Tuesday, March 22

Causation or Happenstance

I think a lot. I used to think that was normal until I went on my mission and learned that some people (as embodied in my companions) just didn't spend all day pondering. I'm still not really sure what people are doing when they're not thinking, but that's another issue altogether.

When I learned that overthinking was one of my personal traits, I wondered if it was correlated in any way with being attracted to guys. Now that may sound absurd, but physical attraction is a physical phenomenon - hence it is effected by definite differences somewhere in the brain. The brain is a complex organ; many chemicals and reaction sites function on many different levels - hence a difference in one area is likely to correlate with differences in others. The same thing happens in genetics - flowers that are purple usually have less disease resistance than flowers of the same type that are red.

So I wondered if overthinking was a side effect of being attracted to guys, or in some way a part of the whole. I read a paper once by a lead practitioner for LDS Family Services that found inordinate introspection as an anecdotal correlation, but I'm still not sure. And if it is correlated, what does that even mean?

The world has a definition of the gay guy or lesbian woman that falls into stereotypes. In the media, gay guys groom themselves meticulously, follow fashion religiously, passionately hate those who don't condone their lifestyle, are into the art-side of world more than other guys, wear way more earrings... but are these social constructs to which they unite themselves, or manifestations of joint differences in brain chemistry?

It's important to me because I'm trying to figure out who I am, and what I'm dealing with when it comes to my brain. The parts of "gay culture" that have been constructed aren't as useful, applicable, or interesting to me because they don't always apply - and I've found that as a religious, faithful Mormon, I lack one of the key characteristics to be accepted in the gay world (strong negative emotions towards those that don't support homosexual activity)... I'm somewhat spurned as a legitimate member of that culture anyway. 

Understanding the interplay between complex physiochemical relationships would be ideal for better understanding how to live while attracted to guys. Preliminary testing has been done trying to show a definite correlation with serotonin uptake and depression, for example, which means that dietary supplementation with tryptophan - the chemical precursor to serotonin - may have substantial effects on alleviating depression. Depression is one of the 5 symptoms of the "syndemic" of the urban gay men - very high rates (as compared with the general urban male populace) of depression, suicide, AIDS, partner abuse, and substance abuse. (Those of you who want sources, they are freely available online. For example, search "gay syndemic." This post is not intended for publication in Science magazine.) It's obvious that gay men are not physiochemically more inclined to get AIDS - it comes from actions they take instead of being inborn. Partner abuse, substance abuse, and suicide are also active, but those are often predicated on dissatisfaction with life... which could be caused by depression rates. All those pieces together? If depression is an underlying factor that detracts from my quality of life, and is related to the chemistry of my brain, then it's worth investigating.

But is it caused by differences in brain chemistry?

Some people in the gay world claim that depression in gay men and women is completely due to external causation. One group feels it is caused directly by society - that exclusionary day-to-day practices and tenets are what cause depression, not any inherent tendency. This is probably only partially accurate, as the urban metropolis is typically a much more accepting area, and the day-to-day affairs of gay men wouldn't run into those who have such a huge emotional influence on them to cause depression, unless they were predisposed to it. It also doesn't match my own experience - as I rarely feel discriminated against in my life, yet I've had depression.

Another thought is that depression is linked to society's disapproval as a whole of gay relationships - hence the hot battle for equalization of gay with other relationships in the public sphere. But that can't be completely true either - the vast majority of gay men, which would be represented in the urban syndemics, are sexually promiscuous, and hence incur society's views on promiscuous sexual actions - not intimate monogamous relationships. Yes, they may be actively involved in and passionately opposed to current views on same-sex marriage, but unless they are currently monogamous, depression caused by outside influences in this case would be mostly vicarious (and probable proof of innate tendency to depression. I'm not sure if straight supporters of gay marriage rights have higher rates of depression). Sodomy laws have been gone long enough that true societal pressure on promiscuity is no longer actively in force. This also doesn't apply to me and my experience.

The last potential for outside causes isn't really discussed in the gay community, or in most scientific literature... because it's religious. I've found, in my own life, that I have an internal sense of right and wrong - above and beyond what society, my family, my Church, or anyone else tells me. In the Church we call it the Light of Christ - it's the gift given to Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Every human on the earth is born with this gift, which resonates with the good and bad things in their lives. When they do good, they feel good. When they do evil, they feel guilt. While it's possible to quench the feelings of guilt (called searing the conscience in scripture), it still has an impact - and my personal experience and my experience helping men and women has been that a life filled with guilt is definitely more depressed. When I sin, I am much more likely to fall into depression... and when I am clean, life is amazing. At least from my individual perspective, this could be a valid point in the syndemic. But it would obviously need specialized studies... and I'm not sure how you would set those up. In the meantime, I try to avoid sinning as much as possible, and I find that my depression is lessened significantly.

Wow. That was long. But that's what goes through my head anytime I see something unique in my life... something that could help me understand the life and trials I've been given. In my case, depression probably has a number of other complex interrelated causes, none of which I'll share here on (Gay) Mormon Guy. But I think that the investigation is worthwhile. Eventually, at least in my case, I'll be able to determine whether this and other factors are products of physiochemical causation... or circumstantial happenstance.


  1. I would think that having an irreconcilable attraction to something in life that your values and morals preclude would be a huge factor in depression. It's like a constant marathon away from something.

    The only way that a person can have rest in this marathon is through the saving grace of the Atonement. Jesus Christ is able to understand exactly what I am going through. He can literally lighten the load. But it takes time, practice and patience to learn to give things over of such magnitude.

    I've learned that simply avoiding sin is not enough for me to avoid depression. Dealing with my emotions and leaning on Christ are what get me through.

  2. Journey -

    Yeah. I agree. Leaning on Christ is definitely the major source of my peace, too.

  3. GMG,

    I definitely think that there is an abundance of introspection in the LGBT Community. Largely because coming to the realization and acceptance of one's sexuality necessitates introspection AND because once someone has realized it themselves, often times they feel they can't or simply don't talk to anyone about it leaving LGBT members to live in their heads as both you and I do.

    I do disagree (naturally) with your characterization of gays. Granted that may be the stereotype, but there are LGBT members of every color and creed that do not reflect the camp culture you described and as for the activist component (which I argue is a little - only slightly though - more mellow than you describe), that is found in nearly every minority culture on earth. Cultural repression gestates feelings of solidarity that is seen in activism, don't believe me? pretend you aren't a member and ask someone on BYU campus "Why don't you believe in Christ? Why aren't you Christian?" While you will get rational-minded answers, you will cultivate a feeling similar to the "passionate hate" you attribute to the LGBT community. Except that we hear it over and over again, "Gays are an abomination", "God Hates Fags", "You should burn in Hell", and "You are trampling on my freedom" and because these viewpoints are based in a mix of ration and religion, sitting down and calmly talking about the issues fails more often than not. This builds and creates a culture of repression that fosters animosity towards those who don't understand.

    As a religious, faithful Mormon have I been embraced with open arms? no. But I have been welcomed and enjoined in a community wherein I am able to help spread civility. My biggest frustration with the LGBT community is that we seemingly can't be accepting of other view points, even when we are asking for acceptance of our own. This hypocrisy frustrates me to no end. I tell you this because while you may not have this (again I dispute the degree) "Strong negative emotion" towards non-supporters, you can be a part of the LGBT community and in fact you are simply by having this blog.

    Having both dealt with depression we both know that it can be chemical, but also situational. I am on board with you that depression leads to suicide and substance abuse and even promiscuity (as a form of substance abuse) that leads to HIV because I feel that all three of those are coping mechanisms for depression. In talking with you and getting to know you I assume that you already recognize and know your own coping mechanisms for depression. Running, playing soccer, searching the scriptures, prayer, service, etc. In my experience in the LGBT community I see that abusing alcohol, smoking, drugs and sex comes directly from a persons attempt to "feel better" about themselves and a smaller portion from an alignment of LGBT issues with the Liberal/Democrat agenda that often applauds recreational drug use and promiscuity.

  4. But this you already concluded. You proscribe 3 potential reasons why tis depression might not be a brain chemistry thing. In your first 2 examples I think you have over-simplified the acceptance of urban metropolis and Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Why? Because the depression often starts much earlier than a publicly out life (again as we can both attest to). Which brings me around to your third option (which is discussed far more often than you realize just maybe with a different slant). An oversimplified version of your 3rd option goes something like this: Doing good -> feeling good, doing evil -> guilt -> depression thus to be less depressed do more good. If I have mis-characterized this let me know and I will revise. My question for you is this, when were you first depressed? In our discussions you have made mention that you have been depressed for a LONG time. The follow-up question would be, when was the first time you sinned in regard to the behaviors associated with homosexuality? While you certainly don't have to tell me publicly on this comment thread I suspect that there will be a discrepancy and, gathering from our discussions I don't think you have ever even held another man's hand let alone been involved sexually.

    Given this assumption (which may be wrong in your case) that you were seriously depressed before you were involved in homosexual behaviors that means that the guilt that led to your depression had to come from a different sin (under the rules of option 3). I posit that that the only conclusion is that the sin that led you to be guilty that led to your depression was simply your sexuality and not any behaviors associated with it. This leaves us with two choices. 1. That same-sex attraction, in and of itself, is a sin or 2. that the guilt that leads to depression can come from something other than sin. I think we are clear to say that 1 is false leaving us to look for the source of the guilt and, while there may be others, the highest probable source of that guilt is a societal and cultural normative that your sexuality collides with and has been for many, many years.

    This is the more commonplace understanding of your option #3 in discussions both the LGBT communities and scientific literature, that cultural repression of non-normative roles leads to guilt. Sadly this is also the cause of so many LDS/LGBT members who take their activism over the line that divides being pro-gay and being anti-church. This is the cause of the militant activism you discussed earlier, a rebellion against the "hetero-normative" that sadly contributes to promiscuity. I truly and honestly believe that if the culture of the Church was able to equalize and normalize the sexual identity of its LGBT members to the point at which their was a cultural feeling of equality and embracing fellowship, that LDS/LGBT youth could grow up and, when realizing their sexuality, say "looks like I am on path B instead of path A" and intrinsically know that both were equally good, equally accepted, and that no option was superior to the other and not feel the guilt and depression that you attribute to a knowledge of sin from the light of Christ

  5. David:

    I definitely agree that there are all types of men and women who are attracted to the same gender. I don't fit the stereotype, and most people I know only fit parts of it. My purpose in bringing it up (because media stereotyping does occur) was for a preface to looking at sociological trends - of which stereotypes are often a part. Stereotypes usually have some type of rational (albeit usually grossly exaggerated and generalized) basis. And the people portrayed in the media usually are the most vehement. I agree that they aren't really representative of the populace at large, notwithstanding the fact that they yell louder.

    I think that passionate, generalized displays of directed emotion are usually sort of counterproductive - whether it's calling gay men names, or yelling on the side of the street with a big "NO H8!" sign. Anytime we ascribe negative motives to someone else, we demonize them and reject any notion that there can be a rational conversation. And we exclude rational people from the conversation because they don't want to be demonized or add fuel to the flames. In most cases, it turns into a name-calling battle that is won by sheer numerical power on forums and in the public sphere. Hence one reason why I moderate comments... so that my comment threads don't mirror the ardent flamethrowing of the Huffington Post.

    As far as the strength of negative emotion, I can only speak from personal experience. The contacts I've had with those who are actively gay (initiated by others through my blog) are civil until we get to the issue of gay marriage and whether homosexual activity is a sin. At that point, most seem ready to spit, and the email trail ends in a flash of obscenities or name-calling. There are definitely others who can still hold a conversation. And I really appreciate that. But most don't. At least when they're talking to me... and I feel like I'm a pretty stoic person...

  6. ...
    As I remarked at the end of the post, I think that depression is probably due to a huge number of interplaying factors - some inborn, some external, and others exacerbated by personal choices. My own struggle with pornography in my early teenage years was definitely a huge contributor to depression, which came in the years after, but there were other definite inborn predispositions in my case. As far as your exposition on cultural norms... in my case, there was only a short period of time when I realized I was attracted to guys and didn't understand my role in God's Plan... and that period wasn't marked with depression. Deep soul-searching? Yes. Introspection? Yes. Reading everything that I could find ever written on both sides? Close. But I always knew I was a son of God and that He loved me - and that truth has always superseded any faults in society in applying the gospel. My depression came from chemical issues, guilt from sin, a lack of understanding of gospel principles, and a few major non-SSA factors.

    I agree that we, as individuals, need to better apply the teachings of the prophets to love people and understand them, no matter who we are. I don't feel that same-sex relationships are a valid alternative for those with same-sex attraction, but I agree that understanding their individual needs in the context of the gospel is vital.

    My vision is different from yours - I hope someday that when LGBT youth realize their sexuality, they will have the resources and people around them who understand the tools and resources to move forward, continue to keep the commandments as taught by the prophets, and gain the faith that all things will work out in the end for those that love God and keep His commandments. The tools are already available to them personally through prayer - it's how I gained my testimony of the gospel and its principles - prayer, repentance, faith, obedience... And slowly, as mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, bishops and friends learn about the Atonement and its power in this aspect of life, the misunderstanding lessens, faith increases, and everyone - not just those who are gay - feels a greater portion of the love of God.

    I've already seen it in some of the people who read GMG... where once they felt animosity and held misunderstandings... today when a brother comes out to them, they reach out to him in love and offer their support to help him choose the right. The world is changing.

    Thanks for your comments.

  7. That stereotypes are only a slice of the pie was my point. How can you say you aren't part of a community when you are pointing only to the loudest and not the community in total. You yourself do have characteristics of the community just like your friends btw.

    Your blog and the approach you take is a case example of selection bias. You see the activist loud ones, you don't hear the silent ones who welcome you despite differences of opinion.

    I guess I didn't make my point clear with the hope for the future for LGBT LDS youth. Part of that was purposely leaving path "B" vague but I did that to include the current path and current teachings of the Church. Right now as it stands, LDS LGBT members are, by nature, second class members. Perhaps not on paper (although I would argue they aren't on paper) but in culture? Certainly. My only problem with your vision is "Slowly". Why should the Church, a hierarchal church with a strong grip (when necessary) not influence the culture and constantly reinforce that GAY means Good As You and reprimand those who do otherwise? Instead they are sitting in their office and letting individual Stake President's decide. Don't believe me look at the story about Drew Call who was fired because he lost his temple recommend because he wouldn't stop talking with his Gay friends.

    Are you really going to tell me that that wasn't a missed opprotunity for the Church to reach out and influence the lives of LDS LGBT youth for the better by saying "No Stake President, you are wrong here, this Child of God is just as deserving as you." The world is changing but too slowly.

  8. Don't worry about your over-thinking. It shows that you are a thoughtful person evaluating his life and the instances of those around him. I think A LOT, and my blog is just a spilling of all my thoughts, theories, etc.

    Insightful post though. I appreciated the commentary on the social construction of sexuality. There is no one type of gay male, just like there isn't one type of straight male. We all differentiate on traits, characteristics, etc. And it is a shame our society generalizes people.

  9. David:

    I understand your concern about Drew Call, but the Church doesn't record and audit temple recommend interviews. If members feel there are injustices, then they use the path outlined for appeals, thereby bringing notice to senior leaders in the Church. If Drew doesn't agree with what his bishop has decided, he has the responsibility to speak to the Stake President, and if he doesn't agree with his Stake President, he has the opportunity to write a letter to the next senior authority... deliver it to his Stake President, and the Stake President will ensure that it is immediately delivered. Not slowly. The office of the First Presidency handles appeals all the time. If I felt I was truly worthy of a temple recommend and had been unjustly dealt with, I would go through the normal (and simple) method of appeal. Only then would the senior leaders of the Church "step in" - at my request.

    Going to the newspaper with a secretly recorded tape and compaint instead of going to the next person in authority strikes me as someone mudslinging the Church in general - not as a humble member of the Church who is trying to do what is right. None of us are Drew's Stake President, Bishop, or a General Authority, so none of us can determine his worthiness or not for a temple recommend - regardless of what evidence we have for or against him. Even if we were there at each interview, we don't have the same authority and ability to listen to the Spirit to determine his worthiness. His bishop, Stake President, and the General leaders of the Church do. For whatever reason, his Stake President found him unworthy. Was that a just decision based on promptings from the Spirit? I do not have the authority to judge that, and neither does anyone else in the general populace.

    If Drew truly feels his decision was unfair, he should go to the next person in line - who is the only person with the authority to actually make a judgment on that decision. Opening his life to the rest of the world doesn't accomplish anything productive, since, even if we have all the facts, none of us have the authority to determine his worthiness anyway.

  10. There are many differences in opinion in the gay community, and I think you can see all of them in Provo. While there is plenty of disagreement, there is also acceptance and respect, and we continuously strive to make things better :)

    Just because your own views on human sexuality differ from another persons view doesn't make your ideas any less valid, and it doesn't make you any less apart of the gay community. Sexuality is a beautiful aspect of human life, and your values reflect a love of God and respect for others. These values are welcomed in the broad, multi-faceted LGBT community. In fact, I'd say a voice like yours is needed in the community to show how diverse gay people are. We are just people like everyone else after all...

    One thing about depression that I think needs to be mentioned is the need for counseling and professional help. While I believe in the power of the Atonement of Christ, belief alone can't bring the necessary turn around. God reaches us all in different ways, and for those with serious depression problems, God's grace is only available through professional help and prescribed medicines. Too often we pray for miracle in such dire situations when the miracle is only a phone call away.

  11. My point in bringing up Drew Call wasn't to say I know what's best or know what the spirit was telling the Stake President or even if the spirit was telling the Stake President anything. Nor do I think going to the press was the best decision (although he may have felt it was his only avenue for due process and recourse). What I bring up Drew Call for is that the situation has already escalated into the public sphere, the Church didn't bring it here, nor did they ask for it but it is in the news and how do they respond? with the following canned statement:
    "All church employees are required to have a current temple recommend. Worthiness to hold a temple recommend is determined between each individual member and his or her local ecclesiastical leaders"

    When they could have instead spoken out and, having it brought to their faces publicly, face the charges and use it as a teaching moment. Do you not see how this was a missed opprotunity for the Church to reach out and say that its otherwise worthy SSA members are indeed fully worthy DESPITE the views of some. That SSA/LGBT members are in fact all children of God. Do you really and honestly not see how this was a chance to save souls that was not taken advantage of by the church?

  12. Apronkid:

    I believe that God gave us the advances in medicine to help us - Brigham Young once reprimanded one of the Saints for spurning medical advances (remedies at the time) in favor of simply praying. I agree, as long as ou are following the Spirit. Alvin Smith died from an overdose of mercury chloride given him by a doctor... an extremely common remedy at the time. My own experience in turning to God, individually and alone, may be unique or commonplace. Either way, it's my experience. And hopefully those reading can pull bits away, turn to God, and create their own experiences.

    Thanks for your comment.

  13. David:

    Truly and honestly, we don't have enough contextual information to make that judgment. The article said it was an emailed statement from Michael Trotter. Since it was included in the original article, that means it was not a reaction to the published story, but a response solicited by the paper itself. I don't know what information the paper included in the (also presumably emailed) solicitation for comment from the Church. You are making the assumption that the leaders of the Church, when Michael Trotter made that statement, had already been informed extensively and had specifically not made the decision to step in or make a more specific comment. The Church gets hundreds of "requests for comments" each week - from wanting to know its position in Japan to wanting to know what it thinks about the newest show on Broadway. Literally. And depending on the bias of the paper, they naturally (sometimes automatically and sometimes calculated) write their requests such that they get answers applicable to the nature of their article - inserting and leaving out information at will. The request could have simply stated that Drew lost his recommend unfairly. Or it could have said that he was being discriminated against for talking with gays. I honestly have no way to determine that without seeing the request letter or making an assumption - and I am not willing to do the latter in order to condemn someone for their action or inaction. Even if the request said, "Drew Call was a returned missionary who worked at the Church and recently lost his temple recommend and his job unfairly because he wouldn't stop communicating with his gay friends," the only way the Church has to authenticate that statement (which would be vital) would be to look up Drew's records, find the names of his leaders, ask them to break their legally-binding confidentiality (pastors in other churches have been successfully sued for discussing confidential conversations with others without their written consent), then make some type of response, all without any input from Drew Call in the first place - just a request for comment from a local newspaper. I don't see how the Church could authoritatively make the type of comment you are looking for when this wasn't already part of the public sphere, wasn't common knowledge, and especially when it involves confidential communications.

  14. Valid insight and inquiries, but it is also important to remember that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.


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