Thursday, September 22, 2016

Suicide and the Mormon LGBT Community: My Story

I found this post I had worked on in February and decided it was time to share.

Today I'm going to talk about suicide in the LGBT community. It's a difficult topic for me. I hope I can add my voice to the conversation about what works and what doesn't work when addressing youth suicides or suicidal ideation in the Mormon community.

This article is an excellent start at addressing the issue.

Nothing affects me quite like this. To know that someone out there is lonely enough to take their life. That someone out there did what I was contemplating doing.

I was asked recently what was different for me. Why if I was suicidal did I not take my life?

You should know that I've been close a few times. I've never attempted suicide. But I've ended up calling the hotline twice to talk me down.

So I understand how it feels to be so desperate that you think about taking your life. To feel so alone that you don't know who to talk to or where to turn.

When I was 17 and realized I was gay, and still a believing Mormon (cue future blog post about my faith journey) I remember being very depressed. I didn't know how I fit into God's plan, I was afraid of being rejected by family. I felt so alone, like there was no where to go. Each time I thought about suicide I remembered the scripture from Alma about the same spirit going on from this world to the next. Alma 34:34

34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

 That made it clear to me that I would be gay in the next life too. While not exactly comforting, Mormon doctrine actually helped in this case to prevent me from taking my life.

A lot was going on at this time. I was afraid of rejection from family, and from friends. I did end up coming out to teachers and the school counselor, especially since I had only applied to BYU and my parent's expected me to go there. I had come out to my bishop and started therapy.

One day when I was really down, at the lowest point I'd ever been at, I remember praying. I prayed for help, for guidance.   I remember hearing in my head the words "It's ok to be gay."

I don't "know" for certain where that came from now. But something, be it God or the universe helped me and gave me the impression that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was ok just how I was.

I draw on this experience even now. It was so profound, so personal.

What this shows me is that there are solutions, even from within Mormonism, to the problems of youth suicide. This is not to say that leaving the church is not a valid option. I think that transition can be healthy and beneficial if handled with support. But for those who do not wish to or cannot leave, there is still hope.

So what works and what doesn't work? My bishop telling me that being gay could be cured, the therapists that tried to pin my homosexuality on a problematic relationship with parents, the statements from church leaders condemning homosexuality (especially the Miracle of Forgiveness) none of that was helpful. In fact it made things worse. What did help was prayer, help from teachers and the school counselor, and realizing that not everything the church said was doctrine. I had to know for myself what was correct and true and not simply take things at face value. I had studied things out for myself, from both sides, and realized that being gay was ok.

My journey from thereon is the subject of this blog. I did end up telling my parents I was gay and receiving a strong rejection. I came out to friends when I was 17 and while they were more accepting, they ultimately thought they should help me be straight. This, combined with pressure to return to church, caused me to go back in the closet for years.

I eventually got married to a woman even though I knew I was "Same-sex attracted", and ultimately divorced when I again realized it was ok to be gay. That was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but one of the best decisions in the long run.

I struggled even after we separated with the decision. I had started to come out to family but questions lingered. Would my family ever accept me? Who could be there for me in the same way my wife had been? Should I go back to her? Would I stay a Mormon?  I was stuck. I was stuck between being Mormon, being married, and being gay. While some people make this work, I couldn't. I called a suicide hotline and luckily they helped me realized I had options, that I wasn't stuck. I didn't have to do or be anything I didn't want to be. I should just let myself explore.

Fast forward a few months when I began to explore being gay slowly by talking to guys online. It was hard for me though. I cancelled on a date just hours before and never heard from him again. I managed to go on a date but the guy ended up being a jerk. Things were not going as planned. Shortly after, a few weeks before my divorce was final I thought again about suicide. Had I made the right decision? How would I resolve my desire to be with a man with my Mormon faith?  Again, I felt stuck.  I thought for days of ways to end my life. Luckily I had the support of friends, one of whom was smart enough to get me help when I told her what was happening. I ended up in the hospital when I told the doctors that I was suicidal. It was in the hospital that I realized my desire to please others would literally lead to my death. I needed to do what was right for me, and if I could do that I could survive. Leaving the hospital was hard, but I had friends around me. I started to recover my strength. I then went to the Circling the Wagons conference and met both gay Mormons/postmormons and allies. I came out on Facebook and continued down the path of self-acceptance.

Where I ended up with my Mormon faith is the subject of a long and future post. I have friends who love and support me. I was in a relationship with a wonderful guy for two years and even though it didn't work out, I learned a lot and I grew a lot from it. I'm on the cusp of earning my doctorate. Life has been challenging but I've been fortunate to learn and grow from the decisions I've made.

I know how lonely it can be to not feel like your community or even your own family will accept you. I am fortunate that my family has come around, and those in my family who were always supportive have made a huge difference in my life. I needed to learn to trust the right people to love, accept, and support me and it has made all the difference.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Response to the Change to the LDS Church's Handbook of Instructions

I've tried to know what to post for the last two weeks. My reactions to the church's new policy have varied from grief to anger. This surprisingly harsh policy has caused me to reflect on my relation to the Mormon church in a way that few things have.

Let me state this simply: A policy that calls same-sex married couples apostates is not ok. Even less so one that keeps their children from being blessed, baptized, or receiving other rites and ordinances in the LDS church.

The question is why?

I know a lot has been said about this. My point is to simply add my voice, to talk from my position and my experiences.

This policy affects me in a few ways directly. First, if I do end up getting married I will officially be an apostate. Since I haven't yet resigned from the Mormon church I may face church discipline for that decision. Second, my future (and at this point hypothetical) children can no longer get even a baby blessing. If I had wanted to share in the community aspect of Mormonism, that is being denied not only to me but my family.

And isn't that the point of the policy? To make it so same-sex marriage, though legally recognized, is seen as something that's not ok? Something worse than promiscuous sex. That having children in such a union is not only condemned in the eyes of the church but by their family, friends, and loved ones?

None of the apologetics for the policy, from what I've read-and let me say I can only take so much- have addressed this point. Why? Because they condemn homosexuality as something unnatural, sinful.

And so the idea that it's just like polygamy, or a Muslim wanting to join the church, or wanting to protect the children from conflicting teachings at home and church rings hollow. This article The Deepening LGBT Divide in the Mormon Faith - The Atlantic addresses how it isn't like polygamy at all. And if it hasn't been said already, the historical and cultural context of a Muslim joining the church is in fact different from an LGBTQ member who either wants to remain a member or allow their children to be.

No, what is at stake here is what Sam Wolfe's excellent piece Op-ed: Dear Mormon leaders: Know the truth about homosexuality | The Salt Lake Tribune addressed.

Is it ok to be gay?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. It's ok to be different from the majority. It's ok to feel attracted to someone of the same-sex. No ifs, ands or buts. And it's ok to marry them if that's what you want, and it's ok not to get married too if that's how you feel.

What's not ok is discrimination, whether it's codified in a policy or reflected in the attitudes of parents, family, friends towards God's children.

I don't worry about asking the church to change anymore. I do hope they will, that they will see the error of their ways and make this right. But it's one of many things I see as problematic with the LDS church, although for now it's the only one I want to address outright at this point.

What I do worry about is reaching out with love and compassion to anyone who has gone through sadness, pain, misery, or even suicidal thoughts because they feel rejection or betrayal. I have felt all of these things. I will mourn with you wherever you are in your journey of faith or lack thereof. And I will listen.

If you disagree with me, if you feel this policy to be right, I ask only one thing: stop and listen. Listen to the people this is affecting.

And then if you want to know more, read. Study this out. Read what the American Psychological Association says about sexual orientation.That having a different sexual orientation than the majority is natural. And it's about more than sex. Science may not have all the answers but it should at the very least inform your opinion.

And then if it helps, if you believe in this, pray. God told me when I was a scared teenager contemplating taking my own life that it was ok to be gay, something that contradicted the messages I received growing up and even from my own church. (As a side note, never read the Miracle of Forgiveness. The lack of understanding about homosexuality in that book is abhorrent). I believe in prayer, and I believe in peace, and love, and respect. And I believe good people will start to overcome their biases and prejudices and see truth.







Sunday, January 12, 2014

What's wrong with the LDS Church's statement on same-sex marriage?

Hello again Blogosphere. I've had some time off to work on school and personal issues. I am excited to make a new post for the new year.

Plus, same-sex marriage in Utah? How can I keep away?

The LDS Church came out with a statement in response to the recent events. The most relevant portion, I think is this:

 " As we face this and other issues of our time, we encourage all to bear in mind our Heavenly Father’s purposes in creating the earth and providing for our mortal birth and experience here as His children. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:27–28). “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage between a man and a woman was instituted by God and is central to His plan for His children and for the well-being of society. Strong families, guided by a loving mother and father, serve as the fundamental institution for nurturing children, instilling faith, and transmitting to future generations the moral strengths and values that are important to civilization and crucial to eternal salvation.

There are immediately problems, however, with using these scriptures as justification for the church's position on gay marriage. If you are against gay marriage because we are commanded to "multiply and replenish the earth," what about those who can't have children? Are they suddenly unable to keep one of God's commandments? Is their union any less valid? Any Mormon would say, of course not. There's no sin in that. In fact, marriage between two people who can't have children is a good thing for many other reasons.

So how then is it any different for gay couples? Shouldn't they have the same right to marriage as everyone else who can or can't have children? Not to mention the fact that gay couples can and do have children, whether through adoption, surrogacy, or other means.

The second scripture is even more problematic. It's a command for a man to "cleave unto his wife, and none else." In order to keep this commandment, everyone must marry and that marriage should be between a man and a woman? So a gay Man is supposed to marry a woman? This contradicts the church's position that marriage should not be used as a therapeutic step for homosexuality. And, from personal experience, I can tell you that marriage with a woman does not lead to long term happiness. Am I breaking God's commandments by being unable to fulfill them? What happened to God not giving us a commandment that we are unable to keep?

It seems much more likely to me, that a loving God, would ask us to adapt the commandments to individual circumstances, such as sexual orientation. What this means for individuals will differ.

The problem is assuming that we are all the same. We aren't. There is diversity, and that's ok. It's ok that humans have different sexual orientations. For those of you who don't understand what that is, I recommend this link.  And it's ok that some of us have green eyes, and some have blue eyes, that we have different colors of skin. It's not ok to say that one way of being is higher or better than another. Unfortunately, people who are gay or bisexual have frequently been thought of as lesser. It's the same as racism. And it isn't ok. It's time for the LDS Church to embrace difference instead of running from it. That means confronting past and present homophobia. And it means that rather than making a contradictory statement that on the one hand asks us to all live according to one set of commandments while proscribing special commandments (such as celibacy) for gay members, the LDS Church should make policies and statements that reflect that diversity.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Same-sex marriage

I wasn't going to post about marriage. First of all I can't tell you all what it means to see all of those equal signs on facebook. It's awesome to know that I have that kind of support.

To my cousin and sister-in-law and all the people who "click" like on the post "disagreement is not hate. High time we realise honouring man-woman marriage is not bigoted." I agree it isn't hateful to think that marriage should be between a man and a woman. However, many of the people who hold this view do so for bigoted reasons.

Disagreeing with my views is one thing. Depriving me of federal benefits, legal protections, visitation rights, property/inheritance rights, custody rights is quite another. You may believe that I should receive some of these rights. You may think that I only deserve these rights if I'm married.

We can only disagree if we have a conversation. We live in a civil society, and thinking that I civilly shouldn't be married is quite different from believing that I shouldn't be married in a religious institution. Or specifically, your institution, since there are many churches who do want to recognize same-sex marriages.

If you want me to "respect" your rights to worship (which I do), please respect mine. I'm not getting married anytime soon, but I do have a partner, whom I love, and who I would like to be ok if anything were to happen to me. You may not agree with me or my choices. I'm not asking you too.

I'm just asking you to respect my civil rights.

The beautiful thing is, if things go the right way, it doesn't matter at all what you think. Justice will be done.

And if not, we will continue to fight until it is.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gays and Mormons.com

Last week's release of the new website, mormonsandgays.org, was met with a variety of reactions, ranging from positive spin to a visceral attack on the church and the people still loyal to it. These reactions are telling of the anxiety and interest in homosexuality in the church.

In the virtual realm of the web, there are various competing positions, some complementary, some diametrically opposed, as to how one is to be "Mormon and gay." There are lots of Mormon and gay.coms, facebook groups, blogs, all representing their various takes on the seemingly impossible and insolvable problem. Speaking from my own position, I can say that I first reacted emotionally to an official church website. "The church is finally welcoming gays!" "It's accepting that I'm gay."

For various months of my life, I stood immobilized by a triangle relationship of being Mormon, gay, and married. There was no resolution to all three; something had to give. After unsuccessfully trying to erase being gay through therapy, prayer, fasting, Evergreen, and marriage (and failing), I realized I had to renegotiate this conflict on new terms; I had to accept that I was gay and that wasn't going to change. 

The new website offers, I think, a more acceptable position. Accepting (finally) scientific consensus on the immutability of homosexuality, the church instead simply maintains a moral position that behavior and not being is wrong. This is progress. It sets a new baseline from which to talk about homosexuality in the church. It prevents destructive behavior like SOCE (sexual orientation conversion efforts aka reparative therapy) and discourages MOM's (Mixed-Orientation Marriages). Quick caveat, I'm not saying that all these marriages are doomed, I'm just saying it's a risky undertaking given the high divorce rate of such couples (and my own experience).

But though the position the website takes is more acceptable, it is ultimately untenable. How can you separate doing and being in a culture where you are constantly taught you are what you do ("By their fruits ye shall know them")? How can you be gay but not do "gay things"? For my grandpa, I wasn't gay if I didn't "act" on it. But I was gay before any action on my part. That message is you can be born gay, and even if you can't change, you're still suppose to fit and and try to be as straight as possible. Or at least not "act" gay. 

The problem with the website, which became clear to me after my initial excitement faded, is that the church's acceptance is conditional. You can only be part of the club if you come in on our terms, which are celibacy and a commitment to upholding our heterocentric view of the universe.

I for one refuse to be partially accepted for who I am. And now that I've had some time and I'm in a relationship, I know that much of the information I was fed about promiscuity, AIDS, etc. was distorted or just plain wrong.  From this position, it's hard to look at the website as much progress. The central problem remains, that gays (and other LGBTQ's ) are relegated to a sub category, where we aren't accepted for who we are but for who we can theoretically be; straight members just like everyone else in the next life.

I know that this position will be appealing to many gay Mormons. I know at some point I believed this, and even desired it with all my heart. I wanted to be like everyone else, to be accepted by my family. But you can't compromise yourself to be what other people want you to be. At some point, you have to get over the fact that you've been shamed into submission to a heteronormative universe, that worse, is extremely patriarchal, and openly and proudly so.

Mormon culture makes it hard to be gay. It's hard enough to be gay even if you aren't Mormon, though the doctrinal and cultural forces that pressure you to fit a norm make difference that much more difficult. As more and more people open up about their experiences it becomes clearer and clearer the anguish people have gone through trying to come to terms being Mormon and gay. A lot of us end up becoming healthy well-adjusted individuals. But others turn to excessive drinking, risky sexual behaviors, and dangerous drug use. I want to be clear that this isn't because they're gay. They're trying to cope with the shame they've been made to feel for being different, and rather than facing their demons, try to escape that pain and shame through these behaviors.

In other words, we need support. Many of us need the church, but the church doesn't offer us what we need. I had to come to this realization the hard way. The church offers you some of what you need. And the gay community may not provide you all you need. A partner, or a wife, will never provide you all you need. The only way to get what you need is by taking care of yourself, and being willing to go and look places you've never been before to meet those needs. I think we all have a different path to do that, but looking for the church to change and provide what we need through a new website is naive.

The church needs to accept, or at the least stop demonizing, those who are openly gay and in relationships of love. That's the only true progress that can be had. And we can help by not demonizing other gay people. If we would reach out to each other, change could happen. But the shame placed upon us by a heteronormative society makes it all that much harder. And feeling like we don't belong in the gay community cuts us off from the support we could receive there. I think that's what's behind all the gay and mormon.coms, finding a space in between.

One might ask what any gay person is doing in such an environment, a criticism popular among those who are "outside" the (LDS) church but still ever commenting on issues pertaining to it. But one can hardly blame them for the criticism or their participation in the debate.  I think their continued participation in various Mormon Stories or Moho or other web communities shows that participation in Mormondom goes far beyond doctrine, practice, or ideology. It's family, it's community, it's politics (especially in Utah). For most people, there is no way to fully get away from it. Thus, while some might tell us to shut up and leave well enough alone, we simply can't. The church affects our lives, and even a conscious decision to resign from the church is evidence of the influence being Mormon had and has over our lives.

And yet their criticism sometimes fails to take into account the complex environment that LGBIT people have in the church, and the intricacies of a personal faith journey to reconcile spiritual witnesses, personal convictions, and family and community realities. For some people, there is no outside the church, and rather than encouraging a one size fits all solution, would better serve by talking about their own experiences and helping people see the various options and paths rather than prescribing a path for other people, (a habit, likely left over from service or experience in the church, where an awful lot of that happens). Though some may object to being included, "big tent" Mormonism has a place and includes many of us on the fringe who never really know where our place is inside or outside the church.  And in this vulnerable, border position, in which many of us find ourselves, let's make sure we make room for other who don't agree with everything we say or do. After all, we're trying to get away from the exclusivity and narrow mindedness that, unfortunately, sometimes exists within the communities we come from.

(Edited and Re-posted 1-15-2013)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Moving (Forward)

What a strange journey it's been these last two years. I went from being married, separated, then divorced, to being in a committed relationship, and am now living with my boyfriend.

For some reason, during the holidays, things get more intense emotionally for me. It brings up a lot of issues that tend to stay tucked away, like my relationship with church, my family, and my ex-wife. It's been hard for me not to look back to a time where I thought I had all the answers, where I thought I knew my plan.

I lived for a time naively, never really questioning the assumptions I'd made that therapy and Evergreen had helped me diminish my same-sex attraction. But then reality hit me. I couldn't hide the fact that I was gay from myself or my wife anymore. We both knew it, but it was something we didn't want to acknowledge.  I've talked a lot about that in this blog, and I'd like to revisit that more sometime with time and perspective. But for now I want to talk about moving forward.

After months of feeling like I was doing nothing to make things better, I finally decided to get out to church today. Not an LDS church. The First Congregational Church. It felt really good, to walk into a place where I'm welcome, affirmed, and celebrated as a human being. To me, that's what Jesus taught, the true message of the gospel, to love and welcome and affirm each other. 

For months I've felt without a home or a center. I think after the pain I've been through, I'm hesitant to recreate that sense of family and home, after trying so hard to do so, only to find out that it was an illusion. Sometimes I've been trying to go it alone. This is somewhat selfish of me, as there are many around me with open welcoming arms ready to embrace me as I am.  I think it's good to develop resilience and independence. But we're social animals, and we need community, support, love, and family.I'm grateful for the people who provide that for me. I need to embrace them, and thank them, and show them how much I appreciate that.

Now I'm in a relationship, and trying to move forward with my life. At times though, I let the past, anniversaries, holidays, all of that, get in the way. Like Lot's wife, I look back, towards "Sodom and Gomorrah", a place where I was unwilling to move in spite of the problems I knew were there, unable or unwilling to acknowledge my doubts and questions about my faith and sexuality because they would force me to do something about them. I have. I've acted. I've left that place and I can't look back now. I don't think I'll be turned into a pillar of salt or anything, but looking back hurts me. It prevents me from living in the present, from going forward; it's a dark depressing place, and not the place for someone given the chances that I have to be happy with a wonderful man and with a wonderful life. 

As I look to my past, growing up Mormon was in many ways a beautiful thing. My service, my mission, learning Spanish, going to BYU, teaching at the MTC, have all been things that have profoundly influenced my life. But the LDS church is not presently a welcoming place for me or other LGBT people. I appreciate the efforts to make it so. I feel welcome in this in between space that people are trying to create to make church welcoming for all and make our communities more welcoming. But there will always be struggle and conflict and disagreement on this issue. I think that's healthy, because there are a lot of things for the church and it's members to come to terms with on this question. But I don't know that it's a place I can call home anymore.

My family home is still not a place where I am totally welcome and accepted. It's getting better, and I don't mean to discredit the effort or the progress that's been made.  But  there's a reason I didn't go home for Thanksgiving, and Christmas may be difficult. I can't make everyone ok with me being in a relationship, and I can't force my partner to go into an environment where we aren't totally welcome and accepted for who we are. There are people in my family who welcome me, and us, with loving arms. But some people won't change, and likely will not change for years to come. 

And so it's time to create a new home. When the Mormon pioneers felt persecuted, they had to leave their homes in Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. They fought to create home wherever they were, despite the persecutions they endured for their beliefs and lifestyle. But ultimately, none of those places were safe. They preferred to go West, and create a new home rather than continue to fight and die in their old one.

For a long time, I've been in exile, and I've longed for home. Part of the reason holidays are hard is that longing.  I've been unwilling to find a new home. But after wandering in the desert, it's time to find a new home. That doesn't mean I abandon everyone or everything that made those places home, but it does mean being independent and free to go to new places where I haven't allowed myself to go before. It's time to create home rather than waiting for a home to be created for me. And together with my partner, that's exactly what I need to do. I can't stay stuck in the past forever. It's time to move forward.





Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming Out Day

One year ago I came out on facebook. It was October 11, national coming out day. I came to a point in my life where I simply could no longer live my life by what other people expected of me.

So I came out. To everyone. A lot of people were extremely supportive.Others were less than excited that I was sharing something so "personal" on facebook. But the important thing isn't what those people think. And so many people were happy to be part of something I was sharing with them about myself.

Coming out isn't about them. It's about you. It's about you being ok with being gay. It's about you being ok with being different.

So much of my life has revolved around that decision. Not the one to post a few words on facebook, but to live my life by what I know to be true instead of letting other people define me.

I've been with my boyfriend for 8 months now. We started living together last month. I'm so happy, it's hard to put in words.

But what I can say is that none of this would have been possible if I let my fears get the best of me. It's not easy, standing up to my family and (though not very many fall in this category) friends who are against my "lifestyle." It hasn't been easy to talk to my parents and have them get used to it.

But things do get better. My Mom invited us to Thanksgiving and Christmas, at home. I know that part of her doesn't accept things, but she's grown so much, and come to love me for who I am rather than who she thought I was or wants me to be. I hope she'll come to love him too, in her way. That might be a longer process. But it's really not possible to have a relationship with my parents that somehow excludes this important part of my life.

 I know there is a lot of hurt in our community, in the gay community (and yes, it exists), in the Mormon community, and especially in the Gay Mormon community. But beneath all that pain, I think most of us love each other, and are trying to sort the rest out. My Mom is the last person I expected to come around to me being gay. But she even apologized for her ignorance, and for what happened. Change has to happen. Things can't continue how they've been. Luckily, things are working out for the best for me. I know some aren't so lucky. But if you aren't so lucky, don't give up. There are so many of us that would love to put our arms around you and help you up, figure out what to do. And if we are going to be serious about preventing suicide, or the even more prevalent depression in our community, then we've got to do that.