September 2005 Archives

A Happy Marriage with a Good Man

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Here's something from "Confessions of a Mormon Boy: An Autobiographical One-Man Play Written, Created and Performed by Steven Fales" (SUNSTONE December 2003). After serving a mission for the Mormon Church, Mr. Fales told his female best friend he was gay, then proposed. She accepted; they married, and stayed married for six years, until his "same sex attraction," to use the Mormon term, put too great a strain on the marriage.

As the divorce got closer, I got confused and scared. I didn't know how to be alone, and I didn't want to give up "hugging time." Emily and I shared a tradition her parents had started. You know how early kids wake up? Well, we would try to sleep in--trying to put off their needs as long as we could. Then, when we couldn't put it off any longer, we'd yet out, "HUGGING TIME!" In our two children would run and jump on the bed. We would then hug and kiss and snuggle--all warm and safe and happy. How many gay men get to experience that? Let alone watch their children being born. Couldn't I give it all up for the sake of hugging time? I was going to fight for hugging time!

I turned it all on Emily. It was her fault! She never wore lingerie! [Never mind that Mormonism has its own ugly underwear faithful members are required to wear.] She wouldn't watch the better-sex videos I ordered from the back of GQ. Emily knew going into this marriage it might come to this. And now that I've finally cracked, she's going to just throw me out?! How dare she watch Will & Grace and laugh when I was trying to change! She had failed me!

Mormon Social Taboos

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Tuesday evening I got home from work and found a load of mail, including two cd's of original (and spectacularly good) music from Wayne, and the Fall 2005 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This is one of the primary publications of liberal Mormonism, and I've subscribed (and published in it) for years. I sat down to my dinner and watched part of a movie, took care of some teaching stuff, had a bath. Then I picked up the issue of Dialogue and checked the table of contents, and found this:

GETTING OUT/STAYING IN: ONE MORMON STRAIGHT/GAY MARRIAGE

Getting Out by Ben Christensen 121

Homosexual Attraction and LDS Marriage Decisions by Ron Schow 133

Thoughts of a Therapist by Marybeth Raynes 143

Staying In by Ben Christensen 148

I gave the section a cursory scan--that was about all I could bear--then went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, stayed asleep for an hour, got up and read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for a class I'm teaching on war literature (because after the Dialogue thing, I needed something cheerful and lighthearted), tried to medicate myself into oblivion, eventually succeeded.

Wednesday morning I got up and reread the whole section carefully.

Here is what Ben Christensen, a 24-year-old gay Mormon married to a woman by whom he has fathered a nine-month-old daughter, has to say about the fact that he can't mention to his friends that he "can't stop thinking about this guy in religion class":" "It ticks me off that Mormon social taboos force me to lie about who I am."

Mormon social taboos.

That's what's to blame for the fact that he can't discuss his same sex attraction: Mormon social taboos.

Not Mormon doctrine. Mormon social taboos.

Nothing wrong with the doctrine--which says that homosexual behavior is a sin; no, it's just Mormon social taboos.

If you're not Mormon, you have no idea how big this issue is. Many religions venerate celibacy; many other religions tolerate it. Not Mormonism. Celibacy is unnatural; sex before marriage is, according to some leaders in the church (and one of my friends from college, one of the very few people whom I will never again speak to), a sin akin to MURDER (that's right: sex before marriage is the moral equivalent of killing someone in cold blood); and the entire reason we are sent to earth is to get bodies, have sex, and create children. So there's some room in many other religions for reconciling religious faith and homosexuality by choosing celibacy, but almost none in Mormonism--at least, not if you want to be respectable and happy.

Christensen writes of his engagement to Jessie, who knows about his attraction to men, that

Difficulties arose fairly quickly.... It bothered Jessie that she was usually more interested in kissing than I was. This bothered me too, but I didn't know what to do about it. I definitely loved her, and out of that love an attraction was growing, but to be honest it was nothing compared to the strong desire I had for men. But then it's not accurate to even compare the two feelings. My attraction to Jessie, the drive that made me want to hold her in my arms and feel her body next to mine, came entirely from my heart. On the other hand, the drive that made me want to feel a man's body next to mine was purely a libido thing. I've never allowed a physical attraction to a man to become any more than just that. Apples and oranges.

He marries Jessie for a variety of reasons, one of which is that "God told [him] to." Another is that he feels his only two alternatives are a conventional, monogamous straight Mormon marriage on the one hand and "[running] off to San Francisco and [embracing] a rampant life of unrestrained queerness" on the other.

A year later, at the ripe old age of 25, he is able to critique his earlier essay and the responses to it, by writing

Critiquing my essay, a friend asked, "Can you really separate love and sex so easily? I can't." I discarded his concern, believing I had a deeper understanding of love and sex. After all, he writes novels about missionaries who fornicate and teenaged boys who make out with cow udders. For me, the distinction between love and sex was clear. As I've become more honest with myself, though, I see that Marybeth states my dilemma more accurately when she says that people in my situation choose "between a deep love and erotic attachment plus love." This choice is a good deal more difficult than the over-simplified choice I thought I was making. By choosing heterosexual marriage, I've denied myself the experience of loving someone I am naturally attracted to and my wife the experience of loving someone who is naturally attracted to her.

Glad he figured that out eventually.

Aside from a few lines of dialogue in which Jessie reassures the author that she still wants to marry him despite the fact that he is gay, we never get to hear from her.

Ron Schow and Marybeth Raynes, the two respondents, are very respectful of the deliberate choices Ben Christensen is making at the same time they underscore the challenges and difficulties he is setting himself up for. Perhaps I might respect those choices more myself if I hadn't heard it all before, some of it almost verbatim. I'll never forget being told by the love of my life, "Look, I'm not really gay, and I still want to marry a woman. It's just that I prefer sex with men to sex with women." I could think of no response to that statement.

I'm grateful for my two closest friends on earth, both of whom are gay (formerly Mormon) men, and I'm also grateful that neither of them married me.

I'm not done.

Art That Fits in Envelopes

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This post is dedicated to my new friend Tammy, whom I met through Friendster (yes, you really can meet interesting people that way) thanks to the suggestion of a mutual friend (SBJ, to be specific), who thought we'd get along. We've been corresponding for less than three months, and she has already written me several of the best letters I have ever received in my entire life.

***

I think one reason I like blogging so much is that it's the closest I can come to writing letters all the time. The letter is one of my favorite art forms and one I think I'm particularly good at. I have always placed a high premium on good mail, and while I've learned to appreciate the virtues of email--its immediacy, for one thing--still, in many ways it's a sorry substitute for a real, honest-to-goodness letter. Most people send such short, inconsequential notes over email, and I still miss opening my mailbox, finding an envelope bearing the return address of some cool person, and knowing that inside are a couple of pages that will entertain and delight me.

Email has also hurt another of my favorite art forms, the postcard. What a great thing to find in your mailbox: a few really witty statements on the back of an interesting photo! I love getting and sending postcards, and used to devote a lot of time and energy to building up an impressive postcard collection. But these days I have only one friend who sends me postcards: John C, who not only sends postcards, but sends them with postmarks from Thailand and South Africa and Austria and so forth. (I am chagrined to admit I send him, at best, one postcard for every four or five he sends me, and mine have BORING postmarks.)

All KINDS of Good Stuff

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When I was a little girl, my favorite television program was The Carol Burnett Show. It aired on CBS from 9 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights, and was preceded by The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show (CBS really had a way with names), which I liked but not as much as Carol Burnett. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up.

I still think one of the most inspired moments in all of television happened on that show. In a spoof of Gone with the Wind, Carol descends the stairs wearing a dress of green velvet drapes hung on a curtain rod extending beyond her shoulders. Harvey Korman, who plays the Rhett Butler character, says, "Why Scarlet, where did you find that beautiful dress?" And Carol replies, "Oh, it's just something I saw in a window."

But there have been long stretches where I watched almost no television. When I was in high school standard fare was the likes of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat and Dallas, and I had better things to do than watch that crap--even sitting in the dark in my bedroom and my head against the wall (which I did a time or two) seemed preferable to wasting my time with shows like that. In college I didn't have a television, and I never felt deprived.

Of course, there have been a few periods where I watched a lot of television. In early 1987, after I got home from my mission, I lived at home for seven and a half months before going back to finish my bachelor's degree at the University of Arizona in August. The Fox Network had just started up, and I rarely missed an episode of its finest offerings, namely The Tracey Ullmann Show and 21 Jump Street. ABC had Max Headroom, which ran for 14 episodes, and NBC had LA Law, which ran forever.

I'm Curious

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Sometimes people complain to me that they find it difficult to have "important and meaningful conversations" as part of their normal, daily interactions with people. This often surprises me. I feel I manage to have important and meaningful conversations with Tom's five-year-old daughter (whom I'll call Princess, because she wants to be one), though they're of a very different nature from my conversations with Tom, which of course are among the most important and meaningful--not to mention entertaining and enlightened--conversations ANYONE could have.

Sure, there are conversations that bore me. I don't give a shit about football, for instance. I can talk about Barbies (I had plenty as a little girl) but I can't play them any more, not with my nieces, not with Princess–I can't become the consciousness that animates and moves a Barbie, which is what playing Barbies involves; I just can't make myself do it. And I don't pay much attention to the details of most people's jobs, since they're usually not interesting. Once I was talking to my mom about one of my oldest and dearest friends, and she asked what he did for a living. "He works in a bank," I said.

Simon Schama and the Pod People

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Check out this article in the Independent UK, about Simon Schama, an amazing historian at Columbia whose 15-hour series A History of Britain was one of the best things Netflix ever sent me. He has written a new book on the role of black slaves in the American revolution--particularly on the fact that many of them left their American masters and went to fight on the side of King George. The article is long and interesting, and I was fascinated by all of it, but I admit I clapped my hands and laughed aloud in delight when I read this paragraph:

Well, [Schama] did think that going to lecture to Mormon students in Utah would prove his Old European otherness, but he loved their company and their discussion. "And I came back and Ginny, my wife, said 'You're wearing that smile. They've got you' -- because her sister is a Mormon. 'You've been captured by the pod people'."

A Little Distance

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A few months ago I was thinking about how I'd like to spend next summer in Europe, but it would be really inconvenient because the post office will only hold mail for 30 days, plus I have a cat and a house full of stuff I can't just go off and leave. Then I thought about my colleagues who are married or have live-in partners, and how they gallivant around the planet and leave their spouses back home to take care of everything. "That's what I need," I thought. "I need a live-in boyfriend who will babysit my cat and keep an eye on my stuff while I go to Europe for six months."

I told Tom about this. "Holly," he said, "most people want a boyfriend or a girlfriend not so they can go off and leave them, but so they can be with them."

"Yeah," I said, "I know. But I've always thought most people put way too much emphasis on the whole togetherness part of a relationship."

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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