Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Walk in My Shoes

If you go back to my very first post in 2008 you'll see that I originally started this blog for my friend Joleen.  I was moving away from Utah and she was bummed that she wouldn't get to hear my stories anymore so she said I should write a blog about the funny things that happened to me.  I often still have Joleen in mind when I write a post.

On Saturday I got a text from Joleen that said: "I've been waiting for a blog post from you about yesterday's Supreme Court rulings... is there one in the works?"  I told her that I wasn't planning on writing anything because so many people were sharing opinions and I wasn't feeling compelled to add my two cents to the growing sea of opinions.  She also asked if people had been asking me what I thought and no one had (which legitimately surprised me).  So she asked me what I felt about the ruling and I sent her what I had written in my journal on Friday night.

Now that a few days have passed I feel compelled to write something.  And so, Joleen, here's what I think about the Supreme Court's ruling last Friday.

On Friday I had a lot of trouble figuring out how I felt.  A lot of people said they felt so happy they cried.  I didn't feel that.  A lot of people were angry and worried.  I didn't feel that.  I did, however, feel happy for the people who can now marry the person they love.  I felt happy for the two men in their eighties in Texas who have been together for more than 50 years who got married on Friday.  I felt like marriage equality was inevitable and so I wasn't too surprised or shocked or moved.  Frankly, I was surprised by how little I was emotionally affected by the news.

I think the reason I felt so few emotions is that the ruling doesn't affect me personally.  The three states I've lived in already recognized same-sex marriages (one by popular vote and two through judicial rulings) so I could have already gotten married to a man.  And then over the weekend I kept reading Facebook posts and blogs and news stories and I finally felt something personal.  I felt sad.  And it was my friends and fellow Mormons who made me feel that way.

Dianna and I at Costco buying food for a
church activity.  At this moment neither
of us was aware that I would be coming
out to her in a few hours.
A few months ago I went to a conference in Mesa for gay Mormons.  I told my friend Dianna I was going and before I could invite her she said, "I want to go.  Can I go with you?"  I wanted to reach out and hug her in that moment.  Not only did she want to support me, but she wanted to understand what it was like to be me.  While we were at the conference listening to presentations she would lean over to me and ask, "Did you feel like that?" and I'd say, "Oh yeah."  A few minutes later, "Can you relate to what he's saying?"  "For sure."  On the way home she cried in the car briefly.  It was one of those rare times when instead of making me feel awkward the tears felt like a gift.  She said that she loves the church and its doctrines and that she supports our leaders who teach us of the eternal importance of marriage between a man and a woman.  But she also said that she cares about me and just wishes that I could marry who I wanted to marry.  I don't expect Dianna to support same-sex marriage.  In fact, I'm sure that she's a staunch supporter of traditional marriage and I'm totally cool with that.  But what I love about Dianna is that she cared about me enough to walk in my shoes and really try to understand what it's like to be gay and Mormon.  Precious few people in my life have done that and I'm so grateful for the ones who have.  Dianna earned my love and respect that day and to me she is an exemplary latter-day saint.  I wish more of my LDS friends were like her.

As I read comment after comment on Facebook I just kept thinking, "They don't get it.  They don't understand what it's like to be gay."  I feel like too often we defend our church and our doctrines (which we most definitely should do), but forget to reach out to the people who are affected by them.  So let me tell you what it's like to be gay and Mormon.

As a gay Mormon I have four options:
1. I can marry a woman
2. I can stay single and celibate
3. I could get a gay Mormon boyfriend and have a platonic, nonsexual relationship
4. I could leave the church and marry someone I'm attracted to

I have seriously considered each of these options.  I've been on dates with dozens of women including 27 blind dates (it'd be difficult to find someone who's tried harder than I have to get married).  I've considered leaving the church a number of times.  I also went on a date with a nice gay Mormon boy, but that just didn't feel like the right thing to do either.  It's a terrible predicament that we gay Mormons are in.  We love the church and we want to stay, but we also long for a committed relationship with someone we're in love with and attracted to.  It's a heart wrenching Sophie's choice as we struggle to decide which of the two things to give up--romantic love or our faith.  For me, the church is just too important.  I believe it too much to leave.  Being Mormon is who I am and I feel that by choosing to remain active in the church I am being my authentic self.  So I'm sticking with option two.

I've heard a lot of people say, "Choosing to be single and celibate isn't that bad.  It's just like any of the single women in the church who have never gotten married."  But it is not the same at all.  A single woman can get on her knees every night and plead with Heavenly Father to send her a righteous husband.  And if she ever did get married her congregation would throw the biggest celebration for her.  What about me?  What am I supposed to pray for?  What are the gay members of the church supposed to hope for?  Am I supposed to pray to not be gay?  I did that for years and years.  I eventually stopped praying for that and prayed that God would just help me find one girl, just one girl that I could love.  And that led to me feeling uncomfortable and making a few girls cry.  I have not been actively dating for the last two years.  You can tell me that I gave up too easily, that I should have had more faith, that I should keep trying, but I have felt so much happier these last two years.  I have felt so much more like me.  And I have no doubt that I'm living my life in a way that is pleasing to my Heavenly Parents.

I read a number of comments on Facebook that said things like, "There's just so much we don't understand about this issue."  That annoyed me a little.  It's okay to not understand everything, but we must be actively seeking to understand as much as we can.  In my coming out post I shared an essay I wrote about bearing one another's burdens.  We need to understand what others are going through instead of flippantly disregarding what they're experiencing as an incomprehensible mystery.  Talk to people!  Carry their load!  Walk in their shoes!  Learn what if feels like to be divorced, or have a miscarriage, or to come over from a mission early, or have a mental illness, or have a wayward child.  The Lord defines Zion as a people that is of one heart (Moses 7:18).  To me, being of one heart means that we empathize with everyone and strive to feel what they feel.

What would you do if you were me?  What would you hope for?  How would you cope with being a member of a church that teaches that marriage between a man and a woman is eternally essential and knowing that you just can't live that teaching?  Would you leave the church?  That's what more than half of our gay members do.  And I can totally empathize with that decision.

Here's how I handle being gay and Mormon.  Earlier I said that I chose option two, but the truth is that I really choose secret option five.  I see five possibilities.  The last path is one that I can't define and that I'm not even aware of.  Paul wrote: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor 2:9).  And Joseph Smith wrote: "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation" (D&C 58:3).  To me it is clear.  We just cannot conceive of what is to come with our natural eyes.  My life is a testament of this.  The best things that happen to me are things that I never could have predicted or planned whether it be my current living situation, random awesome jobs, sudden trips abroad or unexpected friends.  I could share dozens of stories of things miraculously working out and working out in completely unexpected and perfect ways.

Paul continues in the next verses to teach that while our natural senses can't understand these things that God makes them known to us through His Spirit.  Now, I'm not going to claim any great revelations, but I have felt time and time again that remaining an active participant in the church is the right thing for me.  And even though I live alone and eat dinner by myself most nights, I feel so much joy and happiness.  My life is good.  It is really good.  It's not the kind of life that I was taught to want, but it's the life I have and it's good.

I have an assurance that really great things are going to happen to me in my life.  Things that I can't even imagine.  I have a conviction that if I stay true to the principles that I believe that all will be well.  I know that great things are coming because so many great things have already come.  I try to live my life according to this verse penned by Joseph Smith: "Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to the see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed" (D&C 123:17).

If you walked in my shoes for a day you would see me eat my meals alone.  You would see me text and call people that I care about.  You would see me listen to podcasts to keep me company.  You would see me turn on music and dance while I put my dishes away.  You would see me go to work and then spend time with friends in the evening.  And you would see me come home alone and sit on my futon in silence.  And even though I spent my entire day with other people, you would watch me feel sad that I was alone in my house.  Then I'd pull out my scriptures and read a chapter or two and then sit and think about something that touched me.  And then I'd sit on my bed and write in my journal and shed a tear or two as I write about how good my life is and how blessed I am.  And I would mean every word.  Then I'd slide off my bed and kneel on the floor and thank Heavenly Father for all the good things in my life.  And you would watch me plead with Him that He would send us further light and knowledge and create more of a place for me and other gay Mormons in His church.

This is the reaction that I had last Friday.  I wished that more people would walk in my shoes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Camp for Spanish Teachers

This year I was invited to attend the AP reading in Cincinnati, Ohio.  More than 1,000 Spanish teachers from around the country and I converged on downtown Cincinnati for one week to grade Spanish AP tests.  It was a lot of work!

Downtown Cincinnati from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River
 I realized very quickly that the AP reading is basically like summer camp.  This was my first year, but many of the people who attended have been coming for years and they have very good friends who they only see once a year at the reading.  I saw loads of people excitedly hug each other and say, "It's so good to see!  How are your kids?  What have you been up to for the last year?"  It was fun to watch, but since this was my first year I had no such friends.  And I may have eaten lunch by myself twice before I made friends.

We were organized into table groups of nine people.  My group consisted of me and a bunch of Hispanic women.  I felt really young all week (which was a nice change of pace because I usually feel the opposite) because most of the AP readers were so much older.  One woman at my table is about to have her first great-grandson.  She's in her sixties and I tried to do the math to figure out how old everyone from each generation would have to be in order to have a great-grandson at 65, but the math got too cumbersome for my brain and I'm sure the answer would have disappointed me.  Most of the women at my table were in their forties or fifties, but the lady who sat directly across from me was in her late twenties.  She usually wore low cut shirts and had a large piercing right above her cleavage that looked like sparkling diamond.  The shininess of the piercing subconsciously drew my eyes to her chest area every time I looked up.  Not only did I not want to be looking at her chest, but I for sure didn't want to be caught looking at her chest.  I didn't care for that piercing. 

A few days in my roommate Josh ran into an AP friend that he had met at a previous AP reading.  After the usually hugs and "Oh my gosh!  How are your kids?" I was introduced to Meghann.  She asked me my name and I unoriginally said, "I'm Ben Schilaty."  She said, "How do you spell your last name."  I told her and she said, "Shut up!  Did you write your master's thesis on such-and-such a topic?"  I did.  She then said, "I printed out your thesis before I came and I'm going to read it while I'm here."  I was stunned.  It was such an unexpected honor to meet one of the 12 people who has heard of my thesis.  It's a very exclusive group.  Meghann and I then became friends and I'm sure we'll excitedly hug each other if we're both at the AP reading next year. 

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral
While I had a lot of great experiences during my week in Cincinnati, Sunday was by far the best day.  We worked from 8:00 to 5:00 so I wasn't able to go to church which really bummed me out.  I decided that since I couldn't go to LDS services that I should at least go to some church so I went to Catholic mass that afternoon.  It was an uplifting experience I was glad I went.  I especially enjoyed singing hymns that were new to me and experiencing a way of worship that was foreign to me.  Also, when the priest was talking it struck me that both he and I have chosen to be single for religious reasons.  That realization made me feel connected to him in a small way.  

After going to mass I met up with 18 other LDS folks who were also at the AP reading.  Every year they get together on Sunday for a short devotional and testimony meeting.  I only knew one person in the room from before and everyone else was basically a stranger.  However, I felt an instant connection with those people and sitting in a circle with them in a small room in a convention center in Cincinnati felt like being home.  As we sang a hymn I was familiar with and said a prayer I felt the Spirit in a remarkable way.  None of us was there under any pretences or because of any kind of social pressure, we just wanted to worship together and share or thoughts and feelings about the Savior.  It was the best religious meeting I've been to in months.

I shared my testimony and in it I mentioned being gay.  After the meeting as we were putting the chairs away (it wouldn't be a Mormon meeting if we didn't put chairs away after) two guys approached me with some questions.  One of them has a son who identifies as gay and the other is a newly called bishop.  They were very interested in my perspectives as a gay active latter-day saint and we talked for over an hour.  That night I felt so grateful for this small group of latter-day saints who meets together every year at the AP because I was uplifted and inspired by the things that were shared.  When I got back to my hotel room that night everything felt right with the world.
I loved the architecture in Cincinnati

And how their buildings look like Pringles cans

One day it rained and I got very wet

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My New Home

So much southwest charm
A few weeks ago I moved into a new house and I love it.  I'm house sitting for the summer and then in October the homeowner, her girlfriend, and I will share the house for the winter.   They're great and I'm excited to have roommates, but I'm also really enjoying living here by myself.

I'm not the most organized person so packing all my things into boxes, moving them to a new house, and then putting everything into its new place is pretty much the worst.  And what made things even worse was that Dianna and fun Laura weren't here to keep me company while I tried to put everything away.

This was the moment when I considered giving up on life
And then everything magically got put away
I excitedly told a friend that I'd made a reading nook in my bedroom and he said, "You mean you just put a chair in a corner?"  Yep, that's about it.  But it's also bookshelf adjacent so I feel like that gives it some nook-like qualities.

I've been considering taking after gym selfies in my bathroom, but that weird pelican picture would just make them seem lame.  Also, all after gym selfies are lame.
My duck face needs some serious work

I hid a note in the bathroom for any snoopers
I mostly love everything about my new place.  However, the one thing it lacks is a really, really comfy couch.  There are a few futons and they're nice and all, but an awesome couch just can't be beat.
It's a top notch futon, but still a futon

Not the comfiest chair, but it's great for directing movies

I had Phil, Danielle, Carl, and Maggie over for dinner last week.  This was the first time I'd invited Maggie over for dinner.  She asked what she could bring and I said, "We'll be drinking water and there is no dessert so if you want either of those things you'll need to bring it."  So she did!  She brought drinks, dessert, and also bought me this awesome flower because, why not?

I dressed Mr. Cactus Head in his summer garb

Part of my backyard
My new pad is pretty rad.  Feel free to stop by for a visit whenever you like.  Also, I'm responsible for watering the plants this summer and I'm very worried that I'm going to kill them all.  Any watering advice you have will be appreciated.