Thursday, November 28, 2013

Getting It

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for friends, family, and support. It has been about a month since I came out publicly. The first week was emotionally exhausting--I couldn't get any work done. I couldn't pick up my phone and see my texts, emails, and fb notifications without bawling! The love and support was overwhelming. The second week, things started calming down. Those that had seen my fb post or read my blog had either sent me some kind of message, 'liked' my post (whatever THAT means for a status update of that caliber haha), scrolled right past it on their news feed, or just ignored it. In all, the responses were positive. The third week, I was starting to get the feeling that I could move on with my life--no walls, no emotional barriers. I had the spirit of transparency. No more hiding. Anyone that loves and supports me had let me know that I had allies, and anyone else that doesn't support--well, I moved on. Not everyone "gets it", and I understand that; heck, I didn't "get it" until I went through it! I don't blame them.

What frustrates me is why it took an experience like this for me to "get it"! I am trying to re-train my brain to stop judging so quickly. Sometimes I see something and automatically disapprove of it; negative feelings arise, and I feel opposed to it. I have to stop and ask myself "self, why did you react that way?", and the answer is enlightening: "I don't know". I find that society, culture, tradition, group think, and fear contributed to my negative reaction -- the "natural man". 

For some people, the terms gay, SGA (Same-Gender Attraction), SSA (Same-Sex Attraction), etc. are labels that carry many implications. Some people are sensitive to certain terms and find them difficult to even voice. For me (this is strictly my experience), they all mean the same thing: one who is attracted to the same gender (that describes me). I am comfortable with the term gay because I have clearly defined it for myself. For me, being gay does not imply homosexual relationships, sexual behavior, pride movements/organizations, or anything else. For me, it simply means an attraction to the same gender. And that's it.

That said, being a gay mormon for me means I'm an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is attracted to some people of my same gender. That's it. I'm a temple-recommend-holding, temple-attending, doctrine-supporting, calling-holding, testimony-wielding, faithful member of the church. Sadly, it took me a while to "get it": that I can be all these things and be attracted to the same gender. If I live the same law of chastity that is asked of everyone else, then there is no reason for me or anyone else who is gay to feel shame or embarrassment in acknowledging this. 

As the BYU Honor Code states:
Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or attraction and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code...One's stated same-gender attraction is not an Honor Code issue. 
Thus there is a difference between feelings/attraction and behavior/activity

Sadly, there are many naive people (both members of the church and nonmembers) that just don't "get it". They don't see this difference. They don't understand that a person doesn't choose these feelings/attractions but does choose his behavior/activity. It is the attitude of this naive thinking (not necessarily their fault; I was like this until I went through it!) that contributes to many gay mormons leaving the church. I have friends whose church leaders have asked their ward not to support the "homosexual lifestyle" of my friends when actually what these friends have done is support the church and stand as a source of hope to those who are struggling to stay in the church. Asking ward members not to support faithful gay mormons or releasing gay members from callings for having come out publicly isn't the right message to send; it's not consistent with what those of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have said:
...what is changing and what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same gender attraction. (emphasis added)

I'd like to finish up this post by sharing a story my mother shared with me regarding how the topics of mental illness, diabetes, and cancer used to be "dealt with" just a few years ago. Then think of how we understand them today.

I was born in the mid 1950's and my mother was in her early 40's when she had me. I remember while growing up in the 1960's, there were 3 diseases that were taboo to talk about and you certainly didn't want to contract them. There was mental illness. No one knew what caused it but if you were mentally ill, you were put in a mental hospital never to be seen of or heard from again. You didn't want anyone to know if you even had a relative with mental illness because that meant there was something wrong with your family. You didn't want to marry into a family where there was any mental illness. I remember my mom saying to find out about any mental illness before you ever considered marrying someone because you didn't want to be tagged as undesirable.

The second one was Diabetes and the third was Cancer. Both of these diseases were death sentences. There wasn't a lot known about either of these diseases or what caused them and there wasn't much for treatment. I remember my mom telling us to not get close to anyone with Diabetes or Cancer because you might catch them. Mom had a really close friend that contracted Diabetes and had to take insulin shots. Mom was so torn because this was her really close friend, but she didn't want to "catch" Diabetes so she didn't want to be too near her, yet she wanted to be there to support and help her. It was the same with Cancer. You didn't want to get too close to someone with Cancer because you might catch it.

Eventually, my mom did get diabetes and cancer. She was too embarrassed to tell anyone (including her children) because she still considered these diseases to be death sentences and you would lose all of your friends and family if they found out. She was in denial about her diabetes for years and this effected her heart, her vision and other body systems before she ever got treatment. With the cancer, she was able to have surgery and the cancer was cured.

Today, we have pills, insulin shots and pills, chemotherapy, radiation and pills as well as surgery (for Cancer) to help control or cure these diseases.

With same gender attraction, we are about where we were in the 1960's with the three aforementioned diseases. Some of the older generation feels that SGA is a choice, others think you catch it from someone else. We have no pills, surgery or chemotherapy to "cure" or control it. It will take studying this affliction and education to gain more understanding of what SGA is and how we can support those that are afflicted with it.

I think my mom's experience is very telling about this process of coming to understand how to deal with these things. While I personally have moved from viewing this as a challenge/trial/affliction to viewing it as a very sacred part of me that God has entrusted to me (and only He knows why, haha), others still feel it is a trial by fire. I sincerely hope for their sake that more people can just "get it" and change their attitudes to be more open and considerate. We are not undesirables; we are brothers and sisters, friends and allies, family, fellow saints serving in various callings in wards, stakes, and branches. You know more of us than you would think-- some 7-10% of the population is gay by some studies. That means statistically of my facebook friends, some 36 are gay -- and I only know of 10 of them. How many is 10% of your fb friends? Of your ward? of your first class of the week? of your family? extended family? We can help strengthen the church; we understand the need for unconditional, Christ-like love. Zion doesn't come from groupthink. 

Zion comes from those of one heart and one mind, where there are no poor among them because no one is left behind.

Dan Bunker

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What I wish I had known about being gay

This post is just a collection of some of my personal thoughts as I've progressed through my journey of being gay. It is not meant to be a blanket statement about all those who are gay. 

I wish I had known sooner...
  • that it's not by choice. Imagine sitting next to that special someone that you admire physically and emotionally. Now explain why you get the feelings that you do. Imagine sitting next to someone that you don't particularly admire physically or emotionally, and explain why you don't get the feelings that you did with the other person. Difficult? Yep, same for me. I was once asked "How do you know for sure that you're gay?" I proceeded to quote Crush from Finding Nemo: "Well, you never really know, but when they you know, you'll know, ya know?" Equivalently, when asked "When did you know you were gay?", I wanted to ask: "When did you know you were straight?" Not an easy question. My reality check: if those feelings are occurring when you're 22 years old, it probably means they're pretty fixed. Whether the cause be genetics, the environment, or gene-environment interaction, the reality is that those feelings exist. I can't explain why they occur in one circumstance and not in another -- they just do.

  • that I have a choice. Viktor E. Frankl wrote, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way," (Man's Search for Meaning). I can always choose how to react to a given circumstance. That's why the exact same thing can happen to different people, and they can have completely different experiences. It may be out of my control that I am gay, but it is in my control how to behave and react. My possible choices from here on out are:
    • homosexual relationship
    • celibacy
    • heterosexual relationship

  • that friends make it easier. After trying to reconcile my feelings with my beliefs for a long time, I had some deeply spiritual experiences that helped me decide to "come out". I considered the depth of my associations, relationships, and friendships, most of which felt pretty superficial. Strong emotional barriers kept my connections with other people at arm's length. I decided to lower my barrier, let trusted people in, and test the waters. Not knowing how others will react -- ending friendships, the cold shoulder, or overwhelming support -- was the largest obstacle I had to overcome. Coming out to friends and family and seeking support from those who are also gay has been the best thing for me in my journey. I wish I had known this sooner.

  • that it's not always easy, but I can be genuinely happy. For a long time, I considered this a trial, challenge, affliction, etc. My personal and religious beliefs require that I either remain celibate or pursue a heterosexual relationship. It can be difficult because a heterosexual relationship contradicts those particular feelings that arise in certain circumstances and not in others, and celibacy means sexual abstinence. The disparity between my beliefs and feelings does create tension and frustration sometimes, but following my beliefs also creates joy.  Focusing on the tension and frustration has tended to foster more of the same; however, focusing on the good that I can do and can pursue--genuine friendships and emotional connections now that my barrier is down--has tended to foster more joy and genuine happiness. 

  • that it's not black-and-white. Many people tend to over-simplify circumstances. Take a heterosexual relationship for example. If your personal and religious belief is sexual abstinence before marriage, to what degree can you connect with someone you care about before marriage? Is spending lots of time together ok? Embracing? Cuddling? Putting your arm around the other person? Just sitting there holding each other? Holding hands? Kissing? There are many different degrees of connections, and each person must set his own wise boundaries. Some of these degrees are perceived and judged as acceptable in one culture and not in another. It's not black-and-white. To what degree do you allow a heterosexual couple to connect before disapproving of their actions? To what degree do you allow them to be loved? Cared for? To what degree do you allow this for someone who is gay and chooses to have a homosexual relationship? For someone who chooses celibacy? Can you remain true to your celibacy and still be cared for and loved by someone? Is it appropriate? It's not black-and-white. I wish I had known this sooner too.

  • that others have different experiences just as difficult. What is difficult for me isn't necessarily difficult for someone else; others are going through things that I don't even know. I will never know the whole story, so I can't judge. My only job is to show love. Many--including myself--have had the attitude of "love the sinner, hate the sin" and express it. News flash: when you're the one struggling and you hear someone say "I will always be your friend, but I can't support you in..." or "I will always love you, but I don't approve of..." or "you will always be welcome here, but leave your behavior at the door..." or anything of the sort, you don't hear the first part. You only hear "I can't support", "I don't approve", "leave your behavior", etc. It's like when someone says "No offense, but ...." and they proceed to attack. The point of the statement was to attack or offend or express a contrary opinion. If you don't approve, don't support, don't agree with what someone is doing or going through, you have every right to it. But if they are struggling -- no matter their lifestyle choice--, keep it to yourself. What they really need to hear is "I love you." PERIOD. "I am here for you". PERIOD. I wish I had known that for much of my life when I had that attitude, and now that I'm on a side that many people misunderstand and attack, I have a clearer understanding of what is really needed in these moments.

  • that questions are good. I love it when people ask me honest questions about being gay, partly because I'm still learning myself. Honest questions are how misunderstandings get cleared up and how people get educated. I am still putting this one in practice as often as I can. When others sincerely ask questions, it shows that they have interest in you and your well-being. It shows that they care. 

Again, I want to make it clear that these are not the experiences of everyone who is gay. This is what I have experienced, and these are my personal beliefs. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (I'm a mormon), so some future blog posts will have more insight from my personal religious and spiritual perspective; however, my posts do not represent the position of the church. 

Dan Bunker