Friday, August 30
This Sunday North Star (an LDS support network for men and women striving to live the gospel with same-gender attraction) is hosting their quarterly fireside in Bountiful. The topic is "Keeping Close to Family and Friends who have Chosen a Path Outside the Gospel."
Posted by Mormon Guy at 9:14 AM
Tuesday, August 27
I had the missionary dream again this week. The one where the Apostles extend the opportunity for male members of the Church to go on additional full-time missions... and I'm there in an instant.
I don't remember everything from the dream (since dreams are often that way), but I know had a companion a couple years younger than me, and it was his second time serving as well. I felt the same thrill of being able to serve, the same feeling of joy in finding ways to share the gospel. The same unbounded love for the people around me. The same closeness to God that I've come to love. I also remember distinctly thinking, "This has got to be a dream..." then looking around me, being overjoyed that it wasn't, and going back to work.
It was interesting to see how much I've changed in the years since my mission. How much more able I am to see people's needs, to remember and apply scriptures, to find ways to lift and bless people in their lives. I felt enormously blessed to be able to take the skills I'd developed as a teacher, writer, performer, and in graduate school and apply them somewhere truly worthwhile. And to share those with my companion and other missionaries.
Needless to say, when I woke up, it was not a joyful experience.
It felt so... so real. I've had that dream enough times that if the Brethren opened a door for it to happen, I'd jump as soon as I could say yes. And maybe someday it will. But something inside my heart tells me that, even if it does happen, the Lord has plans for me... that definitely involve missionary work, just perhaps not with a black badge.
A few days ago the Church announced that there will be a new stake organized in Rome, comprising the current districts of Napoli and Sardegna. That was where I served most of my mission. I was there when we organized the first stake of Rome.
I had another dream while I was in the MTC about Italy. There were three parts. The Pope died... then a temple was built. And then I found myself standing on a rock overlooking the city, singing. The Pope died while I was there. The temple was announced by President Monson. I don't know what the last part means yet. Maybe if I get into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we'll tour in Rome and sing on that spot. You're set apart as a missionary - a musical missionary - when you join the Choir. Or maybe it's something else far in the future.
I don't know. Maybe this is what I get for spending all day reading and writing about the gospel for work. Even at night it possesses my dreams.
Either way, I'm glad that the work is going forward. I'm glad that God has a place for me. And I'm glad that I can do at least a little bit to help build His Kingdom here on the earth.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 12:07 PM
Sunday, August 25
I'm a partial perfectionist. I don't obsess over things being perfectly done or perfectly complete. I start far more projects than I end, and my siblings hate the fact that I always have a thousand things going on.
But when it comes to imposing standards on myself - creating expectations for my performance in anything - I probably take myself too seriously.
I'm getting better. Blogging has made me far less perfectionistic in my writing; I focus on simply putting reality on the screen and pushing send, rather than creating something worthy to be read. Playing music in church (since I'm not really all that good) helps me be willing to perform even in talents where I'm still bordering on the mediocre. I'm okay having depression, and don't let it fill me with guilt.
I'm okay being imperfect.
But I'm still moving forward to perfection.
Today in church we spoke about President Uchtdorf's talk on God's Light from the April 2013 Conference. One of the concepts that really stuck out to me was the importance of just moving forward.
No matter what I face, no matter if my life is full of darkness or mostly with light, turning to God will always bring me greater happiness and faith.
And that's pretty cool. And it's nice to remember.
Sometimes I get down on myself for being imperfect. For not being as good as I wish I were. But if I'm willing to turn to Jesus and follow Him, that's enough. His grace is enough... even if I'm not perfect, He makes up for my imperfections, and will help me grow, step by step.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 12:55 PM
Tuesday, August 20
Preface: when I say the word gay, I mean, inclusively, anyone who has feelings of same-sex attraction. When I say Mormon, I mean a faithful member of the Church, temple-worthy, who believes and lives according to the teachings of the prophets and is honestly and authentically happy in life.
Gay Mormons can have dramatically different lives and circumstances. One is a grandfather with a dozen grandchildren. One is a twelve-year-old kid trying to figure out what the future holds. One is a happily married newlywed navigating a marriage, new working environment, and changed social sphere. One is a single guy who would give anything to find love, be married, and have a family. One is an actor, another a scientist, another a football star.
They can come from all walks of life - rich, poor, male, female, converts to the Church and born to parents with bloodlines back to Mormon pioneers. In nations as far flung as India, Pakistan, and Nepal, or as close to home as the neighbor next door. From broken families and picture-perfect ones.
But at some point every gay Mormon has to face his life, and what it really means.
Being gay, in my case, means that I have deep desires to be close to men. To develop friendships, but to have those friendships be more than friendship. To cultivate emotional intimacy, physical closeness, to love and feel loved. If I followed those feelings exclusively, it would push me to find a guy who honestly, truly loves and admires and pushes me, someone I can love and admire and improve in return, and spend my life with him.
That's the simple part. Being gay isn't something I have to work at, or even something that I need to really understand for it to play a role in my life.
Being Mormon is harder.
Being Mormon, by the definition I gave at the top, means living the gospel completely - being worthy to worship in the temple - believing the gospel completely, and being authentically and truly happy in life.
This is where the differences in people varies their difficulties in application.
Some people honestly believe the gospel, but struggle to live it. They live with temptation and addiction as a daily onslaught... and usually deal with feelings of deep unworthiness, guilt, and shame. Yes, maybe the addiction I had to pornography was made worse by sexual abuse just at the wrong moment, but I still had an addiction. I still felt cast out, unloved, worthless, and cursed.
Some people do everything the gospel asks, but don't honestly believe what the Church teaches. Perhaps they wait for the Brethren to announce that God has repealed the Law of Chastity, or at least made an exception for men to have sex with men... or they, more commonly, wonder if the gospel really has the power to help them be truly happy. Maybe they are part of the Church only because of circumstance or current need. Social opportunities, good universities, wanting to appease family for now. For a while I was like this. I honestly wondered if the Plan of Salvation applied to me, or if I had done something so egregious as to disqualify me from ever finding happiness in life. I did *everything* I could. My Elder's Quorum President (I was his counselor) nicknamed me "the robot of righteousness," probably because of the emotional intensity that comes from ASD and the intense zeal that came from trying to understand how the gospel fit in my life.
And some do *everything* right, believe the gospel completely, and yet, in the quiet hours of their lives, can't find happiness. And when I did this, when I honestly believed, did what I thought I should, and happiness was still out of reach, that was the wall I hit. And the wall that most people I've known who try to be gay and Mormon hit as well.
I think there's one key to being successfully gay and Mormon. Authentically acknowledging the traits I have, and honestly expressing my desires within the bounds that God has set. Finding true, honest, authentic happiness.
I think the key is humility.
Along the first scenario, overcoming addictions and putting my life in line with the will of God took humility, and faith. But a lot of humility. At one point I couldn't handle the temptation for pornography, so I cancelled the Internet where I lived, and for months could only connect on BYU campus. That was a humbling experience - to be able to say that I needed to actually do something because I was somehow in a pit and couldn't get out. But it made a difference.
Learning to believe what the Church teaches took even more humility for me. I'm an intellectual at heart. Everything is rational. Everything has to make sense. And until I was willing to submit to God, to admit that maybe my view of the truth was flawed, it was an uphill battle. Simply accepting that God loves me, truly and honestly, was hard for me to do. And accepting that He would fulfill His promises, including the promise of eternal life, marriage to a girl I'll love somehow, and being a father, while having no idea how those blessings will happen... I had to give up my pride to be willing to let Him drive in my life... to be willing to exercise the faith I needed.
And when everything seemed like it was in place, when my outside and inside lives were in harmony, and I still found... or find... myself struggling to be happy, the answer is again humility. In this case, it's being willing to let God be a part of my life, and being willing to let Him show me what happiness looks like through life. For a long time I assumed I needed to be married, or have a girlfriend, or a family, or a best friend, or friends at all in order to be truly happy. And when the dichotomy of my life presented itself - no marriage, no girlfriend, disconnects with family, and difficulty getting close to anyone - I was unwilling to be happy until something was resolved. It wasn't until I let God take care of me, in every way possible, that happiness became a part of daily life.
I honestly think that this - humility - is one of the keys to being gay, Mormon, authentic, honest, and happy. I think it's probably a major part of everyone's lives, but at least in mine it has been the deciding factor in so many things. The motivation to abandon my sins. The willingness to honestly approach God and better understand His will. And the willingness to redefine what happiness looks like from the outside, and to allow it to be a part of me... to heal the turmoil and chaos inside.
Dear self: Be humble. Be happy.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 7:23 AM
Sunday, August 18
I was looking through boxes today and found things I had thought were lost, and others I'm not sure I had ever seen before. Illinois State Scholar award letters (I got that?). Receipts from everything I bought during my mission. Every letter I received in Italy. Recruitment letters from majors and clubs at BYU (ironic, since one was for food science... and if I went back I'd study more of that). And then a box taped shut, marked David twice... full of plastic containers packed with ribbons and medals from my swimming years.
I had thought that all the ribbons and medals had been thrown away. But there they were, in a box that has been sitting in my room, untouched, for a year.
And it made me wonder.
My dad tells me that when I was 12, I was one of the top 20 swimmers in the country in my age group. I swam freestyle and butterfly, and competed every weekend in meets and invitationals... and most of my ribbons are blue. There were a handful of us that swam the relay for Team Illinois at the Zone meet, and I would look forward to statewide invitationals because I knew I'd have good competition with a couple of rivals who fought for first.
A few years later, though, few people even knew that I had ever been a swimmer. I had decided that swimming wasn't going to be my life, and I cut it off completely. I think it took my dad years to forgive me for that choice... and even now he wonders why I did it.
Some of the conference records I set still stand back at home, in some cases almost 20 years after I was there. Some of my rivals still swim, too. Matt Grevers, who lived just a few cities away, became an Olympic medalist.
And I find myself looking at ribbons and medals in the box, wondering how my life would be different today if I had made a different choice. If, instead of moving from an obvious talent to focus more on other things, I had stuck with what I was good at, at least in this one thing.
I don't know.
The reality is that it wasn't a decision to run away from Olympic glory or blue ribbons. It was a symptom of a struggle that took years to resolve. I was good at swimming, and yet I didn't have to work as hard as the others. I could slack, or at least it seemed that way, and still lead the lane, or be the best at practice, still win meets and get blue ribbons. And something about that made me sick inside. I couldn't understand it, and so I ran away. I don't know if the intense competition that gave me headaches was from chlorine or stress. If the smells and sounds were familiar or noxious. Maybe I just wanted to do something other than sit on a deck for hours each weekend waiting for my 4 sets of 21.34 seconds of glory. Maybe God's hand was in it.
Either way, I left. My coach never stopped asking me to come back, and my dad never stopped clipping newspaper articles about the kids who had once been my rivals.
I don't know what would be different today. Maybe life would be easier. Maybe it would be harder.
Regardless, the choice happened. It's not going to change, and I can't really see what would have happened otherwise. It's all conjecture after that point.
I guess I just wonder. And I assume that's a universal human trait - wondering how life would be different if choices had been made differently.
I don't think I'm going to throw away my box of ribbons and medals. But I also don't think there will be any new additions anytime soon.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 10:30 PM
Saturday, August 17
"But do you believe that following the Church can bring everyone happiness?"
I had a conversation this week about being Mormon and gay. I've heard dozens of heart-rending stories of families destroyed because of unfaithful spouses with same-sex attraction. I know people who quietly go through incredible despair as they try to understand it in their own lives or the lives of those they love. I've seen men try to be faithful, leave the Church to live with another guy, and come back again. And I've seen that same struggle in my own life. My younger brother got married this week; my grandfather called me and told me he was looking forward to the day that I could be married and put everything else in my past behind me.
I've heard people talk about this before - a belief that happiness is found in many places... and that, for some people, the gospel isn't the answer. But I had never seen it in real life. And I wanted to respond.
In the conversation it was a simple, "yes." Yes, the gospel has the power to help everyone find happiness.
But in life it has a deeper impact.
A major tenet of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God's Plan of Salvation is both universal and personal... and that the greatest happiness in the long run will always come from following the counsels and commandments of God, no matter who I am or what I face. The promise is that no matter what happens, the gospel will always have the answer and always be the best choice. The gospel makes the claim to be universal, so if it is true it must work for everyone.
There's another reality as well that parallels the gospel. The reality going outside, even just a little, of gospel morals and standards might make my life easier and I could trade one type of happiness for another. I could go find a great guy who is a good person, fall in love, and spend my life with him. And find happiness.
Those two realities, juxtaposed together, offer a few different options of belief.
The first is that happiness is personal... and that true happiness doesn't always come from following God. I have to find my own way, and maybe it will coincide with what prophets teach, and maybe it will be a little different. But as long as it makes me happy... or at least makes me feel more comfortable... that's the way I should go.
The second is that the gospel is true (universal), and that finding happiness will always come from following God.
The beliefs are exclusive - I cannot believe that the gospel is universal and also believe that the gospel does not apply to everyone.
Watching families disintegrate when people struggle with trials, seeing men and women broken down under the weight of the things they bear... and then watching people find happiness as they understand who they are and improve their self-worth, outside of the gospel, can make it easy for me to say that the gospel isn't for everyone. That's the simplest way to explain someone who is miserable, then happy.
But the easiest explanations aren't always the most accurate. Being authentic and honest with others, inside or outside of the Church, can free people of unneeded guilt and pain. Finding friends who care can help to meet emotional needs. And being close to people who love me can help me feel whole - those are true principles regardless of where they are applied. And if I move from a ward and family that doesn't offer me that opportunity to a gay community that does, I'll see the results.
I honestly do believe that the gospel is universal. I believe that following the words of Jesus Christ, and heeding the counsel of living prophets, will always bring greater happiness than any other alternative.
Yes, the gospel requires me to make sacrifices. Yes, it pushes me to become a better person and threatens to reshape everything I hold dear. But God has always done that to His children. He made them wander 40 years in the desert, and sent curses to remind them of His presence. He sends the wind and the rain, storms and tempests, and puts me in the place I will grow the most - not the easiest or most convenient. And if I look at my life, I can see that happening.
The sacrifice is always worth it. There is always an answer and a reason. God is involved in my life, and He will do everything in His power to lead me to become like Him - perfectly happy.
I just need to be willing to follow.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 11:58 AM
Friday, August 16
I admitted to myself this week something important. I'm emotionally vulnerable.
In my mind, emotional vulnerability is analogous to armor in a battle. The better your armor, and the less direct the blows, the fewer marks you come home with. It's the same idea of having thick skin - that way, things just roll off you instead of leaving an impression. Having lower emotional vulnerability (or thicker skin) allows you to have stable emotions throughout the day, and also keeps you safe from situations where you're not really getting all that hurt.
Everything emotional leaves a real impression on me. A passing blow always hits hard. Something someone says, even in jest, gets recorded in my mind and played over and over. And at the end of the day, I can look at myself and see the dozens... or hundreds... of cuts and bruises picked up just by living in a chaotic emotional world.
It was an important thing for me to admit to myself because...
...it's something I've been ashamed about. I mean, who has the same intense emotional reaction when they get honest criticism from a friend as when a close family member dies? Who gets honestly hurt by everything? My brothers and the people around me seem to have exceptionally thick skin. They let some things just roll off without it affecting them... and I wanted to at least pretend to have that.
In the same breath of recognizing my vulnerability, I also realized that there's another side to the equation. And I know I'm just making up terms for things that a psychologist probably wrote theories about... but whatever. The other side is what I'm calling emotional resilience. It's the ability to go home at the end of the day and tend to your wounds... then get up the next morning and keep going. High emotional resilience makes it so that you can go through intense emotional experiences (whether caused by thin skin or actual deep blows) and quickly, honestly, authentically integrate the experience and its effects into your life... instead of dwelling on it.
And maybe I'm making things up to soothe my mind for being emotionally vulnerable, but I think I do better with resilience. And, in my mind, I have enough to make up for the fact that I get hurt more often. I might have the same wounds from a passing sarcastic remark as I do from an exploding friendship. But in both cases I can go think about what happened, try to understand what the other people are going through, process my own feelings, try to distill something to learn and apply, and move on... in close to the same amount of time. A massive personal trial sent from God stands at about the same level of healing needed as the trial of meeting someone new who pushes me aside.
Which makes me think that maybe emotional vulnerability isn't a bad thing. Maybe I end up learning a lot from my experiences because I have to heal from them. Maybe it makes me into a better person. Maybe I'm crazy... but it makes sense to me. Learning how I'm hurt - regardless of source - over time makes it easier for me to understand myself, and people, and to hopefully avoid inflicting the same harms.
I don't know yet how to accurately portray the fact to others that, as far as emotions go, I'm a self-healing robin's egg, or doll made of paper-thin crystal. Touch me, and I'll break... but it's ok, because it always happens, and a few hours later I'll be whole again. I think that people who see that side of me wonder. "David seems like a really put-together guy. Why does he react so deeply to something so irrelevant?"
I don't know. Communicating it with others will probably be a process of learning. Lots of trial, lots of error.
But being willing to admit it to myself is probably the first step.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 8:17 AM
Sunday, August 11
Sometimes I'm just grateful for opposites in feelings. Because they help me realize how blessed I really am in life.
Feeling alone helps me appreciate the times when I have people around me who care about me... and pushes me to reach out to people.
Feeling misunderstood helps me feel grateful for the people who try to understand... and makes me more willing to forgive people who don't seem to understand me.
Feeling hungry makes me grateful for good food, science to help guide my decisions, and the discount at the health food store when I buy a case... and pushes me to help people find joy in healthy eating (though with a diet like mine, that's complicated).
Feeling tired makes me grateful for the things I can do... and gives me empathy for the people who are tired in life.
Feeling anxious makes me grateful for the things inside me that push me to want to be better... and lets me understand the stress of wanting to be better.
Feeling worn down, broken, frustrated or futile helps me appreciate the times when I feel like I'm making a difference, and when I catch glimpses of a place where I belong... and helps me forgive people, love them, and try to start over when I've made mistakes.
Feeling depressed makes me appreciate the things I usually love in life... and pushes me to be there for people who need a friend.
Sometimes I wish I could find a way to avoid negative feelings. To make it so that I could fix all my relationships and find ways to meet my needs. But, in the meantime, living with imperfect (and sometimes grossly dystopian) feelings is a blessing. It helps me appreciate life, and pushes me to make life, and the world around me, better.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 7:12 PM
Sunday, August 4
I'm not sure where it comes from. Maybe it's because I struggle to read underlying emotional currents. Maybe it's because I've convinced myself that everything that can go wrong, will. Maybe it's a lesser part of being bipolar.
Whatever causes it, it's still sort of funny... or ironic... to watch how quickly and intensely my emotions change. I'm in tears one moment, feeling like life really can't go on and have meaning, and an hour later, when someone asks me if I'm doing ok, I don't even realize why they are asking.
I think that maybe the shift in emotions - from intense pain to joy, confusion to faith - allow me to have greater perspective on life. And maybe those disparate emotional states are the key for understanding the disparity in the types of decisions I make throughout life.
But mostly, right now, I think it's ironic. And maybe a bit frustrating. Because when I'm going through something intense, looking back at it through rational eyes I look horribly melodramatic. Taking things out of context, blowing things out of proportion... the usual. And yet in the moment I have those same thoughts, and actively try to measure my feelings and reactions... and feel completely resolved in doing what I do. Then later I laugh at the circumstance, but feel a bit embarrassed for acting like (at least it seems in my mind) a 5-year old.
I wish I could figure out what is going wrong in those situations... or if there really is anything going wrong. Going through intense emotional upheaval is actually a really good experience for me, as it helps me find stability and focus in life. I don't know that I really want to change it. But I have people involved in my life now... and regardless of how useful melodrama may be for me, I feel sorry for the people on the outside, who... I'm not sure if they really know what to do or expect.
Example: the first copy of the Book of Mormon I gave away on my mission was to an old woman we found while knocking doors. We went back a few times, but on the third or fourth visit she told us she didn't want to see us anymore. And she gave back the Book of Mormon. I had thought she might stop meeting with us, but I had hoped that she would keep the book so it would have a chance of influencing her or a loved one someday. I literally cried there on the spot, and looking back, it made the situation somewhat awkward. But I was totally devastated and didn't know what to do. She started crying too, because I was so distraught, and my companion quickly got us out the door. We didn't stop to process what had happened, just walked to the next complex where we had left off knocking doors. By the time we arrived, I was ok. That's what shook him up - my sudden shift from devastated to bright - and he brought it up to me later. In my mind it made perfect sense. I'm going to be devastated in the first situation, and I need to be happy in the second. But I don't think it works that way for everyone.
I know that it wreaks havoc on my relationships. People aren't sure what to do when my emotions are jumping from one place to another. Am I depressed? Am I ok? Am I having an amazing day, or really having an awful one, just with a short breath of fresh air?
Since I'm back in a deeply rational state, I find myself wanting to explain, or apologize, or whatever, the things I do when I'm emotional. The reality, though, is that I'm both. Wholly and completely both. And even though I may have 20/20 backwards vision and cognitive reasoning that usually wins out, it doesn't change the reality of my emotions when they come on strong. I don't have any idea of how to be less melodramatic when it hits, or any less rational when it doesn't.
Posted by Mormon Guy at 9:19 AM
Friday, August 2
All the things that I'll never be good at
All the talents that I'll never know
All the blessings I've asked for for decades
All the masks that I put up for show
All the people I've wanted for friendship
All my sorrows and all of my pain
When all the things that I want break to millions of pieces
Only dust and the ashes remain.
From dust to dust
From ashes to ashes
I build up a palace and watch while it crashes
But there, in the stillness of nothing God calls
"Some day you'll be more than a man."
All my hopes to make sorrow forgotten
My attempts to dry away tears
My prayers every night, hoping to help share the light
The courage that comes from my fears
Then I break all the rules and reverse all the good
And my actions bring sorrow and pain
I watch the walls all fall down, pushed down by me;
Only I and the ashes remain.
From dust to dust
From ashes to ashes
I build up a palace and watch while it crashes
But there, in the stillness of nothing God calls
"Someday you'll be more than a man."
Even though I may never feel good enough
And though life may be pulling me down.
Though my trials bring angst and frustration
And I can't seem to turn them around.
Even though I may never have friendship
And when I try I'll only cause pain
I'll keep trying.
Dear Lord, give me strength to build up a palace.
Only You and the ashes remain.
Rise from the dust
Rise from the ashes
Build up a palace; even if it crashes
I do what I can do; learn what I can
Because someday, with You, I'll be more than a man.
Sometimes I try to develop friendships. I push myself out of the shell that surrounds me and actually meet people. Try to get to know them. In the beginning, it always seems like it's working. But, inevitably, I do things that push people away, and when I've broken enough unwritten social norms to make anyone run, they almost always do.
For a long time, when my friendships failed, I would sever all the rest of my relationships. The thought was that since I was unknowingly inflicting pain in one place, it was probably happening elsewhere, too. And there are lots of people who can be friends without causing chaos in someone's life. Losing me from their life would be a good thing.
And then I'd spend the next few months trying to solve all the problems I could find. Identify all the things that I had done wrong in each relationship and create rules to help me in the future. Only when I felt like I could do it... that maybe my newfound skills would overcome my weaknesses, would I try again.
I don't sever ties anymore when my world falls apart. I've learned that isn't fair to people who have invested in a relationship with me. But I still find myself wondering if it's really worth it. To them or to me. Maybe someday I'll make enough mistakes to learn to be normal. Maybe not. And even if a friendship may be beneficial today, that doesn't prevent me from destroying it tomorrow.
The only thing that keeps me going - pushes me to try - is that I still believe that I can do good. At least someday, if not yet. That I can learn to be a worthwhile friend, and be there for people who really need it. That maybe I can have my own friends someday. And, perhaps more, that every time I make mistakes, God tells me to get up and try again.
I make more mistakes than anyone I know. It's a cop-out to say that having ASD means it should matter less. Pain is pain; mistakes are mistakes. Regardless of my circumstances, I should be learning better. But I still fail. So I'm sorry - to the people I've tried to befriend, to the people I'm trying to befriend right now, to anyone who meets me in the future, to the people who will never know me but are affected by me, and to God. Hopefully you can forgive me and help me find the courage and strength to try again... and improve for tomorrow.