Monday, October 23, 2017

Choosing to Be Straight

I was raised to be straight. My family, my church, and society all expected me to be straight and pointed me in that direction. Being straight comes with all kinds of benefits like fitting in in a heteronormative society, following LDS doctrine, and having biological children. Children might just be a good enough reason to be straight. I mean, I’m tall, I have thick hair, and a metabolism that works like a charm. These traits totally deserve to be passed on to the next generation. Being straight seemed like the logical choice. Being gay is hard and being straight is way easier.

During the last transfer of my mission a number of missionaries and I were on a long bus ride traveling to a meeting. We were discussing what life would be like for me when I got home and how quickly I’d get married. The consensus was that I wouldn’t last a year single. I was a little more conservative in my estimate and predicted that I’d be married in a year and a half. I figured I’d get home at the end of February, head back to BYU in the fall where I’d meet some girl in my FHE group, we’d date that semester, get engaged in the spring, and married in the summer. It felt like a good plan.

I had previously thought that my mission would cure me of my same-sex attraction and I felt forsaken when I got home and it remained. Still, I felt it was a temporary thing that I could overcome. I started regularly praying and fasting that God would change my heart. I wrote in my journal a few years later: “What is the reason for this trial? I know that someday it will end and I pray that God will hasten the day.” I felt that I needed to do my part to have a change of heart so I went on a lot of dates. Like, a LOT of dates. So many, in fact, that I was regularly accused of “leading girls on.” Since no one knew that I was gay and I was taking many women on dates it looked like I was toying with hearts. 

Me in my early 20s.
Such a heartbreaker.
I was making a concerted, valiant effort to be straight. And besides the cognitive dissonance going on in my head, I was straight. I didn’t talk about liking boys, I didn’t write in my journal about it, I didn’t flirt with guys, or date guys, or hold hands with them, or cuddle with them, or kiss them, or anything that a gay person might do. On the contrary, I did all that with women. And I was pretty smooth, too. Six months after being home from my mission I wrote in my journal about a girl I met at church who I thought was super cool and a clever plan I devised to get to know her. I asked her if I could borrow a DVD to watch on my flight home for Thanksgiving. I wrote: “I returned the DVD to her today and we talked for a while. She’s really fun to hang out with. I asked her if I could borrow a DVD because not only would I have to go over to pick it up, but I’d have to return it too. Two excuses to see her. It worked well.” Like I said, smooth as butter.

I met a girl in my FHE group my first fall semester back at school after my mission. She and I got along great and she was exactly the kind of girl I would want to date. I wrote on 17 October 2005: “We’ve been seeing quite a bit of each other and we talk every day. I like her and it has become more obvious that she likes me.” Good news, right? I continue writing about a walk that this girl and I went on: “Kyle had told me to make a move (exactly what that entails, I don’t know), but not only was I scared to, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.” Basically I wanted a girlfriend, I just didn’t want to have to touch her. In hindsight I just wanted an awesome best friend, not a kissing buddy.

This girl and I didn’t date that semester. Then winter semester rolled around and I was coming up on my year mark of being home from my mission and I was freaking out that I was almost 22 and had never dated anyone. So I decided to rekindle my relationship with the girl whose hand I didn’t want to hold, but this time I’d have the guts to just do it. I invited her over to watch a movie 100% committed to holding hand, something I’d never done before with anyone. I was so incredibly nervous that I purposefully waited until the last ten minutes of the movie to grab her hand. Once we were interdigitating I relaxed a bit because the pressure was off and she actually seemed excited about holding hands with me. I, however, was feeling a bit uncomfortable. I drove her home shortly after the movie ended which included no more hand holding and a good night hug that I could’ve given to my sister. I then drove home and told everyone that I had a girlfriend.

The next day this girl and I were hanging out and she told me that she didn’t want to be exclusive. But I had already told loads of people we were dating. So I did what any person who desperately wants a girlfriend does, I convinced her that we should date and she agreed. As I left her apartment that night she gave me a much longer hug. It was like she didn’t want to let go. She just kept hugging and hugging so I kept hugging her back not really getting the point because I was ready to leave.

The following day she got cold feet again and I again had to convince her to date me. Then we cuddled on the couch and I just sat there not sure of what I was supposed to do while she snuggled with me. The following day she yet again said that she thought we should just be friends and we broke up. My journal entry about the break up is pretty funny. I wrote: “So we officially broke up after going out for four days… Aaron says that I’ve taken it really well. I think that I just realize that we’ll both end up with other people and be happier in the end.” Nice try, 21-year-old Ben. It’s so obvious now what was going on then. I wasn’t heartbroken because I wasn’t interested in her. What I was interested in was having a girlfriend because that’s what I was supposed to be doing and it was so embarrassing that I had never dated anyone.

I still count this girl in the list of women I’ve dated even though it only lasted for a handful of days. Mostly because saying I’ve had three girlfriends sounds much cooler than just two. Looking back on this experience more than a decade later, it’s interesting how committed I was to walking the path I was told to follow. I dated a girl I wasn’t attracted to just because I was supposed to. In my very first journal entry about being gay I wrote: “It sucks and I’d change things if I could.” I did not want to be gay and my actions were completely consistent with that desire. I actively chose to “live the straight lifestyle” for the entire decade of my 20’s.

I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours dating women during those years. And yet, I still occasionally get told by well-meaning people (and occasionally just your average rude person) that being gay is a choice. The exact opposite has been true for me as I tried as hard as I could to be straight. My personal experience has taught me that marriage to a woman probably isn't the right course for me. Choosing to be straight caused me a lot of anxiety and discomfort. I felt like I was lying and the inherent dishonesty of showing interest in people I wasn't interested in really weighed on me. Around the time I turned 30 I made a conscious decision to stop dating women and move forward in life as a single person. Not only did this decision make logical sense based on my life circumstances, but I have felt divine approval of this decision. And now I get loads of free meals which I'd like to think is the universe paying me back for all the meals I bought for women who have long since married other people.


Anonymous said...

It is sad to think men complain about spending on girls whom have gone to "marry other dudes". They do not owe you because you paid. Neither does the world. In all essence, dating should be about "looking for a best friend". Friends shouldn't complain about spending on friends. In fact, it shouldn't even be thought of twice. As a girl, I have paid for guys' meals (dates and not dates). I paid and was sincere and heartfelt about offering my time, money, and friendship. This is a person you thought would be worthwhile. Worth your time. All in. Never would I whine about it or consider that I'm owed because of it.

Ben said...

Anonymous, I don't know who you are and it seems like you don't know me either. Hopefully you noticed the humor sprinkled throughout the post. I wasn't whining or complaining and the comments I made at the end were meant to be taken humorously. Like you said, I don't at all regret spending my time or money on any of those women. I made a lot of great friendships dating and am still friends with many women that I took out. Please know that I do not regret those dates or the time I spent with those women. That was not at all the intent of my comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It takes a lot of courage. It also takes a lot of faith and sacrifice to choose to live as a single person. I have been there. I had made the commitment to be single and decided I was going to make it the best single life possible. I ended up meeting someone who I felt comfortable with, not the anxiety. I hope you never lose that access to divine power that will continue to guide you.

Anonymous said...

I love this post and your willingness to share your story. I wish we'd met each other at BYU! I was there 2003-2009, so I'm guessing we overlapped quite a bit. I truly wish you all the best.

Joseph Ballstaedt said...

Enjoyed the post and the humor. I'll give you free dinner in Herriman any day! Or if I am in Provo. Would be good to catch up.

Ben said...

Joe! That would be my dream!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ben, I truly admire you for putting your story out there. I hope it will help others in the same situation to understand that it is OK to admit that they are gay, because there isn't anything "wrong" with that. What's wrong is that some people perceive it as a choice. I wish you nothing but happiness and success in all your endeavors.

Rick Tate said...

Ben, You have such an awesome way of narrating. Thank you for being willing to tell your story so that many of us can put these challenges to a personal face of someone we respect. I always learn something from reading your posts.

Unknown said...

Ben, it is unfortunate that so many do not comprehend the complexity of the challenge that burdens you. I am straight, I am a Latter-day Saint, and I believe you that you did not choose to be gay. Yet I also understand why so many of our fellow Latter-day Saints feel it necessary to reject your claim. Our church’s proclamation, “The Family,” sets up a cognitive dissonance for gays. It states, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” So if you did not choose to be gay, then how is it that you are? When confronted by a cognitive dissonance between two claims, most people resolve it by insisting that one of the claims is false. Then there are people like me who are able to make peace with cognitive dissonances that involve church doctrine and our personal experiences. God hears and answers prayers. It is my experience that God is generous when answering Who, What, Where, and How questions, but holds Why and When answers close to his chest. So I resolve cognitive dissonances like yours by being patient, knowing that at some point in this life or the next those soul-wrenching “Why” and “When” questions will be answered. We each should possess a great many personal experiences with God that lead us to trust in Him. And in a case like yours we have to borrow from our well of other experiences that justify our trustingly and patiently awaiting the answers.

Just a few thoughts....... said...

Thanks so much for giving us an insight into what it is like to be gay, specifically an LDS gay. I appreciate you addressing the "choice" argument. As a straight LDS person, it is very difficult for me to wrap my head around why God would create you that way and then instruct you not to "practice" being gay. It must have something to do with the fallen world. I have always leaned toward the "choice" reasoning but, you have given me a different insight. Like the one person that commented on "cognitive dissonance", this must be something that we will all understand at a later date. It is our job-as Christians and faithful Latter Day Saints to be kind and loving towards one another. I want you to know that I appreciate the difficult circumstances that you endure on a daily basis. I believe that you are a courageous person trying to navigate the life course God has given to us through our unique perspective as Latter Day Saints. God bless you for your honesty and willingness to share your journey with us. Never doubt God's love and appreciation for you. Stay strong.