Where are they Now? CLINT

529413_10100236775611974_632480911_n“This follow-up was honestly a little hard to write. Not that the past two and a half years were painful to revisit, but rather because they weren’t. I went to my interview with a guy that I had been dating for a few weeks and now we live together in Salt Lake City. He’s my best friend and I love him and sharing our lives. We garden. We travel. We entertain friends. There are times I think about going to community planning meetings, but I doubt I’ll ever do it.

In short, writing a follow-up that made my current life seem interesting or enlightening to others proved simply impossible. Still, my life as it exists now is not very different than the life I always envisioned for myself. Many people are not able to live their lives how they would like and to be able to do so, even if it is a life rather ordinary, makes me feel very fortunate, indeed.”

 

Clint knew he was “different” from a young age, but he didn’t accept that he was gay until after serving an LDS mission. As he tried to date women after his mission, things became difficult enough for Clint that he sought a therapist’s aid. During this time he accepted and came to terms with being gay. Clint had a testimony and still wanted to attend church, but the desire to truly connect with people by sharing every part of himself led to his decision to come out to his ward during fast and testimony meeting. This experience was mostly positive for Clint, and he stayed an active church member living a celibate lifestyle for several years. Since having a family has always important to Clint, he has now decided to leave the bounds of the church so that he can find a man he loves and start a family.

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Where are they Now? JASON

1452034_10152372297228574_1646353451_n“I remember filming a couple years ago in Provo, Utah, still getting re-adjusted to life back in the USA after a few years overseas with the recently ex-wife. I’ve come to consider that long flight from Abu Dhabi across the wide Atlantic as my second birthday. The new life has not disappointed me. I spent the first couple years post-hetero marriage/ post-Mormon moving around a lot. I was in full exploration mode. I found myself trying to live in Salt Lake, but after a year realizing I wasn’t ready to be back in Zion. Too much reaction, too many ghosts, not enough newness. So I city-hopped for a time, have fewer illusions of life in the city, and can now appreciate Salt Lake for what it is.

I have found my new ground. It feels real, relieving, right. And it’s mine. I am still basking in a new, more pure sense of camaraderie with my fellow humans- all in this mysterious, gorgeous, at times tragic dream together. I’m enjoying saying “I don’t know” and doing my best to live with intention and compassion in the moment. My growing psychotherapy practice feels like a natural manifestation of this new and evolving love I am living in. Feeling deeply grateful for the long and winding road which has brought me to this place.”

 

For Jason, much of his early life was fragmented. By placing his sexuality in one compartment and his. Mormonism in another, he was able to make sense of the world and live with himself while remaining active in the church. This segmentation allowed him to date both men and women and eventually marry a woman. Over time, his values began to shift toward being a more authentic person, and he has since striven to find a way to put these fragments together. He feels that coming out doesn’t need to lead to bitterness towards the church; he values his Mormon experience and heritage and respects those who believe as he once did.

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Where are they Now? WILUM

10308352_10202306821012218_6079562410506202429_n“The major change since filming my interview for the Far Between project was the death of my mother in February of 2013. Having lived with her as her caregiver for almost five years, I was completely thrown off balance and suffered intense confusion and loneliness. What saved me was deep creative concentration and work, the writing of new weird fiction, which gave life a solid purpose. My faith in the Gospel and church activity has also sustained me, helped to give me focus and direction. Living alone in this big house with my companion will always feel strange, but making certain that the house is in good order is a way to pay tribute to the memory of my parents. The only bummer is yardwork. Oy, how I HATE yardwork…”

 

Wilum, 60, is a self-described punk rock, exhibitionist, gay Mormon.

After serving a full-time mission, Wilum came out to his family then attended therapy to “become heterosexual.” Wilum was ultimately excommunicated, but he found comfort and acceptance in the world of exhibitionism and punk rock where he felt free and authentic for the first time. “Being gay,” he says, “is natural for me. I did not choose to be gay, but thank God I am.”

Twenty-five years later a pair of missionaries knocked on Wilum’s door. After a two-year process, Wilum was again baptized into the church, and he hopes to receive the priesthood and participate in temple work in the future. Although Wilum is proud to be Mormon, he did not and will not abandon his pre-baptism lifestyle where he first found acceptance. Wilum has been celibate since 1985, which he feels makes it easier to live within both worlds of the Mormon faith and the gay and punk rock lifestyle he adores.

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Where are they Now? HEATHER

10416797_10152231218088883_1419483802_n“It’s been 3 years since I was interviewed for the Far Between Project, and I have a very different life. I graduated from BYU and moved home to Washington to start my life again. My sexuality is no longer an issue for me at all. I stopped letting others tell me what is truth and found my identity and peace. I am a lesbian and a Christian and I love who I am.

I attend the Mormon church, but I do so as a Christian and not as an active member. My relationship with God is still a huge motivating factor for me and is what guides my decisions. I am in a relationship with a wonderful woman who I cannot picture life without. Interestingly enough, when we first started dating, Erika watched the Far Between interview and was bothered by the part where I said, “I can’t picture being in a relationship with someone who isn’t Christian because the foundational belief in God is something I feel is very important”. Since Erika is agnostic we discussed whether we should break up over this fact. I eventually had a moment of clarity where I realized that Christian or not, Erika is one of the best people I know. She has goodness in her that surpasses any other Christian I’ve ever met. I would feel privileged to have her as a partner in raising our children because she will pass on the goodness and light that she naturally has within her.

To see how my life has evolved over the past several years makes me feel so grateful and hopeful. I am happier then I have ever been and happier than I knew I could be. I can’t wait to see what the next three years brings me.”

For Heather, happiness means following her values, and since church activity reminds her of those, she hopes to have constructive conversations in her future wards. When Heather found out, at 11 or 12, what her thoughts and attractions were called and how the church feels about them, she believed she was evil, corrupt, and somehow sick.  Depression set in as she thought God hated her as much as she hated herself, and she struggled with how to create a life that was happy.  When loved ones said, “That’s disgusting,” about a same-sex couple on TV, what she heard was, “Heather, you’re disgusting.”  But her relationship with her heavenly father has developed peace in her life, and she looks forward to a healthy relationship with a woman.  Her future relationships may be hard on family who oppose same-sex relationships, but she reminds herself to expect no less than the decade she took to come to terms with it, and she has felt no less than genuine love from them.

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Far Between – Representing More Than Just the “G” in LGBTQ

When I first began to realize that I might be queer, I was terrified. Like most Mormons, I was afraid of being queer because of the implications it had for the possibility of a future marriage, my relationship to the Church, and even my eternal salvation. I spent countless hours viewing online organizations, articles, testimonials, and interviews designed for queer Mormons, hoping that I could find some comfort and camaraderie as I tried to understand my sexual orientation. Unfortunately, I found little reassurance or fellowship in these online resources simply because they were not designed for me. These online resources overwhelmingly catered to gay men, as if queer women did not exist (some women appeared on these online resources, but they were usually straight allies of their gay friends, husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, etc.). These resources told the stories of gay Mormon men who had known that they were gay since they were very young, who found strength through their trials in having the priesthood, and who had used their sexual orientation as a way to explore and celebrate their own masculinity. As a young Mormon woman who had just barely discovered her sexuality, I found very little in common with these men, and it made me feel very lonely. My sexuality had made me an outsider in the predominantly heterosexual Mormon world; now my gender was making me an outsider in the queer Mormon community. Was there a safe place for an outsider like me?

click to playWhen I learned about Far Between, I assumed that it was yet another male-oriented website, and so I didn’t get my hopes up. But my attitude changed when I viewed the website and the interview series. I still remember sitting alone in my room, watching Lauren’s interview and crying. It felt so good to finally listen to another young woman whom I could relate to. Like me, Lauren had just recently come to recognize and understand her sexuality, and also like me, she still had a lot of questions about LDS doctrine and its teachings about human sexuality. I was reassured by her authenticity and fearlessness, and it was so good to hear someone speak candidly without pushing the agenda of the website that they were speaking for.  Listening to Lauren’s interview was an important step for me to feel accepted and loved in the queer Mormon community. 

I laud Far Between’s efforts to display a diverse range of experiences and to encourage their interviewees to speak candidly and openly about their experiences. As I work to create a voice for women in the queer Mormon community, I will always be grateful for listening to Lauren’s interview and finally feeling like I could belong.

by Anonymous For Now
The author of this blog post recently shared her story with Far Between on film, but needed’s to remain anonymous for now.  She shared this experience with as a means of giving back to the project that has meant so much to her. We will be releasing her video as soon as her timing is right.

Watch Lauren’s video: http://farbetweenmovie.com/lauren/

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Where are they Now? CRAIG

64578_10151256966680047_1564319888_n“When the ban on gay marriage in Utah was struck down (for a few days), I got down on one knee and proposed to my boyfriend–who bust up laughing because he knew I was joking. We’d only been dating two months.

It’s been over two years since I filmed my spot, and that little story illustrates the approach I’ve tried to take since that time: slow and steady. It’s a weird thing to come out and to leave the LDS church. It’s important to not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I find myself very grateful for two principles I learned in the Church–temperance and hard work–they’ve truly helped me be a better partner in my relationship.

And that is why I still love the Church. I left it because I believe it’s “either all in or all out,” and my faith had changed. Nevertheless, I believe the church is mostly good–especially its members. To many of them, their membership in the Church is a critical part of their identity. As a gay man, I can definitely understand that.

After almost a year together, my boyfriend and I moved in together. Maybe we’ll get married someday. Maybe we’ll break up. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Either way, I feel strongly that I’ll be fine. I have good friends. I harbor no negative feelings with regards to the time I spent in the church.”

“Not every little boy who plays with Barbie’s turns out to be gay, but. . . if while playing with Barbies you have Ken break-up with Barbie so he can spend more time with his best friend–your chances go up.” Craig points to such childhood memories, as one of many ways he perceived his differences from his male peers. On the other hand he fit in well with the other young men–he played basketball, went camping, and did all the normal “guy things.” While grateful that his church upbringing did not overexpose him to sexuality or sexual themes, Craig says that it was because of such an upbringing that he did not recognize his attraction to men for what it was until after his mission. Recognition brought relief to Craig, having suffered with self-esteem and insecurities issues for reasons he could not identify. Putting a name to his attractions strengthened Craig. He is grateful that this journey has developed a more rigorous intellect and empathetic outlook.

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What (and What Not) to Say to Someone Who Experiences Same-sex Attraction

(Click on image to view list)

A list that asks us to be sensitive and to ask questions instead of offering advice, or making assumptions. It’s a list especially well suited to share with our LDS friends and family members. This list is compiled by Ty Mansfield who, along with his wife, has contributed an interview to the Far Between project.

Watch the first part of Ty & Daniele’s interview.

Where are they Now? ERIC

eric“Since recording this video, I have finished my master’s degree and now have a grown-up job with insurance. Me and my wife are the parents of a very busy one-year-old who can say “OK” and “I do!” and will probably let you hold him, though if you’re wearing glasses he will take them off your face with one swift motion, so be careful.

I still go to church every week, and in keeping with my desire to be more vocal about my sexuality within the church have shared a few of my experiences with my elders’ quorum, as well as with friends who unwittingly found me on the Far Between website. It’s a start, though there’s still much more work to do. But for the time being, I am willing to take life as it comes, confident that as the dialogue regarding homosexuality and Mormonism continues to evolve, there will be a place for me in it–and in the kingdom of God.”

Eric shares his story of reconciling his same-sex attraction and membership in the LDS Church which eventually led him to decide to marry a woman and remain an active member of the Church. Eric realized he was gay as a teenager and spent several years trying to hide it. He wanted to be a good member of the church and being gay didn’t fit in to that role. When serving a mission didn’t “cure” him of his gayness, he began to be more comfortable about his homosexuality, though he wasn’t very public about it. While attending BYU, he met a girl that he really liked and began a relationship with her. Knowing it was important to be open about his sexuality, Eric let her know he was gay when they first started dating. Though it was hard at first, they decided they still wanted to be together and eventually got married. He knows this isn’t the right choice for everyone, but it is the right choice for him. He hopes to be more open about his sexuality in the future so that others can see it is possible to be an active member of the church and gay.

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Where are they Now? NICK

10376714_10101448561752609_2210492994465069077_n“Cort and I were legally married in 2013 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. With the repeal of DADT in 2010, my now husband joined the military—something he has wanted to do for as long as he can remember. Thinking that the repeal of DADT would mean an easier environment for gay military families, we learned quickly that even though you could no longer be dishonorably discharged for being an openly gay military service member, the federal government did not recognize gay relationships as a family unit. This meant that I was basically considered a boyfriend to Cort, with no additional benefits that our straight couple counterparts were receiving. It wasn’t until the repeal of DOMA in 2013, that I was able to become a card carrying military spouse, and join my husband at his command in Washington, DC, where we currently are stationed. I’m hoping to continue to work as a photographer (www.nickstonephoto.com), and excited at the potential to have an incredible diverse portfolio due to all the military moves we are expecting to experience.

You could say that I have become a bit of an activist for gay military families. There is a lot of education, advocacy, and support that needs to happen in the military community for gay military families, which is why I now volunteer with a group called The American Military Partners Association. It’s an exciting time to be openly gay in our society—standing out on the front lines for all to see. I hope to continue my efforts with AMPA, while also enjoying life outside of the Utah bubble.”

 

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Where are they Now? KURT

10437095_10203645631479897_596113473_n“Life has changed quite a bit since I first participated in the FBM project, and only for the better. Looking back at where I was then, I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in my life. For the first time in my life, I’m living a 100% authentic life. I am being the person I want to be, for all the right reasons.

My business is thriving, I moved from Provo to Salt Lake City, and very much am enjoying all that life has to offer me. I have my sons at home during the summers and for holidays, and we are creating memories whenever we are together. My parenting has changed, improved and I feel closer to my children than ever. I still have a great relationship with my stepdaughters, who are living with me while they finish up at the University of Utah.

I’ve been able to build a circle of friends who know the real me, love the real me and who have done amazing things for me. I travel with them, I spend time with them, and in many ways they have become my extended family.

I am no longer involved in the LDS church, and can’t support an organization that is not willing to stand up for Equality. Sometimes I miss the community of friends that the church provided, but I don’t miss the emotionally painful experience that the LDS church often was for me. Organized religion is not part of my life, though spiritually, I am at peace. I have learned that happiness is a choice, not a condition imposed by life’s circumstances.

I still have hopes that one day the LDS church will fully accept it’s gay members and stop treating them as second class citizens. Perhaps in a generation, it will be a very different institution. We can only hope.”

Kurt quickly learned, growing up in small-town Iowa, which traits and expressions were acceptable and which to keep in and put away.  He served a mission, went to college, and developed relationships with women (at their instigation) all while continually putting away the aspects of himself he could not accept.  When his wife eventually grew discontented, and he increasingly understood what he’d held inside for so long, confirming her suspicion lifted a burden.  They eventually separated, and he experienced anger and sadness in the tension between his view of God and statements by church leadership, and between the past version of him and the person he had become.  Now he hurts for others who will go through a similar situation but finds it helpful to accept, learn to seek and enjoy the good in life, let go of what doesn’t work or keeps him from happiness, and use for good the perspective gained from his experiences.

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Where are they Now? KAMRIN

1458447_10152733982142598_713491088_n“Since participating in this project we have used these videos in seminars, classrooms, therapy sessions and out in our every-day conversations on a regular basis. We have seen these stories transform lives and soften hearts in miraculous ways. I have since gone on to study Marriage and Family Therapy at Argosy University and have had the opportunity to educate my cohort, professors and even impact the course curriculum. I have taken the message of this movement into my therapy sessions with clients and fellow co-workers alike.

As for our family, we have since moved into a beautiful home on the mountain ridge in Draper. We are building ahome in North Salt Lake and I was able to secure a new position as a Manager for a local software company. Our futures have never been brighter, our families have never been more secure, and we have each found a place in this world that far surpasses anything we ever could have imagined for ourselves.”

 

Kamrin desperately wanted to be the person he thought he should be, but it only led to misery and despair until he accepted who he truly was. Growing up in a Mormon family, Kamrin had clear ideas of who he should be and who he wanted to be. So at 14, when he realized he was gay, Kamrin completely rejected and buried that part of himself. He was determined to be “the perfect Mormon” so no one would even suspect that he was gay. Kamrin served a mission, got married in the temple, and started a family, but the result was a spiral of pain, self-hate, and desperation—not the happiness he expected. Kamrin became so desperate that he attempted suicide several times. Then one day Kamrin realized that he was miserable because he wasn’t being who he was—he was being what he thought he should be. Kamrin accepted himself and started living the life he wanted where he finally found the happiness he was looking for.

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Where are they Now? ADAM

pizanofamily-135“It’s an exciting time in life and there’s a lot of change in the near future for me! It’s June 2014, and I just graduated with honors in April from BYU. I gave the convocation speech at the Theatre and Media Arts, Dance, and Music graduation, which was so surreal and it definitely felt like a chapter ending in my life. I spoke about the need for both love and knowledge and the balance of justice and mercy that each of us to need embody if leaders are to be effective. I feel like I’ve learned that the hard way, so it’s satisfying that I got to communicate my journey to my peers and college before I moved on.

It took a lot of grit to get through BYU, and I will always be thankful for all I learned in and out of my classes, leading Understanding Same-Gender Attraction and bringing an increased visibility of LGBTQ young people on campus. Nothing could be more vital than saving our most vulnerable from the suffering that comes at the intersection of faith and sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I’m proud to say I was part of a tiny, but important, step forward to alleviating that suffering at BYU.

Since this interview below, I’ve joined The Trevor Project as a Youth Advisory Council member. This means that I am a youth representative for The Trevor Project, the nation’s leading nonprofit in crisis intervention and life-affirming resources specializing in LGBTQ youth and young people. I’ve loved collaborating with them, and I’m honored that they named me the Trevor Youth Innovator of 2013 for my work in Utah during my undergraduate career at BYU. That being said, with all the honors and spotlights have come my way, I truly can say that nothing has been quite as humbling and beautiful as seeing my work do some good, empower my people and literally save lives. It’s a privilege and a responsibility that I thank my Heavenly Parents for every day.

I’m actually moving to Hawai’i Island; I’ve joined the Teach for America corps, and will be teaching elementary school there. I’m excited to be an out gay, LDS man and a teacher in a public school; I wish I had someone like that to look up to as a student. While I’m not in Utah anymore, you best believe that I will be doing all I can out there in Hawai’i to making sure my faith and our kids live in a more inclusive world than the present one!”

While growing up in an LDS home, Adam never thought of himself as gay, though he played with My Little Ponies and wanted to be a princess for Halloween. After all, he couldn’t be LDS and gay, he thought. In high school, dating a girl felt unnatural, and when he told her he thought he might be gay, her understanding response meant a lot to him. But in college, he struggled to find a place and eventually took a break from college due to depression and anxiety. Later, through a series of events including finding a blogging community, receiving answers to prayer, and meeting new friends at BYU at a group called Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, he found spiritual validation and hope.

He doesn’t claim to know what the rest of his life looks like. He knows the kind of depth and breadth of a relationship he could have, believes God wants him to have that kind of relationship, and would like to be able to marry a man and raise a family with him in a Mormon family tradition. He loves the LDS Church, and whether or not they allow him to stay, he’s going to find his way.

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Where are they Now? LAUREN

10443783_1534359590125040_796654535_n“When I was asked to write a little about about where I am now in life, it made me really reflect on the last 3 years since I made that “it gets better” video. It made me pause and ask myself, ‘has it really gotten better? Do I like where my life has taken me and where I am headed?’ I became teary eyed when I realized just how much better it really has gotten. I won’t say that things were bliss after making that video. I was out publicly after that video and I know I ruffled a lot of feathers. I had a very hard couple years after that. I was in and out very dark places and didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted. I remember crying myself to sleep countless nights because I felt so alone and lost and isolated. I pushed my family away and my best friends. I was very anti-Mormon for awhile and was angry more often than not. I went months and months without talking to my family and I had zero relationship with any of them. I was in some really unhealthy relationships, and was assaulted because of my sexuality. It was the hardest two years of my life and the darkest.

Where am I now? What are things like now days?

I have been with my amazing, beautiful, kind and compassionate girlfriend for almost a year now. She is from Connecticut and moved out to Utah for work. We met shortly after she moved to Utah and have been dating ever since. She is adorable and treats me like gold. I love her with my whole heart. I can honestly say I am happier than I ever have been in my life thus far.

I am not religious at all, but consider myself a very spiritual person. I connect to my higher power in new ways and in ways that work for me and make me feel complete and feel full of purpose and worth. I live my life authentic and do not let shame or hatred have a place in my heart any longer.

My family has made a 180 and I talk with my mom multiple times a day now. We are very close! I cried tears of joy when my parents invited my girlfriend and I over for Easter dinner. All my siblings and I were looking for our Easter baskets (Easter tradition) and then my mom says to my girlfriend, “don’t you want to find yours too?!” Warm tears of love and kindness and charity streamed down my cheeks as my girlfriend smiled brightly and began searching for her own Easter basket filled with treats and a new shirt from H&M.

My family remains very active in the LDS church and makes sure we are invited to every family event and dinner. I am grateful for their love and support. It has made a massive impact on my life for the good.

I am going to graduate from the University of Utah’s paramedic program in 2016. I want to become an Air-Med paramedic.

Things were not easy. They still are not always easy. But they are 100x better than they were. I am grateful I kept fighting and holding on and sticking to what my heart was telling me was true. Life is beautiful when I am living authentically my best self and with the woman I love most in the world.”

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Where are they Now? KELLY

1471364_10202047465419729_1423981061_n“During the time of the film, I was in the beginning stages of a 2 1/2 year relationship with another woman, with my husband’s knowledge and blessing. Within five months of the film, Kendall (Hill) and I were divorced yet still living together. We continued to live together as co-parents and best friends for a little over a year, until Kendall remarried another straight spouse in August 2013.

A few months before Kendall got married, I began working for the first time since my first baby was born,18 years previously. I knew that I needed to begin the process of taking care of myself, since one day Kendall and I wouldn’t live together nor support each other. It was a huge adjustment, but I was fortunate enough to find a great company to work for, even though I didn’t have much of a resume or a college education. I have continued to move up in the company and was recently promoted to a supervisory position.

I was excommunicated from the church in July of 2012, just a few months after my girlfriend was excommunicated, both for having a relationship while I was still married. We planned to marry each other at some point, but due to many complicated reasons, and a few on and offs, we ended up parting ways in February 2014.

Kendall and I remain best friends and we live one mile apart. We are able to share custody of our children 50/50, which is as ideal as it can be for all of us. My kids have four new siblings, and my children seem to be doing very well considering. I continue to say that we’re fortunate enough to have had the “perfect divorce,” knowing that it’s never an easy thing, but we’ve been blessed to go through all transitions a lot easier than the general divorced population. I feel the same about our children’s experience, yet I’m not minimizing their very real experience that has at times been very difficult. We’ve all been very blessed through each change, and I attribute that first to God’s guidance and love, and secondly to the strong family ties that Kendall and I created for each other and our children.

My daughter is getting ready to go on a mission for the church. My boys continue to attend church meetings with their dad each week. I have not attended the LDS church in the past couple of years and I’m not sure if I will again. I still hold close many teachings of the church, but if I return in the future I will be a different type of congregant. I would first need to make sure that I’ve let go of the hurt and anger for some of the teachings, and some of my experiences in the church. I have attended a few different denominations, because I truly believe that I need to actively pursue my spirituality. More than anything I recognize that where the pew is located simply doesn’t matter. I feel close to God in nature, in a church building, in a cemetery, talking with my children, driving down the road, listening to music, even watching a movie. What I have realized is that I need to remain aware of my close relationship with God at all times, and allow Him to bless me. I am happiest when I recognize His hand in my life, which is why I take time each day to feel gratitude for my knowledge of God and His knowledge of me.

I am happily out as a lesbian, excommunicated Mormon. I wouldn’t have changed one aspect of my coming out story, and I’m very grateful for the support I’ve had along the way. I am happier now than I’ve ever been, and although I look forward to the possibility of finding the love of my life some day, I am confident in my ability to remain happy should that never happen.”

— Kelly Landrum Hill

Kelly and Kendall have been living together in a mixed-orientation marriage for almost 18 years. Although Kelly is a lesbian and Kendall is straight, they have a deeply caring relationship that has sustained them for several years. In this part one of their interview Kelly and Kendall discuss how Kelly still feels that she’s unable to fully express an essential part of herself while married to Kendall; she also worries that she can’t give Kendall the kind of love he deserves. Each spouse is wrestling with the question of remaining in a marriage that is comfortable and safe or taking the necessary risks to find true love.

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Where are they Now? MARK

10355523_10101403957554779_7084764336631928872_o“With total authenticity, I can now pronounce ‘it can get better!’ After BYU, I moved to Salt Lake City and continued to work on the mental anguish I had been suffering through. I started to move away from the counsel I had strictly followed throughout my life, and as I did so, peace and happiness started to be my default emotions. Then luckily, I found love. I look forward to a life with my future husband. For me, religion is not a part of my future. I choose to focus not on the absolutes, but the possibilities. The possibilities are what give me the passion for life that I didn’t have a couple of years ago.”

— Mark May

 

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Checking in With Myself

blogA few years ago, I sat in a session of an Evergreen conference in the heart of Salt Lake in a large and electrified room full of fellow “strugglers” as well as family and friends of strugglers. A lot has changed for me since then, but I still remember when it was all new to me. I didn’t fully agree with everything I’d heard at the conference. I took some and left some. I never particularly liked the term “strugglers,” which was used in the conference’s literature, or the identity of woe it seemed to impose. I readily admitted, however, to struggling at times with the effort to make sense of or reconcile the conflict between my LDS (Mormon) beliefs and my attraction to members of the same sex. And in that room full of hopeful faces, heartfelt tears, and passionate testimonies, semantics and squabbling over details took a back seat to what felt like a godsent opportunity to be among people who could relate to my dilemma from firsthand experience without dismissing either my beliefs or my attractions as insignificant details. These people knew the significance of the “restored gospel of Jesus Christ” in every aspect of my life and psyche as well as the jolting realization that falling for a guy for the first time in my mid twenties had blown my experiences with girls out of the water with a wholeness I hadn’t fully realized was missing. These brethren and sisters, who also “experienced SSA (same-sex attraction),” were fellow pioneers on a path of principled self discipline and faithfulness to eternal truths, a path few seemed to have tread and–it seemed–even fewer had steadily stayed on by maintaining the courage, diligence, and understanding required. We were gathered for a keynote address.

The keynote speaker at this conference was Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International. I remember little of what Chambers actually said, but Exodus is a leading organization for Christians who experience same-sex attraction, and its slogan was “Change is possible”. A dominant message I heard at the Evergreen conference was that even though complete change might not come for everyone in this life, and “change” might mean different things to different people, significant change in orientation is possible, and with the right combination of spirituality, counseling, support, motivation, and perspective, same-sex attraction could be diminished and even eradicated. I accepted that possibility and listened to the theories and recommended courses of action. I heard testimonials of people who were no longer bothered by same-sex attraction. What I did not hear was a very frank warning that few, if any, homosexual/SSA people actually become generally attracted primarily to members of the opposite sex, even if they did learn to manage their attractions in such a way as to live congruent with their beliefs. So it has been interesting to hear Chambers’ recent statement that, as I understand it, he does not believe same-sex attraction is fully eradicated in the vast majority (99.9%) of cases, even with therapy and spiritual ministry, and that most can expect to “be tempted” throughout their lives. It piqued my interest as a different tone than I remember hearing at the conference years ago.  But what’s possibly been more interesting is the public reaction.

 

Some aimed fire at Chambers for denying Biblical truth by implying that practicing homosexuals had a chance at salvation via a relationship with Christ and insisting that homosexuality is excessively and unfairly singled out among sins. Some championed his statements as proof that the entire “ex-gay” movement is a huge fraud. It seemed to me he became an instant but possibly inaccurately portrayed pariah and messiah of various causes and groups who seemed more interested in defending their own perception of truth than understanding or portraying what he really meant or said. Whether or not some of the different camps are right, seeing the strong reactions gave me pause to check my own responses in light of my own experience and connection with the issues.

I felt relieved that someone so respected and recognized within a certain significant subset of society was saying something I’ve been saying for years and wanted to parade his statements as vindication of my view. I hoped it meant a trend towards increasing candor among ministries which promote celibacy or mixed-sex marriage, which assumes his statement and my experience are correct. I wanted to believe this would herald a fizzling out of what I believe are misrepresented and sometimes harmful change therapies. I hoped it would spark conversation about the distinction between reparative therapy and therapies focused on identity and response to attractions. I felt suspicion towards his motives, possibly due to my disagreement with parts of his continuing message and personal experiences with other individuals. I felt resentment that he didn’t say this years ago, before I sat in a room full of eager strugglers yearning for answers and inwardly hinging hope on change, or before friends of mine rejected the idea when _I_ said it because no trusted authority backed it up. I wanted to say it was too little too late. I wondered if giving him credit for candor would establish him as a more trustworthy figure among friends I didn’t want buying into his message. I tried to identify, acknowledge, and set aside my more obvious and defensive gut reactions.

I remembered how my own statements in a blog have been distorted beyond recognition by those who didn’t know me personally but thought they knew all they needed to. I thought of times when I presumed to know someone or their views because I knew someone else in a position similar to theirs and assumed their beliefs, motives, or personality must be similar. I remembered how a close friend was demonized and quoted out of context in a public essay based on what seemed a spectacularly cynical and presumptuous interpretation of something he wrote in a book. I kept in mind that journalists can’t help but miss some details even in responsible efforts to accurately and fairly portray the story. I remembered my days among fellow “strugglers,” our sincerity, our very particular semantics, and our perspective which I believe was less simplistic than some critics portray it. I reminded myself that even my personal conversations with people don’t give me a complete knowledge of their perspective and experience. And I tried to imagine myself, six years ago, responding to my thoughts and statements today.  In a way, my past experiences, beliefs, and feelings help keep me in check today.  I wanted to be careful not to commit these errors towards Chambers’ statements. I wanted to not make the same errors I saw others making when they made false assumptions and misdirected criticisms about the crowds I ran in. So I went to various sources to try to see what Chambers was really saying rather than make assumptions to suit whatever implications I wanted to draw.

Keeping those things in mind helped me listen and read with an intent to understand what he meant rather than what I assume he meant or what I would like to argue with him about. I probably need work on letting go of defensive bias, but when I really try, I not only find people more responsive and appreciative of the effort, but I find that when it comes time to discuss a current controversy with others, I’ve already done some internal preparation that helps me approach the conversation more calmly and more open to understanding and even correction.

But though several of my friends have admitted it privately, many of them seem hesitant to publicly admit what Chambers has said, and after seeing the reaction and public response to Chambers, I think I can imagine why some might be so hesitant. Until we learn to listen before jumping to conclusions, oversimplifying, warping, magnifying, and co-opting, only a few, if any, will feel comfortable saying what many have experienced silently, and they will appear to stand alone. Regardless of disagreements I may have with Chambers, I applaud his decision to publicly share his perspective and take the time to clarify it.  Even if it means controversy and false accusations, he has the opportunity to respond, thereby advancing the public conversation and increasing understanding about some practical realities, lived experiences, and honest expectations of same-sex attracted Christians.

I’ve gone a different direction than I was going in during that conference years ago, so some of the “strugglers” with whom I shared a great sense of mission and camaraderie may subscribe to theories or paths I now disagree with or which actively oppose my decisions or affect my daily life.  Nevertheless, I care about them personally, I relate to them in a way, and I remember being among them.  I want people I care about, whether gay, Mormon, both, or neither, to be listened to and responded to directly and respectfully in pursuit of truth, rather than painted as distorted caricatures for easy arguments in pursuit of advantage.  And I figure if I expect it, I’d best make an effort to afford others the same respect.

— Jay Jacobsen

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Obedience vs. Mental Health

blogI re-read Ty Mansfield’s introduction to the Voices of Hope video series yesterday and felt all my muscles tensing and had to stop. It isn’t all bad, but it isn’t all good, because it is incomplete. The conceit of the website’s introduction seems to be based on the common yet limited supposition that everyone can sustain a healthy lifestyle by strict accordance with current LDS Church policies and procedures around sexuality. This begs the question: Should the goal for this life be strict obedience or sustainable mental health?  This seems to be a fundamental difference of thinking, within the LDS-LGBTQI/SSA community. (Tangential question: Is sustainable health, a concern of mortality alone and therefore less important than obedience in an eternal sense?)

And that’s not to say that they are mutually exclusive . It is clear that for some, strict obedience is part of a sustainable healthy lifestyle. And for others, it is not. For some, strict obedience means a kind of solitude that is demonstrably detrimental to long-term health. For others, strict obedience is the only way that they will be able to live with themselves, literally. So which should be the #1 priority, health or obedience?

It seems the best service we can do for one another across the LDS-LGBTQI/SSA spectrum is to help one another understand ourselves well enough (via dialogue and personal revelation) to really feel self assured in knowing what our own #1 priority is and why it is. And to help remove the shame and guilt around those for whom obedience and health are mutually exclusive. And to not shame or guilt those for whom they are not mutually exclusive. The deeper point is that we need to be supportive of each individual according to their unique idiosyncratic needs, temperaments, dispositions, genes, etc that impact their way of managing the tension between the demands of health and obedience.

In his intro to the VOH series, Ty says, “there is an ever-increasing need for “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) who can speak about positive and healthy alternative responses to same-sex sexuality than what is portrayed as possible in the popular discourse.” While I agree with his assessment that there is a need for more voices to tell their own stories, I am uncomfortable with his dialectical conceit that his project needs to exist as a means of opposition to others’ stories. That dialectical thinking has got to stop. It is the problem. If someone has found a sustainable confluence of health and obedience, great for them! But let’s take the time to carefully understand what it is about them that makes these two objectives work together. What unique aspects of their life and psyche allow them to make it work? And what unique aspects of others’ lives and psyches make the confluence of the two priorities untenable? Granted, this line of thought and questioning also pushes into the tough question of whether or not the gospel as presently constituted really is a one-size-fits-all gospel. That is an uncomfortable question for us Mormons, but tough questions are what push the restoration along and invite the mysteries of the kingdom to be unfolded. (D&C 42:61, 65)

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The Risk of Universalizing

blogThis is a blog  post I’ve seen in heavy circulation the past couple of days. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. This is my response that does not center around the debate over gay rights, but instead on the risks we run when we set one person’s story up as a universal model of healthy happy living.

This is an article about how this man is making his life a success. I am very excited when anyone finds a lifestyle that works for not only them, but for their family—the ones they are committed to love and for whom they are responsible.

I’m also concerned that too often it is being shared in a way that suggests that this man’s experience should be a standard for all homosexual people.

He points out that sexuality is fluid for many of us. Based on our interview work for this project that seems to be true for many people–it also seems to be quite rigid for others. I don’t think it an overstatement to say, sexuality is complex and anyone who assumes that their own experience with it is also how everyone else experiences sexuality would be wise to listen to more perspectives.

I’d also like to talk a bit about internalized homophobia and the many ways in which it manifests itself in both straight and gay people. We often characterize it as simply self-loathing because you are attracted to people of the same sex. I would argue that this self-loathing is one of many ways that internalized homophobia can be manifested and that it is a symptom of what belies it, which is believing that heterosexuality is the only right and true sexuality. Many, therefore, believe heterosexuality should be the ideal our society prizes and thus has been promoted (consciously and unconsciously  for generations) as the only correct, true, and virtuous ideal expression of human sexuality. This is all complicated by the fact that the LDS church, like many other religions, teaches that heteronormitivity is the correct, true, virtuous and ultimately right way of heaven. And what society or our faith prizes can also become what we personally prize because we internalize societal and religious ideals. This means that although the author of the essay says he is not being swayed by what society thinks, and that, in his experience, heterosexual living is simply the best and truest form of marriage and that society has nothing to do with the shape his story takes, decades of social science, anthropology, history, biological science, and countless other fields would prove him wrong.

So how are we to reconcile all this?

One answer that appeals to some is to find examples of people who fit happily into the mold some believe God has set for those who are homosexual, and say, “Look, everyone, this guy is making it work! He is not only doing what I think God thinks homosexual people should do, but he is happy and fulfilled, which means if it’s possible for him, it’s possible for everyone.” I will reiterate that I find this a very dangerous proposition. Not only is this man’s experience in the vast minority, but even if he were in the majority, the fact that this type of living situation does not work for everyone means there is still a problem. I’m genuinely happy for that this man has found happiness and I think we ought not to dismiss his story because it is the exception and not the rule. That said, what do we do with the rule? Do we comfort ourselves by constantly highlighting these stories while dismissing the rest as too weak to follow the fullness of God’s law? What do we do as faithful LDS people who believe that heterosexuality is the eternal truth and that people would be happier if they lived up to this true, right way, or waited out this life to enjoy it in the eternities, but are also faced with the reality that not everyone is going able to find happiness with this model? Many, many, many people have tried and failed—what do we do with that reality?

I’m going to make a bold statement. I think that if we continue to insist that everyone must accept the heterosexual ideal despite the fact that many people don’t or can’t live up to that  ideal, we are also going to have to accept that there is going to be significant human suffering. We are going to have to accept suicide, bullying, risky behavior, depression, broken families, broken hearts and broken homes in the vast majority of cases. Or is it possible to allow people their own agency and relationship with God–the ability to work out their own lives and salvations with their Maker? Is it possible to strive to live our best life and allow others that same opportunity even when another person’s choices do not match up with our ideal?

— Bianca Morrison Dillard

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Far Between Blog: Exploring the conversation

blogThroughout the process of creating Far Between, it’s been apparent that the tone of conversations about the experience of being homosexual and Mormon greatly affects how people view themselves and respond to their situations.  As part of Far Between’s effort to engage more constructive and helpful conversations, the Far Between Blog is not only a source of project updates and opportunities but a place to share examples of conversations and lessons learned.

Blog authors will share experiences and thoughts from internal, interpersonal, and community conversations around homosexuality and Mormonism.  Weekly posts will include narration, deconstruction, and results from their own introspection, interpersonal conversations, and public discussions such as news media and panel forums.

In addition to sharing your own stories, we invite readers to join us in practicing empathy-centered conversation by subscribing to Far Between, reading and commenting on new blog posts every week, and joining or starting conversations in your respective communities, whether online or geographical.

We see individuals and organizations increasingly engaging and changing environments and lives for the better.  We offer the Far Between blog as one way you can join in filling the gulf many feel between the conceptions or experiences around homosexuality and Mormonism with constructive love and compassionate communication.

Will you join the conversation?

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Working Out Our Own Salvation Together

blogI recently had the opportunity of describing my experience of being gay and Mormon in a stake leadership training meeting.  My stake president has been wanting to change the atmosphere in our stake to be friendlier to gay and lesbian members, and as a step in that process he called this meeting and invited bishoprics, relief society presidents, young men’s and young women’s presidents as well as the heads of the corresponding stake auxiliaries and the high council.  The first 20 minutes or so the stake president used the church’s new website to talk about what the church’s current doctrine and stance are on the topic and to also talk about the importance of reaching out with love to gay members.

The rest and majority of the meeting was a panel consisting of Josh Weed and his wife Lolly, Josh’s father, me and another gay man in the stake.  We each introduced ourselves briefly and then opened it up to a Q & A with those in attendance.

The meeting went about as well as you could expect it to considering it was a stake leadership meeting and the topic was homosexuality.  I’ve lived in the stake for almost 10 years and so there were lots of familiar faces in the meeting, some of whom already knew I was gay and others who probably didn’t.  It felt good to talk openly about my reality in a church setting with some friendly and familiar faces.  Part of what made it feel good is that I was there to contribute to the meeting in a significant way by sharing my experiences and answering questions and therefore having an influence on the messaging surrounding the topic at hand.

Typically when homosexuality has been addressed in my experiences with various church meetings, it has been straight priesthood leaders telling me how to live the gospel or what the experience of a same sex attracted member should be, and it’s often boiled down to a very simplistic “be faithful and it will all turn out in the end.”  (Even though what feels like a fairly core aspect of myself seems to directly conflict with core aspects of the gospel.)  These men mean well, but their counsel and advice has often felt like I imagine counsel and advice would sound from a man telling a room full of women what to expect when they’re expecting.

I guess a shorter way of saying that is that it felt good to be included in a way that gave me the opportunity to contribute to greater understanding of the group by sharing what my experience has been instead of having someone tell me what my experience is or should be. The former feels empowering and soul expanding; the latter feels incredibly frustrating and demeaning.

I’ve been fortunate in that I have a pretty great bishop and stake president.  Both know that I am dating a man and neither one has directly tried to talk me out of the relationship.  My stake president teaches the doctrine in general terms, and when it comes to me specifically he reaches out with love, admiration and encouragement.  My bishop is genuinely curious and asks appropriate questions and listens a lot.  He has told me my boyfriend is welcome to join me at church.  A couple of Sundays before the stake leadership meeting, my bishop and stake president gave me a blessing.  I won’t go into the specifics of what was said during and after the blessing, but it was pretty clear to me that my stake president has gone through his own conversion process on the topic.  He’s really taken the time to humble himself and study and pray and listen and admit that he doesn’t have many answers, things that anyone wanting to approach this topic successfully will benefit from greatly.

The stake president has now started traveling to each individual ward in the stake to do a combined priesthood and relief society meeting during the third hour on homosexuality.  There are also plans to do a youth fireside, although the details for that have yet to be worked out.

Now, lest I lead anyone to believe that I live in a stake that has gone rogue and celebrates homosexuality, let me assure you that is not the case.  My stake president sticks very closely to the material on the church’s new website.  If you’ve seen the church’s website, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what’s being said in the meetings in my stake.  He uses a lot of the videos from the site.  Some of you might think that’s just fantastic and some of you might be rolling your eyes.

I think it’s good that the messaging on the issue from the top on the website is moving away from condemnation and more towards inclusion, that family members shouldn’t be ostracized for making life choices we don’t agree with, that we should trust people in knowing what their feelings are, etc.  I feel a little bit frustrated that most of the subtle changes in messaging can be boiled down to essentially a message of treat homosexuals like you would any loved one.  I get a little bit frustrated thinking that that’s the progress we’ve made, that we’re just beginning to understand that the golden rule actually also applies to people who through no fault of their own feel and experience a very real and profound attraction to people of the same sex.  They are baby steps, but those baby steps are progress and will hopefully pave the way for more progress, whatever that ends up looking like.

My other larger frustration is that we’re still not talking about what I believe are the most important questions.  Reaching out with love will make a big difference and will be enough for some people, but there is still no clear and satisfying articulation of what role homosexuality plays in the plan of salvation, other than to say that it won’t exist in the hereafter, which is a convenient and comforting answer if you’re straight.  If you’re gay, the answer can feel unsatisfactory and dismissive of the harsh and deeply felt realities of this apparent conflict.  There’s still not much there to entice a person to invest heart, spirit and soul to sticking around and being patient with the church.  As I said in a previous post, dangling eternal heterosexual marriage as incentive is like telling a child that if they behave, they’ll be rewarded with liver for dinner.

I believe there is much to be gained by exploring and mining this issue thoughtfully and carefully: greater understanding of the role and importance of gender and what attraction is and how our experience of it might inform what it means to be sealed together, what is family and what is its role in this life and the next.  Without a clear articulation of some of these issues and how homosexuality fits into it all, many will still feel estranged from and rejected by a gospel that is meant to be inclusive of everyone, no matter how much outreach there might be.

The temptation for some is to say we have the truth and it’s up to those who feel at odds with the truth to conform.  But how?  Is it that all these subgroups that don’t fit perfectly into the plan need to find a way to conform or could it be that we don’t actually have all the truth there is to have on these matters?  I wouldn’t claim to know for sure, but I do know that the quickest way to not find out is to not ask questions and to assume that since this is the way it’s been for many years that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

I applaud the increased outreach and understanding and love.  Let’s continue with that.  If there’s ever a question of how to approach a situation or a person, the answer should always be with love.  Let’s also continue to ask the hard questions and explore and work out our own salvation together.

— Jon Hastings

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Then Shalt Thou See Clearly

blogLast week, I was doing a Sunday School homework assignment.  (I guess I’m outing myself here as a total Church geek.)  We were supposed to go home, pray for light and understanding, then read 3 Nephi 14, and then conclude by praying for continued light and understanding.  I dutifully performed the assignment.

So, after praying for “light and understanding,” I began with the text.  Verses 1-2.  Jesus teaching the Nephites: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

OK, I thought.  We’ve read that so many times, we take it for granted.  But in the meditative, focused spirit that had been induced by my prayer, I felt more open, more attentive, even a little excited.  This teaching about non-judgment is profound.  My mind and spirit were hungry for deeper insight.

The following verses (3-5) present the parable of the beam and the mote.  Again, how many of us haven’t heard this parable a million times?  “Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

I had always taken the meaning of this parable essentially to be: Focus on your own damn faults.  You have no business messing with others or telling them how to fix their own faults.  You have a beam.  Your brother has a mote.  You’d better focus on the beam.  That’s always how I’d read this.  Not a bad reading of this text.

But, I realized, there was a part of this saying of Jesus that had always troubled me, given my traditional interpretation of this text.  It’s the part about how, once you’ve cast the beam out of your eye, then you can help cast the mote out of your brother’s eye.  Is Jesus actually saying that I could become perfect enough some day to in fact be in a position to help fix others’ faults?  That bugged me.  It seemed like a dangerous teaching.  Because I know I’ll never be perfect.  I’ll always have beams or motes or imperfections of other sorts.  And if I take what Jesus says here literally, wouldn’t there be a risk of me thinking I’m perfect when I’m not?  And in my delusional self-image of perfection, go about judging and trying to perfect others?  Doesn’t this actually teach away from what Jesus is saying here? Doesn’t that open up the prospect of all kinds of judgmental and pharisaical attitudes on the part of individuals who feel like they’ve taken care of their beam, so now they’re all ready to start working on the motes of their less fortunate brothers and sisters?

But on this reading, there was a particular phrase that caught my attention, that helped bring me to a deeper understanding of this text: “Then shalt thou see clearly.”  I remembered the first verse of this chapter: “Judge not.”  The parable on beams and motes was an extension of that teaching, an illumination or illustration of it.  Jesus is using the parable to teach the art of non-judgment.

It was then I realized that I had always misunderstood what Jesus meant by the symbolism of the beam.  I had always assumed that the “beam” represented my flaws, my failings, my faults, which were always bigger and worse than the flaws, failings and faults of others…  Their “motes.”  What I now realized is that the beam represents a very specific type of failing.  It represents my inclination to judge.

The central metaphor here, I realized, is not the beam or mote.  It is the eye.  Immediately, another saying of Jesus came to mind, from the preceding chapter (3 Nephi 13/Matthew 6).  “The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

Jesus wants us to “see clearly.”  Beams and motes in this parable are an impediment to clear sight.  In teaching about the “beam,” what Jesus is telling us is that our inclination to judge one another is our number one impediment to seeing the way God wants us to see.

See, we are in a very real sense our brother’s keeper.  We are supposed to be there for each other and help each other with flaws and faults.  But it is impossible for us to do this effectively when we judge one another.  Huh?

OK, let me expand on the parable a bit here.  Has anyone ever actually extracted a mote from someone else’s eye?  I’m here to tell you, I never have.  I’ve occasionally had a mote (spec of dirt) in my eye, and I’ve occasionally been around someone who’s gotten a mote in their eye.  But the eye is a sensitive organ.  Do I want somebody poking around in my eye with their dirty fingers and trying to pull out my mote?  Does somebody else want me doing the same?  Heck no!

When I’ve had a mote in my eye, the usual response of a friend or a loved one who happened to be nearby during such a misfortune is for them to put their arm around me, perhaps help guide me to a near-by sink, and then comfort me while I rinse my eye under running water, gently washing the mote away and restoring my sight.  I think this is really the only practical way I or anybody else casts a mote out of a brother’s or sister’s eye.

My most important responsibility in relation to any brother or sister is not ever to correct them, but to see them.  To cast away any impediments, any judgmentalism, that hinders me from understanding and empathizing with them.  Only when I can see them non-judgmentally, only when I can see them as they see themselves, is it possible for me to be in the type of solidarity and love with them that enables us each to work on our individual flaws and live into the potential that Jesus Christ has called us all to live into.

I often hear LGBT people cite Jesus’ teaching of “judge not, that ye be not judged,” as a way of insisting, “Don’t judge me!”  But Christ intended the teaching universally.  It applies to us LGBT folks as judges of others, as much as it applies to us as the victims of unkind judgment.  We need not to judge even those who judge us.  I came away from this scripture with a hunger to “see clearly” and to have a “whole body full of light,” and a profounder realization of the depth of alienation and loss of vision that is caused whenever I judge, no matter whom I judge.

I pray for continued light and understanding.  And, as God is my witness brothers and sisters, I’m asking you both to see me, and to help me keep my vision clear.

— John Gustav-Wrathall

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Trust me, you’re gonna love this liver!

blogIf I had to choose one reason why so many gay Mormons end up leaving the church or one reason why several of those who stay experience a great deal of frustration, it would be that they don’t see themselves in the narratives placed before them.  I know I didn’t, and in a lot of ways I still struggle to see my place in the grand narrative known as the plan of salvation.  The plan exclusively is focused on families formed by heterosexual relationships.  For those who are gay, the hope is held out that if you are faithful, you will become heterosexual in the next life and be blessed with a heterosexual relationship.  Rather than offering hope, that explanation tends to simply offer more frustration to many.

To me, explanations like this sound more like someone grasping at straws to explain something they truly don’t understand or have a good answer to (see early explanations for why those with African ancestry couldn’t hold the priesthood or go to the temple).  It also doesn’t ring true to me.  We are taught in the scriptures that the spirit that inhabits our bodies at the time of death will continue with us in the next life.  Will we really be changed in the next life?  Is homosexuality really only a broken mortal condition?  It certainly doesn’t feel that way to me.

Also, the thing that is held out as incentive to remain faithful (eternal marriage to a woman) isn’t even at all enticing or effective as an incentive.  It’s like telling a child that if they are good, they get to have liver for dinner.  “Trust me, it might sound gross right now, but by the time dinner rolls around, you are going to love it!”

There’s always the celibacy route, but that seems more like a myth than a plausible, healthy life path.  It’s never been a significant part of our theology and there’s virtually no guidance on how a celibate life might look.  For those who say it would look like any other single adult member of the church, think again.  Lifetime celibacy is different than temporary celibacy.  Celibacy from any sort of romantic relationship, from the life affirming experience of sharing your life with someone you are attracted to on all levels, celibacy from sharing those quiet moments cuddled on the couch watching a movie or having a quiet conversation and saying “I love you”—that kind of celibacy is different than not having sex until you’re married.     Put in those terms, it might be easier to see why it might seem more like a myth than a healthy and fulfilling life path.  I know there are some who do go the celibacy route with no intention of marrying someone of the opposite sex.  To be more specific, I know of one dear friend who is doing that and who has lasted beyond more than just a handful of years on that path.  There are probably others out there, but even though it’s proposed as a possible choice for those who attracted to the same gender, it certainly isn’t a life path that’s widely celebrated in our culture.

It becomes more apparent why so many gay members of the church have a hard time finding themselves in the provided narratives.  By choosing to continue to stay and be engaged at church, it often feels like I’m choosing to swim upstream.  Sometimes that sense of frustration with feeling like I have to constantly carve out a space for myself within Mormonism is exacerbated by well-intentioned bishops.  I recently posted in the Mormons Building Bridges Facebook group and asked people there for ways bishops have ministered to them that have been helpful and ways they haven’t been helpful.  A common theme was that the helpful bishops sought to understand and meet them where they were and find ways to help them engage in appropriate ways, given the circumstances of the individual.  The less helpful bishops sought to impose narratives without first seeking to understand the situation or whether or not those narratives fit the individual.

Let me give some concrete examples.  Up until my current bishop, just about every other bishop I’ve had has encouraged me to date women, having the goal of marriage in mind.  None of them sought to understand what my experience had been up to that point with dating women, what my level of attraction to women was, and therefore whether or not dating them with the goal of marriage was even a viable option.  It began to feel like a very specific path was more important to them than my own well-being.  When the real issues aren’t being addressed, it makes it difficult to get in touch with what the real issues are and therefore, what can and can’t be done.  It’s like my childhood pediatrician.  If my mom ever took me in for something and he couldn’t figure out what it was, he’d just say I was constipated and prescribe lots of fiber and 8 glasses of water per day.  Not helpful.  The problem was, I didn’t fully understand or know how to articulate to myself why meetings with bishops weren’t helping, let alone express that to a bishop.  That’s when hope evaporates and despair begins to creep in.

On the other hand, bishops can do a lot to help carve out a space for gay members of their wards without compromising current doctrine.  John Gustav-Wrathall, who also blogs here, is married to his husband and has two foster sons.  In 2005, he decided to return to church activity.  His bishop at the time found ways to keep him engaged at church, even though he couldn’t hold certain callings.  He was asked to help out with some genealogical extraction work, sing in the choir, organize a ward talent show, etc.  John also said that a helpful bishop will “help keep us engaged and connected to the sources of our spiritual strength.”

My current bishop has had his calling since last December.  In that time, we’ve met a handful of times and so far the meetings have mostly been about him getting to know me.  He stated up front that he didn’t have a lot of experience working through the intersection of Mormonism and homosexuality and wanted to understand more about that and about my experience specifically.  It became clear to me that he sees me as an interesting person to get to know, instead of a problem to fix or a person to get onto a certain path, whether or not it made any sense.

I’ve recently been getting to know a high councilman in my stake, Yiyang, and his wife Suzi.  I met Suzi at a book club meeting and knowing about my situation, she invited me over for dinner.  They were both very interested in getting to know me (and I them) and understanding how they can help carve out a space for gay members.  At our latest get together, they asked me to invite a handful of my gay Mormon friends who live in the area.  There were five of us and each with varying levels of activity and belief in the church.  While we ate delicious food, we talked.  Yiyang and Suzi asked questions about what each of our experiences has been, the level of support we’ve gotten from our families, how our experiences at church have affected our relationship with the divine, how our relationships with our parents affects our relationship with the church and how we view our Heavenly Father, what we think could be done to make gay members feel more welcome, etc.

We talked for a good two or three hours.  I was amazed at how much each person was wiling to open up and share profound aspects of their spiritual journeys.  Yiyang and Suzi also shared some of their experiences as well.  I think what made the dinner successful (in terms of us being open and honest and respectful of each other) was that it had a very open ended goal.  The goal wasn’t to get anyone to do any specific thing.  Suzi and Yiyang weren’t inviting us over to get all of us into the pews at church (although I’m sure they’d love it if that happened), and we weren’t there to try and convince them that the only way to make us feel welcome was to embrace gay marriage.  There was just a genuine interest in seeking to understand each other’s lived experiences.

I understand that even if bishops and ward members are loving and supportive, many gay members will still find it difficult to find hope or a place in the current doctrine.  But before we begin to address those questions, I believe ecclesiastical leaders and ward members can do a lot together with gay members to create healthier narratives and options, though opening our hearts and minds to each other and having open and respectful conversations about our individual spiritual journeys.  Then we might be able to begin to see and understand together.

— Jon Hastings

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Confronting What We Don’t Know

blogHave you ever stopped to consider the enormity of what you don’t know?  Or what about the things that you don’t even know you don’t know?  Overwhelming, right?  There’s a certain amount of comfort that comes with believing I know much more than I actually do, in being able to wrap difficult and complex issues up into neat and tidy little packages.  Our minds often tend to gravitate away from ambiguity and towards resolution.  What happens though, when we move towards resolution too quickly, before we’ve allowed ourselves to more fully explore something?  What truths do we end up missing out on by not remaining suspended in a space filled with the tension of two opposing ideas, not knowing, asking questions, as opposed to immediately gravitating towards one side, towards resolution?  And how can a failure to patiently hold and consider the tension of two opposing ideas lead to breakdowns in conversations with those who see things differently?

Historian James Harvey Robinson said, “Partisanship is our great curse.  We too readily assume that everything has two sides and that it is our duty to be on one or the other.”  What happens if instead we allow ourselves to remain suspended between perceived sides, drinking in what good we are able to find in each one?  What if we approach our conversations with others less like a zero sum game of winner takes all and more like a process of discovery?  How can our mutual willingness to question and explore together rather than merely state our opinions as facts lead to greater truth and understanding?

Dieter Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expressed the value of this questioning and exploratory state in a talk he gave at a recent leadership training conference:

Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit.  Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things.  We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us.  How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?

In a recent post, I made brief mention of some scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants about studying things out in our minds and also about not being compelled in all things, but acting.  I talked about how we have to proactively go out on our own spiritual journeys, much like Joseph Smith did, and seek truth.

It occurs to me again and again that the reconciliation of homosexuality with spirituality and our conversations about that process is one of many areas that could benefit from an approach of openness, patience, humility, courage and thoughtfulness that comes through in the scriptures and quotes I’ve mentioned above.  Taylor Petrey is someone who has contributed in such a way to this reconciliation conversation and process.  Petrey is assistant professor of religion at Kalamazoo College and recently gave the keynote address at the Compassionate Cause symposium that was held last month at the University of Washington.

In his keynote address, Petrey laid out a pretty thorough exploration of the LDS Church’s approach to and perception of homosexuality throughout its history, with a more specific focus on the past 50 to 60 years.  His remarks seemed important to me because I think we often assume that current attitudes and approaches are as they always have been.  We too easily forget where we’ve been, how that has contributed to wounds and divides that exist today and how we’ve evolved.  Historical context is important to more fully understand what we’re faced with today as we study these things out in our minds.  You can read his remarks, or if you’re more the type that likes to watch and listen, you can do that here. (Or you can knock yourself out and do all of the above at the same time!)

Petrey also wrote a very thoughtful paper for the Winter 2011 edition of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought entitled “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.”  As he says at the beginning of the paper, it’s meant to be a thought experiment and not a statement of church doctrine or even a suggestion of what church doctrine should be.  As I was reading it, it felt very much like he was loosening and tilling the hardened soil of what we think we know about not just sexuality, but also about gender, gender roles, procreation, the purpose of relationships, etc.  Sometimes we project the way we experience our mortal lives onto the heavens and eternity, instead of seeking to inform and enrich our mortal experiences with instruction from heaven or the divine.

We live in a fallen world, don’t we?  Is it possible that we don’t understand all there is to know about gender and its eternal role?  Is how we experience attraction in our limited physical bodies an accurate representation of how we’ll experience it as glorified and perfected celestial beings?  And what role will that play in how we experience relationships with others?  What physical characteristics will follow us to the next life?  Will women be in a constant cycle of gestating spiritual baby after spiritual baby every nine months?  To how many women does that sound appealing?

As you can see, the questions begin to mount.  I know, I know, just put them on a shelf and trust in God.  How long is that a viable and effective strategy though?  What are we missing out on by not allowing ourselves to wrestle with these questions?  Can we expect God to just hand us the answers if we’re not willing to wrestle with these questions ourselves and together?

Again, if you’re more of the listening type as opposed to the reading type, you can also listen to a discussion of Petrey’s paper on this podcast from Mormon Matters.  The host, Don Wotherspoon, moderates a discussion of the paper with Petrey and Kristine Haglund, Dialogue editor.

This excerpt from a recent press release from the LDS Newsroom also sums up beautifully how we can not only benefit from exploring and wrestling with the realities faced by those who are gay and Mormon, but also how it is incumbent upon us to do so:

Mormons welcome truth from whatever source and take the pragmatic view that where religion and science seem to clash, it is simply because there are insufficient data to reconcile the two. Latter-day Saints approach such tensions as challenges to learn, not contradictions to avoid.

This productive tension can enrich both mind and heart. All understanding, whether spiritual or rational, is worked out in constant questioning and discovery. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.”  Latter-day Saints do not expect God to simply hand down information. He expects us to wrestle with the complications of life through prayerful searching and sound thinking. “You must study it out in your mind,” Mormon scripture teaches, and then answers will come. This pattern of inquiry opens Mormons to expanding spiritual possibilities.

I’m convinced that there is more knowledge and understanding to be had with regards to these important topics that will come to us if we will allow ourselves to sit with the seemingly dissonant identities of being gay and being Mormon.  If we sit with the tension with a spirit of humility and curiosity, instead of jumping quickly to conclusions, I believe our conversations will improve and the knowledge and understanding will begin to flow more easily.  We just need to be willing to thoughtfully hold and listen to our own as well as each other’s stories and experiences and carefully explore and talk about the reconciliation between sexuality and spirituality with open hearts, well tilled soil and iron gates thrown wide open.

— Jon Hastings

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Listening, Validating and the Balm of Gilead

blogWhen you go to Disneyland, you’ll notice that if you ask an employee for directions she will point using her entire hand, fingers together.  I tested this with different employees and the result was always the same.  Why do they do this instead of simply pointing with their index finger as most Americans might?  I took a tutor training class in college that cued me in on what was happening.  You see, different cultures interpret hand signals differently.  What to you or I might be an innocuous thumbs up, for example, could be an offensive gesture to someone from another country.  Thus, in order to avoid offending the one we were trying to help we needed to be aware of this.  Too often when we talk about homosexuality and Mormonism, we give and take offense without intending to.  So what can we do to help change this?  What are the hand signals that will help us to get the lay of the land, this tenuous landscape where homosexuality and Mormonism intersect, and to heal wounds rather than create new ones?

This article will be the first in a series to look at why miscommunication occurs in our conversations with one another when we face this issue.  Where is the disconnect and why does it happen?  We will approach this question from a variety of perspectives – that of the friends and family of gay Mormons, their ecclesiastical leaders and of course gay Mormons themselves.  We will look at common phrases that we use and how they were received in various situations.

The following is one example.  When Tori’s homosexuality comes up, her mother and sisters often tell her, “Use the atonment.”  For her this is really painful and frustrating to hear.  “Every time I hear this I feel like they are saying, ‘if you really knew the atonement you’d be fixed and straight already’.  In other words, I feel that they are telling me, ‘the only way the atonement can help you in this situation is by making you straight.’”  So why does Tori feel this when she is told to simply, “use the atonement”?

Tori served a mission, was an EFY counselor, and graduated from BYU.  She spent countless nights, months, and years reading the scriptures and praying for her Heavenly Father to help her, perhaps change her.  If she could not learn to be attracted to men, she would pray to find peace with the idea that she would need to live a life of celibacy.  In essence, she had done “everything right” so when told to simply use the atonement she felt she was being told that she clearly wasn’t trying hard enough to change – as if all of her efforts and tears were being dismissed and were somehow not enough.  Either that or the atonement wasn’t for people like her, who after years of work and struggle are still only attracted to members of their own sex.  Prescriptive advice can feel dismissive of the massive efforts that loved ones have often already made – the superhuman lengths to which many have gone to try to fit the heterosexual mold, including reparative therapy, endless prayer, much fasting, regular temple attendance, serving missions, faithful church service, all the while bargaining and pleading with God to be changed.  Without intending to, telling a gay loved one to just use the atonement can make him feel that he is somehow not really accessing it yet.  This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, defeat, frustration, self-loathing, or defensiveness.

What about the other end of the spectrum?  As Mormons, we are raised to believe that the atonement, that is to say Christ’s sacrifice, makes change of just about any kind possible.  We are also taught that to act on homosexual feelings is a sin.  Thus, it is natural for us to conclude that a child, sibling, or friend, who is homosexual should be able to use the atonement to achieve the end we view as most desirable – to become a heterosexual.  To raise the stakes even more, we are also taught that families can be together forever but that each family member must abide by the rules governing Church membership for this to be possible.  for gay members of the church, this means either entering into a mixed-orientation marriage or living a life of celibacy.  Any parents would want to know and feel that their child would be with them for the eternitites, so any variation on the latter options could cause a great deal of pain, even panic in a parent.

So the question becomes, what can we do to bridge the divide?  We can ask sincerely inquisitive questions about someone’s experience rather than just asserting our view and we can give the gift of listening.  The Empathy First Initiative has established conversation guidelines that can have the power to do just that.  Key to improving our conversations are the following (to name three of the seven guidelines):

  • Set aside settled assumptions.
  • Be vulnerable and inquisitive.
  • Patiently listen with grace to not be provoked.

All three of these guidelines require one common attribute – the gift of listening, really listening to the other person rather than making pre-constructed assertions, broad religious statements, or giving pre-packaged advice.

As I was reading the book of Luke, it struck me how often Jesus asked questions and then listened closely.  In one sitting, I counted 85 times in which he framed the conversation by asking a question.  “What is written in the law?  How readest though?” “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” “Why are ye troubled?”  Always, a question and then listening.  What a great example for us to learn from.  It is my great hope that each of us will learn to make the effort to really understand the lived experiences and perceptions of our loved ones as we broach what for many of us is the undiscovered country of the Mormon homosexual experience.  Perhaps in the end we can make better use of our hands not by pointing fingers, shouting, “lo here, and lo there” but by simply taking the hand of our loved one and walking with them.  Ultimately the gifts of listening and validation can be the greatest Balm of Gilead that we can apply.

— Berta Marquez

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