Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The List

One of the many questions I often asked myself, and later asked to others, was “What can I do to overcome my same-gender attraction?” I was given various answers from multiple sources, but tried literally everything someone thought would help. I have compiled a quick list of everything I tried, in hopes that, perhaps, it can be of help to someone else, as well as show you exactly how much I did to try to overcome this part of my nature. I would like to elaborate on each of these list items, so forgive me if this post runs a bit long:

1. Prayer
2. Fasting
3. Church attendance
4. Scripture study
5. Seminary/Institute
6. Temple attendance
7. Mission service
8. Group and Individual therapy
9. Weekly meetings with bishops / Blessings
10. Church activities
11. Sports
12. Enlarging my circle of male friends
13. Reading church sponsored materials
14. Dating

1. Prayer. My Father in Heaven and I still have a great relationship – and this relationship was built on prayer. I’m sure you’ve heard of other gay young men who have claimed that prayer has been a staple in their life, and I am no different. I depended so much on prayer, that I don’t think there was a single day that went by without my offering at least four prayers a day related specifically to this issue. I’ve had prayers that have lasted hours, I’ve had prayers that lasted seconds. I’ve had tears during prayers in private, and even tears during prayers in public. Perhaps, most significantly, were the prayers I said before going to bed. My mom once caught me getting into bed without kneeling, and she asked me if I had forgotten to say my prayers. I made up some excuse about how I had said my nightly prayer earlier when she didn’t see, but the fact was, I prayed from the moment my light went out until I fell asleep every night, in hopes of keeping my thoughts clean and avoiding any dreams that might end up erotic. I don’t know how long these prayers lasted on average, but often they went well into the night.

2. Fasting. I was taught that fasting on fast Sunday was really the only time someone needed to fast, and that fasting any extra was superfluous. I was taught fasting on fast Sunday was enough to show God that you were willing and ready to do his will. I started fasting half-day when I was eight, and moved to a full fast when I was sixteen. I started fasting for the issue of same-gender attraction every month when I was twelve. I never missed a month, and often added extra fasts "just in case." Even when family outings, or holidays, or something else interfered, I made up the fast the week before, in hopes of showing the Lord just how hopeful I was, and how willing I was to put Him first.

3. Church attendance. I was never one to dislike going to church. I loved every meeting, and often went to more than one church session. For a while I was a member of a Spanish speaking branch, so I would attend those meetings, a branch missionary meeting, and then attend my home ward meetings all in the same day. Even after “coming out,” church attendance has been something I enjoy doing. I can’t remember ever skipping a meeting growing up, unless I was sick. My family even made it a point to find the local church on vacations.

4. Scripture study. I love the scriptures, especially the Bible and the Doctrine & Covenants. The Book of Mormon has never been a favorite of mine, but I made sure to read it every day anyway, and always rose to a scripture reading challenge, whether issued in a class, or by the church. I’m excited to share some of the things I have learned in regards to the scriptures on this blog. On average, my scripture study started around a half hour a day, but as I found temptation more difficult to resist, that time increased to at least an hour.

5. Seminary/Institute. Most high school kids I knew would occasionally cut class when it came to seminary, without any guilt or remorse. After all, we lived in Utah, and seminary was “release time” from a regularly scheduled school day. The school didn’t really care what you did with that time. I never missed a day. Institute was the same way. I always did my assignments, participated heavily in any and all activities (yup, even early morning devotionals), and never got anything less than an A. This was the one class where I felt it was inappropriate to get anything less… after all, how could I justify a B in "“God 101."

6. Temple attendance. When I turned 12 and went to the temple my first time, I loved it so much I made it a point to go at least monthly. This schedule became harder as I grew up and had less and less time, but when I was told that temple attendance might be the key to overcoming SGA, I increased my frequency. Once endowed, I frequented as often as possible, which often meant going more than once a month. If I felt particularly unworthy, I would go anyway and sit on the grounds until I did feel worthy, or would return another time that month.

7. Mission service. I made a promise to God that if He would do two things for me, I would serve an honorable mission for Him with all my might, heart, and strength. First, I wanted my inappropriate desires to go away. Second, I wanted to learn a foreign language. I repented for the second requirement my first day in the MTC. The wording of my release letter informed my priesthood leaders at home that I served a “… very honorable mission.” They were impressed by the addition of the word “very,” as was I.

8. Group and Individual therapy. I have a whole other blog on this subject.

9. Weekly meetings with a bishop. After I started therapy, I decided I needed the help and support of everyone who wouldn’t look down on me. I started meeting weekly with my bishop, and at his request started attending a singles ward, where I met with that bishop weekly, and my home ward bishop monthly. I used these meetings to bounce ideas, report on my progress, discuss my frustration, get priesthood blessings, and get encouragement. I found these two bishops to be especially supportive of me. I still meet with that home ward bishop on an every-other-month basis.

10. Church activities. During the years when I was in college and working full time, I found it difficult to arrange my schedule in such a way that I was able to participate in church activities during the week. At the insistence of my counselor, as well as my bishop, I made such arrangements. I also participated in my own “activities” during church – such as learning the names of every member of the elder’s quorum, and ensuring that I went anywhere I was invited to go with my fellow peers.

11. Sports. Yup, I even started learning new sports. I started figure skating (I know, not exactly a "straight" sport, but it gave me an outlet where I could set and achieve goals), learned to play golf (however awfully), attended super bowl parties, learned to play ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, and tennis, and specifically integrated myself into any sports related activities at church… except basketball… I never liked basketball. I gave myself this one exception.

12. Enlarging my circle of male friends. When I got home from my mission I really only had two good close male friends. It was suggested that building healthy relationships with other men would be advantageous, in hopes of settling the need I had for male companionship with friendship. I reconnected with two mission companions, and, as mentioned earlier, learned the names of the elders in my quorum (which, subsequently, earned me a spot as the quorum’s first counselor), and started to integrate myself into new circles of friends. I consider my success in this aspect to be rather high.

13. Reading church sponsored materials. Yes, this includes the Ensign and the Liahona (the Spanish version), but it also includes Evergreen books, the church’s 12 step addiction recovery program (in hopes that I would find something useful), Ty Mansfield’s book (with Stuart’s section ripped out by my mom. She didn’t want me to read anything that could be interpreted as “failure”), my counselor's book (which is fantastic), and many others. I reread the entire missionary library during this time as well, and had my bishop order in all of the materials written specifically to church leadership in regards to same-gender attraction.

14. Dating. When I got back from my mission I was practically engaged to a girl who had waited for me. When that didn’t work out I took some time to be single, and then continued along the dating path, with the encouragement of my parents, church leaders, and counselor. My church leaders always would ask, “Do you think your not wanting to get married could be because you haven’t found the right one yet? Maybe it isn’t because of this whole SGA thing.” Uh huh. Sure. I really did enjoy my time with these women, and became very good friends with most of them. Thankfully, most of us were able to part ways on good terms, and most have accepted me fully for who I am today.

The only step I can think of that could be on this list but isn’t, is the step of marriage. That is something I don’t think should just be “tried.” I realize that it decreases feelings of SGA for a very select few, but there is just no way I would be willing to take that risk. More on my feelings about marriage later.

If you can think of something that should be on this list, but isn’t, please feel free to contact me at gaysaint@gmail.com. Most likely, I've already tried it and just forgot to add it, but I'm always willing to accept suggestions.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The End of the Story

I would like to finish my “life story” so that I can get on to discussing more important issues (which I have already taken a pause to do more than once, sorry about that), and focus on individual experiences that affect how I live my life. I think I can finish this story rather quickly; after a few months alone, I met the fantastic man with whom I now share my life.

Honestly, our relationship progressed faster than I expected it to. I told him when we first met that I didn’t want to rush into a relationship, and that I was having fun just dating and being unattached. But the fact that we spent almost every day together negated that thought process rather quickly, and after just a few weeks we decided we would like to be exclusive. We celebrated the one year anniversary of that decision September 12, 2008. I have never felt so in sync with someone in all of my life. I have never been so happy to wake up or to come home from work. I have never been so in love.

My feelings are so completely wrapped up in this person that I can’t imagine my life without him. I never thought I would be able to say that about another human being. I have no desire for anyone, or anything else. He has become a closer member of my family than any other family member I have known or had.

In counseling I was told that if I “fulfilled” my desires for another man, that I would suddenly be confronted by a bottomless pit, always looking for the next best thing, and would never be satisfied or quenched in my lust. I have found that to be an outright lie. Never have I been so fulfilled. Never have I thought that there was something better. I imagine that the way I feel now is the same way many of you reading this have felt about your spouse or partner.

Of course, I say this is the end of my story, because I have brought you up to present day – but the fact remains – my life with this man is really just beginning. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but my conviction to him is stronger than ever, and I know he feels the same way about me. I feel truly blessed – yes, by God, – to have him in my life.

Although I am plagued by certain fears and uncertainties, just as any other couple, I am sure our relationship is enduring. No matter the challenge, I know that if we stay by each others' side and make decisions together, we will get through anything.

I have often pondered how it could be that the Lord could be responsible for our relationship, considering the LDS church’s stand on the subject. When I have considered this, both personally and in prayer, I have been reminded of an experience I had on my mission.

While serving in Weslaco, Texas, I had the pleasure of meeting the son of a man who served on a team that was responsible for the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This man read both Hebrew and Greek, and was a great scriptorian. He started this experience by telling us that the Greek language has a flow, almost like poetry, so when it is cut - as in scriptural translation or change - a change in flow can usually be detected.

He then had us read what would become one of my favorite passages of scripture:

Mark 8:22-25

“22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him.
23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought.
24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking.
25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.”

This translator then assured us that in the Greek scriptures, the flow was uninterrupted, and to his knowledge and ability, the translation was correct. He then asked us why the blind man was not initially healed.

We, as missionaries, responded it was because of a lack of faith.

The translator then shook his head and said, “Every time Christ healed someone, he asked them if they had faith in Him. Do you honestly believe he would not ask this man the same question – although it might not be documented?”

We said that we weren’t sure. The translator then asked, “And if he didn’t have the faith, how was it that he was healed in the end. Did Christ mess up? Is that why the man wasn’t completely healed on the first attempt? Obviously he could see slightly, but the people the man could see looked like 'tree walking' or, blurred shadows.”

We responded that of course Christ wouldn’t have made a mistake, but we were unable to come up with a reason as to why the Savior would only partially heal the man.

The translator, after many frustrated attempts to help us attain the correct answer, told us, “In verse 22, who was it that brought the man to Christ?”

We responded it was the apostles.

He continued, “So they were with Him during the healing. I think Christ was teaching his apostles in this moment. In just a few verses down, Christ asks the apostles who they think he is, his plan, and the fact that he would be sacrificed for their sins, but the did not understand. These were the apostles of Christ! And they didn’t understand his gospel clearly. They, in fact, still saw the gospel as ‘trees walking.’ Christ was teaching his apostles by example, and acknowledging that they did not understand his gospel clearly.”

I remember feeling the spirit confirm to me that this was true, and I wondered myself, how much of the gospel I still saw unclearly. If Christ’s own apostles were unable to clearly see, even in the presence of the Master, how blind must I - as a 20 year old missionary- still be?

This passage of scripture gives me the simple understanding that there are things that I, this world, the church, apostles, prophets, and angels still see as “trees walking.” I believe the issues of homosexual attraction, love, expression, and tolerance are just a few of the items of which we still don’t have a clear picture. I don’t know if, like the apostles in relation to the Savior’s sacrifice, this is because we simply don’t understand all of the information that the Savior is telling us, or if we just don’t have all of the information because of the Godhead's choice to withhold such revelation from the church at this current time. What I do know, is that one day, the Savior will place his hands on my eyes, and open my understanding. I don’t know what the result of this “healing” will be. It might be a way for the man that I love and me to be together forever. It might be a greater understanding that will give us the desire to live separate lives. For certain, however, it will be a decision made with clear vision.

I cannot wait to see perfectly. Until then, I’ll be happy with the vision I have been given. I might still see aspects of the gospel as trees walking, but at least I’m not blind.