Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT - A National Joke

Don't Ask Don't Tell

Perhaps I'm too young, but I really don't know what the policy was in the US Armed Forces before Clinton introduced Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). I assume it wasn't a good thing, at least DADT allowed gay service men and women to have ownership over outing themselves.

But that was a long time ago, it's 2010 and most civilised societies have realised that gay service men and women have no impact on their straight colleagues. Australia, The U.K., Israel, New Zealand and a number of other countries have had their gay and straight service men and women mixing for many years. Their military forces haven't been depleted, their societies haven't collapsed.

I think this cartoon explains so well how stupid the DADT policy is.

I'm sure as service men and women go into battle it's critical they know that the person next to them is gay. Come on USA, join with the rest of the civilised world, repeal DADT and while your'e at it you need to get rid of capital punishment. You're really hanging with the wrong crowd on that one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why are people so blinded by things that don't concern them?

For the last few months and I suppose for me the last three to four years, I have been reading as much as I can about the the issue of homosexuality in our various communities.

Much of the noise and hatred seems to come from the loud minorities within the far right wing Christian community. The US seems to lead that charge, but here in Australia we also have a loud minority.

As I move on this journey of my own and slowly reveal my true self to more and more of my friends, it's almost a non event. All of the fear I had about the coming out journey, family, friends, work colleagues etc seems to have been for nought.

I recently travelled interstate for my brother-in-law's 50th birthday bash. Over the years I've met many of my sister's friends and we often catch up when ever I visit. At least four of my sister's girlfriends came up to me during the party and said how proud they were of me. I was taken aback by their openness, generosity and kindness.

Don't get me wrong, there are friends I've not "come out" to yet, but I'm confident they may have found out from someone else. That's not he ideal scenario, but it's very difficult to announce to everyone at the same time you've decided to come out. Ok, facebook may be an option, but not for me. I blog instead :-)

My point is that I see a disconnect between the loud rhetoric form the Christian right and the people I know. Coming from an LDS (Mormon) Church background I have enough friends I may have assumed where right wing. I'm discovering that people are not perhaps as far right wing as I had assumed.

There are a number of organisations in the US, one of the most vocal is NOM (The National Organization for Marriage). They very vocally appose any effort to provide equal rights to all members of the community. With the support of various groups, they focus their attention of the gay community. However, these same conservative groups don't seem to attack with the same degree of rigor or financial backing, the issue of straight men & women cheating on each other, or straight men and women who engage in sexual relations out of wedlock.

Each of these apparent "sins" carry very weighty consequences according to the Christian view of the Old and New Testaments. Perhaps over time, their distorted and bigoted behaviour will become clear to more and more people.

I decided to write this post today because I just don't see where this will end. However, the battle must go on. As long as citizens in a free society can't chose to love who they want to and to marry who they want to, justice is absent on this issue.

If you want to learn more about what some in the gay community are doing in the US, visit the Human Rights Campaign, they do tremendous work. In Australia you can visit Australian Marriage Equality and see what they're doing to bring some sanity to the marriage act.

I've said in previous blogs that my personal opinion is that Governments should get out of the marriage business and leave it to religious and secular institutions to perform as they see appropriate.

Talk to your to your friends, listen to their point of view and share your own. If you don't have one, that's also ok, but I'd encourage you to read to better understand how this issues is creating a second class of citizens who have limited rights compared to the rest

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What About Talking To A Shrink?

Is Professional Help An Option?
My initial reaction was that only sick people go to see a ‘shrink’, why did I need to see a psychologist? My friend explained that if you need to build muscles, don’t we all, you go to the gym. If you have something physically wrong with you, you go to the doctor. If you feel you have something emotionally wrong with you, a psychologist is a great place to start. I thought about his analogy and I suppose it made sense. I did’t feel as though I had something “emotionally wrong” with me, I was just unable to reconcile certain feelings and emotions I had. So, I decided to make my first ever appointment with a psychologist.

I arrived at my first appointment with no idea what was going to happen except for impressions collected from Hollywood movies and many sitcoms. I went into his office and after some initial greetings, I sat in a big wing back chair and the psychologist sat directly in front of me in another wing back chair. I thought I was supposed to be laying on a couch! It was literally silent for a few minutes and I asked “How do we do this?” and he responded “Start at the beginning…”. The hour was over before I knew it, I think I spoke for about 90% of the time. I discovered that psychologists are good listeners. I went once a month for about 12 months and found the whole process really rewarding and helpful.

I shared with my mum and a close friend of mum’s that I was seeing the psychologist. I didn’t tell mum why, she didn’t need to know and at that point I didn’t want her to know. She went through all the points where she thought she had failed as a mum and raised issues she felt would certainly be discussed in my sessions. Little did she know most of the time was spent on issues that really didn’t even relate to her, mostly about my interaction with men, the absence of my father and an over inflated reverence I have for authority. I won’t expand on that last one in this book, it’s very strange.

After finally coming out, I learnt that my non-member mother had thought that I may have been gay for a number of years, but she hadn’t raised this issue because she thought my faith may have been a hurdle. She was right and my membership in the LDS Church was a key reason why I hadn’t wanted to come out. There was the embarrassment and maybe shame that I had lead one lifestyle for almost 20 years and was now choosing a very different one. I didn’t want people to think ill of the Church, I took my covenants seriously, although I appreciate my private behaviour would suggest otherwise.

Making the decision to come out is a very personal one. For me, the journey from being in the closet to stepping out and then sharing more of myself, was rewarding and invigorating. It was also scary and a little nerve racking at times, but worth the journey nonetheless. For me, it started with a friend, it then my Bishop and then eventually more friends. Today, a small network of 10 or so friends have heard from me that I’m gay and I’m sure others have heard through the grapevine. That’s ok, it’s who I am and I’m cool with that. It took me time to get the point where it was cool though, that took me a couple of years. Today there are still people that I believe don’t know and I want to tell them, but the tyranny of distance makes it difficult. Friends who live interstate and overseas.

I’ve thought about writing a letter and sharing my news with them like that, I really don’t want them to  find out from someone else. Perhaps writing this book will help me get those words down on paper and in the mail. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Tyler Clementi

The news covers again the tragic loss of life of another gay teenager who chose to take his own life. At 18, he was a promising music student, his friends spoke highly of him, a great person. But where are we as a society that a young man chooses to take his life because people have found out that he's gay?

Then there's the kids that we never hear about, who quietly take their lives without the fanfare of global news coverage. How many gay teenagers have watched the news this week and seen Tyler's plight and the choice he made? I imagine there are many thousands. I worry that they see this as perhaps their only way out of the humiliation they feel, the bullying they suffer at school and the fear they have about sharing with their family and loved ones that they're gay.

One of my favourite online gay columnists, Dan Savage was horrified at this story as with any story of a gay person taking their life. So, he and his husband put together a YouTube Channel called It Gets Better. He's invited others to contribute and share their stories about high school, the bullying and coming out to parents. The general consensus being that life really does get better when you leave high school.

Of the news coverage I read, from the US, Australia and Canada some of the most enlightened comments from readers came from Salt Lake City, Utah. Comments like:

"tribtalksense says: One of the people in my office has a great saying posted it states, "Never take a person's dignity. It means everything to them and has no worth to you." - Frank Barrow.  This despicable act, (by those taping it), demonstrates this."

"nungwa says: Self-loathing is a bitter and cruel thing. The shame and embarrassment Tyler must have felt had to be excruciating."

If you know any young people who are struggling with their sexuality, take a moment to send them an email with a link to It Gets Better and maybe share you're own story with them.

Click here for Australia News Coverage

Click here for Canadian News Coverage

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Little Further Out

When I joined in the Church as a teenager in 1988, there were a couple of families who kind of adopted me. I will forever to grateful to them for their love and guidance. It's now about three years since I started my coming out journey, but I've not come out to them, although I think they know anyway.

It's been almost twelve months since I stopped going to Church. One of the families lives here in Sydney and the other in Melbourne. The mother of one of these families managed to extract my news from a close mutual friend. I told my friend I didn't want her to lie for me at any time.

I got an email today from the eldest son of one of these families, he said "I hear you're not attending Church, what's going on?" I was kind of glad that he asked. So I explained how I got to where I am today, how I've felt about that journey and how I've felt about that in the context of Church.

I'm curious to hear back from him, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Will you share your experience?

As part of a book I'm writing, I'm collecting feedback from gay LDS men and women. The survey is anonymous, you can identify yourself if you'd like to.

Please click on the link below, the survey will take no more than 10-15minutes to complete.

Please feel free to send this link to any gay LDS men/women you may know.

Many thanks for your participation.

Results will be posted here, probably around July 2011.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Coming Out to Family & Friends cont...

Making the choice to come out is your own and I hope you get to do it on your own terms. Just make sure you take the time to think about the steps you want to take and the manner in which you want to do it. Just keep in mind you can’t control how people will respond, some with love you more than ever and some will have a difficult time understanding. Let those people go, let them take the time they need to figure things out in their own mind. If they really love you, they will come back. As for those who reject you, you can’t change them. Just love them and accept them for who they are.
I had come out to someone in the late 1990’s. I was living in Melbourne and had met a guy through Church, he was a lovely guy and engaged. He wasn’t your average LDS member, he had dreadlocks and had his own take on how to live the gospel. The thing I liked about him the most, was that he was very open minded about things. I was attracted to this guy, primarily because I knew if I came out to him he would be cool and non judgmental.
I finally summed up the courage to come out to him, although it was in a very convoluted way. I had sent him a email with a report on a subject we’d discussed, I edited the article and inserted comments about how I felt about guys and that I was gay and wanted to come out. At first glance, the article looked like the original, he would only see my edits if he read the complete article. Well, he did read the article and called me soon after. We met, spoke and I found his warmth and friendship encouraging. 
He was the first person I had ever told that I was gay and that experience could not have been better. Over the coming weeks and months we spoke more about my situation and again I found his thoughts and views very helpful. However, I managed to smother this guy and he eventually asked for some space. It really hurt, but I knew I had put too much on him and was asking too much. We met a few weeks later and he gave me the name of a psychologist. He worked in the medical field and was able to refer me to a psychologist he had also seen in the course of his work.
The decision to tell friends is either terrifying or a relief. For me I found it a mixture of those feelings. I had been dating my partner for about seven months and I was finding it really difficult to juggle between the time I wanted to spend with him and the time my friends were used to me giving to them. As a single guy, your time is your own and my LDS friends began to see that my time was becoming less and less available. 
Looking back and having had discussions with them, they wondered what was up. They had sensed I was having issues with the Church and when I moved from my Ward to the inner west of Sydney, they started to ‘join the dots’ so to speak. Sydney’s inner west has a bohemian feel to it, it’s more open than where I was living relative to the gay community. I hadn’t consciously thought about it, but perhaps that’s why I chose to move there.
While trying to perform this juggling act I knew I had to come out to these people, two couples and a single girlfriend all around my age. I approached them individually and shared my news, for each of them this wasn’t a shock. Let me share some of the steps I went through to share my news in the hope it may give you some ideas.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Australian Federal Election

And so the day begins with millions of Australians heading to the polls to vote. The media suggest that only 20% of voters know who they're going to vote for. I was amongst the 80% who for the first time in my life made the choice literally standing in the booth.

What has caused this confusion in my mind? I think there are a number of things. For the first time I'm voting as an openly gay man - does this really factor into who I vote for? Well, it seems to be largely irrelevant. Both of the major parties won't allow gay "marriage", so there's no benefit there for me on that issue regardless which party I vote for.

Should I vote on a single issue? I don't think so. Our election process has become very American in the way people think and the way the media present it. Australian's don't vote for the PM, the PM is appointed by the party who win with the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. 

With the ousting of Kevin Rudd, this should be very clear to people, the PM is a party decision not a decision for the people. However, people still say "I voted for Julia" or "I voted for Tony". Well, actually no, you didn't. You vote for your local member who belongs to a party and the party appoints the PM.

My own mother having voted Liberal her entire life, voted for "Julia" this time round because she can't stand "Tony". Voting is a personal thing and I applaud her for participating in the process and I'm in not place to appose her motivations, but I do disagree with that thought process.

Regardless of the outcome, same-sex couples will still be second class citizens as their relationships are seen as offering no value to the community. Until our relationships are on an equal footing with all Australians, there is work to do.

Is "Marriage" necessarily the right act or word to create such equality - I'm not sure. Does changing 80 Australian federal laws that almost bring equality for same-sex couples? I don't think so, it's a mockery, "almost equality" is not equality.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Openly Gay Aussie Senator Opposes Gay Marriage

Senator Wong, Minister for Climate Change, is openly gay. However today she's recorded in the press as being opposed to gay marriage. The hypocrisy drives me mad.

There are those who oppose gay marriage on the basis that it's a heterosexual arrangement. I see marriage as the hallmark of western society (I can't speak for the rest of the world). Marriage is the institution by which we generally measure the seriousness of a relationship, many of our laws are pinned to this arrangement.

It's seen as so serious within our culture, we have to apply to the government for permission to do so. The Birth, Deaths and Marriages agency of the NSW, Australian government says the following on their website:

"Once you decide to marry, you are required to give a marriage celebrant at least one month and one days notice (not more than 18 months notice) of an intended date of marriage. Once you choose a marriage celebrant, they will ask you to complete a Notice of Intended Marriage form which they will provide or you can download."

In my reading on the issue, one of the reasons Church's are so opposed has more to do with their fear of being forced to perform same sex marriages within their Church's. Even if the law forced Church's to concede, I can't understand why a gay couple would want to have such a special day take place in an environment of open hostility.

Aside from all the arguments I've read, the core argument I believe rests on equality for all citizens. As long as gay members of the community are restricted in their ability to be married, they will be second class citizens.

One of the most interesting views I've read on this issue is that government should step out of the institution of marriage all together. I read this idea in:

I think he's onto a good idea.

Interesting note, the day the Penny Wong article was posted at the, they ran a poll. "Are you for or against gay marriage?" With 2 hours to go before the poll closed, they had 19,634 people respond. 65% for and 35% against.

Coming Out to Family & Friends

My decision to “come out” happened in two parts. In chapter two I talked about the three stages I went through exploring my sexuality. The first coming out was really for me, perhaps you could say this was me opening the door to the closest, just a little. The second was coming out to family and friends, or taking a step out of the closet.
This second coming out is probably the hardest for any gay person. It would probably make this chapter a little more engaging if my coming out had been difficult or traumatic. It was not, I was almost ‘outed’ by my mother more so than me choosing to come out. However, I was in control of another aspect of coming out and that was being prepared emotionally to come out. 
Soon after my first sexual experience I knew wanted to come out, but knowing how or when was the hardest step. I spent a lot time on self talk, that is, talking to myself about why I was the way I was, how I was going to come out and to whom. While self talk can tend to lean towards the negative, I found the process to be helpful. It forced me to think at times, out loud, about how I was going to come out. In addition, I kept an extensive journal, which I found beneficial reading again and again.
Another question that I found myself trying to answer was “why do I need to come out?”. Whose business was it anyway? Whom I choose to sleep with is my business and no one else’s. Perhaps you’ve had this discussion with your self, if so, here’s the answer I arrived at.
I decided I had to come out for my own sanity, to not come out was for me, hiding. It was taking up residence in the back of the ‘closet’ so to speak. It meant juggling two lives, with two sets of friends and two sets of events constantly jumping between the two. I’m not a good lier, I knew I would be ‘found out’ or ‘revealed’ at some stage. Being LDS there was the added complication of being an endowed High Priest. I had made commitments and covenants, I was not abiding by them and I felt a responsibility to step up and take ownership of those issues. At the time of writing this book, I’m only part way there with the Church. I’ve not had a disciplinary council, although my Bishop knows the choices I’ve made. He did take my temple recommend, which I took with me to the meeting because I knew I had to surrender it. He released me from my priesthood callings and called me as the ward website coordinator, a calling that does not require me to use the Priesthood.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Little More About Michael

Some of the gay LDS men I know have been excluded from family activities and in some cases excluded from the family home. In some cases they believed this was the counsel from Church Leaders,  my research shows quite clearly that is not the current counsel. I believe there exists among some local Church leaders a disconnect between their counsel and the counsel from the “Brethren” i.e. the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It’s the nature of any world wide organisation that the local implementation of certain doctrines may differ slightly from “head office”. 

Perhaps if your family feel their faith requires them to exclude you from the family home and other family activities, you could gently make them aware of Elder Oaks’s comments. 

While the idea of love can be difficult in the face of such opposition to our choices, perhaps we can take the high road when dealing with people who would persecute or belittle us because of our sexuality. In most cases, those men I spoke to have been able to reconnect with their family. That reconnection is generally built on a mutual respect 

Of the men I interview for this book, none have met with a Priesthood Leader to confess their homosexual activity.

How else do I find love in my life?
This question presupposes that a person wants to find love in their life. I’m confident that all men and women want to find love at some level in their lives. However I’m not sure I can answer this question because a person can find love in so many ways. The best conclusion I can come to is that love for others is perhaps best begun with love of self. I suggest it makes life easier for a gay person if they first come to terms with who they are so they can develop a love not only for themselves but for those around them, family, friends and lovers.

If your relationship with Christ was or is one of great depth, I would encourage you to do what you can to maintain that. While the Church teaches this is best done through the scriptures, prayer and service, I found a change of focus helped me. King Benjamin

“And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”

There are many opportunities to serve in the GLBT and wider community. I found opportunities to serve others which made my challenges diminish as I buried myself in others problems and issues.

Exploring a Relationship With a Partner.
Exploring your sexuality, coming out and then perhaps finding a partner or lover can be an overwhelming process. The upside being that the intimacy, support, friendship and happiness that can come from a relationship makes the bumps along the way a little easier. 

My experience dating a girl is minimal with only a few years under my belt. At the time of writing this book, my experience dating a guy was even more limited. I don’t profess to be the Dr. Phil of gay dating, I’m just sharing my own experience.

From the point of starting to explore my sexuality, I didn’t really want or desire a partner. I was happy meeting guys, having some fun and perhaps moving on or maintaining a relationship which brought about ‘friends with benefits’. I found it a really empowering process, I met some great guys who wanted the same thing - its’ called NSA sex, “No Strings Attached”. It’s common in the gay world, the key is to ensure that you and these guys are always safe and clean. 

I had probably been having ‘fun’ for about two years when I met a guy one evening at a bar. He was about five years younger than me, handsome and I thought beautiful. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, I hadn’t made a conscious decision that I wanted to commit to a relationship, but there he was. Now I had to work out how to date a guy, I’d never done this before - are the rules different? Who takes the lead? 

I hinted that I’d like to see more of him, he agreed but only wanted to be friends at this stage. There were worse responses he could have given me. For about four months we had dinner and saw each other from time to time and got to know each other. He’d recently come out of a relationship and didn’t want to get into a serious relationship in a hurry, so I hung around waiting and hoping. I knew that pressing the issue may just push him further away, given I’d waited 38 years for this I figured I could wait a little longer.

My patience paid off and I got an SMS from him one Sunday asking if I was dating anyone, I responded telling him that was a stupid question! He came back and said if I was ready, he’d like to start dating. My heart skipped a few beats and I felt like jumping for joy. It’s been about five months since that point and we’re progressing really well. I’ve found it a whole new experience, with unknown steps around almost every corner.

The comfort and joy that comes from having a partner makes me feel whole, it makes me feel like I believe we’re supposed to feel. The sacrifices we make for each other, being there for each other and caring about the other person helps to build a relationship that will hopefully stand the test of time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

4 - Coming Out

Making the Decision to Come Out
“Hope will never be silent” Harvey Milk
For any gay person the “coming out” process is possibly the hardest one to make, but at the same time it can be the most invigorating and exciting. For me, understanding that I liked boys as a high school student and then knowing I was gay as a young adult male was something I didn’t want to deal with.

I understood, through Church, that being gay was not what the Lord wanted me to be. I didn’t so much struggle with this doctrine because I believed it to be true. I struggled to understand why Heavenly Father had chosen to impose this temptation on me, what had I done to deserve this? I’m not sure I had done anything nor do I really believe now that this was a temptation that was imposed on me.

As far as the “nurture or nature” debate goes, I think they’re irrelevant. They seem to me to be an intellectual debate by heterosexuals to try to explain why I am the way I am. I believe I’m simply the way I am because I am, it’s as simple as that. As I started to associate with more gay men I began to understand that there are as many individuals within the GLBT community as there are within the straight community. Labeling people serves little purpose or benefit.

My first interaction with gay men was a job when I was about 26. I was working in a call centre with about 110 people, at least 10% of the staff were gay men. The thing that struck me was the variety of guys from the ‘screaming queen’ through to guy you’d get changed with after a football match in the locker room. You would have had no idea he was gay. I became friends with a number of these guys, they knew I was LDS and were respectful of my faith and values and I of their lifestyle and their choices.

It was an interesting two years working with these guys. I had been curious about what a gay man was like for years, I knew I was gay but really didn’t know what that meant. 

I was active in the church until I chose to stop attending in 2009, so the idea of coming out didn’t really enter my mind as I worked with these guys for almost two years. I’m fact, during the time I was there I took two weeks annual leave to travel to the US to propose to a LDS girl in Salt Lake City. We’d met when she was in Australia. I even took a ring with me, within the first week I realised this was not something I could do. I knew it wouldn’t t work because I was gay, however that reason was buried deep inside me. I didn’t consciously think about being gay as a hurdle, I just knew getting married couldn’t happen.

One of the managers at the call centre was an ex US Navy nurse. He was about 6’3”, African American and very handsome. For some reason his ‘gaydar’ was fixed on me. We would discuss many topics, usually religion and the gay community. I was always respectful of his lifestyle choice and he was generally respectful of mine.

All of these interactions helped me understand that gay men were quite normal, they weren’t weird, they wanted to same things as most people. Some even talked about having a family with their partner and children were a part of that plan. If they were able to have what appeared to be a normal life, perhaps I could also. Again, the idea of me coming out was not a conscious thought at this stage.

I was now in my mid to late twenties and coming to terms with who I was as a gay man, although I didn’t think about it, like that, at the time. I would pray about being gay and plead for Heavenly Father to take this temptation away from me, it never happened, but I found the process of articulating out loud during prayer how I felt, a healthy process. What was perhaps less healthy was asking for forgiveness of the things I’d done. It got to the point where I felt demoralized constantly seeking forgiveness for the things I enjoyed and knew that I was never really going to stop doing. Eventually I stopped asking for forgiveness and changed how I spoke to Heavenly Father in prayer. I decided that I was who I was and that wasn’t going to change.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Gay Marriage

Ok, I have to interrupt the flow of my blog based on Australia's new Prime Minister and her personal views on gay marriage.

Here we have a women raised a Baptist, although she has publicly said she's not practicing as an adult and will not participate in religious ceremonies to pander to voters. By this I assume she means we won't have photos of her and her hair dresser defacto coming out of Church on Christmas Day. Hooray, the Canberra press gallery can spend Christmas day with their families.

I applaud her for that statement, she is who she is, she's not performing for the electorate. Give her time.

Her statement about gay marriage was following party policy, I get that, it's Labour heaven forbid she'd have her own opinion on anything. Shock horror, her personal view is the same as the party.

If Australian same sex couples were ever to have a chance of legally recognized marriage, I have always thought it would come from a Labour government and their socialist leanings. That's a whole other article.

What I struggle with most, is Ms Gillard's hypocrisy. She lives in sin, she's 48 and has no children and perhaps doesn't want any. Her own lifestyle is at odds with the ultra conservatives she's pandering to.

Of course I personally have no issue with her living arrangements. I actually think it's cool that our PM is shacked up with her man. Wouldn't be every women's dream and some mens, to have a live in hair dresser? I'm bald, so no advantage for me unless he knows how to wax!

Ms Gillard, I just don't feel you're being very authentic on this issue.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Michael's Story

When I spoke with Michael about Christ and the Church, his feelings were dominated by his thoughts as a youth growing up in the Church and the guilt of his behaviour and thoughts. From as early as five he realised that he found men more interesting than women. He said he knew that sneaking a peak of men while in change rooms as a kid was inappropriate, but he found it intriguing and exciting. 

As a 13 year old he connected his masturbation and thoughts of men and believed this was something he shouldn’t do. The guilt of masturbation was enough, but to combine this with his thoughts of men and thinking he was the only man in the Church who masturbated, came together to place a great deal of stress on a young boy who should be enjoying all the happiness that comes from being a kid.

Like most boys that age, I was masturbating more often than not. To stop that behaviour when I joined the Church was incredibly difficult. Let’s just say I never really succeeded. One of the most humiliating things I’ve ever done was to confess to my Missionary Training Centre (MTC) President, that I masturbated. He was kind and counseled me with strategies to avoid such behaviour in the future. The mind and soul were willing but the body was weak. Of the 35,000 plus Elders serving in the Church in the early 1990’s I’m confident I was not alone in my struggle.

I think it’s important to point out why I felt compelled to confess my behaviour to the MTC President. I had decided to serve a mission, I’d prayed about that and knew it was something I had a responsibility to do. During the MTC training, a teacher presented a class on the need to be “clean” and “worthy” to “bear the vessels of the Lord”. Repentance, and where appropriate confession, had to take place before getting into the mission field. 

You could argue my confession was perhaps partial, however I had not been involved in any homosexual behaviour at this point. My mind was a playground of ideas and thoughts that hadn’t turned to behaviour, except for masturbation. So, I chose to confess that one point.

Michael was aware that his masturbation required confession, but he was unsure about where that information would go. Would the Bishop tell his parents, would the Stake President find out? He didn’t want either of these things to happen. His other concern was that his masturbation was connected to his thoughts of men and he didn’t want to share that with anyone as a teenager. 

Such burdens of guilt, feeling unclean, unworthy or even does not create an environment for a child or teenager to really understand or learn of the love of the Saviour. I learnt that many of the men I spoke to felt little of the love the scriptures speak of. The teachings of Church leaders and family suggested their feelings were sinful and in their most aggressive, sinful.

In an address to the Church at the October 2009 Worldwide General Conference, Elder Oaks counseled parents with wayward children as follows:
“If parents have a wayward child—such as a teenager indulging in alcohol or drugs—they face a serious question. Does parental love require that these substances or their consumption be allowed in the home, or do the requirements of civil law or the seriousness of the conduct or the interests of other children in the home require that this be forbidden?
To pose an even more serious question, if an adult child is living in cohabitation, does the seriousness of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage require that this child feel the full weight of family disapproval by being excluded from any family contacts, or does parental love require that the fact of cohabitation be ignored? I have seen both of these extremes, and I believe that both are inappropriate.”

For those members of the Church who choose to exclude a gay child from the family, this counsel from Elder Oaks states clearly such behaviour is inappropriate for an LDS family. He goes on to say:
“Where do parents draw the line? That is a matter for parental wisdom, guided by the inspiration of the Lord. There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.
As parents grapple with these problems, they should remember the Lord’s teaching that we leave the ninety and nine and go out into the wilderness to rescue the lost sheep. President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance. These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.”

Saturday, May 1, 2010

God Loves All His Children

Finding Love from God and Family?
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” John 4:7-8
The idea of love is fairly broad. Some love their X-Box, others love their dog or cat and others love to possess beautiful things. For most, at some stage in their life, they will love another human being, a partner, a child, a sibling and at least hopefully a wonderful friend.

The idea of love, as I’ve learnt within the LDS Church, is a broad and all encompassing love, we’re taught to love even as Christ loved. In Ephesians 5:25 husbands are taught to “love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. 

There are several Greek words for love, as the Greek language distinguishes how the word is used.  Ancient Greek has four distinct words for love: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are given below.
Agápe (αγάπη agápē) means "love" in modern day Greek, such as in the term s'agapo (Σ'αγαπώ), which means "I love you". In Ancient Greek, it often refers to a general affection rather than the attraction suggested by "eros". Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for a good meal, one's children, and the feelings for a spouse. It can be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Many have thought that this word represents divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love.
Éros (έρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. 
Philia (φιλία philía) means friendship in modern Greek. It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. 
Storge (στοργή storgē) means "affection" in ancient and modern Greek. It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. 
Thélema (θέλημα thélēma) means "desire" or "will" in ancient and modern Greek. It is the desire to do something, to be occupied, or to be in prominence.”
The Greeks arrived at these definitions hundreds of years before Christ walked the Earth. I think they were onto something. The English language can be restrictive and limiting when it comes to expressing how we feel. As a person of faith, the knowledge that God loves me is key to my faith. I know that regardless of my behaviour, I will always be loved by Him. He can separate my behaviour from who I am and in the case of me being gay I believe he doesn’t love me any less, but perhaps he’s not happy with my behaviour. 

Deciding to step away from the Church afforded me an opportunity to do things that full activity would not allow. More specifically, I felt that my doing them made it difficult for me to attend Church and be authentic in my behaviour. That included drinking of alcohol, smoking and sex. While I may feel justified in my behaviour as a gay man in a relationship with my partner, the alcohol, tobacco and multiple partners is a little more difficult to justify.

Why do I break the world of wisdom as well as the law of chastity? I’m not really sure, I think part of me believes I’m in so much trouble anyway I may as well maximise the experience. As far as the atonement is concerned I feel far and removed from it’s reach, through my own behaviour. Of course, the atonement is further reaching than I can ever understand and forgiveness is always available to all of us.

Do I want to repent and will repentance be available to me? I believe it will be available, but wanting to repent may take some time. As I wrote these thoughts for this book, I really found it difficult to express how I felt on this issue. The Lord says:

“For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

The Lord does not exclude people from this statement, it seems to be an all encompassing expression. I believe that God loves all of His children and he desires they all return to live with him at some stage, perhaps the journey will be longer for some than for others.

The ideas expressed above are based on the premise that homosexuality is seen by the Lord as wrong or sinful. Many Churches teach that if a person is involved in an intimate relationship with someone of the same gender or someone of the opposite gender and not married, they have committed a sin which must be repented of. 

It’s this point which caused me to step away from the Church. While the Church so aggressively supported the ban on gay marriage in California during the second half of 2008, they provide me no option other than to live a life of celibacy away from gay friends and surrounded by married heterosexual friends and their children. I can’t imagine a more empty and lonely existence void of any affection or intimacy which we all crave, gay or straight.

Do I need to know that god loves me? I don’t think a person needs this knowledge, but it provides a warmth and comfort that I believe little else can. Some may see it as an anchor to my guilt, but as I’ve shared in this book I don’t feel guilt in the sense that I dwell on it every day and night. I do acknowledge that my actions are not in line with the current teachings of the Church and there may be consequences for them. I’m comfortable with that and look forward to one day being held accountable for my actions. I have a few things to share when that opportunity presents itself.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

3. I decided it was time to have sex with a guy

3. I decided it was time to have sex with a guy

About two years after moving back to Sydney in 2005, while working for a large consulting company, I managed to secure a three month assignment in Dayton, Ohio. I was the only single guy in the team, so three months in the U.S.A. was going to be a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until I got there that I thought about how much fun it could be, I was a long way from home, no one knew me and perhaps this was a chance to be a gay man and see what it was like. Keep in mind I really had little idea what that really meant, so it was a journey of self discovery. 

I had a battle going on in my head about how I should behave and how I wanted to behave. It was time for me to explore that part of me that wanted to behave in a way I had never behaved before. I think it’s reasonable to say I was out of control.

At this stage of my life, I’d never been intimate with a guy or a girl. It was something I’d wanted for a long time and finally I decided that it was going to happen. This period was my “coming out” for myself, finally being authentic about who I was. This process is unique for everyone. I’ve spoken to many gay men since and everyones story is unique and their own.

What follows is my own very personal adventure that came to confirm for me that I really was gay. I had the idea in my head that I had to have sex, only then would I really know if I was gay or not. I’m still not sure if that’s really accurate, but it’s how I felt at the time.

I had to travel to Philadelphia for business at one point, I was staying in the down town part of the city in a great hotel. Philadelphia is an old city, with more of an English feel than more modern US cites in the west. Narrow cobble stoned streets and loads of atmosphere, it is a great city with what I discovered was a vibrant gay community. While having dinner in a bar, I was looking for something to read while I waited for dinner. I found some free newspapers, one of which was a gay newspaper. I’d never seen a gay newspaper before, I thought this was very progressive. Little did I know Sydney’s Star Observer had been published for almost 30 years.

The paper was interesting, good articles and enjoyable to read. When I got to the classified section at the back I discovered pages of men selling their services for massage, massages with ‘happy endings’ or ‘relief’ and more. I was intrigued, I had many massages throughout my life, but I wasn’t familiar with these terms. Applying a little imagination I soon realised what these men were offering and I thought this could perhaps be a starting point for what I was looking for. The idea of finding some random guy at a bar for sex was scary and not appealing. At 36 I was very aware of safe sex and the implications.

I kept the newspaper, took it back to the hotel and selected one of the guys for a massage. He was only four or so blocks from the hotel. I made sure I had cash to pay him for his services, I was confident he wouldn’t take visa! I was as nervous as hell, but wanted to experience this more than anything else. I arrived at his apartment at the designated time, he greeted me at the door in his underwear and white socks. He was cute, mid twenties and very attractive. Had had a massage table in his candle lit living room, it was warm, comfortable and I knew what to do from this point. 

I removed my clothes, laid down on his massage bench and my heart was beating at a million miles an hour. Despite my hundreds of previous massages, this was the first time I’d taken my underwear off, I really didn’t know what was coming next. No pun intended. The massage began as all others had, this guy was good. We chatted a little as he rubbed me down. After about ten minutes I told him that he’d managed to relax me to a point where my heart wasn’t bursting through my chest. He paused for a moment with his hand on my back and asked, why my heart was racing. I told him this was the first time I’d had a massage like this. He chuckled in a sweet way and told me to relax and just go with it.

It wasn’t until about half an hour into the massage that he began to massage my inner thigh and then explore further that I realised why this massage was different. The next half an hour was the most mind blowing half hour of my life to date. What I was doing flew in the face of my values and Christian upbringing and what I thought to be right, that being the case, why did it feel so good?

I went over that question in my mind for days after. I’m not sure I really came to a conclusion, only that I knew I wanted to take it further. I wrestled this with my faith and came to the conclusion that regardless, I had to explore this and find out if this was who I really was. I’m not sure if that journey is the right one for everyone, but for me I needed the physical to match the mental. In other words, I couldn’t simply arrive at an intellectual understanding of my sexuality, I had to experience it.

A few weeks later I found myself heading to NYC for a two day conference. I managed to book into the W Hotel at Times Square. As a side note, it’s a fabulous hotel if you ever get the chance to stay there. Before going to NYC I managed to find a website that listed masseurs and their services by zip code. Each guy has a photo and an outline of their services and what they provide, I was looking for an erotic massage. That’s someone who has sex with you as part of the massage if you want. I wanted!

I found Andres, a Puerto Rican guy living in the US studying English and Nursing. As far as I was concerned this guy was perfect, plenty of bulging muscles, tattoos and very, very cute. The idea of finding a gay bar, trying to ‘hook up’ with some random guy seemed way to dangerous and I would have felt out of control. I was about to lose my virginity to this guy, I wanted to be in control of the situation. Paying an escort seemed to me to be the best possible way to do it.

I arrived at his apartment on 49th street, just three or so blocks from the hotel. When he opened the door my first impression was that he was far better looking than his photographs. For me, it was the Puerto Rican accent that tipped me over the edge. He was sweet, gentle and very kind. He offered me a glass of wine and we chatted for a little while. He was blown away that this was my first time with a guy, but at no point made me feel uncomfortable about that.

We started with a massage that tuned into so much more. I will be forever grateful to him for his gentle, sensual nature and respect for me. Perhaps meeting some guy at a bar or elsewhere may have been more romantic and have made a better story for this book, but this was perfect for me.

Over the next three months I saw Andres twice more, at this stage I knew I was gay, it had all come together. I figured that I enjoyed the sex, the intimacy and the closeness of another man. I had to be gay.
It’s interesting that through this whole period, I thought about my faith and I knew that the consequences of my behaviour would be significant, relative to Church. It would most likely mean excommunication. More about that later.

I never really felt guilty or felt bad about what I had done, if anything I felt relief, I felt calm about what I had done. I think I was finally at peace with who I was, this was the authentic me, the real me. During this three month period I was fortunate to have some very close LDS Church friends living in Cincinnati, about 45 minutes south of Dayton. I would spend most weekends with them and attend Church with them. My weeks were filled with sex and debauchery and my Sunday was at Church. I’m not an idiot, this really didn’t feel like something that could continue. One had to give way to the other, or at least I thought so. 

I spent the three months exploring, meeting guys and catching up for 36 years of pent up frustration. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the fact that I didn’t feel guilty while at the same time knowing that what I was doing was wrong according to the teachings of the LDS Church. Should I have been feeling guilty? In the context of an LDS Church member, yes I probably should have. I should have felt remorse and exhibited a desire to want to change, however at my core I knew I didn’t want to and more to the point I don’t believe I could and remain a sane adult.

For some people the argument about nature or nurture is one that will never be answered. My earliest memory of feeling affection for another person, was for a guy. I saw girls as great friends and good company, but I never wanted more from the friendship than that.

I tried for the longest time to conform to what others wanted of me and what I thought I wanted for myself. The LDS Church provided a positive framework for me as a 16 year old convert. My values were aligned to theirs, I enjoyed the company of members of the Church and I felt a closeness to Christ that I’d never felt before. Eventually the strong focus on family began to wear me down, the constant General Conference talks that spoke about couples and children were tedious when I knew I would never have what they spoke about or experience the joy associated with such relationships. 

These were not reasons why I chose to leave the Church, but they reinforced how I really didn’t belong in the Church. I understand the Brethren, Church Leaders, would say that I can live a full and happy life as an active member of the Church. The caveat being that I would have to be celibate and they would encourage me not to associate with members of the gay community.

At the point of writing this book I had stopped going to Church about four months earlier. I moved house which took me outside my local congregation and it was an easy choice to simply not attend my new ward. I’ve maintained communication with friends and spent last Christmas Day lunch with my old Bishop and his wife and friends.

Is my faith different because I’m gay? I don’t think my faith is different, the way I choose to have my faith manifest itself in my life is different. I still believe in the same Christ I always did, I still believe the President of the LDS Church to be a prophet of God. I’ve just chosen to walk a different path which I believe will bring me happiness now and I have faith that it will in the life to come as well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I finally said out loud to myself that I was gay

2.  I finally said out loud to myself that I was gay

It wasn’t so much a confession, I simply said during a prayer one evening, “Heavenly Father I’m gay and I’m really not sure what that means and what I can do about it.” I’ve always believed that praying out loud, being able to hear yourself as you pray, is very much part of the therapeutic process of prayer. That was the case with this experience, from memory I opened my eyes and looked up. I’m not sure what I was expecting to see, but I felt empowered, I felt like I’d come out of my own closet. Albeit still deep within a greater wardrobe. 

It was something I had thought about for many years, but to say it out loud helped me own the situation. I had to admit to myself who I was if I was ever going to be able to admit it to family and friends I was gay.