One of the complaints I’ve heard numerous times from Latter-day Saints is that we gay people are way too obsessed with our gayness, that we get caught up in some outlandish homosexual identity (which might eventually lead to the dreaded “gay lifestyle”), and that we need to just stop thinking about sexual orientation as being that big of a part of who we are. We’re discouraged from even using the word “gay,” because it might swallow up our identities and make us think that there’s nothing else to us. Mormons who claim to be especially enlightened have informed me that they just don’t think about people in those terms, that they’ve transcended even being aware of such details about a person, and then complained about gay people who “force” their orientation on others by talking excessively about it, and thereby making everyone feel unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable. Others have objected to an idea put forth by some church members that gay Mormons have a particularly challenging trial, pointing out that everyone has difficulties in life, and asking, when did we decide that gay people should get all this special attention?
Perhaps the most prominent member of the church to take a view along these lines is David Bednar, who (in)famously explained, “There are no homosexual members of the Church. We are not defined by sexual attraction. We are not defined by sexual behavior. We are sons and daughters of God and all of us have different challenges in the flesh. There are many different types of challenges.” And you know, I’m actually okay with suggesting that it might be spiritually helpful for people to see their most core identity as that of being a child of God. But in addition to being troubled by the move to tell a group of people that they literally do not exist, I see a fundamental contradiction between the church narrative in which gay people are exactly the same as everyone else, and the reality of church practice which makes clear that gay people are definitely not the same. I mean, what sense does it make to say, in essence, “Don’t think of yourself as gay. Think of yourself as a child of God who, like any other child of God, will get excommunicated if you get married to someone to whom you’re attracted.”
This isn’t just hypothetical for me. One of the things that has struck me in attending a church which is explicitly LGBT affirming is that I’m actually less conscious of myself as gay. Because it really doesn’t matter. There aren’t different rules for me. If I want to get married, that’s a possibility. Far from disciplining me for it, my parish would undoubtedly be willing to host the ceremony. If I had kids, they could get baptized, the same as anyone else’s kids. So while once in a while I might mention the subject in passing, in general it feels like mentioning that I have green eyes. People don’t seem to give it much thought. No one is giving sermons about the need to treat people like me with extra kindness and love because we bear such a terrible burden. (Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate that LDS leaders have called for kindness and love. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth asking about the institutional practices that are creating a particular need for that.) Definitely no one is talking about Defending the Family, and how that’s kind of the point of life. I go to church and feel like—get this—a child of God. And I find myself more able to do what I’ve been told to do all these years, to not worry overly about my sexual orientation, and devote my time at church to focusing on what it means to be a Christian. If that’s what it means to be less hung up on having a gay identity, I’ll take it.