Sunday, November 06, 2011

Circling The Wagons

I always said I would continue attending the LDS Church as long as it kept working for me. Thus far it has, but there are days when I wonder if I need more. I've mentioned in past posts that it is sometimes hard as an excommunicated member to not be able to participate fully in church meetings. I miss giving talks, bearing testimony in Sacrament Meeting, making comments in classes, etc. I've continued going to church with limited participation, and most of the time I am fine with it, but there are some days when I tire of it.

One of the ironies for me, too, is that I actually attend a very great ward. Many people know that I am gay. People are compassionate, kind, supportive, and welcoming. I have very loving leaders. Even today, after a two month absent after being out-of-state, I had so many people come up to me and make me feel welcome, telling me how much they had missed me and how nice it was to see me again. I love these people and care about them, and I know many of them care very much about me. I enjoy listening to lessons and testimonies. I enjoy what I still get out of going. And yet...

...There is still that part of me that desires more participation, more activity, more of a voice. I'm tired of sitting in obedient silence.

Today in testimony meeting, I so wanted to share the feelings of my heart and couldn't do so. Now I realize that is a consequence of my own actions and choices. Fine. But could I not find a place where I can share more of myself and who I am without being judged or reprimanded for it? I could.

I go to my Mormon ward by choice. I go there because there are still things I very much like about it. I go there because I enjoy the associations of others who go there. I go there because it feels like home in many ways. I go there because it feels comfortable in many ways. I go there to be an example of what a gay Mormon can be and to maybe change people's perceptions. But is it enough? Some days it is; other days it is not.

Yesterday I attended the main session of the Circling the Wagons conference for LGBTQ Mormons, and I found it very moving and edifying. I was also very pleasantly surprised at the turnout as well. A swath of people from all across the spectrum of what it is to be gay and Mormon as well as their straight families, friends, and allies.

It was a bit of a trip getting there as it was snowing pretty heavily, but I was determined to go, and most of my trip felt safe.

It was kind of like being at a gay General Conference, which was kind of the idea. It felt like a church meeting, but one where you felt full fellowship and acceptance, and I quite appreciated that, especially because it is something that is sometimes lacking in an LDS ward. It made me see the possibilities of what could one day, hopefully, be.

I found it ironic that such a meeting of fellowship and love focused on gay Mormons (and gay ex-Mormons) should be held in a Baptist church (and thanks to those very generous Baptists for furnishing the building). Oh, that our own religion could be so supportive of its members and once-members who have felt ostracized, disenfranchised, and unwelcome! Why is that? Why is it that the place we should be able to turn to most for love, support, acceptance, and fellowship is sometimes the place we least feel we are getting it? Why is it that way? Why does it have to be that way?

The LDS Church is losing so many good people because of this issue and because of an inability to help its gay members feel welcome and loved. There are wards, stakes, and individuals out there who are doing well at effectively reaching out to their gay brothers and sisters, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule? Why?

And why does positive change seem to come from the bottom rather than the top? Why does the LDS Church seem to be behind the curve on this issue.

Look, I'm not even saying the Church must change its doctrine on the issue. That would be nice, but I don't think it's going to happen. But it's always seemed their solutions and answers aren't working for most gay members. It seems these gay souls spend lifetimes doing exactly what the Church requires of them only to fail. Some leave the Church, feeling betrayed by it. Others lose faith in God completely. Others are ostracized by their families or friends. Others live lives of unfulfillment, still trying to live life as the Church has directed, but feeling empty and without the kind of love they long for. Some get married, only to have it not work out, leaving a wake of divorce, broken families, and hurt ex-spouses. Many find joy outside of the Church, which is a shame (for the Church, I mean), because that means the Church is losing a lot of great people.

Why is it this way? Others might argue, "Well sin is sin. The Lord teaches what the Lord teaches, and prophets and apostles can't change what the Lord commands." I guess what's confusing to me, then, is why, if homosexual relations are sinful (which I don't believe they are, but go with me on this), why are do so many gay people (myself included) find such joy, peace, and happiness in their relationships? I can assure you, it isn't fabricated or imagined, and I know many gay people who will back me up. Why, if we are sinning, do so many of us feel much happier, fulfilled, and at peace with ourselves than we did when we were trying so hard to live according to the teachings of the LDS Church? It doesn't seem to me that the adversary is capable of creating genuine feelings of happiness, joy, and peace, and yet, I can assure you, that is what I feel. Furthermore, I feel closer to God in my life than I did six years ago (before I was out), and Jonah and I both feel he blesses our union and our lives. Why is that, if it's supposedly wrong?

Our relationship is based on love. It really is. And, to me, it seems that where love is, there God is also.

As for yesterday's conference, the first session was conducted by our very own Invictus Pilgrim (and by the way, thanks to him, John Dehlin, Anne Peffer, and the others who helped organize the conference). It was nice to put a face to the blog. As he read the mission statement of the conference, I could sense some of the past pain he has felt in his journey. I'm glad he is in a better place now.

Lee Beckstead gave the first talk. Some of the points he made included:
- Adam and Eve made a choice that seemingly distanced them from God, but nevertheless, God was always with them.
- He talked about how some therapists try to fix people's sexuality and that "the solution of trying to fix homosexuality ultimately becomes the problem.
- He talked about how you can't cut off a part of yourself without causing harm.
- What matters most in life is love; not suppressing, submission, denial, or shame. Acceptance, understanding, compassion, and forgiveness are key.
- We have to give ourselves permission to be who we are without shame.
- We have to each find our own individual path to what makes us happy, whatever that is. If we seek truth, we will learn more about what is right for us, and happiness will follow.

Carol Lynn Pearson recited her poem "Pioneers" and then a chorus sang an original composition based on that poem.

Carol Lynn Pearson then spoke. I really enjoyed her remarks. Her initial comments appealed to me as an actor since she was using stage metaphors. She said, "Today the curtain is up. You are the star and the playwright. What do you want your story to be?" She said, well, obviously, you would want to be the hero and then used Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces [full book here] as the basis of her talk, comparing our journey as gay Mormons with the hero's journey in Campbell's book.

This is a book with which I am somewhat familiar as it highly influenced George Lucas when he created the Star Wars stories. Campbell's theories are evident in such works as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, pretty much every superhero story, and The Lion King, just to name a few examples. Because I was familiar with Campbell's ideas, it made Carol Lynn Pearson's talk even more relevant to me.

She talked about twelve ideas in Campbell's book:

1. The ordinary world (meaning the Mormon community in which we grew up and were nurtured)

2. The call to adventure (this is the term Campbell uses, but Carol Lynn asked us if we had ever thought of it as a "call to adventure"? These are the moments when we realize we are different or unusual. We don't realize it, but we are called to be seekers. Perhaps our calling is to help others see homosexuality in a different light.

She gave a quote by Alan Alda: "Our world suffers from testosterone poisoning."

3. Refusal of the call - most, if not all gay people have done this, where we try our very best not to be gay.

4. Meeting with the mentor - in Campbell's theory, this is usually an older, wiser individual (an Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Gandalf, a Dumbledore, or a Mufasa, for example), but for Carol Lynn Pearson's purposes, this can be anybody who influences us to walk the path; someone who helps you realize your sexuality is a gift, not a curse; a pioneer (or pioneers) who shows us the way.

5. Crossing the threshold - this is an emotional experience that changes your life; a leap of faith which causes you to truly acknowledge this part of your identity. It can be something like falling in love, for example (and certainly was, in my case, the very thing that caused me to "cross the threshold.").

6. Encounters, tests, allies, etc. - This new world is different than the one we have been accustomed to. This is where we "figure out how to be a gay person." This is a place where some souls get lost, falling prey to addictions, predators, promiscuity, and engaging in other activities that can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually damaging. Pearson advised people in that stage of the journey not to get lost. She also said it's partly the "tribe"'s fault (meaning the Church or family members) because sometimes their actions push us away or make us feel unloved or unworthy and so we seek love and affection in other, sometimes unhealthy, places.

Pearson also advised people not to give up spirituality. Some think God is no longer their ally because they have been so often told what God thinks of them by others, but this is not true.

7. Approach the in-most cave

8 Supreme ordeal - She said this could be equivalent to a time when gay people consider suicide. She warned against that. She said no matter what we think or are told, we are a part of the plan.

9. Reward - seizing the story - She said we must always be mindful of those who didn't make it.

10. The road back - She said this didn't necessarily mean coming back to the Church, but finding peace with our community. She said people back home are starving, and we need to bring the food back. They need what we have. Our tribe is starving.

11. Resurrection - One final sacrifice - the warrior self must die, so the innocent can be reborn. This means we must refuse to live a life of bitterness. We must have forgiveness in our hearts and continue to hold on to the precious things we have been taught. Peace of mind. Learn to be an activist in a positive way.

12. Return with the elixir - Share the treasure with the tribe. We can relate anew to the community. Love is the elixir, and it cures all ills. There are different forms of the elixir for different people. Some may find it in a committed gay relationship, others may find it in a mixed-orientation marriage, others may find it in a life of celibacy. Whatever our path is, we must write our stories well.

After Sister Pearson's remarks, the chorus sang "Be Still, My Soul," which I thought was an appropriate number.

We had a break after the first session and mingled and had refreshments. I bought a copy of an issue of Sunstone Magazine that contains a play I have been interested in reading called Borderlands, which I haven't read yet.

We then had breakout sessions. There were six possible sessions we could choose from, but could only go to one in the time allotted. They were:

1. a panel on the differences between Affirmation, Family Fellowship, North Star, and Evergreen with a representative (or someone with first-hand experience) from each group.
2. The Power of Authenticity as Mormon Lesbian
3. A Father's Journey Towards Understanding Homosexuality
4. What Helps (and Hurts) in Resolving Sexual, Religious, and Social Conflicts
5. A National Perspective on Church and LGBTQ Issues
6. LGBTQ History in Utah over the Past 30 Years.

# 4 and #6 sounded the most interesting to me. I really debated about which one to go to, but I decided a history lesson was what I was more in the mood for, so I chose to go to #6. Although hosted by Jim Dabakis, the majority of the time was taken by Ben Williams, a historian, and who probably knows more about gay history in Utah than anyone. I read his column, Lambda Lore in QSalt Lake Magazine and quite enjoy it. I like history, I'm gay, and grew up Mormon, so I thought it might be fun and interesting to hear some of the history of gay Utah, and it was.

Williams said the majorities like to wipe away the history of the minorities. He said he was striving to make sure that never happened. He talked about (and I agree) how neat it is to see how things have changed and gotten better for the gay community in Utah over the years. He said we are not invisible and that gay people are some of the most heroic people who have existed and currently exist. We are a people with a rich history, culture, and identity. But he also said that Utah has a lot of "walking wounded" in the gay community. We are still an oppressed minority who still undergo a constant stream of negativity from various sources. There are still many who are mired in addictions or unsafe sexual practices.

Jim Dabakis said he feels the battle for gay rights is already being won, "the chairs just need to be shuffled" and the details need to be worked out. I agree with him. I think gay rights are a rolling stone that can't be stopped. He also said the younger generation is more open to the plight of gay people, and that as the older generation continues to die off, progress will continue to be made.

Williams also told some interesting anecdotes from gay history in Utah. I didn't write any of them down, preferring to just listen to them, but there was some interesting stuff, and Williams certainly knows his history.

After the breakout sessions, we had some time to go to lunch. I went a Zupa's, an eatery I quite enjoy. If you like sandwiches, soups, and salads (or all three), I highly recommend it. Some groups from the conference went to lunch together, but I preferred my alone time and wanted to process some of the stuff I'd felt and experienced in the conference thus far. It was nice.

Well, it's time for me to go to bed. I have work tomorrow, and I'm tired. I will write about the other two sessions I went to when I have a chance to do so.


Neal said...

WOW! Sounds like an incredible event. So glad you got to go. By the way, I know they had a testimony meeting - did you get to bear your testimony? That might be a healing experience after being silent so long.

FindingMyWay said...

You captured that part of the conference wonderfully! What a terrific conference it was. Thank you for your thoughts.

Kim Nordyke said...

Hey! I ate at Zupa's too! We could have been sitting right next to each other and not even known it!

Would have been nice to meet you.

jen said...

I've loved reading everyone's reactions and thoughts to this conference. It sounds amazing, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on it!

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, everyone. Be sure to read part 2 as well if you weren't able to attend.

Kim, it would have been great to meet you. I'm sure I was often in the vicinity of several bloggers during the day without even knowing it.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Neal, I did get to bear my testimony, and it was nice to be able to do so.