My last name is pronounced shi-LAD-ee (roughly rhymes with beef patty). I study social work at BYU and work as an intern at LDS Family Services. I love puns, cacti, eating out, and good punctuation in text messages. I'm a lifelong Latter-day Saint and I'm gay.
Since I came out on my blog more than two years ago I’ve
been sent Josh Weed’s blog post dozens of times. In the post he and his wife
Lolly discuss why a gay man and straight woman would choose to get married. It’s
a really great post. Josh is very explicit in the post that this is their story
and no one else’s. He wrote, “I want to make it very clear that while I have
found a path that brings me profound joy and that is the right path for me, I
don’t endorse this as the only path for somebody who is gay and religious. I
will never, ever judge somebody else’s path as being ‘incorrect’ and I know
many people who have chosen different paths than myself.” However, my friends
who forward me this post often send a note that says, “See! You can marry a
woman! Josh did it so you can, too!” I occasionally hear of people sending my
posts to other gay Mormons as a way to correct them or to tell them that they should be living like me. "See! Ben's living his life as a single gay man and you can, too!" This does not make me happy.
Am I really a good model for how to live? I mean,
I regularly travel with this hooligan.
A very good friend of mine is gay, in a loving relationship
with his boyfriend, and no longer believes in or attends the LDS church. I’m
also friends with his mom. One time he told me, “You’re everything my mom
wishes I would be.” Hearing that broke my heart. He knows he’s disappointing her,
but he’s just living his life the way he feels is best and his mom wishes he
were more like me. This does not make me happy.
There are lots of gay Mormon stories that get passed around
on the internet. A video of two lesbians who got divorced so they could be
members of the church recently got a lot of attention. I watched the video and
I thought it was touching and powerful. They were very explicit in the video that
this was their story and no one else’s. They were not recommending that other
couples do what they have done. One of them even said that it would be ignorant
to think that there is a black and white answer for every gay Mormon. I love
what one of them shared, “The only thing that really matters is your
relationship with your Heavenly Father and taking advantage of the Atonement of
Jesus Christ.” And yet, they are being looked to as examples and their story is
being shared with gay friends of mine who are seeking same-sex relationships.
They’re being told, “Look at what will happen if you get gay married. You’ll
just end up getting divorced.” I wish that the people who saw that video could also read some of my friend Laura Root's stories about being active in the church and being married to woman. Her journey is different and equally as beautiful.
When I hear powerful stories at church I often think, “Oh, I
wish Sister so-and-so could hear this story. It would help her a lot.” What I
try to do, instead of projecting these stories onto someone else’s life, is put
myself in that person’s shoes and think of what I would do in that situation.
If I were married and being faithful meant getting a divorce would I do that?
Would I do what the women in the video did? Now put yourself in my shoes for a moment. What would you do if you were a gay Mormon like me? Would you
swear off romantic love and move forward as a single person like I have? Or
would you choose a different path? We gay Mormons have some tough decisions to
make and I hope that instead of telling us what to do that you take some time to really, truly empathize with us.
I don’t want people to live like me. I don’t want to be
anyone’s model for how to live. And I would be highly annoyed if anyone used my
story as a template for how their gay loved one should live. That said, I still
feel it’s important to share my story, but I don’t do it so that others will
live how I do. Perhaps I should have been more explicit about that. I share my story because I felt prompted to do so and I will continue sharing. I hope that anyone who has chosen a different lifestyle doesn't take my story as an attack on theirs. There is plenty of room for a diversity of opinions and choices.
Do you really think people should live like me?
I make questionable choices like hugging saguaros
When I talk to gay Mormons who are struggling I almost
always tell them two things. First, they can’t make decisions based on fear.
They should choose their path based on hope and faith. Second, they should stay
close to the Spirit and courageously follow the promptings they receive. That’s
what I try to do and it has led me to a happy, thriving life. But I do not
think that my path is the path for everyone. It is my own and no one else’s.
If you have a gay loved one and you’re worried about the
path they’re taking please, please, please don’t use another gay Mormon’s story
to tell them how they should live. May I suggest an alternative? In 2 Peter 1,
Peter lists nine Christlike attributes: diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge,
temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. I’m kind of
surprised that humility didn’t make the list, but whatever, it’s Peter’s list. Then
he says: “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you
that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord
Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8). Isn’t that awesome?! I love the idea that being
patient brings me to the Savior and that being diligent increases my knowledge of Him.
It wouldn’t take long to find an active member of the LDS
church that is seriously lacking in these Christlike attributes (I mean, we
could all do better). Nor would it take long to find someone who isn’t Mormon
who exemplifies these qualities. I believe that becoming like Jesus is what
life is all about and, for me, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
is the vehicle that I have felt called to to help me develop these traits and
build Zion. I worry that sometimes we focus too much on activity in the church
as the end goal (i.e. feeling sad when someone has “left the church”) when
someone could be active in church and be a terrible, miserable person. And if anyone,
in or out of the church, exemplifies the attributes of charity or patience or
temperance, shouldn’t we rejoice in that? I hope so.
If you’ve read any of my other posts I hope you’ve noticed
that I try to highlight the people in my life who do something right, who
behave in Christlike ways. They are the heroes of my story because they act as
I believe the Savior would. I hope you’ve seen LeAnne’s charity, Carl’s humility,
Craig’s brotherly kindness, my parents’ faith, Paul’s diligence, and my new bishop’s godliness. So please don’t use my story as a model for how to be a gay Mormon. Please don’t use it
to tell someone that they should be living like I do. If you’re going to point
your gay loved ones to an example of how to live, please just point them to Jesus (I know, I know, I'm being super cheesy, but it's true).
If your gay loved one chooses to attend church then I would
be thrilled to have them sit next to me on the pew. And if they choose not to
attend church then I would love to have them sit next to me in some delicious
Thai restaurant. Whatever path they choose, I hope the people in my life know
that I will walk with them. I also hope that whatever path they choose they
develop Christlike attributes along the way.