Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Useful Fiction

(Artist: Maxime Le Conte des Floris)

Fictionalism is the philosophical notion that a statement could be fiction, considered fiction, treated as fiction, yet still serve a useful purpose. In Grover Maxwell’s The Ontological Status of Theoretical Entities, he tells the parable of the “crobes” to illustrate the tangible effects fictionalism has on reality.

In a time not too long ago, but before the invention of microscopes, there was a Pasteur-like scientist who was concerned with a rampant disease that was killing large portions of the population. The Pasteur-like scientist speculated that the mechanism for transmission of the disease were tiny bugs he called “crobes” that could not be seen by the human eye. The concept of viruses and bacteria were well beyond the scope of human knowledge at this point. However, the Pasteur-like scientist thought there was an obvious, observable mechanism of transmission, even though he also simultaneously postulated that these “crobes” were, in fact, unobservable to the naked eye. He postulated that most, if not all, infectious disease was transmitted by “crobes.” The Pasteur-like scientist created preventative measures and convinced others to adopt them, as well. He encouraged people to not be in close contact with the diseased person, and practice disinfecting contaminated articles through high temperatures or cleaning them with toxic preparations he called “disinfectants.” Within ten years of implementing these measures in the community, the death rate declined by 40 percent.

The interesting part of the parable is that the “crobes” were a fictionalism. Though the “crobes” didn’t actually exist, they served a useful purpose in preventative medicine. Philosophers and scientists of the day expressed anxiety over the contradiction of the Pasteur-like scientist’s “crobes.” Scientific realism is built upon the observations of the physical world, but the “crobes” were in fact unobservable. The “crobes” were not scientific, yet it cannot be denied that the fiction of the “crobes” yielded tangible results.

Philosophers that consider the “crobes” to be an instrument for organizing observable scientific inquiry, are called instrumentalists. When fictional instruments collide with reality it may be the case that a certain amount of time later, with better technology, we are able to see why certain fictions served a purpose. With major technological advancements in medicine, we have been able to better understand disease, viruses, infections, and bacteria. We haven’t found any “crobes,” but that doesn’t mean “crobes” weren’t an important instrument in public health and scientific discovery.

I have often wondered what kind of “crobes” are being used today in the scope of religion. Could religion, as currently practiced, be a useful fiction that leads to greater understanding? Could priesthood power, baptisms, and temple sealings, be instruments in the understanding and harnessing of the power of our human potential? Even if they are fiction, that doesn’t mean they can’t yield tangible results? Furthermore, if these fictional instruments yield tangible results, were they true all along? Could the effects of religious ritual on human bodies be observed, measured, understood, calculated, and controlled through a better understanding of science and the use of better technologies? If so, what is the best way to engage in fictionalism if it yields results? For example, by rejecting specific childrenfrom baptism, or excluding portions of the population from full priesthood participation, we are misusing the power of fictionalism and instrumentalism. There is tangible power in fictionalism, we should engage wisely.

The ultimate goal of Mormon theology is to become Creators ourselves, by progressing eternally with our sealed, loved ones in a community of celestial glory. What a beautiful piece of fictionalism. Sure, there are details, practices, and policies that depict less utopian versions of this trajectory, but there is plenty of room for a more inclusive and robust interpretation of scripture. Sure, there are less inspiring, passive, irresponsible, or superstitious ideas of how these events are to come to pass, but there are also others that take a more practical approach to religion, faith, and ritual.  Sure, the fictionalism of Mormon transcendence may seem like sci-fi fantasy, but what if we actually worked toward these ends with an immersive and robust participation of religion? What if we actually believed faith without works is dead enough to drop the death rate by 40 percent? Does it sound like fiction? It should. But the really crazy part is, I actually believe it.

*Published at Rational Faiths on Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

Dear Elder Oaks

(Artist: Brooke Cagle)

Dear Elder Oaks,

You don’t know me. We’ve never met, but I’ve listened to you speak from the pulpit since I was a child. You’ll likely never read this, but I feel compelled to express myself anyway. You see, something sad happened a couple months ago.

I was in the car with my husband, Drew, when he reluctantly handed me a manila envelope. He had it in his possession for a few days and wrestled with whether or not to give it to me. He knew what was inside and I know his intentions to withhold the contents were coming from a place of love and paternalism. Even so, he eventually gave me the envelope.

I opened the envelope and pulled out the contents that were carefully enclosed by a family member from another state. The top page was a brief letter expressing their disapproval of my queerness and orthopraxy of Mormonism. They said they have “a better understanding of [my] viewpoints” after reading one of your Ensign articles on homosexuality. It baffled me how a person could think they understand me better by reading your words, as if you had some hidden insight into how I experience queerness and Mormonism. It hurt that they gave you authority over my experience. They can’t end a letter with “we have great love for you” and expect those words to have any significant meaning when an expression of their “great love” feels like a dagger to the chest. If that’s love, I don’t want it. I cannot believe that is what an expression of “great love” should feel like. I recalled the times I spent with them as a child, and wondered if this could really be happening.

I was crying by the time I finished reading the letter. I wanted nothing more than to run to the mountains to be alone. Anymore “expressions of love” would surely be the death of me. Unfortunately, the safety of solitude would have to wait.

Nothing prepared me for what came next. I removed the letter from the top on the stack and there was a printed copy of your October 1995 Ensign article, “Same-Gender Attraction.” I looked at my husband and broke down in uncontrollable sobs. This was not the first time I was sent a copy of your talk. Over a decade ago, my husband—and best friend—gave this talk to me with a note expressing the necessity for me to gain a testimony of the prophets’ counsel concerning matters of homosexuality. This talk kept finding its way back to me. I remembered when my husband asked me to read “Born that Way? A True Story of Overcoming Same-Sex Attraction,” which, sadly is still being sold at Deseret Book. I remembered the arguments we had over Prop 8, but mostly, I recalled the pain. It was clear, even a decade later, that the people I loved were still giving authority to your words—that somehow what you were saying about my experiences as a queer woman were more valid than my actual experience. Somehow it was unquestionably understood to them that your perceptions of God’s will were more valid than mine. It’s as if their belief in you somehow absolves them of accountability for their actions.

Thankfully, my husband feels differently now, which gives me hope that someday my other family members might feel differently in the future, but in that moment all I could feel was the overwhelming pain of having to legitimize my existence to my family for the last 15 years.

There was no distinction between the sadness, pain, grief, sorrow, and anger. The passions came rushing to the surface without consent. My face grew hot as I screamed my frustrations at my husband. I yelled, “I wish Elder Oaks would just die already, so he would stop spreading these false, hurtful messages!” I rationalized that “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” Drew kindly gave me the space I needed to express myself. I’m not proud of what I said. Unfortunately, a patriarchal gerontocracy makes death a gateway to progress by way of structural deficiencies, which is a truly horrid thought.

Whether people want to recognize it or not, LDS policies on marriage have changed, including polygamy and interracial marriage. Lest we forget interracial marriage in the United States has only been fully legal since 1967. About a decade later in 1978, black men were ordained to the LDS priesthood, and black men and women were allowed to enter the temple. Until that point an interracial couple was denied the blessings of an eternal temple sealing. In the U.S., gay marriage became legal a little over two years ago. I wonder if it will take a decade for the LDS Church to adapt policies again? How many more people must die before we overcome these senseless oppressions?

While listening to your most recent talk, I can’t help but question if you know what you’re doing? Are you aware of the rifts you are provoking? Do you know the harm you are causing? I want to believe that you love the members of this Church, but I don’t hear or feel love from you. When you paint a picture of heaven, salvation, and exaltation that doesn’t include the people we love, your heaven starts to look like hell. Too many of my queer siblings have given credence to your depictions of heaven to the point where they feel like death is the only way out. I wish they would take upon them the empowerment of personal revelation. I wish they believed “we ought to obey God rather than men,” and realize that the men who lead this organization are, indeed, men. I wish they believed Joseph Smith when he said, “a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such.” I wish they could see the radical beauty of Mormon theology, eternal progression, and life beyond the oppressions of patriarchy.

Aren’t you tired of this yet? I am.

With all the horrors in the world—with all the pain, injustice, suffering, sin, and death, why do you still choose to give talks that unnecessarily divide families? We have members all over the world struggling with poverty, war, and disease, and you choose to speak about same-sex marriage? What a waste of time and resources.

Like I said, I don’t know you. You don’t know me. We’ve never met, and likely never will. However, if you do read this, I want you to know that I disagree with your interpretation of doctrine concerning eternal families and gender. I disagree with this distribution of resources. I disagree with the message you are attempting to justify in the name of God. Mormonism is bigger than you or me. Mormonism is more than its policies on marriage. Mormonism is the radical idea that the love and life of the body of Christ will lead us to godhood in an ongoing process of eternal progression. I believe in Mormonism, and I’m not going to sit by idly and let this issue separate me from my family and faith.

I also want you to know I would like to reconcile these differences. My door is open to you, it’s a standing offer. You are welcome into my home to break bread. From one Mormon to another, atonement means that nothing is beyond reconciliation, and I believe in the power of atonement. Mormonism is more than its worst moments. Just as you are more than your worst moments, I am more than my worst moments. I still believe in forgiveness. Come, break bread with me. I’ll have a fresh loaf waiting.

Sincerely, a Queer Mormon Sister

*Published at Rational Faiths on Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday, September 25, 2017

Make Love Win

(Artist: Justin Roy)

Presentation at the Affirmation 2017 Annual International Conference on 23 Sept 2017 in Provo, UT. 
Watch the presentation here.

Hello everyone. I have been assigned the task of sharing my experience as a pansexual woman with you. This is somewhat of a challenge for me—I often have difficulty expressing my experiences and emotions. For me, it’s far easier to bury myself in my research and academia that confront the reality of my emotions, but those emotions usually surface sooner or later. As a result, I often have very vivid and imaginative dreams.

Recently, I had a beautiful dream that encapsulates my experience as a pansexual woman. I’d like to share that dream with you tonight.

. . .

I was preparing for a large social event that took place in at a mansion in the desert. I put on a beautiful gown that was so extravagant it seemed like a costume. I put on makeup so thick it seemed like paint. But I didn’t just put it on my face, I also put it on every part of my skin which was exposed. I brushed the paint on my skin with the skill and precision of a classically trained artist. There were some scars, bruises, and injuries, but nothing unmanageable. No imperfection was a match for my paintbrush. I finished the look with a decorative silver comb in my hair. By the time I was done, I was nothing short of a vision. My exterior was flawless. Of course, I was everything a refined woman should be.

I arrived at the mansion and walked through the over-sized doors that were so opulent they seemed oppressive. I could see my friends and family had already arrived, but strangely they were not wearing costumes. I saw people from my past and people from the present. It seemed as though the room was filled with every person I had ever loved, known, or met in my life. All, but one face was there.

I smiled and socialized with various people while friends and family complimented my ensemble. One friend commented, “You look so put together. How do you manage?” I continued smiling and deflected the compliment. I didn’t have an honest answer. They couldn’t see the volcano that raged inside—waiting to be released. They didn’t understand my exterior, my costume, was an illusion. It was a useful, powerful, and protective illusion. Yet, illusions only last so long.

The costume grew heavier as the evening went on. I wanted to remove the gown, but when I tried to take my costume off I was greeted with adverse reactions by people in the room. Some were disgusted, some were scared, some were annoyed, and some were hostile. My attempts to remove my costume, to engage in honest dialogue, were often mistaken for a sexual advance.

I wandered from guest to guest, looking for any sign of authenticity. I cautiously searched for opportunities to shed my costume, but when honesty conflicted with compassion, compassion won. Honesty only seemed to cause them discomfort.

The costume continued to weigh me down, and I found myself moving to the edges of the room, seeking solace.  I tried once more to remove my costume, but a well-meaning guest intervened and said, “I’m sure you already know this, but you can’t stay here without your costume. Don’t get me wrong. I want you to stay, but the costume is mandatory. Think of your children. If you can’t wear the costume for anyone else, surely you’re not so selfish that you wouldn’t wear it for them. Why make them suffer, because of your selfishness?” I nodded once again and agreed with the woman. I would do almost anything for my three children. I could live inside a costume for their well-being and safety.

The straps of my gown dug into my shoulders. The textured fabric and shimmering sequins rubbed my skin raw until I began to bleed. The costume wasn’t simply heavy, it was painful. I could barely stand. Is this what is meant to be a good mother, daughter, and friend? I knew these people. I knew their faces. I knew their voices. Why was this costume a qualifier for their love and friendship? With each rejection, I found myself closer and closer to the back of the large hall next to an exit.  I looked out the back exit and saw a large garden fountain in the center of a secluded courtyard.

I quietly slipped out the back and closed the doors behind me. It was sunset and it felt good to be alone. Night was coming, but I knew I couldn’t wait until the cover of night to remove my costume. I looked around to be sure there was no one was near me before slipping the shimmering gown off my body. The weight of the gown fell to the ground with an audible thud. It was no longer my burden. I quickly stepped into the fountain, and rinsed the makeup, paint, and blood off my body. Lastly, I removed the silver comb and let my hair down. I was me again.

Liberated from my bonds, I ran to my car and hopped in the driver’s seat. I sped down the empty freeway lined with endless desert. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the mansion shrink into the distance. All the windows were open—the wind blew across my nude body and whipped through my loose hair. Only alone, was I free. I exhaled in relief as I flew down the freeway. The isolation of the desert was protective and comforting, it’s fierce harshness meant safety. Anyone would be foolish to follow me into this wasteland.

There wasn’t another car in sight for miles, other than a semi-truck far off in the distance.

I dreaded wearing the costume again. No matter how beautiful it was, no matter how desirable others found it, there was no point of existing inside a costume. My authentic existence had been quarantined—sentenced to a lifetime of confinement.

The semi-truck driving toward me on the two-lane road was getting closer. It wouldn’t be long until our paths met on the narrow road. I thought to myself, “What is the point of existing if no one will ever know who I am? They can’t love me if they don’t know me, and what is life without love? Perhaps they are better off loving the memory of the costume they had grown so fond of. Surely my children would be better off with another mother—a normal mother.” I concluded there was no reason to exist.

The semi-truck speeding toward me was my easiest way to ensure that I’d never be imprisoned by the costume again. I looked ahead to my left gauging the proximity of the semi-truck, and set the cruise control. I forced the car door open as I sped down the freeway. I took off my seatbelt and prepared to jump. I was certain if I timed it just right, I wouldn’t feel a thing. I then looked to my right to see the sun setting over the desert one last time. I would miss the desert.

As I turned my gaze, as if by magic, I was no longer alone. Suddenly, sitting in the passenger seat was my best friend. I was certain I was alone until that moment, but to my shock there he was, casually leaning back, also completely naked. I wondered as to how he got into the passenger seat unnoticed. I couldn’t remember consciously allowing him in.

He looked at me and smiled. He was calm, peaceful, confident, and strangely unsurprised by the naked queer woman preparing to jump out of the speeding car. He said only one sentence to me, “You don’t have to wear a costume with me.”

I smiled with relief and nodded. I leaned back inside and closed the car door as the semi-truck charged passed.

. . .

I woke up from my dream startled, and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. My heart was racing. The dream felt so real. I rolled over in bed and there was the man from my dream, my best friend sleeping beside me. The foolish man that followed me into the desert.

. . .

My dreams have a way of telling me my most inner most feelings and desires, and my dreams continually tell me we all need to be each other’s saviors. This is more than just a humanist view of a Judeo-Christian narrative.

I imagine that everyone in this room is on a unique path concerning their faith. I have no doubt we have people here who are among the most active members of the LDS Church and we have people here who are atheists with little interest in religion or biblical narratives.

When I say savior, I don’t mean that to be superstitious, mocking, or derogatory. I mean it literally. We need to be saviors to one another, right here, right now, just as the scriptures instruct. That is what it means to follow the example of Jesus and become members of the body of Christ. To quote Corinthians, “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.” Christ is not Jesus, but rather Jesus exemplifies Christ. If we are to become saviors, if we call ourselves Christians, it is our duty to reconcile and overcome fear, ignorance, hate, hopelessness, and death. We must become Christ which means Christ is as queer as the members that compose its body.

As for me, I am still deeply inspired by my religion, even if it’s little more than a myth or pious fiction, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. The influence of myths, stories, dreams, theologies, and visions should not be underestimated and shouldn’t be considered necessarily fraudulent. Humans are storytellers. Life is a narrative and we are the authors. The story of Mormonism and Christianity is incomplete without queer voices, and make no mistake Mormons are a queer people. It is time to stop privileging views or theological interpretations that neglect the experiences of queer Mormons. We need your voice, otherwise, fear and ignorance wins, and I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in a narrative where love wins.

Be a savior. Be Christ. You are a queer Mormon. Make your story the one that lives. Together, I believe we can make love win. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bring Love to Life: a transhumanist love poem

(Artist: Agnes-Cecile)

Stripped to a state of honesty,
I told you my secrets and fears.
You showed me hope,
and told me I was worthy.
For some reason, I believed you.
You were my exorcism,
banishing villains from my head.
When you said my name
you summoned me to warmth.
Your gaze lingered 
as you pulled me into the rhythm of your step.
We met at that sacred space
where minds meet and hips quiver.

Dictates and mandates
were fed with fear,
but there is no fear in love.
No shame in communion.
When they called love hubris,
apathy replaced righteousness,
complacency replaced humility.
Thoughtless obedience
made the saint the sinner
and the sinner the saint.
I’m not the prodigal daughter,
because there was no sin in my rebellion—
just a lover looking for God,
and I found you.

I feel you in my veins,
ripping through my sutures.
The hurt feels strangely familiar.
Please, drink my thoughts,
don't make me talk.
Open our seams,
and let us share this dream.
I don’t want eternity,
unless I can have eternity with you.
Tell me we can—
Tell me we will—
Tell me we must—
Bring love to life.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part III

(Artist: Kwangho Shin)

Two of the most attractive aspects of Transhumanism to me are morphological freedom and cognitive liberty. Morphological freedom refers to the civil rights each person has—to maintain or modify their own body according to their autonomy by the use or refusal of medical technologies. Cognitive liberty is the freedom to have control over their own cognition and consciousness.  I think of this pairing as freedom of body and mind. These concepts have a profound impact on how we view and adapt our bodies.

While topics related to transhumanism, religion, gender, and human sexuality tend to be controversial, there is a case to be made that if you are a Transhumanist, even a Mormon Transhumanist, you should be supportive of the LGBTQ community.

Morphological Freedom

One aspect of morphological freedom is how we perceive and interact with gender identities, performances, and sexual orientations. While many debates have been had over binary notions of gender and sexuality, mainly cisnormativity and monosexuality, I want to challenge these ideas further by illuminating the complexities of plural genders and sexual orientation, including fluidity. Gender and sexuality are not static or binary. All is in flux, even if personal labels don’t fluctuate.

Some may advocate for a postgender society composed of homogenization, but that hardly seems like a product of evolution, when evolution generally favors increased diversification. Gender, when deconstructed of its binary notions, is as unique as each individual. I’m in favor of a future that understands, embraces, and celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of gender. Postgenderism should be about diversity, not homogeny or conformity. I’ve touched on the diversity of gender in Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part I, and Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II.  

Not only is Transhumanism compatible with queer sexualities and diverse gender identities, it also favors embracing diversity. The eighth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives” including “human modification and enhancement technologies.”

This indicates that diversity of morphological freedom, to the extent that it’s not oppressive, is valued among transhumanists. Technologies are already changing how we present our bodies, whether that’s minor cosmetic enhancements, practical reconstructions, or gender confirmation surgery.

More dramatic changes, like gender confirmation surgery, are challenging notions of morphological freedom. Does morphological freedom include freedom over gender identity and expression? Nick Bostrom, one of the authors of the Transhumanist Declaration, commented in his essay In Defense of Posthuman Dignity, “One example of how contemporary technology can change important aspects of someone’s identity is sex reassignment [gender confirmation surgery]. The experiences of transsexuals [trans and non-binary identities] show that Western culture still has work to do in becoming more accepting of diversity. This is a task that we can begin to tackle today by fostering a climate of tolerance and acceptance toward those who are different from ourselves. Painting alarmist pictures of the threat from the future technologically modified people, or hurling preemptive condemnations of their necessarily debased nature, is not the best way to go about it.” He continues, “Our role in this process need not be that of passive bystanders. We can work to create more inclusive social structures that accord appropriate moral recognition and legal rights to all who need them, be they male or female, black or white, flesh or silicon.”

The third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

One oppressive form of morphology is non-consensual esthetic changes to the intersex population. Intersex infants are often hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” esthetical interventions have little to no evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs. The Council of Europe became the first institution to state that intersex people have the right to not undergo sex affirmation interventions. Other governments are following suit by suspending non-consensual medical interventions.

I agree with Bostrom, we need to “create more inclusive social structures” which includes accepting diverse and fluid genders, and a person’s right to accept or refuse individual morphology. Under the Transhumanist Declaration and Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, the adaptation of a person’s gender identity, performance, and physiology is a part of respecting morphological autonomy.

Cognitive Liberty

Deconstruction of the gender binary is also important as it relates to sexual orientation. When gender is seen as something more diverse than simply being binary and more fluid than being stagnant, issues related to heterosexuality and homosexuality tend to become less relevant.

For example, if two people are in a relationship and one or both partners is capable of changing their gender identity, performance, or physiology, the sexual orientation of the couple cannot be defined as heterosexual, homosexual, or even bisexual. Gender identity highlights the core issue of sexual orientation and its fluidity.

If my husband were to change his gender identity and physiology to socially ascribed femaleness, would our marriage now be immoral? No. I can see no reason why his gender identity is the determining factor of whether our marriage is moral or immoral. In fact, to suggest otherwise is oppress to his right to morphological freedom, my right to love him, and continue our marriage independent of his gender identity. Whether I agree or disagree with his physical changes, we should recognize the value of commitment, or in this case, marriage. Promises and commitments made between loving, committed persons should not be carelessly thought as immoral on account of morphological and/or cognitive changes. Some changes may be difficult to process. Our partner(s) change in ways we prefer and don’t prefer. But commitment is also one small aspect of cognitive liberty—to love radically, thoughtfully, freely, and consensually—which includes staying committed during times of change.

It is immoral to limit the consensual love of humanity by gender. It is both sexist and oppressive.  I can find no reason why love should be suppressed on account of gender. That’s not to say that everyone needs to identify as pansexual. Quite the contrary, we all have preferences and desires that should be respected, including monosexual labels. However, morphological freedom illustrates that sexual orientation and gender identity is also a matter cognitive liberty. We should be free to love beyond gendered borders. As stated above, transhumanists “favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives.” I think this includes the freedom to be with the informed, consenting adult(s) they love.

Again, the third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

People tend to focus on oppression as a means of justifying morality. One group may claim that one is oppressing the other, but in reality, a homosexual marriage and relationship is no more inherently oppressive than a heterosexual marriage. Just as a plural marriage is no more inherently oppressive that a monogamous marriage. Oppression is a state of unjust treatment and control, in this case, to thwart a person’s cognitive liberty to love and enter into a relationship(s) with the person(s) they love. Oppression, in this case, is pressing one person’s values onto another without accepting diversity of values as a viable option. Diversity of thought and love is at the root of cognitive liberty.

Alleviation of Grave Suffering

The fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.” I’d like to focus briefly on the “preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering.”

The LGBTQ community as a whole has higher levels of suicide attempts and self-harm than the non-queer population, also confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of all gender identities, the transgender community has the highest levels of suicide attempts with over 40 percent of the transgender community attempting suicide. That rate is nearly nine times higher than the cisgender population in America. Transgender mental health issues are likely caused by stigmatization, shame, distress, social rejection, isolation, trauma, and discrimination. Deprivation of “self” can also lead to a sense of meaninglessness.

Of all sexual orientations, the bisexual population experiences the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Bisexual females exhibit the highest suicide scores. The Pew Research Center also shows that bisexuals are also significantly less likely to disclose their sexual orientation than monosexuals. Much of this is due to victimization, peer judgments, and family rejection. Bisexual individuals also reported higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

The queer community is in a state of “grave suffering.” As Transhumanists, it is part of our declaration to work toward the “preservation of life and health, and the alleviation of grave suffering.” It sufficeth to say, the health and well-being of the queer community falls under the fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration. Not only does the declaration state these are important matters, but also “should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.”

According to the CDC, suicide prevention of the queer community is heavily influenced by parental, family, and community support and acceptance. One study showed that family acceptance of gender identity leads to lower levels of anxiety and depression. Groups, such as the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), are seeking constructive ways to improve the health and well-being of the queer community.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are not simply desires, they are necessary in the pursuit of happiness. In this context, a person who struggles with severe, chronic gender dysphoria has no hope of alleviation or happiness without the consent of the existing community. A homosexual woman may perceive life as meaningless without the hope of being with the woman who loves her. A monogamous person may feel trapped in a monogamous marriage not because they don’t love their current spouse, but because they have more love to give, yet society disallows the expression of that love. Without our compassion, we have condemned these individuals to a life of oppression and possible misery—a lifetime of gender dysphoria, repression, or social condemnation. If there is any value in life, love must be the highest value. To thwart love is to enable death.

Humans are communal, no matter how highly we value our individuality. We are at each other’s mercy. However, prosociality is not simply a matter of conforming to the majority, but also accepting the legitimacy of the minority. Prosociality cannot occur without freedom of diversity, because we have different values, desires, and experiences. However, there isn’t much point to freedom if there is no hope of happiness, or the potential of happiness. Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are necessary for individuals to pursue different approaches to happiness and meaning.

Mormon Transhumanists

Some readers may be concerned the LDS Church has placed restriction on LGBTQ participation, including their offspring. While I, too, am concerned and saddened by various LDS policies, I still maintain there is nothing inherently anti-queer about Mormon theology, which is different than LDS policy.

The first point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We are disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” when we “fully immerse our bodies and minds in the role of Christ, to become compassionate creators as exemplified and invited by Jesus.” As members of the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to heal, console, and comfort those in need. As illustrated above, the LGBTQ community is in need. We should be “compassionate creators” in finding thoughtful solutions to diverse desires.

Illustrated in the sixth point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, “We practice our discipleship when we offer friendship, that all may be many in one; when we receive truth, let it come from whence it may; and when we send relief, consolation and healing, that raises each other together.” Raising each other up includes admittance of all genders as worthy participants in religious rituals, not just cisgender identities. Raising each other includes temple sealings of all loving, committed marriages whether they be heterosexual, homosexual, or plural. Raising each other up does not include rejecting LBGTQ and polygamous marriages from temple blessings. I understand that some would see these relationships as “sin,” but interracial marriages were once disallowed, reject, illegal, and considered “sin”—until they weren’t. If all you can offer is love and friendship, do it. Love is one form of “relief and consolation” that is not in LDS dispute.


The third point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.

I agree “not all change is progress.” The question is, what is it we hold valuable? What makes us human? Patriarchy? Monogamy? Heteronormativity? Binary divisions? Diversity? Plurality? Homogeny? Change? Evolution? The answers will be as diverse as each person. This means humanity will ceaselessly debate what we hold as valuable, and though I am only one voice in the matter, I will voice my values.

The sixth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states “respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” To me, this includes respecting the right to love and engage committed relationship(s) with a consenting adult(s) independent of their gender identity or physiology. I don’t see how one could ascribe to the Transhumanist Declaration or the principles of morphological freedom and cognitive liberty without the acceptance of the queer community. It is possible to support these communities, yet still live differently.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty includes far more than matters related to gender and sexuality. I would like to see humanity evolve beyond current trends of discrimination by defending human and posthuman dignity in creating more inclusive and humane ethics. There are far more complex problems on the horizon than gender identities and sexual orientations. We must move forward with radical love at the core of our motives, desires, and ethics.

*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Excommunication and Female Ordination

(Artist: Eric Lacombe)

My thoughts are with Elder Hamula and his family as they process his excommunication. This has brought back painful memories and I have cried over the news. Excommunication from the LDS Church is the most serious form of discipline.

As Elder Ballard described in A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, “Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied privileged of Church membership including wearing of the temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings” . . . “they are not entitled to offer public prayers or give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood.”

It still surprises me that at the time a person needs community and the blessings of communal sacrament the most is when they are rejected and denied it. When a person is excommunicated, yet is still a believer, there are serious psychological consequences when a perceived eternal family member is removed from the family.

I know this, because I lived this. As I have mentioned before, my father was excommunicated on Easter Sunday when I was 14 years old. He was not fully reinstated into the Church until I was an adult and was already sealed to another priesthood holder, my husband. For an extended period our family did not have an ordained priesthood holder in our home; I had no brothers or close male family members that I could rely on for priesthood access. My mother, two sisters, and I learned to navigate LDS patriarchy without an ordained patriarch. There were many injuries along the way—stories that are not mine to share. However, I know what is feels like to be shunned, ignored, avoided, rejected, pitied, and patronized by my community for mistakes that had nothing to do with me.

I have written about my concerns of being a member of a patriarchal religious community herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have written about it at Feminist Mormon Housewives, Ordain Women, Rational Faiths, and The Transfigurist. I have discussed it at A Thoughtful Faith Podcast, and the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference. I will keep voicing this concern until this issue gets resolved. People, often women, are still unnecessarily suffering at the hands of patriarchy, especially in regard to excommunication.

It has been over 20 years since my father’s excommunication, and our family is still healing from the trauma. For me, part of that healing processes is ordaining women to the priesthood. Women cannot receive the fullness of the gospel and full participation of the LDS community without it. There is no other way. We are taught to be self-reliant, but are denied the tools to do it. We are taught we have priesthood authority, but are denied ordination. We are taught to give our time, talents, and service, but we are denied our fullest, sincerest participation. We are taught to nurture, care for, teach our children, but we are denied full participation in their priesthood ordinances.

My mother could not baptize us, confirm us members of the Church, give us blessings of healing, stand as a witness at my temple sealing, or fully participate in priesthood rituals with her six grandchildren. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to have the communal priesthood authority to bless the lives of her children and grandchildren. There is no reason she should have to ask another man to come into our home to bless her three daughters when she was a worthy and capable woman.

This is not about shaming anyone, airing dirty laundry, or sharing intimate details about people’s personal lives, history, or mistakes. This is meant to illustrate there is real harm in the patriarchal governance of the LDS Church, especially in relation to excommunication. The same mistakes keep happening. Women are still hurting due to the faults of patriarchal priesthood holders. Women are still denied LDS autonomy and it won’t change until we confront these issues openly, honestly, and compassionately. Change happens when a person in the community is brave enough to raise their hand and say, “Something bad is happening to me and it’s not my fault. Please, let’s fix this.” Change doesn’t happen when the community responds by saying “Put your hand down. You’re being negative, when you should have more gratitude. Your experiences and concerns aren’t worthy of consideration or can be patronizingly placated.” Change happens when people acknowledge that real people in their community are silently suffering due to inequitable policies and power imbalances. I do not think female ordination will solve all our problems with regards to excommunication, but it’s a start.

As for Elder Hamula, the details of his or anyone else’s excommunication are none of our business (unless law enforcement is necessary). Being excommunicated from the LDS Church can bring a complete sense of loss and hopelessness. I’m not being melodramatic when I say the disillusionment of eternal family sealings can bring people to absolute meaninglessness and suicide. I hope the Hamula family will find healing and comfort with one another. My heart bleeds with them, especially his family members that will suffer from this through no fault of their own. Elder Hamula and his family have a long road ahead of them, and I offer my solidarity, love, and support.

*Published at Ordain Women on Sunday August 20, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Enemy

(Artist: Unknown)

We are culturally conditioned to be racist before we even know the word. We are culturally conditioned to be sexist regardless of gender identity. We are culturally conditioned to be heterosexist before we have a sexual identity. These ideas cannot be changed without first acknowledging we are living in a racist, sexist, heterosexist society born from the primitive shortcomings, ignorance, and hatred of our ancestors.

Racism is not a black vs. white issue.
Sexism is not a men vs. women issue.
Heterosexism is not a hetero vs. homo issue.

The enemy is not a person, nor does it have a face, other than the one you see in your reflection. The enemy is racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The enemy is unwittingly passed down from generation to generation. The enemy lurks within our minds, pervasively influencing the reality we create, and the enemy has manifested horrific acts of violence. The enemy has made drones of us.

The enemy would die one of two ways:

(1) The collective extinction of the human species.
(2) The collective transcendence of the human species.

I don't see another way out.

I believe we have the capacity to transcend our limitations, but we will be far more effective if we learn from our past and target ideas instead of people. This will be difficult because as mortal beings we can easily be killed with bombs, guns, cars, violence, or even apathy, while a hateful idea can live on like a parasite jumping from host to host. Killing a person is easier than killing the enemy. Insulting a person is easier than killing the enemy. Fearing a person is easier than killing the enemy. We must be reflective of our own faults and skeptical of our institutional affiliations. We must be cautious of the double-edged sword of identity politics. We need to be effective.

If we are going to improve our community, we must adjust our tactics. To defeat the enemy we'll need to work together, not as human vs. human, but as humans vs. hateful ideas.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two Trees: a dream

(Artist: Laurence Winram)

Two trees grew on opposite sides of the meadow. Each was strong and beautiful, growing toward the same light. Their branches swayed in the wind, longing to touch the other, but the distance between them was too far, too wide. The only way for them to meet was to grow upward. Their branches would meet only if they crossed paths at the sun, their common destination. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees grew taller, but the sun would not be reached, nor would their branches touch. The intensity and heat was too great. They reached too high. The sun singed the trees’ leaves just before the trees' branches burst into flames. The trees heard the other’s cries as their bodies charred. Their roots cringed, grasping for safety, security, and hope in the meadow's soil. They burned until only blackened silhouettes remained. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees took refuge in the soil as they mourned. Fog shrouded the meadow until the trees could no longer see one another. They closed their eyes in defeat. Left with only what they could feel, the two trees took notice. Their roots met beneath the safety of the soil. Not one, two, or three times, but an entire network of roots grafted together over the years. The two trees took solace breathing in the soil together, though their branches never met. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Agenda

(Artist: Jocelyn Gardiner)

Every now and then I am questioned about my “secret agenda” by the various communities I participate in and identify with. The truth is I do have an agenda, but it’s not a secret. I openly advocate for my agenda with honesty and authenticity.

My Feminist Agenda

My feminist agenda is to create an existence where biological sex and gender do not mandate unnecessary expectations and limitations of what a person is capable of.

I maintain the importance of feminism, because globally women have and do experience more institutional, political, economic, and physical abuse, oppression, and subjugation than men. Even though that is the case, I extend my feminist agenda beyond the needs, wants, and desires of women. 

My feminist agenda includes a future that not only recognizes our similarities, but also our unique differences. Yet, gender liberation requires equal opportunity despite these differences. While anatomical, physical, and logical limitations are present, it is my desire that we can transcend the unnecessary limitations in liberating persons from certain social constraints. While there is power and creativity to be found in constraints, there are also limitations that prevent further exploration of power and creativity.

As a Mormon, this means to see each other as God sees us, because all are alike unto God (2 Nephi 26:33), and finding prosocial ways to reconcile these differences while transcending limitations that would lead us to radical love.

My Queer Agenda

My queer agenda is to live in a world where radical love is recognized and encouraged.

My queer agenda includes, in part, the advocacy of homosexuality as a moral and prosocial option—though my queer agenda certainly isn’t limited to simply matters of homosexuality. There are also such oppressions in other queer relationships, including plural relationships.

Most opposition toward queer relationships seems to arise from a sense that it is immoral according to God, or fear of the unknown. However, according to scripture, there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18-19) and love is capable of overpowering sin (1 Peter 4:8). In fact, the pursuit to thwart informed, consensual expressions of love is among the most grievous forms of immorality.  To seek to oppress love is to oppress God. There is no God without love (1 John 4:8) when love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10) and the greatest of the commandments (Mark 12:30-33).

I suspect that those in opposition to queer or plural relationships do not see themselves as oppressing love, and would likely agree with the scripture references above. So the question at hand is can love (romantic and/or sexual) be expressed outside boundaries of heterosexual monogamy? Can people love differently and can differing practices be respected and even celebrated?

For example, I like tomatoes. Others may or may not like tomatoes. There is nothing inherently moral or immoral about liking tomatoes. Immorality would be those who don’t like tomatoes insisting that everyone must not enjoy tomatoes, or even worse, must lose the desire for tomatoes entirely. Immorality would also be those who like tomatoes insisting that those who don’t like tomatoes are immoral for not desiring tomatoes. Morality is dependent upon how we choose to reconcile diverse desires, not that we necessarily adopt each other’s values. If it helps, substitute the word “tomatoes” for “women” or your preferred gender(s).

If a person considers a certain type of relationship as sin, they should have the burden of demonstrating how and why it is harmful to the individuals and community. This would require an explanation more sophisticated than “I don’t like tomatoes, therefore you can’t like tomatoes.” You may not desire what I desire, but that doesn’t make it a sin. Likewise, I may not desire what you desire, but that doesn’t make it immoral either. Morality is how we reconcile the fact we love, value, and desire differently which is also its own form of radical love. Those who can accept and love others who love plurally and/or homosexually may also be participating in radical love.

Radical love is far broader than queer love or sexual expressions, though it includes queer love and sexual expressions. Radical love sometimes means refraining from sexual engagement. Radical love sometimes mean enjoying sexual engagement. Radical love is a pedophile seeking professional help and social involvement so they don't injure a child. Radical love is not shaming or injuring the pedophile. Radical love is a mother who gives her life for her child. Radical love is curing diseases. Radical love is forgiveness. Radical love is remorse. Radical love is resurrection. Radical love is a creation of ideas, worlds, and life. Radical love includes so much more than sex.  I think radical love is a necessary mandate for all of us and certainly is also a part of my Transhumanist agenda.

My queer agenda is one of radical compassion and love, even compersion. I want to live in a world where radical love, even queer relationships, is not discouraged, or pointed at and called “sin,” but rather recognized in all its diverse expressions.  I want to live in a world where mutual, consensual expressions of love are not simply tolerated, but celebrated. I want to live in a world where queer love isn’t perceived as a threat that needs to be stamped out or feared, but rather something we embrace as a diverse option, not mandate. I want to live in a world where the word love is used honestly and unselfishly. I suspect others also want that which requires we start trusting each other in faith, not fear, to unify us (Colossians 3:14).

While there are certainly prosocial and antisocial ways of engaging in any sexual relationship--whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, monogamous, or plural, my queer agenda is to find ways of engaging and/or disengaging in sexual relationships that promote radical love.

My Transhumanist Agenda

My Transhumanist agenda is to become a part of a radically compassionate,
super-intelligent posthumanity.

Transhumanism, broadly defined, is the ethical use of science and technology to radically improve and enhance the human condition. Transhumanism holds that we can evolve beyond our current physical, cognitive, and social limitations. Social justice and human rights issues are a part of addressing humanity’s physical, cognitive, and social limitations.

While some opponents may argue that Transhumanism is an unworthy, even oppressive cause due to the lack of universal accessibility, I would contend that the wisest approach is a joint effort to continue to develop technologies while simultaneously acting to mitigate for risks and concrete threats, such as oppression, violence, and ignorance. Social side effects of technologies should be assessed and addressed while continuing to develop better implementations. For example, not all women can afford prenatal care, but should we stop developing prenatal care? No. Instead we seek to find ways to get more women prenatal care while continuing to create better technologies.

Utopia isn’t a place that just magically appears, it’s a direction. Utopian visions may differ according to desires, but who could argue that utopian visions, even religion, have not given us hopeful trajectories? Of course we can and should do better, and that’s exactly the point. The improvement of humanity includes social justice, human rights, radical love, and compassion under its umbrella. Pioneering a better tomorrow is not about naiveté to risk—it’s about hope, faith, and trust in overcoming risk.

My Mormon Agenda

My Mormon agenda is to become Gods, that is one with God, and live with our loved ones in
celestial glory for all eternity in a state of eternal progression.

This is Mormonism and I hold it to be a worthy cause. However, for me, celestial glory is not heaven within the confines of patriarchal authority that neglects and subjugates my sex. Celestial glory is not heaven without my LGBTQ+ family and the radical expansion of love. Celestial glory is not heaven if we don’t make it happen, right here, right now, on earth (Doctrine and Covenants 88:18-20). Celestial glory is scripturally and literally of our own making as we join the Body of Christ as exemplified by Jesus.

Most LDS Mormons don’t have a problem with this agenda, until it comes to changing policy, questioning authority, or challenging dogma. However, accomplishing the primary Mormon objective mandates that we change and adapt policy. Eternal progression is not something independent of our efforts, nor is it the sole responsibility of church leaders to implement. God cannot meaningfully reveal what we would not meaningfully accept, due to agency (Moses 4:3-4). If we are racist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations.  If we are sexist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations.  If we are heterosexist, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations. If we are insincere, so are our policies, rituals, and interpretations. God has granted us the agency to either achieve transcendence or commit our own destruction (Alma 29:4-5).

If we are members of the LDS Church, it is not simply our prerogative to change ourselves, and by extension, change policy and the Church, but it is our imperative duty if we are to accomplish the primary Mormon objective. I choose faith in the Mormon agenda which is to become Gods and live with our loved ones beyond this earthly life for all eternity in a state of eternal progression. Eternal progression, in all its forms, is indispensable to Mormon doctrine. But that won’t happen without our collective works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:20).

My Agenda

My agenda is to create the tangible manifestations of radical love.

My agendas might seem unrelated to an outside observer, but for me, they are one in the same. For many people these issues are quite literally a matter of life and death. Life comes with risk—real existential risk on both a global and individual level. I don’t want to exist in a world of eternal subjugation, oppression, ignorance, or fear where radical love is trampled upon and suffering is greeted with apathy. If that is the case, we are no longer working toward heaven, but rather hell. 

I want to compassionately work toward an existence where people can live and love freely, without the limitations of oppression, selfishness, hopelessness, and death. Any transcendent existence I want to build and be a part of includes the radical compassion of all of humankind seeking to build a better existence with reconciliation of diversification. I’m not perfect at it, but I think it’s a worthy aspiration.

*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with.