Chris is a 22-year-old student at Brigham Young University studying Marketing and Italian. He was born in the Church and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served a full-time mission in the Italy Milan Mission from 2010 to 2012 and taught Mission Presidents and Senior Missionaries at the MTC from October 2012 to October 2013.
My experience with same-sex attraction has been a long journey, and while it’s been difficult, it has taught me more in my life than anything else and has also brought me the most growth. Looking back on my life, I’m always humbled and surprised to see how prevalent the hand of God has been in my life. He was teaching me how to do the “small and simple things” that I needed to do to find hope and happiness: “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls” (Alma 37:6-7).
None of those lessons came without significant effort on my part, but God was there to help me every step of the way. I know that without my experiences related to same-sex attraction, I would not be the person that I am today and I wouldn’t have learned all the lessons that I have. I saw how God has led me, even if I didn’t notice at the time. I know that God has a plan for me and that if I follow it, I will continue to find happiness in the gospel.
Early Life and First Experiences with Same-Sex Attraction
I was born in a completely normal family as the youngest of three sons. Growing up I was an average kid in an average family, and looking back I can see that my attraction to men was always present in the background even if I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. The first time that I can see that it influenced my choices was when I was 12 years old. I got on the internet and as a joke I thought it would be funny to go to a gay dating site, just to look around. I didn’t have any intention to actually meet anyone, but I would go on to look at the pictures, which were at the worst pictures of shirtless guys, nothing too explicit. I don’t remember being aroused at that point, and I don’t think I even knew what that meant yet, but I did return regularly to the site. I was curious about sex in general and I would read articles on that site and on linked sitesthat answered questions about different kinds of sex and the biology behind it. I don’t remember being taught much about sex growing up by my parents or at school and as my body was changing, I had a lot of questions that I turned to the internet for answers to.
Soon after I started searching for those things on the internet, my parents called me up to the computer room to talk to me. My dad told me that he had felt prompted by the Holy Ghost to check my browsing history on the computer and was shocked to find that I had visited those websites. At the time, I was ashamed of myself and confused as to why I did what I had done, but today I’m grateful that my dad followed that prompting because I could have gotten into dangerous situations if I had tried to contact anyone that I had seen on the sites. I don’t remember much about that conversation except the terrible shame I felt, and that I cried and cried as my parents tried to figure out why I had looked up all of those things. I didn’t know why, it was just something that happened and I felt that something was wrong with me. I felt unnatural and broken because of the shame I felt around what had happened.
Because of the bad state of the public schools and some bullying that had happened, we decided it would be best that I went to a Catholic private school, which happened to be an all-boys school. This didn’t help my attractions that were starting to get stronger. During my freshman year, I started to feel attracted to some of the older students and teachers. Around the same time I discovered what masturbation was and I started experimenting in my thoughts and with my own body. In an effort to get more aroused, I turned to the Internet and started watching gay romantic YouTube videos. This time around, however, I knew how the browsing history worked, so I made sure that I was home alone when I watched them and I completely covered my tracks. This habit quickly turned into a full-blown porn addiction that I had to feed every day. My attraction to men in general was completely out of control; I was turned on by my teachers, my peers or by potentially any man that I saw in person or on TV. I abandoned all self-control and let my mind follow whatever fantasies it wanted to. I didn’t tell anybody about what I was feeling and turned inward, which only made things worse. My ideals of what it meant to be a man were heavily distorted by the pornography I was viewing. I think this lack of balance and control stemmed from two main issues in my life. Because of the shame around my growing addiction to pornography and shame around my attractions, I shut myself off socially from everyone in my school, so I had no healthy relationships with men. As a result I only wanted the unhealthy ones extolled in the porn I was viewing. Second, even though I went to church, I wasn’t living or being changed by the gospel at all. I never read my scriptures and my prayers were hollow, so even though I went to church, it wasn’t profiting or changing me at all.
I got better at hiding my addiction using a video game console in our basement that didn’t track the browsing history, and as a result I slipped into more hard-core images and videos. I felt dead inside; I was completely numb. I knew that what I was doing was wrong and that I needed change, but I felt completely powerless to do so and every time I tried to quit, my lack of self-control in my thoughts pulled me right back down to where I was. I was sick of lying in all of my temple recommend interviews. I was sick of being sad and lonely. I was sick of being me. I had never opened up about anything I was feeling to anyone, including my family, so I was completely alone because I didn’t know that they would think. I had felt the initial shame at being discovered by my parents on the gay dating site and I never wanted to feel like that again. However, I had never stopped praying: I would pray that God would fix my addiction, but then I’d turn around and succumb to temptation again.
One day, as I was watching some porn, I heard the door of the basement open, and I hurriedly shut off the game system. My dad had followed a prompting to check on me, but this time he couldn’t find any proof that I had been doing something wrong. I could see in his eyes, though, that he knew something was happening. I said I had just been watching YouTube videos, but I knew he didn’t believe me. This drove me even further into my shell because I felt so much shame and felt that what I was doing was wrong, so I didn’t want to tell anyone anything. I was afraid of what would happen if I revealed who I really was to everyone around me: what would they think? What would happen to me?
Sometime during my senior year, quit pornography virtually cold turkey. It was partly because I got a job as a tennis coach at the club I frequented that made me so busy that I didn’t have time to play video games, thereby removing me from the situations that tempted me the most. In addition, the summer after my senior year I read the Book of Mormon for the first time for my Duty to God award, which strengthened me spiritually. For the first time, I felt that I was making progress and that I was capable of doing what God and my parents expected of me. I was proud of myself that I freed myself from my addiction and I felt a bit more confident that I could find happiness. Little did I know that God was preparing me to go to college at Brigham Young University (BYU) where I would grow much more and prepare myself to serve a mission.
College and Receiving My Own Testimony
I went to BYU as an excited, bright-eyed freshman and I started to blossom socially. I was awkward and unsure how to make friends at first, but I learned quickly and felt less alone than I had in high school. Even though I was opening up to others in ways I hadn't opened up before, I still left up many of my emotional walls. On one of my first Sundays, my bishop stood up in Elder’s Quorum and said to all of us, “I’m going to be direct with all of you. I know you’re preparing to go on missions, but if you have ever looked at pornography or had problems with masturbation and haven’t talked to a bishop about it, you need to talk to me before you can submit your mission papers. Otherwise, your mission calls will be delayed until you do!” I had never heard a church leader be so direct about what consequences I was facing, and his reasoning made perfect sense in my mind, so I promptly made an appointment with him for the following Sunday. I unloaded all of my past sins on him, but I wasn’t quite brave enough to talk about same-sex attraction yet. As I walked back to my dorm room after that first meeting, I felt an intense sense of peace and I knew I was doing the right thing.
During my freshman year, I had a roommate who was a wonderful example of living the gospel and I know that he was placed there to inspire me. In our tiny dorm room, it seemed that every time I woke up in the morning, he was already reading his scriptures, which was something that was still very difficult for me to do consistently. As a result, I purposefully chose a Book of Mormon professor for my second semester that required students to read the Book of Mormon for 30 minutes every day as homework. For the first time in my life, I began to read the scriptures every day. Even on nights when I got back after three AM, I still read for my 30 minutes. Slowly, things began to change as I repented and read the scriptures. As I walked back from class one day, I noticed that I was happy.“Happy” was a word that I never used to describe how I felt, so it was a different feeling for me. As I wondered why I was experiencing this newfound joy, I felt a quiet voice tell me, “You feel like this because you’re reading the Book of Mormon.” I know I had felt the Spirit before that moment, but that was the first time that I ever recognized it for what it was. In that moment, my testimony of the Gospel became mine and was no longer just borrowed light from my parents.
Slip-ups and Repentance
Despite my spiritual progress, Satan still did his best to try and stop me from going on a mission. My bishop warned me that I needed to be clean from masturbation for three months before I could submit my papers. However, as I was getting close to finishing my papers, I slipped up. My self-esteem was crushed in that moment and I doubted if I would ever be good enough morally to be a missionary. After some simple math in my head, I realized that this one mistake would delay my papers until after the end of the semester, so I would need to explain to my parents why I would be getting my call later than expected. In tears, I called them and explained about my past addiction to pornography and how I had messed up with masturbation again. They simply told me how much they loved me and that they were proud of me coming clean with what I had done. Even at this point, I was still too afraid to discuss my same-sex attraction because I was trying to forget that that part of me even existed.
After that, I continued to press forward and was able to keep myself clean. About a month later, my Bishop called me back into his office and told me that he had received a very strong prompting that I needed to put in my papers on the original date. I was overjoyed and a short time later, I received my mission call to the Italy Milan mission. As I opened my mission call I felt such a rush of the Spirit; it was the happiest moment of my life up to that point. All of the hard work that I had put in to get there was worth it, and I knew that God was proud of me and loved me. I was closer to him than I ever had been, and I was happy.
MTC and Mission Experience
When I went into the Missionary Training Center (MTC), I was so excited to be there, but didn’t know what to expect because I was the first member of my family to serve along with my cousin who entered the MTC on the same day as me. My dad was a convert and had served in the military instead and my mom’s family had been inactive for a long period of time before she became active as a teenager. I had never really understood what missionaries do, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
After about a week, I got a prompting that I needed to talk to my MTC branch president about my same-sex attraction. I was scared to death because I was convinced that as soon as I said anything about it, I would be sent home. Because of my unwillingness to follow the prompting, I didn’t have the Spirit, so the MTC became incredibly difficult and I was sadder than I ever had been in my life. One day, one of my teachers taught us about the Spirit in a way that I had never considered before. He compared the Spirit to a needle that sits next to our hearts. He compared a spiritual prompting to what happens if the needle turns and pricks our hearts. If we have soft hearts, we feel the pricking and follow the prompting. However, if we harden our hearts, with time the needle starts to dull until we can’t feel it at all. That example pierced my heart, further confirming the prompting that I had already received, but I was still terrified.
Eventually the Spirit was too strong for me to bear, so I decided to talk with the MTC leadership. I asked one of our branch presidency counselors if I could talk with him, so we went on a walk away as the rest of my zone as they went back to the dorms. As I told him about how I am attracted to men, I broke down and sobbed into his shoulder as he held me. I asked him what was going to happen to me, and he told me he didn’t know. As I walked into my dorm room, my two companions sat me down and said, “Anziano (Elder) Dean, know that something’s wrong. We’ve been praying and fasting for you and we want you to know that we love you no matter what.” I felt so much love not only from them, but also from the Savior and I felt a huge weight lifted off of me, even though my future was still uncertain. In my journal that night, I wrote: “Today was the hardest day of my life. I learned the Spirit will never lead us astray… I feel as if a weight I’ve been carrying for years has been lifted off, thanks to the Spirit, the Atonement and Heavenly Father’s plan for me. His love was apparent to me through my incredible companions… [who were] truly inspired to help me and I will always be grateful… Sono libero. (I am free)”
After that, I met with my branch president, who showed me less compassion, but he informed me that a church psychologist and the MTC district president would decide if I was fit for service or not. When I first met the psychologist, he asked about my history and was surprised to find out that I had never acted out on my attractions with anyone and that I had quit pornography. He told me, “You’re very strong. Well done.” My district president echoed his opinion and I was cleared to continue my mission. I was shocked and humbled to know that I was fit to be a missionary and now I finally believed it. Hearing the confirmation from someone else gave me so much confidence that I could complete the task before me.
The rest of my mission was just like any other mission. I learned so much about my Savior and I was an obedient, hard working, happy missionary. I learned to love the Italian people, and I became close to many of the people I taught and served with. My same-sex attractionrarely impacted my mission, except on one notable occasion.
When I was a zone leader in Milan, we met one man named Mario (name changed). We taught him the first lesson and we suspected that he was gay, but we didn’t say anything. In our second lesson, he confirmed our suspicions and he thought that disqualified him from our church. We boldly taught him the law of chastity, and told him that if he followed Jesus Christ through baptism, he would be able to change and he accepted a baptismal date. He started reading the Book of Mormon and coming to church and the Spirit began to change his heart and it was very obvious to him and to us. He came to see a baptism in a neighboring city and as the Spirit enveloped him, he began to cry and was touched. However, as the lessons continued, Satan started working on him. He began to date a man in Switzerland and went to visit him on the weekends instead of going to church with us. After a few weeks of this, he told us he was done and didn’t think he wanted to change anymore and that it wasn’t possible. I wanted to tell him that I understood the temptations he felt, that it was possible to follow the gospel and that it would make him happy, but I couldn’t get the words out because I was still trying to bury that part of me. We saw him grow sadder and I felt powerless to do anything about it. Looking back, that experience is one of the saddest of my mission because while I wonder now what could have happened if I had been braver, I know I wasn’t ready to truly accept myself at that point in time.
When I came home from my mission I felt like I was on top of the world, but it quickly came crashing down. I missed my mission so much and I felt purposeless and consequently started falling back into old temptations. Coming back to BYU helped, but I had trouble making friends initially. The friends I had planned on living with decided to live in other places and I felt completely alone. Through a twist of fate, I got reconnected with a guy from my freshman ward named Brett, and we quickly became friends. At this point in my life, I was generally sad and didn’t know how to fix it. One night, I came home from volunteering at the MTC and I felt sadder than ever, and I began to wonder if I was actually depressed. I considered talking to Brett about how I was feeling, and instantly I felt voices tell me that he could never care about me and that I wasn’t worth anything. I prayed, fought through those thoughts and sent him a text saying I was sad and needed to talk. I was surprised when he called me right away and told me to come over to his apartment. I cried as I crossed campus alone in the dark, but when I got to his place I opened up for the first time about my depression and I felt very connected to him, even though he didn’t know about my same-sex attraction yet.
In my New Testament class, my professor passed around a flyer for a conference called Reconciling Faith &Feelings, where there would be panels of LDS members who have experienced same-sex attraction discussing how they have come to live and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Spirit told me instantly that I needed to go, but I was afraid and didn’t want to go alone. I came to the decision after much prayer that I would tell Brett about my same-sex attraction. As we were driving home from the temple one day I blurted out, “Can we talk about something at my place?” We sat on my bed and as I explained in between sobs, I eventually asked him if he would come to the conference with me. He said, “I would love to. I respect you so much more now. You know, I wasn’t feeling the ladies much either.” We laughed and I felt loved and accepted for who I really was, not for the facade I put on.
At the conference, I was nervous, but I saw friends from my ward who all came up to me, gave me a hug and said that they were happy to see me. There were no prying questions, odd stares or judgment; only love and acceptance. I saw that there was hope and that not only did God love me, but so did my friends. Over the next few months, I set goals to talk to my bishop, who was very supportive, and to my parents. At first, my parents were skeptical and thought it was all in my head, but they eventually pledged their support. They were proud of me for all the progress that I made and reaffirmed their love for me. My dad told me, “If there is anything you need, we will do whatever we can. If you want a therapist, we will pay for it because we want you to be happy.”
As the months continued, I made progress in combating some of my emotional difficulties. I had always struggled with my self-worth and with confidence in my friendships. I also got unhealthily attached to friends, letting their decisions affect my happiness. I tried dating many different people, having fun some times and feeling stressed other times. Occasionally, I felt prompted to talk to close friends about my same-sex attraction and each time, I was met with love and acceptance. I also found that as I opened up to other people, I developed stronger relationships with more people and I felt less dependent on others and more confident in myself.
Lessons Learned in Therapy
Once while talking to a friend about same-sex attraction, he said, “Have you ever considered going to a support group?” In that moment I knew that was the next step I needed to take. I had talked once or twice to a friend in my ward that I had seen at the Reconciling Faith & Feelings conference and I felt inspired to ask him if he knew of any groups. He told me about a newish group that he went to run by a local therapist, so I decided to go. When I showed up, I was surprised to find that I already knew half of the people there and felt instantly accepted. Through the weekly meetings, I found new friends and support, as well as new challenges in learning how to relate with other men in healthy ways.
Later on, I began meeting with my therapist one-on-one, which yet again was a decision prompted by the Spirit. I was blessed to have my parents support me in this decision and fund the appointments, as my dad had promised. I realized that I was completely out of touch with my emotions and I had a lot of baggage from my past that I had to sort out. I pretended to be happy all the time, which was completely inauthentic and was keeping my real feelings locked deep inside. Progress was slow at first, but after time, some breakthroughs began to be made. In one session, my therapist asked me to imagine myself in front of someone who loved me unconditionally and I saw myself in front of God. I was kneeling and looking down at the ground because I didn’t feel worthy to look Him in the eyes. I saw God come towards me, and pull me up until I was looking in His eyes, and then He pulled me into the most loving, warm embrace I could imagine. In that moment, I knew that He loved me no matter what and that I was truly good inside. I always knew I was a son of God, but from that moment on, I really internalized it and believed I was worth loving. I had always thought of myself as broken, damaged goods that nobody would want, but now I see that I am worth it, even though I’m not perfect.
I found that getting in touch with my emotions helped me to understand how to create deeper friendships that could give me the support I craved and needed. For so long I had been starved of healthy love and attention from other men that with each new friend I would make, I would do anything I could to make the relationship what I deemed to be “strong.” Little did I know that I was pushing friendships further than they were strong enough to go and inadvertently ruining them, causing myself even more grief and loneliness in the process. Sometimes, this pattern would put me in dangerous positions with other men who experienced same-sex attraction, but thankfully I was able to learn how to keep myself safe. I learned what my boundaries were and how to let out my emotions in a healthy way. My therapist helped me learn that these unhealthy relationships came about because my needs for belonging, love and appreciation weren’t being met in healthy ways and I was putting all of those needs on one person.
Slowly, I began to see that God had placed people all around me that were willing to be there for me; I just needed to learn to trust them. I started to be authentic, letting my real emotions come out, instead of hiding behind the masks I used to wear. As I dealt with my difficulties in healthy ways, I didn’t have to pretend to be happy because I really was. I realized that I was a completely different person since the year that I came out to Brett and that I was surrounded by people that supported me. I saw that they loved me for me and that my attraction to men didn’t make me worse in their eyes.
After Much Tribulation Come the Blessings
Before, my attraction to men ruled every moment of my life, but now it plays a relatively smaller role in my life. It’s still there, but when I feel those urges towards doing what I know is against the commandments, I figure out what I really need to fulfill that need in a healthy way. I noticed that those temptations came easier when I felt lonely or isolated so as I connected authentically with others, those needs were met in a healthier way. Instead of feeling shame about what I’m experiencing, I try to get to the root of the problem. One night while attending the temple with my ward, I was overcome with a strong feeling that one day I will find that woman that will become my wife and I will know it’s her. I felt strongly that all the things I have been doing to better myself emotionally and by opening up to others is all preparation for that day that I will be sealed in the temple. I had felt promptings similar to this in the past but had always shrugged them off as just being my own thoughts, not the Spirit. This time the prompting was too strong to ignore. It gave me so much hope that the effort I am making is worth it and that God has so much in store for me if I keep doing these “small and simple things” (Alma 37:6-7).
When I stop and look at my life, I can see how much progress I’ve made, but I can also see how much farther I have to go. Every step of the way, God has been there, whether He was prompting my dad to check on me or prompting me go to therapy knowing that it would change my whole outlook on life. When I remember the blessings that He’s given me, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the gospel and for the Spirit who has never led me astray. I have learned more through my experiences with same-sex attraction than anything else in my life and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They have been at times a personal hell, but that “refiner’s fire” (Zachariah 13:9) has made me into someone better than I was.
This scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 58:2-4 has always kept me going in the hardest times:" For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand." I would read these verses at my lowest points because I clung to the hope that one day I would be able to see God’s plan with my "natural eyes". So many times I felt that calm assurance that that plan existed and that I would eventually understand why things were happening in the way they were. I may not understand all of it yet, but looking back I can see that God was there every step of the way, helping me to see the next step I had to take, but letting me grow my faith. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that he has felt everything that I have: the self-loathing, the emptiness, the intense loneliness; all so that I can overcome them. Same-sex attraction is a small part of who I am and it has shown me how living with the gospel at the center of my life brings me more happiness than anything else, and that gives me the kind of hope that nobody can take away. All the “small and simple things” I started doing, such as reading the scriptures, opening up to others and seeking healing from the Atonement were what brought about the salvation of my soul and put me in a position to hopefully bring about “the salvation of many souls.”
19 Feb, 2014
Thanks you so much, truly an inspiration. Don't ever stop!
Embraced by the Lord
19 Feb, 2014
Christopher, thanks so much for your courage to share your story and testimony. May God bless you and grant the righteous desires of your heart.
20 Feb, 2014
Thanks for sharing this. I know just what you mean when you said you felt like broken, damaged goods. Christ has become my greatest ally!
27 Feb, 2014
Thank you for sharing that Chris! You're a wonderful human being. God bless you for your bravery in being vulnerable and authentic.
14 Jul, 2014
You're awesome Chris. :)
2 Aug, 2014
Thanks you. This gives me hope that everything will be ok.