FAIR Examination 3a: Two mothers of sons with same gender attraction

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How do Mormon parents respond when they find out they have a son or daughter with same sex attraction? What happens when the child decides the leave the Church and engage in homosexual activity? What can parents do to show love for such a child while still remaining faithful to the Church? In this episode, two active, LDS mothers talk about their experiences raising sons who are involved in homosexual relationships. It should be noted that they will not be referred to by name out of respect for their sons and for other family members, and they did not feel comfortable using pseudonyms.

11 thoughts on “FAIR Examination 3a: Two mothers of sons with same gender attraction

  1. Joshua Johanson

    Thanks for showing us how to be true Christians. Love is the basis of the gospel, and you two know how to show it. May we all show as much love in all our dealings.

  2. Simon

    Thank you for sharing this! I admire you women of faith who have chosen to exemplify the love of the Savior for your sons.

    I wish one of you was my mom!

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  4. J R

    The statement that struck me the most during this interview was; “it is not the sum total of who I am, it is a piece of me”. I am afraid that those who are affected with same sex attraction feel that their attraction is the sum total of who they are. In turn they do not love themselves, and pull away when others attempt to love them.

  5. Joshua Johanson

    JR,

    People with SSA come in all sorts of different shapes and colors. You can’t put all of them into one category. You might be right on some level with some people with SSA, but most are not that way and even for those who do seem to pull away, I would argue that there is probably something deeper going on.

    What I see much more often is a disconnect between the way the person with SSA needs to feel love and the way people are trying to show love. You can’t always show others love the way you would like others to show you love. I think a lot comes from misunderstanding of homosexuality in general and what people with same-sex attraction need.

    To me, one of the biggest things for me is for people trying to understand me. I want people to care enough about me to risk hurting me in order to try understand me. Inviting me to go play basketball with the guys isn’t going to do it for me. I appreciate the offer, but I don’t feel loved. Other people are highly private and their guards go up when people start asking them personal questions. They would much rather be treated like one of the guys and not given any special consideration.

    Loving others is complicated, and to say that they just pull away when others attempt to love them isn’t really getting to the root of the issue.

  6. Alan

    The part about supporting a child’s “same-sex attraction identity” is interesting. One of the mothers suggested that if faithful gay Mormons can get together with other faithful gay Mormons, they can receive understanding and love that is perhaps different than what heterosexual members can give them. Gay camaraderie, you might say.

    Whatever happened to Dallin Oaks’ logic that if you’re experiencing and want to keep in check same-sex attraction, it’s best to join groups that don’t centralize around same-sex attraction — in other words, it’s best to break up that gay camaraderie?

    Seems the Church is in a transition period in terms of how much it “trusts” its gay members to “choose the right,” even when they’re alone together.

    As hopeful as this podcast tries to make things seem, the truth of the matter is, most gays leave the Church and will continue to the leave the Church — just as these mothers’ sons have. I do like the one mother’s enthusiasm in the second part of the podcast about sexually-active gay couples attending LDS wards. I’m sure there’s a few out there, as she said. They’d make for an interesting podcast. And FAIR would be at an ethnographic forefront if it could track them down for interviews.

    One comment to Steven about something he said. It might be reassuring to the Mormon mind to think that “the world” tells those with same-sex attraction that their only option is to be in a gay relationship, and therefore “the world” is stripping people of their agency and the Church is enabling it. In reality, “the world” tells those with same-sex attraction that being in a gay relationship is one of their options, and the Church tells them that being in an opposite-sex relationship is their only option (other than celibacy, of course). I think there should be no doubts that the Church is interested in funneling people’s agency more than the world is on this matter.

  7. Joshua Johanson

    I think you will have to show some data to support the assertion “most gays leave the Church and will continue to the leave the Church”. I think we are all influenced by the people we know. I know more SSA people who have stayed in the church than have left, and I know many people with SSA who have converted to the Church. I know outside the church, most people with SSA choose not to have gay sex, so it would seem odd that the church would be an exception in that. See:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_gender_issues/Same-sex_attraction/Denial

    I’m not familiar with the quote from Elder Oaks that you are referring to. I know one from God Loveth His Children that seems to be taken out of context. FAIR has responded to this issue as well:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_gender_issues/Same-sex_attraction/Association

    As far as agency is concerned, the church does believe people “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil.” I don’t think we have to agree with someone’s actions in order to allow them to do it. The Church teaches you can choose to follow Christ and be either celibate or faithfully married to someone of the opposite sex, or you have the option to not follow Christ and have sex outside of marriage. The choice is still yours. Even if you do choose something else, the Church has made very clear they do not oppose that right to choose something and they even do not oppose all of the benefits and subsidies that have been provided in the state of California to choose something else.

    Compare that with someone of the statements given by the courts on this issue:

    From Judge Walker (who overturned Prop 8):

    Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.

    No agency in those comments. He is saying my choices are unrealistic. His option is the only way. There is no admitting some people have found it to be a realistic option. The gospel of Christ says you can choose. The church is on the side of agency.

    From the Iowa Supreme Court:

    Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all. Under such a law, gay or lesbian individuals cannot simultaneously fulfill their deeply felt need for a committed personal relationship, as influenced by their sexual orientation, and gain the civil status and attendant benefits granted by the statute. Instead, a gay or lesbian person can only gain the same rights under the 31 statute as a heterosexual person by negating the very trait that defines gay and lesbian people as a class – their sexual orientation.”

    “Accordingly, because sexual orientation is central to personal identity and ‘may be altered [if at all] only at the expense of significant damage to the individual’s sense of self,’ classifications based on sexual orientation are no less entitled to consideration as a suspect or quasi-suspect class than any other group that has been deemed to exhibit an immutable characteristic.

    They are saying we cannot change our sexual orientation and with our sexual orientation we cannot fulfill our deeply felt need for a relationship. There is no room for agency in their statement. There is no people can choose whatever lifestyle they want. They only say it is impossible for us to choose a fulfilling marriage to someone of the opposite sex.

    The California Supreme Court said the following:

    California law does not literally prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying; however, it requires those who do to marry someone of the opposite sex. As a practical matter, of course, this requirement renders marriage unavailable to gay and lesbian individuals, whose choice of a life partner will, by definition, be a person of the same sex. Clearly, the statutory definition of marriage as male-female has a disparate impact on gay and lesbian individuals.

    Their claim is that “by definition” I will choose someone of the same sex. They also have a similar conclusion that I cannot choose my sexual orientation. That is not agency.

  8. Alan

    The data about most gays leaving the Church I draw from Ron Schow, who reported in 2007 that in an internal meeting with GAs present, it was announced by LDS Family Services that “80% of those dealing with this issue are leaving the Church.” Why do you think God Loveth His Children pamphlet was created? And in the 5 years since, I’m not sure that 80% has been chipped away all that much.

    The quote from Oaks I’m referring to was in the 2007 interview. He said, “in a nutshell…if you are trying to live with and maintain ascendancy over same-gender attractions, the best way to do that is to have groups that define their members in terms other than same-gender attractions.” Now, of course this isn’t a full denouncing of groups like Evergreen. But notice how Evergreen is not an official arm of the Church. I doubt it ever will be.

    The quote you’re pulling from Walker is taken out of context. In more detail it reads: “While gay men and lesbians in California are permitted to marry, they are only permitted to marry a member of the opposite sex. For the vast majority of gay men and lesbians, that is not a realistic option. This is true because sexual orientation is about the relationships people form–it defines the universe of people with whom one is able to form the sort of intimate, committed relationship that would be the basis for marriage. Some gay men and lesbians have married members of the opposite sex, but many of those marriages dissolve, and some of them experience considerable problems simply because one of the partners is gay or lesbian.” Summarized, this reads under a header: “Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals.”

    I suspect when the California and Iowa Supreme Courts say, “by definition,” they referring to demographic truths like how for the vast majority of those who identity as gays and lesbians, the “universe of people” they involve themselves with romantically does not match up the man+woman status quo. If it did, then there wouldn’t be the “gay” and “lesbian” identities. Rather, traditional and queer kinship structures are mixing and matching in American society. The Courts are merely responding to this reality.

    I will be the first to admit that “sexual orientation” legalese is problematically worded. Judges are not trained sociologists, gender theorists, or psychologists; they’re awful with nuance. Also, I’m also not really a fan of how the state takes up and defines the borders of acceptable kinship. But that’s a different matter.

    Anyway, I thought you didn’t identify as gay. I thought Mormons were supposed to concentrate on how everyone in the afterlife is heterosexual, so this whole “gay” thing is a waste of time and energy.

  9. Joshua

    The unfortunate byproduct of the Supreme Court ruling goes beyond problematic wording. It puts into law a mentality that has been pervasive in our society. This is precisely what Elder Oaks was talking about when he spoke against using gay as a noun. He said:

    “It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.”

    Everyone has a choice in their sexual relationships. These court rulings deny the existence of the choice. That does much more to hurt agency than refusing to adopt a philosophy of moral relativism, which is what you accuse the church of.

    Let me break it down for clarity. The courts said that no one chooses their sexual orientation and that their sexual orientation “may be altered [if at all] only at the expense of significant damage to the individual’s sense of self”. They then said people with a homosexual orientation are defined by those who choose life partners of the same sex. Therefore, according to the courts, there exists a class of people, who because of factors outside of their control, will only find fulfillment with life partners of the same sex.

    This “born to have gay sex” philosophy denies the power of agency. We are free to choose our sexual relationships. We are free to act for ourselves and not to be acted upon by our sexual desires. That is the whole doctrine behind agency, and it is the courts that is trying to take that away.

    The quote you used from Walker only further illustrates my point. He said: “sexual orientation is about the relationships people form – it defines the universe of people with whom one is able to form the sort of intimate, committed relationship that would be the basis for marriage.” He is denying that people of a homosexual orientation can form intimate, committed relationships with someone of the opposite sex. I personally know many people who were gay-identified, in same-sex relationships, and through the atonement of Christ were changed and went on to find fulfillment in opposite-sex marriages. Maybe marriage isn’t everyone, but to say the “vast majority” denies the reality of the situation. Millions of Americans with a homosexual orientation are in opposite-sex marriages. See:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_gender_issues/Same-sex_attraction/Marriage

    You argue that these rulings reflect the reality. I argue they reflect the common view of reality, but that view is false and only perpetuates false stereotypes. Stereotypes confine people and take away their agency. Through North Star, I constantly hear stories of married men who are coming to terms with the fact they are gay even though they are married. For years they denied they were gay, thinking that if they admitted they were gay they would have to loose their family. The very idea that you could be openly gay, and still be a committed, loving husband was foreign to them. By coming in contact with North Star, they find they can be open and honest about their feelings, while holding strong to the gospel and loving their wives. (I’m in the men’s group, so I don’t hear about the women of North Star.) I have also heard of gay men who wanted to stay in the marriage, but the wife thought you needed to divorce a gay spouse, so the misconception goes both ways.

    It is these false notions that gay people cannot form fulfilling and intimate relationships with people of the opposite sex that is the real threat to agency. I have seen these notions almost tear families apart, as the spouse struggles with whether fidelity to their spouse is even a choice. People need to know they have choices. Everyone can choose to be faithful. Yes there are many who will probably never find an opposite-sex spouse with whom things will work out, but there are many who can and many who short-change themselves. Too many marriages fail because one of the spouses thinks divorce is the only option.

    I think it is the definition that “sexual orientation … defines the universe of people with whom one is able to form the sort of intimate, committed relationship” or that “civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person” or that for “gay and lesbian individuals” their “choice of a life partner will, by definition, be a person of the same sex” is the definition that Elder Oaks is warning against with groups that define their membership by their sexual attraction. As he also said in the same interview:

    “We have the agency to choose which characteristics will define us; those choices are not thrust upon us.”

    Evergreen does not use that definition, but the definition that we are all first and foremost children of God. The Church seems to have a positive relationship with Evergreen, but I am glad it does not have an official connection. If the connection were official, Evergreen would have to be more careful about talking about therapies and scientific research, since the Church doesn’t take a stance on those issues. With the current relationship, Evergreen can talk about several different approaches without needing sanction from the Church. But I don’t think Oaks is saying you should avoid Evergreen.

    I can’t comment on data that I haven’t seen about gay people leaving the church. It may well be true, but if anything I think it is this false notion of what sexual orientation means and how it relates to possible choices that is pushing gay people away from the church. I am thankful FAIR is willing to try to reverse the prevailing tide that there are some people who are born to have gay sex. The Church was never set up to try to attract the greatest number of people, but to teach truth which those seeking the truth will hear and recognize.

    You made several other comments that I would like to address. First, according to Hinckley, those “who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians … can go forward as do all other members of the Church.” That is what I am doing. See

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_gender_issues/Same-sex_attraction/LGBT_identity

    The counsel is not to label yourself primarily by your sexual attractions, so labeling myself heterosexual would be just as wrong as labeling myself homosexual. Personally, I think sexual attractions will be completely different in the resurrection with glorified bodies. If there is no temptation, how can married men be sexually attracted to women who they aren’t married to? The idea that some poor resurrected being will be attracted to all these women and constantly having to keep himself in check like he does now just seems odd. You have to admit things just have to be different in the resurrection. Having your same-sex attractions go away does not mean you become heterosexual. I am perfectly confident that my wife will be the only woman I am ever sexually attracted to and I highly doubt that at the resurrection I will suddenly be sexually tempted by other women.

  10. Alan

    Joshua, it’s really is not as awful as you make it out to be. The legal landscape only to some extent shapes demographics (if we think, for example, of immigration laws); for the most part, the legal world follows already existent demographics. In this case, there are tons of same-sex couples and tons of children being raised by same-sex couples — just as there are tons of gay people in mixed-orientation marriages.

    Now, I agree with you 100% that a logic of gay people “lacking agency” and therefore “gay marriage must exist” is a broken logic. It’s not the right way to frame the “civil right” of same-sex marriage. This is true not only because there are a great number of happy mixed-orientation marriages, but because it’s disrespectful to frame it that way. To me, it harkens back to the days when homosexuality was considered a disorder: “Oh, they can’t help it. They were born broken.”

    If a society allows same-sex marriage, that doesn’t mean all gay people will enter same-sex marriages; it just means that same-sex marriages will be an option for everyone. I’m pretty hopeful that when all the dust settles, that it how it will be framed.

    RE: “the spouse struggles with whether fidelity to their spouse is even a choice”

    If a gay person in Mormon culture thinks they cannot be faithful to an opposite-sex spouse, I wouldn’t blame an outside-of-Mormon-culture phantom that says “gay people are born to have gay sex.” What I would blame is Mormon culture for making its members think an admission of homosexuality is incompatible with a opposite-sex marriage. What happens is that the “temptation” itself snowballs into something bigger when a person feels so alone and trapped. I think you’re waaay too eager to point fingers at non-Mormons for what are Mormon problems. Most of the problems concerning homosexuality in the Church, the Church created for itself by making homosexuality unspeakable for decades (e.g., Boyd Packer warned in the 1970s that merely using the word “homosexual” will lead people to believe they are homosexual — hence, don’t talk about it. It used to be that even saying you were “gay” meant you needed a disciplinary counsel; now, it’s just highly suggested you don’t identify that way).

  11. Joshua

    I think it is hard for you to understand the pressures that mixed-orientation couples go through. Maybe it was more salient for me spending so much time in the bay area where I felt same-sex couples could be open, but I couldn’t. I very much felt the gay community was trying to keep me in the closet, which just seemed so hypocritical to me. My Exodus group couldn’t even meet in public because of the onslaught of persecution the more militant activists in San Francisco dished out, and the Evergreen group was basically shut down. I think the legal landscape is a reflection of the prejudice we face on a frequent basis, but that doesn’t make it right. I also hope they change their rhetoric. I wouldn’t have half as many problems if they used your argument that gay people should be able to choose, rather than gay people have no choice. I hope it changes when the dust settles, but as it stands, they are not using your arguments.

    I think Steve did a good job showing several different problems members with SSA go through. I don’t think he or I am putting all the blame on non-members. There were several examples in the podcasts were members could improve. I think there is a reason why the church is speaking against bullying, gay bashing, and the need for common sense rights. The Church teaches what members need to hear, and what we need to work on. Most gay members of the church feel that we have the worst of both worlds – not fully accepted by the gay world or the Mormon world.

    Just because we are telling our story, doesn’t mean our story is the only story out there. I personally know many great same-sex couples out there living their lives the best way they know how and trying to raise their children in a world that is very hostile to them. Just because they are facing prejudices and they are facing discrimination doesn’t we aren’t as well. After all, the podcast did talk about the need to treat same-sex couples better. I don’t think anyone is saying there isn’t room for improvement in the Church. I think both society and Mormon culture (and now the legal system and soon the schools which invariably will follow the legal system) teach that an admission of same-sex attractions is incompatible with marriage. I wish Mormon culture followed more closely with what our leaders taught. They teach no one should enter into a marriage under false pretenses or under a cloud unknown to their spouse. Much has changed since the 1970’s, including our culture and how to respond to the problems we face. Gay meant something different back in the 1970s. Most members of the church did not see it as same-sex attraction. It used to mean gay sex. You can’t judge 1970 advice using today’s vocabulary.

    My Christmas wish is that we can all do a better at understanding each other and loving each other. I hope members of the Church can understand the issues people with SSA are facing, both inside and outside the church, AND that the gay community can better understand the issues we are facing. I think communication is the key. I hope during the next year more cities in Utah will follow Salt Lake’s example and extend employment and housing rights. I hope more focus will go towards ending bullying in schools. I hope more members take up the challenge to bear the burdens of those with same-sex attraction. But I also hope more gay rights activists will take consideration of our needs and the difficulties members of the church face.

    Alan, I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a good season. I do wish for peace on Earth, good will towards men. You may not see it, but I am trying to do what I can in the world that I have.

    Merry Christmas

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