Thursday, February 9, 2017

Accepting vs. Expecting


Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

Many people attribute this quote to Shakespeare, but the origin is actually unknown. The quote closely resembles a truth that is widely taught in Buddhism:

Desire is the root of all suffering.”

When we desire something, we expect a specific outcome, so the statements are pretty closely aligned.

I've been reflecting quite a bit on my level of happiness lately. There are some really great things happening in my life, and I am able to feel gratitude and accomplishment and support and direction and hope. I'm optimistic about what the future could hold for me. That said, I've come to the conclusion that I feel disappointment on a regular basis.


Since I don't like feeling this way, I am turning inward to find out what the source of my disappointment is. Do I just expect too much? Do I base my expectations on criteria that is fair and balanced? If I become more accepting of certain things, will that balance things out? Or am I just settling? Shouldn't I continue to demand that certain expectations are not only met, but exceeded at times?

Let me start from within. I readily admit that I expect way too much from myself in various ways. In the past, this level of expectation was all about covering up who I really was. Being an over-achiever was a desperate attempt to win the approval and meet the expectations of others. You can read more about that here. Presently, I'm all about being my most authentic self and going after what I really want in life. However, my approach can be detrimental to my progress (and even to my health) at times.

I'm currently working two jobs and am going to school full-time at the Utah College of Massage Therapy. It's been quite an adjustment to keep up with the demands that come along with this crazy schedule. At times, I want to collapse because of burn-out. I don't eat or sleep like I should. But hot damn if I'm not doing everything it takes to get straight A's. See the problem there? I don't take good care of myself, but I'm certainly taking care of my goals. Sounds like an imbalance, doesn't it?

Well, I want perfect attendance and a 4.0 GPA when I graduate because I feel that these two things will make me more “hirable” to potential clinics and spas. I reviewed these goals with a mentor of mine recently and she reminded me that while they are worthy and good, there might be more important goals to shoot for. She challenged me to examine other things that would make me stand out from the rest of the pack.

Being competitive is good. I've been pleased to see that I still have that fire after all these years. However, my own expectation of my performance at school has required a significant amount of sacrifice. Those closest to me have seen my constant state of stress and my insistence to run faster than I have strength. I'm often told that I'm not quite myself lately, or that I look tired (never gets old). I've been running on empty since October, but my goals...

What about my goals? And my attendance?! And my GRADES?!?!

I've taken things down a notch lately. Sure, I have attendance and grades on lock and those two things will continue to be goals. But, maybe I can accept that a B once in a while wouldn't do major damage to my overall life trajectory. Perhaps I can lower my expectations and raise my level of acceptance. Maybe I could even replace these two goals with worthier goals, such as:
  • Being less of a complainer and more of a champion.
  • Being more available to loved ones who may feel neglected since I started school.
  • Being a positive force to others in building them up instead of being an energy vampire.
  • Becoming the most authentic, loving and giving version of myself I can be.
  • Focusing less on grades and attendance and more on becoming an amazing massage therapist. After all, most of my clients won't give a damn that I got A's in all my Anatomy courses. They just want an amazing massage from someone who cares and knows what he's doing.
Managing relationships is another area where I struggle to achieve a healthy balance between accepting and expecting. Here are some examples:
  • While I share many religious beliefs with family and friends, I have expected in the past that they will see eye to eye with me. That they will mourn with me. That they will celebrate with me as I navigate my way through life, even if the path is a little different. I show up for them in many ways, so I absolutely have expected that they will do the same for me. However, I've had to accept that they aren't having the same experience I'm having and that they might not be able to grasp every aspect of being gay and Mormon. This is an example of accepting in a healthy way. Sure, I don't like being called to repentance and I can sometimes feel a chasm between people that I'm meant to be very close to. But forcing any of them to think as I think and see as I see and feel as I feel is a wasted effort. It's just not realistic. My energy is better spent elsewhere. Instead, I can accept that I have good relationships where love triumphs over any differences in beliefs, politics, or opinions.
  • When it comes to dating, I unintentionally fell pretty hard for two guys in my recent past. It just so happens that they were taken. Read more about that struggle here. I've expected (or at least hoped for) things from them that I had no business asking for. While it has been extremely heart-wrenching to let go, I am trying my best to accept what cannot be. Lowering my expectations and increasing my level of acceptance is a must. In other areas of dating, I've been amazed at how disappointed I've felt by so many guys. Some men flirt and lead me on, only to disappear, while others allow for meaningful conversations or exchanges, only to make it clear later that they have no intention of pursuing things more deeply despite achieving a palpable chemistry. This is part of dating that everyone goes through. While I can let go and accept that my love life is not on fire at the moment (who has time for love right now anyway?), I will not give up on expecting a high level of output from my future guy. After all, I love hard and give my all. I may be disappointed time and time again, but eventually, my persistence will pay off. My guy won't reciprocate out of obligation. He will take the lead just as readily as I do in showing me that he loves being with me. This is an area where I won't negotiate or settle. I'll continue to demand until I find what I'm looking for. I'm worth it, it's realistic and it's attainable. I won't settle for less!
  • Other than 3 or 4 core close friends and some family members who step up to the plate consistently, I've discovered that I put more into my friendships than I get from them. I will often be the one to call or text to check in or I'll take the initiative to make plans to spend time together. It's one of the loneliest feelings in the world to think that if I stopped making such efforts, I wouldn't hear from some of them ever again. My expectation of my friends is high because I try to be a very involved, pro-active friend (um, not counting the last few months since my social life went out the window, haha). Because I give a lot in this area, I sometimes assume that my friends will give back in equal measure. This sets me up for disappointment when I don't feel that the friendship is as important to them as it is to me. I tend to take it personally. In some ways, I want to maintain this level of expectation and hold my friends to the standard I've set. In other ways (perhaps because I've dropped the ball on several friends since school started a few months ago), I am able to lower my expectations and just trust that quality is better than quantity. Plus, I'm learning all over again that the more I love myself and can rely on myself, the less I need from other people. Still, this continues to be a tricky area for me.
In summary, I'll admit: Sometimes I expect too much from other people. If I gathered up all of the reasons, relationships, goals, and experiences from the last 5 years that have brought me disappointment, I think I could safely say that a common theme was that my expectations weren't met. On the flip side, some of my greatest victories and sources of joy over the last 5 years were simply a result of my expectations being met. We can't have everything we want, after all.

I believe in fulfillment and being content with what one has in life. There is great power in coming to accept what is and what isn't. We can more readily appreciate our expectations being met when we have first felt the sting of disappointment that comes from our expectations not being met. That said, I refuse to accept the status quo in certain areas. I'll continue to have expectations of myself and of other people so long as I can justify them and walk the walk. I'm open to lowering some of them, but not all of them. There are just some things I'm not willing to settle for at this stage of my life.

The less expectation we have, the less disappointment we'll feel. But aren't there some things in life that we should boldly and proudly demand and expect? Of ourselves and of others? As I continue to balance acceptance and expectation, I'm going to be more gentle with myself. I'm also going to assume the best about others and give them the benefit of the doubt. Part of this is accepting who someone is instead of who I expect them to be. I think this is something that we all get to take our lifetimes to learn to manage, but it's especially present on my mind lately.

Your thoughts are welcome and appreciated. ;)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Purpose of Pain



Last night was probably the worst night of my life. Well, maybe not the worst night, just the most painful. And loneliest. And most hopeless. But I promise to end this post on a positive note.

I've written before about three kinds of pain and how they are the worst kinds of pain I'm aware of:
  • Financial problems and the stress that comes from not being able to pay your bills or make a good living and provide for others.
  • Heartache from loving someone you can't have or loving someone who doesn't love you. This includes the pain that comes from losing someone you love.
  • Physical pain that comes from medical conditions or accidents.
After last night, I'm convinced that the last bullet point is the heaviest kind of pain out there. One can recover from financial ruin. The heart can heal and love again. But intense, prolonged physical pain is the absolute worst.

Why do we feel pain? What purpose does it serve? Can pain be avoided or is it a necessity as part of our experience as human beings? Allow me to share my experience from last night and wrap it up with some thoughts and musings I've had since then.

For those of you who don't know, I have gout. One is typically predisposed genetically to suffer from this "rich man's disease". My dad had it, his mother had it, two of my brothers have it, even a young nephew of mine has it. Many who aren't informed will dismiss gout as a result of a bad diet. But it's not that simple. While I have to watch what I eat and avoid certain kinds of foods, it's not just limited to diet. There are many overweight people who will never experience gout because they are not genetically predisposed to it.

Gout occurs when there is an excessive amount of uric acid in the bloodstream. Everyone has uric acid in their bloodstreams, but our kidneys help regulate these levels. My kidneys don't do a great job at that and so when an excessive amount of uric acid occurs, they start to crystallize in the joints. This is what causes the most excruciating pain I've ever known.

Typically, this flare up occurs in the joint or knuckle of the big toe, usually on my left foot. Sometimes, it's very mild and just causes me to limp for a day or two. Other times, it's debilitating and causes me to be confined to my bed or couch. The slightest movement or pressure on the toe can cause a shooting pain on top of the constant throbbing and burning that occurs during a flare up. I take a daily med to help regulate my uric acid levels, but it's not a guarantee that I'll never have a flare up again.

Just the other day, I was telling a friend that it had been several months since my last attack. I guess I forgot to knock on wood because I've been feeling some soreness in my ankle over the past few days. It continued to get worse and I identified the intense burning, redness and throbbing as gout. It just didn't crystallize in my big toe this time. The flare up decided to make a home in the exact center of my ankle making it impossible to turn my foot in any direction without wincing in pain.

My brother Neil has helped me through several of these flare ups over the years. I probably average 2-3 flare ups a year and they began when I was 24. Neil got me all situated for bedtime and I was good to go. He went upstairs to go to bed and this is when my hell began. I had noticed an ease of pain in the hours leading up to bedtime, but by the time I was in bed for even just an hour, I felt pain unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. Can you tell which ankle? Hint: It's the cankled ankle.


It was relentless, constant, unforgiving. I changed my position at least 100 times during the night in an attempt to feel the slightest ease of pain. I prayed, hour by hour, pleading with the Lord to take it away or to at least make it manageable. That ease of burden didn't come. I was drinking lots of water, had my foot elevated, ice packs and Lortab at the ready, and still...I was sentenced to 10-hour period of unimaginable pain. My heart pounded through much of this ordeal and at times, I wondered if I was going to pass out. I had Neil come downstairs once or twice to help me with this or that, but there wasn't much he could do about the pain. I probably should've just gone to the hospital. I guess I just know from past experience that the pain is intense for a bit and then it eases. I kept waiting for that pain to ease, hoping and waiting.

It's a day later and I am still in quite a bit of pain, but it's nothing like I experienced on hell night. Neil is still graciously helping me with what I need. I honestly don't know what I would've done had he not been here to assist. It made me think of others who are called to experience this level of pain and don't have someone to rely on. It made me question why God allows His children to suffer to this degree. What is to be gained? How will I become a better person for having gone through what happened last night?

I've had some time to think about it and, while I've been under the influence of painkillers, I wanted to share a thought or two about the purpose of pain:

  • Because of my religious background, my thoughts turned to the Savior's suffering in Gethsemane right away. In His darkest hour, even He wondered if He'd been forsaken. Could my experience of a sleepless night, writhing in pain, make me that much more appreciative of what Jesus suffered? Did I need some kind of reminder so that I could relate or have more gratitude?
  • I think experiencing pain sets us up to appreciate pleasure more readily. The pleasing things of life have purpose and when we can contrast pain with pleasure, we can recognize the sweet from the bitter much more readily.
  • We are more empathetic with others who are going through something painful when we experience pain. It doesn't necessarily have to be physical, but I'll tell you what: My heart goes out to anyone who struggles with chronic pain on a regular basis. These gout attacks kick my butt, but they are limited to a few times a year. I can't imagine the soul-crushing weight of experiencing this level of physical pain on a daily basis.
  • Physical pain puts other kinds of pain in perspective. For instance, my heart has been very heavy over the Christmas holiday. For the most part, I stayed home and kept things very low-key because of the sadness I've been feeling. This sadness is a matter of the heart, a classic case of unrequited love. But as low as that has made me feel, it didn't begin to compare with hell night. Once I started to feel an ease to my physical pain, I decided that I could more readily handle the emotional pain of loving someone I can't have.
  • Pain reminds us how fragile we are and how fleeting this life is. We aren't invincible. At some point, this will all end simply because our bodies (in their present form) were not made to live forever. Through muffled sobs during my loneliest of hours during this attack, I was reminded that my time here is limited. I don't feel fear, I just feel a renewed sense of hope and gratitude that I still have time to accomplish what I'd like to do. Could these physical setbacks just serve as a reminder to spend our time wisely? Then again, I know people who are very ill who have done nothing but spend their time doing good things.
  • Will I more willingly appreciate the every day ordinary-ness of life by going through hell night? I've griped to a few friends in recent weeks about the full load I've taken on as a full-time student with a full-time job. In the darkest period of my night, I began thinking how grateful I'd be to be in class or to be working as long as I didn't have to feel the pain anymore.
  • I don't believe in a God that punishes us by inflicting pain. I do, however, believe that some of the pain we experience in life is a direct result of decisions we make. So, when it comes to my hell night, I'm a little mixed. Sure, I could've eaten better and been more diligent about taking my meds. Perhaps I could've avoided this latest attack. But sometimes, despite our best efforts to be safe or preventative, isn't pain inevitable? And if pain IS inevitable, why? What do we gain from it? Why must we experience it?
  • I believe that one day, we'll know why all the pain we experience in life is necessary. Sure, there are the canned answers we've been told. And I really do believe that pain allows us to appreciate the good things in life, and pain allows us to become humble and rely on a greater power, and pain does this and that. But yeah, I don't understand why last night was necessary. Why was I forsaken for that 10-hour period? Where was the relief? What was I supposed to learn? I've got some ideas and I've presented some of them here. But I look forward to the day when it all makes more sense.
I see so many people I love going through pain. Losing a child or parent, having 4 and 5 miscarriages, struggling to feed kids and pay the mortgage, intense loneliness and feelings of rejection and isolation, not getting what one wants or needs from a lover or spouse, body image issues or other forms of self-loathing, abusive relationships, pressure to fit in and do what others expect, doing what you want to do rather than what you're expected to do, cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, and on and on. While I will never fully understand all of the reasons we are called to suffer and experience pain, I know that I am just a little more prepared to be compassionate to others by going through what I've gone through.

Last night may have been the worst night of my life, but it served a purpose. I'm grateful that in another day or two, I'll be able to walk again. And more importantly, when I see others go through something that causes them intense pain, my heart is already conditioned to respond accordingly. I will show up in ways that others may not be able to as a result of having gone through intense pain. I will be ready to help. In that way alone, my pain has helped me become more like the Savior. To me, it's a price I'm willing to pay.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Love Letter to My Someday Someone


Dear Beloved,

The other day, I was listening to Bjork and in one of my favorite songs, she sings: "I miss you, but I haven't met you yet." In response to that lyric, one might ask: "How can you miss someone you've never met?" Somehow, I understand the lyrics perfectly. That sentiment has been on my mind for a few days now.

In that spirit, I'm putting pen to paper to express some thoughts that will ultimately lead me to you. So here I am, in present day, looking ahead to a time when you will be mine and I will be yours. I reflect over a lifetime of decisions, triumphs, setbacks, circumstances, and emotions that inform my current path. Without meeting you, without knowing you, and without loving you, I turn to you now. I long for you. I wait for you. Patiently. Willingly. Lovingly.

I become excited when I play in my mind the various ways in which our worlds might collide. Will we know right away through an obvious crash of coincidence? Or will our story begin with a slow burn and ignite to wildfire over a longer period of time? Either way, I remain open and ready. I feel calm and confident that the timing of "us" will be just right.

You know, I've received untold amounts of unsolicited criticism and direction over the years about how and when I should approach my search for you. Even though I found a good chunk of this input to be trite, useless and even condescending at times, I can recognize that most of it was given in a spirit of love and concern. People just want me to be happy. Sure, I wish they would walk in my shoes before doling out the advice. "It will happen when you least expect it," they say. "Don't force it, don't try so hard." Now why didn't I think of that? Actually, I did think of that and I tried that approach.

"Nate, you can't rely on someone else to be complete. You have to be fulfilled and complete as a person before you find love." I've heard that one too many times, and yet, it's often given by people I'd label as co-dependent or unfulfilled in life. I know a lot of people who base their entire happiness on whether they have someone to love or not. Actually, I agree with the mindset that we can't rely on someone else to be happy and we can't expect our own 60% to be added to someone else's 40% to equal 100%. In general, it's well-intentional advice. But sometimes, I want to gouge my eyes out when someone invites me to give love more time. I've taken time. Too much time. I'm a complete person. I've had longer to reach my 100% than most. I'm ready for love. I'm deserving of love. There aren't any other boxes I need to check to be worthy of love. I'm ready for YOU.

I can't blame people for taking an interest. After all, my story is a little different. I mean, I didn't even begin dating until I was 36 years old. Here I am three years later, single as ever. I'm sure some have wondered why I haven't managed to couple up within this time frame. I've felt a fair amount of sadness about it myself. However, I've come to see that this three-year period wasn't wasted. It served as preparation for being able to love you more readily and more effectively.

At present, I've been in love exactly three times in my life. I was in my early twenties the first time, but I didn't allow myself to date or pursue love back then. Besides, he was straight and uninterested, but damn if I didn't become enamored with him. I'd had crushes before that time and I've had a few since, but this was something more. We became very close and spent a lot of time together. I was on a high whenever he was around. Without him loving me back, I would've done anything for him. His happiness mattered more than my own. Well, he got married and moved on with his life and we only maintain contact if I make the effort. 
 
The two other times I've been in love have been within the last three years. Both men were unavailable, and I knew this upon meeting them. They were taken, what could I do? But I suffer from a heart condition that causes me to put emotion first and rationale second.

I refer to the first man in this recent pair as my "transition guy". Getting to know him, seeing myself in him, being able to relate so deeply, developing a physical attraction to him, desiring to get to know him better, wanting him to love me. It was the first time in my life that I allowed myself to love another man without feeling like I would burn in hell as a result. It took me nearly two years to let him go and to get over the fact that we couldn't be together. You see, I think a lot of teenagers experience something similar. "Young love" they call it, but I was experiencing this phenomenon in my mid-30's. A lot of it was about my specific feelings for this guy. And, to be honest, a lot of it was that it felt so good to finally let go and be open to love. He and I remain great friends, but I will always regard him as my "transition guy" -  the man who opened my heart to the possibilities of what love could be. I was capable of giving love in several ways before meeting him, but he helped me learn that I could receive love and not apologize for it. I wasn't sure I'd ever get over how I felt about this guy. That is, until...

Another guy entered my life in a way that opened me up even more. We'll call him "Mr. Intensity". What started out as intense physical attraction grew into intense feelings of love. But, as I stated, he was in a relationship with someone else. I come across attractive men all the time and don't necessarily feel anything. I appreciate their physical beauty and move on with my day. That's how things started here. And then I got to know the son of a gun. He let me in, I let him in. We related on several topics. We enjoyed deep conversations. Not only that, he admitted to finding me attractive, too! What a new concept: Having feelings for someone who actually could return some of my feelings. I'm not saying he felt the same feelings for me, and whatever level of attraction he felt toward me certainly didn't development into anything nearly as deep as what I was feeling. But this man opened me up and made me feel beautiful, desirable, intelligent, witty, talented, and...sexy. I'd never felt so deeply for another person in my life.

Well...heartbreak followed. It was my own damn fault. I knew he wasn't available, and I allowed myself to feel some pretty intense emotions knowing that nothing would come to fruition. The one thing that gives me solace in letting him go is that, at some point, you will come along. If I was able to let go of "transition guy" and develop such intense feelings for "Mr. Intensity", I know I can let go again. My heart got broken twice. Really bad. It was my own doing. But after not allowing myself to date until I was 36, I might have done some over-correcting in my approach to friendships and romance. I will spend a lot of time repairing the damage that was done by waiting for so long to date and be open to love. Sure, I wish my "transition guy" and "Mr. Intensity" could have been in more of a position to love me and return my feelings. But they didn't do anything wrong. They actually prepared me to receive you. When your heart is broken more than once, it creates new openings where love can enter in new and unexpected ways.

So now, I turn my thoughts to you. My lover. My partner. My equal. There are things I want to express now, at present, without having the slightest notion of who you are or when we'll meet. There is power in voicing what you want and putting it out there. Perhaps I'll let you read this letter 6-12 months into our relationship. It will be powerful to look back at what I've presented here and see if it supports our journey or not. I have every belief that it will.

I will be with you because of how you treat others. We won't be perfect, but you and I will share a common concern for the downtrodden, the weary, the underdogs, the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the minority, and the marginalized. We will be united in this level of awareness because of what we experienced individually before we met and what we will continue to experience as a couple. Because we know what it's like to be labeled as "faggots", "apostates", and "menaces to society", we will actively look for ways to contribute to society in a way that is true to who we've become. Sure, you'll treat your mother and siblings and close friends well. But that's easy. What will draw me to you is the way you treat a server at a restaurant, the stranger standing in front of you at the grocery store checkout, and the driver who just cut you off in traffic. Chances are, if you treat others well, you'll treat me like I expect to be treated.

Let's talk about how I'm going to treat you for a second:

  • You'll be reminded of your worth on a regular basis.
  • You will always know that you matter more to me than anyone or anything else.
  • Gift-giving won't just be something we do on holidays, birthdays and special occasions.
  • At the end of each day, you'll come home to someone who is ready to listen.
  • As a lover, you'll know by my touch how eager I am to please you.
  • As a friend, you can totally trust me with your fears and insecurities. Vulnerability will be seen as a strength, not a weakness.
  • As a partner, I'll know when to be insistent and get my way and when to acquiesce and admit that your way is better.
  • I'll take great pride in taking you to family parties, a night out with friends and work gigs. I want to have you on my arm, letting everyone see how lucky I am to be with you.
  • I'll try to step out of my comfort zone and try new things that interest you.
  • I won't argue with you in front of other people. I'm sure we'll disagree at times, but I'll use discretion on things that concern only us.
  • When people ask me about you, my response will begin with a smile. I'll delight in talking about you.
  • You won't ever have to question my level of attraction or desire for you. I'll make sure you feel sexy.
  • Spiritually, we won't agree on everything. But there are a few things that we must be on the same page about. I'm anxious to explore those possibilities with you.

Now, one may read this list and think, "That's all sweet and good, but it's not realistic." But I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't require perfection, I'm far from it. I'm just willing to put in the work. "But Nate, you can't stay in the honeymoon phase forever." Bullshit! Yes you can, and I have every intention of maintaining this level of attraction, passion, meaning and purpose into my relationship with you. I know what it is to go without it for so long and I'm not willing to be deprived any further. You and I will be together because this level of love is the most important priority in our lives.

In reflection, I hate that I went so long without love. I have so much to give and I'm finally at a point to receive it fully. I'm not going to spend a lot of time being sad anymore, however. I can look at the experiences (and the men) from my past with appreciation, knowing that they've all prepared me for you. You will be the lucky recipient of a lifetime of love: no limitations or conditions, no longer pent up and restrained, fully accessible and unleashed. And I will require that of you because I'm worthy of it. I demand it because I'm prepared to give it. You will have to step up to the plate and put in the work with me. You and I will be together because you get that and you delight in that.

I'll close this letter with a reminder of that Bjork lyric: "I miss you, but I haven't met you yet." The possibility that exists within this statement gives me tremendous hope of what's to come. I may "miss" not having that currently, not having you currently, but that will change once you're by my side. I'll just continue preparing myself for you, for "us". And I trust that, at present, you're doing the same.

Until then, my sweet.

Love,
Nathan

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Nov 5th - Taking Back the Power



I've been thinking about November 5th for a while, wondering how I'd feel a year later. In some ways, I've been dreading its approach, as if a date on the calendar has more power than I do. Well, here it is, and while I could go on and on about how time doesn't heal all wounds, I won't. I could review the various ways in which the policy changes made by the LDS church last year affected me in so many negative ways, but I won't.


In keeping with my last blog entry where I pledged that I was no longer going to cast myself in the role of "sad, gay Mormon", I'm not interested in writing a lengthy diatribe to vent. I also don't feel a need to convince anyone to consider my point of view.

Instead of giving power to the pain I experienced a year ago, I am choosing to look ahead and focus on more important things. You know, I will continue to feel devastation about the policy changes and refuse to believe that they came by revelation from God. Also, I recently reviewed the newly revamped Mormons and Gays website and didn't really feel like I was represented at all. I already wrote about my recent experience with General Conference as well. But guess what? I'm not writing about those three topics today.

Here's what I will share:
  • I just completed the 4th week of my full-time course at the Utah College of Massage Therapy. With a little over 6 months to go, I'm loving every second of class. It feels so good to be passionate about something in the career/education realm of my life. I'm in the process of reinventing myself and rerouting my life to look the way I've always wanted it to look, and this is a big part of that. I spend every day with classmates I've already come to love and instructors who I respect and want to emulate.
  • I'm so blessed to have the mother and the triplet brother I have. They've been incredibly supportive of me in many ways over the last few months. I love you Mom and Neil.
  • My friends mean a lot to me and make my life sweeter. The constants, the reliables, the reconnected and reestablished, the newer ones who have come to play a significant role in my life, even the ones who I feel slipping away...old and new, my friends lift me up.
  • I am enjoying my 4th season with the Utah Chamber Artists and we are currently in rehearsals for our Christmas concert. The music we create and the sense of family I feel is a boon to my soul.
In closing, let me share with my LGBT friends and family who are still hurting when they look at November 5th on the calendar a year after that heartbreaking day:

I am here for you. I will listen to you. I will cry with you. I will be here for you and do everything I can to make you feel welcome and loved. But I will also have other, more exciting things to talk about. I'm not here to ignore or discount what you're feeling. I'm just choosing to focus on the good things happening in my life. 

I refuse to feel the way I felt a year ago. I will take the power back and own November 5th as a positive day. A day of change. A day of reflection. A day of growth. A day of inclusion. A day of love. A day where I remind myself that a God in Heaven loves me and would never refer to me as an "apostate". Ever.

In the most sincere tone I can use, please hear me when I say:

"Happy November 5th, you beautiful souls."

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sick of Being Sad: No Longer a Prisoner of the Past


That's it. I need to lighten up. I need to take a different approach. I need to smile a lot more.

Here's the thing:

Anyone close to me knows me to be funny, upbeat, outgoing and inclusive (at least I hope they do). But those who know me best have seen a continual grey cloud hanging over my head throughout the years. As much as I strive to be a supportive friend and family member who delights in lifting other people up, it's begun to feel like I project an undertone of melancholic sadness. I get to work on that.

To be fair, being a gay Mormon sucks in a lot of ways, especially when you are gay and you still want to be a Mormon. Sometimes, I manage it really well. Sometimes, I don't. Since starting this blog over a year ago, I've shared some heartbreaks and disappointments that include the following:

  • Growing up in the LDS church, knowing I was gay and constantly feeling like I was an evil person because of what I was taught.
  • Trying to compensate by being an overachiever who put intense pressure on myself as a teenager in an effort to hide who I really was.
  • Securing a four-year full ride scholarship and walking away from it halfway through because I couldn't cope with life.
  • Going on my mission late because I did mild stuff with another guy. Having to say goodbye to this friend was hard enough, but what followed was much worse.
  • This delay resulted in a dark period of depression that was mostly brought on my rumors and speculation about my worthiness to serve.
  • Trying to date girls and be open to marrying a woman someday, feeling like I was faking it the whole time.
  • Expressing how it feels to be a spectator instead of a participant in the church because of my sexual orientation.
  • My continual struggle with weight gain and weight loss, turning to and abusing food to cope, and the ongoing process of self-acceptance despite my weight.
  • Deciding not to date guys until I was 36 years old, and even then, being hung up on a guy I couldn't have for nearly two years of that time. I feel like a 16 year old who is just getting started.
  • Rejection in dating that comes from not being good enough, thin enough, Mormon enough, gay enough, etc.
  • Turning down more than one job offer that would've paid me six figures, all because I didn't believe at the time that I could effectively balance that and the gay Mormon thing.
  • Being absolutely devastated by the policy changes in the LDS church that came to light almost a year ago.

As I look through this list, I have no regrets by sharing what I've shared. I don't think that reviewing these items is me being negative, but this list is heartbreaking and overwhelming. As I consider what has taken place over the last twenty years, there is much to smile about, but I'm more aware of the darker stuff. Going forward, I want this list to turn into a list of accomplishing, accepting, overcoming, conquering, etc.

Anyone reading this has their own list. I'm not here to say that my list is more difficult. I'm aware of loved ones going through the loss of a spouse, a child, a job, a house or other devastating losses. Some are dealing with addictions or medical issues that I've been spared from. Others are in financial ruin or struggle to move on after the end of a relationship. The list goes on.

As I've shared my experiences that express how lonely my personal journey has been, I'm mindful of many of my friends who deal with their own debilitating loneliness, sometimes even within a marriage. It's not just the gay Mormons who feel sadness and loneliness. I totally get that.

I feel a sense of pride (the good kind) as I consider my willingness to speak up and speak out about the experiences I've had. From the beginning, my intention has been to let others in my boat know that they can be gay and still love God and have His love in return. The response I've received has mostly been positive and supportive. I think that sharing each entry has served a purpose and my intention has been to uplift, inspire and educate. When it comes to what I've shared on this blog, I feel good.

That said, I've had three experiences lately where I've been a bit of a Debbie Downer. Sometimes, I play that “gay Mormon card” in an attempt to get sympathy or even make excuses. I'll explain what I mean by sharing these three recent experiences. Each one will be followed with two things:

  1. How I chose to respond in an ineffective way.
  2. How I will choose to respond more effectively in the future if presented with a similar experience.

Experience 1: Musical number in my mom's ward
My mom recently moved from Utah to Arizona. In an attempt to be proactive and to serve, I scheduled a musical number in her Utah ward for the last Sunday she was in town. Playing piano in church is one of the things I miss the most. I thought my mom would enjoy it and feel comforted, I'd ensure that she had a family member sitting next to her on a Sunday where she was saying goodbye to dear friends, and I felt good about contributing to the meeting through music.

Just before my piano solo of “Our Savior's Love”, a woman spoke passionately about the Family Proclamation and how we must do everything possible to protect the family. She went on to say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Ok, nothing new there. But then this: “We must fight with all of our might against anything or anyone who seeks to destroy the family as outlined in this sacred document.”

I was rattled as I sat there and listened. So, am I part of that “anything or anyone” who seeks to destroy traditional families just because I'd like to get married one day and have kids? And what exactly does “fight with all of our might” consist of? Is she prepared to take up weapons against me and people like me? Am I really sitting here, ready to offer a worshipful piano solo and then made to feel like the enemy moments before I play?

I held it together and followed her talk with my piano solo. I gave it every ounce of feeling I had. I heard the words in my mind as I played each verse with varying dynamics. I felt great about how my song went and was flooded with kind messages afterward from members of my mom's ward. They specifically talked about the way I played with feeling and sensitivity. My ego loved the response, but honestly, I was just glad to have contributed to the meeting in a way where people were touched. Whether it was by the Spirit or just the beauty of the music, I felt useful. I haven't felt that way in some time.

What I did in response:
My mom was as gracious and appreciative as ever. We shared a hug and a chat in the parking lot afterward. I felt the need to bring up what the lady had said in her talk. Then, I added something like, “You know, it sure was nice for all of those people to approach me afterward and say nice things, but would they feel the same if they knew I was gay? Would they have been so kind and welcoming and appreciative if they knew I didn't attend church a lot and that I was attracted to men?”

My mom sympathized with me and I felt supported. She's an incredible listener. On my drive home, I began to think that I'd possibly ruined an otherwise lovely afternoon. That day was about my mom and how she was feeling on her last day in a ward she'd come to love. Instead, what I was feeling at the moment seemed more important.

What I will do differently in the future:
I'll try to consider the needs of others above my own. Sure, there will be times where I feel offense and might feel the need to speak up or express it. But I'd like to think that this experience taught me to consider what everyone is in need of with any given experience.

The better thing to do would've been to focus on my mom and what she was feeling that day as she was preparing to make a big life change. I know we are all capable of “making it about us” at times. But this was bad timing. The whole point of me going to my mom's ward was to comfort her on an emotional day. I might have come through in some ways, but I failed in my mission when I felt the need to get immediate justice in response to what that lady said in her talk. Next time, I'm prepared to put my needs and feelings aside and use better timing.

Experience 2: A follow-up conversation to being called to repentance
Several months ago, someone I love and look up to very much (let's refer to him as Gary) sent me an email that called me to repentance. I won't go into what the email said as I've previously written about it. But Gary's email devastated me.

What I did right early on was suggesting to Gary that we park the conversation until it could continue in person. That way, we could communicate openly, face to face and make sure that the conversation was free of any misunderstanding. I went months with a heavy heart, but I took comfort in knowing that we'd eventually get to work things out and come to a better understanding of where each of us stood.

I recently had that face to face conversation with Gary and it just added to my heartbreak. At the beginning of the conversation, I pleaded with him, “Gary, I've waited to have this conversation and I need to walk away feeling better about things.” He would probably tell you that it went great. That we met in the middle, hugged it out and came to a mutual understanding. He would admit that on some things, we just have to agree to disagree. Meanwhile, here I am, a month later, and I'm still processing some of the comments Gary made.

To paraphrase a few:

Gay Mormon? I just don't get that term at all. It's such an oxymoron.”

If you marry a man, you will be excommunicated and you are not going to the Celestial Kingdom. We already know that. The Brethren have already spoken on that.”

Gay pride parades? I don't need that lifestyle shoved in my face. If gay people are mistreated, I'm sorry, but I get mistreated too.”

I tried to respond to each comment with thoughtful reasoning and scenarios just so that Gary could better understand why I'm where I'm at with the church. Ultimately, I just felt that Gary was very uninterested in trying to consider things from my perspective. Perhaps he feels the same thing about some of my responses to his comments, but I was the defendant here, after all. I'm not the one who called him to repentance or told him that he was leading many people astray.

There were several things that were said out of love and support as well. At times, we cried, and at the end of it, we hugged it out. But I honestly sat there in disbelief and awe. Gary was not going to budge in his stance. That's fine, I didn't expect him to change his stance. But the tone that was used, the raised voice, the unwillingness to question or consider that we don't know everything. It was exhausting, for both of us. The conversation lasted at least three hours.

What I did in response:
I talked to five different friends or family members about how deeply hurt I was by my conversation with Gary. Five people, folks. Not because I'm petty, but because I was really bruised by the conversation. I chose people who I knew would side with me to some degree. That said, I don't surround myself with people who always tell me what I want to hear. They'll sock it to me if they think I'm being stupid or too sensitive.

I allowed myself to be distraught about this conversation for weeks. I let some of the past negative thoughts I've had about myself creep back into my psyche. I let what Gary thought of me and my life and my decisions matter more to me than what I feel. His opinion of me mattered more than my own opinion. I even let Gary's beliefs and opinions hold more weight than what I believe God thinks of me.

What I will do differently in the future:
As good as I feel about parking the conversation with Gary until we could have it in person, the more effective thing to do would have been to offer a polite thank you for his concern in response to his email and leave it at that. Instead, I opened myself up to get hurt even more than I initially was.

Gary's intentions were good and I recognize that he has nothing but love and concern for me and my well-being (read: eternal well-being), so I can't fault him for that. I will continue to love him and look up to him. But I will no longer place myself in situations or conversations where I get beat up or judged or condemned. I will never let someone tell me to my face that I'm not going to the Celestial Kingdom again. Ever.

As soon as I sensed that this conversation wasn't going anywhere, I should have ended it, put a smile on my face and moved on. Instead, I sat through a lengthy chat that was filled with hurtful take-aways that I can't shake off. I've cried about that conversation many times since and I regret opening myself up in that way. I honestly thought it would be a healing conversation, but it just made the wound deeper. Lesson learned.

Experience 3: General Conference blues
It happens every 6 months. As GC approaches, I have many lovely Facebook friends who express their excitement. Consider what this awesome lady wrote the day before:

I'm so excited for General Conference this weekend! It's always uplifting and gives me so much peace, hope and spiritual guidance. I'm so thankful for the guidance and direction of church leaders, most importantly a living Prophet and those called as Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ. I invite you to listen, even if you're not a member of the LDS faith. You will find personal inspiration, hope and peace within the talks that are given. Love, love, LOVE General Conference weekend!!!”

I feel joy for these friends who don't face the same kinds of conflicts I feel before and after GC. I'm glad that they feel peace and comfort. I see a number of these kinds of posts. Not only that, I see a ton of post GC messages like this one:

I loved every minute of General Conference! So many insights and personal witnesses obtained through truths spoken and examples given. I'm really looking forward to reading and reviewing some of these talks again!”

If I were a straight member of the church who dated whomever I wanted without condemnation, got married to this person and had a family with this person, and on top of that, I had a promise that I'd be with them in the hereafter, I would be just as vocal and passionate and excited about GC every single time. After all, everything that is said across the GC pulpit is in support of what I would want out of life.

But guess what? I want the exact same things this enthusiastic lady wants in life, with one detail that's different. That one detail makes her a saint and me a sinner. It makes her a disciple with righteous desires and me an apostate (according to the church handbook) with sinful tendencies that need to be overcome.

I won't take time to go over specific things that were said over the last two conferences or in the women's session last week. I'll simply say this: If you are a gay member of the LDS church who truly strives to still make the church a part of his life, GC can be an incredibly painful experience. How can one member of the church feel such a strong personal witness through the Spirit that everything that is shared is true while I feel an overwhelming amount of conflict and sorrow about the very same things?

Well, that's easy, right? I'm just less valiant, less worthy, more sinful and more susceptible to the devil. Honestly, that's what a lot of people believe. And, just like that, I'm taken back to my childhood and teenage years where I constantly felt like shit.

What I did in response:
I watched GC and I sulked. Some of it was lovely and uplifting. But, as usual, there were messages that caused my soul significant torment. Then, I went to Facebook to share the following thought: “Time to shut the world out and collect my thoughts, check my bearings and make some tough decisions. How I long for a time when conference weekend isn't so painful.”

A flood of messages from friends and family followed. Some of them were public and others were private. To be honest, it felt really good to feel of the support and love. How easy! You just express that you're sad about something by typing out your feelings and then, voila!, a flurry of comments magically appear.

The problem is that reading through many of them just made me feel even more conflicted. While some people gave me the simple solution of just not watching anymore and running away from the church as fast as I could, other people gave me the simple solution of going to church, reading my scriptures, saying my prayers and returning to the temple. Most of the comments didn't give any direction, they just expressed love.

I'm pretty good about taking it all in, keeping what's useful and then disregarding the rest. But where I failed here is that I turned to social media at a time when I was feeling incredibly low and vulnerable. I opened myself up to what everyone else thought I should do.

Don't get me wrong. If we are down about something, we can Facebook about it. In addition, I was grateful for each and every comment. Some of these comments came from men who had walked my path. I tend to appreciate those comments a little more even while others in the chain quickly dismiss their input. The fact that anyone took a second to express support of any kind was very much appreciated. I'm just suggesting that for ME, I don't need to be so public and vulnerable in a way that opens me up to everyone's opinion on what I should do.

What I will do differently in the future:
I've made a decision that I can't let GC weekend kick my butt anymore. It's just too much of a roller coaster for me. I will have trusted friends and family members watch it before I watch and I'll have them suggest specific talks. That way, I can still consume something that means a lot to me, but I can avoid the hurtful stuff.

Someday, I might come back fully to the church, or I might leave it behind completely. But it will be a decision that is made by me, with my experiences, thoughts and beliefs serving as my guide. It's gotten me this far. I'm open to what other people have to say, but I don't respond to simplistic messages. If you're telling me to read, pray, and go to church, you don't get it. I did exactly that for 36 years. If you're telling me that the leaders of the church are evil and to ignore them, I can't readily agree to that even though you've been able to move on.

Instead of going to social media, I'll just express my sorrow to a few trusted friends or family members. I will continue to post thoughtful blog posts about what it is to be gay and Mormon and I will do so in an effort to uplift and inform. But I won't express my sorrow through social media if it invites divisive comments that just end up making me feel more conflicted than I already was.

Summary:

  • I have recognized in recent years that I'm not as happy as I could be and I feel like I've taken active steps to see to my happiness, independent of what other people need or expect from me.
  • A significant part of that journey was the decision to date men when I was 36. I am now 39 and it really only feels like I've been dating for a little over a year (being hung up on that guy and all).
  • I get that I'm not the only one with sadness and trials. I consider what other people go through all of the time. But the purpose of this blog is to share my story (triumphs and failures) in a way that brings hope, light, and love to others. While my main audience is other LGBT members of the church, particularly the youth, I love the idea that what I have to share is getting through to friends and family as well.
  • I've recognized that I have said “no” to many things in life as a result of being a “sad, gay Mormon”. I've lost scholarships, job opportunities, friends and chances of finding love because I have given in far too often to this dark cloud I allow to hang over my head.
  • I don't want to be seen as a “sad, gay Mormon” anymore. By myself or by others. I frequently lead with this narrative when there are far more interesting things about me.
  • I will continue to talk about the gay Mormon experience. I will not ask for permission to be gay and be Mormon. I will not be dismissed as an oxymoron, feeling like I have to choose one or the other. You CAN be both.
  • I think I'm doing a pretty good job at navigating this tricky balance. It may not please my Mormon friends or my gay friends. Just try to accept that what worked for you may not work for me. Or, maybe it will work for me, I just need more time than you needed.
  • I will strive to be a source of unity, light, compassion, open dialogue, and most importantly, love.

If, like me, you are feeling that you tend to focus on the negative, or you have a way of making your trials the center point of your lives, accept my challenge to take control and change course as needed. You are so much more than your trials, labels, roles, successes, and failures.

You don't like the way the story of your life is being told? You don't feel like the lead character is being portrayed fairly or completely? Decide now to switch up the plot and examine new sides of your protagonist (you) in future chapters. My story had a pretty dark beginning, but man, it's starting to be a real page-turner.

I'm Nate Benincosa. I'm gay. I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Sometimes, that is tricky to manage. Sometimes, I like to share those experiences in an effort to help other people. But there is so much more to me than that. I'm excited to share that going forward.



Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Suicide Note: How I Almost Became a Statistic



This is NOT a “poor me” post. I'm not looking for sympathy and I don't want my friends and family to think I'm ending my life. I am not here to point fingers or to place blame. I do, however, want to be a little more open than usual about a topic that I have never discussed with anyone:

I have contemplated ending my life a number of times throughout the last 25 years.

News of a few suicides last week among our gay LDS youth racked my soul with grief. I continue to be disturbed, enraged, and compelled to take action as I see this number increase ever since the November 5th policy changes in the LDS church came to light. I have been hesitant to open up to anyone about my suicidal thoughts. Once people know that about you, there's a stigma attached that can be tricky to shake off. There's so much more to me than my sexuality and there's so much more to me than what I'm sharing today.

I am sharing my journey openly with the hope that others can draw strength from it. I dedicate this post to Stockton Powers and Wyatt Bateman and the others who saw no other option last week than to take their own lives. One only needs to read through their obituaries (hyper-linked here, just click on their names) to see how much they had to live for and what a gift they both were to the world.

Because this is a very long post, I split it up into three areas (color-coded for easy reference):

  1. For the LGBT teenagers out there, I'll begin by sharing my struggle to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred.
  2. For my LDS friends and family, I will provide a few thoughts and insights on how we can do away with fear and ignorance while improving attitudes and judgments towards the LGBT community.
  3. For my LGBT friends and family, I will provide some ideas on how we can “meet in the middle” a little more effectively with our Mormon friends and acquaintances who hold so valiantly to what they believe, even when it causes us extreme pain.

As usual, I will try to use an accessible, palatable approach. I will share thoughts that won't be accepted by everyone, but my intention is ALWAYS to bring people together and challenge others to look at things from another perspective.

Let's go back to high school.
This section will sound like I'm bragging, but I'm not. I just need to illustrate an important point by setting things up:

The picture above was taken when I was attending Roy High School as a 16 year old. I was elected as Sophomore Class President, won the title of Mr. Royal, earned straight A's, had the lead in the school play, and felt I could accomplish just about anything I set my mind to. But guess what? I hated myself. I'll talk about why in a second.

I would go on to become elected as a Junior Class Senator and Prom Royalty the following year, and as Royal Choir President and a Student Body Officer my senior year. I graduated in the top 5% of my class and secured full-ride scholarships to three different universities. I applied for the President's Leadership Council scholarship at USU. Out of 300+ applicants, I locked one of the prestigious 20 spots.

I tackled difficult piano accompaniments for the Royal Choir, sang and choreographed for the Chamber Choir and won Superior ratings at Vocal & Ensemble, Debate and Drama competitions. I belonged to at least 10 different clubs, planned and hosted school-wide assemblies, and won an all-expense paid trip across the United States for an essay and speech I prepared.

Here's the point: I didn't appear to be isolated, withdrawn and “at risk” to other classmates and teachers. I had every reason to be confident, self-assured, and love myself. Outwardly, I presented an image that could be admired and even envied. But I was just trying to cover up. To fake it. To trick people. Years before I ever stepped foot through the doors of Roy High, I knew I was gay. I knew I was evil. I knew I wasn't worthy. I knew that I deserved to die.

Why did I feel this way? The biggest factor, quite simply, was because of what I was taught as a child and as a teenager in the LDS church. This statement may be difficult for some to read. But it's my truth. While there was much I loved about growing up as a Mormon (and still love), the reality is that my experience looked a lot different than your experience.

From an early age, I was made to feel gross, unnatural, broken, an enemy to God, and a sinner who stood next to killers and murderers in the chain of command. I constantly had these thoughts on my mind in church, in school, and at family gatherings. It was all I could do to act the part, to never give anyone a reason to suspect what I was. I played the part so well for so long, but it took an incredible amount of effort. Anxiety, fear, depression, and self-loathing were emotions I felt every single day.

Sure, all of the accomplishments felt great. I delighted in pleasing my parents and I truly wanted to make them proud. But in all honestly, most of my achievements were just a desperate attempt to overcompensate for the badness and the evil within. Maybe Heavenly Father wouldn't hate me so much if I just did good things to make up for the secret, sinful tendencies I was cursed with.

Near the end of my senior year, I was extremely worn out from all the work of doing, accomplishing, faking, covering up. Our family went through a pretty significant challenge around this time and I let down my guard and turned to a dear friend for comfort during the summer before my freshman year at Utah State. I've written about that in past entries, so I won't share much here except to say that he and I did things that were seen as extremely grievous and sinful. It resulted in me not being able to serve a mission until I was 22. Had I done the same things with a girl, I would've received a slap on the wrist and there would not have been any kind of delay with my mission.

Those four years, from 18-22, were among the darkest of my life. I had to end things with my friend even though he was the biggest source of joy in my life at that time. In addition, I had never faced such extreme judgment and speculation from my LDS peers. I made up stories and excuses as to why I was not yet on a mission because even though I was willing to tell my priesthood leaders the truth behind closed doors, I couldn't be as transparent to friends and family.

Before I turned 18, I had fantasized about how nice it would be to not have to live anymore, to not have to keep up the production. But during this four-year period, these feelings progressed to something much darker. I began to think about how I would end it. Could I find a gun? Did I dare to hang myself? Would I just sit in an idle car running in the garage? If I drowned myself, could I make it look like an accident? Would I get someone to help me? To keep it a secret? No, I had to do it alone or else they'd try to stop me.

I wrote a suicide note that I intended to leave to my brother Neil. I don't have a copy of it anymore, but the main message was that I couldn't feel joy or peace about either decision. The decision to be lonely, celibate and faithful for the rest of my entire life seemed too overwhelming. I made it to age 36 before I waved my white flag, by the way. The other alternative was to be authentic to myself, to come out, to just be gay and embrace that part of myself. Even though I have arrived at that place now, there was simply no way I could have felt peace with that decision all those years ago.

Neither option sounded worthwhile. Both decisions would cause people that I loved a great deal of pain. As I've discussed in past entries, my whole purpose was to please others and to come through for them. Forget what I needed or wanted, I was motivated to meet the expectations many others had of me.

Clearly, I never went through with it, and I never presented that suicide note to my brother, but I thought about killing myself all the time. I remember when Brother Kendrick, the principal of the seminary program, asked me to come up and bear my testimony at my high school seminary graduation. There I was, in front of most of my graduating class at the old Ogden tabernacle, sharing what I “knew” to be true. I did what I had to do, I said what I had to say. It was all about survival mode. In contrast, I remember the relief I felt when I played a song I wrote at my main high school graduation later that week. I sat at the piano and sang an ode I wrote to my graduating class, backed by the Royal Choir. My entire class gave my song a standing ovation and I remember thinking, “Whew, I've got 'em fooled.” I just ended my high school career on a good note. What a relief. That struggle, that production, that exhaustion was coming to an end.

I went to USU a few months later and as I met the other members of the President's Leadership Council, I realized that I was surrounded by other over-achievers. They were such amazing people who could match me and even top my list of accomplishments. They just weren't carrying around a secret like I was. I had just ended things with my summer boyfriend and felt a tremendous sense of guilt over that. What should have been beautiful and regarded as my first shot at love became tainted and something I was taught to feel shame for. I would later pledge to FIVE different priesthood leaders about how sorry I was that I had made such grievous mistakes with that boy.

None of the other members of the Council knew what had just happened over that summer, they just assumed I was a good Mormon boy. For the most part, I was. I just felt a scarlet “G” on my chest all the time. Of course, the other members of this Council weren't perfect. I'm still lucky enough to be in touch with a few of them and it's been eye-opening to see that each of them has had their own struggles. But as a freshman at USU, I felt so lost and hopeless. I'd wander around campus not wanting to be there. All of the other guys on the Council put in their mission papers and got their calls and everyone was just kind of wondering about my mission call. I got so worked up about it that I left USU earlier than everyone else that year.

We had a Council meeting halfway through the school year where our director did a workshop on tolerance. He started the meeting with an experiment by saying, “Someone in this room is gay.” I remember how everyone looked around with wide eyes and how quiet and tense it felt in that room. I felt that my facial expression and physical reaction would give me away. So what did I do? Covered my ass with some comedy. My roommate also happened to be a member of this council and I shouted across the room in a playful singing tone, “Roomie!” Everyone laughed and it became a running joke. Even now, this roommate and I greet each other that way. Our director didn't really know anyone was gay, he just wanted to see how we'd all react. I remember how ashamed I felt that I was the gay one in the room and that I felt I needed to put out that fire stat. To everyone else on the Council, it's a funny memory. To me, it was a painful moment because it reminds me how scared I was and how I wasn't allowed to even consider being gay at that time. I was 19 and could not live my life in a way that would make me or anyone else happy.

I finally got to put in my mission papers at the age of 21 after getting approval from the First Presidency and then I flew to the UK when I was 22. I'd always had a desire to serve a mission, but I'll admit, having to get authorization from that level of leadership in the church just made me feel awful. I had to endure several counseling sessions with LDS Family Services and countless evaluations and meetings with bishops and stake presidents. Meanwhile, all of my friends had served their missions and returned home to move on with their lives. I could not have felt more alone and wounded by those years of preparing to be “good enough” to serve a mission.

The over-achiever complex continued during my LDS mission to England and Wales. To this day, I loved the experience and I am still in touch with several people who have become lifelong friends. But I conducted myself in such a way that would not allow any of my peers to suspect that I was gay. I served as a Zone Leader for 6 months, the Financial Secretary of the mission for 6 months, three times as a District Leader and three times as a Trainer. I can't say that I aspired to these positions, but I was definitely relieved when they came because it added to my “narrative”. In addition, I believed that my willingness to work hard in these capacities would cure me of my base, evil tendencies after my mission was completed. After all, I'd had a bishop and stake president who assured me of this.

I've never shared this with either mission president I had, but one of the most heartbreaking memories I have from my mission is that during my time as an office Elder, President Taggart and his wife were on their way home and President Whitehead and his wife were on their way in. What a great opportunity to be in the mission office during this transition. Well, I knew that my missionary file had a “mark”, and I had to do something about it.

There was paperwork in my file from LDS Family Services. As I mentioned above, I had to be evaluated by trained therapists to make sure that I was fit and safe to serve a mission, despite being a homosexual. President Taggart knew about me and we actually had some wonderful conversations about it. He was loving and supportive. But I always wondered what he really thought of me. Because I know him to be a compassionate, loving person, I assumed the best. However, there was no way that I was going to let my new, incoming mission president see that paperwork. It was too damning and I didn't want that “mark” to affect how he saw me. I just wanted to be Elder Benincosa, not “the gay one that we need to keep an eye on”.

I remember how much relief I felt when I took the key to the filing cabinet from my companion's desk, accessed my missionary file, pulled the gay papers from it and shredded the damning evidence. It made me feel so free and relieved. In the years that followed my return home, I regularly took measures to try to “shred the evidence”. I was really good at it, too. Sure, there were some people who probably knew or did the math, but I spent my twenties living in fear of being found out. That the terrible person I was would be revealed and that the lynch mob would come find me with their shouts and pitchforks.

Remember that closing line from “Phantom of the Opera”? Christine runs off with Raoul and the Phantom is miserably sad. The music box starts to play and he sings the last line: “Masquerade, paper faces on parade. Hide your face so the world will never find you.” I've seen the show a few times, but that part gets me every time because of my own experiences. My secret was just as ghastly as the Phantom's hideous face. I crafted an effective mask over the years that shielded me from the disgust and disdain of others.

I hated feeling that way. What if I actually managed to enjoy the admiration I secured and inspired others to do the same? What if I had fully embraced every part of who I was and had others in my life who did the same? How differently would my adult life have played out as a result of not growing up in the LDS church? I think about it all the time. By the way, I'm about 85% sure that a “mark” continues to exist on my church membership record. This mark will prevent me from ever having a calling to serve with the youth because apparently, if you're gay, you're also a pedophile.

I don't blame anyone but me. My membership in the LDS church has not been bad news completely. I have written many times on this blog of my love of the church and how I still value my membership in it. I learned a lot, I developed a love of the Lord and even now, I have a faith in Him that is sure and constant. No one forced me to be active in the church. No one forced me to make the decision to not date guys until I was 36 years old. No one forced me to serve a mission, to earn the grades, to become obsessed with securing the most votes, to put so much pressure on myself. I did it all. My choices. But these choices were heavily influenced time and time again by what others needed or expected from me. These choices were deeply rooted by what church leaders taught me, by what society demanded of me, and by what I believed God required of me.

Suicide is similar in a way. No one but Stockton himself made the decision to take his own life and no one but Wyatt made the decision to take his own life. It's impossible to place all of the blame on another person, to place all of the blame on another group of people, or in these two cases, to place all of the blame on the LDS church. HOWEVER, we get to have conversations about what is leading our gay and lesbian youngsters in this church to take their own lives.

The blame game doesn't accomplish much. I hold the LDS church somewhat responsible in my own experience, but I don't blame the church completely. To me, there's a difference. We don't need to be defensive as a church and we don't need to pretend that there isn't a problem. It's okay to acknowledge that the church is experiencing a suicide crisis. It's not an attack, it's just a true statement backed by some pretty damning statistics. I'll get to this in the next section.

For now, to my fellow LGBT brothers and sisters in the LDS church, regardless of age: I love you. I pray for you. I understand you. I stand with you. If you are currently feeling some of the same things I experienced, please reach out and get the help you need. I am relieved that things aren't as forbidden as they were when I was a teenager. But let's not pretend that it isn't still extremely unsafe for young people to come out, let alone to come out in the LDS church. Please read some of my other entries to see how I was able to get to a better, healthier place. This entry is already long enough as it is, but I hope that some of my previous entries will bring you hope, options, understanding, reassurance, and most importantly, a reminder that you are loved.

I will end this section by saying that the struggle continues. It wasn't just during that four-year stretch that I felt suicidal. I remember feeling at risk upon my return from my mission, upon aging out of the young single adult program in the church, and upon coming to terms with how miserable I was two years ago. The past three weeks have also been especially dark for me, only to end with news of more LGBT suicides. I had a breakthrough this weekend that seems to be helping me climb back out. I suspect that the suicidal feelings I've experienced at various times will continue to resurface in the future as well.

Sure, there are things I can do. Steps that I can take. Resources that I can utilize. A support system that I can lean on when needed. But consider this: I will always be affected by the damaging messages I was bombarded with as a young, gay member of the church. I will need to monitor how I'm really doing on a consistent basis.

I'll confess that the first half of 2016 has been another especially dark season for me. But I'm not as scared as I used to be. I love myself and I finally feel worthy of love from God and from others as well. I'm no longer putting so much energy into disguising who I am. I don't view being gay as sinful or wrong. I am grateful to be gay and to serve as a shining light in a new way. I may no longer be that 18 year old go-getter-extrovert who could accomplish anything he set his mind to, but I am more loving, more accepting, and most importantly, more Christ-like than ever before (or at least trying to be).

I have expressed so many ideas to my LDS and LGBT friends and family over the past year that I will try to keep these next two sections down to a few thoughts. But if you've made it this far, may I suggest that you check out some of my past entries on this blog?

A Few Thoughts For My LDS Brothers and Sisters
  • We often take this approach: The church is perfect but the people aren't. I don't agree with this statement. I believe that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ are perfect. The church does a lot of good, but it is far from perfect. If we truly subscribe to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as taught within the LDS church, we also accept the teaching that Christ leads this church through imperfect people. The church is made up of its leadership and its members. The church IS people. Because people are imperfect, the church is imperfect. It's okay to say that. It doesn't mean anyone is trying to take anything away from you. When gay members of the church are given this adage as an explanation for some of the awful things that have been said, it is of little comfort.
  • Gay people are not having the same experience that straight people are having in the church. To me, it continues to be a spectator sport for the gays while their straight counterparts are given full participation rights. “But Nate, didn't you read the message from church leadership about how they love the gays?” Yes, I have, but it's a pretty empty statement: The church has repeatedly stated that those who feel same-sex attraction and yet choose to live the commandments of God can live fulfilling lives as worthy members of the church. Well, what this really means is “If a gay man chooses to be celibate and lonely or to marry a woman even though that would bring him intense loneliness, he can be a worthy member of the church and live a fulfilling life.” Really? Those are my options? So, my straight friends get to date and marry who they want while remaining worthy, but dating who I want makes me unworthy. Put simply, I just think active LDS members of the church truly need to consider the options that are presented to LGBT members. It's pretty bleak. I made it to 36, would you have made it longer than me? If so, more power to you. Yes, there are some who are doing well in mixed-orientation marriages and I wish them nothing but happiness. But I have too many friends who tried that to the best of their abilities only to have it fall apart.
  • While the church has attempted to explain the reason for the November 5th policy changes, LGBT members of the church are still devastated, scratching their heads. The church has not done much to comfort the LGBT community about these changes. Instead, the approach seems to be unapologetic. After all, who are we to change God's laws? When an apostle states that it was direct revelation from God to refer to gays as “apostates” in the church handbook, it's just a hard pill to swallow. When another apostle states “There are no homosexual members in this church,” it just makes LGBT members feel that much more marginalized. We can sustain our leaders and heed their counsel, but if something doesn't feel right, we can ask questions. We can have conversations. We can speak up without attacking. We can comfort our LGBT members without making them feel like we are choosing the church over them. But statements like “doubt your doubts” are of little to no value to LGBT members who are on the brink of suicide.
  • The church's official stance, according to mormonsandgays.org: The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. If you were a gay member of the church, would this be of any comfort to you? It is rare that I personally feel love and understanding from church leadership, I have to be honest. If your research about the gay Mormon experience is limited to a review of this website, it doesn't tell the full story. The website does not seek input of gay couples who are making the church a part of their lives. It features only those who are in a mixed-orientation marriage or who have chosen to remain celibate, single, and lonely. The website is a step in the right direction, but I'm Mormon and I'm gay and I don't feel that this website represents me at all. At some point, members of the church have got to be willing to learn about the real experiences that LGBT members of the church are having. The whole notion of “It's okay that you're gay, as long as you don't act on it” is damaging and dangerous. When I started coming out to my closest friends after my mission, I reassured them that, at all costs, I would NOT act on it. Some friends and family needed this reassurance while others assured me that they'd love me no matter what path I chose.
  • To the LGBT community, talk is cheap. When they see members of the church offering lip service or hollow exclamations of sadness, and then those same church members continue to perpetuate harmful messages that result in self-loathing and self-hate among our LGBT members, it's empty. Taking action does not mean that the gay community is asking you to abandon your beliefs. Sometimes, the action needed is just a willingness to sit down and have a conversation with LGBT members about what their experience is really like. Other suggestions for action: If your gospel doctrine teacher says something hateful in his lesson, speak up. If you see a gay deacon passing you the sacrament, accept it gladly without condemning him. If you want to know if your bishop or high council is doing anything to deal with the increase in LGBT suicides in your area, ask them. So many ways to get involved and take action that is not antagonistic. Contact me directly if you'd like more ideas.
  • One source of anger and pain for the LGBT community is that the LDS church has attempted to tell non-members how to live their lives. If you support traditional marriage, that is your right. But when you support a religious organization of any kind that seeks to stop non-members from enjoying basic civil rights, it's at least worth a conversation. It doesn't mean you have to support gay marriage. But at least have an awareness of how your religious views can block others from pursuing a life of liberty and happiness and how many would see that as bigoted behavior. One of the most disheartening things I see is when the members of the church justify their homophobia or discrimination of others in the name of religious freedom.
  • I'm very sympathetic to what African-Americans in this country go through. I have done my homework when it comes to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. I believe that things like Black History Month and the BET tv station are good things although others would respond with “Do you know how much black people would freak out if we had White History Month?!" Statements like that disgust me. Such individuals who makes these kinds of statements are simply unwilling to admit that Black History was not taught in schools as it should've been and that every other channel on tv is a White channel. A careful study of how black men and women are treated in the workplace, in the educational system, and by law enforcement compared to how their white counterparts are treated is staggering. I can't believe some of the racist or ignorant comments I've heard on these topics. So when I see someone plead “ALL lives matter”, I roll my eyes. I mean, it's true. All lives DO matter. But the #AllLivesMatter movement is insensitive. It just takes away from the painful, real experiences our African-American brothers and sisters have had to endure in the past and will continue to endure. I could go on, but there is an interesting comparison happening among LGBT people in the LDS church. Some members find it necessary to defend the church and plead that suicide isn't just limited to the LGBT community and that the church is not responsible. They go a step further sometimes and state that if gay people are going to “live that lifestyle”, they should just build their own church and leave this church behind. I have addressed these kinds of attitudes in past entries. Put simply, it's okay for active, devoted members of the church to admit that we have a really big problem with the increase in LGBT suicides as of late. One can still have a testimony, serve in a calling, attend the temple, and take the sacrament while having an awareness that something needs to change. My attempt is never to get a member of the church to leave the church. Who am I to take away from the peace and assurance that living by LDS standards brings to others? But, at the same time, we can't be in denial. We can't just close our eyes and plug our ears.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again. Words like “lifestyle” and “agenda” are just fear-based hate speak. The gay people I associate with want a lifestyle that looks remarkably like your lifestyle. The agenda that I see gay people pushing is simple: Equality. If you have something against gay people, look within and try to determine if what you're feeling is fear-based or just borne out of ignorance. If you feel that the LGBT community is aggressive and scary, please be willing to do some research to better understand how the church first hurt them. Most of the things I've seen and heard from the LGBT community regarding the church is reactionary. It's in response to something the church did or said.
  • LDS people can't assume that all gay people are miserable and devoid of the Spirit. The gay people I know are among some of the happiest I've ever met. Their relationships are solid and rewarding. “Yeah, but Nate, that happiness won't last. We can't give up what we really want for what we want right now.” I don't buy that. I think that I've experienced untold amounts of sadness, despair, and depression over the years. It has only been since I stopped agreeing to a life of celibacy and loneliness that I've begun to reclaim hope and happiness. And guess what? I don't feel a complete absence of the Spirit in my life. I continue to feel God's love for me.
  • I can readily see why any straight, married couple in the church wants to attend church, go to the temple and serve. What is promised to such a couple is simply amazing. There is nothing in the church that is taught over the pulpit that is in conflict with a temple-married couple's union. On the other hand, I've had friends and family say to me “Nate, you just have to make the same choices I've made and you can have every blessing I have.” This simply isn't true. I'd encourage members of the church to truly consider that LGBT members aren't just lacking in faith. I've had faith in spades, I've prayed the gay away for years. And I'm still in the same situation I was in 20 years ago. Maybe it's not the Lord's will for me to be “cured” of my homosexuality. It's actually quite beautiful to consider how the LGBT community fits into God's plan. After all, the LGBT people I have in my life are some of the loveliest, kindest, warmest and most positive people I know.
  • Church leadership has presented many teachings that have later been updated or corrected. For instance, contraception of any kind used to be regarded as a “gross wickedness”, African-Americans used to be dismissed as the seed of Cain and regarded as an inferior race, and sexual orientation was something that was chosen. Since then, the Brethren have had to apologize and acknowledge that they were working with a limited knowledge. I'm not suggesting that the Brethren are going to suddenly announce that gay marriage is okay, but sometimes as members of the church, we become so fiercely defensive of church leaders, that we can't admit that, at times, they got it wrong. It doesn't mean they're bad people, it doesn't mean they're not inspired. It just means that they are human and they make mistakes too. It also means that, at times, personal beliefs, prejudices, biases and traditions were presented as doctrine that came directly from God. Most LDS members I know accept every word that comes out of the mouths from the First Presidency and the Twelve as solid truth without questioning it. I don't have that luxury because sometimes, what is presented puts me at complete odds with God. Sure, we all have General Conference talks that “kick our butts”. I need to keep the Sabbath day more holy, I need to do better about paying a full tithing, I should read my scriptures more consistently. Compare those kinds of take-aways to mine: Who I am and what I want in life makes me an enemy to God. I challenge each of you to listen to the October conference with an LDS-LGBT set of ears and just try to imagine what that experience actually feels like.
  • I could go on. I'm just asking my active LDS brothers and sisters to approach this topic with sensitivity and an open mind. I don't think my sister will mind me sharing this: She has always been supportive of me. She is one of the most loving people I know. We had a conversation earlier today that meant the world to me. She was asking a lot of questions in an effort to understand me better. There were several moments where tears filled her eyes and she just apologized for the things I've had to go through as a gay member of the church who is still trying to stay involved. She was truly open and teachable and willing to mourn with me and just as willing to get excited with me as we talked about what my life could be. That is what LGBT members of the church need, someone like my sister. Not only that, talking with her helped my attitude change a little. I learned a lot from her perspective as an active member of the church, which leads us to...

A Few Thoughts For My LGBT Brothers and Sisters
  • Could it be that the way we choose to communicate with the LDS church could also use some work? Can our approach be more effective as well?
  • I have LDS family and friends who are some of the best people I know. They are kind, compassionate, willing to have conversations, open to diversity. And yet, they've been dismissed as bigots and hate-mongers. I get it. If these faithful members of the LDS church are simply trying their hardest to live by the doctrines and teachings taught to them, and on top of that, they exercise their faith in a way that is hurtful and damaging to the LGBT community, it's very tricky. But I have seen the hurt go both ways. Not only have I seen LDS attack LGBT, I've also seen some of my LGBT friends and acquaintances spew out some of the most vitriolic words possible. I'm willing to readily understand the source of such rage, pain, devastation. I know it all too well. But can we possibly have more thoughtful conversations leading to change if our approach changes as well?
  • Some of my very own LGBT brothers and sisters have attacked me and made me feel small because I still want some kind of involvement with the church. So, not only am I made to feel unwelcome in the LDS church at times, I am also made to feel unwelcome in my own community. I get it. If the LDS church as an organization has done things that hurt my gay brothers and sisters and then I express that I still have a love of the church, that is problematic. It makes some of you feel like I'm being insensitive to your plight or the experiences you've had. This has been a tricky area for me to manage. I wish I could readily rid myself of any affiliation with the church, but I'm not you and you are not me. I am just navigating my life in the best way I can and trying my best to allow others to do the same. I hope my LGBT friends will do their best to be as open-minded and understanding as my sister was during our recent conversation. Could it be that some of our beautiful LGBT teenagers took their lives because they felt pressure from both sides? We want to point the finger at religion, but we're not as willing to consider how that level of hate toward the church can also have a negative effect on our impressionable youth.
  • I love each of you so much. I see your beauty, bravery, vulnerability, pride, tenacity, and love. I strive to take the best parts of Mormonism and the best parts that I've picked up from my LGBT friends and roll it all up to the best version of myself I can produce. As much as I'm asking the LDS community to allow me to embrace my sexuality, I'm asking you to allow me to continue embracing my spirituality. I get that not everyone feels the way I do, but to me, my spirituality is just as important to me as my sexuality. They are both parts of me that I need to be free to discover and develop. If you block those efforts, you're no different than the LDS community you condemn.

In closing, I hope that sharing my own experience not only helps my LGBT friends and family who have experienced some of the same challenges, but that it gives my LDS friends and family my truest version of what it's really like to grow up gay in the LDS church. I can't speak for other LGBT members or ex-members of the church, but this has been my experience.

We must mourn for our LGBT members who take their own lives. But then we must act, affect change, raise awareness, have difficult conversations, and let everyone worship and love as they choose.

I have every reason to hate the LDS church because of my own experiences. But I don't. I love many things about the church. I love my friends and family members who have testimonies of many things that they regard as sacred truths. I see eye to eye on many of these doctrines. I ache and feel intense pain for some of the other doctrines and policies. But I will respect the journey my LDS friends are having. I will celebrate their right to believe what they believe. I will continue to speak up when I see harm. At the same time, I will continue to be outspoken as a gay member of this church. I will walk with my LGBT brothers and sisters. I will continue to understand their heartache, their anger, their despair, and their need to live lives that are meaningful, authentic, and just as full of purpose as their LDS counterparts.

I am Stockton Powers.
I am Wyatt Bateman.
I am Nate Benincosa.