Where’s the good Queer Mormon lit?

“No Going Back” by Jonathan Langford is the latest offering from the Mormon community to address the difficult internal struggle young Mormon youth may feel as they learn they have what the LDS Church terms as same-gender attraction. It’s been generally well received and is up for awards.

I’m concerned the reason for its positive acclaim is not due to its relevancy. This may be personal on my part; like the protagonist Paul, I was raised Mormon, and like Paul I came to discover my own feelings in middle school in 2003, and like Paul I had a very close best friend who was the first person I told, and although he was the only person I could feel safe around, that revelation affects our relationship to this day.

Hence, I feel that this book strays so much from what I think is realistically experienced by gay teenagers that I wonder if – like most narratives about young Mormon men “with SGA” – it is a representation mainly depicted through the eyes of a straight male with leadership experience in the Church laying claim to a narrative that, frankly, simply isn’t his to tell.

In other words, the success of books like “No Going Back” is that they advocate refusing the “homosexual lifestyle” and remaining in the Church to stick it out. And in my experience, this is a much more problematic and complex phenomenon than even the Brethren would like to admit.

The simple truth is: there are more Mormon college guys in Orem and Provo with homosexual or bisexual behaviors than the dominant Mormon culture knows about – or wants to know about. Married men with children and young men either about to go into the MTC or freshly returned from a mission hook up in bathrooms on UVU and BYU campus grounds, in parking lots and bedrooms on a daily, perhaps even hourly basis. And these men, numerous as they are, are rendered invisible by the appeal to books like “No Going Back.” To most Mormons, these men do not – and cannot – exist.

It’s a rampant underground culture at least as old as I am, forcing hundreds of men to live in silence because there is no institutional memory or community to represent them. The dominant narrative told about men in the Church with SGA is that they A: serve a successful mission and B: get married in the temple. If that fails, then C: live out your days single and celibate. Those who successfully do this – and feel happy – are more the exception than the rule, but the fact that this narrative is marketed as “the standard,” like other narratives that make Mormons feel comfortable with themselves, it is much more damaging to men and their friends and families than productive.

This reproduction of comfortable narratives about SGA is essentially Church policy. The most honest queer Mormon stories I know of are Carol Lyn Pearson’s “Good-bye, I Love You” or the anthology “Peculiar People” by Ron and Wayne Schow. But given all the men and women who, like me, are in a Post-Prop 8 Mormon Church, we need more contemporary narratives that can address a broad range of experiences. An entire group of people is being erased from Church history.

So those with a voice to speak, let it be heard. You are not alone, and what’s more, you have a story to tell. Stop letting those in power tell that story for you.

5 Responses to "Where’s the good Queer Mormon lit?"

  1. Becca Daley   April 5, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you for posting this article. There are many gay voices that need to be heard and the leaders of the Church are hesitant to allow them to be.
    My gay friend and I recently had a conversation about coming out in a Mormon world and how we are deprived of a family in the church because of outdated beliefs. Even leaders in the Quorum of the Twelve have admitted they don’t know enough about it. Let’s let our stories be heard. Let’s let people know about the love we feel in our hearts and the happiness WE ALL seek.

  2. Jonathan Langford   April 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    It’s important to recognize the wide variety of experiences among those who are same-gender attracted and LDS. My novel portrays one such experience, but certainly not the full range. It didn’t resonate with your experience. However, based on other comments I’ve received, it *has* resonated with the experience of other readers, including many who are same-sex attracted and have either chosen (like my main character Paul) to say in the Church, and others who have chosen differently.

    Paul’s choice is certainly not shown as easy. Indeed, many readers have told me that No Going Back has helped them see just how hard it is to live by LDS teachings in this area.

    I think it’s arguable that there are many more stories “out there” about Mormons who leave the Church because they’re gay than about those who choose to stay in the Church. A realistic Mormon literature demands both.

  3. Jonathan Langford   April 6, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    I should clarify that when I say there are more stories “out there” about gay Mormons who leave the Church, I don’t necessarily mean that this is the more common experience. Rather, I mean that this is the experience that has more frequently been depicted in published narratives, fiction and nonfiction both.

    One of the things I tried to communicate in No Going Back was the sense (confirmed by several people I’ve spoken to about this) that for those who are same-gender attracted but choose to stay in the LDS Church and abide by LDS standards, there’s relatively little understanding out there either in the Church or in the gay community. They fall between the cracks, fitting neither the dominant LDS narrative nor the rhetoric of the gay community. That’s an experience I wanted to give voice to in my novel.

  4. Dr. Perry Cox   April 8, 2010 at 11:14 am

    “Married men with children and young men either about to go into the MTC or freshly returned from a mission hook up in bathrooms on UVU and BYU campus grounds, in parking lots and bedrooms on a daily, perhaps even hourly basis.”

    This is a good point because, man, if I had a nickel for every time that I saw or heard about married dudes with kids hooking up in bathrooms at UVU I’d have literally no money. Is this a serious assertion by the author?

  5. Reed Winters   April 12, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Hear hear Matthew! Great article.

    @ Dr. Perry Cox: Surprise!


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