Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Call To Repentance and My Response

Here is an email I sent to my aunt after she tried to have me repent. It's kind of long, but hopefully it helps you see my perspective:

From my aunt:

Hey Brig:

When do you leave for Malta? Isn't it in the spring? coming up pretty soon.

I guess that I'll get right into why I am sending this email. No beating around the bush. I want you to know that I love you and I have loved you since you were a little boy. Your big baby doll eyes, your cute little smile. I was going to search through my old photos just to refresh my memory. I've thought about writing you several times before, but hesitated for many reasons. I hope you will read and accept this email in the way that I am sending it, but if not... I am still going to send it. Anyway, I went to the temple this morning to do initiatory work and when the temple worker was talking about the purpose & power of the garment to protect us from evil, for some reason a picture of you popped into my mind--standing in the middle of a battlefield, but you had taken off your armor and were totally unprotected. The thought made me physically feel sick and afraid, but mostly my heart just ached.

You would probably be very surprised to know how many prayers are being offered in your behalf...how many people care about you and are worried about you. I'm not sure where you're at in the 'feeling' process, but I hope that you will accept this note for what it is...my witness of truth. I know that I can't say anything to you that you probably haven't thought about yourself at some time in your life. You know the gospel better than most. You served an honorable mission as far as I know. You have studied and lived the gospel all of your life until now. I'll tell you straight up that you are headed in the wrong direction if you are looking for happiness! There is no way you can be happy and fight against God and his plan. Do you know anyone that lives a homosexual life that is truly happy in 1 year? 2 years? 5 years? 10 years? There may be some positive feeling(s), but in cannot be happiness. I have never had to deal with the situation you are in, but one thing I know...Happiness only comes from being obedient to God's commandments! There is no other way! All is not lost, there is always hope, there is always repentance, there is always the atonement. And, by the way, there is always love from your family and from God.

That's it...the words/feelings from the heart of your aunt that loves you very much, and always will!

Love,

Aunt Pat 

My response:

Pat,

I know where you are coming from and understand your perspective. I know that you are doing what you believe is right and what you think is best for me. So I will do my best to respond in the same manner, knowing that we love and care about each other’s well being. I don't want to seem like I am being combatant or argumentative, but I DO want you to hear my perspective, even if you may never understand it. I have been tough experiences that have shaped my understanding, and since you haven't had these experiences, it might be difficult for you to understand. You believe your understanding to be the right one, and you want to help me the way you would liked to have me help you. But I want you to recall the lesson you taught me years ago: The Platinum Rule - do unto others as they would have you do unto them. Hopefully I can give you a better idea of how you can best respect my perspective and treat me likewise.

First - the garment. I am sure you can understand that I wouldn't feel comfortable wearing a piece of clothing that is symbolic of covenants I have made that I no longer wish to be held to. I believe their purpose and power, but I have a greater understanding of my Heavenly Father that has given me resolve to be comfortable depending on other forms of protection in this "battle of life." This might be clearer as I explain more of my perspective below.

Second - Your care for me and your testimony. It means so much to me that you worry about me and care about me so much. I love your testimony. I want you to know that I appreciate all of that. I really do. But there are other ways you can show you care for me that will actually make me feel like you care about me. Like listening to me and being happy for the happiness I have found. I know your perspective is that of the church's stand. So is mine. But I have additional perspectives that change everything that you fortunately (and unfortunately) do not have.

Third - My testimony. My testimony was shaped similarly to yours for many years. But since early adolescence, I have had to battle some things I wouldn't even begin to scratch if I tried to explain them. Because of that, I have had to weigh in my mind what people (in the church and outside the church) were telling me, versus what was REALLY happening to me. My testimony encompasses 90% of your own testimony. Unfortunately, the remaining 10% (which is extremely vital to the church) did not ever bring me the happiness or witness the church claimed it did. That was very hard for me. I had to decide whether to follow the false testimony I had, knowing that it would bring the same result it has my whole life: despair, fear, etc... Or I could change something. So I changed something. I wanted to find happiness - can you blame me? Finally I found the missing piece in my life. Life made sense. I had something to live for. I know what love really feels like, now. Now I know that God has a purpose for me on this earth that is very unique. He didn't send me here to suffer and wait to die before I could experience the happiness that 96% of the world can experience here (legitimately). He wants us all to be happy in this life, and the next. Don't you want that for your own children?

Fourth - my feelings. I was told that marriage in the temple with a woman was the only way to be happy and to receive Salvation. It sounded great. Except the woman part. It seemed completely unnatural to me to be intimate and affectionate with a woman, let alone create children with one. In fact, it makes me physically ill to think about it. Just imagine yourself sharing a passionate kiss with your relief society president or counselor. Yuck, right? I mean, you love the woman to death, and would marry them if they were a handsome man (and you were both single), but otherwise it's disgusting. That is how I feel about women, too. My parents weren't abusive. I had no sexual experiences as a child or an adolescent. There is nothing to really point to why I prefer boys. In fact, it really doesn't even matter why I feel the way I do. I just... do. And completely by no fault of my own. Which means God allowed it. Do I hate him for it? No. I know He loves me. I always have known that. If not, I would probably have hung myself years ago. There would have been no purpose to living... knowing that I am an abomination to God and if I acted on my feelings I would go to hell. But if I didn't act on these feelings, I would be forever alone... a living hell. No God or spouse to ever comfort me. I have received confirmation from God for me (and me only) that the path I am taking is the one I need to take right now for some reason.

Fifth - God and his plan. I'm not fighting against God at all. And His plan? God does have a plan for me. I fit in it somewhere. But if you keep an eternal perspective, who is to say that the plan is the same for everyone on this earth? If this earth is so short of time, who is to say how much of the plan takes place after this life? I feel that over eternity, God will give me the same opportunities you have to have the same blessings you hope to have. And who am I to say the plan He has given for my life now is wrong? I have been doing trying to do the "right thing" for years... denying who I am, how I feel, and what everyone had told me was wrong. How thoughtless of me to deny the person God made me to be! Since embracing what has always been right to me, despite the social and religious norms, I haven't been happier. You just have to take my word for it and be happy for me. You may have thought I was happy living the "gospel" as you know it, but I was pretending to be happy. I was pretending that everything was ok. I was pretending to be something I was not. The gospel to me is living a life the Savior would. How could I do that if I was so focused on myself and my "evil" attractions? I tried to distract myself from these "unworthy" feelings by playing computer games and other wasteful uses of time. Who knows what good I could have been doing in the world had I been happy accepting my nature back then. Now that I am free from the bonds of expectations, I can do anything. I can finally REALLY focus on others and help them. Actually be Christ-like. Before, I felt like I was lying to myself and everyone... teaching something to people that didn't make natural sense to me. But now I know that everyone is different, even within sexual orientations. Now I can contribute more to the world being myself, rather than denying who I was meant to be. This is God's plan for me. I hope that I can reach out the hundreds of thousands of other gay Mormons that lack the understanding and support they need from their family. I wish I had that.

Sixth - Happy gays. Gay means happy, right? (I say this in a happy-jokey tone) Of course you haven't heard of any happy endings with gay couples! You don't live in a gay community! In fact you live in a biased society that considers such relationships evil. No one in that community would dare share stories of happily ever after for a gay couple. I, however, have been associated with others like me that have been forced to think heavily about life in their early years. We DO tell success stories. We DO know of happy gay couples that have worked thought the social struggles of rejection. There ARE gay couples that last YEARS. Of course due to a predominantly heterosexual population, the numbers are much smaller... but the ratios of break ups to lasting relationships aren't much different than that of straight people. There is just as much conflict and heartache with heterosexuals (if not more) as there is with any gay relationship. In fact gays probably treat relationships with more respect and care than straights because they have been denied relationships for so many years.

Seventh - repentance. There are all the R's to repentance, the 12 step program... etc. One of those steps is regret. Guilt. Godly sorrow. I feel bad when I watch an inappropriate movie, see/read explicit material, hurt others, etc. But the one thing I have NEVER felt ANY guilt for is sharing love and affection with those I am attracted to. Would you in your circumstance? No. Being straight is normal to you. You don't know anything different. You are told it is ok. Same for me and guys. Except the being told it is ok part. I did not choose to be the way I am. Why would anyone choose to be opposite of the social norm and be rejected by their closest friends and family because of it? Did you choose to be straight? And if I didn't choose to be the way I am, why should I be guilty about it? We're not talking about murder, stealing, sleeping around, doing drugs, etc. We're talking about looking for a committed, loving relationship with someone they can emotionally and physically appreciate and be attracted to. Is that so much to ask for? I can't say I’ve done everything right on this new path, but I am learning just as much as a straight person would. But the end goal is just the same as yours. Would you or God deny that of me?

Other thoughts.

I had 4 choices to make:

1. I could deny my feelings and do what I was raised to do: marry a woman and create children. Would that be fair to any woman to marry someone that didn't share deep, intimate feelings for them? That only did what was necessary to have a family... or even skip sex altogether and adopt? Would any woman be ok with that? Would that be fair to the kids? To have a father that is emotionally imbalanced because he is living a way that is unnatural to him, who can never be emotionally filled on this earth? A father that could eventually break down and either leave the family or commit suicide? Think of Sue's ex husband. And their kids. Why would I ever want to do that to anyone?

2. I could live a celibate life and never have sexual relationships with anyone. I wouldn't be able to participate in many church activities or callings. Many of them require a spouse. I would be attending a church that claims marriage and family to be the happiest unit on earth... and I wouldn't have it. People would question me. I would be completely alone. No family to come home to or provide for. What am I living for? Death really. I am living to die so I can be rid of these horrid feelings and finally find happiness in a woman. Why would I want to come to a church that teaches and would have me teach about a family I could never have here? A happiness denied of me?

3. I could date and marry a man that I love. I would be socially rejected by some friends, most family, and all of the church. I would be excommunicated. If not that, denied many activities within the church. But I would come home to my man after work. I would have a husband and kids that would love me unconditionally because I am happy with who I am and have become. I am confident and an active participant and contributor to the world. I would have reason to live and move forward. I would raise my children in the church and be a part of it as much as it would let me. There would be many challenges, but at least they are external. Nothing I could immediately change, and therefore wouldn’t need to worry about. I would be happy in this life and have a hope for happiness for eternity. I could even say I KNOW I would be happy for eternity. Is that so wrong or different from you?

4. Commit suicide. End the pain. End the suffering. End the wait for the feelings I am supposed to have. End the loneliness. End the embarrassment. End the nights of crying myself to sleep. End the inquiries of my girlfriend/wife and why I don’t have one. Yeah, it *might* suck for the people that loved me, but according to the church, my first priority is my own well being. I am better off dead than alive. God will fix everything after this life. He promised he would. I would rather die now and end the hell so I can reach the heaven so adamantly proclaimed in church. Suicide is better than the hell that would come if I was gay, so what’s the problem? At least I was true to the covenants I made in the temple. That should count for something.

The choice is simple, right?

There are SOOO many different aspects of this that I can't take time to explain. I will point you to my friend's blog that covers a lot that I did not cover here. Not all of his perspectives are the same as mine. But I have had many of the same experiences he has had. Minus the supportive family.

Jonathan's Blog:

http://ingaymormonshoes.blogspot.com/

I'm not saying my family doesn't love me, but the love is conditional. You may not think it is conditional, but when you say "I love you, but..." you are putting a condition on it. "I love you, but I do not support you in your choices and you can't bring anyone to my home that is gay like you." Is a conditional love. Of course I wouldn't put any of my family in danger or make out in front of them. You wouldn't want your straight kids doing that either. I respect that. My attraction to guys is not an addiction or a destructive habit. It is who I am. I will always respect my family. But I also demand respect from my family. If my brother or cousin (or anyone) can come over with his wife and kids, be welcomed with open arms, and sleep in the same room and bed as them, I would expect the same for me. If not, that is your choice. I respect that. Don't expect me to visit. Yes it will be hard for my family to adjust to that. Do you not think it has been a hard adjustment for me?

So, I will wrap this up. I hope I did not come off offensively. I hope that you can take what I have said seriously and consider that perhaps the way you are dealing with this is not the right way. Perhaps you should remember the "Platinum Rule." Your unconditional love for me would allow you to be happy for me when I am happy. Accept me as I am. Love my boyfriends and gay friends just as you would a girlfriend or straight friend of mine. I think you know me enough that I wouldn't choose crude, sleazy, or disrespectful friends or boyfriends. These people have parents and aunts just like your kids and my brother and I. They were raised in a Mormon culture that respects and honors the standards we all love and understand. We just like people of the same gender.

I love you, I really do. Unfortunately, responding affirmatively to your email the way you would have liked would put me back on ground zero of hell. I'd rather not go back and visit that. I hope this is educational to you, and that you can be more understanding when you meet people like me. Who knows, maybe one of your grandchildren will have to go through the same thing I am. You might want to be ready for the possibility. They may not have as high of self esteem as I did and commit suicide. Wouldn't you rather they live a happy life?

I'm not willing to argue anything. I am confident in my choice. I am willing, however, to answer questions that would help you understand more of where I am coming from. I still think of you just the same. If you can’t accept my perspective, I will wait until you can. When you do, I will be happy to come visit. I will think even more of you when you can confirm your unconditional Christ-like love for me.

Your nephew,

Brig

Saturday, June 16, 2012

From Saint to “Sinner”: Brig Bagley’s Story of Coming Out in a Mormon Culture


From Saint to “Sinner”: Brig Bagley’s Story of Coming Out in a Mormon Culture

27 May 2012

 1             The Good Little Boy

I was always different.  I liked school. I didn’t like sports.  Homework was fun. Baseball was boring.  I played with legos and barbies (when at my gal friend’s house).  I was teased through all grades, even up through some high school.  But I thought it was all normal for various reasons.  I was Mormon. I was smarter than most kids (at least mom said I was).  Starting about fifth grade, I was aware of some new feelings.  I had a few guy friends, and I was fascinated by them.  I sometimes made up the craziest fantasies about them that I held on to for over 10 years.  Even sexual ones.  From as early as I could remember, I wanted to be around boys much more than girls.  For a while, I chalked it up as fear of cooties.  But the cooties never went away like adults said they would. 

When the school classes and ‘birds and bees’ lessons of sexuality came up about fifth grade, I was often confused why I didn’t have the feelings I was told I would.  They were always applied differently—towards other boys.  But for some reason, it didn’t really bother me.  I didn’t think I was broken.  I thought it would either correct itself, or go away.  I didn’t know any better.  Sexual things were bad to talk about as a Mormon.  So I didn’t talk about them.  My parents were very involved in my life and made sure I had the proper training and thoughts on sexual things, but it was left as something “bad” until married in the temple.  Even then it was only ok to a certain level.  My family was one where you don’t dare talk sexual things.  We were supposed to know it was bad.  So I just compromised by fostering my fantasies and never experimenting.  I wanted to make my parents and friends happy by doing what I was told.  I wanted to be an example to other people by making none of the mistakes my friends or other ‘bad people’ did.  And I was.  I was one of the more perfect kids you would ever find.  My parents were proud and happy, and everyone else told their kids to be like me.  It never got to my head, though.  I was and still am a perfectionist, and absorbing praise was imperfect.  So I got used to shrugging it off. 

2              Something was Wrong

There came a point that blissfully living in my fantasies was not going to save me.  Time eventually unfolded to a point where levels of sexuality were expected to be manifested.  Mormons go to youth dances starting at 14 years old.  My parents wouldn’t let me skip them… it was in our culture to go and dance with girls.  It was normal to be scared or awkward—but the cooties were all gone—so this was where Mormon boys could appropriately show a liking towards girls.  But the cooties weren’t gone.  Awkward never became adept, and scared never became satisfying.  I was still expected to go to the dances and be really close to a girl.  I had to pretend to like some of them.  Since it never came naturally, I was labeled as shy or quiet.  So I became the shy kid.  All my friends around me either embraced the opportunity to hold a girl, or actually WERE shy.  So I stayed where I ‘fit’ best, with the shy people. 

At this point, I knew I had feelings for boys, and not girls.  I don’t think I called them gay feelings, but I was certainly aware of gay people and gay actions.  I avoided them like the plague, fearful of being discovered of having these feelings.  I wouldn’t even say the word “gay”, since it was only associated with bad things.  I remember my parents specifically once telling me that a host of a TV show had a lisp because it was God’s curse to gay people for their lifestyle.  I didn’t have that lisp, so I wasn’t gay, right?
I also remember a couple instances when quite young (about 14) that my dad thought I liked a girl.  This girl was an older sister of a guy friend that I liked.  I wanted to go to his house to play with him a lot, and my parents thought I wanted to see this girl.  Since I was eager to seem normal, I agreed with them that I had a crush on this girl.  I even convinced myself that I did.  But it was really the younger brother that was about my age that I liked.

At age 16, Mormons are finally allowed to date.  Of course, not every family follows that rule, but mine did.  As my sweet 16 approached, my parents were very interested in learning about which girls I was going to take out first.  “I don’t know,” I would say.  I honestly had no interest in going on dates with girls.  Why would I spend money and time on someone or something I didn’t care about?  It was my lack of desire and interest that set my parents off.  They were very concerned, and, I’m sure, looked up everything in the book that could attribute to this unusual behavior in their son.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they spoke to church leaders and friends to get ideas. 

One afternoon when my dad was home from work, he and my mom took me into the guest room downstairs and closed the door.  I knew something serious was up—since the only times my parents kept my younger brother out of a conversation were when I was in some sort of trouble, which of course was rare.  “Brigham, your mother and I have been praying about you.  We have been concerned about some things, and feel inspired by the Holy Ghost that you are struggling with same-gender attractions.  Is this true?”  I was shocked.  How did they know? I’ve never said anything.  I haven’t had a problem with any pornography at all, and even had masturbation under control.  Over time, I came to believe that they made a lucky, educated guess.  I used to believe in true revelation and inspiration, but I never had an experience that I can rationally call legitimate or super-terrestrial.  I would convince myself I did, just like the crush on that one girl.  The conversation with my parents included things like “you know that two men can’t reproduce,” and “you can’t have a family with two male parents,” and “we are going to talk to some professionals with LDS family services to see what help we can get you.” All the things that gay Mormons fear most from their parents if they were to be discovered or come out: rejection, reparative therapy, and condescension. 

The “therapy” was actually short lived.  I hated going, and resented my parents for taking me.  From this point on, I irreparably emotionally disconnected from my parents.  My relationship with them has never been the same.  I felt betrayed that they thought I was broken and needed fixing of some sort.  I was a good kid and rarely did anything most kids were expected to do in the growing and learning years.  The therapy stopped for some reason.  I’m not sure why.  I might have said I was cured or getting better, or begged it to stop.  I just can’t remember.  I only remember one or two times where I talked with the therapist.  The others times we went to see him I remember my mom going in to talk to him while I waited in the lobby.  But the sessions ended, and we never spoke of any of it again for about 8 years.

I remember the therapist mentioning another kid in my stake seeing him for the same reason I was seeing him.  I was bound and determined figure out whom this kid was. I even asked a friend of mine that I liked (and thought might have feelings like mine) if he knew the doctor I was seeing.  He didn’t.  Darn it. This same kid that I liked continued to be an interesting story.  There was a high adventure trip and campout coming up in the near future where both I and this kid I liked would be going.  My dad approached me in the guest room and closed the door (uh-oh).  He told me he was worried there would be a boy I was attracted to going on these trips and wanted to know if he should come along to make sure I didn’t get into trouble.  It shocked me first that he knew of this, and I accused him of reading my journal.  He denied this, but I still believed he might have.  If it wasn’t my journal, he was just getting really good at guessing.  My parents were, of course, extremely protective, involved, and hands-on in my life.  So I think someone that knew me as well as my parents could have guessed the same things. To avoid me “getting into trouble,” my dad arranged work so he could come on these trips.  Although nothing weird came out of it, I still felt betrayed by my dad for not trusting me.  Along these same lines, my parents never allowed my brother or me to go to any sleepovers.  “Nothing good ever happens at sleepovers,” they would say. 

3              Living the Cookie-Cutter Young Adult Life

Four years later, I applied for and was called on a mission for the LDS church.  I made up these reasons for going like, “I wanted to learn how to be a good father,” and “I want to help others find the happiness I found in the church.” But it was all made up.  I didn’t do it maliciously; I just did it because I knew it would give me approving nods and help me along the cookie-cutter life that was already defined for me as a Mormon.  But, despite the brainwashed reasons for going, I did make a good time of the two years I had in Arkansas.  I made great friends, learned invaluable things, and—I believe—grew up and matured dramatically.  I was a good missionary and served honorably.  I didn’t mess around with other missionaries; I didn’t do anything dishonorable.  I had to kick masturbation just before leaving (my stake president wouldn’t let me go unless I was 4 months free of it).  I slipped up a couple times on the mission, but my mission president was compassionate and encouraging about it.  I didn’t EVER, though, say a word about liking guys. 

How did I deal with living with guys next to me for 24 hours a day for 2 years while having gay feelings? The same way I had as a teenager.  I held on to my fantasies and never acted on them.  Somehow, it worked.  I was distracted enough as a kid with school, swimming, and band to get over it.  As a missionary, you are always busy and distracted from your personal life, so it really wasn’t that hard.  But, what is the expectation of a returned missionary once home? Guess…

Every returned missionary is expected to attend a singles ward, search for, and date a young daughter of God to take to the temple for a worthy marriage for time and all eternity.  So, as usual, I did what I could to follow expectations and please those around me.  I went on dates, just like as a teenager.  This time, I didn’t have my parents to pay for food and gas to make as pleasurable an event as possible.  I swear they always had in mind that if I had good experiences dating girls, I would eventually like them.  That didn’t quite work out as planned.  Now that I had to date girls all on my own dime, the experience spurned more second thoughts about it all.  Although there is nothing wrong with having a good time with girls (meaning clean Mormon fun), I never saw the reason for me to be fiscally responsible for it, or for it to go any further that clean fun.  You would think that pretty girls fighting over you would make you reconsider, but it never did.  It only pushed me farther from it, although it felt good to think that I was attractive to people.  Even married male adults would comment that I was good-looking and would be married in no time.  But that was the farthest thing from my desires—marriage with a girl that is.  But I had no choice but to think about it daily.  Every church lesson in a singles ward is about marriage or finding someone to marry.  It’s like a factory trying to produce married couples.  I was forced to do everything I could date and look towards marriage.  I was in marriage prep classes, went to the temple monthly, and took girls on dates as much as I could stomach. 

Along with this struggle to fit into the Mormon marriage scheme, I was struggling inside to find out why I had these feelings and what I was supposed to do with them.  I was on my own for most of the time.  Other than the 3-6 months that I was forced to go to therapy with my parents, I dealt with this issue completely on my own to this point.  No church leaders knew, at least not from my lips.  No one would really guess, since I come off mostly masculine.  My most feminine qualities are cleanliness and aversion of sporting events.  But being alone in Mormon world doesn’t exist.  We ‘always have God and Christ with us, who know what we are going through. We are never alone’. I held on to this.  That Christ knows what I am going through, and that if I am righteous enough, all will be well.  I prayed frequently every day, nearly always saying something like, “God, please take these feelings away from me.”  I would try to pray the gay away, as I call it now.  I was a frequent temple patron.  I held numerous callings, often running the singles ward all three hours long.  I played the organ and piano, served as Elder’s Quorum first counselor, was a ward missionary, did my home teaching, taught Gospel Principles, went on countless splits with the missionaries in our ward and fed them dinner twice a month, read scriptures daily, kept a daily journal… the list goes on.  No matter how righteous I was, my life became more and more meaningless. 

4              Thinking Outside of the Mormon Box

All this time, I would wonder… why go to school, work so hard, and work to make money every day to spend it on a woman I didn’t love, and endure “appropriate sex” with her to have the children that I would be lying to all my life?  What was the point to go on? I saw nothing exciting in front of me.  Sure, I liked my schooling… but to what end? Would I always be in this single state, wanting to get married so I could be normal, but not wanting to because I wasn’t?  Where were the answers? Who could I really turn to? For two long years, I turned to Christ, but His end was silent.  The church had nothing new to offer me.  It was all the same, useless information.  I tried it all.  Although I was not about to try the whole marriage thing—I knew enough about marriage that I could not go in to it without feeling something similar to the love everyone was talking about.  And what was love? Is it just as fake as the “warm fuzzies” that come along with the Holy Ghost that is supposed to “always be with me”? 

The same year I returned home from my mission was the year of Proposition 8.  If anything could make it more confusing to me at this point, it was this Prop 8 business.  At this point in my life, I regret to admit that because of my intentions to be a “good Mormon,” I did what I was told and supported the proposition.  But I read the resources from both sides.  I knew what was exaggerated and what was totally false.  I understood both sides of the issue.   But I let the prophet make the decision for me.  I didn’t think for myself.  I did what my peers in the ward were doing because I was expected to.  But this entire event began a new thinking process inside of me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it did.  The uproar and distaste with Mormons after the successful passing of the proposition didn’t quite hit me until years later, though.  It took me a while to REALLY understand.  I was blinded like so many Mormons.

The harder I worked to be the Mormon I wasn’t, the more miserable I became.  I even went to the point of getting a girlfriend.  That lasted all of 3 weeks.  One of those weeks I was out of town.  She expected way too much of me, especially for a first relationship.  Holding her hand was uncomfortable.  I didn’t get why people did it.  I refused to kiss her.  Bleh.  I even ended it over email because I cared so little about the relationship. 

That Christmas break I admitted to my mom that I wasn’t happy with my life.  I felt lost, confused, and unhappy.  She told my dad—which I should have expected, even though I had thought it was in confidence that I told her.  They lived in a new house at this point, so there was no guest room.  Before I left to drive back to school, they came in my room and closed the door.  This was the first time in 8 years that the topic of my attractions came up.  They asked if that was why I was so unhappy.  I said it was.  They thought it was their fault for not taking care of this more fully when I was younger, so they went on a mad hunt to find every resource they could to pass on to me. 

For about three weeks, they sent me website after website of church documents and interviews about people with so-called same-sex attraction.  They all said the same unhelpful things.  They were all based on the same principles I had tried to live my whole life up to this point.  It surrounded me with anger and depression.  I couldn’t focus on school.  I was losing my sanity.  I asked them to stop sending me material and to let me figure it out on my own.  They honored my request.  I finally was respected by them to take care of it on my own.  

5              I’m Not the Only One

Once I started taking things into my own hands, everything changed.  I began thinking for myself and doubting things.  I told my bishop that I liked guys.  His reaction surprised me.  He had tons of compassion, since his own son had feelings just like me.  He said he was fully supportive and knew that if anyone could figure it out, I would.  He didn’t know what to do for me, but told me I had his full support and love.  Although he didn’t offer much practical help, he provided emotional support that I felt was more sincere than my own parents.  It was a huge relief to have open conversation with someone other than my parents about my feelings that I felt actually listened.  But he still didn’t have the answers, so I kept looking.

The first thing I did on my own was get online and search.  I typed “gay Mormon” and “gay LDS” into Facebook, Google, and Craigslist.  I didn’t know where else to go.  I found 3 things that accelerated my thinking process.  There was a Facebook group for gay Mormons that a guy started.  I was absolutely shocked that something like this existed.  There are really so many of us that there is a Facebook group???  This is back in Early 2010 too.  I sent the group creator a message, but didn’t dare join the group in fear of anyone finding out.  This guy was very nice, and I was just really relieved and even surprised that I wasn’t the only Mormon with these feelings.  He was busy at that time with his soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, so I didn’t hear from him much. So I kept looking. 

I joined a group called North Star.  This is a church-approved group that recruits people experiencing Same-Sex Attraction (SSA) to engage in uplifting and positive discussion about feelings with others experiencing the same feelings.  At first, I loved this group.  Mainly, of course, because I could hear the dozens of other stories of people just like me.  And to feel accepted by a group of people that understood me exactly.  But over time, I realized that this was just a cause for more suppression.  “Now that you recognize you have these feelings, you can overcome them through Christ”—the same dead rhetoric that I had been following for years.  They didn’t have the answers just like my Bishop didn’t.  They were just blind leading the blind.  They didn’t really know what they were doing.  Eventually I left the group.  It began to feel like a ‘Rameumptom’, where useless rhetoric was repeated by all for the approval of all others.  “I was tempted to look at this other boy on the bus, but I prayed in my head and felt the spirit.”  Stupid stories like that came up over and over again, and everyone would comment how proud they were.  And when someone “messed up” they posted their guilt and the group would comment on that.  It was ridiculous. 

I also read a book called “In Quiet Desperation,” by Fred and Marilyn Matis and Ty Mansfield.  I liked the first part of the book, which was Marilyn’s story of her gay son working through his attractions his whole life.  However, her son Stewart committed suicide at a church building when he could no longer live the hellish lie.  The comment that bothered me most was when Marilyn said something to the effect of “Although we mourn the loss and don’t know how Stewart will be judged for this crime he committed against his life, we can rest assured and be more at peace knowing he kept his temple covenants and never acted out on his homosexual feelings.”  That set me off.  How dare anyone say it’s better to kill yourself then break your church’s rules?  The second half of the book was pretty much a sermon by Ty, a gay guy that has convinced himself that he can live a Mormon life as a non-practicing homosexual.  It was again the same useless information the church shoved down me all my life.  So I didn’t like it.  Ty is now married to a woman with a child.  He claims to be happy, and although I doubt he is as happy as he claims, I’ll claim to be happy for him. 

In conjunction with North Star and Ty Mansfield is a camp called “Journey into Manhood,” or JiM.  This is a secret camp in the woods where a group of SSA (same-sex attracted) guys get together to build their manhood and receive “appropriate male affection” to help overcome their attractions.  At one point, I considered going to this, but it was ridiculously expensive and somewhere pretty far from me.  I’m forever grateful I never went, because the camp is infested with affection-hungry men, mostly over 30—and including Ty Mansfield.  I would have hated it.  It was a mix of completely awkward situations and the horrid EFY (Especially for Youth) I went to as a youth, where you had endless lectures on church topics and were forced to participate in ridiculous activities with girls.  North Star is the biggest recruiter for JiM, and Ty is a counselor there regularly.  That is enough information to know it’s not for me.
The last bit of research I did was a posting on Craigslist. I posted that I wanted to have a non-sexual intimate relationship with another guy.  I posted in Provo, UT, Salt Lake, UT, and where I was at the time in San Luis Obispo, CA.  I received countless responses from overly sexualized Utah guys.  Not many hits in CA, but the ones that did come were much more sincere.  However, I did find 2 or 3 guys in Utah that responded that I have kept in touch with to this day.  I exchanged emails and texts with them and talked about their experiences and feelings—how they were dealing with it all as a gay Mormon.  It was very educational. 

One person I talked to referred me to a gay social network. Once I got on that, I was hooked.  I was talking to guys that told me I was cute—that were adorable themselves.  I felt special and I felt giddy.  Feelings I never felt before.  I was actually liked by people I liked.  And it was OK.  I finally felt normal.  I spent way too much time on this website, but it was all worth it.  It built my confidence and gave me experience that I had never had before.  I became really good at filtering out people that wanted only a hook-up.  I only met a couple people on the website while in CA.  The first introduced me to a group of gays at the college I went to, mostly engineers like me.  It was extremely satisfying to know that there were countless gay engineers too, even if not Mormon.  These became my closest friends until graduation a year later.  I even went out with one of them for a little while.  My life in college was forever changed once I found the people I could be myself around.  These guys weren’t Mormon, so I didn’t relate perfectly with them, but it was refreshing to see this very different perspective of being gay.  It was just as legitimate as my perspective, and I cherished the diversity. 

6              My First Experiences Dating Guys

The guy that created the Facebook group randomly returned my messages in about March of 2010.  Since I was going to Utah to General Conference with my family (a big Mormon gathering that happens twice a year), I planned on meeting this guy for dinner just before my mission reunion.  I flew up early and separately from my parents, so I had a day and a half to plan as I pleased.  My friend at BYU picked me up and had me stay with him that day.  I actually decided to come out to him that first night.  He had no idea I was gay, but was very supportive and interested.  He did, however, express his hope that I stay true to our beliefs.  The next day I met with a gay couple for lunch and talked with them for a few hours.  One of them I had met either via the Facebook group or Craigslist.  They were cute together and had very fascinating stories of coming out as Mormons.  They admitted that life wasn’t easy, but that they were infinitely happier now than before coming out.  They experienced depression that I never had. 

After our visit, I met with the FB group creator.   We met at Costa Vida in Sandy, UT.  I was there first, and when he walked into the doors, I swear I had a love at first sight experience.  I thought at the time that he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.  I tried my best to hide my infatuation, but he told me later that it was obvious.  I bought him dinner, since it was his birthday.  I asked him countless questions about his beliefs.  He said that he believed he could reach the Celestial Kingdom—the highest level of heaven for Mormons—being a gay person.  He didn’t really know how exactly, but he said he knew.  I ended up adopting this belief system myself, in a way.  After my mission reunion, he texted me and asked if I wanted to meet up again.  I eagerly agreed.  He drove back down from SLC to Provo and picked me up.  We ended up parking by the mall for about two hours.  This was the most intense two hours of my life.  I was debating in my head at this point what direction I was going to go: stay in the Mormon cookie-cutter life, or try something new with this really cute boy next to me.  I eventually chose the boy.  Although I put it to him kind of weird: “I think I want affection from you.” He waited patiently for me to make this decision, and gladly responded to my request.  Starting with a hand massage, this boy eventually admitted his hope that we could kiss.  This was my first experience doing anything with another boy—at least since puberty.  There were a couple things I did with a couple other kids when I was really young, but I know they didn’t affect my feelings.  They were pretty innocent anyway.  But this was for real.  We were both adults and both liked each other. I had never kissed anyone before.  Not even girls.  He came in to kiss me and I hesitated.  Not because I didn’t want to—I did.  I just didn’t have a clue what to do.  He came in again and was successful this time.  It was fantastic.  At this very moment, I knew I was gay, and I knew that this was the direction I wanted to go.  This felt right.  I was goo-goo gah-gah the rest of my trip.  Although I didn’t see him again after that late night, we talked and texted constantly. 

The next morning I drove with my brother to General Conference.  I couldn’t keep it in any longer.  I turned down the radio and told my brother I had my first kiss the night before.  He lit up. He had been seeing a girl for a while and had kissed girls long ago.  It was a big deal that his big brother had finally kissed someone. “Really? How did you meet her? What’s her name?” I told him we had met online, and his name was Jared.  He giggled and shrugged it off as a joke.  “Ha ha, no, really, tell me!” I told him I was dead serious and that I had liked boys from the beginning.  It took my brother about 10 minutes before he would believe me.  Even then he still had to process it all.  He was absolutely shocked.  The big brother he had looked up to for so many years was gay.  He had no idea.  He was cute about it initially—trying to think of solutions to fix me—but I guaranteed him that there was nothing that could be done.  Although he would prefer I wasn’t gay, he never gave me any grief or treated me differently.  Our relationship actually improved from this point.

My mother on the other hand, was not so easy to work with.  I told my brother not to tell my parents, but he must have, since my mom called me a couple weeks later to ask me if I had a boyfriend.  When I said I did, she started crying on the phone.  These weren’t tears of joy, but of despair.  It was pretty sad that the first time I felt real happiness in my life my parents were disappointed and upset.  Although their reactions to my decision to date guys were not positive, it could have been much worse. 

After I returned home from Utah, Jared and I kept talking.  I was falling hard for this boy.  I felt this thing called ‘love’ that everyone was talking about.  Life finally made sense.  Everything finally made sense.  I knew what I wanted and I was determined that someday I would get it.  Just like everyone else around me.  A week or two after we met, Jared and I decided to be official boyfriends.  He was hesitant—breaking all his rules: dating a guy long distance, a dating guy just coming out, and being a guy’s first relationship.  But he still did it.  That whole month we were together was bliss.  I had a boy I could call my own.  Life was good. 

A month later, Jared convinced me to visit him in SLC.  When I told my mom, she asked where I would be staying.  I told her I would be staying with him.  She was very upset and said in sarcasm, “Well happy Mother’s Day to me!” It was Mother’s Day weekend that I would be flying up to see him.  Going up to see him was a poor move of mine, but I learned from it.  He was gone working most of the time I stayed with him.  It was really awkward for some reason too.  Come to find out later, he was breaking up with me.  It was a bad situation for both of us.  He broke up with me the day before I flew home, and I had nowhere to go.  So I had to process it all with him around me for a whole day.  It was the hardest I had ever cried that night in his bathroom while he slept. 

It was a hard month getting over my relationship with Jared, but I did.  This was when I started meeting gay guys at my school in CA.  That summer, I was determined to get up to Utah to meet and date more gay Mormons.  I was with my parents for a little while in San Diego, and it was awful.  I couldn’t live under their roof anymore.  I needed to get out.  I spent most of my time with my two best gal friends.  I came out to both of them while I was there.  They were both so happy and supportive.  They were ecstatic to have a gay best friend.  It surprised me since they were both stalwart Mormon girls.  I think that society has definitely helped in opening the minds of the younger generations, even Mormons.  I ended up moving to Utah in July.  I did it all of a sudden, with no work or place to live.  My parents were not pleased, but I’d rather be out of the house than to try to appease them.  I ended up finding a place to live with other gay guys.  I didn’t find work on purpose.  I had enough money to support me for the summer.  So I played. And met a lot of guys.  I was introduced to a whole new world.

This was a summer of change.  I stopped wearing garments.  I only rarely went to church.  I went on dates with dozens of guys.  I made a ton of new friends and had a blast.  Quite a few times I would be interested in a couple people at the same time, both would progress, and then both would fall through.  The last time I was interested in someone in the summer was only with one person.  And we hit it off.  After meeting him, we took about a week to become official.  He was recently coming out and a BYU student, almost graduated.  I was with him in Provo for about a month.  We were really good together.  This time I had a boyfriend around me a lot.  I did have to return to school, though, so I did the long distance again.  Ultimately, that’s what ended our relationship 4 months later.  Long distance just doesn’t work.  It was hard, but I got over this relationship too. After him was when I started going out with a couple of guys in CA. 

7              From Saint to ‘Sinner’

I graduated from my school in Computer Engineering in June 2012.  A few months before, I decided to apply to graduate school in Utah.  I wanted to go back.  The summer I had there was amazing.  I was accepted to the University of Utah.  I knew it was approval from God that Utah and meeting guys there was what he wanted for me at that time.  Everything fell into place.  I got into school, found places to live and roommates.  I had another blast of a summer in Utah.  I didn’t work.  I scraped by again.  I met and dated more guys.  It was very different in Salt Lake.  The guys there were gayer and less Mormon.  It seemed like the Provo gays were still closeted and trying to be Mormon, and when they finally couldn’t take it anymore, they moved to Salt Lake to really come out and give up all the Mormon stuff. 

My perspective on the church changed a lot since moving to Salt Lake.  Once I graduated, I never went back to church, except with my parents at home or for special events.  I became more agitated with the church’s anti-gay policies.  I became more critical of the doctrines and history of the church.  Although I wasn’t combative or hateful towards the church, I was upset with leaders and members.  I still consider myself Mormon, since I love the irony of being a gay Mormon.  But realistically, I’m a reformed Mormon.  I support a few of the conservative values from my Mormon history, but I have become more open minded towards a lot of things.  I still want a family, but with a husband and kids.  I still want to be healthy in mind, spirit, and body, but I do it without prayer, scriptures, and orthodox chastity. 

I’m saving some of the most intimate things for a husband, but I’m not guilty when I am intimate at other levels with guys.  After a long time, I decided to try drinking alcohol.  It took me a while to appreciate it, but trying it has also completely changed my perspective.  I used to look down on those that drank.  I used to be really judgmental.  It was causing a lot of personal grief to have such negative feelings about so many people, so I gave it a shot.  Once I did, I could no longer judge someone else for doing it.  It even helped me be less judgmental about other things in life.  I could look past things to really know someone’s heart and soul, instead of passing them off as a ‘bad person’ for doing things I didn’t do. 

Since moving to Utah, I have dated a lot. I had one other boyfriend for a very short period of time.  I learned a lot from it.  I get closer to what it is I’m looking for in a husband every boyfriend I have.  Although I would really like to have a strong, long term boyfriend right now, I have come to appreciate being who I am by myself.  It took a long time to come to that, and I doubted it could happen.  But it has.  I know I can’t live alone forever, but right now, I’m content with it.  School has been great—compared to undergrad stress.  I have good work.  I have great friends.  I love where I live and I’m happy with myself.  These are feelings I never had before.  I was constantly put under grief in the church for not being perfect.

My family has improved, as far as their understanding and acceptance of the situation.  My parents were initially very upset with my actions.  They would make me feel terrible.  I drove home for my birthday one time and they started telling me their disappointment and brought me to tears the evening of my birthday.  They apologized for that.  My dad accepted that it wasn’t my choice to be gay and struggled with God wondering why his son had to have these feelings.  I think he still struggles, but he has found a level of peace.  He still will not accept my lifestyle as good as long as the prophet of God says so, but he hasn’t treated me any differently that I can tell over the last couple years.  My mom has had a harder time because she was depending on me for grandchildren.  My brother is adopted due to fertility complications after I was born.  The two of us were told constantly that we needed to have lots of kids for them.  Once I chose to come out, she was devastated that her chances for grandkids were cut in half and delayed at least 5 years.  She knows I can still adopt, but she would prefer I have kids the normal way from a temple marriage.  She has, however, improved quite a bit since then.  We can talk about some things without it being awkward.  She even listened to my relationship struggles and gave me un-biased advice.  Still, both my parents have a long time to go before I would consider things to be normal.

My brother is currently on his mission, so I haven’t had much chance to interact with him since coming out.  Most all of my extended family knows that I am gay.  My parents told most of them.  The reactions are surprisingly mild.  I had a few aunts and uncles that called me personally to tell me that me being gay doesn’t change a thing.  Some haven’t really talked to me since they found out.  But since being in Utah, I’ve interacted with most of them more than I ever had before, having been so far from them growing up in CA.  Although I’m not best friends with any cousins, or even really talk to them much, I feel like things are in a good place for now. 

In the last two and a half years, a lot has changed.  I’m no longer the pious Mormon I once was.  I’m no longer brainwashed, closed-minded, or blinded—not to say that all Mormons are.   A number of Mormons I know are very open-minded and progressive.   I’m open to change and trying new things.  I’m more relaxed and positive.  I won’t be marrying in a temple, but I know that God has a plan for me to be happy with my husband and kids forever.  I don’t know how, but I know it’s true.  You could call it my testimony.  No one can say I’m wrong.  How is a pious Mormon’s testimony any more valid than mine?

Coming out was a long process for me.  It wasn’t an overnight thing where I made a decision and told the world.  The world doesn’t react well to things like that.  It’s progressive, but only slowly.  I tell people when they need to know.  Or they can just find out on their own.  Being gay is not what I’m all about, but being gay is an important part of who I am.  It wasn’t an easy thing to come out, and I don’t expect being gay will ever be easy.  But it’s worth it, and it will get better, however clichĂ© that sounds.  I’m happy.  I have purpose in life.  Being Mormon in the past gave me one perspective. Being who I really am has opened my eyes to so many other perspectives.

Most Mormons would look at me and call me a sinner.  Homosexuality is, as a matter of fact, on the list of sins next to murder, rape, and incest in some LDS church leadership and membership handbooks.  But I don’t care.  I know that what I am doing is part of me.  It’s the fear of the unknown and tradition that keeps so many Mormons in the dark and prevents them from progressing. 

8              Mormons and Gays

My story, although very eventful, is not the most common story among Mormon gays.  Most of the guys I meet that come from Mormon roots have a much heavier and more serious experience.  My second boyfriend almost committed suicide.  The story of Stewart Matis is the story of far too many others.  Gays have always been a taboo in the church.  Boyd Packer, a Mormon apostle, even said that the biggest enemies of the church are the “feminists, homosexuals, and so-called intellectuals.” This particular apostle has never failed to emphasize his distaste for homosexuality in almost every address he has made for the church.  Leaders like Packer instill fear, misunderstanding, and hate among church members. 

Because of leaders like this, young men and women are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts trying to make sense of the feelings they have that they are told are so monstrous.  Kids, especially at BYU, are forced to live double lives, hooking up secretly and having secret relationships behind closed doors since it isn’t allowed to act on gay feelings there.  It’s terrible how the church forces good kids to lie—for their schooling and to their leaders and parents.  They wouldn’t do it if they didn’t have to.  They want to meet the expectations of everyone else, but have to lie to do it.  Some are compelled to marry, and often have unstable marriages that often lead to divorce, tearing their family apart.  Some are successful at suicide.  Some become homeless, having been kicked out by their ‘righteous’ parents.  Surveys revealed that over 40% of the homeless teens in Salt Lake are gay.  Mormon parents and Mormon culture is forcing some kids to go out and prostitute themselves to survive. 

My best friend was just recently married to his husband in New York.  I was absolutely ecstatic to hear about it, and love everything about him and his husband.  I was around when they got back together and got engaged to each other.  My friend told me the difficulties within his family with the situation.  Although his fiancĂ©e’s family loved my friend and had no problems with him, my friend’s family wanted nothing to do with his boyfriend.  His dad is a Mormon bishop, and very closed minded.  He even went out of his way to tell him not to bring his boyfriend to any family functions because he didn’t want his grandchildren to see my friend and his boyfriend and think that that was ok.  My friend’s mom was very cool with it, but because her husband was so against it, she was afraid to be happy for her son in fear of damaging her marriage.  In fact, she decided not to go to her own son’s wedding because her husband would have been too upset.  My friend didn’t even invite his father to his wedding. 

I have countless other friends that have had similar rejections and absolutely terrible things said to them when they came out to their friends or families.  Most of my friends went through serious and even chronic depression trying to reconcile their feelings with their religion.  These are the reasons I have separated myself from Mormonism the way I have.  The church should not be separating children from their parents.  Families and lives are being ruined by the policies the church claims to be God-inspired.  Because leaders of the church encourage parents to reject children for homosexual ‘misbehavior’, I reject their cause.  I believe that eventually social pressure will change policies in the church.  But it is unlikely that I will ‘return to the fold’ if they do.