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 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.
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