Anissa grew up in Utah in a very loving, fun, energetic LDS family home. She has eight sisters and one brother. She attended BYU-Idaho earning two Associate degrees. In 1995, she served a mission in Hong Kong, China. After returning from her mission she attended Utah State University where she met her husband, Brent Olsen. She recently received her Personal Trainer certification, loves to attend theater productions, attend live sporting events, learning to quilt, and distance running. She currently has a calling in Young Women working with wonderful girls. She is the proud mother of four boys and lives in Texas.
Prior to Meeting Brent
I grew up with very little self-confidence. Little did I know in my formative years that my journey to become a confident woman would provide a key moment later in life with my husband. I was shy as a young child and felt hesitant to try new things.
As a youth, I became more outgoing but was very self-conscious. I believed that I never excelled in anything: grades, sports, or any other skills. So when I started Junior High, it became hard for me to find my place and get involved. I did enjoy being in student government and feeling like I could give back to others in this way. However, I also felt confused because the boys that hung out with my close girlfriends seemed to make fun of me a lot. I remember one incident where I was running for a student government position and some of the boys were chanting my opponent’s name right in my face and telling those in the hallway to vote for him. I felt hurt and confused. I didn’t understand why they were acting this way and I didn’t know what I had done to them to deserve this treatment. My opponent won that year. He had been so sweet to me during the election that I was almost convinced I should vote for him! But after he won, he never spoke to me again. I was crushed.
I let the negative comments and experiences stay with me, which affected my self-confidence. I wanted to spend time with my girlfriends but when the boys who hurt me were also around, I desired to remove myself from others. I didn’t feel confident to stand up for myself, so I found myself going along with the crowd instead of sticking up for what I believed was right.
Later in high school, I started getting some positive attention from guys and it was exciting. I was still very insecure, so when dating relationships with guys came up, I always let the guy take the lead. I based my self-esteem on how much a guy paid attention to me. This was a new feeling for me and I thought I liked it. Even if I didn’t want to kiss a guy, I allowed it to happen if they tried because I was too afraid of losing their approval. This “approval” gave me a sense of security and belonging. I became so focused on approval from these guys that I lost sight of my girlfriends. I realized at the end of my junior year that while my girlfriends were getting closer and closer to each other, I had spent all my time with guys. Then, my boyfriend broke up with me, and I was devastated. He was my security blanket – and now he was gone. I had based my sense of self-worth on his approval. I found myself without friends and without a boyfriend my senior year. I felt so dumb that I was ending high school this way that I would hide myself in the bathroom during lunchtime so no one would see me eating lunch alone. Looking back, I know I could have had close friends but my lack of self-confidence hindered my relationships.
Luckily, I was born in an incredible loving family with siblings that genuinely cared about me and to this day are my best friends. I was taught the principles of the Gospel by my parents and wonderful leaders growing up. I had many great examples to look up to. I know now this was a great blessing given to me to help me with my self-confidence issues.
At age 21, I went on a mission to Hong Kong. Serving a full-time mission was something I always wanted to do. My mission was a sign of hope to gaining some self-esteem. My mission helped me face my fears of talking to people I didn’t know, standing up for what I believe in, and bringing out the strong testimony I didn’t even realize I had within me.
I sat in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah when President Gordon B. Hinckley read “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” at the General Relief Society Meeting on September 23, 1995. I knew what an important subject he was talking about and I felt the spirit as it increased my testimony of eternal families. I had no idea that later in life, reading and rereading these words would give me so much hope in building a testimony of eternal families and being faithful through trials so my family could be eternal.
Meeting & Dating Brent
Before my dating years as a youth, I remember one Sunday sitting in my young women class at church. Each of us were given a sheet of paper by our youth leader, and told to write the qualities we wanted to have in the man we would one day marry. I wrote on my list:
- Loves kids & wants to have lots of kids
- Hard working
- Returned missionary
- Faith in the gospel
- Sense of humor
- Good provider
- Loves life
- Kind to those he knows and meets
- Able to hold the priesthood
As I went to write the last characteristic, I hesitated because I felt like it was not a must but would definitely be an added bonus to my future husband. The last item on my list was:
After my mission, I went to visit my sister, Mariah, at Utah State University. Mariah took me around and introduced me to several of her friends, including a guy named Brent. We were all talking on the balcony in the hallway outside Brent’s apartment, and then Mariah got sidetracked with another friend passing by. Suddenly I found myself alone with Brent and it hit me that he was the first guy I had been alone with since returning home from Hong Kong. I remember feeling an immediate connection with him and had a desire to get to know him more. I don’t remember what I said to him during that time but I remember being on the balcony and feeling so happy to be around him and awkward at the same time because I didn’t even know him. After this initial encounter, I returned home to work, and even though I didn’t see Brent again until I returned as a student to Utah State nine months later, I had thought about him and hoped we would have the opportunity to get to know each other better.
At that time, I moved into the same apartment complex my sister had lived in where Brent and I had met earlier and we immediately struck up a conversation my first week at church. I updated him about my sister that was now on a mission and I hoped that he had forgotten my awkwardness 9 months earlier. Lucky for me, he asked me out the next week. We went Ice Skating at Merlin Olson Park on a group date and warmed up at his apartment with hot chocolate afterwards. It was romantic and I loved being around him from the start. He was easy to talk to and had a very welcoming, fun personality. His smile made his eyes light up and I knew I was attracted to him.
After going on dates for several weeks, Brent came by my apartment and asked me to take a walk with him in the snow. After bundling up for the cold, we started walking. He told me he really liked me and wanted to pursue our relationship further. With other guys I had dated, this was typically the point where they would try to kiss me. But instead of kissing me, he told me how much he liked me and started listing all of the reasons why. To this day, this night is one of my most treasured conversations! I wish I could have recorded it to listen to often. He told me how he enjoyed that I love to have fun, I love to laugh, I care deeply about others, I have a strong testimony, I am always striving to improve, I am patient, how I have a knack for making ordinary things special, and learning to conquer my fears.
I was so happy to have Brent express this to me! This was different than anything I had ever experienced with another guy. The feelings I had for Brent were definitely mutual and I loved the attributes I saw in him. I told him that night how much this meant to me and how much I cared about him. I believed the things he was telling me. It made me happy to realize that my self-esteem was growing--not because he listed the reasons he loved me, but because I realized his words were reaffirming what I already knew.
We continued to have incredible dates. He took me to concerts, dances, played the piano for me while I tried to do my homework, and he even serenaded me. One day I remembered the paper I had written years before in Young Women and thought, WOW! He not only has every trait I wrote down but he also has the “bonus trait” of being musical. Because of the way he treated me, the dates we had gone on, the way I felt when I was around him, and this realization that he had all the attributes on my list, he was definitely someone I wanted to marry.
As things were getting more serious we naturally shared about our inner feelings and excitement of marriage, and the future we hoped to have together. One night, he sat me down and told me he had me something very important to tell me. I was excited as I was hoping he felt the same as I about moving forward to talk about our possible engagement. Instead, he surprised me by telling me that he experienced same-sex attraction. I was shocked. This was not the conversation I was expecting at all. The spirit immediately came over me and we ended up having a very long conversation. It didn’t take long for me to think about the Proclamation on the Family and the line in it that states, “Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan”. I knew I wanted to marry, but this was definitely not something that I had imagined would be part of my marriage. When it came down to it, the most important things to me were that my future husband loved me, had a testimony of the Church, and that he was willing to marry me in the temple. I knew he fulfilled all of these and I realized that what he told me did not change how I felt about us getting married, or how I felt about him.
I was excited to start our marriage together and knew as time went on that we would become closer and that as we became closer, the same sex attraction would diminish, right? WRONG.
Starting our marriage together
Our engagement and wedding was exciting! We had a beautiful June wedding and an outdoor reception. I enjoyed being with the people that I loved on my wedding day and was so excited to start this new part of my life.
The first several years of being together, I felt like we had a normal, open, fun relationship. We also experienced the regular challenges I expected with going to school and raising small children at the same time. We had our first son just a little over a year after we had gotten married. I decided to quit school and work full time to put Brent through grad school. We were poor college students but it didn’t matter. We were creating fun memories with friends, learning to be parents, and growing together. Brent was affectionate and frequently expressed his love for me. I loved this time of our marriage and have many fond memories of our days in Logan, Utah.
Every once in a while I would ask Brent about his same sex attraction. He would briefly mention that it was “fine” and then change the subject. I honestly thought the feelings for other men were diminishing and felt happy our marriage was turning out just as I had thought.
We had our second son, then third, and I found myself consumed with the tasks of providing for my young children. By this time, Brent was full swing in a career now and traveling for his job. We were busy and communication became more about the logistics of our week and what our children’s needs were at the given moment. What I didn’t know was that over the years Brent had been struggling with his feelings of same sex attraction and was not sharing this with me.
Learning to really understand Brent (and myself)
Six months after our fourth son was born, we moved to the East Bay Area in northern California the year that Proposition 8 was up for vote. We noticed over time that more people were discussing questions such as, “Why does it matter who you marry, as long as you love each other?” and statements such as, “Something must be really wrong with someone who has feelings for the same sex.” Questions and statements like these made me study the Proclamation on the Family further and other sources on the importance of a man being married to a woman.
I quickly became involved with making phone calls to voters, calling local churches to see if they want to pass out yard signs to their congregations, passing out a letter in our community written by our friends promoting YES on Proposition 8, wearing a bumper sticker on my back during a race I attended in San Francisco, and then the day before the election taking my kids to the local mall and holding up signs one last time to let others know the importance of protecting the definition of marriage. Meanwhile, my husband was in internal turmoil. I had no idea that all these actions were hurting his feelings and causing him to question what he believed. One night before going to bed, I was frustrated with our lack of communication. I cried. He eventually opened up and admitted to me that he was questioning his role as my husband, as a father to our 4 children, and his relationship with God. He and I cried as we embraced.
It was hard for my husband and me to understand how our situation fit in God’s plan for us. He struggled to understand his feelings and wanted them to go away. He could not comprehend how he could be a good husband and father with these feelings. He and I thought that as we got closer and were married longer, these feelings would go away. We were now married over 10 years and Brent’s same-sex attraction had not changed. I struggled to know how I could support him and what could help our marriage survive.
As my faith was being tested because of the experiences of being involved with Prop 8, the statement in the proclamation came back to me. “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individual, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” I knew Satan was working on us hard to tell us that our marriage was not worth fighting for and I refused to believe this.
One night as I was wrestling with this, I wrote in my journal about the opposition I was feeling. Here is an excerpt of my journal entry that night:
2 Nephi 2:11 states “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things”. Elder Uchtdorf covered this beautifully in October 2008 conference. He talks about the despair we can feel when we let opposition get to us. He said, “The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward” (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign, November 1998, p. 22) How depressing is that. And that is exactly what Satan wants us to feel like. But there is HOPE!
THERE IS HOPE and I have it! Elder Uchtdorf goes on to say, “Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and of fear.
“Hope is not knowledge but rather the abiding trust that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us. It is confidence that if we live according to God’s laws and the words of His prophets now, we will receive desired blessings in the future. It is believing and expecting that our prayers will be answered. It is manifest in confidence, optimism, enthusiasm, and patient perseverance. In the language of the gospel, this hope is sure, unwavering, and active. The prophets of old speak of a “firm hope” and a “lively hope.” It is a hope glorifying God through good works. With hope comes joy and happiness. With hope, we can “have patience, and bear … [our] afflictions.”(Alma 34:41) (“The Infinite Power of Hope,” Ensign, November 1998, p. 22)
That night as I wrote in my journal, I knew I had that hope and it inspired me. I was grateful that my marriage was based upon a relationship that both my husband and I had with God. The world could tell us that our marriage would fail, but with hope, I knew I would not give up on us.
The next few years were tough but a necessary change in our relationship. Brent started seeking out others with same-sex attraction to relate to and found North Star. He also signed up to go to Journey Into Manhood. We both discussed some value that could come from utilizing these resources but I have to admit that I did not see how “hanging out” with others with SSA could be a good thing. He felt strongly about it and I told him I didn’t understand, but I was willing to go forward. I prayed hard for Heavenly Father to help me understand how this could help. One of the things that helped me realize what a great resource we had found was the mission of North Star included a part which states, “North Star serves those who desire the spiritual and social support that strengthens faith, builds character, and empowers men and women to live in joy and harmony within their covenants, values, and beliefs as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. Their mission statement touched me. I felt a great peace knowing there was a resource out there for my family to help us understand and know how we could not only live in harmony with our covenants in this situation but could also have joy.
Brent and I had discussed seeking out these resources but he was verbally not sharing his feelings much with me about what it was like to be involved. We discussed how to get involved but he would not share with me what happened when he got together with these men, how it made him feel, and if it was helping or hindering him. Even though I trusted Brent, I became scared. I was scared that he was questioning what I thought he loved and desired, scared that the resources were not helping, scared that someone had convinced him that fighting for his eternal family wasn’t worth it, and scared he wanted his new friends more than me. These fears and our limited communication were driving me crazy because I continuously wondered what he thought.
It was during this time that I felt impressed to tell him of my feelings of increased self-worth. I knew I was worth fighting for and that I deserved a good marriage. Over the years I had let the experiences of my childhood, my mission, and becoming closer to God shape me into a more confident woman. I understood my divine nature. Instead of telling myself stories of people not accepting me and wanting to be with me, I had started concentrating on my relationship with my Heavenly Father. That gradual change in my confidence allowed me to tell Brent to not worry about me. I knew our marriage had and could be great. But I also knew that I would not base my self-esteem off of his choices.
Even though I felt impressed to talk to Brent about this, I also felt extremely anxious. He had never expressed that he wanted to end our marriage, but I felt like I was giving him permission to leave me by expressing this and I definitely didn’t want that. Despite my fears, I followed the prompting. When I expressed this to Brent, I could see a weight being lifted off his shoulders. It was relieving to him to not have to worry about me and he could concentrate on his journey that would eventually lead to OUR journey. This was a key moment for me as I realized that my independence was actually something that was helping our relationship. He did not want the “weight” of worrying about how his actions would affect me and being codependent on him was not going to help. Looking back, I now realize that I was being very blessed with lots of strength and power. I was carrying the faith in our marriage, faith in our family, and faith in our testimonies for both of us for a while.
Continuing Our Journey Together
Marriage is a wonderful, hard journey that helps me grow and learn every day. Even though I needed to carry the faith in our marriage for a while, I started to realize that there are times Brent has carried my faith as well. He has increased my faith in self-confidence and my faith in being a good mother. I know there will be many other opportunities to do this and I hope I can continue to do this for him too.
When he chose to open up to me more deeply that late night when we lived in California, it was a start of a deepening in our relationship. During the next few years, we both started seeking out personal help and were growing. Brent continued to be involved with North Star and meeting more people that could understand what he was going through. I started reaching out more to family and close friends to feel the love and validation I needed at this time. Although it was a long period of individual growth, I started realizing that it was much needed growth to help us continue OUR journey together.
We continue to work on our relationship and I am so happy we have found a way to find joy in this journey. It has only become our journey as we have both opened up and been honest about our inner feelings, relied on the Lord, and continued to have faith and hope in our marriage.
I honestly thought that Brent experiencing same sex attraction would be something that he and I would discuss within our marriage but never with anyone else. This subject is obviously a very intimate, personal part of our lives. Little did I know that being brought up in a loving incredible LDS home, going on a mission, understanding my divine nature, learning to rely on the words of our prophets in the proclamation, being involved with Proposition 8, finding love and happiness in my marriage, would bring me to this day of writing this essay. I want others to know there is another option besides finding a gay partner or being celibate. I am so happy that Brent was willing to share his feelings of same sex attraction with me and then give me the choice to marry him.
I am grateful for the option that God has given to us to have a family together, learn from each other, and love each other unconditionally. I am grateful for the blessings of confidence in my own self-worth that came as I strived to live the Gospel and for the prompting to share this with my husband. I am also grateful for the openness in our struggles that has provided a deeper commitment, stronger emotional intimacy and an ever increasing bond between us.
I look back now and think about the courage it took for Brent to talk to me before we got married. Even though neither of us fully understood what we were getting into, I knew God understood. The open communication that has become deeper the last few years and is continuing today is a key factor to why our marriage is thriving. I believe marriage becomes stronger when we show our love to each other and keep that openness and honesty in our relationships. I look forward to and feel honored to spend forever with Brent.
It all comes back to the proclamation that rocked my world: The Proclamation to the Family. Where the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles were inspired from the Lord to “call upon responsible citizens…to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
I love my eternal family.
26 Aug, 2014
Thank you. You and Brent are amazing examples.
26 Aug, 2014
What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing, and giving the perspective of the spouse in the journey of SSA. God bless you and your family.
27 Aug, 2014
I admre your authenticity and open heart. I firmly believe it is about honesty and choice and faith. We all have the fundamental right to choose how we want to live our lives. You are testimony to the path of a choice that works for you, your husband and your children. You are a woman of great strength and heart and HOPE to so many.
27 Aug, 2014
Thank you for sharing your story so others can learn from your faith and strength to overcome the "opposition in all things ". I admire your courage and selflessness and especially the personal faith that you have demonstrated in trust in our loving Heavenly Father to help is through every trial and circumstance.
27 Aug, 2014
So honest and helpful. Thank you both for your courage and your faith.
27 Aug, 2014
Thank you for sharing. Your story we'll help others to heal their marriage or to move on in a positive way.
27 Aug, 2014
You are both amazing and i have loved you both for years now. Thank you both for being kind, loving, faithful, and fun people. see you soon
29 Aug, 2014
This is very insightful. You have opened up to many your struggles, as well as the hope and joy you have in your marriage in spite of Brent's same gender attraction. I hope this will come to the attention of others in similar circumstances.
6 Jul, 2015
Thank you. I am dating someone who has struggled with SSA and have had many questions. Not necessarily about how he feels or where he stands because I know where he stands and he is firm in his decision to follow God's commandments. However, I have pondered long and hard the questions I have had about my end of this relationship. I wondered how it would feel and what it would be like to be married to someone with SSA and what possible problems I would have to overcome personally, although I love him and, like you, did not feel any differently about him after he told me his struggles. I had wondered how I would deal with this sort of situation if it ever occurred in our future and what/who I would be able to turn to. I love him. Even more since he told me. And I am exceedingly relieved to have read your story and heard about this situation from your perspective. I can relate deeply with your past struggles as well. And here goes it for the men who have that bonus attribute. LOVE m