by David Andreason
Never before has the prospect of living a “normal” life been so real, and yet I question whether we’re honestly ready to embrace it. My community is at a crossroad. There is so much debris through which to navigate and to discard. It’s doable, but it’s going to take some time. It’s also going to take our letting go of toxic and outdated mindsets. In some aspects we’re simply going to need a clean slate.
I’ve reached the point where I feel I can no longer remain silent on certain matters. Like many others, I was born and raised in Utah. Like many Utahns, I was very Mormon. Very. Yes, I went on a mission. I went to Japan and I loved it. And yes, I obeyed all the rules.
Within three or four months after I came home, however, I came out. I was barely 21 but not all that naive. I had already come out to church leaders years before, but now it was official and I was an independent adult. Sure, I had plenty of insecurities like everybody else, but I was confident, too. I knew who I was. I also knew that the counseling sessions my bishop had offered the church pay for would not be necessary. And I was pretty proud of myself for disguising the impulse to burst out laughing when it was suggested that dating, marrying and starting a family with a wholesome young girl would “cure” my problem. It seemed laughable to me, but also offensive.
I was a fun, well-liked kid. I had friends of just about every age, including quite a few awesome young girls. These were people I cared about and respected. They deserved to marry and fall in love with someone who loved them the same way. The idea they were there simply for me to use and hide behind angered me. I thanked him for the offer and left. I have never been back. I never became whiny, defensive or bitter. I just left. There was no need for me to be there anymore.
That is not to say I did not get angry over certain things regarding the Mormon Church and my community. In time, I came to hear of groups like Evergreen and, yes, I was shocked and pissed off that my church considered electroshock therapy an acceptable tool for turning people straight. For the most part, though, they left us alone. That was fine with me. This was the age of AIDS and we had enough to deal with. I cringe for the youth of today who have to watch their lives played out on the world stage every single day, and I wonder sometimes how they handle it. Everyone always weighing in on their worth and purpose.
In exchange for all of our progress in the last few decades, we have opened the door to more open communication, and that has given a platform to haters with seemingly inexhaustible amounts of garbage to spew. I’m really pretty tough when it comes to this stuff, but even I get sick of it. It’s really just too much and, sadly, there is almost nowhere for people to turn for viable support within their community. I especially worry about the damaging impact this has on our youth.
For so long now, our community has allowed itself to be distilled to hollow identities that are little more than parties and hook-ups. Of course, these things have always been a part of our culture, but now it’s as though that’s it, that’s all there is. Where is the depth? Where is the creativity? The thought-provoking conversation? Are they gone? Have they very effectively shamed it out of us?
It’s time to regain ownership of our own community. It’s high time we start defining ourselves again. For way too long, we have allowed others to tell us who we are—ironically, they’re usually the ones who have nothing but derogatory things to say about us. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. I won’t make you guess.
We must break with religion. What I mean is that we give them too much power over our hearts, minds, souls, relationships, self-esteem … everything! We need to stop allowing ourselves be lead around like dogs by those who seek to control us and control the conversation. Stop! I’m a good person. You’re a good person. Why are we waiting for approval and validation from the very people who alienate, shun and even disdain us?
We’ve become nothing more than a counter-argument, an opposite, a boring cyclical binary. Outside the scornful definition of our haters, who are we? One side provokes, the other barks back, and on and on and on it goes as though we have nothing else to talk about and nothing else to define us, but, of course, we do! We have so many things far more important than this that we completely ignore and neglect. This has to change.
Are you living your life as nothing more than a reaction to society’s views of you? Don’t settle for just being a “reaction.” It’s time to step away from this toxic “arrangement.” A few weeks ago, I attended a third funeral this year. It’s heartbreaking. It’s also infuriating. I was raised Mormon and a Utahn from birth. I know this culture well and actually had a pretty great childhood. I know my parents meant to raise up a devout and loyal Mormon but inadvertently raised a son who is strong, loyal and honest. A son who is authentic and resents being told that he needs to be something he is not, something false in order to find acceptance.
I respect religion—defend it even. One of the greatest privileges we have in this country is the right to think, feel and believe however we choose. But all religions have doctrines and dogmas they espouse, and those can be whatever they say. They think I’m evil. I’m not. They don’t like me. I don’t care, they don’t have to, but herein lies the crux of this dilemma. I don’t need them to like me. The problem I see, however, is that too many do. I see so many whose entire self-worth seems to be hanging in the balance. “The ‘Church’ is coming around,” they say. Are we really not going to like ourselves until we receive the proverbial pat on the head from church leaders? I know this sounds trite, but it really isn’t. This is destroying people.
What I see happening in the process of moving toward this Mormon “welcome” is that people, in an attempt to give the appearance of inclusion, deny and stifle their very identity and thus begins the lies. This doesn’t work.
Social media alone has proven to be quite an eye-opener and has raised some red flags for me. There is a pattern of duality that emerges almost without fail. I follow over 10,000 pages on Facebook and belong to over 100 community groups. Consequently, Facebook is constantly advertising pages and suggesting groups and friends they think I might be interested in. I don’t need to ask—they tell me who’s doing what, what they like, and who’s in the group. Sites, people, groups, etc., that use sex and nudity to attract followers seem to be successful at drawing the overtly religious, as well. I see this constantly and it’s stressing me out, not because I have any interest in policing someone else’s sex life. I don’t. But because I’ve been around long enough to know that this undeniably points to a recipe for self-loathing, self-destructive behavior, and I care very much about this. Why?
By accepting this status, we accept that we are less than, shameful and inferior. We grovel for approval while denying our natural selves. What we learn are two things: 1) to dislike ourselves, a lot sometimes, and 2) that in order to just be ourselves we have no choice but to retreat into the shadows, skulking around in these shallow secret worlds we create, thereby only learning to dislike ourselves more. We inevitably take it out on each other and everybody around us. Since we don’t like ourselves much we find it difficult to like each other.
Relationships are difficult and disappointing. Many settle for sexual hook-ups where they can get them, finding it more comfortable to be with someone who doesn’t care about them and who they will not be required to care about either. I can’t count the number of people who tell me they hate this and yet return to it time and again because they never learned anything else. I think it’s because they never have given themselves permission to genuinely like and respect themselves, and that makes it incredibly difficult to get close to, or care about, another person. This cycle fuels an empty, repetitive lifestyle which most seem to find frustrating and unfulfilled.
Why can’t we just be ourselves? Why the secrets, the shadows, the lies and the shame? Because someone else told you that’s where you belong? That you have no business feeling strong, confident and good about yourself. And you bought that? Stop it.
What I know is this: no one really knows, including me.
There are very masculine men and very feminine women. There are also very masculine women and very feminine men, and everything in between. Why are people so different? Why are some people attracted to the same sex while most are attracted to the opposite sex? I have no idea—and neither do you. Neither does this religion. Neither does that political ideology. So forget about that garbage—just do your best to be you, genuinely, and you will be 100 steps ahead of the crowd.
So my greatest wish for my community is this: that before we jump into a marriage just because we can, we check ourselves as to why we are making that decision. In fact, I want every one of us to get in the habit of asking ourselves why when it comes to every decision we make. Is it because we’re angry? Sad? Insecure? Shame? Still reeling because Mommy made you sit quietly on a church pew with your arms folded. Get over it. Let it go and stop acting out. Stop RE-acting. It’s time to ACT, time to just live. Time to get in touch with you and quit living as though you’re nothing more than a counter-argument to those who don’t like you. Time to be real. Time to honest. It’s time to move forward.
I’m tired of watching souls break under the strain as they struggle to please—struggle to be something they are not because they feel they have no choice. In other words, they feel they must contrive an image, a personality, because it is the only way to maintain the relationship with those we love the most, with those who love us. This is toxic.
We have work to do and we need to get started. We’ll be glad we did.