In light of both recent events (i.e., the TLC special “My Husband’s Not Gay”) and long-time trends in the SSA/LGBT world, I wanted to say a word about what I think might be called “the benefits and risks of visible ‘role models’.”
The benefit of role models is that they give us a visible way of seeing how something can be done in practical terms. I think of the story of the child who was afraid at night and came into his parents room for comfort—they told him that God would protect him, to which he replied, “I know God will protect me, daddy, but sometimes I need somebody with skin on.” When I was first coming to terms with and sorting through my sexuality, I hungered for people to talk to who could give me practical advice, or just to see that it was really possible to live a healthy life in the faith, whether or not there was a shift in my attraction to men. All I was getting, though, was either statistics and pseudonyms on the “faithful” side or, on the “other” side, tragic stories of “mixed-orientation marriages” (MOMs) and hyped up stories of how liberating and happy people were who were finally “true to themselves” and pursued same-sex relationships. It wasn’t helpful—or, even more than that, it was discouraging and sometimes depressing.
The risk of role models is the internal tendency to compare, and then shame ourselves because we’re not what we “should” be, or for other people to use others’ stories to compare, pressure, coerce, manipulate, etc—which can also induce shame, and shame is toxic to growth.
I heard a saying once that ideals and goals can be a light to guide ourselves by, or a stick to beat ourselves with. The benefits and risks of role models are inherent not just in that they exist, but rather in the way we relate to them, or the ways in which others relate to them and communicate that to us in problematic ways.
ideals and goals can be a light to guide ourselves by, or a stick to beat ourselves with
One of the problems with this as it relates to the SSA/LGBT community is that there’s often a double standard. As much as the stories of me or Josh Weed, or potentially those now in this TLC documentary, either have been or have the potential to be mis-used to “should” and, hence, shame someone into conformity (which is ultimately what the LGBT community seems to be most concerned about, particularly as it relates to impressionable and vulnerable youth—a valid concern, even as much as I feel there’s been horrible hypocrisy in the way that has been communicated), I don’t want to be “shoulded” or coerced or manipulated by happy same-sex couple stories or tragic “MOM” stories as a way of somehow delegitimizing my own story—or, my “sham marriage” as many many LGBT folks and their affirmative allies have repeatedly called it.
At the end of the day, while role models can be good—and, preferably, a diversity of them that provide different ways or looking at or approaching paths forward—it’s our personal responsibility to relate to those role models in a healthy way, to not use them as a “stick” to beat ourselves with as we compare ourselves… and, ultimately, to seek the Spirit as a personal guide, because our path may not look like ANY of those role models.
I love the words of Elder Richard G. Scott on this:
“Throughout the ages, many have obtained guidance helpful to resolve challenges in their lives by following the example of respected individuals who resolved similar problems. Today, world conditions change so rapidly that such a course of action is often not available to us.
“Personally, I rejoice in that reality because it creates a condition where we, of necessity, are more dependent upon the Spirit to guide us through the vicissitudes of life. Therefore, we are led to seek personal inspiration in life’s important decisions” (“To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign, November 2009)
Nephi had to build a ship that was unlike anything anyone else had built before, so he had to ascend the (temple) mount oft, to commune with God and seek the guidance of the Spirit:
“Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.
“And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.
“And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord” (1 Nephi 18:2-4).
This personal, revelatory process is the best “role model” for any of us, because only the Lord can guide us in a way that not only blesses us with practical guidance but also the peace and assurance that the direction He gives us will lead to joyful, eternal ends. In the Lectures on Faith, the Prophet taught,
“It is essential for any person to have an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to the will of God to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. It was this that enabled the ancient Saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing (not believing merely) that they had a more enduring substance (Heb 10:34).”
I believe that. We must have the assurance that our choices are in accord with Divine will in order to have the fortitude to see important decisions, commitments, and covenants through.
All this to say, having “role models” can be good or toxic, depending on how we relate to them or how we use them as “tools” to “should” ourselves or others in unhelpful—and potentially even harmful—ways. But with or without role models, or positive examples, the best way is always to ascend the mount oft to commune with God and seek His Spirit for direction to navigate our own lives “after the manner which the Lord… [and] not after the manner of men” might show us.