[Originally started on 17 September]
Evergreen International's annual conference is being held right now. I went to two of these, in 2006 and 2007, and dropped in briefly to the more open parts in 2009 and maybe 2008 (though I don't remember for sure, so maybe not). Since this is the first year I fully intend not to attend any part, I thought it'd be appropriate to write about my "first time".
In 2006, I was relatively newly dealing with everything. I'd been involved in online discussion groups for about a year and a half or two years and had just barely started meeting other mohos, especially with my then-recent move to the moho mecca, Utah Valley. I was intent on either being single or finding a wife, living within the church and by its standards and policies. I was also somewhat skeptical of the theories behind reparative therapy. I'd started to read Resolving Homosexual Problems by "Jason Park" (a pen name, a fact which was always bothersome to me, even if understandable in some ways), but after two chapters, his over-confidence in stating theory as fact, along with the way he discussed the issue in generalities and with a tinge of shame, made his credibility seem questionable enough that I couldn't take his ideas seriously enough to finish the book or trust his method. I realized this would give disciples of the ideas cause to dismiss me as "never having tried it", but I shrugged that off as I always had with people who insisted "don't knock it until you've tried it". I also knew there were other ways of dealing with things and coloring within the church's lines, so I decided to explore the options before reconsidering his notions. I shrugged and said, "Do I look bovvered?" (or would have, had I seen the Catherine Tate skits at that point). I knew that the man behind "Jason Park" was integrally involved with Evergreen, so I approached my first conference with skepticism but still excited to see what else I'd find there and to hear church-affirming perspectives on the issue of same-sex attraction.
I also approached my first Evergreen Conference with trepidation. I had only met fewer than ten other mohos in person by that point. The most I'd ever been around at once was about half a dozen. As I drove to the conference with my friend, I expressed my nervousness regarding the unknown, what it would be like to step out of the elevator in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building onto a floor full of "help me not partake of the forbidden fruit" repressed gay men and women...and some of their friends and family, of course. Would they be awkward? Would I be awkward? Would they be weird? Would I be attracted to half of them? My friend said it's not so bad, that you start talking to people and quickly feel at home when they gather around the elevator waiting for new arrivals, throw up their hands and shout the welcome chant, "Strugglers!" I laugh nervously at his little joke but couldn't help picture a scene like Toy Story's alien toys greeting their visitors, but the aliens instead being clones of Richard Simmons. It was terrifying. I put the image out of my mind, took a deep breath, and cleared any expectations while focusing on why I was going: to hear some ideas to consider, see what the conference was about firsthand, maybe meet a few supportive people.
When I did step out of that elevator, I found the scene to be about as I expected: "strugglers" everywhere, putting on name tags, greeting each other, some smiling and personable, some reservedly apprehensive, some awkwardly flirtatious. I found myself surprisingly at ease, after all. I couldn't help wonder if that old guy was flirting with me, or if that other guy realized he was most definitely flirting with me, but I shrugged it off and stuck with friends I trusted.
[The rest I wrote today:]
I took notes. I discussed thoughts with other attendees and met new friends I've kept in touch with ever since. I met awkward people. I felt bad for the wife who seemed to hate her life but was impressed by the spouses who seemed grateful for their marriages to SSA folk. I loved the sense of pure affection and camaraderie, friends freely tickling each other's backs without a hint of sexuality in it. I loved seeing dads attending with their sons, supportive friends offering moral support. I experienced the comical awkwardness of bending over to use the drinking fountain in front of a line of pent-up SSA men or using the urinal in the crowded bathroom where it seemed most were afraid to be the first to speak but felt awkward about the silence (I opted for the stall). I rolled my eyes at the excessive use of the word "struggler" but felt refreshed when speakers chose not to use the word. I generally felt uplifted and bolstered with confidence in my decision to live in the clean, gospel-centered way so many great and happy men and women were choosing to live.
I enjoyed the workshops, bouncing here and there between the ones which most interested me. I heard statistics about change, methods of coping with day-to-day stress, ways to manage addictive behaviors, reminders to focus on your primary identity as a son or daughter of God, preparations one can make for dating and courtship with a woman, the ins and outs of marriage, OSA spouses' perspectives on how they respond to their SSA spouses' needs and challenges, and other things. My favorite workshops were the panels where people frankly discussed the ways they've coped and dealt and approached their own challenges and daily trials and triumphs.
I didn't completely agree with the "change" mongers or believe it was wrong to think of myself as "gay" as long as I wasn't making it my whole identity and sense of belonging and maintained an eternal perspective. There were a couple of workshops given by people whose views I didn't buy into or whose perspectives I thought were probably not as encompassing as they could be or which reflected the fact that they clearly didn't deal with this firsthand. Always a bit of a skeptic, I knew I needed to research some of the ideas I was hearing to look into them more. But I appreciated that there was a variety of workshops to choose from, to glean what I could, and I felt positively energized by the conference. I didn't have to agree with every idea I heard there: the palpably energetic atmosphere charged me full of hope and motivation that I'd found a community of people who would help me live the way I really wanted to.
These were not a bunch of crazy loons trying to push their agenda on me and telling me to hate myself: they were sharing what they believe works and inviting me to try this or that but more importantly buoying me up to keep working towards (as I saw it) my true eternal potential as a son of God reaching for a divine destiny well worth the sacrifices along this temporal, temporary path of mortality. I also had my own questions, even back then, about the gospel and truth. I recognized that if I didn't believe what I did, much of the conference wouldn't have been relevant to me. I never did believe the rhetoric that gay relationships were inherently doomed to failure, since homosexuality is supposedly a symptom of deep emotional lack and damage. But there were still many positive principles of healthy living taught, and I decided that even if my beliefs ever changed, I was glad to know that these were well-intentioned people making the best of the options they have, and I would love and support them in that rather than deride the organization as I'd seen so many do.
Afterthought: Maybe this is the "reason" I started writing this post last Friday, to remind myself of this to temper the bitterness I've felt creeping in as the result of my extremely painful experience last Saturday night resulting from the conference. I do think some of the views taught in the conference are sometimes damaging or outright wrong, even if well-intentioned, and with my perspective now, I'd feel disingenuous going to the conference, but remembering my own experience and the positivity which came of it at the time helps balance the bitterness I've been feeling and remember that there's good which can come of it, too, for those who believe certain things.