I just finished reading Ty Mansfield's essay in the North Star newsletter, "Happiness and the Art of Loving." I encourage all to read it. Gay or straight, Mormon or not, there's much there to think about and be blessed by.
It's odd because just this morning, after my alarm clock went off and as I was shaking sleep out of my head in preparation for a new day, a scriptural text was jangling around in my brain: "Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy." Coincidentally or not, I was still pondering how I might use this Book of Mormon text (from 2 Nephi 2:25) to illustrate to my American Religious History students a fundamental difference between Mormon theology and Nicene Christian theology, when I happened upon Ty's essay, which is essentially his own wrestling with the implications of this text for gay Mormons.
Ty is right that there are plenty of cultural counterfeits of happiness and love. America will sell you for any price all kinds of shiny junk -- from toothpaste to automobiles to psychic readings to cures for baldness to weight loss plans to "e-Harmony" matches -- which it claims will make you happy, but in fact mostly only leave you feeling cheated. And nobody with a reasonable amount of sense can deny the existence of abundant Hollywood-inspired confusion of sex and love. At the same time, it should be pointed out that most of the quotes Ty amassed to suggest that true happiness and love are not for those in same-sex committed relationships, were written by straight people to people for whom straight relationships were taken for granted.
In other words, a straight person can fall into the trap of seeking happiness in urge fulfillment and love in sex in the context of a straight relationship. In other words, isn't it possible that the Gospel calls all of us -- gay and straight -- into a deeper understanding of just what "joy" and "love" are without assuming that celibacy is necessary in order to obtain either? I hasten to add, if celibacy is not necessary to obtain joy and love, neither is intimate relationship necessary. But intimate relationship is an important framework -- if not the only framework! -- within which ordinary human beings wrestle with the painful (and joyful!) life lessons that help us sort out exactly what true joy and true love are.
This has certainly been the case in my relationship with Göran, and it has been vividly illustrated to me again and again in connection with raising a teenage son. A teenage boy is just coming into a full experience of the million hungers that tug at the human creature; and the million temptations in a society where counterfeit moralities are a dime a dozen. Things that seem self-evident to me, a 45-year-old man with at least three decades of hindsight on the whole teenage-hood thing, seem crazy to our son. I find myself giving the same speeches my father gave me. Speeches on what does and does not make for joy; what is or is not true love. Things I have learned within the framework of a same-sex relationship!
The Mormon understanding of "joy" embroidered into that 2 Nephi text about the fall of Adam (and into so many other texts of the Restoration) is powerful precisely because it rejects the dominant Western Christian view of incarnation and embodiment as a kind of temporary prison from which the Christian should seek to escape. Joy in this Mormon understanding is not found apart from that perfect union of spirit and body; a joy in which physical joy is not at odds with but a fundamental component of perfect spiritual joy.
So Ty's argument boils down to the contention that homosexuality is a violation of God's commandments. Ergo, a gay relationship can only offer counterfeits of joy and love. The Moho blogging community expends much more energy than it should bickering over that contention, and it's not my intention here to bicker with Ty. One way to look at our lives as gay Mormons is to see them as various attempts to test the truth or falsehood of that contention, from differing perspectives. Some of us test it in mixed orientation marriages; some of us test it in celibacy; some of us test it in the always risky attempt to find some sort of lasting same-sex love.
This essay -- and other essays I've read in the Moho blogging world lately on the subject of "happiness" -- seem to be a wrestling with the evidence of these experiments. If "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10), what do we make of the seeming happiness of gay-ly married couples? Of the seeming unhappiness of straight couples?
Though I've been celibate for a good part of my life, I've never been married to a woman, so I can't compare the joy of hetero-marriage to the joy of my homo-marriage. I can't be in somebody else's skin, I can't really walk in someone else's moccasins for a mile, much less one footstep. So is L's happiness in marriage better than mine? I'm not sure I can ever know unless eternity holds the possibility of a different kind of communion than is available to us here in this life. But part of me is not sure that kind of communion will ever be possible. Part of me is not sure that my happiness is for anybody but me to know; that L's happiness is for anybody but him to know.
What I do know is that yesterday, my husband and my son attended church with me in my ward for the first time ever, and their presence there was blessed with an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit. Last night and this morning again, I found myself on my knees weeping for pure joy. With King Benjamin, I found myself confessing once again to my Heavenly Father that I am hopelessly, utterly dependent on him, unable ever to say I stand on my own two feet apart from him, because every time I try to thank him with more obedience, he over-blesses me again. Again and again, I encounter new days where the joy seems like it could never be surpassed, until more comes along.
That ever-increasing perfection of joy has come in large part because I have listened to the Spirit and obeyed its admonitions to walk in a path of faith and repentance with the Church -- even as the Church seems unable to embrace me or to know what to make of me. It has come in acknowledging the demands of the spirit (and the Spirit) as well as the flesh.
What does that mean to anybody else but me? I don't know. But I wish you joy and love in the journey.