Friday, October 4

Gay and Faithful: Broken Roadmap

Being gay and faithful is simple from the outside. I don't have sex, try to be as awesome as I can be, and God will make me into an incredible human.

But there's a lot more to it.

Yes, as a guy attracted to other guys, I get powerful urges to be sexually active with them. The stereotype of gays as hypersexual is a broad generalization, but it's founded on indisputable evidence - many first dates in the gay community involve sexual activity, and there are accurate memes of gays waiting until the second or third date to trade numbers or share their real names.

But the real drive that draws me to men, and that has pushed me far outside my own comfort zone, has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with connection and love. Unlike my urge for sex, which waxes and wanes, my desire to truly connect with someone, to love and be loved, has slowly grown in magnitude until it sometimes becomes all-consuming.

And that's where the issue starts.

I'll be candid here. Befriending straight guys hasn't worked for me. My primary love language is touch, and my second is time... which means that both are central in allowing me to really feel connected with and loved by someone else. In in today's hypersexual society, touch between straight men almost doesn't happen. Touch between gay and straight seems to happen even less - the straight guy doesn't want to send the wrong messages, the gay guy doesn't want to send the wrong messages... and touch is the first thing to go. 

Perhaps men with other primary love languages find it easier to thrive, but in straight society I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place. I feel a mixture of draws: compelled to beg for connection, obligated to subdue my desire for it, afraid of the consequences for seeking it, pushed to seek it somewhere else.

I don't know about the experiences of other guys... but my desire for connection is overwhelming. When it hits hardest, I would readily trade my job, my savings, my health, and even my connection with friends and family for the kind of connection my heart thinks it needs. And I guess that makes sense - the Bible instructs a man and woman pursuing an ideal marriage, which is the epitome of connection, to forsake almost all else in order to truly be one.

Pitting the desires in my heart against one another, it's only a matter of time. If I'm unable to thrive on the scraps of connection begged from straight society, and unwilling to mark myself as a solitary martyr, I'll find myself drawn outside of my home in straight society into the gay.

But unlike my experience in straight society (and especially a religious straight society) where sex is a topic addressed by friends and family, in my experience in the gay world sex is often the beginning of the conversation. 

On the surface, the expectation for sex looks similar to the expectation in straight society: if a guy and girl fall in love, commit their lives to each other, and get married, then it's overwhelmingly likely that sex will be part of that.

In the straight world, however, intimacy comes before sex. It's fully possible, and often culturally encouraged, to save sex until after marriage, which means developing incredibly close, intimate bonds with someone and even pledging your life to them before being sexually active.

In the gay world, it comes after. 

The broad expectation in gay society is that I'll have sex with anyone if I really intend to get close to them. Before I get close to them. Friends are almost always friends with benefits. There are exceptions. But my overwhelming experience has been that, especially when mutual attraction is involved, sex is a gate, and intimacy and closeness are locked behind it.

Like I said at the beginning, being gay and faithful looks simple from the outside. I don't have sex, try to be as awesome as I can be, and God will make me into an incredible human. But if my desire to connect with someone overrides all other desires, and I can't find enough connection in straight society, then ultimately it will seem to come down to a choice between two options: 

1) Choose to not have sex, trust God, and live a life likely without love / deep connection with another person

2) Choose to have sex, develop love / deep connections with another person, and redefine / salvage my relationship with God

I know that God will love me no matter what I do. I don't know what the future holds, or how much my actions affect it. I also know that life can be absolutely miserable without connection, that "men are that they might have joy," and that relationships are the most important part of life.

Pulling all those apart, and faced with those two choices, it's not surprising that churches are seeing a hemorrhage of gay members leave their folds, or that some churches are redefining their doctrine to allow sex between men. Few people want to mark themselves as solitary monks, and none make that journey without developing an indomitable force of will over a lifetime... and even the most faithful religious leaders would be reticent to preach a solitary life as the golden standard that will lead to eternal happiness.

And so, while people's faith and will hold them, they live lives as quiet, closeted, struggling martyrs. They find meaning in their faith. They do incredible things. They believe. Many probably hope, as I once did, that by showing enough faith God would intervene and do some kind of miracle to make it all better. Or at least easier.

And when their faith gives out, or the desire for connection grows intense, many end up leaving the churches they once loved. Not because they don't believe it, but because their imperfect faith, or society at large, has failed them and left them feeling they have nowhere to go. Suicide seems a viable option to end the pain, and their religion - which promised eternal happiness and salvation at the price of faith - usually takes the biggest hit.

Back to my story.

Like many other people, my life has more than one problem. Being gay is only a subset of the circumstances in my experience. Over the years I've fought and lived with bipolar depression, autism, major anxiety, crippling fear of abandonment, and major memory loss. Each of those, by itself, has categorically crushed me, destroyed my psyche, left me reeling, and pushed me to the brink of death and despair.

Unlike being gay, though, for those conditions there was no way out. There was no temptation I could give in to that would make my life temporarily bearable. No journaling or introspection or therapy that could make it better. No action that would dull the pain. 

Nothing that could help. 

Which meant that, in my darkest hours, when family, friends, and life itself failed me, I turned to God.

And I found Him.

And my relationship with God is the one thing I am not willing to give up in exchange for a relationship with someone else. Everything else is on the table; I'd move to Australia and be a nomad in the desert if I had to; but my relationship with God, and the things He asks of me, I choose to put first.

I think one of the reasons that religious leaders may be loathe to preach a solitary life as the standard to uphold is that God is not usually a solitary God. In almost all cases, He expects me to reach out to others, develop friendships, and find meaningfully mutual experiences. Yes, I believe He teaches that sex leads to happiness only between a married man and woman. He doesn't bar me from love.

But that's as far as doctrines go.

Right now the thing I feel missing most in my life being gay and faithful is understanding where I'm trying to go. If I were straight, I'd be moving toward an eventual marriage. But I'm not. Which means that I literally have no idea what it is I'm supposed to do next. I'm sure this is a great learning and growing experience, but it's also candidly ugh.

Just two examples:

There is no doctrine on celibate partnership - a committed, romantic non-marriage relationship between gay men or women where both commit themselves first to God and don't have sex. It's a popular option in some Jewish and Christian circles.

The doctrine on appropriate boundaries of intimacy simply instructs people to follow the guidance of the Spirit, which can protect in countless unnamed situations, but can also make it difficult for people who aren't used to the Spirit. Leaving things open to personal interpretation also doesn't cover messy cultural discrepancies - example: if it can be good (since stuff is either good or evil; there isn't an in-between) for an unmarried guy and girl to kiss while they are dating, what does that say about two guys who are falling in love, who also plan to stay sexually pure? Regardless of culture, there isn't currently any solid doctrine on questions like that, which can make it difficult from both a social and personal standpoint to develop intimate relationships that are also within the bounds of faith.

There's no resolution in this post. Sorry. And the fact there isn't any amount of clear resolution is, I think, a core reason of why we are losing people. I'm sure it'll come someday; in the meantime this is what I've got to work with.

Sunday, September 29

Making a Difference

I had the rare luxury this week of making time to think about life. And about my role in it.

There are people who add to the world through creativity. They find new and incredible ways to combine ideas, and their legacy lasts through art and inventions and scientific growth. 

There are people who add to the world through hard work. They put sweat and tears into building things that last, and their legacy lasts through an improved quality of life that spreads across the globe.

There are people who add to the world through inspiring social change. They rise through the ranks by virtue of something currently valued by society - beauty, talent, or political acumen - and then use their presence to shift cultural tides. Their legacy lasts as culture holds a permanent memory of their ideology.

And there are people who add to the world through their interactions with others. They may not stand in the spotlight. Their greatest accomplishments often leave no physical evidence they existed... but their mastery and character traits - wisdom, willingness to listen, quiet care, kindness, honesty, and any number of other skills - lift and improve the lives of individuals. Their legacy lasts deep in the hearts and actions of those they loved.

I just realized this is going to expose an uncomfortable part of my soul.

I have phases of life when I feel like I'm making a difference. I design an incredible, life-changing product at work. I build something that will last. I engage with others and lift them up.

And I have phases when I feel like I need to be doing more. 

Sometimes it's because I lack self-esteem, or I'm convinced that I'm unworthy of love. And making the world a better place in some measurable way is a proof I can take to myself to show my value... or to convince myself that I'm worth loving (That's the uncomfortable part). My memory is so terrible when it comes to things I've done, though, that I have to do something world-changing pretty much every day of my life to sate my deprecating inner self. I can't remember what I did yesterday, which means anything on my resume doesn't count. While it's uncomfortable to share, at least it motivates me to be better. 

On my better days, I'm motivated from a deep desire to ease pain in the world. I feel like my own life is painful. I'm sure I'm naïve... and that there are others who live with far more. And there are people plenty of people suffering who don't trigger a visceral desire to change their lives. But when it does, it motivates me to care for people and do all I can to lift them up and help them find a better life.

This week (well... to be honest, today and maybe yesterday since I can't remember how I felt earlier this week) I found myself wondering what *I* have to offer the world. 

Over the past few years, I've found names to describe the mountain of mental baggage that follows me everywhere I go. Bipolar depression. Autism. Crippling anxiety. Autobiographical & emotional memory loss. And most recently named - overwhelming fear of abandonment.

On my good days, I see the tough things in my life as stepping stones. Ingredients in life that make me into a man who is absolutely incredible, experiences that make me uniquely qualified to make a difference no one else can make.

On my bad days, I see the tough things *as* my life. I'm autistic, with a history of suicidal depression and crippling social anxiety. I'm wholly unworthy of love. And even if someone wants to be close to me, I can't build a valuable relationship because I forget everything that is important in life... and my fear of abandonment will sabotage any attempt I make.

But that's not who I am, right?

I may be covered in a shell or slime that isn't of my choosing. Things I do or say may get mangled by the circumstances of my mental state. But who I am is the man inside all that. And one of the greatest ways that I can make a difference in the world is by being the best person I can be.

I won't claim that changing my own life is actually the greatest thing I can do. It's a nice platitude, and it may even be true... but when push comes to shove it doesn't motivate me. I'm pretty sure I will always value the people around me, along with their happiness and peace, far above myself. Self-love is great and all, but learning something could improve my life doesn't do much because I'm still learning to care about my own wellbeing. But tell me that changing my life will help me bless someone else, or help relieve their suffering, and it'll actually happen.

I want to be kind. To truly love people and be willing to give everything for them - no matter who they are or their circumstances. I want to love my enemies and do good to those who mistreat me.

I want to be wise. To be able to see meaning and purpose in the difficult, painful parts of life, and to be able to share that somehow with people who are going through trials of their own. To help them find direction and meaning and purpose in their lives.

I want to be real. To be able to love myself, complete with all my flaws and issues and quirks. To be willing to share the journey and the pain and the growth and the struggle that is life, and by doing so, help others to love and develop their own, flawed selves as well. To find hope in something they once thought hopeless, to think possible something once impossible.

I can make a difference in the world. I can design a formula in my lab that lifts someone up, or build something beautiful that will stand the test of time, or write something that touches someone I've never met. I can be kind to both friend and stranger.


I can always do more, but I *do* make a difference in the world.

And, for today at least, that's enough.

Friday, July 19

Clarity of Thought

I realized earlier this year that I live with major anxiety.

Those of you who've followed my life know that my head is pretty messed up. And it's only slowly, layer by layer, that I've been able to begin to comprehend the things inside.

The first was realizing that I was attracted to guys. The primary reason for beginning to write here at (Gay) Mormon Guy actually was because I looked at how messy my life/head/feelings were, and had the honest thought that if this was what it was like to be gay, *everyone* needed a whole lot of help. I wanted to be the source of support and hope and faith that I wish I had been able to find as I was trying to figure out my place in God's Plan of Happiness.

The next was learning I was autistic. Realizing that every gay guy out there doesn't share my same fears, hypersensitivity, and out-of-this-world thought processes was both a breath of fresh air and a shock. I almost stopped blogging because I didn't have the ability to share my discovery here on (G)MG (it would have revealed my identity to all the family members and friends who read the blog and didn't yet know who I was), but it was far too central to my story that it felt almost deceitful to talk about my daily experiences without the caveat that I'm on the spectrum.

In the same fell swoop that scored me a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, I got tagged with Type 2 Bipolar. That one came as a massive shock... but also made exceptional sense. I had no idea that constant suicidal ideation wasn't normal. I mean, in school and life and church I remember learning that everyone has good days and everyone has bad days. On the good days you do the best you can to make the world a better place, and on the bad days you suck it up and keep from letting anyone get hurt if you're hurting badly. Right?

Except that, at least according to the psychiatrists who diagnosed me, for most people life sways between a 4 and a 6 on the mood scale. The worst day of your life if you don't have a mood disorder is likely around a 4. Which can be pretty awful. The best day of your life is likely around a 6. Which is pretty incredible. That underscores how debilitating depression really is, since it begins beneath 4, with constant suicidal ideation further down. Hypomanic phases of life-is-so-much-more-beautiful-than-you-could-possibly-imagine surreal superhuman ability lay above 6, and then manic phases above that, where logic and morality sometimes blur.

I had frequent hypomanic and depressed phases, so I had what they call rapid cycle Type 2 bipolar. My cycles happened almost every week. So in a week I'd both be superman and plan ways to die an anonymous death. I realized after a little while that the mood swings of bipolar were actually not so much swings as they were hyper-manifestations of two constantly present states of mind. In the rare in-between times of life, I believed that I was both superman and garbage. That I could do everything, and that I was incapable of anything. That I was a sinner meant for Hell and had the potential to be a Saint destined for Heaven. My mood swings were triggered when one of the two states of mind grew larger than the other, and therefore eclipsed my ability to see the duality.

Again, if you've followed my life you know what happened there. My dad gave me a priesthood blessing that said my bipolar would go away (Wha?!?!?), I started meds, found an extreme experimental diet that had minimal research but seemed like the right thing to do, and after following that excruciatingly strict diet for 2 years I've been depression-free... and hypomania-free... for what feels like forever.

But I still had moments where I literally found myself unable to leave my bed. Not depressed and suicidal and I-want-life-to-end-because-it-hurts-so-badly, but simply unable to pull myself into life and filled with a deep sense of foreboding dread. Sometimes it felt like it pressed on my chest like a heavy weight that made it hard to breathe, other times it made my mind feel like it was filled with thick, black, choking fog.

There were dozens of circumstances where I literally knew when the moments were inevitable. If I was trying to develop a friendship with someone, and I text them, and they text me back, "Hey! Can I call you today at 4:00?" and then 4:00 passes and 5:00, it was a no-brainer that my head would begin to feel like it was bleeding thick black goo inside.

I knew it was happening, but I had no idea how often it affected my life until one week it went away. I was trying out a new supplement I had made for work, and the exact above circumstance happened to me.

And I was fine.

For the first time in my remembered life (we'll get to the memory issues next haha), I didn't feel an overwhelming sense of dread and panic. I didn't feel compelled to do anything rash. I didn't hyperthink or brood or have an issue run around inside my head over and over and over and over all in the space of 5 minutes. I didn't have to curl up in a ball and cry, or find myself eating a full jar of peanut butter or a pound of hummus (my stand-ins for ice cream, pizza, and chocolate).

I was actually ok.

I hate taking the supplement. I forget to take it. I don't want to take it. I hate being reliant on something outside myself. I hate temporary fixes. I want something permanent. But when I do, it works... and since it helps me function at work, and helps me be there emotionally to interact with my family... there's good reason to keep taking it.

Along with that issue I found the memory one. For me, things that happen more than a day or two ago... disappear into a mass of times and places and faces that could as easily be last thanksgiving or my 16th birthday. I remember almost nothing about what has happened to me in life, almost nothing of what I've done, almost nothing about the people I've met even when I've had powerful, meaningful conversations with them.

This one is apparently a common side effect of autism in the male brain, where large sections of the memory type called autobiographical memory are damaged and in many cases missing. I don't know the answer to this one, except that I'm working on a supplement that may... maybe?... work in some way.

(Big words alert) There are tiny thread-like burns of brain damage that accumulate in the autistic brain over the course of a lifetime, triggered by compounds called carboxyethylpyrroles. There is no evidence that the damage caused by carboxyethylpyrroles has any impact on memory. But there *have* been mixed results (so some positive ones) associated with therapies that tangentially modulate the expression of carboxyethylpyrroles. One of the issues there is that carboxyethylpyrroles and associated substances are activated through a number of different, disconnected pathways, and when one pathway is blocked, research has found that other pathways are naturally upregulated. My thought there is that if I can simultaneously modify each of the major pathways that cause expression of carboxyethylpyrroles, I could potentially also modify the damage that is being caused inside my brain. I don't know what that would accomplish, or if it's even possible. Maybe it can be healed and actually reconnect my memories of the past, maybe it will only work going into the future, and maybe it won't do anything at all. But it's worth a shot, right? As a side, the supplement may also work for some totally unrelated conditions that affect people close to me, so we'll see how that works. (End big words alert)

Ultimately, one of the things this all has shown me is the importance of being sound of mind... and helping others to do the same. When I'm suicidally depressed, or curl-up-in-a-ball anxious, or or dissuaded by a faulty memory, I'm far more likely to make poor decisions. And to make decisions that don't reflect who I am and where I want to go. But being prone to poor decisions when I'm mentally compromised doesn't mean I'm lost and broken and can never get to Heaven. It just means that I need help getting there. When I'm in a good place mentally, or when I know what it is I'm fighting inside my own head, it's far easier to make good decisions and be the person I really want to be.

I'll always continue to have disparate circumstances in life. Even if the next two supplements resolve the issues I see today, there will likely always be layers upon layers of things I need to identify, understand, and resolve. And I will never be enough on my own. I need Christ. I need God. I need the support and pain and chaos and grief that comes from living in a social world.

I just hope that I can continue to see myself as I really am. Not as gay, bipolar, autistic, anxious, and amnesiac... but as a son of God, walking on the complicated, messy, but pointing-in-the-right-direction pathway home.

Sunday, July 14

The Journey Home

It's been a while.

I wish I could say I'm no worse for the wear, and haven't been blogging simply because life has been so good that there has been nothing to say about it. But that definitely isn't the case.

Where to start?

Maybe with the end first: even though I've been all sorts of mess, at the end of the day I want to be close to God. I want to trust Him. I want to follow the pathway He reveals and use it to find true happiness. And that's worth whatever it takes.

I never left the Church, and don't plan to. The closest I've ever come to that is missing the last 20 minutes of sunday school to go pick someone up at the airport.

But my thoughts and feelings about everything have shifted and swayed and gone in dozens of directions - and part of my reticence to blog has been that I haven't really wanted my own swaying feelings to influence anyone. And the whole not wanting to come clean anywhere but a bishop's office about all the black tar I've picked up along the way, but feeling like this would be the one place I'd be obligated to do so.

Something is better than nothing though, and my Mom today told me she wanted me to head up part of the family's goals in family history - my role is helping my siblings write down stories from our family past. Which includes me. Which means I get to turn back on the part of my heart that has been hidden for the last many months.

And instead of attempting to write about the months that have passed, months where I didn't want to write or couldn't bring myself to, I'll write about now.

I hiked Stewart Falls with my family yesterday. The hike is up Provo Canyon just inside the National Forest, and the trail is heavy with hikers this time of year. I've done Stewart Falls dozens of times over the years, and it never ceases to be a beautiful sight. Springtime flowers with ward members, stunning fall colors as a Freshman Academy peer mentor, ice-cold water in the falls with a random guy I took hiking - tons of memories.

This hike started out the same. The parking lot had few empty spaces, and cars had parked a couple hundred yards back along the sides of the road. The trail had families, youth groups, and tourist hikers wearing name-brand gear accompanied by off-leash purebred dogs. It was dusty, steep in places, with thick patches of aspen and sunlight streaming through the trees. A vista here, a vista there, and more trail to come.

And then, suddenly, it wasn't.

The trail rounded a corner and passed through a clearing, and I looked up in wonder. I had never seen the mountain view to the right. I had never seen the valley view to the left. The clearing had never been there before, and I stopped in the middle of the trail in almost shock and amazement.

I'm assuming it must have been a major avalanche sometime this past winter. The trees on either side of the trail were mostly missing, and the ones that remained looked as if they had been bent down to be almost parallel to the ground. As I continued to walk, I realized that another aspect was hidden - it was likely that someone had spent an enormous amount of time to clear the trail of debris. Whatever the cause, I found myself with a mix of emotions. Mourning the loss of the familiar white aspen forest... and rejoicing in the new, broader sight that the destruction had revealed.

There were two or three new vistas, on that trail where I had never seen new vistas before. The falls were so full of water that it split into multiple segments and poured down another section of the mountain. The sun hid behind clouds, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and combined with the intensity of the water I backtracked on my firm desire to actually go under the falls.

If I look at my own soul, the trail to my heart as it were, I think it could have similarities to my hike yesterday. The hike to my heart is fall less trafficked, as few people make it beyond the outer shell. But to me, and perhaps to others who know me well, the once-familiar path surrounded by the safety of tall aspen groves has had sections gutted by avalanches, leaving breathtaking damage in their wake. Stunning new vistas, perhaps, but broken ground that tells only part of the story of how they came to be.

It's ironic to write that I'm not the same idyllic, carefree soul I was only a few years ago. I won't claim that I've 'seasoned' or any other nonsense word to make it sound like a good thing. The reality is that I've put myself through the wringer, walked to hell, and am on my way back home carrying scars that will likely last a lifetime.

But even if it takes a lifetime to clear the pathway to conversion, even if it takes a lifetime to make myself into a better and happier man... that's a lifetime well spent.

I mean, one of the greatest joys in hiking is in the journey, right?

If nothing else, I'm proud to say that I'm moving forward on the right path.

I'm on my journey Home.