Part of why it was hard to "come out" as gay (or "same-sex attracted") was that I was the stalwart of the singles wards, the Institute go-to guy, the social facilitator. Most people in the three local singles wards knew me, and I was respected as a teacher and held leadership positions. If I were wrong about "accepting" my homosexuality or talked about the issue the "wrong" way, or if I eventually, down the road, gave in to temptation and got romantically involved with a guy, my example might lead others astray, which I didn't want. If I was going to follow the truth the best I knew how, and that somehow led me to places the official church doctrine or leaders couldn't support, I wanted it to be my decision and mine alone, without influencing others, enticing any to follow my potentially errant path, trying to convince anyone else that I was right, or giving the impression that the way I was handling my issues was the way all people should. But on another level, I had developed some of my identity around being a role model of sorts. I wasn't the funniest guy, I wasn't the best conversationalist, I wasn't the best looking or most athletic or best-read...but I was a stalwart, and I felt a sense of usefulness and responsibility and worth around that, and I was a little afraid of what would be left of me if I wasn't Mr. Churchy. I recognized that fear, though, and I knew it shouldn't motivate me, so I deliberately started to dismantle those self-perceptions in order to freely examine myself and figure a few things out.
That's one of the reasons I pulled back from prominence in ward callings or activity when I really started "facing my demons". I didn't have some illusion that the masses would be led astray by my perspectives and decisions, but I wanted to do this quietly, on my own, without grandstanding, without trying to prove I'm right. I needed to explore without the pressure of being "Mr. Institute" or "Peter Priesthood" limiting my ability to look honestly at myself. I needed to step back from my context, the role I was "supposed to" fill. I let go of needing to preserve an image of being "Mr. Discipline" with the ladies or providing a needed example, and I focused inward while leaving whatever role model vacancy might have been left for someone else to fill for a change.
Then came the moho community, where I met many people, started blogging, and apparently became a somewhat recognized presence to certain circles. I know there are some who looked up to me because they told me so, or other mutual friends told me. A couple even used the word "hero". A mother or two told me they wished other young "SSA" LDS guys had my perspective or that I was an example to their boys. The more I heard things like this, I cringed. I understood where they were coming from, I think, but I also knew I was a work in progress and wasn't sure where I'd end up. I knew I had doubts about certain things and had yet to figure some things out...or rule some things out. I also knew it was possible to live a chaste, church-active life, even with doubts, and to do so happily (I truly was), so in that sense, I acknowledged their sentiment and tried to graciously accept the compliment. And again, it was nice to feel like I was accomplishing something, helping people, providing personal proof that you can be happy and generally well-adjusted as a moho.
But I remembered the past, and this time, I didn't let that sense of usefulness box me into a persona I felt obligated to maintain. And in the back of my mind, I was wary of how eager some people are to set up some paragon to idolize and in whom to invest all their faith and hope in something. I've seen too many people place their hope not in truth but in individuals, and invariably, they are eventually let down or have to learn to respect the examples of individuals but rely on principles and truths, not on humans. I refused to allow anyone to do that with me: make me their hope for how to deal with homosexuality in the church happily or whatever. My gut reaction was to go whore around a bit just to keep myself off of any pedestals people tried to place me on, but I knew that wasn't what I personally wanted for myself, and I recognized the impulse was just an emotional reaction. So I just tried to vocalize the fact that I was far from perfect, far from having it all figured out, but yes, I was happy, and there are principles I believe led to that which I would share with people when they were interested. But "hero"? No way. Because one day, I may do something or take a direction which will cancel my "hero" status.
Now, I have almost certainly fallen from the "hero" status I might have once occupied in the minds of certain individuals. I am no longer someone to look up to as an example of how to live happily as a single, gay man in the LDS Church. I may have moved up in respectability among those who support gay relationships or among agnostics. Some may be celebrating the "self-discovery" of another "liberated" LDS gay boy turned agnostic. But I don't feel the awkwardness of people placing excessive weight on some role I'm supposed to fill, and despite feeling a bit adrift and wondering how I will leave my mark on the world next, it's relieving. Some might claim I'm relieved only because I'm less accountable. That's poppycock, though it might be true in certain cases for certain people.
**NERD ALERT** It makes me think of Aragorn in the The Lord of the Rings: he was the reluctant king, reticent to be placed above anyone or revered above what any one man merits, but eventually realizing that men needed their symbolic king in order to muster the hope and valor necessary to rescue the destiny of mankind, yadda yadda yadda. At least, that's my slightly simplified interpretation. So yes, sometimes people need their kings; they need someone tangible to look to, to find hope and motivation. And no king is or ever has been perfect, so the roles are filled by the imperfect. But all too often, the roles are filled by those who don't recognize their own self-flattery, their own need for praise, their own inability to stand and honestly say they live what they preach. And all too often, though they were fit to be kings when they humbly started, when they outlive their suitability for the role, they cling to it out of obligation to tradition, or expectations, or to hold on to the power and glory, not realizing their power and glory have become shells of what was, making their pride that much more laughable.
I've never been thrust into the role of a king or anything like it. I've just somehow found myself in positions where people regarded me as an example. And when the time has come for me to either crush their expectations or play the role to save face, I've tried to opt for authenticity, stepping down as quietly and discretely as I could so as to not make a scene of it, avoiding ironic grandstanding in my descent.
I still feel very much accountable: to myself, to friends and family, to truth and principle. It's not about refusing to be an example so I can do whatever I want. It's about refusing to play a role to please others or keep them comfortable when authenticity finally demands that I step off of the stage or into a different role. That may not be comfortable to people who can't handle change (usually because they're so insecure about their own instability), but authenticity trumps comfort in my book. Shoot, I just know I'm going to eat those words...
In short, I'm used to jumping off of pedestals I didn't build and didn't climb onto. I can do it as many times as I need to. But I'd prefer to just keep walking without the hassle, so please: place your hope in truth, not in an individual, and especially not in this one. But I think most of you know that quite well by now. ;-)