Thursday, May 5, 2016

Goldilocks and the Gay Mormon Paradox


I occasionally get messages from well-meaning people explaining to me what’s wrong with my life and how to fix it. “Marry a man,” they say, “You deserve to be happy.” Marry a woman,” say others, “It’s part of God’s plan for you.” I have one group of people telling me that I need to be in a same-sex relationship to be happy and another testifying that an opposite-sex relationship will bring me true joy. I feel like Goldilocks getting a bowl of ice cold porridge shoved in my face followed by a bowl of steaming hot porridge. Both groups are telling to me that I need to get married, but both options require immense sacrifice. One option is too hot, one option is too cold, but I’m looking for the option that is just right. 

On April 23rd I spoke at the Arizona LDS LGBT/SSA conference in Mesa. It was a great experience and I got to meet some awesome people (like my hero Tom Christofferson who has super-white teeth). The gay Mormon community is a very huggy community and I got loads of hugs throughout the day. Part of my bio in the conference program said: “Ben rents a room from two retired lesbians who encourage him to get married more than any bishop ever has. Despite their encouragement to find a boyfriend Ben is 100% single and plans to remain that way for the foreseeable future.” I was chatting with a woman after my talk and she said, “It’s too bad you’re not dating because I know some great guys I’d love to set you up with.” I thanked her and told her that I was flattered she wanted to set me up with her friends. She then said, “We can chat again in a few years when you change you mind.” I was a little taken aback by her comment because she was basically saying that Mormonism is just a phase for me.

I get this a lot from people. A former professor of mine who is gay randomly stumbled upon my blog. He then sent me a Facebook message saying that reading it filled him with sadness and he encouraged me to find love now. He said, “Love is love, and practicing it is the greatest of God-given gifts.” His message was unexpected, unsolicited, and incredibly kind. I really appreciated that he took the time to reach out to me personally. He saw me actively choosing to not be in the kind of relationship I want to be in and he just wanted me to know that I didn’t have to deny myself of the things I really want. His message was caring and encouraging. Other times I feel pitied by people. Actually, I often feel pitied by people not of my faith. I hear them saying, “Your church is holding you back. Just be true to yourself and who you are.”

And then there are the Mormons, another group of well-meaning people who tell me the exact opposite thing. “You’re not gay,” some of them say, “you just experience same-gender attraction. You shouldn’t put yourself in a box by labeling yourself as ‘gay.’” If I just stop thinking about my same-gender attraction then it will diminish. They tell me that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that if I have enough faith and trust in the atonement of Jesus Christ I can find a woman to marry and have a happy marriage and therefore a happy life. They tell me that love is a choice and I can choose whom to love so I should just choose to love a woman. To them, my being gay is just a phase. I do need to say, however, that the Mormons who know me don’t say these kinds of things to me, but I have heard them from well-meaning Mormons who don’t know me personally.

Well-meaning people say the darnedest things, don’t they?

I used my immense artistic talent to make the
kind of box that I'm trying to live in
I feel like people are trying to shove me into two different boxes. In the gay box I don’t get to practice my faith, but I get to be in the kind of relationship that feels natural to me. In the Mormon box I get to live my faith, but I have to marry a woman (which is, to put it kindly, unappealing to me). So what is a gay Mormon to do? Is being gay a phase or is being Mormon a phase? Sorry, everyone, but neither of them feel like phases to me. So I’ve decided to choose neither box (for the foreseeable future) because both boxes don’t feel right in my mind or in my heart. And here’s why. Both groups are telling me that happiness is found in being in a committed romantic relationship. While I agree that being in a relationship has the potential to bring immense happiness, I do not think it’s a requirement for happiness. I’m single and I feel whole and happy just the way I am.

I love so much about Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture, but we are often taught that the whole point of life is to get married and have a family. This emphasis on marriage gave me a skewed perspective of what brings happiness. For example, in the last General Conference President Eyring said that “everything we do should have celestial marriage as its focus and purpose.” Everything we do?! Everything is a lot of things. One year ago in General Conference President Packer said, “The end of all activity in the Church is to see a man and a woman with their children are happy at home, sealed for eternity.” All activity in the church has this goal?! So if I go home and I don’t have a wife and kids there, is my activity in the church not achieving its purpose? I have no problem with our doctrine of the eternal nature of families. I love it, in fact. And I love my family. I love my parents, siblings, sisters-in-law, and my nieces and nephews. They’re just great. But teaching that the whole point of everything is marriage kind of stings for us single people. That doesn’t make it less true, but it also doesn’t make it easy either. And I’ve seen a lot of my single female friends suffer greatly because they’re single. Some of them tie their self-worth to marriage and when marriage doesn’t happen for them it is absolutely devastating.

A few months ago a church leader said that if we don’t get married the plan (meaning the Plan of Salvation) is halted. This assertion really struck me. Like, it really, really struck me. It struck me so much that I decided to see if it was true. I decided to focus my daily scripture study on the Plan of Salvation as taught in the Book of Mormon (which was written for our day, contains the fullness of the gospel, and is the most correct book, right?). I carefully read chapter after chapter detailing the plan as taught by Nephi, Lehi, King Benjamin, Enos, Abinadi, Alma, and others. As I’ve studied their teachings of the Plan of Happiness I have found zero passages that mention a marriage relationship as a key to happiness. But over and over again they mention our relationship with the Savior and our relationship with those in need. It seems to me, and I’m certain that this is what Book of Mormon prophets were teaching, that happiness stems from becoming like Jesus and building Zion. Can marriage play a huge role in developing Christlike attributes and building Zion? Of course. Strong marriages and families are essential to society and to the progress of the church, but that doesn’t mean that one needs to be in a marriage to be happy. I can testify to that.

The last ten months of my life have been extraordinary. I have done my absolute best to live the principles found in the Plan of Happiness as taught in the Book of Mormon. Let me just share one example of how the words in the Book of Mormon have directly affected my actions. Mosiah 4:16 says, “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need…” Recently a woman in her 50s needed a ride to church and I was asked to drive her. On the drive to church I learned that she has been anorexic since she was ten, she has cancerous ulcers which make it very painful to eat most things, she lives alone and has no friends, and the previous day had eaten nothing but a biscuit. I looked into her honest eyes and at her 70lbs frame and I felt like I needed to help. So the next day I offered to take her to lunch. She ate slowly, but she ate a lot. We chatted for two hours and had a great time. Out of nowhere she asked, “Are you a writer?” I said, “Well, not really, but I’ve written a lot for school.” She told me that for years she’s wanted to write her life story, but doesn’t have any way to do it. She said that she knew she would be dying soon and asked me if I would write her life story. Without hesitation I said that I would.

The next week I took her to lunch again, but this time I brought my laptop. We sat in the restaurant for nearly three hours and I typed as fast as I could while she told me about her childhood and adolescence and about her love for her father who past away decades ago. She cried multiple times and it felt like a sacred moment as she pulled me into her treasured memories. When I got home that day I reflected on how crazy it is that I have three free hours in the middle of the day that I can dedicate to recording this woman’s story. And I thought about my job and I how I make enough money that I don’t even have to think twice about the expense of buying someone a meal at a nice restaurant. And I thought about how marvelous it is that I randomly met this woman and how being single has given me the opportunity to bear her burdens and make a record of her life. If I had a wife and children, I doubt I would have been able to do these things. I don’t want to at all diminish the amazing work done by wives and mothers, husbands and fathers. But I for sure want to elevate the wonderful work that can be done by single people like me. Because we are still part of families and we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. And we have a lot to contribute.

As I’ve reflected on the different people on different sides who try to tell me what’s best for me or the ways that I need to change, I’ve been reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:17-23. Here are those verses as they read in my grandma’s old Bible. “Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But that isn’t the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’ And some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. Yes, we are especially glad to have some parts that seem rather odd!” I have felt at times like I’m the odd part of the church, like I don’t really fit in to the Plan of Happiness, but we are all necessary. Even those of us who feel like it’s best to stay single.

As a gay Mormon it feels so odd to be tugged in two different directions with people on both sides telling me that the key to happiness lies in a committed, romantic partnership. I believe that relationships are essential to happiness and the relationship that is most likely to bring me happiness is the relationship I have with my Savior. I know, I know, it sounds so cheesy to say it, but it’s true. The times I’m the saddest are the times when I fail to live up to the principles that I cherish and the times I’m the happiest are when I’m successful. The truth is that I’m 100% single and I’m happy. I’m really, really happy. I feel like over the past months I’ve been discovering what it is that makes life so full and wonderful. My only request is that you don’t try to put me a box because I’ve found a way to live my life that works for me. I’m certain it wouldn’t work for everyone, but it feels right in my mind and in my heart. It’s not too hot, not too cold, but it feels just right.

30 comments:

Amy Smith said...

Oh my goodness, the anorexic woman and her life story!! I teared up a little bit reading that. What a wonderful friendship you have given her, and I'm sure she has given you.

Sarah said...

Amen!!! On the way home from work I was thinking about how sad it is that our society has tied all hope of happiness to being in a romantic relationship (not that they're bad, they're just not the only thing that brings happiness). I'm glad that I'm happy as a single, thriving, Mormon woman. ;-)

Amanda Martinez said...

I totally identify with so many of your feelings about being single! There is so much good to be done in the world, and so many wonderful people to know and help, and truly the most powerful relationship is the one we develop with our Savior. I love this post. And your blog.

Alyssa said...

This is the second time I've happened upon your blog and I love you! You are amazing! Thank you for explaining this and explaining it so well.

Anonymous said...

Ben - very well written. We all have our burdens, public and private; I'm sorry to hear that yours has cause so much consternation. Remember that one of the core principles of the Gospel is that of Eternal Progression. We aren't expected to completely get there, learn it all, do it all in this life. It's impossible. Instead, we're asked to do our best, rely on Christ, and hope and work for that day when we will have "made it". Sounds to me like that's what you're doing. Keep it up, and we'll get there together!

Colette said...

I don't know you at all, but this post came up on my Facebook feed. (I think one of my friends commented or liked it.) So much of what you said resonates with me and I wish I could put what I'm feeling into words. But thank you so much for writing your perspective. I hope others will come to understand this.

Natalie said...

This circumstance is very different in some ways, but my dad has found himself newly (4 years) single after 25 years of an abusive (in multiple ways) marriage. He has struggled with much of the same sentiment you've expressed: that everything is focused on family and you are only worth something when married or whatever. He's had many people, some more well meaning than others, try and give him advice on what to do and when to get married and to whom, but he has repeatedly said something similar to you in that he's happy on his own with his relationship with the Savior right now. I know it's different in many ways and I don't mean to be presumptive, but I'm grateful for you both. I know it takes strength to listen to your gut and the spirit when everyone else is so dang loud.

Marcie Glad said...

YES! A thousand times YES! I love that you are sharing your story! It is so powerful and I am also grateful you had 3 hours in the day to talk to this woman.

To echo what you have already so eloquently put: I've learned that any romantic relationship is really about loving yourself. To quote Cool Runnings, "If you're not enough without the gold medal, you'll never be enough with one." Really, we should all work on being enough when all we have is ourselves and the Lord.

Bert said...

They're not trying to put you into a box but back in a closet!

Kristine said...

I found this post through a friend on Facebook and had to comment. What a wonderful mature perspective that is filled with love both for yourself and your common man. So much hatred comes from both sides of the LGBT debates that everybody comes out bruised. Thank you for finding a voice for gay Mormons trying to live the Gospel they love.

I also 100% agree with your point about being different parts of the body and your ability to serve. As a mother of 2 young kids with no nearby family to watch them,I have extremely limited ability to go anywhere or spend anything and it makes me feel far less useful and influential than the single adults. Thank you for using your talents and serving with love and compassion.

Finally, I think the doctrine, especially modern doctrine, does point to the importance of marriage and families but aren't we all part of a family? I disagree with the pressure for everyone to get married and have plenty of straight friends that got married too young or under pressure and later divorced. If they had focused on strengthening their relationships with their parents, siblings, and Savior, I think they would have been far happier. And the plan of happiness is for all of God's children in all our diverse circumstances and individual challenges. Marriage is far from a magic pill or constant party and romantic love is an very modern invention.

Anyway I'm repeating a lot of what you said. Thank you for sharing. You clearly already have a much firmer grasp on what God has in mind for you and don't need to worry about the well wishers on either side that think they know better than Him.

Jason said...

Wow, that was really beautiful. Thank you for sharing your insights, and thank you for serving like that.

Drew said...

"Gay" is an adjective used to describe behavior and thought patterns, not an identity. Interesting thoughts. I'm really glad I personally didn't have to try to reconcile these two opposing lifestyles.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I agree with you completely. The first and greatest commandment was not marriage, but to live God. The second was to live our neighbor. And as a married mother of two, I feel so often that my sphere of influence is limited to just my family. I completely admire your ability to work and influence so many. And honestly, my years spent single were glorious! I felt like I was much more spiritual and service-oriented then. And I miss the intimate friendships I had then. Like you said, my happiest moments, even as a wife and mother, are when my relationship with my Savior is strongest.

Finally, getting married is no cure to loneliness. My cousin just became a widow in her thirties, and my brother just passed away, leaving a very young widow and young family. We can't depend on anything in this life, except for our Savior. God bless you, and bless the work and service you are doing.

Kara Woodbury said...

Thank you for being an answer to a prayer by sharing this

Suzanne said...

Thank you Ben! I couldn't agree more. Marriage isn't the end of all our striving. Jesus Christ is. He is Alpha and Omega, which translated, is the Beginning and the END ... of everything. Which is good cuz I'm really good at starting stuff, but not so much at finishing--but, I digress. Another angle is that when we're counseled against "looking beyond the mark", the mark is considered to be Jesus Christ. When we elevate any principal above Him, we're on shakey ground. Expecting the experience of marriage to fill all holes the in your heart that are meant for Jesus Christ only, sets you up for codependency, and puts you on a collision course with the reality of your daily need for him. Marriage can certainly bless and have a sanctifying effect. Believing marriage has more power to bless than Jesus himself is, to me, a form of idolatry. Idolatry of marriage. Joseph Smith once said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are but appendages to it.” Marriage is an APPENDAGE, not a replacement for the most fundamental principal: Jesus Christ. And Him crucified.

Michelle said...

I don't know you personally but I love you and I love this an a totally felt the spirit reading it. I know so many people who struggle being single in the LDS church (for various reasons) and this just hit the nail on the head. You don't need a relationship, you need Christ! I love it! I think if everyone in the church understood this we'd all be happier and wouldn't expect marriage to solve our problems. Thank you for sharing your beautiful insights!

Day said...

Ben, powerful words. As an older single sister with similar struggles, I've felt unintentionally marginalized in the Church because I'm single. Not by all, not even by most, but-everything seems to be focused on marriage as the only thing I'm really missing! You said that some would have you believe that "happiness is found in being in a committed romantic relationship" and we both know that that isn't the sum truth of our existence. I would say that happiness is found in being in a committed relationship, spiritually speaking; with our Father and elder Brother. Other than that, we are where we are and who we are and how we are-and what others think won't bring us happiness. That comes from within and above. Thank you for your strong testimony.

Jeri Lynn said...

Thank you, this is so beautifully written. I especially love the idea of relationship with the Savior and helping others as being more talked about and important in the scriptures than eternal marriage and family. I struggled for years at church because I didn't fit the standard ticky boxes--I'm married to a non-member and don't have kids. There were many reasons I finally chose inactivity, but a big part was that I was tired of being told over and over (through lesson and in person) that my lack of eternal marriage and family was holding back/undermining my ability to find joy and happiness.

I'm glad you are staying true to what you believe and being the person you are inside. I'm glad you are working with the "neither" box and not letting either part be a phase. I really hope that it continues to be a thing you can work with and that you aren't forced to choose one half or the other.

Cris Conerty said...

The man I married in 2009 was single all his life (he was 50 when we married) and he created for himself, an purposeful, authentic life in which he was very content and happy. Yes, he was lonely at times. Now I am married to a man with no regrets, a strong sense of self worth, and a sense of empathy and humility towards the suffering of others. I honor your choice and courage to create your own space outside of any and all boxes. Please continue sharing your thoughts and experiences, which helps us all so very much. Cris in WA STATE

Anonymous said...

Well said. Wrong as it is, I think we all tend to pigeon-hole people into nice little categories (Mormons don't have a monopoly on that!). What I appreciated that is usually not present in these types of blogs is that you are working through your own thing while trying to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. Humans are just that--imperfect humans. If one really wants to find fault with something wrong said in General Conference, it can be done. But it's all about the spirit in which it is said. I doubt President Uchtdorf meant that if you aren't married, you are thwarting God's plan. Maybe the other leader you heard from really did mean that. I think that's his opinion, nothing more. But the single best thing about all this is that you didn't get on a soapbox about how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should change their stance on marriage. If one really has a testimony of The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, and President Monson, how can one not believe that we all have our trials and problems, but some of them are more visible than others.
Hang in there and live the gospel the best you can. Somehow, things will work out. I don't know how, but I believe that. I hope you do, too.

JC

Aly said...

I respect your decision and your thoughts and feelings. I saw that you didn't find anything in the scriptures linking the Plan of Salvation and marriage, and wanted to share a perspective. The Book of Mormon does not directly mention it, but Doctrine and Covenants does talk about marriage, in particular sealings. Without sealing families the "whole earth would be wasted at His coming." We know that God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. There is no more direct way to fulfill this than creating bodies for His spirit children and teaching them truth and loving them as God loves them.

There are some things about the nature of God you can't fully appreciate until you love your spouse like Christ loves the church (a process that can't be completed in this life I'm sure), or you weep over your children. Think of the missionary scripture "if your not be great with one soul that you have brought unto me, how great will be your joy if you bring many souls unto me!"
Can you then imagine the joy of bringing souls that have become precious beyond measure in your lifetime, your own children, your spouse, unto God?

Please, I understand you have your own path and I don't know how things work out, but marriage is an eternal principle of the Plan of Happiness.

Eric said...

The Family Proclamation states "circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation." The Church will properly continue teaching the central importance of God's plan for marriage and family, but that doesn't mean that your spiritual journey is invalid or that you have no worth unless you are married.

Freewriter Guy said...

Just live your life as you choose, and afterwards you will give an account of your choices, if you chose good then you'll receive eternal happiness and if you chose evil or lived in rebellion to God, then you'll receive everlasting misery. It's a no Brainer really.

Suzanne said...

I don't mean to be confrontational. But, I just had to respond to a previous commentor who said, "There are some things about the nature of God you can't fully appreciate until you love your spouse like Christ loves the church (a process that can't be completed in this life I'm sure), or you weep over your children."

There ARE some things about the nature of God you don't fully understand without certain experiences. May I submit however, that ONE such experience is that of living (through no wrong-doing of your own), as Jesus himself did? WITHOUT an eternal companion on this mortal plane? There are also things you can not learn about the nature of God, unless, you've had the experience of weeping over the children you NEVER HAD? ALL of these are sanctifying experiences. And teach you things about both the character and ministry of Jesus Christ that can not be learned any other way.

Keep in mind folks, there are 20% more females than males. If every single male member (just baptized member, independent of worthiness or compatibility) were to get married to a female member--there would be, literally, 20% of the single females left unmarried. God's plan for them (on earth AND in heaven) is NO. LESS. GLORIOUS for those who put their trust in Jesus. And, trust me, those who live with Jesus Christ at the center of their lives, learn no less about God, have no less potent testimony to bare of Him, than those are married. It takes a relationship with GOD to understand the nature of God. Any suggestion otherwise, to me, suggests a lack of familiarity with Jesus Christ himself.

Anonymous said...

The same goes for bearing children. Not all married couples can have kids like is suggested/taught. Does this mean these people are less valued? No. We live in an imperfect world. Things happen out of our control for reasons we can't understand. Opportunities not given us here will be given later. Just because we don't have the "ideal" family in this life doesn't mean we never will, even if one is struggling with being a gay mormon. Everything will one day be made right, that is our hope.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say, I think you're doing things right. I really enjoyed this post.

Troy said...

"As a gay Mormon it feels so odd to be tugged in two different directions with people on both sides telling me that the key to happiness lies in a committed, romantic partnership."

This statement reminds me of something I read in a book once that said this:“Everyone wants to tell you what to do and what's good for you. They don't want you to find your own answers, they want you to believe theirs. I want you to stop gathering information from the outside and start gathering it from the inside.”

I believe it's the Spirit that speaks to us on the "inside". And it's by that Spirit, that we can learn and know what is best for our well being and happiness.

I know what you're going though. I am in the same boat. I'm not sure if we've ever met, but I know we're not far removed, as we both know some of the same people. Thanks for sharing what you have shared and continue to share.

Gidianny Wilson said...

I have two aunts who never married and my parents would always say that they were too picky or had too high of a standard for their could-be future husbands. But even as a kid I never really felt that was true, or even nice of my parents to say. My parents are good people, but I think they would say things like that so that I would choose to get married.

My aunts are the most faithful and service-oriented women I know and they are happy. And they are able to contribute to their ward and community in ways a married couple or family cannot. For decades, and still to this day, they feed the poor every Sunday, they took care of my grandpa, and recently they were both heavily involved, and had leadership responsibilities, in the dedication of the Tijuana LDS Temple. They live a life full of purpose and meaning, and ever since I was little I could see that--as clear as day--because they walked the walk. They live a happy life centered on Jesus Christ and are a great example to me and those around them.

Peggy said...

Thanks Ben. Your insight helps me understand so much. You are such a blessing to many people.

KT said...

I found your blog via a friend’s FB post and I am so glad that I did! For the past hour (or more..), I have been reading your posts and have felt the presence of the Holy Ghost strongly as I read. Thank you for sharing your journey and your testimony! My journey is different from yours but united in our desire to follow the Savior. It gratifies me deeply to know that our different paths but singular goal allow us to serve more people in a variety of ways. What a great designer our Heavenly Father is! As you mention in your post, I am one of those who doesn’t feel I can give as freely of my time and resources to as many people as I wish I could. It brings me peace to know that there are others’ whose circumstances allow them to serve in a way I cannot. It also reminds me to find greater joy in what I can do, instead of focusing on what I lack.
Another moment of spiritual clarity I gained from reading your posts reminded me of D&C 18:15-16 “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”
I’ve often thought of these verses as merely related to traditional missionary work and baptism. But as I read your posts and felt my heart and mind swell with the Spirit, I realized that our souls are in need of saving every day. So thank you for bringing my soul to Him, for strengthening my testimony in these hours, for filling my cup with your words. I needed it. I hope you receive great joy as you continue to share your experience.