Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013: Year in Review

Last year I did a 2012: Year in Review post, based off a New Year’s tradition that my family has done as long as I can remember. I figured I’d keep up that tradition by doing another Year in Review blog post this year. So here we go…

Neatest Place You were in 2013
Again, like last year, I feel like I haven’t gone far. Other than Alberta and Idaho Falls, I have only been outside of Utah once this year, when we went on our family cruise to the Caribbean. It was really cool to go to Mexico and finally use the Spanish I had been studying for three semesters. Belize was really relaxing, just spending the day at an ecotourism spot with my parents and my baby nephew Carson. And in Honduras I went zip-lining with my siblings and my two older nephews. I’m not sure I could pick one of those ports as my favorite, but it was all definitely adventure!

Mexico! (August 2013)

Biggest Surprise of the Year
There isn’t one “surprise of the year” for me. Looking back to where I was a year ago, there is no comparison. A year ago, I was incredibly codependent. A year ago, I did not believe I could do my classes. A year ago, I wasn’t sure I was worth loving. Now, I have hope. I am beginning to learn what it means to love myself and truly care about myself.

My Voice(s) of Hope Shoot (September 2013)

Best TV Show/Movie You Watched
Easy answer. Doctor Who. I got introduced to it by my friend Josh at the beginning of the year and Garrett and I quickly took to it. Enough that we dressed up as two of the Doctors for Halloween and the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special… And I’m looking for an excuse to dress up in my Doctor costume again. It’s a science fiction show, but I’ve also had some amazing insights from watching it about depression/suicide and about agency/emotions. It continues to inspire me and continues to give me hope.
Garrett and I as the Doctors for Halloween (October 2013)

Saddest Day/Time in 2013
This is the one where I get vulnerable I suppose. The moment I was lowest emotionally this year. Back in March, I had a day where I was more depressed than I can ever remember before. So low that I felt I was unworthy of suicide. That day I was blessed to feel support from many friends and it was then that I began working hard on my self-esteem to keep that from happening again.
Jordan River temple trip (July 2013)

Happiest Day/Time in 2013
In contrast to March, the past few months have been the best part of my year. I have felt more comfortable with myself and more okay with who I am. I still have a lot to work on, but the past few months have been the healthiest for me, I think. I am aware of many of my weaknesses, but I am willing to work on it. I will continue to work on it throughout the rest of my life.
Quidditch for Garrett's birthday (September 2013)

Best Book/Magazine You’ve Read
Of all the books I’ve read in the past year, the one that I enjoyed the most and the one that has changed me the most was “The Continuous Atonement” by Brad Wilcox. I read it earlier this year and it completely changed how I see the Atonement. Put simply: Life is not about me being perfect; it’s about me never giving up and about trusting that Christ can help me become a better man.

Things You Will Remember From the News
I’ll be honest. I don’t watch or read the news much at all. The only news clip I remember watching was after the Reconciling Faith and Feelings Conference in November. ABC did a short story on it, the purpose, and the success that they had.
Reconciling Faith and Feelings website

Favorite Talk in Church/Conference
My favorite conference talk this year would probably be Elder Holland’s talk about depression and other mental disorders in October. Having felt depressed, it felt nice to have that feeling validated. Though never diagnosed with depression, I have felt depressed. I also really loved Elder Bednar’s talk from April. It helped me understand the Law of Chastity a lot better and to appreciate more the great trust and gift that the Lord has given mankind.
Jeffrey R. Holland

What Would You Like to Do In 2014?

Well, I know one thing I want to do in 2014: I want to travel out east again. I was accepted for the Hill Cumorah Pageant a couple weeks ago, so I’ll be spending July 4-20 in Palmyra. Somewhere around that (either before or after Pageant) I’m going to visit Toronto again (I am not getting that close to my mission and not visiting people that I love). Besides that, I am going to keep working on my degree, learning what I need to in order to provide for my family. I am going to keep working on myself in therapy and related groups, so that regardless of what happens (marriage, singleness, or whatever) I can be happy. I am going to continue to learn what it means to be a missionary and a disciple of Christ.
Garrett and I at the Hill Cumorah (July 2012)
I'm going back!!!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Voice(s) of Hope, Part 4

I realized today that I have not done a Voices of Hope post since June and with all of the videos and essays that have been coming out recently (at least five videos have come out since the beginning of the semester) I wanted to write again. This one was a little more difficult because I don’t know any of the people personally and except perhaps Laurie Campbell, I haven’t met any of them at all. Anyways, here we go.
"Heavenly Father’s the one person that I know who loves me
more than anything." --Michael Sandberg
First up is Michael Sandberg. Other than the sexual abuse, there is a lot of his earlier life to which I can relate to some extent. I was bullied and made fun of (though it was not often directly to my face, because I suspect they knew I wouldn’t let them get away with it… I was too likely to tell a teacher and get them in trouble). My mom will attest that like Michael I came home from school crying many times throughout junior high. Being 22 now, it’s hard for me to even capture what that felt like so many years ago. I remember getting a note on my locker that called me gay. I remember sitting on three thumbtacks one day in ninth grade. Regardless of why people bully (because the target child is gay, because he’s fat, or whatever reason) it’s never okay. Many of my greatest scars come from how I was treated by my peers throughout twelve years of school.

I liked what Michael said his therapist told him: "I’m not going to be able to cure you. I’m not going to be able to fix you. What’s really important from here on out is that you learn to accept yourself and love yourself." Like I mentioned before in my Journey into Manhood post, one of the hardest things for me to do is to love myself. I have accepted that I’m attracted to men. In many ways that’s not a big deal. However, I still struggle at times to love the quirky, sometimes strange man that I am. Like I mentioned in reference to Spencer Thompson’s video, change does not mean becoming straight. It means loving me.
"Because that price is so great it means the whole
world to me." --Laurie Campbell
I’m sure there is much more I could say about Michael’s video, but I’m going to move on to Laurie Campbell now. Laurie is the author of “Born that Way?” which she wrote under the name Erin Eldridge. I like that she brought up the concept of sacrifice. Each of us, no matter what we struggle with, whether it is same-sex attraction like me or intellectualism like Laurie’s husband, we sacrifice something. However, I’m reminded that the Savior sacrificed all for us.

One part that I really enjoyed about her video was this: she said, “[Same-sex attraction] had the greatest ability to make me suffer in a way I’d never suffered before—to such extremes. It also had a way of bringing me to the Savior and these spiritual experiences that I know I never would of had, had I not dealt with this issue.” I can attest to that in my life. My struggles with SSA and learning to deal with them have helped me come closer to the Lord. I have learned (and I’m still learning) what it means to surrender my will to the Savior and use the enabling power of His Atonement. However, as I’ve effectively learned these things, my life has become better. I am better able to manage my emotions and I am better able to relate to my brothers and sisters.
"He provided that way, that I can be happy and that I can
love myself again." --Stephan Mueller
The final video I had for today was Stephan Mueller. First off, I want to point out how amazing the example of his father is as a branch president. Stephan had to confess heart-breaking things to not only his branch president, but his father who was the branch president. His father just listened (occasionally asking a clarifying question) and was compassionate to his son/branch member. I have heard what I’d call horror stories about how priesthood leaders react to SSA. Recently I saw a post on North Star about how one man had gone to his bishop for support and counsel with his pornography addiction and because of his SSA and his preconceived notions, the bishop assumed he was looking at child pornography, because he had in his mind that all gays were pedophiles and that he refused to look at the MormonsAndGays website. It saddens me to hear that there are people like this in the church who are unwilling to look at the official church resources given to them. However, these extremely negative cases make me grateful for priesthood leaders like President Brower (my mission president), my current bishop, and other incredibly understanding bishops I’ve had in the past.

Finally I want to touch on where Stephan is now. He noted that he is now in a place and a peace of mind that he is ok with who he is. SSA is no longer a central focus on his life. Through the support family and friends, he is not troubled by it anymore. It’s not a big deal anymore. Though sometimes for me it may seem different, I agree. Recently I’ve been noticing how little SSA has to do with my identity. I’ve been debating on when to tell two of my roommates about my SSA, but do I really need to? It’s not a big deal. What’s more important in my life is my schoolwork, my friends, my dating life (when I find a girl I like), my job, and dealing with the stresses that all of these put on me. In contrast to how much I struggle with school stress, SSA is nothing. Compared to a year ago when it felt like an obligatory thing to tell people, it’s nice to be where I’m at now.

The essay I picked for today is Steven Wilson’s. When I first read the book Voices of Hope one of my favorites was his ex-boyfriend Kenneth’s essay. I have a lot of respect for Kenneth and Steven, having gone from having a sexual relationship together to having a healthy brotherly friendship. After finding out that he (and as a result Kenneth) had AIDS they both became motivated to find God. It was through the loving influence of Kenneth’s family that they were both able to be converted (or in Kenneth’s case re-converted) to the gospel and Kenneth was able to baptize Steven.

Steven noted that it was difficult to change his relationship with Kenneth from a sexual one to a brotherly one and that they made mistakes along the way, but through setting up proper boundaries with each other and creating a Christ-centered home, they were able to find their love for each other increase.

I love one of the lines that Steven says: “I know Satan knows my weakness but so does Jesus Christ.” Sometimes this is hard for me to remember. In my struggles I may recognize that the adversary is working against me and he is very good at what he does, but I may also forget that Jesus Christ is also very good at what He does and He is infinitely more powerful than the devil. Christ knows my weaknesses, but through the power of His Atonement they can be made into strengths.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is His Son. And I know that through His grace I can be strengthened and I can improve and that I can become better.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

I'm Not Finished Yet

One year ago I "came out of the closet". For a while I've been thinking about what I could write about in honor of this one year anniversary. This is what I came up with...

This past month, I did my re-shoot for my Voices of Hope video. As I prepped, I had my trepidations. Was I ready? If not, when would I be? Wouldn't it be better to wait until I had a "happy ending" and I was able to film my video alongside a beautiful woman?

As I thought about how nice it would be to doing my video with my wife, I remembered something that Ty told me last year when I met him at my original Voices of Hope shoot in November. I hadn't been sure if said everything that I'd wanted to in my video. Ty mentioned to me that he'd had similar feelings after writing "In Quiet Desperation". When he had written that, he wasn't married. In fact, he still wasn't sure he'd ever get married. Now, years later he is married and he has two kids.

Even just since I came out last year, so much has happened. I filmed my Voices if Hope video in November, I moved to the Foreign Language Student Residence (FLSR) for a semester, I changed my major (again), I went to Journey into Manhood, and I did my re-shoot for my Voices of Hope video last month. I did all these things and I've done more too.

The great thing for me to realize is that there's more to come. I'm not finished yet. I have a lot to look forward to: marriage (whenever that happens), my own family, making more new friends, and learning more and more things in school (I've got 2.5 years left after all).

In fact, how sad would it be if I was "ready" for my video? At least by my former definition of "ready" (married, family, and completely perfect), that would make life kind of boring. I have so much to look forward to right now because I'm not finished yet.

There is always more good to come!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

He Likes to Be Asked

This past week I finished up reading "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew".  So spoiler alert to anyone who hasn't read this (though it's been out for quite a few years now).

I mark up my Narnia books at times when I find a certain part particularly spiritually insightful. This time, the part I marked was during Diggory, Polly, and Fledge's quest to get the apple that would grow into a tree to protect Narnia from the Witch.

Polly, Diggory, and Fledge stop for the night and they realize they didn't have anything to eat for dinner. And this is the exchange that happened:

            “Well I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Diggory.
            “I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
            “Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
            “I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse (still with his mouth full). “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”

For those familiar with Narnia, you know that Aslan is representative of Christ (and at times of God). Knowing the wisdom and the character of Aslan, I'm sure Fledge was right and Aslan would have known to provide the trio with food. However, I think Fledge was also right in his second comment: Aslan likes to be asked. And I believe God is the same way.

The scriptures say, "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." (Matthew 6:8) And in the Bible Dictionary under prayer it says "The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them."

Sometimes I think that's what I'm doing wrong. I'm not asking for what I need. And accordingly, maybe I'm being too vague. I'm beginning to believe more and more that the more specifically I ask for blessings the more specifically the Lord can bless me (I wonder if there's a quote on that).

I guess the preliminary part to that is to know specifically what I need. It's something I've been working on in my interpersonal relationships already. What do I need from a friend? When I'm upset and I talk to a friend, do I need to release frustration or do I need advice? If I need a listening ear and my friend starts spouting advice, I just get more frustrated. And sometimes it takes a lot of introspection for me to know what I really need.

The same thing applies with God. What do I need from Him? Maybe that's why prayer and meditation often go together. Meditation helps me know what I need and prayer enables me to ask. It takes practice, getting myself to understand and tune in with myself to know what I need. But I can see how it has helped me, so I keep working on it.

I know that as I focus on my prayers and my relationship with my Heavenly Father I tend to be happier; I have bad days but I feel more firm. The more connected I feel to my Heavenly Father, the less I am "carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). When I have that connection, I feel safe and I feel loved, no matter what happens.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Like a Litter of Puppies

Taking a short break from my homework to reflect on my Voices of Hope shoot this past weekend.

So a little more about why they decided to re-do my shoot. From the word of the producer himself (Kerry Harding) apparently I looked depressed in my original shoot, like my “dog had just died”. Talking about hope and the Atonement, but looking depressed, they decided to have me re-do the video.

Fair enough, I figured. Actually, I was pretty excited. When Ty first mentioned to me that they wanted me to re-shoot my video, I was relieved. I did my original shoot in November and it was fine. I felt like I was in a good place and I think I was, after I’d come out and had such good responses to it. However, in the months that followed I felt like I fell apart emotionally in many ways. After all the work it took to get myself back together (including going to my Journey Into Manhood weekend), I had actually been thinking that I wished I could re-do my video, having learned so much in the months following my shoot.

I got my wish! And this past Sunday was GREAT! I got to the house where we were filming and I was nervous! I don’t really get nervous. Well, that’s a lie. I get nervous, but it never hits until a few hours before. At the earliest, I get nervous earlier the day of a big event. I was too busy being excited to be nervous about my shoot. It wasn’t until I was about an hour and a half away from the shoot that the anxiety hit and I was looking through my notes, sure that I would forget to say something that I wanted to. I felt like I was cramming for a test, even though the “test” was on my life. What did I need to study for?

Shortly before the shoot, I got a blessing from Garrett, who came to support me. As the shoot before mine ended, we hung out with some of the people who had been in the room for that shoot (including Kerry, Ty, and some of the crew). Finally the camera was ready for my shoot. They got me wired up with a microphone and into the chair. As I got going, telling my story to Ty (he was my point-man, the person I talked to, in order to give me somewhere to look), it just came. Things that I had intended to say came easily, things that I had hadn’t planned to say came up, and other things I had planned to say felt unimportant.

I got to testify of the Atonement, the love of God, and the purpose of the trials in my life. At one point I think I started crying. I felt the Spirit testify of what I was doing. A lot of my story had to do more with my mission than with my SSA, but it was all told anyway. Afterwards, Kerry Harding, in contrast to what he’d said about my last shoot, said that this one seemed more like my dog “had had a litter of puppies” (for the record, I don’t have a dog, but I decided not to tell Kerry that).

I’m very excited for it to be released, but as it was just recorded, it’ll be a while. I don’t know how long, but in the meantime there are plenty of other videos already released for me to watch, re-watch, and draw strength from. As such, my next post will probably be another Voices of Hope post (since I haven’t done one in a while). Until then, whoever you are, reader, I want you to know that you are infinitely loved of God and no matter what you do that will never change.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pre-Reshoot (Voices of Hope)

Voices of Hope essay. Done. Sent.

After several edits and revisions (thank you to my parents and my friends who proofed it for me). Now that that's done, I can prepare for my re-shoot this coming weekend (for anyone I didn't tell, they wanted to re-do my video after I did my essay).

I'm grateful for the opportunity I had to write that essay. Fifteen pages from my heart. It was an amazing experience to review my journey, from my earliest memories of same-sex attraction, through the struggles of addiction and shame, and to where I am now. I'm not perfect, but I am a lot better than I used to be. Even compared to when I did my original shoot, I'm better. I've grown. And generally speaking, I'm happier.

With Ty Mansfield after my original shoot
I look forward to being able to do my re-shoot for my Voices if Hope video. I'm grateful that I have this opportunity to re-do it, having learned and grown a lot since my original shoot in November. I've been through a lot, including my semester living in the FLSR (BYU's foreign language housing), my therapeutic work, and my time at and since JiM.

I know that my Redeemer lives. I have learned a lot about what it means to be redeemed and what the Atonement can do for me. I know that He is looking out for me. I am grateful for the community that I have found and the unity and brotherhood that I have found there. I never expected that I could have the friends that I do and I never expected that I could feel such distinct feelings if joy.

Even more now than when this started, I know that through the Atonement it (life, struggles, etc.) gets better.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mercies in Disguise (Three Years Later)

Another reflection post? Yeah. What's the occasion today? Well, three years ago today, I was dropped off at the airport by President Brower, had my last conversation with Elder Call as a missionary, and flew home to be picked up by my parents in Alberta.

I remember being worried about going home, going back to Provo, calling a couple of my friends (with no warning that I was coming home), and being back at BYU as a 19-year-old RM. I remember fear. I remember relief. I remember sadness (though no tears came, but I wish they had). I remember vividly that day... The hardest day of my life.

It's been a long road coming to terms with what happened that day. For 11 months, I strived to get back into the mission field and for three months I got my wish in Calgary. In coming back from Calgary, I felt unfulfilled because of some negative experiences that happened there. However as I've grown, as time has passed, and as I have worked through my scars, I have seen how I have been changed and how each experience had taught me something and been for my good.

Many of my followers on this blog did not even know me when this blog started, nor do they likely even know why it started. Unlike many SSA/Gay Mormon blogs out there, this blog did not begin because of SSA. This blog began because of my mission, or rather because I didn't know if I'd be able to serve. After I came home from Toronto, this blog was about trying to go back. I guess because of that it makes sense as to why my blog stayed mostly dormant until last October when my readership exploded (currently my “coming out” post has over 1700 hits since October).

However, the purpose of this blog is still the same. The theme is still the same: "For a Wise Purpose". I thought I knew in January 2010 what that scripture meant. I thought I understood what it meant for all of my experiences to be for a purpose. Maybe I still don't understand. However, I understand a lot better than I did when I started this blog, when I left for Toronto, when I came home, and every experience that has happened since.

I recall a song (it was actually sung as a duet at the June North Star fireside by Ty Mansfield and Katharine Matis Adams) by Christian singer Laura Story that has helped teach me some if these principles recently. The song is called Blessings and I'd like to share part of it. "What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy? ... What if trials if this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights, are your mercies in disguise?" I don't want to go into the song too much, because I talk about it a lot in my Voices of Hope essay, but this song hit home. My greatest desire was to serve Him, but that was not in His plan for me. As a result, coming home became my greatest disappointment. However I have come to understand that my Father knew me better and knew what I needed. And I didn't need the mission field. My place was back here at BYU, my home.

Again, it has taken work, time, and tears for me to get to where I am that the loss of my mission doesn't feel so much like a loss. I feel more aligned to the will of the Lord, being a light and example where I am, instead if where I wish I could have been. Sometimes it's painful to know that of I knew what I knew now, I don't think I would have had to come home... And yet at the same time, would I have learned and grown the way I have had I not come home? No, I wouldn't have. I am the man I am now because the Lord knew me well enough and loves me enough that He hurt me and brought me home.

I know that it is through the Atonement of my Savior that I have been able to grow and I have been better than I once was.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

August 13

Written August 13, 2013
Transcribed August 24, 2013

I’m sitting on the lido deck of the Carnival Conquest cruise ship as I write this. I just got done playing mini-golf with my two sisters-in-law, my little brother, and one of my nephews, the whole time holding my baby nephew (and I did a pretty good job for mini-golfing one-handed).

According to my journal, today is one year since I first started reading Voices of Hope, after having had it recommended to me for months. Little did I know when I opened that book for the first time, I would soon be joining those men and women. One year ago today, I had the prompting that ended up changing my life on October 20.

I’ve learned a lot since then. And I wanted to share a little of that:

1.      It’s okay to love
2.      It’s okay to be loved.
4.      I need guy time every once and a while.
5.      Nothing can compensate for lost sleep.
6.      Sometimes a good night’s slight can fix everything (or at least put it back in perspective).
7.      Physical touch doesn’t have to be sexual.
8.      Physical touch can easily turn sexual.
9.      A good hug can put my crises in the proper perspective.
10.  Having a best friend who tries to understand SSA is invaluable.
11.  Emotions are not good or bad; they just are.
12.  Forgiveness is always possible, for me and for others.
13.  Love is always the answer, even if it’s tough love.
14.  Priesthood leaders are not perfect.
15.  Imperfect priesthood leaders are not a good reason for me to leave the church.
16.  A talk with a kind priesthood leader can change my mood completely.
17.  God can take it when I need to express anger with Him.
18.  Someone saying something ignorant or stupid doesn’t mean they don’t love me.
19.  The only person I can control is me.
20.  Trying to control others is exhausting and pointless.
21.  God can make good use out of a bad decision.

Those are just the lessons that came to mind today. I’ve been blessed to learn these lessons, and many others, during this past year. It hasn’t been easy (in fact some parts of it have been my own personal hell) but I can see how it’s helped me grow.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Miracle Day

Three years ago late tonight/early tomorrow morning, I told Elder Call about my SSA. It was the first time I'd ever told anyone and it was the first time I really accepted it myself. My life has changed so much since then. At that point, I had no idea I'd be completely out and public. The idea of that would have been too scary.

The two of us, Elder Call and I, dubbed today and tomorrow "Miracle Day" because of the miracle that occurred that night.

I am full of gratitude today for that conversation we had and the ensuing miracle, a prompting from the Spirit telling me it was safe to trust Elder Call with what was then my deepest darkest secret.

I am full if gratitude for all the support you give me as my friends and as my readers. I would not have the strength to keep writing if it wasn't for you.

PS: Look forward to a guest post by Elder Call in the near future to commemorate Miracle Day

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Attack on the Family

A couple months ago, I was part of a discussion about the "attack on the family". The original post came from a judgment a friend of mine (let's call him "Kevin") had that many people in the church view the attack on the family to be the same as legalization of gay marriage. Now, I've expressed my stance on gay marriage (I stand with the church in not supporting it) but by no means would I go as far as to say that the "attack on the family" is the same as gay marriage.

I'm a family studies major and even though I'm very very early on in the program, I feel like I have learned enough to say this: The family is under attack, but gay marriage is probably the least of our worries on that front. If I was to pick anything and call it the Goliath of the battle we are fighting to save the family, I'd say it is no-fault divorces. Couples making a mockery of marriage by getting married and then a month, six months, a year, etc. down the road deciding that they "just aren't compatible". Or you’ve got the celebrity marriages that last less than a month.

I’m not saying there isn’t cause for divorce. Abuse and infidelity are valid causes for divorce. However, I’ve also known marriages where one spouse has been unfaithful and yet the marriage survived because both partners were committed to the marriage. I honestly don’t believe there is such a thing as no-fault divorce. Marriage is work and both partners need to work at the relationship. That’s why married couples have been counseled to continue to go on dates after they get married, even when children come into the mix. However, if one spouse gives up on the marriage… does it really matter how much effort one spouse puts in if the other spouse is apathetic? I mean, it’s admirable… but if the effort is not reciprocated, the marriage isn’t going to be as strong as it needs to be.

That being said, I’d like to back up to infidelity and abuse. If abuse exists in a home (a husband abusing his wife OR a wife abusing her husband, because both scenarios exist) the highest priority in my opinion is to get the abused spouse to safety. As important as the sanctity of marriage is, the safety of an individual is more important. Staying in an abusive relationship because a husband/wife loves his/her spouse and believes they can change sounds to me like codependency (if you don’t know what that means, here’s the Wikipedia page). The same thing would be true of infidelity, if a husband/wife stays with his/her spouse even when infidelity is known to be happening, because he/she thinks they can fix the situation… again, it sounds like codependency to me.

Another thing I want to bring up is the innocent victims of divorce, whether it be no-fault divorce or divorce at the hands of abuse and/or infidelity: children. Richard Cohen, the author of “Coming Out Straight”, said that children have a God-like view of their parents. Their parents are the example they look to in everything. Especially as little kids, they don’t see that their parents can do anything wrong. As a result, when divorce happens, there are children who believe (and are wounded by the belief) that their parents separating must be their fault.

Granted, all of this comes from a single, BYU family studies major, who is only starting his second semester in the program this fall, but I just wanted to put my thoughts out there and challenge the idea that I think exists in the church that gay marriage is the same as the attack on the family. What are your thoughts on the “attack on the family”? Let me know in the comments. Just remember to be respectful and nice.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"What do you need to tell me, Spencer?" (by Garrett)

Earlier that night... (in Niagara Falls, Ontario)

That’s what I said, and how he came out to me, a year ago today.

In one day I realized that social issues aren’t simply articles read or watched online; they are the stories and struggles of people you know and care about.

A year of knowing is a year of affirming Christ’s universal Atonement and universal blessings.

A year of knowing is a year of seeing how vague, general statements almost never fit with individual people, especially when those people cross two very contradictory stereotypes. What a tragedy to make a multi-dimensional person into a 2-D object.

A year of knowing is a year of being thanked and admired by strangers from Spencer's support groups. On one hand I appreciated all the thanks, but on the other, it sobered me. Their tone of voice indicated again and again that this was the first time they had seen someone simply be a straight friend.

A friend is the most powerful ordinary thing. 

In that year I made new friends, and kept old ones, and performed the balancing act that young, inexperienced, college guys perform. I worked 8 hours a day when I wasn’t in school, went on dates, read books, looked up funny cat pictures on the Internet, and had fun with my best friend who has same-sex attraction.

I attended firesides and made other friends in similar situations to Spencer's. I heard their stories and read how they lived faithfully to the covenants they made in the Church. And I learned lessons from those firesides good enough to put in my journal, such as the following:

When we let our bias do the talking, we end up “classifying” others, and in effect we put a gag on their voice before they even can speak up for themselves. We should instead let them own themselves, and let them liberate themselves from the chains of skewed thinking.

Out of all the roles we will play, a friend is one of the most crucial we can be. And now more than ever I can see why. There are too many people struggling with this, and too few "straight friends" that are stepping up. In that year I saw more than ever how we need those powerful, ordinary things--understanding, empathy, and friendship.

So here marks a year of accepting 100% of a person, 100% of a friend. Here’s to a year of being powerful, ordinary people.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Voice(s) of Hope, Part 3

So having had some ups and downs this week, here is one of my ups: the Voice(s) of Hope Project.

"You can experience this real love;
it is possible." --Spencer Thompson
The first video I watched was Spencer Thompson’s video. It resonated with me a lot that he wished he could have had any other trial besides SSA. However, like he says, there is a purpose in having SSA. I love that the answer he got to his question of “Why do I have this?” was “Spencer, I have given you this trial to teach you how to love.” I was once talking to a friend of mine about my SSA. She’d had a roommate with SSA and she was able to say that her roommate was one of the most loving people she’d ever met. That’s something that I’ve learned from my SSA (and something I’m still striving to learn), how to love.

I love Spencer’s words about change. The change he talked about was not about changing his sexual orientation. It’s not about becoming totally straight. It’s not about no longer being attracted to men. It’s not about being healed from it. It’s about “finding my real self”, as Spencer put it. How he put it was perfect for me: “It’s about being healed through the process of coming to know yourself. Coming to know the real you.”

I’ve posted before about how coming to love myself and live authentically has made me happier. In fact, as I’ve learned more about myself and come to learn what I enjoy and what I need, I have become a happier man. I have become more confident. Like Spencer, I’ve been learning that as I learn to love myself, I can love others more. Finally, I fully agree with what they both say about the struggle... Because of what you become through it, you come to love it. As I’ve seen how my SSA has shaped me, it makes me more and more grateful for this experience. I’ve said it before, I don’t care if I ever get rid of my SSA; because of my SSA, I have learned to love other men as my brothers in ways that are atypical of what is expected of men in our western culture.

"I see a brighter future than I’ve ever seen and ironically that’s
through accepting [my SSA]." --Pret Dahlgren
Pret’s video (#2 for today, which is nice and long, by the way) resonates with me a lot. The loneliness and fear he felt. The fear to just be oneself is, in my experience, one of the most traumatic things I’ve ever experienced. It’s debilitating. It’s left me not really knowing who I am. Only recently have I really started learning who I am again, because I spent so long unconsciously (not) wanting to be what others wanted me to be or not wanting them to see who I was out of fear of them learning my big secret.

I almost find it kind of funny how Pret brings up in his video the “pray the gay away” mentality, for a couple reasons. First of all, that is (to a large degree) why I came home early from Toronto almost three years ago. Three weeks before I came home, I told Elder Call about my SSA. Over the course of the three weeks that followed, I was convinced, like Pret, that if I put all my energy into missionary work (1) I’d see miracles in my area -- which I did -- but also (2) that my SSA would go away. As a result of #2, I started beating myself up for it whenever I would feel attracted to another man. Whenever I had the desire to look a little longer. I was so paranoid of even just being touched briefly by another man during a game on P-Day that I drove myself crazy. More recently, since my “coming out”, I had someone suggest to me that if I properly applied the Atonement, my SSA would go away. I had to “lovingly” tell her that that isn’t how it works. And I’ve learned a lot since then about why it doesn’t work: We make promises with God, yes. That’s what covenants are. However, we NEVER set the terms of the agreement. With baptism, priesthood, endowment, and sealing covenants, God sets each and every one of the terms. Never us. Because HE knows what we need and we rarely (if ever) do. In the end of Pret’s story about “praying the gay away”, I love that when the Atonement took over for him, he noticed that it didn’t take it away… but the Savior comforted and He understood.

Throughout the whole video, I LOVED Megan’s smile. As she watched Pret tell his story, she had this beaming smile on her face the whole time. Even during the hardest parts. I really respect the wives in the LDS SSA community. Many of them have gone through a lot of hurt, but they are amazing. Her smile in the video, throughout the all the pain of Pret’s story, reminds me that Megan sees his story from how it is NOW. And she can see how all that pain has blessed her husband. Her hope and her faith give me faith in finding a wife. I pray to find a woman like her, who can see me, see my story, and see my pain and see the blessing that has come from it.
"...Hope came from first of all accepting that life
is intended to be a journey." --David Matheson
Third video: David and Peggy Matheson. I remember the feeling that David had growing up, where he felt more comfortable with girls than with boys. I was teased and excluded by the boys in my class, but I was able to find solace with my female friends. The feeling of being different from the “masculine” is not a rule, I suppose, for SSA guys, but it is a trend, for sure. There are many, many men with SSA that I know who do not feel masculine, who do not feel like other men, and who feel thoroughly isolated in their gender.

What I find interesting is that his SSA seemed to flare up after he got married. He felt a large desire to connect with other men. The desire to connect with other men in a non-sexual way can be such a crucial need for men with SSA that, if left unchecked, will come out “sideways”, in the form of pornography or acting out. I’ve felt that way before. The times in my life when I have the strongest desire to throw in the towel, the thing that has helped me the most is feeling connected to men who I see as my brothers. As I’ve said before in past posts, I have never been in love with another man. I have loved men, but never in a romantic or sexual way. Again, I can only speak from my own experience, but for me feeling connected with brothers is sufficient for me and it curbs the lust that increases in me when I do not feel connected.

The essay I have for today that I read is by Stephen Rex Goode. To me his story repeatedly touches at what he had been “taught” to be in order to be a “real man”. I also sense a lot of gender shame from his story. Gender shame is essentially being ashamed, in a man’s case, to be a man. In my experience and with my gender shame, it has come about because I’ve been told that boys are idiots, men are jerks, etc. With those messages about my own gender, why would I want to be anything like them?

One thing I’d really like to touch on with his story is the way he’d tell himself he wasn’t a “real man”. He would tell himself that, even when he had evidence otherwise (he was a scoutmaster, he worked out, etc.). In fact, when he mentioned that to his bishop (“At one point in the meeting, I said that I often did not feel like a man.”) his bishop was in tears, blown away by the absurdity that he’d heard. I loved how his essay ended, realizing that self-esteem is a gift of the Spirit. And like any gift of the Spirit, it takes prayer and true intent to obtain. I would also add that in my experience being a “real man” is about being like the Savior, not about being what society defines as masculine. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Journey into Manhood

Hugs. Tears. Goodbyes. After two days of intense emotional work and mental processes, I got in the car with the two men I was driving with and, for the first time in two days, I checked my phone for the time. Literally the first time. For the 48 hours previous, we’d had no phones, no watches, nothing electronic (other than perhaps a flashlight). 48 hours of seclusion from the outside world. 48 hours of work. 48 hours of betterment. 48 hours called Journey into Manhood.

I arrived at a camp in the mountains in the Salt Lake City area along with the two other men in my car. The three of us, along with about 30 other “journeyers”, had hit a point in our lives where we felt stuck, complacent, unproductive, etc. As it is advertised as a healing weekend for men who want to deal with unwanted same-sex attraction, most men who attend Journey into Manhood (JiM) have SSA. However, I’ve known men who are completely straight to go as well. It’s because very little of the exercises and processes during the weekend pertain directly to same-sex attraction.

Every person has scars. Every person has wounds. And in my opinion, every person in the world could use therapy to some degree to resolve those wounds (if you disagree and don’t think you have wounds, I’m happy for you, but in my experience most (if not all) people have some weight that they’re carrying).

Because of the confidentiality agreement that I signed when I went to JiM, I can’t divulge any of the specific processes we did, but I do want to share what the weekend did for me:

My "Golden Boy" (first day of first grade)
For months now, I have been aware of my previously unconscious belief that I was unlovable. This belief grew out of years of being teased, excluded, and abandoned by peers. Eventually I became conditioned to believe that each friend, each classmate, each acquaintance would abandon me and/or toss me aside as I’d experienced in the past. At JiM, I had a chance to look very deeply at the shadowy parts of myself and could very easily reaffirm those negative beliefs about myself. However, that was also contrasted with exercises that helped me see my strengths, my good qualities, the golden parts of me that make me a person that people like. More importantly than that, they showed me why I should like myself. For so many of us, it was the first time in years that we had seen a glimpse of the little golden boys we’d been before we began to be scarred, wounded, and disillusioned to the world. I used to be confident, I used to be adventurous, I used to be outgoing, and I used to love myself. Having seen a glimpse of that boy who used to be all those things, I was reminded that he’s still there… and I can be him again: confident, brave, loving, etc.

When I first joined North Star in May 2012 (wow, it’s been over a year!) and started attending my Evergreen group the next month, the thing that blew me away and helped me the most was realizing that I wasn’t alone. That feeling has come and gone over the past year, some days feeling lonelier than others, but being at JiM with 31 other men who were willing to work through issues that were holding them back in life (wounds from abuse, bullying, dysfunctional family life, etc.), I felt connected, blessed, and accepted. And this joyful feeling was common among the men there. Some of them, it was the first time in their lives that they had ever felt like that.

By the end of the weekend, I felt energized. I got in the car at 5:50pm and “officially” re-entered reality, I was on a high. The best thing I can compare it to would be when I went to EFY as a youth… but even more so. I was able to connect to my God that weekend… and I think a lot of it had to do with coming to believe to a greater extent that I was worth His time. Those 48 hours were not the end to my problems. I have a lot more emotional work and processing to do before they’ll be done (and they’ll never be done in this life, I expect).  However, I feel that JiM has given me the tools to do that work and the brothers I need to help me with my work.

Now, here’s my plug for JiM (and this goes to men who deal with SSA and those who do not): If you have scars and issues from your past that hold you back from being the whole man that you want to be, I recommend looking into it. I’m not going to be the guy who insists that every man on North Star should go to JiM or that every man needs to… but if you are considering it, I say go! You won’t regret it! It changed how I look at myself and at others and it’s in that way that life gets better, by changing me, even if “change” never means becoming straight.