexual behavior (and I should note I strongly disagree they've changed) has been answered.

    P.S., I studied Pascal's Wager in philosophy and absolutely love it.

    Bryan

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  12. Anonymous/Bryan,

    Well, it seems to me that if someone didn't know what sowing wild oats meant, they might easily google for it. In which case, they would get pretty standardized definitions: http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/sow+wild+oats

    if a young man sows his wild oats, he has a period of his life when he does a lot of exciting things and has a lot of sexual relationships

    or

    to do wild and foolish things in one's youth. (often assumed to have some sort of sexual meaning.)

    Also, why not accept the premise that IP intends to remain celibate for the rest of his life? Couldn't one have a fulfilling relationship *without* sex?

    If you think that he could not remain celibate, then you have to explain why that is the case. Whether he does intend to do so or not is irrelevant to the case of whether he could remain celibate yet be in a relationship. The entire point that we're trying to make is that sexual orientation *isn't* just about sex -- so it cannot be reduced to "sowing wild oats" and having sex.

    And I think my point was missed: I would have asked the same question to a friend of mine whose marriage had ended if he expressed to me a desire to purse relationships with women other than his wife outside of a marriage context.

    I don't think your point was missed at all. I think you're either being somewhat coy about what question you would have and when the question would arrive.

    As YOU yourself said, "pursuing relationships with women could possibly lead to a future marriage"

    But even outside of that...when many people are widowed, people around them do not ask if they are sowing wild oats...rather, they ask, "When are you going to date again?" The assumption (however nosy and/or rude) is that after a grieving period, the person is EXPECTED to start dating again.

    So, I am skeptical about your scenario with a straight friend of yours whose marriage has ended.

    Again, I feel that the tone of the letters, and comments, has become increasingly antagonistic toward my beliefs concerning the LDS Church. That was not my intent. My guess is that IP's stance regarding the Church's teachings on homosexual behavior (and I should note I strongly disagree they've changed) has been answered.

    I think you're reading into things what you want to read into them. Any answer that you don't like is therefore "antagonistic," when in actuality, we're just asking you to defend the inconsistencies in your own position.

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  13. In my frustration, I wrote a long angry essay condemning Anonymous/Bryan and his ilk for the close minded bigotry they disingenuously propagate among members of the Church as truth. Fortunately, I lost the diatribe in a page change.

    Let me say instead that Bryan and those like him seem to be blind to the universal nature of the Gospel. They, like the pharisees of old, are so caught up in the letter of the law, the black and white, the right and wrong, that they fail to understand that Christ's arms are open to ALL his sons and daughters, especially gay ones. They also fail to remember that in the end Christ wants ALL of his children, every one, to have joy.

    I find it interesting that Jesus spent most of his ministry surrounded by sinners, those who the "worthy" members of the Church of his time refused to countenance. But regardless of the opinions of the "righteous", Christ was there. He performed miracles. He healed souls. He showed love.

    One of the most touching stories in scripture involves Christ's conversation with the woman at the well. The "worthy" members castigated Jesus because he was unwilling to condemn an adulteress. When caught in their sophistry, these "worthy" brethren slinked from Christ's presence.

    Alone with the woman, knowing full well the extent of her sin, Jesus simply asked, "Where are thine accusers?" And when the situation was clear, whispered to the woman, "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more."

    When I approach the judgment bar I hope I will have love in my heart for my God and my neighbor. If that is my end, I have confidence in receiving the approbation of my Savior. His atonement will have paid my debt and I will be whole. The anger and hostility of those who hate and contend will be forgotten and in contrast, I will forever have a heart filled with joy.

    That is ultimately what I wish for Bryan, that he might come to terms with all of this as many of us gay men and women have. In so doing, I am confident that he, too, will ultimately stand approved before God and find the joy that will fill his soul.

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  14. Clive,

    Not to be "that guy," but what are you going on about?

    Anonymous/Bryan isn't condemning anyone.

    Even Jesus said to the adulteress: "Go and sin no more."

    In other words, if Bryan's contention is correct, and homosexuality is a sin, then love to a gay person STILL includes saying, "Go and SIN NO MORE."

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