Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Response To A Friend

A few weeks ago I had an email exchange with a good friend Thad. He'd asked me if I was gay and this was my response to him. You see, I live in Sydney, Australia and Thad lives in the US. The tyranny of distance means the written word is sometimes easier...

Hi Thad

Thanks for your message mate, it meant the world to me. With hindsight, I can look back to when I was a kid, perhaps as early as 11 or 12 and I knew I liked guys. But at that age I didn't really know what that meant, all I knew was that it was "wrong".

As I got older and then found the Church at 16, I found a framework I suppose that helped me make sense of the world. My feelings of homosexuality didn't really play a part in my learning about the Church, but it gave me a way to compartmentalise my feelings I suppose. Again, this was really happening at a sub conscious level I think.

While on my mission, I remember writing a page in my journal about being gay and what that might mean, but at that point I wasn't really able to say to myself that I was gay. At that stage I still don't think I really knew what that meant. Getting married in the Temple was the goal, and that wasn't going to happen if I was gay.

It probably wasn't until my late 20's that I actually said out loud in prayer one night "Heavenly Father I think I'm gay". It's amazing how you feel when you actually say something like that out loud, the brethren are right. Praying out loud works.

Then in 2007 I had an opportunity to work in the US for six months with Ersnt & Young. I was 35 and at a point where I determined that I had to figure this out, was a I gay or was I straight. Without giving you too many details (although I have a blog if you want the sordid details) I figured it out. Keep in mind this had been a topic of prayer for almost 20 years and I'd not got a response, either way. Intellectually I think I'd worked out I was gay, but until I actually connected the physical with the emotional, I just couldn't be sure. You're a doctor, so I'll add here that I was safe and sensible, and I left that interaction feeling uplifted, like a cloud had been removed. I got it, I understood why I felt the way I did.

I honestly understand what you may be thinking at this point from a church point of view, trust me, I went through the same feelings. I spent days and weeks reviewing my emotions, my thought processes etc. However, at no point did I feel guilty and that was an overriding feeling. Does it make sense though that i felt guilty about not feeling guilty!

Once I got home to Australia I realised I'd reached a point of no return. But what on earth was I to do? You need to know that for probably 15 years I had been praying and asking heavenly father for an inspired Bishop to ask me "Derek, are you gay?". I just figured that would easier than me initiating the "confession". While I didn't feel guilty, I knew that I had to talk to my Bishop and that there would be consequences. I was ok with that, my testimony was and is still place, I just couldn't figure out where I fitted into Heavenly Father's plan. I know he loves me and I know that some how things will work out, I just don't know how.

I've learnt that asking for things in prayer can be a little dangerous, because more often than not he delivers. Some background. I had some pictures on my iMac of some underwear models, I thought these guys were hot. Of course I'd make sure the screen saver was changed when I had guests over, the iMac was in living room for all to see. Well, they did see. I had the Elders over for dinner one night and well, you can imagine what happened. Nothing was said, I turned the iMac off after I realised what I thought the Elders probably had seen.

Then comes the phone call from Bishop, he wanted to see me. You see, my prayers had been answered, not quite in the way I'd wanted, but we generally can't prescribe exactly how we want things to happen to Heavenly Father.

What followed was probably one of the most intense meetings with a Bishop in my life. Everything came out, although I may have held back a little of my "exploits" while in the US. The volume of my exploits made little difference at this point.

Bishop was full of love, understanding, compassion and respect. I took my Temple Recomend with me, I knew he'd want it. I balled and sobbed in that meeting, 35 years of stress came out in a 2 hour meeting.

Then, about four months later I moved out of the ward and stopped going to Church. The hardest thing was disposing of my garments, I'd stopped wearing them months earlier. 

Then about three years ago I met a guy, he's Persian. I fell in love and we've been together since. My close friends at Church here in Sydney have been wonderful, they love me and love him. They've been accepting and have been a great support. The coming out process was hard, really hard, but it's been worth it.

I've discovered a community of gay LDS lads here in Sydney and they've been a wonderful support too. We have a Facebook group "gay LDS Aussies" and we meet regularly. I've taken over as the administrator of that page and communicate with gay LDS folks all over the world. In many cases offering them support as they work through their sexuality and what that means in a church context.

I harbour no I'll feelings towards the Church, although you're right, they've certainly said some very hurtful things. I'm not sure if you can connect those statements to gay LDS youth and YSA as reasons for their suicide, but they sure as hell don't help. You're right, the Church has softened it's rhetoric which is a good things and there are many LDS groups who are supportive of their gay sons, daughters and family members.

I really don't know how gay LDS can contribute and be a part of a ward, it just doesn't work. When the only option you have is to be celibate for the rest of your life, that's a very sad outlook. Sitting in Church week after week, month after month essentially hearing that who you are is wrong and not in accordance with Heavenly Fathers plan, well, it just sucks and it hurts. 

That was the main issue I had, as I said before, I just couldn't work out where I fitted in.

So there you have it, you're as up to date with me as I am 

Thad, I've always thought so highly of you and the person you are. Your thoughtful, considerate and kind, truly the kind of priesthood holder the Church needs more of. Maybe one day you'll be a Bishop and find yourself in the same position as my Bishop. The greatest impact you can have is to perhaps stand up for the silent voices of the gay members in your ward, I'm sure they're there, we're everywhere be the voice of love and compassion.

It's Sunday over here and I'm sitting at my local cafe downstairs from my apartment writing to you on my iPad. It's a magnificent winters day, blue skies, sunshine and a subtle chill in the air. 

Thank you for taking the initiative to write, perhaps you are the answer to my prayers.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Personal Email from a Good Friend

I got a message on facebook from a good friend of mine. We served together in the mission field in the early 1990's. For the non-LDS reading this, you've probably seen Mormon missionaries around your neighbourhood at some point, that was me :-)

My friend sent this message through this past week. I've removed his name for his privacy.

First of all, I've been thinking about this on and off for years, so I hope you understand that I wouldn't write this with the intent of being flippant or... I don't know. I've never written something like this, don't know how to address it, so I'm stumbling a lot.
Anyway, here goes. I have been reading a book recently, but over the past few years, for some reason I have been really engaged, almost "driven" to learn, read, ponder, and pray about issues with sexuality. I would think that a person would be more interested if they were experiencing/dealing with personal issues on the subject, but I have sometimes felt "impelled" to try and understand this topic more. I am grateful that in recent times, the leadership of the church has also been inspired to address this issue in their public statements, and express compassion about the difficult struggle and nature of those who deal with same-gender attraction.
So I'm continuing to ramble. This is the thing. I know I shouldn't assume, and I don't even know if I've created the sense for those around me that I am trying so hard to understand, empathize, and be a listening ear to others who live in a world (the church) where they feel as an outsider because of deeply set feelings that they struggle to understand. I want to be; I can't relate to them personally, exactly, but I can appreciate the depth of despair that I could imagine would come to someone in a situation like this.
Again, rambling... Derek, are you gay? I hope this question doesn't offend you, and I sincerely apologize if it does. The book I'm reading discussing a mother's experience with her son struggling with this, and eventually taking his life because he couldn't reconcile a life in keeping with his faith, and continuing to have the feelings and urges he had. I don't want anyone to have to feel that alone that the decision to take their life would be the only option they felt that they had. So I'm taking a risk with you, a dear friend to me despite our geographic distance. If I'm wrong, I hope you'll forgive me. If this is an issue for you, I want you to know that I love you, you are my brother, my friend, and if there is anything I can do to... well, whatever, please let me know. I don't have any answers, I'm not sure I know what I could do to help, but can tell you that I respect you a lot, you're are and have been a great example to me, and I think the world of you. That, to me, defines you far more than an issue like same gender attraction--it's really irrelevant in my mind in the context of you as a person, though I realize that in the practice of your life, it may be a constant issue that you have to address, so I don't mean to minimize it.
Okay, so it's out there, and again, please forgive me if I'm totally wrong on this--but I can't bear to think that anyone should have to suffer alone, in silence about this issue, and I hope to be a part of helping others in and out of the church to be more empathetic and compassionate towards others, and creating an environment of true love within our church so that anyone can feel accepted and loved within our faith, and truly feel that it is a place where they can find not judgment and scrutiny, but love and healing, or at least some measure of peace and solace.
Love you,
A Friend.

You see, there are good Latter-day Saints and other Christians out there who try to live their faith. I think we need to have a little more faith in our Christian families and friends.