Joshua was born and raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a large Samoan family. While growing up, applying the doctrines and principles of the gospel helped transform Joshua's perspective on same-sex attraction from a struggle to blessing, as did the love and guidance that he continually felt and received from his Heavenly Father. Through many of his own experiences, he came to accept that the blessings and promises given to him by a loving Heavenly Father were worth fighting for more than his understanding of such a small component of him. He discovered that with the Savior's help, he could embrace not just his SSA but other challenging experiences he would face as he entered the mission field. Joshua is currently serving a full-time mission for the Church in Uruguay.
From as far back as I can remember I've struggled with same-sex attraction (SSA). There was never a distinct moment in my life when I realized I had these attractions, nor had I ever gone through a phase when I was confused about or questioned these attractions. I simply believed that SSA was a trial in my life that would make or break my testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t understand much about SSA, and, honestly, I don’t think I ever will in this life. But I did reach a point when I realized that it didn’t matter what I don’t understand—what mattered most was what I did understand. I also understood two most significant things that superseded everything worth comprehending: I understood what I needed to do to return to my Heavenly Father, and I understood that Heavenly Father was going to help me every step of the way.
Early in my life, the main concern I had with regard to SSA was that I constantly worried about what the world thought of me. I acknowledged and accepted the feelings I had, but I didn’t want anyone else to know about them, so was careful to avoid any physical expression or mannerism that might make people suspect. I was scared of what people would think or how I would be treated if they knew. There were times I would catch myself acting out feminine mannerisms that seemed to come so naturally for me, and I would immediately try to mask them by exhibiting more masculine behaviors. While in public I would try to lower my voice or be cautious of how I walked, and I made sure I was always wearing what other guys wore.
Again, I didn’t mind that I had these attractions, yet I had a keen sense growing up that both worldly attitudes and Church doctrine saw an attraction to other men as wrong and an aversion to all that was acceptable. It wasn’t until just recently that I realized it wasn’t the attractions that were an issue; it was how I was handling those attractions. I reflected on the notion of lust as something I unconsciously tied to SSA. I used to use SSA as an excuse to lust. I figured that it shouldn’t be wrong for me to want and yearn for something that I literally could never have if I were to live the gospel. I always knew that lust was wrong in any form but I was more concerned that I was attracted to men than I was about actually lusting after men. Through my faith in Christ and different resources such as the Voices of Hope Project, I learned that my attraction to the same sex is exactly that: an attraction—nothing more, nothing less. Through the way I manage it with the support of my family and friends, I’ve ultimately been able recognize the blessings that come from it as I see how the power of the Atonement becomes more evident in my life.
The Tradition of Culture
In Samoan culture, someone who experiences SSA is referred to as a Fa’afafine. There isn’t really a concept of being “gay” or “homosexual” as it is understood in Western culture. Fa’afafine is actually considered to be a third gender and it is well-accepted in our cultural tradition. I once had a conversation with a friend who was visiting from Samoa who had no shame in letting people know he was gay. I asked him what it was like being gay in Samoa and he simply replied stating that he is well loved and accepted in every way possible. He also mentioned the heterosexual people of Samoa find Fa’afafine to be the most fun and happiest people.
Although I was born and raised in America, I grew up in the Samoan culture. I was constantly surrounded by friends and family who maintained Samoan culture and traditions, and I always attended Samoan wards. This made it easy to be myself as I grew up. These wonderful people never made me feel neglect or shame in any way around my feelings of SSA. I felt as though they looked right past that part of me. Being raised in the Samoan culture and surrounded by Samoan people was a strong resource for me in dealing with SSA. My Samoan heritage has been an eternal blessing from my Heavenly Father for which I am forever grateful.
The Power of Family
Growing up with a loving and supportive family, coupled with being born and raised in the Church, has truly been a blessing in my life. This awareness is important to me because my family played a big role in how I interpreted same-sex attraction into my life. Same-sex attraction was something I always knew was there but I also knew many other things: I knew first of all that I was a child of God; I knew my Heavenly Father loved me; and I knew He had a plan prepared for each of His children.
I was raised in a family that truly relied on each other’s relationship to persevere through any struggles that any of us had both individually and as a family. When I mention family I refer to both my extended and immediate family. I had the constant support of each uncle, aunt, cousin, and grandparent through anything I went through in my life. Due to the way I acted as a child, having some feminine mannerisms, my family had known since I was a kid that SSA was something I was most likely dealing with. As a child I wasn’t worried about what others thought about me, therefore being that my actions came through as feminine it was easy to figure out. Even to this day I have no problem being myself when I’m around family.
I didn’t tell anyone about my same-sex attraction until about 7th or 8th grade. I have two cousins that I grew close to while growing up and I honestly felt they were the only two that I was comfortable saying anything that wanted kept private. When I decided to tell them, it was funny because they just laughed, saying that it was something they had already figured. I was so happy because the two people that I felt were my best friends now knew the one thing I always kept to myself. Knowing my mom would tell my dad, I eventually built up enough courage and decided to tell her. After I did, she reached out with loving arms, and she gave me the biggest hug and told me that she loved me just the same. This gave me peace and hope that maybe having these attractions was not as bad as I thought them to be.
A Change in Direction
I grew up primarily with a single mother because my dad was in and out of jail or prison my whole life. He had become accustomed to the life of violence and drugs. I knew my dad hated that I was gay and I often got the vibe that he resented me. My dad did reach a point where he was worthy enough to take our family to the temple, but soon afterward he returned to his old, destructive lifestyle. I can recall many times that I felt my siblings were not necessarily loved by our father but more so merely acknowledged as one of his children.
There was a distinct moment in my life that became a turning point in my journey with same-sex attraction. My dad was probably the only negative influence I felt within my family regarding my feminine mannerisms. One day, my dad asked me to turn on the water hose so he could water the grass. But I couldn’t get the old, rusty knob to turn. Even my two brothers had troubles turning it on sometimes. A while after trying my hardest to turn the hose on, my dad became irate and yelled for me to get away. He then screamed at me saying that I was so weak and that if he ever heard about or saw me acting like a girl he would beat me. There had been many earlier occasions in which he verbally disapproved of my feminine mannerisms, but this specific event was a “last straw” for me. I ran straight to my room and cried uncontrollably. I didn’t tell anyone about what had happened, nor did I want to at the time.
The situation didn’t ruin me, but it did affect how I looked at myself. I became very angry with myself and started hating this part of me. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. I felt scared, alone and believed that no one understood that I didn’t choose to be this way. I knew these feelings were something I didn’t ask for but I saw them as more of a burden than a benefit in my life. This experience, tied with several others, was a critical crossroad and major turning point in my life. For the next several years, I changed by burying my SSA, hiding it from everyone except my Heavenly Father and my two cousins who were my best friends.
A Journey into Darkness
I have always had the desire to serve a full-time mission for the Church. After high school, I really had to buckle down and decide if it was something I was ready to do. I was more than willing, but I had big questions and concerns about SSA, including if I would be able to manage my feelings. Two questions I often asked myself were, How I am going to serve a full-time mission if I’m attracted to the same sex? and How am I going to react if I get a companion that is attractive to me? These questions kept haunting me and became voices that were screaming at me to not go on a mission. I felt I would rather deal with the shame of not going on a mission than the shame of being sent home.
For years, as I considered whether or not I wanted to serve a mission, I wavered back and forth. I would often reach a point where I felt spiritually immovable and every time, without fail, Satan would immediately sneak in, one way or another, and I would feel discouraged. When I turned 18, I realized I had a year to figure out if serving a mission was something I could actually do. After expressing these concerns to my bishop that summer, he referred me to a counselor. I took his advice and made a commitment to see a counselor twice a week but quickly felt there was nothing this man could do to help me. He even admitted that he had never worked with anyone who struggled with same-sex attraction. I was deeply discouraged and took this experience as a personal confirmation that I shouldn’t go on a mission.
At that point I decided I wasn’t going to keep myself from being happy and that I should give a “gay lifestyle” a try. An opportunity presented itself for me to move to Las Vegas and stay with some relatives, and I thought, What a better place to live that lifestyle than in Las Vegas? I lived there for about ten months. I would say seven of those months were the darkest months of my life. I’ve never felt farther from my Heavenly Father than I did during that time. I stopped praying and attending church. I started drinking alcohol every chance I could get and, overall, I was living a life of sin. Thankfully, I never acted out sexually with anyone, but I would put myself in situations that were spiritually dangerous for me. Overall, I just wasn’t happy.
My understanding at the time was that it was impossible for me to be a disciple of Christ living the gospel while experiencing same-sex attraction. I believed I had to choose to either embrace these attractions, which meant having a same-sex partner, or I had to get rid of the feelings in order to fully live the gospel. I was so lost and needed help, but I didn’t know where to go to find answers and the find the peace I had longed for all my life.
Becoming a Disciple of Christ
During this time, as General Conference approached, I decided that I wanted to watch it, and it was during this conference that they announced the change in age for missionaries going out to serve. I took that message as the Lord’s way of saying that His work would go forth with or without me. This bothered me, and it opened my eyes to what I was really doing with my life. After hearing the messages given, I returned to my room and immediately fell to my knees, pleading for Heavenly Father to help me get my life back in order. I literally felt like I was trapped in darkness. As I cried to the Lord, desperate for His guidance, I was comforted. I felt the blessings of the Atonement and His love for me.
After I finished my prayer I immediately felt peace and comfort. I began, from that day forward, reading my scriptures and praying every chance I got, attending my church meetings, and even attending early morning seminary at the nearest high school. I decided to completely change my life back to what I knew was true—and, more importantly, what I knew would bring me true happiness.
The journey that I went through to get to where I am today was probably the toughest journey I have ever gone through. My faith in my Heavenly Father is so much stronger today than it has ever been. In addition, the blessing I’d always hoped for would be coming true.
As I write this, a little over a year from that general conference, I prepare to enter the Argentina MTC where I will further prepare to serve the people of Uruguay. I will be teaching them how to have the same sense of peace and comfort I received when stuck in a world of darkness. I will share with them that this gospel may not solve all our problems, but it shows us the only way to endure our trials and burdens the Lord’s way. I pray that they will experience the happiness and blessings of the Atonement that I have experienced.
I will strive to bring others unto Christ, our Savior, who understands each and every one of our pains and struggles. After putting my faith in Christ and His gospel I have been blessed to learn so much. I have a testimony that one of those things includes the understanding that same-sex attraction makes me no more or less a disciple of Christ than any other faithful member of His restored Church.
Finding Joy and Happiness
Same-sex attraction has played an important role in the development of my testimony throughout my life. It has played the devil’s advocate at times, and other times it played a heavy burden. But through the love of my Heavenly Father, the examples of Christ, the doctrine and principles of the restored gospel, and my family, I have come to realize that SSA is a small, yet integral part of me that has no control over my mortal or eternal happiness. I wish this was something I had realized much sooner; I thought SSA was such a big part of me. I was taking these attractions, and amplifying them to the extent that it was keeping me from true happiness. Although I had a strong testimony, I was still holding myself back from greater happiness and many more blessings that the Lord had in store for me.
Same-sex attraction has now become the most significant tool used to strengthen my relationship with my God, and I am eternally grateful for it. I will endure to the end, for my Heavenly Father waits for me with loving and open arms. The joy and happiness I feel in my life is real and powerful. The gospel of Jesus Christ provides me with security and peace. I have a strong testimony that my Savior lives and that He provided the most perfect example of how we should live our lives. I think of my struggles and the pains that I faced, and when I compare them to the Savior’s struggles I shrink in shame. I truly believe that He knows what I’m going through, and although my struggle with same-sex attraction may never fully go away, it can be endured with the help of our loving Heavenly Father.
20 Dec, 2013
Joshua, wow, you demonstrate such wisdom and character for one so young. You are and will be a great asset to the Lord's army. God bless you as you go forth with your valiant spirit and character!
5 Dec, 2014
Talofa Joshua! I wish everyone could read your testimony. You are a wonderful example of a true disciple of Christ. I love that you 'chose' to follow the Lord. The power of the Atonement is real and available to all of us. Thanks for sharing! Keep on moving forward!
10 Oct, 2016
Elder Naea served in my mission, and I had the chance to teach with him on a few occasions. He taught with incredible love and empathy. I was unaware of his SSA, but now understand why he could help so many people with the struggles that they face.
Thanks so much for helping me see that our trials help us become more effective instruments in the Lord's hands. My struggles and temptations come different but I have been equally discouraged by them at times. This is a reminder that God blesses us with these things so that we can relate to and minister to others.
I love you Elder Naea! So grateful for your choice to serve a mission and all you taught me and others in Uruguay!