The craigslist ad I just posted prior to this has taken me back, back back.. to thinking about old patterns of sexual expression followed by self loathing; the great pendulum swing of a gay mormon in transition.
Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.
In 1998 when I returned home from my LDS mission to Mexico, I felt such a powerful sense of strength and accomplishment. After all, so many of the gay men I met before my mission told me I would never be able to survive the 2 year commitment of being a mormon missionary. Ever the rebel, I knew I could prove them wrong, and I did. As I knelt down by my bedside the first night back in the USA, I felt inspired to close my time as a missionary with a final missionary prayer. This was a powerful experience for me-- and though I knew I had not "overcome" my attractions toward men, certainly I had proved that I could control them easily and gracefully. I assumed that being home would be the same, that I would continue being able to control everything about my sexuality, and funnel it into "appropriate" channels. Woah was I in for a shock.
Shortly after I closed my prayer, I felt a rush of homo sexual desire. I felt overwhelmed with wanting a boyfriend, a husband, a man I was in love with to share not only sex, but EVERYTHING. This was extremely confusing considering I had just breathed out a prayer of gratitude for the experience of my mission, and all that it had taught me about myself. Suddenly I felt that I didn't know myself at all. Why were these feelings back with such a vengeance? I thought I had learned to control them! Equally disconcerting was the idea now that as a returned missionary, I would have to start courting women, and eventually marry one. Being a self declared full blown 6 on the Kinsey scale, this was even more daunting than having to avoid boys. How could I do that to a girl? How could I do that to myself? And so I mummified myself. I made an extremely logical decision that I would stick to quite faithfully over the next 7-8 years. I decided that I would date whoever I wanted to date, regardless of gender. If I liked a boy, I would date a boy. If I liked a girl, I would date a girl. I would be as honest as possible about this, (even at BYU) and I would obey the law of chastity 100%. In truth, it was the only way I could fall asleep that first night home from my mission: I had a game plan that I could sustain.
My game plan did get me through BYU quite well. I hardly dated any girls, but that's because I am a 6. I felt like asking out one girl, and we had a brief courtship, but she was even more closed off than I was at the time because of her own personal issues. I did date several boys, and I was just an absolute boundary whore. I would NEVER let my hormones get the best of me. I worked really hard to stay as morally clean as any other BYU student was asked to-- albeit with guys instead of girls. I would totally make out with guys I was dating, but I'd never let clothes come off. It was a dirty job, but my survival demanded it. I didn't want to be living a double life, and even though BYU would kick me out for even dating guys, I figured that God would understand that I was keeping the law of chastity-- I wasn't having sexual relations. Most of my close friends just thought I was crazy and deranged. They didn't understand how I could let myself feel okay about kissing boys. Kissing boys was a sin like unto murder! Or at least drinking coffee.
I moved to New York in 2002 and was TERRIFIED of what would happen to my soul. I really re-wrapped my mummy cloths to make sure the ship of my virtue would not be dragged asunder by the gorgeous and sexually liberated waves of men of Gotham city. But that's exactly what started to happen. After college I slipped into this terribly damaging cycle of behavior. I would hook up with some guy (mind you I still would not do anything too serious, ie no oral or beyond- but I would let the clothes come off now-- standards slipping!!!), go into a stupor of guilt, seriously try to repent, and then rinse and repeat the cycle within 3 months. This went on for almost 2 years before I was able to clearly identify the pattern.
I remember one experience in particular-- I was in Florida doing a National tour and I met a guy at this karaoke bar we went to as a cast. He was a little older than me, stable, extremely attractive, and very interested in me. As if in a trance, I somehow found myself alone with him at his beautiful house, sitting in his hot tub with an expectant boner. Afterwards, I remember being so unresponsive and guilt-ridden that this poor guy thought something was seriously wrong with me. I almost always had that response internally, but I think that this was the first time I actually let anyone see me like that. He was SOOO sweet to me and so tender and affectionate that it made my despondency worse. To have someone treating with the love and compassion that I could not give to myself just broke me down. But I still wasn't ready to break that self destructive pattern. So like clockwork 3 months later.. rinse and repeat.
A couple of years after that I was finally able to identify the pattern and recognize the truth: my emotional and sexual needs were not being met by the choices I was making in my life. I was 28 at the time, almost 29 actually, and I had to recognize the sad fact that I was not allowing myself to fall in love with anyone, be truly intimate with anyone, and for what?? Was I happy? No. Was I actually even keeping the law of chastity anyway? No. Is it possible that I was truly building some imaginary reward for myself in heaven by living this way?? REALLY? I had been in therapy already for a total of about 5 years! Still no "improvement" in my condition. I knew in my heart it was time to stop living this way. I was a mess. I was living in utter emotional and spiritual chaos. I was holding on to an idea of righteousness that I could not sustain happily. I was choosing to see myself as broken and inadequate. There had to be another way.
There is. I found it.
What surprised me most about finally allowing myself to be in a fully committed adult relationship with Constantine was that I did not lose "the Spirit". That was my biggest fear besides having the earth open up and swallow me. In fact I discovered that I could have that inner peace and beauty more frequently because I was not constantly in crisis. I also discovered that I could cultivate a real inner life after choosing to live a life that I could sustain from day to day. And with that, I finally was in a place to be able to help myself, and others. I did experience a lot of authentic guilt during my sexual experiences, but I finally realized that the guilt was because I was being dishonest, living in darkness, and behaving in ways that I vowed I would not. Since liberation from these deceitful behaviors and these negative self fulfilling prophesies, I have no guilt whatsoever about my sex life. It is spiritually, emotionally, and sexually fulfilling.
When I think about relationships, activities, hobbies, or just about anything we do in life- I think we need to choose things that are fulfilling enough that we can sustain them long term. If we get into friendships or relationships where we give give give and get no joy or fulfillment in return, then that relationship will eventually shatter. If we commit to do something that makes us resentful, and does not generate fulfillment and joy then we will eventually either quit and let people down, or worse we will stay and become a hollow shell of a human being: a person living without joy and driven by fear of failure. Love and relationships, especially our romantic relationships should generate joy. They should give us so much that day after day, through compromise, hardship and strife even, we want to keep going. We can keep doing what we promise to do, because we only promise to do things that generate authentic happiness for us. When someone else tells us that we must promise and commit to things that don't generate that joy and fulfillment within us, then we pay a heavy toll over time. I had to finally admit that though I loved the church, being a semi-chaste single person with no opportunity for fulfilling sex, connection, or authenticity was just not a sustainable lifestyle for me. I kept living on non-renewable energy.. and eventually it ran out. So I looked up at the sun and said.. I need to learn to plug into my joy-- a renewable energy source: one that fills me up almost every day.
The tricky thing about life is this: That joy-- that renewable source of love may be exactly the same for all of us. We are the only experts on what we can sustain, and what we cannot. But love is love, and when someone is plugged into it, its pretty easy to see. Conversely, its pretty easy to tell when someone is living in a way that is generating little joy. There's no formula that everyone can follow except maybe this: you have to listen to yourself and believe yourself over anyone else regarding what you need in your life. But that's tricky too, because when you listen to YOU and only YOU, then YOU are solely responsible if you make a mistake.
But then again, is that such a bad thing? I think its the best thing actually. Because that mistake is YOURS. You have no one to blame, and you have the power to try something else tomorrow. And that power is what helps us to discover in what soil our unique seeds of love will flourish for life.