In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States, and the response by the Mormon church to reaffirm that marriage in Mormon temples will continue to be authorized only between one man and one woman, I find myself contemplating the continuing suicides of young Mormon teens who cannot negotiate a space for themselves in Mormonism while gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex or queer. I think of the pressure on these Mormons to "try" to marry and pretend to be heterosexual so that they can qualify for the highest level of Mormon heaven. I think of those who leave the Mormon church (or are excommunicated) for the sin of marrying a same-sex partner they love or for simply wanting something more than lifelong forced celibacy. And I am sad.
I love Mormonism and I love specifically the Mormon doctrine that God has a body. He made us in His image, which to Mormons means that the body itself is not something dirty, not something to rise above, but something that is divine and can be perfected. Mormons believe that the reason we are on this earth is very specifically to get this body. Without it, we were limited in our ability to become more like God. As spirits alone, we could only understand so much about God Himself. After the war in heaven, those who fought on Satan's side were doomed never to have a body, which is why they sometimes try to possess our bodies or tempt us because they are jealous of what they will never have.
This body of mine is not something separate from me that I must cast off when I die and return to God and to heaven. It will be returned to me in a universal resurrection, perfected as God's is, no longer subject to pain, but still capable of all else that a body can do. As someone who actively participates in the extreme sport of Ironman as an adult, I have come to love the way that my body grows muscle, uses sweating to cool itself, and turns food into fuel. I have had five children, three of them delivered at home without medication, and am amazed every day as I watch the bodies that I birthed grow and change. The human body is a beautiful thing.
Yet I am burdened beyond expression by the current doctrine of Mormonism that tells people with different sexualities that they must be celibate--and more than that, never even hold hands in public with a person of the same sex. The prize for a lifetime of avoiding such "sin"? They are told that God will work it out somehow, and that He will make them heterosexual, fixing the "error" in their bodies or minds. Some accept this with bowed heads and an attempt to do their best to do a very difficult thing. Others rebel against it, and I cannot help but sympathize.
A man wrote to me recently, commenting on my essay about white supremacy in Mormonism and said that "if God was black, Joseph Smith would surely have told us about it." I thought, how nice for him, that God looks like him. How nice for him that he never has to wonder if God truly understands what life is like, as a woman, as a black person, as a homosexual. How nice for him that he is already told that the way his body is currently is acceptable before God.
I spent many years as a child and teen, wondering how it was that salvation in Mormonism differed for women and men, because it surely did. Women had different roles, and therefore seemed to have a different path to exaltation. But what was exaltation for women, when we spoke so little of what Heavenly Mother was like or what she did in heaven? Why should I work so hard--following the Word of Wisdom, raising children, doing temple work, accepting difficult callings in the church--all for an exaltation that I did not know much about?
I find myself turning back to these childhood questions, and expanding them now. What does it mean to tell someone that they can get to heaven if they make sure to take no pleasure in the body they carry now? What does it mean to say that in heaven, they can become heterosexual like God is? Why should they work so very hard to get to a place where they will be changed out of recognition from where they are today? How I would feel if I were told to stop worrying about Heavenly Mother because when I was resurrected, my body would be male? It is one thing to tell someone who has suffered a loss of limb or eyesight or some other injury that in the resurrection, they will be restored to their original form. But what about those who have no interest in being so transformed? Is there no place within the Mormon heaven for them, as they are?
I claim no authority to answer these questions. I make no demands on other Mormons--even those in authority--except that they think more carefully about easy answers to LGBTQIA members about what will happen to them in the after-life. I also ask that we as a people stop talking about "same-sex attraction" as something that is a disease to be recovered from.
Mormon exaltation as currently conceived is undeniably heterosexual. I can't say that I see a future in which our prophets will declare that there are other forms of godhood, though I might wish it were so. Could someone who is gay become a god without giving up gayness? Could there be other patterns of godhood in the grand expanse of space and time that Mormons believe in, the many universes where we might perhaps one day become gods ourselves, where goodness is not only straight? I don't know. But I ache for those who are told no again and again in our worship services. How can we expect them to remain? How can we be more compassionate without being condescending?
Struggling with my own limited capacity of faith, I nonetheless cling to the hope that Christ understands all pain, even this one. He was not a woman, but in the Garden of Gethsemane, part of the Atonement was his experiencing every kind of human suffering. I must believe that means He experienced childbirth, sexual harassment, racial prejudice, and even the pain of being gay in a church that has not yet found revelation about what heaven might be like for those on the rainbow spectrum. He knows us, and we find succor from Him. This is both the limit of religion and its grandness. This is what I have come back to, after years of lost faith. It is what I cling to, even now.