The Untold Love Stories of the Scriptures

When I study the scriptures, I try to really “read between the lines” to get a sense of the humanity of scriptural characters. I love the scriptures.  I also love love.

We have our classic love stories- Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, etc.- but I often wonder about the love “back stories” of many others.  It is my dream to produce a series of films titled “The Untold Love Stories of the Scriptures.”

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Adam and Eve.  Let’s start at the very beginning.  This film would really just be a variation on the story of the creation and the fall, but with an emphasis on the relationship between Adam and Eve.  They’re in the garden and everything is all good until Eve meets the serpent.  In most biblical depictions, Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit is rather immediate.  But in my story, she would emotionally and mentally labor for weeks (or whatever that translates to in Eden time) over the decision to stay with her dear, lovely, Adam, or to seek self-fulfillment by partaking of the fruit.  Her decision to partake of the fruit serve as the main plot-thickening agent.  The climax happens when she tells Adam what she has done, and the resolution comes when Adam decides that he loves her enough to also partake of the fruit and be cast out with the woman who was willing to be cast out even without him.

2. David and Bathsheba.  David is one of my very favorite characters of the Old Testament.  He was a spiritual giant who defeated a literal giant, and his exhibition of such great faith is what makes his demise (his affair with Bath-sheba and the killing of her husband, Uriah) particularly cutting.  But what if it wasn’t so simple?  I picture David and Bath-sheba s having been childhood sweethearts, promising to one another that they would be together forever.  As a matter of fact, when Samuel first sends for him, he isn’t with the sheep, but with Bathsheba, hanging out in a tree and flirting over fruit.  He promises that he will see her soon, but learns that that very evening she and her family were captured by the Philistines.  So his defeat of Goliath is really an act of love.  Israel defeats the Phillistines, but Bathsheba and her family are unable to be found…that is, until the night David sees her bathing from his roof.  He inquires after her and learns that her husband, Uriah, while being a faithful soldier, beats Bath-sheba and is a wine bibber.  David can’t handle the idea of his childhood love being hurt and sends for her to come visit him.  They go on a walk to the very fruit tree where he left her, and an affair ensues. Upon learning of her pregnancy and wanting to protect her honor, David sends Uriah home to be with his wife.  But Uriah has caught word of the affair and refuses to protect the king and his wife in their adultery.  He now hates David and wants to expose him, so he doesn’t go home.  David gets angry, but the decision to put Uriah at the front lines of battle is actually Bath-sheba’s.

3. Laman and the oldest daughter of Ishmael.  Poor Laman and Lemuel, they get such a bad reputation!  Can you imagine being one of their wives- a daughter of Ishmael?  One day your dad tells you that you are going off into the wilderness to follow some visionary guy because his apostate sons need wives.  Sounds like a pretty bad deal, if you ask me.  Unless there’s more to the story.  Let’s say that back in Jerusalem, before Lehi and his family left, Laman and the oldest daughter of Ishmael were actually in love.  The daughter becomes pregnant, and gives Laman the exciting news.  That very night, however, the people of Jerusalem show up at Lehi’s house and run them out of town.  Laman has to decide between staying with his love and possibly endangering her and their unborn child (since the angry mobs will continue to target him), or leave and probably never see them again.  He decides to leave, and swears in his wrath that he will never forgive his father or brother for the circumstances they created.  On one of his trips back to Jerusalem, he visits the daughter, and swears that if she will but wait, he will come for her.  He and his brothers come for her and her entire family just a few weeks before their baby girl becomes the first child to be born in the wilderness.

To Immodestly Dressed Girls: I’m Sorry I Called You Porn

During a routine meeting with his mission president, a young elder is surprised to be asked, “Elder, do you struggle with pornography?”

“Of course not, President!  How could I be?  I follow all the mission rules- I always stay with my companion, I work hard ad follow the schedule as best I can, and I only use the internet on P-day to email my family!”

The mission president leaned in, looked the missionary right in the eye, and said, “Elder, I’m talking about walking pornography.”

*****

I heard this account, given as a true occurrence, several years ago in a Relief Society meeting.  I’ve heard the term “walking pornography” here and there, and did some quick internet investigation of the story to see if it had some attributable origin.  Perhaps it did happen, just like that, but it is likely just Mormon lore.

Mormon lore is a story that happened to somebody who knows somebody who you know, and they are repeated in order to encourage their hearers to follow certain gospel principles- some common examples are being miraculously physically protected by one’s temple garment, or receiving a check in the mail for the exact amount of money you paid in tithing the day before, in spite of being in financial crisis.

This particular account was shared to warn the sisters in room of the potential of being “walking pornography” in the eyes of men by dressing immodestly.

I have since retold the story, and have frequently shortened it’s message to, simply, “girls, let’s not be walking porn.”

I fell into the trap of equating dressing “immodestly” (which, by the way, what does that even mean?), with being pornographic.

To any of the women whom I may have had in mind, please, please, forgive me.

If pornography was just a stream of images of “scantily-clad” women, going about their days doing normal things like going to class, walking to the mailbox, and getting to know friends of friends, then I would be able to justify calling your average girl walking down the street in on a July afternoon “pornographic”.

But pornography is something different entirely.  Pornography is routinely violent and degrading towards women.  It is extreme and depicts the most deprave of situations.  It glorifies the exploitation of adolescent sexuality- and does so legally.

And, at it’s worst, it abuses little children to serve it’s purposes.  Sometimes, it rapes them.

A curve-revealing dress, a little jiggle of visible cleavage, or a thong peaking out the top of a yoga pant are not pornographic.  Immodest? Maybe, who’s to say? But these things are entirely not porn.  Porn is evil. A woman’s breasts, butt, legs and stomach are not.

You might be saying, “Even if women aren’t doing anything evil, their dress still encourages a pornography habit in men.”

Maybe it does contribute to it, but it is still not the same thing.

As stated above, porn often depicts things that are depraved, extreme, and even implausible- the real world and the porn world are two very different places.

Also, we absolutely must consider the intention behind a woman wearing clothes.  And, in some cases, we are great at considering intention.  For example, picture a young woman wearing a very short pair of shorts- they leave nothing about her form to the imagination.  On top, she has on a tank top that is cut low in both the back and the front.  Perhaps a sliver of midriff is showing.  What did I just describe?  Well, if she’s going out to dinner on Friday night, it’s a very immodest outfit.  But if she’s at the beach on Saturday afternoon…she’s actually wearing a very modest bathing suit, as far as bathing suits go.

My point is that, as long as a woman is not dressing to specifically arouse men, she is not pornography. Actually, remove that disclaimer.  Even if she IS trying to turn guys on, she still isn’t porn.  Please understand that they are not the same thing.

So, girls, I’m sorry I called you porn.  And I didn’t just do it once, I did it over, and over, and over again.

Please accept my apology.

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So…Am I Allowed Not to Be in Love With “Meet the Mormons”?

meet-mormons

I saw Meet the Mormons on the day of it’s release.  Honestly, I thought it was fine.

Now, the Church has an incredibly talented group of people who produce their media.  I have been brought to tears by many-a-Mormon Message, and I could watch their new series of New Testament videos all day long.  The Church creates a lot of high quality, powerful media, and I have been singing their praises for it for years.

But Meet the Mormons isn’t new, or powerful, or even really all that interesting.

I’m grateful for this explanation from Elder Holland explaining the origin of the film.

The film wasn’t produced to change people’s lives, or even teach gospel truths.  It was simply produced to educate people who had wandered onto temple square about the fact that you can be a lot of different things and still be Mormon.  Hopefully, it will dispel myths based on stereotypes.

But I already know that there are black bishops in our church, that LDS people do cool things to help the world, and that Mormon moms do more than cook and clean.  So really, what was I supposed to get out of this?

I do have to admit, at this point, that I enjoyed the story of the missionary mom.  Many others have also cited it as their favorite.  It was the only one, in my eyes, that showed the struggle that accompanies being LDS.  A very “worth it” struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.  I honestly thought her whole story would be about how much she loves being a mom and is excited that her son was going to serve the Lord.  I did not expect (spoiler alert) that she had been a teen mom, had lost her second child, and married a man with only one leg.  Her story surprised me, engaged me, and moved me.  Those featured in the other 5 segments all seemed to have basically perfect lives.  There was reference to hardships, but we as viewers did not really get to see or feel those hardships.  If we had, I would be giving this film 5 stars, two thumbs up, and all the accolades I could articulate.

I’m not saying that Meet the Mormons was bad or that it should not have been distributed.  I am just saying that, for me, it was fine.  It is basically a long “and I’m a Mormon” commercial- it’s agreeable, positive, and unobtrusive.

I was asked a few days ago how I felt about the movie.

“I thought it was fine.”

“You are so hard-hearted!”

That’s right, I was called hard-hearted (a serious accusation in my opinion) for finding the film to be fine.

Would weeping at it’s influence be a sign of my sincere humility?  Would pretending to wonder at a work that was not even intended to inspire wonder make me more faithful?  Am I obligated to act like I love everything the Church produces just because I love the Church?

Some of the things the Church makes I love, some I really like, and some I am just fine with.  It just so happens that the thing that is prominently in the public eye happens to fall into my “fine” category.

Please, don’t try to make me blind, don’t try to make me into a sheep.

When the Church produces media I love, I share it, I talk about it, I show it to my non-member friends and family, I bookmark it, I blog about it, I extol it. But in order for my enthusiasm for those works to be genuine and powerful, I have to be allowed to be just “fine” with some things.

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Realizing That Things Would Have Worked Out Better Without the Church

Just yesterday, a friend asked, “where do you think you would be right now without the Church?”

And for what may have been the first time, I thought honestly about this question.

And my honest answer is that I would have been happy.  I would have still graduated college, I would still not be addicted to alcohol or drugs, I would still have an abundance of positive relationships, and I would still be a healthy and contributing member of society.  Also, I would be married and have a few kids.  My husband would have a good job and I would be able to stay with my children.  Now, I obviously don’t know any of this for absolute certain, but if I were to make my best guess, this is how it would be.  I know who I would have married, a very smart, dedicated, and compassionate man I dated my Freshman year of college.  The only reason we broke up was because of our religious differences.  Other than that, we were perfect for each other.

Without the church, my life would have probably worked out pretty well.  It probably would have “worked out” better than it has with my being in the church.

As I articulated this to my friend, I felt the gravity of realizing that there are good things that I am missing out on, that I could have had if I had chosen a different path.  But I did not feel sadness, or regret.  Nor did I doubt my commitment to my religious convictions.

For me, Jesus just makes up for everything.  The satisfaction I find in him is greater than the satisfaction that I could ever find in any set of circumstances.

I will not tell you that striving to be a faithful member of the church guarantees happiness, ease, or even peace.  Sorry, but my experience has been otherwise. But nothing, nothing, is more fulfilling than knowing that I am living in accordance with the dictates of my conscious.  To understand the truth is the greatest blessing I could want.

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What it Really Means to Be Grateful- by Dieter F. Uchtdorf (feat. The Preppy Panda)

When I was a kid, I thought that being grateful meant that I was supposed to shut up until I got what I actually wanted.  That makes sense, right?  Being told to be grateful usually came from a disgruntled parent after hearing my complaining about some dissatisfaction I had over some, surely trivial, thing.  It was often accompanied by talk of money trees and African children.

I don’t think it has ever been in my nature to be grateful- to recognize and verbally acknowledge the manifestations of work and love dedicated to me by God and by others.  But I have tried to improve, and am beginning to know the peace and happiness that results from gratitude.

Last April, President Uchtdorf gave a powerful talk titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances“, an address which I was lucky enough to view in person at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.   As you might guess, his talk was on being grateful regardless of our situation.  I sensed that the crux of his talk could be well represented with this quote from his talk:

But some might say, “What do I have to be grateful for when my world is falling apart?”

Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. True, it is important to frequently “count our blessings”—and anyone who has tried this knows there are many—but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude.

Awesome, right?  We should always be grateful, not just when things are going well.

This talk resonated with others, as it had with me, and was frequently discussed in the days following the conference.  It continues to be referenced on occasion.

But nearly every time the talk was mentioned, I felt frustrated- I felt that the people who were commenting on it, while saying true and good things, were missing something crucial, were missing his very point.  What frustrated me was that I could not articulate what it was I felt like they were missing.  (And if I can’t articulate a thought, what can I do?)  People usually said something to the tune of of one of these phrases:

“I was having a rough day, but then my mom called, and I realized that I should be grateful for the wonderful people I have in my life.”

“If we look around, we will see that there are all kinds of things to be grateful for, the trees, the flowers, a baby’s laugh.”

“I always feel better after I have made a list of my blessings.”

None of these statements are bad, but the idea they express is not the idea President Uchtdorf was expressing to us.  And I recently figured out what the difference was.

The above statements imply that, while we can be grateful in any circumstance, our gratitude is supposed to come from our circumstance.

In other words, we are grateful because we recognize our blessings.

But what I believe President Uchtdorf was trying to teach us is that gratitude should work in the very opposite direction.

In other words, we recognize our blessings because we are grateful.

We are grateful first, not grateful as a result of our situation.  We are grateful because gratitude is in our nature.

I would like to suggest that there are in fact situations where one has very very little if not nothing to be grateful for in their present circumstances (the holocaust, other extreme and heinous situations).  I don’t really expect that God would expect a person in such a circumstance to offer him thanks for some contrived “blessing” in order to fulfill the commandment of being grateful.  But still, a person could be in such a situation and be grateful.

But what is gratitude if it is not necessarily attached to a recognized blessing?  Let’s let President Uchtdorf educate us:

Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.

This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind.

Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true. By being grateful, we follow the example of our beloved Savior, who said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”

True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.

Gratitude, as I understand it, is not so much about what we have, but what we know.  To be grateful is to understand and find joy in the implications of having a real and loving God. Knowing that God loves you is so powerful that it shines it’s light on all circumstances, transforming otherwise dark situations into good or at least bearable ones.

It was once brought to my attention via a sacrament meeting talk that when the one healed leper returned to the Savior to thank him, Jesus says, “thy faith hath made the whole”, not, “thy gratitude hath made thee whole.”  He was clearly expressing gratitude, but what Christ found important enough to recognize was his expression of faith.  I imagine that the other 9 lepers were just as pleased with their healing as the one who returned, but what made him both grateful and faithful was the fact that he knew that the healing meant something.

He knew that Jesus was divine, that Jesus was powerful, and that he had been given freedom and healing under his hand.  May you, and I, and everyone, know these things also.

 

 

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Why I Wasn’t Afraid of Getting Sexually Assaulted in College, Part 2

I recently wrote a Part 1, to which some anonymous stranger wrote an interesting comment.  I had so much to say in reply that I decided it deserved a whole post of it’s own.  Here is what “Amanda” said:

It is fantastic that you are comfortable with who you are, and that who you are is someone who is religious, teetotaling, and conservative(ish) of garb and behavior. However, the world is a big and diverse place, and as you know, there are as many ways to experience it as there are people.

Basic morality checkboxes aside, your habits and likes are no more legitimate than those of party animals, surfers, ravers, or any other less buttoned-down subculture. What you’re espousing is not common sense prevention–it is perpetuating the unfair redistribution of the burden of preventing assault back to victims. Despite your statement to the contrary, your basic message is that women should behave, dress, and conduct themselves to avoid attracting the attention of harassers. Is that really any different than the antiquated “she was asking for it” mentality rebranded slightly to be palatable to the modern ear? Women who want to show skin, drink alcohol, talk loud, and party hard deserve exactly as much respect as those who choose not to partake.

I rarely respond to blog posts simply because it’s worthless to get involved in flame wars with faceless internet people with whom I disagree. However, you seem smart and thoughtful, and despite our radically different worldviews, I thought I might have a fighting at shot changing your mind.

Would you consider the possibility that your post may be unintentionally advocating for some women to make themselves small to accommodate a culture that is too tolerant of some men’s appalling behavior? Thanks for reading.

 

Dear Amanda,

First of all, thank you for such a thoughtful and respectful response.  I not only expect, but welcome critiques of the ideas I present.  I am the absolute first to admit that I have very little figured out in life (if anything), and often feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to understand the world as it really is.  My posts help me verbalize the conceptual progress I’ve made in trying to grapple with complex issues, and critical responses (like yours) do a great job of bringing to light ways I need to refine my understanding.

First, I will address the idea of my habits or ideas being no more or less legitimate than others.  I have to be honest in saying that I do personally believe they are more legitimate, and that is why I choose them.  However, this “legitimacy” has nothing to do with deservingness of being the victim of sexual assault.  In other words, the way one behaves (alcohol consumption, manner of dress, social habits) should not increase the likelihood of sexual misconduct. My actions and the actions of others are equally legitimate in the sense that the expectation of safety while engaged in these particular actions should be the same.

The phrase “unfair redistribution of the burden” caught my eye, particularly the term “unfair”.  Picture this scenario:  I decide to leave my wallet on the seat of my car in a poorly lit area that has a lot of foot traffic.  Also, I leave all 4 windows completely rolled down.  When I get my wallet stolen, everyone will tell me that I was “asking” for it.

What was the burden I had to bear in order for me not to be “asking for it”?  I would have had to roll up my windows and carry my wallet with me, or maybe even just stick it in the glove compartment.  Not particularly burdensome.

But in order for a woman to minimize her chances of sexual assault, she must conform to a number of different lifestyle habits.  Basically, she would have to live a lot like me.  And no, I don’t think that anybody should have to live like me for the sake of not getting raped.  That would be an unfair burden, whereas taking precautions to keep your wallet from getting stolen really do not present any significant burden.

Is this what you mean?  Are we on the same page?

Also, I never want to advocate that women should make themselves feel small to accommodate the culture.  I actually want to be an example of a woman who is making herself big (my blog is one of the main ways I do that), so that hopefully I can invite other women to “live out loud” and walk with confidence.  I also do not want to encourage women to walk in fear, but to walk in love for self and others.  This brings me to a very important point- I live the way I live because I want to.  So I get to “live big” and feel and generally be safe at the same time.  However, if another women adopted my lifestyle for the sake of not being assaulted, she would not be living big, but living small as a result of being in fear.  That should not be expected of anyone.  And yes, maybe I was unintentionally advocating this.

In regards to the “party” lifestyle, it has always been my intuition that, generally, it brings more sadness than happiness, and more frustration than joy.  And I have suspected this sense before I was committed to teetotaling, sexual abstinence, or my current religious affiliation.  I also think that many college-aged women adopt the party lifestyle simply because that is what most everyone else is doing, and offers the path of least resistance for having fun and meeting people.  I guess that what I am suggesting is that maybe there are women who actually would find happiness and fulfillment in living more similarly to the way I do, and would thus not have to be made small in order to prevent sexual assault.  I feel that a sober and chaste life has MUCH to offer, a feeling of sexual safety being one of its perks.

I hope that you find my response as thoughtful and respectful as your was.  I still stand behind my first post, but you have brought me to an awareness of some of the underlying issues that were not expressed.  I do hope to hear your response.

Thank you,

The Preppy Panda

 

 

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Why I Wasn’t Afraid of Getting Sexually Assaulted in College

In college, I had a small collection of blue t-shirts with the words “It Affects Me” written on them.  My fellow gauchos know exactly what I’m talking about.  Those of you who missed out on attending the greatest school ever, though, are probably wondering why I would have such a self-centered wardrobe.

The “It Affects Me” campaign was put on my UCSB students each year to promote awareness and prevention of sexual assault my helping each other see that nobody is immune from it’s dangers.  Yes, all women.  And yes, all men.  Rape and other forms of sexual aggression are serious problems at colleges in general, and the intense party culture of UCSB perhaps made us even more prone to it.

I love free t-shirts, I wanted to fit in with my feminist classmates, and I find sexual assault prevention to be a worthy cause, so I always made sure to get to the tables where they were distributed while they still had my size.  I would scribble something on a huge piece of butcher paper, along with hundreds of other students, about why the issue of sexual assault affected me, and then lay claim to my prize- my blue t-shirt.

I don’t remember what I scribbled.

I may have made something up.

I just really like free shirts.

I was never sexually assaulted in college (or ever, really).  No one ever tried to slip a drug in my drink.  I was never grabbed at a party.  I never had anyone make false assumptions about my sexual willingness.  I was never called a “slut” or other shaming word because I did or did not have sex.

I also never went to parties.  I never drank (not once), got high (not once), exposed my midriff, thighs, or cleavage (not once), and I never “hooked up” with someone I had just met (not once).

I had the same small group of friends throughout college.  We stayed up late, we had fun, we were less than responsible.  But we had an understanding that we didn’t have sex with each other.  None of us were going to do that, or do anything like that.  We went to DP for the famed Halloween celebration, but we (the girls) wore normal clothes instead of the typical barely-there naughty nurse costume.

For me, in college, sexual assault was not really an issue.  Now, it was an issue in the sense that getting mugged is an issue- meaning that, of course, it is always a possibility.  But it wasn’t something I thought about, it wasn’t something that I was afraid of, and it wasn’t something that, honestly, was likely to happen to me.

Now I am going to need to say this at some point, so I may as well say it now: I am in no way implying that when a woman (or man, or child) is sexually assaulted that they are in any way “asking for it”.  The victim of sexual violence is never responsible.  Not even a little bit.  Even if she is wearing tiny shorts and walks by real slow and bends over right in front of you and calls you “baby” and talks about how she likes to have sex, she still isn’t asking for it.

So no, when one is sexually assaulted they are not responsible, but it is wrong to act like we have no control over the likelihood of such an event taking place.  There are things that we can do to greatly decrease the chances.

Like not drinking alcohol or using drugs, not going to huge parties, not making out with people when you first meet them, and, as much as it pains me to say this, not dressing in a revealing manner.

Now I know that you are probably having one of two responses to that last sentence.  One of which is, “You can get raped when you are fully clothed and sober by someone you know well in the middle of the day in the library!”  True, you can.  And sadly, people do become victims of sexual violence in situations very similar to this one.  But how many people get date raped at 1 in the afternoon, as opposed to 1 in the morning?  How many people get assaulted going bowling, as opposed to at a frat party?

The second one is, “But women should be allowed to wear what they want, drink what they want, and go where they want without fear of someone hurting them.”  Yes, they should be able to.  I wish they could.  But as the world stands today, not all situations are equally safe.

I know that the idea of not being sexually active, not drinking, not partying, and not dressing in a revealing way in one’s college years probably seems foreign to most people, since these things in large part define the culture of college.  But I know that the way I lived in college protected me.  We are not powerless in protecting ourselves- whether or not we become a victim is not just a matter of chance.  Fearing sexual assault on a regular basis does not have to be part of a person’s college experience.

Now, if I had lived differently and had gotten raped, it would not have been my fault.  Also, I am not claiming any kind of moral high ground.  I am also not claiming that I was less deserving of sexual assault than any other- we are all equally non-deserving of such an occurrence.

So I’m not talking about deservingness, I’m talking about power, and I’m talking about protection.

 

 

 

 

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Transgender Children and Being Terribly Politically Incorrect

Recently, the issue of transgender children has been highlighted across socia media outlets, thanks to stories such as this one, where in a family embraces the idea that their 7 year old daughter is really a boy:

While this family’s story is moving, I don’t believe that if you are born female (having two x chromosomes), that there is any way you are “really” a boy.  You are a girl, and that is that.

If adults want to identify as a gender that is different than their biological sex, cool.  If they decide to alter their hormones and genitals to look and feel more like their desired gender, fine.

But it’s not right to encourage a little boy to believe that he was meant to be a girl, or vice-versa.  Allowing your child to be administered unnatural hormones that will render them sterile for the rest of their lives should be considered criminal.  Such an event happens to Josie, an 11 year old who is administered “blockers” so that she won’t go through puberty as a boy.  Her doctor assures her than in a few years, she will get to start taking female hormones.

I was nearly in tears after watching her cry and shake while getting the blockers implanted.  Where have we gone wrong as a culture that we have so many kids thinking they are a different gender, and so many adults encouraging it?

Well- I think we have at least part of the answer- we unnecessarily gender just about everything.

Before our children are even born, we associate them with either balls and trucks, or tiaras and butterflies.  Baby showers are done in either blue or pink.  Babies very first little hospital hats are either pink or blue also.  Have you ever tried to buy gender-neutral baby clothes?  Probably not- it’s impossible to find any, with the exception of plain white onesies.  And not only our baby clothes gendered, I would even call them hyper-gendered, meaning that they serve to emphasize the gender of the wearer.  (Picture pink AND frilly AND sparkly AND lacy).  I understand that babies look pretty androgynous from the waist up, and that some parents want to keep their baby from being confused with the opposite gender, but the “girliness” and “boyishness” of clothes for young children is overdone.  Also, why should it matter if the gender of your child is not immediately obvious to strangers?  As children get older, the gendered-ness of their clothing tends to relax a little bit, but not much.

And then there’s the hyper-gendered marketing of toys.  Now, I can understand if a jewelry making kit is marketed more towards girls than boys, since women do tend to wear jewelry much more than men do.  But why does there need to be girls playing with pink and purple Legos in commercials, while boys play with the normal colored Legos.  Also, toys that relate to home-making, such as dolls, play kitchens, or easy bake ovens, are exclusively marketed towards girls.  But men care for babies and children, clean kitchens, and cook as well as women.  Why would to be strange for a young boy to role-play such behaviors by feeding a baby doll or preparing a meal in a play kitchen?

While working in preschools, I constantly found myself declaring to young children that there was no such thing as a “girl color”, a “girl toy”, or a “girl game”.  Usually such discussion would arise when a boy was last to the table and all that was left was a pink crayon or other “girly” item.  Honestly- pink is a color- there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about any color.

I am grateful that as a young child, I spent about equal amounts of time playing with boys and girls, and that no adult ever told us we were playing a “boy” game or a “girl” game.  We played a lot of make-believe- sometime we played house, and sometimes we played cops and robbers.  It never occurred to us that boys shouldn’t pretend to have a family, or that girls shouldn’t pretend to be involved in a violent and aggressive situation.  And when I have children, I hope to minimize meaningless gender distinctions of inanimate objects and activities.  I also plan on dressing my daughters in minimally feminine outfits.  It’s not that I want them to look like boys, but I don’t want them associating their girlhood with frilliness.

Now, to be clear- it’s not that I want to un-gender my children.  I want my sons to know that they are boys and to like being boys, and my daughters to know that they are girls and to like being girls.  But I want for them to decide for themselves what makes them a happy as a boy or happy as a girl.

For example, if my son like the color pink, fine!  Boys can like pink.  If my daughter wants a short haircut, fine!  Girls can have short hair.  If they like playing dress up in the clothes of the oppositely gendered parent, sound like fun!  You can be whatever you want when you play make-believe.

Think about it- if we give a young girl the idea that girls like pink, like to wear dresses and jewelry, like to play with dolls, and like Disney Princesses, then what is she going to think when she likes blue, likes wearing jeans, likes to play outside, and likes Marvel Superheros?  Surely, we’ve taught her that she is doing the whole “girl thing” wrong.  And she’ll see that the things she likes are the things boys are supposed to like…so maybe she’s “supposed” to be a boy.

We mess up children’s sense of gender when we call things male or female when they are, in fact neither.  A totally absurd example of this happens in this 20/20 special with Barbara Walters, at 4:00:

“From the moment he could speak, Jazz made it clear he wanted to wear a dress.  At only 15 months, he would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress.”

Barbara, that is DUMB!  Seriously, anyone who has ever cared for a toddler knows that they are just going crazy with their fine motor development, and love adjusting anything they can their little hands on.  This usually means taking off their shoes, hair accessories, or clothing, since they always have those things with them.  This little boy unsnapped his onesie because that’s what little kids do (and the do it over and over and over- moms and dads, am I right?).  He was trying to get more comfortable- not trying to wear a dress.  And ever if he was trying to wear a dress, men wore outfits that resemble dresses for hundreds of year- there is nothing inherently female about wearing a piece of clothing without two separate leg holes.  The only reason he would think he was doing something girly is if we tell him that what he is doing is girly.

Do you see what I mean here?  Boys think they’re girls and girls think they’re boys because we fill our cultural definitions of maleness and femaleness with meaningless crap.

If my son likes to play with dolls, great.  If he wants to wear a My Little Pony backpack to school I will warn him that people may comment since they are used to only seeing girls with such an item, but that if he wants to wear it, he can wear it.  And if he loves other men, I will tell him that men usually love women, and women usually love men, but that he is allowed to love men and still be a man himself.  Also, loving men doesn’t make one any less “of a man”.

I cannot imagine how challenging it would be to feel like you needed to allow their child to switch their gender in order to make them happy.  While I don’t agree with parents who do so, it is a given that I don’t understand their position or struggle fully.  Also, I understand that there are children who are born with ambiguous gender, meaning that their genitals or even chromosomes do not define them clearly as a male or female.  These situations are not what I’ve been talking about- I’ve been talking about cases where they are born definitely a boy or definitely a girl.

For the sake of the mental and physical health of our children, let’s please stop encouraging crazy gender norms.  Kids are confused, and I’m pretty sure it’s our fault.

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Being Honest About the “Gay Problem”

Upon joining the Church, I quickly learned that one of the people who had been most influential in my conversion was gay.  He was very active in the Church, coming from a very active, large, mostly typical LDS family.

We bonded over our different marginalizations- me being so new, and him being gay.  We both had a deep and sincere desire to be faithful and believing, and we both struggled at times to be so.  His friendship was a great blessing to me- I felt that I could tell him anything.  I hope that my friendship was a blessing to him as well.

But it’s a tricky course to navigate.  I knew that I believed in the Church, which taught that homosexual actions were unequivocally wrong.  I knew that I believed in the importance of the family and that gay couplehood did not fit into my picture of ideal familial life.  But I also knew that my friend was honestly attracted to men, and I knew that he didn’t choose to be so.  I knew that he tried for years to “pray the gay away” (it doesn’t work, FYI).  I knew that he was doing just about everything one is “supposed to” when attempting to rid themselves of an affliction or temptation.  And, although I professed to believe the opposite, I knew those things would never work.  The atonement can heal us physically and spiritually, give us strength, and refine our natures.  But it does not turn gay people straight.

I campaigned for California Proposition 8 in 2008.  I don’t really care if gay marriage is legal or not, and I didn’t really care then either.  But we received a letter from the First Presidency asking us to donate our means and our time to help it pass, and I did what i was asked.  For me it was about following the prophet, not about the “sanctity” of marriage.  When the Proposition passed, I felt relieved- not because it had been successful, but because then I would be free to go back to not caring about the issue.  I don’t feel bad about my involvement in that campaign, but I don’t feel good about it either.

My friend cut ties from the Church a few years out of high school.  This was a hard revelation for me, as he had been so paramount in the early development of my testimony.  I didn’t want to be Mormon without the support of one of my very dearest friends.  It is shaking when people stop believing, or when people stop pretending to believe.

I was, at first, uninterested in knowing about his “gay” life.  I still loved him, enjoyed him, and wanted him to be happy, but I didn’t feel like I could love the “gay” part of him.  I felt that it wasn’t part of who he really was, and the last thing I wanted to do was encourage it.  I found out that he had a steady boyfriend and did not want to know anything about him or about their relationship.

I don’t know what prompted it, but I can still remember the moment that I decided that I was okay with him being gay.  I realized that his boyfriend at the time was not the enemy- I realized that there was no “enemy”.  I wanted to know about their life together- not because I was in support of their relationship exactly- but because one of them was my friend, and anyone who mattered to him should matter to me.  Once I stopped feeling like I had to oppose their relationship in thought, word, and deed, I finally felt like I could just relax.

Even if I believe that homosexuality is immoral, what does it have to do with me if other people are active in a gay lifestyle?  If I know a couple who is having premarital sex, I don’t avoid acknowledging the entirety of their relationship, even though I may not support certain aspects of it.  And here is, in my opinion, one of our big cultural flaws when it comes to how we see homosexuality- given that homosexuality is sinful (for the sake of argument), we tend to define people who partake in it by that sin, as opposed to other sins, where we see people just as “dealing” with something.  For example, if I broke the word of wisdom by smoking pot, I don’t think people would label me as a “pothead”, destined to a life of munching and being mellow.  Smoking pot would be seen as a choice, not as a natural result of my very nature.  But in the LDS culture, we tend to act as if people who are gay are only gay- that it defines them, and that when thinking of them, the fact that they like other people of their same gender, should be the basis of our attitude towards them.  Being gay does not define anybody any more than being straight does.

So I learned about his boyfriend, and then their break-up, and then his new boyfriend.  I never was interested in their sex life…but I’m not interested in anybody’s sex life.

I always pictured, though, that my friend would come to me one day and invite me to his gay wedding.  I would then be obligated to express love for him, and good-will towards his partner, but decline the invitation.  it’s one thing to support people, it is another thing to support a ceremony that is directly symbolic of sin, after all.

Last year I met the man he planned on marrying.  And he is so wonderful- his fiance was kind, down-to-earth, grounded, and genuine.  He seemed to be not only a great complement for my friend, but someone who would be a great blessing to him.  I am grateful that they have found each other.

They were married in July.  I didn’t go.  I didn’t go because I was broke and was already obligated to take a few different our of state trips.  But I very much wanted to be there.  After all the years of preparing myself to tell him I didn’t want to be at his wedding, when it came down to it, I found myself tired of “standing up” for something that I didn’t even understand.  And my love for him and his now husband had a much greater pull on my heart than my allegiance to the idea of the traditional family.

This is not a proclamation that the LDS Church should redact it’s teachings on homosexuality.  It is also not a statement that homosexual actions are morally acceptable.

I do believe whole-hardheartedly in the teachings of the Church.  I do believe that God is very serious about the Law of Chastity and that one cannot keep that law while leading a gay lifestyle.  I do believe that families are meant to be our source of greatest happiness and that they cannot be formed or maintained with a homosexual couple the way they can be maintained with a heterosexual couple.

But I know that people don’t choose to be gay.  And asking them to live a complete life of celibacy seems like an order too tall for anybody to reasonably expect.

So this is my problem- I know what I believe, but the things I believe don’t quite match up right.  I think that most compassionate, thinking members of the church have this same problem to some degree- not supporting homosexuality, but also not feeling right away denying the opportunity to find love to those who are gay.

There really are no “good” options for a gay member of the church.  Life-long celibacy is not a good option.   Marrying a woman for the sake of having a family is not a good option.  Living a life of sin is also not a good option.

Whenever I declare that I support the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, I do it with a pang of “I’m so sorry” in my soul.

I have a handful of gay friends who grew up in the church.  I have a handful of other friends who I suspect are gay but have not yet admitted it.  One thing I want to apologize publicly for is if I have ever made any of these friends (or anybody else) feel like being gay made them less loved, less important, or less valuable to God or to the Church.  I don’t want any young man (or woman) to EVER feel “defective” for any reason, including being gay.

All I know is that I have a problem, a “gay problem”, and that I have no answers.  I want to do right by God, and I want to do right by my fellow man, and this is the only issue wherein I feel like I can’t quite do both.  Help me feel know how to feel like a good Christian and a good person at the same time.

 

 

 

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Putting Away Childish Things and Quitting Selfies

I am finished with taking, retaking, editing, filtering, deleting, and posting selfies.

Just a few years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of taking a picture of myself, with my own camera/phone, and posting it to my own social media account.

I mean, really, how conceited does that sound?

Conceited, immodest, vain, prideful, distracted- all words I would use to describe our selfie culture.

In criticizing the selfie, I am really criticizing myself, because inasmuch as I was tempted, I partook.  I always knew that the selfie was a show of vanity, but I dismissed it because, and oh dear Jesus forgive me for saying this, “everybody else was doing it”.  Older relatives whom I respected, pretty women, less-pretty women, mission friends, LDS friends, non-LDS friends, moms, teachers, business women…everyone.

So I jumped on the bandwagon- I curled my hair, glued fake eyelashes to my face, stuck my neck out, put my chin down, tilted my head, pouted just enough to make my lips look bigger and my cheeks look thinner and took the picture.  And then took another, and another, until I captured one I saw fit to share.  I then spent a few minutes trying to find the perfect filter- something that would make my hair look shiny, my skin look clear, and my lips look red.  Finally, I would post it to Instagram, and Facebook via Instagram, with some comment to try to justify the need to post yet another picture of myself and attach ridiculous hashtags.  Then I would wait for the validation.

I am usually a pretty low maintenance girl- make-up is not a part of my daily routine and my hair and jewelry are usually pretty simple.  Except for Sundays, that is.  Sunday is my “go all out day”- I use velcro rollers to make my hair big and spanx to make my waist small.  I like getting gussied up sometimes…and plus, this makes Sunday morning, right before I leave for church, the perfect time for a selfie.

What I am about to admit is so very embarrassing.

I have spent many sacrament meetings with my nose in my phone waiting for notifications of people liking the picture of my face.  I have partaken of the sacrament with my hands while, with my heart, I devoutly worshiped myself.

When I take selfies, there ends up being a whole lot of unused ones (my forehead looks too big, my eyes look to small, that curl is curling the wrong way) on my camera roll.  Maybe I am the only one who takes multiples to try and get the right one- but, I doubt it.

I’ve had instances where I’ve been sharing my photos with a friend and we get to a host of selfies.  I usually make some kind of joke, but I have always felt awkward about it.  It’s one thing to take ONE picture of yourself to share, it’s an entirely different thing to take 15, that differ only by the slightest of angels and expressions.

Really girls, really.

I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 3:6, which refers to the “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts”.  I have a hard time accepting that a woman who is fully engaged in the cause of Christ even has the time or energy to think about taking her own picture to show off to the world.  How silly would that be?

I took selfies because I wanted people to think I was pretty.  More so, I wanted people to tell me I was pretty.

You can insert your own lecture on how we are all beautiful and should find our worth first as daughters of God right about here.  All I’m going to say is that grown women feeling good about themselves because a slew of acquaintances gave them a thumbs up is totally ludicrous.

If you are a selfie-taker who only snaps one picture, doesn’t use filters, doesn’t monitor the likes or comments, and only posts them so that your out-of-state relatives can see how much you’ve grown, then please understand that none of this applies to you. I think it is entirely possible that my relationship with the selfie was more dysfunctional and harmful than most.

Sometimes the selfie helps me feel good about myself- but it is a shallow and fleeting “good about myself”.  And more often, it makes me feel bad about myself- hypercritical and ultimately disappointed.

I find my flaws forgivable when I see myself in pictures taken spontaneously with people I love or while doing something cool or standing in front of something beautiful.  Who cares that my hair is crazy when I’m having so much fun?  Who cares that I look tired when I’ve been on a 22 hour road trip?  Who cares that I have a double chin when I am cuddled up to the people in my life who bring me joy?  Real life shows us the insignificance of our flaws (which really, we don’t have flaws- God makes no mistakes).

But a selfies is all about us- it’s all about the way we look.  There is nothing to redeem us from our perceived imperfections.

Nothing monumental happened to turn me off from selfies- I just happened to see one I had posted to facebook one day while looking for something unrelated when I thought to myself, “I don’t need selfies anymore.  I don’t want them either.”

To me, the selfie was like a pacifier, a teddy bear, a blankie, or a number of other “childish things”- things that really serve no practical purpose, but imitate the things we want on an instinctive level.  Children part ways with their trinkets when they realize that they are just occupying the space meant for something real.

So now that I’m a woman, I’ve decided to put away childish things.

I want to give a thank you to the women I know who have been an example to me by not taking part in the selfie craze, particularly my sister, Megan.  Thank you for representing to me that to be female does not mean to be seen, and to be beautiful does not mean to be approved of.

 

 

 

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