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.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.
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.
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.