Last year, PBS aired a documentary by Helen Whitney called, “The Mormons”. In Sunstone Magazine, December 2007 issue, a feature article appeared about her experiences making the film. She briefly discusses the part of the film about gay Mormons. The article can be seen online at: The Mormons.

She mentions her interviews with Ty Mansfield and me (p 36). I also published an article in the same issue on my experiences with her. My article is not available on line.

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29 comments

  1. avatar

    If you don’t mind, Rex, I’m just going to include the paragraph here. My computer kept doing funky things as I tried to download the pdf. The paragraph reads:

    Fitting it all in. I?ve mentioned how this project grew from a ninety-minute film to a four-hour cooperative venture for Frontline and American Experience, but even with more time to tell the Mormon story, I still had to struggle with very difficult decisions about what I could include in the final cut. For instance, in the act on ?Family,? Trevor Southey discusses the experience of being gay and Mormon in a church that celebrates family. He describes his own choices, which involved leaving the faith. Yet as wonderfully textured as Trevor?s interview was, I was always uncomfortable having it stand for all gay Mormons. I worked very hard to find time for other gay Mormons, in particular those who struggle to remain chaste and within the Church. Ultimately I couldn?t find the time for very moving interviews with people such as Rex Goode and Ty Mansfield. Their voices on this issue, as well as vibrant tellings of incredible journeys of both faith and doubt, remain in my six-hour directors cut as well as in my heart and soul.

    I very much enjoyed my participation in this. The only frustration was feeling so much anxiety for so long, only to get a call from Helen on Monday afternoon, the day before the second portion was to air, telling me that as much as she wanted to include it, she regretted not being able to find the time. I was told that in her address at the 2007 Sunstone Symposium, she included clips of segments she had to cut, and mine was among them. I bought the audio of that session so I could at least listen to my interview. All in all, I very much appreciated the work that Helen did. I felt she did make a genuine effort to tell as many perspectives on the story—speaking of the Mormon story, broadly—as she could.

  2. avatar

    On a sort of related note, North Star put together a piece on this story with links to additional interview statements on homosexuality that didn’t make it into the documentary.

  3. avatar

    I had that same let down, which I talk about in my article on Sunstone. I wish it was online. It was an excruciating year+ of wondering what would happen once I was outed to just about everyone. Then to be told I was cut was quite a stun.

  4. avatar

    That’s exactly how I felt. I interviewed in July, worked with them through Spring getting pictures and such that they asked for, and then was told… oh, April 30th, I guess, was the date the first segment was aired… that it had been cut. Helen was extremely kind and apologetic, though. Although I was disappointed, the experience all around was certainly a positive one.

  5. avatar

    It is quite simply unacceptable to see Ty marginalized.

  6. avatar
  7. avatar

    Borealis

    I should add my experience with the documentary as well. Thankfully, it was not as nerve-wracking as Rex and Ty’s, but still interesting. At several people’s urging (including Ty), I contacted Jane Barnes, the associate producer. We talked two different times, probably for more than three hours in total. I very much enjoyed the discussion; she is very good at asking questions that get you to talk about the really important stuff. She took copious notes as I heard her keyboard clacking in the background. I also felt the Spirit very strong, interestingly. I really did bear my soul, and wondered what would happen once I said all that stuff on camera.

    Well, a few days later she called back and said that while my story was “quite vivid” it was not “emblematic enough” for them to want to include it. I was puzzled over that “emblematic” word, but I didn’t argue, as I was so relieved. She mentioned the kinds of people she wanted to include in the documentary, and asked me if I knew some people who would fit that. And I did. After getting permission from several of these friends, I gave their contact information to Ms. Barnes. One of those contacts was my dear friend Rex. But to get his story, I guess you’ll have to buy the magazine. ;)

    Based on profile of people Ms. Barnes was asking me to help her contact, I think my story wasn’t “emblematic” enough because I was married, but not for very long, and hadn’t had any serious issues with same-sex attraction during my marriage, and actually minimal experience before it as well. I lucked out of having to appear in the documentary because I was in-between Rex and Ty. Ty wasn’t married yet, and Rex had been married more than 20 years. Ms. Barnes had mentioned how she found it “poignant” to be single in the Church that focuses so much on the family. Some of her questions to me also covered my experience with that and I gave my perspective.

  8. avatar

    “Ty wasn?t married yet”

    I’m still not. *sigh* :)

  9. avatar

    -L-

    So, someone who hasn’t had serious issues with same-sex attraction during marriage and “minimal experience before it as well” is just too boring to be reported on. Or does it mean that you’re too exciting, a rare find (unemblematic) and too exotic to discuss as typical? I think you’re more emblematic than most people will ever know.

  10. avatar

    I think you?re more emblematic than most people will ever know.

    HA! That’s the definition of “unemblematic.”

    with apologies to Borealis

  11. avatar

    -L-

    “Emblamatic” ought to represent the typical aspects of a large group. I think Borealis is typical of a large, but unrecognized, group.

  12. avatar

    It may be that Jane Barnes was referring to emblematic on a larger Mormon scale rather than a mere gay Mormon scale. Much of what prompted her to refer me on to the next level of talking to Helen was that I said things about the Mormon experience at large, how my struggle not only represented a uniquely Mormon way of dealing with homosexuality, but a uniquely Mormon way of looking at life.One thing that I said that impressed both was that it is like we are all Joseph Smith, approaching God with unanswered questions and getting revelation from him on how to move forward. Whether that question be about one’s own homosexuality or which church to join, the Mormon experience and fundamental belief is that the answer comes directly from God and not, as Joseph Smith said, by an appeal to the Bible.

  13. avatar

    Borealis

    Rex:

    I too shared some very sacred experiences about how personal revelation helped me move forward. About dealing with uncertainty, about how we are co-creators with God about the course of our lives, about fitting in, and not fitting in, with both the world, the Church, and the gay community. I suppose all of those things are “vivid” and “poignant”, but not emblematic.

    -L- (#11), I did make the point to Ms. Barnes that you did, that I think I represent a very large, but poorly represented, contingent in the Church, and I felt like the whole discussion of homosexuality in the Church had been hijacked by the extremists on both sides. It seemed like she sympathized with me, mentioning other cases (not about “The Mormons”) where this happens. Sadly, I don’t think the documentary added any nuance to that at all. I didn’t find Trever Southey’s experience terribly “textured,” though I admit I am too close, and too familiar with the topic to have the same take on it as Helen Whitney or an outsider would. He certainly is “emblematic” of a certain contingent, but it is the one that already is plenty well-represented, and well-known, in my opinion. I had really high hopes that we would get to see a side of homosexuality in the LDS Church that has never been seen in Nightline, Oprah, 20/20, and so on.

    So, I remain puzzled about just what “emblematic” means, but somehow I suspect it tells us more about what the documentary makers were thinking than it does about me. I’m just not sure I know myself what that is.

    I hope no one thinks I’m bitter about my experience or feel like the documentary makers were unfair. I would have told the story differently. I think they got some things wrong, and I think they emphasized some things I would not have, and ignored some things I think they shouldn’t have (like Rex & Ty). But I really did enjoy my discussion, and the documentary itself was pretty good, I thought.

    And Rex is pretty “emblematic ” (a few other adjectives come to mind as well :)) so I was quite happy to have him speak for me from a faithful perspective.

  14. avatar

    I agree with you about Trevor Southey’s experience not seeming particularly textured and for the same reasons you gave, other than where he lived. Beautiful country that.

    But that point of view is well represented in all sorts of venues, so it wasn’t particularly interesting to those of us close to the issue. Obviously they weren’t thinking that making it interesting for you and me would raise their viewership numbers.
    .

  15. avatar

    “Emblematic”

    Borealis said: “I think I represent a very large, but poorly represented, contingent in the Church, and I felt like the whole discussion of homosexuality in the Church had been hijacked by the extremists on both sides.”

    L said: ?Emblamatic? ought to represent the typical aspects of a large group. I think Borealis is typical of a large, but unrecognized, group.”

    Recent blog comment by RS (me): “At the last Evergreen conference they announced that LDS Family Services estimates 80% of those with SGA are leaving the Church.”

    Over and over we come back to questions about how many LDS are found in the various subgroups of SGA.

    On this blog, I notice at least the following groups—and I hope I do not offend or miscategorize by listing some examples I know or whose blogs I follow If so please correct me.

    1. There is a contingent of long-time married men who continue faithful in the Church but who speak quite candidly about their continuing SGA and the challenges this poses in their long time marriages (Abelard, Beck, Gecko, Rex). (the most visible representative of long time married women (Sam) seems more content and less troubled at least based on my reading of the blogs)

    2. There is a contingent of short time married men who openly admit their strong SGA and who feel life is going well (L, Borealis, Ben).

    3. Single men and women committed to a single life (Ty).

    4. Single men and women trying to decide on the possible choices (Chednar, Playasinmar).

    5. Men in gay relationships (JGW) or single (like Trevor) after a straight marriage and/or period of denial/reparative therapy.

    Are they all equally large “emblematic” groups? Who can say? I have some hunches, some indications from Evergreen and LDS Family Services…. but no definitive proof.

    I see the Church statements of late urging caution for those considering the first two groups above. Some on this blog often urge (it seems to me) that those with strong SGA should be assured they can be in one of those first two groups on the basis of what they feel (but have no proof) is a “large, unrecognized group.” My experience with the last group (group 5) suggests that our leaders caution is well warranted. I do believe many LDS persons in a large unrecognized group are those who have weak (bisexual) SGA and who manage ok in marriage. I feel the leaders statements (especially) Elder Oaks leave the marriage door open pretty wide for those who are bisexual. But, of course, individuals all have to make their own choices and decisions with inspiration.

    L recently blogged this after looking at the NL affiliated blogs:

    “….the topics were the same, more or less. The occasional ironies: vitriol from some sides, the over-reactions, the banding together in defensive victimhood while disparaging those “other guys” in a manner that is completely intolerant.

    Sometimes I just feel like people choose a role and move through the motions without even realizing they’re doing it. The young gay who feels liberated as he questions authority. The married gay who considers walking away from the life he’s built to search for an upgrade. The depressed blogger who manages to create something beautiful and artful and poetic in articulating the struggle of life.

    It makes me wonder what role I’m in right now? The sanctimonious, overly self-assured churchy guy? …..Am I in the calm before the storm–the guy whose life is perfect right before falling apart?”

    While it would be nice to KNOW which groups are “emblematic,” I think we are all still wondering and will be for a while.

  16. avatar

    Ron,

    I was a little confused at your group #5. Being relatively new here and not knowing the individuals you placed in that group, I’m not sure what group #5 is.

    To be honest, I can’t make out much of what is being said lately by the leaders of the Church. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to them, but I haven’t listened much lately when they talk about homosexuality. I haven’t expected any big changes so I’ve assumed they weren’t saying much new. Another reason is that this issue doesn’t loom very large in my life when placed alongside everything else that takes up my time.

    Personally, I like your group definitions better than definitions like gay, straight, bisexual, etc. It really pushes certain buttons with me when people speculate that a man who says he’s SSA but manages OK in marriage is able to do so because he is really bisexual. My attraction to men hardly seems weak and my attraction to women in general seems nearly nonexistent. Until I accepted that I only had to become attracted to one woman as opposed to being attracted to women in general, I think that marriage would have been fairly impossible for me.

    So, while it seems good, for the sake of analysis and commentary, to categorize people, categories are essentially useless. The universe of choices out there is limitless. If I rail against anything more than another, it’s the idea that if one fits a certain definition, one must follow some conventional path. I’m equally annoyed with the corollary: If one takes a certain path, it is because one fits a certain definition.

  17. avatar

    -L-

    Some on this blog often urge (it seems to me) that those with strong SGA should be assured they can be in one of those first two groups on the basis of what they feel (but have no proof) is a ?large, unrecognized group.

    I believe you are mistaken. Can you point me toward a single reference where anyone on this blog has “assured” that anyone with SGA can and should get married?

    Of course, more irritating than that is your quoting my personal musings as if there is something to be read into it. If you would like to quote something I’ve said on my personal blog, kindly provide a link to the post in context and specify precisely what it is you are suggesting. Then people can, at the very least, recognize your errors without waiting for the off chance I find your comment later on and correct it. I wrote the post after reading a variety of blogs, few (if any) of which were “Northern Lights” affiliated. You may have missed the difference in approach I use between my personal blog and Northern Lights, so let me clarify that my own blog is personal. The prose may be misinterpreted (as you apparently have done). The future of my marriage isn’t the least bit in question.

  18. avatar

    Samantha

    I love that my blog paints my marriage as untroubled and contented. Those who actually know me well are more aware of the true ups and downs. But my blog’s purpose was to chronicle my journey as I resolved the issues of physical and emotional abuse from my mother, and a summer of imaginative rape from an older cousin who lived with us–not to discuss the intricacies of a mixed-orientation marriage.

    Honestly, I have found that a MOM can be a lose-lose situation from the perspective of those on the outside looking in. I’ve been bashed by those who feel that my marriage is an obstacle in their quest to legitimize gay marriages, and also by those who feel I am putting my husband’s emotional and mental health at risk by marrying him. I’ve been told that my children are at risk because they have not been raised in by two heterosexual parents, and that their risk for emotional problems will increase when they learn of my orientation (except that they know–keep your fingers crossed–they’re still normal).

    There are other criticisms, and the truth is that unless I can think of a benefit in broadcasting the “secrets” of my marriage, I’ll probably just keep them between Darrin and I. It’s nice to have some things that simply belong to us. So–I’m happy to remain as a female fringe contingent of group 1, but would caution people never to assume things about my marriage. It’s not perfect…it’s…normal?

  19. avatar

    Rex

    Group 5. Think about those in gay marriage and or single after an attempt at heterosexual marriage or giving up on reparative therapy.

    If categorizing is “useless,” how can we find individuals to represent the important (emblemetic) groups within Mormonism on this issue.”

    L

    I think it is important that an effort be made to dialogue about these issues when we all see ourselves as within the gospel framework but we have differences of opinion. I am sorry you find me irritating so often. I’m not persuaded yet to give up the effort at dialogue because I ‘d like to believe that with patience we can increase understanding and really listen to each other.

    Perhaps I’m wrong and heterosexual marriage for gay persons is not being encouraged on this blog. Or perhaps it is word choice which is at issue here, and it would be better if I said “encouraged” rather than “assured.” I offer that as more precisely what I had in mind.

    You asked me to cite an example and I spent some time reading entries in the category (on the sidebar of the blog) for mixed orientation marriage. I think there are at least one or two posts (maybe more) there which encourage heterosexual marriage for those who experience strong SGA. I am not going to paste anything here since that could get me in a lot of trouble because even with verbatim quotes you say I am “misinterpreting” your meaning and making “errors.” Sorry, I don’t currently know how to link nor does it seem to me to be a complete solution for the errors you assert I have made. And pardon me for citing your personal blog and trying to suggest nothing more than that there are a variety of points of view (possible emblemetic positions) circulating on these NL and other similar blogs.

  20. avatar

    -L-

    I think it is important to clarify that what I have always done on this blog (and elsewhere) is encourage faith that God can work for our good within the current system of rules and commandments. God has a plan for each of us that will address our needs, our happiness, our loneliness, etc, without the necessity of some change in the church itself and without necessarily complying with each person’s own poorly informed checklist of what they want for themselves in their lives. Sometimes marriage is in the cards and sometimes not, but ruling it out prematurely based on faulty logic or a fatalistic interpretation of data is the wrong way to proceed. So, what you apparently have interpreted as encouraging marriage is something altogether different. Again, you will not find a single reference on this blog (that I know of) that “assures” OR directly “encourages” marriage for gays.

  21. avatar

    I want to remind blog readers that my original comment addressed “emblematic” and who should have been picked to represent LDS persons who experience SGA. It also asked if there is a “large, poorly represented group” who are married and have strong feelings of SGA.
    Both these ideas, I felt, were under discussion in the original post and comments.

    I don’t think we have much evidence to tell us how large the group might be (especially group 1- long term success and less importantly group 2-short term cases). These groups are described in my first comment above.

    I agree that “sometimes marriage is in the cards and sometimes not.”

    I also agree that we should “encourage faith that God can work for our good within the current system of rules and commandments.”

    I believe the best rules offered for a decision about joining groups 1 and 2 comes from Elder Oaks in the Church website interview on SGA as supplemented by comments from Elder Holland in the Sept 2007 Ensign and within the “God Loveth His Children” pamphlet.

    L I appreciate your clarification of your intentions here on the MOM issue. You may wish to look over the post of July 23, 2007 labeled “More Dating and Marrying Advice” for the kind of encouragement I am referring to. It is reasonably balanced, but I read it as encouragement. I don’t think it ever mentions the rules offered by Elder Oaks.

  22. avatar

    Ron,

    I find categorizing people to be somewhat useless, especially when one person creates the categories. Bias becomes involved. For example, I did not notice a category in your list of men who had tried reorientation, found it helpful, and have moved on. As much as I have misgivings about it, I can’t deny that there are men who sincerely believe it has been beneficial to them. Some say, and I have greater misgivings about it, that it has completely altered their orientation. Despite my doubts, I don’t think I have a right to call them liars. I’m only inside my own head.

    Some of those in that group are single and some are married. Some of the married lived long double lives until they entered therapy and now continue married and at last faithful. That makes two more categories–single and married clients of reorientation who felt it helped them. I would bet there are more.

    I do understand that you were only gleaning your groups from posts on this blog, so I don’t think you were being intentionally misleading. Please note that I don’t think of bias as an evil thing. We all have our own.

    Now that you’ve clarified your group 5, it seems to me it is two groups.

    For the five groups you identified and the two I added, I still don’t think there’s a lot of use to them in terms of defining emblematic. In fact, they make it more difficult to define it. There are too many ways to combine those groups and the more categories you create, the more difficult it becomes.

    You have two basic categories: married and single. Then you divide the married category by marital longevity and the single category by levels of commitment to the Church’s current stand. I divide the long-time married into the currently faithful and the ever faithful. I suppose the short-term married have that division too. The single category also. The complexity that develops from this makes it all fairly useless.

    Rather than looking for examples from categories, I prefer to just hear stories from a point of view. I think we’re a long way away from all points of view respectfully sharing the same space..

  23. avatar

    Ron (#13),

    I just want to clarify that I’m only committed to a single life should I not decide to marry someone of the opposite sex. But, I *do* hope/plan to marry. I don’t ever classify/consider myself as a “gay Latter-day Saint committed to a celibate life.” And, to be clear, I’m not quoting you as stating that—just a common characterizing of me, or those like me, by those who are looking in on my situation from the outside trying to figure out where I’m at/going in life. I often find myself classified as a “celibate gay Latter-day Saint,” and I just want to be clear that that’s not how I see or define myself—though that categorization doesn’t particularly bother me.

    I see myself only as a Latter-day Saint man who is committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand it, who believes that marriage to someone of the opposite sex is part of the Lord’s plan for the salvation, exaltation, and eternal happiness of His children, and who desires to partake fully in that plan as soon as I find someone with whom I truly desire to marry and build a family—whether that happens to be in this life or the next.

    You may notice that nowhere in that self-classification/categorization did I use the term SSA, SGA, or gay. That was intentional. :)

  24. avatar

    Rex and Ty

    I appreciate your thoughtful responses to my comments. I certainly believe there are a number of sub-categories possible within the ones I’ve proposed and I have no problem with the ones you propose, Rex. I didn’t try to fully sub-divide.

    But to return to the original post, how does someone like Helen Whitney decide the way in which to cover this subject fairly without some effort at categorizing? I’ve helped develop some films myself which divide into 1st) “Go Forward” single celibate (fits into group 3 or 4 from above), 2nd) “Marriage Hopes and Realities” –married 25 years (not finally successful) prob fits best in Group 1, and 3rd) “Embracing Our Homosexual Children” which fits in Group 5. Certainly, more films could be made to represent others, given the time and money. We chose these three because we wanted to present their stories in a way which would be congenial to the average member of the Church who might wish to understand some of the issues. We’ve talked about other films but not gotten it done yet.

    You can find our films by going to the link of my name in the sidebar of NL and then by taking the link to our site http://www.LDSResources.info Counting the collective viewing on both Google and youtube, there have been over 100,000 hits so far for the 3 films.

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  26. avatar

    -L-

    Ron, I had a look at the post you mentioned. With my quick scan I saw only specific references that were careful NOT to promote marriage as a sole option for gays. That post was… let’s see, what word am I looking for… emblematic of the overall point of view most blog authors here hold–marriage is good stuff and hopefully it will work out in this life. If not now, the next life it is.

  27. avatar

    Yeah……I’d call that…..ummm….lets see……encouragement and without really referring to the rules and guidelines the apostles have been discussing in the last two years. Have you ever really discussed the guidelines and rules suggested by Elder Oaks and the warning of Elder Holland??

  28. avatar

    -L-

    I know I have either here or on my own blog. But, really, with you pasting them in the comment section so frequently, it doesn’t seem necessary. :-)

  29. avatar

    Ron,

    To answer your question about how someone like Helen Whitney presents an issue fairly without categorizing, I’ll return to my original post and my article in Sunstone. My disappointment with the documentary was not that they didn’t cover the issue fairly. I didn’t see anything unfair choosing Trevor Southey’s story over mine or anyone else’s. They had every right to edit as they pleased. I was disappointed that the one they chose was so predictable. I could have told the story without having heard it. It was cliche.

    For such a momentous occasion as a full-blown documentary on PBS about Mormons, you’d think they could have picked something that would surprise someone, an under-represented group. For a long time now, we’ve been subjected to the extremes of gay Mormondom. I’m as bored by the ex-gay-got-my-male-bonding-needs-met-and-now-I’m-straight thingy as by the couldn’t-do-it-anymore-so-I-left-my-wife thingy. That’s not to say that there’s not “texture” or pain in either of those stores. I know there’s plenty.

    A good documentary should tell a story we haven’t heard. Don’t really care about the emblematic matrix.

    Any reasons I might come up with as to why they did it the way they did it would be speculative. I know that they did more than a talking-head type interview with Trevor Southey. No one came to my home and filmed slices of my life. I live in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. My life is rather usual. I’m not photogenic. I suspect a lot of those factors went into it. I only mention this because I want it clear that I don’t think it was a conspiracy to show only the one side of things. I take Helen’s word for it that it wasn’t an easy or simple decision.