Thursday, December 24, 2009

Trying to Prove the Truth of My Existence

On my way up to visit family for Christmas, I was looking for a passage in Practice in Christianity by Søren Kierkegaard. (I didn't find what I was looking for; when I do I'm sure I'll blog about it.) I came across a passage about recognizing truth (or ignoring it) when it is before us:


Pilate asks Christ the question: What is truth? ... That it can occur to Pilate at that moment to question Christ in this way demonstrates precisely that he has no eye at all for truth. ... [F]or in questioning Christ in this way ... he makes the self-disclosure that Christ's life has not explained to him what truth is--but how then could Christ with words enlighten Pilate about this when that which is truth, Christ's life, has not opened Pilate's eyes to what truth is! ... The question is just as foolish ... as if someone were to ask a man with whom he was standing and talking, "May I put this question to you, do you exist?" ... And what should that man really reply? "If someone by standing and talking with me cannot be certain that I exist, then my assurances cannot be of any use, since, after all, my assurances are certainly something much inferior to my existence" (XII 187 - 188).

As I read this, a parallel struck me. It is a similar phenomenon with those who sit and argue against many things, refusing evidence and testimony against their beliefs. In particular I thought of those who deny the evidence and testimony of those who are homosexual. (I was thinking of this as I will be spending this Christmas in the company of a family member who holds to such views and opinions.) Often such people make the argument that homosexuality is a matter of psychological dysfunctions, childhood trauma, maladjustment to sexual maturation, etc. Such arguments are usually used to discredit the claims and testimony of those who are homosexual. As I remember one person putting it, "I am not considered a credible witness to my own experience."

I have looked at and experienced these kinds of judgments from communities often involved in making these kinds of arguments. From my own experience, and discussions with such people, they want to make homosexuality not exist (at least within their sphere of perceptible reality). As the infamous Utah Senator Chris Buttars said, "I don't mind gays, but I don't want them stuffing it in my throat all the time and especially in my kid's face." As I would translate it, "I say, 'I don't mind gays,' so as not to seem like a total bigot, but I don't want them to exist, let alone know of their existence." The Uganda bill to criminalize homosexuality as a capital offense goes even further. It is not just a fight to push away what they consider un-reality from their perception; it is an attempt to actively stamp it out through force. Even this fight is fueled by the argument that homosexuality is a choice, a dysfunction, a disease to be treated.

Rachel Maddow did a series of segments on her MSNBC show, The Rachel Maddow Show, about the influence of US change therapy advocates shaping the Uganda bill. As is shown, those who try to argue change therapy and the illness model of (and why I make a point of including it here) turn to--what I consider to be--charlatans, yes men, liars, and people otherwise unfit to be considered any kind of authority on the subject. As Rachel points out, these people are using "made up, fake, authoritative stuff that ... is being taken as science."

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To bring this to more of my personal life, this is why I have not been able to have any kind of meaningful contact or correspondence with the mentioned member of my family: to be so thoroughly dismissed, to have my life and existence thrown out as un-reality leaves me at a loss as to how I may be able to say anything more. In a profoundly frustrated and hurting way, I admit I most likely cannot say anything at all. I do not know how to express the pain when someone who has been so close to you in life suddenly says, "Do you exist?" Perhaps a better way to put it is they seem to say, "I know you do not exist."

In the end, and why I think the passage from Kierkegaard struck me when I read it, all we can do is exist. For such people who refuse to listen and acknowledge us as reality we cannot say anything. And perhaps this is why some of such people come around when they no longer know of homosexuality in the abstract but begin to know homosexuals in person. Like Christ (with no intention to be blasphemous with the comparison) we cannot respond with words and rhetoric. It is our lives as we live that shows them what reality is or is not.

And this brings me to the last point I will make in this entry. The fact that it is our lives, not our rhetoric, that shows reality is why I take issue with parts of gay culture (to use a broad term). We fight to show ourselves as meaningful, productive people, yet so many do not show it in how they live their lives. This is also part of why I believe in the importance of same-sex marriage rights: the gay community needs the opportunity to be held to rights and responsibilities to show themselves a worthwhile group. This is not to say it cannot be done without marriage rights. However, marriage is the institution where the issues of living in respect of love and sex--the issues of sexuality--are most directly given opportunity to be shown and proven.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Some Snide Thoughts About Christmas at Church

Today, my ward had their Christmas program in Sacrament meeting and Sunday School. If I had to paint it, well, it would all be in shades of beige. Even so, I had a couple somewhat silly thoughts during the morning I want to share.

The Sacrament Meeting program started with a woman talking about all the bustle, decorations, and waiting for Santa that comes with Christmas time. She then said, "It's all too easy to forget why we celebrate this season." I came very close to muttering under my breath, "To appease the Pagans?"

In Elder's Quorum, the teacher had us go one at a time saying our names and what we did. I said, "I've been unemployed for two years, play Dungeons and Dragons, just opened an Etsy.com storefront, and deal with trying to get medical needs covered." What I had thought of saying was, "I've been unemployed for two years. On the side, I'm a raging heretic and a social gad-fly."

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Better of Equal Options

Wednesday at my group counseling session, I told the group about how I had met with my bishop and how I planned on attending church meetings so I could network with the ward for job leads. The conversation from there went easily to dealing with our LDS backgrounds and how to deal with LDS authorities, especially bishops. I talked about how I found the encounter easy to deal with as I went in with a very specific goal and topic. I wasn't there out of a sense of duty to "confess" or "repent." One member, who is active in his ward, talked about how he believes the bishop is not necessary for salvation/exaltation. I really liked how he talked about how one should only go to the bishop with problems and issues when one is inspired to do so (not shamed or guilted). The bishop, he said, is there to be a person of guidance and teaching. He is not the one who absolves our guilt or cleanses our sins.

At the end of the session we do something called "check outs." This is an opportunity for every member to articulate what they are taking away from the session and mention anything they would like to keep discussing the next time we meet. At this session, as people took their turns, I had a profound Spiritual epiphany. I don't know why it came then. Perhaps it was the discussions about dealing with going to church meetings, the position and powers of church leaders, or perhaps me talking about how I planned to attend church to network with the ward. What came to me was an answer to a question I've carried with me for over four years.

As I've written about before, back in 2005 I came to an understanding of what general path is best for me to take with my sexuality. It came from a process of prayer, fasting, and totally surrendering myself in being willing to accept whatever answer came to me. Although the answer came out clear, one thing that I have always wondered was why out of the options none of them were considered bad or wrong for me. The only difference was that one was "best" for my spiritual growth for this life and into the next. Even then, I understood the "best" was only something ever so slightly better than the others. Ever since then I've wondered why this particular option, to embrace my sexuality and even seek out a male partner, is "best." Wednesday, it just came down on me. It was one of those moments of understanding, when knowledge and understanding just comes. This option is "best" not because it will put me, per se, in some position of better spirituality or better attitude for salvation. All in all, when it comes to only me, all options were equal in what their path would do for me spiritually. The difference, where the "best" came from, was what this path will allow me to give to others. As I have felt for some time, there is a need for the gad-fly. I am not talking about being disruptive, contentious, or a nucence. What is needed is a voice of reason and moderation both in the LDS community and LGBT culture.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going to Church and Meeting With My Bishop

Sunday, I attended my local ward meetings and met with my bishop. I did this all to see what the bishop could do to help me, if anything.

Church meetings went well. I found the ward to be very friendly and welcoming in general. People quickly noticed me as new and made sure I got to where I needed to go. Even the bishop noticed me before Sacrament Meeting started and stopped to talk to me. The only incident that was of note happened during Gospel Principles class. The topic was "The Family: A Proclamation to the World." I was tense when things started as the proclamation is often pointed to and used as a weapon against homosexuals. At the beginning of the class the usual rhetoric of "The family is under attack" was thrown out. What got to me was a comment regarding "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." The man sitting next to me said he took it as a point to accept the way he was made. While I could spin that response to all kinds of things, what got me was that he was going with the same subtext of "I was born with this genitalia, therefore I must be these certain ways." Personally, I find this attitude at the center of sexism, even hetero-sexism [1].

In response I said, "I'm not saying this to be controversial or contentious, but we need to be careful not to be overly simplistic about this [2]. I wonder if they are talking about gender or sex. Those two terms tend to get conflated. We need to be aware that many people are born with indeterminate sex [3]." My comment seemed to go over well. Many people even told me they liked my contribution to the class.

In the afternoon I met with the bishop. I told him how I hadn't attended church meetings in over two years. I told him how I had been dealing with medical issues and unemployment for two years. (Nothing about my sexuality, or even any specifics about why I hadn't been attending came up in our discussion.) I then told him the purpose of my wanting to speak with him was to see if there is anything the ward could do to help me find/afford a place to live come next month. He told me the current policy of the LDS church is not to give direct assistance in housing, with the exception of perhaps the occasional utility bill. The economic condition even effects the ability of the church to give aid. Above all that, the church only really gives direct assistance for people who are active, tithe paying, etc. I told him I understood. Even with that he continued to talk around in a few circles about how he wouldn't be able to offer anything more than perhaps a food order from the Bishop's Storehouse. As I have been approved for food stamp assistance, I told him I was not in need of that kind of assistance.

After about three loops of him telling me about how he isn't able to help, he then went to a kind of testimony about how he's glad to see me at church and how I'll be blessed if I'll continue attending because he's been so blessed for attending church meetings through his life. I told him how I felt the past couple years of being away from church activity had been necessary to keep me away from experiencing a great amount of direct harm. (My subtext, of course, being the drama and attitudes around Proposition 8.) The bishop then started into his testimony how much he has been blessed by church activity. He seemed to catch himself saying, "Your experience may not have been the same." I replied, "I wouldn't expect to be."

The entire experience of going back to church, speaking up in Sunday School, and meeting with the bishop was all surprisingly calm for me. I would be lying if I said there was no tension. I felt it. However, I kept my composure, didn't have any moment where I felt like I was going to freak out, and even felt rather empowered. Perhaps it was the anti-anxiety medication. Perhaps it was that I was there with a specific purpose and didn't need anything else, and I was ready to accept "no" as their response. Maybe it was both. In the end it felt like a kind of subtly important experience to feel in control and not really threatened.

Waiting to meet with the bishop right after me was the Ward Employment Specialist. I spoke with him for a couples minutes before he went in. I told him about my training/schooling and what kind of work I'm looking for along with what I'm not looking for. I gave him my e-mail address and phone number and he gave me his phone number along with a referral for at least a part-time job he knew about off the top of his head. It was at that point I decided I would attend church for the next while. I realized the ward is a ready made society I can network in. I know how to move and work in it, and the members, by virtue of them being members, are very willing to give basic help. I don't know if I will be bringing up any issues about my sexuality directly. I'm sure something will eventually be said, and I will not be able to ethically refrain from responding.

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1: Although some would label me as a "feminist," I prefer the term "anti-sexist." I do not believe in women or men being superior to the other. I even argue that men are also trapped and pidgeon holed by the social mores feminism fights against (see Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, Ph.D.). I believe, in many ways, our application of the labels "male" and "female" to traits and attributes almost arbitrary and often pointless. I also believe that much of the arguments against homosexuals is the same basis of classic sexism. All together, I use the term sexism as an umbrella whenever I believe any gender or sexual orientation is (wrongly) held as superior to others. More specific terms: feminist, masculinist, heterosexist, and homosexist.

2: One of my difficulties in dealing with religious people is the simplicity they insist on dealing with things. In the case of "The Family," they take the simple statements given in the document as the end-all discussion on the topic. While I understand the simple nature of the document, I do not accept it is the entire discussion. God and the universe are far more complex than can be contained by a single sentence.

3: Most people are unaware of the issues surrounding inter-sexed people. From what I've studied, about 1.5% of people around the world are born in some way with indeterminate sex characteristics.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Meds and a New Attitude

This week I met with a nurse practitioner to take a look at my medications. I didn't go to my usual psychiatrist as he is unavailable due to medical issues of his own and Voc Rehab is covering me meeting with this nurse practitioner. We decided to try changing my medications as the current ones--Effexor and Strattera--no longer seem to be working well. Effexor, with the neurotransmitters it affects, may even be contributing to my heightened general anxiety issues. I was a bit concerned, however, about changing medications as I had just finally gotten my medications fully covered for free through programs for low income people. Normally, out of pocket cost for my Effexor alone was almost $300 per month. I did a basic Google search on my new medications; Citalopram, Clonazepam, and Trazodone; and estimated the cost for filling all three would be around $250. I was very surprised when I went to the pharmacy last night and only had to pay $17.88 for all of it. As I was expecting to pay a lot, for a moment when the pharmacist told me the total came to "seventeen eighty-eight" I thought she meant $1,788.

Going off old medications and starting new ones is always quite the roller coaster ride. When I went off St. John's Wort on my mission before starting Effexor, I dealt with muscle weakness and even a moment of suicidal thoughts. This time around, as I get to go off old medications while going on new ones at the same time, the results seem to be much more positive. After only one day I'm feeling much more calm; things aren't annoying me, or at least not causing me crazy levels of anxiety; and I'm even smiling and laughing. I don't know how long this new attitude will last. I think it will calm down a bit in a few weeks, as is normal. Hopefully, though, I will be able to function again and either go back to school or find a job. Also, for now, I'm in much more of a mood to read and write again, instead of just sitting in front of the TV or wasting time on Facebook. On the bad side of effects of the switch is the slipping of my equilibrium when I stand up, an increased appetite, and sleeping much more deeply than is normal. At least I'm feeling very rested when I wake up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Fallacious Six-year Old

Today I went to the pharmacy to have some new prescriptions filled. While waiting, I watched a girl, about six-years old, take newly bought gloves from her sister, about eight-years old. The older sister didn't want to give the gloves to her younger sister saying, "I don't want you to open them."

The six-year old replied, "I'm not going to open them." She then moved to a position behind the older sister's chair and "opened" the gloves: removing the sales tag and putting them on her hands. She then made the argument that she needed to put them on because "My hands are cold outside."

I muttered, "You aren't outside," under my breath.

The incident gnawed at me the entire time I was in line. I think the main reason was because both parents did nothing about their younger child lying to the older sister. All they seemed to do is treat the older girl as being selfish. (Granted, in a way she may have been.)

On my way out of the pharmacy I made a point to stop and speak to the younger girl. Something in me just couldn't stand to leave without saying something. I approached the girls sitting next to their mother and said, "Excuse me, but I feel something needs to be said." I then pointed to the six-year old girl, telling her, "Honey, I think you need to apologize to your sister for lying to her about the gloves and making a fallacious argument to justify it."

The three of them sat there looking back at me with a look as if to say, "Why are you talking to us?" I left immediately, not in any mood to hear a rebuttal from the mother, which I think would have been something akin to "Mind your own business." Honestly, looking back, the only things I would have done differently would have been to say something sooner and thought of a different word than "fallacious."

I don't have any children of my own, and I understand the generally offensive nature of having strangers try to discipline one's children from the sideline. I also realize this kind of thing is typical of children and siblings at their ages. At the same time, this exchange between sisters and their parents struck something in me. Perhaps it is the nature of it was all too much an example of what I see in the greater world and politics in general: lying about what one is going to do and then making fallacious arguments to justify one's actions after the fact. Also--if I may put forward a bit of parenting philosophy--if a child is old enough to articulate an argument, they are old enough to be corrected.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Letting Go and Letting God

I have not blogged in some time as I have struggled with feelings of anxiety and a general sense of hopelessness as I've tried to keep myself together as I wait for help. As the year comes to an end, and my current living situation along with it, I have an increased sense of desperation to get my situation under control. Understandably this has increased my anxiety. Yesterday, I contacted the Executive Ward Secretary of my ward to schedule an appointment with my bishop so I can ask him for help in finding assistance, specifically in trying to find a new living arrangement. Today, I have been feeling an intense level of anxiety as I consider how the meeting may go. Compared to previous meetings with bishops, I have doubts of it going well. My anxiety over the meeting was so high I had an adrenaline high and my heart was nearly racing. At the moment, however, I feel a soothing calm.

The calm came as I turned on KBYU, simply trying to find something to watch to take my mind off the thought of my meeting with my bishop. As PBS is doing their pledge drive, they are showing a number of programs that one can receive as "gifts" for donating. Tonight was a program by Wayne Dyer called "Excuses Begone." A number of points hit home with me. The main one was his discussion of the recovery therapy saying "Let go and let God." As I watched the program I found myself calming down as I considered the ideas Dyer talked about.

Much of my anxiety and depression of the past couple years have been around issues of trust. My new individual counselor put it very well in our last session when he said he could put the trauma of my life into the word "rejection." I have experienced a great amount of cathartic crying as I've thought about the rejection I have felt and still feel in my life. I have taken it and no longer feel the ability to trust most other people. I don't even trust myself as I struggle with the issues of my body often failing to function properly. Dyer talked about "Let go and let God" is about putting trust not in others or even one's self, it is about putting trust in that higher power: one's Source, God, or whatever label one chooses to use. As I have pondered this, the issue I realize that the spiritual issue that has crippled me over the past couple years has not been simply the issues of my medical problems, but the loss of surrender to God.

Back in 2007 I had my final blow out with my last bishop, stopped attending church meetings, and even asked my home teachers to stop visiting as I felt one in particular was being far too pushy and preachy with me. Although I still feel the step to remove myself from church attendance was in many ways necessary to keeping things from becoming even worse, I realize I let myself lose something very important. I lost my sense of surrender to God and began to try to control too much by my own power. The great moments of my life, where I have found enlightenment, self-actualization, and peace have been those times when I really let go, surrendering myself to God's will, guidance, and influence.

Unlike many I know who consider religion to be a harmful institution, I believe it is very necessary and a powerful tool in spirituality. One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life to date came in the fall of 2007 as I read Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore. It was an experience of understanding the powerful good and spiritual strength that came from me attending church services, even though I still had many criticisms and took issue with the institutions positions and actions regarding sexuality. These are some of the passages that struck me then and even now:

Another aspect of modern life is a loss of formal religious practice in many people's lives, which is not only a threat to spirituality as such, but also deprives the soul of valuable symbolic and reflective experience. (211)

... [C]hurch teaches us directly and symbolically to see the sacred dimensions of everyday life. ... [R]eligion is an "art of memory," a way of sustaining mindfulness about the religion that is inherent in everything we do. ... Without this lowly incorporation of the sacred into life, religion can become so far removed from the human situation as to be irrelevant. ... An appreciation for vernacular spirituality is important because without it our idealization of the holy, making it precious and too removed from life, can actually obstruct a genuine sensitivity to what is sacred. Churchgoing can become a mere aesthetic experience or, psychologically, even a defense against the power of the holy. Formal religion, so powerful and influential in the establishment of values and principles, always lies on a cusp between the divine and the demonic. (214-216)

When I was actively going to church and Institute, I walked the line of that cusp: the precarious balancing act that is walking the straight and narrow of God's will. I do not know if I will return to church activity. In many ways I still feel it will be a hostile environment. The fall out of Proposition 8 is still very active and I suspect many will be all too willing to pull out the rhetoric of the past couple years to try to put me in what they think is my place. At the same time, as I've contemplated what it is God wants of me, I realize my calling in life, in some way, is to be a gad fly to the institution. It is not a calling of trying to tear down, ridicule, or otherwise be a causer of discord. At this moment I feel a peaceful indignation towards the willful ignorance, supposition, and adherence to those I consider to be charlatans and yes men for guidance and "understanding" of issues. I do not know what form my attempts to educate and inform those in power will take. For now, I must simply let go of my attempts to control events and return to letting God carry me to whatever destination His plan has for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's Hard to Accept an Olive Branch When It Still Feels Like a Dagger Is In Your Back

Tuesday night, spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Michael Otterson, managing director of Church Public Affairs, gave official support from the church for the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in a Salt Lake City council meeting. The vast majority of responses have been about how wonderful it is to see the LDS church giving (some) support to LGBT people and how historic a move it is. While I accept the support and agree it is a step in the right direction--no matter how small--for the church towards treating LGBT people better, I only accept it grudgingly and somewhat cynically.

As I've read over the official statement made by Otterson to the City Council, I am left feeling it is something like a backhanded complement. With what I have heard through my contacts and acquaintances with 8: The Mormon Proposition, the LDS church seemed all too ready to brag about this great thing it is doing in giving support saying, "Watch what we are about to do. You will be pleased." I am left feeling this endorsement is more about the LDS church trying to save some face in the PR department than actually trying to "follow what Jesus Christ taught." This ordinance, though important, is a small thing: it is only applicable to Salt Lake City, the endorsement comes only after the ordinance was modified to include explicit exemptions for religious organizations, and comes in the wake of tremendous criticism for the LDS church's support of Proposition 8 in California and other similar legislation. This was a very safe issue for the LDS church to give its support to. By their own words the rights the ordinance covers are "common-sense rights that should be available to everyone." I would consider a person who thinks LGBT people should be homeless and unemployed a terrible monster, and those monsters do exist. One person commented on the Deseret News coverage, "Anything that promotes homosexuality in our community is wrong, including this ordinance. I'm sorry to hear it passed and sorry the church didn't take a stronger stand on the issue."

Even with giving support for basic social rights for LGBT people, the LDS church got in a few digs saying they can give their support because the ordinance "does not do violence to the institution of marriage." Many (including myself) are taking issue with the use of the word violence and the emotional effect it carries. I have much more I could say in criticism of this endorsement and how I see some responding to it. I find myself having to bite my tongue at the claims of "treating others with respect even when we disagree--in fact, especially when we disagree" and "Our language will always be respectful and acknowledge those who differ" as I think back on the history of the LDS church's commentary on, general rhetoric about, and treatment of LGBT people.

In the end I'll accept this olive branch, however small it may be. However, I am not ready to embrace the LDS church in love and support yet. I've found a few too many daggers in my back in the past.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Empathy Rediscoverd and Group Therapy Frustration

I have been avoiding writing as I have not wanted to think about a number of things that have gone on the past week. Some of it is emotionally difficult; some of it requires me to be careful about respecting the privacy of certain people.

As I wrote in my previous entry, I have rediscovered a spiritual calm that has been missing from my life for some time. As this calm has returned another aspect I have missed for many years has returned as well. It is something difficult to explain properly without it seeming too bizarre. The best I can say is it is like an empathic ability, verging on psychic at times with people I am close to, that I realized and developed back in high school. A different way of saying it is what might be called the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits (D&C 46:23). Perhaps it is simply feeling a connection of trust with people. Whatever it may be, it has been missing from my life since my mission. It is a profoundly wonderful feeling to have rediscovered this gift. It is also a bit disturbing.

The past few sessions with my therapy group have been more difficult than usual for me. Some of the people involved have left me feeling frustrated and uncomfortable in dealing with them. I have struggled to figure out exactly why it is I feel this way. This past session I got a glimpse of understanding as to why. As I let myself open up to the group empathicly I realized the people I'm having difficulty with are just at a very shallow, undeveloped level. I am fighting and struggling to move forward while feeling like I'm getting pulled back to some remedial level. It makes me think of a Simpsons episode when Bart is put in a remedial class, "We're behind and trying to catch up by going slower?" (to paraphrase). The therapist for the group suggested to Voc Rehab, since they are currently covering my group sessions, I could probably benefit from individual counseling as well. My Voc Rehab counselor seems like she can get me covered for that as well. I feel I could really use it as I am leaving the group sessions usually more frustrated, angry, and/or depressed than before.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting Back to When Things Were Good

The past couple weeks have seemed notably difficult for me. My depression seems to be worse than usual, perhaps because of the changing season shortening the day. I have also seen a great amount of hateful reaction to the release of the trailer for 8: The Mormon Proposition. At first I thought I might catalog what I've seen, and argued with, from people. I've had some very strong reactions to what people have posted. Just a week ago I became enraged at what one man wrote in an argument we had on Facebook over the trailer for 8:TMP. My anger was white hot and took over (almost) all of my ability to reason. I wanted to physically beat up someone--anyone, even children. Luckily I only spent a few minute sobbing and slammed a couple doors.

I have decided to cut myself off from much of the media I have been exposing myself to over the past couple years. I have hidden and ignored a large number of Facebook friends who tend to post political/religious links and comments. I no longer watch Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann. I leave the room when my roommate turns on NPR. I am avoiding almost all media outlets. Even The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which I have allowed myself to still watch, may eventually be cut. My constitution is just not made to handle the stresses of staying informed in our culture of negative media.

What I do need to do is get back to where I was when things were good. The last time I really felt like my life was on the right track was back in 2005. I was seriously working on maintaining my spirituality and felt closely connected with God. It has been a growing realization, but today seemed particularly poignant in realizing how much I have let my spirituality slip and how I no longer feel very connected with the Savior in my life. As I have merely thought about plans to work on getting back somewhat to where I was, a calm has returned to part of me I realize has been missing now for some time. Part of me even considered trying to attend LDS church meetings, but perhaps with the social/political climate that exists in the aftermath of Proposition 8 would be too much. I hope that bridge hasn't been completely burned.

I truly fear sometimes I may become like the people I run into all too often who carry so much hatred for the LDS church and faith. I have my criticisms of how the church has behaved as an institution, and I even openly question and challenge some of what the General Authorities say and teach. However, that doesn't negate what I have gained from being a member of the church. It doubt it will ever cease to amaze me how following what I learned in church--having faith, prayer, listening to the Holy Ghost--is what has enabled me to be comfortable in my sexuality. The anger and hatred are so toxic to me and destroy the peace and comfort I found.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

8: The Mormon Proposition Gets Online

Reed Cowan's documentary, 8: The Mormon Propositon, has launched its official website and released its first trailer.



Cowan has submitted the film to the Sundance Film Festival, and others. I, and many others, are very excited and hopeful to see this film get out.

I wrote about my feelings just before the launch of the website for Cowan to share:

This past February I took the opportunity to interview with Reed Cowan for his documentary 8: The Mormon Proposition. As production has progressed and the release of the film draws closer I am very happy to be part of this work. I am excited to see my voice have an opportunity to spread out to the world, even if only a couple lines, and hopefully have an impact on shaping the lives and discussion of those trying to find reconciliation between their spirituality and sexuality.

I am also nervous about the backlash I know will happen. I am a sensitive soul, and it is difficult for me to face the anger and hatred of those who will invariably attack this work and my involvement in it. But I am willing to deal with the pain. I find strength to do what I believe is right in the message the Lord gave Joseph Smith, Jr., in Liberty Jail:

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Am Angry At and Conflicted With LDS and LGBT Socities

I find myself spending another sleepless night feeling conflicted. Over the past couple weeks, since LDS General Conference, I have been trying to write an entry about my feelings of alienation from both LDS and LGBT societies. My block: not being willing to fully face the deep issues I have with each side at the same time and trying to be too objective/unemotional in my writing. And so, my warning: I will be very blunt and honest about my feelings each way. Some offensive, adult language will be used.

On Monday, October 5, a Facebook friend wrote an open letter to Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in regards to Elder Oaks's talk during the Saturday evening session of the 179th Semiannual General Conference. Some excerpts from the letter:

... I was deeply offended by your speech during the LDS church’s General Conference this past weekend. In this speech you told parents of LGBT children that it is alright to withhold love from a child who wants to embrace their true selves as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered person. ... What type of message is it when a man who people are taught is a prophet tells them they are undeserving of their parents love and acceptance just because of the way they were born? ...

I am a proud member of the LGBT community in Utah. ... Mr. Oaks we can only hope to undo the damage that you do to others by so casually saying things that have no bearing on you but effect the entire future of others’ lives.


Apparently not one to lose momentum with the LGBT community, Elder Oaks gave a talk at BYU-Idaho not twenty-four hours ago that has released another wave of vitriol. Some samples from Facebook friends:

  • I assume that the nature of the talk was not so much to tackle the issue of the impingment [sic] of religious freedom, but more to justify and explain why the Church is being seen in a negative light. He had the audacity to compare the backlash against the members of the Church to the oppression of blacks in the Civil Rights Era. That's right, he's comparing the members to the oppressees, not the oppressors. The wolf is in the sheeps [sic] clothing and is bleating in alarm because it now has a bad image.


  • You'd think the LDS Church would stop shooting itself in the foot. Go back to gospels teaching (sic), instead of whining at the pulpit. Good one Oaks!


  • what a lying piece of shit. He is the playground bully and he has lied, hidden expenditures, hidden his agenda, financed it all ... and now claims the church is the victim??? I call BULLSHIT!!!


As I said, I am conflicted. As a gay man I want to fight for civil rights, protections, and responsibilities for LGBT people. I want to scream BULLSHIT!!! at Elder Oaks and any others who have the audacity to say they are completely in the right on the issues. I want to see everyone who joined and/or supported the religious coalition the LDS church joined to pass Prop 8 held accountable for the lies, misdirections, fear mongering, and all the other ways they ignored facts, reason, and logic to push their beliefs. I am so disgusted by the hypocrisy of those claiming the moral high ground and "authority" I am physically ill. (For the sake of some brevity I will not re-catalog the LDS church's sins of hypocrisy on these issues at this time.) If I believed it would help I would shout from the rooftops, violently beat people's faces into concrete, and even, as Mahatma Gandhi writes, "I would destroy that system today, if I had the power. I would use the most deadly weapons, if I believed that they would destroy it" ("Man and Machine"). But violence and destruction do not improve the situation; such actions would only make mine the greater sin.

And here I come to the issues I have with LGBT society and culture, or what I call the "media popular" versions there of. I am weary of the anger and vitriol that flows so freely. As a man of faith, and especially coming from an LDS faith tradition, I often feel at great odds with the LGBT community. I have constantly faced and endured criticism and hatred for just identifying as LDS, wearing a CTR ring, or finding any bit of an idea from LDS scripture or literature that I agree with.

Case in point, Elder Oaks's talk from the Saturday evening session of the 179th Semiannual General Conference. Taken by itself, I found the talk to be very appropriate and not containing what I have seen many accusing Elder Oaks of saying. (At the same time, given what he has said and done in other places Elder Oaks has come close to saying or somehow endorsing what people have accused him of.) At the basic root of the talk I found much to agree with Elder Oaks, particularly in regards to my issues with LGBT society and culture. It saddens me when I look around and see so many people going down a self-destructive path. It disturbs me even more when so many justify it to themselves and others by saying "God loves me." Every time I have gone to a church where LGBT people are welcome it feels hollow and more of an ego stroking session than sincere spirituality as the minister harps on and on about God loving gays. Yes, God loves us, but that doesn't mean He is handing out free rides to eternity. In my personal spiritual quest to reconcile my spirituality and sexuality one of the great messages I received from the Spirit was that while God accepts my sexuality and it is best for me to seek a male partner I don't have carte blanche on sexual behavior: I do not believe casual sexual hook ups are healthy, mentally or physically; I do not believe the way to find a boyfriend is to sleep around until I find a guy who wants to have sex with me more than once; I do not believe constant sexual innuendo is a healthy form of speaking about sex and sexuality--I believe it is the opposite extreme of treating sexual discussions as an absolute taboo. I am tired of trying to date, only to be required to wade through seas of men only looking for their next sexual escapade. I am tired of being expected to condone self-destructive behavior. I am tired of the bitchiness, the riotous lifestyles, and anger I am expected to immerse myself in.

I am tired.

So, I am left in a limbo, the space between worlds. I am both and neither, a complex entity. Occasionally, I hear a voice or a hand is extended for a moment. At the end of the day, however, it is only me and God in this place.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Open Letter In Thanks to Keith Olbermann for His Special Comment on Health Care

Dear Keith Olbermann,

I feel deeply impressed to write to you and let you know how grateful I am for your program long special comment on health care. I have cried all evening thinking of your personal experiences of dealing with your father's illness and the pain of those left to suffer because of the failings of the current medical system. Being one of the latter, I am particularly moved by the passion of your care and concern for others and your willingness to put your resources to affecting real reform for the better.

I have lived my entire life with chronic clinical depression. Although I have been able to receive good care with medications and counseling I often am still left in a debilitated condition by it as neither my family or myself have been able to afford the time and money to monitor and treat my condition to the extent it sometimes requires. It has even been difficult when I was able to have medical coverage from my employer. The past two years have been especially difficult as my depression was severely exacerbated by the development of a hypothyroid condition. I was rendered so unable to function I had to withdraw from school, have been unable to work, and even ended up in the Emergency Room due to suicidal feelings. To add another mark against the current system, I waited in the ER for over four hours to speak to a Crisis Worker only to be turned away with no assistance as I was not yet actively engaged in harming myself or others and still being billed over five hundred dollars. Despite the severity of my condition I tried, unsuccessfully and with what felt like Herculean effort, to find work so I could take care of my needs. Having gone from full-time student to simply unemployed has left me only financially able to barely cover the most basic needs of my condition--or I should say left me dependent on the meager financial assistance my family has been able to provide me. Even the hypothyroid condition went undetected for over a year and a half. I have been lucky, somewhat, to receive assistance from some charitable and community programs. I am trying to receive Medicaid, but being a man with no dependents leaves me in a difficult position where I have spent nearly three months of paperwork trying to prove my condition is serious enough to warrant receiving any care.

Over the past months I have watch the coverage of the protests by "deathers" and other people who have abandoned reason and moral sensibility over the issue of health care reform. I have been dismayed at the lengths and levels the insurance industry lobbyists have gone over this issue. I am disturbed by the way many members of Congress have gone about opposing reform holding capitalism and corporate profits over the well being of American citizens. It may go without saying, the levels of deception, hysteria, and incivility in recent political rhetoric has left me despairing that I will have an opportunity for full proper care of my condition and realize my full potential as a contributing member of society, instead of just settling for basic treatment that only leaves me just on this side of the divide between sanity and self-destruction.

Again, thank you, Keith, for your work. Although what you often report on your show upsets me, your passion to see the world a better place for everyone, publicly call out the charlatans influencing our social systems, and speak truth to insanity gives me hope for the future.

Sincerely,
Ryan Hollist

Friday, October 2, 2009

Worst Sporsmanship Ever Over 2016 Olympic Bid

Tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show conservative reactions to the news of Chicago loosing the bid for the 2016 games were covered.

Whether or not people think having the Olympic games is a benefit for the host city and nation, I think this kind of reaction is very, very bad sportsmanship. Were it possible to separate this from political partisanship, I would consider this very bad patriotism as well. But this is obviously a reaction of partisanship and the broken nature of these conservative groups. This cheering over the failure of Chicago to be picked as the 2016 host city is not about Chicago, or the Olympic games. This is a spin on the "failure" of President Obama to win the Olympics. Again, the merits and facts of the situation, the inevitable randomness and lack of control on events that is life will be used by these groups to say Obama is an unfit President and a failure as a leader. This entire week has been a constant bash against the President for even deciding to go to Copenhagen, even if for only less than a day. I have heard nothing but constant snarky comments about how the Olympics are a problem for the host countries, and therefore it is bad for President Obama to try to get the Olympics. Of course now that Chicago didn't get it, Obama is a bad President for failing to convince the Olympic committee to vote for us.

I honestly find the conservative attitude and method these days appalling. It is like trying to debate with conspiracy theorists: Fact A and Fact not-A both confirm their theory, no matter how absurd. I also find it disturbing that the side who constantly preach about "patriotism" and treat those who disagree as "un-American," "terrorists," and/or "traitors" have taken the tactic, as one commenter put it, "They would rather see the country fail than admit defeat."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Personal Articles of Faith

With the last two posts I made criticizing Elder Hafen's talk to Evergreen International, I feel I should do something more spiritually positive. This evening at my weekly group therapy session, we talked about issues with attending church meetings and the mixed feelings we have. While the tone was often of frustration and feeling hurt, it was also an atmosphere of sharing deep spiritual beliefs and experiences. I thought about the experience and decided to write my own Articles of Faith, modeled after the LDS Articles of Faith.
  1. I believe in God, my Eternal Father, and in my personal Savior, Jesus Christ, and in the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. I have experienced their power and influence in my life and cherish my personal relationship with them.

  2. I believe people will be, and must be, accountable for their own choices, thoughts, and actions. Although we are to teach, admonish, and help our brothers and sisters, neither myself nor God can force a person to make a certain decision, to act a certain way, or to travel a certain destiny.

  3. I believe that through the Atonement of Christ I may be saved, by developing a personal relationship with the Savior and obedience to direction he gives me for my life through the laws and ordinances of the Gospel, scriptural study, revelation given through others, and--most importantly--the personal guidance and revelation He gives me.

  4. I believe the the guiding principles of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance and a complete willingness to do whatever the Lord may ask of me; third, seeking and maintaining a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; fourth, living by the council and guidance I receive.

  5. I believe men are called of God, by prophecy, and set apart by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof. I believe many are called of God, by prophecy, to administer in many other ways for the preaching of the Gospel and progression of the Kingdom of God. I believe being called of God does not make a person infallible, immune to valid criticism, or otherwise deify that person in any way.

  6. I believe in the organization of the Church of Christ and in the offices there in, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

  7. I believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth as I have experienced their manifestation and power in my own life.

  8. I believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; I also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. Each contains much that is not fully understood and is left to personal interpretation.

  9. I believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and I believe He has yet to reveal many great and important things. I do not believe in those who may say, "All is understood. All is revealed. No more is needed."

  10. I believe in the gathering of Israel, both literal descendants and "adopted" members; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.

  11. I claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of my own conscience, and believe all men must have the same privilege.

  12. I believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law, in so far as they are just. I believe religion and government must stand separate as long as both are administered by imperfect men and women.

  13. I believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. I follow the admonition of Paul--I continuously ponder on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and whatever is good and virtuous.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Response to Elder Bruce C. Hafen at Evergreen Conference Sep. 2009 (Part 2: Politics and Society)

I have struggled over how to respond to the political and social arguments Elder Hafen makes in his talk to Evergreen International. Perhaps it is because I do not accept the all too often simplistic arguments made from either side. Perhaps it is because my experience in trying to discuss these issues in the past has resulted in experiencing some of the most hurtful attitudes I have ever seen. So, perhaps the only way to go is just to jump in.

SOME HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The 1973 decision by the American Psychological Association to remove homosexuality as an official disorder is a major point of contention in the discussion of the politics surrounding homosexuality. Elder Hafen, along with Evergreen International, NARTH, and other such organizations, takes the usual stance that this removal was inappropriate and only done in response to vigorous protests and demonstrations against the APA. Elder Hafen argues the change was done "not because of any change in actual medical findings." This argument is tricky because it rests in a certain level of technical wording. A proper understanding of events leading up to this decision requires the understanding of how homosexuality was categorized as a disorder to begin with and what it takes to have something officially categorized as a disorder.

Homosexuality was originally included by the APA as a mental disorder because the information about homosexuality was only obtained from one source: patients with mental disorders who were also homosexual. With such a biased source of information and being a rather small portion of the population, it is easy to understand how homosexuality would be considered a disorder. However, in the 1950's work began to understand human sexuality in the context of society at large, not just the mentally disordered. The two best known works in this area were done by Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker. Both realized the lack of scientific rigor that existed behind the views and responses to homosexuality. Their work was the start of a line of studies, spanning decades, that time and time again failed to prove the theories and assumptions made about human sexuality. By their own definitions and requirements the APA could not allow homosexuality to stand as a listed mental disorder. This is not to say there were not the demonstrations and protests by activist groups. But this was not a case of the APA caving to political pressure. The demonstrations and protest were fueled by the APA's own research and findings, or lack there of. So, yes, it was not a change based on medical findings. It was a necessary, ethical change due to the inability to produce any supporting findings. In 1975 the APA adopted a resolution supporting this action: "Homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, stability, reliability, or general social or vocational responsibilities." I have yet to hear an argument about why homosexuality should be reinstated as a mental disorder based on the APA's requirements to consider something as a mental disorder.

THE FOUR "MISCONCEPTIONS" OF PRO-GAY ACTIVISTS

Pro-gay activism has been a bit of an ethical mine field for me over the years. While it is clear I am very much for gay rights, I am bothered by the how and why much of the pro-gay camp argues and fights for their side. Elder Hafen's "four misconceptions activists seek to establish as facts" are issues I agree are problematic. Most take a complex issue with no clear answer and try to make it simplistic.

"First is the misconception that same-gender attraction is an inborn and unalterable orientation." "A second misconception the activists promote is that therapy cannot treat, let alone change, same-gender attraction."

I wrote about these "misconceptions" in my previous post/response. I will reiterate that while there is no conclusive evidence to support these theories, there is also no conclusive evidence to support the theory that sexual orientation can be changed; I find it a bit absurd how Elder Hafen argues the complexity of sexual orientation somehow makes his simplistic theory of change valid; and his use of severely ethically questionable sources makes his argument dubious at best.

"The third misconception is that most Americans favor same-gender marriage, which means the [LDS] Church is outside the mainstream in opposing it."

This is a rather mixed issue, on both sides. There are a variety of issues in whether or not this is a misconception or something more of a reality. The numbers over the past few years have been in a great amount of flux. What does seem to be happening, overall, is there is a trend towards acceptance of the idea. Elder Hafen's own statistical "evidence" shows a rather even split in opinions on the matter. The vote on California's Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution to ban same-sex marriages, was very close passing by only four percentage points, less than half a million total ballots. While it may not be quite possible to say most Americans support same-sex marriage, it is equally difficult to say most oppose it. If anything, we are currently at an equilibrium, a tipping point, between the opinions.

Elder Hafen does make a point about the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 campaign. He quotes a Time article calling it a "vicious backlash from gay-rights activists, some of whom accused Mormons of bigotry and blind religious obedience." I agree there was a vicious backlash. In some ways it is continuing. I remember the protests here in Salt Lake City right after Election Day. While I understood and felt the outrage and hurt, I chose not to participate. To me, those protests seemed too reactionary and seated in the anger of the moment. Gratefully, they remained relatively peaceful, only showing some brief moments of shouting between protesters and opponents of the protest. This did not diminish my unease, however. I still find myself all too often in a strange limbo area of argument where I share a common goal or desire with the pro-gay side, but I all too often see the purpose for it and the paths to go down seeming at odds with those who share my goals. Also, I still feel the need to defend the rights of the LDS Church, and other organizations.

It is also difficult to argue against many LDS voters blindly obeying their religious leaders. Blind obedience is a common trait among any religion, and bigotry is just as common. (Seriously, look up the actual definition of bigotry.) At the same time I know of many who did not blindly obey. In fact, there have been a large number of people leaving the LDS Church over how the Church handled the Proposition 8 campaign. I have been highly critical of the tactics used by the LDS Church over Proposition 8. (I will post some of the responses I wrote.) I will say here I found much of the arguments made by the LDS Church and its coalition members against same-sex marriage and the political goals of gay-rights activists very unethical. I was shocked at the level of misrepresentation of facts in legal cases cited to support their "rational" fear of losing rights as a religion. Ironically, the way they acted in the campaign is far more likely to affect their tax-exempt status and other rights than allowing states to license same-sex marriages.

"The fourth misconception is that there are no rational, non-religious reasons for opposing same-gender marriage."

To be completely honest, I find Elder Hafen's argument in this section of his talk very well done and, in general, I agree it is a valid argument. I agree that a major reason government got into the business of marriage is to support the raising of children. That is also the reason why caring for children provides many benefits in the tax code. I also wholly agree that American society has become too much of a divorce culture with people entering marriage without proper preparation and with unrealistic expectations. I also agree that families falling apart and children being raised by only a single parent contributes to damaged citizens and a damaged society. But, again, we must be careful not to become simplistic in dealing with issues as complex as marriage and family.

There is a consensus in the social science and psychological research that children, overall, do best when raised by both biological parents. I support giving the biological, or "natural," family priority as a general guideline. I do not however believe this requires it to be law. Family dynamics cover a very wide variation. All too often there are cases when the biological parents are not what is best for the children. This is why is Child and Family Services and foster care programs exist. I personally spent my early childhood with a schizophrenic mother. My parent's divorce and my father removing us from her direct influence was very necessary.

To say that because children generally do best being raised by their biological parents is a difficult argument against same-sex marriage. Every time I hear the argument made I cannot help thinking the argument somehow implies same-sex marriage will cause children to be removed from their biological parents. I don't see how that is going to happen. Children are already being removed from biological parents for reasons completely unrelated to same-sex marriage. If anything there is evidence that same-sex couples may be a very valuable resource in helping take in those children displaced due to what ever reason they are removed from their parents. Research of homosexual pairings of animals is showing these "mating pairs" can be a very valuable asset in raising young, helping diminished populations of some species flourish again. On the human side, the basic argument against allowing homosexual couples from raising children has revolved around the idea that children need a father and a mother to help them properly develop gender identity and appropriate gender roles. Arguments of sexist beliefs aside, these concerns are valid, but once again the evidence is not in support of the supposition. In 2006 the American Acadamy of Pediatrics published an analasys on findings of children being raised by same-sex parents. In the concluding comments:

There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment. These data have demonstrated no risk to children as a result of growing up in a family with 1 or more gay parents. Conscientious and nurturing adults, whether they are men or women, heterosexual or homosexual, can be excellent parents. The rights, benefits, and protections of civil marriage can further strengthen these families.

Often, the LDS Church and other organizations cite studies that supposedly say children actually do need both a mother and a father, both sexes of parent. A look into those studies usually shows that the study actually says nothing about homosexual parents as none are studied. The studies used in these arguments are only in regard to the child being raised by both biological parents or by one single biological parent. Those studies do show that children do significantly better when both parents are raising the child, but as no homosexual parents are included in those studied nothing can actually be inferred as to the efficacy of children being raised by a same-sex couple. This misuse of these studies have even brought about the ire of the researchers. I distinctly remember a case where researchers were threatening to take legal action against the conservative group Focus on the Family for misrepresenting their research claiming it "proved" homosexuals were unfit parents when no homosexuals were involved in the study. (Aparantly, this was not an isolated incident.) In the end, if marriage is for the raising of children, I am for making that more reflective in statutes and policies regarding marriage. However, until the orphanages are empty and foster care services are no longer needed, I still cannot see an argument to keep same-sex couples from being able to be married and bring children to raise into their homes.

The flip side of the argument for saying marriage is about children is that although so many people like to use it as a point against same-sex marriage, they are very unwilling to make laws in a more affirmative way. Some people have even tried to propose bills and modify marriage laws to reflect a more child centered civil institution. In 2006 a group proposed a bill that would require couples to produce children to be allowed to stay married. Currently, a man in California is working to get a proposition on the ballot to make divorce illegal. Quite honestly, I find it a little--if not a lot--hypocritical that those who argue that marriage is falling apart because people aren't going into it to raise children or are too willing to get divorced do not support statutes to make bearing children requisite or bar divorce. Mostly, it just makes them seem all the more willing to say anything to keep the "queers" from going down the aisle.

In the end, all the scientific, sociological, or political argument and debate is not what will sway a person in Elder Hafen's position or an organization like Evergreen International. Perhaps it is this sense of futility that I struggled with. At the root of it all, down at the bottom of even their inclusion of secular arguments, lies one all encompassing conceit: because God said so.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Response to Elder Bruce C. Hafen at Evergreen Conference Sep. 2009 (Part 1: Science and Therapy)

The recent talk by LDS General Authority, Elder Bruce C. Hafen, at the Evergreen International conference has created a good amount of attention. Most only have read the articles in the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News. I took the extra step to read the entire talk, which is posted at the LDS Church's online newsroom. I could write a great deal in response to Elder Hafen's comments. I will try to keep myself to a few key points for this entry.

Elder Hafen begins with addressing ideas about the cause of homosexuality ("same-gender attraction" as he chooses to put it). Like many other talks and articles by LDS church leaders and therapists, Hafen does quite the job working towards trying to debunk the idea that sexual orientation--or more specifically homosexuality--is something innate to the individual. "Having same-gender attraction is NOT in your DNA," he says. This argument has been central to the constant position of the LDS church and Evergreen International that homosexuality can be "overcome," "changed," and otherwise altered to bring the person who "suffers" from it to "properly functioning" heterosexuality.

While it is true there is currently no direct proof or evidence of a "gay gene" or many of the other biological theories about the cause of homosexuality, this does not mean there is not compelling indirect evidence to it. I will not go into the variety of leads being pursued by the scientific community at this time. What is agreed on, by both scientist and Elder Hafen, is "So much individual variation exists with so many possible explanations that there is simply no scientific consensus about what causes homosexual tendencies," and "no universal expalation exits." As he quotes the American Psychological Association, "[N]o findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any factor or set of factors… [N]ature and nurture both play complex roles." The mistake Elder Hafen makes at this point is a classic issue, confusing the absence of proof for the proof of absence. This is why research continues based on the indirect evidence being found and theories being put out. What has failed far more consistantly is the very theory Elder Hafen, and many others I have researched, insist this somehow proves to be right: homosexuality can be changed to heterosexuality through therapy.

The "proof" behind the efficacy of "change" or "reparative" therapy is often the testimonies of those who claim to have changed from a homosexual to heterosexual orientation. This is a hotly debated issue that is all too often used as a political, social, relious, etc. football. Although Elder Hafen cites a number of sources to support the idea, all but one of them is steeped in a deep refusal to do any proper studies regarding their treatments that they cannot be treated as anything close to reliable. The only study he cites that I would consider likely to be reliable is the study by Dr. Spitzer. I have not read the study myself, and would very much like to. (If anyone can get me a copy or link to it, it would be greatly appreciated.) I have read, or at least tried to read, the other sources he cites. All of them, without exception, are so repulsive in how they go about their theories, argue their cases, treat their "supporting" evidence, and refusal to adhere to any professional process I feel physically ill whenever I read them. Some, like the work of Dean Byrd, Jason Park, and Joseph Nicolosi (not cited by Elder Hafen), are so bad I have never been able to bring myself to complete any of their works no matter how much I tried.

Now, this is not to say I completely dismiss the idea of some homosexuals being able to live a satisfying heterosexual style life. I know some men who have done it. It's not easy for them, but in as much as it is my place to say either way, I believe they are choosing to live their lives in ways that seem to be the best for them. What I have seen in all my personal experience and research is that what actually helps people develop and deal with their sexuality in a healthy and mature way is not what Evergreen International or even the LDS church all too often endorses and encourages. It is not good for these people to constantly feel like they are somehow "afflicted," "flawed," or otherwise must "suffer" their orientation. I am happy to see Elder Hafen actually saying it isn't something people should be feeling like they must suffer for or consider themselves flawed by having. He still categorizes it under the label of being an affliction. This is a subtle trend I have noticed in the general LDS rhetoric on the issue over the past few years that I find very encouraging to improving the lives of LDS homosexuals. What also needs to be handled carefully is the matter of guilt. Again, I am glad to see Elder Hafen working in a good direction with it. At the same time I cannot tell you how many people I have talked to who tried going to Evergreen International, or similar groups, only to be fed a steady diet of shame and guilt because they hadn't "changed" yet, and therefore must not be doing what they should. (This guilt based shaming and accusations of sin based on not achieving predetermined results is something I have personally experienced in the LDS culture even beyond the issues of sexuality.)

What I do see that needs to happen more is helping the people accept, at a basic level, that they are homosexual. I have never seen a homosexual person I would say is emotionally healthy who has not addressed their sexual orientation maturely and accepted it as an aspect of them-self, regardless of whether they live a homosexual or heterosexual life. And notice, I said "aspect" of them-self, not their entire make up. I found Elder Hafen's use of the parable of the dogs rather interesting. While I understand the point he is trying to make, it is a poor parable for what is being discussed. Aspects of one's self do very poorly when ignored. Starving a part of the psyche only makes it lash out, demanding attention, almost always in unhealthy ways. Each part of one's psyche needs to be addressed and nourished appropriately. What also needs to be faced by the individual, therapists, religions, and society in general is the very complexity of the issue of sexuality. As much as the discussion revolves around the dichotomy of heterosexual or homosexual, the reality is there is a great amount of variety in the way sexual orientation goes. The most basic step is to consider how much a person may be bisexual. Often I have seen people who are actually very evenly bisexual get too focused on the homosexual side of their attractions. This can even block the heterosexual aspects of their attraction.

Elder Hafen is right that the APA recently adopted a resolution stating that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not sexual orientation can be changed. I currently am being treated by a therapist, A. Lee Beckstead, Ph.D., who was part of the task force to review the APA's stance on the appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation, including therapy to change sexual orientation. He also did one of what I consider one of the best studies regarding people who go through groups like Evergreen International. Again, the task force, through its research and interviews, found a number of things, some of which I have already covered.

People seeking to work with a therapist must make sure the therapist is ethical in how they treat the patient and how they go about the work. Some points that are very important, and issues I see Elder Hafen falling very short on in his talk, is to make sure the person is clear about goals, methods, and purpose of the therapy. For example, the therapist and client must be clear about what they mean by trying to "change" orientation. If it is simply working out how to live a heterosexual life, while still being attracted to the same sex, then the therapist may be able to tell the client that result is possible. However, if the client wants to completely change their orientation, no longer experiencing attraction to the same sex while experiencing strong attraction to the opposite sex, that result probably will not occur. I personally find Evergreen International and LDS approaches very unethical in that they are so predetermined in goals, methods, and purpose in the treatment they provide and information they share/dispense to those seeking help.

Another very important issue for the therapist to help the client with is views regarding what it means to be gay or lesbian. Many who seek change have a very skewed view about what it is to live as an out homosexual. Speaking from personal experience and people I know, the usual "media popular" version of being gay is not appealing or is downright disgusting to many. Most men I know don't have a desire to go around in assless chaps and have anonymous sex in public restrooms (as an example). The sad reality is many who seek reparative therapy and go to groups like Evergreen International think this is the only option they really have if they accept their sexual orientation. This is perhaps one of the greatest issues with Elder Hafen's talk and much that I hear coming from LDS church leaders and groups like Evergreen International. There is a subtlety to their rhetoric about "giving in or give up" and "succumbing" to the "gay lifestyle" (I am glad to see Elder Hafen at least put it in plural, "lifestyles"). Every time I hear it said there is a sense that there is only the option of giving in to a life of debauchery. This is not to say it isn't out there. I have seen the edge of it, but I hope as the great variety of gay men and lesbian women become more noticed in society people will realize that just because they are homosexual doesn't mean they must live their lives according to a stereotype.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Birth of Joe d'Arc

Joe d'Arc isn't my name. It is a handle I use on the internet, for video games, and other such things. This handle came about from an unusual compliment I received from a former teacher in the spring of 2008.

I met up with the teacher when I went back to the community college I had graduated from the previous semester to get a haircut at the barbering school there. (I wear a simple hairstyle, and $2 is a very good price for my budget.) After my haircut I decided to drop in on some of the teachers, and others, I had developed a friendly relationship with. This particular teacher I had the pleasure of getting to know quite well, and we had had a number of long discussions about various topics in the past. When I ran into him, he was just about to go to lunch and invited me to eat with him.

Our discussion quickly went to him asking me about dealing with my sexuality and dealing with my spiritual/religious life having been raised LDS. He often talked to me about this as he found it very interesting how I had come to be very comfortable with my sexuality while still maintaining strong spiritual beliefs from my LDS upbringing. He is a person who takes a much more agnostic, or even anti-religious view. I told him how I had recently decided to stop attending LDS church meetings due to my Bishop confronting me about expressing my disagreement with the lesson material when homosexuality was brought up during the Elders' Quorum meeting. Although I had tried to be as tactful and respectful as possible, it had apparently offended some of the other men (I don't know who they were). The only part I wish I had handled differently was leaving my Bishop's office yelling at him as I felt he was bullying me, implying I was not welcome unless I was going to sit quietly and totally agree with whatever was said.

As I told the story to my former teacher he made the comment, "You are just like Joan of Arc." At first I wondered if he might mean he saw me tied to a stake to be burned in my future. All I really knew at the time about Joan of Arc was the basics about her claim of having been told by God to lead a crusade, doing so, and then being burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic church. I quickly realized the comparison was meant as a compliment to my willingness to stand up to authority figures in the LDS church hierarchy and stand by my beliefs about what I have personally experienced spiritually that has brought me to embrace both my sexuality and my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

When I got back home, I decided to do a little research on Joan of Arc to see what about her I seemed to share. As I scanned the Wikipedia entry on her I became intrigued by what I learned. Despite her peasant status, being illiterate, and being a woman (which was a major part of the charges against her by the Catholic church) the records of her showed an incredibly intelligent woman of profound faith and strength. I have come to love how she responded to a question meant to trap her during her trial. When asked if she was in God's grace--something no one is supposed to be able to know either way--she responded, "If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me."

Impressed by my research and liking the fact the comparison came from someone else, whom I respect, I decided to embrace the comparison. And so, I came up with the name Joe d'Arc: a male modification of Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d'Arc in the original French variation).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Respect for Marriage Act Introduced

I am very happy to see the Respect for Marriage Act intriduced to the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY). The bill is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was passed back in 1996 before there were any states, or other countries, that legally recognized same-sex unions. I know there will be many who will see this bill as some kind of attack on existing marriage or somehow trying to force all of the United States, and religions therein, to accept, perform, and celebrate marriages by same-sex couples; but that is not the case with this bill.

DOMA, in short, defines the only marriages recognized by the federal government as between a man and a woman. In effect, this has caused many gay and lesbian couples to still be denied many of the rights, protections, and responsibilities granted by marriage and regulated by the federal government (upwards of 1,000 in all) even when they are fully, legally recognized as married by their state. This federal loophole has created a number of SNAFU situations with married gay and lesbian couples. For example, in the state of Massachusetts, the first state to license same-sex marriages, filing taxes is problematic. The Massachusetts state tax filing laws require a person to file in the state using the same status as they did for their federal return. Although a couple is legally recognized by the state, the federal government does not recognize their marriage, and therefore each person must file federally as single. In turn the state effectively requires them to also file as single. I have long felt this unequal recognition of marriages by the federal government, while it is up to the states to determine their own marriage laws, Constitutionally questionable.

The Respect of Marriage Act is only to repeal DOMA and return the federal government back to its previous method of marriage recognition: if the state legally recognizes the marriage the federal government legally recognizes the marriage. Period. There is nothing telling any person, religion, or state what marriages they may or may not recognize, license, or celebrate. The First Amendment clearly protects these rights of religions to choose their own qualifications for religious marriage. What the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act will do is allow those gay and lesbian couples who are licensed a marriage will be able to receive the rights, benefits, and responsibilities given to all married couples to help them strengthen and maintain their relationship, thereby strengthening the communities and societies they live in.

Limbaugh's Racism Goes Too Far, Even For Him

Today on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, a clip from Rush Limbaugh was played that struck me as going far beyond what even Limbaugh would say.

As Olbermann points out, Limbaugh is most likely going on a hyperbolic rant to make it seem like all white people are racists. Looking at Limbaugh's own website it is clear he is speaking from his imagined position of what "Obama's America" is trying to indoctrinate us into believing.

I don't know what is more nauseating, Limbaugh's own racism or the racism he is trying to project out to onto America. I am horrified that he would sit at his micorphone saying there are people who believe school buses should be segregated (with even a subtext of an apartheid level of segregation), that the left sees everything through some racial lens, and on and on. Although he couches this in a type of hyperbolic, somewhat satirical, speaking-plain-the-subtext-of-my-enemy rant it still turns my stomach to hear him say it. I cannot help having a gut reaction to the anger and hatred pouring out from Limbaugh is the inverted projection of his own extremely racist beliefs.

Once Upon a Time, I Had a Blog

Back in 2005-06 I had a MySpace account. With the account I kept a bit of a blog that was mainly a public journal about whatever was happening day-to-day in my life. I also put up a number of things on my profile where I was very open about my sexuality. Among them was a bumper sticker like picture I had made.

This prompted a message from a "woman" I had never met before.
Title: fag
Body:
i just wanted to let you know how sick you make me...i went to davis high too and the alumni would be sickened by your sick choice in lifestyle....no mormon guy...or girl...of any religion for that matter would ever date you;...wake up and smell reality....you say you were born gay and i have to accept that...i say i was born hating gays and you have to accept that.
I was not pleased.

Later I received another, apparently unrelated message from a "man" whom I had even less connection with.
Title: (no subject)
Body:
did ur dick fall off is that y u r gay?
I share this for a couple reasons. First, this is why I have been reluctant to get back to blogging. Having a blog open to the world, and being on the Internet in general, leaves one open to the crazy lashings of the unhinged out in the world. All one has to do for proof is go to a site like YouTube.com or other public place to see the senseless postings of hatred. Second, these incidents are why I have chosen to restrict comments on my blog to only those who are members of this blog with constant comment monitoring. I have it available to be found and read by anyone, but I do not care to put up with people who derive sick delight in hating others via the Internet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

LGBT Christian Groups and Not Feeling Welcome As a Mormon

I was recently invited to join an online community group for LGBT Christians called the Gay Christian Resource Center. Upon registering I noticed a thread existed titled "The Mormon Faith." In it I found the old veiled bash fest on the LDS faith as a non-Christian faith. Disapointed, I felt the need to respond to a couple of the posts.


Re: The Mormon Faith
Postby FantasyGaymer » July 22nd, 2009, 5:50 am


Sozo wrote: I'm not trying to play tit for tat, but they don't believe that any of us are going to Heaven unless we believe like they do. It doesn't matter what Christian denomination of world faith you are, you have to be Mormon, and they believe you'll be given that chance again, which indicates to me that it is a cult like religion.


I feel the need to make a response to this as it is an argument I hear so often to denounce Latter-day Saints (Mormons) as non-Christians. Asking whether or not Latter-day Saints are Christians is asking if they can obtain salvation through the following of and faith in the teachings of the religion. The point of Christian religion is not to have religion, per se, but to teach and lead people to salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Understandably, people will find it offensive when a different faith organization/religious institution claims to be the only way to receive salvation. However, to use this as a way to find fault with the religion and say it is false in its teachings leads to a logical catch twenty-two. My experience has been that people who use this argument do not realize they are doing the very thing they are denouncing. For one to say another religion is false (not Christian) is to claim one's own faith has the right teachings and directly implies one's religion is required over others for salvation, which is the very thing they are denouncing. Therefore, if we take the argument far enough, not only are they denouncing the other, they are denouncing themselves as Christian for claiming proprietary access to salvation. In the end every denomination, even within Christianity itself, has this underlying claim. If it were not for this why is there any distinction between denominations, even those who now socially claim solidarity? If you go back far enough in time (I know the nineteenth century is far enough) there was no such solidarity between the Protestant faiths. Each one condemned all the others to hell on a regular basis and claimed to have the only true faith by which to receive salvation.

With that said, I understand many of the other arguments being made. I can see how they can be legitimate bases to argue the validity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a Christian church. At the same time, while it is clear many of you know some of the more "interesting" points of doctrine to the faith I must say it is apparent you missed the lead up to and purpose of those beliefs. I know much of it may seem quite strange to you looking in from the outside. I hope you all realize how strange any religion seems when you are only taking glaces from the outside, such as most of you seem to be doing.

Pastor Weekly wrote: It can walk like a duck... It can talk like a duck... But, if it doesn't believe like a duck, it ain't a duck. I don't believe Mormons are Christians, and I don't find any solidarity with their system of beliefs whatsoever. Satan himself is able to masquerade as an angel of light, so I'm unmoved by whatever virtues or positive qualities are resident within their system of beliefs and/or their adherents.


If you hadn't guessed by now, I was raised in the LDS faith. I attended and graduated from the Seminary program and served a full-time, proselytizing missing. My faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer is based on this background. Also, my belief that my Heavenly Father is accepting of my sexuality comes, ironically, from the spiritual practices and scriptural knowledge I gained from the decades I spent with the LDS faith. I am not currently active with the church as its strong anti-LGBT policies makes for a hostile feeling environment. Based on Pastor Weekly's statement--with all due respect to his position as Pastor and site administrator--this community does not appear to be a welcoming environment either.

With Love in Christ,
Ryan

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Proposed Op-ed Letter Re: Gayle Ruzicka & Common Ground Bills

January 27, 2009, the first of a group of bills known as the “Common Ground” bills was heard, debated, and defeated in committee. I am disappointed this Wrongful Death bill was put down so quickly. However, I am more deeply disturbed by the tone and rhetoric some took in the debate over the issue.

At the committee hearing Gayle Ruzicka testified against the entire “Common Ground” bills, not just this first bill. Her rhetoric, as usual, was intensely conservative and inflammatory. “It is the same liberal people who support gay rights that also support the killing of unborn children,” she said. Are we truly to believe that any extension of civil rights to the LGBT people is also to remove any and all restraint on abortion? I, for one, do not fit this simplistic definition of one who supports gay rights.

Ms. Ruzicka’s rhetoric, lumping pro-abortion and pro-gay rights into one, reminds me of a similar comment. In 2006 a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at my LDS Stake Conference. During his talk he mentioned a time when he was asked why the LDS church opposed abortion and homosexuality. His response, “We oppose same-sex marriage and abortion because if everyone practiced them the entire human race would be destroyed in a single generation.” Although technically true, the “if” of this argument is so grossly absurd I would laugh were it not for the fact many have taken it to be very likely, even to the point of being a prophetic warning. I made sure to face and question the Elder in person on using the argument directly after the meeting.

And so I must ask Gayle Ruzicka, Sen. Chris Buttars (who headed the committee), and any others who hatefully and fearfully oppose anything with even the whiff of gay rights: is this what you fear? Do you truly believe in some apocalyptic implosion of human society should any of these rights be extended? I do not ask rhetorically either. I want to know directly from them. I want to hear from you, and I do not want the scripted talking points in response. I do not want the absurd, broad stroked simplicity that has dominated the public discourse on this issue. I want to hear it truthfully and sincerely. I want you to look deep inside and tell me what it is that causes you such fear that festers into so much anger.

I am very tired of dealing with people like Gayle Ruzicka and Sen. Chris Buttars. I am tired of their use of absurd logic, twisted arguments, and outright lies to influence civil policy. I am tired of those who accept such distorted discourse as truth. Mostly, I am tired of all the fighting that must be done so decent, productive people may live in this world without fear of abuse and harm. I can no longer hold a clear conscience without calling people like these out on their fallacious ideas and destructive philosophies. I and too many others have been harmed too much for too long to allow it to continue.