Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gay Pride

This collage was lovingly created for me by a lesbian friend in grad school. The blond, bearded guy in the white prom dress, tights and black army boots dancing stage left is me. My friend Justine managed to snap this photo of me as part of the Radical Faerie contingent in the Gay Pride Parade, I believe in 1991. This lovely gift still hangs in a prominent place in our study. I have always treasured it as a reminder of the days when I wasn't too shy to skip down Hennepin Avenue in a prom dress.

As Göran and I made our way over to the Saturday afternoon festivities yesterday, we observed that this year will be the 20th Gay Pride celebration he has participated in, and my 19th. But this year and the preceding year have felt very different to me, a bag of mixed emotions including pride, happiness, sadness, discomfort, and angst.

The angst comes from the fact that now, unlike previous years, I belong to and cherish my ties to a community, many of whose members view Gay Pride on a par with Nazi rallies or Satanic festivals. I'm aware that in the eyes of many, for me to go anywhere near such an event would be taken as incontrovertible evidence that I am truly beyond the pale.

The discomfort comes from the fact that I have begun to reorganize my internal, spiritual life in a way that is not concordant with the in-your-face celebration of sexuality that is a prominent current in Gay Pride festivities. For those of you reading who have never been to Gay Pride, I hasten to add that not everybody -- not even a majority -- at Gay Pride is "flaunting it." The vast majority of participants in Gay Pride are about as hum drum and boring a crowd as any you find at any community festival or parade in town. But then there are the ripped young guys wearing nothing but thongs, the leather dudes leading their lovers around on titty clamps, the inevitable thumping, bumping, and grinding festival floats (usually sponsored by the gay bars), the pornographic displays in some of the booths at the festival, and so on. You can certainly look the other way if you're not into all of that, but it's there and you can't miss it.

And the discomfort for me comes not per se from the idea of same-sex couples getting down and dirty, but more from my evolving sexual ethic of wanting to guard my sexuality in a private, intimate, sacred place. I love sex. I believe it to be a gift from God, one of many delights that God has built into the very fabric our mortal existence, and an avenue through which we may achieve some of the highest joy possible. For me, honoring that gift is no longer concordant with flaunting it in public. The Gay Pride Festival is a place where there is a constant temptation to let myself get overstimulated in contexts that are literally meaningless. So while I am there, I find myself having to be mentally disciplined and on my guard in a way that I never felt required to be in the past.

Angst also comes from the fact that I hunger for opportunities to experience the presence of the Spirit, and to worship in community with the Saints. And, inconveniently, the Gay Pride Parade and Festival conflicts with my Church meeting schedule. Believe it or not, I absolutely hate missing Church. When I do, there is a part of me that grieves.

But Gay Pride is a Homo High Holy Day of the first order, and to fail to show would cause such a ruckus in our household, I wouldn't even dream of suggesting that maybe I personally would rather be at the Mormon Church. So partly for the sake of peace in the home, put partly also for my own benefit (which I will discuss more below), I continue to go.

So then there is a new found, deep sadness I experience at Gay Pride. This sadness comes from the fact that I find myself torn in ways I wish I weren't torn. And nipping on the heels of the sadness is maybe a little nagging fear; a worry that my connection to and identification with the LDS Church has perhaps reintroduced into my life a source of internalized homophobia. Is it possible that my reintegration of my spiritual identity -- as liberating and powerful as this has been for me in so many ways -- carries with it certain unhealthy elements, that it is causing me to hate certain aspects of myself that I had worked so hard for so many years to integrate in a healthy, positive way? I never used to feel this kind of conflict and discomfort around Gay Pride.

While this weekend I have been aware of these nagging fears, ultimately as I have reflected on them in the writing of this essay I realize that deep down inside I do not feel the conflicts I've described to be unhealthy. I believe they are a sign of maturity. As a spiritual being, I have come to recognize that the principles of humility and repentance mean that I must accept a certain level of conflictedness in my life. Facing conflict is an inevitable element of living in a world where the ruling Powers are out of harmony with the Universe's creator. Feeling conflict is a sign of growth. The conflicts I sometimes feel are the flip side of the intense joy and peace I find in divine forgiveness and in self-improvement. Ulitmately, I have come to accept that feeling "conflict free" is not necessarily a sign of health, any more than being overwhelmed by internal conflict. Neither is healthy. Both, I believe, are forms of denial.

And while there is new-found conflict, there is also a new-found happiness. I understand who and what I am. Christ's atonement is what defines my new identity and my relationship to the world around me, not outward trappings. Imperfections, inconsistency, and conflicts are just part of the terrain of an imperfect world we all have to navigate through -- not just me. This understanding frees me not to feel like I have to control everything around me at all times. More importantly it frees me to let go and enjoy Gay Pride for what it fundamentally is: part of the journey many of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters are on to achieve self-love and self-understanding, and to build relationships and communities not based on the hatred, lies and misunderstanding that have ensnared so many of us in this culture. It is about exposing homophobia for what it is, and undoing its damage on our souls, psyches, and relationships.

Not everything about how members of the GLBT community go about trying to achieve these goals is perfect. How would we expect it to be? It is always the nature of the journey to start in a place of imperfection and move toward increasing perfection. So rather than hating ourselves for our imperfections, we should forgive ourselves, keep working at it, and move forward.

Contrary to what many in the LDS community typically assume, there are many signs of this increasing perfection at Gay Pride, many signs that members of the GLBT community are building social institutions and developing support networks to promote values of sobriety, spirituality, and respect. In this I see unquestionable signs of the Spirit at work.

And that brings me to the final emotion. Deep pride. Pride that I have survived, when at one point I might have killed myself. Pride that I am learning, however haltingly and imperfectly, what it means to truly love myself and others. Pride that this is not the end of the journey.

3 comments:

Beck said...

I just read your entire blog and am fascinated by your story, and the choices you are making.

Thank you for sharing and for being a source of inspiration.

Anonymous said...

John:

This may be a weak analogy, but there are Mormons who used to be Catholic (you and I both know some of the same) who still go to Mass on Christmas Eve.

And I knew a few Greek Mormons in Chicago who always went to the GreekFest at their old church.

Obviously your journey is a lot longer and more difficult than what I've mentioned, but we each have one to make...

Bill McA

J G-W said...

It would be so much easier if I were just a "cultural" Mormon (i.e., if I didn't really believe, but enjoyed participating in or witnessing the rituals).

I'm aware of Mormons who claim not to believe in the teachings of the Church any more, but who just keep quiet and continue to participate, even holding callings in the church. For them its a family thing or a tradition thing, or whatever. Despite their complete lack of belief, their church leaders even encourage them to participate and stay active, hoping that allowing them to do so will eventually help rekindle their faith.

I am in the opposite situation of those folks. I have a testimony. But I am banned from participating in more than marginal ways. That is extremely painful at times. The community aspect can sometimes be unbearable -- but for those rare, true Latter-day Saints who consistently reach out to me with love and understanding.

But I am blessed with a rich spiritual life, and with many, powerful and frequent reassurances from the Holy Spirit. Maybe it's because God knows I don't get a lot of encouragement from other quarters, so I need it directly from the Source. For me it runs a bit deeper than attending Church from time to time. It's seeking to incorporate as many principles of the Gospel into my life as I can.