“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
Whoever said “opposites attract” never lived in today’s world. There’s never been more polarization, more them-and-us, more anger towards anyone who doesn’t agree with your say and your way. Whether politically, socially, culturally…even in sports and religion, grown adults have developed a genetic pre-disposition to behaving like fifth graders having a fight on the playground. In fact, the only people who don’t act like fifth graders seem to be fifth graders. They’re forced to think and behave like adults, facing grown-up challenges like climate change, online bullying, mass shooting in their own school, and losing the chance to be a child.
One of the ironies in today’s world is that we want to stand out, but we also want to conform. We want to be singled out for being special and unique, but if we go too far, suddenly we risk not feeling a part of the group anymore. Even worse, we become one of “them,” and “us” lets you know, sometimes in very painful, hurtful ways. In the world of social media, we often get caught up in the competition of trying to be in the “in” crowd, the A List, being valued by those whose vote counts. Recent research studies show many young people take on an entirely different image online—busy, always on the move, rushing from one event to the next, gorgeous, intelligent beyond their years, and acting online as if they’re on the top ten trending list. We want to be like everyone else, not realizing that everyone else is doing the same thing; all driven by the fear of not belonging, not being accepted in this world that can judge you on the flimsiest of rumor or a mean joke that takes on a life of its own. Meanwhile, they live with the reality that their online ideal is nothing like their real self and the fear that they can’t live up to the online image—that, in reality, they’re just a loser.
Now let’s turn up the pressure to conform by adding a church and a family with their own pressure to conform, to always obey, to stay on the strait and narrow, and stay straight and narrow. To get the four-year seminary pin. The Duty to God Award or Young Womanhood Recognition. To serve the mission. Go to BYU. Marry a nice, active member of the opposite sex. Temple, temple, temple. Family, family, family. And all the rest. The pressure to conform can be so great that if we feel out of step in the smallest way (and we always do), if we don’t do it exactly right, don’t think exactly right, don’t feel exactly right…and “right” is always what others expect of us, whether it’s our peers, or our parents, or the bishop…if they only knew…the pressure grows.
Troy Lee Hudson is a guy who should know about not fitting in and conforming with the pack. He’s an openly gay, hot dude, who passes for a daddy, with a handsome beard, tats, and into the leather scene. He’s also an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), on the team that landed the InSight Mars rover on the red planet in 2018. Former LDS President David O. McKay was famous for his quote, “Whate’er thou art, act well thy part,” and Troy certainly does that. He’s totally accepted, gay and all, by his JPL team and the scientific world, and being an astrophysicist into leather has a definite gravitational pull that attracts gays. Troy wears his Pride pin on his lapel whenever he’s going to be on camera or in front of visitors, to show there’s room to coexist in this world, and to encourage worried gays that they’re not alone.
In an interview with DNA Magazine #229, Troy made this insightful comment:
“The most powerful thing you can ever do for someone else is to show them they are not alone. There’s a general rule-of-thumb in my line of work—there is either none of a thing (it does not exist), there is one of a thing (it is an anomaly), or there’s tons of a thing (it happens all the time throughout the universe). Take life on Earth. If we discover it elsewhere, we would know the universe was full of life.
So just by being visible and not censoring myself, I’ve reached scores of people who may have felt alone. I’ve received tear-jerking letters from gay scientists thanking me for being so public and open. I’m helping people who may have felt like an anomaly in their world. Seeing someone like me, they realize there just might be lots of people like them, and suddenly they aren’t alone at all.”
Next month, Affirmation is coming together for its annual international conference. Some will attend from areas where coming out can get you attacked by a mob, jailed, or even killed; and the solitary confinement in that closet is tearing them apart. There’s no refuge, no safe place in their lives. They are willing to travel halfway around the world to an Affirmation conference to find another person, even hundreds, who are like them. They are no longer a fluke, an anomaly, no longer an exception to the rule.
Affirmation has caught the vision of this valuable concept and the need among its members and is working to spread itself to regional and local chapters, providing the guidance, training, and support to serve the one, so all of us may know we’re not alone. Similar to former LDS Pres. Hinckley’s dramatic about-face to no longer make people come to the temple, but taking the temples to the people, Affirmation is working to bring itself to the people it serves, wherever they may be. As this program spreads out, no longer will people have to feel alone. There will be others to support them, sustain them, to share the joy and bear the burdens with them.
If you attend the conference next month, find a stranger and get to know them. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet someone from another part of the world, and you’ll see their glow, the light in their eyes, and the joy they have in knowing they’re not the only one. They may even share their story, and you’ll realize it’s the only time each year they can be who they really are in front of others…and you’ll leave with a greater love for your fellow man, whoever or wherever they may be.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.