by Bianca Morrison Dillard
This 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?