Monday, September 28, 2015

The Right Way to Be Gay (and Mormon)

So, I’ve experienced three separate rounds of coming out: Pre-mission, post-mission and 15 years after my mission. Each round came as I was ready and I’m open to the idea that there may be future rounds as I continue to evolve and find my way. Some things will always remain constant and consistent. It’s my nature to need stability and a foundation upon which to stand. Other things are negotiable and undecided. At 38, I can’t predict exactly where I’ll be when I’m 70, let alone 40. I’m truly a work in progress.

Over the years, I’ve opened up and had countless conversations with friends and family members about where I was at with the church and with my sexual orientation. In retrospect, I see that I spent most of the time in those conversations making it okay for the listener. Assuring them that I would get out on my mission soon while enduring humiliation, speculation and judgment for going late. Assuring them after my mission that while I was attracted to men, I had no intention of seeking a relationship. And now, assuring them that while I’d like to give dating a try, I still have a testimony of many things that are part of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught within the church.

Some friends have been upset that I would agree to a life of such loneliness, even if it was the righteous thing to do. Others have assured me of their continued love and support, as long as I didn’t act on these feelings. I’ve had friends (and family members) come and go. Some are ready to support me and really try to understand where I’m at. Some have written me off, leaving me in the dust. Through it all, I’ve learned, there really isn’t a right way to be a gay Mormon that will please everybody.

With that in mind, I’d like to present 4 different gay-Mormon archetypes by presenting a description of each, how the church might see them, how the gay community might see them, and finally, how I see them. I hate to put people into categories, and these are very general, but this serves a purpose. I’m asking you to review these archetypes with an open heart and the added consideration that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Gay Man, Married to a Woman, Active in Church
Perhaps this man dutifully did what he was supposed to do. Served a mission, returned home, got married to a woman, had kids and then later in life has come to terms with his sexuality. Sure, certain aspects of his marriage are tricky, but what marriage doesn’t have its own set of challenges?
The church might say: Good for him! See? Just because a man is attracted to another man doesn’t mean he can’t still marry a woman and make it work.
The gay community might say: He’s a fool if he thinks that is going to last. It’s just unrealistic. Besides, why build a life with someone you’re not even attracted to? Isn’t that dangerous for the kids involved?
Here’s what I think: The balancing act and complexity of being in a mixed-orientation marriage seems overwhelming to me. The men who patiently and skillfully maintain this kind of marriage have my respect, not my judgment. Some of these men come out to their wives before the wedding day. Some come out to their wives years into the marriage. One has to wonder how it affects the wife when her husband makes this confession. But can it be done? Sure it can. I have friends who are making this work and, while everything isn’t perfect, they are resolved to make that commitment (and covenant) work at all costs. I believe that it takes a strong woman who has enough self-confidence and self-worth to make this work, and I applaud these women. If a gay man truly wants an eternal family, as taught within the church, more than he wants companionship with another man, who are any of us to say he shouldn’t be married to that woman? On the flip side: I have had many conversations with gay men who were married with kids, held callings such as bishop and stake president and who gave their marriages everything they had. With tears in their eyes, they’ve told me how torturous their marriages were for them and the guilt they carried for not being the husbands and fathers they were supposed to be.
Summary: I know gay men who are married to women who are some of the best husbands and fathers I’ve ever known. It can be done. But just because it’s working for some couples, should all couples be held to that standard? No. In fact, the statistics aren’t great. I know far more men whose marriages didn’t end well than those whose marriages are working. It can work and I admire couples who make it work, but let’s be honest about the heartache that can come despite earnest gay men giving it everything they had.

Single Gay Man, Active in Church, No Intentions of Dating Men
Some of these men remain open to the idea of marrying a woman while others see that marriage isn’t in the cards in this lifetime. They agree to a life of celibacy and loneliness but feel the peace and assurance that comes with standing right before the Lord. Plus, it’s not complete loneliness. Some of these men have an amazing network of friends that they feel a close bond with. Some of them even have cuddle buddies because it’s important to have intimacy and connection with others. It’s necessary to have certain human needs met. But, for the most part, these men remain chaste and are able to experience a closeness with other men without crossing a sexual, and thus, sinful line.
The church might say: How commendable. Who are we to question God’s laws? Just because some experiences same-sex attraction does not mean they have to act on it.
The gay community might say: How unfortunate that someone would choose to live this life so alone because of what they were raised to believe. Don’t they get that God still loves them even if they have a husband or boyfriend?
Here’s what I think: To members of the church who challenge gay men “not to act on it”, I would remind them that being gay isn’t just about being tempted to get naked with another man and have sex. It’s about having basic core needs that need to be met. To the men who have been involved with organizations like Evergreen and North Star, I admire you and respect you. Your resolve to remain authentic in your own way takes a great deal of discipline and sacrifice. Trust me, I know. My personal experience with groups like that was a mixed bag. At times, I felt uplifted and I felt a sense of brotherhood and support. But my participation provided me with hope that often led to disappointment. I also felt a lot of the guys were so focused on their own righteousness that a Savior wasn’t even necessary. When one fell to the “dark side” by choosing to date men, it became topic for judgment and lamentation. I mean no offense, but that’s what I experienced. Still, there are so many great guys in the church who are so pure in heart and have such good resolve to do what they truly feel God wants them to do. I’m not here to challenge that at all. For 20 years, I was in this category. For me, it just got to the point where I could no longer realistically consider that level of loneliness.

Single Gay Man, Not Active in Church, Dates Men, Still Has Affiliation with the Church
Men in this category still have testimonies that mean a great deal to them. Or maybe they just want involvement with the church on a cultural level because it’s part of who they are. In some cases, these men are involved with groups like Affirmation which earnestly assists the LGBT community in bridging the gap. Some men in this category date other men freely, without feeling guilt or condemnation. Other men in this category date men but aren’t ever truly able to do so without feeling some level of conflict.
The church might say: If you’re going to live that lifestyle, then just leave already. Why do you have to be so vocal about it? You’re being way too open about something so private. Do we have to talk about it?
The gay community might say: Just move on already. If you’re dating men, then the church doesn’t really want anything to do with you anyway. Why on earth would you want any affiliation with a church that is so hateful toward you and others like you?
Here’s what I think: This is where I’m at currently. I know the pain that comes from living 20 years of your adult life without someone to call your partner, lover, spouse, significant other, etc. Despite having a constant supply of great friends and a supportive family, I know what it’s like to mourn deeply over the number of weekends you stay alone at home while everyone else is moving on with their dating life, married life, and so on. I truly believe that I’ve incurred some level of psychological damage by putting myself through this long period of intense loneliness. Can a loving Heavenly Father truly expect this of me for another 38 years? Can a merciful Heavenly Father forgive me for not being as active in the church as I once was? Can my gay friends just try to support me and understand why I want connection with the church even though they don’t? Can my LDS friends just be happy for me that I finally get to experience life more fully by seeking companionship like they have? So many thoughts and so many people to consider and make happy. I actually had a brother ask me recently why the gays can’t just start their own church. I’ve seen gay couples who achieve levels of intense happiness by finding love and still having a place in the church (although being sexually active presents some problems with their actual memberships). Ultimately, I’m in a place where I won’t be completely happy either way. If I leave the church fully and marry a man, I’m in pain. If I stay with the church and don’t date men, I’m in pain. For men like me, sometimes the decision is about which choice is less painful. Men in this situation don’t need approval or condemnation from the church or the gay community. They just need to feel loved while they try to make both parties happy.

Gay Man, Left the Church, Wants Nothing to do with the Church
Some of these men are married or partnered to other men and lead very happy lives. Men in this category do not consider themselves members of the church and have even had their names removed from church records. But some continue to keep a pulse on what’s going on within the church and publicly share their opinions about church history, general conference talks, changes in church leadership, headlines from the church’s news room or website, etc. Other men in this category have nothing to do with the church and have no interest in discussing it. Maybe they weren't offended or anything. They just simply don't agree with the doctrine and so they’ve truly moved on.
The church might say: Quit kicking against the pricks. If you aren’t happy in the church, then just leave. Why do you keep digging up dirt? How can anyone find happiness outside of the church? It’s just not possible!
The gay community might say: I left the church for a reason and I intend to share it with others. Just because I’m no longer a member doesn’t mean I can’t share my opinions. Do you have any idea what the church put me through and how it made me feel?
Here’s what I think: Men in this category are perhaps the most in need of and most deserving of your love and understanding. In many cases, these men have considered suicide. They’ve been made to feel less than 2nd class members of the church. They’ve spent their entire lives listening to messages and talks that make them feel like who they are is wrong, sinful and unworthy. If an ex-member of the church feels the need to bash the church, I don’t get defensive and alarmed. Instead, I look at what led them there. In many cases, what led them to a place where they hate the church is how they were treated by other members of the church. Pain manifests itself in a variety of ways and I am prepared to pull up a chair and listen. I’m further prepared to open my arms and offer love and understanding. I have felt many of the things they have felt. While I’ve made the decision to have the church play a significant part of my life, I completely get why others do not. I imagine a Father in Heaven who mourns with them and who understands the source of their pain.

In closing, I’ll reiterate: There isn’t a right way to be a gay Mormon. What works for one may not work for another. And I don’t necessarily think one archetype is better than another. After years of trying, I personally don’t think I could ever marry a woman. I also don’t think I could ever fully leave the church. I’m kind of in the middle. But I have love and admiration for my gay friends wherever they are at on the spectrum.

As you listen to and counsel your gay loved ones, don't approach it with where YOU are at. Instead, consider where THEY are at on their journey. Remember that it doesn’t help to force them into any one archetype. I’ve only presented 4, but there are tons of different personalities, proclivities, sensitivities and sensibilities that a gay Mormon experiences. I welcome them all.

I draw comfort from my belief that there is only One who can fairly judge and exercise ultimate mercy. I love the idea that when backgrounds, upbringings, circumstances and other factors are taken into consideration, all 4 (and thus 444) archetypes can end up in God’s presence with the potential to receive all that He is prepared to bless us with. I am grateful to my Savior, Jesus Christ, for perfectly understanding the lesbian runaway teenager, the suicidal gay father, the conflicted transgender woman who is in the middle of her transition, and the gay man who has decided to be less active for a time while he navigates the gay dating world. I long for the day when we can all look at our gay brothers and sisters the way Jesus did on that night in Gethsemane.