The Moscow School of Psychiatry developed a psychiatric diagnostic
system which, by the 1970's, became the standard approach to diagnosing
mental illness in the former Soviet Union. Under the Soviet diagnostic
system Soviet dissenters were classified as suffering from a serious
mental illness, particularly schizophrenia (Chodoff, 1991, 1985;
Reich, 1991). The dissenters fell into five main diagnostic groups:
advocates of human rights and democratization, nationalists, would-be
emigrants, religious believers, and citizens inconvenient to the
State. Bloch (1991) noted: "They shared the characteristic that
they had deviated in some way from social norms and conventions
laid down, and regarded as obligatory, by the Soviet state" (p.
494). Because the dissidents' actions of dissension to the Soviet
Union alone were considered evidence of their mental illness, psychiatrists
were empowered to commit them to psychiatric hospitals for periods
of weeks to years. While in the hospital dissidents were subjected
to psychotherapy and behavior modification treatments as well as
occasionally forced administration of medications to treat their
"illness." Evidence of effective psychiatric treatment and, consequently,
the condition of release was a dissenter's recantation of his/her
It is tempting for Americans who value liberty, democracy and
free speech to regard the actions of those Soviet psychiatrists
as barbaric. But, by all accounts, most of the psychiatrists who
participated in the treatment of dissidents honestly believed (and
may still believe) in the singular correctness of the Soviet social
and political ideology. From their point of view deviance from the
social norm is unthinkable for the sound mind, so dissident beliefs
must reflect mental illness.
We find in Soviet psychiatry a poignant example of how psychological
theories are particularly susceptible to the influence of cultural
norms, mores and ideals. We find in psychoanalytic theory no less
of an influence. Sigmund Freud began developing his theory of psychoanalysis
in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. His theory delineated a sequence
of psychosexual stages which lead to "normal" adult mental health,
barring traumas or overwhelming anxieties that could arrest development
and leave the person preoccupied or "fixated" with more immature
or infantile psychosexual developmental tasks. As it turns out,
his description of the outcome of normal psychosexual development
happened to describe the average nineteenth century, Austrian, bourgeois
male -- himself and his associates. Unknowingly, he took his late
nineteenth century cultural norms and beliefs and translated them
into what he considered universal norms of development and mental
health. His thinly veiled contempt for religion combined with his
unquestioning reliance on his own Judeo-Christian culture for the
definition of "normal" led Freud to transform what religion considered
"sin" into what he and his followers considered arrest of "normal"
psychosexual development or regression to more infantile polymorphous
perverse sexuality. Consequently, psychoanalytic theory added very
little to the understanding of homosexuality since it shares its
roots in the same Judeo-Christian tradition which condemns homosexuality
In 1973 the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association
(APA) removed homosexuality from the APA's list of mental disorders.
The sizable literature which led to the deletion of homosexuality
from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric
Association (the DSM) demonstrated that, contrary to traditional
cultural and psychoanalytic beliefs: 1) batteries of psychological
testing could not distinguish homosexuals from heterosexuals (i.e.,
there is no psychological profile or constellation of psychological
or cognitive deficits or defects which set homosexuals apart from
heterosexuals); 2) the incidence of mental illness among homosexuals
is no different than the incidence of mental illness among heterosexuals;
3) there is as much psychological diversity among homosexuals as
among heterosexuals; and 4) the difficulties with social adjustment
that some lesbians and gay men experience mirror the difficulties
observed in other socially devalued groups such as racial and ethnic
minorities and women (Gonsiorek & Weinrich, 1991).
The declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness left
us with a century's psychoanalytic literature describing a condition
which existed primarily in the minds and fantasies of those who
provided the treatment meant to eradicate it. Take for instance,
the theory on the development of male homosexuality propounded by
Charles Socarides, a psychoanalyst and leading figure in the social
opposition of lesbian and gay rights. He believes that male homosexuality
results from an early disturbance in the infant's relationship with
his mother. The child perceives of his mother a hostile, withholding
breast. Socarides believes that his adult homosexual male patients
are attempting to recapture in their partners' penises the hostile,
rejecting breast of their infancy. (See Lewes, 1995 for more in-depth
review of psychoanalytic theory and male homosexuality.) His penis-breast
theory, like much of psychoanalytic theory, is not based on prospective,
direct observation of prehomosexual children nor collaboration with
his patients' mothers but rather on his own beliefs about the necessary
pathology of homosexual orientation. Such is the legacy of psychoanalysis.
But, as previously noted, intemperance toward gay men and lesbians
did not originate with psychoanalysts; they simply codified the
prejudice that already existed in nineteenth century, Western European,
Judeo-Christian society into sets of psychological formulations.
They used and abused the unique public trust granted to the profession
to attempt to enforce in their patients, through psychotherapy,
social norms and prejudice. The fact that the actual lives of lesbians
and gay men differed substantially from psychoanalysts' and society's
beliefs about gay men and lesbians had little impact on the persistent
propagation of the mythology of "the homosexual." The dogged persistence
of erroneous observations in the face of overwhelming contradictory
evidence led Judith Lorber (1995) to state: "We see what we believe"
I borrowed Lorber's phrase, "we see what we believe," for the title
of this paper because an examination of the perspective on homosexuality
supported and proffered by LDS church leaders and LDS Social Services
demonstrates that "official" beliefs regarding the immoral condition
of homosexuals precedes and informs their treatment/mistreatment
by ecclesiastical leaders as well as "believing" mental health professionals.
LDS church leaders tell LDS mental health professionals what to
believe about gay men and lesbians and some LDS mental health
professionals put the religious beliefs into psychological jargon
which is then quoted by church leaders in support of their "official"
positions. Ronald Bingham, the department chair of the educational
psychology department at BYU, and Richard Potts, a doctoral candidate
in clinical psychology at BYU, approvingly noted (1993):
Most Church leaders seem to agree that professional counselors
can play an important role in helping individuals experiencing
problems with homosexuality. However, since not all therapists
in the community possess personal values consistent with
Gospel principles or with the Church's position regarding
homosexuality, ecclesiastical leaders will likely be selective
in making referrals.
The Church has supported efforts of the LDS Social Services
and other consulting professionals to research the issues and
to offer a reparative therapy approach which assumes that homosexual
behavior can be changed. Therapists who acquire appropriate
preparation can counsel individuals who struggle with homosexual
problems and can serve as a useful resource to such people and
(p. 14, emphasis added)
Rather than asking its mental health professionals to review the
literature and tell them if homosexual orientation can be
changed through psychotherapy, "the church" told LDS Social Services
what the conclusions of their "research" will be and left
it up to the professionals to find a way to include the church's
position in a psychological theory and treatment approach. The response
from the "professionals" has been tail-tucking compliance. Consequently,
prominent LDS mental health professionals, including a number of
professors and administrators in the psychology department of BYU,
are encouraging LDS mental health professionals to adopt professional
attitudes consistent with "the church's position regarding homosexuality"
regardless of professional training, ethics guidelines and experience
that would otherwise encourage the professionals to remove
such biases from their clinical and research practice. Any shred
of scientific and professional integrity within LDS Social Services
as well as the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists
(AMCAP) has been replaced with religious propaganda. What the former
Soviet Union psychiatrists did to Soviet dissenters in the name
of the State is being encouraged and enacted by influential mental
health professionals in the LDS church at the demand -- and with
the blessing -- of LDS church leadership.
The heterosexualization of lesbians and gay men
One must ask, what is it about lesbians and gay men that would
lead the presumably otherwise intelligent and honest men in church
leadership and LDS Social Services leadership to self-delusion at
best, dishonesty and deception at worst? The answer, surprisingly
enough, is that the discourse on gay men and lesbians isn't about
gay men and lesbians at all but rather heterosexuals. In their minds
they have heterosexualized lesbians and gay men, seeing them and
treating them as if they were bad or deviant heterosexuals. Instead
of demonstrating understanding of the real lives of lesbians
and gay men, what we hear, read and see from church leadership as
well as LDS Social Services are beliefs widely held among
intolerant heterosexuals about gay men and lesbians. These
beliefs are derived from stereotypes of gay men and lesbians widely
accepted as truth among heterosexuals. Stereotypes arise from --
and add to -- social prejudice which creates and reinforces misunderstanding,
fear and hate, justifying discrimination and, sometimes, violence
against lesbians and gay men. In the time remaining I will briefly
outline four interdependent factors associated with the church's
heterosexualized assumptions which may account for much of the church's
"official" antipathy toward gay men and lesbians.
First: The assumption of universal heterosexual orientation. In
the assumption of universal heterosexuality we find the most poignant
example of the statement, "we see what we believe." This assumption
pervades all of the discourse on gay men and lesbians. Many intolerant
heterosexuals assume that gay men and lesbians choose their
sexual orientation. According to this belief, lesbians and gay men
are defiant, confused or deceived (i.e., recruited) heterosexuals.
Consequently, gay men and lesbians have been punished (legally,
socially, or ecclesiastically) for defiance or subjected to indoctrination
and coercion for the supposedly confused or deceived. Many gay men
and lesbians have been counseled by bishops and stake presidents
to get married to a person of the opposite sex in the mistaken belief
that once a gay man has sex with a woman or a lesbian has sex with
a man his/her "true" heterosexual orientation will emerge. More
recently, some church leaders (Oaks, 1995) have acknowledged that
gay men and lesbians do not choose their sexual orientation but
they still hold out the possibility of a change to heterosexual
orientation despite the lack of any convincing evidence that such
a change has ever really occurred (Haldeman, 1994). From a heterosexual
point-of-view, homosexual relationships are unnatural because --
understandably -- they would feel unnatural for heterosexual men
and women if they were to so engage. However, church leaders give
no evidence of understanding that heterosexual relationships feel
just as unnatural for lesbians and gay men.
When the myth of universal heterosexuality fails, those who feel
compelled to condemn homosexuals invariably fall back on the authority
of Biblical tradition. Dallin Oaks (quoted from Bingham & Potts,
1993) stated: "The Church does not 'recognize homosexual marriages'
because 'there is no ... scriptural warrant for homosexual marriages'"
(p. 5). However, if one is to rely on the Bible to justify prejudice,
it is important to understand what the Bible actually says and what
it does not say about homosexuality. Such an examination reveals
that Biblical writers labored under the same mistaken assumption
of universal heterosexuality. After reviewing the Biblical passages
which are interpreted by many Christians as prohibitions against
homosexual relations, Peter Gomes (1996) concluded:
The Biblical writers never contemplated a form of homosexuality
in which loving, monogamous, and faithful persons sought to live
out the implications of the gospel with as much fidelity to it
as any heterosexual believer. All they knew of homosexuality was
prostitution, pederasty, lasciviousness, and exploitation. These
vices, as we know, are not unknown among heterosexuals, and to
define contemporary homosexuals only in these terms is a cultural
slander of the highest order, reflecting not so much prejudice,
which it surely does, but what the Roman Catholic Church calls
"invincible ignorance," which all of the Christian piety and charity
in the world can do little to conceal. The "problem," of course.
is not the Bible, it is the Christians who read it. (p. 162)
The second heterosexualizing factor is the fusion of human sexual
intercourse with reproductive imperatives. The Judeo-Christian creation
myth specifies that Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and
replenish the earth. Church leaders place an extraordinary emphasis
on men and women in the 20th century fulfilling that commandment
given to Eve and Adam. It is true that gay and lesbian sex is not
reproductive sex but neither is the vast majority of heterosexual
sex (Michael, et al., 1994). Lesbian and gay couples use sexual
intercourse for the same purposes as heterosexual couples; a way
of giving and receiving pleasure and as a way to strengthen intimate
bonds. A double standard is employed in this regard: lesbian and
gay couples are condemned because they cannot -- between the two
of them -- procreate, but heterosexual couples may decide not to
procreate or may not be able to procreate yet they continue in full
church fellowship. Church leaders further condemn lesbian and gay
couples for having sexual intercourse out of wedlock yet they pay
extraordinary sums of tithing money in lawyers fees to keep gay
and lesbian couples from joining in legal and lawful marriages.
This is more than feigned piety -- it is sheer mean-spiritedness.
The third heterosexualizing factor projected onto gay men and lesbians
is the social division of men and women. Oaks's (1995) anti-gay
doctrinal treatise begins with the statement: "God created us 'male
and female.' What we call gender was an essential characteristic
of our existence prior to our birth" (p. 7). The First Presidency's
Proclamation (1996) added that: "Gender is an essential characteristic
of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."
What they are saying is that men and women are, by design, intrinsically
and eternally different. So what are those differences and why are
they being employed by church leaders as reasons to condemn lesbians
and gay men?
First, the differences. Social psychology research has provided
us an image of what our culture considers "masculine" and "feminine."
"Masculine" traits are assumed to be more or less inherent and exclusive
to men while "feminine" traits are inherent to women. Our social
stereotype of a man describes him as: a leader, strong, independent,
aggressive, competitive, physical, less emotional, more sexually
driven, etc. Our socially constructed "feminine" stereotype describes
a woman as: subordinate, emotional, dependent, delicate, submissive,
passive, creative, more relationship-oriented, nurturing, and sexually
passive, to name but a few (Rothenberg, 1995). These stereotyped
gender attributes are not merely descriptive; they are proscriptive
and prescriptive. Most girls and boys in our culture are socialized
from birth to play with gender-defined toys, to dress in gender-defined
clothes, to prefer or avoid gender-defined colors, to pursue gender-defined
academic or vocational careers. Big boys don't cry. Girls don't
spit. Boys who prefer art to sports are sissies. Girls who prefer
auto mechanics to homemaking are tomboys. Lorber (1995) comments:
"Gendered people do not emerge from physiology or hormones but from
the exigencies of the social order. ... The moral imperatives of
religion and cultural representations reinforce the boundary lines
among genders and ensure that what is demanded, what is permitted,
and what is tabooed for the people in each gender is well-known
and followed by most. Political power, control of scarce resources,
and, if necessary, violence uphold the gendered social order in
the face of resistance and rebellion" (p. 41).
Gender differences, of themselves, are insufficient to explain
the enforced social division of women from men that we find in the
LDS church and other segments of our society. More explanatory is
the way that our stereotypes of "masculinity" and "femininity" bias
the distribution of power to men. Compare, for instance, the rhetoric
on gender differences we hear from the pulpit to a few of the remarks
by US Supreme Court Justice Bradley in 1873 regarding the appeal
of Myra Bradwell who had been denied a license to practice law by
the Illinois Supreme Court based solely on the fact that she was
a woman (Bradwell v. Illinois, 1873):
[T]he civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized
a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man
and woman. Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender.
The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to
the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations
of civil life. ... The harmony, not to say identity, of interests
and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution
is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent
career from that of her husband. So firmly fixed was this sentiment
in the founders of the common law that it became a maxim of that
system of jurisprudence that a woman had no legal existence separate
from her husband, who was regarded as her head and representative
in the social state. ... [A] married woman is incapable, without
her husband's consent, of making contracts which shall be binding
on her or him. ... The paramount destiny and mission of woman
are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.
This is the law of the Creator. ... [I]n view of the peculiar
characteristics, destiny, and mission of woman, it is within the
province of the legislature to ordain what offices, positions,
and callings shall be filled and discharged by men, and shall
receive the benefit of those energies and responsibilities, and
that decision and firmness which are presumed to predominate in
the sterner sex.
As we find in LDS church leadership, at the time of this Supreme
Court decision, all persons of power, such as legislators and judges
were, by definition and design, men. All authoritative discourse
about the inherent capacities and roles of women with regards to
power in the family and society was pronounced by men who jealously
guarded their control of women. This 1873 ruling upheld traditional
Judeo-Christian gender role myths, reaffirming the power of men
and the subordinate status of women whose legal and social standing,
until relatively recently, has been that of property of their husbands;
as Alfred Lord Tennyson put it, women were "something better than
his dog, a little dearer than his horse" (Johnston, 1972).
From its restoration, the LDS church has been obsessed with the
masculinized traits and attributes of power and authority. Indeed,
the male-possessed priesthood has been defined as the power and
authority of a male God. For church members, the possession of a
penis is the first and foremost requirement in sharing with God
his priesthood and his power, exercised -- on the most basic and
intimate level -- over one's wife and children. The most visible
symbol representing the power of the worldwide church organization
is the distinctly phallic Church Office Building, pointing erect
toward God. As LDS we live in and perpetuate a culture which deifies
"man" while, if considering her at all, places woman definitively
This leads us to the second part of the question: why do church
leaders refer to gender differences when they attack lesbians and
gay men? Simply put, they believe gay men possess characteristics
which belong to women and lesbians possess characteristics which
belong to men. From a heterosexual point of view, this may make
sense since the mistaken belief of universal heterosexuality leads
one to assume that, by definition, all men are attracted to women
and all women are attracted to men. McWhirter (1993) points out:
Although a number of studies of homosexual orientation in men
and women have found histories of childhood gender nonconformity
(for boys, not playing in "rough and tumble" games or team sports,
and playing with dolls; for girls, being "tomboys"), the majority
of gay men and lesbian women do not exhibit excessive effeminate
or masculine behavior. Yet there is a frequent association in
the scientific literature between effeminacy and gay men and between
masculinity and lesbian women. When a man experiences sexual desire
for another man it is assumed that he must have some female characteristics
to explain his "female" desires, and vice versa for lesbian women.
In fact, despite the popular myth that "you can always spot one,"
the majority of homosexual persons present no identifiable evidence
of their sexual orientation by their gender role appearance, mannerisms,
or language. (p. 42)
Though the majority of lesbians and gay men do not manifest gender
nonconformity, the stereotype of the "feminine" gay man and the
"masculine" lesbian persist in our culture. Those stereotypes influence
how we see people from the stereotyped groups. Weissbach & Zagon
(1975) presented a short video interview of a man to two groups
of subjects. One group was told that the man in the video was homosexual.
The subjects found the interviewee "weaker, more feminine, more
emotional, more submissive, and more conventional when he was labeled
gay than when he was not" (Fernald, 1995, p. 92). In a circular,
self-fulfilling manner, people will see in others what they expect
to see, thus confirming in their own minds the validity of their
stereotyped beliefs. We see what we believe.
Because they are believed to possess characteristics of women,
gay men are either encouraged to become "masculine" and thus join
their brothers in their rightful place or are treated as inferior
and subordinate, like misbehaving women. Because lesbians are believed
to possess characteristics of men, they arouse in intolerant heterosexual
men and women the drive to put them in their subordinate and dependent
place, sometimes at the threat of violence. The social division
of women from men is especially important in the LDS church where
gender determines who gets social and ecclesiastical power. But
social gender role factors alone do not adequately account for the
depth of intolerance engendered in many men and women in our society.
The final factor of this paper takes us from the social sphere of
anti-gay/lesbian bias to the more intimate, psychological sphere.
The fourth heterosexualizing factor influencing biases against
lesbians and gay men is gender enmity, particularly men's enmity
toward things "feminine." Heterosexual men persecute gay men and
lesbians in large part because they see (or believe they see) in
gay men characteristics of women and in lesbians characteristics
of men. Often beginning in junior high school, children and teenagers
from intolerant social climates learn to use labels such as queer,
faggot, sissy, and fairy, to express antagonism toward more stereotypically
"feminine" boys regardless of their actual sexual orientation;
a man doesn't have to be gay to be called gay. When men have sex
with men in cultures such as Latin America, Islamic countries, prisons,
and the armed forces, only the receptive partner (equivalent to
a sexually passive woman in heterosexual intercourse) is labeled
and derided by the community as gay (Wooden & Parker, 1982; Chauncey,
1985). Male recruits to the Armed Forces routinely are called "ladies"
and "girls" by their drill instructors until they complete basic
training, at which point -- having extricated all "womanly" weakness
from their bodies and minds -- they become "men" and "gentlemen."
Studies (Kite, 1992; Kite & Deaux, 1986) demonstrated that when
sharing information about themselves in a "getting acquainted" setting,
heterosexual men who are more intolerant of gay men and lesbians
describe themselves as lower in "femininity" and higher in agency
(e.g., assertive and independent) than men who are more tolerant.
Internal gender enmity leads men who are intolerant toward lesbians
and gay men to go to excessive lengths to make sure that others
know that they are not "feminine."
Because of their physical similarity to boys, higher degrees of
gender role nonconformity are tolerated in young girls (i.e., tomboys).
But that tolerance stops in adolescence when young women, developing
secondary sexual characteristics, are socialized to become the object
of sexual conquest among men. In our culture they start wearing
makeup. Some develop eating disorders in a distorted effort to have
the perfect body while others think about plastic surgery to correct
any perceived physical defects which might make them unattractive
to young men. A woman who wears no makeup, who takes engineering
or auto mechanics courses rather than homemaking, who does not orient
her life around men, is at high risk of being called a lesbian regardless
of her sexual orientation.
Traditional heterosexual gender enmity within the LDS church is
heatedly defended. Two prominent justifications for "natural" gender
enmity are found in psychology and the Judeo-Christian creation
myth. In conclusion, let's briefly explore these two sources.
In its convoluted account of the development of male homosexuality,
the LDS Social Services document Understanding and Helping Individuals
with Homosexual Problems (LDS-SS document, 1995) attributes
to the developing gay man a missing sense of "masculinity" caused
by the failure of the father to exercise his "absolute veto power
over a prolonged mother-son attachment" (p. 11). It reduces male
homosexual orientation to a sexualized drive to internalize the
father's "masculinity." However, none of the heterosexual males
who dreamed up these theories reduce heterosexual male orientation
to a sexualized drive to internalize the mother's "femininity."
To the contrary, traditional psychoanalytic theories, developed
primarily by heterosexual men, turn the family into a psychological
battle ground between sons and fathers where the mother -- and,
subsequently, womankind -- is the victor's prize. The chief characteristic
of "masculinity" supposedly transferred from father to son is competition
among men, particularly for the possession of women.
In a similar vein, the LDS-SS document attributes the development
of lesbian sexual orientation to a mother who, because of her pathologic
relationship with men, transfers her dependency needs from her husband
onto her daughter, thus "masculinizing" her daughter (p. 16). From
a heterosexual male point of view this may make sense since women,
by heterosexual male definition, are dependent on men. The LDS-SS
document characterizes lesbian relationships as overly dependent
(p. 18), though a woman's dependence on a man is seen as "normal."
It is the lesbian's lack of dependence on a man, or, phrased another
way, her perceived independence from men which is seen as the pathologic
element in lesbian sexual orientation development.
In neither instance is there any convincing data to support the
claims made by these theories. Since they make sense to heterosexuals,
especially heterosexual men, they are assumed to be true. Supporting
data is superfluous. We simply decide to see what we believe.
The most widely employed justification of gender enmity in the
LDS church, however, is found in the Judeo-Christian creation myth.
God -- a man -- created Adam first, and from Adam, God created Eve.
After Eve partook of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good
and Evil and gave the fruit to Adam, God said to her: "I will greatly
multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. In sorrow thou shalt bring
forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall
rule over thee" (Moses 4:22). These are the roles assigned by God
to Eve and, presumably, all women. She is defined in terms of her
subordinate relationship to her husband, for whom she was created
as a help meet for him (Moses 3: 18, 20). We find this same ideology
echoed in current proclamations by "the Brethren:" "By divine design,
fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness
and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and the protection
of their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture
of their children" -- period! (First Presidency, 1996). The only
task given by God to Eve (and women) is the only task which Adam
(and men) cannot take from women -- the bearing of children. Or
can't they? Speaking at a Priesthood Commemoration Fireside, Boyd
K. Packer (1989) said of gay men:
Never can two of the same gender fulfill the commandment to multiply
and replenish the earth. No two men or any number added to them,
no matter how much priesthood they may think they possess, can
do it. Only a woman can bestow upon man that supernal title of
father (1989, p. 73).
But isn't that what the creation myth tells us? Two priesthood-bearing
men (Elohim and Jehovah) created man (Adam), and from Adam, a man,
came the birth of Eve, a woman. Our creation myth leads us to believe
that we human beings are the products of a woman-less creation.
Our God (the ideal man) appropriated from women that one characteristic
of womanhood which men cannot otherwise possess. As Lopez-Corvo
described in his book God is a Woman (1997), our creation
myth projects upon God man's covetous and envious attitude toward
women's unique ability to bring life into the world. A woman's reproductive
potential, when possessed by man, completes his transformation into
his all-powerful ideal, God.
The problem is that the rest of a woman comes packaged with her
reproductive abilities. Consequently, men in power (i.e., apostles
and prophets, legislators, husbands and fathers), referring authoritatively
to their creation myth, have made rules, laws, commandments, and
customs which carefully regulate the scope of a woman's personhood
so as to complete man rather than compete with him; ergo, the "feminine"
ideal trait of passivity. A woman's potentially unregulated and
independent personhood, which may deprive man of his ideal personal
completeness, drives his gender enmity.
Because of deeply ingrained gender enmity, lesbians (as well as
women feminists), perceived as independent of men, become targets
of those men who feel entitled to possess and control women. Because
of gender enmity, gay men are perceived as breaking ranks with men;
trying to possess another man (i.e., feminize a man), or -- worse
-- be possessed by a man.
Early in my psychiatric training I began treating a woman with
a severe personality disorder. I experienced intense frustration
with her because every time we made progress in the therapy she
would decompensate and hurt herself. After about a year of repeating
this cycle I experienced a flash of insight that has remained with
me since. I realized that I had no idea how she thought or felt.
We spoke the same language and that led me to believe that we shared
other perceptions as well, but I discovered after many frustrating
hours that we thought in very different ways. In order to help her,
I first had to learn from her how she perceived and interpreted
the world around her. I learned from her and subsequent patients
as well as friends and acquaintances, an important lesson which
has improved me as a psychiatrist and, hopefully, as a person. I
remind myself daily, and teach my residents, this adage by Emerson:
"The sign of the true scholar is that in every man there is something
wherein I may learn of him. In that I am his pupil."
This is the major problem with the perspective on homosexual orientation
passed on by some of the LDS church leaders and LDS Social Services.
It is clear that the writings of many church leaders including the
First Presidency's document Understanding and Helping Those Who
Have Homosexual Problems -- Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders
(1992) as well as the LDS-SS document (1995) do not lead to an understanding
of lesbians and gay men at all. What we find in those documents
are dry, dehumanizing pontifications added to caricatures and stereotypes
of gay men and lesbians drawn from a distinctly heterosexual male
point of view.
I have five pieces of unsolicited but sorely needed advice to
offer church leaders as well as my mental health professional colleagues
in LDS Social Services:
Stop talking about gay men and lesbians as if you knew them. Your
writings prove you wrong and reflect badly on the integrity of the
Seek first to love people rather than judge them. Your careless
and thoughtless blanket condemnations of lesbians and gay men combined
with the falsehoods you use to justify your judgments hurt everyone
in the church, especially faithful gay men, lesbians, and their
families. Joseph Smith never said anything about lesbians and gay
men. But he did say this of men in leadership positions: "We have
learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition
of nearly all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they
suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion"
(D&C 121: 39).
No matter how much you may beg, plead, pray or cajole, you cannot
make gay men and lesbians heterosexual. But you can help them to
be whole by loving them and finding ways to help them love themselves.
Far too many of our lesbian and gay youths kill themselves because
of what you say about them (Remafedi, 1994). Don't teach them to
hate themselves. Encourage them to form healthy, loving, fulfilling,
nonexploitive, eternal relationships with their companions or potential
companions as you do with your heterosexual youth.
Don't hold out a promise of change in the name of Jesus; your prejudicial
beliefs are your own. By basing a change in sexual orientation on
the Atonement and repentance you drive many spiritually sensitive
women and men out of the church and, possibly, into spiritual chaos.
Because they cannot change they may feel that -- due to some intrinsic
evil -- Jesus has abandoned them. Those who believe your false promises
and remain celibate in the hopes of eventual "cure" are consigned
to a misery paralleling that of thirsty Tantalus whose punishment
from the gods was to stand in a pool of water which forever receded
just out of his reach.
Before you can overcome your negative biases toward lesbians and
gay men you need to be aware of your condescending and rejecting
views regarding women and "femininity." It is an insult of the highest
order to consider all of the cultural, scientific, social, political
and economic accomplishments of women as secondary to their reproductive
capacities. Likewise, it is insulting for men who have (or desire)
primary responsibility for raising children to consider their contributions
as inferior to women's or "unmasculine." Additionally, neither women
nor any of their parts should be considered property, possession,
or missing pieces of men.
Most of what has been said and written about gay men and lesbians
by church leaders tells us more about the leaders themselves than
lesbians and gay men. If one wants to learn about gay men and lesbians
she/he would be well advised to sets the Ensign aside and invite
a lesbian, gay man or a gay couple to your home and talk to them.
Rather than seeing in lesbians and gay men what you have been led
to believe about them, talk to them, see them, hear them, love them,
and believe what you see of them and their experiences. You will
understand so much more.
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