I’ve often said that dealing with same-sex attraction while being a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and being in a traditional marriage is hard. I say it because it’s a shorthand for all of the difficulties that one might imagine or infer from my situation. Every time I write it, I realize that people will make a lot of assumptions about what that means. I also know that whatever you may think about it, you’re probably not really understanding what I’m saying. So, I decided to spell it out.
In no particular order, except for that if I thought of it first, it’s probably most on my mind:
I don’t mean to give the impression that it’s all been easy. It isn’t marriage itself that is hard. It’s all of the stuff that comes with being more than single: finances, illness, injuries, worrying about doing right by your children. Those things can be hard, but I am really glad I didn’t have to go through most of it alone.
Someone once said to me, “No one could be miserable being married to Barbara.” I agree with that wholeheartedly. We’re a good match.
I also don’t mean to give the impression that my wife is perfect, although I think she’s perfect for me. She had the same idea as comedian Rita Rudner, who said something about “that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” I’m that one special person.
I’ve always figured, and still do, that two people committing to one another are going to have some growing-together pains. There are things you love about the other person, things you don’t like so much, and a lot of things you let go because you can’t expect that someone is always going to do things your way. That’s part of the point of marriage.
There is a lot of evidence that marriage is good for your finances, health, and spirit. There is also trouble, but two people committed to each other through the hard times makes it not only bearable, but the stuff that strong character is made of.
There is a line of reasoning out there that a man like me will never be happy until he finds Mr. Right and rides off into the sunset with him. So entrenched are they in this point of view that it makes them angry when a married man like me says that he is happy. They refuse to believe me. They mock me. The want to shut me up.
Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho wrote, in The Alchemist, “If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
When I say that others’ opinion about my marriage are hard, I don’t mean that it causes me a great deal of discomfort. I’m pretty solid in my beliefs and choices. And to reiterate, I am happy being married.
So, if you’ll believe me about being happy and you’ve made other choices that you say make you happy, I’ll believe you if you’ll believe me. Deal?
My reasoning here is much like being married. Neither is always easy, but they both have unique rewards that I can’t imagine giving up in exchange for, well, anything. I certainly don’t think it’s worth giving up for something as transitory as sexual gratification or even romantic relationships with men.
Like my wife sometimes annoys me, I’ll admit that the Church annoys me sometimes too. I’ve got a secret and don’t tell my wife. Just because something or someone annoys me doesn’t mean they are wrong.
Both being married and believing in the Church carry a requirement that some people have said to me is too much to ask of a gay man—abstaining from sex outside of marriage. That one point is the main thing people tell me, in their opinion, is something that would be too hard to bear if they were in my shoes.
Speaking for themselves, it may be true. I don’t know. I’m not in their shoes and they aren’t in mine. They should not underestimate me. They shouldn’t underestimate my wife. They shouldn’t underestimate my commitment.
I’m a character for sure, and I have character. Yes, sexuality is a potent thing in the lives of human beings. Attraction to men is particularly potent for me, but not nearly as potent as my faith that God will compensate me for everything if I will stay true to what I believe.
Also, like my marriage, opinions about my relationship with the Church don’t a constitute a heavy burden to me, but I do got awfully tired of hearing them. It’s not that I don’t think people are entitled to their opinions and I’m not entirely against having a thoughtful discussion that includes differences in opinions.
However, I find that most people who have opinions about my choices are so entrenched that they love to hurl one-liners, meaningless platitudes about love and morality, and then stomp away as if they’ve made a point because they refused to listen to my side.
Don’t think that I’m just talking about opinions from just one point of view. Whether from the gay community or members of the Church, a lot of people think they know exactly what’s going on in my heart and unless you’ve sat down and talked with me about it, you don’t know anything. That brings me to my last point in a partial list of the easy and hard things about my life.
Regardless of what I have said here about opinions, I’ll take a loud-mouthed naysayer over people who just won’t even talk about it. Despite not agreeing with some people who say that I need to make a big change in my life if I’ll ever be happy, I think they all seriously care about the things that gay people face and that’s a good thing. We may not agree on how to deal with it, but I think we all agree that it is not for the timid.
The rude one-liners I mentioned early are surely aggravating, but not quite so aggravating as the person you think disapproves of you and lacks the respect to tell you. If I was insecure in my beliefs and choices, I probably wouldn’t want to hear what you have to say. I suspect that you are insecure in your beliefs and are fairly certain that if you start to voice them, you’ll learn something about your own reasoning. It’s easy to harbor errors in thinking until you start to try to put them into words.
Silence was also hard for me when it was I who was silent. I spent far too many years not talking openly about these things and many dangerous years stuffing down all of my feelings into a dark space where they had a chance to gather their strength.
I never felt more alone in my life than during the era when I was seeing men on the streets that made my same-sex attraction well up within me and then had no one I could talk to about it. I felt alone when I had feelings for friends I couldn’t process or acknowledge. People say I must be depressed and miserable with the choices I’ve made. No. Depressed and miserable is when you have to suffer with something in silence.
Today, since I’m far from silent, I feel pretty good about life. Yet, there remains a silence that I still find bitterly hard. That’s the silence of people who are in a position to make a big difference in the lives of those who experience same-sex attraction and are striving to stay close and faithful to the Church.
I hear it all of the time in the community of believing members of Church who experience same-sex attraction. When they feel like I once did, alone and scared, they encounter leaders who do not want to talk about it. Either the leader thinks it is unimportant, finds the subject distasteful, or is just plain scared.
In “How Silence Feels“, I asked two questions:
How long can a person go on feeling abandoned and disconnected before they choose the only path that seems to hold out a sense of belonging and connection? How long can you endure silence of one influence before you open your mind to others?
I know of many, many people who fell aside or made bad choices because they pleaded for help and got silence in return. I don’t mean that their leader just sat there and said nothing. I’m talk about being entrenched in uninformed opinions and poor listening skills, being unwilling to look outside of those opinions for resources, and thinking that whatever they knew was all they needed to know. I’m talking about thinking that the best course of action for someone like me who might come to them is to just keep it to yourself, don’t dwell on it so much, and it will somehow evaporate.
My same-sex attraction is not just a phase I’m going through, unless over five decades is a phase. If I had the resources when I was a kid that I know about now, life would have been far better.
I’m not silent now. Once in awhile, I share what I experience with someone. A very common response is, “Thanks. You can count on me to keep your confidence.”
I always say, “I would feel terrible if you came across someone that would benefit from my support and you said nothing.”
It is my hope that this would be the theme of any priesthood leader who sits down with someone who comes to him and says, “I think I’m gay and I don’t know what to do.”