Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Circling the Wagons: Same Gender Loving vs. Same-Sex Attracted

Many in our society have long realized the power that attaches to terminology and to labels, especially when applied to groups of people.  African-Americans, for example, have been, during my lifetime, referred to as niggers, colored, black, people of color, Afro-American and, now, African-American.  People on both sides of the abortion issue have been referred to as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or “anti-abortion” or “anti-life,” etc.

Similarly, LGBT persons have been referred to as sodomites, homosexuals, queers, homos, fags, and faggots before the term “gay” came to be generally accepted.  The term “sexual orientation” also came to be used during the past 40-50 years to refer to the feelings of attraction that one feels, whether to persons of one’s own gender or to the opposite gender.

This past weekend, I heard a new term used to refer to those who are attracted to and fall in love with persons of their own gender:  “same gender loving.”  It was used repeatedly by one of the guest speakers at the Circling the Wagons Conference, Jimmy Creech. 

I took advantage of the opportunity to hear Jimmy speak on three occasions throughout the weekend:  first in a breakout session on Saturday morning dealing with a national perspective on gay rights within the Christian context; secondly during his keynote address Saturday afternoon; and lastly at the Interfaith Service Sunday morning.

Each time Jimmy spoke, he repeatedly referred to the dignity and integrity of each human being, including persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  And without explaining himself or otherwise making a big deal about it, Jimmy introduced the term “same gender loving” to refer to those persons who are attracted to and fall in love with persons of the same gender.

To me, the use of this term was empowering.  It infuses dignity, integrity, affirmation and respect into the description of persons such as myself.   It refers not only to a person, but also to relationships.  It conjures images of all that is good, noble, lovely, beautiful and praiseworthy about human relationships and, in consequence, affirms, dignifies and uplifts the persons in such relationships.  It also not only accepts as given same-gender attraction and the ability of a man to love another man, of a woman to love another woman, it also celebrates this attraction and this ability.     

The introduction of the term “same gender loving” was a small but yet very significant way that this past weekend’s Circling the Wagons Conference enriched and expanded the Mormon dialogue concerning homosexuality.  This is due to the fact that the LDS Church, like other conservative churches in the United States, has insisted on referring to people like me as “same-sex attracted” or “same-gender attracted.”   In fact, in the LDS world, not only are they the terms of choice, but they have achieved doctrinal status.  As was pointed out by a commenter on Sunday’s Deseret News story on the conference, all faithful Mormons have a duty to use these terms when referring to homosexuality:

“All of you referring to our brothers and sisters struggling with SSA and are members of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints please remember what the 2nd Counselor, Keith B. McMullin, of the church's Presiding Bishopric said during The Evergreen Conference on September 18, 2010: ‘If someone seeking your help says to you, I am homosexual or I am lesbian or I am gay, correct this miscasting. Heavenly Father does not speak of His children this way, and neither should we. It is simply not true. To speak this way sows seeds of doubt and deceit about who we really are. It belittles, depreciates and disparages the individual.’

"Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained it this way: ‘The words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns [or pronouns] to identify particular conditions or specific persons. . . . It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.’”

I personally know of no incidence in which God refers [I assume Bishop McMullin is talking about scripture?] to people as “heterosexual.”  In fact, I know of no incidence in scripture where God (himself) has much to say about sexuality.  Granted, some old patriarchal men had some things to say about issues that we today would group together under the label of “sexuality” and should I be wicked enough to say that some things haven’t changed? 

But I digress.

The insistence by the LDS Church on the use of these terms is only one of many doctrinal brick walls that the Church has chosen to throw up around the issue of homosexuality.  There are many things that could be said about the use of these terms (and I invite readers to share their own thoughts and feelings on the matter).  For me, however, it boils down in a way to this:  whereas the term “same gender loving” evokes humanity, dignity and integrity, “same-gender/sex attraction” evokes animalistic urges that cannot be controlled; it evokes shame; it evokes different-ness; it is a term that by its very nature is used by a dominant group to control a minority group, primarily through the process of shaming.

Many speakers at this past weekend’s conference talked about what we as a community can do to “educate” and change the LDS Church – both its hierarchy and its membership.  I would like to suggest that one very simple thing we can do is to REFUSE to use the Church’s hateful terminology of choice and instead affirm who and what we are by using, in addition to terminology in common parlance in the society in which we live, the term “same gender loving.”

In this regard, I’ll close with the words of Jimmy Creech, as written in the closing pages of his book, Adam’s Gift:

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people will be successful in attaining full civil and human rights and social acceptance because of those among them who believe in their inherent dignity and integrity and have the courage to let the world know who they really are.”

Let’s let the Mormon world and culture in which we live know who we really are.


  1. Bravo! This is HUGELY important, and will begin an historical shift away from us being treated as Latter Day Negroes. There is power in a word. You have hit a nerve that will trigger a cascade of new events in this accelerating movement. Frankly, after this past weekend, I have felt that we have reached a critical mass of intellectual and social empowerment. There is no stopping now. For I have a dream as well. . .

  2. Joseph, as a linguist, I really enjoyed this post! One of my research foci is in-group and out-group speech and terms. I wanted to bring your attention to one other distinction between the terms same-sex attracted and same-gender attracted, which was the most prominent meaning when I heard the term. If you are a transgender male (FTM) and you fall in love with another man, the term same-gender attracted, I believe, would apply here. It really shows how no matter who you are, you can love another person, no matter their gender or sexuality. Sexuality and gender is more complex than the "sex" we were born with, and it will still take time to make the world understand this!

  3. I think it is very important to let people know who we are; to avoid the anonymity which encourages others to stay with incorrect stereotypes.

    In a prior Gay Gospel Doctrine lesson, I discussed the importance of speaking up when those around us speak harmful or misinformed things about gays. I will begin using the phrase, "same-gender loving."

    At the same time, I know of someone who had to remove the equality stickers from his car because it was getting egged and ruining the paint.

    There must be a way we can stand up for ourselves without putting ourselves in danger. I say this only because it is something which I think about. I've never felt threatened when I've been somewhere and others have known I'm gay, but it's something I think I'm always aware of, and I think this must be acknowledged.

    I also think that these needed changes come when we have understanding on an individual level; when family and neighbors begin to know, understand and accept us.

  4. I was at Jimmy Creech's breakout session and that caught my attention too. He kept saying, "Same Gender Loving" and each time he did it I almost blushed like when you receive a compliment. I couldn't figure out why that term had such an impact on me and you nailed it here.

    Before the conference I had made a comment on one of John Dehlin's Facebook posts about the labels that might be used at this conference. I even wrote him a private e-mail about how when you use the wrong terms you instantly turn away people who can't identify with those terms especially if they have disrespectful connotations. "Same-Sex-Attraction" and "gender issues" or "gender confusion" are such terms to me.

    I had no idea that I'd go to this conference and get such a gift as the beautifully respectful label, "Same gender loving." Thank you for all you did to make that conference happen. I agree with Martin that some sort of critical tipping point was reached at this event and I'm glad I traveled as far as I did to be part of it.

  5. Joseph, thank you for this!! I have been searching and praying for a name that defines me and those like me far better than any other. I am "SAME GENDER LOVING" and that is at the foundation of my differentness and all other gifts and personality traits are built upon the foundation of that core part of who I am. Since I am a Latter-day Saint and I believe in the restored Gospel of Christ I have a call to follow Christ and proclaim the fact that we Same Gender Loving Saints are equal in the sight of God in ALL THINGS including marriage. It is crucial that we live our lives as a powerful witness of God and cast off the shame, the guilt and the otherness and claim our place being one with the Saints and the household of God as Paul speaks about in Ephesians 2:19. I know that a mighty work is being done among us and it is imperative that we have SPIRITUAL empowerment as well as intellectual and social as my husband eloquently stated in his previous post. All of these are crucial in this great work. If we will live this way rejecting the shame, the guilt and the labels (i.e. SSA) that the institutional Church, ignorant but well meaning, tries to give us; we will find those brick walls will crumble and doors will be opened we never dreamed could be opened in our lifetime. The LDS Church cannot fight us for long when we have Christ standing with us in our daily battles for equality in all areas of life.

    You'll find the word love 131 times in the Old Testament and Jesus used the word love 180 times in the New Testament. Since I have covenanted to take upon myself His name I definitely will take upon myself the label that He often referred to in His sermons and showed through example.

    I have the blessing of going before my Stake President tonight at 7pm and sharing this message with him and testifying to him of the love I have for my husband and the witnesses we both have received in very special and amazing ways that we were brought together by the Lord and that our love and faith in Christ continues to grow because of this love we have for one another within our marriage.

    Our story is definitely like that of black America during the Civil Rights era. We too can have victory through the Churches, through our spiritual lives. I know this is true and that spiritual empowerment can be found with our Mormon Stories group, MoHo, Affirmation, LDSR, and in many other places over the internet, the country and the world. I pray that we will speak speak out in powerful ways to the world. LOVE is the answer.

  6. I sure hope so, Ben! My thoughts are with you and Martin tonight.

    I feel similar to Joseph re: the terminology. I also appreciated the message about recognizing same-sex relationships. As Bob Burt argues in "Overruling Dred Scott: The Case for Same-Sex
    Marriage" (http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1684&context=fss_papers), the lack of recognition of the validity of relationships was even more egregious than forced labor in the slavery context. Creech's message of loving shows the primary evil in the Church's current position. Categorizing all same-sex conduct as per se immoral fails to acknowledge (and indeed affirmatively denies) the moral value of same gender loving. Do deny love is arguably to deny God, who created us as lovers. Though Church leadership may finally embrace the truth regarding causation and cure, it is the moral truth regarding same-sex relationships that proves the more significant obstacle.

    Also, strong points regarding shame and control by a majority.

  7. Dad's Primal Scream - I loved the description of your experiencing of feeling like you wanted to blush! It is because you were *affirmed* and your emotions, desires and identity were *respected* and *validated*. That is the power of a term. What's ironic is that the Mormon hierarchy realizes this and has spent untold sums of money on public relations, polling, advertising, etc., to try to get others to treat Mormons with respect.

    I can say that, with respect to the conference, a concession was made to incorporate the term "SSA" or "SGA" where appropriate in an effort to try to reach out to the sizable population of gays in the Church who view themselves as faithful Latter-day Saints. I think what was seen, however, is that such efforts are largely futile: the chasm is too great. But that's just my own opinion.

    Ben: Good luck tonight! Such a beautiful message you have shared with us.

    Brad: Thanks as always for your informed and valuable insights. Particularly in the Mormon context (given the whole situation with Blacks and the priesthood), there are so many parallels between our struggle and that of the civil rights pioneers of the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's.

  8. I simultaneously chuckle and cringe, hearing another neologism referring to some aspect of homosexuality. I'm glad to know something as simple as a linguistic construction can suddenly reveal the truth of someone's life to them in a positive way. The first time I knew I wasn't a mistake of nature was reading Whitman's Leaves of Grass. He didn't have a name to describe me, but the music and drama of the phrases he used to talk about how I felt inside, were enlightening.

    I had to get away from any Mormon I ever knew to be able to call myself gay. Gay people were all so very much not like me: they were sick pervs bent on destruction. Tragically, my own nephews struggle just like I did because they aren't gay, they're SSA; they're doomed to suffer everything I did growing up, in spite of all the progress we have made. Because I made the mistake of labeling myself gay, they see themselves as a world apart. It's nice that some are comforted by moving on to “same gender loving”, but I’m afraid it remains a narrow enclave that separates Mormon boys from a larger landscape they unwittingly need desperately. In some ways it perpetuates the damaging ghetto mentality the Church teaches in its peculiar people dictum. One of the pernicious yet subtle traits we inherit from experience in the Church is a deep-seated suspicion of anything that might challenge our sense of moral superiority. In the same ignorant way I avoided all people who consumed alcohol as a boy, LDS boys who desperately need the wisdom of experience I have to offer, avoid me because I use the wrong words to describe myself in conversation.

    Unfortunately our society is in the midst of an identity-as-politics revision that has left us without the ability to communicate across lines of perceived identity. We no longer have core descriptors that are inclusive; an irony in a time when we all engage in verbal gymnastics to be inclusive. I chuckle at undergrads who refer to Pakistanis as “African American” solely because of their skin color, but I weep because a “same gender loving” boy won't realize his new and affirming label may cut him off from his psycho-sexual heritage. Connotation has overtaken denotation.