Chapter 12 – Come, All Ye Sons of God

And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.
“Come, All Ye Sons of God”, verse 4, LDS Hymns, lyrics by Thomas Davenport

 

Church is meant to be a sanctuary. It should be a consecrated place where we all feel safe from the troubles of the world. Latter-day Saints also expected to look out and protect one another from the pain and abuses inflicted by others. Unfortunately, my family’s place of worship was a place where my peers had another opportunity to cause extra stress in my life.

 

When an LDS boy turns 12, he leaves childhood behind and begins transitioning into manhood. The most important step the young men take is to accept the responsibility and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood and being ordained a Deacon. The boys are assigned a Quorum with an adult leader, but they are also guided by a presidency of four peers around their own age.

 

In January 1981, it was my turn to leave Primary and become  a Deacon in the Mormon church. My hope was that I could once again find safety among other boys who were doing their best to follow God’s commandments. The first cold Sunday morning I arrived at the church building with my father, I was dropped off at the building’s kitchen that also served as our classroom and met the other boys who made up the quorum.

 

There were fourteen of us leaning back in metal folding chairs around the perimeter of the kitchen. Kurt Monson, who was two grades ahead of me in school, started out the meeting by making a few announcements about Wednesday’s Boy Scout service project and who was going to pass the sacrament later in the day. He recognized me as the newest member of the quorum, welcomed me to the ranks, and then invited me to say the opening prayer.

 

After the prayer, the bishop of our congregation entered the room, and he took over the rest of the meeting.

 

“Good morning, brethren,” Bishop Calder said. “As many of you know, Brother Monson has served diligently as our Deacon’s Quorum president for a little over a year now. We are so grateful for his faithful service, but it is time for us to make some changes as he advances to the office of Teacher today.”

 

The boys in our room started looking around to see if any expressions would give away who would take  over as our new leader. Bishop Calder named the other boys who served with Kurt in the presidency and released them from their callings. We all raised our hands offering our approval of their service and waited for the announcement of their replacements.

 

“One of the joys of being a bishop is the opportunity to interview young men when it is time to extend a calling,” Bishop Calder said as he cleared a crack in his voice. “It is so rewarding to hear of your love of the gospel and witnessing your willingness to serve one another. The young man the Lord has called to serve are your new president exemplifies the best in all of us, and he also happens to be the newest member of our quorum–“

 

All eyes turned on me, and I was just as surprised as everyone else by the announcement. I thought the bishop was supposed to interview me first. I  was not ready to lead this group of boys. The bishop noticed the reactions in the room and laughed.

 

“Excuse me,” he said and cleared his throat again. “I guess I should say one of the newest members of the quorum. It’s proposed that we call Brother Nickolas Shepherd as president…”

 

I forget what was said after that. All that mattered was that Nick Shepard, my tormentor, was now responsible for my well being in church. Surely this was a cruel joke. God one not call someone who was so mean to be his servant. I looked around as the other boys raised their hands in approval of the callings. I wondering what would happen if I objected, but I raised my hand with the others and accepted Nick as my new leader.

 

The bishop then called on all of the boys who were released to speak, followed by our new leaders. Each boy said similar things–that it’s a joy to serve one another. Nick was the last one to speak, and he did seem a little bit humbled by his new calling.

 

“I will do my best in this calling,” he said looking around the room. His eyes stopped on me, and he swallowed hard. “I am also happy to see Colin join us in the quorum. This is going to be fun.”
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A hit of reality

jogger in parkTwo weeks ago I decided to go for an early morning run in the park near my home. It was a beautiful morning. I stopped to watch the bright red sun rising above the mountain peaks as I stepped into the park. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the gorgeous scene. A man then stepped out of a gray hatchback car that was parked on the street by the park. I thought it was a little strange that he came right up to me as I was enjoying the sunrise, but I tried not to look concerned.

“Sup?” he said.

“Just enjoying the sunrise before I go for a run in the park,” I said without looking at him.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“That’s all.”

I put my phone in my shorts’ pocket, turned away from the man, and began my morning run a little earlier than I wanted. When I got to the edge of the park and turned to go east, I glanced back at the car, and I noticed the man was still watching me. I told myself he was far enough away that I would be safe, and continued on with my run.

I passed a few other people out for a jog or walking their dogs. Everyone was friendly, and we all seemed to be enjoying the cool summer morning in the park. Returning to my starting point, I saw that the gray hatchback was gone, so I felt safe returning there. I climbed the hill to a long, white vinyl fence that created a blockade between the neighborhood houses and the park. I pulled out my phone to see how far I ran for the morning.

As I was about to step around the corner into my neighborhood, the same man stepped from behind to fence to greet me. He had moved the car to a different spot, and his black curly hair was pulled back into a small ponytail.

“‘Sup?” he says. He steps to the left to keep me from walking past him.

I look at the car and notice three other people watching our activities.

“Just finishing my run,” I said.

I try to step to the right, but he blocks me.

“What are you doing with your phone?” the man asks.

“Just seeing how far I ran.”

I try to maneuver around the man, but he chest bumps me. I am stunned, nobody has ever done this to me. Even the bullying I experienced as a child never involved a real threat of violence. What was going to happen to me?

“Hey,” I yell.

I try to be as loud as I can so that others can hear. The man then clenches his fists, and I am hit twice in the right jaw and once in the left shoulder. I look back at the car, and I imagine the others are waiting for me to fight back. I refuse, because I don’t want them joining in on the attack.

“Sup?” the man says again, as he throws two more punches.

“What’s your problem?” I yell as loud as I can.

“You better not call the police,” my attacker warns me.

Lights turn on in the two houses bordering the park, and my attacker notices. My yelling has drawn some additional attention, and he paused for a moment. I run past him onto the street of my neighborhood. I make it twenty yards from my attacker and the car, and turn back. I lift up my phone as I face my attacker at a safe distance.

“I was just checking how far I ran,” I yelled back as I took a picture of the man and his car.

My house was visible from the park, but I wasn’t about to let those people in the car know where I live. I walked around the street just in case they were going to try and follow me home. When I saw that they weren’t following me, I called the police. I tried to stay calm as I explained what happened; the adrenaline release after an attack or fight can often cause people to cry.

How the attack has affected me

The police have investigated what happened, but they haven’t located the guy who attacked me. We’re not sure why he did it, but I have heard of two other acquaintances being assaulted while exercising recently. I hate to admit it, but the attack has shaken me up enough that I haven’t been back to the park that is just yards from my house since that day. I drove past several times, and I saw the same car parked at the same spot last Saturday morning. I called the police officer investigating my case, and told him the car was parked there again. I wasn’t brave enough to get close enough to identify the license plate numbers, and the car was gone by the time a police officer was able to go by the spot and check it out.

What has bothered me the most, however, is how alone I felt after I was attacked. I live alone, and I didn’t have anyone there to comfort me. The friends I used to go to regularly have gradually distanced themselves from me. We used to get together weekly, then I started getting calls from them about once a month, and now it’s only on birthdays when we get together. Why would they care that I was attacked?

I am fortunate that this attack did not turn out to be worse. How many hours or days could I have been injured without anyone I care about knowing about my condition? That has frightened me. I think my yelling and not fighting back kept me from being seriously injured, but I no longer feel safe in my own neighborhood. And the number one reason I don’t feel safe is because I am alone.

“It is not good that man should be alone.”

I’ve heard that saying my whole life, and I believe that. Yet, here I am having spent my entire adult life alone. I tried dating women. I hoped to find the right woman to marry and raise children, yet deep in my heart I knew that marrying a woman was not the right thing for me to do. I have endured the judgments that come from being a single man in my Mormon community, and it has been hard to stay cheerful about my situation.

I am grateful that church leaders no longer encourage men to get married to a woman to cure their homosexuality. It showing that they are taking baby steps in understanding who we are. I gives me hope that even more changes in attitudes can come in the future. Unfortunately, the same church leaders who tell us not to marry also subtly counsel us to live a life of loneliness. We are not to marry a woman, but we are also commanded to not seek companionship of someone we could truly love.

Up until about two weeks ago, I was relatively comfortable being alone in life. Sure, I envied those around me who had life partners and families, but I told myself that I was happy where I was. I was resigned to the fact that I was meant to be alone.

I am not comfortable being alone any more. I don’t want to be alone. I want the companionship and friendships of people who love me for who I am. The attack in the park has awakened me, and I realize that the line “it is not good that man should be alone” is also meant for me. It’s time to be happy, and it’s time to share that happiness with a man that I love.

My friend Noah

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1061350162/noah-clean-prison-or-dead

This is my friend Noah. He is coming to terms with substance abuse and searching for help to overcome his demons. He desperately wants to find a good set of gay friends who don’t turn to drugs for their escape or entertainment. I hope I can help.

When young gay men come to terms with their sexual orientation they search for others with whom they can relate.  Too often, the only people they can find that they feel are accepting also spend a lot of times drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use.  These young men feel like they have to choose between sticking with their church and feeling doomed to a lonely life or becoming an alcoholic, drug-using party animal. Too many pick the destructive option. Why do we leave them just the two choices?

I haven’t known Noah for long, but I do consider him my friend. I want to welcome him to my friend circles and help him find a healthy group of friends who aren’t on that destructive path too many go down. I may be setting myself up for heartbreak, but I can’t not reach out to him. After all, he wants those same healthy relationships that we call crave.

Chapter 10 – Outed at Eleven

As we progressed to the upper grades of elementary school, recess increasingly became the time for boys to show off their athletic skills while the girls watched and gossiped on the sidelines. Occasionally, the girls would organize their own games, and a few would work their way into the boys’ competitions. I was never fortunate enough to be picked to play on any of the teams, so I spent most of my recess time with the sideline girls.

Late March meant that we were soon going to participate in the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. I wanted so badly to reach the top level this year–something that had never happened in the past. I did pretty well on most challenges, but it was the 40-yard dash that had always held me back. No matter how hard I tried, I was always about two seconds slower than the requirements.

I was sitting with Kathy and Tiffany; we were talking and watching a softball game. Corey Wood hit a fly ball far over the reach of the boys playing in the outfield. He casually tossed the bat behind him and started with a slight jog to first base. As he turned past each base, he picked up speed until he was sprinting towards home.

“He’s so fast,” Kathy said.

“I wish I could run like that,” I said, not thinking the others were listening.

“You can,” Kathy replied.

“What?”

“You can run as fast as Corey.”

“Nah.”

“Sure you can,” she gave me a small punch in the shoulder. “You just need to practice.”

We argued for a little while. Kathy insisted that if I practiced enough, I could get faster; I told her I didn’t believe her. She told me I need to believe in myself; I told her I believe that I am too slow. The truth is, I enjoyed her encouragement, and I kept arguing to keep her going.

“I can’t even do the 40-yard dash in less than 20 seconds.”

“Sure you can,” Kathy said. “It just takes practice.”

“But…”

“Why don’t you two go practice right now,” Tiffany interrupted our banter.

Kathy and I looked at each other and laughed.

“The start and finish lines are right over there,” Tiffany said, pointing to the blacktop area behind us. “You can race each other.”

line divider

“But we don’t have a stopwatch,” I yelled at Tiffany, as she turned around and faced us from the finish line.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re just practicing, right?”

“That’s right,” Kathy punched my shoulder again. “Just a practice. Let’s go.”

Kathy pulled her dark, black hair into a ponytail, placed her hands on the starting line in front of her, and put her feet in a racing start position. I awkwardly did the same.

“Ready!” Kathy yelled to Tiffany.

Tiffany raised both hands and yelled “Ready… set… go!”

She dropped her hands, Kathy started running, and I followed a split second behind her. I ran as fast as I could, but every time I thought I would catch up with Kathy, she would pick up speed just a little. I think she crossed the finish line a full two seconds before me.

“Nice race,” she said. “Let’s do it again.”

The look I gave her was meant to say no, but she just smiled and skipped back to the starting line. I felt obligated to follow. We assumed our starting positions, and Tiffany started our next race. Kathy was even faster this time, and Nick was waiting with Tiffany at the finish line. How did he get there so fast?

“Way to go, chump,” Nick said in between laughs. “Get beat by a girl often?”

“Shut up, Nick!” Kathy said.

“I’m not surprised, though. After all, you are just one of the girls.”

“Let’s go,” I said to Tiffany and Kathy. I hated confrontations, and it was easier for me to just walk away.

I started walking to the outside drinking fountain with my friends, and Nick followed. He continued laughing.

“Where you going?” he asked. “To paint your fingernails? That’s what girls do together.”

“Shut up,” Kathy said. She turned and stepped between my persecutor and me.

“He’ll never be your boyfriend, Kathy. You know why?”

“I don’t want him as a boyfriend!”

“Well, that’s good, because it will never happen because he likes boys.”

I froze. Did Nick really just say that? How did he know? I wasn’t really sure if I knew. I mean, I had noticed some strange habits when I watched a football or basketball game. In the past I paid attention to the games, but recently, I had started thinking about how muscular and handsome the athletes were. I told myself I was just admiring the types of physiques I would like for myself.

“I told you to shut up, Nick!” Kathy said. This time she slugged him in the shoulder.

“Let’s go,” I said. “It’s not worth it.”

“Just like a faggot to run away!” Nick shouted as we went through the doors to the school.

The three of us walked in silence until we reached the restrooms. We stopped. Tiffany and Kathy looked at each other, hoping to come up with something to say. I looked down, held out my hands, and pretended to inspect them.

“I need to wash my hands,” I said.

“Okay,” the two girls said in unison.

I surveyed the room once I entered to make sure I was alone, entered one of the three empty stalls, shut the door, and cried until recess ended.

 

Time for renewal

LDS General Conference Crowd Photography
LDS General Conference Crowd Photography (Photo credit: JeremyHall)

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”

It has been several months since I have posted on here. In the time that I have been away, a few interesting developments have happened within the various LDS church organizations and people within the church. Here are some of my favorites.

Time for healing within the LDS church

Last fall the LDS church made a new website available to the public. The purpose was to share their views on gays within the church organization. Many people complained that it was not enough. Personally, I feel that it is a great first step in the official organization building bridges that have been damaged over the years.

Unfortunately, too many people who consider themselves faithful members of the church still have unkind and unfair views toward their gay family and friends. I see the website as an important move to help people realize that we have the same dreams and spiritual needs that everyone else has.

Time for the Boy Scouts of America

I posted a little bit about some of my experiences in the Cub Scouts, and I will post some stories about my time with the Boy Scouts. It’s exciting to see that the BSA is considering a change in its policy about gay scouts and scout leaders. The opinions I read on various articles about the topic are pretty divisive, but it’s a discussion that we need to have.

Time for gay Mormons to let people know who we are

A few months ago Jimmy posted a video coming out to his friends and family. I first discovered it from a Facebook post his sister Jolie posted. I have known Jolie for years through the small LDS film circuit, and I am impressed with her work and love shown towards her brother.

Within weeks, Jimmy’s video went viral, and I saw it mentioned on different news programs. Overall, I think the public response has been positive and supportive. I wish him the best.

Time for General Conference

Believe it or not, I look forward to General Conference every six months. I happen to know a lot of other gay and lesbian members and former members of the church who also pay attention to this weekend. We want to know what the leaders are going to say. We hope and pray that our issues of being bullied and feeling excluded will finally be addressed. We feel left out.

I am not sure what will be taught at this conference, but I know it will be a time of spiritual renewal for millions of people across the globe. Please remember many of those seeking spiritual renewal are your gay brothers and sisters.

A Seat at the Table

Mormon Family Dinner
Mormon Family Dinner (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Perhaps you have heard the story in church somewhere. It’s about an eternal family in the afterlife. They are at a dinner table with all of the fancy furnishings, the best decorations, and the most delicious food imaginable. Unfortunately, there is an empty seat at the table—a reminder of that family member that did not persevere to the end and earn the same eternal reward the rest of the family enjoys.

I don’t know about you, but I have overheard loved ones discussing this story quietly, and it hurts deeply knowing they consider me the family member that would be missing from that dinner-table seat. I may be kind, generous, and charitable, but I am not worthy of the highest of eternal prizes.

I am a single man, and as church policy currently stands, I will remain a single man until I die. To most casual observers, I am disobeying a big commandment to marry and start a family. It’s a requirement for the highest eternal glory. Many wonder about my “misplaced priorities” and urge me to hurry up and find a nice woman to marry. I tried that for nearly twenty years. I dated, I served faithfully in many leadership callings, and I prayed day and night to find a woman that would fix me. Any emotional connection I was able to make with a woman, however, was similar to how I love my sisters, and I felt my attraction to men grow more intense

I am not allowed at the table because I am a single man.

You see, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that it is my own fault that I am still single. Many well-meaning people have pointed out the wonderful single women who would be an amazing wife and mother. I agree that most of them would, but I also believe they deserve husbands that would love them in a way I am incapable of loving. I gave up on the singles wards several years ago because the intent is to lead every single woman and man in the congregations into the eternal bonds of matrimony. That wasn’t going to happen for me, so I switched to a traditional family ward, where I sit alone in the back of the chapel.

Even though I try to obey all of the commandments to the best of my ability, there is no place for a single gay man at the dinner table.

I want to find an eternal companion just like most members of the church. My wishes, however, would be to find a loving, kind man with whom I could share my life. These desires are selfish according to many faithful saints; such choices will only lead to a life of suffering and unhappiness. A life with a man I love, though, sounds more fulfilling than the life I currently lead coming home to an empty house.

f I choose the path of spending my life with a man I love, I will not be welcome at the table, because I am a sinner and turned away from God.

I don’t know the answers to this dilemma that thousands of men and women in our faith face. It seems as though, according to current teachings, that any of the choices we have to make all lead to dead ends. Do I sacrifice happiness now for an eternal happiness that I can’t possibly earn? Does the atonement of Jesus Christ make up for the requirements that I lack in this life? Where are the answers?

 

I would love to know what others think. Please feel free to respond and share how you have reconciled these conflicting issues. I will open up the comments for others to read.

A Life Alone?

Lonely Man
Lonely Man (Photo credit: svenwerk)

I haven’t written anything for this blog in quite a while. I guess it’s because I needed to take  a vacation from the topic and spend some time focusing on renewing my emotional and spiritual health. Since I started sharing my story, I have received many comments from readers. In the beginning, the comments were positive encouragement to keep writing. The later posts, however, attracted too many negative comments condemning me, calling me an apostate, and telling me I was going to hell because I was attempting to lead others down that fiery path.

Up until I started writing these stories, my friends and family always complained about how little I shared about my own life. They wanted to know more about my interests and if there was anyone special in my life. I always kept pretty quiet because I was afraid to find out how they would react if they found out my dirty secrets. This fear has kept me from developing any deep and lasting friendships. I think I was conditioned to believe that I was meant to suffer my affliction on my own.

I know I am not alone, and there are many members of the church who have suffered the same isolation and loneliness. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to suffer in silence, and we are made to believe we are broken. If we seek out others who can empathize, we run the risk of falling prey to the false doctrines of men. The sad truth is the church doesn’t have any real solutions or support groups set up for us, so if we want to remain faithful members, we are pretty much on our own.

When we become honest about who we are, we are then judged on a different level of expectations than any other member of the church. If you don’t think we are judged harshly, just browse the readers’ comments on any Deseret News article about homosexual issues. We haven’t prayed hard enough. We suddenly become a threat to the children and youth of the church. We become the weird guy who doesn’t talk with anyone and sits alone in the back of the chapel.

We are looked at as less faithful than the rest of the congregation. We aren’t invited to talk or pray, and our neighbors now avoid us before and after the meetings. Countless personal prayers have been said to lift this burden that we carry, but too often we don’t realize that the only way the burden will be lifted is when we share who we are with others. We need that support group that doesn’t officially exist in the formal LDS organization, so many of us still live solitary, lonely lives.

Letting others know—especially those faithful LDS family and ward members—about our homosexuality is a horrible demon to face alone. We run the risk of losing the most important people in our lives. Personally, I have lost contact with my dearest friends because they can’t deal with my honesty. Forget that I have done my best to live true to those same principals I have been taught my entire life, I am now a sinner because I am attracted to other men. Once we experience the rejection, who do we have to lift us up?

I have had enough time away from this blog to clear my mind and renew my spirit. Perhaps it’s because I have have been blesses this past month to reconnect with some old friends who have also been through similar experiences. While some faithful members of the LDS church may not agree, I believe those people were brought back into my life because my Heavenly Father wanted to remind me that I am not alone, that I am loved just as I am, and that he is concerned about my happiness.