As I delve deeper into LGBTQ Mormon activism, surrounded by individuals attempting to reconcile their sexual or gender identity within traditional Mormon spaces, others increasingly ask me this question. As a result, I have even begun to ask myself this as well. Indeed, I am no longer attending church, so why do I care about LGBTQ Mormon movements?
First, I think it’s important to point out the implications this question has: in order to identify religiously, one must regularly attend church services. For many of us identifying as LGBTQ and Mormon, ex-communication and being forced out of religious spaces is a common experience, and our desire to worship is disregarded. Thus, the problem with defining identity in terms of church attendance is that it erases the history of many LGBTQ-identified individuals, people who have been forced to leave and find religion some other way. Additionally, this definition of a religious identity prioritizes one way of having a religious identity over others. For me, this means I see the potential in non-active church members working with LGBTQ religious movements. Because disregarding current activity status, I at one point in my life was carrying out both my queer and religious identities simultaneously. Because I remember the pain and want to help create a space for others in situations I once was in. I also see connections between the LGBTQ Mormon movement and other issues within the Church, such as feminism (both struggle with the prevailing patriarchy). Many of these issues remain close to my heart and ones that I want to see resolved.
And truth be told, it’s not as simple as stepping away from the Church. Many of us are born into the Church, and brought up in Mormon households. Our households and families remain Mormon, despite our lack of involvement with the official Church. The customs and upbringing in Mormon spaces remains ingrained for many of us, as Matt demonstrated in his post a few weeks ago. And even if I seek spirituality elsewhere or nowhere, this institution exists and continues to halt the progress of the people and causes I care about. And it exists within us: our minds, our families.
It is this variation in experiences of LGBTQ Mormons that needs to be recognized. Whether active or inactive, single or in a relationship, there are many different ways to be simultaneously LGBTQ and Mormon. And in a political movement that aims at representing us, the fluidity of our experiences should be recognized, and none should be prioritized over another, or prescribed to the rest of us as the way to be simultaneously LGBTQ and Mormon.
A few months back, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop at UCSB presented by two of the authors of Original Plumbing (be sure to check out this wonderful blog here). During the workshop, an individual expressed the opportunity he has had to speak and educate about trans issues, despite many people being unaware that he identifies as trans also. He referred to this as a shift of consciousness from a trans-identified voice to a non-trans ally, and how this has allowed him to have a different approach and perspective in his activism.
This resonated deeply with me. In many ways, it’s how I feel currently. I may never return to Church, and I may decide existing in spaces of worship no longer works for me. But no matter what, I will still have my experience, at one point in my life, of being gay and Mormon. And while I’m working to create a space for those still in this or similar parts of their life, I’m also working to create a space for the teenager me that wanted it to be okay to be out, and find a more accurate religion of love and acceptance. And maybe it be a drastic restructuring of a flawed institution or resorting elsewhere to other means of worship. But I’ll never get closer to discovering what this all would look like if I don’t join in making it reality. And in no way does this invalidate my experiences and the identity I hold onto.