Monday, November 30, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: More Realizations About Life in the Closet


In late November 2010, I wrote a blog post in which I shared seven lessons or realizations I had come to as I tried to make sense of the choices I had made in my life. Further to yesterday's post, here is the second (edited) part of that post:

"Third Lesson: Being married and having children forced out issues stemming back to childhood abuse and abandonment.

"I did not come to grips with my mother’s abuse and father’s abandonment until almost 10 years into my marriage. I had trained myself so well to absolve my parents of any guilt that it took an almost complete breakdown for me to finally see what for so long I had tried to hide from myself. I never would have reached that point, I don’t think, but for the fact that my 'buttons' were constantly being pushed, day in and day out, by the demands of marriage and parenthood. The situations I found myself in as an adult started the playing of 'tapes' from deep within me, ghostly situations from my own childhood that were buried so deeply in my subconscious that I could not recognize what was going on. This breakdown, along with the subsequent counseling I went through, helped me to crack – for the first time in my adult life – the false persona that had encased me for so many years.

"Fourth Lesson: Even though my false persona had finally been cracked, I continued to have low self-esteem and poor self-knowledge.

"For most of my marriage, I have been co-dependent on my wife. I felt like I needed her, and the thought of separation and divorce scared the hell out of me. I was willing to go to great lengths to preserve our marriage, and I did so. I was not emotionally healthy enough to assert myself, to feel good about myself as a heterosexual, let along as a homosexual.

"Fifth Lesson: The serious marital problems that my wife and I have had during the past several years prepared me for where I am today.

The problems that my wife and I have had in our marriage during the past several years forced me to confront half-hidden legacies from my dysfunctional childhood, to face some unpleasant things about both myself and my wife, to go through the counseling I have received, and to break out of co-dependent behavior. In the process, my knowledge of self greatly increased and my self-esteem was enhanced. I can clearly see that these challenges prepared the way for me to finally embrace my sexuality.

"A major turning point in this regard came this past summer when I had a sort of epiphany in which I suddenly realized that there could and would be life after divorce, if that is what it came to. In fact, life might even be better. This experience strengthened me and helped me to move past codependency. As my more recent therapist told me, 'You need to be a position where you can say to your wife, "I choose you – not because I need you, but because I want you."' My revelatory experience helped me to move past needing to choosing, thus preparing me for the possibility that my wife might not choose me or that, ultimately, I might not choose her.

"Sixth Lesson: My marriage has given me wonderful children.

"I am grateful for my children, and I am grateful that recent events in my life have helped me to see and relate to them in a healthier way. I know intuitively that my relationship with my children will continue to grow more authentic as I grow more authentic. For too long, our relationships have been governed by external mandates rather than internal, authentic love and caring. I have already worked to change that and will continue to do so.

"Seventh Lesson: Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this season of my life.

"Because I know that I am gay, I suppose it is inevitable that I wonder what my life would have been like had I come out years ago, rather than now. I particularly regret the passage of my youth, masquerading as a heterosexual, hiding in fear behind a mask. However, wishing something “don’t make it so.”  And if I were to be honest with myself, as I have tried to be in what I’ve written above, I would admit that I was not in a position – emotionally, psychologically and religiously – to come out before this point in my life.

"So, even though a part of me mourns what might have been, an older, wiser part (not the emotional part, and definitely not the sexual part) of me tells me that I should be grateful for the years I spent in the closet. They prepared me, brought me to knowledge of myself, and gave me my children.

"For all of this, I am grateful. And as part of an ongoing effort to learn to love and forgive and accept myself, I must let go of the regrets, and go forward. I’m not so naïve as to think that this will not happen overnight.  But I have begun the journey."


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: Realizations About Life in the Closet


In late November 2010, I wrote a blog post in which I shared seven lessons or realizations I had come to as I tried to make sense of the choices I had made in my life. Here is the first part of that post:

"I’m going to be honest. There is a part of me that deeply regrets not coming out before I was married, or at least not too far into my marriage. Let’s face it: it’s hard on the psyche to accuse oneself of a betrayal of a large swath of one’s adult life.

"As I have been contemplating this recently, I have thought back over the years of my marriage and tried to see and feel where I was at various points along the journey that has brought me to where I am today. As I have done so, seven “lessons” have come into my mind. 

"First lesson:  I wasn’t prepared to live life as a gay man when I decided to get married. 

"I was far too far into the closet and into my Mormon religion in order to take that step at that time. In addition, then was then and now is now. It was far safer to get married then. I didn’t really think of myself as “gay” then, just someone who was very attracted to men. Despite flirting with the idea of coming out of the closet while on my mission, I really had bought into the Church’s teaching that I could be happy living in a heterosexual marriage and that I could control my attraction and be a better person because of these choices.

"Second Lesson:  Though in a sense I was living a lie, I couldn’t see it at the time.

"Most of my life had been spent trying to please other people and to hide the real me (which was not limited to just the gay me). In a very real way, joining the Mormon Church facilitated this process (i.e., pleasing other people and hiding the real me) and gave me the ultimate reward for doing so: eternal salvation. So, psychologically, I had a vested interest in “toeing the line,” i.e., living the “priesthood path.”

"I also didn’t really know who I was. Again, I had spent so much of my life with my false persona, I actually thought my false persona was the real me. Though I had some moments of connection on my mission, I had grown and continued to grow so out of touch with my real self that I could not possibly have allowed myself to come out at that period in my life."


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: Of Mirrors, Pathologies and False Personas


November 2010:

"Closely connected to my desire to affirm my gayness was a powerful need I felt to reclaim all those bits of me that I sensed were there, but were either lost to conscious knowledge or, because of shame and expedience, were so afraid to come out that I felt it would take a great deal of effort, affirmation and courage to reclaim them. 

"I had an existential moment during the week I came out to my wife that clearly showed to me just how out of touch with my Self I was. Someone asked me to compile a list of my 10 favorite movies, a seemingly simple task. However, as I started the process, I literally froze up as I realized that I had been in such pathological control of my false persona that I had not even allowed my real self to “like” anything (i.e., independent of the false persona’s needs). The result: not only was I not able to compile the list, but I was so overcome with fear and anxiety that I had to let go of this simple task, unable to complete it.

"This experience with fear and anxiety reminded me of a phenomenon that I lived with for most of my life prior to coming out: experiencing discomfort when I looked too long at my image in a mirror. If I forced myself to stare too long at my reflection, I would immediately feel a sense of intense discomfort arising within me like bile in my throat, and I would have to turn away. I can recall mentioning this to my dad when I was in third grade. He had taken me along for a drive to a nursery about 30 miles away, and on the way up, I asked him if he had ever experienced that feeling when looking in the mirror. I don’t recall his answer, and there probably wasn’t one."


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful for Love


I have so much I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. As I have thought about all the richness I have in my life, it occurs to me that all of it boils down to one thing: love. 

I am so very grateful for each one of my children. I love them for who they are, for their vibrancy, their tenacity, their independent minds and for their kind and gentle hearts. I am grateful that they are each finding their way in life, that they are healthy and that they are safe. 

Most of all, I am grateful for their love for me and for the love that I have found with and in them during these past five years since coming out. Leaving the world of Mormon fatherhood was a bit scary because I left behind all the checklists that defined a "good father." I had to find my own way, relying only on instinct. In this journey, I was guided by a very wise counselor who admonished me, "Just love them. Forget everything else and don't be afraid. Just love them. And love yourself and believe that you are the good person you are. You can do this. Just love them." And so I have.











I am also grateful for friends.

Friendship is perhaps something a lot of people take for granted, but I - who lived so much of my life without it - do not. This year, I am grateful for the love that has come into my life as I have associated with older friends and made new ones this past year. They, seemingly effortlessly, enrich my life immeasurably. For so many, many years, I didn't really have any friends. Now, I am blessed, and I am grateful.


I am grateful for the friends who help me accept the beauty and love inside of me, who have helped me to love myself so that I may more freely love others. In this regard, I am grateful for the friend (and "back-up mother") who warmed my heart with these words: "What I really want to say on Thanksgiving is how very thankful I am that you found your way, to yourself and to Mark and ultimately into my world so I can be exposed to your fabulous mind, spectacular writing, and generous affection."


I am grateful for the friend who reached out and blessed me with these words as I shared my grief: "Friendship means everything…the fun & frivolous, the dull and mundane, and the difficult and unspeakable." 

I am grateful to friends who have opened their hearts and their homes. I am grateful for all those who continue to teach me about love and how to love.




And, of course, I am grateful for the love that Mark and I share. 

I know that, someday, as I prepare to leave this life, I will count as one of my richest blessings the opportunity I have had to know and love Mark Koepke. As I sit here, I am again reminded of something my wise counselor once told me several years ago as I confided with her my career angst, caught in the notion that my work defined me and validated me and provided my life with purpose and worth. "Do you know," she asked, "how fortunate you are? Look at you. Look at your life. You have lived most of it not knowing true love or knowing the love that you carry gently inside you. You now have the opportunity to truly learn about love and how to love. You have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. This is where your life has brought you. Rest in that. Hold to that. Be in that."

And so I have.

And I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Memory: Our Daughter's Video Tribute to Mark


A year ago at Thanksgiving time, our daughter Rachel, a talented videographer, prepared a video tribute to Mark based on a traditional Sunday morning visit to our favorite cafe for breakfast. It seemed fitting to repost this now as we all express gratitude that Mark is still with us, blessing us daily with his love and compassion.


Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: Betrayal of My Gay Self


11/15/2010:

"In turning away from my true sexual identity [upon joining the LDS Church and getting married], I think – subconsciously – that my gay self felt that it had been betrayed. It had emerged to some degree on my mission, but now it was to be repressed and discarded, not only temporarily, but forever. But one cannot deny the essence of who one is and remain healthy, mentally, emotionally and even physically. Perhaps for a time; but not over an extended period of time.

"Though consciously I felt like I was willingly making this choice, I have only recently begun to realize how deeply that betrayal of my gay self affected me subconsciously. It created a tension in the very core of my being that gradually built up resentment and anger, continually being added to and hardening like the dome on a volcano. In retrospect, I now clearly see the presence of constant pressure, which made day-to-day life a challenge, difficult, frustrating, void of happiness, full of stress. This pressure would also build up and erupt from time to time, expressing itself in anger that, combined with the after-effects of child abuse, made for a toxic mix."


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: Ariadne's Thread

11/21/2010:

“For a very long time, my efforts to understand myself and what life was doing to me and I to it, seemed to be going nowhere. I went for counseling. I tried prayer. I tried meditation. I read self-help books …

“In all these efforts – which have been going on in one form or another for years – I felt like I was following pathways through a labyrinth, searching for the pathway that would ultimately lead me all the way to my center. … The problem was, I kept running into dead ends. Some of the pathways went on for quite awhile, but the result was inevitably the same:  dead end. I would then have to backtrack, looking for yet another path to try, hoping that it would lead to the center …

“This situation abruptly changed in early October, when I stood deep inside the labyrinth of my own persona, wondering which path would take me to my center.  Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I was shown Ariadne’s thread. (In Greek mythology, Ariadne made Theseus a thread to take with him into the maze so he could find his way out after slaying the Minotaur.) As if by magic, a scarlet thread lying on the ground was revealed to me. I picked it up and started to follow it, but instead of leading out of the labyrinth, I soon realized it was leading directly to the center of the maze …

“After following false paths for years, hoping to make sense of my life and find happiness, I finally realized that my ‘Ariadne’s thread’ was my gayness. Accepting this reality about myself is leading me directly to my 'center.'"


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: Pretending That It Never Existed


11/14/10
Excerpt, Letter from my sister:

“Losing you [when you joined the LDS Church] was like a guillotine blade that beheaded the loving richness I had in my life. [After you joined the church] I saw you withdraw from life. The relationship between your withdrawal from life and your involvement in the Church appeared to be proportionally related: the more you became fervent about the Church, the more withdrawn and less talkative and sadder you became.

“It was surely due to the instinct for survival that you beheaded your true self, or tucked him away under the folds of your memory and heart. In order to survive and achieve a happy life that the Church promised to be yours after so much trauma, guilt, shame and lack of love [in my childhood and youth], you had to get rid of your Self. As you couldn't actually kill that self, you had to pretend that it never existed.”


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir: "Because of Your Gayness, Not In Spite of It"


11/10/10: Emails to/from my "Gay Priesthood Leader"

ME:

"A verse from the Book of Mormon (of all things) came into my mind this morning as being extremely relevant – after being changed a being altered somewhat. I offer to you a middle-aged gay Mormon father’s version of Samuel the Lamanite’s declaration found in Helaman 13:38:
'But behold … the days of your youth are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your coming out until it is everlastingly too late; and your sorrow is made sure; yea, for ye have worked all the days of your life for that which was contrary to your nature; and ye have sought for happiness in being a heterosexual Mormon, and in all that this entails, which thing is contrary to your true nature.' [1]
"This is not intended to be maudlin, but I think you would agree that there is a significant amount of tragic truth in it."

HIM:

"I don't see your situation as a tragic. You are a bright, articulate and talented person. Whether you remain with your wife or eventually follow another path won't change the fact that your life is precious. Your spirit burns bright and comes across clearly in what you write. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you are of lesser worth. You are who you are because of your gayness, not in spite of it. It is part and parcel of your soul. You have every right to hold your head up high and look everyone you meet in the eye."

ME:

"I’m not ashamed to say my eyes watered as I read this. I’m simply not used to hearing or seeing such things said or written about me. I don’t think I’ve truly considered my life as being 'precious' for even one day of my life. Nor have I thought of my spirit as 'burning brightly.' And I certainly have never thought of myself, in a positive way, as being who I am because of my gayness. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you to hear that I have, rather, always thought of myself as the hobbled, handicapped, deeply scarred person I am in spite of, among other things, my homosexuality. I hope – someday – to truly affirm my gayness as part and parcel of my soul, to embrace and love it – to love myself."


(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)
_______________

[1] The actual verse: "But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Standing With Refugees and Against Islamophobia


I am angry and I am sick at heart at the response of so many politicians to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a response that places a huge target on Americans who happen to be Muslim and on innocent people who are fleeing conditions that are simply unimaginable for me and for 99.9% of Americans.

Five years ago, I became sick at heart at another attack on American Muslims that was fueled by the same ingredients as the current hysteria: hate, ignorance and fear that was whipped up - then as now - by demogogic politicians who represent the absolute worst in our country. As I wrote about here, the controversy that erupted in the summer of 2010 over the construction of the “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City near the former site of the twin towers, blasted me out of the "conservative closet" and out of a Republican party of which I had been a lifelong member but which had drifted far from its historical philosophical moorings.


Regardless of the merits of the mosque project, I was incensed that a number of conservative politicians and talking heads were blatantly seeking to make “political hay” by fueling the racist, Muslim-phobic hysteria that was sweeping through seemingly large swaths of America.  I was outraged by the assaults launched on (true) religious freedom by the very people who purport to fight for and cling to it – namely, conservatives who happened to be – you guessed it - Republicans. At that time, Utah's senior senator, Orrin Hatch, was a notable exception to his GOP comrades, and I was terribly saddened to hear that he has joined the chorus of those wishing to lash out at innocent Syrian refugees. 

I generally try not to get involved in politics because I find it too upsetting, and there is only so much one person can do. But I decided the one thing I could do is raise my little voice here on my blog and on Facebook against the hateful, vile, demagogic campaign that is currently being waged against innocent people and against the values that we as a civilized progressive country have always stood for.


Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post: His Eyes


10/22/10:

"For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid to look another man – especially a good-looking one - in the eyes for fear of what he might see in mine. There was always the worry about whether they might see through my mask, whether they could tell I am attracted to men.

"The result? I have gone through my adult life not making any meaningful eye contact with men, lowering my eyes, avoiding eye contact, being ashamed, constantly on guard, feeling less of a man, less of a person. I am tired of feeling ashamed!  I hate how this has made me feel for longer than I want to think about."

11/12/10

"I have realized that not only have I spent my life avoiding eye contact with certain men because I was afraid of what they might see in my eyes, but also because I was afraid of what I might see in their eyes. I have, since puberty, been so paranoid, so afraid of being “recognized” and called out to any degree (even when it could have led to what I secretly desired), that I have studiously, assiduously avoided eye contact with many men for fear of what I might see in their eyes."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post: "It's About Who I Am As a Human Being"


11/09/2010:

"Coming out to myself has been about embracing and affirming who I really am, then seeking to discover things about myself that have been smothered and hidden for most of my life. It’s about who I am as a human being – my identity. 

"But how does one go about recovering a sense of identity that was (i) hidden as a child because of child abuse, (ii) repressed further as an adolescent because of the discovery he is homosexual, (iii) largely (i.e., that which was left by this point) discarded and abandoned when he joined the church, and (iv) then further repressed and suppressed upon getting married?   

"I feel this is the challenge before me. Affirming my gayness is a huge step forward, and I am anxious to explore this new gay world that I never before had the courage to investigate. But closely connected to this 'coming out of the closet' is an effort to reclaim all those bits of me that I have sensed are there, but are either lost to conscious knowledge or, because of shame and expedience, are so afraid to come out that I feel it will take a great deal of effort, affirmation and courage to reclaim them." 

(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #6: "I Guess That Mean's I'm Gay"


In all the years - decades - that I knew I was attracted to men, I would never allow myself to refer to myself as "gay." It was a "phase," an "affliction," a "perversion," an "abomination," a secret that must never, ever come to light.

When I first started coming out to myself in October 2010, I still refused to use the word "gay." I experienced "same-sex attraction" or "same-gender attraction," which were the terms the Mormon Church preferred. My homosexuality, it taught, was a condition, not a part of my identity, and my earliest blog posts reflected this.

That soon changed.

In late October 2010, I wrote a coming out letter to my sisters. The first two sentences were these:

"I have known at least since I went through puberty that I am attracted to men. I guess that means I’m gay."

A few days later, I came out to my wife by saying, "I'm gay. I always have been and I always will be."

And I never looked back.

I am gay, and I always have been.

(I'm working on a memoir about the year I came out. This is one of a ongoing series of posts based on the blog - entitled "Invictus Pilgrim" - that I kept during that year.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #5: "This Is My First Post Anywhere About My SGA"


10/22/2010:

"This is my first post anywhere about my SGA ...

"A bit of background. I am Mormon, I am married, and I have struggled with an attraction to men all my life. I told my wife about this before we got married, believing that I had to be honest with her.  “It” then went into deep background. “It” was and has always been there, but pushed way, way back into the closet.

"Fast-forwarding, something happened to me when I heard President Packer’s talk a few weeks ago. Rather than pushing “it” even further away, however, I did just the opposite: His comments made me want to reach way back in the closet and embrace my same gender attraction ... I decided that I was going to try to affirm who I was and am, even if to no one but myself. 

"Thus began a process of trying to discover who the man is who has been hiding behind his extremely carefully maintained mask (false persona) all these years ..."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #4: "Inborn Tendencies Toward the Impure and Unnatural"


My world changed forever on Sunday, October 3, 2010. That morning, I heard four sentences that wrecked my faith in Mormonism, eventually shattered what was left of my marriage and destroyed a false persona that I had carefully maintained for most of my adult life. These words, which quickly became infamous, were uttered by the second most senior apostle of the Mormon Church in his address at the Church’s October General Conference. In the midst of a sermon about moral purity, President Boyd K. Packer read the following sentences: 
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.” 
As a heavily closeted gay man, these sentences cut through my heart, as they no doubt did with countless other Mormon men and women who were privately and painfully struggling, as I was, with same-sex attraction. Packer’s words, heavily coded, were reminiscent of the period of my youth and young adulthood when the Church railed vociferously against the “abomination” of homosexuality. I felt that I was being dragged back into a very dark place of self-loathing, shame and despair ...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #3: "As If Your Life Had Been Sucked Out of You"


When I began my journey out of the closet in October 2010, I sought to find myself - the self I had lost decades earlier when I joined the LDS Church at age 24 and got married. To help me, I asked my younger sister to share with me what she remembered of me "before."
"The memories I have of you are loving and fun ones. Walking with you in the snow ... loving to be with you. I remember laughing, remember you smiling. Driving with you from Mom’s house to see Dad in Ohio in your chic red car and singing, eating, talking and laughing. Watching you laugh to the point of your sides hurting when I or someone else would tell a joke  ...  
"Hanging out at your house in Ohio, which I thought was the coolest house, and listening to Heart’s “Crazy on You” and dancing and you singing ... at other times listening to classical music when you'd read and I'd just hang out admiring your intelligence and zen-ness ... all so loving and peaceful. 
"When I saw you in later years, it was as if your life had been sucked out of you. You always looked unhappy. I felt that for someone supposedly so happy with church and family, you seemed so miserable. Instead of seeing what had once been a joyous face full of laughter, I saw instead Mom’s sour pout … I honestly felt that you – the real you, the brother I had know - had died 25 years ago."
November 2010

Saturday, November 14, 2015

No Longer Worthy Enough: Of Policies and Priesthood


As soon as I heard about the new anti-gay policy of the Mormon Church a little over a week ago, my mind immediately went back to five years ago when another policy was announced that changed my world and further shook the foundations of my belief in the Church. I had just begun the process of coming out, and I wrote on my Invictus Pilgrim blog about the policy and what it meant to me and my two children whom had been adopted as infants from Russia. Here is that post (slightly edited, with pictures and names added):

**********

This past Sunday, I went to church just like I have for almost every Sunday for the past 20+ years since becoming a member. I went to priesthood meeting, just like I always have. The opening announcements were made, just like they always are. 

Then, everything changed. 

The bishop announced that a worldwide priesthood leadership broadcast had been held the previous day and some important changes to the Church Handbook of Instructions had been made, one in particular being relevant to the priesthood holders then assembled. He then went on to paraphrase the following passage from the new handbook:
“Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a church calling. 
"As guided by the Spirit and the instructions of the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have the discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins. 
"A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice.” (pg. 140, 2010 CHI)
I felt as though a rug had been pulled out from under me. Suddenly, and devastatingly, the church no longer looked the same to me as it had five minutes before. Something very profound had happened to me, and I knew I would never be the same again.

A bit dramatic? Perhaps. But I’m entitled.  Let me explain. But before doing so, I want to say that a number of things could be and have been written about this new policy, mainly by people who aren’t directly affected by it. I will let others expound in the abstract on the whys and wherefores of this new directive. Their voices are valuable, but they aren’t mine. This post is my voice. The voice of one LDS father who, as with the stroke of a pen, is no longer worthy enough to exercise his priesthood on behalf of his family.

I’m going to drop a veil or two in this post, but I feel like it is worth it. My voice is only my little voice, but I feel it needs to be heard in sincerity, in broken-heartedness, in pain and sorrow at losing something that, I fear, can never be regained.

Over the past seven years, my wife and I have adopted several young children overseas. We had biological children; but as a result of a series of events that I won’t go into, we felt compelled to seek out and adopt these children. We didn’t have the money to do it, but we did it anyway, trusting that God would provide.


Unfortunately, the financial crisis and the Great Recession hit us hard. We had borrowed money to finance these adoptions, and we found ourselves between a rock and a hard place as we struggled to pay off this debt. Still, we tried to trust. But we got to the point where we had to make some hard choices, and we reluctantly reduced our charitable donations, including tithing. We just couldn’t do it and survive. Some might have said that we needed to exercise more faith. To those I say, Sorry, we’d already been there and done that (i.e., with the adoptions) – in spades.



A few months ago, my temple recommend expired and I was not in a position to renew it. I felt badly about that at the time. However, I felt that God understood our situation, and I hoped that, someday soon, I would be able to become a full tithe payer again. It was unfortunate that we would not be able to go to the temple for a time, but we could live with that.

That was then. Before the announcement of this new policy.


You see, two of these children that we adopted just turned eight. I was planning to baptize and confirm these children. I had been looking forward to pronouncing a blessing upon their heads. My wife and I had been through so much with them. Starting down the adoption path. Going through all the paperwork. Travelling overseas. Meeting the children. Making the decision to adopt them. Bringing them home.Integrating them into our family. Dealing with serious and long-lasting attachment issues that were so stressful and affected our family so deeply that I wondered at times if we had made a terrible mistake, wondering if our family would ever be “right” again. 


Then, the good times. Seeing them make progress. Seeing them start school. Watching them learn and grow. Looking forward to the milestones of their baptisms. Thinking that perhaps the Spirit, in the course of their confirmation blessings, would share some clue as the wondrous mystery of their adoptions, how the fates had brought us together. Looking forward to that time when these two little orphans would become members of the church.



That was before the announcement of the new policy.

Now, I will not be able to confirm my children. That is certain. If the bishop is so guided, I may be allowed to baptize them. I also may be allowed to stand in the circle as someone else confirms them, if the bishop feels so guided. 

But I ask myself, why would I want to merely stand in the circle? After the humiliation of being denied the right to act as voice because of a new policy, why on earth would I want to stand in the circle with other men who are not even related to this child and listen to a blessing pronounced by someone who had not been through what I have been through in raising Aaron and Esther? If this was meant to be some sort of consolation, then I’m afraid that, as far as I am concerned, it has rather widely missed its mark.

When I first heard the announcement on Sunday, I felt sick inside. I left the meeting. I not only felt betrayed, I also felt like the church – not the bishop, mind you, and not the stake president, but the CHURCH – had suddenly and without warning cast me out into the street as no longer being worthy enough. 

NOT WORTHY ENOUGH. Even though I have been active ever since joining the Church. Even though my wife and I have made huge financial sacrifices in adopting these children. Even though we have been paying tithing consistently for over 20 years. Even though, in every respect except the payment of a full tithe, I consider myself worthy enough to perform these ordinances, and I would have been considered such – prior to the adoption of this new policy. 

Some might say (and have so written online concerning this policy) that this change should serve as an incentive to me to exercise more faith and pay my tithing so that I can then be “worthy enough.” There might have been a time in my life when I might have agreed with this statement. 

But not now. 

Why? Because, in my situation, for me, right here, right now, after feeling like I have been cast out into the street, to embrace such an attitude would be tantamount to purchasing the right to confirm my children, or to ordain my son (who will shortly turn 12). And for me, that simply makes me feel sick inside. Nauseous. Empty. Gutted. Disillusioned. And very, very, very sad.  Because something inside of me that once was very precious has been lost, and at this point, I fear it will never be found or regained.

**********

Postscript: What I thought was precious at that time never was regained. But through the process of time, I gained many things of far greater worth.


Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #2: You Really Are Not Alone


One of the most frightening things about living in the closet when you're married and Mormon is that you think you're all alone, that there's no one else like you. When I first began the process of coming out, I was fortunate to make contact with other men who had made the journey out before me. One such was Alan, who wrote the following to me the day after I came out to my wife in November 2010.
"I can almost guarantee you that virtually everything you think, or feel, or imagine, or wonder about as you go through this process is not unique to you. Somebody else has thought or felt or imagined or wondered about exactly the same thing. One of the great things about coming out is you realize you really are not alone. You always thought you were, but you're not and never were."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Invictus Pilgrim Memoir Post #1: It Is Our Goodness That Threatens


Five years ago at this time, I was just beginning the process of coming out. I am now working on a memoir that will cover that year of my life. I've decided to post snippets of blog posts and private correspondence as a I go along to help motivate me to keep working away at it.

Here's the first, from an email to me from the man who I dubbed my "Gay Priesthood Leader," a gay man who was formerly Mormon and married and who provided tremendous support to me as I was coming out. His words seem particularly relevant in light of the LDS Church's new anti-gay policy:
"Gay people are first and foremost people, with all the good and bad that that entails. The tremendous religious prejudice against us is way, way, way off the mark. We are more thoughtful, more mature and more ethical than thinkers like Pres. Packer can ever imagine. Perhaps that's why we are such a threat to the order of things in the LDS world. It's our goodness that threatens more than our dissipation." 
~ 11/10/2010


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Mixed-Orientation Marriages: "I Am Me and I Am Beautiful"


Back in June, I published a post consisting of comments from "Jeff" about his mixed-orientation marriage. Yesterday, via comments on that post, he updated me on his situation. So that his thoughts get the exposure they deserve, I am publishing them here in this post. 

********** 

So much has happened in my life since I wrote this last entry to you in July. Would you indulge me for a moment? I feel that you were a source of hope during a particularly bleak period of my life. Let me just preface by saying that the changes that have occurred in my life lately are only part of a journey that I have been engaged in for a very long time. Reading blogs and stories from many people like yourself, Joseph, have only helped me to realize that I am not alone. I am no longer a mistake that God or my parents made. I am me, and I am beautiful. I still carry on my shoulders the guilt and shame that are the result of growing up in the LDS church, and to a larger extent, our society. But, I have hope that perhaps God does not hate me. Perhaps God loves me. Perhaps being gay was something natural that I was born with, along with brown hair and ten fingers. Or perhaps it was a result of a troubled childhood and lack of male affection early on in my life. I do not know entirely. But I do know that God wants me to be happy, and I was not happy in a mixed-orientation marriage.

You were right. If I wasn't gay I would still not be happy in the marriage that I was in. One morning in June I woke up and had the strong feeling that if I divorced my wife, it would be devastating to my children, but they would eventually be better off because they would be able to see life with me, away from and without the influence of their mother. You see, my wife has so many mental and emotional issues that my children are being raised in chaos and instability. If I could get away, they could see what life could be like without the chaos and with so much more stability. So, with that insight, and holding on to faith and hope, I told my wife around the middle of July that I wanted a divorce. Being the narcissistic and bipolar person that she is, you can imagine that the last few months have been a roller coaster.

I filed for divorce, got an attorney, and began pursuing the right to have guardianship of my children. The children were devastated, as you can imagine. But things are getting better. They genuinely love me, and they love spending time with me. We have so much better quality time together, even though for the time being it is limited. But, for the time that they are with me, they experience stability and peace. My new apartment is clean, peaceful and a bright example of an alternative to the chaos that they live with every day with their mother.

This decision that I made, ultimately, was because of the chaos, anger and negativity of my wife. The unhappiness in my marriage was not 100% due to my wife. The sexual frustrations played a big part for me. However, my ultimate decision to divorce was entirely because of her. I realized that my kids would actually have a greater chance in the long run if they knew me as a healthy, complete person, and could experience stability and peaceful living.

One additional thing, the first hearing last month determined that my kids would continue to stay with my wife for the time being until further assessment could be completed. I live in a very conservative community, so my wife's lawyer asked me a question that she thought would damage my case. She asked, "Are you gay?" I paused for a moment and replied, "Yes." I added no more comment. You could have heard a pin drop, though, in the courtroom. Afterwards, my family, who doesn't fully grasp the seriousness of my feelings, tried to tell me how wrong and damaging it was to my case that I said 'yes'. However, I didn't feel that way. It felt liberating in a way to be able to just come out and say it. I wasn't ashamed or embarrassed. I felt happy about it. If it really hurts my case, then come what may. I don't want to lie anymore. According to my family, I "suffer" from same-sex attraction. Apparently, it's like a permanent disease, not a characteristic of my identity. We'll have our sit-down soon. They'll either love me or hate me. Either way, I will continue to just love myself. It's taken me 38 years to be able to be comfortable with the fact that I am gay. I suppose they might need a little time as well.

But the information that leaked last week from the Church really put a whole new spin on my situation, as you can imagine. Two of my daughters are already baptized. One of them is six, and she really wants me to baptize her. This is a whole new dilemma that I was not prepared to deal with. I can't believe that this is happening at the same time as my divorce. So, my thoughts race as to what to do now. Do I just put up the facade that I'm the good Mormon who suffers with SSA, or do I completely come clean. Not sure yet about that one.

Anyways, I thought you would find my story of interest. Thank you for your kind words before. They helped center my thoughts a bit more in preparation for this stage in my life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Celestial Glory Shall Be Mine: A Place for Gay Mormons?


Perhaps no other consideration provokes more angst in the mind of a gay Mormon who loves the (LDS) Church and believes in the Gospel than that of where he fits into the Mormon concept of eternity.* In other words, does allowing himself to be true to his homosexual nature lock him out of Heavenly Father’s presence in the afterlife.

Exaltation:  Moving the Goalposts

One of the very first songs a Mormon child learns to sing is “I Am a Child of God,” a very sweet little song that contains within its simple melody and honeyed phrases the essence of LDS theology. At a tender age, children learn that they are children of God, that they lived somewhere else in God’s presence before they came here to earth, that they have been sent from that place to this earth, and that their goal is to return to Heavenly Father some day.

The song teaches a number of other principles, some of which I hope to return to; but for this post, I want to focus on the fourth verse, which contains the summum bonum of LDS theology:

I am a Child of God. 
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

For faithful members of the Church, merely being “saved” is not enough; the goal of life is nothing short of “exaltation.” Former apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained the significance of this doctrine in his classic, Mormon Doctrine: 
“Exaltation grows out of the eternal union of a man and his wife. Of those whose marriage endures in eternity, the Lord says, ‘Then shall they be gods’ (D&C 132:20); that is, each of them, the man and the woman, will be a god. As such they will rule over their dominions forever … 
“Marriages performed in the temples for time and eternity [unite] … the participating parties [as] husband and wife in this mortal life, and if after their marriage they keep all the terms and conditions of this order of the priesthood, they continue on as husband and wife in the celestial kingdom of God. If the family unit continues, then by virtue of that fact the members of the family have gained eternal life (exaltation) …   
“Mortal persons who overcome all things and gain an ultimate exaltation will live eternally in the family unit and have spirit children, thus becoming Eternal Fathers and Eternal Mothers … becoming gods in their own right” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 117, 129, 613).
It is perhaps difficult for non-Mormons to understand the centrality to LDS theology of these beliefs and teachings. For most Christians, “salvation” is a post-mortal reward that results – in essence – from living a good moral life, from following the teachings of Jesus Christ and from believing that He can atone for mortal shortcomings. 

LDS theology, however, has moved the goalposts way past the concept of mere “salvation.” Though faithful Mormons believe that in God’s house “are many mansions” [which, in Mormon-speak, means kingdoms or degrees of glory] which may be perfectly fine for other people, they believe that – for them - salvation is basically an “all or nothing” concept:  either one obtains exaltation (with all that this term implies – see Bruce R., above) or just forget it. No lower “degree of glory” is acceptable. 

This concept is taught from a very young age and is reflected in the above-quoted passage from the 4th verse of “I Am a Child of God”:  “Celestial glory shall be mine - IF I can but endure” [emphasis added]. This verse also reflects another, companion, precept that is of paramount importance in Mormon theology:  obedience. Obtaining celestial glory is contingent upon “enduring to the end,” obeying all of God’s commandments (especially remaining “temple worthy”) and doing all that is required to reach that goal.

The Centrality of the Temple

Paradoxically, and as an aside, a modern-day Christian might more easily relate to the teachings of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, rather than current teachings. Joseph declared that “the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it" (emphasis added; TPJS, p. 121).  He also declared that the first principle of the Gospel to be “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 

In today’s Church, however, it is arguable that the cluster of doctrine surrounding eternal / celestial / temple marriage constitutes the “fundamental principles of our religion … and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it”; furthermore, perhaps not surprisingly, the “first law of heaven” has in practical terms arguably supplanted the first principle of the gospel.  “Obedience is the first law of heaven,” wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest.” And this first law of heaven has been correlated and woven through much of what one currently finds in instruction manuals, conference talks and church magazine articles.

But I digress.

The point is that this “all or nothing” concept is at the root of much of what produces angst, self-hatred, deceit and heartache in Mormon men and women who have the extreme misfortune of having been born anything but heterosexual.

If a young gay man does not marry a woman in the temple and then remain faithful to his temple covenants (i.e., enduring to the end), he automatically knocks himself out of the running for exaltation. He knows this, of course, and as a faithful Mormon, it causes him no end of worrying which can quickly escalate into depression. Apart from everything else he feels because he knows he is gay, he feels a deep and dark dense of failure because he knows he’s missed – forever – the brass ring.

Because eternal rewards are bound up in the concept of family kingdoms (exaltation of families, not individuals), actions of a family member in mortality are seen as affecting not only that family member’s eternal salvation, but also the salvation of his entire family of origin. This leads to parents of gay children not only mourning the “loss” of these children, whom they believe have lost their chance to sit in the eternal family circle, leading to the proverbial empty chair (“No Empty Chairs” being a slogan commonly found on walls in Mormon homes); it also often leads to resentment toward this child for putting the exaltation of the entire family in jeopardy.

Beyond all these theological concerns, however, are the (some would say equally important) cultural concerns. A temple marriage for their children is the fondest hope of many a Mormon parent, particularly in areas where there are large concentrations of Church members. A temple marriage is a sign to the community in such areas that a child is ok, is doing the right thing, is respectable, is on “the path.” Failure to marry in the temple, on the other hand, often becomes the subject of speculation and subjects the child’s parents to embarrassment if not outright shame in the their community (which, of course would often pale in significance when compared with the shame of having a gay son).

A Place for Heavenly Father’s Gay Children

So, what is a young gay Mormon to do?  “Teach me all that I must do,” he used to sing in Primary, “to live with Him [Heavenly Father] someday.” Is there a place for him in Heavenly Father’s home? Why is there so much emphasis in the Church upon exaltation (which, apart from what has been described above, contributes to a culture of fake perfectionism in the Church)? Why does this have to be the end-all? 

The 131st and 132nd sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) are the scriptural sources for the LDS doctrine of three degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom. D&C 131:1-4 and D&C 132:16-17 read as follows:
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this border of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase … Therefore, when they [i.e., those who are not sealed in the temple] are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever.”
Though faithful Mormons have a tendency to focus on the plight of (i) those who have merited (through personal righteousness) the blessing of living in the presence of God for all eternity but (ii) have failed to get married in the temple (who wants to be an “angel” when one could be “worthy of a far more … eternal weight of glory”?), the point remains that these are the only passages in Mormon scripture that describe to any degree the two “lower” degrees of glory within the Celestial Kingdom.

Apart from anything else that could (and has) been said about this section, why has nothing ever been said about the other two degrees of glory (except that the inhabitants thereof cannot have increase, i.e., spirit children)? Could we – including the Brethren – not stop and humbly acknowledge the vastness of our ignorance with respect to such matters?

Is there not ample room within Mormon theology to provide a place in the afterlife for Heavenly Father’s gay and lesbian children? 

Did not Jesus himself say that in His father’s house are many mansions? Why don’t we as members of the Mormon community ever talk about those many other mansions?

Couldn’t families (and the whole church membership) benefit from backing away from the all-or-nothing emphasis on exaltation? 

And finally, could not our young gay Mormon, together with those he loves, share celestial glory – the kind he used to sing about as a child? 

I believe he can.

[UPDATE 11/10/15] We now know he can't - at least if the governing councils of the Mormon Church have anything to say about it.

_______________________

*This post was originally published on my Invictus Pilgrim blog in May 2011. At the time I wrote it, I was still a member of the LDS Church. In light of recent pronouncements by the Mormon Church concerning gays and lesbians, I am republishing it.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wes Hempel: Artist, Writer, Gay Man, Observer of Mormonism


I had the extreme good fortune on Saturday to meet a man with whom I first started corresponding almost five years ago shortly after I began the process of coming out: Wes Hempel. Mark and I visited with him and his partner Jack for a couple of hours on our way back from visiting family and friends in Colorado, and we wished we could have sat and talked for hours. 

Somehow, it seemed appropriate that Wes and I meet in the wake of the revelation of the adoption of new policies by the Mormon Church toward gay people and children whom, in the eyes of the Church leadership, have the extreme misfortune of having one or more parents in a same-sex relationship. It was the Church's stance toward homosexuals that brought us together in the first place.

Because some might find it helpful and/or interesting, I am republishing below the first post I wrote about Wes back in January of 2011 on my Invictus Pilgrim blog, complete with images of Wes' art that he approved for insertion into the post. Thanks again, Wes, for reaching out - both then and since.

**********


A couple of months ago, while working on a post, I ran across the amazing art of Wes Hempel, an artist and writer who lives in rural Colorado. He happens to be gay, and a lot of his art depicts amazingly beautiful young men. In a recent interview, Wes explained to blogger Philip Clark what many, but not all, of his paintings are about: 
“One of my ongoing interests is a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified in the culture.  A walk through any major museum will reveal paintings that depict and, therefore, legitimate only certain kinds of experience.  While the canon’s merits are rightfully being questioned, the paintings of the old masters on the walls of museums like the Met, the Louvre, and the Rijksmuseum still have an undeniable cache.  They're revered not just for their technique but because they enshrine our collective past experience.  It's a selected past, of course, that gets validated.  Conspicuously absent to me as a gay man is my own story.  By presenting contemporary males as objects of desire in borrowed art historical settings, I'm able to imagine (and allow viewers to imagine) a past that includes rather than excludes gay experience--and thereby ride the coattails, as it were, of art history's imprimatur.  Many of my paintings work on this level (some rather playfully).” [Source:  The Artpoint]
An example of such “revisionist gay art” is Wes’ painting, Fatherhood, which I ran across while preparing a post about things I could be grateful for as a result of being in the closet for all of my adult life (i.e., up until recently). I laughed out loud when I saw it because it depicted so well what I had often felt as a father of (numerous) young children (particularly since I was a closeted gay man). This painting is pictured below, and immediately below it is the painting upon which it is based, Charity by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.



I decided I had to use the picture for my post entitled "Grateful for Years in the Closet?". Imagine my surprise when, a few weeks later, I received an e-mail from Wes. When I first saw his message in my inbox, I thought, “Uh oh, he’s probably upset that I used an image of his painting without asking.”  But, quite to the contrary, Wes had written a very nice e-mail in which he explained that he had recently been (as we Mormons would say) tracted out by a couple of young elders. He had apparently had a conversation with them in which the subject of being gay had come up, and had thereafter decided to try to learn more about Mormon beliefs. 

Wes’ research eventually led him, presumably through Google, to my blog. “As a gay man who knows nothing about Mormonism,” he wrote to me, “I thought it perhaps fortuitous that I stumbled onto your blog ... Could you clear something up for me about Mormon belief?” He then proceeded to pose a few questions about Mormon beliefs concerning families and homosexuality which I was only too happy to try to answer.

Thereafter followed a series of e-mail exchanges between Wes and me, in which I tried to explain various intricacies of Mormonism’s often Byzantine theology. I mean, after all, there is so much contradiction among the Brethren concerning homosexuality and what being gay may or may not mean to a member of the Church – both here in mortality as well as in eternity – that it is virtually impossible for us Mormons to understand it, let alone try to explain it (in any sort of rational manner) to someone who is not a member of the Church.


Wes, who is a writer as well as an artist, had decided to write a written response to the missionaries, and this evolved into an essay which he is currently in the process of submitting for publication. As he developed his essay and sought clarification on a couple of points of Mormon doctrine, he (in a very gracious manner) expressed mild exasperation.

“The more I learn,” he wrote, “the trickier things seem to get. Mormonism is like a fortress with so many layers of doctrinal protection as to seem impenetrable.” I had smiled when I read this (and later suggested that this image would make for a very interesting painting); but then I laughed out loud when I read what he next wrote: “I'm guessing Ecumenism isn't much embraced.” No, I explained to Wes in a subsequent e-mail, Mormons don’t really “do” ecumenism. “How do you [Mormons] communicate,” he continued, “with someone who lives on a different plane of existence?”  How indeed?

As part of his research, Wes had read about President Packer’s talk in October Conference. [This infamous sermon is what blasted me out of the closet.] He asked me to read over what he had written about Packer’s remarks. When I did so, I was stunned by Wes’ insights. Here is part of what he wrote (which I have used with Wes’ permission) after citing President Packer’s infamous statements implying that homosexuality is a choice: 
“Why would our 'Heavenly Father' saddle an innocent child with 'inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural'? Though it seems clear Mr. Packer intended to claim gays can change their sexual orientation and become straight (a contradiction of the official church position), his words are extraordinary if taken at face value … If homosexuality is not a choice but is instead intrinsic, the inescapable conclusion is that homosexuality is not 'impure' or 'unnatural.”  Rather, it must be just another aspect of God’s creation.  Alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality must be another expression of the Divine … Where else could these desires come from, except our Creator? If the feelings are elemental to the intrinsic makeup of our children, how could they be unnatural or impure? As Mr. Packer asks, ‘Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?’ Indeed, why? God is not a monster who tortures children. That role has been assumed by others.”
[Note: I was struck by how timely and appropriate the last two sentences of this paragraph are given the new Mormon policy.]

These are insights (about the “impure” and “unnatural”) that I don’t believe I have seen articulated anywhere or by anyone else. In point of fact, I think Wes’ comments articulate points that expose how illogical President Packer’s comments are, points that are so obvious that I think they have escaped notice, even from many gay Mormons.

"Supplication"

Wes’ comments are all the more relevant to Mormons, both gay and straight, in that he himself came out of a very conservative Christian background that had a significant impact on his life as a young adult. Furthermore, like many gay Mormons, he continues to feel a longing to be a part of a religious community and tradition that was once extremely important to him – even though this community and faith strongly rejects his homosexuality.

As I contemplate the existential and emotional bind created by this longing and rejection, my thoughts turn toward Wes’ approach to his art. As Philip Clark wrote on his blog in connection with his interview of Wes, “Wes Hempel's men are the visual equivalent of a contemporary mirror to the art historical past.  But with one essential element restored: This is the male gaze, the gay male experience that was left out of history. These are the images that should have been painted -- indeed were lives that were lived and visually erased -- and he gives us back a history we can't forget.” [Source: The Artpoint]

In like manner, I wonder what the history of Mormonism and the history of (particularly recent) Christianity would look like if gays had been acknowledged, embraced, valued and loved in their various congregations and religious communities just as they were, rather than rejected and “erased." And what would Mormonism and Christianity look like today if such were the case? One is left to wonder, and to deal – each in one’s own way – with that existential dilemma … and to anticipate a brighter future where such dilemma will no longer exist. [Note: How poignant this sentence is given recent developments.]

"Rescue from the Sublime"

The above painting was one of several of Wes’ works that was featured on Philip Clark’s blog. When I asked Wes about this painting, he wrote:
"Rescue from the Sublime has a special place in my heart ... I was thinking how the beauty of the world can be overpowering at times, and how we need help from each other in enduring it. I remember reading about people in the nineteenth century who were "soul struck" by scenic beauty, peaceful rivers, majestic mountains, etc. and would literally swoon. Imagine! And, of course, there's the larger metaphor that comes into play about the face of God and peering into the divine. Sometimes we need to be rescued from God. It's a paradox, because we can't not approach. We have to look and ask the questions, but we need each other's support in doing so. We have to rest in each other's arms ...”

**************

Wes' words are as beautiful and appropriate now as they were when he wrote them almost five years ago. We have to rest in each others' arms.