3.18.2009

Adam & Eve

Seminary class can be an interesting period for a gay kid in a stiflingly homophobic community! I have sat in on meetings between our Seminary teachers and our school's GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance, a tolerance club) leaders where an understanding has been reached, but unfortunately some venom still makes it through.

During Tolerance Week, an event sponsored by our school's GSA chapter, posters showcasing victims of hate crimes (including many homosexuals) were posted around the school. As a sort of retaliation (apparently the individual in question supports hate crimes), one student started sporting an "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" t-shirt with a blatantly homophobic image on it; he would also privately peddle these in our Seminary class. Neither the Administration at school nor the teachers at the Seminary intervened. (In all fairness, our area is so overwhelmingly conservative that angry parents demanded that the posters be taken down, and amazingly, the principals more or less complied!) It was an especially sensitive issue because Tolerance Week happened to be near the 2008 elections, and the members of the Church in our area had been pumping massive amounts of money into the Yes-on-Prop 8 campaign.

I felt I had to take a stand, but it was, as you might guess, an awkward situation to be in. The t-shirt fellow could claim to our Seminary teacher that he was innocently defending God's definition of marriage and family (the tired slogan is derived from the Bible, and the homophobic image, a gay couple crossed out in red, would not have been as demeaning to others as it was to me), which I didn't necessarily want to be perceived as attacking in Seminary. Certainly I would never want to strip anyone of their freedom of speech, but I did feel an obligation to refute the hatred, and a sickening sense of hypocrisy if I stayed silent.

We made an unspoken compromise: I gave a devotional one day on Christlike love, which incorporated Mother Teresa's quote, "I'll never go to an anti-war rally, but if you have a peace rally, invite me." My advice was to love everyone and build up your own causes rather than tearing down those of others, and the t-shirts weren't seen again.

Had I a little more time and nerve, my devotional would have gone differently. I might have asked, If you want to look to Biblical examples of marriages, let's look to the Abraham model, which makes a provision for slaves. Or do you prefer Jacob (who fathered children with two sisters and their servants) as your marital exemplar? I would never mean to slander these prophets, and that is most emphatically not my intention here; the point is, there are some things in the Bible that we can't apply to ourselves in the strictly literal sense.

Perhaps he would have then retorted, "But you are opening up the definition of marriage, and where will that end? With people marrying animals, or even inanimate objects?" Ah, but has our own Church, I would respond, always conformed to the traditional marriage definition? It may not have been "Adam and Steve" in the Garden, but it wasn't "Adam and Eve and Jane and Sarah", either. I doubt your t-shirt's message would have been well-received by the early prophets of this dispensation.

"But we had our reasons!" he would protest. Precisely, I'd reply. We had our reasons, and no one understood. No one tried to understand--it was simply too abstract, too alien.
...Sound familiar? There are reasons for homosexual relationships and marriages, too, but at the end of the day it's "just too different" for many people to even want to attempt to understand.

As it is, we can't pry people's minds open, or squeeze hearts or necks into softness. We have to persuade using reason and feeling. I tried to do this, and by the time I completed this year's Seminary course a few weeks ago, I was respected for standing up for my beliefs in the face of the majority. I may have been swatted at as the class gadfly, but I had stung everyone into a consciousness of their words and opinions.

However, I confess that I am far from the defender I could be. The next step would be to emerge from the closet--an irrevocable but incredibly powerful course of action. Admittedly, there are only two reasons I am in the closet: hope and cowardice. Hope, because there is a chance that my attractions could be reversed, as has been the reported experience of some people. Stranger things have happened--Lazurus rising from the dead, et al. I'm not saying that SSA is an affliction necessarily, as the Church describes it, but why lock a door simply because it hasn't yet been opened? At least at my tender age, there is something to be said for keeping one's options open.

The other, more motivating reason is cowardice. Little more need be said! I'm afraid to break my grandmother's heart, afraid to lose my beloved but prejudiced grandfather, who was born in the segregated South and has in effect cut ties with both of his sons for reasons much less severe than homosexuality! How could I hope to change an attitude that rigid? There must be a balance between idealism and pragmatism.

Still there is a fine line between prudence and hypocrisy, and my conscience won't let me forget it.

6 comments:

Scott said...

You write too well to be a high school student. :)

I don't have much to say about the first half of your post, other than that I admire your courage in standing up for what you believe despite the unpopularity of your opinion.

I do have some thoughts on the pros and cons of coming out...

I understand the "hope" aspect, and I would never try to take away your hope (though I believe that--for myself, anyway--accepting my homosexuality and abandoning any thought that I might be able to change my orientation was vital in finally finding peace within myself). But I wonder if the possibility of change necessarily precludes coming out? Let's say you do come out, and then you do manage to change your orientation. What's wrong with saying "I once was gay but now I'm straight"? I don't think coming out locks any doors if they aren't already locked.

But you list "cowardice" as the "more motivating" reason, so I assume "hope" isn't really the issue...

It takes courage to step out of the closet, because doing so probably will break some hearts, and there's a chance that it will even separate you from those you love. But hearts can mend, and attitudes--no matter how set in stone they appear to be--can change.

You're in a position to do more good by coming out than your average non-member or non-active gay guy, because you have a chance to show members of your seminary class and ward (and entire town) that it is possible to be gay and Mormon. Right now, most of them will tell you that's an oxymoron. You can do a lot of educating and dispel a lot of myth by being open about who you are and what you believe.

It won't be easy, and this is a very personal decision, so I'm not trying to convince you or pressure you--not at all. I'm just trying to point out some of the issues that you may or may not have considered. I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't love for you to be out and proud of who you are, but I also won't think any less of you if you decide that the closet is a safer place to be for now. You can still do a lot of good from in there.

Lots of love and respect!
[[HUG]]
Scott

D. said...

Wow Scott, you never post that much on my blog.. ;)

Okay.. I need to say a few things. Scott knows very well how hard it was for me to come out of the closet. How many times have I cried to you about things, Scott? It sounds like to me that deep down you know what you need to do in regards to coming out. It's not easy and the first few days after it happens are rough, but it gets better.. I promise!

You mentioned that you hoped that your attractions will change. Are you ashamed of your attractions? There is nothing to be ashamed of. We all go through stages in life where we wish we weren't gay.. it's totally normal. Please know that there is nothing wrong with you.

I hope you can be a good example to these kids in your seminary class. A good example always helps people better understand difficult issues. We are 100% behind you, supporting you!

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me out here! I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
My plan is to set aside some time over spring break to do some high-intensity praying, fasting, and soul-searching. I'll also be able to receive a Patriarchal blessing soon. Afterwards, I will reassess my situation and decide whether I should come out or consider a different course of action. My gut instinct right now leans toward openness, but it is such a confusing place to be, as I'm sure you know!

@Scott: Your ideas really struck a chord with me. I guess the only thing I'm unsure of is how I could truly proclaim the reconciliation of homosexuality and Mormonism (it's the "dichotomy" we are all struggling with, I suppose). Yes, many would say that "gay Mormon" is an oxymoron, but is there a shred of truth in that? Proof of concept: At least for the present, one cannot take a same-sex spouse to the Temple. They are two worlds (and we are caught between them). A gay person can only go to the Temple as a single person or in a mixed-orientation marriage (in other words, if there is no gay relationship), and a Temple-worthy person seeking a same-sex partnership would not, in all likelihood, retain his recommend (or membership) for long. While there are some gray areas (such as casual dating), these top-of-fence activities still head in a direction, and when the roads inevitably diverge, only one path can be taken. In other words, something's gotta give, and I might die before giving up the Church (probably why the gay LDS suicide rate is so high--not that I'm suicidal). Right???

@D.: While I'm not ashamed of my attractions, I'm not necessarily proud of them either. I dunno--is gay-ness something to be proud of? I'm glad to be who I am, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't tweak a few things (such as moodiness, for instance). I guess I'm still in the process of coming to grips with everything...

D. said...

I have come to believe that maybe it is possible to be proud of it. They are just feelings that God has given you. I do agree though, if there are other things in your life that made need to change such as mood and certain behaviors then by all means work on those. I do have hard times, but I wouldn't trade the way I feel. I can be difficult, but life is supposed to be hard. We learn and we teach others. I hope you can find some peace over spring break and let me know if you need anything. My email is on my blogger profile.

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Thanks so much--will do! As I continue to accept my entire self, there could be a time when there would be pride for my feelings. In fact, I probably would be proud already had I not been raised to shudder at homosexuality. I would imagine that's something most MoHos and Christian gays in general work through--the pain of recognizing in ourselves something we're taught to abhor by our culture/family/church/peers/society/et al.

Chris said...

You are such an excellent writer!