Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Funny Sort of Anniversary

Two of the missionaries assigned to my ward came by for a visit today. They had been strongly encouraged to do so by my friend Mary. Oddly, I had had a random encounter with the missionaries from the Cedar Lake Ward last week. And even though I had told them my complete story, they thought it was a good idea to encourage the Lake Nokomis missionaries to talk to me. So I just accepted this missionary visit as something that had to happen, since it was coincidentally coming from more than one source at the same time.

I began by apologizing to Elder B. and Elder H., as I was afraid they might consider their visit to me a waste of time. I told them how I'd come to know Mary, and they told me why she seemed to think it would be a good idea for us to meet. And I told a little bit about my "situation."

In the process of explaining that, it occurred to me that Göran and I will be celebrating our 18th anniversary in August. This August will also be the 6th anniversary of the spiritual experience that brought me back to the LDS Church. So, this year, I'll have been a believing/practicing Mormon for one third of the time Göran and I have been together. That feels significant to me. Six more years, and I'll have been a "Mormon" for half of our relationship.

I guess at the beginning of this particular leg of the journey I wondered... Would it -- could it?? -- last? Would I, at some point, decide it was pointless to try to maintain any sort of relationship with the Church? How far could I go with this? Or, alternatively, would my relationship with the Church stress my relationship with Göran to the breaking point? (That only ever seemed a risk during the first year or two of my activity in the Church.) But somehow, I am still in relationship with the Church, and still in relationship with Göran, and in fact I'd say both relationships are thriving.

Göran sent me an "I love you!" text message during my meeting with the elders. (He knew I was meeting with them after 2 p.m.) I was actually surprised how little he was bothered that I was meeting with them.

After the missionaries left, I texted him back, "I told the missionaries all about you and showed them your picture. They would love to meet you!"

He replied, "Um which picture?"

I replied, "The drag picture. I told them you were my wife."

That immediately got him out of text message mode and into phone call mode. "You did not!" he gasped. We laughed together until tears were streaming down my cheeks. It felt good.

The truth is, even though I can't be a member, even though there are extreme limits on the degree of participation that is allowed me, the Spirit is abundantly present in my life as a result of my willingness to do what I can do. My life is enriched and deepened by my faith. And my faith is giving me resources I desperately need in my life right now. I've always felt like I've gotten extra blessings from the Lord to make up for what I can't do in the Church. Meanwhile, Göran and I are discovering new dimensions of our relationship we never knew existed. I feel closer to him now than I ever have. And we're getting ready to foster parent again, now that Glen seems to be thriving on his own.

Life is strange and cool.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage a Major Theme at Pride Twin Cities 2011

A member of my Family Home Evening group joined the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus a couple of months ago, so our Pride activities this year included supporting him by attending a Gay Men's Chorus concert Saturday night. Earlier that day, Göran and I (and other members of my FHE group) went to Loring Park to look at the various Pride exhibits.

Sunday morning, Göran and Glen were marching in the parade as part of the Delta Lambda Phi contingent, so I met up with some friends -- including J., a member of my FHE group -- to watch the parade. It's the first time in some years that I've actually watched the entire parade from beginning to end!

There were 133 different official contingents. I was particularly interested in the contingents that focused on the issue of same-sex marriage. There were more than a few.

The DFL ("Democrat Farmer Labor") city council members marched as a contingent, and made this statement about their support for same-sex marriage.

So did the Minnesota ACLU.

Of course, Rainbow Families/Family Equality Council was there too, and can be counted on to march with a strong pro-marriage-equality message.

A major focus of OutFront Minnesota this year will be working to defeat the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that will be on the ballot in November 2012. I've joined OutFront's Faith Steering Committee to strategize and work with other people of faith in Minnesota on this issue.

Project 515 is a Minnesota-based organization specifically committed to the issue of marriage equality as well.

OutFront Minnesota and Project 515 have joined with a coalition of other organizations under the Umbrella of Minnesotans United for All Families, which is organizing the campaign to support same-sex marriage. I made sure to stop at their booth during the festival in the park to sign up and stay apprised of the various efforts they'll be organizing in coming months.

In the park, I encountered a couple of other groups working on marriage equality as well, like Winning Marriage Equality and Marry Me Minnesota. WME appears to be the brainchild of Denny Smith, a Minnesota teacher and father of a gay son. "Marry Me" has organized to support same-sex couples who are suing the State of Minnesota for the right to marry. (OutFront is encouraging Minnesotans to pursue a legislative strategy for winning marriage equality, rather than a litigious strategy.)

I ran into my friend, Patrick Scully, a Minnesota performance artist and founder and artistic director of Patrick's Cabaret. (He's hard to miss at Pride, because he's so frickin' tall!!) He was wearing a banner congratulating New York on its legalization of same-sex marriage. On his back, he had the Target Corporation logo superimposed on a Rainbow Flag, with a bloody knife stuck in the middle of it. Patrick had used a real, plastic knife and special make-up effects to make it look like he'd been stabbed in the back. It was his own personal effort to hold Target responsible for its betrayal of the GLBT community when it backed arch-conservative, anti-same-sex-marriage candidate Tom Emmer for governor. (Emmer lost to DFL candidate Mark Dayton.) The last I saw Patrick yesterday, he was lying down on the lawn near the Target booth at Pride, with a bevy of security guards standing around him, trying to figure out what to do with him. I wonder if he succeeded in getting arrested?

(Worth noting here, parenthetically at least, that yet another conservative opponent of same-sex marriage has publicly admitted he was wrong, and has come out in support of same-sex marriage.)

We didn't get home till after everything was shut down in the park, because Göran and Glen were both helping with the Delta Lambda Phi booth. When we did, we finally got some well deserved Sabbath rest, and rubbed each other's feet in front of the television, while watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Getting geared up for the final installment in July by watching all seven movies!)

But there's plenty more walking we'll need to do, before all is said and done.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why "Mormonism" Will Ultimately Liberate "the Gays"

Andrew recently offered a post explaining why he thinks "queer theory" holds more promise for the gay community than "GLBT activism," grounded as it supposedly is in "essentialist" or "essentializing" approaches to sexuality. Of course, there are plenty of LGBT activists who subscribe to "deconstructionist" "queer theory," so I'm not sure it's quite accurate to characterize this as a question of queer theory versus GLBT activism. However, it's probably* true that the vast majority of gay men and lesbians in this country -- including activists -- subscribe to what he would characterize as an "essentialist" approach to sexuality. I.e., You're either gay or straight (or bisexual). We just "are" this way.

Now, what's interesting is that queer theorists themselves seem to be at least a little bit troubled by the fact that their views of sexuality seem to converge with the views of the extreme, homophobic Christian right, which insists that homosexuality is an illusion/delusion, that sexualities are completely socially constructed and are, in essence, whatever we want them to be. What I find a little bit troubling (apart from the fact that this view of sexuality doesn't actually seem to correspond to the real-life experience of the vast majority of gay men and lesbians), is that in order to get around this itsy bitsy little problem, queer theorists will in turn argue that the problem with the Christian right view is that it insists on there being a right and a wrong. Take morality out of the equation, and it doesn't matter how polymorphously perverse our sexualities are. We have a right to do whatever we please, so it shouldn't matter if there's no such thing as homosexuality. There's no such thing as heterosexuality either. So there!

That view of sexuality is "liberating" for about two seconds. Usually the two seconds can be lengthened out to four or five years if you're in some cutting edge liberal arts program at a major secular University. It is liberating precisely until you realize, as a gay man or lesbian, that you do in fact find the most fulfillment in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex, and despite all your efforts or wishes that that not be the case, it is. And so some queer theorist telling you that you're supposed to revel in your polymorphous perversity, and some Christian right therapist telling you that your homosexuality is due to your fear of connecting with your own masculinity or a Satanic deception -- none of that helps in the least. What helps us is what helps everyone else in the world: love, freedom, acceptance, community, commitment. And guess what? Morality.

There's a reason why the vast majority of "queer" folk take a more essentialist perspective for granted. It's because it fits with our experience. And it works best for us. Now I'll grant that the inner workings of sexuality are likely complex. I'll grant that just because the sun appears to rotate around the earth doesn't mean that it in fact does. Just because I have to rely on Newtonian mechanics to ride my bike and go about my business day-to-day doesn't mean that Einstein was wrong about time and space being relative. Nevertheless, the sun still rises every morning outside my eastern window, and I still organize my day around the very Newtonian clock hanging on my wall. Einstein isn't particularly helpful for running my life. And queer theorists (not to mention Christian right therapists) are a long way away from showing that their speculations about the nature of sexuality are anything like natural law. Eve Sedgwick is no Einstein (even though she's almost as difficult to read).

There came a point in my life where I realized that in order for my life to have a meaning, it needed a center. I spent a lot of time and energy searching for that center. I tried to find it in academics, in humanism, in political activism, in artistic endeavor. I certainly tried to find it in my relationship with my husband. I pondered whether a meaningful life could even be possible if it was centered merely in the self, in myself; though that's always seemed least promising of all. My best efforts to make sense of my life and find a center in anything but God ultimately failed.

The most meaningful parts of my life -- including my coming out and coming to terms with my sexuality, and the establishment of my relationship with my husband -- were the parts of my life that literally had been touched by God. And so opening my heart to the Spirit, and accepting the Spirit's invitation to "come home" was ultimately simply an acknowledgment of that fact. And it was the single most liberating act of my life.

I am willing to say that opening my heart to God would and could be liberation enough. But as I followed the Spirit's invitation to "come home," and to enter as fully as I could into the path of faith, without self-condemnation and without fear, I began to learn that the Restored Gospel offered very specific hope and liberation to me as a gay man that I didn't see anywhere else.

For one thing, it quickly became clear to me that religious traditions, like Protestantism, that are rooted in a scripture-based authority paradigm, will never be able to resolve the problem posed by homosexuality in a satisfactory manner. All they will be able to do is engage in a never-ending argument about how the scripture applies to homosexuality; an argument that becomes increasingly irrelevant as historical/textual criticism of the Bible undermines people's faith that what the Bible may or may not say about homosexuality really matters anyway. This is not helpful to gays. But a revelation-based authority paradigm, in which human beings seek wisdom directly from God, in which human beings are in a dynamic, historically contingent and ever-evolving relationship with a living and eternal God, a God who is progressively revealing to them line upon line and precept upon precept the truth of their own natures, and the truth of God's nature as revealed through them.... This holds promise.

Religious traditions, both eastern and western, that hold that spirit is somehow beyond and/or superior to matter; that hold that physical existence is a trap or a delusion or tainted with sin; these traditions couldn't really help me either. Perhaps I could find peace in some path of asceticism. My husband has frequently accused me of being a "monk," of having too little interest in material things. It's probably true that without him, I would be living something like a monk. I was seriously tempted by monasticism in my mid-twenties. But ultimately I realized that while I might find "peace" in this approach to the spirit and the flesh, I would never find what is best captured by a turn of phrase in Section 93 of the Doctrine & Covenants: "fullness of joy." Namely, that thing that we find in the eternal union of "spirit and element, inseparably connected."

Our bodies are real, and they matter. And they are good. Very, very good. And it is God's intention, according to "Mormonism," God's "work" and God's "glory," to enable us to enter into that fullness of joy. My fellow Latter-day Saints may not understand what my relationship with my husband means to me (though it's not that difficult to understand, if you are happily companioned, it's not that huge of a leap of imagination). They may believe that my homosexuality is somehow the flawed by-product of a sin-filled creation; that God would never intend to make me this way because to do so would undermine his whole plan for creation. But what others know or don't know can't determine my happiness, nor does it set the limits for what God can and can't do. And God is in my life, so I have it on good authority that my life is headed toward something very, very good.

So I choose to be patient, and to walk down this path step by step. The only reason at this point in my life I might trade up what I have for whatever elusive dreams reparative therapists or queer theorists might offer me would be if I somehow abandoned the connection to the Spirit that has so filled my life with faith, hope and love in recent years.

But what would be the point in that?


* I don't have any survey data to back me up on this. My impression that the vast majority of gays and lesbians hold more "essentialist" views of sexuality is based on personal observation of many, many friends and acquaintances, and involvement in a wide variety of gay organizations. In fact, I dare say that the only people I know who insist on a more "deconstructionist" view of sexuality are people in academia.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Notes on Eternal Family

Jotted down in my little scripture study/church meetings notebook


1) A family has different types of members -- like a body, like the Church! -- with different roles, functions, gifts and callings

2) Families are extended, and complex: mother-father-child is a cell, a unit within the family; it is not the family

3) The Earth has a history and a destiny which cannot be fulfilled without every member of the human family playing his or her destined role. Humanity in its entirety is the largest, most complete expression of family: the family of Adam and Eve. The timeline for the fulfillment of that destiny is known only to the Father.

4) We each need family to grow and develop into our full stature.

5) Friendship/Love is the most fundamental power/force driving/creating/sustaining family.


Last night, after we dropped Glen off at his dorm, Göran and I watched the Israeli film Eyes Wide Open, which tells in a very straightforward manner the story of two gay Orthodox Jews living in Israel, and the unexpected love that grows between them. One is married, the other is not. It's a beautiful, thought-provoking film.

The film lays out with wonderful clarity the theological challenge related to same-relationships. There's a scene in which a rabbi states -- as a general principle -- that abstinence is a sin. God has created a world full of beauty because he wants us to have joy. That is the purpose for which God created the world. To set oneself apart from that, to refuse to partake of the joy God offers us is a sin. The main character in the story, Aaron (the gay, married man) takes issue with the rabbi. Man is supposed to struggle. Without struggle and self-discipline, life has no meaning. That about sums up the theological divide between gay Christians, and Christian ex-gays.

Later in the film, when the rabbi questions Aaron about his relationship with Ezri (the younger, unmarried man), Aaron explains that Ezri makes him feel closer to God. Before meeting Ezri, he explains, he had been dead inside. He had once been dead, now he was alive. Ezri had given him life. Ultimately, however, when the community threatens to cast Aaron and Ezri both out of the synagogue, boycott Aaron's butcher shop, and force him and his family out of the community, Ezri leaves, order is restored, and Aaron grieves silently and alone. In a very poignant moment in the film, Aaron is praying silently in his bedroom while his wife observes, "I know what you are praying for."

The film certainly left me reflecting on my relationship with Göran, on the truth that it is my relationship with him that has enabled my heart to open itself up to God. It is in my relationship with him I believe I experience the fullness of joy for which God has created all of us.


All too often, convention is just another form of human pride and stubbornness. It's our excuse, our rationalization, our justification for things that, in the broad scheme of love and justice, would otherwise be indefensible. So often in scripture, we see God acting against convention, working through outcasts, undermining the wise, the powerful and the self-justified.

The question for us is: Am I on the side of Love, or on the side of its denial?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Scattered Father's Day Thoughts

It's not supposed to be this way. This morning, I was sitting on the pew, waiting for Church to start, waiting for Priesthood opening exercises. I was sitting alone. Men were spread out all over the sanctuary. I was feeling a bit sad. I thought, "It's not supposed to be this way. I'm supposed to have family and friends sitting right next to me, their shoulders brushing against mine, reminding me that I am loved, and that whatever it is I have to face, I can face it with them."

I felt the Spirit's presence saying, "Until things are the way they're supposed to be, I'm here for you."

I felt better, knowing I could find the strength to keep the faith and help make things right.

Family is me too. Our priesthood lesson was on the doctrine of eternal family. There was a lot of talk about one man, one woman, etc., etc.

Something stirring deep inside told me, Family is me too. I shared a story about how, when my grandmother's parents died in the great Spanish influenza epidemic in 1919 and 1920, their life-long bachelor uncle took in the eight orphaned children and raised them as his own. That sparked a discussion about how family is bigger than just one isolated male-female coupling and their children.

The teacher warmly thanked me for my comments after class...

It's personal now. Ward leaders asked me to participate in a special, six-week-long family history class, so that's been my Sunday School last week and today.

Individuals in the class were asked to talk about their family history research experiences. I thought, OK. This is personal now. I can't get by on vague generalities any more. This is about me. Real family. My real family.

I told the story of how Göran's mom had taken him away as a child, how he didn't even learn her real name until years after she died, how he only just met his father again for the first time about three years ago. I talked about our three trips to Memphis, Tennessee since then, meeting and getting to know members of his family. Looking at family books and Bibles and photos with them, and starting to put together a family tree that right now reaches back to George Washington's day.

Because I love them. Sacrament meeting was all about Father's Day. It was a good meeting. There were good talks.

I was thinking about Göran and Glen. Glen is spending the weekend with us, to celebrate Father's Day with us. I thought, Here I am separated from my family on Father's Day. But this is helping me. This is me working at becoming a better man, a better husband, a better dad.

I was anxious to get home afterwards. Some youth were standing outside the doors of the chapel with cans of A&W root beer to which they had affixed the label "POP." They didn't give me one. I wasn't sure if it's because I'm not considered a dad, or because I left the chapel before they were ready to hand out the Father's Day tokens. I'm not going to worry about it too much.

My friend E. stopped me at the back entrance. "Are you OK?" he asked. I noticed he had a can of "POP" in his hand.

"I am, I'm great," I said.

His brows furrowed. He grabbed me warmly by the arm and stared at me skeptically. "Really?" he asked.

I looked him in the eye, and I calmly said, "Really. I am. I'm great. I just want to go home now. I want to be with my husband and my son. They're waiting for me. It's Father's Day."

"OK," he said, his voice still not letting me off the hook. "You go be a father. I'll call you later today."

I walked out the back entrance feeling really great that I have a friend who really cares, who really wants to make sure.

Dads. Plural. Glen's idea for Father's Day was a road trip. So we've rented a car, and we're driving down to southern Minnesota. He wants both of his living foster dads to be with him while we visit his father's grave.

Göran and Glen are in a jovial mood. They had a great night's sleep... They were still sleeping when I got home from Church. We had breakfast together, while Göran told us about a strange dream he had about a drag queen battle royale. Glen is going skydiving next month, and we shared our skydiving stories with him.

I'm feeling really, incredibly lucky. I love Göran so much. I love our foster son so much. I'm so proud of what an incredible job he's done in his first year of college. What an amazing young man. I miss him terribly. I see him once a week, but still I miss having him here under our roof. Life feels like it's the way it's supposed to be when we're together. We're a complete family again.

I have this prayer that is more or less constant, whenever I think of him. It goes, Let him be happy. Let him have all the best things in life. Let him have everything he so richly deserves. Make him everything he can be. Let him live into his full stature. Let him have a life full of love.

Happy Father's Day, everyone!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It's What We Can't Know that Gets Us

I've been thinking a lot lately about one of Andrew's posts. I also read this on-line NY Times article about fervidly ex-gay Michael Glatze. What struck me most in thinking about both posts is the ways in which we seem to be driven by our uncertainty.

Andrew was commenting on a debate over at Wheat and Tares about the nature of the Spirit -- how believers tend to emphasize the experience of the Spirit as something totally unique and ineffable, while unbelievers tend to write it off as emotion and wish-fulfillment.

But here's the thing about the Spirit. When someone tells me they "feel the Spirit," I of course can't possibly know exactly what it is they are feeling. They can describe it to me. I can try to compare my own feelings to their descriptions. But ultimately I can never know if what I am feeling is exactly what they are feeling or not. Ultimately, I'm left having to figure it out for myself. I have to make my own judgment call as to whether what I am experiencing in a particular situation is "just another feeling," or whether it is something transcendent, the result of divine Presence and activity.

Now, I do believe there are some objective criteria by which we can judge the presence of the Spirit. I have received revelations that have been objectively validated. I also believe that we can tell a life is being worked on by the Spirit when we see signs of moral amelioration; when we see growing patience, courage, honesty, and selflessness; in a word, when we see the blossoming of Love. So I look to other criteria as proof that the Spirit is at work besides just externally unverifiable feelings. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that one "chooses" criteria. Whatever criteria we accept as proof of the Spirit's presence, the fact that we can and do choose to be persuaded by certain criteria and not others does seem to point to the possibility that we experience the presence of the Spirit because we choose to experience it. There's really no getting around that.

OK, now let's consider another seemingly totally unrelated concept of "gay identity." When I was first starting to deal with my own feelings of "same-sex attraction," I experienced a similar dilemma. Yes, I had certain feelings -- very powerful feelings! -- but did those feelings make me "gay"? Were my feelings the same as the feelings of someone else who identifies as gay, or were my feelings something of an entirely different order? Am I really gay, or am I mistaken? This is why so many of us find "coming out" narratives so compelling. We study these narratives for clues about our own internal states. It is part of a critical process of figuring out who and what we are.

The question posed by the "ex-gay" movement really is, Can anyone have gay feelings? It actually denies that anyone can. It calls the belief that anyone can be gay or have gay feelings a delusion. So we've got a similar divide here to the divide between people who say that the Spirit is something unique and true and totally ineffable, and those who say the Spirit does not exist, that it can be explained away as "just" emotion or psychology or wish fulfillment. We have people denying the reality of gayness, and then we have people who insist that there is something distinct, something unique, that gay people are fundamentally different from heterosexuals in some basic way.

And interestingly, when individuals who once identified as gay cross that dividing line and insist that they are not and never were gay, many folks in the gay community respond by wondering if those people in fact were never gay. Maybe they were bisexual. Maybe they were experimenting or confused or something else besides gay.

But it's a question we will never/can never answer. Because we simply can't know what's going on inside of somebody else. Our personal, individual experiences are ultimately incomparable to the experiences of others. We can listen to all the testimonies we want on Fast and Testimony Sunday. We can read all the coming out stories we want in XY magazine. Or we can read all the secular humanist explanations of the psychology of religion. We can read all the ex-gay literature on the psychology of homosexuality we want. Ultimately, we are left in ourselves to decide what it all means to us, to figure out which narrative makes the most sense in terms of explaining our own experiences, our own feelings.

One reason I love the Gospel of Thomas is because of its nuanced analysis of interiority. The Jesus of Thomas makes the case through parable and paradox that the only things we truly can learn are the things we learn from no one else. It is the ultimate tract on pneumatic Christianity. It shows us how to honor that process within ourselves, and how to respect it in others.

I read the militancy of a Michael Glatze as an inability to cope with the fundamental, existential insecurity that is at the root of any human identity or choice. We are better served by the humility that acknowledges an ultimate lack of knowledge. In religious terms, we call it "faith."

Without that humility, it is impossible, I think, to achieve the compassion that needs to be at the heart of whatever it is we as a human species are about. Without that humility, our faith devolves into intolerance and tyranny.

Acknowledging our uncertainty, on the other hand, frees us in the only way that any truth can be capable of freeing us. It frees us to receive and to love.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ten Steps to One

There's a Muslim hadith (a traditional saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad) in which God says, "O My servant! If you take one step toward Me, I take ten toward you." The basic idea behind this saying is not different from the basic idea in the parable of the prodigal son, where the father, upon seeing his lost son at the gates, runs full speed to meet him and bring him home.

I have experienced this overflow of love in God's dealings with me. Looking back over my life, I occasionally feel a sense of shame about the many mistakes I have made, and about my life-time of rebellious, self-justifying attitudes. I have often wondered, Why me? Why would God care about me any more, when I disregarded him for so long? When I still make mistakes? And yet, I have experienced this extravagant surfeit of divine love. When I have made the slightest move toward God, God has always immediately been there, encouraging me, sustaining me, walking not just toward me but with me. I have been so blessed, and not because I deserve it.

God showers us with blessings, and yet... And yet, God cannot bless us if we will not first at least take that one step. First we must move at least enough to show God (and to prove to ourselves?) that the intent of our heart is toward him. At some level, God knows that no blessing he can give us will have meaning unless we ourselves are willing to receive it. "For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift" (D&C 88: 33). We have to exercise at least that particle of faith required to open our hearts to receive whatever gifts God wishes to bestow upon us.

I have experienced this recently in a very personal way. I've been experiencing a very difficult, very painful trial of faith recently, the details of which I really can't discuss publicly. At times, I've felt like I was entering into a tunnel of despair. I could feel the darkness closing around me. I worried that I was going to sink back into the depression that haunted me as a young man. I was beginning to experience again that same numbness, that emotional paralysis.

But I'm not the same man today that I was some two decades ago when I was on the verge of suicide. Today I know at some very deep level, in a way that I did not -- could not! -- know then, that God is there for me, that God will never fail me. I know this from trying him again and again and again, and never yet having been failed by him. And so in the face of this most recent challenge I got down on my knees (in the face of this challenge I get down on my knees daily), and I asked God for help, knowing that what I needed from God I would receive.

And the Spirit did speak to me and tell me what I needed to do. As always, there were things God needed me to do. It would not be easy at first. It would not be comfortable. I would have to endure loneliness. I would have to stretch myself and do things beyond what I would initially have thought myself capable of doing. But -- the Spirit assured me -- if I would do the things being asked of me cheerfully and with faith, I could always count on the Spirit's sustaining presence, and I could soon expect the Lord to bless me and my loved ones and open up doors of assistance and encouragement and relief. In short, God would make a way for me. And in fact, that is exactly how it has worked out over the last few days, and how it continues to work out. It seems that for every step I take God does indeed carry me forward ten steps.

Each time I have to do this, I learn something more about faith, about how faith works. And I learn to trust that it will always work this way.

I was having a chat yesterday with a fellow gay Mormon friend. We were discussing the fact that many gay Mormons have become utterly discouraged. So many have left the Church and in essence are saying, "I'll consider coming back, once the Church changes."

But that is not how faith works.

Faith works when we take that initial step. Yes, God will take ten steps toward us, but God expects us to take the first step. Unfair? Absolutely not. This is the only way we can prepare our hearts to receive whatever blessings God has to bestow on us. We need to stretch. We need to exercise faith.

We need to take fearless inventories of our lives and recognize that if we want things to be different, we need to act differently. Even little things that we do have transformative power. If prayer is not a part of our life, getting down on one's knees and asking for help can be a life-changing event. If we are not studying the scriptures, a little daily scripture study can open up wellsprings of unexpected wisdom. If we are not going to Church, going that journey on Sunday morning from our doorstep to the pews might sometimes feel as momentous as the Saints' journey from Iowa to the Great Salt Lake. It may take at least as long as that journey for our journey to begin to change us. But we cannot expect the world around us to change until we are willing to change ourselves. And I can testify that if we are willing to face whatever challenges it takes to become more faithful, when we really need faith, faith will not fail us. God will hear and answer our prayers.

But it starts with us.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The True Meaning of LGBT Pride

It's the month of June, which means LGBT Pride will be celebrated in many different localities throughout the country. For Mormons in general, and gay Mormons in particular, this prospect arouses emotions that run the gamut from fear and loathing to anticipation and joy... Depending, of course, on your perspective.

A few years ago I attended Church with my parents in Springville, Utah. It just so happened the Sunday I was there, during Sunday School a member decided to report on what he had recently witnessed at the San Francisco Pride parade. He told a lurid story about public nudity and sex. Of course the point of his story was to reinforce the trope we've all heard about homosexuality being evil and satanically inspired, and gay pride being a sign of public wickedness that precedes the end times, and gay rights activists being the kind of people who call black white and who call evil good, etc.

What was interesting to me was how my parents reacted. After Sunday School was over, my dad specifically mentioned to me this guy's description of two guys engaging in public sex at the Pride Parade. Of course Dad thought the public sex was terribly inappropriate. But he basically said that these are the kinds of behavior that people engage in when they feel utterly rejected and unloved by their family and their church, and when they have unhealthily low self-esteem. Dad felt certain that if the young men who had been engaging in this act had felt the love and support of family and church friends, had they been encouraged to see their sexuality as an aspect of the wholeness of who they are, they would never have engaged in this kind of shocking public display. He understood it as an act that came from a certain kind of rejection, and the desperation that rejection inspires.

Dad saw with crystal clarity how moral behavior exists in a contextual framework. More importantly, he wasn't about to let someone quote a few isolated, unhealthy acts out of context for the purpose of issuing a blanket condemnation of all gay people, all gay relationships, and the entire gay community. It was so cool to me that my dad so totally got that on his own. Actually, both my parents completely understood what was going on, and both of them found appropriate ways to immediately reassure me of their unconditional love and of their understanding and support.

As a postscript to that incident... I also understood that the person who told this very lurid San Francisco Gay Pride story was not necessarily a bad person. He certainly had witnessed some shocking behavior. The problem was, he had no context for interpreting it. My parents had a context for interpreting his experience that he didn't have: their experience with me, their gay son. Because we understood the context of this man's story, AND we also understood the context of his reaction, we were able to react in a way that was not defensive. Frankly, I was also assisted in my reaction to this situation by the reassuring, comforting, calming presence of the Spirit.

When this man told his story, instead of getting up and walking out of the room -- which I felt a strong desire to do! -- I stayed. I continued to attend the rest of the meetings at church with my parents, including a priesthood lesson taught by the same man who had recounted this episode. It was a good priesthood lesson, and I realized this man had many positive qualities, and I said so to my dad afterwards. That provided a context for my dad later to speak to this man about me -- about his gay son -- in a way that might help him have a different context for his understanding of homosexuality. And dad was able to do this in a way that was loving, non-confrontational, not defensive, and more likely to reach and touch this good but uninformed man.

Yes, there is stuff that goes on at Pride that is reflective of spiritual brokenness, and that is not positive or functional. I have often felt ambivalent about Gay Pride, less because of nudity/semi-nudity and emphasis on sex (which actually is increasingly rare), and more because of the commercialism and materialism (which seems to be a bigger and bigger thing lately). I stopped attending the block parties many, many years go (long before I became active in the Church again) because I'm uncomfortable around large groups of people, especially when numbers of them have been overindulging in alcohol. Lately, I also hate that Twin Cities Pride conflicts with Church. I would like not to have to choose between attending Church and participating in Pride. For me both acts express an important part of who I am and what I believe in. But that's another story.

There are aspects of Pride that I do participate in and that I believe in. The basic idea of Pride itself is about promoting healthy self-acceptance that enables us to live up to our full potential. Overall, the parade and festival are an opportunity for religious, social, civic and service groups to come out and celebrate the diversity of the community, and the elements of the community that make us stronger. Of course we can and should participate in the stuff that is reflective of the best values, and pass over the other stuff.

A gay LDS friend recently emailed me and shared a story on this count, a portion of which is worth sharing here:

I [had volunteered to help out with Pride and] was involved in cleanup and take down of tents, railings, etc. of the festival site... We worked long hours and weren't done until near midnight. There was a retired couple, husband and wife in their 60s, working along side us. They had traveled several hundred miles to volunteer to support their daughter who is a lesbian. They worked cheerfully right until the end. It was a privilege for me to be there, in an atmosphere of cooperation, tolerance, and unconditional love. I had a very good feeling, tired tho I and most of us were. Are gay people the new "Samaritans" of our time... to be looked down upon, despised and derided? Or are they people with needs and hopes just like anyone else, who can and should be supported to help them improve their lives?

As a gay guy... who is striving to rebuild his spirituality after thinking he had to abandon it, experiences like that BUILD me, not the opposite. I live in a rural area with few LDS and even fewer functional LGBT people. I feel a healthy emotional/social/spiritual lift from being part of this... the part that is RIGHT for ME. It helps take away the cravings and feeling so alone, and wanting to act out in ways that are harmful to me. I've had numerous discussions with my bishop about my homosexuality. He was quite concerned when I told him I was doing volunteer work for Pride. His attitude noticeably softened when I related the above experience to him.

I was really moved by this friend's account of LGBT Pride, which reminded me that we have the power to make Pride a positive thing if we want, by getting involved in constructive ways, and reinforcing the values that mean the most to us. The best way we can celebrate Pride is to do what we can to make it reflective of us, of our pride and our values and our love for one another.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a fellow local gay Mormon, and we were wondering if we shouldn't try to organize a Pride contingent of active Mormons -- both gay and straight. Why couldn't we march together and find some way to make it our own unique statement of love for others, and of our commitment to the Gospel?

Anyone else game?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Drag Family Reunion

No, this post is not about me bringing my beloved better half to a Wrathall family reunion in drag, though Göran and I used to joke about that. Göran actually passed as a woman for a while, selling Avon cosmetics in Iowa. (True story!) So we used to have this hilarious fantasy in which he would come to my family reunions as "Tasha Monet," and then we would fit in with all the other heterosexual couples! Except... OK, he's black, and so we'd still be scandalizing everyone with our interracial relationship. So I guess we couldn't win! That was the joke... We've gotten plenty of laughs from it over the years.

But no, this is about a different kind of drag family reunion. To understand this, you have to know that when Göran and I first met back in 1993, he was the reigning queen of The Gay 90's, the biggest gay bar in Minneapolis (and possibly in the world -- it's a HUGE bar). Any way, he was this drag performing sensation, and I was just this nerdy grad student. (I just noticed, drag and grad have the same letters.) Göran would do these big shows, and I became his personal valet, carrying his train of bulging drag suitcases, bringing him drinks, and ordering the cabs. I was his "trophy husband." He'd show me off to the other "girls" and say, "Have you met my boyfriend John?" and then relish the gleam of envy in their eyes. Those were the days.

It was kind of cool to be allowed backstage into the inner sanctum of drag queendom. I mean, really. How many people in their lives get to enjoy the fierce and catty camaraderie that can only be experienced when drag queens don't have their wigs on yet? It definitely made me feel special to be dating a drag queen. And then, when I was sitting in the audience and "Tasha Marie Monet" came on stage, she always lip-synced the love songs to me and me alone. It was as if I was the only one in the audience. That made me feel special too. Every once in a while, I hear one of those songs and a rush of memories and emotions come back.

Anyway, that was many, many years ago. After Göran and I had been together a few years, he gradually relinquished his role as Gay Community High Priestess (that's what, in fact, drag queens are). It was a lot of work to do drag! He got tired of the late nights and the smoke-filled clubs and cleaning up the "drag bag explosions" the next day. (Yes, the house was always a frickin' mess after a drag show! Clothes, make-up, wigs everywhere!) He eventually gave it all up in exchange for the joys of full-time marital bliss. We were trying to figure out the other night when exactly he did his last drag performance. Some time in the mid-1990s.

But every once in a while, we would run into some of his old drag friends. Last summer, for instance, Reuben and Melanie, friends of ours from the Lake Nokomis Ward, took us on a 60-mile bike trip to Hudson, Wisconsin and back, and who should we run into but "Sofonda Peters," working a hot dog stand (of all things). As a boy, of course. (Sofonda is in this picture on the left.)

Anyway, Sofonda called Göran a few weeks ago and told him that as part of a benefit for the Minnesota AIDS Project, a few drag queens had decided to try to break the Guinness world record for largest drag performance. They were trying to round up every drag queen they knew in order to get them all on stage at once in a great big, lip-synced, choreographed dragstravaganza. They were calling it "Night of 100 Drag Queens." Göran agreed to participate.

And last night, it was like a great big, Drag Family Reunion. All the old queens gathered with the young queens, and they had a shindig to end all shindigs. They didn't quite make it to 100 drag queens on stage. Only 57 ultimately made it into the performance. But that was still more than enough to break the previously standing Guinness world record of 30 drag queens. That doesn't seem like much of a world record to me, but I guess it's really hard to coordinate drag queens. Like herding cats. But really super catty cats.

It was such a strange experience for me. So much has changed in my life since those old days when Göran was Miss Gay Nineties. The thing that struck me most poignantly was how lost I felt in those days when I first started tentatively exploring the gay club scene. It was disorienting. Everything in that scene was so completely at odds with everything I'd been brought up with in a tight-knit, devout Mormon family and community. It was as if I'd been scooped up by space aliens and dropped on a different planet. Everything was simultaneously exciting and amazing and... Also a betrayal of everything I thought I'd been raised to believe in. It felt quite lonely... Last night I heard Sofonda reminiscing about those days, and her recollections of me confirmed my remembrance of myself. I was out of place, odd, vulnerable.

But last night I was not lost. I was surveying my past lostness from the vantage point of one who is found again. And I was aware of the rampant lostness sprawled out there all around me. It's not, I realized, a moral thing. It's not the casual attitude toward sex, the boys walking around in their undies, the alcohol, the rampant materialism. Those are all just symptoms. What it is, is a knowledge thing. It's the not being quite sure who you are, or what your purpose is in life, or where you are going. It's looking at the material surface of things, and mistaking it for the spiritual heart of things. It's being disconnected from family, from faith. (Partly because so many of us have been excommunicated from all those things!)

I also realized, however, that of all the things the gay community has going for it, it is the drag queens. They are not part of the problem of lostness, they are part of the solution. If there is a force for moral redemption that is native to the gay community, it is them.

After the event was over, I borrowed a friend's car and chauffeured a few of them home. (I was back to being the drag queen's valet again!) They were all drunk as skunks. (Good thing their valet was a practicing Mormon, to get them home safe.) They were reminiscing about the old days, and remembering some of the queens who aren't with us any more. I was actually weeping last night, remembering "Andrea Muffy St. Clair," who passed away from AIDS-related complications a few years ago. I was listening to them talk. And laughing, because you can't be around drag queens and listen to them talk and not laugh. It's one of their saintlier qualities. And I was aware of this deep, deep, profound love. These old queens had a bond and a love and a respect for each other that is quite unique. I guess that's why the worst sin in the drag queen code is a lack of respect.

And I also realized that they are self- conscious guardians of a much larger code. A code that includes morals like: Know thyself. Love thyself. Stand tall, no matter what anybody says about you. Be fabulous. And don't be afraid.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It Doesn't Help to Attack My Marriage

Recently, I was recruited by a friend in my ward to help organize the ward talent show. It was a great opportunity for me to be involved in the social life of the ward to an extent I am rarely offered. Being an event organizer gave me opportunities to interact with folks in settings I normally wouldn't interact. It deepened a number of friendships; it demonstrated to me how much love other members of my ward have for me. Which is a nice thing to know when you often feel as marginal as I do. I contributed my own act to the talent show, a little piece I wrote about my mother. I got lots of positive feedback on the piece from many ward members. Because it told about my mom's growing up in Finland during World War II, and because it wove her story with my grandparent's stories and my own story, one ward member in particular got very excited about the piece as a sort of "family history moment" and thought it ought to become a tradition at future ward talent shows. The general verdict was that the talent show was a smashing success! (It was fun!) And so it felt really, really good to be involved in something folks regarded as fun and a success, and to be able to participate in the ward far more than I almost ever, ever am able to. I felt happy and satisfied about my relationship with my ward in a way I haven't in a long time.

There was a down side, however. For every action I engage in at Church, there is an equal and opposite reaction from my husband. It's almost as if his happiness with me exists in inverse relationship to the extent of my involvement with the Church. So the fact that I needed to attend Church three consecutive Sundays in a row in order to circulate sign-up sheets, and attend a few week-day organizational meetings resulted in something of a row. In order to appease him, I had to promise to give him a few Sundays for the ones I had spent at Church, which I hate. Damn it! Why can't I just go to Church as often as I want? Especially when all he wants to do on Sunday morning is sleep in? This is a real source of anguish for me. I really long to go to Church and sometimes I just can't because of Göran. I've more or less come to accept this with a certain amount of patience, to accept it as a trial the Lord has seen fit to inflict upon me in order to test my faith. Still, it is difficult.

At any rate, this same friend who recruited me to help with the ward talent show also asked me to help him out by printing a questionnaire for singles in the ward. He wanted me to bring it to Church two Sundays ago, and I had to tell him that unfortunately I couldn't make it to Church, because this was right after the talent show, and for the sake of peace at home I needed to stay at home. Yes, it was killing me to have to tell him this. I hated everything about it. But it is what it is. This is what I have to live with.

This friend then launched into a rather uninformed diatribe about my marriage, and announced that he would "no longer support" my relationship with Göran. In fairness, I've been experiencing some stress lately due to issues that have nothing to do with my relationship with Göran; and he assumed that the stress was the result of "marital trouble." So, he was kind of going half-cocked on the assumption that Göran and I were on the verge of breaking up or something similar. I guess it's an assumption many Church members would be inclined to make about a same-sex relationship.

At any rate, the point where my friend announced he could no longer support my marriage was where the conversation had to end. I simply ended it by saying, "I understand how you might have misinterpreted the stress I'm under. But you have no idea what's going on between me and Göran, and it's not what you think." He sent me a few more text messages that showed he recognized he'd gone a bit too far. I realized he felt badly, but his comments had hurt deeply and I didn't want to talk any further, except to send him a few text messages pleading with him to simply be patient with me and try to understand. We eventually met and discussed it over lunch, and mended things, for which I am very, very grateful. Because this is a dear, dear brother to me, and I want my relationship with him to be right.

At our lunch I explained to him that Göran's opposition to my involvement in the Church may not be fair, but it is eminently understandable. He is black, and he knows all about the Church's history of excluding blacks from the priesthood and the Utah Church's sordid support for segregation. Not that, by virtue of his African ancestry, Göran should be any more outraged by the Church's racist history than any other decent person of conscience. But let's just say that the sting of my eagerness to affiliate with the institution is that much more personal for him. And that's just cream for the pie of the Church's anti-same-sex-marriage activism, and the fact that if the Church had its way with me, we would no longer be a couple; the fact that in the eyes of many in the Church, we are not and never will be a couple. That's two big fat strikes. And I explained to my friend that tirades about how he can "no longer support" my marriage can only become strike number three.

Göran is a good, sweet, generous man, very creative and loving, and with an impish sense of humor. Anyone who knows him understands immediately why I love him. And despite the sand in the gears over the issue of my relationship with the Church, we have a very happy marriage that grows only happier as we continue to mature personally and as a couple. The problem introduced by my involvement in the Church has been an opportunity for us to grow; and we have grown. Göran refuses to be convinced of the Church's merits, and I can't fault him for that, except by way of trying to prove him wrong through a life improved by my involvement in it. I expect him to see the light some day, if only enough to let me attend every Sunday and sing in the choir, and maybe even come watch me perform at a ward talent show once in while. (He definitely did not attend this last one.) I understand his attitude even as I am anguished by it. I simply don't know what to do.

I wish he could know what's going on in my heart, all the ways in which my relationship with God, and the context the Church has provided for growth of that relationship, has deepened my love for him, has deepened my appreciation of just how precious our relationship is.

Similarly, I wish folks in the Church could understand that it was his love for me that nurtured me to the point where I could hear the voice of the Spirit again after years of depression and anxiety. I wish they could understand what our commitment to each other has taught me about commitment in general, including the kinds of commitment required by faith. I wish they could see that all the good things that happen in their marriages, all the things their marriages give them that make life worth living and that give faith meaning, all work that way for me too in my marriage. And it just doesn't help anything or anyone to attack my marriage. Not one iota.

I guess a little more patience, a few more miles in this odd path...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The urge to disobey rules which have been externally, coercively imposed is not temptation, it is resistance. Temptation is only comprehensible within the framework of covenants freely entered into. In order for a covenant to have meaning, it must not only be freely entered into, but with full knowledge of the nature of the covenant. When two parties enter into an agreement, and one party fails to provide critical information that would change the nature of the agreement and that might, if disclosed, dissuade the other party from entering into the agreement, that is not a covenant. That is a fraud. But when we have all the information necessary to make a particular covenant, and when we freely agree to abide by that covenant, then and only then can we experience temptation.

Oscar Wilde famously said: "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." But a life without temptation, and without resistance to temptation is a life without meaning, without growth, without structure, and ultimately without joy. That is because the promises we make, make us! When we make a promise, any promise, the very nature of it means we will sooner or later encounter a situation where it might be temporarily advantageous to abandon our promise. If it weren't so, there would be no need to make a promise! And it is those situations where the seriousness of our promises is tested. It is those situations where we get to see how much we really meant what we said, and whether we are the kind of people who are able to keep promises. When we succeed at these kinds of tests, we begin to build character. Our life begins to take a form that is shaped by our intentions, our desire and ultimately, our love.

So temptation is a good thing! When we experience it, we know that we are making something of ourselves! We are choosing, and being true to our choices. Nothing is more tragic than a life in which we drift along, never letting anything more than the contingencies of each moment determine our choices. Granted, there is a kind of freedom we can experience as drifters. It can feel good to let go of everything, to hold on to nothing, to let life take us where it will, like a leaf on the current. Maybe we all need to experience that kind of freedom at least for a time. But eventually we learn that a life lived too long without commitments is a life devoid of the deepest satisfactions. That's what Mormons think of as a "telestial" life. But even the liberal UCC prays for God to protect us from a life of "aimlessness and sin."

Temptation can be painful. But if you think about it, the more painful the temptation, the better it is at shaping our character. It is the really, really painful temptations that force us to decide what it is we really want in life. And we can only surmount such temptations with a grander view of ourselves and our life's purpose. That's why prayer, meditation and scripture study are so important. Any kind of spiritual practice is, effectively, a urim and thummim to us. It helps us see ourselves and our world in a larger, more timeless perspective, a perspective that will provide us the knowledge necessary to make the kinds of promises worth making...!

When we experience temptation, we sometimes feel dirty, we feel bad. We feel as if we must be weak or immoral to experience temptation. It is not so. Temptation means only that we are alive, and that we are on a journey that is worth going on!

I said earlier that temptation is only meaningful within the framework of covenants, and that covenants can only be made under conditions of knowledgeable consent. All of us, if we live long enough, will have the experience of making a commitment under one circumstance, only later to learn and to grow and to acquire knowledge that sheds new light on our circumstances and our promises. This is a natural process, and it is a good process. In a religious framework, we can look at this in terms of lower laws and higher laws; telestial laws, terestrial laws, and celestial laws. We begin at one place, and we make a series of promises within a more limited framework. And those promises shape our character, allowing us to grow and learn. Eventually, we come to a point where the old promises no longer make sense. New knowledge requires renegotiation. We enter into and accept higher laws and make higher covenants which become a new framework for character growth. The times of transition can be disorienting. They can even feel very much like times of temptation. But they are something of a different order entirely.

But wherever we are in the journey, temptation does not leave us. If anything, temptations become more challenging and more painful as we become more sensitive to the nuances of choice available to us, and as we become capable of handling greater challenges... We don't need to seek temptation; indeed, it's usually wise for us to pray for God to keep us from it for as long as possible. But temptations will come, and when they do, we should ultimately be grateful for them. I know I am.