Monday, August 29, 2011

Therapy (Again)

Today was my last appointment with the therapist I've been seeing for the last 7 months.

I stepped into the university counseling center in January of this year. The first day they asked me to fill out a survey. I was asked to identify my sexual orientation on the survey and state my reasons for coming to counseling. I didn't quite know what to say. I checked the box that said "questioning." I put I was there because of my sexual orientation as well as for depression. It wasn't as if I didn't know that I was attracted to men. So I didn't know if "questioning" or gay or bi was the right word for a formerly somewhat out gay man who tried to change his sexual orientation and was currently married.

I went in because something in my life wasn't right. My wife and I had moved to California, and the last couple of months had been hard. I'd stay up late crying. I pulled out the evergreen manual wondering if there was something in there that could help me. I didn't seem to find resolution or answers. Finally in January I told my wife, "I'm gay. I know I told you before, but there's more to the story than when I first told you."

We hadn't talked about it since I told her right before we got engaged. I wrote a letter. I had her read it, and then we talked about it. I told her in that letter I'd realized this was something I couldn't change. I told her I thought about doing therapy, but I was worried that they would convince me I was gay, or convince me to do something against the teachings of the church. Even though we were worried about that, we decided it'd be best if I went to therapy anyway.

So as I sat telling my counselor about how I'd gone to evergreen and how I'd gone 10 years since then avoiding a "Gay lifestyle" she seemed surprised. I told her though that I'd realized recently that no, my efforts to diminish my same sex attraction hadn't worked. I was still as attracted to men as I ever was. In all that time, I wasn't exactly in denial about being same-sex attracted, but I just sort of put it in a unresolved box that said, someday God will take this away. Confronting the reality that it wasn't going to change was difficult for me.

The next time we met, she pulled out a paper with a scale on it and explained that sexuality is complex and not as simple as gay/straight. I told her how much I loved my wife, but how I wasn't sure what to do about the fact that I was sexually attracted to men.

I didn't know exactly what I felt for my wife. Was I gay? Could I be in love with a woman as a gay man? As the weeks went on, we explored this conflict that I felt between having sex with a woman but being attracted primarily to men. It didn't really make sense to me at first. I thought, is she telling me it doesn't matter that I'm attracted to guys and married? She said she understood why I would feel a conflict. But in my way of seeing the world, I just didn't get it at first. It took some time, and education to learn what sexual orientation was, what "being gay" meant.

Contrary to what I feared originally, never once did my therapist tell me what to do, or convince me to be gay, or live any lifestyle. But as I went into this space where I was free to talk about what I wanted, what I was feeling, I realized for myself I felt a lot of conflict about being married. I was somewhat uncomfortable saying I was gay or bi, but accepting that my same-sex attraction was natural was affirming. I became more comfortable saying I was gay over time, because it was a way to view myself as a whole rather than shoving my "same-sex attraction" into a box that read "wrong, evil." I'd been told my whole life that somehow I was deviant, or unnatural. But finally I wasn't.

Therapists tend to affirm you as an individual.I don't believe this is wrong. She was with me and understanding and affirming when I talked about my conflict. But she never convinced me to label myself as gay, live a gay lifestlye, divorce my wife, or anything. My LDS therapists were for the most part unaffirming. They denied that I was gay, and lead me to do the same. They did steer me toward what they thought I should do. This is at least somewhat unethical. A therapist is supposed to do what the client wants. To try and push your client a certain direction because of your personal view point is, according to my understanding, against the standards of the profession.

As I came to an understanding that it was alright that I was gay, something I'd felt myself in prayer, then I had to figure out where to go from there. Being gay and married is not something I'd ever really come to terms with. I'd always lived believing that being gay was something wrong, and that my same-sex attraction was something that would someday be changed. The attractions and feelings were to be changed suppressed, ignored, prayed against, and I believed God would help me overcome them.

He didn't. He lead me to understand it isn't wrong to be attracted, sexually or otherwise, to men. It's not my fault that I am, it's not because I had gotten too close to my Mom, or because of abuse, or any reason other than it just was.

Sometimes people ask, well, you seemed to deal with being Mormon and gay and married really well for a while didn't you? What changed? I can't say exactly. It's hard to explain. I think after enough years of having my interest piqued every time a gay themed story, or movie, or book, or even lesson in church came up, it gets to the point where you can't ignore it anymore. After enough years beating yourself up because you notice a good looking guy, or noticing how you don't check out the pretty girl down the hall, or in a movie, you can't help feeling different. You can't help but start to question your choices, and the path your life is on.

So what do you do about it? I think a lot of things. I think we all have to make our own decisions and live with our choices. A healthy way seems to be to say, I'm attracted to men. Awesome. And then move on. Or saying, I'm attracted to this guy, we like each other, I'd like to see where this goes. An unhealthy way seems to be to try and root it out, beat yourself up for it, seek for causes and roots, and reasons that are invalid. It's pretty disappointing when after years and years of believing a lie, you confront the reality of that.

I don't believe that everyone in a "Mixed orientation Marriage" should just get divorced. I don't even believe that everyone with "same-gender attraction" should resign themselves to celibacy to stay in the church or leaving the church to have a relationship with a same-sex partner. We're all different. Human relationships and human sexuality is so complex. At the same time, I don't believe that it's healthy to just ignore conflict, ignore the way it affects the sexual relationship and other aspects of a relationship. I think honesty before marriage and during marriage goes a long way. I don’t know if that’s enough, but it helps avoid a lot of heartbreak down the line. Being honest with yourself and others is one of the most important things. For me and my wife it wasn’t enough. I don’t have the answers for other people, I just know for myself what I’ve lived and been through.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Collective Case of the Willies

There's a far side comic, where a man after 20 years of cleaning the snake room in the zoo has "a collective case of the willies." It shows him shivering and freaking out, like it all just hit him at once how creepy it was.

If I find it online, I'll post it later. The point is, that's what happened to me with the church. I read about the experiences of others like Invictus Pilgrim who heard Boyd K. Packer's talk, how something finally snapped, something finally gave.

For me, it was when I watched the video of Steve Lee talking about his experience in the church. And finally I couldn't take it anymore. Something clicked.

I had a collective case of the willies, like it all just dawned on me what I'd been putting myself through. Finally it all hit me, all the insults, all the preaching at the pulpit or conversations about Prop 22 or Prop 8, all the conference talks I've read about same-gender attraction, the evergreen conference, the materials I read, reading the miracle of forgiveness.

And finally I realized, this is homophobia. This is heterosexism. This is predjudice and bigotry.

And I can't unsee it. I go to church and hear it preached every week in lessons, in talks. It isn't any one person's fault. I don't hate either the church or the people. This is my people, my family, my loved ones, my friends, the people I've given my life to serving and helping, my time, my talents, my money to.

And it saddens me in a way that I can't describe that I'm not welcome. Or that I'm only welcome conditionally. Is there room for me, is there a place in the kingdom for someone like me? There's supposed to be. For sinners, saints, for everyone. But I just don't see that. I see the way that even in the highest offices in the church homophobia is expressed and taught.

Does this mean the church isn't true? I don't know. It's similar to blacks and the priesthood. Racism was institutionalized by church practice and defended by church "Doctrine". Statements from Brigham Young onward excluded blacks from not just receiving the priesthood but exaltation. They were not allowed to marry in the temple, or receive their endowments. Inter-racial marriage was strongly discouraged and in fact, you couldn't be sealed if you were in an inter-racial marriage.

So if racism was part of the church, does it surprise you that homophobia is as well? By homophobia, I mean discrimination against lesbian, gays, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, asexual..anything outside of the norm.

I've tried for so long to just reconcile Mormonism and my sexual orientation. I've tried therapy, I've tried Evergreen, I've talked to countless bishops, I've tried prayer and fasting, I've tried blessings, I've tried strict obedience, I've tried marriage (which to be fair, was not taken as a therapeutic step). In one way or another, I've tried to fit myself in the heteronormative doctrine and culture of the church.

But I can't. It's wrong. It's just not true. If I could do it, I would have done it by now! And so would so many other people. So many people suffering, depressed, suicidal, all in the name of trying to be part of the kingdom of God.

It's wrong. It's just wrong. And for some reason, people are blind to it.

I don't know what I believe about the church anymore. I've been through so much with priesthood leaders, LDS therapists, and others in the church. And the argument could be made, yes, those were individuals, not the church. But individuals with the blessing, and the backing of church doctrine and practice. And individuals who misused their position of authority to tell me what I should do, to steer me down a path which has ultimately lead to depression, heartache, pain, sadness and loneliness.

In the end, I realize that I am responsible for choosing to listen to them. But I can see why I did. I was raised and to trust that bishops and other leaders spoke for God.

And while I think that leaders of the church have much to offer in guidance and counsel, perpetuating falsehoods and negative stereotypes is not something that they should be doing. If the church is true, then this is still wrong. This still has to be changed. This has to stop.

Homophobia is not unique to the LDS church. This is a much bigger issue cultural issue. But given the dynamics of change in the church, and the ingrained cultural biases that are so heteronormative, (how many young men's and women's lessons are on temple marriage, or talks in general conference, or single's ward talks/ lessons for that matter?), I suspect it will take decades for change to happen. It's rooted in the institution, the doctrine, the practices, the culture, and the people.

In the meantime, hopefully more members will be like my brother and his wife who do reach out with compassion and love and understanding and tell me they know it isn't right, they have a hard time with the churches stance and political activity as well. There is hope. It might just take the church wandering in the wilderness of intolerance for 40 years before we see the change.

I can't say what I should do in the meantime. Do I come out to my ward? Do I limit my participation? Do I stop attending all together? Do I write a letter in protest resigning from the church? Do I look for a new community of faith? I can't get away from the fact that my family and many friends are Mormon, and there's no running from prejudice and homophobia that exists outside the church as well. But when it's at my church, my sanctuary, my place of refuge, why would I continue to go? Because I do feel some connection with God when I go? Because even though so much doesn't ring true there are other things that do?

Gah. I don't know.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More Questions

I watched this video recently. While I don't agree with everything he says, a lot of it rings true to me, it's what I've lived myself.

My whole life, I’ve been told that this is not how you were created to be. You are just defective. Wait til the resurrection to be fixed. The rhetoric of “unnatural” “abominable” has toned down since Kimball, but the doctrine remains the same; and the message over and over is you don’t fit. You don't have a place in the plan of salvation as we know it.

I look back at the history of homosexuality and the church. Why is it that as a church we justify any means, even psychologically damaging ones, to fit people into the doctrine, fit into the plan of salvation who don't fit? Why did BYU say we’re going to justify showing pictures of naked men, and then shocking your genitals until we cure this? Or alternatively, and more recently, we’re going to psychologically break you down and use unapproved therapeutic methods until we get to the root of the matter and fix it.

Why is it that myself and many other gay Mormons have felt depression, anxiety, guilt, suicidal even, over just existing? Just being. Just trying to live from one day to another.

Why is it that the person must change, and not the doctrine or the institution?Science suggests that sexual orientation is inborn and is unable to be changed. That it’s natural and normal genetic variation. What if they are right?

I think they are right. I didn't choose to be gay. I just am.

And while the church does acknowledge this possibility, to a degree, their response is well, live the best you can with this challenge, this struggle, this burden, this defect, and someday, in the next life, God will make it right.

I'm not defective, broken, less of a man, less of anything because I'm gay. It's part of who I am. God does love all his children. And he loves them as they are.

And while I know this, it's difficult to week after week, day after day go to church and hear in one form or another the opposite.

Some may say, if you feel that way, why don't you just leave? And others say, you can do this, you can be strong enough to stay in the church in spite of the turmoil.