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:)


Abelard Enigma said...

Your description of your bishop uncle's discussion reminds me of that ex-gay guy we sometimes see on the talk show circuit where he pokes two fingers together and says "this doesn't work" then it forms one hand into a fist and pokes a finger from the other hand into it saying "this works".

If the purpose of sex is solely for procreation then your uncle is absolutely correct - penis/vagina sex is the only 'natural' way to produce children. But, the simple fact of the matter is: Sex plays a far more important role in a relationship than producing children.

Not having any sexual experience with men myself makes you and I the blind leading the blind in this discussion - but, as I understand it, the anus is an erogenous zone and is sexually gratifying. That's why we have 'bottoms'. In fact, the human body contains many erogenous zones - not just the penis and vagina. If the purpose of sex were simply for procreation then why would God design our bodies that way? Insert penis into vagina is not the only way for a heterosexual couple to have sex; by the same token, insert penis into anus is not the only way for a homosexual couple to have sex. There are homosexual men who never engage in sodomy - try googling 'g0y' (g-zero'y) sometime. Something else to consider is that homosexual activity has been observed in just about every animal species - suggesting that sex plays a more important role then simply procreation, even in non-sentient creatures.

Your uncle is incorrect in suggesting that homosexual sex inevitably leads to disease and death. A homosexual couple living in a monogamous relationship are just as safe as a heterosexual couple. It's also a simple fact that AIDS is NOT just a gay mans disease. In fact, it is transmitted through heterosexual contact more often than via homosexual contact - simply because there are more heterosexuals in the world than homosexuals. The reason it seems more prevalent in the homosexual community is IMOHO because risky sexual behavior is more prevalent in the gay community. But that doesn't mean that if you decide to pursue a gay relationship that you will automatically be engaging in risky sexual behavior. The choice to remain monogamous or to engage in risky sexual behavior is independent of sexual orientation.

That said, I'm not suggesting that you should reject everything your dad and uncle are telling you and go find yourself a boyfriend. I'm just saying that the belief that sex should only occur between a man and a woman who are joined in matrimony is strictly a moral issue; and, trying to justify that position through any other means is a slippery slope. The bottom line then is: Do you agree with that moral belief?

From everything you've written - I believe your family loves you deeply. And, they're trying to help you in the only way they know how. Unfortunately, they have a warped and incorrect view of what it means to be gay - which leads them to say things that may be hurtful. But, I don't think they are saying them to be hurtful. So, listen respectfully to what they are saying and take it in the spirit for which it is intended. There is nothing to be gained by arguing with your parents, or anybody else, on this matter. However, ultimately the decision is yours, and yours alone, to make.

Quiet Song said...

There is a continuum to human experience.

There are Men who have sex with Men who are not bisexual, not gay, not deprived of other partners-although perhaps not sexual predators mayhaps slightly predatorial could not it fairly be argued that they choose? So that's one human experience.

Then there is true gay identity and a whole lot of things in between.

I don't think it is entirely fair not to accept others grappling (albeit bumbling) with types of human experience just because it does not comport one hundred percent with our own.

Being gay and the outlook for gay people has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. The gay marriage issue is a relatively new phenomenon. Twenty years ago, the idea that you would settle down with one man if you were a gay man really wasn't part of the stereotype of the "scene." Not that it didn't exist, but it became more of the default post AIDS.

All promiscuous behavior, hetero,homo, or bi leads to higher rates of health risks. Abelard is correct when he indicates that as individuals the risk level may or may not apply. But across the group it does. It would also be interesting to have true statistics for what the co-morbiities for LDS gay people are.

Also, anal sex acts should not be categorized as homo normative only.

I think your family means well and loves you. Be patient with them and consider what they have to offer. It is true that the more extremely certain sexual subcultures manifest certain types of behavior the more afraid most parents of children are to expose their children to that type of behavior.

Your uncle and your father are of the age that even though they may not share the details, they've probably lost one gay friend or relative or have a gay friend or relative living with illness that they might not have had but for a "stereotypcial" gay lifestyle. Try to cut them a little slack. Everyone (gay and straight) was traumatized by the AIDS epidemic.

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Thank you, Abe and Q. Song, for responding. I must say I was surprised that both comments told me to go easy on my dad and my uncle, because I didn't (and don't) think that I've been too hard on them. Was I harsh in the post? I don't know, but I tried to present the conversation as objectively as possible.

I've listened to them respectfully, as Abe suggested, and given their words plenty of unbiased thought, as you can see in the post. I've cut them slack, as Q. Song suggested. I didn't argue or even voice disagreement unless I was specifically asked (and even then, I was extremely non-confrontational and sought agreement and understanding). Moreover, I do understand where they're coming from (as Q. Song guessed, they have had a gay, HIV+ cousin die), I have tried to show them compassion accordingly, and I do recognize that their reactions are largely motivated by love.

That being said, whether it was the intent or not, it has been hurtful. It was painful to hear, in so many words, the threat of rejection and separation from my cousins from an uncle I have long loved and admired, amongst other things. Frankly, if the pain were outwardly physical rather than invisibly emotional, I doubt we would have as much patience with their efforts, regardless of the motivations.

Please note that I'm not trying to present myself as a victim, or vie for pity, or vilify my uncle or dad. Nevertheless, my sympathies will lie with those on the receiving end of undue hurt, no matter the reason for it.

Thanks for commenting--I respect and appreciate both of you. :)

MoHoHawaii said...

I react poorly to your uncle's remarks. I'm with your aunt-- I'm so sorry you had to endure the misinformation and emotional blackmail of this meeting.

Being gay is more about pair-bonding than lust. People are fairly flexible about sex partners (witness, for example, sex in prisons) but are not very flexible about who they can fall in love with and with whom durable, loving pair bonds can be formed. That's why "sexual orientation" is such a deep part of ourselves.

Gay sex is not anal sex. I really resent the lurid preoccupation on the part of gay-hostile straight people about this. There are many, many ways that two people may interact sexually. A monogamous same-sex relationship poses no more risk of disease than a hetero relationship. What is "natural" for you is something that you and your partner will discover. How you and the person you will love bond physically is *really* none of anybody else's business.

Your uncle's suggestion that you marry a woman is unethical. Would he want his own daughter to enter into a marriage that was virtually guaranteed from the outset to have profound sexual incompatibility? Would he really sentence his own daughter to that fate? Perhaps he isn't familiar with the struggles of mixed-orientation couples or their dismal statistics.

I reject the suggestion, as Elder Oaks recently made in General Conference, that familial love should be withheld for reasons of "disobedience." I find this unspeakably cruel. You have every right to be hurt by remarks like this; they are hurtful!

You're in a delicate position, since you need the financial support of your parents to complete your education. You may be in a position where you don't speak your mind as freely as you might otherwise. Escalating this into a confrontation that you can't win may not be in your best interests.

I'm so sorry about this.

darkdrearywilderness said...

Ugh...talk about ignorance. I'm sorry you had to go through that; it made me mad reading it. Even though your uncle is family, you're probably better off without him. It sounds like they have the tired old idea that gay = promiscuous sex, and the "lifestyle" is all about physical pleasure. Unfortunately there are guys that perpetuate that stereotype, but for me being gay is about who I love, not who I have sex with.

Scott said...

A few thoughts...

I absolutely won't accept the idea that "once you have a physical relationship with a man ... it's all about the physical gratification, the pleasure."

Unless we can also say "every act of physical intimacy with a woman, unless she is ovulating and your intention is to conceive a child, is all about the physical gratification, the pleasure."? Would your dad and uncle accept that as a valid statement? If not, then they are refusing to acknowledge that the love between two men can be as real as the love between a man and a woman, and that is narrow-minded and shallow.

Your uncle's opposition to celebacy shows that he doesn't even fully understand the church's views on homosexuality, since marriage is far from encouraged by the church (anymore, at least).

The idea that "your children are up in heaven watching you" doesn't mean anything. Suppose it's true--it could also be true that those children will come to you through adoption or surrogacy or some means other than marriage and natural conception and childbirth. It would be tragic if an unborn spirit intended to be your child missed that chance because you didn't marry and impregnate a woman, but it would be equally tragic if that same spirit missed its chance because you weren't in the right situation to adopt it with your partner as it lay in an orphanage after being abandoned by its mother. If there is such a spirit, and it's hoping you'll make the "right" choice, who's to say that your uncle's version of "right" is right?

As for the nuts and bolts of sex itself...

There are many straight couples who enjoy anal sex. There are many gay couples (as Abe pointed out) who do not. Exactly what a couple does to demonstrate their love for each other and strengthen their emotional relationship through physical pleasure is a private and personal thing. I don't personally see how the fit of a penis into a vagina is inherently any more "natural" than the fit of a penis into an anus.

The vagina is capable of producing its own lubricants, but depending on where the woman is in her menstrual cycle it may be more or less effective at doing so, so it's not at all unusual for additional lubrication to be required to keep things from being uncomfortable or even painful. And for obvious reasons, there are times when vaginal sex can be rather messy as well.

With proper hygeine and care, a monogamous gay couple would have no more need for condoms than a monogamous straight couple would, and would be at no more risk of dangerous infection or disease (and would obviously be at a significantly reduced risk of unwanted pregnancy) :)

You're a very bright young man, and I've always been impressed by your thought processes and your desire to do what's right. I hope that eventually your family recognizes the care with which you are approaching each choice you make and is willing to allow that you might indeed be making the choices that are best for you.


Frank Lee Scarlet said...

Thanks, everyone, for your support, advice, and continued kindness! If it seems like I say that a lot, it's because it really does mean *a lot* to me. :)

@MoHoHawaii: Thanks for your sympathy. I think it is important to remember that, as you pointed out, gay sex does not equal anal sex. And I think you're exactly right--my uncle has no problem saying I should marry a woman, but if it were *his* little girl being proposed to, you have to wonder if he'd be as eager to have gay guys taking straight girls to the Temple.
@darkdreary: It's so nice to hear from someone who understands--thank you for your kind words and help. You're quite right--to my uncle, gay sex is almost *by definition* promiscuous (!). And I loved what you said--"For me being gay is about who I love, not who I have sex with." So true!
@Scott: Thanks so much for your thoughts. What you said about the idea of future children looking down really speaks to me. God works in mysterious ways; I think a modern Mormon pitfall is a tendency to forget that, to expect God's ways to be predictable and simple. Clearly, many reject the idea that God could be behind a life path outside of the Mormon "track" (mission->BYU->marriage->etc.). As for the particulars of intercourse, thanks for clearing things up. I guess I have, to some extent, been in the dark about sex in general.
Most of all, thanks for your care and concern :)

Scott said...

I guess I have, to some extent, been in the dark about sex in general.

That's to be expected, given your age. I hope I haven't been out of line in being rather frank. I've never believed that the sexual repression that is common in the church (and in American society in general) is a good thing, but I recognize that not everyone shares my views.

Frank Lee Scarlet said...

@Scott: Not to worry. I suppose that instead of saying I have "been in the dark about sex", it would have been more accurate to say that I have been misguided about the realities of sex (in order to be dissuaded from homosexuality). So I appreciate your directness, and agree that our national and religious cultures' "buttoned-up" approaches toward sexuality are in the long run far from beneficial.