Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The S Word

There's been discussion about the "suicide (non) option" on Abelard's blog and on Peter's blog. I have read (as some others of you have) on the gay Mormon blogs about another another gay Mormon suicide. At least one blogger denied that his suicide had anything to do with him being gay and Mormon. Others seem pretty sure that's precisely what it's about.

So recently another Moho brother whom I love emailed me to tell me he was recently thinking about suicide, just working it out in his mind how to do it in a way that will be less traumatic for his family.

He says he's OK now. I think I believe him.

But this has to stop.

He explained to me the mathematics of it. When suicide is a more attractive option than trying to live with all the remaining options, we go with suicide. For some folks, when the only options are: suicide, marriage, or life-long celibacy, suicide looks like the best choice. In suicide we preserve our purity. The Church can forgive us for suicide. In fact, Church manuals specifically state that suicide is a tragedy, not a sin. The Church can forgive us for giving up in just that way. It won't forgive us for loving a man. Giving up in that way is unforgivable.

I don't think I can stand to read any more denials about how gay Mormon suicide is a problem. How it's not real, how it's a statistical fabrication, how gay Mormon suicides don't have anything to do with being gay and Mormon. Please, no more arrogant statements about how guys just need to have more faith and everything will be just fine.

OK, maybe the Church can forgive us for committing suicide but I can't. I refuse. I cannot accept this. I will never forgive you for giving up in that way. I love you too much. God loves you too much. Your life, here and now, is of infinite worth. You are of infinite worth.

This is not what God made us for.

God made us for love.

22 comments:

Scot said...

Well said and thank you, J.

I’ve tried a couple times to post on gay suicide but find, each time, my writing becomes too angry and too close to my experience with those now gone, and I just end up scrapping it.

I hope any of those out there thinking suicide to be an option will find a professional’s help, a school counselor, a gay help line, a suicide hot line, anything. Though I suppose most of us around these blogs aren’t experts on the topic, many have been that desperate and have known those who have been to that brink. To our great regret, some have also known those who’ve not come back. I hope everyone feels free to use that experience, at the very least, to help them through. If nothing else, I’m sure there are many here willing to be a friend and listen. If there’s one thing I think all sides can easily agree upon it’s that this difficult portion of a gay Mormon’s life is well worth living through.

MoHoHawaii said...

When I was in the MTC I heard a General Authority give a talk about chastity. One of the things he told the missionaries was of a father who told his missionary son that he'd rather see the boy come back in a coffin than come home having lost his virtue.

As a conflicted young gay missionary, I was stunned. The message to me was clear: I was better off dead.

I think the attitude of the church has softened since those days (almost 30 years ago). But I wonder if that anecdote is still part of the MTC's program.

This is a topic is very close to home with me, and like Scot I think I get too angry to be of much use when discussing it.

Peter said...

Your post made me cry.

"OK, maybe the Church can forgive us for committing suicide but I can't. I refuse."

That was beautiful.

I do believe that suicide is considered by many General Authorities to be more desirable than breaking Temple Covenants, specifically in regards to homosexuality. That has to change. I cannot believe that that attitude is God-inspired. I keep going back to this belief that I cling to: The Church must find a HEALTHY option for gay Latter-day Saints.

J G-W said...

I've already written elsewhere about my own struggle with suicide. My three best friends at BYU were all gay. One of them made repeated suicide attempts until he was institutionalized for a time. I would have committed suicide but for the intervention of a kind Episcopal priest. A third of us talked about suicide and had suicidal thoughts, though I think it never got beyond that. Of the four of us, only one never seriously entertained suicide (at least as far as I know).

Many, many of us have been there personally, or have seen it with friends. It's real, it's a problem.

I specifically wanted to post this because of what my friend told me: it was his perception that suicide was a Church sanctioned option that was better than same-sex relationships.

Sometimes part of the problem is because of our own internalized homophobia, we often won't reach out to those who understand our situation best -- other gay men who have been there.

Neal said...

Scot: I agree with you. Just go for help at the first sign.

Peter:

"I do believe that suicide is considered by many General Authorities to be more desirable than breaking Temple Covenants, specifically in regards to homosexuality. That has to change. I cannot believe that that attitude is God-inspired."

This is a new one on me. Could you provide references for the basis of your concern? I've never heard a GA condone suicide.

Thanks,

Neal

playasinmar said...

Funny, everyone else has.

Neal said...

Then you shouldn't have any trouble pointing me to the references.

Holly said...

How about Jesus himself advocating suicide in order to avoid certain sins?

see Luke 17:2 "It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones."

or Mark 9:42 "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."

OK, those passages deal with child abuse and so forth, which I believe should be treated as sins and crimes, two things I think homosexuality should never be considered.

But the passages do establish the theological precedence for saying that it's better to die, by one's own hand if necessary, rather than commit certain sins.

But in the case of JGW's friend, it's horrible theology. I pray that he will choose to live. These suicides are a tragedy not only for the loved ones directly affected by the deaths, but for the entire church.

No church that engenders such despair in ANY of its adherents can be said to be doing its job properly. I posted something on my own blog about the fact that Utah is the most depressed state in the US. These suicides are evidence of a systemic problem, not of individual weakness or sin or unworthiness.

A book that really helped in my own struggle with religious despair was Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong was a Catholic nun who was told that the mysterious faints she suffered in the convent were evidence of her spiritual and moral inadequacy, but it turns out they were epilepsy. Leaving the convent broke Armstrong's heart, but she knew she had to do it to stay alive.

While I don't want to suggest a strong comparison between epilepsy and homosexuality--I am revolted by the idea that being gay is an illness--I do think this is a very useful book for Mormons who are struggling to understand how externally imposed demands can be internalized, so that one believes it is oneself that is broken and flawed, not the system. Because the religion critiqued here is Catholicism rather than Mormonism, it's possible to see some of its failings without feeling hurt in the way we are when a beloved institution is attacked or undermined. But the fact that this person is told things like "You feel too much. Feelings don't count, you know" and seeks answers to questions like "How can I stop wanting people to love me?" as part of her spiritual quest will resonate with anyone who has been offered useless platitudes as part of a painful search for the basic human connection we are all entitled to find in this life.

J G-W said...

In order to take those two quotes about millstones as an endorsement by Jesus of suicide, I'd have to read the New Testament in a literalistic fashion I just don't think is warranted. Sacred texts are full of shocking images that are meant to point us to something that transcends the literal meanings of the words.

In any event, Jesus is saying it would would be better to drown oneself than to harm an innocent child. It's a sentiment I endorse. I might say, for instance, "I would rather die than do anything to harm that child." I'm particularly aware of such protective sentiments now as I contemplate foster parenting, especially as I am aware of some of the dreadful things that have been done to many of the children in the foster care system.

As for the other point about the mental health of gay folks in relation to an institution like the Church... This is hard for me talk about right now in any depth, partly because I'm feeling a bit fragile when it comes to this topic right now. But the short answer is: it is not our faith that is killing us. It is our inability to see how our faith and our sexuality can be integrated in healthy ways. If the problem could be solved by just eliminating faith from the equation, it wouldn't be a problem in the first place. The fact that we need faith, we need spirituality, just as we need healthy ways of relating to our bodies and our sexuality makes this fundamentally a spiritual problem.

And, to throw out a couple of sociology of religion terms, Latter-day Saints have a faith -- unlike liberal Protestants -- that to a remarkable extent combines "ordinary" religion with "extraordinary" religion. That's a fancy way of saying, we need our Church in order to come to terms with fundamental issues of spirituality. So we can't solve this problem by jettisoning the Church. At least most Latter-day Saints can't. We have to wrestle with this, we have to come to terms with this, within a Church-based framework.

Neal said...

Thanks for those thoughts, but an accusation was made that Mormon GAs teach homosexuals to kill themselves. I have never seen this, and in fact all the references I can find teach exactly the opposite.

If this accusation is true, then I would appreciate some references to back it up. If its not, I think a retraction is warranted.

Regards,

DV

J G-W said...

Neal - It's fair to want to analyze this a bit further. It would obviously be a grotesque caricature to say GA's are endorsing gay suicide. And for the record, I believe GA's are genuinely saddened by any suicide, gay or otherwise. It would be hard to imagine them as human if they were not.

There's a couple of sources for this. One is the (notorious) quote about caskets being the preferred mode of transport for return missionaries who might engage in sexual sin. Everyone's heard that. Someone somewhere pointed out to me the original source. I'm sure a little Internet digging could unearth it. I don't think anyone's disputing that's been said or that most Mormons have heard it numerous times over the pulpit.

The second comes from the fact that LDS are told that suicide is a tragedy, but not a sin. This is a very good, very humane, I believe very progressive approach to suicide. People generally commit suicide because they are depressed; they need help, not blame. And families of suicides need to NOT be told that their loved one is going to perdition because he or she succumbed to such overwhelming sadness.

At the same time, we are being told that entering a homosexual relationship is a sin that will bar us from returning to our Heavenly Father's presence.

It's not exactly telling people that it's better commit suicide than be gay... But when gay boys start to feel desperation as they contemplate a life of loneliness, and then they do the math of suicide vs. gay, that would seem to be the logic, wouldn't it?

It's not good math. It's really bad math. I won't dispute that. But that's my point here...

I've been there. So many of us have been there. And I'm here to say that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt God is pleased that I am alive and in a loving relationship with a man, instead of dead by my own hand 22 years ago.

Neal said...

JGW,

I appreciate your explanation, but with all due respect no GA has ever endorsed suicide. Why are we then putting words in their mouths? Perhaps grotesque charicature is an understatment. If we have to resort to distortion to make a point then we really haven't got a point worth making.

The "death rather than dishonor" metaphors you mention have been around forever, and certainly aren't unique to the Church. Nor are they scriptural doctrines that I am aware of. I do, however, think those sentiments underscore the seriousness of sexual sin, which some may deride. God himself certainly seems to be bothered by them.

I would agree there are indeed a lot of gay boys out there doing bad math. And not just when it comes to contemplating suicide. The Lord teaches a great remedial course on that subject, and the great thing is the tuition is free! All you have to do is show up for class.

I'm glad you're still here with us, JGW. I truly mean that.

Sorry to rant..

Neal

Neal said...

JGW,

"It would obviously be a grotesque caricature to say GA's are endorsing gay suicide. And for the record, I believe GA's are genuinely saddened by any suicide, gay or otherwise. It would be hard to imagine them as human if they were not."

And thanks for going on record. I love the Brethren, and had the good fortune to have one of them as my Stake President for several years. They are some of the most humble, dedicated, spiritual, and loving people I have ever met.

Neal

J G-W said...

Neal - My concern all along has been for those who feel so desperate that they feel they have no choice but suicide. I really have no interest in blame on this score.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with the suggestion that gay men who commit suicide are themselves to blame because they "failed to show up for class."

Once you've reached that point, you're generally so severely isolated it is literally almost impossible to reach out... We need to be proactive. Kinda like the shepherd who left the ninety and nine to go in search of the one.

We need to take much, much better care of each other. We need to watch and listen, and never fail to communicate unconditional love, and reinforce the absolute worth of every one.

That's how I was saved.

J G-W said...

And, by the way... I was totally active in the Church at the time I was suicidal. So have been others who committed suicide... I'm not sure this has to do with whether you attend Church or not.

GeckoMan said...

Oh John,
I am SO glad you are here, too!

This is a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I wish to say, without being offensive, that I cannot begin to fathom the rationale of taking one's life as a calculated risk. I know what it is like to wish for death, when I was suffering from clinical depression only a few years ago. I was not well then.

However, I feel the willful taking of one's life as a gay Mormon proves nothing: it is a martyrdom of either cowardice and/or cruelty. Cowardice if one feels he cannot succeed in living true to difficult options. Cruelty to family and friends left behind, and to the church which is in turn blamed for the act. Suicide should never become a political statement, coercing reaction from a devastated remainder. All of that said, I know it is not up to me to judge the motivations or actions of another, and so I speak generally, and not specifically.

J G-W said...

Gecko - Again, I'd prefer not to accuse people who are suicidal of being cowards or selfish. I can't speak for others, but I think it's fair to say that when I went through this I needed to be more selfish. I needed to believe that I mattered, that I had a right to ask for what I needed in order to be happy.

Neal said...

JGW,

Thanks again for your loving words and your concern for others.

"I'm a bit uncomfortable with the suggestion that gay men who commit suicide are themselves to blame because they "failed to show up for class."

That's not what I meant, so sorry if that's how it came across. I put a qualifier in there: "And not just when it comes to contemplating suicide." What I meant was you don't have to get that far in the first place.

Best Regards,

Neal

GeckoMan said...

John,
When I was depressed, I longed to 'check out' early, but such feelings were never a matter of doing 'bad math.'

Yes, by all means, I hope my suicidal brothers/sisters know I think they matter; like you, I also urge them to value their needs and choose vibrant life. This is something I wouldn't call being 'selfish.'

You said in your post that this suicide trend 'has to stop,' and that you cannot forgive such an act. (Maybe you meant condone, since I know you to be a very forgiving person one on one.) So maybe I don't get it, but if a devout gay Mormon man (or woman) evaluates his options, does 'bad math' and concludes that taking his life will save him either from sin or a miserable life, and he's angry at the church for offering such limited life-options, how would you describe such death rationale? Are any terms for it nice, politically correct or acceptable?

I point-blank called it cowardly and cruel because I am trying to dissuade my brothers from doing their worst option. I'd call on them to analyze their motivations and choose another path of life.

J G-W said...

Gecko - I understand the sentiment you're expressing here, and I think we're on the same page. I just recoil a little from those two words, that's all.

Beck said...

I'm slow in getting caught up with this post. I find your comments very similar to my most recent post on the "reaching out to the one".

I have only seriously contemplated suicide once and that was when I was on the verge of coming out to my wife and feeling so disgusted with who I was as a person and for having to put her through my trial. I thought out the plan. I even drove myself to the location where the plan was to be executed... but I couldn't do it. I broke down in the car in sobbing desperation.

I was very active in the Church and faithfully "attending class". No one would assume what was going through my mind. Yet, those thoughts of worthlessness and hopelessness for "one like me" overwhelmed me.

The thought of those thoughts today still frighten me.

Thanks for being willing to discuss this subject. You have given me courage to openly discuss it for the first time. I reflect on the progress I have made since that time, even when it doesn't seem like I'm progressing much at all, when I realize how much I want to LIVE!

J G-W said...

See, Beck? It is a spiral.

That's the nature of life. Sometimes you just have to hang in there long enough for healing to happen.