Chad & Jenni
Chad’s Essay: In His Strength I Can Do All Things
I know in whom I have trusted
That is what mortals misunderstand… They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory… And that is why… the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except Heaven”, and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly . — C. S. Lewis
“We the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that…” I read the familiar words of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. As a child, it seemed like stating the obvious; why even make a proclamation? Of course God thinks the family is important, and parents and children should be nice to one another. On my mission, it became a bold statement of truth, one that I had learned by heart. But now—now it seemed like a slap in the face. I didn’t repudiate the truth to the document. But why did my current circumstances seem in conflict with some of its basic principles?
That was a snapshot of my experience just five years ago. I had come to terms with the fact that I was attracted to men, but had yet to sort out what I was going to do about it. This wasn’t a right/wrong decision like whether you would keep the Word of Wisdom or read your scriptures. The Church acknowledged that marriage wasn’t a cure-all for those with same-sex attraction, yet at the same time held marriage between a man and a woman to be sacred. That seemed to leave me in a kind of limbo with no real goal or direction to orient myself. How could I choose the right when I couldn’t figure out what the right was for me?
Early life: All that David Copperfield stuff
I was born and raised in Utah. I had two loving parents who taught me the gospel, but also highly valued shared family experiences—even if it meant skipping Church every once in a while to head to the mountains. If the kids were fighting and bickering more than usual, the cure lay in a weekend trip of camping and hiking to “learn to live with each other again.” I was quite the nerd and proud of it, too. I always had a book in hand wherever I went—even on the back of a four-wheeler. My parents had a hard time finding a sport that I enjoyed, switching me from basketball to baseball to dance and back again. I finally settled on track in high school where I could be a one-man team. I loved to read. I was best friends with the school librarian. And when it came to school, if it wasn’t an A, it was an F. I faced my share of bullying; I would cross my legs “like a girl” and when I sang, it was “like a girl,” which planted the seeds for a host of insecurities. Eventually, I found a good group of friends in high school that helped me feel like I was wanted, giving me a measure of confidence and room to grow.
When it came time to date, I lived by the book. No deviations from For the Strength of Youth whatsoever. I never went on a date with a girl twice in a row to avoid the dreaded “steady dating.” I never kissed a girl or even held her hand. But I really only went on dates when a school dance came around. With these semi-self-imposed constraints, dating seemed virtually useless. I could interact with girls in much less awkward scenarios at school and as friends,
If dating was so hard and confusing, why should I subject myself to it?
While I didn’t acknowledge my same-sex attraction until much later, I can clearly identify it in retrospect. There were certain guy friends around whom I would feel absolutely giddy. I had a hard time talking to them and would slip up on words. I told myself that I admired them, nothing more. I never had similarly strong feelings towards girls. Yet I failed to put two and two together.
A lightning bolt experience
Then something happened that shook up my world. I had graduated high school and was working at the local bookstore. It was an idyllic job, but sometimes I didn’t come home with much of a paycheck after filling up so many of my own bookshelves. I was the only member of the Church among the staff and had many opportunities to talk about the gospel with my coworkers. I was also very naïve, and I prided myself on it. I wouldn’t get the punchline of jokes if they involved any innuendo. People would excuse themselves if they swore while I was around. I was the good little Mormon boy, and I loved the attention I got from it.
One day, one of my coworkers waved me over to introduce me to one of his friends, “James.” James seemed like a very nice guy, and he asked if I would like to come over some time to hang out. I was excited to be included in this older crowd, and I felt grown-up and accepted. We exchanged phone numbers and began texting each other. After some initial pleasantries, he began asking me some odd and seemingly too personal questions. For example, he asked if I had wet dreams. I didn’t know what those were until I asked him to explain. I decided he was an odd guy, but the oddity made it all the more exciting. That week, I picked him up from work to “hang out.” While I was driving, he casually put his hand on my leg. I instantly became uncomfortable, but I didn’t mention it and tried to make casual conversation. I asked about his background, what classes he liked in school, what he planned to do for a career. But he wouldn’t go in any detail, or he just didn’t care. When we got to his house, without any preparation or fanfare, he began to take off my belt and unbutton my pants. And I didn’t resist at all. I didn’t think that people did that and had no plan in case someone tried to take advantage of me. Eventually his roommate came home. After a few awkward introductions, I made some excuses and slipped out the door as fast as I could. I cried all the way home, convinced that I committed the sin “most abominable above all sins.”
When I got home, I rushed up to my parents’ bedroom and confessed the whole thing. My dad is generally one of the most calm and collected people I know, but this managed to bring out an anger that I had seldom seen. My mom was in tears, insisting that we call the police to catch the man. The biggest question hanging in the room was, why? Why had this even happened? I had a hard time answering it for my parents, because I didn’t know myself. My dad said that we would have to schedule a meeting with the bishop and that my ordination to elder and my mission would probably be on hold for a lengthy amount of time. Looking back, I know that my parents were just worried and sorry that they weren’t able to protect me. But the tense situation and the uncertainty of my fate left me with little hope to cling to. I was left for a day or two wracked with my guilt waiting for the bishop to swing his gavel and pronounce my crime. I had never confessed anything to the bishop before, and it made it all the more intimidating. I thought that I had train-wrecked my entire life.
But it didn’t end up like that at all. The next day, I met with Bishop Pickle. He invited me in to his office. I tried to remain as calm as I could, but it was like someone else was talking. This couldn’t be real. When I had explained the entirety of the encounter, my bishop showed no sign of distress like my parents had. Before saying anything else, he said I had no need of forgiveness because I had committed no sin. I was blameless.
I was shocked. Surely, he had misheard. Didn’t he realize that I didn’t resist? I didn’t run away? Isn’t Joseph running away from Potiphar’s wife the example always used in such situations? I met with a psychologist a few times, but after telling my bishop I never openly talked about the event again I would sweep it under the rug and try to forget it. I was fine. Don’t ask. And I thought that was enough for me. But an element of disharmony had entered my life that wasn’t there before. My model, my outlook on life, felt like it was somehow off-kilter, like all the pictures in the house were slightly misaligned. The things I had taken for granted before now seemed at risk. Would I be able to feel the Spirit as a missionary? Would I be able to receive revelation in the scriptures? I was a sinner masquerading as if everything was all right. I just couldn’t accept the bishop at his word.
This would be the beginning of a crash course in the Atonement. For so long, I had thought I could endure to the end on my own, and that I had no struggle with any one commandment. I was like the young man who said to Jesus, “All these things I have kept from my youth up.” Thrown out of my childhood Eden, it took me a while to accept that the Lord could make me whole.
Pushing any misgivings behind me, I submitted my mission papers and was called to serve as a missionary in Frankfurt, Germany. And like Elder Holland, I can say that my mission meant everything to me. I learned that the gospel was meant to be lived, that it should infuse every aspect of my life. I prayed constantly to my Father in Heaven. I found daily guidance in the scriptures, and I searched, pondered and prayed. The lesson of one member will never leave me; he said that if anyone wants to live an adventure, they should be a Mormon. And that’s how I choose to live my life now. Challenges and disappointments are just a part of our story. Some doubts still surfaced, and I had yet to fully forgive myself. But I took a pragmatic approach: if I could feel the inspiration of the Spirit, and if I could teach by the Spirit, then I must be OK with the Lord. My confidence began to wax strong, and I took heart in the Lord’s promise that “the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you” (Doctrine and Covenants 62:3). My mission infused me with a hope that I hadn’t felt before and that would sustain me through many of the trials to come.
I came home. I enrolled in classes. I got a calling. But everyone knows the real important thing after the mission is getting married. The pressure felt very real to me, and I didn’t even have my nametag off! My mission president had made it very clear in my exit interview: “Elder Curtis, what is your purpose as a missionary?” “Well, to invite others to come unto Christ.” “And to do that, you have to find them! What is your purpose now?” “Well, I suppose to find an eternal companion?” “Exactly!” I was also the oldest child and the oldest grandchild, so I was expected to produce as quickly as possible the first grandchild and great grandchild. I wasn’t home a week and my family was already trying to push me out to the singles ward. I internalized the now-apocryphal Mormon quip that men over 25 are a menace to society.
With a thousand different expectations pushing me forward, I started going on dates. My mom had a whole list of candidates with whom she wanted to set me up. I remember one woman I started asking out. But after two dates, she started to act in unexpected ways. She would text me late at night when I wanted to get to bed. And she asked if I wanted to go on walks randomly. Why would we go on a walk, just to go on a walk? Was I supposed to do that if I liked someone? She intimidated me intensely, and I eventually stopped texting her back altogether.
Now that I was dating with “real intent,” I began to notice something that had never dawned on me before: I didn’t like women. In high school, I had been able to brush it off as not being ready, or that I was just really good at waiting until after my mission. But now none of those excuses were there. I wasn’t confused. There was nothing confusing about it. The people I got giddy about, the ones I daydreamed about, the ones I felt close to—they were all guys. I never admitted this out loud to myself, but I would often fall asleep at night fighting this realization internally. It defied my entire worldview and one of the core doctrines that I grew up with, gained a testimony of, and firmly believed to be true and from God. What was I supposed to do? I ignored it for the time being because I had no answer.
In the meantime, I was attending school to get a degree in chemical engineering. I was fortunate enough to get an internship at a nearby pharmaceutical company. I was trained by a fellow intern who had been working there for the past year whom I will call “Sarah.” I enjoyed working with her, and we had many good conversations. She was LDS, had served a mission, and had a developed spirituality about her. One thing that confused me was that she occasionally talked about her girlfriend, singular. I eventually put two and two together, that she was an active member of the Church who was also pursuing a same-sex relationship. This was entirely new to me, but it gave me a burst of hope: I had found someone going through the same thing I was! I resolved to tell her. It was so difficult to finally admit these feelings vocally to another person. Fortunately, she was very understanding and helped talk me through it.
After talking to Sarah, I figured the next step was to talk to my parents. I wanted to have a larger circle of support with whom to reason this out. I thought it would be natural to tell my parents next, even if it was a bit of a shock. Looking back, this is one thing I wish I had done more tactfully. One evening, I found them both in their bedroom, and I told them that I wanted to chat. With very little context or preparation, I explained that I was attracted to men. After a stunned silence, my dad asked me whether I still had a testimony. I confirmed that I absolutely still had a testimony, and that I had every intention of living gospel standards. My mom only said that it would have been better if I hadn’t told her at all. That ended the discussion. I went away feeling very hurt that they didn’t give advice or help and weren’t even willing to talk about it further. It had taken me a lot of courage to even mention it to them. My dad’s question in particular felt like he was questioning my faith, and I held it against him for a long time. In conversations I have had with him since, I now know that my dad was expressing that Christ is “a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” and had no intention of doubting me. Afterwards, the topic became taboo. I ultimately resolved that I wouldn’t mention anything about dating with them, and I grew taciturn and cold with my parents. From that one bad experience, I had cut myself off from some of the people who I now realize would always be on my side. I should have realized that if this was earth-shaking to me, it was an earthquake-tsunami-hurricane to them.
Coming out to myself and to others changed things. What would my future look like? I needed a pattern, something to model my life after, and it didn’t seem to be there. The website Mormons and Gays was not yet up and running, and I only knew about the one-liner about homosexuality in For the Strength of Youth. Sarah invited me to a support group that she attended, and I tagged along. The group was not affiliated with the Church and housed many different opinions. I met some who chose to be celibate, some who formed mixed-orientation marriages, some who dated those of the same sex, and some who had happy and successful same-sex marriages. Opinions towards the Church varied just as widely. I heard heartfelt testimonies and strong criticism. This did little in helping me define my own path, but I was happy to find others in the same situation as me. These were people who understood me and didn’t express disgust that I was gay. I liked being there. I had found a temporary refuge to sort out my experiences, beliefs, and values.
While I had resolved to live gospel standards, I had a bad case of “Fear of Missing Out”, FOMO. There were so many attractive guys and I craved to know what it would be like to date one of them. That’s the awful paradox that plagued most experiences I had with support groups: the need to find people who understand you, but the inevitable attractions that can occur. I quickly developed a crush on a guy in my carpool whom I will call “Jacob.” After one meeting, Jacob invited me to a café where we got to know each other a little bit. The next week, we went to Temple Square, and we held hands. We discussed our relationship upfront. I explained that I wanted to live by gospel standards, and that I eventually wanted to get married in the temple. He was a former member, but understood where I was coming from and would leave the decision up to me. I chose an unstable middle-of-the-road serving-God-and-Mammon compromise: we would date, but we wouldn’t refer to ourselves as boyfriends, and we would live by the standards outlined in the For Strength of Youth.
Jacob and I dated for about four months—and it was eye-opening. I found out how simple a pleasure it was to hold his hand. He was the first person I ever kissed—in a movie theatre at a film we were barely paying attention to. Aladdin’s A Whole New World was playing in the background of those four months. But the situation eventually became untenable when we had a define-the-relationship chat. I was dating him with no intention to marry, and it was hurting both of us. I was honestly being hypocritical and cruel by neither committing to my faith nor to a long-term relationship. I still had a conviction that The Family were principles I wanted to live by. We both realized that it would be better if we parted ways.
Coming to myself
It was this experience that finally gave me the motivation to talk to my bishop. I hadn’t been living according to the gospel and knew that I needed to repent. At the time, Bishop Lucking was leading my local singles ward. I was too scared to face him with my story in person, so I wrote him a long letter explaining in detail what boundaries I had crossed. When I met with him, I came prepared with six solid goals that I wanted to eventually achieve regarding my personal chastity and my dating life. These included baby steps, like learning the names of women in my ward. Bishop Lucking was very understanding and helped me work to a place where I wanted to be, not without a few slipups along the way. We began meeting on a regular basis to talk things through.
During one meeting with Bishop Lucking, he said something that I found to be very profound. I was just beginning to date again, and he related his own experience courting his wife to my own. He said, “You know, when I met my wife for the first time, I was head over heels. There was little to no thought involved. The next thing I knew, I was married! It wasn’t until after I was married that I realized how serious of a commitment I had made and I had to think and plan to make my marriage successful. With your experience being gay, it’s seems to be almost the opposite. You will need to be very thoughtful as you date and as you find your eternal companion. With time, your love will grow.” That gave me so much comfort. When I had dated Jacob, there was such magnetism. I had never felt a similar attraction to a woman and feared that I wouldn’t be able to develop the spark that could lead to love and an eternal marriage. Bishop Lucking suggested that I could potentially have just as deep a love, but that the process was inverted.
I solidified this concept for myself when I stumbled upon the same idea in C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in an explanation of Christian marriage . In it he distinguishes ‘being in love’ from love itself. ‘Being in love’ is “a noble feeling, but it is still just a feeling” that ultimately can’t sustain a marriage. Love itself “is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by… the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.” This idea of love was a choice! It took work to maintain, and it also required the presence and help of God. This was the love I wanted to aim for and build if I were to marry. “It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” I believed that it would be possible for me to build a relationship founded on this kind of love, but that the explosion starting it would be more mild. It was this new paradigm that gave me the hope and courage to continue to search for an eternal companion.
Bishop Lucking also expressed trust in me. Even when I was still on shaky ground, he gave me a calling and suggested that I serve as a temple worker. I began waking up early on Saturday mornings to serve in the house of the Lord. This made the temple a part of me. I memorized and internalized the covenants and ordinances of washing, anointing, and the endowment. During my breaks, I would find a quiet spot in the chapel or an empty sealing room to ponder. I knew this was where I wanted to be. I wanted the peace and confidence I felt in the temple to infuse my everyday life. In the temple, my confidence began to wax strong in the presence of God. I felt the upward pull from heaven that caused Nephi to move from sorrowing because of trials and temptations to saying, “Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: “O Lord, I will praise thee forever” (2 Nephi 4:30).
After the initial hurdle of speaking to my bishop, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to pick myself up and move on. I had assumed repentance was a long and drawn-out process that would require multiple outward signs of remorse before reaching my former place, and that I would always live with the reminder that I had sinned. But repentance as a “turning of the heart and will to God” (BD “Repentance) and God’s forgiveness can happen in a moment, the very moment I resolved to change. “Spiritual confidence increases when you voluntarily and joyfully repent of your sins, both small and great, in real time” . This can bring to me a lasting peace of conscience, a “freedom from anguish, sorrow, guilt, shame, and self-condemnation” . I learned that “the grace of God does not merely restore us to our previous innocent state but enables us to ultimately become like him” . Christ’s Atonement became a worn and well-used aid rather than an emergency kit for the worst of sins.
Bishop Lucking was eventually called into the stake presidency and was succeeded by Bishop Graham. He was just as kind and understanding and helped me in unique ways in figuring out my path. I had to relive a few apprehensions coming out to a new priesthood leader. Would he come from a place of understanding? When I came out to him, the first thing he said was, “Teach me. Let me learn from you.” The humility and trust in that answer brought needed peace to my soul. At no time did he tell me what I should do or how I should live. He let me go at my own pace and walked with me instead of pulling or pushing me along. At the time, I was reading Ty Mansfield’s In Quiet Desperation, which had been a catalyst in reconciling my faith and my feelings, that example and hope that I had been looking for. I recommended that Bishop Graham read it, and we would regularly talk about it together. I was blessed with such exemplary leaders in my singles ward that truly embodied the Christ’s method of ministering: “Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).
As I was finding more spiritual confidence in myself, I was surprised to receive a calling to serve as an elder’s quorum president in my singles ward. When the stake president extended the calling, I felt obligated to come out to him and explain that I had same-sex attraction. He said that as long as I was keeping my covenants and had confessed to the bishop, that it didn’t affect my ability to serve—and he mentioned that both President Lucking and Bishop Graham had recommended me for the calling. Humbled at this expression of confidence and trust from my priesthood leaders, I accepted the calling and put my heart and soul into serving the brothers and sisters in my ward. Just because I had same-sex attraction didn’t mean I was doomed to serve in “safe” callings the rest of my life, leaving “normal” people to take the reins. Serving as elder’s quorum president helped me get past my own problems and feel increased empathy and love for others. It helped me to “wake up, and do something more” than just feel bad for myself.
In my search for guidance or examples or answers to my specific situation, I read a lot. I initially found very few resources for Mormons and gays. The Church website was not yet available. I eventually stumbled upon Ty Mansfield’s In Quiet Desperation, which rang true to me. But I also found hope and inspiration in a variety of authors, many of whom didn’t address same-sex attraction directly. I learned how beautiful the Atonement is from our brothers in the Christian faith, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and G. K. Chesterton as well as from LDS authors like Brad Wilcox and Stephen Robinson. I found out how to unleash the power of the Spirit in my own life from LDS emeritus general authority F. Enzio Busche. Overall, I began to realize that my burden, however large it seemed to me, was not unique; that Christians had been bearing their own crosses since Christ himself. I began to attempt to bear others burdens, to empathize, and my own burden began to be light.
One particular passage that moved me was an explication of the Lord’s temptations in the wilderness. In the first temptation, Satan insidiously suggests that Christ turn stones into bread to alleviate his hunger. Christ responds with the scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by…” MacDonald takes this a step further: “As a man cannot feel the things he believes except under certain conditions of physical well-being dependent upon food, the answer is the same: A man does not live by his feelings any more than by bread, but by the Truth, that is, the Word, the Will, the uttered Being of God” . I interpreted this in two ways. First, moments of personal struggle, sorrow, or pain that can make God seem distant shouldn’t dim my faith in Him. I had breathed in the assumption that confronting my same-sex attraction should challenge and even call into question my faith. But if I already had a conviction that God lives, that he restored his Church, and marriage is ordained of God, why should it? Second, the word of God is the only sure foundation. Feelings are fleeting and dependent on my circumstances. The past few months had been a rollercoaster of emotions. But even if feelings come and go, my convictions don’t have to follow. This is still a principle I keep in the forefront of my mind.
Meeting my one
As I was working on myself spiritually, I began to iron out my thoughts regarding dating. I had grown up with the ideal of marrying a woman in the temple and still had a deep hope that that would be possible. But in practice, it seemed like a distant hope. I had never had a successful relationship with a woman. I also mingled some doubts whether it was even fair to whomever I was dating: when I came out, would they feel tricked or lied to? Would it be fair to subject them to the extra challenges of a mixed-orientation marriage? Would a happy sex life be possible? All these questions seemed unanswerable. So, I trusted that faith was indeed a “hope for things which are not seen, which are true,” and I tried.
Dating had its ups and downs. I found a few women with common interests and goals, but we never make it past a second date. Another time a woman overwhelmed me so much that I told her I was gay just to scare her away. Eventually, I met a woman named Jenni at a baptism in my singles ward. We were sitting next to each other. Afterwards, she offered me some leftover pizza or cake—we still can’t agree which it was. I saw her regularly on Sundays and made a conscious effort to always greet her at sacrament meeting. I remember that she bore her testimony one time, and I was moved by the depth and maturity of her faith. She invited me over to game night and at her house, and we eventually began going on dates. I think the biggest problem for me was I didn’t know how to transition from going on dates to dating—and the confusion was mutual. I assumed that going on dates every Friday night was pretty official, and I even told a few of my coworkers that I had a girlfriend. But we didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The dates were fun, but we were mostly limited to small talk and a few awkward attempts at putting my arm around her shoulder. I got discouraged for a time, and we stopped going out for a period of about four months. During that time, I dated both guys and women but didn’t have a lot of hope and felt like I had failed.
Then an odd mixture of circumstance and inspiration happened. On Sunday in the singles ward, our bishopric held a sacrament meeting themed around dating and marriage. It sounds stereotypically singles-ward-ish, but it was very well done. It was meant to instill hope, not to prod or guilt into action. I walked out of there feeling a lot better about my own situation. Jenni and I happened to be walking with each other to class. We hadn’t talked a lot since I stopped asking her out, but we struck up a conversation, and the next thing I know, I had asked her out on another date.
The date was very enjoyable, but we didn’t bring up the 4-month hiatus. I asked her out the following Friday. Again. I could already tell I messed up again. Luckily, Jenni made the first move. She sent me a very direct text explaining that she was looking for a serious relationship, and that if that was not what I was looking for, I should move on. Wow. I was ecstatic. It meant she liked me, that she wanted to date me! I responded, explaining how I had struggled to move our relationship forward. I began seeing her a lot more and was able to get to know her better. We had some adventures. One time, my car nearly broke down on the way to Moab. Another time, I took her for a week-long trip with my family down to Goblin Valley. We hiked a slot canyon that unfortunately was filled waist-deep with water (she eventually forgave me!).
One of the biggest questions still looming on my mind was how to come out to her. I couldn’t gauge how harshly she would respond, as I had experienced a range of reactions already. I couldn’t find the courage to tell her myself, so I posted it at the end of a very long Facebook biography, reasoning that only Jenni would take the time to read the whole thing. And she did. One night she asked if she could discuss something with me. She explained that she had read my bio, and she knew that I was gay. Jenni had two big problems that she wanted to discuss. First, she wanted to know that if we got married, that I wouldn’t leave her. I told her that I hold marriage to be a sacred covenant that shouldn’t be trifled with. I would seek to be true to her in every way. Divorce wasn’t an option. Her second concern was more difficult. She wanted to know, if we got married, whether we would be able to have an intimate and real sexual experience in our marriage. I didn’t know, and I told her so. I explained that I had faith that God would provide anything I was lacking. I don’t mean that I believe marriage should be a panacea for same-sex attraction, or that I could somehow “pray the gay away.” I didn’t feel giddily optimistic that my orientation would change. But I believed that if I chose to enter into a covenant marriage, God would support me, guide me, and aid me, and that Jenni and I could be happy and fulfilled. His grace would be sufficient. It was a difficult first conversation, and some tears were involved, but it was a very good talk. Parting that night had had a note of ambivalence, and I knew that Jenni would need some space to sort out her thoughts. I left her with a few things to read that I thought would help, and then prayed. A lot.
One experience that gave us both a powerful source of hope was a get-together we arranged with a dear friend of mine and his wife, whom I will refer to as “Jared” and “Carol.” I had met Jared in a Church-sponsored support group that I had recently been attending. Jared also experienced same-sex attraction and had a successful and loving marriage and three children. I felt impressed to ask him if he and his wife would be willing to meet with me and Jenni to discuss what it was like being in a mixed-orientation marriage. He readily agreed, and we arranged a double date. Jared and Carol helped us so much. Hearing Carol’s experiences married to a gay man gave Jenni hope and reassurance. We knew that a loving marriage was possible. Not only possible, but unique and beautiful.
And so we pressed forward together. I fell in love with Jenni over homemade meatloaf and episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I spent most evenings at her house. We laughed that I once considered a date every Friday a serious relationship—but I still had a few uptight behaviors like going to bed by 9. Jenni admitted later that she would rub her hands through my hair to get me to stay past my self-imposed bedtime (I don’t know what it is, but I purr like a cat when she rubs her hands through my hair). For fun—and for serious—we found lists of questions online with titles like “500 questions to ask before you marry.” We shared our more geeky sides: I showed off my family constitution I had written based on the U.S. Constitution, and she showed me her Cold War era lyrics set to the tune of Disney songs. She beat me at Skip-bo so many times, I can’t count.
We built a beautiful romance together. I remember the first night that I kissed her. Standing a step above me on the stairs leading to her door, she gave me permission to kiss her on the lips (Perhaps a little unorthodox, but I didn’t know any other way to approach a kiss except getting permission!). We grew close, sharing our thoughts with one another. I knew that I loved Jenni. It wasn’t a crush or a passing attraction, but a deep and abiding love that we had built together. I cared for her. I wanted her to be happy andI wanted to serve her. I was willing to make sacrifices for her and to comfort and love her. I decided to tell her that I loved her and if she would have me, I would marry her. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we took a walk along the parkway. At a location I had in mind, I did just that. I didn’t bend down on one knee. I just asked. She hugged me and, with a tear in her eye, whispered back that she loved me too.
As we were preparing for the wedding, Jenni mentioned that she wanted to share our patriarchal blessings with one another. I felt deeply humbled that she would want to share something so personal, and I agreed to share mine as well. Jenni’s patriarchal blessing promised that she would marry a virtuous man. She told me she knew that that was me. I got tears in my eyes as I recognized the level of Jenni’s trust that she had confided in me. Jenni saw in me more than someone who was broken that had been mended, or someone with a kind of spiritual handicap. She saw good and even noble traits in me. That trust and love became the glue of our marriage. Jenni and I were married in the Bountiful temple on July 11, 2014 for time and all eternity.
Happily ever after: Under construction
So that’s it, right? We lived happily ever after? Happily ever after takes a lot of work and is a story all on its own with unique challenges, hardships and trials. The Book of Mormon, for instance, details in awesome splendor the gradual decay then tragic spiral leading up the Lord’s coming and the majesty of Christ’s visit. But the next two hundred years of righteousness and peace is covered in a matter of 4-5 pages, leaving out the day-to-day choices that made it all possible. Perhaps daily righteous living has less drama and fanfare than times of strife and doubt, but it also comes with deep satisfaction and lasting peace.
Settling down into our marriage had its difficulties, but I doubt that is unique. I had a hard time continuing discussing my same-sex attraction with Jenni because I assumed it meant that she was unhappy or had a problem. Jenni wanted to discuss it regularly to give her reassurance and to feel closer to me. I also had a hard time giving up the independence of single life. I liked waking up on a weekend and running off to go on a hike, no former planning involved. I also started to realize that many of the things I enjoyed weren’t nearly as compelling to Jenni. I wanted to meet up with my single friends. Jenni wanted to build shared friendships and shared pastimes that we could do together, but this oftentimes came off as asking me to shed old friendships completely. I struggled under unfamiliar pressures and sometimes felt like I had lost my personal space and sense of self. Jenni, on the other hand, wanted to have more close and intimate contact—both emotionally and physically. She wanted to discuss problems and ideas together. On top of all that, we had a difficult time finding a pattern to our sex life that felt fulfilling to both of us. But each of these problems seem like natural consequences of trying to make man and woman one flesh.
These issues took time to resolve, but there was one moment where many of these pressures came to a head. At the time, Jenni would write letters to me because it was hard to gather the thoughts and express them vocally. They would be filled with reassurances of love, but usually the heart of them was a yearning for a confirmation that I loved her. She wanted to feel that I needed her both physically and emotionally, and that I didn’t show physical affection just to please her. When I read this most recent of several letters, I felt broken. I had been working to make Jenni feel loved in my own way. I left notes on the refrigerator when I went to work, I cooked dinner for her and cleaned the kitchen every night, and I read the scriptures and prayed with her daily. I was trying to be affectionate, to talk about my feelings, to assure her that I needed her as much as she needed me. Was this not evidence that I did indeed love her? I began to cry. I don’t know what it was—the tears, the tense situation, the Spirit—but in that moment we understood each other better than we had before. Jenni hugged me and reassured me that I was doing an outstanding job as her husband. I was able to reassure her that I loved her and needed her. We were able to give each other a measure of trust that hadn’t been there before. After this catalytic experience, we were both willing to discuss problems together and to share our thoughts freely instead of bottling up discontent. We built in time during the week to do things by ourselves, including a hike for myself every now and then. But now we spent every evening with each other to talk and to relax. We found married friends in our new ward who were going through the same experiences as us. While contact with old friends did decrease, the affection and the depth remained, and we were always able to pick up where we left off when we met up again. Jenni and I also found new things we liked doing together like spending time at the library and reading current legislation in Congress. Now we have a new shared joy in our life, our beautiful little daughter. Christ’s prayer “that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” has become the model for our own relationship. I will always want to be with my own family, because the Lord has shown me how I can.
I feel like I’m trying to tell a story when I’m in the middle of it. But even while outward circumstances change, I have found a hope in Christ that is an anchor to my soul. I feel a measure of that peace of God, which passes all understanding. Even in recounting painful scenes where I felt hurt, where I felt doubt, and when I felt sorrow at my sins, they are made good because I have found God through them. I had been visited by that holy Spirit, “which is the earnest of our inheritance” and a taste and promise of our heavenly home. I rejoice in my Savior because He has made me whole. My weakness he has made my strength, and he has consecrated my afflictions for my gain. And Aaron can hound me all he wants for being carried away unto boasting—I am proud to be gay. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is who I am, and it is what humbled me enough to know I needed God in my life. I will boast of my God, for in his strength, I can do all things.
 C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, HarperCollins, 2002.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Touchstone Books, 1996.
 J. Klebingat, “Approaching the Throne of God with Confidence,” in LDS General Conference, Salt Lake City, 2014.
 R. G. Scott, “Peace of Conscience and Peace of Mind,” in LDS General Conference, Salt Lake City, 2004.
 D. F. Uchtdorf, “The Gift of Grace,” in LDS General Conference, Salt Lake City, 2015.
 G. MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Series I, II, and III, Bottom of the Hill Publishing, 2012.
Jenni’s Essay: Show Me the Path to Love: How I Came to Love a Gay Man
I grew up in Spanaway, Washington, a town just outside of Tacoma in a very loving, active LDS family. I loved growing up as an only girl amongst three rambunctious brothers. Being a very shy child, I would occasionally get terrible stomachaches in the morning before school. I understand now those stomachaches were a manifestation of my social anxiety. Despite my overwhelming feelings, I received good grades and was sought after by kids who seemed to feel comfortable asking me for help with their homework. This made me feel good to be able to help them. After graduating from high school, I attended BYU-Idaho for a couple of years. I took a break from college to serve a mission in Anaheim, California. A mission for someone with social anxiety was difficult but rewarding. I had to rely on and learn to trust my Heavenly Father.
I returned to college at BYU-Idaho after my mission and found that students still asked me for help with their classes. One day after assisting another classmate with her homework, I realized how much I loved to teach. I decided to major in social studies education and graduated with my degree in 2010. I moved to Utah for my first job and taught English online to people in Asia. Later, I moved to Salt Lake to teach middle school math and social studies.
While living in Utah, I met my husband Chad. He was very spiritual and, in many ways, different from anyone I had ever dated. My husband has same-sex attraction. I am a woman who cherishes being married to him and we are very happy together.
How did that happen? My journey with Chad starts before I ever met him, with deal-breakers.
The idea of gay people made me feel uncomfortable. I knew a girl in high school who didn’t hide that she had a crush on me, and it freaked me out. I avoided her as much as possible. I didn’t know how to relate with people who were gay. My family and friends never really talked about the topic at all. I didn’t necessarily think that gay people were horrible, but I didn’t know how to act around them or what I thought about them. Part of me wanted things to stay that way since it was easier to avoid uncomfortable situations. My goal was to stay as far away from the topic as possible.
When I was in high school and in college before my mission, I went on dates but had not yet had a serious relationship. My friends all thought I would be the first one to get married, but I knew differently. I wanted to go on a mission and get my Bachelor’s degree, and I wasn’t going to let a man get in the way. I went on dates but kept anything potentially serious at a distance—a far distance.
Turns out falling in love wasn’t going to be so easy for me anyway. After returning from my mission, I jumped back into the dating scene. I dated frequently; however, I still held myself back from forming any serious relationships because I felt the magic just wasn’t there. Where was that sudden spark? The Mr. Right that I just knew through the Spirit was for me? As the years passed and friends my age got married and friends several years younger than me got married, I began to become bitter. I went through periods of dating but nothing ever felt like “it.” I started to avoid chick flicks. That surreal in love, the “I-can’t-help-but-fall in-love-with-you-even-when-I-don’t-want-to” feeling wasn’t real life. At least I hadn’t experienced it. I came up with excuses to not attend my friends’ wedding receptions. They were happy and I should have been happy for them. And I was, but watching something that I knew I should achieve but always came up lacking felt like a knife twisting in my heart.
I had a few relationships, but they didn’t last very long. I even made an LDS Singles account and started meeting men that way. Yet each person I got to know seemed to have these issues that I believed I just couldn’t handle, such as pornography addiction, or divorce, or whatever. I often wondered to myself, “Aren’t there any guys out there that aren’t struggling with major issues?”
I found that I had a difficult time getting close to men and having the kind of relationship that I knew was healthy and open. I held myself back and kept waiting for those feelings of love to develop before I would make a move. I wasn’t expecting someone perfect; I would tell myself I just wanted to be with someone whose struggles I felt I could handle. I wanted someone I loved and trusted. But their struggles were always a reason to not fully open myself up to them, to not fully trust them.
I began to believe that if I ever were to get married it would take a miracle from God.
Then I met Chad in the Taylorsville singles ward at a baptism. I noticed him immediately because he was tall and handsome, and I am partial to tall and handsome guys. I offered him some smooshed cake that, I warned him, had been sitting in my car all day because I didn’t want it. If he took it, I would know whether he was picky about domestic skills, and mine were seriously lacking. He took the cake and ate it. That was a good sign.
We served together for a while as ward missionaries which gave Chad an opportunity to ask me on dates. One cold February night after ward missionary meeting, we were walking out to our cars. The inversion created smog that swirled around us. Before opening my car door and ushering me in, Chad asked me to be his Valentine. How romantic. I was 27 and nobody had ever asked me to be their Valentine before. It made my week. He took me to the symphony and I was nervous the entire night. Would he hold my hand? He didn’t, but he did put his arm around me. But instead of it feeling good, it felt super awkward. Then he took his arm away and that was even worse! What did that mean? Did he not like it? Maybe he didn’t like me after all. I found out later that Chad was just as nervous and felt just as awkward.
While perusing Facebook one day, I decided to get on and read Chad’s very long “about” section. I thought maybe it would help me get to know him better. In what seemed to be an abrupt sentence at the end of the section was a mention that he was gay. Wait, what? I reread the sentence again. I hadn’t misread. Why would he post something like this on Facebook? What was the point?
I didn’t understand, but at the time, things had puttered out between us anyway. We had gone on some dates and they were fun, but it was clear things weren’t progressing. I believed it was just easier to avoid the fact that Chad was gay and I congratulated myself on my escape. Dating a gay man just wasn’t for me, I thought.
One day I was thinking about my life and why I had problems getting close to men and I had the thought, “If all of these men’s struggles are deal-breakers for you, what is something you are willing to accept?”
I couldn’t think of one.
In my mind, I acknowledged that there wasn’t a perfect man. I told myself I wasn’t looking for someone who was perfect, but then why couldn’t I think of one struggle, one shortcoming that I was willing to deal with? The problem was not with Chad or the other men I had been dating; the problem was with me. I was the one who needed to change if I wanted to be in a serious committed relationship and get married.
Choosing to Change
At about this same time, I mentally reviewed the guys I had dated recently, and I concluded that the most spiritual, trustworthy person was Chad. In other words, Chad was the person I most regretted not pursuing. Then one day in sacrament in our singles ward, our bishopric spoke on dating. After church, I bumped into Chad. He walked me out to my car, and, once again, asked me on a date. I said yes, and we started going out again.
At this point, I had yet to resolve for myself that Chad was gay, but I tried to be more accepting, and I was determined not to let it stop me from getting to know him better. I chose to set it aside knowing we would have to talk about it at some point.
We dated for a while, but the longer we dated and didn’t talk about the fact that Chad was gay, the more the topic felt like the elephant in the room. Finally I brought it up. I had a lot of questions and so many fears and it wasn’t easy to talk about.
I had determined ahead of time what some of my questions would be: have you ever acted on your same sex attraction? Are you attracted to women at all? Are you attracted to me at all? I worried about how an intimate relationship would or could work out. I had also decided that his answers to my questions would determine whether our relationship could continue. There were some things I just couldn’t handle, I told myself.
I had hoped for the best but as he answered each question, I felt my heart sinking. Yes, he had acted on his same sex attractions in the past, but he had repented. No, he wasn’t attracted to women, he was attracted to guys. Yes, he was attracted to me but it was different than a straight-up physical attraction. He didn’t know how intimacy would work out but hoped that it would. The answer to not one but all of my questions had reached deal-breaker status. How could I possibly keep going in this relationship?
But I didn’t give up quite yet. Chad gave me a book to read, In Quiet Desperation by Ty Mansfield. I read it and found a lot in the book that I could relate to personally. Not that I was gay, but in the sense that we all have things in life that we struggle with that we can only overcome if we come unto Christ. I could relate to that. I also knew that if I were to come to the right conclusion about whether to continue my relationship with Chad, I would need God’s help. I began taking a class through my ward called “A Walk with Christ,” and I joined with the intent of seeing if I could change and overcome my own weaknesses. I wanted to accept Chad for who he was but I needed my Savior’s help. As I wrote and thought and studied, I found that I could see Chad as much more than just a gay man. He loved the gospel, and his faith was just as much a part of him as his same-sex attraction. His desire to have a traditional family and be married in the temple was just as true as a man who didn’t experience same-sex attraction.
I relate to this in my own way. I am a teacher and yet I experience social anxiety. Some might think these two are contradictory, but they are both a part of me. Just because I am shy doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a great teacher and influence others. Chad is just as pluralistic as me. Understanding this was very important for me. When I could see him as complex, and someone who, despite his same sex attraction, could have similar life goals, then I could begin to accept his answers and begin to relate to him.
Choosing to Love
Before I met Chad, I would drive home from college back to Washington during the summer and work at Ross. While there, I worked with many single mothers just struggling to make ends meet. They would tell me horror stories about how the men in their lives used them, abused them, and ultimately left them. It seemed like their stories had one thing in common: when she first met him, she thought he was Mr. Perfect, the man of her dreams. She had no clue when they first met and fell in love what kind of man he would actually turn out to be or the kind of nightmare her life would turn into. This built a strong caution in me. How could I really know and really trust a man? How could I make sure he didn’t turn into someone I didn’t recognize after we got married? I didn’t know and for a long time this kept me from getting close to any man in my life.
I thought about this a lot, often turning to God in prayer to help me. Eventually, I concluded that I needed to form my own expectation about what a healthy relationship would look like. I knew I would automatically distrust any sudden attraction and infatuation because I was afraid it would blind me to seeing his true faults. The last thing I wanted was to have my story end up like these women’s stories at Ross. I began to read and to think and to look at examples of successful relationships and marriages in my own life.
Love wasn’t something that would just come, at least not for me. I wasn’t going to just fall in love; I was far too cautious. What was romance? What did I believe it would look like for me? I still wasn’t sure, but I eventually learned that there was a first step: if love wouldn’t just come, then I would have to choose it.
To start, I chose to date Chad. I still had my concerns. Could a mixed orientation marriage really make it? People always talked about how such relationships don’t work out, and I didn’t know anyone who was in a mixed orientation marriage who actually had a happy, loving marriage and family.
Chad helped me here. He introduced me to a couple I’ll call “Jared” and “Carol.” Jared was gay, and he and his wife told me their story. It was nice to hear Jared’s remarks, but Carol’s thoughts and feelings really struck home. It helped me to see their nice home and beautiful family and I realized: this was possible.
Something Carol said really stuck with me: every couple has problems and struggles. When you look at other people’s problems and struggles, you want to keep your own problems and struggles—not because they are better or worse, but because they are yours and you are familiar with them.
The realizations to which the Lord had brought me allowed me to open the door to something I had never been able to do before. I found that as I chose to set aside my personal concerns about Chad and work on myself, the Lord changed me. Each choice to stay with our relationship and try to work things out brought me closer to Chad. I moved from accepting Chad, to relating to Chad, to loving him. We were sealed on July 11th, 2014 in the Bountiful, Utah temple.
Choosing to Trust
No matter who I married, a straight or gay man, I think I would have struggled to adjust to married life. I had lived many years on my own, always keeping men at a distance. Either way I would have struggled, but the concerns in a relationship with a gay man are a little different. I made the covenant but now I had to live every day giving my complete trust to someone. My life, my vulnerabilities, everything was now a part of someone else. And I struggled.
I worried that my husband wouldn’t want me physically and that I was somehow missing out on something greater that I didn’t know about. I worried that he would seek satisfaction elsewhere and I wouldn’t know about it. I worried that one day he would realize that he had made a mistake and would leave me. I didn’t know what to do. I felt alone and scared.
I didn’t want to tell him these things. How could I tell my husband that I didn’t trust him? That wouldn’t exactly help our relationship. Talking about my husband’s same sex attraction was still new and each time felt like walking on a tight rope. I feared saying the wrong thing. I feared his reaction to some of my fears. I tried to express myself to him in letters since I was struggling doing so verbally, but I didn’t know what the problem was at the time. My depressed and sometimes accusatory letters only made things worse.
Slowly, things got better. I could not control Chad, but I could choose to trust him. If I didn’t, then I would tear our budding marriage apart over what-ifs. I had to choose to take the insecurities in my mind and replace them with thoughts of trust about my husband.
It didn’t solve all of my insecurities all at once, but gradually my fearful thoughts and concerns popped up less often. Chad and I began to settle into our marriage and as I chose to trust him each day, things became easier. We became more open with each other, and we were able to discuss some of my fears and insecurities while others disappeared altogether. I can’t say that they are all gone or that insecurities do not resurface occasionally. But when they do, I remind myself that Chad is my husband, that I love him, and that I trust him to be true to me and to our marriage covenant. I am much happier as a result.
Reflecting back, I am impressed with how much choice was involved in each step of the journey. I used to think if I was spiritual and if I waited, God would drop a perfect, loving relationship into my lap and all I would have to do is be in-tune enough with the Spirit to recognize it. I have found that this is not how God works with me. I had to choose first to change, and to love and to trust. Even though I couldn’t see how it would be possible at the time, God would change me so that I could succeed in having a happy, loving relationship with Chad. When I chose to move, then God consecrated my meager efforts to my success.
I said before that I believed that it would take a miracle from God for me to get married. What I failed to realize was that the miracle had already happened. Christ’s Atonement is the greatest miracle of all. It was only when I relied on it, that I could change enough to finally love and trust a man enough to marry him and to be happy with him.
We have been happily married for almost 3 years. We have a beautiful baby daughter whom we both adore. I know that if it wasn’t for my Savior, I would not be where I am today. I would probably still be single trying to figure out why I kept coming up short on the dating and marriage scene. It was through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that I was able to change and to accept Chad into my life and to help me become a part of his. Through the Atonement a person can change and become someone he or she never could have become alone. I love Chad. He is a great man, and I am so grateful to be on this journey with him.