Did you know one of Brigham Young’s sons was a drag queen?
Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn has written about Young’s 35th child (no, that’s not a typo) who created the character of a great Italian soprano by the name of Madam Pattirini. According to Young’s son Galen, his father would sing in a high soprano voice and fooled many people.
Was the president of the Church of Latter Day Saints okay with his son’s alter ego? It’s quite possible, given that the persona of Madam Pattirini was considered a form of entertainment, which seems to trump all otherwise questionable practices in the complex belief system of Mormonism. They’re big on the arts. A priest once told me that a career as a professional actor, which he had pursued earlier in his life, was viewed almost as highly as the priesthood. I’m inclined to believe this after what I witnessed on a flight to South America a few years ago.
It was on a Sunday morning that a hundred members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles poured into the cabin of a jetliner at LAX. There were a number of empty seats, raising our hopes that it might be a somewhat comfy twelve hours in the air. But just as we were settling into our tight quarters, a large group of young Mormon men, dressed in their trademark white shirts and dark pants, boarded the plane.
Their destination? Lima, Peru.
Their mission? Of course it was.
No one in the chorus said a word. All we could do was look around at each other in disbelief. Here were two very different groups of men on two very different missions, brought together by circumstances that could never have been consciously orchestrated. Not even music, I thought, has the power to bridge this gap.
But just when I feared we were all about to share a most uncomfortable cross-continental, something quite unexpected happened. One of the young missionaries in the window seat across the aisle from me could tell that we were all traveling together, and asked the chorus member next to him where we were going. I couldn’t hear the reply, but I didn’t need to. All I saw was the young man’s face light up. The singer immediately reached for his black music folder and the two talked through every piece on our program.
The exchange between them was beautiful to watch, and over the course of my eavesdropping, something became very clear: the mission of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles was in full swing before we even left the tarmac. Taking our music to a continent that didn’t boast many openly gay men, much less a single gay men’s chorus, was only part of the picture. The fact that our mission was a musical one made our sexuality a non-issue, at least in the mind of this young Mormon man.
I lay my head back and closed my eyes, wondering what the next ten days held in store for us. How many more lives would we impact and how would the trip affect our own?
I sat there listening to the two men singing strains of the music they both knew. And as I pondered the young man’s ability to not judge us, I found myself not judging him.
Every time we choose to live authentically, we give permission for others to do the same. By accepting ourselves, we can accept those who are different from us ”not because we agree to”tolerate” them, but because we understand just how little difference there really is.