Thursday, May 19, 2011

Masks: “It’s the Longing That Gets You”

Mormons are sometimes accused of being insular.  Even when we Mormons disagree with or among each other about a policy or practice or doctrine of the LDS Church, we tend to think of these policies, practices and doctrines in uniquely “Mormon” ways.

This is one reason I was delighted to discover that some of my blog posts about mixed orientation marriages (MoMs) had “jumped the Mormon firewall” to a world outside the (current / post / active / nonbelieving / liberal / somewhere over the rainbow) Mormon community and had generated a discussion on the subjects of MoMs, homosexuality and religious beliefs in general. 

I wrote about this phenomenon yesterday:  someone had posted a front-page MetaFilter post about several of my blog posts, generating a huge increase in the number of page views of my blog as well as a number of very interesting comments.  I posted some of these comments yesterday.  Today and tomorrow, I’d like to post several more lengthy comments because of what I believe these stories and viewpoints bring to our discussion on this side of the firewall.

“A Visceral Reaction”

This first lengthy comment was written by “Hippybear” and is a poignant account of his coming to terms with his conservative Presbyterian background in light of his homosexuality.

I'm having an utterly visceral reaction to reading these articles [i.e., my blog posts that were linked in the MetaFilter post]. This is so difficult. Typing is a huge challenge to me right now. I wasn't raised Mormon, but this was so nearly me, it's shaking me to my core.

I grew up in a very conservative Presbyterian congregation. I was a darling of the church. Stellar in Sunday School, deeply committed to Jesus, thirsty for spiritual knowledge. Active in youth group and youth choir, by the time I had finished high school, I had written and directed two Christmas programs for the church ... I had even preached from the pulpit in Sunday. Twice. This is pretty much unheard of for a layperson in the Presbyterian church. There was no doubt about it -- I was headed toward the ministry.

All along, I had found it quite easy to avoid a lot of the boy-girl pitfalls a lot of my peers were stumbling over ... It was totally easy not to be interested in dating. What I didn't realize was that the reason that the girls didn't do anything for me was because I had an eye for the boys. How could I? The town in which I was raised had no gay community, no visible context for what I was really feeling.

The cracks in my facade started when I went out of country as an exchange student at the age of 18. Without the context I had been immersed in, I started to suspect that things weren't as simple as I had made it out to be until then. In college, I had my first real crush. Only I didn't have a real name for it, or even know that what I was feeling was what it was. It completely stopped me in my tracks, however, and without any clear coping mechanism or even support structure, in my confusion, I didn't leave my dorm room for 3 weeks and was asked not to come back to school after the end of the semester.

Back in my home town, as my awareness continued to become more complete, I finally went in to the pastor at the church in which I had been raised and asked the pastor there whether there would be a place for me in the congregation if I were gay. He said there wasn't. And that was the last time I walked into that building for over a decade.

Until I had my process ... Until I actually came out to myself (which has to happen before anyone can come out to other people), I had thought that I'd probably meet some woman at some point and marry her and continue life as I "should". It never occurred to me that other men in the world didn't feel exactly the same way that I did. All the warnings about homosexuals painted an odd dual picture in my mind. On the one hand, the homosexual was a mythical boogeyman, nothing that actually existed but was warned about constantly because homosexuality was a symptom of a fallen soul and a diseased mind. On the other hand, because I had no external context, it seemed to me that all the guys everywhere could always be on the verge of falling into homosexual behavior. It was something that drew me, so it MUST draw all the other guys, and it was only sheer willpower coupled with the fortuitous discovery of that One Special Woman who you would marry and live with forever that could keep those feelings at bay and banish them for always.

I spent years praying. Praying that these feelings wouldn't be so strong. Praying that I would be delivered from my interest in men. Praying that I would meet that woman who would be my wife. Praying with other people. Praying with people laying hands on me. Praying for demons to be cast out of me. Praying for ANY KIND OF DELIVERANCE FROM THIS SIDE OF ME.

The path from those days to where I am now has not been an easy one. It's involved many years of anger and bitterness and resentment toward the church my parents still attend. It's meant wholesale rejection of the entire worldview I was raised in for over 20 years and not a short time afterward floundering about with no direction or focus. It's meant a continually compromised relationship with my family; my parents barely recognize my now-nearly-18-year relationship, and my sister (who is getting married for the 4th time this summer) has yet again refused or "forgotten" to include my partner in the wedding invitation. It has colored and tainted my relationship with old, dear friends as I acted out the rejection I felt I was sure to receive from them during my coming out process and then have had to reach back out to find reconciliation after years of separation and lost time.

My heart goes out to anyone who finds themselves in a religious setting who is homosexual and feels they have to find ways to hide who they are in order to continue living their lives. I so nearly devoted myself to a life where I would be hiding and lying and perhaps even not understanding why or what I was doing. I only hope, as our culture continues to evolve and grow, that fewer men and women find themselves hiding and lying for the sake of their religious beliefs.

Perhaps voices such as these linked [here] will help change things for the better. If I have any prayer to offer, if I have any God to pray to... that is the prayer I say right now.

“A Mercy That Rests Forever on the Absence of a Real Person”

The following comment was left by “PinkMoose.”  Though the punctuation and grammar are a bit "unconventional", it is a poignant, powerful essay.

It's the longing that gets you -- it's the desire for flesh, and the refusal of flesh, it's the guilt and the exhaustion and the hunger that grinds you down, and it’s the sadness that one can always desire and never eat.

It's never just sex with men. It's the bishop’s interviews. The bishop you see on Sunday, and Tuesday, and usually one day other a week. If you live in a small town, it's the bishop you see in the grocery store, and the gas station and picking up videos. You tell the bishop, that you masturbate, that you cheat on yr taxes, that you over eat, that you f--k your wife, or don't f--k your wife, and about all the other things you want to do, or think about doing, in that interview--with you in a suit and him in a suit, and the weight of that.

Or it is to be 18, and to spend all of yr time with a male companion, and mistaking god and intimacy and desire, and love, and never having an answer. Or it is just before you are 18, and the prophet tells you that all worthy males should serve a mission and the idea of intimacy with a man thrills you and frightens you and the mix of dread and hope refuses the holy--is so unholy that you will never be worthy. It is missionaries and young men's leaders and fellow scouts all saying you know why aren't you going on a mission.

It is before, you are 18. And the endless church dances, the earnestness, and the dancing far apart so the holy spirit can have room, and being warned about the wiliness of the girls--but girls are safe, and the feel of flesh on satin is much calmer then the feel of flesh on white cotton--and the boys play all sorts of butch games, because music and dancing and girls and being pure are horribly complicated. They are horribly complicated for you to, because you are convinced that there is a special kind of evil, an evil out of exception, in the hunger of yr cock and yr belly. You are separate.

It is also having your reading, and yr music, and yr television and yr movies, and everything that could possibly tell you about another world, cagily censored by salt lake, by other church members, and the deepest irony of this--is that they love you. they give you meals, and provide you places to rest, they pray with you and they sing with you, and you help each other clean up, and move, and work together, and you know that their desire for you to be saved, is how they imagine a desire for you to be well, to be happy, and to be self-contained.

Or it is when you are 12, and you want to go to the temple, which is so deep in yr soul, but you can't because you have sinned. Or you go to the temple, and you worry about the change room, because sex is so evaded and so desired, and if you think yr most private thoughts in the change room--then is the baptism for all those souls in heaven invalid...

and it is before that. It is having yr friends go to the temple, to be sealed for all eternity, to love yr family so much that you want to spend the rest of yr life with them, or to sing families can be together forever--and so the only way that you can make heavenly father truly and utterly happy, is to submit to the will of God--a will of God that prevents yr family, or any family that is not heternormative in the extreme to be given refuge.

but, you also remember, and it isn't much talked about--that their are prophets who had other kinds of families, and descendent's of those prophets ended up in yr sunday school classes, and occasionally teaching you. and so, this tension can only be smothered, and so you serve and you pray, and you try desperately not to be turned on, and you get baptised for the dead, and you do the work in the temple, and you sublimate it all--and in this sublimation is kindness, and mercy, but a mercy that comes from ignorance, and a mercy that rests forever on the absence of a full person …


  1. Wow! Both excerpts are exceptional in their own right. Having been a member of the Presbyterian Church of America (the southern, Conservative branch) for years before becoming LDS, I guess this one was for me.

    More importantly, the fact that this has "jumped the Mormon firewall", the fact that our story is more universal that we may have realized, is significant for all of us. Let us all take note of this, as we envision further insights, farther audiences in our future scribblings (tappings?)

    Now, which university will have the courage to allow this "underground" genre of writing to be included in their LGBT studies courses? So as to invite alternative voices than simply the agenda-driven voices which they do stand rightfully accused of.

  2. This post actually inspired me to write a post on my blog.

  3. I was reading becks post about this post today, and so i was looking forward to reading yours.

    and i have to say that i love what martin said above: "More importantly, the fact that this has "jumped the Mormon firewall", the fact that our story is more universal than we may have realized, is significant for all of us. Let us all take note of this, as we envision further insights, farther audiences in our future scribblings (tappings?)"

  4. thanks for sharing, invictus. i think this has helped me understand a couple things a little bit better now.

  5. @Martin - I assume you've read/seen "Prayers for Bobby," in which the conservative Presbyterian Church looms large? And, yes, life beyond the firewall has so much to offer us!

    ScarletSinner - Glad you stopped by and glad this post was meaningful to you. The stories presented are very compelling.

  6. Instead of "Sisterwives", I want to see a TLC series follow MOMs and former MOMs. Any volunteers?