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Pros and Cons of the Unicorn Club

Anderson Cooper’s much-ballyhooed announcement today reminded me of this blog post that has been making the rounds in the past few weeks. Titled “Club Unicorn,” it is the story of a gay Mormon man who has been happily married to a woman for ten years, having produced three lovely daughters by means of a “healthy and robust sex life.” The name “Club Unicorn” is a reference to the fact that gay men happily married to women are like unicorns – remarkably rare and probably mythical.

Less popular, but probably far more typical, is this story – gay Mormon man marries a woman; their sex life stinks, and both sink into depression and despair before divorcing as the gay Mormon dude leaves the church forever.

Since this blog is only popular when I discuss either Mitt Romney removing wasps nests and/or gay stuff, I feel I’ve been neglecting my duty to throw in my two cents.

I’ll begin, however, by throwing in Carlfred Broderick’s two cents.

Dr. Broderick, who passed away in 1999, was a fixture of the University of Southern California Sociology Department, as well as being an accomplished leader in the LDS Church. He was brilliant, insightful, and remarkably funny. Rumor is that Johnny Carson had him on the Tonight Show a number of times back in the day to chuckle about psychosocial sorts of things, but YouTube has no record of it, so we can’t be sure.

His book My Parents Married on a Dare is now out of print, but it includes an essay that has provided the greatest and clearest explanation of why bad things happen to good people that I’ve ever read. (You can read Broderick and skip the Book of Job.) His counsel is almost ineffably wise, and he sums it up thusly:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is resource in event of pain, and when that pain comes (and it will come because we came here on earth to have pain among other things), when it comes, rejoice that you have resource to deal with your pain.

That’s not my central point. But it’s such a good point that I couldn’t mention Dr. Broderick and deprive you of that wonderful gem.

But today, it’s Dr. Broderick’s insights into homosexuality that I want to use to kick off the conversation. In his book, he writes:

I think that I am as knowledgeable about the condition we call homosexuality as any heterosexual in the Church. My life has brought me into close association with many fine people whom, fortunately, I had the privilege of knowing well before I knew of their sexual orientation. My professional activities have led me to be a student of the research on this condition. As a priesthood leader and as a therapist I have worked with many people over the years as they have struggled with difficulties they face in resolving the tensions between the homosexual lifestyle and the gospel path.

I wish Dr. Broderick were still with us, as I’d love to get his thoughts on both the Unicorn Club, as well as those who strive to and fail to join.

He continues:

No one knows what determines that one individual will be drawn toward members of his own sex and another to the opposite sex. There is beginning to be some evidence that there may be a biochemical factor. Perhaps certain life experiences make the opposite sex seem more dangerous and less attractive to some than to others. Whatever the origins, I have never met a homosexual who remembered choosing to be so oriented. Each experiences it as an unbidden affliction.

When this was written in 1996, this was still a fairly controversial position for Broderick to take. Most Mormons still relied on Spencer W. Kimball’s The Miracle of Forgiveness as the authoritative voice on the subject. President Kimball, who was not president of the church when the book was written, implies that homosexuality is the product of excessive masturbation, and that “the glorious thing to remember is that it is curable.” Since there was very little evidence to suggest that was the case, Kimball simply insisted that homosexual “perverts” just weren’t trying hard enough.

Therefore to those who say that this practice or any other evil is incurable, I respond: “How can you say the door cannot be opened until your knuckles are bloody, till your head is bruised, till your muscles are sore? It can be done.”

I love and sustain President Kimball, and he accomplished a tremendous amount of good in his life.

I think, however, that he’s wrong here. Very, very wrong.

I think these words have done a great deal of damage to homosexual members with the figuratively bloody knuckles, bruised heads, and sore muscles he describes. They all have spent a whole lot of time wondering why, with all that effort, they remain attracted to people of the same gender. They followed those words with faith and ended up feeling like failures when they couldn’t reach the desired outcome. Those who try to change their orientation in order to stay in the church encounter tremendous frustration and despair, and far too many of them have end up taking their own lives as a result, especially after many church leaders, relying on this counsel, advised them that heterosexual marriage would “cure” them and make them straight.

It didn’t, and it won’t.

That position may make me look faithless to some Latter-Day Saints – how dare I question The Miracle of Forgiveness! – but the fact is that President Kimball’s thesis is not consistent with the current position of the church.

Consider Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words, which take a decidedly different tone:

[R]ecognize that marriage is not an all-purpose solution. Same-gender attractions run deep, and trying to force a heterosexual relationship is not likely to change them. [Emphasis mine.] We are all thrilled when some who struggle with these feelings are able to marry, raise children, and achieve family happiness. But other attempts have resulted in broken hearts and broken homes.

Thankfully, nobody’s talking about “curing” homosexuals anymore. The member of the Unicorn Club who describes his idyllic marriage never once tries to pretend that he’s no longer gay. He’s still attracted to men, but his love for his wife and children, along with his faith in the gospel, are more important to him than his sexuality, and he’s found a way to make that work.

And, for his part, Dr. Broderick insists that every homosexual can join the Unicorn Club.

Given that premise, it has nevertheless been my observation that those who act on those unbidden feelings lose the Spirit and before they know it are pulled step by step into a world at complete odds with the Kingdom. Those who earnestly seek to conform to the Plan are provided small miracle after small miracle until they are able to experience every blessing of the gospel. I have yet to find an exception to this rule. This puts me at odds with both those who treat men and women with homosexual feelings as though they were voluntary perverts and also with those who insist that there can be no genuine reconciliation between such persons and the highest standards of the Kingdom.

I want to believe this. And I almost do. But I’m not quite there.

I’ve seen the broken hearts and broken homes Elder Holland talked about. It seems my friends are all exceptions to Dr. Broderick’s rule. Furthermore, I’ve seen good people leave the church and embrace their sexuality and live lives far more joyful than they had when they were pounding against President Kimball’s unopenable door.

I think the church has moved in the right direction on this issue, but the current position is somewhat unstable. We’ve gone from “homosexuals are voluntary perverts” to “no one knows what causes homosexuality.” Well, what happens when we do know? What happens when we finally acknowledge, as I think we must, that sexual desire is innate and seldom subject to change? Can we do that and still insist that some people remain celibate or closeted their entire lives?

That’s not a rhetorical question, because the answers are a lot more complicated than advocates on either side care to admit. For example, my church teaches, and I fully believe, that the greatest blessings to be had in this life and in the next are all associated with posterity. Homosexuals, regardless of how wonderful, loving, and committed their relationships may be, are incapable of producing children with each other. We teach that in the resurrection, our bodies will be perfected, so infertile married couples will have the opportunity to create a posterity in the life to come. Basic anatomy offers no such solace to gay couples. Indeed, biology cruelly reserves all the goodies in this life and the next for the straights.

So should all gay people strive to join the Unicorn Club? What happens when, as is frequently the case, it just doesn’t work? Can the LDS Church provide some kind of righteous outlet for homosexual desires and maintain the integrity of its family-based theology?

I offer all these questions and provide no answers, because I have none. If someone can explain it to me, I’d very much appreciate it.

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