Friday, August 12

Prone to Wander

There's a popular painting of Christ carrying a lamb on His shoulders. For a long time, that painting has inspired me. Knowing that Christ was willing to go out into the desert, search in the wilderness, and go anywhere to find a lamb who has strayed gave me hope even when I felt like I had gone too far for Him to ever be able to find me... and much too far to ever find my way back.

But there's a lot more to the story than Christ simply rescuing a lamb that is lost.

You see, when a lamb wanders from the fold, the first few times the shepherd simply finds it and leads it back. But if the journey is far, or the lamb shows that it is prone to wander, the shepherd does something else.

He carefully takes the lamb in his arms...

... and breaks its legs.

The now-crippled animal is finally willing to be carried, and the shepherd drapes it over his shoulders, where it stays until the bones have healed.

Yes, the lamb in the painting - the lamb that represents me on Christ's shoulders - has broken legs.

And Christ broke them.

On purpose.

It may seem harsh to break a lamb's legs simply for wandering from the fold, but a lamb that is prone to wander rarely learns to trust the shepherd without it. Wandering from the fold eventually leads to death. And it works. As the bones heal over the course of weeks and months, the lamb learns to trust the shepherd and, ultimately, to follow him.

Many sheep that wandered as a lamb have a permanent limp, as broken bones don't grow back perfectly. But when other sheep may become distracted, or rarely turn from the shepherd's voice, those that learned to trust Him are willing to follow and to listen. They never wander again.

And Christ does the same thing with me.

I've strayed from the path in my life. I've told God I wanted things He wouldn't give me, turned my back on Him, and even gone so far as to draw others away from the truth.

Each time God found me, He offered to carry me home. But I'm proud. I have my own ideas, my own plans, my own dreams that take me in my own direction... and that direction may or may not match up with where He wants me to go.

So He breaks my legs.

In my case, He shatters my dreams, destroys my plans, and crushes my ideas until I'm left without direction or hope in myself.

And, at that moment, hopefully I'm humble enough to let Him carry me.

Unlike lambs, however, which the shepherd will carry against their will, I can only be carried by the Good Shepherd if I allow Him to.

And so He takes a risk in breaking me. He knows the risk... and would only do it if it gave me the best possible opportunity to return to Him. And, so, often He does. Hopefully I will choose humility and draw closer to Him. But just as possible, I could close off from God, reject Him completely, and add the new pain to a list of wrongs He has done to me.

This painting means something different to me now. First, I see the true love of God - a God who is willing to let me go through excruciating pain so that I can learn to trust Him... and who cares so much that He is willing to risk losing me to help me come home. Second, I see a lamb who is humble enough to submit to the shepherd's will. Christ was the true Lamb of God, willing to submit to His Father's will through what most people would call a terribly unfair life. He endured literally everything... which is why He is the Good Shepherd - the One to whom I can submit my own life.

I'll likely wander many times. I know that I am prone to wander... and when Christ breaks my hopes and dreams and legs, I hope that I can always be humble enough to let Him pick me up and put me on His shoulders.

And I hope that, someday, I will be one of His flock that never strays again.

"And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him." - Helaman 12:3

Wednesday, August 10

The BYU Honor Code Bans Hugs, Handshakes, and Temple Attendance

If I'm gay.

Warning. This is a heavy post.

I've worked at BYU as a curriculum designer. I'm a BYU graduate, twice. My license plate says BYU on it. My best friend attends BYU. But just today I learned about something that has given me cause for concern.

There's a line in the current CES Honor Code (the guiding document to which every BYU, BYU-I, BYU-H, and LDSBC student, faculty, and staff member promises adherence) that reads thus (pulled Aug 10 from ):

"Homosexual behavior is inappropriate and violates the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."

Let's break this down.

"All forms of physical intimacy" means, literally, all forms of physical intimacy. Current definitions of physical intimacy encompass everything from prolonged eye contact to touch in every form, including hugs, handshakes, hand-holding, all the way up to sexual activity.

"That give expression to homosexual feelings" means anything that is motivated by, influenced by, or causes effect from attraction to the someone of the same sex.

This applies disparately based on whether I'm attracted to the same sex or not. In fact, there's a huge difference between the application to me (attracted to men) and the next guy (who probably isn't).

If I'm attracted to guys, then getting hugs, handshakes, and even high-fives from other men meets a deep physical need rooted in my attraction to men. Most men need physical touch from other guys, but I thrive when guys touch me, and my physicality with men is a huge part of my life. And while I can control how much contact I have with others, I can't change the fact that every kind of physical intimacy with men is different because I'm attracted to them (both specifically and in general).

Every single time I give a guy a hug, cuddle up with him on the couch while watching a movie, give him a shoulder to cry on, extend my hand to pick him up when he's fallen, arm wrestle with him, lay my hands on his head to give a blessing, or look deeply into his eyes, part of that action is motivated by my attraction to men. It has little to do if I'm attracted to the guy himself. Yes, being attracted to the specific guy is great, but sitting with any guy is wholly different than sitting with a girl.

If I'm not gay, however, this section has far less impact. In my case, then, the only physical contact barred by the Honor Code would be with another guy I found attractive (from the definition of homosexual attraction - simply defined as feeling that another person of the same gender is attractive). I could hold hands with guys, give them handshakes, hug them, cuddle up on the couch, or even fall asleep on their chests after talking all night like Joseph & Brigham did the night before the martyrdom, without any problem.

After reading the Honor Code statement, I was more than a bit distraught.

My best friend was the one that showed it to me. He asked me if he wasn't allowed to hug me anymore. As I mentioned, he's a BYU student.

My gut started twisting. I told him I didn't want to break the Honor Code.

I have never been in opposition to the Honor Code... I was in the Honor Choir, performed at New Student Orientation and gave firesides about the Honor Code, and still have my Honor T-shirts from Freshman year when every other one was thrown away.

I have always supported the Honor Code... and in every case that someone has attacked it I've always been able to help them understand.

But am I breaking it right now when I hug my best friend? Or when we watch a movie together cuddled on the couch? Those things have never been against Church standards - I mean, John the Beloved was laying on the chest of Christ during the Last Supper, and the modern "guys shouldn't cuddle with guys" has been a western cultural artifact for less than 100 years - proof that physical intimacy among men isn't a sin. All physical intimacy would mean that I could never touch another guy... ever. Is BYU really trying to tell people with same-sex attraction that they should never touch or be touched by another soul?

So I called.

The student at the Honor Code Office was polite and, after a short break on hold, she confirmed that the policy is worded exactly as intended. All forms of intimacy, including hugging, hand-holding, and everything else, are against the Honor Code when same-sex attraction is involved. She offered to put me in touch with the director of the Honor Code Office, and said he would call me back.

Half an hour later, the director called me back and I asked him to help me understand the policy. I explained my concern and the fact that physical intimacy covered things as benign as prolonged eye contact or handshakes, as well as sexual contact. He confirmed, when I asked specifically, that any physical intimacy that is affected by, motivated by, or that has an effect on same-sex attraction is against the Honor Code. I asked again, about hugging, handshakes, and holding hands, and he confirmed that if the action is at all motivated or causes effect to same-sex attraction, it is against the Honor Code.

"Those are things that you shouldn't do."

I didn't know what to say.

I asked for confirmation one last time, and he gave it again. Then I thanked him and hung up.




...I think there's something wrong.

Telling me that I shouldn't have sex with guys is one thing. Or that I shouldn't watch pornography or break the law of chastity in any way - with another guy or alone. I believe that. I support that. And the people who break the Honor Code in that regard need someone to help them repent and change.

But this is way, way more than sexual actions.

This affects everything.

I've officiated as an ordinance worker at the temple - pretty much the most sacred calling a single guy with same-sex attraction can have. Temple workers conduct all the sacred ordinances of the temple... and, when you're a guy, every single one involves male physical intimacy. From looking into someone's eyes for longer than usual, to holding hands, to laying hands on head, to the embrace of baptism, sacred ordinances are the physical representation of a spiritual covenant with God... and so they all have powerful physical aspects.

Does working at the temple, or worshipping at the temple, arouse me sexually? Not usually. But it most definitely affects and is affected by my attraction to men. In fact, working at and attending the temple, for a long time, was the only real, regular physical intimacy I had with men. No one would give me a hug, a handshake, or even hold eye contact with me in real life, but in the temple they had to... and I knew I could go there to not only feel a connection to God, but also to my fellow men. That connection with God and the physical connection I get with male humanity is still a major reason why I go.

And now that's against the Honor Code.

I'm the ward greeter in my ward. A big reason why I shake hands and make eye contact with every person in my ward is to feel connected with people, and to allow them that connection. As I said, every time I touch a guy, it's deeply influenced by the fact that I'm attracted to men. Touching guys, no matter the circumstance, touches me in a way that touching girls does not. And I don't think I'm alone in that regard. It's the exact same thing with heterosexual guys - in a ward missionary meeting just on Sunday my ward mission leader expressed, honestly, that if he got more hugs from cute girls in the ward, his life would be less stressful. I definitely appreciate getting hugs from guys whether they're cute or not. We added giving hugs to the ward mission plan.

But that's against the Honor Code, too.




As are "all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."

Which means everything.




Looking at my feelings, right now, I'm terribly confused. It's blindingly clear that my actions - as simple as giving my same-sex attracted best friend a hug when I see him at work in the morning - are in violation of the Honor Code. I confirmed that with the director of the Honor Code Office.

But Isn't the Honor Code approved by the leaders of the Church? Shouldn't it reflect the standards of the Church - including those of love and inclusion and support and faith? It definitely didn't include a never-touch-anyone statement the last time I looked... did someone in a committee just add the language as a catch-all?


After I post this, I'll contact someone to ask them for advice.

If I were to change the wording, I'd copy the words out of For The Strength of Youth. Put simply, don't do anything with the intent to arouse yourself or others. Simple, clear, direct. And if we need to make a list of Thou-Shalt-Nots, they need to apply to everyone regardless of potential sexual feelings.

But as I wait for a bit more clarity, I find myself asking a difficult question:

What if, as I push to try to find why the Honor Code is worded this way... I learn that God, through the Board of Trustees (the Prophet, First Presidency, and The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) really did intend to communicate that I should never be physically intimate with another guy... ever again?

What if I could never go to the temple? If I could never meet a guy's eyes? If I could never touch a guy, let him touch me, if I could never give my brother-in-law a hug as he leaves for work in the morning or hold my same-sex attracted best friend while he cries on my shoulder?

What if God asked me to never touch a guy again?

Would I be willing to follow His counsel?

I'd lose all my friends if I could never touch them or meet their eyes. I'd lose my calling, never be able to go to the temple, and never be able to give a blessing. I'd be an outcast and a leper with no mortal I could turn to. Life would be worse than it already is.

But if He asked... I'd still follow Him.

Somehow, He would make it right.

I just hope that isn't what He's really asking me to do...

...and that there's just been a terrible misunderstanding.


I sent an email to the Honor Code Office referencing this blog post and my conversation with the director, asking the wording of the section to be changed. I suggested using the wording found in For a the Strength of Youth - any action designed to cause sexual arousal or stimulation in self or others would be across the line. I'm still hopeful that my conversation was just a major misunderstanding, and that the policy simply needs much less vague, broadly-interpretable language. My concern in this matter is because I care about BYU. I'm not a student, and even if I were, I'd still hug and touch guys even if I were deeply attracted to them.

I'm just concerned that the Honor Code, which for me was always a source of simply, concrete guidance as a student, has potentially begun to isolate those who need help most. With an active underground sexual hookup culture that has always been present, the Honor Code traditionally split people into three groups - those who followed and loved it, those who didn't care for the letter of the law but still wanted to do the right thing, and those who lived in total violation. If platonic physical contact between men, whether or not attraction is involved, is part of restrictions in the Honor Code, that forcefully pushes anyone affected into the middle group. Obviously, the literal interpretation in this post is far-fetched and absurd that it would ever be enforced. But it was also the direct result of my conversation with the director, and doesn't have any logical fallacies or assumptions - I was told that since I and my best friend have same-sex attraction, we shouldn't ever hug each other. There's no sexual desire there, no arousal, no whatever - hence my concern for a policy that keeps the university I love a positive, safe place for people like me - those who love both the letter and the spirit of the law and love to know exactly what it means so that we can help others stay true to the faith.

Saturday, August 6

Disney, Gay Mormons, and Happily Ever After

There's something awesomely magical about watching a Disney film unfold. Over and over and over again, the protagonist faces life's struggles with head held high. Reaching deep inside, he (well, usually she) learns something new, overcomes impossible odds, finds friends in unlikely places, dreams enormous dreams, and finally, after a full 90 minutes of struggle, reaches the coveted Happily Ever After.

But while Disney films may inspire magic and lift hearts, protect morals and preserve childlike imagination, their happy music and fairy-tale endings belie a much darker side.

And I'm not talking about secrets or hidden messages.

I betray my childhood with the statement that comes next.

Happily Ever After is a lie.

But it's more than just a lie. I already knew that the Happily Ever After of a Disney story was a fairy tale. Enchanted taught me that, along with Frozen's candid assertion of the absurdity of marrying someone you met the same day.

And yet, while a few recent films have added tongue-in-cheek references to its fantastic reality, Happily Ever After is still central to the Disney franchise... and the vast majority of Disney movies still pay homage to its power.

It's unlikely that Walt Disney could have imagined how influential his films would become. What began with Snow White and Cinderella has grown to become a cultural icon... to the point that today's world - my generation - grew up fed with Disney stories. I knew the songs for every movie, watched some of them dozens of times... and since I was old to enough to dream, dreamed of my own Happily Ever After.

While the idyllic Happily Ever After may be an obvious stretch of reality, it has shaped my culture. Today, even though I laugh at the tongue-in-cheek references where Disney makes fun of itself, I find that I actually believe in Happily Ever After. And so does most of my generation.

And on the outset, that doesn't sound too bad. Disney's Happily Ever After comes when I give my best effort. When I do everything right. When I wish upon a star, try harder than ever before, put myself out there, serve and work and give everything I have. And then, shortly thereafter, I find my true love and we spend the rest of our lives in Happily Ever After - a gift from the universe as proof of my effort. It pushes me to try harder, to believe in God, and to ask for blessings and miracles. It gives me hope when times are hard, and it encourages me to literally give everything.

But what about when I apply my belief in Happily Ever After to real life? Real life lasts a whole lot longer than the 90 minutes of a feature-length family film. What happens when the promised Happily Ever After doesn't come?

And what about when even getting to Happily Ever After seems impossible by following God? When 90 minutes, or just as many years, have passed and the future seems just as impossibly bleak?

And here we find the darker side of Happily Ever After. Disney teaches that anyone will get Happily Ever After if they work hard enough... and that those who give their all *deserve* it... sooner rather than later.

And when it doesn't happen? When Happily Ever After doesn't come in the Disney world, it's because I haven't truly tried hard enough. Or, more likely, because a seemingly-good-but-actually-evil villain stands in the way.

Either way, someone is at fault... because I haven't gotten what I truly deserve.

It's a lie.

And yet I believe it...

Along with everyone else in today's world.

It's easy to connect the dots and see how a universal belief in Happily Ever After is ravaging those whose lives are more complicated than the Disney model. Like mine - I'm only attracted to men and I definitely feel like I have given my all for years. If I believe that God (the Universe) will give me Happily Ever After (usually interpreted as marriage and eternal bliss with someone I love) while I'm still young, then anyone who tells me otherwise, or stands in the way, is the evil villain.

Disney teaches that I deserve someone to love who loves me back. That I should work my hardest to achieve it. And that nothing should stand in the way of love, raising a family, and having someone to come home to.

Reality is different.

Reality is that following God will help me find greater happiness than any other alternative. Reality is that I deserve better than just mortal love... and that God's love and presence can actually compensate for not having love here in life. Reality is that it is through His Grace (and not my work) that all blessings come. And that I am the only thing that can stand in the way of His love.

And the final reality?

Happily Ever After isn't something I receive. It's not a gift that someday God or the Universe will give me, the result of finding someone to love, or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It doesn't come with "I do" at marriage to someone who loves me back. It's not even the reward given by God at the end of putting in all I can.

That's because Happily Ever After isn't something I get, find, or obtain.

Happily Ever After is something I *become*.

It's finding the happiness that God has.

It's becoming like God.

And that's both why it could never be gifted from on high... and why turning away from God to find it will never work.

That's why putting in all my effort isn't ever enough. That's why I can ask God for blessings and the prayers seem unanswered as my life gets harder. That's why I face insurmountable trials that smash me flat.

Because I'm not like Him yet.

And if I haven't yet become Happily Ever After, it's simply because I still have more to become. And this trial, this blessing, this life was designed to help me become like Him - so of course God wouldn't just take it away.

There is one extra complication:

God does actually promise me the Disney Happily Ever After.

Just on a different time table... and according to His ways.

He promises that, eventually (sometime before the Resurrection), if I've done my best for my entire mortal life (a whole lot longer than 90 minutes), I'll find someone I love who loves me back with whom to have a family.

But just because God promises a Disney ending does not mean that a marriage like in Disney movies = Happily Ever After. As I said before, Happily Ever After is not an action or a gift. It is something I become, and nothing else.

And now & in the meantime, He promises that I will find greater happiness by following Him than any other alternative... even if another path seems to offer exactly what I think I want.

Those are powerful promises. They're especially intense given how badly I want a family of my own. And how I can't remember ever really being attracted to a woman. And how old I am in Mormon family culture. And how alone I've spent most of my life. And how difficult it is for me to even make and keep friends, let alone find a spouse.

God doesn't promise that I'll become Happily Ever After today, or tomorrow, the next day, or even fifty years down the road. He doesn't claim that life will be easy, idyllic, or fair. He doesn't claim that happiness won't seem possible somewhere else. He requires total sacrifice of everything I hold dear, every dream I dream, every wish of my heart.

And He promises that I really will become Happily Ever After - as I slowly change and become like Him.