Review of an article regarding being gay and celibate

Review of an article published in the August 2020 edition of the Ensign magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Promoting celibacy as being the answer, it’s a problematic article for many who are LGBTQ+ and a member of the Church.

Why bother? Why not just let things be? Three initial reasons come to mind.

One. I have lesbian, gay, trans, nonbinary, queer friends who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I want them to feel loved, supported and accepted for who they are.

Two. Such an article can, and no doubt will, be weaponised. It’ll be sent to families with gay children, telling them not to worry, their son or daughter just needs to be celibate and everything will be okay. Similarly it’ll, no doubt, be sent direct to a gay person, telling them they just need to be celibate!! All followed by “See this guy called ‘Jacob R’ in the Ensign did it!!

Three. I’m mid way through writing an essay, for the Pink Therapy foundation certificate I’m nearing completion. Titled “Reconciling Being LGBTQ+ and Mormon“. I was hoping to find a way to bring the two together. Yet, the more I try, the more articles such as this one appear, making it harder and harder, if not impossible to do.

Being celibate and single may work for Jacob R which is wonderful, if that’s what he wants. The concern is when one way is put out as the way for all gay members of the Church. What about a nuanced viewpoint, looking at varying perspectives of being gay and a member of the Church? A more detailed exploration of celibacy was undertaken by Thomas Montgomery here.

Yes, there may be a few individuals who can remain celibate throughout their lives. Such people are most likely to be asexual and/or aromantic, having no or little interest in sexual or emotional relationships. For the majority the toll on their mental health will be tremendous. For some so bad life seems pointless, worthless.

The Church, when talking about the need for gay celibacy seems only to share stories of individuals and couples, who on the surface, seem to make being celibate or in a mixed orientation marriage work. One such couple was Lolly and Josh Weed. Not seeking such a position, they ended up as a kind of poster couple who had a loving and successful marriage, having four children, with Josh, openly gay, married to Lolly, a straight CIS woman. After years they explained why everything had to end. This is the same with many of the LGTBQ+ people on the Church’s website. Everything initially fits the Church’s agenda, then after time their position becomes untenable.

The article itself

I’ve linked the article below if you want to read the whole thing. I’ve quoted a few paragraphs, followed by my comments in italics.

Digital Only: Young Adults

Why digital only? What’s the issue with publishing this in the printed version of the Ensign? Don’t want the general membership to read it? It has been suggested ‘digital only’ makes it easier to remove from publication, if Jacob R ever changes his stance.

My Experience Living the Law of Chastity with Same-Sex Attraction

An improved title: “My Experience Living the Law of Chastity and being Gay”? There seems a persistence, from the Church, in using the phrase “same-sex attraction” which appears to reduce being gay down to something sexual, missing completely the close, intimate relationships gay couples develop.

By Jacob R.

Where’s the person’s full name? I can understand the person’s reluctance to publish their name in full, with there being still not yet full acceptance of the leadership, or the general membership of someone being gay and Mormon. Maybe times will change, so one day it’ll be fully acceptable to be LGBTQ+ and a member of the Church.

Sometimes the law of chastity can seem difficult to understand and reconcile…

When pursued from a strictly binary view, it is. Why not apply the law of chastity equally to gay and lesbian couples as to heterosexual couples? Once married what goes on in the bedroom is no one’s business, except the couple.

Editors’ note: This article is part of a series in the August 2020 Ensign regarding having a positive view of sexuality, sexual intimacy, and the law of chastity. The term sexuality means different things to different people, but in this context, we are talking specifically about our sexual feelings and identity.

Have to disagree – this article is not “a positive view of sexuality, sexual intimacy, and the law of chastity”, nor “sexual feelings and identity.”

There are two things I knew to be true about myself while I was growing up:

  1. I was a Hebrew-speaking Hasidic Jew.
  2. I am gay.

Being a Hasidic Jew this person has already had years of hearing that being gay is against God’s will. Joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a gay person seems like stepping out of the frying pan into the fire or perhaps the other way round?

But I’ve learned that regardless of what we may experience, when we trust God’s will above our own, our lives can turn out better than we ever imagined for ourselves.

May be so. Is God’s will being imparted directly? Or someone else telling us what they think God wants for us?

Finding the Truth

I moved to New York to go to school when I was a teenager. I started noticing a beautiful chapel near my school. I was really drawn to it, and as I took a closer look at it one day, I saw the words, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Because I was Jewish, I decided I probably shouldn’t go anywhere near it again, but I never forgot how intriguing it was.

“I started noticing a beautiful chapel”?

Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Yet describing, as beautiful, chapels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems a stretch, which adds to the thought this is by a ghost writer. Temples described as beautiful, I can understand, plain brick Chapels, not really.

I ended up reaching out to missionaries in my area. The thing that intrigued me so much about the Church was that instead of being told what was true and having beliefs forced on me, I was encouraged to pray and receive knowledge and a testimony that it’s true for myself.

And I did.

After I gained that testimony, I asked to be baptized. The missionaries asked me, “Are you willing to endure to the end and keep the commandments?”

I said yes, even though at the time I didn’t fully understand everything that question entailed.

Saying yes, though he “didn’t fully understand everything…entailed”. Something that frequently happens. Happened to me. Especially for children baptised aged eight. How can they really understand all that will be required throughout their life? There’s something about full consent missing in such decision making. I began exploring consent here.

Because I experience same-sex attraction, sometimes I struggle to comprehend what Heavenly Father has planned for my life in the gospel. For me, the need to live the law of chastity can be difficult to understand and painful to apply at times, because it’s hard imagining I might be single throughout my life. I don’t know if I will have the opportunity to get married or have children in this life, but I want to, and I keep my mind open to being sealed in the temple if that is Heavenly Father’s plan for me. But regardless of when, I know those blessings will be fulfilled eventually if I follow His will and not my own.

Eternity is one thing, but what about joy now? Because a person is gay they have to wait for family and children in eternity?

As I have learned about His eternal plan, I truly understand that we can experience godliness in many ways, not just through sexual intimacy.

Back to sex. Intimacy is much more than sex. What about talking, holding hands, cuddling, hugging, going for a walk together, kissing, sharing time together, doing a puzzle, playing a game together, etc., etc.?

I Remember That the Lord Hasn’t Revealed All Things

I’ve often wondered why I experience same-sex attraction. I’ve prayed for answers so many times. And as I’ve spoken with stake presidents and bishops and with Heavenly Father over the years, I’ve come to understand that we don’t know all the answers yet. He hasn’t revealed everything to us. God is perfect, but as we see in the Book of Mormon, He doesn’t reveal everything at once.

Avoiding the word “gay” again. Let’s hope Heavenly Father reveals that marriage between people of the same sex and gender is okay sooner, rather than later.

Our souls are wired for connection, and that longing to connect is often at the heart of sexual feelings. Connection, close bonds, and friendship are such an important part of finding joy, and fulfillment as a member of the Church in this life, regardless of your circumstances.

Absolutely. Our souls are wired for connection. What about connection for those who are LGBTQ +? Allowing marriage between gay and lesbian couples helps fulfil such wiring for connection.

I know it’s true.

When I am wholeheartedly in the gospel and when I look through the lens of an eternal perspective and spiritual progression rather than a limited perspective, I feel such incredible peace and joy that doesn’t compare with anything else. The blessings I experience from the gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessings I am promised outweigh anything else, and they are worth everything.

Great for you. Don’t expect everyone else to feel the same.

And that is one of the main concerns with publishing such an article in an official church publication. The implication this is for all.

Consent – some further thoughts

I was going to title this “Consent and religion”. Though that felt too much like click bait.

Whenever we join an organisation, for whatever reason we may do so, there are certain requirements or expectations of us. Perhaps weekly or monthly meetings to attend. Service to give. Instruction manuals to read/study, in order to understand the group’s additional expectation of its members. There may even be a subscription fee.

This can happen, in varying degrees, whether it’s a company we are employed with, an organisation we may volunteer with, a school, college or university we are studying with, a religion or faith we may start associating with or formally join. As time goes by requirements often change and increase. Occasionally in a way to a level not imaged or considered when first joining. Many times happening without our full agreement or understanding of everything involved.

Over time it seems our consent is being eroded. Our expectations have been distorted. It can then be difficult to extract ourselves, reclaim our personal authority and either reduce what we offer or leave completely. Walking away can be arduous due to the consequences that may be imposed or at least threatened. Some may be insignificant, others severe.

In the case of employment, in some cases, we can wait things out, while we look for alternative work with a new company. Many times waiting is not possible because of extreme expectations and/or it’s not safe to stay. This brings all sorts of difficulties. Is it possible to renegotiate our contract, the company’s and/or our manager’s expectations? If we walk out how easy will it be to find another job? Will we be able to get another job at all?

Leaving a volunteer position is generally easier. We’re not dependent on income from volunteering. Though departing an unpaid internship may affect future income opportunities. That’s another discussion.

What about leaving a religion or faith? How easy is that? If fundamentalist, I suggest not easy at all. Unless you’ve been involved or know someone close who has been, this may not make much sense. Surely it’s just a case of walking away, of not attending, not contributing any more and so on.

Yes and no. It may be different, depending how long you’ve been involved. But the one difference, I see, between leaving employment, volunteering, and religion, is that the latter deals with eternity, whereas the the former with the present. Things are worse if the religion is fundamentalist or a cult. The two are usually combined. Imagine for years being told one particular path is the only way to heaven, to being with your family in eternity. Then you discover something about yourself that seems incompatible with that religion.

This is shown in my previous post, where I explored the following article, “My Experience Living the Law of Chastity with Same-Sex Attraction“. The relevant part being:

I was encouraged to pray and receive knowledge and a testimony that it’s true [the church] for myself.

And I did.

After I gained that testimony, I asked to be baptized. The missionaries asked me, “Are you willing to endure to the end and keep the commandments?”

I said yes, even though at the time I didn’t fully understand everything that question entailed.

Here Jacob R commits to “enduring to the end and keep the commandments…even though at the time [he] didn’t fully understand everything“. What happens later, if he no longer feels the same, if he can no longer hold to that earlier commitment?

Most fundamentalist churches are very binary in their approach to gender and sexuality. Perhaps you were born into such a faith/church, later realising you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or nonbinary. What do you do? Deny that part of yourself, in order to stay? Or develop the courage to leave?

Experience shows that staying may be possible for a time. The length of which differs for individuals. I’ve seen some hold on for years. Others months or weeks. As I mentioned before if you’re asexual and/or aromatic remaining may be easier. There are many groups, who understanding the dilemma faced, that will support you in staying or leaving. Whilst the faith/church will no doubt want you to stay, very often the leadership will have no clue of the trauma being experienced and thus no idea how to support you, beyond saying keep the faith, keep the commandments.

This is one reason fringe, unofficial groups come into existence to provide support. Helping you come to terms with being LGBTQ+, working through with you, if it’s safe to stay or leave. Individual counsellors, such as myself, also can provide similar support.

Sexual Outsiders – David M. Ortmann & Richard A. Sprott

A quote from the book:

“So my therapist said to me, ‘No one gets to dictate what your kink looks like and you don’t have to run around seeking other people’s approval for who you want to be in the scene or in your life.”

The idea, to me, sounds similar to:

“don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

“This Book is Gay” – Juno Dawson

Wonderful book, whether you’re LGBTQ+ (perhaps you’re questioning or wondering?) or know someone who is. I’d recommend reading this book 🌈 😇

This book is wonderful!

Are you a young person wondering about your gender and / or sexuality? Read this book 😊

Do you have a child, niece, nephew, grandchild, or other young relative or friend wondering about their gender or sexual? Read this book 😊 and then either give it to whoever you are thinking about or buy them a copy!

I mention young people as that is the main audience Juno is writing for. Though, of course, the information within is relevant for everyone, whether LGBTQ+ or otherwise.

The chapters

  • Welcome to the members club
  • The name game
  • You can’t mistake our biology
  • Stereotypes are poo
  • The fear
  • Haterz gon’ hate
  • Coming out
  • Where to meet people like you
  • The ins and outs of gay sex
  • Nesting
  • Hats
  • A guide to recognising your gay saints
  • Build a bridge
  • The cheat sheet

I’d say all the chapters are relevant and important reading. Though, if you’re a parent, guardian, relative or friend of someone who is gay (or wondering or questioning) “Build a bridge” is vital reading.

When you buy the book, make sure you get the second edition. Has a few important updates.

The Art of Asking, changing and becoming…

I love having a bath. Usually, once a week I take a bath. Generally I soak for at least an hour. During which I may read, meditate, ponder, dream, imagine, pray, visualise, compose poetry. Being secluded brings more ideas and feelings, than come at other times. Which is where a large part of this entry comes from. I first read “The Art of Asking” several years ago. It still resonates with me, that I recently reread it.

Being a person-centred counsellor I try to embrace all I am. Being more open about everything, is consistent with the concept of congruence, one of the three primary qualities of a person-centred counsellor – unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence – ideals I aspire to each day. Aspire to, yet no doubt never completely reach. A line from Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking”, my bath reading, fits here, about the purpose of life being for:

Trying…..

A lot of thoughts have risen from the book. Recommend it.

image

Can the essence of the book be summed up in a word? Perhaps, connection is one word I’d choose. Another, vulnerability. Trust and faith are others. And of course, asking:

Some days it’s your turn to ask
“Some days it’s your turn to be asked

“Asking for help requires authenticity, and vulnerability. Those who ask without fear learn to say two things, with or without words, to those they are facing:

I deserve to ask
     and
You are welcome to say no. 

Because the ask that is conditional cannot be a gift.”

Some other words or phrases that stand out for me:

“Conditional love is:
     I will only love you if you love me. 

Unconditional love is:
     I will love you even if you do not love me. 

It’s really easy to love passing strangers unconditionally. They demand nothing of you. It is really hard to love people unconditionally when they can hurt you.”

“You can never give people what they want, Anthony said.
What do you mean?

We were lying by the side of Walden Pond in Concord, two towns from Lexington, where we’d crested a ritual of ambling around the circumference of the water, then lazing under the trees with a picnic for a nice long grok.

People always want something from you, he said. Your time. Your love. Your money. For you to agree with them and their politics, their point of view. And you can’t ever give them what they want. But you —–

That’s a dreary worldview. 

Let me finish clown. You can’t ever give people what they want. But you can give them something else. You can give them empathy. You can give them understanding. And that’s a lot, and enough to give.

On their own the words quoted above may not mean much. Read the book and hopefully they will. You will no doubt take different things from it than I did. And that is okay. And perhaps that’s another principle, idea, concept, of the book – difference is okay.

Not everyone will like Amanda’s writing style. If you have read and valued Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly”, then the ideas in “The Art of Asking” should resonate with you.

Sex Education

Recently I finished watching the Netflix series “Sex Education”.

If you haven’t seen the series yet and don’t want any spoilers, best not read any further. Though I don’t really discuss any plot angles. I will say I was surprised to see one story line from 10 Things I Hate About You. Just go and watch it and come back here after 😊. Be aware it’s been given an 18 rating in the UK. Nudity from the opening scene. Strong language throughout. The story revolves around Otis giving sex therapy to various of his school peers, having picked up things from his Mum, who is a qualified and practicing sex therapist.

Made in South Wales, the location for the filming was the University of South Wales’ old Caerleon campus, which was closed in 2016. Despite this and the actors being from the UK, the setting is made to appear as if in a US high school. Bit confusing initially. Doesn’t distract too much.

Is it a comedy? Well, yes and no. There are many scenes that had me laughing out loud. There are many scenes that show the pain of being a teenager – bullying, not being part of the “in crowd”, coming to accept your gender and sexuality, not feeling adequate enough, clever enough, cool enough, affection not being returned by someone you fancy.

There are so many aspects of gender, sex and sexuality portrayed. With sex being biopsychosocial (biology, psychology and social) the series demonstrates this complexity. The following is a list (not in any particular order) of things I noticed that were touched on. Some in more detail than others. If I’ve missed any please comment so I can update here, listed alphabetically, rather than to try another kind of order.

  • Abortion
  • Asexuality
  • Bullying
  • Condom use
  • Complexity of family and friends relationships
  • Consent
  • Cross dressing
  • Divorce
  • Ejaculation difficulty
  • Faking orgasm
  • Homophobia
  • Internalised homophobia
  • LGBTQ+
  • Masturbation
  • Owning your sexuality and gender
  • Sex and relationship therapy
  • Vaginismus

The title of the series being sex education, wouldn’t it be wonderful if sex education in our UK schools covered the subjects listed above in depth. Perhaps then the difficult experiences of many teenagers regarding sex and relationships could be avoided.

Would I recommend watching it? Yes. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would recommend it.

Self-care

Following recently reading two of Meg-John Barker’s books (Rewriting the Rules and Enjoy Sex) where they mention self-care a great deal, I was going to write a lengthy post regarding self-care. In the end I thought why remake (or in this case – rewrite 😇) the wheel. The link here hellyeahselfcare will load a pdf of Meg-John’s on the topic. Whether client or counsellor, well worth reading and following the advice therein.