Sunday, June 24, 2007

My Mormon Roots

While at Pride Day, this year, I stopped by the Affirmation booth. Affirmation is a group for gay Mormons. Washington, DC, has a chapter, and I think I'll check it out. It isn't that I feel like I'm a Mormon, it's that it's very difficult to take the Mormon out of the boy, no matter that they've kicked the boy out of the Mormons.

PBS recently had a four-hour series about the Mormons, Frontline + The American Experience, the Mormons. If you are a Mormon, you probably will think it's slanted. And if you are a diehard anti-Mormon zealot, you'll probably think the program is a whitewash. I thought it was a fair, thematic, broad picture that showed the Mormons as they are in contemporary American society. I wasn't surprised by what I saw.

Tim had taped it for me, and we watched it together. We watched it in small doses, and talked about it. It's been almost twenty-five years since I was excommunicated, but I remember the court very well. Watching parts of the program, I realize I still have some "issues" with the Mormon church.

When you are living in the middle of a community, it seems ordinary. I suppose Jim Jones' followers in Guyana felt that way, probably up until they drank the Kool-Aid. My Mormon experience had a similar feel in that it is a "peculiar" experience that is completely self-contained, and completely out of the mainstream. It engages members in a whole lot of group-think. Individuality and intellectual inquiry are not prized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The hive is so strong that families turn against and shun their own gay sons and daughters.

Beneath those smiles, fair looks, and friendliness lurks an ordinary, banal evil. I'm reminded of Jackson's The Lottery in that the tradition, the obedience, it's all unquestioned. Members, particularly gay or feminist members, question authority at their own peril. The church authorities threaten questioning members with spiritual annihilation, and in the case of gay men, sometimes accompany it with barbarous physical and mental torment under the guise of repairing the victim's homosexuality.

Yes, evil is commonplace. The church is a secretive institution that knows what's best for the faithful(and unfaithful, alike). I was once one of those faithful. Church leaders in the highest councils of the church (the Council of Seventy, and the First Presidency) counseled me to get married, that it "would solve your problem." Indeed, getting married did solve my problem. It confirmed to me, that I was as gay as a three-dollar bill. No amount of fasting, reading the scriptures, or praying was ever going to change that. I had that revelation, but was told that I was listening to false spirits and following Satan.

So under the "inspired" counsel of my church leaders, I married my high school sweetheart. I can't say that the marriage was an unmitigated disaster, but it certainly was a failure. The inspired words of my leaders led directly to the destruction of my eternal family. My former wife willed me into non-existence. I have four children who do not know me and were kept from knowing me. I have sixteen grandchildren I have never seen.

I do not have an objective perspective on the Mormons or their church. I believe they are misled and deluded. They persist in their belief in face of scientific and historical evidence that refute many of the claims made by their founder Joseph Smith, and contained in their scriptures, Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and (especially) The Pearl of Great Price. But in my heart, I do understand, because for a time, I did believe. And I can understand the persistence of Mormon belief in face of just about everything.

The Mormon religion is a powerful growing religion, but it paints itself to its people (and I think the leadership believes it, too) as being persecuted and under siege - and not garden variety persecution, either, but that the forces of evil and hell are out to do it in. The church has circled up its wagons and handcarts from the very beginning of its history, and its leaders and members believe that its continued existence depends on the unwavering devotion of its members to its leaders and to its beliefs. It is a religion that has no heterodoxy, because the heretics are rooted out. It is a religion that has no history for its own people, because its history is constantly being revised.

It is not a religion that is kind to gay people. And gay people pay an awful price. This religion tears sons and daughters from the hearts of their families, leaves them suffering alone, and many die torn from the succor of their faith and the love of their kin. An icy, evil wind blows in the mountains of the west.

Monday, June 11, 2007

What Scares Me and Makes Me Happy

As I get older, I find myself getting a lot more conservative in what I consider to be appropriate and what I like and dislike. It's one of my banes, but I shoulder on (rolling of eyes). So what scares me about Gay Pride is the presentation that we make to each other (I'm not real concerned about what others think). But really, now, some of us do need makeovers, and I'm not saying you need to lose weight, get a haircut, or use some make up. I saw so many fashion offenses, and Capital offenses at that. And I don't think any irony was being displayed.

Several cross currents roil beneath the surface of Pride. First, there's consideration for the weather. You don't want to be overdressed (well, most of us) because you'll melt. Then there's the in-your-face aspect that LGBTQ types may want to display for the S-type (leather, t-shirts with suggestive slogans, subversive costuming). Unfortunately, the rest of us see it, too. Some of us are trying to cruise the event in our cum-hither outfits, and those can be pretty obnoxious (harnesses, holey underwear, "sexy" briefs). There are the assimilationists wearing the polo shirts and khaki shorts.

When I confront my closet with all these choices, sometimes, I just want to climb in it. I have a real unease at Pride, because it is a type of freak show; I feel on display; I walk through the festival and am solicited by corporations eager for the "Gay Buck." I think I am a walking example of cognitive dissonance.

Of course, the flip side is that a lot of people are taking one day to tell the world, "This is who I am." Most of us really are queer in every meaning of that word, and Pride Day lets us give full expression to that. So I'll let go of my hangups and simply be Happy. I enjoyed myself at the festival. I volunteered for a couple of organizations. I got some sun.

At the end of the day, I'm delighted that my LGBTQ (and S) friends had a day to be gay. Maybe the time will come when every day can be a Gay Day.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Capital Pride

The name of the festival says it all. This is a post-modern pride, one that doesn't even know its name. It's also a packaged pride, a corporate pride, an expensive pride. It's no longer a march through the streets. It no longer demands anything (except money). It has no anger, no fear, no innocence, no discovery, no shame.

A time was when we marched because we were angry. We walked because we were ashamed, and were going to do something about it. We walked for the joy and the discovery of other people like us. But that's probably not happening this year.

I'll be square dancing, of course, in the parade (a parade is different than a march). I guess I'd be more adjusted to Capital Pride if it were, instead, Inexpressible Happiness. That's the state that homosexuality leads to, and I'd like to celebrate that.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Run, Run like the Wind

Today, I ran (slowly) for the first time in almost twenty years. I was out on a walk, and a jogger past me. So I started to jog, and did so for about a mile. For me, it felt like quite an achievement.

I had to quit running because of arthritis. I may yet regret that I ran today, too, but it really brought me a rush of joy. I felt twenty years younger, which at my age, is welcome. I used to run all the time, forty or more miles a week. I have missed running, and it just felt good to be moving again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Lesbians Probably Don't Like Notes on a Scandal

It's never said that Barbara Covett is a lesbian. In fact, Barbara would probably recoil at the thought. She is an evil character, and she's a baaaaad black widow. Annabell, watch out.

Judi Dench as Barbara Covett and Cate Blanchett as Sheba Hart suck you into this drama, until you are over your head. You sit and watch bad moral judgment come to a very bad end. The surface is so different from the rotten heart, and you see it all peeled back, layer by layer. But what a gem to watch!

The scandal at the heart of the tale is Sheba's affair with a fifteen-year-old pupil (Andrew Simpson as Steven Connolly) of hers. Connolly seduces her, and she falls in love with him. Barbara discovers the affair, and it unravels from there.

The film is full of marvelous actors, including Dench's and Blanchett's performances. Simpson also gives a very strong performance that captures exactly a teenager who thinks with his dick rather than his brain. He's no child victim.

Sheba's husband, Richard, played by Bill Nighy expressively demonstrates the pain of the cuckolded husband. You can feel his anger, hurt, and bafflement all rolled up into a shouting match with his wife.

This isn't a quiet English drama; it's a gritty, stunning moment of rotten loss served up by an incredible cast. See it, then catch your breath.