November 25, 2012

The Story Continues... Part 3

When I first heard about Journey into Manhood, or simply JiM, I was apprehensive to say the least. I didn’t know much about it but what I did know freaked me out. There were about 30 men, called journeyers, and 20 staff. Most, if not all, were men who experienced SSA. And we were going to be camping…

Okay, I’m not totally brilliant, as you’ve probably realized from earlier posts, but 30 guys who all experience same sex attraction all bunking together? Dude! You’re asking for trouble!

Well, I carpooled down with another journeyer, which was a little scary. No, the guy wasn’t scary, but I was just nervous. But all of that went away when within ten minutes of our drive we popped on some show tunes and starting singing. (Yes, some stereotypes are accurate.) By the time we arrived in Southern California, we were already brothers. And that was exactly how it was as the guys started showing up. We weren’t allowed to get too much into the area yet, so we hung out in the parking lot, laughing and chatting as if none of us were anxious for the unknown things to come.

Now, I’m not allowed to talk a whole lot about the specifics of that weekend, but let me tell you this. I have never felt and accepted and reciprocated love like I did there. I had 50 men who all understood what I was going through. I learned a great deal about how I see people, how I label (judge) them even before knowing anything about them, what it is that scares me about people, and most importantly, why.
There were a lot of activities we did, we got to play, and cry, and work, and role play, and cry, and laugh until it hurt, and cry… Yeah, I cried a lot. In fact, I continually thought that I was all cried out and so volunteered myself for things only to realize that, nope, I still had plenty of tears left in me.
During the weekend, I discovered that we were made up of many different people. There were deeply religious people of all faiths, and some who believed in no deity. There were people from other countries and ethnicities. And there were even guys there who did not experience SSA at all! Think of that! Guys who knew full well that they were going to be in a position where the majority of the men present had SSA. If it were me, I’d be a little worried. But when I asked the guy why he came he told me, “I want to be a better husband and father.”
And when it came time to leave, I didn’t want to go. I cried on the shoulder of one of the guys and told him that I wish we could do this forever. It was just so packed with love and understanding and wisdom that going back into the crummy real world scared the crap out of me! But eventually, our time was up and it was time to go.
I’ve thought a lot about my time during that weekend, reflecting on things learned, friendships made, and how wonderful it was to be alive. I’ve never experienced a lot of the things some of the guys at my JiM weekend have. I’ve never been married with children only to inform my family years later that I was attracted to the same sex. I have never been physically bullied to the point where hospitalization was necessary. Nor have I ever been totally alone, ostracized by my friends and family because I was attracted to men, even though there was no action towards those attractions. But it didn’t seem to matter. At no point did it seem like anyone was comparing their problems to others. We related, sure. But the sharing was pure and unadulterated.
I would recommend JiM to anyone, LDS or no, straight or no. This is an experience that will help you become a better man, a stronger husband, and a more loving father. JiM changed my life, ladies and gents, and I’m a better person for it.


November 9, 2012

The Story Continues... Part 2

I must have read the article in LDS Living at least ten times that day, scouring it for every drop of substance. When you’re thirsty, even the smallest drop is substantial. In the end, I learned a great deal about the family highlighted in the magazine. The husband’s name is Ty Mansfield, your average Mormon guy who served a mission, went to college, and wanted to establish himself. He also experienced SSA (Same Sex Attraction). For years, he said, he’d wanted to settle down, marry, and have a family but due to his attractions, it didn’t look promising. Eventually, he got to the point where he didn’t feel any huge obligation or pressure from society to get married.

Wow, I thought. That’s exactly where I am.

But then something interesting happened. Through a spiritual experience, he was told that even though he didn’t think that marriage was altogether an option for him at that time, he could still be preparing himself to become a husband and father. After all, the timing of the Lord is not necessarily what we want it to be.

And so Ty began dating. At first, he was just going through the motions, not feeling any which way about the girls he was dating until he began dating a girl named Danielle. Long story short, they both started having feelings for each other that far superseded anything they’d felt ever before.

While I had been reading their story, the name of Ty Mansfield kept ringing bells in my head. As much as I tried dissuading myself, I knew that I recognized the name from somewhere. And it wasn’t until Danielle began to give her story that it all clicked into place.

From the moment Danielle had met Ty, she pretty much knew he was the one for her. But because of the distance between them (she was going to school at BYU and he in Texas), they didn’t get to see each other as much as they would have liked. During one of these dry spells, Danielle spotted a book in a book store. It was strangely appealing to her since it featured a decently attractive man with a black censoring bar across his eyes. The book was called, “In Quiet Desperation.” I may have mentioned it before. I read the first half of it but, at that time, I wasn’t in a very good place and it didn’t sit well with me. But guess who the author was?

That’s right! Danielle picked up the cover and saw it was written by Ty Mansfield. Interested, she bought the copy and read it. I don’t remember how the conversation came up about the book or his SSA or any of that, but what really matters is that they were still in love with each other. Despite all the other junk floating around, including a lot of negativity from the gay community and heat from the press, they got married in the Temple.

Well, me being me, I found Ty on Facebook (which is what it’s for, thank you very much) and began writing to him. I told him how inspired I was by his story and told him a little of my own. I settled into my chair, prepared to wait out an anxious three days until someone as cool as Ty would even notice that some little peon of a person sent him a message.

He replied within the hour.

Something I have learned about Ty is not only the fact that he doesn’t consider himself anything special, but he makes it a priority to reach out to people, no matter how significant they might consider themselves.

Me. I’m talking about me. Heh!

Anyways, Ty cofounded this group for LDS guys who also experience SSA. The group is there to provide support, as well as insights and help if desired. The group is called North Star. I joined the day I heard of it. At once, I realized that I was not alone. There were lots of guys dealing with just about the exact same feelings I was, suicide and all. And just like that, I was connected. I wasn’t fine again, or even moderately stable, but I was in a much better place.

One of the moderators of the group sent me a message online. Turns out he lives just north of me and wanted to welcome me to North Star. More than that, he wanted to introduce something to me to something that will go down in my mind as just as life changing as the day I joined the Church…

November 8, 2012

The Story Continues... Part 1

Not all that long ago, I was seriously contemplating taking my own life. I had made plans on how and when I would do it and was in the process of writing my reasons so that my family and friends would understand better. I knew, though, that complete understanding would most likely never come.

I was beyond depression. I loathed myself and devoted a great deal of energy focused on all of my failings, weaknesses, and shortcomings. Little by little, I was convincing myself of the reasons why giving up in this form made sense.

It wasn't that I didn't have friends or family that loved me. I was incredibly popular for reasons that utterly alluded my understanding. In fact, on several instances, I had people tell me that I was the happiest person they knew. Can you believe that? Someone who was actively planning their suicide was perceived as being the happiest person in another's life. When asked why, they would say, "It's because you smile all the time and you make me want to smile with you."

At right at the lowest part of all of this, I remember feeling the impression from Heavenly Father to hold out a little longer. So I did...

It wasn't too much longer after that impression that a friend and wife of one of the counselors of my ward, presented me with a magazine. It was a copy of LDS Living and pictured a happy couple and their child on the front cover. I smiling thinly, privately envious at such people who are blessed with companionship, and told my friend, "That's a happy couple."

She looked me over. "You didn't read it, did you?" And she pointed to the side tab that explained the contents of the magazine. Under that particular article it said, "Our Story: Living with Same-Sex Attration."

I was blown away. This family? This happy family, dealt with same sex attaction? I needed to learn more. I tried to borrow the copy from my friend, but she said it was mine, and started reading it immediately.

And so began a new chapter in a book that I had been so eager to shut entirely...