Thursday, May 22, 2014

Responsibility: I couldn't think of a less boring but still relevant blog entry title

Warning:  This post has a lot of social science/activist jargon, so get your Google ready.  A lot has happened since November.  Mostly it has been that we have defined some constants in our lives.  As stated in the post back in November, we're not extremely patient people when it comes to how we live our lives, so setting down things that will be real and constant and now is important to us.

This appropriate quotation is very often attributed to Joseph Smith, Jr.:
Because of...the apparent imperfections of men on whom God confers authority, the question is sometimes asked,—to what extent is obedience to those who hold the priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the Priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do any thing they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God, who seeks for the redemption of his fellows, would despise the idea of seeing another become his slave, who had an equal right with himself to the favour of God; he would rather see him stand by his side, a sworn enemy to wrong, so long as there was place found for it among men. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty (!) authority, have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their Presidents, they should do it without asking any questions.
When the Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience, as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves, and wish to pave the way to accomplish that wrong; or else because they have done wrong, and wish to use the cloak of their authority to cover it with, lest it should be discovered by their superiors, who would require an atonement at their hands.
—"Priesthood," Millennial Star 14/38 (13 November 1852), 594–95
(accessed from http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_church_leadership/Authoritarianism/Quotes)


I was especially disillusioned with the online community of people in mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) since nobody appeared to be in our situation: 1) in a MOM where the non cisgender/straight person was a woman; 2) in a MOM where the cisgender/straight person was pretty fortunate when it came to understanding the systematic inequality of our gender binary, heteronormative system, and who had not developed an unfortunate hatred of women in general.  Finding people with whom we have a lot in common is still a pretty big challenge.

In our faith, for whatever reason, be it the more authoritarian approaches to our faith that have dominated the LDS scene for a century or so, or just the inherent laziness of human beings when it comes to their spiritual well-being, we are conditioned to find someone to follow rather than blaze trails.  Even though I was willing to venture out into the scary world where maybe the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve don't know what's best for us in some of the most important aspects of our lives, I still wanted to find someone else to follow.

The really liberating epiphany I had, and in a similar fashion that my spouse has had, was that it was our responsibility to live our lives, and our responsibility to make our own judgments on the morality of our decisions.

It was also a huge deal to realize that we were responsible for taking care of our spirits.  Just reading from the canonical works, the Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, the Doctrine and Covenants, wasn't really enough.  And prayer that conformed to what the authoritarians said it should was not really enough either.  We are still in the process of liberating ourselves, and taking the scary responsibility of transitioning from a co-dependent relationship with our community to an interdependent one.

From the perspective of personal responsibility, you learn that it is totally OK to demand that your religion give some results.  It is an act of faith to expect the Word of God to continue flowing if you accept probably the most unique premise of Mormonism that God continues to speak in a very literal manner.

Here are some of the results of this cognitive liberation (I like writing with lists in case you haven't noticed that):


  1. We no longer live in fear of eternal misery because we haven't lived up to someone else's expectations.
  2. We are free to believe what we know is right:  That our Benevolent God is not a jerk, and isn't an elitist who is silent to children's pleas for communication just because they didn't do every little thing on a list of requirements that could have been drafted by the New Testament scribes and Pharisees themselves.
  3. We aren't scared of information presented "by the world" because we have confidence in our ability to decide for ourselves what is true and good rather than have someone else make this decision for us (see Article of Faith 13:  https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/a-of-f/1.13#11)
  4. By extension this also means we don't have to fear for mistakes by leaders in the church (examples:  Keeping those from Africa or of African descent from enjoying the full blessings of God; teaching that Christ's Atonement does not necessarily reach everyone; specifically for us, that LGBTQ people cannot and should not enjoy the full blessings of God) because we know that if our moral compasses are exercised we will be able to decide what is true and good and what is not.
  5. We are not as vulnerable to hierarchical abuses because we do not NEED them to approach God, or as Joseph Smith, Jr., would put it, "comprehend the character of God," for ourselves.  One of the beautiful truths that we teach is that it is necessary to get to know God on a personal level if you're ever going to enjoy the benefits of a personal relationship with Deity.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Effective religion

One of the unique bits of dogma in which we (members of the LDS Church) believe is the notion of religion that is based on something real rather than something imaginary.  We don't just "believe" in God.  We have Faith in Him.  Yes, Faith with a capitalized "F."  The most commonly quoted canon on the notion of faith is this snippet from the Book of Mormon:

"[F]aith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true."

The whole chapter where you will find that gem is a beautiful syllogism that justifies theology in general.  The Book of Mormon is pretty cool that way:  there are a lot of succinct but profound moments.  I submit that "hope" is investing ourselves in something.  In the LDS case, then, faith means to invest something in "things which are true."  It means we frame our actions around the expectation that certain things are real.  We do what we believe God says because we believe He exists and that he is nice and has our best interests at heart, and for the best of us, because we love Him.  Faith, specifically in Jesus Christ, and a correct understanding of who He is, is a basic principle of life for us.

In short, we believe in living an "effective religion," or one that gives results.  We are mystics.  We believe that Heaven is indeed a physical place.  A lot of other Christian religions see Heaven as a destination, an end goal.  Some LDS people have this sort of thing in mind as well.  They think this mortal experience is just a test to see if we're ready to really begin living.  They think that God will really begin teaching us His ways only after we've passed the test.

That is a problem for a lot of us.  In my opinion if you spend enough time studying LDS theology you come to understand that from the perspective of our scriptural canon, and from the perspectives of Joseph Smith and others, you find out that we really are not to believe that life begins once we have received a reward after death.  No, we are to believe that life merely continues.  We are to believe that God can teach us now, that we can "really begin living" right now.

Sure, there is a distinction between mortal life and the afterlife, but it is not that great.  We expect some pretty awesome enhancements to ourselves (some examples:  no sickness, physically perfect bodies post-resurrection, the ability to withstand the presence of God at least during Judgement, immortality).  All of that said, what I am trying to make clear here is that we expect living our religion will give us results right now.  We don't give the Atheists any ammunition because we really value the mortal experience and do not discount it because the afterlife is perceived as more valuable.

A non-Mormon who is quoted a lot by Mormons is C. S. Lewis.  His novel The Screwtape letters follows interactions between a servant of Satan, someone whose job it is to tempt people and to lead them down to Hell, and his nephew who is kind of like a tempter in training.  The letters are essentially tips on how to improve the nephew's chances of success in the business of tempting people.  I think about my own understanding of this entry from chapter 15 in the book often (keep in mind that references to "our Enemy" refer to God):
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity.
It is far better to make them live in the Future. Biological necessity makes all their passions point in that direction already, so that thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time--for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays 
 Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
I omitted a couple of barbs at Humanism and Evolution (see the second set of ellipses) because it's my blog and I can do things like that.  One of the things the Atheists use rightly to contend against most religion is that it focuses on the future at the expense of the present.  Why worry about blowing yourself up and killing a bunch of other people if it means the victims of your attack will be saved from their hedonist, godless ways, and you will secure a place of everlasting happiness for yourself?

There are some pretty cool religions that focus more on the present.  I happily propose that the LDS Church is one of them, but the purpose of this blog entry and its context with my mixed-orientation marriage is that sometimes it isn't.  LGBT people who are also Mormons face some challenges.

For lesbians and gay men, there is a great deal of homophobia, not just from the general membership but from leaders in the most influential positions, and gay men/lesbians are left for themselves to decide whether God gave them a birth defect that happened to influence the most core parts of their identity and personalities or whether the current doctrines as taught simply contain some mistakes; for bisexual people, any part of them that is attracted to the same sex and that does not fit into a gender stereotype is considered dangerous; for transgender, intersexed, or transexual people, important parts of church activity are strictly divided along defined gender boundaries.

One of the reasons that fitting into the LGBT categories is problematic for Mormons is not just because some homophobic people used a couple of bits of canon to decide that non-heterosexuality was sinful, but because in the last century marriage between a man and a woman has been defined as the ONLY way whereby we can inherit the best blessings God has prepared for us.  Sin, we can deal with, but a lack of progress for eternity, not "living happily ever after?"  THAT is terrifying.

There was a great graphic put up by someone on Facebook that is being circulated.  I won't identify the person, but I will link to the image (click to enlarge):


While I don't think it's entirely accurate, that isn't the creator's point.  The point is that to get that ideal, the best that God has to offer, official doctrine as taught (note that extremely important prepositional phrase) is that you can't do it outside of heterosexual marriage, and there is no definite indication from "the higher-ups" that LGBT people will have a chance to achieve that ideal outside of heterosexual marriage having been sought for and achieved during the mortal experience, the "pre-afterlife."

So how does this relate to my spouse and me?  Well, we married with a belief in effective religion, not one that would "un-gay" her, but one that would help us be happy now.  We chose to obey the rules so that we can enjoy the spiritual joys of temple worship (an especially intense experience at times), of the sort of "re-baptism" that members who stay within certain norms can enjoy at weekly meetings.  We want all of that.

All of this said, we demand of our religion, that is the collective of beliefs and doctrines and organizations and policies that are part of a follower of what we call "The Restored Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ" today, that we be able to give us realistic possibilities for fulfillment, that will give us a sense of safety and peace, and that will give us the confidence that we are following God's plan for us specifically.

We are not getting that.

As a "straight spouse" I've become aware of a lot of stories, a lot of people's lives, and their interactions with my Church, the LDS Church.  The recent language of understanding and comfort and empathy without any sort of general and public apology feels hypocritical to me.  The organization that was supposed to be the best refuge available on earth for any human being earnestly trying to follow their conscience has not been that refuge.

While we criticize the "LGBT Community" for lifestyle choices or pompous pride or selfishness, and say that the community is an unsafe place to be, we fail to remember that when as a culture we were kicking our children out of our homes, or trying to get them to hate some of the most core parts of their identity, or excommunicating them or causing them to live in fear of everyone around them should their identity be disclosed, this supposedly depraved Community was making them feel more welcome and safer than we ever did.

For my spouse and me, there has not been enough of an effort to get that "effective religion" we expect.  Like everyone whose identity and destiny is not covered by current doctrine as taught or revealed, we have to make life work based on our own judgment and our own experiences communicating with God.  We have to consider the possibility that disobeying our leaders could be obeying God.

For those of you who are LDS and consider your religion to be a mere accessory, who can and do very easily go with the flow of the mainstream of the population of the Church, and don't face existential challenges, get off your butts.  For us this religion is real.  We've married because we think it's that real, because we believe the spiritual benefits, here and now (not necessarily in the afterlife exclusively) for us are worth obeying some norms that we suspect could arbitrary and not exactly in line with God's will.  Remember Paul told us in the Bible that grudging obedience to God is worthless.  We grudgingly obey man's norms, and we do it faithfully because we feel those spiritual benefits of straight privilege are worth it.

Could this change?  Could our marriage be less helpful than hurtful to everyone involved?  Every day I wonder if this is the case.  Personally, I think God intends for faithful families with spouses of the same sex to get all the same blessings that families with spouses of the opposite sex can.  I think as humans we haven't understood that yet and may understand it one day.  For now, we live in the present.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beefs people have with mixed-orientation marriages

A lot of folks in the LGBTQI (for the uninitiated, an attempt at being inclusive of "minority" sexualities, gender identities, and sexual preferences, namely lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersexed folk) community, especially anyone who is remotely politically active, will have a serious beef with this blog, or maybe consider it wholly irrelevant, because:

1) Anonymity implies a sort of "straight privilege" that we get to enjoy
2) Anonymity also would appear to counteract the very worthy cause of having more people feel comfortable in "coming out" to family, friends, and others.
3) Anonymity may imply to some a sort of shame or deviousness associated with the mere "gay identity"
4) This blog can't possibly be all that relevant because gay people can't possibly marry those of the opposite sex!  It must mean they are a little bisexual!


I want to answer each of those questions in this post:

Beef #1 (straight privilege):

REALLY?  You think we fit in just fine in our world?  Not so.  It means being in a sort of limbo:  Seen as unnatural and unfortunate by a lot of folks in the LGBTQI community whenever we disclose anything in confidence, and seen as unconventional or dysfunctional by the semi-to-extremely-homophobic straight community because we don't assume traditional gender roles, whether we disclose anything or not.

I will acknowledge some benefits of staying anonymous, some undeniably "straight privilege."  My wife doesn't get treated like a pariah as much by the more homophobic elements of society.  I'm not seen as less of a man because a lesbian found me to be marriage material, and her obvious preference is women.



Beef #2 ("coming out" should be safe and made safer by the bold and empowered):

I agree, but coming out isn't without consequences, even if you're opposite sex-married.  More importantly, my wife will come out when SHE decides she wants to.  In the meantime, I think people can benefit more from our story than from our silence, and I feel I need the catharsis of self expression.  Deal with it.  Call it weak if you want, but I want to do this.



Beef #3 (the anonymity of this blog means we think it's shameful to be gay):
False.  You may see that I will be more expressive because I'm emboldened to honesty by the relative anonymity of the World Wide Web at large.  I am not ashamed of my wife.  Being gay is part of who she is, not just who she prefers sexually.  In some ways the "queer" identity may make more sense, for the sole reason of getting that very important point across.  I'm proud of who she is, even if it means we have to divorce one day.



Beef #4 (but she HAS to be bisexual):

Um, I won't delve that deeply into our sex life (unfortunate use of figurative language?) or our romantic life, but she is REALLY GAY, so much so that sometimes she feels lonely and is exhilarated by any contact with women in a way that we do not really see possible between each other, at least right now, and it sucks that we haven't been able to experience that same level of intensity.  We both love each other very much, but that doesn't mean we haven't made sacrifices.




Some things to keep in mind as you read:  My wife does not want to be "ungayed."  I don't want her to, either.  I think that would be a horrible tragedy inflicted by an unjust god.  I am deeply offended by the idea that being gay is an illness that can be cured in this life or the next.  I can understand the idea of fluidity in concepts of sexuality, but hell no.

I agree with the Atheists when they argue that if religion isn't pertinent to the here and now, it's not much use, and even harmful (Brace yourself and go here:  https://www.google.com/search?q=gay+lds+youth+suicide).  From my perspective of LDS theology, I can't believe that what makes us who we are in this life will change much going into the next.

INTRO

At one point I decided it would be fun to document some cooking projects I did online, and in connection with a really silly series of attempts at dating women in my faith that eventually devolved into paragraphs with subtly misogynist overtones.  Then I watched a lot of Food Network and realized that 1) most of my cooking ideas came from stuff people had already documented exhaustively, and 2) there is not a lot of uniqueness about an angsty, sexually frustrated, LDS male in Utah.

I gave up on what people call the "blogosphere" because I didn't have something unique enough to offer in a meta-world consisting mostly of pre-digested information (piles and piles of digital poopies).

Then life happened.  I had some fun educational experiences in faraway places and had some very uniquely hilarious relationship experiences.  I got a salaried job.  I met somebody I really, really liked.  I didn't just fall in love with her, or become infatuated.  As a person she was both fascinating and irresistible.

I wish I could give more specific details about how we eventually married, but this is an anonymous blog, and those details are so well known, it would cease to be anonymous once that happened.

All that said, this is a blog about a straight man in a mixed-orientation marriage, that is, my wife is gay.  I knew it almost a year before we were married, and she was open about it from the start.  We're members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons" or "LDS" for short).

Why did we get married?  Are we na├»ve?  Was one of us horny and the other one just seeking to satisfy an obligation she felt to God?  That's what we hear a lot about people in mixed-orientation marriages (hereafter "MOMs").  The assumptions don't even begin to describe our experience.

I think this blog is going to be extremely unique and PACKED with drama.  I hope it will also shed some light on some not-so-obvious parts of life for people who would identify as LGBTQI or those close to them.  Enjoy.