Dear Kristine, Why Are Mormon Men “Scared of Homosexuality” Again?

September 11, 2012    By: Geoff J @ 4:12 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I just read an article/post by the always interesting and intelligent Kristine Haglund over at a site called ReligionAndPolitics.org. Kristine’s post is titled “Why Mormon Men Love “Church Ball” and Are Scared of Homosexuality“. Sounded interesting. And the article is interesting. But I have some questions and quibbles with it so I figured this would be a good place to bring them up.

1. Is being kind really “coded feminine”? I see this idea passed around as if it were some self evident fact but it just isn’t. Mormonism, like many other religions, teaches men (and women) to have self discipline, bridle our passions, and be generally good and productive members of our families, communities, and overall societies. I don’t really see what is particularly feminine about that.

2. Church ball is not really all that different than pick up ball anywhere else. Most church ball happens on weekdays either before work or after weekday activities. The games are pretty similar to any pickup hoops game you might get into at the local gym or YMCA. The fact is that men at church ball tend to be significantly less likely to get into fights or start dropping F-Bombs than the guys at the local gym. But perhaps the church ball gets its reputation because expectations for Mormons are extremely high, and yet those blowups, while rare, are not completely absent in church ball.

Also, we rarely bro-hug after ball. Who wants to hug some sweaty bro?

3. I’m not sure Mormon men cry more easily than any other men. Most men love their families intensely and given the proper circumstances would get choked up discussing them. I think Mormon culture just gives men a platform and reason to publicly discuss their loved ones more often than most cultures.

4. Why is effeminate being treated as interchangeable with gay in this conversation? Aren’t there a lot of non-effeminate men who are sexually attracted to other men and a lot of effeminate men who are only sexually attracted to women? Seems to me that treating these two as interchangeable further clouds an already cloudy issue.

(Anyone remember Dana Carvey’s “Lyle, the effeminate heterosexual“? (Warning: PG-13))

5. Mostly, the dots in your post just don’t connect for me. What exactly are you saying? It seems to me that you are implying that because there is a strong fraternal aspect to Mormon culture, that makes Mormon men “scared of homosexuality”. But there are lots of groups that have similar strong fraternal aspects — the military, firefighters, police officers, male sports teams, and so on. In my experience there is nothing about Mormonism that makes Mormon men more “scared of homosexuality” than anyone else. In fact in my experience on sports teams, Mormon men tend to be a lot less mean about the subject than others.

I guess the real problem I see is there is nothing in the article that indicates that there is any significant causal relationship between being a Mormon man and being “scared of homosexuality”.

What say you all?

40 Comments »

  1. Agreed. Interesting thoughts but in the end I think garden-variety Mormon understandings of family and gender explain the Mormon opposition to gay marriage better than any concept of “fraught masculinity.” Also, I don’t see Mormon women as a group being any less “scared of homosexuality” in this sense than the Mormon men I know.

    Comment by Bryan H. — September 11, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  2. I don’t buy it either. If anything, it’s a western-states culture thing, or a white, conservative male thing. I grew up in Montana. Homosexuals aren’t much liked there. It’s got nothing to do with Mormons.

    The correlation-not-causation bells are going off in my head.

    Comment by DavidF — September 11, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

  3. I think the questions are fair for the most part though knowing Krisitne she likely wouldn’t have phrased some if this in the way it was written (this particular site edits posts from guest posters). My main problem with your post is the title, whiich, after seeing this link, becomes connected to something genuinely creepy and disturbing. Not your fault if you haven’t seen it, but it explains my initially visceral reaction to your title:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FGr52BRvX4s&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Comment by Jacob — September 11, 2012 @ 6:34 pm

  4. Ugh. I could have done without ever seeing that obnoxious weirdo mugging for his camera, Jacob.

    However, in the interest of not letting a Kristine-hater co-opt the phrase “Dear Kristine” on the bloggernacle, I’ll keep my title as is in hopes that it overwrites that hot mess.

    I have considered Kristine a friend for years and have the highest respect for her.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 11, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

  5. Maybe you should change it to “Dearest Kristine.” As a bright, talented, and informed voice on Mormon issues, she certainly deserves our support.

    But I agree with your criticisms regarding this particular piece, Geoff. I’m not sure how Kristine gets the impression that LDS men are a bunch of sniveling wimps. That’s not my experience in the Church at all. And those who don’t cry on demand are likely derided as hard-hearted misogynists. LDS men just can’t win — it’s a wonder so many of us stick around.

    Comment by Dave — September 12, 2012 @ 7:20 am

  6. “I’m not sure how Kristine gets the impression that LDS men are a bunch of sniveling wimps.”

    I don’t think and didn’t say that. I also didn’t write the headline, fwiw.

    “Honored, Revered, damn-near-Worshiped and Perpetually Deferred-to Kristine” would work in lieu of “Dear Kristine.”

    Thanks.

    Comment by Kristine — September 12, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  7. Yeah I suspected that you didn’t write the headline, Kristine.

    Dave — I agree that Mormon men do seem to take insults from all sides at times. Maybe our willingness to take those shots and carry on is a sign we really are becoming more Christ-like as a group…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  8. Dave and Geoff,

    Can you provide some examples of Mormon men “tak[ing] insults from all sides at times”? That doesn’t accord with my own experience at all.

    Comment by Christopher — September 12, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

  9. I was talking about Kristine’s description of us in her post. I found it mildly insulting.

    I think Dave gave an example in his comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 12, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  10. Geoff, I’m sorry you found it insulting. I truly did not intend it that way. I was just working on something that is puzzling to me–Mormon homophobia seems inflected by a peculiar degree of anxiety around gender, and I’m wondering why. There were several paragraphs about the history of gender roles as boundary maintenance issues for Mormons that got cut out, even though I think that history is pretty central to the question.

    I like Mormon men, a lot. And I think the Mormon conception of masculinity is, on the whole, quite appealing, partly because it is complicated and a little anxiously self-contradictory sometimes.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 4:01 am

  11. Geoff, I didn’t read Kristine’s commentary as insulting at all. And I’m not seeing the example Dave provided in his comment. Surely his snide comment that “those who don’t cry on demand are likely derided as hard-hearted misogynists” don’t count as an actual example, does it?

    Comment by Christopher — September 13, 2012 @ 6:57 am

  12. Christopher: Geoff, I didn’t read Kristine’s commentary as insulting at all.

    Good to know.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 8:36 am

  13. Kristine,

    Well I really did only find it mildly insulting — mostly because of the broad brush it painted us all with and for the (likely unintentional) subtle implication that Dave read into it too that we Mormon men are somehow uniquely torn between being pansies and barbarians. That internal struggle may be true in some sense but I suspect it is equally true for civilized men the world over, regardless of religion.

    I also don’t believe “Mormon homophobia” has much to do with Mormonism at all. Rather I think it matches the aversion to homosexuality all socially conservative heterosexual people seem to instinctually experience. (I use “instinct” deliberately here because I lean toward the idea that aversion to homosexuality, like aversion to incest, is probably an evolutionary heritage — a natural instinct — rather than a prejudice one is taught.) That is related to the correlation vs causation questions I have about your general assumptions about so-called “Mormon homophobia”.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  14. Christopher: Examples … you mean anecdotes? That’s the problem. I think Kristine’s generalizations are based on her own anecdotal observations but on no systematic data that would support a claim like: “Mormon men cry a lot.” There an implicit “all” in that phrase; she’s claiming all Mormon men cry a lot.

    I’m sure she has anecdotal observations to back up her remark (she has seen Mormon men cry at the pulpit), but the general claim unfairly leverages those individual observations into an unsupported general statement: that all Mormon men cry a lot. It’s not just false, it’s almost mean: it takes what are essentially desires to be kind and gentle (qualities many Mormon men do strive for, if imperfectly) and portrays that as weakness. My guess would be any Mormon male who reads the article will make sure they never cry at the pulpit again. Maybe women admire men who show weakness, but guys play by different rules.

    The suggestion of being overly weepy is just one aspect of the more general problem. As Kristine notes in the final paragraph: “The performance of Mormon masculinity is a difficult balancing act, a tightrope walk between poles established by a brutish, hyper-masculine ‘natural man’ and an effeminate gay man.” That’s not a balancing act that gets Mormon men a pat on the back. Instead, it’s a working compromise that leaves Mormon men open to regular criticism from both sides: from LDS leaders for being too natural-mannish, and from feminists the same complaint or else backhanded compliments that we’re pleasantly effeminate.

    Nice of you to defend Kristine, Christopher, and as I noted in my earlier comment she takes a lot of flak for speaking publicly on Mormon issues so she deserves support from fellow bloggers. I obviously disagree on this particular point, but I support her and subscribe to the journal she edits.

    Comment by Dave — September 13, 2012 @ 9:30 am

  15. ” It’s not just false, it’s almost mean: it takes what are essentially desires to be kind and gentle (qualities many Mormon men do strive for, if imperfectly) and portrays that as weakness.”

    “Weakness” has to be read into what I wrote–it is neither what I think, nor what I said.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  16. Well in your defense perhaps only half of your potential readers, mostly the male half, tend to equate weepy with weak. As Dave said, guys play by different rules.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 10:47 am

  17. perhaps only half of your potential readers, mostly the male half, tend to equate weepy with weak

    That was kind of my point.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 11:17 am

  18. Also, there may be an implicit “many” but not “all”–again, reading in.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 11:25 am

  19. Well in any case it is fun to see the shoe on the other foot in this thread. Here we are as Mormon masculinists objecting to the way a woman broadly paints us as a group…

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 11:44 am

  20. Geoff, if you don’t want to engage me in discussing this, that’s fine.

    Dave, Kristine is a friend, and one whose work I would gladly defend. But that wasn’t my intent here. I’m merely trying to make sense of the disparity between your (and Geoff’s) reading of her commentary as insulting all Mormon males and my own, which sees this as a smart commentary a general trend among that subset of the typical (American) Mormon congregation. Instead of dismissing one another’s anecdotal experiences as invalid because they don’t square with our own (or, in the case of Geoff, sarcastically telling others it’s “good to know” that their experience is different), maybe we can try and actually make sense of this.

    My guess would be any Mormon male who reads the article will make sure they never cry at the pulpit again. Maybe women admire men who show weakness, but guys play by different rules.

    I am admittedly confused by this, and would appreciate any clarification you’re able to offer. Why would you be hesitant to cry in bearing your testimony in front of a congregation now, especially since you so adamantly disagree with Kristine’s characterization of Mormon masculinity and what tears signify?

    Comment by Christopher — September 13, 2012 @ 11:49 am

  21. fwiw, I think the fact that (many, in my anecdotal observation) Mormon men are freer in expressing their emotions than many American/Western men are socialized to be is one of the best things about the church! I love it that my boys see men they admire talk with emotion about things that matter. I don’t think it’s weakness at all–that’s why I described it as something that is “coded” weak or effeminate, and may therefore make (some) men feel a little uncomfortable, not as something that actually _is_ weak or effeminate.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  22. But it’s sort of awesome that you made my point about discomfort with your blustery defense ;)

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 12:01 pm

  23. Sorry Christopher, I didn’t really see anything to debate in your comment #11. You said you didn’t see anything insulting in the post. I can respect that reading. I certainly don’t see much value in telling you to feel more insulted.

    I do understand Dave’s point though so I will respond on that. I think Dave’s logic is pretty simple: Most men don’t want to be thought of as weak. Implying that Mormon men are crybabies — more so than non-Mormons — could give Mormon men who read such comments incentive to be more stoic and hold in the tears going forward. (Or perhaps stop voluntarily bearing testimony in public so much)

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

  24. Kristine: I think the fact that (many, in my anecdotal observation) Mormon men are freer in expressing their emotions than many American/Western men

    I am skeptical of this assumption.

    Not so much that Mormon men are more likely to have gotten choked up in public in the past. Rather I am skeptical that Mormon men are more likely to get choked up than any other men would given the number of opportunities Mormon men happen to have. In other words, I don’t think Mormon men are necessarily freer in expressing emotions that any other men — I think the structure of the church just gives more public exposure to men expressing emotions (something that normally might only happen in private).

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  25. A great article on this general topic with helpful discussion of the role of weeping in LDS worship is Armand Mauss, “Feelings, Faith, and Folkways: A Personal Essay on Mormon Popular Culture,” in Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England (Signature, 2005). The essay is available online.

    Comment by Dave — September 13, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  26. As an example, I would point to testimonial situations with non-Mormons. I saw a few NFL Hall of Fame induction speeches recently. It was very common in the speeches I saw for these NFL Hall of Fame tough guys to let the tears flow when thanking their loved ones. Does that mean NFL Hall of Famers as a group are more likely to cry or are freer with their emotions than other men? Nope, it just means they were put in a situation that elicited such public displays of emotion.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

  27. Fair enough, Geoff J, but that doesn’t really change my argument about the social construction of masculinity in the Church–it doesn’t matter _why_ Mormon men cry often in the performance of Mormon maleness, only that they do, and it is culturally acceptable.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 12:57 pm

  28. Yes, it is culturally acceptable. But where isn’t it culturally acceptable in modern North America for men to publicly display emotion when discussing loved ones? Perhaps in prison that wouldn’t fly, but I can’t think of other examples. So if it is basically universally acceptable, that sort of undermines any ideas that this is a Mormon-specific thing.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

  29. From the third paragraph:

    Neither basketball nor crying is unique to Mormon culture.

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

  30. Yep, I saw that. And I agree. What I question is your follow up sentence:

    Yet what is noteworthy is the intensity and frequency of these two ritual acts among Mormon men.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 2:51 pm

  31. I should clarify that I think that the intensity of Mormon hoops is relatively low and the frequency is entirely the result of access to a gym. I also think the intensity of Mormon men crying in public is probably average to low and the frequency is entirely the result of our lay ministry/teaching setup.

    Since I don’t agree with your starting assumptions about Mormon men in the article it is not surprising that I don’t agree with the conclusions those assumptions lead you to about “Mormon homophobia”.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

  32. That’s fine–you don’t have to agree with me. By next Tuesday, I probably won’t agree with myself!

    Comment by Kristine — September 13, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

  33. Ha! Me too.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 13, 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  34. I just wanted to comment on the bball aspect. I am a pretty serious bball player for about 20 years now outside of High School organized bball. I play on playgrounds, gyms, and inside Mormon chapels. I used to regularly play with current and former college players and former pro athletes. Both football and bball. I am now old enough to be considering quitting. Everything hurts now……

    The bball played in Mormon chapels is far less serious and intense then that played outside mormon chapels. At least in my Exp. At Mormon bball there are always lots of less skilled players and 14 year olds being brought by parents and the intesity is just not there.

    Comment by bbell — September 14, 2012 @ 7:27 am

  35. Also bro hugs usually are not part of bball.

    Comment by bbell — September 14, 2012 @ 7:32 am

  36. I suspect that the jokes about the roughness/ferocity of Mormon basketball get told and retold so often that people who don’t actually play don’t even know they are just jokes.

    Comment by Geoff J — September 14, 2012 @ 9:09 am

  37. Not every church building has basketball going on. Also, I agree that you hear stories and there might be hurt feelings and anger on occasion hear and there (maybe some ward units more than others), but the majority of church basketball is pretty mild.
    I do feel that church gives men a platform to cry that many men don’t have. Maybe they cry when they are drunk….I don’t know. But church gives men examples and permission to talk about feelings which in previous generations were not available in other places.
    I don’t feel that crying at church or some Mormons playing basketball have anything to do with people’s feelings about homesexuality. It does indicate what we as a culture feel is masculine…..we feel that sports are appropriately masculine and that being emotional about the gospel, your family, or related things is masculine. (Whereas crying because you got an physically hurt is still considered not masculine).

    Comment by jks — September 14, 2012 @ 8:22 pm

  38. Again, basketball wasn’t really the point, so much as it was a potentially useful symbol. And I’m not such an idiot about basketball as to not realize that Mo-ball is not especially intense as pickup basketball goes, or that the jokes about blood sacrifice are jokes–that’s why I called them jokes in the article. The fact that we tell the jokes is actually far more important than the actual content of the basketball games.

    Comment by Kristine — September 16, 2012 @ 6:51 am

  39. I am a Mormon man and don’t play basketball or cry in church, thus proving the correlation between the two. It is basketball that turns men into weepers.

    Comment by Matt W. — September 16, 2012 @ 1:51 pm

  40. Matt, I love it. I am the same as you, so between the two of us we prove your point using my favorite method: proof by two examples. QED.

    Comment by Jacob J — September 22, 2012 @ 7:37 am

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