In a quiet, solemn moment, a teenager made a deal with God. The young man would serve a faithful mission. He would go anywhere he was asked and serve with distinction. Having already read the Book of Mormon three times, now he would memorize it and share it. He would bring others to the gospel of Jesus Christ with a faithfulness displayed by few others.
In exchange, the young man pleaded for only one thing. He didn't want to feel different any more. He didn't want to analyze his every thought and desire. He didn't want to worry friends would discover his secret.
"Please," he prayed, "Take away my attraction to other men."
Yet, more than two years later, after the young man had kept his end of the self-negotiated bargain, the feelings were still there. "Bitterness welled up inside me," he said. "I was angry."
He started viewing homosexual pornography and soon met another Latter-day Saint who was like him. A relationship followed.
"I knew I was no longer good. I knew I was messing up, but I didn't care because that is what I wanted.
"I knew what I was going to give up was worth more than what I was giving it up for. But because I felt these feelings, I believed I had to live them. I felt compelled. I felt stuck. I felt I was sliding backwards."
He pondered suicide, but ultimately chose to confide in the two people he knew he could trust: his parents.
Today, after undergoing counseling and joining a support group for Latter-day Saint men who live in the Church despite their same-sex attraction, he is happily married. He doesn't want to judge others like him who made different choices. Still, he and three others in the Church who struggle with same-sex attraction decided to share their stories in this week's Church News.
Their message is simple: Despite the loud voices of those who promote a gay life-style, there is another path. And that road, which for them includes family and the Church, can bring happiness.
Church leaders have been very clear on the issue of same sex attraction: "We of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reach out with understanding and respect for individuals who are attracted to those of the same gender," said a October 2004 First Presidency statement. "We realize there may be great loneliness in their lives but there must also be recognition of what is right before the Lord."
Jeffrey Robinson, a psychotherapist who has counseled many men struggling with the issue, said it is impossible to accurately determine how many Latter-day Saints deal with same-sex attraction or how the majority of them cope with it because there is "always a sampling error."
"You are far more likely to talk to the person who is the most wounded, the most confused, the most frustrated," Brother Robinson said. "Everyone has heard the story of the man who left his wife and children because he recognized that he was gay and that was never going to change. Where do you hear the story about the men who stay with their wives and children? You don't. They disappear. They go on with their lives. They don't hold meetings. They don't hold press conferences."
People assume that because they know one person who has same-sex attraction they have "a random sample; a representative sample of men who deal with the issue," he said.
In reality, he continued, many, many men find a way to live lives that are compatible with the gospel while still dealing with same-sex attraction.
For the majority of his clients, same-sex attraction is a "very personal issue." It is not about pressure of family, friends or neighbors to be different than they are, he said. It is about wanting to live the gospel, and realizing that, as far as they can tell, a great portion of gospel life or family life is placed outside of their reach.
"It is their testimony versus their feelings of same-sex attraction," he said. "That creates the biggest frustration for the men that I talk to."
The hated secret
An only child raised by a single mother, another Church member said he always felt drawn to other boys. At the age of 12, he confided in his mother: he thought he was gay, he told her.
She arranged for him to see a Latter-day Saint counselor. "I was 12 years old," he recalled. "I didn't feel comfortable talking then."
The counselor told the young man to picture a stop sign in his head, to visualize the eight sides and angles of the sign every time he had unnatural feelings. After a few sessions, the boy lied. The stop sign exercise had worked, he said. He didn't have feelings for other boys any more.
But, years later, while still dealing with the feelings, he pondered the counselor's advice. Certainly, he realized, this is not something a mental stop sign could solve.
So he turned to prayer. When he couldn't pray the feelings away, he thought about leaving the Church. "I couldn't understand how God could make me have these feelings and cause these trials in my life."
It was something he hated about himself.
Once during a soccer game, he touched the ball with his hand and allowed the other team to get a penalty kick. An infuriated player on his team yelled: "You were gay in kindergarten! You are gay now!"
The young man ached inside. Never having shared his secret with anyone but his mother and his counselor, he wondered why the angry teen would use that terminology. "That is the worst thing in the world that I could be," he thought. "If I was standing in a road and could choose to be gay or be straight, I would never choose to be gay."
Floyd Godfrey, executive director of Family Strategies and Coaching in Mesa, Ariz., said the biggest myth about same-sex attraction is that people who deal with it chose to be that way. "I have never met a single man that told me he chose to have those feelings," said Brother Godfrey. "They can choose their lifestyle. They can choose to get help."
A member of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Brother Godfrey believes same-sex attraction has to do with "emotional deficiencies and wounds."
He said many in the Church carry the false impression that if someone has same-sex attraction they are also pedophiles, attracted to children. Generally speaking, he said, that is just not true. He also said it is also not true that avoiding men will help a person with same-sex attraction eliminate temptation. "In essence, if you avoid men or masculine activity you increase same-sex symptomatology."
Finally, he said, many Church members believe that a person's faithfulness or lack thereof has something to do with their same-sex attraction. "They believe if you have more faith, then you will get better. If you prayed harder you would get better, fasted, attended the temple more, then you would get better. I have never seen it happen."
Having feelings of same-sex attraction doesn't make someone bad, he said. "It doesn't mean you have done something wrong or that there is no God or that He has abandoned you."
Fear of loss
Another Church member surmises that he was not born with same-sex attraction. Early memories have confirmed that fact to him over and over again.
Still, he struggled with same-sex attraction through adolescence. "I tried to live a good life. I tried to do what is right. I went on a mission." But he grew up thinking he was evil, thinking he was bad, thinking God didn't love him.
"It was a tough, lonely road."
After his mission he was OK for a while, then he gave in to temptation and loneliness. "I worked through it, got married and then again I fell back into it."
He considered leaving his family and the Church. Instead, he lived years with a fear of loss "Will I lose my wife? Will I lose my family? Will my parents disown me? Will my friends make fun of me? Will I lose my job?"
But just five years ago he found hope. He told his wife of more than 15 years of his same-sex attraction and, surprisingly, she stayed with him. "There are a lot of people out there that are caring and loving who will support you," he said. And, he lamented, "there are people who won't."
Ultimately, however, a strong support system helped him through. He found change, although not easy, was possible.
Same-sex attraction is a complex issue, said Todd Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and program director of the LifeSTAR network. "There is no one answer we can find that applies to everyone across the board." And people who have same-sex attraction come in all shapes and sizes and have a variety of interests. One man, dealing with same-sex attraction, played college football, for example. Another was a class officer in high school.
Yet, Brother Olson said, his clients have one thing in common: at some point in their lives they have "allowed their mono-sexual preference to define who they are."
They forget their talents and interests and family relationships and think of themselves as gay or homosexual.
"Our sexuality and need for intimacy is an important part of our identity," said Dan Gray, a licensed clinical social worker and director of the LifeSTAR Network. "But what about the rest of who and what we (as human beings) are? We, as humans, are complex beings that deserve to be defined by more than just our sexual orientation. We are beings with gifts and talents. We are brothers and sisters, teachers, mentors, and citizens. We are sons and daughters of God with divine destinies. We limit our possibilities when we define ourselves monastically, by one thing only."
Brother Olson said many who deal with same-sex attraction feel compelled to find something that will make them feel whole.
He wants people to understand that "homosexual drives and feelings are not the sin. It is the choice to act out that is the sin," he said. "These saints need a place to come out of hiding where they are loved and embraced and they can get some help."
The returned missionary spoke to his stake president about his feelings of same-sex attraction. "Get married and have sex and the feelings will go away," the stake president responded.
So after the young man who also elected to anonymously share his story in this week's Church News began dating a high school friend, he proposed. "You need to know that I am dealing with this," he told her before promising to live a worthy life as an active Church member. She didn't anticipate major problems.
The couple married and turned to group counseling to help him with his same-sex attraction. But group counseling did not have a positive impact on him. There he learned how others dealt with their feelings. He investigated the gay chat rooms and homosexual pornography that he heard about in the sessions. "He was trying not to feel so alone," said his wife.
His problems intensified when, shortly after his first child was born, he was fired from his job for accessing gay pornography at work. He started meeting others who shared his attraction and embraced their stories. Some had left the Church and their families. They told him they felt accepted by themselves and by God.
Then one night at midnight he awoke his wife. "I have given up," he said. "I can't do it."
He told her he had met a man and had an affair. He had new friends. Their way was easier. He left home.
But during that period of searching for acceptance, he couldn't shake one reality: he still believed in Jesus Christ and in His Church.
He confided to a friend who was living a homosexual lifestyle. "I still have a testimony," he said.
"That will never go away," the friend replied.
"Then what am I doing?" he asked.
He returned to his wife and child. The repentance process started with his excommunication.
"He came to me and said this (his family) is what he wanted. And it is what I want, too," said his wife. Together, they are finding a way to deal with his same-sex attraction and live in the Church.
In retrospect, he thought about the loud message from his former friends who continue to live a gay lifestyle: "We love you. We accept you. Just be who you are."
Ironically, he found his family and the Church were sending the same message: "We love you. We accept you. Just be who you are."
His former friends, however, made him believe he could do anything he wanted without boundaries. The Church and his family wanted him to recognize his divine potential and responsibilities.
"It comes down to your testimony," he said. "If you believe in the Church, those are the answers you follow."
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