KEEPING IT TO MYSELF
I used to think my struggle with/against same-sex attraction was easier or better dealt with alone, without anyone knowing my struggle or being unnecessarily burdened by it. Besides, I'd done this to myself, I thought. I hadn't read this anywhere, just deduced it on my own as a teenager. Surely, I'd sexualized my admiration of other guys and turned it into this perversion, and it was therefore something I was do fix on my own. Later, even after I'd mostly moved on from that notion, I didn't want to unnecessarily incite anyone else to question their own sexual orientation or magnify their other personal struggles by knowing even a stalwart like me was struggling at times (some had even told me that if I ever 'wavered', the faith of many would be challenged, a statement which I took seriously and had personally been cautious against.
This wasn't because I was 'proud' but because I wanted to lift, not challenge, the faith of others and knew many looked to me for example and strength...after all, my patriarchal blessing told me that would be the case in my life. It wasn't proud to believe what God had told me. I didn't want anyone to have to struggle with the questions I struggled with, to have to wrestle with the conflicts I did, or to complicate my life and theirs with their own concerns about me or pressure to push me in one direction or another. What good did it accomplish for me to make my problems theirs when I was perfectly fine relying solely on God and Christ to lift and instruct me through the scriptures, through prophets' universally applicable counsels, and through quiet reassurances and strengthening power of the Spirit?
Additionally, I needed to know that what I was choosing was because I fully believed it, not because others insisted it. I needed to know that I wasn't using others as a crutch or begging sympathy and pity. I needed to know that I could rely on God to carry me through my trials, and aside from what I'd already read in the Ensign, the church's leaders in general didn't have a whole lot to say about same-sex attraction, let alone the local leaders having any revelations for me. No, this was one of those things each individual wrestles with, one's own personal trial of faith and strength. I wondered if it might one day become my sacrifice like Abraham's, or my own personal Gethsemane. Even Christ was alone in the flesh in Gethsemane. Surely God's attentive love and strength was enough for my comparatively meager trial. No need to reveal it or bring others into it.
I didn't think I was particularly troubled by my homosexuality into my twenties. Life was young, I had time to sort things out, I had some exploration of relationships with girls to do, I had experience to gain, I was engaged in my education and enjoyed a rich social life with fun and uplifting friendships. I wasn't falling apart over it but rather felt like I was doing really well and was really happy and buoyed by what I regarded as the Spirit.
Looking back, I wouldn't go back to the brand of "happiness" I experienced in my early twenties because, despite the relatively carefree point in life and the fun and social activity, I now see what I was stifling, or what I was holding back from people I could have had more intimate relationships with. It now makes more sense that people said, "I've known you for two years, and I consider you a good friend and enjoy spending time with you, but sometimes I feel like I barely know you." Some of that is just my personality, but I believe some of it was the product of holding back a significant part of my life I'd so thoroughly downplayed in my mind and letting that make me feel partially but inherently...hidden.
Maybe I was learning a lot on my own, finding inner strength and confronting exactly as much as I was prepared for at the time. Maybe there's value for some in staying "closeted" much further into life. Maybe some of us are to take the role of quietly coming out to everyone around us, others are most effective as public faces, and others best work out their happiness quietly to themselves without the added complexity of expressing their inner workings except to those most intimately involved in or affected by their lives, such as spouses. I don't know for sure. But I hit a breaking point.
TIME FOR ANOTHER STEP
Time, age, and experience coaxed me out into human observation of the issue. Maybe it was partly because it hit me: if our thoughts and deeds will be known in the next life anyway, why not start getting used to that now and minimizing the "surprises". Maybe I was tired of being the eternisingle guy at the Institute and frustrated over non-progressive relationships with great girls and my inability to feel for them what I saw them feeling for me in their eyes. Maybe, as I said in a recent post, God had plans to force me to connect with the people he wanted me to understand were placed here for my benefit in ways I hadn't appreciated. Maybe something inside of me was already questioning whether I was truly ready to face the possibility of not being blessed with the family I'd always wanted and believed I would find if I was just faithful and diligent enough. Maybe I wondered if I'd lost that blessing through my own inability to keep my thoughts or actions quite pure enough and questioning why those who seemed less gospel-centered and diligent were happily and eternally married with children. Whatever it was, I was experiencing layers of complexity I'd previously not needed to confront, and I started to realize that in my case, I had to be open to the possibility that I just might need more than faith, prayers, and watching for "the right girl".
I began by telling my bishop, who referred me to online groups and Evergreen, and it was probably most of a year before I participated in the online groups (about the time I wrote my first essay on SGA), most of another year before I met any other "mohos" in person, beginning with one, then another a few months later, another a few months later, and a more after that, and about two and a half years before I told any of my friends about my "issue" and attended my first Evergreen conference. I told my family more than a year later, and one of their biggest concerns was that I had borne this secret for so long and they wished I had not thought that was necessary. I understand the slow route. I wouldn't push anyone to tread it faster than they have strength. But it was time, for me.
As I began to really embrace the idea that this is "only part of me" by being unafraid to address it with others, I discovered the beauty of relying on other people, of connecting with community, of "letting people in more", and trusting the counsel that we weren't meant to be alone or suffer trials by ourselves except in certain clearly necessary times. I still believe there was a season to learn from my solitude and reach into myself, but I also discovered the necessity of reaching outward as well and exposing myself a bit more to offer others the opportunity to help me, let their experience inform and support me, and learn from my experience without having to live what I lived. In turn, many of them opened up more to me than they had before, or more than they do to others, and we began to really see beyond each other's surface. I felt strongly that addressing this issue was most impacting and meaningful in a personal, rather than anonymous and impersonal, way, though there was value in both.
DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT
My path may not be desirable to you. I may not be where you want to be. You may be tempted to discount my story or assertions because...well...look where it's gotten me. But I can tell you that wherever I "end up", I don't know if I could ever regret my decision to tell people--in my own time and order, yes, but to tell. It's not about grandstanding. It's not about putting yourself on a pedestal to show how amazing you are for overcoming. It's not about demanding pity or a "get out of jail free" card. It's not about identifying with gay culture or defining yourself by your attractions any more than you define yourself by your hair color or personality temperament. It's about learning intimacy in friendship and not just with your future spouse, about removing the shame from an issue which is commandeered by pop culture and crude entertainment, about having the courage to be whole, about giving yourself the opportunity to be accountable and others the opportunity to grow with you, about letting others know there is someone who understands and will not lead them away from their most cherished beliefs. The most confident, happy same-sex attracted (gay) people I know are those who have shed and rejected the stigmas, own their quirks and shortcomings, aren't afraid to speak about their homosexuality as it becomes appropriate to do so, follow their convictions, and have worked towards increasing openness in their lives.
That doesn't mean you have to announce it on Facebook or come out in sacrament meeting; it just means not stubbornly refusing to tell people when it may be an opportunity to grow and to help others. I can't think of anyone I've spoken with who truly regrets having opened up in deliberate and productive ways to others in their life about this issue, even if there were difficulties, fears, doubts, or repercussions along the way. I think most healthy people prefer to be around people who are self-actualized, who are comfortable in their own skin and exude self-awareness, self-acceptance, and open authenticity. If someone can fully accept and express his or her own shortcomings, challenges, conflicts, or flaws along with their strengths and talents, or is at least working in that direction, then that ability shows and can reasonably be expected towards other people, and people perceive that.
HOW WILL THEY KNOW?
Everything in wisdom and in order. Each thing in its season. We all are learning different things at different times. We have timelines for our own growth. Had I tried to follow someone else's timeline, my own growth might have been stifled or derailed. I'm not going to tell someone to come out now or claim to know what they need and what's best for them but invite all to remain open to the possibility of opening up more as they're ready.
If a widowed single mother never admitted how hard she's struggled and only silently relied on God for strength, she may feel that help and strength, but how would her family and friends know they have an opportunity to exercise their love for her and provide her with some temporal help to allow her to focus on her emotional healing for a while? How might others be missing an opportunity to learn from her experience which they may also confront someday? If alcoholics never told others about their struggle, or they only told their bishops or found resources online, how would anyone else ever know where to find others who understand and can support them? Thankfully, there are "anonymous" groups for them, but how amazing would it be if newly struggling alcoholics nobody suspects as having a problem didn't have to quietly search alone for resources and lose precious time in the inefficiency of figuring it out on their own but knew someone in their family, neighborhood, or congregation who has already been down that road and can quickly and safely usher them towards positive healing? If parents never discuss their personal trials and triumphs with their children, how will their kids know Mom and Dad are real people who might actually understand a thing or two about growing up?
I believe understanding and progress come from dialog, from opening up to each other, from seeing each other more wholly, from removing the shame around being human, being part of a "fallen" world even while trying to overcome it, from making starkly real the need for more than going to the right building and singing pretty hymns and saying fervently whispery prayers, from showing your faith by your struggle, from removing the masks of perfection to reveal the weathered soul. I also believe that if we don't speak for ourselves, someone will speak for us, usually with an agenda. I believe there is huge value in putting real faces on the issue to remind those for whom this is an abstract, objective concept that it is deeply personal for their neighbor, their daughter, their father, their stake president, or their nanna. And I believe we should all work towards such authenticity in our own time and where we believe is most productive for our own good and the benefit of others.
Some of my related past thoughts on "coming out":
Coming out with context
Why To Come Out
Coming Out Over Time
Jumping Off Of Pedestals