Written by Scott, January 2011
I’ve been asked how a man can live 34 years without recognizing--let alone acknowledging and accepting--that he is gay. In fact, I’ve wondered this myself, as I’ve looked back over my life and seen the hints and clues that anyone with an open mind should have seen for what they were. But then, my upbringing didn’t really equip me with an open mind--at least not when it came to something as far outside my sphere of experience and understanding as homosexuality.
I grew up in Sandy, UT in a very “Mormon” neighborhood and a very “Mormon” family. I was raised to value faith and obedience and to accept the things that the leaders of my church said as true regardless of my own personal feelings or opinions. And so, of course, I accepted as truth the things that I was taught about homosexuality: that it was an abomination and a sin and that those people were willfully perverting the natural order of things as they committed acts that were second only to murder in seriousness and offensiveness to God.
This understanding led to an adolescence filled with mental gymnastics and selective blindness--after all, gay people were bad, and I knew that I wasn’t a bad person, so I couldn’t be gay. Any evidence to the contrary had to have another explanation.
When the young men in my scout troop passed around a “swimsuit edition” at our week-long summer camp I acted outwardly as I knew they expected me to, but inside I felt nothing but disinterest and perhaps even a bit of revulsion. But of course that was simply because I (as a worthy priesthood holder) viewed women (and womanhood in general) as sacred and worthy of respect, and because it wasn’t proper to take pleasure in the exposed flesh of the models in the magazine.
When I found myself gazing in longing at a handsome young man at school it was only because I was jealous of his good looks and developed muscles and easy charm. I wanted to be like him and so it was only natural that I would feel drawn to him (while ignoring or failing to recognize that I never felt drawn to a young woman that way).
When I grew closer to a certain mission companion than I ever had to any others, and felt an almost unreasonable happiness in his company, it was only because I had found true Christlike brotherly love (as we were encouraged to do in our companionships). The bliss that I felt as I ran my fingers through his hair when I gave him a haircut every few weeks was just the joy of being able to give service to a fellow missionary.
I had other explanations for my attractions to men: I can’t take my eyes off him because he reminds me of someone I know, and I’m trying to figure out who. Or I’m anxious to get to know him because we will be serving together in some calling in the near future. Or maybe I even knew him in the pre-existence.
As for the physical arousal that I experienced at the sight of a well-built man at a public pool, or a shirtless man glistening with sweat as he labored in his yard... That was a little harder to come up with convincing explanations for, and so I simply ignored it and convinced myself that it was the normal reaction of a pubescent young man teeming with hormones (again ignoring the fact that girls never made me feel that way).
I was well-practiced in the art of self-deception by the time I started my senior year of high school. When a lovely young woman asked me to the first girl’s choice dance of the year I was flattered at the attention. On our date I found her easy to talk to, and over several successive dates we became good friends--even best friends. I certainly felt differently about her than I had ever felt about a girl... perhaps that’s what being “in love” feels like? Eventually (after five months of dating) I even decided that I was ready to kiss her.
Sarah and I dated steadily through our senior year of high school and in the several months after graduation as I prepared for a mission. When she went away to college she seemed to miss me more than I missed her, and to need me more than I needed her... But that was just me being selfish and it just meant that I needed to try harder to demonstrate my affection and to make her feel loved and desired.
This imbalance was evident as I served my mission as well--she wrote to me at least twice as often as I replied. But I still considered her a dear friend, and so I was alarmed when she wrote that a man at the college she was attending was interested in her. In hindsight, I believe I recognized that the relationship I had built with her was not something that I could easily re-create with another woman, and that if I was to have any hope of marrying and creating a family (which had always been an assumed step in the path of my life) it had to be with her. I responded with a heartfelt letter stating as much, and when my parents came to pick me up from my mission I confided to my dad that I might need a loan when we returned to Utah, so that I could buy an engagement ring.
And so it was that less than three months after I returned from my mission I married Sarah, my high school sweetheart.
The honeymoon went as expected, and the beginning of our married life was certainly not devoid of physical expressions of affection. My mission president had been adamantly against birth control and so, deferring to the authority of my church leaders, we used none. Consequently we had only been married a couple of months when we found ourselves expecting our first child. Over the next thirteen years three more children joined our household, and we became the image of a perfect young Mormon family. We both served faithfully in various callings, attended our meetings regularly, and were (from all outward appearances) as happy as could be.
Over those thirteen years, though, the physical aspect of our relationship steadily declined. I was simply not as interested in intimacy as she expected me to be (based at least partly on the media’s stereotyped portrayal of men as perpetually “in the mood”). That lack of interest took its toll. She often felt rejected or undesirable, and though it pained me greatly to know that I was hurting her, I still wasn’t very good at forcing myself to pretend interest that didn’t exist--at least not for more than short periods of time.
My experience in self-deception proved valuable here... My lack of interest in sex was the result of stress. Or maybe it was a side-effect of the antidepressants that I was on at one point or another? I even considered the possibility of a testosterone deficiency, and Sarah encouraged me several times to talk to the doctor about our issues and request a check of hormone levels. In the meantime I would still find myself aroused by a hot guy at the pool or curiously drawn to the handsome young man who had recently moved into the ward with his new wife (I even called him to be my counselor when I was called as Elders’ Quorum President a couple of months after they moved in).
More than once the conflict over our intimate relationship came to a head, resulting in tearful discussions as we tried to determine the root cause of the problem. One particular discussion will forever remain ingrained in my mind...
I wanted Sarah to understand that the problem was with me, not with her. I wanted her to understand that my lack of desire did not mean that she was undesirable. I explained to her that in the many hours I spent on the Internet each day (as a freelance web developer and in my role as an IT consultant for the company that I worked for) I would occasionally come across images of “hot” women who were scantily clad (or even entirely naked). These images, I said, did nothing for me.
“If they were pictures of hot guys with few (or no) clothes on would they do something for you?”
I couldn’t answer her, because as soon as she asked the question I knew that the answer was “yes”. She understood my silence for what it was, and began to panic.
“Tell me you’re not gay... Please tell me you’re not gay!”
As she repeated herself over and over I finally did just what she was asking me to do:
“I’m not gay”.
Apparently satisfied, Sarah rolled over and went to sleep, and in fact she later told me that she had little to no recollection of this conversation. But a seed had been planted in my mind and sleep didn’t come easily to me that night.
Over the next six months or so I devoured everything I could find on the subject of homosexuality. What did science say about it? What did the church say? (And had my understanding of the church’s position all these years been accurate?)
I read literally hundreds of accounts from gay Mormons on the Internet. Most of them ended up leaving the church to pursue a romantic relationship, but some had chosen to remain active and celibate. Many had (like me) married before coming to terms with their orientation, or in the hopes that marriage would “cure” them (often at the explicit recommendation of priesthood leaders who assured them that it would). Some few of these still remained married, but it seemed that the majority were ultimately unable or unwilling to do so.
I examined my own life, trying (for the first time in my life) to do so without prejudice or preconceptions--to be completely open and honest with myself. Eventually my studies and self-examination led to the unavoidable conclusion:
I am gay.
The first time I “spoke” those words in my head I had the most profound spiritual experience I have ever had. I was overwhelmed with feelings of affirmation and acceptance and love. I had discovered a true part of myself, and decades of self-deception and even self-loathing were undone in an instant. I knew peace as I had never known it before.
Of course I had to share this experience (and this new knowledge) with Sarah, and I immediately began to plan how I might do so. I had no idea how she would react. In the stories I had read of others in similar situations the reactions of the straight spouses had ranged from tears to anger to outright rejection, and I mentally prepared myself for the worst.
About ten days after I “came out” to myself I sat down with Sarah and after five minutes of silence as I screwed up my courage I spoke the words aloud for the first time:
Her immediate reaction was relief. My anxiety had led her to assume the worst: Had I lost my job? Did I have terminal cancer? Oh... I was just gay? Whew!
As the reality of what I had told her set in, though, the tears began to flow. All that had once seemed so certain about our future together was now called into question. Where did we go from here?
I told her that I was unable (or at least unwilling) to make any firm commitments. This new understanding left so many things uncertain that I could not in good conscience promise her that nothing would change. I didn’t want to make any promises that I might later break. All we could do, I told her, was take one day at a time and see how things played out.
Over the first week or two after I came out to Sarah she went through an amazing transformation. Her understanding of homosexuality had been fairly typical for a member of the church, but as she heard my story and read the stories of several dozen other gay Mormons (in the copy of Carol Lynn Pearson’s No More Goodbyes that I had given her when I came out) she was blessed with a more accurate understanding of the issues and a greater compassion for those who struggled with the conflict between sexuality and spirituality.
In the weeks that followed, as we came out to friends and family, she stood by my side. When my parents expressed concern at my refusal to firmly re-commit to our marriage and unreservedly declare my intention to remain with Sarah, she was the one who defended my position. With very few exceptions, she was entirely understanding and supportive as we explored what this revelation meant for me and for our family.
Together we came out to our older children (11 and 12 years old at the time)—against the advice of parents and siblings. They were unfazed by the news, and would later grow to love the gay friends we met and socialized with.
In November of 2008, on the first Sunday of the month (Fast Sunday) I woke with my heart beating. I had considered the possibility of coming out to members of our ward at some point, but in my mind it had always been something that I might choose to do in the distant future. But that morning I felt very strongly that I should come out in testimony meeting that day. I stayed in bed for a good thirty minutes, pondering what I might say and what the consequences might be.
Sarah had been up before me, and eventually she interrupted her preparations for the day to come talk to me:
“I keep feeling like you need to come out in Sacrament Meeting today...”
With two independent promptings, I became certain that it was the right thing to do. I took our almost-8-year-old in for a baptismal interview with the bishop that morning, and when the interview concluded I told the bishop what I intended to do. He warned me of the possible dire consequences (which I’m sure I understood better than he did) but indicated that he wouldn’t stop me.
By the time the testimony portion of the meeting started my heart was beating so loudly that I could scarcely hear the first person who got up. Grasping a sheet of paper in my hand (on which I had written notes, so that I would not in my nervousness forget anything that I intended to say) I slowly walked to the pulpit, and shaking, I bore my testimony of God’s love for His children. I explained that I knew He loved me because He had told me so when, after several years of denial and struggle, I had accepted that I am gay.
The response over the next few weeks was generally better than I expected. Some members of the ward went out of their way to demonstrate that their opinion of me had not changed. Some seemed to take steps to avoid me in the halls at church (and one member who had commonly called on me to assist with blessings when his children were sick stopped doing so). Most members continued to treat me as they always had.
Only one or two people actually approached me to talk specifically about homosexuality, and I was grateful for their interest and acceptance. In my mind, one of the primary reasons for coming out to the ward at all had been to increase understanding of homosexuality and to demonstrate that being gay didn’t inherently make me a bad person. I’m not sure that I effectively changed any minds or hearts, but at least the effort had been made.
Despite the generally positive reaction to my coming out, I grew increasingly uncomfortable at church. It was an interesting coincidence: within days of my coming to terms with my orientation the Church released a letter to be read over the pulpit in California, encouraging members to give of their time and means to ensure the passage of Proposition 8 (a ballot measure that would amend the California Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, drafted in response to the recent California Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-gender marriage in California).
And so I found myself coming to terms with my own orientation as members of the church (and not only those in California) found themselves faced with questions about the nature of homosexuality, and about equality and fairness, and about faith and obedience.
The political environment compounded my own struggles. As I’ve said, I was raised to believe that the leaders of the church were inspired, and that obedience to their counsel (regardless of personal beliefs or feelings) would bring blessings. And yet in my interactions with other gay men and lesbians (particularly in an online community of gay Mormon bloggers) I met many who had been in long-term relationships. One couple in particular had been together for over fifteen years (longer than Sarah and I had been married at that point). They had twin boys, seven years old. They were a family, in every sense of the world. My heart and my mind rebelled at the idea that their love and their relationship should not be granted the same legal recognition (and all of the rights that flowed from that recognition) as my marriage to Sarah.
My willingness to accept the counsel of our leaders was further tested by what I had discovered in my months of research and self-examination. The statements about homosexuality that came from church leaders (over the pulpit and in church magazines) had been unanimous in the 50s and 60s: homosexuality was a perversion of nature. It was not an inherent trait, but a consciously-chosen “lifestyle” that could, with faith and obedience, be abandoned. The temptation or tendency was a result of too-frequent masturbation, or caused by an absent father and an overbearing mother. It was abhorrent and vile.
But that rhetoric had softened considerably in more recent decades, to the point where the church seemed to recognize that these feelings and attractions might indeed be inherent, and that they were in nearly every case unchangeable. Gay members of the church were no longer excommunicated simply for admitting their attractions as they once had been, and marriage was no longer recommended as a “cure”.
This change was welcome, of course. But it raised questions that troubled my formerly unquestioning mind... These former leaders (men who I had revered as prophets) had been wrong about the nature of homosexuality (given that their statements had been contradicted by more recent ones, and especially by my own experience and “revelation”). So what else might they be wrong about? And might the church’s current position on homosexuality and on same-gender marriage still be based on the personal biases and perceptions of our leaders (as it had become apparent those earlier statements had been)?
Several weeks of struggle and prayer led me to a firm and undeniable conclusion: The relationships of these friends who I had come to know and love were no more condemned by God than my own relationship with Sarah. Family and love were among the highest tenets of the Gospel I had been raised to believe, and those were not lacking in these same-gender relationships. God valued these families every bit as much as He valued mine, and the church’s efforts to deny these families legal rights and protections were misguided and not inspired.
Sarah and I both became proponents of legalized same-gender marriage, and we paid the price for our advocacy. Sharp comments in Relief Society meeting were directly (though not explicitly) aimed at Sarah as the instructor decried the unfaithfulness of those who questioned the leaders of church on the matter of gay marriage. A high council speaker called members of the church who opposed Prop 8 “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and compared them to the unfaithful third of the host of heaven who followed Lucifer. Homophobic comments in Elders’ Quorum cut me, especially considering that many/most of these men knew that I was one of “those people” they were referring to (thanks to the testimony I had borne).
Eventually we were denied our temple recommends by a Bishop and Stake President who firmly believed that “sustaining” the Prophet meant “obeying” every word that came with the signature of a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve attached. Over the course of several meetings with the Stake President (and an appeal to our Area President which was returned with a curt “follow the counsel of your local leaders”) I became disillusioned by what seemed to me an extreme emphasis on obedience over personal revelation. Church attendance had become increasingly uncomfortable anyway, and I eventually determined that I simply could not believe in the “principles” that my local leaders insisted were true.
I stopped attending church meetings and remained an inactive member of the church for several months. Eventually our Stake President called my father to inform him that they were considering disciplinary proceedings against me (presumably for apostasy, since I was not shy in sharing my belief that the church was wrong in its opposition to gay marriage). Not wishing to fight for membership in a church that (from my perspective) didn’t want me anyway, I formally resigned.
In the meantime, my relationship with Sarah had been the subject of considerable experimentation and had changed considerably as a result...
Before I came out to Sarah (or even to myself) we had considered the question of whether we were done having children. Pregnancy had always been difficult for her, and it seemed that it got harder with each child. After coming out (and recognizing that our future together was anything but certain) I determined that it would not be responsible to bring another child into the family. Sarah halfheartedly agreed, and I had a vasectomy.
Six months after the doctor pronounced me “clear” (sterile) we found ourselves expecting our fifth child (thanks to what appears to be a reversal of the surgery in combination with a “honeymoon period” of renewed intimacy that quite often follows the coming out of a gay spouse). The news of her pregnancy was difficult for me—I had been marking each milestone that our then-youngest child reached (he can dress himself; he can feed himself; he has learned to use the toilet) and it was disappointing to realize that we would have to go through the whole thing again. Then, too, I knew that yet another difficult pregnancy would strain the already uncertain relationship Sarah and I had.
To be clear: I love Sarah. She is not only the mother of my children (who I love dearly), but she has also been my best friend for seventeen years. Even if my feelings for her have never been romantic in nature, I do have feelings for her.
And so I tried, for quite some time after coming out, to find some way of making our relationship work. I found myself no longer able (or no longer willing, at least) to completely deny myself the emotional and physical intimacy that I craved as a gay man. I had, for our entire marriage (and back into early adolescence) tried to ignore the emptiness that I felt without the emotional and physical connections that were natural to me as a gay man. I now hoped that I could find some way to satisfy those needs well enough within the parameters of a faithful marriage.
I made many gay friends (and most of them love Sarah at least as much as they love me). I appreciated the emotional aspects of my friendships with them. And yet there was still an emptiness crying to be filled...
I sought physical connections with other men. Regular massages from a male therapist gave me some satisfaction (not at all sexual or erotic in nature, but still physical). When that seemed insufficient I tried (with Sarah’s permission) “platonic” cuddling with a friend. That, too, was nice and good and fulfilling—but the emptiness was still there.
But eventually—despite all of my efforts and all of her tolerance and understanding and compassion—I came to understand that I would never feel complete in a relationship with a woman. I had two options: I could remain with Sarah and resign myself to a life half-lived, or I could part from her and seek fulfillment and happiness.
I deliberated over this decision for many agonizing months. I had no desire to hurt my best friend. I knew that my family needed me—all the more so when the baby was born (by which time I had come enough to terms with his arrival to welcome him lovingly into our family). I could not in good conscience simply abandon them or leave them to fend for themselves while I ran off in pursuit of happiness.
The solution that I eventually came up with is non-traditional, and to many it has seemed less than ideal... But it is the best that I’ve been able to come up with in months of thought and deliberation and meditation.
Sarah and I remain married, for the time being. We call ourselves “separated”, but I continue to live in the same house. This allows us to raise the children together and to more efficiently budget our pooled resources (avoiding the additional costs of renting a separate apartment). I have started dating, and hope that eventually I will fall in love with a man who is willing to become a part of our family—whatever shape it may take at that point.
… And we will still be a family. I’ve learned that the narrow definitions that people often place on the word don’t really have much meaning or application in the real world. To me, a family is simply a group of people who love each other enough to be there through thick and thin. It may have a father and a mother and children, or it may lack one or another of those elements. It may have two fathers or two mothers, or an aunt or grandfather who fills the role of “parent”. The parents may or may not be legally married. The children may or may not be biologically related to the parents or to each other. There may be additional members who have married or been adopted into the family unit... As long as there is love and support and help and acceptance, there is family.
I’m grateful that the choices that I have made in life have given me a family. I would almost certainly not have made those same choices if I had been able to accept my homosexuality at an earlier age. I don’t recommend the same choices to young gay people who are coming out in a world that is far more hospitable than it once was. But I’m happy with the life I have led so far and with where it has led me, and I look forward to the future with a peace and happiness that I didn’t know was possible just a few short years ago.
6 days ago