January 30, 2011

Taking Offense...

A number of months ago, during the fall, we were getting ready to pour concrete in the backyard. In preparation, we had torn up a lot of pre-existing vegetation. What we didn’t know was that there was a nest of sun spiders living in that part of our yard, and our activity had agitated them. Over the following few weeks, we were finding the little buggers in our kitchen, on our patio, hanging from walls, and just about everywhere else you’d never want to find a sun spider. We hadn’t meant to take away their humble abode, but that didn’t exactly matter much to them. They were angry, just the same.

I’m actually going somewhere with this, believe it or not. I don’t get my kicks by sharing pointless stories of residential infestations.

But this somehow reminded me of an experience I had years ago when I was a new member. It had only been a few months since my baptism and I was sitting in Elder’s Quorum. We were talking about same sex marriage because, as is typical of Elder’s Quorum meetings, we often got off topic from actual doctrine. Although I don’t remember what the real lesson was about, I recall that I grew very uncomfortable by the new topic. All too recently I had the sad realization that, despite being baptized, I was still gay. As such, it was a bit of a sore subject for me.

I believe that’s why I was aware of Brother Morris’ comment. He was responding to a rise in contention over same sex marriage and although I don’t remember exactly what he said as commentary, I remember noticing how out of harmony with Christ’s teachings it was.

And whether his comment was accurate or not wasn’t the issue. I had been offended and, even now with more than four years separating me from that instance, whenever I see Brother Morris, I remember what he said so long ago. In a way, I’m renewing that offense which he didn’t even knew he was giving.

More recently, I was at a friend’s house playing games. The friend, Gary Tiggle, randomly brought up the conversation of gay people. I inwardly cringed, knowing that no good could come from this.

“Yeah, so President MacBell,” Gary said, referring to our Branch President, “was talking in PEC the other day and in the middle, he just randomly asked us if we know anything about homosexuality.”

Gary laughed, saying, “Well, I told him that I knew that it was an awkward subject.” He laughed again, as did everyone else who was there playing games. I just sat there, trying to think of a polite way to jump to the next topic.

In a way, I felt like those sun spiders that got stirred up while we were preparing to pour concrete. (See, I told you there was a point to that story!) We didn’t mean to upset them. We didn’t even know they were there! But they were unsettled just the same. And, without home, they began hanging out in ours. Not appreciating their presence, we usually killed them. Which, keeping to the analogy, seems kind of weird since I likened myself to the sun spiders.

This leads me to my next story, and the second half of the post.

Recently, at institute, I heard an interesting story. The teacher, Brother Jones, was explaining how he once visited an old friend of his who kept a rattlesnake farm.

“And just as the name suggests,” Brother Jones said, “it was a farm where they raised rattlesnakes. Why would anyone want to raise rattlesnakes? For the anti-venom.” He explained the process how the farmers raised the snakes for the soul purpose of obtaining the anti-venom. And, just for fun, the friend got out a rattlesnake to perform a little experiment for Brother Jones.

The guy held the snake behind the head and while the snake writhed under his grip, the friend told Brother Jones to drop a live mouse in front of the snake. Immediately after the mouse hit the ground, the snake doubled it’s effort to break free from the guy. And all the while, it was opening its mouth, exposing those fangs.

“You see those?” the guy asked, pointing to the fangs. “You see what is coming out of them? That’s the venom. Right now, he’d do just about anything to get at this snake, but just wait a moment.” After a moment, the snake suddenly went limp.

“Did it tucker itself out?” Brother Jones asked.

“No. It’s dead,” the man said, letting go of the snake. “You see, a rattlesnake just stand just about anything, except its own venom. In its anger, the snake actually killed itself.”

And, just as Brother Jones told the class, the point of the story was to that, we too hold a deadly venom in us. That venom is anger itself. We have lots of opportunities to be offended these days. One doesn’t even have to go looking for it. Offense will find you. But what we do with it when it comes is what defines us.

If we allow ourselves to hold onto our anger, it will eventually kill our spirits. We’ll begin to see nothing but the negative in everyone. We’ll get offended at everything.

In my case, instead of getting offended over these two individuals for comments that they made, I could have simply seen it for what it was: immaturity. Spiritual immaturity causes us to do and say all kinds of things that do not reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ very well. But, it is a sign of our own spiritual immaturity to become offended at those people. This is something I struggle with greatly. But, with any luck, one day I will learn how to forgive as the Savior taught. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Blending In...

For as long as I can remember, I have tried to blend in. In elementary school, it was playing football. In middle school, it was being in the band. In high school, it was being a rebel. It was not about being cool or being popular. It was about not getting the crap beat out of me and being able to have friends.

When I graduated high school, I began to slowly become out to those closest to me. Most of them confessed to have known all along anyways and were just happy I trusted them enough to finally come out to them. (As a side note, if someone comes out to you, never EVER tell them, “Oh, I knew all along,” or, “Oh, I could tell that right away.” What you’re basically saying is, “You’re flaming. Only blind people who have also lost their sense of hearing could mistake you for straight, that is, if they couldn’t just feel the overwhelming sense of gayness as you enter the room.” Yeah! It’s not nice at all! Okay, that said, I can continue…) From that moment on, I had always been out about my sexuality. Being gay was just an addition to my name. “Hi! I’m Michael and I’m gay!”

This lasted up until the time that I joined the Church. From this moment on, I was back in the closet, and back to trying to blend in. Recently, I was telling my best friend, Carol, that I was planning on putting this subject as a post for my blog. We were speaking over Skype and I had a red legging tied around my head like some kind of 80’s sweat ban. Carol’s roommate saw what I had across my brow and said, “Yeah, that’s blending in!”

We laughed and out of the blue, I picked up a hanger and placed it on my head. “There,” I said. “Is that better?” To which my best friend told me that I should say that trying to blend in with the straight community is like walking around with a red legging tied around my head and a hanger as my crown. Initially, I didn’t like the idea (no offense to Carol), but let’s just say that the suggestion grew on me. Because, really, it kind of is a lot like that. I mean, I wouldn’t consider myself as an ultra-feminine guy, but there are some things about straight men that I try to emulate and it just doesn’t work out quite right.

For instance, dancing. Oh heavens. If you ever want to see me at my absolute gayest, put on some Lady Gaga and show me the dance floor. Holy cow. Another sure way of outing me is to get me to talk about something I’m excited about. Most guys, no offense to straight men, but they kind of talk in this even, almost monotone, voice. If they’re excited, you’d never know it, because their voice doesn’t change at all. It just stays dry and… well, boring. Mine, on the other hand, is all over the place. If I’m happy, my voice is a tenor. If you’ve caught me on a sad day, it’ll be more of a high bass or low baritone. Oh, and I smile a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And it’s a big smile with squinty eyes and dimples and… I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t hold back.

The problem is, straight guys do hold back. It isn’t cool to do those things. Or, if it is, it should be done for joking purposes and definitely not frequently. It’s dumb. They should just act how they want, or at least allow me to act how I want without looking at me with their narrow, expressionless eyes.

Anyways, what I’m getting at is that if I want to blend in with straight Mormons, I’ve got to really try hard in order to fit into this tiny little box with the other guys. I think that’s why I hang around girls so much. I can be myself and let my inner-black woman out now and then.

(I’m just anticipating some racist remarks about that one, haha! But whatever. I’ll take that when it comes!)

Basketball, football, soccer… I suck at them. But! I would be willing to play them if I didn’t look so freaking gay doing it! I played football for five years and was the quarterback, center, and a number of other positions. I know how to play the sport! It’s just that I can’t help but move in ways that kind of give myself away.

It’s like that movie, The Birdcage, when Robin Williams is trying to teach Nathan Lane how to be straight. He might as well have been trying to solve the global warming problem - and look just as silly as Al Gore while doing it - for all the good it was doing him. And at the end of the day, he ended up pretending to be the mother anyways. Nathan Lane. Not Al Gore. Heh!

What I think is exceptionally funny (though I rarely actually laugh about it) is when a straight guy does gay things and it’s all okay. I mean, pink is just a color. Anyone can wear pink, right? Wrong! You see, if a straight guy wears pink, he’s just being cool. He’s adding some color into his wardrobe. But if a gay guy wears pink, he’s such a … yeah. He’s flaming. He’s trying to rub his sexuality in everyone’s faces. He’s loud and on and on. (I’m rolling my eyes right now.) Okay, pink clothes aside, some straight guys think it is funny to act gay. Like, they’ll flirt with other guys, touch them, hang on them, and everything is hilarious. I’m not sure why it’s so funny, because you can bet your bottom dollar that if I tried a thing like that, even if I were totally joking, I’d leave that situation with a loose tooth and a bloodied pink polo. Maybe it’s just because it’s a little “too real” for them if I did it. Perhaps it’s like, “I can act as gay as I want so long as the other participants aren’t really gay.”

Something else that is hard to emulate about straight people, is their crudeness about women. Okay, true, this isn’t as big of a problem since I’ve joined the Church, but it is still prevalent, in a Mormon kind of way. I couldn’t talk about women’s things if I were in an anatomy class. It’s that level of weird/creepy/blah to me! And if that’s what I have to do it blend in, count me out!

I guess, what I’m trying to say, and am only going in circles because this is such an idiotic topic, is that straight guys suck. Sure, I might envy them, but they are either setting the bar really, really high on what it takes to be straight, or they’re setting the bar at an all-time low which makes any effort for a person with the slightest bit of culture or excitement or passion for anything darn near impossible to duplicate.

And the really crappy thing is, all I can think of it now is all the amazing one-liners that are in The Birdcage. But I can’t watch it because my straight friend, Marcy, told me it had to go. Bah!

January 29, 2011

Why Trust Is So Foreign, Intermission...

Yes, there is a part three. In fact, there is a part four, but I need to put a slight pause on it. In all of the digging I've been doing with my history, I have found myself in some places I haven't consciously visited for a long time and it's uncovered a lot of unwanted feelings. So, while I take a slight pause to this thread, I promise to one day return to it. Just not right now.

January 26, 2011

Why Trust Is So Foreign, Part Two...

-Instance 2-

About the same time that I began being addicted to online pornography, a girl moved to town. (It speaks volumes about the size of our town that I could even notice when someone shows up who I don’t recognize.) But right away, I knew that I didn’t care much for this girl. She was simple and nothing impressive, in my thrill seeking and youthful opinion. But then one day I got into a fight at school and the only person who tried to comfort me was this girl. Lisa Brine. In an instant, she was my new best friend. We were inseparable, always getting into some kind of mischief together. Hanging out and a bunch of other tomfoolery.

Three years into the friendship, Lisa and I were at a party and I overheard her refer to me as her boyfriend. ‘Boyfriend?’ I thought. ‘Since when?’ But knowing that I couldn’t very well ask her how long we’d been going out, I subtly got her to tell me that our “relationship” had been going on for three years, almost from the time we had met. Right away, that set off all kinds of alarms in my head. I mean, for starters, I'm gay. Yeah, good luck there, Lisa. And I started thinking of all kinds of ways to get myself out of that relationship that I wasn’t even aware that I was in! I knew that Lisa was an emotional girl, fragile and self-conscious, and it was probably these feelings of insecurity that led her to believe that there was more to our friendship than there really was.

While I was trying to slowly back my way out of this new relationship, Lisa began to display some new manipulative tendencies. I say new, but she had actually been doing them from the beginning of our relationship, and I had only become more aware of them from that moment on. She’d do all kinds of things to mess with my mind. For instance, she’d lie just to see what my reaction would be. She’d set up situations where I’d have to pick her over something I really enjoyed. She’d demand physical attention. She’d tell my other friends that I didn’t like them anymore just to keep me to herself. She’d create drama so that I would comfort her. And all the while, I was trying to get more and more distance in between us. Perhaps she could sense it, and that’s why she was intensifying her efforts of controlling me, kind of sinking in the claw when the prey was trying to wiggle away. But whatever the case may be, it took me a little too long to grow wise to the fact that Lisa had some serious issues. Bigger than mine, even! And that’s saying something.

It got so bad that, towards the end of the relationship, I was pretty sure she would kill herself if I broke up with her. She had grown so dependant on me, so attached, that I was afraid for both our sakes what would happen if we would separate. So, it took me a long time to work up the nerve to sever the relationship. We were together, in total, for five dramatic years.

From that relationship, I learned a lot of bad habits. First and foremost was my utter distrust in people. People were manipulative, possessive, and would do anything to make themselves happy. I already distrusted my parents somewhat, but now I was beginning to think that I couldn’t trust anyone. Perhaps this was just how the world was and if I was going to get through life, I’d have to either become a manipulator as well or I was going to have to develop some seriously thick skin.

The second habit I acquired was distancing myself from friends. Even today, I can make friends easily. Keeping them is another problem. I push them away (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) in an effort to avoid having someone dependant on me or me dependant towards them. I never want a repeat of Lisa Brine. Ever. And I don't care what I have to do to make that happen. (Did I mention that it was a bad habit?)

As a result of pushing people away from me, I have kept people at a distance that could generously be described as comfortable and convenient. On the one hand, I don’t have to worry about any serious feelings being formed, good or bad, because I’m not investing enough of… whatever into the relationship that would make me get worked up or overly excited. It means that I can be friendly without being dependable, kind without being trusting. Inevitably, this doesn’t always work. I've crossed the line many a time and befriended people too much. It's as if I have momentarily forgotten my trust issues. Unfortunatley, that is an issue that isn't forgotten for long.

The last habit I’ll mention is that I’m always looking, always keenly alert for any flaw that my friends might have. It isn’t that I have high standards that I hold everyone up to, not really. It’s more like, I’m waiting to see if this person is going to hurt me. With Lisa, I got very adept at spotting a trap, or a lie, before she actually sprang it. So, in other relationships, I spot things that would appear "trap-like" and I gingerly step around them. Do I seriously think that everyone is out to get me? No, but eventually, it gets tiring always side-stepping obstacles (real or otherwise) and so I'd rather just pick up my tent and camp somewhere else where there aren't as many stones. I’ve become so overly critical of the people in my life that it almost isn’t enough to spot problems they might have, but I am almost searching for them. And once I find one that just rubs me the wrong way, I drop them like a rock.

Of course, there are a number of reasons why this isn’t fair, not the least of which being that I have faults too. I’m not blind to my hypocrisy. But it wasn’t about fairness, it was about self-preservation. The instance with Lisa taught me that friends, especially women, were to be watched carefully. It was safer being on guard all the time rather than paying the consequences. The instance with my father taught me that family wasn’t all that different than anyone else.

Why Trust Is So Foreign, Part One...

-Instance 1-

When I was younger, probably about thirteen or fourteen, I began looking at pornography on the computer. I had already been lingering in the underwear department, pretending to be a serious shopper of men’s undergarments when I was really just oogling at the little pictures on the packs. This “step up” to technological gratification, however, was a whole new leap for me. Had I known that it would become so addictive, I probably wouldn’t have done it at all. But I was young, naïve, and as you’re about to find out, easily distracted.

So there I was, looking at… well, stuff that I shouldn’t have on the computer. It being the summer, my parents were both at work. Naturally, I felt safe in my solitude. At some point in time, I think that someone came to the door. I left the computer room, looked to see who it was. One thing led to another and I got distracted.

Later in the day, my mom came home from work and a short while after that, she began yelling my name. Now, as a child, you become a pretty good judge of determining the level of trouble you’re in, simply by the way in which your name is shouted. From the sound of it, I was in some deep crap, but I couldn't figure out what I had done until I found which room my mom was in. The images were still on the screen, haunting images which weren’t supposed to have been there. I had forgotten to exit out of those sites.

But my mom was in no mood to talk. She had the phone to her ear. And just guess who she was calling… my dad! I left the room, taking refuge in my bedroom until my mom found me in there. “It’s your father,” she said, handing me the phone.

I didn’t want to take it, but I knew that the longer I made him wait, the worse this was going to be. So I said hello. His voice was soft, due to the fact that he was at work, but there was a force to his words that defied the low volume. “When I get home,” he said, “I’m going to get the paddle-”

Yes, we had a paddle. They spanked us children, and even though I hated it at the time, it was probably the only thing that really frightened me. But I was about to gain a new fear associated with that wooden board.

“-and I’m going to shove it up your butt.” (I’m actually not sure if my memory censored him, because “butt” just doesn’t sound like a word my dad would use when he’s enraged.) He continued, “I’ll take the paddle and put it up your butt because that’s how gay people like it. Do you want to be gay? I have the paddle waiting if you do.”

I didn’t. I hadn’t. I never wanted to be gay, but how could I explain that to this man? My father and I had never really gotten along with each other but I think that this was a major defining moment in our relationship. About a year ago, I recalled this story to him, hoping to get an apology or at least an explanation, but he only said, “Yeah? And?”

He might as well have said, “And I’d do it now if I thought it would turn you straight.” Oh, daddy dearest. I do love that man. But I have no sense of relationship with him. I don’t trust him. When I obviously needed him the most, he didn’t simply turned his back, he attacked me.

Later down the road, I had told him that I was unsure if I was gay or not. In my head, I knew exactly where I stood, but I had wanted him to be able to grow on the idea that his son might be gay before I just threw the startling truth at him. He told me that, so long as I don’t 1) bring anyone home, 2) tell any of our friends or family, or 3) get some incurable disease, we’re okay. Oh, and don’t ever talk about it in his presence. Ever! This just didn’t set well with me. So, I got upset and told him that I had already told most of our friends and family and that the only reason he was the last to know is because he’s the only person who could possibly make me feel bad for opening up to them.

Like I said, we had a crappy relationship.

I’m not sure how it is in most families, but when I felt as though I couldn’t talk to my dad about something which seemed like the most pressing matter in my life, it really started to eat at me. I got depressed. I got angry. I began writing as my only means of expressing myself, since I didn’t trust my parents with my feelings. My dad made it clear how he didn’t want to hear it, and my mom was the one who turned me over to him, so even though she was undeniably kind and caring, she would have just handed over any I told her to my father as "evidence." I’m sure that this wasn’t exactly how it was, but that’s how I saw things.

Despite my father’s aggressive solution to homosexuality, I still struggled with online pornography. I think that the reason why it is such a bad thing is that it is addictive. For me, it took one time. I saw it and immediately wanted to see more. It didn’t matter what I had to do, I was hooked. In fact, this was about the time when I began sleeping around a lot. And for a small town, we had an abnormally high percentage of gay folk. I won’t get into detail, but I once tried to make a list of people I had messed around with and at number forty-something, I finally gave up. I could write chapters about how destructive pornography has been in my life, but I’ll just needlessly say that I was addicted to sex.

The reason why I include you in this chapter of my life is that I began to seriously distrust my parents. I had good reason to question their motives to each other, seeing as they each had a long history of infidelity. But until this moment, I had never gained distrust by any action directed my way. It was the beginning of a long road of bumpy relationships and really horrible people in my life...

January 16, 2011

Pressure vs Hope, Part Two...

This is how life should be for the normal Mormon male. At the age of 18, you begin making your life perfect so that, by the age of 19, you can promptly put in your missionary papers and then get shipped off to some exotic location like New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, or Germany. But even if you’re called to Buffalo, New York, life is still pretty grand. You serve for two wonderful years, eating a lot of food no one at home has ever heard of, taking a lot of pictures no one at home will really understand, getting dumped by your girlfriend, and saving the world while you’re at it. Then you come home, find a new girlfriend, engage in a week, and get married in 3 months. If you’re not popping out children in exactly 9 months, it’s only because the baby is late and all is well. You raise eleven children, juggle your calling, your job, and your weekly FHE lesson, while making sure to remain humble to the fact that you are living the best life anyone could possibly imagine.

Of course, this isn’t all true; some people have ten children, heh! But, in all seriousness, what I’m getting at is that so many people think it is true! They think that this is exactly what is supposed to happen and get extremely bummed out when it doesn’t.

Prime example, in the Church, there is a lot of pressure to get married. As soon as you’re back from your mission, you had better already have your future college, your future job, your future home, and your future bride all planned out. And, what’s more, you should have them all in about a year. Unfortunately, some people don’t get married right away.

I can almost hear their mothers saying, “But that’s no problem! You’re sure to be married next year. No? Maybe three? Well, good heavens! Let’s not wait too long! Time isn’t exactly being kind to you, ya know.”

Some people go on to school or get a job, hoping that they’ll find that special someone on the way. And some do. Some, however, don’t. Some people don’t think marriage is possible for them at all. And for a certain few, it may not be. There are those who, through no fault of their own, will never find a spouse in this lifetime. It’s sad to think of, but I’m sure it happens all the time. But what’s worse than them being alone? Them being blamed for it.

Before I get to ranting, I’d like to explain that, while the Church is perfect and true, the people aren’t. It’s life. People stink sometimes. Most of the time, they’re kind and courteous. But sometimes, when no one is really paying attention, members begin to create their own standards and live their lives by them. The problem comes when they try living other people’s lives by them too. This alternative standard is called Mormon Culture.

Mormon Culture makes you feel bad when you left on your mission at age 20 instead of 19. Mormon Culture makes you feel guilty when you aren’t married by the age of 26 (which is actually pushing it). Mormon Culture doesn’t mind quick engagements. In fact, they promote them! “Any wedding that takes longer to create than it would a baby is just too long!” This isn’t a standard of the Church. This is a standard of the people that attend it, and it sucks.

Let’s be honest. Marriage is a good thing. I know that. I’m not raining on the whole notion of families or even on getting your life in order by an early age. I’m really not! But this Mormon Culture doesn’t recognize the possibility that people are different. It doesn’t take in consideration that problems arise or exist that might hinder a person’s plans. They say, "Everyone should get married. Everyone should have children. And there are absolutely no exceptions."

There is a special program in the Church called the YSA (the young single adults). Now, for all of you who are like, “Is that like the YMCA?” No. It’s basically Church where the whole congregation is made up of young single adults, just like the name suggests, but with an added emphasis on the “single” part. What is really great about the program is that young adults learn how to take on callings that they wouldn't likely obtain otherwise, leadership callings for example. And, in an age where more people are comfortable texting over having an actual face to face conversation, this environment is perfect for helping them work on their people skills.

Unfortunately, not everyone likes going to a YSA ward, or in my case branch. They feel that its soul purpose is to serve as a dating service, and they’re uncomfortable with being an entrée on someone’s menu. I’m not going to argue with semantics but their debate is a very nearsighted one. Regardless, there are a few things different about YSA wards than with your average family ward. The most obvious is that, besides the bishopric, there aren’t a whole lot of old people. For that matter, there aren’t any babies crying in sacrament meeting. This is because there is an age “limit” for when someone can join the YSA ward, and an age appointed for when they are “recommended” to leave. I put these words in quotations because the Church would never disallow people to attend, no matter how old or young they may be. Those ages are flexible guidelines to ensure the best experience for each member.

But even so, Mormon Culture now has a “measuring stick” to give us the cut off date of a person’s datable existence (which is age 30, by the way). At age 30, you are banished from the YSA ward, deemed unworthy for marriage, and must live your life contently with a lowly calling, a lowly income, and acne for the rest of your life! I’m not sure why I added in acne, but it sounded just as ridiculous as everything else.

The truth is that this is all bogus. Do you really think Heavenly Father is up there thinking, “Hurry it up, kid or there won’t be any cake by the time you get to the dessert table.” No way! God understands the situation better than we do. And that is my point. Even though Mormon Culture says that if you don’t marry by 26, let alone the horrific age of 30, you’re doomed to be single all your life; the gospel says otherwise. In fact, there is no age given by which a person should be married by nor when they can no longer be given in marriage.

So where do we get this from? Mormon Culture, that’s where. It’s like peer pressure for older people. It’s the same peer pressure that makes people’s heads swell when they get a “cool” calling, or makes them slump in their chairs when they have it taken away. It’s all about how they look in the eyes of their peers.

Okay, so what does this have to do with me? Well, isn’t it obvious? Last time I checked, I’m gay. And this pretty much equates to No Marriage Ever.

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

I’m glad you asked. As I hinted before, the only thing worse than being single the rest of your life, is being blamed for it. No one would ever admit to doing this, but Mormon Culture not only dictates when a person should be married by, but it also says that failure to produce the desired results in the desired timeline is the fault of that individual. That’s right! Not only does it suck because I’m supposed to be married (a post for a later time), but if I don’t get married, something must be wrong with me! I mean, I guess there sort of is, but that’s not for them to decide!

Okay, okay. Reality check. Does every Mormon subscribe to Mormon Culture? No. Do even the majority of them? It’d be judging of me to even guess. But the point is, it exists. Second reality check. Who promotes Mormon Culture? Just like any kind of peer pressure, the people who promote it are really the people who are being hounded by it. Let’s face it, if I didn’t let it bother me, would there be any pressure? No.

“So, what’s the big deal, Michael? Just stop caring about public opinion!”

Okay, Mister I’ve-got-to-have-the-coolest-car/clothes/house/job/spouse/children/anything else I can possibly end this sentence with! You give up your false sense of priorities and I’ll give up mine! It isn’t that simple. And, for me, who has always been trying to live a life of blending in, this presents an extremely difficult challenge. As you might guess, I view my chances of getting married as being a little… nonexistant. (But like I said before, that’s a post for a later time.)

The point is that when you’re trying to keep up hope, public opinion can really get you down. Do I hope to get married one day? Sure. Do I hope to have a family? Absolutely. Do I hope to be completely normal? Doesn’t everybody? But, again, hope is a fragile thing when compared with the status quo. And things like Mormon Culture make it even more fragile. Returning to the previous post about committing suicide… Do I know why that kid did what he did? No. It could have been a lot of things. He was happy, according to the people the news interviewed. He was popular, captain of the football team. So what happened? Why did he choose to end his life?

It would be unfair for me to blame this on Mormon Culture or even the high standards that people create for themselves. So I can only answer with my own reasons. Sometimes, there are pains that you go through that you never really let go of. Sometimes those pains can grow until they dominate your very existence, making it very difficult to find happiness in anything. Sometimes the idea of going to people for help doesn’t seem like it will help. Maybe those people won’t understand my issues. Maybe they’ll blame me for them. Maybe it’ll just cause more pain and suffering. And maybe, just maybe, it would all be better if the burden was lifted. Since there isn’t any obvious way to terminate the virus without terminating the host, the new focus is set. And once that thought has entered onto the battle field, it is pretty darn hard to brush it aside.

But I guess, when it comes right down to it, that all depends on which spirit you are listening to more. I’ll admit, when I’m feeling glum, I tend to listen to sad songs, watch sad movies, and generally do things that promote those negative feelings. In short, I’m becoming a more receptive tool of the devil, listening to his lies, and agreeing with his opinions. But the problem is, his opinions are miserable. And, as we all know, misery loves company.

But you know who else loves company? The Holy Spirit. And He also uses whispers in order to speak with God’s children. If I’m drowning out those whispers with my "cries of lamentation" then I won’t hear His soft voice telling me of all the things I have to be grateful for. And when you really think about it, the quickest way to disband despair is to be grateful. There are few things in this life that can compare with the joy you’ll receive when you honestly look at your life and list off all of the blessings you have. They could be big or they could be small. They could be obvious or they might be subtle. But everyone has at least one thing to be grateful for, one thing that they can be happy about. And that, my friends, is reason enough to keep on going.

Pressure vs Hope, Part One...

Though I felt it was necessary to explain why I have chosen to do things the way I have (my testimony and other reasons), I would like to continue in giving my personal accounts. In doing so, I hope to paint the picture of my story more fully.

Recently, there was a story on the news of a local teen who committed suicide. It caught my attention because he was LDS. My mom, also catching the boy’s religion, turned to me and said, “You would think that someone who was religious wouldn’t turn to something like that.”

Now, my mom sometimes says things about my Church that makes me feel like we’re in a private sparring match. She’ll lunge, I’ll parry. She’ll stab, I’ll dodge. That sort of thing. Civil, but tiring. Naturally, I try to come to the Church’s defense with a catty remark of my own. This occasion was no different.

After my remark, I added, “There is a book that I own called “In Silent Desperation.” It’s all about this LDS guy who committed suicide. I don’t know if this guy was gay,” referring to the news story again. “But in the book, the guy had struggled for the majority of his life with his same gender attraction. In the end, the book concluded that the pressure of Church-life vs. his temptations were so overwhelming that he simply didn’t think he could go on. Sometimes the desire to conform trumps the need to be happy, and when that conformity doesn’t appear possible, neither does the happiness. And why continue if you can’t be happy? Isn’t that the whole point of suicide?”

“Sure,” my mom consented.

“Well, in our Church, it’s a little bit worse.” I paused. “Worse, harder, more strict? I don’t know the right word for it.”

“There is a higher standard,” my mom offered.

“Uhhuh,” I accepted. “And so much is dependent on marriage that for someone who is gay, it almost seems impossible to achieve those eternal milestones, if you will.” Then I gave her an impromptu example that came out a little like this. “It’s like a teacher saying that in order to pass the math class, everyone would have to do two hundred push-ups without pausing for breath. Not only does the request seem strange at first, seeing as it doesn’t seem to quite fit the curriculum, but there happens to be a little boy in this class who only has one arm. It’s almost as if that request was asked to test this one individual.”

“It might be,” she suggested. (My mom has the kind habit of excepting my weird analogies without batting an eye.)

“And that’s just it!” I told her. “Most people with that kind of ‘disability’ would simply drop the class. ‘Why should I even study for tests or get good grades if I know for a fact that I still can’t pass the class?’ It’s defeating just thinking about it.”

She watched me for a moment, then asked, “Do you ever think about committing suicide over this?”

I sighed, “Sometimes. When I’m thinking too much about it and I don’t see any improvement or hope, yeah. I do think about suicide.”

I think my dad walked into the room at that moment and the conversation, which would have been absolutely taboo to continue in my dad’s presence, was promptly dropped. But I’m sure that it continued on in both our minds. It did in mine, at least. And the more I thought about it, that impromptu example I gave about the one-armed boy was kind of fitting.

When I joined the Church, I knew that I couldn’t exactly continue in my old life style, but it hadn’t occurred to me yet that the pressure to adopt a new one would be so great. I feel that this discussion is at the very heart of my purpose for writing this blog: the struggle and hardship of being a gay Mormon. I’ll be honest, it isn’t easy. It often seems to be futile, trying to live the life that I know I’m supposed to, while carrying homosexuality as an extra weight.

Recently, I was going on a trip to visit some friends in another state. Because weather conditions were going to be unpredictable, it was thought best if I flew. For whatever reason, I have this habit of taking with me as little luggage as possible. If I can, I’ll only take a carry-on. But, since this was going to be a long visit, I was forced to take a large suitcase. My dad had warned me that it looked like I might need a second suitcase for all of the clothes I was bringing. Keeping with my before mentioned eccentricity, I told him that it would all fit, and to my defense, it did. But when I got to the airport, they informed me that it was too heavy. Luckily for me, my dad had brought along a second suitcase to put my clothes into, having foreseen that the single bag wouldn’t be enough and, in my pride, I wouldn’t accept the second one on my own.

From this story, I gained an insight on a couple of principles. What I had first intended to share was the obvious fact that, if left to my own, I wouldn’t have been able to fly and still have all of my luggage with me. It would have been a difficult challenge for me to go through my things right then and there, and decide what things I was willing to get rid of in order to make the weight allowance. This might sound strange, but my mind went into “spiritual mode” and I began thinking to myself, “What if this were Heaven? And what if God were that baggage inspector and was telling me that I had too much weight, too many burdens, too much sin in my bags and that I couldn’t board the plane (or join Heaven) if I didn’t get rid of some of it?”

I’d like to be able immediately say, “Of course! I would get rid of whatever was holding me back!” But then I dig a little further and realize, “Well, what’s stopping me from doing that right now in my life?” And, I’ll admit, there are a lot of things wrong with me. I’m hypocritical, lustful, vengeful… just about everything Jesus Christ told us not to be. That’s me. But even so, I feel like a lot of those problems stem back to my frustration and hopelessness of being gay. (Convenient, isn’t it? Pinning all of my problems on something that I view as unchangeable? “Well, if I can‘t change this, what‘s the point of changing anything?!”)

But, luckily for me, there was someone who stepped in. At the airport, my father gave me an additional bag. I didn’t want it. I knew he had brought it along and it made me upset because I knew I could do this on my own and I didn’t want his help. And when it became obvious that I needed it, it took a lot of humbling on my part to ask him for it. But, keeping with the Heaven’s Gate analogy, I felt that my dad was kind of like the Savior at that moment. Even though I often rebel against Him and push His help away, I really do rely on His assistance if I’m ever to get to where I’m trying to go.

How does this apply to what I started out talking about? In a single word, hope. Yes, sometimes I feel really low. I feel helpless, as though nothing is ever going to work out. But the very first principle of the gospel is hope. It isn’t easy keeping hope alive, but I know I’m meant to.

But is it always that simple? Just have hope and everything will be okay? Well, to be frank, yes. Problems might arise, but you'll be okay in the end. But the real question is, is it always that simple to have hope? And the answer to that is absolutely not.

When I look at my life, I immediately see what I should be. I know that this is probably the worst outlook to have, but I can’t help it! I focus on all of the many things I told myself I’d be one day, and then I compare it to what is real and I rub my own nose into it like a puppy who did its numbers on the carpet. “Bad Michael! Bad! Bad! Bad!”

It’s easy to hold my life up to someone else’s goals and spot all the differences. And when I’m always trying to live by someone else’s goals, A) by own goals aren’t being met, and B) I’m not happy. But whos goals are I trying to live by? That’s my next post…

January 7, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture, Part Two...

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe in doctrines that the Savior taught. As such, we try to live our lives according to the commandments found in the scriptures. One of the first doctrines we can learn about is in the book of Genesis where it says that God created us male and female. Gender, in other words, is an important - essential, really - part of who we are. Men have different roles than women. We think differently, respond differently, understand things differently… In a lot of ways, men and women are completely different from one another. That is an important concept to understand.

Why? Well, in the world today, gender is disappearing.

“What, we’re all becoming unisex, Michael?”

No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. There are men and women today just as there were thousands of years ago. The difference is that the world doesn’t recognize the distinguishing characteristics that separate the genders. Nowadays, we’re so overly-conscious of equality, we think it means that everyone needs to be doing the exact same thing, regardless who it is. I remember a story when scientists were offering a substantial amount of money to the first man who could become pregnant with a baby. On top of that, I heard a radio announcer once say that the whole reason “sexting,” or pornography at all for that matter, is becoming so prevalent is that the two genders are becoming so similar that the only way to prove gender either way is through exposing their anatomy. While I’m not sure how accurate that is, I think he had a point.

So, is gender important? Absolutely. The fact that we’ve been born male or female is no mistake. We were given our bodies and our gender for specific purposes. I’ve heard people ask, “So basically what you’re saying is, a woman’s value is dependent exclusively upon her role as a wife and/or a mother?” Simply put, no. We each have a significant role to play as we each make our continual progression towards Heavenly Father.

As I have made mention in a previous post, no one is born sinful. We’re born into imperfect bodies and, through our weakness that we’ve been given at birth, we will all eventually sin. But, as babies, we are not yet capable of sin. Combined with the knowledge that we make our own decisions in life, and no one can make us do anything (or, more to the point, we are accountable for our decisions), we know that choosing to rebel against Heavenly Father, in any capacity, is sinful.

Now, there are instances where people commit sins and do not know it. In the Bible, there is a scripture that says that if something isn’t wrong to one person, that person need not give it up. However, if they are aware that it makes other people “stumble,” then it is the duty of that person to refrain from doing that thing in the company of the other person. There is a word that describes this doctrine. It is called ignorance.

Ignorance is basically a lack of knowledge. It means that a person, through no fault of their own, does not know any better. Such a person could live their entire life and not come to a knowledge of the truth. But, once they have heard the truth, they are no longer ignorant. Now, they are accountable. They are now responsible for the truths that they know.

True freedom comes with stipulations, or conditions. In order for a choice to be made, the person must have the ability to choose, they must be given an option to choose from, and they must be able to know the difference between the options. It would make no sense for a person to be sent out into the world to be tested against opposition to see if we will keep the commandments of God, and yet we do not have a concept of right and wrong. And that is exactly why we are here: to be tested. Satan is here to provide us with the opposition (or the option) between good and evil. He can not force us because we have our free will, but he is permitted to tempt us.

Due to the fact that Satan is miserable, he wants us to be that way, too. Satan is the Master of Misery. And since he is so miserable all the time, he wants nothing more than to see us miserable, too. Being the Father of Lies, he tries to undermine everything that our Heavenly Father has taught us. He corrupts doctrine, perverts the thoughts of people, and teaches us to become wicked as he is.

One of the more sinister of Satan’s teachings is the persuading of people to misuse their sacred powers of procreation. Premarital sex, discouraging marriage and children, and creating confusion about the significance of gender are all ways in which Satan attacks the foundations that God has established. I feel that it is necessary to point out that immoral heterosexual behavior is under just as much scrutiny as immoral homosexual behavior. Sin is sin.

We all have challenges and choices in life. The Savior taught us all to love one another. One of the Church leaders was quoted by saying:

“We are asked to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We are asked to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We are asked to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. We are called upon to be true disciples of Christ, to love one another with genuine compassion, for that is the way Christ loved us.”

As such, we may hate the sin, but we love the sinner. Now, not everyone uses their free agency wisely. There will inevitably be people who do not always behave in accordance with what they know. The same, I suppose, can be said about both sides. But, as they say, tolerance is a two-way street. We can not control the actions of other people, but we can certainly control our own.

Because we believe that being tempted is part of the way we are tested in this life, we know that temptation itself is not a sin. With that knowledge, we also know that same gender attraction is not a sin, either. Acting on it, however, is.

In a message given by Jeffrey R. Holland, he spoke about an instance he had with a Latter-day Saint who confessed his temptation with the same gender attraction. In response, Jeffrey R. Holland said, “You serve yourself poorly when you identify yourself primarily by your sexual feelings. That isn’t your only characteristic, so don’t give it disproportionate attention. You are first and foremost a son of God, and He loves you.”

Personally, I draw a lot of comfort from that. To me, it says that my first priority should be keeping myself clean. The more I worry or dwell on my same gender attraction, the more it will play a dominant part of my life and, unfortunately, I think that is what I have been doing for the past couple of years. In all honesty, it is difficult to ignore a problem when we are conscious that it exists. It is like that sore on the roof of our mouth that would probably heal if we would only stop rubbing it with our tongue.

This is not to say that we are all meant to ignore our problems. Paying our problems no heed is just as ridiculous as walking across a busy freeway and trying to ignore oncoming traffic. We’re going to get creamed! First off, don’t walk across the freeway! I shouldn’t be placing myself in positions where I am in potential danger. I should be keeping myself (my physical body as well as my spirit) safe, clean, and pure. When we are doing that, everything else should fall in place. Secondly, and more to the point, the thoughts we keep active in our minds are what shape our actions. If we're focuces on one thing, it will eventually dominate our life.

Have you ever planted anything from the time it is a seed? If you’re anything like me, you try to stay away from the garden as much as possible. I’m not good with growing things, for some reason. It just isn’t my talent. However, I do know how some things work. For instance, if I were to prepare the soil, remove all the weeds, plant the seed the way I am supposed to, and water it accordingly, there is little more that I can do to make that seed grow. Giving unnecessary amounts of my attention to the wellbeing of the seed would be like digging it up every day to see if it has taken root. I may be a horrible gardener, but I know that this isn't how it's done. In other words, I realized that if I would stop worrying about the things I couldn’t control and focus on what was controllable, I would find my life a whole lot better and true happiness easier to obtain.

"Why on Earth did you decide to become a Mormon?"

When I was first joining the Church, one of the missionaries (and by this time, a very good friend) asked me, “Okay, so Michael. I’ve got to know. Why on Earth did you decide to become a Mormon?”

I don’t remember my exact response, but the question confused me. When I asked him why he asked, he said, “We just don’t have a lot of people like you who are interested in joining.” And that’s completely understandable, especially after Prop 8 (a discussion for a later time).

But, as described in detail in a previous post, the simple explanation as to why I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is because I had a strong testimony of the truthfulness of it. As soon as I had that knowledge that the Church was true, I knew that I needed to be a part of it. I realize that this answer might not be adequate for some, but it really is the best I can give.

Having said that, would I really be me if I didn’t elaborate on that answer? No stinking way!

A testimony is spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost, so says the scriptures. But why should I change my life just because I suddenly had a bit of knowledge given to me? I mean, I smoked for years because I thought it was cool even though I knew for a fact that smoking was bad for my health. What made this any different?

I believe that for me the difference was the messenger. I trust the companies that tell me smoking causes cancer and a number of other problems. I have seen the damage that smoking can do on the body. But that still didn’t stop me from doing it. To go a little further, according to a 2010 study, about 1.35 billion people smoke world-wide. That’s a whole lot of people doing something that they know isn't good for them. So, my point is, we can know that something is good or bad and still choose to ignore it. Which brings me back to my question, why didn’t I ignore the Spirit?

To help me answer that question, I’d like to relate a story given by Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

“After the turmoil of the Second World War, my family ended up in Russian-occupied East Germany. When I attended fourth grade I had to learn Russian as my first foreign language in school. I found this quite difficult because of the Cyrillic alphabet, but as time went on I seemed to do all right.

“When I turned 11 we had to leave East Germany overnight because of the political orientation of my father. Now I was going to school in West Germany, which was American-occupied at that time. There in school all children were required to learn English and not Russian. To learn Russian had been difficult, but English was impossible for me. I thought my mouth was not made for speaking English. My teachers struggled. My parents suffered. And I knew English was definitely not my language.

“But then something changed in my young life. Almost daily I rode my bicycle to the airport and watched airplanes take off and land. I read, studied, and learned everything I could find about aviation. It was my greatest desire to become a pilot. I could already picture myself in the cockpit of an airliner or in a military fighter plane. I felt deep in my heart this was my thing!

“Then I learned that to become a pilot I needed to speak English. Overnight, to the total surprise of everybody, it appeared as if my mouth had changed. I was able to learn English. It still took a lot of work, persistence, and patience, but I was able to learn English!

“Why? Because of a righteous and strong motive!

“Our motives and thoughts ultimately influence our actions. The testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful motivating force in our lives. Jesus repeatedly emphasized the power of good thoughts and proper motives: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.””

When I heard this, I thought to myself, “But I didn’t have any motivation to become Mormon.” I thought about that for a while and was pretty surprised with what I discovered. When I was younger, I had a crush on this guy named Jason Hitchcock. (I believe I mentioned him in “Genesis, Part One.”) Enthralled with Jason as I was, he said something to me once that stuck in my mind. He said something to the effect of, “Mormons are going to Hell.”

Pretty simple, right? And I’ve got to be honest, that is a phrase I’ve heard a lot since then. But it was probably the first time in my life it had ever been told to me. And, seeing as it was Jason who said it, it meant a little more. So, I asked the brilliantly crafted question, “Why?”

To which he declared, “Mormons created their own Bible!”

“Well that was a pretty silly thing to do,” I told him.

“Yeah, and now they’re all going to Hell!”

Having never read it, I didn’t know too much about the Bible at that time in my life, otherwise I think I would have understood why he was so upset. But then again, I would have pretended to have been deeply offended by the Mormons if only to keep him talking to me a little longer. But, in truth, I just didn't care that much. But something happened that, I’m sure, Jason would have regretted if he could see me now. What was it? The word "Mormon" was perminately branded in my mind.

About six years ago, I had the feeling that I needed to go to church. By this time, I had already been introduced to Samuel Black, but seeing as I wasn’t exactly ready for that kind of commitment, given my night life, I wasn’t honestly considering anything to do with Mormons. Even so, I went to my aunt’s house for a couple of days and we got on the subject of Christianity. I told her that I wanted to go back to church. She said great! I asked her if there were any churches she would prefer. She said any church that taught about Jesus Christ was good enough.

I’m not sure if this next question was sincere or if I was just curious of her response, but I asked her, “What about the Mormon Church?”

She said, “No, not them. They aren’t Christian. They’re a cult.”

I frowned but I didn’t say anything. From experience (granted it was only one trip to Church and a brief lesson by a guy I was half-flirting with), I knew that the Mormons might be weird, but they definitely didn’t seem like a cult to me. I thought it was interesting to see, though, how quickly “any church that teaches about Jesus Christ” became “any church except that one.”

While I was still pretty new to the Bay Area, I began dating this guy. We originally starting talking because we shared the same nickname on a social network but we soon become boyfriends. Although our relationship didn’t last, I got the chance to catch up with him about two years later down the road. By that time, I was a member of the Church, which actually came to no surprise to this guy at all.

“Huh?” I said. I would have thought he’d be as stunned as I was when I agreed to be baptized.

But he said, “You always had a strange interest in Mormons.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. Don’t you remember how I tried telling you all that stuff about Joseph Smith and you didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, but you tried to tell me you were Mormon anyways.”

I laughed. He was referring to a ridiculous cartoon episode where Joseph Smith was made fun of. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the Church save the brief excursion with it I had in Texas. “Even so,” he said. “You still tried convincing me you were a Mormon at heart.”

I laughed again. “Well I guess I got my wish.”

“Looks that way.”

But it was strange thinking that all of my life, I was unconsciously searching for something. Just as Dieter F. Uchtdorf had said in his story. I had a strong motivation to know of the truthfulness of something, and even though I definitely got distracted a lot on the way and wasn’t fully aware that I was even doing it, I was taking step after step towards the Church.

Now, this wasn’t where I gained my testimony of the Church. I received that in the missionary discussions with Elder Monte and Elder Fielding. But this definitely served to strengthen the testimony that I already had. And, when you know in your heart and in your head that something is true, how can you ever turn away from it?

So, to answer the question those missionaries asked me so long ago, why on Earth did I decide to become a Mormon? Well, I suppose it was because I gained a sure knowledge and assurance from the Holy Ghost of the truthfulness of the Church and, armed with that conviction, there was no way that I could not join.

January 6, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture, Part One...

I can’t even begin to count all of the times people have asked me exactly when I knew that I was gay, or what made me gay, or if I think people are born gay. They are all interesting questions and I’m pretty sure that the answers would vary depending on who was talking. I’m also sure that there are a lot of reasons that people could tell you why people are gay. I’ve heard a lot of explanations that cover anything from a distant father to heightened levels of adrenaline in the mother’s body while she was pregnant. So, in essence, it is the old debate of nature vs. nurture. The question is so prevalent that if you were to type ‘why are people gay’ into a Google search, you’d end up with more than 139,000,000 results. Of course, I didn’t have the time to check every single one of them to see how credible their answers were, but I got the impression that no one really knows for sure. Armed with this, I feel more comfortable in sharing my opinion.

Everyone in life is born with strengths and weaknesses. What those strengths are weaknesses are vary depending on the individual. But no matter how different every person is, we all have one thing in common and that is our ability to make decisions for ourselves. Of course, when we are young, we have very little control over our bodies, and our thoughts and feelings can hardly stand accountable for their actions. But as we grow older, most every person is in complete control of their actions and reactions.

Going back to strengths and weaknesses, a person can be born with a susceptibility to alcoholism. That doesn’t mean that they are born an alcoholic because they have yet to consume any liquor. What it means is that this person is more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic later on in life. But, people who weren’t even born with this susceptibility can still become alcoholics. Again, they have the right to choose their own paths.

I think that being attracted to those of the same sex is very similar. I was not born gay. People are not born gay, much in the same way that people are not born alcoholics. As I mentioned before with my experience with being molested, I knew what was happening to me was wrong, but after allowing it to happen to me over and over again, it became expected and almost anticipated. And later, when I was molested again by another person, it had become enjoyable. Soon it became the soul focus of my desire until I could think of nothing else. I was addicted. An addiction is an interest into a particular thing to which a lot of time is devoted.

I realize that this statement, that people aren’t born gay, is a hugely controversial topic and will inevitably result in negative criticism. I can not blame people who respond that way. If someone would have told me that I had a choice to be this way, I would have laughed at them. In fact, I did laugh at one person who suggested it to me years ago. “Why on Earth would I choose to be this way?” I had scoffed at them. “Do you think I wanted to go through high school being bullied because I was gay? Do you think I wouldn’t want to have a completely normal life?”

Of course, in today’s society, being gay is normal. It is the sign of intolerance and bigotry to suggest that homosexuality is anything less that normalcy, much less to suggest that it is a weakness no different than alcoholism. But before we get into the politics of it all, remember that I have been there. Once, in a conversation with a gay friend of mine, I asked him why we got so offended when people told us that being gay was a choice when, in all reality, we really wanted to believe them. We wanted to change. He told me that we were secretly ashamed.

“How so?” I asked him. I remember being offended. I didn’t like being told that I was ashamed.

“Well, you would have liked to have had a normal, straight life, right?”

“Of course.” Even at that age, I had gone through a lot of struggles with my family and friends, let alone all of the kids at school who found it popular to make it more difficult that it needed to be just to get through the day.

“Right, but if someone were to tell you that you had a choice, you’d spit in their eye, wouldn't you?” I didn’t need to agree with him. He knew it was true. “The reason why is because even though an overweight person is ashamed of their obesity, they still get defensive when people make mention of it. In our case, we are gay. We know we're gay. We have had it drilled into our minds that that is who we are and we don’t have a choice. We go from being ashamed of being gay and longing to be straight, to being accepting of the fact that we are gay and denying that we have the ability to be anything else. Got me so far?”

I thought I had.

“But,” he continued. “When people make mention of that choice to us, we become defensive.”

“Because they don’t have that right,” I told him defensively.

“Exactly. Who are they to tell us? They don’t know our struggles. They don’t know how much we’ve wished to be straight or how we’ve tried so hard to blend in with the straight community. So, we get defensive. We get angry. We forget that, not too long ago, we were once ashamed of being gay. Now we’re defending our positions. We’re almost proud of the fact that we’re gay.”

“You think I’m proud of being gay?”

“Maybe not you, Michael, but a lot of people are. But if you could get them alone and have a truthful conversation with them, the proudest, gayest guy in the world would flat out tell you that he’d be straight in a minute if he could.”

“Can we?” I was hopeful.

“I don’t know. I wish.”

And that’s about where the conversation ended. Neither of us could come up with an answer that didn’t involve strong drugs, electric shock therapy, or hypnosis, so we gave it up.

Ironically, I went on to lead that life that he unknowingly foretold I would lead. I became very proud, to the point of working at a gay bar five nights a week and engaging in all manner of wild behavior that was contrary to what I knew was right. I think, in a way, I began to disbelieve that I could ever be anything other than gay and what's worse is, I stopped caring. And, as such, there was no point in trying. And since there was no point trying, I might as well live as wildly as I wanted, giving no heed to change and embracing my addiction.

So, in conclusion, I’m not sure exactly when I knew that I was gay or what made me gay. I’m not even sure if those questions are relevant to who I am. But I do believe that people are not born gay. That’s my answer. It’s taken me a lot of hard times to arrive at that answer, but I’m grateful for the patience of so many people in my life who have helped me get there. I thank you.

January 3, 2011

Genesis, Part Three...

Phew! Okay, so that was in no means “a little ride down memory lane.” It was more like the time when my family (accompanied by a puppy with motion sickness) decided to drive all the way from Tacoma, Washington to Palmdale, California in two excruciatingly long rides. But, as you recall, I wanted to lay down some history so that you could understand the whole reason I have decided to write this blog.

Now, within the LDS Church, I do not think the number of gay men is very high. And I would guess that the number of gay men who are active members in the Church is even lower. In my experience, I have only met three guys who were open about their same gender attraction. They were all living life much as I had prior to joining the Church. It made me sad because I couldn’t talk to them about my struggles without them trying to tell me that I should just live my life and forget all about the standards I had so recently developed.

To be clear, I am not trying to say that those people are somehow less than I am. I’ve been where they are. I can understand the appeal of it and how addictive that kind of life can be. But I also know how destructive it can be and since I had already wasted a large chunk of my life to that, and having had such a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the Church, I could not consciously deny those experiences. In all honesty, I have not always been the most diligent Mormon you could meet. I’ve gone through rough spots where going to Church felt repugnant and I wanted to rebel. But even then, deep down, I knew I was wrong.

I have been very lucky since I joined the Church. I’ve had amazing support from my friends and family no matter where I’ve lived and no matter what I was going through. But even so, I’ve always felt like I have been on my own in this struggle with same gender attraction. Oh, and in case you thought, as I had, that after I was baptized I wouldn’t be gay any longer, think again. I was hugely disappointed when I stepped out of the baptismal font and still thought that Elder Arlington was gorgeous. And, as I have said, I didn’t know any people in my same position who were still active members. I felt, and in some ways I continue to feel as though I am searching for an answer that no one has.

Which brings me back to the purpose of this blog. I’ve told my closest friends of my struggles and we have both searched for books that I might identify with. And after extensive searching, we’ve come up with very little. On more than one occasion, I’ve had friends come up to me and say something like, “Michael, you know how you are always in search for that book that will help you with your struggles?”

And I say, “Yes,” hoping they’ve found it.

But each time they say something to the effect of, “I had the feeling that you should write that book.”

For a while, I rejected that idea. I’m the only looking! What good could it do me to write down my own story, my own problems, my own lack of understand? I don't have the answers! But long after my friends have left, I can still hear them saying, “You should write that book, Michael.” And this is that book…

In this blog that I am calling The Liberty Crusades, I plan on talking a lot about my past experiences, current challenges, and what I am doing in my life to counter the struggles I face. I don’t have all of the answers, and I admit that I sometimes approach problems from the wrong viewpoint, but I hope that through this blog, I can grow and help others to grow as well.

Seeing as I am wrong a lot, I would appreciate any commentary or corrections that you might have to offer me. Feedback is always welcome, so long as it isn’t profane, of course. Also, I don’t pretend to be the world’s best writer. I make a lot of errors with grammar and spelling. I try to reread all of my work before submitting it, but sometimes I miss stuff. If that bothers you, send me a message telling me where I messed up and I’ll fix it. Or at least I’ll try.

And with that, I give you The Liberty Crusades…

Genesis, Part Two...

So there I was, trying to live two different lives. On the one hand, I had a deep desire to learn more about the gospel - if not from Sam, then from someone else who could teach me. But at the same time, I was living my life the way I wanted, or so I thought. By this point, I was an alcoholic. From the age of 18, I had been having at least one drink a day. And, more often than not, I drank to get drunk. I rarely had one glass and then put the bottle away. It was all or nothing and I wasn’t slowing down for anyone. And so, I slowly drifted away from Samuel Black. Oh, he still tried to stay in touch. He came over to my house a few times, even went to my birthday party. But it just wasn’t working out.

Being a military family, we all got accustomed to moving every three years or so. And, with our three year requirement complete, my family decided to move again. I wasn’t as willing to leave as they were, but after a few months of living alone, I decided to join them in Northern, California.

Now, being the Bay Area, I had expected to find a lot of other men like me. In fact, from the way everyone talking about the Bay, I half expected gay guys to be falling from the skies or something. I was somewhat disappointed when I actually had to go looking for them. But all too soon, I was right back in the same destructive pattern I was in before: drunk every night and usually spending the night.

Having lived in the apartment a few months before I showed up, my parents naturally made friends with all the neighbors. One apartment, in particular, held a house full of girls and my mom wanted me to make friends with them. The catch was they were all either deaf or hard of hearing. One girl, Elaine, was my interpreter. She was only hard of hearing and was very good at reading my lips. Through her, I began to learn how to sign and, eventually could communicate to the other girls as well.

Elaine and I became the best of friends and we practically hung out all the time. We went clubbing. We went drinking. She was completely straight but was always very eager to set me up with her guy friends. And since I have never had much luck in that department when left on my own, I usually took what she gave me.

July 4th 2006, Elaine and I were driving around, killing time until the evening when all of the fun stuff we had planned would begin. As we were driving, we passed an Asian grocery store. Neither of us had been there before, and since we really didn’t have anywhere else to be, we decided we might as well give it a try. Now I’m sure that you all have had Asian cuisine at one point in time, right? Well, that’s not what this was. This place was selling the raw forms of things that I never would have imagined would have been used in Asian cuisine. A little taken back by the "naturalness" of it all, I politely told Elaine that I would wait in the car.

On my way to the exit, I saw a handsome, young man enter the store. And when I say handsome, I mean drop dead gorgeous. Oh, and there was one more small detail: he was wearing a nametag. Yep, he was a Mormon missionary. I’m not sure what I was hoping to achieve, but I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “You’re a Mormon, right?”

He turned towards me and smiled. “Yes, I am.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about you guys,” I told him. It wasn’t the complete truth, but then morality wasn’t exactly my strong suit at this point in my life. “How about you tell me a little about yourself.”
He told me that he didn’t have the time right then but, if I gave him my number, he’d call me sometime.

‘Sweet!’ I thought. ‘I’m in!’ But my friend saw who I was talking to and quickly came to rescue me from the devilishly handsome missionary.

I honestly don’t remember anything about the rest of the day. The next vivid memory I had was getting a call from the missionaries inviting me to Church. Certain that I would be reunited with that same missionary from the Asian grocery store, I readily agreed.

I don’t think I ever told anyone this, but when the missionaries told me where the Church building was, I forgot to write the address down. I knew a vague description of the place, but I didn’t know any street names. Unwilling to just simply call them back and get better directions, I checked the phone book for all of the Mormon Church buildings in the area (of which there were many) and spent all Saturday driving around till I was certain I had found the right one.

So there I was on my first day of Church. I was wearing a dark suit with a purple dress shirt and plum colored tie, the likes of which, I hoped, would impress any church-goers. But when I showed up, everyone was wearing simple suits with plain white shirts. Slightly embarrassed, I sat myself down in a row that, I hoped, would allow me to blend in with the crowd. But I wasn’t surprised when the missionaries found me after the service was over. I mean, purple in a sea of white kind of sticks out. What I was surprised about was the fact that my missionary, the one from the grocery store, was not one of the two who were looking excitedly at me. But these two seemed nice enough. They invited me to a meeting with them later that evening and I agreed before I even thought it through.

Almost at once, I could feel myself rebelling, trying to find a way to get out of my agreement. I mean, I knew what they wanted to talk about and I didn’t want any part of it! Sure, the missionaries might be nice to look at, but I wasn’t about to drink the kool-aid. I mean, I used to have fun picking on Mormons, even laughing at guys on bikes who even resembled missionaries. There was no way I was about to become one of them.

But then I heard my mother’s voice in my head telling me, “You made a promise. Now you are going to keep it.” So, reluctantly, I decided to show up. The missionaries, Elders Monte and Fielding, were very happy to see me. I was not as pleased, but we started the discussion anyways. I don't it needs to be said, but I was not in the right mind frame to be there. Even so, the missionaries were undeterred. They began talking to me about the Pre-existence, and I remember thinking, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve already heard this one. You guys got anything else?”

Apparently, my disinterest was pretty obvious to Elder Monte who decided to change gears and talk about the First Vision. Immediately, my peripheral vision seemed to narrow until all I could see was the missionary and all I could hear was his words. In fact, I could barely even hear that. It was like I was feeling what he was saying more than I was actually hearing it. But one voice, that was not Elder Monte’s, kept saying the same thing over and over in my mind. “It’s true, Michael. It’s all true.”

“No. It can’t be,” I thought. “They can’t be right. They’re… Mormons! They’re crazy! Sure, they’re friendly, but they are definitely not right!” But no matter how much I tried to argue it, the feeling was so soothing to my soul that I somehow knew that what these two missionaries were telling was the truth.

Seeing the inward war that I was waging, Elder Monte leaned in and asked, “Michael, would you like to be baptized?”

I heard a voice, my voice, respond, “Yes.” And I became confused because the voice was so certain. It was so sure that this was the best course of action. But I felt like wherever that voice had originated from, my head was definately straggling behind.

“Good,” Elder Monte said. “Then in four weeks, you’ll be baptized.”

Two weeks later, after taking a lot of missionary lessons, I was talking to the missionaries and they invited me to an out-going missionary fireside. I had never heard of such a thing before but they explained it like this. When a missionary is called, he serves for two years. At the end of the two years, he goes to a Church building and stands in front of a lot of people with all the other missionaries who are going home, and they all share their testimonies on what they’ve learned during the time they've been missionaries. And, in the audience, everyone who has had the chance to know them comes to hear them talk. Old members, new members, those who haven’t been baptized yet like me… all are welcome.

“It would be good for you,” Elder Monte had explained. By this time, I had stopped trying to argue with the missionaries; they always won every argument we got into anyways. So I went.

While I was there, I heard a lot of really amazing testimonies and stories of how the missionaries changed so many people’s lives by their diligence and hard work, and also how their lives had changed. They always brought it back around to the Spirit and that the Lord had helped them every step of the way, but I knew that He only works with the willing and that humility is no easy task.

And as I sat there listening, something happened to me. I got the feeling that I wanted to serve a mission. Two weeks earlier I hated Mormons, and year before that, I couldn’t live without my family. Now, I want to be on a bike away from everyone I knew for two years! I had caught Mission Mania!

When my Elders went to say goodbye to their departing friends, I walked around and guess who I should find? The same missionary that I had met at the Asian grocery store! Elder Arlington, as it were. And, just like the first time I met him, I tapped him on the shoulder. When he saw who it was, I said to him, “What are you doing here?”

Laughing, he countered, “What are YOU doing here?”

“I’m here with the missionaries. I’m going to be baptized in two weeks!” I told him.

“No way! That’s awesome, buddy!”

I didn’t have much more chance to talk as at that moment, before my missionaries found me saying that they had to get home before a certain time. Something about turning into pumpkins. So I said goodbye to Elder Arlington and the three of us made our way to the car. We got no further than the parking lot before Elder Arlington came running out of the building calling my name.

“Wait!” he said, and I could tell that he had been crying.

“Hold on a second,” I told him. “I just left you ten seconds ago and you weren’t crying then.”

“No,” he said. “I just realized something. The day that I met you was my first day out on my mission.” He said, “I had been praying the entire plane ride over that, if I were to speak with everyone I saw that day, I would get a baptism out of one of them. And I had a clear image of you in my head, I just forgot about it until this exact moment.”

I was speechless but I realized that I was crying too. ‘Wow,’ I thought. ‘This Elder has so much faith.’ So, I asked him, “Would you like to be the one to baptize me?”

He said yes and we hugged. Looking back, I remember being so full of pure joy that it didn’t even occur to me that we were embracing. I was so full of the Spirit at that moment that I was not being tempted by the adversary at all.

Two weeks later, as planned, I was baptized.

January 2, 2011

Genesis, Part One...

Before I get too involved with what it is I am plan on blogging, I'd like to tell you why I have created this blog in the first place. To do that, however, we're going to have to take a little ride down memory lane...

First off, my name is Michael Liberty. I'm 28, with my birthday on the not-so-distant horizon. When I was eleven, my parents noticed that I was a little different than some of the other kids. I reacted slowly, I behaved abnormally, and my temper was through the roof. Now, if I would have been born thirty years prior, they would have just swatted my bum a lot, like parents of that era did, and everything would have turned out fine. But somewhere in that thirty year gap, a new invention was born: psychologists. Psychologists have an interesting talent for taking a personality quirk that everyone would have referred to as, say, hyperactive and placing a fancy label on it like ADHD, and then charging a lot of money to tell you that you've got it!

Well, making good use of this new resource, my parents took me to a psychologist named Doctor Bailus. (I don't mind using his real name and you'll figure out why in a minute. But from here on out, everyone else's names have been changed.) Now, Dr. Bailus specialized in diagnosing and treating problems with children, and since the military referred him to us, my parents didn't hesitate. My first time with the guy, I was given a low-leveled maze and a pencil and was told to have at it. Mazes being my thing, I finished it pretty quickly. I remember we spoke briefly, nothing really fancy. He wanted to know about my home life, my relationship with my mom, my dad, my sister, my dog... All normal, I told him. And, with that dazzling analysis, he told my parents that I had tourettes.

Thanks to Hollywood, what is known as Tourette's Syndrome is pretty popular in today's world, but back then we didn't have a clue what it was. It was explained to us that tourettes is when a person has either physical tics, vocal tics, or for those unlucky people, both. I had both but thankfully didn't have vocal outbursts very often. A tic, by the way, is when the body behaves in a repetitive, uncontrolled, and often random action. As you can imagine, my parents were just thrilled to hear this. But there was no need to fear, said the good doctor. If I were to come back to his office twice a month and take some pills twice a day, I would live a pretty normal life. This was more along the lines of what my parents wanted to hear, and so every other week, Dr. Bailus and I met for an hour (which is a lot of time for an eleven year old, if you think about it) and we talked.

Talking wasn't all Doctor Bailus wanted to do, though. There were tests, puzzles, games, songs, touching, mazes, hugging, more puzzles, more touching, more games, more hugging... My life was changing. Socially, I was completely a different person. I went from having failed a grade to becoming a B average student. I could play sports, have normal conversations, draw, read... It was a new me. I still had tics, but they were less hindering to my life. And for the first time in eleven years, I felt normal. Well, almost. You see, what I didn't tell my parents was I knew that the extra curricular activities that Dr. Bailus and I were having were wrong, but at the time, I had figured, "This man has helped me become normal. So, I can help him with... whatever. And really, is this such a bad thing? What is so important about touching? It is the only thing I can give him to pay him back." So, I didn't tell anyone about what was going on.

I've been asked by a lot of people - religious people, family members, ex-girlfriends... - when did I know I was gay. As far as I can tell, I had never really shown any interest in men until Doctor Bailus decided he didn't just want to help children, but wanted to help himself to them as well. I might have always had the weakness to become this way and was only given the opportunity through that experience. But who knows? What I can say is that from that moment on, I was only attracted to the same gender.

About the same time, I noticed that I had found myself staring at boys. It wasn't obvious to me yet, just a vague interest in them, but by the time I had turned 12, I remember playing MASH under the covers at night and giggling with joy when Jason Hitchcock's name was matched with mine. (We probably ended up in a shack driving a Volvo, but that didn't matter. We would have made it work.) Little did I know at this age, but there is this thing called Gay-dar. It's where one gay person and another gay person can actually sense each other's presence, almost like two Jedi can, except Gay-dar works 24/7, bends around corners, and is more dependable than the mail man. Untrained as I was at being gay, I didn't have a clue what Gay-dar was or how to work it. Thusly, I also didn't know that some of the guys in my everyday life were also interested in men. My Gay-dar didn't work so hot back then.

In the 6th grade, my PE teacher (we'll call him, Mister Saul) spotted me walking home one day and decided to give me a lift. I knew he lived just down the road from me and so I accepted. Besides, Mister Saul looked exactly like Tom Cruise and had a six-pack. Let's just say, if he hadn't offered, I probably would have rolled up my pant leg and jerked my thumb out at him. On the way home, he invited me over to his place. Now, a lot of people go over to Mister Saul's house. He entertained often and the coolest guys from school went over there to work out, play tennis, and go swimming. I was hoping that this invitation meant that I was cool. Next thing you know, I'm back to being touched. But there is something different this time. This time, I enjoyed it. This time, I had more of a voice and I chose not to use it. I'm not defending Mister Saul. Keep in mind, he was my teacher and I was only 12. I'm just saying that my feelings had changed dramatically since the days of Dr. Bailus.

About six months later, my sister started going to church out of the blue, and she wanted me to go with her. I don't know if her sudden interest in the gospel had anything to do with a boy she had the hots for at the time, but it had been years since I'd been to church and thought it'd be a nice change. What I didn't expect was to be the new eye candy of the youth leader who we'll nickname Doublemint, since he always had a stick in his mouth. Now I know what you're probably thinking. "A third time? Seriously? Where does this guy live? A pedo-farm?" Trust me, it was just a normal small town in southern California. Why there were so many child molesters there, I'll never know. But needless to say, I had my fair share of them trying to get at me.

Now, fast forward eight years. I'm 21, living in Waco, Texas and working two jobs. The first job is at the Olive Garden where I am a host. The second job is at a gay bar where I am pretty much the odd-job guy who did a little bit of everything... no pun intended. Yes, I messed around a lot. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. I tried weed a little bit but it didn't agree with me so I gave that up pretty fast. And that's how life was for me, until I met Samuel Black.

Sam and I both worked at the Olive Garden. I remember the day I met Sam, I was manning the hosting podium, signing people in, and he walks up to me and casually gives me a compliment. I forget what for now, but I remember looking at him with googly eyes from that moment on. And let me tell you, Sam is one hot guy. Even today, I see pictures of him on the Face and I inwardly sigh. But there was something different about Sam. He was straight, but he was nice. No, it was more than nice. Sam had an interest in every person who he interacted with. These days, that is not a common trait to have, especially in men. Especially in straight men! So I got curious. I asked a couple of friends about him and they told me that not only was Sam straight, but he was Mormon.

I didn't know too much about Mormons, except that they were supposedly going to Hell for making their own bible or something like that. But I'd corrupted many a straight guy before and I had no doubt that I could do the same to Sam. So I approached him one day at work, sporting the hottest of the ties the OG let their hosts wear, and I began to talk to him.

"Hey Sam."

"Hey Michael. How're you doing?" He always asked and actually waited for the answer. Most people are already waiting to say, "Oh, that's nice." And then move on with what they really wanted to talk about.

"I'm good, thanks. How're you?"

"Fine," he said.

"Oh, that's nice." See what I mean? "So, I wanted to talk to you about something."


"You seem like a nice guy and I consider you a friend, but to be honest, I heard a weird rumor about you and I wanted to ask you about it."

"Sure thing. What is it?"

"Well, I heard you were a *voice drops to a whisper* Mormon. Now, I'm a pretty open minded guy and I already think you're pretty cool, but I wanted to know if it is true. Because I'm willing to be friends with you no matter what, I just want to know."

"It's true," he said.

"Oh. Well... To be honest, I don't know what Mormons are like anyways, but you seem nice enough."

And so we became friends. He invited me to Church a few times and I actually went once, but I was really tired from having worked late Saturday night and so I wasn't really paying much attention. A while later, he invited me over to his place and, if you can remember my past track-record with that, I thought that was code for something else. So I came over looking and smelling great. But he wanted to discuss something called the Pre-existence. I remember that half way through his talk, I stopped batting my eyes at him and realized that he had just answered a question that I've had all my life. As I recall, I was confused. Answers to life long questions was not the reason I had come over there and yet that's what I ended up getting. Along with that bit of information, I felt something that I had never felt before. I didn't know what it was or what it meant, but it wouldn't leave me alone.

And that was my first "Mormon experience." I don't know if Sam meant for any seed to be planted, but from that day on, I carried with me a deep curiosity for the Mormon Church...