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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

What It Was Like in the Closet

Recently a straight friend of mine told me that he didn’t understand why coming out is such a struggle for people nowadays since being gay isn’t as taboo as it used to be. To respond to that comment I'd like to share what being in the closet was like for me. It's been nine years since I started coming out and the world has changed a lot since then, but my experience is similar to those of other gay Mormons I know. 

Luckily I don't have to rely solely on my memory to remember what life was like before I started telling people I experience same-sex attraction. A few months ago I was looking for something in my closet and I found an old journal. I’ve been a faithful journaler for a number of years now and when I was 23 and really struggling with my sexuality I needed an outlet. I hadn’t come out to anyone yet and, quite honestly, I thought I never would. So I kept a secret journal. I still felt that having same-sex attraction was just a phase and I was terrified that my future children would ever find out that I had struggled with something so shameful and gross. The few entries in the journal are filled with hope, yearning for answers, and a deep desire to stay true to my beliefs.

And fear. Pages and pages of fear.

There are only 11 entries in the journal. Part of my first entry on 27 June 2007 says, “Since I was a teenager I have struggled with same gender attraction. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted that fact except in prayer.” I was 23 years old. Admitting that on paper was a big deal for me. I go on to explain that most of the stories I’d read about gay Mormons end with them leaving the church. I continued, “I will not let that happen to me. I must keep myself worthy at all costs, but it’s so hard.” It appears that I might have been a little melodramatic when I was 23. The purpose of the journal was to record the things I learned to help me stay faithful and to be an outlet for my feelings.

I feared that I would break the commandments. I feared that I would be alone forever. I feared that people would find out. On 28 June 2007 I wrote, “I’m scared that I’ll have to admit my same gender attraction to my family. I know they’d still love me and support me, but I know that it’d be hard for them to deal with. I’d rather go through this alone than hurt my parents. I just want to make them happy.” Keeping my secret from them was pretty foolish. I thought that I was doing them a favor by not telling them. I thought that I was strong enough to deal with it on my own. I was wrong. 

This entry from 2 July 2007 made me smile because of the simple hope I had. It also reminded me of how much of my self-worth was attached to my ability to get married. I just wanted so much to be good and I just wanted to get married like I was supposed to. I wrote, “On Sunday I was really excited because a girl taught Sunday School that I usually don’t find pretty, but she looked super pretty that day. It gave me a lot of hope. I felt like things were improving. Then that night I went to my friend’s house and her roommate’s boyfriend was there. He’s really handsome and I was sickened with myself for thinking so. He was almost too good looking.” I remember that guy and he really was attractive. Finding a woman attractive = feeling good. Finding a man attractive = feeling sick. This was my reality and it was destroying me. 

Throughout the journal I beg for understanding. For example, on 7 July 2007 I wrote, “What is the reason for this trial? I know that someday it will end and I pray that God will hasten the day.” The next day I wrote, “I pray that God will help me know what my mission and purpose is. If it isn’t to get married, then what is it?” The word trial appears over and over again. Same-sex attraction was an affliction and it was meant to be conquered so I fought and I fought and I fought. I tried to be as righteous and faithful as I possibly could be. I read the scriptures every day, I went to church every week, I prayed all the time, I attended the temple weekly, and I bore my testimony every day as an MTC teacher. But I just kept spiraling downward. Then in my journal I quoted Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Even though I was dying on the inside, I felt I had to trust in God.

The fear continued, but so did my faith and hope. I have heard that faith and fear can’t coexist, but I disagree. My secret journal details the immense fears I felt while at the same time feeling hopeful. For example, I wrote, “'Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’ Psalm 30:5. My trials can be very difficult. At times they make me want to give up, but I know that if I’m faithful that my pain will only endure for a night.” Here’s another scripture I quote trying to focus on hope and trust. Job 23:10 “But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

But the fear was always there. On 13 July 2007 I wrote, “I’ve wanted to tell my roommate Craig about my same-sex attraction, but I don’t know if that would be a good idea. Would I find a good support system or lose a friend?” Luckily for me my fear was unfounded. When I came out to Craig a month later he responded in a way that healed my heart (you can read about that here). There are only 11 entries in my secret journal because after coming out to Craig and Mitch in August I felt like it was safe to write all my feelings and experiences in my regular journal. The fear I felt did not go away, but it lessened immediately and considerably when I started being honest and vulnerable with my friends. 

When I was 28 I moved to Tucson and I went back in the closet. No one there knew I was gay and I was again afraid to tell people. After being there for five months I came out to my roommate Kevin. For almost an entire year he was the only person in the city who knew I was gay, and it was one of the worst years of my life. That’s because being in the closet is hard. The fear came back, the loneliness came back, and life got bleak again.

Now I’m about to celebrate four years of living in Tucson and I’ve never been happier. I don’t feel alone or afraid at all. Being open and honest has made all the difference. My faith is strong and so is my hope. What has made all the difference for me is that as I have been vulnerable and shared my secret with people, they have reached out with loving kindness. I have seen that people are good and that they love me just how I am. For me, the truth really did set me free.

So why is it hard to come out? Because fear and loneliness can be absolutely paralyzing. But for me, it was 100% the right thing to do. 

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