Thursday, April 17, 2014

It's OK to be "Gay."

...of course, this depends on how one defines gay.  I think it merely means being attracted to the same gender; however, some others, including those with same-sex attraction (SSA), believe it refers to some choices that are outside the standards of the Church.  I tried to prove that I was right by looking up the definition of gay in the zillions of on-line dictionaries.  The definitions are all over the place, so I guess we're still at a stale mate.

Anyway, when I first realized I was gay, I was getting ready to go on a mission.  I didn't really care too much about it back then.  I still thought everything would "work out."  It seemed like every LDS guy went on a mission for two years, came back and got married shortly thereafter.  I came home from my first mission after three months for other health and personal reasons (it's actually become a great story, but one for another post).  I served for a year in the Family and Church History Mission in Salt Lake City.  During this time, my SSA became more of an issue.

I had a good bishop when I started coming to grips with my SSA, and each of my bishops ever since have been wonderful.  They didn't pretend to know all the answers, and it seemed like they were exploring with me (either that, or they were completely terrified, and I couldn't tell).  As long as I was keeping the law of chastity, I was fine.  In 2007, my bishop gave me the pamphlet, God Loveth His Children, put out by the First Presidency.  Even though the coming years would be somewhat difficult, I relied on the eternal truths discussed therein.  There are some small cultural things that have changed since the booklet's release, but the core eternal truths have remained the same, and to this day, those truths still help me get through times of discouragement.  I could quote the whole thing, and that is why I included the link above, but one of my favorite sections goes as follows:

"In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender....However, the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life. As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children."

Now, as much as I value those truths, there was one part of that paragraph that I left out, and it is this:  "While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life."  I don't wish to criticize, but some concepts like these sort of shaped the next several years for me...and it was difficult.  I was in the mindset of needing to work to overcome these feelings.  After all, I knew of members with SSA who were married, and I thought that was the end-all goal.

I was referred to a therapist to help me with my SSA, along with depression, anxiety, pornography and all that fun stuff.  I wanted someone to tell me how to fix my homosexual tendencies, because I certainly didn't know what to do.  He shared some good tools and coping mechanisms for dealing with SSA, and possibly changing my orientation.  All I could do was try to follow the counsel I was given.  The counseling helped me in understanding pornography and related addictions (which have been huge trials in and of themselves...anyone who's had experience with those issues could tell you that); however, it didn't do much for my attractions.  For a long time, I thought my addiction and my SSA were inseparable.  I thought that in trying to overcome my addiction that I would eventually develop feelings for girls.  I floated throughout the rest of my college career going on some awkward dates here and there.  Don't get me wrong, I love my girlfriends, and we did fun things, but I just didn't feel like I was getting anywhere as far as attraction goes.

Since then, I've come out to a lot of people, including members of my previous and current wards.  The support has been astounding.  No one has been negative towards me (and if so, they've kept it to themselves so far).  I've even met many other Latter-day Saints who experience SSA and are doing their best to keep the commandments.  They have been such an inspiration to me, and I've been getting a lot of needs met just by socializing with and finding other guys who understand how I feel.  Even after all these wonderful blessings, I still had a hard time letting go of the notion that heterosexual feelings were "good" and homosexual feelings were "bad."  I still thought that as long as I wasn't married, then my progression was halted.  Not to mention...I was also depressed at the possibility of being alone for the rest of my life.

In just the past few weeks, I've been blessed with some wonderful spiritual experiences combined with darts from the adversary.  It's interesting how Satan will try to tempt us right before receiving some much-needed personal revelation.  I'll try to be vague, because these experiences are sacred, but I feel like they need to be shared.  A few weeks ago, I was at an event where I saw a couple of my guy friends.  I longed to be close to them and hug them.  Even though I'm OK with doing those things, I felt guilty, telling myself things like, "I shouldn't be having these feelings!"  Right then, the Spirit smacked me over the head (figuratively speaking, but it would have been hilarious otherwise) and said, "ALEX, YOU'RE GAY!  OF COURSE YOU HAVE THESE FEELINGS!"

At that moment, a huge burden was lifted.  It was as if God had been trying to tell me (probably for a long time), "Calm down, and let Me work in your life."  I realized that I am this way for a reason, and that I do not need to be ashamed.  I learned that I don't need to pretend or try to be straight.  In another excerpt from God Loveth His Children, it says, "You are best served by concentrating on the things you can presently understand and control, not wasting energy or enlarging frustration by worrying about that which God has not yet fully revealed."  That statement means so much more to me now.  This and other teachings about the eternal blessings made possible through the Atonement were sources of comfort for me all along; however, I forgot to actually believe that they applied to me personally.

As you can see, my perspective has changed immensely.  I've seen a similar change in the Church as a whole.  Indeed, there used to be some harsh things said about gay people in general.  There seemed to be a large push to overcome or suppress homosexual feelings.  Same-sex attraction (and now gender identity disorder) was once something that we had to keep quiet.  In the last few years, more people have been talking about this issue and making it less of a taboo subject.  We have resources such as mormonsandgays.org.  More members of the Church are coming out as gay or same-sex attracted.  Some of them are even married to someone of the opposite gender...and they're being open and authentic about it (see http://www.ldsvoicesofhope.org/).

I do have some pet-peeves (who doesn't) surrounding this issue and the Church.  Sometimes I hear, "The Church is softening it's position on same-sex attraction."  That may be true, but it makes it sound like gay-bashing has been part of our official doctrine.  It also makes it sound like the Church is eventually going to embrace same-sex marriage and adjust the law of chastity.  I highly doubt that.  There are too many obvious things that point to the contrary.  Maybe sometime, if I feel brave enough, I'll write about my thoughts on same-sex marriage, for they are many, and I realize that it is an extremely sensitive topic.

Some people have left their families and the Church because they "tried to live the straight life."  Some are still under the impression that they have to pretend to be straight or get married in order to remain in the Church.  I once heard one of my college professors say, "I bet the Church will eventually allow gays to be in full fellowship."  If I had been out back then, I would have proudly said, "Ummm...we already are."

If you have been offended by something said over the pulpit, please consider forgiving whoever said it, and forgive other short-sighted Church leaders.  I know that we have prophets, seers and revelators on the earth today.  I know that they teach true and righteous principles.  As imperfect people, they may not have known how to convey those teachings in the best ways, but like us, they are striving to become more Christlike as well.

The Lord is hastening His work, and He is trying to gather all of His children home.  He needs His gay children back as well.  You have a place in His Church.  There may be some people who can't comprehend the thought of having gay people in their congregations, but there will be others who welcome you with open arms.  I assure you that God loves you, and that his servants on the earth are striving to understand your situation and others like it.  I love what President Thomas S. Monson said in the April 2012 General Conference:  "Tenderly the Master speaks to these and indeed to all: 'Come back. Come up. Come in. Come home. Come unto me.'"


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Welcome!

Hi!  My name is Alex.  I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  To cut right to the chase, I experience same-sex attraction.  I also identify as gay; however, I have learned recently that my identity as a son of God is far more important that any other term I use to describe myself.  He loves me, and I love Him, and that needs to be my top priority.  This is where "If ye love me, keep my commandments" means a lot to me (John 14:15).

I was raised in a Latter-day Saint family, and homosexuality wasn't discussed very much in my younger years.  It's not that we avoided the topic; it just hardly ever came up.  I don't consider this a bad thing in my case, because it left the door open for me to "come out" to my family.  I didn't have any preconceived notions about what my parents thought of gay people, so it wasn't too difficult to discuss it with them.  My family has been very supportive and willing to learn.  Since I didn't know much about homosexuality, I couldn't put a name to these feelings until after high school.  However, upon further reflection, I realized that I've had them as far back as I can remember.  It was after high school where I first heard the term "same-gender attraction."  I don't remember where I first heard it.  Even though I had acknowledged the attractions, I figured that everything would work out after my mission.  Long story short, I'm in my late twenties and I'm not married.  I don't know if I will be getting married in this life, but I believe it is possible.

I would consider myself "born that way."  I don't feel like it matters if I was born this way or if it's something that I acquired at a very young age.  Heavenly Father has given me commandments, and I have made covenants with Him.  He has blessed me with a testimony and a working knowledge of the role that families play not only in the Church but in society.  I have a testimony of living prophets and apostles.  I know that as I listen with the Spirit, I will know how to apply their words to my life.  I do acknowledge that there have been some cultural attributes about the Church that have changed over time, but the core doctrines and simple truths remain the same.  I must add that I have also been blessed with several friends who also experience same-sex attraction and who are keeping their covenants and are finding joy in the gospel.  I wouldn't be on this journey without them.  I also have friends who live the lifestyle, and we at least try to respect each others' choices and rejoice in our common ground.  I must express thanks to many other friends who have been there to support me.  It means so much when people talk to me and treat me just like any other person.

Over the last few years, there have been challenges, but I have also had many wonderful and surprising experiences that have strengthened my testimony of Heavenly Father and the love He has for me and for all of His children.  I know that I have this quality for a purpose, and that purpose is slowly being revealed to me.  It is through this blog that I hope to share some of those experiences as appropriate.  I want to help others who may be walking a similar path.  Likewise, I am concerned about the increasing gap between the world and religion in general.  I am concerned about the many brothers and sisters leaving the Church either because of its teachings or because of how they have been treated by fellow members.  I hope to address some of these issues as well, and possibly help clear up misconceptions about the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding this topic.

I am not a professional, and I don't have answers except for what I have learned through my own experiences (and through the experiences of others) as well as what I have learned through the inspired leaders of the Church.  I realize that this is a complicated and sensitive issue, and it tugs at many of our heartstrings no matter what angle we are coming from.  I don't pretend to know how everyone feels about it, and I will try not to tell others what to do.

I want my fellow LGBT friends to know that no matter what your relationship status or gender is, you are ALWAYS welcome to join with us in our worship services and activities.  There is a place for you, and your unique talents and abilities are needed in God's church (and you don't even have to pretend or try to be straight!  I know that has been a major stumbling block for some).  There are some teachings that may be hard to swallow, and there are commandments and covenants necessary in order to progress, but that does not exclude you from God's love, the ability to participate and the ability to develop a relationship with Christ.  Along the same lines, and perhaps more importantly, I want to help other Latter-day Saints understand how to better respond and rally around those who experience these issues no matter what their current choices are.

The theme of this blog revolves around the song "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," by Isaac Watts.  The last line is "No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home."  It is my hope that we can help more people feel at home among Church members.