Monday, June 21, 2010

Fireside Flak

Quickly, I thought I’d weigh in on the Fireside issue before I finish my Missionary Monday post.

Let’s take this from a different perspective for a moment: needs. First, Who is the audience of the fireside and how will its content serve them? It’s clearly an outreach effort to gay members, their friends, and family members. Ultimately, as Beck points out, this boils down to a damned if you do/don’t scenario as one attempts to address the needs of this group.

1st, let this group of people know they are not alone. This is where the fireside will succeed. The higher the attendance, the more productive the emotional outcome in this sense.

2nd, provide a dialogue regarding these issues. In order to address concerns of this group, it is necessary for these men and women to feel they are able to vocalize their concerns to one another. Being heard is one of the most important aspects to emotional suffering. I believe this can succeed to a very limited degree. As Rob put it, “homosexuality should not exist” the way it is currently treated, and it’s very difficult to approach a problem that should not exist within the gospel. Fireside goers will be able to discuss their feelings, but this discussion will be constructed around a framework of shame in the sense that homosexual feelings cannot be discussed positively.

3rd, offer solutions/coping strategies so that one can lead a happy life. This is the presumably the primary reason Ty Mansfield has been invited as keynote speaker. I take issue with this for the same reason as Rob and MoHoHawaii, but would like to extend it one step. There is an unspoken endorsement of Mixed-Orientation Marriages, which—perhaps—can work for some, but I have seen multiple cases in which that goal has only led to heartbreak for the men and women involved (including my own best friend Cole). That said, I feel many other solutions emphasized above that outcome including celibacy.

Put simply, hands are tied and mouths stifled because of the larger discussion (or lack thereof). Celibacy and Marriage seem to be the only endorsable outcomes for gay members of the church. While I tend to think that the fireside will be successful in providing a sense of community, I tend to think that the only way for the meeting to have any further success (and avert unintended damage) is for the program to include success stories of celibate saints AND accounts of unsuccessful mixed-orientation marriages, so as to not elevate Ty’s circumstances as the only or best possible outcome for gay saints. It’s very possible that the program does take this into account and if it does, it would be the best possible program given the current atmosphere of fear and silence.


C.J. said...


Ultimately, it may not be the best fireside in history, but an opportunity to talk is better than no opportunity to talk. My family recently had a very upsetting response to another family members' coming out, and I feel like a lack of dialogue--indeed, a lack of ever being forced to actually sit down and think about "gay" as a concept--is partially to blame.

Horizon said...

I think you made some good points. Coming from the perspective of someone who is still involved in the church, I think the fireside would have done two things for me: 1) It would have been a much needed comfort that my needs were at least being attempted to be met, providing a starting point and people to talk to rather than hiding, and 2) I would have been terrified to even go and show my face.

I appreciate that you pointed out that this fireside is more about addressing needs. It was destined to become a lightning rod issue just because it is sponsored by the Church, meaning certain language has to be used. However, I find it hard to believe that in the breakaway sessions, people will not break the barrier of the wordage and address some critical issues. I think that this has the potential to be a really good fireside.

Your first reason is extremely valid. I think I would have been much better off not feeling so alone for so long. This fireside might serve as a catalyst for people coming out to their parents and leaders and revealing that as a group we exist and do not have to hide. The potential future relationships and openness from this single event could cause a lot of good.

This directly relates to your second point, that the dialogue and the environment must be a safe one. I never felt safe enough to vocalize anything. An admission of being gay is a condition that really alters everything and you can’t go back to the way things were before. And honestly, I don’t know if I would have felt safe going to a fireside like this. I applaud that the dialogue is happening and that people have the option of going, but I do agree with you that impressionable minds will be in attendance and the framework provided to them as they begin their journeys of coming out will be key to the direction those journeys will take.

However, I think we may be giving too much credit to the power of this fireside. People are free to choose their own path, and simply because they attended this fireside, I don’t think they will be like lemmings toeing the church line. If it opens up the dialogue for them to find other resources, I think that people will really look for happiness, whether that be by staying faithful or exploring other options.

Your third point is equally valid. The unspoken endorsement of a MOM is both inspirational and dangerous. Earlier in my life, I was desperate to get married, and seeing one that worked would have been a very convincing argument for keeping with bearing my burden in order to continue living in accordance to the gospel. I agree with you that right now, at the beginning of his marriage, Ty’s viewpoint will be a bit too peachy, still in the honeymoon, to be able to be an accurate judge of the success of MOMs. I really agree with you that in order for this not to be simply church propaganda, another viewpoint of a MOM marriage that did not work out would be necessary. I hope that this will come from the breakaway groups.

Horizon said...

Your point that the two options that the church can endorse are MOMs and celibacy is true. And that is really where the rub is. Either of those options don’t really symbolize happiness, at least in my mind. This is a high risk, high reward fireside. I think that it will be a great night to provide a sense of community and open the dialogue, though potentially dangerous to endorse a specific course for people to follow. But I go back to my point, I think people are smarter and more aware than we give them credit. I think that for the most part, they will be able to take the good and then decide where their lives should go. Yes, there are a few who will believe that the words of the church are law, but I find that those who are gay wake up eventually.

There is no easy answer. But in the atmosphere of fear and silence, opening up and at least sending the message that this issue is one that CAN be talked about is the best benefit. For that alone, I would be OK with this fireside. I hope and pray that the information revealed will not be abused by leaders in the church. And I agree that the diversity of voices is crucial, rather than having just one source of “the answers.” I wish I could buy a hundred copies of No More Goodbyes and give them out to every attendee at the door, just to show that there are other options.

It may not be ideal, but some action is better than none. But that is my opinion.

MoHoHawaii said...

I agree with your analysis.

(I just wrote a blog post on a related topic.)

Madame Curie said...

I like your analysis on this one, GMB. In fact, these were similar to my own lines of reasoning - Who is the intended audience? A fireside aimed at the community at large - demonstrating that gays are normal people in your neighborhood - is likely to have a different approach than one aimed at individual single gay Mormons.

My hope is that, in their discussion of MOMs, they also include or discuss the statistics and individuals like Emily and Carol Lynn Pearson. I think its vital that both sides of the story are told, if people really are to have all of the facts.

robert said...

It is most strange to have Ty as the invited guest speaker. Will he shore up the ranks of the "anything is possible with faith" afflicted...?Something to overcome, a curse, a loss in the eternal perspective makes weary more souls and cauterizes the spirit.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@C.J.: Agreed. I like to think dialogue is the first step. I know that silence is incredibly destructive esp. in regards to suicide.

@Horizon: Great analysis. I really wondered what your take would be (which is why I emailed you a preview of the post). Haha.

I think the bottom line of this discussion is that limited options and limited discussion are destructive elements of the conundrum.

@MoHoHawaii: Thanks for starting this discussion. It's important we examine the intended message as much as the unintended one.

@Mme Curie: Thanks for pointing out the Pearsons' side of this equation. It is vital in this field of taboo landmines to discuss unintended consequences of words as much as actions such as marriage.

@Robert: Excellent point. Such a talk does have the potential (and I'd wager) a large one to cause more hostility down the road with these types of promises.

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