Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Year in Review

It’s hard to believe that 2012 is over. In some ways it seems like just yesterday that I was in California with my family celebrating the New Year. Yet in other ways it seems like it’s been forever. It’s certainly been an interesting year. A year ago, I would have never expected that I would be where I am. Like many people, the end of the year is a time of reflection for me. In my family, for many years we had a tradition (typically falling on the first Monday of the New Year, for FHE) where we did a “Year in Review”, where we had different topics to get us thinking about things that had happened during the year and what we would remember. So, that’s what I want to do today: My 2012 Year in Review.

Neatest Place You were in 2012
Honestly, most of my year was spent in Utah, no further north than Bountiful and no further south than Provo. The only big excursion I did was my trip out east this past summer. I flew out to Grand Rapids, Michigan where I saw Garrett for the first time in two years, we drove out to Toronto to visit people from my mission, and then we drove down to Niagara Falls and Palmyra before heading back to Michigan. Other than Michigan, I’d been to all of those places before, but it was a great experience being there again with my best friend.

Me and Garrett on our trip, while at Niagara Falls

Biggest Surprise of the Year
The biggest surprise probably was the prompting I received in mid-August, while reading Voice(s) of Hope, to start blogging about my SSA. It seemed to come out of nowhere and it stuck with me. I thought about it and prayed about it for about two months before I ended up doing it. I knew it’d be scary (like I’ve said before, October 20 was the scariest day of my LIFE) but I was also overwhelmed with all of the positive feedback (again, thank you all for your support and for giving me that positive feedback). Honestly, I feel like that prompting (though directly only got me to start blogging) got me to do the Voice(s) of Hope project and also to get more involved in the North Star community, which brought about another big surprise: I felt at home there, in ways that I don’t know if I’ve ever felt before.

Josh and Lolly Weed's Voice(s) of Hope shoot

Best TV Show/Movie You Watched
Anyone who knows me relatively closely knows that I’m a big fan of the ABC show “Once Upon a Time”. Though the acting can be kind of corny and the writing can be kind of cheesy… I figure, it’s a fairy tale show; of course it’ll be that way. One of the themes I love the most in the show is the idea of “true love” typically used in the sense of “true love’s kiss”. Unlike most versions of fairy tale stories, in this show “true love” doesn’t mean the same as “soul mates”. It has more to do with who you truly love, whether it’s romantically with a couple or from a mother to her son.

Mom and Dad and True Love's Kiss

Saddest Day/Time in 2012
The worst part of this year for me was around February and March. After coming home from serving in Calgary, I was a bit of a wreck in some ways. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had been cheated from what I wanted to do the most. In February and March, I dealt with some major depression, trying to overcome those feelings. The feeling of being a failure as a missionary translated into my schoolwork, making me lose confidence in my ability to fulfill my assignments. I remember one day in particular that was bad… I was crying in my car about being home from my mission… I wanted to be in the mission field and yet I also knew I would be suffering emotionally if I was out there. It seemed like there was no way that I could be happy with myself. That night, I talked to my trainer, Elder Jared Call, on the phone and he helped me realize that it was okay to feel that pain and it was okay to feel that way. Honestly, that night was the beginning of my journey to become happy again with myself.

Elder Call visiting me in Provo a year ago

Happiest Day/Time in 2012
It’s hard to say what the happiest time of the year has been for me. There were many of them. My road trip with Garrett was amazing. Being able to spend days on end, just me and my best friend, visiting place that I love was the best. It was also during this trip that I told Garrett about my SSA and he has been one of my strongest allies as I’ve “come out” and done this SSA Missionary Work on my blog. Another one of the “happiest” times of this year was receiving all of the positive feedback about my blog on October 20. Blogging about my SSA was something that made me feel extremely vulnerable and the positive feedback made me feel so much better and empowered to be able to share my story. Attending the AMCAP Conference and filming for Voice(s) of Hope were a couple of other amazing experiences this year. Being able to share my testimony and then meet a few of my heroes (Ty Mansfield, Josh Weed, etc.). In addition, the North Star Christmas fireside, where I felt such a strong sense of home and Zion, was another event this year that would rank on my happiest.

AMCAP Conference Panel

Best Book/Magazine You’ve Read
If you couldn’t guess it already, my favorite book this year was Voice(s) of Hope. It is what set the ball rolling for so much of what happened to me in the second half of the year. It is such an amazing compilation of testimonies and spiritual experiences. It has taught me so much about myself through the experiences of others. If you have a desire to learn about SSA from a gospel perspective, get this book. My dad has read it, Garrett is reading it, “Steve” bought a copy for himself… and each of them has said how much it has helped them understand SSA.

Voice(s) of Hope booth at the AMCAP Conference

Things You Will Remember From the News
With everything that’s happened in the world, a couple things I will remember from this year follow a similar theme to what I’ve already talked about. In many ways, this is the “Year of the ‘Gay’” for me, coming to accept my SSA more fully, joining the North Star/LDS SSA community, and “coming out” on my blog. As such, a couple things I remember from the news have to do with my heroes of the SSA community: Josh Weed and Ty Mansfield. After Josh did his blog post about being a gay man in a heterosexual marriage, it went viral to the point that he ended up on ABC’s Nightline special, in addition to making other media appearances. I’ve met Josh and his wife and honestly they had no idea how big of a splash this would make. Yet a splash it did make and despite persecution they’ve received since then, they stand as witnesses of the truth to the world. Another thing from the news I remember is Ty Mansfield on CNN after the church released its new website about SSA. Ty was not respected very well in that interview and as always my respect for him and his wife (both of whom have received persecution, while being in the spotlight) for what they do in standing up for the truth.

Josh and Lolly Weed on ABC's Nightline

What Would You Like to Do In 2013?
As far as secular things, I want to get into my major. I think I have finally figured out what I want to do for a major. I think I want to study Family Life and then go into marriage and family therapy. In the past few months, with everything I’ve learned from dealing with my SSA with such a steep learning curve, I’ve been able to see how SSA, abuse, infidelity, and a lack of communication can cause problems in a marriage and in a family. The world is falling apart when it comes to families. The adversary is attacking the family on all fronts because he knows that if he can break down the family, he can break down the rest of society. That’s why I want to help save the family. The world needs people with a testimony of the gospel and a testimony of the plan of salvation to help mend families. On a more personal level, I want to continue to help people with my blog. I love it when I hear that my blog has helped someone. One such person who continues to remain anonymous to me (which I TOTALLY understand) has never told anyone about his SSA but has been able to find help and support through my blog. I cherish moments like that or experiences like I had with “Steve”.

Me with Ty Mansfield after my Voice(s) of Hope shoot

Favorite Talk in Church/Conference
My favorite conference talk was probably Elder Holland this fall (I love Elder Holland’s talks!). I’ve had people talk to me about going overboard with the SSA thing and talking about it too much and I’ve had some people that felt uncomfortable talking about it period. Why do I do it then? Honestly, because I feel like I have felt the call from my Heavenly Father to use my talent in writing and in words to help His children. Of course it’s not an official calling, but I feel the need to do it, especially in my demographic. I understand that many young men my age with SSA will not be comfortable outing themselves over the internet, but no one ever said they should. I felt that I should though, because the young single adult demographic needed to be represented, because even here at BYU I’ve seen so many people with conflicting ideas on how to reconcile their SSA. Some would say that the only option is to go into a same-sex relationship, even if you have to wait until you’re graduated from BYU to do it. Some would say go ahead with a same-sex relationship right now. In many ways, it seems like they only give people with SSA one choice: Be true to yourself and give up on your faith.

However, I will not give up on my faith. Yes, it would be physically pleasing to be with a man. Yes, it might even be emotionally satisfying. No, it’s not worth sacrificing my faith and my testimony. Be true to myself? Fine. I will, because being true to myself means being true to my testimony, because my faith and my testimony are more of a defining characteristic to me than my sexuality. Because I love my Savior and because I love my Heavenly Father, I will stand as a witness for Them and for the truth! I know that I can have faith in my Father in Heaven because He knows what’s best for me. I know I can find hope and peace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I know that it is through them that it gets better.

PS: What would your "2012: Year in Review" include?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Strange Things

Yesterday, I watched Toy Story (one of my Christmas presents) and the whole movie I couldn't help but relate to Woody. I've felt the hurt that accompanies being replaced or rejected. A week ago, in fact, I was working through A LOT of that with my counselor (and then with some friends afterwards). In dealing with the emotions, I was reminded of times in my life where I felt that rejection...

  • By the end of 2nd grade, three of my best friends (all members of the church) in my school class moved across the country (one to Quebec and the other two (twins) to Wisconsin). Of course I knew it wasn't their fault... but still I felt so lonely afterwards.
  • In 4th grade, I remember the guys in my class joking about a guy named "Dil"... I was pretty sure then and I am surer of it now that it was their codename for me so that they could make fun of me right in front of my face... and possibly got me to make fun of myself too. This ridicule pushed me away from them.
  • In 6th grade, a new guy moved into my class (which hadn't happened in years) and I felt a draw to become friends with him. Sadly... that didn't last and he felt too smothered by me. Being autistic, I didn't see what I was doing wrong.
  • In 8th grade, I finally had a "best friend". He had been in my class for years, but over the summer (we lived next door to each other) we had become closer than we had in years. However, I guess I was too "clingy" or something, so he began avoiding me to hang out with other friends.
  • In 9th grade, I felt like I'd made a best friend with a new guy in my class (we had SO much in common, on a surface level). However, as it turned out, he didn't have values or standards, so I didn't want to be so close with him. However, in the meantime, he'd met one of my other friends, who was a year younger than me, and they became best friends.... leaving me with no one...
  • High school was mostly spent alone because the people I wanted to associate with were too cliquey for me to integrate myself with and the others had a certain lack of standards, so I didn't want to hang out with them.

After processing all of this last week and feeling that emotions for the first time in who knows how long, I managed to remember what's happened since high school... In my mind, Garrett spoke but I could also see so many others. Garrett spoke to me and told me that he was my friend, my brother, and that he loved me and would never leave me...

I am scarred by my past, but I am grateful for the people that the Lord has put in my life: Garrett, Elder Call, Eric, Justin, Phil, Tyler, Andrew, and so many others that I've been able to feel love from in my life. Even though time and space may separate me from some of these people, when I do see them, they are happy to see me and we are able to pick up from EXACTLY where we left off... as friends... as family. :)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

My Gift to You (Christmas 2012)

Merry Christmas 2012! Well, we survived the “end of the world”; what next? Well, today was Christmas and I was blessed to be able to spend it with my parents and my little brother. Tonight, as the day is calming down, I wanted to give you all a last minute Christmas present. This is my “Voices of Hope” playlist. Of course, you’ve seen me write about “Voices of Hope”, but this playlist is something a little different. Whereas the Voice(s) of Hope website and the book are particularly about same-sex attraction, this playlist is just a series of songs that give me hope. In my struggles and experiences with same-sex attraction, that’s why most of these songs are on this playlist. However, this playlist also gives me hope in my other struggles (be it annoying coworkers, a fender bender (which happened to me yesterday, sadly), or being alone in your apartment for a week, which also happened to me this week).  Anyway, here we go…

One of the points I wanted to get across the most in my original SSA post was that I don’t want my SSA to define who I am. Yes, it has become a very prominent part of my life; especially in the past couple months since my “coming out”. But no, it does not define me. As I’ve mentioned before, I am so much more than my SSA. I am a brother. I am an uncle. I am a writer. I am a returned missionary. I am a student. I am a friend. I am a member of the Lord’s true church. Most importantly, I am a child of God. I love this song by Casting Crowns because it so clearly says to me that no matter how much I do and how much I am, without Him, I am nothing. So, who am I? I am a child of God… and I am His.

This song by Switchfoot is one that sends me into a lot of introspection. It makes me look back at the past day, week, month, year, and lifetime. What do I regret? What don’t I regret? What can I do to make the second category more prominent? Who do I want to be? King Benjamin counseled his people to watch their thoughts, deeds, and words because that is who they would become. This is a song about repentance. Who do I want to be and what changes do I need to make in my life to become him?

This song has given me an impression (similar to “This is Your Life”) of introspection. What do you like? What don’t you like? Take what you like about yourself. Take your strengths, take your good qualities, and leave the negative ones behind. Move on and press forward, away from the negative. When you make a mistake, own up to it and move on. There is and never will be a point in brooding over what we’ve done wrong. Learn from it, and continue marching on.

Another Switchfoot song (you’ll see a pattern of that in this post… I like Switchfoot). This song has had a lot of meaning to me lately, as I’ve felt stuck in one place at times. At times, my mistakes and my imperfections overwhelm me. However, like the very first lines to this song say, welcome to mortality. Everyone has their stuff to deal with. However, it is our choice to move on and dare ourselves to take the step out of our comfort zones to where we will stretch and maybe hurt, but ultimately grow. Like the previous two songs, this song invites me to take a good look at who I am and who I want to be. Like “Marching On”, it motivates me to action to leave the past behind and become a better disciple of Christ and child of God.

This has been one of the funnest songs for me since being in the cast of the Hill Cumorah Pageant in 2009. I even wrote a blog post about it last year. Especially in regards to my SSA, I can see how my struggles have made me look at myself and become a better man. Honestly, one of the blessings of having SSA is that it forces me to be humble. However, although consciously I know my struggles will make me stronger, in the midst of temptation and hardship, my SSA (and other trials) can be more like Shang is when he tells Mulan to go home (2:24 mark in the video). However, that’s the moment that matters the most. I am the most hurt. I am the lowest. I can’t go any longer. And yet, something inside me pushes forward and instead of giving up, I become a better man because I chose to take on my struggles head-on.

A couple days ago this song really described how I felt. I was in emotional crisis mode (in regards to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, I was being told by Shang to go home). I felt empty and I felt apathetic to everything around me. However, thanks to a couple of friends (you know who you are), I was able to break out of that mindset and begin to care for my emotional wellbeing again. Saying goodbye to my apathy opened the floodgates for my negative emotions too… but I actually felt grateful for that, because I felt the motivation to keep going and to (going back to the Mulan analogy) retrieve that arrow from the top of the pole. Honestly, I’m still working toward the top, but I won’t give up on making it there.

In the world, I feel as though people with SSA are told to just live a gay lifestyle and “be true to themselves”. However, that’s not who I am. Instead, I choose to stand up against their words and stand up for the truth, for the gospel, for the church, which has been attacked by the LGBT community in the past. DISCLAIMER: I am not meaning to bash on any people who live a gay lifestyle. However, I am choosing to “side” with my faith, not my sexuality. This decision to live a life of faith can be difficult. I have heard stories of Josh and Lolly Weed and Ty and Danielle Mansfield being the recipients of persecution because they choose to support the church. I stand with them. I stand with my Savior, no matter how unpopular that decision may be. Back to the song… “nobody in all of Oz, no wizard that there is or was, is ever gonna bring me down.”

(me and two of my brothers after going to see Wicked in Salt Lake City this summer)

This song is a favorite of my friend “John” (in fact he wanted to use it as part of his Voices of Hope video). Today I was asked by one of my readers if I’ve been happier since I “came out”. I told him that I have no always been happier, but I do not regret the decision to “come out”. Like this song says, I am better, so much better now. I can see the light of the Son and I refuse to run away from what He has asked me to do. I feel a pull to be a missionary, even if it’s in a very unusual sense. I believe it’s what the Lord has called me to do, because His children need a voice of hope. I will continue to follow Him throughout the rest of my life.

After all of those power songs, I want to slow down a little… Yes, I have felt the call. Yes, I am committed to the gospel. Yes, I even enjoy my SSA sometimes. However, that doesn’t change how hard it is sometimes. It’s hard to be in elders’ quorum and have a lesson on dating. Sometimes it’s hard to see happy couples around BYU’s campus and not feel jealous or lonely. Honestly, it’s hard for me to see Garrett, my best friend, with his girlfriend at times. Do I want them to break up? HECK NO! But it can be hard. Even though I have felt attracted to women before, it’s hard. However, I know that as I “keep holding on” to the iron rod, I will be okay and He will give me strength and carry me through the parts of life that I can’t handle on my own.

Like “Defying Gravity”, to me this song talks about living above the status quo. Just because the world says something is okay doesn’t mean that it is. Honestly, sometimes, like this song says, “I guess I’m looking for a miracle” and “we can be who we want to be.” In the simplest sense, this song is about living above the way of the world. We are a peculiar people. We are meant to be set apart and different from the rest of the world, because we know better. We are meant to be that example of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Bringing it back down again… Switchfoot, being a Christian rock band, is one of my favorites because they do stuff like this. As much as I want to help others and as much as I want my friends to help me, I recognize that the true source of hope and only lasting hope comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. As much as I love talking about the Voices of Hope project, I want to reiterate what Steven Frei said at the North Star Christmas fireside: “Two thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph knocked. Now, Christ knocks at our door. He is our true Voice of hope.” When you look at the Voices of Hope logo, note that it actually says “Voice(s) of Hope” with the “s” in parenthesis. The book and the website have “Voices of Hope” but even more importantly, each of those voices (of which mine will soon be a part) testifies of the true and living Voice of hope, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

I want to close off with a question for you. What song(s) would be on your Voices of Hope playlist, whether you struggle with SSA, addiction, self-esteem, bad grades, or whatever? What brings hope to you and helps you to remember the Atonement?

As always, I want to end with my testimony of the Atonement… I know that Jesus Christ, the Baby of Bethlehem, was born to atone for me, for you, and for all of us. He paid the price that we couldn’t and I will forever be grateful for His sacrifice that brings me everlasting hope. As I always say, it is through the Atonement that we can gain hope and that it gets better. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Best Friend of a Gay Mormon (By Garrett)

That man with the goofy smile is my friend Spencer Ficiur. He’s the author of this amazing blog (not that I’m biased or anything), and I've known him for about three years now. He’s pointing to the CN Tower in Toronto, where we took a road trip together in July of this year, about 5 months ago.

We’re both Mormons. And as Mormons, we both served as missionaries for the church. I went to Chile; Spencer went to Toronto. It had been two years since seeing each other. And since I live in Michigan, a few hours from his mission, we took a road trip there to kick it like old times.

As we went around Toronto, I got to know the people he had taught, loved, and served. He had a hero’s welcome. His converts showered us with food and “thank yous.” I left a little fatter.

One night, during this road trip, Spencer and I walked and caught up on life. It was a wonderful conversation—one I hadn’t had with him in a while. It refreshed me. Then, during a pause, Spencer asked me if he could tell me something. I said sure. He then began to tell me, his voice trembling slightly, about his same-sex attraction. At first, I didn’t know what to say. I asked him what that meant to him. He said that fully intends to live the commandments and follow Christ to the end, no matter his same-sex attraction.

He has already written his side of that story. Let me share with you my side.

Spencer continued to tell me how, growing up, he felt like his whole life was a taboo. Rejection, fear, and loneliness had saturated his growing up years. I felt heartbroken for him. The first thought that came to me was, “Spencer, after all this time… why didn’t you ever tell me? Don’t you trust me as a friend?”

But then, I realized, this isn’t something you just tell someone, even if he is your friend.

I realized how Spencer’s situation puts him in a kind of cultural limbo: the idea of a “Gay Mormon” is simply unheard of. In several peoples’ minds, including mine, the idea is that you are either gay, living the gay lifestyle, or you’re a Mormon living blissfully without that attraction.

But that’s not the case, and Spencer had a dilemma: though Spencer has a strong faith and testimony, he lives in a culture that (whether saying it or not) emphasizes almost every Sunday to us young men that we need to take girls out on dates, get married, and fulfill all our other responsibilities. In addition, the people are still very ignorant about same-sex attraction, and in their ignorance may hurt him or reject him.

That’s the moment when I knew I needed to learn more.

So in the months that followed, as I attended my university in Utah this fall semester, that’s exactly what I did. I needed to understand what my friend was going through. I attended a group called USGA, a group that meets on my university’s campus for people who are Mormon but also LGBT. I attended a conference this November called the AMCAP Conference. I met the guys from Spencer’s support group, and from all over as he associates with people dealing with the same issue. I began reading Voice(s) of Hope, the book about SSA Spencer has discussed earlier.

I began to realize how big this is, and just how many people are affected by it. Spencer and his friends are really becoming the pioneers in this field, and they are already helping people who are conflicted between their faith and their sexuality. I’ve made friends with several of these people, and all of their stories are inspiring. Some have, in their attempts to defend the church, been attacked by the LGBT community. They demonstrate bravery in exposing themselves, a very controversial and sensitive part of themselves, to be able to testify of Christ and help those who may struggle with the same thing.

When I come home from classes, I have no clue if it will be a good day or a bad day when I come back. Some days, I’m excited because Spencer tells me about a person he had reached out to with his blog, or who had SSA. Other days, he is really having a fight with SSA himself. As I’ve roomed with him, fought with him against his doubts and fears, and stood by him as he started this “coming out,” I’ve learned powerful lessons about the Son of God, and about life in general that I have applied to my own life circumstances. We’re all fighting a battle of some kind, and given the size of Spencer’s battles, he is quite a fighter.

Despite all he had gone through, when I asked him about his future, he said, “I see a wife and a family there.”

Ladies, if you are tired of the same old guys—the selfish, the immature, or the non-committal kind of guys, then might I suggest you hook up with my friend Spencer Ficiur. He’s not like any other guys. He has received numerous blessings from his SSA. He knows how to relate to people on a deep emotional level. He’s not afraid of letting you know about his weaknesses; he is very up front with them. He’s a warrior, and he’s a comedian. He’s fashion conscious. Plus, he loves watching Once Upon a Time. I can hook you up with him if you’re interested.

To everyone, I invite you to get to know Spencer and learn from him what I have. I invite you to learn more about SSA, and see the blessings that can come into your life as you set aside any previous myths, misconceptions, or doubts you may have had about Mormons that have SSA.

The photo below of the two goofballs is a photo of us taken at the end of our road trip. I’m so grateful for my friend Spencer, and that he told to me his story that July. My life has been blessed since.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Q&A Session

In writing my original blog post about my same-sex attraction, I got feedback from a lot of people. Most of it included kind words and support. Other people, with their support, had questions for me. Most of them are common questions about same-sex attraction, so I decided to turn it into a blog post. Keep in mind that the answers in this post are MY answers. Same-sex attraction is a very complicated subject and we do not know near everything about it. With that in mind, let’s get started.

Question: How long have you know that you were attracted to the same sex?
Answer: My earliest recollection of being attracted to another man was in seventh grade when I was attracted to one of my teachers. However, I can see inklings of SSA before that, but never enough to have made me think that I was “gay” or that I was different.

Question: Do you think it was something that you were born with?
Answer: No. I know some people will be not agree with this and may be offended (because of how sensitive this topic is) but there is no evidence that homosexuality is innate. In fact, there is evidence that it isn’t innate. However, based on how many pairs of siblings I’ve seen on North Star, I do believe there is a genetic component that makes one more likely to develop same-sex attraction, given the right environment. I like the way my therapist has described it, that SSA is an adaptation my body has developed in order to try and meet the needs I have for male connection in whatever way possible (which means I have to find other ways to feel that connection with men, besides sexual ways).

Question: Is your attraction exclusively to males, or are females also included?
Answer: I have been attracted to women (Hallelujah!) in the past. I would say, however, that my attraction to men is stronger and more frequent. Also, I would say that my attraction to women comes differently than my attraction to men. For example, like anyone with eyes, I can notice when a woman is beautiful. However, it’s rare that I’ll see a girl and have her “turn my head” (though it has happened before). My attraction to women typically develops as I get to know them. For example, there have been a few girls that I’ve gotten to know and become good friends with (I’ve never had a problem being able to relate to girls and become friends with them) and then suddenly, while talking to them, I realize “Oh… she’s really cute.” I guess you could say that as a general rule, my attraction to women is more personality based. On the other hand, my attraction to men is almost always a physical appeal.

Question: Does this mean you’re leaving the church?
Answer: I’d hoped my blog post had been clear enough when I wrote it that there wouldn’t be any question about this. However, someone had this concern… No, I am not leaving the church. Though I can find it hard at church sometimes (especially with the constant push about dating and marriage, here at BYU), I am not leaving the church. I have a testimony of the gospel, of the restoration, and of the Atonement… in fact, my SSA has helped me develop a better, stronger testimony of the Atonement. If anything, since my “coming out”, I have a stronger commitment to stay in the church and to help it be a more welcoming place for anyone with trials, whether it be SSA, depression, or anything (which includes all of us).

That's all for the questions today. If you have your own questions, about me or about SSA, please feel free to ask, either in the comments here or you can email me (

I’m going to end off here with my testimony. I know that the gospel path is the only way to find lasting happiness. I know that I have a Heavenly Father who loves me and cares for me. It’s because of His love that I have friends who exhibit that Christ-like love to me. I have a testimony of the Atonement, of its healing and strengthening power. Through my trials and my struggles, I have learned that it is through the Atonement that it gets better.

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

(this is me, by the Sacred Grove, this past summer)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Behind the Voices

(me with Ty Mansfield, the man who started this great movement)

A couple weeks ago, I was asked for some input and reflections about the Voices of Hope project, which I was filmed for on November 16. A little while later, after the podcast was released, I listened to it. This episode of the North Star Voices podcast was about the filming of the project, the feelings and impressions that those involved had on that day.

I figured the podcast would be spiritual, but, like the filming of the project itself, I didn’t expect it to be THAT powerful. For the sake of some confidentiality (because of Google and stuff) I’m not going to mention most people by name, so this post will mostly be a summary of the thoughts and feelings from the podcast.

One thing that I absolutely LOVED was mentioned by at least eight of those interviewed and I wholeheartedly agree: The community, the brotherhood, the bond, the camaraderie, and the family there was tangible. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s in those moments that I can glimpse Zion. Reo, one of the cameramen (who does not experience same-sex attraction), made the comment, “I feel like I'm in the temple right now.” Multiple people noted how strong the Spirit was; one Voices of Hope participant noted that it was because people are testifying that there is hope through Jesus Christ. Reo also noted that it was because there was so much love, acceptance, and understanding of the Atonement present at those filming locations. A different participant noted that earlier on in his journey, he believed he was the only “gay man” trying to live the gospel. I can say from experience that I’ve felt that way before too and I know many people who have felt that way. However, it’s not true! As this participant said, “You are not alone! There are a lot of us!” Another participant said that he went through withdrawals in the days following his shoot, because his life was so mundane compared to the power he’d felt at the shoots. One of the project’s coordinators noted that the camaraderie was an unexpected (yet very welcomed) byproduct of the project. I am grateful to count myself as part of this brotherhood and this Voices of Hope family.

Another common theme in the podcast was how much the Lord provided the participants with words to speak. One participant is not a native English speaker, so he was worried about being able to convey all that he wanted to in his second language. However, he said, “I didn’t lack any words.” A couple others, though native English speakers, had similar worries. One of them, reflecting on what he’d said, noted that it was what he would have wanted to hear if he had heard it while he was struggling. The other said that he had prayed, “Wilt thou give me the words to speak?” He testified that he had been given those inspired words. Like them, I had been a little worried about having said everything right or having said enough. A few things have brought me comfort in that. First, while talking to Ty Mansfield after my shoot, he noted that even after writing “In Quiet Desperation” and “Voices of Hope”, he still had much more he wanted to say. Also, he noted that when he wrote “In Quiet Desperation” he didn’t expect to get married in this life. That comment reminded me that my story will never be able to be told in full during this life, because I’m continuously writing it. Another thing that brought me comfort is this blog. I am free to share my thoughts and reflections about my SSA and other things in my life and be able to share my testimony at all times.

Another one that I’ve brought up a few times became a common theme. It was mentioned multiple times how SSA is not a weakness. It is a blessing and strength. William Seger (who wrote “Why Me?: A Gay Man's Struggle for Love and Family”) noted that it is a blessing! He continuously reminds a young man he knows that it is a blessing. However, where that young man is, he cannot see it. William’s wife referenced Ether 12:27 in supporting her husband. Another participant said, “Learn to love it! Love yourself! Enjoy the fact that you see others differently! ... Don't let the world tell you who you are. Tell the world who you are!” I absolutely loved that!

Here’s another point I wanted to bring up… it was emphasized my multiple people in the podcast how much agency plays into this. William Seger mentioned agency twice during his snippet and emphasized how we choose what we want to become. The gay lifestyle is not the only choice. As noted previously, you choose who you want to be! Don’t let the world decide who you want to be! Don’t let their lies tell you that you are less than you are. One thing I loved that I said was this: “You are more than your mistakes and your weaknesses... they don't define you... your weaknesses can be your strengths.”

The podcast ended with some words from the project’s coordinator. He noted that even now as they’ve filmed forty participants, we have no idea how far this project will reach and what the impact will be. Eventually, they would even like to do videos from other countries (England, Thailand, Chile, etc). He quoted Joseph Smith in saying, “No unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing.”

Finally, the podcast ended off with a clip of Elder Jefferey R. Holland from October 2011 Priesthood session of General Conference. I remember this distinctly. I was in Calgary at the time and it had been a hard time for me, but this re-energized me: “Satan cannot directly take a life. That is one of many things he cannot do. But apparently his effort to stop the work will be reasonably well served if he can just bind the tongue of the faithful ...  I ask for a stronger and more devoted voice, a voice not only against evil and him who is the personification of it, but a voice for good, a voice for the gospel, a voice for God. Brethren of all ages, unbind your tongues and watch your words work wonders in the lives of those “who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it.

I have a testimony of this work. Just like any other kind of missionary work, the Lord will support this. And above all else, remember that through the Atonement, it gets better.

PS: Here’s a link to the podcast. Yours truly is featured at the time marker 49:40

Friday, December 14, 2012

Changed for the Better

It’s that time of year again. December 14… about half way through the final month of the year… finals are over, people are heading home for Christmas, and some people won’t be coming back next semester (whether for mission, because they graduated, or for other reason). However, the imprint they leave on our lives is irreversible. So today, I just wanted to talk about five people I am grateful for… their presence and influence in my life has changed me so much (if you are not one of the five, trust me, I’m sure your presence in my life has affected me too).

First, I want to start out with a little snippet from the Broadway play “Wicked” (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen/read Wicked, and you don’t want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph). Near the end of the play, Glinda finds Elfaba and they reconnect after the death of Nessa and the presumed death of Fiyero. Elfaba gives the Grimmerie to Glinda and asks her to take on her cause, because she knows that with her own reputation, she will not be able to change things. However, Glinda has the influence and power to make good things happen in Oz. After this encounter, Elfaba and Glinda never expect to see each other again (which they don’t). In the play, their goodbye is in the song entitled “For Good”. Reflecting back on their relationship and their friendship—and themselves—they realize that their friendship has influenced who they have become.

The first person I want to talk about is my friend Eric. I met Eric in October 2010. A month before I met him, I had returned from my mission in Toronto and I was still having a very hard time with it. I was confused about what I was to do. Why had I come home? Was I supposed to go back? Was I supposed to look toward marriage instead? How did my same-sex attraction play into that, whether my next step was to go on my mission again or if I was to look toward marriage?

The first memory I have of Eric is at a mix and mingle (we called it “Sweet Swap”) after ward prayer one week. Having heard that I was looking for a job, Eric offered to drive me to a job interview if I needed it. Knowing that I had to be able to walk to the job anyway, I declined his offer. However, that was not where things ended with Eric by any means. A couple weeks later, I was in the Rec Room because I needed a break from my apartment. As I was reading my novel, Eric and two girls came in to watch Star Trek. Graciously, Eric invited me to join them. As days and weeks progressed, I hung out with this group more: movie nights, game nights (Take-Over-the-World Tuesdays), temple square, etc.).

One thing that really affected my relationship with Eric is that he believed in me from Day 1 that I could get back on my mission. In fact, mid-November 2010, he gave me a blessing that told me I was going to be a missionary again. It took about eight and a half months for that prophecy to come true, but in the hard times that I had leading up to my mission in Calgary, it gave me something to hold on to.

Eric has become one of my most trusted friends and a big brother to me (to the point where I call his daughter, Rachel, my niece—side note: she is the CUTEST little girl EVER). I know I can always go to him for advice and for support. Eric, because I knew you, I have been changed for the better… because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

With Eric and Emalee (his wife) before I left for Calgary

My old roommate Justin would have to be another one on this list. I lived with him for a short three months, but before and since then, he has been a great friend and a great influence for me. The first time I met Justin was the first Sunday in my new ward in October 2010. I was taken by the bishop (who I’d met earlier in the week) from sacrament meeting to the mission prep class, where Justin was the teacher. Being in a mission prep class with primarily future sister missionaries, the only men in the room were me and Justin. So, after Sunday school hour, Justin showed me where Priesthood was held. In doing so, we realized that Justin was my home teacher. Funny coincidence how the mission prep teacher was my home teacher, huh?

In the three months that Justin was my home teacher, he only taught me a lesson once. Yet, he still remains one of my favorite home teachers that I’ve had down here at BYU. Why? Because I wasn’t a chore and I wasn’t a check-mark to get every month. Justin came to give a message once, but he was available to give me help at any time while he was my home teacher, after assignments got changed, while we were roommates, and even now that he’s married.

Justin was also the first roommate that I’d ever told about my same-sex attraction. Something in regards to SSA was bothering me (I think I was attracted to some guy and I felt ashamed of it, even though I didn’t choose it) and I felt I needed to tell someone. I pulled Justin aside at the apartment (this is while we were roommates) and told him about my SSA. He just chuckled a little and said, “Spencer, I think we were supposed to be roommates.” I was confused, but he expanded on that thought. To say the least, Justin had had a trying mission. In addition to his own trials, he’d also had companions and investigators who had dealt with Aspergers, anxiety, depression, and same-sex attraction (not all at once, necessarily, but he’d known several people who had one or several of these).

Justin taught me a lot about following the Spirit, being willing and ready to help others, having a good positive attitude, and being a good friend. To me, Justin is/was a great example of charity, caring about me even if he didn’t understand exactly what I was dealing with. Justin, because I knew you, I have been changed for the better… because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

With Justin at his wedding reception

Third is Elder Call. I’ve talked about Elder Call a lot. He was my celestial, charitable, Christ-like trainer on my mission, who has potentially changed my life more than anyone else I know. We were paired together at the mission home in Toronto by President Middleton (only a week before the Middletons came home). Previous to being paired up, we (the greenies and the trainers) had done some role playing. As President Middleton told us who our trainers were, Elder Call jumped up and shouted, “We were already companions!” And then he came over and gave me a big hug. It was true… during role playing, Elder Call had chosen me as his companion.

Elder Call (now more commonly known as Jared) taught me about my worth. He pushed me further on all occasions when doing missionary work, because he believed I had so much more potentially than I could see. He taught me about faith and obedience. Elder Call talked to every person he met, just like the mission president taught. In fact, he was heartbroken on the occasions that he had to pass someone up because we were already fifteen minutes late for an appointment and we had ten minutes left to ride on our bikes (those numbers might be slightly exaggerated, but I don’t think so).

Jared Call also taught me about revelation. As I’ve mentioned before, Elder Call was the first person I ever told about my same-sex attraction. That night is still mostly a blur (partly because of how surreal it was, partly because of the two years that have passed since, and partly because of how late at night it was—we were up until 3AM). However, I have been able to recall some details. As we were falling asleep in our respective beds, in a conversation that began with something to do with the law of chastity, the Spirit directed it toward same-sex attraction. Finally, the Spirit gave me a little push that said, “You can trust him.” And the rest is pretty much history. What I didn’t know at the time, but soon learned, was that Elder Call had figured out my secret weeks before. Between impressions from the Spirit and his own “gaydar”, he figured it out.

Though you refuse to accept compliments… though you believe more in me than I could ever believe in myself… though you sometimes tease me endlessly… Jared, because I knew you, I have been changed for the better… because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

With Jared at the Toronto Mission Reunion

Next is Garrett. I’ve talked about Garrett a lot on here. He is my best friend. He is my brother. He is one of my strongest and most supportive allies. I first met Garrett at the end of August 2009. My first recollection of Garrett is actually from the first week in our ward that year, where he introduced himself and told the ward that he loved grammar (you’re still never going to live that down, buddy). The next day, I ran into Garrett on campus and we learned that we had a class together. After that, it wasn’t long before we became good friends. Now that’s the short version of the story (and I promise you the long version is LONG).

Garrett has taught me that I have worth. I am worth loving and I am a friend worth having. Some of you might be saying to yourself, “Duh, Spencer!” but before I met Garrett, I had never had a friend (especially a guy friend) stick around. They all either seemed to move on, seemingly abandoning me, or they moved too far away for a deep friendship to continue to flourish. However, time and time again, Garrett has shown me that he’s in it for the long haul and that we will be great friends for about forever (… now we just need to find girls to marry who can put up with our quirky friendship and who can get alone with each other like we do).

One of the most Christ-like things I’ve experienced with Garrett was this past summer as we were on a road trip together. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to bring it up… but it had been on my mind. So far on our trip we had driven from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Brampton, Ontario to visit members and converts there. After spending a couple days in Brampton, we drove down to Niagara Falls. The night that we got there, we walked up to the falls lit up. On the way back, something had been on my mind… I knew Garrett would be living with me again this fall and I was pretty sure I wanted to tell him about my SSA (note: this was before I had the prompting to start blogging about my SSA)… but I was scared to tell him… what if he reacted badly? I couldn’t lose my best friend over this…

Finally, on our way back to our hotel, things had gone quiet and we didn’t have anything to talk about and I felt that familiar push to talk about it… I told Garrett about my SSA and (while he didn’t see it coming) he couldn’t have reacted better. And in the months that have followed, I have felt his love through his efforts to learn about this issue alongside me. Garrett, because I knew you, I have been changed for the better… because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

With Garrett in Niagara Falls

Finally, I want to talk about my friend “John”. A few months ago, I met John for the first time in person (I’d previously talked to him through Facebook after we connected on North Star). I was in a very dark, depressed place in regards to my same-sex attraction and a mess it had caused for me near the beginning of the semester. Needing help and support from someone who experienced same-sex attraction, I reached out to John over Facebook. We talked and talked. The next time, I met him in person at the Evergreen conference fireside. In the months that have followed, he has been an amazing support for me. He has been there for me to talk to on a near-daily basis. He has hugged me and held me in that embrace when I needed it so desperately. And he has introduced me to so many spiritually strong men with SSA who are committed to living the gospel. I don’t want to give too many details about John on here (in order to keep his identity safe), but I’ve reflecting on this today, because John is leaving to finish his education east of Utah. He’ll be back as soon as he can (because he loves Utah) but I do know that I will miss him. Being older than him slightly, I call him my little brother… and I’m going to miss my little brother a lot. John, because I knew you, I have been changed for the better… because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Of course, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t bring the Atonement into it… especially with such a serious post. So here it is… Yes, each of these men (Eric, Justin, Jared, Garrett, and John) has made a huge impact on my life… However, if it wasn’t for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, they would not make a lasting impression. I am grateful to know that I have a Savior who is eager for me to improve and become better. And I’m grateful to know that through the Atonement, it gets better.