“In Quiet Desperation”: An Open Letter to Marilyn Matis
by Jason Clark
Three months ago, Deseret Book published In Quiet Desperation, a new book with two candid accounts revolving around gay Mormon experience. In the following letter, an Affirmation member describes his reaction to the first part of the book, written by the mother of gay Mormon suicide Stuart Matis.
Dear Sister Matis:
I just finished reading the first part of the book In Quiet Desperation, which you published through Deseret Book. I come to you as one who has had a close gay LDS friend commit suicide. I mourn the death of my friend, of your son, and of so many other gay Mormons who have taken their lives.
I think your account is honest and well-intentioned. I commend you for urging members to achieve “better understanding” (pg. 5). Thank you for reminding us that families “must be open in their discussion of same-sex attraction” (pg. 50). I particularly appreciated your cautious approach to so-called “reparative therapy,” and I agree with you that “until we have a definite understanding of what causes same-sex attraction, all therapy becomes a guessing game” (pg. 10). And yet your account leaves me angry and disturbed.
From the 50 pages of your essay, it becomes clear that you and your husband did all the things that LDS leaders advise: You were compassionate and understanding; you were open to dialogue all through your son’s turmoil; you encouraged him to remain chaste. Yet still your son committed suicide. Not only that–you received the impression, both through Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (pg. 40) and through a peaceful spiritual experience in the temple, that your son “would be all right” (pg. 18).
I don’t know what we are supposed to conclude from your account, except that it is fine for chaste gay Mormons to experience years of suffering and end up dead on the steps of a stake center. Your story doesn’t bring me the peace you say you experienced. On the contrary–it troubles me and makes me angry.
In one of the most troubling passages of your account, you say, “Although losing our son was difficult, it has been comforting to know that he was faithful to his temple covenants.” (pg. 20). As a gay Mormon, what am I supposed to conclude from this statement? That I should kill myself rather than be sexually active? Your statement resonates with a troubling, oft-quoted anecdote by Marion G. Romney. According to Elder Romney’s story, before leaving for his LDS mission, his father told him, “We would rather come to this station and take your body off the train in a casket than to have you come home unclean, having lost your virtue” (Conference Report,October 1952, pg. 34.).
I do not want to brush off the importance of chastity. But I believe the time has come when LDS leaders have to tell us if they honestly believe that chastity, presumably as defined by the monogamous heterosexual model that the Church decided to embrace in 1890, is more important than life itself. If they say it is, then it appears to me they have sided not with life but with death.
The Deseret Book winter catalog says that your account “takes us into the heart and mind of parents who did all they could to assist their son to bear this heavy burden” (pg. 36). I am no one to judge whether you did all you could; my point is that the rhetoric of the Deseret Book sales pitch clearly aims to justify your son’s death. Are our suicides an acceptable price we pay for remaining chaste? This rhetoric is not just irresponsible–it is just plain deadly.
If the Church could even start to intimate that homosexuality is not a challenge, but a gift from God, they could help to end overnight the pandemic of gay suicides. This would not be an easy step: Just as in 1978, when President Kimball received a revelation that allowed blacks to receive the priesthood, it could come only after much prayer, and it would have some embarrassing implications for past LDS statements and actions. But such a courageous step would provide a solution based on Christian principles and not on the ever-changing rhetoric of the Church.
Too many gay and lesbian Mormons are indeed in quiet desperation, living lonely lives and holding a second-class status in the Church. Before taking their own lives, these gay sons and lesbian daughters need to know that our Heavenly Father loves them unconditionally. They need to know that their lives are infinitely more precious than the 1890 Mormon standard of heterosexual monogamy. They need to understand that the Church may have a prophet, twelve apostles, and thousands of bishops, but “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there” (2 Nephi 9:41).