I Am More

By Ethan Marston

Be sure to also listen to Ethan and his wife Allison share their story. Watch video here.
Ethan Marston says he’s from Decatur, Illinois, but he moved between Utah and Illinois a lot as a kid. He is currently studying nutritional science with a minor in writing and rhetoric at Brigham Young University. Ethan dreams of being a published novelist, but he knows it’s a tough field so he won’t quit his day job. He loves to spend time with friends, and he likes all sorts of musical and visual arts, as well as reading, hiking, and photography.

Part I: My Journey



Self-worth



I love my older brother very much. Derek and I get along well now and we got along really well throughout our childhood. He was only ever one grade ahead of me in school, so wherever my family moved we would always be friends with the same people. The first time that ever changed was when he started junior high and I was still in elementary school. He made friends with the wrong people and started excluding me from his life. I could tell he was embarrassed by his pestering little brother.

Derek began to antagonize me and my younger siblings, and he would verbally and emotionally abuse me especially. I didn’t know it then, but it was something that would fester and intensify into our adult lives. When it was my turn to begin junior high I began to resent my brother. Going to the same school as he did was no longer fun; it was humiliating. And if his abusive behavior didn’t diminish my sense of self-worth enough, something else was about to crush it.

Addiction and Attraction



In junior high, like most every other new teenager, I began to develop a curiosity for sex. This curiosity unfortunately led me to the internet. When the rest of my family was gone or in bed I looked at pornography. Around the same time I began the awful habit of masturbation. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I had been taught already of the evils of pornography. I remember particularly how I was taught that it was awful because it degraded women. This thought haunted me as I explored my new addiction. I loved all of the women in my life and the last thing I wanted to do was think of them in degrading ways. To reconcile my guilt and my insistent addiction, I found a type of pornography that didn’t depict women at all: gay pornography.

I really don’t remember if I had been attracted to men before I began to look at gay porn, since I didn’t really have any strong physical attractions to either sex before that period of my life. I don’t think it’s solely a matter of nature or nurture now—I think it’s a combination of the two—but throughout my teenage years, because of my addictions, I blamed myself for my attraction to men.

God



I hated myself. I believed my brother when he called me awful things. I prayed and prayed that God would change me. I prayed for forgiveness for my sins, but I didn’t have the strength to free myself from my addictions. I was terrified of talking to anyone about them. I wore a mask; nobody but God knew about my darkest thoughts and fears. To everyone else I was the good boy, the perfect student. This only increased the pressure I felt. I received praise and thought, “If you knew the real me, you’d be disgusted.” With every compliment (though I still enjoyed compliments) I felt even more pressure to live up to everyone’s expectations.

Despite all this, I always prayed. I went to church often. I graduated from seminary with honors. Somehow, miraculously, all of my trials drove me closer to God. I poured out my heart and soul to him every night, though I didn’t yet understand how to receive answers. I never gave up on God even when I gave up on myself. Because of this, I progressed spiritually in spite of my challenges. I could go a week or two at a time without giving in to my addictions, but I was still very critical of myself. In my own eyes I was never good enough. I never tried hard enough. I was just a terrible sinner and that’s all I would ever be. And yet, I kept praying. I’m glad I did, because my reliance on God kept me out of trouble.

Fun and Happiness



I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that my teenage years were merely some dank pit of despair. Thankfully, my depression was the sort that comes and goes. I might not have been entirely happy when I wasn’t depressed, but I had plenty of friends and plenty of fun.

Years ago Elder Claudio Costa gave an address called “Fun and Happiness.”[1] It applies well to my teenage years. Elder Costa explained that true happiness can be found only when we’re living the gospel. A lot of people think they’re happy when they’re really just living for the high of a fun moment. In a way, I was like that between my depressive episodes. Luckily I had lots of good friends who supported my morals through junior high and high school, and so I had many moments of good, clean fun with them.

I didn’t really date in high school, even after I turned 16. I was always wracked with guilt and confusion about my attraction to men, including guys at my school. In spite of this, I still developed crushes on girls. This helped me not to feel hopeless. I wasn’t really physically attracted to girls, but every now and then the right mixture of emotional attraction and pure, unadulterated infatuation would leave me crushing on some girl in my high school. I remember a girl named Ariana that I secretly liked for two years. I thought she was so nice and beautiful, but I never thought of opening up and taking a risk to express my feelings to her—or to any other girl I liked. I was sure they would reject me. I had no problem speaking to girls in general—most of my good friends were girls—but with Ariana I never knew what to say. I even pretended to forget our geometry assignment once just to have an excuse to talk to her. It was delightfully awkward, but it still wasn’t enough for me to take a risk. I couldn’t dispel the churning doubt and confusion that I felt about my sexual identity, and I felt like no one would understand if I sought help.

Repentance



I lied to my bishop for years whenever he asked if I had any unresolved sins to talk about. Around my junior year of high school I longed to confess, but I couldn’t stand to imagine the deception and betrayal I thought my bishop would feel when he discovered that I had been lying to him. I didn’t want him to know I wasn’t really that perfect Mormon boy everyone believed I was. Luckily, God threw me a bone; he called a new bishop to my ward. He and his family had moved to Illinois only recently, so he knew almost nothing about me. I had a completely clean slate.

I applied to BYU around this same time. I set an appointment with the bishop under the pretense that I was preparing to go to BYU so no one else in the ward would doubt my “perfect Mormon boy” façade. I was so nervous—afraid he’d judge me, afraid he’d tell my parents, afraid that I was so far gone that I wouldn’t be able to go to BYU. I was afraid of many things, but I knew this was what God wanted me to do. I wanted to be fully converted. I didn’t know how I would get there, especially since I viewed same-sex attraction as an obstacle, but I had hope that God would take care of me. I was doing the right thing by confessing to the bishop, and I knew that’s what God wanted me to do.

Initially I didn’t have the courage to tell my bishop I thought I was gay or bisexual (I didn’t know what to call it at that point), but I told him about everything else. He was so loving and understanding. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit awkward, but I felt so much better after confessing. I felt like I’d have a place in God’s kingdom and that I wasn’t consigned to some lesser glory like Satan had always told me. My confession, though it didn’t take away all of my self-doubt, changed the dark skies of my life to the rosy hint of a new dawn.

Recovery



I went a month without my addictions to prove to my bishop that I was morally clean, and I was soon accepted to Brigham Young University. When I started my freshman year, however, I struggled with loneliness and depression. I didn’t really understand it then, but I had inadvertently linked my depression issues to my masturbation and pornography addictions during my adolescence. I had always thought I got depressed because of my sins. I later learned that depression was a separate issue; it wasn’t a consequence of my actions so much as it was a parallel problem. I never reached out to anyone about my depression, but I soon returned to masturbation—my old way of altering my brain chemistry.

My new bishop was confused that I was having such a hard time giving up masturbation, especially since it was no longer coupled with pornography. Both he and I could see that it was tormenting me and that I really wanted to quit. His concern made me feel comfortable enough to tell him that I “maybe” and “sometimes” felt attracted to other men. He told me that if I had never acted out on it then it wasn’t a problem. His acceptance of me was a huge confidence-booster and it caused me to think more and more about serving a mission, something I had always worried about because of my same-sex attraction.

It wasn’t until I was preparing to go on a mission that I quit masturbation again. My drive to serve the Lord became my number one priority, letting me overcome my drive to sin. My time away from home and my brother really helped me to start redefining my self-image. I realized that I really wasn’t such a terrible person after all. I began to notice how likeable I was. My focus shifted from everything that was wrong with me to the things that were right. Yes, same-sex attraction still freaked me out a little, but it wasn’t such a big deal as it used to be. My bishop helped me see that God wasn’t judging me for my temptations but for my actions.

“You Love Her”



I was called to serve in João Pessoa, Brazil, and I’m so grateful for that; Brazil was perfect for me. Before I left I was most concerned with my capacity to love and be open with other people. I was afraid I wouldn’t like serving, so I prayed that I could better learn to love while I was on my mission. The Lord granted me this blessing in an unexpected way.

In one of the first areas I served in my companion enjoyed visiting a certain family of members. I really admired their daughter, Jéssica. I thought she was smart, beautiful, funny, courageous—everything good. She even spoke English, so I had no problem communicating with her, and she was just about my age.

One night, while my companion and I were discussing the importance of education with her, an impression came to my mind in words as clear as day: “You love her.”

That scared the poo out of me.

After freaking out for a while and even almost talking to her about it, I decided I shouldn’t act on that prompting. I later realized that that prompting wasn’t meant as a push to chase the girl, but more as an informative gesture. God didn’t intend for me to marry Jéssica; that’s not why he sent me on a mission. God, through that experience, both taught me what love is and that I was fully capable of loving a woman. That experience helps me out of even my darkest of doubts. It taught me that love is much more than just physical attraction.

“Love Yourself”



About a year into my mission, what started as a terrible Brazilian rash in my nether regions turned into a revival of my addiction to masturbation. Unfortunately my depressive episodes didn’t subside just because I went on a mission. Even after curing the rash, which took months of visits to the dermatologist, my depression continued to fuel my addiction. Feelings of self-loathing and frustration began to return, but God countered them with one recurring prompting: “Love yourself.”

I didn’t understand why it was so hard for me to quit this time, but I told God I would never stop trying. I kept trying to love myself despite my flaws, but depression and Satan kept me feeling like an unworthy failure. My mission president tried to help me, but since I wasn’t yet aware that depression was the underlying issue, treating the surface problem of masturbation had little lasting effect. I managed to do well enough toward the end of my mission that my mission president felt comfortable giving me a temple recommend, but soon after I got home the addiction persisted.

Rebellion and Weakness



I stayed in Illinois with my family for only a few weeks before I moved to my grandparents’ house in Clearfield, Utah. I was used to feeling useful and being really social on my mission, and my hometown wasn’t helping me much with either of those things. Soon after I got home an old friend offered me a ride out west, and I took it with little hesitation.

God had a plan for my move. The bishop in my new YSA ward was a wonderful man. I talked to him about my issues with masturbation, fully expecting him to take away my temple recommend. I told him about how awful I felt about it and how I wished it would just go away.

He told me I needed to go to the temple as often as I could.

I was shocked. My interactions with my mission president left me thinking that the temple was a reward for good behavior, but this new bishop helped me see that it really gave encouragement for those who needed it. Those trips to the temple were some of the most special of my life, and God strengthened me so much through them.

My new bishop helped me see that “the Lord sees weaknesses differently than he does rebellion.”[2] My addiction was a weakness, not an act of rebellion, so the Lord was being merciful with me. I started to feel better about myself. My depressive episodes were occurring less frequently, and I made a few really good friends in the ward. I opened up to them about my issues with masturbation, and they helped me a lot. I even opened up to one of them about my attraction to men—and his response was so accepting! I began to feel as if I could really live with my same-sex attraction after all.

Categories



One of the things that bothered me most for much of my life is that I never felt like I belonged or fit in with any particular group. I loved going to church and I knew I was a son of God, but other than that I often felt like the odd man out. I met with my young men’s quorums and I felt like I was different, no matter how hard I tried. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; I just felt like the only member of the LDS Church who dealt with same-sex attraction and stayed active.

On the other hand, I knew a few guys at school who identified as gay—I even had friend who came out when we were upperclassmen—but I never felt like I belonged with them, either. They weren’t members of the Church, and they seemed completely okay with breaking the law of chastity and living a gay lifestyle. I didn’t want any of that; I wanted to live the gospel and marry a daughter of God.

I feel that we often draw a sense of identity from the labels we use, but I was never satisfied when I mentally labeled myself as gay or bisexual. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with another man, but with a woman. Then again, I couldn’t have been straight because I was dealing with same-sex attraction. For the longest time I felt like I was a category of my own: an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who experiences same-sex attraction.

Sacrifice



This feeling of “otherness” pervaded my thoughts when I returned to BYU. Everyone was dating and I felt pressured to follow suit. When I resumed dating I felt a lot of frustration. For the longest time it seemed that no matter who I went on a date with I never had any feelings for her above the level of friendship. Then I’d meet men who I liked very much, and I knew that if I let myself I could easily develop feelings for them. New responsibilities with school and work also stressed me out, and my depression and addiction began to intensify.

I was upset with God during this time of my life. I felt frustrated because no matter how hard I tried to do his will I still felt attracted to men. A part of me wished I could just leave everything and be with another man. With men I knew my attractions would be effortless, and I felt like I had to work so hard to be romantically interested in girls. I felt like giving up.

Thankfully, I never acted on those feelings. God’s response to my prayers was to help me realize something: everyone has a sacrifice to make. Everyone in life is tempted with something that can bring earthly satisfaction and temporal happiness but that isn’t in line with God’s will. For me this was my desire to be with other men. I felt like it was so unfair, but really everyone has to do it—whether it’s paying tithing, keeping the Sabbath day holy, or avoiding problems with gambling, alcohol, or the law of chastity, all of us have something we have to put on the altar of sacrifice. My particular issue is same-sex attraction, and that doesn’t make me special. I need to sacrifice my desires to break the commandments and live the life that God wants me to live—a life of service and everlasting love.

Transparency



I decided to open up to one of my roommates, Johnathan, about the addiction I was facing, and I can’t begin to tell you how much he helped me. I had been seeing the bishop, but having friends to help and support me did wonders for my self-esteem. I began to open up to others who were close to me, including my parents, and they helped me a lot. But for some reason it wasn’t enough.

In time I realized that my depressive episodes weren’t normal. I guess I never thought that crying myself to sleep at night and wishing God would just kill me (but only after I had taken the sacrament!) was normal, but I thought those were normal reactions to dealing with masturbation and the stress of same-sex attraction. I didn’t even realize it was depression before talking to my roommates about it. I didn’t feel depressed all the time, but the frequency of my depressive bouts concerned my roommates. I felt like I could handle it on my own since it wasn’t constant and since the therapist I saw didn’t do much for me.

Since transparency seemed to be working in my favor, I told Johnathan about my attraction to men. I told my bishop. I told one of my home teachers. I told my mom. I told my sister. I told a girl I dated. All of them took it wonderfully and have supported me and loved me through everything. They have helped me realize that I’m still a child of God and that this issue doesn’t make me anything less. This affirmation helped me not to give same-sex attraction so much power over my life.

I realized that I didn’t need to give depression any power over my life, either. So, following my mom’s suggestion, I saw a doctor. Since I started treating my depression, both my depression and addiction to masturbation have subsided. It was like the clouds dissipated to give way to the sun. I finally loved myself after years of trying.

Hope



Around this same time I was preparing questions for the next General Conference. I wondered whether or not I should be more open about my same-sex attraction. Something Elder Nelson said wouldn’t leave me alone: “If one tries to segment his or her life into…separate compartments, one will never rise to the full stature of one’s personal integrity—never to become all that his or her true self could be.”[3]

I took that as my answer.

I began by telling my dad what I was about to do. I wasn’t going to have a huge coming-out party, but I decided that I’d tell people I was close to. I contacted a member of my ward named Paul. He had recently linked on Facebook an interview he did for the Voices of Hope project. As I watched my desire to do the same thing grew and overtook me. I wanted to help people just as he did. I wanted to use my experiences to reach out to God’s children. I was finally grateful that I experienced same-sex attraction.

Gratitude



I am grateful for same-gender attraction. If it weren’t for that I wouldn’t have clung so tightly to God as I experienced life’s difficulties. I wouldn’t know so much about the nature of God and the love he has for me. I wouldn’t have such respect and admiration for women. I wouldn’t know that love is more than a physical relationship—something that transcends the body and its desires. I wouldn’t be who I am today.

I do want to make one distinction though: I am more than my same-sex attraction.

Throughout my journey I have always fought against the idea of labeling myself as gay or bisexual. I finally realized why—same-sex attraction is not who I am; it’s something that affects me. Yes, it’s played a big part in shaping me into who I am today, but I still don’t say it’s who I am. Who I am existed before this world was. I was in God’s presence with everyone else, and I don’t believe I had same-sex attraction back then. I brought this essence of who I am into mortality with me, and my experiences here have helped shape and refine me. But all of these things aren’t who I am.

My shaped and refined nature will continue with me through the resurrection and into the eternities, but I don’t think same-sex attraction will. I believe its influence is limited to mortality, and therefore it is not who I am; it is merely something that shapes me. Who I am is a son of God. Who I am is a potential deity. Who I am is not defined by the temptations and labels of this world but the divine purpose that God has for me.

I am so much more than my attractions.

Part II: Where I Am Now



Letting Go



After watching Paul’s Voices of Hope interview,[4] I reached out to him. He invited me to join North Star International, and through this organization I made some of the best friends of my life. I was finally interacting with people who knew exactly how it felt to be LDS and experience same-sex attraction. I was the happiest I had been in a long time.

I always dreamed of getting married. I wanted it so badly throughout most of my depression. I thought that marriage and a relationship would solve all of my problems. After coming to terms with things and joining North Star I was, to my surprise, extremely happy. I was happy without a girlfriend!

I prayed a lot during this time of my life, and somehow I figured out that being single was okay. I figured out that I don’t have to be in a relationship to be happy. I figured out that if God really loves me—and he does—then he’ll allot me happiness no matter what situation I’m in. I decided to let go of marriage as my only route to happiness. I decided that I could be single for the rest of my life and happy.

Dating and Marriage



Even though I accepted that I might never get married I still viewed marriage as a possibility; it just wasn’t a necessity. This helped me approach dating women in a different way. I always used to put so much pressure on dating situations because I thought being in a relationship would give me happiness. Now I had freed myself to date without any unrealistic expectations.

I started out on this brave new dating venture, and before long I met Allison Tenney. Our first few dates were a bit of a slow start, but we both expressed interest in each other. Soon we were seeing each other most every day. I had just begun to take a more active role in the Voices of Hope project. I wanted to be as open and authentic as possible with Allison, so I told her about it. I didn’t want her to find out about my attraction to men when my essay was published; I wanted to tell her personally.

Allie took it well. She didn’t seem too concerned at first, but eventually we started tackling harder questions. We also started to date seriously (it was “Facebook official”). One thing we talked about was our expectations for the relationship. We talked about how we didn’t think it was possible to get happiness out of a relationship unless you put happiness into a relationship. We talked about how no one person can fulfill all of your needs and agreed we needed to keep up our friendships with others. We talked about all sorts of things on our walks at night.

Probably because I would have been clueless otherwise, God helped me realize that I loved her just a few weeks after we started our relationship. I told her so, and our relationship proceeded as follows:

“I think we might get married.”

“I’m pretty sure we’ll get married.”

“We’ll probably get married.”

“We’re definitely getting married.”

When are we getting married?!”

I proposed on a roller coaster on July 3, 2014.

We’ll be sealed together for time and all eternity on December 20, 2014 in the Ogden, Utah temple, and we eagerly await spending the rest of our existence together.

 
 
 
 

[1] Claudio R. Costa, “Fun and Happiness,” Liahona, November 2002, 92-94.

[2] Richard G. Scott, “Personal Strength through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, November 2013, 82-84.

[3] Russell M. Nelson, “Let Your Faith Show,” Ensign, May 2014, 29-31.

[4] “Paul Peterson,” video, 37:24, from Voices of Hope, accessed October 28, 2014, http://www.ldsvoicesofhope.org/voice.php?v=49#.VFBTI_nF9uo.





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lucas
3 Nov, 2014

realmente muito incrível :D


Jacob
4 Nov, 2014

Thank you for your essay. I am in a similar situation right now in my journey. Like you I experience SGA and recently proposed to my girlfriend. The whole "I think we're getting married...When are we getting married!?" definitely applies to me. As do your comments about depression. Thank you for your testimony and your faith in staying true to the gospel. If the depression comes back remember this: You have made my life better by sharing your story. Thank you.


Rick
19 Nov, 2014

Ethan, thanks for sharing this! Wow, posting your story before even getting married, very courageous and touching. God bless both of you. May the Lord bless you with Fun and Happiness, and an eternal posterity. God bless


Igor
12 Jan, 2015

I'm a man from Brazil and I live exaclty the same thing, but I still longs for a girlfriend and a future wife. Thank you for sharing this. I was very encourajed trough this history. God bless you!



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