Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is Being Gay a Weakness? A Gay Mormon's Perspective

Is being gay a weakness? This is a question that I have pondered many times.  If you had asked 21 year old me this question I would have most definitely said that being gay was a weakness. It just seemed so obvious and simple to me at the time. Homosexuality didn't fit into the Plan of Salvation so there was clearly a way to fix it.  And as a young gay Mormon I knew just how to cure it.  Christ's words in the Book of Mormon were crystal clear:

"And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them." (Ether 12:27).

The formula was simple: come unto the Savior, be humble, and have faith. If I did those things then weak things would become strong things. To me this meant that my weakness of being gay would be transformed into the strength of being straight. Not only did I believe that this would happen, but I was certain it would. So I got to work on the "weakness to strength" formula and set goals to never miss church, to pray every day, to read the scriptures every day, to never do homework on Sunday, to attend the temple weekly, to keep a journal, and, of course, to go on a date at least once a week. Naturally I coupled these goals with countless prayers and numerous fasts to be straight.

I was really good at keeping my goals and I still have some of those same goals. When I was 22 I very briefly dated this girl who I got along really well with and I was like, "Okay, Heavenly Father, I'm ready for this whole weakness to strength formula to pan out so I can be straight." But that didn't happen. Then right before I turned 24 I started dating a girl who was super rad. I started to pray, "Alright, God, you don't need to make me straight, please just make me bisexual so I can be attracted to this girl who really seems to like me." But that didn't happen.  And then when I was 26 I started dating this super witty girl who was just a blast to be around. This time I prayed, "Heavenly Father, I don't care if you leave me gay and I don't care if I'm not attracted to women, but please, please let me be attracted to just one woman."  But that's not what happened.

Sometimes I got mad. Sometimes I got discouraged. Sometimes I felt confused. But as time passed I mostly started to get scared. I was terrified that the formula wasn't going to work and I'd be left "separately and singly" (D&C 132:17) for the rest of my life. But that's not what happened either.

Every post should have a picture, so here's me
hanging out with a cactus
The last year of my life has been one of my happiest and I'm certain it's because at the very beginning of 2015 I stopped hiding and came out on my blog. It's nice to not have to lie any more. Like, really, really incredibly nice. It's great to just accept that I'm gay and to tell the truth. And while I'm open about being gay, I'm also still Mormon and I continue to live in that space, too. I plan to always be part of my Mormon community and that's why I keep the standards of that community. So while I may not be living "the gay lifestyle" as people sometimes awkwardly refer to their friends and family in same-sex relationships, I feel like I'm finally living my life as a gay person. There's something strangely satisfying about arguing with my friends over who the cutest actor is on Jane the Virgin.

So what does all this have to do with my original question? When I was 21 I fundamentally misunderstood what the Lord was saying in Ether 12:27. In verse 23 Moroni tells the Lord that he's worried that people "will mock these things because of our weakness in writing..." Apparently both Moroni and the other Nephites were great speakers, but awful writers. He viewed his poor writing as a weakness and the Lord comforted him with the words He spoke in verse 27. In essence He says, "Don't worry. You be humble, you follow me, just have faith and I'll take care of this." The verses following verse 27 contain an excellent discussion on faith, hope, and charity. Why are these three virtues discussed in this context? Because they are the strengths that really matter.  

As I have studied and pondered Ether 12 it seems to me that Moroni thought that his poor writing skills would diminish the power of his words, that even though he had been commanded to write that his words would fall on deaf ears (blind eyes?). And then he appears to be trying to convince himself that his ability isn't what matters, that he can do the work he is commanded to do if he has faith, hope, and charity. Was Moroni's weakness really his writing? I don't think so. If it was then there would be some indication that he became a great writer. I believe that his weakness was not trusting in God and not having charity towards the future readers of his words. In verse 37 the Lord tells Moroni, "And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father."

Moroni and the Nephites did not become great writers. I'm sure it would be quite simple to find someone who thinks reading the Book of Mormon boring (Mark Twain described it as "chloroform in print"), but there are thousands of people, myself included, who have been uplifted, inspired, and transformed by its message.

Following the formula in Ether 12:27 didn't make it straight, but it did teach me a lot about faith, hope, and charity, attributes that I still need to develop. I had worried that being a gay Mormon would give me a life of loneliness and solitude, but since I started being honest with myself and others the exact opposite has happened. 

I recently started attending a new ward. I was asked to speak two Sundays ago and in my talk I mentioned being gay. Later that day I received an email from someone in my ward who I had never spoken to before. It said in part, "I am glad to see your optimism, and your testimony has helped strengthen mine. You will not be forgotten if you stop coming to church. I will miss your presence. If you ever need to talk or hang out or just grab dinner, you are always invited into our home." He then gave me his number and attached a picture of him and his wife so I'd know who they were. I was deeply touched by this Christlike gesture. To have a near stranger reach out to me, pledge his support and assistance, and invite me into his home to break bread with him felt like exactly what the Savior would have done if He had been in the congregation listening to my talk. We need more people like him (and more people like Him). I took him up on the dinner invitation and he and his wife are just delightful. 

When I told this story to Phil and Danielle, Phil jokingly said, "I wish I was gay so people would invite me over for dinner." It's crazy how being open about being gay has deepened my relationships with my family, expanded my relationships with my friends, and enlarged the number of amazing people in my life.  If you had told all this to 21 year old Ben he would have thought you were nuts. I couldn't believe it when I realized that this thing that I had hated about myself had ended up being a force for good in my life.

So is being gay a weakness? I sure used to think it was, but I don't see it that way anymore. In fact, it has become one of my strengthens. I thought becoming strong meant becoming straight, but I was very mistaken. Being strong, I have learned, is synonymous with being faithful, humble, and charitable and being weak is simply the opposite. 

10 comments:

Lora Stead said...

Beautiful. Thank you so much for your testimony-strengthening words. I'm glad you're doing well.

jdarcie said...

Sometimes it's hard to be honest with ourselves about many things in life, and I am so grateful for your reminder about being true to ourselves and how freeing it is. I'm glad you're doing well. Love the cactus picture.

jdarcie said...

Sometimes it's hard to be honest with ourselves about certain things in our lives, and I'm so grateful for your reminder about how freeing it is to be truthful. I'm so glad you're doing well. Love the cactus picture. :)

Kevin Landeen said...

This was beautifully and eloquently written and I thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, insights, and testimony. You put to words a lot of things that I have been thinking and feeling but I wasn't sure how to express them, and I loved this! I don't see my being gay as a weakness at all. Coming out and coming to terms with who I am and how God truly sees me has been a huge blessing in my life. My relationship with my Heavenly Father has grown stronger and stronger as has my reliance on my Savior. I've come to find the happiness that comes from just being myself and not having to hide anymore, not pretend, and not have to live a "fake" life. I'm gay and a Mormon, and those are not mutually exclusive. Thank you for sharing this!

David Lindstrom said...

Ben,
Absolutely and without a doubt the best interpretation of that scripture I've ever heard. And that's a scripture I know pretty well. I had always interpreted that to mean that the weakness would be changed into a strength, but now I can see it in a new light. While the weakness may remain, the individual can use that weakness as a strength to accomplish the Lord's purposes. I have read many of your posts before, but never felt compelled to respond but this one touched me very deeply, and I needed to let you know how impressed I am with your journey. I have several other friends in the church who are gay and are struggling with this battle daily. I wish I had your eloquence and perspective to share with them as my attempts have sometimes come up short. I thank you for so courageously and willingly sharing your life. I'm so glad that you are finding peace and acceptance in this journey. I love your family deeply and I'm very grateful for their influence in my life. Your experiences continue to teach me a lot.

Beth Blair said...

Thank you for that. That scripture stands out in my mind a lot. I appreciate the new perspective. I'm glad you are finding acceptance & love in your new ward.

Elyse Marie said...

You don't know me, but I stumbled on your post via facebook and just wanted to echo the sentiments of everyone else. Thank you for your courage and example! I had never thought about this scripture in this light and I love reading about how individuals find truth in it within their own life situations. Thanks for sharing and all the best!!!

Elyse Marie said...

You don't know me, but I stumbled on your post via facebook and just wanted to echo the sentiments of everyone else. Thank you for your courage and example! I had never thought about this scripture in this light and I love reading about how individuals find truth in it within their own life situations. Thanks for sharing and all the best!!!

Scott and Becky Mackintosh said...

Bravo! I hope you are attending the North Star International Conference next month so I can meet you in person. And if you are you should be one of the speakers or panel members. Everything you said was spot on. Thank you! -Becky

David said...

Thank you! When I was coming out to myself about my homosexuality, Ether 12:27 to me was all about letting my sexual identity voice within the church become one of my strengths. I am grateful that it is becoming a part of my public story and a blessing to others...just as yours is. Ciao. Carl Blake