Thursday, January 24, 2008

Live Your Life and Don't Get Stomped by Giants

I have recently been corresponding with a young man who is going through a moment that I think bears some attention. I think there are some important lessons here for us all. He writes:

"My main struggle hasn't been my sexuality per se, but with falling in love with someone in the church who I believe is also gay but who is hell bent on trying not to be. This person prides himself on being my best friend but he's spent his whole life running from what's clearly inside him that he's just never able to let anyone really get close to him. We share an apartment together as well, and it's a minor miracle that he and I have gotten as close as we have. I'm really the only one he ever has been close with, until recently that is.

He met a girl who's 23 (he's 30 this month) this past September and he claims he's head over heels in love with her, so much so that they've set a wedding date. They're scheduled to be married in the spring of this year. I've been in agony over this, and I know I shouldn't but it's tough not to be. I really feel a connection with him and I know he does with me but he's so brainwashed by the church that he's determined to take this path. I'm at my wit's end. In the meantime, I have to "pretend" I'm ok with this. He wants me to be best man at the wedding (he has no idea of my feelings for him, although so many others who know of my sexuality say it's written all over my face, as are his feelings for me, which aren't nearly as overt). I just recently came out to him, hoping it would strike a chord in him and get him thinking about his own sexuality, but instead he posted on facebook the absolute next day that he was "definitely in love with Kim (who is his fianceƩ).

What advice would you give me? I feel like I may be losing him to his new wife because of the f*cking Mormon guilt trip that's placed on him. It's things like this that make me feel so bitter towards the church, and I don't want to feel that way. I have so many people who are Mormons that I care deeply about and turning on the church or having negative feelings towards it feels like I'm turning on them as well."

Because I have been recently moving, I wasn't able to respond for a couple of weeks. Recently I did respond asking him to catch me up on what was going on so I could send him my thoughts if he still wanted to confer. He added:

"The situation at hand hasn't changed that much except that his time away has increased more and more. During the time he is around, he has been more snappish and short with me for some reason for which I can't explain. When I have called him up on it, he tries to tell me that "it's how I'm receiving what he's saying and not how it's delivered" (a regurgitated, recycled Mormon saying that members use when they're called up on something that they can no longer substantiate, something I'm sure you're well aware of). When that doesn't work, he'll say he's just under stress with all the wedding plans. Whatever...

At one point he stated that his relationship was a gift from Heavenly Father and it took all of my will to not ask him why this relationship from God has him acting in a way that's not Christlike. Interesting irony, no?

What's more, my temple recommend expired this past July and I've made no efforts to get it renewed. Nor have I kept up with my tithing since then (finding out about how the church spends its tithing/offerings put a stop to that, for sure). The thing is, when he first asked me to be best man, he wanted me there for his sealing as well (why is it that I can't type "sealing" without rolling my eyes?) and I came clean as to my current temple status. He encouraged me to talk to the bishop and I haven't made plans yet to do so, although I will at some point. Either way I'm caught in between because I would like to be there at his important moment because I love him but I also don't want to be there to witness his sealing to someone else. I should be the one he's being betrothed to.

Interestingly enough, when I mentioned the sealing just this past weekend, he seemed more indifferent than before about my presence there, as if it would be no skin off his teeth if I wasn't there. I don't know if it's because he really feels that way or if it's because, knowing what he knows now, he doesn't think I'd ever get back into the temple and is just resigned to the fact that I won't be there."

I responded:

"This is a lot. I completely understand what you are feeling, but I have never been in this exact situation to be honest. I have had MANY friends get married to women, but never anyone that I was in love with-- I did know a guy who I had a crush on and he sort of admitted he was gay and it was hard for me to see him dating these insipid girls who were running around BYU, I wished he was dating me of course, but by the time he actually got married it was years later and I had gotten over my crush.

Here is the truth-- you can't stop him from doing this and if you try it will only make him push you away. I will tell you from experience that some of these guys do this and then realize what a mistake it was and end up getting divorced in less than 5 years. I have seen some go as long as 8, and I have seen some that are still going on today. Some seem to be succeeding greatly in the marriage, though to be honest its impossible to tell what is really going on in another person's marriage. A lot of guys in our situation need to do this for their own sense of "effort". If a gay guy is going to leave the church at some point, it is certainly more powerful to the haters to say-- 'I WAS MARRIED FOR X number of years and I know it was wrong for me. Don't tell me this and that because I tried it and it didn't work.' One of my closest friends (actually the guy who encouraged me to make my video blog) is just getting out of a pretty sticky divorce. He was married for about 3.5 years to a woman. So here's the thing. He knows on some level what you feel for him. He is going to have to push you away a little bit at least in order to make this marriage happen-- in order to "receive this gift from God" if you will. If you pit yourself against this marriage you will lose. You can't stand up against the pressure the the culture of mormonism and the guilt/fear rhetoric that we grew up in and expect to win. No matter how much he loves you back, he has to choose the church right now. If you decide to embrace this and be a supportive friend even though you think it is a mistake, then you both benefit. He gets to continue to have a gay friend that he can confide in, and if his marriage does dissolve or go under, you will be there to help him pick up the pieces. My friend needed a lot of help and comfort, and I was able to be there! I wasn't in love with my friend, so maybe you are saying it was probably easier for me to stand by him. The truth is he really separated himself from me during the year he got married. After he was settled into things he got back in touch with me. I would like to help you get through this, but you have a lot of choices, and none of them are easy!

Now the last thing I want to say is this-- we need to talk about YOU. Now I don't know to what extent, but you need to realize that continuing to focus yourself on him and his life does your life a disservice. If you can move forward on your own path (a much wiser one than your friend is taking in my opinion).. dating, exploring, etc. and searching for someone who is available and ready to love another man, then you will feel even more free to be there for your friend in his marriage. Let him do this-- he clearly craves this fight that he is drawing to himself. You will be happier if you move yourself forward and focus on what you can do to create the life you want. As much as you feel for him, there is a disconnect in loving someone who is not ready to love you back.. or someone who is unwilling to acknowledge their love for you in this case and is marrying someone else. DONT fall into the trap of basing your self-esteem or your attractiveness on whether or not he chooses you. That would literally be like saying-- Im going to let a giant stomp on me and I'll hate myself if he crushes me. Thats a self defeating behavior. Whatever you may want from this-- he is going to choose this marriage because HE NEEDS THIS MARRIAGE. Don't pit yourself against this desire of his because you will make yourself the loser in the situation. Let him do this-- be his friend-- and focus on YOUR LIFE and how you can start today to create the one you want. If you go to the temple or not-- set the intention today that you will start to move your own life forward. When we are living our life, we feel a lot less affected by the choices of others. Truly living has a powerful effect on the human spirit. We are not immune to the sticks and stones of the world, but we are certainly more prepared to let them bounce away harmlessly."

I would also like to add that it can be so easy for us-- those in and out of the church-- to start to feel bitterness toward the church. I believe that we are being marginalized as gay men and women in the church. While new statements saying "We honestly don't know why people are gay" have become more prevalent in talks and press releases from church leaders, the fact remains that we are not able to be fully embraced in the church as gay people if we are pursuing a same sex relationship, or even if we are legally and lawfully married to a same sex spouse. If we keep our sexuality and our feelings in check, we are at least allowed to sit at the back of the bus. Maybe that's enough. I don't think so. ALL THAT BEING SAID, we have to live our lives in a way that does not allow our frustration to turn to anger and our anger to bitterness. Of course we are frustrated! We are not the only ones who feel marginalized and ignored. People feel frustrated EVERY DAY by things in their lives. We always have the choice. Real power or fake power. Fake power to me: taking our frustration, embarrassment and fear and moulding it into a sword of anger and bitterness and then swinging wildly at anything in our path. Real power to me: taking our frustration, embarrassment and fear and feeling it-- sharing it in a spirit of love and compassion-- and releasing it to the Light when the time comes. Emotions pass through us to teach. If we hold onto them and use them as sources of power they stop teaching us and start infecting us. Be teachable and be then able to release when the time comes. Don't curse the dark room, light a candle.

I believe that the true balm to every ailment in this life is living our life happily. If we go after what we want in our short time on earth, we will always feel that we are engaged in something meaningful and authentic. What I want is not what you want. Only YOU can be the one to pursue authentic LIFE and LIVING.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


2 days ago my mom sent me a review of Carol Lynn Pearson's book, "No More Goodbyes." It pointed out what the reviewer saw to be many inconsistencies, untruths, and misinformation. Since she read the entire book which was difficult for her (she found it to be very anti-mormon and "insidious"), she asked me to read this article though she thought it would be difficult for me. It was, but perhaps not in the way she assumed it would be.

After reading it, I felt very sad and demoralized. It was not because of what this lay reviewer had written, it was because my mom continues to pressure me after all the talks and letters we have shared. I feel like we have found a common ground and a mutual respect, and then out of nowhere she descends again to "help" me. I told her briefly how I felt and she asked in response to elaborate on my feeling demoralized and upset about her sending the review. This was my response:

" I almost don't want to tell you this, because I don't want you to feel bad or feel like you can't share things with me, but sometimes when you send me a letter about this issue, or for instance today when you sent me the review of this book, I just start to feel so hopeless, and I feel again like I wish I were dead. I don't entertain thoughts of actually killing myself, but I instantly start thinking-- maybe I should just start praying for death so I don't have to live in this life anymore which is clearly causing so much stress for my parents. Maybe I'm just not strong enough yet to face your disapproval of my life. I think I just value your feelings about me a lot (you are my mom!), so feeling like you just don't like what I'm doing and you don't seem to understand why I'm choosing to follow a more peaceful path for myself just makes me feel very demoralized and hopeless. I guess I just had this fantasy that if I came to peace with myself that you and dad would see that peace within me and say-- wow he is clearly more at peace in his life.. and that is what really matters. But your criteria is different-- it doesn't seem to matter at all that I prayed for death while I was in full fellowship-- while being worthy to enter into the literal presence of the Lord, in my quiet moments I hoped to die and felt disconnected from my own life on a deep level. It just wasn't my life and I don't know what else to say. I feel so much more engaged in my life now. I am where I feel at peace and happy and whole. Maybe you want me to stay in the church and continue to accept a broken reality for the rest of my life. But I don't want my whole life to be spent fighting that fight. I would rather fight other fights in my life-- fights that I connect with. The fight of being a celibate gay mormon, or the fight of being a gay mormon married to a beautiful woman are just not the things I want to fight for. I can select the battles I choose to fight in my life, but I can't really choose which battles I feel compelled and passionate to fight. I feel like I am just saying too much, but I also don't feel like I'm even scraping the surface.

I just want to have faith that I can help you understand me, if that is your wish.

When I start to think about death, I remember that everything in life is an invitation. When I begin to feel that invitation to die, I remember that I have made a commitment to myself to live out my life in full. Though we have been dealing with this for 10+ years already, I feel a lot of what I am feeling is very new. I know that the firmness of my current position must be difficult for you after the hundreds and hundreds of hours that you have spent counseling and praying on my behalf. I truly am sorry to disappoint you and make you feel uneasy about me. But Mom believe me when I say that I really do feel that I searched every corner of my own universe to try to find a way to make the Church work for me. I teetered back and forth and bounced back from the brink of apostacy to give it "just one more go" probably about 5 times. I really did everything I could for the first 30 years of my life to be a mormon. I don't regret those efforts. But I just couldn't make it work. I tried harder than many of the people I know.. I used my mind body and heart to try to find a way to be happy and fulfilled in the church. But it just did not happen. That seed just did not grow and blossom and flourish within me. I'm sorry about this, mostly for you who I feel has given so much to me, and also is so committed to the gospel. I know that the gospel is your life, so it must feel like a slap in the face for me to say that it is not my whole life.

I just really hope that you can love me with all your heart. I would like us to be close throughout our lives. I want you to know I honestly do respect you, even though I don't currently share 100% of your beliefs. I thank you for shaping me into a person who cares about others, and who has a soft and compassionate heart. Does any of this make any sense at all?"

Her response to this letter essentially that she didn't believe that I was happy as I am presenting myself. She reminded me of all the difficult times I had had in my year and a half relationship, and how I mentioned to her on occasion that I felt trapped in that relationship and again sometimes wished to die. (this wishing to die is a habit that I truly hope to bury). She then asked me if I wanted her perceptions of my life as it is now, and her view of my current choices. This was my response:

"I would love to discuss my life with you at some point, but with all due respect I don't feel right about having your feedback at this time. The truth of the matter is this, we all see what we want to see in life. My relationship with C presented me a new set of personal challenges that I never could have imagined. Perhaps I resorted back to some of my old hopeless and wishing for death feelings during moments of our relationship. But things are very different for me inside my body. They are safer and better, though still not perfect. But I know everyone that lives on earth whether they have the gospel or not is here to grow and face challenges. I feel like I have accomplished so much and become such a strong and wise person but somehow its of little value to you. (at least in compared to what you seem to want me to be) I know you love me and that you mean well, but I think you need to learn to celebrate who I am now. There is a lot of good about me and that is what I'd like you to focus on for now-- at least in front of me. Self improvement in this life never ends, and I depend on the observations of others to help me, but I think I am going to turn this role over to Don, Craig, Constantine and a few others. I think you want to see me as unhappy so you can validate your idea that I need to be in the church to be happy. Maybe that's you but its not me mom.

I want to trust you.. but I get nervous inside when I see an email from you in my inbox. That seems silly because 99% of your emails are just a quick question or a hello and family info that I love to hear. But that 1% when I feel that my hard earned values and the happy authentic full life I am trying to create (not perfectly sometimes) is under siege, I just have to take cover from you. I don't want that kind of relationship with you! I don't want to worry what is coming next from you. I want to hear from you often and just know that you are going to love me for exactly what I am. Im almost 31 mom. This is my life right now. I want your love, your friendship and as much support for me as you can muster. I need you to appreciate all that I am and not focus on what I have not yet accomplished. I know this question of religion is everything to you, so this will be a challenge. But I really have faith that you can do this. We have so few real allies in this life. I need you to be an ally-- a protector. I need it today. I hope you can understand what I am asking and why.

In conclusion I just want to reiterate-- I love you. I trust that you love me. I want our relationship to be one of unconditional love. I need you to celebrate what I am. I need you to learn to be happy for me. I need you to ask yourself.. what does Clark want. What are Clark's hopes and fears.. how can I be an ally to Clark on his journey. This is how I want to be treated by you. Will you do it?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Going Deeper with My Newly Empowered Mother

All my life my mother has been exemplar. She has always been and continues to be a living example of Christ-like attributes and Relief Society praiseworthy charity. I have always found her to be a very inspiring figure in the garden of my life. When I came out to my parents during the summer of 1995, my mother, though confused and visibly shaken, quickly became one of my greatest allies in my battle with homosexuality. She seemed to accept my situation as very real, and never treated me in a way that made me feel like a lesser member of our family because of my issues.

As the years passed, years on my mission, years in college, and now years since college, she has always remained open and accepting... sort of. There was always a lingering pressure present in our relationship. There was a pressure to stay close to the church at all costs. As long as I did that; as long as I was the kind of gay mormon that she would be if she were a gay mormon, I would know without a doubt that she stood beside me through thick and thin.

My mom always felt very strongly that I would be released from the trial of homosexuality. Every time she mentioned this idea, I would respond with something like, mom-- what about all the other men who struggle with this? They are not being released from this, why would you think that I will be? She would always say, I don't know why I feel this way, and I don't know about all the other men who struggle with this, I just feel very clearly that you will suffer for a season with this, and then be released and allowed to move on with your life. I never really felt this way about homosexuality. Even when I felt the worst about myself as a person for being gay, I never thought it was something that the Lord would take away. Maybe I never really believed that the Lord "made" me this way. I don't know now what I thought all the time-- to be honest I don't know what I think NOW all the time, so its hazy looking back. (Isn't it always?)

To be completely fair and impartial (and I'm trying as hard as I can believe it or not), there were times when I felt like the Lord would indeed remove this "curse" of homosexuality from me. But it never really came about. Or maybe the Lord was prepared to remove the "curse" of homosexuality in a different way than I could have envisioned from where I stood in that moment. But that's actually another story.

So back to my mom. In the fall of 2006, I booked a job near our home, and it was a great opportunity for me to work and live at home for about 6 weeks. At the time, I was nearing the 1 year mark in my relationship with my boyfriend, who is also an actor. Any time either of us is away with a show, we always make a point to visit at least once every 3-4 weeks, and of course see the show that the other is in. This was a production of West Side Story, and since I would be doing it for 6 weeks, of course we would have a visit sometime while I was home. I went to my mom very openly and said-- how do you feel about my boyfriend coming to stay here for 2 nights while I am home? I promised her that we would not engage in any sexual activity in her home, and suggested that this might be a great way to include my boyfriend more into our family, since that is something I OF COURSE want. My brothers have brought girlfriends to family functions for years, even non-member ones, and all have been accepted and even embraced by my family and most of all by my mother. She said she would talk to my dad about this, and that maybe we should all sit down and discuss it so as to have a meeting of minds. After this conversation, it became clear to me that it made my mom really uncomfortable to even consider this, and out of respect for her and her home, I just decided to drop it and I got a hotel room for my boyfriend and I so we could fornicate in peace.

Now there is one more thing you should know about my mom and me. All through my life I have carefully observed the way my mom treated herself and others. My mom always put others before herself-- in a way that is both unselfish and sometimes pathological. I think sometimes my mom sacrificed her own well being in order to please others. As a result, I had a mom who gave a lot to others, but I also had a mother who had a lot of sadness and grief and fear just below the surface-- deep enough to hide from some, but not nearly deep enough to hide from a child who was watching and trying to emulate her every thought and action. My mom was the kind of person that would do something wrong for herself if it was something another person wanted. Of course this had limits-- big ones. My mom would never jeopardize anyone's safety and would never ever give in to anything that wasn't righteous. So she would allow herself to be walked on as long as it wasn't breaking any shadow of a commandment. If the women in the relief society hadn't finished something and they called my mom to bail them out, she would do it even if she was in labor and had 4 nagging children on her coattails. She would run herself ragged a lot of the time in order to "do her duty." As I got older, as I became less codependent through therapy and information (many helpful books), I would pass them along to my mother and encourage her to become a more empowered and a more happy individual. I would explain that her vitality is often diminished by her treatment of herself, and that in order to be of true service, one must have a full cup-- one must be on higher ground in order to assist others in an authentic symbiotic way. Otherwise someone may be feeding on another's generosity and/or weakness.

Cut to 1 week ago just before I left after a lovely holiday with my family, wherein we welcomed our first niece/granddaughter into our family. The day before leaving town, my mom took me to lunch and a movie. We love seeing movies together and we had a really great time together, as we always do. On the drive home I just frankly said "Mom, how are things going to work with me and the family. Someday I am hopefully going to have a husband and children, but before that happens I am definitely going to have boyfriends that I want to include in our wonderful family." I explained to her that my brothers were able to bring girlfriends to family functions and holidays, and that I wanted the same treatment as my brothers-- I did not want to face discrimination in my own family if possible. I told her that I thought it would be a double standard to allow them to invite someone but not me. (and just FYI my oldest brother had a girlfriend of 4 years and he is not active in the church, so my parents were aware that he was not upholding the law of chastity and they still embraced his girlfriend as one of their own.) I then asked my mom if I was being too confrontational. She said not at all, that she was happy that I was bringing it up. Then she said-- Clark, for years you have encouraged me to do what is right for me, even if it denies someone else what they want. When you wanted to invite your boyfriend home a year ago, I agonized over it. I really wanted to find a way to accept him into my home, but I could not find a way to feel good about it. After I tried and tried, but could not come to terms, I considered just telling you to invite him against my own feelings. Then I realized that this is MY HOME. I have worked for years to build this home, and I refuse to feel uncomfortable in my own home. I'm not sure I will always feel this way. But right now I just don't want it. Maybe in a year I will change my mind. Don't hesitate to ask me again-- maybe I will be able to work out in my mind and heart a way to accept this-- but for now, the answer is no.

This was the most blunt I think my mom has ever been with me about the intersection of our lives. On one hand I was so disappointed to think that I would not be able to be part of our family the way I want to. But any feelings of disappointment I had were overshadowed by feelings of happiness for my mom and the direction her journey has taken. I am so happy to see a person now who is taking her own feelings into consideration and not just doing what others want.. even if I am the one who loses something I want.. I still embrace this change whole-heartedly. The other residual effect which has been slowly coming over me is a feeling of freedom and independence that up to now had eluded me. The last thing my mom said to me during our conversation was this: You are doing what you feel is best for you in your life-- I am going to do what I feel is best for me in mine. At first glance this seems like something which could create distance between us. Maybe it will. But maybe it will be a real starting point for our family to become something even greater than it is today.