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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

10 Questions on the Challenge of Same-Sex Attraction

The following is an anonymous guest post submission; a conversation between two friends about homosexuality and the LDS Church. Submit your own guest post via email.

1) When did you first begin to realize an attraction to men?

I was about ten years old when I first started having those teasing thoughts in my mind. But, I don't think my sex drive had kicked in yet, so it wasn't until my hormones started to go crazy a couple of years later that I really started to feel the attraction. I think the first time I noticed was during gym class in junior high school. There were two or three guys that I found myself attracted to. It was very strange and I was pretty horrified when it started to happen. I didn't quite know what to do except keep the whole thing to myself and try not to think about those guys. It was especially difficult in the locker room after class every day and so I attempted to suppress it because I knew that no one would understand; and not only wouldn't anyone understand, but they would react in an extreme way if I ever mentioned it.

2) Did you ever act on your feelings?

Well, as I said, I didn't know what to do with it for a few years. I mostly tried to suppress the feelings and temptations and tried to ignore them as much as possible. I was also trying to reconcile those sexual feelings with my own feelings about the Gospel and I thought that it would just be simpler to do nothing, rather than provoke further feelings of guilt and shame. I also think that I was so afraid of the whole issue - I was afraid of everything back then - that I would never have said anything to anyone about it, even if I knew that another person shared the same attraction as I did. It was terrifying.

But, I was a typical teenager and as I grew little older, I did imagine what it might be like to be gay and to be with other guys. However, even those early imaginings were accompanied by such strong feelings of guilt and shame that I simply couldn't think about them for very long because it was so confusing. I had been brought up to think that it was wrong even to have those feelings, and so I shoved it all deep down inside and refused to deal with it. I promised myself that I would never tell a living soul. It seemed the only way to survive.

I will tell you that there were also 3 or 4 guys in my high school to whom I was attracted. But, I just couldn't do anything about it. The guilt, shame, and pain were simply too much and my whole relationship with the Gospel made me realize that I would be giving up too many things in my life and most likely would be giving up an eternity of happiness as well. I also hadn't yet realized how accessible the atonement was to me; and, I hadn't yet begun to make full use of the blessings that can come by accessing its great power.

It became much more difficult during freshman year of college. Suddenly, I was living in a dormitory with a couple of hundred other guys full-time. And, even at BYU where modesty reigns supreme, guys together in a dorm are hyper-sexual because of their age - while most are doing everything they can to maintain sexual purity - it was very difficult for someone like me because I was living in close proximity to a couple of guys for whom I felt an attraction. So, I isolated myself somewhat and did everything I could to keep it from becoming a problem.

3) How did all of this affect your decision to serve a mission?

As a teenager, I was on the fence about whether to serve a mission. Mostly because I hadn't had the confirmation that it was something I should do. All of my friends inside the church were most definitely planning to go, but I had never felt that spark. And when it came to it, interestingly, my same-sex attraction issues didn't even play into the decision. When I did receive the confirmation from the Spirit that I needed to go - it happened during my freshman year at BYU - I didn't even hesitate for a second. I went to my Bishop and started to put my life in order and prepared to go. I entered the MTC nine months later and then headed to Brazil.

I hadn't acted on the feelings, so it never became an issue during our interviews. But, the feelings were still there, hanging around me all the time. And, while they did not prevent me serving honorably, I hadn't clearly thought about the way in which those feelings affected my relationship with other male missionaries. People who don't have these same-sex attraction issues have no idea what I am speaking about and no understanding of why it can be so very difficult. And, I am proud to say that despite the challenges presented by these feelings, I was able to keep myself from doing anything that might jeopardize my mission or my relationship with the Lord.

But, to survive, I was in a kind of self-protection mode most of the time; and it absolutely drove my companions and many other missionaries crazy. I'll explain. Whenever I was in a situation where I realized that my feelings might surface and that the feelings might potentially create problems of the smallest kind, I would preemptively withdraw myself from the situation. This meant that I sat out of many kinds of activities during my mission and made many missionaries feel bad when they attempted to include me. Perhaps I was being overly cautious and perhaps I caused problems amongst the other missionaries, but I was terrified by the attraction I felt and simply wanted to protect everybody. To this day, I am sure they all think I am totally crazy.

4) Did you ever consider just giving in to your feelings?

Not really. But, there are moments - horrible, terrible, desperate moments - when the temptations that arise from having these feelings can be quite difficult to bear, can lead to a loss of hope that you will ever live a normal life or that your Heavenly Father will ever love you again, and that life would be better somehow if you do just give in; and let me tell you that some of these moments are positively awful. The good news is that the Spirit will save you from these feelings and temptations every time. The good news is that the atonement of Jesus Christ is there to be accessed whenever the challenges become too great to bear. You can give these pains and problems to the atonement and they will be born away for you. This knowledge and intimate use of the atonement makes one terribly grateful and humble.

And, of course, the time between my mission and marriage was also very challenging. I was living my life, going to school and church, and hoping I would be able to find someone who loved me, despite these issues. This happens to be a dangerous time and now I realize why we were advised to find someone and marry relatively soon after our missions. The adversary puts major temptations in the way to keep us from temple marriage. For instance, I had to deal one afternoon with a friend who was attracted to me and who made a pass at me in my car when we were heading home from class - ugly and awful, lost the friend because I rejected him. And then one afternoon I discovered that one of my best friends arranged for me to be alone with someone who, it turns out, was attracted to me and wanted to find out if I was gay. He also made a play for me and I literally ran away from my apartment until the danger passed. But, I never gave in and a year later was married in the temple.

5) You talk about guilt, shame, and fear. Does this affect your sense of self worth?

Absolutely. I spent many many years, from adolescence through my late twenties, thinking I was less than and not worth very much to anyone. Fortunately, this is an area where the atonement can help you out and help you understand your worth to a loving Father in Heaven. The key is to access it.

6) Have you ever spoken with a Bishop about your feelings?

Yes, I did. Once. He was very kind about it and didn't pass judgement on me or tell me I was going to hell for having these feelings. He was mainly concerned about my moral worthiness, my relationship to God, and was very happy to hear that I hadn't acted on the feelings. He did tell me that the atonement could help me out with these issues and that I should seek assistance from Heavenly Father. Then, he moved on. I was blown away. I thought for sure that he was gonna have me ex-communicated immediately. It was after these interviews that I realized I could live with these feelings and also be considered a worthy member of the kingdom.

7) Have you ever spoken with a therapist?

I did mention the situation to a therapist. I actually went to this therapist because I was feeling very angry about certain things in my life and he helped me out. When I mentioned the same-sex attraction, he didn't try to "fix" me or push some crazy therapeutic technique on me. He simply helped me work through my anger issues and told me I could speak with him about anything that bothered me. He said that if these feelings presented a problem for me, he would be very happy to talk and help me go in any direction I wanted to go; no agenda, no judgement. It was a very positive experience.

8) Do you believe that you were born with these feelings or did you learn them?

I have no idea, nor any opinion about it because it seems to me that no one really understands it. I know that somehow I got saddled with these feelings and that they are a part of my life. How they came to be a part of my core makeup . . . I simply haven't got the first clue where to begin.

9) How do you control your feelings?

I mentioned it before, though briefly. I access the atonement through much prayer and fasting. I cling to the sacrament and try to be sure that I never miss an opportunity to partake. I attend the temple and try to be diligent in fulfilling my priesthood obligations, and be sure to magnify each of my callings to the best of my ability. Does all of this rid me of the feelings for good? Not yet, but I can control them and even have lengthy periods of time where the feelings are not a part of my life. And, as I grow in spiritual strength and in self-control, I am hopeful that eventually the feelings will be gone forever. But, like so many weaknesses, it is an ongoing work.

10) How do you feel about gay marriage and the current debate?

Let me state unequivocally that I believe that the marriage of one man to another, or of one woman to another is simply contrary to the fundamental laws of our Father in Heaven and I believe that the sealing power will never be extended that far, despite what others may believe. I absolutely believe in the Proclamation on the Family, that men and women have divinely appointed natures, and that each has a divinely appointed role. And I completely understand why the church is so opposed to allowing same-sex marriages in the public realm and I wholeheartedly support their opposition. I cannot cut my beliefs according to the fashion of the day.

However, despite the fact that I cannot support the idea of gay marriage, I do believe that no one person should ever be treated in our country like a second-class citizen and that no one should be denied rights or benefits, and that somehow the issue needs to be worked out so that domestic partnerships, or whatever you want to call it, receive the same kinds of benefits.

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