Confirmation bias is the naturally tendency of ALL of us to favor facts and testimonials that confirm our beliefs or hypotheses. We all do it…in politics, religion, values and morals. When a topic is emotionally charged it’s even more likely. Confirmation bias affects the way we search for information, the way we interpret information and the way we remember the facts of the past. Bottom line, we weigh more heavily facts and information that support what we already think we know.
I saw confirmation bias play out this week as I observed some recent developments in the MOHO (Mormon homosexual) community regarding two recent contrasting stories of LDS men coming out… The first is the Story of Benji Schwimmer. The second is the coming out of a married blogger.
As a huge fan of So You Think You Can Dance I actually didn’t really know much about Benji Schwimmer, the winner of season 2. I didn’t get into the show until about season 5. Apparently, he was a faithful Mormon until about a year ago. He was a Mormon like I was a Mormon…he bought into ALL of it and pursued it with his whole heart. He served a mission, came home and began a scrupulous path of trying to live with homosexuality within a faithful Mormon framework. If you are only interested in the coming out portion of his story jump right to part 3. Parts 1& 2 talk about his earlier life and his time on SYTYCD. When I watched him detail his story I felt like he was putting words to what I had felt at that age. Even his final reason for leaving the church and coming out confirmed everything else I felt and have believed since.
I likewise hadn’t ever read The Weed blog before. This is a story on the other end of the MOHO spectrum. This blogger is a gay Mormon, who is out and yet remains married to a woman. As I read his story I thought to myself that he MUST be feeling the same hole in his soul that I felt as I tried to manufacture happiness out of that arrangement. I respect his ability to choose his own path but I highly doubt the wisdom of it.
See, it appears that even I did it! I put much more stock in Benji’s story and personally discounted the MOHO blogger’s based on which one best aligns with my beliefs and my personal path. The truth is, however, that I’ve been in BOTH of their shoes. I’ve lived both lives. I actually believe everything both of them claim to have experienced. I also respect their right to tell their own stories. It’s what other people will interpret that concerns me.
If you read the comment sections of both stories they are also almost identical, but coming from opposite sides of the spectrum. For example, can you guess which story this comment belongs to?
So so profound XXX! What an incredibly brave and loving thing to share your story with us. I was so touched by your honesty, your wisdom, and your strength. Thank you, thank you!
Or this one:
Wow! What an impressive, wonderful man with such an important message. I hope many, many Mormons — both gay and straight — will see this.
Or this one:
Wow, I am so very impressed. I am sure that many people will be helped by you telling your story with such clarity and love.
Or this one:
That echoes so many things I’ve thought were true about homosexuality. Thanks for sharing your experience and paving the way for hopefully a lot more people to believe in the possibilities that you are proving exist.
Or this one:
Really good interview. It was hard to listen to the mental somersaults this man has gone through. Any God worth worshiping would only want joy for his creations. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and find our genuine self.
Anyone who already believes it is OK to come out of the closet and rise above the LDS faith gives Benji kudos for his bravery; anyone who already believes it is a better choice to marry in the temple and stay LDS gives the Weed Blogger kudos for his bravery. I see Facebook friends sharing both stories accordingly… all my gay MOHO friends sharing Benji’s; all my Mormon friends sharing links to MOHO blogger’s.
It’s fascinating to see confirmation bias play out so blatantly.
As far as my own opinions go, it was hard to expose myself to both stories.
Seeing how Benji beat himself up so scrupulously because of his religious upbringing and adamantly defended it to the end reminded me of myself. In part 3, watch him describe the last straw when he finally gives himself permission to walk away from the church. The mental gymnastics and internal wrangling that it took for him to reach that point where he needed a “sign” was heartbreaking…for me especially because I needed that sort of BIG moment too (Start at around 1:02 in part 3 if you can’t commit to the whole thing). And looking back I see how unnecessary it was. In retrospect it’s simply OK to be gay. It shouldn’t be so damn hard to be yourself.
In contrast, the MOHO blogger titled his coming out post “Club Unicorn” because he claims that he is something that people don’t believe exists…a happily faithful gay Mormon married man. That of course is ridiculous. There are far more men like him than there are Benjis. There have always been gay men married who made it work…in and out of the church. And I’m sure those marriages spanned the full spectrum of happy to unhappy. His path is the traditional, more common path. Of course, he has upset the apple cart a bit by being open about his homosexuality and by being open with his wife. His openness is really the only unusual part of his story. His story itself is the more common one in human and specifically Mormon history. Countless men throughout time have chosen his same path because that’s the only option they had.
He doesn’t claim it in his post, but the Mormon takeaway from the blogger’s story is that his is the higher path and the one which others, if they weren’t so weak, should have followed. For that reason I believe it’s a dangerous one. His claim to happiness, while I believe it, is a very rare exception within his otherwise very common and very traditional path.
Fortunately we live in a time when that path is no longer the only choice. It’s not as if homosexuality is anything new. What’s new is the social construct that homosexuals are electing to build open long term relationships with each other and demanding the right and social privilege to do so in equal measure to their heterosexual brothers and sisters. That’s the new, previously unheard of path. It’s the one I’m proud to consider myself a part of today.