Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Mormonism" as an epithet.


Ok, so here's a story...

I'm a musician working in Utah. I come from a classical background and have spent years studying music in college. Over the years I've had the opportunity to work with many LDS artists, some of which have carved out successful careers in the LDS "pop" industry.

The popular LDS music industry is very similar to other popular industries in that they can suffer from a lack of innovation. Everything sounds the same as everything else.

There is one thing in particular about popular LDS music that has grated my brain every since I became aware of it at a young age - the V4-3 ("five four-three") suspension. Without launching into too big a lesson on music theory, this is a chord suspension and resolution that is usually found at the end of musical phrases. It's hardly exclusive to Mormon pop music, but I can say without hesitation that the LDS market has been fixated on this musical convention for decades; to the point that I don't think LDS artists know how to finish a musical phrase without it. Doing so (to them) would be the musical equivalent of leaving the comma or period off the end of a sentence

Get me?

So yesterday I was asked to arrange a string accompaniment for a song that is recording in a couple days. As expected, the song is rife with V4-3 suspensions. Whatever.... I won't complain, especially since I'm getting paid for it. But I did decide to post what I thought was a funny and "inside" Facebook update. This was what I said:

"Mormonism is a never-ending series of 4-3 suspensions."

Offensive? .... Would you understand it had I not explained it beforehand? Probably not. I get dozens of incomprehensible updates from my friends a day that I just ignore. If you don't get it, forget about it.

Now, when it comes to my blogs or my Facebook I don't draw much attention; but there was something about this post that created instant buzz with my friends and family.

My cousin posted, "'Mormonism'? What is this, the 1800s? I still love ya tho."

A high school friend, who I recently came out to on Facebook said, "I'm not sure what you're saying here, but I wouldn't cast too many stones."


I'm still trying to digest what happened. Could it be that my friends and family are hyper-sensitive to my comments knowing I've come out as gay and no longer go to church? I don't have any intention of testing the strength of the ties that bind, but I do wonder if some of the people I thought as friends and family are only willing to stick around as long as I keep my opinions to myself. I'm actually OK with that. Maintaining family and friendship is more important to me than destroying faith. I know what believing in the church does for them and I don't want to take that away, even though I don't believe it anymore.

Perhaps it's my use of the word "Mormonism". When I think about it, someone who uses that word most likely views themselves outside and apart from the church. More than that, that person probably connotes a view that the Mormon church as just one type of belief in many. A variation on a theme. There are many "isms" in the world, but for people who believe the LDS faith as true as the laws of gravity, calling it "Mormonism" could be as insulting as if you actively attacked their faith. People go into a defensive mode, like what I saw today.

Needless to say, I deleted my post before it got out of hand.

I still hate the endless V4-3 suspensions though.


I discovered it like most boys do I suppose. It wasn't long after that I also discovered the church for myself, if that makes any sense, and quickly became an unreasonable zealot about it. When you throw being gay into the mix - I started a long cycle of shame and self-loathing that lasted from my early teens through my mission into my mid-20's.

Here's how I'm going to do this: Instead of trying to sew together a blog-post that flows from one idea to the next, I'm going to be lazy and give you little snatches of thought, opinion, and personal experiences without any effort to come to any earth-shattering conclusion.


- One of my mission companions was a real douche-bag about sticking to the smallest rules and regulations of being a missionary; to the point that we even lost a potential baptism because he thought it more important to leave in the middle of a baptismal discussion than be a few minutes late getting home at the end of the day.

....but I digress....

We were at a member's home for a dinner appointment. They sat us down in the living room while they finished making dinner. On the table they had a number of magazines, one of which was a Victoria Secret catalogue. I thought that was quite amusing, leaving such a magazine out with the missionaries over; so I picked it up, flipped through a couple pages and put it back down on the table, literally - 5 seconds. Elder Douchebag looked shocked and wispered sharply, "What are you doing?!!"

"Nothing," I said.

I didn't hear anything about it until our next interviews with the mission president a few weeks later. My companion told the mission president about the incident in his interview, and when it was my turn to get interviewed by the mission president I had literally no inkling what I was walking into. The mission president yelled at me, called me a liar, tied the magazine to my issues with masturbation (apparently completely forgetting my conversations with him months earlier about having same-sex attraction), and told me he wanted me to write him an essay explaining exactly what I was going to do to fix this problem. Disgusted, he ended the interview.

I took it to heart and wrote him the essay, delivering it to him during the next interviews. He asked if he could use the essay to help other missionaries who also struggled with masturbation. "Of course," I said.

Over the next series of months he gave me reports during our interviews about how many copies of my essay he gave out during his travels to the different mission zones. I remember once he said, "26 just last week."

That was my first revelation that almost everybody masturbates.

When I came home, and as I continued to struggle with being gay, I sought help on websites like www.lds-ssa.org. They made a request for articles, so I gave them a copy of the essay and they published it. The site is down now, but Google still has it cached and you can read the article (if you want) at this link:

- I've had many bishops over the years, especially as an "on the move" college student who rarely stayed in any one place more than a year. By the last few years of my activity in the church I had stopped mentioning masturbation to them; but before then my experience with bishops' reactions ranged from "forget about it" to "lets talk about disfellowship". Everybody knows different bishops can have wildly differing opinions and policies about various subjects. And as every anomaly about the church, believers tweak their own belief systems to accommodate it. For me, it was by no means the only reason, but I would be lying if I didn't say it was one of the reasons I left the church.


- While in college at BYU-Idaho I decided that my research paper for my English class would be on sexual addiction, specifically about the role guilt plays in keeping people in their addictions and the irony within Mormonism (and other conservative groups) that the guilt intended to stop people from these addictions actually keeps them in the cycle. I had a fantastic idea to set up a table in the Manwaring Student Center and ask willing students to anonymously fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire would ask them something like how frequently they masturbated and how they felt it ranked in relation to other sins, something like that. At the last minute I decided to run my idea past my teacher. He put the kibosh on it, of course. Instead, I decided to take my questionnaire to the support group for.....[ahem], "Compulsive Behaviors" I was going to on campus every week. Almost everyone there filled one out. Overwhelmingly, people seemed to think their masturbating made them as bad, or almost as bad as murderers in the eyes of God.


Gradually through my mid-20's I decided to stop feeling bad about masturbating. Soon after, I decided to stop feeling bad about being gay. I'm sure most active members in the church would recognize something like a "path to apostasy" in that progression, and they would be right.

The truth is leaving the church saved my life and has made me whole. No regrets.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Story and Automatons

I've learned not to ever ever burden casual acquaintances from my BYU days with details about my personal life, even though they ask.
Case in point: I work part-time at a coffee shop. A familiar face from my BYU days popped in for some coffee (which is always a source of secret hilarity to me when that happens). He asked me if I was married.
"Kind of," I said.
"Your kind-of married?"
"Well, I'm gay; that's why I left BYU before graduating. Me and my fiance live in Orem now."
The former acquaintance (soon to be a former, former acquaintance) starts backing away while he tries to continue talking naturally through his shock and embarrassment. It's obvious he's not taking it well. He gets his coffee and leaves the store without getting the pastry he bought from me. He never came back for it.
I think I'll come up with a elaborate lie. Something impressive like.....I'm a neurologist and part-time inventor. I have seven kids and am thinking of adopting more.


I don't have strong opinions about many things, but I do have a handful; and here's one of them:

Members of the church who believe marriage should only be between a man and women often have a litany of well-worn, oft repeated reasons supporting their opinion (and to be fair, so do we). In fact, today I got the "marriage is sacred" variant on an argument from a customer who thinks my coffee shop is her own little version of Cheers [where everybody knows your name] and decided to go a little too deep for pleasant coffee-shop chit-chat.

I would almost never do this, but I've always wanted to ask these people this question: If the prophet announced tomorrow that he received a revelation affirming homosexuality and gay marriage, would your opinion change?

I tell you that any member who answers yes, that their opinion would change in that unlikely event - that person does not have my respect. They can take all their well-rehearsed bullet points and shove them. They are automatons. I fully understand why they believe they way they do, and still I say - they are unthinking and heartless. I understand the real reason (prophet speaks>obey). Everything else is hot air.

Which is why I'm so intrigued with the current drama of Scott & Sarah. In a nutshell - they're a gay-straight married couple trying to stay active in the church. After Scott came out to the ward in testimony meeting (God!), the most recent trial is trying their best to keep a foothold in the church while insisting they can sustain the prophet while disagreeing with him on some issues (guess which issues).

Reading their blog is kind of like being a voyeur and rubbernecking at the same time. I can't look away no matter how hard I try.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Blogging vs. Contentment

I remember when I was very young finding an old trunk tucked back in my parents closet. It was where my father kept the relics of his younger days. Old projector slides from a high school trip to Europe. An old scrapbook my grandmother, now long gone, made for him when he decided to stay with a friend in Montana and finish high school rather than move with the family to Arizona.

And his old journal.

He didn't keep a journal for long, nor did he fill it with much soul-bearing; mostly quotes and other people's poetry he thought interesting or noteworthy. I was more used to nakedly honest sprawl or inane details of the weather I was used to writing in my journals. It was different, but still it was a journal. I noted that he stopped writing around the time he met my mother.

One day I asked him why he stopped writing. He said to me, "That was before my balls dropped."

Of course he was talking figuratively; but what he said made a lasting impression if only because of it's stark frankness.

At the time I was in my mid-teens and had been keeping my own journals for years. As the years continued I kept writing, fueled by the funk of being a teenager, gay, and mormon. But I could never totally shake what my dad said to me - That was before my balls dropped. What did it mean then if I was still writing as I neared 30?

As it does to almost everyone in our station, I had to decide whether to continue in the church or live outside it. Personally I had had enough and I decided to leave. I was 28 and for the first time I was eager about life. I started dating. It was only a matter of months before I found the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. For the first time life was wonderful and fulfilling and full of promise.

A funny thing happened in the midst of my personal revolution: I stopped writing in my journal. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just seemed like nothing was worth writing about anymore. I discovered that my journal writing correlated to my own personal pain and anguish. When things weren't right, as they were for me during my entire youth and young adulthood, I used keeping a journal as a tool to help relieve some of the stress. It was a place I could express myself and be completely open as well as help me think through my problems.

I also noticed it was the same for people around me. My fiance used to blog weekly before we met, but now is lucky if he gets a new post up every few months. My sister, an avid blogger, abruptly stopped writing when she started dating someone; and of course, when they split, she started writing with a vengeance.

I can think of no better example of this phenomenon than this past election cycle. In the months before and after the passage of Proposition 8 it seemed the gay/mormon blogging community was in overdrive. Everyone was angry and upset and had something to say. I started this very blog to add my two cents. But, naturally, as time passed so did the frequency of everyone's blog updates.

So, to the point: I don't subscribe to many blogs, but I do think I have a fair cross-section of the Moho community. Using the "trends" function of my Google Reader allows me to see which blogs in my feed are currently posting with the most frequency. Draw your own conclusions.

The Top 5 Most Updated Blogs in Chester's feed:
1) A Mormon Enigma by Abelard Enigma
2) greenly chalked by Chedner
3) Scrum Central by Alan

...and, just because.

The 5 Least Updated Blogs in Chester's feed.
1) Shades of Grey by Michael (last post, a very happy one, was in May 09)
2) Forester by Forester (last post, June 09)
3) The Stripping Warrior by Clark Johnsen (last post, another positive one, June 09)
4) Windy Sydney by Andee (last post, July 09)
5) Isocrat.org by Scot et al. (last post, July 09)