Monday, October 04, 2010

Boyd K. Packer's Talk

I was troubled by Elder Packer's talk yesterday. Not surprised, just troubled. I fully defend his and the LDS Church's right to take a stand on whatever issues they find immoral or of import, but the rhetoric in his talk was the very same stuff that always made me feel so hopeless, depressed, guilty, and unworthy as a youth. I never seemed to be able to gain the promises no matter how hard I tried or fought to overcome my sexuality (or at least deal with it in a way that wasn't making me absolutely miserable), and it made me wonder "what is wrong with me?"

As much as I would like to get on board, I just don't believe what Elder Packer said, and I don't like the way he said it. If that makes me an unbelieving, faithless heathen, then I guess I am. (Considering I'm no longer an official member of the LDS Church, I guess it doesn't really matter whether I support Elder Packer or not anymore). My heart and my personal life experience just doesn't buy it, apostle or not. I guess that makes me an apostate. Well, it's not like they can excommunicate me again.

Like I said, he has every right to defend whatever position he believes in, but I truly worry about the effect his talk will have on those who deal with homosexuality. All I can say is, walk a mile in my shoes, Elder Packer, and see if you give the same talk. On the flip side, I admit I have not walked a mile in Elder Packer's shoes, so I can only judge him based on my own life experiences.

I had planned on writing more about this, but I found an essay through a friend on Facebook that actually said many of the things I was planning on saying myself, so I'll just let Isaac Higham do the work for me.

You can either read it here or I have reprinted it in italics below (with Isaac's permission) for you to read.

Standing Up to the Bullies: A Response to Boyd K. Packer's Talk
by Isaac Higham on Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 5:11pm

Sometimes there are nights where I wake drenched in sweat, heart pounding, horrified by the dreams that had seconds before been playing out in my mind. These are the nights where I relive my days in high school. These are the nights where I relive the shame, and the embarrassment, I felt over not speaking out—over not standing up for another when they most desperately needed it.

Too many times to count I witnessed those who were brave enough to have come out in high school, or those who simply didn’t seem to fit the mold of their heteronormative gender expectations, be mocked, bullied, and outcast. Oh how badly I wanted to speak up! And oh the shame I felt for staying silent out of cowardice and fear of my big gay secret being found out. I stayed silent. I didn’t stand up to the bullies.

I am silent no longer.

And it is this determination to speak out and stand up to the bullies that drives me to address the talk given by LDS apostle Boyd K. Packer given at general conference this weekend. In his talk Packer made statements that “unnatural” same sex attractions can, and should, be overcome. He spoke of those who support marriage equality through their votes at the ballot box being akin to those who would vote against the existence of gravity.

I have no interest in arguing the absurdity of such things with the leaders of the LDS church. These are smart, accomplished, and for the most part well educated men who know better. No, I do not speak out and respond to argue their beliefs because surely they have the right to believe whatever they please, however disturbing and absurd they may be.

No, I speak out because I know that somewhere in some LDS family room or chapel pew, there sits a little boy or little girl who was just like me. A little one who desires nothing more than to be “worthy” and to have the approval of their church and of their family. I know that somewhere there is a child who, just like a younger me, quivers in fear of eternal damnation and fear of disappointing the family and the church culture they have been raised in because they are gay.

It is for these little ones that I refuse to stay silent.

The message delivered from the LDS pulpit continues to be a message of false hope, of misery, and of death for our LGBT children. LGBT youth are FOUR TIMES more likely to attempt suicide than their peers and they make up somewhere between twenty and forty percent of the homeless youth population—despite making up less than ten percent of the population of youth as a whole.

For twenty years I listened to the message of self loathing preached from LDS authorities. For twenty years I believed in their false hope that I could pray and fast and serve away my sexual orientation and God would then reward me with “righteous” heterosexual desires.

When the change never came, the blame became even more internalized, and I lost hope. But after a thankfully failed attempt to end the misery of this life, I finally found the true peace of my divine identity. I finally realized that all of those years I didn’t change because I didn’t need to. I was the way God intended me to be.

I began speaking out against the message of death that is killing our brothers, sisters, and friends. I began to work fight youth homelessness, youth suicide, and LGBT discrimination in housing and employment. I found new role models beyond the old men in the LDS hierarchy: like Reed Cowan who spends his time and efforts helping others in memory of his son, Dustin Lance Black who brought to life Harvey Milk’s message of hope and shared it with millions of LGBT persons who desperately need it, and hundreds and thousands of other activists fighting for change that is so desperately needed.

If this message should reach one of those precious souls who is somehow struggling and fighting that internal fight know this: there is hope. You are exactly the beautiful creature you were created and intended to be. There is love in this world beyond the message of death—find it.

And if this message becomes nothing more than a prayer in my heart, may the universe take it and share my love, and my hope, to those who in some way or another find themselves “in the thick of things”.

I stand confident of two things:

First, that the blood of the innocents drips from the hands of those who strangle the life and the hope out of them through their bully pulpit.

Second, that in the end I can stand upright and guilt free along side those who worked to make this world a better and safer place for everyone while others will hang their head in shame and weep for the hurt they inflicted on others in the name of self righteous piety.

“I know that you can't live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

Amen, brother Harvey. Amen.

9 comments:

The Tango Team said...

This is an email I just sent to a friend of mine that told me about Packer's talk. Forgive me for errors, English is not my first language.


Shawn,

I decided that this year I wasn’t going to participate in any of the Conference, I can’t support something that is against of MY gift from God, yes, I started to think that my gay feelings are a gift from the above and I am cherishing it.

I also started to think about the parable of the talents. I started to see my “issue” as a talent that God gave me and I need to invest it and not be like the servant that because he was afraid at loosing his only talent he hide it and didn’t invest it to make it grow. Thinking it this way is giving me a peace in my heart and put me in a spot that only me and my communion with God can only understand and feel. I don’t need anybody else to tell me that what I feel is wrong. I refuse to listen to somebody that guides me away from Heavenly Father and create a creature out of me that doesn’t want to be in this earth because nobody bothers to understand it. I want to live, not die.

The Tango Team said...

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you “not” to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear our presence automatically liberates others.

~Nelson Mandela read this quote by Marianne Williamson on his inauguration as the first elected black leader of South Africa~

Nikki said...

Isn't this such a rough topic? I get confused and angry with talks like these. I realize it's his duty as an apostle to call the world to repentance...but it doesn't mean I appreciate his delivery.

It disheartens me to think about the youth out there who may be struggling because of this talk. I just have to find comfort in the staple beliefs of the church: respect free agency, love one another, judge not. If only the entire world could operate this way!

Lis said...

I just came up on your blog from a google search on President Packer's talk and enjoyed your post. You handled it with class and didn't try to hate on President Packer which I appreciate. I am an LDS youth but I am not gay. I just appreciateed this post as others would not have seen eye to eye with you. I support you, Good luck in your endeavors.

Heidi said...

Hello, I am not a long-time reader of your blog, so I hope I am not sending you an article you have spoken about before. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and subject them to the blogosphere - not an easy thing to do. I too came across your blog in searching for some information, and I was curious if you had ever read the article found here: http://www.theguardrail.com/transcript.htm

It is an approach to homosexuality that I think has been touched upon by some, but never quite articulated and developed the way I saw it done here. It is a long read, but well worth it I feel. Whether you agree with speaker's point of view, I think he has a lot of valuable things to say about the shame cycle that many LDS youth go through, whether about homosexuality or other things. I appreciate your fairness in saying you haven't walked a mile in Packer's shoes. It seems to me that LDS leaders often speak about the same topic over and over again throughout the course of their lives. I'm not saying that I have any idea if he ever faced homosexual thoughts, or someone close to him, but I know in my life when I speak about a topic frequently and with conviction, it is because I have a very personal understanding that leads to that strong conviction. The more I watch the Church leaders as personal human beings, and less as interchangeable robots that just regurgitate the Church platform, the more I believe there are reasons that they testify of certain things. I don't know what Packer's reasons are, or Oaks's, but I do know that if he believes that homosexual thoughts can be overcome, he probably has a good reason as to why, a reason that comes from more than being just a one-dimensional talking head in a suit at a pulpit. Like was said, the leaders are all well-educated and have undoubtedly each counseled many people over the decades with homosexual thoughts. To get to the position they are in, they undoubtedly did that with understanding and sensitivity. All of these sides of the Church leaders don't come through in a 3 minute YouTube clip, but I have no doubt in my mind that they are there. I appreciate you being willing to consider both sides. You are in a special position to do so, as you know that most LDS members and leaders are not the bigots people claim they are. Thank you for reading the comment of a random stranger who is interested in your unique view on some of the things I have shared. I appreciate your time and consideration.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, all, for your comments.

Heidi, thanks for the article. I am actually quite familiar with it and Dr. Robinson's work. Actually, this particular article was of use to me when I was working to overcome my homosexual feelings (which, of course, I never actually succeeded in doing). It actually made me feel less alone in my struggles and gave me hope that maybe I could change. Ultimately, however, I felt that I could not, and I am happier as a result.
If Dr. Robinson has helped those who deal with homosexual attractions, more power to him, I guess. Whatever makes each individual happy. I was not happy trying to be straight when every natural inclination said I was gay. Trying so hard to fit in the box that was prescribed to me by my religion was, in the end, a very miserable, stressful, and depressing existence. I finally accepted that not only was I happier coming out of the closet and being with my partner, but that I no longer wanted to keep fighting what I feel is who I am. I know Dr. Robinson would disagree that this is who I truly am, but Dr. Robinson isn't me.
I do agree with you that Dr. Robinson does have some interesting insights about this issue, and as I said, it was something that was useful to me at one time.

It's true that I can never say that I know exactly or entirely where Brother Packer (or any of the other church leaders) are coming from, but I do think, just like anybody else, their points-of-view are shaped by their own life experiences and even prejudices. I have no idea what Elder Packer's personal experiences with homosexuality or homosexual individuals are or aren't, but I do know that he has sometimes rubbed me the wrong way in his views on homosexuality. One of his early addresses containing references to the subject, a talk called "To The One" (1976) contains some words that I would consider damaging and ignorant to gay people. Granted, it is a relic of its time, but it reaffirms in my mind that sometimes individuals in the leadership of the LDS Church sometimes have preconceived ideas of what it even means to be gay, and sometimes those ideas are incorrect or uninformed, in my opinion. Spencer W. Kimball's chapter on homosexuality in The Miracle of Forgiveness, for example, is a very hard and painful read for someone who is dealing with homosexual attractions.
I think as the years have gone on, leaders of the church have become more informed about homosexual issues and more compssionate on some level. As I've stated in my blog, I don't expect the LDS Church to suddenly change its stance and say, "Homosexuality isn't a sin, after all," but I do sometimes feel as a gay person (and many of my gay friends would agree) that church leaders offer us no solutions that really seem to work and sometimes can come off as ignorant or lacking in compassion at times when it comes to homosexuality.
You know, there was a time when church leaders recommended marriage or shock therapy or reparative therapy as solutions in "fixing" the problem. But as time has gone on, there isn't as much as a push for those "fixes" because it turns out they don't "fix" the "problem." In fact, nowadays, church leaders counsel that marriage isn't a fix, and that gay people would be advised not to go into marriage thinking it will cure them. Shock therapy is not considered a viable alternative at all, and church leaders are quick to say that they don't know if reparative therapy works.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, all, for your comments.

Heidi, thanks for the article. I am actually quite familiar with it and Dr. Robinson's work. Actually, this particular article was of use to me when I was working to overcome my homosexual feelings (which, of course, I never actually succeeded in doing). It actually made me feel less alone in my struggles and gave me hope that maybe I could change. Ultimately, however, I felt that I could not, and I am happier as a result.
If Dr. Robinson has helped those who deal with homosexual attractions, more power to him, I guess. Whatever makes each individual happy. I was not happy trying to be straight when every natural inclination said I was gay. Trying so hard to fit in the box that was prescribed to me by my religion was, in the end, a very miserable, stressful, and depressing existence. I finally accepted that not only was I happier coming out of the closet and being with my partner, but that I no longer wanted to keep fighting what I feel is who I am. I know Dr. Robinson would disagree that this is who I truly am, but Dr. Robinson isn't me.
I do agree with you that Dr. Robinson does have some interesting insights about this issue, and as I said, it was something that was useful to me at one time.

It's true that I can never say that I know exactly or entirely where Brother Packer (or any of the other church leaders) are coming from, but I do think, just like anybody else, their points-of-view are shaped by their own life experiences and even prejudices. I have no idea what Elder Packer's personal experiences with homosexuality or homosexual individuals are or aren't, but I do know that he has sometimes rubbed me the wrong way in his views on homosexuality. One of his early addresses containing references to the subject, a talk called "To The One" (1976) contains some words that I would consider damaging and ignorant to gay people. Granted, it is a relic of its time, but it reaffirms in my mind that sometimes individuals in the leadership of the LDS Church sometimes have preconceived ideas of what it even means to be gay, and sometimes those ideas are incorrect or uninformed, in my opinion. Spencer W. Kimball's chapter on homosexuality in The Miracle of Forgiveness, for example, is a very hard and painful read for someone who is dealing with homosexual attractions.
I think as the years have gone on, leaders of the church have become more informed about homosexual issues and more compssionate on some level. As I've stated in my blog, I don't expect the LDS Church to suddenly change its stance and say, "Homosexuality isn't a sin, after all," but I do sometimes feel as a gay person (and many of my gay friends would agree) that church leaders offer us no solutions that really seem to work and sometimes can come off as ignorant or lacking in compassion at times when it comes to homosexuality.
You know, there was a time when church leaders recommended marriage or shock therapy or reparative therapy as solutions in "fixing" the problem. But as time has gone on, there isn't as much as a push for those "fixes" because it turns out they don't "fix" the "problem." In fact, nowadays, church leaders counsel that marriage isn't a fix, and that gay people would be advised not to go into marriage thinking it will cure them. Shock therapy is not considered a viable alternative at all, and church leaders are quick to say that they don't know if reparative therapy works.

Gay LDS Actor said...

[continued]

What they do say, and what is frustrating to many of us gay people out here, is that no one knows what causes homosexuality, it may be in-born, it may be incredibly difficult to control (but controllable enough not to endanger our salvation), that therapy may or may not help, that marrying a woman may or may not help, that it may always be a problem in this mortal life, and that the best option may be to live alone and celibate for the rest of my life. Oh, and by the way, it isn’t good for man to be alone, either.
These options seem unfair and unreasonable to many of us. I know the leaders of the Church are good men who are trying hard to understand and help those who deal with same-sex attraction, but many of us feel they simply don’t understand, try as they might, and do not offer us counsel that works for us.
I don't think that a person who has not had to deal with same-sex attraction personally can really understand what it is like to be in a gay person’s shoes, try as they might. There is the idea that homosexual feelings are just an affliction of mortality, and that if people like me just hang on tight enough, if we pray enough, if we have enough faith, if we just do all the things that God tells us to do through the leaders of this church and if we remain celibate and are worthy and endure to the end that we can overcome it and maybe in the next life we’ll be straight and have the opportunity to marry and receive the exaltation we are promised.
I do not deny that this idea may be true, but I am here to tell you that from my limited mortal perspective and from the perspective of the majority of gay people I know (many who were reared in the Mormon faith), this idea seems unattainable and impossible. I can cite you numerous examples of people who did everything the church (and I have to assume God) asked them to do and still felt like they could not do what was asked of them. It wasn’t due to selfishness or willful disobedience or a lack of trying, but from the very real feeling that it simply seemed impossible no matter what the scriptures or prophets have said.
And I guess that is what troubles me about Boyd K. Packer's talk: it's the same promises that are bound to eventually feel empty to the many people who deal with gay feelings. I think it will give people the same false hope it gave me (and many of friends like me) and may end up causing feelings of unworthiness, guilt, depression, anger, bitterness, and perhaps even lead to suicide.
I am sure this is not at all what Elder Packer or any of the church leaders intends. Unlike some of my friends who think Elder Packer's talk is motivated by hate for gay people, I feel that couldn't be further from the truth. I genuinely believe Elder Packer cares very much for those with gay attractions and is trying in the best way he knows how to help them. Unfortunately, I think, inspired or not, he comes from a place of ignorance on this subject and some of his words are much more careless than I'm sure he intends.
Something he said was, "Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so!" and then asked the rhetorical question, "Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father." That's a question I, and many like me, asked ourselves countless times: "Why are you doing this to me if it's wrong? Why do I not seem able to overcome this if it's wrong? Why, no matter how hard I pray and fast and read my scriptures and serve my callings or do all the things I'm asked to do, why can I not either overcome this or learn to live with it in a productive and healthy way?"

Gay LDS Actor said...

[continued]

I can only speak for myself, but I could not do what was required of me. I know others who feel the same way. Some of my friends have become hardened and bitter towards the LDS Church because they felt they had been betrayed and lied to. I promised I would never become that way myself. But it's words like those of Elder Packer that cause people to feel that because the leaders of the church are so confident and speak with such conviction with what they're saying, and we're taught that they are divine, inspired men and that we must obey their counsel. Unfortunately, many find that this counsel doesn't seem to work, and there are no easy answers as to why.
I can only say that I am more happy and at peace now than I was when I was trying so hard to be all that the Church told me I should be. If the Church is, indeed, true, then I have no explanation as to why something supposedly wicked has made me the happiest I've been in years. I know others who feel the same way. So there is some sort of disconnect to what we've been taught and told and what our reality seems to be.
Now I know of others who are staying strong in the counsel they have been given and are trying to live good, Mormon lives without succumbing to their homosexual inclinations. If that's working for them, more power to them. I'm not here to judge anybody. I just know what worked (and continues to work) for me.
I liked your comment about seeing church leaders "as personal human beings, and less as interchangeable robots that just regurgitate the Church platform..." I couldn't agree more. I admit I like some church leaders better than others because I connect with them on a more personal and human level, and I freely admit that Boyd K. Packer is not one that I so often connect with. And because they are human, I know Church leaders even have disagreements on how to approach certain issues, and I would venture to guess that they don't always agree on the best way to handle the homosexuality issue.
I don't know what the future holds for the LDS Church as far as this issue is concerned, and if leadership feel that they need to continue decrying homosexuality as immoral, that is their right, but just as they may have good reason to preach against it, I, as a gay person who knows firsthand what it is like to be gay (and furthermore, gay and Mormon-raised) feel I have good reason to challenge words (even from Church leadership) that I ultimately feel may be damaging and harmful to those who may be experiencing what I experienced myself.
I don't believe the majority of Church leaders or members are bigots (although I have met or heard individual members and leaders in the course of my lifetime who have sometimes said insensitive, painful, and even homophobic remarks). I believe they are just trying to do what they sincerely believe is right. But I also don't believe that everything is always as black and white as it sometimes seems, so we'll see what happens. I certainly don't claim to know.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I truly and sincerely appreciate your point-of-view. I hope, too, that my comments and points-of-view have been useful, or at least interesting, to you.
Come back any time.