In the fall of 1994,I was working at a software company designing a database to control a wafer fab facility in Taiwan. I had a full beard, which some of my friends who listened to their Freudian therapists said was a subconscious statement that I was hiding something. Though I don’t buy that idea, it was true that I had been hiding something.
I opened up an email sent through one of the many LDS Mailing Lists I belonged to. it was an announcement of the establishment of an internet mailing list for Latter-day Saint men and women who experience same-sex attraction but had a desire to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. It was called Disciples2, because just plain “Disciples” was taken (as a mailing list name). The mailing list was set up so that anyone who wanted to participate anonymously could. That one email completely changed everything in my life.
I had never told anyone about my own journey with same-sex attraction, but had gone through such a struggle with it that the thought of finally having a chance to talk about it, albeit anonymously, was something I was more than ready for. I surprised myself by joining immediately, because up until that point, I had done an expert job of denial for twenty-two years. I was its first subscriber.
That was almost twenty years ago, perhaps even exactly. I don’t remember the date, but I’m pretty certain it was mid-November. I participated anonymously for awhile, but one day sent a message to the wrong email address and suddenly my fellow group members knew my real name. In another self-surprising act, instead of running for cover, I started talking about it on the other LDS mailing lists and eventually created a web site, at springsofwater.com.
In the last twenty years of being “out” I have observed a lot of changes in the world and the Church regarding same-sex attraction. Though I can’t speak a lot to what things were like before that, I think my observations might provide some insight to people who weren’t paying attention to it.
What I started to discover upon reading posts by others on Disciples2 and my eventual participation in an Evergreen support group, was that there was a prevalent theory out there about how men become attracted to men. It had its parallels to how women become attracted to women, but the theory was largely focused on explaining male homosexuality.
Much of the talk around it used phrases like “male bonding needs”, “defensive detachment”, and a “reparative drive”. I would still find it hard to describe these ideas objectively, but as I understood it, the theory would say that I am attracted to men because my family-of-origin environment left me feeling separated from the world of men and that my deep attraction to men was a result of trying to repair the rift I felt. I learned a lot of names of famous people who advanced those ideas like Joseph Nicolosi, Elizabeth Moberly, and Joe Dallas, whom I met once. Many books were recommended to me.
According to the what people were telling me, a therapist-directed program of learning how to meet my male bonding needs non-sexually could help me eliminate or lessen my homosexual feelings. Organizations like Evergreen International were promoting the idea. when I joined one of their groups, back in the day when the operated groups, I had access to a lot of books on the subject of reparative therapy. They sent me home with tapes to listen to and the ideas were routinely discussed.
At the same time, participating in a lot of other LDS mailing lists, I found a very strong opposing point of view put forth by organizations like Affirmation. What I heard most in talking to its proponents was that the only happy course for me was to leave my wife and find happiness living the life I was meant to live. Reparative therapy was not just misguided, it was dangerous. It was blamed for suicides and much pain in the lives of gays.
I’ve always had somewhat of a moderate personality. For me, such strong opposing views drives me somewhere in the middle of them and that’s were I quickly traveled. I did not relate to the idea that I had deficits in male bonding experiences. I had been a Boy Scout leader for ten years, most of it as a Scoutmaster serving in church callings with a lot of men. I had also been Young Mens President, Sunday School President, and Elders Quorum President. I had a close friend with whom I had done a some backpacking trips and a lot of good, strong, male relationships. Despite all of that, I was still quite deeply gay in my feelings.
On the other hand, leaving my wife and family was not ever an option for me. I rejected the idea that I couldn’t be happy until I did because I felt quite happy being a husband and father. Since the tenets of both points of view did not match my personal experience, I couldn’t bring myself to get behind either one.
Because of this, I was labeled by both sides. The one side told me I didn’t have enough faith if I wasn’t trying to get rid of my homosexual feelings and the other side was saying that I was either lying, deluded, or destined for misery.
Now, twenty years later, I also still belong to a local support group, but it is not focused on reparative therapy. I still participate in a mailing list, this time sponsored by NorthStar. It maintains a nice, comfortable neutrality about things like conversion therapies. I’m still a member of Disciples2, although it has been almost completely inactive for a long while. In my first few days on the Northstar mailing list, I did have one person tell me that I hadn’t gone far enough if I haven’t tried to get rid of my same-sex attraction, but that was a lone voice and I don’t hear a lot of talk about it anymore.
One thing that kept me perennially silent at church was the frequent asides during lessons at church, whether Sunday School classes or Priesthood meetings that were thought to be funny about men like me. Sometimes there were outright jokes told and everyone laughed. The thought of being discovered was terrifying to me.
I often heard in more serious tones how men like me were going to hell, despite a considerably different view Mormons have of heaven and hell. In Mormon thought, people don’t go to hell and stay there. Hell hath an end and only those who deny the Holy Ghost end up in a place worse than earth life. You would think, by the things people taught at church, that I was as bad as that.
I can’t remember the last time I heard such a thing at church, whether as a joke or as a bit of private doctrine. I’m sure it still happens, but either people have realized they shouldn’t talk about it like that in my presence or they’ve genuinely changed. I hope and believe it to be the latter.
Mostly, I’ve heard many times how much the Church and its leaders love me. While some are cynical about that, I’m not. I always like being told that I’m loved.
I remember the days when gay people were arrested, when there was housing and job discrimination. I remember when a guy could get beat up for even a hint of being gay. I remember being bullied for it and sexually abused with the accusation of being a “little homo” as the justification.
At the time I joined Disciples2in 1994, much of that had been driven out to the fringe, although the death of Matthew Shepard happened in 1998. Civil rights for homosexuals were gaining momentum. There were a lot of places where you could live without fear. Even though my lifestyle didn’t cause me any real concerns for my safety, I felt every physical and intellectual attack on gay people as if it was directed at me, personally.
Just as I discovered on Disciples2, the world’s point of view about origins of homosexual feelings was extremely polarized. There was no lack of strident opinions on either side. People who believed in change were villains to those who didn’t. There was no room for sympathy for the enemy camp, no matter which side you were one.
I’ve seen that moderate for the better as time has progressed. I have friends who don’t believe as I do but disagree with me respectfully and admit that I have a right to choose how I live my life. On the other hand, I’ve had friends who dropped me from their lives as they’ve grown more fixed in the things they disagree with me on. For the most part, I find the world to be a much more agreeable place on the subject of homosexuality. Yes, angry and obstreperous people abound, but I’ve found people to be far more reasonable than they were twenty years ago.
Before I can tell you how I’ve changed, I have to tell you how I was twenty years ago. Though I hadn’t allowed myself a single conscious thought that said to myself that I had was almost exclusively attracted to men for twenty-two years, my growing depression, agitation with myself, and behavior seeking attention from men was screaming it. In those same years, I hadn’t allowed myself to think about the years before it, where I was regularly involved in sexual encounters with schoolmates as a youth. If any thought showed up about those years, I shoved it back down and told myself a story about why I had once done those things, a story that didn’t admit anything about how I was feeling today. Having never told myself, I could hardly have told anyone else.
In the last twenty years, I’ve done two firesides where I talked about my life. I’ve been interviewed by two local news reporters and one film-maker for a documentary on the Church, though my interview never made it into the final cut. I’ve written scores of blog posts, including this one. I’ve spoken twice to regional stake presidents’ councils. Only people who are merely acquainted with me don’t know that I experience same-sex attraction. I’m “out” at home, work, and Church and not the least uncomfortable with it.
In twenty years, I’ve gone from being an angry, introverted, frustrated, and bearded man with a victim mentality to being clean-shaven, outgoing, outspoken, and just plain out. I’m happy with my life and my choices. I’m more tolerant of others and have discovered one important thing.
I thought that I was keeping quiet all those years because I was afraid what others would think of me. I’ve learned that what I was really afraid of was getting to know myself. In being more honest with others, I’ve been more honest with myself. I’ve learned more about myself in the last twenty years than in the thirty-eight years that preceded it. What I discovered, again to my great surprise, is that I like what I’ve found out. I’m worth knowing.