Category Archives: Essays

Posts that take me more than 2 minutes to write.

I’ve Been Recruited By Harvey Milk

I went to the small art-house theater to see Milk, which had come to Atlanta in its limited release.  It is a biopic about Harvey Milk, who, in the late seventies, had become the first openly-gay person to be elected to major office when he assumed the role of San Francisco city supervisor.  To be honest, I wanted to hate the movie.  I was harboring some bitterness over director Gus Van Sant’s blasphemous remake of Psycho (with Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates being the greatest sacrilege).

But I’m geeking out a bit here.

About two thirds of the way through Milk, I finally allowed myself to forget Psycho and like what was in front of me.  Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey was honest and powerful and Van Sant’s treatment of Dan White, Milk’s murderer was non-demonzing. (I’m not giving anything way, the movie starts with the assassination.)  When when the lights went up, I wasn’t the only one who was a little watery-eyed.  There were even sniffles coming from around the audience.

For me, the climax of the movie was Milk’s “Hope Speech” given at the 1978 Gay Pride March in San Francisco.  It was unbelievably inspiring and made me change my mind on the way I saw a few things.  While I had revealed to those around me that I was gay, I felt apprehension in saying that others should do the same, but now my opinion reflects Milk’s when he said:
“We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions.  We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it.  And I want you to talk about it.  You must come out.  Come out to your parents, your relatives.”

If you seriously worry about your safety if you were to come out, then don’t…yet.  You should get out of your situation and surround yourself with better people, then you should come out.  To the rest (the majority), it is important that we come out, especially gay Mormons.  I have never really felt any negative feelings directed at me because I was gay, but I know that I am lucky.  There is still prejudice out there and we need to fight it.  The best way to do so as individuals is simply by people knowing that we exist.  People need to know that we are here.  People need to know one of us and, if by so knowing, they still hate gay people, they hate us for who we are and not for who they imagine us to be.  When we come out, the straight people will see the real “us” and the gay people still living in secrecy and shame will see that they have options and that the world isn’t as dark as it seems.  They will see that there is hope.  “Because without [hope],” as Harvey said, “life isn’t worth living.”

I’ll let him take it from here:

If I Fail…

I sat on an ottoman wedged in the corner of the wine bar.  It was after hours and I was providing support to one of our directors as he shot a focus group for a local ad agency.  The shoot pretty much ran itself so my support ended up being more of the moral variety.  It was a multi-night job and I spent most of the time surfing the internet and writing on my laptop.  The groups, which consisted of African-American women of different age ranges were interesting to listen to…at first.  The uncomfortable ottoman mixed with my own natural predisposition for boredom set me off in search of websites that featured shiny new gadgets of the plug-in variety.

When the moderator asked the women what an Obama victory would mean to them, I looked up from my screen.  I was curious to hear the opinion of the election from the perspective of a Southern middle-class African-American woman.  Many of the answers I anticipated.  Words like, “empowerment”, “hope”, and “affirmation” were said.  One unexpected word I heard was “anxiety”.  The moderator asked the woman to clarify her statement, she continued to say, “Barack Obama is our chance to prove ourselves.  If he is elected and fails, it will be devastating for African-Americans and who knows when we will get another shot?”

I knew what I was getting into with this blog.  I fully intended to be an example of someone who was living as an active member of the church, but I have a very uncomfortable, shifting-my-chair feeling when people look to me as a “poster boy” for gay Mormons.  Because, quite simply:

What if I fail?

What if, after a couple years of writing on this blog, I put up the post “It’s been a great ride, but I’m leaving the church”?  What if it gets to a point where I feel like I have to hide my shortcomings in order to publicly maintain the image of, “Yes, you too can be gay and Mormon.  Ask me how!”  What if I meet some guy named Jason and move to Canada to get married?  What then?  Wouldn’t it negate everything that I have said?

When I think about it, I started this blog with the intention of letting straight Mormons know what it was like to be a gay Mormon.  If I end up failing (in the sense that I leave behind my membership in the church), I believe it is important to record that as well.  Sometimes gay Mormons leave the church, it is a part of the issue that we can’t ignore.  The story of the ones who leave is as important as the story of the ones who stay.

Okay, take a deep breath.  Don’t read too much into this; I’m not going anywhere and still believe the church is true like I always have.  Bosom burning and all.  But my point is, I am an example of gay Mormons only as much as you are an example of straight Mormons.  We’re all flawed.  I sometimes forget to pray at night, my home teaching frequency could be better (much better), and I could probably stand to be more reverent in Elder’s Quorum.  Flawed.  If we look to anyone other than the Savior for an example of perfection, we will be sorely disappointed.  Every single time.  I’m positive there have been less than charitable moments even in the Monson household.

I guess this is my Charles Barkley moment.  “I am not a role-model!” and all that.

Okay, now this is the part where I put my ego in check.  In the past several months at least four or five authors of the moho blogs I follow have publicly come out of the closet and stayed in the church.  I didn’t start the trend; I just jumped on it.  If any gay Mormon can be identified as starting the ball rolling towards an open dialog on homosexuality and Mormonism, it would arguably be Ty Mansfield (who I have never met, but like to refer to as the Mormon “Grand High Gay”) when he co-authored the book In Quiet Desperation.  I haven’t read it (still), but the fact that it existed and some guy put his real name on it helped me in the process of my own coming out.  In turn, I don’t look to him as a role model, but I do respect the courage he has demonstrated.  In short, I realize that I am only one voice in a growing number of publicly gay Mormons and am excited at the prospect of an openness in the church when it comes the issue of sexuality and what happens when it is of the “homo” variety.

What if we fail?

What if we succeed?

Can you imagine an environment where a parent’s worst fear isn’t that “my child will be gay”?  Where a teenager doesn’t fear the reaction of his Priest’s quorum to the news that he isn’t really into the new Laurel that moved in?  Where the single gay adult feels his talents and perspectives are wanted, even needed, by the families in his ward?  Where no one feels like they need to hide who they are in order to feel loved by their fellow Saints?

We’ve come a long ways towards this (a long ways) but we have quite a ways to go.  There will be some casualties.  Some of us will fall by the wayside.  Some of us will leave the church and become bitter and angry.  Some of us will leave the church and become happy.  Some of us will stay.  Whatever the risks, this current “fad” of openness is one band(covered)wagon that I want to be on.

When Your 15-Year-Old Son Says “I’m Gay”

The boy looked extremely young in the video that was streaming over YouTube.  In it, he said that he was sixteen and that it was about the year since he told his parents he was gay.  He heartbreakingly tried to hide the pain on his face as he described how his father pretty much dismissed and ignored the issue and how his mother grew mean towards him – even calling him a “faggot” in an apparent attempt to shame him into straightness.  I wanted to reach through the laptop screen and give the poor kid a hug.  While my family always showed love and support for me, I definitely remember the loneliness of what it is to grow up gay.  Even worse, while he showed remarkable maturity for his age, you could see small seeds of bitterness sprouting towards his parents.

I didn’t really come out to my parents until I was much older, but if I had been around more gay people growing up, I imagine it would have happened fairly early like the kid in the YouTube video.  Kids are coming out much younger these days because society’s growing approval of homosexuality makes them feel safer and less ashamed.  This is actually a good thing.  The sooner a kid can acknowledge his sexuality and deal with it, the less “closet time” they have to endure – even if they never decides to publicly come out.  Closet time is not productive time…at all.

So what do you do when your 15-year-old son tells you that he is gay?

Things To Do Immediately:

  1. Give him a hug
    Immediately.  Kids (and, well, grow-ups, too) can be terrified to tell you that they are gay.  Even if you have shown nothing but love in the past, in their mind this changes everything and there is always the possibility of rejection.
  2. Tell him you love him no matter what
    Be as clear in this as you possibly can and use that “What I Say Is Absolute Law” face that only parents seem to possess.  This is no time to assume that “he knows how I feel”.  This is game time, people.  Time to step up to the parenting plate and take control of the situation.  By letting your son know that no force under heaven or hell could make you stop loving him you are adding stability to his world which is in turmoil and setting a foundation of love that he is really going to need in the coming years.  Your home needs to be a refuge for him; he has already been hit with a thousand different voices arguing over his situation and that is just going to get worse.  You really need to establish yourself as a person of safety for him.  That starts here.
  3. Put your own feelings on the backburner
    You might not have any gay friends or really have had any experience with gay people.  Honestly, it may creep you out a bit.  You may also be overcome with sadness for the pain that your son has already felt (and will yet feel) because of his sexuality.  Your world has probably been turned upside down along with his.  Why your son?  All that will have to be addressed later.  Your son will be hyper sensitive to any level of discomfort that you express.  If you have to keep repeating in your mind, “he’s still my son, nothing’s changed”, do it.
  4. Talk about it (once the crying stops)
    He might not say much in the initial conversation (or he may talk for hours), but he probably hasn’t really discussed it much with anyone.  Especially if you’ve had a safe and loving household in the past, you are likely to be the first people he has come out to.  Talking allows him to express himself in a way that he likely has never done before, but also shows that you aren’t scared of the issue.  If you feel you cannot discuss the issue without showing signs of discomfort, then tell him that you don’t have to talk about it then (not that you don’t want to talk about it), but you will tomorrow (or Sunday, or whenever, but there should be a definite time and it should be soon – this will help him feel as though you aren’t avoiding it).
  5. Go for ice cream
    Or to a movie or mini-golf or whatever you like to do together.  This will let him know that life goes on-your family-goes on and as far as your relationship goes, nothing has changed.

Things To Do In The Next Few Weeks:

  1. Talk
    You should probably have a couple of conversations in the next few weeks.  Ask questions and don’t be scared to ask personal questions if you feel it is appropriate.  This will help him once again feel like you aren’t uncomfortable with the issue and therefore aren’t uncomfortable with him.  It also encourages honesty.  Be honest in return…but tactful.  Encourage him not to dwell on his sexuality, but make it clear you are always available to talk if he wants to.  Always.
  2. Suggest counseling
    After the initial conversation, there is a bit more flexibility in your dialog with your son. It’s now okay to admit that you don’t know and understand everything when it comes to homosexuality and may need professional help in finding out more.  If you feel there may be a need for counseling (even if only to encourage dialog), suggest it.  Make sure that your son knows that you aren’t suggesting counseling in order to “fix” him (especially if he mentions feeling “broken” or “messed up”).  Counseling probably shouldn’t come up in the initial conversation so he doesn’t feel like you are going into “damage control”.  Suggest going as a family (parents+him).
  3. Suggest talking to the bishop, if necessary
    If your son reveals any sexual transgression, recommend that he talk to the bishop.  Do so gently, but firmly.  Make it clear that his sexuality does not exempt him from keeping high standards or obeying family rules.  This shows that you don’t equate his sexuality with sin and neither should he.  In the next few weeks, it would be appropriate to reaffirm the Law of Chastity in an “it applies to everyone, even you” way.  Be careful and find out all the facts, however, in order not to equate any possible sexual abuse experienced by your son with sinful behavior on his part.

Things Not To Do…Ever:

  1. Don’t say “you’re too young to know” or “it’s just a phase”
    If he is talking to you about it, trust me, he knows.  He has already spent years (I know, he’s only fifteen, but still, years) dealing with the questions and confusions.  Even though I didn’t allow myself to think it until I was in my late teens-early twenties, I first had the anxiety-filled suspicion that I was different before puberty and by sixteen the thought of it would send me to the bathroom to vomit.  Trust me, he knows.
  2. Suggest that anything “made him gay”
    This includes playing with dolls, not playing sports, not being there for him, being too smothering, tv, friends, movies, soy, etc.  This places the thought in his head that his sexuality could have been prevented and the guilt-trip that this will send him on will be Trans-Siberian (i.e. big-time guilt).
  3. Call him names
    Ever, ever, ever.  What the crap was the matter with that woman?
  4. Talk to other people as if he is straight
    You by no means need to broadcast your sixteen-year-old son’s sexuality on the internet, but the minute you respond to your nosy neighbor asking why your son doesn’t date much with “he hasn’t found the right girl yet” you are sending mixed signals.  You may be trying to respect your son’s privacy, but likely he’ll feel that you didn’t believe all that business about loving him no matter what and that you are actually ashamed of him.  Trust will be lost.  Discuss with your son how to address the issue.  Maybe the most appropriate answer to nosy neighbor ends up being, “mind your own business”.
  5. Fail to stick up for him
    Sure, you son may be in drama club, choir, cheer squad, and dance club which makes you wince as polish your football state championship ring, but your kid should never hear you belittle his talents or interests to others.  I wasn’t the most athletically inclined growing up, but I often heard my parents praise my academic accomplishments or “creative abilities”.  They encouraged my talents, even if they weren’t necessarily the talents that were valued by others in the community.

What if it is “too late”?  What if your son came out years ago, ending in a huge fight with everyone getting it wrong, big time?  The good news is that there are very few things on this earth that you can’t recover from – and this isn’t one of those things.  The longer the time has passed, the longer it may take, but you can still let your gay son know that you love and accept him, which will make sure that fewer and fewer videos like the one mentioned above appear on YouTube.

Note: Most of the time, I write specifically about homosexuality as it relates to gay men.  I do this simply because that is the perspective with which I am the most familiar.  Most of what I write applies to gay women as well, but I don’t have any lesbian friends (that I know of) and I am uncomfortable to speak for a group that I have so little experience with.  So, I guess what I am saying is, if I am ever off base, Samantha, feel free to bust me on it.  K?

My Secret Gay Agenda

I admit it. I have a “gay” agenda. It is the result of nights of plotting and scheming: Plan A’s and Plan B’s. I consider strategy and laugh maniacally as I see my designs come to fruition….

What? A bit much?

Fine, no maniacal laughter, but at least there is an agenda – albeit not all that “secret”. My big gay plan is this: I want people to stop and think twice about publicly opposing homosexual interests-specifically gay marriage. Now, before you start screaming the 23rd Psalm and commence to spritzin’ the holy water, let me ‘splain.

I want to normalize homosexuality in a way that people recognize it to be a condition that happens every now and then and become accustomed to having gays around. Homosexuality isn’t some tacky rainbow secret combination that is out to destroy Christendom through gentrification and snappy outfits.

If you want to stand up for your beliefs as the prophet has asked, that is commendable. It truly is. More often than not, the words of our prophet fall on deaf ears. But I make a request: please, check your motives first.

I want to protect children from the harmful influence that homosexuality can have, you say. Okay, but remember that I am gay, too. Your brother, your son, your friend. Ah, but “he is different”. No, I am not. I am just as gay as the next queer. I didn’t ask to be gay just like you didn’t ask to be straight, but know that I am no more ashamed of my sexuality than you are. If gays are harmful influence to your children, then so am I. Do you really feel the need to protect your family against me?

I want to protect traditional marriage, you say. Okay, but know what that truly means. You aren’t protecting it from people who aren’t taking the commitment seriously – no less than you did, anyway. Our feelings for the people we love run just as deeply as yours and we want to create families with them just as much as you did. Our capacity to love is just as mature, significant, and profound as yours. Would you be satisfied with a “domestic partnership” being your only option when it came to building a family?

I want to protect the church, you say. The church could lose its tax-exempt status if it doesn’t comply with a possible mandate to solemnize same-sex marriages. No longer would we be able to write off tithing and fast-offerings as charitable contributions. Um…is your motivation in this actually money? Are you really okay with that?

Whoa, whoa, whoa! What happened to Prop-8 Agnostic? I maintain that position. How can I still say that? Because I simply want people to consider the motivations behind their actions and take an honest look at the issue from the perspective of someone on the other side. If anything, Christ taught that the motivations behind our actions are just as important as the actions themselves. If we are taking a position out of fear, hate, or greed, then maybe we need to take a step back to reflect.

It can be scary to question your own beliefs, because, what if you don’t end up at the same result? But, then again, do you really want to have your beliefs based on anything other than the truth? If you can take a step back and make sure that your beliefs are free from prejudice, misinformation, and even hatred, then you will be able to continue with confidence and demonstrate true compassion. It is more difficult that way, it’s true, but remember that unscrupulous means often leads to hollow and disillusioning ends.

Now, not to leave the other side out: demonizing swings both ways. It’s true that many in the religious right hasn’t always been, well, civil towards the gay community.  There have been times where they’ve been downright horrible. But is a motivation behind your actions based on a desire for familial responsibility and equality or on years of hurt because of mistreatment? You may assume that Ma and Pa Redneck are only doing what they are because they were told that by their preacher/bishop, but are you ready to accept that they might have a gay son that they love and accept and after careful consideration still disagree with you on the issue of gay marriage? Are you sure that you aren’t just as close-minded as you claim your opponents to be by assuming all religious people are bigots? Many aren’t. Many can accept the points above, can show genuine compassion, and can still think differently with you. An open-minded person can show genuine love and compassion for someone even while disagreeing with them. Do you truly believe that just because someone is different, they are worthy of acceptance and respect…or does that just apply to people who are different from “them”?

More than anything, this is a call to honesty. If you really have to believe that the other side is hateful/evil/sinful/immoral/bigoted/selfish in order to maintain passion in your cause, then maybe you should take some time to purify your motives and consider the consequences of your words and actions. Look at it from a new perspective, “their” perspective. If people actually saw the other side as, well, people who are like them (which they are, I’m serious) they might actually be able to disagree and still love each other at the end of the day. I trust people to be able to do that. I really do.

I guess this violates what I said two posts ago, but, come on, did you really think that that was going to stick?

The Uncomfortable Position of the Exception

While getting ready for Church this morning I had BYU-TV playing over the internet.  I began by listening to Music and the Spoken Word, but after it was over I clicked on a random show (to avoid the horrid “Worship Service”) and let the video play.  I didn’t pay much attention to it until a BYU-Hawaii devotional came on.  The speaker’s talk was solid, but there was nothing really new or revelatory for me in the content of his discourse, which spoke of commitment to living the Gospel.  Like many speakers, he gave a itemized list that summarized his talk.  On the list was the observation that some people obey the words of the prophets only when it is convenient for them.  When hearing the prophet speak, they evaluate the truth of his words based on their own desire to comply.  They deem themselves exceptions and disregard the council.

Like I said, it was nothing new.  I had been taught the same thing since before I was eight – never think of yourselves as an exception because that is a step on the road to apostasy.  This caused a lot of mental anguish as I reached the age that my peers around me started dating and getting engaged.  If I was no exception, I should be seeking the same goal, after all.  I tried dating and generally failed to find a relationship that I felt was a good idea to pursue to the point of marriage (mostly from my own baggage).  This placed me in emotional limbo – how was I supposed to fulfill the commandment to marry and raise a family (a commandment that I wanted to follow) if I never was able to feel good about a relationship with a woman?

A couple of years ago, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gave his famous “Hanging Out=Evil” YSA fireside.  He followed his council with:

“If you feel you are a special case, so that the strong counsel I have given doesn’t apply to you, please don’t write me a letter. Why would I make this request? I have learned that the kind of direct counsel I have given results in a large number of letters from members who feel they are an exception, and they want me to confirm that the things I have said just don’t apply to them in their special circumstance….

As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. …  I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” (Dallin H. Oaks, 2006)

I remember becoming angry the first time I heard that.  So exceptions do exist?  Where did that leave me?  In what I felt was a rather glib statement, the Apostle had said, “hey, some of what we say may not apply to you and if it does, you are on your own.”  Oh, wow.  Thanks.

I’ve mellowed out in my frustration since then.  What I originally saw as abandonment by the Brethren, I now see as them trusting me to follow the Spirit and were showing respect by allowing me to “govern myself”.  Being lead by the prophet is one thing, having to be dragged on a leash is quite another.

While I think I have gained a small amount of maturity on that particular issue, thinking of myself as an exception doesn’t really sit well with me.  There is a definite uneasiness to not having an clear idea of where you stand with the Lord on an issue, but for me, clarity hasn’t come yet in this particular case.  There seem to be a lot of conflicting views on the issue floating around.  I guess the Lord and I have more to discuss on this matter.

In any case, I guess writing a letter is out.

Sound-Byte Doctrine: Avoiding the Appearance of Evil

I was in my dorm in the MTC when an Elder in my district told us about a letter his mother wrote to him (yes, missionaries discuss the letters your write to them with other missionaries).  She was asking advice about a situation in her ward in which a young single woman got pregnant by her boyfriend.  This young woman wasn’t a close friend, but was simply a good acquaintance.  The Elder’s mother was confused and unsure of how to proceed.  While she wanted to reach out to this young woman, she didn’t want her support to be viewed as approval of the young girl’s situation.  She wanted to “avoid the appearance of evil” and the best way she decided to do that was to simply avoid the issue and the young woman.

We sometimes find ourselves in a position to associate with people who either have different standards than us or don’t live up to their own standards.  So what do you do when one of the young women in your Laurel classes gets a bun in the oven? (And we aren’t talking about homemaking meeting.)  Or what about the guy you grew up with in Scouts who now lives with a guy named Tarquin who makes his own curtains?*  Or the coworker that you know for certain regularly smokes pot.  If we are representatives of Jesus Christ, we shouldn’t be seen in the company of known sinners because people may assume that we agree with their actions and attitudes, right?


The problem with all of this is that we are trying to live according to “sound-byte doctrine”.  Sound-byte doctrines are phrases and ideas that are gleaned from the scriptures (sometimes) and are treated as commandments by popular culture even though they may not have originally meant what popular religious culture has turned it into.

This particular bit of sound-byte doctrine originally comes from the scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 which says, “Abstain from all appearance from evil.”  This seems pretty straightforward on first reading, but if you look (in the LDS edition of the scriptures), you’ll see a footnote on the word “appearance”.  Apparently this word comes from a Greek word, which means “kinds”.  With this in mind, we see that the scripture now says “[a]bstain from all kinds of evil” (emphasis added).  The footnote goes on to point to the Topical Guide entry for “Apparel”, suggesting the verse has more to do with our personal standards than how we associate with others.  In fact, we see that the previous reading of the scripture doesn’t really mesh well with the actual example Jesus set in His life.  He was constantly found among the people that society had labeled “sinners”.  Some of these were merely the poor that people assumed were sinners because of their poverty, but some were people legitimately involved in serious sin.  We have no record or reason to believe that He ever condoned sin, but apparently Jesus didn’t equate association with sinners with condoning their behavior.

“Avoiding the appearance of evil” is a perfect example of sound-byte doctrine because the catchiness of the phrase causes it to get stuck in people’s head where it is given extra weight in making decisions about associating with friends and love ones who don’t share our standards.  I don’t believe we should place ourselves in situations in which we may become tempted or situations that would offend the Spirit, but I believe that following the example of Christ also involves showing kindness to people of other standards and ideals.  You can’t show kindness to someone you never associate with.  In fact, Jesus had nothing good to say about people who maintained an appearance of righteousness for sake of appearances only (the “whited wall” and all that).

We should follow the Spirit when deciding on whom we will associate with in our lives, but I would suggest that we be careful in this as well.  In associations where the Spirit is absent, we should make sure that the Spirit hasn’t withdrawn because of our own feelings of prejudice or discomfort rather than the influence the people we are associating with.

Sound-byte doctrines are grey doctrines (at best) and are often abused by religious cultures to excuse some very bad behavior.  Sometimes this is intentional, but, more often than not, they are used by people who are legitimately confused and are looking for direction in their lives.  In the example above, the missionaries in my dorm agreed that the Elder’s mom should show an outpouring of love for the young unwed mother-to-be.  The mom was genuinely looking for the right way to handle the situation, but we thought it wasn’t her role to punish the young woman for her actions; it was her role to be a Sister in Zion.  If the young woman used the pregnancy as an excuse to leave the Church, that was her decision, but it shouldn’t be a decision made easier due to a judgmental ostracizing by the membership.

The biggest danger of sound-byte doctrine is that they can replace prayer, pondering, and scripture study as a source of guidance when deciding how to live our lives.  But then again, relying on a Deseret Book-purchased cross-stitching as an oracle for life advice sure does free me up to watch episodes of Heroes online.  (A “Nikki” by any other name is still boring, by the way.)

*Bonus points for getting this reference.