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.
This week the Come Follow Me curriculum focused on "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". This, I believe, is the first time in its three years of existence that the Come Follow Me curriculum has focused on anything that isn't canonized scripture. Nobody can deny the heavy emphasis and authoritativeness that church leaders have placed on the Family Proclamation, but it is not canonized scripture, and acting like it is frankly feels like cheating to me. It feels kind of like how BYU's police department tried to have the power of a police department and the privileges of a private security force at the same time. Right now this manual can imply that it's on par with the Official Declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants, but if necessary at some future time the Church can still quietly downplay or even disavow it because it's not actually in the Doctrine and Covenants. I'm not saying that will happen, but the option has been left open. It could also, on the other hand, be added to the Doctrine and Covenants - but I would've thought the ideal time to do that was in 2013 when the Church released an updated edition anyway.
As an asexual person with ambivalent feelings about marriage, of course I likewise have ambivalent feelings about the Family Proclamation. It seems to outline a one-size-fits-all requirement for all of God's children that doesn't quite fit me because of how God made me. At least I like women a little bit, so it could be much worse. I was also nervous because last time I sat in a Sunday school lesson about the Family Proclamation, the teacher ranted about how God wants all women to be full-time homemakers and only use their college education to be better mothers. (The Proclamation itself makes no such claim but is easy to read through that lens, especially when church leaders in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s did make statements to that effect.) This time the teacher did an excellent job, and I commented how nice it is that the Proclamation just gives principles for families to adapt as they see fit rather than outlining step-by-step how every family needs to be run, and we had a great little discussion about LGBTQ+ people. Not just the usual obligatory acknowledgement that gay people exist before continuing the rest of the lesson as if they don't, but an actual show of empathy, appreciation, and love. And someone mentioned that some people "have no sexual attraction at all," and I've never heard anything like that at church and I appreciated it very, very much.
So I don't want to come off as excessively negative, but here are some things I wish more people recognized about the Family Proclamation, things I can't say in Sunday school because they would be too controversial.
It Didn't Come Out of the Blue
I've heard multiple people who were adults in 1995 say that when the Family Proclamation came out, they didn't understand the point because everything it said was so obvious, but now it's become controversial. This, they say, proves that it was prophetic. I'm not saying it wasn't. But even if they didn't notice, the societal changes we've seen today were already well underway in 1995. The Family Proclamation was written in large part to bolster the Church's position in a court battle over same-sex marriage in Hawaii that it had been involved in for four years. Earlier still, in 1984, new Apostle and former lawyer Dallin H. Oaks wrote that "the interests at stake in the proposed legalization of so-called homosexual marriages are sufficient to justify a formal Church position and significant efforts in opposition." Earlier still, in March 1980 - a full fifteen years and six months before the Family Proclamation - the Ensign magazine staff warned that "Passage of the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] would carry with it the risk of extending constitutional protection to immoral same-sex - lesbian and homosexual - marriages." A year after the Family Proclamation, US president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act to federally define marriage as between a man and a woman and protect states from having to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. (We all know how much Bill Clinton valued the sanctity of opposite-sex marriage.) Even though same-sex marriage wasn't actually legalized in any state until Massachusetts in 2004, it was by no means a brand-new issue at that time.
As documented in Taylor Petrey's book Tabernacles of Clay, the Family Proclamation is also very similar in structure and content to at least three previous documents produced by conservative Christian groups (up to and including their warnings of societal collapse) - the Moral Majority / Eagle Forum / Family Research Council "Family Manifesto" (1988), the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood "Danvers Statement" (1989), and the Christian Coalition "Contract with the American Family" (May 1995). Nobody can prove that these documents were direct influences, but the likehood that they weren't is close to zero. We dodged a heck of a bullet, though - the Family Proclamation is far more discreet in its enunciation of complementarian gender roles. It makes no mention, for instance, of "the husband's loving, humble headship" or "the wife's intelligent, loving submission." (Barfity barf barf barf.) And again, it doesn't even incorporate then-recent Latter-day Saint rhetoric to the effect that women should only seek employment if their husbands were dead or incapacitated. Such counsel would be worse than useless in today's economy.
Women Were Not Consulted
In a 2005 interview with Gregory Prince, former Relief Society general presidency first counselor Chieko Okazaki said, "I’m on several community boards, and sometimes I’m the only woman there or one of two or three women. I’m on the YWCA advisory board; I’m on the advisory board for the University of Utah Graduate School of Social Work; and I’m on the Belle Spafford Chair board. If I got the message that I was supposed to just sit there and listen to the men, I’d quit that board. I’d say, 'What am I here for?' I speak up a lot in all of these board meetings.
"In contrast, in 1995 when 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World' was written, the Relief Society presidency was asked to come to a meeting. We did, and they read this proclamation. It was all finished. The only question was whether they should present it at the priesthood meeting or at the Relief Society meeting. It didn’t matter to me where it was presented. What I wanted to know was, 'How come we weren’t consulted?'
Greg Prince: "You didn’t even know it was in the works?"
Chieko Okazaki: "No. They just asked us which meeting to present it in, and we said, 'Whatever President Hinckley decides is fine with us.' He decided to do it at the Relief Society meeting. The apostle who was our liaison said, 'Isn’t it wonderful that he made the choice to present it at the Relief Society meeting?' Well, that was fine, but as I read it I thought that we could have made a few changes in it."
In a Q&A session at Claremont University in 2011, former Relief Society general presidency second counselor Aileen H. Clyde gave more detail: "This was in 1995 and our Presidency and Board had been working for a whole year on putting together the general meeting, which we wanted to focus on families of faith within the Church who had all kinds of differences. There were families with father, mother, children at home, there were single-parent families. In some cases the father being the head of the household, in some cases the mother. We had met these families of many descriptions often in the Church and we found that the anchor in their lives was the Church and the gospel, and that they were thriving and surviving and doing what they had to do because of that. So we spent nearly a year putting together a meeting using [unintelligible] and other things to represent these different families.
"About two weeks before General Conference, President Hinckley called us in – talked with us for an hour and a half. We could not understand why we were there, except that he was inquiring about all of the kinds of things that we had done, and he said, 'We're going to have to have you change your general meeting. We would like you to address the traditional family. We do not wish to demonstrate the many kinds of families at this time,' and he said it lovingly and intelligently, but that was a bit of a shock to us. Then he said, 'I have a decision to make and I've been making it as I've sat here this morning.' He said, 'We have forthcoming a proclamation on the family,' and he said, 'I've been trying to decide when to have it announced.' And he said, 'I could do it in General Conference, I could do it in priesthood session, I could do it in your meeting.' And he said, 'While I've sat here today I've decided that I'd like to do it in your Relief Society meeting.' Now brothers and sisters, and those of you who feel that way, we had not at that point seen the Family Proclamation. We saw it when you saw it. When it was presented to the Church. I’m still wondering about the wisdom of that because we would like to have… but on the other hand, we had been heard. We had been heard on many levels." (ellipses do not indicate omitted text)
I certainly hope that if the Family Proclamation were released today, this situation would have been different. Women should certainly have some input into their own roles and status within families. No cisgender man, however empathetic and well-intentioned, knows what it's like to be a woman or has any business telling all women how to woman. Now of course many would argue that the Family Proclamation was written by revelation, and revelation comes straight from God, and therefore it would be exactly the same regardless of who receives it or who tries to put it into words or who writes those words down - but unless it's a transcription of a recording of Jesus' own voice, that's just not how revelation works. The sooner we as a people get that into our heads, the better. Numbers 27 even includes a cool story about Moses being told by God to revise the Law of Moses, which had already come from God in the first place, after Zelophehad's daughters requested a change to allow them to inherit their father's land even though they were women.
Some of it is Not for All Times and Cultures
In my opinion, the main deficiency in today's otherwise excellent Sunday school lesson was the teacher's claim that the Family Proclamation is perfect. She said sometimes it's a source of pain because it's perfect and we're not. I think there's some truth to that, but I'm pretty confident that it's not perfect because not even the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, claims to be perfect. ("And now, if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men," it says on the Title Page.) And even when scripture is relatively free of what we would consider out-and-out mistakes, it can still be revised or expanded with further light and knowledge. It may also be more applicable to some times and cultures than others.
M. David Huston writes, "The proclamation’s Western/European/twentieth-century notion of family would not have worked and does not work for many, many situations in the Church’s past and present. Between 1843 and 1877 while Brigham Young was president of the Church, an authoritative document on marriage and family would have certainly included overt references to, and a powerful defense of, plural marriage. Additionally, the proclamation’s view of extended family is not consistent with living situations in Latin America and parts of Africa (regions of rapid Church growth), where the percentage of individuals in living in extended families range from 25 to 75 percent, with extended families helping to provide 'an important measure of social and economic support.' Further, the proclamation’s picture of the ideal family is not consistent with the family structures portrayed in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, which are most often described as communities of interrelated individuals living in close proximity to each other. Given this dissonance, one approach would be to dismiss these alternative family structures (e.g., the extended-family households and ancient family structures of the Bible and Book of Mormon) as flawed and contrary to divine will. However, another, and I believe more productive, approach is to recognize that the proclamation portrays a culturally specific vision of family that can be easily situated within a particular time and place and is not reflective of many historical and contemporary family structures....
"In sum, the proclamation reflects the social assumptions and conventions of the time and place in which it was produced. Written at a different time, in a different location, by different people, an authoritative statement on marriage and family would reflect different priorities and focal points. To be clear: this does not mean that the proclamation is not inspired. But prophets and their prophetic oracles come out of some social context. Acknowledgment of this situatedness should encourage flexibility in interpreting the proclamation for our time and place and create the expectation that future statements on family structure - which will inevitably be released in different social environments - will reflect and respond to these differences." (emphasis in original)
The Family Proclamation captures in print an awkward transitional period between patriarchal marriage and egalitarian marriage. Men "preside," but women are somehow "equal partners." It teaches that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose," but I don't think it's a stretch to see that the gender roles it enunciates are not altogether eternal. It says that "By divine design, fathers... are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families." Heavenly Mother is the Queen of the universe. She does not need Her husband to provide Her with anything or protect Her from anything. It says that "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." Heavenly Father possesses an infinite degree of every skill and positive attribute, and has unlimited time and resources. He does not need to divide up responsibilities and have His wife do the "nurturing." So what does gender actually mean for our eternal identity and purpose? I don't know, and anyone who says they do is lying.
I think most couples, in or out of the Church, divide up responsibilities based on individual preferences and abilities, and partners do what needs to be done when they're available to do it. If a father spends forty hours a week (plus commute time) away from his children to "provide" for them while the mother stays home to "nurture" them, is she not also the one responsible to "protect" them during that entire time? And why have we as a people always taken for granted an inseparable connection between "nurturing" and "homemaking" (a word that mercifully appears zero times in the Family Proclamation)? Is it not possible for a mother to read her children bedtime stories (nurturing) while the father washes the dishes (homemaking / providing clean dishes)? Oh right, no, because that's the opposite of the natural order of things.
Crisis struck last weekend. Prudence, which it runs out I am capable of possessing once in a while, dictates that for the time being I keep it to myself apart from a half dozen friends and all of my Fiction Writing classmates who deserved an excuse for why my second story is garbage compared to the first. For a few moments after seeing the news I never wanted to see, I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that my life and my faith were about to shatter beyond repair. Then I ran into my bedroom to pray but discovered that I couldn't speak. I tried to pray silently but discovered that I couldn't think. So my prayer was just Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me.
I reached out to this guy in the ward that I know a little bit for a priesthood blessing. I didn't want to be too much of a burden on the guys I usually ask. While waiting for him to get back to me and then waiting for him to arrive, I cooked a frozen pizza and force-fed myself half of it, despite my complete lack of appetite, because I was starving. I offered the rest to him when he arrived, and he said it would be a good idea to make himself eat, and he appeared to have an even harder time doing so than I did. He wasn't doing well. He asked if he could stick around for a while after the blessing so he didn't have to be home alone. He asked if I've ever had questions about my faith, and I outlined the most recent one in very vague terms. I didn't want to tell him about my situation because I just wanted comfort from the blessing; I didn't want to open the channels for advice that I wasn't ready to accept. And he gave me the shortest blessing I've ever gotten and I appreciated that. He cried afterward. I think it helped him more than me. So that was cool.
I invited him to accompany me to Come Follow Me with people from the ward. While there, I went through mood swings and wasn't in hell the entire time. I sat there for half an hour while two girls and four guys discussed the proper care and washing of different kinds of hair, a topic that I found altogether uninteresting but still better than being home alone, and then as I was poised to go be home alone again some others arrived very late and we played Werewolf. I threw myself into it with gusto. When I figured out that my in-game lover was a werewolf, I protected her with as much zeal as I would a real-life lover who murdered people. When others falsely accused and killed me, I was only upset that it would lead to her death as well. I can be selfless like that.
I didn't look forward to bedtime because past experience had given me some idea of what I was in for. I'd gotten the obligatory blessing, and I would pray, and I would get sufficiently calm and peaceful to fall asleep, and I would wake up an hour or two later in a cold sweat with my heart doing its best impression of the ungodly screaming over the bridge of Rammstein's creepy and inappropriate song "Mein Teil", and there would be no more calm or peace or sleeping for the remainder of the night. Well, I did wake up and fail to get back to sleep until the sun rose, but the rest didn't happen. I didn't feel good by any means, but I felt all right. I soon came to the realization that God was shielding me from the worst of the pain. And He continued to shield me throughout the week, and I thanked Him and prayed more and tried harder and got better. Wednesday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined most of my day, Thursday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined the next half hour, and Friday morning I woke up from a nightmare that I was able to put out of my mind right away.
It's not like I'd never thought to pray for comfort before. I'd just rarely noticed any of this magnitude, no matter how hard I pleaded. I don't know what's so different this time, if the nature of the situation has made me more desperate or more deserving or what. I do know that whatever suffering remains is a part of life that I shouldn't try to avoid or expect to be exempted from. Now I feel like I'm in a good place where I haven't stopped hoping for and believing in one specific outcome based on God's previous communications to me no matter how unlikely it looks at the moment, but I'm also patient and trying to be open to any outcome and the necessary understanding that will come with it. I know, I hate having to be so vague too. I'm annoying myself.
One thing I've consciously done to enhance this effect is listen to a playlist I started nearly two years ago, which has taken on ever greater significance. Sometimes, like in the mornings when I wake up feeling like a dead battery and vulnerable to all manner of negative emotions, songs like "Head Above Water" and "Echoes of Andromeda" and "Boasting" have returned to my head.
I canceled my Tuesday morning classes so I wouldn't have to get out of bed until I felt like it, which greatly disappointed my students, I bet.
My ex-neighbor and dear friend Steve drove up from Salt Lake on Monday evening. We talked a little about what happened, but mostly watched Disney+. We watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and then some of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons - "Bart Sells His Soul", "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace", "The Springfield Files", "Lisa the Skeptic", "Bart on the Road", and possibly another that I forget at the moment. He went home around noon on Tuesday, which I later realized was his birthday. He gave up a third of his birthday for me. And I couldn't believe it was two years to the day since we went to see Jojo Rabbit, aka one of the finest films ever made. Where does the time go?
My classmate and colleague Kylie also offered to hang out, so after our class on Tuesday I went up to ask if she was still good to hang out that evening. As soon as I started to speak, she put her hand on mine, and I thought about how USU's sexual misconduct prevention trainings told us not to touch someone without permission, even though we know full well that's not how neurotypical people live their lives. And I thought about my old friend Bracelets who used to touch me on the shoulder a lot until she saw the Temple Grandin movie and decided I didn't want to be touched. And I thought about a girl in my ward who came up to give the closing prayer after I had spoken in sacrament meeting, and touched my knee as she walked by. I think, in fairness, that this isn't just about neurotypicals vs. autistics but about women vs. men. Because women are raised to be more affectionate and nurturing, I think they can touch men's hands or shoulders or knees without these automatically coming across as romantic or sexualized gestures, whereas the reverse is not true.
I remembered when a friend in high school was crying about her grandmother dying, and I needed to comfort her but I didn't know what to do but I didn't want her to think I didn't care so I finally admitted, "I'm trying to decide if I should put my arm around you or not," and that made her laugh through her tears a little so I guess it was better than just putting my arm around her. Speaking of dead grandmothers, I was at the funeral of mine a couple months ago, seated right next to my grandfather, who howled with grief a couple of times. If ever there were appropriate contexts to touch someone without permission, these were them. And it was still hard, it still rebelled against my conditioning, to put my hand on his wrist. And then I felt awkward. Should I take it off now? What if he wants to move his arm? I'm not really letting him move his arm. I envied a little Kylie's ability to put her hand on mine all casual-like just because she knew I was having a rough time.
I couldn't think of anything more exciting to do than watch a movie, but fortunately for me, Kylie hasn't seen any Star Wars except for Rogue One and both of SNL's Undercover Bosses skits with Kylo Ren, so I picked the original Star Wars movie to guarantee that I would get invited back at least eight more times. She observed that Darth Vader is a jerk for kidnapping his own daughter, that stormtroopers don't aim very well, and that the use of computers in warfare was a pretty new idea in 1977 and that's probably why the movie was so popular. After the next movie, she reiterated that Darth Vader is a jerk for strangling his own men, and also reflected on the lack of women and racial diversity that's been somewhat fixed in the more recent movies. She said Princess Leia is an interesting character - specifically, it's interesting that she's a strong character but she still has to be sexualized. I hate myself for using that word twice in one post. Anyway, Kylie wasn't judging; she said the movies were fair for their time. I should have apologized in advance for what happens to Leia in the next one.
She made me watch the SNL skits, and I made her watch the Robot Chicken sketch that introduced the world to Gary the stormtrooper.
I also talked to my old friend Eliana on the phone a couple times, and the first conversation mostly turned into her complaining about the Church. Kylie has left the Church too, but we have nuanced and mutually respectful discussions about it, and I look forward to reading her folklore paper about how patriarchal blessings might have roots in the Smith family's fascination with folk magic. When Eliana left a couple years ago she still believed in the Book of Mormon and stuff but didn't trust the leadership because of their past mistakes and current LGBTQ policies. Now she sees nothing good, wholesome, or true in any of it. I didn't try to argue and I hoped that my listening allowed her to let off some steam. But I kind of wanted to ask, Can you live with yourself knowing that I'm still in the Church because of you? I used to tell her about all kinds of issues that bothered my testimony, and she was so chill about all of it and confident that the Church was where God wanted her to be. She was my anchor many times. You never can tell what the future holds, can you? Anyway, we don't talk much anymore but I appreciate that she's still there for me.
For Thanksgiving, I was going to visit a nearby great aunt whom I shamefully never visit because I'm always welcome but that means I have to kind of invite myself at any given time, but she got sick. So I went to my bishop's house. Although I haven't always cast him in the most flattering light, he is a great guy. I wish I could say the same about my last bishop. Some others from the ward also showed up, and someone else in the ward had a friend who wasn't in the ward but was going to come, but he went to the wrong house so we started without him. He showed up fifteen minutes in and guess what? He was one of my students. So he saw me without a mask on and sat right next to me and that's kind of funny, isn't it? I hope he didn't take it as a personal jab when I said that I like teaching college students because if they don't want to be there, they don't show up.
Today I tried really hard to pay attention in church and be open to the Spirit, and I did pretty well. I didn't even close myself off when a couple of people in Elders' Quorum said a couple of things about gender roles that made me want to stab my eyes out.
I walked late into Elders' Quorum a couple weeks ago because I had ducked in to another ward's linger-longer to get food. I did that all the time in my previous stake without a thought, but after two years I still don't feel quite at home in this stake and I had to push myself. But I got the food, I ate the food and then I went to Elders' Quorum and I have no regrets about my priorities. They were talking about sexual transgression and respecting women. As a backdrop we played clips from then-BYU president Jeffery R. Holland's speech "Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments," which for the most part I think is phenomenal and really powerful even though most of it doesn't apply to me. It's just so well-done that it almost convinces me that sex is as beautiful and sacred as I'm supposed to believe it is, and not as disgusting as I know it is.
Holland refers to the impulse for sexual transgression as "a physical appetite so conspicuously evident in all of us," and I can't fault a guy in 1988 for not recognizing that asexual people exist, or even for not noticing that some people's physical appetite is not for the opposite sex. But in the clips we heard he also refers to "the God-given power available in every one of us from our early teen years on to create a human body" and says that "all of us" carry "daily, hourly, minute-to-minute, virtually every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, the power and the chemistry and the eternally transmitted seeds of life to grant someone else her second estate, someone else his next level of development in the divine plan of salvation." Okay, so, people with fertility problems aren't even rare. They're 9% of men and 11% of women. Those percentages may have gone up in the last few decades because of plastic pollution or whatever, but still, this is a really obvious and perplexing oversight.
And then the teacher said we need to respect women by not telling sexual jokes, and asked for examples of how we respect women. I remained silent because, as is often the case at church, I knew my contribution wouldn't be welcomed. I would have said that I respect women by speaking out against the aspects of church culture and teaching that degrade them, and then the guys who believe those aspects and/or think the Church is perfect would have felt really uncomfortable.
Putting women on pedestals is not respect.
Treating women like children is not respect.
Telling women that they don't need the same privileges and opportunities as men because they're special is not respect.
Telling women that motherhood and homemaking constitute the entirety of their God-given role is not respect.
Telling women that they need to be careful how they dress so men don't get aroused is not respect.
A few months ago I respected women by sending the following email to the stake president, which I mentioned at the time but now reproduce in full because the bishop knows I wrote it anyway:
I'm sorry to trouble you about this, but I won't rest easy until I speak out.
On May 30, Bishop [Redacted] of the [Redacted] Ward gave a Sunday school lesson which, though it contained good and helpful information - I particularly appreciated him acknowledging same-sex attraction and telling people to chill out about not being married by their late twenties - overall made me feel sick, unwelcome in the Church, and reluctant to ever go to Sunday school again. Specifically, he was very blunt and adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers. 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. And I knew there was no point in trying to discuss it with him because 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. (He had a very us vs. them tone throughout the lesson, like Latter-day Saints are the only people on the planet who believe in family values.) 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. He stressed that this was DOCTRINE, this was SCRIPTURE, this was from A LIVING PROPHET.
He based this part of his lesson on the section of the Family Proclamation about fathers being primarily responsible for providing and mothers primarily responsible for nurturing. But that section is very short and vague and doesn't say most of what he thinks it says. I know that what he said is what the Church taught when he was our age, but I don't know how he could have failed to notice that it's not what the Church teaches anymore. In the last thirty years the Church has backed down a lot on the women's-place-is-in-the-home rhetoric and even reversed it with the "I'm a Mormon" campaign showing off (usually married) career women to the world as positive examples. In 2017, the Church's newspaper did an in-depth article on mothers who worked outside the home and some of the history around them. It explained that the stay-at-home-mom "doctrine" originated in the 1950s and (even while acknowledging that some of it came from living prophets and has been printed in church manuals) described it as "culture" and not some kind of eternal principle. So I'd say that's the closest thing to an approximation of where the Church stands right now. https://www.deseret.com/2017/9/6/20618595/mormon-women-navigate-cultural-pressures-around-work-family-and-faith I could go on (and have elsewhere), but I think this shift in the Church's teachings is pretty self-evident to anyone paying attention.
It upsets me 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. (It's already led to me losing a great deal of trust in local leadership, but I'm not primarily worried about myself.) 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 (one staunch believer has straight-up told me she wants to work at least part time because she'd go insane being stuck with kids all day, and that if she sat through a lesson like this one that equated womanhood solely with motherhood she would leave and not come back for a long time) 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, Bishop [Redacted]'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. I don't believe this part of the lesson provided any benefit whatsoever to counterbalance the negatives, either. 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.
The damage has been done, but I would appreciate it if this never, ever happened again. I didn't reach out to him because he made it abundantly clear in the lesson that he's not open to discussion because he thinks his views are the word of God.
I carefully avoided using the word "sexist" in the body of the email and then went ahead and put it in the subject line. And the stake president agreed with me, and as I later learned during an unrelated meeting, he shared the email and withheld my name, but the bishop knew I wrote it because it was so well-written. Blush. He said he wasn't mad, that he makes mistakes like everyone, and he hopes I would be comfortable talking to him about such concerns. I might have done so if he hadn't pre-emptively dismissed views like mine as the product of the natural man and the world's lies.
So in Elders' Quorum, not for the first time, I kind of wanted to say something about seeing women as individuals with individual talents and skills and interests, not as interchangeable wombs with legs, and encouraging them to pursue all those things on equal footing with men and speaking up when they face discrimination large or small. But that would have been too controversial. On that particular day it also would have made me a hypocrite, since I had made a sexist joke that morning.
I was at the home of some female ward members having pumpkin waffles, and this guy from the ward was there and I don't remember why but at some point he said "Women, am I right, Chris?" And then a few minutes later he was about to leave and three more women from the ward showed up. And he said something like "They're replacing me - three are worth one, right?" And I didn't give my response any thought. I think I'm generally regarded as a funny guy, and that's because my brain unconsciously observes and processes principles of humor. So in this case, I immediately noted the gender ratio between the three and the one, saw the opportunity for a joke, and inferred from the guy's comment about women a few minutes earlier that he would find it funny. And he did, and the women whose home we were in either did or pretended to as they laughingly said that I could leave.
I've hated myself since then for making this joke that was entirely inconsistent with my feminist values. Of course I didn't mean it, and of course the shock value was kind of the point - but still, it reinforced a societal power imbalance and it was wrong and I'm sorry to the whole world. At least I can no longer feel holier-than-thou about that one time a few months ago when I was at a church activity and a couple of people told racist jokes and everyone except me laughed.
Getting back to Elders' Quorum, the bishop was there and he said that if we could see how the women in our ward are feeling we would get our crap together (paraphrased because I don't remember how he said it). He decried the gender imbalance in the ward and the percentage of men who don't come to church. I didn't feel like chastising the ones who did come to church about the ones who didn't was quite fair. I also was kind of like, I know I'm a bad person and need to improve myself in countless ways, but I don't want to marry any woman in this ward and none of them want to marry me, so I'm not going to do it for them and I feel like it's none of their business. The unquestioned assumption throughout the lesson that all of us experience the same sexual temptations made me feel kind of excluded and invisible too, but that's hardly just a church problem.
We (and by we I mean the bishop and other guys not including me) discussed how, as men, we have a duty to protect women, even though virtually the only thing women need to be protected from is men. One guy recalled a time when he talked back to his mother while his father was nearby, and the next thing he knew he woke up at the bottom of the stairs with a hole in the wall. Everyone except me laughed because child abuse is funny. I guess honoring women means having zero emotional maturity or impulse control - in other words, acting like a police officer. The bishop said that any true man would gladly take any pain rather than let his wife experience it. I'm down with that, but I'd expect her to feel the same about me. I'm not made of stone either.
I do think men in the Church are pretty good at not sexualizing women in the ways discussed on this occasion. A few months ago I heard one talking about how women from this one South American country are way hotter than the women from this other South American country, and his brother married a woman from this other South American country and she's - here he shook his head and made a hand motion toward his throat - but he was young and about to leave for a mission to this one South American country, so of course he didn't know anything.
Social media rumor has it that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is running a pilot program to find out if women can count.
This comment should have won the LDS internet as far as I'm concerned.
In other LDS Twitter news, the unofficial smattering of far-right vigilantes known as #DezNat has fractured, with founder J.P. Bellum and many others deleting their profiles after @ExposeDezNat started to publish their identities along with the racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and more violent than usual things they say when they think nobody is looking. I'm immediately reminded of cockroaches fleeing when someone turns the light on. And then of course the joke writes itself: "What's the difference between a cockroach and a DezNatter? One is a repulsive little insect that spreads filth and disease, and the other one is a cockroach." I'm sure not everyone who uses the hashtag is evil. But the movement is evil. If these people really believed they were doing good, they wouldn't need to be anonymous and they would have nothing to fear from being exposed. I think that's self-explanatory.
In Facebook news - I use Facebook a lot more than Twitter, and first learned of the above stories through Facebook - I posted this a week ago and am repeating it here to get twice as much mileage out of the effort spent writing it. Quote:
Of all the provocative, edgy, and just plain rude things I've written that could have landed me in Facebook jail, do you want to know why I finally did go to Facebook jail?
Utah is in its worst drought in at least 1200 years. The governor is considering banning all fireworks (which he should have already done, but this is a state where we trust people to do the right thing of their own volition despite their demonstrated constant refusal to do the right thing of their own volition). The Deseret News reported this, and Deseret News readers responded the way Deseret News readers always respond when someone dares to suggest that they aren't the center of the universe. But I was mature about it. Instead of starting arguments, instead of pointing out how stupid and selfish and contemptible they were, I joined in and mocked them by commenting, "No. I have a constitutional right to burn down my neighbor's house."
Facebook's Community Standards police, who for a decade or so have consistently refused to do anything whenever I reported blatant hate speech, pornography, or fake profiles, decided that this obviously sarcastic comment in a context that anyone old enough to read could grasp in five seconds was an "incitement to violence", and banned me from posting or commenting for 24 hours. I disputed the decision and they upheld it. So now I know the whereabouts of the very few unfortunate people who fail to meet the almost nonexistent standard of intelligence for real law enforcement.
I mean, the stupidity here is astronomical. It's incomprehensible. It's mind-bending. And I say this as one who had no faith in humanity to begin with. Kim "I've been a cop for 26 years and I can't tell the difference between a gun and a taser that look completely different, weigh completely different, have the trigger in different spots, and are holstered on opposite sides of my body" Potter looks almost as smart as a banana slug compared to the evolutionary dead-ends who (don't) enforce Facebook's Community Standards.
In conclusion, please get bent, Facebook.
As I was composing this, it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't toss around such rude and derogatory language, but on the other hand, you can't tell me this post wasn't a work of art. I'm very pleased with how I organized the words to express myself. That's what I love about writing and being good at it. I was also very satisfied and overjoyed with being able to draw such a natural comparison to police officers and get in a few more well-deserved jabs at them. Three police cars with flashing lights pulled up to my apartment complex this evening moments after I'd left, and I wondered if maybe they were coming after me again for doing nothing wrong whatsoever again, and I knew that if they were I for damn sure wasn't going to respectfully sit there and take their abuse again. But I came back an hour later and they were gone and my roommate hadn't noticed them, so you won't see me in the news this time.
On Friday, the people that Logan Preferred Property Management hired to prune the tree that was dropping things in the yard next door showed up an hour before they were supposed to and woke me up with a chainsaw at 7:19 in the morning. Given how long it took me, through no fault of my own, to get to sleep in the first place, and given that this was not my first time waking up during that sleep cycle, it kind of ruined my day. I contemplated whether I would get in trouble for explaining to Logan Preferred that if this ever happens again somebody is going to get hurt, but I didn't so that has nothing to do with why the police showed up. I contemplated how much better my life would have been that day if they'd been killed in a car crash on the way over. And then I forgave them because they were probably just doing what their boss who lacks the mental capacity to understand concepts like basic human decency or reading a clock told them to do. Their boss is still overqualified to be a police officer.
Saturday was much better. I spent most of it at Summerfest, the annual arts faire that was canceled last year for mysterious unknown reasons. I went alone, but Shalese who was in my ward last semester brought her boyfriend over and sat by me while I was listening to music, and that was nice of her but I was afraid she felt so sorry for me that she would ask me to tag along with them for a while, so I was relieved when that didn't happen. Then I ran into Riley from my ward and then we were rudely interrupted by my ex-coworker Audrey (previously referred to on this blog under the pseudonym "Dory" because of her memory problems) and her husband and her parents and her sister, soon to be joined by two brothers and a sister-in-law, and they were going to get food and I wanted to get food so I went with them for three hours or so. I'd never met Audrey's parents, though I'd seen them in a picture. I once told her they were both very attractive, and she said thank you, and then I asked what went wrong. Her mom said they'd heard a lot about me, and Audrey quickly assured me that it was all bad. No duh.
Food is the only thing I've ever bought there. It's overpriced, of course, but it's part of the experience and good for my mental health to be able to throw money around, and actually the Kettle Corn is the best part and it's not overpriced, it's a real bargain. Not like paying $12 for three ant-sized tacos at all. I never buy any art. Most of the art, from what I can tell, is reasonably priced when you consider the work that goes into it. I just can't afford such luxuries. I hope I can someday. Until then I just go to wander around and look at booths from the corner of my eye or wait until the vendors are distracted, because I don't want to get their hopes up that I might actually buy something. I recognized many of the booths and vendors from years past as if they were old friends. One I didn't recognize was an Asian woman whom I overheard asking an Asian customer if he was Japanese. He said he was Vietnamese. She said, "We all look the same," and they both laughed. He said he could tell Koreans apart from other Asians and she was eager to know how. I felt privileged to have heard that conversation.
Summerfest was located on the fairgrounds this year instead of the Tabernacle grounds. It was a much better location with a lot more space, and the stream running around the edge came in very handy. As I and Audrey's family dipped our appendages in it, three little girls kept drifting through on inner tubes, but then on the third pass one of the tubes was empty and one of the girls was running along the shore, and she jumped onto it but her legs dangled all the way off and I guess they were dragging on the rocks because she kept saying "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!" well past the point where I assumed she would stop, and in that moment my heart shattered for this poor little girl who just wanted to have some fun with her friends but got pain instead, because that's what life is and God only knows what far worse things it has in store for her as she gets older and discovers how dark and unfriendly the world can be, which, if she's lucky, she can scarcely imagine now in her childish innocence, and I wished I could jump down there and help her but I didn't want to get arrested or shot on sight for touching a little girl, so I just kept an eye out for her later to reassure myself that her legs weren't bleeding and she was having fun again.
Having an excess of empathy really, really sucks. I have to actively suppress it a lot of times or I'd never be happy.
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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.