16 July 2014

Far Between represents my hope

There's a film on the horizon that I think has the potential to advance the conversation around SSA/LGBT Mormons by leaps and bounds. If you'd like to know what Far Between is about, please watch the trailer below and consider helping the team meet its goal to finish this diverse and personal exploration of what it's like to be Mormon and gay today.

When I look around at conversations around homosexuality or same-sex attraction and Mormonism, and how they affect relationships of all kinds, I see a lot of misunderstanding and rifts on all sides that I believe can be meaningfully bridged, a lot of confusion and hopelessness I believe can be turned into self-determination and hopefulness, and inaccuracy and false judgments that seem worth correcting, not only for truth to filter through but for more constructive relationships among friends, families, and communities.

I believe this film not only encapsulates that idea but represents, itself, a key to helping us move a step forward into a better, more sustainable place collectively. And I know and love the filmmakers as empathy-centered, intelligent individuals who value respecting the integrity of individuals' stories, so I've had no reservations at all about inviting any of my friends from any perspective to share their story with them.

For me, personally, the project echoes some of my own journey and reminds me of the hundreds of conversations I've personally had about the issue over the years, people I've met, perspectives I've heard and shared. It reminds me that no matter how many answers I might think I have, and no matter how much I might think I know about what "they" believe, the whole thing is evolving quickly, and there are always new individuals with slightly different experiences or views. I personally believe we have an opportunity and responsibility to step out of our "camps" and engage with each other in that evolution for the benefit of those who are most vulnerable and have felt caught in the crossfire. My hope is that we can all agree to engage with empathy, seek first to understand, and help those who are just now starting to go through what I started going through ten years ago to have a potentially smoother go, to sort things out with a little broader and deeper understanding, a little calmer an environment, and a little more prepared community, so each one doesn't have to start from scratch.

I hope I can in some way help that happen, and of all the efforts I've seen, none represent that ideal better than Far Between, and I believe it has potential to reach a wide audience. Let's spread the word on blogs, on Facebook, and in our communities and help make this happen!

If you want to support Far Between or find out more, you can visit the web site, donate to the Kickstarter campaign, like the Facebook page, or follow Far Between on Twitter.

16 June 2014

Far Between last call!

Hey, all, if there's anyone out there who'll be in Utah this weekend and is willing to share your experience or story for the upcoming documentary film, Far Between, you can sign up here: http://slottr.com/sheets/6650. They already have so many great interviews/conversations uploaded on the web site, and they're opening up the opportunity to add a few more. Just a heads up.

05 June 2014

The Orientation Lottery

In a recent conversation, I was explaining that I believe there are benefits to some exercises and group methods of organizations like Journey Into Manhood even if I believe the language typically used to hook the interest of potential participants is unethical and disingenuous, language strongly implying and evoking orientation reversal, such as "overcoming homosexuality", "accessing your innate heterosexuality", "becoming a man among men", and "learning to identify as a straight male"

I mentioned that I've had conversations with a few friends who have shown interest in the idea of something like Journey Into Manhood but without the high, for-profit price tag, the imposed narrative, the secrecy with nondisclosure agreements, and the disingenuous marketing. But having nothing available, they've shrugged and mentioned they might just go to JIM because so many good people they know have sworn by it. And I've debated how much an alternative could compete without--and I'm just gonna call it as I see it--the snake oil promises and dangling prospect of getting close to attractive men within the assumed safety of supposedly "nonsexual" physical and emotional intimacy. But I also believe my friends when they say JIM taught them a lot about themselves even though it didn't do a thing to make them any straighter. And goodness knows I'm not so cynical as to believe all cuddling is sublimated sex...not all.

So we speculated: if there ISN'T a promise to "change" couched in terms of vaguely implied orientation reversal, would most of these guys even want to go to something like that? Isn't it the possibility of change that piques their interest to begin with? JIM is a business, after all, and there's a bottom line, and while I do believe helping people is a sincere motive, it seems there's an end-means game happening there. So can you get interest in a weekend or program designed to offer benefits like JIM offers but without dangling the "straight" carrot or the possibility of cuddling-cum-masculine-bonding? I'm  not sure, to be honest. And the reason is what I think of as "the orientation lottery".

The "orientation lottery", as I conceive it, works like this: the player says he didn't have any illusions about winning, and he admits he doesn't know anyone who has ever won, but he goes ahead and buys the ticket anyway because, hey, lots of people have won $10, and that's something, and some of the money goes to help pay for schools, so it's for a good cause anyway. The analogy has its limitations, but as I see it, the dangling carrot of "overcoming homosexuality," even or especially if left vague, is the $50 million jackpot you "could" win, even if everyone playing objectively knows it's probably not gonna happen. I don't mean to diminish what many of the participants have experienced by comparing the personal, emotional, or spiritual rewards they've perceived with the monetary rewards of the lotto. For some, their experiences are spoken of in similar tones to the sacredness of temple worship. While I suspect, based on my own experience, that those experiences were part real change and part emotional manipulation, I don't mean to dismiss the real change just because of the supposed emotional manipulation. What I see is some truly valuable learning and growth that unfortunately happens to be found within a framework of smoke and mirrors. And I'd like to dispense with the trickery and find truer, more honest and reliable motivations to bring people to similar learning and help them (and myself) continue in it.

When people marvel at how much energy and how long so many guys put into groups and treatments without ever seeing anyone actually go from mostly same-sex attracted to mostly other-sex attracted, and why in heaven or hell anyone would do that to themselves or whether you'd have to be insanely desperate to do it, I remind them: many of them honestly don't actively think they'll become straight. It's not necessarily about that. Sure, there's a $50 million jackpot that's nice to think about because it seems like it could make life so much easier in so many ways (right??...), and some players invest relentlessly, believing the jackpot is always just within reach and end up exhausted, impoverished, and embittered when the lotto does not pay out as they hoped it would. But others understood, a bit more, how remote those possibilities were when they started playing, and they have other reasons for it. And I'm less worried about those players.

Shifting to a different analogy, I'm more worried about the sick and oppressed who desperately seek a remedy for the condition they're in and eagerly buy up what the traveling snake oil salesman promises will fix everything that afflicts them. They spend all of their money, and it does do some positive things for them, but what was really afflicting them remains unresolved and destructive because they clamored to the teaching of a miracle man while the local doctor who could have helped them was ignored, because he wasn't saying they'd be stronger than ever by drinking a potion, nor did he promise a fountain of youth, so what he offered...well, it just sounded too true to be good.

08 January 2014

We'll link arms around you if it's true

In discussing legalization of same-sex marriage, you go right for claims designed to elicit emotional responses of fear and tribalism. You enumerate terrible and violent social and personal consequences in places that have accepted same-sex marriage. I can tell you right now that if that's true: you have unexpected defenders.

If you show me where your churches are being menaced, where you are being harassed with slurs and turned away from work and housing, where you're being fined and jailed for speaking your beliefs, and where your neighbors are being beaten for their religious belief that male-female marriage is the only union approved by God, then I will bring passionate defenders who disagree with those beliefs, and we will link arms around your home, your churches, and your neighbors to protect you and the people you care about from your assailants and tyrants. We will stand against our own if we must to ensure that what has been done to us does not become our sin, too.

Tell us where it's happening, and we'll come to your aid the way nobody has come to ours when we've been called faggots by strangers in cars and "gay" has become popular vernacular for "stupid", "lame", and "ridiculous", or when our neighbors were literally beaten into curbs, our homes and churches vandalized, and gathering places violently stormed. We will not let that happen to you. We care about you. Many among us have children of their own, and those who don't have our own children care about yours, who are our nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters.

Where are the attacks? Many of us will try harder to listen and not dismiss your persecution. We'll try to remember how few listened to us for so long and called us oversensitive and drama-prone. I recognize many won't, and some would like nothing more than for your religions to dissolve, and they'll be loud, but many of us will defend and protect your rights as we would any group facing tyranny, even if we get less attention for it than the radicals. We will not allow your churches to burn, your homes to be invaded, and your children to be "recruited".

Tell us where. Tell us how. We will help put a stop to it. But people are catching on: you don't get to pretend it's "us or them" anymore when it comes to liberty. You don't get to hide behind potential abuse you might face: we're here to stand with you against it.

Now what are your reasons?

29 December 2013

OK, but what if you were REALLY wrong...?

As I described in a previous post, I have often gone back to the question of whether I could possibly "go back" or re-integrate LDS belief into my perspective if I thought and felt it were correct to do so. When I've heard other "post-Mormons" swear they couldn't go back, I have patted myself on the back for thinking, "I could go back in a heartbeat if I thought it was right." Covenants, callings, garments, and all. I don't feel any draw to go back, despite missing certain aspects of involvement (community, service opportunities, evaluating and remembering principles and paradigms in a somewhat formalized setting, singing and playing hymns, primary songs, feeling like part of something unique with the grandest mission possible...aside, maybe, from the universe of The Lord of the Rings: that place is sweet!). But if I believed it was right, of course I could go back. Even if a spirit came to me and started to teach me something unexpected, I hope I would listen critically with full intent to seek and understand any truth being presented.

One day, in one of those moments, something occurred to me.  What if I died, found that life continued, and was not met by Jesus but by Fred Phelps. Well, crap. This gave me pause...as in, completely halted my self congratulatory humility. I was disgusted by some of the prospects. What if this spirit tried to teach me that slavery was OK in some circumstances, that Mosaic Law regarding virgins was actually God-given and correct, that thirteen-year-old girls should be assigned to fifty-year-old men, that people should be eaten alive as sacrifices, or that child abuse is, in fact, not as bad as consensual sex between unmarried individuals? I could hear out the Buddha, Muhammad, or Vishnu, I think, but there's no deity or prophet other than Jesus (as I understand him) before whom I'd readily kneel, and I'd rather roast in hell or cease to exist than receive instruction from Osama Bin Laden or Warren Jeffs. I think the vast majority of the world would find no fault in this, but it's an extreme illustration of the possible limits of my openness to truth or reliance on human understanding. Even if Muhammad was the figure waiting for me on the other side, there'd be no immediate kneeling and no humble familiarity.

Maybe I could console my sense of intellectual honesty with the idea that irrational or violent fundamentalism is hugely unlikely to be the true explanation of the universe and existence compared to a religion like moderate Mormonism or Islam. But is that objectively rational? Is it possible for me to be truly objective? Does openness to all possibilities make me scarily susceptible to false ideas, or is it the empowering key to finding truth? Both?

I don't know that humbly and readily kneeling before Jesus as I understood LDS doctrine to describe him would make me remarkably humble. I think it defies the dismissive stereotypes of the "lost" being rebellious and stiff-necked, but what if the truth were something completely obliterating any range of expectation I might have had? If I wouldn't readily bow and submit to an unexpected master, how much intellectual honesty and humility is actually reflected? How much of my ready response, "I would kneel," is actual openness to truth, how much is residual conviction or latent belief, how much is self delusion about my openness and teachability, and how much is nostalgia for the familiar? When I believed in LDS doctrine, I prided myself on my conviction, faith, and loyalty to the truth when I firmly knew that even a spirit could not deceive me, that if an angel came with a message other than "the gospel" I knew, I would not be deceived. And I called it humility before the Lord that I would not be so proud as to put more stock in the words of an angel than in the inspiration I had been quietly given through feelings of testimony and fruits of the Spirit. And many Muslims have that same conviction and loyalty to the truth as they understand it. And Westboro Baptists. And Jews. Are we to praise the Jewish person for having the "humility" to accept a spiritual impression that Christianity is true while deriding the supposed "lack of conviction" of a Christian who accepts a spiritual impression that Islam is true? Am I supposed to pat myself on the back for being willing to accept Mormonism if taught it in another life and simultaneously pat myself on the back for being unwilling to "be deceived" by false spirits preaching things that contradict Mormon doctrinal understanding but which bring "the fruits of the Spirit"? Where does conviction end and arrogance begin?

Would I be so nobly submissive to the truth if I were really, really wrong?

22 December 2013

Who owns "religion" and "marriage"?

I'm honestly perplexed as to why the use of the term "marriage" continues to be a sticking point even among some who support full civil union rights. Does the Westboro Bigot Central being called a "religion" in legal or cultural terminology make you feel like your religion or conception of religion is slighted or demeaned, or do you just qualify and classify different religions differently and shrug it off when loonies call themselves a "religion"?

Is the Westboro circus kind of the drunken Vegas marriage of religions? You're not a fan, you think they're completely misguided and idiotic, and you think it's a mere parody of what you believe marriage to be about, but it regrettably slips through the basic requirements or guidelines meant to define and protect relationships like yours?  And same-sex marriage might be...like a nonprofit that does good things and which you even could donate to but which just doesn't have the elements to make it a "religion"?

There may be some among you who actually believe legally recognized religions _should_ have to meet stricter requirements before receiving specialized tax statuses or exemptions or being able to operate in certain ways.

Do you just "tolerate" religions you believe are false being able to use the term "religion" because they meet some minimum requirement, but draw the line at other groups or churches you think don't have the traits that make up a "religion"? Do you think the population should just vote to determine who can be called a religion, or set the guidelines for what constitutes a religion? Would you maintain that view if your religion was eventually marginalized to the point of being very poorly regarded by most of society and unlikely to court much sympathy if under fire?

Is it actually, subjectively different since it's also objectively a different thing? Government doesn't create or set up religions: it just recognizes certain organizations as religions for tax, prisoners' rights, or other practical reasons. In that way, it's different from marriage because government both creates its own marriages and recognizes or incorporates marriages created by religious entities. But I'm not sure how much that distinction actually comes into play for people who are discomforted by the thought of having the same-sex unions called "marriages".

Anyone have some insights from a personal perspective?