Changing the Conversation

About three years ago or so, I was approached by a friend who wanted to solicit my participation in a documentary project about gay Mormons. The friend was Jon Hastings, someone I’d come to know through the gay Mormon blogging scene. He told me about a friend of his, Kendall Wilcox, who had a novel idea for a documentary about gay Mormons.

What was novel was that, rather than viewing any one approach to being gay and Mormon as right or wrong, Kendall compared the different approaches LGBT Mormons have taken to the practice of yoga. Each approach — whether it involved being single, being celibate, building a same-sex relationship, or having a “mixed orientation marriage” — was simply a different posture, a different way of finding balance, of finding breath, of moving through life. In yoga, a given posture is neither right nor wrong, but each posture teaches us something different from every other posture. What if every member of the LGBT Mormon community, instead of condemning others for choosing a posture that is different from one’s own, tried simply to listen to what others have learned from the postures they had chosen? I was intrigued.

I don’t think any of us imagined at that time the scope of what Kendall was taking on. I imagined him finding a handful of individuals, each chosen because of their representativeness of a particular path. What gradually unfolded became so much larger, so much more powerful than that. Because the truth of the matter is, there are not just three or four different postures. There are hundreds. Every single individual is unique, and the choices they have made have been utterly unique. And that being true, the possibilities for learning are so much more profound, if we can find the right way to converse with one another and if we can find the right way to listen. The possibilities for learning are virtually infinite. We begin to get a sense of the splendor of this approach just by sampling the stories that Kendall began to post on the Far Between web site.

As Kendall entered more deeply into this project, he began to talk about “changing the conversation.” Whether this film ever gets made, this is what Kendall has already done. The undergirding idea has already changed how we talk and how we think about being gay, same-sex attracted, lesbian, bi, transgender, same-gender attracted… even cisgender or straight or none of the above. Kendall and others began to apply the principles they were learning from the making of the film to on-the-ground community organizing and support endeavors like the “Empathy First Initiative” and the “Circles of Empathy.

It is not unusual for comparisons to be made between the challenges faced by LGBT Mormons today and the challenges faced by black Mormons fifty years ago. I personally am uncomfortable with such comparisons. The theological, social, and historical issues are very different. But there was a moment in LDS history when a single research project dramatically changed the conversation about blacks and the priesthood. That was the publication of Lester E. Bush, Jr.’s article, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview” in the Spring 1973 issue of Dialogue. Because Bush’s analysis was balanced, thoughtful and restrained, and because it was so solidly documented, it demanded (and received) consideration from thoughtful Church members and leaders at the highest levels. I believe Kendall Wilcox’s similarly balanced, thoughtful, restrained, solidly documented and accessible research project Far Between has the potential to change the conversation about LGBT people and the LDS Church in ways that we’ve already begun to appreciate but we cannot fully foresee.

Kendall believes, as I do, that the answer to some of the most puzzling questions related to sexuality, gender, and sexual and gender identities, and how they relate to our faith can only be found in our stories. For me, one of the profoundest aspects of scripture is how God is revealed in them through individual stories. For me, the depth of God’s love for us is revealed in our stories. And no one story will give us all the information we need. We need as full and diverse a collection of stories as we can possibly gather. No one has done this in greater depth or breadth than Kendall Wilcox, and so if there is any project which has a chance of transforming a conversation that so far has been painful, divisive, isolating and destructive into a conversation that is bold, authentic and loving, and that will open hearts and minds to new, more productive, faithful possibilities, it is this one.

For those of you who are not aware, the Far Between  project is at a crucial place, and now is a particularly crucial time to support it financially. If you have not done so, please take the time to check out their “Kickstarter” page. Watch the “Kickstarter” video, review some of the other many videos posted on the Far Between web site, and then give… generously.