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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

The Freedom to Be Open about My Sexuality

I saw this delightful saying on a wall last week

Elder Clayton continued, "One cannot check religious identity at the church or synagogue exit or the door of one's home any more than one can check their race or ethnicity. Religious identity cannot be compartmentalized and stuffed into a box labeled 'private.'" He made it very clear that religious people should be free to be open about their religious beliefs, and I totally agree. If there’s one thing you know about me it’s probably that I’m Mormon. And if there are two things you know about me, the other one is probably that I’m gay. 

I couldn’t help but think about these two core identities that I hold as Elder Clayton spoke. There have been times in my life when I have been ridiculed for being open about my faith. And there have been times, many times, that members of my own faith have chastised me for being open about my sexuality. I have been told by multiple people that discussing my sexuality at church is inappropriate because it might “lead people to sin.” 

There are, no doubt, ways to discuss one’s sexual orientation that would be inappropriate. Like, if a woman stood at the pulpit to give her testimony and said, “I will now list which parts of the male body I find attractive.” But at the same time, it would be totally acceptable for her to say, “I’m so happy to be marrying my fiancé next week. He’s so sweet and handsome.” Right there, by addressing someone’s attractiveness, this hypothetical sister is discussing her sexuality.  

Heterosexuals discuss their sexuality in religious settings so much that I don’t think they realize they’re doing it. Yet when we homosexuals bring up our sexuality at church, we’re often told it’s not appropriate. For example, let’s imagine a bishop saying, “It’s so wonderful to have my beautiful wife with me today.” Did he just call his wife beautiful?! That’s a pretty sly way of announcing that he deals with opposite-sex attraction. Straight people talk about whom they’re attracted to all the time. In fact, they even have huge parties to celebrate that they found someone they love and are attracted to and then we cheer when they kiss and we buy them gifts (which reminds me that I owe someone a wedding gift). 

In a church where marriage is so frequently mentioned, it is logical that our sexualities will be part of the conversation. However, in a heteronormative society we just aren’t used to noticing when opposite-sex attractions are talked about. Mentions of heterosexual attractions go by unnoticed, but those of us bringing up our same-sex attractions are viewed with suspicion. 

I was in a class once at BYU and all the students did brief introductions on the first day of school. I managed to be one of the few single people in the class. As the married students were introducing themselves, they regularly mentioned their spouses and children. It is totally normal and expected for someone to be open about their spouse and children because they are such an integral part of their life. A few students said something along the lines of, “I don’t know what I’d do without my wife. I couldn’t live without her.” This feels like a reference to their opposite-sex attractions. When it was my turn, I said, “My name is Ben, and I know exactly what I’d do without my wife because I live every day without her.” 

Later in his talk Elder Clayton made this poignant remark: "My point is that misconstruing religious faith as a mere choice or preference, as something that can be adopted and discarded at will, radically misconceives the nature of religion in the lives of millions of faithful people. ... It reduces a way of life and a state of being to a pastime.” I love that! This resonates with me deeply. Now let me restate what Elder Clayton said to reflect another of my identities: My point is that misconstruing sexual orientation as a mere choice or preference, as something that can be adopted and discarded at will, radically misconceives the nature of sexuality in the lives of millions of faithful people. ... It reduces a way of life and a state of being to pleasure-seeking.

In February I gave a fireside titled "Finding My Place in the Kingdom as a Gay Mormon" at a stake in Atlanta, Georgia. After the meeting a woman came up to me in tears. As she hugged me she said, “I thought you were going to teach me what it’s like to be gay and Mormon, but instead you taught me about the Atonement.” I love that being free and open about one part of myself, my sexual orientation, can help people understand what lies at the core of another part of myself, my faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.  Asking me to not talk about my orientation is like asking me to hide part of my heart. Speaking honestly and appropriately about who I am and what I believe allows me to be a whole person. 

**If you've read this far and would like to see how I discuss my faith and sexuality, you can listen to an interview I did here.**

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