Saturday, April 28, 2018

Thoughts on "Change"

About a year ago, I attended an experiential weekend called Journey into Manhood (JiM),  put on by the organization, Brothers on a Road Less Traveled. It’s a resource to help men dealing with “unwanted” same-sex attraction. As the Utah weekend rolls around again this year, I was planning on sharing some of my experiences, however, I'm feel like steering more towards general thoughts and feelings I have about my sexuality, its fluidity and my desires.  I'm willing to share about my JiM weekend, but possibly in another setting or a later post.

A word on orientation change or reparative therapy: there are differing opinions as to whether the JiM weekend is reparative therapy. Furthermore, there are differing opinions as to what reparative therapy even is. Is it a change in behavior?  A change in sexual feelings? A change in sexual identity Reframing our sexuality? Healing from the shame surrounding same-sex attraction? Some people consider mixed-orientation marriage to be “reparative therapy,” yet many gay men I know who are married to women are still as gay as can be. Just like Pride month has several interpretations, so too will everyone probably have a different spin on what constitutes “change."

There have been some news stories recently about banning conversion therapy in California.  I don't know what news sources to rely on.  Everything is so heated and biased, especially cause we can't seem to nail down the definition.  Below is something I shared in a group after some conflict on this topic and how it relates to me and my life (reworded as needed)...

I have my own feelings about various types of conversion therapy, but I also don't agree with banning it or whatever is going on. I can't speak much to that for reasons mentioned further on.

Here goes: I don't want to change my sexual orientation.

It's easy to say, "Don't let others tell you want to do." "Don't do it if it's not for you," "don't beat yourself up," or quote more up to date religious statements on same-sex attraction. But it's not that easy. There have been many ex-gays, or people who have experienced a shift, who have graciously said that they wouldn't recommend such things to everyone and who do not want to push their experiences on others. There are many voices, even from church leaders, who say, "You are fine/perfect the way you are." That's appreciated and I encourage it, but there's *still* a bunch of cultural shame and other programming to be overcome.
Since I have friends or know others who have experienced a shift AND/OR have been able to marry...I've somehow developed a shaming voice that says, 

"Well...even if it's impossible to shift your feelings, you should still try."
"You should still desire to be straight."
"You should still desire to marry and have a family..."

It's easy to believe this in a religious culture. Wanting to "stay gay" could be compared to being lazy or not working to overcome an addiction or other trial. That's how I've sometimes seen it. Wanting to "stay gay" can easily be seen as an "unrighteous desire"...part of the natural man, against God's will.  This has NOT been helpful!
I acknowledge that I have the potential to make babies. I have the potential to probably grow close to and love a woman adequately enough to travel that path. I know my sexuality is fluid. So knowing all this can pile up even MORE shame on myself. Great, now I know I have the potential to do all these things...but I simply don't want to...and that makes me wrong or a bad person...or so the shame tells me.
It's taken a LONG time to get to this believe that God is okay with me not wanting to change my sexual orientation. It's taken a long time to believe that even though I don't know WHY I don't want to change, that this desire is enough for God. Is it hard to be gay/SSA? Yes! Is it hard to be gay/SSA and remain celibate and Side B? Yes! But I don't want to give it up either. It's a blessing in my life.  I wouldn't know myself without it.
Ironically enough, I feel more committed to my covenants with God and more at home in church and more optimistic about life in general when I accept and see myself as a gay man, rather than hold this expectation over myself that I should pursue becoming straight, that I should at least want it, or that I should at least desire to marry a woman. The Spirit testifies to me of the sacredness of marriage, the uniting of a man and a woman in part to bear and rear children in love and righteousness, but it's also evident that I don't want that for myself. At least not right now.
Maybe God can communicate with me through wants and desires.  Maybe my wants are not always against God's will.

Friday, February 23, 2018

What Else is There?

A recent Sacrament meeting I attended had a theme around missionary work. I had an awareness about how lately, I’ve been wondering about my testimony and what I would share with someone. What hope does the gospel hold for gay people?  Why am I still here? I really couldn't think of anything.

For many, the hope that comes from the gospel, and something that makes the teachings of the LDS Church unique, is that of eternal families. That’s a major go to, and I know that it brings a lot of hope to people. It makes sense that it blesses people all over the world. Yet I had the awareness that it was ALL I was seeing about the gospel. For someone who has hardly any interest in marrying, save only a space I’ve held open simply because I felt like I was supposed to, such a view of the gospel can be rather bleak.

Oddly enough, it felt peaceful to come to this realization. It’s kind of an opportunity to rebuild my faith on other aspects of the gospel. I’m currently in a state of “what else is there?” I think Heavenly Father has been working with me, pretty much tearing down so many of the beliefs I had held onto...independently of what is taught on a general level.  For example, we're told all the time how we will be able to marry in the next life (well, I am certainly able to go through the motions in this life...and it would fill another "supposed to" obligation...but it wouldn't be pretty as of now), but I thought I was supposed to hold on to that hope all throughout my life, like I was supposed to keep imagining myself married to a woman and being a father, and that thinking about that was going to make me happy.  I thought studying my scriptures, attending the temple and doing all those little things was going to lead me to desires to marry and have a family.

But it hasn't.  I feel a spiritual goodness about it.  I love attending and being able to participate in sealings.  I've had my witnesses about the marital unit and it's intended connection to procreation.  It's not a popular view in the gay community...although I'm gradually finding more and more who believe that way.  But I struggle to imagine myself living authentically in such a relationship.

I found that viewing the gospel and viewing my life within the context of marriage and family put me in an odd separation from God.  Scripture reading became a chore.  I had trips to the temple where I thought, "what am I doing here?"  I must not be on the right path or being good enough if I don't want to marry, right?  Or at least that's what I thought.  I thought anything outside of pursuing marriage (even if it was a painstaking, lifelong journey) was outside of what God wanted.  We hear talks about single people, but I always thought it was assumed that we still "should" desire marriage.  But perhaps God has other things in store when it comes to "filling the measure of our creation."*

I’ve heard a lot recently about being co-creators with God, and for some reason I didn’t think it applied to me being gay in the Church. So this is like an opportunity to create something new. I still have dreams of doing life with someone, having someone to come home to and to live the gospel with, but it’s just in a hopeful phase right now. It might not happen, but sometimes even the possibility is what keeps me going.  There are many who feel that they have been inspired to enter a same-sex marriage.  It's not my place to question that personal revelation.  I just don't want it looking like I'm heading that direction.  I do have to see it as a valid option.  I think that is healthy.  But I still think there are a variety of vocations and relationship possibilities for gay members within the context of the covenants of the gospel.

Scripture study and temple attendance are so much better when I’m NOT trying to force myself into “the mold.” I thought I had this figured out already, but it creeps back in far too often.  Maybe the gospel of Jesus Christ, even as taught by the LDS church, is for everyone.  Maybe it is a gospel of happiness, even if some don't have the desire to be married.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Tumult of Opinions

In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?  If any one of them be right, which is it and how shall I know it?

-Joseph Smith History 1:10

What’s it like being an active LDS, male-partner-seeking, cuddly gay boy who believes in opposite-sex marriage and that children are entitled to birth to a mom and a dad?  It’s complicated.  Just that one question might sound blasphemous to one community or another.  This may just end up being a random smattering of thoughts.  There’s no conclusion or definitive “I’m happy and at peace statement.  However, there may be some scattered about as I share my thoughts.

There are many different messages coming at me from a variety of sources, including the larger gay community, church members and leaders, and both conservative and liberal groups, and let’s not forget…myself.  Some groups might assume that I’m happy and at home in the Church because of what I believe about the family.  Others might assume that I should feel happy and at home in every LGBT Mormon group.  Neither is entirely true.  Perhaps it’s best to brain vomit…

“The Christlike thing to do is support gay marriage and petition the Church to do so as well.”
“Elder Christofferson says it’s OK.”
“You’re the cause of so many suicides.”
“If you sustain the Brethren, you have blood on your hands.”
“SSA is a mental illness.”
“SSA is an addiction.”
“SSA is a challenge to be overcome.”
“Sexual feelings are to be feared.”
“Don’t label yourself.”
“Anything but marriage to a woman is against God’s will.”
“You can only be exalted if you’re married to a woman.”
“You’ve already committed adultery in your heart.”
“Reasonable people can and do disagree on marriage…” OK…I just didn’t anticipate having these disagreements with other church members.
Anger toward the LGBT community is wrong.”
“Anger toward the Church is wrong.”
“Discomfort in disagreement means there’s something wrong with you.”
“The Church hates gay people.”
“Be yourself.”
“Holding hands with a guy means you’re sexually involved.”  
“You should be doing this with a girl (snuggling).”
“You should enjoy other peoples’ perspectives.”
“Attending a gay wedding signifies condoning.”
“Homosexuality is a sin.”
“Sex is inevitable if you grow close to someone.”
“Having a boyfriend is playing with fire.”
“You’re involvement in the Church doesn’t count as LGB inclusion.”

Some of the thoughts that run through my head, as well as things I'd like to say, are:

Women can enjoy many kinds of physical intimacy, and for some reason, our culture restrains men from doing the same.

God wouldn't ask a gay person to believe in the man-woman view of marriage and family if it didn't mean anything...much less someone who has more interest in pursuing celibacy with a man instead of marrying a woman.  It just doesn't add up.  Granted...this is currently something about which I currently have a good deal of anger with God.  But I know He can handle it.

Does the gay community even appreciate my involvement in the Church, or do I only count if I have a sexual partner?

OK, well…that was an attempt to describe many of my feelings in words, but it’s hard to really capture them.  There are plenty of people, organizations and shaming voices trying to tell me how to live or what to believe.  Actually, from another frame of reference, no one is telling me to do anything or believe anything.  They just use rather persuasive and shaming language.  Many might not view “equality” or “homophobia” as shaming tools.  It is for me under certain contexts.  It’s difficult to engage in conversation (especially on-line) or be around people who are simply not on the same page.  It’s difficult to feel like I belong.

I do acknowledge that all too often, this situation is difficult when I am not in my peace.  When I am not comfortable with who I am, all these voices are enhanced.  I’m trying to find my peace and be there more often.  It’s definitely hard since there are literally no answers for my own life at present.  But sometimes that peace lies in being OK with all the uncertainty and ambiguityThis includes being OK with the fact that yes, sometimes, I view some people and LGBT organizations as an enemy.  I’m not as loving and at peace when I’m just denying it all the time in order to look like a nice person.  There are those voices who say, “Let’s just all get along and respect each other.”  Yeah, I want that too; however, I do not know yet what that looks like and what role I have to play in it*.  I haven’t said much of the same thing about the LDS Church or other churches or “conservative” organizations, but that could just be because I’m unaware. 

In between starting this post and finishing it, I came across a brilliant article that encouraged me to cast off the expectations of what I thought life would look like or what it should look like.  In the Church, there tends to be a single lens through which we view life (mission, marriage, kids, etc.).  Yet there may be other, equally worthy life pursuits**.  There may not currently be a place for what I want, but perhaps through trust in God and myself, I can create it.

(*I acknowledge that we would not be where we are today without the organizations that I struggle with.  I honor that and I am thankful for it).

(**I understand that a same-sex marriage or similar relationship my really be in God’s plan for some and for specific purposes, but I’m mostly referring to multiple avenues within the Church).

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Burden and a Responsibility

So I've become a Once Upon a Time nerd.  We'll see how I like the new season that just started, but I thought the rest of them were full of gospel analogies.  I mean seriously, the first dark curse plunges a bunch of fairy tale characters into our world, where they have forgotten who they are.  That's totally Plan of Salvation material.

Anyway, those who know Once Upon a Time might be familiar with the concept of a Savior.  That might sound either sacrilegious or highly symbolic (just think of Aslan in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia).  A Savior is one who, naturally, saves people, whether from a curse, poverty or captivity.  Emma Swan is "the Savior" in this series.  In an episode I watched yesterday, while talking to Aladdin (a former Savior), she made reference to the burden of being the Savior.  Coming with this responsibility is a great capacity for good.  However, there is also a great capacity for evil (which Emma wrestles with and eventually conquers).

This is like unto the burden of being gay.  It can be a trust and a responsibility.  A burden doesn't mean it's a negative quality, just bear with me.  There's great capacity for good, much of which I believe we still have yet to work with.  There's also a great capacity for evil.  However, I'm not referring to sexual sin here.  Even more grievous than that are the self-defeating thoughts that Satan tries to plant in us.  They're the thoughts that try to get us to forget who we are and the unique gifts and abilities in which we have been entrusted.  They're the thoughts that try to get us to believe that not only our feelings but that our very beings are unpleasing to God.

These messages don't come from "the world," per se.  They sneak into our messages at church.  I don't believe the Brethren mean to shame anyone.  But in a marriage culture (which I understand is more than just "culture"), it is very easy to feel shame: shame because those attractions are still there, shame because we feel like we should feel differently, shame because we're just not interested in actively pursuing an eternal companion, shame because we still have feelings of lust...and viewing it only as lust, and that it's somehow worse than heterosexual lust (I don't "straight" people deal with lust on a regular basis?).

It's one thing to be accepted by other people, but self-acceptance is the key.  Satan works overtime on trying to get me to reject myself.  I feel closer to God when I grow closer to myself.  It's not a matter of viewing myself as a son of God in spite of my means embracing and loving that part of myself too.  It's a lesson that comes around over and over and over again.  It doesn't make it any easier to hear same-sex attraction constantly viewed through a lens of being a struggle or a weakness, or something that's just going to be fixed in the next life.  That can make things worse.

I've alluded to this before, but it's much more bearable to believe that there is something divine in the affections I have, that there is some purpose in them that can bless my life and the lives of others.  I treasure the infrequent, but powerful reminders to "just let love flow"...and stop worrying so much about sex!!!

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) I love the story of Regina, the Evil Queen in Once Upon a Time.  Through the love and patience of her son, she learns how to love.  She learns how to use her powers for good.  At one of the most powerful moments of the series, she learns to love and forgive herself.  She doesn't extinguish or demean her abilities, but she redirects them and blesses the lives of many.  Such is what can happen with each of us through the bearing and purifying of our burdens.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Fire Analogy

In gospel lessons on morality (particularly sexual morality) we sometimes hear "don't play with fire," and "stay as far away from the edge as possible."  I think there are places for those analogies, physically, spiritually and practically speaking.  Yet I would like to offer an additional way of looking at it.  There is another analogy that was initiated by a friend and has been passed around quite a bit among people with whom I am acquainted.  It's been incredibly helpful in navigating my journey, and I invite you to apply it to whatever your journey brings you to.

We need the warmth of the fire.

Don't worry.  I've already run scenarios through my head of what this might look like: rationalization.  That has been heard and understood.  And sure, someone can rationalize and get too close to the fire if he or she chooses to do so.  This could possibly include knowingly trying to skirt around the commandments or undermining the line of authority given by God.  I think it's safe to say that no one wants to get burned, so therefore, don't play with the fire or get too close.

On the flip side, if you get too far away from the fire, you get cold (let's assume this is in somewhat chilly weather).  One would think it's always safe to stay as far away from the fire as possible.  Yet that can turn into isolation, denial and unhealthy habits.  I've been in this situation at various parts of my life path, probably more often than not.  It's a place where I seclude myself from others like me, out of fear that I'll fall in love with someone, become codependent or act out sexually.  It's a place to go out of fear of what others think...that it might look like I'm doing something immoral.  It's a place that breeds a whole other set of issues, like overeating, pornography, loneliness, depression, anxiety and possibly anger and regret.  But hey, at least there isn't a direct violation of the law of chastity, right?  That's all that matters, right?

The warmth of the fire seems to be the place of vulnerability and where shame dissipates.  It's where relationships are built and progress is made.  It's where boundaries are set and respected.  It's where mistakes are made and learned from.  It's where the Atonement and the Light of Christ is utilized.  For me, this has included vulnerability and exploration, finding out who I am and what I am to be about.  It's involved figuring out how to set boundaries and how to love.  There's been trial and error, heartache and joy.  Ultimately, though, it's where I can find acceptance of myself, resist nothing and lay everything out before the Lord.

A word about what the warmth looks like for each individual, where that proverbial line is between warm and cold, warm and burning...that's going to have to be determined by individuals, ecclesiastical leaders and possibly close loved one else.

It's been interesting to see how often I move away from the fire.  It's where I start going through the motions, doing what I think I should do.  It's where I start living in denial and pretending everything is OK or that I have it all figured out.  And in the process, I move away from God.  Thankfully, time and again He brings me back to reality and truth...the truths that comprise His gospel and the truths He wants me to see in myself.  I have hopes and desires that sometimes might lie outside of the gospel.  I can't fight them anymore.  I can, however, accept them, sit with them and let the Savior take the wheel, resting in the warmth of His perfect love.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Staying in the Boat...

It can be relieving to have conversations with friends who simply understand me completely: the gospel part of me, the part of me that likes guys and the part of me that attempts to tie it all together and make sense of it.  Sometimes, we talk about our heartbreak at seeing people leaving the Church or making choices that may lead to that effect.  Of course everyone has agency and their own path to pursue.  Of course there are legitimate, understandable reasons.  They're not lost on me.  Yet that doesn't mean we don't still have our own feelings to process and work through.  Whenever something happens politically, or a church leader says something unpopular or possibly inaccurate about the experience of same-sex attraction, whenever someone has a negative experience that gets blown over the media about the Church's "horrible treatment of gays," the anticipated backlash always wears on me and people like me.

Elder M. Russell Ballard's talk, Stay in the Boat and Hold On!, has been one that keeps resurfacing for me.  I guess from where I stand, I can see where some of these possible deceptions are: doctrine vs. culture, "hate" vs. truth.  Add to that politics and "human rights," which platforms sound very compelling!  As ironic as it sounds, when I experience the heartbreak associated with all this, it just increases my desire for closeness and connection with people who will stay in the boat with me.  The imagery in my mind is us holding on to the boat...and holding on to each other.  I made the joke of a "cuddle party on the Old Ship Zion."  It's becoming old hat for me, but apparently that screams "immorality" for some people.  Saying "cuddle" and Zion in the same sentence is like a horrible abomination.  I guess I understand that perspective, but there's more.  I guess you'd have to "be me" and have learned what I am learning in order to truly understand.

But what I really mean...and what I think is far more important than word choice...

I imagine a band of brothers arm in arm as part of a greater whole, the entire body of the Lord's Church, staying in the boat together; brothers who are more concerned with really keeping covenants, following the Savior and sustaining the prophets than they are about pleasing others with the "no touch, no homo, avoid the appearance of evil" mindset.

I no longer feel like a part of the LGBT community.  I was wrong to think that my beliefs would ever be seen with high regard in that segment.  Even "gay Mormon" doesn't ring like it used to.  I honor that I am a son of God.  I feel more commonality among other members of the Church.  But at the same time, it doesn't mean I don't feel what I feel.  I know I can't do it alone.  It's wonderful to have brothers who understand me completely.  But I know I'll need the fellowship of other followers of Christ as I try to offer the same.  I don't always know what that will look like (except for hugs), but for now, just sit with me, love me and stay in the boat with me.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"How it Is" in June

Imagine receiving a witness of something beyond yourself, something that is beyond your ability to fully comprehend.  It's something that's not completely yours.  Yet it's something that just seems to be true, like a law of nature...gravity, for instance.  It's also something very specific and sacred.  Not just in the temple or in the Church, but in least according to what you have learned.  In this day and age, however, in order to be on board with the new American dream, the new civil rights movement, "equality" or to be known as a decent human have to deny that truth... 

More people could probably relate to that than just those in my little corner of humans.  But anyway, this post is meant to just be an illustration of how things are, what it's like, a peak into what I think about and how I feel.  It doesn't need fixing or clarification to show how wrong I am.  Half the battle is just finding the reasons why I feel what I feel and being at peace with them.  Of course I don't speak for all gay people, but neither do they speak for me.  There are a few, but they're far between.

It's not a secret that Pride month is a conflicting month for me.  Some people probably would just think I'm anti and tell me to get on with it.  Some would say "If it's not for you, don't go."  It's not that it's not for me.  It's awkward.  Doesn't anyone ever wonder exactly why it would be awkward or maybe not the best for all people who are gay?

The thing is, parts of the Pride movement are for me.  It's responsible for my right to exist and to love who I love.  It's part of the reason why I'm able to talk about same-sex attraction without having to worry as much as in previous generations.  Even with all the many nuances, it could very well be part of the workings of the Lord in getting discussions going in churches.  There are many things, about the origins of Pride, at least, that could resonate with the common human experience...striving for an end to violence, bullying, exclusion from families and being ashamed of oneself.  Many people say this is what Pride is. I don't disagree, yet it's still part of what makes it all awkward for me.

Another thing...I can't say how much I would LOVE to walk down the street hand in hand or expressing some other form of affection with someone I love.  It would be wonderful to not have to have a specific month or weekend in order to do that.  It would be even better if it wasn't considered a gay thing (I mean hold hands in various places throughout the world)!

I'm sure there are many other activities and events that would be fun for family and friends.  I love the concept of hugging booths as well!  The only question is if I'm the one in the booth offering the hugs, or if I'm part of the gay crowd receiving hugs.  This really just represents another branch of awkwardness.  In a "building bridges" situation, am I one of the straight Mormons reaching out?  Or am I one of the oppressed gay people in need?  Yeah...this exemplifies some of my own pride.  I know some people would love to answer that and figure it out for me.  I also have my own answers.  But as I said, this is just an illustration of what it's like.

I think the kicker for the potential of coming across signs and symbols that...from my perspective...mock some things I hold sacred.  Maybe it's something that is unique to me.  Yes, even if I was hand in hand with a guy or trying my best to support individuals, it would still be sensitive to me.  It's bigger and different than individual agency and personal morality.  I already understand that I'm sort of an oddball, but it's just how I feel.  It's part of being on the very edge of the LGB community.

From what I gather, it seems like the Pride festival would cater to everyone, but hopefully I've offered an illustration as to why it's more complex and not black and white for some of us.  As I mentioned before, it's not something I want to fix, it just is what it is.  It could just be a Utah Pride thing for me.  I just know that I need friends who see me and understand me as I am right now...even gay friends who understand where I'm coming from and/or possess the same feelings I do.
I realize that participation in Pride isn't an official requirement, but who knows?  Maybe at some point I'll show up at an event...preferably with someone who gets me, who will hold hands with me and acknowledge how big of a deal it would be.