Part 3, a continuation of my conversation with a friend. (my questions/comments are in red, his answers are in green)
Maybe you have answered this in other questions, but have you found peace and healing and if so how?
When I stopped fighting who I knew that I was, and who I am, that's when I found ultimate peace. I didn't have to worry anymore that I was sinning or that other people were looking at me differently, or I would have to go see my Bishop next week, or not be able to take the sacrament. Or not having to feel the fear of, okay I didn't take the sacrament, who's looking at me, what are they thinking of me? When I let all of those barriers and fears of inadequacy completely go, and I could just fully embrace life and the freedom to be me, that's when I found the most happiness. Because when I was going to church, I was always afraid of being judged, even though as members we are taught not to judge. But I was guilty of the same thing, I looked around to see who wasn't taking the sacrament, and thinking, I wonder what they did? One thing that I really hated was sitting in the congregation and thinking that the Bishop was starring at me because I had just met with him the week before. And I always felt in the back of my head that he always thought about what I had done. I always had that fear of, what was he thinking? They always said that a Bishop is so loving and caring, and they are, don't get me wrong, but why did it make me feel so inadequate, and so dirty, and so sinful? That part I never understood. I think a lot of it was based out of fear, okay I just took the sacrament and I wasn't worthy, what's going to happen to my salvation? Oh, I better go repent, I better go tell the Bishop, I stole something, or I looked a pornography or I cheated on a test. When I felt so badly and let someone else have that kind of power over me, that kind of influence over me, I wasn't able to just be, to be totally and completely free.
Do you think it's ironic, that we allow these men to be in charge of our salvation?
It's so crazy for me to even fathom, that we go in and talk to a Bishop and they say, okay you struggle with this, I need to know more. I don't get that. Even when I was a member, I never did get that part. I hope that answers your question, I think when I didn't limit myself to a certain religion, or certain congregation or a specific kind of person, it really opened my eyes to a lot of really incredible experiences. For one, the friends that I have now, I could never image having allowed them to be in my life if I was still an active member of the church.
What advice would you have for others in a similar situation as you, especially return missionaries?
The first thing that comes to my mind is to not loose who you are, to not loose yourself, not to be overwhelmed. I've been there and I have done that, and it was so overwhelming to be back in the world. Give it time, don't be ashamed of who you are. What I would advise, and easier said than done, because I've been there, I've been down that road, I've lived with the fear of what if somebody finds out that I'm gay? How are people going to react and are they still going to be my friend when they find out that I'm gay. Looking back it was a huge thing. It was a big deal, it was like earth shattering to me, it really was. I consumed it, it thought it, I breathed it, I ate it, I worried about it, I lost sleep over it, I made myself sick over it. Umm... just to really give it time, to just be you, don't allow others to dictate your happiness and who you are and who you want to be, I just think that, life is too short to live the way others want you to live. Embrace it, don't be afraid to be different, and if people do see you as different, that's okay. Again, it's not the end of the world, but when I was in that situation is was my world, it was everything to me, and I thought it all come tumbling down and for a while it did, but I picked myself up and brushed myself off and I found my way.
What advice would you have for church leaders when they have a gay person come to them?
Yes, the word force should never be counsel that you give to a young man or woman that's having trouble with their sexuality. I don't think that we should ever teach someone to force themselves to be someone they are not. And I really felt that I was dirty and that I was less of a person, that I was a sinner, that I was making all these mistakes. I really think that the church leaders need to understand that the counsel that they give or don't give is damaging. It's killing a lot of youth, I know that in the last few years there were quite a few young men in the church that were struggling with coming out, that took their own lives, and I think that it comes back to the pressure that these church leaders are putting upon these men that are coming out. There was so much pressure to keep that hidden, keep that quiet, it destroys the way you think about yourself, the way you see yourself, the way you live, it just takes everything out of you. It completely rips your soul from your body, it damaging. And you know, I also think, when I was going through that, I wish they could have been more understanding, that they would have been more patient. That they really would have been less afraid to say, you know this is wrong, Heavenly Father isn't happy with the choice that you are making. I really think that at that age you are so vulnerable and you are already going through so much, that that should never be a part of the conversation, that you are not good enough, you need to go to the temple more often and read your scriptures, and you need to see the Stake President more often. I think that church leader should teach that you should embrace yourself. When they want to teach that we should be the exact same, and fit that cookie cutter mold, that's the issue. I think the church, or any organization for that matter would function so much better if they allowed diversity, and they allowed other to think for themselves and not the way their church leader wants them to think. I really think that's the issue.
Do you think they understand that they are possibly dealing with life and death situations, and the way that they handle it could actually mean life or death to someone?
I look at myself, for years I was suicidal, I took antidepressants, I was in and out of doctors offices, I didn't want to live any more, I was depressed, I couldn't get out of bed. It almost killed me, the judgment of others almost killed me, so I would agree with you that that is true, that these are life and death matters.
Do you think they have any inkling that they are dealing with something like that? When you were talking with your Bishop, do you think he understood that you might be in such a situation as that, and that the way he was handling it could effect whether you lived or not?
I think that part of the problem, is that they don't understand. And I don't think they have taken the time to want to understand. If it's not in the church manual, if it's not what the first presidency has come out with, then he can't teach it.
It seems that all they can see is this big sin, and they have a hard time seeing past that.
They can't. They can't see, here's an incredible young man, that is worthy to reach out for my help. What am I going to do to help him? Forget the church, forget the teachings, as a human being, what can I do to help this individual, to not kill himself or not be depressed? Just humanity, what can I do to help save this person?
What advice would you give to parents/families that find out they have a gay child? By the way I think your family did a very good job.
I would agree and disagree, I would agree to the fact that they didn't kick me out of the family, they didn't disown me, they didn't say we can't love you as much. They never approached it like that, and for that I'm so thankful, because I think that would have pushed me even further over the edge than I was at that point. They were always very loving, very accepting. I always think back to my little sister, she was always so understanding. She asked question after question after question, and wanted to know what I was thinking and how it made me feel and I remember her asking me, "well have you ever kissed a guy or held a guy's hand?" and I was like, no, and she said, "well how do you know your gay?" "Just go try it, you may find out you love it or you may hate it, then you will know." That's advice that I will never forget, she was like, "just go try it, there's no harm in that." "There's nothing wrong in wanting to explore the way that you feel." She said, "that doesn't make you a bad person, I don't look at you any differently." But I think that's the issue, I even have a good friend here in SLC. She just came out to her parents, they are not religious, they are not anything, they completely disowned her, they said we will not associate with you, if you choose to live that way. So I don't necessarily think its an LDS viewpoint of disowning you or we don't agree with that, I just think as a society we don't know how to deal with it. To be honest with you I think my version of homosexuality and being gay is probably different then some of my friends, I think there are different levels and different degrees of what homosexuality is. And I think that I'm still trying to discover what I think it means to me. Because I don't think that I understand it for myself still. I know that it's something that I enjoy and it feels natural to me, but I'm not sure I understand, big picture, what it's going to mean for me down the road.
That's an interesting point, because you mentioned that before, that you didn't exactly know what being gay meant to you. I wouldn't think that you would still not have an understanding of it. But that's interesting, just like any other person doesn't have an understanding of certain things right?
Yes, and to add to that, I think what I'm still trying to figure out is: I know that I'm gay, but for me to be completely happy being gay, do I need to be in a relationship and have kids? That's what I'm trying to figure out for myself. I know that I want kids, and I'd like to be a partner with one person and have kids, have a family. I know that's what I want, but I don't know if that's what's going to bring me the most happiness, later on down the road, that's what I'm trying to figure out, am I going to be a happy single gay man and just date, whatever, or do I really want kids and be committed and have that one person for the rest of my life. I don't really know that I do.
So how are you going to figure that out?
Good question. I think it's one of those things that I will have to experience and by trial and error just try to figure it out. I remember it was so lonely and miserable when I was in Boise. All I wanted was the companionship of someone. I wanted someone to be there and to love me, but now I think as I have matured, and I have grown, I think my viewpoint is much different now. I don't think that I'm as dependent on someone else. I think I'm far more independent, then most people, I love my space, I like to be alone. So I went from one extreme to the next. I wanted to be with someone, I was depressed that I wasn't with someone, that no one liked me, that I couldn't find someone to be with, then, now that I've found someone, it's just kind of like, do I really want this, or do I want to be independent and single?
Okay, those are just the same emotions as a straight person, right?
As far as I know, I assume that's correct, I don't know.
Those seem like pretty typical emotions that anyone could experience.
Here's my last question, this is what I'm beginning to wonder, perhaps God puts us down here in different categories, different races, different religions, different sexualities, we are all in these different groups in different ways. Do you think that He does that, so that we learn to look outside our group, to overcome prejudices and learn to love others? Is that a possibility?
It's kind of an oxymoron, it's like the church teaches charity, which is the pure love of Christ, it's pretty safe to assume that most members are not okay about accepting diversity. So it's interesting that you pose the question that way. I absolutely one hundred percent agree that that is part of the "test". I really do believe that that is part of the bigger picture, for all of us to be different, for all of us to look and see that diversity is okay. That someone with tattoos or a nose ring or black or Russian, or someone that has maybe one arm or no legs, I really think that diversity was put here on this earth for us to learn to love each other.