Saturday, October 22, 2011

The illusion of 'aloneness'

I am launching a new book project, and I want you to participate. 

Over the past few years--and few weeks, especially--I've gotten literally thousands of emails and messages from people around the globe that share their personal struggles and triumphs as LGBT Mormons, family members, and allies. While I knew what we're undertaking here in the bay area--and the LGBT issue in particular--was of passionate interest to many, I didn't expect the volume of personal accounts and narratives.

A common thread that runs through each of these (independent of the author's orientation), is a sense of "aloneness:" the fear (or reality) of being ostracized by our brothers and sisters in the gospel for being gay or otherwise different--or for caring about someone who is.

A second—and equally important—common thread is a renewed or continuing sense of hopefulness that is attained simply from realizing we are not alone, and the comfort and increased testimony we have in our Savior and in the human family when we realize there are those out there who feel just like we do and share our burdens with us.

I've found that sharing stories--sharing experience, strength, and hope--helps erode this sense of aloneness. For it is simply that: an illusion. As we raise our own voices, we find we are joined by others, and our collective strength grows as children of our Father, and as disciples of our Savior.

I'd like to undertake a project that gives voice to those individual stories of challenge and optimism, and I need your help. Share your story with me--and allow me to give voice to them collectively.

Send me a postcard (of any design), or short letter with your story of struggle and hope. Ideally, they would fit in the page of a book if photographed--but some may be longer, others will be shorter.

I will not share your name, your location, or your ward--there will be no identifiers, so everyone can speak freely and from the heart. You can be LGBT, straight, Mormon, or of no particular faith at all--what counts is your story. Your letter can address any or all of the following, or contain something you'd like to share of your own choosing:

-What you felt when you learned about the cultural shift we're trying to make in our faith in San Francisco
-How you've struggled to find your 'fit' within our Mormon culture
-How people within our faith have responded to you about your status as an LGBT individual or ally, or as someone who is perceived as different
-How someone or something has helped you or given you hope—and how that has increased your faith

You have the capacity to change lives.

You have the capacity to help someone feel a little less alone.

You have the capacity to shoulder the burden of others--for we are surely commanded to do so.

I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone. 

"In the meridian of time, among other things, the Savior gave a touch here, a kind word there, food (both real and spiritual) to the hungry, advice and counsel to those in need. He gave prayers with the frightened, kindness to the passed-over, respect and affection for the children, loving care for those who are burdened. "And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things."
--Stephen A. West, "Out of Small Things", Ensign, May 1999, 28

Mail your cards and letters by November 30th to:
Mitch Mayne
1450 Sutter Street
PMB #506
San Francisco, CA 94109

Email me at

Monday, October 10, 2011

What you didn’t see

When you asked me to help you, to listen to you, you saw my smile. You heard the warmth in my voice. You saw my countenance of good cheer. You saw my emotions as you shared your triumphs—and your sorrow. 

But here is what you didn’t see.

You didn’t see how I cried silently for your pain.

You didn’t see how those tears changed from tears of anguish to tears of humility when I realized that, in some small way, I get to help someone like you—someone I love.

You didn’t see how my gratitude for you increased.

You didn’t see how much closer you brought me to my Savior.

You didn’t hear the quiet prayer I whispered: “Thank you, my Savior, for a chance to make another's journey lighter. Thank you for a chance to grow. Thank you for a chance to be an instrument in your hand.”

For you gave me the opportunity to serve. And while you might recognize how I have served you in some small way, it is really you who have served me. You reminded me what this life is all about: The chance to stand beside you as you travel this path with me, and the chance to lend a hand when you stumble.  

So after you thank me, I will thank you. You have, after all, given me the better gift. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Those Mormon Teeth

On a lighter note...

A few days ago, I was having a rather lively conversation with a few friends about ways we can pick out Mormons in a crowd—for lack of a better term, mo-dar (think ‘gaydar’ for Mormons). One of the things that was brought up was the fact that in addition to many of the stereotypical things we get teased about (like mini-vans, large families, and Jello-molds), many Mormons have big, square, white teeth—or what we called Mormon Teeth.

Mormon teeth are kind of like Chiclets™ gum. Chiclets™ are squared off, pieces of gum wrapped in a white, hard-shelled candy casing (with a refreshing minty burst!). In fact, good examples of Mormon teeth are often so perfect they remind me of the shiny, perfectly square, blinding-white tiles in my bathroom. And hey, who could ask for a better smile than that?

Of course, we all know Donny and Marie are the vanguard of the phenomenon known as Mormon teeth, but as I got to thinking about it, it’s actually a pretty common occurrence among the Mormon population.

So, I decided to do my own (very unscientific) field research to see whether or not Mormon teeth are a real phenomenon or just another urban legend, like the Yeti or Marcus Bachman’s heterosexuality.

A quick scan of the web revealed little about Mormon teeth, other than a few websites that poked fun at Donny and Marie for their shimmering, optic choppers. One website went so far as to ask the question: “What’s the secret of ‘Mormon teeth?’ Bleaching? Caps? Good dental plan? Please tell us, after all, it is a matter of public health!”

My own Mormon teeth

Then, I realized I actually have my own test subjects: My ward. So, Blackberry in hand, I chased a few of my Mormon fellows down the hallway this Sunday and asked if I could take snapshots—of their teeth. Ironically, given how public I am with pretty much everything about myself these days, these were among the least-awkward conversations I’ve had with these great folks. And to make things easier, they’re smiling pretty much most of the time anyway, so why not stick those grins in front of the camera?

Corin: Mormon teeth.
As the photographic evidence here indicates, the Mormons in my ward really do tend to have large, square, and very white teeth. Then, it also occurred to me that the wards that attend the Pacific Heights Chapel have an unusually high concentration of—gasp—dental students.

Coincidence? You decide.

Dan: Mormon teeth.
I think the truth of the matter is most Mormons probably do have better teeth than the rest of the population. If you think about it, it kind of makes sense: We generally don’t drink or smoke, both of which take a toll on your smile. And, save for a few of us with secret Diet Coke habits (no names mentioned, mind you) we also tend to stay away from soft drinks, which are proven to erode enamel and over time, diminish that oh-so-Mormon sheen.  

Erika and Jensen: Mormon teeth.
(I will admit here, since I’m out in pretty much every other way, I am a bit of a Diet Coke junkie. But, I’ve been advised by my dentist—who has an amazing set of pearly-whites herself—to always use a straw to prevent acid erosion and maintain my Osmond-like grin. Not that I advocate in any way that you follow suit, but if you find yourself indulging in the occasional soft-drink—invest in a straw. Your enamel will thank you.)

Abe: Mormon teeth.
So yes, I do think Mormon teeth exist—unlike the Yeti whose existence has yet to be proven (and as for Mr. Bachman, well, I think those youtube videos speak all we need to hear on that subject).

And let’s face it, we are kind of a peculiar religion, so if the rest of the world wants to poke a little fun at us for our astral-gleaming, square, white teeth, we’ll just grin—and bare them!


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Let it begin with me

I spent some time today with an old friend of mine—she’s currently having challenges in her relationship with her brother, a man who’s struggled with addiction throughout his entire life.

In his worst moments, he’s verbally abusive to my friend and interacting with him is painful and leaves her feeling deeply wounded. Yet, through it all, she still sees the good in him when she looks beyond his disease, and she longs for a relationship.

What, she asked me, is her appropriate action for his upcoming birthday? He didn’t acknowledge hers until 10 days later, and only then with a text. There was no card, there was no phone call—just a brief message on her phone with the words, “Happy Birthday.”

I shared this story with my friend.

Growing up, my own relationship with my father mirrored that of my friend and her brother. My father was volatile—I seldom knew one moment from the next what to expect from him. In one moment, I would be a great son, his pride and joy—in the next, a complete abject failure, who could do no right in his eyes. His consistent inconsistency grew to even more wild extremes once he learned I was gay. And, in reaction, I let his attitudes toward me color mine toward him. I was not the son he wanted; and in turn, I believed he was not the father I wanted.

Age, experience, and time didn’t soften him much; I never knew when I would displease him. There was, it seemed, no correlation between my behavior and his response. Consequently, I spent much of my time locked in my head, frozen between action and inaction—wondering what the consequence of my actions would be from a man I loved despite his hardness, but who did not ever seem to love me in return.

I spent years yearning for the attention and approval of someone who was unwilling and unable to grant me those things. In my head, the list of qualities I was missing was seemingly endless; so I decided to sit down and itemize what I wasn’t getting, to get a better perspective on my own unhappiness in my relationship with my father. Respect, love, attention, affection, courtesy—the list was long, but once down on paper, it seemed almost manageable, almost recoverable.

I shared my list of qualities I longed for with a wise and trusted friend. While he commended my courage and thoroughness, at the same time he told me I could bring all those things into my life, should I so choose. But there was a catch: I had to be willing to give it first, and become that which I wished to attract. For instance, was I good representation of respect, love, and the other qualities? Well, he suggested, if not, I certainly had a good list of goals already down on paper.

And he was right. I took his advice, and I let it begin with me. As I grew more kind, more compassionate, more loving, other people responded to the change. While I may never have gotten all the things I wanted from my father in the perfect order and way, our relationship, too, improved. Today, I can honestly say that all those qualities on my list exist in my life at some depth or another—and I can honestly say that as I improve, they also improve.  

We’ve long heard the analogy that tells us that our own attitudes often bounce back and return to us like a basketball rebounding off a backboard, and I know that to be true. And while I’m not the epitome of perfection in any regard, through staying close to my Savior, striving always to do what I understand His will for me to be, and living a genuine and honest life, I am becoming someone I would like to have in my life.

Through my own personal journey as an openly gay Mormon, I've had experiences that also mirror my relationship with my father--actions and words that cut, wound, and leave me and those like me, injured. But now, I look at it this way. I can't, in sincerity, ask the Mormon community to lend Christ-like compassion and kindness to the LGBTQ community without granting them that same degree of compassion--first. And as I do so, as I let it begin with me, I find softer hearts than I ever would otherwise. 

So, to my friend, my counsel was simple: Let it begin with me. Reach out in kindness, compassion, and respect. Many of us have found that as we do so, we in turn become magnets for these qualities ourselves—and like tipping the first domino, a chain reaction is set into motion where our lives—and the lives of those around us—become more richly blessed with the compassion our Savior would have us demonstrate. By overlooking the differences, the pain, and the wounds of the past and connecting with her brother in an honest, loving, and safe way, she would attract that which she sought.

And so can you.

Will it begin with you today?

“I remind you … that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; … it can be full of joy and happiness, or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you and your attitudes, for your altitude, or the height you climb, is dependent upon your attitude or your response to situations” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 112–13; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 80).