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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Guest Post: Far Between, A Documentary About Gay Mormons

A few years ago, Kendall Wilcox called me and asked if I’d like to help him produce a documentary about gay Mormons. Being an accountant and having absolutely no experience in documentary filmmaking, of course I said yes. A short time later, he flew up to Portland and we set to work with post-it notes and a couple of sharpies, littering a bare wall in my condo with notes about all the people we should talk to, the organizations we should talk about, the tone we should strike, etc.

After laying the groundwork, I traveled quite a bit that summer with Kendall, helping out with interviews in the Bay Area; Kirtland, OH; Utah; New York City and the Pacific Northwest. It was an incredible experience. It became a process of Kendall working through his own reconciliation between his sexuality and his spirituality by talking to others in various stages of that same reconciliation and on various and diverse paths. It also became a process for me of reconciliation, learning to listen to stories much different than my own and learning to sit with the tension of placing my story alongside those that contradicted my own.

Sitting with that tension was probably the most important thing I could learn. It helped me explore important questions about myself and my place in the world and my responsibility to others. Kendall is a fiercely curious person and also incredibly respectful of each person’s story. He very conscientiously creates a space that invites in a range and multiplicity of voices. This shows in the diversity of stories he has collected; everything from a Boy George lookalike writer of horror fiction who spent 30 years outside of the church to more traditionally Mormon, temple married couples.

In listening to all these assorted stories, I developed more of an understanding of and respect for why people make choices different than my own. At the same time, it helped me flesh out my own understanding of why I have made the choices I did. I learned to sort through important questions like how do I resolve differences between my beliefs and how others choose to live their life? How do I form my values? How do I process conflicts between internal and external forces? How attracted am I to the same sex versus opposite sex and in what ways? What role does religion play in my life? How much of my overall identity is bound up in my religious identity? What happens when someone else thoughtfully and conscientiously arrives at different answers to these questions?

I’m certainly not the only one who has been faced with important questions. During the past few years the national conversation about homosexuality and gay marriage has exploded. In that time, the number of states where marriage is legal for same-sex couples has more than tripled, with dozens of challenges to state gay marriage bans advancing through the federal legal system. Some states have pushed back by attempting to pass and enact laws protecting discrimination based on religious beliefs. Religious leaders have pushed back and asked for religious freedom protections. The Boy Scouts of America changed their membership rules to allow gay youth and continues to face pressure to also allow gay leaders. The problem is the questions around the role of religion and sexuality too often play out in the political realm, which too often polarizes and fails to empower individuals to address some of the questions I mentioned above in a way that brings greater understanding of self and therefore more peace and respect for the process and decisions of others.

I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know for sure where the gay marriage debate will end, but I do know that whether gay marriage becomes the law of the land or is abolished completely, the polarization is frustrating for people on all sides of the issue. I also know there will still continue to be religiously oriented individuals who also experience a strong orientation of attraction to their own gender. There will still be a segment of the population (both inside and outside Mormonism) who have to wrestle with the tough questions that bubble to the surface as a result of the at times seemingly irreconcilable conflict between their religious and spiritual identities. This is why I got involved with the documentary film project (titled Far Between) and why I think it’s so important. These questions don’t just affect those who are gay and Mormon. These are questions that affect all of us: gay, straight, transgender, religiously affiliated, non-religiously affiliated, etc.

We currently have hundreds of hours of footage, encompassing over 180 interviews, loads of research and a detailed outline (a script of sorts) to guide us to completion. We now need to assemble a postproduction team, including editors, colorists, sound designers, etc. to create the final product. Our goal is to enter the final product in the Sundance Film Festival so that we can take the ongoing conversation to a broad audience. If this conversation is important to you, or if these are questions you’d like to explore yourself, please donate to Far Between, like our facebook page, or share our Kickstarter page with your friends and family in order to keep the conversation going.

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Jon Hastings lives in Portland, Oregon and is an accountant by day and by night and on occasional weekends is an associate producer for Far Between, a documentary that explores the experience of being homosexual and Mormon.

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