By Antony Edmunds
"So, he's not a member of the church?"
I answered my mother's remark with a similarly frank tone, "No, HE is not."
Her assumption was correct, but it caught me off guard. So far, my collection of coming out experiences reads like a MIA maid's scrapbook: It begins with a goodnight kiss to a male on BYU campus, next, a very weepy episode with my parents on my sister's pink canopy bed, followed by years of silence; more weepy episodes over the phone, all-night conversations with close friends, prayers, much fasting, a bishop or two, more prayers, freedom, a release of fear, and on to very short conversations with complete strangers. Even after all this, I am having regular coming out moments with my parents. I periodically remind them that I am gay, and they periodically remind me of their love for me, as well as AIDS, Satan, Outer Darkness, and reparative therapy. It is an agreement to disagree.
The announcement concerning advances in my love life brought our coming out moments to a new level. My parents can no longer maintain that I "think" I am gay, they know that I am "being" gay: I have dated, fallen in love, and have committed myself to another male. Finding that someone makes being gay a whole lot easier, for telling others I am gay is no longer an abstract announcement of my sexual preference, it is a simple reference to the man I love. Rather than approach my parents with apprehension, I can honestly declare the happiness and joy I have found in loving Brian.
They do not believe that I am gay. They refuse to believe it, let alone accept it. For them homosexuality and testimony are counterpoised, and if my testimony of the church grows, my homosexual tendencies will wane. When I finally broke the news about my permanent boyfriend, my mother jumped out of her denial to inquire about his relation to the church. I wonder if his being a member would really change their point of view. When they finally meet him, will it make it any easier if he understands their references to the Book of Mormon, or if he can tell mission stories? I know this is not their reasoning. Rather, I think my mother loves me. I think even parents who cannot openly accept their children's sexual orientation may be secretly hoping that we end up with someone nice, and as members of the Church, we know that Mormons are the nicest people around.
Mormons trust Mormons most, easy enough. When we run into each other, we make grand assumptions about one another's beliefs, attitude, and behaviour, and our assumptions are sometimes correct. We assume the other person has sat through years of lessons and talks on being kind, striving to improve oneself, and building strong marriages. We assume this fellow Mormon has a relationship with God and is concerned with their spiritual development. When we meet other gay Mormons, we know that they appreciate our own struggle, that they understand the special recipe of guilt and pain, and can understand the depth and meaning attached to bishop's interviews, a mission, family relationships, excommunication, and most importantly the Holy Ghost.
As gay Mormons we have also been entitled to special revelation that Mormons are not always the nicest people around. Some of us have even received a personal witness many times over. We are not hypocrites though, for we will not make any grand assumptions about the gay community either. Just as we accept that there are some imperfect bishops, we acknowledge that evil queens may lurk about. Gay Mormons become rather tolerant of people in general. I am inclined to believe that as a gay Mormon, I belong to a self-aware bunch that is searching for good wherever we may find it.
What we want most of all is a good relationship. That is important to us both as homosexuals and as Mormons. Our whole lives we have been taught and prepared ourselves to love and devote ourselves to one person for eternity. Dating and choosing a fellow gay Mormon could facilitate a joint ideal of a temple relationship. It also allows for a substantial common ground on which we can better relate to one another, both spiritually and culturally. Because Mormons tend to trust Mormons most, we may be inclined to go to Mormons in our search for security, a loving home, and high ideals. I am convinced that we have all entertained our fantasies (or realities) about a gay Mormon relationship, be it a missionary companion, roommate, fellow ward member, or a past crush at a stake dance.
And yet, how many Gay Mormons will actually end up with other gay "Mormons"? A brief search on the Internet will show that there are plenty of nice, same-sex Mormon couples out there. Still, the law of statistics is against us. We see our heterosexual brothers and sisters having their own struggle finding other members to date, let alone building relationships and staying together. Crunching numbers, we can take one out of ten, multiply that by 11 million and subtract it by how many members are still in the closet. This leaves us with difficult odds in finding "home-teaching" companions for the gay contingent of the Elders quorum. Lesbians on the Relief Society roster have an even tougher case.
And how many of us really are only looking for partners in the church? My experience shows that to confine my social life to young single adult activities only perpetuated my young adult singlehood. Rather, I believe gay Mormons are looking for our "church" in a partner. As part-members, we have our sharpened beliefs and standards and are seeking a partner that can support us in these same standards. Since being gay is one of those pre-requisites, it is most likely we will find partners outside of an organisation that condemns them. Many of us are destined for part-member partnerships.
"Part-Member" belongs to essential church jargon, to the point of it losing its context as a compound word. Partmember denotes less than optimal, leaving something more to be desired. Growing up, I was made to feel sorry for part-member families and secret contempt for that one family member who was not a member of the church. As the bishop's son and home-teaching companion, we visited part-member families weekly. We would pray that they would join the church so their family relationships could improve. Then, as a missionary, I was taught that part-member families are an especially effective resource for potential baptisms. So the general attitude is that the non-members of part-member families are not one of us, but they are the closest to becoming one of us. In relative terms, they are not the nicest people around, but they are around nice people.
I remember when people used to ask me why I wasn't married yet. I always answered that it was because I had not yet met the person I wanted to become. At the time, my reasoning impressed even my parents. Yes, each one of us is our own person, however, when we choose a lover, a spouse, or a partner, we are, in a way, choosing to become that person. As we spend time with that person, share their lives and make compromises for one another, we blend into one another. For my boyfriend and I, the changes were quickly evident. We picked up each other's accents. We have adopted some of each other's habits. I have gained a completely new outlook, and in our exchange of ideas, he has adopted some Mormon thinking. He thinks I am the nicest person around, and I think the same about him.
Maybe our partners are complete gentiles, maybe they are seventh-generation pioneer stock, or maybe we are single. Whatever the case may be, as gay Mormons, we are part-members. In the church, if we identify ourselves as anything besides heterosexual, we are placed in that same, less-than-optimal category to which part-member families belong. To be gay and Mormon means we have had to mentally, spiritually, emotionally, socially and sexually discover ourselves and exist outside the status quo of our religion and culture. If anyone can deal with building bridges between Mormons and non-Mormons, we can, because each one of us has had to bridge our own duality.
Whether we have left the church completely, have strong testimonies, or dwell somewhere in the great in-between of varied levels of devotion to the Church, there is always a part of us that is Mormon. This means that when people meet us and fall in love with us, there is a "Mormon" element to which they are attracted. It may include our spirituality, it could be our commitment and devotion to beliefs and family, it could simply be our healthy countenances. In spite of my unorthodox attributes, I find it impossible to mask the Mormon in me.
The great hurdle for homosexuals is coming out. This follows a long process of introspection towards self-awareness and self-acceptance. It is a process of gaining a testimony of oneself. I have been to some gay venues that feel like very colourful testimony meetings, with everyone dressed up and dancing, proclaiming to the world, "Hey, I KNOW that I am gay." As gay Mormons, we have the second challenge of reconciling our own being with a seemingly contradictory culture and belief system. The heterosexual paradigm of Mormon doctrine makes it all a bit more difficult than the average coming out story. This is not all, as there is a third base we must conquer. We may be gay, we may feel we have figured out our relationship with the church, however, we must still come out as Mormons.
People want to know where we went to university, why we speak different languages, or why we have a certain proclivity to top casseroles with crushed potato chips. More importantly, they want to understand our ideals, our worldview, and our past. Some of us may never choose to divulge our Mormon tendencies, but they are part of us and will always be there. I have found myself coming out as a Mormon in job interviews, next to strangers on aeroplanes, and most of all on dates. I ponder beforehand, "How will they react? Will they treat me differently? How will this affect our friendship?" Oddly enough, I have found that homosexuals are quite tolerant of Mormons. Lately I have heard more and more jokes about Mormons in mainstream gay cinema and literature. This means that we are out there, and that we are creating our own version of "gay." Perhaps someday we might have our own bandana colour to stick in our back pockets, or start wearing rainbow CTR rings. Heaven forbid that a gay Mormon canon ever be established, however we should be optimistic about the recognition and acceptance of an alternative Mormon identity.
Now, the new people I meet, along with old friends, all pose questions to find out where I stand. They ask, "How Mormon are you?" or "How Gay are you?" In responding, I find that non-members can rarely understand the true depth of my struggle as a member of the Church, and Mormons may turn on me and damn me to hell. For this reason, many of my gay Mormon friends have removed themselves entirely from the Church, because it is easier to not try to incorporate this Mormon aspect of their life into a relationship with either members or non-members.
When we enter new relationships, we carry with us an element of Mormon identity. For me, I have found my values from church to be the most influential. I want to be valiant. I want to be honourable, true and faithful. I want to be kind and loving. As a gay Mormon, it was a struggle for me to come to the point when I could recognise that I still have a right to those values in my life. On the other hand, I find that my Mormon nature places expectations on my partner that he does not always appreciate. I may claim to be the most open-minded and tolerant person out there, but I have found myself on occasion passing judgement based on my own cultural sensitivities and religious beliefs. For example, I hold my parent's marriage in great esteem and seek to emulate it. I take notes in Priesthood on showing greater love to my spouse. At the same time, I realise that I am in a same-sex relationship with someone who is not Mormon, and that these two factors will offer a different scenario for our life together. This does not mean I have to settle for less, but it means I cannot assume Brian will play out the role of Mormon spouse. Surely all couples face overcoming such differences when coming from two different backgrounds. I have learned to focus on our similarities and the goals we communicate to one another. We will continue to share traditions from one another's background, but we have also created our own.
I recently sat in a testimony meeting where a lady in my ward recounted how the label "part-member family" has hurt her family and damaged her relationship with her husband. She bore her testimony and then continued with a declaration of love for her husband as he was. I relate to her words, as I love Brian as he is, and for his non-member experiences. Life has taught the two of us very similar lessons through very different experiences. The church will define my relationship one way, but my testimony defines it otherwise.
Being a gay couple leads to constant explanations and readjustments as we decide together how to present ourselves to the world. Being part member partners means that part of that immediate world is Mormon. Someday this will include my whole family. For now, it is my ward.
I am still semi-active at Church. Some friends there know I am gay, most do not. For this, I am waiting to add some pages to my coming-out scrapbook. Once the Young Single Adults invited the two of us over for an activity. They know that I only come to Church on occasion, and they know I spend a lot of time with a non-member. They refer to him as my buddy, adding, "Hey, bring your buddy along." I was apprehensive, scared of a confrontation, but Brian encouraged me to make the effort. His positive attitude surprised and touched me. He reminded me that these were my friends and the way a friend should behave. We went, he patiently endured their questions, and I tried to dissuade their attempts to convert him. In the room sat two heterosexual couples who recently converted their other halves.
I do not wish he was a member of the church, but I do want him to understand what it means for me to be a Mormon. When he sees me around members, or on the phone with my family, he experiences my Mormon characteristics. When we talk, he listens to my Mormon ideas. I have invited him to come to church so that he can experience this part of me. Of this, he is wary. My negativity about the church does not make the proposed visit such a comfortable venture. Some members have threatened to walk out if I bring him to church. Others threaten to tell. Very soon, most of the ward will know anyway. We were seen dancing together at a university ball a few weeks ago, and rumours spread quickly in this small English town. He is also afraid we will be marked as paedophiles. I am a substitute teacher in primary and have asked him to come teach a lesson with me sometimes. Some of the other teachers know that I am gay and are happy to have me helping out. The children love him too. Once, the two of us took them on a primary picnic, and since then, every Sunday when I go to church, the 9 year olds ask, "Where is Brian?" My primary class loves my mate after meeting him only once, and I am reminded to be more like a little child. They are not concerned with his relation to the church, nor with his relation to me. They like him, and that is enough. I believe this attitude will be the only thing that saves us as gay Mormons.
Brothers and Sisters, the New Era and Ensign are packed full of happy stories and great advice about marriage and relationships. I have also sat through numerous "how I met my husband/wife" testimonies from the pulpit. Due to the lack of positive homosexual romances in these accounts, please oblige a short account of my falling in love. I am a good gay Mormon boy. I do my home-teaching, I served a mission, and I honoured the priesthood in my own special way. Being Mormon, I knew that I wanted a committed and faithful relationship where I could build a spiritual bond and grow forever closer to another human being. Being gay, I knew I wanted that relationship to be with a man. No matter what I did, I could not seem to find that someone. I felt I was trapped between disappointing another Mormon female, or else mimicking the shallow gay relationships that were more gaudily visible. I prayed and I prayed. I knew that God knew who I was and what I wanted. I held on to my ideal of that relationship. I prayed and almost gave up. One particular night during graduate school, I was especially discouraged. All I could do was pray and open my heart up to God. I pleaded with him, and felt his comfort.
The next day I went to a university dance by myself and observed a young man on the other side of the room. His behaviour to those around him radiated kindness and sincere goodwill. Rather than try to place him as gay or straight, I simply saw him as that priest at a stake dance that every girl wants to dance with. I felt the repeated urge to talk to him, but I was too shy. Later on, as everyone was leaving, I walked up to him and surprised myself by shaking his hand and telling him my first name before walking out the door. The next day, he e-mailed everyone with my name until he found me. We met, we talked for hours, and realised we liked each other. I came out and told him I was a Mormon. He was not sure if he knew what a Mormon was, but now he has a much better idea. The rest is history, and if we were in church, I would close with an "Amen." That is because meeting Brian is part of my testimony. I know that God plays an active role in our lives, and I believe in miracles.
Mine is a simple testimony, but it comes only after overcoming complicated fears. I used to question God's feelings for me as gay member of the church, and occasionally, I found myself thinking my relationship would fail because it was outside the church. It is a silly notion, as first and foremost I am in a same-sex relationship, a factor that many church members would point to as the ultimate reason for my relationship to fail. However, I have spent my whole life believing any relationship sealed outside the temple was doomed. I believed that a true and lasting commitment was not possible in a part-member family. Parents and peers add no encouragement, quoting statistics and predicting break-ups and heartache. I never thought I would marry a non-member, and so I have had to adjust my attitudes in the process and learn from my mistakes. Yet in finding love, I have been able to dispel these negative myths. To paraphrase Paul and Moroni, true love will take away our fears.
If every one of us is completely a child of God, then there is no such thing as a part-member. Rather, all human beings are members, sharing a universal connection. The church teaches that relationships built on the common spiritual goals of the gospel will be blessed. For this reason, my mother still longs for me to be with a member. Because she loves me, she wants me to be with someone who will be faithful, who will cherish me with an eternal perspective, and will treat me kindly. This is my standard as well, and I have found it. In the homosexual relationships we build, we too can find a common spiritual goal. For he and I, this is a love for life, the sacredness of the world around us, and the miracle of finding one another.
For Christmas, my mother sent me hundreds of glow in the dark stars to put on my ceiling. Brian and I enjoyed sticking them up into our own imagined constellations. At night, we turn out the lights and the phosphorescent plastic pieces turn the room into an endless night sky. This is my favourite time of all. We both lay there staring at the stars, holding hands, drifting into sleep between short bits of conversation. In these moments of silence and security, my beliefs and tradition are especially relevant. As a Mormon, the stars and worlds without number hold special meaning and raise deep feelings. I remember verses from the Book of Abraham. The hymn "How Great thou Art" runs through my head. During these moments, I am truly in awesome wonder. I consider all that God is, what he has done for me, the mystery of my own existence, and His love for who I am. This awe is tied to the feelings I have for this man next to me and I know he is feeling this same wonder. His thoughts take on a different shape, but we are joined together in this wonder of the universe and the joy of love. This too is my testimony, for I have learned that eternity feels like eternity no matter how you define it, and love will always feel like love.