29 November 2010

THT: A Call to Repentance

Since I have become more and more outspoken about my thoughts and ideas, I have been called to repentance by various people, none of whom have the authority or right to call me to repentance. I have also been written off as one of the tares that need to be rooted out or one of the elect who has been deceived. All these judgments have been made about me by fellow members of the church.

"My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." 
-D&C 64:8-10                                                 
Before moving on, I must say that I forgive anyone who has sought to judge me. I don't have any bitterness to those that have called me to repentance. Having said that, I feel I should address how I manage to continue to believe, despite the quoted scriptures and judgment I get from the members of the church.
Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment that was simply a scripture reference. The scripture reads, "And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared." Apart from the fact that the person who posted this is obviously judging me, calling me unrighteous and damned (not saved), and accusing me of stoning the prophets according to his or her interpretation of this scripture, it was basically an instance of "BoM Bashing" (kind of like Bible bashing).

While this can be great fun, the church does not endorse "bible bashing." Why? Because you can find a scripture to support almost any idea you have and condemn another person while declaring your own righteousness- just as I have demonstrated above. I don't want the person who wrote that comment to feel attacked at all. I really do appreciate everyone who comments, including the author of this one.

Okay, so I hope you can see the approach I take to comments like these. This approach comes from a more foundational belief I have about the difference between the gospel and the church, one that was articulated in general conference in 1984 in a talk given by Elder Poelman and has helped me in my continued belief in the gospel.

The Church and the Gospel, are two entirely different things. The Gospel is the doctrine taught by Christ. Who's gospel is it? Christ's. Not Thomas S. Monson's, not Joseph Smith's, not your religion professor's. It is Christ's gospel. Everything else is an appendage to the doctrine of Christ.

The Church is the organization that acts as a catalyst to promote that gospel and provides the space and structure within which the gospel can be taught and lived. It includes the leadership, the for-profit businesses of the church, the members, and basically everything else you can imagine that is not the doctrine taught by Christ. In summary, the church is the culture in which we presently function within as members. Let's recap:
The Gospel = Doctrine (teachings) of Christ
The Church = Culture
We get these two mixed up all the time in the church. How many times have you heard someone bare their testimony and say, "I know the church is true." Can a culture be "true?" Is there such thing as the only true culture? People also often say something like, "I don't know where I'd be without the church in my life, it scares me to even think about it." Really? So if the church was taken away from you, the doctrine with which you guide your life with would disappear also? What about the countries of the world were "the church" hasn't been established but "the gospel" has been preached to and received by people in that same country? What we really mean, I believe, is that we don't know how we would navigate our lives without the guidance that Christ has given us through his teachings.

Okay, so you can see how we confuse the two. People all are on all different parts of the spectrum with how they incorporate the two into their lives. Often what happens is that people are so wrapped up in the culture (enrichment, scouts, mutual, home (and visit) teaching, FHE, etc, etc) that they start letting the culture inform the doctrine. We interpret the doctrine through the eye of the culture that surrounds it. But, we've already established that a culture cannot be true. I guarantee that the culture was extremely different in the early days of the church from what the church is now. Does it make the doctrine (Christ's gospel) any less true? No. So filtering the gospel through the eyes of the present culture invariably leads to problems.

I am on the other end of the spectrum. I let the gospel (the core teachings of Christ) inform the culture that I function within. Obviously, this is the correct method in my opinion. So when something is said or scriptures are cited by someone or actions are taken against me, I don't let those things inform the doctrine of Christ that I believe. I try and see everything (including the words of prophets) through the lens of the gospel while keeping in mind the culture within which the interpretations are made and the words are being said. Sometimes the culture is so offensive that I cannot feel a connection with Christ and his teachings in the physical organized church. It is hard to focus on things like love and forgiveness when you are sitting in the midst of judgmental people who tell you to your face that you will not be saved. So often, I choose not to subject myself to that culture. But I do fully embrace the gospel.

There are so many misinterpretations and misguided beliefs that result from the mixing of the Church and the Gospel. Here is one, and it helps explain how I maintain my identity as a Mormon and believer even when prophets are sometimes the reason for my reluctance to subject myself to the culture (which I wrote a little about in this post):

The doctrine of Christ clearly teaches us that prophets are imperfect. They make mistakes. Open the scriptures if you doubt this. There are many accounts of prophets making mistakes, and not just little ones. Some of them are huge. The culture, that is the church, is organized in such a way that we don't question our leaders. Imagine sitting in Sunday School and the Bishop makes a comment that really just rubs you wrong. Do you raise your hand and confront him? No. And if you did, surely you would be called out and maybe even be told that you are driving the spirit away. We don't question authority in the church. So this is our culture. Then we take a scripture (doctrine) and look at it through the eyes of our culture and condemn the person who disagrees with a leader's words. We accuse people who disagree of being like those who stoned the prophets, damned to hell. And yet Christ's doctrine is clear in its call for everyone to ponder and pray about the truth of any words spoken to us that are put forth as true.

Even when he visited the Nephites and taught them and established the gospel among them, he asked them to go and ponder and pray to God about what had been taught. Do we do that? Do we go through conference talks and really ponder and pray about the things that are said? Or do we simply accept it as truth even as we nod off during the one time we listen to it? And then what right do any of us have to condemn someone else who has pondered and prayed and studied the message and finds that he/she disagrees with a point or two?

The Church (member, leaders, activities, organizations, auxiliaries and the way all these things interact... the culture) is heavily influenced by it's time, environment, and the circumstances surrounding it. The cultural biases and prejudices of today make even the word "gay" wrong in today's church. However, ALL people necessarily have limited understanding and experience (including prophets) and therefore their concepts of what is good and true are fallible. Each person can only envision a part of our shared reality. Such partiality, when presented as the totality, can severely limit the lives who embrace it as truth.

Even apostle's words must be read and understood in context and must then be evaluated in terms of those limitations. No person's portrayal of common truth and collective good can be allowed to stand unexamined and unquestioned.

"You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me [the Lord] if it be right." God doesn't ask us to simply accept things as truth and follow blindly. "For he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."

I am so bad at keeping my posts at a reasonable length. Sorry readers.

28 November 2010

THT: Bisexuality

I have been thinking for a few weeks now that I needed to bring up bisexuality. Frankly, I am a bit disappointed in myself for not bringing up the issue before. You see, I am just as ignorant of bisexuality as many heterosexual people are of homosexuality. I cannot understand bisexuals on the level that another bisexual could. Realizing this helps me see why it is so hard for straight people to even consider gay people.

When I started the polls on my site, I included heterosexuality and homosexuality. I completely left out bisexuality. Not on purpose, mind you. I just forgot. When I realized this, it was too late to change the poll because people had already voted. So please, if any of you reading this fall into the spectrum of bisexuality, forgive me.
I firmly believe that bisexuality is just as real as homosexuality. I also believe that many people use this as a stepping stone on their way to accepting that they are gay. It is far easier to admit you are bisexual than homosexual. At least then you can still hold onto the possibility that you like, and could make a life with a woman. I myself went through a short time (very short) when I would claim bisexuality. I was so afraid of the word gay. It was the stepping stone between straight and gay.

However, it wasn't long before I realized I was being a coward. Too afraid to face the real truth that I was pretty much as gay as they come. I have no interest in intimate relationships with women. In fact, female sexuality is a bit hard for me to swallow most of the time. I am not disgusted by the female form... but just don't show me anything sexual. Anyway, many, like me, claim bisexuality for a time because it is easier than claiming homosexuality.

Having said that, there are true bisexuals walking among us. I didn't believe it until having met some. One of my good friends is bisexual. Let me say how difficult I imagine being a bisexual would be. Like I said before, I don't understand it. I have heard some people describe it like this:
There are times in my life when I am noticing a lot more females and feel the draw to be with a girl while I almost entirely ignore males. Then, after a time (usually months, and sometimes years), all of a sudden, it switches and I find myself checking out males almost exclusively.
One of my friends is in a gay relationship. At one point, while he was in the relationship, he was very much interested in women. He didn't care to check out guys at all. But he stayed committed and eventually that period passed.

Can you imagine the frustration? I certainly feel like my orientation is much easier to deal with than bisexuality would be. I'm not sure how it works. Can a true bisexual be completely satisfied in a partnership with one member of one gender? If so, I'd imagine that many bisexuals choose the socially acceptable orientation and live life as a heterosexual (I certainly would).

In my research about changing orientation, I have found that most "success" cases are bisexuals and that they learn to suppress the homosexual desires and embrace the heterosexual ones. They learn to find fulfillment in a heterosexual relationship. On the other hand, if there are no heterosexual desires to begin with (and I don't mean "I wish I was straight" I mean, "wow, I'd really like to make out with that girl/boy"), it hasn't proven possible to create those heterosexual feelings to replace the homosexual ones.

Anyway, to all my bisexual brothers and sisters out there- know that you are loved and thought of. I hope that my understanding about your sexuality will continue to grow and that you find the tools you need to help guide you through your life. Regardless of the path you take, I hope you feel my support.

27 November 2010

PE: My Story Part 7- Life or Death

I had come to the conclusion that I had three options:
  1. Reject my orientation and live according to what I was told was right by the church and continue an existence that held no place for love. Continue feeling like I was living a lie, that I was a walking hypocrite. I would simply be waiting to die to enjoy my existence. 
  2. Reject the teachings of the church and embrace my homosexuality, living as a gay guy, seeking companionship and enjoying life to some extent, but also always believe I was going to hell.
  3. Commit suicide.
I had already been trying to live by that first choice for my whole life. Living that way brought me to a place where I felt emotionally and spiritually dead. I really felt like the walking dead. No hope. No confidence. I could not choose to go on living that way.

The second choice scared me. I didn't want to go to hell. I wasn't a bad person. I really believed that choice #2 would mean an eternity in hell.

So that left third choice. I decided that dying would be better than living a miserable life waiting for death to relieve me. It would be better to make one offensive choice than to go on racking up a list of sins as I lived as a gay man. It was the best way I could think of where I didn't have to make the choice between hell and a miserable life. Just end it. The last choice I'd ever have to make.

Thinking about death was the only source of relief. I would dread the night. I knew what the night would be like. I wouldn't be able to sleep. I'd be in physical agony wanting so badly to die. I didn't know what to do or who to trust. My mind wouldn't stop. I would think about all the different ways I could kill myself. Then I would get online, and research. I would gather information about all the different methods I could think of. Success rate, level of pain, materials and preparation needed, etc. This went on for weeks.

I'd be going to or from school and unintentionally notice a tree or stair case that was high enough. I would make mental notes, "that would work. I could hang myself there in the early morning when people were asleep. People on the street wouldn't be able to see." I'd catch myself thinking those things all the time. And while I realized that was dangerous thinking, I didn't care much. The only thing that kept me from doing it was because I knew how bad it would hurt the people I loved. I couldn't do that to them. I couldn't hurt them so badly. It wasn't long though before I realized that I would hurt them no matter what I did.

I drove home for a short visit in August. I wasn't planning on telling my family, but I didn't rule it out. While I was there, my mom talked to me about things that were going on in my siblings lives. I listened to her as she blamed herself and her relationship with my father for the faults or struggles of my siblings. I knew right then and there that I couldn't tell her. She would take this "sin" upon herself, blame herself for the way I am. She already had so much going on, already on the brink of a mental breakdown.

Then, the news came on and announced that Prop 8 was being turned over to the courts to determine if it was constitutional. You have to understand, my parents were both active on the campaign. They were on the phones and going to people's doors just like the church asked them and organized them to do. So this news definitely brought out reactions. Comments were made by everyone. For example, we had been shopping at the mall together, and I tried on a shirt. My sister said, "eww- that's a fag shirt." I asked her if that was the only problem she had with it. The most stinging remark in response to the news about prop 8, was made by my dad who said, "they used to just kill the gays, that's what they should do." My mom was more subtle in her negative responses, but they were there nevertheless.

In the past, all this negativity was easily dismissed by my extreme denial of my own sexuality. In fact, in some ways I embraced it. I figured if I could hate gay people, I could hate the gay right out of me while fooling everyone else too. But now that I had come to terms with it, and knew that this unwanted orientation wasn't going anywhere, these comments were personal. They were about me. I didn't sleep much that night. Nor did I sleep at all the next night which was the last night before I was driving back to Utah. Instead I was online, finalizing my plans for suicide. It was done. The decision was made. I realized that I couldn't subject myself to that kind of talk from my family any longer. It was too painful. And while they might not say those things if they knew, I couldn't tell them because it would hurt them too much. They would hate me and blame themselves for me being so disgusting. So there it was, I was going to hurt them no matter what course of action I took.

I hated the thought of being around to remind them of how much I hurt them and embarrass them. I hated the thought that I would live knowing my family was ashamed of me. I figured, everyone dies... it was a part of life. It is natural. Not everyone is gay. That wasn't natural. So they would be able to get over my death much quicker than they would be able to get over me being gay.

The next morning, I had breakfast with everyone. I said goodbye for what I knew to be the last time. Despite only sleeping a few hours over the last two days, I left for Utah. I didn't care, I had to get away. I went over my plan. That week I was going to buy the materials I needed, write goodbye letters, and get things in order. I hadn't cried since I was 12. But, let me tell you, I was bawling. For over an hour. It wasn't because I was afraid to die. I was so upset that I was going to be such a source of pain for my family. I was distraught over how much I'd hurt them. But I knew the pain was inescapable.

The drive was emotionally draining. But that week was actually the best week since this whole situation blew up in my face. I was in control. I knew the end was coming and that it was in my hands. That was such a source of comfort. I found peace in the death that I would be inflicting upon myself. I wrote my letters. I went shopping for materials. I even started a playlist of music I was planning on listening to as I died peacefully.

I really didn't feel irrational in my approach. I really did feel that death was a logical and legitimate method to deal with my situation. I was open to any possible thought or idea that I hadn't considered that may provide a good reason for living. But I had honestly thought through everything I could think of.

After finishing a goodbye letter, I got a message from a guy in Salt Lake who I had expressed my situation to. He sent me his perspective on his experience. It was beautifully written. More than that, it had a scent to it that smelled a lot like hope. Hope was something my life was drained of long ago. But it sparked something in me. He demanded I read a book called "No More Goodbyes" by Carol Lynn Person. I knew that if that book was anything like his words, I needed to read it. It was a matter of life and death.

I went straightaway to Barnes and Nobel to buy it. This friend in Salt Lake (who I hadn't actually met in real life) kept checking up on me to see if I was reading. That wasn't a problem because I devoured that book. The words breathed life into me. It spoke of hope. I wasn't alone. There were so many people just like me. There were good LDS people out there who cared about their gay brothers and sisters. I didn't have to die. I could go forward in confidence and determination to live a good life, regardless of others opinions on what a good life was.

It gave me the courage to live in the last days of breath that I had left. It also gave me the courage to tell my family. Before I was even done reading, I purchased another copy to have mailed to my parents house.


I have to make a note here. If you feel like I describe in this post, please, PLEASE find "No More Goodbyes" by Carol Lynn Person. It saved my life. Also, send me an email. I will talk to you. If possible, I would even be willing to visit you and talk to you face to face. Life is worth living. And you are not limited to the three choices I thought I had. Happiness is waiting out there for you. More happiness then you can imagine right on the other side of thick hedges that surround you. You CAN break through those hedges into the light and there are people that will fight along with you to cut your path through. I will always be willing to help anyone in their fight because I know how painful it is to do it alone.

26 November 2010

THT: Thanksgiving

I feel like I should take some time to talk about some things I am thankful for. I hate to think that my blog is simply a source of negativity. I really do have a lot to be grateful for and I am not just some bitter, critical person that feeds off of debate and arguments. Here are some things I love about my life:

My Family

My family is far from perfect. We argue. We make mistakes. But they have shown me what unconditional love is. No matter what things I do that disappoint them, they continue to love me. They have always supported my goals and ambitions. My family relationships are one of the only sure things in this world. Friends come and go. Life changes. But I will always have family- nothing changes that.

Capacity for Learning

I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to expand my mind and gain both spiritual and secular understanding. I have been blessed with a good education. I have been placed in situations where my mind has been challenged and I've had to come up with solutions based on the bits of knowledge and experience I've gained.

Being Gay

I never thought the day would come where I would say I was grateful for this. I would have laughed in the face of the person that would have suggested it to me. But I am. Not only has being gay has taught me so much about how to treat other people, but going through the painful process of coming to terms with it has taught me about love, God, the atonement, and life in general.


I have amazing friends. I wish you could all meet them and have the chance to know them. They are such a great source of love and support. They are examples to me of what I should strive to be like. They teach me things all the time.


I have such an appreciation for the artistic talents of others. I love the ability it gives human beings to express feelings and ideas in such a personalized way and that it can convey meaning to the soul independent of language and codes.

I'm sure I could go on forever about the things I am thankful for. Let is suffice that I know and realize that there is a lot of good in my life. I have a lot to live for. I am so glad I am past that place in my life where I believed that there was no reason to live. If anyone ever feels that way, let me be a witness of how things do get better. You or your loved one may be going through a really dark time. But there is light at the end of that tunnel and it is worth fighting to see.

24 November 2010

ART: Take Me As I Am

This time I finally see the reason why
I can't do this alone
It took some time and concentration
To believe it, this I know.
I need to build my faith sometimes
But I am so comfortable in line
I'm up there's no more time,
To try to mess with this design
Two nights compete everyone's asleep
and I don't want to say these words to you
I'll be your hand take me as I am
I just wanna be with you
Take me as I am cause I'm going
I was too scared to start now
I'm too scared to let go
Take me as I am, cause I'm growing
but its so hard to tell when I'm not used to this soul
Take me as I am, cause I'm going
I was too scared to start now I'm too scared to let go
Take me as I am, Cause I'm growing
but its so hard to tell when I'm not used to this soul
I lift my voice to sing out
Let the sound of my heart bring out
These hands aren't holding me down
Never again will I be with out
I need to feel my faith sometimes
But I am so comfortable in line
I'm up there's no more time
To try to mess with this design
Two nights compete everyone's asleep
and I don't want to say these words to you
I'll be your hand take me as I am
I just wanna be with you
Take me as I am, cause I'm going
I was too scared to start now
I'm too scared to let go
Take me as I am, cause I'm growing
but its so hard to tell when
I'm not used to this soul
Take me as I am, cause I'm going
I was too scared to start now I'm too scared to let go
Take me as I am, cause I'm growing
But its so hard to tell when I'm not used to this soul
  -Take Me As I Am by FM Static


I've started yet another category on my blog- Art. I love the arts. Music, Writing, Theater, Photography, Film, everything. I think that it can speak to the soul in ways that other methods can't. This song played on my ipod today. It reminded me of the kind of people I like to associate with. The people who take me as I am. They don't love me in spite of who I am, they love me for who I am. They don't love me because of what I could be tomorrow, they love me for the person I am today. And while I grow and learn and seek betterment and progress in my life, I am not looking for people who accept me based on their projections for my future. I am looking for the people who love me for exactly the person I am at this very moment. I know if they do, they will love the person I am growing into.

23 November 2010

ARG: Elder Oaks & Elder Wickman on SGA - Part 5

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If we were to look back at someone who had a ‘short fuse,’ and we were to look at their parents who might have had a short fuse, some might identify a genetic influence in that.

ELDER OAKS: No, we do not accept the fact that conditions that prevent people from attaining their eternal destiny were born into them without any ability to control. That is contrary to the Plan of Salvation, and it is contrary to the justice and mercy of God. It’s contrary to the whole teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which expresses the truth that by or through the power and mercy of Jesus Christ we will have the strength to do all things. That includes resisting temptation. That includes dealing with things that we’re born with, including disfigurements, or mental or physical incapacities. None of these stand in the way of our attaining our eternal destiny. The same may be said of a susceptibility or inclination to one behavior or another which if yielded to would prevent us from achieving our eternal destiny.


ME: “Dealing with the things we are born with” is very different from “controlling” the things we were born with. If I was born unable to walk, I could not control that. Nothing I could do, no matter how faithful I was would change the fact that I could not walk naturally like everyone else. I could, however, choose to deal with it through the use of other, less conventional, less acceptable methods of getting around to make up for the fact that I cannot walk, such as using a wheelchair.

But not even that is a fair example. One that would be more accurate is the following: Say I was born much like a dolphin. I physically cannot walk (just like the previous example), but more than that, I was born to swim. It is a core characteristic that determines that my life will be lived in the water no matter how badly I wish to live on the land. Yet I am being asked to control my urges to want to be in the water, and to do the best I can to live on land.

Dealing with it would be another thing. The way I might choose to deal with it is to live in the water despite the fact that I come from a society that lives on land. Of course I can choose how to deal with it... but my choices are limited. It’s as if I am a starving child with one apple in front of me labeled “poison”. I can choose to not take the apple, and die slowly from starvation. Or I can choose to eat it, enjoy the taste and texture and die quickly. It isn’t as if there is a healthy apple next to the poison one- not for me.

I cannot have the type of companionship people seek for in this life with a woman. It isn’t possible for me. It is the healthy apple that is presented to most people, but that is absent in my situation. But more than that, I am fully able, and fully equipped to desire and have that type of companionship with another man. The “poison” apple. So rather than my other choice of waiting to die of starvation, I am choosing that apple. And guess what? It turns out that label was just that- a label. This apple was’t poison after all. It has enabled me not only to live, but to live happy and satisfied.

The problem with Elder Oaks’ argument mostly rests on the notion that being gay is a condition that prevents me “from attaining [my] eternal destiny.” I don’t believe that. I don’t believe anyone but God knows what my eternal destiny is. Elder Oaks can’t assume that my eternal destiny is the same as his. What if I am not destined to walk like him? What if I am created to swim or to fly? This is what Elder Oaks bases his whole argument on and I don’t see how it is a sufficiently strong foundation to validate the conclusions he presents.

It is not meet that man should be alone and the church-endorsed celibacy isn't just a call to restrain from sex. It is a call to deny yourself companionship. The church presents one choice for me- the choice to be alone the rest of my life. Adam had that choice too after Eve partook of the fruit didn't he? But he decided to eat that which was forbidden him in order that he could stay with Eve. If my choice is between being alone without love, and the poison apple- pass the apple over here please.

22 November 2010

PE: The One in Sunday School

I was visiting my family this weekend and went to church with them, fully knowing that somewhere in the time I spent there, something would be said about those pesky homosexuals. There is pretty much a 90% chance that it will come up any given Sunday. If the lesson mentions sin, family, false prophets, satan, the last days, or any other number of topics, it is bound to work its way into discussion.

Well, sure enough, in Sunday School the teacher brought up false prophets. "Are there false prophets today?" he asked. The first one to elaborate on the fact that there was immediately went into homosexuals. Gays are the false prophets of our day, proselytizing their evil lifestyle as truth. They are the destroyers of our families, the demise of society. So on and so forth. All I could do was close my eyes and focus on breathing while I waited in silence for the lashings to stop. My mom noticed of course and put her arm around me.
I know that these words come from ignorance. I know that these people are not intentionally attacking me personally. But it is so hard to feel like going to church when that is what I have to sit through week after week. You try feeling uplifted, try feeling the spirit when people you love and respect nail you to the wall as their scapegoat for all the evils in the world as they throw things at you. Try and feel love in that situation. Please, PLEASE think about what you are saying in church. There may be someone within the reach of your voice who is crumpling inside in their silent struggle.

My life is no different from the people in that room. And that is proven by the fact that they have no idea that one of the people they are talking about is sitting right next to them entertaining their cute little kid, reading the same passages they are, and pondering the lesson. Please don't blame me for all the problems in the world.

And lastly, is the world really so bad that we can't think of anything good to talk about? I get so tired of hearing everyone talk about the end of the world and the downfall of society. I find that there is so much good in the world. There are so many good people doing good things. There is so much beauty to enjoy, life to be lived. Why do we have to focus on all the bad in the world? Doesn't the local news do enough of that for us? In the last couple months, due to finally being comfortable in my own skin, I have started to meet and talk to people like never before. You know what I found? A bunch of good-hearted, interesting, beautiful people who were doing the best they could in life. Not at all the evil, cold-hearted, devilish people we talk about who dwell outside the walls of church building on Sunday.

Yikes, we have made ourselves so peculiar and unique that we start to assume anyone else must be wretched, miserable, dishonest people. Is the only joy you find in life anymore that of knowing that you are one of the few righteous in the world? If so, perhaps there is something wrong.

21 November 2010

PE: My Story Part 6 - The Devistating Realization

While trying to hold together my friend's world, and feeling as if I was failing her, some close friends of mine suggested I talk to a doctor about depression. They knew me better than most and recognized that the view I held of myself was unhealthy and untrue. I trusted their judgment and started on anti-depressants. The first thing I noticed was that my hair stopped falling out- which was great. But then I realized that I was able to be introspective without feeling like it would destroy me.

One day I was walking with a friend and she was telling me about how she mentioned to another friend of ours how she was dealing with some tough stuff in relation to one of her friends (the one who had the schizophrenic episode). The other girl she was talking to wrongly assumed that she was talking about me and asked, "Has [Gay Mormon] come out to you?" My friend told me that was the second person that week that had asked a similar question. I reacted a little defensively as I had trained myself to do over the years, but asked why they thought that. The difference now was, the medication I was on made it so I didn't feel like I could just sweep this under the rug and make myself busy like I had always done before. It allowed this question to hang around in the forefront of my mind while I took a hard, honest look at myself.

Well, that night I didn't sleep. This was in July 2010. It was that night that I came to the awful realization that these feelings of mine were never going to go away. I realized then, that I could no longer pretend that everything was "normal" and that I would have to deal with this one way or the other because no matter what I did, this wasn't going to disappear. I had to live with it. I was devastated. Despite my best efforts, despite thoroughly convincing myself that I was just fine, despite all my efforts to sweep this issue into the corners of my mind to be forgotten, somehow, people still knew. I remember practicing talking without using my hands. To be less animated when I talked. I would force myself to try and react subtly and change the way I responded in conversation. This was after a brief talk with a friend about how sometimes I did things that could be mistaken as "gay." And despite all that work, people somehow saw right through me.

I entered a deep depression. I just wanted to drown out the world. I had never gone to the liquor store to buy alcohol before, but it was the only thing I could think of to try and drown out my pain. I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels (nasty stuff... the name makes me want to vomit) and went to a park and drank half the bottle.

I was so lucky to have friends that cared and sensed that something was seriously wrong. When one found out that I had gone to the liquor store, it confirmed that something was amiss. That night, three dear friends of mine nursed me to health as I lay on the floor of one of their living rooms, shaking and vomiting into plastic bags. They tried to find out why I had done this to myself and I responded. I said I thought there was a good chance that I was gay and asked what I was supposed to do. I was distraught. But they were so kind.

Over the next couple weeks I couldn't eat or sleep. Some days I would lay in one spot staring into nothingness, not moving. I was completely debilitated. I didn't know anyone who had been in my situation before. I had no one to talk to that could answer my questions. I was lost. The only link I had was to this guy that basically asked me out months earlier at BYU while I was working. At the time, of course, I turned him down. I was still convinced that I wasn't gay (even though I really did think he was cute, and was quite flattered). I looked in my facebook messages to find that correspondence and messaged him. He told me about a site that was popular among the gay LDS crowd in Utah and I got on it, desperate to talk to others about their experience. 

I talked to tons of guys. Each were handling the situation differently. And though I wanted badly to sit down in person with someone, I was too scared. I didn't know how to navigate that world- it was foreign to me. So it wasn't until I got a message from a guy who recognized me due to a mutual friend that I felt like I was comfortable enough to meet someone. I had hung out with him once before and knew he was normal enough, so we met, and I asked so many questions. He became a real source of support for me. He suggested I go to the BYU counseling center, so I did.

The counseling center was, for me, a really good experience. It was amazing to me that I could go to this stranger at BYU- a Mormon, married, and employed by the church- and tell him everything and have him respond in such a loving, non-judgmental, empathetic way. He was not interested in changing me. Nor did he suggest that I could change. He just sought to help me find happiness in my life, no matter what form that took.

But I still had no idea where to go from the point I was at. I had this deep desire to figure it out and start moving in some direction- any direction. I eventually got the guts to go to a gay social event at Utah University. It was definitely too early for me. The people there were so comfortable with being gay. It was written all over some of them. The way they talked, the way the dressed, the way they acted. I had taught myself to be homophobic all those years of suppression and denial. I was not like them. That was not me. I thought that if that is what it meant to be gay, I must not be gay. So I went into a mini-crisis mode where I started questioning and doubting again.

I knew I didn't fit in with the straight crowd either. Where did I belong? Was there no place for me? It didn't take me long however, before I gained composure and after going through the last month in my mind, and then my life in general, I came to the same conclusion I had already come to. I was definitely gay. Just because I didn't act and talk and dress like that group of guys didn't mean that I wasn't gay. Being gay doesn't come with a particular lifestyle any more than being straight comes with one. Once I realized that, I had to think of how I was going to approach my life now that I had finally accepted my orientation. This was a painful process. It was full of ups and downs. False hopes and unwanted realizations. And, ultimately, it almost led to me taking my own life.

THT: The Brother of Jared and Why I Believe

Often, I have people wonder why I bother believing at all. Some consider me young and naive. Many probably think that one day I will stop believing- that it is just a matter of time. And you know what? Perhaps they're right. But right now, I still believe. As hard as it is sometimes, I still have faith. I guess I choose to write about this for two reasons. The first is because of my most recent post about my initial disaffection with the church. The second is because, well, it's Sunday and I'm going to church.

I heard someone say once that the Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but they don't believe it. The Mormons say the prophets are imperfect, but they don't believe it. I find a bit ironic. Although our doctrine and scriptures teach (and provide examples) of the fallibility of men called of God, if you so much as mention that you disagree with the words of one of the servants of God, you are faithless, unbelieving, and on the road to apostasy. In fact, I've been called to repentance on a couple occasions. I fear that Mormon culture has turned into this mass of people that want to be told the answers to everything. We have a church handbook for bishops that is now over 400 pages long separated into two volumes. Have a question? Just look in the book!

We go to Sunday School and learn the scriptures through manuals carefully prepared for us. The important parts are selected in our behalf and we simply need to show up, nod our heads, and say amen. "What? You have a question not related to the lesson? Well, sorry, but we can't be wandering into strange paths- let's get back to the manual. Every word that comes out of a prophet's mouth is as good as scripture. It is as if Christ were speaking them. So don't you dare question them."

Okay, so maybe I am being a little harsh, and surely this isn't the case for everyone. But I feel that, in general, this is what our culture has become.

Prophets have never been perfect. The very men called by Christ in the flesh to follow him, who walked with him, taught with him, witnessed and performed miracles, and saw him return from the dead- these men denied Christ and were unbelieving on more than a few occasions in the short glimpses we have into his earthly ministry. These men, who literally WALKED WITH CHRIST through 2000 year-old cities down roads of dirt and gravel did things that are almost unbelievable. What would we call a person today that watched Christ breathe life into a person 3-days dead, and then denied him or betrayed him? Yet what do we think of Peter, the head apostle who did this very thing on the eve of Christ's crucifixion? He spent years after Christ's death preaching and establishing churches and teaching congregations. Yet I make a comment about disagreeing with a statement Boyd K. Packer says in General Conference and I am called to repentance and labeled an apostate. An Anti- Mormon.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel like the doctrine I was taught teaches me to ponder and question all things, whether a prophet speaks them or not. That I have the right to personal revelation regarding truth and light. And when the spirit confirms to me that something that was said is untrue, I will listen. I strongly believe that God is teaching his servants as much as he is teaching us. I don't think God gives all the answers to the prophets. I think he wants them to think things through and make decisions the best they can. If their ideas are adequate, he endorses them. But even if they aren't, he often allows his servants to make the wrong decision. Think of Joseph Smith and his consistent pleading with God to allow the 116 pages of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon to leave his hands. It was the wrong decision, but God allowed him to make it.

Ok, so getting to the Brother of Jared. In Ether (in the Book of Mormon) it tells the story of a group of people who traveled across the ocean to the Americas in air-tight vessels. The Brother of Jared as some kind of amazing. He was shown more by God than anyone else in the scriptures except maybe Adam (if my memory serves me correctly). Point is, he was a great prophet. Well, the BoJ (Brother of Jared) had a problem- the boats were dark. He went to God in prayer:
"O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"
So the Lord told him what to do for light. NOT! God did no such thing! This was his reply:
"What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire... Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?"
Well the BoJ had some thinking to do. Electricity was far from being available, and I imagine he was so humbled by the experience of trying to come up with a solution that God would approve. Nevertheless, he did come up with an idea:
"And it came to pass that the brother of Jared... went forth unto the mount... and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:

I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea."

Apparently this idea was adequate, because the Lord agreed to touch the stones and make them light up. If I were God I would have been so crazy with how cute the idea was. I'd want to just embrace the BoJ and would probably smile big for days. I mean really- how cute is that?? "Well Lord, I was thinking, can you touch these rocks and make them shine maybe? So we can have light?" Okay, sorry- back to my point.

So now I am going to make up my own story, because the scriptures didn't really cover those 344 days on the sea in-depth. It does say, however, that they were tossed about and buried deep in the ocean in the midst of fierce winds and waves. So I imagine that it wasn't long before people started to kind of question the BoJ's status as a real prophet. I mean, if he was a prophet, why didn't he see that these stones would be flying around the vessel hitting people in the face and covering their bodies in bruises as they were tossed about in the ocean? Cotton, or something else a bit softer, would have been a much better idea. A lot less painful, that's for sure. It would be easy to criticize the prophet's choice when they could look back at it having suffered through the experience. But remember, God didn't provide the solution. He allowed Jared to come up with his idea of a solution. I'm sure if the BoJ could have redone that little trip he would have done it differently.

Okay, what am I trying to say? Well, the prophets of our day have done quite a lot of hurtful things to gay members through their words. They chose to light the stones instead of cotton. And although this is bruising some of us pretty badly, I have faith that we will still end up at the correct destination because my faith rests in Christ who I believe, for some reason, saw it fit to allow the prophets to take the approach they have. I don't understand the reason for this. Perhaps it is a lesson in humility for the members and leaders of the church. I don't know. But the leaders of the church have already significantly adjusted their stance on the issue of homosexuality. I have faith that this process will continue. At the end of the journey, I have no doubt that they will look back and wish they would have done things a bit differently. In the meantime, I am doing the best I can to hang in there despite the blows from those stones, looking forward, and having faith, that when the end comes- we will land in the promised land where (and when) Christ will be here upon the earth and his church will be perfected.

So again I say, I believe because my testimony is built upon Christ. Helaman, one of my favorite Book of Mormon prophets said:
"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."
He did not say our foundation should be built on the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith, or the Bible, or Adam or any man. He said that the rock is Christ. So when I am sitting in church today and listen to people quote leaders saying that people like me will be the demise of our society, or read from a book written by a prophet of the Lord that tells me that it would be better that I had not been born, I fight to remember upon what my testimony is built on. That is Christ, who I have full faith and trust in. And I feel completely comfortable when I remember that I am doing the best I can to do what I feel is right, and that my judgment rests in Christ's hands, and his hands alone.

PE: My Story Part 6 - Disaffection

I knew I wasn't happy. I felt alone even in the midst of hundreds of people. I remember times that I would get out of class for the day and just feel so alone as I walked to my car in the hustle and bustle of the BYU campus. If I could have cried I would have. I'd always been told that sin is the source of unhappiness, so I figured it was because of my occasional drinking, lack of church attendance, and the viewing of pornography. I didn't want to feel alone and unhappy anymore. So at the end of 2009, I decided it was time to get my life back on track.

I began meeting with my bishop regularly. But right as I began that process, I came across information about church history. I'd always been disgruntled and uncomfortable about certain topics like polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, but I was like most people who clung onto whatever opinion that seemed to provide enough frosting to keep me from worrying, no matter how many holes it had or how untrue it was. But I had always avoided this stuff about early church history like the plague, just like I was taught.

Well, I am not someone who just takes another person's word for it. I might have done that as a child, but the older I get and the more experiences I have, I've realized that (as sad as it is) simply believing what a single person says without investigation of any kind is dangerous. So of course, I didn't just believe everything that was said. I did research. I needed to be sure. When I found out that the parts of our history that we never hear about in Sunday School were true, I was devastated. I felt betrayed. I felt like I was set up to fail. I felt like I been blinded by a fairytale made up to make me feel good.

I, like many members, had false expectations for Joseph Smith and the church. When you are taught that this man did more, save Christ only, for the salvation of man than any other person, you start to put Joseph Smith and others like him on this pretty high pedestal. While our doctrine doesn't teach that prophets are perfect, our culture sure does.

I was taught this formula: If A is true, then B is true. If B is true, then C is true, And D. And E, etc.

In translation it sounds like this: If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet. If Joseph Smith was a prophet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's one and only true church. If that is true, President Monson is a prophet. If that is true, same-sex marriage is bad. Etc, etc.

Well, if you use that formula (and Mormonism is very much an all-or-nothing type culture) and your "A" happens to be based on half-truths, guess what the consequences are? The walls come tumbling down. The rains come down and wash the sand away. When I learned that Joseph Smith wasn't everything I was taught to believe he was, my world crumbled. Was anything true? I even questioned the existence of God.

Many people will say, "well- you were sinning and you read that crap, so of course that happened. You brought it on yourself. You were just trying to find justification for your sins." I can assure you that this was not the case. I may have been sinning, but so were you. I may have been sinning differently than you, but you were just as much a sinner as I was. I cannot describe to you the hopelessness I felt when I realized that God might not exist. I can not begin to describe the anguish. I wanted so badly for it all to be true. My entire world had been built on that idea.

I went to my bishop with my struggles with my testimony. With my questions and doubts. His reply? "Well, I am not concerned so much about your spirituality as I am about your commitment to the honor code (at BYU). You don't have to be a member to attend BYU, but you do have to abide by the honor code." I am not exaggerating. Those very well might have been his exact words. But I continued to meet with him. And the depression brought on by the realization that everything I thought to be true might be false continued to deepen.

At one point, I was so distraught with the lack of answer from God assuring me of his existence, I went to the bishop for guidance. He assured me that if I asked God if he loved me, he would answer that and then I would know. He said, "God will always answer that question." This is also what I had been told by members of the ward who were told to visit me. So I changed my prayers. I remember driving to the canyon, to parks, to empty parking lots, and begging God for an answer. I'd ask if he loved me on my knees, out loud, in my heart, in nature, in my room, and any place I could think of that might make me more susceptible to receiving an answer. But it never came. I tried for weeks. That's when my feelings of abandonment and hopelessness and betrayal turned to anger. Anger towards God, towards religion. This was the first time I began seriously considering suicide.

If God always answered that question, why didn't he answer me? Was I that dirty? Was I that unimportant. Was my pain that insignificant? I became agnostic. I figured that while there may or may not be a God, there was no way to ever know it. I had been betrayed and abandoned and no one would provide any answers for me. So I was done. I was done with religion. But the depression continued to worsen.

Eventually, after some long discussions with dear friends of mine, and my discovery of my appreciation for my patriarchal blessing, I began the road to recovery. I came to the realization that the gospel and the church were separate things. I came to understand that prophets are men who sinned and were imperfect. And though I still felt very betrayed, I began to see how I could make it back eventually. My journey wouldn't be the same. This time, my testimony would be built on Christ, and only on Christ. It would not be based on men or any earthly institution (no matter how inspired) and it would embrace complete, transparent truth. I wanted the raw, dirty truth. No more fairy-tales.

This was enough for me. My patriarchal blessing really became key in my discovery of the existence of God, independent of anything else. I no longer believed in that formula A = B = C. I believed truth could be found in many places and just because I found God in my blessing didn't necessarily mean that the church, and the book or Mormon, and the prophets, etc. were true (though I still believed they very well could be). All it had to mean is that I found light in it.

This helped for a couple weeks until disaster struck with a very good friend who had a schizophrenic episode. The next month was difficult as I did everything in my power to get her the help she needed. I talked to doctors, family, friends, psychiatrists, police. I stayed up nights and slept on the floor in front of her door to make sure she wouldn't do something that might endanger her. I spent hours in the hospital until she requested that I don't visit her once she was admitted into the psych ward. I learned how she betrayed me in so many ways, and that hurt. But I still had to do what I could to help. I learned how the mind could convince you of almost anything and how unreliable it could be. This story alone would fill a book, but it was nothing in comparison to the realization that came weeks later. The awful realization that I was gay.

20 November 2010

PE: Embarrassed of Myself?

Since coming to terms with my sexuality in August, I feel that overall, I have taken the fast-track to becoming comfortable in my own skin. But a couple weeks ago, I did something that I got so mad at myself for.

My last paper of my undergraduate education will be a 12 page paper on Brokeback Mountain. I chose the film of course. Not only do I have to write the paper, but I also have to do a presentation in front of my class of 40 students. Yikes. Anyway, I didn't own the movie and I knew I'd be watching it a lot. So I went searching for it. It isn't very popular in the Provo/Orem apparently because I had to go to three stores before finding it.

Well, I was at best buy (the second place I looked) and couldn't find it. So I flagged down an employee to ask if he could look it up for me. After giving him the title, I felt I had to clarify that this was for a paper I had to write for class. I even said it was kind of embarrassing.

I walked out of that store so angry with myself. Why did I do that?? Why do I care what this guy thinks about me wanting the "gay cowboy" movie?? Even if he would have assumed I was gay, so what? I am! Who cares that the check-out lady at the third store gave me a funny look when I made my purchase! Sometimes it is hard to be strong by yourself.

I am unashamed when I am with a friend or family member (gay or not). I went and got my hair done with two other friends. One was a gay friend, the other was our mutual girl friend. We went to a local hair school and got cuts and color. We all sat next to each other and the 6 of us (including our stylists) had a great time for three hours. We talked a little about being gay and Mormon. I just need to work on being strong when I am all by myself.

ARG: Don't Catch the Homo!!

I must first start by saying that this is a joke that my friend began in reference to the idea that homosexuality is in someway contagious. Whenever we offer her a taste of our food or drink, she exclaims, "No! I don't wanna catch the homo! I don't wanna catch the homo!" It is interesting how we embrace the words that are meant to harm us. Mormons did it. Blacks did it. And gays do it. It is so much easier to laugh about it and turn it into a word that doesn't hurt so much.

Anyway, I must say, I'm surprised many of you haven't turned gay by reading my "gay activist propaganda." Congratulations. That is a feat worth celebrating.

Ok, in all seriousness guys- you can't CATCH homosexuality. One of the arguments that people have against gay rights is that granting them those freedoms would mean the conversion of their children to homosexuality.

Let me tell you a little about my growing up. I grew up in a family, religion, and society that not only highly values heterosexuality, but condemns homosexuality. My parents were my examples of what marriage was supposed to look like. My whole (extended) family was clear on how they viewed gay people.  My religion taught me that my salvation depended on this "normal" union of man and woman. My society's view of "happily ever after" always revolved around boy meets girl in television, film, music, and every other form of mass media you can think of. I listened to the same songs about love you did. I was familiar with all the same romantic comedies you watched. I wasn't listening and watching happily-ever-afters that included two boys or two girls. The plan for happiness in this life and the life to come has always been taught to me in terms of a traditional family. Yet here I am. A full blown gay guy even though no word had been spoken of about my happily-ever-after.

Oh how I used to wish I could "catch" heterosexuality. If only it was as simple as sharing a drink or watching a movie. But it isn't. In studies conducted on families where the parents of the children are gay (two lesbians, for example), guess what they have found? Their kids turn out as straight as they come in the proportions that hold true for all populations. Not only that, but they perform higher in school and get into less trouble and unfavorable circumstances (like sexual abuse) than their straight counterparts. Yet here we are, using their hypothetical kids to argue against the union of these two women and their ability to raise a family. You don't "catch" orientation and more than you catch eye color.

But hey, I'd still recommend washing you hands after shaking the hand of a gay person. Almost 1 out of 5 people fail to wash their hands after using the restroom. That's just gross. But don't worry. You're not gonna catch the homo.

17 November 2010

THT: X-Men & Me

I have to give credit first to my friend Richard who wrote this beautifully written note on facebook about the topic I want to address in this post. I thought it was a beautiful analogy and wanted to share my thoughts on it as well.

The X-Men. They are individuals who grew up in typical neighborhoods in typical families who went to school with you, played with you, sang at church next to you. Then, somewhere in the course of their adolescent years, they start to exhibit abnormal abilities due to genetic mutations. As if adolescents wasn't hard enough, now they had to deal with an unwanted mutation that scared them, and often filled them with self-loathing and embarrassment. Luckily, a good man began a safe school for these kids. So while many were rejected by their families out of fear and disgust, there was a place that was welcoming to them where they could meet others like them and learn how to deal with their special talent and to see it as a gift rather than a curse. They learned to love and appreciate their differences.

Sadly, society wasn't as appreciative. These x-men were oppressed and judged because of the prejudice and fear other "normal" people had against them. Laws were made against them. They were labeled "freaks" and viewed as "dangerous" and "problematic." In the face of this rejection and prejudice, some became hostile towards the society that raised them. And after the world threw them into the gutter, society didn't hesitate to show them off as poster-examples to testify how dirty they were dirty. They threw mud at them and then used their filthiness to encourage fear and disgust among the general population.

Those X-men who tried to do good with there powers, meanwhile, went unnoticed. No matter what they did to try and help society, the world only focused on those that were turned hostile by hate and rejection.

Most people love this story. X-Men are cool. You can collect action figures and watch movies. Read the comics, dress up like them for Halloween. They are even heroes to some kids. Then we think- wouldn't that be so cool if this was real! Well kids, this story is being told in real life right now. Maybe the gay and lesbian "mutants" don't have gifts that include controlling the weather or laser-beam eyes, but they do have amazing gifts of creativity, love, and understanding.

Eventually, a cure was created that would normalize the mutants. By that time, many had come to appreciate their differences and love themselves for it. Others were still so hurt by the rejection they faced from society that they lined up for the cure, excitedly anticipating their gate to normalcy and acceptance.

I don't know a single gay friend who hasn't been in a place where they would have done anything, given anything, to be cured of their attractions. If a cure was to be presented to me even 3 months ago, I would have done anything to take it. Now, however, I see my "mutation" as a gift. And no matter what the opposition is, I will not give away a gift so great as this so easily. It is this gift that has allowed me to place my worth, not in the hands of men, but in the hands of God. It is this gift that has allowed me to become as loving, understanding, and non-judgmental as I have become. It is this gift that forced me to really look at myself and become completely honest with who I am at a fairly young age. It is the gift that brought me confidence and determination. It allowed me to know what love is. So now, there is no sum of money in the world that someone could offer me to be "cured." My "mutation" is a blessing. And although it was hell coming to terms with that due to the social stigma homosexuality is given, it is now the source of most of the good I find in life. I'm not ashamed of being an x-man.

PE: My Story Part 5 - BYU

So now we find ourselves in January 2007 when I begin my schooling at BYU. I moved in with my MTC companion just a few blocks south of campus and was ready to face my next phase of life (or so I thought). Neither of us had cars, but we were pretty fresh off the mission and walking around Provo was like a nice stroll in the park compared to 10 hours on our feet in a single day walking around our areas in Asia.

Winter semester isn't typically when people begin their year at school. Usually they start in the fall. So both of us were moving into a ward that had been established over the past semester. Can you say "fresh meat?" No joke- that is exactly how we were treated. We were the new boys that all the girls had crushes on. Here I am, never having any real sense of self-esteem, and totally clueless about girls- just looking to have a good time at college.

I'd be invited to this or that and if it sounded fun, I'd go. It wasn't based on how cute the girls in that apartment were. But it got weird when after hanging out girls would thank me "so much" for coming and hanging out with them. As if I were gracing them with my presence. This blew me away. I guess it was kind of scary. Who were these people?

Well it wasn't long before girls started becoming a little more aggressive in making sure I understood that they were interested. But I sure wasn't. I blamed it on post-missionary syndrome. I was still adjusting to life in America. Eventually though, my roommate began dating. He would come home and talk to my other roommate about his date. They'd swap stories. I'd listen.

I just kept myself busy with a full schedule of school and work, and time passed by, but my "post-missionary syndrome" didn't. It wasn't long before I had to stop using that as an excuse and start at least attempting to date. I tended to like the sporty, independent, smart girls who didn't feel the need to always "look pretty." It also helped if I was never quite sure if they liked me. So yeah, I went on dates. And as long as the girl never showed obvious signs of liking me, I'd keep dating. Problem was, I would never show obvious signs of liking her. The first girl I dated probably got fed up after 3 months of us hanging out and me never making a move. I think I held her hand once after two months.

It is so embarrassing to think of it. I had to plan exactly how I'd be able to hold her hand. Movie. Check. Blanket (that I brought to HER house to watch the movie- as if that were subtle). Check. I even planned what part of the movie would be best to "make the move." Then I sat there stiff going over the action I would take over and over in my mind. My hands were sweaty. I felt sick. But when the moment came, with great effort and awkwardness, I grabbed her hand. Trying hard to make it seem natural- making sure not to look. And just when I thought the most uncomfortable part was over, I realized how uncomfortable it was to hold her hand. She started rubbing her thumb on my hand. In my head I was thinking "what is she doing? Why do people hold hands? This is so strange."

But that was only phase one. My roommates had been talking that night up. They wanted me to kiss her. So for the rest of the movie I was worrying about how my hand was sweaty and how and when I'd kiss her, and where. I picked a time in the movie that I thought would be perfect. Well, turns out she wasn't too into the movie because she fell asleep on my shoulder. But that wouldn't do! If she didn't see the part of the movie I had picked that would be perfect for the kiss, I would fail! So when that part was about to come- I kissed her on the... HEAD... the HAIR to be exact. I told her, "oh, I love this part!" She kind of roused, but I was so devastated by the awkward hair kiss that there was no way I could attempt another. Plus, I could at least say I kissed her so my roommates would be satisfied, and that was good enough for me. I just wanted to get out of there.

Yikes. That pretty much explains my dating experiences. It was SO unnatural for me. SO uncomfortable. I was forcing myself to go through the motions of what society had taught me were appropriate when you like a girl you are on a date with. But any time a girl obviously liked me, I ran. I disappeared. It would only last as long as my unsurity of her feelings for me. The moment I knew she was into me, that relationship ended. Now, I did eventually kiss a girl (on the lips even). It would have never happened if she wasn't so forward about kissing. It was just about as awkward as the story above. After kissing, I had this sense of satisfaction. As if I had proved to myself I was straight. That I was normal. That I was exactly how every other guy was. At the same time I thought- "why the hell do people kiss?" I just didn't get it. I mean, I knew that's what two people did when they liked each other, but is that the only reason? Simply because society had determined what kissing was a symbol of? People talked about kissing as if they enjoyed it. I mean, some of my roommates would do it for extended periods of time even! WHY?

That was my last dating experience with a girl. During those first 3 years or so, I would decide to try to date again every 6 months or so. When it didn't work out, I just quit for months at a time. In the meantime I was loosing my spirituality. My secret outlet was pornography. I knew I couldn't ever (nor did I want to) act on my feelings that I had learned to bury. But somehow I still needed some kind of thing to channel these buried emotions towards. And gay porn was easy to explain away. "It doesn't mean I am gay... it is just an addiction. I just respect girls too much to watch them in those types of situations. Looking a girls would be worse- disrespectful. It's just because I value women so much more than the normal guy." In reality though- images of women made me uncomfortable and a little grossed out. Don't get me wrong, the female body doesn't gross me out... but sexual things involving females grossed me out.

I'd talk to the bishop about my pornography problems, but I never mentioned that I was looking at gay porn. Bishops just assume what kind of porn you are looking at and never seem to ask. So although I was trying to overcome it, I still felt like I was hiding something. That I was being dishonest. And I could never say the words "gay porn" to a bishop. That would be incredibly embarrassing and uncomfortable. Plus he might think I'm gay! Which I certainly wasn't (haha). I just thought porn addiction was porn addiction no matter what type you looked at, so it didn't matter. But no matter what I tried, I would always come back to it. It was something I just couldn't seem to get rid of. I became hopeless.

Well, this battle went on and I became more and more detached from church and God. My misery was ever increasing. My friends were dating and getting married and I couldn't see how that was ever going to be a possibility for me. I didn't get to enjoy dating like most do. I didn't get to have those kinds of relationships. I was dying inside.

Eventually, to help with the sadness and guilt and everything I started to go dancing at clubs with some friends every now and then. One of my friends who was an experienced drinker in the past, introduced me to some drinks. So every now and then I'd go dancing and drink to forget my problems and just have a moment where I could enjoy my wretched life. I don't want you to think I became a drunk. I didn't. It was only on the few occasions that I went dancing. But those nights saved me. They were the only times that I felt something like happiness. Counterfeit or not, it was a much better feeling then the one I lived with.

Eventually though, I felt I needed to get myself on track and clear up my life. That brings us to the beginning of this year- 2010. Hold on boys and girls, you are in for a wild ride.

THT: Adam and Eve?

Okay, so I am adding another type of post to my blog- "thoughts." Not everything I have to say is a rant or argument or experience. This one is more of a thought, and an incomplete one at that. Perhaps you can help me refine it:

So we are all pretty familiar at some level with the story of Adam and Eve. I remember never really fully understanding (nor do I claim to now) why it was that God gave them conflicting commandments. He commanded them to multiply and replenish the earth, and he commanded them not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The catch was, in order to multiply and replenish the earth, they had to partake of the fruit. They basically had to break one commandment to keep another. And until they broke the one commandment, they were stuck. They could not progress. They could not know good from bad or move God's plan forward.

In some ways I feel like I can relate to these conflicting commandments. In this life I am commanded to learn and grow and progress and make decisions and act rather than be acted upon. I am supposed to learn to love. The two great commandments are to love my neighbor as myself and to love God. We often talk about the loving your neighbor and loving God part, but hardly do we mention the "as thyself" part. Before we can love others, we must first learn to love ourselves. Well, I am also commanded by church leaders to live a celibate life- never fully accepting my sexuality or acting on my emotional, social, and sexual desires for a monogamous, intimate relationship with another man.

If I were to choose that path- choose to live a life without companionship- I would be much like Adam and Eve before they took of the fruit. Stuck. Sure, I would be innocent and right in the eyes of the church- but I wouldn't be able to grow and learn in ways that you can only do when you give someone your heart, your soul, someone you vow to share your life with, raise children with, etc.

Once I got to a certain point in life... probably age 21 (post-mission), I reached a plateau in many ways. For three years I found myself trying to move in some direction- any direction would be better than standing still. But I couldn't. It wasn't until I accepted my sexuality, and then soon after decided that I could love that part of me, that I began to move again. It was only after accepting that I was gay and realizing that that was okay, that I could love myself, which opened up the doors to loving others and to understanding Gods love for me and my love for him. It opened up possibilities in my future for endless growth and learning as I sought to find someone I loved to spend my life with and raise a family with. Possibilities that wouldn't exist had I decided to live a celibate life.

So perhaps you will judge me. Maybe you condemn me for breaking a commandment. But if breaking this one commandment means that I can keep many more while learning to love and be loved and enjoy life rather than waiting for death to rid me of this wretched curse (which I don't believe will happen, nor do I still consider my sexuality a curse), then so be it. And if this is what you mean by me "choosing" my sexuality, then yes- I guess by that definition, I have chosen it. I have allowed the atonement to work in my life in a way that has healed me of the self-hatred, the embarrassment, the shame, and the constant feelings that I had been cursed by man, by nature and by God. I have chosen to let Christ help me grow through accepting my sexuality and realize that it is a blessing, not a curse. I have allowed Christ to expand my ability to love and be loved by accepting me for who I am, for the person that I was created to be. I have chosen life. And you know what? I am not ashamed of having made that decision. I know that I am a better person because of it. So condemn me until they day I die. Try and block my path and place impossible obstacles in my way. Increase the odds against me. Because none of that matters when I know that my God approves of the way I have chosen to live due to my increased capacity to love, to serve, and to understand. And that knowledge is all I need to fuel my drive to knock down those barriers, overcome those obstacles, and beat the odds.

15 November 2010

ARG: Homosexuality- The Defining Issue for the LDS Church?

I've been doing a bit of thinking lately (I know, sorry- I try not to. Really) about why it is so difficult for members to understand homosexuality and begin to build bridges over the gaps of their ignorance on the issue. Honestly, I am baffled sometimes when people don't realize what is happening. I feel certain if others knew what I knew, if they have seen the things I've seen surrounding this issue, they simply could not make changes in their thinking and still claim to be a compassionate, loving human being. Yet, no matter what kind of friendship we've had or what experiences or true stories I tell, the majority of people refuse to look anywhere but through the tunnel approved to them by the church. Then I realized that by asking them to understand, I ask so much more than that. It is really asking them to question everything they believe.

Lets say that I am completely 100% right in my thoughts/feelings/understanding of homosexuality (I would never make such a claim by the way). If that were so, and a typical, faithful member of the church came to that same conclusion, their world is likely to fall apart. If leaders are wrong about this, how do we know they aren't wrong about A or B or C... etc. By asking them to understand, I am asking them to question everything they believe. It is much more simple to say- "I follow the prophets, everything they say is true, and you are an apostate," and cast all of the word vomit away as if it were a devil. To open it up for real discussion and debate in one's mind would be to risk falling into a black hole where certainty is non-existent.

For this reason, I really feel as though homosexuality will be the defining issue for the church. The fallout from the churches stance and political involvement has already been too great to know. It won't be long before gay marriage is legalized. Once that happens, it won't be long until public opinion changes as people begin to realize they work with, learn with, live with, play with, and depend on people in their lives who are gay. And then the church will have to really think about its stance. You may say, well- "this has already happened with polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, those things didn't really become 'defining moments.'" Let me tell you how this issue is different.

The internet. The accessibility of information. The world-wide church. We aren't talking about a small organization with little influence and publicity anymore. The world won't accept a 30-year lag after society has made up their minds about what is right and civil about marriage like they did after deciding what was right and civil about the color of skin. The church is still suffering repercussions on the issue of blacks on the priesthood, but it will be nothing like the issue of homosexuality/gay marriage.

In my eyes, the church has two options, both having complex consequences:
  1. The church maintains its stance on homosexuality and its in-hospitality toward those who choose to embrace their orientation (as the "core characteristic" that Elder Oaks says it is) and move forward with their life. The consequences of this, as society continues to realize the prejudice and bias that is the root of the unjust treatment of homosexuals, will be more broken families, wards, and testimonies.  It will mean less converts, more members leaving, and poorer world image. Mormons will become even more isolated and "elite." The church will loose many ward organists, choir members, performers, and other talented members who serve the church in ways that touch people who otherwise would not be touched by the spirit of their message.

ARG: Elder Oaks & Elder Wickman on SGA - Part 4

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: So you are saying that homosexual feelings are controllable?

ELDER OAKS: Yes, homosexual feelings are controllable. Perhaps there is an inclination or susceptibility to such feelings that is a reality for some and not a reality for others. But out of such susceptibilities come feelings, and feelings are controllable. If we cater to the feelings, they increase the power of the temptation. If we yield to the temptation, we have committed sinful behavior. That pattern is the same for a person that covets someone else’s property and has a strong temptation to steal. It’s the same for a person that develops a taste for alcohol. It’s the same for a person that is born with a ‘short fuse,’ as we would say of a susceptibility to anger. If they let that susceptibility remain uncontrolled, it becomes a feeling of anger, and a feeling of anger can yield to behavior that is sinful and illegal.

We’re not talking about a unique challenge here. We’re talking about a common condition of mortality. We don’t understand exactly the ‘why,’ or the extent to which there are inclinations or susceptibilities and so on. But what we do know is that feelings can be controlled and behavior can be controlled. The line of sin is between the feelings and the behavior. The line of prudence is between the susceptibility and the feelings. We need to lay hold on the feelings and try to control them to keep us from getting into a circumstance that leads to sinful behavior.

ELDER WICKMAN: One of the great sophistries of our age, I think, is that merely because one has an inclination to do something, that therefore acting in accordance with that inclination is inevitable. That’s contrary to our very nature as the Lord has revealed to us. We do have the power to control our behavior.


ME: I guess I fundamentally disagree here with Elder Oaks when he says that feelings are controllable. In fact, I feel like the church itself disagrees with this idea. When we are taught about how the spirit (the holy ghost) speaks to us, are we not told by modern-day prophets that he speaks through our thoughts and feelings? If thoughts and feelings are controllable, that that would mean that we are the operator behind thoughts and feelings, not the holy ghost. Therefore, we (not the Holy Ghost) make ourselves feel and think that certain things are right or wrong.

When my sister got in a bad 4-wheeling accident, I couldn’t help the feelings of panic and fear that I had. I didn’t know if she’d live or if she’d be severely handicapped. If my mother died today, I couldn’t control my feelings of utter sadness and shock. I could not help feeling attraction to the guy that was sitting a table away in the restaurant I was eating at last night. Can a heterosexual help that he or she finds themselves physically attracted to an extraordinarily beautiful member of the opposite sex? No. Whether he or she acts on it or vocalizes that attraction is independent of the fact that the feelings of attraction are there.

Now, I do believe we can exercise restraint as we handle those feelings, but it doesn’t change the feeling. I could feel angry enough at someone that I want to punch them in the face. I can restrain myself from punching them, but that doesn’t mean I’ve changed the feelings of anger I have that make me want to hurt the person. (ps- I’m not a violent person. I’ve never punched a person in my life. I’m the kind of guy that sets an insect free outside after capturing it inside).

ARG: Elder Oaks & Elder Wickman on SGA - Part 3

PUBLIC AFFAIRS: If somebody has a very powerful heterosexual drive, there is the opportunity for marriage. If a young man thinks he’s gay, what we’re really saying to him is that there is simply no other way to go but to be celibate for the rest of his life if he doesn’t feel any attraction to women?

ELDER OAKS: That is exactly the same thing we say to the many members who don’t have the opportunity to marry. We expect celibacy of any person that is not married.

ELDER WICKMAN: We live in a society which is so saturated with sexuality that it perhaps is more troublesome now, because of that fact, for a person to look beyond their gender orientation to other aspects of who they are. I think I would say to your son or anyone that was so afflicted to strive to expand your horizons beyond simply gender orientation. Find fulfillment in the many other facets of your character and your personality and your nature that extend beyond that. There’s no denial that one’s gender orientation is certainly a core characteristic of any person, but it’s not the only one.

What’s more, merely having inclinations does not disqualify one for any aspect of Church participation or membership, except possibly marriage as has already been talked about. But even that, in the fullness of life as we understand it through the doctrines of the restored gospel, eventually can become possible.

In this life, such things as service in the Church, including missionary service, all of this is available to anyone who is true to covenants and commandments.


ME: The church is definitely not asking the same thing of gay members as they are single members. If you are a single, heterosexual member, the church bends over backwards to encourage and facilitate dating and marriage. They organize singles wards, singles activities, singles firesides. Dating is encouraged and even commanded (by some bishops). People are excited for you when you are dating and when you find someone you want to spend your life with. As a heterosexual, single adult, you always have the hope of finding “the one” and the support of the church.

Now, lets consider a single gay member. You are commanded to break all ties with gay friends and dissolve any relationships you may have with other gay people. You are not only not encouraged to date, but told that you can’t. Your situation is “put away” so that others don’t have to be made uncomfortable by your attractions. You are expected to accept and understand that you will live a celibate life- even if you did meet the person of your dreams. There is no hope given to you for marriage to a person you love. In fact, the church actively fights against your ability to marry the person you love. Basically, you are asked to wait until death to find real love. You live life waiting for it to end.

Elder Wickman is right. “Gender orientation is a core characteristic of any person.”  As such, you cannot simply ask someone to ignore it in favor of other “core characteristics” any more than you can ask a tree to ignore sun in favor of earth and water or ignore water in favor of earth and sun. Saying it is core means that it is fundamental to our existence. By extinguishing something that is core to us, we extinguish life. Our vital organs are core. We cannot shut down our heart or lungs or brain without shutting down our life.

Finally, if you are going to tach that attractions or “inclinations” as Elder Wickman calls them, do not disqualify you for any aspect of church service, please practice that. Why is it that many of my friends have had to go through extreme difficulties in trying to serve a mission? They have never acted on their inclinations. Yet they need special interviews, special approvals, etc. They must put their life on hold while the church comes to a decision on whether they can go. One friend is now on week 11 in waiting for an answer. Every week he is sure it will be the week he will receive his call. Every week he is disappointed. This is one of many examples where there is a discrepancy between what you teach and what you do.

11 November 2010

PE: My Story Part 4 - Mission

On the long plane ride to Asia, I didn't sleep a bit. It was impossible. But I made it and was thrust into a completely foreign world. The people, the buildings, the sights, the sounds, the smells, everything was foreign to me. I'm not going to detail those two years, I will just give you my thoughts and a few experiences relating to my sexuality.

I'll be frank. My mission was hard. People were mean (not all people, there were incredibly good and nice and selfless people who I love dearly). The days were long sometimes. But I worked hard and I learned a lot on my mission. I learned to love a people and culture that was different from mine. I learned to see the similarities between these people and the ones I had been familiar with. I learned that my culture's way of doing things was different, not better. I had some really good experiences. I had some scary experiences. I had spiritual experiences. And I had some awful ones. Overall, I am grateful to have served. I think it helped me gain a better perspective on life.

Ok, now for my struggles as it pertains to homosexuality. Lucky for me, I didn't embrace this part of me, nor did I ever allow myself to believe it could be real. Imagine having a 20yr old boy and 21yr old girl spend every minute together for weeks at a time. There would be some trouble. Well, for the most part- it wasn't trouble for me. Especially when I didn't particularly like my companion =). For the first year I was really good, but... Explicit content alert, skip to next paragraph if you don't want to know: The only instance I can remember was one time I was showering and the water was hitting a certain area and was aroused and kind of allowed it to go on until, well, climax. I went to the Mission President and thought for sure I'd be sent home. He was so amazing about it. It wasn't uncomfortable at all. He just said, "Well Elder- it happens. I'm not encouraging it, but our bodies react to that kind of stimulation and it isn't the end of the world. You are doing good work. Continue doing it." That is a paraphrase.

Interesting note: In the country I served in, it is not uncommon for men to hold hands. The younger they were, the less common it was because of our western influences, but still- you'd see it. Holding hands didn't mean they were gay. It was just okay by their culture (and apparently it used to be okay by ours as well). But I had conditioned myself to hate anything that would be considered "gay" in my culture. So the day an investigator grabbed my hand as we walked to the subway, I was sick. After that I made sure my hands were occupied.

I also received my first kiss on the lips by another man on my mission. It sounds scandalous, I know. He was the ward mission leader of a neighboring ward where we helped the elders with their English classes. He was recently engaged and was kind of all over the place- a high energy type person. Well, I was playing the piano and he came up behind me, grabbed my head, pulled it back, and kissed me. Don't let your imagination run away with you- it was a peck. But I freaked while the other 3 elders laughed. Anyway, those are side-notes.

The second year got a little harder. If the companion was someone I got along with, and liked (in a hey, he's a cool guy kind of way), I would wonder if they might be gay. One of them I thought for sure was. Well, there were a few times I "tested" my theories by trying to see how they would react if I "unknowingly" sat in a way that might provide a glimpse of certain parts. Geez, why am I so embarrassed to say penis or genitals or whatever. Sorry. Like many of you I am conditioned to be embarrassed by those words. Beyond "testing" some of my companions at times, I would struggle every now and then with masturbation. I shouldn't say struggle- that makes it sound like it was ongoing. There were more instances of it.

By this time a new mission president had come, and I didn't have a relationship with him like I did the previous one. I didn't feel the need to talk to him... or I guess I was just too scared to. I didn't know him like I knew the previous president. Plus he didn't speak English and I didn't want to have to learn how to explain something like that in the language. I mean, even now- in English it is hard haha. I was a bit of a coward I guess. And because of that, even though I worked hard and had success in my last areas, I felt like a failure. Now matter how hard I tried, I always came up short.

Well I felt inspired about two things during my mission concerning my post-mission life. The first was what I should study- what industry to go into. The second was where to study. Before my mission, although I had considered different options, I decided to not worry about it and that I had two years to make those decisions. Well, that is what brought me to BYU- a place I had never imagined myself going before.