Thursday, March 28, 2013

Witness


2001
Students queue up at the BYU soapbox, eagerly awaiting the chance to share their two cents with the assembled crowds. A boy in his early 20s takes the microphone, steps up, and declares “I think gay people should be taken back behind the barn and beaten.” Jaws drop. A few students start booing. “Well, you know I’m right,” he declares and walks away. No one claps.
2003
My summer fling and I sit on the grass at a concert, talking between sets and watching the airplanes fly overhead. He screws up his courage and asks, “Erin, have you ever kissed a girl?”  My mind races – where did that come from? I realize it probably came from the conversation we’d had with friends two weeks earlier when I stated my support for civil unions.
Feeling judged and a little indignant, I decide to mess with his head. “Five,” I lie. “Oh,” he says, and he looks away. I watch him try to arrange his face in a way to make it seem like what I said didn’t bother him. My conscience kicks in. He’d been wondering if he'd been dating a bisexual for two weeks; he’d had the courage to ask me instead of assuming; and he didn’t instantly dump me when he thought his suspicions were true. I fess up. “I was joking. I’m 100% heterosexual, and always have been.” Relief washes over his face, and he starts laughing at my ability to pull one over on him.
A few days later, another boy present at the civil union conversation asks me if I am a lesbian. There's nothing malicious or hateful about the question. It's just laid on the table. Asked simply, answered simply - no.
2004
When class starts, my professor asks us to pass back the packet of sample personal responses she'd handed to the group at the end of the previous class. She hadn't read through them all before doing so, and she didn't catch that one student's paper was about his realization that he was attracted to other men. This student had a very public presence on campus. I already knew his name before the class started. He wasn't publicly out, and this could have been shattering for him. My professor owns her mistake in front of the class and apologizes to him. He asks to withdraw because he feels his trust has been betrayed and he can't feel safe there. The teacher agrees. Several students also withdraw in protest.
I stay. There are enough malicious people in this world to punish people that didn't mean harm.
No one that stayed outed him to the campus.
2008
Prop 8 rolls around. Most Mormons I know are fired up in support of it. I hear a lot about it in Relief Society meetings. Others oppose it. They don't speak up in Relief Society meetings, but they talk to the teacher after class to see if there's a way they can keep discussion away from politics at church.
2012
A friend joins Mormons Building Bridges in the DC Pride parade. Her little boys hold a sign that says, “my friend has two awesome mommies.”

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I've been thinking a lot about this blog post about a man in Utah that came out, expecting to be hated and shunned by the Mormons around him, and found himself feeling completely loved and accepted by the Mormons in his community. I could write about 45 different blog posts about the different things this article has made me think about. But here's the big one: there's a disconnect between the way Mormons talk about gay marriage and the way we feel about the people in our lives that are gay. And this needs to stop.

I can't claim to have deep personal understanding of the issue. I'm heterosexual. I've never even had a close friend that has come out before I've lost touch with them in a series of moves. But I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about the experience of gay mormons, and it breaks my heart. The depression. The shockingly high suicide rates. The crushing fear of rejection and hatred from those they care about. The homelessness in cases where that rejection occurs.

And here's what breaks my heart most. There are absolutely stories of misunderstanding, rejection, and cruelty. There's no question these actions should not exist. But there are also so many stories of acceptance and love. In my limited experience, most of the cruelty I've seen happens in generalities (and make no mistake – it has been nasty). But when the Mormons I know look someone gay in the face, in all but one case, they have acted with good intentions. Sometimes they take some time to process things, and yes, they make mistakes out of ignorance, but they do not act out of hate. They are willing to give dating a bisexual a try. They march in parades to defend the choices of loved ones. They respect privacy when the individual wants it, and express unconditional love and support when the individual wants to be open. And while I do think the Mormons I know are incredibly good people, I simply don't believe they are the exception to the rule.

But gay Mormon youth can't see this because of our rhetoric. And they are dying because of it.

This post is already reaching Tolstoyian lengths, and my views on gay marriage are far too nuanced to discuss in this post or to fit neatly in a facebook profile photo. But here's what I do want to say.

I want there to be no question to any gay individual in my world that you will experience no hatred from me, a committed Mormon. I do not think you are evil. I do not think you are out to destroy the moral fabric of our society. I do not think God hates you – in fact, I know the opposite is true. I think you have worth, potential, and something of value to give to the world as you are. I don't think you need to change, nor do I want you to try to be something you aren't. And I know I'm not the only Mormon that feels this way.

To any gay mormon that reads this, I want you to know I pray regularly that you will be able to find a place in your religious community where you can be your authentic self; that those around you will be good enough to help you create it; and that they will be smart enough to receive the wonderful things you can contribute to their lives and their faith by being your authentic self. I want you to know that although some people you care about deeply will let you down, I think you'll be surprised how much love you can find in your community if you give us a chance. We'll make mistakes, but if you're patient with us, we'll do better. You don't need to suffer in silence – you are worthy of love exactly as you are. And I know I'm not the only Mormon that feels this way. I've been witnessing it for over a decade.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Coward

There are many reasons I haven't been blogging much lately. Many of them have to do with lack of time. I've been working hard at my new job. I've started exercising. Naptime is gone. I'm sifting through choir selections, planning preschool lessons, and orchestrating more projects for my craft-obsessed kids that I would have thought humanly possible five years ago (bless you, pinterest). I don't have as much leisure time as I used to, which is completely fine, because my life is full of good and fulfilling things. Further, my book review column and women's history month blog satisfy my innate need to write. I have lots of good reasons.

Here the bad one: I'm becoming a coward.

I haven't been writing as much, but I haven't been posting the things I have written. Plus, the things I have been writing and posting (like my mormon women's history blog), I haven't been giving any publicity. I get set to do it, and then I chicken out.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this. If anything, I've become more confident and articulate about my views during in-person conversation than in times past, probably because the DC metro rocks my world with its intelligent and accepting people that know how to differ respectfully. And you readers all rock my world too. I know that many of you on many sides of the ideological spectrum would prefer I move a little more your way, and you still love me and accept me, knowing full well where I stand. It isn't like anything I've been writing would surprise you or make you hate me.

I think it might be because I'm recognizing the transforming power of ideas the more I see of the world, and sometimes I worry about the consequences of the stories I tell.

I believe in the power of true stories. I believe that when we can look at each other with empathy and understanding by truly listening to each other, rather than leaning on the cliches we use to describe “those people,” the world gets nudged in the right direction. But it doesn't mean there aren't casualties along the way.

For example, let's take my women's history blog. I don't sugar coat church history. It is full of stories of real people making real mistakes that hurt those they are responsible for. It is full of stories of real people becoming so much greater than they could become on their own, and lifting others to do the same. It is both, and everything in between, and it speaks to me more than a sterilized version because I love God's capacity to work with what we put on the table and lift us somewhere higher; to reach back to us when we reach out in our imperfection and brokenness.

I was blessed to be eased down the path of the ugly parts of Mormon history by faithful, honest people who taught me that we don't have to be flawless to do God's work, and that we don't have to sweep mistakes and complexity under a rug to make the church true. I thank my lucky stars for them because I love my faith so deeply and I connect to God so meaningfully here, and I'm not sure I would have stayed without that framework. But many people have only heard the glossy and sterilized version, and I worry about what they do when they read my blog. What if they can't stomach it and walk away from a faith that brings me so much joy?

But then again, what if they only hear about it from someone with an ax to grind, and my forthrightness could have made a difference?

I'm resolving to be braver. Silence and speaking can both harm, and if I'm going to do harm, I would rather do it by being authentic and open. So, I may not have much time, but when I do, I'm going to speak.