Saturday, August 16, 2014
2014 Fair Conference: Ty Mansfield on Sexual Identity and Same-Sex Attraction from an LDS Perspective
The recent 2014 Fair Conference, held Aug. 7-8, 2014 in Provo, offers a great selection of faith-strengthening perspectives from a broad mix of speakers. Topics include same-sex attraction, the Book of Abraham, the CES Letter, the role of women in the Church, the authorship of the Book of Mormon, etc.
In this post I'll call attention to Ty Mansfield's excellent presentation on same-sex attraction and the LDS experience. His talk, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay'?," discusses the complexity of sexual attraction and reminds us to be careful about thinking we know things that still puzzle the experts:
So much of the controversy happens around unexamined premises and conclusions drawn, often simply accepted without any real critical thought at all. Once we can understand how these have harmed our understanding, we can then move to a better place to articulate a reasonable response to those who question or criticize the Church’s teachings….
The popular cultural myths that either people are “born gay” or that they chose to be homosexual or that their homosexuality is caused by parental nurturing (or lack thereof) are all reductionistic and cannot explain much, if anything, about the development of sexuality and sexual desire.
It’s interesting to me that our popular and media culture seems to be so sure about something that science and the academy are not. The American Psychological Association’s official pamphlet addressing sexual orientation concedes this point, noting that ultimately, “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles.” Some researchers have postured that there is no such thing as “homosexuality,” but rather “homosexualit ”—that there are multiple sub-populations with different etiologies making for qualitatively different experiences of sexuality that all lay within a broad and diverse umbrella we call “homosexuality” or “same-sex attraction.”
He also addresses issues of identity and the shackles (my term) that we can impose on ourselves or others with terminology that pigeonholes people into an "identity" based on the attractions they feel.
In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being….
As a final note here, however one chooses to self-identify here in a fallen, temporal world limited by human culture and human language, I firmly believe that, like Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in which all social and political constructs were swallowed up in the gospel stone that rolled forth to consume the nations, so will the spiritual ideals and identities of the kingdom of God and the Celestial nature swallow up all of our social identity constructs that blur eternal identity (see Daniel 2:31-45).
While I identified as gay for a time, at one point I had a very strong spiritual prompting that if I continued to identify as gay, it would limit my progression. I believe that the more deeply we understand and feel spiritually connected to eternal realities and our eternal identity, the less meaningful any proximate, mortal identities feel to us. If others refer to me as gay, I typically tolerate it for practical purposes, but it’s not how I see myself, and occasionally it can feel particularly oppressive when others seem to insist on projecting and LGBT identity construct on me even after I’ve specified that that is not how I see myself. It’s not a construct that adequately captures who I am, what I believe, or how I feel.
He then explores the issues of chastity and consecration, and the speculation of others that Church will change regarding its stance on same-sex issues. See the transcript at FairMormon.org.