Friday, July 27, 2007

The Most Destructive Voices

There are too many voices telling me that since I don't live up to the Church's standards, I shouldn't even try to be good. I'm not celibate. I'm not married to a woman. I'm in a relationship with a man. I am clearly out of harmony with the clearly stated standards. So if I can't even fulfill the minimum requirement, why even try?

Why go to Church? Why read the scriptures? Why pray? Why seek the guidance of the Spirit -- the Spirit can't possibly bother with me, right? The Spirit should flee right away from the likes of me...

I have listened to those voices before, and they led me in the path of destruction. They led me to do things that hurt me, that hurt others, and that left me in despair.

Those voices insist that they are right, that everyone who disagrees with them is out of step, dead wrong, and destined for the pit.

There is a voice that says exactly the opposite of what those voices tell me. There is a voice that says, You are good. You are loved. Do not listen to those who condemn. They are wrong. Have patience. Be faithful. Look at your life and find just one thing you can make better. Focus on that. And each time you succeed, be glad for yourself. Then take another step.

Thank God I have learned to hear that voice and listen to it. The sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and they follow it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Walking Together

About a week ago or so, I got an email from Geckoman, a gay Mormon man who's been happily married for 26 years, and is faithful and active in the Church. He was passing through the Twin Cities on a business trip, and was wondering if we might meet.

We did meet. He and I had an opportunity to swap stories in person, tell more about each other's lives and faith and relationships. He had a chance to meet my partner, and the three of us had a lovely dinner together. I love walking, and my favorite part of our get-together was walking together over to the nearby Global Market and back, to pick up and bring home the food we ate for dinner. I loved meeting Geckoman in person. He is kind and soft-spoken. He is handsome and has a sweet smile and a gentle sense of humor. He is not judgmental or dogmatic, and he is generous in his appraisals of others who don't share his faith or his way of looking at things.

In the world we live in, Geckoman and I should maybe be enemies. We've each made choices that should, in the eyes of many, set us at odds against each other. In the eyes of the Church, I am living in a state of sin, while he has made the difficult choice to stay true to Church principles and nurture an eternal marriage, despite the challenge of his attraction to men. In the eyes of the secular, liberal culture that thrives here in the Twin Cities, he is living in a state of denial, not true to his true nature, while I have made the difficult choice of nurturing a committed relationship condemned by Church and denied recognition by the state. In the eyes of the world and Church alike, we are each the antithesis of the other.

And yet, in my interactions with him on-line and in person, I find myself just liking and admiring him, and wanting to be liked and admired by him. There is nothing that pains me more than the thought of anything I say or do adding in any way to his burdens or making him feel any less. I am happy for the happiness he has found; I respect him for the struggles he's been through. I hope he feels the same about me. If he feels that I am somehow less because of the choices I've made, I never felt the least hint of it.

So which is the real truth of things? What Church and State and worldly culture say about us? Is that what really matters? Or is the brother-love we share the deeper truth? Is that somehow the real key to happiness?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Counsels of the Heart

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. (I Corinthians 4:3-4)

We should not judge even ourselves. All judgment remains in the hands of God. When we become super critical of ourselves; when we look in the mirror and see nothing but blemishes; when we flagellate and hate and despise ourselves, this is the true sin. We are arrogating to ourselves a prerogative that belongs only to him who died for our sins. When we are tempted to curse ourselves, we should instead just be silent and know that he is God.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. (I Corinthians 4:5)

This scripture may be either terrifying or reassuring to us. For me, this is a special challenge to take care of the "counsels of the hearts." For there will be nothing more damning at the last day than that we ignored our own conscience. But we may trust that if we are true to our conscience, our entire generation may judge and damn us, it will matter not...

So we should take time to be silent and listen. We should have patience and trust that through the imperfections that seem so obvious to us, God can ultimately work our redemption.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Pragmatics of Happiness

The Latter-day understanding of man's search for happiness is rooted in the concept of Eternal Law. There is nothing in the least complicated about this understanding. It is both painfully and joyfully simple. All happiness, all joy, is rooted in obedience to Eternal Law. Obedience to the law yields joy, disobedience yields sorrow and pain. Time and time again, I have seen Latter-day Saints approach the problem of suffering as the ultimate pragmatists. “If you think you will find joy in that path, go ahead and try it. Seek. See if you can find. If your path goes in the way of eternal law, you will find happiness, and an abundance of it. Greater than you have capacity to receive, overflowing, eternal, divine joy. If your path runs against eternal law, you will find sorrow and pain. You will eventually find yourself miserable, just like Satan, kicking against the pricks, blaming God and all creation for your sorrow. But don't take my word for it. Try it and see for yourself if wickedness can ever be happiness.”

But Latter-day Saint trust in Eternal Law should not become confused with trust in Rules. Rules have their place and there is a very good reason for them. Latter-day Saints understand the concept that our capacity to understand Eternal Law is limited; it grows only as we grow. We start out with a very dim conception of it. So the only way upward and into the level of understanding our Heavenly Parents desire for us is to start by following rules that we are capable of understanding. Gradually obedience to those rules yields a kind of understanding that permits us to grasp the Law that they are grounded in. But rules are not Eternal Law. Rules are culturally and situationally contingent. They are adapted to particular situations and needs of those to whom rules are given. What do we do when the rules don't fit a particular situation? Latter-day Saints, pragmatists that they are, understand that rules should never take precedence over Law. And what is the ultimate Law, the Foundational Law upon which every other lesser law and rule in the Universe stands or falls? Love. Compassion. Charity. The pure love of Christ.

I have seen the anguish of Latter-day Saint parents, watching their children go the path of sorrow. Latter-day Saint parents teach each other to cope with sorrow over their children's bad choices by reminding each other of the nature of free agency, by reminding each other that no joy is ever won and no happiness ever learned through compulsion. And I have also witnessed that those who deal most successfully with the conundrum of homosexuality are those who are able to let go, and let their children Seek Joy Where They May Find It. These parents learn not to wish their children ill because they find the rule of heterosexual normality unbearable. They hope and pray that, if this is the only path their children are able to follow, that they might find true joy in it.

Similarly, I have found that the only way I am able to deal with the conundrum of homosexuality in my own life has been to open myself to Eternal Principles and to trust the Spirit. I have found through painful – almost life-shattering experience – that a particular set of rules simply does not work for me. Trying to subject myself to those rules has left me heart-broken, anguished, despairing, devoid of hope, and yes, suicidal. But just because those rules didn't work, doesn't mean that Eternal Law is invalid. No, the contrary. I've found Eternal Law is every bit as inviolate as Latter-day Saints from Joseph to the present have understood it to be. But I've had to feel my way to Eternal Law under a different set of rules. I've had to find how the principles of joy work in a kind of relationship that many of my co-religionists assume to exclude the possibility of joy. But the proof is in the joy. And frankly, I wouldn't at this point trade my life for anyone's under any circumstances. The joy is overflowing, beyond my capacity to comprehend or receive. God, grant me the ability to receive all the joy you pour out upon me!

I have the capacity to be miserable in this relationship. I have learned through hard, miserable, thorny experience that unfaithfulness to the one's partner – same-sex or opposite-sex – is a violation of Eternal Law and leads to misery. Chastity in thought as well as deed, reserving ourselves for the one to whom we have pledged ourselves, letting virtue in this way garnish our every thought, is a source of deep, abiding happiness. Considering one's every waking thought and action from the point of view of how much joy it will bring to the significant other closest to you: joy overflowing. Opening one's relationship up to service, thinking of others outside of your own little unit of domestic bliss, a source of even greater joy. Becoming co-partners in making the world a better place, joy. Not able to have our own biological children, opening our home to foster children, giving love to children who have not received love in their biological families, all a source of joy. This is divine, celestial, Eternal Law. Learn it, follow it, internalize it, and you will live. Deny it, avoid it, fight against it, and you will die. Simple, simple, simple. And yet it can take us a lifetime to learn it. That's what mortal probation is all about. That is how we can each of us, gay and straight, exclaim with Adam and Eve, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Are Boys More Important Than Girls?"

I just finished reading this thought-provoking article by Margaret Toscano in the latest issue of Sunstone magazine. Toscano begins with the real-life story of an eight-year-old boy who, after watching his father and older brother go off to priesthood meeting together, asks his mother, "Are boys more important than girls?" Toscano first discusses scriptural texts that affirm the absolute equality of male and female, and recent pronouncements of LDS Church leaders such as President Gordon B. Hinckley to the effect that men and women are equal even if they play complimentary roles in the home and in society. She then contrasts these ideals with a church authority structure in which all the power is vested in men, a conception of family in which women are subservient, and a theology in which only male divinities are ever spoken of. This, she argues, can only have a destructive impact on the psyches of both men and women in the Church, and she ends with a plea to reconsider our ways, to think of the impact this has on our mothers, sisters, and daughters, and then to repent.

The most interesting segment of the article, to me, discusses the question of how we evaluate "equality," especially in situations, such as the situation of men and women (or, I might add, gay folks and heterosexuals), where biology makes us inherently different. Do we evaluate equality in terms of opportunity? Or do we evaluate it in terms of end results? If a person "feels" equal, does that make her equal? Toscano cited a recent survey of Mormon women in which 70% expressed contentment with their lot in life and stated that they did not feel unequal to men in the Church. She then admitted that it is quite possible that the survey, because of certain biases in terms of how it was conducted may actually have underestimated the level of general contentment and sense of equality among Mormon women. She then goes on to argue, however, that the fact that a majority of Mormon women are happy with their roles does not mitigate the destructive impact on their psyches of constantly being reminded that they are not worthy of leadership.

I could not help, in reading this article, but reflect on my own position and status vis-a-vis the Church. As an excommunicated, gay man in a relationship with another man, I am in terms of outward position, privilege, and status, in fact far inferior to women in the Church. Not only may I not hold the priesthood or any position of authority in the church, I may not hold any calling at all, I may not attend the temple or partake of the sacrament, I may not even speak in Sacrament Meeting or pray in meetings. And I am barred from all these privileges not because I hate the Church. I love it with my whole heart. Not because I don't have a testimony. I have a testimony that is so strong at times it hurts. I am barred from these privileges because of whom I love.

And yet, every Sunday, I go to Church and attend all the meetings. I do not miss it if I can at all help it. I actually feel deprived if some contingency prevents me! I gladly live as many of the commandments as I am able, given my circumstances. I cherish the scriptures and read them every day. I remember the day the new quadruple combination I ordered from Deseret Books arrived in the mail. I had not owned a complete set of LDS scriptures in almost twenty years. And I wept tears of joy when I opened the package and saw it. I love our prophets and leaders, and attend as much of General Conference as I am able. If I cannot bear testimony in Sacrament Meeting, I still share my testimony with others one-on-one, member and non-menber, both in word and deed. And I utterly cherish every connection and every friendship I have found among the Saints.

People frequently ask me, "Are you crazy?" OK, well, not exactly those words, but the sentiment is always there. You'd have to be crazy to want to have anything to do with a community that doesn't even regard you as a second class citizen. A disfranchised citizen. An ex-citizen. A sinner of the worst sort. Why do I do it?

And the reason is, because whenever I am in the Mormon Church, I feel the Spirit so powerfully. When I sit in Sacrament meeting, I never sit alone. The Spirit sits beside me. When I listen to the Sunday School or the Priesthood lessons -- doesn't matter what they are about! -- the Spirit whispers in my ear and teaches me astonishing things. And when I feel down and when I feel I must be less than equal, the Spirit reminds me that I am no one's inferior. So when I walk down the halls, when I shake hands with people, I hold my head up, and the Spirit reminds me this is where I belong. I am doing just what my Heavenly Parents want, and they are proud of me. And when someone says something stupid or homophobic, or suggests that I am doomed to some lesser realm of existence in the next life, the Spirit is there to affirm that they do not know my fate. Just trust, the Spirit promises, just love, just be honest and good and true, just be humble, just be patient, just wait and serve, and there will be no glory greater in the next life than the one reserved for you.

Toscano's article reminded me that visible and outward things are only half the picture, to those of us who have the companionship of the Spirit. I have always loved the women of the Church who surrounded me growing up, and I love the women I see there every Sunday in the Lake Nokomis Ward. They are strong and good hearted and compassionate. And when I see them get up in Sacrament meeting to pray or speak, or when I see them teaching the Gospel Essentials class I attend, I don't see the least hint of lack of confidence or inferiority. I hear women who get up every Sunday and talk about how their faith has made them strong, how it has made them the equal of every challenge and trial they must face in life. They know who they are and they have a right to be proud. And I know that if the Spirit speaks to my heart and tells me I am no one's inferior, surely the Spirit tells them the same thing in manifold ways. And so it does not surprise me in the least that the good women of the Church in large majorities, when asked if they are content with their role, if they feel unequal to men, respond confidently that they are content and they do feel equal. To me, this is a sign that the Spirit is alive and well and powerful among the Latter-day Saints.

I have been a Mormon feminist, well, since the time I was still a member of the LDS Church. At BYU I wrote a paper examining Mormon attitudes toward birth control. I did an oral history of my mother, because of my conviction that the lives and the stories of Mormon women should be recorded and preserved. I have always been fascinated by the women in my family, including the women ancestors who were second and third wives and who struggled and managed with varying degress of success during the time when "the Principle" was practiced. Women have been role-models to me, both in and out of the Church. And my response to Sister Toscano would be that, after reading all she has to say, I must conclude that the most compelling reason of all why any Mormon should be a feminist is because even if a minorty of women are harmed by sexist attitudes it is something none of us should tolerate. It breaks my heart to think that any Mormon boy -- or far worse, any Mormon girl -- might feel moved to ask the question, "Are boys more important than girls?"

I honestly and truly believe that whatever lip service we pay to equality and complimentarity in the Church here below, what we say and what we believe pales in comparison with the true equality, complimentarity and power of women and men in the invisible world, the real world beyond this bubble of time and space. And if we are true followers of Christ and children of God, we must not, we cannot be content to let equality wait until the next world. Like Christ, every day we should pray, "On earth as it is in Heaven."

And yet, whatever compels us to bear witness to this hope that God's love and justice will eventually bear rule down here on earth, I find it helpful to remember that when we are tempted to become discouraged or to feel inferior, as a person of faith, it is the invisible on which my mind and heart are fixed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Making Peace

If you peruse the gay Mormon blogs, a recurring theme is the search for peace.

When I read these sites, however, I see folks airing tons of angst, internal conflict, and struggle. We reflect on our lives, and we feel as if there is anything but peace in our hearts. Recently, a dear new friend quipped at me on his blog, "You find peace in my life story? Then why do I feel so conflicted most of the time?"

At one point I began to worry a bit, because I have definitely noticed that while I often feel incredible peace, I also am aware of times in my life when my own personal angst-o-meter seems to spike. This occasional sense of struggle was not a regular part of my life before my decision to return to the LDS Community. Is it possible that my life was more peaceful and better without the Mormon Church in it? Is it possible that the Mormon Church is toxic, that anybody who has anything to do with it becomes conflicted and unhappy?

Yet, when I reflect on my life before August 2005 and my life since, I realize that we often use deceptive indicators of peace. I believe that I found peace in my "ex-Mormon" days by avoiding conflict. The conflict was all there, lurking deep in unacknowledged recesses of my soul, only I refused to face certain aspects of my life that would have required me to come to terms with it, to struggle. The Holy Spirit, however, had a different plan for me.

The Holy Spirit's presence in my life was the first taste of real peace I have experienced in a long time. The Spirit essentially said to me, "Here is what real peace is: wholeness. Come and get it." Does the Spirit suddenly "fix" everything for us? Far from it! The Spirit illuminates the problem for us. It shows us where the real conflicts lie, where the undone work is, and then it helps us, guides us, and works with us as we begin to do the real hard work of making peace.

Last Sunday, the opening hymn was "How Firm a Foundation." Read the lyrics of this song when you have a chance (perhaps I will post them later). It is a great lesson in peace and how we achieve it. For some reason, the bishop announced to the congregation that this time he wanted us to sing all seven verses (instead of just the first three, as usual). The fourth verse in particular struck me with great power, and has been lingering with me ever since:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee, thy deepest distress

And in that moment I realized that every sorrow, every anguish, every pain in my life was sanctified, it was actually a source of the deepest, most profound joy to me. For I had come to face the deep conflicts in my soul, and I had begun to harmonize them, to find wholeness, and to make peace.

And the peace of the Spirit overflowed me.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Eight Random Gay Mormon Facts About Me

I was tagged by GeistX. I'll let you check out his blog for the rules.

1. I was born in Provo, Utah. I grew up half-an-hour's drive from Palmyra, New York, and right near Mendon, New York where Brigham Young once lived. If Brigham hadn't joined the Church and if his family had stayed there, his great-great-great-great grandkids would have gone to my highschool. In 1983 my family moved to Topsfield, Massachusets, where Joseph Smith's grandfather is buried. So you could say that in my life, the older I've gotten, the further backwards I moved in the timeline of the Church's history.

2. My grandparents moved from Utah to Pittsburgh, PA during the Great Depression. There they were next door neighbors to the Jesse Hatch family. My dad was a childhood playmate of (now Senator) Orrin Hatch. In Pittsburgh, my grandfather helped convert Henry Matis to the Church. Henry went on to become the first mission president of Finland, where my dad served his mission and converted my mom. Henry Matis was the grandfather of Stuart Matis. I find it interesting to consider that if it hadn't been for the Church and if my grandfather hadn't converted Stuart's grandfather, and if Henry Matis hadn't helped to establish the first mission in Finland, neither Stuart nor I might have been born. I almost committed suicide the summer of 1986, but ended up having a spiritual experience in which God guided me to leave the Church instead. Henry's grandson Stuart was gay too, and did his best to stay faithful to the Church. He committed suicide on February 25, 2000. I wish Stuart were still here. I wish I could meet the grandson of the man my grandfather helped convert to the Gospel.

3. I was in the Hill Cumorah Pageant after my mission. During the first day of rehearsals, I overheard a sister crying and speaking French. She was frustrated because her English was not good enough for her to understand what people were saying during the devotionals. I had just returned from my mission in French-speaking Europe. I served as her personal interpreter for the rest of the Pageant, and we became the best of friends.

4. The picture (above) is of me as a Mormon missionary. I served my mission in the Swiss Geneva Mission under President R. Bay Hutchings. Before I left on my mission, I baptized one of my best friends from high school. He is now married and raising a family in the Church. On my mission I helped to convert a young woman who later served a mission in New Caledonia. I once regretted my role in converting others to Mormonism. Now I feel incredible gratitude.

5. I was a Kimball Scholar at BYU. After I got the letter informing me that I was a Kimball scholarship recipient, I was convinced they had made a mistake. I was so certain that I was unworthy to be a Kimball Scholar, I actually wrote a letter to a member of the committee to tell him I believed I was unworthy. He ignored my letter. I later ran into him at BYU, and he greeted me in a friendly manner without ever mentioning the letter.

6. I started out as a Political Science major at BYU. I had wanted to major in History, but my dad encouraged me to go into Political Science instead because he thought it would be the best preparation for an eventual law degree. However, I found Poli Sci types extremely arrogant and obnoxious. I eventually switched back to my first love, History. Inspired by my favorite professor at BYU, D. Michael Quinn, I decided I wanted to be a professor of Church History. I actually remember the night when I walked up around the Provo Temple, to pray and ask for guidance about what career I should pursue, and the Spirit confirmed to me that I should become a teacher of LDS Church History.

7. I gave up on a teaching career in 1997. After a three-year-long job search in which I sent my resume to over 150 schools around the country, I could not even land a single job interview. Last spring, a friend of mine who is an influential professor at United Theological Seminary, invited me to submit my resume. I've now been offered (and accepted) a position as adjunct faculty at the seminary to teach American Religious History, including the history of Mormonism. My friend is encouraging me to teach a course there on LDS Church History.

8. My partner Göran came from a family of seekers. They tried literally every religion -- Catholicism, Buddhism, Jehovah's Witnesses, Judaism, Pentecostalism, you name it. The only one they didn't try was Mormonism. Apparently the Universe strives for balance.

Beck, Forester, Bored in Vernal, MohoHawaii, Geckoman, Abelard Enigma, Playasinmar and Santorio, you all are now officially tagged.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Göran and I met at the Gay Nineties, a popular gay bar in downtown Minneapolis. We had seen each other there on numerous occasions before. I always thought he was cute, but was too shy to ever introduce myself to him. He too had seen me there and had wanted to meet me, but he too had been afraid to talk to me. He was the one who finally broke the ice one night and asked me to dance.

Later that night, I asked him if he wanted to spend the night and he agreed. We left the bar and started walking. He thought I was leading him to my apartment, while I thought he was leading me to his. We ended up lost in the warehouse district before we realized what had happened...

Göran says he was sure from the first night we met that he wanted a relationship with me. I was not so sure. At the time, he was homeless, staying in a downtown Minneapolis shelter. If he could have, he would have spent every night of the week with me. That was too intense for me. We dated for about two months. Then I decided it was too much too fast, and broke up with him. Göran was devastated by the break-up. He had been so sure we were "meant" to be together, he couldn't believe I had ended it. He called me once or twice, hoping to rekindle the relationship, but I made it clear I didn't want to see him any more, and he stopped calling me.

That first night when I met Göran, I was still in pain from a recent break-up at the end of a six-month-long relationship. I was not the one who had initiated the break-up. That relationship had followed another six-month-long relationship which had also ended when my boyfriend broke up with me. In both of those relationships, I had felt certain at some point that I had met "the one." By the second break-up, I had become pretty disillusioned about the possibility of a lasting gay relationship. I began to buy into some of the rhetoric that was common in the gay community about marriage being a bourgeois, oppressive, heterosexual convention, and that gay folks shouldn't even try to emulate it.

For the year following my break-up with Göran, I led a pretty promiscuous lifestyle. At a certain point, I had convinced myself that I did not really "need" a relationship. My emotional needs would best be met through close, non-sexual but intimate friendships, and my physical needs would be met through one-night stands, cruising on the beach or at the gym, and so on. But after almost a year of that I began to realize how wrong I had been. I had plenty of friends, but still felt incredibly lonely.

Göran and I met by chance the following spring, at a meeting organized by the University's GLBT student association. Göran was there representing the gay fraternity, Delta Lambda Phi, and I was there representing the GLBT grad students group. As soon as he saw me, his eyes lit up. Something stirred in me too. Before the meeting ended, we exchanged phone numbers and had set up a date.

At that point I decided I had explored enough. One of the things I realized is that I had certain needs for intimacy that simply couldn't be met outside of a relationship in which two people commit to each other and try to forge a life together. And if I was going to make a go of forging such a common life, Göran was the one with whom I could do it. Göran had never given up hope on me. He claims that something deep inside had always told him we were meant to be together.

At the time, I was a member of the Northwoods Radical Faerie community, and on the board of stewards of Kawashaway Sanctuary. A number of faeries had decided they wanted to create a communal living arrangement in the Twin Cities. In August 1993 Göran and I became founding residents of the "Faerie House."

Creating a common life together was a challenge at first, because Göran was working evenings at a restaurant, and I was busy during the days teaching and finishing my Ph.D. We cherished what time we had, usually late at night, in between my classes during the day, and on weekends. Our favorite pastimes included snuggling on the couch together and eating ice cream while we watched Star Trek; walking and talking and riding bikes together; playing Dungeons and Dragons twice a month with some of our best friends; camping in the Northwoods with the Radical Faeries; singing together in the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. It was Göran's idea to start going to Church. We found Lyndale United Church of Christ, a church community where we could worship and learn together, where we were welcomed and embraced for who we were, and where our relationship was celebrated and supported.

In the early years of our relationship, Göran was reigning queen at the Gay 90s (he actually held the title "Miss Gay Nineties"), and performed there regularly in the show lounge as Miss Tasha Marie Monet. Tasha sang a lot of Natalie Cole numbers. But occasionally, Tasha's alter ego "Tangie" came out on stage, a hot little number who wore platinum blond wigs, miniskirts, and an attitude. I was drafted as the drag bag carrier, so I got to go behind stage and meet the other drag queens as they got ready for their numbers. I think Göran liked showing me off to the "sisters"! I loved sitting in the audience having him sing love songs to me and me alone. Of course it was the man under the dress I was in love with! Every once in a while we still hear one of those old songs on the radio and remember that that was "our" song. At the time, Göran was also president of the gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi, which just goes to show, you can be queen and president at the same time.

In August 1995 Göran and I had a wedding ceremony, to which we invited friends and family from all the various diverse communities Göran and I belonged to. University professors sat next to Radical Faeries. Drag queens sat next to gospel singers. Mormons, Protestants, Catholics, Jews and Rastafarians were all part of the mix. My parents, my grandmother, and my little sister Anne were there, and were able to meet my partner's mother (who was still alive at the time), his step-father, his sisters and their families. The potluck reception was hosted by our best and oldest friends in the Twin Cities, Sam and Lee.

It had been Göran's idea to get married. Numbskull queer theorist that I was, I resisted the idea at first. I was still on this 'why-would-we-want-to-emulate-heterosexuals?' kick. Göran didn't have to work too hard to convince me though, as I was indeed head-over-heels in love with him, and I couldn't say no to anything he really wanted. But after the ceremony, I became a full-fledged convert to the institution of Gay Marriage. The ceremony definitely changed things for us for the better. There is something about getting up in front of 115 of your closest acquaintances, friends, and family, and vowing before God that you promise to love, nurture and protect one another, so long as you both are able. Something very important clicked into place for me that day.

Our financial and living arrangements gradually improved. After a string of awful jobs (including a couple of telemarketing gigs), Göran finally got a steady, good paying job as an administrative assistant at a law firm, with normal hours that allowed us to spend more time together. The summer of 1996 a friend of ours in the TCC Community Gospel Choir moved to Portland, Oregon and asked us if we might be interested in buying her house. I had at one point sworn that I would never buy a house. Just as I had once shied away from a commitment to Göran, just as I had resisted the notion of marriage, I resisted home-buying because it felt like too much of a commitment. But my friend asked me to come look at her house, and as I did, I realized that this was where Göran and I belonged. I called him at work and said, "I think we're buying a house." After getting over the initial shock, he expressed his ecstasy that I had finally come around to another of his life-long dreams. Within three days we had signed a purchase agreement. In August of 1996 we moved into the lovely home where we still live to this day.

Göran and I are about to take yet another step, make another commitment that I resisted for years, and that has been one of his life dreams. We have put in papers to become foster parents. We arrived at this decision after research, discussion and soul-searching. The Spirit has made it clear to me that this is the best commitment we've made yet. The kids we parent will likely be teens who have come from difficult homes, situations of abuse or neglect. The agency we are working with will be training us, and will provide ample support. But please still pray for us!

In the last fifteen years, Göran and I have passed through many tests of the nature of our commitment to each other. We've been physically assaulted (Göran had three teeth broken by gay bashers). His mother came back into his life -- into our lives -- and then as suddenly, she died; and we grieved together. We've been present at Mormon family reunions, with attendant discomforts and struggles and joy. We've argued (rarely). We've hurt each other (impossible to measure the depth of the hurt). We've asked and received forgiveness. We've cried together and then finally laughed together again.

After fifteen years, he's still the only person I never get tired of being with. He was there to celebrate the completion of my Ph.D. and the publication of my book with me. I have been his editor and number one supporter as he wrote the first draft of his very first novel. With the exception of work, his karate lessons, and my attendance at the LDS Church, we are as inseparable as Mormon missionary companions. People who know us say they can't imagine one of us without the other. We still send each other flowers. We email each other love notes. We meet every day for lunch. We can't make it through the work day without a call from the other, just to say "I love you." We talk to each other in cat language. Meow, meowmeow, meow. (Disgusting, I know.) We pine for each other when a conference or business trip separates us for more than a day. Neither of us find sleep possible in a bed where the other isn't curled up beside.

He's the one who tends the lovely garden in the small patch of lawn next to our house. He's been out there weeding and planting practically every day this summer. He's the one who has skillfully arranged and decorated every corner of the house we live in. (I'm hopelessly straight-acting when it comes to interior decorating.) He makes gorgeous jewelry to adorn me and remind me of him. He brings beauty into every aspect of our lives.

Once not too long ago we were at the home of our friends, Sam and Lee, and Göran was coming down the polished wood stairway from their second floor. His socks slipped on the bare wood, and he fell and landed on his tail bone. He landed in just the wrong spot, on the corner of a step. He was in extreme pain, so bad he could barely walk on his own. As my friends and I were trying to help him, I fainted. I saw the pain on his face, I heard his groans of agony, and I suddenly felt nauseous, lost my breath and went all pale and wobbly, and then blacked out. Göran and our friends later all thought it was tremendously funny and had a good laugh at my expense. Göran said, "Some good you'll be if I'm ever in trouble again!" But that experience made me realize, we are viscerally bonded in a very profound way. What hurts him, hurts me.

After all that we've lived through the greatest challenge to our relationship has been my return to the LDS Church. I have had to come to terms with what my testimony of the gospel means for our relationship; whether my path of reconciliation with the Church means that our relationship should end. That has been frightening and painful to both of us. But even now as I write this, the Spirit is there, whispering reassurance to me; promising me that all will be well; warning me that the worst sin for me would be to leave him; reminding me that the real temptation is to mistake grand gestures and the approval of others for righteousness. Despite the reassurances, it's painful when the Church and community I feel Spirit-led to align myself with seem so certain that yoking myself with him means our damnation. All I can do is offer my testimony, and ultimately seek refuge in the Spirit, who has led me this far.

Göran went with me to the LDS Church once while we were visiting my parents, who were living at the time in Massachusetts. This was back in the days when I was still very alienated from the Church, and we were going more or less to humor my parents. Apparently we caused some major ruckus because somebody saw the two of us very innocently holding hands during the Sacrament Meeting. (Actually, the wife of my parents' bishop at the time thought it was quite sweet!) Mom and Dad never invited us to go with them to Church again, at least until recently, when I have really wanted to go. But now Göran refuses to have anything to do with the Church. He didn't even come to see me sing my solo last February.

Göran saw me struggle for years with depression. He heard from me stories of rejection and insensitivity by Latter-day Saint leaders and friends. He heard the stories of how at one point in my life, my faith created such a huge conflict in my heart and soul that it literally almost led me to commit suicide. He knows the Church's history with blacks. He's seen the bad side, the dark side of the Mormon Church. So I understand the anger he feels about it. I understand his incredulity that I could ever want to have anything to do with such an institution. He hasn't experienced the good side, the bright side, as I have. He doesn't have a testimony like I do.

But it is the nature of love to take those things that are divergent and to harmonize them. Not homogenize them. Not wipe out the differences. Love blends the differences in such a way that something extraordinary, new, inimitable and beautiful is created. It is for this, I believe, that God created within each of us -- gay and straight -- the drive toward intimate love. It is so that deep within each of us there might be something to keep us struggling past all the differences that cut us off from each other, all the centrifugal forces that pull us apart.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Because their Mothers Taught Them

It's days like this I think of my grandma.

My grandpa died before I was born. All the years I was growing up, though, we had frequent visits from Grandma. She was an early riser, and so was I (even as a kid). One of my fondest memories of her visits is of joining her for her morning calisthenics followed by a vigorous walk. Weather didn't matter. Grandma walked in snow, shine, or rain. And the secret to good walking, she told me, was to pick a favorite hymn, and sing it to yourself as you walked. The singing helped you breathe right and keep a rhythm in your step, she explained.

Grandma mostly loved Church music. But she had a few favorite songs that weren't hymns, and they all seemed to have to do with being optimistic and happy. And that was Grandma. While she has had an occasional bad moment (so rare, I can practically remember all of them), everyone who knows Grandma is hard pressed to think of anyone with a more sunny, upbeat disposition. I think that's why little kids loved Grandma. It might also have something to do with the fact that this October she will celebrate her 101st birthday.

It's not that Grandma didn't have her fair share of hard knocks. Her parents both died in the great Spanish Influenza Epidemic when she was eleven years old, orphaning her and her seven brothers and sisters. (They were raised after that by their bachelor Uncle Henry.) She raised my dad during the Great Depression, and lost the great love of her life in 1959 to cancer, when she still had two teenage daughters dependent on her. Grandpa died before they had a chance to move into their dream home in California together.

Grandma didn't let broken dreams stop her. I think she became more determined than ever to keep the family together and to make sure that we all stayed in the path that would bring every one of us back to the Celestial Kingdom, where she could be with the great love of her life again, surrounded by all the kids, grandkids, greatgrandkids, greatgreatgrandkids and so on forever and ever. Grandma never tried to keep us in the path by scolding us or shaming us. Just by love and example, as simple as that.

I know it broke her heart when I left the Church. But the first family reunion after my excommunication, she called me to offer to pay for my plane ticket so that I could join the rest of the family in Hawaii. Grandma once told me she simply could not approve of same-sex marriage, but when Göran and I got married, she came to our wedding. The photographs she took of the drag queens were the only ones that turned out.

Life is probably the hardest for Grandma now that it's ever been. Her body is slowly giving out on her, which must be hell on earth for a woman who loves physical exercise as much as she always has. She's still an example to us, though. When I saw her a bit over a year ago (the picture above is from that visit), and again on her 100th birthday last year, she was still full of kindness, encouragement and optimism. I realized that this is what exaltation is: to reach the closing years of one's life and to have nothing of hate or bitterness left clinging to the soul.

So on the tough days, I try not to get discouraged. I just sing an upbeat hymn or a song, and keep on walking to the rhythm. I can thank Grandma for teaching me that.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Why Theology Can't Save Us

Theology can't save us because faith is not about figuring out what true belief is, faith is about entering into and nurturing a relationship with God.

This is why exegetical arguments about what the Bible does or does not say about homosexuality are pointless. Exegetical arguments do not help gay and lesbian Christians. I believe that ultimately they serve only to make us more insecure and spiritually dependent on others we have no business being dependent on. Gay-friendly exegesis is tempting because it feels affirming to us. It soothes the soul, especially after we have been exposed to so much hateful, anti-gay exegesis. But when we accept it, we enter into a trap. We begin to feel we need to justify ourselves based on someone's interpretation of a text. In my experience, justifying myself based on an interpretation of a text only made me hungry to try to convince everybody else to see things my way, and made me frustrated when they didn't. That fed my anger, not a productive emotion when it comes to nurturing the life of the spirit. But even if I and others could persuade every single person in the world of our interpretation of the Bible, would that, in itself, make it true?

Ah, there's the rub! What a miserable accomplishment it would be to convince the entire world of a false interpretation!

What can save us? Not exegesis. Revelation. And I do not mean revelation in the sense of asking for new scripture. I mean revelation in the sense of coming to know the living God. There is no substitute for getting on my knees every day, and asking God to reveal himself to me. God is hungry for us to turn to him. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."