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.