Ben

Ben grew up in Everett, WA as the youngest of four children. He served a mission to Chihuahua, Mexico and attended school at BYU and the University of Arizona. After spending 11 years as a Spanish teacher, Ben decided to switch careers and become a therapist. He is single and plans to stay that way for the foreseeable future. He spends his time reading, watching TV, hiking, and eating out with friends. His dream job is to be a tour guide on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.
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Ben’s Essay: That Your Burdens May Be Light

My cell phone rang.  “Do you want to go for a walk tonight?”

Both relieved and surprised by this invitation I responded, “Uh, yeah, that sounds great.”

Mitch and I had been best friends in high school but had grown apart in college, especially after he got married.  It’s not that we didn’t get along, we just didn’t see each other very much.  We had never invited each other to go on a walk before, making his invitation so unexpected.  Mitch surely didn’t know that I had been holding in a secret for some time that I needed to discuss and that he had suddenly given me the perfect opportunity to talk to someone I trusted.

I hung up the phone and said to my roommate, Craig, “Hey, I’m going to go on a walk with Mitch.  Do you want to come?”  Craig and I had met the previous year in our BYU ward and had been roommates for some months at this time.  He had met Mitch once or twice, but they were only acquaintances.  And yet, my new best friend readily agreed to go on an impromptu summer walk with me and my old best friend.

Craig and I got in my car and I drove us to Mitch’s apartment.  That’s when I started to get nervous.  It was the summer between my junior and senior years at BYU and I’d been feeling increasingly lonely and sad because of a secret I was keeping.  It was something that I thought I could handle on my own.However, life got harder and harder and I knew I needed help although struggling to know how or to whom.  I was incredibly embarrassed by it and thought I would be rejected or shunned if anyone else found out.  I had wanted to tell Craig for months, but he was my roommate and I thought he would feel uncomfortable if I opened up to him about my secret.  And so I kept it inside.

We got to Mitch’s apartment and the three of us went on a summer evening stroll through Kiwanis park in east Provo.  We engaged in small talk as we walked along the park.  I tried to sound jovial and carefree as I spoke, but I felt exactly the opposite.    It seemed like I was about to drop a bombshell on them that they wouldn’t see coming and I didn’t want to put them in an awkward position.  As I forced a smile and talked about the daily comings and goings of university life, I was struggling internally with whether or not I should tell Mitch and Craig.  I was so afraid, but I also needed them to know.  I thought about how odd it was that Mitch had invited me to go on a walk which was something he’d never done before.  And yet, his invitation had brought me to a private place with my two best friends.  It was as if Heavenly Father knew what I needed and orchestrated the optimal situation for me to share my secret.

I gathered my courage and interrupted the commonplace chitchat saying, “Do you mind if we sit down on the grass?  There’s something I want to tell you guys.”  We sat down and I started to feel so nervous that I thought I would vomit.  Stalling, I began slowly pulling out blades of grass by my feet so that I would have something to look at instead of looking into the faces of my puzzled best friends.  As I tugged on blades of grass and stared at the ground I almost chickened out, but I reminded myself that I had been wanting to do this for months, that I needed to do it, and that God had put me in the best possible situation to do it.  And so, I took a deep breath and for the first time uttered the words that I had carefully chosen weeks before: “For as long as I can remember I’ve been attracted to men instead of women.”

At the time I wasn’t comfortable calling myself gay and so I described my situation instead of labeling it.  Gay just didn’t feel like the right label for me since I had never had a physical relationship with another man.  I had been attracted to men since puberty, but I always thought it was something that was temporary.  Surely my mission would cure me, I thought.  I would work hard, God would see my honest efforts to serve faithfully, and I would be rewarded with a wonderful wife to whom I was genuinely attracted.  However, when I arrived home from my mission, I disappointingly discovered that I was still attracted to men.  I felt very let down by God. Nevertheless, I decided to square my shoulders and be like Nephi who said: “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7).  I had been told that now that I was home from my mission, it was time for me to find a wonderful woman and get married.  Certainly the Lord would help me find success in this righteous pursuit.

A few months after my mission, I returned to BYU and I started taking many women on dates.  I took out several wonderful women and some of them were even interested in me, but I had a hard time finding one for whom I was really interested.  By April 2007, I had been taking a really great woman on dates for a few months.  She was kind, witty, beautiful, and her dream was to someday play Maria in The Sound of Music.  She was perfect for me.  One evening I expressed interest in dating her which led to a conversation about our relationship.  She told me that she thought very highly of me, but felt like we just had a good friendship, not a romantic relationship.  She pointed out that after more than two months of dates I hadn’t kissed her or even held her hand.  She was right; I hadn’t done either of those things because I was not naturally compelled to do so.  My guy friends would talk about how hard it was to wait to kiss a woman they liked and yet I had found one who was awesome that liked me and I had no desire to kiss her.  Something was obviously different about me.  She and I decided to just be friends.

After two years of sincerely trying to find a woman to date, I was still single.  I had always felt like I was different than other guys.  That difference, obviously, was that I was attracted to men.  I finally had to face the reality that it was my same-sex attraction that had made my search for a wife so unsuccessful.  Why did I have these feelings?  How could I find a woman I was attracted to? And even if I did, what woman would ever want to marry a man that experienced same-sex attraction?  These questions plagued me and caused me to give up on dating altogether.

I began to feel increasingly lonely and sad.  A number of my friends noticed that something was wrong and kindly asked what was going on.  I wasn’t ready to talk about it so I just avoided the question and withdrew more and more from the activities I usually did.  One evening a friend stopped by my apartment and told my roommates and me that a close friend had just come out to her at dinner.  She was shocked and was trying to process the whole situation.  I immediately perked up when she mentioned that her friend had said he was gay because at the time it hadn’t occurred to me that there were other gay people at BYU.  I had thought that I was the only one which left me feeling incredibly isolated.  She mentioned that there were a number of anonymous blogs written by BYU students who experienced same-sex attraction.  I was stunned.  There were other people going through what I was going through?  And I could read about their experiences? I then played a delicate dance of trying to get as much information out of her as possible without trying to look too interested because I didn’t want her to suspect that I was gay, too.

As soon as she left, I went into my room and typed “gay byu student blog” into Google.  I quickly found about half a dozen blogs written by my peers experiencing same-sex attraction at BYU.  Some of the blogs had more than a year of history and dozens of posts.  I would start at the oldest post and then read through each entry of the blog.  I devoured their words and spent many hours reading.  At first just knowing that there were other people experiencing the same thing I was experiencing helped me to feel very included.  However, the blogs started making me feel worse and worse.  They often began with the writer sharing his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ followed by a statement of determination to stay active and faithful no matter what.  Then as months and sometimes years passed the writer would develop feelings for someone, decide staying active in the church wasn’t right for him, and eventually decide to leave.  Not all the blogs followed this pattern, but enough of them started out with strong testimonies and ended leaving the church that I worried that that was the inevitable conclusion to my story.

One evening early in the summer of 2007 I sat in my room pondering the blogs I had been reading.  I thought about my life and what I wanted and hoped it would be.  Then I considered the reality of my life and what it actually could be.  I concluded that I had two options: leave the church and pursue a gay lifestyle or remain active in the church and stay single for the rest of my life.  Both options seemed inconceivably hard for me and I couldn’t imagine being happy in either path.  I let my mind wander as I envisioned my future if I chose either path.  As much as I was afraid of being alone for the rest of my life, I knew that I desired to stay active in the church.  Other people in the same situation as me have made other choices and I respect their decision, but I knew that staying in the church was the right thing for me.

I knelt down in my room and said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father that no matter what I was going to stay in the church and if I needed to spend the next 60 years of my life alone I was willing to do that.  I then sat down on my bed and with a heavy heart pulled out my scriptures.  For no particular reason, I started reading in Alma 40:8 and was stunned when I reached the following phrase: “…all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.”  The rest of my life seemed like a long time to be alone, but these words jumped out at me and reminded me that sacrificing for a time really wouldn’t be a long sacrifice when viewed in the eternities.  My mind then jumped to a line that I had always loved from Preach My Gospel.  It says, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (p. 52).  It felt so unfair to me that I had to choose between staying in the church and being married to someone to whom I was attracted.   It really did seem unfair, but I knew and felt that night that everything that was unfair would be made right and that I would be okay.

Life wasn’t quite as bleak for me after that night.  I had made a firm commitment to remain active in the church and I had felt peace and comfort that someday, and maybe not until the next life, everything would be okay.  This knowledge provided me with great comfort, but it didn’t change my circumstances.  I was still a single man longing to love someone and be loved in return.  I knew that I was going to be single for a long time and that scared me.  In spite of all the good I had felt, life hadn’t gotten any easier.  That’s when I decided that I needed the support of my friends.  It took me two months to get up the courage to tell Mitch and Craig fearing how they might respond.

After revealing my secret on the grass in Kiwanis Park, I looked up expectantly at Mitch and Craig to see how they would react.  They both said that they were surprised and caught off guard.  Then they did exactly what I needed them to do–they said that they cared about me and that I could talk to them about what I was going through whenever I needed.  I looked over at Craig and said, “I understand if you don’t want to be my roommate anymore.”  He looked surprised and replied, “Why wouldn’t I want to be your roommate?  You’re the same person you’ve always been.”  Even though I didn’t know it, that’s exactly what I needed him to say.  I had felt broken and unworthy, thinking that no one would like me if they knew that I experienced same-sex attraction. Hearing Craig say that he still wanted to be my roommate even though he knew I experienced same-sex attraction changed my world.  I saw that I wasn’t broken and that I was whole the way I was.

My life changed for the better that evening.  I didn’t anticipate the remarkable transformation that was going to take place in my life when I shared my secret with my friends.  As I talked with Mitch and Craig, I felt an enormous burden being lifted off of my shoulders, a burden whose immense weight I had not even realized I was carrying until it was removed.  In the Book of Mormon, Alma taught his people that when we are baptized, we covenant to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” and “to mourn with those that mourn” and to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8-9).  My friends willingly shared my burden with me and it did indeed become light to me.  As I opened up to more and more friends and family members, I felt my burden get lighter and lighter.  There have been many times that my friends listened to my sorrows, cried with me, and hugged me when I needed them.  I could not have made it alone.  I would not be the person I am today without the love and support of my friends.  I do not think that I would be an active participant in the church today if Mitch and Craig had not reacted by expressing love and acceptance.

An unexpected thing has happened throughout the years as I have told people about my experiences with same-sex attraction.  When I open up, the person I’m talking to often opens up and shares his or her struggles as well.  It has been very eye-opening for me to see the varied and unanticipated struggles that my friends have.  I have come to understand that my same-sex attraction does not make my life harder than anyone else’s, it just makes it different.  Everyone has a burden to bear.  The hymn “Lord I Would Follow Thee” sums up what I have learned in the second verse: “In the quiet heart is hidden / Sorrow that the eye can’t see” (Hymns #220).  We very rarely know of the burdens being carried by those people we interact with every day because our deepest sorrows are often hidden away in our hearts.

Through the years, I have been reminded again and again of how much we need each other. I have needed my friends and they have needed me. Yet the person I need most is my Savior. While each of us covenant to bear one another’s burdens when we are baptized, it is through the Atonement that our burdens are truly lightened. As Alma explains, “And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his son” (Alma 33: 23). I used to think that the Atonement would make me straight, but that’s not what has happened at all. The Atonement healed my broken heart. And through the life, teachings, and Atonement of Jesus Christ, my burdens have been made light.

16 Comments

  1. Ron A

    Ben, I’m so grateful that you had the courage to share your testimony and experience regarding this issue. You have blessed my life and confirmed that hope which l have in Jesus Christ and His perfect Atonement. Thank you for you have made this upcoming Thanksgiving one that l will forever remember.

    Reply
  2. Tyler R.

    Ben that was one of the most faith filled dialogues I have ever heard in my life. I can see the reason why the Lord wanted you to share your message, there is a voice of hope, peace, courage and faith that so many people from different circumstances need to hear. Thank you so much Ben!

    Reply
  3. Ray

    Thank you being an inspiration to many by sharing your story and your commitment to follow the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I personally needed to read your story and be uplifted

    Reply
  4. Eric

    Brother, I was blown away with the eloquence of this essay every whit (& word). I have walked in the exact same shoes as yourself and had a miracle unexplainably happen when in the middle of my dilemma. Miracles can & do happen in this life as well as the next. May our Father’s deepest care be with you. Affectionately…

    Reply
  5. Blair Bacon

    thanks for sharing. it is tough to tell people that you are gay. luckily, the few people I have told have been supportive. May the Lord bless you.

    Reply
  6. Laurie

    Super amazing share. My daughter came out about 7 months ago and it has been a journey for us. She had gone to the temple and received her endowment but after still feeling gay she felt she was not worthy. She decided to take off her garments and leave the church even though we loved her and felt we could support her through her decisions. She still believes the church to be true, but your testimony is one I definitely want her to hear. I know ultimately she is on this journey and will make her choices, but your strength and conviction of self acceptance is warming to my soul and spirit and I need to get her to watch this. Thank you. Also is there a chapter of this group the Genesis group in Phoenix?

    Reply
  7. Ryan C

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m currently a freshman at BYU, and even though I’ve known I was attracted to guys since middle school, this is the year that I am finally trying to overcome my fears and look for peace. I’m extremely nervous for my mission and being around lots of other men, but I hope it will all turn out for the best. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Robert

      I don’t know if you’ll see this Ryan, but I’m also a freshman at BYU. I recently returned from my mission, which was a wonderful experience. Yes it’s hard, but you pray a lot, keep pushing forward, and you not only make it through, but God helps you grow and become better. I had very open discussions about my same-sex attraction in interviews with my mission president, and he was incredibly loving and supportive. Just know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love you and will help you, especially, especially, as you serve as a missionary.

      Reply
  8. Carolyn Gibb

    Ben thanks so much for sharing your wonderful story. I am not as active in the groups as I used to be (a mother). But reading your words brought tears as I remember how I have always thought those who have been given the challenge of SSA are some of Heavenly Father’s most beautiful and blessed spirits. Bless you in your journey! Much love.

    Reply
  9. Roberta

    Thank you so much for sharing. How I love your strength and willingness to help others through your story.

    Reply
  10. Bry

    Ben I can’t thank you enough for sharing your testimony, your love of God, you understanding of others journey, thank you for your kind words, and for you insight! I can’t express how much I needed this

    Reply
  11. Joel

    Ben,
    Thanks so much for having the courage to express your feelings publicly. I am sure it was extremely difficult, but you did it so well. So many people who are dealing with SSA in and out of the church act like there are no options and even no choice. I am not going to pretend for any moment how difficult this issue is. I am a great fan of Josh Weed and although I think he has recently made the wrong choice, he and his wife have taught me so much about SSA that I can never thank them enough. However, I am in search of a new hero and I would like it to be you. Obviously your relationship to your heavenly father is the MOST important thing in your life. You are not defined by your sexuality! In this day and age you are an extremely rare individual. You realize you have lots of options with the Lord. However, I don’t think you realize just how many options are available to you…yet! My wife left me and our family when my kids were early teenagers. I was thrust unwillingly into the single world of the church. It is a very horrible place were thousands live in quiet desperation. It is a place statistically where there are 20 women to every 1 man. That may sound like a great thing for that one man, but statistically again, most of these men are responsible for their own divorces. So, you have a place where there are many many wonderful, exceptional, single women, with children usually, that find it very hard, I would say almost impossible, to find a worthy priesthood holder to marry. I would say you could certainly find one of these sisters that would greatly value your valiant dedication to the gospel and your priesthood over whatever your sexual sexual orientation is! I don’t think you realize how many women are living in pretty much sexless marriage already. They would give anything to be married to someone who loves the gospel like you and someone who knows, like they do, that all will be made right in the next life! But just like in Josh Weed’s case, you don’t have to live without children whether they be adopted or stepchildren. You must realize that you are greatly needed as a father. And let me emphatically say something here that all SSA individuals need to understand, at least those totally interested in pleasing God and not man or themselves. I don’t think anyone would say that Mother Theresa lived in unfulfilled life or that St Francis wasted his time. Thousands of monks and priests and nuns have given the world some of its greatest and most unselfish service and still do today. They certainly have not made their sexuality the most important thing. We really don’t know why SSA exist or its place in the kingdom of God, but I feel it is very important to note that you don’t give up something you know for something you don’t know. I also feel that we are judged, all of us, by how we answer and live the answer to this question in our lives, The question of how we act on our sexual urges, how we bridle them, and how we teach that answer to those around us, especially children! You are and can be the hero that others look to to help them deal with SSA. This is what Josh Weed was so valiantly doing before he decided it wasn’t worth it. I am sure it was an agonizing decision for him, but I think it was the wrong one. The Lord through his prophets has not changed and you don’t go out and do your own thing. That’s called rebellion and lots of very very smart people on both sides of the veil have rebelled. The war in heaven is still going on and it is a pitched battle, a real war, and we are going to need the strongest voice that we can get from the Holy Ghost to find our way through the minefield of modern day psychology. Please, you be one of those who supports and encourages and boldly stands for the way God deals with man, not the way we would like him to deal with us. So, if you can understand the issues I have weakly explained here, go ahead and get married. Go out and grab all that life has for you, which is way more than most of the people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. There’s no need to be sad and there is absolutely no need to be unfulfilled because God can fill you with peace and joy beyond anything the world out there has to offer! So, ready or not, you’re my new hero!

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hey, I know your comment is well intentioned and heart felt. I just want you to understand though that nobody wants to live in a sexless marriage. Not one person. Not even single mothers.

      Reply
  12. Lynn

    I appreciate your words and honesty so much. I am a straight woman married to a gay man. I have found so much love and peace in my relationship with him as we have both been faithful to our covenants. I am in awe of your courage to tread the path as a single, stalwart servant of Jesus Christ. May you be strengthened day by day as you strengthen others. Our endings are in His hands.

    Reply
  13. Lana Schow

    Wow, thank you for sharing your story! You are an inspiration!

    Reply
  14. David

    Ben, thanks for your courageous story. As a non-LDS person who formerly considered myself a Christian (a long explanation would be required), I felt your story resonate with me. I, too, didn’t feel what seemed to be the typical male attraction to women as a teenager and young adult. After a brief period of experimentation with a relationship with another man, I eventually married a wonderful woman with whom I have three great children. I still feel an attraction to men, and thus I feel that I’m letting my wife down in some ways. Your courage in accepting yourself is refreshing — I wish I had similar courage 25 years ago. Any suggestions for how an atheist can find strength in such a situation?

    Reply

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