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.

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.

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