Thursday, May 26, 2022

Remembering Alison

Last Friday I learned that my friend Alison had passed away earlier that morning. She was diagnosed with cancer just the week before and then she gone. She is one of a number of people who have opened their door to me and made their house my home. 

In the spring of 2015 I needed a new place to live in Tucson. My friend fun Laura sent me an advertisement that had been emailed to everyone in her master's program about a retired woman looking to rent a room to a female international students. I definitely did not fit that description, but I was intrigued. I emailed her anyway and she invited me over to the house. A few days later I pulled up to the house and said out loud to myself, "I want to live here." We hit it off and I moved in a shortly after that. 

It's always a bit awkward moving into someone else's house, but Alison made me comfortable immediately. When she showed me my room she said, "The last tenant had her bed over by the window, but personally I'd put it by the wall under the A/C vent." I agreed and moved the bed. 

I talk about Alison all the time when I give firesides. She's one of the "retired lesbians" I always talk about ("They were retired professionally, not from being lesbians."). I also mention Alison and her partner in my book and in my TEDx BYU talk. Alison was so honored to be part of my story. She asked me not to use her name and I honored that request. When the first box of books arrived I mailed her a signed copy that day. After reading it she said, "Why did you write this for Mormons? Everyone needs to read it!" Alison always believed in me. 

Our house became a central hub of LGBTQ Latter-day Saint gatherings in Tucson the year and a half I lived there. I'd always ask Alison's permission before filling her house up with people yet again. She was always so happy to have us gather in her home. When I'd tell her about some event I was planning she would sometimes put her hand on my shoulder and say, "You're doing important work. I'm so proud of you." 

Alison wasn't shy about complaining or pointing out an injustice in the world or something that just wasn't working. One day she was complaining about something related to the house and I asked if there was something I could do differently. She said, "Benji, you're a prince." Only a few people in my life have ever called me Benji. 

One day I was leaving for school on my bike and Alison was out in the front yard. I had my headphones in and no helmet on. In a stern voice she said, "Ben, please tell me..." and I was prepared to get a talking to about the importance of helmets and not listening to music while riding, but she ended the end sentence, "...that you're wearing sunscreen." "I am!" I replied. And then she waved goodbye as I rode off to school.

I typed the first words of my dissertation sitting in Alison's living room. She had completed a PhD decades before and told me stories of writing on note cards and legal pads and then paying someone to type everything up on a typewriter. So different than me sitting with my laptop using a word processor.  We often talked about my school work and how much things had changed. It was quite a gift to be living with someone who had written a dissertation while going through that grueling process. 

Alison's house
Alison and her partner were in Seattle in June 2016 while I was home visiting my parents. My parents wanted to meet them so we had them over for dinner. My mom and I went to the store to get food and she had trouble figuring out what to buy. Then when we got home she couldn't figure out how make the dinner. This was my first clue that something was not right with my mom. Alison and her partner came over that night and we had lovely time chatting and I was thrilled that they got to meet my parents. Two months after that dinner I was sitting in my bedroom in Alison's house in Tucson when I got the news that my mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That's where I first cried about losing my mom. So many important memories in my life, good and bad, are tied to my time living with Alison.

In the days since I've learned about Alison's passing I've spent a lot of timing thinking about her and her impact on my life. Our friendship was so random and unexpected, and yet it was exactly what I needed. She didn't always understand why I made the choices I did, but she always honored those choices and cheered me on.

I have this thing I do when someone I love dies. I pray that some of my relatives will greet that person in the Spirit World and thank them for helping me here on earth. I believe in an afterlife and I hope that Dorothy and Walt Schilaty and Malvene Grimshaw and Monty Smith have gotten to talk with Alison and thank her for all she did for me. Alison was Buddhist and she cared deeply about people, the planet, and all living things. I was one of those living things that she loved. And I was lucky enough to be her family. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

She Doesn’t Dance Anymore

Alzheimer’s destroys a person slowly. The brain gradually builds up plaque and stops working little by little. It’s hard to notice the change when you’re around the person every day. But you notice when you’ve been away. Before this visit I hadn’t seen my mom for more than four months. I noticed the change.

I think the clearest memories of my mom with dementia will be from 2020. I spent a total of four months staying at my parents’ house that year. That time really was a gift. My mom was so thrilled to do literally anything with me so we went on walks, took long drives, read books, watched shows and explored lots of corners of western Washington. She watched three entire seasons of Stranger Things with meNot a show that Ginny Schilaty with a fully functioning brain would have liked. When an episode would end, she’d say, “Wanna watch another one?” And I’d say, “I guess we should.” 


My mom has been so active which has caused a lot of trouble. She’s always “cleaning” or “putting things away” which mostly just causes chaos. But in her mind she’s helping. During the months I spent at home in 2020 I spent a lot of time reading to her because it kept her from “cleaning” and gave my dad a break. She’d sit and listen for quite a while even though she had no idea what the books were about. Sometimes I even read to her in Spanish (a language that she is zero percent fluent in). I tried to read with a lot of inflection to keep her interest and every page or so I’d ask her what she thought. She would then mutter a bunch of random words strung together and then when she was done I’d say, “I think you’re exactly right,” and then get back to reading. 

I definitely can be selfish and impatient so during her nonsensical jabbering sometimes I’d text someone or read silently on my phone hoping she wouldn’t notice. One time I was doing this and paying zero attention to what she was saying and then she finished her thought, “So you really could make quite a bit of money.” If only I’d been listening. 


My mom loves being at our house and when we were away on outings, she’d often ask to come home. As a way to distract her, my brother, nieces, and I would start dancing. She’d join in the fun and for a few minutes forget she wanted to go home. Then when she brought it up again, we’d start dancing and she’d laugh and dance and forget about going home. It became a thing we’d do all the time. 


In February 2021 she was moved to a memory care unit. My dad had been her primary caregiver for five years. Most husbands only last a few months. I visited her a few times that year at her new home. We went on walks and played catch and I read to her on the rocking chairs on the porch. When she’d see me, she’d light up and give me a big hug. 


This visit has been different. If I were to describe my mom now the main word that comes to my mind is vacant. She’s there, but barely. When she saw me for the first time in four months this past Sunday, she gave me a hug, kissed my chest, and said, “I live you” (not a typo). I asked her questions and tried to talk to her, but she was just so vacant. I’ve been back a few times this week and one day she was more present, but mostly she was just there and yet not really there. 


I tried to read to her. Before she would nod her head along like she was listening. This time she just stared off into the distance. Before she would sit and listen for a long time. This time after about 30 seconds she started to stand up to leave. “Mom, can you sit down please?” She didn’t sit down. “Mom, I need you to sit down.” And then I tugged on her hand and she sat down. This happened about 15 times. 


When we went on a walk, she pointed out our car out of the dozen or so in the parking lot and said, “That’s my shar.” Strange that she remembers her car. I tried to get her to dance like before. She smiled but didn’t get the game. That day a friend asked me how my mom was doing. “She doesn’t dance anymore,” I said. 


This week I posted some pictures on social media of visiting my mom. A selfie with her on Mothers’ Day, her holding hands with my dad, us going on walk. But what doesn’t come through well in those stories are the serious conversations we’re having. Does she even know we’re visiting? How much do these visits matter? What is best for her? But she is still mom so we keep visiting. 


There’s been some crying this week. My dad cries almost every time we drive away. And he cries when he hugs her and tells her he loves her. One day he cried saying that he thought the end was coming and that she wouldn’t be around much longer. Tears because she’s alive and it’s sad, and tears thinking of her dying. There’s sadness no matter what happens. Sadness because she’s still here but mostly gone. Sadness because someday she’ll be completely gone. It’s sadness that comes from loss. A slow, gradual, painful loss. There is no winning with this disease. It’s all just so sad. 


Recently I was reading volume three of Saints and came across this lighthearted poem written by Susa Young Gates: 


When I have quit this mortal shore

And “mosey” round this earth no more

Don’t mourn, don’t weep, don’t sigh, don’t sob

I may have struck a better job. 


Two days after my mom’s diagnosis in 2016 I got a call from Kevin’s dad Ken who had become my adopted father in Tucson. I had emailed him and the rest of their family to tell them about my mom’s diagnosis. Ken called me to see how I was doing. I told him how much my mom loved to serve and help others, and how it broke my heart that Alzheimer’s would take that from her. Then I started to cry and said, “But I know that someday she’ll be whole again and she’ll get to serve and love better than ever before.” 


I’ve mourned, I’ve wept, I’ve sighed, and I’ve sobbed. Ginny Schilaty deserves an existence of dignity, productivity, connection, and service. Alzheimer’s has taken so much from her. And yet I know that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ she’ll strike “a better job.” And she’ll dance again. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A 1/4 Romance and the Choice to Not Be in Love

This is definitely an odd and awkward post to follow my previous post detailing all my same-sex romances (which totaled one and a quarter). It’s been a few years since I’ve had a real crush on someone. I mean, I’ve had plenty of little crushes, but not like a real crush. Until last month. His name is Mark.

When I was 23 and in the closet I read dozens of blogs written by gay Latter-day Saints. One was written by Mark and it ended up being my favorite. I’ve even been sharing a screenshot from a post he wrote in my fireside presentations for years. He really helped me through a tough time. Then he stopped posting, seven years passed, and suddenly I was 30. 

In August 2014 things with Jordan had just ended and I was an emotional mess. I was playing volleyball at the Tucson Institute on a Tuesday night and stayed after to chat with a new guy who had just moved to town. As we chatted in the parking lot I came out to him which felt like a huge deal because he was the first person I casually came out to. I was not prepared for his response, “I’ve got a gay friend back in Florida that I’d like to set you up with.” I politely declined telling him that I wasn’t looking to date. Then he showed me his friend’s picture and it was Mark! I said, “I don’t want to date him, but I do want to meet him.” He gave me Mark’s number. 

I don't of a picture of us from that
trip, but I do have a picture of Mark
 standing in fun Laura's shower

Mark and I texted a bit and then talked on the phone once. He told me he was going to be in Phoenix for work in a few weeks and offered to come down to Tucson for the weekend. I was thrilled. Mark stayed at my house for three days. He goes to bed way earlier than I do, which meant he wanted to get up far too early to go on adventures. One evening I lied and told him that an attraction he wanted to see opened later than it actually did so I could sleep in. He was understandably annoyed when he found out–and has never let me forget it. 

Mark was the first gay member of the Church I’d really talked to about being gay aside from Jordan. It was nice to share my feelings with someone who understood what it was like to be me. It was really nice actually. But we didn’t click romantically. I misinterpreted his jokes as rudeness. My love language is words of affirmation and his love language appeared to be pushing all my buttons. And then he left. And I didn’t miss him. But that visit changed me. Mark inspired me to walk away from shame and self doubt and toward honesty and productivity. I came out publicly a few months later. 

Over the next seven years we’d occasionally text, but we weren’t really present in each other’s lives. Then he started listening to “Questions from the Closet,” and would text me about episodes he liked (like I said, my love language is words of affirmation). In one episode I mentioned how I covered all the podcast expenses myself. He messaged and said that if I needed any money for the podcast to let him know. I told him we were planning a live event and asked if he’d pitch in to help cover the cost. He asked how much I needed. I said $20-$50, not wanting to ask for too much, but told him how much I had paid for the event. Mark then Venmo’d me $1 because he thinks he’s funny. A minute later he sent me all the money for the event. It felt like a miracle. 

At the live event I told this story. I told how Mark had helped me with his blog back in the day and how now my podcast was helping him. I testified that God brings people into our lives for a reason and it was the best part of the event for me. The moment was completely spontaneous and Spirit-driven. I remember Sarah the moderator shouting “Yeah, Mark!” and then everyone applauding this person that they didn’t know. And I felt grateful that our paths had crossed again. 

Then at the end of 2021 we were planning our next live event and I told Mark he should fly out to be there in person. And he came. This was only the second time we’d seen each other. The day of the live event I was super stressed. He ran errands for me to lighten my load. He walked to my office and walked me home after work and told me I would do great. On the car ride to the live event he put on music he knew I would like and we belted the lyrics to calm my nerves. Although I offered to give him a shoutout at the event, he declined and sat in the back by himself. And then after the event he waited more than an hour for me while I talked to people and signed books and then he helped me carry stuff to the car. 

Me and Mark on the bridge
I don’t have a best friend here in Provo. I have a lot of great friends, but not a best friend. You know, the kind of person that you just do whatever with and they’re always down. There’s this new bridge in Orem that crosses the freeway I’ve been wanting to walk across for a long time, but never have. For months I’d drive by it and for some reason it reminded me that I wanted a best friend. When Mark was in town, we walked it together. It was incredibly loud, but it was fun to be there with Mark. 

That weekend was a confusing mess of emotions for me. When I invited Mark to visit I had zero romantic feelings for him. And I assumed he felt the same way. And then I kind of liked him, but I wasn’t sure. And he seemed to maybe like me, too? But he was hard to read and I didn’t know what he was feeling or what I was feeling. He kept joking about us getting married, but he was surely kidding, right? 

The night before he left I wrote this in my journal: “When Mark has his walls down he’s pretty reMARKable (I’m even punny in my journal). I asked him if he really wanted to marry me, or if he was just joking. He said, ‘I’d like to get to know you better.’ I feel the same way. And it sucks that we live in a world where us dating isn’t even an option for me. I super wanted to kiss him tonight, but I didn’t. Mark and I definitely need to learn to communicate better. But I think if we worked on things we could have a really lovely relationship. But we won’t get to know. So Mark is leaving tomorrow and I have a crush on him and he might have a crush on me. And I also think he’s super rude and annoying from time to time. Is that what love is?” 

Mark and I texted after he left and I just kept liking him more and more. And then that Friday I drove to St. George and we talked for an hour and a half on the drive down. I wished we could’ve talked the entire drive. And then I realized what was happening. I was treating Mark like a boy I wanted to date. 

Two days later I drove back the three and half hours to Provo and called Mark again. After we chatted about our days and joked about dumb stuff and teased each other in ways that I imagine people who like each other do, I abruptly changed the subject. I told him I wanted to be his friend, but that I couldn’t let anything romantic happen between us. I jabbered for a bit and apologized profusely, but definitely not enough. I then said, “Okay, those are all my feelings. What are your feelings about my feelings?” He said that his feelings are usually just a jumble and are hard to put into words. I asked him to try. “I’m sad,” he said. 

When I got home I pulled out a copy of my book and reread the chapter I’d written about Jordan. I noticed so many similarities between what happened with Jordan and what was beginning to happen with Mark. And I was kicking myself for hurting another person. I hadn’t meant to, but I had. It had just happened. I had let it happen. I had allowed myself to open up my heart to liking someone again, and I let him like me, too. And now we were both sad. 

It’s hard to explain what happened in the week following this, but I spiraled. All the insecurities, frustrations, shame, questions, anger, longing, and sadness that I’ve felt in the past bubbled up inside of me again. I really love my life, but suddenly wishing things were different brought up all these feelings that I don’t usually feel anymore. And it crushed me. 

Mark and I at Temple Square

Mark shared with me the imagery in Exodus 17 when Moses struck a rock and it broke open and water flowed out. I felt a bit like that rock. Violently struck so that water could flow out. And what was that water for me? It was remembering what it was like to yearn for a partner. It was remembering what it was like to want to kiss someone. My goodness, it had been so long since I’d actually wanted to kiss someone. Somehow in all the years since I’d really liked someone, I’d forgotten what all of that felt like. And I realized how dismissive I’d been of Charlie when he started dating Ryan. I had forgotten what it was like to have to make that choice between following rules and building a romantic relationship. A little extra bit of compassion flowed out of me because of this crushing experience. 

I’m sharing all of this just to let people into my life a bit. I want people to see what wrestling with all this complexity is like for me. And I imagine after reading all this you might be having some reactions. Can I guess how you’re reacting so that you don’t have to write it in a comment or email it to me later? Does this sound accurate: “Ben, this is so tragic and ridiculous. Mark is so cute and so cool and he obviously likes you. Just leave BYU and date him. You deserve that.” I tried to write that in a nice way, but you might be feeling angry, or hurt, or frustrated with my choices. Okay, here’s another reaction: “Ben, you are a child of God and He loves you! Don’t let Satan distract you from staying on the covenant path. He’s got you. Stay close to Him. I’m rooting for you.” Aww! Thank you! That is super kind! 

I share these imagined reactions because I realize that my life sits precariously in the middle ground between very strongly held beliefs and that few people are pleased with my life choices. But I’m just doing my best to live my values and follow the guidance I receive from God. And although life is usually beautiful and wonderful, it’s also sometimes sad and messy. Thank you for allowing me the space to share those four adjectives with you in this post. 

I don’t envision a future in which I would make choices that would separate me from the Church or BYU. I really do love the path my life is on. But man, sometimes that path is rocky and making choices can really suck. And sometimes I wish I didn’t have to choose between the things I want. A recent episode of “Questions from the Closet” was titled, “What happens when you fall in love?” In the episode Charlie talked about the two of us giving a fireside and being asked that exact question. It threw him off and he didn’t know what to say. But I remember exactly what I said: “When you fall in love you have to make a choice.” I’d forgotten how hard that choice can be. And now that the number of same-sex romances I've had has gone from one and quarter to one and a half, I remember a little bit better. 

As I write this it’s the Saturday before Easter. Today I was reminded of a passage in Jacob: A Brief Theological Introduction by Deidre Green: “Some Christian theologians assert that believers often move too quickly from the crucifixion to the resurrection, without adequately appreciating all that can be gleaned by reflecting upon the absence and uncertainty of what lies between Good Friday and Easter Sunday: the in-between symbolized by Holy Saturday. By viewing the duration of Christ’s death, we witness and embrace loss that has not yet found resolution” (p. 24). Absence, uncertainty, and loss describe pretty well how I’ve been feeling. But as I sit in this space between two things, my own Holy Saturday, I am gleaning. And trusting in resolution. 

My church building on Easter Sunday

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

I'd Rather Not Be Single

On December 8, 2021 Tom Christofferson posted on Facebook that he was going to begin dating men while maintaining the same dating standards that heterosexual Latter-day Saint couples follow. A number of my straight friends heard this news and asked me, “Why would he date if he knew he couldn’t get married? That doesn’t make any sense.” Then on January 15, 2022 David Archuleta posted a 50 minute video on Instagram explaining the conflict he feels as an LGBT Latter-day Saint. I listened to the whole thing. One thing he said multiple times is, “I don’t want a partner so I can have sex. I want someone to share my life with. This isn’t about sex.” That really resonated with me. 

I’m not advocating for any specific relationships here. I’m really not trying to tell anyone what to do with their lives. I’m just going to explain why I want a partner and why I don’t have one. I’m often pointed to as a “single, celibate gay member of the Church” and I’d like to provide another window into what that’s like. 

In December 2013 Jordan and I started texting a lot. I wasn’t dating men or looking for a relationship with a man, we just met and clicked super well. It all just sort of happened. At the time I hadn’t come out to him and he hadn’t come out to me. In my mind this was just a friendship. One day he texted me that he was going to a friend’s cabin and would be out of service for a whole day and not to miss him too much. I told him to have a good time and then missed him too much. 

The next day my phone dinged more than a dozen times in a row. The first message was from Jordan: “Since I can’t text you while I’m here, I’m going to write out all the things I want to text you and send them when I get service.” Then I read through multiple hilarious texts and I felt a feeling inside of me that I had never felt with any of the women I had dated. I felt loved and wanted and it was awesome. Jordan was thinking about me and wishing I was with him. It felt like I was his person and I liked being his person. 

Jordan's Skype face
I told my friends about Jordan and some of them were super supportive that I liked this guy who liked me back. One friend asked me, “So what is your endgame with Jordan?” I replied, “I don’t know, but I’m so much happier with him in my life.” Even though we lived in different states we talked every day on the phone or Skype and the consistency of that relationship and the regular love I felt was really awesome. Things with Jordan did not work out and I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book if you want the details. But for a time I felt like the kind of relationship I had been longing for might actually be possible. 

Two and a half years after things with Jordan ended the desire I had to have a partner still hadn’t gone away. There was this guy I had a crush on that I really wanted to ask out. He was handsome, funny, successful, a homeowner, all the things that typically make someone attractive. So 32 year old me set up a meeting with my bishop to ask about platonically dating guys. Not dating seeking to get married, but dating for companionship. This was in Arizona so the BYU Honor Code wasn’t on either of our minds. I wrote the following in my journal about the meeting with my bishop: “His basic response was, ‘You marry who you date.’ By that he meant that I shouldn’t date because it could lead to a same-sex marriage. This was the first time a church leader hasn’t encouraged me to marry a woman in this kind of setting, but instead said very clearly that I should stay single. It hurt more than I was expecting. I guess I shouldn’t have expected him to say anything different, but it still hurt.” A few sentences later I wrote: “Is staying [in the Church] even a viable option? Yes, it is, but it super sucks sometimes.” I decided not to date and never even told this guy I had a crush on him (although if he reads this he might figure it out). 

Later I was back at BYU as a student where I knew same-sex dating was prohibited and I 100% followed that rule. If I’m anything, I’m a rule follower. I had been away from BYU for six years and had had significant things happen in the interim that had helped me mature as a person. When I was a younger, closeted BYU student I would look at couples holding hands on campus and be mad at them. Maybe hurt is a better word. I was jealous that they could pursue the relationships they wanted and I wasn’t allowed that same opportunity. Now in my 30s I would see these young couples on campus and think, I hope you don’t take for granted how lucky you are

So I couldn't marry a man and I couldn’t date a man, but I also had tried very unsuccessfully to marry a woman and I didn’t want to be alone forever so what options did I have left for companionship? I decided I would settle for just a best friend that would also function like a partner. We wouldn’t date, but we’d also do everything together and, like, buy a house together or something. How is that different from dating? I don’t know, but this is what my brain was figuring out. And then it worked! I found the guy. He just showed up in my ward one day. He was also a BYU student, seemed to have similar life goals, I thought he was cute and cool, and by some miracle he thought I was cute and cool, too! 

This is my backyard, but you get the idea
About two weeks after we met we were sitting on my porch talking. If you haven’t seen my porch, it is gorgeous. Picture white lights wrapped around a railing covered in ivy on a quiet street with mature trees all around. I remember sitting with this guy on the porch talking on a warm September night and thinking, This is the life I want. I just want us to be able to sit together every day and talk about life. Part of me also thought that maybe God was blessing me with the kind of relationship I wanted because I’d been trying so hard for so long to be good. But it didn’t last. About a week later this guy got to know me better and quickly lost interest. We stayed friends, but the partnership I was hoping for didn’t happen. I was 34. 

Now I’m 37 going on 38 and I’m still partnerless. I have a super full life that I really love and I’m genuinely happy. But the desire to have a partner has never gone away nor do I expect it to. So what is a gay Latter-day Saint to do who wants companionship in his life but who can’t marry a woman and can’t date or marry a man? Many (and I mean many) Church leaders and members have counseled me to marry a woman and just not have a sexual relationship. “Marriage is about more than sex,” they say, “so you can get married to a woman and not have sex.” I agree with David Archuleta that I’m not seeking a partnership for sex. But these same people when I say that I’d be okay with a nonsexual, but committed relationship to a man are suddenly horrified at the very thought of two men loving each other. It’s like they can’t quite understand what it means for me to be gay. 

Here’s a brief paragraph from my book that bears repeating: “In recent years I’ve started to say ‘orientation’ more than ‘sexual orienation.’ Yes, I am sexually attracted to men and not to women, but it’s about so much more than that. I’m also emotionally oriented towards men, and romantically oriented towards men, and intellectually oriented towards men, and even spiritually oriented towards men. All the parts of me that yearn for connection are directed towards men. And I don’t feel that same orientation towards women. I think I’d make a great husband, but man, it would be hard if I weren't physically, emotionally, romantically, intellectually, or spiritually attracted to my wife. Hard for me, but perhaps even harder for her if she were physically, emotionally, romantically, intellectually, and spiritually attracted to me and knew that those feelings were not reciprocated.” The quote is on page 48 (it felt presumptuous to cite myself in APA style in a blog post). 

I mean it when I say that the desire for a partner has never gone away. In the fall of 2019 I was praying and telling God about my desire to have a partner and in response I felt prompted to write a book. When I finished the first draft of the book in January 2020 I again prayed about my longing for a partner and then felt prompted to start the “Questions from the Closet” podcast. Once that was up and running I again prayed about a partner in April 2020 and felt inspired to start a diversity class at BYU. A year into that I yet again prayed for a partner and felt inspiration to plan the BYU Belong concert. When that was over I decided that if I prayed for a partner again God was just going to give me more to do. 

I know I am supposed to be single now. I know that. I know that just like I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that I have Heavenly Parents who love me. Why am I supposed to be single? I don’t super know, but my hunch is that right now I’m not meant to have a me-focused life. Not having a partner means I have so much time to give to others which is why I so freely give my time to those who ask for it. Perhaps having a partner would get in the way of the work I feel called to do to build Zion. And maybe some day the purpose of my life will shift from this big, outward focused life to one that is more about me. I don’t know. But I know I’m living my best life right now. 

Charlotte and I
So what do I do with these very natural longings I have for partnership? I try to look for the ways that God has compensated for the things I lack. For the last three years I’ve lived with Charlotte. She’s 50 years older than me and one of the most important people in my life. Every day I come home and she asks me if I’ve had dinner. More often than not I already have, but if I haven’t she whips something up for me. Then we sit and talk about our days. She’ll tell me stories of her husband and their mission in Samoa, I’ll talk about some insightful comment a student of mine made that day, she’ll tease me and I’ll tease her, then we’ll open up the scriptures and do the Come, Follow Me reading for the week. And every day I have someone to come home to. Charlotte isn’t my partner, but she’s one of my best friends. And God sent us to each other so we wouldn’t have to do this part of our lives alone. And that’s pretty cool. If God is the author of this chapter of my life, and I believe He is, then it is a sacred time filled with purpose and tailored for me. 

So if you’re confused about why Tom would start dating men, or why David is considering pursuing marriage to a man, or why I tried to find a platonic best friend, consider the times you’ve been loved by a partner. What was it like to have someone you could count on? What was it like to have someone who would be there for you? What was it like to think about tomorrow and not wonder if you were going to have someone to spend it with? What does that kind of stability feel like? From the brief times I’ve had it it feels pretty good. 

Now imagine that you were told that you couldn’t have the kind of partnership you wanted. You weren’t even allowed to try for it. What kind of mental gymnastics and rationalizations would you entertain to just have something similar to what you were yearning for? 

Remember that guy from a few paragraphs ago that lost interest in me when he got to know me better? Well, I shared this post with him to make sure it was okay to share that story and he sent me this insightful comment: “A car needs gasoline to run, but it also needs five other liquids to work (oil, transmission fluid, etc.). Just because my gas tank (or friendship) tank is full doesn’t mean that my car can run. We each have spiritual needs, romantic needs, physical needs, etc. And it really hurts when people metaphorically tell us, ‘You have a full tank of gas. That’s enough.’ Well, it isn’t. Having a person, a special one makes such a difference. A shocking difference! And it’s not about sex. It’s about having a person who consistently and genuinely cares about being there and listening to the things that don’t really matter but that matter very much.” 

I’m not lonely. I’m really not. I have a wide breadth of friendships that are super important to me. But what I’m lacking is that one, deep intimate relationship. It’s odd that life can be so full and still feel incomplete at times. I know Tom well and I love him dearly. He’s been a great mentor, friend, and support to me. And I honor his agency to take the path that feels right to him. I don’t know David much at all, but I’m sure that if I did I’d love him as much as I love Tom. Two very good men who are striving to make the right choices. And if you want to add me to that number, you have three men who are trying their best to do what is right and who are making different choices. I have not chosen to date men, but I completely understand why they have.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Man in the Nursing Home

I share this story with Fred’s permission.

This past summer a bishop contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to visit a member of his ward who lived in a nursing home. He explained that this man, who I’ll call Fred, was 70 years old, had never married, and was gay. Fred had read my book and was shocked and intrigued to learn that there were active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are also openly gay. I was thrilled he wanted to talk.

The bishop and I walked down a long hallway greeted by multiple nurses. I reminded myself that I would be used to the smell of the facility soon. We entered Fred’s room that he shared with another resident who watched TV the entire time we were there. Fred asked me if I would pull over the curtain separating the two halves of the room to give us some privacy. He then took my hand into his small, feeble hand and said he was glad I had come because he felt like he already knew me. I sat down and Fred said, “I’d like to tell you my story and then ask you a few questions.” I replied, “It would be an honor to hear your story.”

Fred laid in his bed for the entire visit because sitting up was painful for him. As he shared his story he shifted from lying on his back to lying on his side trying to get comfortable. He told me that when he was young he remembered hearing his brother use a homophobic slur. Fred knew that the word applied to him and believed that his attractions made him a bad person. He also knew that no one else could ever know he was attracted to guys. Even with this fear, as a teen he shared his feelings with his parents who were loving and kind. Later, he received his patriarchal blessing which went into great detail about his future wife and their marriage, something that never came to pass. He wondered if he had done something wrong because the blessings promised to him didn’t materialize. The pain in him was palpable as he shared his life story. I leaned forward in my chair listening intently to his story. I tried my best to just listen and be a receptacle for his pain.

Fred went on to share the shame and self-hatred he endured for years because of his orientation. He went to conversion therapy trying to change his attractions and fix whatever was broken inside of him. Life would be good, he felt, if he could figure out his orientation. He got emotional multiple times as he shared his love of God, his gratitude for the Savior, and his belief in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then he said he had one question for me: “Will I be gay in the next life?”

I sat up straight in my chair as I gathered my thoughts. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure if it would be more comforting for him to believe that he would be gay in the next life or that death would change his orientation. So I just talked about faith. I explained that I knew and understood very little about the next life, but that I trusted that God would prepare a future for me that I would love and thrive in. I then quoted Doctrine and Covenants 58:3: “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.”

Fred started to cry. I asked him where this emotion was coming from and he said, “You just quoted one of my favorite scriptures. My life has been full of tribulation, but I know that God will be merciful and kind to me.” Then he pause, his head nestled in his pillow and his eyes towards the ceiling, and said, “And I hope I’ll be gay in the next life. I don’t want this part of me to change.” I was stunned. Fred didn’t want his orientation to be changed. Fred who spent years trying to change. Fred who still hasn’t told his siblings he’s gay. Fred who experienced years of depression and anxiety rooted in his failure to be who he was told to be. Fred didn’t want his orientation to change.

PC: Jeremy Wiegand
It was Sunday so the bishop and I administered the sacrament to Fred. I knelt on the linoleum, broke a cracker in half, and read the sacrament prayer out loud. As I read the prayer and blessed the cracker I got lost in the words. I was reading them and pondering them at the same time, thinking of the conversation we had just had. Here was Fred eating a broken cracker as a witness that he would remember God. Even with a TV on across the room, I felt the sacredness of this moment. I had heard Fred testify that something he thought was bad might in fact be a gift he wanted to keep. A gift that had brought him closer to God.

This experience reminded me of a quote from the 1971 movie They Might Be Giants: “[Don Quixote] thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane… All the best minds used to think the world was flat. But what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mold might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what might be, why we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.” What if being gay is a gift and not a curse? What if Fred allowed his siblings to see this part of him and it led them to love him more? What if this thing that he had hated and loathed for years was the thing that brought him closer to God? Fred spent decades trying to change, and now his orientation was a treasured part of him.