Friday, August 15, 2008

Circling the Wagons

Recently, Dichotomy gave me Carol Lynn Pearsons' "No More Goodbyes" to read, encouraging me to extend the invitation to my wife to read it as well. I told him that I would read it first and then as prompted move to the next step in hopes of strengthening a dialogue between me and my wife. My cautious and hesitant motives are in being sure that such dialogue will be healthy and strengthening to our relationship and build positive connections as we go forward TOGETHER in this journey, this "pioneering trek" of ours.

I have not finished it yet, so I will withhold a "review" of the book. However, I was on an airplane yesterday and had a chance to get into more than 2/3 of the engaging and easy read. I had a row to myself and so I took advantage of this confinement and quiet time to concentrate and devour the words of compassion and examples of stories not too dissimilar to my own. Some stories are encouraging, most are readily identifiable, some are heart-retching.

I found myself at the end of the flight overcome with emotion. I was touched by the message that we are not alone in this, that we must "circle the wagons" around each other and strengthen each other and build a safer Community of Saints around ALL of us.

I started to shake and lose my composure. Embarrassed a bit, I let everyone else go ahead of me as they exited the plane as I tried to regain so kind of control of my emotions. When I was the last one off the plane I had to pass the mandatory smiles and salutations of the flight attendant and copilot. The flight attendant asked if I was okay and "to have a good day". I just shrugged and smiled back.

* * * *

"Circling the wagons." What a splendid, Mormon thing to say! That early pioneer, crossing-the plains trek is still in our blood, that awareness of danger, that efficient determination to protect the loved ones. We Mormons do it quite spectacularly and often. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes we don't quite know how to do it, or even if we should do it, particularly those sometimes when the loved one is a homosexual."

-- Carol Lynn Pearson

* * * *

I don't know how I'm feeling right now...

This whole "tough speech" of the recent Church message on the "DIVINE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE" released on Wednesday, though sprinkled with a few positive baby steps (as pointed out most effectively by MoHo Hawaii in his most recent post) - baby steps that I celebrate for what they are - positive developments of the Brethren to come to the table of discussion and accept normal vocabulary of the word "homosexual" and it's use in describing an individual, and in accepting the legal rights of civil unions etc.).

But, I can't help but feel, particularly in the context of this current political debate juxtaposed with the message of Carol Lynn's book, just how poorly we, as a Church culture, are NOT circling the wagons and strengthening our gay brothers and sisters in the Gospel; instead, how we are continuing, as a religious society, to build the cause of hate and disdain and tearing down family ties (implying the subtle subtext of bias and intolerance and acceptance even of our own family homosexual members, and keeping us closet-dwellers entrenched even further in our closets for fear of what may happen to us if we dare to come out), in the name of strengthening the "divine institution of marriage".

It feels to me like the few of us "fringes" who are in the Church as gay Saints are expendable. Since we are few, we can be statistically dismissed as collateral damage - for the higher cause is to protect the many and to preserve the bigger picture of the Church's message as the Church establishes its Zion.

This isn't a self-pitying "poor picked-on me" attitude here. But, help me to understand where is the pioneering spirit in today's religious society of working together to protect ALL in "circling the wagons" is to be found in today's rhetoric? I am not a political activist. I have no desires to pick a fight. But why do I feel more and more like the circle of wagons has just excluded me? And I'm left to fight and defend myself and my family alone without the benefit of the community as a whole?


Dichotomy said...

I know exactly how you're feeling right now (and my wife does, too).

We're taking some "time off" this Sunday. It's our anniversary, and we want it to be a happy day. The PH/RS lesson is on revelation and following the prophet, and though there may not be any remarks specifically directed toward homosexuality or Prop 8, there are bound to be statements that exacerbate the confusion and conflict we're already feeling. It's easier not to go, so we're borrowing my parents' condo for the weekend.

So then I look at myself and realize that I'm actually not going to Church because it's easier that way. In only a couple of months I've gone from totally-active to seriously-considering-inactivity. I have to examine why I feel the way I do and try to figure out where I belong, because I feel more and more like I'm outside the circle of wagons.

I'm not sure how to get back in the circle, and sometimes I'm not completely sure I believe it's worth the effort.

Beck said...

I'm not pushing for "inactivity" on anyone's part here, but I understand what you're saying.

I think CLP is trying to say that we need to stay in there and "fight for a place at the table" through love and patience and good will and faith and hope.

If we give up the fight and make it such an all-or-nothing proposition, we lose. We all lose.

We all need to see the bigger picture, the more all-inclusive picture where the circle we draw includes everyone even if the circle drawn by others excludes us.

What good does it do to "take our ball and leave" attitude? I know that's not what you're saying, but...

I've got to find a larger circle.

Hidden said...

>>I think CLP is trying to say that we need to stay in there and "fight for a place at the table" through love and patience and good will and faith and hope.<<

We do. We so do. Because we are the way that they learn. The way that their attitudes change, and their perspective shifts. Those who are closest to me, have watch me come out, struggle, decide to stick in the church, and fight; those are the people who are having the hardest time with Prop 8. My former Bishop (I was so sad when he got released because he'd served for 3 years!) and I chatted last night and he said to me: "I'm in turmoil over this issue. I believe I understand the church's position, but I know too many people that this affects to be able to simply dismiss it as, 'The prophet has spoken, so debate has ended.' I'm hurting and I'm not even Gay, I just know so many people who are being crushed by this."

Understanding, tolerance, acceptance, everything that we want and look for in the church comes on an individual basis.

Relationship is the key to change.

By staying, by fighting, by being righteous and worthy and a friend to all we emulate Christ and take great strides to helping others do the same. We are here and we are important because our love reaches further and deeper than others. Some members seem to have circled the wagons away, without us. We stand up, make ourselves heard, and declare the bigger, broader circle of wagons is where we stand. That is where you will find your larger circle.

By being you, being proud of being you, and continuing to love no matter how much they hurt us, no matter how much they attack us, no matter how much they scorn us.

We are the larger circle, and one by one, slowly, but resolutely, we are crafting the change that we so desperately hope for.

Without us, the collateral damage will continue to be okay, and continue to be pushed aside. We must step up and begin to show that this is unacceptable - through our relating to others.

Beck said...

HIDDEN: Thank you so very much for saying so eloquently what I was trying to say in this confusingly written post. Your summary is perfect.

We have to stay! We can't give in! We must fight with love and show that we are who we are and we aren't going away and you can't close us out because we are part of you!

This may be hard and near impossible to do, but like CLP has demonstrated, it is possible. She is probably scorned but appreciated by the brethren where she is able to say and do things they cannot or won't. We need more like her. I need to be more like her.

This Proposition 8 is going to destroy many lives, tear apart many families and turn hatred toward each other. We can't allow this issue to destroy us from within. We can't quit. Education and change comes from love and constantly being there - having a face that won't go away.

Walking away from the church - leaving it because it is too painful to watch and participate in anymore is NOT the answer. This doesn't help anyone and hurts everyone.

I don't know what this means. I've never written such statements before. I don't know where this is leading in my own invisible world and sphere.

But, I'm not going away. It's the same thing I told my wife when I came out to her. She can be as mad and angry at me as she wants to be, but I'm not going anywhere. So, as I stay faithful and don't leave and seek to find ways of understanding to make it work and achieve all the good that can come from staying and not leaving, she has softened and has slowly realized that I am the same person that she has and does continue to love.

The same is true with the Church. How can learning and realizations and "change" occur in the perceptions of my neighbors and ward leaders and the brethren as a whole if I leave? What good does that do?

I can't do it. So, I'm not going anywhere. So, deal with it!

Philip said...

Did "No More Goodbyes" have any advice for gay Mormons?

Also, have you read Carol Lynn Pearson's "Goodbye, I Love You"?

That was the first book I ever read on gay/straight marriages that I could relate to. It does a really good job of telling it from both the gay and straight spouse's perspective.


Dichotomy's Wife said...

Thank you, Beck and Hidden, for your comments. You have both expressed what I have realized and been feeling. Dichotomy and I both feel like we need to make a difference with this, and by staying in the church, we are making more of a difference, even if it is hard! We are definitely not anywhere near giving up on the church, we are just having moments of weakness.

I am so grateful that we have people like you, people like CLP that keep reminding us that we can fight this fight and we can be strong.

I have been nervous today since I went in and talked to the principal at the school where I teach. I told him that I heard rumors last year of students wanting to start a gay-straight alliance. I told him that if they decided to go ahead with it, I would be willing to be the adviser. If it actually happens, that will give me even more reason to stay strong as a member of the church that is also willing to be associated with this group at the high school. Wish me luck!

Abelard Enigma said...

I think CLP is trying to say that we need to stay in there and "fight for a place at the table" through love and patience and good will and faith and hope.

That's kinda hard to do when we're so deeply entrenched in our closets. People look at us and just assume we're regular old straight dudes - little do they know of the secrets we harbor.

So, can we fight the good fight from inside of our closets? Or do we need to venture out before we can do any good?

Dichotomy said...

I don't think we can fight anything from inside a closet. I think that's my biggest struggle. If I were out and known to the ward, I think I could handle the hurtful comments better, because at least then I would know that the people making them were doing so with full knowledge of my situation. The fact that the comments come from not knowing and not understanding actually makes them more painful, as illogical as that sounds.

I've said before that if it were just me I would probably have come out in testimony meeting a couple of weeks ago. I think that if were just my wife and I, we might be able to step out of the closet hand in hand. But the thought of bringing our kids out with us scares us. They're too young still to understand enough of what they might face to be able to make the decision for themselves, and it's such a huge decision for us to make for them.

So... we can stay in our closets and take the easy road of inactivity; we can stay in our closets and grit our teeth and endure the pain; or we can step into the unknown and hope that we can make a difference. None of them are easy choices. Are there any options I'm not seeing?

robert said...

As non-LDS, I am deeply moved to see the courage in all of you. The collective consciousness of those marginalized by the Church's stance on same sex orientation is the very seed required for change.

Whether the ground is fertile enough within the Mormon Church to nurture such a seed is in some measure up to the Church membership. While they can supply the water for growth, the Church leaders and "Prophets" must provide the all important sunlight on this issue. If they choose to keep the seed in darkness, do they make growth of understanding within the Church improbable?

I think this is where the subject of authenticity plays a vital role. Should one abandon his/her own "truth" in order to continue as part of a Faith which rejects personal truth or uses the difference of opinion as a means to assign this "truth" as evidence of moral inferiority? This is the tough question.

Beck said...

PHILIP: I don't know "the rest of the story" yet, as I haven't finished the book. Maybe others can reply. All I know is there is a lot of time spent laying out the problem and showing the ill-affects of the way we are treating our gay brothers and sisters within the church now and how we must do better in the end. She teaches gay Mormons to love themselves, to treasure their lives, but because we are all so different in our circumstances, I don't think there is a specific advice or direction given other than to love, to hope, to have faith, to not give up, to keep keepin' on.

I have not read "Goodbye, I love you" though now I feel I must after I finish this one.

Beck said...

DICHO'S-W: Wow! What an honor to have you comment on my blog! I'm actually quite overcome. I usually don't get spouses commenting. Thank you, and welcome to this community.

I encourage you to stay the fight... to recognize that it doesn't do anyone any good to leave. We need "stayers". We need all to be invited back. The change won't happen within the Church if it is always reduced to "us" verses "them". CLP is a "stayer". I feel you are, too.

Good luck with this new school year. What a wonderful challenge! I hope it happens and you can learn much from this experience. I want to know how it goes and how you find the reaction of others, especially other adults and "active" church members around you as they come to know of your extracurricular school activities.

You owe me a report!

Beck said...

ABE and DICHO: I think we can "fight" from the closet, at least to a degree. I don't know that "coming out" has to be the answer for everyone. There are too many situations and circumstances that extend beyond my ability to judge whether one "comes out" to fight the fight.

Abe, I think we can do a lot by correcting misplaced biases and point out misconceptions, and encourage love and tolerance, and exemplify that same love and tolerance whether we are in the closet or not.

Yes, Dicho, it may have more power or influence if we weren't doing so like a mouse in a closet, but the roar of the lion isn't always the answer either.

I don't have the answer. There probably isn't just one answer to this question. I just think we each have to do what we feel is best. Personally, I'm getting to the point that I have promised myself that I will no longer remain silent when misdirected statements are made to keep me and others like me from being excluded from the safety of the circled wagons. I am going to speak up. But, I need to do so to widen the circle of inclusion and understanding, not in shooting flaming arrows.

DICHO: I think I'm trying another scenario: stay in our closets (for the most part for the sake of those around us, and that I'm too much of a coward to come all the way out), stay active in the church (as that has more possibiities to do good within the circle), endure the pain (I've done it all my life - I can handle it), but, no longer grit our teeth and bite our tongues (I'm not going to be silent anymore).

Beck said...

ROBERT said: "As non-LDS, I am deeply moved to see the courage in all of you. The collective consciousness of those marginalized by the Church's stance on same sex orientation is the very seed required for change."

I don't know that I'm very courageous, but I feel a ground swell of social consciousness coming from within. In what form that takes, I don't know, but I can't fight within the circle if I'm going to leave.

Whether this consciousness will see the light of day, or be given sunlight remains to be seen, but as Santorio just posted, the church is always craving social acceptance by the world community at large and in time, will come to crave tolerance and understanding like everyone else.

Whether any of this leads to me being more "authentic" remains to be seen. I feel like I'm walking a fine line. My faith, my family, mean everything to me.

We'll see how courageous I, and others, really are.

One of So Many said...

As a recent piece of collateral damage, I wonder what is meant when she talks of circling the wagons?

Is it acknowledging and loving them and, what? Encouraging them to remain celibate in the gospel?

Or does circling the wagons mean to allow us the same opportunities to relationships and "marriage" yet still be full participating members? I'm not even talking about the temple blessings (though as individuals still being able to attend).

I guess other then accepting us as long as we are celibate or married seems like what the church is teaching already. Does circling the wagon just mean more of the same only across a wider audience?

Beck said...

OOSM: No, the "circling the wagons" is a rallying call for straight members of the Church to gather around and support our gay brothers and sisters... whether they follow the precepts of the gospel in their choices or not. It is trying to teach more tolerance and understanding, love and protection. It's circling around those who are struggling, who may be isolated from family members, or on the verge of suicide, and bringing them IN to the circle of the community of Saints to provide an environment of safety and love. I don't think anything is mentioned about this being a concept for those who remain celibate or temple worthy. Instead, it is trying to teach that love is unconditional, and we need a lot more of that for our gay brothers and sisters.

I hope this helps.

I also hope you're doing as well as can be expected. Know that you are always welcome in my circle.

Damon said...


I am so glad you've finally gotten your hands on No More Goodbyes. You may not remember but I have been suggesting that to you for some time now, as have others.

Good for you. I know how you feel about that book. I couldn't control my emotions at all when I read it. For me, it was a wonderful since of validation.

I appreciate those of you who want to hang in there and fight a good fight. You're right, it's necessary to have you there to force a change in thought, to bring more acceptance around.

I see the Church making steps little by little. Perhaps they will never fully embrace gay marriage. But we can all hope that they will love the gay members of their flock a little more.


Beck said...

Thanks, Damon, for your encouragement. And yes, it took Dicho handing me the book - I just never got around to getting it myself. I'm sorry. I regret taking so long to reading it. I don't think it will be 'required' reading anytime soon, but it should be.

Robert said...

I really understand your concerns about the circle missing or intentionally excluding our population onf mohos. I think about that sometimes. My bishop doesn't like to meet with me...I can tell. He's kinda uncomfortable in the sense that he doesn't know what to say to help. So, I don't put him in that position anymore.

Whenever I think about circling the wagons and collateral damage, I tell myself that the Creator knew what wasw going to things would be. He knew what it would take and how far we'd be able to go. My question then becomes: "What he knew about me...was it that I'd make it, or that I wouldn't?" And...I guess, on that note, all I can say is that I'll either do it, or die trying - and I don't expect that it's in my cards to die anytime soon.

It's like you know taht you've got a huge day ahead of full to the brim with tasks, and so the night before and the morning of, you eat plenty of energy foods so that you'll have the strength and endurance to get it all done.

Sometimes, when I start to feel that I'm falling and not going to make it, it's cause I have run out of heart to continue to push and try.

Sorry for the wordiness. Thank you for this post. I'm going to get her book and read it.

Robert said...

P.S. I'm not the Robert from above. I guess there's two of us. I'm 25 and a BYU student.

Beck said...

ROBERT2: Thank you for writing and commenting. I hope you find this circle large enough for you.

Please get the book. It addresses your situation more than mine. But, it emphasizes how we all need to work and pull together and bring each other IN off the plains and not be left OUT in the cold.

That admonition goes for everyone.

Abelard Enigma said...

I don't mean to make light of a serious conversation. But, all of this talk of circling the wagons keeps reminding me of a picture I posted on my blog a while back.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Carol Lynn Pearson and all that she does for the gay Mormon community. But, I guess reading "No More Goodbyes" didn't have the same effect on me as it apparently has on others. I actually found it to be rather depressing as it doesn't provide much hope for someone in my position (gay and married). My wife read it after I did and was rather upset afterwards. Although, this was right after my big 'revelation' to her; so, perhaps it was too much too quickly for her to take in.

Beck said...

ABE: You're stilling my thunder here! I just finished the book this morning and will be posting my "review" in another post, but I came to the same conclusion.

I feel empty inside right now. I feel more alone and confused and forgotten and distraught than ever before.

You and I don't "fit" anywhere. There is no circle that has room for us!

Robert said...

Hey there, NOBODY is going to be circleless. If we have to, we'll create our own circle!!!

So do you still reccommend the book? I don't want to feel empty or hopeless for marraige.

Beck said...

The book is not a book about "marriage" or any particular choice or path one takes. There is no judgment as no judgment should be made.

Most all of the examples are examples of families destroyed or families brought together through a gay loved one's experience of coming out. The emphasis isn't on whether to get married or not, when to come out, whether to leave the church or stay in the church.

It's about love and extending love to all. For that message alone, I find it a good read and encourage you to get it.

If you are seeking guidance in your life's choices of "how to do the next step" and "which step to take next" - it isn't that kind of book and you'll have to make those decisions, like the rest of us, on your own.

More on this later...

Abelard Enigma said...

So do you still reccommend the book?

"No More Goodbyes" is a good book, and we need more like it. But, I don't think we (the gay ones) are the intended audience. I think CLP is addressing the homophobia that is so pervasive in our Mormon culture.

So, it does provide hope in the sense that there is someone out there who "gets it". But, it's not going to provide you any guidance on how to be a good gay Mormon boy who weds a wife and has lots of kids.

Unfortunately, Authoring books like "Goodbye, I love you" and "No More Goodbyes" has tarnished CLP's reputation as a role model for Mormon women. There are some of view her as a heretic and wonder why she hasn't been excommunicated. That just goes to show how homophobia is still so deeply entrenched in our Mormon culture.

Which brings me back to my question: How can we help to combat homophobia in our Mormon culture when so many of us are so deeply entrenched in our closets?

Beck said...

"How can we help to combat homophobia in our Mormon culture when so many of us are so deeply entrenched in our closets?"

It's a Catch 22, isn't it?

I mean, I can change your question to read: "How can we come out of our closets when so many of us in our Mormon culture are homophobic?"

At least CLP is trying to deal with the homophobic aspect of our Mormon culture. As she and others do so, there may be a crack in our deep dark closets and we may begin to see the light.

Abe, I don't have the answer. If I did, I'd be out there doing it. I'm trying. I'm just not succeeding very quickly.

We're in a no win situation. The gay community doesn't accept us as "authentic" or "honest" with ourselves and thus we are not to be taken seriously. The Mormon community doesn't accept us either as even existing (unless we're dismissed as going through some midlife crisis or something silly like that, based on selfishness and longing for a youthful past free of commitments and family responsibilities). So, again, where is our circle?

I argue that there must be room for me somewhere - trying to stay IN the church, honoring my covenants, and gay just the same, with a voice of tolerance and love for others, with decisions to take differing paths free of my judgment and prejudice on anyone.

Dichotomy said...

Wow. I never thought that handing someone a book would have sparked so much discussion.

My wife found the marriage section depressing too. She read it just a few days after I came out to her, and it was difficult for her because it seemed to be telling her that we didn't have much chance of staying together.

But despite that she recommends the book to everyone she "comes out" to (co-workers, etc. -- I've given her my blessing when it comes to telling people outside my social circle).

She compares it to partaking of some fruit of knowledge. It opened her mind in a way that was not comfortable, but the benefits make the pain worthwhile. (I imagine Adam and Eve wondered at times if the knowledge they gained by eating the fruit was worth the pain that came with it).

Since she read the book she's become a lot more comfortable with "us" and hopeful for our future. She attributes a lot of that to seeing the dedication that other MOM MoHos have to keeping their marriages going. Our own little circle of wagons has given her a lot of hope and strength.

As Abe said, we're really not the intended audience. Our wives and families and friends and neighbors and ward members are.

This comment brought to you by Dichotomy and his wife. :)