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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

A Walk in My Shoes

Dianna and I at Costco buying food for a church activity.  At this moment neither of us was aware that I would be coming out to her in a few hours. A few months ago I went to a conference in Mesa for gay Mormons.  I told my friend Dianna I was going and before I could invite her she said, "I want to go.  Can I go with you?"  I wanted to reach out and hug her in that moment.  Not only did she want to support me, but she wanted to understand what it was like to be me.  While we were at the conference listening to presentations she would lean over to me and ask, "Did you feel like that?" and I'd say, "Oh yeah."  A few minutes later, "Can you relate to what he's saying?"  "For sure."  On the way home she cried in the car briefly.  It was one of those rare times when instead of making me feel awkward the tears felt like a gift.  She said that she loves the church and its doctrines and that she supports our leaders who teach us of the eternal importance of marriage between a man and a woman.  But she also said that she cares about me and just wishes that I could marry who I wanted to marry.  I don't expect Dianna to support same-sex marriage.  In fact, I'm sure that she's a staunch supporter of traditional marriage and I'm totally cool with that.  But what I love about Dianna is that she cared about me enough to walk in my shoes and really try to understand what it's like to be gay and Mormon.  Precious few people in my life have done that and I'm so grateful for the ones who have.  Dianna earned my love and respect that day and to me she is an exemplary latter-day saint.  I wish more of my LDS friends were like her. As I read comment after comment on Facebook I just kept thinking, "They don't get it.  They don't understand what it's like to be gay."  I feel like too often we defend our church and our doctrines (which we most definitely should do), but forget to reach out to the people who are affected by them.  So let me tell you what it's like to be gay and Mormon. As a gay Mormon I have four options: 1. I can marry a woman 2. I can stay single and celibate 3. I could get a gay Mormon boyfriend and have a platonic, nonsexual relationship 4. I could leave the church and marry someone I'm attracted to I have seriously considered each of these options.  I've been on dates with dozens of women including 27 blind dates (it'd be difficult to find someone who's tried harder than I have to get married).  I've considered leaving the church a number of times.  I also went on a date with a nice gay Mormon boy, but that just didn't feel like the right thing to do either.  It's a terrible predicament that we gay Mormons are in.  We love the church and we want to stay, but we also long for a committed relationship with someone we're in love with and attracted to.  It's a heart wrenching Sophie's choice as we struggle to decide which of the two things to give up--romantic love or our faith.  For me, the church is just too important.  I believe it too much to leave.  Being Mormon is who I am and I feel that by choosing to remain active in the church I am being my authentic self.  So I'm sticking with option two. I've heard a lot of people say, "Choosing to be single and celibate isn't that bad.  It's just like any of the single women in the church who have never gotten married."  But it is not the same at all.  A single woman can get on her knees every night and plead with Heavenly Father to send her a righteous husband.  And if she ever did get married her congregation would throw the biggest celebration for her.  What about me?  What am I supposed to pray for?  What are the gay members of the church supposed to hope for?  Am I supposed to pray to not be gay?  I did that for years and years.  I eventually stopped praying for that and prayed that God would just help me find one girl, just one girl that I could love.  And that led to me feeling uncomfortable and making a few girls cry.  I have not been actively dating for the last two years.  You can tell me that I gave up too easily, that I should have had more faith, that I should keep trying, but I have felt so much happier these last two years.  I have felt so much more like me.  And I have no doubt that I'm living my life in a way that is pleasing to my Heavenly Parents. I read a number of comments on Facebook that said things like, "There's just so much we don't understand about this issue."  That annoyed me a little.  It's okay to not understand everything, but we must be actively seeking to understand as much as we can.  In my coming out post I shared an essay I wrote about bearing one another's burdens.  We need to understand what others are going through instead of flippantly disregarding what they're experiencing as an incomprehensible mystery.  Talk to people!  Carry their load!  Walk in their shoes!  Learn what if feels like to be divorced, or have a miscarriage, or to come over from a mission early, or have a mental illness, or have a wayward child.  The Lord defines Zion as a people that is of one heart (Moses 7:18).  To me, being of one heart means that we empathize with everyone and strive to feel what they feel. What would you do if you were me?  What would you hope for?  How would you cope with being a member of a church that teaches that marriage between a man and a woman is eternally essential and knowing that you just can't live that teaching?  Would you leave the church?  That's what more than half of our gay members do.  And I can totally empathize with that decision. Here's how I handle being gay and Mormon.  Earlier I said that I chose option two, but the truth is that I really choose secret option five.  I see five possibilities.  The last path is one that I can't define and that I'm not even aware of.  Paul wrote: "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor 2:9).  And Joseph Smith wrote: "Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation" (D&C 58:3).  To me it is clear.  We just cannot conceive of what is to come with our natural eyes.  My life is a testament of this.  The best things that happen to me are things that I never could have predicted or planned whether it be my current living situation, random awesome jobs, sudden trips abroad or unexpected friends.  I could share dozens of stories of things miraculously working out and working out in completely unexpected and perfect ways. Paul continues in the next verses to teach that while our natural senses can't understand these things that God makes them known to us through His Spirit.  Now, I'm not going to claim any great revelations, but I have felt time and time again that remaining an active participant in the church is the right thing for me.  And even though I live alone and eat dinner by myself most nights, I feel so much joy and happiness.  My life is good.  It is really good.  It's not the kind of life that I was taught to want, but it's the life I have and it's good. I have an assurance that really great things are going to happen to me in my life.  Things that I can't even imagine.  I have a conviction that if I stay true to the principles that I believe that all will be well.  I know that great things are coming because so many great things have already come.  I try to live my life according to this verse penned by Joseph Smith: "Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to the see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed" (D&C 123:17). If you walked in my shoes for a day you would see me eat my meals alone.  You would see me text and call people that I care about.  You would see me listen to podcasts to keep me company.  You would see me turn on music and dance while I put my dishes away.  You would see me go to work and then spend time with friends in the evening.  And you would see me come home alone and sit on my futon in silence.  And even though I spent my entire day with other people, you would watch me feel sad that I was alone in my house.  Then I'd pull out my scriptures and read a chapter or two and then sit and think about something that touched me.  And then I'd sit on my bed and write in my journal and shed a tear or two as I write about how good my life is and how blessed I am.  And I would mean every word.  Then I'd slide off my bed and kneel on the floor and thank Heavenly Father for all the good things in my life.  And you would watch me plead with Him that He would send us further light and knowledge and create more of a place for me and other gay Mormons in His church. This is the reaction that I had last Friday.  I wished that more people would walk in my shoes.

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