Guest Post by McKenna WIlliams, who shares her experiences as an asexual Mormon and how that shapes her views on the new church policy.
There were two things I dreaded most about getting married: the idea that I’d have to make dinner every night for the rest of my life, and having sex, and the latter was the greater concern of the two, which is remarkable considering just how much I hate cooking dinner. Never mind the gender role implications in my assertion that I alone would be responsible for dinner. At that point in my life, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I had a choice in the matter. If the prophet said I had to give up a career to have children and stay at home like a good girl, then by golly I was going to quit my career and stay at home with children like a good girl. But perhaps we should back up.
I was the teen that parents wanted their kids to be like: a good student, attentive, responsible, respectful, and all-around Molly Mormon. That’s not a brag. Parents literally asked my peers why they couldn’t be more like me which was very uncomfortable and did not help peer relations. [Parents: don’t do that to your kids and their friends.] It was just in my nature to desperately want to do my best at everything that mattered. I have had a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for as long as I can remember, and the Church was all tied up into that in a giant, inseparable amalgamation. I read my scriptures, said my prayers, participated in FHE, obeyed my parents reasonably well, and paid attention in church. Of course many primary children are like that, but puberty can be the great equalizer. No, not I! Raised on a robust diet of Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson quotes, I knew that kisses were not to be handed out like pretzels, it was selfish for mothers to work outside the home, and I was to get married and have many children and right away, so that was the master plan. Dances were for ages 14 and up, and I faithfully skipped all of them until I was old enough. And then I skipped some more. Dating was for ages 16 and up, and then only in groups. No problem. Pairing up was for college and beyond- young single adults who were ready to start preparing for marriage. No. Problem. Something about not necking or petting. I didn’t know what that meant, but I was confident that I wouldn’t do them because I wasn’t even going to be pairing up, much less doing “stuff.” There are very few commandments that any of us can keep perfectly. Tithing is one of the few. I believed the standards encircling the law of chastity were just as easy. It was very simple: don’t do the things. I had a list of the things to not do, and I didn’t do them, PERFECTLY. Yep, I pretty much had this righteousness thing in the bag, and it wasn’t even a challenge. I didn’t think I was particularly special or better than anyone else. I assumed I was quite average, at least at first. That is why it was so confounding to me to watch every single peer, one by one, fail to follow the dating rules perfectly. All they had to do was to *not* do it, but it seemed beyond their capacity. By mid highschool, it began to dawn on me that maybe I was not so average.
Like most young women, I got to sit through many awkward chastity lessons. These lessons were as perplexing to me as my friends’ inability to stop holding hands and canoodling during seminary. The YW leaders promised that sex was amazing and something to look forward to, but we had to control ourselves until the right time. We were told that the feelings we were having were a special gift from God to be used for marriage. It seemed that God’s special gift for me was subject to a shipping delay, because it was not one I had received. I didn’t know what these special feelings were, nor did it take an ounce of self control to not throw myself at some pimple-faced schoolmate. I assumed that the feelings would come later, the way a child simultaneously believes in cooties and plans to marry someday.
The special feelings that were a gift from God did not come.
It was a common refrain from my friends that “McKenna doesn’t like boys.” This statement would be followed by an uncomfortable pause, after which I’d blurt out “I don’t like girls, either!” Then there’d be another confused pause. One day I mused, “It’s like I’m asexual…” I quickly brushed that thought off. I didn’t know asexualality was a real category for people. After taking biology classes, I knew that asexual meant the ability to make babies on one’s one, and I certainly wasn’t that. Besides, I *did* want to get married, and I knew it would be to a boy, but I just didn’t want to have to look at one or touch one yet. I wanted to have kids, but I told my friends I was hoping that I could hire an anesthesiologist so that I wouldn’t have to be awake when my husband performed the impregnating procedure. The idea that one would have sex for fun was beyond my levels of comprehension, and so again, it was completely baffling to me that so many people were having so much difficulty keeping their pants on. I had to mentally work to develop an empathy for what they were going through, to try to understand that they had special godly feelings that made it really hard for them to keep the standards in a way that I didn’t experience. I accepted that for them, this was not an easy commandment to keep, and that didn’t make them bad. Besides, someday maybe I would receive that special gift and have to struggle, too.
As time passed and I wasn’t showing the normal levels of teenage angst regarding love, my parents became concerned. I was taken to a physician to test my hormone levels, They quietly worried that I was a lesbian. I was promised prizes if I’d just go on a date. At one point my father snapped at me that I just needed to have more faith. Discouraged, I prayed fervently for help, determined to overcome this problem I had of having not received the special gift from God that would give me the drive to forray into the tumultuous hell that dating surely was. I had spent years watching my friends crush and then crash and all I saw was misery and inevitable failure. I had to have more faith, or so I was told. So in college, I put forth my best effort and dated. It was a trainwreck at times. On one particular occasion my boyfriend, to whom I was not even remotely attracted, tried to play footsie with me. I was so disgusted that his foot touched my skin that I made up a quick flimsy excuse to leave and literally ran away to a different building. But faithfully I persisted and learned and overcame much inhibition. I could even hold hands and give small kisses! But still, I did not want to have sex. Everyone promised me that I would change my mind as soon as I’d experienced the ecstasy that was this divinely given gift, and so, with faith, I continued to look for a good man, understanding that I should not get married until I was mentally prepared to “perform my wifely duties.” After much searching, I found such a man. He was funny and brilliant and kind and committed and handsome. I was confused as to why he liked me, but he made me want to be a better person and was everything I was looking for. I loved him, and I was ready to commit to making his dinners, and to doing that other thing. After a perfect wedding day, we got in the elevator at our hotel and the pit in my stomach grew very heavy. This was the test of my faith. It was the right time and with a person more right than I’d ever dreamed of. All I had to do was wait for my faith to be rewarded.
I will skip the details, and I certainly don’t mean the wedding night. I mean the next almost decade of tears and pleading prayers and occasional resentment from both of us as we tried to figure out what was wrong with him, with me, with us. We loved each other, but that particular aspect of our marriage was a source of difficulty. I did what I was asked dutifully, and I was hurt that it wasn’t enough. He was hurt because he believed he must not be enough. Only after I happened upon the AVEN network did I understand that my self-diagnosis so many years before was a legitimate one. I am asexual. The special feelings that are a gift from God were never meant to be mine.
Don’t worry. I married one of the best of men. Once we figured out what the problem was, we were both able to understand each other better and work through things, and we are committed to each other. But that is not the point of this long and rambling narrative.
The Church has put a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money into trying to make it clear that LGBT+ people are not to pursue what they desire. During the Church’s involvement in California’s Prop 8, at the behest of leaders, I tried to write up an explanation as to why gay marriage is wrong. The trouble was that I couldn’t come up with one cogent argument. Within the context of church, I was socially rewarded for my utter lack of sexual desire as a youth. My lack of desire made me the paragon of virtue, the example of what was expected, at least in terms of behavior. This alone may be considered problematic, but that is a discussion for another day. I had to work quite hard to understand the struggle that all my hetero peers were going through to live up to the expectations they’d been given. I had to try to comprehend that what I perceived to be a weakness (their raging hormones and sexual desires) was a very special gift given from God, It’s difficult to describe the mental gymnastics involved in accepting that God gave them a gift that by all appearances was a weakness and he did not bless me with that gift and that’s why I appeared to be more righteous than my comrades, but I faithfully performed those mental somersaults and cartwheels until I had fully accepted that it was true.
Unfortunately, the same floor routine that allowed me to come to terms with “sexual feelings are a gift from God” did not leave much room for the next routine I was asked to perform, which was “unless you’re gay.” While I did not receive those special feelings that are a divine gift, most others do, and if the hetero type feelings are a gift, and mine are a lack of gift, then what does that make the gay feelings? A curse? For years the Church recommended treatments to try to cure the gay away, and just a few years ago President Packer asserted that gayness was not inherently there because “Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” Indeed, why *would* a loving father do that to his children? He wouldn’t. He would not curse his children and then watch them suffer. So inasmuch as sexuality if not a choice and cannot be changed despite one’s best efforts (which I can personally attest to), I’m left with the conclusion that either sexuality is not a special gift to anyone, or it is a special gift to everyone regardless of where they land. Quite frankly, I no longer care. What I do care about is the continued message we keep sending our LGBT+ brothers and sisters that they are somehow wrong, or cursed, or at least unblessed, and that if they falter in the struggle for which we blame God, that their sin is heinous enough to not only keep them out of the church, but to keep their children out, as well. My brain simply cannot perform the calisthenics to claim that we are a church that is all about families and then tell LGBT+ people that the only way to have an eternal family is to not have one, because while their plight is pitiable, God expects them to be alone.
I am lucky. Crazy lucky. Despite being asexual, I still managed to find one amazing person that is willing to stick by me, and because of that, I have a lot of privilege. I had privilege in being praised for no effort whatsoever as a teen, and now by all appearances I’m a good, hetero, cisgendered Mormon housewife, which produces even more privilege. I’m a chameleon passing as exactly what I’m supposed to be. However, for most of my life, I have struggled internally to find my place and to understand everyone else. Being able to comfortably sit in a chair and claim that one’s sexuality is a gift from God is privilege, and privilege comes at someone else’s cost. Our LGBT+ brothers and sisters deserve better than that. Hugging them while explaining with pity that who they are is a weakness to be overcome will not make them feel loved and secure. Telling them that, as a kindness, they and their families will be excluded from full participation in the Church, will not make them feel included. And telling them that it’s God who wants them to feel so apart from the rest because he didn’t think they were worth his special gift will feel like a rejection and a cruelty, regardless of the motivation for such claims. I’ve spent most of my life trying to understand how important sexual feelings are to hetero people; when viewed from the vantagepoint of asexuality, the view looks the same on both sides of the Kinsey scale, and their feelings appear just as valid and important to me. As someone who has expended countless hours trying to see beauty in what the majority feels, perhaps it’s worth our time to expend the energy to see beauty in what our LGBT+ brothers and sisters feel.