Chapter 11 – I walk alone

I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. In fact, I knew early on that I would be the type of child that most had to tolerate instead of choosing to include me in their activities. I wasn’t the last one picked for teams, but I was usually near the end of the selections. The way we divided teams during sports activities always caused anxiety; I hated the rejection. By the time sixth grade arrived, however, I had gotten used to the process. I quietly accepted the rejection.

It was also in sixth grade when one of my classmates, Nick, had decided to increase my misery levels during school hours. I didn’t realize it then, but my reactions to his teasing during recess were exactly what he wanted. He knew I hid in the bathroom and cried after our recent recess incident, and he liked it. I was to become the targeted victim in a plan to increase his popularity at school.

It started subtly. Nick made sure I could hear him whispering to other boys in class. Here’s how it usually went:

“Hey, did you know that Colin is gay?” he would say.

“What?”

“Colin, he’s a homosexual.”

“What’s that?”

“It means he likes boys.”

“Huh?”

“He doesn’t like girls; he likes boys!”

“Oh… you mean he’s a faggot?”

At that point there would be some snickering, and then I would get hit by a ball of crumpled paper. Of course, this was all done while Mrs. Frandsen wasn’t watching.

Nick never mentioned my secret—so secret that I still didn’t know it was true—to any of the girls in class. His gossip-mongering, however, lasted an entire week until all 17 boys in my class were informed of my deviant sexual preferences. As far as I knew, none of them bothered to stand up for me, but the worst part was I let it all happen. Some part of my upbringing—I’m not blaming anyone, mind you—something had told me that if I ignored the bullies, it would all stop.

Boy, was I wrong! Finally, the day that Nick had been hoping for arrived. Mrs. Frandsen was called out of the classroom, so we were all there without adult supervision. Nick had just what he wanted—a captive audience of 35 kids and the opportunity to say whatever he wanted. He motioned for his friend Brock to stand at the door and watch for Mrs. Frandsen, walked to the chalkboard, and began pacing the width of the room.

“Attention class, I have a very important matter to discuss with you today,” he said in his best attempt to sound like an adult.

Most of the boys laughed, and so did some of the girls.

“Settle down, kids. This is serious.”

“Sit down, Nick,” Kathy said.

“This concerns you, Kathy, so you better listen carefully.”

“Shut up, and sit down, Nick,” Kathy insisted. She stood up.

“Oh you’d want me to do that because you don’t want everybody to hear what I have to say. We all know you have a big crush on Colin, don’t we?”

Boys and girls laughed and whispered to each other. Kathy looked around for some support, but there wasn’t any. She looked at me with her sad, brown eyes and sunk back into her chair.

“Well,” Nick continued, “there’s a problem with you having a crush on Colin. He’ll never love you back And you know why, don’t you?”

I felt the blood rushing to my face, looked back at Kathy, and watched her sink lower into her seat. Some of the girls were whispering questions, and the boys were laughing.

“You know Colin’s secret, don’t you, Kathy. Well, it’s time everybody knew. You see, class, Colin will never love any girls because he’s a ho-mo-sex-u-al.”

He really let that last word last for an uncomfortably long time. The boys started laughing more, and girls started whispering amongst each other. “Is that true?” “Poor Kathy.” “That’s gross.”

“Let me tell you about homosexuals,” Nick continued. He was getting confident in his public speaking abilities. “Homo means the same, and sexual, well–”

“Cool it, Nick,” Brock said from the classroom door. “Mrs. Frandsen is coming back.”

The two boys returned to their desks and everybody did their best to look like they were busy working on their school work. I could feel people staring at me, and even though they tried hard to stifle them, an occasional boy or girl would let a giggle escape from deep within their gut. I didn’t dare turn and look and see if Kathy was suffering a similar level of discomfort.

Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day, and they all made sure there was plenty of empty space around me at the lunch table. There’s usually a lot of movement in my class, but the students made sure to go out of their way to avoid my desk. Finally, when 3:15 arrived, all students rushed out the door. I pretended to search for something in my desk while everyone left. Is was easier than seeing their disapproving looks and mean laughter.

Kathy would probably be waiting for me in the hall. I looked at the hook where she usually hung her jacket in the hall, but she wasn’t there. I waited for ten minutes outside the girls’ restroom, but she never came out. For the first time since kindergarten, I walked home alone. I walked alone the rest of the school year.

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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.

 

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.

Chapter One – A Sunbeam

We met in our Primary Sunbeam class—Danny, Peter, and I. At least that’s what our parents told us. Our Salt Lake Valley ward was full of children and had an active primary program. I was excited to finally join my older sisters in their Wednesday afternoon activities, but when I arrived at the church building, I became a little bit nervous. The women leaders divided us into age groups row by row in the chapel. My two older sisters joined the boys and girls in their assigned groups and pushed me to the front row where I was supposed to sit.

While all of the other rows had a mix of boys and girls sitting together, the row where I was assigned to go consisted of just boys. There were seventeen of us total—seventeen three-year-old boys and one primary teacher. After a prayer, some singing, and a short talk, Sister Jensen guided her troop of young boys to our classroom for an activity. She had us hold hands as we walked the long hallway to our destination. I was the last boy in the chain.

Sister Jensen was an accomplished artist, and she apparently hoped to transfer that talent to her small army of boys. Our classroom had a large, black tarp on the floor. The edges were lined with pieces of construction paper, and the center contained bowls of thick, brightly-colored paint.

“We are going to have fun today, boys,” Sister Jensen smiled. “We are going to be artists.”

I started jumping up and down with excitement, and one of the other boys laughed.

“I don’t want to get your mothers angry at me, so we need to protect your clothes from all of this paint,” our teacher said. “Before we all start painting, we all need to wear one of these.”

She held up a stack of neatly-folded shirts. I was given a large men’s dress shirt. The long sleeves dangled from my short arms, but Sister Jensen helped me roll up the sleeves until by small hands appeared out the end. The other boys were working to put on their large T-shirts with short sleeves, while a few of us struggled with the buttons on our used dress shirts.

“These are my dad’s shirts,” a boy named Peter said. “He was a football player.”

“Yes, he was,” Sister Jensen said. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked sad.

One of the boys, Danny, let the sleeves of long shirt hang beyond his arms. He started to swing hi shoulders and watched the sleeves swirl in the air. Sister Jensen was busy helping other boys get their painting shirts on, and before we knew it, Danny and I were whipping each other with our extra-long sleeves. Peter thought it looked like fun, but he was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, so he tackled us. The three of us laughed as we wrestled and rolled on the floor.

Sister Jensen got to us a little too late to avert a disaster. The three wrestling buddies had made it to the center of their ring. Peter stood up, but suddenly, Danny knocked him over into the bowl of green paint. They rolled and knocked me into the bowls of thick red finger paint. Within seconds we were covered in splotches of red, yellow, blue, green, and orange.

Sister Jensen somehow managed to put an end to the adventure and avoid any more boys getting involved. She carefully inspected each of the three boys as she moved us just far enough from each other to avoid another duel.

“Well, boys,” Sister Jensen said in a voice that was halfway between laughing and crying. “I was going to have you paint pictures of what it means to be a Sunbeam, but these three boys beat us all to the paint.”

She held up Peter’s arms to inspect the new color pattern on his shirt.

“These colors almost make a rainbow,” she said.

“Rainbows,” she repeated softer. “What do rainbows mean?”

Danny giggled as he pressed his hand to my right cheek and left a blue hand print there.

“Okay, class,” our teacher said. “We are all Sunbeams, and do you know what happens when a sunbeam shines through a rainstorm?”

We were silent.

“When a sunbeam goes through a raindrop, or when it shines through a heavy rainstorm, we get a rainbow.”

We remained silent.

“Does anyone know what the bible tells us about rainbows?”

Nobody answered.

“Rainbows are a promise,” Sister Jensen explained. “They are a promise that even in the darkest and hardest of times, Heavenly Father wants us to know that everything is going to be all right.”

The boys looked at each other. Danny looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

Sister Jensen closed her eyes and whispered once more, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Introduction

Sunday was one of those days that faithful Latter-day Saint families look forward to. Brother, sisters, aunts, and uncles gathered from across the state to hear one of their loved ones bear testimony of his faith prior to leaving all to serve as a missionary for two years.

I traveled the two hours with my brother and his young family to honor my nephew. I enjoyed spending time on the road with the family—especially as my youngest nephew showed unconditional love to his uncle. The three-year-old enthusiastically pointed out everything he saw from his car window and told me several times how happy he was to have me travel with them.

As we pulled into the church parking lot, my brother asked me to go ahead and save some seats for his family. They stayed behind to change a wet diaper and take care of other young-family situations. I found a half-empty row and sat next to a family I did not know. As the time the meeting to start drew closer, I became more anxious—my brother and his family still had not come in. The chapel slowly filled up with young families and couples taking the seats around me. Finally, a young couple sat in the seats I was hoping to save for my own family.

I sat alone as we sang the hymns and prayed. I watched the families around me as my nephew shared his stories about preparing to be a missionary. Couples held hands, rubbed each others’ shoulders, and cradled young children in their arms. I felt so alone, and I couldn’t help but wonder is this the cross I am called to bear for the rest of my life?

On the road trip back, I felt something tugging at my heart to share my stories. I am not sure if anything I will have to share will help others, but I have learned through past experiences that I need to follow these promptings. So, here I will start with my earliest memories of the loneliness many within the church feel when they have a secret they have tried to hide for most of their life.

I am changing names because I think over the span of my lifetime I believe many attitudes have changed. I don’t want to accuse people in the past who may have made mistakes of being horrible people. Hopefully, most will have learned and had a change of heart, and I don’t want to blame anyone for they way I or anyone else has turned out. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own happiness in life. These are my stories, and I hope to help others—as well as myself—find peace through sharing them.