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Friday, November 23, 2012

Guest Post: To Bear One Another's Burdens

Originally from the great state of Utah, Greg is currently living out his dreams in Los Angeles as an actual working actor. He is single, old enough to be set in his ways, and is unofficially officially “on the market.” He has a deep and abiding testimony of Christ, and lives life with a healthy dose of optimism. He's also what some might call "gay," but doesn't let that stand in his way of living a happy, fulfilling life as a modern Mormon man. He contribues to Northern Lights - a blog for members of the church who deal with homosexuality; writes about his adventures in Hollywood - among other things - on his own blog; and does the twitter thing too.

Image by thedimka.
Sometime between 7th and 8th grade I realized I was attracted to men. It wasn’t some great paradigm shift or stunning realization for me. I think it may have been more of a “huh ...” moment. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, so I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that that realization has made life more than interesting over the last 15 years or so.

Coming to terms with something like that while trying to maintain one’s faith can be a challenge - to say the least. Luckily I have some amazing parents, and later some amazing friends to help me out. Outside of my immediate family it wasn’t something I really talked about with people until I was home from my mission and fully entrenched in the throes of college life.

I’ve always found it easier to share that information with my girl friends. I think that makes sense. I’ve never had a negative reaction from a male friend, but I always find it a bit more nerve-wracking to tell them. I think that also makes sense. (Especially when some of those male friends were people I showered with in the MTC ...)

That kind of revelation can create some interesting new dynamics in a male-male friendship. I think most of the time it’s more awkward for the person in my position. You’re going out on a limb with that disclosure and hoping for love, support, and encouragement, while simultaneously prepping yourself for rejection. I recently decided it was time to let the world know about my story and the response has been 100% positive - which is very encouraging. Here are some things my male friends and family have done - whether consciously or otherwise - that helped me know we were still okay.

1 Hugs. The. Biggest. Thing. If a friend, family member, loved one, co-worker, cashier, mechanic, whoever tells you they’re “gay” or “deal with SSA” or “struggle with homosexuality” or whatever, give them a hug. Immediately. A long one. Not too long - that’s awkward for everyone. But long enough that they understand. That immediate physical connection can - and does - mean so much. (Granted, the conversation doesn’t always happen in person. I’ve told a few people via phone/email. But when possible - hug. And if it doesn’t happen in person, the next time you see them, give them a hug before you do anything else.)

2 Say “thank you.” It takes some guts for anyone to share something like that. The fact that they’re telling you means they trust you. A lot. Show some gratitude.

3 Express your love. You don’t necessarily have to say “I love you”, but let them know that you do, in fact, love them. They are most likely in need of some serious love at that moment. (I might recommend looking at The 5 Love Languages)

4 Find ways to let them know that you aren’t bothered, freaked out, uncomfortable etc. (Even if you are. Which is totally okay. It takes time for us to come to terms with stuff, we understand that it might take you some time too.) Perfect example here: I told a friend of mine. Some time later we were at Disneyland and stopped for a bathroom break. I walked in first and picked a urinal. He took the one right next to me. Not in a weird way. He may not have even realized he did it. But in that moment I said to myself, “Okay. We’re good.” Basically, just continue to treat them like they’re a normal human being. Because we are. It’s a difficult balance to find - keeping things the same that need to be the same, while changing the things that need to change. Acknowledgement/support/love vs. normalcy. But I have faith in you.

5 Be there. If they ever need someone to talk to, or a shoulder to cry on, or whatever. And don’t just offer with the oft-used and obligatory “Is there anything I can do?/Let me know if there’s anything I can do/Let me know if you ever wanna talk” etc. Take some initiative. Invite them out for a man-date to grab some fro-yo. Send a card. Send an email. Send a text. Call. Have a guy’s night. This is especially helpful for you if you’re uncomfortable. It’ll give you a chance to get to know that person better. See where they’re coming from. Walk in their shoes for a bit.

6 Take it upon yourself to do some research. You don’t have to do a ton, but at least look into some things. There are countless websites, blogs, books, videos, Ensign articles, interviews etc. that deal with this issue. In fact, take it upon yourself to do this now. Don’t wait. “The more you know ...” Whether you know it or not, there are people in your life who deal with this issue. Do them a favor and be at least marginally informed.

Every situation is different. Every person is different. They’re going to need/want different things, so it’ll be up to you to figure that out, but I think these things are pretty much universally applicable. And obviously anyone could take these suggestions to heart, not just men. However, I think it’s especially important for men to know that there are things you can do - and should do - to support the ones in your life who are navigating this especially tricky circumstance. We need that support from you.

As a final thought - some of the people in your life will decide that sticking with the church is too challenging. You may not like that decision. You may not support that decision. That’s okay. But please, still let those people know that you support them. That you understand that it’s not an easy decision. Most importantly that you love them. There are ways that you can - and should - share your testimony that are tactful and non-awkward. In fact, I’ve had to do that very thing. A phrase such as, “I love and support you no matter what you choose to do, I just need you to know where I’m coming from ...” goes a long way. Rejection, hate, distance etc. are not going to help them. Regardless of their decisions, love is your best choice. Cookies also don’t hurt.

Are there things you’ve done that you’ve found have worked in showing your love and support? For those that deal with this issue, what other things have people done that have helped you feel loved and supported?

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