In Mormonism, we are raised in a world of order. It’s beautiful. Everything has a place. Monday night is Family Home Evening. Tuesday night is mutual. Saturday is the day we get ready for Sunday. And Sunday morning we go to church, where everything happens as expected. Week after week, families sit on the same rows in the chapel as they listen to familiar voices talk about things they’ve been learning since Primary.
And the progression of life has its order, too. First you go to Nursery. When you’re old enough, you go to Primary. At the age of twelve, girls go to Young Women’s, and boys get the Priesthood and go to Young Men’s. Every two years, you go to a higher level: Teachers and Priests, Miamaids and Laurels. When they’re nineteen, boys go on missions (I guess that one’s changed a bit). And then when they get home, they date, and quickly get married in the temple for eternity to start their own family of order and begin the process anew. Variations from this progression are seen as curiosities, oddities, and, more often, mistakes.
Relationships, too, are orderly. The father is the defender and provider of the family. The mother is its nurturer. Children are to obey their parents. And the Mormon identity defines one’s relationship with friends, co-workers, and others. Our vocabulary betrays our image of the world, a world divided into members, inactive members, non-members, and ex-Mormons.
There’s a degree of beauty in order. It mediates our interaction with the chaos, and sometimes emptiness, that is reality and self. But every now and again, the chaos makes its way into our own lives, and its collision with our order is the birth of crisis.
As LGBT Mormons, we can sometimes feel like small pieces of chaos raised in a world of orderliness. We’re raised in a world where men and women are supposed to fall in love with each other, often by men and women who are in love. Our surroundings are perfectly manufactured to produce something we are not. From the beginning, we learn about marriage and its eternal implications. When little boys and girls hold hands, everyone thinks it’s cute. And when you get old enough, friends and siblings will start asking you, often excitedly, who you have a “crush” on, and who you find attractive.
For me at least, I had every expectation of fitting into the order around me. Before I went into sixth grade, I wrote in my journal that in the next year, I would “probably start liking girls.” It was almost exciting, until my life was touched by that chaos that, by now, so many of us are so familiar with.
I’ve always struggled in expressing the complete ambiguity of the gay Mormon experience. You know there’s something different about you, but you often can’t quit put your finger on it. For many of us, we are raised with no concept of what it is to be “gay,” and so we don’t quite have an adequate term to describe what’s happening inside. What is that feeling I feel for that guy that sits next to me in my third hour class? How does it differ from my feelings for my best friends? What is the feeling I feel for the girl I’ve been friends with four five years? I know I like her. But what kind of like is it? There has to be something different between the feeling I feel for her, and the feeling I feel for him. But what is it? When did it start? What does it mean?
And so, with the chaos arising from the realization of a self that is somehow outside the only order you’ve ever known, crisis is born.
And how could I not fit into the order created and ordained by God? Why would he do that to me? Is he really even there? Does any of this even matter? The chaos of being gay and Mormon prompts not just one crisis, but a series of crises of self and faith that silently perpetuate themselves as we continue to walk through the order set up for us.
Order can be beautiful. But it needs to be created and sustained with an understanding of the disorderliness of our lives.
And all lives are disorderly. At first, the LGBT Mormon may feel that they are a piece of chaos that doesn’t fit within the order, but over time, it becomes clear that this is not the case. We are not chaos. Life is simply disorderly.
The life of the girl who loved Young Women’s and grew up dreaming of a returned missionary that would take her to the temple, and then fell in love someone different is disorderly. The life of the couple who were married in the temple and months later discovered that marriage wasn’t the bliss they were expecting is disorderly. The life of the man who was just called to be a Bishop and now has no answers for the boy in his office crying to him and telling him he doesn’t want to be gay is also disorderly.
Disorderliness isn’t unique to the LGBT Mormon experience. It’s an inherent part of life. And it’s beautiful. The disorderliness of a forest is a part of its beauty. And the disorderliness of the stars is what makes them intriguing. And the disorderliness of our lives is part of what makes are continued steps in the forward direction worth taking.
And really, the orderliness of Mormonism is, I think, an illusion. Mormonism has its history, its evolution, its politics, its problems, its complexities, and its disorderliness. Often the degree of its paradox can be incredibly frustrating. I think, though, that only ever being frustrated by complexity and disorderliness is perhaps missing the beauty in the ordeal.
Maybe that’s one reason that I continue my interaction with the church—because at the depths of it, I’m not a piece of chaos colliding with order. I’m simply another branch sprouting from the tree. My life is as disorderly and messed up as the source from which I sprang. And the tree and its branches may be pretty gnarled and twisted at times, but it’s still beautiful. And I can continue to relate to it, because it, like me, is not free from the disorderliness of the reality we face. And Mormonism and I can continue to walk together in our collision with forces we don’t completely understand.
But there’s a point I really want to make still. It’s the entire purpose of me writing this small exploration of homosexuality and Mormonism, of order and disorder. And that is that each of us are endowed with the power to make explanations. Humans are, at their root, story tellers. We look up into the night’s sky of chaotic light, tell stories, and call them constellations. We look back at the disorderliness of our memories, tell a story, and call it “self.” We participate in the creative process by building the framework of our interaction with reality. And the building blocks of that framework are the broken pieces of chaos we find around us. We take chaos, and we transform it into meaning by our explanations and narratives.
If we really have that power, then are we not responsible for the stories we tell?
So what story do you tell yourselves and others? How do you manage the disorderliness of your own life? Is it the story of an evil church that ruined your life? Is it the story of a God that created you with a problem you simply have to endure? Is it a story of betrayal? Of love? Of hardship? Of chaos?
And to the Mormon community as a whole, I would ask this question: are our stories helping people or hurting? Is our explanation increasing happiness, or decreasing it? If LGBT people do not feel that they fit into our narrative, then what can we change to be more inclusive and make them feel welcome?
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