Why I Care About What the Duck Guy Said

homophobia

I’ve seen a lot of reactions on social media from my moderate or conservative friends, and even some allies and liberal friends, wondering why we in the LGBT community and our allies are making such a big deal out of a random celebrity, a stranger who we most likely don’t know, and what he has said. I cannot speak for everyone in the community or for our allies, but this is my reason.

Somewhere in the US, or anywhere in the world with the internet, there is a young gay, bi, or trans teenager who is trying to come to terms with their sexuality or gender identity and could be dealing with all kinds of self-worth issues. This kid has just read the statements from this famous person, from one of the most watched shows on TV.

This famous guy has equated this kid, and something tied into their very identity, to a deviant who has sex with animals. Duck guy then also tried to stand behind God and his religious teachings as an excuse for that statement.

To compound the problem, that teenager also might have just seen a good friend, or a sibling, or even a parent go on Facebook and loudly proclaim how such a statement isn’t hateful, that he should be celebrated for ‘answering honestly’ and how dare anyone disagree or make a big deal of it?!

When the average, non-LGBT kid, is dealing with prejudice in a lot of areas, be it based on gender, race, religion, body size, intelligence, anything that a young person is often bullied for, almost always, NOT always, but almost always, they come home to a family of the same race, religion, similar body size or intelligence, people that can relate to their experience. They can confide their pain in their friends and family.

Many LGBT teenagers either cannot or feel that they cannot confide in their friends or family when they hear statements like this in the media or elsewhere, especially if they are yet to come out. Often these kinds of damaging statements can be echoing out of the mouths of their friends, their family, their parents or their church leaders as well.

Many LGBT many kids have to find their only support from what they hear in the media from organizations like GLAAD and from liberal allies and friends who make a stand in their own personal social networks.

Statistically it is likely that I have gay friends and family in my social network that have yet to come out and might be struggling with their own self-worth and acceptance like I was just a few short years ago.

So when things like this blow up on the internet, you better believe I am going to be yelling as loudly as I can how ignorant, idiotic, and hateful these kinds of comments are in the hopes that someone sees it and knows that there are people on every level fighting for their acceptance who cares about them, that their attraction is not evil and says nothing about their character.

My reach and influence may be small, but I’m going to use it anyway, because I have to. I cannot be silent about it.

Family-Rejection-Suicide-Attempts

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Spiritual Irony: The Faith-Shattering Testimony Meeting

Hello again! I seriously cannot believe it is October already. In planning for my blog posts I realized I started this blog by telling my story and need to get current before I get too topical…if that makes any sense.

So, to do that I suppose the natural order of things would be to return to what happened after I decided to leave BYUI. I left in April 2010.  Interest in school became kind of erratic in the next two years. I’m only now really going back to school in a serious way, and finally recapturing what I’d loved about school when separated from a religious context.

When I got home I went back to attending my local young single adult congregation and participated in an admittedly limited way. I think on some level I realized I was already losing the battle in my desire to remain in the church. I came out to my bishop, assuring him of my worthiness but worried about my faith and testimony. He gave me the book for the church’s addiction recovery program… yeah… That interview could have gone better.

While I became less active in my ward I actually increased my prayer and scripture study. I was determined to find answers that the church couldn’t or wouldn’t provide me. I was always disappointed listening to General Conference and frustrated by their inability to address much outside of, ‘Pray, read your scriptures, pay your tithing, etc, etc.” Also the more I read about the history of the church and conference talks, and from the scriptures was compounding the frustration.  I mean, I believed in a church which claimed direct, prophetic revelation from God. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young certainly never took half measures much of anything. Joseph once pointed at a rock in Missouri and said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘That’s the altar where Adam prayed after being kicked out of the garden.’ Young talked about what kind of food we would be eating after the resurrection! Where was the revelation about why people are gay, about when the spirit enters the body, about if stillborn children will be resurrected or not? Those issues, God is silent on, but celestial cucumbers, that’s essential to our salvation?!

Then the straw that broke the camel’s back arrived. It stemmed from a General Conference talk from Boyd Packer, an Apostle in the LDS church, that he gave in October 2010. I don’t want to get too much into this talk right now because I think it could be an entire post in and of itself. It set off a firestorm among gay rights activists, Mormon and non, and I hear it caused quite a stir in Provo (site of BYU) and Salt Lake City.

It was in a reaction to that talk in my singles’ ward though that set off the final chain reaction. While sitting and listening to a Fast and Testimony Meeting (where members of the congregation are invited to the podium as they want to speak on their beliefs and ‘bare their testimony’) a guy in his early-twenties, who was in a leadership position, went up to the podium. After beginning the usual way, he took a tangent and began talking about how he had a friend in Provo and how they’d been discussing Packer’s talk and the resulting fallout. He went on to affirm Packer’s words about how God would never make someone gay, that it must have originated by some kind of choice, or as a consequence of some action taken during life. He was certain in his belief that the Atonement of Christ can and would fix anything, and that those who were struggling with this just simply were not trying hard enough.

I looked around and saw the huge number of people in the congregation nodding in rapt approval and agreement.

To them, and apparently so many LDS people, it’s just that simple. I hadn’t prayed hard enough, hadn’t fasted earnestly enough, and hadn’t searched the scriptures well enough to find the answer that would just make it all okay, that would make Christ’s Atonement finally work for me. Even at my most devout, doing all that I knew how to beg God’s intervention in my life, they were telling me that hadn’t been good enough, and that was that. Well… I certainly wasn’t going to rise above the level of faithfulness I had on my mission and just after, so I was doomed, according to this logic.

I suddenly and immediately had enough of it. Luckily he was the last person to speak before the meeting was closed. I walked out and that was the last time I attended church as a believer.

I drove to a large park near the church I attended and parked in my favorite spot overlooking this little lake and just sat there fuming, trying to relax and reflect. I stared at the beautiful sight and just contemplated everything, all of it seeming to rush through my head at once. I had recently come out to my non-member friends (another blog post to come) and I contrasted their love and acceptance with what I was hearing and feeling at church. I thought of my family and how they would react. How any decision I could make would affect them. Scriptures in my mind flooded to the surface like I was reading them out loud, in my head. Passages from Luke, and Genesis, from 2 Nephi and Alma, it was a very intense experience. I was angry, and frustrated, and hurt, and afraid, and sobbing like a mad man.

Despite all the emotional and irrational chaos in my head, one thought kept emerging from it. Despite every reason to stay, or go, despite my feelings on everything I had experienced, it stood alone. “I’m not happy.” The church culture and doctrine on homosexuality was choking me and I knew I had to leave. I said a prayer and told God what I had decided. I didn’t feel any doubt, any fear anymore, no hesitation and I made the decision firmly and committed to it.

Two things happened pretty simultaneously. The first was a huge realization of what I had just ‘given up.’ It cut straight to my heart with all the implications as if my head was warning me, “You know this is going to have a lot of social and familial repercussions, massive ones. Be sure this is what you want.”

The second came in the form of utter elation. You know that feeling when you eat your favorite flavor of ice cream, or the peace of reading a book during a thunderstorm, or the feeling of a high-speed dive on a roller coaster? It was like all of that at once. I knew immediately that I had made the right decision, and a massive, two-decade weight flew from my shoulders. Despite trials that would follow, so many things in my life started locking into place in a great way, helping give me confirmation that everything was going to be alright, eventually.

Thoughts on Suicide

I really need to get back into this more than once a month, though I suppose I’m happy I’m doing this well. No blog before this has had this much success for me in terms of how often I write.  Some news outside of this blog for anyone interested: I’m back in school, taking two classes from my local community college, Comp 2 and IT Intro Networking. Both are going swimmingly, but have started to take up more of my time. Rehearsals also start back up tonight for the Heartland Men’s Chorus which I’m a member of. It’s going to be a very exciting, very busy fall. I can’t wait.

I’ve decided to take a break from the chronological narrative this post. My next in that vein is going to be about my main theological snag that ‘broke the camel’s back’ as it were and led me to leave the church. However, it is appropriately complex and deep, and I’m still working on it. I want to give it the justice and time it deserves. It’s important to me that people reading this understand all my thoughts in the clearest way I can give.

So instead I’m doing a topical post, which is something I’ll likely do more of in the future. When you come out to people, you get, understandably, a lot of questions. The first is always “When did you know?” One that invariably comes up is the depressing, “Did you ever consider suicide?” I’m lucky that, in the strictest sense, my answer is no.

I add that little caveat because though I never got anywhere close to doing action in taking my own life, there were periods on my mission where I wanted to die, and not because I was sad, depressed, or sinful, but because I was worthy, and I wanted to stay that way.

About four or five weeks into my mission I confessed to my Mission President my pre-mission transgressions that I should have taken care of, according to LDS theology, before my mission and before going through the temple. I sent letters to my Stake President, and Bishops to whom I had been less than truthful during my temple and missionary interview process, apologizing for my deceit. Once through the repentance process, I felt better about things because I had gone through the process taught to me and in my mind, things were back on track. I had done the remorse thing, the penance thing and lots of praying and asking forgiveness. A month or so later I felt worthy, happy, and gung ho about the mission again.

The oddest feeling struck me about six months into the mission. Everything was going rather well. I was in a good area, the people were nice, and the work was successful. We were walking down 13th East back down towards our apartment in Draper, for lunch. I want to say near 126th South? It’s been a while. It’s a decently busy area and a fun hill to drive down and offers a beautiful view of Corner Canyon near where we could see the Draper Temple being constructed.

We had decided to walk up the area to some of the neighborhoods in our area to go tracting for exercise and because we wanted to save on miles for the car. As we were walking down the hill, and I looked at the temple construction site, I had this weird thought cross my mind. ‘Given your same-gender attraction, this might be the best things get for your spiritually.’ I was a temple-worthy missionary. I was as close to pure as I was ever going to reach. I had given up my normal life to do God’s work to preach, there was no greater calling, right? I had the clear and distinct wish, almost a silent prayer, that a car would jump the curb and strike me dead at that moment so I could return to heaven, clean and pure, and not ‘ruin it’ for myself after the mission.

Think about that for a minute. It’s not technically a suicidal thought, as the definition of suicide implies intentional taking of one’s own life, but what would you call it? Spiritual death wish? It wasn’t isolated either, that thought would occur to me more times throughout the next eighteen months. What lead me to this?

It would be easy for me at this moment to blame the church and church teachings about worthiness, cleanliness, and the afterlife. Yet LDS belief about judgment and the afterlife is actually among the best in Christianity, in my opinion. Christ, the man who had suffered all, and knew my pain intimately, would be my judge. Someone with infinite knowledge of my life and my struggles, about my intentions and the nature of my heart, he would be the one to pass judgment on me, and I knew, according to church teachings, that I believed in a merciful, loving God and Savior. To throw the LDS church a bone, because some think that I’ve somehow made it my life’s mission to destroy it, as if I could, the church has some really great views about suicide and the afterlife, as much as is possible anyway.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking at the funeral of a good friend who took his life, stated:
“God has said ‘You leave this to me.’ We’re not wise enough to make judgments in such matters. We don’t know enough. We did not walkwith Karl in that dark night. As much as we have known him and as much as we have loved him, we have not been able to imagine whatKarl must have been thinking. Because we can’t and because God can, he has said, ‘You leave this to me.’ And in such times when we do not know why this would happen, then we cling to what we do know. Itis a great rule of life: When we come to things we do not know and donot understand, we hold more firmly to things we do know and do understand. We know that God lives and loves Karl. We know that Christ went into that Garden and to the summit of Calvary, for Karl. We know that life is eternal. We know that the plan of salvationis perfect. We know that redemption, renewal, restoration and resurrection are great principles of the gospel, great images ofChrist. And so we don’t throw any rocks and we don’t fail to forgive. Inthis case, we probably aren’t able even to understand. We simply yield to God in this.”

Yet the simple fact remains, there is an epidemic of young, gay, Mormons who are committing suicide each year, added to the numbers of non-Mormon gay kids who are also taking their own lives. Then you have others like me, simply wishing they would die so as not to ‘ruin’ their worthiness.

My only conclusion I can come to is that theology plus culture is creating this problem. Life for many can be an isolated hell. Life just gets hard to deal with. When you add to that a teaching many in the LDS church believe as doctrine, that the lowest of the three Kingdoms of Glory (one of the three heavens people will go to after judgment day) is so beautiful and peaceful, is it a wonder some might see the afterlife as immensely preferable to this one? I’m afraid that so much emphasis in the LDS church on worthiness and working towards perfection creates psychological side effects for some people that are hard to identify and to combat.

I’m really just speculating. I don’t have any degrees in psychology, psychiatry, sociology, or even theology or philosophy. I just know that this is happening, and we need to watch what we say to young people in our lives. Remember that your children hear every word you say and internalize it as near absolute truth most of the time. Constantly tell all in your life that they are loved and wanted right here, that it really does get better. No matter how bad, or even good, life is, it can and will get better.

Starting with Me

They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, yet that first step is always the most daunting. I suppose when making a blog about my story in leaving the LDS church and the reasons behind it, it would be best to start with a little bit about who I am, and how I came to be who I am today.

As of this entry, I am a 26 year old gay man living in the greater Kansas City area. I am no longer active in the Mormon church and do not consider myself a member, but am still technically a member, meaning my name is still on the records of the church.

I was born in Sandy, Utah, at Alta View Hospital, in September of 1985 — an awesome birth year in my opinion — to two incredible parents, to be the youngest of four children. I have an older brother who is a little over three years older than me, and two sisters who are nine and seven years older than me. I was born into the Mormon church, both of my parents having been married in the Manti Temple, making me what is considered a ‘child of record’ in the church. This means that I was on the records of the church from my birth. In a decision I regularly thank my parents for, my Dad took a job that moved our family to Kansas City when I was still just two years old, a city that I love to this day and where I hope to spend my life.

From everyone else’s perspective I probably seemed to have had a very typical Mormon upbringing and childhood. I was baptized at age 8, became a deacon, teacher and priest at the appropriate ages. I held various callings in my teens including president of the teacher’s quorum, priest’s quorum first assistant, and even a stake youth representative, in which I helped to plan, and teach at, a youth conference. I went to early morning seminary, though I stopped going my senior year because of early morning school commitments and thus never graduated. I gave a number of talks in church, that were very well received by the members who talked to me afterwards. I would request the opportunity, even, of my Bishopric (the bishop and his two counselors) because I enjoyed the preparation and delivering of talks. I went to stake dances, participated in mutual (youthgroup), scouting, received a patriarchal blessing, and did everything I was instructed to do as I prepared to serve a full-time mission at age 19. I was, by all accounts, a good, happy, Mormon kid.

The problem was, I was not happy. I was not good, at least I didn’t view myself that way. I had a problem. A huge problem that I didn’t know how to deal with.

When I was in sixth grade I was the target of a large amount of teasing, something that followed me through the end of middle school (eighth grade). I attended Pembroke Hill at the time, and small class sizes and differences in religion and socioeconomic status will cause a number of issues with elementary and middle school aged kids. Strangely enough I was never teased about my religion, or about the fact that my parents weren’t as rich as the kids who I went to school with. Kids started leaving notes in my locker calling me gay, whispering about me as I walked past in the halls, and outright making fun of me during classes, lunch time, basically whenever the moment struck them.

At the time I didn’t even know what ‘gay’ meant. I just knew I was being called it and that these kids didn’t like it. Eventually I would connect it with the attraction that I started to develop in my male classmates, and the realization that my other male classmates were different than me. They were all talking about girls in the way I was feeling about them. Slowly I began to understand I was different than them, but that it was something I not only couldn’t admit or act on, I had to deny it and do my best to try to tell them they were wrong. I spent all of sixth through eighth grade trying to be invisible and created a giant social shell to hide in.

I remember in an early Sunday School class the topic once came up. I had to have been around 14 or so. I spoke up, naively, saying that gay people were born that way. I had certainly never chosen to have these feelings. I was instantly, and vehemently, corrected by one of the girls in my class, around my same age. I remember it vividly, I still remember which classroom in that church building it was in. She looked very sternly at me and said, “No, Trent, it’s a choice. Gay people choose to be that way, and God doesn’t like it.” The teacher, who’s name I still remember, must have felt like that just about covered it, so we moved on with the rest of the lesson.

This provided me with my first theological crisis. I certainly had no memory of choosing to be gay. If I had chosen it, how could I go about unchoosing it? I didn’t want to be this way. If I didn’t remember choosing it, did I choose it when I was really young somehow? Was it a consequence of a choice made when I was really young? That’s the theory that stuck in my head. I had done something, either in the earliest part of my life, or perhaps even in the pre-earth life, to make God mad at me. This was my punishment. I was broken. I was an abomination before God, and he hated me for being the way I was. I hated myself too. I hated myself for doing whatever it was that caused this, for ruining my life before it had even begun.

This feeling was reiterated by the many things I heard from Priesthood leaders, Sunday School teachers, others in the church, from talks and conversations, and even though they didn’t know they were doing it, my parents and family. The sentiment was just so commonplace. It was just the way it was, no one really questioned it, it just was. This was how I viewed myself until I was about a quarter of the way through my mission, when I read a book that changed my life.

This is getting long, so I’ll start there with my next entry. Please feel free to leave comments or questions below, I’ll definitely respond or address them in my next entry.