Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Coming out...

A conversation tonight brought up the idea that there is a parallel between freely telling a stranger that one is gay, and telling a stranger that one is a Mormon.....the fear of the reaction. What would the Uncommon Dissenter say on this subject?
A friend and reader sent this to me and I was intrigued.  Is declaring oneself gay at all similar to declaring oneself Mormon?

I'm not convinced.  At least not from my personal experience.  It's a lot easier for me to say, "I'm Mormon" than it is for me to say, "I'm gay."  Even in the turbulent years of middle and high school--where acceptance is so crucial to one's happiness--I found it easy to state that I was Mormon.  I never would have dared to state that I was gay.

I've been intrigued by the reactions of some adults when they learn that I am Mormon.  I was at a Boy Scout camp a few years ago and while discussing a religious topic, I offered the Mormon interpretation of something (I don't recall what the topic was).  The committee chair looked at me and was stunned.  "You're Mormon?" she asked.  I answered in the affirmative.  "Really?"  Again, I answered.  "You just completely changed my entire perspective of Mormons."  As it turns out, she had only known a couple of Mormons in her life, and severely disliked both of them.

In a more recent discussion, one of my fellow scout leaders and I were discussing some political topics.  He explained why he chose not to vote for Romney.  When he was done, he added that he didn't think he could vote for a Mormon anyway, because their core beliefs were so far removed from common sense.  I gave him a strange look.  "I don't think that's true."  He challenged me, and asked me how much I knew about Mormon doctrine. When I told him I am Mormon, he was surprised.  I seemed too normal to be like the other Mormons he had known.

The common theme between the experience of both of these individuals is that the Mormons they knew were personalities almost entirely defined by their Mormonism1.  But when they met me, they first got to know Benjamin, and later learned that Benjamin was also a Mormon.

But none of these experiences really address the question, because in none of these cases was I stating my religion to a stranger.  And maybe that's the point.  Why would we announce either of these personality traits to a stranger, unless we feel that they accurately define who we are?

My religion doesn't define me.  My sexuality doesn't define me.  If I were trying to use a single word to describe myself to a stranger, I don't know what word I would use. But I do know that I wouldn't use "straight," or "gay," or "Mormon." I would rather they build their impressions of me on my work, my attitude, and my integrity.

I can also see situations where I'd be hesitant to admit these traits to people I know.  I wouldn't admit my religion or my sexuality to a person or group of people that I felt were prone to letting that one trait define me in their minds.  I'm not sure that I would ever admit being gay to people within my religion due to a fear that I would instantly become tainted.  That I would become the sinner that they can't allow their children to know; they can't allow to teach; or hold positions of leadership.  I fear that if I were to openly admit I was gay, all the good things I've done in the Church would be forgotten.

So is admitting one's religion the same as admitting one's sexuality?  In some ways, yes.  But I don't see why you'd admit either of them to a stranger.  If you're admitting it to someone you know well, it could be the same or it could be different, and that depends on the person you are admitting to.  If you're afraid of their reaction, they probably aren't the kind of person worth admitting anything to.

1This probably isn't entirely fair to the Mormons they knew. But to the people I was talking to, it appeared that they were probably more vocal about their Mormonism than they were about any other aspect of their character.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Personally, I don't go around telling people I'm a Mormon or heterosexual. When they do find out though they always think I am just kidding or being sarcastic (due to pre-conceived notions about Mormons).

    I'm kind of different, so I would say that saying I am a Mormon and saying I am a gay won't make much difference. The shock factor is always there.