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

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