Saturday, July 10, 2010

Book Review: In Quiet Desperation

By Mister Curie

A variety of factors compelled me to read this book.  First, a number of the reviews for "8" have said that the Matis family is misrepresented and their words taken out of context in the documentary, so in preparing to watch "8" I wanted to know their story and the actual context of their words.  Second, the fireside in Idaho Falls with Ty Mansfield as featured speaker made me want to know what Ty Mansfield had to say about homosexuality/SSA/SGA.  Third, my meet-up with Horizon produced such an emotional reaction (largely related to the evilness/brokenness that I felt growing up in the church) that I wanted to see if the book would produce a similar reaction and force myself to confront those feelings and analyze through them.  Fourth, I am contemplating coming out to my parents on an upcoming trip and I'd like to recommend something for them to read, so I was reading this book to see if it would be suitable to recommend to them to give them a positive view of homosexuality without leaving the Mormon worldview too much.

Part I - This section of the book was written by the parents of Stuart Matis.  Frankly, I found this section very poorly written and I bristled at the condescending tone I perceived throughout the section (such as when they said, "It is vitally important to distinguish between the feelings of attraction and the choice to act - or refrain from acting - on those feelings").  I viewed its words as pure poison and quite offensive.  It was clear that Fred and Marilyn Matis are firmly within the Mormon worldview.  I found myself crying for Stuart and his struggles.  This section brought up the same feelings as I had after my visit with Horizon and I better understood where those feelings of evilness/brokenness came from.  I found it very offensive that Stuart's parents knew he had purchased a gun and did not really try to help him.  They even admit that the suicide was not a surprise, but rather they "knew he would eventually take his own life."  And yet they didn't do anything about it!?!?!?  I felt discouraged that the Mormon worldview causes Mormon homosexuals to experience such hope that those feelings will be removed in the resurrection and to feel so discouraged and such inferiority that they shorten their life through suicide.  It was heart-breaking to read the suicide note proclaiming that in "remov[ing] the chains of mortality. . . I no longer hate myself . . . for the first time in over twenty years, I am free from my pains."  The only thing making it worse was his parents' statement that "it has been comforting to know that he was faithful to his temple covenants" and that they had an "indescribable feeling of peace that lasted for several weeks" that they imagined would be the feelings they would have in the celestial kingdom. I am sure that the Matis family is very sincere and I have heard of the many great things they have done to try and help the Mormon homosexual community.  I do not fault them for their actions within the Mormon worldview, but I think the Mormon view of homosexuality is tragically flawed and its doctrine on homosexuality creates an atmosphere that directly creates the feelings of despair and inferiority.

Part 2 - This section was written by Ty Mansfield.  In direct contrast with the Matis section, Ty's writing is excellent.  He is eloquent, nuanced, and articulate.  Ty clearly brings a very personal perspective to the topic of being a Mormon homosexual and does a fantastic job of portraying a sincere, wonderful Mormon boy which should go along way toward removing stigma and destroying stereotypes regarding other Mormon homosexuals.  Ty's fluency with and mastery of the religious material clearly shows his spiritual dedication and personal struggles with the topic.  His ease of including numerous religious quotes throughout the text and his solid alignment with current LDS stances clearly qualify him as a "spiritual giant".  And yet his beautiful presentation does not change the fact that the LDS stance is psychological poison, it only makes this poison all the more insidious.  Ty masterfully walks the line of presenting a realistic view of the Mormon homosexual dilemma and reiterating the LDS stance, which only serves to exacerbate the false dichotomy of attraction vs. behavior.  Time and again, Ty presents the Mormon homosexual dilemma and then performs a spiritual jujitsu to masterfully lock the struggling Mormon homosexual into the icy prison of LDS thought.  Ty's message is ultimately inconsistent and confusing.  In one section he describes the absolute normalcy of his attractions to men and how they do not constitute sin or lack of spirituality (in fact noting that his attractions grew stronger as he attempted to be more spiritual) and in another section he positively quotes a theologian describing homosexuality as an "anti-religion of human beings who refuse to honor God as creator: it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality . . . an illustration of human depravity . . . a vivid image of humanity's primal rejection of the sovereignty of God the creator."  He winds through the convoluted Mormon doctrine of the fall to illustrate how one can be born with homosexuality without having been made that way by God.  It was sad to read his continued pleas for a change of his nature, stating "I hope he does deliver me from the physical bondage of this challenge while I am in this second estate . . . For the time being, I continue to pray and am striving to live so that the part of my nature that is important for salvation now may be more full changed - so that I may be more fully delivered from spiritual bondage."  Nearly every chapter contains Ty's hope to one day be able to marry a woman, largely due to Mormon doctrine.  He notes several times that he could very naturally and happily have a relationship with a man, if it weren't for the doctrine of eternal families and how he doesn't want to waste his effort on something that isn't eternal.  I fear for the struggling Mormon homosexual who hears Ty's yearnings for marriage to a women and knows that he was successful.  How many MOM's will this book directly contribute to and how much suffering will it create?  How much more happiness would there be if Ty could just marry whomever he wanted? Ty's doctrinal wanderings are not new.  He takes the oft repeated sermons of modern Mormonism (often about patience with the Lord's timing, the purposes of trials and challenges in our lives, etc.) and repackages them to comment on homosexuality.  He divorces such statements from context and synthesizes a new reality.  In fact, it is a masterful example of the thesis in "Roots of Modern Mormonism" where the author argues that Mormonism creates a mutable, flexible worldview that insulates its participants from acknowledging the randomness and constant change in their lives while perpetuating minority status. The sermons and the thoughts behind them are part of the Mormonism I rejected and I reject Ty's repackaging of them.

The book's (and Mormonism) attempt at divorcing homosexual attraction from homosexual behavior as a means to identify what is acceptable and what is not, is also an exercise in coping with stigma.  This dichotomy attempts to make faithful Mormon homosexuals who do not act on their attractions and privileged class while non-Mormon homosexuals who do act on their attractions are a foreign "other".  In "When Husbands Come Out of the Closet" the author addresses this type of dichotomy in referring to a wife's refusal to join a support group for wives with gay husbands because it is a "bunch of people with nothing in common but a husband's sexual orientation . . . [and will just be] a bunch of angry women feeding into each others' complaints and misery."  I feel her answer would be the same if addressing this Mormon dichotomy and attempting to create a privileged faithful Mormon homosexual class and a foreign "other" class acting on their attractions.  She says:

1. Whether you like it or not, no matter how you try to deny it or how quickly you try to leave it, you have been thrust into a stigmatized segment of society.  No matter what you say or do, there will always be people who think less of you for being or having been there.  You have no choice about stigmatization by others.  You can only ignore them or try to educate them.
2. You may refuse to admit group membership, but that does not give you the choice you seek, for much of your prison is a self-imposed, psychological one.  Your questions and the attitudes they imply are the true badge of membership in the Society of the Self-Stigmatized.  You badge bears the inscription "Bestowed by the bigoted in appreciation for your self-hatred and identification with the aggressor."
3. You will lose your sense of stigma and have true "choice" only when you come to see your group as an enjoyable extended family or country club you are pleased to call your own, in which you feel welcome, in which you can be selective about those members you want or don't want as friends, and which you both enter and leave freely and joyfully.

Are you saying to yourself, "Oh, come on now! Are you kidding me?" I am not.  It's a difficult lesson to learn, because in truth, it is one that should not be needed.  But until we have a perfect society, many groups of people must learn it.  Let's look at what has happened to you, it involves several complicated thought processes.

First, you are a member in good standing of a homophobic . . . society.  No matter what your sex or sexual orientation, you have absorbed many of society's stereotypes about homosexuals, women, and anyone who associates with stigmatized people. You expressed those stereotypes when you first struggled with such questions as "What does it say about me that I am in such a situation and what will others say about me?", came up with negative answers, and began to lose self-esteem.

Next you realized that you . . . do not fit some of those stereotypes.  How could that be?  Perhaps without realizing it, you decided that you were an exception.  That made you feel better.  But then, of course, you didn't want to be classified as one of "them", nor did you want to think of yourself in the same way that you think of "those weirdos."  . . . You are now putting yourself through a crazy combination of bigotry and self hatred.  . . . Staying at that point is like being stuck in quicksand.  It drags you down.  You never quite get rid of your sense of shame, isolation, and sense of "difference".  You never get the support, help and companionship from potential new friends. You are caught between two worlds.

In short, ironic as it may be, you need the identification with the stigmatized group in order to rid yourself of your sense of stigma.  Only when you learn that lesson will you learn that far from being chained to a group of disreputable prisoners, you will have much in common with others in addition to the issue of sexual orientation, and that much of what you have in common you can share with pride.
This dichotomy then, in fact, again institutionalizes a stigmatization that separates and isolates gay Mormons, leading to further feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred.  Ty Mansfield is simply a vehicle to perpetuate that stigmatization with the message coming from a credible source (unlike the Fred and Marilyn Matis).  It is sad that Ty is a casualty of the same system that he is perpetuating, but that is the cycle of Mormonism.  I do not doubt the absolute sincerity of the authors, but sincerity is not evidence of accuracy.

As for sharing this book with my parents, not a chance.  It is pure poison.  I would definitely not recommend anyone giving this book to their parents.  The dichotomy it perpetuates is like giving away the keys to your own prison.


  1. Before judging the Matis family, something you do need to take into consideration is that, since this book is published by Deseret Books, it has probably been severely edited as to content and tone. Given the subject matter, it's probable that even church leaders were involved in making sure it's message matched that of the church.

    What impresses me most about the Fred and Marilyn Matis is not this book - but that they've opened their home to monthly firesides open to all those who are heterosexually challenged - and not just for those who are "living the gospel".

    I think a better book to share with family is "No More Goodbyes" by Carolyn Pearson. Not being a Deseret Books sanctioned text - she was free to say exactly what she felt without sanction of LDS church leaders. Although, I don't necessarily recommend it for those in a heterosexual marriage as she doesn't hold much hope that such unions can survive.

  2. @Abelard - I did not intend my critique of the book to come across as judging the Matis family. I am sure that they are very sincere in their efforts to help Mormon homosexuals and reduce the rate of suicide in that population. I do think the stance of Mormonism toward homosexuals produces a system that directly contributes toward to feelings of inadequacy and despair that many Mormon homosexuals experience. I fear that if the Matis firesides reinforce the Mormon stance they are directly contributing to the atmosphere of despair, despite their good intentions. I do not fault the Matis family nor Ty Mansfield. I just find it sad that an organization as powerful as the LDS church and with such potential for positive influence, is instead causing pain.

    Thanks for the advice about "No More Goodbyes" I have thought about sharing that book, but you do raise a good point about the author's view toward the mixed-orientation marriage. Do you have any recommendations for a better book to share with my parents? There seems to be a lack of books on mixed-orientation marriage in general, let alone one to share with one's parents about being married and gay.

  3. Mister Curie,

    I found your blog through your comments on 8: The Mormon Proposition. I have fallen in love with you already! My heart is with you as you discover your powerful self and share that with the rest of us.

    I loved your review of "In Quiet Desperation" and completely agree with your feelings..."I fear that if the Matis firesides reinforce the Mormon stance they are directly contributing to the atmosphere of despair, despite their good intentions. I do not fault the Matis family nor Ty Mansfield. I just find it sad that an organization as powerful as the LDS church and with such potential for positive influence, is instead causing pain."

    Our journey through Proposition 8 and the Church's blatant anti-gay stance and aggressive agenda in that campaign, which felt as though they drew a line in the sand and said "Choose - your gay child or the prophet" I watched families being torn apart, mine included, and children being discarded. It is extremely sad and makes absolutely no sense. Nothing good comes from that and I don't believe a loving God has anything to do with the Mormon view of homosexuality.

    Thanks for sharing your voice!

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  5. I wouldn't say that feelings of inferiority are in a direct causal relationship with Mormonism. There are non-heterosexual secular folks who still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Even as I put emotional distance between myself from the LDS cultural and doctrinal dogma, it hasn't really solved any of my self-esteem issues.

  6. The Matis family held a common, fatalistic view about their suicidal family member that is not unique to Mormon Culture and that many of us who help families in crisis would like to see corrected. The most important thing anyone can do to reduce suicide in men (hetero, homo or whatever) is to get and keep guns out of the home of men who are suffering from depression regardless of what "psychological" causation one might ascribe to the act. If we really want to reduce suicides in this country we will get serious about means reduction. See

    Until I understood how common the fatalistic outlook on this topic was and is, even amongst the medical community, I could not understand how the Matis family made the choices they did. I see things differently now.

    Additionally, having just gone through several months consequences emanating from extremely stupid behavior in my family of origin because some family members just could not bear to make bright line decisions regarding confronting suffering loved ones over some of their more extreme choices, I now see that behavior as very common as well.

    The Matis family thought they were keeping the door open. Cut them the same amount of slack you would want in the same situation.

  7. @Linda - thank you for your kind comments.

    @LDS Brother - I agree that the Mormonism is not the sole source of feelings of inferiority. I think the attitudes in Mormonism are largely reflected throughout much of American (particularly religious) society. There are lots of reasons for poor self-esteem outside of Mormonism and lots of reasons within Mormonism outside of non-heterosexuality for poor self-esteem. I take issue with Mormonism specifically because it is my tribe, I contributed to it throughout my life, and I have a stake in it as it continues to influence many of my friends and loved ones. Furthermore, as it claims exclusive authority and revealed truth from God, I think it should be able to do better than it currently is. (and honestly, I still have some sore feelings toward Mormonism and sometimes I have to rant, even if my rant isn't entirely logical). Thanks for reading. :)

  8. @Quiet Song - thank you for the important reminder about reducing access to guns. I fully agree that we need to get that important message out and do better, regardless of the cause for the suicidal feelings. Again, I do not judge the Matis family personally responsible for the tragedy they experienced, although I cannot comprehend their actions I was not in their situations and do not know how I would have reacted. Still, I do think the Mormon church institutionalizes some stances that directly exacerbate feelings of dispair.

  9. Great review. I couldn't even finish Ty's part back when I read it because it into annoying religious minutia that I wasn't really interested in. And no, I would never give it to a parent. My boyfriend's parents read it before he came out to them (don't know why.........) and they loved it, which really made me sad, and they felt like Carol Lynn Pearson had a chip on her shoulder in No More Goodbyes.

  10. @Romulus - Yes, Ty's part of the book really is a rehash of religious wanderings and how the Mormon viewpoint can be tied to homosexuality. Sounds like rough going if your boyfriend's parents prefer "In Quiet Desperation" to "No More Goodbyes". Have you met his parents? How do they relate to their son having a boyfriend?

  11. When I first/last picked up IQD, I was an eighteen year old who had only recently realized he wasn't completely alone in his attraction to men. I absorbed love, empathy, and understanding from the Matis's section, and an affirmation of my worth.

    Without belief in Mormon theology the sentiments they express might be appalling, but for frightened, earnestly believing young people like the old me, the Matis's section is a father sitting with you through a fevered night; a mother hugging you when you come home for a surprise visit; an older sibling who actually thinks you're cool enough to hang out with. Looking at it objectively some might say that's twisted, but that's how it was.

    With time both my views and those of my parents have evolved, but the Matis's part of IQD was common ground from which change-inducing dialog could start.

    To sum up, it's not surprising that you disliked it so much; you moved past it long ago. It's a beginner's guide to being gay and Mormon, and it sounds like you were expecting something much more formidable.

    (Personally, I hated Ty's part. There was virtually zero new information—strictly rehashments. Dry dry dry, boring boring boring.)

  12. @Matt - I can see how IQD could be viewed as a beginner's guide to being gay and Mormon, it just seems to me that the dichotomy between attraction and behavior causes a prison to be built with the intention of trapping the young gay Mormon so that he cannot grow into the happy man he could become.

    As for Ty's section - definitely a rehash of General Conference greatest hits, as you say: dry dry dry, boring boring boring).

  13. I think we're pretty much on the same page, but it's worth emphasizing that the dichotomy is a preexisting fact for young Mormon homosexuals. IQD may contribute to the trap for a while by reinforcing LDS worldviews, but at the same time it can help one develop the comfort with oneself required to later challenge those worldviews.

  14. @Matt - You make an interesting point. I concede that IQD and the Matis firesides may provide a support structure during an acute crisis for Mormon homosexuals that reduce suicide risk and allows further development. It is probably too much to approach the conflicted Mormon homosexual with an overall more positive view, because such a view would be considered sinful and apostate and rejected immediately. I find that it is impossible to categorize anything as entirely black or white. I am sure IQD provides as much as support as I see it develops a trap.

  15. I remember well the day I purchased my copy of 'In Quiet Desperation.' I was driving down to Provo from Idaho Falls to give my son a blessing. I had heard about the book, but knew nothing about the authors. I heard something about it on KSL on the ride down, and turned into the parking lot of Deseret Book in Orem to pick up a copy. I sheepishly asked the clerk if they had the book and she led me right to it.

    I had yet to met another Mormon homosexual and was a bit embarrassed to have the book. I hid it from view until I had finished reading it.

    The Matis portion of the book touched me deeply, and I felt a connection with them and their son. Later, I would discover that my father-in-law served a mission with Fred in Finland, and his son served with Stuart in Italy. About a year later I summoned the courage to attend a Matis fireside, and have since come to love Fred and Marilyn for their unconditional love for gay members of the church. They have literally saved lives through their loving, accepting outreach.

    Ty Mansfield's portion of the book amazed me. I was at a turning point in my life, and felt strongly the spirit as I read his pages. I felt it was a great book that every member of the church could benefit reading. It gave me hope that I could remain active and regain the faith I had lost.

    My parents finished reading the book just days before the Idaho Falls fireside. I had forgotten I lent it to them until my dad pulled me aside and told me he had just finished, and felt that he had an increased understanding of what I have lived with for so many years. My parents were on their way out of town to visit my sister in another state and stopped in SLC to take my gay brother and his partner to dinner before leaving town. The next day, I received a call from my brother and he said, "You know, it was really weird, we went to dinner with Mom and Dad and actually had fun. It was the first time we have ever felt comfortable being with them."

    I believe, like with most books, you get out of it what you are looking for, and how you receive it depends largely on the frame of reference you have while reading it. For me and my family, it has been a wonderful book that has opened understanding, softened hearts, and given hope.

  16. @Bravone - I am glad to hear that the book has "opened understanding, softened hearts, and given hope." I am also pleased to hear that the dichotomy presented in to book of attractions being okay, but behaviors being absolutely sinful and offensive to God, did not harden your parents hearts against their gay son and his partner. I would not have predicted that the book could improve relationships between parents and "actively sinning" children.

  17. I remember well the day I purchased my copy of ‘In Quiet Desperation.’ I was heading from Idaho Falls to Provo to give my son a blessing. I had heard of the book, but knew nothing about the authors. While traveling, I heard the book mentioned on KSL and decided to stop in Orem at a Deseret Book to pick up a copy. Sheepishly I asked the clerk if she knew where to find the book, and she took me right to it. I was embarrassed to buy it and hid it away like a kid with a girly magazine.

    Reading Fred and Marilyn’s section broke my heart as I learned of the terrible loss of their son. I felt the warmth and love they felt for him and others who likewise have a hard time reconciling their faith with their homosexual feelings and desires. About a year later, I summoned the courage to attend the first Matis fireside and witnessed first hand the unconditional love and acceptance the Matises show fellow gay men and women. Later I would come to know them on a very close and personal level. I discovered that my father-in-law served a mission with Fred to Finland, and his son served a mission to Rome with Stuart. I love Fred and Marilyn, and know of their sincere desire to show other young men that life is worth living, there is hope, and to assure them that they are loved. Any inadequacy found in their writing is far surpassed by the message of love they attempt to share. They have literally saved lives.

  18. I was amazed reading Ty Mansfield’s portion of the book. I had never met another homosexual member, and it gave me hope that I could remain in the church and regain the faith I had lost. I felt that it was a book that every member should read, not only to educate about the challenges homosexual members face, but also as a guidebook to living as a disciple of Christ.

    A week before the Idaho Falls fireside, my dad pulled me aside and told me he and mom had finished reading the book. I forgot I had given it to them. He said he now better understood the difficult experiences I have faced alone for so many years. A few days later, he and mom headed to Missouri to visit my sister, but first stopped in SLC to visit my gay brother and his partner. The next morning I received a call from my brother exclaiming, “It was really weird. We went to dinner with mom and dad and actually enjoyed being with them. It was the first time in 11 years that we didn’t feel awkward or judged. It was fun.”

    As with most books, what you take away depends largely on the mindset you have while reading. For me and my family, the book has resulted in increased understanding, softened hearts, and heightened hope.

  19. Sorry for the duplication! I thought I lost the original one.