Tag Archives: conflict

Life Lessons

This story isn’t a fun one. It isn’t a fairy tale with a perfect beginning and ending, but it has lessons we can learn. More importantly, it needs to be heard. It starts with a child. He was young, still in the single digits, in fact. He was watching the news, trying to figure out how the world worked, when a story came on about two men in a relationship. The boy’s mother made a comment about how wrong the world is sometimes. That was his first encounter with anything LGBTQ, though at the time, he had no clue what he had just seen.

That boy was me, and every exposure I had to anything queer after that went about the same way until high school. During my sophomore year, a classmate told me that two of my friends were dating, and it startled me, because they were both men. When I asked my friends about the rumor going around that they were dating, they simply confirmed it and looked at me like I was crazy for questioning it.  I had never seen anyone talk about a homosexual relationship without disdain before. It blew my mind that they were not only a couple, but a functioning one. Before then, I had been taught that being queer was choosing to follow Satan and that most people did it for attention. (Looking back I realize that mindset was very wrong, and I am sad I never questioned it before that encounter.)

I started noticing oddities in my own thought patterns long before that day. I thought that guys were cute and I was always weirded out by women. I easily dismissed these thoughts, although I had had them nearly my whole life. Unlike others who have told me their stories, I did not feel confused about my sexuality. I probably should have, but I was so set on believing what my parents had taught me (namely, that sexuality was choice), I thought I could just choose to like girls instead and then everything would be fine.

Rewind about two months. Just before my sixteenth birthday, my long ignored desires demanded attention. I desperately wanted to find out how it felt to date a man. I was still in denial about my identity, so I convinced myself that I was just curious. I knew (well, believed at the time) that doing anything with another man was wrong. These thoughts combined caused me to go to the internet for answers. I won’t go into much detail, but I will tell you that those experiences have permanently scarred my mind. Through carelessness on my part, my parents found out how I had been using the computer while they were away. I had a conversation with my mother where I convinced her (and myself) that I simply wanted to experience what sin felt like, since that was the first time in my life my actions would prevent me from taking the sacrament.

I recalled my conversation with my high school friends, but now with those experiences on my mind. I had no clue what to think, so I struggled through the rest of high school with my “strange” feelings. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house that I confronted them. I know now that I am homosexual, and more importantly, I know that it’s okay.

So what can you learn from this story? First, young people need to know that being queer is okay. Before high school, I didn’t even know what the word meant. I can’t tell you everything about how to raise your children, but I can offer some insight. When you see gay people, or transgender people, or even people who dress differently than you, don’t treat them any different than anyone else. When a young person is gay, but they believe that being gay is wrong, it can cause damage that takes a long time to heal. You might think that you would notice if your child was queer, but that’s not always the case. I suggest that parents everywhere be an example of acceptance, because even if your child isn’t queer, they will eventually meet someone who is, and you can teach them to react with love and kindness.

Education Committee on Conflict Resolution

Sword

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.

  1. Value conflict
  2. 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:

  1. Seek Understanding
  2. Empathize
  3. 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.