Sunday, December 29, 2013

The God of Love: Why I reject my old Mormon view on homosexuality

God is love.

Or so I'm told. I tend not to believe in any particular deity or supreme being, but I do not presume to know for sure that such an entity does not exist. My sense of "spirituality" has changed a lot over the past year, and I think it is finally settling. It is important to note that my evolving spirituality was stagnant while I maintained the facade of a straight Mormon man. It was difficult to really explore my own beliefs on the matter until I finally allowed myself to drop the pretense of believing something else.

God is so big that God's presence fills the universe, and so small that God resides in your heart.

My old Mormon self would have shied away from such abstract, noncommittal, contradictory, and arguably meaningless statements. Mormons have very concrete beliefs about God as an embodied being.

What do I believe about "God"?

I promised a while ago that I would elaborate on why being gay has further convinced me that Mormonism is not The One True Church, as it claims to be and as I once believed it to be. This is my reasoning, although it's less about Mormonism and more about God in general.

I've come to a point where I do not believe in God. However, I can still entertain the idea that a divine, benevolent creator exists. If some kindhearted, ever righteous and praiseworthy deity is my spiritual parent, then there are a few things which I feel must be true about this entity which I will call God.

God must embrace the truth completely. Truth cuts through falsehood like light cuts through darkness. God must embrace love. God encourages unconditional love. Or as Mormons often call it: "Christlike love." God loves everyone, and has a different purpose for each one. God loves you for being uniquely you. This is the only kind of Christian-esque God that I can fathom.

That doesn't necessarily mean that all expressions of love are okay with God.

Emotions and universal standards of behavior

If God communicates with you "in your mind and in your heart," as the Mormon scriptures claim, then that means emotions can at times be the most fundamental and crucial way that God conveys truth to you. But not all emotions are equal. So how do I know my "gay" emotions are from God-if-there-is-a-God? What makes me believe that homosexual attraction is okay? Where does God draw the line? And how am I supposed to know where the line is drawn? It makes it all the more difficult that I'm not even inclined to believe God exists. So you'd think that I would believe even less in a God-drawn line.

Not so. I believe there is a line. The line is dictated by truth, by goodness, by that which is right and leads to maximizing joy and love and inclusion, while minimizing pain and hatred and exclusion. Really, it's more of a topology or gradient, a good-better-best situation where we should seek to be as close to the "best" zone as possible. I believe it's there, that some choices are better than others according to some universal criteria. And so even though I don't believe in God per se, I do believe that God would draw the lines according to these principles of goodness. (Admittedly, this is actually a very Mormony belief to have: belief in a God that is only God because he walks the razor's edge of perfection, adhering to the highest laws of truth and right.)

With these premises, I must conclude that gay is okay

So to recap: if God exists, if God's fundamental way of communicating truth is through emotion, if God is full of truth and love, then I'm fairly certain that God wants me to be gay. God smiles upon my desire to marry someone of my own sex. God would encourage me to follow my dreams of adopting children, and would want those children to have two loving daddies. How can I know that? How can I presume to comprehend the inscrutable will of God? Because to me, God's will cannot be all that inscrutable. God cannot depart from truth and right.

And most of all, God could not allow my deepest, most sincere, most profound feelings to be false. God would not be so cruel as to give me such a powerful feeling of potential to love, but then restrict it to the "wrong" gender. I feel a well of goodness inside of me. It is connected to the source of empathy and caring that God would want me to express towards all people. But there is some certain potential for deepest connection, for truest love, for something so profound and eternal, that I know I can only feel for a man.

I tried for years to believe that my love could be directed towards a woman. I told myself that I simply hadn't matured yet. That any day now, I would find the right woman, and it would all just unlock. I tried to date women. Absolutely wonderful women. Some of the best I could have ever hoped to date. And it just didn't happen. But then everything changed.

A window of hope

It was my first time in a gay bar. I didn't go for alcohol. I didn't go for sex. I just wanted to talk. I just wanted to converse with someone that understood how I felt. After a very therapeutic conversation with a charming middle-aged lesbian couple, out of nowhere, I drew up the courage to sit down next to a cute guy. Let's call him Carson. We talked. And talked. And flirted a little bit. It was the most amazing sensation. I was dropping the facade, and discovering something true about myself. I felt like I could just be myself, an almost nostalgic feeling reminiscent of my carefree childhood. Carson touched my hands while talking about his upcoming vacation. I touched his hands in response. I was infatuated. We kissed, and it was like fireworks were going off. I kept muttering to Carson, "thank you, thank you." He hadn't done anything particularly special. But he happened to be the one that opened my eyes to what my soul was craving: a male companion. The soul of a man, connected forever with my own soul. A husband's embrace to comfort me.

It was like looking through a window. I could never find this window with women. But with Carson, I could see a future. I could see us growing old together. I could see myself loving him for a lifetime. Sure, I was feeling puppy love. And I was definitely attracted to him physically. But there was something deeper that I felt as well. Hope. The most profound sense of hope. The kind of hope I was waiting for years to feel with a woman, some "lovely young woman," as I was promised prophetically by my local Mormon patriarch.

Potential and responsibility

Falling in love is a sacred experience for me. Now, I've been over Carson for quite some time. Thinking critically about the compatibility of our personalities, the relationship probably wouldn't work. But that doesn't cheapen the hope I gained from the experience. I have two ex boyfriends now. I still love them deeply, in a way. I saw through the window of hope with each of them. Although I ultimately felt that those relationships weren't quite right, I still saw it, through them. That hope. That potential. Those relationships were spiritual experiences for me. Lenses through which I could inspect my own soul, and better understand myself.

Love is both an impulse, and a choice. I choose to love my exes now, but only as good friends. With each of them, the impulse of love again opened the window of hope, and it instilled in me a great sense of responsibility. I have a lot of love in my soul. The choice of whom to love completely is a very serious one to make. I will act in such a way that, if I must answer to God for the way I make this choice, I can answer with my head held high. I will be able to tell God that I sought the deepest place of truth within myself, that I strove to tap into my most sacred, divine feelings.


If emotions are to be trusted, if God is a being of truth, if the divine creator is worthy of praise, then there is only one conclusion I can draw about my homosexuality: it is of God. Either God wants me to marry a man, or God wants me to try. If God truly wants me to reach my full potential, to do the most good in this world, to fulfill the God-given purpose of my creation, then this is the only reasonable answer. My spiritual journey has led me to a greater understanding of those strange and deliberately ambiguous Christian statements that I used to roll my eyes at as a Mormon. I do not believe in God, but still, my deepest spiritual experiences can strongly endorse the old adage:

God is love.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Mormon axiom: I know the church is true

I'd like to bear my testimony, I know the church is true.

I wonder how old I was when I first uttered these words. Any Mormon who regularly attends church has certainly heard this staple opening line numerous times, most often from Mormon children. On the first Sunday of every month, instead of the typical pre-assigned talks and musical numbers  but not eliding the usual reverent distribution of bread and water symbolic of Christ's atonement  the hour known as "sacrament meeting" is taken instead by "testimony meeting," a time when the pulpit is open to anyone in the congregation who wishes to share their testimony, as moved upon by the holy spirit, or in some cases, as moved upon by the pious parent.

This particular time also coincides with the church's monthly fast, where most members forego food and drink for 24 hours, symbolically placing themselves further from the physical realm, and closer to the spiritual. Most members also follow the church's suggestion to donate money to the church's welfare system equivalent to or greater than the value of the skipped meals. This donation is not to be confused with tithing; instead it is used to directly benefit the needy. "Fast and testimony meeting" is therefore a spiritual time when the congregation is joined in fasting and sharing of testimonies. Everyone is encouraged to participate: just walk up to the pulpit (sit down in "line," if there is one, waiting for your turn) and share your sincerest beliefs. There is usually a stepping stool, and the podium's height is adjustable, so even children may participate.

I know the church is true.

To ease a child's nervousness towards public speaking, they seem to pick up — or are directly taught to recite  the standard icebreaker: "I['d] like to bear my testimony, I know [this|the] church is true." A child's simple testimony usually continues by expressing love for their family, and similarly proclaiming to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet, and Jesus is the Savior. All testimonies conventionally conclude, "In the name of Jesus Christ, amen," at which point the congregation echoes "amen," expressing their agreement with what was said. The same closing phrase and echoed "amen" similarly occur for prayers.

Mormons do not recite standard prayers such as the Ave Maria or the Lord's Prayer, but children's testimonies are nevertheless rather formulaic. Group prayers over food, being potentially given with much frequency, also tend to follow standard formulas, such as "Dear Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this food ... please bless this food ... in the name of Jesus Christ, amen." While such food-prayer formulas are more frequent, they are of less consequence by far than the proclamation of absolute surety.

I know the church is true.

Those like myself who were raised in a Mormon family have heard this simple sentence many, many times. We have probably also uttered it many times. Sometimes a testimony, even when focusing on a particular topic such as tithing, just doesn't feel like a testimony without delivering the coup de grâce: the catch all, cover all axiom that motivates it all in the first place. While adult testimonies are less scripted than that of a child, they nevertheless very commonly include the solemn avowal, "I know the church is true," usually near the end. Though the sentence itself communicates very little, its implications are enormous.

For example, the reason I gave tithing to the Mormon church, instead of putting that money towards any other church, charity, or investment, was because I knew the church was true. Had I instead known that the Seventh Day Adventists' was the true church, or Scientology, or Catholicism, I would have given tithing to them. But I knew that the Mormon church was true, therefore, I knew that all others were at best "mostly true."

I know the church is true.

As a youth, I never would have dreamed of taking even one sip of coffee. Seeing an R-rated movie was absolutely out of the question. I was the one among my childhood friends that would perhaps snicker at a dirty joke, but then quickly regain my composure, and punch the friend that told the joke repeatedly in the arm (not very hard), chanting "nasty, nasty, nasty," in rhythm with each blow. I vividly recall one occasion, where I made a comment while a friend was using the TV remote to flip through the channels. He misheard whatever I had said, and perplexed, he asked, "Did you just say 'bastard'?" I was flabbergasted. Of course not! I would never. "No," I responded. But he insisted, it sounded like I had said 'bastard.' With my pristine reputation on the line, I exclaimed in exasperation, "I did not say 'bastard'!" But in claiming to not have said it, I said it. I was at once deeply embarrassed and furious; I'm sure I blushed redder than I ever have before or since. The two friends present cracked up laughing in amazement and amusement. I began punching the offending friend's arm and chanting, "nasty, nasty, nasty, nasty," and continued to do so for quite a long time, appalled that he somehow got me to use a swear word.

This may seem a bit extreme, but to me it was the only reasonable way to behave. I recall in our teenage years, one of my (Mormon) friends noted that I was "very churchy," and that I seemed to always have the church present in my mind, my thoughts and actions consistently based on church teachings and doctrine. Well, of course. This seemed only natural to me. After all, I knew the church was true; all of that behavior simply stemmed from this singular knowledge and certainty, this one fundamental axiom. When it came time to decide if I wanted to serve an LDS mission, as was expected of all worthy 19-year-old boys, the choice was obvious.

Sé que la iglesia es verdadera.

This is one of the very first phrases I learned in the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Aside from the rudimentary Spanish I already knew from high school, the only thing I might have learned before the Spanish equivalent of "I know the church is true" was standard prayer phrases, since we began praying in Spanish on day one: "Querido Padre Celestial ... te damos gracias ... te pedimos ... en el nombre de Jesucristo, amén."

After a few weeks of language and proselyting training, off I went to the grand province of Buenos Aires to share my testimony with the Argentines. And share I did. For two years, I attempted to find and enlighten the Lord's elect: those people that would be willing to accept my testimony and ignite their own, joining themselves with the church that they, too, would come to know is true. There was one woman I met, who affirmed that "the church is true," and yet she no longer attended church meetings. This behavior utterly baffled me; clearly there was a hole in her testimony, for if she really knew the church to be true, this would motivate her to attend church meetings.

I know the church is true?

What happens when a missionary doesn't have a testimony? What is he to do? Or what if the potential convert isn't quite sure, hasn't yet gained a testimony? While this wasn't personally the case for me at the time, I often heard the following quip:

A testimony is found in the bearing of it.

Unsure missionaries are encouraged to bear testimony, even if they do not feel they have one, for this is the way one's testimony is built. Unsure potential converts are encouraged to take a leap of faith and are promised that they will not be disappointed. Unsure members are encouraged to have patience and extrapolate a testimony out of that which they will surely soon come to know. The Book of Mormon prophet Alma advises, "Even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe." Based on Alma's subsequent sermon, the children's hymn confirms, "Faith is like a little seed, if planted it will grow."

In my teenage years, I was often the first among my peers to take advantage of testimony-sharing opportunities. These arise not only during fast and testimony meeting, but also periodically occur at weekly youth activities, summer retreats, and weekday seminary instruction. I wonder at what point, if any, I transitioned from bearing testimony while unsure to bearing testimony while sure. I don't remember ever being unsure about what I believed or claimed to know.

I know the church is true.

This is why it is impossible to argue with a Mormon about religion. While there may be conclusions on which you agree, there is one fundamental axiom from which the Mormon mentality derives all else. "I know the church is true." Not just, "the church is true." It's, "I know the church is true." Emotionally, this is a much more powerful statement, because it links "the church is true" directly to a person's very ability to perceive truth. That person's knowledge system, the way his or her brain works, now stands or falls with the truthfulness of the church, for the Mormon axiom asserts, "I know the church is true."

It is impossible to get a Mormon to admit any proposition which implies that the church is in some way untrue, for this is inconsistent with their most basic axiom. According to logic based on "I know the church is true," there is no method for me to determine that the church is not true, no way to perform an experiment and conclude the falsehood of the church. According to this mindset, there is no embarrassment or evil the church can commit that would demonstrate it to be defective, no existing evidence to elide its exactitude.

I know the church is true.

Another memory I remember vividly was in high school. I was bearing my testimony in seminary to several dozen peers. I've always loved logic and science. However, I told them, science gives me no purpose. Science tells me that I am the extremely unlikely product of the randomized results of an arbitrary explosion, that I'm just a bundle of atoms that happen to move just so. But the church gives me so much more than that. Because I know the church is true, I therefore also know that I am a child of God, with the potential to become like him. A prince destined to become a king. A God in embryo. What could be more grand? What could be more meaningful?

Contradicting the Mormon axiom was unthinkable. My whole world, as I perceived it, was built around that one base assumption. Everything I knew, everything I was, everything I would be, revolved around the simplest of propositions.

I know the church is true.

And yet, I somehow managed to think the unthinkable. Somehow, in my mid twenties, I finally allowed myself to seriously consider that which was contrary to what I had believed my whole life. Contrary to what I had heard over the pulpit every month at fast and testimony meeting. Contrary to what I had boldly proclaimed. Contrary to the simplest, most fundamental axiom that had been so deeply ingrained in my mind, my worldview, my actions, my purpose, my life, my very reason for being. Contrary to what I had recited so many times before, more times than I can remember, since before I can remember.

Maybe the church isn't true.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Understanding the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA

Today is a historic day for gay rights in the USA. Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act has been deemed by the Supreme Court of the United States to be unconstitutional, which means that the federal government will now respect same-sex marriages. This does not, however, mean that the federal government will now force all states to perform same-sex marriages, nor does it mean that one state must now honor another state's same-sex marriages, although gay rights advocates certainly hope for these things as well. Without taking sides, I'd like to simply clarify what SCOTUS said by supplying relevant context.

Here is the key sentence from the SCOTUS ruling:
(in all quotes, all emphasis is mine)

DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment

 This specifically refers to Section 3 of DOMA:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

Gay rights advocates often appeal to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Why, then, did SCOTUS appeal to the 5th?

No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

This has to do with liberties, and where they come from. Merriam-Webster says that a liberty is:

a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant

According to the SCOTUS ruling, we are to understand that marriage is a liberty that is granted by states, and not by the federal government.

This explains why they appealed to the 5th, because Section 3 of DOMA says that the federal government can deprive people of their state-granted liberty. This also explains why they didn't appeal to the 14th, because the 14th is all about the states not depriving liberties granted at the federal level. Therefore, SCOTUS did not strike down Section 2 of DOMA:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

The SCOTUS ruling is a clear win for gay rights, but hopefully I've helped to illustrate that the ruling only goes so far, and gay rights advocates still have about three dozen states to convince before same-sex marriages are universally recognized across the USA.

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those  persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.  This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages. 

You can read the whole court opinion for yourself; it's available online:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brigham Young University discriminates against Latter-day Saints

An open letter to the Brigham Young University Honor Code Office.

One can only assume the best of intentions. The desire to make Brigham Young University (BYU) a safe, friendly, professional, and faith-promoting environment for students is admirable. However, the current formulation of the BYU Honor Code results in an inappropriate mix of religion and academics which is damaging to and prejudiced against BYU's own Latter-day Saint students (abbreviated LDS, commonly known as "Mormons"). The Honor Code is counterproductive to its own purposes and goes against the spirit of the LDS faith.

The Honor Code[1] currently states:
Students are required to be in good Honor Code standing to be admitted to, continue enrollment at, and graduate from BYU. In conjunction with this requirement, all... students are required to obtain a Continuing Student Ecclesiastical Endorsement for each new academic year.
The requirements for obtaining an ecclesiastical endorsement are generous and flexible for non-LDS students, who are provided with three options:
Non-LDS students are to be endorsed by (1) the local ecclesiastical leader if the student is an active member of the congregation, (2) the bishop of the LDS ward in which they currently reside, or (3) the nondenominational BYU chaplain.
Once baptized LDS, however, a student no longer has the option of receiving an ecclesiastical endorsement from the nondenominational BYU chaplain, nor from activity in a non-LDS congregation. LDS students are left with one option.
LDS students may be endorsed only by the bishop of the ward (1) in which they live and (2) that holds their current Church membership record.
Finally, if the LDS student chooses or is forced to leave the LDS faith, they have no option and are kicked out of BYU.
Former LDS students are not eligible to receive an ecclesiastical endorsement
Though BYU is typically welcoming of those of non-LDS faiths, it is unusually hostile towards LDS students, and imposes special restrictions on them to prevent them from leaving that religion. Presumably, it is the best interests of the remainder of the LDS student body that motivate this section of the Honor Code: it is an attempt to shelter them from doubt and dissent by weeding out "problem students." Its effect is, at first blush, in line with the Honor Code's goals. It censors dissent, creating a calmer environment.

But consider those students who might wish to leave the LDS Church. Surely none intend to do so upon enrollment at BYU. They fully agree to the Honor Code; as faithful LDS Church members at the time, or as converts to the faith during their studentship, these restrictions seem irrelevant. However, at some point, doubt sets in, and a decision is made to depart from the faith. Rather than go through the pains of transferring schools, many instead choose to simply slog through. They must live a lie for the sake of their academic career. The Honor Code manipulates behaviors by threat of academic consequences. If the goal is religious retention, then the effect is just the opposite: jaded graduates come to despise the LDS Church and BYU for causing them to prolong a pretense of belief. BYU offers no way for a member of the LDS faith to leave the church and retain studentship: this very case is explicitly prohibited by the Honor Code!

It is unbecoming of an academic institution to suppress or hide dissenting views. Worse, it is hypocritical for a religious institution to preach, "let [all men] worship how, where, or what they may,"[2] but then threaten academic consequences if an LDS student's conscience dictates a different form of worship.

In summary, the BYU Honor Code has the mere effect of improving the appearance of conformity at BYU, at the great cost of undermining the religious freedoms of its LDS students. Like a bad gang, the Honor Code attempts to maintain LDS membership by threat of punishment for leaving. The effects of this particular policy work against the Honor Code's true goals, and the spirit of this policy is in plain opposition to the articles of the LDS faith.


[2] 11th Article of Faith.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Curiosity, Obedience, and The Shelf

Religion answers all questions, up until it doesn't.

I was running late. I scarfed down some hot chocolate and grabbed a large chunk of bread from the continental breakfast to eat on the go. I stopped at the front desk to pay the tax for the hotel, 3 euros per night times 6 nights, 18 euros total. The scholarship covered the other hotel expenses for me, but for whatever reason I was expected to pay for this out of my own pocket. I bid silent goodbye to my last 20 euro bill. The man handling the transaction moved agonizingly slowly. Finally he handed me the receipt. I held the receipt and the handle to my luggage in one hand, and the bread in my other hand (which I was actively munching on), and off I went, hurrying to Roma Termini. I passed the public running water as I went, and realized that I was thirsty. "No time," I told myself. I had left the empty milk bottle (I had used as a water bottle during the conference) in the hotel room, and there was no turning back now. It was already a little past 9:40, the recommended time to be at the airport for my 11:40 flight. I got in line for a bus ticket to the airport. Luckily, the bus pulled up while I was in line. The person in front of me hurried off to get on the bus, and I expected to do the same. I waited while the man behind the counter handled a phone call. I waited. And waited. Why was he taking so long? Surely he knew that I and those behind me were anxious to get on the bus. He handed the phone to the woman next to him. She raised her voice and rapidly spoke in Italian for a minute. The man simply waited for her to be done before finally turning to me. I had been holding out my money visibly, trying to catch his attention for some time. "Fiumicino" I said (referring to the airport). He said something like "yes that's nice" and handed me a ticket and a laminated "boarding pass." "10:45," he said, pointing to a schedule. I was perplexed. I went out to the bus and presented them with the items given to me.

"You're on the next one," I was told. My heart sunk. I stepped back a little to contemplate my situation. I had about 8 euros left, not counting the 5 US dollars in my wallet and the 100 US dollars emergency stash on my hidden travel belt. I looked at the boarding pass. "Why not stay at our cafe, your seat on the next bus is guaranteed!" I watched as they essentially threw two people off of the bus, and had to open up the luggage compartment so that they could retrieve their bags and wait for the next bus.

Knowing the seat was guaranteed, I headed for the train ticket terminal. I waited for the man ahead of me, who seemed to go through each step on the electronic screen at a snail's pace. I was hoping to save money by taking the bus, but perhaps the train could get me there sooner. I checked the time, 10:05. Finally it was my turn. Fortunately I was able to pay for the 14 euro ticket with my Visa card; I didn't want to waste time and money changing my emergency dollars into euros. Next train to Fiumicino AIrport: 10:20. 25 minutes earlier than the bus, plus the ride might be faster. My ticket said that plane boarding time was 10:40, and boarding is always a slow process of people and luggage, etc, so I figured that I would arrive by train at 10:50 and be fine; plenty of time before takeoff at 11:40. I hurriedly located the appropriate train. It's 10:08, oh I hope this is the right one, that sign said Fiumicino, right? I stood at the platform assessing the train and trying to figure out where I should get on and what to do with my recently-acquired ticket. A young boy drew my attention. "Mister, mister!" He guided me to a nearby automatic ticket validator and helped me insert my ticket for validation. I smiled and turned. "Mister, mister!" He led me the other way, onto the train and to an empty seat. He seemed a little suspicious at this point, but nonetheless I let him take my luggage and put it on the luggage rack. I sat down, and he held out his hand for a tip. I reluctantly reached for the 2 euro coin I received as change from the hotel and dropped it into his hand. He seemed disappointed and begged for "five." Of course I had a 5 euro bill in my wallet, but that was practically the last of my euros. I apologized and lied, "that's all the euros I have." After some amount of shrugging and apologetic "there's nothing I can do" hand gestures on my part, he finally gave up. He had the gall to ask for 5 euros for one minute's worth of unsolicited work? Seriously...

Well I arrived at the airport around 10:50 as anticipated. I managed to discover that I was at Terminal 3 and needed to be at Terminal 5. I also managed to find a bus that would apparently take me there for free. It was empty. "Terminal 5?" I inquired of the bus driver. He confirmed. I sat down and wondered when the bus would leave. It did so immediately, with me as the only passenger, how odd...

We arrived a few minutes later. I walked past the doors which said "enter" but were blocked off with caution tape, to the similar doors which permitted entry. The place was practically empty. Great! No long lines to wait through.

I walked over to a counter labeled US Airways, where a man was on the phone. I pulled out my boarding pass, worried that the printer may not have printed the barcode properly, and held it out to him. He seemed to spend a long time silent, waiting on the phone. "Today's flight? You missed it," he said nonchalantly. What? Apparently there was only one today. I confirmed, "to Philladelphia?" "Yes, you missed it." I was dumbfounded. He turned his attention back to the call. I looked at the time. 11:00. I checked the ticket, 11:40 departure. I waited a while, and then tired of waiting for his phone call. "I missed it? But it just started boarding 20 minutes ago." "You're too late." He was on and off of the phone, apparently one of the passengers didn't have his "boarding documents." The man in front of me was apparently determined to get that passenger on the plane at all costs, but couldn't care less about me.

"Hello, yes, this man doesn't have his boarding documents. If you could just fax them to me..." That person on the other end of the phone call was apparently an idiot, because this guy just repeated himself over and over. He had a British accent, but sometimes also spoke in Italian.

Another young man, possibly from the same conference, appeared behind me. "You're too late," he was informed. "But the plane doesn't leave for 35 minutes," he objected. "You're too late, you missed it." "But it hasn't taken off!" "It's taking off, you're too late." And yet on the phone he was saying things like "we can't let this man board without the documents," so obviously there was someone who was not yet on the plane but would be soon. I have my documents right here, let me on, I thought to myself. This man was wasting my time and I still didn't buy into what he was saying. My plane leaves in 1/2 an hour, and you are too busy (doing nothing on the phone) to help get me on my plane. I eyed the area. Perhaps I could just go through and find someone more reasonable to help get me on that plane?

Alas, there was no apparent alternative. Finally, during pauses in the phone call, he told me that he found the same plane route for me, but it would start tomorrow and end tomorrow evening. He handed me a printout, and started dealing with the man behind me. "Is this all I need?" I asked. "Yes," he responded, and mumbled something about getting the tickets at the desk the next day. "You must be here by 10:40." The next day's flight was also at 11:40.

I returned to Terminal 3 and found an info desk. I explained my situation and was told that the airport was open 24 hours a day and that I could rest in the chairs upstairs. I found an internet station, but it charged an obscene 12 euros an hour and wouldn't work with my credit card. How absurd. The cyber cafes near Roma Termini charged a tenth of that price, but of course a round trip would cost 30 euros by train. I pulled out the last bits of change I had, 1.20 euros, and managed to write 1 email, 1 Facebook post, and 1 text message (via google voice) in 6 minutes, informing relevant people of my plan changes.

Consider four particular sources of irritation for me today: the bus, the boy who asked for "five," the plane, and the internet station. Each scenario caused me varying levels of annoyance due to lack of justification. There was no explanation of why I couldn't just squeeze onto that bus. There was no basis for which the boy deserved 5 euros instead of just 2 or even none at all. The man at the airport seemed like an outright liar, simply asserting "you missed it" with no further elaboration. The internet station offered service no better than the cyber cafe; other than greed, what right had they to charge such an absurd price?

The human mind consistently asks why, as anyone with a preschooler can tell you. We crave understanding of the way the world around us works. A teen often wonders why he should listen to his parents. Tyrants and false gods are overthrown when the oppressed join their voices and ask why. (Silly example: the movie A Bug's Life.)

God works in mysterious ways. Do you think you are smarter than God? The prophets can see truths that are hidden from the rest of us. You don't have to undertand everything, just trust God and His servants.

These are the why-killers. When a customer gets uppity, it is easier to simply assert authority rather than detailing the processes and policies and reasoning behind them, especially when you have other customers and a pressing matter to attend to. The same mass production attitude can sometimes manifest itself in religion. The problem is that this doesn't actually answer the question. It does not satisfy the basic human desire to understand why. It is much easier to control a population of unquestioning disciples than curious questioners. Again, any parent can attest to this.

Listening to and speaking with Mormons about doubt, you will inevitably hear them mention "the shelf." When you come upon some unanswered question, some conflicting evidence, something that doesn't fit in with your current worldview, you essentially have two healthy choices: either immediately alter your beliefs to address the unanswered question, or "put it up on the shelf" pending further details or enlightenment. Usage of "the shelf" is to be encouraged, for it is a model that values all new input. It admits a certain level of humility: I may not have all the evidence. It adds a sort of safety buffer, allowing one to gradually shift one's thinking towards the truth, while protecting against deception. "The shelf" should perhaps be labeled "skepticism," or resisting the absorption of new and sensational information without consistent or compelling evidence to support it. Usage of the shelf should be cautioned against, lest the shelf be turned into a trash bin where anything that conflicts with one's worldview is sent to be ignored indefinitely. Careless use of the shelf can be a why-killer.

The Mormon religion boasts of exceptional why-answering capabilities. Ever wondered where you came from, why you're here, or where you're going? Mormonism bills itself as sort of a Christianity Plus, now with 30% more answers! But wait, there's more! Doctrines of living prophets and personal revelation mean that the Mormon canon remains open to refinement by a loving and caring God whose entire "work and glory" is to make us eventually all-powerful and all-knowing, like Him. What could possibly be more appealing to a why-asker than a direct and personal link to the very source of absolute truth?

But then, the truly curious person will eventually hit the boundaries. "There is still a lot we do not know about the afterlife." "Some things we may never know on this earth." Mormons claim that a portion of the Gold Plates (source text of the Book of Mormon) was sealed, because the world wasn't ready for this additional information. The world wasn't worthy to know yet. "Why should we expect more when we don't even take advantage of what we already have? I learn something new every time I re-read the Book of Mormon."

This seemingly sensible rhetoric pulls a strange and subtle trick. It turns curiosity into conformity. It turns doubt into complacency. It quietly suffocates "why," relegating your sincere questions to the shelf, and spoon-feeds you the answers you "should" care about instead. It turns the shelf into a trash bin, recommending that you distract yourself from disbelief. It brands you as arrogant and ungrateful for challenging the status quo, or honors you as wise and humble for abandoning doubt and displaying conformity.

This whole topic has an important connection to "free agency" or "free will." Mormons do not believe in predestination. Freedom to choose is central to God's plan. And yet religion is riddled with coercion and social pressure. We want to "help" people make the right decisions.

Freedom to ask "why" and seek answers for one's self is at the heart of free agency, and at the very core of Mormonism itself. Joseph Smith, the religious founder, claimed to see a vision of God and Jesus in response to his personal quest to find the truth. Various of his visions followed from asking questions about a passage of scripture. Missionaries encourage investigators to find out for themselves by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon.

Free agency and faith building are therefore concepts in tension. Again consider parenting. A child chooses to drink and drive, and the parents subsequently take away the car keys. Parents may forbid a child from hanging out with or dating someone who they know is involved in illegal drugs or unsafe sex. God, the perfect parent of us all, does not directly impose such restrictions on us. Why then, do we do so to our children? It is because we have a sense that they are not ready to make their own decisions yet.

The same seems to happen in a religious context. We try to apply social pressure to "help" our peers. "We are all at different stages of spiritual development, and we need each other to make it through. If we can just strengthen each other, then we can make it through moments of weakness unscathed. In essence, we should not be left to ourselves, entirely free to make mistakes."

We interrupt this program for an important message from Ms. Frizzle.

Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!

The Frizz's advice embodies curiosity, truth seeking, and the scientific method in a way that continues to impress me. I have a love/hate relationship with Mormonism. I value "free agency," or the right to ascertain truth and choose for one's self, more highly than anything. Mormonism pays lip service to the concept, but does not seem to respect free agency in practice.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I would have voted yes on Prop 8 (at the time)

Not quite Republican

In 2008, I was fresh off of my LDS mission. Having served for two years as a representative of Jesus Christ and His one true church, I returned to "The Lord's University," Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah.

Presidential elections were coming up. I've never tied myself to any one political party, and there was something about McCain that just didn't sit right with me. The president of the United States should be charismatic and inspirational. Obama clearly beat McCain in this regard. Since I wasn't very well read on the issues, and since Utah is guaranteed to go Republican anyways, I chose not to vote. But my family disliked it when I said I would have voted for Obama.

Proposition 8 and an easy solution

On the same ballot, there was a proposition made to alter the California state constitution to define "marriage" as man and woman only, thus excluding same-sex couples. On my mission I became increasingly aware of my own feelings of same-sex attraction, and lack of opposite-sex attraction. These feelings confused and scared me. The great plan of Happiness, that I had taught countless times as a missionary, held no place for same-sex couples. Why, then, did I fantasize kissing men? It just didn't make sense. I wanted to have my own Eternal Family: a wife and children, because that is what I was taught to want. The Family, a Proclamation to the World, made it quite clear that this is what I should strive for. This document was often called "prophetic," because it seemed to preemptively confront the issue of same-sex marriage. My beloved and favorite prophet, President Hinckley, had died while I was still on my mission. President Monson formed a new First Presidency, and not long after, issued a letter to the wards of California. This occured only days before I retured home from Argentina. The final paragraph was a clear call to action:

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

Now I was at this time living in Utah, not California. But this was the subject of conversation all over BYU campus, and came up sometimes in church meetings. "Satan is trying to destroy the core unit of God's plan: the family." I never quite bought into that one, but I personally had devised a simple solution to this problem.

Just don't call it marriage. Same-sex couples already have plenty of rights and tax benefits and stuff, right? Just call it "domestic partnership," or something, no big deal. I saw nothing wrong with allowing those people to be together. As long as they don't try to usurp the word "marriage," no harm done, right? After all, "marriage" for millenia has meant man and woman. Plus, man plus woman equals babies. It would be a disaster if we suddenly took laws intended for such baby-making relationships and applied them to same-sex couples. Right? So, equipped with a reasonable-sounding alternative, and fueled by religious doctrine -- the words of living prophets (or in Hinckley's case... recently departed) -- I would have voted Yes. Absolutely. My, how things have changed.

What changed?

If it came up again today, this same sort of proposition, then I would vote No. Absolutely. What changed? Well, rewind a year or two and I would have said Yes, even after some major changesMy testimony of living prophets had faded. I had finally admitted to myself that I was gay. I was in the closet, planning on just toughing it out at BYU and then start a new gay life somewhere, anywhere, outside of Utah. I had not told a soul that I was gay, nor what my plans were. My "alternative" seemed just fine. I craved companionship, but I didn't care what it was called. Love is love, and by any other name, it would still be the same.

So between then and now, what else changed? I started getting to know other gay people. I started reading books about gay people's lives. And then it clicked. Then it made sense. This is important. If you are someone who would vote Yes on Prop 8 today, first tell me how many gay people you actually know and have talked to personally about this.

I've learned that gay rights have a long way to go. I used to think that most states probably afforded gay couples most of the same rights as straight couples. Utah, it turns out, is awful at supplying these rights. Utah law goes out of its way to specifically ban joint adoption by a same-sex couple. Relatively few states supply a full range of rights and protections.

A thought exercise

Imagine if the state of Blah refused to recognize any marriage not performed by a Catholic priest. People married in other states, where the ceremony was performed by, say, a Mormon authority, would not be treated as a married couple in that state. These non-Catholic Unions were considered "unholy" and therefore such couples were deprived the right of joint adoption, and companies offering spousal benefits did not have to extend this to unholy unions. After all, an unholy union is unsuitable for raising children, right? Absurd. The law is blind to religious beliefs, and should only act based on solid evidence.

It should be called marriage

Love is love, whether between Catholics, Mormons, or two people of the same gender. But what you call it matters.

It should be called marriage. To invent a new term would be tantamount to labeling same-sex couples as inferior. And quite frankly, this is exactly what a lot of Americans want. Quite frankly, this is how I saw same-sex couples until just a few months ago. But they don't make babies. They are different. Well, we didn't invent a new term for infertile straight unions. The aged, those who are incapable, and those who choose not to have children. We do not throw them under the bus just because they aren't making babies. Laws that benefit raising children and giving childbirth surely already specify this additional condition. Where is the chaos? Where is the problem with including gay couples under the legal umbrella of marriage?


The problem of perception here is that people view same-sex attraction the wrong way. For a long time, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. "Homosexuality CAN be cured," stated a Mormon pamphlet. It was portrayed as contagious: what if the whole world turned gay? The whole of humanity would be wiped out in one generation! Look what happened to the Roman empire when homosexuality started to spread. How ridiculous.

Sexual orientation is not chosen, nor is it changeable. Being gay cannot be acquired, nor can it be cured. You cannot force yourself to feel the "fireworks" when you become romantically involved. It is a feeling that either happens or it doesn't.

My dear, well-intentioned straight Mormon acquaintances sometimes try to sympathize the wrong way. If you marry someone, and by some tragedy they are paralyzed, you would still care for them even though the sexual element isn't there. We all need to control our sexual urges.

These fail to recognize that at the most fundamental level, homosexuality is different. Falling in love with the "wrong" person isn't so bad, as long as you know you at least have the capability of falling in love with the "right" person. Gays are told that everyone they fall in love with is wrong. You should either forge a platonic heterosexual marriage, or live alone. Those who oppose same-sex marriage consider gay unions to be "inferior" to these other two options. They cannot see that love is love. Just because my natural loving inclinations don't match yours doesn't make it any less true love.

Some accuse gays of trying to force other people to accept them. If we give the gays "marriage," then they will wave their marriage certificates in our faces. We will have to let our school-going children be subjected to teachers that say that Gay is OK. Gays only want "marriage" in order to push the "gay agenda." My response to that is: yes. It is time for us to leave behind the superstitious and erroneous beliefs of the past. It is time to help gay teens to get past the shame, to see the worth in themselves, to prevent suicide and hate crimes. It is time for us to recognize that love comes in many shapes and flavors, but it is still love. If this which I have described is the "gay agenda," then yes. Let's push it forwards.

What is "hate"?

I sometimes wondered why gay people opposing prop 8 would use the term "hate" to describe supporters of the prop. At the time, I certainly didn't feel hatred for "those people." But I did see them as inferior. I did see it as "us versus them." I was told that Satan fueled "their" side of the argument, while God was on "our" side.

What is hatred? Is it loathing? Despising? At its core, it is "antagonizing." It is an "us versus them" situation where "we" are the protagonists, the heroes, and "they" are the antagonists, the villains. "Hating" someone means that they are not on my side. It connotes that we believe that "they" have wronged us, or will do so. Certainly not all of prop 8 supporters fall into this category. Some were simply heeding a prophet's voice. But the rhetoric used to support it was certainly hateful, under this definition of hate.

I hate the Mormon church. Now don't forget, I also love it. This church taught me to love serving others and to love the truth. But I hate it because it is me versus them. The leaders of this church have done me harm. Their teachings once led me to hate myself. Me versus myself: my same-sex attraction was doing me harm, because it did not fit in with God's plan. Hate is a natural thing for a human being to feel. What, then, is wrong with "hating" homos, according to this definition of hate?

Again, what's wrong is the spread of misinformation. Fear is used to keep people away from gays. Poor justifications, slippery slopes, exaggerate the "danger" of letting gays marry. Perceived harm is entirely invented. In short, the hate is unjustified.

The words "hate" and "discrimination" carry heavy negative connotations. However, both are perfectly natural and healthy things to do. There are perfectly acceptable situations where hatred and discrimination are justified. It is in those situations when they are not justified that the negative connotation arises. Gender, race, sexual orientation, it is simply unjustified to discriminate based on these factors for, say, choosing who to hire.


Using any word but marriage is unjustified discrimination. Why is it necessary to separate this particular case? What lawful purpose does it serve? There is none. It merely serves the biases of those who hold unjustified hatred in their hearts. Those who believe it is them versus the gays.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Growing up gay in the Mormon bubble

"Don't look under the Playstation," my friends cautioned. I was young, perhaps in fifth or sixth grade. Of course, how could I resist? Curiosity got the better of me and I looked. Underneath my friend's playstation was a picture of a woman's breasts. I immediately recoiled. "We told you not to look."

My childhood and teenage years were characterized with religious zeal. As a young teen, I was cautioned about the perils of premarital sex and pornography. Sex was, at that age, a topic that elicited giggles and awkwardness. "A condom is like a sheath for the penis," I read in a sex-ed textbook. "Oookay, that's all I need to know..." I said to myself as I slowly closed the book. After all, I wouldn't be needing condoms. I would save myself for that special woman that would be my wife for time and all eternity.

I knew what the term "gay" meant. Nobody ever explained it to me, but somehow from the way it was joked about, I knew. My friends and I made liberal use of the word "gay" as a general derogatory term. When we played video games and lost, we might exclaim, "That's so gay!" or just "Gay!" to express disappointment at the outcome. I recall a few friends adopted the term "Jew" for much the same purpose. "Don't be such a Jew," they would say. This word selection seemed odd to me, but I thought nothing of it. "Retarded" and "dumb" were similarly used. I got the subtle message that such people, the homosexuals, the Jewish, the mentally handicapped, were undesirables. I believe one or two friends may have also used the term "nigger," but I always knew that race discrimination was wrong. I assumed that "nigger" and "Jew" were used almost jokingly. I doubt any of my friends harbored serious ill will towards these groups. "Gay," however, simply wasn't openly talked about at all, except in jest and insult.

The topic came up once or twice in religious Seminary meetings, probably during studies of the New Testament, particularly the Pauline epistles. (In light of the apostle Paul's homophobic remarks and views on marriage, I am now led to believe that he was himself a closet case.)

Still, little was said about homosexuality. All we really needed to know was that it is wrong and it destroys civilizations. Homosexual behavior, we were taught, is a perversion of the sacred powers of procreation that God has given us. We were told nothing about what makes someone feel sexually attracted to the same gender. Most students certainly couldn't fathom it. It was clearly a very bizarre thing to do, a crime against nature. How distorted and sinful one must be to stoop to such depths of perversion to satisfy sexual desire.

This line of reasoning made perfect sense to me. I just filed homosexual sin right alongside heterosexual fornication and adultery. These thoughts disgusted me. I held women in high regard; I would never dream of making such a mistake with a woman. I respected women too much, I respected myself too much, I respected God too much to fall into such transgression. This attitude I ascribed to personal righteousness and devotion. Now I see that there was perhaps another element that influenced my feelings on the matter.

Despite this rhetoric, I still had a sense that "gay" people were essentially different. A few rare guys I knew did not behave very... manly. A "theater geek" or two, perhaps. I, in contrast, was very math and science oriented. Gay people like shopping. They like to look fabulous. They like cleanliness to the point of being OCD. None of these things described me. I did love to sing and play the piano, but this is hardly unusual for a Mormon boy.

I recall one evening at the dinner table. I made a remark in an effeminate voice, mostly as a joke. My mother told me not to do that, even jokingly, because it could quickly become habit. And I wouldn't want anyone to think I was... like that. Mormonism encourages very traditional gender roles. The man is the breadwinner and the muscle, while the woman is the homemaker and caretaker of children. It was the men's responsibility to ask women on dates. This baffled me. In our age of gender equality, why should dating be so lopsided? My future wife and I would be equals.

Perhaps part of the reason I felt this way was because of my lack of interest in dating. I just didn't see the point. Sure, I went to prom, because that's what you're supposed to do. I had a great, chaste evening  both times I went to prom, with women that I really admired. (One per prom! Mormons don't do polygamy these days.) I knew that I was supposed to eventually find an eternal companion, a woman to spend the rest of my life with, and more than that, the rest of eternity, too! But prior to serving a religious two-year mission (which is expected of every faithful Mormon boy) this seemed utterly unimportant to me. The other boys that seemed to feel... urges sooner than I; dating was for them. To kiss, to cuddle, to satisfy their early-onset need to be with a woman. But me, I could wait. I had no trouble putting off courtship until after the all-important missionary service.

During those teenage years, I never felt "tempted" to look at a woman "inappropriately." I didn't seem to see women the same way my friends did. I attributed this to personal righteousness, all that prayer and scripture study was surely paying off! My reaction to even the slightest hint of pornography was the same as my reaction as a young boy to the picture under the Playstation. From a religious point of view, this was good. This was the correct response: being so close to the Holy Ghost that even the very thought of evil was repulsive. I could pat myself on the back for living a chaste life, for not falling to that devastating sin of premarital sex. My lack of sexual feelings for women could be written off as righteousness. But, what about my attraction to men?

Well, there was simply nothing to be done with that feeling. My world view simply didn't admit it. The nature of homosexuality was so taboo, so mischaracterized, that for a long time I simply didn't see it for what it was. I knew something was different about me. I didn't feel the urge to go out on dates or make out with girls or any of that stuff. A few friends had girlfriends. Others talked about girls' beauty or attractiveness. Some, like me, did not. Most of this latter group were surely straight. We all develop sexual urges at different rates. Mine probably developed later rather than sooner.

The Mormon view I grew up with depicted homosexuality as a dead end. Homosexual behavior was the result of abandoning God and succumbing to one's carnal desires, leading to a chaotic end and meaningless life of promiscuity, STDs, drugs, and alcohol. This could not possibly be the life for me, a valiant and faithful son of God, one of the few chosen people to have been born and raised in the one true church of God. I did not see this as arrogant; I was humbled and honored to be entrusted with so great a blessing and responsibility.

I was destined for greatness. I grasped the teachings of the church quickly and easily. I thought carefully and responded thoughtfully to teachers' questions in Sunday School. I was a "spiritual" person. I had, by the age of 14, read the Book of Mormon, cover to cover, and received spiritual confirmation that it was true. My parents were (and still are!) stellar Mormons, and of course, just wonderful people in general. My older sister was an exemplary young woman. She was like my second mother. When we were very young, she would come back from school and teach me the things she learned: rudimentary reading, writing, and possibly arithmetic.

I loved learning. Church and school were both places where I could excel. Meanwhile, basketball, football, baseball, and soccer were all second-rate in my eyes. Sure, I enjoyed a little soccer now and then, but the other boys' fascination with football and basketball perplexed me. I preferred video games, and could play them for hours on end. I settled on tennis, which I quite enjoyed. I was on the high school junior varsity tennis team, which was a lot of fun.

I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood at 12 years of age, as are most Mormon boys. I served in various quorum presidencies, and was at one time the Teacher's Quorum President. I wasn't perfect, but these leadership opportunities taught me the importance of thinking about and caring about others. Life for a teen can become so very self-centered: with all the pressure there is to do well in high school (because it "actually counts" and affects your future) is it any wonder that teens feel like the world revolves around them? I am deeply grateful for the opportunities the church gave me to serve others and "forget myself."

As a young boy, I was short and skinny. Sometime around middle school I became roughly average height (still on the short side) but still was exceptionally thin. I disliked this, probably because I was easily displaced and pushed around as a child. I remember in elementary school my friends would pick me up from behind and carry me around. When I felt the need to assert control, I would kick my heel into their shin. This seemed dramatic and unwarranted to them, but was necessary at times to me. I remember one time at a boy scout day camp, a good friend was teasing me, holding my pencil up out of my reach. I bit his arm, not very hard, but it was weird.

During junior high years, the young men and young women occasionally went to the Bountiful Bubble for a swimming party. The boys would dunk each other, and again, I was easy pickings. There was only one or two other boys that I could manage to dunk by myself; I was too scrawny. I envied the stronger, heftier boys.

Perhaps innately, or perhaps out of necessity, I developed a very acquiescent personality. I became a people pleaser by a very early age. Almost everyone liked me. I craved acceptance and praise, and that is exactly what I got. I was the "good influence" friend that my friends' parents adored. Gay children sometimes turn out this way, because the receive a subtle message that they are flawed or "wrong" for having same-sex attraction, so they feel the need to make up for it, to prove that they are lovable.

Although I was well-liked, I still felt feeble, fragile. I was starting to fit into the "skinny white nerd" role, and though I prided myself in being the "intelligent" one, I was still dissatisfied about my physical stature. I envied the heftier boys. I stole glances while in the boys' locker room, wishing I could be more like them. The super muscular look never appealed to me, but with a moderate increase in fat and muscle, I could be less scrawny and more "normal."

Of course, the thought of working out bored me. I was an intellectual. I didn't want to become a "jock," focused on building muscle. I also wasn't particularly concerned with my own looks, since unlike the other boys, I was not naturally inclined to look good for the ladies.

Well, this being the turn of the millenium, I naturally turned to the internet for assistance. "How to gain weight," I queried. Of course, the internet is riddled with advice on how to lose weight, so I often found myself wading and sifting through mountains of drivel. I browsed various forums on building muscle, but was often put off by the hypermuscular ideal and pseudosciencey "jock" feel that such discussion boards carried.

I stumbled across a different kind of weight gain community: "gainers" and "encouragers." This was a male community with relatively diverse tastes, but an apparently similar goal to my own: to be less scrawny. The hyper muscular look was not the goal here. Finally, I had found some like-minded individuals. (Little did I realize how like minded we truly were.) I loved seeing pictures posted to these sorts of websites: men who had successfully put on weight. It was like the reverse of those various weight loss before and after images. I was fascinated by these sorts of counter-culture success stories. I looked at these images and thought to myself, "I want to be like that."

As I learned to refine my internet searches to locate this community, I also learned that this area was riddled with male pornography. I learned to used advanced search features to weed out websites that referred to sexual terms. I wasn't interested in porn. And yet, when I reviewed these images of shirtless, beefy men, I felt good. I was aroused. But I told myself that I was looking at them to remind myself that I was not alone in my desire to put on weight.

I came to understand that the community I was mentally associating myself with was gay: it was apparently a sub-culture of the "bear" community, which idealizes a "manly" gay man over the stereotypical effeminate high-fashion gay man. But it wasn't necessarily gay, I told myself. My internet searches also led me to find things such as BBW and fat acceptance. I didn't know what to make of my sexual arousal at seeing shirtless guys, so I just tried to ignore it, although I kept coming back for more.

Eventually my parents confronted me about it. Since wanting to gain weight was so strange,  and the pictures that I had looked at were embarrassing to me, I would never do it while others were around. But one way or another, they found out. And despite my attempts to avoid images depicting genitals, I could never completely avoid them. I was worried that they had first confronted my older sister about it, but did not voice this concern. I explained to my parents about how I wanted to be fatter, and how I had used search features to avoid rather than locate sexual content, which was absolutely true.

I don't recall exactly how the conversation went, but I do know that I omitted the part about being aroused. I didn't understand it myself, and of course that isn't why I was seeking out this community. I was no longer to look at those pictures, and was to pray about my desire to gain weight. It was one of those situations where your parents let you make your own choice, as long as you make the right one, which in this case was to abandon the silly notion.

Of course, none of this affected my physique as a teen. I was a picky eater, and in fact, eating just seemed like a chore, a tedious task to be completed each day. Throughout my teenage years and into my early twenties, I remained fairly skinny.

Being a stalward and faithful Mormon boy, I was naturally interested in EFY ("Especially For Youth," a week-long religious retreat for Mormon youth such as myself. I believe I went at ages 13 and 15 to BYU and BYU-Idaho, respectively). EFY is a time of short-lived pseudo-romance. Youth are separated into small groups of boys and girls, where each group is led by one male and one female counselor, usually a college student at the corresponding university. Inevitably, one or more pairs are formed between boys and girls from the group.

Being a young teen, I, like many other boys, hoped for a little romance. Mormons are encouraged not to date until age 16, but romantic pairings, especially in the limited context of EFY, often occurred earlier. One girl in my group noticed how shy and introverted I was, and decided to "crack" me. In truth it took little more than getting to know me and gaining my trust to loosen my tongue (to talk!). I noticed and reciprocated the extra attention from her. I explored my romantic desires, and was pleased by the idea of a loving companion. I kissed her on the hand, which somehow got miscommunicated to the other boys in my group, who applauded my manliness for stealing a kiss. I didn't bother to correct this misconception, since I enjoyed the validation, which rarely came to me in this form. There was a very real sense of appeal that this short-lived relationship had for me, but it was purely based on the comfort of a companion; in retrospect, I felt no sexual arousal towards my "girlfriend." Of course, I did not expect arousal to be involved; my religion provided and in fact encouraged a life of non-sexuality before marriage. Especially given the "strange" nature of my erections, I simply did not realize that this component might be important to or common for other boys in their relationships. Our culture (Mormon or not) certainly neglects to portray this basic element of romance, and encourages the obscuring of such an indicator, relegating the issue to awkward humorous scenes.

My next EFY led to a much different form of romance. I became very emotionally attached to one of the boys in our group. He and his brother were reluctant to be there; they had serious doubts about the church and their parents sent them to EFY as sort of a last-ditch effort to get them to "see the light." While the other people in the group seemed to slightly distance themselves from this boy when they detected the edge of cynicism in his voice, I instead befriended him. I took it upon myself to be his friend, somewhat similar to how my "girlfriend" from the other year had made me her pet project. I recall one evening, our group was in a classroom, and we took turns sharing our testimonies, as moved upon by the Holy Ghost. My friend exited a little early, and I followed him to his dorm. We talked. He revealed his doubts, and I bore my testimony. At one point, he got emotional and seemed to be in distress. I specifically remember throwing my scriptures (which for that week had practically become an extension of my hand) onto his bed and beckoning for an embrace. We hugged. I had an erection. I remember feeling annoyed by this. Why did my body have to have that random reaction now? A few days later I confronted him and asked him if he had felt the Spirit yet that week. He lied, and said, "Yeah, I did feel something." It was an obvious cop-out, but for some reason I believed him. I followed his blog for a short time afterwards and was deeply disappointed to see him breaking commandments and further distancing himself from the church. I couldn't stop thinking about him. I had become extremely attached.

I reported this experience (sans the arousal, of course) to my seminary class as an opener to a lecture entitled "Godly Sorrow." The day's lecture was on sorrow for sin which leads to repentance, but I had misinterpreted the purpose of the title to mean "sorrow like that which God feels when his children go astray." I believe one of my few "nemeses" was present in that class. This particular nemesis likely recognized my unusual emotional attachment to this other boy for what it was, and occasionally called me "gay" thereafter. I never quite made the connection, and simply assumed that he was using the term as a generic insult, though I did notice that this was apparently his insult of choice for me. In retrospect, he may not have even intended insult; perhaps he was simply calling out the unusual.

In junior high, I had a secret (female) admirer for a short time. She left a note or two in my locker, and for Easter she left a pink stuffed bunny riddled with white hearts. I was flattered, although the bunny was a bit weird. Somehow I discovered who it was. I did not reciprocate the little acts of love, but at the next school dance, I asked her to dance with me. She asked if my friends had put me up to it. I assured her that it was of my own free will. She was a fine young woman, and for me, there was always a sense of formality and conforming to social norms connected with asking a girl to dance. I did not realize that perhaps some people were motivated by a basic physical attraction; for me it was all theatrical - political, even - and this fit well into my intellectual and pious worldview.

Around my 16th birthday, my parents agreed to get a car for me to drive, once I completed my Eagle Scout award. I earned the award, and we got a used white Mustang. The "terms" were unclear, but part of the expectation was that I would use the car for Junior Prom. I had an idea of who I wanted to ask to the prom, but the appeal was again theoretical, political, and social, rather than a basic natural desire to be physically close to someone. I again noticed that other teens were more interested in the idea of the prom than I was. I again failed to notice that this was probably due to my sexuality. My date confronted me and asked me if I had indeed asked her out only for the sake of having the car. I assured her that it was due to sincere interest, and indeed it was, as sincere an interest as I could have (and have ever had) in a woman. I can only wonder how my date heard about my parents' conditions. I can only wonder how many of my peers suspected that I was gay. At the time, I was totally oblivious.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Harvey Milk San Francisco Airport

‎Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.

I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine.

If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.

~ Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California and the United States. Assassinated November 27, 1978. He was shot five times, twice in the head. Harvey Milk stood up for me before I was even born. He worked to make the world a better place for gay people, even though it was unpopular, dangerous, and fatal.

Where better to honor Harvey Milk's legacy of acceptance and welcoming than SFO airport? Please support this petition. Especially if you have any connection to San Francisco. Come out, and show the world that everyone deserves to be welcomed into San Francisco.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Self-torment and infallibility, reprise

After certain bits of feedback on my previous post, Why I Resigned From the Mormon Church, I feel it necessary to clarify something.

An issue bigger than Mormonism

* I think you are describing an issue much bigger than Mormonism and you are mis-characterizing Mormonism for someone like me... I see value for me, my family, and the world really in being "one with the Saints". I think that people who struggle often expect too much of themselves or the Saints; would be much happier if they took things more on their own terms; and can find validation in that approach by drinking deeply of the doctrine and advice of past leaders.
* I do disagree with you on one point: I think all churches are like that - just others are nicer and less insistent about it all. There is something about the mono-theistic god of Abraham that just leads to the creation of diseased, power hungry, organizations.
It seems that I started writing a blog post about the reasons I chose to resign from the LDS church, and ended up describing "an issue much bigger than Mormonism." The way that I described it may have made it appear that I was criticizing Mormonism in contrast to other religions. I apologize. While I was speaking of my personal experience (which is specifically with Mormonism), I wish to clarify that "this issue" is much larger than me, and much larger than any one religion. In this sense I may have spoken too narrowly. Again, I apologize.

I also want to mention that my perceptions and characterizations of Mormonism are not universal; they are probably most characteristic of "Utah Mormons" and growing up in the church, but even so your experience may vary. In this regard I may have spoken too broadly. Again, I apologize.

However, do note that I have also received several pieces of feedback echoing my experience and confirming that this is indeed an issue present in Mormonism. I don't highlight these to boast of my writing skill, but rather, to add weight to what I've said. I highlight these responses to help you, dear reader, to understand that mine is not a unique and unusual experience. This is much bigger than just me, but for taking the liberty of sharing my personal experience I do not apologize.
* ... never once in my whole life (well, the part when I started doubting) was I able to explain what was going on and why I felt that way, and you have done it.
* I've been making my own journey with the church and have realized many of the same things.
* Wow. This is so close to the open letter I wrote to friends and family.
* I felt like I was reading my own journal.
* Nice story... sounds almost identical to mine
* ... [this] really resonates with me and I had a pretty similar experience.

The larger problem of self-torment

The self-loathing problem is an issue that all people deal with. Anyone that fails to meet expectations (aka is human) is vulnerable: the addict that succumbs once again to addiction; the person that hates his body, forms an eating disorder, and then hates himself even more; the perfectionist that procrastinates. Guilt and shame are dangerous feelings, but it is important at least to recognize them and allow yourself to feel them. These feelings start causing the most damage with the addition of uncertainty, and accelerate into self-loathing. It is easy to wonder if you are the one "at fault" for something, and then place the burden of proof upon yourself, assuming guilt until proven innocent. Of course, it is just as dangerous to place blame on others. This whole idea of blame and fault has caused a lot of damage to the human race.

I am going to expand the "problem" to a classification larger than "self-loathing." This term implies an active and conscious hatred of the self. This is indeed a serious and very real problem, but I don't quite feel it accurately describes my experience. Mine was a passive and subconscious hatred. It was fueled by uncertainty, of questions left unanswered. It manifested itself not in the form "I hate myself," but rather in the subtler and more commonplace "I hate life right now; I can't wait until this phase of life is over." I feel this is closely related to self-loathing. I will use the term "self-torment" as an umbrella term for the general idea behind both the conscious and the subconscious torment I have described.

Some beliefs about God can exacerbate self-torment

As I detailed in my previous post, beliefs regarding a God that cares about and intervenes in the littlest details of our lives, and a God that causes or allows us to suffer the consequences of our own actions (particularly of sin), can lead to unintended guilt and shame. The failure to receive "blessings" at some given  moment when they are needed can make one question why. Some choose to blame God, but religions counsel strongly against this. "God is perfect; He is never to blame. If you feel angry with God, it is your own fault for doubting; God's ways are higher than ours, you should trust His wisdom." Some choose to blame themselves, assuming guilt in the absence of tangible ways to prove their innocence. Sometimes this blame may be justified. If guilt can be proven, then it can be accepted, digested, and resolved. What is worse is when you are left wondering, when that sneaking insinuation seems like it might be unjustified but you still can't dismiss it entirely.

Claims of infallibility can exacerbate self-torment

This is the concern I have particularly with Mormonism, though please recognize that again this sort of problem is much bigger than just this one religion. I touched on this already in the previous section: "God is perfect; He is never to blame." Most religions have some central kernel of truth which is considered infallible. For many Christian religions, it is the Bible. For some, it is the divinely chosen leaders. Even if the documents or people are considered fallible, there is often a sentiment that certain things they say are obviously the absolute truth, straight from God.

Whenever an individual reaches a personal decision or conviction that is in conflict with this perceived absolute truth, she experiences cognitive dissonance. How could I reach this feeling that is in conflict with the truth? Either I'm wrong, or my religion is wrong. Of course, this is often a false dichotomy; the religion may retract or rescind that particular teaching and illustrate that this particular teaching was not part of the infallible body of absolute truth. Nevertheless, this doesn't change how people feel prior to such a change. If the teaching is presented as if it were infallible, then the religious follower will probably take it that way. When she feels this way, the individual must then weigh this one issue against the entire truthfulness of her religion, and there is immense pressure to conclude "I'm wrong" leads her to wonder, why.

And thus the doors open again for self-torment to take hold. "I'm wrong because I've sinned, or failed to repent fully of past sin." Perhaps the sin is simply a sin of omission. "Did I do any good in the world today? ...if not I have failed indeed." High standards are dangerous things to a person that is already struggling with self-torment; every slip up becomes an opportunity to blame yourself for doubt, because the church's infallibility means that you are wrong.

Social pressure exacerbates the infallibility problem

Within Mormon culture, I've felt a lot of social pressure to conform. Again, this is hardly unique to Mormons; the related concepts of "holier than thou" and "keeping up with the Joneses" are widely known. In my Wikipedia-editing days (I'd like to say those aren't over, but I've not attended to Wikipedia for quite some time) I worked alongside a passionate ex Jehovah's Witness. I tried to temper his seemingly venomous desire to "expose" that religion as fraudulent and manipulative. Considering his experience in light of my own recent experiences leaving my church, I now understand his feelings much more clearly.
Over the years I became increasingly disenchanted with the regimentation of Witnesses and the imposition of rules, the denial of personal choice in many areas, the senseless parroting of stock phrases and ideas and the smugness of Witnesses about their own religion and their arrogant, derisive dismissal of the lifestyles and life choices of non-Witnesses. 
I became sickened by the mindless acceptance and sometimes ecstatic reception of empty and repetitive talks given at Witness conventions and assemblies. 
My concern grew over the ceaseless demands by the Watch Tower organization to report "field service" and I felt betrayed when I came to realise that the number of hours' service one was expected to report was used by congregation elders as the ultimate measure of one’s spirituality. 
I became dismayed to realise that for most Witnesses, their regular attendance at field service groups and congregation meetings was done mainly to satisfy the expectations of other Witnesses and to avoid accusations that one was "slacking off". Yet eventually that became my prime motive in attending meetings and pretending to "go witnessing" as well — to avoid the judgmental comments of other Witnesses. 
And so, after enduring much unhappiness, frustration and silent anger as a Jehovah’s Witness — for one cannot voice these criticisms, even to one’s closest friends, for fear they will report you to elders as an apostate and a murmurer — I chose to cease associating with the Witnesses. Those Witnesses I count as true, close friends were dismayed at my withdrawal, but because they have been well primed by Watch Tower publications and talks to be wary of anyone who strays from the norm, they also became immediately suspicious of my motives, even though I declined to give them any reason for my decision.I realised after some time that within their closed community — a claustrophobic, sycophantic, incestuous community they describe as a “spiritual paradise” — gossip and backbiting are the norm. One is always watched by other Witnesses, who are always waiting to judge, criticise and condemn the people they call their "brothers and sisters".
(Read the rest of the old version of that user page. I would link to a better source if I could, but I was in fact one of the people involved in suggesting that this content be removed due to its irrelevance to Wikipedia. Here's a text dump just in case it gets permanently removed.)

Guilt is used as a tool to suppress independent thought

This is what makes me mad. This is what makes me wonder if I will ever believe in God again. Self loathing is bad enough, but is especially so when it is compounded with the "doubt is your fault" issue heaped on top and reconfirmed by both doctrine and social atmosphere. It is bad because it does unnecessary harm to the questioning mind, but worse because it suffocates the healthy habit of asking meaningful, hard questions, and coming up with different, novel, unique answers.

This issue is larger, even, than religion. Pressure to conform to "the system" is present anywhere that a good system is sought after. I've seen it in schools, in politics, even in programming language communities. A particular dogma is upheld, and a group or organization's very existence revolves around it. Then people related to the group raise questions that challenge ideas that have, until that point, simply been assumed.

Asking the wrong questions

Let me pick on my favorite programming language, Haskell, as an example. Haskell is a fascinating language because it enforces certain things that other languages don't. It very strongly encourages a particular style of programming. A great community of people has formed around this language. There is a sort of "Haskell mentality" that must be learned in order to be effective with this programming language, because there are a few things that make it fundamentally different than most of the popular languages: C, Java, Python, etc. It is often the case that someone will come from another language, and try to learn Haskell. They will ask the Haskell community, "How do I do X?" Now, very likely, he has overspecified X. He wants to do something the same way that he did it in his old programming language. Although Haskell is fantastic at supporting multiple paradigms, it is common for the educated Haskeller to take this opportunity to indoctrinate the newbie in the ways of Haskell. "What you really want to do is Y." If we can just indoctrinate this newbie into "the Haskell way" of thinking, then it'll be much easier for him to use Haskell. This sounds fine to "insiders," but can alienate "outsiders" and come off as arrogant or annoying. (Whenever you have an "us vs them" situation, red flags should be going up in your mind.)

A few friends in the Haskell community were talking about another programming language which shall remain unnamed. Consider how similar this is to the religious/infallibility situation (names changed for anonymity/fun):
Alice: In the [Blub irc channel] it's impossible to get answers to deeper technical questions. Instead of admitting that they don't know the answer, people resort to annoying "you don't really want that questions".
Bob: “You don't really want to do that” kind of answers really bug me. And I wish people were happier with not knowing something. There's a tendency on IRC in general for people to try to maintain some kind of “clean sheet” of always being right, or appearing to be. That's profoundly unhealthy. Come on guys, no one thinks or cares that you don't know everything, they're happy that you're paying any interest at all.
Eve: I tend to do that (try to appear right) as well, and I find it's harder than I might think to change. It takes a lot of self-awareness to catch myself doing it.
 Alice: I wanted to [X] ... and I was asking if someone knew [about related thing Y]. Apparently I'm wrong for wanting this and it's not possible to answer this question [Y] (according to a couple of people on the channel) unless I explain why I want [X].
This is a tricky topic to talk about, and I want to touch on another aspect of it before I return to my main point. Jesus was a master of not answering the question asked, but instead striking at the heart the underlying issue. This is because the pharisees often asked Jesus questions with the malicious intent of tripping him up. I don't believe that it is inherently wrong to respond to a question with "you're asking the wrong question." However, it is nevertheless a warning sign that the respondent might be in a reality distortion field.

You're holding it wrong: shifting the blame

Keeping the discussion light before we delve back into the depths of seriousness. Apple fans are sometimes accused of succumbing to the "reality distortion field." I googled "apple holding it wrong" to refresh my memory on the iPhone 4 issue where holding it a certain, fairly standard way caused it to lose reception, and Steve Jobs simply suggested not holding it that way. I was amused to find more recent articles on the iPhone 5 "purple lens flare" camera issue. Apparently some unfortunate AppleCare support employee suggested angling the camera differently, and the internet again took the opportunity to make fun of Apple's reality distortion field.

So what should Apple have done? "No good deed goes unpunished," so the saying goes. Just because dearly departed Mr. Jobs or some AppleCare employee tried to suggest holding the phone in a way that avoided the issue, they got a lot of flack. Was this justified? Perhaps. People wanted a full apology, a public admission that serious mistakes were made, especially considering the level of care, thought, and pride that Apple invests in its user experience. Instead, by this sort of suggestion, the blame subtly got shifted from Apple to the consumer. Having a problem with your iThing? It's your fault. Now, Apple didn't say this, but nevertheless, the connotation was there. It was felt. The unspoken infallibility. The upheld dogma and ideal, the discouragement of doubt in the organization. Do you see how this issue infects not only Mormonism, not only religion, but the entirety of our society? Do you see how it isn't just a problem with the ones transmitting the message, but also with the ones receiving it? There is something wrong with the way we perceive the world, the way we value dogma and high standards. But there is something right about it, too; it's not all wrong.

Infallibility, insufficient apology, and suppression

The Mormon church, starting at an unknown time and up until 1978, denied blacks the priesthood, and therefore, also denied them temple ordinances, which are (according to Mormon theology) necessary for exaltation in the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom. The first presidency issued an official declaration in 1949 called the "Negro Question" declaration.
The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time.
It goes on to imply (though does not state in clear terms) that blacks would become white and then be given the priesthood, but only after "all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood," which seems to me to refer to the resurrection. In 1978, the first presidency issued and the church membership accepted what is now known as "Official Declaration 2." Here are some excerpts:
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood... He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come... Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.
If we are to believe both of these documents, then we conclude that God for some reason banned blacks from the priesthood, and then later un-banned them, without supplying a reason. Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle of the church, had the following to say at a CES Symposium:
... all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet... It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.
Absolutely chilling. Throw out all logic, all reason, all questions, and get in line. And if you don't, then you obviously need to repent; your disbelief is your own fault. I used to look up to McConkie as a great scholar, but this disgusts me. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of scholarship. This breaks my heart.

In 1997, the church was asked to officially repudiate the 1949 declaration, but President Hinkley responded "The 1978 declaration speaks for itself ... I don't see anything further that we need to do." This saddens me. President Hinkley was my hero. How could he not see the damage the church has done? How could he not see "anything further that we need to do," in the face of a direct request for apology? Ironically, in 2004 (While Hinkley was still president), the state of Illinois issued an official apology for the persecution of the Mormons which drove them from the state in the mid 19th century. Wasn't it enough that Illinois laws now prohibit such discrimination based on religion, and welcome Mormons with open arms?

A related aside: The Family

As a gay man, President Hinkley has dealt me yet another slap in the face, issued in 1995 by the first presidency, known as The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God... We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife... Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.
In other words, my natural inclinations to seek and love a male partner are not of God, and children are entitled to better than being raised by me and my true love (whomever that turns out to be; it will certainly be a man). Why don't you just stab me in the heart, it would probably hurt less than this. This proclamation additionally makes some claims about gender which invalidate the feelings and choices of transgender people. I am not transgender, but as I have learned more about the LGBT community I have learned more about these wonderful, terribly misunderstood people. It just breaks my heart that the church I loved so dearly, the church I believed in so sincerely, would say these things. I hope that one day the church will issue an apology for this hurtful proclamation. If there is a God, then there is no possible way that these wonderful feelings of love and affection inside of me are not from Him, just because they are for the "wrong" gender.

These things don't just make me sad. They make me angry. I feel rage when I think about it. I feel furious. I feel betrayed. I feel vulnerable, and wounded, and put on the defensive. I feel like lashing out. I feel like decrying the Mormon religion as an awful lie. There are so many good aspects to the church; decrying it as a complete fraud would be a very skewed view of what it really is. But can you see why some people feel driven to speak out against the church after they leave? The church teaches that this is because they hate God, hate the light, hate the truth. They have joined Satan and his cause: they are hellbent on destroying God's work. This illustration is so terribly mistaken.

It isn't because of Satan, or sin, that I feel like speaking out against the church. It is because of the pain, the rage, the betrayal. It is because the church made it so agonizingly difficult to leave. It is because of how deeply I loved the church and the ideals I thought it stood for. It is because the church broke my heart. As the saying goes, the only ones that can hurt you the most are the ones you love most dearly. I will avoid pointing to things and saying "look, this is evidence that the church is wrong," despite the temptation to do so. Instead, I will merely point out the things the church does that I feel are hurtful, and I will share my personal feelings and experiences. But I can see much more clearly now, why some people do speak out. Why after they leave the church, they want to tear it down.

Validation and understanding

The next time someone asks an uncomfortable question, or raises a serious doubt, that challenges your own dogma, your own assumptions, your own beliefs, do yourself a favor. Don't blame them for questioning or doubting. Don't just try to indoctrinate them with your dogma. It is unhealthy to just ignore it. You don't have to have all the answers. It's OK to say "I don't know." But remember, people need validation. People crave acceptance, they want to be heard and understood. When you tell them "you shouldn't ask that question" or "you shouldn't have that doubt," or to "fall in line," or that "it doesn't matter," you are invalidating them. You are telling them that you don't care, that it's their fault, and they need to go fix themselves. This hurts. It damages relationships, and drives them away from you and your dogma, because nobody likes feeling invalidated. Voicing honest questions and doubts puts people in a vulnerable position; the last thing you want to do is betray that trust by taking advantage of the temporary vulnerability.

Instead, try to reach a mutual understanding. What does that person feel? Why? It is extremely therapeutic to hear the words "I know how you feel," when they are sincere. (They can be very insulting when perceived as insincere or inaccurate.) The next best thing to hear is "I understand why you feel the way you do." You have the opportunity and responsibility to heal the self-torment of those around you.

Additional advice

If you are the one with questions and doubts, then I applaud you. That doesn't mean you have to abandon your beliefs. That doesn't prove that your church is wrong. It just means that you have a healthy, functioning brain and a good sense of curiosity. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions and raise the doubts. The truth will outshine everything else. Again, it's OK to not know all the answers. That doesn't mean that you should stop looking for them, though. And that certainly doesn't mean that you should "fall in line" and mindlessly join the rest of the drones. You are unique. No one on earth has the same biology or the same experiences as you. We are all lenses through which the truth can be discovered. Don't just rely on the tradition you grew up with. Use your head. Follow your heart. Ask a Mormon convert to share her story with you; you should recognize these elements in her story: questions, doubts, individual experience, breaking from the norm, being true to one's self. Never succumb to the idea that you just "got lucky" and struck gold on the first try, that you stumbled upon the whole truth and need look no further. Always reach for more. Always be open and receptive.

If you are dealing with self-torment, know that you can change this. Inspect your feelings and admit to yourself that sometimes you lay too much guilt on yourself. Forgive yourself. Talk with those you love about it. Give them a chance to validate you. Find the people that can help you, and don't expose yourself to people that consistently invalidate you. Seek out a therapist or support group as appropriate. There is healing. There is hope. There are people that will love you and help you. Even if you think you have no one else (which is probably not the case), you can always shoot me an email.