Queering Mormonism

One of the most pressing areas for continuing revelation in Institutional Mormonism is surrounding LGBTQ+ (grouped under the umbrella term “queer” for the remainder of this piece) Saints. Conflicting messages are being sent and have been sent the entirety of my adult life to my queer comrades in Christ. We desperately need a more robust queer Mormon theology. 

Luckily, people are working towards the reality of this (you can read two of the most notable pieces to my mind in this arena here from Blaire Ostler on Queer Polygamy and here from Taylor Petrey on a post-heterosexual theology). Blaire also happens to be working on a book all about this very subject that should be available in the coming months. 

I can’t create that theology right here and now. But I can lay some groundwork for the discussions that we should all be having to bring this to pass. 

Why Queer Mormonism?

Revelation is a communal project and I hope we can all play a meaningful part in the process of building a vision of Zion that is welcoming for all God’s children, including our queer comrades in Christ. 

I believe that Mormon theology can be and is inherently inclusive. The Mormonism that is currently found and taught in the mainstream Institutional Church is not. It excludes queer relationships and leaves the lived experience of many queer people unacknowledged and unexplained. The more extreme iterations of these teachings (which are even expressed at times by members of Church leadership in official capacities, like with Pres. Oaks at a BYU-H devotional recently) alienate queer people and leave no space for them in our pews. 

I find this appalling. 

The Body of Christ, and the Institutional Church is one manifestation of that Body, needs all of us. We cannot afford to cut people off. We may be losing our leg, our eyes, our kidneys, our mind, or even our heart. 

If we queer Mormonism, we can open our arms again to our queer comrades in Christ. We can make space for them on the pews, we can begin to do the long, hard work of atoning for the pain and suffering that they have experienced at the hands of the Institution and others in it, whether that pain was intentional or otherwise. 

Our queer comrades in Christ need a spiritual home in Mormonism that welcomes them and we need them, or Zion will never be whole or complete, or as we’ve been commanded — perfect.

What Does “Queering Mormonism” Even Mean?

“Queering” Mormonism is taken from academic slang that we used in the English department at BYU (and I assume is used elsewhere). Essentially, it refers to using queer theory to examine and interrogate Mormonism. Queer, in addition to being an adjective and sometimes a noun, can also be a verb, and that’s what’s happening here. 

I’m also riffing on the title of a recent book in Mormon Studies that presents a series of essays on a different, but also urgent, theological and cultural project within Mormonism: Decolonizing Mormonism. Much as that book argues that we must decolonize Mormonism, I believe we must queer Mormonism. 

Where Do We Start?

The beginning. Petrey’s piece does some of this work. Imagining a queer reading of the creation narrative as contained in Mormonism that would lay a different foundation for Mormonism. The danger in some of these efforts is that given the male-dominated space of Mormon scripture, doctrine, and theology, it may be easy to create a gay theology, but not necessarily a fully queer one. 

We must always be on the lookout for gaps in our inclusivity as we go about this work. 

Performing queer readings of scripture (we can draw on robust queer biblical readings and go further, including exclusive Mormon scripture). 

Removing heteronormative and exclusive doctrines and teachings. 

Listening to a wide variety of queer Mormon voices 

Working to make lived Mormonism, as well as the theology, inclusive and welcome for queer Mormons

Dismantling sexist and patriarchal elements of the Church

Decolonizing Mormonism

Those are just some basic areas to work within. We need all sorts of voices contributing to this discussion from the most radical to more moderate and even somewhat conservative ones (all with a recognition of the humanity of Queer Mormons and the need to reinterpret and seek revelation on new theological insights to bring Queer Mormons into the fold). 

What Does a Queer Mormon Theology Look Like?

I believe that the center of a Queer Mormon theology is found in reinterpreting the “family” that is central to God’s plan as the human family and the diversity of familial relations that that encompasses. As we do this, I believe we must move beyond gender essentialism, which allows for a wider array of acceptable life paths to exist fully within the Church. 

This would naturally come with a need to re-evaluate and reconceive of Priesthood. Doing so should come with a de-coupling of priesthood and administrative-ecclesiastical authority. As well as rethinking the sealing ordinance, much in the ways that Blaire describes (which to me seems closer to some of the ideals at the heart of Joseph’s vision for the ordinance). 

I believe that an ethic of sexual care would need to be a part of this. A new Law of Chastity, rooted in consent, care, collaboration, creativity, and communion. 

A queer Mormon theology depends on a strong community and shifts the core unit from “nuclear families” to local communities. This allows for single Mormons to be more fully integrated into the Church and strengthens our commitment to each other and to truly being a part of the Body of Christ. 

All of this requires re-thinking our understanding of God. We already have divine roles for Men (Heavenly Father) and Women (Heavenly Mother) and a little revelation and theological creativity, combined with Joseph Smith’s teachings of a “Council of Gods” could help shift us from a Man+Woman Union as the central, building block of eternity to one that places Councils or Communities at the center, recognizing a broader diversity of voices than just two. 

None of this insists on destroying marriage or robbing couples of the value and importance they place on their marriages. It simply helps integrate them into a larger community. 

That to me seems like the root of a queer Mormon theology. But I’d love to hear what you think, about any and all of this.

On Being an Ace Mormon Man

Occasionally I see the idea posited that the Church or Mormonism or some variation thereof wants people to be asexual. And I wince every time.

It’s tricky because there are definitely zones of crossover between a typical asexual experience (based on my own life and learning about the experiences of other aces from conversations and reading) and the “Ideal” Mormon experience (as I understand it). And yet, there’s something a little troubling implied in this assertion and in my experience it’s just not really true on the whole.

Asexuality is one of the lesser understood queer experiences (for a variety of factors: less representation, less systemic oppression, easier to blend into society, the label evokes bacteria, it describes an absence rather than a different presence, etc.). So, I think generally those that share this idea do so with good intentions. But to more accurately and compassionately describe what we mean, we can do better for each other and particularly for our ace comrades in Christ.

THE CROSSOVER

The main area of crossover between an ace experience and the “ideal” Mormon one occurs before 16. Dating is a taboo in Mormonism before turning 16, which for me was a piece of cake. I didn’t even like dating when I turned 16. Or ever really (but those reasons are more complicated than just my asexuality).

While kids in my ward were having boyfriends and girlfriends (which I think most would agree is against the intention of the “Dating” guidelines in For the Strength of the Youth, which is one of the standards for young adults, and some would argue everyone, but that’s a conversation for another day), I was still trying to figure out what these “crushes” were that everyone was talking about.

I’ve written a little about this elsewhere, but Law of Chastity lessons as a kid were easy. Not a problem at all. I was honestly baffled by what was wrong with all the other young men in my ward, who talked about making out with people all the time. But, I chalked it up to my own superior righteousness or something (I know, I know).

For those years, being ace was great. And definitely lined up with the ideal. I had zero interest in girls, boys, porn, masturbation, kissing, dating, and all of that. Golden.

Things broke down a bit when I was 16 because I wasn’t interested in dating, which was definitely expected and also encouraged. Lessons also started to shift a bit here to lay the groundwork for the differences in a typical ace experience and the ideal Mormon experience.

At BYU, dating was very encouraged, but also not (I was in a freshman ward, living in Helaman Halls, so casual dating was encouraged, but the serious “marriage is impending” dating was not so encouraged). Then I was on my mission, where the Church would LOVE it if everyone was ace for those 18 to 24 months. Missionaries are expected to focus entirely on missionary work and not to have any romantic relationships (and generally seem to struggle with that to varying degrees), so I’m sure if the Church could flip a switch that made all missionaries ace, but strictly for the duration of their missions, they’d be all over it.  

Once I got home, everything began to fall apart.

THE DIFFERENCE

You see, Mormonism has a complicated relationship with sex. There are fierce boundaries placed around it that determine when it is acceptable or not (rooted in heteronormative patriarchy), but sex, within marriage, is next to godhood.

Loads of Mormon discussions of sex are absolutely dangerously shame-y for sex outside of hetero-marriages, but they also elevate that married sex to celestial heights. People talk about God being present (setting aside how weird that is to me) and there’s quite a bit of stuff within Mormonism that praises the body and the importance of bodies that sometimes leads to the assertion that sex persists in heaven (according to some Church leaders only in the Celestial Kingdom, the only place where people will actually have genitalia).

All of this works to raise sex specifically to unbelievable heights.

I didn’t get it.

I had zero interest in sex, except from like a curiosity perspective.

I started to wonder if something was wrong with me, not just because the entire world was bombarding me with messages about sex being The Best, but because to be righteous and holy and good I felt like I needed to want and to eventually have sex. Which I was utterly ambivalent about.

I can only speak to my particular experience as a man within Mormonism, but there was absolutely an expectation and implication that I would be the driver and initiator of relationships, and likely, sexual experiences (all the way from kissing to sex). Now, some of this is imported from elsewhere and is by no means unique to Mormonism, but I had the impression that as a man, I needed to have some kind of sex drive, some like push for sex and that part of growing up was mastering it. That I was lacking because I never felt that. That I was not truly worthy or masculine because I had no desire for sex and that somehow I couldn’t ever really be godly without it? Like, that the desire needed to be present to be tamed and that without it being there I could never tame it and therefore, never prove my worthiness. Not to mention all the other stuff about true men being these sorta healthier expressions of a James Bond-esque charm and sex appeal (and sex drive).

Some of these expectations are different for women within Mormonism, so their experience will likewise differ.

Obviously, I did get married and I have a kid, and in that way do still fit the Mormon Ideal. But sex as this divine experience wasn’t a driver for either of those.

Mormonism doesn’t want aces. There is little space within Mormonism for the adult ace experience. Not all aces want to get married and some may want to but only within a relationship where they can truly be themselves (not necessarily with another ace person, though that’s definitely one option. But mixed-orientation marriages are complicated and from my reading have very low success rates, though no idea on the particulars for mixed-orientation marriages involving an ace partner).

The ace experience challenges the family-centric nature of the Church in a way that even same-sex marriages don’t (not to say that the ace experience is more oppressed within Mormonism because it’s absolutely not, just that it seems potentially easier to maintain Mormonism’s emphasis on family and marriage while including queer marriages than ace individuals that can’t or don’t want to be married).

TROUBLING IMPLICATIONS

I mentioned up top that I see troubling implications in the assertion that Mormonism or the Church wants people to be asexual. Some of what I meant by that is present in how I walk through “The Differences”, but other bits aren’t. So, here we go.

A quick clarification that responds to some of the implications I see in that assertion is that asexuality does NOT equal celibacy. Celibacy describes a condition of sexual activity and asexuality refers to a sexual orientation and the accompanying attraction, or lack thereof as may be more accurate. Some aces are celibate and happily so, others are unhappily celibate, and still others are not celibate. Often discussions of asexuality outside the ace community blur the distinctions between the two. Certainly, Mormonism would love for all unmarried Mormons to be celibate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mormonism wants people to be asexual.

The next troubling idea is tied up in how this discussion of Mormonism wanting people to be ace is wrapped up in conversations about Mormonism being sexually repressive. The implication then is that asexuality is the same as sexual repression and that Mormonism is responsible for my asexuality. Frankly, I think that’s erasive of my identity and bullshit.

Mormonism absolutely has sexually repressive elements, but as I’ve laid out, to claim that it is completely sexually repressive is misguided and, I think, untrue.

This line of argumentation also implies that Mormonism caused my asexuality AND that if we could rid the world of such sexually repressive rhetoric all people could live more fully and authentically. Essentially, this implicitly argues that I would not be ace without Mormonism AND that I (and other aces) could live a better life without my asexuality, that I’m actually *something else*, but that the sexually repressive ideas within Mormonism forced me into asexuality.

This is offensive and, I believe, untrue.

I’m not going to argue that Mormonism has no influence on my sexuality because that’s a fool’s errand. But to make it solely responsible?

That erases my own lived experience and strips me of any sense of autonomy, not to mention seems totally removed from empiric evidence. There’d be a hell of a lot more aces around if that were the case.

Even if Mormonism were fully responsible for my asexuality, if I choose to identify that way, that decision should be supported. Regardless of how it happened, my lived experience is that of being ace and is valid and good and brings value to the world. My Queerness, including asexuality, isn’t good because it’s “natural” or because I was “born this way”, but because it is Good, in and of itself.

Let’s be a bit more careful as we talk about each other. And remember that my Asexuality, my Queerness, goes unacknowledged by Institutional Mormonism, that my sexuality doesn’t even exist for the Institutional Church (for better and for worse), that my identity like many other queer identities is erased in the silence. (In many ways this is far preferrable to the rhetoric and teachings that surround more mainstream queer identities, but is a different sort of challenge.)

Remember that my Asexuality—my Queerness—is of God, Divine, and Eternal. Sure, it is undeniably shaped by my experiences in Mormonism and the world broadly, but it is so much more than that.

Why I Came Out

Pride Month seems to be accompanied by the inevitable discussion of “why?”, including why Queer people feel the need to come out at all. The reasons to come out, or not, are probably as varied as the individuals that have chosen to do so, but I thought I’d share my own rationale, and why I continue to talk about being ace, even though I’m married and it’s presumably none of your business.

For me, coming out helped me feel more cemented in my sense of self. And helped me feel like I was being honest and open with friends and family (and the occasional stranger because that’s how the internet works). I gained a stronger sense of who I was and a confirmation that that was valid and good.

I also wanted to be a living, breathing example of a queer, ace Mormon because at the time, I didn’t know any. I wanted to give others a role model that I wish I’d had. And I wanted to give my friends and family another person that they know that’s queer.

That’s probably at the core of why I continue to talk about being ace and what it means to me. It’s still a huge part of how I connect to the world and describes elements of my experience that I don’t know how else to describe. My ace identity, like all queerness and all sexual orientations and gender identities, is about far more than my sexual behaviors. It’s a fundamental part of how I connect to and relate to the world.

Related to all of that, is that I think coming out is a way of pushing back against the continuing heteronormative culture we all live in. Essentially, that means that we tend to assume that someone is straight, until proven otherwise. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be alienating and exhausting for those that aren’t straight. Everyone is assuming something about you that isn’t true and it feels like they don’t really know you or like they’re talking about someone else. So, you come out. You tell people that you’re different than this assumed norm. And suddenly, you can be yourself. You are living more authentically, more truthfully.

I hate being misunderstood and before I came out, I lived my entire life with people defaulting to misunderstanding me.

It’s like when a counselor in my bishopric always called me “Colin”, no matter how many times I corrected him (he even set me apart for a calling as “Colin Hilton”…). Or when Lithuanians assumed I was Japanese and absolutely refused to believe me when I insisted I was American, with English and Irish ancestry (don’t ask me why). Or when people think I’m a conservative farmer who loves potatoes because I grew up in Idaho (ok that last part is true, I ADORE potatoes). Or when more orthodox believers and zealous former believers assume that I don’t understand some point of Mormonism when I tweet certain things (trust me, I’ve almost definitely read whatever you’re sending me and have thought long and hard about things).

Being ace and queer is like all of those things. A part of who I am that runs deep and is inextricable from the other parts. So, to be me and to be honest and filled with integrity in my interactions with my friends and family, I came out. And continue to come out, all the time.

Maybe some day assumptions about other’s sexuality won’t be common place. But until then, come out and live your life. Though remember, coming out is for you and you alone. You don’t owe anyone coming out and if you can’t or don’t want to for any number of reasons, don’t. Your identity is yours and you are in charge of how it helps you connect to the world around you, if sharing it will help, share, if not, don’t.