Sunday, November 16, 2014

Biography

Okay, that last post was super cheesy.  But you know what?  I like cheese (especially pepper-jack).

ANYWAY, I suppose I should give a brief biography so that this blog makes a little more sense.


Born into an active LDS family, I’m the youngest of seven children, there being a gap of six years between me and my youngest sibling (a sister).  I rarely felt especially close to the majority of my brothers and sisters, many of them becoming adults and moving out before I reached middle school.  I longed to have people with whom I could relate, but ended up feeling isolated in my own family.  I need to make it clear that I have absolutely amazing parents.  I couldn’t ask for more supportive, worthy, or loving parents.  My father worked very hard to provide for our large family.  While he was the personification of a tough manly man, I was extremely sensitive.   At times I found him intimidating, and it was difficult for us to get particularly close.  I clung to my mother and told myself from a very young age that I would kill myself if she ever died.  Possibly because I lacked this important father-son bond, I became extremely curious about men at a young age.  Entering into elementary school I soon discovered that I identified better with the girls.  The boys were playing with cars and soccer balls; I wound up playing Barbie with the girls.
Exposure to Sexuality
At age seven I began to be sexually abused by someone whom I esteemed to be my friend (to clarify, he was not a family member).  I was confused yet excited, and I went along with this strange game.
In my family, sexuality was rarely talked about and discussed in a beating-around-the-bush manner. I was simply told that after you got married, you started having children (considering my age I don’t think that this was necessarily a bad thing).  When I was eight, we found out that a relative had become pregnant outside of wedlock.  My mother was shattered.  She later gave me "the talk," but I didn't understand all of the terms and only comprehended that the private parts of people's bodies led to pregnancy.  As a na├»ve child I became terrified that I was going to become pregnant (I find this sad yet humorous, looking back on things).
Unfortunately I gained this knowledge too late; I was already caught in a web of sexual abuse.  This exploitation prematurely opened a Pandora's Box of sexual thoughts and feelings.  Fear and shame hindered me from telling my parents and so I endured this abuse for a few years.
Eventually I followed the promptings of the Spirit and told my dad about the abuse at the age of nine.  He cried, but the way I perceived his reaction confirmed my feelings that I had committed horrible sins and that I was a sinner doomed to burn in the fiery pits of Hell.  Appropriate action was taken, and the abuse ended.  
Around this same time, the other boys at church and at school began to bully me more intensely than before.  From that point, I have experienced chronic headaches and migraines, which for many years I felt came as a punishment for my attractions.  I soon became overweight and extremely self-conscious.  After telling my dad, I promised myself that I would never tell anyone about my sexual experiences (or feelings) ever again.
Middle School
At school I continued to associate mostly with girls because I related better to them.  I would play with them during recess because I was the awkward fat kid who was always the last to be chosen for sports.  My feelings of same sex attraction particularly intensified when I hit puberty.  I was nervous of people finding out about my crushes on boys and men; this led to a lot of anxiety, depression, and lack of self-esteem.  I was so sensitive that one of my teachers told my mother that I needed to see a psychologist.  This advice was not implemented, probably because I didn't want to talk about what was really bothering me.  As a twelve-year-old overcome by grief and guilt, I told my bishop about the sexual experiences of my childhood (I unfortunately did so in a manner that the bishop didn’t realize that I had been abused).  The conversation was very short; he essentially told me not to do it again.  I didn’t feel better after talking with the bishop.  I unsuccessfully tried to convince myself that I had repented, and my self-hatred continued to escalate as I entered junior high.  However, it is important to note that at this point in my life I decided that I had to know if the church was true.  That testimony, or lack thereof, would shape the rest of my life on both sides of the veil..  I read the Book of Mormon and gained a strong testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost.
My parents would always pull me out of school when we were going to be taught sex-ed, so I never gained a solid comprehension of sexuality.  I turned to the internet for answers. While it helped me to finally understand what sex was and how people got pregnant, it also exposed me to pornography and masturbation.  Pornography was talked about often in church and in General Conference, and that helped me have the self-control to never allow myself to dive into it.   I tried turn my sexual orientation from men toward women, but my crushes on older guys who had fit and handsome bodies, confidence, and popularity, (three things which I desperately wanted for myself) only intensified.  I was still convinced that I was going to burn in Hell because of what happened in my childhood and the attractions which I continued to feel.
Throughout junior high I excelled in art and had many friends, almost all of which were girls.  I continued to gain weight, which fed my body image issues.  For five years I swam on the school’s swim team, but while I had the blubber of a whale I certainly couldn’t swim like one.  The divide between the other boys and I grew greater and greater.  I was extremely self-conscious; I tried to talk with a deeper voice and not give away any clues as to my struggle with SSA.  I constantly compared myself to the other guys.  Their muscles seemed to be developing, while I was just a walking sack of cottage cheese.  I wasn’t as coordinated as the other guys, and my acne didn’t help my perception of myself.  All these things fed the envy and attraction that I had toward the other boys my age.  I wished that I had been born a girl so that I didn’t have to be ashamed of these feelings.  I was made fun of because in art I would draw fantasy subjects, like fairies and maidens, which led other male students to ask me if I was gay, which I vehemently denied.
High School
At same time that Prop 8 was raging through California, a similar proposition, Prop 102, was simultaneously campaigned for in Arizona.  I supported the legislation; I believed in the Church’s stance on marriage.  Because of this, I was targeted by the openly gay crowd at school, being cornered and bullied on camera.  In addition to this negativity, I heard hurtful, derogatory things about gays at home and at church by people who I’m sure felt obligated to support the legislation, but who lacked an eternal understanding as to why the Church was promoting it.  I think people were scared and were searching for any reason to justify their opinions.  I’m sure they didn’t suspect that someone in their own ward experienced these attractions .  
It was easy to feel marginalized during this time period.  So often in the church we’re painted a picture of what a truly happy, God-ordained life looks like: a man and woman deeply in love with each other, surrounded by children sealed in the temple.  I was taught in my quorums that it was perfectly normal to experience sexual attractions to girls, that they were healthy if not dwelt upon and were a gift from God.  I felt like I was the only person in the room who wasn’t given that particular gift!  Even in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet, homosexuality was defined as an abomination before the Lord, which I interpreted to mean that I was an abomination for desiring such relationships (since that time the pamphlet has been rewritten in softer terms).  So when church-members around me made jokes about gay people or made comments about how nasty homosexuality was, I felt distanced from God.  I found it difficult to hope for a place in Christ’s Plan of Salvation.  This in turn deepened my suspicion that if anyone found out that I experienced same-sex attraction, I would be judged and made the laughing-stock of my community. 
Wearing a Speedo got old, so in the tenth grade I joined the volleyball team and did rather well.  Fortunately as a result I lost a lot of weight and started to feel a little better about myself.  When I was a junior I made the varsity team as a starter.  The seniors would make fun of me and would often sexually harass me and tear off my clothes in public.  This brought back flashbacks of the abuse I endured in my childhood.  My coach simply told me to get mad at them and they’d leave me alone.  I was convinced that these stresses combined with my attraction to other men would torture me until the day I died.  This convinced me to act on the suicidal thoughts that I had had for so many years.
The gun was only a few feet away, and I was arguing with myself through my tears that I needed to stop being a coward and pull the trigger.  My eyes landed on a photo of my deceased grandfather hanging on the wall.  My grandfather had a huge impact on me as a child.  He was the most humble and Christ-like man I had ever known.  I froze as an unexpected cloud of warmth surrounded me.  I can never and will never forget the spiritual experience which then ensued (including a message to me that was repeated both in my patriarchal blessing and by my mission president).  I promised that I would never kill myself even if I had to endure a lonely life as a single man with SSA.
During my junior year of high school, I received my patriarchal blessing.  Leading up to the blessing, I desperately prayed that Heavenly Father would address this issue that had consumed my life for almost as long as I remembered.  While the blessing was absolutely wonderful and gave me courage to continue to keep going, it didn’t seem to address my same sex attractions whatsoever.  It simply mentioned that I would have an eternal companion after the second coming.
After feeling so miserable and unsafe during my junior year, I decided to not be on the volleyball team my senior year.  Senior year turned out to be the best year of my life.  I joined choir and took several art classes, becoming friends with people with high standards and warm hearts.  I began to come out of my shell and discover talents I never knew I had.  I bonded with other guys in healthy ways.  While I still had attractions, they were not nearly as intense.  I started to date girls but never got too closely attached to any.  I used the excuse that I didn’t want to get into a serious relationship before I went on a mission.  With that expectation, dating wasn’t ever too awkward for me, and I really enjoyed being around the girls I dated.  I embraced the choir culture and was able to pay my way through my first two years of college with music and academic scholarships.
Pre-Mission
After graduating high school, I felt like a rug had been ripped from under my feet.  I suddenly didn’t have the circle of choir friends who seemed to understand me and I again became very isolated.  The feelings of same gender attraction flared up again.  Then, my family went through a very intense trial which caused us to pull close together in order to endure.  One of my father’s best friends had died a few months previously, and my father started to become aware of his own mortality.  His friend’s death had rendered him softer and more approachable. My father and I spent almost all of our time around each other during our family’s trial.  I realized that I had always craved his approval and if there was to be a bond between us that I needed to forge it.  I hugged my father and told him that I loved him every day.  It soon turned into a sort of game as to who could tell the other he loved him first each day. I gained a greater appreciation for my father’s virtue and selflessness.  We developed a strong relationship; the wounds of my childhood began to heal.
After the painful yet wonderful summer after my high school graduation, I attended Eastern Arizona College for a semester.  I had good relationships with my roommates.  They helped me not to isolate myself too much, but I couldn’t bring myself to go on more than a few dates.  My low self-esteem led me to compare myself to other men all the time.  I essentially starved myself and worked out a lot in order to try to become what I envied so much in other men.  I ended up dangerously underweight and weak, and eventually ended up in the emergency room because my body started to shut down.
At the end of the semester, my mission papers were almost completed.  My feelings of same sex attraction had consistently left me miserable, lonely, and full of self-hatred.  I still felt guilty for the actions which I engaged in as a child and throughout high school.  Heavenly Father didn’t seem to accept any of my plea bargains, though I had prayed and prayed, and fasted and fasted that these feelings would disappear and that I would be attracted to women.  I was being emotionally torn apart and I had no idea what to do.  At that point, while looking for something in my parent’s closet, I came across the book “In Quiet Desperation” by Ty Mansfield.  It was a book that I had noticed in a Deseret Book catalog but was too nervous to attempt to buy it.  Whenever I had the house to myself, I would fly through its pages, coming to the realization that there actually were other people in the church who were in the same situation as I was.  I felt a sense of hope.  The book convinced me that I had to speak to my new bishop about the attractions that I had experienced throughout my life.
“Coming Out”
Terrified, I made an appointment with my bishop. I tried to convince myself not to go because I had no sins to confess.  However, I sat across from the bishop, looking at my thumbs, and finally forced out the explanation that I was sexually attracted to men.  He looked at me for a moment, and I explained that I didn’t act on those attractions but that I had felt impressed to come and speak with him about them.  He then replied, “Well, I think that the solution would be for you to start taking testosterone supplements.”
I was dumbstruck, and began to wonder if it had been a good idea to speak with him about this problem while he feverishly flipped through the pages of his handbook.  He told me that in order for me to go on a mission I needed to pass an examination by LDS Family Services and I needed to tell my parents that I had same sex attraction.  Although deep down inside I knew that it was the right thing to do (especially after reading “In Quiet Desperation”) I croaked, “But...I don’t know how to tell them!” My mind for years had construed images of their reaction. I felt that it would shatter them.  How could they have a gay son, after the absolutely wonderful example that they had shown by the pure lives that they lived and the love which they showed their children?  I wondered if they would be able to love me after finding out this disgusting attribute that I possessed.  I thought that they would never be able to look at me the same again, that every time they saw me or thought of me their hearts would be sharply stung by the dark truth that their son was sexually attracted to men.  I didn’t know of anyone in my family that dealt with this issue, and I felt that the news would spread like a disease and make family reunions awkward.  I would be shunned and stereotypically seen as a rainbow-flag-waving Speedo-wearing homosexual.  I then tried to deny my feelings, something that I had always tried to do.  I didn’t want to be too quick to say that I was gay when I was only 18.  Maybe I hadn’t given myself enough time, maybe I hadn’t gone through puberty and this was just a phase.  But I knew that these cop-outs weren’t the truth.  I needed my parents to know about the hidden fires consuming me in the deepest chambers of my soul.
So, that night, after literally writhing in emotional agony in my room for hours, I told them.  After the words croaked out of my lump-filled throat, there was a brief silence, and I heard my mother sniffle.  I opened my eyes to see tears running down her face as well.  My father then spoke.  “I hope you realize, John, that this will not affect our relationship in the slightest.  We love you, and we recognize that there isn’t anyone on this earth, ourselves included, who doesn’t struggle with a temptation or susceptibility of some kind.”  They embraced me and expressed their unconditional love and respect for me.  Their Christ-like support and warm response were both unexpected and unforgettable.
I met with a therapist from LDS Family Services, and he gave the okay for me to go on a mission after the first interview in regards to my SSA.  However, he diagnosed me with depression.  Over the next six months, I met with him as well as other doctors until they determined that I was emotionally stable enough to serve a two-year mission.
Mission
When I received my mission call, I was so excited and grateful for the opportunity to fulfill my lifetime goal of serving a mission.  It didn’t take me long to discover how stressful and difficult missionary life truly was.  I didn’t get along with my trainer as well as most other missionaries seemed to, leading to loneliness and a lack of self-esteem, and the opposition and trials that we faced seemed overwhelming.  I had hoped that Heavenly Father would take away my SSA as I had prayed and fasted so much for in the past, but it continued to haunt me throughout my mission.  Try as I might I developed crushes on other missionaries, which created an enormous conflict within myself.  I intensified my efforts to be strictly obedient so that I could experience miracles as I felt I had been promised in conference talks.  However, the cycle of temptation and self-hatred brought me much depression and anxiety.  I was absolutely terrified that if anyone knew of my struggle with same sex attraction I would be ostracized from the other missionaries or that I would be sent home, so I tried to conceal these feelings for as long as I could.  However, my inner emotional turmoil escalated to the point that I told my mission president's wife that I needed counseling.
I met with another LDS family therapist, who over the course of my mission helped me to deal with my anxiety and depression due to my inferiority complex and same gender attraction.  Toward the end of my mission, I finally trusted her enough to fully and graphically describe the traumatic experiences that I had endured during my early childhood.  She helped me understand that I had been a victim of abuse.  She explained why I didn't need to hate myself and that I wasn’t a monster.  She helped me realize that I hadn’t committed a serious sin and that I was worthy to be a missionary and representative of Jesus Christ.  I see her as possibly the reason that I was called to Georgia.  Without her invaluable insight, I doubt that I would have been able to make it all the way through my mission.
One night I laid awake in serious self-reflection.  A thought had entered my mind that made me restless: was my true desire to stay faithful to my covenants, or did I really want to act on my attractions but didn’t simply because I was afraid of what others would think?  I slid from my bed onto my knees and began to beg my Heavenly Father for inspiration.  I promised that I would believe His words and try to implement His instructions.  After making this plea and waiting as calmly as I could for a response, my mind entered a state of clarity.  Scriptures began to flood into my brain.  I remembered that Jehovah explained to Samuel that the Lord judges a man by his heart.  The Spirit reminded me that Joseph Smith received similar knowledge in D&C 137:9.  I heard the cries of Joseph Smith while he suffered in Liberty Jail.  The Lord’s response sent tears running down my face: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall triumph on high; thou shalt triumph” (D&C 121:7-8).  His reminder to Joseph Smith humbled me: “The Son of Math hath descended below them all.  Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way” (D&C 122:8-9).  My petty struggles paled in comparison to the atoning sacrifice that Christ made in Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary.
I talked with my mission president about my SSA openly, and he constantly tried to reassure that I was a good person and a good missionary.  My mission president reacted to my disclosures with such Christ-like grace and empathy, it still brings tears to my eyes.  He honestly admitted that he wasn’t very well educated on SSA, but that he would continue to support me and asked me to continue to educate and communicate with him.  I tried my hardest to be diligent to the end.  My mission president’s wife told my counselor and my parents that I was the most obedient missionary in the mission.
Post-Mission
Now I'm home.  It's been a hard adjustment.  While I was on my mission, I was able to have the emotional connections and strong friendships with other guys that I have craved my entire life.  My heart will be forever filled with gratitude for those with whom I served; my companions were chosen by God to help me.  Their spiritual caliber enabled them to deal with my quirks and moodiness.  Their unconditional love and acceptance overpowered my SSA to the point that I was never attracted to my companions as I was with other missionaries.  I also discovered that if I became friends with the missionary that I had a crush on that these attractions dissipated.  Now that I am home I am trying to find similar connections to “straight” guys so that I can have more peace.  Within a week of my return, I researched Ty Mansfield and came across Voices of Hope and North Star.  This gave me more hope than I had ever before experienced on this issue.  Through North Star I have been able to meet a lot of other LDS men who struggle with SSA who have been able to help me tremendously.  I have also been able to counsel those who are still trying to come to terms with their feelings.



Monday, November 3, 2014

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you" - Maya Angelou

In her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou relives some of the hidden memories of her youth.  I feel that I, as well as everyone who experiences same-sex attraction, can identify with her declaration that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."

The purpose of this blog is not to rag on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its views on homosexuality, nor to promote gay rights or affirmation.  My intention is to enlighten minds on the issue of same-sex attraction and how it has affected my life as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  My prayer is that those who read this blog will find hope and motivation to stand with Christ, regardless of their trials, weaknesses, or susceptibilities.

I am the gay R.M.