Sunday, December 30

New Post on Northern Lights - Born That Way

I just finished a post on Northern Lights. It's been on my mind for a bit, talking about the tension between surrendering, following, building off of, or challenging the circumstances we gain by birth.

The link is here:

Born That Way

Wednesday, December 26

2nd Day of Christmas: Video Games & Laser Tag

This morning, after a family calendaring meeting (you know your family is massive when you have to hold formal planning meetings...), and a few hours of teaching my brother's girlfriend's family about essential oils (that's a mouthful), I grabbed one of my siblings to get them to play a video game with me. My little sister's response was epic. "But I'm not a boy!"

After a some laughing and a bit of persuasion on my part, she acquiesced. A few rounds of Bomberman and two levels of Sonic the Hedgehog later, I offered to teach her how to play Eternal Sonata.

My 10-year-old brother walked in, and I added him to the team, then spent the next little while bringing them up to speed. The game is pretty intense - 4-second turn timers, fast-response button presses with big consequences, lots of things going on at the same time, and more controller dexterity required than in most games. My sister had never held a Playstation controller. And since this is the second play through, everything is about 50% harder than even normal.

As soon as I had explained/walked them through the basics, a friend messaged me with a request for help. I couldn't really pause the game... so I handed my controller to my 10-year-old brother and watched as he and my 12-year-old sister played... and was frankly amazed. They were pretty good.

Now, some background. When I was younger, my siblings would use their allotted time for games watching me play. Really. They were content, somehow, at sitting next to me and watching the game unfold. And this was before the days of multitasking with a smartphone at the same time. Then, when they weren't watching, sometimes they'd come to me during a major battle or whatever and say, "David, can you help me with this? Can you get past this part?" They even went so far as to implore our parents to let me play a few extra minutes over my allowance because they needed me. I was the go-to guy.

So relinquishing a controller to my 10-year-old brother, or even letting him guide overland navigation, was a big thing for me. But it was a good experience... and something in me realizes that I missed a whole lot of teaching moments every time I took the controller / keyboard that was offered to me in the past. The goal isn't beating the game - it's developing people and relationships.

I felt even more vindicated when my brother recounted his day at the dinner table. "And then we played a game with David, and he taught us how to play, and we were awesome."

After dinner, we made the pilgrimage to Seven Peaks / Trafalga in Lehi. My family loves laser tag enough that they have season passes... even though they live in Chicago. Really. My 10-year-old brother's words, "I am going to totally dominate in laser tag." My response: "I don't know... I'm pretty good." "Well, then maybe you'll be on my team. And you can help me dominate."

So cute. Just don't let him corner you in a laser tag arena. ;)

We did dominate. My family was on its own team each round, and we won every round we played. And relished beating groups of college-age guys. Grandpa was a military sharpshooter, and we must have gotten some of those genes.

Laser tag is one of the things that makes me totally forget about life and enter flow in the game. It's amazing.

And this is one of the reasons I love Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25

The First Day of Christmas: Stress

Christmas began today. A 12-day celebration of life that stops modern society at least for a moment. Even Walmart closes on Christmas.

My family drove into town a few days ago, making the 24-hour car pilgrimage from Chicago. Since they arrived, there hasn't been a dull moment.

I love Christmas, and the moments that the family is wholly focused on Christ. Like when we went caroling as a family Sunday night to people in the neighborhood... and for a few moments it felt like my life really fit into place.

But with family also comes stress. Huge amounts of stress. Which is why, while everyone else is doing yet another white elephant gift exchange, I'm sitting quietly on the floor in the corner of the room. After only 12 hours of Christmas, I'm ready to be done.

Somewhere in between a dozen crying kids, someone kicking the beloved family dog and (obviously) angering its owners, having to explain to a dozen incredulous family members what's inside my baked tofu soup, and the overwhelming stress that simply comes from being at a family gathering... sometimes I wish I were far away from family where Christmas would be quiet. But the only time that's ever happened was when I was a missionary, and even then, only once. In a tiny town on the island of Sardegna, where no one in the ward spoke to me or my newly arrived companion... and we just went out to share the gospel.

But this is just the beginning. Ten more days of family gatherings, a dozen conversations happening at the same time, and late nights.

And this is supposed to be vacation. Lol. I love Christmas, but sometimes I wish I were in a stable in Judea, or sitting on a quiet hillside overlooking the city at night. Yes, Christ's birth was heralded by the heavenly host singing Alleluia. But, after everyone left, "Mary kept all of these things in her heart."

I'm sure she was glad for the peace.

Sunday, December 23

All is Well

There are a thousand things that I could be doing right now. My family arrived last night, and spending time with my parents or with younger siblings who are all finally old enough to hold a conversation could last forever. I have emails to write, scriptures to read, people to thank who have been there for us while CJ has been going through chemo.

But I'm sitting quietly in my room, reflecting on a thought I had hours ago that hasn't left me since.

All is well.

It was during the Christmas program for the family ward. We went to Church twice today, and one of the last pieces was called "All is Well." And it made me stop and think.

I've been to a dozen Christmas concerts and musical programs. Planned events. Worried about my own life and the lives of others. Tried to figure out my own plans. Been frustrated at my inadequacies. But, today, I feel like the Spirit of Christmas broke through the festive cheer to speak to my heart and soul.

All is well.

All is well. All is well. Christ has come. All is well. Sing Alleluia. All is well.

I know the truth that prophets have sought for centuries. God has restored His priesthood power to the world. I have the power to choose the right and return to Him someday. And, looking holistically on my life, I've been inordinately blessed. God guides my footsteps and opens doors in my path, answers my prayers when I pray, and has promised me everything if I am faithful.

I may live with trying circumstances, with hope that flares and falters, peace that comes and goes with the external aspects of life. But at the end of the day, Christ has come to save me... and offers me His peace.

I know that Jesus is the Christ. That He has suffered all pains and sorrows so that I can find happiness in my own travails. No matter what I face - the isolation of autism or the despair of depression, the temptations and frustration of same-sex attraction and the normal lot of inadequacies in life - God is there. I know that He has revealed the pathway to happiness... and as long as I am moving down that path, it will all work out in the end.

Have faith. Have hope. Let His love and peace fill your heart and soul.

All is well.

Wednesday, December 19

Happy Birthday

I was born 27 years ago... right as the sun was rising in a hospital in downtown Chicago. Among other things, that meant that my first day was one of the shortest days that year... and the next night, one of the longest.

In the years since, I've made a mess of my life. Swam competitively, then quit when I was getting really good. Danced and sang, but walked off the stage before I got a break. Won and lost academic honors and scholarships, fought addictions and lost to temptations, and broke a dozen girls' hearts trying to figure out my own.

And I wonder if I've really changed all that much from the newborn baby I was. Gotten better.

I can remember a handful of my birthdays. I have videotapes of the first two to augment my memory - spending time up at Telluride with my grandparents and great-grandparents, getting a 6-foot stuffed bear as a present, being with family because it's so close to Christmas. Walking home from school a few years later, it began hailing hard enough that the hailstones cut my ears. Or at least felt like they did. Spending time with family in Ohio, or Utah, in years moving forward. Wanting to die at 16 with a mix of depression, isolation, and recent abuse. At 20, my golden birthday, I was on an island in the Mediterranean, with a companion I was convinced who hated me, waiting for hours while he packed for transfer day, which came early because we had to ride a boat for 19 hours back to Rome. At 22, failing two out of three final exams at BYU that day and hoping that I'd at least pass with a C+ to get credit for my major.

And now 27.

If life had gone as I planned it, today I'd be working in a plant genetics laboratory, married with 3 kids - ages 4, 2, and 1. Gabriel, Rebecca, and David. Tiny home or apartment, with barely enough room for food storage. Totally in love with my wife, my kids, my life... and doing all I can to make a difference in the world.

Instead, I'm single, with no real prospects anywhere close to marriage. I haven't gone on a date in over a month. Still in school, studying business (of all things) and waiting to hear back from Stanford's PhD program. Struggling with the same temptations I did ten years ago, but which have grown stronger. The same depression. The same isolation.

What do I have to show for 27 years of life? A handful of thank-you letters, a list of past accomplishments that proves that I'm "diverse," and a couple of diplomas.

And a relationship with God that is worth all the frustration and pain and anguish I've felt in life... and probably will continue to feel. If I only had that... and in many ways that is all I have that's worthwhile... it would be worth it.

I guess, in 27 years, at least I've moved somewhere. I've learned that God is real and learned to hear His voice and see His hand. I can write decently. I've learned to love people, I've found ways to serve others, and I am slowly improving who I am... slowly overcoming my own imperfections and inadequacies.

Happy Birthday. Only 70 more to go.

Tuesday, December 18

Forgetting the Pain

“I didn’t know books could do that.”

“Do what?”

“Take me away from this place and make me forget who…what I am.”

"We have something in common, you know."

"What?"

"In the town where I come from, people think I'm odd... So I know how it feels to be... different. And I know how lonely that can be."

Sometimes people ask me how I'm doing. My brother has cancer. I have major depression that sits at the edge of my reality and taunts me. Maybe I make a difference in society, but I'm nowhere near having a family. I still fight the same temptations I did years ago. And I feel totally alone in the world.

Most of the time, I can make the effort to overlook it. Turn on optimism, grit a bit, and have enough faith to let God salve the frustration that is my everyday life. I learn to deal with what life gives me... and, for the most part, I go through with only shadows of what I'm missing. And find ways to appreciate the moment even when it seems impossible. Like right now. I feel awful, but it's probably so that I can write this post for someone who needs it in his/her own life. And that's worth it, right?

It's sort of like being color blind. You know it's happening, and that there's a world of color out there... but does it really change your quality of life if you never see the difference?

I think the problem is that sometimes I do get a glimpse of what life would be like without the depression and autism... and then I just want to curl up in a corner and cry. Like Beast in the quote above, there are some things that have the ability to take me away, and make me forget the things I face each day. And then coming back to them seems an insurmountable task. Am I really in this much pain? How can I live like this? Do I have any other choice? It's like walking in the snow for weeks and finally coming in from the cold to a warm home... then, half an hour later, having to pull on your soaked, freezing clothes to go sleep in the snow yet again. Maybe if you'll never have one in this life, it would be easier if you didn't know fireplaces existed.

And then the questions come back. Most people with autism have a hard time getting married. So do people with same-sex attraction. So do people with bipolar. Mix them all up, and am I ever really going to be good enough to make it over those hurdles? To even make real friends where I can feel the friendship? Do I want to take someone with me on that journey? And is there anyone who would want to go?

Tonight the impetus was a Christmas concert. It was at West Jordan High School... and at one point the choirs sang "There's So Much to Be Thankful For." They also asked us to give what we could to support a local children's hospital. The vision of a thousand people working together, opening their hearts, made me feel for a moment like I was part of something greater... but ten minutes later it was gone.

That's how it always is. The things that can make me forget - really forget the woes and frustrations of life - are always too good to be true. They work for a few hours, and give me a glimpse of what life should be. What I'm striving for, and the reason why I'm pushing to change the world.

But at the end of the concert, at the end of the book, when the music is over or the credits begin to roll, I still go home. Perhaps surrounded by family and friends, perhaps with a dozen heartfelt thank-you letters in my email box. But those don't change the fact that, even surrounded by people who love and support and accept me, I still feel totally alone.

So I usually find myself just crying as I try to figure out my life again. Or writing. Or both.

I wonder if it will ever go away. Or if this - a feeling of being alone... whether from the autism/ssa/bipolar mixture or something else - is just one of the things I'll always have in life. I hope that someday it will.

But if not, I think I'll be okay. While coming back to reality is painful, being able to see in color every once in a while - to understand what God has in store and taste that for a moment - is enough to keep moving one day at a time toward the light.

Monday, December 17

It Makes Me Happy. What?

It's almost universally accepted that the core motivation behind every human choice is a desire for happiness. From proposing to your beloved to choosing which tie to wear when you really don't care, everything is about maximizing perceived happiness. You drink a branded soda. Why? Because the brand brings back feelings of your family. Why is that important? Because you love your family. Why is that important? Because they make you happy. Follow every action backwards, and you find happiness at the core. The tie example - you feel like it's not worth taking time to make a decision because you can spend your time doing something else that will make you happy.

But what does that even mean?

What is happiness?

You'd think that in the eons of existence, mankind would be able to accurately determine what happiness is in someone's life, and also have a reliable, repeatable way of measuring that happiness. I mean, if every single human endeavor is designed to maximize happiness, wouldn't it make sense to have a way to measure the efficacy of those actions? Then, you could ostensibly create a roadmap that can help the rest of the human race find this all-important gift.

The modern world is an epic fail when it comes to determining happiness. Good scientific tests use external, instead of internal, reference points. An example is hair color - the most useful, accurate determination of hair color isn't whether it's lighter or darker than your skin. It's a comparison with other hair colors in the world. Hence, the classification of blond, black, brown, red - which are shared by others - instead of the classification of one, two, or three shades darker than skin.

Happiness is measured, in most environments and in most research studies that I've read, using a method that's really similar to pain. No external reference point, and simple Likert testing. The most common test is the smiley face test. On the far left is a frowning face. On the right is a smiling one. Point at the one that describes you.


There are some major assumptions in Likert testing for happiness or pain. It assumes that the person using the test is 1: able to determine what level of happiness/pain accurately matches the points on the scale, and 2: able to accurately determine his own level of happiness or pain.

With pain, some of the issues are mediated by the fact that we "know," culturally, what types of things are supposedly the most painful. Like getting appendicitis. Or breaking your femur. Or bleeding from every pore. But while getting appendicitis was painful... was it really the most painful thing in the world? Really? I probably believe, if I'm a rational person, that I'm not experiencing the most painful thing ever to imagine in the world, and probably haven't ever experienced it. So I choose a number that's high enough to communicate the urgency of the situation and forget about the problem of determining what pain really is.

With happiness, there are even bigger problems. People can't isolate happiness or really explain it well. And when you're happy, sometimes you honestly think that you're the happiest person in the world. But what does that mean? And is someone who wins the lottery or a girl that gets a new toy really on the same plane of happiness as someone who is watching her daughter's wedding? And how about the people who are convinced that they're happy... but who really aren't? What about them? Are we all just engaged in a set of mind games trying to convince ourselves of happiness?

The issue with Likert testing is that it doesn't have an external scale... and so I'm forced to put the girl with a new toy and the delusional person on the same level. In reality, I think the main issue at stake is the definition of happiness - a realization that happiness comes in different forms and different levels. And even if I've hit the happiest I've been in life, there's probably something better.

Christ said in the scriptures, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you." Along the same line, God is often mentioned as having what the scriptures call "a fulness of joy." The scriptures use the words peace and joy similarly to how we use happiness today - as the end-all goal for life's existence - but also in far different contexts. This quote is striking, because it speaks of multiple kinds of peace - at least one that the world can give, and one that Christ can offer. I'll submit that, unless I really understand all the levels and types of happiness/peace/joy available to me in life, I will probably shortchange myself by seeking after happiness... but a happiness that really won't bring me the level/type of happiness that I want.

So what is happiness/peace/joy?

I'll submit that the best sources of happiness/peace/joy will be the ones that give me the ability to feel the greatest amount of happiness, for the longest period of time, and that are inexhaustible and consistently marginally positive (which means that there is not an easily defined upper limit to the happiness it can provide, and that, instead of shrinking over time - like the happiness that comes from eating one more piece of chocolate cake - there is no limit to how much joy it can provide in my life).

To begin, part of happiness is definitely what happens in my mind. We all know people who go through the exact same experience and, because of their outlook on life, have dramatically different experiences. In an extreme case, one is happy, and learns from the experience, and the other is bitter and feels like he's been robbed. And since the difference between those two people can stem from multiple facets, it makes sense that happiness does as well.

Sometimes happiness is a chemical issue - I know that I struggle to feel happiness when I feel deep depression... and so happiness is somewhat chemical. But the happiness that comes from a drug high is chemical as well. And that happiness is artificial, addicting, and has ruined countless lives. In retrospect, it doesn't look like happiness. So the answer isn't just chemistry.

It's not just physical, either. The height of physical happiness is usually put in sexual or culinary terms. But while sexual activity may bring intense pleasure, there are plenty of examples of sexual encounters that have caused intense unhappiness - abuse being the foremost among them. And eating twelve chocolate cakes (or twelve anythings) may taste good, but then makes me (especially me) feel awful. And the thirteenth doesn't really sound all that appealing.

It's not just emotional... but I think that we're getting closer here. People who have a depth of emotional maturity, the ability to see far into the future, and find good things in their lives seem to definitely be happier than others... but the other facets may or may not be in place for that to happen.

It's not just financial. There are people I met in the poorest areas of Italy who were happier than some of the richest people I've met in America.

It's not just academic. I've met professors who spent their entire lives trying to understand the mysteries of the universe and, at least from my perspective, appeared miserable.

It's not just popularity. Celebrities are a good place to look here - and while the media is always trying to find stories of pain and woe, the reality is that there are happy and unhappy people on the silver screen just like there are people off of it.

It's not just geographic or weather-related. There are happy and unhappy people in Chicago, just like there are happy and unhappy people in California.

It's not just based on finding the job that I want, or marrying the person that I want, or completing my bucket list... because that happiness doesn't always last. There are millions who will attest to the fact that happily ever after isn't always (or even often) true.

And, sometimes, it looks like happiness isn't even based on what my actions are. I can try to be a truly good and upright person and undergo intense trials and suffering in life... or someone who lives life as it comes, how I want, and seem to be happy. Spouses having affairs find pleasure in their sexual experiences. Other people find respite in eating junk food. Kids enjoy burning ants, even with the smell of burning flesh that rises from the sidewalk. Doing drugs would make me high. Stealing money would make me rich. Making fun of would make me popular.

So if what I do isn't connected to happiness, does what I do even matter?

Inside of me, I believe that what I do can lead me to happiness. That my choices and actions will lead me one way or the other. That's the core belief that motivates me to action - and the belief that motivates all human endeavor. So the question, instead, needs to be this: what is the happiness I'm looking for... and what do I need to do to get there?

The reality is that when I talk about true happiness, unless I want to get into heated arguments and go nowhere, I have to talk about something different from what I can find on the street in my everyday. Something different from the Hershey's variety of happiness, or even the gold-foil-wrapped kind that they sell at Macy's. Because if I rely on human interpretations of happiness, even those of good-intentioned people like my parents or experts, I'll always rely on something deeply flawed. Something that may not work for everyone, may run out, and might only serve to distract me along the road. I'll run after visions and dreams only to potentially find that they led me nowhere... and eventually trade in my romantic hopes for something more somber, and far less motivating, in life. No. When I talk about happiness, and begin my own search for it, I need to sort out everything that is physical, experiential, carnal, sensual, external, or has any potential downside. Everything that has an excess, or that maxes out in mortal terms.

When I talk about real happiness, I need to stop talking about pleasure or satisfaction, and start talking about something divine - something that people can sometimes taste in this life, but never really understand or experience until they've spent a lifetime learning how.

That happiness comes from three places.

The first is from what I do. There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And happiness is one of those blessings. True happiness comes from being good - hence why God would create His Plan of Salvation and outline commandments... to help me see the pathway that will build my happiness with each step. The Plan is universal - in that there are commandments that apply universally to all mankind - and also personal - and if I turn to God He will give additional light to help me guide my path. The better I am as a person, the greater my true happiness. Choosing to do the right thing will always lead to greater happiness than any other alternative.

The second is from what I believe and understand. In what I've seen in people, this is often far more difficult to understand than actions. God gives commandments over actions that are easy to follow. But His commandments that apply to beliefs and thoughts are far more difficult. Not stealing from my neighbor? Easy to measure. But truly loving everyone in the world? Or being willing to give up all things for God? Or having faith that, even if I can't see the ram in the thicket, God will intervene and bring me happiness when the future looks bleak? What about when I really, really, really want to fall in love, have a spouse, and raise children in the gospel, and I'm single, attracted to guys instead of girls, and turning 27 this Thursday? This is usually where I break down and, with a flawed set of beliefs, I mistakenly believe that I've done my best with just my actions... haven't found the happiness I deserve, and hence something is wrong with the cosmos. In most cases, I just need to change my beliefs. Give up my fears and failings and demands, and be willing to let God guide me and give me the peace I so desperately want... but that He couldn't give until I made room by giving up what filled up my heart.

The third comes from God when the first two are aligned - as He changes me, inspires me, forgives me, and enables me to feel greater and greater levels of happiness by revealing steps along the pathway that will lead me there. The reality is that true happiness isn't something I'll attain in this life. It's a pathway. Anything that I could reach in life isn't good enough, because I want something that will grow into the eternities. And because it's a pathway, happiness will grow as I learn and apply light and truth along the path. As my actions and my beliefs align with God's.

There are thousands of sources for pleasure, satisfaction, and any other fleeting feeling. But in the quest for true and lasting happiness - the stuff that makes life worthwhile, meaningful, and awesome even if you never feel anything else - the questions are simple: Do I really understand my place in God's plan? Am I moving down the path that will change me into who I need to be? What's the next step?

Sunday, December 16

Be an Influence for Good

Since I've shared who I am here on (Gay) Mormon Guy, I've wondered what my place is here in the gay / Mormon community. For the last few years, I've tried to make (Gay) Mormon Guy be everything to everyone. A place to find a friend for people who want someone to talk to. A reliable, understandable (albeit unofficial) source of doctrine. A place to feel the Spirit. Explanations on what it's like in my life to live with same-gender attraction. Help with coping with depression and temptations.

But the world is changing. I used to think I needed to be everything to everyone, because it was so hard to find the pieces all put together. But with the changing world, the landscape of the world of LDS members with same-sex attraction is dramatically different from where it was when I started writing two-and-a-half years ago.

Northern Lights, the blogging group for North Star, has started up again, with stories from men and women all over the world. The Voices of Hope project is building a repository of 1000 stories of valiant faith and homosexuality. The Church launched a new site Mormons and Gays that organizes the doctrine of the Church and has the power of apostles speaking personally to the subject. And dozens of new personal blogs have been written - each sharing what it's like to live and love the gospel with same-gender attraction.

Part of me wants to believe that it's time for me to just disappear from this world. Except for one thing: I was just prompted to share who I am with the world. If God had expected me to disappear, He wouldn't have had me post about it on Facebook. There's no turning back now.

So I find myself wondering who I'm supposed to be. What I'm supposed to be doing. Where I should focus my efforts. Should I join the ranks of groups like USGA? The leadership team of North Star? Go out and write about experiential things like Journey into Manhood or whatever else? Organize outreach firesides? Just continue writing?

They're all good things. But which ones are best for me and my life?

I've taken the question to the temple, tried to figure out where I should go, and wondered more than anything. I feel like the Lord has specific goals for me. Specific things He wants me to do. I just need to figure them out and do them.

Then this week someone asked me to teach Elder's Quorum. Lesson 24 from the George Albert Smith manual... and in that lesson I found the answer to my prayer.

"Make your influence felt."

In those words are all the answers I've needed. I can be an influence for good, and do something to lift the world and make a difference in the lives of people around me. And it also holds a confirmation that God has a work for me to do... the promise that He is involved in my life... and will make it happen.

Friday, December 14

Pushed Beyond Pain: Shootings, Suicide, Giving Up on Life

There was a school shooting today, in Newtown, Connecticut.
Kindergarteners. First graders. Teachers. 20 children gone. My youngest brothers are 7 and 10, and I have family and cousins all over the country. It could have been in any of their schools. Someone posted a tweet that talked about unopened Christmas presents, and the tears started flowing. I don't have kids of my own, but I'm a teacher. I've sat in classrooms and looked at my kids in the rows of desks or tables... and know how deep that love can be.

My heart goes out to the families, loved ones, and community members there. Losing a family member or friend is... such a personal thing that no words can really describe it. It's a mixture of pain and frustration and shattered dreams, anger and guilt and despair, all mixed into a package of overwhelming reality. What do you do? How can you get up the next morning and make sales calls? How can you fill a hole that no one else can?

There are two parts to this story. When we mourn the loss of the righteous, of the faithful, or of the innocent, we are mourning for ourselves - for our losses and our dreams, our hopes and our quiet conversations. As we come to grips with the love of God, we can know that He is taking care of them... and that through the Atonement all things will be made right.

But when we mourn those who have turned away from light, we are mourning their loss of hope and peace along with our own. And, at least in my case, the mourning feels more real.

In this case, it's the story of a 24-year-old boy who gave up on life and acted out in one last moment of pain. Somehow he believed that he could never find happiness in this life.

And I wonder.

I wonder if he had friends. People he could talk to - not just who listened to him, but helped him find his soul. Not just friends to indulge or echo his thoughts, but who pushed him to be better each passing day, no matter what.

I wonder if he had enemies. People who, from the superficial nature of their lives, were oblivious to what lay beneath the surface. People who said one thing and did another. Who told the rest of the world how much he wasn't worth... with hopes that he would hear it.

I wonder if he had someone who could walk him through his trials and thoughts. If he had someone that he could call in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day, and tell anything and everything without being turned away or accounted less loved.

I wonder who he was. What he loved to do. What happened to begin his pathway towards death. And what I, or someone else, can do to avert this type of disaster in the future.

The reality is that things like this happen far too often. Perhaps not on this scale, involving the deaths of dozens of children, but it's not hard to find less violent but still real evidences that people have been pushed beyond pain.

On a social level, people explode in anger and do things that they would never do in a rational state. Domestic violence, workplace arguments, and bitter disagreements between family or friends exist around the globe.

On a spiritual level, it's even more apparent. Some people who feel stressed spiritually - and are unable to find reconciliation within their faith - leave their beliefs behind but turn against anyone who remains. The few lasting negative responses I've had from people who learn about my life, my loves, my passions, my trials, my blog... have been almost exclusively ex-Mormons. Some lived seemingly happy lives in the gospel, and then something changed. Slowly, quickly, sometimes a bit of both. But in the end, something convinced them that if they can't find happiness in the gospel, no one can.

There's something wrong with our society. Suicide passed car crashes this year as the number 1 cause of mortality from injury in the US, and other industrialized nations are seeing similar results, even with the fact that some suicides are never recorded as suicide. The rate is climbing. Faithful people are losing their testimonies and losing the light and hope in their eyes. Families and friends are losing touch as workplaces, schools, and homes become a more sterile, "safer" place to interact. And today a 24-year-old man destroyed his own life, and the lives of children, because he was pushed beyond pain.

My hope is that I can do my part to change the world back. To help people feel loved even when they look like they don't need it... or even when they say they don't. To push people to find hope and faith in God even when it seems like He hasn't been listening... and when His followers may have said or done horrendous things in the past. And to help people work through the pain that life will inevitably bring.

All of us will be eventually be pushed up against the edge of our ability. And then we'll all be pushed beyond. That's part of mortality and the test that is life. The question then is this: What will I do when I'm pushed beyond pain? Will I turn to God? Will I draw closer to my family? Will I lift the human race? Will I reach out and serve those who need my help?

Or will I give up on life?

Monday, December 10

Finals Schedule for Tuesday

5:30 - wake up to prep food for the Organizational Behavior Student Association (OBSA) Christmas party.

6:55 - set up the slow cookers in the MBA Lounge to finish 12 hours later.

7:00 - get to my first final. Brand management. Cram 60 slides because I haven't had time to study yet.

9:00 - meet with a professor to prepare for the review session I'm hosting for 1st year operations.

11:00 - another final. I'm not totally sure what I need to prepare for this one. I think I'm supposed to write a 5-page essay.

12:00 - host review session for operations. Expect about 120 people, and go over the entire course in 2 hours. 30 minutes of buffer time for questions.

2:30 - meet with partner to prepare an hour-and-a-half long presentation for Wednesday.

5:00 - final class for a class that (thankfully) doesn't have a final. I need to finish reading a book before then. I don't know where the book is.

6:30 - OBSA Christmas party. I'm in charge of bringing food for the vegans/vegetarians.

When we remake the educational paradigm, can we demolish finals? Please?

Sunday, December 9

It's a Small World

I'm the ward music chairman in my ward, which means that at least once a year the bishop steps off the stand after the Sacrament and turns the time over to me. Of all the occasions, the Christmas program is by far the most exhausting.

Part of it is because I insist on not stressing about it until just a few weeks before. Which then means that during finals week and Thanksgiving I'm pulling together numbers and practicing with the choir, assigning talks and trying to determine length.

This year was no different. I organized a few numbers with the choir, arranged some solos and duets, and asked a handful of ward members to give short talks. All the pieces were ready, but as Sacrament meeting started I still had no idea how much content we had.

As we began, I noticed that one of the speakers had five pages of notes for his talk. I had told everyone else to speak for 2-3 minutes. But I didn't say anything. I knew that what he had to say was important, even if it meant we would go over. When he got up and began speaking, I realized why.

I had given everyone the topic of how Christ had influenced their lives. All the speakers today spoke about how they had gone through times of darkness and found light in following Christ. But this guy spoke about it from the context of same-gender attraction.

At first I felt sort of jealous. Somewhere deep inside, I wanted to be able to broach this topic with my ward and help them understand it. I mean, I just shared who I was with the world, and there are still a number of ward members (those not on Facebook) who don't know. But as I listened, and compared his story to the others I've heard recently, I realized that his was a far more compelling story to share.

It seems that the most striking stories are the ones of people who have seen both sides of the coin - the men and women who have lived on both sides of the line and will tell you honestly that God's side is better. That's why Ty Mansfield's story is so compelling - because he could say, on camera, "...so I started dating - guys..." Why Laurie Campbell's story is so striking. And why the talk today in the Christmas program was perfect for my ward.

It made me wonder. I wanted my ward to understand same-sex attraction. I've wanted to ask my bishop if I could speak or teach on the subject. I know he would let me. And in the meeting that I organized, it happened, in a way that was better than I could have planned myself.

The program went 12 minutes late. And we have Sacrament meeting last. But, different from most meetings, only one person left before the closing prayer. I turned to talk with him after the prayer and invited him to the North Star fireside tonight.

It's a small world. And the Lord really does answer prayers. It's just crazy that His answers are almost always in ways that are different from what I originally envisioned.

Friday, December 7

USGA (Understanding Same-Gender Attraction) Group Meeting: Testimonies of Christ

Last night was my first USGA meeting.

USGA, which stands for Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, is unaffiliated with BYU but often meets in campus classrooms.

I had heard about USGA twice before I went last night - there was the student panel where the room applauded someone who planned to find a partner after graduating from BYU, and the It Gets Better videos.

Both times the group sounded more controversial than I really wanted to see.

So when I went, I wasn't really sure what to expect. It was promoted as a "Testimony of Christ" meeting. I walked in around 7:05 and the room - a lecture hall in the law building - had about 70 people already inside. Mostly men, with a smattering of women here and there. I knew a few people from the recent conference on Same-Gender Attraction, but no one else.

After fifteen minutes of business (this is the last meeting of the year, future meetings might be held off of BYU campus for space and other needs), the testimony part started. And there wasn't really much that was questionable. The meeting itself was a lot like a testimony meeting. Lots of different people who got up and shared their personal testimony of Christ, and the only evidence that we weren't at a Thursday EFY session were the comments like, "I don't know if Christ is a metaphysical presence or a great teacher..."

It was interesting, though. I felt like many of the people there were just watching, listening. Only a few of us got up to share. I shared part of it on Twitter and was probably the only person doing so. But that's normal with any testimony meeting. :)

The interesting part was the post-meeting discussions.

I'm awkward when it comes to unstructured social environments. And the end of a meeting where I know no one is definitely unstructured. A couple people asked me who I was, and I just shared my name. I don't know if people there read my blog... but I got the feeling that most of them didn't.

At one point someone picked up a conversation with the guy who had run the meeting and expressed some of his concerns about meetings in the past. The response was telling. At least from what I gathered, USGA is designed to make people feel comfortable who are not currently finding the answers to their questions in the Church. By focusing on the secular side of the equation, and avoiding the spiritual discussions that predominate places like here at (Gay) Mormon Guy, USGA appeals to people whose lives match the same frame. At the same time, it sounded like people who are deeply religious have been turned off by the admittedly non-religious (which is by definition anti-Mormon or gay-affirmative) bent of the group on nights that aren't testimony meetings.

At one point the leader shared that he understood the concern. The wording he used was "we try to involve everyone, but we see more of the LGBTQ than the SSA." That struck me... because it was the first time that I had ever heard of people within the community making a linguistic distinction between people and how they deal with homosexuality instead of the types of feelings they face.

I have mixed feelings about the approach. Some people think that in order to appeal to everyone, you have to go the non-religious or non-denominational route. But, in doing so, you're often doing the exact same thing as choosing one religion and endorsing it. You're just endorsing humanism, or another belief system that views religions as personal endeavors instead of core principles of human existence. The thought came to me that Christ met and ate with sinners, but always taught exactly the truth - and only the truth. And I found myself wondering how it would be possible to create a group that was honestly just as inclusive as USGA was trying to be, but that could meet the spiritual needs of group members through helping everyone come closer to Christ on their own paths.

On the current pathway, it doesn't look like USGA will be meeting any of my personal spiritual needs. But at the same time, it was obvious that this was a place where people who wanted to find acceptance and belonging could find it. And where I can help people find and feel the peace I've found in the gospel. Multiple people who bore their testimonies didn't have same-gender attraction and weren't there with friends... they had just heard that USGA was a place where they could find people who would love and accept them no matter what.

I guess I have mixed feelings about my participation and what is going to happen going forward. Part of me just wants to watch. Part of me feels like I should jump in and do what I can. Part of me wants to create something else that can really meet the spiritual needs that people have - something like the Matis firesides that disappeared and could be more open to the public at large. And part says to just do everything and see what sticks.

Either way, I think I'll be going back.

Thursday, December 6

Woah! Official Church Site On Mormons and Gays!

This just happened.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just launched an official site talking specifically and exclusively about same-gender attraction and its interaction with Church doctrine, culture, and teachings.

The site includes videos from Church leaders and others who describe how to find hope and faith through living the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read it, share it with all your friends.

This is epic.

http://www.mormonsandgays.org/


Links to news articles discussing the site:

Deseret News (includes quotes from official LDS spokesman Michael Purdy and LGBTQ community leaders):

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865568211/Stay-with-us-new-LDS-website-urges-gay-Mormons.html

Official LDS Newsroom:

http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-website-same-sex-attraction

Tuesday, December 4

Saving Grace

Most of the guys I've talked to who have same-sex attraction tell me that they've been approached in person by other guys. Whether in the gym, at the mall, on the beach, or in gay bars (um... that's sort of awkward. I don't suggest going to gay bars), they've had the experience.

I never have.

And I guess I find myself wondering about it. Maybe it's happened, but I don't pick up on it? Or maybe something else is happening?

On the first - that maybe it's happening but I'm blithely unaware - I think applying what I've learned from girls and their signals may be informative.

When I first started dating, I was clueless to girls' signals. I couldn't tell if a girl was flirting or being nice or being sarcastically mean. Really. They were all the same to me. The first girl I asked out after my mission, in fact, had already given up on catching my attention. She had already gone through finding a friend who spoke Italian to teach her basic greetings, sitting next to and behind me at every meeting, complimenting me on my voice and my comments in Sunday School, talking with me at ward prayer... in her mind she was pulling out all the stops. I remember those happening, but I also remember not thinking anything about it. I only asked her out because I prayed for inspiration on who I should ask out, looked at the ward directory, and thought I should ask her.

Since then, I've gotten at least a little bit better at determining when a girl is interested. Girls have told me which things are sure signs, and now I can watch for them. But it still has to be pretty obvious for me to catch on. Like if she's staring at me for an entire hour, or comes to talk with me a dozen times in a day. Or if she asks me out.

I wonder if, because I'm less able to pick up on the nuanced dance of social interactions, I suffer in my ability to understand what girls or guys intend. And since most potentially romantic approaches are nuanced instead of brazen, it just doesn't show up on my radar. What makes it hard to pick up on girls' flirting becomes a saving grace when I also can't pick up on guys. I could totally see that happening. Or not see it. ;)

Another potential modifier in the world of pick-up lines would be my conversation style. I pick up conversations with anyone. And, almost without exception, the conversation eventually turns to the gospel. I'd assume that most guys thinking about approaching another guy aren't also thinking about the gospel. And engaging in a conversation on the gospel might be a deterrent.

And then there's the fact that I don't smile much. I forget to. So I look awfully serious almost all the time. Maybe that's a major deterrent.

Whatever the reason - ugliness, social awkwardness and a somber face, a propensity for gospel conversations, or just never being around guys like that - I've never had it happen.

Interesting. And nice.

Thoughts?

Monday, December 3

Nighttime Blues

I can feel it beginning to happen. It's the feeling that comes right as my brain is about to switch. Switch from normal, and ok, to totally not ok, withdrawn, and depressed.

Part of me is screaming that I need to go to the gym. Right now. And exercise until my mind promises to switch back. I know it works. Something keeps the switch from happening, and the crisis is resolved.

But I have class in the morning at 6:00, a presentation in the afternoon, and more homework than I could ever imagine. I'm running low on sleep in the first place. It's already after 9:00 at night. And the exercise doesn't work unless I go and work out for hours. So part of my brain is just telling me to go to sleep and maybe it won't happen. Maybe the feeling is wrong and I'm not going to switch. Or at least I can wait until tomorrow to work out. I could go to my 6:00 class and then go work out for a few more hours.

But the other side is still shouting. "Can't you see? Can't you see the deferral of time, the slow loss of desire, the withdrawal when you left the ward Christmas party early... are all major signs that it's happening? You need to do something fast before this ruins the last week of school."

I'm tired. But being depressed is way worse than being tired. And once the switch has happened, it's way harder to make it go back.

I guess I'm going to work out tonight.

Sunday, December 2

Noel

I love Christmas. Except for being swamped with final projects and the inevitable stress that comes with being in charge of music somewhere. Maybe someday I'll just be able to be a performer/choir member everywhere in my life, but it hasn't happened yet. And school ends in just a few days. No matter what happens, at least it will be over.

Today after church Jessie and I were trying to find a good version of "The First Noel" for our ward Christmas program next week and to sing at a fireside or two. This is the one we decided on.

I know that Christ lives. That He leads and guides the Church. And that, because of His life, death, and resurrection, we can find peace, happiness, and hope in the gospel no matter what we face.

Noel.


(The usual recording caveats: the iPhone I recorded on was at a better distance this time, and we ran through it twice before recording, but there's still no touch up. Ever since a kid named Erwin in 6th grade told me he hated hearing my voice, I've been uber-critical of anything that comes out of my mouth. I'm trying to get over that. Just don't hate me when I go ten cents flat.)


Friday, November 30

California SB 1172: Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

The whole world is debating the merits and vices of "reparative therapy," with one camp claiming that it can cure all ills and the other that it will inevitably lead to suicide and self-loathing.

I hope they both someday realize that their hyperbole is laughable.

But on a subject where for years people called names and told stories, the debate just hit a new level. Last month California passed a law stating that mental health professionals could no longer engage in any effort to help a client under age 18 with his or her sexual attractions, under threat of being subject to professional regulatory bodies (losing their license to practice).

The specific words of the law (California SB 1172) are:

“Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

865.1. Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age.

865.2. Any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under 18 years of age by a mental health provider shall be considered unprofessional conduct and shall subject a mental health provider to discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider.


This is bad.

I don't advocate reparative therapy as a method of curing homosexuality. I agree with the tenets listed elsewhere in the law that men and women need to find peace, love, and acceptance within and without, and that same-gender attraction is not, in itself, a sin... and hence does not make anyone less worthwhile. I also agree that love within the home, and reconciliation with self-worth, are crucial for the aversion of practices leading to the syndemic of homosexuality - drug abuse, sexual abuse, depression, suicide, and HIV.

At the same time, not every homosexual child is a victim of massive self-loathing or so vulnerable and impressionable that he needs to be protected from external ideas. Young men and women who have developed their own sense of self-worth, who love themselves completely, and who have the complete support of family and community, mental health professionals can help them address issues outside of their own ability. To those young men and women - I was 17 when I went to college, for example - living according to their most deeply held personal feelings can be better achieved with the help of others in the community - including mental health professionals. Especially those who are already dealing with clinical depression or other disorders. This law effectively bars professionals from that network of support if a source of distress is sexual in any nature. And while internal attractions, the existence of a sliding scale vs binary assignment, nature vs nurture, and sexual mutability is definitely part of the debate, the specific mentioning of the word "behaviors" - as I highlighted in the law - is the truly distressing part of this law.

Any efforts... to change homosexual behaviors.

I know that laws are often stretched to their extreme in courts of law, depending heavily on the methods used by lawyers and judges in assigning meaning to each word. I'm also not a lawyer... but since words and meanings seem to be so fluid in this debate, an imagination is probably all I need. I take things literally (since I'm autistic), so my interpretation will be extremely literal. Either way, in a firefight like homosexuality, I can see this one being put to the test.

Some major issues and potential problems follow.

This law doesn't have religious exemptions or restrict its application to the workday. Which means that if a bishop is a licensed mental health professional, he can no longer counsel young members of his congregation who come to him and want to repent (and hence change) of behaviors involved in homosexual activity.

By extending to any effort to change behaviors, and not including exemptions, this could also be construed to limit mental health professionals from preaching over the pulpit on the topic of homosexuality when there are minors present.

Conversely, if the law restrains professionals from any effort to change behaviors, and applies to discouraging behaviors, it must also restrain them from encouraging behaviors related to homosexuality. As feelings are indicated only in one direction (eliminating or reducing feelings), this would only apply to behaviors.

This could have direct impact on the ability of parents who are mental health professionals to counsel, support, act, and teach their children about homosexuality.

But the most obvious is that parents, and their children, would no longer have the ability to turn to licensed medical professionals for support - effectively encouraging them to go to unlicensed professionals, as the law does not contraindicate the work of unlicensed individuals. These include friends and other associates who, while perhaps well-meaning, may not have the grounding or training in mental health to be able to distinguish positive and negative methodologies. And they rarely have training to support concomitant depression or other negative tendencies that coincide. This law will not change the desire of individuals or parents to find external support in their desires to change unwanted behaviors - it will only force them to search for help outside of the licensed world of mental health.

Those are my concerns at first glance. Some might seem extreme, but knowing the subject, I'm not sure that extreme really exists anymore. Laws have been interpreted as far as language allows - sometimes beyond what seems reasonable.

I'm sort of glad now that I didn't go into psychology or mental health. I'm planning to go to grad school in California. And since I spend much of my free supporting people who want to change their behaviors, and many are young, this would be a major issue.

Edit:

Since writing this post, I've learned that the Pacific Justice Institute has sued for an injunction against CA SB 1127. A brief news article on their case is here: http://www.pacificjustice.org/1/post/2012/10/-new-court-filings-seek-to-halt-gay-therapy-ban.html

And a YouTube video, created by the same organization, is here: http://youtu.be/IB5Km5dCtZk?hd=1 that details how supportive therapy helped one individual.

It's apparent from the case and the issues highlighted in the press release (specifically the right of religious organizations to offer counseling that matches their beliefs) that this is a potentially a big issue. What was interesting to me was that my non-legal-background-pure-conjecture may actually have something in common with legal opinions.

Thursday, November 29

An Educational Paradigm: Investing

My lifelong goal is to change the world. Specifically, to change the world of education - as it happens in the home, schools, businesses, and everywhere else learning happens.

I want to start by helping parents and others change the paradigm within which they view education... because if you can change a collective vision, the structure will follow.

So here goes - the first paradigm shift.

Imagine that you have $10,000 and there are 5 banks where you can invest your money. Each will give some type of return, but you really aren't sure what. There's no history that you can look up because they're all brand new, & nothing that distinguishes one from another.

Where do you put your money?

According to basic finance, given equal (even unknown) potential, you should invest evenly across all 5 banks. That way you hedge against potential losses if one bank performs poorly.

Fast-forward five years. Bank A has lost all your money. They're more than willing to take more of it, but you know by looking at their investment strategy that the bank will continue to perform on the same level. Bank B, on the other hand, has taken the $2000 initial investment and made a 200% return - grown now to $6000. Banks C, D, and E are growing at about the rate of inflation - 2.3%.

If you know have access to the data behind each bank's decisions, know that none will fail, and have a pretty good guess to the future performance of the bank (that it will match past performance), where do you invest?

A smart investor would put all his money in the bank with the highest return. None in the bank that lost his money, and maybe only keep an account at the other 3 banks. That way, he's most likely to get the best return on his investment.

Switch gears.

Your 7-year-old is going to first grade. It's his first day, and while you have some inkling of his passions, you really don't know what's going to happen when he goes to school. He has five subjects, and you encourage him to do his best in every class.

Fast forward 5 years. Your 12-year-old brings home a report card that looks like many of the others you've seen over the last 5 years:

Reading: B
Spelling: B-
Music: A+
Art: B
Math: D

As a parent, how do you tell your son to invest his most precious resource - his time? Think of it like an investment... because it is. Do you tell him to focus on learning the subjects that give him the highest return - music - or do you tell him to put his resources into subjects that give him a low return - like math?

Many parents in the past would tell their children to focus on math. "Just work harder so that you can get your grades up."

But understanding a new paradigm makes that change.

If you let your son study music, and really study it, he'll eventually need to learn fractions to read music. Mathematics to understand harmonics. As he grows in his knowledge of "pure music," he will realize that learning isn't siloed. Maybe he'll learn a foreign language to sing Le Nozze di Figaro. Maybe he'll go into dance and learn about art, where vector spaces can explain eye tracking and heat maps on the stage.

But no matter what happens, it will happen fast - far faster than if he were just studying physics or science or finance on their own. He will learn far more by studying things he loves and can apply than by studying things he doesn't. And he will learn the most effective strategies to function in life from those subjects, based on his passion.

That's because learning only happens when people feel the knowledge is useful, and because learning in one area bleeds over into others. I'm not talking about memorization. I'm talking about real learning - helping people to change who they are and how they interact with the world. And that learning is accelerated when passion is present.

I know the biggest objections. What about "required learning" - or functional skills like reading? Or having a basic ability to "function in society"?

The reality is that "required learning" isn't often learning. It soothes our conscience when we claim that we have taught students all the same basic core principles, but two years later, none of them remember anything. Which means that none of them learned anything.

Learning only takes place when people believe the knowledge is useful... and it's accelerated if they have passion. Which means that the role of teacher - whether parent or professional - changes to be first a matchmaker. If you can't help someone love a subject, it doesn't matter how you try to make him learn. But when he has fallen in love and wants to know more, nothing can keep him from it.

Monday, November 26

Music in the Night

Sometimes I wake up at night and can hear music in my head. Not all the time, but sometimes. And sometimes, if I pull myself out of bed to the piano 5 feet away, I record a piece of the melody on my phone so that I'll remember it in the morning.

That's how this piece began. It was a long time ago, shortly after I stopped dating one of the best harpists in the world (not kidding). I couldn't understand how she could spend 8 hours a day playing the harp... so I asked her to teach me to play. I wanted to understand her. She had given me one harp lesson, and, after learning to pick my way through Handel's Concerto for Harp in B flat, I began writing.

Harp music looks almost like piano music... and much of it can be played on the piano. There are major differences, though. Harpists use only four fingers on each hand to play, which means that ten-finger chords aren't possible. And since pedal harps change the tone of strings to match the key, a perfect (harmonic) glissando is possible in every key - not just C. There are plenty of other differences - like playing with overtones, or using the percussive aspects of the soundboard - but I'm not really all that good of a harpist. So my harp piece took shape on the piano. Maybe someday, when it's finished and I've practiced, I'll be good enough to play it on the harp.

This is the first time I've recorded this piece and shared it with others. Knowing the crowd, there are plenty of readers whose piano, recording, video editing, and other media skills far surpass mine.

But that's okay. Because, I guess, being authentic also means being vulnerable. Imperfect. And yet being able to see the beauty in that imperfection. So hopefully you can forgive the fact that the piano is old and out of tune, the phone's microphone is too close to record properly, the pianist (me) makes major mistakes and forgets an entire section, and there's no visual at all.

Someday I'll learn the piece well enough to play it flawlessly and record it on a Lyon & Healy concert harp. But today it's recorded on the upright in my bedroom. Because I think that part of learning to be happy in life is being okay with our imperfections. Working with them. Not letting them paralyze us or keep us from sharing who we are with others.

Finding the majesty in simple things. Being imperfect, vulnerable, and real. Hearing the beauty in the rain.

Sunday, November 25

Laughing at Pokemon Jokes

I realized a few days ago that I had no good pictures on Facebook. Which means that when I ask people to set me up with the most intelligent, spiritual, attractive, single girl they know, they don't have much to work with.

I usually hate pictures of myself. Especially my face. I've developed enough self-esteem that I like the person who looks back at me from the mirror, but in pictures... Yeah. I'm not a fan.

So today, after Church, I combined the perfect ingredients in hopes that I'd get something worthwhile: a beautiful day, the $1k DSLR camera sitting on my table, and a little sister visiting from the dorms who loves me enough to indulge me.

I don't smile naturally. I'd look much better in an old-fashioned picture than in the modern ones. I think it's part of having autism. So we had to get over the issue of looking angry/somber and Amanda asked me a random question.

"How do you get 3 bulbasaurs, 2 charmanders, and a pikachu on a bus?"

I usually like to figure out punch lines (I know, that ruins the joke. But I enjoy it ten times more when I can figure it out for myself - like a good riddle), but this one was beyond me. My little brother loved Pokemon, but that was years ago. I had no idea.

"I have no idea. How?"

"You Pokemon!"

The utter absurdity, along with the obviousness of the answer, was definitely enough to make me laugh. She told a few more, and 20 minutes later, we had 200 pictures. Half a dozen were good enough to post to Facebook.

I love my life.

Friday, November 23

Where Alone Comes From

I'm not a huge fan of holidays. They're incredibly unstructured... and the lack of structure makes it hard for me to concentrate and even harder to get anything done. Today was no exception. I'm not a huge fan of the crowds on Black Friday, so I didn't go shopping. Doing homework was an exercise in futility. Working out still hasn't happened. The only thing I had set in my schedule was doing something with a friend, but even that didn't have a set time. I called him twice, but haven't been able to get in touch with him all day.

Part of me is concerned, and blames some kind of outside influence. He's usually a pretty reliable guy, and I've honestly tried to make this friendship, which is still in the very early stages, work. I'm trying to develop better friendships with lots of people, so I try gauge the responses of the people in my life, figure out where I stand, and then, in turn, do what they expect me to do. I haven't seen any red flags that tell me this one is going to explode. But, then again, I've never seen red flags before relationships explode. They just explode.

Which comes to the other part of me - the part that wonders if I'm really worth befriending in the first place. The part that feels it's not worth even trying because it fails so often and leaves me feeling awful. And the part that tries to convince me that I did something to burn yet another friendship before it started.

At least from here on out, I'm planning to try something like this with people: "Hey, because I have autism, I have a really hard time reading people. As we become friends, could you help me figure out what your expectations are for our friendship, and then help me identify times when I do something outside of those expectations?"

Either way, nothing happened, and right now I feel alone.

Miserably, awfully alone.

Not as bad as sometimes. I'm not going to pray to die or anything. But as soon as I finish writing this I'll probably go to the gym to get high on endorphins. Either that or go to sleep. Which means that I'm not really in a good place right now.

The frustrating part is that I don't know where the devastating alone-ness even comes from. I had a great conversation with a new friend this afternoon, and yesterday spent ten hours going from one loving, inclusive Thanksgiving to another. Tomorrow morning I'll be at the temple, making a difference in people's lives and honestly appreciated for the service I give. I live with my siblings and know that they love me and would drop anything for me. So would a dozen other people I could call at a moment's notice. God loves me unconditionally. But even knowing that doesn't shake the feeling.

So why do I feel this way?

Am I just too invested in the development of new relationships? Do I take it too personally? Am I delusional? Totally insensible to the feelings that others have for me? Or is there something fundamentally wrong with me?

Just now I looked up studies that determined the impact of the things I face on developing friendships to maybe get some context. Having same-sex attraction dramatically increases my need for emotional intimacy, but also makes it hard to develop meaningful friendships with men. Autism makes all relationships difficult because of the lack of emotional reciprocity, difficulty understanding roles, and difficulty interpreting social and nonverbal cues. And bipolar wreaks havoc with relationships by stressing them from both sides.

Maybe I'm on to something. I was trying to figure out if the feeling I'm experiencing is at all rational, by trying to create a hypothetical situation that would dispel it. At least in my mind, it's at least partly rational if there are situations that could, if played out in my mind, influence its development. If there are no situations that could have an impact, then it's probably just depression speaking, and won't listen to reason anyway. At least in my mind, friends calling me on the phone wouldn't fix how I feel. Neither would sitting with them and talking. Those would all potentially work as distractions - moving my focus long enough that the brunt of the feeling could fade - but none of them would really take it away.

But something would.

I think the alone-ness and isolation I'm feeling comes from an intense desire to be understood... and to understand someone else, completely. Not just to have a hundred people who would do anything for me and who will talk to me for as long as I need them to, or a thousand acquaintances who will know my name in the hall... but to understand someone else completely and fully, to be able to love and trust them completely, and to know that they understand, love, and trust me the same way.

That's what I want.

I think I should just go to the gym and forget about it for now. Because, regardless of how much I think or write about it, that type of relationship is probably not going to happen for a long, long time... and thinking about it will only sharpen the pain. Maybe one of the relationships I'm working on right now, or sometime in the near future, could develop into something like that. But that takes commitment and dedication, time and investment... and that's in people without other problems. Having a friend that close is a rare gift among normal people. For me, a guy who has autism, bipolar, and SSA... well, part of me believes it never will. That I'll spend the rest of my life totally and completely alone. That's the fear I had to come to grips with years ago, and it's still there in my mind as a real possibility. And the other part of me realizes that, if it ever happens, it'll take an angel, a whole host of miracles, and a lot of work on both sides. Either way, it won't be resolved tonight. Thinking about it thus far has been useful... because I feel like I know what I'm facing... but now I just need to get over it and move on.



Edit: Resolution

He had left his phone at Thanksgiving dinner. I got a text a few minutes after publishing this post, and took the opportunity to ask him to give me feedback in the future if I ever overstep my bounds. The timing makes the whole thing seem terribly ironic. Sometimes I feel like God gives me experiences with the sole purpose of writing about them. Laugh out loud.

Thursday, November 22

Give it a Chance

One of my biggest fears... is trying to get close to people and then losing them. Investing in relationships that seem to grow, and then somehow causing them to implode on themselves or disappear altogether.

For a long time I've found myself front-loading relationships in case that happened. Trying to ensure that, if I never met the person ever again, at least I would have done whatever I needed to do to be a good friend. Ironically, that front-loading probably helped speed some relationships' demise... because they disappeared when it was time to redefine roles. That's because while being a friend is more than just being a counselor, a teacher, or even someone who is willing to listen... those more nuanced roles have always seemed out of my reach.

The last few days have tossed my world upside down. I used to know... or at least think I know... what my role was in conversations, in relationships. At least part of it. I could see the end from the beginning and each step made sense. the ironic thing now is that I didn't intend my blog revelation to have any real or lasting effect on me... but I feel like I'm completely redefining who I am. Pulled to make friendships with a ton of new people without having a framework to follow and without knowing what they need or even want in a friend. Being involved in their lives, and inviting them into mine, without knowing beforehand what the outcome will be.

Part of me is afraid. Afraid of making too many mistakes, moved to withdraw and go back into my own little world where I control all the variables and my failures are from being too intense or too nonchalant. But another part tells me to give it a chance. Maybe something is different, and the memories of yesterday are just that - memories. Maybe the people are different. Maybe I'm different. Maybe it'll work.

Just give it a chance.

I think I will.

Wednesday, November 21

Hookups, Gay Sex, and Other Stupid Things

It's Thanksgiving. Which means that the normal routine of life has largely disappeared, leaving me with far too much unscheduled time and out of contact with my day-to-day peers.

And that spells danger.

It probably started when I didn't exercise this morning, or yesterday, because the school schedule was altered so dramatically. It's exacerbated by the fact that I don't really have any plans for this weekend - no one who I'm really interested in going Black Friday shopping with (since I'd only go for the social aspect), no people to really hang out with in the first place. I don't have a girl friend, or a best friend, or anyone who really watches out for me and can see the signs. Most days, I can ignore that because I'm surrounded by people. But even if I went to the Tanner building, no one would be there.

Perfect timing to do something stupid.

Most of the guys I've met with SSA have fallen into some type of temptation. Pornography, hookups, and the rest... even though in almost all cases they're good people and upstanding members of the Church. Those who have been involved in hookups or other short-term sexual relationships, especially, will easily admit that they value people, the gospel, and faith in the long run. But, somehow, the conditions all smash together and create the perfect/worst conditions possible to fall into a temptation that really isn't worth the pain, agony, frustration, loss of blessings, and anguish that it brings.

I'm concerned because I've seen that happen many times over the holidays.

I'm in a class on influencing change, and I definitely need to change what's happening in my mind right now so I don't do something stupid. And since it's a feeling I need to fix in my own life, I thought I'd talk out loud.

Avoiding temptation is one thing... and there are plenty of things I can do to avoid it. Create peer groups, functional barriers, find ways to fill my needs before they manifest...

Beating temptation, on the other hand, is usually a simple question of delayed gratification. Every temptation is the urge to sacrifice future wellbeing for seeming present gain... and if I'm able to delay long enough, the temptation subsides. Even drug users who can learn short-term coping strategies - just long enough to overcome the peak of the urge - find a huge boon in breaking free of temptation.

Some of the things I do? Write. Exercise. Read my patriarchal blessing or a letter I've written myself about my goals for the future. Call a friend and see if they want to do something (and keep calling until I get someone live). Chat with someone on Facebook. Go outside and take a walk. Climb a tree and sit in it. Find a practice room and pound the piano. Take a drive and belt to Broadway music.

For me, effective coping activities have some key ingredients. They engage my mind, are useful by themselves (not just time-wasters... though sometimes I play video games / watch movies just because they can totally engage me), get me out of the wrong environment, and, ideally, involve other people. What's amazing is that it usually doesn't take long. A few minutes, a few hours, and the brunt of the feeling passes. In the case of depression, sometimes it takes a few days. But the sun always comes out again, proving that the storm has passed.

Yes, it may come again. It probably will. Storms usually do, and so do temptations. Worry about that bridge when it comes.

For now, just don't do anything stupid.

Homework.

Typical MBA class outline:

  • Professor has a few frameworks that he likes to use. Builds course content around them. There's a lot of overlap between courses.
  • In order to make the learning "real," assigns massive group project, which usually entails:
    • Professor selects group members.
    • Professor chooses target company that he's interested in.
    • Project is worth large proportion of grade.
    • Final deliverable is a presentation, slide deck, and written report.
  • Professor presents frameworks during the initial stages of course, then assigns later sessions for "one-on-one" meetings to vet project.
This type of outline works really well for students who:
  • Haven't learned many business frameworks.
  • Enjoy group work.
  • Have few opportunities to apply what they learn into their day-to-day lives.
  • Are passionate about learning about target company.
  • Have tons of time to work on projects.
  • Care about grades.
I don't.

Over the course of the semester I've attended all my classes, learned concepts and frameworks, applied them in my own business and personal projects, and spent most of my time building knowledge and networks. Which means I'm weeks behind on homework that, in most cases, feels like a complete chore. Can I explain the concept of a bowling alley from Inside the Tornado, talk about product positioning, or identify the pieces of nailing the pain in creating a new venture? Definitely. I use them all the time in real life. But, for whatever reason, real life doesn't count.

One of my biggest issues with modern educational philosophies is the strictness that teachers impose on their assessment strategies. Drill any teacher, and they will eventually admit that their assessment of student is wholly inadequate and subjective. But ask them to create personally individualized assessments, or to allow their students that leeway, and they'll push back with vigor. "Students aren't motivated to learn." "This is what the system requires." "You have to incentivize X for students to actually do it." "Students don't have the tools to take ownership of their own learning." At this point, I've stopped asking.

And in the same breath we talk about how improperly incentivizing activities that should be intrinsically motivated decreases both enjoyment and performance.

I love the MBA. I'm learning great things and interfacing with amazing people. But can't I decide for myself what's worth learning? And how to apply it in my life? I'm going to have to do it anyway, because that's the ultimate goal of learning, right? With so much piled on my plate, I find I'm doing homework at the expense of learning and other far more important aspects of my life. Having group meetings at the same cost. Maybe having my own business, being passionate about my own education, and other factors in my life make me unique. Maybe not. But I feel like if I had the time to do it right, and support from a professor in my own projects... instead of ones that are assigned from the outside... I'd learn far more than what I do by just going through the motions of classwork and quizzes.

That feels better.

...now I have to get back to my homework.

Sunday, November 18

All Day Crying.

I read once that babies need to cry to work through emotional experiences... and that simply letting them cry in your arms, holding them and talking softly, without rocking or calming or using a pacifier, is the key to helping them find peace on their own and eventually grow in their emotional capacity. No matter how long it takes.

I think I'm in that place.

The last few days have been more emotionally intense than I'm really able to handle. The mix of gratitude and anxiety and faith and love and total helplessness has left me crying anytime something pushes a trigger. Sacrament meeting piano number playing "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief"? Crying. Emails from family and friends and random strangers? Crying. Stake Fireside? Crying. I feel like I've been crying all day.

I think that writing has taken part of the place of crying... at least the place of processing my feelings aloud. I got home tonight and my sister asked if I was okay. My only answer was, "I need to write."

And I'm crying.

My mind is such a blur that I'm not really sure why. Whether it's from being overwhelmed at the stories of faith and happiness that I've heard... or because the last few days have made me far more cognizant of the incredible pain and stress and suffering around me... or because I'm anxious about my own life and my future... or because I've seen the hand of God so clearly and unmistakeably in my life... or because I somehow feel amazingly loved and understood... or because I feel wholly inadequate.

I think my crying today was a mixture of all of them. Intense positive emotional experiences that leave me grateful and drained. Huge feelings of responsibility and empathy for others that leave me constantly pleading with God to help me become a better person and to bless the people who need it most. And inadequacy and anxiety that leave me tottering on the edge. Then anything - from a smile to a Primary song - becomes the catalyst for tears.

I talked with God and realized that I'm afraid. Mostly because I feel like I have to save the world myself (or something else just as daunting), and am completely unable to do that. He was quick to remind me that saving the world is His work and glory, and, yes, I am completely unable to do that. Which is why my job is on a far lower scale - one that's within my reach.

That's interesting. I feel like, even though all the experiences are still there, all the emotions are still just as raw, I somehow have the ability to put them all in their places and not be in emotional overload. I think the crying, or the writing, or the talking with God and being willing to not worry about my own inadequacy... worked.

That makes me wonder. Someone in Church today talked about the difference between Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon after seeing a vision of Heaven as outlined in D&C 76. Sidney was exhausted, and it took him hours to really recover from the experience. Joseph was calm. But when he first spoke with an angelic messenger, Joseph's own account relates that he passed out while climbing over a fence much later in the day. Moses spent hours recuperating, as did Abraham, from powerful spiritual experiences early in their personal callings, and yet each of these somehow developed the spiritual capacity? emotional capacity? to deal with / resolve / work through / process / understand similar experiences with relative ease in their later years.
 
I wonder how accurate that is for life in general. I feel like just now, as a result of tears and words and prayer, I've watched my brain grow in its capacity to process emotions. But is that really happening? Does processing intense emotional experiences through writing/crying/praying increase my capacity to process emotion without needing those interventions? And, perhaps even more importantly, is it the same with spiritual experiences? Something inside me feels like this is why the Lord speaks to us in so many different ways... is it according to our ability to process what we experience? Maybe that's why looking into Heaven is so much rarer than feeling the still, small voice... because we wouldn't be able to process / understand / appreciate / really internalize the experience without already having developed a greater spiritual capacity.

I think I like that. I'm not sure if I totally agree yet, but it makes sense.

And at least I've stopped crying.

Saturday, November 17

My First Day as a Mormon w/SSA

I had no idea.

Really.

When I started writing (Gay) Mormon Guy I was the anomalous outlier. No one in the Mormon community knew who I was. I just sort of burst in on the scene without any warning. What I didn't realize at the time is that most of the bloggers talking about homosexuality and faith, while perhaps anonymous to the real world, still knew people personally within the community. I also didn't realize that there was a huge group of people who would never even look for (Gay) Mormon Guy. Many of the people I met today didn't read any blogs at all.

Staying completely anonymous also meant that while I've developed tacit email and comment friendships, most of my interactions are just that - through the Internet.

Today was my first day in the world of Mormon same-sex attraction. And I'm still trying to process what happened and how I feel.

I went to the Same-Sex Attraction conference at the Provo convention center, and live-tweeted the proceedings under #ssaconf - I think I was the only person tweeting, so it should be easy to find. The conference began with a short discussion by a handful of counselors, then added in individuals and couples facing same-sex attraction. All of them had one thing in common: they believed that hope and peace and reconciliation to faith and feelings was possible within the gospel of Jesus Christ according to LDS church doctrine.

I felt it was useful to simply talk about the subject. During the breaks, though, I had issues with how to introduce myself. The problem with having a blog that is somewhat-but-not-worldwide-famous-popular is whether or not to bring it up in a conversation. There are plenty of people who haven't ever heard of it, yet also others who follow it diligently. So I wasn't sure about that. Then there's the whole issue of being hugely socially awkward in informal social settings in the first place.

But there was something else, too.

This was the first time I had met a group of people who really understood why I was blogging, who understood the things I face firsthand, and who, like me, are actively trying to move down the right path to salvation and happiness. There was an enormous amount of people there... and an enormous amount of love. Someone asked me how I felt, and I took stock... peaceful.

(As an aside, I need to apologize to the guys who tried to hug me and thank me for (G)MG at the beginning of the conference. It took me a little bit to acclimate to the environment. For most of my life I've had a hard time with physical contact. When you see me again, try again. I'll do what I can to fix the part on my side.)

After the conference I struck up a conversation with different people attending, and had a good time for a few hours until they kicked us all out of the center.

Then it was time to do Voices of Hope.

Voices of Hope is a video project. And preparing for this has been terrifying. Talking on camera, without many prompting questions, for 50 minutes, seemed incredibly daunting to me. I got my hair cut, changed, and scribbled down a few notes on a business card:

"God only gives us blessings."
"If the gospel isn't working for me, it's not a problem with the gospel. It's a problem with me or my understanding of it."
"God can fill ALL my unmet needs."

Ty Mansfield was my focus guy - I got to talk to/at him while the camera rolled. So I told my story.

Something I realized as I told my story is that I gained the perspective necessary to deal with same-sex attraction long before I even realized it was an issue. Bipolar depression and incredible emotional isolation from autistic tendencies in my teenage years pushed me to the edge of wanting to die... and when I finally gained the faith necessary to overcome that trial, I had also paved the way to understanding and reconciling same-gender attraction years down the road. It was a puzzle piece that just fit in when the time came... I never had a crisis of my faith. My worth? Yeah. But I had already proved God before in my life... and I think that gave me a huge advantage.

I don't know how compelling my story will be. Sometimes I lack emotion in my expressions, and I didn't laugh much. So it'll probably be somber and intense. Which is totally authentic, but... I guess we'll see what happens.

After the shoot I hung out with a handful of the people helping at the studio. And for a few hours I didn't worry about anything. Homework, projects, whatever... it all disappeared. Just sat on a couch and talked. It took me about 30 minutes to realize that all the guys there had their own stories of same-sex attraction. Married with kids/single/just broke up with a girl... And somehow I felt like I belonged.

I guess I had never realized how supportive a community there is for men with same-gender attraction. That there are people who understand and care... and plenty of really good upstanding guys who are actively involved in the Church and doing the right things with their lives. Truly good people, who are worth befriending no matter who you are.

I don't know what this is going to mean for me. Maybe I'll find some amazing friends who can understand at least another part of what I'm facing. Maybe I'll run into the same issues I always do in friendships - me. But either way I'm glad that the Lord pushed me in this direction... and glad to be a part of this community in real life.

PS - can someone invite me to the NorthStar Facebook group? My Facebook is Facebook.com/romanmissionary

Conference on Same-Sex Attraction Today

Today at the Provo Convention Center (220 West Center Street) there's a conference on same-sex attraction and faith. It's free and open to the public, begins at 9:00 am, and ends at 12:30.

I'll be there. Will you?

The twitter hashtag for this conference is #ssaconf

I'm the only one Tweeting, though. So you can just follow me @gaymormonguy

Thursday, November 15

My name’s David. I’m the Author of (Gay) Mormon Guy



My name’s David Peterson. I’m 26, autistic, and a 2ndYear BYU MBA. I’m the author of (Gay) Mormon Guy. My life is awesome.

This post is a Q&A. Choose the questions you want to know, and read the answers.

Who Are You? Where Do You Live? Work? Go to School? 
This is a picture from last Christmas of me with my family.

I’m on the bottom row (obviously), middle right. Dad is next to me and Mom is on the top left. In age order after me (and spiraling middle-left-right-upward) there’s CJ, Matt, Jessie, Amanda, Emily, Alyssa, Zach, and Kyle.

I grew up in suburban Chicago, where my parents and four youngest siblings still live. Three of us (me, Matt, and Jessie) currently live together in a house in Orem, Utah. Amanda’s at BYU in the dorms. CJ has leukemia. He lives with me in Orem and was a BYU student when he was diagnosed, but is currently in Chicago recovering from round 4 of chemo.

I run/own a natural health company with my siblings. It's called Nature's Fusions. I started the company a few years ago when Jessie got cancer to be an honest, low-cost, extremely-high-quality supplier for essential oils for family and friends. It's grown since then. Today, our oils & blends are carried by a number of health food stores in Utah, including Good Earth, Beehive Health Essentials, and Bountiful Nutrition.

I’m in my 7th year at BYU – 4 for an undergrad in physics teaching, 1 working at the MTC as a training developer, and now 2 in the BYU MBA program. And I love BYU.


So… You’re Gay?
Yeah. Gay, homosexual, same-sex attraction/SSA, queer, and same-gender attraction/SGA are often used somewhat interchangeably, in differing circumstances. Depending on how you use them, they carry different embedded meanings. Some people can function in that type of ambiguity, but autism doesn’t give me that luxury. I use language super-literally. So when describing myself, I use the terms of having same-sex attraction or same-gender attraction because they are clearly associated with feelings, not actions, identity, or goals.
SGA/SSA comes in a number of forms. In my case it means that I’m attracted to some guys and completely un-attracted to all girls.


And You Have Autism?
Yeah. Specifically, my mental diagnoses are Asperger’sSyndrome and Type II Bipolar Disorder. Asperger’s is diagnosed as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in those with average or above IQ, but without a childhood language delay. I was diagnosed a little over a year ago, after breaking up with a girl I was dating. She was kind enough to stay friends with me even after the fact, and our conversations about the difficulties we had faced in the relationship started me on the journey to a formal diagnosis.

You can read about my ASD and its interactions more specifically here:  7Days Left: Autism & Bipolar. Autism is simply a different type of brain chemistry. Externally, it has a host of effects that are viewed as positive or negative based on societal norms.Positively, it appropriates a larger proportion of IQ to fluid intelligence,which means that those with autism are proportionally better at solving complex problems than those with a similar intelligence level. Those of us with savant skills or extreme passions (mine is missionary work/teaching) have another step up when the skills are useful. Negatively, it means that I don’t understand or appreciate sarcasm, use language literally, have to think about everything,can’t read social cues, and am naively awkward in any new or informal environment. And as a warning: having ASD sometimes means that people interpret my openness and candor as arrogance or brilliance (I’m neither).

Internally, it means that I spend most of my life really lonely. I struggle to get emotionally close to people, and even in a room of people who love me, I feel totally and completely isolated. That feeling, coupled with same-sex attraction and suicidal depression, was a triple-threat to my happiness in my teenage years. I thought I was cursed. Thankfully, when I hit rock bottom, I turned completely to God. I gave Him my life and asked simply what I needed to do to find peace. And the relationship that I’ve developed with Him has sustained me for the rest of my life.

My diagnosis with ASD and bipolar was a gift from Heaven. For a decade I had believed that my loneliness, depression, and lack of social grace had stemmed from same-gender attraction or just being not good enough. Now that I realize I’m facing triple demons, it’s a lot easier to put my life, my efforts, and my feelings into perspective.

And You’re Mormon?What Kind?
I attend a young single adult (YSA) ward in Orem. I’m the ward music chairman and teach Sunday School whenever the Sunday School President needs someone to fill in. I also work at the Provo Temple as an ordinance worker on Saturday mornings (when I can get myself up on time – 6am prayer meeting is rough). And I support the Brethren on and off the pulpit: that Church culture is constantly in need of improvement, and that Church doctrine really is divinely inspired and holds the answers to all of life’s important questions – not out of dogma or fear or brainwashing, but because I’ve seen the blessings in my own life.


Are You Authentically Happy? Or Deluded, Inauthentic, Repressed, and Afraid?
I’ll be honest. Autism, bipolar, and same-sex attraction mix together to make a perfect storm. And for some of my teenage years I was caught in that storm and had a hard time really being happy. Like many people, I wore a fa├žade on the outside to fool the world into thinking my life was good, when in reality I felt like I was drowning. 

But the answer to making life better wasn’t “finding myself” in homosexuality or “coming to terms with reality” on that measure. It was finding God, realizing how completely He loved me, and then surrendering my will to Him. Not assuming that He made me to be stagnant, or defining for myself what happiness would look like, but giving Him everything and being willing to suspend my own dreams, hopes, desires, fears, sins, and everything else in exchange for peace. It worked, and I’ve found happiness ever since. When my brother and sister fought cancer. When my cousins died of genetic disease or tragic accident. When I felt completely abandoned and forgotten by the world. God gave me the happiness and peace I needed. I’m truly and authentically happy with who I am because I embrace who I am – a son of God – and in following God’s path I find far greater happiness than I ever could find outside. True and lasting happiness isn’t something that comes from the outside, or even from optimism within. Happiness is a gift from God, cultivated in the furnace of affliction and bestowed upon those courageous enough to think it possible.


This Is Long. And I’m a Visual Learner. Do You Have a Short/Visual Version?
No. Sorry about that. But you can watch this YouTube video. It's my story set to Laura Story's Blessings.

  

What’s it Like to Be Gay, Autistic, and Mormon?
Perfect? Complicated? How much time do you have? I started writing here at (Gay) Mormon Guy over two years ago. There are almost 400 posts, and most of them talk about what it’s like to have same-sex attraction and be Mormon. I can’t talk for anyone else. But in my case homosexuality doesn’t really play a big part in my life. I’m a faithful Mormon guy and, except for being eligible and unmarried at 26, look completely normal from the outside. Except for the struggles with addiction and understanding epic moral quandaries, having same-sex attraction has been a mostly positive experience… and made me a more loving, caring, and authentic person as a whole.

Having same-gender attraction means that I’m physically attracted to guys (Kissing Guysis a good visceral post that conveys that reality) and need to connect emotionally with them more than most other guys (you can read about that in Homosexuality Isn't Just About Sexuality). That’s frustrating, because most guys don’t have the desire/need to engage at the emotional depth I need for a valuable relationship. But honestly autism impacts relationships much more than just that. It puts a massive divide between me and everyone else in the world, and I feel like I and everyone who wants to be my friend has to put in a huge amount of effort just to keep a relationship alive. Together, it’s like being thirsty enough to drink a lake and having to use a 5-foot straw. 

In addition, neither autism nor same-sex attraction are visible from the outside, which means that people assume that I’m normal and don’t have different needs. If I were in a wheelchair, then people would offer to open the door for me. But when you have different social needs, there aren’t many people who are able to see what you lack and help when you’re in distress. And even those who know may not understand what it means. 

It also complicates things that I look like I’m in control of my life. Enough so that many people don’t really believe or understand when I talk about the depth of the problems I face.

Being Mormon, though, has made all that worth it. Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have a community of people who love me. A place to serve and be a part of other people’s lives. A connection with God. Knowledge and inspiration from people in my community. The opportunity to lift others and bring them peace and happiness. Priesthood power to call down miracles from Heaven in behalf of the people I love. The ability to change and become better, cleaner, happier. And miracles that happen every single day in my own life… with promises of many, many more to come. The doctrines of the Church, when I finally understood them and how they apply to me, personally, gave me so much faith and hope and peace… something I was never able to find outside. More than anything, being Mormon makes me incredibly happy. It gives me a reason to wake up in the morning, and fills my heart with gratitude each night that God was willing to let me find the secret to eternal joy and also trusts me enough to let me share it with others.


Why a Blog in the First Place?
About three years ago, I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the Church with same-gender attraction. Up until that point, I had honestly thought that I was. 

I know. I’m socially clueless. Get over it. 

I had the impulse to reach out to help others and made a posting on Craigslist written to guys who wanted to be faithful members of the Church. I offered to be a friend to talk to.

Within hours, I had over 70 people who wanted to talk. Over the next few days I shared my story and listened as men and women told me theirs. Often they’d ask me similar questions, and I found myself writing down the answers, copy-pasting them into chat windows, and wanting to put the information someplace accessible. I had blogged already for a few years, so I started another one – (Gay) Mormon Guy. The blog has shifted dynamics and readers over the years, but the main focus had endured – to be the story and resource that I wished were available when I was going through my own formative years.


What Else Have You Written?
Until two years ago I wrote every week at www.romanmissionary.blogspot.com – it includes all the letters from my mission, plus a copy of the letters I sent to family and friends each week, every week after I got home from the mission.I’ve blogged a few other places; a poetry blog called www.peacemakerblog.blogspot.comthat hasn’t been updated in a long time, SEVEN – a now-defunct blogging group with some friends, and Northern Lights – a blog with Ty Mansfield, Josh Weed, and other faithful Mormons who write about homosexuality.

I’ve also written and published a couple of books. The first was my thesis: Quan’da’ry: The Story – Creating and Modifying Games for Use in Education. It had a total run of about 5 copies. The next was called Watching Cookies in the Oven and is about finding symbolism in everyday life. It was self-published, so if you want a copy, just email me and I’ll send a .pdf version. 10 Days Until Forever (excerpt in the link) is a children’s picture book that was real-published by Cedar Fort and carried by Deseret Book in March of2011. It follows a little boy whose family is preparing to go to the temple. Then there was (Gay) Mormon Guy, the Blog which was a rough compilation of the first 100 posts of (Gay) Mormon Guy and published as a free e-book.


Why is Your Blog Called (Gay) Mormon Guy? Why Choose That Label?
My blog’s name is (Gay) Mormon Guy because of search engines. When people are searching for answers to their questions about homosexuality and its intersection with the gospel, they don’t usually use the terms “same-gender attraction.” On the same line, people search for “Mormon” more than they do “Latter-day Saint.” For more info on my choice of words, see The Title (Gay) Mormon Guy.


Why Broadcast it to the World? And Why Now?
I never intended to share this part of my life with anyone. I’m temple-worthy, and it doesn’t influence my everyday life. Everyone has problems. Why should I shout this one to the world?

There are dozens of good reasons to openly share who I am, and dozens of good reasons not to. But, at the core, the reasons why I began blogging in the first place, why I told my parents, why I told Church leaders, and why I’m telling you today stem from one thing. I felt spiritually guided to do so. God has been actively involved in my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned over time that following the promptings I get from Him lead me to greater happiness and the ability to help more people find peace. A few weeks ago, I felt prompted to share this with the world, and so I’m sharing it now.


How Are You Different? How Do You Stay Faithful? Happy? And Why?
I’ve met a lot of people who don’t choose my path. Many tried to live according to their beliefs and spent years slowly degrading into turmoil. For some reason, they weren’t able to find lasting peace and happiness in the gospel, and ultimately many of them decided to subjugate their beliefs to their homosexual desires.
I don’t know what’s different about me. Maybe having autism and depression forced me to develop a relationship with God before same-sex attraction could present its moral paradox. Maybe having a family and community that thinks the world of me and tells me that I can do anything makes me believe it. Maybe I’m not that different at all. I don’t know.

Either way, I’ve learned something, with time, that has changed my life. All things come from God, and God only gives blessings.

God is omnipotent. All-powerful. All-knowing. Which means that everything that happens in the world is under His jurisdiction. Sometimes He acts Himself by putting the causes in motion, like stirring up the winds in the sky to bring down rain or answering personal prayers with feelings of peace. Sometimes He lets others do His will, like when a classmate at school stops, put his arm around me, and asks me about life. But everything that happens is under God’s jurisdiction. “Whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38).

In God’s eyes, everything He gives is a blessing. An ingredient in the recipe He knows by heart. Sometimes, the recipe calls for sugar, and life seems sweet as I learn to use the gifts He’s given me to bless others. And sometimes it calls for salt, cups at a time, to change me into the person He sees in me. Tasted alone, salt is awful. But even sugar cookies need salt to taste right. And, in His eyes, sugar and salt are the same. Both are necessary. Both improve the whole. Both are simply ingredients in a recipe that will ultimately give me the best opportunity to become better, happier, and to return to Him someday.

With that understanding, life makes sense. Why do bad things happen to good people? They don’t. If you’re good, everything that happens in life is a blessing. Temporarily painful? Frustrating? Stressful and tiring and exhausting? Yes. But so are the best rafting trips, the best group meetings, the best relationships, and the best mountain hikes. Because each experience also brings the opportunity to make the stumbling block into a stepping stone… and to gain perspective, hope, happiness, and joy that last far beyond the time when the pain is gone.

Same-sex attraction, autism, depression, and everything else in my life are blessings. Not because they bring me instant joy/pain or gratitude/frustration, but because they enable me to become happier in ways that no other experience would allow.

In that design, my solution to finding the greatest joy in life is understanding God’s hand in all things, and seeing how my goals can be aligned with His. I can always find happiness and peace if I’m doing the right thing, for the right reason, in the right way. If the gospel, the recipe that God is following in my life, and the eternal Plan of Happiness aren’t working for me, it’s not a problem with the Plan. It’s a problem with me.


How is This Post Different From “Coming Out”?
Well… that’s sort of complicated. Most of the “Coming Out” stories I’ve read have been about a guy who has been living two different lives. Slowly, the tension gets worse and worse until it finally explodes. So he tells everyone he’s gay, leaves his faith completely, and expects the world to treat him differently because of his newly declared homosexuality.

My story doesn’t involve two different lives. Just two different aspects that have never met one another. And this – my merging worlds – is my effort to simply combine them into one. One reader put it well: I’m introducing people to connections and aspects of my life that they hadn’t seen before, on both sides, with the hope that both groups can learn and grow from having a more developed understanding.


So… You’re Still Planning to Get Married. How Does That Work?
I’ve written multiple posts on this. The most cogent is The Place of Attraction.

There are a lot of strong feelings about marriage in the world of same-sex attraction. Some people feel that pursuing the hope of getting married to a girl is delusional or repressed or (insert degrading moral epithet here) because the only “right” thing to do is follow your natural inclinations. Others, usually drawing from failed personal marriages, anecdotal evidence from people they know, or statistics drawn from skewed subjects, claim that marrying a girl is ethically wrong, as it will most likely not work, and probably result in (insert the epically worst thing you could imagine here).

I wholeheartedly disagree with both. God didn’t give me autism and depression with the hope that I would always feel depressed and alone… even though that’s exactly what they do naturally. Following my natural inclinations would have led me to suicide, not to happiness. And even though people without both autism and same-sex attraction may bristle at this metaphor, same-sex attraction is largely the same. SSA, autism, and bipolar are all simply variations in brain chemistry. All of them grant amazing, seemingly supernormal benefits – autism grants a higher fluid intelligence and an effective barrier to peer pressure, bipolar lends itself to extreme creativity and laser-focused goals, and SSA makes me into a far kinder and more loving person and often gives prowess in the arts & music. At the same time, each also predisposes me to dramatically non-normal effects. Autism distances me from society and changes the way I interact with others. Bipolar brings depressive episodes that can lead to suicide. And SSA deletes the physical, emotional, and intellectual attractions to women and supplants them with attractions to men.

From my own personal relationship with God, I know that true and lasting happiness comes from being good – from following the principles He has revealed and becoming the person He wants me to become, regardless of the situation in which I find myself. ASD, bipolar, and SSA included. I also know that He’ll fill in the parts of my life that I can’t do myself. And part of that plan, at least before eternity comes, is getting married to a woman.

That’s complicated. And this answer is getting long, so I’ll try to get to the point. I will only marry a girl if I’m completely and totally in love with her – the same level and type and depth of love that a heterosexual guy has for his wife. That has never happened to me, and in order for it to happen, there will have to be a miracle in my behalf. Until that miracle comes, and I and she fall totally in love, I’m not worried about marriage. Do I hope for it? Yeah. Pray for it? Yeah. Plan for it? Definitely. But I let God worry about it. He’s the only One who can make it happen anyway.


Were You Ever Attracted to Me?
If you’re a girl, then no. If you’re a guy, then maybe.


Doesn’t Blogging Make it Harder?
Yes, and no. Part of moving on from addictions is leaving behind the people, places, thoughts, and triggers that keep you connected. Writing about same-sex attraction sometimes makes my life harder, and there have been times when I’ve thought about just dropping (Gay) Mormon Guy altogether.

But in those moments, when I turn to God and tell Him I’m dropping out, He shows me the impact that I’m having. A guy sends me an email about how his life has been changed. A woman tells me that my blog somehow helped her marriage. A man shares his story about wanting to suicide and then finding (Gay) Mormon Guy. And in the depths of my heart I realize that writing here is part of my personal calling.

Writing also helps me work through my own difficulties. As I write, things become clearer, and I’m able to get feedback from people all over the world. Sometimes the feedback makes me laugh – like when people suggest I have more NCMO (non-committal make-out) sessions with girls to spark passion. But sometimes it’s exactly what I need. Writing about it may not be the best solution for everyone. But it’s been a blessing in my life and an opportunity to share my life with others.


Do You Have Any Other Pictures of Your Family?
Definitely! (I put this question in because this picture is awesome. We’re all doing yoga poses, and Zach looks like he’s about to box the photographer. And I wanted to reward people who have read this far.)

How Did You Tell Other People? How Did They Respond?
I told my parents about a year and a half ago in person. I describe what I told them in Dear Mom and Dad, and their response in I Told Them.

I told my close family by phone a few weeks ago. Their responses, and how I told them, are in Phase1: Family - Results.

Then I told other family and friends. I write a regular newsletter/email and included it there. Their responses were almost universally supportive.

I’ve had a number of experiences talking with Church leaders. My first, meeting with a friend and member of my stake presidency, is In Real Life. My second and third were less ideal, so I’ll leave them without links in the blog archives. My most recent, telling my current bishop, is under"Nothing Has Changed."


I Need Help Changing My Life. What Should I Do?
I could list dozens of strategies to overcome addiction, cope with depression, become more social, understand the gospel, or find happiness. And I probably will once I talk with my professor who has written world-famous books on influence. 

But the best way to find the solution to your own problems, no matter what they are, is to turn to God… and listen. “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). Hopefully as you read here, you can feel inspired to turn to the scriptures, to the words of the prophets, to personal prayer… and to learn how to make your life better from God Himself.


What Else Do Mormons Believe? Can You Direct Me to More (Reputable) Information?
While I believe everything the Church teaches and try to make (Gay) Mormon Guy a place where people can receive inspiration, I’m not an official representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I gave that up with my black missionary name tag 6 years ago. But there are official representatives who’d love to answer any question you have, whether about homosexuality or any other topic, right now

You can click here to open a new chat window
It’s actually pretty cool. Inside the Mormon.org button on the sidebar of my blog, you click the Chat tab, enter in your name and email (You can be anonymous, but they’re missionaries. You can trust them), click Start Chat, and you’re talking with a missionary. 

Last week I tried it out to determine if it actually worked, and two guys – Josh and Ryan – responded within just a few seconds. I told them to expect questions on same-gender attraction, and asked them if the system had the capacity to handle lots of people. It does. So go ahead. Ask the missionaries.

You can also find official Church doctrine and information at www.lds.org and www.mormon.org


I Want to Read More of Your Blog. Where Should I Start?
Just click the Start Here button. Or, if you have a lot of time, try the Post Index.


Can I Contact You?
Yes.

My gmail address is afriendtotalk2 – feel free to email me about whatever.
Or you can friend me on Facebook at facebook.com/romanmissionary - send me a message so that I can put a name with the friend request.
Or add me on LinkedIn; my LinkedIn is http://www.linkedin.com/pub/david-peterson/23/675/a7a


Why Doesn't the Facebook "Like" Button Work? Or the Share Button? When Will it Work?
It got fixed! Facebook had banned gaymormonguy.blogspot.com as an "abusive or spammy" site, but enough emails to the developer team means that it's no longer banned. So the Like button on the sidebar works again, and you can write "gaymormonguy.blogspot.com" anywhere on Facebook - personal messages, status updates, anything.

What Can I Do to Help/Support You or People Around Me?
I have a really hard time asking for things in my life. I’ve always believed that I was self-sufficient… and that has alienated people from my life. And, in a twist of fate, developing solid relationships with people is the one thing that I can’t do for myself. If you know me just find ways to let me know you care. Realize that the mixture of autism and same-sex attraction makes me totally awkward. Push yourself into my life even when I push back. Give me a hug for no reason at all and then don’t let go. Stop me when you see me, and push me into being a part of your life. That’s how you can support me.

To help those around you, learn to love people unconditionally. Learning to love people and show that love will give you a greater ability to help them in their lives than studying the problems they face. Everyone knows someone who lives with difficult circumstances, whether same-gender attraction, autism, depression, or anything else. But very few know who they are. Most of us go through life without sharing our deepest needs with the world. No matter who you are or who you know, I invite you to share the message, invite others to come unto Christ, be willing to help them along the way, and then let them find their own way to happiness.

Share the truth with everyone, and someone – your own friend, or the friend of a friend of a friend – will find what they silently need.

I love you guys.
David (Mormon Guy)