Tuesday evening I got home from work and found a load of mail, including two cd's of original (and spectacularly good) music from Wayne, and the Fall 2005 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This is one of the primary publications of liberal Mormonism, and I've subscribed (and published in it) for years. I sat down to my dinner and watched part of a movie, took care of some teaching stuff, had a bath. Then I picked up the issue of Dialogue and checked the table of contents, and found this:
GETTING OUT/STAYING IN: ONE MORMON STRAIGHT/GAY MARRIAGE
Getting Out by Ben Christensen 121
Homosexual Attraction and LDS Marriage Decisions by Ron Schow 133
Thoughts of a Therapist by Marybeth Raynes 143
Staying In by Ben Christensen 148
I gave the section a cursory scan--that was about all I could bear--then went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, stayed asleep for an hour, got up and read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for a class I'm teaching on war literature (because after the Dialogue thing, I needed something cheerful and lighthearted), tried to medicate myself into oblivion, eventually succeeded.
Wednesday morning I got up and reread the whole section carefully.
Here is what Ben Christensen, a 24-year-old gay Mormon married to a woman by whom he has fathered a nine-month-old daughter, has to say about the fact that he can't mention to his friends that he "can't stop thinking about this guy in religion class":" "It ticks me off that Mormon social taboos force me to lie about who I am."
Mormon social taboos.
That's what's to blame for the fact that he can't discuss his same sex attraction: Mormon social taboos.
Not Mormon doctrine. Mormon social taboos.
Nothing wrong with the doctrine--which says that homosexual behavior is a sin; no, it's just Mormon social taboos.
If you're not Mormon, you have no idea how big this issue is. Many religions venerate celibacy; many other religions tolerate it. Not Mormonism. Celibacy is unnatural; sex before marriage is, according to some leaders in the church (and one of my friends from college, one of the very few people whom I will never again speak to), a sin akin to MURDER (that's right: sex before marriage is the moral equivalent of killing someone in cold blood); and the entire reason we are sent to earth is to get bodies, have sex, and create children. So there's some room in many other religions for reconciling religious faith and homosexuality by choosing celibacy, but almost none in Mormonism--at least, not if you want to be respectable and happy.
Christensen writes of his engagement to Jessie, who knows about his attraction to men, that
Difficulties arose fairly quickly.... It bothered Jessie that she was usually more interested in kissing than I was. This bothered me too, but I didn't know what to do about it. I definitely loved her, and out of that love an attraction was growing, but to be honest it was nothing compared to the strong desire I had for men. But then it's not accurate to even compare the two feelings. My attraction to Jessie, the drive that made me want to hold her in my arms and feel her body next to mine, came entirely from my heart. On the other hand, the drive that made me want to feel a man's body next to mine was purely a libido thing. I've never allowed a physical attraction to a man to become any more than just that. Apples and oranges.
He marries Jessie for a variety of reasons, one of which is that "God told [him] to." Another is that he feels his only two alternatives are a conventional, monogamous straight Mormon marriage on the one hand and "[running] off to San Francisco and [embracing] a rampant life of unrestrained queerness" on the other.
A year later, at the ripe old age of 25, he is able to critique his earlier essay and the responses to it, by writing
Critiquing my essay, a friend asked, "Can you really separate love and sex so easily? I can't." I discarded his concern, believing I had a deeper understanding of love and sex. After all, he writes novels about missionaries who fornicate and teenaged boys who make out with cow udders. For me, the distinction between love and sex was clear. As I've become more honest with myself, though, I see that Marybeth states my dilemma more accurately when she says that people in my situation choose "between a deep love and erotic attachment plus love." This choice is a good deal more difficult than the over-simplified choice I thought I was making. By choosing heterosexual marriage, I've denied myself the experience of loving someone I am naturally attracted to and my wife the experience of loving someone who is naturally attracted to her.
Glad he figured that out eventually.
Aside from a few lines of dialogue in which Jessie reassures the author that she still wants to marry him despite the fact that he is gay, we never get to hear from her.
Ron Schow and Marybeth Raynes, the two respondents, are very respectful of the deliberate choices Ben Christensen is making at the same time they underscore the challenges and difficulties he is setting himself up for. Perhaps I might respect those choices more myself if I hadn't heard it all before, some of it almost verbatim. I'll never forget being told by the love of my life, "Look, I'm not really gay, and I still want to marry a woman. It's just that I prefer sex with men to sex with women." I could think of no response to that statement.
I'm grateful for my two closest friends on earth, both of whom are gay (formerly Mormon) men, and I'm also grateful that neither of them married me.
I'm not done.