Zelophehad’s Daughters

A Few Simple Ways to Talk More Constructively About Homosexuality (That Don’t Require Major Doctrinal Changes)

Posted by Lynnette

1) Drop the term “same-sex attraction,” as in, someone “suffering from SSA.” Being gay isn’t an illness.

2) Drop the term “lifestyle” as a description of gay relationships. Recognize that there is a difference between a promiscuous lifestyle (whether one is gay or straight), and a decision to be in a committed relationship, rather than assuming that all gay people, by virtue of being gay, fall into the former category if they aren’t celibate. Note that the lifestyle of gay couples is pretty much the same as the lifestyle of straight couples.

3) Acknowledge the desire for relationship as a healthy desire, rather than pathologizing it. When a straight person wants to get married, we celebrate and encourage that. Even if we ask gay people to forego such relationships, we can refrain from labeling the desire to have them as somehow unnatural.

4) Don’t frame homosexuality as an addiction. Being gay is not like being an alcoholic. Yes, sexual behavior can be an addiction, whatever your orientation. But wanting to have an intimate relationship with a person to whom you’re emotionally and sexually attracted simply isn’t comparable to having an addiction.

5) Don’t compare homosexuality to life challenges like depression. I’m gay. I have bipolar disorder. The two are qualitatively different. The latter is something which requires treatment, which is intrinsically a problem. The former is simply an aspect of who I am.

6) Don’t talk about love and acceptance of gay people as if this is something particularly virtuous to do. Love and acceptance are good things, obviously, but sometimes people talk as if you should pat yourself on the back for managing to love and care about gay people. This shouldn’t be an “extra mile” kind of thing.

44 Responses to “A Few Simple Ways to Talk More Constructively About Homosexuality (That Don’t Require Major Doctrinal Changes)”

  1. 1.

    I love this! It’s right on.

  2. 2.

    Excellent points. I kept finding quotes I wanted to copy and paste into my comment, but I ended up not being able to choose a couple quotes because I love the whole thing.

  3. 3.

    Thanks! … but so many don’ts. Can we have some dos?

  4. 4.

    Great reminders, Lynnette. Thanks! I guess if it seems weird to say I suffer from opposite-sex attraction, it is equally weird to say someone suffers from same-sex attraction.

  5. 5.

    I also wish they would stop talking about committed same-sex relationships as though they are uniquely threatening to the well-being of children and the fabric of society.
    I don’t think it would be hard to say something like this: “We call upon responsible parents, citizens, and officers of government of every sexual orientation to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as a safe and nurturing environment for children.”

  6. 6.

    Mark, that’s a great point–I will do a follow-up.

  7. 7.

    Amen to the one millionth power.

  8. 8.

    I love this, Lynnette! Great points!

  9. 9.

    Is there any argument for why we ought to change or language in this way…. Other than that it normalizes homosexuality?

  10. 10.

    Jeff, how about that it humanizes homosexual people?

  11. 11.

    How is that different from normalizing homosexual behavior?

  12. 12.

    Jeff, I’m a little confused. Are you saying we should regard gay people as something other than human? That it’s a negative thing to think empathetically about their experiences?

    Even within the most orthodox-Mormon understanding of sexuality, wherein we ask gay Mormons to be celibate or attempt a mixed-orientaiton marriage–even while maintaining that homosexual acts are sinful, the Church does not (currently) assert that a homosexual orientation is itself sinful, chosen, or changeable. So wiithin this pretty strictly heteronormative model, we’re left with a population of gay Mormons, “stuck” being gay, who will be asked to spend their whole lives rejecting the kind of relationship they want, because we say that it’s unacceptable under God’s law. That’s a daunting thing to ask, especially while we argue for the salvific nature and eternal persistence of marriage. Humanizing people in the situation who face the choice of whether to stay in the Church, and the struggle of how to negotiate their place in it if they do, is the very least that charity demands of us. It has nothing to do with whether or not we “normalize homosexual behavior.”

    (In fact, humanizing people outside of the Church who make choices regarding their sexuality that you, as a Mormon, might disagree with, is also no less than what charity demands. You can maintain your moral position and still learn to speak thoughtfully and respectfully about people who have a different moral position.)

  13. 13.

    Is there any argument for why we ought to change or language in this way…. Other than that it normalizes homosexuality?

    How about . . . to make church a more welcoming space for gay people? I can’t tell you what a positive difference it’s made for me to have had local leaders who have in fact talked in these kinds of ways.

  14. 14.

    Melyngoch,

    The only reason you are confused is because you are trying to put words in my mouth. I only asked what the difference was between normalizing behavior and humanizing those who engage in such behaviors? How is one phrase not a mere euphemism for the other which is meant to silently shift attention away from scriptural condemnations of that behavior?

    So much of the gospel requires us to draw a distinction between loving and accepting people while condemning their behavior. The cliche is love the sinner, not the sin. What the proposed shift in language accomplishes is erasing this distinction between the person and their behavior by making them one and the same. Charity does not demand that we define people in terms of their unacceptable behaviors (even if they don’t act on them).

    There are, then, two ways of making the church more welcoming for homosexuals. Your way involves normalizing homosexual behavior. Another way would be to stop insisting that such people are defined by their homosexuality. Why should this suppressed urge define me any more than any of the others found in scripture?

  15. 15.

    Jeff G, could you please list out all of your sins so that we can condemn your behavior while loving you? Thanks.

  16. 16.

    Jeff,

    The difference between normalizing gay behaviors and humanizing gay people is precisely what you collapse — you collapse the distinction between behavior and people. For example, Melyngoch says:

    Even within the most orthodox-Mormon understanding of sexuality, wherein we ask gay Mormons to be celibate or attempt a mixed-orientaiton marriage–even while maintaining that homosexual acts are sinful, the Church does not (currently) assert that a homosexual orientation is itself sinful, chosen, or changeable.

    However, it seems that for you, a homosexual orientation is just euphemism for homosexual behavior (so recognizing people as gay, and recognizing what would come with a homosexual orientation is in your words [NOTE: Melyngoch and Lynnette are not even saying that a relationship necessarily "comes with a homosexual orientation," so if you can't see anything else but this, then you're missing the point], “defin[ing] people in terms of their unacceptable behaviors (even if they don’t act on them“).

    That Italicized part is particularly problematic. How can someone have unacceptable behaviors even if they don’t act on them? This really does sound like it is collapsing the distinction between orientation and behaviors…where your statement reads much more coherently as: “define people in terms of their unacceptable orientations (even if they don’t act on them.”

    Because you collapse the distinction, you see two ways of making the church more welcoming for homosexuals. You classify Lynnette et al’s way as “normalizing homosexual behavior,” while stating the other way is to “stop insisting that such people are defined by their homosexuality” which you later call “this suppressed urge.”

    But that’s just it: homosexuality is more than behavior and more than a suppressed urge.

    To understand the whole human (e.g., “humanize homosexuals”), we ought to recognize this.

    Let me see how I can riff off a couple of Lynnette’s original suggestions in light of this point:

    Taking (1) and (5), I think that a humanizing approach to homosexuals that does not normalize gay behavior would be something like this: continue asserting the LDS sexual ethics with unceasing devotion as is the requirements of your faith…but do so with a sober awareness of the greatness of this.

    The humanizing addendum to (1) is this: people don’t suffer from homosexuality. But to the contrary, they will sacrifice greatly to follow the commandments.

    The humanizing addendum to (5) is this: homosexuality is neither an illness nor merely a “suppressed urge”. So when we consider the commandments, we should recognize that being gay is not something that requires treatment (nor can be provided treatment) — we ask someone to make a choice out of many other valid choices. [Your feelings may differ on how valid those other choices may be.]

  17. 17.

    Enna,

    That’s just the point, I haven’t written any posts which try to normalize or help other people come to terms with my temptations toward illicit behavior…. Nor should I.

    Andrew,

    I did no such thing as equate temptation with commission. In fact, I explicitly kept the two apart, even if I didn’t use the most precise language. Unacceptable behavior that is not acted upon isn’t that poor of a description for temptation, IMO.

    “But that’s just it: homosexuality is more than behavior and more than a suppressed urge.
    To understand the whole human (e.g., “humanize homosexuals”), we ought to recognize this.”

    This is where the real disagreement lies. My argument lies with the modern humanism which stands in juxtaposition to the gospel and is at the heart of the original post. It was not until the last 300 years that people began defining themselves in terms of sexual attractions like these:

    http://o.dailycaller.com/all/2014-03-19-nobody-is-born-that-way-gay-historians-say

    This is very much in line with Foucault’s thesis that what is or is not considered normal or illness within any given social context is a matter of social construct. The question is:whose construct are we accepting, the Lord’s or that of modern humanism?

    Thus, I’m not trying to condemn or criticize Lynnette or anybody else for their sexual preferences or whether they act on these preferences. (Thanks again, Enna) Quite frankly, I’m not her bishop so I don’t much care about those things. What I am criticizing is her attempts at getting us to see and define her in terms of her sexual orientation/preferences.

    Thinking and speaking in the way she advocates most definitely does normalize these behaviors. Thinking and speaking in the way she advocates does not, however, humanize her at all unless we accept that her sexual preferences deeply define who she is as a child of God. This I do not believe.

  18. 18.

    Jeff,

    You don’t say, “normalize temptation.” You say “normalize behavior.” In fact, “temptation” does not appear in your comments until your latest.

    I guess my main problem with your appeal to Foucault and queer theory is that it is opportunistic — Mormonism is not social constructionist or queer theoretical. Mormonism absolutely does take a stance on gender essentialism and absolutely does take a heteronormative stance.

    As a result, to humanize anyone, we have to pay attention to sexual orientation — even if it is to say, “This person’s sexual orientation is outside of God’s heteronormative design — what can we do to best serve this person?”

    Mormonism *does* make sexuality into a deep part of the definition of who we are as children of God — to the extent that the fulfillment of the law of chastity is ultimately a heterosexual marriage and family, and every other option is considered less than ideal. So, when we have a group of people who are not heterosexually oriented, even if we utterly will not budge from considering acting on those orientations to be appropriate, we have to recognize that the entire structure of Mormonism looks, feels, and is experienced differently.

    We can’t just “not see orientation.”

  19. 19.

    I’m having a hard time with the reduction of homosexuality to a “suppressed urge,” because, unless I’m reading it wrong, this sounds like a reduction of homosexuality to nothing more than an urge to engage in particular kinds of sexual behavior. But if you’re a gay Mormon, you’re also being asked to suppress your urge to be in a relationship with people to whom you are sexually attracted–an urge that for others is celebrated. That complicates things.

  20. 20.

    I’m out of time for the moment, so I’ll have to be short…

    Again, our positions seem so close save for the ways in which we interpret various words. I reject any strong distinction between descriptions and prescription, facts and values, in a way which is not at all foreign to critical theory. Thus, the church’s position on gender and sexuality is not a brute description of how the world just is independent of all observers. Rather, the church tells us the categories by which we ought to describe the world. This is my objection to the post – that it tries to get us to abandon the categories which the church has given us and trade them in for those of modern humanism. Modern humanists want us to use their categories because of the social effects which follow from our so doing and the same can be said for the church. This is why I object to this post while endorsing Lynnette’s other post.

  21. 21.

    Lynnette,

    It’s a good bet that I will reject any kind of reductionism. No doubt the world – especially this particular aspect of it – is far too complicated to be “nothing more than.” These phenomena can be construed, approached and understood in any number of ways and to any number of ends. There is nothing intrinsically binding in the way that western humanists think and speak about these things, nor is there in the way that the church does… Unless you believe that the church is truly led by Christ.

  22. 22.

    re 20

    Jeff,

    I guess my concern with the approach you describe is that it sacrifices people’s lived experiences for the sake of ideology. You talk about things from a perspective of whether one takes the modern humanist approach or whether one takes the church’s approach or whether one takes some alternative approach. But this is too ideology-centric. (And I am aware that per social contructionism, then, yeah, ideology matters.)

    I am instead saying: look at the lived experience a person reports. Appreciate it. Grapple with it. Especially when it’s difficult. Especially when it seems not to fit in line with your own ideology *or* your lived experience.

    This isn’t to mean we give up our own perspective or reject it…but we take more care and consciousness.

    I think the main thing to realize with Lynnette’s post is that they do not require any doctrinal changes. So it is not inherently giving up the church’s categories and then going for alternative ideologies. Rather, what it *is* doing is separating essentials of Mormonism from cultural or ideological stereotypes or misgivings, and pointing out where a Mormon framework can go.

  23. 23.

    “That’s just the point, I haven’t written any posts which try to normalize or help other people come to terms with my temptations toward illicit behavior…. Nor should I.”

    Jeff G, you don’t have to, and that’s the point. Your humanity and dignity is accepted and intact even with all the sins you have (at least the ones people can see – the humanity of the incarcerated is a topic for another post) and all of the things about you that aren’t sins but people just don’t like, and all of things about you that no one even cares about.

    All the words of loving our brother and judge not automatically apply to you because who you are is accepted as a valid thing to be.

  24. 24.

    My concern is that people think it is possible to get outside of ideology as see the world or their experience as it just is. This is a lie which ideologies use in order to hide and protect themselves from criticism. Grappling with a lived experience is noting but learning how to construe some phenomena within some ideology.

  25. 25.

    Enna,

    I hope my other comments in this thread make clear why I disagree with that position.

  26. 26.

    Jeff,

    This is my objection to the post – that it tries to get us to abandon the categories which the church has given us and trade them in for those of modern humanism. Modern humanists want us to use their categories because of the social effects which follow from our so doing and the same can be said for the church. This is why I object to this post while endorsing Lynnette’s other post.

    Yeah, it makes sense that you find this post troubling in a way that you don’t find the other post, because I will freely admit that I am challenging particular paradigms in this one, while I am simply describing ways of interpersonal support in the other. I have questions about any simple dichotomy between church teachings and something like modern humanism, given that church teachings are always mediated through particular cultures. But more fundamentally, I don’t see what I’m doing as inherently going against LDS teachings. In fact, I’ve seen some shifts in LDS discourse in recent years which make me think I’m not totally off base in thinking that.

    Andrew,

    I guess my concern with the approach you describe is that it sacrifices people’s lived experiences for the sake of ideology.

    This.

  27. 27.

    re 24

    Jeff,

    However, if your ideology minimizes, ignores, or otherwise fails to do justice to a particular phenomenon, there is no room to grapple.

    This is about not minimizing, not ignoring, and not failing to do justice.

  28. 28.

    My concern is that people think it is possible to get outside of ideology as see the world or their experience as it just is.

    I agree that you can’t separate experience and interpretation. But this doesn’t mean that you’re not in a constant process of evaluating your interpretations in dialogue with your experience. And if a particular interpretation has no resonance with what you are experiencing, it’s worth challenging.

  29. 29.

    Again, I see both of you as minimizing the active role that modern humanism is playing.

    The gospel is not just a set of propositions which can be interpreted through various ideological lenses. It is itself an ideological lens through which propositions as well as other ideologies can be construed. It is supposed to be the mediating lens, not merely the mediated data.

    Minimizing, ignoring or doing justice according to which set of standards? You make it sound like these are all things which simply exist out there independent of any ideology. The question is not “if” or “how much” but “which ideology.”

    Resonance is measured with respect to an ideology which defines you. There is no “you” which interpretations can jive with which is not ideologically ridden.

  30. 30.

    re 29

    Jeff,

    Ideologies do not define people; they attempt to describe them — which is why ideologies can have varying degrees of resonance. That experiences must always be talked about through ideologies says more about the limitations of discourse about experiences than it does about our experiences.

  31. 31.

    So let’s say I’m in a religious tradition that tells me I can walk through walls. From my point of view, I keep crashing into them. Not only do I have numerous bruises, I’m still finding myself in the same room. But this particular church keeps telling me that what I’m doing is in fact walking through walls, and that my problem is that I need to use different categories to interpret what’s happening. At some point, I think I have to go with an alternate interpretation of my experience that more closely matches my own observations.

    Why do I have any faith in the LDS church in the first place, in fact? It’s not because of ideology. It’s because of experiences I’ve had. Yes, that includes my interpretation of those experiences. But why have I opted for that interpretation? Because I find it the most resonant, the best match. I don’t know how you can get away from lived experience as the core of what religion is all about.

  32. 32.

    My concern is that people think it is possible to get outside of ideology as see the world or their experience as it just is. This is a lie which ideologies use in order to hide and protect themselves from criticism.

    I don’t think anyone here thinks that. But we do have to nonetheless do our best to make ethical judgments from within the ideological frameworks we’re stuck in. And I’m also curious how you see yourself negotiating ideology to reach your own conclusions about what it means, or doesn’t, to be gay since, you, too, are caught in the inevitability of ideology.

  33. 33.

    Let me jump around a bit.

    Mel,

    It’s not just that modern humanism is contingent, although it is not usually presented in our schools as being so. It’s difficult to make the politics of modern humanism stick while at the same time highlighting it’s contingency. But then, the same goes for Mormonism as well. The contingency of modern humanism does, however, allow me to leverage our shared acceptance of Mormonism against it. I can pit two contingent ideologies against each other by highlighting the contradictions between them and then ask where peoples faith truly lies.

    Andrew,

    Description is merely the purported task of ideologies. Their descriptions are merely incidental to the tasks they are aimed at accomplishing in our social environments. Thus, all measures of coherence, meaning and value are all internal to some ideology. Accordingly, experience which remains uninterpreted by ideology is literally meaningless with any moral debate.

    Lynnette,

    Best match with what? What are the two things that are being compared here? Again, I feel that modern humanism is being repressed within a metaphor of its own creation. What is happening, by my lights, is that you are comparing and measuring the Mormon interpretation of your experience against the modern humanist interpretation not according to brute uninterpreted experience (for such would be impossible) but according to the standards which modern humanism has itself set.

  34. 34.

    While it may be impossible to have such a thing as uninterpreted experience, as far as I can tell, you’ve thrown it out altogether; I’m having a hard time seeing how it plays any role at all in the way in which you’re setting things out. And yet going back to the First Vision, Mormonism is all about experience as the way of accessing truth. It seems to me that one of the assumptions underlying your argument is the Enlightenment notion that we can somehow escape embodied experience and access truth on a purely abstract level.

  35. 35.

    Put another way, this goes both ways–ideology shapes experience, but experience also shapes ideology. I don’t think we can drop either half of the dialectic.

  36. 36.

    And I’m realizing that this has gotten rather far afield from the original post–though it’s broadly relevant, I’d like to get the conversation back to the post more specifically, in case anyone else has anything to say about that. I don’t want to cut anyone off, though, so if anyone wants to make a final comment regarding this particular conversation thread, please feel free to do so.

  37. 37.

    I’m thinking about the reasons some of these things you suggest shouldn’t be done were done in the first place. For example, saying someone is “suffering from SSA” makes being gay not only illness-like, but also temporary. A related phrase I don’t think you mentioned is “struggling with SSA,” which is interesting in that it keeps the temporaryness, but substitutes an implicit comment on homosexuality being bad for the comment on it being illness-like. I think the description of it as an addiction is also similar to these in that it assumes homosexuality is something temporary that a person can move beyond.

    The description of loving gay people as being an especially virtuous thing, of course, comes from the assumption that homosexuality is one of the most awful sins: Look at me! I can love even murderers and gay people!

    This is a little bit of a tangent, but I think it’s pretty clear that in perpetuating this kind of discussion of homosexuality, church leaders and members almost certainly aren’t trying to advance the views I’m saying they’re assuming (homosexuality is temporary, homosexuality is a great evil). Rather, that’s just what they think is true, so that’s where they start from. But what they say is still very revealing of their assumptions, and communicates them very well without the assumptions having to be stated explicitly.

  38. 38.

    Thank you for these, Lynnette. I’ve recently been really disconcerted to hear reports of gay-bashing occurring in my ward’s Sunday school discussions. A related move we evidently still need to make as a church culture–probably a move preliminary to any of your excellent suggestions–is to stop making gays our go-to emblem of all evil and degradation in the world.

  39. 39.

    That’s a good point about the assumption of things being temporary, Ziff. As I think I mentioned in a previous comment, I’ve actually been encouraged to see some shifts on some of these, even if small ones. For number one, for example, after years of refusing to use the term “gay,” the church now has a website called “Mormon and Gays.” Admittedly, the language of SSA is all over the website, but still. And I suspect that coincides with more acknowledgment that being gay isn’t something temporary (at least not in this life, which raises its own theological problems, of course, but it’s still interesting to see the connection.)

    I was actually hesitant to add number six, because I don’t want to discourage genuine expressions of caring (see number one on my follow-up post!), but I’ve just heard too many people talk about their special love for gay people, often in the same breath as their desire to rescue gay people.

    Eve, that’s a great addition–I’ve been bothered by that trend, too.

  40. 40.

    Lynnette,

    I fully agree that we’ve far rather far astray in this discussion. I just wanted to clarify that the criticism you list in 34 and 35 are exactly those that I’ve been trying to bring against you. Oh well, food for thought for both of us, I guess.

  41. 41.

    Some great thoughts! Thanks for sharing, one small correction on point two.

    “Drop the term “lifestyle” as a description of gay relationships. Recognize that there is a difference between a promiscuous lifestyle (whether one is gay or straight), and a decision to be in a committed relationship, rather than assuming that all gay people, by virtue of being gay, fall into the former category if they aren’t celibate. Note that the lifestyle of gay couples is pretty much the same as the lifestyle of straight couples.”

    Gays and Lesbians appear to have more sexual partners than heterosexuals.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23455622

    There are many possible sources for this difference. Perhaps because marriage was prohibited monogamy didn’t seem as valid of a path.

  42. 42.

    Dave, I don’t think “gay lifestyle” as I’ve seen it used in the Church refers to a number of sexual partners. Rather, it seems pretty clearly a way to dismiss gay people for wanting to have romantic or sexual relationships at all, rather than quietly slinking off and living a celibate life in a corner somewhere.

  43. 43.

    David, regarding the article, I think it is interesting that in Table 2 it appears that being male is just as important a factor for having more sexual partners as being homosexual. Men of all sexual orientations were more likely to have more partners than all but bisexual females (and that difference was not large). And in fact, men who were unsure of their sexuality were more likely to have more partners than homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual men.

    So within the Church we could just as easily conclude that if we wish to reduce promiscuity we should 1) encourage men to give up the “male lifestyle”; and 2) encourage those who are unsure of their sexuality to make up their minds already so they can stop being so promiscuous. Perhaps helping them come to terms with their homosexuality as an OK thing rather than an evil flaw in their nature (for those who do come to that determination) would protect both their psychological and physical health.

  44. 44.

    This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. Major props.

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