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How does a man with same-sex attraction find the only woman in the world to whom he is attracted? In this interview, Joshua Johanson talks about his history with same-sex attraction, his experience as a BYU student and as a member of a singles ward, and introduces us to his wife, Alyssa Johanson. Alyssa shares her insights into being married to a man with same sex-attraction. Joshua and Alyssa also discuss the things that have helped make their marriage successful. As they do so, it becomes clear that their relationship is not all that different from anyone else’s.
They also discuss Proposition 8, Elder Packer’s October 2010 General Conference address, as well as the following questions:
- Does the Church recommend marriage as a therapeutic measure for someone experiencing same-sex attraction?
- What is wrong with homosexual activity (kissing, etc.) that stops short of intercourse?
- If gays can marry, why would sex in that relationship be a violation of the law of chastity?
- Did Jesus speak out against homosexuality?
- How can the Church uphold its standards while still extending love to those who experience same-sex attraction?
A couple things stood out for me to critique.
The first is that Mormonism’s “same-sex attraction” does not correspond to “gay.” The former is a universalizing term that would include the “temptation” as it manifests for a great number of people other than gay people. Thus, when Joshua cited a study that over half of those who experience same-sex attraction don’t act on it, that would make obvious sense. But it doesn’t therefore follow that the “gay community is more diverse than people think it is.” Rather, “gay” generally refers to those who would not identify as either heterosexual or bisexual. Another way of saying this is that, using the Kinsey scale, only 6s (and some 5s) would claim “gay,” but likely everyone except 0s would claim to experiencing “same-sex attraction.”
I would note that favoring the universalizing term as Mormons do in order to help everyone in the Church feel like they belong is not going to win many friends among those who already use the minoritizing term. The whole reason the “gay identity” came about in the first quarter of the 20th century was in response to societal pressure to cure, or otherwise disappear, homosexuality. The gay identity, IMO, was born as a defense mechanism against homophobia. The heterosexist notion that a person is “not really gay,” just a “heterosexual with same-sex attraction” is as old as the gay identity itself.
Of course, Mormonism now has space to be “homosexual” and also a “good Mormon” (as Joshua proves), but this is a relatively recent phenomenon. And if you’ll notice, there’s still a strong insistence to not use a minoritizing term and instead think of oneself as “a child of God” — which is a universalizing way of saying, “you won’t be gay in the afterlife.” Perhaps Mormons should change their “families are forever” mantra to “opposite-sex parented families are forever.”
On the point of BYU and a gay person wanting the “traditional atmosphere” and therefore it’s not “homophobic,” I would say this: there were black Mormons before 1978, but that didn’t stop the outside public from boycotting BYU for being “racist.” You can make perfectly legitimate arguments about how race and sexuality are not the same, but the thing is, in no universe will denouncing same-sex relationships be considered “not homophobic” for a growing public at large. That is an argument you just can’t win. I hate to think of all the grief Joshua will experience as time goes on because he won’t let himself fully grasp why being against same-sex relationships is considered homophobic by others. The current Mormon definition of homophobia has more to do with a recognition that “they’re among us,” and less to do with how to create and imagine a space of true equality.
With regard to the question about marriage for me as an LDS person with same sex attraction: I think for me the answer is that if it happens in this life, great. But if I have to wait until the next time, that’s also okay. Personally at the moment I have no desire to date a woman. I realize it’s possible to love someone that I’m not sexually attracted to, that as the love between a man and a woman grows so will the attraction.
I was engaged once and for reasons not entirely related to SSA it was an unparalleled disaster. That repercussions from that have lasted almost 10 years. I thought I was over it, but an experience with a recent calling triggered an episode of PTSD. So I am absolutely in no hurry to go down that road again soon.
Joshua Johanson says
The standards of the Church has always been the same. No desire for sex outside of marriage. There is no need for any special distinction. That is a tough standard no matter where you fall on the Kinsey scale. The gospel is about faith and repentance for all, regardless of the labels involved. Developing new labels doesn’t change the standards of the church.
It isn’t that the church is *now* finding a place for homosexuals in the church. The label has changed. It used to be the label only applied to people who have or desired gay sex. That desire has always been inconsistent with the law of chastity and always will be. Now the label of homosexual has been extended to anyone with a 5 or 6 on the Kinsey scale whether or not they desire gay sex. It isn’t that the Church changed, but that the label changed.
I agree that the gay identity seemed to be formed in response to societal pressure. I would also argue that SSA seems to have been formed in response to the “born to have gay sex” philosophy. Since the Church started talking about SSA, the focus has always been avoiding anything that “implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.” (Oaks 1995)
I don’t understand your leap between the counsel not to label people primarily by their sexual feelings and the need to label people as heterosexual. I have never seen any church leader encourage labeling anyone as heterosexual. I’ve never seen anywhere that we are going to be labeled as heterosexual in the resurrection or that all of a sudden we are going to desire sex with people to whom we aren’t married. I’ve never seen it.
Who you have sex with is a lifestyle choice. It doesn’t matter what labels you use. Being black is not a lifestyle choice. Because you have standards which people have complete freedom to choose whether or not to follow them does not mean you are “phobic” against people who choose not to follow it. Most people going to BYU want certain standards, no matter where they fit on the Kinsey scale or what label they use to describe that location. Anyone can follow the BYU honor code, so it only discriminates against people who choose not to follow it, gay and straight alike.
Part of our constitutional right is the freedom of assembly. If we can’t assemble with people with similar standards then we have lost that right. Denying people the ability to set standards because you choose not to follow their standards is unconstitutional.
I understand my interpretation won’t hold up in public opinion or in law and soon to be in schools because they teach “born to have gay sex”, but I can still disagree with them.
Sam. E'momoh says
Dear professional critics, please leave the Church of Jesus Christ alone. Gays and Lesbians, please go and start your own
CHURCH and appoint your own officers. After all Warren Jeffs
is still in charge of his inherited FLDS and has even given some directives from his prison headquarters in Texas. The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the restoration of the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ who
was accompanied by our Heavenly Father Himself; if it is
harsh with sinners critics will say after wards Christ ate
with sinners; if it tries to encourage sinners to repentance,critics will say the Church is lowering its standards. Where do we then go from there? The Church and
all those die-hard sinners not ready for repentance are two
parallel lines that can never meet. Say what you like,
human spoiling does not stop God’s work on earth. Those who
have ears are hearing and those who have eyes to see are
seeing the fruits of the restoration
I understand your frustration. I am afraid, however, that your comment could be misconstrued. I assume that when you ask “Gays and Lesbians” to start their own church, you are referring to those who are not interested in finding God’s will for them and seeking to do God’s will, but rather those who would pressure the Church to change in accordance with their will. I hope that this series of podcasts has illustrated that there are many who would consider themselves to be gays and lesbians who are also faithful members of the Church and who are not seeking for a change in Church doctrine or policies, but are humble followers of Christ and who are committed to living the law of chastity. These are “gays and lesbians” who should be welcomed into every ward and branch of the Church.
Zac Erickson says
First off, I wanted to thank FAIR and Joshua & his wife for this great interview. So much eye opening stuff was said and it has helped me understand the SSA population more. It’s really eye opening to hear the point of view of someone blazing the trail of living a righteous life in spite of SSA. As someone who is a psychology major (focusing on mental illness and development) it is really great to see that there is proof that homosexuality is not a lifestyle that one is born into.
To Steve, I think an important point is that I’ve learned over the course of these interviews (including other individuals earlier on) is that the referring to individuals with SSA as “gays and lesbians” is counterproductive. In my mind, it is no different than calling someone who struggles with sexual addiction a “pervert,” or to refer to someone who craves alcohol as an alcoholic. Giving labels like that only gives the temptation additional power over the identity of the individual. In reality, SSA is just another type of sexual temptation (although very difficult to get a handle on for most). The more we can accept people with temptations like this the sooner we will be able to help them feel the peace that comes from living gospel.
Thanks for your comment. I agree.
Joshua Johanson says
That was one of my main purposes of doing the interview. The terminology issue is a tricky one, even among the SSA community. I am linguist, and so I think that is one of my sore spots. To me, the words themselves aren’t as important as the way people interpret them. Without the interpretation, different words are just a combination of sounds.
The problem with the interpretation is that there are many different interpretations. We can convince ourselves that our usage is correct all we want, but that won’t change the way the people we talk to are hearing us.
Elder Holland once said:
“When our actions or words discourage someone from taking full advantage of Church membership, we fail them—and the Lord.”
My concern is that comments like “Gays and Lesbians, please go and start your own CHURCH and appoint your own officers” doesn’t seem to encourage people to take full advantage of Church membership. I feel like comments like that need to be responded with a strong “yes, gays and lesbians are welcome to come to church.” I think that is what Steve did, though I would argue that ALL are welcome, not just those who are obeying the law of chastity.
My concern is balance. It seems that people in the Church can bad mouth gays and lesbians all they want, but as soon as someone says something positive about gays and lesbians, people jump on them and say you shouldn’t call them that. I’m not saying you do that. I don’t have enough data to draw a conclusion like that, but I know many people like that.
There are people with SSA who identify as gay, both in and out of the Church. If all they hear about gays and lesbians from the membership is negative, they are going to think Mormons have a negative view of people who identify as gay, and that isn’t the case.
I have looked at the way the church leaders use gay and lesbian. You can find that here:
Every single time we are referred to as gays or lesbians by our church leaders, it has been positive – saying we are good people and we shouldn’t be bullied or harassed. They have never said anything negative about us, yet I have frequently hear people talk about gays and lesbians over the pulpit and it has always been negative. That shows a huge unbalance. There are times when reproach is needed, but it needs to followed with an INCREASE of love. If the reproach uses gay and lesbian terminology, the increase of love should match it.
I totally agree that it isn’t helpful to classify anyone based on a weakness. It gives that weakness power and incorporates it into their identity. However, sometimes to reach people, you need to teach them the gospel in their own language.