Dressing in the Dark

Mormons have long been hesitant to discuss the subject of temple garments in casual conversation, because such garments serve as reminders of sacred covenants that aren’t to be taken lightly.

That’s why I bristle every time someone dismisses them as “magic underwear,” or worse. I don’t think such comments are always intended to be cruel, but they demonstrate a lack of sensitivity with regard to a religious practice that requires a great deal of context to be properly understood.

A few decades ago, I felt that such context was unlikely to be found in the loosey-goosey atmosphere that often prevailed in dressing rooms when I was a theater student at the University of Southern California. So when it came to changing into costume, I initially tried to find ways to do it out of public view. This was easy in the Bing Theatre, USC’s largest proscenium, because I could change in a bathroom stall without calling any attention to myself. But in the smaller theaters, the bathrooms were too tiny, so I ended up trying to put on my costumes in the dark corners of crowded spaces, which was very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

So I eventually gave up.

After a few semesters of this pointless hide-and-seek, I got dressed right alongside everyone else and braced myself for a wave of ridicule that never came. Oh, sure, there were a few questions here and there, but they were never unkind.  If there were rude or nasty comments, I never heard them.

All this is prelude to the news, reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, of an upcoming ABC-TV drama showing a Mormon character wearing nothing but his temple garments.

“Quantico,” which premieres on Sept. 27, follows the lives of several FBI recruits in training. At one point when they are disrobing, a Mormon recruit gets asked if he is wearing “pajamas under (his) clothes.” This raises more questions, and the Mormon explains that Latter-day Saints are appealing to the FBI because they “respect authority, don’t drink or take drugs, spend time in foreign countries, and they speak several languages,” according to the Tribune. And that’s pretty much it.

If that’s all that happens, I don’t really see this as much of a problem. Certainly it could be a whole lot worse.

In discussing this with a friend, he pointed out that ABC would never feature a scene where someone was wearing, say, a T-shirt with a Mohammad cartoon. That’s true, but I think it’s because writers fear backlash, not because they intrinsically respect Islam more than Mormonism. In addition, it doesn’t sound like the point of the scene is to make fun of Mormons or temple garments, but rather to depict a moment that has surely had several real-life antecedents with LDS FBI recruits, and one that is not that different from my own experience.

As for those who insist that it is never appropriate to show temple garments in any context, they need to take issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially released an explanatory video and pictures of temple garments earlier this year.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is still an insensitive thing for “Quantico” to do, and I’m troubled by reports that suggest that, over the course of the series, the Mormon character doesn’t live up to the standards of his faith. There’s also still a question as to whether or not that particular scene will make it to air. But what I find encouraging is the fact that there’s a Mormon character at all. Television now seems to be willing to depict a Latter-day Saint as a three-dimensional human being rather than as a stereotype used to openly mock religion.

As Mormons become more prominent, we should expect pop culture to take notice and also anticipate that there will be a few bumps in the road along the way. That shouldn’t be a reason to go back to dressing in the dark.

Birthday Thoughts

This may seem odd, but I’m over here at my blog hiding from Facebook, where, so far, 180 very sweet, wonderful people have decided to wish me a happy birthday.  (Yes, today is my birthday. I am a year older, not much wiser, and still devastatingly good-looking.)

Every time someone is thoughtful enough to take time out of their day to wish me well, I think that act of kindness deserves a personalized response, and it takes time to respond to 180 different people, and if I get started mid-day, more well-wishes from others pop up as I’m writing back, so I end up feeling like I’m falling behind, and what ought to be a fun exchange with friends ends up feeling a bit like a chore, which is an ungrateful way to respond to good folks who care enough about me to say so. So I’ve decided to steer clear of Facebook all day until everyone’s news feed moves on to the next birthday, and then I can begin the response process on the second day of my 48th year on Planet Earth.

So for all of you wishing me well, thank you so much. You have made me loved and appreciated, and that’s no small thing in this lonely world of ours.

So if I’m not going to hang out on Facebook, the least I can do is to keep this blog from drifting off into oblivion. I thought I’d weigh in on a few issues that have been rumbling around in my brain, each of which could easily merit a blog post of their own.

1. ON DONALD TRUMP

donald-trump-hair-photos-mystery-transplant-combover_2014-09-14_21-59-27-573x430
I’ve written the definitive piece on Trump’s candidacy in my most recent column for the Deseret News, but I fail to mention the issue that is of primary concern to most of those following this bizarre reality show circus, which is that of The Donald’s hair.

Consider the “Hell Toupee” meme:

6834e99713f262a9ab2c72125c46085eIt’s funny, sure, but The Donald doesn’t wear a toupee. That’s all his own hair, which is why there’s so dang much of it. A toupee wouldn’t consume such a large degree of Trumpian scalpular geography. It would just sit there like a dead raccoon, much the way William Shatner’s has done for lo these many decades.

trump-twilight-zone

Much better is the “We Shall Overcomb” meme:

we-shall-overcombe-shirt-square-heather-grey2I’m convinced Trump manipulates huge swaths of bleached hair to cover scalpular* portions which God hath left desolate. A toup would just fly off in a strong wind, not flutter askew like a pencil troll gone to seed.

trump-hairThe evidence clearly suggests overcombing, not hairpiecing.

Which brings me to my second item of the day:

2. “EVIDENCE” IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR “PROOF”

Rummaging through one of the many pointless, bait-click online lists I stumble across far too frequently, I bumped into a statement by actor John Malkovich where he was quoted as saying the following:

johnmalkovich“I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have [sic] absolutely no evidence of for millennia. And it’s funny — people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and THEY go to CHURCH…”

John Malkovich, Non-Combovering Atheist

While I respect the fact that Mr. Malkovich has made far less ridiculous scalpular choices than The Donald, I find it very tedious that so many atheists keep claiming there is “absolutely no evidence” of God’s existence, which is false, when what they mean is that there is “absolutely no proof” of God’s existence, which is, in fact, true.

Mormons deal with this a lot.

For quite some time, the Mormon blogosphere, known by the faithful as the “Bloggernacle,” has been engaged in a long-running discussion/argument/flame war as to the historicity of The Book of Mormon – the book of scripture, not the rancid musical. For those of you who are unaware, The Book of Mormon purports to be a translation of ancient religious records of people that migrated to the American continent and established a civilization that all but collapsed circa 400 AD. It is now fashionable in certain circles to refer to The Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction,” and, while it represents a tour de force of religious insight by purported-translator-but-assumed-author Joseph Smith, there is “no evidence” that there were actual people called Nephites and Lamanites who lived and died and did stuff.

Over at a blog called “Enigmatic Mirror,” Mormon scholar William Hamblin has been exchanging posts with a non-Mormon academic named Philip Jenkins, who likens belief in The Book of Mormon as a historical, non-fictional document to belief in Bigfoot – who we all know is Cain, punished to wander the earth swathed in matted, unbleached Donald Trump combover strands for thousands of years until he finally guest stars as Andre the Giant on The Six Million Dollar Man.

I digress.

Jenkins refuses to either read The Book of Mormon or even acknowledge that there is any reason to do so, because there is – you guessed it – “no evidence” that it’s historical. When Hamblin suggests that Jenkins has “tacitly” admitted that at least some evidence exists, Jenkins gets quite huffy.

“At no point have I ever suggested that there is any evidence whatever in support for the historicity or historical value of the Book of Mormon,” Jenkins huffs, huffily. “I have never suggested or stated that tacitly, or openly, and it is wrong to suggest that I have.”

But there is a great deal of evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, much of which I’ve talked about on this blog. What Jenkins is complaining about, like Malkovich, is the lack of proof, not evidence. (Hamblin himself makes the same point in his response.)

This is the primary argument, incidentally, on an issue of far graver importance than the nature of God or scripture – namely, the identity of William Shakespeare. There is considerable evidence, but no proof, that William Shakespeare was not the similarly named William Shakspere/Shaxper/Shagspur of Stratford-on-Avon who currently gets all the credit for those plays, sonnets, and poems, but rather that William Shakespeare was the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, much the same way Stallion Cornell is the pseudonym of Jim Bennett, the 47-year-old wannabe Duke of Earl.  Yet if you go to Wikipedia, source of all wisdom, Oxfordians base their case on “the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success.” So not only is there “no evidence” that Oxford was Shakespeare, but the lack of evidence is our evidence? What the crap is that?

If evidence were always proof, then why would we have a criminal justice system? Jury trials involve two opposing advocates using identical evidence to argue for diametrically opposite conclusions. Even the most devoutly religious concede there is no conclusive proof that God exists, but they’ll offer up a great deal of evidence for why they believe he does.  But if the intellectually lazy can equate a lack of proof with a lack of evidence, then they can end all arguments before they begin.

This bugs me.

3. GEEKY PEEVE
You know what else bugs me? Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who.

As I announced in one of my columns, I’m binge-watching Doctor Who, which has conveniently incorporated the changing actors in the lead role into the plot structure of the show. The show’s title character is the Doctor, a time-travelling, nigh-unto-immortal alien whose surname is not Who. When the Doctor is close to death, he “regenerates,” i.e. turns into an entirely different person played by an entirely different actor. While he retains his memories from previous incarnations, his personality changes with each new body, too.

This first happened at the end of the first season of the new series, and I thought I would never accept David Tennant as the Doctor after Christopher Eccleston, who was the first to play him in the 21st Century. So imagine my surprise when David Tennant turned out to be a far superior Doctor to Eccleston. Yet after three Tennant seasons, Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, and I thought there was no way I could make the Tennant-to-Smith transition. But Matt Smith was so brilliant in the role that he won me over almost instantly. So when Matt Smith’s tenure came to an end and the Doctor became Peter Capaldi, I thought, “well, I did this twice before, and it turned out OK. How bad can it be?”

Well, pretty bad, as it turns out.

Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith played the Doctor as a sort of dashing, eccentric rogue, but Capaldi is a 57-year-old arthritic curmudgeon. He’s a full three decades older than Matt Smith, and his Doctor is so far removed from Smith’s interpretation that it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief and pretend they’re the same person. I’m three episodes in to Season 8, and I was hoping I’d accept Capaldi by now. I don’t. But at least there’s no combover.

And so we’ve come full circle. Again, thank you for you kind wishes, and maybe I’ll post here a few more times before my next birthday.

_______________
* I have used the word “scalpular” several times in this blog post, when, to my knowledge, “scalpular” isn’t really a word.  Autocorrect keeps trying to change it to “sculptural.” If you can’t tell by the context, I use “scalpular” as an adjective with a definition meaning “of or pertaining to the scalp.” Should this word be incorporated into common English parlance, I will therefore expect Webster’s Dictionary to send me royalty checks. In any case, I have copyrighted “scalpular” and reserved all ancillary rights thereto. Should you decide to say it in conversation, you will owe me $.25 per usage.

Can forgiveness win, too?

The Civil War was brought to a close when General Robert E. Lee arrived at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia to surrender on behalf of the Confederate Army. The terms of the surrender were remarkably generous. Confederate soldiers were promised immunity from prosecution even though they were officially guilty of treason, and they were allowed to keep both their weapons and their livestock. As General Lee rode away, many of the Union soldiers felt that a certain measure of gloating was in order. But as they burst into applause, General Ulysses Grant ordered them to stop immediately.

“The Confederates were now our countrymen,” General Grant reasoned, “and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

We can be grateful that the war over gay marriage was not fought with muskets and bayonets, and that the casualties have been, for the most part, emotional and spiritual rather than physical. The war is now over, and gay marriage has won. But I fear that the divisions between the combatants over the rainbow will be harder to heal than they were between the Blue and the Grey. Neither side sees the other as fellow countrymen, and there are plenty who stand ready and willing to exult over their enemy’s downfall.

This is why I’m uneasy in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that is the cause for so much celebration among the victors and such major lamentation from the defeated. Personally, I think this conclusion has been all but inevitable for quite some time, and I’ve said my peace on the subject numerous times on this blog. I see no point in revisiting any of the underlying arguments, which are largely irrelevant at this point. The decision, in my mind, was merely a confirmation of an already existing reality, much like when the electors gather to select a president months after all the actual votes are cast.

So it’s not the fact that gay marriage is legal that makes me uneasy. Indeed, I’m happy for my gay friends and family, and I think there are a great deal of positives to a future where married gay couples have access to the benefits and responsibilities that married straight couples have. My uncertainty, then, is rooted not in where we are, but in how we got here.

It is an unhealthy reality of our civic life that ideological opponents increasingly see those on the other side not just as misguided or incorrect, but as the embodiment of evil. Where General Grant saw the defeated confederates as “our countrymen,” today’s politicos insist that those who oppose them are either devil-worshipping Stalinists or Nazi Klansmen, depending on whether you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Victory is not achieved by persuasion, but rather by character assassination. The opposition must not only be defeated; they must also be destroyed.

Which brings us back to gay marriage, i.e. the Forces of Love vs. the Army of Hate.

#LoveWins was the trending hashtag in the wake of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the unambiguous implication was that hatred had lost. From the outset, gay marriage advocates have characterized those who oppose them, even to the slightest degree, as motivated solely by terrible, horrible, hideous feelings of animus. There is no such thing as principled, good faith opposition to gay marriage – there is only bigotry, ignorance, and white-hot hatred. And now that love has won, it’s not enough that hate has lost.

Hate now has to be punished.

Already, a columnist at Time Magazine has called for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. Expect these calls to increase and intensify as the Forces of Love rally against the Churches of Hate. Already, Catholic Charities is being limited in their adoption services because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Businesses that won’t bake cakes or take pictures for gay weddings are getting sued into oblivion. Gay marriage opponents have long been branded as “intolerant,” but now the haters themselves will no longer be tolerated by the Forces of Love.  Apparently, intolerance is only a bad thing when the bad people are doing the intolerating.

So here’s my message to those who are tempted to gloat:

Congratulations! You won! I look forward to sharing a bright future with you in a world where two people who love each other can legally marry without opposition. But those who oppose you are still your neighbors, your friends, and your family, and some of them may have behaved abominably during the battle. Shouldn’t the goal now be to help them understand rather than punish them for their ignorance? Can you accept them for where they are rather than demand that they move to where you want them to be? Is it too much to ask for a modicum of grace from you for those you have defeated?

If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Today is Family Fun Day, which means I  participate in an annual ritual wherein the Rockamatics let me embarrass myself by singing a couple of Stones tunes in front of a crowd of (mostly) Mormons.

I always post these on Facebook, but I don’t think I’ve ever put one up on the blog before. So that ends NOW!

Jenner Thoughts

Recognizing that anything I write on this subject will be offensive to somebody, I decided to plow ahead regardless. Batten down the hatches; here we go.

While surfing the web, I stumbled on an article in Canada’s National Post that introduced me to the concept of “transabled” people. According to the article, transabled individuals feel like “imposters in their bodies” and have an overwhelming desire to create some kind of physical disability in themselves. Such was the case with a man who now calls himself “One Hand Jason” when he deliberately sliced off his own arm with a power tool in order to feel normal.

Granted, this kind of compulsion is extraordinarily rare. The article identifies only 37 people worldwide who identify themselves as transabled. But in light of the current media frenzy surrounding Bruce Caitlyn Jenner, I think it’s a phenomenon that challenges the rigid cultural authoritarianism that has sprung up in the wake of Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover photo.

The conventional wisdom is that everything surrounding Bruce’s transformation into Caitlyn should be celebrated as brave, bold, and wonderful. Conversely, no one is permitted to publicly deviate from that opinion even in the slightest degree. One programmer created a bot with the handle “@she_not_he”  for the purpose of “scrubbing Twitter, looking for anyone who uses the ‘he’ pronoun in conjunction with Caitlyn Jenner’s name.” And when actor Drake Bell tweeted, “Sorry… still calling you Bruce,” he was raked over the coals by both the press and the public and ultimately forced to delete the offending message. He has repeatedly apologized, but it’s still not enough. Twitter users continue to call on him to deactivate his account and, in the words of one especially harsh critic, “deactivate his life.”

Apparently, tolerance for Caitlyn is as mandatory as intolerance for anyone who disagrees.

For my part, I think kindness is always a good approach. If Bruce Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn Jenner and wants me to use the “she/her” pronouns to describe she/her, I’ll be happy to comply with her wishes. I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner personally, and I don’t feel like I’m in any position to pass judgment on her. I wish her and her family nothing but happiness. In any case, nothing about this entire episode will have any personal impact on me, and I don’t want to waste even a minute of my life getting upset over it.

That said, I think the unanimous applause for what Caitlyn Jenner is doing is drowning out many legitimate questions that society ought to be asking.

For instance, how are the drastic changes Caitlyn is making to her body all that different in kind from what One Hand Jason did to himself in order to feel comfortable in his own skin?  If we know someone’s about to slice off their arm, would we tell them, “Hey, if it makes you feel better about yourself, have at it?” I don’t think we would, yet we don’t apply that same logic to our approach to transgender surgery. In addition, we don’t celebrate those who commit suicide because they loathe their own bodies, but how are the desires of such people so different from Jason’s or Caitlyn’s? If a person feels compelled to surgically alter themselves in irreparable and potentially disabling ways, shouldn’t we do everything possible to find psychological solutions before putting anyone under the knife?

It’s also odd to me that the arguments used to applaud Jenner’s choices are precisely the opposite of arguments made against anti-gay bigotry. If you’re gay, you’re born that way, which means that you need to find happiness with who you are rather than try to be something you’re not. But if you’re transgender, you ought to take radical action to surgically alter yourself in a way completely contrary to how you are born. Isn’t that wildly inconsistent? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on accepting who we are rather than taking extreme measures to try and transform ourselves into something we can never be?

Because the cruel fact is that Caitlyn Jenner will never truly be a woman, at least not biologically. Sure, she can use feminine pronouns and make all the cosmetic changes she likes, but her DNA and internal organs will remain decidedly male, and nothing she can do can change that.

I recognize that even these questions will likely brand me as a hater or a “transphobe,” and that’s unfortunate, because these are questions born of genuine concern, not hatred or fear. Indeed, it’s hatred and fear that are being used to silence legitimate discussions and vilify anyone who departs from the media-enforced orthodoxy. Those praising Caitlyn for her bravery ought to be brave enough themselves to consider other points of view.