Thursday, February 8, 2018

I Have Not Chosen to Be Celibate

The following exchange happened in a professional meeting with more than a dozen people in attendance.

Steve: (referring to something from the 1980s) “Sorry, I’m really dating myself here.”
Me: “Steve?! You’re a gay Mormon, too?! Because the only person I’m allowed to date is myself.”
Everyone else in the room (including Steve): (impressed with my zinger) “Wow!”

When other Mormons learn that I’m gay, active in the church, and not pursuing a relationship with a woman I often get asked, “So you’ve chosen to be celibate?” I’ve been asked this and similar questions many dozens of times. I assume it stems from the three possible paths we typically think are available to gay Mormons: find an opposite-sex partner and stay in the church, leave the church and find a same-sex partner, or stay in the church and be celibate. The question doesn’t really annoy me because people are just trying to figure me out. However, asking me if I’ve chosen to be celibate is reductive and inaccurate.  

Asking if I’m going to be celibate makes it seem as if my life choices revolve around whether or not I’m going to have sex. Imagine someone excitedly announcing their engagement to you and you respond, “Congratulations! So you’ve decided to have sex?” Kind of silly, huh? In this situation, the typical response is to be thrilled that this person has found their life companion with no mention of their sex life. We might even buy them a pillow with embroidered letters that read, “I MARRIED MY BEST FRIEND.” For some reason, though, my life choices are often boiled down to whether or not I’m planning on having sex.

Somehow this is the level of discourse we’ve arrived at when discussing what the life of an active, gay Mormon looks like. So I’d like to offer some alternatives. Here are some questions you could ask instead of asking your single, gay Mormon friends if they are going to be celibate:

“What are your plans for the future?”
“What do you want your life to look like?”
“How can I help you thrive on the path you’ve chosen?”
“Man, you must be so sad and lonely all the time, right?”

Okay, that last one is just a joke. I’m perfectly happy and willing to talk about my future and what I think it will look like within Mormonism. But celibacy has never been part of my life decisions. I fully admit and understand that no sex is what my future will look like if I plan to move forward in the church, but at no point was sex any part of the equation for me.

Gay Mormons have to make sacrifices, no matter what we choose. Unfortunately, we are regularly shamed for whichever choice we make. “Oh, you chose to leave the church and break your covenants, did you?” “I see, you’re a victim of patriarchy and you’re allowing your church to force you into an inauthentic relationship.” “No sex, huh? I couldn’t live like that. It’s only a matter of time before you change your mind.” So yes, celibacy is part of the package of the life I have chosen, but it is not the main part of the package, nor is sex the thing I feel like I’m giving up.

Here’s the sacrifice I feel like I’m making. My mom has Alzheimer’s and her memory is getting
My parents and I over Christmas
pretty bad. It’s been extremely stressful on my dad, and the amount of time we spend searching for things she has misplaced is astronomical. I wrote this in my journal when I was visiting my parents over Christmas. “This evening has been tough. Dad asked me to help him learn how to use mom’s phone, but it’s been put on some weird settings that I don’t know how to fix. Then we tried to use her computer, but the mouse was missing. Mom started searching the house not sure what she was looking for. Dad finally just hugged her, told her he loved her, and that she didn’t have to search anymore… Tonight I wished I had a partner. Not because I was lonely or sad, but because I wished I had someone to talk to about all this.”

I remember sitting in my parents’ rec room alone that night just yearning for a partner. Watching my parents’ decline is tough, and it’s tougher to do it alone. My mom was getting stressed as she searched the house not even knowing what she was looking for. It was so tender to see my dad’s response to her stress. He just hugged her and told her he loved her. I needed someone to do that for me in that moment. I know that I have plenty of friends who I could have called to talk to, but in that moment I didn’t need a friend—I needed a partner. I sat there feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, and then I called my sister because she’s the closest thing I have to a partner.

My sister and I decided to make a Christmas card this year
That is what I’m sacrificing. I’m not choosing to be celibate, and I’m not choosing to give up sex. I’m choosing to live life without a partner. I’m not saying that so that you’ll pity me, and I’m not complaining either. I’m just explaining my reality and the choices I’m making. And I have made these choices based on what feels right to me in my mind and in my heart.

Steve, a straight Mormon and my friend, told me after the meeting that my “perfectly timed and delivered” riposte (his words) had brought him a step closer to beginning to understand what my life’s choices meant. So if Steve ever asks about my dating life he'll just get to hear me talk about myself.

Yes, I’m giving up a lot by deciding to move forward in the church, but there is also a lot I’m gaining. I’ve already addressed this topic in this post and this post. I fully expect to be asked about my celibacy many times in the coming years and that’s fine, but there are so many better things you could ask me about. Ask about my participation in church. Ask about my work in the temple. Ask about my home teaching (okay, don’t ask about that one). Ask about what I’m studying in the scriptures and the insights I’ve gained (which is actually one of my favorite topics of conversation). Ask how I’m reaching out to the people around me. Ask about my job and my studies and my family. And if you really, really, really want to know how much sex I’m currently having and plan to have in the future, fine, ask about that, too.


Trisha said...

Thank you for always being so good with your words and still being blunt.
That joke about dating yourself- I am going to steal it. that's a good one.

Love the Christmas card. Reminds me of when we did speed dating in our singles ward years ago and I got my brother. 3 times.

I'm with you on a partner. There are people you can lean on but no one gets you on that intimate level (and I don't mean intimate as in your sex life. Knowing your deep thoughts)

Tristan Foster said...

I love this! Thank you so much for sharing; I relate to what you've said. It's so annoying when the premise of so many of my introductions revolve around my celibacy!

Kathryn said...

Love your perspective, thanks for sharing Ben!

kjhygfkglj said...

There is an episode of The Simpson’s where Bart has a dream that everyone has a twin except for him. In it he is rowing a boat and because he doesn’t have a partner, it just goes in circles. That’s what this reminds me of.

Day said...

Ben dear friend this breaks my heart on so many levels. One I did not realize how things had gotten with your mom. She is and always will be a very special friend to me. In a good moment would you please let her know I still hold on to her marbles. She will understand. Two, knowing how your dad struggles and how much he loves your mother, I picture the grace he must need each day as he watches events unfold. Three I am sad that it has taken me so much longer to learn so many lessons. I am almost twice your age. Every day I learn something new when I read your blogs. I have chosen my life based on my faith, not based on anything physical.
Thank you dear friend for helping all of us see perspectives beyond our own narrow frame. May you find everything you need and your ongoing journey.

Kastle Soliai said...

Well written and well said, Ben. Thank you for your candor, tact, and love in addressing this from multiple perspectives. All the best to you moving forward into your bright future, brother.

Ben Schilaty said...

I totally remember that episode. Bart had sold his soul to Milhouse and he was the only one without a soul to help him row his boat. Milhouse just sat back in his boat while his soul and Bart’s soul did the rowing.

Beth Blair said...

Thank you for sharing this.

Adam Balinski said...

Never met you, but already love and admire you. Thanks for sharing this!

Tracey said...

Thank you for your honesty!

Brent said...

Bless you.

Beth said...

As a woman who is active in the church but is attracted to women, this post resonates within me and expresses things I didn't even know I was feeling until I read this. Thank you so much for writing this!

Dora R said...

So if someone asks you if you're having sex, you could just ask them back, "Are you?" If they don't quickly realize that the question is so inappropriate then there isn't much hope for them now is there. ;o)

Unknown said...

I enjoyed your presentation at our stake activity tonight which prompted me to go to your blog post. I was touched by your comment in the post about needing a partner to discuss difficult situations with. This begs the following question: Why couldn't a gay active LDS person like yourself have a platonic relationship with another gay active LDS person where they live under the same roof, watch movies together, make dinner together etc without the sex? I ask that knowing of a lesbian couple in their sixties who have been together for many years who no longer have sex. One of them had been active in the church, been through the temple and married to a man many years ago. She came back into church activity several years ago and had her temple blessings restored, since she is now celibate, despite still living with her lesbian partner. Thoughts?

Ben said...

I’m so glad you enjoyed my talk tonight! That’s a good question. I think what you’re going for is a middle ground between friendship and marriage. I know people who make that work, but it’s rare. I actually tried it myself and it failed miserably. It was really painful to be in love with someone that I could never marry. I suppose it could work, but it would take a rare set of people. What you’re describing is something platonic that is really just two good friends living together, not the kind of partnership that my parents have. From past experience, I’m not looking to have another friend that I’m in love with, but I suppose it could work for some people.

Rylea Farrens said...

Thank you. I'd love to talk to you some time! My husband is in your program, and this topic interests me because I feel a great deal of love and desire to help LGBT people, and we have some in our immediate family as well. I admire you for choosing this path, the more I read about and ponder what this means it breaks my heart. I hope you know there are people who are willing to love you and make you a part of their family, and that when you speak out about this you are helping so many unintentionally oblivious people to understand how to act. I think often we are scared to say anything for fear of hurting feelings, and having people like you who are willing to talk openly and freely gives me hope that I can navigate these issues as I encounter them in my calling, and in my life. (Sorry if that was rambling, I'm writing it on my phone and fear that if I try to read over it and edit I will mess it up ��)

Ben said...

Thanks so much, Rylea! I think we have many reasons to hope. I’d love to chat some time. Wes is awesome, by the way, and u think you and I met briefly at the Christmas party.

Groverfam said...

Just stumbled you your blog. This is a topic that had interested me for years and I am so glad that we are all finding a way to talk about it in a setting of understanding. Your voice needs to be heard. I will definitely keep reading and listening to learn. We need more of these conversations. We need to star reacting in fear of what we don't understand and responding in faith to understand.

Amanda said...

Love this, thanks for sharing!

Student of Life said...

Just found this blog because your recent post on the BYU forum made it to the SLC Tribune. Thank you for sharing these posts. As an honest seeker of truth, I REALLY appreciate your willingness to honestly share your opinions and experiences. It is extremely helpful to understand this topic that I (as a straight male) just don't understand. It's probably hard to do it, but I'm really grateful for your courage to do it anyway.

Judy's view said...

I feel so grateful to you Ben! Thank you for being honest to who you are and helping us all to be more like our Savior.

powerful flower said...

Hey Ben, you were my Spanish 105 teacher in 2008 or 2009! (Bridget Ames - It's totally okay if you don't remember me.) I saw your face in that article that a friend shared on Facebook. I've also thought you were awesome, and even more so now that I get to see more of your personal life. Thanks for all your faith and courage! I find your posts really, really insightful and helpful. And I graduated with a Spanish B.A. in 2012! You made trying to understand spoken Spanish less scary for me, so thanks!

Deven Ogden said...

You listed three paths to being gay and staying in the Church. However, there is a fourth, depending on how you define "staying in the Church". If you can consider "staying in the Church" to include participating in Church meetings and striving to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, even under Church discipline, then you can consider a fourth option of being in a same-sex relationship or marriage. There is a growing number of gay members who want to be married to someone of the same sex AND stay connected to the Church. It is no longer true that anyone who enters a same-sex relationship automatically leaves the Church and becomes an antagonistic enemy of the Church.

I know several in the DC area who are active members of their wards and who are in a same-sex marriage or in a same-sex relationship. While they do not hold temple recommends, they participate in Church meetings and serve in their wards to the extent that their bishop and stake president will allow them to. They have family home evening, study the scriptures, and pray, and do the best they can to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like anyone else.

You mentioned helping to organize a support group for gay members in your stake, which is really great. My stake in Virginia has sponsored such a group for years now. However, the one problem with this support group is that it doesn't include those who want to be in a same-sex relationship AND stay in the Church. It seems to me that there is a great need to have a place to support these individuals. They probably need support more than anyone else, and are the most vulnerable to feeling ostracized and pushed out of the Church. Instead of saying "good riddance" to these brothers and sisters, we should be trying to strengthen them and support them in their desire to live the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives to the fullest extent possible.

In addition, we must also remember that we are a Church of continuing revelation. This doctrine is embedded in the gospel as the Ninth Article of Faith. By very definition, continuing revelation means we have to consider that the current policy and practice of forbidding same-sex marriage in the Church could be done away with, in the due time of the Lord -- just as the once-considered unchangeable doctrine of forbidding priesthood and temple blessings to members of African descent was done away with in 1978. Within the next 5-10 years, perhaps when Elder Holland becomes president of the Church, we could very well see such a change take place.