Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What It Was Like in the Closet

Recently a straight friend of mine told me that he didn’t understand why coming out is such a struggle for people nowadays since being gay isn’t as taboo as it used to be. To respond to that comment I'd like to share what being in the closet was like for me. It's been nine years since I started coming out and the world has changed a lot since then, but my experience is similar to those of other gay Mormons I know. 

Luckily I don't have to rely solely on my memory to remember what life was like before I started telling people I experience same-sex attraction. A few months ago I was looking for something in my closet and I found an old journal. I’ve been a faithful journaler for a number of years now and when I was 23 and really struggling with my sexuality I needed an outlet. I hadn’t come out to anyone yet and, quite honestly, I thought I never would. So I kept a secret journal. I still felt that having same-sex attraction was just a phase and I was terrified that my future children would ever find out that I had struggled with something so shameful and gross. The few entries in the journal are filled with hope, yearning for answers, and a deep desire to stay true to my beliefs.

And fear. Pages and pages of fear.

The first page of my secret journal that I would
never EVER share with anyone. It's so
melodramatic and a little embarrassing.
There are only 11 entries in the journal. Part of my first entry on 27 June 2007 says, “Since I was a teenager I have struggled with same gender attraction. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted that fact except in prayer.” I was 23 years old. Admitting that on paper was a big deal for me. I go on to explain that most of the stories I’d read about gay Mormons end with them leaving the church. I continued, “I will not let that happen to me. I must keep myself worthy at all costs, but it’s so hard.” It appears that I might have been a little melodramatic when I was 23. The purpose of the journal was to record the things I learned to help me stay faithful and to be an outlet for my feelings.

I feared that I would break the commandments. I feared that I would be alone forever. I feared that people would find out. On 28 June 2007 I wrote, “I’m scared that I’ll have to admit my same gender attraction to my family. I know they’d still love me and support me, but I know that it’d be hard for them to deal with. I’d rather go through this alone than hurt my parents. I just want to make them happy.” Keeping my secret from them was pretty foolish. I thought that I was doing them a favor by not telling them. I thought that I was strong enough to deal with it on my own. I was wrong. 

This entry from 2 July 2007 made me smile because of the simple hope I had. It also reminded me of how much of my self-worth was attached to my ability to get married. I just wanted so much to be good and I just wanted to get married like I was supposed to. I wrote, “On Sunday I was really excited because a girl taught Sunday School that I usually don’t find pretty, but she looked super pretty that day. It gave me a lot of hope. I felt like things were improving. Then that night I went to my friend’s house and her roommate’s boyfriend was there. He’s really handsome and I was sickened with myself for thinking so. He was almost too good looking.” I remember that guy and he really was attractive. Finding a woman attractive = feeling good. Finding a man attractive = feeling sick. This was my reality and it was destroying me. 

Throughout the journal I beg for understanding. For example, on 7 July 2007 I wrote, “What is the reason for this trial? I know that someday it will end and I pray that God will hasten the day.” The next day I wrote, “I pray that God will help me know what my mission and purpose is. If it isn’t to get married, then what is it?” The word trial appears over and over again. Same-sex attraction was an affliction and it was meant to be conquered so I fought and I fought and I fought. I tried to be as righteous and faithful as I possibly could be. I read the scriptures every day, I went to church every week, I prayed all the time, I attended the temple weekly, and I bore my testimony every day as an MTC teacher. But I just kept spiraling downward. Then in my journal I quoted Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Even though I was dying on the inside, I felt I had to trust in God.

This is the face of a 23 year old Mormon
who is dying on the inside because he doesn't
know what to do about his sexuality. It's hard
to tell who's having an internal battle, isn't it?
The fear continued, but so did my faith and hope. I have heard that faith and fear can’t coexist, but I disagree. My secret journal details the immense fears I felt while at the same time feeling hopeful. For example, I wrote, “'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ Psalm 30:5. My trials can be very difficult. At times they make me want to give up, but I know that if I’m faithful that my pain will only endure for a night.” Here’s another scripture I quote trying to focus on hope and trust. Job 23:10 “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

But the fear was always there. On 13 July 2007 I wrote, “I’ve wanted to tell my roommate Craig about my same-sex attraction, but I don’t know if that would be a good idea. Would I find a good support system or lose a friend?” Luckily for me my fear was unfounded. When I came out to Craig a month later he responded in a way that healed my heart (you can read about that here). There are only 11 entries in my secret journal because after coming out to Craig and Mitch in August I felt like it was safe to write all my feelings and experiences in my regular journal. The fear I felt did not go away, but it lessened immediately and considerably when I started being honest and vulnerable with my friends. 

When I was 28 I moved to Tucson and I went back in the closet. No one there knew I was gay and I was again afraid to tell people. After being there for five months I came out to my roommate Kevin. For almost an entire year he was the only person in the city who knew I was gay, and it was one of the worst years of my life. That’s because being in the closet is hard. The fear came back, the loneliness came back, and life got bleak again.

Now I’m about to celebrate four years of living in Tucson and I’ve never been happier. I don’t feel alone or afraid at all. Being open and honest has made all the difference. My faith is strong and so is my hope. What has made all the difference for me is that as I have been vulnerable and shared my secret with people, they have reached out with loving kindness. I have seen that people are good and that they love me just how I am. For me, the truth really did set me free.

So why is it hard to come out? Because fear and loneliness can be absolutely paralyzing. But for me, it was 100% the right thing to do. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Mystery, a Ghost, and a Foiled Plan

One of the super bummers of living in Arizona is that my friends don’t have the chance to get to know my parents. It’s a real shame. So for Father’s day here’s a little story about my parents to help you get to know them (and especially how silly my dad is). I learned this story while I was home two weeks ago.

A few years ago someone started leaving flowers on my paternal grandma’s grave. My aunt asked all the relatives she could think of if they were doing it and no one confessed or had any idea. My parents and my aunt and uncle are all retired and they have a lot of time on their hands to solve this sort of mystery. So with Memorial Day coming up my dad decided to catch the phantom do-gooder. He and my mom went to Cabela’s and bought a spy camera, the kind that takes pictures whenever there is movement. They explained to the salesman at Cabela’s what they were doing and the salesman said, “This is first time I’ve seen someone buy one of these cameras to catch someone doing something good.” My dad, however, had his own mischievous plans.

My dad decided to mess with my aunt and uncle by playing off of the confusion surrounding the flowers. My uncle installed the camera in a tree near my grandma’s grave a week before Memorial Day and a few days later my parents went to the cemetery attempting to play a trick. My dad put on a coonskin cap and a bandana over his face so he wouldn’t be recognized. In one hand he held a hatchet (I really have no idea why) and in the other a single flower. Then he walked up to grave, probably giggling on the inside, and placed a flower on the grave. The motion activated camera recorded his movements and he couldn’t wait to hear my aunt tell him that some strange, mysterious man was responsible for the flowers.

Dad in his costume
It was a clever trick, but it didn’t quite work. You see, my mom went with my dad to the cemetery, but she didn’t understand how the camera worked. While my dad was putting on his costume back at the car she walked over the grave, without my dad noticing, and took some pictures of the graves with her phone. She didn’t realize that walking in front of the camera meant that her picture would be taken. So when my aunt and uncle looked at the video later they saw my mom taking pictures immediately followed by the peculiar man who, instead of being mysterious, was very obviously my dad being a trickster. My aunt called my dad and said jokingly, “Just one flower, you cheapskate?” His plan had been accidently foiled by my mom, but he wanted to have a little more fun.

Mom accidentally foiling his plan

 A few days later he went back dressed in white with a sheet over him pretending to be a ghost. This time he had no intention of fooling anybody, he was just having fun. However, when he got there he saw fresh flowers and a cleaned off grave. The do-gooder had been there! Also, my aunt had written a note for the do-gooder that she left on the grave. It thanked the person for their service and asked the person who they were. When my dad got there the note was gone. He called my aunt and uncle to tell them to come check out the camera. They were a little annoyed because they thought he was just playing another trick on them, which, to be fair, is exactly what had happened. But in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” fashion he was also telling the truth.

Dad the ghost
When my aunt and uncle watched the video they were pretty annoyed when they saw my dad as a ghost. He had made them drive all the way out the cemetery just to see him pretend to be a ghost. Then they went back a little ways and got some great pictures of the woman who has been leaving the flowers. There are pictures of her leaving flowers and cleaning the graves. And there’s even a picture of her with my aunt’s note in her pocket, but she never contacted my aunt to confess that she was the do-gooder. She’s some distant cousin who we’re related to through my great-grandparents. I’d never heard of her. What’s crazy is that my parents got to the cemetery just two hours after her. If they had gotten there a little earlier they would have caught her in the act.

Here's my distant relative cleaning the grave. You can even
see my aunt's note in her pocket.
These are the kinds of antics my parents get involved in. This is what happens when four retired people have a lot of time on their hands and a baffling mystery to solve.

Fun fact: If you look closely at the grave marker it says "Schlilaty" which is how my last name was spelled before my grandpa and one of his brothers decided to drop the first "L."