Recently in Queerness Category

Latter Gay Gaze

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My friend Troy hates the movie Latter Days--just hates it. A year or two ago at Sunstone when he and I were hanging out, I mentioned that I liked it; he countered that he despised it. “What do you think is so bad?” I asked.

“You mean, besides the script, the plot, the acting and the direction?” he replied.

I didn’t respond, except to shrug. Yes, the movie has problems. There are elements of the script that really bug me. There are elements to the plot I find predictable and cliched. There are performances I find really weak.

But I still like it. I liked it enough to buy a copy for myself and to give a copy as a gift to someone else. I liked it well enough to listen to the commentary.

One major reason I like it is that as far as I’m concerned, it’s about the only movie I’ve ever seen to get a mission right--I would argue it gives a more accurate depiction of a mission even than God’s Army, which I found thoroughly annoying and lame. (Don’t ask me why, because I don’t remember much about it aside from the fact that they make the new guy lug his suitcase around while they go tracting, which I’m fairly certain would never happen; that the main character goes back to BYU, dates and MARRIES his English TA while she's still his teacher (a BYU alum can correct me if I'm wrong, but I rather suspect the administration wouldn't be cool with that) and that the movie ends with her bringing him a cup of tea and sitting down at his feet to adore him; and that Richard Dutcher, who was about 40, plays a missionary of about 30 who dies quietly in his sleep from an inoperable brain tumor with no suffering or puking his guts out or whatever, so much so that no one even knows he's sick. I hate on principle all movies where people die quietly in their sleep from inoperable brain tumors. Anyway, aside from all that, I found the movie so vacuous and forgettable that I can’t remember what happened, and so can’t really tell you why I hated it in detail, though I think the reasons I’ve already listed constitute solid ground.)

But back to Latter Days. I like it for moments. There’s a moment where one elder grabs another and says, “I’m going to hit you, elder, and it’s going to hurt.” Pretty much. I liked it for Steve Sandvoss, the guy who plays the gay missionary--he has a sweetness and a decency I found both sympathetic and genuine, and it reminded me of the elders I liked best on my mission--some were really good young men.

But the thing I like best about it is the sex scene.

The Ex-Exes from Exodus and the Agency of Gay Men

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Yeah, I've been really busy--lots of writing, lots of job stuff. But things have recently calmed down, and yesterday I tried to catch up on a few blogs, which is how I found this post on the ways that women's lives can constitute collateral damage when gay men marry straight women.

There was also a really great BBC radio documentary on this not too long ago, called "The Sex Live of Us: Moving Out." Unfortunately the program is no longer available, but I'm including a link because someday they might put it back on.

After watching the videos on MoHoHawaii, I clicked on a link that led me to YouTube, and found this:

I watch that and wonder, is it more generous to hope that someday something like that happens to all gay men married to straight women--in other words, should I hope that they fall into deep erotic, emotional and intellectual love with someone who loves them back--or more generous to hope that it doesn't--should I hope they stay all their lives in marriages that lack passion and completion, because that doesn't cause disruption or make them admit the contradictions in their lives? For so many reasons, including the fact that I care about honesty and integrity and think falling in love teaches you a hell of a lot about what it means to be human, I feel like I should hope for the former for the men, but then we're back to making the women collateral damage.

But the focus still remains on whether or not gay men should marry straight women, not on whether straight women should marry gay men--because after all gay men have more agency in this matter: by and large men are still in charge of courtship; men still propose; men can hide or reveal their sexual orientation. It would be different if straight women were pursuing and proposing to men they knew were gay; if uncloseted gay men felt pressure to submit to the demands of straight women. But instead, it's all about straight women submitting to the wants and needs of gay men, who may or may not be closeted, who ask their wives to engage in marriages that are thorough shams or marriages in which sex will never play the same role it could in a marriage with complementary orientations.

Just one more way patriarchy stays hard at work for you and the status quo, even when you don't ask it to; one more way your choices can be misogynist even when you think you're the nicest guy in the world!

Baring Their Chests and Testimonies

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I got this link from my friend Troy, who sent it to me with the note "as if missionaries weren't gay enough...."

It's for Mormons Exposed: Men on a Mission, a retailing enterprise promoting a calendar featuring a buff, bare-chested RM (returned missionary) every month. The faq page (an acronym I always read "fag" unless it's capitalized) states that "the calendar celebrates these missionaries' great looks and beautiful bodies, as well as the amazing stories of service of these deeply spiritual men," adding that

Behind the eye-candy, this calendar has a deeper story - one that can reshape perceptions, heighten awareness, and perhaps encourage and inspire a broadened acceptance of human and religious diversity. The fact that twelve young returned missionaries are posing shirtless will certainly raise eyebrows, but may also help to sort out some common misconceptions about Mormons. The shock value of what these traditionally conservative young men have helped to create has the power to build a dialogue that encourages people across every belief system and walk of life to defy stereotypes, step out of judgment and embrace tolerance.

It also notes that the "This product may be the must-have stocking stuffer of the year, or even be the gag gift of 2008"--or do they mean the "gay gift" of 2008?

I've said this before on my blog, and I'll probably say it again: my friend Troy is awesome. He just sent me a link to his latest editorial in the Salt Lake Trib, in which he offers a "queer eye for Mormons." Here's a highlight:

You can't complain when people don't believe you are Christian if you teach that all other Christian faiths are apostate. That never goes over well at interfaith functions. And remember, "as ye sow, so shall ye reap."

If you continually attack the LGBT community, then karma will eventually come back around to bite. Nobody likes a bully. And Mormons, of all people, know what it's like to be a persecuted minority. Imagine, instead, if the Latter-day Saints were to rally to the defense of the poor, marginalized and oppressed - wow. You could so change the world.

I like to think that Joseph Smith would have been cool with the queers. He, too, lived on the fringe of respectable society. And, like Mitt, he loved this country enough to run for president.

I personally doubt JS would have been cool with the queers--he was thoroughly homosocial but too into promoting a patriarchal power structure built on men's sexual power of women, and sex between men would have complicated that. But I like the other points Troy makes a lot.

His Big Gay Belgian Wedding

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By the way, remember that wedding in Belgium I mentioned attending? I never said who got married, because I wanted to write all about it. And I did write all about it--I wrote a great little piece which I sent off to the NY Times Modern Love column, because it's edited by a friend of mine who asked me several times to write something he could use. So I finally did, and wouldn't you know, it never even got a response.

I'm not going to post here the essay I wrote, but I will post something I didn't send the NY Times: a photo, of me with my dear friend Matthew, one of the grooms. That's right: the wedding I attended was a gay wedding--and not just a commitment ceremony either, but an actual, valid, legal ceremony performed by a government official and recognized by the state, without any nasty judicial challenges or threat of constitutional amendment to render it invalid.

And not only did I attend the ceremony, but I took part in it: I was one of the legal witnesses--in other words, I was one of the "best people."

I'm including a photo of me and Matthew instead of Matthew and his husband because Matthew has already appeared on my blog, so I figure he's fair game. As for the partner, well, I don't want to invade his privacy. But they looked fabulous together and I was very, very happy and proud to be part of their wedding.

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Marriage Manifesto

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My friend Troy is awesome. He is not only gay (sexual orientation) but queer (social identity) and after the four panelists had spoken in the Brokeback session at Sunstone (see the intro and the excerpt), I asked him to come up and make a comment, in part because he knew all four women on the panel, and in part because I knew he'd deliver both a queer-positive and a woman-positive message. He gets it: he understands the patriarchy is the basic problem, and claims that one reason he's such a decent, enlightened person is because he has listened to the women in his life. He also doesn't take the "oh, I'm gay and it's such a source of heartache" approach to homosexuality--he acknowledges that people go through that stage, but at some point, he says, embrace your gayness! Love yourself for who you are! Be positive about all the fabulous aspects of gayness, instead of trying to retain as many elements of straightness as you possibly can.

Troy does a radio show in Salt Lake called Now Queer This. He's working a documentary about some brouhaha in southern Utah over legislation to define a marriage as existing only between one man and one woman. He has filmed orthodox Mormons, gays, and polygamists as part of the movie.

Troy gets this as well: alternative marriage is alternative marriage, and so he supports the decriminalization of polygamy. Independent polygamists get it too: many support legalization of gay marriage between consenting adults because they realize that it will pave the way for decriminalization of polygamy among consenting adults. (Which many in the gay community find distressing.) My family, which is well stocked with Mormon Republican lawyers and judges who find both gay marriage and polygamy revolting (one is counter to god's will, and the other is entirely god's will, but not something anyone with any self esteem and a real love for her spouse would ever do if she could possibly avoid it), understand that point as well--and they're really afraid.

Here are some excerpts from the paper I presented as part of this panel.

As part of my presentation, I pose this question, "why isn't it politically correct for a gay man to venture into the exclusive territory of straight men--to marry a woman and have a family--if that's what he chooses to do?," first posed by Ben Christensen (whose temple garments are all in a twist because I claim the right to think he's a self-deceived, selfish gas bag--see the comments on this post) and cite ancient Athenian and Hebrew society (both of which required men who had sex with men to nonetheless marry women) to support my contention that Christensen's basic assumption is flawed. As it happens I am all for opening what has been the exclusive territory of straight men--to marry a woman and have a family--to gay WOMEN. But Christensen shows little care for the rights and opportunities of women, gay or straight: his concern is with preserving the privileges of MEN, straight or gay. Thus remains a question needing an answer, which is this:

What does it mean for a homophobic, patriarchal, misogynist society to require men to marry women and impregnate them as part of their duties as members of the community?

During the six years I've attended Sunstone, I've noticed that sessions there discussing homosexuality tend to focus on male sexuality, and that discussants, regardless of orientation, are generally male. For the 2006 symposium, I proposed a panel entitled "Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism" in part as a way of calling attention to the fact that homosexuality is an issue that also affects women. Admittedly, my panel did not include lesbian voices, but it seemed artificial to ask a lesbian to comment on the topic just as a way of correcting previous imbalances. I hope future sessions will address the concerns of lesbians, or include their voices.

I thought a lot about the title: I went with widely-recognized references to pop culture to show how common this issue is. I invoked Will and Grace because I want to underscore how genuine, precious and pleasurable my platonic friendships with gay men have been. I invoked Angels in America because it's a Pulitzer-prize winning set of plays featuring an unequal marriage between a closeted gay Mormon man and an unhappy Mormon housewife. (Though I admit I HATE both installments for so many reasons, including the fact that they're full of self-indulgent speeches that go on and on beyond the point of being either narratively or philosophically interesting, and that Kushner is a really shitty fact-checker, and that his female Mormon characters are not at all believable to me--no Mormon woman--no Mormon, PERIOD--would ever complain that it was a bad idea to leave Manhattan and move to DC, because DC is less righteous--hell, DC is overrun with Mormons, and there's a goddamn temple there!) I invoked Brokeback Mountain because it was current and also I really loved it.

That's the stuff before the colon; after the colon we get STRAIGHT WOMEN first, and then GAY MEN, because I wanted to foreground women in all of this. And then we get Mormonism, because it's the spin that complicates the matter.

Mine was not the only session dealing with homosexuality; one reason Dan Wotherspoon was so enthusiastic about the timing of my panel was that 2006 was the 20th anniversary of the publication of Good-bye, I Love You, a memoir by Carol Lynn Pearson, one of Mormondom's most beloved writers, about her temple marriage to a gay man, their divorce, and his death from AIDS. Carol Lynn presented a heartbreaking discussion of the suffering gay Mormons often endure. Her daughter Emily, who also married a gay man (I mention his one-man play here), was one of the panelists in my session. And Carol Lynn's ex-son-in-law also presented some of his more recent work.

My remarks for my part of the panel were drawn in part from material I first grappled with here. Relevant posts are, in order of posting, Mormon Social Taboos, A Happy Marriage with a Good Man, The Exclusive Territory of Straight Men, The Society of Buggers, Brokeback Mountain, Old Testament Weirdness, It's Not Just Mormon Men Who Don't Want to Lose the Beard, and The SL Tribune Joins the Chorus.

OK. That's all preamble. Tomorrow is Halloween and I'm planning to go that with theme in tomorrow's entry, so check back Wednesday or Thursday for the more substantial account of my remarks at Sunstone, if you're interested--or, if you're not, you know to stay away until the weekend.

The SL Tribune Joins the Chorus

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I promise, one of these days, I really will write about something else. But I keep running into more discussions of this topic, which I feel compelled to share.

Perhaps in reply to Thursday's NY Times article about gay men in straight marriages (which I discussed yesterday), Friday the Salt Lake Tribune published an article about "mixed orientation" marriages, with the optimistic headline, "Mixed-orientation LDS couples count on commitment, work and love to beat the odds." The article's basic message is this: gay men, just admit you're gay before you get married, convince yourself that sex doesn't matter all that much, and you too can have a conventional Mormon marriage!

Women, just accept that your husband is gay and will never want you the way he wants men, convince yourself that sex doesn't matter all that much, and you too can have a conventional Mormon marriage!

The couple interviewed for the article are sure of this because they are in the early 20s and have small children, and by gosh and by golly, they're making it work! What's fifty years of denial compared to getting through the first five years of a marriage?

The article acknowledges that most such marriages fail. Still, it discusses the phenomenon in such admiring tones--aren't these kids brave! Aren't they honest and open to challenges!

Let's hope they convince even more gay men to marry straight women, so that others can engage in the same (probably) doomed struggle!

I said we'd abandon this topic for a while, and when I said that, I meant it. But two things--or rather, two comments that need attention called to them--happened on the Brokeback Mountain post: 1) Saviour Onassis offered me a proposal of no marriage--check it out! It was so sweet; and 2) Spike provided a link to a timely article from the NY Times. Entitled "When the Beard Is Too Painful to Remove," it is, as Spike notes, "remarkably sympathetic to the gay men who struggle to figure out how to remain in their marriages and families. But not a word on lesbians who might find themselves in a marriage with a man but needing or craving partnerships with women, and not much comment on how the wives-- ‘beards'--the terms is gendered and sounds so derogatory--are supposed to cope."

The article states that

For gay men in heterosexual marriages, even after the status quo becomes unbearable, the pull of domestic life remains powerful. Many are desperate to preserve their marriages-- to continue reaping the emotional and financial support of wives, (emphasis added) and domestic pleasures like tucking children in at night.

And how do such men hope to retain those benefits? The articles cites Stephen McFadden, a social worker who runs support groups for married gay men in Manhattan, in asserting that "these men want to save their marriages.... either by lying, promising their wives they will not have sex with men or persuading them to accept their double lives."

In fact,

Leaving a marriage and setting up housekeeping with a gay partner is not what most married gay men have in mind when they join a support group, according to Stephen McFadden.... Instead, Mr. McFadden and others in the field say, their clients generally start out committed to the opposite goal.

That's insane to me--about like joining a support group for alcoholics and expecting to be told how keep people off your back or bolster your liver function so you can continue drinking, or joining a support group for compulsive gamblers because you want information on how to borrow more money when your credit is already shot and your house is in foreclosure.

The only woman quoted is "Bonnie Kaye, the former wife of a gay man, who runs the Web site www.gayhusbands.com and conducts ‘How to Come Out to Your Wife' workshops. ‘If they're too selfish to leave, I won't work with them,' Ms. Kaye said. ‘If they love their wives, they need to give them their lives back.'"

I'm glad the article let someone say it.

Thanks again, Spike, for providing the link.

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