By Adam White
(also published at his blog http://withtearslordibelieve.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/give-them-a-dream/)
Things I’m Thinking About in This Post:
The past few days been crazy. So many LGBTQ friends have got married over the weekend! I couldn’t be happier for them!
At the same time, my heart goes out to all the LDS people that are less than pleased with the news. I’ll be honest, I’m still grappling with what that might feel like — to look to the news one day to find that your state is now allowing something you believe shouldn’t be allowed. Right now, I feel that frustration, anger, fear, exasperation, sadness, and exhaustion might all be present in one form or another… (Directed at who or what, I wonder? I don’t really know; I guess it depends on the person… It’s an important question I’ll be wondering about for awhile. See, it’s in my nature to assume that all those emotions will be directed at me. That’s when I get defensive, but I don’t want to be defensive! I want to be open. Blergh. It’s hard.) …and that kind of suffering is not easy to deal with.
In summary: While I feel joy that so many are experiencing happiness at this time, it’s complicated in knowing that many are hurting too.
I believe, though, that despite the spectrum of belief on same-sex marriage present in the LDS faith, that same-sex marriage in Utah will do a whole lot of good for LDS LGBTQ young people. And I think that’s true regardless of whether or not said young people wish to marry someone of the same sex. Here’s why:
It gives LDS LGBTQ youth something to hope for. Same-sex marriage gives our youth a dream.
I know, I know — You can’t really be a member of the LDS Church in every way possible if you are married to someone of the same-sex. But the idea of being married to a person you are fully in love with is a very powerful one. It’s life-affirming, romantic, and all-around happy! It’s a dream that gives LDS LGBTQ young people courage to carry on when they’re misunderstood or rejected. Even if life is tough and confusing now, in the future there may be a someone who will love you just as you are and will want to build a family and future with you. Isn’t that inspiring? This dream fills a huge gap in what we teach our LGBTQ youth in Sunday School. Let’s face it: we don’t have a healthy narrative for LGBTQ people at church.
We Mormons lack a hopeful message for our LGBTQ youth who wish to stay in the LDS Church. Most of our official models for LGBTQ people who want to be living in the Church are stories that 1.) paint our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who choose to leave faithless, misguided, or evil; 2.) pathologize LGBTQ-ness; 3.) effectively silence the doubts, fears and pains of LGBTQ people; and 4.) paint LGBTQ-ness as a trial similar to alcoholism or pornography addiction.
In effect, the only proper stories we have for gay Mormons are marrying someone of the opposite sex or celibacy (preferably without ever choosing to be in a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex). Marrying someone of the opposite sex works for a minority of LDS LGBTQ people. Celibacy is a lonely path in that it isn’t celebrated in our Church; in fact it’s pretty much discouraged on all fronts for straight people. Since we assume everyone is straight at church, we don’t talk about celibate ways or celibate things with much candor. Overall, well, the stories we do have for LGBTQ Mormon people in the LDS community appeal to very few LGBTQ people.
That’s not because LGBTQ people are lazy or faithless. I believe it’s because our stories for LGBTQ people don’t resonate as dreams.
Personally, I’d like to believe that celibacy is a viable option in the LDS Church. I’d like to believe that being celibate in the LDS Church is admirable and worthwhile, but I just don’t see it. We don’t talk about celibate Mormon people who are thriving and achieving. We don’t talk about ways to be celibate, or what celibacy will cost for an individual. We don’t acknowledge that one can be sexually responsible and celibate and be in a romantic/emotional relationship.
There is no dream that acknowledges gay people in Mormonism, because the implicit message in the current celibacy policy is that it is a policy designed to manageable an undesirable part of the self. We are telling our LDS LGBTQ youth: “You will be fixed one day, but if you want to be with us, here is the way you will live until you die or marry the opposite sex. Good luck, and don’t talk about it or remind us your going through this, because it makes us uncomfortable.” This is not a dream; it’s isolation. It’s a prison cell, not a garden.
Mayhaps this is just my experience, so excuse me if that’s the case. I got a little trigger happy with the royal ‘we,’ I know.
Really, I want to point out this ‘dream gap’ that same-sex marriage is filling up because the alternatives our LDS LGBTQ youth face are rather bleak-looking. It’s not that I don’t believe in celibacy; I think that celibacy could be a rewarding, happy life if one freely chooses to be so as a sexually responsible adult. And yet, as I write that sentence I cringe a little bit because I don’t know that we have any LGBTQ models for doing so in Mormonism that don’t make being gay and celibate look like a chore!
Maybe that’s the truth of it: to be a celibate, gay member of the LDS Church is undesirable. Isn’t that a problem? As Mormons, we believe that the Gospel will give all people an increased quality of life. We spend a lot of time and money making Mormonism appealing, not in a devious way, but because we believe Mormonism is worth sharing and worth our resources. We’re raising our voices as an LDS community to highlight our dreams and our hopes through missionary work. Hearing our conviction and seeing our ‘light,’ as it were, is what gets people to join the Gospel. Capturing a glimpse of the vision, or the dream, is what sparks conversion.
And I guess what we are lacking, as a Church, is a dream that sparks conversion for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Is being a gay member of the Gospel appealing? Generally… Not really. Do we have light, dreams and hopes to share with LDS LGBTQ youth? None, unless we’re asking our youth change their sexual orientation or gender identity (and I don’t recommend it. We shouldn’t recommend it.).
All light casts shadows, I guess. Let me frame it this way: if we (LDS people) don’t want our LGBTQ children to marry someone of the same-sex because we believe that’s wrong, then we’ve got to give them a dream. A positive, bright, happy dream that involves the potential for meaningful relationships, for growth as member of Church, and a hope that they can be something in this world. Something that says we love you, feel for you, and we want to hear from you. Right now, that happy dream is marriage, and go figure right? I mean, we’re taught to want to marry the person we truly love when we’re in nursery for heaven’s sake, so LGBTQ youth want to marry who they truly love!
I want to be perfectly frank: I support my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in their marriages, whomever it is they decide to marry. As an LGBTQ Mormon, I hope to be married someday. At this point in my life, I’d say I’d want to marry a man. Will I be sexually active or celibate in that marriage? Mer. I don’t know yet, I really don’t. I want to be a member of the LDS faith in every way, but no one has me sold on celibacy yet. I’m working out the details with the Man Upstairs. That being said, I love my faith so much that I will stay in any capacity I may. I believe I belong, and I have personal reasons for that.
I’m not sure if we can expect our LGBTQ youth to want to remain though, not if Mormonism lacks a dream that resonates with the essence of who they are.
What do you think?
- Does Mormonism provide a dream for LGBTQ youth that that is appealing, viable, and worth pursuing?
- Is it right to ask celibacy of our LGBTQ members?
- How can we best support LDS LGBTQ people who choose celibacy?
Adam White is a senior in Theatre Arts Studies at Brigham Young University. He serves as President for USGA, an unofficial group of BYU students who seek for open, respectful discussion regarding Mormonism and LGBTQ experience. He also serves as member of the Trevor Projects Youth Advisory Council and a co-chair for Campus Pride in Faith.