I am inserting this post as a sort of “intermission” in the series I started last week on issues relating to mixed-orientation marriages. A substantially similar version of this essay was first published on my blog in late December of last year, following a series of posts addressing issues with Mormon mixed-orientation marriages (MoMs), but I think it is appropriate to repost it at this time.
In the wake of those MoM posts, I received several comments and e-mails from young gay Mormons, expressing gratitude for those older men who had shared their experiences and requesting advice concerning their own situation. I pondered what they had written, and in so doing, I found my thoughts turning to (yet) another 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.”) 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.
Interestingly, this talk (alone, apparently) is omitted from both the General Conference section of the Church’s website, as well as from the online edition of the Ensign for November 1976. Curious. If you conduct a search of the entire Church website for the title of the talk, you will get only one hit – an article published in the June 1980 Ensign about chastity. Curious. Yet, as already indicated, the talk was published in pamphlet form and was used by bishops for years and years as they worked with young men. Curious. Therefore, in order to help make the text of the talk more readily accessible, I have posted the text of the talk on my blog here.
Any Mormon man who came of age in the late 70’s through the mid-90’s is probably familiar with the pamphlet containing this talk, 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 the December posts on MoMs, there are many Mormon men who went down that path, only to realize later that it was impossible for them to continue.
As I read the private messages I had received from young gay Mormon men, as well as comments that were left on my blog in response to these MoM posts, I came to realize (duh) how relevant the experiences of those who had entered MoMs were to these younger men. One guy wrote in a comment:
“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 felt that these two young men demonstrated 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.
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 and updated) response to this young gay brother, which I now entitle:
To Young Men Only – The Gay Version
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: 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 conviction 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, which I have described elsewhere on my blog, came to me on my mission, the most sublime spiritual experience of my life. This experience, as well as those of other gay men who came to feel divine acceptance of their homosexuality, are described here. I urge you to read the stories of these men.
Based on these witnesses, my own witness is 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, after much experience, pondering and prayer, 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.