Saturday, August 25, 2012

Aurora Theater Shooting

I just realized I hadn't posted anything on here in over a year.  That's partly due to the fact that I tend to not open my mouth unless I feel I have something of value to say.  It's also partly due to the fact that I strive to live a balanced, healthy life, and that often times means I'm rather busy.  I guess the time has come to break my silence.

I currently live in the city of Aurora, Colorado.  It has a reputation for being a bit impoverished (by Denver standards) in some areas and not a real great place to live.  I don't mind it - there's a lot of diversity here and offers a great bang-for-your-buck.  Up until 7/20/2012, most people in the US didn't know much about Aurora.  That all changed overnight with a midnight movie showing.

I remember the Columbine shooting in 1999.  I remember where I was when I heard about it - I was on a bus returning from a track meet where I beat my P.R. in the 1600m race.  The school was about 70 miles from me, but it seemed like it was in a different country.  I didn't feel very phased by it.  I remember singing Amazing Grace over the intercom at my high school in memory of those who were killed.  I saw classmates shed tears, but it still didn't really phase me much.

Fast forward 13 years...

I loved the Century 16 theater in Aurora.  Sure it was a bit sketchy, the decor was a bit dated, and the floors were sticky.  But it had the cheapest tickets in town, was so close to my house, and was never very crowded - even on opening night.  I went there to see movies often.  I was planning on seeing the new Batman movie there as well.

I stepped onto the elevator on Friday morning with a coworker who quickly asked me if I had heard about the shooting.

"What shooting?" I asked.  After hearing a quick summary of what had happened, I wondered if that was my theater.  I got to my desk and pulled up the local news online.  There, on the front page of the 9news website (and virtually every other news source I checked) was a photo of the familiar facade of the Century 16 theater.  My theater.

I knew it so well.  I could close my eyes and transport myself there.  I could look down and see the scattered kernels of popcorn, feel the ridges of the floor beneath my feet, see the patterns in the carpet, see the sconces that lit up the walls, feel the arm rests that were a little bit too high for my comfort, see the layout of the various theater rooms I had been in, and picture the entries and exits.  Then I could see the people around me. Then I could see the emergency door opening and a man lifting a gun and firing into the crowd.

I felt sick.  I couldn't focus on work.  All I could do was constant refresh my Facebook news feed to check and see if all my friends were okay.  Some hadn't posted since June.  June!  I felt even more sick.  Some friends began posting pictures of people in hospitals, talking about others who got out safely or went to the wrong theater by mistake.

It was hell.  That whole day was absolute hell.  I will never forget it.  Not a single day has passed since then that I haven't thought about it.  

I think it has been one of the biggest life changing events I've ever experienced, and not in a way that I really expected.  My conscious, intellectual brain knows that there was nothing I could do to have helped the victims at the scene of the shooting, nor could I have known about it before hand or prevented it.  Still, I've felt an unreasonable amount of guilt and depression over the whole thing because I wish with every fiber of my being that I could have been there to tackle the shooter or be a distraction so that more people could have gotten out alive.  I would have gladly traded places with any of the victims so they could go on to live a happy, fruitful life.  It’s one of those cases where I have to just admit that Heavenly Father knew what was going to happen and for those victims that lost their lives, their time on Earth was over.  My intellectual, thinking brain knows these things, but I still felt a degree of what would probably be best described as survivor guilt.  I don’t know if it was legitimate survivor guilt because I wasn't there, but Cinema 16 was my theater.  It was the one I always went to when I wanted to see a movie.  It could have been me there, but it wasn't.

Part of what upsets me about this is it kind of made me realize how little I seem to value my own life.  It’s not that I’m seeking to die or am suicidal or anything, but given the choice between saving my own life or the lives of strangers or people I care about, I find myself being more concerned about their well-being.  Is that a bad thing?  Perhaps not, but it could be if it means that when I look at my own future, I see it as being mostly self-serving, shallow, or filled with solitude and despair.  That’s a pretty bleak picture, but trying to reconcile my SSA with life goals and a desire to be righteous and do what Heavenly Father wants me to do, it’s hard to see any future other than one of total celibacy and loneliness.  That is what seems to have me really, really depressed.  When I look at a future like that, it starts to seem more and more tragic that the people who were killed in the theater shooting probably had a brighter future than that – one filled with family, children, etc.

I had a hard time shaking this feeling of being generally down on myself, so I decided I needed to pay a visit to the temporary memorial setup across from the theater.  I went Wednesday evening the next week.  I bought some flowers, put on some big sunglasses, went out there, and just let out all of my grief.  I couldn't understand how so many people could have such blank expressions while it took all my self control to not break down on the spot.  I pretty much never cry or even get watery-eyed, but I've shed quite a few tears over this whole incident.  I am really surprised by that.  I used to think that perhaps there was something wrong with me because I seem to be exceptionally unemotional.  I always felt more emotionally dead than anything, but this showed me that I definitely can be moved by feelings.

As I stood there at the memorial, surrounded by people who had come to pay respects or grieve over the friends they had lost, I started to think about the covenant we make at baptism.  The scripture in Mosiah 18:9 came to mind:

Yea, and are awilling to mourn with those that bmourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand ascwitnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the dfirst resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

The phrase “mourn with those that mourn” came to mind, because that was exactly what I was doing.  I was feeling a degree of the pain that was felt by those who had lost friends or family in the shooting.  I was truly mourning with those that mourned.  I had always assumed that scripture meant all the “mourners” were members of the Church, but they aren't.  It’s a commitment or desire to mourn with all people who mourn, regardless of their faith.  It’s a commitment to recognize their pain, their suffering, and join with them so that they don’t feel so alone, hopeless, or full of despair and bitterness.  To the extent possible, we commit to doing what we can to bring them comfort, even if we can’t bring their loved ones back.  In that moment, I realized I wanted nothing more than to just hug them, and comfort them as they let out their tears, but I couldn't.  I didn't know any of the victims, nor their friends or family.  I felt so completely and utterly powerless to do anything.  It was hell for me, but a different kind of hell.  Knowing that there were people out there who stood in need of comfort and I couldn't get to them because I didn't even know who they were broke my heart.

I decided that the best course of action, and really the most reasonable one, would be to lose myself in service and strive to perpetuate the love that was being poured out by the entire community.  I dug into my pockets (well, my bank account) and made a donation to the victims of the shooting, and determined to be more diligent in my service of others.

If we could mark this event as a significant point in our lives where we make a determined effort to change, be more selfless, and truly lose our lives in the service of others, then the loss of those twelve lives wouldn't be in vain.  They weren't killed so that the community could come together.  They were killed for the sake of killing and spreading hate, pain, suffering, and despair.  We need to rise above that.  We can’t let ourselves take this hate that was directed at us and pass it along to others through defiance, distrust, and despair.  We need to become more and more like Christ and serve others. We need to let each other know how much we care.  Even if we can’t tell someone that we love them, we can at least let it be known through our actions.  We can let our actions speak louder than the words we might not be able to speak.

As I think about what Jesus would do in a time like this, I can obviously see that he would have laid his life down to protect those around him.  He offered the ultimate sacrifice for our sins as well as our Earthly sufferings.  There is no suffering that we may experience that He hasn't experienced in full and at a much, much deeper level.  He understands our pain and suffering perfectly.  He is the only true healer, so if we want to be healed from the pains and wounds this senseless shooting may have caused, we need to make sure that Christ’s life, atonement, and teachings are at the center of it.

These thoughts have really helped me get over the feelings of guilt I felt because I wasn't at the theater and couldn't help.  I think my grieving is over (well, the more depressing aspects of it are, at least).  I can at least look forward to being able to be a friend to those in  need, a strong back when someone needs help carrying burden, or perhaps a shoulder to cry on and an open ear when nobody else will listen.  There’s a whole world out there that needs a whole lot more love to be shared, why shouldn't I be one to offer that help as best as I can?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Can I Have Complete Faith?

Like countless aspiring bloggers across the World Wide Web, I sometimes find it challenging to set aside the time to sit and write out my thoughts and post them on here. However, today something came across my mind that seemed appropriate to put into writing. Organizing my thoughts into words helps me have a presentable idea for something that I've had issues with and has been festering for years. I couldn't really put it into words before. Maybe someone reading this would have some insight. Its basis comes in the form of a question:

How can I have complete faith in something (i.e. the Church as it is right now) that, frankly, doesn't have the answers to the questions that I have and hasn't been able to provide the help that I have been seeking?

I've gone to my priesthood leader seeking help and got none. I've prayed for countless years to be able to get over my SSA, and it hasn't happened. The Church doesn't have any support programs for us. They publish a few manuals, mention it briefly in a few talks here and there and give us the standard “Sunday School Answers” as something that should be 100% effective at making even the most doubting gay person turn straight. Ultimately I just feel like I'm left empty handed. Moreover, I feel like vocalizing my concerns (such as asking the question above during an institute class, Sunday School, or even asking my home teachers) would be seen as sowing the seeds of doubt in others or fostering a spirit of apostasy. I don’t feel like it’s apostasy on my part, even if it is a tough question that a lot of people might not be able to answer. But it’s a question that demonstrates the kind of things I have to face every day as a gay Mormon. I don’t believe in blind faith, and neither does this religion. Yet that’s exactly what they seem to expect of me.

I'm told that acting out is a grievous offense/sin, and I fully expect that church discipline would be pretty severe for doing so. Yet, at the same time, there is no help in being able to live a balanced life where all needs could be met that wouldn't depend on me "white-knuckling it" indefinitely. That's not a solution. That's basically the same thing I've been doing for 16 years while expecting different results. That’s pretty much the definition of insanity, is it not?

It’s one thing to endure to the end, holding steadfast to a rod that leads the way along a rocky path. It’s quite another to hold on for dear life to a rod while your whole body flails over a deep, dark pit. Eventually you will lose the strength, your fingers will start to slip, and you will finally fall. That’s how I’ve felt for all of my 20s – essentially since I returned home from my mission 8 years ago. The solution, of course, is to have something to stand on and support your weight. I’ve looked for that support and strength with this trial, and it’s just not there in the Church right now. As much as it breaks my heart to say this, it is what I have found. So, I remain here holding onto the rod with what strength I have while my legs kick to find something solid to rest on.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gay Pride

Generally when “pride” and “gay” are used in the same sentence, they invariably invoke images of rainbow flags, flamboyant dress, and frivolous behavior. I’m honestly not sure what gay pride advocates are trying to accomplish or prove. I don’t object to what they do, but for me, I just don’t really feel a need to be so “in your face” about it. During a discussion in the LDS Institute class I occasionally attend, the topic of pride was brought up. It triggered some thoughts in my mind. Perhaps this will be of interest to someone, perhaps not. Still, it provides me a much needed opportunity to organize my thoughts in a coherent manner, which generally helps me come to better understand it myself.


First off, a bit of background for anyone who may not be very familiar with the concept of the “Pride Cycle” within the Mormon faith. It provides a general illustration of the cycles of prosperity and faithfulness contrasted by devastation and rebelliousness within the civilizations in the Book of Mormon. It is one of the most dominant underlying themes in the entire book. The people (families, communities, cities, and even entire nations) would start out humble, teachable, and with a sincere effort to good. They would recognize their dependence on God for their salvation and long-term welfare. As they strived to do what He asked them to do, they would be blessed. It would continue for varying amounts of time until, ultimately, complacency, discord, and corruption would seep in or develop. This generally represented the people becoming prideful, and it separated them from the things in their lives that had been contributing to their prosperity. Left unchecked (the people recognizing their current state), external forces would sweep in and ultimately compel the people to become humble again or sink deeper into wickedness and risk destruction. Once they hit bottom, they would then turn back to God and seek to do His will, which would eventually lead to prosperity again.

There are many lessons that can be drawn from this cycle, whether one is actually religious or not. The greatest challenge is determining how oneself can follow along with doing God’s will, being humble, teachable, submissive, and leading a selfless life without eventually falling into the “pride” trap.

This is a constant challenge that I know I have faced personally, and I have seen even countless others do the same. Just look at the failure of resolutions that people make. I have been off-and-on diligent about fitting in exercise in my schedule over the past several years. I may do well for several weeks, going nearly every weekday. Then some kind of catalist happens: I become complacent; allow other things to become more important (watching a TV series, meeting up with friends, frantically cramming for a test, etc.). It breaks me away from my previously successful routine. It may then take months to get to the point where I am motivated enough to start going again, and that usually arises from me recognizing the missing benefits that I once enjoyed so much from regularly working out (more energy during the day, better muscle definition, more confidence in my stride and interactions with others, etc.). So, the “Pride Cycle”, although fundamentally related to one’s efforts toward righteousness in Mormon culture, is not purely a Mormon principle. It’s universal.


With the pride cycle in mind, I started wondering how pride enters into the topic of striving to live the gospel as a Mormon with a same sex attraction. I quickly realized that it is far more complicated than simply observing the behavior of someone, myself included. The institute teacher asked us to think about how many less-active members (people who are Mormon, but either don’t practice it or do not regularly attend church or church activities) may be less-active because of pride. I’ve heard countless stories of pride causing people to leave the Church (being offended by others, having higher priorities that keep them from attending, being lazy, etc.).

In full disclosure, I haven’t been attending Sunday services much lately. My reasons are complicated, as I’ve written in previous posts. I don’t take offense at the idea of my being less-active being based on some underlying issue related to pride. If that is the case, then I am sincerely seeking to find that out. At this point, however, I am not convinced that it is so. I am currently making extra efforts to anchor my faith to my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I support the Church and generally agree with its principles. However, I still cannot come to terms with what kind of life I should be leading right now. I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want to engage in non-committal sex, but I also don’t think that it would be right for me to go on dating girls and pretending that I’m straight. It frustrates me, it plays with their emotions, and it ultimately doesn’t solve anything.

That being said, I am currently looking at my life and am trying to identify things that may ultimately be pride-driven. I’ll be as honest as possible as I look at various aspects of pride:

  • MATERIALISM – I think I can confidently say I don’t have a real issue with this. I’m have no desire to foster the pervasive “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that seems so prevalent in Mormon culture. My car is a hideous, rusty import from over a decade ago. I keep driving it because I hate monthly payments and can’t justify spending unnecessarily on something that’s just going to depreciate. I pay for things with cash, and the only debt I carry are a mortgage and some student loans that I’m paying off at a very rapid rate.
  • EGO – I’m not ugly, but I’m no super model. I work hard at taking care of my body, and I’m in pretty decent shape. Maybe that’s a symptom of the gay Peter Pan Syndrome that’s pretty common in the gay world. Regardless, we’re only given one body, and Heavenly Father wants us to take good care of it. That’s what I do, and it’s an important part of leading a balanced life. I don’t overtly flaunt it, but I’m not embarrassed or self conscious and I don’t think I’m better than others because I’m not fat. I just lucked out with my genes and high metabolism. Overall, I just don’t think I’m prideful about my body. I certainly don’t think it’s compounding any SSA issues I have. I do recognize that I'm smarter than the average person, but I make just as many stupid mistakes as the person next door, so I don't think of myself as better than anyone.
  • SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS – This one could be a potential risk, though I don’t see it as having really been a problem. I will say that I feel I’m about as non-judgmental as a person can get. Being gay, it would be easy to fall into the mindset that the Church doesn’t understand us, it actively persecutes us, is completely unfounded in its doctrines on chastity, and just leave the Church and everything it values behind. I won’t do that, and I don’t believe it (for the most part). Yes, I am frustrated because the Church currently doesn’t really offer any support that would help ensure the long-term activity and overall success of members who have same sex attractions. I consider that to be a major problem. It pains me that they don’t seem to think of it as a problem. In some ways, it may appear that some want us to leave, especially when looking at BYU and its policies (there’s a reason I didn’t consider going to that school). However, I think this is more so a growing pain from our culture transitioning and fallout from overly zealous, politically motivated people and a generational gap between my parents’ generation and my own, the up-and-coming.
  • DESPAIR – It may not seem inherently prideful, but the notion that one is so wicked and loved by nobody else, let alone God, is very self-centered and destructive. Not only does it hurt the person, but it robs those around them of what could potentially be a valuable relationship or service. I generally try to keep as far away from this kind of attitude as possible, even though Satan clearly would want me to do so. It’s extremely dangerous. It’s the kind of attitude that could easily lead me, a gay Mormon, to consider something like suicide. I do admit that this could be a part of why I am going through the questioning that I am currently going through, and I am trying to be careful as a result. It does seem like a hopeless case, trying to remain faithful to my beliefs while trying to cope with the feelings that accompany a SSA. I already vowed that I would never consider suicide, so I won’t even let myself dwell on such thoughts. I would find more comfort if there was more evidence that the Church is fighting for the salvation of its members who have same sex attractions, but I see very little evidence of that. I guess my frustrations with this stem from my perception of reality, whether that is correct or not.
  • JUSTIFYING SIN – Okay, we all have our bad habits, our weaknesses, or our personal troubles. That’s a given. I readily acknowledge that there are things in my life that I need to change. I’m not trying to justify leaving the Church so that I can make up for years of lost sex. I’m not a sexual addict, I don’t find that kind of lifestyle appealing, and I still stand for higher standards of morals and integrity. As I’ve said before, I don’t object to the morals of the Church or the Mormon faith. I do feel an increased burden from carrying around sin that I should probably seek to throw off and disassociate myself from, and that’s the nature of not partaking of the sacrament each week. I suppose this could be a wakeup call, but I don’t consider it to be an issue of pride.
  • NOT BEING MINDFUL OF SERVICE – This is a tough one. Service is generally inherently non-prideful, unless it is done for the sake of appearances or some coveted outcome. Such cases are quite rare, and I’m not seeking anyone’s attention. The Church provides an amazing opportunity to forget oneself and focus on helping others. It’s amazing how much smaller and more insignificant my own problems become when I focus on helping others and just forget my own needs. That was probably the biggest way in which I benefitted from being so active last year. It made a huge difference for me, and I still consider this the biggest thing that is drawing me back to being active again. Without the Church, it is much more difficult to identify the kind of service opportunities that I feel Heavenly Father wants me to focus on. I suppose seeking those out would be a very worthwhile pursuit, and it is one area in which my life is out of balance. I guess I will mark that as one area where my pride is getting the best of me.

I am still actively thinking about this topic, I expect my thoughts to deepen or possibly even change over time. I have briefly discussed it with another gay friend of mine, and I expect I will make more posts on this topic in the future. For the time being, however, this is the base of how I am approaching the issue. It also is opening my eyes because there are so many gospel-related topics that I seem to view from a very different angle from a typical Molly Mormon or Peter Priesthood. You can certainly expect more posts like this one in the future.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Seeking Spiritual Support

As I have been pondering what will happen for me when the unstoppable object meets the immovable force in my life, I find myself needing to reassess the priority of things in my spiritual life.  To be honest, my activity in the LDS church (how often I go, how actively I participate) has been pretty off-and-on throughout most of my 20s thus far.  Currently I am semi-less-active.  That basically means I may attend some of church once or twice a month, but not with any regularity.  My participation and interaction with others is pretty minimal, and I likely will arrive late and/or leave early.  It's not unheard of amongst membership of the Church, and a decent amount of people seem to go through such phases.  Each person has his or her own reasons.  My main reason right now is mixed and nearly impossible to explain to people without outing myself.

First, on demographics of the ward itself, I don't really fit in at all.  I'm in my late 20s, and the rest of the ward is probably around 21 on average.  There's a big gap between 1) someone who is done with college, has been totally independent from his parents for nearly a decade, has a mortgage, and has a career, and 2) someone who still lives with his parents, has only had a part time job, and is perhaps just starting college or is on break from BYU.  I'm just not likely to have any real, genuine close friends in that kind of ward.  That's just a fact of life.

Secondly, the bishopric, bless their hearts, do a great job of addressing the needs of less experienced young single adults.  However, they come across as more micro managerial to me than anything.  For example, they made a special announcement that napping with someone of the opposite gender is NOT okay.  They also told us that we need to wait until after a church lesson is done and the closing prayer has been said before we close our lesson manuals.  I can understand their reason behind this, and though I don't necessarily think these are BAD ideas per se, it basically shows that they don't trust us to make our own decisions or, more fundamentally, think for ourselves.  My own parents were never this strict and controlling, and I absolutely chafe under this kind of treatment.  There's no way I would let someone talk to me like that, and I'm about as big of a peace maker as anyone.  Those kind of things bug me, but I can still generally ignore them and move on.  However, given how complicated it is dealing with an unwanted same sex attraction, what would someone in my position expect in seeking advice and help from a bishop who works this way?  If he began trying to introduce such micro rules and telling me I need to live them, I'd go berserk.  I don't mean this to be a criticism of the bishop as an individual, nor of his calling or his capacity to follow the impressions of the Spirit, but it does make it extremely difficult for someone in my position to seek his advice or support.

Finally, I'm frustrated by the Church's approach to the issue of homosexuality.  As I mentioned before, I could understand them taking such a strong stance on the issue if they offered an alternative, a system of help and support, and answers that don't leave those who are sincerely trying to live a life in accordance with Heavenly Father's will.  That system isn't there.  As my good friend noted, the Church is not set up in a way to promote the long-term success and activity of people who have a same sex attraction unless that person has enough of an attraction to a female to get married and use the family-support system instead.  There is a reason you don't find many active members with a same sex attraction who are single and in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.  What programs are available, such as help in overcoming addictions, simply address symptoms of the issue of homosexuality.  They don't do anything about the actual attraction itself, and so there's little reason to expect success.

In all honesty, however, I miss the Spirit that I feel at church.  It's nice to be able to sit there, listen to the lessons, thoughts, or experiences of your fellow brothers and sisters and learn from them.  It's nice to hear something that prompts the Spirit to whisper to you an answer that you've been earnestly seeking.  For this reason, I really do want to go back, and that is how it has been every time I've gone through a bout where I was less-active.  It's quite cyclical, to be honest.  It's not like the Book of Mormon cycles, where I start out active, then get prideful, then wicked, then persecute people, then become increasingly wicked, then something comes along and humbles me, then I go crawling back, then I repent and become active again.  For me, it's more like this:
  • [Need] I feel the need to have Spiritual guidance in my life.  My soul feels weighed down with sin.
  • [Need fulfilled] I seek the Spirit, I start attending church, and I repent
  • [Duty] I take a calling, I fulfill said calling, and am in attendance every week
  • [Adversity/SSA] My life gets busy for whatever reason, then my attempts to lock my SSA in a box and control it result in me feeling lonely and depressed.
  • [Failure to Cope] My inability to subdue my SSA leaves me feeling depressed, unintentionally engaging in self-destructive or damaging behavior (Nothing sexual nor anything that would put my life in danger.  Just things that may leave other basic areas of Maslow's hierachy of needs unfulfilled, perhaps so as to drown out SSA-related pains/frustrations)
  • [Unexpected Turn of Events] I might end up moving (or getting moved to another ward), or a friendship with a girl turns overly dramatic as she opens up to me, sharing her feelings of wanting to be more than friends, then I respond truthfully by saying "it's not you, it's me" (which is true, other than the fact that she's a girl, not a guy) even though she interprets that as being "it's you".  Ends badly.  Even though I tell her she's great, and I really like being around her, and that's the truth, she still feels hurt because she doesn't know why.  She assumes I'm making excuses or saying things without saying them, like girls do so well.
  • [Increasing adversity, lack of support] I fall deeper into despair, and my attendance or participation in Church drops noticeably.
  • [Inactivity] I drag on for a while, even though I may appear to be doing just fine.  Heck, I got through college with a 3.8+, landed an awesome job, had a great social life, had plenty of friends, and was able to make ends meet and be fully self-sufficient.  I can obviously handle quite a lot, but it does take its toll.
I think that pretty much sums up my SSA cycle with the Church.  It's frustrating.  It's at that time where adversity starts to rear its ugly head that I need to have something that I can hold onto, but it's just not there.  As far as I know, I'm the only young single adult in the entire Denver area that is at least semi-active despite my same sex attraction.  It's really hard.  There are so many times that I wish I could just talk with someone in person, go for a walk or whatever, vent, and have that person understand or be able to relate because they've been there too.  But I don't have that.  I have my good friend across the country, and he's great.  But he and I both know the need to be able to just talk in person sometimes and be able to let it out.  As long as this need remains unfulfilled, I see little reason to hope for the cycle to miraculously be broken.  Unfortunately, this kind of support is not available within the Church.  I has had a definite negative impact on my faith in the Church itself, though my faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is still unwavering.

I am beginning to think that I need to focus on strengthening my relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and increasing my ability to lean on them for support during the rough times.  In particular, I am focusing on increasing my study of the Book of Mormon as I seek personal guidance and inspiration on what I should be doing with my life, where I should go, what I need to change, and what I should be planning for my future.  This is truly the first time I have studied the book in such earnestness and with such clear intent, and I am finding that the promises made in the introduction are indeed true.  I find that it is bringing me closer to my savior Jesus Christ than any other book possibly could.  I have a genuine, true testimony of that.  The Book of Mormon can give guidance, direction, and spiritual comfort to anyone, even to a gay Mormon.  So in that sense, I guess there is still hope yet.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

An Age Old Question

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

This blog.


I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, i.e. I am Mormon (LDS).  I am infinitely grateful that I grew up in an active family that, for the most part, taught and tried their best to live the principles embraced by my faith.  For most of my childhood I went through the motions of attending church, avoiding swearing, keeping the word of wisdom, etc.  It wasn't until I was in high school that I truly discovered the flame of faith inside of me.  It wasn't the stereotypical gaining of a testimony that is portrayed in seminary videos, where the person ponder some deep question, reads some scriptures, and kneels in prayer at his/her bedside.  A short moment later, the person glances up as a soft light gently falls upon them, a feeling of confidence and confirmation fills their bosom, and then the music cues.

My faith didn't grow in such a picture perfect scene.  Mine grew amongst the angst of going through puberty, pimples, growth spurts, bad hair days, and creaking voices.  It grew amongst my daily longing to lash out violently at my alarm clock that rang each day at 5:15am, pulling me from the wonderful lull of sleep to go out into the bitter cold, scrape the frost from the windows of my dad's banged up and embarrassingly out-of-date Cadillac, and ride upon cracked seats of ice cold, stinky leather across town to seminary.  It grew out of my moderately begrudging attempt to understand the perplexities of the Old Testament, as our seminary teacher tried to bring out as much enthusiasm as could be found in a group of 14-15 year olds.  I grew out of the swirling feelings that filled my mind after the first time I kissed a girl, my failed attempts to get a girl to "go out with me", the first time I considered joining a sport, the first time I opened and began reading the Book of Mormon purely out of free choice, alone in my room.  It all just clicked.  No prayer was required.  There was no special fast, no death-defying experience, no heavenly manifestation, no heart-to-heart talk with another person.  It grew so gradually that I didn't notice it until it had already begun to blossom.

From that point on, I held on to the principles that I had learned from my faith.  I didn't smoke, didn't drink, seldom swore, didn't skip classes, went to seminary of my own volition, worked toward my Eagle scout, and basically sought to minimize the drama that all too often is found in the wake of a teen's life.  I was probably one of the easiest teens to raise, and my parents can certainly vouch for that.  I was building my life upon an immovable rock, hence the immovable object referred to above.


Throughout all of this, and even before, I was already well-aware that I was different from those around me.  I can think back to several examples in my life well before puberty where I was experiencing more interest in boys than girls.  At first I was inexplicably intrigued by how a guy looked, walked, talked, sang, or played a sport.  Then it evolved into immature joking typical of a middle schooler.  But by the time I was 13, I was starting to develop crushes.  I couldn't help it, I didn't choose it, it just happened, probably the same way it happens for normal boys who start to notice girls.

Obviously I couldn't tell anyone about it, nor do anything with it, so I silenced it.  I buried it deep down, locked it in a box, and denied the existence of a key.  I figured it was something that would just go away.  It was inconvenient, but it didn't cause self-loathing, depression, or anything of the sort.  In a way I felt lucky because I felt almost no desire to have a relationship with anyone by the time I turned 15.  I may have had some crushes, thought some boy or girls was cute, wanted to be their friend, be seen with them, and have other people think I was "cool" because of it.  By the time my junior year came around, I had a part time job, was taking college-prep or college-credit classes, had a completely full schedule, and was starting to get involved in sports.  All this was taking place while I was working on my Eagle, being active in church, attending seminary, maintaining a very active social life, and developing a wide circle of friends.  I simply didn't have time to pay any attention to my same-sex attraction.  And I was all-the-happier for it.

That was about how things went all through my teenage years, leading up to my mission.  My mission was simply amazing beyond description.  I shudder at the thought of what I would be like now had I not had that experience.  It changed me.  It helped me develop a closeness with God that, even in the darkest of moments, has been a guiding light that always showed me the way.  I love Him more than anyone or anything, and I feel that same love in return.  I wouldn't turn my back on that for anything.


After I returned with honor, I went through the typical rocky period of adjusting to normal life.  I struggle to find a job, then when I found one, I struggled to pay for school.  My parents had lost most of their retirement money in the wake of the dot-com market crash.  I HAD to be self sufficient, and I had to do so quickly.  I found a combination of school and work that allowed me to pay for school, pay for my car, keep me productive but generally happy, and still have a social life.  Delivering pizza was the best college job I could have asked for.

As I moved on through my twenties, it became harder and harder to keep my same sex attraction in check.  It began to creep out from the seems of the box I had locked it in so securely.  Clearly denying it or covering it up was beginning to do more harm than I previously anticipated.  I began to feel along as those around me started dating, getting married, do "couples only" activities, etc.  Any longing I may have ever had to be with a girl was pretty much dead at this point, despite my diligent attempts to live a squeaky clean life.

I was too afraid to tell anyone about it.  My bishop had noticed me struggling with something, and tried his best to help.  But I just couldn't open up to him.  I couldn't open up to anyone.  Up to this point, I figured I was probably the only LDS gay person in the entire state of Colorado.  I felt alone.  I felt like I could be surrounded by hundreds of smiling people, yet inside was still screaming out for someone who could hear me or relate.  The Church had no program or useful resources I could find that would help me.  So, I turned to Google.  I quickly found that I wasn't the only gay LDS person in the world, though I still may have been the only one in Colorado.  I found a few groups who had varying general views of homosexuality and the Church.  Affirmation was the first I found, but I quickly dismissed it.  Not for me.  I found the CSU LGBT club, but it was way too visible, and I wasn't ready to come out to the world.  I also didn't want to deny my faith.  I then found a yahoo group called GayRMs.

"Gay returned missionaries?" I thought to myself.  "This must be perfect!  Hopefully they will have the support that I have been looking for."

That hope was quickly dashed.  I found a few people I knew in the group, none of which were in the state anymore, but they were acquaintances at best.  Then I found people sending me e-mails wanting to let them know when I'd be in Utah.  They were looking to hook up.  I found a guy in his 40s who wanted to date me.  I found others that were trying to be faithful, but I felt that they felt too highly of me.  Amongst all of it, I made one truly great friend.  He and I have stayed in close contact over the years.  He lets me vent my frustrations, I let him vent his.  We are mutually non-judgmental, but will encourage each other to do what we truly feel is right.  I have yet to be able to find that kind of support anywhere else.

Maybe I'm not open enough about my feelings, or maybe my expectations are too high.  I tried to discuss it with one of my bishops, but it became quickly apparent that he had no idea what to do.  I felt bed for putting him on the spot like that, and perhaps I expected too much.  Still, I wish I hadn't talked about it with him because things just felt awkward and uncomfortable between us from there on.


So, where does this leave me now?  This leaves me, still rooted on the immovable object that is my faith.  However, I can feel the unstoppable force of my feelings, emotions, and long-term need for companionship rapidly coming my way as an unstoppable force.  The two haven't collided yet, and I don't know what will happen when they do, but that time is quickly approaching.

I try my best to keep my standards, to foster a closeness with Heavenly Father.  He's very real and I know that personally.  I know He knows what I am going through, what I am feeling, and how frustrating it is.  The biggest problem for me is that, as a member of the LDS faith, I feel like I am being given completely conflicting commandments.  "It is not right for a man to be alone" versus "marriage is only between a man and a woman" is certainly one case.  Then in the 70s there was the push for gay LDS people to get married as a "cure" for their same gender attraction.  There are plenty of examples of families that broke up years later, and now they don't advice that gay members marry someone as a cure.  That seems better, in my opinion, because marriage is hard enough as it is, and children need as strong and loving of a home as they can get.

My current frustrations are currently hitting their peak.  The Church in general has been extremely vocal recently in their opposition to same sex marriage, unions, or even recognizing couples and allowing them basic rights.  I fully support the right of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to make a stand.  I can respect that.  I don't agree with it, but that's my personal political opinion.  However, to make such a strong stand while leaving its own members who have same sex attractions without any kind of help, support system, or answers is heart-wrenching at best.  It completely fails the "What would Jesus Do?" test.  The reality is that there are certain, realistic, fundamental needs and answers that aren't being answered or addressed.  If leaders of the church are so certain that homosexuality can be "cured" or at least "controlled", why can't they at least come up with some kind of support program that?  When a natural disaster strikes, the LDS church is almost always one of the first organizations to send aid.  They have programs to help people whose marriages are on the rocks, to help those who have addictions, to help those who have been abused.  When a person joins the church, they are welcomed with open arms of full fellowship.  But for faithful members who struggle with the agony, pain, and frustration that accompanies denying oneself companionship and intimacy, there is silence at best, if not judgment, homophobia, and ostracizing.

I take comfort in prayers that I have had answered for myself.  I have felt Heavenly Father's love, care, and concern, and I know He knows what I am going through.  I know He knows how hard this is.  He is my rock, He is my strength.  I just wish I could feel that kind of love and when I am at church, but I don't.  It wasn't always that way, but it is right now, and that's the frustrating part.  What has changed?