Friday, July 8, 2011

"Because I'm Gay"

Earlier today, I went to Salt Lake. I dropped my sister and my friend E. off at Temple Square, and then went to meet a couple of friends for lunch. (Meeting friends = happiness!) After lunch, I headed back for Temple Square.

We went to the Visitor Centers -- first South then North. As much as I enjoy the historical stuff about the building of the temple at the South Visitor Center, my favorite place to be is in the room with the Christus statue in the North Visitor Center. I love that there are seats there where you can rest and meditate. I never go to Temple Square without taking time for that. I found a seat, and began to contemplate the statue, to contemplate creation and the work of Christ, and let the peace that comes with such contemplations fill my soul.

A couple of sister missionaries saw me taking in the Christus. The flags on their name tags showed that one was from the Ukraine, the other from Mexico. I assume they took one look at my dress -- a summery south asian shirt with a beautiful blue embroidered pattern and a colorful necklace -- and assumed I was not a member. It was a technically correct assumption, though, of course, the truth is a bit more complicated. After complimenting my shirt, they offered to take a picture of me with the Christus. (This is part of the picture they took.)

They were sort of making a typical missionary pass at me, trying to convert my interest in the Christus into an opportunity for a deeper religious conversation. I thought I would head them off at the pass by explaining that my friend and I attended the Lake Nokomis Ward in Minneapolis. They didn't let me off the hook. "So... Are you a member?" the Ukrainian sister asked. She did most of the talking. I surmised she was the senior companion.

"My friend is, but I am not," I admitted. "Though I guess you could say that I am as active in the Church as it is possible to be without being a member."

She looked a little puzzled. "How long have you been attending?" she asked.

"Six years," I said.

"Why haven't you joined the Church yet?"

"It's complicated," I smiled politely.

They weren't satisfied. "But why?"

"Because I'm gay," I finally clarified.

"Oh," the sister frowned. "I see."

"My husband and I will be celebrating our 18th anniversary in August."

"You are married? Really? When did you marry?"

"We married legally in California in 2008."

She frowned. "Oh, well that won't work. You can't join the Church."

"I know," I said. "That's why I've been attending for six years without becoming a member."

Both their faces registered frustration.

"Why do you attend Church then?" the Ukrainian sister asked.

"Because I feel the Spirit there. Because it helps me live my life the way I would like to live it. Because I have a testimony of the gospel."

She shook her head. "How long have you been this way?"

"As long as I can remember," I replied. "I've been aware of my attraction to others of the same sex since I was eleven. I was fourteen when I figured out this might mean I was gay."

"Oh," she frowned. "Did you want to change? Have you tried to change?"

"Oh, yes. I prayed, I fasted. I tried to live as faithfully as possible. I wanted God to change me. But it never worked out that way."

"How long did you try to change?"

"Eleven years."

"Oh." Sighs and more frustration.

"But what about your parents? What do they think of this?"

"This was difficult for my parents to accept at first. But they know me. They know what kind of a person I am. They love me and they love my husband, and they accept him as a member of the family."

"You don't want to leave him."

"No," I replied, "I don't want to leave him."

The sister frowned and shook her head again. "That won't work at all."

The sister from Mexico tried a different tack. "What brings you happiness?" she asked.

"My family. My faith."

At that point, the conversation sort of sputtered to an end. Neither of them seemed to have much more to say. I checked my watch, and noticed that we had less than ten minutes to get to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, where we were going to watch Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration. My dad had recommended it.

"I need to go..."

The Mexican sister smiled at me. "You want to see the movie..."

"Yes," I replied.

"Well," she offered, "Just keep going to Church. Just keep doing your best."

"I know," I smiled.

21 comments:

Beck said...

I would have paid a hefty price for tickets to witness that conversation!

J G-W said...

The price for the tickets was the same as the price we paid for the movie... Free! :)

shenpa warrior said...

What a great experience for THEM. You can almost see their wheels churning just from reading this post. Experiences like these, where we run into things and experiences that we can't easily categorize or explain tend to promote deeper thought, understanding, and growth in the long run if they're not immediately dismissed.

Andrew S said...

The tension from these sister missionaries is absolutely delectable. It's like they just can't comprehend you.

J G-W said...

s.w. and Andrew -- For me the best part of that encounter was not so much the sister missionaries' consternation and confusion, but their very obvious compassion and concern. I definitely felt they had a genuine love for me, and they were determined to try to understand.

I think if anything is capable of moving the Church forward -- not just on this issue, but on a host of pressing issues -- it will be this kind of love. I felt that these sisters weren't willing to just leave me alone on the road -- they wanted to try to walk a ways with me. I felt incredibly grateful. It's one of the best experiences I've ever had at Temple Square.

shenpa warrior said...

That is neat!

MoHoHawaii said...

The missionaries were flummoxed because the Church has no answer for your situation that doesn't reek of cruelty. I thought it was telling that even young missionaries, who tend to be untroubled by nuance, were unwilling to ask you directly to cast aside your husband of 18 years. What restrained them in that moment? I'm guessing it was simple, human decency. Only the cruelest ideologues would tear people apart from the ones they love.

Simple, human decency, as I think you may have seen in these missionaries, is what dooms the Church's current policy.

P.S. I guess you didn't mention to them that you are a returned missionary. :- )

J G-W said...

MoHoHawaii - I guess you could put it that way. These missionaries' response in the course of a relatively short conversation was consistent with the response of most people I encounter in the Church. In six years of Church activity, I've only been told once that I should leave my husband -- and that person was not a leader, and in a fairly marginal position in the community.

The other day I was thinking about the irony that a "selling point" the Church usually uses to win converts is the message that joining the Church will allow you to be sealed together with your family for all eternity.

P.S. No, we didn't get into enough of my life history to talk about my missionary service...!

A.J. said...

I thought you might be interested in this http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/52140908-80/byu-church-empathy-film.html.csp he is looking for people to interview. -A.J.

J G-W said...

Hey, A.J.! Thanks! I'm actually going to see Kendall tonight... He's planning to be here at the gay Mormon Family Home Evening we're holding tonight. He's planning to do a full blown interview with me and my husband in Kirtland, OH this September, around the time I present at the Affirmation Convention.

A.J. said...

Awesome I look forward to seeing the movie.

recover and thrive said...

I love those sister missionaries! temple square it awesome. glad you were truthful

Andy said...

It's so cool that you just matter of factly state who you are and what you believe. What can those sister missionaries say? You don't attack and your aren't ashamed. They understand and see your commitment both to the church and your husband... They have not been taught those two things can exsist at the same time!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Very interesting. Sounds like a very interesting conversation.

J G-W said...

It was a great conversation... Perhaps we are finally at a moment in history when many such conversations can take place...

Daniel said...

I'm glad that conversations like this are happening.

As for me, I have a hard time understanding why you would find peace in contemplating the work of Christ.

Mormons believe that Jesus is Jehovah, the god of the Old Testament. The Old Testament punishment for homosexuality was death. Imagine how many gay men were murdered under this law.

Why would you have such a reverential attitude toward someone who wants you dead?

alan said...

"Just keep going to Church. Just keep doing your best."

It seems that you failed to mention to them that you never should've had to try to change. Rather, the story reads as if you tried to change for eleven years, met a man whom you fell in love with, married him, and gave up "trying." And now, you should "do your best," as if there's still some failure on your part.

When I was in Salt Lake for that Affirmation conference a few years ago and talked to a couple sister missionaries (one from Jamacia, the other from Mongolia), I talked about the mission of Affirmation. Their first impression was that it seemed futile. But the conversation opened up to the idea of there being supposedly no gay agitation in Mongolia, so that the topic was "interesting" for the Mongolian missionary, and she was just generally...interested. I said, "I'm sure there's a small gay community in Ulaanbaator" and she frowned, seemingly unsure and doubtful. But I guess the point is that I think it's important in these instances to assert truths outside the current Church, which is that gays who get with the same gender aren't just "giving up" or "are astray" or whatever.

J G-W said...

Daniel - My contemplations were more focused on his willingness to die for me...

Alan - I elided a few comments from my account of this conversation that included me discussing my relationship with my husband and our foster son in greater depth (i.e., that that's who I was talking about when I say "my family"), as well as the kinds of things I was doing as an expression of my faith. (I elided those pieces of the conversation because most readers of my blog are very familiar with that... But it was definitely a part of the conversation!)

Another piece of the conversation that didn't make it into my post was a discussion about my husband's fear that members of the Church would try to persuade me to leave him. The sisters actually seemed to understand and even empathize with that fear.

Neither they nor -- with one significant exception I've already mentioned -- anyone else in the Church, however, seems to be able to bring themselves to tell me that the "right" thing to do under my circumstances is to leave my partner. When they realize that we actually love each other and are happy together, my sense is people tend to wrestle with the complexity of the issue, rather than to just assume that there's a simple solution to this... That's been my experience anyway.

Daniel said...

John: You deserve a better god.

J G-W said...

Daniel, any suggestions? :-)

Daniel said...

Never go for a god who's omni-anything. It raises too many contradictions. Try the Roman gods. They're more human, so if they muck things up, it's like, "Well, that's Mars."

Some people go for Bacchus, but I can't say I've ever participated in his libations personally.