Chapter Ten of The Big Gay Mormon book -
"They that be with us"
This is a from a manuscript I was writing to help gay members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This chapter became mute quickly so I am not including it in the finished manuscript. I still think it has worth, however.
The beauty in, the danger of a few words
My darling sister Carol-Lynette-Margaret-Louise is four feet nine and a half inches tall, standing. I myself am six foot three, also standing. I would think that one of us was adopted, but my mama promised that indeed we are siblings of the most generic genetic kind. She has been struggling with health issues for years; low energy, dizziness, mood swings grander than the normal patented Thompson family mood swings. It troubled her and us for some time. We thought she might have had food allergies or Epstein Barr. We thought it was all in her head and that she was psycho. Still, the symptoms had become debilitating. Finally, a doctor did some tests and found that she was diabetic.
When she called and told me that all this time she’d had an insulin problem I was so relieved that I started to laugh. She almost hung up on me. At last! Eur-freakin-eka! It had been discovered. Her problem had a name.
Carol-Ella-Margaret-Louise was dealing with the same problem as millions of other people with shorter names and taller bodies. There were pills available. There were shots available. There were books and magazine articles, websites and specialists on the subject. There was a telethon fundraiser sponsored by Healthy Happy Foods featuring stars of the Partridge Family. We didn’t have to wonder what the problem was, or if there even was a problem to begin with. We had at our disposal a list of things we could do to help her. She had a list of things she could do to help herself. Stick a name on it and it becomes manageable.
“Hey, Carol-Ella-Margaret-Louise. How is your diabetes? Are you still short?”
“Hey, Cal. It stinks, but I am managing. Are you still annoying?”
Just having a name we could attach to what had been ailing her seemed to empower all of us. The gray clouds in our new and happier world left the sky and were replaced by bluebirds and singing rabbits. Knowing what we were up against gave us options and a refreshing freedom. It seemed manageable.
My own “helpful name revealed” moment was not as public or as joyful, and I certainly did not share it with family or friends. Not even sister Carol-Ella-Margaret-Louise. Of course, the diagnoses of SGA (a title that did not exist in nineteen-eighty-blah-blah) was not made in the doctor’s office.
The feelings at my finding a title are difficult to describe even now that I have access to a lovely thesaurus. I knew what the symptoms were: there was a longing - something inside that was fundamentally different for me than the other boys in my school and church group. They seemed to naturally gravitate towards things that had no interest or appeal to me.
The jokes they told didn’t make sense. The camaraderie was off. I stared at things I shouldn’t have been staring at, and I didn’t stare at the things that caught their attention. Stuff just didn’t fit, and I interpreted this as my having some flaw that the others didn’t. This combined with a suicide in my former neighborhood of a man thought of as being different, and I wondered if that’s what guys who were different were supposed to do. Were we left on our own and expected to weed ourselves out?
I withdrew from groups. I wanted to be alone. Walking home from school one day on the country road where my dad was building a new house, I stumbled across some literature that was truly meant for the gutter. It had been tossed out somebody’s car window. I was actually looking for money, good walking sticks, and pieces of blue glass. I found empty beer cans and dubious literature instead. Much of it meant nothing to me, but there was a part toward the back that rang a few bells.
I learned quite a bit that day. Suddenly there was a name to go with my manner, and I found out about it while sitting on the side of an Idaho road.
Even with the misconceptions, stigmas, and horror I eventually found attached to the name, it gave me an idea of what I was up against, and it was something others were feeling as well. It let me know that I wasn’t a freak or an aberration while at the same time confirming that I was both of those. I was horrified at the diagnoses. I didn’t laugh in relief. I was just a kid. I had had no sexual experiences, and yet, pieces were starting to fit.
In the years since then, I have literally risen from the gutter, knowing I have a choice in who I really am and what I do, and that knowledge means the world to me.
There was another name for me. I was also an active, believing Latter-day Saint of the white shirt on Sunday and funeral potatoes variety. I was raised in the Mormon culture and I was eating shredded carrots and pears in my Jell-O way before anyone was drawing political cartoons about it. My mom was presented at a Gold and Green Ball and she Kimball-ised her pink clamshell dress. (You may need to Google that). My grandfather was a stake president in Nampa, Idaho and I was going to Church back when we used to leave and return three separate times on Sunday. I even slightly remember when a Bazaar was not bizarre at all.
Need more verification? Okay, how about the fact that I use farming metaphors? I have worked in the nursery, taught Gospel Doctrine, cleaned Church bathrooms and wondered why there was a sofa in the ladies room. I have snorted out loud during a particularly funny talk in sacrament meeting, and once while I was in the MTC my companion and I both fell asleep for a few minutes in the temple during a six am session on our “P” day. I know what an eternal smile is and I am happy to have one.
If I am LDS, which I am, and I also have strong SGA desires, which I do, how can I accept and honor what I am without tearing myself apart? These two names don’t seem to go together. I was a walking oxymormon.
I found some comparable in the story of a group of townsfolk who have captured a woman they claim is a witch, and who is being blamed for all their society’s ills. To prove that this poor girl, with a carrot tied onto her face to elongate her nose, is indeed a witch and not just the baker’s wife, they use some suspicious-at-best logic.
Drunk Townsperson: You must prove that she is a witch.
Silly Townsperson: How do we do this?
Drunk Townsperson: Witches burn because they are made of wood! Therefore, if she floats like a log, then she is a witch!
They proceed to dunk the soggy woman into the pond.
Now, what’s the poor baker’s wife to do? If she doesn't float, then the townsfolk won’t bun her and she gets to live, excepting that she is drowned in the process. If she comes up for air like a good non-witch, then she is burned at the stake-her reward for having to breathe. What a conundrum.
I related to the baker's wife and I hoped that she could hold her breath or swim like the dickens and outrun them. Was holding my breath and outrunning everyone the only solution for me as well?
No wonder we all had ulcers
I’ll admit that before my experiences with my son, my understanding of what it meant to be homosexual was very limited. Homosexuals as good Mormon boys? That a young man may be a football player who passes the sacrament and is SGAttracted didn’t even enter my mind.
Many are opening their mind to new thoughts and ideas. One of the reasons I appreciate the LDS Church so much is that encourages people to learn new things.
Are we talking about the same church? There are some members that embrace change but they are usually under thirty.
I am trying to think/speak positively.
The LDS church taught as I was growing up that homosexuality (not, I remind you, SGAttraction--a word that had not been created) was perverse. If you were homosexual and Mormon (impossible in some books due to a widely held belief that homosexuality didn’t really exist), the options were to keep it to yourself with varying degrees of obedience or leave the church in order to be “true to yourself.”
Secular groups of the time agreed. Some claimed homosexuality to be at odds with nature even going so far as to classify it as mental illness. Of course, some promoted the “Be all that you can be” philosophy, which has morphed into the supposition that if you are homosexual then you must act on those feelings. It’s not OK to be gay your own way. You have to be gay their way.
Rubbish. I have a brain and I can decide for myself.
I can accept that these SGA feelings I have may be, for all earthly intents and purposes, a permanent part of what I am – at least as permanent as earth life is. At the same time, I can follow the teachings of the prophets who instruct that we have a choice when it comes to following our natural leanings and inclinations. That agency lives and breathes. I know, in my heart of hearts that this body I inhabit is SGAttracted, but I also know that I don’t have to act on those feelings to be whole and happy.
This is not a philosophy that has been taught very long. It certainly was not around for me to understand as I was growing up. But due to those of us who have gone to the Lord in prayer and begged for help, clarifications have been made and will continue to be made to help those of us who desire to be faithful to the standards as we know of them through our prophets.
As with all the challenges and difficulties inherent with the human condition, our prior knowledge that SGA would be a part of our earth life is comforting to me. He knew that though these feelings would, to some degree, be a thorn in the side of those who wanted to obey the highest law. He also knew that they would provide opportunities for growth, understanding, self-control, and compassion. There is wisdom in considering that SGA is given as an obstacle for some to overcome through our use of agency. After all, the Lord has said…
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them”
If the decision was made by us -- with heavenly direction – that we would exist with, thrive in-spite-of or because-of, and grow from overcoming homosexual inclinations
Sex had never been the end though it has been presented by the world as such. Satisfying our physical appetites -- regardless of their origin -- was never considered the end. Godliness was the end.
Being worthy to enter the LDS temple has always pushed members of the LDS church to a high standard as far as the law of chastity is concerned and in many other ways as well. No one disputes this. It is still the case. One cannot have sex outside of marriage and obtain/maintain a temple recommend. Gay, straight, bi… No sex outside of marriage. This is a very high law. Not all are willing to obey this law. And yet you can not strive to follow this high law and still go to the LDS church, or believe in the teachings of the church.
There are people in the LDS church who are obeying to varying degrees with varying levels of success. We all have issues and we all are dealing with pain and problems. How on earth can one person say that his sins are fine, but not mine?
Gay couples are welcome to the Mormon church. Straight couples are welcome to the Mormon Church. Perfect families are welcome, and so are imperfect families. Individuals are welcome regardless of their sexual preference. If some dweeb at church gives anyone a hard time or a cold shoulder for smelling like cigarettes, having a tattoo, wearing heels a little too high, or sporting fantastic all leather brown numbers with colorful socks, then it is the fault of some dweeb at church for not following the gospel as taught by Jesus Christ.
Julie: You’ve been waiting a long time to say that, haven’t you?
Calvin: Why, yes. Yes, I have.
Homosexuality: A Label Today
The word homosexuality means something different to me having grown up (or maybe just by my growing up it took on new meaning). When I was younger, homosexuality was associated with shame and fear, a dark secret that had to be kept. It’s losing its stigma like the word alcoholic did. There is a bit more understanding It’s getting closer to being just a name.
For a long time, I didn’t see any hope with the word “homosexuality.” SGA seemed like a death sentence for my son and his part in our family; a big secret we had to keep under lock and key.
: My Grandma Ruby always said that there should be no secrets except birthday surprises, school locker combinations and how much milk money she had saved up. I tend to agree with her. SGA is no longer a secret that has to be kept out of fear of judgment or even retaliation.
I, for one, look forward to having an open-book kind of life that could at any moment be shouted out from the metaphorical rooftop and have it not make a bit of difference in my life or the life of my family. I could take most of the energy I have spent on shame or on keeping my “cover”, and instead put it into something productive, like learning to spell, or building an addition to my house.