Saturday, January 3, 2015

That's "Celibate" not Celebrate.

Spoiler alert: I just came back from seeing the historical thriller, The Imagination Game. Instead of being moved by this man that invented the first computer during World War II, consequently cracking the enigma code and saving 14 million lives, I was sobbing because of the way this war hero had been treated in 1945 after he had obviously helped the allies win the war. At the end of the film, they flashed the information that this brilliant scientist had committed suicide; undoubtedly, it was implied, because in Britain at the time homosexuality was against the law and he had been convicted of gross indecency for it and sentenced to prison. However, he opted for chemical castration rather than imprisonment. While suffering this indignity, he could not think, could not focus on his cutting-edge computer science work and consequently died just a year into his sentence – at his own hand.

I guess I’m writing today to the 76+ countries in the world where homosexuality is still against their laws. I guess I’m also writing to the people I was standing behind on our way out of the movie that I overheard say “it was such a good movie, except why did they have to put in all that crap about him being gay?” I wondered why the postlude at the end of the movie didn’t make you cry too.

I obviously belong to a religion that struggles with these “modern sensibilities” (a phrase I have been using lately.) I was asked by one of my beloved children (a student) one day “Do you hate me because I’m gay? To which I responded “Do you hate me because I’m Mormon?” He helped me understand that he would always be gay, and I helped him understand that I would always be Mormon. We both decided we loved each other and maintain a priceless relationship to this day.

So here goes…

One of the hardest things about being single in the Mormon church is that we are asked to be celibate until we're married.  

That's right. Celibate. I said. Not Celebrate. Contrary to what some people think about us we celebrate everything. This is c.e.l.i.b.a.t.e. until we are married legally. 

Usually the word celibate is connected to Catholic priests and nuns and followed by "those poor men and women...what a sacrifice they make, their whole lives." And there is some kind of revered holiness surrounding that decision that we feel for them. Some kind of pedestal. Right?

Except when I think of Catholic nuns I think of the Nunsense series of musicals by Dan Goggin and I instantly crave donning my habit to "sing out Louise!" I've got the best memories of playing “Sister Robert Anne” about four or five times, I've forgotten. All those feather boas, the tap shoes, the Bingo games with the audience and the CTR ring prizes (Catholics Totally Rule). Obviously it was musical theatre for me and not a convent.

But from age 18 to age 41 it felt like it none the less. 

It was lonely. Some lot of crying. Usually at night and anytime the bed felt larger or colder than it was. I got into a habit of falling asleep in my Laz-y-boy in front of the T.V. at night to avoid the vacant bed. That way, if I staggered to the bed later I wouldn’t have time to think about how empty it was before I had collapsed into my coma. If I got into the bed too soon the loneliness would wrap its creepy, cold arms around me and shake me all night keeping me awake with questions...wondering what was going to happen to me if I didn't find someone to share my life with? Who was going to help me out in my old age? Should I put more money into my retirement so I could afford to hire someone to take care of me? Should I build a house with just one bedroom or three, why three, maybe just one big one…okay two, I should have hope at least. Should I have my eggs frozen now? (Just kidding, I never thought that. BECAUSE I WAS D.U.M.B. and should have thought that but I was an idiot. I SOOO wish I had thought about that then. I digress.) The dialogue I had with myself never stopped.

When you are single you don’t have anyone to talk to on a regular basis and as you ask yourself all these questions all the time, the REALLY big question started to haunt me: what will happen when I started talking back out loud to the voices in my head? Will someone commit me to a psychiatric hospital? Should I just do that now to prevent the inevitable and at the very least save my family from having to do it?

Here’s my really big idea.

God did not intend for us to be alone.

Okay. It’s not a really big idea, nor is it even new or innovative in any way.

In His wisdom He said “celibacy sucks.” It sure does. Why not make two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together, give them the desire to seek out that union and from that union, we’ll surprise them with children. Surprise! Or in Andy’s and my case, just someone to talk to, go to movies with and prevent my being checked into a rubber room.

Let me say this before I go on, this is something I truly believe:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 
 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

So many of my spiritual brothers and sisters are struggling to live in the Mormon church as single celibate Latter-day Saints. My single friends that are holding to the iron rod of the gospel come in several categories. (All of them, future Gods and Goddesses.) I speak from my life experiences only! The celibate singles in MY life are: women out of their twenties who have never married and are still actively (or not) seeking a partner, divorced women who have lost their loyal husbands to adultery in various forms and finally, gay men. You heard me. I haven’t had a single male friend that is straight, that hasn’t endured his celibacy for longer than a year or two after a difficult divorce. I’ve known female friends (and acquaintances) divorce their husbands because they themselves have left the church, or they’ve had affairs themselves but their ex-husbands have been married within one or two years after the divorce. The same is true for the men I’ve known that leave their wives or get thrown out of their houses…I see their wedding invitations in the mail less than a year later. Always. We got one today! I don’t renounce their opportunity to be in a loving relationship, but I gotta wonder… is celibacy really harder on men or are women just more cautious learners? ;-)

See, I can name two dozen female Facebook friends over 30, and a hundred more over 20, off the top of my head that are living celibate lives as they believe to be commanded by God to do so. The only celibate male friends I have are gay Mormons “fighting the fight” as we straight Mormons like to say. Heaven bless them. I pray for them every day because I remember how hard it was for me all those years and YET… I used to be SOOOO BUGGED that we always tended to have more empathy for them than we do for the single sisters in our church that are celibate as well and have been for decades and decades (ode to a beloved Mormon friend who has played Mother Superior to my Robert Anne many times and is ten years my senior and still not married. We’ve had this conversation many times). I just couldn’t figure out why we felt so badly for the gays and kept telling the single ladies “in due time…in due time.”

I used to say “I’m celibate too! I’ve been celibate for 40 years and I’m probably going to be celibate for 40 more and they’re not the only ones that have been asked to be lonely!!” Have you ever said that? Yeah, I used to say that and only that. It used to seem like that was the answer. Don’t stop reading the blog now…there is a moment of enlightenment coming up.

In my mind, the issue of whether or not the Mormon church would allow gay Latter-day Saints in its doors has never been an issue for me. Half the men that sang at my mission farewell were gay returned missionaries. I know a few openly gay men that still go to church, still paid their tithing, still prayed for the answers like we all do. Before my enlightenment, the issue was only about celibacy.

And patience.

Isn’t it always about patience and waiting for further light and knowledge from the Lord?

I have a few gay male friends that are living celibate lives. I have a few thousand female friends that are living celibate lives. I exaggerate…for effect…but not much. I now realize that their search for happiness is certainly different and that’s what all the hullaballoo is about. And that is my newest really big idea:

          My female friends search with hope which increases faith and my male friends just…w.a.i.t. for further light and knowledge. The single, female Latter-day Saint uses her hope to be sealed in the temple and have children one day. But the single, gay, male latter-day saint must wait for…for Christ to come? The gay Latter-day Saint certainly doesn’t wait for his/her homosexual feelings to go away as some LDS people still think is possible. I’m pretty sure that that isn’t possible in this life. I’m not sure about the next one. (I’m waiting patiently and praying for further light and knowledge.) Searching and waiting…two very different things.

Can you see why there are tears of a different kind, patience to a different extent, sorrow on a different level, and the need for faith of a different magnitude? Can you see why the numbers of faithful single gay men in the church are so small?

Can you see why they need our love and support more than ever and not our shunning and banishment? They aren’t building faith on the same level as the rest of us. We are asking them to be a.l.o.n.e. for the rest of their lives in order to demonstrate their obedience. I laud them for their strength of heart and conviction.

Though I have been friends and have taught dozens of amazing men that struggle with their decision to come out, I still have no idea the depth of that loneliness.

As a faithful Latter-day Saint who lives and works in a world populated heavily with homosexual men, I have been asked to write this blog more than once. I have always said apathetically “it’s none of my business.” How could I do it without offending my beloved gay friends or broaching my own testimony of the living prophets who have said that homosexuality is a trial and a temptation that must be endured and not acted upon?  

What would Jesus do?

Because that’s what I should do.

In one of Thomas S. Monson’s April Conference talks entitled “Love-the Essence of the Gospel,” he says:

My beloved brothers and sisters, when our Savior ministered among men, He was asked by the inquiring lawyer, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Matthew records that Jesus responded:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Mark concludes the account with the Savior’s statement: “There is none other commandment greater than these.”

We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey. Likewise, we cannot fully love our fellowmen if we do not love God, the Father of us all. The Apostle John tells us, “This commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” We are all spirit children of our Heavenly Father and, as such, are brothers and sisters. As we keep this truth in mind, loving all of God’s children will become easier.

I would hope that we would strive always to be considerate and to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings and circumstances of those around us. Let us not demean or belittle. Rather, let us be compassionate and encouraging. We must be careful that we do not destroy another person’s confidence through careless words or actions.

Forgiveness should go hand in hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals." [end quote]

My brothers (and sisters) that feel isolated from the church you love…I’m sorry that is your experience and you have obviously been treated badly by bad Mormons. Stupid Mormons. They act in a way not organically born of the gospel principles because they obviously don’t embrace the gospel principles. They aren’t listening to President Monson. I don’t know where they get their information. Case in point, my mother-in-law is from Australia and she converted when she was 19. She married a Mormon boy and his very Mormon mother told her that she (Andy’s mom) would never have the opportunity to reach the highest degree of heaven because that was only reserved for those that grew up in Utah. WHAAAT?!?! I nearly died when I first heard that. In my naiveté I guess I thought everyone in the church was on the same track. I hope someone is teaching her the truth right now, God rest her soul.

You see, when you hear the stories of families that are kicking their gay children out of the house, or stories of people that won’t take the sacrament from certain young priesthood holders…that stuff isn’t right. 

It's just not right.

But I hear and read Facebook posts all the time from bitter former members of the church that are absolutely vitriolic about the LDS Church’s stance on…whatever it is…homosexuality, women holding the Priesthood, etc… Both camps that are waving the flags of these issues must remember LOVE. Love is the very essence of Godliness.

Please know that we aren’t all like that. Please know that we don’t all live in that little bubble. Also know, from my point of view, you won’t convince the LDS church to change its policies with your badgering or your civil disobedience and negative posts on Facebook. The people reading your Facebook posts already love you. We just wonder why you would try to offend us, when we are trying so hard to love you? (I speak only to a few of you – just as there are a few ridiculous Mormons out there too.) I get really tired of the posts that begin “Mormon church..blah, blah, blah… hates the gays….hates women…blah, blah, blah…

Can’t we all just be like Jesus? And if you aren’t a Christian anymore, you can still be like Jesus. He was a good guy. Ethics exist even if they aren’t religiously based. Right? That’s what you always tell me.

So let’s review what Jesus would do…are you with me?!

1. Don’t judge.

We all have but one “judge in Israel.” If we open our hearts to someone different than ourselves, we will begin to feel the kind of Christ-like love the Savior has for us. He doesn’t choose who to love. We must strive to remember the mote in our own eyes.

We are in no position to say who has God-like potential and who doesn’t. We all do. By shutting off our superiority complex we can be a force for good. We do the opposite and all we’re doing is shattering the first and second great commandments.

2. Be sincerely understanding. Open your heart.

I’ve heard a few of us say “If I was that kid’s parent…” We don’t know that those parents aren’t trying to keep that kid from harming himself/herself every day. We all choose our battles.

I read an article on Facebook about a member of a congregation that would not take the sacrament from a teenage boy that professed to be gay. Wow. If I was that boy, I would run so far and so fast. The fact that he is in church at all should be what we are celebrating.

3. Be patient. Time will tell.

The longer we are patient the more our understanding will increase. Take a deep breath and leave this hard stuff to God. Quit worrying about it out loud (I’m talking to you, lady at the theatre) and use your energy to serve, love and learn. I’ve no doubt that one day the windows of heaven will open and we will all know the great and glorious plan of God in its entirety.

4. Stopping trying to change to each other.
I have heard all of the following things more than once:

a. “I’ll bet if they married a woman (or man if they are a Lesbian), they would eventually learn to love her/him.” And eventually destroy their spouses life. Yep. I’ve seen that scenario so many times that it hurts.

b. “Isn’t there some kind of therapy that will take the gay away?” No. I’m betting the Church and all those countries in which homosexuality is still illegal, have tried every degrading, inhumane therapy there is to “solve” the problem.

c. “They don’t know what they’re missing!” GAH! They would probably say the same thing to us.

d. “If they pray hard and long enough, their temptations will go away.” Sexuality itself isn’t a temptation. It’s part of your hormonal makeup. What I have learned from my students is that they didn’t learn it or contract it. It was always there. Case in point – I once had a student that was cast as a leading man in a musical I was directing. He was distraught and pulled me into my office to ask me if I could re-block the kiss somehow. He was having such anxiety about kissing a woman in public. He asked me simply, “what if I asked you to kiss a woman on stage?” I couldn’t deny I would be fraught with anxiety as well. But his plight made it real for me. I answered him with a question in return “why did you audition if you knew what was ahead?” He said he hoped he could talk me out of it when it was too late to re-cast it. Stupid kid. We both learned a lot that day.

5. Love anyway. We all know better!

1 John 4: 18 – 21; The Holy Bible

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

19 We love him, because he first loved us.

20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

But I am willing to bet my life that Heavenly Father will soon bring us a multitude of answers and exquisite blessings as a reward of our patience.

I survived my celibacy because I knew my relationship with God was more important. I knew I had made promises to Him and I wanted to honor those covenants. Could I do that my whole life? Let’s pretend I didn’t marry the world’s greatest man. I’m sure I could. I have many examples to follow and I’m very competitive with myself. I would want to meet that challenge considering the things I have been promised that lie ahead of me if I can endure to the end. I love a big trophy, after all. 

For those sweet sisters out there that also have same-sex attraction...I have read your comments and I understand you are wondering why I haven't addressed you specifically. I blog is about my life and experiences in the church and that's it. Its a very small perspective, and I'm no expert. Ever. I write about what I know. Because of the nature of my life and my job, I have had an overwhelming opportunity to get to know and love the male gay community. I can assume that your trials are equally difficult. I'm sorry and I pray every day that we as a nation, and a religion will honor your challenge with love and understanding.