Friday, December 4, 2009

Mormon Wimmin

I'm not the first to observe that in the various on-line and off-line configurations of Mormon/homosexual community, women seem to be fewer and farther between than the men. Often, conversations about homosexuality in the Mormon context proceed as if this were exclusively a gay male problem.

Of course, when gay Mormon men talk about those aspects of the gay Mormon experience that are most painful, silence, invisibility, and the anguish of the closet rank highly. So if you're a woman and Mormon and gay, how much more painful must it be to be invisible even among those who claim to want to explore issues related to sexual orientation openly?

I've often quietly wondered (and sometimes wondered out loud) why I encounter Mormon lesbians so infrequently in gay Mormon circles:

* Is it that Mormon women are so oppressed already that to deal with an added layer of oppression (being a lesbian) makes it that much more difficult to come out? Well, that was Minnesota lesbian Andrea Dworkin's thesis in Right Wing Women. Maybe Mormon lesbians feel they have less of a stake in Mormonism -- even a Mormonism cured of its homophobia. So they just drop out of groups or on-line conversations where Mormonism stays a central focus.

* Is it that gay men are so sexist that lesbians just end up feeling they have no place in organizations that are dominated by gay men? Well, I've certainly observed examples of gay male sexism, and don't know of any reason why gay men would automatically be immune to one of the most pervasive tendencies in our culture. Could be...

* Is it that lesbians just prefer the company of other lesbians? Is there, like, some hidden commune out there, where all the Mormon lesbians are sneaking off to, to build a paradise without men? (If I were a Mormon lesbian, that might be my idea of the Celestial Kingdom.)

* Is it that there are just fewer lesbians than gay men? Some of what I've seen regarding the biological factors contributing to homosexuality suggest that those factors are different for men than for women, and it's possible that female homosexuality is just rarer than male homosexuality. But then, not nearly as much attention has been focussed on scientifically studying homosexuality among women as among men, and we just don't have enough statistically significant data to know for sure about the statistics or causes of female homosexuality. So that might just bring us back to the problem of sexism -- in science as in everything else.

In any event, it seems apparent that the prophet Joseph had a vision of gender equality and gender complementarity that was more radical than what eventually emerged in the Mormonism that evolved after his death. Some historical research suggests that he was beginning to extend the priesthood as well as high-ranking leadership to women just before his martyrdom -- a decade earlier than the first Protestant sects began to openly ordain women. His vision of Godhood finding its highest expression in marriage, and a plan of exaltation in which women as well as men achieve divinity together also points us toward powerful -- and radical -- understandings of the Divine Feminine in Mormonism.

Even without being ordained to the priesthood, the average Mormon woman is more actively involved in leadership roles and service, in publicly praying, teaching and preaching (Mormons call it "giving talks") than the average Protestant or Catholic woman. To me this points to a vision and understanding of salvation in which women have power, even if they aren't granted authority. Certainly I've experienced that power in my own life, in the teaching, example, and influence that many wise, wonderful and powerful Mormon women have had on my life.

So... Do women -- including lesbian women -- have a stake in Mormonism? In the Empire of God of which I've caught a vision, without question. If the world is built on a foundation of corrupt power; of violence, lies, and inequality; of haves lording it over the have-nots; if we live in a world where sexism, racism, homophobia and class privilege are woven into the rules of societal and governmental power; then women everywhere have much to teach us about the rules of engagement between powerlessness and power, between love and hate. And certainly no Empire of God is worth having where women of all sexual orientations are not active participants in the divine drama.

However, the kind of theological reflection I do proceeds from my experience. And I'm not a lesbian, so I can't speak to being a Mormon and a lesbian. That is why I want to see more lesbians in our conversations about the new world order we should all be building and preparing for. So I'm grateful to those Mormon wimmin brave enough and compassionate enough to show up and tell their stories too... Danetter, Lis n' Jay, Slp, and most recently EvolvingLesbian.

I'd love to be able to participate (mostly, to begin with at least, as a listener and a reader) in an on-line Mormon lesbian forum where issues related to faith and sexuality are tackled from women's perspectives... If someone knows of one that exists, please point me to it! But in the meantime, I'll have to content myself with links and the Blogger "follower" feature...

16 comments:

slp said...

You have tackled MANY subjects in your post. I started to write a comment, then realized it would be VERY long. I will try and get some of my thoughts together and post some of my experiences as a gay woman in the LDS Church. I have blogged about several of them before, on different blogs that no longer exist.

But, an answer to your question: is there a forum of which you could be a part where you would hear the gay woman's perspective?

If you are looking to join a gay Mormon women's online list, probably not. They do NOT want men on their lists. They hover pretty closely to make sure someone does not "infiltrate" their secret little societies...

Also, there are several gay LDS women out there, who blog. Were you to go to Abe's "moho directory" and look through the listed blogs, you would probably find 10 or so gay women's blogs.

I have belonged to a couple of online support groups for gay women in the Church. I did NOT have good experiences with either.

The first one was VERY strict and did not want the women interacting personally outside of the list. There was a 6 month moratorium before you could share your e-mail address with anyone on the list. If you contacted someone BEFORE that time, they booted you right out. The moderator of the group professed one thing, then behaved in just the opposite. It was very off-putting AND very hurtful.

The next group was just the opposite. They encouraged people to interact at their comfort level: i.e., posting on the forum, contacting individuals personally, sharing blogs sites and other interests, etc. It was a rather large forum and there were certainly pockets of "cattiness" going on. And, it seemed you had the women who were sympathetic to the Church, and those who harbored MANY bitter feelings about the Church. They tried having a rule in place, to keep the animosity down, but it still happened. I guess it will happen no matter the circumstances.

That, too, was an interesting experience. I think I spent roughly 3 months with each different forum, then quickly moved on. As I said, I did NOT have good experiences with the online support forums, so I now stay completely away from the social networks such as these. I have sadly found it is too easy for people to hide behind their words, and never reveal their true selves, until you meet and interact with them in person.

OK... so much for a short answer... I ended up writing a post, anyway. So sorry!! I will get the heck out of Dodge, and right now!! :)

I am very touched, John, that you have brought up these issues. And, that you care about how women, and gay women in the Church, are being treated. That says a lot about you and the kind of man you are. Thank you!

With love and respect, always.

P.S. My word verification is "undon"... TOO funny! That is what those forums did to me!! :)

J G-W said...

Thanks, slp... I will check Abe's list. Of course I'm grateful you've taken enough interest in my blog for us to become acquainted!

I am interested in hearing more about your experiences/thoughts about looking for lesbian Mormon community. Perhaps you should post on this!

slp said...

When I joined the first support group, I was at a life crisis. I had joined the group, hoping to find support. They offered a bit, but it was not enough. I had had enough. I was NOT going to deal ANY MORE with being a agy LDS woman. I decided to take my own life. I was driving to the place at which I was going to do it. I got pulled over by a policeman. I di not even care- knew that was a ticket I would NEVER have to pay.

He came back to the car told me to slow down, and that he was not going to give me a ticket. I was so dumbfounded- I surely deserved the ticket, but I did not get one.

As I tried continuing on my way to do the "deed", it hit me like a ton of bricks- divine intervention had sent a policeman to stop me AND one who had not given me a ticket- if he had given me the ticket, I am certain beyond belief that it would have fueled my anger and self-destruction that night. By not giving the ticket, Heaven's love and compassion seared to my heart and got my attention, told me I was loved NO matter if I were gay.

Within the next couple of days of that happening, I came to peace about being who I am. While I HAVE looked to find people with whom I hav commonality, I am no longer looking to join any comunity, per se. I found the thing I needed the most was simply to have a voice and to be heard.

Blogging has done that for me. I began blogging almost three years ago. It has been therapeutic and I have met fabulous people who have been supportive and loving. THAT is the kind of community I want and am a part of, and it included gay women AND men. In fact, the gay men of the community have been so supportive and have given me support I could not get elsewhere.

I have gained support from some gay LDS women, but that is a bit trickier. I do not feel comfortable writing about that here, so I will not. Suffice it to say, it can cause certain "tension".

OK... are you hand choosing my word verifications? This one is "hagge", as in "she talks SO much, she must be a hag"??? LOL

Quiet Song said...

Hmm, well I'm not a gay man and I'm not a lesbian(?-or could I have been?), and I'm absolutely not frustrated with the Church or my so-called "closet." So I rather think I do not count in this matter, nevertheless, I've decided that like slp, my voice will be heard. I'm not out, I'm not in and I think there are some really rather cool aspects of being LDS and female, that given the right attitude and a certain level of unity among the ladies of the church that makes the whole experience of being a "Mormon Wimmun" sing.

J G-W said...

slp - Well, I for one am extremely grateful for that police officer that night... The individual who (unknowingly) intervened in my case was an Episcopal priest who also happened to be our next door neighbor. Because he was a religious leader -- but not Latter-day Saint -- I was able to open up to him and receive comfort from him in ways that I couldn't at the time with my LDS priesthood leaders.

I am also glad you have felt so supported by gay men in the on-line community. I have certainly felt supported by you, so I guess that feeling runs both ways!

Quiet Song - My sense is that for many women in the Church, exclusion from the priesthood (and thus from positions of authority) makes women fundamentally unequal. I also know that both of my sisters -- who left the Church in their teens -- felt frustrated that women's entire worth in the Church seemed to be built around motherhood. They felt (still feel) that in the Church, women's education and talents were not as highly valued as men's.

But, as I noted in my post, there is a difference between power and authority, and I do sense that there are many women like you who feel empowered by the connections they share with other women in the Church, and who find that the Church is a more than adequate outlet for their talents and energy in the variety of roles that women play there. I've on occasion brought students of mine to Church with me, and they've expressed surprise at how confidently women expressed themselves in meetings over the pulpit. Their sense was definitely not of Mormon women as "oppressed" or "disempowered."

Still, because men in the Church hold the priesthood, while women have access to the priesthood only through marriage, it seems to me that gay men would have a very different sense of their role in the Church than lesbians. My sense is that many gay men are more likely to choose celibacy and seek to remain in good standing in the Church because -- even unmarried -- they would hold the priesthood and have the opportunities for service and leadership that come with that.

I think it's always been extremely difficult for single women in the Church, and probably more so for lesbians in that situation.

BladeNHike said...

Hi John,

Please forgive me: my comment has nothing to do with your post. I tried writing to you at john@youngstranger.com, but the e-mail bounced.

I'm a classmate of yours from PMHS. I happened to find you online when I recognized your name somewhere. After clicking on a link or two, I was reading "Sexual terrorism," which I found to be quite compelling. Do you keep in touch with Bill McAlister?

I live outside San Francisco with my husband. We got married last year and had a formal ceremony this past summer at my mom's house in Brighton, NY. Bill Nelander, another gay classmate of ours, lives in San Francisco, but I have yet to get together with him. I'm sure I will be amazed at how many of us were struggling alone with our sexual orientation during our high school years. It was a very unhappy time of my life. In contrast, I'm now more happy with life than ever before.

From your website, it is quite apparent that you are a prolific writer. Such talent! It also sounds like you have created a wonderful life for yourself out of adversity. It would be great to hear from you.

Cheers,
Steve
steve@epsteincentral.com
http://www.facebook.com/#/profile.php?ref=profile&id=701047252

slp said...

Even though I was raised in a family where it was VERY ovious that the preferred gender, (in the family, in society, and in the Church) was and is male, I have still been able to have remarkable experiences and opportunites. One such was being called to serve as a District Leader the last third on my mission.

In the Church, I have always been able to teach or being in some kind of leadership position ( youth teacher, Gospel Doctrine, Spiritual Living teacher in Relief Society, in a Stake Relief Society Presidency, etc).

In my professional and personal life, I have also had leadership experiences ( department chair, basketball coach for both women and men, living overseas, etc.).

Because of these opportunities, I have mostly never felt thwarted because I was not male. I know there is disparity between males and females in many aspects of life, but because of the rich opportunities I have been able to enjoy in life, I am not extremely bothered by that.

And, within the Church, even as a woman, and even as a gay woman, the Church has ALWAYS been a friend to me. I have never felt ostracized because of being single. I have never felt disowned by the Church because I am not married. (At least, not now- I was temple married, for about three seconds. But, it was NOT a good idea for THIS gay woman to be married to a man.)Maybe because I have other (for lack of a beter word) "talents", I have always felt accepted and loved by the Church.

I think I am lucky in this respect- I know there are many women who feel unloved and even disrespected by the Church, especially if they happen to be single. I have NEVER felt that way.

And, thank you for being grateful to the police officer who unwittingly saved my life. While that experience is years hence, it is still HIGHLY personal and emotional. It still brings me to tears to realize how terribly close I came to ending my own life. That night was forever a changing point in my life.

And, I am SO glad to be alive. There is SO much I would have missed out on, had I followed through that night.

I am sincerely appreciative that the priest in your life helped when HE did. I shudder to think that I might never have known you and your humble brilliance.

The Codeine of last night's unbearable pain is beginning to "kick in", so I am headed back to bed, to try and sleep this off.

Happy day and love always.

Quiet Song said...

John,

I have a few comments:

You said-My sense is that for many women in the Church, exclusion from the priesthood (and thus from positions of authority) makes women fundamentally unequal.

I say-When I was young, I went through the requisite questioning of women's roles in the church. I don't think I ever fully directly resolved it. However, over time it has become abundantly clear that I, too, share in the power of the priesthood. Moreover, there are important ways in which I share in the authority of the priesthood, such as: 1) receiving personal revelation confirming doctrine, 2) raising my hand to the square in support of those who are called to serve, 3)partaking of the rights, blessings, duties, and power of the endowment, and, 4) serving faithfully in the home and the church.

There is a rather profound empowering experience that comes with being a righteous follower of Christ and a Holy Woman wearing the full armor of God. Most of my loved ones have heard me say it before, but I truly believe that if for some reason we had no men available to run the church, the LDS church is the only large church on the earth where the women of the church have deep enough leadership, testimony, knowledge, spirituality, and every other needful thing, except perhaps the priesthood authority as it is currently constituted, to step in and run the church at every level.

To my thinking as a woman with very profound responsibilites in many facets of my life, it really would not change things much to have an all female First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Think about it-we are not inherently better human beings than our male counterparts.

Also, the most underacknowledged difficult place a woman in the LDS church can find herself in is with an inactive priesthood holding husband. That's a rather taboo subject we don't talk about. Very few folks within the church actually live through life in the classic marital ideal within the church, so it's not just single sisters dealing with difficult issues. I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I think that most folks when they look around their quorums or relief society are going to find tremendous variation in the marital and parenthood status of their brothers and sisters. Once I began to do a reality check, I realized that although my situation is different and perhaps difficult, so is that of nearly everyone I worship with.

When an entire Relief Society or Quorum begins to understand the fundamental facts that we are all different, yet here together to help each other progress eternally, wonderful things begin to happen. This is important work on a par, in my opinion, with what is done in the Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City. "They" can't do it without "us" and "we" should pray for "them." And if so moved, we should pray for our concerns about issues of the day such as women and the priesthood and issues regarding sexual orientation that our leaders will receive whatever the Lord deems necessary in this time. And, we should be engaged in every other worthy work that the lord allows us to be a part of, in moderation of course!

I must excuse myself now to go pull the handcart for a while, perhaps with a little earthly help perhaps not. But, always with a kind Heavenly Father who has provided comfort through the holy ghost.

P.S. slp-I am amazed at how many moho bloggers have been gospel doctrine teachers.

J G-W said...

slp and Quiet Song - Thanks for the stories and testimonials, to remind us that the source of true strength and power in life is invisible...

I think that those who stay active and connected to the Church do so because they've discovered that power source through their relationship with God and the Spirit.

Steve - We have to talk! (I just emailed you.)

cmuser said...

I think the reason I'm not more involved in the gay Mormon community has to do more with my stance on the Church right now than anything else.

SLP said "it seemed you had the women who were sympathetic to the Church, and those who harbored MANY bitter feelings about the Church." While I don't necessarily harbor bitter feelings toward the Church, I'm not really interested in attending or participating with a group who doesn't accept me for who I am.

While I see the pros to attending and understand that some (maybe even many?) members are accepting, it bothers me that as a whole a Church which preaches Christian love can't seem to find a place for me unless I am celibate.

I choose not to attend or participate not because I feel oppressed or dominated by gay men, but because I am not in that place in my journey as of yet...and may never be.

Thanks for the post, John. It was enlightening and thought provoking!

J G-W said...

cmuser - Thanks for commenting... I'm curious, if you don't mind answering, how you came across my blog post? You're at least connected enough to things Mormon that you're reading what I have to say, so that says you're still interested, even if you are currently keeping your distance from the Church.

I think where you're at is similar to where many gay men are in relation to the Church...

cmuser said...

cmuser = me! Danette! I read your blog daily, my friend :) I am still connected to the Church in certain ways...like through my family, friends, or blogs...but I don't identify as Mormon anymore.

J G-W said...

*GROANS* as he smacks himself in the forehead!!!

Dang, I forgot that was your Internet code name!!

I miss our little luncheons!

Yes, I kinda figured (just from following your blog) that the Church is pretty much out of your life.

We should get together again one of these days for old times' sake. We still need to have a family get together with our respective spouses.

cmuser said...

Send me an email or give me a call sometime. Now that I'm laid off I have lots of open days :) As for a spousal dinner, it will probably need to wait until January as December evenings have seemed to fill up fast! We're heading to Utah/Idaho the 24-28 as well. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm a few months late here, but I'm surprised no one has commented in a similar vein to my comments to follow. I'm an active LDS woman who is blessed to be bisexual and not 100% lesbian. I feel that I can have a fulfilling relationship with my husband, even though I prefer women generally, without the struggles that a fully lesbian woman would have to endure in my position.

I think that something a bit overlooked in this discussion is that women's equality in the LDS church owes a great deal to the fact that we bear & raise the children. This role of motherhood is taught to us as our primary role that should not be neglected and essentially puts us above the priesthood in many ways.

I think if you are a lesbian who was raised LDS, the struggle of your divine purpose as a mother would be so difficult that a woman would probably do all she could to marry and have children anyways if it could be managed.

No believing LDS girl/woman would ever choose to forego having children entirely for any reason, even if it meant denying our own desires beyond children, including our true sexuality.

I believe there are a great many people living a straight LDS life because it is their belief that a gay sexuality is a test in this world to be suffered through and subjugated by a strong spirit. I also personally know a few people who are active, LDS, gay and celibate, and very accepted in their wards and admired for their strength to live God's law in the face of the strong urges of sexuality. I consider those people to be very brave to be out and LDS at the same time.

I think most of us who can pass for straight simply do just that.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - In the process of coming to terms with my sexuality, I had to struggle a lot with a sense of grief about not being able to be a father, so I can only imagine how difficult that would be for LDS women, who are culturally far more invested in parenting than LDS men. (Though, for what it's worth, I think LDS men are culturally far more invested in fatherhood than men in the general culture.)

One of my mother's first questions to me when I came out of the closet to her was "Don't you think you could be at least a little bisexual?" I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after that question... Until that point I'd had no idea my mother's vocabulary even included a word like 'bisexual.'

I myself have prayed for at least a little bisexuality at various points in my life, but alas those prayers have never been answered. I'm about as perfect a 6 on the Kinsey scale as it is possible to be.