Tag Archives: lgbt

Sincerely, Anonymous

I’ve been staring at the computer screen for days now and have written nothing. I just don’t know where to begin. How do I put these feelings and thoughts into words?

The problem is there is no way for any of you to “understand.” Maybe you can relate, or maybe you can empathize, but how can I help you understand something I can’t even understand myself.

Here it goes.

I’m a girl. I love music. It is everything to me. I’m an artist. I’m clumsy and easily distracted.  I’m a hard worker and always take on way more than I can handle. I love sports. I have a short temper, and I love alone time. I love nature and hope to travel the world. I have high respects for people who are kind, and I’m a sucker for funny people. I’m a girl that has dreams, goals, flaws, a future, a past, AND I just happen to be bisexual.

That is a scary thing to admit. One of my biggest fears was disappointing my parents. What would they think of me if I told them? Could or would they be proud of a bisexual daughter? Does God love His bisexual daughter? They seem like silly questions now. My sexuality does not define me or my actions. It is a part of me, and it is a challenge that I will have to struggle with every day for the rest of my life. But that label does not mean that I have sinned. I am not ashamed of it. And I shouldn’t be. Obviously, there will be specific struggles that I will face as a bisexual Latter-day Saint, but I know that they can’t keep me from living a fulfilling, and gospel-oriented life.

As I’ve learned to accept who I am, I’ve come to understand how infinite God’s love is. He hasn’t left me alone in this. He loves me no matter what, and He knew who He was giving this challenge to. A tough girl who has learned to admit when she needs help. A tough girl who takes every challenge head on. A tough girl who likes to beat the odds. A tough girl who wants to be the best person that she can be. But I’m also a girl that feels insecure and irrelevant sometimes. My sexuality has made me more empathetic and non-judgmental, but I won’t lie and say it hasn’t crippled me in some ways. I hate not being able to understand why I am the way I am. What does this even mean? Why is this one of the challenges God gave me? How am I going to fit in the world? Am I significant, even though I’m broken? This is a time where I just have to trust God, despite all the hurt, insecurity, and doubt. The Savior’s Atonement is infinite and intimate, and I can find grace, mercy, and peace by using it. God loves all of His children and He understands, when no one else can or will.

You know, the world is going to be ugly. People are going to be mean. They’ll disagree. They’ll judge. They’ll share their opinions, no matter how disrespectful and ignorant they are. I know that the world can be cruel. That doesn’t surprise me. But I would be lying if I said it wasn’t also beautiful. I’ve met such kind-hearted and supportive people. People that make the world breathtakingly beautiful. People that I see the reflection of Christ in. I haven’t told very many people that I’m bisexual (never really found it necessary to share with more). Only a few close friends and a few immediate family members know. For some (my parents) it was tough for them at first. They were shocked and frustrated. Sad that I had another big, life-long trial to carry on my back. But every single one of them have been so supportive. None of them know what it means, but they’ve shown me grace and love when I couldn’t give that to myself. That support means the world. It makes the temptations a little lighter. That’s something I really encourage and hope for the world. That we can all be supportive and loving with the LGBT community. I don’t expect anyone to understand or to agree, but I do expect a universal and unbiased love.

For the LDS community (and many other churches), we dedicate our lives to be more like Christ. Christ loved and forgave all. He didn’t look at people and see “overweight,” “socially-awkward,” “illiterate,” or even “gay.” He knows we are all sinful and broken, but He sees us in a light of love, a light of compassion and mercy. I wish that was something I saw emulated in our people. My hope is that in time, we can live and think that way.

I am girl. A girl that happens to be bisexual. A girl that is ready for change in the world. A change that requires a change of heart and mind. A change that’ll bring about the BEST world. You in?

Sincerely,

Anonymous

Life Lessons

This story isn’t a fun one. It isn’t a fairy tale with a perfect beginning and ending, but it has lessons we can learn. More importantly, it needs to be heard. It starts with a child. He was young, still in the single digits, in fact. He was watching the news, trying to figure out how the world worked, when a story came on about two men in a relationship. The boy’s mother made a comment about how wrong the world is sometimes. That was his first encounter with anything LGBTQ, though at the time, he had no clue what he had just seen.

That boy was me, and every exposure I had to anything queer after that went about the same way until high school. During my sophomore year, a classmate told me that two of my friends were dating, and it startled me, because they were both men. When I asked my friends about the rumor going around that they were dating, they simply confirmed it and looked at me like I was crazy for questioning it.  I had never seen anyone talk about a homosexual relationship without disdain before. It blew my mind that they were not only a couple, but a functioning one. Before then, I had been taught that being queer was choosing to follow Satan and that most people did it for attention. (Looking back I realize that mindset was very wrong, and I am sad I never questioned it before that encounter.)

I started noticing oddities in my own thought patterns long before that day. I thought that guys were cute and I was always weirded out by women. I easily dismissed these thoughts, although I had had them nearly my whole life. Unlike others who have told me their stories, I did not feel confused about my sexuality. I probably should have, but I was so set on believing what my parents had taught me (namely, that sexuality was choice), I thought I could just choose to like girls instead and then everything would be fine.

Rewind about two months. Just before my sixteenth birthday, my long ignored desires demanded attention. I desperately wanted to find out how it felt to date a man. I was still in denial about my identity, so I convinced myself that I was just curious. I knew (well, believed at the time) that doing anything with another man was wrong. These thoughts combined caused me to go to the internet for answers. I won’t go into much detail, but I will tell you that those experiences have permanently scarred my mind. Through carelessness on my part, my parents found out how I had been using the computer while they were away. I had a conversation with my mother where I convinced her (and myself) that I simply wanted to experience what sin felt like, since that was the first time in my life my actions would prevent me from taking the sacrament.

I recalled my conversation with my high school friends, but now with those experiences on my mind. I had no clue what to think, so I struggled through the rest of high school with my “strange” feelings. It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house that I confronted them. I know now that I am homosexual, and more importantly, I know that it’s okay.

So what can you learn from this story? First, young people need to know that being queer is okay. Before high school, I didn’t even know what the word meant. I can’t tell you everything about how to raise your children, but I can offer some insight. When you see gay people, or transgender people, or even people who dress differently than you, don’t treat them any different than anyone else. When a young person is gay, but they believe that being gay is wrong, it can cause damage that takes a long time to heal. You might think that you would notice if your child was queer, but that’s not always the case. I suggest that parents everywhere be an example of acceptance, because even if your child isn’t queer, they will eventually meet someone who is, and you can teach them to react with love and kindness.

Why I’m Gay, Not SSA

We’re all familiar with Shakespeare’s famous line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.” On the surface, this line is true. Saussure’s theory of semiotics shows that words are not inherently linked to the objects they signify, and the random combinations of sounds only gain significance when they are placed in an interconnected system of language. We could just as easily have named a rose a “brishnoll” or a “wittot,” and it certainly would smell as sweet. But what if we called it “reek weed?” How many generations would it take before the smell of the rose became loathsome? The words “reek” and “weed” already have strong negative connotations in our language, and those connotations bleed through our objective sensual intake and shape how we perceive the world. In other words, how we choose to name something helps determine how we feel about it.

This brings me to how we define our own identity, specifically as it relates to sexual orientation. Most people use terms like straight, gay, lesbian, bi, or queer. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, members are encouraged to refer to non-heterosexual orientations as “having same-sex attraction.” The former four are adjectives that directly modify one’s identity. We say “I am straight” or “I am bi” the way we say “I am Mormon” or “I am female.” The latter is an object that one possesses, but it does not touch on identity: “I have same-sex attraction” is similar to “I have a dress.” When we choose how we refer to the orientation of ourselves or of others, it shapes the way we feel about that orientation.

When we use an adjective to describe ourselves, it intimately ties that trait to who we are. To say “I am an American male” or “I am a Japanese female” says a lot about how we perceive ourselves. It’s an easy shorthand to say we share certain cultural upbringings or behaviors of a larger group. On a more eternal scope, we say “I am a child of God,” to link our identity with the Divine. Some words are more temporary, such as “I am hungry,” or “I am happy,” but on the whole these adjectives help describe who we are more broadly.

By saying that one “has same-sex attraction,” the Church is intentionally discouraging people to associate deviant sexual orientation with one’s identity. It is merely something you “have,” not something you “are.” It’s only temporary, so don’t worry about it and focus on other things. The Church also avoids using words like “gay” because they carry certain connotations of behavior: the infamous “gay lifestyle.” There is a fear that once people identify as gay, they will begin to act on such feelings, which may include promiscuous, anonymous sex.

Yet a problem lies embedded in the construction of the phrase “having same-sex attraction.” We don’t say “I have happiness” or “I struggle with joy.” No, we say “I have cancer” or “I struggle with depression.” Remember how certain words and phrases in our language carry negative connotations? We have taken the language of disease and transferred it to how we speak about same-sex attraction. This pathologizes non-heterosexual orientation and ensures that we always think of it in negative terms. It doesn’t matter how sweet that rose may smell as long as we’re calling it reek weed.

And the Church wants people to think about these orientations as bad. It regards sex between two people of the same gender as immoral, as a sin. So of course an inclination towards such an act that has no sanctioned outlet will also be considered a disease. If you start referring to the orientation as something positive, it won’t be long before the action it links to is also viewed as positive, and the Church cannot allow that to happen. Heteronormativity is a keystone of Mormon doctrine, and it would take massive readjustments to accommodate anything outside that norm. And to be fair to the Church leaders who make such linguistic policies, they have the eternal welfare of their members at heart. If same-sex attraction is a life-long spiritual disease, then acting on those impulses is a terminal one. The Church is in the business of saving souls and curing sin, and as long as homosexual actions are sin, they’re not going to stop preaching against it, nor should they.

Let’s examine some of the underlying assumptions when we say that someone “has same-sex attraction:”

  1. The natural state of humankind is to be straight. In the premortal existence, everyone was straight. This assumption was very obvious on a recent Church survey where the two main options for sexual orientation were “I am heterosexual, but I struggle with same-sex attraction” or “I am heterosexual and do not struggle with same-sex attraction.”
  1. If you are not heterosexual, then something is wrong with you. You “have same-sex attraction” the same way others have an ailment or a birth defect. It is never a good thing to “have same-sex attraction.” It is a pitiable position, one that may mean that you will have to forgo heterosexual marriage and remain single your entire life. Again, people “struggle with” or “suffer from” this attraction; it’s a burden, a trial, an affliction, an incurable and lifelong disease.
  1. Fortunately, because it is not a part of your core identity, and only a defect of mortality, God will take it away from you after you die. Heaven will at last bring relief from these defective feelings. You will be straight as you were always intended to be.

Now for some people, this narrative works fine. Some genuinely feel that they were meant to be straight and that their feelings are just a mistake. For them the phrase “having same-sex attraction” may be a perfect fit, and we should respect their choice in words. Nothing is worse than thinking that what works for one person should work for everyone else in exactly the same way. To those people that say that their same-sex attraction is not a part of their identity, and that it is a foreign addition to their eternal self, I support you in your decision and will respect your terminology.

But as for my own experience, I find it very difficult to view myself as broken for life. When I still identified as same-sex attracted, every talk about the importance of marriage and family reminded me that my sexuality was broken and defective, with little hope of it ever being fixed in this life. No amount of prayer or personal righteousness would fix it. No psychotherapy or gender-wholeness exercise. I had a life-long, incurable disease, and it sucked.

Depression, anxiety, and a slew of other problems followed like scavengers, harrying my battered soul. “If only I could be like all the healthy straight people!” “If only I could be a complete person!” It was a very dark place.

At some point amid the swirls of self-loathing and suicidal thoughts, I made a gradual discovery. For me at least, same-sex attraction isn’t something I “have,” it’s something I am. It’s bound up with my identity as surely as my faith in God, my masculinity, my love of learning. At first this made things worse, since I still viewed it as something negative. Now I wasn’t just sick, I was evil. A demon from Hell destined to be cast back into the pit as soon as I bit the dust. But as I became more comfortable with the idea, everything started to click into place. God didn’t create me to fail. He created me as a glorious, eternal being. And even though I don’t know how my sexuality fits into the Plan of Salvation, I know that God knows. I ask him all the time to guide me in understanding how this all works, and so far he’s let me learn mostly through trial and error. But I am learning and progressing, whereas before everything was stagnating.

And so many other aspects of my life opened up when I accepted my sexuality as part of me! My body felt like it fit better and I enjoyed exercising more. It was easier to talk to people and understand what they were feeling. I was happier than I had been for years. Studying the scriptures became a joy rather than a burden. I had been spending all my energy trying to silence a piece of me, but once I let it work as it was supposed to, it was like a missing piece of a machine was added back in, and I became fully functional again.

This is not to say that I’m sleeping with every guy I meet. In fact, I’m still celibate. But when I see a cute guy in a class, I no longer stare at the floor and wish to die. Instead I go up to him, try and get to know him, and develop a good relationship with him. For me, being gay isn’t just about who I want to have sex with. It means that I connect more intimately with men than with women. I have plenty of great female friends, but my relationships with guys are what feed that deep human need for intimacy. And when I find a guy who reciprocates, life is great. That ranges from solid friendships with straight guys to more emotional connections with gay friends. Even as a celibate guy, I’m still living the gay lifestyle: I’m gay, and I’m living my life. Mortality has never been sweeter.

So to sum up in typical Mormon fashion, I testify that God loves us—all of us, and every part of us. My sexuality is a gift from Him that he wants me to use, not burry in the earth. I will continue to seek His guidance, to find strength and forgiveness in the Savior’s Atonement as I figure out how to better serve those I love.

I am a son of God.

I am gay.

And I am glorious.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Things I Want to Tell my Straight Faithful Mormon Friends Reacting to the SCOTUS Decision

I like to blame the fact that I avoid conflict on the fact I am from Canada. I mean we waited 100 years to ask to become a country, and even then it was basically like we moved out of our parents house and into the house right next door. Whatever the reason, I don’t like conflict. I hate Facebook arguments. As a result, I tend to delete people instead of engaging in a debate. The hide button is a wonderful invention. Since the Supreme Court decision on Friday, I have said a quiet goodbye to many efy and girls camp acquaintances. However, there are people who I am too close with to delete or hide. And too many people saying things to ignore them all. But I still hate conflict, so I have written a list of things I would say to them were I born south of the border.

  1. Your religious freedoms aren’t being threatened. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada for 10 years. It is legal in more that 15 other countries. Many of which (including Canada) have Temples and far weaker protections for religious freedom. And yet, not once has the LDS church been sued, much less forced, to perform a same-sex marriage. It is not going to happen. If it were even a possibility the church would change its policies to only perform religious and not civil sealings in temples, as they have done in South America and Europe. But still, it is not a possibility.
  2. Being called homophobic is not the same as being called a slur. As a queer Mormon, I have at different times felt attacked for my religious beliefs and my sexuality. And while neither is fun, they are not comparable. I promise you it is not the same. Remember that you can control and change whether you offend someone, but sexuality is not a choice.  If someone calls you out for offending them, considered the oft cited talk, and don’t choose to be offended. Instead, take the time to consider why that person was hurt by your remarks.
  3. If you aren’t planning on entering a same-sex marriage, don’t experience same-sex attraction, and you aren’t being forced to perform one (see #1), consider why you feel the need to share your opinion on this topic. There are a lot of political issues, or things common in society that are rarely ever discussed by Mormons despite being against doctrine. I understand you might feel like you need to be as loud as the voices celebrating the SCOTUS decision. Maybe you hope to keep someone from choosing a path you feel is wrong. Or maybe you feel the need to make sure that people know where you stand. Here is the thing though. I can promise you, as a queer Mormon at BYU, I know where you stand. I have sat through the same conference talks, the same lessons on the Proclamation to the World, the same Sunday school discussions. If I know you are straight and Mormon, I am going to assume your beliefs echo the ones I have been taught my whole life. Using the very problematic phrase, I know you hate the sin, but what I don’t know is if you love the sinner. Queer people know the church’s stance, and most likely know you support it. What they need to know is whether you support them.
  4. Saying you love us, and that you don’t mean to offend, isn’t enough. So many of the posts that have bothered me the most begin with a phrase like, “I hope all my friends who struggle with same-sex attraction know that I love them.” If the only time you ever talk about homosexuality or LGBTQ issues is arguing against same-sex marriage then I am going to guess that those friends don’t feel loved by you. I am not saying that you can’t affirm the LDS position on marriage and show love to queer saints, I am saying that it is going to take a little more work. Here’s what you can do:
    1. Read our stories. If all of your “research” on the question of marriage equality comes from straight white men, and that one article by a gay man who opposes same-sex marriage, then I suggest reading some more. Read stories of hope of faithful same-sex attracted Mormons living the church commandments in Northstar. Read the heartbreaking letter of a Gay Mormon who was excommunicated for marrying the love of his life. Learn from organizations like USGA and Affirmation, about the wonderful diversity of experiences, beliefs, and identities, within the queer Mormon community and the struggles and triumphs they have. The internet makes reading these stories so easy. Listen before you talk, learn before you try to teach.
    2. Educate yourselves on other issues. Believe it or not, marriage equality is not the only goal of the LGBT movement. If you feel like you are unable to support that cause consider others you could. Many states do not protect individuals from discrimination in housing or employment based on their sexuality. This contributes to high rates of homelessness in LGBT youth. Depression and suicide are major problems with queer LDS youth and adults–These are things we can agree on. These are ways you can show your love for same-sex attracted brothers and sisters.
  5. Be empathetic. Consider that no matter how long you have thought about this issue, queer Mormons have thought about it more. Think about what matters most to you, an integral part of your identity, your religion maybe, or maybe your family heritage. Now think about a person you love. Consider that maybe how you feel about those things, the people you love and the identity you claim for yourself, is how queer individuals feel about their sexuality and the ones they love. It is not a temptation or an affliction. Being queer has taught me about love and service, it has helped me understand and learn from the struggles of others. It has made me more Christ like and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Don’t suggest we won’t feel this way in the next life. Don’t call it a struggle. When you do that you are attacking an integral part of a person’s identify. Try and understand that and remember the things you love and care about as you discuss this complicated topic.

I might not know how to engage in Facebook debates, but I do know that the way this issue is being talked about hurts me and people I care about. I also know that that is not the goal of the LDS faith or its members. I know that despite the sometimes impossibly wide gulf between those celebrating and those mourning this Supreme Court decision, we are a lot more similar than we are different (just like Canada and the United States) and we are all trying our best (just like the Canadian Women’s soccer team). Even if this decision means that the political relevance of the same-sex marriage debate is drawing to a close, this is a conversation we need to keep having, and we need to get better at having it. For the strength of our future queer youth.

Finding Inspiration and Your Personal Mission Statement

No matter where you are in life—physically, spiritually, or emotionally—finding inspiration and direction is essential to ensuring happiness and well-being. That inspiration can come from anywhere—religious leaders, books, TV shows, friends, or the internet. The source is not as important as the guidance and direction that inspiration can bring to your life.

This is why USGA’s Faith Committee hosted an event centered around finding inspiration by creating personal mission statements. In Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he describes the second habit as “Begin with the end in mind.” In order to accomplish this, knowing what “the end” looks like is the first step in actualizing a personal mission statement.  Stephen Covey asks: “Are you—right now—who you want to be, what you dreamed you’d be, doing what you always wanted to do?” For the first half of the evening of this activity, the objective was to identify some goals, personal character traits, and accomplishments. Once again, 7 Habits states, “In one’s life, the most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a mission statement—one that focuses what you want to be in terms of character and what you want to do in reference to contribution of achievements. Writing a mission statement can be the most important activity an individual can take to truly lead one’s life.”

As was discussed during the activity, personal mission statements take many forms. They could be a statement written by individual about their goals. Or, they could be a collection of quotes that represent goals, values, qualities, etc. that exemplify a personal mission or “end.” This activity centered around the latter. The following questions were presented to get everyone thinking about what their goals and values were:

  1. Think of a person who made a positive difference in your life. What qualities does that person have that you would like to develop?
  2. Imagine 20 years from now— you are surrounded by the most important people in your life. Who are they and what are you doing?
  3. If a steel beam (about 6 inches wide) were placed across two skyscrapers, for what would you be willing to cross? A thousand dollars? A million? Your pet? Your brother? Fame?
  4. If you could spend one day in a great library studying anything you wanted, what would you study?
  5. List 10 things that you love to do. It could be singing, dancing, watching YouTube videos, drawing, reading, daydreaming—anything!
  6. Describe a time when you were deeply inspired.
  7. Five years from now, your local news station does a story about you and they want to interview three people: a parent, a sibling, and a friend. What would you want them to say about you?
  8. Think of something that represents you— a rose, a song, an animal. Why does it represent you?
  9. If you could spend an hour with any person who ever lived, who would that be? Why that person? What would you ask?
  10. Everyone has one or more talents. What are yours?

With the answers to these questions in mind, participants were encouraged to consider what their own mission statements might include.

Part of the evening also included collecting quotes, lyrics, etc. and presenting them in small groups.This activity was meant to give participants the chance to share words and sayings that were motivational and inspirational to them. The exercise itself was was actually inspired by a famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

In order to help everyone find inspiration for their mission statement (or just to help brighten a hard day) the faith committee has compiled some of USGA members’ favorite words, a “USGA Bible”. It features quotes from the scriptures, the general authorities, famous philosophers and poets, and The Queen (J.K Rowling of course). It can be found here.

We hope that this exercise and these quotes can help anyone who feels lost or directionless, or who needs some extra inspiration in their lives.

Being Bisexual in the Church

Being a member of the church is hard enough sometimes, but it’s much harder when you are of a different sexuality. It’s a taboo topic, no one talks about it, and, as a group, many pretend it doesn’t exist.

Guess what? It does.

We could argue all day about what statistics say and how many people out of one congregation should be of a different sexual orientation than straight, but one thing is clear. There are members of the church who are of different sexual identities. We are in every congregation and are affected by what is said around us. Every day we have to fight a battle within ourselves that no one sees.

I realized that I was attracted to women, as well as men, when I was fifteen. I was friends with everyone, and got along really well at school, but for some reason rumors about me always crept up. I had people constantly asking me if I was a lesbian or if I had really kissed this random girl they heard about. I genuinely had no idea what they were talking about and hadn’t even put thought into my sexuality because no one had challenged me on it.

Like many of us have before, I denied it­—to myself and to the school—until I met a girl I was actually interested in, and I realized suddenly that everyone had been right about me. My world seemed to collapse inward, and I had no idea what to do or what all of this meant. However, I knew when it all started that this would be a big mess with the church. No matter how anyone looked at it, what I felt was frowned upon, and no one could know.

Let’s call this stage, the mask stage. This is the stage in which we wear a mask for everyone and show them the person they want to see, not who we truly are. I felt constantly worn down by wearing this mask. I wore it with my family, my friends, my teachers—anyone and everyone. I came to realize that I couldn’t do this forever, someone had to know. I had to find someone I could be entirely myself with, who would understand what this meant in every part of my life. Including church.

This person ended up being my father. I know that most of us at some point have told a parent or family member and everything hit the fan. However, my experience with telling my dad was far from one of these experiences. We had been talking about “controversial” subjects, like weed, abortion, and marriage. At some point within the conversation, I began to tear up and wouldn’t look at him. He noticed this, and asked what was upsetting me. He put his arm around me, hugged me tight to his side, and told me that I could tell him anything. It was then that I, through my ugly crying and mini panic attack, told him that I was attracted to women as well as men. He laughed.

Not in the way you’re thinking, though. He pulled me closer to him and said, “Oh sweetheart. I know. You were born that way. If that’s what you need to do to be happy and be the best version of you that you can be, I will fully support you. Do what is right for you.”

This made me question, what was right for me? Was it the church or something else?

The real question was, could I be a part of the church and feel like I was being true to myself?

I began a journey to find out what I was supposed to do. A question that constantly crossed my mind was why God would make me like this if it was going to only cause problems with my life and the church.

After a while, I realized that that was exactly the point. I don’t mean to sound big headed, but I had always had it easy when it came to social interactions. My family was active in the church, and I was a golden child. There had to be a wrench thrown in in order to make me grow and become who I needed to be. I realized that for me, it was absolutely crucial that I was made this way. If I am to stay in the church, I will be an asset to any group I am put in. I more easily understand the misfits and the more inactive people. I understand how to talk to them and make them comfortable. I know what they need to hear, and I know that more than anything, they need me to love them and not judge them. Love can turn everything around.

I know this, because that’s how I am. When I have been inactive, it was always a loving leader or friend who got me to come back around. Loving those around us regardless of what is going on with them is vital, and I understand that. Would I understand that if I didn’t have to go through all of this stuff with being bisexual? Maybe, and then again maybe not. The point is, the Lord knows me and what I need. There is a reason for this and everything else that has gone on in my life.

I could say that this realization made me sure that I wanted to stay in the church, but honestly I haven’t made that decision yet. It’s something that I will struggle with for a long time, but we all do. That’s something that you must know. We are all struggling with something, every single one of us. You are not alone in this, nor will you ever be. The amazing thing is that you have your choice, and you and the Lord knows what is right for you. I struggled for a long time because I was so sure that I was alone— that I was the only one to have doubts.

Truth is, we all have doubts. It is only human nature to question and doubt. You are not the only person asking questions. It may feel like it, I have been there, but everyone questions. Even that girl at church who seems perfect. My Dad always told me that church was like a hospital for our souls. Everyone goes there to get better. Some people are more sick than others, but if you stop going to the hospital, how can you expect to get better? You aren’t there for anyone but yourself. No one else’s opinion matters, you are there to make yourself better. Even if it is just showing God that you are willing to give him some of your time. The time He gave you.

The decision with what to do with your sexuality and the church is a hard one. No one can tell you what is right, that is something you must figure out. Whether this be through writing in a journal, personal prayer, or talking with someone, you can find your answers. Follow what you feel is right in your heart. It is possible to be true to yourself and still be a member. The Lord knows what you are going through and He can strengthen you and guide you, if you ask for His help.

Don’t let the world tell you that you are less than what you are. Your feelings are legitimate, and this all is no accident. You affect everyone around you, and you are important. You’re important in a monumental way you will never be able to comprehend. So love yourself, love your beliefs, and be true to what is right.

We can do this.

Mental Health and Self Care Workshop

Whether it’s deciding what path to take in life or dealing with that off-hand remark in Sunday School, the life of a college-aged, LGBT Mormon can be stressful. That’s why USGA had a Mental Health and Self-Care workshop this last Thursday to discuss ways in which we have managed the stress and depression that so often accompanies our unique situation. We started out emphasizing how LGBT individuals are already at higher risk for depression and suicide than our heterosexual peers and advised members to seek counseling to help them process their experiences. In fact, BYU offers free counseling to students, and many members of USGA have had positive sessions with the psychologists there. Next we had a guided meditation focusing on self-love and affirmation through our role as children of God. It was a new experience for many of our members, and hopefully rewarding for some. Finally we broke into groups and discussed what each of us had done to stay grounded on tough days. Answers ranged from a strong network of friends to support groups to writing poetry.

As someone who has struggled with my own mental health difficulties, this meeting meant a lot to me. I’m not sure I would still be here without supportive friends and dedicated counselors. While I still have plenty of challenges each day, overall my mental health has improved drastically as I’ve hashed out my problems and options with friends, family, and professionals. I’m reminded that we need to put our own house in order before we can aid others (D&C 93:44). As we become mentally healthier ourselves, we are better able to help those who come after us.

An Experiment in Empathy

My Doctrine and Covenants course opened as it usually did, and I started zoning out.  However, suddenly the conversation was drawn to the recent General Conference.  Now alert, I listened to my peers express their feelings about the themes of the conference.  After a quick tally, I identified the repeating theme of marriage and the family as carrying predominance.  After being involved with USGA for a couple of months and becoming so close to so many individuals that do not identify with the “straight” or heterosexual label, I was becoming increasingly alarmed.

I completed an exercise I’ve learned to really value.  I asked myself, “How might I feel in this situation if I was gay?”  As I thought about the implications of the seemingly exaggerated emphasis of the marriage and family and the onslaught of the gays, I began to experience serious discomfort and even anxiety.  As a hypothetical gay man, I thought about the irrelevant, “counterfeit”, or even sinful nature of my sexual and/or romantic feelings.  I tried to think of changing those feelings, but using my heterosexual interests as a model; I was at a loss as to where to look to find some switch in my brain to free myself from my “same-sex attraction.”  This attraction was an extension of my identity.

Even with all the happiness and joy I experienced in contemplating the relationships of my heterosexual friends, a degree of sadness and pain burdened my soul.  I felt isolated, illegitimized, and invalidated.  I wasn’t a man that simply chose not to be productive in seeking his eternal companion or even a woman that experiences the agonizing trial of never being courted but someone who had a very real opportunity and availability before me that was being condemned and censured by my beautiful church and culture.

The experiment ended.  I returned to my comfortable “straight” reality, but to this day my mind is still trying to process the flood of emotions I experienced.  To be clear, I do not claim to understand anything any non-heterosexual individual experiences psychologically, but I can only imagine that the lonely and painful feelings that I encounter often in my hypothetical exercise are only magnified and intensified.  I cannot, under good conscience tell any individual that their sexual and/or romantic feelings are lesser to mine.  I cannot tell another human to lie to themselves, to bury their true feelings, or to change who they are.

Doctrinally we have transitioned so much as a church.  From Paul’s “inflamed by their own lust” to President Kimball’s “diseased, abnormal, curable” and Elder Packer’s “why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”  Though I know there are some, I hope there are very few Mormons that take these approaches seriously.  Paul spoke in a vastly different world, President Kimball’s views have proven demonstrably false, and Elder Packer’s question was actually edited out of his talk after he inserted it in General Conference.  I don’t see any reason why we cannot hope and pray for further changes in God’s living church.

In any event, most of our current approaches toward homosexuality are not doctrinally based but come from a breed of homophobia and ignorance.  Our awkward laughter and slang surrounding “gay” terminology and behavior is harmful.  Our heterosexism is causing anxiety, depression, and suicide in individuals who think they are broken or deformed.  I never thought I’d change my views of the evil nature of homosexuality, but after simply listening, I cannot believe we haven’t changed our views.  I cannot call homosexuality evil without calling God evil for creating these intense and real feelings of attraction and love between human beings.  It has been truly life changing to interact with the queer community.  Theirs is not a hypothetical but a constant struggle for recognition, validation, and even life.

If you think you don’t know or influence a member of the LGBTQ/SSA community, you are probably wrong.  The statistics are much too high, and, especially in the Mormon community, we interact with each other too often.  If you don’t personally know a member of the LGBTQ/SSA community, it is very likely that those in your circles do not feel comfortable or safe with the idea of being vulnerable with you.  Educate yourself.  Make yourself available.  Be cognizant of the words that leave your mouth and the discussions that might be isolating or invalidating to those who do not fit the norm.  Have the courage to correct misinformation, misunderstanding, or disparaging remarks about the queer community.  Above all, heed the great commandment to love others as thyself, for God is nothing more or less than love.

Education Committee on Conflict Resolution

Sword

Many people come to you with rhetorical swords drawn.

To be a queer Mormon means facing a life full of conflict. We face opposition and criticism no matter which decisions we are making. These decisions are deeply personal to us, and we give so much energy and thought into making them. If people know that you are queer, they will often approach you with questions or comments about your life. Some people come with genuine questions. They are willing to listen and want to learn. However, many people come with rhetorical swords drawn. They want to hurt and attack.

  1. Value conflict
  2. Ego conflict

Pseudo conflicts are rooted in miscommunication. They are usually the easiest to resolve, because the solution is just clearer communication. Queer Mormons sometimes face these conflicts. People come to us in misunderstanding. They may not know our intentions or our values. These conflicts can usually be resolved with some clear communication to those willing to listen.

Content conflicts are based on facts. They can usually be solved with studies and data which illustrate a point. Sadly, there is not yet a huge body of research on queer experiences within Mormonism. While more researchers have started examining our community, there is still a long way to go. Besides, sometimes our experiences are so personal that no studies can accurately communicate what we feel. One of the queer Mormon community’s unique features is the influence of the Mormon religion in our lives. Even though the members of the community follow a spectrum of beliefs related to the church, the special impact of Mormonism makes it difficult to use studies in arguments–especially when so much of the argument is rooted in faith and beliefs.

Value conflicts come about when people have different views on life. They each choose to prioritize different things, and an issue may bring those differences into focus. These conflicts are the most difficult to resolve, because to completely agree in the end requires change on the level of the heart and mind.

Value conflicts are, for better or for worse, the ones most commonly faced by queer Mormons. Orthodox Mormons often feel that supporting us means giving up on their idea of what a family is. They may feel that supporting us goes against God’s will. For the less orthodox queer Mormons, finding peace with orthodox Mormons can feel like an uncomfortable compromise. They may feel like they are giving space to an organization that has hurt many queer Mormons on a deep level.

Ego conflicts are the most damaging. These occur when someone is only in the argument to win it. They want to feed their ego with a victory over the other participants. Any of the other types of conflict can swiftly turn into an ego conflict, and the end result is wounded feelings.

Conflicts will inevitably come up, especially in such sensitive issues as the positions, choices and lives of queer Mormons. Each conflict will be different, but a few guiding principles can help resolve them, even if we don’t come away from every argument with full accord. These principles are:

  1. Seek Understanding
  2. Empathize
  3. Don’t escalate

The first principle in resolving an argument comes in seeking understanding. This step is usually the only one needed in pseudo conflicts, and it goes a long way in resolving content and value conflicts. Ways to seek understanding involve listening and asking open-ended questions. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, try paraphrasing their argument to see if you understand them correctly. This verifies your perception of what is going on, and gets the participants into a place where the conflict can hopefully be resolved.

The second principle is to empathize. This may be difficult when someone disagrees with you on a fundamental level. As a queer Mormon, I sometimes feel that orthodox Mormons are questioning my very basic humanity. This cuts deep to the core of my beliefs, and it would be easy to villainize people who feel differently about how I should be treated. If I take a second to step back, however, I can remember that everyone is in a different area of understanding on these issues. Before I came out to even myself, I would have said many of the same hurtful things that get thrown at queer Mormons.

To empathize with people who disagree with me, I sometimes think of people who are close to me who have hurt me. For example, I still love my family, even though they have said hurtful things about my sexuality. Because I love them, I want people to give them the benefit of the doubt. This is the same for the people I argue with. Someone loves them, and that someone would want me to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to empathize.

The third principle is to not escalate. Having someone criticize the way we identify or the choices that we make cuts deep to our core, and it is instinctive to lash out at the person who criticized us. A productive conversation, however, will not come out of attacks. If you feel that an argument is becoming an ego conflict, it might be better to just walk away.

It is especially important to remember this principle when someone calls you out on your behavior. If you say something that is offensive (even without realizing it) and someone calls you out on it, it is easy to get defensive and go on the attack. However, it becomes a much more productive conversation if you apologize and seek understanding instead.

Armed with these principles, you can turn many arguments into productive conversations. You can reach a greater understanding with the people around you. These principles won’t make arguments disappear, but I hope that they prove useful in resolving some of them.

On TLC’s “My Husband Is Not Gay”

Recently, my Facebook account has been flooded with headlines and opinions on TLC’s “My Husband Is Not Gay,” which features four Latter-day Saint (Mormon) men who, despite being attracted to men, have chosen to marry a woman. Comments have ranged from calling it “the most unbelievable reality show” to saying it “proliferates a damaging–and even deadly–message.” Since the men featured in the show are associated with an organization called Northstar, Northstar’s president, Ty Mansfield, has responded to criticism, defending the show and stating that “LGBT, Inc., is threatened by the fact that our very existence challenges its identity, its distorted socio-cultural narrative, and its socio-political agenda.

Having not seen the show yet, but having seen the small video segments out there, I have some thoughts to share to both sides of the argument.

  1. We need to respect people’s identities. Genderqueer, polysexual, pansexual, biromantic, two-spirit… The number of identities in existence may be as large as the number of people on this earth. However, just like it is extremely important to not misgender someone, it is also important to respect the labels and adjectives that somebody uses to describe their sexual orientation/gender identity/gender expression. And yes, this also applies to people who admit to being attracted to men but do not identify as gay. Comments like “Your Husband Is Definitely Gay,” by the Daily Beast, aren’t only dismissive, but they’re also offensive. If we truly intend to promote respect, this respect should be given to everyone, regardless of how they identify. One person’s identity does not threaten, dismiss, diminish, or take away from the identity of another individual.
  2. It is time we stop looking at sexual orientation and attraction by themselves and realize that an intersectional approach is necessary. While arousal and eroticism do play a role in sexual orientation, there are other factors that come into play. Race, socioeconomic class, age, and yes, even religion all contribute to an individual’s sexual behavior and sexual identity. While religion may not contribute into it for many, it is a reality that, in Utah, Mormonism affects how many individuals approach their sexuality. One cannot be disconnected from the other for them. If we fail to even attempt to understand how this might be, we are taking away the rights of others to shape and identify their own experiences and orientation.
  3. Christian people who identify as SSA need to be very careful when sharing their narratives. While some men who are attracted to men may be able to marry a woman and find satisfaction in it, many other individuals’ sexualities aren’t as plastic. Many, many queer LDS youths hear these narratives and use them in unsuccessfully trying to change their sexual orientation. Mormons need to be especially careful. With our history of reparative therapy, electroshock therapy, and high rates of LGBT youth homelessness in Utah, we need to be extra careful. Our history is plagued with continual instances in which LGBT members of the church have been rejected, ostracized, and mocked. While you aren’t responsible for what people do with your story, your narrative should be told in such a way that it is evident that it is only yours and should not be used against others. Please share your story, but think of those who are and will be affected by it. I hope to see the same amount of effort put into clearing misconceptions as you put in telling your stories.
  4. People in general (and especially Mormons) should understand that these stories belong to the individuals telling them, and to nobody else. Just because these men chose to marry women doesn’t mean that others should or can do the same. Do not use these narratives to harm, hurt, coerce, or try to change, heal, or correct others around you. If instead of doing that, you choose to listen to both narratives and validate both, you will learn more. Also, do not use these stories as signs of righteousness, repentance, or favor from God. The men in the show aren’t more righteous, more repentant, or loved more by God than anyone else. If they married a woman, it was their own personal choice, and assumptions about other’s relationships with God should never be made.

Last I want to speak to LGBT friends who may feel hurt by this show:

  • To those who feel like a failure because you feel like these men could change and you could not: you’re not a failure. You are different from them. You have your own path, which will be beautiful and full of surprises and victories. Do not compare yourself to them. Your circumstances are different, and you are successful. Please understand that you are loved and you can find peace. It may not be the same type of peace these people express, but yours will be just as good.
  • To the people featured in the show: I am sorry you have to go through this hell. I do not know you personally, but you have been very courageous in sharing your face to the world. Know that I respect your identity and I wish you the best.

I hope we can all learn from every experience and we can choose to listen, and not assume; as well as be careful with how we tell our stories, and how they will affect others. As we do this, we will find ourselves on the higher path to understanding.

 

Samy Galvez

President

USGA