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Kent’s Essay: “Press Forward”
At so many times in my life, I never felt like I quite fit in. I knew that people cared about and loved me, but I kept telling myself, “If they really knew everything about me, they wouldn’t love me.” I felt different from others and was very good at masking my true feelings. No one could know the real Kent because they would not like him.
For most of my life I heard those around me talk about how “bad” gays were. Gays were always talked about in negative ways. From an early age, I knew that being gay was something I wanted to avoid. Honestly, I truly did not understand what “gay” even meant. I just knew it was bad and did not fit into the Plan of Salvation. All I ever wanted was to fit in and be accepted by those around me. I was tired of feeling different.
During my senior year of high school, my friend was called to be the seminary president. He ran a couple of scriptures by me as he worked on the theme for the following year. One of the scriptures, 2 Nephi 31:20, stood out to me so much that it has become my favorite scripture of all time. It reads:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
This scripture became something for me to live by and has helped me in the times I have felt loneliness and discouragement. Even during times when I was uncertain about what to do, this scripture reminded me to press forward with faith that Christ would lead me and use me in ways I did not fully understand.
I do not fully understand why I am attracted to other men, I just know that I have come closer to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ through it. My experiences have taught me to love unconditionally and to help others come and feel of the healing power of Christ’s love. It has only been the last few years that I have felt comfortable being more open with this side of my life. This is why I want to share my story and give hope that there is a way to experience attractions to other men and still remain active and happy within the church. I want others to know there is no need to feel the shame and isolation that I did growing up with these attractions to men.
I had a wonderful childhood where I felt great love from my family. I grew up in Snowflake, Arizona, on a ranch that has been in my family for generations. I loved working and finding fulfillment in everything that I did. I really loved the ranching lifestyle and the chance to always be outdoors and working hard. It was a great way to grow up and taught me many great values and principles that continue to guide my life.
Despite my wonderful childhood memories, I wish some things would have been a bit different. I have never wanted to hurt others or make them feel bad. I have always been kind and loving. I wanted others to like me and felt horrible about myself if I ever disappointed anyone. This was especially true with my parents. I was never outwardly rebellious and did whatever I could just so others wanted me around. In doing this though, I missed out on connections with boys my own age. I would have liked to spend more time with boys and actually open up myself and develop some deeper friendships with them. I also wished I would have not been so scared to express my feelings to my parents as well as my friends. I was just scared to do this because I was afraid that I would then get that “gay” label that I was so afraid of.
I first noticed that I was very curious about other boys when I was 11-12 years old. I started comparing my body to other boys and developed an overall curiosity toward them. I perceived that my body was different, and I hated being different. I wanted to fit in with the other boys and be more like them. My friends were starting to wear boxers and I wanted to be like them so I bought a couple pair of boxers. My mom preferred that I wear different underwear, but I would secretly wear the boxers every once in a while. I felt guilty for going against my mom’s wishes because I wanted to do what my mom asked but I also wanted to fit in with the other boys at school. That being said, it did increase my curiosity about which of the other boys were wearing boxers. I was too afraid to disappoint my mom and tell her what I really wanted. I would rather please her even if I was not as happy.
High school was an interesting time as I tried to figure out who I was and what I wanted. I played football but it scared me because I did not think I was as good as I should be. I felt that if I was not perfect in everything I did, I was a failure. I never felt I was good at football because I compared myself to others. However, I was a starting lineman on the team so I had to have been a good player. People respected me. Regardless of these factors, I would look at my mistakes and allow them, at least in my mind, to far outweigh the good things that I had done. Perfectionism ruled my life and, to this day, still does.
The attraction to other boys continued to increase. I remembered the stories I had heard about how bad gay people were and I did not want to be like that. As a result, I did all I could to hide and cover up that part of myself. If someone knew that I had some of these thoughts, what would they think of me? Would they like me? Would I belong anymore? Instead of finding the answers to these questions, I just hid this part of myself and suppressed these feelings of wanting a deeper connection with other boys. I did not know what I really needed in my life. Here was this cowboy, football player, tough guy that really was much more sensitive than many ever knew because I would not let anyone know the real me. Even to this day, unless I have told people, they would never suspect that I was gay.
When it came time for my mission I was excited to go. This was the next stage in my life and I had done nothing to this point in my life that would prevent me from going. I was ready and anxious. When I arrived at the airport in New Zealand the Assistants to the President greeted me and gave me a hug, it was the greatest thing in the world. Any time missionaries met we would always give hugs. I loved this!
I had a great time on my mission and made some good friends. It really was the first time that I felt like I was part of a group and that I had some friends. It felt amazing. There were definitely hard times throughout my mission where thoughts about men came up and I did not know how to deal with them. I finally told my mission president about them. This was the first time I had ever disclosed these feelings to another person. He showed me nothing but love. He gave me a blessing and said everything would work out fine. It was definitely a great experience and I found out that I was okay just as I am and that God still loved me, even with these feelings.
Upon completing my mission, I moved to Mesa, Arizona and started going to school. I had finished the mission phase of life and was ready to start the next chapter, which I assumed was to get married. In my mind, I had always wanted to marry a woman and have a family. I had not really thought about how my same-sex attraction played into this. I figured that I could love a woman and my attraction toward men would go away. I followed the plan that I had always had in my life, and that everyone else seemed to follow, and that was to start dating.
I started dating a girl that I had known, and got along well with, from high school. I really loved spending time with her and getting to know her. I thought she was just so perfect. I really did not know how to date and everything was awkward for me. I never took the cues of when to kiss her, hold her hand, or anything else. I was just playing over and over in my mind what I was “supposed” to do. She was very patient and loving with me. There was no way I could let her know about this other side of my life. I assumed it would just go away so I did not worry about it. After dating awhile she felt like she needed to go on a mission, and left shortly thereafter. I did not really know where that left me. I wanted to date, and made many attempts to do so, but nothing felt as good as what I had with her.
While she was gone, I felt stressed and overwhelmed knowing that my life was not going how I wanted. It was supposed to be easy: come home from my mission, start school, get married, and everything would be perfect. Things did not go as planned and I felt my attractions for men really coming back. I had so many curiosities arise and did not know how to fulfill them. This led me to seek stuff out online. It all started so innocently, but then turned to pretty intense pornography. I knew my actions were wrong, but I finally found a place to fulfill my curiosities. I found ways to see fantasies come to life. I went into a dark place.
During this dark time I put on a face that everything was perfect in my life. No one really knew what was going on. When I would go to porn, it would be to binge for a week or so, and then I felt really guilty and knew it was not what I wanted. I would stop and go back to a point of focusing on doing what was “right” and being the “perfect boy” again. After going for a period of time without pornography, I would feel lonely again and found that porn helped to numb the feelings of loneliness. I continued on these cycles for many years. However, I did not realize what it was doing to me. It caused me to isolate myself and prevented me from making the connections that I needed and wanted.
I continued dating girls but never allowed myself to get close to anyone. I was always awkward around them and did not know what to do or what hints they were giving me. I was clueless. Dating was what I was “supposed” to do so I kept trying.
During this time I was going to school full-time and working 30+ hours per week. I actually thrive under these types of demands and it was taking the pressure off dating because I did not have “time” to date. At least, that was the excuse I made.
Finally Opening Up
I kept going on like this for years. I graduated college and bought my first house. When I moved to my new ward I met a guy that was home from BYU for the summer. We immediately clicked and I was excited to have a friend. Before going back to school he introduced me to one of his friends that lived nearby and we all hung out quite a bit. When this friend moved back to BYU, Kody, the friend I was introduced to, and I started spending most of our time together. It was great, I had finally found someone that wanted to spend as much time with me as I did with him. It was crazy but awesome. Why would someone like me like this?
As time went on, Kody and I became better and better friends. I had an opening in my house and I told Kody it was time for him to move out of his parents’ house. He had no idea how he would make it work but I told him we would figure out a way. That was the best decision I have ever made in my life. He moved in and we were inseparable. There was a time that we lived together, worked together and then hung out after work together. I had never had this in my entire life and I loved it. It was great. He was my first real best friend.
It was about this time that my dad suddenly passed away. My dad and I had a great relationship. We were so similar in almost everything we did. He would always want me to go with him anytime he went to the ranch. We thought a lot alike and I was the one he could always count on to get things done. It was really hard for me when he died. One of my biggest regrets was that I never shared this part of my life with him. However, his death sent me on a path of really understanding what the Plan of Salvation was all about. I knew that I would see him again. This testimony of the Plan of Salvation is what keeps me going and why I have not left the church. I know the importance of families and that a gay relationship does not work within the context of God’s eternal plan. Kody was integral in helping my testimony of the Plan of Salvation grow. We talked for hours about what would happen when we died. It was all so close to home.
I was still scared to death to talk to anyone other than a bishop about SSA. I felt no one could ever understand me. I wanted to stay active in church. The only people that I knew that had these feelings had left the church and that is not what I wanted to do. I continued to ask myself, “How could anyone understand me?”
One night I was completely miserable and feeling very down. Kody could tell something was wrong. He sat me down on the couch and told me that whatever was bothering me I could say to him and it would not change how he felt about me. I did not know what else to do so I finally opened up to him. I told him how I was attracted to men, how I viewed pornography, how I did not know how to date woman, everything I was afraid to tell anyone other than a priesthood leader. I figured he would hate me. Instead he told me that he loved me just as much or more. He came and gave me a great big hug and told me everything would be all right. “How could this be?” I thought, “He’s not supposed to like me anymore.” It was such a relief to tell someone, particularly a close friend. He helped me process through so many things.
Kody helped me find a counselor that dealt specifically with SSA. I started meeting with the counselor and found great help in that. The thing that helped me most was meeting with other LDS guys that all experienced same-sex attraction and wanted to stay active in church. My whole life I had thought I was the only one that wanted to stay active. Everyone else that I knew, to this point, had left the church over these issues. It was so liberating to talk to other guys that knew exactly how I was feeling and could relate so much to me. I was no longer alone.
I worked on these issues for a couple years and really thought that through counseling the attractions would diminish and then I could get married. I got to where I felt I was in a good place emotionally and that things were changing for me. I was hopeful that my attractions would change so I could continue on the path and get married like I was “supposed” to do. I decided that I did not need counseling or to be hanging around those that experienced SSA. I would not even talk to friends or cousins that were openly gay because I thought they may try to convince me to leave the church and pursue a gay relationship. I isolated myself from everyone with SSA, whether they were active in church or living a gay lifestyle. I did not want anything to do with them, for fear that by doing so my SSA would not go away as I hoped.
I started dating another girl and thought things would work out this time. I even got up the nerve to tell her about SSA. She was perfectly fine with pursuing a relationship even when she knew about these attractions. As we dated, I still felt the same awkwardness as I had before. There were times that I would go on a date and could not wait for it to end. My family loved her, her family loved me, she knew about everything, she had all the qualities I thought a wife and mother should have – why wasn’t this working? The only problem was that my heart was not there. I was dating for everyone else but me because that is what I was “supposed” to do. I knew I could not continue dating her because it was not right for me. I just had to leave her in God’s hands. I knew it was hard for her but I could not be the one to comfort her like I wanted. I was the one causing the pain. I knew I had to take care of myself, and I was feeling more pain by dating her for the wrong reasons.
Breaking up with her was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I am okay just as I am. I had thought that marriage was the only thing that would bring me true happiness, but have since realized that I do not have to be married in order to be happy. Since breaking up with her I have not really dated at all and it has been amazing for me.
As time went on, I realized I needed people that understood me and could help me. I needed to talk about the attractions. I could no longer hide the fact that I was attracted to guys. I started opening up more. I started talking more with others and getting involved in some groups. I found groups that helped me want to stay active in church as well as groups that wanted to show love to someone no matter which path they chose to follow.
I met a guy from one of these groups and started to get to know him a bit. I had never done anything with another guy up to this point. I thought he wanted to help me out and continue my path in the church, but in the end he wanted more. I had an experience with him that I knew was not healthy for me. Part of me really enjoyed it and wanted more. It was major lust toward him and I knew it would lead me away from the church. I did not want this so I could not keep him a part of my life.
This was a huge changing point for me. I had found a guy that had shown some romantic interest in me. It was kind of nice. Could a guy really like me? I had never allowed myself to let another guy into my life romantically before. I had hated myself for so long that I did not think anyone could like me. It felt nice but also so wrong at the same time. I distanced myself from him but the experience led me to start questioning things in the church. I had never allowed myself to question anything in the church; I just took everything at face value. If a general authority said something, I did not question it. Now I began to question whether staying active in church was right. Is there a place in the church for me? Should I date guys and see where that leads? How does this play into the Plan of Salvation?
As I was questioning anything and everything about the church I was reminded again and again what I had learned about the Plan of Salvation from when my dad died. I know that I will see him again. I do not know how God will work things out but he will. It was the testimony I had gained a few years earlier that carried me through. I continue to question things within the church, yet I feel my relationship with the Savior growing closer. I know where I am with him. I do not feel guilty for questioning things that come up.
I wanted my family to be a part of this but did not know how to go about telling all my siblings. I had talked to two brothers shortly after talking with Kody years before. They were grateful I told them and did not treat me any differently. They did not pursue further conversation and so I did not reach out to them if I was having a hard time. I had thought about telling my mom at that same time but she had just received a mission call and I did not want her to think about it the whole time she was on her mission. It took a couple years after she got home before the time felt right and I opened up to her. She did not understand what it meant for my life but told me she still loved me and thought nothing less of me. Now some of the reasons why I was not married or even dating much started to make more sense to her.
I still had seven other siblings to tell and I did not know how that would go over. I knew I was tired of hiding this part of my life and wanted to be more open and honest about my feelings. Over the course of the next couple months, I was able to sit down and talk in person to almost all my siblings. A few I was not able to visit in person so I told them over the phone. I received nothing but love from them. None of my siblings were able to understand what it was like to be attracted to men but all of them still love me. Since opening up fully with all of them, I have had some great conversations and feel like I can be my true self around them. I do not have to put on a façade of who Kent is supposed to be. I can be exactly who I am.
As time goes on and I learn more about myself, I am amazed at whom God places in my life. When I was hurting and wondering why I had to go through so much heartache and pain, I asked my Bishop why I had to go through this. He told me that not many things were a challenge for me – I was financially independent and never struggled with church activity, tithing, or the Word of Wisdom. He said that my porn addiction and same-sex attraction were the only things that would turn my heart to the Savior and help me understand the Atonement in a way that nothing else ever has.
During the time that I was questioning things, I had thought that I was seeking a sexual and romantic relationship with another man. I have since had experiences that have made me realize that all I really wanted was a connection with another man. I can get my needs fulfilled in either healthy or unhealthy ways. One thing I have learned is that “needs are not negotiable.” I do need to get them fulfilled; it is just a matter of how I fulfill them that is important.
I know that I am still on this journey and I do not really know where it will take me. A few things I have learned so far are that taking risks are okay, even if while doing so I make mistakes. I do not have to pretend that I am perfect, or put aside my needs for fear I will disappoint someone. I have recently found out that people like me just as I am. I did not have to prove anything; they just love me for me, imperfections and all.
Now instead of just holding everything inside and doing everything on my own, I can ask for things that I need. It is okay to open myself up and be vulnerable. It is okay for me to have a bad day. I have learned to let myself completely feel all my emotions, good and bad. I let them pass through me instead of silencing the painful ones.
For so long I was worried about what people would think of me that I intentionally avoided dress and mannerisms that could be deemed as gay stereotypes. I did not like the way I dressed, but if I dressed how I wanted to, people would think I was gay. Now I am comfortable with who I am and ask friends to help me with fashion and design and could care less whether it fits a gay stereotype or not.
My biggest help over the last few years has been going to the church’s Addiction Recovery Meetings. This is a place where I have been accepted and loved just as I am. I am completely open about my attractions in these meetings and I get so much support from them. Lately I have really been reaching out to more SSA guys as well. They have been instrumental in helping me accept myself and meet my needs in healthy ways.
As for marriage, I do not know if I will ever be married. All I know is that right now I do not need to focus on that. I can be perfectly happy if I never get married. I feel like I am doing what God wants me to in sharing my story so others know they are not alone. There is no shame in being attracted to other men. I do not want others to feel the loneliness, shame, and isolation that I felt so much growing up. I can be happy with everyone knowing everything about me, the real me. I love the gospel and I love the Plan of Salvation and my role in it. I am trusting that God will take care of me as I seek to do His will here on earth. It is all about pressing forward in Christ.