Sunday, February 1, 2015

Possible Public Misperception

[Tuesday Evening, 3 December 2013]

Stake President: "Possible public misperception. That's why I'm releasing you. You see, a majority of members will see your facebook post and assume that you're sexually active. And a sexually-active executive secretary in a BYU Young Single Adult ward would be a stumbling block for these members, so I'm releasing you at the end of the semester."

Young Man: "I don't think that sends the right message. Besides, I disclosed my same-sex attraction to your first councillor when he interviewed me for the calling. And my blog post clearly states my position—that I'm not sexually active. But I don't suppose that affects your decision to release me?"

Stake President: "We would have worked with you in private, one-on-one. But that was irresponsible of you to publicly announce it. YM, it's my job as Stake President to protect the name and image of the church, and to protect your salvation and the salvation of the members. I don't understand why you would want to flaunt your sexuality about. Look, YM, I'm a sexual person—I'm sexually active with my wife and have several kids—but I don't go around telling people that I'm straight. I don't post on social media that I'm straight. Maybe you're just curious—you've told me you haven't acted on your Same-Sex Attraction, so how can you know you're gay? You haven't had sex before. 

YM: "President, did you have to have sex before knowing you were straight?"

SP: "Why would you even put the label "gay" on yourself? I don't like that word; nobody should use it.

YM: "The church uses that word in its official website,"

SP: "Look, YM, you were wrong to come out on facebook like that. Didn't you think of all the ramifications that it would have? In a way, you're a spokesperson for the bishopric of your ward. You've put me in this situation, and I have to act. YM, after discussing this, and thinking back, would you still have done it?"

YM: "Well, I probably should have thought about its implications a little bit more, but, yeah, I still would have done it. SP, I've been on a mission. I spent two years teaching my investigators how to pray, how to listen for an answer, and how to recognize it when it comes. I put that to practice before posting on social media that I'm gay. I prayed and asked Heavenly Father if I should come out publicly. I didn't feel anything, so I interpreted that as a no. I then asked if I should NOT come out publicly, and again the answer was a no. Puzzled, and after having thought about it for a bit, I finally asked if it was my choice. The answer was a rush of the Spirit. A yes. I had the same feelings that I received when I asked whether the Book of Mormon is true. The same feelings that I had always received when seeking guidance from the Spirit. That's how the spirit talks to me. So I followed that answer, considered my life circumstances, and determined that I could do a lot of good by coming out publicly."

SP: "Well, YM, I don't know what to say. That personal revelation was wrong, and you were wrong to post that on social media. I'll let you finish the semester, but you'll be released from being executive secretary at the beginning of Christmas break, two weeks from now. I'll talk to your bishop and let him know. 

YM: "Am I losing my temple recommend?"

SP: "No."

YM: "Am I on some sort of church discipline?"

SP: "No."

YM: "I don't understand why I'm being released if I'm still temple-worthy."

SP: "YM, I bet you think I'm being unfair and mean. It's up to you what you do about it—you can post on social media that I'm unfair and mean—I've got a thick skin; I can take it."

YM: "No, I accept your decision, though I don't agree nor fully understand it."

SP: "Well, don't be hurt by my decision. Let's have a followup meeting in a few weeks, after break."


[Four weeks before meeting with SP]

YM, having just skyped with two of his older siblings and come out to them, posts a link to his blog on facebook and comments on the link: "Family and Friends: I am gay." He closes his laptop and sits in wonder and amazement, in terror and excitement at what he has just done. There's no going back. What happens on the internet stays on the internet. He prepares for bed, puts all his electronic devices in Do Not Disturb mode, and tries to go to sleep. He can't. It will be a different world tomorrow. Will he lose friends? Family? No electronic device nor tool can gauge the risk he feels in his bones. No gadget can record the anxiety that has seeped into every cell of his body, except maybe the bathroom scale, which indicates he's lost 8 pounds this week due to his physical and emotional stress and psych-up for this moment. Every few hours he wakes up and resists the draw to check his phone for notifications. Finally his alarm clock goes off, indicating the start of another week of school.

The whole day and for two weeks, YM receives an outpouring of love and support from friends and family. It is a tidal wave of text messages, facebook messages, emails, emotions and relieving tears, heavy and salty, that obstruct his vision and mental focus enough to interfere with his flow at work, at school, and during programming assignments and projects. He explains to his CS professors, who kindly oblige and give him some extra time to take care of things.


[Two weeks before the meeting with SP]

The Sunday after YM comes out on Facebook is a Stake Conference, which means no local Sunday Service meetings. The following takes place a week after the Stake Conference—it is the first time YM faces his YSA ward after coming out.

YM wakes up at 7am and prepares for his Sabbath day routine. He prepares and prints off meeting agendas for the 8am bishopric meeting, the 9am ward council meeting, and he invites ward individuals to give prayers for the 10:45am sacrament meeting. 

YM arrives at the meetinghouse: the university's physical facilities building turned worship house. The morning's meetings proceed typically. A few students in the ward avoid eye contact with YM. YM shrugs it off.

YM: [aside] If that's all the reaction that I get, I can live with it.

Five minutes before Sacrament meeting, and after brief pause and a deep breath, YM crosses the threshold of the meeting room (a university auditorium with stadium-style seating). Everything is normal, but it isn't. Everything is familiar, yet YM drags in an expansive, invisible elephant at his side. YM and his elephant occupy space a few rows up. A few minutes pass, and a few more people walk into the room. Sister Draper, the gospel instruction teacher and a BYU teacher-education professor, spots YM and approaches him.

Sister Draper: [locking eyes with YM and shaking head, almost in disbelief] So brave. Let me give you a hug.

YM: [sighing in relief while embracing] Thank you so much. I've needed this.

The meeting conductor gets up and begins the meeting as YM finds his seat. The meeting proceeds, but YM can't pay attention. He ruminates on his unexpected and newfound ally. A friend. No questions asked, no judgement passed, no conditions placed. Suddenly this different world becomes okay, safe. YM just needed to know that there was at least one person out there. And she just found him.


[One week before the meeting with SP]

YM repeats his Executive Secretary routine. After church, YM heads to the bishop’s office to begin coordinating three hours of interviews and settings apart with the bishopric. At the end of a physically- and emotionally-taxing interview block, at 4pm, bishop comes out of his office and addresses YM.

Bishop: "Thank you, YM, we've done good work today."

YM: [packing up] "No, thank you, Bishop. I bet you're exhausted. Get some rest and let me know of anything you need."

B: [more seriously] "Why don't you step in my office for a few minutes, and let's chat."

Both enter B's office and sit down. They've talked a few times before about YM being gay, and each time it has been an uplifting experience. Previously, YM had told B about his facebook and blog post.

B: "How has everything been since you posted on Facebook?"

YM: "Mostly positive. Nothing too negative has come from it."

B: "Listen, YM, there have been some ward members that have been concerned with your post. They have come to me asking if I knew what you have done. I told them that I was aware. Three weeks ago I thought it appropriate to mention your experience to SP. He immediately wanted to release you, but I asked him to give it some time. For three weeks I've been holding off SP, but he wants to act. I asked him to interview you, in order to get a feel for your mind and heart. YM, I have been anguishing over this. I have searched the manuals and lost sleep over this. I can't find anything in the manuals that suggests that you be released. You haven't done anything wrong. I don't entirely understand SP's desire to release you, but I support him as my priesthood leader. I want you to explain your feelings to him in an interview. Will you set one up with him?"

YM: [with a heavy heart and confused semblance] "Yes, I'll do that. Thank you, B, for all you've done."

B: "YM, whatever happens, I want you to know how much I appreciate the work you've done—you've been an excellent Executive Secretary."

[B's eyes water a little]

B: "You know, maybe we'll look back in five years and say: Why did we ever release YM?"

YM: "Thanks, B. I'll let you know how it goes."

YM drives home and ponders on his experience of coming out.

YM: [deflated, aloud to himself] "What of the assurance I have taken from the BYU honor code, that One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue? What of the peace I have found from, that attraction itself is not a sin and that individuals do not choose to have such attractions? What of my personal revelation, that it was my choice whether to come out publicly? What of my resolved feelings of the deep emotional battle as to whether I'd lose friends and family associations for simply coming out? I feel unwanted. I feel betrayed. Are all those statements just PR stunts which, when subpoenaed, won't stand up in my defense?"

[Just after the meeting with SP]

YM exits SP's office and the building. The icy winter air pierces YM's lungs as he gasps and shuffles through the two feet of freshly fallen snow toward his car. He gets in, and the snow-insulated world around him muffles the sound of his car door closing yet does nothing for the coursing, pounding blood in his head as he ponders the meeting that has just occurred. His snow-covered car spins its tires almost uselessly through the unplowed streets of central Provo, with YM's slow journey home mirroring the spinning gears in his head as he makes almost no progress toward understanding the reason SP gave him: Possible Public Misperception.



The Book of Mormon is all about cyclical attempts at creating a Zion community by removing damaging and false traditions. That is still what we must do today to make queer/SSA people feel welcome and comfortable among our own, no matter their choices. Whether they have done nothing wrong (in YM's case) or done something wrong and are subject to church discipline, they all have felt alone, attacked, and they deserve that one friend, like Sister Draper, that will hug them and make them feel welcome. The commandment to love our neighbor was given without conditions.

Dan Bunker