20 June 2013

A True Man's Apology

This apology is a really big deal.

Thank you, Mr. Chambers, for having the integrity to _not_ play the oppressive, manipulative "we've always believed this way" card popular among accountability-avoidant PR departments. Thank you for making efforts over the last year to shed or distance yourself from the disingenuous and serpentine wordcrafting popular among certain of your peers.

I don't have any illusion that Chambers is moving towards embracing same-sex relationships as a spiritually ideal, Biblically approved option, and I still disagree with some fundamentals of his views, but I very much respect his persistent efforts to build his organization's integrity despite some very harsh criticism from those who have been his associates and fellows.

I heard him speak at a conference in Salt Lake almost 7 years ago now, and his rhetoric and tone seem to have shifted towards greater authenticity and frankness since then. He recently had the courage to admit, after years of evasive wording about "change", that few if any people actually change their orientation, at least not to the point of eradicating same-sex attractions. I believe many stick with the "change" angle with the intent to offer possibly life-saving hope for another way a few seeking souls may not have considered, downplaying or omitting the phenomenon of persisting same-sex attraction as irrelevant to their success in living according to their religious paths. But it's not irrelevant when heroes and careers are made or broken by a standard that was more slick marketing than human reality, or when an intensely conflicted young gay man can't understand why he hasn't had enough faith or put in enough effort to achieve what so many supposedly have, and he feels like a failure or loses all hope for happiness as he perceives it. Chambers' admission was not a hair-splitting, nit-picking quibble that cowed to some "gay agenda": it's a paradigm-shifting, potentially life-saving truth. He also announced Exodus would be dropping sexual orientation change efforts as a focus of their ministry, either de facto or explicit.

He isn't changing his personal, religious beliefs, as far as I can tell, and he may well intend for all of this to better position him and others to coach those desiring paths they believe to be Biblically congruent.  Nonetheless, he offers many vulnerable apologies to a wounded and potentially unforgiving audience, such as the following: 

"I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly 'on my side' who called you names like sodomite—or worse...

"I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine...

"And then there is the trauma that I have caused. There were several years that I conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions..."

Those, I believe, are the words of someone who knows what it means to be a true man.

04 June 2013

Worthless Gumshoe Cupcake

I just listened to this interesting LDS-centric discussion on how to teach youth about chastity without objectification or shaming implications: http://radiowest.kuer.org/post/teaching-chastity.

It's great that there seems to be at least a clear consensus that Elizabeth Smart is not "guilty of consensual sex" (implication that "consensual sex" is something to "be guilty of" being another conversation). Yay for that. It wasn't long ago that she _would_ have been considered by many to be "guilty" for not fighting to her death, if necessary, to prevent rape. Not resisting until death would have meant she dishonorably valued her life more than her "virtue" (apparently, when talking about chastity, there's only one "virtue", the definition of which presumably means either "virginity" or "absolute abstinence enforced to the death except with one's legally married, binary-opposite-sex spouse" or some such thing).

Only absolute physical force was construed as rape, with little or no consideration for non-physical power dynamics or psychological duress. If she stopped resisting psychologically or even became "consensual" at some point after the initial trauma, then being kidnapped into mountains and thrown into a tent alone with an old, crazy a-hole in the middle of screaming-is-futile-nowhere might not have excused her from resisting with all her might every day of every month she was held captive, and she might likely have been shamed and called to repentance for giving in and becoming a willing participant in sin. Thank goodness that has seemingly changed.

It's also great that so many people seem to be listening to Elizabeth Smart when she talks about the reality and psychology of sexual abuse. I appreciate how freely so many offer consolation and empathy for her traumatic experiences and express full confidence in her value and wholeness as a person. But I do think it should be made clear that women have been saying exactly what she is saying for decades upon decades, and I wish it didn't take someone who fits a certain, specific mold of "purity" or "righteousness" to get so many to listen for the first time. Maybe that's not what has happened, or maybe not on a large scale, but it seems like women like Smart often receive unlimited sympathy and forgiveness while women who said the same thing but didn't fit that mold have been scorned, dismissed, and belittled, in addition to the trauma they had already experienced. It's hugely unjust. But I believe people tend to listen more to those with whom they identify, so I try to keep that in check in myself. I try to listen more openly and support more personally without surrendering critical thought or prematurely abandoning what I have already experienced or learned. Sometimes it's a tough balance, to me, between being truly compassionate and open to truth and avoiding being duped by a sob story or crafty spin. But it's a bit hard to look back and realize the people I disrespected because I was more concerned with being right about my ideas of how things are and should be than with seeing and understanding someone as a living, breathing human with real, personal, complex experiences.

It also seems to me that Ms. Ruzicka is either so singularly defensive of an ideology as to become extremely disingenuous about the reality of the influence of lessons taught or messages conveyed by some leaders and teachers, or she is quite ignorant of what has actually been taught and of the power of a few not-directly-challenged, even if relatively isolated, lessons by respected authority figures and loved ones.

I heard several of those object lessons growing up, and the more active, faithful LDS young women I talked to throughout the years, through college and after, the more I realized how pervasive those messages had been, and the more I tried to balance them in my own teaching. Even when I still lacked conviction of their error and would not directly criticize those messages, I defended what I thought people "meant by that" while trying to heal damage caused by the implications, intentional or unintentional.

I have different ideas about "chastity" and "virtue" than I used to, and I'm now just another godless heathen "outside" of the Church. But I'm passionate about this because I regret saying so little back when I still knew of the problem but didn't want to make anyone or the Church "look bad". I don't expect the Church to refrain from teaching youth that sex outside of marriage is absolutely a transgression or sin. I do expect the young women I care about to be taught those ideas in ways that don't degrade, objectify, and shame them with false analogies and powerful but deeply inaccurate object lessons. I don't speak up to attack the Church as an institution, a set of doctrines, or a culture (though I have plenty of beefs with all of the above). I speak up because it's just not enough to say, "That message is ridiculous and is not taught, so there's no reason to address it," or, "Mormons are medieval," or, "Everyone knows those object lessons are stupid and the official doctrines of the church teach something different." Not everyone knows that. Not every kid tells his or her parents every lesson they learn, especially by the age when they're learning this kind of lesson. Many kids quietly question and process and imprint without a word. Some errors are worth examination and correction without defensive over-protection of institutions.

To the young ladies and young men I personally care about: no matter who says it, you are NOT a chewed up piece of gum, even if you have made decisions or had experiences that don't fit your or my ideals. You are your passions, your beliefs, your decisions, your affinities, your integrity, your experience, your  learning, your opinions, your uniqueness, your talents, your strengths and weaknesses, your humor, and a whole lot more things that make you you.  I beleive a truly good, whole person doesn't think of his or her potential spouse as a brand new shoe to wear in to fit his or her own foot. Instead, see if this approach rings true for you: