Brigham Young University
Homosexuality at BYU - Part 1
By Dean Huffaker
Seventh East Press staff writer
In 1982, the Seventh East Press, an independent BYU student
paper, published two groundbreaking articles on homosexuality at BYU.
Part One was published on March 27, 1982 (Vol. 1 Number 14, pp. 1, 13).
Part Two was published on April 12, 1982 (Vol. 1 Number 15, pp. 1, 12-13).
A noted psychologist named Alfred Kinsey made a survey of sexual behavior in America and published the results in 1948. According to Kinsey, one third of all adult males engage in some kind of homosexual behavior, although their primary orientation remains heterosexual and they don't think of themselves as being "gay."
John Boswell, in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, differentiates between homosexuality and being gay. Boswell says that gays have an "erotic preference for their own gender" and says that the category is "principally self-assigned." A homosexual is one who commits homosexual acts.
According to these definitions, BYU has, and has had, both homosexuals and gays. There are professors and students who believe, or fear, that they are gay. Some have never engaged in a homosexual act, others prefer sex with women, but because of emotional orientation consider themselves gay. There are still others who have committed homosexual acts but do not consider themselves gay.
An assistant professor of psychology on campus laid down the ground rules for trying to understand and describe gays and homosexuals: "There are incredible differences between them. just as there are vast differences between heterosexuals" and straights. "We have a problem of lumping individuals into one group."
From interviewing gays and homosexuals on and near campus-including a former BYU instructor, a former BYU professor, and former and current BYU students-this point becomes apparent.
"Companionship is mainly what I'm after," says Alan, who last semester was a ward clerk in a BYU ward. "I need someplace to go where I can feel accepted for what I am." Alan now lives in Salt Lake City with "fifteen close, gay friends," only two of whom are not returned missionaries. Many of them have attended BYU.
Alan explains that "It was too dangerous to organize any kind of group at BYU. Usually the only time a bunch of us got together in Provo was Monday nights. We had our own FHE program. We called it 'Faggot Home Evening.' The center of the BYU gay scene is not in Provo at all. With Security actively hunting out gays, it is very dumb and risky to attempt to make contacts in Provo."
Every weekend, there is an exodus of gay BYU students to one of the most popular gay bars in Salt Lake City, The Sun. Extreme caution is taken to park far enough away from the bar as not to have license plates identified by BYU Security.
Jon, another former BYU student, says that "the gay lifestyle, whether gays want to admit it or not, is based on sex." But, even Jon admits that, in close friendships, sex is often not involved because it can ruin a relationship.
Four or five times a year, Jon visits a gay bath in Salt Lake City. He explains that, "You walk in, rent a locker, and while cruising with just a towel wrapped around you, you're free to do just about anything you want." The bath is replete with a sauna, weight room, video room and many rooms with mattresses on the floors.
When a BYU professor or student decides to "come out of the closet," it is a time of conflict and confusion. Many tend to go overboard and get into alcohol and drugs. But, most mellow out after the initial period of adjustment. Many say that it is the first time in years that they have felt good about themselves.
Mike, who is going through a temple divorce and church trial, explains, "I got tired of living a double life. By hiding my true feelings, I was being dishonest with myself and others."
Dennis, a former BYU student, says that he confessed to his BYU bishop before he had committed any sin. According to Dennis, the bishop didn't understand the trauma he was going through. Says one BYU student, "It gnaws at you and gnaws at you until it finally consumes you."
Tom, a former BYU student, says, "As long as I can remember, I felt this way-long before any kind of sexual experience. It wasn't until I was thirteen years old before I realized that the Church considered my feelings wrong and sinful. Out of guilt for my feelings, I went to my bishop when I was fifteen. The inner conflict between what I felt inside, and what the Church taught about it was becoming more than I could bear. I was told that what I felt was wrong--I had to change. I wanted to be normal; I wanted to be accepted, and more than anything I wanted to do the Lord's will, so I did my best to change. I tried everything on top of fasting and prayer, but I didn't change, and the frustration and guilt kept building up. Finally I decided that if I did all I could and served a mission, the Lord would bless me by making me normal."
Tom, like many others, was disheartened to come home from a successful mission only to discover that his feelings hadn't changed. And, like many others, it was just a matter of time before he went to a gay bar in Salt Lake City to "explore what it was I really felt inside-a preference for men instead of women."
Steve, a middle-aged homosexual and a former BYU professor, says that he struggled with the problem for ten years while teaching at BYU. He finally became exhausted trying to fight it. He says that he came close to having a nervous breakdown and occasionally considered suicide because he could not reconcile his feelings. Although sex with his wife was gratifying to him--and he, in fact, preferred it over sex with a man--intimacy with a woman was very difficult for him. "What finally caused me to face it was when I met a certain man. For the first time in my life, I knew what it felt like to be in love. Terminating my marriage was the most painful thing I have ever done, but I had to do it because it was unfair to my wife to continue in a relationship that was a mockery of what marriage should be." Steve says that, when he visits his children every other week, he often cries all the way back to Salt Lake City, where he now lives.
Being understood by family members is, perhaps the biggest problem gays, and homosexuals, face when "coming out of the closet." "My family wants to understand me; they want to know why I've done what I have, but they don't know how to deal with the situation, so they are afraid to face it," says Mike.
"What upset me was that my mom put a homosexual label on every friend I had, and most of my friends were straighter than an arrow," said Jon. Alan says that his mother is seeing a psychiatrist.
LDS gays have formed a social organization for mutual support called "Affirmation." Some see this as an attempt to hold on to the past, but the group is popular, nonetheless. There are chapters in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Boise, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, New York, Washington D.C., and London.
How many BYU men find themselves in these circumstances? "You'd be surprised," says Dennis. While Steve was teaching at BYU, he was receiving help from the counseling center. His therapist told him that he was seeing three hundred students with the same problem.
One of the gay membership clubs in Salt Lake City has over a thousand members. Non-members have to pay $8.50 for admittance, but once a week there is a special college night when students with activity cards may attend for only $2.50. The manager says that there are "a lot" of college students who come on that night, including BYU students.
As for the gay lifestyle, most gays agree that there is no true stereotype, although they can recognize other gays with relative accuracy. Steve refers to obvious gays in a derogatory way as "clones." But, there are similarities, even among those who are not in the mainstream of gay life.
Gays seem to place great emphasis on outward appearances. Alan says that he thinks days ahead about what he'll wear on a date. Popular clothing styles include the cowboy, leather, and collegiate look. Very bright colors are popular. Some don't wear underwear in order to avoid "panty lines." Alan often wears mascara and blush. "Let me assure you, it's the minority who use make-up," Jon explains.
In groups, gays often refer to each other with feminine pronouns to mock the whole idea of differentiating between sexes. Of course, this overt behavior is avoided by BYU students while on campus. Exercise and toning of the body are also very important.
The display of emotions is by no means discouraged, including crying when desired. Alan says that he finds himself crying over the LDS television ads. "Any type of emotional catharsis is a spiritual thing," says Alan. Gays are also very physical. They hug, kiss, and touch each other without inhibition.
Those closely associated with someone who is gay often want to understand why that person is that way. The many theoretical explanations of homosexuality by psychologists can be classified under four major theories.
The Negative Conditioning Theory assumes that negative experiences with persons of the opposite sex lead to the development of an aversion towards all members of that sex.
The Family Pattern Theory deals with problems experienced in the relationships with family members during the developmental years-for example, the son growing up with a lack of paternal love and attention, and with a surplus of maternal love and attention.
The most controversial explanations have to do with the Genetic or Hormonal Theory. These variations say that homosexuality is the result of some type of genetic disorder releasing perhaps the "wrong" hormones or creating an imbalance of the right hormones.
The newest theory is the Erotic Orientation Theory. This theory claims that homosexuality in an individual results from the individual becoming sexually mature at a very early age when associations are mostly with playmates of the same sex. When the individual's first sexual experiences are with these playmates, homosexual behavior is reinforced through a "learning plus pleasure equals preference" process.
Most psychologists don't believe that any one theory explains every case of homosexuality. Isolating a cause of homosexuality and proving it as such has not yet been accomplished and might be impossible with current knowledge.
The main issue now between homosexuals and moralists is whether homosexuality is caused by anything besides the "free choice to participate in perversion." Psychologists find themselves on both sides of the issue. One psychologist interviewed thinks that homosexuality is incurable. According to this psychologist, although a homosexual can control his behavior and marry, or remain celibate, he can never eliminate the pain he feels over being homosexual.
"A gay growing up in the church learns to hate himself," says Dennis. "It wasn't until I came out that I was at peace with myself."
Alan thinks that "we call ourselves gay because we know how to have a good time. I can do whatever I always wanted to."
Jon has lived in the gay communities of Washington D.C. and New York City. "I think it is basically a very depressing lifestyle," says Jon. However, he still believes it is the life he is consigned to by his innermost feelings.
Prologue: An examination of the Mormon attitude towards homosexuality was published by BYU student Cloy Jenkins, with the help of Lee Williams, in 1977.
Steve's sentiments resemble Jon's. "I'm still bitter and angry-not against the Church, but against the 'gods,' against nature, against whoever made me the way I am. It's a totally counterproductive act. I try to accept the way I am and make the most of my life, but
I think everyone of us would change if we could."
A former BYU instructor, Lee [Williams], has published an anonymous letter entitled Prologue, which explains his personal experience in dealing with homosexuality. The 52 page letter was initially written in response to a lecture given by Dr. Reed Payne, of BYU, in a beginning psychology class. Lee writes, "I would not wish this experience on anyone...and I'm sure most homosexuals feel the same way."
Near the end of the letter, he writes, "Lest you misunderstand me, I must clarify that I am advocating nothing; certainly I am not advocating homosexuality. I wish very much that tomorrow I could awake and never again have to face the difficulty of being homosexual. The greatest hope I hold is to be able to marry and begin to raise my own family. But it is an undeniable fact that I am homosexual, and complete honesty in relationships precludes my getting married."
This is the first of a two part series on homosexuality and the
gay lifestyle. Part two will discuss the ways BYU and the LDS Church
have chosen to deal with the phenomenon. In the above story, the name
"Steve" is a pseudonym.