Monday, December 17, 2012

Building Bridges and Sitting On Them

This morning I received a Facebook invite for an event called Sit With Me Sunday. According to the FB event page, the idea is to "Invite a gay or lesbian or transgender person to sit with you at your regular service for the Christmas program," or if you are LGBT, to "come to church and enjoy the meeting with us." The event is sponsored by Mormons Building Bridges, which is an organization I respect, and the invitation came from a friend I like and respect. If she lived near enough that the invitation were actually to come to church with her, I would go just to support the cause of bridging the gap between Mormons and the LGBT community. She lives in Washington, though, and I'm not quite dedicated to the cause enough to go to church on my own--going twice a year to hear my kids sing in the Primary program and on Fathers' Day is enough for me.

This is how Superman builds bridges.
It was interesting to scroll down the event page and read the comments. The majority of them come from Mormons saying, "I would love to have an LGBT person sit with me at church! Where do I find one?" I don't mean to make fun of them; I fully support racial equality but if I had to come up with a Mongolian friend for Sit With A Mongolian Sunday, I'd be at a loss. But right now what I see is a bunch of people with good intentions and no clear plan. I don't by any means have all the answers for them, and in the long run I don't have exactly the same goals as they do, but I do share in their goal of bringing people together, so here are my two cents, speaking as a former Mormon and a self-appointed representative of the LGBT community:

One of the first things you all need to do is make some real-life LGBT friends. You could try cruising the 24-Hour Fitness saunas, but the guys you'd meet there are looking for something other than church. Perhaps more effective to volunteer at the local Pride Center or LGBT Outreach Center. You're wanting me to come to your territory, after all, so why not first show that you're willing to come to mine? By all means, be open about your religion. People may be skeptical at first--Mormons don't have a great reputation among queers--but what better way to show us that Mormons are not our enemies than by actively doing service in our communities? Missionaries use this tactic all the time, and I know my sister has challenged a lot of assumptions by participating in a PFLAG group as an active Mormon.

Second, if you want us to come to church, you first need to understand why we aren't going to church in the first place. The answer to this question will vary on a case-by-case basis. Some LGBT Mormons stop going to church because they don't feel welcome, but deep down they still believe. This group is the one most likely to benefit from an event like Sit With Me Sunday. Other LGBT Mormons, like me, may leave the church initially over the gay issue, but once we realize the church was wrong about that, we start to question other things as well. Many of us stop believing in God altogether. You may get us to sit with you for one Sunday, but if your goal is to get us back into the fold permanently, well, good luck with that. And then of course there are the LGBT folks who have never been Mormon. They come in all shapes, sizes, and religious backgrounds. Your primary obstacle here is going to be the fact that many people's only associations with the Mormon church are Prop 8 and Mitt Romney, but you've already solved that problem by joining PFLAG in the previous paragraph, so we're good there.

Finally, you need to ask yourself what your long-term goal is. My impression is that the majority of folks in the Mormons Building Bridges movement recognize that homosexuality is not a curable condition. The ones I know either believe that the church's current stance on homosexuality is based on the human limitations of church leaders who don't fully understand God's will, or they take a stance of "I don't know what God's will is, but I know I love and support my LGBT brothers and sisters no matter what they believe or how they live." I fear, though, that there are some hopping on the Sit With Me Sunday bandwagon who believe that if only gay people felt more welcome by church members, we'd come flocking back in hordes. Yes, LGBT folks feeling judged and unloved by Mormons is a big issue and I'm glad it's being addressed, but you have to understand that if you're asking people to participate in a church that teaches that their only options are celibacy or marrying someone they're not attracted to, then you're asking a lot. Would you leave your spouse in order to be able to take the sacrament and hold a temple recommend? Would you ever feel like you're fully part of a church that asks this of you? And then, of course, there are those of us who have other reasons for being outside the church. The LDS Church could announce tomorrow that they're going to start performing same-sex sealings in the Salt Lake Temple and I'd be happy for them, but it wouldn't change anything for me personally. That whole not believing in God thing is sort of antithetical to church.

So if you see Sit With Me Sunday as part of a missionary effort to convert or re-convert gay lost souls, you've got some huge obstacles in your way. If your goal is simply to build bridges, to show that Mormons and queers can be friends and work together regardless of religion or sexuality, then you've still got some serious obstacles, but I'm right there with you. Rock on, my friends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

PDA Revisited

Last week I took my nine-year-old daughter, S-Boogie, to a Christmas concert at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. We had a nice evening seeing the lights, eating out for dinner, and enjoying the music together. As I sat on a bench at the back of the Assembly Hall with my arm around S-Boogie, I had a mini-epiphany: I'm not as screwed up as I thought I was. 

Back in August, I wondered why it is that I'm bothered by the need for Clark's and my relationship to be a secret. "Do I feel a sadistic need to shove my gay relationship in the faces of my socially conservative acquaintances?" I asked. "Do I want others to be jealous of my awesome boyfriend? Or am I just an exhibitionist who gains pleasure from displaying himself before the world?" 

At the concert last week, I realized that I was being just as affectionate with S-Boogie as I would ever want to be with my boyfriend in public. While walking around Temple Square we'd held hands, and in the Assembly Hall she snuggled up against me while I had my arm around her shoulders. Obviously I felt no need to shove our father-daughter relationship in the faces of the people around us, because no one would be shocked by a nine-year-old holding her dad's hand. It would be silly to think others would be jealous of my awesome daughter--most of the others there were also parents, who are no doubt under the mistaken impression that their kids are every bit as awesome as mine are. As for exhibitionism, I wasn't displaying anything that anyone would even notice. 

I was just being a dad who loves his daughter. I display my affection for her not because we're in public, but because that's what comes natural to me, no matter where we are. When I'm with someone I love, I tend not to notice the people around us. If I were in a relationship with someone who could be more open about our relationship publicly, I wouldn't indulge in any more PDA with him than I do with my kids. I have no desire to make out with my boyfriend in public. 

See? The Justice League isn't flaunting anything. They just love each other. 

None of this changes the fact that I am in a relationship with someone who, for many reasons, is not comfortable with any level of PDA. I'm at peace with that. I know I'm not going to change him. But for my own peace of mind, it's nice to understand why it took me a while to come to terms with this. And nice to cross one psychosis off the long list of ones I really do have. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Singing My Life With Her Words

A few years ago I read Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, a graphic memoir about Bechdel's repressed gay father, and was disturbed by how much I saw myself in him. I had a lot of anxiety about my role as a gay man in a straight marriage, and how that affected not only me but everyone else around me--particularly my children. Bechdel's account of how her father's repression seemed to manifest itself in a sort of parenting schizophrenia, coddling one moment and vicious the next, struck a little too close to home for me. I wrote an essay about it.

When I heard that Bechdel had written a sequel of sorts, this one a memoir about her mother, I was anxious to read it because I'd been impressed by Bechdel's talent as both a writer and a graphic storyteller, but I did not expect to identify with the book in the same way as I had with Fun Home. I was wrong. In Are You My Mother?, Bechdel tells about her relationship with her mother, focusing largely on the events surrounding the writing and publication of both books. In many ways, this book is a memoir about memoirs. It's also an intense session of self-psychoanalysis, as Bechdel weaves in discussions with her therapists over the years, as well as her own study of British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. At several points while reading Bechdel's words, I felt like I was reading about my relationship with my mother, my experiences with writing, my attempts to understand my own psychology.

On more than one occasion concerned family members and friends of mine have questioned the wisdom of putting so much of my personal life on public blogs, on Facebook, in published essays. I myself have questioned my motivations, the narcissism it takes to assume that anyone wants to read about my life except me. One of the major conflicts of Are You My Mother? is the ambivalence Bechdel's mother feels about her daughter revealing so much about their lives publicly. When discussing a poem she read in The New Yorker, Bechdel's mother says of the poet (not Bechdel), "Who cares about the fellowship she didn't pursue when she was twenty because she got married instead? It's too specific." Bechdel replies, "Um... I dunno... Can't you be more universal by being specific? Everyone regrets something, right?" Her mother starts to go on to another topic, then says, "I just don't know why everyone has to write about themselves."

Not only do I identify with the conflict of wanting to write about my life without offending the people I love, but I believe in Bechdel's reasoning. The universal can be found in the specific. When Bechdel was ten, she got sick and threw up on the bathroom floor. While recalling how her mom helped her, she says, "I guess I felt like I'd failed her. She had so many demands on her... The one thing she needed from me was that I not need anything from her." When I read this passage the other day I had to stop and read it again four or five more times. I don't remember ever feeling guilty about getting sick. There is no stain on my childhood bathroom floor like the one that haunted Bechdel for years afterward. Her specifics are foreign to me but the universal experience they represent is all too familiar. I grew up believing exactly what Bechdel expresses, that my job was to not need anything from my mother or, for that matter, from anyone. I have spent the past couple of years trying to unlearn this, to make myself believe that it's okay for me to have needs, even when the people I need things from are just as needy as I am. To read Alison Bechdel express this feeling that is so profoundly a part of who I am was a transcendent experience, one of those moments when writing uses its powers of telepathy to connect people in ways we wouldn't otherwise.

Hey, a comic book cover that is actually relevant to my blog post! 

The title of Bechdel's new memoir, of course, refers to the picture book by P.D. Eastman about a bird looking for his mother, who asks each animal he comes across, "Are you my mother?" Bechdel refers several times to wanting people to be her mother, whether it's Donald Winnicott, her therapists, or her actual mother. I'm not really on the market for a new mother, but Alison Bechdel, will you be my friend?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The All-Powerful Mr. Fob

I am one month away from fulfilling my goal of doing something new every day this year, and I just successfully completed NaNoWriMo. This should tell you something important about me: I am one stubborn bastard. When I determine that I am going to do something, I do it. Setting and reaching goals makes me feel good about myself because it makes me feel like I'm in control, like I can do anything. It makes me feel powerful. So not only am I stubborn, but I am also cocky. If I decide that toilets should flush counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, then goddammit, I'm going to make that happen.

This sense of power that comes with reaching goals is great because it helps me overcome the fear of trying new things, but sometimes it can lead to frustration. There are, unfortunately, some things I cannot control, no matter how great my will. I cannot force other people to be what I want them to be. I could not simply will myself to be happy in a heterosexual marriage. I can't make money appear out of thin air. Even the things I can do are balanced by limitations. I wrote a novel this past month, but in order to do so I had to give up other things--time I might have spent doing dishes, going out with Clark, going to the gym, or sleeping. So while to some extent I can do anything, I can't do everything.

When Green Lantern became all-powerful, he tried to destroy the universe and remake it in his image. Perhaps limitations are a good thing. 

Limitations frustrate me when I first hit my head against them, but then I get used to them and accept reality. Just like everyone else, I make choices and then live with the consequences. I evaluate, then reevaluate what is most important to me. This year I put broadening my range of life experiences at the top of the list. In November writing another novel was my priority. I'm starting to form ideas of what my priorities will be next year. Whatever I decide, I'm feeling pretty confident that I will make it happen. I am Mr. Fob. Hear me roar.