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(this continues my essay; the previous section is here.)
We could have made allies among asexual activists maybe, but I think that ship has sailed. Asexuals like to say “why have sex when you can have cake?” but are quick to distinguish their sexual orientation from a choice to be celibate. You'd think asexuals would have no problem with the law of chastity, but some of them still have problems with the Church. One interesting thread on the the Asexual Visibility & Education Network forum is entitled: “Being a Mormon asexual sucks!” Searching for “mormon” in the forums brings up a lot of other illuminating and surprising reports, such as these:
I figured once I hit sixteen I'd understand the whole dating scene. I didn't. My parents worried about me. . . . I just didn't care to date much, wasn't interested in people as possible partners, and had no interest in marriage because to mormons, that's the green light on sex. So forever in my head marriage=sex, and I didn't want to get married.
I wrestled with the whole "Am I asexual" idea for a long time because of all of this. . . . I spoke to my bishop about not wanting sex, hoping for some moral support. His response was that A - I wasn't ready, or B - I was being influenced by forces that were trying to make me not live to my full happiness. (Colt-kun, responding to “A Mormon Asexual?” 14 December 2009)
I'm LDS so I would know. It's true that sex before marriage is discouraged, but also sex after marriage is also discouraged in a kind of way too though as well. Like it's okay to do it, but for some reason even people after marriage are encouraged to be chaste as well . . . I think the reason for this is that the church doesn't want people to have a marriage that relies too much on sex. I'm pretty sure my parents haven't had sex in years and they have a VERY healthy relationship. (Starya, responding 31 October 2013)
There's nothing wrong with being asexual and Mormon. . . . I've discussed with various people within the church about my asexuality. Nobody's ever had a problem with it. . . . There are also infertile couples, or platonic marriages, within the church, and they end up adopting children that are not biologically related to them. It's a great act of charity. Overall, we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, who was not married to our knowledge. If He is God, and He never married, then why we would we be obligated to if we're following his path? (TellerCam, responding 27 November 2013)
A bright spot of hope on that forum shows through on the thread “LDS Presentation on Mormons and Sexuality and why I don't want to go,” where an unnamed LDS sex therapist responds to an asexual's query thus:
I don't know much about asexuality but I would never tell someone they need to be sexual [if] they don't want to be. . . . My basic position is that [human] beings have different basic predispositions and that people can develop themselves sexually and otherwise if they want to. But no one has to want it. I only advocate total transparency (theHootax, responding 30 November 2012)
But it only goes so far. One formerly LDS Asexual advocate who keeps an advocacy oriented youtube channel announced her decision to leave the Church in 2011 with these words:
I'm sick of being treated like I have an illness[,] I'm sick of condescending pity[,] I'm tired of being treated like I'm defective[.] I'm none of those things. I'm asexual and I'm awesome! . . . In the Church, I feel like I have no future[.] I refuse to mourne [sic] who I am!” (“008:: Why Can't I Even Say This?” Video on Rynntastic youtube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/Rynntastic)
So too many in the Church with responsibilities over others continue to fail to meet the . . . needs (?!) . . . of the one, to say nothing of the others outside the norm. I wonder if that youtube advocate has read very much about the asexual married couples who do find joy and satisfaction in celibate marriages. Such couples could indeed adopt children, get sealed to them, and thus provide loving homes for souls in desperate need of them. An asexual in the Church could have it all without needing to “do the chore” even once. If the culture of the Church makes celibacy more of a badge of honor than a pitiable burden or second-rate consolation prize, it will help these one-percenters, but it will also be a tremendous support to unwilling spinsters and bachelors, straight or otherwise.
It's too bad the lingering baggage from the polygamy days makes Mormons shy away from the idea of any arranged marriages without sexually-permeated romance. Arranged marriages have the potential to make sex very exciting indeed (provided that respect and consent are not violated, as they have been in so many arranged marriages), for those with the right temperaments or attitudes – or cultural shaping of their expectations.
V.H. Cassler wrote of marriage as “the sacrament of peace,” which is to me one of the most beautifully insightful descriptions of marriage as it should be, admitting as it does the need for reconciliation between sexes that naturally clash. (See “Plato's Son, Augustine's Heir: 'A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology'? SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 2, Summer 2012)
The battle is fueled by the conflicts inherent in sexual desire and fantasy. Our parts are compatible, but our wishes, perceptions of signals and responses to them are constantly at odds, whether these concern nerve clusters or abstract ideals. Homosexuality has its roots in that battle, going back much further than 6,000 years.
[I]t is worthwhile for gays to retrace their developmental steps and, if possible, to investigate and resolve the burden of love-hate they still carry for the opposite-sex parent. Behavior may not change, but self-knowledge – Socrates' motto – is a philosophic value in its own right.
If a gay man wants to marry and sire children, why should he be harassed by gay activists accusing him of “self-hatred”? He is more mature than they are, for he knows woman's power cannot be ignored. . . . [Read the original if you want to know why I cut what I do here.] . . . If counseling can allow a gay man to respond sexually to women, it should be encouraged and applauded, not strafed by gay artillery fire of reverse moralism. (“No Law in the Arena,” Vamps and Tramps 78-79, my emphasis)
And here is homework for me, maybe for you. If thou knowest it, tell. Did LDS counselors for gay people do this: were they enlightened enough to encourage gay Mormons to expand into bisexual response in order to live lives of mature continence but with the possibility of some sexual gratification (even if not of their primary urge) in divinely-designed families? I would be surprised (and glad) if any of them did. Because despite all the repetitions that gay people can have a place in the Church if they keep the Law of Chastity, that still will never be good enough for the majority as long as the majority thinks that a gay man is always lusting after other men and committing sin second only to murder with them in his heart.
I don't consider myself to have indulged in carnal lust for other men, but my scientific satisfaction in concluding that I could respond sexually to men will come across as an immediate threat to many. If I could go back in time and speak to my 22-year-old self about this, he might be tempted to kill himself before he could grow into me. I only exaggerate slightly: he would be horrified. I have a hard time trusting an LDS therapist who believes in the power of prayer to flip a switch of sexual orientation or to “overcome” an “addiction” (people in the Church are so fixated on overcoming their weaknesses, constantly ignoring one of our greatest scriptural treasures: Christ's revelation to Moroni that “if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” - Ether 12:27, my emphasis). I don't imagine that a typical therapist in the Church even has a notion of the way a soul's agency is shaped and the stage set by unconscious acts. Nor do I imagine my hypothetical therapist would want to encourage a man with same-sex attraction to contemplate even the mildest erotic display of the female body, let alone analyze his reaction to erotic male displays as a way to build a bridge to response to female display. This would be a fascinating topic to research, given the historical relationships between homosexuality and cross-dressing (I'm well aware that one does not entail the other), but I imagine that most LDS therapists, trained to see such deviations as addictions to be excised or overcome through sheer willpower, wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole.
I would love to be proved wrong in this!
The sad irony is that such therapy stakes its legitimacy on the notion that sexuality is fluid, or at least malleable. And from my own experience I conclude that indeed it is. It's worth repeating: the question of sexual orientation is not so much a binary opposition as a continuum, and even that metaphor may not have enough dimensions to map the reality.
Traditional LDS understanding of sexuality isn't well equipped to deal with that. People in the mainstream of the Church still operate under the assumption that God implants sexual urges in us (When? How?) for the purpose of neatly and sweetly cementing monogamous heterosexual unions as well as for procreation, and that a loving God would not send anyone to earth with the burden of such an important switch turned the wrong way (as if God doesn't send others to earth with even more terrible burdens!). In that frame of mind, same-sex attraction has to be a result of something gone awry from the norm. Therefore if you feel in yourself that that something has gone awry, you have to try to excise it, but by no means to exercise it, let alone encourage it to grow beyond its apparent bounds.
From such a mix of sense and absurdity it is no surprise that those with attraction to their own sex should take in messages of self-loathing and lash back with desperate assertions that God did make them that way and they have every right to freely indulge their urges as long as their partners consent. That’s sex positivity! Or at least it is inasmuch as it doesn't fall into the trap of saying “look, of course we want to restrict our sexual expression to only one other person for the rest of our lives, just like you do, we just happen to want to make our restriction apply to someone of the same sex. No difference, really.”
Sex wisdom is to see sexuality as a messy mix of “animality and artifice, a dynamic interplay of nature and culture” ("No Law," 19), grounded in evolutionary biology but indeed variable in ways that we can't even come close to understanding unless we open ourselves to consider the power of childhood experiences in shaping our psyches. Childhood, infancy, even gestation. And we will be useless in helping the sexually confused unless we give up overly facile notions of agency that the well-to-do entertain: as if anyone in any circumstance could easily choose the same levels of conduct that are so easily within our reach, and as if we have the right to judge those who don’t (this applies to race and class relations in the US as well).
A lot of straight men are afraid of homosexuality. I was because the thought of anal penetration was (and still is) abhorrent to me. Some gay men are terrified of vaginas. Paglia claims that a fear of vaginas is in the unconscious of all men. I don't perceive it in myself consciously, but I accept that it might be down there somewhere. In some men it comes to the surface. Being a gay man doesn't have to entail a wish for or enjoyment of anal penetration however: there are several ways that two or more people can share the stimulation of certain nerve clusters. And this too bears repetition: they can do so with or without emotional meaning or commitment attached.
The World Says: “It's all good. Whatever I want to do with my body is none of your business. Nor is the state of my psyche anybody else’s business.” In the Church we obviously must believe that what you do with your body is most definitely God’s business, but in a free society we must accept that it is none of the state’s. As for the rest, I believe that we all should be each other’s keepers, if “we are each other's clinical material” as Neal A. Maxwell stated. But societies are filling with people who bristle with defiance at any call to repentance because so few of us know how to be each other’s keeper, and meanwhile it is your right to protect yourself from overbearing insensitivity by ideological bullies.
We would do well to observe and learn from the great variety of possible sexual attractions, desires, lusts, responses and activities in helping people of different experience and inclination settle to what we believe is God's norm of marriage, which should not lose its primary focus as an institution of soul-pruning, of sexual control and child-care: providing a safe and respectful home for children to grow, instead of a violent and confusing one. The companionate marriage as a relationship of emotional closeness, intimacy and bonding is a tremendous achievement of civilization, but it also inevitably opened up the door to the notion that if a man and a woman can bind themselves together in a relationship based on emotional closeness and shared interests, with consensual enjoyment of sensual pleasures, just why the hell shouldn't a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a woman and three men, or any conceivable permutation of consenting adults be given the same privilege? The only answer I see is that marriage is still intended at its base as a management of procreation and holding the opposing sexes together in order to encourage reconciliation. The blessings of emotional intimacy certainly enhance the mutual respect and make the whole thing more enjoyable. But they can also come to other relationships separated from sexuality. I often reflect on Moses 7:63:
And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other[.]
Digging fearful trenches to guard traditional morality under the philosophy of “stay as far away from the edge as you can” and “avoid the appearance of evil” will discourage people from looking forward to anything like that. They will continue to close and shrink hearts. How sad it would be if, when Enoch's city came down, all the upright and moral earthly saints reacted to their neck-falling and puckered lips with “Ack! Get away from me you weirdo!” That's what I imagine happening along the Wasatch Front, before the City takes off again to land among the hippies up in Oregon.
I once had a correspondence with a gay rights advocate about Jonathan and David. To his great credit, he didn't consider their relationship a homosexual one. Nor do I. Maybe he had read Michel de Montaigne's essay “Of Friendship.” Whatever moral judgments you might want to make about some of the ideas of that essay, I maintain that if men were more encouraged to develop relationships of emotional intimacy with other men, fewer of them might feel the need to either question their sexuality or assert a gay identity. And we might be spared overzealous wishful absurdities such as the ridiculous notion that Ruth and Naomi lurked as Lesbians behind the pages of the Book of Ruth, snogging and stroking each other's clitorises at night.
Can there be sexual tension, erotic feelings between a mother and her daughter-in-law? Of course. There can be and are erotic feelings and sexual tension in and behind a lot of our chaste relationships (including and especially in the family), and that's not something to try to deny if you hope to manage them successfully. The more we admit that, the better we can face up to those parts of all our relationships and manage them – the better we can keep our behavior within accepted bounds.
For gay people in the Church it's especially hard because if they even have friends of the same sex then they draw suspicion. This same sort of thing happens with married people who have friends of the opposite sex, of course. Is it even appropriate to have such friends? Can you hug? If you smile too long or feel too glad to see them then do you need to go confess?
And of course encouraging gay people to expand into bisexual response is dangerous, because it shows that you can also encourage straight people to expand into bisexual response (as I know I could), and the less homophobia there is, the better chance there is of some straight people deciding they'd like to try such experiments. And it is pretty much impossible to expand in either direction without some serious contemplation of erotic displays to some degree, and Mormon culture continues to regard such things with blind terror. When I was in Seminary they told us that looking at pornography might turn us gay or turn us into serial rapists and murderers. Indeed I credit my appreciation of those Renaissance and Baroque nude paintings as an important factor in uncovering the door to my own homosexual potential. But I also credit them for helping me see attractive human bodies as belonging to sovereign souls deserving my respect, and from whom I have no right to demand gratification of my whims.
One of the most challenging books I have ever read is Samuel R. Delany's masterpiece Dhalgren, which follows the erotic adventures of its bisexual protagonist: he picks up a young gay man and inducts him into vaginal intercourse during a threesome with a heterosexual woman. Toward the end of the book the protagonist muses in his journal on the superiority of his inclusive sexuality over the either/or only gay vs. only straight way of thinking. This is not the kind of thing I would expect any LDS sex therapist to read, and that is one reason why I am not inclined to trust them with a deep enough vision or understanding to really be of use for Church members who bear with same-sex attraction. Again, I would love to be proved wrong.
We can insist that God's morality does not allow all avenues of pleasure to remain open, but the question of “why shouldn't they” constantly lurks, part of the fabric of sex itself.
LDS counselors on sexual orientation could encourage the growth of a subculture that was proud to be gay while still holding to the Law of Chastity. [Mention the Catholic group] I'm reminded of the pride and the grateful, assured sense of identity in deaf culture. I had several gay acquaintances in college and after, all active members of the Church, and to me they were awe-inspiring: cultured, witty, vivacious, men of a clear understanding. Though I never have identified as gay, while I was in college, someone called me a gay boy and I took it as high praise. Still, the really gay guys were far ahead of me in many ways (though I was very immature anyway) and showed examples of taste and refinement that I worked hard to emulate.
Gay men have collectively achieved a fusion of intellect, emotion, and artistic sensibility that resembles Goethe's or Byron's integration of classicism and Romanticism. The intellectual of the twenty-first century, trained by an academic system I am trying to reshape, will think like a gay man. ("No Law," 75)
Gay men – I repeat, within the Church, and living the Law of Chastity – have served as some of my most influential mentors. My relationships with them was at first fostered by an academic system but ultimately independent from it.
Do the therapists honor all this? Or do they follow Richard Pratt's “kill the Indian . . . save the man” philosophy? Do they try to kill the gay to save the soul – drag it wholly across an imaginary line from gay to straight – and thereby leave a disoriented shell?
Would there ever be any married heterosexual Mormon couples willing to agree to celibacy and make it public as a gesture of solidarity with their frustrated yet faithful gay brethren and lesbian sisters? That would be a miracle out of scripture.
God challenges us all: God doesn't excuse our wallowing in immature psychic states. I accept the teaching of marriage between man and woman to be essential to full exaltation. That seems like heterosexual male privilege, but as we dismantle the old patriarchal right of the husband to use his wife's body on demand, it becomes less so. It may still give heterosexual privilege and I don't have an answer to that, but I see a challenge in it too. Celestial marriage challenges heterosexuals by insisting on monogamy, which is unnatural. It challenges homosexuals and asexuals by insisting on the need for union and reconciliation with the opposite sex. It can do this much more effectively if sexual relations in marriage are understood as rooted, lotus-like, in base beastliness rather than portrayed as the errand of angels. Marriage can more effectively call our souls to grow if more attention is given to all the ways that a man and a woman can admit their gendered psychology and work toward mutual wholeness.
I found the blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes. Sadly it's not active now, but I liked this, from the post "Scheduling Sex."
Christian culture’s take on sex has caused no shortage of self-loathing, book deals, vaginismus and divorce. They aren’t sure how to hold power and danger and carnality alongside personal histories, spirituality and the whole person, so they hedge its pedestal with awed suspicion and then they're bewildered that sex isn’t better.
To help cope with the resulting proliferation of “strange paths,” celibacy should be promoted in the Church as a badge of honor for people of all sexual orientations (with the understanding that masturbation can serve as a comfort in that state without guilt), not a pitiable burden for straight people and a penance for gay people. This can help gay Mormons make peace with how badly this life has screwed them over, even if Paglia is right about the limits of innate sexual orientation:
No one is 'born gay.' The idea is ridiculous, but it is symptomatic of our overpoliticized climate that such assertions are given instant credence by gay activists and their media partisans. I think what gay men are remembering is that they were born different.
. . .
From the start of my media career, I attacked the much-touted activist claim that 10 percent of the population is gay – which was always a distortion of Kinsey's finding that 10 percent had had some homosexual experience over their lifetime . . . The 10 percent figure, servilely repeated by the media, was pure propaganda, and it made me, as a scholar, despise gay activists for their unscrupulous disregard for the truth.
. . .
Gay men should confront the elements of haphazard choice in their erotic history, which began in the confusion, shame, and inarticulateness of childhood. (“No Law in the Arena,” Vamps and Tramps p. 71, 74, 78).
Let me state that I hold working agreement with her diagnosis here, particularly regarding the “confusion, shame, and inarticulateness of childhood.” And I would add that a sharp dichotomy of being born gay (“God made me this way”) versus choosing to be gay (a ridiculous straw man) is an unconscionably stupid simplification, ignoring the bewildering complexity of influences in a child's life before agency and accountability fully develop, and ignoring the great and terrible effects that human agency have in shaping circumstance far across space and time.
An assertion that “God made me gay” is of the same childish credulity that believes God put doggies and kitties on this earth so that we could have pets. It's akin to the mythical creation scenarios that have God stocking the earth with fully-formed animals like a boy setting up a diorama. I'm reminded of the line from “All Creatures Great and Small:” “Each little bird that sings . . . He made their tiny wings.” Nice sentiment, and as myth it can probably still work, but I'd be willing to bet my next paycheck that there are countless people in the Church who go forward under the practical assumption that Heavenly Father designed and created all the world's wonderful varieties of dogs and cats, fruits, vegetables and grains, when in fact most of them are the result of domestication and selective breeding by humans.
We all have to overcome the natural childhood conceit that the world was made fresh just for me, while I was born. Excuse me if I suspect this task to be unfinished in the misunderstood and unexamined unconscious of most adult Mormons. Excuse me but by default I don't trust my fellow worshipers, even if they're gay, to show deep or careful consideration of their characters' deep roots in culture, history and biology.
What a very accommodating scenario, for a dominant Heavenly Father to create a gay man, as if assembling a model of perfect male autonomy and purity: a crowning of creation more transcendent than earthbound Eve. It's an old idea for all that.
What about a pair of Heavenly Parents bringing forth a spirit bent to follow a path that will lead him away from achieving Their state? As intolerable as that seems, we might remember Alma, Chapter 29, and all earthly parents would do well to respect the agency and separateness of the children they produce: “They come through you but not from you,” as Gibran wrote.
Does Heavenly Mother have a secret workshop where she re-engineers some of Her daughters' spirits into Lesbianism in revenge for the silence and obscurity imposed on Her by Her sons, if not Her arrogant husband? We really do make God in our own image, even in the Church.
A sharp divide between homosexuality and heterosexuality is also a stupid simplification. I was definitely born different, and though I haven't identified myself as gay, I definitely thought of myself as androgynous since before I even knew a word for it. I didn't fit in with most other boys growing up. As an adult I have always had far more friends among women than among men (which has help me shed the sentimental cliches about them that I hear from the pulpit).
What's more, I have come to enough of a recognition of my own sexuality to accept that I could respond sexually to men. Before puberty, I clearly recall seeing displays of unclothed female and male bodies both as erotic. After puberty I took such perceptions as effects of my naïveté and bodily shame (after all, I had also imagined pornography was pictures of naked people pooping and peeing). I had several homosexual dreams before and during my mission. While at the time they terrified me, in the years since I have made advances in admitting my latent homosexual potential. David Sylvian's voice can get me hot, as can Konstantin Savitsky's portrait of “The Monk Inok.” (I mean, look at him – he's gorgeous!) I've caught myself gaping at other gorgeous men during my adult life and once even felt flattered to think a man might be flirting with me. I have realized that the few scenes portraying erotic love between two men that I have seen in movies have alarmed me precisely because something in me responded to them, felt the heat of arousal. It took work for me to admit this, but now with enough encouragement and support from sex-positive activists, I'm confident that I could at least identify as bisexual, and maybe gender queer to boot.
If I were to let down my guard, I could take part in sexual encounters with other men and it would be hot and exciting and I could take it as joyous and liberating if I were to lose some inhibitions. So when Paglia writes “Homosexual potential is in everyone, and evidence suggests that under the right circumstances it will out” (Ibid, p. 71), I accept that as true with my own experience as one witness. Another witness is my observation of young children and their curiosity about their own bodies and those of others (remembering my own), along with the complex ways that their expressions of this curiosity can relate to the reactions of the adults around them. And most of this goes unnoticed, unacknowledged, undocumented and uninvestigated in our environment that loves kids, is indifferent to children and hates youth.
If I had been brought up as an ancient Greek, I believe I could have taken part in their homosexuality, even their pederasty, without too many scruples. “Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity,” wrote George Bernard Shaw, “and fashion will drive them to acquire any custom.” Socrates (as written by Plato anyway), showed no inclination to look beyond the socially constructed institutional pederasty of his culture, but the Church expects us to look beyond socially-constructed identities when they would entitle us to break out of the bounds God has set. And it gets a bum rap from people who also think that if their hearts are in the right place they needn't bother with logic.
I deplore hysterical rhetoric about the “gay agenda” but you have to be hiding under a rock not to see that gayness and queerness are certainly very fashionable now in widening circles. Identities and sexualities always proliferate with economic and technological privilege, and political freedom eventually must cede license to even the most nihilistic experimentation. The array of sexual orientations and gender identifications is potentially infinite when they are cast on a spectrum instead of binarily (as you see if you browse tumblr). Each newly-defined point tends to add on to its assertion of identity a further assertion of an inherent right to demand the indulgence of that identity's wishes, the right to decide which nerve clusters to rub how, where, when and with whom – including the right to choose not to do it with anyone else – without being considered a freak, or at least without negative sanction from the state. In that spirit, the pleasure nerves of the glans and clitoris are fair game for any kind of purpose and appropriation that the human mind can devise. I would go so far as to say that universal bisexuality or pansexuality is the logical end of sexual liberation. If human beings – not just men – have sexual needs and the right to express them, or even simply the right to express their sexuality; then it really doesn't matter who or what you do as long as you do it safely and consensually (unless with inanimate objects).
Against this churches may well feel lonely and beleaguered, standing against a growing tide, with our sandcastle of societal norms (not to mention failed explanations) crumbling around its standard. The tide is the belief in every individual's fundamental right to sexual expression and fulfillment free of unnecessary restrictions or guilt other than mutual consent.
If that right really exists, the Law of Chastity is not only irrelevant but harmful.
But if that right really doesn't exist, then your sexual orientation doesn't matter, does it? We're all without excuse. Maybe one day we'll get some really solid explanations as to exactly why. Until then, maybe we can borrow some from the Buddhists. And learn to be patient instead of lashing out with what punishments we can amplify.
I'm imagining a kind of Progressive Kindergarten, a Secular Humanist social engineering project right out of a conservative's worst nightmare:
“Okay class,” says the teacher (in the enthusiastic simper we all remember from our young years), “today we're going to talk about our sex-u-a-li-ty! Did you know that each of you is born with your very own sexuality? Yay! OK now, repeat after me!”
Whether God is in the picture or not, you can imagine a program at the end of the year with an audience of proud parents and guardians, each child standing up on the risers with an appropriately naive and happy smiley face drawing.
“I'm gay!” says one with a gap-toothed grin.
And then, in chorus: “Each of us is born with our very own sexuality, and we each have the right to express it! My sexuality is a gift just for me!”
Yay! Applause! Isn't that precious? Isn't it exciting to see children taught in righteousness? Pat their little heads and give them stickers.
I expect there's at least one private school doing this somewhere in America, but if I know what's good for me I shouldn't ask how the parents and guardians make the money to pay the tuition. Make a little tweak, though, and it sounds like a fantasy primary lesson not far from the wishes of LDS therapists who think they're sex-positive: “My sexuality is a special gift which God has given to me for my happiness!” Each child recites it sweetly in turn, in a singsong voice, and the adults all smile and say “Awesome! Good JOB!”
I repeat: this is the fatal error of supposing that human sexuality is a tidy package deal, and that God – excuse me, Heavenly Father – gave it to us wrapped tightly that we might have joy in this life through a natural union with a single spouse. If everyone is born with their sexuality as a constant core part of their identity, and if it is God that has planted this neat little package unalterable within each spirit at birth, then -
Hell yes! those who were born with their individual switches turned all the way to gay should be allowed to marry a partner of the same biological sex or socially-constructed gender, and to have such a union sealed in the Temple.
But this doesn't go nearly far enough. What about all those who were born with their switches halfway between, to bisexual? Why can't they have two spouses, one of each sex (and/or gender)? Aren't their rights being violated too by a social order that only gives legal recognition to monogamy?
Right here I am not being flippant! It is irresponsible, dishonest and downright cowardly for “marriage equality” activists not to be calling for legal recognition of all kinds of marriage, including all kinds of polygamy. If marriage equality is something to truly promote as a social good, not to mention a fundamental right, then we need, post-haste, a riff on the 11th Article of Faith to be the social guideline on marriage: let them marry how, where or what they may. This must include any number of partners of any sex (assigned by chromosome, hormone or expensive high-tech surgery) or arbitrary, fluid, socially-constructed gender. Only then will marriage equality be realized.
No, not quite. It will be further challenged by those who assert – quite rightly – that the age of consent is also an arbitrary social construct.
Look: in setting norms, you have to draw lines which unavoidably cut across some realities, leaving some people partly or wholly out. Marriage is a sexual norm, and it is stupid to suppose that sex is so tidy that in opening up the institution of marriage to state ratification for any two people who are legally adults, society is achieving sexual justice or enlightenment. A responsible and principled position would say that marriage, as one kind of religious and social tradition (in its bourgeois capitalist form or not), should lose its special legal privilege, and the law should treat it as just one of any number of socio-sexual options which people may enter into of their own free will, officiated by any kind of authority they recognize (religious, spiritual, psychic, commercial . . .), without any effect on their equal standing before the law. (The law must still leave aside the huge psychic and cosmic question of whether these consenting adults are really emotionally mature and whether they have the self-knowledge to be making any kind of responsible life decision for themselves at all. The world has always been full of stunted, spoiled, petulant or narcissistic people, children in grownup bodies, unequal to their social license, and gay activism isn't going to change that.)
Let me state in dead earnest here that I am fully in favor of the state completely backing off from its presumption of favoring any kind of consensual erotic or family association over any other. This would leave the “traditional” marriage of man and woman (as well as its potential Mormon radical transformation into an equal partnership between a man and a woman) safe from confusion within religious communities and their ceremonies. It would allow religious freedom to flourish: no more discrimination against the fundamentalist LDS community, and no more need for them to practice their family life in the secrecy that so well hides (and cultivates) abuse. Experiments like the Oneida Community would be able to arise again, free from legal harassment. Science fiction enthusiasts, neo-pagans, futurists, occultists and even Satanists would be able to come up with all kinds of arrangements and practice them without fear – well, without fear of the police anyway. Eventually.
Of course, such a full honoring of religious freedom would even further destroy any consensus of monogamous heterosexual marriage as the fundamental unit of society! Religious institutions in a – pay attention, this is important – secular republic like the United States and the other states of the post-industrial world, ought to know better than to think they can have it both ways. If I may raise my lightning rod higher: this has been the fatal error in the Church's response to gay marriage activism: the arrogance to presume that the metaphysical teachings of the One who said “enter ye in at the strait gate” can be enforced as the norms of a pluralistic society.
I still haven't convinced myself to accept a definition of needs as inherently bringing a right to demand. But I do accept that sex must remain negotiable within marriage, that to make it a non-negotiable obligation is archaic and unfair.
Married couples negotiate, and have conflict, and negotiate through conflict, over other things that might lazily be described as needs: a need to have help with the housework and the baby, a need to have a room of her own, a need to be at work on time, a need to relax at the end of a tiring day. Good luck getting everyone to stop calling such things needs within marriage: that's a wish even beyond my starry-eyed idealism. I think of an Ensign article from almost 30 years ago which is an interesting document of how tenaciously some old ideas hold on. This is Brent A. Barlow, "They Twain Shall Be One: Thoughts on Intimacy in Marriage," published in September 1986:
A husband needs to spend time with his wife. The two need to have time together to share ideas, to grow and learn together, and to experience joy together. A wife is not going to be too excited about a husband who spends all his time at work, at church meetings, in hobbies that exclude her, or in front of the television or newspaper. A husband who always spends time in ways that exclude his wife communicates to her that she is not very important. . . .
Perhaps the most important thing a wife can do to improve the sexual relationship in her marriage is to realize her husband is also a human being with various needs, hopes, and aspirations. Unfortunately the media blatantly convey the idea that men want only one thing out of a relationship. To adopt this narrow view of men is to do them an injustice.. . .
Many of the ideas that apply to husbands also apply to wives. Just as husbands need to find time for their wives, so wives need to find time for their husbands. Some wives spend most of their time at work, caring for the children, or cleaning house. When children are finally in bed at night and parents have a few moments away from them, wives often prefer doing “relaxing” things . . . If their husbands want to be with them, they are often tired and emotionally unavailable. Men are not likely to appreciate or understand such actions. If the activities of the day really are so tiring that a woman has little time or energy left to develop her relationship with her husband, she or the couple together might examine her life carefully, to decide which things can be given up for the good of the most important relationship she will ever be involved in.
When it comes to sexuality, some wives become very concerned about their “rights,” often speaking of their “right” to say no and yes. But marriage is also a relationship of responsibility and opportunity. In marriage, both partners have the opportunity to give. I believe few wives realize the power they have to help keep their husbands near them physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. On the other hand, I also believe few wives sense the degree of frustration and alienation husbands feel when a wife ignores his needs and interests.
For 1986 I might call this progressive. It's true that the last paragraph is ominous: those quotation marks around “rights” for one thing – that impatience with those uppity women and their so-called rights still hangs on tenaciously in Mormondom (think of the firestorm after Elaine Dalton's BYU devotional address in 2013: “You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.”). And the way he invokes responsibility and then just lets it drift without definition? You could hang a lot of sexual duty and, yes, coercion, on that in 1986, when some states still didn't recognize marital rape as a crime. But Barlow deserves credit for asserting that husbands' needs extend beyond brutish wishes for sex on demand. His apparent or at least implied inclusion of each spouse's needs in the negotiated space deserves consideration. It is true that the question of needs and demands in marriage is broad and varied, and an assertion that needs inherently bring the right to demand and transcend the negotiated space must be tested by application to any alleged need.
People don't just make demands based on socially-constructed needs, they make demands based on things that are important for them. If it's important enough for me to have two forks at each place on the table for every meal and for my house and my wife to Always Look Her Best, that can also “[move] beyond the negotiated space and [begin] to place inappropriate demands on the other partner.” You don't need to cast anything as a need to do that. You just need one partner with a strong will, and the other partner convinced that her (or his, let's give equal opportunity) duty is to serve and to please.
The housewife who insists on her time alone in her work space to write or paint could bring insecurities, breakdowns and conflict into a marriage, but those of us with contemporarily enlightened sensibilities will probably say that's just because her husband's being a jerk. I know my sympathies will automatically weigh more on her side than with the husband who insists on sex. My intuition is that most of us will feel to recognize a wife's need for attention and affection more readily than a husband's for sex: “of course your wife has the right to demand your affection and your attention! But that doesn't give you any right to demand access to her vagina! Or to demand that she pay attention to your penis, for that matter.” They warned us in high school about that give love-get sex/give sex-get love problem.
As long as their hearts are in the right place, most people don't trouble themselves about disconnects in logic. Our tradition holds that genitals, especially the vagina, are a “Fort” of more “soveraigne dread” (Spenser, Faerie Queen 1:II:XXV) than minds and hearts – an attitude that The World questions.
How legitimate is a grievance of trespass against minds and hearts, especially by women against men's minds and hearts? Consensus still holds that men are inclined to be miserly with those treasures – attention and affection – that their wives have every right to claim as their due. What great cost can it be for a husband to be compelled to render those? He is like Baldacca's Kalif in Longfellow’s poem “Kambalu,” with his tower full of gold and silver that he can't eat. She needs that gold, but she also guards a priceless treasure in her house, more precious than the gold. Will the “Kalif” abuse his power by claiming a share of her treasure instead of negotiating with her for it?
It might remind us of Nathan's condemnation of David over Bathsheba. “No!” we might shout. “He has no right to demand that! How dare he!”
Noblesse oblige: she has a non-negotiable claim on his attention and affection that he can't legitimately claim as a source of conflict. He does not have the same claim on her vagina. What do we all think of that?
We each come to earth with talents to develop Barlow hits the target here: how frustrating to have a real God-given gift in your soul, needing to be expressed, and for it to be disparaged – or sabotaged!
Our talents are much more important than our primitive itches. A woman with stories or poems burning inside her does have the right to demand a room or a work space of her own and time to write. A man who played the saxophone like Cannonball Adderly by the time he was 16 does have a right to demand time and space to practice and perform even as a married man.
I would hope that these two imaginary characters would be able to negotiate these needs and attending demands with their spouses so as to set up mutually agreeable accommodations, but my sympathy would still go with the wife, not the husband, when she stays locked in her little office writing until midnight, night after night, instead of attending to his wishes for sex. My sympathy would go with the husband, not the wife, when he plays at the cafe across town until closing time night after night and gets home late, too tired to attend to her wishes for sex. (Let's add to this hypothetical scenario: suppose he is not too tired to cuddle while falling asleep, and even gives her a lot of affection and help with the household and children in the afternoon and early evening before going off to play. But sex? The circumstances just don't line up. They cuddle up and he falls asleep. Well, so what?)
Social construction of needs has not been logical or consistent, so putting such cases up to popular vote is not going to give consistent verdicts. The wife of the saxophone genius might charge him with failure to meet her sexual needs, if she is more of a sexual agent than the traditional Mormon wife. Otherwise, she might articulate her frustration in other terms. If he doesn't make much money performing in the cafe across town, then his wife might charge him with failing to meet his obligations to provide and spend time with his family. After all, in our culture she still has a claim on him to provide for her and their children. How easy it will be to put together a chain of cause and effect to “prove” that his frivolous hobby is destructive to their family togetherness and therefore constitutes failure to provide for his family's non-negotiable needs (especially if his day job isn't very lucrative).
The husband of the aspiring author has no such claim on his wife to provide. Her children have the claim for nurturing of course, and so if he is old-fashioned enough he can put together a similar argument to prove that her frivolous hobby is making their family insecure. Now that The World and its feminism have made so many incursions into the Church, he might not feel he can get away with saying that she is forsaking her calling as a woman. And if he knows what's good for him he won't explicitly mention anything about being sexually frustrated in presenting his case.
The aspiring female author still has an uphill battle, though her pioneering ancestresses (including the one who articulated her need for that room of her own) have put her nearer to the summit. Her husband's sexual frustration immediately stinks of the petulance that comes from the loss of privilege (and Barlow's article carries a whiff too). The sexual frustration of the saxophone player's wife, however, carries an almost karmic load of unstimulated clitorises reaching back generations, and to some sensitivities, justice demands her husband's recognition of that debt. Justice would demand his time, consideration and attention to atone for the neglect his wife's foremothers suffered at the hands (or rather the penises) of his forefathers. Couldn't he at least take the time to do something with his fingers?
I do not assert that either of these judgments are right, but they are powerful psychological motivators rooted in the world's history, which has its own deep roots in human biology and psychology. These are complexities that men and women inherit even before they enter complex intimate relationships as adults. Denying or despising such motives as primitive does nothing to help us rise above them, it only blinds us to their control. Only the work of bringing them into consciousness can lead us out of blind hypocrisy, and that is easier said than done.
I can imagine young liberal first-world blog readers shaking their heads at the saxophone player, especially if he isn't making his living with his music – unless he was smart enough to marry a career woman. Even then, they might sigh over the sadness of this couple missing out on a fuller experience of the divine gift of sexual relations in their marriage, which could be such a stress relief and a beautiful bonding experience! I can imagine many people thinking he might be gay. But I predict that the same young liberal first-worlders would dismiss the aggrieved husband of the writer as a neanderthal. And since the larger matters of history and of the gender privileges in history do enter into the equation, that discrepancy really doesn't bother me much.
Some of the most liberal might want to tell the writer's husband that he could just go take care of himself, though whether they'd advise the saxophonist's wife similarly I won't venture to guess here. But that would imply that those frustrated sexual urges were truly needs of some kind, or at least pressing enough to justify taking matters into your own hands.
Whatever you might think about needs, those hypothetical characters I just invented have an opportunity to see themselves less as aggrieved partners of negligent spouses and more as valiant bearers of their own crosses. Marie of Oignies convinced her husband to take a vow of chastity, and together they nursed lepers, and she saw visions. Of course Mormons could say that those were all fake, and that if a man and wife have plenty of sex as they should, of course they'll have spiritual gifts aplenty.
I always wanted to know if older couples had sex on their missions, but have been afraid to ask. Is there a sexologist or therapist willing to attempt a study of that?
I have a fascination with asexuality - born partly out of envy, I fully admit. Today I share a few links of posts I've found recently by asexuals, some of them LDS, some not.
First, to start off with another good hard deliberate nose-tweak at the "sex is good! It's a gift from God!" idea in Mormonism, I'm sharing this article on a blog called The Ace Theist:
Sex is not a vitamin. - Despite what I just wrote about tweaking the nose of Mormon wannabe sex-positivism, I find myself not entirely at ease with the arguments of this post. On a purely intellectual level I whole-heartedly agree. How dismaying, then, to find myself still in the grip of feeling such strong deranging desires.
Queer Mormon Women: I don't like pizza. - This was a guest post on The Exponent earlier this year by an asexual woman in the Church. My sympathy responded especially to this anecdote:
The first time my “Preparing for a Temple Marriage” institute class talked about the law of chastity, my teacher stood up and said,
“Never be so arrogant to assume that you are above the sin of sexual temptation.”
I cried myself to sleep that night, and never went back.
"The sin of sexual temptation" - this isn't directly related, but with attitudes like this (and our lingering one-size-fits-all ideologies) it's no wonder Mormons have such a cultural problem with how they treat gay people.
"good girl" or asexual? - On Young Mormon Feminists. Reading this, especially near the end, brought me to consider the possibility that some of our General Authorities might in fact be or might have been asexual.
Actually . . . I'm Asexual - I'm sad to see this blog hasn't been active for almost the whole year. I hope the author starts posting again.
Later on in my ongoing essay I address asexuality within the Church, and having discovered these writings and others I wonder how I might revise what I wrote.
I'm a married Mormon man and a BYU grad. I'm a writer by vocation and have paid for some of my needs by that craft. I'm well enough educated to know that I still have much to learn.