Wednesday, February 26, 2014

El don de las lenguas

I've fallen in love.

I have always regretted not studying Spanish in High School. Not that I regret having studied German. German is a beautiful language, and studying it taught me a lot about my own (second) native language, English. (I grew up speaking Finnish in my home.) And I loved my mission in France and in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland, and I've always loved being fluent in the language of Voltaire and Montesquieu and Victor Hugo. But Spanish is way too important a language for an American not to know it. And so I decided to teach myself Spanish. Eventually, after I'd learned the basics, I took some advanced Spanish courses at the Resource Center for the Americas.
So my Spanish-speaking ability has been lurking there at the back of my brain for a few years. From time to time I would pick up one of the many Spanish language free newspapers you find around town here in Minneapolis. Occasionally when I heard Mexicans talking on the bus, I'd lean over and eavesdrop. (There are lots of Mexicans in the neighborhood where we live in South Minneapolis). But I'd never really put my Spanish to good use... It remained more of a hobby.

But as soon as I learned that a gathering of LGBT Mormons and their family and friends was being organized in Mexico City for February 7-9, 2014, I began to understand why I had studied Spanish all those years back, and I started brushing it up by listening to LDS General Conference talks in Spanish, and reading news on-line in Spanish -- particularly news of interest to the LGBT or Mormon communities or both.  I learned that Spanish-speaking Mormons -- like English-speaking Mormons -- have their own lingo that you might not be able to pick up from standard language texts and vocabulary lists. And so does the Spanish-speaking LGBT community. It took me a while to figure out that "SUD" was the Spanish equivalent of "LDS"! "Santos de los Últimos Dias"! Or that "transgénero" really does work as a translation for "transgender." Or that "SSA" is "attracción hacia el mismo sexo" in Spanish. I actually put together a Spanish gay Mormon glossary that I was studying daily in preparation for our trip. (Göran and I went together.)

The thing about a language is that it does way more than allow you to find your way to and from the train station or order a meal. It unlocks cultures. It enables relationships. Language creates community. And what a community I discovered in Mexico City.

Now I do believe in the gift of tongues. I've experienced something of it. I have been in situations where my ability to comprehend and to communicate has seemed to exceed my natural abilities. And I believe that it can come to us in those moments when understanding serves some higher purpose, if we have faith in it and ask for it. There have been moments now that I'm back in Minneapolis when I've been really tongue-tied in Spanish, and I've thought, "How on earth did I manage in Mexico?"

That time in Mexico City I regard as sacred. It was a time of testimony bearing, of sharing hopes and dreams and expressing faith. I saw brothers and sisters wrestling to understand and come to terms with something that was threatening to overwhelm them. I saw them -- I heard them! I understood them! -- making a journey from fear to hope. And I got to be a part of it. I got to share my testimony too, and have it be understood and received. (Here's a more detailed account of what happened at the conference.)

It was so hard to leave. I have discovered that I love Mexico. I love the culture and the people. I love the warmth and the kindness, the humility and the generosity. I love the openness and inclusiveness. I love the rainbow of colors. I loved the pride and the love I witnessed among Mexicans for their country, which has suffered so much, and accomplished so much against so many odds. I didn't want to leave. Last week when I was in Salt Lake, I was having a conversation with Randall Thacker about what we had experienced in Mexico, and he expressed what I had already been feeling ever since the end of the conference: "I want to live there!" I could see my husband and I living there.

Thank God for Facebook. Instant, miraculous communication with so many of the friends we made down there. I miss them. But I'm so glad to be able to hear from them every day, and to "like" what they're thinking and doing. That will do until we go back.

I'm part of a group on Facebook for Mexican "SUD LGBT." I'm so delighted and inspired by the other members of this group. I'm so honored to be a witness of their lives and testimonies, and for us to be able to work together in an important work of understanding and living and sharing the Gospel through the unique challenges we face.

Before our Sunday morning testimony meeting, I jotted my thoughts down on a piece of paper, in Spanish. I realized that would be better than me trying to stutter through extemporaneously. I'm glad I did, because now I have a written record of what I shared with my brothers and sisters there to keep in my journal. Here's a translation of it into English.


I love Mexico. I love you all. I am so grateful for you, and for this conference, which has been one of the most spiritual conferences I have ever attended. I cannot return to the United States without leaving you with my testimony of the Gospel.
 A little over a year ago I had brain surgery because of a bike accident. Last summer, my dear husband Göran was diagnosed with kidney disease. Also, we have experienced many trials in our families -- with my mother, my sisters and Göran's sisters. But through all this God has sustained and supported us. Also, we have received many blessings from the members of my ward and from members of the Church. For example, several members of the Church have offered to donate one of their kidneys to Göran....
In the Doctrine & Covenants it says that if you have a desire to proclaim the Gospel, you are called to the work. Alejandro was right yesterday when he said that we do not need a calling from the Church. Whether we are excommunicated or whether we have full fellowship in the Church, we are all called to the work of the Lord, if we testify of Him.
I know that God exists and that he is real, because he speaks to me, and because the Holy Spirit testifies of him. I know that Jesus Christ lives and that he is our Savior, and that this Church -- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is his own church. And I know that even though members of the Church do not completely understand homosexuality, I am not afraid, because I have faith in the Lord, and I know that he will guide the Church until the Church's understanding is perfect and the Church is prepared for his Second Coming.
This is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The "Circling the Wagons" Metaphor

One of the things I frankly wrestled with as LGBT or SSA Mormons and their families and friends gathered in Salt Lake City this past weekend under the phrase "Circling the Wagons" was the association of that phrase with a history of destructive imperialistic conflict between U.S. settlers and Native Americans on the U.S. frontier.

A friend of mine recently shared this quote from the "WiseGeek" web-site, discussing the history and true meaning of this phrase:

The idea that settlers of the west were often threatened by marauding Native American tribes and had to “circle the wagons” for protection is something of a myth. This idea has been perpetuated by many western movies that showed settlers in conflict with native tribes who would attack circled wagon trains in their territory. In fact, however, many Native American tribes were friendly to the settlers, and initially welcomed their presence.

When a wagon train was formed into a circle, the most common reason for this was one that was seldom portrayed in popular cinematic representations of the period. Wagon trains brought cattle along with them as they moved into the American West in search of new land to ranch and farm. At night, these cattle would need to be corralled so that they would not wander off, and the easiest way to do this was to bring the wagons into a circle around the herd to keep them fixed in one place. This would protect them from getting lost or injured in unknown terrain, and from being attacked by wild animals.
I love this more inclusive imagery. Settlers circled the wagons to keep in, to keep safe, rather than to keep out or to do battle. Replacing the "cowboys vs. Indians" imagery with the image of a protective, inclusive community is much more in line with the spirit of these conferences.

This image of settlers circling their wagons to keep their cattle safe could certainly also be cross referenced with the parable of the good Shepherd leaving the 90 and nine sheep to go rescue the one that is lost.

I also love the fact that this article points out that the idea U.S. settlers needed to "circle the wagons" to defend against Indian attack is "something of a myth." The dialog that took place over this past weekend in Salt Lake went a long way toward debunking the myth that people who disagree with us on issues related to "homosexuality" or "same-sex attraction" are enemies we need to circle the wagons against. We are all part of the same community, deserving a place within the circle of protection

Thanks, Shelly!

Monday, February 24, 2014

"Voices of Hope" + Flawed Logic = No Win

First, I want to state that I don't believe the creators of "Voices of Hope" intended this resource to be used in the way it was in the Deseret News article yesterday on same-sex marriage. Northstar seeks to provide resources to individuals with same-sex attraction who wish to live according to the established standards of the LDS Church. I don't believe it is their purpose or intention to criticize or attack or undermine others' choices, especially when those choices are made after much personal wrestling and in good conscience. Yet, that is how the resource "Voices of Hope" was being used yesterday, the same weekend that members of Northstar were, ironically enough, engaging in constructive dialogue at the Circling the Wagons conference in Salt Lake City with individuals in same-sex relationships and marriages.

Here' a link to the Deseret News article. I will try to summarize the article here in my own words as fairly as I can.

The article began by quoting one of the individuals who is featured in "Voices of Hope." This person made a sweeping statement about supporters of same-sex marriage, suggesting that "they" were forcing a false, dichotomized choice between being out, proud, and in a same-sex marriage, or being closeted, alone and miserable. This false dichotomy was supposedly being used as the primary argument in support of legal same-sex marriage. "Voices of Hope" was presented as proof that gay people can be happy within opposite-sex marriages. Although it was acknowledged that "not all" gay people can make opposite-sex marriages work, the article implied that opposition to same-sex marriage was justified because opposite-sex marriage was a viable option for individuals whose happy marriages were documented in "Voices of Hope."

The main flaw in this article is that the argument in support of same-sex marriage simply does not speak to the situation of individuals, whatever orientation they consider themselves, who are happily making opposite-sex marriage work. Same-sex marriage is needed as a legal, viable option precisely for those individuals who cannot make opposite-sex marriage work, who have decided that their happiness, security, and well-being are best found in a loving, committed relationship with another person of the same sex. People in opposite-sex marriages, whatever their orientation, are already protected under the law. Legal reform is needed for those who are not protected.

For what it's worth, the kind of flawed logic presented in this article is precisely the kind of logic that is consistently being rejected by courts that are, one after another, striking down laws that prohibit recognition of same-sex marriage. Those who lean on this kind of logic will likely continue to be disappointed as the legal system works its way through a constitutional resolution of this difficult issue.

At issue here is a deeper problem. Our lives and our stories are sacred. Our stories deserve to be shared and listened to with empathy. Our lives deserve to be respected and protected. This is true of all people, whether you are in an opposite-sex marriage, a same-sex marriage, or single. Individuals' stories should never be used as ammunition to criticize others, and should never be used to undermine the credibility of other people's stories. To do so cheapens them and all of us.

My personal story of struggle to understand and know myself as a gay man, my near suicide as a young adult, and my ultimate decision to find happiness in my 21+ years long marriage to my husband, should never be used to imply that nobody with same-sex attraction could be happy in an opposite-sex marriage. Similarly, I believe it is immoral to use the story of an individual with same-sex attraction who has been happily married in an opposite-sex relationship, for however long, to deprive me and my husband of legal protections that we need and deserve. 

Let's keep talking about this, folks.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"I could have chosen to be a homosexual"

I came away from Saturday's Circling the Wagons Conference sessions -- as I did from Friday's sessions and dialogs -- with a simultaneous sense of hope and a hearty dose of skepticism.

Some folks I spoke with after the conference had ended expressed frustration that so much of the focus in the conference had been on how people with divergent perspectives on a contentious issue should speak with one another. Much of the focus of the conference was on the ethics of communication. I heard people say they wished that the speakers at the conference had entered into discussion about the substantive issues that divide us.

I understand this feeling, but I disagree. I think the conference did just what we most needed it to do. Before we discuss the substantive areas of disagreement on an issue that has caused as much pain and division as this issue, we need to believe whole-heartedly that those who disagree with us are not our enemies. We've already tried to enter into dialog with people who disagree with us when there is not this trust, believing that somehow the "facts" themselves would resolve the issues. And the results of that kind of dialog have resulted in schism and recrimination, usually escalating into ideological warfare. And we've seen the tragic casualties of that warfare. Real people whose lives are shattered, many of whose shattered lives end in suicide.

What this conference did more than any before it was to bring together many of the most influential LGBT/SSA leaders in the Mormon community, and it provided us an opportunity to try something different than what has been tried before. And we did in fact do something different from what has ever been done before. So there lies my hope.

My skepticism lies in the fact that we spent the weekend investing in a process that requires the development of relationships, and that will require substantially more time, energy, patience and charity. If we don't follow through with the requisite relationship building work, if the main players don't remain committed to the process, we're back at square one in very short order.


In the workshop I participated in, entitled "Navigating Church Activity as an LGBTQ or SSA Mormon," I shared the stand with Ty Mansfield, Tom Christofferson, Kayla Burningham and Jamison Manwaring (our moderator). We had two Northstar members (Ty and Kayla) and two Affirmation members (Tom and I) discuss a common value shared by all of us: activity in the Church. We presented the workshop twice.

What astonished me when all was said and done was how strong our common ground had been. There was no substantial disagreement on any of the major issues we discussed. Common threads included:
  • our desire for Church activity was motivated by a profound yearning for a deeper relationship with God
  • yes, Church leaders and members make mistakes and "fall short of the mark," and yes it is painful when they do that
  • we can and should distinguish between our devotion to God and our activity in the Church
  • misunderstanding of and poor treatment of us by other Saints provides us an opportunity to learn the core Christian value of love
  • activity in the Church has blessed our lives and made us better people
These themes resurfaced in each of our four stories in poignant ways that often brought tears to the eyes of both speakers and listeners.

Were there areas of difference? Yes. There were profound differences in terms of our perceptions of the role of "same-sex attraction" or "gayness" in our lives, and our perception of how we needed to respond to it.

We were brutally honest about our own experiences, and we didn't hide the parts of our stories that might have starkly set us apart or against one another. The power of the presentation was in the common ground we had found, despite dramatically different backgrounds and stories

I am certain we will need to explore the differences in greater depth at some future time. But I am hopeful that when that time comes, we will be grounded in the love and the empathy we felt for each other when we focused on what we share.


Though the focus of the conference was on the ethics of communication, and on beginning to find common grounds and common meeting spaces, that did not mean that the conference was devoid of substantive discussion.

The talk which I found most moving and most interesting was David Matheson's talk. David said two things that struck me, and that I felt pointed to a starting point for future substantive discussion.

First, at one point in his talk, he said, "I was aware that I could have chosen to be homosexual." He spoke of the satisfactions that came from same-sex relationships for him, both physical and emotional. But for him it was ultimately always something that he saw as separate from the core of who he was.

I have been profoundly aware, especially recently, how alien that experience is to me. I have never had any sense that being gay was something that was not just inherently there, so core a part of me that the greatest challenge of my life was to conceptualize how I might possibly have been something different. Unlike many of my peers in the LGBT/SSA Mormon world, I never attempted any form of "reparative therapy." At one point in my journey I blamed myself for not trying everything possible to "change." But as I have matured, and as I have reflected on why I never went to some therapist to get fixed, I have realized it was from a profound wisdom. It was from a deep awareness of how utterly artificial and misguided any such attempt would have been.

I believe that what we have categorized under the artificially simple concept of "sexual orientation" is much more complex than that. And whatever "sexual orientation" is or means, I do not have the same sexual orientation as David Matheson. And it is an error to compare his story to mine, or my story to his.

The second thing David Matheson said that was both substantive and helpful was his admission that in his practice of helping reduce or eliminate unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction, there were individuals he could help and individuals he simply could not. I was grateful for this acknowledgment that there is difference, and that difference matters.

In reflecting on my experience at the conference in general, I realized that finding common ground will help us to learn how to talk authentically to one another. And in reflecting on David Matheson's talk, I realized that talking openly about difference is critical to understanding both ourselves and others.

I don't believe our time together this past weekend was time wasted.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Circling the Wagons Revelations

This weekend is already marvelous and it's barely begun.

I arrived in Salt Lake at the end of what was, quite literally, my worst plane trip ever. Minneapolis was struck by a blizzard Thursday night, and by the small hours of Friday morning, despite the faithful snow plows that ever save Minnesota from imminent disaster, the streets had not quite recovered, and de-icing of airplanes at the airport was behind schedule, so my flight was delayed an hour, starting a chain reaction that included a missed connection, more flight delays, and the longest car rental line I've ever experienced at Salt Lake International Airport. The result was a cold, exhausting journey that began at 3:30 a.m. Central Time and didn't end till 2:30 p.m. Mountain time (a twelve hour trip that normally would have taken about five hours). But it was all worth it.

The rest of that long, exhausting but oh-so-satisfying day (which didn't wind to an end until 11:30 p.m. Mountain Time) was spent in conversation with Mormons in high places and low, and all along the spectrum of LGBT or “SSA” (“same-sex attracted”) experience, and all along the spectrum of experience with, connection to and devotion in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Prior to the Circling the Wagons conference, I had looked at the program and saw in prominent places some prominent names of folks I recognized from Evergreen, names that I'd learned somewhat to dread over the years, mostly because of quotes I'd seen attributed to them in the media, or things I'd seen they'd written on the web, or things people had told me about them. I have to admit, the prospect of actually running into these people was intimidating to me, because I assumed that people like that just plain wouldn't like or respect me or respect my journey and the difficult choices I made. But the reality of them was quite different. Very different kinds of conversations than I ever would have expected happened. Curious conversations; people just wanting to get to know each other. Conversations about the importance of autonomy and respect and safety.

The result was I went home with twin feelings of euphoria and skepticism. Euphoria that the impossible really seemed to be happening, and skepticism that what seemed to be happening actually was happening, or maybe that if it actually was happening that it couldn't possibly last outside of the rather artificial confines of a 2-day conference. I had come to the conference with some misgivings about the utility of the exercise. (Why couldn't we each just work on this issue in our own ways, doing the best we knew, according to the lights that have been given us each. I can respect them but best from a distance.) But the experience changed my mind about all that; I suddenly did see the utility, and it had all to do with building a real community where everybody really cares for everybody else, and where we all make sure that those who are falling through the cracks, those who are falling into homelessness and despair and suicide, find a safe way forward that works for them, and with the blessings of the entire community!

While here in Utah, Sister Myrna Thacker, Randall's mom, has generously offered me hospitality. So I've been sleeping in a guest room here. And last night I had the most incredible dream. In the dream, Göran and I were moving into a new apartment building, and Randall Thacker was helping us move in. We had all our boxes in our new home, and we were getting ready to unpack them. But before doing that, Randall took us on a tour of the apartment. It had an incredible view of some beautiful western city, with gorgeous open balconies for us to enjoy the view for the mountains and the trees and the beautiful buildings. Then Randall showed me that at the center of the apartment was a large circular pillar. He explained that by anchoring ourselves to something immovable in the apartment, and exerting torque against the pillar, we could actually rotate the apartment so that the apartment could have any view or facing of the surrounding landscape that we wanted. So Göran and I started experimenting with this, and we found that indeed, we could rotate the apartment until we had a facing that we thought was just perfect. But just as we had gotten it into the position we wanted, we noticed that the apartment was continuing to move, seemingly on its own, erratically, first in one direction, then in the other. I was puzzled, but then I understood. We were in an apartment building, and every apartment in the building was connected to all the others, and the building was continuing to move, because people in other apartments were doing exactly what we had been doing, adjusting the view to their liking. Then it dawned on me: until we began to communicate and work with all the other people who shared the apartment building, we would each all be working against each other; we would need to cooperate with all the other people living in the building if we wanted to find a facing that worked for all of us.

I woke up and realized that the building was the Church, and all the people in it were my brothers and sisters with many very different needs, desires and perspectives. And I realized I had just dreamed about this conference! And even though my bed was warm and the room was chilly, I got up and wrote down the dream.

Later that morning, as I said my morning prayers, the following came to me from the Spirit: I prayed for God to teach me in the way that He knew would circumvent my pride. And then the Spirit prompted me to pray a prayer that the Spirit has been prompting me to pray ever since I first began my journey back to the Church over eight years ago: to pray for the Spirit to be poured out on the entire LGBT community, and to pray for it to be poured out on the entire Church. And I felt, I wondered, if I am seeing those prayers begin to come to fruition. And I wondered how many other people the Spirit has been prompting all these years to pray for the same thing.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Navigating Tension and "Circling the Wagons"

This Friday, God willing and barring any major winter storms that shut airports down, I'll be setting out at 4 a.m. to catch an early flight to Salt Lake City so I can attend the Circling the Wagons conference.

Last night I had a phone conversation with Ty Mansfield to discuss a panel/workshop that he and I will be participating in at the conference, entitled, "Navigating Church Activity as an LGBTQ or SSA Mormon."

Ty and I had earlier that afternoon exchanged a few words on a post on the Mormons Building Bridges forum about Michael C. Hannon's article, "Against Heterosexuality," an article which Ty likes a lot, and I not so much. Ty's first words to me on the phone were an expression of concern -- worry that something he had said in our exchange might have hurt my feelings. And my first feeling upon hearing those words was relief, because I had been worried that it had been my words which might have been hurtful to him. I was relieved that Ty and I have a friendship in which we can disagree about things, and still be genuinely concerned about the other's well-being.

We discussed the LGBTQ/SSA Mormon landscape which -- despite some efforts at bridge-building -- remains a sharply divided and divisive landscape. Ty is in a "mixed-orientation marriage," and I am in a same-sex marriage. Ty is the president of Northstar, and I am the senior vice president of Affirmation, organizations that take very different approaches to the challenges that folks like Ty and I face. There are forums where Ty does not feel welcome and I do. There are forums where I don't feel welcome and Ty does. And there are places where both of us are personae non gratae. Going somewhere where you need to put on armor and be prepared for self-defense is not fun. It's draining. And as a general rule our lives are too busy, there are too many good things we need to be about without having to be emotionally drained by the need for self-defense.

The aspiration of the organizers of Circling the Wagons has always been to create a space and a forum where all are welcome, across the spectrum of LGBTQ/SSA Mormon experience. A place for LDS faithful, and a place for folks who have left the Church and need healing from painful experience in the Church; a place for folks with varying self-understandings and varying realities in relation to being gay, lesbian, bi, same-sex-attracted, trans, not sure, "just human," mixed-orientation married, same-sex married, single, celibate, or however you choose to identify yourself or however you've chosen to seek and build (or rebuild) family.

In spite of the best of aspirations, however, it's one thing to say "We are going to create an all-inclusive space" and to actually create such a space. The name of the conference itself, "Circling the Wagons," implies a need for self-defense. Organizers can have the best of intentions, but conferences are still attended by folks who may or may not have developed the skills to create and preserve welcoming and inclusive space.

I have to admit that as I read through the list of names of Circling the Wagons participants, I started to get a little bit nervous. I wondered how this was going to work. Was everybody on that list really going to commit to respect everybody else on that list?

Ty and I concluded, yes, there may be some stress and tension. It's probably unavoidable right now. But it won't always be unavoidable. Maybe, just maybe, each time we do this, we will get better at it. And Ty and I agreed that it is worth it to experience a bit of stress and tension if we can practice living the Gospel of Love more fully with one another.

That's why I'm going, and why I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Against Heterosexuality? Really?

Michael W. Hannon's article "Against Heterosexuality" seems to be making the rounds in gay Mormon social media. (Interesting enough, since the author is a prospective Catholic priest who builds a major part of his argument on the writings of French gay atheist and social critic Michel Foucault. That's probably the main reason this article is making the rounds.)

My take on this is that you can't, in one breath, say: "Marriage is ordained of God," or "we are all spirit sons and daughters of God," and in the next breath talk about "the lie of essentialism." Religious conservatives who want to use "social construction" theory as an argument against same-sex marriage are sowing the wind. If anything it's proof that a new social consensus about homosexuality and same-sex marriage is emerging, and they know it, because social construction theory is best used as a wrecking ball to tear down a social consensus you don't like. That's why sex radicals in the 1960s latched on to social construction theory in the first place.

If you wanted to consistently use social construction theory as a lens for understanding current debates about sexuality and marriage, you would be just as obliged to acknowledge this:

Individuals who -- by a personal discernment process best described as sacred -- have recognized themselves to be gay or lesbian, are brokering a covenant with the broader society in which they agree to apply broadly accepted ethical principles to their relationships, and the broader society -- by democratic, constitutional means including electoral, legislative, and judicial processes, also best described as sacred -- are in the process of ratifying the proposed social covenant, because they recognize that it is in the interests of the greater good.