Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism (the introduction)


During the six years I've attended Sunstone, I've noticed that sessions there discussing homosexuality tend to focus on male sexuality, and that discussants, regardless of orientation, are generally male. For the 2006 symposium, I proposed a panel entitled "Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism" in part as a way of calling attention to the fact that homosexuality is an issue that also affects women. Admittedly, my panel did not include lesbian voices, but it seemed artificial to ask a lesbian to comment on the topic just as a way of correcting previous imbalances. I hope future sessions will address the concerns of lesbians, or include their voices.

I thought a lot about the title: I went with widely-recognized references to pop culture to show how common this issue is. I invoked Will and Grace because I want to underscore how genuine, precious and pleasurable my platonic friendships with gay men have been. I invoked Angels in America because it's a Pulitzer-prize winning set of plays featuring an unequal marriage between a closeted gay Mormon man and an unhappy Mormon housewife. (Though I admit I HATE both installments for so many reasons, including the fact that they're full of self-indulgent speeches that go on and on beyond the point of being either narratively or philosophically interesting, and that Kushner is a really shitty fact-checker, and that his female Mormon characters are not at all believable to me--no Mormon woman--no Mormon, PERIOD--would ever complain that it was a bad idea to leave Manhattan and move to DC, because DC is less righteous--hell, DC is overrun with Mormons, and there's a goddamn temple there!) I invoked Brokeback Mountain because it was current and also I really loved it.

That's the stuff before the colon; after the colon we get STRAIGHT WOMEN first, and then GAY MEN, because I wanted to foreground women in all of this. And then we get Mormonism, because it's the spin that complicates the matter.

Mine was not the only session dealing with homosexuality; one reason Dan Wotherspoon was so enthusiastic about the timing of my panel was that 2006 was the 20th anniversary of the publication of Good-bye, I Love You, a memoir by Carol Lynn Pearson, one of Mormondom's most beloved writers, about her temple marriage to a gay man, their divorce, and his death from AIDS. Carol Lynn presented a heartbreaking discussion of the suffering gay Mormons often endure. Her daughter Emily, who also married a gay man (I mention his one-man play here), was one of the panelists in my session. And Carol Lynn's ex-son-in-law also presented some of his more recent work.

My remarks for my part of the panel were drawn in part from material I first grappled with here. Relevant posts are, in order of posting, Mormon Social Taboos, A Happy Marriage with a Good Man, The Exclusive Territory of Straight Men, The Society of Buggers, Brokeback Mountain, Old Testament Weirdness, It's Not Just Mormon Men Who Don't Want to Lose the Beard, and The SL Tribune Joins the Chorus.

OK. That's all preamble. Tomorrow is Halloween and I'm planning to go that with theme in tomorrow's entry, so check back Wednesday or Thursday for the more substantial account of my remarks at Sunstone, if you're interested--or, if you're not, you know to stay away until the weekend.


Manhattan has a temple now too. I know because I have met more Mormons in law school than ever before. I think it's subtler and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing than the one outside DC. Susan Moller Okin drew lots of hisses at the Fordham Rawls conference a few years ago when she referred to the Maryland temple as ugly -- her point was that she didn't see why donations given that went to building that temple should be tax deductible.

(I actually just found out while hunting for a link about her comment at the conference that Okin died a few months later. It gave me a slight shock -- her tactlessness notwithstanding, Okin was a very good writer and thinker and someone I wish I'd had the opportunity to speak with. The debate she started in Boston Review about feminism and multiculturalism, as well as her book Justice, Gender & the Family, both have influenced my thinking on those subjects even where I disagree strongly with her.)

Incidentally, have you read the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives?

Manhattan has a temple now too

Well, it sure as hell didn't in the 80s. And there might be something now on the cite of what used to be that awful visitors' center across from the Lincoln center, but in Mormondom, it ain't too impressive. And the fact that a temple was erected 15-20 years after the time Kushner's play was set doesn't change the fact that his Mormon characters and their dialogue weren't well researched or fact-checked.

have you read the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives?

I avoid it--too conservative and dedicated to apologetics for my taste.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 30, 2006 10:10 AM.

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