Friday, January 19, 2007

LABELS II



There was a time many years ago when I was first married that when I heard of someone referring to himself as a "Gay Mormon", I wrote him off as insane, and whacked out, and considered the combination of those two words as incompatible and non-existent! The thought process would go something like this:

"If he were truly "Gay" then he wouldn't be a Mormon, for everyone knows that there are no gays in the Church, for if they were, they would be excommunicated for sure, and therefore, would no longer be a "member of the Church" and thus no longer a "Mormon". "

The words to me back then were mutually exclusive. Either you were one or the other, but you couldn't be both.

Soon after I was married, I was confronted with this dilemma. It happened when "F", my dear friend from my mission, admitted to me that he was sent home from his mission because he was a "Gay Mormon". (If you go back to my posts in May 2006 I introduce you to "F" and lament his eventual death from AIDS). At that time in my life, I was trying so hard to put these "feelings" way deep into my past, trying to focus on my marriage, on our new family unit, on what was "true" and "eternal" and "me". My past experiences with "F" were in the past and I had moved on and so I didn't want to think about being "gay". I was a good and faithful "Mormon" and so I couldn't be "gay". Right?

Of course, "F" knew otherwise. He knew me! He knew me!

He tried to get me to be introduced to "Affirmation" and to accept that there were many of "us" out there that were "Gay Mormons". But I could not accept it. I could not even admit to myself that such people existed. They didn't exist in my mind, at least in the mind of who I wanted to be at that time in my life. They didn't fit the "formula" or the "label" of what I wanted to label myself as. I refused to accept it and told him so... and that was the beginning of the end between "F" and me. For in so doing, I was rejecting him for who he was. I was rejecting that he could "exist" and since he couldn't exist, then he didn't exist. And for a long time he didn't exist in my mind.

But you know, I could never forget him. I was haunted by him. I knew of his horrific death and I felt so terrible that I did nothing to help him. I did not reach out. Or at least, by the time I overcame my homophobic feelings toward him, and realized how much I truly loved him, had loved him, and wanted to love him - it was too late.

I am haunted by this memory as I think about labels that are put on people, and by the labels that I put on myself. I am haunted by the fact that I had allowed homophobic teachings and traditions to enter my thoughts and permeate my psyche to the point that I could no longer accept "F" as a person in my life, at least publicly. Secretly, I longed for him. I wanted him. But my "Church" and my "Culture" and my "Tradition" would not and could not allow it.

I am haunted by the fact that these homophobic teachings allowed "F" to lose all hope. He loved the Church and its people, the Gospel and its teachings. But when he was shunned, ostracized and abandoned by the very people and teachings he loved and truly believed in, he lost hope. He allowed himself to get to the point where he believed that God no longer loved him either, that Christ and his Atonement had no affect on him because he "didn't exist" - people like him weren't supposed to exist and thus how could God love him enough to care about him. He lost all hope! He allowed himself to destroy himself for there was nothing left in this life for him because of the "labels" and their hateful meaning that they implied toward him.

Advancing forward some twenty years and I laugh at the irony of it all. Now I have a blog where I proudly declare to an anonymous world that I am a "Gay Mormon". That I do exist! That those two words in the context of "Me" do exist together. I still can't blend them together in the cultural and religious communities as I would like to, as others have been able to do, but I have reached the point (for I'm still afraid that what happened to "F" could and would happen to me - I could still be destroyed in an instance as he was by the hatred that is still part of this cultural scene I find myself in), but I'm trying not to even care... they are just labels - words that have different meanings to different people even within this "queerosphere".

For you see, I am a gay man. And I am a Mormon. I exist.
I am Me!

I am sorry, "F". I truly am sorry. I hope you still love me enough that you can laugh with a little delight of appreciating irony that it's taken me this long, but I'm okay with what you knew and tried to teach me about "ME" all along... I will try to do a better job of letting others know of you in hopes that others won't lose this same hope.

7 comments:

Chris said...

To the extent that labels define us, they can be damaging. But labels can also be useful. I'd even say that they are necessary--they help us understand who we are and who we are not.

I have heard many LDS leaders and members advise against the use of the term "gay" or "homosexual" because we shouldn't be defined by labels. So many LDS men and their leaders instead label themselves "same-sex attracted." They say they "have SSA." Sexuality becomes an affliction rather than an attribute. See? We all use labels. Labels define. And labels come with agendas on both sides. But that's just what happens when we use language to communicate.

I embrace the label "gay." I am gay. A gay man. "Gay" is not an affliction. The word gives explanation and definition to much of me--my sexual orietnation, of course, but also my essential outlook on what being gay can be like. I am happy to be gay.

Beck, I'm glad you remember your friend F. Thank you for honoring him here with this post.

Loyalist (with defects) said...

I agree with you thoughts on labeling. Labels, like all devices have both the inert power of being healthy and unhealthy.

I've been in politics long enough to know that public politics has been reduced to the 30 second label.

I'm still new at admitting that I am gay but I am also very concerned about the labels that come with it. I've never been a conformist so I dont appreciate the labels that come with the term.

So I guess what I am saying that I accept the term but the term must accept me as well. And I reserve the right for line item vetos and signing statements. :-)

-L- said...

Chris, I think more recent direction from church leaders is that words like homosexual and gay not be used as nouns as using them as such is inconsistent with church doctrine. This makes perfect sense, and I try (sometimes not very hard) to not speak of gays but of gay people. The distinction doesn't mean much to me, but to those who are wrapped up in whether or not sexual preference is so fundamental to immutable identity, it does. I'm happy to be deferential to the brethren in that case. So, contrary to what you've suggested, using it as a label seems the only proper LDS way (adjective rather than noun).

Thrasius said...

I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed and appreciated your most recent posts, especially this one. For me, you so accurately described the homophobia that has characterized much of my life, which as it turns out, was really the fear of coming to know myself as I really am. I thank God that I can be honest with myself now, while still choosing to follow the teachings of the church. Incidentally, I think it's so funny that some of the most ardently homophobic people usually end up to be gay.
Thank you for your thoughts these last few days, I really needed to hear it.

Beck said...

I'm much less concerned about adjective or noun. And I'm not too concerned about the words the Brethren choose to use. I understand their reasons. I accept their reasons. But for me to say SSA, SGA, etc seems a mouthful of alphabet soup.

I like guys. So I'm a gay man! (there I used it as an adjective). My particular connotation (as Loyalist aptly points out) does not go along with others' ideas of a "practicing" gay man, but I am a gay man just the same, just non-practicing.

Maybe I go back to what I'm really trying to say here in these last few posts - I'm me! My friend F was F! We exist!

Beck said...

Thrasius:

You make me remember a co-worker of my wife's years ago who was so outspoken against homosexuals and then ended up leaving his family for another man! The irony doesn't escape me.

Though I was never homophobic in a verbal or abusive sense toward my dear friend, I was homophobic in my SILENCE. For this I'm truly regretful and am trying to make up for that mistake.

Thanks again for following along.

santorio said...

L, your reasoning regarding 'gay' as adjective or noun would make a pharisee proud. we're not mormons anymore but latter-day saints; my parents weren't inactive, they were less active; the entire brigham young lesson book didn't use the word polygamy once. hey guys, a rose by any other name is still a rose.