Welcome to the first Sex and the State guest post! If you would like to submit a guest post, please fill out my contact form with an brief outline of what you want to write about.
As libertarians we spend a lot of our time thinking about and critically examining the State (as we should). However, I believe that libertarians (at least many ‘thin libertarians’) don’t critically examine other social institutions nearly enough. The State isn’t the only institution that can oppress people, as many of the readers of this blog likely recognize. As a recently ‘converted’ feminist and ‘thick’ libertarian, I have come to recognize other institutions that can also oppress individuals, even voluntary ones.
Undoubtedly the largest social institution that affects all of us in society is the State. But what would be the second largest? In my opinion, that is ‘the Church’. I consider ‘the Church’ to be organized religion in general. In the United States, Christianity is the major religion that influences everything from personal life to politics regardless of whether one is a Christian or not. So given the above, it would seem that if we feel compelled to critically examine the State, we should also feel compelled to give at least a significant amount of consideration to institutions like the Church.
To be fair, I don’t believe the Church is as ‘evil’ as the State. In fact, I think it is much better in many respects. Also, organized religion is extremely diverse in terms of belief systems and practices. Many sects do significant amounts of charity work and encourage their adherents to be good, compassionate people. Make no mistake, I am not trying to call for abolishing the Church, I am only trying to get people to look at it with a more critical eye, especially in regards to one particular aspect of it: its teachings and practices in regards to sexuality.
I understand that some sects of Christianity and Judaism are fairly progressive relative to more fundamentalist sects and I know next to nothing about Islamic sects when it comes to how sexually progressive they are, so I wish to focus on the one sect with which I do have reasonable amount of familiarity: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church).
I was born and raised a Mormon. Both of my parents were, and still are, devout Mormons as are my brothers and sister. Almost all my extended family members are Mormons. I de-converted from Mormonism at the age of 23 and I resigned my membership from the Church a few months later.
Growing up in the church, I was raised with a very conservative view of sex called ‘the Law of Chastity’. In a nutshell, I was expected to practice abstinence until marriage and that once married, I would remain faithful to my wife, forsaking all others. As a part of observing this law, I was not allowed to date until I was sixteen; I was taught that watching pornography could turn me into a child rapist, homosexual behavior was a sin, and even masturbation was a big no-no. As a teenage boy, it was difficult for me to handle the fact that the standards I was expected to fulfill were incredibly unrealistic since they conflicted so much with my nature. It was hard not to have ‘unclean’ thoughts and to not touch myself. I was also regularly subjected to humiliating interviews wherein a priesthood authority called a Bishop (the Catholic equivalent would be a priest) would ask me questions about my adherence to this law. I was asked how often I touched myself, when was the last time I had looked at pornography, if I had touched girls or other boys, or if I engaged in intercourse. I hated these interviews even though I was almost never guilty of any of those things (I admit I looked at porn a few times). Answering loaded questions in itself was bad enough, but it was even worse that I had to answer to an old man alone in his office (I can only imagine how much more awkward it must be to go through that as a teenage girl). It is my opinion that whether intended or not, these interviews and these standards are a form of social control used to generate compliance.
Looking back, I remember how miserable I was and how crazy I made myself. I wanted to be good. I wanted to please God so much, but I always felt like I wasn’t good enough, that my nature was too evil, and that no matter how hard I tried, I would always fall short. In response to these feelings, Mormon authorities typically say that we aren’t expected to be perfect, but we are expected to do our best and that Christ would make up the difference for us in the end. As much as I heard that and believed it, I was never really able to resolve my inner conflicts and anxieties. There were periods in my adolescence and early adulthood where I was very depressed. I don’t know how much the standards the Church imposed on me had to do with it, but I am certain they did not help.
As bad as this was for me as a straight male, I shudder to think how difficult it must be for a lot of LGBT Mormon youth growing up in the Church. I think it’s safe to say my experience was easy compared to theirs (and I was still suicidal at times). As much progress as the Mormon Church has made in its treatment of LGBT individuals, it is still very intolerant. Many LGBT youth feel so trapped between their sexuality and their religious beliefs that a significant portion of them commit suicide over it.
In short, as many good things as the Mormon Church may have done for me, it has also done a lot of harm. Thankfully, I overcame my struggles. I am no longer depressed and I feel no anxieties about my sexuality since I have come to embrace it, and that makes me lucky. I found a way out, but a lot of people don’t. Some endure their suffering, taking it as a cross they must carry for the duration of their lives.
Chet Lake is a libertarian-feminist trying to take on the State and the patriarchy while not failing his undergraduate studies.
Photo by More Good Foundation