Monday, September 29, 2008

Coming Out

My relationship with Dave moved quickly, more out of necessity than anything else. I knew my parents would never support my decision, and so I quickly had to come up with living arrangements that didn’t include my parent’s basement. Dave spoke with his parents, who, although LDS, were extremely supportive of me, and it was decided that I would move in there.

I very clearly remember the Sunday afternoon that I told my mother I was moving out. I was, of course, extremely nervous. Luckily, she had already known about my same-gender attraction, so I didn’t have to start from the beginning. I had arranged for some friends of mine to show up with a truck at 7pm, and I already had most of my stuff organized in such a way that I could pack easily.

I can still feel the emotion of that day. I was so sad, because I knew I would no longer be a welcome member of my family, now that I had “acted out” on my tendencies. My mom was napping on the couch and I sat at her feet for almost half an hour before she noticed I was there. She finally asked me what was wrong.

It is very painful to recount what happened after that moment, so I’m going to skip over it briefly. I became an emotional mess. The only thing I could do was wall myself off from everything everyone was saying. Before I got done crying my entire family was in the room, my dad called home from work, my sisters called from their respective apartments, my bishop and his wife were there. At one point I found myself defending my right to live, as my father informed me he would rather see me dead than gay. My bishop, who was a kind and intellectual man, did the best he could to stop anyone from saying things that would be forever damaging, but things were still said.

I can’t say that I’m proud of myself in that moment, because I said some things I wish I wouldn’t have said as well. Finally, the doorbell rang, my friends there to bail me out. My dad helped me pack – I don’t know if he was trying to be helpful and apologetic for the things he had said to me, or if he was just trying to get me out of the house quicker.

My relationship with my parents and family has never been the same. I blame myself, partly, for that. I don’t know how I could have softened the blow for them, I don’t know how I could have prepared them better. I gave them almost two years of foresight, they had read the books, talked openly with me about my experiences in counseling (at this time I was still involved in counseling and group therapy), and although I know they wish I would have been capable of making a different choice, I feel as though I prepared them the best I could for either outcome. Still, it was a heart-wrenching experience for me to pull away from that house. I had to hide behind a bit of strength and defiance, and I wish I could have come off that evening with a little more kindness, but I didn’t know how.

That night, Dave’s mom cried with me for hours. I remember breaking down to her, and I remember her putting her arms around me and telling me that I was safe, and loved, and wanted. I didn’t understand how someone who was LDS could be so loving and kind to me. When I asked about this she simply stated, “God made you the way you are for some greater purpose. He knows more than we do.”

The next five months of my life were an adjusting period as I learned how to live as an out gay man. I attended church every week, held regular meetings with my priesthood leaders, and finished out my group counseling session, where everyone learned of my choice, and, surprisingly, received it well. One of the group members mentioned the first week after I had come out, that I walked in, sat down, and looked relaxed for the first time he had seen. They knew the time and effort I had put into my decision, and I was respected for it. I finished out the group therapy with a Christ-like love for my friends in that group, and hope they are all doing well. I wish them the best.

At the end of the five months, and I recount these next few experiences only for the sake of completeness, my relationship with Dave turned sour. Law enforcement showed up on our doorstep, and Dave confessed to me his desire to seek a relationship with underage boys. I was of the opinion that our relationship could still work, as long as we loved each other and he was willing to seek professional help, to which he agreed. But once his secret was out he didn’t feel any desire to hide it, and he began telling me about his trips to the local pool, and the young boys he met there, and how some of their parents were “OK” with him spending time with their son. When I confronted him about one particular boy, we got into an argument that resulted in his attempted suicide.

I saw Dave in the hospital a few days later, and told him how happy I was that he had survived. I told him how much I loved him, but then told him that if he was so scared to break up with me that he would rather kill himself, then I would do the hard work for him.

Dave’s parents asked me to stay in the home with them, because, they said, I had become a son to them. I told them I also felt a familiar bond, but that Dave was their son, and he needed their support.

I don’t regret any decisions I made, and am still very grateful for Dave and his amazing family. I do wish there would have been a way to slow down the relationship so that I could have learned about Dave’s problems before we moved in together.

I did feel cheated. I had given my heart to Dave, even if it was for only five months, but it was his completely. He had never loved me.

I knew that this was an opportunity to possibly get back into church, to live a celibate life, but I wanted so badly to be loved.

So I took the experiences I garnished, spent three months as a man with no commitments to anyone as I discovered myself, and enjoyed learning about the gay culture from my new roommate, who was kind enough to share his apartment with me for a few months. My new bishop was much kinder than the one in Dave’s ward, probably due to the fact that he was about 40 years younger, and I found myself easily able to confide in him. It was during these few months that I realized that the self-hatred I had harbored for so long was waning, and I could see the church side of me, and the gay side of me, finally getting along.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Another Cause to Pause

I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this blog in depth with two people who I consider very good friends. One of them told me that my blog sounded a bit bitter toward the LDS church, and that they would no longer be reading. I understand how a few of my recent posts could have come across that way, but I feel the need to clarify.

My feelings for the church have really evolved constantly through this experience. Please remember that I am recounting a story from its inception, as I remember it during the time it happened. My CURRENT feelings for the church are only partially recounted in posts such as “A Shift of Faith.” That experience took place almost two years ago, and at that time, yes, I was bitter toward the church… or should I say… the people in the church. I’ve also been bitter towards God, towards myself, towards my parents (which you’ll see in the next few posts), and towards Satan.

But I told my other friend with whom I’ve been discussing this blog, that although she may feel differently, I don’t think I’ll ever let go of the gospel principles. If anything, my faith in God and in Christ has increased over the course of my ordeal. After all, if the church is right in its current stance, I will be relying on them both in mercy for my salvation! And my faith in them is such that I don’t believe that it is “too late” for me. “A Shift of Faith” really was intended to do nothing more than point out that the people in the church don’t understand the things they do to hurt those in my situation. I’ve blamed the church for that, I’ve blamed God for that, but the fact remains that really, I can only blame myself. Who can teach them what things are hurtful and what things are not in this regard unless someone like me is willing to put myself out there enough to help them understand?

The ninth article of faith reads: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

I believe that God is not done talking about this issue. I might hope that a revelation will come to the church that will resolve this issue one way or the other, but the only thing I expect is that such a revelation will come to me, personally, for me, personally.

In fact, one, mostly, already has. I might take a lot of flak from the gay world by posting this, but I think it is important that everyone know that for me, this is my testimony, and this is the secret as to how I have currently resolved this issue inside of myself:

I know God lives, and prayer has been the most important thing I have learned in regards to this issue. My conversations with my Father in Heaven have been sincere and realistic. I have been promised that one day, the issue of homosexuality will be put into perspective with God’s greater plan. I have been promised that one day, I will have that perspective, and that with it will come the choice. That choice will also be about love, but not in the same way it is now. If I am still with my partner on that day I will see my love for him grow even more, into the realm of the gospel, and will then, together, may make the choice to separate.

That day may come tomorrow, or it may come after this life. Perhaps some of you may think that I have made the wrong choices leading up to this so-called “day.” You may be right, and if so, thank God for the Savior.

My complaints and agony in regards to the church are down to one, and it has nothing to do with gospel. My complaint, in fact, is only with the people who spout hatred, like the high-counsel man who read the letter in that fateful sacrament meeting. What he said wasn’t gospel. In fact, I think if he would have bothered to read what the church has officially put out on the subject, he would have had a kinder tone. To that man, and all of you who preach against homosexuality without knowing your own church’s doctrine, I will not do the same against you. I will, in fact, tell you how to help.

Imagine, please, for a moment, a 12 year old boy in your sacrament meeting who realizes his struggle is actually same gender attraction. If he felt that every member felt as you did, would he be able to come forward, and confess, at such a tender age, what he feels? Or would he be fraught with fear, his only resources telling him he would be excommunicated for being gay (the distinction between feeling and action still underdeveloped in his mind). Could he tell his parents, when he has heard his father and mother make comments about how gay people are going to Hell?

I was that twelve year old boy.

Now, imagine if the overall attitude in the church was one of tolerance. What if that boy was not afraid to approach his bishop and parents? What if counseling could be started younger, before the boy felt any frustration in regards to his feelings and the gospel? What if those parents and that bishop, cried with him, expressed their love for him and the heartache they knew he would endure? What if the subject could be discussed openly in sacrament meeting, with no feelings of guilt or shame for this boy?

I am not against LDS counseling in this regard. In fact, although it didn’t quite have the intended change in me, it DID help me rid myself of the same feelings of guilt and shame. Is it possible, that had I been younger, and this issue wasn’t taboo, and if it is environmental as the church suggests, that I could have resolved myself to be heterosexual? I don’t know. And we won’t know, unless we try a softer, more inclusive approach.

Thank you for the open dialog. I hope everyone knows that I will discuss spirituality openly and often in this blog, as soon as I get through my story. We are almost there. I can’t wait to share with everyone about my favorite prophet (Nehemiah), whose story touched me years ago, and will help anyone at any juncture in life.

Skip the parts you find offensive, but please understand that by doing so, you might miss a lesson I learned that you would AGREE with. And please, give me time to get out the story, so you can know the background behind my current thoughts and feelings.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Fall

Just a note: Although this entry doesn’t specifically tell of my first homosexual experience (nor will I ever relate those types of details), it does discuss how I met my first boyfriend, and the spiritual experiences that relate thereto. While recounting this story to a friend, just as it is outlined here, she told me it was “too much information.” However, it is a pivotal point in my story, and the spiritual experiences contained herein MUST be recounted.

It wasn’t long after that experience with the church, that shift of faith, that I met Dave (name has been changed). Dave was an interesting fellow, and we became friends long before I knew he was gay (blame it on faulty gaydar if you want). When we finally discussed his sexuality, I suddenly was filled with a million questions: What was it like to be an out gay Mormon? How did you resolve the inner conflict? What did it take to come to terms with, what I considered was, breaking the law of chastity?

In counseling, I was told I needed to stop running away from my fears. Whenever I had met anyone else like Dave in the past, I immediately ran in the opposite direction. This tendency I had to run away affected my relationships with male friends, as well. I never allowed myself to get too close to someone I was attracted to, just in case. This was a behavior I was told I needed to change, so I decided to maintain my friendship with Dave. This, to me, necessitated my telling him of my own personal struggles with homosexuality.

He took the news very well, and promised to never do anything to make me uncomfortable. The joke flirting he was known for while thinking I was “straight” stopped immediately, and he did nothing but listen and answer my questions to the best of his ability. I found this to be very comforting, and also very strange. I was always taught that gay men were only after sex, and after telling Dave of my own homosexuality, I practically expected him to pressure me into more intimate situations. This was simply not the case. Dave respected my boundaries, and I respected him for that.

When I told him I had some more embarrassing questions to ask him, that I didn’t think would be appropriate to do in private because of my own temptations, he immediately suggested we go to dinner. The public ambiance of a restaurant would remove any possibility of “falling into temptation” while maintaining enough privacy that our conversation would not be overheard. I was cautious at first, because I didn’t want to feel like I was being taken on a date. We resolved that we would each pay for our own meals, take separate cars, and treat it as nothing more than two friends going out to eat, because, after all, that would be exactly what it was. We went to Panda Express so nothing would be too formal, and I finally got to ask the questions that had been weighing on my mind regarding alcohol, drugs, sex, promiscuity, and the more negative details of the gay lifestyle.

Questions led to more questions, and when dinner was over and we had been sitting in the restaurant for far too long, our conversation turned back to religion, and I thought it would be safe to invite him back to a house that I was watching for a friend so that we could continue our conversation.

As the night drew to a close I saw something in Dave’s eye that sent my head into a spiral. There was a glimmer there that told me he was starting to have feelings for me. I knew he would never act on this interest, out of respect for me, but I also knew that the situation had come that I had prepared for during the last 12 years of struggle. That fact didn’t scare me as much as knowing that I wasn’t strong enough to resist. I started telling myself that there was nothing wrong with wanting to know what it felt like to hug him, but before my train of thought could go beyond that, I excused myself and went into the bedroom, where I hit my knees in prayer.

I pleaded with my Heavenly Father. I told him that the moment had come where I would fall, and I knew I wasn’t strong enough spiritually, even after all of my preparation, to resist. The worst part was that part of me didn't want to resist. I begged God for any excuse… a telephone call, an earthquake, a fire, an angelic vision, anything to distract me or give me a reason to send Dave home.

In that moment I think I felt the spirit more strongly than I ever have in my life. I could almost make out the words, “It will be alright.”

I argued back. A spiritual revelation like that was not enough. Couldn’t I at least get a “Don’t do it!”, or “You'll go to Hell!?” Things would not be alright, I was going to fail!

The voice returned, and simply said, “I know.”

I don’t believe those two words were an endorsement, maybe not even approval, but I did learn more about agency and the lengths to which God is willing to go for my happiness. I knew that God wanted me to be happy, and that if His way wasn’t working for me, then He was willing to allow me to try my own.

I think when people say they received an answer from God telling them that it was OK to be gay, that they aren't lying. I know, from an LDS perspective, that such an answer would seem impossible. But I think, perhaps, that such a claim is simply an answer similar to mine - and what a loving God it is who gives us such range on our agency.

My resolve remained unsure as the spirit drifted slowly away. The only thing that remained was the knowledge that I was, in fact, gay, and the choice in this situation wasn't whether or not to break the laws of God, but whether or not I would allow myself to love. Did I dare allow my relationship with Dave to grow? Was it even possible for me to love? I had tried with so many women without success, so since I had never felt those feelings was it even possible? I didn't know.

But I finally got off my knees, resolved to give love a chance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Shift of Faith

I can tell you the exact moment when I lost faith in the church’s ability to help me overcome my same gender attraction. It was the same moment that I realized they had no understanding of my struggle. Sure, I knew that Elder Oaks had stated that the causes of homosexuality were unknown. I knew that the church didn’t officially endorse marriage or reparative therapy as a solution to the “problem.” But for some reason I continued to believe that there was something I was missing, something that could be found in the church, something I wasn’t doing, or didn’t understand, that by finding, would put into perspective the grander scheme of my place in the plan of salvation. Now I leave that for God to reveal, and hope that he will do so using the church. Until then, I’ll finally listen to the choir of church leaders that I had heard for so long singing “I don’t know.”

The moment was rather simple. I was sitting in sacrament meeting in my local single’s ward during the time that the federal marriage amendment was before the senate. Around this time the church put out a letter requesting all of its members to write their senators in support of the amendment. Our high-counsel man got up to read the letter, but instead of simply reading what was put out by the church, he first attacked “gays and lesbians” as being “detrimental to society and the sacred institution of marriage.” His rant continued for about ten minutes (perhaps there was just some time left in the meeting he felt he should fill?), before finally reading the letter, adding his personal testimony to the fact that the amendment needed to pass, and sitting down.

The bishop during this time knew of my plight. He purposely avoided my eyes during the entire tirade, and did not stop the man at the pulpit. Obviously I was furious. I remember feeling my hands ball into fists, hoping no one would notice while at the same time feeling an overwhelming desire to get up and march out in protest. The only reason I didn’t was because, at this time, I wasn’t prepared to come out publicly.

To make matters worse, as the words of the closing hymn were being sung, I was struck by the incredible hypocrisy that only I seemed to notice. I looked around the congregation in awe and wonder as they sang “As I have loved you, love one another.” I got so choked up I couldn’t sing.

That night I wrote my senator asking him to vote “no” on the federal amendment to legally define marriage between one man and one woman.

The next week I had my regular appointment to see my bishop and report how I was doing. After informing him of the astonishing event I had witnessed, and that he had been apart of the week earlier, and telling him of my choice to write my senator in opposition to the amendment, I was informed my temple recommend was then in danger. I was, the bishop informed me, in violation of two of the temple recommend interview questions (paraphrased): 1. Do you sustain the leadership of the church, and 2. Do you support or affiliate yourself with any group whose practices are contrary to the doctrines of the church.

I did not lose my temple recommend that day, but was warned to repent and take heed. I left the office flabbergasted and awed that such a display of outright hatred was expressed with no repercussions. This fact caused me to distrust my bishop’s sincerity in his quest to help me. I realized that the church, with all of its understanding of both the physical and spiritual world, had no idea, or just didn’t care, what it felt like to be a full-fledged worthy member struggling with same gender attraction. There was no endorsed program to help me, and those that tried to help knew less about how to help than I did.