Monday, June 21, 2010

Apologies From Orrin

So about three weeks ago Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was in St. George and may the following statement at a town hall meeting: “Gays and lesbians don’t pay tithing; their religion is politics." His point was that "Republicans need to organize and pull together just as unions, environmentalists, personal injury lawyers and gay rights activists do for Democrat candidates." (the latter quote is from the Salt Lake Tribune article, not from Hatch himself).

When several people wrote Hatch and the newspaper that his quote about gays and lesbians was offensive, Hatch tried to clarify his statement by saying, “Many gay people are vociferous Democrats who are willing to pony up money for politics. That’s something I admire...I don’t know how I could have been much more complimentary the way I said it...There are some very, very good gay people who are very religious who undoubtedly pay tithing. That wasn’t what I was talking about. I was talking about politics and praising them for getting involved. I was making the point that they don’t just stand on the side, they actually support their Democratic candidates with their money.”

You can read about his apology here.

Even if that was Hatch's point, I thought the way he said it was careless and clumsy. Shortly after he said it, but before he had apologized for it, I wrote him a rather spirited, but polite letter indicating why it was offensive to me even understanding the context in which it was said.

Today I received a letter from Senator Hatch. It was not one of his usual form letters that he often sends when I bring up an issue with him, and it appears to have been signed by him instead of a stamp of his signature.

The letter said,

Dear [Cody],

Thank you for contacting me in reaction to a statement I made during a townhall meeting in Utah. I appreciate your sharing your views with me regarding this matter.

I apologize if you found my comments offensive, that was never my intent. My comments sought to demonstrate that many activist groups, such as the gay and lesbian community, are active in politics and contribute heavily to certain candidates. I recognize that my choice of words may not have been the best way to convey my point, but please know that I have the utmost respect for the members of the gay community. Furthermore, I recognize that religion plays an important role in the lives of many citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.

Again, thank you for writing.

Your Senator,

Orrin G. Hatch
United States Senator

Orrin Hatch and I rarely agree on much politically, and it is very unlikely that I will vote for him his next reelection ( I haven't voted for him the last two elections he was up for office); and those reasons for not reelecting him have little to do with this. I will say it takes a big man to apologize when he knows he has made a mistake, and I appreciate his writing me to clarify himself and to admit that his choice of words was not the best. I quibble with his having the "utmost respect for the members of the gay community" while he still continues to fight against gay-rights, but I thank him for his apology and consider this particular matter closed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


The following letter was sent out to 60 or so stakes in southeast Idaho:

We live in a time of increasing difficulty and temptation. The world is relentless in its efforts to ensnare Latter-Day Saints. One particularly devastating and challenging trial faced by many members of the Church is same-gender attraction. This unwanted difficulty is increasingly common. While the percentage of individuals who embrace alternate lifestyles is small, nearly 10% of people experience feelings of sexual attraction to members of the same sex. The nature of this trial leads far too many of our members to become discouraged and abandon hope. Far too many fall away from the sweet peace that the Gospel can bring.

Recently, the First Presidency and other Leaders of the Church have made an effort to approach same-gender attraction with a new level of compassion and understanding. Elder Jeffery R. Holland wrote an article for the Ensign which was published shortly after the release of the new pamphlet God Loveth His Children. Reading these documents, it is clear that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve recognize the need for us to reach out in love and understanding to those who experience same-gender attraction.

To that end, we have organized a fireside designed for all members of the Church: individuals who experience same-gender attraction and Priesthood Leaders, as well as every parent and friend in the church. We invite your stake or ward to participate in this unique opportunity. Please make an effort to let every member know about this invaluable learning experience. This special fireside will include specific instruction for you as Priesthood Leaders, for those who experience same-gender attraction, and for friends and family. Presenters will include Priesthood Leaders and Mental Health Professionals. We are also honored to announce that Ty Mansfield, world-renowned author of In Quiet Desperation, will be our feature speaker.

We've included a flier that could be posted in your buildings. We've also included an announcement to add to your bulletin for the next couple of weeks. Additionally, we encourage you to consider announcing this event from the pulpit. Perhaps you are aware of individuals who would benefit from this fireside; they would most-likely benefit from a special personal invitation for them to attend.

Thank you sincerely for your efforts in reaching out to those who struggle daily with this incredibly difficult and often misunderstood challenge. As we all strive to increase our understanding and compassion, we will be better able to offer the Christ-like love and support so desperately needed.

You know, when I was struggling so hard with fighting against my homosexual feelings and trying to be a good member of the LDS Church and feeling alone because I didn't feel like the Church was doing much to help people like me, this letter probably would have been a welcome one. Now I have some problems with it.

Although I admire the fact that church leaders are doing more to deal with this issue in a more compassionate way, in some ways it feels too little, too late. But I do at least support the fact that those who are struggling with this issue have an outlet of sorts, although in the long run I wonder if it does more harm than good.

I know there are a fraction of people that have been able to live with their homosexual attractions and still live as fully worthy members of the LDS Church. Many of these people are married and making those marriages work the best they can. Many feel this is their cross to carry and are doing it as best they can. I admire their tenacity and devotion to what they believe they must do.

Ultimately, I was one of those people who couldn't do it and no longer want to do it. To each his own, but I think things like this may give people like I once was false hope that they can change or overcome something which, in my mind, is truly difficult, if not impossible, to overcome and which maybe is something that isn't really meant to be overcome. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but when the Church teaches that if a person has enough faith and lives worthily enough and prays hard enough, God will provide a way for that person to overcome or at least live with the challenge; and that doesn't end up happening, it can make a person feel very hopeless, depressed, guilty, sorrowful, frustrated, and make them wonder what is wrong with them. As someone who has been on both sides, that was a miserable way to live, and I'm happy that is no longer my life.

The letter says "too many of our members to become discouraged and abandon hope. Far too many fall away from the sweet peace that the Gospel can bring." Why does that happen, and why so often? Maybe it's because many of these people (to sort of paraphrase Spencer W. Kimball) knock on the door until their hands are mashed to a bloody pulp and their bodies are so ravaged with the aches and pain of trying to get the blasted door open and they are filled with doubt that God even wants them to even open the door at all. Maybe it's because they discover another door to open; one that makes life far more joyful and fulfilling. Maybe it's because they feel lied to and betrayed, whether intentionally or not.

But I do appreciate the sentiment of the letter. I appreciate the fact that they acknowledge that it is "incredibly difficult and often misunderstood challenge." I appreciate that they are asking members of the church to "reach out in love and understanding" to their gay brothers and sisters. I appreciate that this issue isn't being swept under the rug as much as it once was. I appreciate that church leaders are becoming more educated and compassionate about it. I appreciate that the LDS Church has evolved somewhat as far as this subject is concerned (although I still feel they have a ways to go). Progress is slow, but when I think of where the Church was on this issue 20 or 40 years ago, and where they are today, it gives me hope that 20 years from now or 40 years from now, the LDS Church's attitude toward gay people will have evolved into even a better place.

Friday, June 18, 2010

8: The Mormon Proposition

The documentary, 8: The Mormon Proposition was released in Salt Lake City today. I actually had the opportunity to see it a week ago at the LGBT film festival, "Damn! These Heels!" It actually got a very good review in the Salt Lake Tribune today, which you can read here. While I think the movie is generally well-made and worth seeing, I didn't really agree with everything in Sean P. Means' review.

This review by George Lang is more in line with my impressions of the film. While I thought the film made some very valid points about some of the somewhat underhanded things I felt the church did in the fight for Prop. 8, I also felt the film was not very even-handed in its portrayal of the LDS Church, and I also felt the film made some fallacious inferences that made me suspect the credibility of the film as a whole.

I completely believe that the LDS Church was heavily involved in the Prop 8 fight, and I also believe they did much to hide or disguise that involvement, which I found to be dishonest and underhanded and actually made me lose some respect for the way the LDS Church dealt with it. And, truly, I don't think the LDS Church should have gotten involved in the fight at all. I also think some of the things local leaders and certain ward members did (particularly in California) were mishandled and wrong. I was upset with the LDS Church quite a bit when the whole Prop. 8 thing was going on. So I get the anger. I get the annoyance. I get the frustration.

That being said, to me the film feels extremely biased and doesn’t feel objective at all. And maybe that was the point, but I don’t think it does much to build bridges or create useful dialogue or endear gay-rights opponents (particularly Mormon ones) to the gay rights cause. And maybe that isn't the point (although some of the filmmakers were at the showing I saw and claimed that they did want the film to be a tool to help bring opponents to the side of gay rights; so if that is the point, I think the film may bring some, but alienate others, particularly Mormons). But really, I feel all the film does is rile up the people who are already on the side of the filmmakers, and if the goal is to help create a dialogue, I'm not sure it has succeeded.

In my opinion, the film often feels like a political ad where scary-sounding music and quotations taken out of context and blurred and grainy black-and-white images of the politician’s opponent are used to make the viewer see the opponent in a negative light. In this case, the Mormon Church is the opponent.

That being said, I did like the human-interest angle the film took, using a very sympathetic gay couple as the face of what happens to individuals when rights are denied. And as I have stated, I do think some of the methods the LDS Church used were somewhat underhanded and less-than-honest, so I think some very valid points were made. I also, like many gay people, was very upset and troubled with my church’s involvement in the issue at all, and I do, indeed, believe, that it was largely due to the LDS Church’s influence in the matter that the measure ended up passing. I also think it’s fair to show the negative history the LDS Church has when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. So again, I get where the anger comes from, and I can understand why the filmmakers would choose to deal with the issue from the angle in which they did.

But it equally troubles me when the filmmakers portray the LDS Church in the same fear-mongering manner which gay-rights opponents used in their commercials regarding gay people and the issue of gay marriage. It troubles me when a quote from a Mormon General Conference is taken out of context and made to sound sinister. Or when a quote is taken out of context from the book, In Quiet Desperation, and made to sound like Stuart Matis’ parents were overjoyed that their gay son killed himself when, in fact, they loved their son very much and that the quote really referred to a peace they felt that their son was freed from some of the anguish he was feeling in his life due to his personal struggles with his religion and his sexuality. I’m not saying the LDS Church doesn’t share some blame in his suicide; I’m just saying the quote inferred something very different from how I believe it was intended. I also find the film suspect when it infers that the anti-group America Forever is sanctioned by the LDS Church when, in fact, the LDS Church has denounced them and, to the best of my knowledge, the founders of the group are not even LDS themselves even if they infer they are.

In any case, I did have mixed feelings about the film, and it also did not help that an angry lesbian kept shouting profanities every time a leader of the LDS Church said something she didn’t agree with. Like I say, I get her anger, but I didn’t feel her method of expressing it was particularly useful.

I also found it interesting that the producers of the film espoused that the film’s message was that of love and that they hoped it would inspire gay people to bring their Mormon family members to it and that it would hopefully bridge a gap. Well, I’m sorry, but many Mormons hold their religion in as high a regard as gay people hold their rights, I know many members of the LDS Church who would likely be offended to see their church attacked in the way it was in this film and certainly wouldn’t help bridge a gap for them. Like I said, I have mixed loyalties and mixed feelings about the film. I am just as equally troubled about the LDS Church's methods in regard to this situation as I am about some of the rhetoric that paints the LDS Church more unfairly than perhaps they deserve. Or maybe it's that I think that even though there may be just cause for gay-rights proponents to attack the Church, it would have been nice to see them take a higher road than some of the people they are attacking.

I did find it interesting that I heard a gay couple commenting on having similar feelings about the film that I had. I do stress that I think the movie is definitely worth a view, but I do think at times it’s just as heavy-handed as a Michael Moore film (whose opinions I sometimes agree with, but he still goes overboard and too far at times).

Other films I saw at the festival, by the way, were Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Joan Rivers’ comedy has never been my style. I often find her comedy dirty or offensive. She has every right to do what she does, and I will freely admit she was a groundbreaking comedienne, but her style isn’t my cup of tea. I also feel like she emanates a lot of anger and ugliness, and I freely admit that I feel she has become a parody of herself. So I was delighted that this documentary allowed me to get to know Joan Rivers as a human being and actually made me feel some empathy and compassion for her. It also helped me see her in a whole different light and made me feel that my judgments of her were not wholly correct.

The movie itself was actually quite funny and touching, and I loved seeing how insecure and alone Joan Rivers is in many ways. I don’t know – I just saw a beauty in Joan Rivers that her exterior had caused me to miss. I was grateful for that. The movie is very much worth seeing.

I also saw a lesbian-themed movie called The Owls, which I found very disjointed and somewhat pointless. I didn't care for it. Maybe it would have hit me differently if I were a lesbian; I don't know.

I saw a film starring James Franco called Howl, which was about the life of poet Allen Ginsberg. I actually found it quite interesting and also liked its themes about censorship and allowing people to express themselves. It had a great cast, including Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn (a personal favorite of mine), Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeff Daniels. It was a little different, but I enjoyed it.

Then I watched a documentary about William S. Burroughs, one of Ginsberg’s contemporaries. It was interesting that the man who introduced the film talked about how he had been surprised by how crazy, perverted, and drug-addled Burroughs had been, but that’s not what I got at all. In spite of his faults and flaws and hard exterior, Burroughs was revealed in the film as having more insecurity, love, and compassion than he might have appeared to have. It’s always interesting to me that two people can see the same thing and yet find two completely different meanings. And perhaps that's how people will feel about 8: The Mormon Proposition as well.

The final film I saw was a really funny zombie movie called Zombies of Mass Destruction which actually masked a deeper theme about tolerance and judging others. I thought it was hilarious, and it was actually my favorite film that I saw.
I wanted to see some other films on Sunday, the last day of the festival, but I was tired, and I ended up getting invited to watch the Tonys at a friend's house. I enjoyed hanging out with friends, but the Tonys themselves were kind of blah this year.

It was fun to go to the festival, and it made me think of how my life has changed and how comfortable and happy I am to be a gay man. Years ago I would have been petrified to attend something like that for fear that someone would discover my secret, but now it feels so natural and comfortable.

I actually like being gay. I like being who I am. When I think of years past when I hated myself or when I was constantly guarded; when I think how afraid I was that somebody would discover the truth about me; when I think about how alone I felt; when I think of the guilt and unworthiness I felt simply for failing to be what I thought I was supposed to be; when I think about how uptight I was; when I think about how I used to wish I were dead; when I think about the stress and worry it was causing me to think that I would be disappointing my friends and family; when I think about all the conflict and angst I felt; when I think about how I never felt like I could say what I really felt; when I think about the tears I shed and how I felt like a failure as a follower of Christ, and then when I look at how comfortable and happy and peaceful and free I feel now, I am so happy to be who I am. Years ago I would have given anything not to be gay. Now I think that even if Heavenly Father appeared to me today and told me he could make me straight, I would decline his offer, I think.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for today.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The God I Believe In

I happened to run across this short gay/Mormon-themed film called The Blessing on YouTube last night, and it typifies the Father and Supreme Being I personally know and believe in. It's in two parts here, but will only take about 15 or so minutes to watch.

I'll wait while you watch it, and then I'll make some points. And do watch it before you read the rest of this post because you're about to get a bunch of spoilers.

At the beginning of the movie, it says it is based on a true story, and although I know there are people in the LDS Church who would absolutely insist that something like this could never happen and would insist that God is "straight down the line" in his dealings and would allow no exceptions, I believe in a Father who would allow the kind of exception that is portrayed in this movie. I do not believe an incident like this could ever be the norm in the LDS Church, but I like to think that Heavenly Father was using this as a teaching example for all involved. I believe it shows His love for ALL of His children.

It was important to the father that the gay son be involved; I think it was important for the gay son to maybe learn some humility and also perhaps rekindle a connection to something he had lost; it was important for the Bishop to learn to follow inspiration even if it means going against the grain; it was important for the other family members to learn humility and to accept their sibling/son as Christ would have. And notice that Heavenly Father didn't inspire anyone to let the gay son give the blessing, but to just be a part of it. And notice that the supposedly more worthy son did not end up taking part in the blessing (a moment that kind of reminded me of the LDS Church-produced movie, The Prodigal Son, a modern retelling of the Bible story where the "good" son, who remained true to his father, resents the prodigal son, who has wandered, but has now repented; and the wife of the son who remained true helps him realize that he has his own sins to repent of; that none of us are truly worthy without the atonement of Jesus Christ).

I also liked how sympathetically the Bishop in the movie is portrayed. He's kind of like many Bishops I have dealt with myself who understand when the letter of the law and when the spirit of the law need to be applied.

I know there are some who think that an unworthy Priesthood holder (or one who didn't even hold the Priesthood) would never be allowed in the circle, but I think about people who appear on the outside to be very worthy Priesthood holders who give blessings unworthily, and I don't believe in a Heavenly Father who would deny a faithful blessing receiver a blessing simply because the giver of it was unworthy. After all, it's God's power that ultimately supplies the blessing, not the words or power of the actual people involved (although I certainly think the faith of the people involved can be instrumental to the outcome; but I also know I once received a very great and profound blessing at a time when I was both unworthy and faithless, so even then God's power overrides all, in my opinion).

Anyway, the movie really illustrated a point I made in my last post about possible exceptions God might make. And I do believe they are exceptions. It comes back, however, to a point that was made to me by my Stake President shortly before I was excommunicated and a point that was illustrated in a one-man show I saw recently which talked about a gay man's experience with Mormonism and his homosexuality in that I think that Heavenly Father is bigger than the Church or the human beings who are in it. Men are fallible. Heavenly Father is not. Men have limited sight. Heavenly Father sees all. Men are judgmental. Heavenly Father has perfect judgment.

The Being that I feel I know and love is the kind of being that would allow for what occurred in this film. It would be the exception, but He would allow it.

I also saw another short film on YouTube as well called Voicings by the same writer/director. I enjoyed that one, too, but The Blessing is the one that really illustrated the point I wanted to make about how I view our Father's compassion and mercy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Happy Anniversary (And I Do Mean Happy)

A year ago today I was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (of which you can read about here if you are not already familiar with my story). I've been reflecting about what impact that has had on my life. As far as the eternal consequences, I cannot say what impact it has had. I guess I will find that out on the other side.

I can tell you, however, how it has impacted me in mortality. If anything, life is better. Life is happier. I must admit, I was somewhat surprised that this has been the case. After all, in Mormon culture one is told and taught that excommunication is a terrible thing, and I suspect there is a large percentage of Mormons who don't believe that a person could possibly be happy outside of the Church. I have not found this to be the case at all. We are also sometimes led to believe that if we are excommunicated, we lose the full fellowship of the Holy Ghost. If that is true, then I never had it to begin with because I have not noticed any significant change in my spiritual connection to God or to the Spirit since being excommunicated. I still feel very much in tune with spiritual promptings and perhaps even more so.

It was interesting; at church yesterday one of the men who was at my church court - a man I have known for quite some time and who I genuinely like and respect - was speaking. The main theme of his talk was trusting in the Lord. One of the things he said struck me somewhat. He said (and I am paraphrasing here) that often because we rely on our own wisdom rather than the Lord's commandments and perfect knowledge, we go astray whether because of pride or rebelliousness or faithlessness or because we would rather have temporary happiness rather than eternal joy, and we are not trusting in the Lord enough. I know he believed very firmly what he was saying and who knows, maybe he's right. However, it got me to thinking about a quote from one of my very favorite plays, Inherit the Wind where the defense attorney, Henry Drummond says, in reference to his client, Bertram Cates, "What if a lesser human being - a Cates, or a Darwin- has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him? That an un-Brady thought might still be holy?" Basically, the quote refers to the fact that a human being may receive inspiration from God that does not fall in line with the prevailing authority.

I guess what I'm trying to say was that as this brother was giving his talk, I was thinking to myself, "I am trusting in the Lord. I am doing exactly what I feel he has inspired me to do even if that doesn't fall in line with what I've been told I must do by church leaders." Of course, the line of thinking in the LDS Church is that whether it be through God's voice or the voice of his servants, it is the same. Whatever the apostles and prophet teach or tell us, it is just as if it comes from Heavenly Father Himself. No personal revelation given to us can supersede what the prophet has given as counsel for the Church. So as far as Mormon doctrine is concerned, I have gone astray. I have not trusted in the Lord or his servants. I am delusional and misled. I have been fooled by the adversary.

Okay, fine. People can think that. But here's what I do know: I am undoubtedly happier and more at peace than I ever was before I found Jonah and came out of the closet. My life is richer in so many ways than it was when I was trying so hard to live my life the way LDS doctrine had always taught me to live it. I actually feel closer to God now than I used to. Instead of begging God to release me from this mortal coil because I was too miserable to continue, I have come to a place where I am so grateful for all that is in my life, and cherish the life and the partner I have now. Instead of feeling alone and sad, I feel so much love and joy in my partnership with Jonah. Instead of constantly putting on this false facade of trying to be a person I never felt I was, I am finally relieved of the stress and unhappiness it was causing because now I'm free to be me. Instead of feeling this intense pressure of living up to the church's idea of who I'm supposed to be and the ensuing guilt that came when I failed to do so, I feel such peace and harmony and balance in my life because I am no longer beholden to that ideal.

I'm sure there are those who would say this is just temporary happiness or that I am misguided and that regardless of what I feel, I am still living in sin. Fine. Think that. I just know this is the right path for me. Satan cannot create happiness or joy, and these are the things I feel, so I believe they must come from God. I am absolutely assured that God is happy that I am happy, and I feel His guiding hand very much in my life with Jonah. I truly believe that God would rather I be where I am now than where I was, and I'm sticking to that belief.

I was thinking about this the other day. An example of a hard-line commandment is "Thou shalt not kill." There it is in black and white. It's one of the Ten Commandments. Murdering someone is one of the most serious sins in the scriptures. Killing someone takes away their free agency. But are there exceptions to that commandment? What about times of war? What about self-defense? What about the greater good (like when Nephi killed Laban)? What about executing a criminal? Is it then no longer murder? Who is the ultimate judge over whether it's a sin or not? Well, I guess that would be our Father.

So are there exceptions to other commandments? I know what some people will think; that this line of thinking is simply my rationalization of sin. Well, fine. Think that. That doesn't stop me from believing that God has very much guided me on the path I am currently on and that, ultimately, His final judgment supersedes anything else. When I think of the paths I could have gone on (marrying a woman and perhaps having kids; living alone and celibate for the rest of my life; killing myself; or being in this relationship with Jonah), I am convinced this was the best and happiest choice for me personally. That's not to say that it is the best choice for everybody in a similar situation to mine, but I know it was the right choice for me. I am convinced of that more and more each day of my life with Jonah.

At work the other day, I was in a discussion with five friends about Mormonism. Five of us grew up in Mormon households and one grew up in a different faith. Four of us are gay. One of us is now an atheist. Two of us went on missions. One was never active in the church. Four of us were active in the church at various points in our lives, and I am the only one who has been excommunicated and am also the only one who still attends a Mormon ward on a regular basis. Needless to say, it was a very interesting conversation.

Until this discussion, the only people I had told about my excommunication were my family members and a few very close friends. Upon learning of my excommunication, the non-member was very troubled and saddened by it, which is exactly why I haven't told many people. I don't want people to feel bad for me or sorry for me or view the LDS Church negatively because of it.

One of my friends said, "So you've been excommunicated and you still attend church?" "Yes," I replied. "Why?" he asked. "What's the point?" It was a good question.

Why do I still attend the LDS Church? Why do I still defend a church that fights against gay marriage? Why am I still loyal and devoted to a religion that has basically "kicked me out of the club," so to speak? I'm not sure there is a simple answer to those questions, nor do I expect people who are not me to understand my answers.

I guess at my core I still believe in the essential truthfulness of the LDS Church. I have had spiritual experiences in my life that I cannot deny or forget or suppress that have made me feel this way. In spite of the fact that I feel unable to adhere to some of the doctrines I have been taught and in spite of my disagreements over how some church policies are carried out, I still have a testimony of the LDS Church.

Mormonism is very much a part of who I am, just as being gay is very much a part of who I am. Mormonism feels like home to me. I do not think I would feel at home in another religion, and I also think if I were to let go of my Mormonism, I would feel like I was abandoning a part of myself. And the fact of the matter is, I actually like going to church. I would even say I like going to church more and get more out of church than I did when I was a member on record.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: some of the best qualities and attributes I have I feel are very much due to the core beliefs I was taught as a Mormon. My atheist friend said that I am one of the people he likes and admires most in this world (which was very flattering), but that he thinks I would have been as good of a person as he feels I am whether or not I had been raised a Mormon. While that was nice of him to say, I think I disagree. Some of the experiences I have had as a Mormon have shaped the kind of person I am and have given me some of the best qualities I have as a person (I would daresay I feel the same way about my homosexuality). I still feel I owe a lot to the religion I was born and raised in. I still feel a strong sense of loyalty to the LDS Church, although I am also certainly quick to voice my opinion on those things in Mormonism that trouble me.

There is also a small (and perhaps selfish) part of me that continues attending to show those who know I have been excommunicated that I am still the same person that I have always been. In a way, it's almost like a silent protest - a way of saying "Yes, I am a gay man, but I am still the person and member you have always known."

The brother who gave the aforementioned talk said to me as he was leaving, "I'm so glad to see you here." I'm not sure if he was saying it was just good to see me in general or if he was saying that it was good to still see me at church in spite of the choices that led me to my excommunication. But however he meant it, I thought to myself, "Where else would I be?"

I know there are those who do not understand my decisions. I know there are still others who do not approve of my decisions. I know I am still a conundrum to many. I don't care. All I know is I am where I am supposed to be in my life, and I am happy with my choices. If there ever comes a time when things aren't to my liking, perhaps I will change my course. But right now I am happy, content, joyful, and at great peace. If my life continues on the course that I'm on, I will have few regrets.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

My First Pride

I went to my first Gay Pride festival today. I've never really had an interest in attending Gay Pride, primarily because I dislike crowds and, secondly, because I often get the impression that Gay Pride is more about partying, debauchery, and pushing people's buttons than it is about simply showing pride in who you are. That may be a false impression, nor do I judge those who use Pride in that manner; it just doesn't represent who I am as a gay person.

The only reason I even went to Pride this year was because the cast from the show I'm doing this summer was performing some numbers for the festival, which not only promotes the show, but celebrates Gay Pride; plus we got in for free. It was completely voluntary, and being the antisocial person I am, I usually don't participate in stuff like that, so I surprised myself when I eagerly chose to participate this time. This is the first Pride I've witnessed in my life since I was excommunicated (in fact, my excommunication anniversary is coming up), and I guess before I was excommunicated, I still had that feeling of remaining true to my duty as a member of the LDS Church and somehow, attending Pride didn't seem like the thing to do. Now I don't feel so beholden to my religion, and I felt free to attend without any extra baggage.

I still don't think Pride is my bag (too many people for my taste), but I will admit it was enjoyable. It was just nice to see people being themselves and having a good time and knowing that no one around them was judging them for it. I loved seeing all the children and pets and families and gay couples holding hands and straight people supporting their gay loved ones. It all seemed so normal (as well I think it should be; would it were that way everywhere). And while, yes, there were some examples of the kind of stereotypical people and activities associated with Gay Pride (drag queens, men wearing very little, protesters, effeminate men yelling things like "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" (which sounded so cliché to me today), angry lesbians, strange people, etc., they seemed to be in the minority, and I was really pleased that most people there just seemed relatively normal and I didn't feel out of place or anything. I was also impressed with how low-key most people seemed. It just seemed like people we're there to celebrate who they are and enjoying each other's company without getting all "in-your-face" or antagonistic about it.

I found it somewhat ironic that I had attended Sunday School and Testimony Meeting in my home ward and then went straight to Gay Pride, and it also made me wonder how many people there had grown up Mormon and what had their experiences been like? How did they feel about the LDS Church now? I also thought about the facade we sometimes put on as church members pretending that all is well in Zion and living these "Peter Priesthood/Molly Mormon" lives on the outside when there are so many things going on in our lives that our fellow members never see. That also made me think about some of the outrageous things some gay people do to overcompensate for their pride in their homosexuality. I admired the fact that people were being themselves without fear at the festival. One black guy in a kilt was just dancing to the beat of his own drummer. One guy was walking around in cut-offs and heels. Normal-looking couples were just holding hands. Even though I don't necessarily understand each individual's experience, I admire the fact that they have the guts to just be who they feel they are. So many of us hide behind facades in misery.

But that also made me think of the genuine people in my own home ward. My old bishop bore his testimony today, and I looked at him in awe and thought to myself, "This man truly is one of the best followers of Christ I know." He is completely genuine and humble and nonjudgmental and is exactly who he appears to be. It was interesting to see the kind of strange, but apt parallels between a Mormon church ward and a Gay Pride festival, and as a friend said to me today, "It's too bad they're mutually exclusive. It's too bad these two worlds can't come together somehow." I think there are examples of individuals from both sides coming together, and I certainly think both sides are making progress, but I wish Mormonism and homosexuality could somehow reside together unified.

Anyway, I had a good time today. Not sure I feel the need to go again. If I do, I hope Jonah and I can do it together. I really missed him today.

Oh, and by the way, one thing I do not get yet: Gay Republicans. They had a booth set up, and I just thought, "What an oxymoron!"

Friday, June 04, 2010

Goodbye, Melanie

About three hours ago I found out that an old friend of mine had died of cancer this morning. Just two days ago I found out that she was even sick and had only weeks to live. I guess God decided to take her a little earlier than her doctors had estimated. Needless to say, I am in shock. Melanie was younger than me by a couple of years, and she and her husband had only been married for two. She was a young, vibrant, strong-willed woman, and I am saddened by her passing.

I guess one thing that has been hard about this was that Melanie and I had lost touch over the years. There was no particular reason for that. It just happened.

I met Melanie in 1997 when I was working for a theatre company in California. We were in The Sound of Music together. She was in the ensemble and I was Uncle Max. The two of us developed a close friendship. Part of that stemmed from the fact that we were both Christian and didn't drink or smoke or sleep around like some of our fellow co-workers. I'm not judging my other coworkers, honest! It was just nice to have someone to talk to that I related to. She was of a different faith than I and, actually, had some misconceptions about Mormons when I met her.

At the time I met Melanie, I was still in the closet and trying hard to like girls. She and I hung out as friends, although I know she wanted more. Melanie was a good friend, but I wasn't at all attracted to her physically nor at the time did I feel an interfaith relationship would work, so I declined her advances. Still, we were good friends. She made feel good about myself and instilled confidence in me at a time when I was feeling somewhat insecure.

There are two things I fondly remember about her. One was that I remember going to a coffee shop with her late one night. We played Star Wars Monopoly, and I kicked her butt. Then we stayed at the coffee shop just talking for hours into the morning until it was so late (or early) that we had to go home to get some sleep. The other thing I remember was taking a trip with her to Anaheim and L.A. We went to the Movieland Wax Museum in Anaheim, a place I had fondly loved as a child, and then we went to Hollywood and went to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. I remember it was shortly after Frank Sinatra had died because his block of cement had flowers all around it. We also took a walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and lay down on the ground next to the stars of celebrities we liked and took each others pictures. I still have those photos and was looking at them a couple of hours ago, remembering my vibrant friend.

I later started dating a mutual friend and felt guilty because I knew Melanie had been interested in me, and I didn't want to hurt her feelings. I think she was a bit hurt, but she was cool about it, and I always admired the fact that she took the high road and that we still remained good friends.

Eventually, I left my job in California and moved back to Utah, and Melanie and I continued to email each other and update each other on the goings-on in our respective lives. Somehow, that dissipated after a few years. Like I said, there was no particular reason. It just happened as it sometimes does. Semi-annually I did send mass email updates out to all my friends, including her, and I assume she received them. Every once in a while I would hear an update from her from a mutual friend. When my ex-girlfriend told me that Melanie had become engaged to the guy she eventually married, I was so happy for her because I knew that was something she really wanted, and I was glad that she had found, by all accounts, a man she loved who loved her in return.

Two days ago my ex-girlfriend (who now lives in Missouri) informed me that she, herself, had just found out that Melanie was dying and knew that I would want to know. I no longer had Melanie's phone number, but still had an email for her and wrote her telling her how much her friendship had always meant to me and that I was sorry we had lost touch. It is doubtful she ever read it. From what I understand, these last couple of days she was weak and bedridden. Her breathing was very shallow this morning, and the only time she opened her eyes was when her husband said, "I love you, Mel."

I am sure Melanie knew how much I valued her and her friendship at a time when I especially needed it, but it would have been nice to tell her one last time before she passed. It reminded me how much we need to let people know how we feel about them while they're still here.

I guess what I lament the most is the fact that her husband, who loved her so much, lost her so quickly and so soon. He said he had lost his best friend, and that got me to thinking about how much I love my partner, Jonah.

In my last post or so, I think I mentioned I was unemployed and back in Vegas with Jonah. That only lasted three weeks. I then got a surprise job offer to do a show in Utah. Jonah and I both agreed I should take it, and although I am very grateful for the job, I was looking forward to a summer with Jonah, and I miss him a lot. My friend's sudden death reminded me just how valuable Jonah is to me and how much I wish we could spend more time together. He is one of the most important people to me. I also thought of my mom, who is getting up in years, and who is one of my best friends. Although she is healthy, I also know that relatively it won't be too many years before she is gone as well. And I know I will see all my loved ones again, but Melanie's death reminded me how precious the relationships we have with our loved ones are.

I made the mistake of watching a somewhat emotional episode of the TV show "Friday Night Lights," and I just started crying; not over Melanie, per se, but because I was so, so happy that I have Jonah in my life. I was reading through the new issue of The Ensign today and read an article about agency, and it, of course, was saying that we must use our agency wisely and that when we disobey the commandments, we become captive to wickedness, and as I read that I thought to myself, "I can definitively say with no regret that I am glad I used my agency to be with Jonah even if it meant sacrificing my membership in the church." Perhaps that sounds awful, but it's how I feel. Jonah has made my life richer and brought me so much happiness and joy that I never felt when I was trying so hard to be a "good" member.

I still go to church. I still love many things about the church. I still maintain a great deal of loyalty and praise for the religion I grew up in. But I do not regret my relationship for Jonah one bit, and how that plays out in the eternities is up to God, but I know I feel true happiness in my relationship with Jonah, and true happiness does not come from the adversary.

Thanks, Melanie, my old friend, for bringing so much light into my life and into the lives of so many others. I know I will see you again some day. I was blessed by your presence. I know your light still shines. My prayers to your husband and your respective families. God bless you all.