“Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart …”
~ 1 Kings 3:9
This is my seventh letter to Anonymous. For those who may not have read the previous posts, these letters were prompted by an individual whose comment, posted on my blog two weeks ago, struck me as representative of thinking among many members of the LDS Church with respect to being gay. Even though Anonymous subsequently identified himself as “Bryan” in follow-up comments, I have continued to address these letters to the many anonymous Mormons whom I believe hold beliefs similar to those underlying Bryan’s comments.
The following was Bryan’s comment (the gist of which 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?”
Today’s letter addresses a subsequent comment by Bryan, when he asked “why I am doing what I am doing”, and it also discusses some of Bryan’s other further comments.
This letter is addressed to some of your follow-up comments you have made to my previous letters, starting with a question you posed in response to my fourth letter. Even after writing several posts in which I expressed my own personal witness that one doesn’t choose to be gay, one just is; after explaining why a gay man can’t really pretend to be something he’s not without incurring (and perhaps inflicting) emotional and psychological damage; after explaining that being gay is about much more than attraction and certainly about much more than sex, that it is about experiencing a full gamut of emotions; after all this, you still wrote, as a comment to my fourth letter, “I don't really know why you're doing what you're doing.”
I will try to be more direct in my response this time I will begin by being even more personal than I have been in previous letters.
President Packer’s Talk and What It Meant
My world changed forever on Sunday, October 3, 2010. That morning, I heard four sentences that caused an irreversible, uncontrollable tectonic shift deep within me. These words, which quickly became infamous, were uttered at the Church’s October General Conference when President Boyd K. Packer, in the midst of a talk about moral purity, read the following sentences:
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.”
These four sentences cut through my heart, as they no doubt did countless other Mormon men and women who are painfully struggling, totally alone for the most part, in the hidden chambers of their innermost soul … with what is commonly referred to as “same-sex attraction.” Not only did President Packer call me, and those like me, “impure and unnatural,” he poured salt in open wounds by saying, in so many words, that God would and could never make such a depraved person as me, and that God didn’t love me for who I am – that even before GOD, I could not be my true self because my true self was not acceptable.
Then, as if this wasn’t enough, there was the added injury caused by thousands of Mormons who “rallied” to President Packer’s side to “support” him, revealing the wide and deep homophobia that exists in the Church. Many of these people, who obviously believe that they are not required to be “Christian” toward homosexuals, vilified gays with such choice comments as the following: “If the church ever allowed gay marriage, then the church is not true,” and “Thank you President Packer … even though the wicked fight against you.”
In the moments, hours and days that followed General Conference, I realized that I was no longer willing or even able to repress who I am, that my homosexuality is a fundamental part of who I am as a person, that I was tired of feeling guilty and dirty about it, and feeling, in President Packer’s words, “impure and unnatural.”
In the days and weeks that followed General Conference, my resolve hardened: I was NOT going to crawl back in my hole where I had lived for most of my life! I was going to affirm who I am: a man who did not choose to be gay, but was born that way; a man who had spent most of his life denying and trying to hide not only his natural sexuality, but also multiple facets of his identity and personality that were bound up with this sexuality.
I swore that I was going to shed the false persona that had controlled my life; that I was going to cease living as a cardboard cutout, as someone who was simply going through the motions in life. After nearly a lifetime of despising myself, I was instead going to affirm and embrace who I am and – yes – LOVE myself for who I am.
This, Anonymous, is why I am “doing what I am doing”. I could no longer live a lie. In this past Monday’s post, I described in some detail what living a lie meant to me, as well as to my wife and my children. In my post yesterday, I described some of what I have been feeling these past weeks and months: “Since starting the coming out process, and particularly since moving out, I have had experiences which have brought me happiness and even joy – a joy that I could not comprehend while living in the closet, a joy that I feel in my heart comes from fulfilling the measure of my creation. There have been occasions, during this last while, when I have felt like I can be myself and when I get in touch with myself. All the pretense has fallen away, and I'm often surprised at who “comes out” at such times, i.e., the gay man that I’m just getting to know - a part of me that's been carefully hidden for decades, who only now, at certain times and in certain situations, feels safe in coming out. Then, joy has come, and I have been surprised.”
When I first came out to my wife, it was not my intent to end my marriage; I merely wanted to honest with her. The fact is that I did not choose to end my marriage; my wife did. We had been having serious marital problems for several years and had been close to divorce more than once. My admission that I am gay was the last straw, and she soon thereafter asked for a divorce, to which I was more than willing to agree. If the price of staying married was retracting my admission that I am gay and going back into the closet, I was unwilling and incapable of paying that price. My wife was unwilling and incapable of moving forward without me paying that price, so our marriage has come to an end.
Ears to Hear What President Packer Said
Anonymous, in your first subsequent comment, you stated, with respect to President Packer’s comments, that in your view, “President Packer's quote condemned ONLY the action, not the individual who, through no fault of his own, had the attraction.” I strongly disagree. Packer’s spoken words (as opposed to the edited text) speak for themselves, and those who have ears to hear heard what he was saying. I wonder if you can bring yourself to hear what we heard?
What did we hear? First of all, in Packer’s statement about “tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural” we hear him say that same-sex attraction and homosexuality is “impure and unnatural.” He wasn’t speaking of homosexual sex. He was speaking of “inborn tendencies.” By calling that to which we as gay men are naturally inclined, “impure and unnatural,” he was calling us impure and unnatural. You can quibble all you want about what you think he meant or what we should have heard, but this – if you are interested – is what we heard.
We also heard him scoff at and utterly reject (“Not so!”) the concept that being gay is inborn. The implication (particularly in the larger context of his talk as a whole) was that being gay is a choice, and that anything that affirms, or any steps taken to affirm, one’s gay nature is wrong.
But President Packer didn’t stop there. To “prove” his point, he uttered those infamous words, “Why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” If he had possessed a single understanding, empathetic bone in his body, he would have known that thousands of gay Latter-day Saints have painfully, heart-wrenchingly struggled with precisely that question, to which there is no answer. He would have appreciated how searing those words would be to such members of the Church who have bloodied their knees seeking an answer to this question, to which there is no answer. He would have perhaps understood the additional shame and condemnation that such a comment would have inflicted. He would perhaps have foreseen that many, like me, would have heard such words as a statement that God would and could never make such a depraved person as me, and that God didn’t love me for who I am – that even before GOD, I could not be my true self because my true self was not acceptable.
Anonymous, having described the effect that President Packer’s words had on me and having conveyed what these words meant to many of those in the Church who struggle with “same-sex attraction," I would hope that you would thereby develop an understanding and appreciation of “where we are coming from.”
However, if such understanding cannot come to you or to others, I would thereafter express my belief that it will not do for Church members - who close their hearts and minds as a result of a knee-jerk reaction to “defend” and “support” President Packer - to pretend that he said something else. It will not do for such members to say that thousands of their fellow Church members, not to mention thousands of non-members, are mistaken in what they heard, that their feelings are not real or valid, that they have no right to be hurt, disappointed and angry. It will not do to simply label fellow church members as apostates and to thereby feel righteously justified in simply dismissing such persons’ legitimate thoughts, feelings, reactions, experiences and testimonies. It simply will not do. Not any longer.
Understanding vs. Merely Asserting
Anonymous, I have gone to great lengths, throughout the course of this “correspondence”, to describe to you the challenges faced by gay members of the Church, of which I am one. I have tried, in a respectful and civil way, to point out and counter the fallacies, misconceptions, false premises and prejudices, concerning homosexuality and their gay brothers and sisters, that exist in the minds and hearts of much of the general membership of the Church – which were unfortunately bolstered by President Packers’ remarks at last October’s conference (even though other Church leaders thereafter tried to “soften” them). In so doing, I haven’t simply made statements and asserted them as truth. Rather, I have tried to provide explanations for my positions with a view to trying to increase understanding.
You, on the other hand, have for the most part simply restated your positions without acknowledging what I have written. With respect to the term “gay lifestyle”, for example, I went to some lengths to explain why this term is offensive. Your response, however, was to simply make the following statement: “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.”
Well – as the saying goes - says you; but that don’t necessarily make it so. Among other things, what troubles me about your response is that there does not appear to be any willingness on your part to understand, only to assert.
You also stated that you do not believe that same-sex attraction - “as a general proposition” - is a choice and that you believe that same-sex attraction, while “part” of identity, it is not the “entirety” of our identity. On what basis do you make this judgment? Furthermore, from these comments, I am left to wonder when, in your mind, you believe same-sex attraction is a choice.
As to the issue involving attraction and identity, I will refer you to my letter of last week in which I discussed the issue of attraction and how this concept is used to “compartmentalize” homosexuality. Furthermore, if you stopped to think about how much the concept of male-female attraction defines and shapes the average modern North American adult’s identity and life (and indeed our entire culture), you would perhaps begin to understand how wrong it is to try to bifurcate attraction and identity when it comes to same-sex attraction. Again, I ask, is there a willingness to try to understand, or simply a desire to assert?
Understanding doesn’t necessarily imply agreement, but you apparently feel that empathy and understanding might weaken your argument – because you definitely appear to have an agenda. This becomes evident when, for example, after making the above statements concerning straight and homosexual (is the choice of the word “homosexual” over “gay” deliberate?) “lifestyles”, you make the following declaration: “Both are voluntary choices.” And that appears to be your end goal, i.e., to prove that gay is a choice, thereby attracting moral culpability.
This letter has ended up being far more lengthy than I had originally envisioned. That being the case, I will save for my final letter a discussion of your comments about where I and other commenters “are” with respect to the Church and a more general discussion of what the Church means to gay Mormons.