Wednesday, September 2, 2015
A Young Man’s Perspective
As a young man who experiences same-sex attraction, life is very complicated, particularly because I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fate has dealt me an interesting hand to say the least. In American culture we are brought up with the philosophy that we must stand up for what we believe in. In Mormon culture we are also influenced to live what we know to be true. So obviously our beliefs and consequently our thought-processes heavily influence our behavior. Most LDS parents do their best to instill “the truth” in their children, providing them with opportunities for spiritual growth and exposure to inspiration. Yet, after all of this time and effort, an increasing amount of LDS parents are faced with a daunting and perceptively underserved plot twist.
Their child is gay.
Instantly hearts are filled with self-blame and questions. “What could I have done differently?” “How could he choose a path that he knows is contrary to the Plan of Salvation?!” As children are raised to act on what they know to be true, they encounter the reality of the natural man. In regards to same-sex attraction, the yearnings and appetites that accompany it are real and difficult to ignore. Often the Gospel seeds sewn by parents and teachers must compete with these natural feelings.
Additionally, homosexuality is a favorite topic for ridicule, particularly among men. In quorum lessons, it was assumed that we were all experiencing attractions to women. These attractions were labeled as blessings from God, that they were part of God’s plan and that we would eventually be able to act on them. Never was a word spoken concerning homosexual attractions in a positive light. I was never taught that these feelings were nothing to be ashamed of and that I should open up to my parents and leaders. All references to same-sex attraction were negative. These conflicting voices almost always result in shame, depression, and anxiety – an unrelenting fear of exposure and rejection.
Negativity seeping from the stigma attached to same-sex attraction drives away the Spirit. I have friends who have left the Church because they constantly felt unwanted, constantly torn down by ignorant rhetoric. The weeds which choke the seedlings of Gospel testimony are the embodiment of these mutually-hard feelings.
My point is that children who leave the Church for the “gay lifestyle” are often trying to be true to what they know is real. Their attractions can consume their thoughts and occupy every minute of every day. Eventually, these children can come to the conclusion that the only way to pursue happiness is to act on their yearnings.
But this doesn’t apply to everyone. In my case, I have never doubted that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. This testimony is not based solely on the miracles that I have witnessed, nor the witnesses of my parents. I consider it a gift of the Spirit that I know that Christ lives and that through His atonement I can be saved. Because of my life-long attractions to other men, I had such an extreme low self-esteem growing up; I had difficulty looking anyone in the eyes. I was very sensitive and was often the subject of bullying at school and at church. I even got the impression from reading the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet that I was an abomination (as it termed homosexual behavior) for wanting these forbidden relationships so desperately. I longed to be loved and intimately connected to a man, and these thoughts became sexualized.
I excelled at music and art, but such talents and tendencies tend to be stigmatized and scoffed at as feminine. I made my high school’s varsity volleyball team, which I hoped would help me feel like “one of the guys,” but I was sexually harassed by the seniors on the team, many of whom were members of the Church. Additionally, I was bullied by the openly gay crowd for being a Mormon. At this time I came very close to killing myself but was saved by a very spiritual experience. I completely understand why so many choose suicide over a life of perceived loneliness.
Worried that I was unworthy to serve a mission because of my attractions, I told my bishop and parents. Telling my parents was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I writhed in agony in the hours preceding my “coming out.” Fortunately, they were very understanding and compassionate in their response. I hope that all parents of children who struggle with same-sex attraction appreciate the supreme trust that these children convey by opening up about this subject. Whether they intend to act on these feelings or not, these children have done the bravest thing in their lives and therefore deserve respect.
Serving a mission was the best thing that I could ever do for my life. While it was tremendously difficult and stressful, I found the connections I longed for with other missionaries, and I realized that sex wasn’t what I truly wanted. I just wanted to be accepted and loved by my male peers. My harrowing experiences with same-sex attraction emboldened my testimony and enabled me to testify with the Spirit regarding the power of the atonement in a way I know that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I found and joined North Star within a week of returning home from my honorable two-year mission. I find solace in the battle-proven testimonies of others who have fought the same demons as I have. Through vulnerability, I have been able to build intimate relations with other men and thereby meet my needs in healthy ways.
So many in our time are crying out for reform in Church doctrine around the issue of marriage. In an attempt to defend their faith, many members respond in hostility. What needs to change is not doctrine, but culture. Fortunately, it has never been easier to talk about same-sex attraction, but we still have a ways to go. I have yet to see an openly gay couple attend or investigate the Church, and until we are willing to address this struggle with Christ-like kindness and empathy nothing will change.
For those whose children have strayed from the path of the Savior, I beg you to not ostracize them for acting out on their feelings. We must never condone sin, but when families maintain an environment of charity and forgiveness, it will be so much easier for the lost to return. I know that this gospel is for everyone, and as we do our best to invite others to Christ, our Heavenly Father will make all things right.
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