March 24, 2004

pissing in our holy water

nick over at zionide posted samples of a few of the (what he called) "needlessly controversial" gay mormon missionary pictures that are on display in SLC. i found his quick dismissal of the controversy disappointing. in fact, i think it's funny how much the actions of the photographer who took those pictures compare to those of the homeless man in this story.

A police detective testified yesterday that a homeless man accused of urinating in the holy water at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul admitted he had done so because he was mad that the priest kept kicking him out.
...
the judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for suspect Joseph Canty, 27, who was arrested following the March 11 incident.

Canty is accused of ethnic intimidation, institutional vandalism and criminal trespass at the city's largest, most elegant cathedral.

"When I would ask him to leave, on many, many occasions he would launch into... cursing and swearing, telling me I had no right to tell him what to do." [Msgr. John A. Close said of Canty. Close asked Canty to leave for sleeping in the pews and begging for money from worshippers] [link -- via interested participant]

back to the pictures in salt lake city: throughout history, people have gotten away with a lot of crazy stuff by calling it 'art'. but the pictures in the controversial exhibit depict men engaged in homosexual foreplay while items members of the church of jesus christ of latter day saints call "holy" --HOLY garments and HOLY scriptures--figure prominently. temple garments represent sacred covenants church members have made with god. the sacred books represent the law of god. in short, the pictures are a slap in the face to lds church members. they connect that law and those covenants with actions the church calls wrong without equivocation. you even noted on your blog, nick, that a church leader had recently compared sitting idly by while gay marriage gains acceptance in the US to ambivalence to hitler's rise to power in 1930s germany. while she obviously didn't compare homosexuality to naziism or gays to hitler, it should be clear that homosexual behavior is very offensive to lds people.

so, in essence, displaying those pictures that mix the sacred and the sinful at the doorstep of the lds church's worldwide headquarters is ethnic intimidation. and it amounts to pissing in our holy water.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

nick's post ends with the flirtatious, "I hope there are other things more visible in the rest of the photos."

er...

what else would you like to see? maybe one mormon lesbian fisting another while the latter obediently sews a quilt for earthquake victims in honduras? a wild, gay bishopric threesome that knocks the sacrament cups off the table? that would really be some fabulous Expression!

the photographer claims the men in his photographs are returned missionaries who became a couple, according to news reports. i doubt this, but, of course, i'll believe anything these days (note: when i wrote this, i was under the impression that these two were paired as companions in the mission field. one certainly gets the idea from the pictures. but since then, nick has corrected me...instead they just pulled out their dusty old missionary outfits and sacred items to mistreat them in this sacreligious publicity stunt--wonderful) nevertheless, even if this was a "real experience" that is not necessarily justification for the art (you can imagine the open arms with which "crushed skulls of aborted fetus" art or "alter boy molestation" art would be received at an art gallery next door to the vatican.

the utah photographer might say, "It's real. It's life. It's something that maybe you haven't experienced, but someone else has"

ok. and i'm calling it "ethnic intimidation."

Posted by travis at March 24, 2004 04:53 PM | TrackBack
Comments

First of all, the quip about seeing more was a joke. I wasn't at all serious. I don't want - or need - to see anything more. Give me a break, please, when I attempt to be amusing.

I think there's a big difference between Don Farmer's photographs and the homeless man urinating in the holy water. The homeless man was on church property actively desecrating a religious symbol. The photographs, while symbolically offensive to many, did not depict damage or outright disrespect to any of the religious symbols contained within. There was no garment-burning, no ripping of the scripture. I think a better comparison to the homeless man is the protestor who was waving Mormon garments at last October's General Conference.

I admit you could argue that any homosexual behavior in the presence of those religious symbols is in itself disrespectful, but I think drawing that line is more of personal decision. Some Mormons, like my grandmother, think wearing just your garments around the house is disrespectful to the garments, that they should be covered at all times. Others think it's okay in the privacy of their own home. I know dozens of gay Mormons (some former Mormons by now), including myself, who have sacred religious symbols in their homes and don't feel it is disrespectful. It's a personal choice.

I say the controversy was needless because I think it's important to note that the display of these photographs was NOT obvious or in anyone's face. I went to the exhibit and there is no way someone possibly offended could just pass by the location and see them. The photos were in the middle of a maze-like exhibit, and the exhibit itself had a "content warning" at the front entrance. In fact, I had to search a bit to find them. Anyone going to the exhibit knew what to expect, so someone perfectly aware of what they were going to see who then complains because they got what they expected . . . it's like complaining that the adult porno you rented has nudity. If they didn't want to see it, they shouldn't have gone in. Their opinion should not keep me from viewing those photographs like I wanted.

I don't think the photographs are meant to offend. Laugh if you want, but I truly don't. As I said in my post, I am familiar with the photographer and I think he was creating from his personal experience - experience many of us gay Mormons can relate to. It may not be art to you, but anybody can see they are technically well-shot. I happen to be able to recognize and can identify with many personal elements within those photographs, so that makes them more "art-like" for me.

And yes, the photos connect "that law and those covenants with actions the church calls wrong without equivocation," but that connection is not a bad thing for everyone. The elements connect in my life, and it was nice to see a visual representation of that connection. After all, we're all a "mix of the sacred & the sinful" in some way. It was art to some partly because it expressed that mix some of us have inside (even if not all of us consider those elements "sin.")

Frankly, to use one of your examples, if a victim of priest molestation wants to express his pain, anger, etc. through an artisitic medium that includes images he identifies with that molestation, he should be allowed to and those who wish to view it should be allowed to do so. Next-door to the Vatican would not be the best place, but somewhere. Farmer's photographs were not next door to the Salt Lake Temple, or even a church. They were visible to those who wished to see them in an exhibit housed in public institution.

When I find the subject of art offensive (such as the photographs of Ku Klux Klan activity I once saw on display at the ICP in New York), I wouldn't whine that I was offended and demand that it should be removed. When I walked in the door that said, "Ku Klux Klan Historical Photographs" I knew I was going to an exhibit of that subject, and someone else may disagree with me and love looking at them for historical value. It's not my place to tell them otherwise or restrict them from seeing.

You calling Salt Lake Community College "the doorstep of the lds church's worldwide headquarters" is very naive and an attitude of many Utahns that I regularly find annoying. We do not live in a theocracy, after all. If not a public art exhibit miles from the church's headquarters, where would YOU suggest they be viewed by those who can relate to them and want to see them? The exhibitors issued warning at the door and did not place them where passers-by would see them. What would you suggest the exhibitors do differently next time, given that Farmer had a right to create something he identifies with and I have a right to look at the creation?

Posted by: Nick at March 24, 2004 06:27 PM

And by the way, don't doubt that the "models" are individual returned missionaries who are now "together." My best friend is gay and is now in a long-term relationship with another RM. They're one of several I personally know. If you want more proof, visit the personals section of affirmation.org or even gay.com and look at how many ads include something about "RM seeking RM."

Ok, now I'm done. Sorry for the double post.

Posted by: Nick at March 24, 2004 06:31 PM

well, okay.

1. sorry i didn't catch that you were joking about seeing more. my mistake.

2. i understand that missionaries are the most recognizable part of the church, so they get picked on a lot. so, perhaps to get across the idea of being a gay mormon, missionaries had to be used. but still.

3. photographs of alter boys being molested. probably a bad example. i knew someone'd call me on that, and it's not even really comparable for lots of reasons, except its offensiveness.

4. i just think the chances of both missionaries falling in love with each other is a bit unlikely. i have heard stories of one falling in love with the other, though.

ah, unrequited love!

Posted by: travis at March 24, 2004 06:41 PM

You're right: I don't think it's likely that missionaries who are companions would fall in love with each other. My understanding from the photographer was that the two individuals were missionaries on separate missions who met after they returned home. The Tribune just said, "The two men in the pictures are returned missionaries who became a couple, Farmer said." Not too clear if they were missionaries together or not, but I assumed they were not. That was the scenario to which I was referring, anyway.

Posted by: Nick at March 24, 2004 08:13 PM

What is art? Many think that just by stating that something is art means that it is art. That is not true for many people. What is the intent of the artist? Oh, by the way, just because something is technically good does not mean that it is art. From personal experience, many people cannot tell a good photograph from a bad one. If people like the subject, automatically they think it is good. Anyway, back to the intent of the artist. It is the intent that makes something art or not art. In this case, it seems this photographer is jumping on the whole gay-lesbian band wagon. Art in history has been used for propaganda and for shock value. It can be considered art, but it is in many ways cheap and not well respected. It can be considered art if it is new and different but honestly this idea is not that unique. A society is judged by it's art. How sad that this is going to be how our society is viewed by later generations. A society that is perverse and joys in degredation. I hate that people want to excuse dark behaviors by calling it art. Peeing in a can and then selling it for thousands of dollars is not art, it is pathetic.
The photographer's intent ot these photographs, he claims, is to show what life is like for gay mormons. Suggestive images do not need to be shown to show the life of a gay mormon. He did not need to incorporate certain religious symbols of the LDS church. He knows what they mean and it does not matter that there was a disclaimer before entering the exhibit. It is wrong to know that you are desecrating sacred things, continue to do it and then say "it's art and it's life so get used to it." I do not understand what it is like for gay mormons. I can imagine it is pretty rough. These images do not communicate that to me. If you want to show the pain and the emotions that go along with being a gay mormon show that. Don't show sacred objects being desecrated. Don't show people the foreplay involved. It will not help people understand.

Posted by: a photographer at March 27, 2004 05:18 PM

I think you're dead wrong about the photographer "jumping on the whole gay-lesbian band wagon." First of all, what exactly does that mean? If you mean the relatively recent media blitz surrounding gay relationships, you should know that these photographs were taken over three years ago. My boyfriend was tangentially involved at the time, and we saw the final product for the first time a year after that at another exhibit in early 2002.

Second, I don't think the images were necessarily meant to speak to you. They certainly don't need to. They speak to me and other gay Mormons I know, and I think that was the photographer's intent. I don't think they were ever intended for a wide viewing audience; they've been in several shows here in SLC, primarily for a gay audience, and from what I've seen, they strike a chord there. For some reason, this show became controversial, though it was pretty much exactly like all the others.

Also for many of us looking at the images, there is no "desecration" going on. As I said before, no one burned the garments, no one ripped up the scripture. Those items were merely present in the frame as a symbolic gesture, albeit an overt one. We can still consider them sacred. I do.

Finally, why assume the photographer wanted to show the pain and suffering of being a gay Mormon?
He didn't show that because that wasn't the point. I saw happiness and love despite being a gay Mormon, an affirmation that it is possible to be happy to all those out there who are suffering. The photographer showed the sacred items to identify the models as Mormon. Then he showed them happy and in love. For most gay Mormons, those two things are a very difficult contradiction to reconcile. That point would be impossible to make without the elements you claim are unnecessary.

Posted by: Nick at March 27, 2004 05:39 PM

Ok, what is the point of these images then? Is it trying to show that you can be happy and in love while being a mormon? Hmm, ok, last time I checked, you cannot be a mormon and a practicing homosexual. The reason why you cannot reconcile being gay and a mormon is because it can't be done. You cannot partake in the many things that it takes to be a mormon if you are a practicing homosexual. You might believe in the principles but you are not obeying certain principles either. Also, the issue of being a gay mormon has been an important topic for more than a couple of years. It is ironic though that all of a sudden this show is being widely covered by media now. Also, if this show was strictly for a gay audience, show it at a Gay-Lesbian convention and not in museums and galleries. As for desecrating sacred items, just by having them (garments) publicly seen is being disrespectful of these items as well as in the way they are being shown.

Posted by: a photographer at March 27, 2004 06:54 PM

"I admit you could argue that any homosexual behavior in the presence of those religious symbols is in itself disrespectful, but I think drawing that line is more of personal decision."

More of a personal decision? Well of course...

A former nun could pose nude for Playboy while wearing only her black headdress. I think most people would see that as disrespectful. A "personal decision" sure. But your eagerness to define anything controversial as a "personal decision" doesn't diminish the fact that most people regard this photo exhibit as disrespectful. You don't have to "depict damage" to show "outright disrespect."

Posted by: Doug at March 29, 2004 09:16 AM

Well, "a photographer," I'm a gay Mormon and I've reconciled it. Apparently you can.

And trust me, I'm not a "practicing homosexual." I'm well past needing to practice.

As for your laughable suggestion that the photographs be shown at a "gay convention:"

1) I don't even know what a "gay convention" is. Do straight people go to straight conventions? Did I just not know about them?
2) If that's your line of reasoning, I'd like art that references Judaism to be displayed only at synagogues. Also, art from an African-American perspective is offensive to me. Make sure it's only in African-American conventions. Neither of those kinds of art should be shown at public museums or galleries.

And, Doug, I agree that you don't have to depict damage to show disrespect. But I think the items were symbolically necessary to get the point across, and I think their presence alone is not disrespectful. He didn't even imply negativity towards the symbols, just coexistence. It is arguable what would have been symbolically necessary, but it's the photographer's personal decision to decide what is necessary. Certainly the target of his commentary is going to find it disagreeable.

I also disagree with your claim that most people regard the photo exhibit as disrespectful. I think most Mormons regard it as disrespectful. Not most people. The small amount of coverage the incident got in other states was pretty clearly leaning towards "So, what's the big deal?" That's certainly just ignorance, but it doesn't change that "most people" are pretty ignorant about Mormonism and therefore don't see it as disrespectful.

Posted by: Nick at March 29, 2004 10:56 PM

Nick,

You state regarding the presence of religious items in the photos:

"I think their presence alone is not disrespectful."

yet later in your post you admit:

"Certainly the target of his commentary is going to find it disagreeable."

Which is exactly the point of Travis' orginal post. These photos were not designed to help "gay mormons" cope with issues of leaving the Mormon faith and being gay. They were created as a commentary, targetted at the Mormon establishment in Utah, and it is just plain disrespectful (and disagreeable!).

Posted by: Doug at March 30, 2004 12:56 AM

"I think most Mormons regard it as disrespectful. Not most people."

Perhaps. I think the vast majority of people who understand what is being displayed find it disrespectful.

Returning to the "nun posing in Playboy" example... Most people who recognize the nun's headdress would find the nudity + religious symbol disrespectful. Similarly, if it was pointed out that religious items played a prominent part in these Mormon missionary photos, most people would find it disrespectful.

Posted by: Doug at March 30, 2004 01:03 AM

Shouldn't the meaning of the symbols be the basis for whether or not something is disrespectful too? At least in part. If a religous symbol stands for peace and love would it then be disrespectful for it to "coexist" with something that stood for war and hate. (In no way am I saying that war and hate stand for homosexuality though) Would that not be disrespectful to those symbols, the coinciding religion, and to those who hold the symbols sacred.
The "photographer" has a point about what art is as well. I love art. My cousin makes his living as an artist. It may be art to others, and that is great, but let's not pretend that it is to show that they were mormons. You could use green jello and red punch or just a white shirt and tie and pretty much everyone would know they were mormon. It seems to me that the symbols were used for more than just to show that they were mormons.

Posted by: Al at March 30, 2004 09:14 AM

Several issues I feel the need to clarify (as one of the subjects in the photos -- feel free to check out my website: www.dancindoc.com):

To "A Photographer":

The definition of art does not reside in the artist's intentions and to assert such is to ignore an entire spectrum of beauty and meaning.

There have been times where I've been stopped at a red light in my car and I've noticed something ... like an old man walking his dog. His pace, the dog's gait, the narrow sidewalk cracks, the children playing behind him --- it all makes sense in this brief moment of Gestalt. If anything were added or removed, the entire moment would take on a different meaning. So, I sit there and take it all in... and it makes me happy... gives my life meaning... until the car behind me starts to honk because I've missed the green light -- and -- to some extent -- even that sudden jolt of impatience from the car behind me subtly informs me about the world I live in. (Side note: being a dancer, I'm not sure that everyone has had this same type of experience, but I think the same premise applies to all art forms.)

Art is defined as a collaborative process between those who create it and those who experience it -- and neither party necessarily needs to be conscious of such a creation. It is a powerful tool we use to create meaning for ourselves in this life, much in the same way religion does.

Now, that being said, not all art makes us happy. Some of my most defining moments in this life have come from experiences I did not enjoy. If pieces like these missionary photos evoke feelings of anger (over the juxtaposition of religious symbols with seemingly anti-religious ones) and fear (fear to define it as art) -- then that is also a cue for you to examine your own belief structure and determine whether or not these are emotions you feel justified in having.

If they are, then more power to you -- you are welcome to continue your day content in the fact that you know who you are and what you stand for (even though I might disagree with such a belief structure). If those images ignite a different kind of search... one that involves realizing that there are different people out there with different experiences and different belief structures... then I think those images have served their purpose.

And to be honest with you... it only takes one person to come to that realization for those images to be artistically relevant. And to be even more honest with you, there have been plenty of people (Mormons and non-Mormons alike) who have come up to me and recounted the multiple meanings that these photos have provided for them and also affirmed their inherent value and beauty...

Oh yeah... and I just noticed this while reviewing your comments:

"Art in history has been used for propaganda and for shock value. It can be considered art, but it is in many ways cheap and not well respected."

You really think so? It was my impression that Picasso was a well-respected artist. It was also my impression that many post-modern theories and art forms have been greatly influenced by German Dadaists. And to say Dadaism was anything BUT shock value and disrespectful is to completely misinterpret this quirky art form. For such cheap and "not-well-respected" art forms... avant-garde artists experimenting with ‘shock value’ certainly have shaped our culture and the way we view the world.

Oh yeah... and my favorite:

"Peeing in a can and then selling it for thousands of dollars is not art, it is pathetic."

If people are able to find meaning in such a creation to the extent that they will pay thousands of dollars for it... it will certainly raise an eyebrow or two for me... but I might agree with them depending on the context in which you pee into this can... (and whether it was a soup can, a coke can, or trash can.... or whether it was on a framed image of the crucifix -- its been done before --- which is why I bring it up) I don't pretend not to be disgusted by such installations... but I also don't have the right to invalidate meanings gathered from viewing such exhibits... and what's funny is ... that more often than not... when I view such obviously offensive works... they make me reconsider aspects of myself I want change... they inspire me to become a better person... so... while... I've never actually seen an "exhibit of piss" in person... if it initiated a series of internal reflections... then, sure... sell it for 1000s... and you can call it pathetic and remain stagnant... and I can find meaning and become a better person...

Al:

Yes, we could have used green jello and red punch. And, actually, that sounds like the topic for our next photo-op --- A family of 6 all gathered around the picnic table.... Little Joey, Suzy, John, Brooke, Father, and .... well, you can’t forget dear old Dad.

And you are right... those symbols were intended to show that more than the just the fact that we are Mormons... they are to emphasize the fact that are (in the photo… much as we were in real life)… Mormon missionaries... The symbols were used to create a very specific context that we wanted to see these photos framed in. There are many, many homosexual missionaries out in the field who think that they are the only ones out there struggling with these issues. These photos were meant to initiate dialogue and raise awareness --- so when people become aware of the realities that are placed before them (i.e. being homosexual or having a homosexual family member or friend) they are able to make their own decisions about how they want to live their lives or treat those around them.

What those pictures paint is a portrait of two young men beginning to come to terms with who they are. To call those photos erotic or even foreplay is to demean relationships everywhere... gay or straight. It is to say love exists solely outside the context of the human body and a simple kiss on the forehead is nothing more than perverse pornography. The religious symbols were very necessary because there are many gay men who continue to cherish such symbols -- and find themselves caught between two seemingly divergent worlds --- that of God and that of love.

What those photos show... is that those two worlds: God and love... are actually compatible with each other. It is up to the viewer to decide whether they want to see that or to see "A nun dressed up in playboy" --- to quote from one of the earlier posts. And again... these pictures don't require you to approve of this vision of God, much as Buddhists don't require your support in their spiritual endeavors. It all depends on your own cultural experiences... and one interpretation isn't necessarily 'right' and the other necessarily 'wrong' --- but I think the meaning you generate from art says just as much about the person viewing it as the person creating it. And again... you have to decide for yourself whether or not this image of yourself if one you wish to perpetuate.

I'm glad you love art and it is great that your cousin is an artist. But if I don't particularly like his artwork, that doesn't invalidate his art form. Even if I take offense to the images he creates... it doesn't make him any less of an artist.

What really makes me laugh is this mention of art being somehow disrespectful. What is even more absurd is that people think that religion is beyond the realm of social commentary. Take, for instance, religious genital mutilation ceremonies performed on young women in Egypt. Now, there have been a variety of discourses in Egypt that people have taken in an effort to prevent such clear violations of human rights that are clearly ingrained in their religious culture. --- Some of these involve putting political pressure on governments, some involve terrorist-like endeavors, while others involve raising awareness through artistic ventures.

Although certainly less severe, I think the same precepts apply to the culture that I live in --- here in Utah. I don't necessarily have the tools to be involved in the government, I don't condone the violence involved with terrorism... but I do have a voice as an artist... and I intend to use that voice... for the rest of my life... yes, art is a reflection of society... but it is also a reaction to society... and when I feel my civil rights are in some way diminished by a group of people.... religious or not... I feel the moral obligation to discuss the issue with the tools I have to work with.

Doug:

I find it interesting that you are able to comment on the artist's intentions without physically being a part of the artistic process. Hell, there have been dozen dances I've been in where I was present for the entire choreographic process and I still didn't know what the artist was trying to say. But if, as you say, these photos were not created to help gay Mormons... then I should probably delete all those e-mails of support and thanks from those struggling with reconciling their sexuality and their spirituality.

Nick made a great point above... that my boyfriend and I were expressing our love for each other and our satisfaction of being in a relationship despite being Mormon. I think that image is very powerful and reaffirming for those seeking to understand who they are

Anyways… enough from me… it’s late and I’ve got class in the morning. Thanks for initiating such an engaging discussion on this topic. Hopefully people will come and see both sides of the issue… again making decisions for themselves about what they find relevant.

Posted by: Matthew Grierson at April 12, 2004 10:39 PM

Well said, Matthew my dear! Anyone who thinks that inflammatory art isn't art should really take an Art History class! Some of the most famous pieces of art in the world were considered "inflammatory" at the time they were painted, sculpted or built. In 1541 the catholic church had a fit over Michelangelo's "Last Judgement" in St. Peter's Basillica, and had the nudity painted over after his death. Does this mean that Michelangelo was just a pornographer, not an artist? No! Just because something offends you doesn't mean that it doesn't hold meaning for someone else.

Social commentary is always going to offend someone. When you ask for change, someone will always resist - this is just human nature. Asking for this change is not a crime! I know a lot of gay people who grew up Mormon and I think that these pictures (which I have seen) would definitely speak to them. In my opinion, these pictures are a very gentle way of saying that the mormon church's definition of "love" is a very narrow minded one. If you really want an accurate portrayal of what gay, LDS-raised people go through, it might've been more appropriate to have them reading the scriptures while they slit their wrists. For a church that claims to be about love and family, they certainly have a tendency towards hatred as far as gay people are concerned - even their own family members. Addressing the conflict between homosexuality and mormonism is hardly baseless or unjustified!

Also, if you want to talk about disrespect, many of the posts on this topic are *full* of disrespect! I find it offensive that someone thinks that, "You could use green jello and red punch or just a white shirt and tie and pretty much everyone would know they were mormon." I was under the impression that lots of people wore white shirts with ties, and that it wasn't an exclusively mormon fashion statement. If you think that these things are enough to identify someone as mormon, you live in a very small world. Also, comparing these photographs of two people in love to naked nuns, or alter-boy molestation is just sickening to me. These are two people who were in a mature, loving relationship for years, and they're two people who I love very dearly. Comparing that love to molestation of young children shows a much more inflammatory and disrespectful attitude than anything that could be read into these photographs.

To people like "a photographer" and Doug, I've only got one thing to say - someone you know and love is probably gay. Stop looking at homosexuality as a sin, and start looking at the actual *people* involved in the situation. Just because you don't want to be a part of it doesn't mean that it's not right for someone else. Someday, your own son or daughter may bring home a partner of the same sex - will you turn your back on someone you've loved since birth, or will you learn to practice the love that you preach? I think that *these* are the real questions asked by these photographs.

Posted by: Casey R. at April 13, 2004 11:55 PM

michael, from reading a little on your website, you seem to be a little bitter about being kicked out of BYU for acting on your homosexual feelings. you mention, multiple times and acrimoniously, that you were kicked out of school. you compare provo culture to a fascist society where the gestapo is looking to nab you. you make the blanket statement that the personal character of people in provo is morally corrupt and (ironically) perverted.

as a student at the school, i can say that it is made very clear the standards to which we are held while we study here. we have to sign a legal document, and renew that committment annually. did you think BYU (and, in that connection, the lds church) was going to change its standards when they saw how natural that behavior was to you? hypothetical situation:

BYU admin: we understand you are engaging in homosexual activities. do you understand that this is expressly condemned by god and will not lead to lasting happiness?

you: actually, i think it's ok with god. i mean, it feels sooo right to me. we bite each other while we're screwing. it's hot.

BYU admin: oh, ok. carry on then! we'll update the holy works using our fancy desktop publishing software and inform church leaders of the new revelation. thanks for coming in! can we change anything else for you?

but since they didn't bend, they're morally corrupt, perverted, and hopelessly bad. ok, thanks. maybe if you show them the needlessly controversial pictures, though, they'll change their minds.

speaking of the pictures, and on a more serious note, casey suggested more accurate pictures would have depicted gay men "reading the scriptures while they slit their wrists". now, while i don't condone gay people slitting their wrists (i promise) i DO think something along those lines--something that really shows the inner anguish you feel at not having your form of life validated by your religious paradigm--would have elicited a much more sympathetic response from mormons on the fence on this issue (like i might be persuaded to be). conservative mormons are more comfortable understanding sin in the terms in which church leaders describe it: it makes the individual conflicted and miserable. so, don farmer's project got some nice press due to the controversy, and it got a lot of oogles from the gay males who saw it, but it didn't really do anything serious to bridge the gap. something like what casey suggested would have. so that was good...unfortunately, the rest of casey's comment is utter bunk.

Posted by: travis at April 14, 2004 01:34 AM

First of all, my name is Matthew. (Easy mistake, everybody makes it... I must look like a Michael)

(We seem to be exiting off onto a tangent having nothing to do with those photos... but that's fine, too…)

I was kicked out of BYU for holding hands with another man at University Mall --- clearly not a violation of the Honor Code which solely prohibited sexual relations (Editor’s Note: the Honor Code has since been revised to encompass even casual conversations between homosexual men – which makes me wonder how anyone on the ballroom team gets anything done… not being able to talk with each other… but I digress.)

I don't particularly feel the need to discuss the validity of executing such a gender experiment (walking through the mall holding hands), but that is what it was. I also don't expect BYU to change its standards any more than I expect it from the church. In fact, the week before I was asked to leave BYU, my bishop had approved me for a temple recommend. Obviously, he felt I was in accordance with the teachings of the church, and I was much more forthcoming with information to him than I was with good ‘ole Steve Baker (head of the Gestapo Police).

Leaders (in particular the director of the Honor Code Office) at BYU are morally corrupt for ignoring any concept of due process (which, admittedly, isn't required from a private university -- but that doesn't make it right). Even you assume that I must have been jumping everything with a pulse while a student at BYU, and in doing so... pretty much prove my point about BYU and Provo for me...

What I find so funny about Provo... isn't the fact that people go to great lengths to turn people in to the Honor Code Office... it is that those who do so are most often engaged in deviant behaviors themselves (the person who turned me in had slept with half a dozen men in the two years I knew her as a student at BYU)... I can cite for you 5 other specific cases from my own social circles (non-homosexual, of course) where this same type of this has also happened. If you don't see the hypocracy there, then you are actively choosing to ignore it...

Personally, I do find perversion in using one's religion to further one's own personal self-interests (such as to settle vendettas), but you are certainly free to make your own assessments. BYU isn’t run the way the student body assumes it is run… and I’d venture to say that if the prophet knew of half of the things that went on there… it would be a very different school entirely.

I'd love to discuss more about my days at BYU, but that wasn't the reason I came to this site... I agree… It would have been nice if I had ended up there --- if I had understood at 17 half of what I know now, things would have been very different. But I wouldn’t be where I am today without those experiences… especially the part about having to leave BYU. I am very grateful to have had such defining experiences in my life. Most people aren’t half as lucky.

Now, back to the photos...

Those photos were taken 2 years after I left BYU and never exhibited for BYU audiences. I don’t think it was never suggested that they were solely meant to bridge any gap between LDS and homosexual audiences. Although both you and Casey have great ideas for subtly different messages that should be certainly taken into account for future work... we, as artists, decided to take the piece in a different direction -- people can offer critique and suggestions until their faces turn blue, but in the end... it was our choice to take this specific direction with the work.

We did not want to show our inner anguish... because --- really, at that point in our lives... we didn't have much inner anguish... in terms of rejection from the church, at least (although some would cite narrative from my website as evidence for the contrary)...
In fact, we kinda took those photos on a whim... a lazy Sunday afternoon with nothing to do (again, some may cite this as an example of their artistic irrelevance... but my work with improvisational art forms for the past 4 years has clearly taught me that some of my most meaningful work has come from these 'found' moments -- where everything is less contrived... they are reflections of more honest and true emotions.)

I completely understand your point that conservative Mormons do (and should) feel conflicted when they are presented with images of people engaged in 'sinful' activities who are also at the same time expressing pure emotions... such as love and tenderness... --- I can identify with this conflict these Mormons much be experiencing… Perhaps they feel we are diluting (or desanctifying) their concepts of love. We all at one point (we meaning homosexual Mormons) experienced many of those same feelings of during each of our coming out processes... and say that you don't think we did anything to 'bridge the gap… ?

Again, bridging gaps was not the point of the photos... but an interesting point, nonetheless... What you pointed out to me… and I really didn’t realize until now…. is that there were two very different types of people brought together with these photos… and they were able to share very similar emotions… (not necessarily at the same time, but having that unified temporal aspect isn’t as important to me) It is no secret that LDS members are often enraged – and perhaps a little confused – over the dichotomy between what their religious leaders claim and people's own personal life experiences... Most gay men experience that same confusion… not because (as Mormons would claim) it is of the devil… but rather it is confusion over why one can still feel at peace – still feel the strong presence of what they have been taught is ‘the Spirit’ – in situations that have only been framed within contexts of fire and brimstone.

Those two men in the photos have long since left that confusion behind them, and are able to experience these pure emotions of love, tenderness (and, yes, passion). Some applaud the work because they, too, have embarked upon such a journey and better people for having had such experiences. Others criticize the work because they are being forced to take a journey they might not be prepared to take. It is all the same journey, people just take different paths and arrive at different times. Fortunately for us, we aren’t always allowed to choose which lessons we want to learn and when.

Posted by: Matthew at April 14, 2004 03:31 AM

matthew, when i pointed out that feelings of misery and conflictedness follow when one engages in certain behaviors while simultaneously believing a doctrine that condemns them, you wrote back,

Those two men in the photos have long since left that confusion behind them, and are able to experience these pure emotions of love, tenderness (and, yes, passion).

if this is really the case, then--going back to the “impromptu art”--it sounds like it would have been better to have the sacred items representing mormonism chucked resignedly into the corner behind the lovers, lying in a crumpled heap. that scenario, i think, would represent your personal convictions a little more accurately.

and as to your being thrown out of BYU for the hand-holding thing...let’s not kid each other here. you make it sound like the school’s reaction to your relationship led you to take the relationship further...to the point where you’ve now been photographed, and you’re the “posterboi” of lust for gay men everywhere.

an example: what would US border patrol do if they saw a mexican guy walking along, literally straddling the border between tamaulipas and texas in the dried up rio grande, gazing longingly into the USA’s eyes—i mean, skies? Sure, he hasn’t done anything yet. but he’s not fooling anybody as per his intentions. now, if the cops step to this dude and the guy backs down and heads home, nothing else happens. he lives happily ever after. my guess is, when BYU questioned you in your case, you didn’t back down (If you did, and they still threw you out, that’s too bad, but based on the pictures, it looks like they had your intentions pretty well figured out).

it sounds like you're happy where you are now. don't let yourself be bitter about the path that got you there.

Posted by: travis at April 15, 2004 12:46 AM

Travis,

BYU's reaction to my holding hands at the mall had nothing to do with any relationship I've ever been involved in. The man I held hands with at BYU was not the man photographed with me in the missionary photo shoot, and the two incidences were separated by a time span of about 2 years.

You do make an interesting analogy. You seem to be unable to draw a distinction between holding hands at the mall and engaging in sexual activity. To say I was teetering on a fine line between the two -- well, I think I'd find it very interesting to see how you hold hands in public.

And since when has it become acceptable to judge someone based on what someone thinks they may at some point in the future do. (And to think you discounted my Gestapo analogy...) I was under the impression that the Honor Code at BYU was based on actions you have done in this life... not actions people presume you might one day live out...

I can just see it now "My roommate wears too much black. Clearly, she is going to go on a mass murder rampage. We should lock her up and throw away the key... just in case... you can never be too safe."

With regard to my being bitter, I wrote those pages on my website several years ago as a personal introduction (and much has changed since then). I assure you, I am not bitter. I think if I ever saw her again, I’d go up to my old ballroom partner and give her a big kiss for being one of the people to ‘testify’ against me to the honor code office. I am very grateful for what happened – so many doors have been opened for me and my life is taking a completely different direction than I had envisioned (and not just because of my sexuality). Maybe one day when I have the time I can create a different context on my website within which to frame my experiences at BYU.

But just because I am better off today, doesn’t justify the way I was treated back then and the way people continue to be treated today. Not everybody has been as lucky as I have been – and sitting idle while such actions go unchecked… that would be the same as condoning such behavior.

It would be absurd for me to ignore my past and discount the path that led me to where I am today. We all have very painful and very joyous experiences in our lives and if we choose to 'forget' that any of them happened, then we also choose to stop learning from such experiences. I will not discount the fact that I was raised in a relatively stable Mormon family and I benefited from many of the precepts I was taught in my youth. To simply chuck that into some corner and forget about it, as you symbolically suggest we should have done with our missionary tags, etc... would be to pretend like the previous 22 years of our lives never happened. Yes, they are sacred Mormon images --- but they are also images from our own past... representations of shared experiences. There extreme nature emphasizes the bond between us. Jeremy and I have taken many photos together and each one of them show a different subtlety to the connection we built between us... I wouldn't have been opposed if I had been asked to display those other photos in the gallery next to these other missionary photos to show other aspects of our relationship as well. Perhaps this is all still a work in progress...

That being said, I do recognize artistic choices that may have been more relevant for you if you were placed in a similar situation. I have no problem with art I am involved with being critiqued, people are certainly able to react in whatever manner they deem necessary – as long as they are able to support their arguments in an empirical (as opposed to emotional) manner.

I am, however, curious as to whether you are married or not and, if so, how long you have been with your partner? If you are, how many times you've told your wife that you were in lust with her? How many times when you've kissed her .. say on the shoulder... while she brushed her teeth ... do you think they were 'lustful' kisses? How many times (if this applies) has she laid on your chest asleep and you though to yourself... I'm so in lust with this person?

For me, dedicating two years of one's life (admittedly, a relatively short time... but not necessarily when you consider the stereotypical courtship period of several months for many BYU couples) to building a relationship with another person kinda takes things beyond the realm of 'lust' as you seem to suggest by calling us the "poster[boys] of lust for gay men everywhere."

ack... I have an anatomy test in 4 hours... gotta get back to studyin'...

Posted by: Matthew Grierson at April 15, 2004 03:33 AM

matthew, you're relentless. let me try and respond, but i must confess, i'm getting a little tired of talking about your life with you (and other people who identify themselves as 'homosexuals' and who've commented here. no matter what i say, i am told i am unqualified to say it. it's pretty frustrating. i'm going to try and number my response to make it more organized for you.

number one:

BYU's reaction to my holding hands at the mall had nothing to do with any relationship I've ever been involved in.

so...the holding-hands incident wasn't a romantic gesture? weird. sounds like you didn't even know the person, even though on your website you called him your boyfriend (and i quote):

I am very much out in the open about my sexuality. I mean, hell, I was willing to give up my chances for education at BYU because I wanted to hold my boyfriend's hand at the mall. If you want to date me, you must have similar ambitions. I am not going back into the closet. [link]

number two: you don't like my border crossing analogy?

I can just see it now "My roommate wears too much black. Clearly, she is going to go on a mass murder rampage. We should lock her up and throw away the key... just in case... you can never be too safe."

that has nothing to do with the border crossing analogy, which is actually very closely related to your hand-holding incident. if you want to use the "roommate who wears black" example and make it mirror the hand-holding experience, the roommate will have to be like someone from columbine HS who bought guns (holding them in his hands) and had a psychological predisposition to violence or was made fun of and thus was predisposed to hatred. in fact, one might go so far as to say that "hand holding" is akin to making a threat in the columbine situation. you practically 'threatened' the honor code office with the implied, "i'm attracted to someone of my same gender." [link] how could BYU be expected to respond?

and you make it sound like holding hands is completely innocent, like "hey, there wasn't any penetration!"

please.

i know how it felt the first time a certain girl put her hand in mine. that is a very powerful feeling, and it is not platonic.

i don't usually go about defending the BYU honor code office. i detest it. to be honest, you probably got screwed (figuratively, in the BYU case) but BYU students have to figure out really quick that the honor code office isn't real american justice. it's a lot less fair. and just as the columbine tragedy would have been prevented if authorities had acted on the threats made by the columbine killers, BYU probably saved itself a messy incident by acting on the virtual, non-violent 'threat' that you made.

number three: please excuse the confusion, but when i said "posterboy" of lust, i was referring to the reactions of male readers on nick's blog, zionide,

which i'll quote here:

I think they're beautiful, I'd really like to have prints of them.
Posted by sam at March 31, 2004 11:06 PM
...
I love the pics and your blog. Can you send a request in that they [i think he's talking about the boys, not the pics--ed.] come to my door please sometime soon ! WOW.
Posted by Matthew at April 1, 2004 12:03 AM
...
Looks scrumptious to me.
Posted by sam at March 24, 2004 03:14 AM
...
Luscious ... I sent my Mormon friend your link. Post more if you have them! Or email them to me.
Posted by biologic show at March 30, 2004 10:54 AM
...
and the author, nick, wrote: "I hope there are other things *ahem* more visible in the rest of the photos . . ." [link] and [link]

that is the lust i was talking about. of course, you will all say that you were 'joking' and that i 'don't understand you'. fine. and for the record, i have never said that homosexual love is merely lust. i'm sure you feel the same things for your boyfriend that i feel for my girlfriend. good for you. who's to say that michael jackson doesn't feel the same things for his little boyfriends? [link] in the end, i think human emotions (like love) are a shaky foundation on which to build a lifeworld.

and please don't be upset that i compared 'holding hands' to a 'threat'. obviously the intent of holding hands was not to bother anyone, however, like a threat or like amassing armaments in your bedroom, holding hands served as a tip-off to those in charge of enforcing some standard (in the columbine case, 'not killing' and in your case, 'not engaging in homosexual activity'). i hope that's clear.

Posted by: travis at April 15, 2004 03:42 PM

You and your analogies… Yes, one could compare the love between Michael Jackson and his young boys with the love between two men or the love between two women or the love between a man and a woman. Unfortunately, the lack of physical and psychological maturity from those children prevents us from drawing a complete parallel to the bonds made between consenting adults. (And for that matter the lack of bioethics involved in sexual relationships existing between brother and sister or cousins due to the likelihood of birth defects prevent us from making that comparison. Questions of abuse surface in discussions of polygamy. And, just to make sure we’ve got our bases covered, all of the above applies with regard to bestiality.)

But in all reality, I came to this site to discuss the value and definition of art. For someone who finds it so tedious to discuss the lives of homosexuals, I find it interesting the tangents you take in your discussion.

At the time I held hands with Douglas Stewart (Jan 2001 - 3 weeks after meeting him) he was not my boyfriend. Although we eventually took things to that level, I would hardly consider our month long interlude with each other anything serious. I do not discount the romantic power associated with holding hands with another individual; the same notions apply to homosexual couples. However, it is my argument that when homosexual couples engage in public displays of affection (especially in a community like Provo/Orem) they are inherently making political (rather than romantic) statements because of the stigmas associated with taking such actions. Holding hands with a man downtown on Pride Day and holding hands with a man in a predominantly Mormon community provide me with two very different sentiments, the latter of which providing more of an affirmation of character than declaration of romance. In an ideal world, this would not be the case, but I am forced to recognize the reality of the situation.

This will be my last post on this thread because, having shifted our discussion from the politics of art to that of the BYU Honor Code, I think we are finally seeing eye to eye (at least with regard to the facts). I don’t discount the fact that I was pushing boundaries at BYU. You call it preemptive enforcing of community values, and I call it a double standard.

I don’t believe the ends justifies the means, and I don’t want to live in a society based on something other than “American” justice (the definition of which we can save for a different debate… I really don’t like that term because it can mean a wide-variety of things… but I think you know what I mean… so we can have a debate on semantics later). And for that matter, I don’t want to live in a society divorced from human emotion. Without foundations of justice or foundations of love – what kind of society do you seek? (Again, you are making it hard for me not to associate images of fascism with the community of BYU.)

That’s why artwork such as those missionary photos is so important. That’s why artwork such as the Piss Christ (http://www.usc.edu/schools/annenberg/asc/projects/comm544/library/images/502.html) is so important --- because I think many people walk through life saying they believe this and they believe that without really knowing why or what effects such beliefs have on other areas of existence. I know I do. It is inherent in our human condition to make assumptions about people, places, situations, etc… Without such artwork (in every medium – including scripture) asking us to question our basic assumptions, I don’t think we can truly progress as a society. Questions are not threatening; I don’t understand why people always see them as such.

Posted by: Matthew Grierson at April 16, 2004 02:54 AM

i don't know what serrano's point was with "piss christ". i read about the reaction to it, but never found what he said about it.

that piece takes a shot at something/someone who can't respond. is serrano mad at religion for ruining his life? who has ANY reason to be mad at christ? or, were people overreacting when serrano's real message was to show how badly christ was treated (blood=suffering, urine=humiliation)? either way, i don't find the medium of blood and urine offensive at all, but i find the name very inappropriate.

so, say i am offended by your photos. what is my recourse? i can't respond by making art that even appears to denigrate homosexuality; that would be called 'homophobic' and 'bigoted' and no one would agree to exhibit it. yet, people can take shots at something i value just as dearly as you value being gay, and it is perfectly fine. it is art; it is not 'meant' to offend. i don't know...i'm not an artist, but you'll have to talk me out of the idea that there's a double standard here. it seems like, in all types of media (movies and other aspects of our culture, included) religion is fair game for bashing and homosexuality is off-limits.

Posted by: travis at April 16, 2004 05:08 AM

I've been contemplating this issue for the last little bit and it seems to me that there is no reason you couldn't make any such artwork if you were ever driven to do so... yes, people would call you homophobic... and yes, people have called me disrespectful to the Mormon religion... but like I said, art is there to question boundaries and assumptions...


Also, I stumbled along this link the other day, maybe you will find it informative.

http://utah.indymedia.org/news/2003/06/5366.php

Posted by: Matthew Grierson at May 1, 2004 04:29 PM