Monday, August 13, 2007

biting my tongue; speaking up

My time with my Mormon relatives has found me alternatively biting my tongue and speaking up when I come across differences in our beliefs, values, and attitudes.

For example, I had a long conversation with my dad about sex work--more commonly known as prostitution--as a choice; how some people consciously enter the profession as one work option among many; how some have histories of sexual abuse, but not all; how some are addicted to crack or heroin, but not all; how the price of drugs affects the price of sexual exchanges; how legalizing prostitution would probably do the most to help them be treated as human beings as they should be, etc. My family knows I study this kind of stuff, so when it comes up, I am sure to voice my opinions and knowledge on the matter--all decidedly more liberal than what they would expect a good Mormon girl to have.

This conversation led my dad to share some experiences from his leadership position at church. He reported that he had a couple guys he's working with (as in, conducting a series of ecclesiastical interviews with) who have "problems with sexual addiction." I can't even bring myself to type that without the quotes. As he was telling me about this, I thought to myself, "Should I argue with him? Should I ask about the nature of these 'sexual addictions'? What, are they masturbating? 'Cause that's hardly an addition, unless they're doing it 50 times a day and can't get work done because of it."

As I listened to my dad, I discovered it was simply masturbation. It made me angry that something as natural and normal as that was "keeping them from going to the temple." I thought, "Well, it's you keeping them from going, because you bothered to ask them in the interview, and you think it's big enough a deal that it makes them 'unworthy'." I debated with myself whether or not to call my dad on this issue, to have a discussion about it. But then I remembered his biting his tongue when I talked about prostitution, and I decided to give him the same respect. Surely, he disagreed with me on prostitution just as profoundly as I did with him on masturbation.

(Plus, it would have been awkward to talk to my dad about masturbation. It came up once when I was a teenager. He was my bishop back then, and I had my semi-annual interview. He asked me if there was anything in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet that I wasn't sure about. I asked innocently, "What's masturbation?" He looked a bit embarrassed, smiled, and said, "I don't think you need to worry about that." That was almost as bad as my mom's birds-and-the-bees talk when I was Twelve. Twelve. "It's a very special thing that happens between a husband and a wife." Thanks, Mom.)

On another day, my mom said something intolerant about gender. I don't remember what it was--something about how ridiculous it is to count more than two genders?--but I knew I couldn't just let it slide. I launched into a discussion about the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity, and the experiences of gay Mormons. I wasn't combatant about it; I've found a way to discuss things I figure my family will disagree with in a way that is academic and detached. Rather than pin down what my opinion is, I say, "This is what research has shown..." or "Some would argue that..." or "One theory is that..." It may be a little cowardly, but I find it's more comfortable for them--and me. Then they don't have to worry about how influenced by the world I am, how liberal I am; they can just think I've knowledgeable about it, but more from the sidelines. I'm sure they think I'm an "intellectual apostate" and that my grad school education has made me put more value on evidence than faith. Which is true. But I don't have to rub it in their faces.

On another occasion, my dad and I were looking at the stars. I brought up Carl Sagan, and we discussed him for a minute. My dad has read his stuff, and used to watch Cosmos. (Sometimes I think my dad is an intellectual apostate at heart, if he would just quit that compartmentalization.) Then my dad said something about "Carl Sagan's world view" with a bit of disdain in his voice. I decided to let it pass that Sagan's world view and mine are quite similar. I decided to save the argument for another day. Instead, we continued to enjoy the "billions and billions" stars.


CV Rick said...

You are a far better person than I. How do you not explode with anger?

I've had the Sagan encounter with my father . . . once. It wasn't long after he explained about dinosaurs living on the earth OUTSIDE of the garden of eden while Adam and Eve idled away millions of years until they fell (became mortal).

But then one can have that kind of worldview and yet dismiss someone like Sagan as an opinion-spouter. Unbelievable.

I see you got the same sex-talks as did I.

MagicCicero said...

I think the way I'd respond to something like this would depend a bit on which side of the bed I woke up on that morning.

It would probably also depend on the family. With my in-laws, I'd err on the side of restraint. With my own family, I don't think I'd let crazy shit pass. At least, I've jumped on it in the past.

from the ashes said...

cv- How do I not explode with anger? I just rarely do. It's just not in me; or it's been socialized out of me since a young age. Girls aren't supposed to get angry, remember? They call them feisty bitches. I'm getting better at being one, though. :)

I hadn't heard that particular Adam/Eve/dinosaur theory. Interesting.

mc- I think a lot depends on my mood, too. And the topic. Some battles just aren't worth fighting.

I tend to bring up the arguments more with select people, some of them in-laws, some not. But I'd say I'm more free around my in-laws. They are more distant, I guess. With my family, I'm more (too) worried about hurting someone.

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Wow, I wish my dad would let me talk about these issues. Instead we avoid it and go only so far as to discuss facial hair on men who work in the temple.

Siiiiigh. I'd like to unleash my feisty bitchiness on his ass, that's for sure.