Jeff was born and raised in Oklahoma but with his strong Utah pioneer background, his grandparents convinced him to attend their alma mater, Dixie College in St George, Utah. After an exciting internship at Disney World, he graduated from Oklahoma State in Hospitality Management. Jeff served in the Arizona Tempe Mission, which would serve as a catalyst for remaining faithful in the gospel to this very day. Jeff is often referred to as the favorite uncle, the favorite Primary teacher, or even the favorite child. Jeff has a strong testimony and through his own experiences, he has developed a sensitivity to the life challenges of others.
Jeff’s Essay: “Spiritual Orientation”
One summer afternoon while I was in the final days of a 50 mile trek with my Boy Scout troop, up 10,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado, a thunderstorm started to brew above our heads. Out of the blue, the clouds became dark, ominous, and threatening. Being from Oklahoma, our small group of scouts were no strangers to tornadoes and the signs of severe weather. On a ridge of a mountain, lightening does not have far to strike and it was imperative that we get ourselves down as quickly as possible. Our Scout Master and the other leaders realized it would be quicker to traverse and descend off the face of the mountain via a snow glacier. It looked harmless and easy, but we soon discovered that this steep glacier would pose a bigger danger than the storm above us.
Suddenly, one of the boys lost his footing as the snow gave way beneath him. The scout was unable to claw himself back into the snow and was heading quickly to the bottom. Below was a field of boulders and jagged rocks, which wasn’t an ideal way to break the momentum of a 130-pound boy. I witnessed this boy tumble hard into the rocks which knocked him out. I said to myself, “Oh no, we are all going to die up here and we are far from any medical help”. I noticed two other boys making good progression and taking very calculated steps. All of a sudden the snow gave way and they were headed down, head first! My Scout Master, who had the skill of a football player, was ahead of the scouts and started to tackle each boy to break their fall into the rocks. After experiencing some slipping and witnessing the others tumble to what I thought was their demise, I froze in place at the top of this glacier and did not dare to make another move. I pled with great fear to the Lord for my life. I felt stuck, cold, and helpless.
I watched as a few scouts made it to the side of the glacier and they were able to carefully go down more stable rocky terrain. I was still unsure what to do and knew I couldn’t risk death, so I yelled down for help. My Scout Master, who knew I wasn’t about to move either, had to climb back up and calm me down. He explained to me that if I place my trust in him, held his hand, and placed my foot in the same spot he had, then he would pull me up to the next step. It took all the courage I could muster to move from my safe spot and follow each instruction. It seemed like an eternity, but we made it to more stable ground and eventually down the ridge. While some scouts were briefly knocked out and others had cuts and bruises, the Lord protected our little troop. As I look back on this experience as a 13 year-old, I see a familiar metaphor when it comes to my journey with Same-Gender Attraction. Experiencing times of fear, helplessness, and confusion is part of my ultimate mortal quest for peace, growth, and safety on the solid ground of the Lord’s redeeming love.
In my initial years in therapy addressing my same-gender attraction, 20 years ago, my therapist had me write a biography from my earliest childhood memories to the present day. The purpose was to explore how my young mind worked and for him to see possible correlations for my possible disposition towards the same gender.
As a young child, I was quite active and adventurous. I did strange things in the early hours of the morning. Once I opened my bedroom window and crawled out to the ground outside. I thought, “Well, since I’m out here, I will go visit the next door neighbors.” I marched over in my pajamas and rang their doorbell. In another instance, I got up and decided to make hot chocolate by turning on the stove on high and placing the entire can of cocoa directly on the burner. My Mom came in and asked, “What are you doing?” I proudly said, “Making Choco!” My last well-known adventure took place in the laundry area of the house, where I managed to climb up on top of the washing machine and open up and pour out an entire bottle of liquid detergent all over the machine, the floor, and myself. I was blinded by soap as I slipped around the machine and cried out for help. It was a huge mess. After that terrifying experience, my parents invested in a latch for the outside of my bedroom door and a brace for my window.
My neighborhood was fun. The houses circled a big pond that made for great exploring and, on occasions during very cold winters, a frozen playground. We had a huge tree house in our backyard that made a great escape from being chased down by my crazy dog “Inky” who wasn’t very friendly and did stupid things like bite the ground. It was fun being a kid and I admire my fearlessness of seeking out friends to fulfill my days. It didn’t matter to me who I played with, so I tried to tag along with my older brother and friends who tried to out run me to be with themselves. Other times, I joined my sister and her friends in their make believe world of dolls and role-playing.
Though my days were filled with joy, my nights and dreams did not always follow the same fun spirit. After saying my prayers and being tucked in, I would lay in my bed with rather deep thoughts and wonder about heaven, who I was, and how life worked. Nightmares and sleep walking is not unusual for many young children; mine, however seemed dark and had a feeling of being doomed. In those dreams, I felt all alone along an outside parameter that separated me from my parents and family. I would call out to them in panic like a lost kid at a shopping mall, but they couldn’t hear me. It was frightening and unbearable. Finally, I would wake up as my Mom would hold me and call out my name to bring me back into reality. I enjoyed church and Primary as a kid, and I felt a sensitivity to the spirit from learning about Heavenly Father and Jesus in lessons and songs. At this age, I was already grasping the difference between light and darkness, which I’m sure helped my parents reinforce childhood consequences of making right and wrong choices. This, however, was a stark contrast to the dark dreams of doom and gloom. My therapist speculated that an evil spirit was influencing my dreams and planting thoughts that may have played a role in my development of same sex attraction. However, that didn’t ring true because I didn’t think Satan could tap into the mind of child, especially at such a young age. I would later come to know that my sensitivity to right and wrong would serve me as a guiding light throughout my life, but not before powerful emotions unknown to me would skew and shape my young mind.
I found myself drawn to him; he was cool, confident, bigger, and older. When I was with him I began to study his physique–his muscles and the hair on his arms and legs. I then found myself wondering about places I couldn’t see, because he was clothed. So, feeling curious and brave, I asked Steve if he would show all of himself to me and I told him that I wanted to touch and feel that part of him that was covered up. He then pulled down his shorts, spit in my hand, and then I proceeded to fondle him. Surges of energy and excitement flooded my body and the experience felt a little dirty but the feeling inside was enticingly powerful. I remained fully clothed during this encounter and then I watched as my young friend and Steve messed around as well. However, my other friend didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I did. We abruptly stopped, got our things, and went our separate ways. We never talked about this experience again. The memory and feeling of this sexual experience was something my mind would often recall and, though it felt dirty and wrong, I can’t deny the intense emotions that I found so captivating that day. Many who are reading this may feel triggered by my experience; some may feel that I am a lost soul to Satan and a sick pervert for seeking to fondle my neighbor; some may say, “I feel an ‘excommunication story’ coming on…” Well, the truth of the matter is, that could never happen because I hadn’t even been baptized yet. I was only 6 years old.
During the counseling I sought after my mission, my therapist explained that this early sexual experience was actually an act of molestation. I was confused! I thought that because I had initiated the contact with the older boy, I was the perverted one! My counselor, however, explained that this boy who was 7 years older should have stopped this activity from ever happening. Instead, he permitted it and most likely encouraged it to happen and I wasn’t responsible. This was challenging for me to accept. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I was actually sexually abused. It wasn’t like he was a lewd old man sitting in a park as molesters are often portrayed; it was just another kid around 13 years old. I felt responsible, guilty and unworthy regarding the whole incident. The therapist repeated over and over, “Jeff, you were a victim of abuse and though you may have desired to explore the experience, in no way were you responsible.” It didn’t make sense! I felt that the older boy was a victim of me! I did this! I wanted this! Though I was only 6 years old, I carried the guilt and unworthiness from that moment forward and I began to believe that my feelings of same-sex attraction were born by my own doing. I felt that I was responsible for the distorted thoughts and feelings that would shape my vulnerable mind and haunt me for the rest of my life and I hated myself for it.
In Oklahoma, school would often be cancelled with very little snow or ice, and I would pray and watch the weather hoping I didn’t have to go. School was not always fun for me and I was becoming aware of my inadequacies, especially when it came to fitting in with my male peers. They were always throwing a football around, chasing each other down, or playing basketball during recess and I was completely fine hanging out with the misfit kids and girls. My brave attempt at sports and learning how to be a boy resulted in running the wrong way, missing shots, getting roughed up, and being completely oblivious to the point of the game. I didn’t enjoy getting slammed into the ground, elbows to my nose, and the ridicule for my remedial PE skills. I was not having any fun and was consciously aware that I was not measuring up. So, out of fear of rejection, I chose to avoid any participation in those activities, but I learned that would come at a price. That price was fewer opportunities to build male friendships, develop talents, and gain much needed confidence. Playing it safe reaped an unhappy distance from the very guys I desired to be my friends, but who I was also completely intimidated by. I desired to do all the things they enjoyed and to make more efforts to improve my skills, but I would easily give up. This disconnect led to an intense admiration of their talents, friendships, confidence, and especially their looks.
Unfortunately, the isolation and longing for male connection would lead to explore my secret feelings that never went away from my childhood. As a pre-teen, more sexual mischief came back as overnight sleep-overs became a quest for physical curiosity, which was surprisingly initiated by my friends. This continued to fuel my feelings and fantasies about guys as I discovered masturbation, which unfortunately became a new regular activity. Spiritually, this took a toll on me. I knew in my heart that this was wrong and unclean. Out of shame and guilt I would reach out to Heavenly Father in desperate prayer for forgiveness of my sins. Satan had fueled my already confused mind with stories about how terrible a person I was. This led to more isolation with little answers from heaven. I didn’t dare tell my parents or anyone what I had been doing and the kinds of thoughts that were in my mind. I felt all alone. I didn’t know if this was a phase that many boys went through or something else. At times, without the Spirit, I had to force myself to pray, which felt empty as my unworthy soul pleaded for help. I would bargain with the Lord and make grand resolves to change my behavior and thoughts. I would read my scriptures and pray more regularly, but then a few days later I found myself back to the addictive behavior I despised. Like a drug, I found the behavior comforting as an escape from stress and painful loneliness. It eventually became easier to justify the cost that would soon follow-extreme guilt, self-loathing, and the absence of the Spirit.
When I received the Aaronic Priesthood, life took on a new meaning and purpose for me spiritually. Once I turned 12, I vowed never to engage in any inappropriate behavior with another boy physically, and to this day, I have never acted out sexually with anyone again. Furthermore, I can say that I have never dated or kissed a guy as well. I believe that this mental boundary was a gift from the Lord.
In the Aaronic Priesthood I enjoyed being part of a group of guys, passing the sacrament, attending scouting activities (minus the dodge ball), and going to the temple for youth baptisms. It was also a time when worthiness interviews became quite frequent. On one occasion, I was able to confess to the Bishop regarding my masturbation problems and it felt great to resolve it. The Bishop, however, would remind me to watch out for thoughts when it comes to girls! Little did he know I was perfect and pure when it came to any immoral thoughts about girls. But disclosing what my thoughts really were about didn’t seem like an option. I especially avoided mentioning my other sexual incidents because I was afraid of excommunication and humiliation to my family and myself. I didn’t confess those early sexual experiences until a mission president’s interview in Arizona when I told him in generalities that I played around with other boys growing up and I felt like it needed to be confessed.
Over the years, I realized that I have always been blessed with a few close guy friends that seem to make life more bearable. High School opened up a new world where I became more involved and was more engaged in a circle of friends that would hang out, go to movies, dances and football games. Many friends were a grade or two older, and I found my own niche of people who were in band, choir and other school clubs. I would be surprised to find guys that were considered jocks of the school sitting in my section in the concert choir. It was validating that they could have an appreciation for things other than sports and could actually sing. I was selected to be the only junior of a prestigious performing madrigal show choir that consisted of 12 seniors. These seniors took me under their wing and we became a close knit group of friends and my junior year ended up being my best year in high school. The following year, I was the only remaining member from that coveted show choir and was voted by the concert choir to be their president. That same year I was also voted to be the mascot of the school by the student body–Peter Pioneer.
During high school and college I had a few girls that were practically girlfriend status. We did so much together that people thought we were a couple. However those relationships never would yield romantic feelings and just reinforced my belief that I was a loser and broken. I didn’t know I had same-sex attraction back then, and I figured it was just a phase that would work itself out. These relationships would always leave my friends confused about why things didn’t progress, and they felt that something must have been wrong with them, which could not have been further from the truth. For me, showing affection was like a foreign language; it felt frightening, and unnatural. On dates, girls would reach out to hold my hand or expect a kiss when dropped off at the door and a surge of anxiety would shoot through my body. Unfortunately, most of those kisses would result in just a hug– in spite of my romantic intentions. The only time I felt any emotion for girls was when we would argue about the relationship and trivial things. The other emotions I felt were when we broke-off the relationship, which at first would provide much needed relief, but then I would realize that I was going to lose my “only” chance for love and normalcy. I felt that I was missing my opportunity, and jealousy emerged as a “girlfriend” found a new guy to fill the vacancy. I wondered, “Is this what love feels like? Did the feelings of longing and heartbreak mean that I was in love with this girl?” I had no form of reference to go off of, but these were the only times that I felt anything for the opposite-sex.
“Coming out” for help
I have never entered the homosexual life-style, and I have always been active in the Church, and for the most part, temple worthy. I served a mission in 1990 in Arizona where I tried to pray away my feelings of same-sex attraction for two years. No such luck. Despite this, my mission was a huge blessing. It was a time where I obtained my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, according to a counselor after my mission, it was a therapeutic time. For two years I was able to feel connected to the Spirit, the Elders, and my companions in a healthy spiritual environment that helped heal some of the disconnect I felt from guys. My mission prayers however, gave me little comfort and understanding regarding my same-gender desires, and I was concerned that this was not just a phase. I still felt hopeless, alone, and flawed while my heart ached for a divine miracle. A few days after my return from my mission, I bravely told my parents about my feelings of same-sex attraction and with all their love and support, I desired to seek help. While attending Dixie College in St. George, Utah, I was referred to a man who was an expert in the area and was one of the original founders of Evergreen, a support organization for Latter-day Saints with feelings of same-sex attraction. He was married and had struggled himself with feelings of same-sex attraction and had been featured on the Phil Donahue Show to talk about how people with homosexuality can change. It was a very controversial issue for TV in the 1980’s. With my therapy, I covered all the different “sexual orientation transcending” topics– narcissism, labeling, early childhood biographies. I read many books on development and attachment. I was fascinated to learn about how the qualities that I found attractive in guys were actually the qualities that I lacked in myself–-confidence, physical strength, physique, and the friends that always seemed to be drawn to them. He also worked with my own homophobia and fears of being “found out” (at this point only my parents knew). I worked on my cycle of compulsive behavior, which had been very problematic at times since my adolescence, but could have been worse if they had had the internet when I was a youth.
I find it interesting that same-sex attraction was very secretive and taboo decades ago, compared to today. There were not very many resources, nor did anyone have the guts to mention such help if it was available. However, my therapy story didn’t fit the mold–I have never actually entered a gay life and really didn’t know what that entailed. My father wasn’t distant or abusive and my mom was never overbearing. I tried to search for the textbook trauma. The only thing I could think of was that my mom had depression as I was growing up, and she would be upset and take it out on my Dad. Maybe I perceived that he was causing her sadness and pain and resented him for hurting mom, when her problems actually stemmed from relational problems with her own parents from childhood. I have reflected on my possible disruption in childhood that may have contributed to my feelings of same-sex attraction, and I have concluded that a child’s perception is everything even though it may not be true. Also, I think I did envy the relationship my dad had with my older brother when it came to sports and guy stuff. They never made me feel bad because of my lack of interest, but I could tell that I was missing out on a world of bonding and relating. In my judgment, I concluded that they would rather be with each other than with me. During my therapy, I learned a lot about same-sex attraction, how to deal with it, and techniques that would aide in diminishing attraction. However, the therapy did not diminish the shame I carried regarding my attractions, and how was I going to navigate the social and family pressure to get married?
Over the years, in Oklahoma and Utah I continued to work with therapists through the Church. I love the principle of not entertaining unworthy thoughts and learning to discard them quickly– like in 1.3 seconds. Also, I love the simple principle of right choices leading to more right choices. It is a cumulative effect, and the same is true of the opposite. My last therapist, who was finishing his dissertation at BYU on SSA when I hit 26 years old, helped me regarding the extreme culture pressure to date and get married. By this time my desires for guys had diminished and I wanted to have heterosexual feelings. My anxiety and fear toward dating and marriage was a real roadblock. I did not want to date without romantic feelings and had no real interest. I felt temple marriage was a true principle, but not for me. I was just hoping that it would be something that would be revealed to me down the road like a testimony. During this time, I did progress more and gained more perspective. I went to a group that the therapist facilitated which consisted of his clients who experienced feelings of same-sex attraction. This was my first exposure to other guys that shared my problems. Many of them struggled with addictive behaviors, which dominated many group sessions. For me, I had been sober from any compulsive behavior for nearly a year and was proud of that progress. At that time, I was focused on the cultivation of heterosexual feelings and being comfortable and courageous enough to just think about girls. He had me read The Act of Marriage, which is basically a book about sexual intimacy in the hopes that it would help me not be so repulsed by the exposure to sexual relations in a heterosexual context. The therapist also gave me permission to stop being so good when it comes to thoughts about girls, and to explore what makes a girl hot (something most teen boys do when girl germs disappear). He had me write down as many things as I could think of that were different and appealing about women. I needed to see girls not as my sisters or my mother and not put all girls on such a high pedestal. The idea was that most people are attracted to the unfamiliar, and for all those many years I related to girls and not to the guys. Guys were foreign and girls were not. I agreed with this intellectually, but those feelings for girls was a complete block for me—I just want to want! This knowledge of “never” being able to have romantic feelings for a girl strengthened the belief that I have replayed most of my life: that of being broken, destined to be alone, and resenting both myself and God for these trials. In my mind, it is always easier to dwell on everything that is wrong, rather than all the things that are really pretty great in my life.
A Life Worth Living
Nine years ago, I packed up my bags and moved back from my shrinking social life in Utah to my familiar surroundings of home in Oklahoma. I began working for my dad as his dental office manager and enjoyed being close to family. One day, my mom handed me a book she bought at a LDS bookstore. “Wonderful…another SSA book to add to my library of theories!” However, out of all the years in therapy and self-discovery, this book gave me a prompting by the Spirit to read it, and gave me an assurance that this book was different. In Quiet Desperation—a title that represents the hopelessness that has been felt by so many with same-sex attraction (SSA). I read Ty Mansfield’s story and later shared excerpts with my parents. With tears streaming down my face I read out loud about the Apostle Paul regarding the thorn in his side and that the Lord would not remove this thorn in this life. I realized that was part of the God’s plan for me to learn and grow, not a curse. Was my SSA really a thorn or a beautiful gift? My “thorns” have dropped me to my knees in fervent prayer. My “thorns” have helped me to be more sensitive and kind toward others. My “thorns” have helped me appreciate the suffering of the Savior and to know that he understands me. With these thoughts I had a swelling of the Spirit like never before. My living room seem to open with the light of the Lord and my parent’s felt it too. The Lord, with his perfect timing, calmed all my fears and anxiety, especially with my efforts trying to force heterosexual feelings and marriage. The Lord, using Ty’s words as an instrument, told me that I was loved beyond measure, and my trials are known. Warmth came over me like never before. I felt a direct link. Spirit to spirit and the presence of my loved ones on the other side of the veil. I just sat there and cried, knowing I’ve been praying for this kind of moment for years. I could hear the Lord tell me how much I was loved and he knew how hard this trial has been for me. Clear thoughts from the Lord kept flooding my mind as I continued to be enveloped in a deep warmness and connectedness. A conversation back and forth in my heart with the Lord continued and I can’t even express into words what happened during those moments. He heard my cries. He was pleased with my desire to do what was right and most importantly, he expressed that I was good in his eyes. I was taught by the Spirit to focus on Him and not to obsess over change and marriage. It was having eternal perspective and faith in Christ and his promises that were most important. Two quotes came to mind during this experience. Ty Mansfield’s quote–”But I now understand that He will work with me, nurture me, and prepare me so I can eventually be ready for it [marriage] when it is right, whether that be in this life or the next.” Also the inspired words from the Church publication God Loveth his Children:
“In some circumstances a person defers marriage because he or she is not presently attracted to a member of the opposite gender. While many Latter-day Saints, through individual effort, the exercise of faith, and reliance upon the enabling power of the Atonement, overcome same-gender attraction in mortality, others may not be free of this challenge in this life. However, the perfect plan of our Father in Heaven makes provision for individuals who seek to keep His commandments but who, through no fault of their own, do not have an eternal marriage in mortal life. As we follow Heavenly Father’s plan, our bodies, feelings, and desires will be perfected in the next life so that every one of God’s children may find joy in a family consisting of a husband, a wife, and children.
“Same-gender attractions include deep emotional, social, and physical feelings. All of Heavenly Father’s children desire to love and be loved, including many adults who, for a variety of reasons, remain single. God assures His children, including those currently attracted to persons of the same gender, that their righteous desires will eventually be fully satisfied in God’s own way and according to His timing.”
These thoughts were impressed upon my heart and the burden to change right now and by myself was lifted. The peace from the Spirit seemed to linger in my heart. I felt a calm and quiet stillness throughout my body. I actually was healed from the heartache, worry, and pain I had felt for so long. When it came to marriage and forcing my feelings for the opposite sex, that anxiety was gone. The biggest take away from this special experience was that I now knew that the Lord was there and was completely aware of me.
Within the gospel plan there are many things yet for me to learn and experience in order to progress through this life. At home, I tried to focus on trying to better myself with diet, exercise, scripture study, temple attendance, and focusing on my service in the Church. However, the one thing that I was missing in my life was friendship. I did not have a social life. My parents were my sole entertainment. I became miserably safe. I would have weeks of depression that only medication could pull me out of. I would have severe anxiety attacks as I would dwell on my future, and all I could see was a very lonely person. The thought of my parents dying would send chilling panic throughout my whole body. I remember that that panic turned into anger as I yelled at my parents about how much I hated my life and that I was going to be left all alone. Just like feeling stuck at the top of the glacier in my scouting story, I felt hopeless and alone. This time, I didn’t see anyone to come rescue me. I was afraid and didn’t know how I was going to move forward. The summer when I turned 40, I let self-hatred and my hardwired message of me being a “flawed person” persuade me to pop some extra Xanax pills– like 8-9 tablets, which was a lot for me. I was sick of the feeling broken, mad at God, and mad at the lack of direction and purpose in my life. I told my parents “I better get to the ER because I did something stupid.” In all my rage, I had actually gotten to the point that I wanted it all to stop! Suicide had never been something I had considered even in my darkest moments, but at that time, darkness was playing into my vulnerabilities. I think deep down, I just wanted to be heard! I was only barely surviving each day and was not happy. Thankfully, in the ER I was still lucid and expressed that I really didn’t want to kill myself, and the doctor talked with me. The blood work for my Xanax levels showed that it was not at dangerous levels, so I was released. I was given a blessing and my life returned back to some normalcy again.
Hope for the Down-Trodden
During my 30’s, life wasn’t bad, but it lacked meaning, and I didn’t feel like I was thriving in any way. I started to dread holidays and reunions, which was really odd for me because I always enjoyed them. I was known in the family as Mr. Christmas because I enjoyed the spirit of decorating the house, fixing good food, and ensuring our holiday traditions. Now, however, it brings on some reminders of getting older and some loneliness as I see my siblings with their families starting their own traditions. My patriarchal blessing is wonderful and provides comfort during those times of loneliness and fear of my unknown future. I can read about my promised blessings of eternal marriage with children, and I can cling on to that hope. My siblings have been gracious and have included me in many activities with their families. I love being an Uncle and have the greatest nieces and nephews. I have even had the privilege of giving a baby blessing to my nephew Logan, something usually reserved for a father to do. I have gone on trips and cruises, however even at that those times an Uncle can feel like a 3rd wheel–and loneliness amongst family can ironically set in, but I tried to make the best of it anyways.
Despite a few episodes of depression, my life for a decade has been free of SSA thoughts, feelings, and related addictive behaviors. So, I really haven’t given much thought about my SSA other than I may continue to remain single for a while. I’m in my 40’s and my desire to get married is still nonexistent. I still, however, carry that peace I received during my spiritual reconciliation 9 years ago. In January 2013, I stumbled over the website mormonsandgays.org and was intrigued by the messages throughout the website. I was impressed with Ty’s video clip because I already had his book In Quiet Desperation from eight years ago. His book at this point had been marked up with Diet Coke spills and was dog-eared like a textbook. I felt impressed to contact Ty and in the process stumbled onto North Star International and I was surprised by this well-established support organization online. At this point, I’ve been working on my SSA since 1992 and pretty much wrote off any new therapy and support since I felt I had maxed that out on the information available on the subject. Finally, North Star led me to the Voices of Hope Project, and strong impressions to get involved started to flood my heart and mind. The Lord was telling me that he had been preserving me by keeping me within the covenants of the gospel so that I could carry the hope to the down-trodden when it comes to same-sex attraction. Sometimes, it irritates me that He is always right! It became time for me to open up and share my story.
I finally reached out to Ty Mansfield thanks to a mutual friend, and that conversation sent me directly to the temple in Oklahoma City for one of the most emotional and spiritual sessions I have ever experienced. As I was sitting in the Celestial room, thoughts flooded my head and I sat and wept the entire time. The Lord impressed upon me that He needs me to tell his sons, his SSA sons, that He loves them, and that He knows life is hard, but He is there for them. That idea kept repeating in my mind and my heart was filled with great love. This brought on even more emotion. I could picture in my mind other young strugglers like myself, who have been hating themselves over their predicament. The Lord’s voice came back into my mind again, “Jeff, they don’t think I love them, please help me tell them. Tell them I know they are scared and confused. Please help me tell them…” I know why the Lord was driving this home to me and why this was so emotional for me: because since I was that 6 year-old boy, I had hated myself, I didn’t love myself and I wasn’t sure if the Lord really loved me. I needed this personal message from the Lord first, before it needed to be shared. I needed to forgive myself.
Since this experience in the temple, I have committed myself to helping others with SSA. I want to provide resources that I never had because they were too “taboo” to mention when I was younger. It is my hope that people with SSA will not have to suffer in silence in their homes, their Bishop’s offices, or in their wards just because they feel such overwhelming shame like I did. As a middle-aged single adult in the Church, I feel a desire to testify that a SSA priesthood holder can be faithful in the gospel and have a happy life! I enjoy my friendships that I have made over the years, and have been able to share with them my challenges and blessings with same-gender attraction. Not one of them has ever shamed me or loved me any less because of having SSA. If anything, they have been impressed and love me more because I have chosen to remain faithful in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is so easy today to “give in” to what the world would offer by leaving my covenants behind and to live and embrace a full gay life. The days of white-knuckling such strong same-sex emotions are now a distant memory–as long as I remain faithful in the gospel and keep the Holy Ghost strong in my life. The romantic feelings for the opposite-sex, however, are still not there–not even a little. That doesn’t rule out the healing and progress that I have made through the Lord over the years. Yes, I still worry and get lonely, but my faith is as strong as it has ever been, and I know that the Lord has eased the burdens that have been placed on my back.
I know that there is always something to learn and grow from, no matter how much I think I know about this subject. In June 2013, I participated in an experiential weekend for male “gender wholeness”, held in Utah. This weekend gave me some much-needed healthy male connection and camaraderie that I never got in individual therapy or at church. Through that experience, I made additional lifelong friends and decided, with some fear, to move back to Utah to immerse myself into a new singles ward, develop new friendships, and to serve the SSA community within the gospel. Less than a month after moving to Utah, I found myself already serving on the planning committee for the first annual North Star Conference.
I am sure as more people learn more about me, they may ask if I would change anything about my life and my “SSA”. I’m not going to lie, I would love the “Anti-SSA” prescription drug when it finally comes out, but what I do know is that I have not seen a more loving and caring group of people and friends than those who have SSA.
In Gethsemane, Christ descended below all things– sin, pain, death, and sorrow; but I have come to know that His suffering and bleeding was greater when he atoned for Heavenly Father’s children, many like me who hated themselves. The thought of His eternal sacrifice fills me with eternal love and gratitude for my Savior. I have become more empathetic and sensitive to anyone who suffers grief and sorrow. My trials that have been placed before me for my good, have truly brought me to my knees in prayer and have brought me closer to the Lord and His atonement. Without this trial, I may have ignored the promptings of the Spirit. I feel this trial has been given to me as a challenging fast track of becoming more like Christ and to return to my Heavenly Father. My life is not about changing my “sexual orientation” like I thought 20 years ago, but rather it is about changing my “spiritual orientation” as a son of God. The blessings I desire will be forthcoming as I strive each day to remain faithful in this earthly life. That is the real purpose in my life and with that perspective I cannot fail. The feelings I have regarding my quest for “spiritual orientation” change can be summed up in the last verse of the hymn—“I Believe in Christ”:
I believe in Christ; he stands supreme!
From him I’ll gain my fondest dream;
And while I strive through grief and pain,
His voice is heard: “Ye shall obtain.”
I believe in Christ; so come what may,
With him I’ll stand in that great day
When on this earth he comes again
To rule among the sons of men.
(Hymn #134 from Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
I love the line “so come what may”. To me, this verse means that through my mortal experiences, my faith in Christ becomes stronger and stronger, and I know in my heart that He knows me and loves me. It means that as I endure faithfully, I will come to know the great person that I truly am, and with this hope, until that great day, I may walk safely down that mountain with my same-gender attractions…“So come what may”.