These are my personal experiences dealing with the reconciliation of my Christian faith (LDS/Mormon) and sexual orientation (gay). These posts have no political agenda. My sole purpose in writing is to engender understanding and love, and to bring together two worlds that sometimes seem mutually exclusive.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Coming Out A Li'l Bit More

Coming out is something that actually happens in stages. Growing up, I remember so many times going to visit the closet to peek in and see if I was still gay, not ready to accept the full reality. Then, I decided to tell my parents, closest friends and family, etc., until now accepting my sexual orientation no longer carries with it any angst. It is a process that continues today, one that is hard, but so worth it.  I’m protective of that “aligned” feeling, having lived without it for so long. Living a life that is congruent with my feelings has brought the deepest sense of inner peace. I feel aligned inside, and it’s a beautiful, important feeling. Today I want to come out just a li'l bit more.

Lately, I’ve felt the need to work on the courage part of my authentic living, and at the moment that looks like a blog post. I have received many messages from individuals who are curious about the current course of my own life, and the road I am personally on in regards to my own faith and orientation (since I haven’t really addressed that in this blog).

To be totally honest, because many readers here are of traditional Christian faith, LDS, or politically conservative, I’ve been concerned about just letting myself be seen in a totally transparent way. Being gay and Christian is an emotionally and politically charged topic, and everyone has a strong opinion about it.  

I decided I had a few options regarding my conflict about wanting to be more transparent. One option was to disconnect, avoid addressing the life experiences that might make others uncomfortable… and the other riskier option was to allow the reader the opportunity to walk with me, accompany me, and learn with me as I risked feeling judged or misunderstood. I choose the riskier of the two. Following me on this journey may seem less comfortable than following me on my journey with paralysis. You may disagree with what I write, or the decisions I make. I understand if that is the case. But you are nonetheless invited, and I do hope you stay.

I’ve known my whole life that what I wanted most was to share everything I had with another person that I love.  I’m a person that thrives on connection, affection and love. I think we all do, it’s how we are hardwired. Growing up, I remember being most aware of my sexual orientation when I felt connected emotionally, spiritually or in some other personal way to one of my male friends. I felt a deep sense of investment in the friendship and felt that I would do almost anything to help him, or prove my loyalty to him. For others, it is physical attraction that seems to bring the most powerful awareness of their orientation to the surface, and while that physical attraction is also present in my case, it is the emotional connection that I could make with men, and never women, that was most poignant.

Despite this need and desire to connect with men, most of my life was spent crushing these impulses and dreams (I’ve written about this). As I came out and started to slowly confront each feeling, one at a time, it became clear that what I wanted most deeply was companionship with a man. The question was, what would I do? Over the course of a year of the deepest introspection, prayer, and seeking, it became clear on every level, including a spiritual one, that I should pursue the desire of my heart… companionship with a man. And because of my values, I believed (and still believe) that the best way for me to uphold that commitment was through marriage.

I have approached every decision in this aspect of life (being gay) with incredible deliberation; nothing has been done thoughtlessly or impulsively. I understand all of the rhetoric behind why this decision could be wrong by traditional faith-based standards, but it is exactly the spiritual that has led me to the decisions I have come to. As much as I have known anything spiritually, I’ve known that this is what I should do.

When I began this blog, I think my hope was to bring to worlds closer together. It’s been difficult to see that, for the most part, the opposite has seemed to occur. It’s been interesting to have been in the middle of decision making on this LGBTQ front while both the U.S. and the LDS church were doing the same, but in different directions. The United States recently made changes allowing same-sex couples to wed in all 50 states, and the LDS church recently came out with a policy directed specifically at same-sex married couples, requiring membership restrictions of them and their children. Talk about dissonance. I’ve felt safer and more endangered simultaneously as I’ve tried to process both. Celebration and mourning, acceptance and feelings of betrayal… I know I’m not the only one that has felt this dissonance.

These feelings of conflict have continued to contribute to a sense of displacement, feeling like neither a citizen nor stranger, but something tortuously in-between. Regardless of the conflict, however, I feel a deep sense of confidence on my personal path because of the experiences that I have had. I also feel peace and hope at the thought of securing for myself connection and belonging with a man. My endeavors have changed slightly from finding some safe space to creating a safe space, one that is world of its own, full of individuals who have earned my trust, individuals with whom I share a deep, safe connection. I want to create that space for others as well.

I write what I do because I feel there is still an enormous need for conversation surrounding this topic, especially in the community in which I live. I remember being a scared, ashamed young man who wondered if death would be preferable to the shame he experienced. It will forever be my goal to make the world safer than I found it, and more tolerant and more loving than when I came into it. No LGBTQ person need ever wonder if they are worthy of love. We are all worthy of love.

I will do my utmost to make this blog a continued safe place for those who are unfamiliar with, but still seeking greater understanding of LGBTQ issues, and hope to demystify some aspects of the LGBTQ experience. I continue to learn and grow as I walk down this path, and looking forward to continued light and happiness as I attempt to do so thoughtfully and prayerfully.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Breaking The One-Dimensional Mold

It was Senior Cotillion, 2009, a farewell dance to seniors as they entered the new and scary post-high school world. I was enjoying an evening of dancing and music with my high school friends one final time. About halfway through the night, the party stopped for a moment as the "Most Likely To..." awards were given. Amidst the awards I suddenly heard, "Carson Tueller, most likely to become... A PROPHET!" Everyone laughed hard and cheered and I was both embarrassed and pleased.

I was known for being highly religious in high school, and I'm sure it came from the fact that I defined myself in a very one-dimensional, religious way. Though I was engaged in a variety of activities (swimming, playing the flute, learning to tie animal balloons), I placed my value mostly in the spiritual category and was rewarded for it. I imagine that my highly religious life came from both an organic desire to live that way, as well as a way to compensate for the shame of being gay. Whatever the reasons were, I was rewarded socially for my actions. It was how those I respected wanted to see me act, and I was praised for it. Feeling valued, I continued to nurture those behaviors.

As I courageously confronted my sexual orientation, I realized that I no longer fit the mold of one who was most likely to become a prophet. My one-dimensional defining had lost its utility. I felt lost and no longer knew who I was or what I was worth. The ways in which I defined and valued myself were limited, and because of that, my transition into a new identity was very difficult.

As I began to consider other parts of myself that were worthwhile and simultaneously sought a sense of community in additional places, I began to realize that in leaving one rigid mold I was simply expected to take on another in its place. It seems as though everywhere we go, no matter the group we belong to, we are required to behave in certain ways to earn the badge that has written on it, "I belong here". The irony here is that we actually sacrifice our ability to feel authentically validated when we alter ourselves to fit the unforgiving expectations of others.

The impetus of this post was a conversation I recently had with someone who seemed interested in defining me in a one-dimensional way. I left the conversation feeling as though I had nothing to offer as an individual because I didn't meet the criteria for "valuable" by their definition. I was angry and bothered.

I went to the gym to blow off some steam and replayed the conversation over and over in my head, wondering why I was so uptight about the experience. I suddenly realized that what I was feeling was exhaustion. The constant effort to conform to the expectations of others in order to gain cheap acceptance is exhausting.  It seems like my quest over the last few years has been to find a place and people to call my own. I've been searching for a system, people or individuals who have the flexibility and courage to allow all of my life experiences to sit together in the same room.

I am many things, but one thing I am not is one-dimensional. None of us are. Like anyone reading this blog, I am a complex web of experiences and feelings, each defining me in a small way, ultimately contributing to the much greater picture that is me. Whenever I have tried to select only one small piece of my life and magnify just that piece while stifling or ignoring all others, my growth is restricted, my potential becomes finite, and there is usually some form of suffering as a result. I have only begun developing and blossoming when I have embraced the fact that I am multi-faceted... all the difficult, messy, and beautiful parts included.

I found that my tendency to create a one-dimensional being has come almost exclusively from the desire to please a system or people. I alter myself and hamper my authenticity to ensure that I have a place to fit into. We all do this, we all want to be liked. It seems that the world has become club-ified. There is a club for being LGBT, a club being a mom, a club for being Christian, for going to a certain school, for dressing a certain way, for having a certain body type, and the list goes on and on. The only problem is that we are all so unique that there really isn't any one place where we can find others just like us, so we just pretend to be the same... and it's an exhausting way to live. Doesn't finding a place where we have the blessing of being unconditionally regarded as valuable sound beautiful? Where we can truly comes are we are?

Finding even just one person who allows a space for authentic experience can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. Through life, I have been blessed to have some friends and family who have learned along with me that providing a space for authentic living is equal to providing a space to deeper connection, healing, and love. At times, my safe places or people have been reduced down to just one or two, and that's all I needed. It just takes one.

Because my journey through life has pulled my out in and out of so many different "clubs", I value authenticity more than almost any other concept I can think of. The longer I live, the more deeply dedicated I am to providing a space for others where they can feel unconditionally regarded as the valuable mosaic-like human beings they are.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing Courage, Revisiting Shame

Among the first posts I ever made on this particular blog was a post called "Defeating My Shame". I wrote about shame early in the blog because when it comes to being LGBT, shame plays a big role. I was under the impression that shame was something I could conquer in one big effort, and I have realized over the last few years that this is not the case at all. It's an ongoing battle... Which is why I'm revisiting my shame here. Today I am choosing to be vulnerable by practicing courage and authenticity.

I have written a total of eight posts (well, nine now) on this blog. That's very few compared to the one hundred and eight on my SCI blog. I notice that each time I go to write about something regarding my sexual orientation, I freeze. And do you know what freezes me? Shame. And fear. Fear of disconnection from those who now love and support me, from the many readers of my blogs. It's fear of rejection from family and friends. I fear that I may be judged harshly for what I believe, think or feel... and these fears keep me from authentically writing about my experiences.

Shame is the fear or feeling that we are flawed to a degree that makes us unacceptable of love or belonging. We all desire and need to belong, it is part of being human. That's why shame is such a debilitating and powerful emotion, it plays off of our deep need to connect to others. Shame tells us that we are inherently unworthy of such connection... Well friends, this is at the heart of the fears that I (and many others) have about being LGBT, and while shame amongst LGBT people is not only found in religious settings, it seems to be more intense for those whose religion regards deviations in sexual orientation or gender as flaws. I am often aware that others close to me may see me as being flawed, and the fear that I might not be acceptable is strong motivation for me to make modifications to ensure I'm exactly the person they want me to be. But I sell myself short in the end.

In my quest to belong, I create a Carson that is acceptable to others so that I can fit in. I say what is pleasing to others and try not to rock the boat (too much) so I don't feel like an outsider. However, I have recently started to see that as I alter my behavior, thoughts, and feelings only to please others, that I ultimately create an impossible situation for me to actually experience belonging. True belonging requires authenticity. Fitting in does not. What I need to feel is loved, as I am, not just as others desire me to be. When I don't practice authenticity, I don't allow others the opportunity to love me as I actually am, and I rob myself of the opportunity to be loved in an authentic space. 

In general, I actually try to fight the temptation to modify my personality to be liked, and I try to be transparent in how I feel. I don't like to sugarcoat the feelings and experiences I have had in life. In fact, this is what people say they appreciate most about what I write. I just have some more work to do.

Some of the deepest joy I've experienced in life has come from those moments of authentic belonging. They are moments when how I behave and present myself is consistent with who I feel I am on the inside. It's a moment of pure consistency and is coupled with the sense of feeling valued as that person. This sounds like an experience that should be easy to come by, but if we take a look at how we constantly modify who we are to fit in, we may find that said consistency eludes us more often than not. 

I am at a point in my life where I want that uniformity to be a part of my everyday life. I want to feel the synergy of mind, spirit and body. For me, this also includes a consistency of what I feel God desires for my life. I believe that if I want to experience the depth of love and understanding of life that I desire, that this is a necessary step. I have put off this step for the reasons I've explained and for some reason today was the day to practice a little more courage that I usually do. In a deep discussion with a friend yesterday I was asked, "Who do you want to be?" I told him that I could only describe some of the qualities I want to posses. One of those things is courage. The greatest courage I have ever demonstrated has been to fight for that consistency of self, especially when doing so is unpopular or uncomfortable for others. I also believe that practicing courage and authenticity are contagious acts. I know that when others practice such qualities, that I sense goodness and wholeness, and want to do the same. In a culture that so rewards fitting in, we would all benefit from seeing more courageous expressions than we do.

You can rest assured that I won't be going around spouting my opinion over social media every five minutes. I expect and hope that I will write more often about what I feel even when I don't know how my ideas will be taken. Even when I feel afraid. I can sense that I will have to revisit this process many times, but I hope that doing so will eventually turn into a habit of living. I want to thank all who have empathized with me through my journey, even when you haven't known me personally, or haven't experience what I have themselves. I want to thank all who have made me feel like I belong, and that I am loved as I am. It is the kind of love that can heal any injury.

p.s. Many of my realizations have come from reading several books about shame, authenticity, and empathy. I recommend "The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World", as well as any of Brene Brown's books, they have been life-changing for me. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Inclusive Christ

Many, including myself, seem to be going through spiritual struggle and confusion. There are times when the storm is simply too much for me to wade through, and I have to resort to spiritual simplification. I go to the life of Christ during times of difficult decision-making. I choose to put every other principle, policy, or doctrine on the shelf, and focus on the Savior. There is safety in following His perfect example, regardless of where your testimony or conviction currently stands. In fact, regardless of whether we are atheist, agnostic, or devout Christians, I believe He showed human beings the best way to live.

So, with all this political and spiritual division we have recently seen in so many of our religious circles, simplifying may be the road to spiritual clarity.

What would Jesus do?

I have heard many conversations about loving vs. condoning, and the relationship between the two. In our faith, we are called upon to stand up for what we believe, and be unapologetic in our convictions. On the other hand, we are called upon to love as the Savior did. Many express this concern. “I’m afraid that if I show love or support to my LGBT family members or friends, I’ll be compromising my own values and beliefs.” I can understand that question, and I think the best way to find the answer is to ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Christ was inclusive. Not only was he inclusive, but he was attacked by his dissenters for his inclusivity. He was known for it, characterized by it. They challenged him, “Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” Christ showed love to all, especially those who were different than he. Whether they were poor, sinners (aren’t we all), beggars, or Samaritans, he showed them compassion and genuine interest.

If I may, I would like to clarify the fact that I am not implying that it is my perception or belief that  LGBT individuals are any more comparable than heterosexuals to the sinners mentioned in the New Testament. Not at all. Though admittedly, I know that thought in particular may not be a highly uncommon one amongst certain Christian religious circles. My only hope is to ease some stress felt by some who may feel they must choose between loving and feeling true to their beliefs.

I find it interesting that the Inclusive Christ was most critical of the exclusive culture of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They drew the harsh lines and they exhibited the destructive “us and them”, “wicked and righteous” mentality. Was Christ casting off or diminishing his perfect Sonship by associating with those so far from perfect? No, on the contrary, such actions affirmed his Sonship and divinity. In a way, his inclusive nature is what made him unique in the existing culture. It is part of what defined his mortal ministry. He made it clear that his love was unconditional and independent of the choices others made. To love is not to condone. 

I believe we can do the same as the Savior, with the confidence of knowing that the demonstration of our love for those who are different than us makes us more like Him than any other possible action. This is what he taught.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

I assure anyone reading this that I consistently have to check my own actions and my own excluding nature as I navigate the conflict of my LGBT Mormon journey. But I want to be like the Inclusive Christ. We have to do this together. I hope we can all remember to keep our figurative stones in our pockets, instead of casting them towards our fellow sinners, whose relationships we need to become as the Savior is and was.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Taking The High Road

With the Supreme Court ruling that recently took place, my social media newsfeeds seem to be quite polarized in opinion. My screen seems to be blowing up with an interesting combination of rainbows and predictions of the demise of our nation. For me, my worlds are colliding as much as ever, and a little more violently than usual. I want to remind all that I do not write with political agenda, but seek to foster greater love and understanding on all sides.

As I have browsed social media the last few days, I've done so with an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I see my friends on both sides of this political argument take uncomfortably rigid positions, contributing to the feeling that I'm still living in two separate worlds simultaneously, but ironically feeling isolated from both. It seems to be all "us" and "them", the left and the right, the righteous and the wicked, the bigoted and the open-minded.

I have to say that this post has been very difficult for me to write because of the polarized nature of opinions surrounding this topic. I value authenticity and vulnerability in my writing and I seek for that now as well as the reader's sensitivity to such an emotionally charged topic. Please understand that I write the way I do because of two things. First, I value my faith and second, I'm a gay man who has encountered great opposition in my pursuit of happiness in the LDS church. There are already so many voices critical of the conservative Christian religions that I certainly don't want to be added to that group. However, I cannot pretend that I believe all is well as it currently stands within my belief system. I don't even refer to doctrine here, I refer to Christian attitudes.

I can truly say that I get it on both sides. I know why each side says what it does, and I understand the conversation and dialogue behind each group. I understand the desire that the LGBT community has to establish companionship with a same-sex partner. I feel like there is not other aspect of life that can be as fulfilling. I understand that LGBT people long for inclusion, and long for their relationships and love to be viewed as legitimate. I know firsthand growing up what it was like to never be allowed to express my sexual orientation in normal and healthy ways as simple as handholding or dating. I understand that the LGBT community is not fighting for the right to have sex, but the right to have a monogamous and committed relationship that is recognized by their country.

On the other hand, I understand that there are scriptures in the bible that seem to counsel against same-sex practices. My senior year in high school I memorized (for fun I guess...) the ENTIRE The Family: A Proclamation To The World (an official LDS statement regarding the doctrine of the family). I understand and know every word of what the Christian faiths believe regarding the traditional family. I understand some of the fear of what is new and unknown, especially of that which surrounds aspects of faith.

But regardless of who is saying what, I've been frustrated that all along this seems to have been a debate solely about politics, and not about people. I've sat in church too many Sundays and listened to references to this political debate and have felt utterly forgotten, wondering if anyone has ever considered that there are actually LDS LGBT people who are struggling to find a place to stay. I've felt like so much time and energy have been put into strengthening our arguments while so little has been put into strengthening our members. I know that this is not a representation of what we believe as Christians.

Now that this political battle is soon to be over, I pray that a conversation about love and people will take precedence over the conversation about right versus wrong. I have had deep struggles regarding my faith over the last few years, but there is one thing that I hold on to regardless of what I believe. I believe that acting like Jesus Christ leads to happiness as an individual, a country, and a nation. Christ  taught that the greatest commandment were about love. As the great Judge himself, he taught us to leave the judging to him, and that it was for us to love and forgive. He taught us that he came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it. This is not a call for blind acceptance of whatever rolls our way politically or otherwise, but a hope that we can begin to move past an "us and them" mentality. It's a hope that the divide between these worlds can be lessened for the benefit of all.

Having conversations about emotionally charged topics is difficult (I don't claim to be great at it), and living amongst others with differences is challenging. It's easy to get on social media and post arguments to an invisible audience safe within the confines of our devices, but it takes character and courage to walk alongside those who we disagree with, alongside those who dislike us... this is the higher road. I speak of both political parties, both worlds. It takes guts to take the higher road!

"Seek first to understand, then seek to be understood", is a motto I struggle to live by. It's my sincere hope that as we fight battles and stand for what we believe in the name of Christ, that we stop to question how he would actually do it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Defeating My Shame

I've recently had many opportunities to think about shame, and in the context of being LGBT, consider how shame is a barrier to happiness and progression. I'm no Brené Brown when it comes to shame (one of the leading experts on shame), but I've got some life experience with it. My intent is to share how shame negatively affected me on my life journey as well as a few things that helped free me of it.

Coming out was a process of decluttering my life psychologically. I had to rearrange, rethink, and reconsider everything I thought about being gay. I made many changes in my thinking, but perhaps the most life-altering lesson had to do with the sense of shame when it came to my identity. I found that I couldn't move forward in any aspect of life until this inner turmoil attached to my identity was resolved one way or another.

I'd like to start by sharing a part of a journal entry from a time about six months after I first sat down with my parents and told them I was gay. I wrote this during a time when I was struggling deeply. I try to keep anything that comes from my journal as close to what I initially wrote as possible, despite the urges to make changes. This entry remains completely unaltered.

May 19th, 2013

"I’m sitting in a Sunday school room during this second hour of class. I’ve been having a harder time than perhaps ever before. I’m out of ideas. Yesterday I had a complete break down. I just keep realizing that I’m ashamed of being me. A missionary from my mission was at the track meet so I went up and said hi to him. He asked me if I was dating anyone or if I was getting married any time soon. I said no, but didn’t mention that I was gay. I’m embarrassed and worry so much about what other people are thinking of me."

"This is obviously not a good way to think, since it has really been hard to be alive the last few days. There are so many things that are bothering me about all of this, I can’t even wrap my brain around it. No matter how much I tell myself that it’s okay to be me, and that it’s okay to be gay, I hate it. I hate me. I wish I were someone different all the time. I’ve wanted to “fit in” all of my life and have never been able to. That’s probably what’s been so hard lately. I just wish I were normal and that I could experience normal relationships and friendships like every other guy. But no, almost each relationship I have is affected by my being gay. It’s hard for me to watch straight guys all together without being bitter that I can’t do that without wanting more from the relationship. But wow, I’ve gotta get cool with myself, or else I’ll probably end up killing myself from the torture. Honestly, I’d rather be dead than feel the way I do. No kidding. People all say such nice things about me, but they have no idea that I fight the tendency to loathe who I am. That’s gotta stop! I can live like that."

"I’m on the verge of not being able to cope with this, so something has to change. I feel like if this goes on, I’ll become mentally ill or something. Seriously though, I can’t live life like this."

Reading these words brings back dark memories. If I remember correctly, I went into an empty room because I was losing my composure in Sunday school. This was a time when I felt trapped inside a person I hated, there was no running from what was happening and "fixing" it had been futile. Death seemed the only out, the only way to stop being me and to stop feeling what I felt... and what I felt was unworthy of loving myself. What I was feeling was shame, not of something I had done, but something deeper. It was shame of something that I was. Of course, I know that there is far more to myself than my sexual orientation, but it is a part of me, not a choice or something I do.

For me, my attraction to men is not just some transient feeling that waxes and wanes. It is as consistent as my natural hair color, eye color, or personality. It's just a part of my make up. Because I found that same-sex attraction was inseparable from me, despising it meant I despised myself. This self-perception was corrosive and began to destroy me. What magnified this even more was the idea that God believed similarly, that he abhorred what I felt and thus abhorred a part of me.

Establishing in my mind what God thought of LGBT people was a crucial step for me. Only until recently has there been any substantial conversation surrounding LGBT issues in the LDS church. Many of my teachers and leaders growing up were left to their own opinions or best efforts to describe how God felt about LGBT people. What was confirmed over and over was our standing belief on the value of the family and marriage. I also have to honestly say that even some respectable individuals in the church did not speak respectably about LGBT people.  This lack of dialogue created a gaping hole in my understanding of what God thought about what I was feeling and experiencing. I was left to guess what God thought about it all, and I usually guessed that he had harsh views when it came to LGBT stuff.

What came to guide me the most were my feelings, both spiritually and emotionally. As the depth of my shame became unbearable, I recognized that what I was feeling was dark, and kept me far from God. Because it kept me to far from him and any feelings of light, I concluded that it could not possibly be coming from him. So, I began to question what it was that God really felt about me.  It was around this time of deep self-loathing that a few simple experiences helped me toward a healthier perception of myself and God. My perspective and hope changed by understanding some simple truths and my life changed as a result.

One learned principle came through a process of talking things out with friends and family, as well as searching my soul for what I felt was true. On one occasion, I had spoken with someone about how I wondered if I could ever be the man God wanted me to be if I were gay, as if that would somehow bar me from being a good person (you can see that I thought there was inherent weakness or evil about LGBT people). As I talked with this man and later reflected on our conversation, I considered the possibility that I was just the way I needed to be, and that perhaps the opposite were true. Perhaps only the gay Carson would fulfill the role he came to earth to fulfill. You know those moments when an idea suddenly becomes very clear and there is a distinct clarity and light about it? This was one of those moments. I felt a huge burden lifted off of me as I felt that I was just as I should be, sexual orientation and all. I felt that this attribute of my life would shape me and lead me to perform tasks that I otherwise would not be able to perform. I began to love the gay Carson and not just some imaginary straight Carson. For the first time, I felt an inner congruence, as though a battle were no longer raging inside of myself. With the idea that I didn't need to change sexual orientation to be close to God, naturally came a mend in the great division that I had felt between us. I no longer felt at odds with him and felt more hope at the life that was left before me. 

Along with gaining a more positive perspective of God, I was also spending time reasoning with myself, realizing that being gay says nothing of my character (duh, right? Not sure why it took me so long to internalize all of this). There is nothing about being gay that makes me lesser, weaker, less capable, etc. If anything, I contribute some of my greatest strengths to the experiences I have had because I am gay. I am more compassionate and empathetic to those who don't fit in, I am more resilient to life's challenges, and I have considered life more deeply and sensitively than ever before. And, because I journaled my feelings extensively through it all, I like to think I'm a better writer. ;)

So, rather than living life wondering if I can stand another minute inside my own skin, I spend my energy making important life choices, including ones dealing with sexual orientation. I already have enough to deal with without trying to navigate this world hating myself every step of the way for something that is neither good nor bad... but something that just is. My experiences have been painful, but that pain motivates me to seek out others who suffer in similar ways. Whenever I'm talking with an LGBT man or woman who is recently coming to terms with their sexuality, I can almost always assume that they feel shame towards what they are going through, which breaks my heart. The first thing I try to convince them of is their worth, how it is completely unattached to their sexuality, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

I understand that these are my own personal experiences, and that others have come to different conclusions on some of these matters. Some may even question where all these ideas or feelings came from, and to be honest, I sometimes ask myself if I was just telling myself what I wanted to hear (which I really don't believe to be the case). But one thing is absolutely irrefutable. The moment I affirmed that I did not need to be heterosexual, and that I was whole as I was, I stepped out of darkness and into light. I felt closer to God and felt his spirit more in my life. I ceased to envy the dead and believed I had a purpose and a reason to live. I felt peace and happiness. I felt the fruit of the spirit. This is my experience and to say otherwise would be a lie. 

I also understand how it would seem that such an affirming attitude might lead one to act or behave in a certain way. I think that this is another reason I resisted loving myself as I was. I feared that if I did, I would lose control of my ability to make wise choices regarding my sexuality, and worried that I would slip down the slippery slope. To be perfectly honest, I experienced the opposite. My mind was clear, and I felt like I could make wise, less impulsive decisions regarding my future. For most of us, strong negative feelings like fear and hate cloud objective judgement. I'm grateful to say that I have been very deliberate about any and all decisions regarding my sexual orientation, and I contribute much of that to the process above.

Of course, this healing process didn't happen over night. It certainly wasn't a sudden fix, but shameful moments became far less frequent. I did have to (and continue to) deal with social stigma and other things that can cause embarrassment and shame, but at least Carson is okay with Carson. I'm now completely comfortable in my own skin (minus the broken neck part, ha), and while it's not always the most convenient thing to be gay and Mormon, I certainly don't hate myself for it. I'm at peace and I am grateful to say that.

It took courage for me to look into the mirror and learn to love the man that looked back, which is certainly an issue that we all have to deal with, regardless of sexual orientation. It took guts to ask questions, and consider new perspectives. It was difficult and uncomfortable at the time, but the result was far worth the pain. For me, little has contributed to my happiness as much as the process above has. Both my sexual orientation and an SCI have challenged my strength to love myself, but I continue to make progress where I think progress can no longer be made. I look forward to an even greater sense of confidence as I go through life seeking for answers and solutions to life's problems... and I'm actually starting to believe that I will find them along the way.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Core Conflict

When I started this blog, I spent a lot of time thinking about the title. In fact, it was one of the aspects of creating this blog that took the most time. I wanted the title to capture the essence of what I sought to express. As I have looked over my past, reviewed my journals, and reflected on the general feeling of what it's like to be an LGBT member of the church, there is one word. The word is "conflict". For many like me, reconciling faith and sexual orientation has been a battle. It's a conflict between two of the most motivating aspects of our lives.

So with the word "conflict" in mind, I decided to find a title that would express that. When Worlds Collide seemed to fit best as both sides of the conflict are legitimate and enormous. There are many conflicts that I might write about in the future, but I want to start with the core of the conflict. What I intend to do in this post is to describe the details of this inner battle through the eyes of my own experience, and with the help of a journal entry from February, 2013. I have chosen to be transparent about many aspects of my life and recognize that there is a risk associated with that choice. There are many posts that have made me vulnerable, but this entry might take the cake. Proceed with sensitivity.

As I began to come to terms with being gay, I realized that I had developed some misconceptions throughout my life when it came to what I thought about gay people. I grew up in a home where I was taught to be kind and respect others, and when it came to LGBT issues, that's as much as I learned. I had the idea that gay people were attracted to people of the same sex and it was as simple as that. But, as I began to mature throughout junior high and high school I realized that such was not the case.

During junior high I began to recognize strong feelings of attraction towards other guys. I discussed it very timidly perhaps one time with my mom and that was it. I began a ten year attempt at stifling, avoiding, fighting and even changing my feelings of same-sex attraction. I did everything within my power to change my feelings because I feared what they would mean for my future. I believed that my attraction to men had everything to do with physical attraction, so I became an expert in self control and did anything to avoid situations or places where I might be confronted with an uncomfortable situation.

I continued with these attempts throughout high school. I prayed, fasted, set goals, and immersed myself in anything that would distract me from what I was feeling. Inevitably, I always realized that nothing had changed except my ability to control who I looked at. I was still absolutely, unquestionably attracted to men. I assumed that being gay only implied this physical attraction, so that's all I was aware of in my efforts to change.

In the last few years of my high school experience I began to make close guy friends. I enjoyed hanging out and doing all the normal high school stuff. However, I began to experience something that confused me. I was involuntarily forming strong emotional bonds with my guy friends... only it seemed to be a one way bond. It is normal in any friendship to have mutual interest, but I recognized that my male friends were not feeling what I was feeling for them. I remember feeling so much disappointment at the way our friendships turned out. It was always clear that I wanted to spend more time, connect at deeper levels and be generally closer. I distinctly remember going into my bedroom and sobbing at the whole dilemma, wondering what on earth was wrong with me. Why did I care so much about these guys? Why did I think about them all the time and get excited about a text or a phone call? Why was I so different than they were?

After high school and as I worked through things, I wrote down my feelings as a way of clarifying my thoughts, which helped immensely. I had one epiphany that trumped all the others and helped me identify why I felt so much emotional pain. I realized that being gay wasn't all about sexual intimacy. I wasn't crying in my bedroom night after night because I wasn't fulfilled physically, it was because I was longing for and lacking emotional connection and didn't know why. Here is an excerpt from my journal as I looked back on high school experiences.

"As I have had the occasional moment to express my feelings to a listening ear, I have identified several things [regarding my attraction to men] that have been hid away... Recently, as I have reviewed my [past] relationships with men... I have recognized my deep feelings of care and emotion for them. This is not raw sexuality, but issues of wanting to belong, feel cared for and loved by someone that I have... desired to be with. Through my teenage years and to the current date, I recognize my... feelings for other (some, of course not all) male friends I had and [realize] I consistently felt acute disappointment at how these relationships turned out. I was always denied the connection that I longed for. The longing to feel needed, to feel supported, and to feel wanted, and most deeply, to feel loved... Emptiness, inevitable emptiness always follows. Never fulfillment. No friendship alone would be enough to fill my well of sentiment. It’s more than friendship that I long for… Perhaps following a path toward a same-sex relationship would fill that well. In fact, I believe that it would, and for a person who feels as much as I do, what a relief that would be… to feel whole for once in my life."

In that entry, I was trying to describe my realization that being gay went far deeper than who I thought was attractive. It had everything to do with all those feelings I described. Emotional closeness, connection, belonging, feeling wanted, etc. I realized that for me, this had more to do with emotional intimacy and less to do with physical intimacy, which made things far more complicated. Sure, I could survive without physical intimacy I suppose, but could I survive without meaningful companionship for my whole life? I used to think this was all about lust and self-control or something, but it's so much more than that. It is about the deepest longings that human beings posses. It truly has to do with love, and therein lies the conflict. For me, the conflict is feeling that what I need and desire most, what I feel would be best for my life and future, is at odds with what I believe.

For me, much of the conflict was found in my desire to have a traditional family (which is central to our belief in God's plan), but knew that I would probably never fall in love with a woman, which for me was requisite in building a family. I remember feeling terribly stuck, and even felt at times that I was created contrary to God's Plan of Happiness. All I wanted was to do God's will, but felt incapable of doing it authentically. And not only was there a dearth of pull towards women, but there was an abundance of desire to continue to connect with men. I felt confused since I felt like I should want to like women, but struggled to even want to, since my attraction to men felt not only natural, but good, healthy, and wholesome.

The realization that sexual orientation is immensely deep and includes many feelings that transcend arousal is one of the greatest that I've had since reconciling my feelings. It is the one thing that I wish I could tell anyone who expresses any desire to learn more about their LGBT friends or family members. It is easy to navigate this issue mentally or spiritually if you believe that this is simply an issue of lust or sex, which is not the case. I believe that understanding the depth of these feelings helps breed greater empathy toward LGBT members of the church.

I want to express to any LGBT members who are currently going through this, that there are answers available when it may seem like there are none. There are roads to happiness. It is my experience that God is aware of this plight and that he will lead us down personal paths if we have the courage to follow him, wherever he may take us. In the past I have felt angry with God and thought of him as a mean parent. He is not a mean parent, not if we believe he is who he says he is.  I believe that as we intend to do his will and do our best and follow inspiration for our personal lives, that answers will present themselves that will lead to our happiness.