Jim

I was raised in a faithful LDS (Mormon) family in the rural rolling hills and farmland of Southern Indiana.  My extended family lived close to me and had farms.  I grew up working the farms and exploring the forests and rivers.  We lived in a small very tight-knit village. My childhood was really very pleasant.  I was raised by good parents and grandparents and was watched after by good neighbors.

In the summers after chores were done, we would go swimming, have a BBQ and then take an evening bike ride.  We enjoyed camping and exploring.  The winters didn’t stop us from having fun. Hard work was part of life, but so was fun.  We enjoyed fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden.  We enjoyed watching the seasons change and the abundance of each one.

I am ultimately an idealist and optimistic.  I believed that I could have the ‘American Dream’. In my mind that included going to college, getting a good job, getting married and raising a family.  I romantically wanted what I saw in the movies and videos.  Boy meets girl and he falls head over heels for her.  I just wanted to be that normal person that everyone else seemed to be.

My first recollections of any attraction to another male was when I was around 3 or 4.  I remember sitting on my father’s lap in church and finding interest in his chest hair.  I wanted to touch it and feel what it was like.  He was not happy with me for it, but I was curious.  Not long after that, I remember a desire to play house with my friend and I wanted to be the woman and he the man.  I have never had a fetish for dressing like a woman, but I somehow understood that I was attracted to him and in my mind, only women could be attracted to men.

In those days, at church, when the men played basketball, they would all go to the locker room and shower and dress. Being in there as a young boy with my dad and watching the men change fascinated me.  I obsessed over looking at them.  I never was curious to look at women, even as a young child, only men.

As an older child I watched a talk show where an LDS bishop who had been married, came out and told his story.  I was scared by what I heard.  He discussed ‘shock therapy’, how he had lost his family and was excommunicated.  I simply remember hearing that he was gay and it meant he found men attractive.  In my mind that was the reason he had lost everything and had gone through so much.  To me, it seemed that the simple fact that I was attracted to men was in and of itself the problem.

Further, I was starting to hear more and more dialogue about the subject.  In classes at church and even from the pulpit, I heard the occasional indication that my thoughts and my attractions were bad or somehow sinful, but that they could be taken away like so many other sins could be.  I felt that if I could just pray more, fast more, read more, and be a better person,  miraculously God would remove this from me. I started to feel shame for my attractions and started to sense desperation.   I also heard on several occasions that ‘if they would only get married, then that would cure the problem’.  As if somehow magically having sex with a woman would make it all better and the lust for men would go away.  My idealistic self-determined mind thought there must be truth in that dialogue and it gave me hope.

As I grew older my attraction got stronger and stronger.  At about 14, I masturbated for the first time thinking of two of my high school teachers.  I thought they were very good looking.   At times, I would try to think of women when I masturbated, but in the end my thoughts always came back to men.

I did see a pornographic video one time in high school.  I was on a choir trip.  It was on the TV and the other boys were watching.  I watched for about 10 minutes and then went to the bathroom.  I didn’t like it.  I enjoyed looking at the man, but not the woman and I felt ashamed.  That was the only time I experienced pornography in all my youth.

I worked hard at school and did well enough to stay under the radar.  I also quickly learned how to act ‘straight’.  I learned to act like the other boys at school.  I learned how to blend in.  I have never been extremely athletic, but I was tall and broad enough that I wasn’t bullied.  And girls were attracted to me, so I didn’t have a problem finding girls to date.  I had male friends as well, but I would often distance myself if we got too close because of my own feelings.

I dated a lot in high school.  I remember kissing girls and having fun with it, but not really wanting to have any sexual relationship with them.  Instead, I always stole glances at the other boys at school.  I conveniently told the girls that I was LDS and had chosen to follow that path and not have sex before marriage.  Free from the fear of performing sexually, I enjoyed myself and had a lot of friends.

My freshman year in college was different from high school.  I had several opportunities to pursue homosexual relationships that first year.  Several men made passes at me.  I ‘ran away’ from each situation.  The fear of the stigma and of losing everything or going through what I felt was inhumane therapy scared me, even if the temptations were very enticing.

One guy really pursued the opportunity.  He even invited me to his room to watch a movie.  While we were there, he began to rub my back and get closer.  I left.  I was scared.  I didn’t want to be ‘found out’.

One night in particular found me in a peculiar situation.  A guy was visiting who happened to know a lot of my friends from home.  He was there for several days staying with a friend of mine in the dorm.  We hung out a lot.  One night there was a heavy snowfall.  School was closed the next day, so we all went out and played in the snow.  He came up to me and started talking about all the kids I knew in high school who were now gay or lesbian.  He then told me that he was in love with me and wanted to share that with me.  This was very scary to me.  I was confronted very blatantly. But I again turned him away.  Looking back now, he must have known that I was gay.

I went on a mission for the LDS Church.  I admitted to my problem with masturbation to my church leaders.  Each time I went through the repentance process, I felt like I could stop.  It always crept back in however.  I guess the authorities on my mission must not have thought too much of it as I was only assigned some scriptures to read and told to move forward.  I never did talk with them about my attractions.  I denied that I had anything to deal with on that end.  I still feared what the ramifications might be if I opened up about those thoughts and desires.  In spite of it all, I loved what I was doing, but never felt that I fully fit in.

After coming home from my mission, I returned to college.  These years were fun.  I enjoyed a strong group of friends and good fellowship through the church.  I continued to believe that the attractions I felt would go away if I were righteous enough, did everything I could to be what I considered perfect, and eventually found the right woman to marry.  For the first time, I had real male friends in a few roommates.  I always felt badly that I would either find them attractive or be interested in them.  I constantly ignored the feelings.  I dated a lot of girls.  But I never really found any of the girls attractive – not that they weren’t attractive individuals.  Quite the contrary.  Many were very beautiful.  I could appreciate their beauty but still not find them sexually appealing.  I still had hope everything could change.

I tried to remain strong spiritually as well.  I tried to do everything I could to ‘gain a testimony’.  I felt that I still had problems with a lot of the LDS doctrine.   It weighed on my mind.  One Sunday, I came home from church and prayed.  I had a peaceful feeling that told me to just keep going and accept where I was.  I felt that was an answer to my prayers.  I felt that I was in a good place and that I just needed to keep going.  This experience is really what I based any testimony on.  With this feeling, I moved forward.

I met my ex-wife at school.  I was instantly attracted to her as a person.  I have always been attracted to women’s personalities, and found myself more at ease with women, possibly because the confusion of sexual tension was never there.  But there was something about her that made me think maybe I had found the one woman I could love,  that I would get through this.

I prayed a lot about that relationship. One fall day, as I was making deliveries for work, I was thinking about what lay ahead in life and about my prayers.  An overwhelming sense of peace came to me.  I felt very strongly that I was supposed to marry her.  I felt it was an answer to my prayers.

With a confirmation that I felt came from God, I worked hard to win her hand.  We got married about a  year after meeting.

Our wedding night was very scary for me.   I thought that all this would magically work.  I believed in what others said – ‘if they just get married it will all be OK’ or ‘once they have sex with a woman, they won’t want to have sex with a man’.  I felt that there must be something to what they were saying – that those people knew what they were talking about, and I would be able to get over this.

It didn’t happen.

I felt that what I was doing was right.  I felt that I loved this woman.  But I couldn’t get an erection when I touched her or when we were naked.  I could look at a guy that I was attracted to when he had clothes on and have an instant erection, but when I was with this amazing naked woman in bed I couldn’t make it happen.

I learned quickly – very quickly – what I felt I had to do to make this work.  I have always been a good actor, so I became a different  man.  I thought of the most manly-man I could imagine and the idea of this man being excited made me excited and allowed me to have sex.  At the beginning of our marriage this worked well for me and it didn’t take long for me to get into character.

And as young men will think, I thought I was invincible and so I could easily barrel through this and no one would need to know anything.  We had our first child a couple years later, followed by a second and third child after that.  I enjoyed my children and loved watching them grow.  The whole time I convinced myself I was happy and that I didn’t need more and would never want more.   I poured myself into my work, my church, and my family and tried for forget all about my hidden secret.  All the while I maintained a perfect exterior and happy face.  The problem was I continually had to convince myself of my happiness because deep inside I wasn’t.

A few years into our marriage however I experienced a turning point or epiphany.  I was sitting in a leadership meeting for church.  A man from the highest ranking authority within the church was speaking.  He talked about his absence from his wife.  He said that his feelings for his wife were such that he longed in every way to be with her.   More so when he was away from her.  He said that this was not just as a companion, but spiritually AND sexually.  He then said to the effect, one cannot truly say they are a good man or leader in this church if his desires for his wife aren’t in alignment with the same feelings he had for his wife.  In no uncertain terms that alignment was sexual as well as everything else.  Up to this point, I had worked so hard to do everything correctly.  My heart sank into my stomach and, for the first time in my life, I had the thought that I needed to give up.  I may have loved my wife.  I may have been able to have some desire to be with her emotionally and spiritually, but I could never desire to be with her sexually.  It felt impossible for me.  I gave  up in some small way that day.

I cannot blame this man in any way.  This kind of epiphany was bound to happen at some point. As I started to unravel, I should have sought help.  Instead I tried to bury my feelings. I started looking at pictures of shirtless men on the internet.  I never allowed myself to look at more, but I would often masturbate to these pictures.  For me, this was porn.   It wasn’t often, but it gradually happened more frequently.

It seemed that these attractions weren’t t going to go away or even diminish.   Gradually, I found it more and more difficult to have sex with my wife.  I was in constant fear when we would have sex and I tried to avoid it as long as possible.  What took only a few hours to help me morph into another man eventually became days.

Finally, one day around the age of 34 or 35 I admitted in an internal dialogue that I was attracted to men – maybe even gay.  I had never before told myself that I was.  But I finally did. It still amazes me how long it took for me to get to that point, but it was a relief to finally be open with myself!   I started to write a story of what my life may have been like had I chosen another course.  I ultimately ended up deleting that story, but I remember thinking a lot about all this and longing for a life I had missed.

I gradually became more and more angry and depressed.  I started hating what I had become and I began to resent my family.  I felt that my extended and immediate family had truly inhibited my progress and made me choose a lifestyle that would never work for me.  I was in a dark place.  Eventually I decided I was tired of fighting.  I started looking at gay porn and imagining the life I wanted.

I saw no way out and I felt very alone.  I doubted that  any other man at church or in other aspects of my life could  possibly feel the way I did.  In desperation, I thought about killing myself.  Instead, I decided I needed to talk with someone.  I had never talked with anyone about it before.  I started looking at Craigslist for a place to talk, but  I never found a post that I wanted to respond to.

I decided to do something about this. I posted a strictly platonic post in Craigslist.  I remember almost feeling out of control when I did so – almost like something else was pushing me to do it.  I was specific.  I was looking for another LDS guy to talk to about this.  I know now that this was not the way to go about it, but I really felt alone.  I felt that I had nowhere to turn.  I didn’t understand the ramifications. I had a lot of responses and talked with a couple good guys and several creeps.  I quickly learned to avoid creeps.  While it felt amazing to finally come out to some extent, I was scared.

I finally felt a need to talk to my wife about this.  Up to that point, this was one of the scariest things I had ever done.   I first explained that I was bisexual.  I wanted to be that instead of gay.  Her first reaction was surprise. She said she had no idea.  We stayed up talking and crying and she was very kind to me and together we told a few select people.

In time, my curiosity was piqued.  I wanted to meet some of these men.  I started responding to posts on Craigslist.  I chatted with a lot of men. I finally met up with some and was able to finally talk with men face to face.  I also found two groups to meet with – one was at an evangelical church, and one group was all LDS.  These all had an end goal to change me through reparative therapy.

At first, the feelings were amazing.  I chatted with and met a lot of guys who seemed normal.  I found that they were men just like me. All this time I had felt so alone and suddenly I was a part of a group of people sharing a similar experience.  Most of the men were single however.  While it was fun to be around them, I found I couldn’t fully relate to them.  I was either the only married guy with kids or one of the few married guys there. In many ways I was left out again and I eventually drifted away from the groups.

Through all this, my attractions didn’t diminish at all .  If anything, they grew stronger.  I started to lose hope in reparative therapy and got to a low point again.   Masturbation and porn became more and more regular.  I wasn’t at all interested in trying to have sexual intercourse with my wife.  My energy for all the work it took for me to get to that place just wasn’t worth it any longer.

I  needed to be me.  I tried desperately to feel happiness, or anything again.  As I navigated the feelings of vulnerability and honesty, I found a new life.  My teen years were suddenly a reality.  Unexplored by me, I would journey into an unknown world of my inner juvenile that I had never before allowed to be set free.  I lost weight;I felt happier, and I felt more energy.  I also felt a need to connect.  I didn’t even understand what I was trying to connect with, only that I felt compelled to do so.

Part of that connection was to connect sexually with men.  I tried to resist it, but in time, I gave into that desire.  This was something I had never before experienced and I was not really equipped emotionally or mentally to go through it.  In fear and shame, I slipped back into my safety zone – lies.  I held onto them.  I wanted to somehow pretend it all didn’t happen.  But it did.  I couldn’t deny it.  I went through a period of ‘doubling down’ on my commitment to the Church and my family.  And then I cycled through this again.  This lasted for about six months. I felt lonely again.  While the experiences with men were fun in the moment, I felt empty.  However, I couldn’t deny my sexuality.

One last time I tried to find solace in church and groups that would help me forget those sexual experiences and feelings of loneliness.  In desperation I went back to the lies and tried to become someone I wasn’t.

I came out fully to my wife about my sexuality.  From there it took about two years before we decided to separate completely.  Those two years were filled with a lot of counseling, emotion and fear on my part. I didn’t believe in the Church, but I still feared leaving it.  I still desired the security and stability of my home and feared failure.   However, in November of 2015, the LDS church came out with a policy (the Exclusion Policy) that a gay member living in a same-sex relationship is  apostate and that his children are unable to be baptized or receive other ordinances without meeting certain criteria (including an age requirement).

This was the final straw.  I knew I couldn’t be a part of this  organization.   When the exclusion policy came out, I couldn’t hold on to the lies any longer.  I was tired of the lies.  I gave up on them.  And my life started to change again as I became more vulnerable and honest.

Until that point, my entire life was a lie.  I had hidden so much of who I was for fear that if people found out, I would be an outcast, a reject, hated, mocked.  I never knew differently.  There was safety in the lie.  I was secure because at least I felt in control of what others thought of me.  

Water is soft and feels good, but in time, water gradually erodes even the hardest stone.  Yet water does not change.  In time the lies eroded my soul.  The lies were the same, but I was becoming hollow inside from that erosion.  I needed to feel.  I needed to be set free from the hollowness that had so slowly crept into my life.  Lies had destroyed possible friendships.  I finally shed the shackles of lies.

I fell away from activity in the LDS Church and eventually resigned.  I determined, however, that I would maintain a close relationship with my children no matter what.  When my ex-wife and I separated, I worked to find a home close to the kids.  I still took them to church to provide a sense of normalcy for them.  I determined that I would make them and my own future a priority.  I wasn’t going to lie any longer.  I realized I had to set myself free from my past.

I began the journey to stop lying.  It was not easy.  I gradually opened up to becoming the real me.  But it was scary at first.  I had guarded so much of myself for so long that I didn’t know what I could safely share and what I could not.  I feared losing my family.  I feared losing my faith.  I feared being alone.

However, in the time since then I have been more honest than ever before.  With complete honesty, I have lost a lot.  I have lost a marriage.  I have lost a faith.  I have lost a home. But I have gained a lot as well.  I have gained a family of dear friends I would die for.  I have gained self respect and inner strength I never knew I had.  I have found a love more beautiful and meaningful than I could have ever imagined.  And he loves me in the same way!  I can see a future I never knew could exist.

In becoming me and shedding my lies, I learned some lessons:

 

  1. My thoughts, feelings and actions regarding my attractions do not adversely affect others. Throughout my life, I felt that every time there was a challenge or someone didn’t make good choices or someone did something or had something happen to them that was bad, it was a direct result of my self perceived unrighteousness.  I believed people I loved made bad decisions or had bad things happen to them because of my attractions, or masturbation.  I strove to do everything else perfectly to minimize the problems of loved ones as well as my own problems.  I now understand that this had no bearing on the course of other’s’ lives, but at the time it was very real to me.   This caused me to distance myself some from others so they wouldn’t suffer because of me.  That may sound selfish, but in a warped way it was my way of understanding the situation.  I now feel badly for the wonderful relationships I could have developed all these years and never did.
  2. Sacrifices have to be made one way or the other.  One cannot get away from this when raised in a family or faith tradition that does not accept homosexuality.  The lesson I learned was to make decisions on what I want to do and do it without regrets and without  looking back. I decided to live my sexuality authentically, I have sacrificed a marriage to a woman, a faith and the respect of some within the faith community.  But for me, the benefit was worth more than the loss.  For others, maintaining the faith is more important.  If so, then they will sacrifice a future living their sexuality authentically.  If at all possible, I do what I can to not look back, but only look forward with a commitment to my position.
  3. I cannot serve both sides.  I thought it is possible to do so – to appear to live up to certain religious standards while messing around with others on the side – however, this eventually caught up to me.  I had to prepare to make the sacrifices necessary to move forward authentically.
  4. I cannot live in shame.  I am finally proud of who I am.  I go to church with my children and if I make someone uncomfortable because of my presence, so be it;  I am not rude, but I am not going to shy away either.  If my presence offends someone, it reflects more on their own insecurities than it does on me.  
  5. I can’t let anyone tell me what is right for me and I can’t be a people pleaser.  This was hard to let go of.  I was so used to feeling like less than a whole person for so long that I used others as a crutch to know what to do.  In doing this I became a people pleaser.  And when you are a people pleaser no one is pleased.  I don’t intentionally try to shock or make others unhappy; however, in the same vein as not living in shame, only I need to be happy with who I am.
  6. Before coming out, I measured success in life based on so many things that had to do with my religion and on the expectations of others.  I now teach my children that these five principles are most important in order to be a success.  Others may disagree with my list, however, I feel they work well for me:
    1. Be able to take care of yourself.
    2. Be able to give to others
    3. Be kind to others
    4. Be a good world citizen
    5. Be happy
  7. Once I cracked open the shell, I couldn’t go back inside the shell.  I have learned that once I open up to someone, there is no way to take back what I said.  There is also no way to control how they will perceive me.  I had to learn to not worry about what anyone thought of me and be willing to lose friendships.
  8. Allow others time to adjust.  I have been gay my whole life.  However, family members and close friends might not know about me or even suspect anything.  When I tell someone I’m gay, I need to be prepared to give them time and space.  I can’t expect them to accept me for me immediately.  I have learned to be patient with people and not have any expectations for their reactions.  Moreover, my happiness is not dependent on how they will react.

My experiences have made me who I am.  I am finally able to accept what pain may come in the future.  I understand that my life is worth more than what I previously felt it was.  I am set free from the lies that once encased me.  I am finally at peace with who I am.  I am moving forward and loving more boldly than I ever imagined possible for me.  I am finally me.

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