Missing the Point

This week has been a refreshing one. On Sunday night I decided to take some time away from Facebook, and really connect with my present surroundings. Today is my fifth consecutive day without Facebook, and it’s been very relieving.

While I do love keeping in touch with friends and participating in internet culture, what I am truly glad for is the escape from the constant political dribble on Facebook. It was getting overbearing. Since I still jump online from time to time, I still see it, but certainly not as often as not as obnoxiously.

What political conversations among us common citizens feel like sometimes is this:

There is plenty of zeal, and even some contention. Thank God for that, because it’s the fact that we can express that zeal and contention that make us the United States of friggin’ America. But once the reporter prods her, asking her what she means by “communist” it’s clear that she doesn’t exactly know. She dodges the question.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this recently. I’ve heard criticism about socialism, fascism, capitalism, and most of it from people who don’t even know what those terms and ideologies mean. (Just a side note, it’s impossible for Obama to be a socialist, a communist, and a fascist all at the same time. And even if he was, once again, this is the US of A, and he can be one if he wants to be.)

This discussion of different economic systems and government structures is even more relevant for me right now, because in my MSW program we’ve been studying the economic and political structures of the last 100 years. We’ve been identifying what they truly are, how they’ve been played out in history, and how no one ideology really has a monopoly on virtue, morals, or freedom. People might be surprised to know that the evolution back into a completely unregulated market (laissez-faire) at the end of the 1970s correlates with the unprecedented government spending (mostly during Reagan’s two terms) as well as increased economic uncertainty. Before this time, the US supported a government-regulated market (Keynesian), the same system that lifted the US out of the great depression and is believed to be the source of what we like to believe was the “golden era” of US economics, the 1950s. But many lay people don’t know that, and they don’t seem to realize that our nation has been a shifting and evolving nation from day 1.

All that considered, something else actually got under my skin this week as I was studying for class and keeping up with politics. Much of the focus so far in my social work courses has been on economics. We discuss the current welfare system, the way social class plays into that, and whether or not the “free” market is really free at all. We talk about the disadvantages of birth, of race, of socioeconomic status. At the root of it all, we discuss privilege, power, and oppression.

All of that is legitimate. These things need to be discussed, to be addressed, and wrongs need to be righted, even the wrongs inherent in our implicit assumptions. But there’s still something we’re missing.

One option of fixing the economic inequality is to evenly distribute the wealth. Socialism. Even communism. But even if we did, we still would have missed the point. And the point is that the real threat to the happiness of our citizens isn’t economic inequality. It’s materialism.

Inherent in every part of these economic discussions is the underlying assumption that fixing the money issues will fix all the other issues. There’s the belief that if we can manipulate the economy, we can manipulate the problems. Materialism is built into our government, our economy (which might seem like a ‘duh’ statement, but it’s not), our interactions with one another, and even more dangerously it’s built into our emotional/psychological/spiritual relationship with ourselves.

The belief that if we can just have more, then we’ll be happy, is what is truly deceiving us. Just take a look around. We are a consumer society, and as Americans we are the richest people on earth. We have more than any nation has ever had. We ARE the 1%! But that’s not enough. We need to look better, have newer clothes, go partying in Vegas once a month, vacation in the Bahamas, drive a Lamborghini, have the newest iphone/ipad/ipod… and the list goes on and on. Even the more modest of us have lists like that (albeit simpler “less worldly” lists). But the harsh fact is that the reality of us having three square meals a day puts us above the majority of humans on this planet. We HAVE it all. The question isn’t “how can we all ‘have’ fairly/equally?” It’s “how can we live a fulfilling life?”

With these thoughts in mind I turned on a documentary the other night called “The Human Experience.” It’s the experience of two brothers who go on three endeavors to understand what it is to be human. The first is living homeless on the streets of New York during the coldest week of the year. They enter the homeless community and meet the people who have been tossed aside by the system so many of us are fighting to preserve. But through their struggles, they find hope. One man told them “I’ve lost everything, but I’m still alive. I should have died so many times. I should have gotten AIDS, but I didn’t. I’m still alive, so God has something for me to do.”

The second experience is volunteering in a children’s hospital/orphanage in Peru. Most of these children have some sort of malady or deformity, but the remarkable thing to me was not any physical oddity, it was the fact that they were all smiling. There was light in their eyes. They found such joy in the smallest things. There was no worrying about “getting” or “having.” It was beautiful. What was even more beautiful was seeing how these children were changing these brothers. You could see them losing their materialism.

The final experience was traveling to Ghana, and trekking to a leper colony. They entered the country and saw the sheer poverty everywhere. But once again, there were smiles. They visited a hospital for people dying of AIDS. The mother of one of the fellow NY-ers who traveled with them had died of AIDS, and so this was difficult. There weren’t as many smiles here, but there was something palpable. One man told the camera “Every morning I thank God, because he chose to wake me up one more day. It must mean he has some reason for me to be alive.”

They sat and spoke with a woman who was dying. Her face was glum and there was sorrow in her eyes. The boy who had lost his mother to AIDS asked her “if there was one thing you could tell your children before you die, what would it be?”

She thought for a moment. “If you live God’s principles,” she said, “he will prosper you.”

They trekked into the leper colony, where extremities were falling off, skin was decaying, eyes were decomposing. These people were dying alive. They told about how they’d been rejected by their families and villages, and how much they’d lost. “But I am happy today,” one man told the filmmakers, “because you are here to listen, and because you are my brother.”

As the film concluded, I wept. These people, in all three situations, have almost nothing materially. Yet they have something that many of us in the prosperous west seem to be struggling for. How ironic that we have it all, yet we are the ones getting so caught up in our daily routine of “surviving” that we miss life all together.

For a moment, I was able to truly see that the only thing we truly own in this life is ourselves. Everything else is excess. Joy is not found in acquiring. Physically we have everything we need for joy contained within us. We must stop trying to find joy, and be joyful. We must stop seeking for connection, and connect. We must stop waiting to live, and just live.

Within me I seemed to feel the words: “This world was never for you to own.”

So if social work is only going to focus on economic equality, then it misses the point. If politics is only going to be about power and ideological war, then we’ve missed the point. If religion is only going to be about proving we’re right while others are wrong, we’ve missed the point.

The point is that we are here to connect, to unite with others, to laugh and cry and love. We are here to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those that mourn. None of this requires material goods. This is about people, and about being with them.

Because of this, I’m glad I shut down Facebook. I don’t want to live online. I want to live here, now. It’s going to take time to wean me off my materialistic mindset, but it will be worth it. To close, I want to post a quote by the Dalai Lama:

Let us live.

The Gay Marriage Debate

I’m sitting in front of the first presidential debate, and I’m irritated. I’m irritated, because Mitt Romney stood in front of me and declared that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people, especially life and liberty, freedom of religious belief, and the pursuit of happiness, but his plans are a threat to those very principles for me.

His views on religious tolerance and expression are common, especially when it comes to the debate on gay marriage. And this is where I have a problem. There is an underlying fear that the legalization of gay marriage will destroy religious liberty and the right of churches to marry who they wish. There is a fear that tax-exempt statuses will be revoked, and that the expression of religious belief in opposition to homosexuality will be crushed.

First, I would like to make the point that every law that has been passed on gay marriage includes a statement that no church can be forced to marry a same-sex couple. That has been the case every time a law has been passed. Every time! So no one is going to be forced to marry anyone. The LDS church, for example, discriminates not only against same-sex couples when it comes to temple marriages, but against anyone they deem unworthy to enter the temple. This is not a case where gays are victims. (And honestly, I have yet to meet a gay couple that even wants to be married in the LDS temple).

But there are deeper issues here. Much of the right-wing debate against same-sex marriage and social acceptance of homosexuals and their relationships are based on this claim of protecting religious freedom. The mantra of this group is the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The claim is that the battle for same-sex rights in housing, employment, social service, and yes, marriage, are threats to this amendment.

I, however, disagree. And what’s more, I believe that they are, in fact, shredding this amendment to its core.

The fact is this: I am a homosexual. I am attracted to men, not women. I want a life-long, monogamous relationship with another man. And yes, I want children.

I am not, however, atheist or non-religious. I go to church every Sunday. I am a christian. And it is my honest-to-God religious/spiritual belief that God does, in fact, support and bless same-sex relationships. I have come to this belief through much introspection, and through personal experience. In LDS terms, it is part of my testimony.

But I live in a nation where the law, which applies to homosexuals (me, not the religious right), reflects the religious views of the religious right, but not my own. Ironically enough, when it comes to a law which directly affects me, not them, their beliefs are supported, while mine are not. It would seem that their claim to the law (which once again affects my marriage, not theirs) actually oppresses my spiritual views, my religious expression. In effect, their very claim violates the first amendment.

Except for one little detail.

Let’s review the wording of the first amendment again. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

This means that congress will not make any law which specifically endorses one religion over another. Which means that technically, no religious beliefs should be involved in law making whatsoever! This brings incredible relevance to the statement made by President Obama in 2008: “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation – at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers.”

This is not a Christian nation, and the Christian belief should not have place in the laws of this nation. Ironically enough, I am a Christian, as are those who attend church with me every Sunday, yet we support same-sex rights, same-sex marriage, and even hear about it once in a while from the pulpit. So it seems that “christian” ideals are not even completely applicable to the entire christian population.

What it comes down to is that this discussion over same-sex marriage has nothing whatsoever to do with religion or religious beliefs. So my beliefs and the beliefs of the religious right are irrelevant. The question placed before the government and the American people is this: Should the government of the United States of America recognize the relationship of same-sex couples as marriage in the same way that they recognize opposite-sex couples?

This applies to insurance, legal disputes, tax returns, hospital care, and other legal issues. Not religion. Not God. That is not the debate. We are not debating whether or not God supports these relationships. And really, wouldn’t such a debate be completely irrelevant? Regardless of what we people say, it wouldn’t change God’s mind, so what does it matter if we debate it? Or if we even support it? Believe what you will. Let God believe what he will. And let the government do what is just.

So this debate is to take place in government buildings, not chapels. That’s what it comes down to.

However, as we discuss justice and what is right, we cannot under any circumstances deny the fact that there is a moral level to this debate. If we as a people claim morality as the basis for our way of living, and yes, even for our government and lawmaking, we cannot deny this part of the same-sex marriage debate.

The moral demand on this issue forces us to examine our society and define the moral foundations of the institution of marriage. People sometimes gasp at the audacity of redefining marriage, but the honest truth is that we’re not redefining marriage. We’re defining marriage for the first time, because we’ve never been very explicit about it before. We’ve actually had some odd issues with it in the past because of our avoidance of defining it.

So we must ask, is the basis of marriage a legal union between a man and a woman? Is that the moral foundation of what marriage is?

Is marriage a legal union between a man and woman of the same race? Because we’ve had issues over that before.

Or is marriage a legal union and commitment between two consenting people who vow to love and support one another? Is it about being companions and friends as well as lovers? Is it about being there for the joys as well as the sorrows? Is it about letting go of yourself and giving your time and effort to love and serve your partner instead? Is this what a marriage should be?

The last option sounds to me like what we should endorse as marriage. That seems to have the best moral foundation, and seems like it will best build up a healthy and moral society.

Some will say, yes, the last one, but the first one too. It should be all that, and a man and a woman. Fair enough, but let’s consider the moral relevance of specifically having only a man and a woman.

Why? What is the moral basis? Let’s look at possible answers to that question.

“Men and women are different, and thus affect one another and help one another grow in a way that two men or two women can’t.” Okay, this claims that the psychological and spiritual differences between men and women work on one another and make each other better. Fair enough. The problem is that there actually are very few emotional and psychological differences between men and women that are not socialized. Even within our socialized world, there is a broad spectrum between soft and sensitive men and burly aggressive men. Same to be said for loving, nurturing women and cold, aloof women.

So really, gender identity is a poor excuse for why it should only be a man and a woman.

How about this one, which gains more support:

“It’s about parenting. Children need a man and a women. No man, no strong protector. No woman, no sensitive nurturer.”

First of all, the claim that marriage is about procreation automatically rules out all couples with fertility problems, as well as all elderly couples. I would venture to say that those who are able to conceive do not only make love with the intention of creating a child. If that’s the purpose of sexuality, then sex is necessary only as often as you intend to conceive a child, and any more is excess and wrong. But that’s ridiculous. Intimacy is about creating and expressing love. There are physical and emotional (and I would claim, spiritual) changes that occur in intimacy that bind couples together. Not to mention, it just feels good (for all you hedonists out there!).

So marriage cannot just be based on whether or not a couple can conceive. But when it comes to children, we know from research that they do infinitely better when in two-parent homes. Actually, we know from research that children with two same-sex parents do better than children with heterosexual single parents. So that fails the test as well.

But what about the protector/nurturer claim? After studying various cultures, it’s become clear that women are actually only nurturing in cultures where they are expected and believed to be nurturing. Otherwise, they are no different than men. And I know plenty of mothers that would rise up like a furious bear in defense of their children.

The problem comes in attributing general characteristics to specific sexes. Men can be incredible nurturers (in fact, women like this on average) and women can be fantastic protectors and providers. Anyone that has ever seen me with a baby would be a damned fool to claim that I will not be a completely devoted, nurturing parent. In fact, I think I would be a better mother than half the girls at BYU! It’s just who I am, and I defy the claim that just because my anatomy is different that I cannot provide emotionally and spiritually for my child.

Ultimately, this claim is foolish. Children do fine regardless of which parents do what. They have needs, and honestly, much of the heterosexual community meets these emotional needs imperfectly (my job security as a future therapist!). What matters is the parents themselves, not their sexual anatomy.

The only other claim I can think of is this:

“God says homosexuality is an abomination.”

Well, not only is that a gross generalization and propagation of warped catholic traditionalism, it’s just plain wrong. The scriptures hold no definitive claim. Modern christian tradition cannot be held up as the will of God. And even for the LDS community, God has not given direct revelation on this issue. If you would like to know more of my personal belief in God’s support of same-sex relationships, read my “The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth” posts. My sincere spiritual belief is that God does support same-sex marriages and relationships as much as he supports opposite sex relationships. After years of studying the psychology of it all I’ve learned that the principles that make a relationship work are the same, regardless of orientation.

So that long discussion of moral claims on man/woman marriage comes to the conclusion that there is no moral base for the man/woman definition of marriage. It just doesn’t hold any relevance. Marriage is a union between two consenting adults based on love and commitment. It is late night talks and early morning breakfasts together. It is cuddling on the couch and fighting over the bills, but sticking through it all to make it work. It is struggling against all odds to be there for one another, to support one another, and to love one another NO MATTER WHAT! And I can tell you from personal experience that this occurs between same-sex individuals. I have felt all of these. I know this kind of love. I have been forever changed by it, and I hold a sacred reverence for this brand of love. And this love, whether between people of the opposite sex or the same sex, should be recognized by the US government in law.

I want to end with this, a verse from the New Testament, which I feel beautifully defines what love truly is:

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”

May we all find such love, and value it when we see it.

Old Thoughts

I found this old file on my computer. And by old, I mean from three months ago. I have grown a lot since then, but this really illustrates what I was going through back then.

 

I open the letter I have avoided for months. The one I have feared because of the pain it held.

I read it. The words are so old, yet they seem fresh and new on the page. I can almost hear his voice behind them. But it’s not just his voice. The ink seems to have retained his touch, his scent, his breath on my neck. My fingers feel cheap copy paper, but beneath it I feel I can almost grasp him.

The words sink in more than they did the first time. I can actually follow his logic and hear what he’s trying to tell me. The cadence of the sentences aches, but what hurts even more is that I know he is right. Here, now, months later, I know he was right. And so I mourn as though I would a death.

I didn’t realize how much love was in these words. The night I first read them I could barely comprehend them. I knew what they meant, though. I knew that once I finished the letter he would stand up and walk out the door. And then he would be gone. That’s all I knew.

But this time I can feel his love for me. It pierces through six months of aimless wandering, attempting to piece together a life that was broken. It pierces through countless attempts to fill the void he left with things of no substance or worth. It pierces through the callous that has grown, the hopelessness I have fostered, and the loss of faith. And there, it finds at my core the piece of me that still loves him. That still bleeds for him. That still looks for him in the face of every passing boy. It reaches to that core, and there it finds the tears that still flow.

You have been my best friend, my guardian angel, and the centerpiece of my heart for two long years.

He loved me. I forget that. Though it took until this parting letter for him to truly tell me how he felt. How ironically bitter-sweet.

It becomes clear as I read that he saw what I was unable, or unwilling, to see. That he was not capable of loving me as I needed to be loved. He could not, or would not, for some reason that I do not understand. But as I read his words I know them to be true. Oh, how I wish he could have loved me. You need someone who can appreciate your depths, who can give you joy and not fizzle out into embers like I do.

7/21/12

I know he loved me. And I’m grateful for that.

Shame and Vulnerability in the Realm of the Fabulous

Anyone that has been following me for a while knows how much I love the work of Brene Brown from the University of Houston. Dr. Brown is a social worker who has spent more than a decade studying really messy issues like shame, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness in an effort to really understand what breeds connection, and what destroys it.

In her third and most recent book, “Daring Greatly”, she explores the concept of vulnerability at a deeper level. But before she can really get into the trenches with vulnerability, she has to lay a groundwork with us readers about shame, what it is, how it works, and how it plays into our daily lives.

Shame, she says, is the fear of disconnection. It is the very primitive fear that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame is being rejected. It is losing your job. It is calling him, but never getting a call back. And it is everywhere in our daily lives.

She goes on, making sure that we understand that shame is different from guilt. Guilt is “I did something bad.” But shame is “I am bad.” There’s a huge difference. And while guilt can actually inspire us to improve by pointing out how our actions differ from our values, shame is destructive, and impedes progress and growth.

As she is explaining shame, she discusses how her research illustrated that men and women experience shame differently. Women, she said, deal with shame in a web. Here is a list describing shame for women straight from her book:

– Look perfect. Do perfect. Be perfect. Anything less than that is shaming.

– Being judged by other mothers

– Being exposed – the flawed parts of yourself that you want to hide from everyone are revealed

– No matter what I achieve or how far I’ve come, where I come from and what I’ve survived will always keep me from feeling like I’m good enough.

– Even though everyone knows that there’s no way to do it all, everyone still expects it. Shame is when you can’t pull off looking like it’s under control.

– Never enough at home. Never enough at work. Never enough in bed. Never enough with my parents. Shame is never enough.

– No seat at the cool table. The pretty girls are laughing.

All these implicit demands on women are extremely contradictory, Dr. Brown points out. Thus as a woman attempts to escape the web of shame in one way, she falls right into another spot, getting stuck. And the more she wrestles to get out the more she gets tangled.

Men, on the other hand, experience shame in another way. Once again, a list from her book:

– Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter – shame is failure.

– Shame is being wrong. Not doing it wrong, but being wrong.

– Shame is a sense of being defective.

– Shame happens when people think you’re soft. It’s degrading and shaming to be seen as anything but tough.

– Revealing any weakness is shaming. Basically, shame is weakness

– Showing fear is shameful. You can’t show fear. You can’t be afraid – no matter what.

– Shame is being seen as “the guy you can shove up against the lockers.”

– Our worst fear is being criticized or ridiculed – either one of these is extremely shaming.

One phrase she said that she heard all the time was for men the rule is “don’t be a pussy.” For men, shame is a box that they are trapped in, giving them room for aggression or non-emotion.

She recounts a story from a student who explained that as a child he loved to paint and draw. He was obsessed with it. One day he overheard his father and his friend talking in the kitchen. The friend pointed at the paintings on the fridge and said “So you’re raising a faggot now?” From that day, his father forbade him from taking any art classes. But it didn’t matter, because this boy was so shamed that he hadn’t drawn a thing since that day.

The trouble with shame for men is that not only is it reinforced by other men, but women are willing to beat the emotional shit out of a man that lets himself be vulnerable. What she eventually learned was that women often want a “pretended” vulnerability. They want a man to be sensitive, but only superficially. Because deep down they can’t take it if their man breaks down. They want him to be their rock.

As I read through this today I kept nodding my head. And eventually tears made their way to the surface. But as I read it, I thought, yes, I’ve experienced the “box” shame like other men do, but I also experience it as a web, just like the women. The more I read the more I thought “gay men experience both of these. We’re torn between both.”

I remember being three years old, and asking my parents for the one thing I truly wanted for my birthday: the Barbie set of Aladdin and Jasmine. I can still remember how much I wanted those two dolls. My dad isn’t a hard-ass when it comes to conforming to masculine ideals, but this still bothered him. My mom didn’t think it was a huge deal. So they compromised, and I got Aladdin, but not Jasmine.

I did, however, get birthday money, and I knew exactly what I wanted. So we went to the store, and I wanted to buy Jasmine. My dad did not like this at all. My mom finally made a strong stand, that it wasn’t a big deal, and so I got to buy Jasmine.

That was the beginning of a Barbie collection that contained a number of dolls, male and female. My dad used to joke that he was concerned, until I pulled Ken’s head off his body, and he knew I’d be fine. Since I’ve come out, he doesn’t tell that story anymore.

I tell this story to make the point that every gay man experienced this “sissy” accusation as a child. We were called “girls” or “gay” or “faggots.” We were held up to that masculine ideal, and being by nature more sensitive, expressive, artistic people we failed that ideal every time. And the final clash against that “weakness” measuring stick was coming to terms with our sexuality. We finally accepted that by our very natures, we didn’t fit.

Some of us are okay with that. Some still struggle with it. But even in the mainstream gay community I see it playing a role. Being too sensitive or emotionally vulnerable (even in a relationship) can be dangerous ground for a gay man. We are still very guarded, and still deal with shame over allowing ourselves to be somewhat more feminine. Some circles of gay look down on that, while others celebrate it. But it is still there.

Mostly I see this in the need to always be in control. We have to be cool and collected. We have to be the life of the party, charismatic and totally in control of the situation. Any weakness, any emotional crack in our porcelain shield, and we get eaten alive. We think we’ve escaped the box, but we still get trapped by it.

But that’s not the whole deal for the gay community. We play the web game too. Since embracing my sexuality I definitely have a greater drive to be absolutely beautiful. I want to look flawless. Our community is full of the drive to be perfect, in every single way. We need chiseled abs, defined pecs, and a great ass. Our hair has to be perfect, and our clothes are either Armani Exchange or nothing at all. Our apartments must be immaculate, our cars fast and sexy, and our boyfriends gorgeous. And I haven’t even talked about money. Money is the lifeblood of the gay shame game. If you have money, you can be as beautiful and perfect as you want. No money? Then don’t even talk to me.

We get stuck in the same web issues that women do.  Be sexy all the time, but don’t be a slut. Be classy and sweet, but don’t be insincere or too soft. Be assertive and in control, but don’t be a bitch. Or be a bitch, but the one that everyone wants to be with.

There is this deep and underlying drive that if we can look, act, and surround ourselves with perfection, then we will finally be good enough. We’ve come out of a world of male shame patterns that we can’t live up to, so we created our own hybrid, because at least there we can compete. It’s ironic that rather than breaking shame games all together, we just created a version we think we can master.

It’s vital to realize that the shallowness and judgment that are so characteristic of the gay community are there because that is how we are treating ourselves internally. Shame is on every street corner of Fabuopolis. And our drive for perfection has been so complete and so terribly desperate that we have created some of the most incredible art in the process.

Granted, not all of that is due to shame, and not all of the gay community is the way I have described them. But those are the overarching characteristics of shame in the gay community. Looking at it this way, it’s clear that our community needs this wholehearted work. We need to learn to be vulnerable, especially in our relationships with our wonderful boyfriends. Vulnerability scares the hell out of us, and we’ll drink or spend ourselves into the ground before we let ourselves be perceived as vulnerable, but it has to happen.

The good news is that if there is any community that is in a position to revolutionize itself, it’s the gay community. We are a group that has always been counter-culture, and constantly needing to redefine ourselves in light of all the ways we don’t fit into the rest of society. What this means is that we have the ability to redefine our relationships without anyone’s permission. Because of the “fuck you” attitude we’ve had to develop to survive, we can give our own culture’s shame demands the middle finger. In a time when gay relationships are being restructured and redefined, we can embrace vulnerability and work through shame together. Because really, whether we’re a twink or a bear, a jock or a drag queen, that experience of shame is the one thing we all share. We can look at any other LGBT individual and say “I get it, hon.”

This is not an easy thing to do. It’s not comfortable, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. But if we want something more than endless weekends half-drunk at the club or relationships that are more than just the flavor of the month, then this has to happen. We can be a cruel bunch to one another, and to ourselves, but the rainbow-colored flag gives me hope. It gives me hope because I know that we have already been through so much.

We are a people of persistence and determination. From the early years when our drag queens at Stonewall said “no more!” to the marches for equality in San Francisco, around the nation, and around the world, we are a people with a proud history of rising above. We are a resilient people. A beautiful people. And with the courage to be vulnerable, to dare greatly, we can change everything.

Commit to It

Today I did things a little differently.

I got up, showered, ironed a dress shirt, put on slacks, a tie, and borrowed a nice jacket from one of my roommates. Then I set out to take the bus to the area of Seattle that intimidates me more than any other. Belltown. The district of high-rise office buildings, men in suits, and expensive cars.

I didn’t have a job interview. I didn’t have any reason to be there. Except that I decided it was time to start dressing for the job I want, rather than the one I’ve got (which currently means sweat pants and watching South Park). Even though I’m still looking for something substantial, I decided it was time to start looking the part, surrounding myself with the right people, and getting out into the city.

I took my laptop and decided just to pick a section of town and search out a coffee shop. As soon as I stepped out of the house vulnerability kicked in, and the shame monster started rearing its head to try to shut me down. But I walked to the bus stop and stood my ground. Oddly enough, the high school across the street let out extremely early, and the bus stop was soon packed with adolescents jabbering non-stop. My anxiety kicked up a notch, and I could feel the restlessness trying to push me out of there.

But the line from V for Vendetta came to my mind, the one where Evee is having her breakdown. She collapses on the ground and V catches her and says “this may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it.”

I knew I couldn’t leave. I could not keep running from the vulnerability. So I stood there and let it wash over me. Soon enough the bus came, and we all piled in. Passengers got frustrated because of the unexpected rush of students. Even though it wasn’t as crowded as buses I’d been on in Ukraine, it still evoked the same tightness in my chest and slight claustrophobia. Once again I heard V’s voice “commit to it.” I let the emotions wash over me, choosing to feel it rather than run.

I got off downtown and began wandering, looking for a coffee shop that would bring in a businessman type of clientele. I found one not too far from the wine bar I went to last night on a date. I bought my mocha latte, booted up my computer, and went to work.

A study that I’d been working on with a professor from Utah was at the top of my list. I’d put off the study for far too long, and I was determined to get it done. It felt so satisfying to really be working again. I’ve missed being employed, and even though I wasn’t getting a paycheck, at least I was working.

It was also empowering to be in my shirt and tie. To feel like I belonged in Belltown. After a couple of hours I made a significant amount of progress and put it away. I wandered the streets for a little while more. I wanted to settle down again and do some more work, but I needed a break.

I began searching for a new coffee shop, and the one that came to mind gave me that little ball of anxiety in my stomach that I know so well. There’s a coffee shop attached to the main financial center in the city, the same coffee shop where Dan Savage and his colleagues frequent. That, in my mind, was the place where I would encounter the biggest businessmen, the big successes, but it was terrifying, and vulnerable to think of sitting down and working like I was one of them. But for that very reason, I knew I had to go there. “Commit to it,” I thought again.

I went in, bought another latte, and sat down to work. The patrons of this shop were definitely more high brow than the last one. These were the people who worked at the top. It was satisfying to once again, fit in with my manner of dress. I set to work, finished the research project that has been on my list for months, and took a deep breath of relief. I did a bit more, finished up as the shop was closing down, and set out.

I ended up at one last shop before I went home. Rather than give in to the seductive thought of home and security, I decided I needed to job search a bit. I found a Starbucks and started surfing the net for jobs. I found a few that I qualified for, but that definitely intimidated me. Working in a law firm downtown. Administrative assistant. Things I am definitely capable of, but that would push me. I felt that vulnerability again. I feel it every time I apply for a job. But I knew that if I backed down now, if I didn’t lean into the vulnerability, I would not grow. I would not be pushed to my full potential. So I applied.

I rode the bus home and pulled out Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly,” which talks intricately about vulnerability and how vitally we need it. As I read, I realized that it wasn’t just the financial district and applying to jobs that was making me feel vulnerable. It was the whole newness of the city. It was starting my MSW program this week. It was being unemployed. It was going on dates with guys that are actually incredible guys. It was realizing that while some of these guys I’m going out with are making incredible money and rubbing shoulders with the elite, I’m living in a spare room at my friends’ house, jobless and eating off of student loans.

I realized that it wasn’t only the idea that I am going nowhere right now that made me feel vulnerable. It was that opening myself up to another relationship was terrifying. I’ve been so enamored with the idea of finding love again that I didn’t realize how incredibly vulnerable it makes me feel. I fell in love once. I dove head-first into vulnerability with him. And after two years, when I was ready to dive in the rest of the way, he backed out. He left, confirming the doubts I’d had all along that I was ever enough for him, or even worth loving at all.

I’ve come a long way since the breakup in January. But that vulnerability is still extremely raw from the memory of the last time I opened up. As I read Dr. Brown’s book, I realized that the impulses to run away from these boys or to plunge blindly into infatuation with them were both attempts to ease the excruciating vulnerability I was feeling. What I really need to do is “dare greatly,” and take time with them to really let myself be seen, to sit with that vulnerability, and let them open up to me as well.

I got home from my day out, undressed, and collapsed on the bed in tears. I was emotionally exhausted and feeling what Dr. Brown calls a “vulnerability hangover.” I read further in her book, then pulled up her most recent TED talk from March of this year. I wept as I listened to her. Though I have never met her I feel an affinity for her, as if I know her. Her words were cleansing, and they gave me hope as I tread into this new and challenging stage of life.

Out of gratitude, I pulled up twitter on my phone and wrote to her “@BreneBrown I am a recent college grad, new to Seattle, and had the most vulnerable day of my life. But you inspire me. Thanks.”

Mere moments later, I got this:

“@nickjnorman New is so hard. You’re not alone in that struggle. It still feels scary to me too.”

The fact that this established and extremely demanded woman would take just a moment to read my tweet and encourage me by telling me she was there with me overwhelmed me. I wept again, thanking God for the goodness of people in this world, for the bravery of those who say “I get it. Me too.”

This move is challenging. The words of my friend Ann-Michelle came to me tonight: “Nick, that city will change you.” It really will. It will push me to my limits and drive me to succeed. But I will rise to meet the challenge. I want to be in that arena with all the big-wigs, daring greatly to make my mark on this world regardless of my age or experience. I’m done accepting the limits others place on me, and I’m done listening to that little voice of shame that says “you can’t do it.” I can, and I will.

“This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it.”

 

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth – Part 5

Time continued, and Ty and I continued dating. I continued studying and researching all I could find. I found an ebook on kindle that would prove instrumental in my process of reconciliation. Those who have heard me speak or who have talked with me one and one have heard me recommend this book over and over. It’s only available as a kindle book, and it’s called “Why Theology Can’t Save Us,” by John Gustav-Wrathall.

John was the poster boy of mormonism back in the eighties. He went to BYU on scholarship, served a mission, the works. As he dealt with his attractions to other men, though, his struggle became much more dire than mine ever did. In the end, in order to preserve him from taking his life, the spirit prompted him to leave the church. So he did.

Since dating women clearly had not worked, he spent a summer in a catholic monastery, studying the possibility of celibacy. Each and every one of the monks there told him that if he was choosing celibacy in order to run from his sexuality, it would never be strong enough to get him through the difficult times. If he did not feel divinely called to celibacy, it wasn’t going to work. John prayed to see if he felt called to celibacy. He clearly felt the answer, “No.”

So he moved back to the states, intending to date men, since that was the final option. He found out how chaotic the gay community can be, and in time determined that loving and life-long relationships simply weren’t realistic in the gay community. He consigned himself to being content with the “flavor of the week.” And then he met the man who would become his husband.

To date, the two have been together for over 20 years. But what’s fascinating was the way that, at a sunstone conference, John felt the distint prompting “alright John, now it’s time to come back.” John didn’t like that one bit. He was content where he was, with a man he loved. But the feeling didn’t give up, so he pulled out his Book of Mormon and began reading. He began attending church, and felt the spirit pull him back in more and more.

Finally, he knew he had to ask the question that he’d been avoiding for some time. Do I have to leave the man I love? When he finally gained the courage to ask, the answer came back with force: “No, you stay with this man, and you be faithful to him. Leaving him is the absolute worst thing you could do.” John was surprised at this, and didn’t believe it for a while. But after some spiritual rebuking he accepted it and began living in very uncharted territory.

It was this same kind of prompting that led him and his partner to travel to California during the summer of 2008 to get legally married. He didn’t think it was very important, since they’d already had a commitment ceremony, but he said being married, with the word “marriage,” changed everything. I’ve had dinner with John and his husband, and you can see the bond between them.

The idea that God, the same God that I believed restored the LDS church, would lead a man to stay in a same-sex relationship was astounding. I had never been able to actually give room for that in my head. In his book, John talks about a few very personal, very real spiritual experiences in which God affirms who he is, and his relationship with his husband. Reading these became a very profound thing for me, and opened up to me the beauty that God saw in my love for Ty.

John’s experiences got me thinking, and got me listening a little more. I remember one day, as I was getting ready, I felt myself stopped, like someone had spiritually grabbed my shoulders to get my attention. Then the message came “Nick, I want you to be open to the idea of marrying Ty.” And that was it. Not, “this is your answer.” But definitely a divine instruction to truly be open to both sides.

And the more I listened, the more God spoke. I remember once I was walking back to campus after lunch. It was Monday, and the previous weekend I’d been up at my parents’ house. We’d had a very tense conversation over my relationship and I had felt somewhat wounded by it. But as I walked back to campus that day, I felt prompted to call someone and let them know I appreciated them. So I did. After I hung up the phone I felt a rush of joy and euphoria. But then the shame of the weekend came rushing back with the thought “But I’m not supposed to be able to feel these kinds of things, because I’m a horrific sinner.” The spirit slammed into me like a ton of bricks, stopping those emotions cold. And the clear phrase came impacted with power: “They don’t know you. I know you. Listen to me.” God had clearly seen fit to grant me that joy, and it was his opinion that mattered.

That message continued to serve me as I spent weeks and months pondering my situation. Beginning in October of 2011, I began having a series of experiences that sent me the same message that John had received. These experiences were powerful, and they were profoundly beautiful. Because of their personal nature I have chosen not to include them in detail on this blog. But suffice it to say that the messages of these experiences were these:

1. God knows me. None of this is a surprise to him, or unexpected. He knows the feelings I had for Ty, and he knows the genuine and beautiful nature of them.

2. Love, pure love, in all its forms is given by the mercy of God. My love for Ty was a gift from him.

3. If I had, in fact, been living contrary to his will, then by eternal law I could not have grown as close to God as I had. I could not have received the joy I have. I could not have had the spirit, as I had.

4. Perhaps most importantly, I felt very strongly that God approved of my desires for sincere and long-lasting love with another man. If the relationship was built upon his principles, then it would be pleasing in his eyes.

Now, this was not a one-time experience. Over and over I asked for reconfirmation, because these were not the answers I had been told I could expect. Again and again these were reconfirmed to me. Once, I even felt the rebuke of God at my lack of faith in his answer. He had reached out and spoken to me, and I was to stop doubting the authenticity of that answer.

Perhaps most influential is the peace that has remained in an underlying current since this time of answers from God. What I feel, even now as I write these words, is calm, rest, and peace. The all-comforting assurance that all is well.

My relationship with Ty ended. That was a difficult time for me. But that relationship has stood as a beacon of hope for me, reminding me of the love that it is possible to feel. It assures me that if I loved once, I will love again. The absolute joy I felt is evidence to me of God’s hand in that relationship. And that is why I feel peace over being gay. That is why I feel peace over hoping for a husband and family for myself.  I had love once, and it was very real, and God was very present. As Christ once said, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” And I can tell you personally, the fruit is very sweet.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth – Part 4

While we dated, I continued to study, to search, and to try to understand how everything fit together. Being with Ty was so freeing, and at the same time so incredibly peaceful. Just talking about him to my friends made me smile. They all told me how I would glow when I talked about him. I truly, deeply, sincerely loved him. And while I didn’t know how that fit in the eternal scheme of things, I knew that I loved him, and that love was making me a better man.

I studied everything I could find on homosexuality that had been put out by the LDS church. I could clearly see how things had been changing in the church over time. The very tone of the messages were changing. But there weren’t any answers.

I went to the scriptures next. I found that the only scriptures in the entire LDS canon on homosexuality are six verses contained in the Bible. I read everything I could find on them, as they are pretty ambiguous. Everyone had a different take on those verses.

It was about that time that I discovered the MoHo (Mormon Homo) blog world. There were scores and scores of personal blogs written by other gay mormons, and I dove into them head first. I even began my own, the blog whose final entry leads to this blog.

In one blog that I read a young BYU student was studying the same six verses that I was looking at. He read about how the translations could be imperfect, how it could refer to a “ritual uncleanliness”, and how they could refer to pagan ritual. He noted that none of the verses seemed to reference loving and committed same-sex relationships.

He went to a religion professor at BYU who was well versed in the Greek translations of the bible, and presented him with these questions.

“Yes,” the professor said, “all those are very real possibilities for these verses. But what concerns me more is that God has not spoken directly on this issue for over 5,000 years.”

This hit me. It was true. Sure, we’d been counseled by leaders of the church. But God himself had not given us his word on the issue. If he had, there would either be real and effective way of changing one’s orientation, a system that was effectively helping people to live with their orientation, or the presence of gay people would be explained and make complete sense in an “eternal, plan of salvation” type of way. And neither of those existed. The leaders of the church had simply been shooting into the dark attempting to find a solution that worked. And nothing had.

So the church had no answers for me. The scriptures held no answers for me. In time the eternal truth of God’s relationship with his children became clear, and the verse from James began ringing in my mind:

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.”

I knew that was the only place I would find my answer.

Near the end of the summer in 2010 I met Ty’s mom. We both knew that she about our relationship. Ty had always been close to his mother, and this was definitely not something that would stay hidden from her.

I was nervous when I got to Ty’s sister’s house. I rang the doorbell, and Ty met me at the door. He led me inside, into the kitchen, and there she was. She rushed up to me, threw her arms around me, and told me how happy she was to meet me.

I was overwhelmed. It’s a wonder I didn’t weep right then and there. My relationship with Ty’s parents always paralleled this experience. They sent me Christmas cards with generous gift cards in them. They invited me to family functions when they were in town. They even once gave me a large loan without interest so that I could pay a medical bill without being sent to collections.

They were never thrilled about our relationship. They were and are very committed members of the LDS church. But Ty’s mother viewed this issue differently than most. She once told me that she didn’t ever want to look too closely at the conflict between the position of her church and her love for us. She didn’t want anything getting in the way of that love, the love she felt it was her Christian duty to give us. “I’m just going to love you, that’s all.” She also saw how Ty’s life improved when we started dating. As Christ told us, “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

And that was the truth that was really beginning to hit home. In December of 2010 I was helping clean up a large family Christmas party. My grandmother, who is one of the most pure-hearted and godly people I know, called me aside and said “Nick, you look so happy. When you got back from your mission there was a heaviness about you. But now you are so bright. And I’m so glad.”

I knew that Ty was the reason I was glowing. And if being with him was bringing so much light and joy into my life, could it really be that evil in the sight of God?

That year I went to a New Year’s party in Salt Lake. It was a MoHo party, and many of the bloggers I had interacted with online were there. I was able to interact, to share my story, and to talk about my views on these issues freely, and it was so healing, so liberating. It was there that I met my friend Rob, who would become a very dear friend and mentor during my reconciliation process. I later told him that as I left the party that night I felt free and truly happy, like I could finally breathe. I felt strong.

That next month I began seeing a new therapist. She was different than the first one I’d seen. And while we’d discussed possibly trying to change my attractions with the first, never had I examined the feelings of wanting to change, and wanted to stay with Ty. But this second therapist told me once:

“Nick, I hear you saying maybe I can make it work with a girl. Maybe I can be straight. But I see you in a relationship with a boy. These are contradictory. I want you to examine both these feelings, see where they come from. I want to know where they’re coming from.”

I’d never been asked that before. And I certainly had never thought about it myself. I took time and considered that. In time it became extremely clear that my thoughts on “maybe I can be straight” came from a desire to meet the expectations of my family, my community, and my church. My true desire was to be with a boy, and clearly I was, despite the risks to my standing in the church, in my family, and education at BYU. I realized that even when it was encouraged, I hadn’t dated many girls. But now, when I had to risk absolutely everything to do it, and it could cost me everything, I was with a boy. I was taking the risk, paying the price, for what I truly wanted. It would have been so much easier socially to date and marry a girl. But that’s not what I wanted.

I wanted Ty. I loved him. I loved walking into his room and seeing him turn from his computer screen to give me a huge smile. I would walk up and wrap my arms around him from behind and kiss his neck. And then he’d turn and give me a kiss. It was pure and utter bliss.

Even if we didn’t do anything, I just wanted to be with him. Sometimes we would just lay in bed in the dark, holding each other at the end of a long day. His arms became so familiar. He became so much more than just a guy I was dating. He was my companion, my other half, my love. In my mind we just belonged together. And that relationship with him was the absolute prime joy of my life. I lived for those moments with him.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth – Part 3

Finally having expression for these feelings was liberating. I felt like I was flying. I finally was feeling the incredible feelings of falling for someone. And finally I had a place where it was okay for me to be gay. I stopped going to church for the most part, and planned to abandon church all together in the end. But in spite of the freedom of accepting my feelings for guys, and even having a boyfriend, I was dissatisfied. After a tense conversation with Ty one night I realized that I needed God still. I hungered for a relationship with him. “If that’s what you need,” Ty told me, “then that’s what you need to do.”

So I began opening back up to God. The problem was, I’d always been told that the very relationship I was in was a horrific sin in God’s eyes. But being with Ty was one of the most incredible feelings I’d ever had. I didn’t want to have to give that up. It was about this time that God began speaking to me again. As I wrestled with the conflict of these two sides and prayed for help and answers he spoke again. And it was the message I needed more than any other: “Nicholas, I love you.” And that was it.

My parents eventually found out. When your extremely religious son begins skipping church, you know something is up. They put the pieces together and decided to act. One Sunday night I got a call from them. “We’re almost to your apartment. We brought you those multivitamins we promised you.”

I knew immediately that something was going on. Parents don’t drive an hour and a half to deliver multivitamins to their son at college. I began to panic. They picked me up and drove me to the parking lot in front of the Provo temple, turned off the ignition and turned around, and asked “is there something you want to tell us?”

I denied that there was. I wasn’t ready for them to know yet. Finally, my mom lost her patience and shouted “We think you think you’re gay!” I told her I didn’t think, it was something you just knew.

The conversation that followed was horrible. One of the major life events I wish I could erase. They had pieced together that I was dating someone, and that he was the reason why I didn’t want to try and change my feelings. That was partially true. The other part was that I had tried, and nothing had worked. And the way people reacted to this issue, to people like me, did not make me feel like they were my ally. It was Ty who was there for me. My parents were yelling at me and talking about damnation. Who did they think I would rather be with?

While that night was one of the worst memories I have, it was also a turning point. It was the first time I firmly resisted my parents. Rather than conceding to them because they were my parents, were adults, and were “always right,” I fought back. It was the beginning of my becoming my own person, having my own views, and becoming independent.

This time was chaotic, though. The world I had been raised in was finally clashing with the world I had hidden for over a decade. Despite how I felt about Ty, was our relationship wrong? Was I really heading for damnation? Would I really be cast out in the end, because of being with Ty?

Ty was very bothered with my inner turmoil. He was terrified that I would leave him, and that he would once again be rejected. I hated seeing that pain in his eyes. After one particularly difficult conversation with him I got on the freeway and drove to my parents’ house. I asked my dad for a blessing. Perhaps there, at the hands of the priesthood, I would have heaven opened to me and an answer given from God.

After the blessing I just sat there. I was dumbfounded. Never before had I ever received, witnessed, or participated in a blessing where there was absolutely no voice, no witness, no spirit from God. There was just absolute silence. God clearly wasn’t giving me the easy way out on this one.

After a couple weeks of turmoil and anxiety, I was sitting in the car with Ty one morning. He was just as distraught as I was, and he was tired of the ambiguity of it all. “You need to decide, Nick. Make a decision and stand by it, and do it now.”

I sat there for a moment, and the lessons of my mission came to mind. I paid attention to my feelings as I considered both situations. When I thought of leaving Ty, and working to do things as my folks wanted me to, I felt anxiety and fear. But when I thought of staying with Ty, and being with him, there was peace. There was safety. Despite my uncertainty in the whole issue, that was enough for me. “I’m staying with you.”

Two and a half years later, even though that relationship is over, I look at that moment and thank God that I chose what I did.

The relationship with my parents suffered for a long time. It’s only now, two years later, finally really healing. But when I lost the feeling of home with them I found it more and more with Ty. We still spent every day together. Almost all our free time was spent with each other. He became my best friend, and my deepest love.

I was surprised at how much I was beginning to love him. I had no idea that I could care about someone so deeply. There were moments when I would weep as I prayed to God, so humbled and grateful that he would bring such a wonderful boy into my life.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth – Part 2

At the end of November I drove up to my home town and went to a movie with some friends. We went to see the new Twilight movie. I remember sitting in the movie theater feeling sick to my stomach. That movie was filled with beautiful boys, and I was so attracted to them. But my horror at my own feelings was tearing me apart. That entire movie was painful for me. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car on the way home, looking out the window at the dark night. For the first time in my life I truly and sincerely wanted to die. I wanted the car to roll, crush me, and I wanted to cease to exist. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

My friend noticed, and texted me about it later. I didn’t tell her, because again, I just couldn’t. But my need for real connection was getting dire. A week or two later,  I knew I needed to tell someone. This same friend was texting me one morning as I was going to class. The pressure was building inside me, so I finally decided to tell her. I remember typing the words onto my phone and looking at them for a moment. “I think I’m gay.” There they were, in black and white, staring me in the face. The truth of what I had been experiencing, really for years, and could not stand to hide anymore. Somehow I roused the courage to hit “send”, and those words went out into the world.

She didn’t take it well. She wasn’t expecting it. And she didn’t know how to react. I battled so much shame as she asked questions she shouldn’t have had to ask, such as “do you still believe in God?” “Do you still want to go to heaven?” What she didn’t realize was that I hadn’t changed. Just her understanding of who I was. The rest of me was still as she knew me to be.

She wanted to talk on the phone the next day, but that morning I sat in a doctor’s office and learned that I had cancer. Not only that, I had testicular cancer. It doesn’t get much more personal than that. I told my friend I couldn’t handle talking to her that day, and she backed off. But that day was really the ultimate turning point.

To really understand what happened next you need to know that in my youth spirituality was very important to me, and that church participation was my life. I was a model mormon boy, and I put forth herculean effort to do what was right. Because of this, my mission was very difficult. I spent much of my mission feeling like a terrible missionary, like a failure and a disappointment to God. My mission was not the kind of experience I’d been promised by the Ensign and movies like “The Best Two Years.” I felt like a failure, and I felt cheated.

Then there were these attractions. I was trying so hard to change them, to do what was right, but it wasn’t working. Once again, I was failing, and God’s distance made me feel like I was being thrown under the bus.

And now, cancer. Testicular cancer. God was hitting me below the belt, literally. After all my sincere effort to be the man God wanted me to be, after how dearly I loved him and wanted to please him, I felt that God was showing me how absolutely worthless I truly was to him. I broke. My faith broke. I felt betrayed by God, and hated by the members of his church. I knew that to all of them I was an abomination, no matter how much I tried to do what was right.

I lost all desire to participate at church. I still went, but my heart was not in it. And eventually I started skipping parts, because there was no joy or solace in it for me. Church was painful.

Five days after the diagnosis I went in for surgery, and they removed my testicle. I went home the next day, and spent the rest of the week in bed. I watched a lot of TV and spent my sleepless nights online. I continued to talk to gay kids, especially with all the free time I had as I recovered. I created a profile on a gay social network, and began chatting with people in my area. I got invited out on dates a couple times, even invited to a party, but I never felt comfortable with the idea. Not to mention the fact that I was laid up in bed.

I remember clearly, though, the night I began talking with a boy who felt different to me. Very early on I was aware of a goodness about him, and I felt comfortable and safe talking with him. His profile said his name was Ty, but that was a pseudonym. Through my facebook stalking skills I found out his real name, which freaked him out a bit, but I told him he could trust me. He, too, was a BYU student, and interacting in the gay social world was not something that the university would be too thrilled with.

At the end of the week I drove back to Provo. I had finals to take, and needed to get back on my feet. That first night back in Provo, Ty and I planned to meet in person. I remember driving up to his place and him walking to the car. I was so incredibly nervous. I’d never met another gay person before, not that I knew, at least. Later, he told me that I talked really fast that first night. I was clearly nervous. But Ty was cute, and he was kind. In time I relaxed a bit.

He and I clicked. We got together every night that week, up until he had to go home for Christmas break. I fell hard and fast. It took him a little longer, but it happened for him as well. I remember thinking about how different it was to be with him. I had gone on a few dates with a girl earlier in the semester, and once when I was home for the weekend the bishop from my teenage years asked if this girl and I got together every night, if we couldn’t help but spend time together. I remember feeling surprised by that. No, we didn’t get together every night. And there wasn’t that drive to always be with her. But Ty was different. I wanted to spend every free moment with him. And he wanted to be with me too.

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth – Part 1

On March 13th, 2012, an article I wrote was published in an independent BYU student newspaper. In just over 1200 words I told my experience of coming to terms with my sexual orientation, and the spiritual journey that led me to gaining peace over the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between my feelings and my faith.

On March 13th I came out of the closet. Everyone now knows, and out of everyone who may have been affected by that article I believe it was me who was affected the greatest by its publication. It was terrifying, and at the same time thrillingly liberating. I was finally being completely authentic, and whether this revelation strengthened or damaged my relationship with friends and family, at least the version of me that they were accepting or rejecting was the authentic one.

1200 words, however, are few when it comes to telling a story that has forever changed a person’s life. And circumstances dictated that I exercise a certain amount of discretion in telling my story. What I wrote was true. It was sincere. But it wasn’t the complete story. In fact, it lacked one of the most crucial elements in my reconciliation experience. Without this piece, my story is incomplete.

Today, however, circumstances are different, and my personal blog has no word limit. So I feel inclined to complete the story I began in that newspaper, to give a deeper explanation of my experiences over the last three years. To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

I suppose the place to begin would be in the summer of 2008. At a time when the United States was preparing for one of the most controversial battles over same-sex marriage I was thousands of miles away, barely aware of the situation on my home turf. I was living in Kharkov, Ukraine, a new missionary trainer completely overwhelmed by my responsibilities to help my greenie acclimate to mission life. In addition to that, the inner battle I’d been fighting hit a critical moment.

I can’t remember the circumstances. All I remember is facing the living room from the hallway in our apartment and having the extremely distinct thought: “Alright, I can’t lie to myself anymore. I like guys.”

It wasn’t a tragic or horrific realization. It was simply resignation to what I knew was going on beneath it all. I could no longer lie to myself.

I was not, however, comfortable with the idea, and went to work attempting to change my attractions to guys. Over the last year of my mission I worked to change my feelings, believing that if I maintained a sufficient level of righteousness I could overcome this temptation. At one point I even took a copy of the church’s 12 step addiction recovery program out of the mission office and started working through it. Perhaps if I could complete the program these feelings would go away.

In the end it didn’t help, and I eventually abandoned the idea. Now I can see that the main problem was that I wasn’t suffering from an addiction, so an addiction recovery program wasn’t going to make a difference.

By the end of my mission, however, I believed I had overcome my attraction to other guys. I had healthy relationships with my fellow missionaries, I was not a slave to my feelings. By the time my mom and dad flew in to Ukraine to pick me up I thought I had beaten it.

I found out very quickly how wrong I was. When I got back to the states and began school again at BYU these feelings came back, stronger than ever before. That first semester, fall 2009, was an incredibly lonely semester. In addition to the difficulties of rebuilding a life post-mission, these feelings were increasing the isolation I was experiencing.

I remember feeling incredibly alone. There were days I would be so overcome by the struggles I was experiencing. I remember how horrific the idea of someone finding out about me was. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone about this. A lot of people don’t understand this. When my parents found out, they said that I should have come to them. But they, and many others, didn’t understand that there is such a negative stigma attached to homosexuality, especially in the LDS culture, that it makes it nearly impossible for a man in a position as I was then to be able to trust anyone with that information. To tell someone that you are attracted to your own sex is to place yourself in a position of shame, disgust, and brokenness. Regardless of the truth of the situation, that is the way that the LDS culture makes people like I was feel. There was NO WAY I could have told anyone. I simply could not.

I did pray a lot, however. I went to the temple often. But no matter how much I pleaded, these feelings did not change. Not in the slightest. What was worse, God felt incredibly distant. It seemed he was not even listening. As I was growing up God was not some mystical figure who was out of reach. God had always been very real for me. I knew what his voice sounded like. I knew what inspiration felt like. Especially while a missionary in Ukraine, I knew what his direction and guidance felt like. But here and now, back at BYU confronting my feelings, God was silent. Absolutely silent. I couldn’t understand it, and secretly I resented him for it.

I began talking with other gay youth online. At least there I could talk with someone who understood. I could ask questions and not feel like a complete freak. Those relationships, however, were frail, simply because they were virtual. Really, I needed someone real to talk to. I needed to connect with another human being.