Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Letter to Intolerance

I need to take a quick break from my story, and post a letter I wrote after reading some rather hate-filled comments surrounding the issue of homosexuality. If anyone would like to have an honest, open, love-filled discussion with me, no matter what side of the issue you are on, I welcome your emails:

I love you all - especially those who will not show me the same courtesy.

And now, the letter:

Dear Intolerance,

It is with a rather heavy heart that I write to you today. I don’t think you know how much I hurt in hope that one day you will do nothing more than understand. I’ve seen you often, with your sharp claws exposed as love and gentleness fall prey in all of those whose lives you consume. There are most who have the ability to let your temper roll off them when they see you, but what about the child you infect and destroy? Will you not think of him? Is he not the seed of Godhood? Does he do no good in your eyes?

Is it not enough to know that a child such as this already must conquer fear and doubt? A war wages within the child between who he is and who you want him to be that must end in resolution within him, not within you. You have no resolution. You are the opposite of love. You are fear.

But think not of the child dear Intolerance. Destroy him instead. You think this will silence the child, but the war wages on. You know nothing of the child or the war. You were spared service in such a battle. Is it God that gives you such knowledge to win a war you’ve never had to fight?

Then pray-tell, oh Intolerance, if you are so mighty and high, what would you have the child do to silence the rebellion? Can you even tell him which side is rebelling? Do you not suppose he has already approached his Creator in hopes of angels aiding him on his quest? Do you not suppose he has not done all that you have asked of him already? Would it surprise you to know the battle continues to rage in spite of your uninformative and ill-created suggestions?

Yes. It is up to the darling child to find the enemy and destroy it. Will you not give him a quiet place where he can retreat in love and warmth to do so?

I know you were born with large claws and a disposition to use them, but when you act on such a disposition you anger the very God you claim to know, condemning us all to Hell.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


After my mission, it quickly became clear that my prayers to overcome my same gender attraction would not be answered. I think part of me expected the mission to be the sacrifice required to show God I was worthy of an answer, and willing to go to great lengths to get one. When I realized that the feelings I had were not going to go away, and after ruining yet another relationship with the girl that had waited for me (all of the relationship stuff really should be a blog of its own. It’s coming… haha), I decided the next step would be to seek help from others. I knew I couldn’t keep fighting on my own, so I did one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life – I told my mother my struggles, and asked for her support as I spoke to church leaders and sought professional help.

To say my mother took the news badly would be an understatement. Sometimes I wish I had a mother who would simply look at me and say “I love you anyway,” but the first words out of her mouth were, “This is the worst thing a mother could hear.” She’ll deny that she said that to this day, but my impressionable, fearful, timid, and despairing mind was seared with those words. I can’t say that I blame her, or that I think the words she said were untrue. In fact, I sympathize with her – if that is how she felt just how hard was it for her to imagine how I felt. Those were not the words I needed at that time. To her defense and credit, after that initial shock, we cried together, and reaffirmed our love for each other that night. My mother offered to put up half of the costs of counseling, and I had an appointment with LDS Family Services the next day.

I was extremely nervous on my first trip to LDS Family Services. In fact, I had a hard time feeling like counseling was a good idea. I sat in the waiting room with people who had addictions and other problems, and honestly had a hard time seeing how my situation justified the same thing theirs did. After all, I wasn’t addicted to anything – how could I be addicted to something I had never had? I wasn’t mentally deficient in any way – even the APA agreed with me on that. But I filled out the survey I was asked to fill out in the lobby anyway: Did I do drugs? How often? Did I find that my alcohol use interfered with my work? Was I happy? Was I sleeping? I checked the lowest box on the happiness question, but didn’t feel like the rest really applied.

My counselor was the third person to whom I had vocally admitted being gay. I drove much further than the closest Family Services building because I was assured that this counselor had “experience” with what the church called “same gender attraction.” It turned out, however, that this man had never worked with someone dealing with my feelings. In fact, he told me he had never even heard of someone coming into Family Services before they acted out on homosexual urges. He committed to help me to the best of his ability, and promptly gave me the assignment to carry around a picture of the Savior, and make marks on a paper every time I found someone of the same sex attractive. In addition to making the tick marks, I was to look at the picture of Christ every time I made a mark, and try to figure out what thought process led me to feel like I wanted to look at another man.

The pad of paper was full of little tick marks by the end of the day. I didn’t really understand how focusing on my attraction was going to help, but certainly having the little book did nothing but bring those feelings to the surface and make me feel worse about myself. What made me look at these men? How about the fact that they were there? That they breathed? That so did I? Were those valid reasons?

I went back the next week to find that the counselor was ready with the name of someone else who might be better able to help me.

I don’t remember the name of this counselor either, but I can tell you I preferred talking to him. When I arrived (at another distant location different from the first), I found him to be more focused on helping me accept myself (funny how when the church says that they mean something different than when the world does), and building my self-esteem. This man was an addiction counselor, and still had no experience with homosexual attraction, but he made a more earnest effort at helping me to control my thoughts. He talked to me at length about masturbation, about the church’s view on it, about how he as a married man engaged in it for some time, and about how he felt about it. I found this line of discussion a bit disturbing, because it didn’t seem to me to be a good idea to talk to the gay kid that comes into your office about your private escapades with yourself. I saw him for a little less than a month before he referred me to someone outside of LDS Family Services who, I was assured, was a specialist and dealt only with same gender attraction.

Before I move on to the next and last counselor, I want to make something very clear. During my first few sessions the option of shock therapy (as part of a “reparative therapy routing”) did surface. I was actually the one who brought it up, and although surprised, both therapists at LDS Family Services assured me that if that was an option I wanted, then they would be able to arrange for it. I assured them that I did not wish to go that route, and that I was asking to ensure that they didn’t support such practices. Both assured me that they did not, but the fact that they knew how or who to contact in regards to such options, scared me just a little.

My final counselor was a gentle man by the name of Jim Lewis. Jim Lewis was an Evergreen endorsed counselor who did not believe in "adversion" therapy. His mantra to all of his patients was “You are man enough.” My experience here was a good one, and if anyone is considering therapy to help overcome homosexual desires, even with the way I feel now concerning such therapy, I would still highly recommend Jim Lewis. His methods are applicable to all people in all walks of life. It was he who helped me realize that I had internalized a lot of self hatred and doubt, but hid that hatred even from myself. He was the first to admit that the way I had been taught and treated in the church and in society was to blame. Jim helped me to embrace my entire self, which included the part of me that was gay and the part of me that was LDS, and taught me to love myself first, in the hopes that I could then learn to love another.

When I was sufficiently progressing, he asked me to join a group session. I did so with a little trepidation, but was happy to find that I not only enjoyed the sessions, but got to meet a lot of fantastic people who were just like me. Jim had another counselor that worked with him by the name of Christy (although I’m not sure I have the spelling correct), who really touched me. I felt like everyone involved really cared for me, and their experience working with people who are homosexual gave them a love and a perspective for us that I wish everyone in the LDS culture could adopt.

From hatred to appreciation, I learned to stop viewing myself as a homosexual, homosexuality as a sin, and a sin as something to hate. Instead, I appreciated the unique gifts I possessed as a gay man. I know that Jim and Christy would have preferred a different outcome for me, but when I left their care by my own choice, openly honest with them about the choices I had made, they were supportive and caring. I never felt judged or condemned by them – in fact, only uplifted.

It is important for me to conclude this chapter of this blog by saying that Jim often told me there was nothing wrong with me, and that there was nothing to fix. He was very honest in telling me that out of the hundreds or thousands of men who had been through his program, only three now claim to never be bothered by homosexual desires, though many more have “learned to live with said desires differently.” I knew, after many conversations with God, that these desires would not change in this life for me. I knew that the best I could hope for in this life was celibacy and a continued Hell, or a choice. The choice for me wasn’t whether or not to go out and live a life of sin and debauchery, but whether or not to love another person. I hope that as you read these blogs you will begin to understand why I chose the latter, that you will understand that being gay is not a choice, but loving is.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Mission Years

To say my mission was the best two years of my life wouldn’t exactly be the full truth, but I did gain incredible life experiences for which I will always be grateful. The people, the culture, the language, and the friendships I made were incredible. I loved immersing myself in the scriptures in ways I never could do at home, and couldn’t believe that the doctrines of the church that I had grown up with were viewed so unconventionally in average society. For those who might be wondering, I served from 2002 to 2004 in the Texas McAllen mission. Now, just in case there is a random missionary from that timeframe that might be reading this and horrified at the possibility that I was their companion, just let me assure – I feel very blessed, even lucky, to have never been attracted to one of my companions.

That said, in relation to my homosexual feelings and desires, serving a mission was very difficult. That difficulty started in the MTC, where I was forced to shower with other men. For years I had taken myself out of situations where I would be in the presence of undressed men, and I find it slightly ironic that my first experience with a live nude body was seemingly church endorsed. I did everything I could to avoid being in the shower with other people by showering at night, at odd times, or by moving to a different bathroom where the men were, at least, less attractive. Yet the repercussions didn’t escape me, and my thoughts became very difficult to control. I also was robbed of my pornography outlet (again, I was very upfront with my priesthood leaders about this… and this was before the so-called “raising of the bar”). I found myself often seeking solace, even if it was just outside of the dormitory door for ten minutes, where I would write or read scriptures in hopes of relieving the tension.

Things did get better in the mission field, although some days were better than others. I have one companion that I have now told my whole story, and he was the most sensitive companion to my issues. One night, I had had a particularly rough day, and although this person didn’t know what I was struggling with at the time, he did notice that something was bothering me. It was probably my fists that gave it away, sometimes balled up so tightly that the knuckles literally turned white. The physical agony I felt cannot be understood by someone who has not been in a similar situation. This companion looked at me very seriously as he climbed into bed, and said, “I don’t know what is bothering you, and I know you don’t want to talk about it, but just promise me you’ll talk to the mission president if you have another day like today.”

I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t even noticed that he noticed I was preoccupied. I responded by telling him that I was ok, but he was serious about making me promise to see the mission president if I ever felt the same again. In fact, he wouldn’t let it go until I did.

A few weeks later, I was tracting (knocking on doors) with this same companion, when a young man about our age opened the door with his shirt off. As usual, my companion managed to get the man to invite us in, and proceeded to teach our first lesson. I remember the day well, but I don’t remember the discussion. My head literally swam through the whole thing, and the guilt I felt for being preoccupied over this man’s body over his soul was enough to send me spiraling back into that place where I physically hurt. Luckily it was getting late, and I was able to find enough distractions to keep myself from thinking about the man for the rest of the evening. That night, however, my companion said nothing, but gave me a look that reminded me of the promise I had made to him.

That companion told me just four months ago that he suspected I was gay, but that during those hard days he didn’t know what it was that was causing my suffering. He doesn’t remember the man without his shirt (and why should he?), nor did he put together that this man was a trigger that put me into the same place I had been in a few weeks earlier. I told this companion everything during a mission reunion just this last April. He is the only missionary I served with that currently knows me as an out, gay man, and his love and support has been a great pillar to me. Our friendship has only strengthened.

The day following the man without a shirt, I woke up in what could only be considered a depression. I made an appointment with the mission president, as per my promise, and actually had the opportunity to sit down with him that same day. I expected to be sent home, part of me wanted to be sent home, but after asking me a few questions regarding my past and present conduct, I was simply told that I would have an appointment set up in a few weeks with a traveling counselor from LDS Family Services. During the interim between the meeting with the mission president and the appointment with the counselor, my companion was transferred, and I got someone new. When it came time for my appointment, he was allowed to sit outside of the door, but he knew where we were. I kept trying to come up with an excuse as to why I needed to see someone from LDS Family Services, and this new companion of mine was not one to let the subject go easily. I never did come up with an excuse. I eventually just refused to answer his questions.

The counseling session was, to put it simply, a waste of time. The counselor made me feel like a sinner, like someone who was “lucky” to be on a mission as opposed to someone who was working my butt off every day to be there. He gave me a few scriptures to read regarding Nephi’s leaving Jerusalem, which I suppose was to be some way of telling me to leave my homosexuality behind to find “the promised land.” It really is too bad that this counselor didn’t understand that even those men who choose to live some sort of gospel-approved life with this problem, it never, ever, ever gets left behind.

My mission president called me a few days after my appointment to ask me how things went. I responded, “Just fine,” to which he asked if I would like to see the counselor again. My answer was, of course, no thank you. I think the mission president took that to mean that this one counseling session somehow had “fixed” me. Honestly, I felt even worse, but I knew that I was going to be home in a few months, and hoped that at the completion of a successful mission God would see fit to finally bless me with the ability to love a woman.

I was released honorably soon after, with the faith that the gospel and a conventional family was what awaited me.