Saturday, November 9, 2013

Things You Can't Shake - How A Mormon girl came to support gay marriage.

Do you ever read something and find yourself hours or even days later still dwelling on it.  Yesterday after being pointed this direction by Bridget, I read "Stranger in a Strange Land: Ender's Game, its controversial author, and a very personal history" an article by Rany Jazayerli.  I read it in the early morning as, confession time, I often start my Friday morning skimming Bridget's Outsourced list for interesting internet tidbits.  At one point I said outloud the line, "I was against gay marriage because I thought it was icky, weird, nonsensical."  Dr. J sputtered awake for a second and then drifted quietly back to sleep.  Later that evening when Dr. J and I were alone in the kitchen I read the article again to him.  It was long, but so full of self reflection and even in voicing disappointment at the current predicament Orson Scott Card finds himself in, it was so complementary to his work with a love and appreciation for the author so tangible I felt myself in awe when I finished it.  For those of you who don't know, Orson Scott Card is a giant when it comes to the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  He is a prolific writer, a graduate of my alma mater BYU, and while not maybe as famous as the Mormon author Stephanie Meyer, he is by far the more talented of the two.  His work Ender's Game which is currently a new release movie is one of the first scifi books many young people are exposed to.

The controversy he currently finds himself in is that he is very openly anti gay marriage and to be honest probably just anti gay.  While these opinions may or may not be safe to hold within ones own home or sphere, when one has a major motion picture coming out they are definitely going to leave one open to controversy.  As the movie has approached completion there have been calls to boycott it as well as what appears to be a distancing of Orson's self from the project.  This is honestly not a shocking position for a Mormon to be in.  My church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, takes a very mainline Christian view on homosexuality.  It is forbidden in the Bible.  It is a sin.  It will lead you to damnation.  Three years ago almost to the month in the October 2010 General Conference President Boyd K. Packer, one of the Apostles that leads my church, caused a controversy when he said from the pulpit. 

"There are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God's laws and nature.  A law against nature would be impossible to enforce. Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?... the power to create offspring is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness. It is the key — the very key....Some argue that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural.  Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our Father." That last line caused such a stir that when the conference talk was written up for the Ensign the following month that line was changed to "Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father."

Since that time there has been a slight softening in the rhetoric toward this issue.  While it was once taught that people choose to be gay the Church now concedes, "The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."  While people were once told to live a heterosexual lifestyles as part of intense therapy to "change" ones sexual attraction the church in more recent years has backed off on that stance, now encouraging instead members who are dealing with feelings of same sex attraction to choose a life of celibacy as a way to continue to enjoy all the blessings of full and active church membership.  Even within the last year the church has released a new Mormons and Gays site that in big letters across the top of the page says, "Love One Another: A Discussion on Same Sex Attraction."  There have been some within the MOHO-Mormon Homosexual community that worry that the site might just be part of a PR campaign, but there is also rumors that the site is actually the brain child of one of the newer Apostles, D. Todd Christofferson, who it is rumored within this community to have a close openly gay family member.

My own personal feelings on gay marriage and gay people follow very similarly to Rany's.  When I was a girl I was so staunch in my religion that I believed that any questioning of it, any variation, any disagreement from it was cause for concern.  I'm ashamed to admit that the teenage Doctor's Wife was a real jerk when it came to religion.  When one of my younger sisters decided that our church wasn't for her, I was so horrified by her decision that I often tried to guilt her, argue her, or just plain force her back into the building.  I engaged in behavior that was so far from Christlike I doubt I will ever be able to fully apologize to her in this realm.  At that point in my life though I had very little exposure to homosexuality, but considering I thought people who wore tank tops, who drank, and who smoked were automatically bad people I probably would have been less than understanding.  I had an aunt who was living with a women at the time, but my mother sort of isolated us from this part of her life and no one in my peer group was openly gay.   I went to a church college and while I like every other person on the planet have had my own problems with sin, I for the most part appreciated the rules and I obeyed the honor code of my institution.  When you are at a church school you don't really have a lot of exposure to openly gay people and so since those feelings were not my own I didn't think about it at all.  Then after graduation when we left for Illinois there started to be stirrings about Prop 8.  At that time my knowledge of gay people was still relatively low.  I'd seen one episode of Will and Grace.  I knew that one of Dr. J's advisers at school was gay, but one was also Jewish and both of these groups were so foreign to me that I gave them very little thought except to recognize the individuals as nice in an abstract way.  One of the students in Dr. J's class was also openly gay but in our few interactions he was awkward and maybe a little snobbish that I didn't like him for reasons unrelated to his sexuality.  During this time I also made friends with another Mormon med school wife whose father was gay and had left her family when she was young and in probably two more Relief Society meetings in that stake heard women talk about some of the hardest trials of their life, having their husband, men they had met and married at BYU, admit they were gay and leave the family. 

Then somewhere in the middle of our great med school adventure a friend of mine from BYU outed himself on Facebook.  It was Thanksgiving time.  I remember he said he wanted to let the rest of his friends and family know whom he had not personally already told that he was a gay man who was in a long term committed relationship with another man.  I came downstairs and said to Dr. J.  "Did you know Scott was gay?"  It was the first time that the issue really hit home for me, because I loved Scott.  He was my next door neighbor, a friend in church and school.  He listened to me planning my wedding during boring physics classes.  I danced and played games in his living room.  I even had a picture of me kissing him on a the cheek during a ward hike.  It had been years since we'd seen each other but I inherently knew that nothing about him had changed from the moment before I knew he was gay to the moment after.  It was after his revelation that I looked into the culture more and realized that there were a whole bunch of a Mormon Homosexuals out there, lots of them blogging about their experiences.  There were those still in the church, some living lives of celibacy, some trying to live in heterosexual marriages, some where the spouse knew others where they didn't.  For months I followed a blog written by a husband and wife as he announced to her his attractions, as they tried to stay together, as that ultimately didn't work and they both went their separate ways.  I saw members who left the church forever because they felt like it had nothing to offer them anymore and then I saw members who while they left the church because they wanted to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex still felt inherently Mormon and loved the church, the experiences they'd had on missions and at church schools even if that part of their past was no longer open to them.  It made me reevaluate my friendships up to that point and I realized that Scott was probably not the only person I'd known growing up who had been living this reality and I was filled with sorrow as I realized what a burden it must feel like to be both Mormon and Gay.

Then Dr. J graduated and we came to residency.  It was at this time that I found out that one of our good friends back in Illinois was gay and I felt a deep sadness when I wondered if there was something about me that made him feel like he had to hide that part of himself from us.  Did he feel that I would judge him harshly because of that, that I would fail to see his other fine qualities, that I would dislike him, or did he as Dr. J likes to say when I brought this up, "just think it was none of my business?"  I guess either way it doesn't matter now, but his friendship just like Scott's started questions in my mind on the issue.  As Reny says, "I started to change my mind the way most do: I stopped seeing gay people as an abstraction and realized that they are, you know, people."  And when you know someone, especially when you love someone it is exceptionally hard to not feel empathy for them.  As this debate became national news I realized that there was something inherently unfair in the way that homosexual couples were being treated as opposed to married couples.  When I first heard the arguments for Prop 8 I had been assured that having an option for Civil Unions gave gay individuals all the rights of a marriage without the actual name of it, but it turns out that was not true.  For all these years people who were in civil unions were still being denied the rights of federal benefits and tax breaks granted to the rest of us who got married.

These were the thoughts that were swirling through my head as I watched the National Debate unfold and then this last year something happened that hit me even harder.  Within less then a year both of my baby brothers announced to the family that they were in relationships with someone of the same sex.  For me, in those initial moments there was a twinge of sadness, because I was actually watching the dream of what I had seen as their future die right before my eyes.  Strangely there was also peace because I felt like, and I realize this is something that people are going to have a hard time with, but I felt a confirmation that God had prepared me for this news, that he had given me insight into this issue so that in that moment where the past Doctor's Wife would have met them with anger and judgement this one could meet them with understanding, love, and compassion.  And so that is where I am. I love my friends and family who are gay and I understand their desire to have the right to marry.  I recognize that many religions including my own see their choice as sin but I also recognize myself as a sinner and know that many things my church considers to be sinful are not illegal.  I'm not trying to convert others to my way of thinking but I do share these deeply personal feelings so that people can realize that when they are talking about the abstract of Homosexuality there is a chance they are sitting in a room with someone who experiences same sex attraction or someone who may deeply love someone who is gay.  So what I do ask is that even if you do have a difference of opinion please try to speak with love, recognizing that this is a reality for people you may know.

As for the movie, Ender's Game, I will go and see it.  As for the author Orson Scott Card, I will probably continue to read his books.  As for the dermatologist/blogger/baseball fanatic Reny Jazayerli I will always appreciate how he was able to articulate my own feelings on love of religion and understanding of same sex marriage and show me a way to compassion for everyone, even those who have a difference of opinion.  The best part of Reny's article is actually in the words of Card himself and I'd like to share them as a message to everyone regardless of any side you are on in any issue.  They are a quote from Ender's Game, and they come at the end of the book as Ender talks to a boy name Olhado explaining his feelings on the end of the war.
"Science refuses to admit any cause except first cause — knock down one domino, the one next to it also falls. But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."


  1. That was beautiful. I, too, always look forward to the interesting things Bridget posts on Fridays, and I, too, was very moved by this article by Reny Jazayerli. And now I have been moved again by the sincere beauty of your words.

  2. This: "because I was actually watching the dream of what I had seen as their future die right before my eyes."

    Wow. This year someone dear to me announced some hard news. And I took it kind of like that. But, then there's this: "I recognize that many religions including my own see their choice as sin but I also recognize myself as a sinner and know that many things my church considers to be sinful are not illegal." And that is so true.

    Miriam picked out a Halloween book from the library called "Cat Nights." It nearly brought me to tears. Not that it's overtly about transgender-ness, per se, but for me it was. And it was eye-opening. And it helped me understand a smidgeon-bit more exactly how someone could make such a drastic choice.

    The book is dedicated to someone with "may you find your bliss." Or something along those lines. And while my heart still aches...quite a bit...for the person I knew as I knew them I think this book helped open my heart to let in the person they're becoming.

    It's been a difficult transition for everyone, I think.

    Anyway, I appreciated this post. :)

  3. This book, in case you were wondering.

  4. Such a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing your journey.



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