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.


  • 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.