The following is based on remarks by Steve Benson, originally presented at two
gatherings of Mormon (and former Mormon) gays in 2001. They have been combined, adapted
and edited for presentation here.
The first setting was a local Arizona chapter meeting of
Gamofite (Gay Mormon Fathers), held in the offices of the Arizona Human Rights Fund, Phoenix, Arizona, January 13, 2001. The second was the national Gamofite convention held in Fort Worden, Washington, August 18, 2001.
Mary Ann Benson (Steves spouse and more perceptive half), also gave a presentation at the Fort Worden convention, as well as at other gatherings. Her observations will also be posted in the near future on the "Recovery from Mormonism" bulletin board, www.exmormon.org.
DIVERSITY, NOT PERVERSITY:
MY PRISON BREAK FROM
THE HOMOPHOBIA OF MORMONISM
December 2, 2002
WHICH TO CELEBRATE: ANOTHER MORMON MARRIAGE OR A GATHERING OF GAY SAINTS?
In preparation for these remarks, I tried to come up with an appropriate title but finally gave up when I realized I couldnt compete against the following titles, reportedly from popular country western songs:
--"I Wanna Whip Your Cow"
--"Id Rather Have A Bottle in Front of Me Than a Frontal Lobotomy"
--"I Changed Her Oil; She Changed My Life"
--"How Can I Miss You If You Wont Go Away?"
--"They May Put Me in Prison, But They Cant Stop My Face From Breakin Out"
Coming up with a title was hard enough; just getting here was even tougher.
Mary Ann and I first had to overcome some last-minute obstacles thrown in our way by the Lord of Heterosexual Hosts.
Earlier, I had received an e-mail from my sister about her daughters upcoming temple marriage.
"Dear Steve," she wrote, "I hope you received [the] wedding announcement. We would love to have you and Mary Ann come to the wedding luncheon . . . at the Inn at Temple Square. It would be great to see you both and catch up. I need to let the grooms mother know how many to expect, if you could please let me know."
I wrote back:
"Thanks for the invite to the luncheon but . . . I have another commitment that has been on the calendar for several months. Mary Ann and I are flying to Washington state to address a national convention of gay Mormon fathers."
It always helps to have your priorities in order.
I understand your first choice for speakers was Gordon B. Hinckley. Unfortunately, President Hinckley is rumored to be working feverishly behind the scenes with Senator Orrin Hatch in a campaign against the horse-and-buggy Amish, who pose a serious threat to the moral foundation of this country.
Word has it they support same-sex carriages.
TRUTH: DEFINING YOUR OWN AND THEN FIGHTING FOR IT
It is not easy, fighting and struggling daily for equality and respect, especially in a world--and in a Church--that are in many ways still frightened, ignorant and hateful of gays and lesbians.
What gay Mormons have done in gathering together and affirming one another is something that must be done and celebrated, not only because it is a human right, but because it is morally right. It is morally right because we all have the right to be who we are and to live our lives as we see fit.
The Revered Martin Luther King, Jr., declared, "Cowardice asks, Is it safe? Expediency asks, Is it politic? Vanity asks, Is it popular? But conscience asks, Is it right?' There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him, It is right."
Right can often be wrenching. As one observer noted, "Id rather be Black than gay because when youre Black you dont have to tell your mother."
As difficult as that may be to do, it is also right because its time we all decided to start living our own lives, anyway. Like Mae West said, "He who hesitates is a damn fool."
If only my grandfather, Ezra Taft Benson, could be here with us. To borrow a phrase from Gerald Ford, if he were alive today, hed roll over in his grave. After all, it was Ezra Taft Benson who once declared with all the prophetic bluster he could muster that "every form of homosexuality is wrong." Every form--just in case any of you thought you had found a loophole.
Imagine the following scenario unfolding in the heart of Salt Lake City:
Two mothers meet on Temple Square and sit down in the Visitors Center, at the feet of the Christus. One says, "Hows your son doing?" The second mother responds, "He graduated from Ricks and is a doctor in Manhattan making a half million dollars a year. Hows your son doing?" The first mother says, "Hes never worked a day in his life. Hes just a homosexual, thats all." The second mother sighs, "Oh, thats terrible."
The first mother replies, "Its not so bad. You see, he knows this doctor in Manhattan who makes a half million dollars a year."
Or imagine this happening someday:
A resident assistant in an all-female dormitory at BYUs Deseret Towers knocks on the door of a darkened room one night and asks the two coeds inside, "What are you doing, kids?" The reply, "Making love." The RA responds back, "Thats nice. Dont fight."
Or picture this:
Two sister missionary companions settling into their apartment their first day together, getting to know one another. One, sitting on the edge of the bed, leans forward, holding her scriptures, and says, "I have to explain a few things about myself. To be frank--"
The second sister missionary jumps in and says, "Oh, no. Let me be Frank."
I suspect its not going to happen anytime soon. Which is really too bad.
RELIGIONS SEXUAL HANG-UPS: TALES OF THE UNINSPIRED AND UNINSPIRING
Why is the Mormon Church so obsessed with sex? Mormonism reminds me of H.L. Menckens definition of Puritanism. He called it "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."
Can Mormons be happy and sexy at the same time? Fired BYU anthropologist David Knowlton says Mormonisms fixation on sex is rooted in its stressed-out notion of Mormon masculinity--what he calls "manhood in conflict." He writes, "At the heart of . . . Mormon notions of masculinity reside somewhat opposing notions of sexuality. [One embodies] . . . the idea that 'sexual performance is closely associated with the state of being manly . . . [but on the other hand] the Church stresses over and over, from the time we are boys through adult life, that we must repress our libido."
In other words, hold to the rod, but only figuratively speaking.
Someone ought to tell that to the architects of the Church Office Building. Knowlton describes what were really looking at in the heart of Salt Lake City: "It rises, like a powerful, towering phallus, from a nest of two smaller, rounder buildings . . . [W]e find crucial structural tensions right in the middle of this powerful biological drive connected with our sense of ourselves as men and our relationship with Church authority."
Sadly, too many repressed Mormons hesitate, fearfully refusing to step out and embrace their true sexual selves, terrified of what prophets, families, business associates, friends, ward members and the Mormon God will think. As if Mormonism could help in the process, anyway.
LEAVING MORMONISM BEHIND: REMINDERS THAT IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO
Mormon leaders remind me of the doctor who was told by his patient that he had broken his leg in two places. The doctor told him to quit going to those places.
Ive decided that my place is not within the Mormon Church. So, I quit going there. In fact, Im out of religion altogether. Sigmund Freud was right in his observation: "When a man is freed of religion, he has a better chance to live a normal and wholesome life." I decided that I didnt want to be told what to do by a so-called Mormon "prophet" or other religious frauds who, like the definition of a mystic, are "puzzled by the obvious but . . . understand the non-existent."
I also got tired of repenting on Sunday for what I did on Saturday but was going to do again on Monday.
One morning a couple of years ago, I happened to stumble across General Conference on the cable channel. For a moment, I thought aliens had taken control of my TV set. I wished there had been a knob to turn up the intelligence. (The one marked "brightness" certainly didnt work). As I watched the proceedings, I found myself sucked back in time to my Church days when we were told that the United States of America was a free country where everyone could do as the Prophet pleases.
Soon enough, I had had enough of the proceedings. As the designated white, patriarchal, male General Authority read his teleprompted plea to heaven, I couldnt help but think of a much better invocation, the "Gestalt Prayer." It was written by Gestalt psychologist, Fritz Perls, who coined the phrase, "Do your own thing." It reads as follows:
"I do my thing and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, its beautiful. If not, it cant be helped."
What can be helped, however, is the cause of human justice. That can be a challenge when dealing with a Church whose attitude on gay rights resembles that of Jimmy Hoffa. "I may have my faults," the Mob boss said, "but being wrong aint one of them."
Gays and lesbians fight for human justice in refusing to tolerate inhuman sexual abuse from the Mormon Church. Mormon leaders may think they were born to command, but those who wish to live their own lives were born to countermand. One can try to be polite to them--but being polite to a bully still gets one a bloody nose. One can try to be diplomatic. Will Rogers had a good definition of "diplomacy." He called it "the art of saying nice doggie until you can find a rock." That rock is the foundation of individual self.
How sad that so many Mormons cant see beyond their narrow attitudes of alienation and rejection and instead embrace all people--regardless of sexual orientation--as equal and valued human beings. Instead, they give their lives and money to a Church whose doctrines are often the root cause of pain and prejudice. Indeed, it has been noted, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
As when they, in the name of God, conspire to turn families and friends against their own because of some imagined homosexual "sin." As when they, in the name of God, make gays feel like outcasts and strangers at their own tables.
It brings to mind the story of the excommunicated gay Mormon couple who one day were taking a walk through the woods, hand in hand, admiring the beauty all around them. "What majestic trees! exclaimed one. "What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" said the other.
Strolling along the river bank, they suddenly heard a rustling in the bushes behind them. They turned to see a towering grizzly bear charging in their direction. Frantically, they fled up the path but could hear the bear closing in. Faster they ran, hearts pumping wildly, eyes filled with fear.
Dashing around a bend in the trails, they stumbled over a log and fell to the ground. They rolled over to pick themselves up but saw the bear looming above them, his right paw raised, ready to strike. At that instant, the gay men cried out, almost in unison, "Dear God! . . ."
The bear froze. The forest went silent. The river stopped running. Time stood still. Then they saw, above their heads, a pillar of light, brighter than the noonday sun, that gradually descended until it fell upon them. From within the beam came a voice: "You have been out of my Church all these years, the one and only true Church on the face of the Earth. You tell others that I am not the true Christian God and that I dont even exist. And now you expect me to help you out of your predicament?"
Squinting into the light, one of the men spoke up and said, "It would be hypocritical of us to suddenly ask you to treat us as Christians now, but perhaps could you make the bear a Christian?"
"Very well," the voice said. The light disappeared. The river began flowing again. The sounds of the forest resumed. And then the bear dropped its paw from high above its head, brought both paws together, bowed its head and said, "Dear Heavenly Father, I thank thee for this food which I am about to receive."
Gays and lesbians can pray all their lives for love and acceptance from a homophobic world, but ultimately, there will always be Gods grizzly bears out there who will refuse to understand, accept or live and let live.
GOD, GAYS AND GOVERNMENT
Unfortunately, it takes "gentile" comics like Dennis Miller to explain the gospel of love to those who profess to follow it. "I dont care," he said, "what arcane passage you pull out of the Old Testament and run through your Jeremiah-begat-Jeremiah Decoder Ring. One of the definitive tenets of Christianity is tolerance."
Or, supposedly so.
For those who believe that putting the Mormon gospel into action in real life means accepting people and rejoicing in who they truly are--not pontificating some empty theological theory from a pricey Conference Center pulpit--then another comedian, Lenny Bruce, offers this hopeful observation: "Every day more people are straying away from the church and going back to God."
For someone like myself who has gone from proverbial Latter-day Saint to Latter-day Aint--who has moved from being a born-in-the-bed Mormon to a born-in-the-head atheist--I can nonetheless accept the notion of "God," if by it one means the concept of human love, tolerance and understanding.
David Grayson, writing in The Countrymans Year in 1936, described the kind of God I mean. He said, "Commandment No.1 of any truly civilized society is this: Let people be different." Letting people be different means encouraging them to freely discover for themselves who and what they are. It means admitting that no two people are alike and both are usually glad they arent. It means that on our personal paths to self-discovery, we find ourselves naturally coming together into the beautiful, rich, harmonious and yet diversely-textured orchestra we call the human family. I dont know of anyone who would want to attend the symphony if everyone played the oboe.
As Walter Lippman observed, "When we all think alike, no one is thinking." And when we all live alike, no one is living. Being oneself, however, is not easy in a Mormon world which preaches divinely-decreed conformity.
e.e. cummings wrote, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
One of the biggest battles gays and lesbians find themselves fighting is against medieval-minded moralists who insist that homosexuals are depraved perverts responsible for destroying traditional family values and undermining society at large.
They point to pedophilic mass murderers, such as John Wayne Gacy, as if they somehow represent what the average gay is all about. They warn that if the so-called homosexual "lifestyle" is accepted as normal and gays are granted legal rights, America will soon be overrun by the evil clown princes of sin, sodomy and subversion.
Using such logic, heterosexuals who commit crimes prove that straight people are a mortal threat to the planet. A recent news account reported the case in Uzbekistan involving a husband and wife team of doctor and university professor, who ran a travel agency specializing in cheap trips abroad and coveted excursions to the West. Police discovered that the couple was murdering customers, stealing their money and passports, then selling their bodily organs. The moral of the story: Be on the lookout for married heterosexuals. Report any suspicious activity to local authorities. One never knows what they might be cooking on their backyard grill.
Even more bizarre was the case of hound dog homophobia in Florida. There a man beat his canine companion with a vacuum cleaner and threw it against a tree, where it lapsed into a coma and ultimately had to be euthanized--all because he thought the dog was homosexual. It seems that after he had neutered Fido, the dog still kept trying to engage in sexual activity with another male family dog.
America would do well to pay heed to other nations that demonstrate considerably more enlightenment on matters of individual sexual rights. After the legislatures in several British-held Caribbean territories refused to remove anti-gay statutes from their books, Britain moved unilaterally to revoke the laws in the islands in question, declaring that they violated international human rights agreements.
Predictably, the chief pastor of the Church of England in the Cayman Islands complained that the move was anti-Christian and an insult to the culture of the local community. Island inhabitants denounced it for being in keeping with Britain's increasing atheistic bent.
In a similarly progressive move, the Netherlands has legalized marriage and adoption by gay couples, thereby removing the stigma of second-class citizenship for children in such families. The Dutch parliament has also expanded equal rights to same-sex couples by expunging gender-based, gender-biased phrases like "father and mother" and "man and woman."
Predictably, the Vatican branded such moves as "a grave attack on the family in its natural and Christian model."
As if the Pope would know anything about nature. When will he admit that "celibacy is not hereditary"? When will he lighten up, learn to live a little and realize that "chaste makes waste"?
One of my gay friends who recently came out is now exuberantly discovering what he had for so long denied himself and about himself. Weve had some great talks about being true to ones heart. Enjoying his new-found peace, freedom and excitement, I reminded him of the story of the young gay man who, asked if he smokes after sex, replied, "I dont know. I havent looked."
GOSPEL PRINCIPLES IN PRACTICE: MORMONISMS UNHOLY HOMOPHOBIA
Those who are in need of some serious soul-looking are Mormon Church leaders. Its time for them to acknowledge the pain and injustice their homophobic polices are wreaking on gays and lesbians, to abandon their archaic attitudes and to move toward the light. A good place for them to start would be to acknowledge that gays and lesbians actually exist.
Predictably, however, in keeping with societys lingering anti-gay prejudices, the Mormon Church has officially denounced homosexuality as "sinful" and "offensive to God." It attacks those with gay orientation by labeling them "troubled" and warns that they are not only targets for Church punishment but face the danger of jeopardizing "their eternal well-being."
Lets review a few notable case histories involving Mormon Church mistreatment of so-called homosexual "sinners."
In a speech ironically entitled, "Make Honor Your Standard," then-BYU president Ernest Wilkinson told the assembled student body, "We do not intend to admit to our campus any homosexuals. If any of you have this tendency and have not completely abandoned it, may I suggest that you leave the University immediately after this assembly; and if you will be honest enough to let us know the reason, we will voluntarily refund your tuition. We do not want others on this campus to be contaminated by your presence."
In a sermon called "A Counseling Problem in the Church," then-apostle Spencer W. Kimball warned BYUs religious faculty against "deviates called peeping toms, exhibitionists, homosexuals, and perverts in other areas."
Kimball later delivered a sermon to the entire BYU student class, entitled "Love verses Lust," in which he gravely declared, "Good men, wise men, God-fearing men everywhere . . . denounce the practice [of homosexuality] as being unworthy of the sons of God; and Christs Church denounces it and condemns it so long as men have bodies which can be defiled . . . In Exodus, the law required death for the culprit who had sex play with animals, the deviate who committed incest, or the depraved one who had homosexual or other practices."
Apostle Boyd K. Packer followed with his own speech at BYU, entitled, "To the One," in which he declared that the cause of homosexuality "will turn out to be a very typical form of selfishness."
In defending its assault on gays and lesbians, the Mormon Church insists that its anti-homosexual crusade is part of a long, glorious holy war. Apostle Dallin Oaks publicly declared that such "has been the message of the . . . prophets in all ages [namely]: repent. Abandon your sins; confess them; forsake them. And become acceptable to God."
Oaks call reminds one of that other, long-held traditional Mormon doctrine: Join the Church, all you cursed Black and Brown folks, and eventually behold your skin turn God-pleasing White.
Notorious gay-basher Anita Bryant would make an ideal President of the General Relief Society. "I dont hate homosexuals," she insisted. "Its the sin of homosexuality I hate." (If you believe that, Ive got a bridge in San Francisco to sell you).
Mormonisms written record on homosexuality is as shocking as its spoken version. A few years ago, a Church News editorial favorably cited Biblical verse in which homosexuals were stoned to death. (As someone once observed, the Bible is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force).
Official Mormon publications denounce homosexuality as a "perversion" and a "dread," "despicable" and "sinful practice."
How should gays and lesbians respond? Oscar Wilde had a sound suggestion. "The only way to get rid of temptation," he said, "is to yield to it."
The Mormon Church blindly refuses to yield ground, even in the face of evidence that homosexuality is not environmentally induced. Homosexuality, the Church insists, is a learned behavior that can be overcome. It tells the homosexually-"afflicted" that they can be "totally cured" through the help of what even it admits are its unprofessional and untrained--but supposedly divinely-inspired--lay counselors.
In ignorantly worshipping at the altar of tattered prejudices, the Mormon Church ignores the real-life experiences of gays whose lives it so grievously afflicts. One such individual--an educated, professional Mormon gay man who wouldnt use his real name for fear of recrimination--told a Phoenix newspaper, "Mormons view homosexuality as a sin that can be overcome. I know many gays, including myself, who have prayed until their knees are bloody and their hearts broken and still cant change."
"I dont have the answer to homosexuality," he continued. "But the Church doesnt either. All I know is that Im a good person who happens to be gay. I shouldnt be condemned for that one part of my life."
But condemned he is. And worse. BYU has become a battleground where the Church has striven, at brutal cost, to purge gays and lesbians from its ranks.
A renowned BYU music teacher was dismissed on mere suspicion of being a homosexual.
A BYU language professor was publicly pressured to leave the school after admitting to being gay, even though he held a temple recommend, had passed his review for tenure and was celibate.
BYU security forces, in league with the Utah state highway patrol, raided a rest stop between Provo and Salt Lake that was suspected of being a gay hangout and arrested a BYU instructor who later reportedly hung himself in jail rather than face the bigotry from family, friends and Church that was sure to follow.
Another gay BYU professor, entrapped in a local off-campus restroom, shot and killed himself.
BYU campus police rounded up suspected gay students, whereafter the students were forced into therapy, evicted from the university, exposed by Mormon officials and stripped of their Church membership.
Gay BYU students have, in a particularly dark period of the schools past, been subjected to so-called "aversion therapy," in which those who became sexually aroused when shown images of naked men had electric shock applied to their genitals and then withdrawn when presented with erotic pictures of naked women.
This isnt inspiration; its degradation. It isnt tolerance; its torture.
The findings by a BYU researcher were quashed by the Mormon Church when it learned that the studys results indicated homosexuality may have a biological basis.
Staff members at BYUs Counseling Center were ordered to destroy and/or falsify records on their gay clientele, so that the Center would be re-accredited by the American Psychological Association.
With the Mormon Churchs blessing, a BYU president, while still in that office, led the legal team defending Colorados notorious Amendment 2, which stripped gays and lesbians of their civil rights, but was ultimately declared unconstitutional.
Moving beyond the confines of BYU, Mormonisms inhumane treatment of homosexuals remains evident and evil.
A guilt-ridden gay Mormon man, dying of AIDS-related cancer, confessed his homosexuality to his bishop, was subsequently excommunicated after a lifetime of Church membership and service, then told not to attend Church so as to not "endanger the public health."
A former BYU history professor--also gay--who had been excommunicated for his writings on women and the priesthood, became a target of hate mail, vicious phone calls, threatened lawsuits and efforts at censorship. All because he dared write a book about same-sex relationships in the early Mormon Church.
In the political arena, the Mormon Church has played a particularly ruthless--and unconstitutional-role. The LDS Church claims it does not oppose basic civil rights for gays and lesbians, yet has vehemently opposed same-gender marriages, while Mormons in state legislatures vote against bills intended to prevent discrimination against gays in housing and employment. The First Presidency has mocked efforts to provide legal protection for gays and lesbians, saying that such attempts amount to nothing more than a societal re-definition of "deviation" and a repeal of Gods laws protecting marriage and the family.
This coming from a Church whose leaders once engaged in supposed God-ordained multiple wife-swapping, lied about it to Congress, then reluctantly ordered a temporary halt to the practice while secretly looking forward to the day when it would pick up again in the lusty lofts of the Celestial Kingdom.
In attempting to remake public policy in its own anti-gay image, the Mormon Church violates its own religious teachings, as found in Doctrine & Covenants 134:9: "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government."
The Mormon Church has, in fact, subverted the democratic process by "lying for the Lord" in claiming to be politically neutral when, in fact, it has clearly violated its tax exempt status by directly lobbying legislators on anti-gay rights bills in Alaska, Hawaii and California and by orchestrating covert political action letter-writing campaigns to defeat pro-gay initiatives.
It has threatened to cripple the publicly-subsidized national Scouting program by vowing to pull its young men out of BSA troops if gays are allowed in their leadership ranks. The Mormon Church insists it supports Scouting, but has condoned the violation of the right to equal employment opportunity by threatening to withhold funding if the BSA hires openly gay people.
Adding to the venom has been Orrin Hatch, Republican from the Church-state of Utah. He told Republican Party faithful that they should be proud because "we dont have the gays and lesbians with us." When asked to explain why this comment was not prejudiced, Hatch insisted he was merely pointing out that "gays and lesbians, by and large, are very intelligent, highly-educated, high-earning people, who support mainly Democrats." (That must mean that Republicans prefer support from dumb, badly-educated, financially-strapped heterosexuals).
As William Faulkner, in his book, Intruder in the Dust, observed, "No man can cause more grief than one clinging blindly to the vices of his ancestors." But cling the Mormon Church and its followers do to such vices, blinded by a fanatical belief in their own ultimate righteousness.
It is the morally indignant who most often are the most immorally intolerant. Religious belief often breeds extremists convinced of their own infallibility. They act much like the religious fundamentalists who, it has been said, "do what they think the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the case."
"What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists," observed Robert Kennedy, "is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents."
And what they do to them, as well.
Following their Churchs example, many Latter-day Saints have launched their own anti-gay assaults along the Wasatch Front.
A Utah Valley high school volleyball coach was removed from her position after refusing to obey a local school district order not to discuss her sexual orientation with her students.
Rather than allow gay and lesbian pupils to form support groups on high school campuses, the Salt Lake City Board of Education voted to ban all non-academic clubs, including minority, political, religious, athletic and service organizations.
The Church-owned Desert News labeled homosexuality an "abomination" and urged its readers not to pity, tolerate or abet its practice.
The president of the Utah chapter of Phyllis Schlaflys right-wing Eagle Forum declared with cold confidence, "We are going to win this battle--and Utah will again be in the forefront. Homosexuals cant reproduce, so they recruit. And they are not going to use Utah high school and junior high school campuses to recruit."
Utahs Mormon governor publicly denounced the formation of high school gay clubs on religious grounds, saying the homosexual "lifestyle" should not be promoted.
The Utah State Senate passed an anti-gay bill prohibiting teachers from condoning illegal conduct in schools, led by homophobic legislators who warned against gay plans "to seduce and sodomize your children" and to promote the "adult homosexual agenda." An attempt to add language to the bill requiring teachers to promote tolerance and understanding for those of different races, religions, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations was soundly defeated.
The bills passage prompted University of Utah law professor Ed Firmage to issue this withering blast: "The Utah legislature and the dominant religious leadership of this state . . . in illegal, secret meetings . . . have embarked upon [a] journey into the heart of darkness . . .
"Social justice has been denied . . . in naked attacks against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and all our school children and young adults.
"Hate speech has been indulged by state legislators who thereby invite crimes.
"And leaders who claim a monopoly of prophetic guidance have abandoned true prophetic leadership sensitive to the poor and the vulnerable . . .
"[P]erhaps most serious of all in its moral bankruptcy in this situation--shame on Mormon leadership for fomenting this spirit of intolerance and hate . . ."
In my own state of Arizona, citizens have been subjected to the biased rants of Mormon legislators like Barbara Blewster who, when she wasnt claiming that slavery was beneficial for Blacks or making fun of Jews for having "hooked" noses, was equating homosexuality to "bestiality, human sacrifice and cannibalism."
Or another paragon of Mormon family values--Mesa, Arizonas five-time married, multiple divorcee legislator Karen Johnson--who declared that homosexuality "undermine[s] the natural family," threatens basic freedoms and "is on the lower end of the behavioral spectrum," not to mention being medically infectious.
In keeping with these Mormon-bred examples of intolerance, the leaders of a Tucson, Arizona, shelter--the Gospel Rescue Mission--informed congressional representative Jim Kolbe he would not be allowed on the grounds of their facility to serve Thanksgiving meals to the homeless because he was gay. In a memo faxed to Kolbe, the shelter declared, "This decision is based on your publicly-announced sexual orientation that is diametrically opposite to the admonitions in the Bible. This mission is founded on biblical principles, and we cannot give a public forum to a public official who is blatantly flaunting those principles." A shelter official added, "We wouldnt want anyone who advocated adultery to serve, either." Arizonas disappointed governor observed, "[H]unger sees no sexual preference."
According to Bible-thumping bigots, those who embrace gays for being the brothers and sisters that they are, themselves are mired in moral decay, wandering in wickedness and drowning in dishonesty--in short, languishing in latter-day sin.
One Mormon wrote me this godly love letter:
"The longer you are around, the more I realize what an idiot you are. I dont think YOU even know what you believe. Ill bet your grandfather sure was proud of you, huh? Funny thing is . . . its going to be hilarious when you find out that you actually ARE an idiot!
"Yes, Im a member of the LDS Church and Im going to have to repent for this letter, but it sure is worth telling you the truth.
"I hope someday, in some way, you can find an actual blood-pumping heart inside you and realize that your brain must have been electrocuted at some point in your life.
"Whats going to be next? Is your wife going to get an abortion? Maybe you will come out of the closet? Who know and who cares! Its all just for attention anyway.
"Take care and happy cartoons, you comedian."
The writer didnt bother signing his name. When I receive such fan mail, I try to remember the advice of the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who said, "If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself, you should say, He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned.'"
DELIVERANCE FROM EVIL: THE SUICIDE OF STUART MATIS
Sometimes the personal pain and stigma is simply too much to bear. Stuart Matis, a 32-year-old gay returned missionary, wrote the following letter to BYUs Daily Universe:
"I am gay. I am also LDS . . . [F]or . . . two decades, I traveled down a tortuous path of internalized homophobia, immense self-hatred, depression and suicidal thoughts.
"Despite the calluses on my knees, frequent trips to the temple, fasts and devotion to my mission and Church callings such as elders quorum president, I continually failed to attenuate my homosexuality . . .
"[My friends and I have been] compared . . . to murderers, Satanists, prostitutes, pedophiles and partakers of bestiality. Imagine having to live with this rhetoric constantly being spewed at you . . .
"I implore the students at BYU to re-assess their homophobic feelings. Seek to understand first before you make comments. We have the same needs as you. We desire to love and be loved. We desire to live our lives with happiness. We are not a threat to you or your families. We are your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends, and most importantly, we are all children of God."
A few weeks later, a despondent Stuart took his own life on the steps of a LDS chapel in Los Altos, California.
Stuarts blood today stains the hands of the Mormon Christ.
LOOKING FEAR IN THE MIRROR: SEXUAL INSECURITY AMONG THE FAITHFUL
Mormons hate gays because they do not know them; and they will never know them because they hate them. Mormons fail to understand that homosexuality is caused by a complex interweaving of biological and hereditary factors, that it is inborn and irreversible and that it is a normal human condition deserving respect and legal protection.
If Mormons actually understood what they condemn, they might better understand themselves. Could it be that underneath all that anti-homosexual hysteria is a gay crying to get out? After all, as H.G. Wells astutely noted, "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."
The irrational hostility which so many Mormons vent upon gays and lesbians could, in many cases, be a projection of self-hate and personal sexual insecurity. As Hermann Hess notes, "If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isnt part of ourselves doesnt disturb us."
BORN INTO BIGOTRY: HOMOPHOBIA AT HEART AND HEARTH
In my own upbringing, Ive tried to figure out how and where the Bensons developed their problems with sex, in general, and homosexuality, in particular. I think I may have found the answer.
My grandfather was raised on a farm in southern Idaho, where he milked cows. Being a dairy farmer, he insisted we drink only heterosexual milk. None of that homo-genized stuff.
Seriously, to understand the influences of my childhood, it is necessary to put my early attitudes and beliefs within the context of Benson family home life. Essentially, my home provided basic training for war against the forces of evil. As a youth, I was commanded by my grandfather to follow the "marching orders" of the "living prophet." Those commands meant a frontal assault (but no frontal nudity) against such insidious influences as:
--Martin Luther King, who, I was taught by my grandfather, was a notorious liar, civil rights agitator and communist-inspired sympathizer;
--African-Americans in general who, I was told by my parents, were cursed and "different;"
--liberals (especially Democrats) who, I was indoctrinated to believe, were misguided political drifters serving as the devils designated thorns in the sides of Gods Republican servants;
--scientists and intellectuals who, I was warned, were the stiff-necked followers of the anti-Christ;
--the Beatles, who according to John Birch material scattered around our house within easy reach of the children, were trained by Soviet musicians as part of a plot to corrupt Americas youth.
--John F. Kennedy who, I was told on the day of his assassination by my well-meaning but deluded John Bircher mother, got what he deserved;
--and last but not least, working mothers and homosexuals who, I was instructed, were perversions of the natural order.
Please dont get me wrong. In many respects, I had a happy, albeit insulated, childhood. We did many things together as a family, although most of our time was spent in designated activities which followed the calendared and regimented footpath of loyal Mormon life. We were taught the value of hard work, study, good grades, music, diet and exercise, plus love of God, family and country.
Some parts of my upbringing were pleasant; others were poisonous.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOULL BECOME A HOMOSEXUAL: AN LDS CHURCH GUIDE
In its counseling manuals, the Mormon Church attempts to explain away homosexual identity through a myriad of supposed causes, including negative father-child relationships; poor rapport with peers which results in the turning to homosexual behavior in order to gain acceptance; mothers who are too emotionally attached to their sons or who discourage their sons interest in girls; unhealthy sexual attitudes fostered by parents who see sex as improper or "dirty;" misinterpretation of LDS emphasis on pre-marital chastity, causing some young people to completely avoid heterosexual interests or relationships; early homosexual experiences that increase the possibility of future such encounters; or early masturbation that becomes habit-forming and reinforces homosexual interests.
Lets go down the list.
Did I have a negative relationship with my father?
No, although he (and by extension, the rest of the Benson hierarchal family) taught me some pretty negative ideas. Nonetheless, I enjoyed his company and that of other kin. Much of our personal recreation occurred at Benson family reunions and other Church-related functions. The former were usually held in conjunction with General Conference, when everyone was going to be in Salt Lake anyway. Beyond this and some occasional fathers-and-sons camping and regular weekend yard work, my father was gone a lot, toiling late nights at his job as a pots-and-pans salesman or diligently carrying out his endless Church work. Much like his own father.
Did I have a poor rapport with my peers?
I enjoyed my growing up years immensely--especially in Dallas, Texas, where we had a very close and active group of MIA youth. I had plenty of friends and lots of fun--albeit within clearly-defined boundaries. My parents discouraged me from dating non-members (I was told to turn down a girls choice offer for the high school Sadie Hawkins dance). I was discouraged from spending too much time even with Mormon girls--and especially not alone with them. Although I ended up spending most of my teenage years socializing with fellow Mormon youth, my parents didnt want me to do excessive amounts of dancing with them, either. They forbid me from going to too many Mormon stake dances, fearing that I would be exposed--even within the hallowed cultural hall of the wardhouse--to the devilish influence of rock n roll.
To help combat this drumbeat of sin, as a teenager I was appointed to serve on a committee that chose the music for the youth dances. My father also participated in picking the tunes we could twitch to. Keep in mind, this was during the 1970s. It was a time of "Rhythm, Rock and Revolution." The Vietnam War was raging and the rock group "Bread" was at the top of the charts. One of their hits was a romantic ballad entitled, "Sweet Surrender." Based on the title alone and without even listening to the lyrics, my father declared that we couldnt play it at the stake dances. He said it was most likely left-wing propaganda designed to entice American young people to surrender to the Vietnamese communists.
I was also commissioned to monitor the dances I was allowed to attend, in order to make sure that the music wasnt so loud that it drowned out the whisperings of the Spirit. As an antidote to the Doors, the Beatles, Chicago and Bread, I was encouraged to engage in large amounts of high school band marching and tuba playing, including a school trip to Mexico and performing in the Cotton Bowl during the halftime of a Dallas Cowboy game.
During a Benson family reunion in the late 1970s at Nauvoo, Illinois, a mini-music crisis erupted on a riverboat cruise up the Mississippi. The boat had a juke box on deck, featuring a paltry selection of popular tunes. I dropped in a coin and punched "Southern Nights," by country western idol Glen Campbell. My aunt, Beverly Benson Parker (daughter of Ezra Taft and Flora), was aghast, angrily telling me that the song contained sexual innuendo and ordering me to stop the music. I told her I didnt know how to turn off the juke box. She said she just hoped Grandpa Benson didnt notice. Meanwhile, Grandpa was busy dancing to the song with his grandkids.
Also on the list of forbidden fruits was Mad Magazine. In order to sneak a peek at the latest issue, I would have to go over to my friends house across the street (although I did manage to buy a few used copies from my buddies, which I secretly read under my covers at night).
Growing up, I saw only one issue of Playboy magazine. I was babysitting for a Mormon family down the block when one of their kids brought it downstairs for an evening of show and tell. In order to keep it from polluting the boy, I took it home--where I enjoyed it myself. My mother canceled her subscription to Vogue fashion magazine when she caught me looking at the lingerie ads. For all intents and purposes, I grew up pretty much pure and undefiled.
Was my mother too emotionally attached to me and did she discourage my interest in girls?
Yes, on both counts. She was very emotionally involved in my life and somewhat emotionally insecure when it came to my dealings with girls and sex. It was all part of her larger impulse to control input and outcome within our home. The Benson household was a very strict one, in which she served as the principle disciplinarian. My father would usually just give us a sad, silent Basset hound look when we broke house rules. It was Mom who would dish out the punishment. I remember one night, when I was around six years old, pestering her about something while she was on the phone in the kitchen. Finally, out of frustration, she took a small paring knife she was holding and stuck me in the leg with it. I still have the scar.
When I reached 16 years of age, my mother still discouraged me from dating too many girls--at least the ones she didnt approve of. She went so far as to specify the preferred attributes; petiteness and piano playing being among them. I also got the clear signal that a young lass from the strata of LDS high society would be looked upon positively.
When I began showing interest in a particular young woman in high school who my mother felt didnt meet her criteria, she informed me that the object of my affections had "bad blood." I asked her what that meant. She said her parents drank coffee.
As I entered my teenage years, I found myself the regular student of unusual Benson ideas on sex education. One night on one of our frequent trips out to a remote dairy farm to pick up our allotment of unpasteurized milk (the best kind, Mom said), she admonished me never to take long trips in cars with girls. She warned me that the vibration of the engine would get my own engine going. She said she used to see it with Dad.
Did I have unhealthy attitudes about sex fostered by parents who saw it as improper or "dirty," and did they fill me with strange notions about Church teachings on pre-marital chastity?
The sign of a good Benson was to wage constant war against ones own sexuality. In our household, it was a hallowed tradition that no one was to kiss a member of the opposite sex until the latter, sacred days of courtship. Indiscriminately slopping ones kisses around was compared to sitting in a circle with friends and passing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich down the line, with everyone getting a bite. By the time it got around to you, we were asked, would you want to take a lick?
With that appetizing image in mind, I faithfully ended all my high school and college dates with a firm handshake and a polite "thank you." I vowed not to kiss any young woman until I asked her to marry me--and then only if she said "yes."
Thus, my lips remained unsullied until, at the long-in-the-tooth age of 22, I asked Mary Ann to marry me. It was then that she swept me away into the ecstasy of lip-locking bliss. Getting off the ground, however, proved to be a bit bumpy.
When I asked proposed to Mary Ann and she accepted, I realized that the next step was to seal it with a kiss. The trouble was, I didnt know how to pucker. Standing there on the knoll behind the Provo Temple where I popped the question, my first kiss proved to be a clumsy sort of peck. Having been raised on a farm, Mary Ann said it reminded her of watching chickens scratching around the barnyard.
But Mary Ann was a good and patient teacher. (She was a pretty and popular cheerleader in high school). I was certainly impressed, but my mother was not. She vigorously objected to me marrying Mary Ann, saying she was using her body to attract me. So, I thought, whats the problem?
It was an unfortunate fact that this war against personal sexuality was aided and abetted by parents who had odd notions on the subject, to say the least. I remember an especially traumatic moment when I was about 12 years of age. I was home from school, in bed with the flu, minding my own miserable business. My mother came, unannounced, into the room and asked me to drop my pajama bottoms. She said she wanted to see something. I, Stephen, having been born of repressed parents, therefore did as I was told, although with much embarrassment.
After making her assessment, she left the room, then proceeded to take my younger sisters into their bedrooms and put them through the same ordeal. I still remember hearing them wail and plead with my mother not to do it. I recall that as my mother went about the surprise sexual inspection, she, too, was crying. It was quite bizarre. She just couldnt seem to handle the fact that Mother Nature was taking her children away from her and causing us to grow up.
In a related vein, my mother tried to prevent my body from showing certain outward signs of sexual maturity. As a young teenager I was chosen to play the part in a Boy Scout camp skit of a bare-chested, war-bonneted Indian chief. The script called for me to dramatically light a woodpile by raising my arms to the sky and calling down magical fire. Mom made me shave my fuzzy underarms, saying that hairy armpits on boys wasn't attractive. Having never shaved my armpits before, I got a bad case of razor burn and could hardly drop my arms once I raised them heavenward, it hurt so damn bad.
(She did, however, want to see me grow taller than my body seemed to be inclined, so she recommended that I hang, fully-extended, from a chin-up bar with heavy cinder blocks tied to my feet, in order to stretch myself out. That didn't sound like a very pleasant thing to do, so I chose not to follow through. As a result, I am today only 5 feet 9 inches tall).
Into my pubescent years, I began experiencing the natural, spontaneous, unprovoked and uncontrollable phenomenon of sexual arousal, which often occurred at the most inopportune moments. As my young testosterone-bubbling buddies will attest, it would happen while sitting in math class, eating in the cafeteria, standing in line at the drinking fountain, tooting my tuba in the band hall, daydreaming--wherever and whenever. All of a sudden, he is risen. And there was nothing one could do about it, except try to quickly rearrange ones trousers and hope no one noticed.
Well, unfortunately for me, my mother noticed.
To help keep things under control, she made me start wearing a jock strap directly over my underpants but beneath my trousers. Thus attired, I remember one night going to the stake center for a required physical exam so I could play Church basketball. The doctor was preparing to perform the routine hernia check and noticed my unusual clothing combination. He looked perplexed and asked me about the get-up. I said my mom made me do it--and left it at that.
Sex also infiltrated my violin lessons. My mom would take my across town each week to the home of my teacher, a young guy who had huge paintings of erotic nudes, male and female, hung all over his house. When we would show up for the lesson, my mother would ask him to take them down. He politely declined to do so, so my mother paid him to drive miles to our house, instead. There he could teach me while gazing at wholesome pictures of Mormon temples. Little did he know that behind their walls, people walked around naked under smocks, smeared in oil.
Speaking of temples, when Mary Ann and I were married by my grandfather in the Salt Lake granddaddy of them all, the ever-present shadow of "sanctified" sex followed us across the street into the wedding night suite--and beyond.
Our first night together as husband and wife was spent in an upper room of the Hotel Utah, overlooking the twinkling lights of beautiful Temple Square. The shower curtain leaked, spilling water all over the bathroom floor, and requiring the maintenance staff to come up and do an emergency repair.
With the mood thus set, I made the clumsy suggestion that we "derobe." (Don't you just love it when people talk dirty?) Hubba, hubba. From there, we moved ahead cautiously into completely virgin territory. Somehow (and without an abundance of elegance), we managed to figure out where the interlocking pieces were supposed to go. And we did so, of course, obediently following the prophet's command of "No artificial birth control."
Our amateur night of bliss was followed by a honeymoon at the Benson family cabin, nestled along a gravel road in the world famous, beautiful resort hideaway of Midway, Utah, just outside Heber.
Unfortunately, it wasn't far enough away from family.
First, my younger sister (who was extremely jealous that we were married and she wasn't), came banging at the cabin
door--not once, but twice. We were--ahem--busy and refused to answer, so she circled the cabin, yelling out my name. (I just wanted Mary Ann to yell out my name). My sister kept on pounding on the back door and windows. Finally, she left.
Next, it was Grandma and Grandpa Ezra Taft Benson's turn to interrupt our getting-to-know-you interlude. They came a-knocking at the front door, while we are doing our own "knocking" inside. I jumped out of bed and fled to the shower, leaving Mary Ann in her natural state, quaking under the sheets.
When no one answered the call of the prophet, Mary Ann heard Ezra tell Flora, "They'd be in this bedroom right here"--the one we were occupying adjacent to the front door. So, he started rapping on our bedroom window.
Mary Ann remained as still as she could, hiding under the covers, hoping that the Lord would not discover her nakedness. Grandma and Grandpa finally gave up, too.
Mary Ann heard Grandpa say, "We'll just leave them a note in the front door." After they had left, I emerged from the safety of the shower, whereupon Mary Ann filled me in on what I had missed.
I went outside and retrieved the note, which invited us to come listen to a prophet's voice give a stirring address to a bunch of Boy Scouts in Heber. (What every newlywed Mormon couple fantasizes about, no doubt). We dutifully donned our garments and outerwear and went to hear him speak.
Upon return, we crawled back into bed and picked up where we had left off. The next morning, we awoke to hear the radio announcer breaking the news that Elvis Presley had just died.
If that wasn't bad enough, we were eventually driven out of the cabin by my Aunt Beverly (one of Ezra's daughters), who literally came marching up the front sidewalk into the cabin with her bags for her turn at occupation, as we were packing ours to leave.
Eight-and-a-half months later, Mary Ann gave birth to our first child and honeymoon special, Rebekah. (Mary Ann was to have a history of delivering early. Our next three also came in expedited fashion, each one after shorter and shorter labor. When Mary Ann gets down to business, she doesn't fool around).
Anyway, as a happy first-time father, I phoned my parents from the delivery room in Preston, Idaho, to announce the news. Mom answered the phone, whereupon I proudly informed her of the new arrival. Her initial reaction was not, "That's wonderful! How are Mary Ann and the baby?"
Instead, she said, "But, Stephen, you haven't even been married nine months yet!"
What about early homosexual experiences that may have increased the possibility of future homosexual experiences?
I didnt have any, thanks to my parents who did their utmost to make sure of that. In junior high, my mother warned me to stay clear of boys in the P.E. showers who had been circumcised. She said this was an ungodly practice that turned young boys into homosexuals, who then preyed on the uncut and unsuspecting.
Years later, when Mary Ann and I decided to have our first son circumcised, my mother--who had accompanied Mary Ann and the baby to the doctors office in Provo for a post-natal checkup--phoned me in horror to say this was a violation of Gods will and begged me to stop Mary Ann from going through with it. I told her we had jointly decided to have the procedure done, whereupon my mother began crying, hung up the phone, rushed out of the doctors office and sat in the hot car in the middle of August, rather than remain inside at the scene of the crime.
As far as actual encounters with homosexuals as I was growing up, I didnt know many gays (or if I did, I was not aware of their sexual orientation). The first gay men I met were a couple of interior designers who worked at a furniture store run by my bishop, where I was employed as a delivery boy. I remember them being nice and professional. One of thema fit and trim fellow with a great tan and a penchant for strong cologne--told me he was gay. I dont remember how the issue came up, but he subsequently invited me over to his apartment one day after work. "OK," I said. I was genuinely interested in learning more and felt pretty comfortable around him.
As we entered his place and passed by his bedroom, I noticed the bed had a mirrored headboard (a feature Mary Ann and I were to later find quite useful in our own bedroom). He invited me to wait in the living room while he changed. He came out dressed in a pair of white gym shorts and white tube socks--no shirt--offered me a soda and proceeded to tell me that he always felt he was gay and didnt think his mother could relate.
I never told my parents. (I dont think my mother would have related, either).
Well into my adulthood years, my parents continued to try serving as my shield and protection against homosexuals. In my mid-thirties, I was put on notice to discontinue a friendship with a longtime friend of mine whom I had known from my BYU days, where we had worked together on the campus newspaper staff. He was (and still is) happily married, with several children of his own. Nonetheless, after introducing him to my parents, my mother took me aside and warned me that he was a homosexual. Apparently not having the powers of the Holy Ghost in sufficient wattage to pick up on this myself, I asked for proof. She said the giveaway was his big, brown eyes.
I was also advised by my parents in a long-distance phone call from Salt Lake not to draw a surprise birthday card for my younger brother, who at the time was serving as his wards elders quorum president. They worriedly informed me that the request for the card had come from a friend of my brother who was serving as the quorum secretary. My parents told me they suspected he was gay. Perhaps they feared that if I drew the card I would be drawn into homosexuality.
To use the guiding principles of anti-gay LDS counseling manuals: What about early masturbation experiences that could have become habit-forming and reinforced any interest one might have had in homosexuality?
True confession: Growing up, I didnt know how to do the
M-word. I was so straight-laced, I used to sneak out behind the barn--and do nothing. Finally, however, at the ripe old age of 18, I figured out how, as Elder Packer says, to fiddle with my "little factory."
But I only did it once. Honest.
Nonetheless, after having done so, I felt this gnawing shame about my momentary lapse into ungodly "self-abuse." (Maybe I should have felt guilty just because I did it so ineptly). Unable to shake my awful sense of gloom, when I entered the old brick mission home in Salt Lake City prior to being sent to Japan to serve my two-year sentence, I found myself in a long line with a bunch of similarly guilt-wracked young men waiting to confess our evil ways. It was a last-chance opportunity from the Mission Warden for those who needed to purge and purify before they could preach and testify.
When it came my turn, I was ushered in and asked by the White-Haired Leader, "What do you have to tell me, Elder?" I sat down, burst into tears and blurted out that I had done IT once.
There was a long silence. "Once?" he said. I replied, "Yes, but only once." He stood up, came around the desk, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Thank you, Elder Benson. Just dont do it again."
Well, praise, the Lord, I didnt--at least not for the next two years. But God did give me what I suspected was a gay companion. One night, as I lay safely wrapped in my warm and comfy futon on my rice mat in our apartment, he began snuggling his own futon up next to mine. When he started to run his fingers through my hair and stroke my cheek, I realized this wasnt scripture study.
How sad that the Mormon Church declares masturbation a sin--and condemns gay elders to clandestine moments with straight guys in the middle of the night. Its first-degree robbery of normal, healthy sexual expression.
Based on my own experiences, I think that sexual orientation is a matter of nature, not nurture. Growing up, I had been given all kinds of reasons by my sexually-vexed parents not to relate to, or enjoy, women. But I still turned out straight.
I believe our basic sexual identity, be it gay, straight or bi-, is innate, not the creation of circumstances or even weird parenting. As further proof of that, homosexual identity continues to manifest itself despite the threatening presence of Mormonisms scowling God, ever-ready to slap one down if one dares reach for ones "you-know-what" or for a life of ones own.
Attempts by Mormonisms sex police to discourage and punish natural physical urges brings to mind what people will do in seeking out their own happiness. The scene is of a group of children lined up for lunch in the cafeteria of a Catholic school. At the head of the table is a large pile of apples, where a nun has left a note reading, "Take only one. God is watching." Moving along the line, at the end of the table, is a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. There, a little boy has left his own note, reading, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."
WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT: DEVELOPMENTAL MUTATIONS IN A PAST MORMON LIFE
Given what I went through growing up, some may marvel that Im not more screwed up than I am. For years, incredibly as it seems to me now, I lived in a concentration camp of the mind that was supposed to be good for me when, in fact, it was poisoning my psyche and closing my heart.
It reminds me of the true story of a Turkish farmer who was hospitalized after drinking a large quantity of insecticide, which he insisted he needed because he had accidentally swallowed a fly. "I wanted to kill the fly before it reproduced inside me," he said. "I heard they reproduce a lot."
As with the misuse of bug poison, the injection of religious propaganda into an otherwise normal human being infects the mind and pollutes the system, killing off natural curiosity, discouraging healthy skepticism and spreading the plagues of nonsense and hate. Growing up, such religious garbage had a clear and adverse affect on me. It eventually manifested itself in full-blown homophobic fears when, in the early days of my professional career as a Pat Buchanan wannabe, I drew a lot of incredibly stupid, rawly-prejudiced and hysterically anti-gay cartoons.
Looking back on those primordial days, I am embarrassed and ashamed, wishing I could blame it all on some drug overdose. In actuality, it was an overdose of sorts--what I call the LSD of LDS. The Prophet gave me the stuff with which to inject myself and then made me do it. I was just trying to shoot up to godhood, thats all.
Back then, readers denounced my work as "rabid homophobic drivel," "blatantly discriminatory," "frightening," "simplistic and superficial," "trash," "the essence of bigotry," "emotional prejudice" and the product of "hypocritical devotion to a voodoo cult."
Well, nobodys perfect.
Several gay publications, including the national magazine, The Advocate, reprinted my more offensive offerings and quoted my senseless, ignorant defenses for all to see, accompanied with their own scathing rebuttals.
My reaction to the ridicule was predictably Mormon. I became incredibly defensive, snotty and self-righteous. I smugly interpreted the backlash against my cartoons as confirmation that I must be doing the Lords work and that I was being persecuted for righteousness sake.
In reality, I was a sexually immature young man who, in battling his own fears, was making devils out of others and jokes out of injustice. And, deep down inside, I was beginning to nurture nagging doubts about the truth of my own assertions. In an effort to bolster my defense, I spent hours at the library doing research. But the more I studied, the more it began to dawn on me, ever so quietly at first, that I was wrong.
Samuel Johnson described precisely my response when he wrote, "Every man who attacks my belief diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy--and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy."
I was indeed uneasy and had every reason to be. After all, I was a psychologically damaged, relentlessly indoctrinated, intellectually stunted by-product of an aberrant upbringingthe confused, conflicted creation of a toxic Church/family combination that bred intolerance, fostered fanaticism and stoked bigotry.
Otherwise, I was pretty well-grounded. And I did enjoy our regular family trips to Salt Lakes Snelgroves ice cream parlor.
MAKING THE NEEDED REPAIRS: BREAKING DOWN THE WALLS FOR A MAJOR OVERHAUL
Fortunately, there were those who saw in my outrageous outbursts the need for some historical enlightenment, constructive criticism and kindly advice.
One person, in particular--a man whom to this day I have never met, named Dan McGowan--wrote me a thoughtful letter that served in many ways to begin my turn-around. In it, he made a compelling case for recognizing, respecting and rejoicing in human sexual diversity. He provided numerous historical examples of what he called "enduring societies in which homosexual pair bonds were recognized as alternatives to heterosexual marriage," including North American Indian culture, the city-states of ancient Greece, early Roman civilization, Confucian China, ancient Egypt, India, Persia and Japan.
He cited many "gay artists and builders of Western Civilization," including Sir Richard Burton, Napoleon Bonaparte, D.H. Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Peter Tchaikovsky, Oscar Wilde and others.
He challenged the notion that gays threaten the integrity of the heterosexual family, saying it was "as silly as believing that frogs cause warts, syphilis can be gotten from toilet seats or masturbation can bring about blindness."
He questioned the assertion that AIDS began as a gay-based disease, citing scientific evidence to the contrary. He offered a powerful argument for the legalization of gay marriage and the lifting of state sanctions against homosexuality as a means by which to encourage more monogamous relationships.
He argued against gay people remaining in marriages with straight spouses because of the deleterious effect such arrangements have on both the partners and their children.
He noted that just because a majority of society opposed homosexuality did not make its opinion infallible, pointing to the fact that "a majority of European Christians opposed the Reformation of Martin Luther; a majority of Imperial Russians sustained the Czars pogroms against the Jews; a majority of Germans elected Adolf Hitler to the office of chancellor; and a majority of Iranians brought the Ayatollah Khomeini to power."
Then, he left me with this final note:
"Your increasingly vociferous denunciations over the years of homosexuals and gay lifestyle led me to wonder what internal pressures and trepidations underlie such demagoguery. Or, to paraphrase Shakespeare, 'The gentleman doth protest too much, me thinks.'"
Me knows he was right.
Other readers provided me information and sources about the hormonal, genetic, biological and hereditary links to homosexual identity, while also questioning the assertion that homosexuality poses a threat to society. As one wrote in response to my ignorant cartoons, "The decline of civilization can more easily be linked to television (Pepsi commercials, for instance) and to the inability of mainstream religion to keep its dirty hands out of places where it does not belong--the bedroom being only one of many examples . . . In the future, before you open your mouth or set your pen to paper . . . open your eyes as well as your mind."
It took me awhile--years, in fact (Bensons tend to be slow thinkers)--but I finally ended up agreeing with him.
Some are not convinced that people born in, and raised on, mental sewage can ever come clean. Once a homophobe, they say, always a homophobe. Some say its useless trying to reason prejudice out of people, arguing that since prejudice was not reasoned into them, it cant be reasoned out. Some say prejudice is a lazy persons substitute for thinking--and they are right. Prejudice is one of the easiest things in the world to acquire, yet one of the hardest things to shake. Journalist Edward R. Murrow was likewise skeptical. "Everyone is a prisoner of his own experience," he said. "No one can eliminate prejudices--just recognize them."
Can, in fact, people successfully rid themselves of born-in-the-bed bias? If someone as indoctrinated and intolerant, as I was raised to be, can change and see the light, I would hope that anyone can. As has been hopefully noted, "At least for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized."
In my case, I was fortunate enough to follow Bertrand Russells advice: "It is a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." I began thinking for myself and once that process started, there was no stopping.
In many respects, I had begun to do that already. Did the golden plates really exist? Was it appropriate for Mormons to baptize for the dead Jews exterminated in the Holocaust? Could Mormons prophets be counted on to prophesy accurately? Are women destined to be subservient to men? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Were Blacks and Indians truly cursed by God? Was there even a God?
Just as I eventually came to answer "no" on all the above, so, too, I finally concluded that the Mormon Church was dead wrong on gays and lesbians. The process of ridding myself of these false notions is what scientist Richard Dawkins calls the eradication of "viruses of the mind"--mental bugs which can infect thinking at an early age and take years to eradicate.
I eventually realized that everything I needed to know I hadnt learned in Mormon kindergarten. Reading outside the LDS box certainly helped. There I learned that sexual orientation is unrelated to moral character; that children of lesbian parents are no different than children of heterosexual parents; that there are significant differences in brain structure--and even fingerprints--between gay and straight men, suggesting the important role that genetic factors play in determining sexual orientation; that studies of twins provide strong evidence of a genetic basis for sexual identity; that efforts to transform gays and lesbians into straights dont work; that, according to a Defense Department draft report, gays applying for the military have stronger qualifications and fewer background problems than their heterosexual counterparts.
And on and on.
HOMOSEXUALITYS HUMAN FACE: HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
What really helped break down my fear and ignorance regarding homosexuality was being able to put a human face on it all. During this time, Mike Quinn became a friend of mine. Mike happens to be gay. I found him to be a man of compassion and intelligence, one who helped me realize that obscenity is in the mind of the beholder and that courage is found in individual, daily acts of honesty.
Another friend of mine is a congressman--a person who has earned great respect in Washington, a person of deep sensitivity and kindness, a man who shared with me over a shared slice of pie in a Dupont Circle cafe the fact that he, too, was gay. He asked me if knowing that about him bothered me. I realized that it didntnor should it have.
Friends like this have helped lift me to freedom. They are people who have shared with me their perspectives, their knowledge, their wisdom, their pain--and, most of all, their humanity.
I also broke out of the Mormon mind-prison through experiences that helped me understand--as best a straight guy can, I suppose--what it must be like to be gay in the fishbowl of an anti-gay world.
A few years ago, I was invited by an inactive gay Mormon friend of mine to go with him and another straight friend to a gay bar in Salt Lake. I didnt even know they had gay bars in Salt Lake. "The Trapp," it was called.
When we arrived, I observed that although it was open, the place was nearly empty. My gay friend joked that it was because it was Monday night--Family Home Eveningand all the homosexuals were home with their heterosexual Mormon parents, holding hands and singing "Kumbaya."
When we entered the bar, a pleasant, matronly woman sitting at the entrance smiled and asked for identification. I was flattered she thought I still looked young enough to be "carded." I thanked her for the compliment. She replied, "Its just that we get raided by the vice squad a lot and I want to make sure everyone in here is legal." I could just imagine the next mornings Deseret News headline: "Prophets Grandson Busted in Gay Bar; Loses Front Row Seating Privileges at General Conference."
There in a lonely gay bar in Salt Lake City I began to appreciate--in some small way--the fear, apprehension and intrusion many gays have felt in their own lives at the hands of the Mormon Church.
"Greater than the threat of mighty armies," said Victor Hugo, "is an idea whose time has come." To my gay and lesbian friends who have helped me see their light and feel their love, I thank you.
Your time has come. Let no one take it away from you. As the novelist George Eliot said, "Keep true, never be ashamed of doing right; decide on what you think is right and stick to it."
In the end, follow your conscience, not the "prophet."