Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"How it Is" in June

Imagine receiving a witness of something beyond yourself, something that is beyond your ability to fully comprehend.  It's something that's not completely yours.  Yet it's something that just seems to be true, like a law of nature...gravity, for instance.  It's also something very specific and sacred.  Not just in the temple or in the Church, but in least according to what you have learned.  In this day and age, however, in order to be on board with the new American dream, the new civil rights movement, "equality" or to be known as a decent human have to deny that truth... 

More people could probably relate to that than just those in my little corner of humans.  But anyway, this post is meant to just be an illustration of how things are, what it's like, a peak into what I think about and how I feel.  It doesn't need fixing or clarification to show how wrong I am.  Half the battle is just finding the reasons why I feel what I feel and being at peace with them.  Of course I don't speak for all gay people, but neither do they speak for me.  There are a few, but they're far between.

It's not a secret that Pride month is a conflicting month for me.  Some people probably would just think I'm anti and tell me to get on with it.  Some would say "If it's not for you, don't go."  It's not that it's not for me.  It's awkward.  Doesn't anyone ever wonder exactly why it would be awkward or maybe not the best for all people who are gay?

The thing is, parts of the Pride movement are for me.  It's responsible for my right to exist and to love who I love.  It's part of the reason why I'm able to talk about same-sex attraction without having to worry as much as in previous generations.  Even with all the many nuances, it could very well be part of the workings of the Lord in getting discussions going in churches.  There are many things, about the origins of Pride, at least, that could resonate with the common human experience...striving for an end to violence, bullying, exclusion from families and being ashamed of oneself.  Many people say this is what Pride is. I don't disagree, yet it's still part of what makes it all awkward for me.

Another thing...I can't say how much I would LOVE to walk down the street hand in hand or expressing some other form of affection with someone I love.  It would be wonderful to not have to have a specific month or weekend in order to do that.  It would be even better if it wasn't considered a gay thing (I mean hold hands in various places throughout the world)!

I'm sure there are many other activities and events that would be fun for family and friends.  I love the concept of hugging booths as well!  The only question is if I'm the one in the booth offering the hugs, or if I'm part of the gay crowd receiving hugs.  This really just represents another branch of awkwardness.  In a "building bridges" situation, am I one of the straight Mormons reaching out?  Or am I one of the oppressed gay people in need?  Yeah...this exemplifies some of my own pride.  I know some people would love to answer that and figure it out for me.  I also have my own answers.  But as I said, this is just an illustration of what it's like.

I think the kicker for the potential of coming across signs and symbols that...from my perspective...mock some things I hold sacred.  Maybe it's something that is unique to me.  Yes, even if I was hand in hand with a guy or trying my best to support individuals, it would still be sensitive to me.  It's bigger and different than individual agency and personal morality.  I already understand that I'm sort of an oddball, but it's just how I feel.  It's part of being on the very edge of the LGB community.

From what I gather, it seems like the Pride festival would cater to everyone, but hopefully I've offered an illustration as to why it's more complex and not black and white for some of us.  As I mentioned before, it's not something I want to fix, it just is what it is.  It could just be a Utah Pride thing for me.  I just know that I need friends who see me and understand me as I am right now...even gay friends who understand where I'm coming from and/or possess the same feelings I do.
I realize that participation in Pride isn't an official requirement, but who knows?  Maybe at some point I'll show up at an event...preferably with someone who gets me, who will hold hands with me and acknowledge how big of a deal it would be.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Lyrics, Music and Love

I'm spoiled.  I keep getting blessed with amazing church leaders.  Part of it could very well be how I describe things, and part of it could just be happenstance.  I recently transitioned to a conventional, family ward.  I met with two of my priesthood leaders to get on the same page.  They both had no qualms saying the word, "gay" and were very open to hearing some of my story (or what we had time for).  They affirmed to me that no matter what my choices would be in regards to relationships, I would have a home in the ward.  That is huge.  I think it's that kind of love and understanding (without feeling like they need to adjust their beliefs) that helps me stay close to the gospel. 

Aside from that, I was asked to give a talk in Sacrament meeting and share some of my experiences in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I quickly wracked my brain upon receiving the assignment and warned, "Well you choir story is closely intertwined with my *gay story."  The bishop seemed completely fine with it.  So yeah, I shared what I felt with my ward, and now I'm writing a post about that talk.

I shared my take on what most people want to know about the Choir, such as broadcasts, tours, Christmas concerts, guest artists, etc., but leaving it at that would have made it a short talk and lacking in depth (at least for me).  So I proceeded to talk about my own self-transformation, my own coming to Christ.  I think that's the biggest part of my four years in the Choir.  There have been many times when the lyrics and music have penetrated my soul (especially Mack Wilberg's famous minor 6th chords in the organ bass).  There have also been times when music and my participation in the Choir was the only tether between me and the Church, even between me and God.

This was especially apparent with our Easter concert back in April.  We sang a new piece by Brother Wilberg and lyricist David Warner.  It was entitled "A Cloud of Witnesses," as it featured several biblical stories of the witnesses of Christ after His resurrection.  This concert came during one of my more difficult times.  I was bawling at pretty much every rehearsal leading up to the concert.  I'm sure many other choir and orchestra members had their own personal experiences as well.

The first part of the song refers to Mary Magdalene, how she was the first to see the risen Lord.  The lyrics that spoke to me were...

Then ponder on this witness,
This precious reminiscence:
That she who first perceived Him
By hope and believing,
Received Him in her grieving.
And in our sorrow we will see Him
Soon appear!

Mary received Him "in her grieving."  This spoke directly to the experiences I was having.  For many years, I had unknowingly numbed my pain.  I didn't want to feel it.  I didn't want to acknowledge that I was uncertain about the future, questioning my faith and the spiritual experiences I've had, wanting a boyfriend and trying to imagine how that would work, whether inside or outside my covenants.  In a way, I was wanting Christ to love me conditionally.  I didn't want to accept His love unless I was sure of everything.  Through these lyrics, I realized that I didn't need to keep hiding all this stuff from God.  He just knows.  He knows the desires of my heart.  I can freely lay them out before Him.  He loves me regardless.  His love is simply there whether I'm keeping the commandments or not.  Even when I'm battling bitterness towards others or when I'm lost in confusion, His love is. just. there!  That was a profound realization.

Another set of lyrics featured the two disciples on the road to Emaus.  Christ had appeared to them, yet they did not recognize Him. 

And so they sat at meat, all three together.
And when He took the bread and broke it
Even the bread of His affliction,
And then blessed and freely
Gave it unto them,
They then beheld that it was Jesus--
Saw Him, felt Him, knew Him,
And He quickly vanished!

(The Two Disciples)
"Then it was Him!
Our Lord and Master!
Jesus, Savior, our Redeemer!
Were our hearts not burning,
Souls not yearning?
Though our eyes were not discerning
Of Him?!"

This reminds me of the times in my life when Christ has effectively appeared to me, even though I didn't always recognize Him.  Most often, this has been through other people in many areas of my life.  I've been thankful for people in the Choir who have listened to me, spent time with me, hugged me (the hug quota is indefinite!) and simply treated me like "one of the guys."  I've been thankful for my family, who has been at my side, ready to give aid and unconditional love. 

Most especially, I've felt the love of my Savior through other men (and women too) who are walking this road with me and who have similar perspectives on the gospel.  I've been learning about brotherhood and deep friendship.  Christ had His band of brothers to support Him.  There's something powerful about the love (or in other words, attraction) that can exist between two or more friends who can relate to one another's circumstances and who are doing their best to keep the Savior at the forefront.  I've written extensively about this before, but I can imagine Christ holding my hand, letting me rest on His shoulder, kissing my cheek.  I can't help but feel that within righteous parameters and in accordance with other forms of platonic intimacy, this kind of physical affection with my brothers is very similar.

Anyway, things have been changing.  I feel like I've been starting a new chapter, albeit an uncertain one.  The experiences I've had recently with Choir, as well as others, have helped me see beyond the "gay."  It's important for me to emphasize, however, that this has been through acceptance and not rejection or resistance of my feelings (I wrote more about that here).  I'm not so sure acceptance is on the brain when we try to focus on "eternal identities" in lieu of SSA or another major life situation.  But anyway, I know there are other areas of my life to explore, including reopening possibilities that, for at time, had been closed. 

As an obligatory conclusion, yes, the Choir has played a pivotal role in my spiritual journey.  That pretty much sums it up.

*I'm slowly becoming disenchanted with some of the terminology surrounding same-sex attraction, as I am starting to move on and see more of myself.  But I continue to use it because of the limiting nature of language and also to be relatable.