In all the hooplah over gay marriage in California, I’ve had an interesting time in the Bloggernacle. Something I’ve suspected for a long time has been confirmed for me. It is an ugly part of Mormon culture that to me is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but oh so prevalent among its believers. Part of the problem is that, culturally speaking, it seems so counterintuitive. It seems like its outward manifestation is right, but I believe the underlying issues are all wrong.

I can’t even begin to cite all of the evidence, but I hope that once I describe it, you’ll see what I mean. An example of this appeared on another blog in a story about a man scratching another man’s back in church. Now, the story isn’t the example; the reaction is, or at least some of it.

There is a reaction among some Mormons to any sign of affection between men who aren’t related to each other that I can only describe as dirty-minded. It is so prevalent among men in the church as I’ve observed that I can’t help but wonder where it comes from. Some people see a man scratching another’s back and call it refreshing. Others see it and call it foreplay.

One of the funniest comments on that post, #110, makes fun of the idea that one man scratching another’s back is foreplay. The comment in response said that the commenter had a wooden back-scratcher and would have to go talk to the bishop.

I see so many other pieces of evidence that the most strictly conservative element in the Church often betrays themselves to have fairly dirty minds. Worst of all, it is especially disappointing when their expectations impact me. At the group I operate, we hug each other before and after the meetings. Our straight male missionaries get involved too. We also allow priesthood leaders to visit. One commented after a visit, “I admit I was a little bothered by the hugging. Isn’t that the kind of thing you’re trying to avoid?” Trying to avoid a hug? There was a day when I avoided them like the plague. Now, I’ve been called Hugasaurus Rex and like them from anyone.

Then there are the men who insist on giving me only handshakes. Anything more might turn me on, I suppose. Such men are not only dirty-minded, but grossly conceited. There was the member of the high council who saw me in the locker room at the gym and grabbed a towel to hide his privates and the ward mission leader who saw me in the temple men’s locker room and panicked when I walked by his stall. Dirty-minded and certain they had what it took to turn me on!

I shouldn’t be surprised. The prevalence of pornography and sexual addiction among Mormon men is growing. Eight years ago when I moved here, there were no church-sponsored groups for men struggling with pornography addiction. Now there are several. The local director of LDS Family Services told me it was the #1 issue for men coming to the agency. About ten years ago, I founded Clean-LDS, a resource for Latter-day Saint men struggling with pornography addiction. I also operate for a similar population. Though I don’t struggle with pornography problems myself, some of the men who have come to me for help were bishops, stake presidents, and members of the high council.

My same-sex attraction is not usually visual. Pornography doesn’t attract me. The sight of a naked man in a locker room doesn’t get me aroused, though I’ll admit that I probably enjoy a good-looking man more than most men do. I think clothed is much more alluring than nudity. If it stirs up anything in me, it’s loneliness. My struggles have mainly to do with relationships and fantasies about them. It takes me a bit of time and lots of interaction before same-sex attraction becomes an issue for me with the men in my life.

So, if you know me in person, don’t be afraid to give me a hug or scratch my back. I promise not to have an embarassing physical reaction to it. If you’re worried about it, I have a small piece of advice. “Don’t flatter yourself.”

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  1. avatar

    Crikey! I’ve had to say, “Don?t flatter yourself,” at some point to every straight I’ve ever told my big secret too.

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    Maybe that’s why I don’t tell my secret very often. I’d be unable to say “don’t flatter yourself” to half the elders quorum, and then how awkward would things get?

    Maybe it’s because of guys like me that your friends react the way they do, Rex. :-)

    Seriously, I think it has a great deal to do with the unfamiliarity of the whole topic. I really don’t think it’s a “dirty mind” per se. And the whole culture of LDS thought on homosexuality has to be reinvented if people are going to understand it as involving affection and relationships rather than just sex. That’s going to take a while… maybe a couple lifetimes.

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    One Christian writer said he knew a gay man who told him it’s easier to get sex in a bathroom than to get a good hug in church. It’s unfortunate, but probably often true.

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    I just skimmed through the comments on the Bloggernacle. To say that I am saddened by such discussion is a huge understatement.

    I have been openly affectionate in church with my fellow brothers (and sisters) for my entire post-mission life. If you watch me, I’m sure you’ll note the back-scratching, hugging, arm holding, even kissing a cheek or two. To my face, no one has called me on it, for there is nothing to be called on. In fact, just the opposite, I have been called out as being an example of affection for good. It is a normal expression of who I am and I’ve been accepted for that… no dirty-minded comments that I’m aware of, thank goodness.

    To think that we are getting to the point where some may witness my “inappropriate behavior” in church, to instantly suggest the “dirty mind” mentality is a sad commentary on the state of some church members. It is sad to see how much many miss out by allowing such misguided thought to limit non-erotic signs of affection.

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    What an awesome post. I have to agree with a lot of what you say. In my current situation my Bishop shows all the signs of being bothered by my SGA issues. I feel at times by his comments that he, like those on the legal side believe I have done horrible things and he wants to run from me when we are close. In the last three months while I have had to reside out of my house I have seen him only 3 times and he has called only twice. He has admitted to my wife that we and especially she is facing prejudice from members of the ward. Not many know the true details of the situation but one of the Counselors has indicated his discomfort with dealing with my family now. I have to assume that my Elders Quorum President has issues with me now because I have not seen or heard from him at all and he is my home teacher.

    I have only experienced two people in the church that I have told of my struggle that have expressed friendship and support to me. On was a friend in Georgia who listened to me and still hugged me and accepted me. The other is my current Stake President who has been to Evergreen meetings and has expressed understanding and support. I recall being told at a disciplinary counsel to build a support system with brethren. With the attitude expressed in you post Rex and the reality that it is there I would ask of that counsel HOW? We can’t just blurt out that we are SGA because so many would shun us and if we chose incorrectly who we would trust to tell word would spread rapidly. I don’t get aroused by a hug from men in the church I see it as a sign of acceptance of who I am yet I worry that the other person might think otherwise.

    Thanks for the post Rex. It has given me things to ponder and pray about.


  6. avatar

    Thanks, Mike. What a shame you get this kind of treatment.

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  8. avatar

    Conversely, I am out in my ward and stake (meaning anyone who might know of my dating life, knows? it’s not a secret ? nor is it something I speak of from the pulpit) and I am loved all the same. I do not notice any change in behavior. In fact, as evidence of Rex’s thesis, the only friend who’s had any problem at all with my coming out is the one with the dirtiest mind ? a horn-dog of epic proportions (not in my current ward).

    Of course, I resonate with L’s comment. I find pretty much any man who’s in good health and takes care of himself (dress and grooming) attractive. But that’s not to say I’m attracted to them? I just wish there was language for that. Yes, Luke, I think you’re handsome? no, Luke, I do not find you arousing.

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    I don’t think this is the Mormon culture per se that is the problem here. I think it’s the sexualization in general of our culture that has tended to sexualize a lot of things that were not previously seen as sexual, and secondly, that as increasing awareness of homosexuals has caused a lot of previously unremarkable behavior to become remarkable. Back when everyone was in the closet, so to speak, this sort of stuff would happen, and people wouldn’t think anything of it, for the simple reason that most people didn’t think homosexuality existed.

  10. avatar

    I’m confused. You think there was a time in the post-modern world where men could scratch each other’s back without people thinking it untoward? I don’t know when that was, but I know that my parents, whose lives spanned a lot of the twentieth century, were well-aware of the existence of homosexuals. My grandmother too. None of them were cosmopolitan.

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    My grandfather thought nothing of swimming nude in the canal on the way home from school. His (very LDS) parents didn’t like it, but that was because he was supposed to be home doing chores; it had nothing to do with him being naked around a bunch of guys. My father had his high school swimming classes at the University and they all swam naked. They all put their arms around guys and were physically affectionate. This wasn’t the post-modern world, but the modern world, I suppose. Homosexuality existed, but not here.

    They were aware of homosexuals, but it was always “those” people. You can trace it even in the etymology. An English word for homosexual is “bugger”, which comes from a French word. In other words, buggery is French, not English. If we cross the Channel, we find the word comes from the French “Bougre,” which means homosexuality, but literally means “Bulgarian”. In other words, homosexuality isn’t something French do, it’s something these apostate Hugenot Bulgarians are doing.

    Obviously, effeminate men (whether they were homosexual or not) paid the price for this. If you weren’t obviously effeminate, you were assumed to be straight, and therefore, safe. A lot of same-sex affection, if displayed between non-effeminate men, was not considered suspicious. But in our post-modern culture, we teach that you can’t tell gay from straight, and therefore everyone is suspect, and therefore, our guard must be up at all times. Because, you know, you never know where those people might turn up.

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    Since the cause of same-gender-attraction is still something of a mystery, the speculation that it could be a “learned” behavior makes otherwise reasonable people react with fear and awkwardness when faced with a person they perceive as homosexual. Are heterosexual women suspicious that any man who wants to hug them has some kind of ulterior motives? My guess is that those hugs are pretty innocent.

    I have observed male leaders in my Stake showing reluctance to hug women, and instead offer a sideways arm-around-the-shoulder “hug.” I am convinced that they are trying to stay as far away from anything inappropriate as possible, whether real or imagined. I suppose we’ve all heard some version of a story of a Bishop who ran off with the Relief Society President. But what I like is that there is no awkwardness in this sideways hug; no “stay back” feeling is communicated. The warmth is there, but the physical connection is quite limited.

    My preference is to assume friendship is the idea, not romance, unless it becomes blatantly obvious. It seems sad to me that someone would choose to keep their distance out of fear or awkwardness or whatever other reasons they have.

    I do not believe a heterosexual person can imagine the life of a homosexual person. It is enough to feel that your very desires are considered immoral, and that you will never find and marry your soul-mate, at least in this life. Add to that the feeling that others may fear physical contact with you, not understand you, judge you, and avoid you. Wouldn’t that crush your hope and self-image?

    As far as the back-scratching idea, would you raise your own eyebrows at a woman in church who was playing with the hair of a man who was someone else’s husband? Or scratching his back? These are tender affectionate expressions that are usually reserved for people in a very close, even intimate, relationship. I wouldn’t feel comfortable if my husband did this type of thing to another woman. We don’t want to admit that we assume things, that we jump to conclusions, but we do. Some interaction we don’t give a thought to; other kinds alarm us and we feel threatened.

    My expectation is that same gender attraction will have no simple explanation in this life. Maybe no explanation at all until we are on the other side. Can you hold your breath until then? Some people are asked to do just that. How about we give them the most hugs of all.

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    RMA, forgive the tardiness of my response to your comment. My daughter is in the hospital trying to not go into labor. She has triplets inside and they’re way too underdeveloped to be born right now. We’re caring for our grandson so that my son-in-law can work. I haven’t had a lot of time for this blog lately.

    The reluctance of leaders in your stake to hug women is more than cultural. They are taught. When I was an Elders Quorum President, we were given training that was, according to what we were told, the same training that bishops and stake presidents get. I bold letters in the handout, it said, “Don’t hug the sisters!”

    When my life evens out again, I will probably write about the standards we translate from the opposite-sex attracted world into the same-sex attracted world. I’ll briefly say that I would consider it inappropriate for a man to scratching the back of a married woman in church. I would not, however, think it inappropriate for one man to scratch another’s back, even in church, even if one or both deal with same-sex attraction. I don’t agree with the notion that you can translate standards for opposite-sex social norms to creating standards for same-sex people.