07 January 2010

Anonymous Schmanonymous

OK, this post may seem, on the surface, hypocritical, since my blog is a rather anonymous venue for my articulatory jaunts, but those of you who know me well know that my sexual orientation (my attractions, gayness, queerocity, whatever you want to call it) is hardly a secret and that I'm pretty up front about it in most settings, including using my face and name on one web site for a time. I respect anonymity and believe it to be valuable or necessary at times. This particular setting is one in which I find anonymity most appropriate for me, for now, for various reasons I don't feel a need to explain. But I staunchly refute the absolute necessity of general anonymity for all people in connection with homosexuality.

So what?

There are some prominent players in the LDS world, people who were once respected as the primary voices regarding homosexuality and the church (and who seem hellbent on trying to regain that position of power and authority, judging from presumptuous titles of their publications which seem to purport they have some claim on the official or general voice of the church on the matter of homosexuality) who severely declare that no person should use their real name and face in connection with any published work about homosexuality.


Supposedly, from what I understand they've said to others (I've admittedly never had a dialog with this particular clan of therapists and therapist-disciples), it's for a few reasons, including:
  • 1. You must protect yourself from the fiery darts of the activists: if they don't know who you are, they can't spy on you and publicize every slip-up, misconstrue any of your actions in their favor, contact your children to recruit them to the other side, or pipe bomb your bedroom and eat your dog and...whatever else activists do in secret to accomplish their nefarious purposes.

  • 2. Your perspective may evolve over time, and you may find that something you said ten years ago isn't an idea you espouse anymore, so you wouldn't want Affirmation having their clutches on a statement you made and leading people away carefully with flaxen cords to the dark misery of same-sex partnership (hell) using your statements in which you no longer believe.

  • 3. There's no point in jeopardizing your career or reputation over this. There is a lot of misunderstanding out there, and without the full context of your beliefs, your background, the perspectives explained in the rest of whatever anthology your essay may be part of which may or may not carry a title reflecting the arrogance of its primary authors/organizers, and an understanding of the gospel in its fullness (line upon line), you're surely going to be misunderstood, and if someone were to read what you wrote without all of that understanding, you're in a world of hurt having to explain yourself to every person you meet every day who surely will have been sent a chain e-mail spreading your entire essay across cyberspace.

  • 4. (My favorite:) Think of the children. One day, you may get married to someone of the opposite sex, if you aren't already, and you may have children, if you don't already, and it would be utterly selfish of you to drag your spouse and children into the scrutiny and criticism of hateful, vindictive gay activists or schoolmates who will mock and deride your children for having a gay daddy/mommy. The children's lives will be marred by the trauma of being teased on the playground, being ridiculed by other children of their faith, and knowing that their dad once had feelings for the prancing queen they saw on Queer as Folk Season 24 (by accident during a one-week free Showtime preview) shaking his sweaty stuff on the dance floor, with whom they'll picture daddy gyrating, which will make them scream in sheer terror at such horrific debauchery.

If you buy into these perspectives, then any revelation of identity is just a reckless, selfish, grandstanding self indulgence to entertain your own wanton desire for sexual liberation. Now, don't you feel bad if you've outed yourself publicly or used your real name on your blog? Wait, reserve the self-lashings for a moment while I explain why I think these points are valid enough to consider but are simultaneously mostly crap when applied as blanket rules.
  • 1. Fear-mongering is effective at silencing opposition. This works various ways. If it's true that the activists will pipe-bomb your house and run off with your children, then that's a terrible thing, and their opponents must stand up against it to conquer it rather than cowering before the tyrannical influence. Oh, wait...no...that's not what these anonymity-pushing folks are saying at all. Hm...so could it be they're using fear tactics themselves to keep people from standing up and being known? Well, regardless, if a cause is worth fighting for, if it's worth standing up for, then intimidation must be met and confronted. Since when did any social revolution come about by numberless anonymous pen names? ...Hm...maybe the anonymity folks are die-hard fans of V for Vendetta. That was an anonymous revolution, right? It's the idea that matters, not the people behind it. ...except that this is, by definition, a deeply personal issue. Besides, what "cause" are these folks fighting for? Greater acceptance of homosexual people in the church as long as they live the same standards as everyone else? Is that their primary aim? Or is that secondary to showing gay people what they need to become if they're to be part of the church and happy in the gospel? And how do they intend to achieve that end? By showing happy, functional faces of people living in temple marriages with families or living fulfilling lives as single people with support systems? Or by preaching at them with a bunch of shamefully cloaked pen names?

  • 2. I believe this argument is, at its root, more about information control than it is about concern for the people whose ideas may change. I mean, if you have an anthology of essays written by nameless people, there is little recourse for anyone to follow up with those people ten years from now, to ask them how their marriage is going, whether they're still heterosexually functional, how happy they are in their path, or (most significantly, I think) whether they still support and stand behind the author of the anthology. Nope, an anonymous pen name can be a snapshot in time, a static snippet of one person's journey to a certain point, sealed and done, resolved and closed. It is tidy. It is convenient. It is supposedly all that matters. It is not real. Do I think most such people will be weeping and wailing and gnashing teeth ten years down the road, wishing they never married and pining for same-sex bliss? No, I think most will still be working at it, with ups and downs, and proclaiming that they wouldn't trade their life with their family for anything. I sincerely believe that. But it's much "safer" if nobody ever knows their stories post-publication.

  • 3. I have to explain myself in all kinds of ways all the time. I take that back: I don't have to. I choose to. And sometimes I choose not to. There are many times when I just shrug and smile and move on, or say something like, "Yeah, I know it's hard to grasp. Maybe we can discuss it more in depth sometime." Or whatever. LDS people love to talk about times when they "had to" defend their religion to people at work because it opened a dialog which led to greater understanding and mutual respect. Of course, we tend not to eagerly discuss the times when such discussions lead to heated emotions or disrespectful insults and at least as much misunderstanding as before. But our religion is something we believe in and want to fight for! For these anony-misers, homosexuality is inherently a "problem" or a developmental hiccup, not a normal variation of sexuality, so the burden of understanding and dealing with it presumably rests on the shoulders of those who experience the deviant attractions. Yes, they may make efforts to increase understanding among church members and usually decry any hateful or demeaning language or actions, but that seems, at least, to take a back seat to their mission to convince all gay members that they can and should find a way out of homosexuality (an expression I think is misleading) and into a temple marriage. That's understandable, assuming traditional LDS doctrinal framework. But what I think it comes down to is this: some things are worth fighting for (like "the gospel"), while some things aren't worth the conflict (being strictly temporal and curable) and are better dealt with quietly and internally (like "same-sex attraction"). To me, however, the cultural awareness and mutual understanding through dialog are worth the risks in many cases. After all, how many LDS people are depressed and even suicidal over their religion and the social pressures against it?

  • 4. On the surface, this seems the most selfless and noble of all of the reasons. How can you not do it for the children? How can you be so selfish as to bring them into this without them having any choice? First of all, I've never been a parent, so I have to admit to lacking a certain perspective in that regard. I do believe children should be a parent's number one priority. I believe they should be given every opportunity to grow and learn in love and guidance. I believe that, in most cases, fighting on the front lines of a cultural, political, or physical war would probably distract a lot of energy from one's family to their detriment. Priorities have to be weighed. But writing an essay for an anthology or even a web site is different, to me. Children grow up under many stressors that compel them to learn resilience and self-determination, endurance and dedication, living by principle in authenticity. My parents knew that being LDS would be a challenge for me in school, but I was never told to mask or hide it. I wasn't encouraged to flaunt it or talk about it at every turn, not out of shame but because there's a time and place for all things, and trying to force it on people generally doesn't garner healthy interest. I was ridiculed for my religion at times in an LDS-minority (maybe 10% or less) community. Some children are ridiculed for having mixed-ethnicity parents. A judge in Louisiana recently denied a marriage license to a mixed-ethnicity couple because if they had children, those children would surely endure unnecessary ridicule as a result. But again, I can only assume these anonymity proponents would say that's different because ethnicity isn't something they can choose whether to talk about, or because ethnicity is patently different from sexuality, so it's comparing apples to oranges. If you don't believe social change to be necessary, or you place more priority on shielding your children from existing prejudices than on changing those prejudices for future generations at the expense of your children's comfort and your own, then I honestly respect the decision of anonymity. But to push that same priority onto others is inappropriate and ultimately, in my opinion, more selfish and shortsighted than raising your children to meet the challenges potentially brought by your own authenticity and openness.

"Why do you care so much about this?"

I can't tell you how bleak it seemed, to me, that when I was searching for resources, all I could find from faithful LDS sources was anonymous, neat-and-tidy stories of how people "came out of" homosexuality or had families or found their testimonies, and all was resolved and pretty. It was depressing for various reasons:
  • Nobody was willing to say, "Hey, do you know how unashamed I am and how comfortable I am with my situation now? This is my name, and this is my face. That's how comfortable."
  • Even the anonymous stories were few and far between, so what hope did I have of finding anyone who could prove their comfort with their sexuality by saying, "Here I am"? I had no real way of knowing that one person didn't write two or ten stories under various names. I had no way of knowing if I could actually relate to any of these people on a real, personal level, or if they were a bunch of fanatical loonies. I mean, why was Evergreen hiding them all so carefully? Were they fugly? Were they all 187 years old? Were they all super femmy? Were they too attractive and therefore a temptation to us impressionable newbies? Why were they hiding?
  • I wanted to know that people had stuck with their decisions after writing these pieces, but I knew that their anonymity generally shielded them from such follow-ups. I would rather have known that 2 or 3 out of 5 people had stuck with it than wonder if any of them had. I figured I might not even relate to those who didn't stick with it, so if the 1 or 2 I did relate with had, then that could provide some hope for me. I also recognized that identifying or relating to someone didn't mean I'd choose their same path, and I've always believed ideas stand on their own, independent of the people behind them, but when it came to this particular issue, I somehow found myself aching for more, longing to know that someone relatable was making their way through. I told myself I didn't "need" it. I never expected to need that. But in a way, in this case, or with this issue, I think I really did. I needed to see actual living, breathing people dealing with and getting through it, not anonymous stories.

Fortunately, there are now authors and organizations putting real faces and names out to offer new hope and truly "living" testimony of their beliefs and their journeys. While I may not be in a "spiritual" place right now to benefit greatly from those, I'm glad they are standing up and proclaiming their beliefs, presenting their stories, and connecting real people to each other and to the issue.

I sat with some friends about three years ago now, at a time when I was not at all ready to be open with my identity in connection with this issue, and I listened to a friend offering impassioned words about the need to put real faces with the issue. He spoke of the need for young guys suffering in suicidal agony, thinking they were utterly alone, believing nobody in the world could understand their conflict between religious beliefs and the desire for companionship and intimacy, or not knowing who to talk to because real people were shrouded behind a cloak of secrecy and hoops to jump through (which oftentimes disqualified them because of some behaviors) just to be able to sit with a group and share their true hopes and fears and questions. He spoke of the need for us to speak for ourselves rather than let Hollywood, or pride parades, or bitterly disaffected members speak for us. He spoke of the need for us to stand and be counted, to place real faces of church members' husbands, sisters, sons, mothers, uncles, bishops, and friends on what has, in the church, been a largely objective and impersonal issue, to show that we are here, we are quietly among them, and we are their dearest friends and family members, not so they'll give us a free pass but so that they will understand the impact of what they say in church, or think twice about how a silently suffering teenager might interpret their attitudes and actions, to humanize the issue and inject real, personal love into the way it is approached in the church.

I almost, at that time, felt guilty for still refusing to "come out" or use my real name in a publication. But I also knew that for each of us, there is a timeline. Each of us has different needs and priorities, different life situations and insecurities. I knew it was OK for me to stay "closeted". But I also knew there was a real need for those who were willing and able to stand up and speak for themselves, and I was deeply grateful for them. I also made a goal to work towards increasing openness, and I wouldn't change that process. It has felt right, and I hope more and more people will work towards openness and speak for themselves, not to self-satisfy, not to grandstand, and not to force understanding, but to be authentic, to show those who think they are alone that there are many who understand to some degree and sympathize, and to give those around us the opportunity to truly show compassion and understanding as we strive to do the same.

And yes, this blog will remain anonymous. ;-)


Anonymous said...

I think I'm going to start going by Anonymous Schmanonymous. It has a nice ring. I think you're on to something here.

Amy said...

Although, admittedly, some of this presentation was a straw man, you do make some very valid points--the culture of shame surrounding Mormon homosexuality will disappear only if we're willing to stand against it, not cower in its darkness. I think this school of therapy is well-intentioned, though perhaps not always right. It is for this reason that I respect Ty Mansfield the Matises so much--they were willing to write a book with their real names on it, dealing with real issues. Now you can love them or hate them, agree or disagree, but golly, what they did was really brave.
One of the things I'm really tired of is the school of therapists who presume to speak for the Mormon homosexual community, though they themselves are straight. They sit and analyze everyone with broad, sweeping, brushstrokes, and then write articles and books that the church membership at large read. Again, I think they're well-intentioned, but wrong. Stories by real people going through real struggles are so much more powerful than the aggregate (however well-informed) perspective of their therapist.

Clint Martin said...

I supposed they'd really disapprove of the approach some of us have taken. :-)

boskers said...

I ran into a lot of the same disappointments when I was young and tried to find people who had actually gone through reparative therapy and got married.

Original Mohomie said...

Schmanonymous, glad you see the wisdom.

Boskers, ha, I don't know about the reparative therapy, but I could introduce you to a few happily married couples. :-)

Clint, I heart you. Really. I should probably never meet you because I'd fall instantly in love and it would just get complicated and ugly between us, and I'd end up cooking your pet bunny.

Amy, I respect Ty and the Matises for what they've done, as well, even if we diverge on some points. And amen about the therapists. As for straw men, I did set some up ('cause parody and satirical jabs are fun), but notice I kept the logical arguments primarily to the actual assertions those folks have (reportedly) made. Just sayin'... :-)

blj1224 said...

Please don't cook Clint's pet bunny :/

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

Lately, I've come to realize the deep desire that other people have for those magical stories.

Never having felt the need to seek out therapy, I went on living life. I chose not to come out to some friends who considered themselves 'SSA' and sought out that therapy because I worried about what they would think.

As I've grown more confident and had deep discussions with these friends, I continue to find that they are not finding the satisfaction nor the solution that they feel they were promised after several years.

The change that I see is startlingly beautiful as they accept rather than change.

Crisco said...

I appreaciate the sarcasm but also recognize that this post is quite thought provoking. Unlike the race issue, it's easy to remain anonymous and hidden when you're gay. I admit, I'm not brave. I don't want to be in the limelight. I just want people to see me for who I am, which is irrespective of my sexuality. Coming out is scary, especially for gay mormons who try to live the gospel because you are subject to two communities of criticism--the ultra-conservative mormons who will think you're going to hell no matter what and the gay community that thinks you're nuts for trying to live your religion.
I guess I'm not brave right now because I'm not out to anyone, I want to protect my kids, and don't really want to be judged on something that's I'm not sure I understand about myself yet. In any event, for those of you out, you're awesome. We do need a voice!

Bravone said...

Coming out was initially terrifying for me. Attending the first few MoHo events and firesides scared me to death, especially when someone wanted to organize a support group in my home town. I finally decided to that if I met someone at one of these events, they were likely there for the same reason I was and would not be judgmental.

My two biggest reasons for remaining anonymous were to spare my children the possible complications and personal fear of repercussions professionally. However, I think I am finally ready to put a face to my story.

Now that my kids have had time to process that dad is gay, and gay people are worth understanding and respect, I no longer fear for them. Professionally, I am still a bit nervous, but feel the cause is worth the potential risks.

This year, North Star will be producing/providing much more support resources than in the past. Likely my wife and I will show up in photos or videos. I will also be speaking with local church leaders, putting a face to an issue some deny exist in their wards.

I must admit that I'm not entirely comfortable embarking in these activities. However, I've decided that if I want change to occur in society and within the Church, and if I can help a gay young man or woman understand their worth and help them avoid some of the pain I have experienced, it will have been worth the personal discomfort.

robert said...

So much thought and process in the post, I really want to commend you on that. To me, all of this change/no change is about various ways of dealing with fear. If the majority of people on the planet accepted homosexuality as a perfectly natural phenomenon like left-handedness (as in, Oh, I just noticed you are lefthanded), we could make peace with this subject once and for all. Unfortunately, it is not just other people's fear with which we must contend but our very own.