book reviews, homosexuality, religion

Repost: My review of The Cross in the Closet, by Timothy Kurek…

I posted this review on my original blog on March 25, 2014. It appears here as/is.

Today’s review is about Timothy Kurek’s 2012 book, The Cross in the Closet.  I don’t remember why I downloaded this book.  I think I heard about it somewhere and decided it sounded interesting.  Right now, it’s selling for about $5 on Amazon, so that might have also had something to do with my decision to buy.  I read Kurek’s book in a matter of hours…  and when I was finished with it, I was kind of reminded of this video.

This video is definitely NSFW, but it’s funny… 

The Cross in the Closet is the true story of how Timothy Kurek, like several authors before him, decided to fake something in order to develop empathy.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America, faked being poor and uneducated so she could write about what it’s like to be poor and having to work at minimum wage jobs to get by.  I read her book in the early 2000s and enjoyed it the first time I read it.  Then I read it again and it kind of pissed me off.  Ehrenreich wasn’t really poor and knew there was an end to when she’d have to fake being poor.  She had an escape from poverty– there was a light at the end of the tunnel that she could use to bolster herself when things got really hard.  That’s not to say that I don’t think she learned anything.  It’s just to say that her experience wasn’t all that authentic.

In a similar fashion, Timothy Kurek, who grew up near Nashville in a conservative Christian home and spent a year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, faked being gay for a year.  At the start of his book, Kurek writes about how Jerry Falwell had preached against homosexuality and how people who are gay or lesbian are living sinful lives.  When Kurek is confronted by a gay activist who calls him “brother”, he calls the man to repentance.  He is very sure of his position; that homosexuals are hopeless sinners who lead disgusting lives.  He treats them terribly.

After a year at Liberty, Kurek goes back to Tennessee because his parents split up.  He starts hanging around a karaoke bar in Nashville, where he becomes acquainted with some homosexuals.  One of his dear friends, a young woman he knew from church, comes out to him.  She is devastated because her parents have disowned her.  As Kurek awkwardly comforts his friend, he can’t find the right words to say.  He realizes that he’s been bigoted.  He starts to realize that homosexuals are people too.  Then, he decides he’s going to experiment.  He hatches his plan to come out as gay to his family and friends, even though he is straight.  He will spend a year on this charade, learning something about the homosexual community.

Kurek’s family seems to take his announcement with shock and dismay, but they still talk to him.  His pastor at church sends him a rather hateful missive about not condoning the sinful gay lifestyle.  Some of his friends quit talking to him.  Kurek goes to a gay bar and is immediately hit on, which makes him uncomfortable.  Fortunately, he has a gay friend from the karaoke bar who serves as his boyfriend during the year to keep him from being hit on by interested men.  The friend, whose name is Shawn, is black, handsome, and a very gifted singer… and he doesn’t have a problem playing “boyfriend” at first.

I was intrigued by Kurek, who claims to be a conservative Christian, but does things that I wouldn’t expect from a lifelong conservative evangelical Christian.  Though Kurek writes that he spent a lot of hours in church, he smokes clove cigarettes.  At the start of the book, he claims to have only tasted beer twice, but by the end, he’s very much a drinker.  He dances.  He also swears a lot for someone who is so apparently Christian.  All of these things go against what I’ve been taught about the evangelical Christian community and what they think is okay.     

As the year passes, Kurek finds himself becoming more involved and therefore more knowledgable about the LGBTQ world.  He makes many friends, works in a gay cafe where he learns how to make excellent lattes, and goes to a lot of karaoke bars.  He learns that many homosexuals are wonderful people and some are not so wonderful.  He makes some very dear friends, even as he fights his natural attraction to women.  He even discovers that homosexuals can love God when he stumbles across a transvestite singing “Awesome God” at a karaoke show.  In short, Kurek seems to learn that in the most important ways, homosexuals are really not so different than straight people are.  One thing I noticed from Kurek’s book is that the gay community he was briefly a part of seemed very tight knit and caring… not unlike some church communities.  Although knowing what I know about some churches, I bet the gay community’s caring was more genuine.  From what Kurek writes, most of the homosexuals he befriended during his gay year were still friends when he came clean.

Actually, Kurek’s description of the karaoke bars was interesting to me, since Bill and I once went to one in Key West, Florida.  I happen to love karaoke and they had a great show going.  We went; I sang; and the people there were really great.  We had a blast… though I would be lying if I said Bill wasn’t very uncomfortable at first.  He didn’t know how to behave.  Bill has an adopted “half-sister” who is a lesbian, though she’s 19 years younger than he is.  He doesn’t know her as well as he’d like to, but through Facebook we’ve discovered that she’s a truly wonderful person who is very involved in her community.  But despite having a lesbian sister, Bill hasn’t been exposed to members of the gay community nearly as much as I have and really felt out of his element in a gay bar.  For that reason, I could empathize with Kurek’s first experiences visiting establishments that cater to the homosexual community.

Kurek’s year of being “gay” was difficult, though his experience being “gay” definitely wasn’t as difficult as it was for most of the new friends he made.  Again, Kurek knew his condition was temporary and could count down the months before he could be straight again.  His family and friends were by and large decent about it… until his brother and his wife found out halfway through the year that Kurek had lied about being gay.  It caused a huge rift that Kurek describes rather poignantly.  Kurek is close to his brother, so his brother’s anger was very painful for him.  Unrequited love on the part of Kurek’s “boyfriend” Shawn, seems to make Kurek’s experiment more difficult for Shawn.

I was surprised by how Kurek’s homosexual friends took the news when he told them he wasn’t actually gay.  They mostly seemed okay with his experiment.  I’m sure that to many of them, what Kurek did was pretty bold and maybe even kind of cool, especially since it led to Kurek being more empathetic.  However, I couldn’t help but realize that Kurek’s experience with being gay was not as authentic as it might have been.  In fact, it was a bit contrived and what he did is nothing new.  And I wondered if any of his new friends were offended by Kurek’s decision to be “fake and gay”.  He doesn’t mention any that I remember, though.

Kurek’s writing is basically okay, though there are some typos and misspelled words in his manuscript.  Kurek’s dialogue also sometimes feels a little scripted… like something I might hear on a soap opera.  He seems very young, too… which I believe he was when he wrote this book.  The youth seems to inject his writing with the kind of testosterone that makes young men single-minded and dogmatic about certain things.  The writing got a little preachy at times.  That being said, I thought The Cross in the Closet was basically an interesting book.  I would recommend it to anyone who thinks reading about Kurek’s experiment might interest them.  You could certainly read worse.

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homosexuality, movies

Repost: Review of the film Men In The Nude…

As long as I’m writing about foreign films, here’s a review I wrote for Epinions in 2011 about the 2006 Hungarian movie, Men in the Nude. If I recall correctly, when I posted this review on Facebook, I lost at least one Facebook friend.  Fortunately, he wasn’t actually a friend.  I guess the guy was offended by the words “homosexual experimentation”.  I should watch more foreign films.  They are interesting, even if I do have to read the subtitles.  By the way, this wasn’t a porn film. My review appears here “as/is”.

Writer’s block plus mid life crisis equals homosexual experimentation

I’m not quite sure how I ended up with the 2006 Hungarian art film Men in the Nude in my Netflix queue.  I think I might have added it because I watched a few interesting Romanian films last year and wondered if I’d like Hungarian cinema as much.  In any case, having had this DVD in my possession for the past couple of weeks, I finally sat down to watch it.  It’s entirely in Hungarian, so actually watching the film is a must to get the gist of what’s going on.  There are subtitles at the bottom of the screen. 

The story

The film starts off promising enough, with a shot of the iconic Budapest train station.  Having walked around there with my husband Bill, I immediately felt oriented.  Then, once the setting shifts to a Hungarian restaurant where our protagonist, Tibor (László Gálffi), is on the phone with his wife (Éva Kerekes), things are less familiar.

Tibor is a writer and has been on the road promoting his book.  He’s suffering from writer’s block and appears to be pretty bored with his life.  After ringing off his cell phone and paying the check at the restaurant, he goes to a large bookstore where his book is being sold.  He listens to a Schubert CD and gazes at a table filled with copies of his latest book.  Suddenly, he is confronted by a young, blond, charismatic looking man who asks him to inscribe a copy of the book.  After Tibor writes a dedication, the man goes to pay for the book, but “conveniently” has no money.  Tibor offers to pay for it as the young man runs out of the store, setting off alarms.  He has stolen the Schubert disc as “repayment” for Tibor’s generosity.

Tibor later learns that his admirer is a 19 year old male prostitute named Zsolt (Dávid Szabó).  Though Tibor is married to a woman and lives a straight life, he is drawn in by Zsolt’s charisma.  The two begin a relationship and suddenly Tibor is able to write again.  Tibor becomes alive through his fling with Zsolt, who excites him and inspires his creativity.  Things become complicated when his wife, a blonde, narcissistic, has-been actress discovers their affair. 

My thoughts

Initially, I was kind of interested in this film.  The story is certainly intriguing, especially for a straight, American woman like me who has little experience with films involving homosexual relationships.  I thought Dávid Szabó was very watchable and seductive in his portrayal of Zsolt.  I could see why Tibor, a man who had always considered himself heterosexual, would be lured by his charms.  Szabó seems to have mastered “come hither” looks.  He has a beautiful, androgynous look to him and expertly flirts with the camera and Tibor.

About halfway through the film, my attention began to wane.  I started to notice how cheesy the soundtrack was, aside from the classical pieces that were included.  I lost interest in the story.  The sex scenes were not as fascinating and I started wondering when the film was going to end, even though it runs for a respectably brief 90 minutes or so. 

Nudity

Though there is some nudity in this film, it’s mostly very tasteful.  I don’t remember seeing any full frontal nudity, though there are plenty of naked bum shots and at least one shot of a topless woman.  There are both heterosexual and homosexual sex scenes as well.  I looked up this film on Amazon.com and noticed that the suggestive sell efforts seemed to point toward gay skin flicks.  I would say this movie is more like an indie art film than a skin flick.  Don’t be fooled by the cover art on the DVD.  It’s definitely not pornography. 

Overall

I’m glad I watched this film because I like to broaden my experiences with foreign films.  Even a badly done foreign film can be more intriguing than a lot of American films.  That being said, this movie did not hold my attention like the Romanian films I watched last year that inspired me to broaden my movie repertoire.  I’m sure some viewers will get caught up in the story and get more out of Men in the Nude than I did.  For me, this film was just “eh”.

Men in the Nude is not rated.  It was directed and written by Károly Esztergályos.

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book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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homosexuality, lessons learned, music, religion

Musical object lessons…

This morning, as I was waking up and checking out Facebook, I saw that someone in the Duggar Family News group had shared a few screenshots of Jill Rodrigues and her family singing a song called “Come On Down to the Farm”. I had never heard of the song before, but the author of the post commented that it’s a song about how animals procreate, used as an object lesson as to why gay marriage and homosexuality, in general, ought to be forbidden. I was kind of struck by the photos of Jill and her brood. They were clearly happy, mouths agape as they played and sang the song with much gusto. Here are a few screenshots:

Since they seemed to be so enthusiastic about singing this number, I decided to look it up on YouTube. Below are the lyrics:

Charming lyrics, huh? I guess, based on this musical object lesson, marriage is ONLY about making babies.

If you’d rather hear a slightly more professional version of the musical object lesson, check out this video with Rick Wingerter performing it.

It’s a catchy tune. I warn you…

Music can be a very powerful and effective teacher. It can be a lot easier to listen to a lesson delivered in a well-crafted and played song, especially if there’s fun involved. I’m not sure if the Rodrigues kids enjoyed playing this number, although they seem to have been well-trained to follow their mom’s lead. One thing I did notice as Jill was playing is that she sort of casts her eyes sideways at her daughter playing the fiddle. It could be because of the lighting or camera angle, but to me, she actually looks like she’s shooting her a warning glare. And then, at about the 5:30 mark in the video, the smallest girl kicks the family dog, who no doubt was in pain listening to the very enthusiastic, high volume squawking. I think the Rodrigues family is marginally better at playing instruments than singing.

As for the “musical object lesson” they’re teaching, I have a couple of observations. Now, I’ve actually spent a lot of time in barns and on farms. I’ve seen all kinds of interesting sexual behavior involving animals. I’ve seen geldings mount mares, even though they’ve been castrated and shouldn’t be interested in sex. I’ve seen male and female dogs humping each other or dogs that are the same sex as they are, mainly to establish dominance, even if they don’t have sex parts. And since animals lack a concept of marriage, and a lot of them are going to eventually be slaughtered and eaten, anyway, I’m not sure I would take object lessons from observing them on a farm. In any case, I don’t think I would take a lesson from farm animals about human sexuality. Animals aren’t capable of the same level of thinking that humans are… or, at least most humans. I’m kind of having my doubts about Jill Rodrigues.

I wonder what she thinks about people who are infertile? Should they not get married because they aren’t capable of making babies? Is marriage really only about having and raising children? And if people can’t have children, do they serve a purpose, in her view? She’s probably never thought about it… but then, she doesn’t seem to respect that not everyone believes in God, or even just her interpretation of God. In her simple world view, everyone on Earth should be following the Bible according to white Christians from the United States. Forget about any other religious books or traditions. Forget about other cultures and mores. We should just believe in the Christianity Jill and her ilk do. Seems very boring and limited to me. No thanks.

Lately, I’ve noticed I’ve been getting a lot of hits on my posts about Jill’s daughter, Nurie. Nurie, you may recall, is Jill’s eldest daughter. She is married to Nathan Keller, who is Anna Keller Duggar’s brother. That means Josh Duggar is Nurie’s brother-in-law. I remember that Jill Rodrigues was very excited that Nurie was marrying a Keller, and it seemed to be because that meant her family would have a link with the Duggars. I wonder how she feels about that now. I think Jill should sing a song about the evils of child pornography. That would be a more effective musical object lesson than a song about how “wrong” she thinks gay marriage and liberal views are. Moreover, as “unnatural” as Jill thinks homosexuality is, I would submit that viewing child pornography is even more so. Why isn’t she singing a song about her daughter’s brother-in-law’s perversions? If she did that, then I might be more impressed.

Nurie, by the way, is currently pregnant, and is due in the fall sometime. Her unborn baby is going to be a cousin to the Josh Duggar clan. I know this because Jill posted a video about it, probably a few minutes after Nurie conceived. And while I don’t follow her myself, Jill Rodrigues gets a lot of traffic in the Duggar Family News group. That’s really the only reason I know anything about her or her family.

Anyway… I think Jill is wrong about homosexuality and homosexuals. Having read so many tragic stories on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard about people who have been affected by homosexuals trying to live like heterosexuals, I can’t agree that people should simply pair up with someone of the opposite sex if they aren’t attracted. For most people, marriage is difficult, particularly if there are children involved. I know there are a lot of people who have been taught by their religious customs that they must live a “straight” life, even if they aren’t straight. So they suppress those natural feelings they have, marry someone who doesn’t share their sexual orientation, and proceed to have a marriage that isn’t as loving as it could be.

Some people do marry for practical and business reasons, and I have no issue with that as long as both parties are aware and agree. But I also know that sometimes homosexuals marry heterosexuals because they’re afraid of offending God; they want a family; or they can’t face disappointing their families and the fallout that can come from that. They go through the motions of the marriage. Maybe they’ll be strong enough not to cheat, but they’ll never be truly satisfied. And the spouse might be wondering the whole time what he or she did “wrong”, when the spouse just isn’t that into them.

Some time ago, I wrote a post about Lois Smart. Lois Smart, you might know, is Elizabeth Smart’s mother. She has six children with her ex husband, Ed Smart, who was very visible on television when Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her home at age 14. On the surface, they looked like a picture perfect family. But all along, Ed was hiding a secret. He’s gay. And in the Mormon faith, a woman needs to be sealed to a temple worthy man to take her “through the veil” and into the Celestial Kingdom after they’re both dead. Imagine how Lois felt when she found out her husband of many years, the father of her children, was gay, and hiding that secret for so many years. As a believing Mormon, Lois is now left without a “temple worthy” husband.

While I personally don’t agree with Mormonism or its tenets, I can see how this revelation would be hard for Lois Smart. Because she presumably married her husband thinking they would be together forever. Now that Ed has come out, that dream may be dead. Now, Lois Smart could presumably remarry. She might find a temple worthy LDS man who will marry her and, with her connections, I have no doubt she could get a temple divorce without too much issue. Lois Smart is probably considered Mormon royalty of sorts. But her situation is just one of many facing religious people who don’t believe that people should be with those who interest and attract them.

I think it’s time that religious people evolved. Life is difficult enough as it is. People who are capable of consenting should be allowed to choose the right partner for themselves… or they should be free to choose NO partner, if that’s what makes them happy. Jill Rodrigues and her ilk should focus on their own lives and do away with the musical object lessons that do more harm than good… not to mention hurt the ears of anyone with an appreciation for music. One tip I would pass on to her is that singing and playing louder doesn’t equate to singing and playing better.

Moving on to the next musical object lesson.

This next bit is going to be shorter and a lot vaguer, mainly because I can’t get into specifics at this point in time. But this subject does kind of have to do with musical object lessons and getting meaning from songs. It’s particularly relevant in this situation, because object lessons in the forms of music and/or children’s literature are favorite props used by the people I vaguely allude to in this cryptic passage. Bear with me.

Over breakfast this morning, Bill and I were talking about a major decision he recently made that could possibly rock some worlds. At some point in the following weeks, things could get somewhat dramatic. On the other hand, it’s also possible that they won’t. We’re now at the stage at which we’re watching, waiting, and speculating about what could be coming in the very near future. It’s kind of like dropping a lit match in a forest. What happens next? Will the match quickly burn out and do no harm? Or will there be a raging and destructive forest fire? Time will tell. Either way, changes have already begun.

As we were talking, the song “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police popped into my head. Here’s a video and the lyrics:

This song is brilliant… it’s loaded with symbolism and subtle, yet eloquent messages.

Lyrics:

You consider me the young apprentice
Caught between the Scylla and Charibdes
Hypnotized by you if I should linger
Staring at the ring around your finger

I have only come here seeking knowledge
Things they would not teach me of in college
I can see the destiny you sold turned into a shining band of gold

I’ll be wrapped around your finger
I’ll be wrapped around your finger

Mephistopheles is not your name
I know what you’re up to just the same
I will listen hard to your tuition
You will see it come to its fruition

I’ll be wrapped around your finger
I’ll be wrapped around your finger

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you’ll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
When you’ll find your servant is your master

You’ll be wrapped around my finger
You’ll be wrapped around my finger
You’ll be wrapped around my finger

As Bill was talking about this big decision he made and his subsequent action, I was suddenly reminded of the bridge of “Wrapped Around Your Finger”:

Devil and the deep blue sea behind me
Vanish in the air you’ll never find me
I will turn your face to alabaster
When you’ll find your servant is your master

The decision that Bill made a few days ago is a very long time in coming. There was a time when he really wanted to take action, but felt he couldn’t. He was restrained by doubts, fears, and worrying about potential consequences. Even today, he’s a little worried about the chain of events he’d set into motion and the possible fallout. But then I reminded him that the things that held him back in the past no longer apply. He’s not very accessible anymore… he’s not as vulnerable as he used to be… and pretty soon, someone is likely going to find out that their former servant(s) are now about to “own” them.

Even if that lit match in the forest burns out with no apparent consequences, I know that the reality is, things have forever changed. The roles have switched. The dynamics are different. I picture a face turning to alabaster– pale and frozen– when the realization hits them that they have seen their “tuition come to fruition”, as Sting puts it. Or… perhaps in less elegant terms…

Someone is about to get served. Whether or not it will be “on”, remains to be seen.

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book reviews, homosexuality, LDS

Repost: A review of The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan

Here’s another reposted book review. This one was written October 18, 2017, and appears as/is.

After some concerted effort last night and an early bedtime, I finally managed to finish Corbin Brodie’s 2016 book, The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan.  I downloaded this book in 2016, less than a month after it was published.  I just got around to reading it this month.  Sorry to be so slow, but I have a whole stack of books to be read and I keep finding more.

Although I have read and reviewed quite a few exmo lit books, I had kind of gotten out of the habit.  I enjoy a good story about what it’s like to be Mormon, especially when the person is an ex Mormon.  There tends to be a lot less testimony sharing in books by the exmos.  Corbin Brodie (a pseudonym, as are all the names used in this book) is no longer LDS, but he did serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was a young lad.  In those days, missions for the guys started when they were nineteen years old; since 2012, the age limit has been set at eighteen.  I am not exactly sure when Brodie served in the Sapporo, Japan mission, but it must have been before 1991, since he makes references to the Soviet Union.

Corbin Brodie grew up in Canada.  He has a younger brother named Duncan and mentions his mother was a very faithful member of the LDS church.  Brodie and his brother were raised to be as faithful as their mother was.  Although I get the sense that Brodie wasn’t exactly TBM (true believing Mormon) from the get go, he agreed to served the expected mission.  His book mostly consists of journal entries he wrote during his time abroad and while he was at the Missionary Training Center.  It also includes a few short stories.  I gather that, like me, Brodie has an impulse to write.  I’m sure writing has saved his sanity more than a few times, especially when he was living in Japan.

By his own account, Brodie got off to a good start at the training center.  He was made a leader during his weeks in Provo, learning Japanese and the missionary lifestyle.  He adjusted to life as a missionary and went to Sapporo, where over the course of two years, he went through a series of different companions.  Brodie seemed to have an affinity for Japanese and picked it up early.  In his journal, he uses a number of Japanese words for church terms.  For example, he doesn’t call his companions “Elder” lastname, as Mormon missionaries call each other, Brodie calls them “Choro”, which I gather is the Japanese term.  He refers to other church officials and the mission home by their Japanese terms, too.  I’m pretty sure that the missionaries in non English speaking areas do use the local terms instead of Elder, Sister, or President.  Anyway, I kind of liked that he used those terms because I enjoy picking up foreign words, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy learning other languages.

At 19 years old, Brodie is now living in an environment where he is surrounded by guys his age, some of whom he finds attractive.  Given that he’s a Mormon, at his sexual peak, and serving as a missionary, being gay is, to say the least, a special challenge.  Although it’s not considered a sin to have “same sex attraction” (as the Mormons put it), it is considered sinful to act on that attraction.  So, I can only imagine that as difficult as being a missionary must have been, it must have been even more difficult to be a gay missionary.  Add in the fact that Brodie didn’t seem to enjoy Japan that much (he mentions not liking the food), and probably would not have had a whole lot of time to enjoy it even if he did, and you have two challenging years.

Brodie is musical and creative, but listening to music that isn’t church approved is forbidden.  Still, he manages to play the piano sometimes.  He seems to have some good experiences with Japanese locals, many of whom don’t want to be church members, but are okay with simply being friends.  He has some good companions who are friendly and some who are “hardasses” bucking for rank or simply people with whom he has nothing in common.  Through it all, though he serves faithfully, Brodie realizes that he doesn’t really believe in Mormonism.  It’s getting harder and harder for him to pretend to have a testimony.  Finally, during his second year, just four months before he’s scheduled to leave Japan, he has a crisis of sorts.  He makes it known that he wants to leave Japan.

Brodie’s leaders do all they can to convince Brodie to stay in country and finish his mission.  They tell him if he leaves early, he’ll be on the hook for the $2000 plane ticket.  Brodie realizes he’ll have to work a long time to be able to pay off that debt.  I actually had to laugh at this, not because it’s funny, but because essentially Brodie was kind of being “trafficked”.  It doesn’t sound that different than the women who are brought into foreign countries and forced to work off the price of their plane tickets.  Also, while I’m still not sure what years Brodie was serving, $2000 must have been an astronomical amount of money at that time.  It’s a lot now.

Brodie also considers his mother, a very faithful TBM who is in school earning her social work degree.  He doesn’t want to disappoint her or his brother, who has also put in his papers to go on a mission.  Eventually, he is convinced to stay and sent to the mission home to finish out his last four months.  The mission home is less onerous, except that Brodie chafes under the rules, including the one that doesn’t allow him to cross the street to buy a candy bar without a companion with him.

Brodie’s story ends rather abruptly.  There’s no neat wrap up at the end of his journals, although he does provide an interesting afterword.  He’s now living in the United Kingdom and has a son, although he is no longer romantically involved with his son’s mother (she’s a dear friend).  He’s still gay.  After he returned home from Japan, he took about three months to break it to his mother that he didn’t want to be LDS.  And his mother, to her great credit, eventually accepted it, although it was very hard for her.

Although I don’t remember if he mentioned it, I got the idea that Brodie’s mother must have been from Scotland.  He writes of going to Edinburgh before the mission and missing Scotland.  I can relate to how much he misses Scotland, since it’s one of my favorite places.  I also got the sense that even if Brodie hadn’t been homosexual, he would have left Mormonism.  It seemed to me that his intellect was too sharp to accept what the church teaches wholesale.  He couldn’t make 2+2=5, like some people can.

My one criticism about Brodie’s book is that it’s very long.  Although his writing is very good and engaging, it was tough going getting through this book, particularly with the inclusion of the short stories.  I realize that he basically published his journals as he wrote them, but personally, I think this book would have been stronger if it had been abridged somewhat.  The short stories were of good quality, but they kind of took away the flow of Brodie’s missionary story.  I love a good short story, but I don’t like to be distracted when I’m reading.  I felt the fiction pieces were somewhat a distraction.

I do think this book would be well-received by ex Mormons, especially male homosexuals who have served missions.  I think they will be especially able to relate to Brodie’s experiences.  I was happy to read that as hard as the mission was, it didn’t seem like the whole thing was a waste of time.  He did seem to come away from the experience with friends, some of whom I hope remained friends after he left the church.

Anyway, if I were going to assign a rating, I think I’d give The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan a solid four stars out of five.  It’s well worth reading if you’re interested.

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