Friday, June 7, 2013

Mormons, Sex, and Violence

Last night I was with my Mormon friends at an informal discussion group – one of our other friends was talking to us about theater in NYC and recommending shows, etc.  One of my friends lightheartedly mentioned an experimental show where there was a red velvet cake representing someone’s dead bloody body and people started eating it.  I exclaimed my disgust.   One thing about me – I can never hide my emotions. 

Everyone laughed at me and another friend mentioned a show she had seen where someone smashed a pumpkin that was supposed to represent a human head.  “I can’t handle it!” I cried and covered my ears.  Again, everyone laughed. 

People think I’m just overreacting or being funny, but I really cannot handle such gross depictions of violence to the human body, even allegorical. 

Then they started discussing the immersive theatre piece “Sleep No More.”  The girl who led the discussion intoned in a very serious voice, “I have to warn you, there is eroticism and sexual connotations.”  Another of my friends, who’d seen the show, agreed that there was nudity, but she didn’t feel the scenes she saw were particularly erotic (since the show is interactive, each person can see a different show, depending on which character they follow, which rooms they end up in, etc.).  They both thought the show was excellent but emphasized that one should be prepared for the sexual inferences.

I remember reading about “Sleep No More” when it first came out a couple years ago and was instantly intrigued.  I still need to see it, but what will be uncomfortable for me will be the violence, not the sex.   This theatre discussion only reinforced to me how different I am from my dear Mormon friends.  I was dismayed, as I usually get, at hearing my Mormon friends exercise caution in all matters sexual but think nothing of violence.

My friends know I can’t handle violence.  When we watch movies, they always tell me when I need to cover my eyes and (sometimes ears).  But when we’re choosing movies, if there is too much hint of anything sexual, someone will invariably voice concern.  But I feel like I am the only one who protests at violence. 

I will never understand the Mormon culture’s over-concern with sex and under-concern with violence (I specify culture because our doctrine is pretty clearly against violence).  Even my roommate has often complained that guys in New York are worse than guys in California because they’ll cheat on their women (I could never tell her the full story about my beloved married Robert Hannibal), and guys in Cali are faithful, but they all have guns.  I didn’t press her on this because I didn’t want to get in an argument with her, but I’m so tired of this kind of thinking. 

At this theatre discussion, I remembered a meeting with my bishop this past December.  He was trying to understand how I can have a testimony of the LDS church but not a testimony of the law of chastity. He asked what I thought about the human body and the sacred creation that it is and the sacred respect that we should give the body.  I told him I have so much respect for the human body that it upsets me to watch any kind of violence and I don't even like watching fights because I can't handle bodies getting hurt. He seemed surprised and said it was commendable that I feel that way.  But he said he wants me to work on getting a testimony of the law of chastity.


I’m still trying.  But I would like all Mormons to get a testimony of the beauty and sacredness of the human body in the full sense, not in their limited sex-outside-of marriage-is-bad sense. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Frank Discussions of Sexuality in a Bedouin Shop in Jerusalem – written March 21, 2011


This Saturday morning after “Abdul” took me to breakfast, he brought me to a Bedouin shop that his brother co-managed.  His brother, “Mahmoud,” spoke nearly perfect English. Mahmoud told me Abdul had told him I was Mormon and a journalism student.  I told Mahmoud I was writing about nonviolent resistance and asked if I could talk with him about that.  He told me, “I am against fighting and against danger, except in bed.”

So I knew this wouldn’t be an ordinary interview.  Initially I tried to steer the conversation to my story topic, but he kept asking me questions, wanting to know about me, especially my being Mormon.  He told me he had worked at the BYU Jerusalem Center twelve years ago, and even dated a Mormon girl for 18 months.

He asked about my dating life, and at first I only told him about “New,” the Indian from New Jersey I met at my swing party job, as that seemed the most normal of my dating (though of course none of my dating is normal).  Somehow he deduced that I was not a typical Mormon girl and had mostly dated non-Mormons and had had sex outside of marriage.  “So you’re a bad Mormon,” he said. 

I was a little taken aback, because even though I may not follow all the commandments, I still have a very strong testimony of the Gospel and eventually I do plan on being completely faithful.  Why would I have signed a contract otherwise stating that eventually I will be fully committed to the Lord? 

However, as soon as I protested, he responded, “You break the rules, you’re a bad Mormon. It’s okay, my ex-girlfriend was a bad Mormon too, back then.”

Mahmoud calling me a “bad Mormon” released the secrets of my shadow life, and I spoke very frankly with him.  I explained that even though I believe the LDS Church is true, I don’t understand the law of chastity, so I don’t keep it, though I plan to in the future. 

I also told him that all my life I thought I was a lesbian and was only attracted to women.  I told him this is why prostitution is easy for me because I could never imagine any woman wanting to have sex with a man unless she gets paid for it.  I explained that I felt this way until I met Robert Hannibal, whom I met at my prostitution-like job, where I’m paid to have sex with the men who attend the swing party. 

I even admitted that a couple years ago I was going to marry a Filipino guy just to get him to the States and to make me seem a somewhat normal Mormon by being married, since I’m an unmarried woman and that makes me not a normal Mormon.  I told him how “Dan” and I had an agreement that if we got married, it would only be for a year, and I told Mahmoud that most of the time Dan and I did not have sex alone but rather in group settings.  Love of orgies and women – that’s all Dan and I had in common.


I told Mahmoud I never enjoyed sex alone with a man before and always wanted women there to make it enjoyable for me, and that was why I liked orgies.  I told him Robert Hannibal was the first man I ever enjoyed sex alone with, the first man I ever was attracted to, the first man I ever loved, the first man I ever made love to.

Mahmoud laughed and said that’s because I’d dated an Indian and a Filipino, and he said “they’re not real men.”  He asked if I’d ever been with an Arab, and I said I had been with Arabs and they meant nothing to me, same as with every other man.  I told him that through my job in college and my current job, in addition to my limited dating, I’ve been with hundreds of guys, that I’ve been with every single race, actually, and many different nationalities: black, white, Asian, Latin American, Iranian, Arab, Kurdish, Dominican, etc.  Though I told him I wasn’t sure if I’d been with a Pacific Islander. 

He asked what race Robert Hannibal is, and when I said he was from Jamaica, Mahmoud said that he’d heard black men are good in bed. I told him I’d been with many black men and none of them were any good; only Robert Hannibal is good.  And I don’t consider Robert Hannibal black.  Or any race.  Robert Hannibal is in his own category. 

Mahmoud asked what I like about sex with Robert Hannibal and I said I didn’t know how to explain it but I love sex with him so much.  I love him so much I want to be as close as possible to him and the closest way is through sex.  But during sex with every other guy I don’t feel anything (unless it hurts). 

He asked if I ever orgasmed with Robert Hannibal and I told him I’d never orgasmed with any guy, only with women, but with Robert Hannibal I loved being with him so much that I didn’t need to orgasm.  I feel so wonderful having sex with him.  It’s the best feeling in the world, but it’s not an orgasm, it’s something else entirely.

He asked if Robert Hannibal had gone down on me, and I said yes, a few times, but I prefer to have him inside me because we’re closer that way.  He asked how I feel when guys go down on me and I said, “again, nothing.”  He asked what about when I go down on guys and I said I have done that, but I don’t like it. 

I said, “In my job now, I don’t do anything – I don’t give hand-jobs or blow-jobs – I just have sex. I just receive, but I’ll receive any kind of sex – vaginal, oral, anal – it doesn’t matter.”

“I figured you out – you don’t want to do any work,” Mahmoud said.  “You’re lazy.”

“You’re right,” I said.  “And why should I work when I don’t need to?  I don’t need to do anything at all, and they have a good time and they cum.  So why should I do any work? I don’t need to and I don’t want to.”

He said he would take me to the King David Hotel.  “I’ll treat you like a princess.  I’ll do everything.  You just lay there.  You don’t need to do anything.”

“No. Journalists can’t do anything sexual with their sources – that’s unethical.”

“Don’t quote me in your article and I’m not a source.”

“Regardless, I’m not gonna do anything with you, or with anyone, while I’m here,” I said.  “I’m here for a school trip.  That’s all.” 

I didn’t want to tell him that I only have sex for money because I was worried he may offer payment.  I didn’t want that temptation.  Besides, even though it was clear from our first moment of conversation that he was not going to be one of my sources for my story, I still considered him a source in the general sense of helping me get acquainted with Arab life in Jerusalem.

He asked if I wanted to marry Robert Hannibal, and I told him Robert Hannibal was already married.  But I told Mahmoud I wanted to keep seeing Robert Hannibal even though I knew there was no future with him because this was my first time to like a guy, to love a guy, and I wanted to experience that.  I’d only known what it was like to be a lesbian and I wanted to experience actually loving a man. 

I said I was still mostly a lesbian because so far Robert Hannibal was the only guy I liked, but I liked him more than any of the women I’d dated, even the ones I was currently dating (as far as women, I’m really only seeing “Cinnamon” and “Desire” from my job).  I said I hoped I could love another guy sometime in the future, and I didn’t want to live a lesbian life anymore like I used to when I was younger.

He told me of his friend who was a lesbian, and she didn’t want children (he seemed to think that all lesbians wanted to be childless).  “It’s a good thing you’re not a lesbian anymore because children make everything worthwhile.  If you don’t have children, what are you?  What have you done in this life?  You’ve done nothing.  Children are everything and you could be the richest and most powerful leader in the world but if you have no children, you are nothing.” 

“I completely agree,” and I tried to explain that even when I was living primarily a lesbian life and not seeing any men, I still wanted children in my future, but he kept going on.  He was saying how he felt sorry for his lesbian friend and he was glad I was realizing how important it was to have kids before it was too late.  “Children are your only legacy,” he said. “You are nothing without them.  Life has no meaning without them.”

I loved seeing how passionate Mahmoud became discussing children. I didn’t ask if he had any.  Come to think of it, I didn’t even ask if he was married.  I didn’t even ask Abdul if he was married, though I don’t think so, since he took a photo of me and him together on his phone, and if he was married, his wife would likely see the photo (the photo was simply me and Abdul standing next to each other, but still, if he was married, I’m sure his wife wouldn’t like it, so I’m certain he’s not married). 

We also discussed religion and politics in his beautiful shop. Religion, politics, and sexuality are my three favorite topics to discuss, but they can also be the most divisive.  So I love meeting people who can discuss these subjects with me, and I really enjoyed talking with Mahmoud. 

He introduced me to one of his business partners or co-workers, who asked if I was “a believer.”  I said yes, and he smiled.  I love the connection that believers have.  We may have different ideas of God and the purpose of this life, etc. but the fact that we believe in God provides an immediate bond. 

(I remembered how the night before, when I met Abdul, I met another Muslim shopkeeper also on Salaheddin Street who spoke very good English.  We talked about God and when I told him I was Mormon, he told me about the BYU Jerusalem Center and he said he was impressed with how nice the students there were.  We had a great little conversation – I love talking about religion and spirituality with people.  And then I met Abdul, but I wish I would have gotten the other shopkeeper’s contact information.  He told me he sells pictures near the Garden Tomb, but I didn’t have a chance to see him again before our class left Israel.)

I took pictures of Mahmoud’s beautiful shop inside and outside – my horrible photography skills were helped by the beautiful antiques and fabrics in the shop and the effect nightfall had on the shop outside.  I met more of Mahmoud’s co-workers and spoke a little with them, and despite the language barriers, everyone was just so kind to me. 

Mahmoud took me driving a little bit to see the city and we passed by the King David Hotel a few times – each time Mahmoud said, “Do you want to be a princess? You don’t have to do anything at all.”  Each time I said no. 

What men don’t understand is I get no pleasure out of having things done to me if I am not attracted to the person doing them to me – man or woman (though women do have a better touch).  If I’m not attracted, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done to me to give me pleasure.  Therefore, it is a waste of my time - even if I am just laying there - unless I am being paid. 

But I didn’t want to keep reminding him that I’m a lesbian except for Robert Hannibal.  So each time he made the suggestion, I just said “No.”  He’s very nice and fun to talk with, but also persistent. But I’m glad I met him.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Talking with Arabs in Jerusalem/ Book of Mormon analogy? – written March 21, 2011


Our class just got back into the city today, and I am exhausted.  Israel is beautiful, and we all wish we could have stayed longer.  It was an amazing trip, with so much packed into such a short timeframe.

We each have to write a major feature story, and I’m writing about non-violent resistance.  Not about whether it’s good, bad, needed, or even helpful, but simply about how it’s being done and who’s doing it. [A reporter] from the Global Post had suggested to our class that someone write on that topic, so I decided to. 

I wanted a variety of perspectives, and had already spoken with some Israeli Jews and some Palestinian Christians and Muslims.  Since we had free reporting time in Jerusalem this past Friday evening and Saturday during the day, I figured it would be a good time to interview Arabs, as most Jews would be observing Shabbat.

Friday night I walked along Salaheddin Street in East Jerusalem, where there were many Arab shopkeepers.  I met “Abdul,” who spoke a little English and when I told him what I was writing about, he took me driving with a few of his friends.  They took me to Sheikh Jarrah, where I had been last Friday for the protest, and showed me houses they said were “Arab houses, taken by Jews.” 

As a journalist, I have to get each side’s perspective honestly and accurately, and of course, verify what people say, and still do my own research.  But my story isn’t going to discuss who is right or wrong (or half-right or half-wrong), but how is non-violent protest carried out, etc.

But more than trying to help me with my story, my new Arab friends told me that they wanted me to have fun here, my last Friday night in Jerusalem. They took me up to Mount Scopus to see the view of the city at night.  They showed me the BYU Jerusalem Center, since I told them I was Mormon.

Abdul and his friends kept asking me if I wanted to drink, and I would tell them no.  Since I’m Mormon, they asked if that’s why I don’t drink, and they said they are Muslim, but they still drink! But I told them I’ve never had any interest in drinking regardless of my religion.  They never pressured me to drink, but they said they didn’t want to be rude and drink in front of me, but I said it was fine, as long as the guy driving didn’t drink too much.

They wanted me to get the experience of Arabs in Israel, so they offered to show me around more neighborhoods, and they took me to get falafel sandwich. They wanted to pay for it and I thanked them but said that in journalism, I couldn’t accept free meals.  They said they would be offended if I didn’t accept it. I again said I wanted to be ethical, but they said they would be deeply offended, and so I accepted the falafel. 

This reminded me of last summer in 2010 when I was getting acquainted with my class reporting beat, and met the Arab owners of a grocery store in a predominantly black and Jewish neighborhood.  The owners wanted to give me bottled water and make me a sandwich from their deli, and at first I thanked them but declined, then I finally accepted. I am aware of how hospitable are those in Arab lands, but I didn’t want to be unethical as a journalist. Each situation you have to just weigh.  The grocery store owners were such gracious hosts, as were my new Arab friends in East Jerusalem.

After we ate, Abdul and his friends took me to a hookah bar.  I was the only female in the entire place, but no one appeared bothered that I was there.  My friends sat and played cards and smoked hookah, offering me some, though I declined.  But I had fun just being around them.  The owners of the hookah bar were very respectful, allowing me to use their own restroom (there were living quarters behind the customer area) instead of the customer restroom, since there was only one public restroom and all the customers were men.

The next morning Abdul took me to breakfast with one of his friends, and again I accepted breakfast after first refusing it.  This friend, “Ahmad,” spoke very good English, so I was able to have more of a conversation with him.  My conversations Friday night were limited with almost everyone I met, and indeed with Abdul, who was introducing me to everyone, because their English wasn’t strong and my Arabic is non-existent, unfortunately. 

Nearly all the Arabs I spoke with were Israeli citizens, most of whom had Jordanian passports, but they told me they identified as Palestinian.  Ahmad said flatly, “Palestinian in everything.”

I have studied but still don’t fully understand all of the dynamics, all the histories, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know each side has its own narrative, and facts on the ground can get emphasized or diminished, depending on the objective.

However, in the simple part of my mind, I think that Arabs and Jews should most definitely be friends.  Not least because Abraham is their common ancestor, through Ishmael for the Arabs and Isaac for the Jews.  Though perhaps the close ties and diverging paths engender more enmity. 

Whenever I think of Jews and Arabs, I’m reminded of the people in The Book of Mormon - the Nephites and the Lamanites.  Brothers Nephi and Laman, sons of Lehi, an Israelite.  They all emigrated from Jerusalem to “the promised land” – in the Americas.  Laman and his brother Lemuel resented Nephi, who was the good boy, and tried to kill him.  After their father died, Laman and Lemuel drove Nephi and their other brother Sam and their families out of “the land of their first inheritance.”

Thus the “Nephites” and “Lamanites” separated, and their descendants hated each other. Told from the Nephite perspective (and it would be interesting to read the Lamanite side), the Book of Mormon characters talk of the Lamanites believing the traditions of their fathers - that the Nephites hate the Lamanites, and so the Lamanites want to destroy the Nephites.  After hundreds of years, the Lamanites killed off all the Nephites (except Moroni, who wrote the final pages of the Book of Mormon). 

I don’t suggest that The Book of Mormon is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – it’s not.  For one thing, Nephi and Laman shared the same mother, but there are many more differences beyond that. And I’m not saying that one side represents the Jews and the other the Palestinians, or Arabs in general. But the similarity that always strikes me is that both sides, descendants of the same father, thought the other hated them. 

Ahmad told me Saturday morning that “if you invite a Jewish person for coffee here, he would not come in.”  Is that really true, or is that what they’ve been taught to think?

In another conversation with Ahmad, he said that if Israel ended the occupation and there were two states, “Israel would be more happy.” Now, I know it’s not as simple as that, as there are many issues regarding borders, etc., and I want Israel to be secure, but if all of that could be agreed upon, I think Ahmad is right.

Just as it’s better for each person to be on friendly terms with his neighbor, and each of us has to compromise as we navigate this social world, the same goes for nations.  It’s in everyone’s interest and in every nation’s interest for all nations and people to be stable, secure, happy. Both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people need to compromise, and it’s in their own best interests to do so.   

Plus, in my own experience, I’ve found that the more I get to know someone, the more I care for them.  Yes, as we know people better we expose our deficiencies in a greater manner and we better know others’ quirks.  But this vulnerability also allows us to humanize each other.  To really want the best for each other.

I think most people are basically good, if flawed, people.  Last week on our trip a member of Hamas spoke to our class.  In his talk to us, he said he didn’t believe in killing innocent people, but reiterated the need for Palestinians to defend themselves from their enemy Israel.  As one who remembers reading with horror about suicide bombings during the Second Intifada, which truly haunted and angers me, to this day, even, I knew as a journalist I still needed to listen to all sides, even though I will never condone anyone encouraging someone to be a suicide bomber and kill innocent civilians.
 

I had a very good, rational, enjoyable conversation with him after his speech, and I got his contact information so I could meet with him for lunch next time I’m in Israel.  I recalled how, minutes earlier in his speech to our class, he had tried to deflect a question from one of my classmates about whether he thought the Holocaust happened or not, and finally admitted that he thought it did happen, but he didn’t know if 600 people or 6 million people were killed.  Somehow it seemed that it was preferable for him to ignore facts in order to keep his ideology strong.  

Everyone on this trip has been a joy for me to speak with.  We met rabbis, Palestinian priests and nuns, Muslim Sheikhs, a Qadi (Sharia law judge – Israel has Sharia courts for Muslims) in Jerusalem, many everyday citizens in Israel, Jewish and Arab, many people in the West Bank, and a Palestinian Christian non-profit leader who is probably the most compassionate man I’ve ever met in my entire life. 

I’m of many minds.  But I am not na├»ve and I know some people hate others simply because of their race or nationality or religion.  I know some countries hate other countries.  And I know fault is not equal in all situations – there are often truly aggressors and victims, and sometimes they switch places.

I don’t have any answers but I can honestly say I generally like most people (some people annoy me, and some people I like more than others!).  But even people I don’t like as much I don’t want bad things to happen to them.  I really want the best for everyone.  That includes me.


How does this end?  I don’t know, but I know how I don’t want it to.