I recently arranged to hang out with someone from my ward because I didn't look forward to being alone for every hour of spring break and she seemed like a safe person to talk to about some stuff. We were going to go for a walk but when she had to work late, we went to dinner instead. It wasn't a date. I made sure to tell her up front that I was only seeking friendship, so she wouldn't have to wonder about my intentions, and she appreciated that. She told me about her awkward drama with two guys from the ward who are competing for her affections. If I needed a reminder of how grateful I am to not have anything to do with the world of dating anymore, which I didn't, that would have sufficed. I felt bad for them but also amused that someone besides me is going to suffer this time.
I told her that I just recently came to the conclusion that I simply straight-up don't believe in some teachings and claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A lot of people wouldn't see that as earth-shattering. Members who don't believe every single part are the rule, not the exception. But I tried for a really long time to avoid that route because I saw it as logically untenable to pick and choose parts of a religion that claims to be the only true and living church, the kingdom of God, uniquely led by revelation. It's all or nothing, I thought. But I grew tired of trying to make certain things work or pretend they made sense, so here I am. And I hesitated to share that fact with anyone. As invisible as I feel pretty much all the time, I know that a few people in and out of the church, including some who don't even believe in God, admire me as a truth seeker and an example of balancing faith and reason. I didn't want to shake anyone's faith, or to be seen as a hypocrite or as proof that faith and reason can't be balanced after all. I picked this person to confide in because I knew she wouldn't judge me and she didn't have enough preconceived notions to be too disappointed. She asked for examples of what I don't believe anymore. I said, "I don't believe that same-sex relationships are wrong." Without skipping a beat she was like, "Yeah, me neither."
The Church's opposition to homosexuality - which in fairness, it shared until pretty recently with the entire Judeo-Christian world - has bothered me a lot for a little over a decade, ever since I befriended a real live lesbian who shockingly didn't appreciate being told that God wanted her to pursue a life of celibacy. (I didn't volunteer that information, thank goodness. I didn't even know she was a lesbian yet. She asked me "What are your thoughts on gays?" and I told her and she said "Houston, we have a problem.") As I talked to her, the horrible real life implications of the glib phrase "The attraction isn't a sin, but acting on it is" - an improvement on the Church's previous stance of "Homosexuality is a curable pathology" - suddenly sunk in. Still, I remained agnostic about it. I tried to maintain some epistemological humility and not claim with certainty that the Church's position was wrong. God's ways are not my ways. Just because I and countless others find something deeply confusing and hurtful, I told myself, doesn't mean it isn't from God. I listened to countless rationalizations and obfuscations from happily married straight people about why it isn't as fundamentally unfair as they know it is. I decided I would just love people and not judge their lifestyle choices, and if God didn't like their lifestyle choices, that was His problem, not mine. And I continued to experience cognitive dissonance every time I became aware of yet another gay person who had left the Church because its teachings made him or her miserable.
The tipping point actually came last week when the final speaker at the Logan Institute's LGBTQ+ and allies seminar, a happily married straight man, gave everyone a handout of quotes that were supposed to rationalize and obfuscate the fundamental unfairness of the Church's position but had the opposite effect on me. For example:
Robert George: "If one believes that 'sexual orientation' or 'gender identity' truly is central to one's identity or being, then The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' teaching about marriage and family, including but not limited to the Proclamation on the Family, will always be highly problematic and, indeed, mysterious. It will be defensible, if at all, sheerly by appeal to authority." Okay, so sexual orientation per se is a pretty modern construct, but people have had varying kinds of sexual attraction for as long as people have existed, and how can that not be central to one's identity or being in some way if marriage and sex are central to God's plan? How can the purpose of one's existence be uncoupled (no pun intended) from the internal motivation to take part in it (or not)? Dr. George is certainly correct about the appeal to authority - though apologists have tried to fill in the gaps, church leaders themselves have made little if any serious attempt to explain or defend the Church's stance on homosexuality beyond "God said so."
N.T. Wright: "We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically even in a church, where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out." I believe this statement, and yet when applied in this context, it singles out (no pun intended) a small segment of the population (percentage-wise) and holds them to a different standard than most people. If you're part of the heterosexual majority, then in this context God is regarding your wills and affections as sacrosanct to a significant extent. He is commanding what you already love and promising what you already desire. Maybe you won't be able to find someone, but that's because of bad luck, not because He doesn't want you to and forbade you from trying. Oh, and there's also the small detail that people's sexual and romantic wills and affections are typically the ones God gave them in the first place.
Robert Johnson: It's become increasingly common to believe that one "mortal human being has the responsibility for making our lives whole, keeping us happy, making our lives meaningful, intense, and ecstatic." Stephanie Coontz (misspelled Coonz): "Never before in history had societies thought that such a set of high expectations about marriage was either realistic or desirable." Maybe Latter-day Saints get this idea because the Church teaches that marriage is the most important thing in the universe and, once entered into, should be one's highest priority at all times. I thought this quote was on the list to imply that gay people shouldn't make such a big deal out of marriage because it isn't all that great, which would be pretty freaking hypocritical. After looking at the original article and its brief mention of LGBT+ individuals, though, I think it's on the list to imply (even though neither of the people quoted were talking about this) that gay people shouldn't mind dating and marrying the opposite sex without getting to enjoy any of the romantic feelings or attraction that straight people take for granted, and which gay people also get to enjoy when they date and marry the same sex.
So now I've had no choice but to change my mind. God's commandments can sometimes be very difficult to follow, but I'm pretty sure they aren't supposed to be a constant source of avoidable pain and trauma. The fruits of the Church's teachings on this subject tell me loud and clear that they aren't from God. If they are, then it seems to me that celibate gay members should find happiness and inner peace that outweigh the benefits of being in a relationship, and those who leave to pursue gay lifestyles (assuming they would even still want to) should feel empty inside and want to come back. From what I've seen, this is overwhelmingly not the case. (Of course there are rare exceptions on both sides, and there is sometimes middle ground. John Gustav-Wrathall was excommunicated in 2005, and has continued to attend church every week with his husband. Tom Christofferson broke up with his long-term boyfriend to get rebaptized, and now he's dating men again because he got lonely. A gay friend of mine is zealous about the gospel and committed to celibacy, and on my birthday he told me he was interested and kissed me on the lips.) The bottom line for me is that the gospel is supposed to work for all of God's children and the Church is supposed to be a healthy place for all of God's children, but it doesn't and it isn't, and consequently something needs to change. I don't presume to know exactly what, but something.
Even if it's true that opposite-sex marriage is a requirement for exaltation in the highest degree of heaven, and consequently the only form of marriage that can be sealed for eternity in the temple, it doesn't logically follow that a temporary same-sex marriage is worse than no marriage at all. On the contrary, since same-sex love and relationships are every bit as real and meaningful as opposite-sex love and relationships, a same-sex marriage that ends at death still provides the personal growth and development between two imperfect people that I believe is the main purpose of marriage. (I'm pretty sure that reproduction is not the main purpose of marriage, which every non-human organism on the planet gets along just fine without.) The Church could keep its temple sealing policies and teachings about the hereafter, and still stop punishing gay members for doing what makes them happy. This would still confer a kind of second-class status on gay members and be unsatisfactory to a lot of people, but it would be an astronomical improvement. In 1948 BYU students Kent Goodridge Taylor and Richard Snow told President George Albert Smith that they were in love with each other, and he told them to live their lives as best they could. Of course, that was a few years before gay people in the US started agitating en masse to be treated like human beings, which apparently frightened church leaders and sparked the rampant homophobia and witch hunts of the 1960s and 70s.
And even if my fallible mortal logic is wrong and it is true that marrying the wrong person somehow gets you farther away from exaltation than being alone, I don't believe that any God worthy of the title would be more concerned about chastity violations between people who love each other than about, say, the LGBTQ+ suicide rate. So there's the whole matter of priorities too. Again, not a perfect solution, but there is ancient and modern scriptural precedent for God allowing people to live a "lower law" when the "higher law" proves impossible for them.
My friend asked, "Are you a pretty logical thinker?" I said, "Yeah." She said, "That makes it hard." And then I complained about the hostility I frequently encounter in the Church to critical thinking or any kind of nuance whatsoever, as exemplified in recent remarks by Brad Wilcox and Wendy Nelson. My friend hadn't heard about the latter, and she smiled and shook her head when I described them. And then that led her to the topic that I would have brought up next anyway. She brought up a Sunday school lesson that our bishop taught last year, which I've complained about on this blog multiple times, but I had gotten over it and I'm only bringing it up again because she did. In this lesson he very forcefully asserted that God wants all married women to work unpaid 96-hour weeks as homemakers, and told the women present to only use their college educations to be better mothers, not to have careers (emphasis his). My friend remembered him saying that people who disagreed were "babies" in their understanding. I don't remember that, but I remember him saying that we were following the "natural man" and the world's lies, so the same general idea. I was very concerned about the women who sat through this nonsense. I was concerned that those who recognized it as nonsense would leave the Church, and those who didn't would either give up their dreams, feel guilty for having dreams, or feel guilty when modern economic realities forced them to have careers whether they wanted to or not. Now I know how two of them reacted. My friend said that she and her roommate were both angry about it, and then she went home and bawled.
Hearing that also made me angry all over again - about the lesson, and about the total lack of any retraction, correction, or apology to those harmed, because we don't seem to mean it when we say we don't believe that our leaders are infallible. A few months later, referencing my complaint to the stake president, the bishop privately acknowledged to me that "We all make mistakes," but my friend and I are pretty sure he still doesn't think he said anything wrong. She was chill about it, though. She said we don't have to believe everything we hear, and if something feels wrong, it probably is. She shared another experience in another ward when the principle of modesty was, as per bloody usual, taught completely wrong by telling the women they needed to cover up to help men control their thoughts. (Jesus would have told the men to pluck their eyes out if they had a problem.) And she was upset, but that very week she saw a quote in institute that she was able to take to her bishop to convince him that this was the wrong way to teach modesty, and he asked how she would teach it and asked her to prepare a lesson, and she was terrified but she got a reprieve from the you-know-what pandemic. Because of her taking this stand, though, when the time came for her mother (who had originally seen nothing wrong with the modesty lesson) to require the young women at some church activity or other to wear shirts over their bathing suits, she refused. My friend said people like us need to be here to take stands like that and to create space for others who otherwise wouldn't be welcome. I agree. It just feels at times like a ridiculous burden that we don't deserve, especially when less nuanced members and leaders openly resent us as they push the culture in the opposite direction.
I told her about how I had become an out-and-out feminist in the last couple years because of my ex-neighbor Calise, who probably still has no idea that she had this effect on me. (This friend already knew something of the less positive effects that Calise had on me and had said that she "sounds like a butthead," so I jumped at the chance to give a more nuanced picture.) Because of her, I started to question things that I had never questioned because they were conditioned into me. Calise made the most beautiful artwork and she wanted to be a teacher and share her passion with children. It made me sick to think that anyone would tell her not to use that God-given talent because she had a one-size-fits-all role to change diapers, wash dishes, and so on. My friend said that she really appreciates men like me. That was nice. She said we have "a lot of very conservative men" in our ward and that the ones in our home evening group have made several "domineering comments" and she finally called them out on it. I stopped going to Elders' Quorum for a while in part because of sexist comments like the high councillor's assertion that his wife "understood her role as a homemaker" and that her career was to follow him wherever his career took him. They weren't frequent by any means, but I felt like life was too short to gamble every other week on whether or not one would pop up.
I said, "The whole thing about the man being the breadwinner and the woman staying home..." "...is bullcrap," she interrupted. I was going to say "...only solidified after World War II and was only feasible for white Americans of a certain social class where women could afford to stay home instead of working as housekeepers for wealthier families," but I guess her more concise version covered that. Of course, I don't think it's bullcrap if/when a heterosexual couple decides with equal input and without coercion that it's the right option for their specific circumstances, but it is bullcrap when preached as God's eternal model for everyone ever. So anyway, I've come to the conclusion that I don't believe anything the Church teaches about gender roles. It's lost all credibility on that subject for me because its current teachings are just a watered-down version of more egregiously sexist teachings from a few decades ago (that some people are still perpetuating). And while men and women are obviously different, everyone is an individual and you simply cannot make any generalization about one or the other that will always be true. (Not to mention that many differences stem more from culture and upbringing than biology.)
I could have gone on about things I don't believe anymore, but my friend asked what I do still believe. So I started listing those off. I believe the basic theology, which, although I don't often say so because I have no interest in denigrating other faiths, in my opinion is the most complete and makes the most sense of any Christian theology. As an example, I mentioned the teaching that some part of our identities, which Joseph Smith called "intelligences," is uncreated and co-eternal with God. This resolves the theological problem that if God created us from scratch, it's His fault that we aren't perfect and His fault that we sin. I don't know if she ever considered that before but she looked impressed. I believe in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. For whatever reason, after saying that I felt a need to reassure her that I don't like polygamy. It's one of the major issues that keeps a lot of people up at night but doesn't bother me much for some reason, but if I were a woman like my friend it would probably bother me more, so I felt like I needed to be sensitive to that after mentioning that I don't have any real problems with Joseph Smith. So we got on a tangent about that because she said that she doesn't like it either but she thinks it was necessary for a time and she just recently learned about how it empowered plural wives to take turns going back East to get college educations. I said, "The Church was more feminist in the nineteenth century than in the twentieth." She said, "Ohhh yeah."
She had said she needed to be back around 6:45, but when I glanced at my phone at 6:35, she told me not to worry about it, to take my time. We left around quarter after seven. I had a delightful time and appreciated her empathy and thoughtfulness very much. I am starving for these intellectual discussions that I can't have at church or with my family. She said she thought I wasn't giving myself enough credit for everything I still believe. I agreed and no longer felt like it was a big deal to share this with both of the people who read my blog.
Last week some guys from my ward were bragging about how many guys they've kissed and the smaller numbers of girls they've kissed and trying to guess how many guys some girls in the ward have kissed. Their guesses were way off. One girl had kissed zero guys, and I asked if she was waiting until she's over the altar, and she got huffy and people laughed and I thought No, wait, I was just surprised, I was just curious, I wasn't trying to be mean this time. I would never tease about such a potentially sensitive subject. I also had to say my number, and the number was five, and then I figured that's as good a reason as any to write this post that's been sitting in my drafts for twenty-one months. These are those five. Not that the number itself is particularly impressive, but the stories behind it sure are a lot less so.
Mary was at least in fourth grade, maybe sixth, when I was in kindergarten. We rode the same school bus. She had an equally attractive sister in my class, but I was far more interested in older women thanks to the sister missionaries who used to put me on their laps and tickle me. Bullies had not yet destroyed my confidence or turned me into an introvert, so every afternoon when she got off the bus I yelled, "Bye Mary, I love you!" And then one day some older boys thought it would be funny to restrain her so I could kiss her. Nobody taught me about consent when I was five years old, okay? I'm sorry. At least I only kissed her on the wrist. It was the easiest part to reach as she tried to get away. Ugh, I'm going to hell.
For a couple years before they moved from New York to Utah, my family often hung out with the Davis family. Their daughter Natalie was probably twice my age. She had a twin sister, but I knew which was which and I knew which one I wanted. She also had a sister my age, but see my previous comment about missionaries, and also I thought her sister my age was annoying. All of us kids slept on the Davises' trampoline one night, and Natalie told us a creepy/humorous story about a creepy voice that said "I gotcha, where I wantcha, and now I'm gonna eatcha," and her doing that voice gave me a mild case of vorarephilia before I came to my senses. Long story short, one day we were at a Primary activity at a park somewhere and I decided to make my move. Natalie was sitting and talking to a friend, which enabled me to reach her cheek with my lips.
Natalie: "It's okay, we're related."
Yeah, so I had missed the discussion where our families had found out that her grandfather was my mom's grandfather's brother, or something like that, I don't remember. It was something distant enough that we still could have gotten married, but c'est la vie.
Even though she was a few years younger, I danced with Kristin at a school dance one evening and decided for whatever reason that I wanted to kiss her, but by this time I was mature enough to at least take into account the possibility that she didn't want me to kiss her, so after stressing about it a little I compromised by kissing the top of her head as she walked away. She giggled and kept walking. That was probably some time before I asked her to prom and she couldn't go because she was grounded. It was quite a while before she reached out on Facebook, having ignored me for years, and gave me her sob stories and asked for money and came up with excuse after excuse for why she couldn't pay me back when she said she would and needed more money. Long story short, she ruined my life for a long time and by the end owed me more than six thousand dollars (every penny of which, surprise surprise, she still owes me). She said she thought to ask me for help because she remembered that I was "nice" in high school. I wish I had been mean to her like everyone else.
USU has a tradition called True Aggie Night where you stand on a big letter A next to the building with another big letter A on top during a full moon and you kiss a True Aggie to become a True Aggie. I accomplished this during my first week of college ever. I just showed up by myself and got lucky. As I loitered in the crowd, Natalie Hinton asked me something like, "Did you go to Skyview High School?" And I said something like, "No. Are you a True Aggie? Do you want to kiss me?" (I now know that during the first week of school, the requirement for one party to be a True Aggie is waived, but oh well, at least I covered my bases.) And I stressed about it a little, but it was over really fast. I knew her name because she signed a little card attesting what she had done to me. I scanned this card once upon a time but I can't find the scan now, and the card was destroyed in a washing machine, leaving no more evidence for this story than any of my others. We became Facebook friends and she was in my anthropology class a year later but I never talked to her again and we aren't Facebook friends anymore.
Some Black Girl
I swear on the holy books of every religion in the world that this is true. Once I had a roommate who had a woman spend the night, and after a few weeks I realized she wasn't going to leave. The landlord didn't care. I don't know if she paid rent. I know she didn't pitch in for utilities, and my roommate flipped out on me when I suggested it. Anyway, at some point she somehow got it into her head that I should kiss her "so that you can say you've kissed a black girl, and I can say I've kissed a white guy." My roommate did not find that logic convincing. They argued about it in front of me, with her being like "Come here" and him being like "Don't you dare" and me wondering when Allen Funt was going to jump out of the couch. She had to compromise, and brought in one of her black girl friends to kiss me instead. She filmed it. I'm not in touch with her and I've never seen the video, so there's no more evidence for this story than any of my others. Afterward her friend said, "You're a good kisser." I thought, I have almost zero experience; you don't have to lie to make me feel good.
A Gay Friend
I almost forgot about this one. I guess I have to count it. I'll keep him anonymous since he isn't out to his family. On my birthday he told me he was interested in me, and that he knew he probably wasn't my type, but he'd like to kiss me, and when I didn't say anything for a moment he took that as permission. It wasn't, but whatever. Karma. Later he apologized for making my birthday about himself and asked why I let him do it.
It was very difficult to want to go back to church after you-know-what restrictions eased. I liked having ten-minute sacrament meetings in people's homes. I didn't miss any of the extra stuff that, more often than not, I found less intellectually stimulating than an episode of Blue's Clues. And for a while I felt justified in not going to Sunday school or Elders' Quorum they were more confined and more crowded than sacrament meeting, and I knew everyone else there was regularly attending large social gatherings with no masks. But then I got fully vaccinated and went back to normal life in every way possible and didn't have that excuse anymore, so I went back to Elders' Quorum just in time to be punished with a lesson about marriage.
The teacher wrote "The Perfect Woman" on the board and solicited desirable traits to list under that heading. I take issue with his phrasing, but I'm sure he and everyone else there were aware that the perfect woman doesn't exist because perfect people don't exist and woman are a kind of people. I know what he meant was "The Ideal Woman". So people listed things and I just felt kind of defensive and prideful and thought, I'm not looking for a woman and you can't make me. But if I was, I'm sure I wouldn't want the same things y'all want, because Utah culture is a crap sandwich. You know the kind of women (and men, but that's irrelevant right now) who populate Deseret News comments sections? I'd want the opposite of that. I'm very picky. I never made a list as such, I just got crushes on a case-by-case basis and figured out what I like and what I don't like and got pickier every time my heart broke. The last one, the literal girl next door, set the bar so high that I haven't caught feelings since and doubt I ever will again. I can be as picky as I want because I'd much rather be alone than with someone who can't make me feel the way she did.
The one item I wanted to suggest for the list was talent and career ambition, but I didn't dare speak such heresy out loud. One guy said someone who thinks for herself and makes decisions without asking him about everything, and that was nice to hear and obviously made BYU professor Rodney Turner spin in his grave. The resident old guy said something about we have to remember "gender roles" even though "the world" talks about "equality". He stopped short of saying women shouldn't have careers, but he said there's just "something" they have men don't have that makes them better with children or whatever. He'd have to do better than that to convince me. He could have at least called the mysterious something a "je ne sais quois" and given it the illusion of greater sophistication. One guy agreed that even if his wife was making six or nine figures a year, he'd want her to stay at home at least part-time to raise their kids. If my wife was making six or nine figures a year, I wouldn't care what she did. I wouldn't ask and I wouldn't tell.
The last item on the list was "Beautiful", submitted by one of those brave people who points out that physical attractiveness is important even though we spend so much effort trying to convince ourselves that it isn't even though we all know that it is. That kind of honesty is refreshing, but people so often miss the follow-up: that beauty is a matter of perception, that it can and does change. If you love a woman's inside then her outside will also be beautiful to you. Simple. The first time I saw the literal girl next door, I thought she was plain, homely, awkward, and forgettable, and promptly forgot about her. A couple months later, she was still awkward but I had decided that she was God's greatest work of art and I was an idiot for ever having thought otherwise.
In conclusion, the teacher asked if we're deserving of this hypothetical perfect woman and if not, how to change that? I'm glad the lesson was actually going somewhere, because I had been thinking of a quote in the back of my mind: "As we visit with young adults all over the church often they will ask, 'Well what are the characteristics I should look for in a future spouse?' - As though they have some checklist of 'I need to find someone who has these three or four or five things.' And I rather forcefully say to them, 'You are so arrogant – to think that you are some catch and that you want someone else who has these five things for you. If you found somebody who had these three or four or five characteristics that you’re looking for what makes you think they’d want to marry you?'"
When I walked into the gym a couple weeks later for the combined fifth Sunday lesson and saw the word "FAMILY" written on the board, I knew the next hour would be less fun than a root canal, and almost walked right back out. But I thought, What kind of person will I be if I just avoid hearing anything that makes me uncomfortable? Maybe if I humble myself and suffer through it, God will teach me something.
The bishop started by telling us each to tell someone, preferably of the opposite sex, what the name of our first child will be. And he was, in fairness, being weird and awkward on purpose. But still, what kind of a question is that? How should I know what the name of my first child will be? Do I look like I've got a seer stone in my pocket? I've never given this subject a ton of thought and I've always assumed it's the sort of thing that will have to be discussed and negotiated when the time comes. I'm partial to Jessica, myself, but maybe my wife will be like, "Ew, no, a high school cheerleader named Jessica bullied me until I developed an eating disorder. I'd rather feed our daughter to a crocodile than name her Jessica." Also, my first child might not be a daughter. Also, it might be adopted and already have a name. So I thought that was a silly question.
His lesson had its positives. He acknowledged that "people experiencing same-sex attraction" exist and told people to chill out if they're in their late twenties and not married yet. Hooray. Much of it, though, took on a very us-vs-them tone, as if members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the only .02% of people on the planet who believe in family values. He went through parts of the Family Proclamation, a document that he stressed was DOCTRINE, was SCRIPTURE, was from A LIVING PROPHET. Actually, Gordon B. Hinckley is a dead prophet, although he was a living prophet when he gave it, but then so is every prophet when he gives something so I don't know why that distinction is necessary. He said it was prophetic because when it came out in 1995 its teachings were just common sense and he couldn't see the point of it, but now they've become controversial. It was actually written after five years of a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The Church was involved in this court battle and had, in fact, been concerned about the prospect of same-sex marriage since the mid-to-late 1970s when that was one of its reasons for opposing the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.
Anyway, I braced myself for some thoughtless remarks when he got to the part that says fathers are primarily responsible for providing and mothers are primarily responsible for nurturing, but the thoughtless remarks were worse than I would have ever anticipated. He was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers with unpaid 96-hour work weeks. He straight-up told them to use their college education to be better mothers, not to have professional careers, full stop, no caveats, no nuance. He was also adamant that anyone who feels differently (like me) is following the "natural man" and the world's lies about women's equality. At least twice he referred to the people who feel differently "outside the Church", which came across to me as a conscious attempt to invalidate and put down the many people in the Church that he knows perfectly well also hold that view and constituted a sizable portion of his audience.
It pisses me off to think that my future wife may have been conditioned by lessons like this one to believe that her career ambitions are sinful, and to think that some women present for this lesson were thus conditioned. It's wrong and it's harmful. It will lead to depression, guilt, faith crises, and disaffection from the Church. Anecdotally, the twenty-something LDS women I know - not all of them raging liberals by any means - are far more open-minded on this topic. A majority of them see no reason why they shouldn't pursue careers and those who do want to be stay-at-home moms have no desire to force their preference on everyone else. Many of the latter will end up working anyway because modern economic realities have made it impossible for many families to survive on one income, the bishop's talk of sacrifice and frugality notwithstanding. I know for a fact that I wasn't the only person in the room who vigorously disagreed with what he said, and that his belittling of us did not persuade us to reorient our thinking. And women whose staying home is in the best interest of their particular families can make that decision for themselves without a man incorrectly insisting that it's the only option God will allow.
Since the bishop made it very clear that he wasn't open to discussion, and I wasn't in the mood to be called to repentance for not being sexist enough, I tattled on him instead of reaching out to him directly.
I'm sure the bishop is a wonderful man and that it's unfair to judge him by his most obvious shortcoming. Nonetheless, I am no longer capable of respecting or trusting him when I remember this lesson every time I see his face. (At least he's still better than my last bishop.) Will there be any sort of public retraction, correction, or apology? Of course not. That would shatter the illusion that our leaders are perfect, which we work hard to maintain even though we all claim to know that our leaders aren't perfect. I felt that my suffering through this lesson and being depressed for a few hours was worth it because I was able to speak out, to do something - but it would have been more worth it if I could know that I'd actually been able to help the women who also suffered through it. I wonder how many of them will leave the Church.
The Church posted this a few days later:
In essence, Dr. Erica Glenn explains that you can have a happy and fulfilling life even if you, like her, are not married. This should not be a controversial argument, but because Mormon culture is a crap sandwich, it was. On the one hand, people took issue with her not mentioning the Church's teachings on the importance of marriage that everyone in the Church has heard hundreds of times and that necessitated the existence of videos like this in the first place. On the other hand, people - specifically men - jumped to the conclusion that because Dr. Glenn is beautiful, the only possible reason for her not being married is that that she chose not to for selfish reasons, and therefore she's wrong. "She could get married tomorrow if she wanted to," said one sexist idiot who's never met her and apparently thinks she should settle for the first carbon-based life form that has a penis and thinks she's hot. Maybe, just maybe, the whole mindset of needing to get married for marriage's sake, and not because you've met someone you actually want to be with forever, is kind of toxic. But nobody asked me.
The last day of USU classes was Thursday, December 10, and though I had two final projects and my own students' grading to finish, for most intents and purposes I was already on vacation. My therapist a couple years ago said that his experience successfully procrastinating as an undergraduate made him less stressed in graduate school. That was one of the most comforting things I ever heard, and I really took it to heart. I've gotten a perfect score on every assignment in every class this semester and still had a lot more free time than I expected. Now I have no classes and no job for over a month; school starts again on January 19 because spring break is canceled to prevent students from traveling and bringing Sharona Cyrus back with them, is what I heard. Next summer, I will probably go back to my old job at Jenson Online for a while to get some extra money, but there's no point trying to do that right now, especially since December is their slowest time of year when they give employees free time off.
I was supposed to attend two sexual misconduct prevention trainings this semester - one for graduate students and one for university employees. I'm not sure why graduate students need to have their own training separate from normal students, but they do. The employee training never happened because it's being rewritten to conform with updated government regulations, but the graduate student training was... interesting. I signed up for a date and time and then showed up to a Zoom meeting with several other graduate students, and it basically went as follows.
Host: This is kind of an awkward topic.
Everyone else: Yes, well, that can't be helped, can it? We'll just have to deal with -
Host: So let's make it less awkward. Let's make it fun.
Everyone else: Uh, what?
Host: I'm gonna put you in breakout groups and have you answer icebreaker questions.
Everyone else: Icebreaker questions?? Um, thanks, but that's really not -
Host: I'm going to put you back in these groups over and over.
Everyone else: You really don't have to -
Host: Build some lifelong friendships!
Everyone else: Please don't do this
Host: Have fun!
Everyone else: We won't
By the fifth or sixth time I returned to my breakout group, none of us were speaking at all. The main group discussion was fine, though notably absent was any mention whatsoever of rights or due process for those accused of sexual misconduct. I'm sure that was just an oversight - this isn't Purdue, after all.
Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be a rule against graduate instructors asking out their students. I assume that if there were such a rule, it would have been announced very emphatically both during this training and the initial orientation. It makes no difference to me either way since none of my students are old enough or good enough at writing for me to be attracted to them, but I'm just surprised. My colleage Greyson got asked out by one of her students in a weekly reflection post, and she turned him down because it was "unprofessional". In the next week's reflection post he said that he hated her class and everything about it. Then he tried to make her jealous by talking about "this dope girl" he was going out with. Then he stopped coming to class. Then at the end of the semester he said he's dropping out of college and it's all her fault. I'm never going to stop teasing her about it. On a more positive note, one of my students asked out one of his classmates in a discussion post, and I was super impressed with his chutzpah and I hope they get married because that would be the cutest thing ever.
I also was supposed to have to take an alcohol training before I would be allowed to register for classes next semester, and that never materialized either. It would have been a waste of time anyway. I've never consumed a drop of alcohol in my life, and if I ever do, I know I'll immediately drink myself to death and there will be no other problems to consider.
Teaching was... good. I don't know what else to say. It wasn't phenomenal, it wasn't terrible, it wasn't super easy, it wasn't super difficult. I do seem to have natural teaching skills that somewhat compensate for my lack of knowledge or experience. I don't know how I could have acquired any such skills but I don't know how else to account for the semester going so smoothly under the circumstances. I love most of my students - I definitely have favorites, and one least favorite. My favorites are the best writers, of course, but also some others who aren't so good at writing but are just really good hard-working kids. I still don't know what most of them look like. I may have gotten an exceptional batch - my colleagues complained that all of their students wrote about Covid for the "Investigating the Conversation" current event essay, but my students, in addition to a few essays about Covid's effects on this or that, wrote about such diverse topics as Utah's drought, California's wildfires, Chicago's violence, Mexico's water treaty with the US, Chile's new constitution, Bolivia's election, Poland's abortion ban, and China's Uyghur genocide.
I tried to get them to talk and make friends with each other in class. For the most part they were awkward and quiet, but sometimes when they finished their work in breakout groups they asked each other about their lives and majors and stuff, and sometimes when I dropped in they asked me questions about my life and undergraduate experience and that was probably the most enjoyable thing for me so far. They didn't have many opportunities to socialize this semester and I wanted to help them out as much as I could. Most of them are freshmen getting cheated out of their freshman experience. When I was a freshman, events were held on campus and/or in my dorm almost every evening. Live, in-person events. I feel so sorry for these kids. I tried, also, to teach them skills and principles that will help them in everything they do for the rest of their lives. I thought back to a philosophy class I took my first semester, and how it taught me to think, and I wanted to replicate that effect in my own class. I never forced my opinions on anyone but I taught them how to evaluate sources and information and different perspectives, and that will help them be less stupid and dogmatic than most Americans.
I tried, also, to draw on my own experience to urge them to avoid my mistakes and consequent suffering, but here I was less successful. One of my students with a learning disability flunked the class after not showing up or turning anything in for two months, despite being informed by me about the Disability Resource Center four times. I ask myself, what could I have said or done differently to have more of an influence on this student? If nothing, then what's the point of me being here? If I wanted to watch young people ignore my warnings and make avoidable mistakes and suffer, I would become a parent.
You know that gag book that's called Everything Men Know About Women and all the pages are blank? I'm going to write one like that, except I'm going to call it Ventana Student Housing's Guide to Effective Damage Control. As previously reported, Ventana Student Housing in Orem, Utah gave a tenant less than a week to move out after she violated her contract by vocalizing suicidal tendencies. I'm not kidding. That's literally what the eviction notice says. Now, I think the social-media-driven outrage machine is usually a plague on society, but this time it was put to good use and I was happy to participate. How did Ventana Student Housing respond?
They didn't. They continued ignoring all media requests for comment and refusing to answer the phone - so if you thought for one moment that they had a legitimate side of the story that could exonerate them, you were wrong. They disabled the option to message their Facebook page and deleted comments on said page. In fact, they deleted their one post from this year, apparently thinking nobody would be smart enough to just comment on the next one. They were mistaken about that. And somehow they got Facebook to take down my review for "violating Community Standards", which, after a solid track record of Facebook refusing to do anything any time that I report blatant hate speech or pornography, confirms my suspicion that the Community Standards are enforced by lobotomized gerbils. So I immediately left another review and that one has stayed up for a week now. Their rating is at 1.1 stars, which sadly is the lowest it can go because they have some ratings above 1 star from back before they showed their true colors. I'm not sure why 1 star is the minimum anyway. They deserve negative stars. What's the 1 star for, having the audacity to exist when they shouldn't?
I still hope, of course, that Ventana Student Housing will get sued out of existence, but even if that doesn't happen, at a bare minimum they've been taught a lesson they'll never forget.
While these ingrown hairs on Satan's butt are persecuting a student whose vocalizing of suicidal tendencies, according to them, was a "breach by the Tenant of the quiet enjoyment of the premises or surrounding premises of other tenant's [sic]", my neighbors are actually breaching my quiet enjoyment of the premises several times a week, but I don't want them to get evicted because they're nice and I'm not a complete sociopath. A few days ago one of them started screaming over and over and over so I rushed outside and banged on the door. Michaela's face greeted me in the window beside the door, as with a cheery smile she said, "This doesn't concern you, Chris!"
Kaylee was, as usual, the source of the screaming. Michaela and Hailey had her on the floor, cornered. Hailey also greeted me at the window and explained, "She's afraid to text a boy."
"Oh," I said, "you should just take her phone away and do it for her."
"That's what we're trying to do!" Hailey said.
"Help me, Chris!" Kaylee said.
"Don't let her out!" Michaela said, but I couldn't anyway because the door was locked. So I left them to it.
Of course I couldn't help but think back several months, to their predecessors, who were much quieter but did far more to breach my enjoyment of the premises. Talease gave me Calise's number one evening when I dropped by to invite her to go hiking and she wasn't home. Talease said I should just text her to invite her to stuff, but I didn't dare use her number without permission. Talease assured me it was fine, that she was Calise's best friend and it was fine. And then Calise came home and interrupted us, and on my way out I said that her roommate gave me her number and wanted me to text her. She said, "You're welcome to text me," and then Talease's little dog Paisley ran out the door and we spent the next ten minutes chasing her down and I didn't forgive her for weeks.
So I'd texted Calise a little bit, probably less than I could have, always hesitant and worried that my unnatural luck would run out after she actually responded the first few times, when I became frustrated by my lack of progress and solicited Talease's help and she said Calise loves going for walks and I should invite her to go for a walk. She basically promised that Calise would say yes, but I didn't believe her. I said I was too nervous. She said, "Then we'll do it together. Give me your phone." I did, and she wrote the text and sent it with no input from me, and when I saw it I nearly had a heart attack.
It's funny how perception and memory can be so wrong - for me, at least. Maybe I'm exceptionally stupid. Because this is what the text actually said: "Hey Calise, I was wondering if I could take you on a walk on Wednesday. Are you free?"
But this is how I read it: "Hey Calise, I would like to take you for a walk. Do you have some time on Wednesday?"
First of all, I wouldn't have said "take you for a walk" because she wasn't a dog, but I guess "take you on a walk" is a little more ambiguous. In any case, though, I read the text as expressing a desire without an actual request attached to it, and then operating on the assumption that she had already agreed to the nonexistent request and we merely needed to work out the details. And I nearly had a heart attack because it was so bold and presumptuous. "No, it isn't," Talease assured me. She said that Calise was at work and would probably respond in about an hour. She responded in nine minutes.
"Sure, I have some time after 6- I usually go to the temple on Wednesday as well if you'd like to join me"
So I thought about that when I told Kaylee's roommates they should take her phone and text the boy for her. In hindsight, I'm not sure if I was trying to help her or if I am just a bit of a sociopath after all. But tonight I heard she got a date out of it, so she's welcome.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
- David Young
About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.