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Pincer Attack! The double bind for gay Mormons

September 21, 2009
Pincer Attack!

Pincer Attack!

I remember playing Final Fantasy 6. It was a good game. Pincer attacks (like the one viewed above) were fairly rare, but at best they were an incredibly minor inconvenience. They didn’t actually impact the way the particular battle would turn out. It just looked a little different.

If only pincer attacks in real life were so simple. Rather, what I find is that double binds in real life are painful, awkward, and pervasive. There’s a wikipedia page on double binds here (I didn’t just make it up to talk about a video game!) And while double bind research generally relates to the complexity of communication among schizophrenic patients, I think there are just too many examples when it is practical elsewhere.

I think R.D. Laing caught the phenomenon well in his book of poetry “Knots” (here is a sampler page). Here is just one:

It is our duty to bring up our children to love,
honour and obey us.
If they don’t they must be punished,
otherwise we would not be doing our duty.

If they grow up to love, honour and obey us
either we have brought them up properly
or we have not:
if we have
there must be something the matter with them;
if we have not
there is something the matter with us.

Oh wow, why does that sound so familiar?

I’ve been thinking…on the new comments from Elder Bruce Hafen on same-sex attraction to Evergreen. It has generated quite a bit of commentary, to say the least. And it’s made me think about this incredible double bind that gay Mormons face in particular, I think.

So, imagine that you’re raised in the church, and you take to it. So, you believe. You believe it all. You believe that the church knows what is eternally best, right.

But you have a problem. You don’t fit into the mold (and this actually applies to so many other people). Not only do you not fit the mold, but you can’t change yourself to fit the mold.

Still, there’s pressure. The expectation is that if you were only righteous enough, you could change yourself. Even if not, you can and should control yourself. You shouldn’t engage on your feelings. In fact, you might decide to do pursue as “normal” a life as possible — who’s to say you can’t make a mixed orientation marriage work out despite your indiscretion. At the least, you decide that you won’t engage those feelings. Because you trust that the gospel truly does know this will bring you happiness.

This is just one side of the pincer. Do you know how painful it is just to read blogs that are like this? I could link to so many. The story is almost a trope.

The other side beckons. Why stick with such an obviously oppressive and offensive, harmful church? Why take up for that? Why not be happy and fulfilled with your life? Why not reject such a harmful influence?

The other side of the pincer. I see so many blogs that take this stance. It becomes resentful, but in a way, isn’t resent deserved?

But no. You can’t really be sure that that’s what would fulfill you. Maybe it’s illusory. Maybe there’s some truth in what the church says about the gay feelings. After all, you do see the more promiscuous communities and you see that that has its own dangers. Are they really happy? Even though you know that’s not all there is, you wonder if that is what you’ll always be susceptible to if you lose your grounding with the gospel.

Why is it that God would make you in such a way? So that you had to deny something this central? But then again, maybe the church is right when it says you should not view this as “central” to who you are. But you can’t minimize this issue. It refuses to size down in your mind. And the entire time, the teetering brink is misery.

Is there room for Mormons who recognize that they are just as much Mormon as they are gay? Because it seems like the two sides who are playing tug-of-war will not yield an inch. One side expects a rejection of THE GAY — whether it completes in this life or the next. This side says that you cannot truly be happy unless you seek this rejection (why is it they can say this so surely when life is hell for you who tries to live it?) But the other side expects a rejection of THE MORMON. And to be sure, some people can decide to reject one or the other…but why is it necessary? Why must life be terrible? Why is it so hard to leave the heritage?

People not involved simply do not understand, and the struggle cannot even be put into words, though you futilely try. Sometimes, it feels better just to give up, but there’s a cough in the back of your throat that demands that you try to explain, even though you know that every single time, you will be misunderstood, rebuked, and rebuffed. It is painful to speak out, but it is painful to keep it in. Pain is life; we can never keep it down. But why? Why did it have to be like this?

In the end, you feel a kinship with those who are going through this with you. And even though you feel such a kinship, it’s not like this makes things any better. It’s not like you all can team up and take the world by force. No, rather, you all will be in this awkward double bind together, able to compare battle scars and not feel completely alone. But perhaps the realization that you are powerless, though not alone, is even more alienating.

Let’s be superheros, ‘k? Let’s break these impenetrable binds and live through every experience without turmoil, misery, or rage. Don’t we owe it to ourselves?

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38 Comments
  1. Michael permalink

    Thank you for this. I could not have said it better. You have expressed what it is all about.

  2. Great post, Andrew. Its too bad that the “impenetrable binds” are so difficult to break through for so many. The cycle of being told that you are broken, and that Church membership only determines your eternal salvation, leads invariably to feelings of low self worth.

    I wish, oh how I wish! for a world without this kind of pain and marginalization.

  3. Sometimes the church like to say there is truth behind every seeming contradiction. The double-bind you describe here is contradiction. So what’s the truth behind it? Perhaps, that the church has given us a world-view that can’t be reconciled with itself? I think so.

  4. Chris permalink

    Thanks Andrew. You appreciate a portion of my life perfectly. Thanks for articulating it.

  5. Greatest… game… ever.

    And that’s all I have to say about that.

    • I’m a bit too biased for other games to say FF6 is the “greatest game ever,” but I will certainly say it is the best FF game.

      I just don’t get how some people honestly can prefer 7 over it.

  6. Sorry for taking so long to approve comments — I only have to approve for the first comment you write (per email address, I think), so it shouldn’t happen again.

    I will respond to some of the comments later, but I have a group project.

  7. FireTag permalink

    I raised this question on Faithful Dissident, but all I got was a polite indulgence of the ignorant CofChrist outsider. The adults didn’t want to tell the child what was going on.

    So, being at the age where I know longer gear seeming childish. I will ask again here. Mormon sects form to the RIGHT of the LDS mainstream form all of the time. Why, culturally, do no Mormon sects form to the LEFT of the LDS mainstream. Even 1% of you could form a 100K denomination. So why does it never happen?

  8. Mormon sects form to the RIGHT of the LDS mainstream form all of the time. Why, culturally, do no Mormon sects form to the LEFT of the LDS mainstream. Even 1% of you could form a 100K denomination. So why does it never happen?

    I have a few suspicions as to why. The RIGHT typically breaks along dogmatic lines, or authority lines – for instance, the argument that JS was a “fallen prophet” or that polygamy was truly from God, and they were wrong to discontinue it.

    In contrast, if you look at who makes up the LEFT demographic, its typically those from minority groups and/or intellectuals. The problem with the intellectual group is that they dive into the church history, find out it is wrong, and get ex-ed, and then what? Well, if what you were taught was wrong all along, why bother continuing in the faith anyway? The Sunstone Mormons could already be considered to be a left-moving splinter group in embryo. So, too, could the NOMers.

    So, what about the feminists and the homosexuals and other marginalized groups? I think that prior to the late 90s, there just wasn’t a good enough place for them to interact with one another, to coalesce. The internet had not yet been born. With the internet, you get more of us who know what is going on in the church world, and we can communicate more easily now. I would not be surprised to see a splinter group to the left in the next 20 years.

  9. FireTag permalink

    Forgive my ignorance again, but what does NOM stamd for (I need a scorecard!)

  10. NOM = New Order Mormon
    http://www.newordermormon.org

  11. re Madam Curie’s comment @ 11:17 AM:

    The thing is…sometimes I feel that these binds do make us stronger. It’s not a strength that we want — I’d rather be weak — but it’s a strength that does make us better people.

    re M @ 2:08 PM:

    Much in light of my comment to Madam Curie, I think that the contradiction is more generalized: to become stronger, one must live in times of great weakness and duress. Now, I don’t think that this contradiction must be specific to the church (so, I’m not saying that everyone should freely join the church in order to be oppressed.) But rather, if this is what we have in life, then even though it will always be painful (and perhaps we don’t accept this pain), at the same time, we should be able to see that our pain allows us to be better able at avoiding inflicting such pain on others. Our suffering allows us to be more cautious in doing the same to others. So, we are directly improved because we know what we want to avoid. We know the monsters we don’t want to become.

  12. The thing is…sometimes I feel that these binds do make us stronger. It’s not a strength that we want — I’d rather be weak — but it’s a strength that does make us better people.

    Too deep for me, dude. 🙂

  13. re FireTag:

    I like Madam Curie’s answer. I would say this for myself: my experiences make me realize that I don’t want a community with rules (even if the rules and rituals than what they are in the mainstream LDS church). No, I want to be left alone and allowed to my own life, my own direction, the pursuit of my own goals. So, I don’t want to exchange the LDS church for an “atheist church.” I don’t want to exchange a strict church for a not-so-strict church. So it seems to me that liberal denominations are antithetical to what I am after.

    But that’s just me. My answer is probably idiosyncratic and not shared by many. My second approach, which is probably more applicable, is this. Liberal denominations seem inauthentic.

    If I am going to be in a religion, I’d rather have it be strict and dogmatic. I’d rather have it be confident of what it believes. I think that Madam Curie captures this sentiment.

    However, when you have liberal-leaning people, you don’t have that. Instead, you have wishy-washy. You have “allegory” and “metaphor” (which, I’m sorry…but that just seems inauthentic to me compared to “literal.”) What community is there to form, as Madam Curie said, from people who found out things were wrong? Why try to twist it and twist it to stick with it?

    Basically, my question ends up: why would I want a religion? The answers that liberal religious people give (even Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, etc.,) seem unappealing…the answers conservative religious people give seem solid, but simply at odds with reality.

  14. re Madam Curie:

    The thing is…sometimes I feel that these binds do make us stronger. It’s not a strength that we want — I’d rather be weak — but it’s a strength that does make us better people.

    Too deep for me, dude. 🙂

    Yeah, it’s too deep for me too sometimes. I’d rather have a simpler life. Even if it meant I were a simply person overall.

  15. Wow, thanks for introducing me to a brilliant new (to me) concept: the double bind. Skimmed the wiki, good stuff, will have to go back. I think good emotional healt involves becoming aligned on the inside and out. Double binds make that difficult. Especially when they are stupid stupid stupid double binds (based on the values of others?).

    But then I think about your this-isn’t-the-coffee-I-ordered story, which I loved, and isn’t that kind of war within ourselves – allowing our priorities to sort and settle – evidence that simply living life involves (requires??) belief in contradicting things, and choosing between those things.

    So what makes some double binds acceptable, and others unhealthy and murderous to happiness?

  16. no problem, Simplysarah…I have a few other ones up my sleeves just from my experience too…

    I think the healthiness or unhealthiness of any particular double bind is based on how one exits the double bind. In my Starbucks story, it was easy to resolve the contradiction without something that prevented me from escaping the dilemma. Whichever path I chose (I chose not to complain), I had some short term pain from that (I really wanted my drink), but I got over that.

    The problem with double binds like this is that you can’t resolve them so easily. Namely, the double binds often feature conflicts that we don’t READILY recognize are contradictory (and as such, others won’t recognize the contradiction either). So, we might want to fully fulfill one side or the other, but then this doesn’t satisfy.

    So, let’s take the gay Mormon. He wants to be Mormon. He wants to be straight, married, happy, right with the church, and right with (the church’s idea of) God. So, he knows he must reject his sexuality, but he can’t. He cannot just be happy with the free blended creme drink and get over that it’s the wrong kind…no, this will follow him forever.

    But at the same time, if he goes the “other” way. Gay, happy, right with the gay community, etc., then he is rejecting his Mormanity. But he can’t. It is also part of his identity. He cannot just be happy…this too will follow him forever.

    The double bind is in a concept like, “Choose between liberty and eternal life or captivity and death.” and “Wickedness never was happiness.” So, he wants to choose liberty and eternal life, and he wants to choose happiness…but why is it that something the church says is so BAD actually appears to be so GOOD?

  17. This sounds like something similar to the church teaching that that we must taste the bitter in order to know the sweet. I can see this being true as a evolutionary selection force but at the level of an individual life it may be more anecdotal than fast rule. I think as individuals we are to some degree programmed to know what might please us and what might hurt us without having to experience either directly.

    I’m not a big fan of the idea that trials such as the double-bind are generally for our good. I thing these things often just happen and sometimes are totally unnecessary. I will be free to rebel against and reject such games as valid or in any way desireable.

    Church control of human sexuality is a game we can and should refuse to play.

  18. Ah, that makes sense. The exit. The perceived availability of exit, especially. I am stuck in a[n acceptable double] bind, but I can get out of here by this door, or that. There will be cons either way, but there also will be pros.

    Rather than, I’m in a bind, there’s no way out, there’s only hell, which hell do I choose.

  19. yeah, I’m not saying it’s a one-to-one deal. That if we had no bitter parts in life, then we would never know the good. Or whatever. (And plus, even if that were the case, that still wouldn’t justify heaping artificial struggles onto our plate — the normal course of a life will offer more than enough tough moments.)

    Rather, what I am saying is this: if I imagine if I were not in this situation but in the situation of an orthodox member…then I would probably be saying the same things as many orthodox members are saying. At best, I’d be ignorant of the struggles and concerns of others, and at worst, I’d perpetuate them. But because of my situation — because of all of our situations, with whatever they may be, whether it be the stigma of homosexuality in society or the the church or simply the stigma of nonbelief in the church, I feel more acutely cautious and aware. I feel more acutely sensitive to the struggles of others, and I try harder to avoid being the CAUSE of others’ struggles.

    This is not to say that double-binds are a net good. I DO think that all the unresolvable double binds are, by definition, unhealthy and unnecessary. But we don’t truly rebel and reject against such games. Consider: leaving the church STILL leaves a gap in our lives. We might get over this in 20 or 30 or 40 years, but ALWAYS we will have that part of our lives as even a mere scar.

    So, again, I am not advocating the church’s position, or that we should willingly thrust ourself against the grinder of the church’s doctrine. But, if we are in this position, where does it get us?

  20. Yes, I see your point and it’s a very good one. Yet I’m still a fan of throwing bodies at the grinder that is the church. Since it is not of god, it can be defeated. If not by the clear and public communication of reason, the by binding-up the machine with our crushed and mutilated carcuses. 🙂 Game-on.

  21. Here is my double bind ….if you research the LDS Church with a truly open mind and with rational thought you will come to the conclusion that it is NOT true, if you do NOT come to this conclusion you need to study more and read more information or you just haven’t read or studied the right thing yet or you are not being rational 🙂

  22. Did everyone see this

    http://www.sltrib.com/News/ci_13377659

  23. coventryrm:

    but the thing is that’s simply loaded. now, I’m not going to try to defend the church on historical or whatever grounds, but the simple fact is that many people are happy in the church. They have had and still have spiritual experiences in the church that convince them of its value and “truthfulness” (even if this truthfulness merely represents a “truth to them.”)

    So, asking them to look with a “truly open mind and rational thought” is LOADED. Because when you say “rational thought,” what you probably mean is that you want them to discount personal experience. You probably want them to reject their spiritual experience as just a product of emotionality or their brain.

    But that’s just unfair. Why should they have to do that?

    So, there is a double bind in those competing demands. The demands of human evidential inquiry (history, anthropology, etc.,) and the demands of spiritual inquiry (spiritual experience, etc.,) and I think that for people who truly believe, they can’t just say, “OK, for the rest of eternity, now I don’t believe. I don’t really believe I had any spiritual experiences.”

    ^If someone does end up being able to say that, then that is not a conscious move. Rather, it is a reaction to some big life event that causes everything to reevaluate.

  24. It was a joke …. insert in prayer in faith where I have put truly open and rational thought and you have the double bind the Church puts unto it’s member …it was meant to be loaded … 🙂 It is hard for sarcasm and humor to come across in print … that is what the 🙂 is for

  25. I actually suspected as such, but it was too late by the time I got to the smiley and I didn’t want to delete my entire comment 🙂

  26. Just to let y’all know, I finished my point-by-point refutation of Hafen’s talk on my blog. It took me about two straight days of researching and writing, but the process was cathartic 🙂 I am feeling much less angry now.

  27. And I am an idiot and linked the wrong website on the last comment. Its fixed on this one.

  28. It has been the topic of debate on my facebook … mainly my two Nephews (Brothers) one is Gay the other TBM

  29. I raised this question on Faithful Dissident, but all I got was a polite indulgence of the ignorant CofChrist outsider. The adults didn’t want to tell the child what was going on.

    Hopefully not from me, Fire Tag. You’re one of my favourite commenters. 🙂

    Great post, Andrew.

    • FireTag permalink

      And you’re one of my favorite adults, but I’m still not sure why so many of you have to fight the battles so alone. Does it have to do with losing temples or ordinances you can’t talk about to outsiders? Or the fact that you often don’t know each other’s actual identity? Or is it the faith really being a separate culture in the way other Christian denominations are not?

      • FireTag –

        And you’re one of my favorite adults, but I’m still not sure why so many of you have to fight the battles so alone. Does it have to do with losing temples or ordinances you can’t talk about to outsiders? Or the fact that you often don’t know each other’s actual identity? Or is it the faith really being a separate culture in the way other Christian denominations are not?

        The LDS church IS a completely separate culture: The LDS church claims to be THE ONLY authority of God; LDS church programs, activities, and meetings can occupy a person’s entire week (FHE, scripture study, Institute/seminary, Mutual, YM/YW activities, Enrichment, HTing, VTing, etc., etc., etc.); the church was initially a Zionist church, in that the church was gathering and preparing ALL MEMBERS to one central location for the 2nd coming; the church was isolated for so many years in the barren wasteland that is Utah; and church members have been and are required to submit to laws and ordinances that mark them as “separate and peculiar” from the rest of the world (polygamy, temple garment, WoW, etc.).

        As a result of all the things I listed, and many more that I did not, the church is naturally going to be very separate from the world, and create individuals who (can be) entirely co-dependent on the LDS system and hierarchy to make choices for them and provide them with friends, community, and society. Its only natural that when someone disagrees with what essentially consumes their whole life, they are going to feel alone. Add to that the fact that when individuals dissent, they are often excommunicated and cut off from what has been their entire community and social structure for their life, and are going to have a people who try to remain anonymous – their entire world view and structure would crumble, otherwise.

        Sure, I could make a loud stink and try to get others to gather around me. I would get excommunicated, and that would be fine – if there were enough people who also wanted to form a new church. Thing is, many prefer to make changes within the system, and therefore prefer to keep their church membership (see: John Remy). Others are just not that charismatic of individuals. Add to that the fact that there is no “one thing” that binds us all: some (like me) are feminists, while others think we should go back to polygamy. Some argue with the church’s stance on social issues, while others think we are becoming too liberal and that ET Benson had it right. The problem is, the dissenters aren’t all dissenting about the same things. Its hard to coalesce around what you DON’T believe.

  30. Re Firetag:

    OH, I think I get what you’re trying to ask…so I guess I get what you’re trying to ask, based on your last comment. I guess I misunderstood. Is what you’re asking: “Why don’t marginalized Mormons form their own sect/denomination/group so that they don’t have to feel marginalized and alone?”

    Again, Madam Curie gave an incredibly good answer…let me see if I can try to put some of my thoughts down too.

    Regarding your questions…I think that SOME don’t form other organizations because, as you pointed out, they do not want to be estranged from the organization they have (by losing temple recommend, being informally or formally from several LDS things). But I don’t think this applies to all (and certainly not to me). So that isn’t quite and adequate answer.

    The fact that we don’t know each others’ identity seems like a better example. I mean, one of the big problems is that even though we can all blog about our experiences and find commonalities there, we don’t all live in a similar location. And even symposia and the like aren’t quite a replacement. So, while we can get a break from reality online — where we have fellow bloggers who understand — when we have to deal with day-to-day living, we sink considerably.

    It certainly is true (I think) that the LDS culture, hands down, is more of a pervasive and defining culture than other denominations. Looking at Jack’s posts on clobberblog relating to her search for a new church made this apparent to me. She chooses the church in her area that feels right to her. In the LDS church, we don’t have this luxury. We are assigned to particular wards. So, in fact, the cultural side effect of this, I think, is that “chosen groups” feel less legitimate…it would feel illegitimate in my mind if I just chose a group, and yet I know I don’t want to be confined to the group I have (e.g., my ward, the LDS church, etc.,)

    I think that these things swarm into a perfect storm. Plus, there’s another crippling matter. If we did have our own church…what would we do/believe? As Madam Curie points out, we have little in common. What we do have in common is this estrangement for the church as it currently is. But that doesn’t change the diversity of opinions on nearly every other issue. So, if there were a church, we would be potentially recreating the problems of the LDS church — because people in power would emphasize their side, marginalizing others in the process.

    In fact, our very hope is self-annihilating. If I could hope for anything, it would be that I didn’t have this common thread with my fellow bloggers. Because let’s think about it: if we did not have alienating experiences in the church, most of us would never have started blogging, and if somehow we could “break away” from these experiences completely, we might lose incentive to continue blogging. So, our hope is not to stay in business as a long-standing community. We are utterly lonely and estranged, yes, but our hope is not to replace that loneliness by joining into a community of similar lonely, estranged people. Rather, our hope is that we would no longer need such a community because we are not estranged or bothered by Mormonism.

    • FireTag permalink

      Andrew:

      I certainly agree with most of what you’ve said here. I differ from my own denomination most strongly in my belief that at this point in history my rapidly shrinking denomination’s “best destiny” in North America is to devote itself to helping its people live meaningfully without it, whatever role we felt we were supposed to have in the past! (And you WEREN’t the ONE TRUE CHURCH, WE WERE! :D)

      But I also think the commonality of belief may be a problem you’ve been conditioned to worry about by Mormon culture itself. I don’t think its a real problem. Once you got through the notion that you could choose what to believe and what group you wanted to be with amd when you wanted to leave AND (for theists) THAT WAS ALL RIGHT WITH GOD, it would be a short step to realizing that there are enough of you to form multiple groups to support each other through any kind of estrangement.

      I had to travel four hours to find a girl of my faith of my own age to date, and my closest “ward” is an hour away, even though I live in a major metropolitan area. If 1% of you got together you’d be larger than the entire Community of Christ, so YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Do the math and take hope.

      Estrangement and marginalization are not unique to Mormonism, and dealing with most of the causes are helped by having support groups. Sometimes we call them churches. Sometimes, we just call them friends.

      I got to admit that temples are a problem, though, particularly if your family is still TBM.

      • The thing I’m saying is though that if you have a group that doesn’t have core beliefs…then the group is weakened as a result. The LDS church’s rigidity is pretty stifling, but at least it is an anchor. However, if you “choose what to believe and what group you wanted to be with,” then how could any splinter group last for long? Since your interests are narrow and you have liberated yourself from staying in groups “just because,” there wouldn’t be anything necessarily keeping you invested in the new group either.

  31. Wow Andrew, that last comment deserves to be its own post. More great thoughts.

  32. Simplysarah: maybe I will tool it to be its own post. BRB.

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