Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How Did I End Up Here?

Phil wondering where the other adults are
Last week all the group fitness classes at the U of A rec center were free.  Phil was pumped about this and invited me to go to a class called Butts and Guts with him.  We met up at the rec center and I got to the class about 60 seconds before Phil did.  Our room was still in use so I waited in the hall with all the other class participants.  It was immediately evident that coming to Butts and Guts may have been a very bad idea.  I looked around at all the other people waiting for the class and not only were they all female, but they were all a foot shorter than me and at least ten years younger.  Seriously, a number of them didn't even look like adults yet.  We all had to sign our names on a class roll and since I was dreadfully embarrassed to be there I signed with my Spanish alias -- Benjamin Sanchez.  It's the name I use whenever I have to make a reservation in Spanish since giving them my real name over the phone just seems cruel ("I said Schilaty!  It rhymes with beef patty!"). 

When we got into the room I counted 45 girls and Phil and I were the only boys.  I tried to have a good attitude about it all, but it was a little hard to not feel a little out of place.  Phil is both taller and thinner than me and as I watched us do jumping jacks in the mirror I couldn't help but notice that we kind of looked like giraffes. 

During one of the water breaks I stood in line at the drinking fountain panting heavily from doing burpees for a full minute.  I waited patiently behind three girls who could easily have passed for my daughters, hoping that no one would make eye contact with me.  If they did, I'd either be forced to smile which would make me seem like a flirtatious creeper or I'd look away quickly which would make me look like a rude creeper.  There really wasn't any way of not looking like a creeper in the current situation (especially with all the panting).  When it was my turn to get a drink I pushed the button and the water shot way higher than I had expected completely soaking my face.  As I walked back to my spot with water dripping off my eye brow, surrounded by not yet physically mature sorority girls, I couldn't help but think to myself, "How did I end up here?"

For the next few days my legs were so sore I couldn't stand up without complaining.  Phil, Eric, and I went to Core and More (I really love the class names, by the way) a few days later which resulted in me not being able to sit up in bed for a few days.  Sitting up was too painful so I just had to role out of bed and flop onto the floor.  I think the pain was worth it, though, because my butts and guts now look, well, pretty much the same.   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Death of Hannah Montana

I spent the summer of 2008 doing an internship in Mexico.  I'd get home from work very tired just wanting to veg out and watch TV.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot on Mexican TV that I was interested in watching.  I started watching CNN in English, but that got boring so I switched to watching the Disney Channel in Spanish.  Hannah Montana was on right when I got home every day and I got hooked pretty fast.  I thought it was hilarious.  I should mention, however, that when I got back to the US I watched an episode in English and I didn’t care for it.  But it’s very entertaining in Spanish.

I was Skyping with Craig one day and I mentioned that I’d been watching Hannah Montana and we also said something about my being gayAt this point in my life I hadn’t gotten used to calling myself gay so whenever Craig and I talked about it we’d usually say things like “my issue” or “you know what” which was really imprecise.  It was also kind of annoying that we couldn’t just call it what it was.  At the time I had been trying to come up with a good code word for being gay.  I didn’t want everyone to know that I was watching a show for preteen girls so after telling Craig how much I loved Hannah Montana I said, “Oh, and don’t tell anyone about Hannah Montana.”  At that moment the perfect code word was born.

After that conversation “Hannah Montana” became the code work for being gay.  For those of you not familiar with the show, Miley is a regular brunette teenage girl who also happens to be rock star known by the pseudonym Hannah Montana.  When she performs she puts on a blonde wig so no one will recognize her.  Even though she’s super-famous only her family and close friends know that she is Hannah Montana so that she can have a normal teenage life.  Just like Miley, I had a super-awesome secret that only my close friends and family knew about. 

For years, whenever I’d come out to people I’d end the conversation by explaining that the code word for my being gay was Hannah Montana.  That was usually met with a puzzled look and then a full embracing of my made up term. 
"Ben, you're looking very Hannah Montana." -Sarah
In my defense, the speaker was really low and I
had to bend down to place my order at Sonic.

Let me explain how to use it appropriately.  You never say that someone has Hannah Montana so it would be incorrect to say, “I have Hannah Montana.”  But it also isn’t simply a substitute for the word “gay.”  For example, instead of saying that I had come out to someone, I’d tell my friends, “I told so-and-so about Hannah Montana.”  The uses of the code word have expanded throughout the years.  Sarah often uses it to let me know that I’m doing something that seems overly gay.  For example, if I’m talking too excitedly about a musical she might say, “Ben, your Hannah Montana is showing,” or “You’re being so Hannah Montana right now.” 

It’s been a real blast having a code word that only my close friends know about.  It allowed us to bring up that I’m gay in the presence of others without giving away the secret.  And if anyone ever brought up the real show my friends and I would give each other furtive glances and giggle to ourselves.  The success of this code word led to the spontaneous invention of a few others like “baking a pie” for making out and “having mono” for being pregnant and "IBS" for something that is still a secret (and it's not my secret so you won't have to read a blog post about it).  

Over the last year I've almost entirely stopped saying Hannah Montana because so many people know that I'm gay that there hasn't been a need to hide it with a code word.  It has slowly been drifting out of our collective lexicon.  After publishing my first coming out post I got an email from my friend Joleen.  She jokingly wrote, “I'm disappointed. Now I'm not a special friend who knows your secret.”  Joleen is one of my most special friends, but now that I've let everyone in on the secret, knowing the secret no longer binds us together in the same way that a good clique should.  It's a bummer, but we don't need secret code words be to awesome friends.  I was talking with Kevin and Allison and Sunday and Allison worriedly asked, “So, are we not going to say Hannah Montana anymore?”  Of course you can still use the term Hannah Montana, there’s just no longer a need.  

For my 25th birthday Craig and Heidi bought me a singing Hannah Montana pen.  Not only do I have friends that I can trust with secrets, but they also tease me about it in clever ways.  I think I'd agree with Hannah Montana--I get the best of both worlds.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Post #3--Charity: Love Everyone

Ugh! I wish I could've thought of a less cheesy title for this post.

I would describe myself as a happy, jovial, generally optimistic person and I think those who know me best would agree.  I saw a comment from someone who read my first post in this series.  He was worried that I'm depressed.  While I appreciate the concern, I'm not at all depressed.  Like everyone I have my sad, difficult moments, but generally my life is really, really good and I'm quite content.  I realize that my last two posts and this one deal with some very trying moments, but these do not reflect the general quality of my life.  What my life is like is more accurately described by this post.  Thank you to everyone who is worried about me, but I'm seriously doing just fine.  That said, here's the last coming out post I wrote.  As with the previous two posts this one was also written for an audience familiar with Mormomism. 

There have been a number of times when I have given up on dating.  Trying to date women as a person attracted to men is very uncomfortable.  But throughout the years every time I decided to throw in the towel and completely stop dating I would have a spiritual experience that I would interpret to mean that I should continue dating, and so I would.  I often wondered why Heavenly Father would repeatedly tell me that I should try to date women when I was consistently so unsuccessful at it, but I couldn't deny the promptings, and so I kept trying. 

About a year and half ago I was extremely frustrated with my dating situation and I prayed fervently trying to figure out what I was supposed to do.  During a CES broadcast I received an unexpected answer--God was trying to teach me charity.  There are a number of ways that I have learned charity through dating, but I will just share just one.  Through my friend Allison I was introduced to LeAnne, a woman who lives in Utah.  We originally started talking with the intention of dating each other, but we never fell in love and just became good friends.  But through LeAnne Heavenly Father has once again showed me what true love is. 

LeAnne and I.  Isn't she a knockout?
I could tell story after story of people who have shared my burdens and let me talk about my problems.  But LeAnne, more than anyone else, really listens to me and asks deep, probing questions so that we can both understand things together.  A year ago I was traveling through Utah and I spent the day with LeAnne.  We were chatting and she asked me a very personal question about my experiences as a gay Mormon.  I was happy to answer.  When that conversation ended two hours later, I left feeling uplifted and edified.  LeAnne called me the next day and said, "You know what?  I have felt so good all day.  I felt the Spirit so strongly last night as we were talking and it has just carried over into today."  I agreed, and that often happens when we talk.  We have some of the most inspiring conversations I have ever had. 

A few weeks later I was having a really tough time and like a good friend LeAnne called me.  She had no idea that I'd been feeling so low, that I had been considering taking a sabbatical from church, and that I desperately needed to talk to someone.  We talked for 90 minutes and I told her everything that was going on.  She didn't judge me, reprimand me, or try to solve my problems; she just listened and encouraged me.  I'd like to think I'm not much of a crier, but both LeAnne and I cried during that phone conversation.  I cried when I was talking about how hard it is to have to choose between the church and loving someone I'm attracted to.  I asked why I have to choose between the church and companionship when other people don't have to.  LeAnne didn't have an answer, but she just cried with me.  I shared my favorite line from Preach My Gospel with her that says that "all that is unfair about life can be made right through the atonement of Jesus Christ," and she testified that she knew that was true. 

The shortest verse in all of our scriptures simply says, "Jesus wept."  He cried because he had just heard that Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus had died.  And even though Lazarus would soon be raised from the dead and all would be well, Jesus shared in Mary and Martha's pain and wept with them.  I often feel awkward when someone cries around me, but when LeAnne cried with me it felt like a gift.  She was feeling my pain and sharing my burden and empathizing with me in a very real way.  She wept for me and in so doing she showed that she loved me.  And I love her, too.  She is a woman filled with the pure love of Christ because she is one of His true disciples. 

While I'm not going to date or marry LeAnne, I have needed her in my life and continue to need her.  She and I originally formed a friendship because we were hoping to date each other.  That didn't work out, of course, but we are still incredibly close friends.  After trying to date LeAnne the prompting that I consistently felt to try to find a woman to date has stopped, and I haven't really been dating since then.  I know that there are many reasons and lessons that Heavenly Father was trying to teach me as I tried to date women, but I am certain that one of the principal reasons is so that I could meet LeAnne.  Had I not still been trying to date, we never would have met. 

This past summer I stopped by her house on my drive from Seattle to Tucson.  We hugged at the door and then walked into her house.  As we were walking through the kitchen she suddenly gave me another big hug and said, "It is so good to see you."  God works in mysterious ways and He will always take care of us.

As I have talked to my family and friends about the trials and struggles that accompany being gay and Mormon I have witnessed true charity over and over again.  Hearing my parents tell me that they will love me even if I leave the church and that if I ever have a boyfriend or husband he and I will always be welcome in their home.  Having my mom hug me and say, "Ben, we're not just on your side, we're with you 100%."  Hearing friends tell me that they just want me to be happy and that they will support any decision I make even if that means not being active in the church.  I recently told a friend of mine that I'm gay and he told me that if I ever decide to marry a man that he would support me and would be honored to be at my wedding.  These affirmations of love for me in spite of any decisions I make mean the world to me.  To me, this is true charity because their love for me is not conditional.  It is not based on my actions, but exists no matter what I do.

Knowing that in the eyes of my friends and family I'm free to leave the church whenever I want makes it easier to stay.  It's not due to social pressure that I am active in the church.    It's not because I'm trying to please my parents or siblings.  I'm active in the church because I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and I know it's true.  I believe in the restoration and I know the atonement is real because I have experienced it in my life.  I know that I can leave the church whenever I want to, but I don't want to.  I don't plan on ever doing that because I love it too much.  When a number of Christ's followers abandoned Him because of  His teachings He asked the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" and Peter responded, "To whom shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:67-68).  There is nowhere I'd rather be than actively participating in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It makes me happy, and I am willing to make any sacrifice to keep my covenants. 

I have decided to be more open about my experiences as a gay Mormon because I feel like we have many of examples of people who leave the church to be actively gay.  We need more examples of members who are gay and active.  It is my hope that all of us can "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with [charity]" (Moroni 7:48).  It is my hope that we can love each other, no matter our circumstances, the way that I have been loved.  The love exemplified by Buzz and Ginny Schilaty who were willing to give up their lives for me.  The love demonstrated by Mitch and Craig who bore my burdens with me.  The love shown by LeAnne who wept with me.  May we all be like the Savior and love everyone regardless of their choices and circumstances is my hope and prayer.

And if you're still reading now, thank you.  Thank you for allowing me to be more open and maybe a little too vulnerable as I try to be more honest.  If you have any questions or comments I would prefer that you email me directly instead of commenting on this post. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Post #2--Charity: The Love of Parents

I just want to thank everyone who took the time to send me comments yesterday.  I had a wonderful time reading them.  I especially appreciated the ones were humorous and I laughed out loud a number of times.  Those of you who know me well know that I'm not super-serious (and I may overdo it with the puns at times).  I started this blog with the intention of just writing about funny things that happen to me and so if feels really, really weird talking about such serious things in what I consider to be a humorous space.  Today's post is also very personal.  I really questioned whether or not I should post it, but I feel like it's an essential part of my story and so I share it with the permission of Buzz and Ginny Schilaty (who everyone really outta meet because they are way rad).  I'll be posting my final coming out post tomorrow and then I'll get back to business as usual on my blog.  This post was also written for an audience familiar with Mormonism. 
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, He summed up "all the law and prophets" in one word--love.  Specifically, to love God and our fellowmen.  Paul taught that if we do not have charity, the pure love of Christ, we are nothing.  Mormon taught that "whoso is possessed of [charity] at the last day, it shall be well with him."  He further explained that the pure love of Christ isn't an unattainable attribute, but that it is "bestowed upon all who are true followers of ... Jesus Christ."  And when Christ appears, those who have charity, Christ's pure love, "shall be like him."  I would like to share an example of modern day charity. 
In 1983 my parents had three children.  They were not planning on having another child and were going through some financial difficulties.  It was not a convenient time to make an addition to the family.  During this time my mother learned that she was pregnant with her fourth child--me.  Normally a pregnancy is reason for celebration, but this one was not.  When my parents went to the doctor they learned that something was terribly wrong.  The doctor informed my parents that because of the way the pregnancy was developing there was a very small chance of me surviving and that if I did survive I would be mentally disabled, handicapped, and most likely be confined to a wheelchair for my entire life.  He also told them that my mother's health was in danger and that she would likely not survive.  He recommended that they terminate the pregnancy.  Understandably distraught by this news, my parents went to a specialist in Seattle and were told the same thing.  This doctor, however, gave them better odds that my mom and I could survive, but the prospects were still not good.
My mom didn't know what to do.  She didn't feel right ending the pregnancy, but she also didn't want to die.  She didn't know how to deal with the situation and so she just pretended that I didn't exist.  It was easier to ignore the problem than to face it.  One day during this trying time she was driving alone in her car.  She suddenly heard a voice say, "Benjamin Schilaty.  His name will be Benjamin Schilaty."  The voice was so clear that she wondered if it had come through the radio, but it had not.  Hearing a voice speak my name gave her the courage she needed to move forward with the pregnancy because she knew that everything would be alright.  It is also how I was named. 
Deciding to move forward with the pregnancy was going to drastically alter my parents' futures.  My mom fully expected that she was going to die and would soon be leaving her husband with four young children.  That was not a future she wanted, but she knew it was the right thing to do.  My father promised my mother that if I lived he would spend the rest of his life pushing me around in a wheelchair until he couldn't anymore.  This is true love.  This is charity:  a mother willing to literally give her life for her unborn son and a father willing to sacrifice the rest of his life to care for his son.  I have never doubted that my parents love me because I know that they were both willing to give their lives for me.  "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).   
My parents didn't have to face this trying time alone.  The ward rallied around them and took care of my family during the 45 days my mom was bedridden in the hospital while she was pregnant with me.  I could write a whole blog post about my parents were recipients of love.  In the end, neither of my parents had to give their life for me.  When I was born there was a team of doctors in the room expecting the very worst who were very surprised when I was born healthy and whole.  One of the doctors held me up and said, "And to think they wanted to abort this healthy baby." 
My parents and I looking very Mormon
I have been told this story of how I was named and how I came into this world many times.  My parents wanted me to know that not only was I supposed to be born, but that I was supposed to be born the way I was born.  They wanted me to know that I was a child of promise and that God put me on this earth exactly as He wanted me to be.  The time of my mom's pregnancy with me was a dark, trying time.  I don't know why they had to pass through such a tough trial.  I don't know why they had to suffer so much.  But I do know that they followed the promptings of the Spirit and all was well in the end.  That's how it is with all of our trials, no matter the severity.  All will be well in the end.  And until the end comes when all is well and all is right we can experience a permeating peace in our lives. 
Once again, if you have any questions or comments I would prefer that you contact me directly instead of commenting here. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Post #1--Time to Be Honest about Being Gay

As I considered what my New Year's resolutions for 2015 should be I came across a quote by Elder Lynn Robbins: "Many of us create to do lists to remind us of things we want to accomplish. But people rarely have to be lists. Why? To do’s are activities or events that can be checked off the list when done. To be, however, is never done" (Ensign, May 2011).  Inspired by this quote I have two to do goals and one to be goal for 2015.     

First, I'm going to make my bed every day.
Second, I'm going to cook a meal for another person once a week.
Third, I'm going to be more honest.

I wouldn't describe myself as dishonest, but I have been consistently dishonest about an important aspect of my life and I'd like to start 2015 by being totally honest. 

I'm gay.

I know most people who read this blog know me fairly well and so this will surprise few people.  Even so, it's still a little unnerving to be so vulnerable online because I feel like I'm placing my heart in the hands of my readers.  About a year ago I felt very strongly that I needed to be more open about the fact that I'm gay and Mormon.  I first started telling people in 2007 when I was 23 and for next seven years only some family and my closest friends knew.  Over the past 12 months I've come out to dozens of people and it has been an amazing experience. 

One of the first people I told was my friend Craig.  When he and I were roommates at BYU we started having dinner at his aunt and uncle's house.  They took great care of me and made me part of the family.  Even when Craig moved away they continued inviting me over for holidays and Sunday dinners.  I often stay at their house when I travel through Utah.  I had been part of their family for seven years and yet I had hidden this huge part of my life from them.  It had gotten to the point where I felt uncomfortable keeping this from them.  I just came out to them in November.  It feels so very recent. 

A few days ago I received a note in the mail from Craig's aunt that said in part, "We really appreciate you sharing your story with us.  Nothing changes.  We still love you as one of our own."  For me, telling people that I'm gay has been a really wonderful experience because over and over again I've heard people say, "I love you.  You're the same person you've always been."  I've told more than 100 people and no one has ever responded negatively.  However, I hear stories of gay Mormons who are rejected by their families or who lose friends or who are shunned by members of their congregations simply for being gay.  I don't know why I have been so fortunate when others have not.

That's the reason I've decided to be more open about my experiences.  I want other gay Mormons to know that there are other people who know the inherent struggles of being gay and Mormon.  I don't want anyone to feel alone or to feel like they aren't welcome in the church.  They can leave if they choose, but I don't want them to feel forced out.  There is a place for us here.  And I want straight Mormons to have a little glimpse of what it's like to be gay and Mormon and of the heart wrenching decisions we have to make.  I want them to know that we need to be loved and accepted.  I want them to understand the remarkable impact they can have on a gay Mormon when they treat them with love and respect.  A lot has already been said and written online by gay Mormons (like Mark, Jimmy, and Josh).  I'm simply trying to add my voice to the many who have already spoken. 

In November of last year I got an email from BYU announcing a BYU alumni essay competition for the BYU Quarterly.  I immediately wanted to write an essay about being gay and Mormon because I felt like it was time to be open and stop hiding.  I took a day last January and wrote what I thought was a pretty good essay.  I submitted it to the essay contest and it won zero awards.  Even though it wasn't published, I was still able to share it with a number of people after coming out to them. 

Since BYU didn't want to publish the essay I wrote in 2014 I've decided to publish it here on my blog in 2015 in an attempt to be more honest.  It was written for audience familiar with Mormonism. 

That Your Burdens May Be Light

My cell phone rang.  "Do you want to go for a walk tonight?"
Both relieved and surprised by this invitation I responded, "Uh, yeah, that sounds great."
            Mitch and I had been best friends in high school but had grown apart in college, especially after he got married.  It's not that we didn't get along, we just didn't see each other very much.  We had never invited each other to go on a walk before which is what made his invitation so unexpected.  Mitch surely didn't know that I had been holding in a secret for some time that I needed to talk about and that he had suddenly given me the perfect opportunity to talk to someone I trusted.
            I hung up the phone and said to my roommate Craig, "Hey, I'm going to go on a walk with Mitch.  Do you want to come?"  Craig and I had met the previous year in our BYU ward and had been roommates for some months at this time.  He had met Mitch once or twice, but they were only acquaintances.  And yet, my new best friend readily agreed to go on an impromptu summer walk with me and my old best friend. 
           Craig and I got in my car and I drove us to Mitch's apartment.  That's when I started to get nervous.  It was the summer between my junior and senior years at BYU and I'd been feeling increasingly lonely and sad because of a secret I was keeping.  It was something that I thought I could handle on my own, but as life got harder and harder I knew I needed help, but I didn't know who to reach out to or how.  I was incredibly embarrassed by it and felt like I would be rejected or shunned if anyone else found out.  I had wanted to tell Craig for months, but he was my roommate and I thought he would feel uncomfortable if I opened up to him about my secret.  And so I kept it inside.
           We got to Mitch's apartment and the three of us went on a summer evening stroll through Kiwanis park in east Provo.  We engaged in small talk as we walked along the park.  I tried to sound jovial and carefree as I spoke, but I felt exactly the opposite.  I so badly needed to talk to someone about what was going on in my life, but I was petrified to reveal something that I thought my friends would find disgusting.  I felt like I was about to drop a bombshell on them that they wouldn't see coming and I didn't want to put them in an awkward position.  As I smiled a forced smile and talked about the daily comings and goings of university life I was struggling internally with whether or not I should tell Mitch and Craig.  I was so afraid, but I also needed them to know.  I thought about how odd it was that Mitch had invited me to go on a walk which was something he'd never done before.  And yet, his invitation had brought me to a private place with my two best friends.  It was as if Heavenly Father knew what I needed and orchestrated the optimal situation for me to share my secret.
           I gathered my courage and interrupted the commonplace chitchat saying, "Do you mind if we sit down on the grass?  There's something I want to tell you guys."  We sat down and I started to feel so nervous that I thought I was going to puke.  Stalling, I began slowly pulling out blades of grass by my feet so that I would have something to look at instead of looking into the faces of my puzzled best friends.  As I tugged on blades of grass and stared at the ground I almost chickened out, but I reminded myself that I had been wanting to do this for months, that I needed to do it, and that God had put me in the best possible situation to do it.  And so, I took a deep breath and for the first time uttered the words that I had carefully chosen weeks before: "For as long as I can remember I've been attracted to men instead of women." 
           At the time I wasn't comfortable calling myself gay and so I described my situation instead of labeling it.  Gay just didn't feel like the right label for me since I had never had a physical relationship with another man.  I had been attracted to men since puberty, but I always thought it was something that was temporary.  Surely my mission would cure me, I thought.  I would work hard, God would see my honest efforts to serve faithfully, and I would be rewarded with a wonderful wife that I was genuinely attracted to.  However, when I got home from my mission I disappointingly discovered that I was still attracted to men.  I felt very let down by God.  Nevertheless, I decided to square my shoulders and be like Nephi who said: "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandth them" (1 Nephi 3:7).  I had been told that now that I was home from my mission that it was time for me to find a wonderful woman and get married.  Certainly the Lord would help me find success in this righteous pursuit. 
             A few months after my mission I returned to BYU and I started taking many girls on dates.  I took out several wonderful girls and some of them were even interested in me, but I had a hard time finding one that I was really interested in.  In April 2007 I had been taking a really great girl on dates for a few months.  She was kind, witty, beautiful, and her dream was to someday play Maria in The Sound of Music.  She was perfect for me.  One evening I expressed interest in dating her which led to a conversation about our relationship.  She told me that she thought very highly of me, but felt like we just had a good friendship, not a romantic relationship.  She pointed out that after more than two months of dates I hadn't kissed her or even held her hand.  She was right and I hadn't done either of those things because there was nothing in me compelling me to.  My guy friends would talk about how hard it was to wait to kiss a girl they liked and yet I had found an awesome girl that liked me and I had no desire to kiss her.  Something was obviously different about me.  This girl and I decided to just be friends.
            After two years of sincerely trying to find a girl to date I was still single.  I had always felt like I was different than other guys.  That difference, obviously, was that I was attracted to men.  I finally had to face the reality that it was my same-sex attraction that had made my search for a wife so unsuccessful.  Why did I have these feelings?  How could I find a woman I was attracted to?  And even if I did, what woman would ever want to marry a man that experienced same-sex attraction?  These questions plagued me and caused me to give up on dating altogether. 
           I was feeling increasingly lonely and sad each day.  A number of my friends noticed that something was wrong and kindly asked what was going on.  I wasn't ready to talk about it so I just avoided the question and withdrew more and more from the activities I usually did.  One evening a friend stopped by my apartment and told my roommates and me that a close friend had just come out to her at dinner.  She was shocked and was trying to process the whole situation.  I immediately perked up when she mentioned that her friend had said he was gay because at the time it hadn't occurred to me that there were other gay people at BYU.  I had thought that I was the only one which left me feeling incredibly isolated.  She mentioned that there were a number of anonymous blogs written by BYU students who experienced same-sex attraction.  I was stunned.  There were other people going through what I was going through?  And I could read about their experiences?  I then played a delicate dance of trying to get as much information out of her as possible without trying to look too interested because I didn't want her to suspect that I was gay, too.
            As soon as she left I went into my room and typed "gay byu student blog" into Google.  I quickly found about half a dozen blogs written by my peers experiencing same-sex attraction at BYU.  Some of the blogs had more than a year of history and dozens of posts.  I would start at the oldest post and then read through each entry of the blog.  I devoured their words and spent many hours reading.  At first just knowing that there were other people experiencing the same thing I was experiencing helped me to feel very included.  However, the blogs started making me feel worse and worse.  They often began with the writer sharing his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ followed by a statement of determination to stay active and faithful no matter what.  Then as months and sometimes years passed the writer would develop feelings for someone, decide staying active in the church wasn't right for him, and eventually decide to leave.  Not all the blogs followed this pattern, but enough of them started out with strong testimonies and ended leaving the church that I worried that that was the inevitable conclusion to my story. 
            One evening early in the summer of 2007 I sat in my room pondering the blogs I had been reading.  I thought about my life and what I wanted and hoped it would be.  Then I considered the reality of my life and what it actually could be.  I concluded that I had two options: leave the church and pursue a gay lifestyle or remain active in the church and stay single for the rest of my life.  Both options seemed inconceivably hard for me and I couldn't imagine being happy in either path.  I let my mind wander as I envisioned my future if I chose either path.  As much as I was afraid of being alone for the rest of my life, I knew that I had to stay active in the church.  Other people in the same situation as me have made other choices and I respect their decision, but I knew that staying in the church was the right thing for me.
            I knelt down in my room and said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father that no matter what I was going to stay in the church and if I needed to spend the next 60 years of my life alone I was willing to do that.  I then sat down on my bed and with a heavy heart pulled out my scriptures.  For no particular reason I started reading in Alma 40:8 and was stunned when I reached the following phrase: "...all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men."  The rest of my life seemed like a long time to be alone, but these words jumped out at me and reminded me that sacrificing for a time really wouldn't be a long sacrifice when viewed in the eternities.  My mind then jumped to a line that I had always loved from Preach My Gospel.  It says, "All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" (p. 52).  It felt so unfair to me that I had to choose between staying in the church and being married to someone I was attracted to.  Straight people don't have to make that choice so why do I have to choose?  It really does seem unfair, but I knew and felt that night that everything that was unfair would be made right and that I would be okay. 
            Life wasn't quite as bleak for me after that night.  I had made a firm commitment to remain active in the church and I had felt peace and comfort that someday, and maybe not until the next life, everything would be okay.  This knowledge provided me with great comfort, but it didn't change my circumstances.  I was still a single man longing to love someone and be loved in return.  I knew that I was going to be single for a long time and that scared me to death.  In spite of all the good I had felt, life hadn't gotten any easier.  That's when I decided that I needed the support of my friends.  It took me two months to get up the courage to tell Mitch and Craig because I didn't know how they would respond.
           After revealing my secret on the grass in Kiwanis park, I looked up expectantly at Mitch and Craig to see how they would react.  They both said that they were surprised and caught off guard.  Then they did exactly what I needed them to do--they said that they cared about me and that I could talk to them about what I was going through whenever I needed to.  I looked over at Craig and said, "I understand if you don't want to be my roommate anymore."  He looked surprised and replied, "Why wouldn't I want to be your roommate?  You're the same person you've always been."  Even though I didn't know it, that's exactly what I needed him to say.  I had felt broken and unworthy, thinking that no one would like me if they knew that I experienced same-sex attraction.  Hearing Craig say that he still wanted to be my roommate even though he knew I experienced same-sex attraction changed my world.  I saw that I wasn't broken and that I was whole the way I was. 

I'm still very good friends with both Mitch and Craig.
Here's a picture of me with Craig's family.
            My life changed for the better that evening.  I didn't anticipate the remarkable transformation that was going to take place in my life when I shared my secret with my friends.  As I talked with Mitch and Craig I felt an enormous burden being lifted off my shoulders, a burden whose immense weight I had not even realized I was carrying until it was lifted.  In the Book of Mormon Alma taught his people that when we are baptized we covenant to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" and "to mourn with those that mourn" and to "comfort those that stand in need of comfort" (Mosiah 18:8-9).  My friends willingly shared my burden with me and it did indeed become light to me.  As I opened up to more and more friends and family members I felt my burden get lighter and lighter.  There have been many times that my friends listened to my sorrows, cried with me, and hugged me when I need them.  I could not have made it alone.  I would not be the person I am today without the love and support of my friends.  I do not think that I would be an active participant in the church today if Mitch and Craig had not reacted by expressing love and acceptance. 
           An unexpected thing has happened throughout the years as I have told people about my experiences with same-sex attraction.  When I open up, the person I'm talking to often opens up and shares his or her struggles as well.  It has been very eye-opening for me to see the varied and unanticipated struggles that my friends have.  I have come to understand that my same-sex attraction does not make my life harder than anyone else's, it just makes it different.  Everyone has a burden to bear.  The hymn "Lord I Would Follow Thee" sums up what I have learned in the second verse: "In the quiet heart is hidden / Sorrow that the eye can't see" (Hymns #220).  We very rarely know of the burdens being carried by those people we interact with every day because our deepest sorrows are often hidden away in our hearts. 
            After describing the conversion and baptism of Alma's people, Mosiah 18:30 describes the place where all these events took place and says, "...how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer..."  Kiwanis Park will forever be a beautiful place to me.  It was there that I learned of the Christlike love of true friends and that our burdens can truly be made light.  Since that summer night in 2007 my heart has felt so much lighter.  My life isn't as ideal as I would like it to be, but it is filled with so much joy and peace.  And thankfully, it is filled with many friends who are willing to share my burdens and make them light. 

If you made it this far, thanks for reading my essay.  I have some more thoughts I'd like to share, but since this post is already really long I'll put them in separate posts.  And seriously, thank you for taking the time to read what I wrote. 

Also, as the content of the post is very personal, if you have any comments or questions I would prefer that you email me directly instead of posting a comment.  You can find my email on my profile. Thanks. 

Update:  Here are links to the other two posts I wrote.

Post #2--Charity: The Love of Parents
Post #3--Charity: Love Everyone

Friday, January 2, 2015

Cafe Rio Overload

When I moved away from Utah in 2011 one of the things that made me saddest was that I wouldn't be able to go to Cafe Rio anymore.  There are a number of Cafe Rios in Arizona, but they're all about two hours from where I live (and yet I still find myself there all the time).  One also recently opened up 20 minutes from my parents' house in Washington.  I go to these Cafe Rios whenever I get the chance.

I went to the Cafe Rio here in Washington with my brother Jay and his wife Audrey on Tuesday.  They had never been before which blew me away because I've probably been about 80 times (or maybe more).  When we walked in I pointed to one of the servers and said to Jay and Audrey, "I swear there is a girl who likes like her in every Cafe Rio."  Jay replied, "Are you saying that all Mexicans look the same?"  I brushed off being accused of racism and we got in line.
When we approached the lady I had pointed out she looked at me strangely and said, "You look so familiar which is weird because I'm not from here."  I asked her where she was from and when she said Arizona I said, "No way!  I knew you looked familiar!"  It turns out that she works at the two Cafe Rios I frequent in Gilbert and she was even working at the Cafe Rio in Chandler I stopped by three weeks ago.  She's in Washington for a few weeks to train the staff here and was so surprised to see a familiar face.  I explained the conversation I'd just had with Jay and Audrey and we both laughed that we'd recognized each other.
I then realized that I go to Cafe Rio way too much if one of the servers recognizes me out of the thousands of customers she sees every week.  Evidence that I eat out way too much. 
I went back to Cafe Rio yesterday.  Socorro, one of my former students, works there.  She's one of the students who would write down funny things I'd say in class (you can read them here).  She even referenced some things I'd said that another student wrote down (which you can read here).  When she saw me she said, "Do you eat anywhere else, Schilaty?  I feel like I see you here every day."  We had a good laugh reminising about our days in high school together--me the teacher, her the student.  I then overheard the worker from Arizona say to her coworker as she pointed in my direction, "That's the second person I've seen here who looks familiar."  I then chimed in and said, "Actually, I'm the same guy from two days ago."  We then excitedly talked about how fun it was to run into each other and how great the weather is in Arizona.  She also loved that I could pronounce her name correctly.  It's Perla.  And I got a picture of her and Socorro because I'm a creeper like that.
Perla and Socorro
Note: I first heard the term "creeper" when I was teaching high school in 2008.