Saturday, July 21, 2007

Our shame-driven obligation to happiness

There is a subtle but sometimes conscious shame that often drives my behavior and my sense of value. I have been in a monogamous same-sex relationship for the last year and a half. Recently I ran into a woman who I used to be close to, but who I have not seen for about 5 years. When I knew her, I was still temple worthy and I had the intention to someday marry a woman. Back then she and I often talked about mixed-orientation marriages and authenticity, and whether a gay man could find the latter within the bounds of the former. She seemed to teeter-totter a bit from day to day, sometimes telling me that she wished she and I could marry and then other days telling that she felt like it might be frustrating and futile for me to marry a woman. At the time, I was totally unwilling to picture my life outside the church, and even more unwilling to picture my future without a wife and a family.

Over the course of the 5 years since I last saw my friend, she has married and had 2 children. Through the mormon grapevine I would occasionally hear news about her; always good and happy. 2 months ago I became aware that I could show up to an event and surprise her, so I made plans to do so.

"Hey there is someone here to see you..." "Oh! Is it _____?" (her husband). She came around the corner and freaked out at seeing me there. I pretty much freaked out too because one of my favorite things in the whole world is to get back in touch with people that I care about.. even if our paths only crossed very briefly. After our elated verbal ejaculations (sorry had to), she started asking me what I was up to. I told her what had been going on in my career and also where I had been over the past 5 years. "Yes, but Clark, HOW ARE YOU??" she asked. I paused quickly and considered whether my preformulated plan to share what was going on in my life was really a good choice. One wants to share, but one never really knows whether it is truly symbiotic. "Actually, I have been in a great relationship for almost a year and a half... with a guy." Already dubious of the decision to share, I felt even more weird when she took my face in her hands and brought her face within 3 inches of mine. "Clark-- ARE YOU HAPPY THOUGH?" Still holding my face in her hands, I wanted to say-- honestly I don't know if I'm happy because you are so close to me that I can smell your stomach lining. I of course told her I was happy-- not because I actually felt happy in that moment but because I felt a sweeping obligation to gays and apostates everywhere to be blissfully happy in spite of the fact that I have decided not to follow all the precepts of the restored gospel. But I am getting ahead of myself.

In the days following this experience, I spent a lot of time thinking about happiness. If I walked up to some random card carrying mormon and grabbed their face in my hands and said.. "I know you are living the gospel-- BUT ARE YOU HAPPY?" I don't really know how that person would feel. They would probably say yes I'm so happy because as LDS people we feel a need not only to be happy, but sometimes more importantly to appear happy. If we are happy we validate the gospel we live to any doubtful observer. An onlooker might say, "you know, I really don't buy into the whole mormon thing, but you have to admit that those people are really happy." Our happiness is a powerful testament to what we do. It truly empowers us in the sight of the world.

Ironically, men and women who are in same-sex unions today face a similar pressure. Particularly those people who have brought children into their families. There is a lot of pressure to prove that not only are the 2 adults happy and fulfilled, but also that the children are happy and well adjusted.

A few years ago I got onboard the R Families Cruise ship bound for a week of universal acceptance while hitting the hot spots of New England. One of the defining moments of my adult life occured as I was sitting out in the sun near the pool area shortly after boarding. There were about 100 children of all colors, sizes and shapes running around the pool and frolicking in the sun. Their one common bond was that they had same sex parents. There were over 600 children on the ship, and the experience was magnificent. Every child seemed so wanted and loved. There was a really powerful feeling on that ship. Later in the week I attended a "teen forum". It was a panel of about 10 teenagers who had been raised by same-sex parents. They spent about an hour answering questions to a room full of curious potential parents. One of the most articulate young women on the panel said something to this effect: "I have spent so much of my life in the spotlight. Everyone is always coming at me from different angles to either prove or disprove that I am well balanced and happy. I am just a normal girl with hopes and dreams like any other girl. I just have 2 dads."

Being different doesn't obligate you to justify your choices and behavior through the medium of excessive happiness. Every human being has the right to be happy, unhappy, emotional, tempermental, loving, graceful, or imperfect as the case may be, regardless of what they choose. I realized that my friend expected me to be blissfully happy because that would be the ONLY way she could justify me not following the gospel the way that she follows it. This is a trap that we can all fall into. For those of us who stand today within a mixed-orientation marriage, we have no need to proclaim how happy and amazing we feel simply because we got married to someone of the opposite gender. For those of us who stand today in a same sex relationship, we have no need to justify our present path through excessive happiness. In life we reap what we sow. We can all just be ourselves, and if we are not totally happy right now in our lives, we are the only ones who really know that anyway! We can instead focus on how we can get what we want and set really clear intentions to fulfill the measure of our creation.

2 comments:

J G-W said...

Excellent post... It's really easy to get lured into the "happy trap." Mormons love to quote Alma 41:10: "Wickedness never was happiness."

I think if anybody thinks about their situation too hard, they can make themselves unhappy; just as we can go into denial and pretend we're happy even when we're not.

And we can take the greener grass approach... If I feel happy, is the person sitting next to me happier than I am? If so, why? Are they more righteous than me? But how can we know how happy someone else is in relation to us? Surface appearances can be so deceiving...

I can judge my happiness only in relation to other states of happiness in my own life, no one else's. I have been in a same-sex relationship for almost 15 years now. I know that right now I am happier than I have ever been in my entire life. I know that twenty years ago I was so unhappy I almost took my own life, just to make the pain stop. I know I have experienced many states of happiness in between...

Am I achieving the maximum possible happiness it is possible for me to achieve? I find the answer to this question in Jesus' parable of the day workers... Some worked for less than an hour, some worked for a whole day, but they all got the same pay. Our ultimate happiness is something we work out with God and God alone...

J G-W said...

BTW... I actually wrote my own post on the topic of happiness last Wednesday...