Idaho Fireside Thoughts

I attended the fireside in Idaho Falls last night, which I found very interesting.  There were some things that I liked about it, and others that I didn’t.  Overall, though, I’m happy that it happened.  The fact that homosexuality was able to be discussed in such a setting is enough to make me feel that things are being done and meaningful strides are being taken on all sides of the issue.

To those who helped plan this fireside, I thank you for doing so.  Creating a place in which this could be openly discusses was so helpful.  I feel that overall it was well received and that it was extremely helpful to a lot of people.  Please do not take anything I say that might be slightly negative personally.

The fireside was set up to resemble a conference.  It began with an opening session in which a few speakers presented the topic of homosexuality.  After the speakers, different groups were held:  a group for gay men, a group for gay women, a group for friends and family, and a group for priesthood leaders.  In these groups, two talks were given, and then a Q&A session was held.  After the Q&A session was complete, everyone met together again and there were a few more speakers, again discussing the topic of homosexuality.

Near the beginning of the fireside, a speaker addressed the use of different terms used when discussing homosexuality, and it was again mentioned in the last talk.  I’m glad this happened, but I feel there needs to be more understanding of interchangeable terms.  If someone prefers to say that they are gay, they shouldn’t be looked down upon for doing so.  In the same way, if a person feels more comfortable saying the are same-sex attracted or same gender attracted, they shouldn’t be looked down upon for that either.  Some general authorities have said that using the word “gay” shouldn’t happen because it signifies that someone is not only attracted to their own gender, but that they are acting out on their attractions.  I disagree.  I have almost always told people I was “gay” because that was just easier than labeling myself in a way that made it sound like I had a disease.  That is my personal preference, but I don’t want people to here me say that I am “gay”, and assume this or that about me.  In short, I feel that it would be best to say something along the lines of “please be understanding as we discuss the topic at hand that the words ‘gay’ and ‘same-sex or same-gender attracted’ may be used interchangeably, and that neither one defines what a person is doing with their attraction”.

I liked that we were able to split into different groups, and I liked the groups that were available.  I feel like all need to be addressed in different ways.  I don’t know that I agree with how they were discussed in the fireside, so I would like to make my comments on how I feel they need to be dealt with.  I wanted to do so by discussing them by the different groups, but after writing this, I have found that so many things cross over into different areas, that it would be easier to just write them all in one area.

I understand why the church takes the stance on homosexuality that it does, and at official church functions, I would expect the church’s stance on the subject to be presented.  I don’t expect the church to change because that would also mean that fundamental LDS doctrines would also have to change.  I don’t think, though, that the church should talk about how those who choose to live a life contrary to those teaching will never be happy, that they will not inherit the Celestial Kingdom, etc.  Really, I don’t think we definitely know what will happen to anyone who is living a life contrary to the church’s teaching.  That’s up to God, and we have absolutely no say in that, so why speculate now.

The focus of the conversation should be that of love.  Not only that God loves us, but that we are loved by church leaders and members.  I think that members of the church want to be understanding, but because of the stereotype surrounding homosexuality, gays and lesbians are seen as only one thing and that image can be a strange and scary one.  If gays and lesbians within the church can know that they are loved by many others, that would help us so much.

There isn’t one right answer for everyone.  There are things personally that I will never advocate, but I will never tell anyone to not try it out either.  For example, I will never advocate change therapy.  If someone were to come to me and tell me they wanted to try it out, I would tell them what I believe are the pros and cons of such (fairly, I hope), and then support them with whatever decision they make.  Some people have been able to find happiness in single life, others have found happiness in marriage to the opposite gender, and some have found therapy helpful.  There are choices that I feel are better, but everyone is different and some answers will work better for them than they will for others.

Priesthood leaders should follow the doctrines of the church.  In my opinion, those are vague, but there are some very definite doctrines surrounding homosexuality.  According to LDS.org:  “People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves… gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. Most people have inclinations of one kind or another at various times. If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1998, 71).  That is it.  Do not make it more or less than what it is.  Don’t make anyone feel less than humane for having these attractions, especially when they haven’t acted on them.  When someone has acted out on their attractions, the issue becomes one of chastity.  React to what they have done in the same way you would react to someone who is straight and had done the same thing.

To all members of the church, whether you are gay, straight, a bishop, a mother, a friend, are anyone else.  Please be understanding and loving.  No one is perfect.  Everyone has problems they are working on, yourself included.  No matter what you believe about homosexuality, please love those who experience it.  We don’t expect you to understand it or to agree or disagree with our actions.  We just want to feel like we have a place in the church and that we belong there, no matter what we have done.  Church is to be a place to feel peace, solace, and love.  If fear and even slight dislike towards people because of their situations is present, we don’t want to be there.  Life is already hard enough, let’s not add to the pressure.  We want to be loved and we want to be understood.  Please help us help you do that.

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Hope For The Future

I’ve gotten to a place in blogging that I don’t know what to blog about.  I don’t want to vent my frustrations here, and I already have another blog for that.  I feel like I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say as far as helping out other members of the church with homosexual attractions.  I kind of want to write to regular members of the church to help them be more understanding, but I don’t know what to say and I don’t want to come off as someone who thinks they are on expert on homosexuality in Mormonism.  All I have to offer is my perspective.

I was thinking today about my family and how well they’ve taken everything.  They have all been so supportive and will always be so supportive.  I started thinking about my older sister and her children.  They are very inquisitive, and I know that they will eventually ask why I’m not married, and when the time is right, they will have to explain that I’m gay, but that’s fine.  Who knows what other doors that will open… 🙂

As this was going through my mind, I started thinking about what I would want them to say.  This also lead me to wonder about what my family has learned (not what I have taught them, necessarily, but just learned) from having a gay family member.

I hope that when the topic comes up, they will talk openly and honestly about it.  That is how the taboo surrounding the topic is formed.  We we speak in vague generalities, people become confused and scared.  We show that we are afraid of what might happen if we tell them too much.  I trust that my family members will know the right degree of which to tell their kids.  I hope that they will be willing to talk to me about it and let me talk to them.  I hope that they will teach them to love everybody regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, belief system, nationality, etc.  I know they will, but I hope they make a conscious effort to do so.  I hope they teach their children correct thoughts.  I don’t want my nieces and nephews to be afraid of me or think I will molest them.

Even further, I hope that they will teach acceptance and to embrace diversity.  I know they will teach them right from wrong and that “acting on homosexuality” is not a part of God’s plan.  I hope they teach them to love gays anyway, no matter what choices they are making.  I hope that they teach their kids that it is absolutely unacceptable to use any derogatory or inappropriate words like fag, queer, nigger, or retard.  I hope most of all, though, that they will teach their kids to stand up for what is right.  I want members of my family to stop any kind of bashing whether it be gay bashing, church bashing, or anything like that.

I want them to correct someone when that someone says that something is ‘gay’ when they really mean to say that something is stupid.

I want them to stand up for the kid on the playground the other kids call a fagot because he isn’t good at sports.

I want them to stop the cycle of hate against people who are “different”.

I want my family to be able to talk openly with others about the fact that they have a gay brother, brother-in-law, or uncle and not be ashamed.  I’m not ashamed of it, and I hope they aren’t either.

I want them to take the time to learn the truth about homosexuality (I’m hoping to write something about the truth and myths about gays).  I don’t care if they are for or against gay rights or whatever.  I just want them to know what they believe and to let people know.  This is how understanding will spread.

I think they already know these things, but in case they didn’t, this is what I want.

To The Person Who Found my Blog by Searching For: “If I’m a Mormon, Do I Have to Stop Being Friends with my Gay Best Friend?”

Whew!  That was a really long title!

So, as you can tell from the title, someone found my blog by doing a search for “If I’m a a Mormon, do I have to stop being friends with my gay best friend?”.  I hope whoever searched for that will read this, because it is written for them.

The Answer:  No.

I kind of wanted to just stop right there, but I feel like there needs to be an explanation too.

Of course, the LDS church views same-sex relationships as wrong, and because of that, many members of the church view any form of homosexuality as evil or gross.  Because we are expected to “avoid the very appearance of evil”, many members of the church think they should reject any thing or person that has the appearance of evil….like a gay person.

I had this same mindset when I got home from my mission.  Two of my best friends had married each other in the temple, and after two years of marriage, they decided to divorce because she had been cheating on him.  She started drinking and all kinds of other things.  She wanted to hang out with me a lot, but I resisted because I felt that I needed to avoid the very appearance of evil.  I had really mixed thoughts.  I wondered what people would think about me if they saw me running around with a divorcee that drinks and doesn’t go to church anymore.  I also wondered what Jesus might do in this situation.  My Mormon instinct to “avoid the very appearance of evil” told me to not hang out with her.  My thoughts what Jesus would do told me that she was in a really hard place and to lose her best friend like that would be devastating.  I chose to leave her, and in doing so, I wrote her an email telling her that I didn’t feel comfortable around her and that I needed to surround myself with good and uplifting things.  She was devastated.  I was the friend that had stuck around the longest, and now I had given up on her.  She started doing things that she probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.

After a lot of thinking and missing her, I decided that I was wrong, and that I needed to be her friend.  I didn’t care what choices she was making.  She was still one of my best friends, and I wanted to be there for her no matter what she did.

You’re gay best friend is still your best friend, and he happens to be gay.  Stick with him.  It will only strengthen your relationship.

Optimistic Realism

I would say I’m a pretty realistic person.  I really try to see things in a realistic way, give people realistic answers, have realistic expectations, and live a realistic life.

I also try to be optimistic.  This is hard for me sometimes because realistically, things don’t always turn out positively.  I think my strength in this, though, is that I find the best out of bad experiences.

I once heard that President Hinckley called himself an optimistic realist.  I want to be the same.  I find that I am happiest when I can do that.  When I can see things for what they really are but to also see them for what they can be.  This kind of goes along with the Thomas Theorem which states: “If someone defines something as being real, it is real in it’s consequences”.  When we can see somewhat for what they really are and then see them for what they might become, we are better able to treat them as they might become and they will eventually live up to that treatment.

We can do the same with situations.  Assess a situation, and try to look at it realistically (for all intents and purposes of this blog, we shall use the experience of Same Gender Attraction, or whatever it is we are calling it these days).

When I finally faced the fact that I am gay and a Mormon, I didn’t want to face the realities of it (rejection, a single/”sinful” life/life of lies, misunderstanding, hatred from self and outside sources, etc.).  It was so overwhelming.  As I came to terms with this fact, reality set in a little bit more.  I had told a few friends and family, and had positive experiences with it.  I was still scared of those realities listed above, but I also learned of other realities that come along with my experience (love, understanding, help, compassion, friendship).

Once I was able to see things in the spectrum of my reality, I was able to see things more clearly.  When I had a good grasp on what was really going on, I could make the best of my situation. I began to explore the positive possibilities of my future life – that is,  being single and all that entails – having the job I want, going where I want to go, and doing what I want to do – free of restraints I would have had otherwise.

I am optimistic about the future.  I still am not completely certain of what will come and where I might go, but I am excited about it all.  I feel like I have a realistic grasp on what my life might consist of (the positive and the negative) and I’m facing it with the best attitude I can.  I will make the best of what may come and look forward to what I will learn.

Bring it on.

Embattled Christian

When I was an EFY counselor a few years ago, I worked a session with an amazing session director.  He told us a story about a woman he knows name Jeannie Snow.  She was diagnosed with cancer and she has been blogging about it for quite a while now.  He shared with us a touching story about how she felt the love of God while trying to come to terms with it.  I wanted to share that experience here.

Jeannie was feeling sick and knew that it was something more than a cold.  After a few visits to the doctor, she received a phone call from a doctor telling her she had cancer.  The following is an entry from her blog, Embattled Christian:

As I hung up, tears rushed to my eyes. I felt all energy, joy, and hope drain suddenly from my body. I wondered how I could maintain any normalcy?  How could I face people without melting into a soggy mass of tears, and spilling the whole story? How could I contain the overwhelming drama that had so rudely overtaken my orderly life?

I then remembered the lessons of grieving I learned when my parents had been killed. I realized that the best thing I could do was stop trying to maintain control right there and then and let go. Grief needs to be let loose and sooner better than later.

I let the worst case possibility come vividly to my mind. I could endure a great deal of suffering and then I could die. My husband and children would suffer great anxiety and emotional pain. My heart ached and the tears flowed as I thought of my children, grown-up though they may be, having to live without the support of their mother (which I know too well is very difficult.) I thought of my grandchildren not having their Grandma Jean. I got angry at the cruelty of life. I had so much to live for. I stomped through the house slamming doors.  I cried and cried with great heaving sobs. I stormed into my walk-in closet where I threw myself on the floor and howled with rage. I had so much to live for. So many people depended on me. I had so much more to do with all that life had taught me.

After about an hour of giving myself over to anger and mourning, I suddenly straightened up, energy flowed back into my body. I felt the comforting presence of the Savior standing beside me.  My body was filled with love and joy.  My heart and mind overflowed with a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving. Over and over the words came to my mind:   “I am so grateful for the gospel, I love the gospel. I love my Heavenly Father, I love the Savior. I love the plan of salvation.” It brought to mind the words from the Book of Mormon “singing the song of redeeming love.” As if that presence requires the soul to sing with joy.

I knew that everything would be all right whether I lived a short time or many more years. I knew that no matter how devastating the situation seemed, our family would grow, those around us would grow. I will grow, and the presence of the Spirit will be there to comfort and teach all of us.

I realized that I wouldn’t always feel so confident and spiritually lifted up.  I understood that I would need to savor that moment, store it up for the future when it will come back to me over and over to give me confidence and strength.

More often than not, people survive cancer and live many years, even long lives, in spite of it.  Now that I’ve faced the worst possibility, I’ll focus on the work of treatment which will undoubtedly be difficult. One step at a time: one day, one hour, five minutes at a time.

I remember thinking this was so beautiful when I first heard it.

I’ve had similar experiences.  I don’t want to say that dealing with SGA is anything comparable to having cancer.  I think I would rather be a gay mormon than to have cancer.

I remember a few times that I have been upset with God for putting me through this.  Why the hell do I have to want something so bad, and in order to be in complete harmony with the church, not give in to what I want?  Why do I have to endure hateful rhetoric in an environment that should not be a place where that occurs?  Why do I have to experience the pain of peope putting me on a lower level then themselves because “there is something wrong with me”?  Why do people think that I have less faith or am less worthy than them?  What the hell?

I let myself feel upset about this sometimes, but God always has a way of letting me know that I have to do this and he has a reason why.  I know that he loves me and he knows what he is doing.  I do believe that.  I don’t understand why and I don’t know why it has to affect people the way that it does.  Sometimes I want to give up and get a boyfriend.  Sometimes I just want to be “normal”.

Every time I have gotten to a low point in my life where I want to give up the church because I have too many questions or because I want a relationship, God always steps in and gives me a reason to keep going.  He helps me to see a light at the end of the tunnell. I don’t know what that light is – I don’t believe that it is marriage or being “cured”, but I do know that there is something for me in the future, and if I keep doing what I feel God is guiding me to do, I will attain it.

I have so much going for me.  I have an amazing family that is so understanding.  I have a great job.  No, I have an incredible job!  I live in an environment that allows me to choose what I will and won’t do, and that decision is based solely on myself and what I really want.  I have great straight, gay, and MoHo friends that I love dearly.  I’m getting a good education, and will someday be able to help other people live the lives that will help them be the best people they can be.  I have a lot of good things going for me.

My Name is Jeff, and I’m a Gay Mormon

I’m slowly letting myself come out more and more.  I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m gay and that I’m active in the LDS church.  I want people to understand me and my situation better.  I want those who experience same gender attraction to know they are not alone and that they are normal.  I want them to know that there are more options then “living a lie in the church” and “living the lifestyle”.

I want members of the church that have little or no experience with homosexuality other than what they see and hear on the news to be more understanding of something that tends to be taboo in Mormon culture.  I want all members of the church to be more understanding and loving of those who are different.  We all have things that we have to deal with, and some of those things are easy to hide.  Usually those things that are hidden are usually the things that can provide the greatest learning experiences.  Camille Fronk Olsen said at a Matis Fireside when someone asked her “Why is there this cookie cutter mentality in the Church?”  She replied, “It’s easy to focus on the outward appearance. Whatever the Ensign cover looks like, that’s how life should be! But really, the best articles in the Ensign are by ‘Name Withheld'”

So, I’m revealing something personal about myself.

My name is Jeff, and I’m a gay mormon.

Live and Let Live

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.

– Joseph Smith

How do we treat those who hold different standards than we do?

I’ve thought about this a lot in my life, particularly since returning home from my mission.  Those who have served a mission will be able to relate to coming home and feeling like everyone in your family and circle of friends is going to hell.  I did.  One of the earliest things I remember after coming home was going to an “Office Party”, where my friends watched the newest episode of The Office (now one of my favorite TV shows).  The particular episode they were watching that week was Gay Witch Hunt (ironic, I know).  I couldn’t believe that my friends would actually enjoy watching something I had deemed to be so sinful.  And my family didn’t have family prayer every night?  What?  I was really frustrated.

That was 3 years ago, and things have changed a lot.  I’ve been put in situations where I have had to think about my standards and how I react when someone close to me is not living the they should.  I hope my friend L will forgive me for using her as an example of this.  I won’t go into great detail though.  L came to a point in her life where she was making some drastic changes and, in my opinion at that time, was being stupid.  She was no longer living many of the “gospel standards”, and it seemed she was doing so in a form of rebellion – doing this just to do so.  This was really hard for me.  I began to distance myself from her by avoiding her emails, texts, and phone calls.  She knew what was going on, but wanted to talk about it.  Finally, I emailed her and very bluntly told her that I no longer wanted to be around her.  This was very hard for her because everyone else had done the same thing, and now her best friend of 6 years was turning his back on her.  She had no other friends.

I had a strong internal battle going on in my mind.  Why did I feel the need to do this?  She wasn’t hurting me or bringing me down, was she?  No, she wasn’t.  I had to ask myself, in the most cliché way possible, “What would Jesus do?” .  He would love her and try to help her in any way he could.  This ate away at me, but I still didn’t feel comfortable being with her.  She wasn’t living the standards. Since then, our friendship has healed, I see her often, and we are still best friends.

I have since then learned some things about standards and how I believe we should treat those who are not living “the standards”.

I believe it is so important to realize that everyone is different.  Duh, I know.  But really…no one is the same.  We all have our own challenges, strengths, ways to bless people, etc.  God knows our hearts, and I will let him be the judge (at least, I try not to take that role, but it still happens).  That is why I will never tell someone how to live their life.  I don’t know what they are going through.  (I used to be kind of upset when those who struggle with SGA would give in and “live the lifestyle”, as we tend to say.  Now I have realized that some people will be happier “living the lifestyle” (I use that term loosely, by the way) than they would be in the church.  And if that is how they feel, then I am happy for them because they are happy.  That is the same thing with my friends L and K, that I mentioned in my last post.  They are happier out of the church then they are in the church).

Now to finally get to the point of all this rambling.  I have been learning that I need to hold people to their standards, and not my own or anybody else.  I of course believe that my morals and standards are the best, but that is only because they are best for me.  My standards aren’t for anyone but me.  I do believe that most people will be happy living the standards of the LDS church, but there are other ways to feel at peace with yourself too.  If anything, living the LDS standards will keep you safe and drama free. 🙂 Anyway, what I mean to say is this:  Hold people to their own standards.  I think that we ought to hold everyone to some kind of moral standard (that C.S. Lewis refers to as the Law of Human Nature) that includes things such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Past that, though, live and let live.  When a friend isn’t living the way I would, I try not to be so hasty to turn my back on them.  Rather, I try to help them live what they believe.  When a friend says “I’m okay with drinking, I just don’t want to get wasted”, I hold them to that standard.  I try to think of them and their pursuit of happiness, and if I feel like they might be doing something that goes against their personal moral code, I express concern and try to remind them of their goals.  Goals may change and I must change my assessment of their situation.

This is now how I try to interact with people.  I will respect any choice that doesn’t inhibit someone from living with their own basic rights, and I try to be sentimental of every situation.