Belief: All of us have the Light of Christ that helps us distinguish right and wrong.
Belief: The Spirit abides with the worthy and withdraws when offended.
Problem: How to tell the promptings of the Spirit apart from our own emotions.
* * *
Lately, I have been feeling uneasy, like there's thick, black smoke in my stomach.

I have also, lately, been leaning toward a life path that would remove me from the Church (not that I plan to do anything in the near future, whatever my choice). So am I on the wrong path? Is the Spirit telling me that I need to stay in the Church and remain celibate or marry a woman? Is this guilt, the Lord's way of telling me I need to repent and 'straight'en up?

It's hard to say, because when I change my thought processes and think in terms of temple marriage/celibacy, the feeling doesn't go away.

Then is it internalized homophobia? I've been dealing with a lot of homophobia and rejection from my family recently (it's worse than my last post suggested), so maybe this nauseous feeling is an effect of that.

Or, maybe this is just frivolous navel-gazing. Maybe I just need to eat better/exercise more, or be with friends more often, or buy boxers with bigger waist bands.

Am I unworthy of the companionship of the Spirit? I am reminded of the REM lyric, "I don't know what I've done, but it doesn't feel right" ("The Worst Joke Ever", Around the Sun)--and yet I don't have any major sins in my life. I'm far from perfect, but I try to do the right things, I try to follow Christ. Every night, I read my scriptures and pray to Heavenly Father...and still I go to bed with a sick feeling in my stomach, and wake up with the same feeling.

Scott's post "Eternal Salivation" comes to mind. Maybe this feeling is just a reaction that has been ingrained and hammered into me by the culture/family I was born into. I was raised mainly by my dad (about whose hurtful prejudices I have already gone into great detail) and my mom, who recently asked of homosexual intercourse, "Doesn't it just make your skin crawl? Doesn't it make you sick?" So, would it be any surprise that I should feel sick about being gay, seeing as I grew up in a home, family, church, culture, and society where homosexuality is considered sick?

Alternately, perhaps an anxiety disorder is the culprit...Then again, maybe all of these explanations--internalized homophobia, conditioning, mental disorders--are just ways of trying to deflect guilt...raw, throbbing, leaden guilt. Scarlet guilt, in fact.
* * *
Please note that I am not speaking of homosexuality in general. I am not at all convinced that homosexuality is in categorical opposition to God's plan (a topic I have blogged about before). I'm not saying homosexuality or homosexual acts are necessarily, intrinsically wrong--I'm just thinking that maybe they're wrong for me. Maybe, after all, I'm just a nice, straight Mormon boy who has been deceived by the world and the devil and his own thinking. Maybe God is trying to tell that boy, "Wake up, stupid! You're not gay--I have assigned you a wife and kids and a life of service in the Church!" But, whether that's the case or not (and my sexuality is at this point so ambiguous I don't honestly know if it is or isn't), a part of me doesn't want to be that nice, straight Mormon boy who becomes a missionary and then a husband and then a dad and then a grandpa and then a bishop and then an old man wondering what could have been had he lived his life not according to the expectations of other people, but following his heart and dreams. And maybe that's wrong. And maybe that's why I feel sick.

I don't really know. But I am praying to be able to know.

To clarify, I'm not saying that I want to rebel against God. Quite the opposite, in fact. I want to live my life in harmony with God's will. So, I'm trying to figure out what God wants me to do, and to be perfectly honest, if I said I'd be eager to marry a woman, I'd be lying. So I hope that's not God's plan for me--even though I've been told it is since my earliest Primary days.

New Moon Response

Last night--technically this morning--at 3 am, I watched New Moon, part two of the Twilight series. I came with high expectations (knowing that this project had a bigger budget and better director than its indy, low-budget predecessor), and they were fulfilled completely. It really had something for everyone: moviegoers will find humor, action, and sci-fi/fantasy-appeal--much more than in the first film--in addition to the underlying romance.

Speaking of which, fans need not fear that the Romeo & Juliette-inspired love story will be lost amidst special effects and Italian altercations. Edwardians can be assured that they will see their icon as frequently as can be expected given his...location, and Jacobites--well, this is your moment, as you well know. New Moon is Jacob's time in the sun, and boy, does he shine! No need to buy over-priced junk food, folks--the beefcake is flowing in Theater 6.

As for my own team affiliation, I have always been a loyal pro-Edward Twi-guy, but since the movies have come out, I'm seeing things differently. Dare I say I am defecting--no, converting--to Team Jacob? I guess I'm beginning to see the story in a different light--one in which Edward is a controlling jerk, and Jacob is a passionate best friend who seems so good for Bella.

Besides, the scenes featuring Edward toward the end were spectacularly disappointing in at least one aspect: whereas the audience had minutes before drooled over a buff Jacob standing shirtless in the rain (was it me, or was steam actually rising off his muscles?), Edward's chest was unimpressive, sickly-looking, and a tad on the hairy side. Nothing against a little chest hair, but in the book we are led to believe in an Edward whose body resembles cold marble, a stone. And a stone usually doesn't have hair, unless moss or lichen is growing on it. Unfortunately for Pattinson, that is pretty much what it looked like.

Why, Robert? Why couldn't you have gone to the gym once in a while? We know that the once-scrawny Taylor practically lived in the weight room in between the filmings of the shows, so throwing in the occasional bench press doesn't seem like it would have been too much to ask. You're wondering why all of the Edward supporters are flocking to the Jacob banner? Here's a hint: werewolves really are too sexy for their shirts. One moment of unchecked passion and RIIIIP--off come the clothes. You bet Stephanie Meyer understands teenage girls--and they fantasize about more than dating a stone-cold lump of marble, just so you know.

All in all, a fantastic show, and well worth the price of entry. The humor, the kisses (or near-kisses), the flawless representation of the book, all confirmed that the anticipation and wait was not in vain in the least. Now I just need to find a blog widget that will count down the seconds until Eclipse comes out.


A Bitter Reminder

Yesterday my dad came over to pick up my sister, and I happened to be watching the greatest program on television, The Oprah Winfrey Show. He also brought a chainsaw over...to cut down a small dead tree in our back yard. While he was out doing manly things, I talked to my mom as we watched Oprah together--yesterday was the much-awaited Sarah Palin interview--and then Mom abruptly said, "I think you're going with your dad this weekend."

"Am I?" I thought, but instead said, "Why?"

She answered, "'Cause it's good for you to see him, and I think he's a good influence on you right now."

I laughed out loud: my mom and I are pretty much on the same page, and she knows better than I do that her ex-husband is a fanatical bigot. I reminded her of this and said that I probably didn't have the emotional wherewithal to handle such a weekend. But she didn't give in, and we went back to our fix.

Dad left, and about fifteen minutes later I received the following text message from him, which was clearly intended for my mother. Please remember that just as the sins of the father are not on the head of the son, neither are the grammatical errors.

why do you encourage [FLeeS] to watch that gay oprah crap? i wish you would quit facilitating and encouraging that bull s___ its gonna be on your head!

Of course, I could go through and point out the obvious absurdity of this message, but frankly it doesn't merit that kind of thought. Better to simply chuckle and move on, right?

...Except, of course, for the fact that he is my dad, and as a dependent teenager I can only 'move' so far. So, I took some deep breaths and set to lemonade-making, sending this reply:

Hi Dad, you accidentally sent this to me. Please trust me that a tv show can't make someone gay (esp. since the guest was Sarah Palin, which I thought you'd like).
Btw, thanks for chopping the tree!

(Yes, I realize I'm a bit of a hypocrite, now that I see my own mechanics mistakes...)

This response was an appropriate one, I hope, because it educated directly but respectfully. It also pointed out the irony in my dad, a rabid Republican, being upset because his son was watching Sarah Palin, of all people, promote her book. And the last line was fun because I offered an olive branch but also cheekily hinted at the symbolism the chainsaw suggested. Whenever he comes to our house, he chops, tears, destroys. He gains his power from division and seeks to divide people rather than bring them together--even when it's his own family.

His delayed response was this:

sorry buddy im just really worried about you and im struggling with your mom i really dislike oprah and some of her topics and oppinions use good judgement about those shows u know i like palin :) love ya

I appreciated this, but please don't let the smiley face, love ya, half-hearted apology, Palin vouch, or disarming disregard for punctuation fool you. His heart is in the right place, I think, but this was a bitter reminder of the kind of ignorance we're up against here. This is someone who, we must surmise, doggedly clings to the irrational belief that an axis of evil consisting loosely of my mom, Oprah, and the Media has turned me gay (even though he has heard his bishop brother declare that the roots of homosexuality are deep and as yet not completely understood).

If nothing else, I was glad to have intercepted the message and spared my mother such harsh meanness. But then I reconsidered: earlier she had claimed he was a 'good influence' on me, and now she needed to see reality. Needless to say, when I forwarded this to my mom she freely amended her position, and consequently, I am going to my grandma's house this weekend. Hee hee, Dad--thanks for playing right into my clever ploy...

Really, though, I was both shocked and hurt, deeply: Why'd he have to bring Oprah into this? Leave my lady alone, mister!



A Radical Change(?)

Today I went to church at my ward for the first time in some time. I was asked to sing at our stake's Priesthood Preview; the group practiced today at 8 am, so I came to that and then went to church.

It was good to be back. I felt the Spirit during the Sacrament and Sunday School and thought to myself, "Could I give this up?" For me there is a peace that comes from this culmination of the repentance/forgiveness process. Whatever struggles I might have with the Church, the Atonement is real for me, so what would I do without my membership? Obviously the excommunicated cannot partake of the Sacrament; does this mean that a gay member who chooses to love the person (s)he's meant to can never have access to the Atonement? I don't know if I can believe that--and yet, isn't the Atonement (and therefore the Sacrament) the only way to be forgiven? Some might suggest that the Sacrament is a beautiful symbol but not strictly necessary for forgiveness, but isn't the Sacrament required to renew the covenants we break by sinning?

{Any thoughts there?}

* * *

In Sunday School the lesson was on continuing revelation, and we had a very good discussion about the decision to let black members hold the Priesthood. Our teacher basically said, "You know, you guys have no problem accepting this [policy] because, for you, this is how it's always been. But because it was such a radical change, it was a hard time for the Church. And someday, there might be a radical change [in Church policy] in your lifetime." He also said that "President Kimball had a friend of African descent, and it bothered him that this friend wasn't able to have the Priesthood. So he went to the Lord and prayed about it. This is how revelation happens: there's a problem, and the Prophet goes to the Lord about it, and when the time is right, the answer is given. Some anti-Mormons would say that 'revelations' come when they're convenient--Word of Wisdom, polygamy, etc. But revelation is given when there's a problem and the Prophet asks the Lord how to fix it." This gave me some hope for "a radical change" in Church policy related to homosexuality in my lifetime...

But then again, how, really, can I entertain even the idea that such a "radical change" could be possible? As radical a change as Official Declaration 2 was, one condoning homosexuality would be many times more revolutionary because, unlike previous radical changes (except for maybe polygamy), it would necessitate a completely new understanding of fundamental doctrine. How could the membership of the Church swallow such a pronouncement when one of the Church's primary aims is to make sure everyone goes to the Temple to marry someone of the opposite sex? Suggesting that some other basic family type* might fit into the Plan of Salvation would mean that God's pattern for happiness isn't universal. Can you see the Church saying, "Our way leads to happiness for almost all of God's children"? I can't.

And yet, we see what seem to be exceptions. We see the phrase "individual adaption" in 'The Family: A Proclamation'. We see gay people who insist they cannot be happily married to someone of the opposite sex. So isn't it possible that Heavenly Father has a plan for those people who don't seem to fit into the Plan as we currently understand it--such as His homosexual children?

I would say that if revolutionary change seems unlikely, we should consider with hope and prayer the possibility of evolutionary change. For all its flaws, the Church statement supporting LGBT nondiscrimination was an evolutionary step in the right direction--and one that would have seemed utterly impossible a few decades ago.

*Plural marriages don't count because they maintain the male-female ideal of marriage. (There are multiple people in the marriage, but the sexual bonds are strictly heterosexual.)

By the way, I think this blog needs some remodeling. Any ideas for the makeover?


Another Rough Conversation

Yesterday my dad told me to meet him and his brother--a newly-made bishop--and I could tell right off that I would be the subject matter of a long and grueling discussion. I went, and it was a grueling, often painful, two hours, though some good may have come of it. For one thing, my uncle grew up with the same prejudices as my dad but has softened his stance since becoming a bishop: he now agrees that same gender attraction (the term he insists on using) is real, not chosen, and possibly incurable. It was good for my dad to see that, and was the most positive part of the ordeal.

On the other hand, some very hurtful things were said. After much talking my uncle said, "Our relationship depends on the choices you make." He then said he'll always care for me, but subtly suggested that he wouldn't always love me. And though this may not be the exact wording, he also said, "And sometimes people don't want gay people [whom he defined as people having physical homosexual relations] around their kids...and there's some truth to that. There's disobedience. And once you have a physical relationship with a man, it doesn't matter whether he's forty years old, or ninety years old, or six years old--it's all about the physical gratification, the pleasure." (Afterward I called my aunt--an aunt on the other side of the family and my biggest (only?) source of real family support--and bawled as I related this conversation to her. She was very sympathetic, loving, and understanding--"You shouldn't have to hear that," "That makes my blood boil," and "You know that's not true, right?" It really helped to get it off my chest, and to feel her love and compassion.)

My uncle believes that "SSA" is not a disease or a condition but a temptation like gambling, drinking, or committing adultery. He insists on using the term "same sex attraction" because he feels the word "gay"--which I made the mistake of using a couple of times--describes purely the action. In his mind, SSA = feeling, gay = action. I tried to explain that celibate/Temple-married members of the Church sometimes describe themselves as "gay", but he said this is a terminological mistake. And why, you might ask, did he care so much about this? Because the distinction enables him to care for "people with same gender attraction" and still hold on to his prejudice towards "gay people". Because I didn't (and don't) accept this--and because I do accept myself and my feelings--he said several times, "It sounds to me like you've already given up."

"You need to fight this thing like you would fight a war," my uncle the bishop said, which makes sense if you consider homosexuality to be a temptation. When I pointed out that the casualties of this war are often ourselves--gay Mormons who end up committing suicide because they ultimately can't change themselves--he said, "It's not like suicide and living the gay lifestyle are your only two options." So, following Abe's advice, I told him I know I have a range of options, and that these include Temple marriage and celibacy. Surprisingly--and then again, not so surprisingly--he was strongly opposed to celibacy, saying, "Don't you believe that your children are up in heaven watching you, rooting for you, and their children, and their children, and their children? Don't you believe that they're all up there, hoping you'll make the right choice?"

Note: The following contains content some may consider explicit.

Notwithstanding, he brought up subjects that have given me cause for much thought (both before the conversation and after it), such as the concept of my children watching me from heaven, and the eternal consequences of whatever choice I make. Another is this (and again, the precise wording may have been a bit different, but I have attempted a very close rendering):

"The anus is simply not designed for sex--the vagina is. The anus is not meant to house the penis--the vagina is. A woman can sleep with a man every day of a [sexual] lifetime and not have any physical problems. A man can sleep with a woman every day for however many years he lives and not have any physical problems from it. But a man who sleeps with a man--AIDS is
only one of the diseases you can get. A man sleeps with a man...and it'll get you eventually."

This is a real issue for me--how a woman's body and a man's body naturally complement each other, but at the end of the day the same cannot honestly be said of two men's bodies. Sure, people can get STIs from having sex with members of the opposite sex, but the fact is that two monogamous partners of opposite genders can have a physical relationship that will not endanger either's health. And anyone--gay or straight--can see that the anus truly was not meant for intercourse. For one thing, it is a hotbed for infections and disease. For another, anal sex is often painful and frankly, messy. (Of course, I don't have any first-hand experience in any kind of sex, but what I report here is taken from the experience of others.)

These things--the nitty gritty details of homosexual intercourse--have always been a principal hang-up for me. While the idea of heterosexual sex sometimes makes me uneasy as well, there
usually aren't any lubricants involved. There is no need for oral dams. And in the case of a pair devoted exclusively to each other, condoms aren't necessary either.

So I'm curious, what do you think? Do you agree with my uncle? How do you respond to a claim that while hetero sex enables life, gay sex eventually ends it? Do you find the homosexual sex act unnatural, as opposed to the heterosexual sex act?

I suppose some might advise me to ignore the details for now and "cross that bridge when I come to it". But in this case, the details are important. Sometimes the small things are windows into the big things.

Please do note that I have enabled anonymous commenting to help facilitate a direct dialogue and a straightforward exchange of ideas. (And yes, I did see the joke opportunity there:)


Virtually Normal and Thoughts So Far

This post is not explicit, but deals with topics that may make some uncomfortable.

Last night I bought gay conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan's book on the politics of homosexuality, Virtually Normal. Although I am not very far into it, I can tell that I am going to like it, and that some of you may be interested in it, too. Some of the points he brings up have been discussed on this and other MoHo blogs, such as the Bible's stance on homosexuality and the paradox of how the Church (Sullivan refers to his church, the Roman Catholic Church, but it applies to the LDS Church as well) says/has said that being a homosexual is not in itself a moral wrong, but carrying it out--an extension of the former--is.

It's a very interesting read so far. In the book's introduction Sullivan speaks of homosexuality in general, and reading it brought up my own uncertainties about my orientation. Says he:

"Although there is an understandable desire to divide the world starkly into heterosexual desire and its opposite, most of us, I'd guess, have confronted the possibility at some time in our lives of the possibility of our own homosexuality. [Is that all this is about? I wonder. Am I not gay after all, but rather going through a normal and probably common part of adolescence by merely confronting a possibility?] There is something of both attractions in all of us, to begin with. [Or is this why I still wonder if I might be bisexual or even straight?] For the majority, it is resolved quite early; our society forces such a resolution. Except for a few who seem to retain throughout their lives a capacity for attraction to both sexes, for most of us the issue is largely resolved before the teenage years set in. On this, both experience and empirical study agree." (Emphasis mine.)

The last bit really capped it off. In my case, since I am still trying to figure my sexuality out, the issue of knowing whether I am gay, straight, or bisexual was clearly not "resolved before the teenage years set in"...or was it? I am not a Kinsey 6 guy who can honestly state he has never felt romantic--perhaps even sexual--attractions to a female. I have never claimed to be 100% gay, and have made mention of the fact several times. Furthermore, when I first began puberty, I didn't think of guys in a romantic sense at all, nor was I nervous around them--no sweaty palms or increased heart rate that I can recall. Still, this was more or less true with both genders--I was generally comfortable around boys and girls.

I remember the first time it even crossed my mind that I might be gay: I was in junior high (between about 13 and 15 years old--certainly not "before the teenage years [had] set in"), and had just left choir (oh, the irony!), making my way to the cafeteria. I arrived at the end of the lunch line in time to hear two guys--whom I had never hitherto met or known--whispering, "Frank Scarlet is gay" (except, of course, that they said my then actual name). They didn't know I was there, and when they realized I had heard them, they turned around and continued in line. I didn't think anything of it--I dismissed it in the same moment I heard it, much as I would have had they suggested I had wings or a third arm, and the 'accusation' didn't bother me at all.

Later, a couple months before turning sixteen years old, I was at Scout Camp talking to a guy whom I had been drawn to since moving into the ward several years earlier. We were talking around the campfire when all of the sudden, something clicked in my head and I realized, "I'm flirting with a guy." And I more or less was, in my own pitifully lame way. It's clear in hindsight that I had been attracted to him from the very start.

As I began to wonder if I were gay, I considered the sexual thoughts I'd had. Certainly they were heterosexual in nature--I really didn't know about gay sex, nor did I have any real concept as to what a physical union between two men might be like--but I remembered that in these thoughts--I hesitate to use the word "fantasies", but that's basically what we're talking about here--the male involved was usually not myself. In fact, I realized (or rationalized?), I tended to focus more on the male, who was usually one of the muscular young men that I was friends with or knew from school--boys, I later concluded, that I was attracted to (though I didn't realize it at the time).

That was my thought process. As for my previous crushes (or pseudo-crushes) on girls, I determined that though gay, I was not blind, and I had merely construed the girls I thought cute as objects of my affection. I told myself that I had not really had feelings for them, or if I had, it was the tiny bisexual part of myself, which was nothing compared to the gay part of myself.

Looking back, I'm not sure how valid this was. Was I simply making sense of reality, or was I bending and twisting reality to accomodate what I wanted? When I read the above quote in Virtually Normal, I thought that if I really am gay, then perhaps homosexual attractions would have manifested themselves long before I was 14, 15 or 16 years old. On the other hand, in hindsight I think there were several boys to whom I was attracted even though I did not realize it.

Is that even possible?
Or do you agree with Sullivan?

Some of you, I'm sure, will take issue with Sullivan's claim (which he claims "both experience and empirical study" back). In our community in particular, it is not uncommon to remain closeted--even to oneself--for several decades. But is there, perhaps, an awareness somewhere between complete obliviousness and full consciousness? And must someone attain at least this level of awareness--of having "the issue...largely resolved before the teenage years set in"--in order to truly be gay?

Or am I, as usual, grossly over-thinking this?..

Thanks in advance for anything you would like to offer. I look forward to reading any and all comments--please don't worry about being scorned or sounding bad. All ideas are welcome, and I hope that, like this blogging community at large, this blog is a place where you can feel safe sharing your thoughts. :)