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Alex’s Essay: “A Different Road”
When I think of God’s overall plan for us here on Earth, I often picture a mountain with several different pathways. Many of them lead from the base to the top. A few of them lead away from the mountain altogether. These paths are various sizes, and some are traveled more than others. Many of them cross one another. Some of them prepare us for more rigorous trails ahead. As travelers, we are faced with several choices to make. We can choose where to go, relying on what little direction we have. Some of us end up on paths we did not choose due to circumstances out of our control. Nevertheless, even those paths can still lead us to the top. Looking back I can see how Heavenly Father prepared certain roads specifically for me—roads that aren’t often traveled by others
Starting the Climb
I didn’t fully understand that I was attracted to other men until after I graduated from high school. Upon reflection, however, I have come to understand how these attractions played into some experiences earlier on in life. I was born in 1987 to two wonderful parents. I am the oldest of five children: four boys and one girl. I was born and raised in Utah. The gospel has blessed both of my family lines all the way back to Europe. My parents taught us the gospel. We had regular family home evening, prayer, and scripture study. We were not perfect at these traditions by any means, but we did our best to follow the counsel of living prophets.
When I was three or four years old I stayed with a babysitter during the day when I wasn’t at preschool. I spent naptime in a bedroom where I often looked at a poster with some surfer dudes lined up on a beach. I had feelings of excitement. I didn’t know what they were, but I liked them.
In 1992, my dad transferred back to Salt Lake City and, of course, the rest of our family followed him. Before we left, the couple who had bought our home began moving their belongings into the garage. I noticed that the husband was wearing a tank top and had some nicely shaped muscles. When they came back that evening to move more furniture, he was wearing a polo shirt, and I was disappointed!
I had similar feelings about boys here and there throughout my childhood, but I didn’t think they were anything out of the ordinary. I was shy, and I was bullied a little bit at school. I wasn’t into the things many other boys did at recess. You’d never find me playing soccer or basketball. I usually played alongside the girls, whether it was playing tag, playing “house”, or impersonating Power Rangers.
In fifth and sixth grade, I noticed that some of the other guys started wearing their pants below the waist. I don’t know if it was inherently wrong or immodest, but it aroused sexual feelings for me. It led me to experiment with my own clothes and my own body, and I discovered masturbation and pornography. I didn’t even know what masturbation was back then, and I always thought pornography involved only pictures of girls. I didn’t tell anyone for years.
Dealing with my priesthood quorums was similar to school. In my ward basketball was a popular activity for the young men, but I never played. I looked forward to combined activities where I could spend time with the young women. I felt like I identified more with the girls than the guys, and I often wished I could join in on their activities. I didn’t have continuous sexual feelings for the young men in my ward, but I experienced a longing to be with them and to be like them. I wanted to like the things they liked and be good at the things they did. I wanted to be skinny and athletic.
Our scoutmaster was very outdoorsy and pushed us hard. We went on several bike rides and backpacking trips. I was usually the last one to make it to a given destination. It was even more embarrassing because a leader always had to stay behind with me. I saw every trip as an opportunity to prove myself and get ahead of someone, even if it was just one person. Sometimes, I would come home crying because I simply didn’t fit in. To be fair, though, my time in scouting instilled in me a love of the outdoors (but I typically prefer a hotel to a tent), and I do have fond memories of spending time with my brothers in the Aaronic Priesthood.
Throughout junior high and high school, I experienced many of the same emotional issues most teenagers face. I dealt with depression, anxiety, and Asperger’s Syndrome. I couldn’t always tell if certain trials came from normal teenage struggles, clinical depression, Asperger’s, or same-sex attraction. I continued to masturbate, and it wasn’t hard to find pornography. There was plenty of what I like to call “walking pornography” at school. I made it through my gym classes. I was in good company, though, since most of us had the same insecurities and rushed through changing our clothes. Puberty brought some unwelcome changes in my body. That said, I often fantasized and wondered what other guys looked like and how they were handling it.
In high school, I entered the world of non-steady, group dating. I usually kept my dating restricted to the school dances and associated activities. I was a late bloomer in the social arena. I didn’t really hang out with anyone outside of school activities until my senior year of high school. I developed some good friendships, mostly with girls. In fact, I became quite the “ladies’ man.” I was very flirtatious, and I’m learning that flirting is simply an enjoyable part of my personality.
After high school, when other guys started leaving on missions or going off to college, I felt like many girls in my group of friends started viewing me as a dating candidate. We later joked around about how I was caught in the middle of a love octagon. While my dating life was nice, and while I admired many girls, I wasn’t really physically attracted to them. During my senior year and shortly thereafter, I found myself thinking, “So is this when I’m supposed to hold her hand?” or “What makes someone want to kiss?” The only reason I had to be affectionate with a girl was to fulfill an expectation, or to draw attention and fit in with the crowd.
I still had a lot to learn though. I didn’t understand what “gay” really meant. I just thought it referred to the stereotypical mannerisms, such as a limp wrist, feminine lisp, and other highly effeminate qualities. I also got it confused with what I now know as gender dysphoria. Regrettably, I joined with others in making fun of people who were even suspected of being gay or transgender. Only after I saw myself on a video or after I listened to my voice on a recording did I realize that I had those same quirks! I talked with my hands a lot, and I had one of those lisps! I became very self-conscious. I even had a friend who once referred to me as the guy with the gay hand gestures. I heard another person had called me gay. He changed his mind when he found out how many “girlfriends” I had. Nevertheless, I started trying to act like other guys and macho up some of my mannerisms.
My parents had educated me about the mechanics of sex at an early age, and for that I am grateful, but I had not yet understood the attractions behind it. When I was younger, I assumed that I would go on a two-year mission at age nineteen, come home, get married in the temple shortly thereafter and start a family. That’s what everyone did, right? I just thought everything would work out that way. I always knew that I wanted to get married to a daughter of God in the temple. I loved learning about the temple, and I loved going to participate in baptisms for the dead.
Sometime after high school, I heard the term “same-gender attraction.” I don’t remember exactly where I first heard it. I started wondering if it might have been an adequate description for the feelings I was having for guys, or more specifically, for my fashion fetish. I don’t remember giving it much thought back then, although I did make my bishop aware of it. I still figured everything would work after I got back from my mission. As I prepared for my mission, I worked with a wonderful therapist. He’s become a good friend, and I now enjoy seeing him around town. I really don’t remember a lot of what we talked about. He worked with me on general anxiety and depression. We got a little bit into same-sex attraction and established that it probably developed out of a need to fit in with and be recognized by other men. That thought made sense to me, because I had always felt so different from most of the other guys. I also had a tendency to be afraid of older men and those in positions of authority.
A Different Road
My mission experience turned out to be my first big unexpected journey. As such, it played a key role in me eventually coming to terms with my same-sex attraction. As missionary age approached I became increasingly nervous. I knew that I wanted to devote those years of my life to serving the Lord, but when all was said and done, I really didn’t want to proselyte. I wasn’t too worried about my same-sex attraction, but I had some social and medical concerns that made me hesitant about a proselyting mission. I had entertained the idea of a church service mission. Actually, thinking about such a mission brought me a lot of peace the summer before I turned 19. Nevertheless, I still ended up going proselyting largely because of the expectations of others, and I also thought, “If so-and-so can do it, I sure can.” With the help of my therapist, I was able to gain control over my addiction. I submitted my papers, received a mission call to Iowa, and was asked to enter the Provo Missionary Training Center only a month later.
Three months later, and after several decisions to stay, I decided to come home. I had been depressed and homesick for most of those three months. Same-sex attraction wasn’t a huge deal, other than the fact that I saw several gorgeous missionaries. I even told my mission president about my same-sex attraction in hopes to get sent home, but he didn’t seem too concerned with it. I ultimately had to choose to return home, and I’m glad that I made that choice when I did.
I don’t know if I made a difference in anyone’s life during those three months, but I learned some valuable things for myself. First and foremost, I had a sacred experience that helped me understand the Lord’s love for me. I learned that he was there for me no matter what I decided to do with my mission. I learned more about the Holy Ghost and personal revelation. I learned that Heavenly Father trusted me enough to use my own agency to bring about righteousness, despite what others thought I should do. This experience of taking a slightly different path than the majority helped me prepare for other experiences I would have later in life.
A few months after I returned home, I was called to the Family and Church History Mission in Salt Lake City. I assisted patrons in accessing various records to find their ancestors. I loved serving with senior missionaries, and I enjoyed being a part of a growing number of young missionaries in the mission. I also sang in the Elijah Missionary Choir, directed by two professional musicians. I now understand part of the reason why I came home from Iowa and served in the Family History Mission. Had I not participated in the Elijah Choir, I may not have made music a part of my education, and I may not have pursued my current calling in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I cannot describe the immense blessing it has been to join with such masterful musicians in spreading the gospel through music. Worshipful music plays a major role in my relationship with the Church and the Savior.
I was released from my mission on a Sunday, and I started college the very next day. For some reason, I thought I was ready to get off my anti-depressants at the same time. The grueling stresses of school caused me to be more vulnerable to my depression and anxiety. I had also returned to my sexual addiction. Once again, I saw “walking pornography” all around campus as well as the grocery store where I worked. It wasn’t too long before I realized I could simply look this stuff up online, so I did.
In 2007, in the midst of finishing my mission and starting college, my bishop gave me a new booklet called God Loveth His Children, written by the First Presidency. It was directed toward people who experience feelings of same-sex attraction, but who sincerely desire to live the standards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was so grateful to know that the leaders of the Church were aware of this reality. The booklet explained that there are some things we simply do not know in this life. It helped me to know that I indeed had a place in the Church, and I’ve held on to that knowledge ever since. I got a glimmer of hope as I started to understand that even though I experienced these attractions, I was OK. I also came to know that if I lived faithfully, Heavenly Father would bless me with an opportunity to be married and have a family, whether it will be in this life or the next.
During my first year of college, I met up with one of my mission friends whom I had grown close to. On one of these occasions, we were in the car on an ice cream run after seeing an opera production in Salt Lake. Out of the blue, he asked me if I struggled with same-sex attraction. Oddly enough, I said, “yes” without any hesitation. Apparently he had a copy of God Loveth His Children in his car. I hadn’t even noticed it, but he thought I might have seen it.
Sure enough, he experienced the same feelings. He was the first person—outside of my parents, bishop, and counselors—that I had ever told about my own struggles. For the first time, I had actually found someone who knew what I was going through. We got together a couple more times and shared our experiences. We were never in any dangerous or tempting circumstances. We both got involved in our college lives and lost contact for a while. In time we met up again through a support group, which I will describe later.
Even though God Loveth His Children was welcome counsel, I had trouble with one aspect of it. It mentioned the possibility of overcoming same-sex attraction. If that was the case, then I believed I should be doing everything within my power to overcome it. I went to see a therapist who had developed a reputation for working with people with same-sex attraction in addition to depression and anxiety. To this point, I was under the impression that therapy could clear these attractions right up. I thought my addiction to masturbation and my same-sex attraction were one and the same. I thought my fetish with guys’ pants was the only reason for the feelings I had. I hadn’t yet realized that I had had these feelings to a larger degree and much earlier on in life. My therapist and I were both of the mindset that as I quieted my addiction, I would eventually move away from same-sex feelings and begin developing feelings for girls. It made perfect sense to me back then.
I got to a better place with my depression and anxiety, and I thought I had some good tools to work with my same-sex attraction. I terminated my visits with the therapist. The tools were helpful in understanding my addiction. However, I did not experience a change in sexual orientation. I began to wonder if I even wanted these feelings to change. They had been a part of me for most of twenty years. Even though I struggled with them, I couldn’t imagine living without them.
Despite the hopeful messages from church leaders I mentioned earlier, I still had more obstacles headed my way. At church, I heard several talks urging young single adults to date and find an eternal companion, and I had a hard time with some of the ways those topics were addressed. I remember a stake leader addressing the men, shaking his head and saying, “Sometimes, I just wonder what is wrong with you.” I wanted to jump up, tell everyone that I liked guys, and walk out. Of course I didn’t. For the time being, I took comfort in the fact that if I couldn’t talk to anyone else about my struggles, then I could always bring it to the Lord, because He knew me perfectly.
Besides outside pressures, I also had a fair share of shame and self-criticism. Whenever I found myself thinking a guy was attractive, I would think, “No! I shouldn’t be feeling this way! I’m supposed to feel this way toward girls.” I went through periods of hating myself and my feelings. I had feelings of anger toward the guys who caught my eye either with their physique or with their clothes. I went through despair after repeatedly relapsing into my addiction.
After being discouraged like this, I remembered to read what the prophets have said in resources such as God Loveth His Children. I needed to remember that if I kept my covenants, I could “go forward as all other members of the Church.”[i] God makes provisions for his faithful children who do not have the opportunity to marry in this life. I needed to practice actually believing that those teachings applied to me, and not just other people.
In July 2011, I went to see a concert with a friend from my ward. As we were waiting in our seats, we talked about our dating lives. She started getting after me for not dating very seriously. She had been trying to figure out why so many guys were struggling to build relationships. We had had several conversations like this. I couldn’t speak for everyone, but in my case, I finally decided to stop shying around the topic and tell her about my same-sex attraction. I felt it was time to tell her, since we had been friends all throughout junior high and high school. She was surprised (and didn’t believe me at first), but it brought some depth into our friendship at the time. We later came close to dating, but I broke it off. We remained friends but eventually grew distant after I moved out of the ward.
During college, I became acquainted with Facebook. I reconnected with high school friends as well as my new friends from college. As my friend list piled up, I learned that a few had chosen to live an openly gay lifestyle and leave the Church. To be honest, some of this news came as a shock. I had no idea these guys experienced some of the same things I did. I experienced sadness and felt somewhat betrayed. I had never really experienced a longing for a boyfriend, but I understood some of the attractions, and I had already felt committed to the Church. The next few years brought an increasing amount of pro-gay posts and pictures. This led to some conflicting feelings for me. I was jealous of their popularity, and I was also sad that many had left the Church behind. I felt pressured to remain quiet about my own feelings—and maybe try to overcome them—while others were out and proud. There were several times when I wished I could have disclosed my same-sex attraction and even have a sense of humor about it from time to time. This was especially true when personal questions came up having to do with why I wasn’t married and why I had a hard time dating. I felt like I had to make up an answer.
In spring 2012, after seeing more comments and pictures on Facebook, one of which included a pair of engagement rings for two guys, I decided to come out. I had not seen any discussion about same-sex attraction within the context of the Church, and I wanted to start it. I was rather nervous, but I was confident in the prompting I received. I stated the following:
“Just a few things I can’t keep to myself any longer…Same-gender attraction is real. It’s just one of the many challenges in this life we may not know the reasons behind until, perhaps, we have a chance to sit down and ask Heavenly Father. We still have our agency. We can still choose to live a morally clean life according to the Proclamation to the World from the First Presidency (whether married or not). I echo Nephi’s testimony when he says, ‘I know that [God] loveth His children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.’ (1 Nephi 11:17)”
I didn’t exactly come out in that post, but I later shared a video on the efforts of some students at Brigham Young University to shed light on the topic. That was the post where I blatantly stated that I struggled with same-sex attraction. Shortly after I posted this, my mother suggested that I talk to my siblings about it so that they could hear it from me before anyone else. I told each of my siblings individually. Their responses were, “oh,” and “oh really?” I didn’t feel any negativity from them. They immediately accepted that this was a part of me, although they took a few questions to my parents. I was anxious to see what comments would pile up in the Facebook world after sharing this part of myself. I had no clue what to expect. A lot of responses rolled in shortly thereafter, and they were all positive. I was amazed at the kindness and acceptance of so many people.
Shortly after I came out, I noticed a post from one of my college acquaintances. He was also sharing his experiences and struggles along the same lines. There were many wonderful and positive comments for him as well. I messaged him and told him that I had opened up not too long ago. After hearing back from him, I learned that there were many more members of the Church in similar situations, and they were also beginning to talk more openly about their same-sex attractions. I found it very inspiring that many of us were prompted to do so at around the same time.
To add to my amazement, the following summer I came across an article in an LDS Living magazine. It featured a man named Ty Mansfield who experienced same-sex attraction, and who had decided to live a life devoted to Christ and his gospel. He eventually married and had a son. From there, I was led to two of his books: In Quiet Desperation and Voices of Hope. I read about several other individuals who experienced these feelings and were living lives of devotion to the gospel. Their stories and situations were varied, but they were all a source of great hope.
Later that same year, the friend that I had reconnected with introduced me to North Star, a support organization for those who are affected by same-sex attraction but who sincerely desire to live in harmony with the standards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Through this group, I have made friends who are striving to keep their covenants. I have attended several firesides geared toward this topic. These firesides have been among my choicest of spiritual experiences.
It has been wonderful to associate with men and women who have similar challenges. They are among my greatest heroes, and many of them are now my good friends. Although we are from many walks of life, and although we are all at different levels of testimony and repentance, we are united in that we are striving to follow Christ in word and in deed.
Early in 2013, I walked into my singles’ ward shortly before the start of a fast and testimony meeting. I looked at the program and saw that the theme for the month was “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” I decided to share my testimony on what I understood about the sacred nature and importance of the family. While doing so, I jumped out on a limb and disclosed my same-sex attraction. I explained how I desired to continue to support God’s plan for families. I don’t know if I was inspired to open up over the pulpit, but it happened.
My coming out and finding support relieved me of an enormous burden. I no longer had much to hide. I learned to not be afraid of what others might be thinking. I have been impressed by the love and the continuing friendship shown by others. Since I came out, I have had three wonderful bishops who have been very positive, loving, and humble. My family has been wonderful. They are my best friends, and they have provided for me a safe haven.
Even though I experienced an outpouring of love from those around me, I still struggled with feelings of shame and guilt. There was still this behind-the-scenes feeling that I had to work on overcoming these attractions. There were a lot of things I told myself I should or shouldn’t be doing. I told myself that if I truly wanted to keep the commandments and be worthy of the priesthood, I should be dating and searching for someone to marry, even if I had little or no desire to do so. I would also beat up on myself whenever I thought a guy was attractive.
I had an interesting experience in spring 2014, and it reminded me that Heavenly Father has a sense of humor. I was getting ready for one of our weekly choir broadcasts and I noticed a few guy friends sitting in the audience. I longed to be close to them and hug them. Even though those signs of affection are well within my standards and theirs, I was disgusted with myself. I was telling myself that it shouldn’t be this way. Almost immediately, the Spirit whispered (or shouted), “Alex, you’re gay! Of course you have those feelings. Just calm down and let me work with you!” After that moment, I remember saying to myself, “Well duh!” This experience helped me in further accepting myself.
I’ve had moments when I’ve been discouraged about not being married. It wasn’t so much the fact that I was single, but I felt like I “should” be miserable as a single member of the Church. I “should” be mournful whenever I see a happy married couple with a child or two. I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling all the expectations set for young single adults. The desire to get involved with girls was and is very small. Gratefully, I have been reminded through scriptures, temple attendance, and general conference talks to build my life around Christ. I have learned that as I keep the commandments, I can be worthy of all the blessings Heavenly Father has in store for me. I can still be a contributing member of the Church and society, even if I do remain single. In all this, I learned that I am just fine the way I am.
I am so grateful to have found a community of people who experience same-sex attraction and who want to live the gospel. Being able to discuss these feelings with people who understand has been a major source of strength. I am learning that there is a lot about my feelings that is righteous and good. I am experiencing brotherhood in a way I never had before. Most of our interactions are online, but sometimes we are able to get together for firesides and other events. I love giving and receiving hugs and telling my guy friends (and in some cases, their wives) “I love you.” When we embrace, it sometimes feels like I am being wrapped in the arms of my Savior. We strive to put God and his commandments first as we develop friendships and help each other become stronger disciples of Christ. One of my favorite things about this group of friends is that many of us are able to have a healthy sense of humor about our common thread of same-sex attraction. It has been wonderful.
I have become more comfortable with the term “gay.” There was a time when I reserved that term only to refer to those who sexually acted on their attractions. Later on, I decided to adopt that term and use it as a short, convenient way to describe my attractions, interchangeable with “same-sex attraction.” I found a sense of liberation when I could finally embrace it and say, “I’m gay.” More recently, I reached yet another point in my journey where I simply accepted this as a part of me. I don’t think I’ll ever say I’m not gay, or that I’m straight. Being gay, or same-sex attracted, is still a part of who I am. I’m also a son, a brother, a friend, and a potential husband. I have a balding head. I have nice legs. I love food. I love music. I’m a recovering addict. All these are secondary to being a son of God, an heir to a throne he has prepared for me according to my faithfulness.
I have learned many things along this road less traveled, and I know there is still much more to learn about what the Lord has in store for me. Most importantly, I have learned the importance of relying on the Savior and allowing him to be the center of my life. He has been my foundation in troubled times as well as in times of joy. He has come to my rescue multiple times in my battle with addiction or when I’ve been down or too hard on myself. I have a testimony of the basic things that Heavenly Father has asked me to do, such as prayer, scripture study, church and temple attendance, and serving others. I know that I must continue to lean on the Lord when it comes to questions about my future. I feel like marriage is possible, perhaps in this life, but it is in his hands.
I have also learned about compassion. I have more compassion for those who go through other trials, even trials that are often misunderstood. I must admit that even after I had accepted my same-sex attraction, I had a hard time respecting the beliefs of others concerning homosexuality and other controversial topics. This is something I still struggle with, but I believe that learning Christ-like love is one of the many reasons that Heavenly Father has seen fit to bless me with same-sex attraction.
I have learned to be myself. I am learning to put off the unreasonable expectations of others and find out who I truly am. To me, being true to myself means remembering that I am a son of God, and that I should live in a way that would bring me closer to him. I have learned to stop trying to be someone I’m not. God gave me certain traits for a reason. It doesn’t matter that I act a little more feminine than most guys. It doesn’t matter that I talk in a higher register. It doesn’t matter that I like chick flicks and that I’m not into sports. I’m me, and I’m happy.
I know that living prophets, seers and revelators guide us in our day. I know that like the rest of us, they have had to learn about issues like same-sex attraction; I know that they are in tune and are aware of what we face. I know that Jesus Christ not only paid for my sins, but that he descended below all things so that he would know how to succor me in times of need. I also know that he rejoices when I rejoice. I know that Heavenly Father lives and that he loves me.
My mission experience and coming to terms with same-sex attraction have certainly been two roads less traveled on this mountain called life. One prepared me for the other. I look back in awe as I can now see how the Lord orchestrated all of it. I don’t have all the answers—and I don’t know what the next move is—but I know that Jesus will direct me on the journey ahead.
[i] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, God Loveth His Children (Salt Lake City: 2007), 12.