Could This Be About YOU?

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Are you a recently returned Mormon missionary about to get married knowing deep down in your gut that you are gay?

Don’t do it!

The name of this blog, Dad’s Primal Scream, has never been more appropriate.

To me, a primal scream starts from some deep inner angst while outwardly observing something horrific over which I have no control. The good news is that today it’s not about my kids. It’s about someone else’s child, someone I don’t know personally.

Could this be about you?

I understand what it’s like to not WANT to be gay, to want a celestial marriage, and to want that picture perfect happiness of a faithful LDS family sealed in the temple. And being gay just doesn’t jive with that. It doesn’t fit into that plan.

I understand how growing up in the church one can imagine that you’re only gay if you are doing gay things. And if you’re not actually having gay sex, then you must not be gay. I get how you got into that head space.

The problem is that it’s an oversimplification of human nature. You cannot strong-arm sexual attraction and desire like they want you to believe you can.

How do I know you?

I don’t.

But, I do know you exist, and that you are about to make a grave, powerful mistake.

My ex-wife’s current husband also has four children, teens and young adults. These children are the step-siblings of my somewhat younger children. Rumor has it that one of the step-sisters is about to get married to her fiance who is gay. Well, he was once gay, or once did something slightly gay, or only has a tiny ounce of gay in him at the moment, or he’s been cured.

All I really know is that my kids have heard the whispering of his cured homosexuality and that the marriage is proceeding. My ex-wife who was so greatly hurt in our divorce and my subsequent coming out is standing on the sidelines while her step-daughter makes the same horrible mistake. Well, no, actually worse because the bride knows this time.

Horrified at hearing all this, I asked my daughter why their mother isn’t stepping in to say or do something. She told that her mom didn’t want to be mean and had said,

“If two people love each other and are faithful enough in the  gospel then it will all work out!!!”

What’s that saying? “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”

The problem in our marriage wasn’t that we didn’t love enough or weren’t faithful enough in the gospel. That simple-minded answer horrifies me and it ignores the truth.

It’s mean to stand idly by and let someone make such a mistake and to not say anything. So, I’m saying something.

I don’t know you. I’ve never seen you or even shaken your hand. I only know you in the 3rd person but I understand you more than you think I do.

DON’T DO IT.

I did something very similar 22 years ago and it was only sustainable for a short period of time, for almost 11 years.

Sure, some people marry and survive just like some people venture over Niagara Falls and survive it, but not without injuring themselves and many people in the process. It leads to a weak quality of life and a deep chronic inner turmoil. According to information from a USU study, “The findings suggest that rejection or compartmentalization of sexual identity may be difficult to sustain over time and likely comes at a significant psychosocial cost.”

Those who paint a rosy picture of such marriages are being dishonest and duplicitous with you. More specifically they are being dismissive of their wives and of your current fiance. If you really truly loved her, you wouldn’t do this to her. And she wouldn’t expect it of you if her friendship and love were true.

I understand the wedding is soon. My ex-wife was out shopping today for a dress for my daughter to wear. It could even be this weekend but I suggest you reconsider NOW. It’s not too late.

I know so many happy, out, gay men who are living lives of integrity and honesty. Many are also returned missionaries. They’re good fathers, loving partners and valuable members of society. They’re successful. You could be that too and there are a lot of us out here ready to welcome you with open arms. You don’t know me but you are welcome to knock on my door anytime and I’ll listen. I’ll introduce you to others and we’ll help you in any way we can.

We know and love you because we were you.

 

See an UPDATE here

 

 

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Scientology-Lite

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Reblogged from 2011 in honor of Leah Remini’s A&E series on Scientology

 

I’ve joked several times about Mormonism being “Scientology-lite” but until recently I never had the chance or much interest to do a compare/contrast. But I suppose you can’t say that without backing it up, so here goes.

I probably have as much knowledge or interest in Scientology as the general population has regarding Mormonism.  I’m familiar with several buildings in my local area, I know some of the absurd parts of the doctrine and I’ve heard rumors.  Of course, I know about the celebrity members and I’ve also witnessed several  “Anti-Scientology” street protesters (former members I presume) holding placards declaring it to be a cult.

I was recently shocked when over dinner one night a friend and colleague came out as a former Scientologist.  She spoke well of several Scientology beliefs and practices and said she still utilizes them.  She’s a very successful business woman, but I had to scrape my jaw off the floor as she related her experience…some good, some bad…just like my experience with Mormonism.

Then, last week there was a pretty extensive New Yorker article which profiled Paul Haggis (Hollywood Director, “Crash”), an apostate of that religion. I found that his experience rang true in many respects to mine as a Mormon apostate so I’ve decided to list the similarities that I uncovered in the article.  I make no claims that this is a result of extensive research.  It’s anecdotal.

I admit that there’s not much to compare as far as doctrine goes, but it’s not doctrine that defines a restrictive religion, or a cult, or whatever you feel comfortable calling it.  It’s generally the practices, the procedures and the behaviors of the leadership, of the membership and the manner in which it sells itself to the public (to both members and non-members). So those are the things I’m listing here that are similar between the experiences of two apostates: Paul Haggis and myself.  Most of this list includes ideas or statements taken directly from the article that could apply just as much to my experience as they do to his:

In no particular order…

  • The church refuses to account for member behavior even when they are quoting or following leaders
  • There are a lot of “unwritten laws”
  • Members default to defending the church, even to lying or turning back on family members
  • It’s all subjective…so how do you “know”?
  • Coverts are often “loners looking for a club to join”
  • Testimonies are overly effusive.
  • There’s “some good” in it, so “what harm can there be?”
  • The crazy S#!$ is introduced later … there’s a long process until you are fully entrenched.
  • Fascinating, enigmatic founder
  • Church underpays its employees
  • Requires sincerity for it all to work
  • Doesn’t “look” like a cult initially
  • Proof is in the lives of its members
  • Testimonies often include, “I don’t know where I’d be without….”
  • Levels of membership.  Focus changes over time.
  • Perverse pride in membership
  • Charitable but not egalitarian
  • Lack of curiosity keeps members in – they are uninterested and afraid of information
  • Willed myopia of membership
  • Hard to get through “scriptures”
  • At upper levels of membership they are deprived of adequate food and sleep
  • Members tell themselves they are wonderful examples to the world of good living
  • Inability of membership to laugh at themselves
  • Certain processes are confusing and unsatisfying
  • Members project unambiguous, non ambivalent view of world
  • “If it changes me for the better, who cares if it’s true?”
  • Arrogance of membership with lots of superlatives used in sales pitch
  • Church avoids “overt political stands” but membership is almost entirely homogeneous politically
  • Apostasy is all the apostates’ fault.  All disconnection to family  and friends is blamed on that decision
  • Wives tend to stay and denounce husbands who leave
  • Church discipline (kicking people out) is seen as “for their own good”
  • Members consider membership “safe” and a “protection”
  • Members  maintain positive exterior, but a very reproachful interaction with former members
  • Public image of religion is MOST IMPORTANT
  • There’s a difference between public tenets and private interaction
  • Greatest fear is expulsion from religion
  • Church holds the power of eternal life
  • Members are taught to handle internal conflict within church’s own justice system
  • Big Brother type files kept of high level apostates
  • Members attack apostates’ character rather than address the issues
  • Church doesn’t live up to its own standards for its members
  • Special service is supposedly to “help people” but most of the time and energy is really just spent on  serving the purposes of the organization
  • Sells itself as “fastest growing religion”
  • Members think it “does more good”
  • Critics are vilified and suspected of “anti” sentiment
  • Members sacrifice a lot with little to show for it
  • Original books are changed and church denies the changes are significant
  • All or nothing claims, “base stories are true or else it’s ALL a lie”
  • Shame in leaving, “Everyone else could see it was a sham, why couldn’t I?”
  • Apostates who leave claim they feel “alive” and can think clearly for the first time in a long time (or ever)

I must also say that I think the “-Lite” portion applies here because there are some serious accusations of institutional violence in Scientology and of literally being held hostage that don’t apply to Mormonism in my experience.

But a comment on the Mormon Expression version of this post made the following excellent point:

“The thing that really struck me in the article is that Scientology is in its Brigham Young phase both timewise and in their organizational behavior. I think if we compared some of the organizational things that are more extreme in Scientology, the Mormon church was a lot more like that under Brigham Young.”

Additional Reading:

Cult is as Cult Does (10 Friendly Suggestions)

How Can She Not Realize?

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Major breakthrough #2

Three years ago my oldest daughter broke the news to me that she doesn’t like to go to church because it doesn’t make any sense to her. I was thrilled. That was breakthrough #1

In the years since, she has exerted her independence and rarely goes to church even when she’s with her mom. In fact we have  a nice routine on Sundays that she’s with her mom. She says she has to work and comes to have brunch with me.

The next oldest daughter does what  she sees her brother do. He’s on a mission and i anticipate she’ll go one day too.

My youngest (12), on the other hand, is harder to read. She’s talked about going on a mission, about believing it all and so I’ve assumed that that’s her path. But something just happened that gives me hope

I’m taking youngest to see the traveling Broadway version of Sound of Music at  tomorrow evening, Sunday, but it’s not my weekend. She wanted me to come get her early so she could hang out with some of her friends who are getting together for lunch. I said I’d ask her mother if she was OK with it. Mom said no because it’s during her church time. This is how I broke the news to my youngest and her reaction!

TWO of my kids might be doubters!!!!

bela-pic1bela-pic2

“How can she not realize?”

How did I not realize! I think we’re going to have a fun father-daughter date tomorrow.

My Own Worst Enemy

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Hopefully you laughed at that meme. I did.

I also recognize that at its heart lies a frightening truth. We ALL try to put our best feet forward during the sorting processes of getting to know one another. It takes time to peel off all the protective layers we arm ourselves with and really know someone.

This is nowhere more evident than in negotiations of love. I’ve been in two long-term loving relationships in my life. In both situations, I dove in far earlier and far more quickly than good sense and reason would dictate. In both situations that led to wondrous experiences of love and intimacy, both physically and emotionally. Both situations also ended badly.

In both relationships I think I can fairly summarize that they ended because we didn’t really KNOW fundamental truths about each other and when those truths came to light they were deal-breakers for one or both of us.

Hiding or glossing over our true selves were both the keys that led to the relationships even existing in the first place, but they also flipped the switch to their demise.

So, here I am today 7 years past any long-term relationship and super gun shy. I tell my teenage kids not to plan to marry until they have been dating someone at least a year. Four seasons. I’d hope for even longer but in their Mormon world I know the culture I’m competing with and it’s the mindset of days and weeks. A year in that world is super cautious.

In my world it’s not really much better if I’m really being honest. My recent dating attempts leave me feeling a grumpy old codger void of passion. I’ve certainly taken my turn on the merry-go-round of instant sex and one-off dating. I’m not really interested in that anymore. Looking for something more substantial where I can be myself and fall in love with a real person on the other end continues to elude me. I feel like my resistance or reluctance to immediately jumping in headfirst with both feet like a 15 year old girl keeps me on the fringes.

Take a recent example: I joined a dating site where I’ve heard that a few friends have had some success in finding a partner. I posted my profile and perused those who are designated as compatible with me. I get a few flirty messages and reply in kind. Then, one gentleman writes me the following e-mail. This is his second message to me:

Thank you for writing me and as for me am cool and lonely.i’m new to this online dating thing and you sound nice. More about me I am single never married with no kids and currently seeking for a real relationship, but not rushing myself.I`m 40yrs old an independent contractor by work and i believe fate as made us find each other  . I really do not see age or distance as a barrier because i am ready to relocate with that special one if find , And i so much believe that fate as made us find each other because Arizona is actually where i will be moving to soon from California after my contract . I am mentally stable, physically fit,a bunch of laughs,warm, caring,honest, good listening and a positive person. I’ve got a great sense of humor,I am more conservative politically than liberal.I work hard,and know how to have fun. I am real easy person to talk to and a good listener. I love to play golf and I enjoy chilling` with my friend/family ,I like going to the movies,or watching movies in my room ,I like swimming , fishing,listening to music and dance to any kind of music, traveling,going bowling and also a good cook.I am a family oriented person..

I am really interested in wanting to know about what makes you the special person you are today,what are your goals, I want to know more about your family, your background,What do you do for fun,where are you really from ,where do you live , are you an outdoor person and where do you see yourself in the nearest future?I don’t wanna be too inquisitive so i’ll stop here  talk to you latter.hope to hear back from you soon..

 Yours Friend ,
Xxxxx

It’s really sweet except that in sentence 3 he already knows that fate brought us together. By sentence 4 he’s already moving here to be with me!

Slow the F#$% down!

Other than that he sounds really sweet, right? Well, there’s also that line about being conservative, but he seems like he wants to get to know me. I just don’t want to have to enter a relationship with a guy already making plans to move in. I have 3 kids to think about and some stranger talking about moving here creeps me out.

Then, I talk to other gay fathers who are in committed relationships about how they met and THEY caught fire almost immediately. In almost every case that I know if they fell for each other speedily and are already engaged.

Part of me thinks, “Been there. Done that.”

Part of me thinks, “Stop it! I did that too and it won’t work out. You’ll be me in 2-3 years.”

Part of me also thinks, “How cool that you found someone to love and who loves you. I hope it lasts.”

I once read a study of how people who found love once are more likely to find it again, and again, and again… I’ve found love before so it might not be completely hopeless. But this 7 year gap does have me wondering.

At a party last night I met a couple who have been together for about 6 years. One of them had previously been in a relationship for 20 years. His partner then died of a heart attack and 3 weeks later he was already with his current husband. That totally fits that model that love more easily finds love.

So, maybe I’m focusing too much on the fact that my previous experiences with love ended and not opening myself up enough to celebrate that I had them and letting the magic that brought them about happen again?

Perhaps, but I can’t get past the fact that speed and reckless abandon both ignite and kill passion.

It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy.

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Nice Nice Baby

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(Reblogged from July 2011)

I confess. I’m a nice person. Being nice has been woven into the fabric of my character since the day I took my first breath. I could certainly make a case that being nice is in my DNA. My Mom was an incredibly nice person as I think most of her friends and acquaintances would attest. My Dad is nice to a fault. In fact, I don’t ever recall being disciplined by him – that’s how nice he is.

Niceness is the unspoken first law of Mormonism and it probably makes anyone’s top ten list of American cultural virtues as well. You don’t join a 3rd or 4th generation American Mormon family without some “nice” blood running through your veins. I love that the Book of Mormon musical lampoons this Mormon American trait, but why is it so funny? What’s so wrong with being nice? Mormons have perfected niceness to an art form but I’m personally trying to overcome my niceness and here’s why:

Niceness is not a virtue

As a former boy scout, I remember the Scout Oath :

A Scout is:
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful,
Friendly, Courteous, Kind,
Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty,
Brave, Clean, Reverent

“Nice” is interestingly absent.

Being nice is not the same as being courteous, kind, helpful or friendly although I think it is sometimes mis-perceived as those virtues.  But it’s not.  “Nice” is a tactic, rather than a virtue. It can be virtuous or vicious depending on how it is used. There are certainly times when niceness comes into play with being courteous, kind, helpful and friendly. But as a character trait “Nice” is a false and shallow substitute; it is the saccharine of good character. When misapplied or overused it can have negative side effects. It is sweet, but leaves an aftertaste.

Only after a long diet of niceness do you realize you haven’t been nourished.

NICE is often insincere

Being friendly sometimes requires the type of honesty that values a long-term relationship and that’s not always nice. Niceness, on the other hand, worships  immediate social comfort over long-term depth. It’s not friendly.

As I said, Mormons certainly aren’t the only ones who highly value and encourage niceness.   I’m reminded that my former European students used to complain about American niceness and how difficult it was for them to establish meaningful relationships with Americans because if it. To them, it was evident when they caught us saying things we didn’t really mean:

“Why don’t you drop by the my house sometime!”

“You should come with us!”

Or, asking questions we didn’t really care to hear the answer to:

“How are you?”

“How was the _____? (movie, dinner, trip, party, etc…)”

Any sort of honest or detailed response to these (such as actually showing up to the house or giving a detailed opinion of the good/bad) is usually met with shock.

Being nice, at its core, means not being honest whether it’s a half-hearted invitation, or an opinion that only expresses positive thoughts.

NICE often stunts growth

Niceness prizes Yes-men, the status quo and stunts growth.  On the other hand, kindness sometimes involves the hard truth. I had a high school English teacher my freshman year who wasn’t very nice. She pulled me aside and told me I wasn’t advanced enough to be in her college prep English class. She advised me to transfer to a lower-level class. That wasn’t nice but it was true, and it certainly pushed me to work harder. I later became an English Teacher by profession.

As a BYU student, I was often shocked by my nice classmates who would approach nice professors and beg for a better grade, a nicer grade. And they almost always got it. I was never able to use “nice” sufficiently enough to do that for myself. I guess I had some nice boundaries or at least knew that I’d gotten the grade I had earned in most cases.

Nice never includes helpful criticism that encourages an individual to grow and stretch. You can’t watch one of the popular TV reality talent competitions like American Idol without wondering why no one ever told some of those folks who audition the truth. Honest judges get a bad rap for being the first one to tell some of those folks the truth. I find the frank comments to be the most helpful and compassionate. Apparently those heartless judges are the first after a long line of superficial, nice but meanningless comments such “good job” and “fantastic” from parents, friends and acquaintances leading up to the person humiliating themselves on TV.

When we replace  truth and honesty with niceness, we show that we are more concerned with endearing ourselves to others than any sort of helpfulness.

NICE is myopic

Being nice to one person isn’t always showing courtesy to everyone else. Niceness is myopic in that it often disregards the greater good for the immediate pleasure of the here and now.

Have you ever been in the flow of traffic and had someone in the car in front of you stop suddenly to let another vehicle enter traffic thus causing you and 12 cars behind you to slam on your brakes and swerve? In LA traffic, such a nice maneuver can effect traffic for hours afterwards. I’m sure that that one “nice” driver will continue on for the rest of the day patting himself on the back for being so nice while completely oblivious to the chain reaction it caused. Right-of-way rules exist for a reason; they are more helpful to the greater good.

There’s a nice time and place

As a tactic, niceness certainly has an appropriate usage. But left to itself it is destructive. Overwhelming niceness lends itself to passive aggressive behavior.

Tardiness is the queen of passive aggressiveness. Have you ever heard of Mormon Standard Time? As the joke goes, you add about 15 minutes to the start time of any Mormon event because nice Mormons are also well-known for being chronically late. Of course it’s not everyone, but there is always at least one for whom everyone waits.

Aggressive acts are often framed by niceness in nice cultures. In one example,  Margaret Toscano relates how her excommunication from the Mormon church involved an odd sense of vicious niceness.

They asked me to go out and then deliberated for about 20 minutes and then they brought me back in and one of the first things the Stake President said to me was, “I want you to know that the High Counsel was very impressed with you. However, you are excommunicated. We have found you to be an apostate.” And everybody got up and they all wanted to shake my hand. They’re cutting me off from eternal salvation and telling me that I’m this ‘apostate’ which really is considered very bad in Mormon culture and yet I’m this nice woman that they’re going to shake my hand.  And this…that, that niceness… there’s something vicious about niceness that struck me in this.  That the niceness covered over the violence of what was being done because, in fact, excommunication is a violent action.

I’ve seen the same sort of behavior in very nice Mormons who have visited my blog and are horrified that I am sometimes not very nice. In these exchanges, I’m always accused of lying without ever detailing what I’ve lied about. Commenting like they do is a passive aggressive behavior. Their repressed anger comes out in a vitriolic comment. Funny that they’re not very nice when they accuse me of not being nice.  There’s just an overall sense that my being not nice is the violation in and of itself.  Once recently wrote:

This makes me sad to see you criticize the goodness of my church.

Goodness does not result from niceness. Goodness results from growth and progress.

Niceness, like obedience, stunts growth. It favors sin avoidance over repentance,and purity over holiness, blindness over sight. In this way, Nice is safe and keeps the infant inside all of us safe and in control.

Nice aint pretty

The irony for Americans is that niceness resembles a socialist, communistic construct more than we’d like to admit. Capitalism isn’t nice; communism is. It’s much nicer to imagine everyone in our society having enough and working together for the good of the whole. “To each their own” seems just mean. But as we all know, there are dizzying side effects that come from letting nice imagery and nice concepts overtake hard practicality and rugged individuality.

When niceness overtakes an organization it purges not only the uncorrelated and undesirable like myself, but also the capable and the creative. You’ll find, for example, that artists, intellectuals and innovators are often less nice than those who appreciate an organized, correlated construct. The creative folks are often seen as vulgar, progressive, irreverent and crass. But personal experience tells me they are interestingly often  more trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, kind, and brave.

Jesus wasn’t nice

I’m not going to try and turn this into a Sunday School lesson, but I’ve read the New Testament several times and am certain that Jesus would more likely hang out with a Margaret Toscano or a Lady Gaga than a Thomas Monson or a Donny Osmond. Jesus wasn’t so nice to his parents who came looking for him at age 12, to the temple-workers he chewed out for exchanging money, to observers who looked down their noses at his wining and dining with sinners, nor to the pharisees who prized obedience over holiness. I just find that the people in the church I grew up in appear a lot more like the pharisees in Jesus’ time who value outward niceness over substantive closeness to God.

So, while I try to manage my niceness going forward with increased honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and compassion I’ll probably make a few people “sad” or “angry” or “disappointed.” That’s OK.  I am being rewarded with deeper friendships and more peace in my life than ever before.

I wish the same for everyone (Isn’t that nice?).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

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How is life different for today’s young gay Mormons than it was for me 40 years ago?

Today’s LDS Church is not the LDS Church I grew up in. Today’s gay-aware world is certainly not the myopic straight world I grew up in.

In my growing up years, a Mormon did everything possible to distinguish himself from any other form of Christian. After all, Catholic and Protestant Churches were all apostate! Today, the church desperately wants to be thought of as a branch of the very Christianity they used to condescendingly disregard. It’s no wonder that those of us from those days who have left it end up atheists or at least unaffiliated without any specific religion.

As a young man grappling with homosexuality there was no such thing as an out gay Mormon. Gay wasn’t a noun. It was only considered an endurable, sinful verb. Today, there is a small but vocal segment of Mormon allies and even gay Mormons who accept homosexuality as an unchangeable state and yet find the capacity to struggle and contort themselves to stay LDS. I still can’t fathom operating the required mental and emotional gymnastics to accomplish that, but it is undeniably a thing now.

In the past, my LDS Mom and wife took on leadership roles without any real freedom or power to manage objectives and staffing. They were merely operation coordinators. Programs and processes were directives from the males above and local decisions required male approval thus effectively rendering their own decisions mute. I haven’t heard of any substantive changes in this regard but

As a teen, I’d never seen a homosexual portrayed on TV or in the movies. I’d heard that the 70’s sitcom Soap had a gay character, but we weren’t allowed to watch that show. Homosexuality was never discussed in my home or in church. In fact, I didn’t even know what the words “gay” or “homosexual” actually referred to until I was in the 5th or 6th grade. When I did learn what it meant, I suddenly had a name for how I felt and it still felt very “bad”, very foreign and very unfathomable. I just shamefully sensed that I was all that, and that my safety and the cure lied in the church.

It didn’t.

Today, a young preteen gay boy or girl has  a rich source of gay themed media, gay Mormon blogs, gay ex-Mormon blogs or videos, and just plain gays in the media out and proud, not addicted to drugs and not living in a van down by the river!

Then there’s Mama Dragons.

These women are everything I dreamed my mother would have been. My own mother died before I came out. But had I any idea there were LDS women like Mama Dragons out there when I was a teen,  I think I would have felt safe enough to come out earlier and thus prevent a whole slew of pain that later revealed itself on loved ones such as my ex-wife and kids. If you are one of our gay youth or the parent of one, talk to a Mama Dragon (You can e-mail them here: mamadragonstoryproject@gmail.com). I’ve met a couple of them in person and even as a 50 year old man, my soul is refreshed and I feel love from those women. These are people with a moral compass that elevates everyone they interact with. This is what love is.

There was a movement a few years ago called, “It Gets Better”. I’m here to testify that is IS better. It’s better today even while religious leaders still cling tight to archaic bronze age opinions. The world, American society and some in the LDS  fringe community are better today than they were 40 years ago..

You CAN do this, in or out of Mormonism.

See Also:

Family Acceptance Project

 

Friends

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“Friend” is an odd word.

Friends

During my teaching English as a Second Language days, my students often expressed frustration with American usage of that word.

“You use that word all the time! EVERYONE is a friend. But that means no one really is.”

“It doesn’t appear that Americans have friends. At least not in the way we use the word in my country.”

Ouch.

Of course I have friends. I have several cherished long time friends. I have friends I can not speak to for years and then reconnect with and immediately it feels as if we were never apart. I know a lot of Americans who say that very same thing.

But that example only serves to make my students’ point. The kind of friends they’re talking about are the kind that would never go years without speaking to each other. To them, a “friend” is a person that makes up an integral part of their daily life in their thoughts, emotions and activities. To them a friend is like an appendage; when you leave it behind it causes deep pain. The type of friends they are talking about are the type of friends that would play heavily into a decision to move or not. Mostly not.

I have to admit that I don’t really have those kinds of friends.

Most of my friends have been situational. By that I mean we were thrust into the same location by chance.Our close proximity caused us to reach out to serve a basic human need of belonging and likeness and so we became “friends.” But once the situation was over, we all went our separate ways and the friendship essentially ended except for nostalgic reunions on Facebook and occasional messages of “Congratulations” for a new job or “Happy Birthday.” You know, Christmas card friends.

I do have friends who have stuck their necks out for me in shockingly unselfish ways and for whom I’d give the shirt off my back. I’m so fortunate in that regard. These are the ones who you can look to in a time of need… and who you hope feel the same about you. As special as these friends are, they are not intimately involved in my day-to-day life and that’s what sets them apart from the friends my students described.

I have high school and college “friends” I cherish dearly but I can’t call any of them up right now to go have a drink with me. They don’t live nearby.  I have work “friends” I’ve collected at various jobs on my diverse resume, but we only stay in touch on Facebook. I have many international “friends” from my time in Brazil, Japan and while teaching but none of us are planning to meet anytime soon. I have gay friends, ex-Mormon friends and every combination in between but they are more close community members with some things in common.

My mission companions are like that. For 2-4 short months we were paired up and involved in some pretty intense day to day activities with a lot of emotional investment and vulnerability. Like friends, we encouraged one another, laughed a lot and cried some. Then, when a transfer came we hugged and walked away to do it again with someone else. I liked most of my companions and got along swimmingly with each one of them except for the first one. Funny that he’s the only one who has reached out to me on Facebook! The others I’ve interacted little to none with despite my attempts. Two of them were at BYU with me afterwards but showed no interest in getting together. The others are in Brazil somewhere with common names that return hundreds of results on Facebook friend searches.

Whether it be school friends, work colleagues, or travel encounters these situational friendships are a lifeline and something I cherish in my life, but once the situation ends the close friendship wanes. I don’t mean to disparage those relationships in my life at all. Some of them continue thanks to Facebook and telephones, but at a distance. My American tendency for residential mobility means that I’m only in one place long enough to start friendships. I’m rarely in one neighborhood, town, state or even country long enough to follow through with the kind of long-term friendships that my students described and for which I sometimes feel at a loss.

All my intimate relationships have been something I call friendships but even those have deteriorated into something stilted and casual once the partnership ended. The friendship portion was entirely dependent on our intimate pillar to hold it up (which is probably why they didn’t endure).

I just had a career defining event happen to me last week and I while I have lots of “friends” I could share that information with who would cheer and celebrate with me, I don’t have anyone who would come over and bust out in tears of joy with me because they know how hard I’ve worked for it, how much I needed this. THAT’S the kind of friend my students are talking about and the kind of friends I’m missing.

Today is Father’s Day and I’m alone all day. By prior arrangement, my kids are on an international trip with their mother and I likely won’t even get a call today. We celebrated early, but my point is that I don’t have a close enough friend that knows this about me … someone who would know how much it sucks and acknowledge it or try to abate the suckiness of it.

I don’t think I’m alone in this desert of friendship either. I look around and I don’t see the kind of relationships my students described. We Americans are an independent and transient bunch. Our friendships tend to fall victim to other priorities and values. My European students placed their intimate friendships higher on the value chain than we would and had the close lifelong friends to show for it. Some of them would even top family, career, independence and money with their dearest, most intimate friendships.

My only experience with that involved using something like that sort of friendship as a tool (which of course means that it probably really wasn’t that kind of relationship).

At one point in my “trying to be straight” past, I read a lot of reparative therapy and ex-gay material (I also went to some counseling along those lines). The theory was that same-sex attracted (gay) men just needed to find healthy non-sexual bonding friendships with other men and that that would help “cure” them. I tried it and the timing seemed to be perfect because a very hetero friendship was sparked between me and another single guy at church. We did everything together almost every day and even became roommates at one point. I wasn’t attracted to him at all, so the theory was working! It worked so well that I also got close to his sister and ended up marrying her. Today this friend, my former brother-in-law, won’t even speak to me or look me in the eye if family events bring us together in the same room.

Even in my most longing moments, like right now, I’m not sure I’d be able to find that, or even want that friend again. I know especially that I wouldn’t even know how to nurture that in my life. But I’m open to learning.

I’m proud and bewildered to say that I believe my son has that with his friends. He has a closeness with a small circle of friends that I believe will last a lifetime. There’s a flip side to that as well. He’ll probably make life choices that will put those friendships higher on his chain of values than I wish he would. I’m confident that that will keep him Mormon unless one of them leaves. I worry that he’ll make education and career choices based on proximity to these friendships rather than based on his own strengths and ambitions. But then, those kind of sacrifices are exactly what my students were telling me that they’ve made for their friends, the choices that make their friendships stand above what they’ve witnesses on their travels here in America.

Friendship is an odd thing I haven’t quite figured out yet.

bw friends

 

Also See Previous Father’s Day posts:

Happy Father’s Day! Ignore The Comediennes and Douche Bags

 

Mother’s Day

 

12 Summer Highlights…so far

 

 

Gays, Gays, Gays, Gays

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Watching the news on Sunday…

Daughter: Dad what happened?!

Me: Some man walked into a gay bar and started shooting.

Daughter: Why?!!

Me: Probably because his religion taught him to disrespect and be disgusted by gay people.

Daughter: So he’s Mormon?

(crickets…pick my jaw up from floor)

Me: …No, but many gays have died because of what Mormons teach about gays. This appears to be a Muslim terrorist.


 

To provide some context for that conversation, I don’t talk much about Mormonism with my kids, much less how it treats gays. Last November was the first and  last time I remember having any type of discussion about it. This dialogue above was entirely unsolicited. It was a window into the experience  of a teenage girl who has her own mind and her own observation skills.

She attends church and all the accompanying activities with her mother. With me she does not. How the two worlds intersect is her own interpretation.

But, if any of you doubt that I was speaking accurately in my response to her, here are a few facts… Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers have documented 30+ suicides directly related to Mormons changing their policy towards gays since Nov. 2015.

The most well known murder of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard was committed by a pair of fellows, one of which was Mormon.

And with regards to terrorism, the worse terrorist attack on American soil before 9/11/2001 was committed by a band of Mormons in Southern Utah in 1857… also on September 11 ironically. 100-140 non Mormons were slaughtered at Mountain Meadows by Mormons who blamed it on the local Indians.

I’m not trying to say Mormons are somehow involved in this tragedy or that today’s Mormon is capable of the type of violence we saw in Orlando. But if a 12 year old Mormon girl can see the connection, surely we can agree that the  environment fostered in Mormonism today towards gays is the beginning of something that festers into Orlando.

The fact that recent revelations show that the killer had been frequenting that bar and using gay dating apps convinces me even more that “horrifying violence starts as embers”

It appears to follow a path like this:

Fundamental religious teachings +human nature =>religious guilt => personal shame => the feeling that there’s no way out =>anger or outrage =>Acting out.

There have been various responses to the Orlando tragedy in blogs and on Facebook. Some of them discuss ISIS, Islam, gun legislation or lack thereof, love for others or lack thereof. Some seem to argue that we should forget all those details and that there’s just one lesson to be learned…Love.

Love.

I agree with that sentiment but I don’t think it occurs at the expense of dismissing all the facts in a tragedy like this. We need to know if it was a closeted, repressed gay man, who had been recruited by religious Islamic fundamentalists,  who then resolved to attack  others with an assault rifle, others who represented what he most hated about himself. That’s a lot of assumptions in that run-on sentence there I know, but that’s the way it’s shaping up at this point in time. We need to know all that because while you may not have been the shooter you may

  • Hold inflexible religious views towards homosexuals (even if you are one)
  • Think that a citizen needs easy access to an assault weapon
  • Hold other views that aren’t violent in and of themselves but that lack compassion, or tolerance
  • Have no interest in your opinion being challenged

Pretending it wasn’t about gays, or guns, or violent religion is playing into the homophobia, or the recklessness, or the fanaticism.

I actually had someone I grew up with say that he’d “never heard a lesson in a Mormon church, taught about gays.”

If you are a current Mormon claiming to have never heard a lesson taught about gays you either need to wake up in meetings, you are completely clueless, or you are a liar. Just a simple Google search on homosexuality and Boyd K Packer, Spencer W Kimball, Prop 8 or Mormons will do the trick. If you don’t think those things are Orlando in embryo then you are part of the problem.

The religious fanaticism witnessed last weekend occurs in all religions as an observant pre-teen can figure out all on her own.

LTGOVCOX

What does make it better is the growth that comes from understanding the problem mixed with love. I’ve fortunately heard and read those type of comments too. Lt Gov. Cox of Utah gave a somber, repentant speech acknowledging that he hasn’t always shown kindness and acceptance and that that’s part of the problem. I respect that and forgive him.

My freshman college roommate gave a beautiful speech about love in times like this when accepting an award from The Trevor Project:

One of my favorite poets WH Auden wrote, “We must love one another or die” and that is what we affirm tonight. The brave kids that call for help and the adults who answer that call with love.

The horrifying violence starts as embers. In the last 6 months alone there have been over 106 anti-LGBT bills introduced in state legislatures. 34 States in all. Local control bills, anti-trans bills and the absurdly titled Religious Freedom bills.

We must love one another.

That’s the lens, the only lens. Not Red State Blue State. Not Federal Government versus State Government. No saying well that’s North Carolina or that’s Mississippi. No resting on the glory of being legally married.

Just as we would cover a baby with a blanket, we need to wrap all our kids everywhere in a loving embrace.

And that means making our world kinder and safer for them to come out to and join in.

So as we all leave tonight, let’s pledge to continue the project of Trevor – to keep our kids safe. Let’s pledge to share in the responsibility to fight every heinous bill everywhere, and to demand in word and deed respect, civility and fairness from our elected officials.

And let’s lead by example –

Let’s love one another.

Richie_Trevor Project

Harvey Fierstein presenting a Trevor Project award to Richie Jackson and Jordan Roth on June 13, 2016

What am I willing to do to change and grow and to show love?

Heritage: Full Circle

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One of the weapons religious folks will throw out at those who leave is the ole,

“You are betraying and disgracing your family heritage!”

That’s never stung too much with me because part of my reason for leaving was this universal sense that almost every generation of humanity, no, every  generation of LIFE on this earth has been betrayed by religion.

The story of Adam and Eve 6,000 years ago is a disgrace to our common ancestors wandering the earth 25,000 years ago. A Mormon’s conversion testimony betrays the family and the religion left behind. And so on…

Our entire human family story is one long flip-flopping conversion story. Who gets to pinpoint the one point in time by which all others are judged?

I recently came upon a more elaborate life story of one of my ancestors, Evelyn Nessie Eleanor Rudd, my maternal great-grandmother. She was the one who first converted to Mormonism in my family and the one I’m most likely seen as betraying. This newly discovered and more detailed life story, however, reveals a very different perspective. As a divorced, gay, ex-Mormon father I believe I have a lot more in common with her than those  in my family who are the rule-bent, letter of the law Pharisaical clingers to the faith.

It starts with a 13 year old orphan in Victorian England,.only this isn’t a classic novel. It is a true story. Nessie Eleanor, a thirteen year old girl in Danby Wiske, Yorkshire to be exact.

She had already been living with distant relatives for 3 years. But receiving word of her beloved father’s death her hopeful soul was replaced with emptiness and fear. It echoed all around her.  Her father had been a butler, a middle class designation in Victorian England. Still, middle class meant long working hours. Middle class working men had no resources to survive as single fathers, so Nessie had been left with her paternal grandparents to raise since she was born. It’s not hard to imagine why her father took responsibility for the infant at that time, since men suffered none of the social stigma of parenting out of wedlock like a woman did. It was said that Nessie’s mother was also “in service” as a cook, but had she kept the baby she would have lost social standing and her job.

At ten years old, Nessie’s Grandparents died and she was sent even father away to live with a great aunt and uncle. As generous as they were to keep her, it was never her home.

Now, with her father dead and no longer able to contribute supportive funds for her room and board, her future was questionable and unstable.

As if her mental anguish weren’t enough already, her Anglican minister had also declared her father lost to hell for never having been baptized.

Nessie’s guardian great aunt and uncle let her stay, but not without costs, steep costs. In her teens, Nessie would repeatedly suffer molestation by her great uncle and bear two children in that home. Like her own mother, Nessie faced the daunting task of single parenthood at a time and a place where animals fared better than unwed mothers.

Shame and elaborate cover-up stories help Nessie and her guardian family live under the same roof for a time, an option far preferable to the destitute state of unwed mothers and their bastard children at the time.

There’s a ray of light in almost any story of abuse and loss. Nessie’s pillar of light came in the form of young love. She met and fell in love with a young war veteran, Henry (her father’s name and so it seemed sealed by fate). Love had long seemed impossible to young Nessie so when the  opportunity came she jumped at it. In order to leave, Nessie adopted her 2 children to her great aunt and uncle and moved out together with Henry where they soon welcomed two children of their own before Henry proposed marriage to Nessie. The exciting proposal pricked Nessie’s conscience, however, and not wanting to start out her married life on a foundation of deceit, she determined that she had to reveal all the facts of her former life, something she had refrained from doing initially for not wanting to spoil their budding love. She had two children Henry knew nothing about.

The decision to come clean and reveal herself, warts and all, proved fatal to her fiance’s love, so in a fit of rage he threw Nessie and his own daughters out to the streets.The irony that he was an unwed father living with his girlfriend and their two children was obviously lost on this Victorian man’s sensibilities. One could father bastard children, but to mother them was unforgivable. Lack of redemption for her unbaptized dead father and now for her own unwed maternal soul would later be very pivotal  in later decision-making.

Henry had left Nessie homeless & jobless but even worse with a scarred reputation and two young girls to feed and clothe. What little self-esteem and self-preservation instinct remained prevented her from returning to the home where her oldest children were being raised.

In the same town, a similar perfectly dark storm of life’s challenges had hit a man named John Rudd. Like Nessie’s parents, John worked “in service” on an estate caring for hedges and birds. At about the same time that Henry had thrown Nessie out to the streets, John’s wife had died in childbirth leaving him four young children to care for. Both in desperate circumstances, John and Nessie found each other and struck a scandalous bargain for the time; John would provide a home for Nessie and her two children while Nessie would be a nanny and housekeeper for John’s family so that John could keep his job at the estate.

The town rumor mill thrust into overtime as John, a former Methodist minister and Nessie, a woman of questionable reputation, invented their own rather progressive and non-traditional living arrangement. For them it was a matter of practicality and survival. The arrangement was a success, for not long after entering into it the couple married. Their marriage did little to stem the tide of outrage in the community. Even John’s brothers and sisters would have nothing to do with Nessie at first.

But life for the newlyweds was still a step up from what they had previously known and what lay in store for each without the other.

Those who have known intense hardship rarely feel at ease in success and peace, however, and the old damned and unworthy demons came to the surface when the Mormon missionaries found the Rudd family. Abandonment, abuse and repeated tellings of her unworthiness and her father’s damnation provided very fertile ground for the Mormon’s message of universal redemption and saving ordinances for the dead. Nessie converted after nine months of meeting the missionaries, while John hesitated for himself but acquiesced to her decision.

Becoming Mormon wasn’t a step up in turn of the century English society. The Rudds only gained another mark of shame and disdain in their community. The disrespect worsened to the point that when Nessie became ill there wasn’t a neighbor who would come her aid. When the Vicar of the local Parish came to check on the family, John expressed his disappointment that neighbors refused to come help take care of Nessie while he held down his job. The Vicar answered, “No self-respecting woman would come when a woman has stooped so low as to join the Mormons as your wife has done.” John angrily replied that he made no apologies for his wife joining the Mormons and that he was seriously considering joining as well since his wife was a happier and better woman since joining it. He probably wasn’t really planning to join, but it is admirable that John chose to stand strong with his wife. It was the Vicar’s and parishioner’s derision that pushed John towards the Mormons rather than from it. He studied and joined. Not long after his baptism, the family chose to seek a more peaceful life elsewhere. The family eventually settled in Skelton-in-Cleveland, Yorkshire, England where John had found employment in service with Squire Wharton of Skelton Castle.

Life had taught Nessie the valuable lesson of standing tall and determined despite the thoughts and judgments of others. But the sting of reality hadn’t embittered or hardened Nessie and John to their fellow man.Their own challenges motivated them to open their hearts and  home to others even less fortunate than they were. At one point, family members remember a young pregnant girl coming to live with them after being discarded by her parents. How familiar the worry, shame and confusion of a young unwed mother in her home must have been. But it’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to also see how rewarding, natural and easy this would have been for Nessie to provide shelter and guidance to a young girl in dire circumstances.

As the years passed, the Rudd home became known as a refuge for the sick and the unwelcome. John and Nessie went on to have 4  more children of their own who each remember frequently giving up beds for a night as the family welcomed a needy stranger into their home. Hardship begets compassion.

Speaking of strangers to their home, my grandmother re-enters the picture at about this time. She was Nessie’s first-born, one of the bastard children left and adopted by the great aunt and uncle (who was also her father). Eventually, John was able to get her and so at 16, Gertie, my grandmother joined  her birth mother and her large family. Gertie would soon convert to their new Mormon faith and eventually be the first to travel to America. In 1922 she traveled to Salt Lake City as the guest of Apostle George Albert Smith to eventually stay in the home of Heber J Grant as their live-in Nanny and housemaid. Over the years by saving her money, she sponsored the immigration of most of her half-siblings to Salt Lake City, where the extended English family grew and where I was eventually born.

What I connect to when I think of Nessie’s story is her position as an outcast among a staunchly traditional society who wasn’t afraid to dig deep and live her own truth. I feel connected to her willingness to form a family that matched her unchangeable station in life even though it opposed societal norms. Most importantly, I admire how she allowed compassion to rule her actions later in life rather than bitterness and revenge. When I think of the Mormons I know  and love who have unfriended me or dismissed me because I don’t fit their preconceived notions of propriety, I am certain Great-Grandma Nessie would disapprove of their behavior and open her heart and home to me.

I respect Nessie’s choice to join Mormonism given what she knew at the time. I understand the refuge and peace Mormonism must have offered her. Something tells me she’d likewise understand  my need to later  leave it for my own peace and refuge given my station in life. Making that choice honors my heritage.

 

*Details pulled from 3 separate family histories:

  1. Evelyn Nessie Eleanor Rudd’s Life Story by Susan Rudd Baxter Marzec
  2. A Brief History of My Father by Thomas Rudd
  3. Life Story of Gertrude Eleanor Alcock Newbold by same

**In #1 page 4 is missing which would include the time that Nessie goes to live with her great-aunt and uncle until the time that she meets “Henry” the man who eventually throws her to the street. I filled in the details based on family folklore and embellished inconsequential parts including his name. But the main facts are solid… that she was molested by her uncle and bore 2 children during this time.

Mormon Stories and Last Words

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I don’t have one of those highbrow Mormon heritages. There are no Smiths, Whitneys, Youngs, Ballards, or Partridges in my bloodline. I doubt any of my ancestors crossed the plains with the pioneers. My deepest claim to Mormon fame is the legend that my grandmother once worked as a nanny for President Heber J Grant. They had met in her home country of England while she was working in the mission home and he sponsored her immigration to the United States by hiring her as a nanny. He apparently continued to visit her yearly at around Christmas time even after she married and had a family. My mother remembers him pulling up in front of the house in a limo and calling him “Uncle Heber.”EvelynNessieEleanorRuddandJohnWilli

That’s my claim to  Mormon fame story.

So imagine my surprise when a personal memoir of this very same grandmother’s own mother showed up on someone’s Mormon blog! My maternal great-grandmother. My family  already has this letter in our requisite stash of genealogy. It’s nothing new to me, but it is curious to hear about it from a third party online like that.

If you visited that site and read that letter, you can see that my family is pretty Mormon in spite of not being Mormon royalty. Most of us retain that same “I’m certain I’m right even though I don’t read much” attitude.

The thing that strikes me most about this testimony is that it’s the only written record we have of her that I know of. This woman lived a full life of hard work, raised 11 children who adored her (I know from hearing stories in awesome English accents by my grandmother and her brothers and sisters at family gatherings) and yet the only tidbit we really have of her life is her talking about the Mormon church.

Her last durable words begin with, “I know that ours is the same gospel that our Lord preached, and that the Mormon Church is the Church of Christ, restored in these latter days.”

And yet it leaves me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. I recognize her as someone who lived a hard life with little education and yet who was doggedly stubborn in her certainty. I can give her the benefit of the doubt that she was dealing with very little information on the Mormon church. Her lack of access to healthcare does also lend one to rely deeply on  “the power of God, through the administration of the elders.” Like in Brazil I get it how “a poor, humble working-woman” can fall prey to the emotional beckoning of turn-of-the-century Mormonism.

What I fail to understand is how that’s ALL she wished to pass along to her descendants, to me. What about reminiscing about the love you shared with your spouse, how you met and what drew you to one another? What did you do to tolerate one another when you were angry? What about recording family stories demonstrating each of your children’s character? How about writing the emotional turmoil of saying goodbye to most of your children as they embarked for a foreign land, probably never to see them again?

Why didn’t she detail the beautiful life experiences that led her to pen the final line of supplication that “He will strengthen the weak and give grace to the strong, and may love, pure and undefiled, ever abound amongst us.”

Perhaps I’m a little sensitive to the Mormon Church monopolizing the last words of loved ones.

My Mom did the same thing before she died. She chose to record her last words and in the end it’s just one long testimony. There are pleas to keep going to church, but nothing to hint that she cherished me or any of her loved ones beyond the Mormon realm.

I’m not saying that last words and memoirs need to be swiped clean of Mormon stuff. It’s part of their story. It’s part of MY story. I’m just saying that I wish there were more there. The best thing about my mom was not her Mormon-ness . She was definitely obsessed and fanatic about it, but there was more to her than that. I would argue that the best parts of her were not Mormon.

I wish I could experience a written record  to know those other better non-Mormon parts of my great-grandmother too.