Many people come to you with rhetorical swords drawn.
To be a queer Mormon means facing a life full of conflict. We face opposition and criticism no matter which decisions we are making. These decisions are deeply personal to us, and we give so much energy and thought into making them. If people know that you are queer, they will often approach you with questions or comments about your life. Some people come with genuine questions. They are willing to listen and want to learn. However, many people come with rhetorical swords drawn. They want to hurt and attack.
- Value conflict
- Ego conflict
Pseudo conflicts are rooted in miscommunication. They are usually the easiest to resolve, because the solution is just clearer communication. Queer Mormons sometimes face these conflicts. People come to us in misunderstanding. They may not know our intentions or our values. These conflicts can usually be resolved with some clear communication to those willing to listen.
Content conflicts are based on facts. They can usually be solved with studies and data which illustrate a point. Sadly, there is not yet a huge body of research on queer experiences within Mormonism. While more researchers have started examining our community, there is still a long way to go. Besides, sometimes our experiences are so personal that no studies can accurately communicate what we feel. One of the queer Mormon community’s unique features is the influence of the Mormon religion in our lives. Even though the members of the community follow a spectrum of beliefs related to the church, the special impact of Mormonism makes it difficult to use studies in arguments–especially when so much of the argument is rooted in faith and beliefs.
Value conflicts come about when people have different views on life. They each choose to prioritize different things, and an issue may bring those differences into focus. These conflicts are the most difficult to resolve, because to completely agree in the end requires change on the level of the heart and mind.
Value conflicts are, for better or for worse, the ones most commonly faced by queer Mormons. Orthodox Mormons often feel that supporting us means giving up on their idea of what a family is. They may feel that supporting us goes against God’s will. For the less orthodox queer Mormons, finding peace with orthodox Mormons can feel like an uncomfortable compromise. They may feel like they are giving space to an organization that has hurt many queer Mormons on a deep level.
Ego conflicts are the most damaging. These occur when someone is only in the argument to win it. They want to feed their ego with a victory over the other participants. Any of the other types of conflict can swiftly turn into an ego conflict, and the end result is wounded feelings.
Conflicts will inevitably come up, especially in such sensitive issues as the positions, choices and lives of queer Mormons. Each conflict will be different, but a few guiding principles can help resolve them, even if we don’t come away from every argument with full accord. These principles are:
- Seek Understanding
- Don’t escalate
The first principle in resolving an argument comes in seeking understanding. This step is usually the only one needed in pseudo conflicts, and it goes a long way in resolving content and value conflicts. Ways to seek understanding involve listening and asking open-ended questions. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, try paraphrasing their argument to see if you understand them correctly. This verifies your perception of what is going on, and gets the participants into a place where the conflict can hopefully be resolved.
The second principle is to empathize. This may be difficult when someone disagrees with you on a fundamental level. As a queer Mormon, I sometimes feel that orthodox Mormons are questioning my very basic humanity. This cuts deep to the core of my beliefs, and it would be easy to villainize people who feel differently about how I should be treated. If I take a second to step back, however, I can remember that everyone is in a different area of understanding on these issues. Before I came out to even myself, I would have said many of the same hurtful things that get thrown at queer Mormons.
To empathize with people who disagree with me, I sometimes think of people who are close to me who have hurt me. For example, I still love my family, even though they have said hurtful things about my sexuality. Because I love them, I want people to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is the same for the people I argue with. Someone loves them, and that someone would want me to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to empathize.
The third principle is to not escalate. Having someone criticize the way we identify or the choices that we make cuts deep to our core, and it is instinctive to lash out at the person who criticized us. A productive conversation, however, will not come out of attacks. If you feel that an argument is becoming an ego conflict, it might be better to just walk away.
It is especially important to remember this principle when someone calls you out on your behavior. If you say something that is offensive (even without realizing it) and someone calls you out on it, it is easy to get defensive and go on the attack. However, it becomes a much more productive conversation if you apologize and seek understanding instead.
Armed with these principles, you can turn many arguments into productive conversations. You can reach a greater understanding with the people around you. These principles won’t make arguments disappear, but I hope that they prove useful in resolving some of them.