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.