Saturday, February 6, 2010

Know Thyself, Part II

One of the most important acts of self-knowing that I have achieved so far in my life had to do with coming to terms with being gay.

This started with the awareness -- beginning around age 11 -- of erotic fantasies about guys. I know it was age 11, because it was right around the time I was getting ready to be a deacon, and I was definitely aware of erotic feelings I had about some of the guys in my future deacons' quorum. The fantasies weren't anything really gross -- usually just me imagining some of the more good looking guys in the deacons' quorum making out with a girl friend (though the girlfriends were kind of invisible in my fantasies). I didn't deliberately fantasize about this... These were thoughts that usually came up unbidden, and that I usually actually tried to suppress when they did. At the time, my explanation for why I had such fantasies was that I wanted to be like these good-looking, popular guys.

The next stage in my awareness took place one night at the age of 14 during a sleepover at the home of my best friend in my teachers' quorum. We slept on a sofa bed together. He slept in his underwear, and so did I. Well, actually he slept, and I didn't sleep at all. Didn't get a wink all night. I was looking at him and feeling, well, very excited. Nothing happened. I never touched him. The next morning as the sun rose and after we got up, it literally dawned on me. I didn't want to be like him. I wanted him. It was in that moment that I literally thought the "h" word (homosexual) out loud in my mind. I must be one of those, I realized. I think my first activity upon returning home was to look the word up in the dictionary: "sexually attracted to people of one's own sex." Yup, that's what I was.

That was a mortifying discovery. So the next stage in my awareness took place as I began to pay attention to what people in Church were saying about this. At one point, someone recommended I read The Miracle of Forgiveness, which I did. I was relieved to learn that A) I hadn't committed any grievous sin yet and, B) I could be completely and totally cured of this! I remember shortly after I had finished reading the chapter on homosexuality, my dad recruited me to go do some manual labor on the stake welfare farm. I was excited to do that, because I think manly physical labor was one of the things Elder Kimball recommended as a means of banishing homosexual desire. Furthermore, I learned that total faithfulness would also help me in my quest to be free of these desires. So I began to be very conscious about actively seeking to do everything that Church leaders counseled: daily prayer, fasting, scripture study (I was a star seminary pupil), faithful Church attendance and fulfillment of callings, paying a full tithe, etc.

I always went the extra mile in my efforts to be faithful. At the age of 16, I read Stephen R. Covey's Spiritual Roots of Human Relations. The basic message I took away from this book was that the key to my success in life would be totally determined by my attitude, and by my willingness to develop a high standard of personal discipline. Among other things, as a result of reading that book, I incorporated a number of routines into my life that have more or less stuck with me ever since. Early to bed and early to rise; eating well and exercising daily; reading the scriptures daily, and so on. By disciplining myself, and establishing faithful routines as the bedrock for my life, I would be able to overcome every temptation that beset me, including homosexuality.

The efforts I made along these lines did make me a better, more successful person. They prepared me for a successful mission, for college and for graduate school, and for future success in my work and other endeavors. But they did not make me heterosexual.

So there were two moments I see as marking the fourth stage of self-knowledge in this regard. The first moment was my first day in the mission field. At the end of that day, my companion invited me to join him in scripture study and prayer before we retired for the night. He stripped down to his under garments, and I did the same. I could not focus much on scripture study, however, because sitting close to him, the two of us in our underwear, I was very aroused. I struggled to regain control of my mind and my body. That night, after he had retired, I got out of bed and knelt down in prayer and wept. I thought that surely the Lord would have freed me from these feelings before sending me into the mission field. Why hadn't he? How could I be a witness of Christ, and have these feelings, for my companion of all people? I felt utterly defeated. I did feel the Spirit's presence, essentially urging me to do the best I could under the circumstances, which I did.

The second moment came right after my mission. On my mission, I taught and baptized five souls, two of whom went on to serve missions of their own, in a mission where the average was one baptism. I was aware -- had been told by others -- that I was one of the most admired missionaries in the field. But I remember looking at the word "honorable" on my release papers and feeling like the biggest fraud in the mission. Here I was, still struggling with homosexuality. My feelings of failure and depression deepened when I started attending my BYU ward, and the first words out of my new bishop's mouth were, "Well, you've completed a mission, now your next task in life is to get married."

Wow. Lord, I could use some heterosexuality about now? Do you mind? I really need some of those blessings you promised me through President Kimball to kick in if I'm going to do what you expect me to do next. But, of course, nothing.

So stage four essentially involved sinking into a big depression that focussed on the belief that something must be terribly wrong with me. I must be sinning in some way, conscious or unconscious, that is preventing the Lord from blessing me. So, to make a long, melodramatic story short, that depressive spiral continued till the end of my junior year when I began planning my own suicide.

Stage five of my self awareness in relation to my sexuality involved revelation. Again, to skip a long, melodramatic story about how I ended up not committing suicide, at some point in August 1986 I found myself on my knees alone in a student apartment in Helsinki, Finland, thanking God for helping me to survive. I also laid open my heart to him about the anguish I still felt about my homosexuality. And for the first time, I received a clear and powerful answer to my prayers about this issue, after all these long years of wrestling and praying. The Lord essentially told me first of all that he loved me completely and totally. Second, he knew all about my homosexuality because he had created me this way. He had woven me together in my mother's womb, and knew me from my inmost parts. He knew all about my homosexuality and it did not matter to him. There was nothing wrong with me in this regard.

Stage five of my self-awareness was deepened when I prayerfully sought guidance about what to do with my homosexuality. I fasted and prayed for three days in the winter of 1988. I had come to accept that this was a part of me that simply was not going to change, that it was a fundamental part of how I was created, that the Lord knew about it and accepted me as I was, and that it was not bad. But I wanted to know how to proceed. Should I still try to marry a woman in spite of these feelings? Should I live a life of celibacy? (Those were the only options in my mind at that time.) So my fasting and prayer was to get some sense of how I should move forward, and whether seeking marriage with a woman would be the right thing to do. I received an answer to my prayers, but not the one I expected. The answer was "Be open to all the options." Later that day, I met my first openly gay friend, and began to learn that there was still an option I had not considered.

The following year (1989), I spent the summer in a monastery in France (in my former mission) prayerfully exploring celibacy as a life option, but also prayerfully considering whether I should open myself to the possibility of a same-sex relationship. By the end of that summer, I knew that the right thing for me to do was the latter.

At the time, once I finally came to the point of coming out publicly to my friends and family and accepting my gayness as a good and integral part of myself, I thought that I had achieved all the self-knowledge I needed in that regard. But now, with the hindsight of more than twenty years -- almost eighteen of which have been spent in my relationship with Göran -- I realize that the journey of self-knowledge had only just begun. In the process of dating and courting and finding a relationship, and then entering into a relationship, and then nurturing and building that relationship, I learned important lessons about the nature of the bond between body and spirit, between sexuality and spirituality. Some of those lessons I learned the hard way. As I have discussed elsewhere, I made mistakes -- some painful. But I learned a lot about how my homosexuality is not "just" a physical thing. It is interwoven with my emotionality and my spirituality and my sociality in subtle and powerful ways.

The seventh (and current) stage of my understanding has come in recent years, since I have renewed my association with the Church. I'd say there are two major aspects of the current learning process. One has to do with the fact that by acknowledging my testimony of the Church, which includes faith in its leaders, I have had to wrestle with some of the things my life journey has taught me that seem to be out of harmony with the official teachings of the Church. My life learning process involved gathering information, pondering (OH! the pondering!), wrestling, prayer, fasting, and receiving revelation. It involved putting my learnings to the test in real life, and finding out what the consequences of certain kinds of choices were. So I was pretty confident in the results of what I had learned. But still, my testimony of the Church is extremely powerful, and so I found myself going through a process of reconsidering what I had learned, and in the process receiving some of the most powerful and dramatic spiritual confirmations that I have yet.

The second major aspect of this current stage is considering my relationship with my husband and the nature of my sexuality in light of eternity. To put it bluntly, what will become of us when we die? I cannot imagine a Heaven where I could possibly be happy without him -- especially after all we've gone through together in this life! After everything we are going through right now as parents, and what I anticipate going through with him as we age and prepare to meet our Maker. The official teaching of the Church is not encouraging to us in this regard. But I have received powerful affirmations from the Spirit that I need have no fear on this account, that all will be well, far better than I am capable of imagining. I'm not sure what that means, but the Spirit has not failed me yet, so I am willing to rest on that, and in the meantime continue the learning process, and continue loving my husband and caring for him and helping him to become the best that he can be.

I won't say that his seventh stage of learning about my sexuality is the last, because I don't know what's ahead. I suspect there will be more stages in this process of learning, maybe even more surprising than what's come already.

20 comments:

Holly said...

fascinating and moving. thanks for sharing.

J G-W said...

Hey, Holly! Thanks! It's nice to see you in these parts. It's been a while!

me said...

John, I really love your writings. And, the insights that you so masterfully share. I am always amazed with your self awareness and the things you feel and learn. I am a better person because of the things I read on your blog. You have given me many things upon which to ponder and I appreciate the loving ways in which you share. Thank you so much!

Happy day!

Love and respect, always. slp

Alan said...

I am behind you on the learning and life curve. But it is so encouraging for me to see the similarities between our experiences. When I finally had the courage to get on my knees and say "OK, I'm not going to hide this anymore, here's who and what I am, now what?", the answer was very clear: "I know what you are, and I approve." Those exact words. That opened the doors for me too. Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one.

J G-W said...

We are not the only ones.

J G-W said...

slp - It feels good to have someone feel grateful for me! I love you too!

Quiet Song said...

The first person I "came out" to was eight years ago and I have been wanting to write out about going to the temple with him as he took out his endowments.

My friend John was a gay convert to the church of five years. He also lived with AIDS and was part of the first wave of long term survivors. He also was a committed volunteer on AIDS training for youth.

Perhaps more importantly to the story, John had been in a long term relationship and his partner had died from AIDS a few years before joining the church.

I have not remained in touch after moving out of the area and have regretted it every day in the last year and half as our family has progressed through both my kid's questioning and my more open approach to being something more than straight.

John had shared that he had considered marrying a woman in our ward, but that they'd broken off there engagement. His attitude was basically, the gospel is true and I'm willing to place this in the hands of the Lord. That relationship didn't work out. It was my pleasure to go to the temple with John when he took out his endowments.

In the Celestial room, I said, "someday you will be here with the woman you will spend enternity with." There was obvious pain on his face and I knew that he was thinking of his long term partner. I also had a witness at that time that there is a loving God and whatever happens in the eternities there will be some honoring of that relationship and that love.

Your post reminds me how much I need to find my friend John and renew our friendship. I'm not sure I ever shared my experience in the Celestial Room and I now feel I should have and maybe an apology is also in order.

Sara said...

Excellent post.

jonedrahadian said...

It's very interesting to know your self-knowing journey.

I'm particularly interested in ur seventh (and current) stage. I think it is a quite rare experience and it seems the Spirit has a strong influence on you to maintain good relationship with Church and being an in-relationship homosexual at the same time. I wonder what those zealot people or Church leader says about that kind of Spirit influence.

Maybe one day I will arrive in ur current stage. Surely I hope I can learn much from u.

Joned Rahadian

Joe Conflict said...

I loved reading this. You are an amazing man. Had I known on my mission all that I know now--I couldn't have served. You handled so much, and really, so well.

J G-W said...

Quiet Song - I found your story deeply moving. Actually, I was kind of overcome by it. I can see myself in that story. If my husband died, I would probably do what your friend did, and seek to join the Church. But I'm not sure I would want to be joined in the temple with anybody but my husband.

Sara - Thank you. Thank you for reading my blog, and for your compassionate comments here and on other posts. You have no idea how much your kindness and good will mean to me.

Joned - Thank you. It's taken me a while to learn that one of the most important things we can do is learn to love ourselves, without becoming bitter toward those who don't understand us yet. I hope that in your journey you'll avoid some of the pitfalls I didn't...

Joe - I've sometimes wondered if I would have served a mission if I had had a fuller understanding of the nature of my sexual orientation. Maybe I would have been too afraid to try it. I sort of went into it without a full understanding of how difficult the attraction thing would be for me.

And yet, the Lord gave me what I needed in order to set that aside and focus on being a good missionary, and I was incredibly blessed as a result. Even in the days when I was most disillusioned, angry and bitter toward the Church, I never, ever regretted my missionary service.

Joe Conflict said...

I don't regret mine either. Had good experiences, made wonderful friends, and felt like I really helped people improve their lives.

Ron Schow said...

John, I have heard many, many describe their experience, like you, of being told by the Spirit, "I know who you are and I approve."

When I read of your coming to a place that you can hold your relationship with Goran as a special gift and also maintain a regular connection with the Church, I wish that all the RMs I know who are in a gay relationship could do as you do. I know there are hundreds of RMS in such relationships and many, many would happily be in Church like you if somehow they could feel more welcome there.

Think of the transformative effect it would have if all such could be in Church weekly, mingling with the Saints. I wonder what would happen some Sunday if they would all attend?? Somehow, they don't feel a desire any more. Somehow they are not made to feel welcome, although they have been important to the Church in the past and have many gifts.

Sadly, it reminds me of "Gone With the Wind," that love affair where each loved the other, but could not find a way to both make an effort at reconciliaton at the same time.

J G-W said...

Ron - thanks. I have the same wish. This journey has been so powerful for me, I wish for others to be able to experience what I have experienced.

But then, it took me almost 20 years away from the Church to progress to the point where I was able to return without being deterred by some of the obstacles you and I both know so well. So I understand why this is so difficult for so many.

It would be a shame for it all to end like Gone with the Wind.

Bryan said...

Dear John,

I guess I'm at stage seven too. That means that it's time for us to share our witness with other people so that they know that it's OK to be gay and religious and try to get oppressive rules in churches changed.

I think your doing a great job with this almost daily blog. I'm sure a lot of people feel supported in spirit reading your articles. I know that I'll refer a lot of people to your website if they want to know what it's like to be gay and CofC (Community of Christ formerly the RLDS church). More than half of the resolutions scheduled to come before CofC World Conference this April are concerned with homosexuality and priesthood and/or same-sex marriage.

John, you write very clearly and from a personal perspective. Thank you so much for your "on-line" ministry and hang in there.

Yours in Christ,

Bryan

J G-W said...

Bryan - Nice to see you on my blog!

I think my "almost daily" blogging has come to an end, at least for the next three and a half months, while I teach American Religious Histories at United Theological Seminary. But I'm glad you appreciate my blogging, and of course I'm grateful for your friendship.

My prayer is that as the CofC World Conference takes these issues up, that people on all sides of these issues with be able to listen to each other and keep faith with each other...

Dean Grey said...

John!

It sounds like a hard life to be so religious and gay at the same time. I don't know how you do it!

I cringed at the part about finding a "cure" and laughed at the line about doing manly labor to bring out heterosexuality!

I knew I was gay very early on, as early as 5 or 6. I didn't know what "gay" meant at the time but I remember always finding men to be attractive but not really feeling the same when seeing a beautiful woman.

It's not easy growing up gay and I'm sure it was doubly hard for you with religion so prevalent in your life.

Thanks for sharing your story with us!

-Dean

J G-W said...

Dean - I find it easier to be religious and gay than to be non-religious and gay. My faith has really been a resource to me in helping me to sort through some of the most difficult challenges of life. It's true that the faith of my upbringing has also been a source of some of those challenges! But at present, I feel like the blessings have outweighed the challenges.

me said...

John, I am sorry to always gush. I do not mean to be annoying. But, your responses to life's issues and your blog readers are amazing. YOU are amazing. I cannot imagine how much I would have missed out on if I had never found your blog. I feel like I receive so much spiritual help through the things you share.

And, thank you for loving me as I love you. That fills me with warmth and gratitude.

Happy day! slp

J G-W said...

slp - my heart is smiling!