For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

- Mosiah 3:19

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reacting to my Truth



I’ve noticed a typically common reaction to my truth among members of the church, both left and right leaning. Most often it begins with an acknowledgement of how difficult the “burden” I carry is, then it immediately mutates into an empathic didacticism. This is usually accompanied by some presumption that I have not confronted the tension of being gay and Mormon (if one exists!). Consequently, I sit and listen to “straight” members of the church who often begin their thoughts with “Just don’t act on it…”

As I’ve contemplated that phrase, I’m not entirely sure what that means anymore. I realize, contextually, it refers to not acting sexually on my feelings. But I have to believe that for both (right and left leaning members), it means something more. Yet, for many members of the church (at least the ones I’ve encountered, though there are exceptions), being gay is nothing more than simply having sex with men. Being gay is more than just sex with men (in my case); as being heterosexual is more than having sex with their opposite sex. Thus, when the adage, “don’t act on it” is put forth, as a loving and empathic response, it is simply a na├»ve ignorance and denial of who I am, and a desire for me to be something other than who I am – someone that they feel is compatible with the gospel (as interpreted by their peculiar cultural constructs); yet, who I am is who God loves – this I know.

As I tell others, and receive the typical response, I acknowledge simultaneously, their concern and the bias embedded within what they say but within the realization that they may not know what they say. This has aided me in being patient with them - I suppose a lesson I’ve learned from being a non-white member of the church.

After their declaration of “just don’t act on it,” they often proceed to tell me that having the feelings is not a sin, but acting it is. They go on to talk about the hope of the resurrection, and continue to “preach” to me, as if I’ve never thought about these things. I recognize that what they say comes from a place of concern and love, but often I get frustrated as the elementary level at which they talk to me. I’ve studied and researched, and labored over this topic for years, I’ve made intellectual and theological sense of this issue. But I go to them, not to be given an elementary Sunday School lesson, but for fellowship in re-building my spiritual foundation – reconnecting my heart to my mind.

I’m learning to be patient, as I come to understand why people respond the way they do (at least to me). I had dinner with friends on Sunday and I candidly shared with them my struggles of faith. They were surprised, but concerned. They then said, “Be careful who you share this with, you’ve been such a vital pillar of faith to this ward and community for so long. People still see as such, when you share, they get flustered and start thinking, ‘If Enduring is having this struggle, what about me?’ “

I appreciated that perspective. The implication was, when I tell people they don’t know how to respond and just start repeating what little they know about the subject, thinking that I’ve lost all faith and knowledge. Perhaps I need to start practicing more patience and brotherly kindness to those who (I feel) know so little.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Being Gay is a let down....

So I've been feeling grateful. Since sharing my first step, I feel that all the deepest and darkest things of my life have now had light shed on them. Some people are quick to say it's the light of Christ - but I'll back away from that and just say, my secrets are no longer secrets. They no longer debilitate my sense of self-worth and confidence. I am able to be honest and present with people I meet, and for the first time, I feel like I am not hiding anything from myself or others.

I've been meeting with potential roommates this past week. I've been living with my nephew and he is ready to leave on his mission. I'll miss him. I was excited to live alone again, but quickly realized that where I am in recovering from my addiction, living alone would not be a good idea. Anyhow, as I've been meeting with these guys, I've felt (as noted above) that I was able to be honestly present and feel like I was not holding anything back, I did not feel like I was hiding - that I had to hide anything about me.

The first potential roommate came in and we talked, he checked out my apartment and the room. As we talked to get a sense of compatibility, I said, "I'm gay and Mormon." There was a little apprehension when I said it, but it came out easy and it felt natural, real, and honest. This was the first time I told a stranger that I was gay. I was expecting something dramatic, something large, something grand, something that would consume my senses and I would have a feeling...of what? I'm not sure. As soon as it dropped from my lips, he said, "yeah...so does the place have a dishwasher?"

It was a let down, but in a good way. Usually when I tell members of the church who know me well, the first thing they say is "Wow. That must be such a tremendous burden..." or something along those lines. Here, this guy acknowledged it and accepted it, as he blithely asked if there was a dishwasher.

That blithe attitude was fulfilling, it was accepting and affirming.

I told Father about that experience and later felt a strong impression (again) that Father also acknowledges and affirms me as His gay son, but expects me to honor my covenants. Yesterday morning as I wrote in my journal, I felt a strong impression in connection with that expectation, that for me, he wants me to honor those covenants, "when you're ready" to use the words in that impression.

So I'm happy and I'm authentically present and content, slowly making progress (to what, I'm not sure).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Interrogating my faith


As I've struggled the past year with repentance (I'm still a little unclear as to what that means as well), I've begin an intense process of interrogating my faith in the key doctrines of the church and Christendom, altogether.

I'm not satisfied with generic responses that often lack depth and that smacks of institutional inertia (that is, mimicking behavior considered "righteous"). I get these all the time: "you just need the right motives," "you need to pray with sincerity," "you need to simply hang in there," "just follow the Savior," "we're here for you."

The last one perhaps bothers me the most. "We're here for you..." implies that one knows my struggles, that one knows me, it also implies a correct path (do as me and you'll be good). I've tried participating in online support groups only to find the more I read of those posts the more I actually want to leave the church - people I don't know say, "we're here for you...". While I appreciate the sentiment, it does not sit well with me. Someone saying "We're here for you...", does not help me feel comforted, but only indicates a lack of compassion. As noted before, what is embedded within that declaration is an implicit standard of rightness that the group has somehow attained, and therefore will endow me with if I turn to them. A further problematic is the online support groups have stirred questions: the more I read, the more I want to run the opposite direction from anything these groups and their affiliates support and promulgate. I'm not sure I want to be associated with them, there is a lot of self-hatred and denial therein, a lot of smug and righteous arrogance.

I find more support with people not Mormon, not Christian, and many who don't even believe in God. They have no agenda for me, they do not pre-judge what is "right" for me, nor do they try to sway me in any direction. They offer simple sincere support, "whatever you decide, I just want you to be happy." A smugless statement like that is a relief. There is no pretense of their compassion, their compassion doesn't come with conditions. Those declarations allow me to choose, without feeling the weight of others thinking I'm erring and can't do it unless I see or join them.

These groups along with individuals I ask questions to tend to give the aforementioned generic (and unhelpful) responses to my questions.

I've been struggling recently with being filled with a spiritual desire to seek after Christ. While the Christ as a Savior makes theological sense, I do not feel a spiritual need for him. As a result, I have trouble closing my prayers to Father in the name of Christ. I'm not sure how to reconcile this. I feel closer to Father, but feel estranged from Christ (like I do not know him - which is true). It's not that I've not read, I could certainly write a treatise about the character and role of Christ, the theological significance of Christ is not unknown, rather, as stated before, I am not filled with a spiritual yearning to know Him, or to call on His name. Perhaps with time this will make sense or it may not.

Additionally, I've been having a lot of trouble with Thomas Monson as the prophet. I just can't connect with him, I try, but if I have to hear another story of a pioneer ancestor or about a widow, I think I'm going to go crazy. Perhaps one day I'll see him as a prophet, but really, I just can't connect with him. Another is Elder Cook, I try reading his talks, but get lost in his sermon. I can't follow it, I try to find a consistent underlying theme or principle, but get lost in his stories that don't ever make sense to me. I'm trying to have them make sense.

I have so many more questions. I have the missionaries come over and "teach" me, but I end up confusing them. My Bishop is frustrated with my questions.

I'm not looking for a one-size-fits-all response, I just simply want a real and honest answer, even if that answer is, "I don't know." Too often I think members of the church feel compelled by foolish obstinacy to have a clear answer to every question. Sometimes the most comforting response from a church leader or another member is "I don't know." When someone leads with weakness, I'm more willing to follow and listen. I just want the people I talk to in the church to be honest, to cease talking normatively and to start talking honestly.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Equanimity

After eight months in the program and 8 months of grueling work, I finally gave away my first step this past Saturday morning. It was an exhilarating and cathartic experience. All my deepest and most shameful secrets and thoughts I shared with a group of 35 straight men. If you'd like a copy of my first step, please ask and I'll gladly email it to you.

After I finished, I felt a burden lift. These secrets and shame that have debilitated my conscious, my confidence, and my sense of self-worth for so long, I gave away. I released them. While there's still a lot of work to do around them, the burden of these secrets is now bearable. I can lift my head up in honesty. I can see myself and love myself.

The guys in the room, not Mormon and not gay, responded to my stories of powerlessness in my fantasies and my acting out with guys with intense love and compassion. I was overwhelmed. Each one of them affirmed me, hugged me and told me how much they love and appreciate me. I felt safe and accepted. They told me they are there for me as I continue the journey of radical self-acceptance.

I thought, if only my Elder's Quorum was that accepting and had fraternal bonds like this, I might be more excited to go to church and mingle with the church members.

I went to church on Sunday, feeling incredibly liberated and closer to God than I've ever felt, but church was so routine, it felt disconnected from anything spiritual. So I played solitaire on my phone, still basking in the freedom that full and honest disclosure brings.

I am happy. God loves me and I love Him!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beaten to humility


I will be giving away my first step tomorrow. In the addiction recovery group I attend for sex addiction, the first step is sexual history and experiences and events that illustrate my powerlessness over my addiction and how my life became unmanageable.

As I've been writing it, I've realized how much my life has been complicated by this addiction. Two events I'll share:

1)From 16 to 19, I continued to struggle with masturbation and pornography. I had tried numerous times to stop. During this time I was sent to a pscyhotherapist to change my sexuality; I continued to deny this aspect of me, praying daily, exerting efforts in doing all I could to be obedient to God’s commandments to have “this cancer rooted out of me.” When it did not go away I was left feeling unloved by God, broken, abandoned, and lonely. I then went back to masturbation to cover those feelings. It was during this period that I was able to control masturbation, I brought it down to three times a week. I was doing so as I had always planned on being a Mormon missionary when I turned 19. Doing so required abstinence from all sexual acting out for at least one year before becoming a missionary. I met that goal and gained what I thought was freedom from both pornography and masturbation for a year and then two years while I was a Mormon missionary. Those three years, I learned to white knuckle. I thought I was free from the addiction. I was not.

Relapse and Struggled (22-32)

After being abstinent for over three years, I returned to school. Before my Mormon mission I, I had completed on year at an elite university maintaining a GPA of 3.9. (this was during my year of abstinence). I returned with great hope for my future. I started school again. One month into school I was in the library writing a paper, I was looking in the periodicals for an academic journal, as I perused the journals, I noticed a major and established pornographic magazine among the other periodicals. I initially recoiled knowing I had worked for so long to keep away. I went back to work on my paper, but intrigue set in. I could not focus on my paper, I wanted to know what was in the magazine. I walked back, paced back and forth through that isle, then I walked away, packed up my bags, but my bag was so heavy, my legs were so heavy, I could not walk out of the library. It was like a siren calls, I was mesmorized. My every movement was controlled by the intrigue and excitement. I grabbed the magazine and looked, soaked in the images and climaxed through sheer excitement. I did not even touch myself. I realized I did this in the library surrounded by people. I was ashamed, an intense guilt overcame me. I put the magazine down and walked away with my head down low. I graduated with a 2.8. I was not free.

2) I had arranged via Craigslist, to meet with a guy. The feeling of the potential encounter was intoxicating. I called my sponsor and told him what I was feeling, he asked that I write down the consequences and the many ways I was powerless. I attempted to do so, even that was not powerful enough to extricate me from the trance I was in. I struggled to bring reason and logic back in and have them fight the powerful feelings of excitement, intrigue, and pleasure. Yet it was not sufficient, reason lost, logic lost. I called others as I was walking to my car to meet this person, telling them I am walking to meet this person. This was not sufficient to bring me even a moment of sanity, yet I felt I was doing all I could, I was telling others of what I wanted to do, I was telling others in the faint hope of deflating the power lust had over me. It did not, lust ensnared my senses, I was transfixed with the idea, excited by the potential act, my addict kept telling me “if you don’t you’ll never know.” I knew if I continued with this, I would face severe discipline from my church, yet in that moment my addict reasoned, “this is more important than that.” The allure of that reasoning made sense, drowning out the logic of consequences. I made another phone call, saying, “I’m driving.” This did nothing. I made another, “I see the guy…I am walking toward the guy.” This was not sufficient to extricate me. I met the guy. We came to my home and I gave paid to give oral sex. After it was over, despair, pain, darkness a thick darkness settled about me. I felt ready to completely abandon myself to destruction. At that moment, I reflected on what had happened, and realized the depths of my powerlessness.


These and the many other experiences I will be sharing tomorrow have beaten me into humility. All I can do after reviewing these is realize that I am responsible for my behavior and accept the consequences. Yet in all of this, I've come to feel the incredible love Father has for me. I don't know about my future in the church, but I do know that for today, I'm committed.
Tomorrow, all bets are off.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Yes. I'm Gay.

I just finished my prayer, but can't sleep. I needed to share what happened during my prayer. I ended my day, knelt at my bedside and offered a simple prayer, talking about my day, expressing gratitude for the people in my life and the support I've been given in approaching 90 days (tomorrow) of sobriety. I then broached the subject of why I was having a difficult time in developing a personal relationship with the Savior. I explained my reasoning and simply asked for more clarity. I then told Father of my developments in coming to accept myself.

"Father, I'm uh...uh..trying hard to come to accept myself as gay..as your son who is gay...Father, I'm uh...um...gay. Yeah, Father, I'm gay."

Immediately I heard in a response, a playful, yet loving and understanding response, "Why, yes, you are!"

I immediately felt affirmed, but all I could do was giggle. I imagined a playful grin on Father's face as He said what He said. I felt Him laughing with me. He made me laugh, while showing me how much He loved me and not diminishing the pain and struggle that comes with that affirmation. I felt an intense outpouring of the Spirit as I laughed, as we laughed.

Heavenly Father accepts me as His gay son. He wants me in His church. I will commit daily, if need be, to do what I need to remain worthy of His mercy. I love my Father!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Simple Good or Complex Good

In a conversation with a dear friend, she explained to me a system she devised to categorize Mormons. A generic dichotomy (which I think is brilliantly generalizable) of simple good and complex good. The simple good are Mormons who do what is "right" without any real reflection, these are those who seem to have an implicit faith to do things without question (despite logic or reason), though not all the time. These are they who do their callings, perform their duties, and are seemingly content with their lives, their relationship with God and the church and their views of the world being based on simple faith, or "hope" - the type of faith that is the result of "this is what my parents taught me, this is what the church teaches, so why question." While there is something to be said of this type of faith, for me it's not enough.

Then there are the complex good; these are they whose faith is predicated on an intense interrogation of the theological foundations of the gospel - they are not afraid to critique the cultural fabric of the church, identifying and attempting to understand the intersection of gospel doctrine and socio-cultural interpretations. These are they who seek to understand, at deep levels, how the gospel works, its implications, and how the structures of the institutions in and around the church shape an understanding of how to practice doctrine. And, they who accept Savior (most of them) because of an intense process of introspection. Certainly more could be said of this, and there are gradations between these two, but for now the dichotomy serves a useful purpose (at least for me): it helps me to understand the church in more generic terms.

Yesterday, I went to a friend's wedding reception, there I talked with a friend I had not seen for over a year. As we talked, I shared with him my struggles with the church and with coming to accept myself. We talked a bit about my Bishop and we both agreed that my Bishop is a simple good. He then pointed out to me that most of my Mormon friends are complex good. I realized then that I am annoyed with the simple good. I have trouble relating to them, talking with them, and I become intensely frustrated by their lack of depth, and their catch all solutions to problems: "just pray, have faith, and the atonement will take care of it." While there is immense truth to that, I often wonder if they even know how difficult their simple answers are. Simple is not always easy. Perhaps this is why I am having trouble relating to my Bishop.

Perhaps.

It could also be a function of me coming to terms with the sexual component of my identity. I am gay. While saying that out loud may take some time, it is liberating to acknowledge it without the shame. My Bishop attempts to understand, but the subtext of his counsel and advice says otherwise. Perhaps God would want me to be a simple good. Or to exercise simple faith. I'm not sure.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Acceptance


This morning I went on a run with a friend. We talked about many things, my friend then asked how I was doing in relation to finding peace with being gay. Honestly the fact that she referred to me as gay was and still is uncomfortable. I then told her of my epiphany of coming to accept me for who I am. While I recognize that being sexually attracted to men does not define my entire existence, it is nonetheless a powerful factor that shapes how I see the world and interact therein. I then explained to her that it's hard coming to accept myself as a "gay man." Uttering that was difficult. I suppose that's the point Carl Rogers was making when he wrote: "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change."

This seems to be consistent with how King Lamoni's father reacted to Aaron's message, "I will give away all my sins to know thee...," or Paul finally accepting the thorn in his side. These, as well as many others, illustrate an implicit acceptance of things as they are, in that moment of acceptance then real change can occur.

I'm not implying in any way that once I accept all that being gay implies then I can change that sexuality, rather what I'm coming to see is that once I accept myself just as I am, then I will be able to re-turn to God with full purpose of heart. And sacrifice my desires and longings for a committed relationship with a man.

But that is still in the future, presently, I still feel discomfort referring to myself as a gay man. Alas, the shame still covers me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Euphoric Recall


As a sex addict, I'm coming to realize how important it is for me to control what I do with my thoughts. The reality is I am powerless over my actions when I start thinking about what I did with others.

Eleven weeks ago this weekend was the last time I engaged in sexual relations with another man. He was 19. I know, I know. As I tried to work on my research this weekend, however I yearned for his touch...his body. It was pure lust and it was sufficient to get me completely distracted and made my weekend difficult. Images of his body flashed through my mind; I allowed myself to sit back and relive that experience, but for a short period, and I caught myself.

I talked about it with others in my addiction recovery program; I made phone calls (it seemed every hour) to be sure I did not get back on Craigslist to find someone to act out with or contact the guy I last acted out with. It was difficult.

Perhaps there is a correlation between that and a growing conviction of my need for the Savior. I had been having trouble understanding my need to call on Jesus as a Savior figure; if God was so powerful (omnipotent), why could he not perform the atonement by himself? I feel I have an answer to the latter question, and this weekend I made headway on the former. Perhaps. Perhaps. My recognition of needing the Savior is tied to the flood of euphoric recall all weekend. I'm not sure.

But this weekend, without my recovery program I would have had another anonymous encounter. I survived and am thankful to good people who allowed me make healthy connections.