Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dueling Documentaries

MoHos are being confronted with two documentaries which attempt to explain something about what it means to be gay and Mormon. The approaches are quite dissimilar.


Far / Between


The first effort, and the one that has been in production the longest. Here's part of the mission statement for Far Between:

The purpose of this site is simple — to better understand what it means to be homosexual and Mormon. Please know that this site is neither “anti-Mormon” nor “anti-homosexual”. It’s just a place to listen and consider, for a moment, what it’s like to be someone else. We hope the experience will move you to engage in constructive conversations about reconciling your empathic responses to the videos, with the doctrines and policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.
 
We have spent over a year in production on a documentary, gathering information and filming interviews with those who have been touched in some way by the lived experience of being homosexual and Mormon.While compiling the footage, we have felt compelled to break from the typical practice of sequestering the wealth of information and first-person interviews until after the film debuts. We feel it important to share them now with the hope that it will help to improve the conversation about homosexuality and Mormonism sooner rather than later.
 
Our intent is to provide, through Far Between and its sponsor, Empathy First Initiative, a space for people to share their story, holding equal space for people of all stripes to share their lived experience, no matter the differences, without judgement.

Read about the Far Between Project here



Voices of Hope Project


The second effort - just announced - is a product of North Star, and is an extension of an earlier anthology of stories published by Ty Mansfield. Here's part of their promo:

...There are many, many other stories out there that need to be told, and there’s a growing number of people ready to share them.

In order to best solicit, curate, and promote these faithful voices, North Star International, along with some motivated sponsors, have decided to launch a Voices of Hope website that would include video testimonies as well as an expanding collection of written personal essays.

We have engaged an Emmy-nominated videographer/producer to help with the project and on Friday, August 31st, began filming the first set of individuals. Our initial goal is for the website to be a repository of a thousand voices of faithful Latter-day Saints dealing with these issues, sharing their stories and their faith—why they’ve chosen to embrace the restored gospel and how they’ve found peace and resolution in that decision.

Read about the Voices of Hope Project here


So what is my take on these two very different efforts? First, I think there is room for multiple approaches and multiple points of view on any subject, and I think we should all be willing to entertain and respect varying approaches. Each documentary will likely appeal to a different audience. I think Far / Between is trying to take a neutral position as to Church orthodoxy and allow people to tell their story from their own perspective and experience. As such, I think it will ultimately portray a more realistic cross-section of gay Mormon experience.

The Voices of Hope Project is decidedly approaching the subject from a 'you can be gay and be a faithful Mormon' angle. This is an important point of view, and one that has been attacked and marginalized in the past. From his previous comments, its evident that Ty Mansfield caught a lot of unwarranted flack from the gay community when he married a woman. Other faithful Mormon gays have experienced a similar backlash when they have come out. This is an opportunity for them to speak up in a supportive setting.  However, the goal of having 1000 video segments portraying faithful Mormon gays is, in my mind, overkill. But I do think stories like this need to be told.

In the end, the public will decide which of these documentaries is the most valuable. Both projects are asking for donations (and thus competing with each other) to fund the rather expensive task of filming MoHo interviews. I'm sure its not cheap, considering all the time and travel involved.

  • What do you think of these two projects? Are they valuable in telling the gay Mormon story?
  • Is it more important to portray the cross-section of gay Mormon experience, or just stories of faithfulness?
  • Would you make a donation to help fund either of these projects? If yes, which one?

I'd love to hear what you think.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I do think it is important that faithful gay Mormons who chose to marry have a way to express and validate their lives it is not something I would financially support. It is my opinion that their project will be used as ammunition by many faithful good-meaning church goers who desperately want their gay/lesbian child to walk the straight and narrow. It will be full of language and speech patterns that will be comfortable for many lds to hear, and it will reinforce everything they already believe. Ultimately it will be used to show gay youth its fine to get married, and divorce rates in mixed marriages show that is not a great idea for everyone.

On the other hand the far between project has received a donation from me. They are telling our collective story and giving multiple points of view and in the long run will move the discussion further along.

In my opinion a balanced approach will go far in creating a space where respect and honesty will help moderate the discussion. A one sided propaganda move wont do anything but show people what they already believe and show the struggling gay mormon more examples what their life could be if they just had more faith...prayed harder...fasted more...

Trev said...

*sigh*

The way I understand Far Between, there should be no reason for an ingenuous separate "Voices of Hope" project. It just doesn't make sense. I mean, there should be no need for a competing project. Far Between should encompass the purposes of Voices of Hope. The fact that they need a separate, competing project leads me to think they are being disingenuous.

I gave money to Far Between and felt strongly about it. I've never donated so much money to something before, and I may donate again. I won't donate to Voices of Hope (probably) because I've already donated to Far Between and see it fulfilling the same function + more.

That said, if Voices of Hope were the only thing out like this, I probably would have donated just as much to them as I did to F/B.

Neal said...

Anon,

I understand your concern about creating more 'ammunition' for people to club their gay kids with.


Trev,

It would have been nice if they could have joined forces and let North Star help drum up the faithful for interviews on Far / Between. But I think North Star will always try to paint a positive face, so that puts them at odds with F/B.

Dean said...

I read this post shortly after it was published, almost responded, and backed out. I finally decided to comment since I have concerns about both projects. I don't have any room for the Voices of Hope project. I expect it will only show one perspective. I like the concept of Far Between, made a contribution that was probably too generous for my current financial status, but am concerned that it seems to be stalled. If it is not made what happens to the money that was donated? I'd much rather see it completed than get my money back, but I won't be happy if I contributed and it is not finished.

Neal said...

Dean,

What makes you think it is stalled? I've seen a number of new interviews posted.

Tell me your concerns and I'll get Kendall Wilcox to respond to them.

Thx

Neal said...

I took the liberty to ask Kendall what the status was on F/B, and this was his reponse:

"Nope, not stalled. We're just waiting until after the presidential election to get back to fundraising. In the meantime we're still processing footage and filming new interviews. Thanks for the interest and support."

fruhlingsblumen said...

I have a video up on Far Between. I, too, donated as much as I could (and plan on donating more after I finish school this year). I think Far Between is extremely important for members of society at large trying to understand Mormons, and for straight members of the Church trying to understand their gay brothers and sisters--and that they should love and accept them, whether or not they decide to live orthodox Mormon lives. Voices of Hope goes to a more specific point: that it is possible to be a gay member of the church and remain in the fold. While this message may not make nearly as much sense to the overall population, I think it is still important for those who want to remain faithful, to make the most informed decision they can.

Honestly, I'm delighted that we're getting so much air time, even though I don't agree with everything being said. If either of these documentaries had been out when I was a teenager, it would have saved me a lot of heartache getting to where I am today.

Dean said...

Thanks for the update. I have been down most of the past two days. Glad it is moving along.

Kerry B. Harding said...

I was captivated by the Far Between series and, while I connected with many of the stories in very personal and emotional ways. For example, Ryan Adair’s story so touched me that I watched it over 50 times and, though we had never met, I felt an absolutely indescribable sense of love for him. In spite of my connection to these stories, I felt that none of those stories really related to my own. As the person who initiated, financed and is helping to spear-head the Voices of Hope project, my only motivation was to find people like me who would be interested in sharing their story.
For nearly a quarter of a century, I felt there were only two paths -- to stay silent and in the Church or to pursue what many have termed as "the traditional gay lifestyle" which I didn't feel was a place that, for me, was good fit. After reading the book, "Voices of Hope," I discovered that a third path existed which combined being who I was with who I wanted to be yet found limited resources for and stories about people who shared that path. Each of us are on different journeys and at different places throughout this experience deemed “this mortal probation.”
Unlike the Far Between project, by design, the Voices of Hope project was not originally conceived to be an inclusive one, but to help keep people like me from feeling excluded from the current options available. It is not meant to make any one who disagrees with its philosophy or approach feel “less than” they are. Rather, it is meant to help those who do agree with its philosophy and approach find that it’s okay to be who they are and provide a place of community of like-minded individuals to discover, through the simple testimony of others, that a feeling of wholeness and joy within the framework of both the Gospel and the Church is indeed possible.

Neal said...

Kerry,

Interesting comments. Why did you not feel F/B included voices like your own? One of the earliest segments posted there was of Ty and Danielle Mansfield.

Its seems to me it would have been more constructive to support F/B and make sure it included plenty of examples like your own. If gay Mormons who choose to stay faithful to Church teachings are constantly looking for exclusive and protected venues to voice their opinions, how will bridges ever be built to the larger gay community? Isn't that what the Gospel is all about - going after 'the one'? Including all? In my mind, this is widening the divide, not closing it.

I see your point of view a lot in North Star dicussion groups. There is an almost pathological aversion to 'gay culture' or the 'gay community'. Yet this is where so many of our gay members end up. So many! Yet I don't see North Star reaching out in any meaningful way to those who are not currently 'like minded'.

Also, being involved on the North Star message boards, I can testify that everything there isn't all roses and sunshine. Not everything is 'wholeness and joy'. There is a lot of angst, insecurity, doubt, failure, frustration, sin, self-loathing, loneliness and heartbreak going on behind the scenes. Are you going to show that side of things on Voices?

I think the original intent of F/B was to show the spectrum of gay Mormon experience. The good and the bad. The heartache and the joy. Those who left and those who stayed. I think that's what we need to see. The world needs to see. The Church needs to see. I think members of the Church need to understand that they have caused heartache and pain in the way they've treated gay members. I think they need to see that some people dont' feel comfortable in our congregations and they need to hear why. I also think they need to hear from those who have stuck it out and found a degree of joy and happiness. I think they need examples of kindness, compassion and inclusion. I think they need to see what happens when parents reject their gay children and what happens when they're supportive.

I guess I think we all need a healthy dose of realism, not a contrived or one-sided portrait of what it means to be a gay Mormon. I find correlations in my thinking to what's happening now with Church History. The sugar-coated portrayals of early Church leaders are giving way to realistic narratives. Joseph Smith had a temper, was into folk-magic, and married women who were married to other men. This is a far cry from the almost angelic portrayal of him I grew up with. I think we need that level of honesty in everything we discuss in the Church. I'll be interested to see how balanced and realistic Voices turns out to be. As for me and my house, we will continue to support Far/Between.

Neal said...

Fruhlings,

Very well said. Thanks for your comments.

j4k said...

I'm excited for the voices of hope. At the evergreen conference, one of the main points was learning from those who actually experience sga and that there are as many different paths to staying in the church with sga as there are people who do it.

What i loved about the Voices of hope book, was i could read many stories and pick what was good for me from them. I found little nuggets everywhere.

I expect the Voices of Hope videos will be similar.

Ty Ray said...

Neal, I'm just now seeing this post and hope you don't mind me jumping in on the discussion.

I don't at all see these projects as "dueling." Kendall's project has a very specific agenda--to try to tell as much of the "what it means to be homosexual and Mormon" story, across the spectrum, by sharing the stories of those who have lived it. That is how he chose to frame the parameters of his project, and I'm very much in favor of his desire to build empathy for men and women wherever they may be. I support that agenda and I see it as a good and worthy project, which is why I agreed to participate.

My biggest disappointment with the project is that I don't believe it covers as much of the spectrum on the "faith in and adherence to the Church" side as I would have liked. I don't believe the proportion of stories of those who have stayed with the faith is nearly as proportional in his sample as I believe it really is. That disappointment notwithstanding, that was not the sole impetus for the Voices of Hope project.

Discussion of the Voices of Hope project didn't begin until after the LDS Living article Danielle and I wrote and the flood of feedback I received from folks who have similarly chosen to stay with the faith. The response was overwhelming. I think I received more feedback from that one article than I did from both books combined. And because of the venue, it reached a different audience. Most of these folks were not aware of me or of North Star or any of the "support" resources that are out there. Most weren't looking for support resources because they're happy and doing well in their lives. Most I've talked to were not aware of Kendall's documentary so they would not have shown up on the radar as a prospective candidate.

The conversation around this issue, and the proportional representation of who has chosen what paths, has been so skewed for so long that even with Kendall's interviews, people continue to think stories like yours and mine are incredibly rare, and I've come to believe that they simply are not. The parameters and agenda of the Voices of Hope is qualitatively different than Far Between, and I don't believe they are mutually exclusive or competitive. I continue to support Kendall's efforts, and I feel strongly about the purpose and goals of the Voices of Hope project. Our focus is solely on telling those stories of folks who have chosen to stay in the Church, and to feature the sheer volume of them, and the diversity of them. 1,000 may sounds like overkill to you, and perhaps it will be, but I hope to, via the sheer volume, change the culture of perception that they are so incredibly rare.

Our goal isn't simply to tell stories, however, even though that is all people will be sharing. Our goal is to share the diversity of stories and possibilities of those consistent with the faith in the hope of inspiring others who may be questioning which way they want to go. I've talked to a number of folks who have watched the videos Kendall has put out only to conclude that leaving the Church and/or finding a gay/lesbian partner are inevitable. The rare exceptions of the handful of folks are bound to fail at some point. Voices of Hope will show that those stories aren't rare at all, and that peace and hope in adherence to the faith is not just possible, but hopeful.

Neal said...

Ty,

Thanks for your thoughts. I do see the documentaries 'dueling', especially for our dollars.

I understand the desire and need to share positive stories, but as I've mentioned, I think that leaves a lot of the story untold.

We seem to wind up with two MoHo 'camps' - those who 'leave' and those who 'stay'. 'SSA' and 'GAY'. 'Faithful' or 'Apostate'. US vs THEM. Both criticize and marginalize each other, and neither comes together for the good of all. I see efforts by Mitch Mayne and others who are really going into the community and reaching out to people - reactivating, discussing, ministering - it is very impressive. Much more hands on and 'down in the streets' than anything I see at N*. I see N* having a much more organized and polished on-line presence. I would like to have seen the efforts and the 'camps' come together for once. I think perhaps North Star missed an opportunity to rally folks around the Far/Between effort? I certainly never saw a push come from the top.

Also, I don't think the 'in your face' approach of 1000 videos is at all what I would have done, but its not my project.

I'll be interested to see what comes out of both efforts.

Ty Ray said...

Neal, I can appreciate what you are saying but no person or group can do it all. My belief is that we each have our mission and our focus and there is room for all of us to do the work that God has for us. We each have our gifts and we each have our offering. North Star has a very specific mission and purpose and it is not to do what Mitch Mayne is doing (at least organizationally--I'd be happy if members were doing it individually), and Mitch Mayne or Kendall Wilcox/Far Between will never be able to do what North Star is doing. That's not to say that one is right or wrong or better or whatever. They each serve a unique purpose. I'm not competing for your dollars. If you feel strongly about Far Between, you should donate to that project. There are others who feel strongly about Voices of Hope and have and will donate to us. None of us can be all things to all people so I'm happy to have each of us focus our energies where God would use us. And Neal, please, the approach of Voices of Hope is NOT to be one of "in your face." It IS, however, to tell help tell the stories that no one else is telling and to texture the conversation in ways that Far Between has not done.

Again, there is room for both projects. There is room for more. There are many ways to frame this conversation--Far Between's approach is only one; it's not THE one or even the BEST one. Voices of Hope is only one; it's not THE one or even the BEST one. There's another group doing a similar project telling the stories of those who feel like they've changed their sexual orientation. They currently have 50 videos are are doing more. That's a question I don't particularly care about, but I'm happy to see another group adding to the conversation that way. There's yet another group doing a video project with people who have simply chosen paths consistent with a personal faith that proscribes homosexual relationships, and regardless of whether orientation has changed.

The only way the full, textured truth will ever come out about this issue is for as many people to enter the conversation, adding their unique insight and experience, as possible. Kendall has something unique to offer and I'm glad he's doing it; and I have something unique to offer and I'm glad I'm more than happy to do it.

Neal said...

Ty,

I appreciate your poitnt of view, but I think this thread is quickly getting out of hand (which is my fault, really).

I posted links to both documentaries and asked readers to respond to three simple questions. I did not intend to have the creators of those documentaries post explanations of their efforts here, or even imagine you would be interested in doing so. But you and Kendall each have your own venue to do that. I'm simply asking for social commentary on my blog - I want to hear what the commnuity thinks of F/B and Voices, not necessarily what the film makers think. And I want the conversation to get back on track.

In the spirit of fairness, I've asked Kendall if he would like to make a post. After that, I will not entertain posts that come from the film makers themselves. Nothing personal, I assure you.

Neal said...

Kendall's text to me:

...My goal is always to try and help improve the quality and outcome of the conversations about homosexuality in Mormonism by helping to tell more and better stories of what it means to be both. I genuinely believe that all boats rise with the tide so the more stories that are told, the better. And if we're not willing to tell our own stories, someone else may end up wallpapering another story over ours. So let's all tell our stories and respect others' as we do it.

Trev said...

I like that picture of the dueling cats. Where's it from?

Neal said...

Not sure of its origin. I find all my pics on the web just by Googleing.