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July 12, 2015

My humble response to all of you being subjected to "The Letter" ... #LIVEyourTRUTH #WeAreNotAlone

#EqualityForAll #Gay #Proud #lovewon #LoveWins #NOH8 #LoveIsLove #LGBT #liveyourtruth #gaymarriage #WeAreNotAlone #URNOTALONE

To date this blog has been for the sole purpose of posting art relevant content, highlighting mostly my work and words, but also providing other links as well to that many who are inspirational to me.

TODAY, this post is a very different kind of post.  I hope you bear with me as I share some very personal and intimate details and thoughts that I would typically not air publicly.  It has taken me a lifetime (45 years) to build the courage to speak out regarding these issues.  I hope they are received kindly.

Just over two weeks ago, The US Supreme Court ruled that it is legal for all Americans, no matter their gender or sexual orientation, to marry the people they love. The Nation and the world watched and then celebrated this historical and landmark decision.  Almost immediately thereafter the conservative backlash hit full force.  As part of the reaction against these decisions, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints too promoted their complete defiance and lack of support for this ruling.  Over the last 3 weeks, today included, they have been reading from the pulpit across all of North America and in every congregation a letter opposing the US Supreme Courts Decision so as to clarify their stance on gay marriage, which of course is a complete defiance of the human right to marry who you love.  Since I do not have a forum to challenge or promote my personal feelings regarding this matter .... I have decided to post my reaction to "the Letter" here in.  I do not intend to fight or debate scripture or doctrine as the Mormon culture prescribes to.  My intentions are simply to reach out to the many who under great sorrow continue to feel the weight and lack of support from their religion and church, the many who suffer as self-indentified gay members within the church lacking full benefits and rights if they live according to their identity, and ESPECIALLY to the many who are in denial or are hiding and protecting their sexuality and orientation under such extreme sentiments where coming out equates to everything from loss of community, family, as well as eternal salvation.

My name is Matthew Cherry. I am an artist, professor, and arts administrator living in Boston.  I was born and raised Mormon. I served a mission in Italy. I married my childhood friend since we were 14 years old in the temple. We raised a beautiful family with 5 children over 23 years; one who is married in the temple, one who went on a mission to Brazil, two who left the church for their own personal reasons, and one who is lesbian.  We are a strong family, a beautiful family and over recent events that tried all of us to our very cores have become an even stronger family filled with fierce love and understanding for one another.

Over two years ago and through extraordinary circumstances, my wife came out to us and decided it was important for her to live her truth. Under some duress but mostly devotion and in a display of support and solidarity, I also came out to her and my children, despite my ability to love and live quite happily married, I too was a gay man.  What rocked us all to our very core, threatened to tear asunder our platform of well-being, and nearly fractured us all apart has actually made us stronger as a family even though we have had to redefine what that family looks like. It is with this limited introduction that I now address you regarding "the letter."

I do not write to the crafters of “the letter” nor to the leaders who willfully and collectively signed their name to “the letter” as if it is the prophecy that will stand the test of time. We all know “the letters” have changed over the course of history and “prophecies” can be repositioned as “man’s interpretation.”  I am both doubtful and hopeful that this will be the case regarding this most recent letter.  But rather than addressing a group of people I know will not be persuaded or rather dissuaded from their stance, I choose to write to all the letter readers and those being read to.

I know that many, MANY in the congregations have suffered in silence due to the Mormon Church’s stance on homosexuality.  Until recently, the church refused to even call it by its name, seeking to bend language and definitions to fit a political and doctrinal stance.  I even know that many of you who will be reading these letters have also suffered in silence, projecting your hetero facades blanketed by temple marriages.  Still that does not make you less gay or lesbian.  Heaven only knows how many of you Bishops and Stake Presidents, Relief Society Presidents, as well as YM/YW Presidents, seminary teachers, let alone the myriads of missionaries actually suffering silent and hidden battles, bear such burdens.  But I KNOW you are many, and you are NOT alone. 

The wounds inflicted by such teachings, traditions and ignorance are sometimes harbored deep inside our own souls. We, ourselves, continue to self-punish with brutal thoughts that damage our self-esteem, and perpetuate the harm done to the point of degradation.  The Mormon Church has preached to a standard “ideal” trying to squeeze every single member/soul/individual into that version like a Mormon factory, instead of embracing the beauty of diversity that each of us have to offer individually.  Such conformity, due to doctrine regarding eternal damnation or exaltation, keep people from being who they are and living lives with full purpose and potential.  The truth is, it is counter to our progress to deny such beliefs that we are gay.  We cannot be better versions of ourselves when we deny who we are.

We are taught from childhood/primary that to be gay is wrong and, in fact, counter to nature; that if we follow our instincts, or predilections, or “truths” there will be eternal consequences and we will be without God and family in our future lives.  And so, instead of loving our selves, we are taught to deny our selves, condemn our selves, hate ourselves, and even loathe that very part of us which makes us so special and beautiful.  Denying we are gay is counter to loving ourselves.  Instead that “part” of us becomes something loathsome to be cut out and cast away, if not denied and scorned and starved to death. 

These teachings continue through YM/YW, where such rhetoric proliferates as boys and girls are being groomed for adulthood and temple marriage. Such is the nature of our church, everything revolving around procreation/sex/gender.  When these teachings are taught to such stifling standards, youth (like me) either lose the battle to suicide (Mormon gay suicide is among the highest rates of current  demographics), or they conform  and try to “fit in” despite never being able to. At the very least, we become master manipulators to some extent as we become willing participants to contain our “full-ness” denying a portion of who we are and only airing that which is acceptable and respectable, always hiding what is natural or true to our core. 

So then what happens? Well, we all go on missions. There, amongst only male or female companionships, we continue to spread the dogma, the “universal truths,” that somehow deny the fact the homosexuality is a standard norm found in nature.  We teach it as “putting off the natural man” in search of something spiritual and pure, a better version of our selves. But the denial of such a fundamental truth of who we are can never lead us to exalted versions of ourselves. When we deny who we are we deny God.

Following our missions, all of the latent homosexual males and females feel much better about their eternal salvation. They feel quite saved from having to confront that which lurks underneath the surface.  Still, we are gay, living lives that on one hand belong to us, and on the other are not fully realized. We get married, as is our responsibility, right along-side the heteros.  We have babies (a LOT of babies) all the while teaching them, through our actions, to deny their selves and their true character, as if any difference were a flaw that should not be exposed.  We create families, wonderful, beautiful families.  And still, we are gay.  We are gay fathers and gay mothers, creating straight and gay daughters and sons but teaching them that one nature is preferred over the other and the other is to be denied.  The Mormon Church and its culture is guilty of promoting this behavior.  As a gay Mormon member we have only one of FOUR choices, ONE, we live our truth and get excommunicated and cast out or shunned, TWO, we self-identify as gay and live a “honorable” life of permanent celibacy alone from touch and intimacy, because to act on our nature is considered a sin, or THREE we simply (NOT so simply) square our shoulders, take a deep breath, resolve to live a “worthy” life, and conform, spending hours on our knees trying to pray away our gay-ness, or FOUR we contemplate or commit suicide losing far too many to this fourth and tragic option.  Still, no matter how hard we pray, our truth will not be denied.

There are so many gay Mormon men and women marrying others traditionally, despite their being gay.  You see it everywhere, unhappy men and women (not just Mormon but in any religious culture), who get married out of duty or for culture’s sake, denying what could be such a joyous revelation.  The other partner unknowingly wonders for the rest of their lives what is wrong with them or this relationship.  Sometimes knowing it, but with prayer and diligence and patience they hope that their intuition and the other’s inclination will not hurt them in the end and that through charity and sheer will and service they will “overcome” any form of temptation or challenges that this nature presents. 

We think we are hiding it from the world, but the truth is, the world knows and we know they know too.  WE KNOW!  Just like many other gay Mormons, most people knew me and judged me as being gay no matter how hard I tried to conform. We have the capability to “feel” one another. We call it intuition and our intuition is almost always right. BUT sexuality exists in a broad spectrum and there are as many variations of sexuality as there are people.  But I do know, that once our “feelers” are open and we are in touch with our self/identity/sexuality, we gain a better capability to read others, to feel each other and know each other. It’s powerful and palpable.  You think you can hide, but you cannot. You are simply trying to fool yourself.  It is tiresome and exhausting behavior.

What is ironic about growing up a closeted gay Mormon is that everyone is allowed to judge you as being gay, make comments and treat you differently, whisper and give certain looks so you know exactly what they are referring to, so you know that you are being judged. They are allowed to call you gay yet you are not allowed to simply BE gay.  Even parents are guilty of these behaviors. 

More than most communities, Mormons are busy “replenishing the earth.”  When you are living with and nurturing youth/children, comparing your boys and girls in the lineup, you can’t help but distinguish one from the other, it is natural.  And if you are honest, you will note that we are all different; our character, our talents, our interests, our intelligence, our behaviors, are all different.  Yet somehow our sexuality is all supposed to fit into one unified “NORM”.  Due to the prejudices, even parents are guilty of marginalizing the “soft” boy  or the “butch” girl knowing that they are different.  It is perceived as a tremendous burden. They fret over it and worry how to “straighten” them, they send them to bishops and to councilors to be “fixed” and sometimes they even ostracize the gay child as having a behavioral problem. We all hate when one of our own don’t fit in.  But these forms of treatment and parenting run counter productive and counter humane to providing warmth and protection from what will already be a hard and cruel world.  The deck is stacked against gay people.  Our families and homes should be a respite from all of that abuse …and yet sometimes, due to doctrine, it can be a worse environment for them to grow up in.

When you spend your life trying to fit in and trying to be the someone that the world will accept, all the while knowing you are being judged and that you can’t fit in, you feel lost and without hope and certainly without connection.If you do have the strength and courage to come out and be true to yourself you are judged at that point for falling away when you are simply confirming their intuition all along.

The fact is, if you have ever asked yourself “am I gay?” you just might be gay.  Maybe, not always, but it is a good possibility.  A heterosexual doesn’t ask him/herself that question. That is a burden that only gay people bear. I would also suggest, that if you are one of those people always wondering about someone else’s sexuality, or judging if someone is gay or not, odds are … “kettle thou doth protest too much” … and thou art black.

To all you LETTER readers and those subjected to being read to, I simply send you my love!  My heart bleeds for the ‘so many’ in the congregations across this land that will have their hearts once again ripped out and trampled as “the letter” is read to them. There will even be a few reading “the letter” who, deep in their own hearts, knows they are reading something contrary to their own identity.  Still, out of obligation, duty and fear, they will read on even when their guts are churning with the doctrine that hurts their very core.  And this is ok, because everyone is on a different timeline.

My heart aches for those who will further resolve to keep their suffering hidden and quiet, burying their truths deeper in the recesses of their own dignity. I understand how we think that it is easier to do this. Coming out is hard, HARD work.  But the toll of not coming out, of not experiencing the fullness of love that we are entitled to, the depth of joy that comes from living openly, hurts us worse.

My heart breaks for the many on both sides of this equation that do not have the strength to speak out for themselves or their loved ones because they fear retaliation, or are concerned for their very welfare and eternal salvation, or simply dread the potential loss of community.

There will be many who feel superior and vindicated about this argument being “proved,” as if they personally won some great debate.  But I testify that nothing was won with “the letter”, neither being conceived, written, nor read.  “The letter” causes more harm than good and continues to perpetuate myth, misinterpretation, and misinformation about gender, sexuality, identity and orientation.  Gay Mormons have suffered long enough.

After a lifetime of being subjected to damaging teachings that I was some how less-than, an inferior soul, due to my nature, even after having lived my life as a “straight” husband/father, and trying dutifully to live according to expectations; because if I lived as I was created my “sins” would be like unto murder, it is time I speak out. But I don’t do so against the greater leadership. Why kick the pricks?  I don’t speak out of sadness for me either, as my liberation has brought me a kind of bliss and happiness that only comes with living one’s truth authentically even at devastating costs. But I do speak against the words that were all too often used to marginalize people like me, people who have been brave enough to come out and live their lives against such great oppression.  I am saddened for the many, MANY who remain in the church feeling otherwise shamed, unworthy, or less than any other member who get to live their life without such a stigma simply because they fit within the social norm/majority or they choose to conform.

And so I write to you, all of you men and women, in bishoprics, and stake presidencies, and relief society presidencies, young men and young women presidents and councilors, all of you missionaries, and returned missionaries, all of you latent homosexuals, secretly longing, naively suppressing your truth deeper and deeper within yourselves to the point of bursting.  It is madness and sorrow and insufferable. Yet I am humbled by your individual voyages.

I know you.  I have lived with you and amongst you.  I have served you, eaten dinners with you, taught you and learned from you, have enjoyed sharing your lives, and mine with you.  I went to school with you, I served a mission with you, and we raised our children together.   We are many!  And I know you, just like you know me. All of you holding your secret so tightly to your core, buried deep under your chest for fear someone might know or minimally deem you as one of ‘them.’  You are simultaneously fearful and strong, battling yourselves internally as much as all the others you fear judgment from.

I can only say that acknowledging who you are without restraint is the greatest freedom you will ever experience and the greatest gift you can give yourself.  I know this because I have experienced it.  It is heaven.  It is freedom.  I implore you, for the sake of your own souls, to stand a little taller this day as you read or are read “the letter,” and inside call yourself the gay man/woman that you are. Challenge it at least in the context of your own minds.  Start there. Because you know it reads contrary to your own nature.

We should not despair and be without hope concerning our spirituality.  Nothing is more spiritual than living a life in tune with our nature and nature itself, though it comes at a great cost. Many of us lose traditions we hold precious and loved ones due to prejudices and a lack of understanding.  But truth is beautiful even at such a cost, and living it is crucial.  We align ourselves more with our God when we live our core truth and not someone else's.

I was anguished and often in turmoil throughout my life about being gay. I did not feel accepted and I carried a lot of shame. And yet many did not know I suffered in silence. It took years to come to terms with this and over time it has become something triumphant, something beautiful for me. I have great peace with it even though I knew I could never live that truth while I was married to my wife, Amy.  I made a decision to self-sacrifice and, at the time, that also gave me peace. I was very much in love with her though I knew I was a gay man. Juggling it as a father and husband was a great burden because I felt so alone. Still being gay became something I honored and respected and I celebrated as being something that made me different, unique and extraordinary. Once my wife was strong enough to realize her own truth it set me free.  But it was a freedom I feared.  I think it took me being gay, and my character, and creativity, and curiosity, and liberal thinking to create a place for her to slowly and safely self-realize over these may years, which is why she came to me to ask how to deal with it.  But it took her character, and determination, and integrity, and sheer strength to push me out and give me the strength to embrace myself, though I begged her on hands and knees NOT to make me do it. It will always be a loss for me, losing my wife and life as I had conceived of it.  But it has also been one of my greatest blessings and experiences, because I lived through it and I could not have done so without her. Through her, I was able to self-actualize and experience a re-birth, a most extraordinary gift that I think is rarely experienced in this life.

Throughout my life, who I was sat squarely in sinners’ row according to scriptures and/or doctrine and/or culture as most Mormon leaders and members see it or interpret it.  I understood it loud and clear my entire life.  There is no way to spin it otherwise.  I understood what was doctrine and was professed and what was adhered to (literally and figuratively and culturally).  When I speak about the anguish and despair of being gay, part of it certainly comes from what we feel most of our lives growing up in a culture that is not accepting or understanding, let alone nurturing or loving, of someone who is gay.  But part of it comes from having “had” to feel those sentiments most of our lives unnecessarily. Especially when we know the character of our own souls.  We are sent to bishops, and stake presidents, and psychologists, and psychiatrists, and undergo grueling therapies more harmful than helpful and certainly demeaning with all of the uncomfortable interviews where men/leaders burrow deep into our personal lives, perpetuating our feeling less than or indecent and shameful, all to “fix” us from what remains so core to who we are.  This is not only wrong, it is inhumane and unacceptable.

We believed in a gospel and had faith in a belief system that degraded the very essence of who we are, a culture that taught us to feel guilt and shame and fear despite being created how we were created and by Whom. It's a horrible irony. If we believe in a loving God who is The Creator, then we must believe we were all created by the same loving entity without exception. Why does one fraction of the human population feel their way of being should dictate the lives and loves of the other?  Or how the other will or will not be saved?  We are all loved equally. He loves us as is.  WE are not sick. WE are not sinners. WE are not devious. WE are not indecent. WE are not something someone can fix. WE are not something that needs to be fixed. WE are gay men and women with the same needs and aspirations as any human. We want to live freely, love who we want, and be as happy as any other individual.  For someone to tell me who and how I should love is similarly audacious and arrogant. To tell anyone that they have to love how the other loves or who the other loves or in the same manner is a judgment they are not entitled to have.

I have had the most amazing spiritual experiences.  God has graced me through love and the most insane of situations where only He could provide me peace and consolation.  Sometimes this came in shapes and forms that would make a Mormon blush.  But for me they were lifesaving.  And I don’t mean that lightly in any way.  They literally saved my life.  I was able to feel forms of love coming back to me from the universe or from God or from "angels" put in my path in the oddest moments and in the strangest of ways.  But these moments literally saved me from lower than low depths of despair. Thoughts of suicide, great depressions and deep, deep sorrow plagued me. Sometimes these were brief  and sometimes they seemed never-ending. But as I regained my bearings and stability these moments were transformative and life saving. 

Many members of Mormon and Christian religions in general, will use language and say statements that they truly believe are said in love and with great concern for our "welfare".  But even their language conveys that which breaks our hearts on a daily basis.  It is so engrained in our culture that I think it is almost impossible for them to see how painful the doctrine is. At some point we have to call it out for what it is, abuse. By not embracing our truths and being honest and open about being gay, we slowly allow our souls to erode, the very soul that our Maker created, we sell a little bit of ourselves off, we give it away, we allow others to chip away at it, we allow ourselves to believe it is a cancer that needs to be cut out.  We openly lie to ourselves about who we really are. We do this because it is SO hard to fight the battle against established cultural norms, even when they run contrary to our well-being. 

I can and will no longer deny my truth.  If it is deemed sinful by any person or I am unable to stand before God, then that plan, His plan, has a gross, GROSS defect in it. Where is perfection in a God who would make people suffer so? Where is the logic in creating a massive population and then denying them every human right and dignity that others receive so freely? Where is the logic in a God who would make someone gay and then produce doctrine that tells them they are going to hell for being true to how they are created? It goes against any true concept of God, that he would create an entire population just to be scorned and persecuted for living as He created them.

I will say it again, We are not weak. We are not sick. We are not infirm.
We are not flawed (no more than what makes us beautiful and certainly no more than every other hetero in this world.)  If God exists, He is a God of Love who made us perfect, even with our imperfections.  BUT being gay IS NOT one of those imperfections.  We don't need God's mercy because of our circumstances any more than anyone else.

I have experienced deep profound love with a woman and that woman broke my heart. I have experienced deep profound love with a man and that man may very well break my heart some day, too. It is all a risk. But to deny myself love in whatever form it comes to me would be the greater sin.

The pain we experience as gay people (out or closeted), is caused by men and man's ignorance.   Sometimes we choose to inflict this pain on ourselves due to traditions and what we have been taught causing ourselves even MORE pain by our own lack of acceptance, our own self loathing, and our own lack of strength due to what we have been made to long endure as doctrine.  It was hurtful and wrong to grow up believing that our God, who created us, could not accept who we were and how we were created. What a sick and twisted joke. What a perversion of truth.  

I am not angry with God. I am however angry with ignorant men who perpetuate lies and hatred, closed mindedness and hurtful teachings however misguided, hiding behind interpretations, and preaching hatred and intolerance from the pulpit, saying things like, “love the sinner, hate the sin.”Such infuriating and condescending language. The very needs, tendencies and desires that heteros have, gay people feel as well.  They feel right and safe and satisfied and at peace and attractive and attracted to their same gender. You should ask yourselves why you feel so much fear about this issue. And ask yourself why you consider any life less worthy than yours of fulfillment.

If there comes a time when as we are taught, we must stand before Him in some form of judgment day ... I will do so with my head held high, and my shoulders upright and square, and my arms open and I will ask him why He allowed men to perpetuate such nonsense. When I glimpse people living their lives, embracing their truths, and loving as they were born to love, I glimpse the purpose of these Truths. I am better for it.  Can you not have joy in someone else’s joy? Must their joy be defined by yours?

Recently the Mormon Church has finally said that being gay is not a sin “as long as you don’t act on it.” It is an empty gesture to claim that it is ok to be gay and accept yourself as you were born and created as long as never fulfill the measure of your ability to love another. The very premise of such nonsense is foul and preaches that we are still not worthy. It teaches others to judge us and condemn us and continues to marginalize a huge percentage of people that are simply looking for the basics of a beautiful life experience. To deny people's truth and their ability to discern what is good and right for them to live by is to deny an autonomy that is a basic human right. It is flawed and ignorant and wrong.

We will, as a culture, come to understand we are not immoral for loving who we love, just as surely as I came to understand that choosing to finally love a man just as fully and lovingly and tenderly and intimately as I have loved a woman is honorable. The liberation and acceptance of our selves and truths will take us to greater heights of understanding and love that we would never experience if we lived someone else's truths.  Yes, it is lonely folks, so very lonely and difficult to embark on a journey of truth.  But I promise you this, you will find yourself somehow closer to God and enlightenment than you ever could be denying these truths inside of you. You will not be abandoned or cast out as you think. People will be there to help you out in your journey, as will your God. It is a spiritual one. There is pain in such journeys. Scars seem to be a part of this life we must live it. But that does not mean that we will not experience joy and happiness, nor that we will be abandoned. 

My hope is that those of you are not gay, will stand up and raise a voice in support of all of your loved ones who have struggled and suffered silently that they may feel your love and that you will shoulder their pains and defend their collective honor.  That you will treat them as equals and not condescendingly treat them as outcasts you must pray for. That you will treat them with dignity and love them for who they are not as you wish or hope they would be according to someone’s demands.  To accept, to simply ACCEPT, that maybe you do not have all of the answers.

My hope is that all of you reading “the letter” or having it read to you, those of you who think you might be gay, those of you who are wondering how you will continue to survive or are hoping that nobody finds out, those of you who are hoping someday to be liberated from the great burden of secrecy, know that you are not alone.  So many of us who, like you, once kept those secrets deep inside for safety and security and protection, we know you. We understand you and we are here for you.  You are not alone.  Your story is so familiar.  We are men and women, fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, who for justifiable reasons, because of culture and traditions and trying to do as we were told, trying to put God and family in front of ourselves, willingly and fearfully putting this part of us down below, contained. Your intentions are just and true.  Everyone is on a different timeline. Everyone has a different journey to live.  But I write these words to you to tell you, that you are not alone.

To those of you who question or have some form of doubt or concern, I hope that your insides will wrestle and be unsettled and will be a sign to you that something is not quite right.  You can still be a God-loving and God-fearing man/woman and challenge what you know to be true in your heart.  I hope that you resolve to love yourself as created, to accept yourself as you are and to embrace all of you, not just the parts that the majority deems appropriate or worthy, but ALL of you as being 100% beautiful.  Even that scary part that you wish would stay buried but that, contrary to your own will and determination, keeps pushing its agenda of liberation, surfacing in your thoughts and behaviors and lives. You will experience the greatest peace of your life, an almost exquisite bliss once you say it out loud, even if it is just to yourself in the privacy of your own room.   

Know that you are NOT alone!! Know that WE are many and we are proud! And we will be here to welcome you with full love. We will be here to suffer with those of you who do not yet have the strength to say it out loud and to defend yourselves.  Our fight is your fight. Your struggles are ours! We are ONE! And if you can't come out yet, we understand that, too. But please do not carry this to your grave as do so many.  Experience in this life, the bliss of letting go and fully accepting all of you and your potential. It is quite frankly a rebirth you must not miss out on.

#EqualityForAll #Gay #Proud #lovewon #LoveWins #NOH8 #LoveIsLove #LGBT #liveyourtruth #gaymarriage #WeAreNotAlone #URNOTALONE

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