Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dialoguing With Ron

Shortly after I submitted "Getting Out" to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in May of 2004, Levi Peterson got back to me to let me know they wanted to publish it. He wanted to know, though, how I felt about having it published concurrently with an opposing piece. I was all for it. I didn't realize at the time that Levi didn't actually have an opposing piece, but that he was going to ask someone to write it, and that it would be directly in response to my essay. In January of 2005, Levi emailed me both Ron Schow's and Marybeth Raynes's responses to "Getting Out," along with the explanation that if I wanted to write a short response to sort of have the last word, he'd be happy to publish it.

It was hugely intimidating to read these pieces that had been presented to me as opposing mine (and therefore opposing me, right?), especially when I saw the credentials attached to the authors. I recognized both Marybeth and Ron as co-editors of Peculiar People, and it was clear from Marybeth's essay that she was a marriage and family therapist. Oh, and Ron had a PhD. Meanwhile, here I was, a 25-year-old master's student at BYU. Thanks, Levi, for pitting me against my peers.

So I read Ron's response expecting a confrontation, and that's what I saw. Sure, he was attacking me politely, but he was still attacking me. Then I got to Marybeth's response, and was happy to find that she was clearly not attacking me. In fact, she made several points that I had come to on my own in the months since writing "Getting Out." I decided that I would take Levi up on the invitation to write a response to the responses. It would give me a chance to give an update on the thoughts I'd had over the past year, in the context of the good points both Marybeth and Ron had made, and also to snarkily respond to Ron's points that I perceived as attacks.

I wrote "Staying In" and felt pretty darn good about it. I had gone up against experienced professionals and held my ground.

When the four-piece, three-person dialogue was published in September of 2005, I was happy to hear from people who told me that they liked my parts, and mostly they liked Marybeth's because mostly she was very nice to me, but as for Ron... what was he doing throwing these doom-prophesying statistics at me? Believe me, there were plenty of people who didn't have this opinion, but for the most part the ones who talked to me directly did. My friends, like me, saw Ron as my enemy. I was smug in my perceived victory.

Then, one day, I got an email from Ron. He said more or less, "Hey, it was great to dialogue with you in Dialogue. Wouldn't it be great to continue the conversation via email?" And I thought, Hey, why not? I'm a mature, open-minded person. I'm happy to talk to anybody, even my enemy.

So we talked. We emailed back and forth, arguing the details of gay Mormon politics and morality. For a long time I was very defensive. I was suspicious of Ron and his intentions. I felt like he was trying to convince me of the error of my ways, that I should give up on my marriage because obviously we had no chance of surviving in the long run. It took me several months, in fact, to see that Ron's intention was exactly what he'd said it was--to have a dialogue. Ron didn't see me as his enemy just because we had slightly differing viewpoints.

Slowly, I've given up my defensiveness and allowed Ron to become my friend. He even came to my last blog party (and brought Marybeth with him), and guess what? He's a genuinely nice guy. I'm not as good a friend to him as he is to me because I'm generally not good at getting back to emails in a timely manner, and because I'm not as devoted to the cause of gay Mormondom as he is. While I am focused on the individual (namely me), Ron is concerned with large groups of people. He advocates for homosexual Latter-day Saints with LDS General Authorities and regularly speaks to groups such as Family Fellowship and fhefamily. He spends his time trying to understand the plights of gay Mormons everywhere, while I am worrying about how to get more people to read my blog and how to justify spending ten bucks on the new Roots album (I already have solved that latter problem, in case you're concerned).

In short, I don't agree with everything Ron says, but I count him as an ally and a friend. He is certainly not my enemy, and I'm glad I can say that, because who needs enemies? I would like to be the kind of person who doesn't have enemies, and I do try, but my tendency toward sarcasm can get in the way of that goal. As much as I give -L- a hard time for being "less than polite" when dealing with naysayers, I can get pretty snarky myself. This may get me a good laugh or two (and perhaps a few groans), but it's not the best way to win friends. I'm not going to convince people to listen to what I have to say by making fun of them.

This is not an apology for my sarcasm because at the moment any such apology would not be sincere. Nor is it a vow of repentance, as that would be equally insincere. I just want to say that I'm glad that there are people like Ron in the world who aren't interested in making enemies, and I hope that, despite my shortcomings, I can be counted among those people.


Master Fob said...

FYI, the next two posts will be ironic, but not sarcastic.

Th. said...



And here I thought you were genuinely lobbying for change....