A Process with a Purpose: My Coming Out Story
National Affirmation Annual Conference – Portland, Oregon
September 5, 1998
By Ryan Nay
What does it mean to “be gay?” This was an easy question 50 years ago. It meant that one was happy. This is not the case today. This question today is one that is very controversial. There are many viewpoints on what “being gay” actually means. For many people who come from a conservative and/or religious background; “being gay” is something evil. For others, there is no such thing as a “gay person.” There are just those who struggle with “same sex attraction.” To these people, “being gay” is like a disease that is supposed to be cured. There are also an ignorant few out there who think that people make a conscious decision to be attracted to members of their own gender, although this number is decreasing. These are the opinions of what many people calls the “religious right.” On the other end of the viewpoint scale, there is the gay right’s movement. This movement consists of many people, who have accepted same sex attraction as a part of life, these people accept the “gay” label as a positive and self affirming identity. They also strive to obtain the same rights and freedoms for gays and lesbians that many heterosexual Americans take for granted. I would say that I fall into this category. This movement also involves family and friends who have educated themselves on the reality of homosexuality.
Today, I would like to share with you my story of “coming out” and accepting myself as “gay ” or a “homosexual.” I would also like to share with you what “being gay” means to me. I was born and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I did not have the childhood of a typical Mormon though. I grew up in a small town, and my parents were not active in church attendance. I now see this as a benefit, for if I had parents that “stuffed the gospel down my throat,” today I would probably want nothing to do with it. Instead, I embraced Mormonism in high school and developed a strong conviction that it was true. So what does this have to do with “being gay?” At first, I figured “absolutely nothing.”
In my early years of life, I always knew I was different from other boys. I did not know why though. I never related well with other boys, and was kind of a loner. I was terrible at sports, and on occasion I would be called a “sissy” or “faggot.” But I did not know what they meant. I don’t think the boys calling me these names knew what they meant either. I had a few distant friends that were guys, but my closest friends in my elementary school years were girls. At that age, I saw no correlation, but my relationship with my father was not that great either. He was a busy man, who was always working. Nevertheless, he was still a good father. At the age of nine, my parents divorced and my siblings and I moved to Salt Lake City with our mom. These were not the easiest years. She worked really hard to support us, but we managed to stay close. I was the oldest of a younger brother and sister. After a couple of years, my mom fell in love with a guy who is now my stepfather. Even though it was rough on all of us, he provided me with essential fathering during my early teen years. I then realized that I needed to get to know my biological father. At age 15, I moved back with my father to where I grew up. As I started my high school years, I started to realize why I was different. I was attracted to other boys.
My attractions and fantasies about other boys did not bother me at first, for I figured they were “phases” in growing up, and would go away soon. As I progressed through my high school years; I became more concerned as my homosexual feelings intensified. I soon realized that the words “homosexual, gay, queer and faggot” were applied to the feelings that I felt. I did not want to be “that way.” I then decided I would do everything I could, to make my homosexual feelings go away.
I started looking at women. I forced myself to fantasize about them in my moments of privacy. I realized that I needed a girlfriend. I figured that if I had a girlfriend, I would become straight, and my homosexual feelings would go away. So that was my quest. I was able to develop several crushes on girls in high school. This was encouraging, even though I still fantasized about boys on a regular basis. I dated and went to all the local dances. But in the end, I could not find anybody to call “my girlfriend.” It was my solution to feeling “normal.” The great thing about my high school years was that I was able to develop a wonderful relationship with my dad, and we have really gotten to know each other well. Yet, at this time, no other human being knew about my awful “secret.”
My senior year came, and it was time to make some decisions about my life. I really wanted to go on a mission, but my fears regarding my homosexual feelings pushed me away from that. Ironically, after being prodded by a good friend to talk to an Army recruiter, I joined the Army. I figured that four years in the Army would buy me enough time to get out of this “phase” of homosexual feelings. My first tour was in Germany. It was a wonderful experience. After settling down and getting used to the military lifestyle, I had the opportunity to slip away from base and explore my homosexual feelings. These were times of great excitement and depression. The guilt I felt pushed me into confiding about my homosexual feelings to a local LDS ecclesiastical leader. He was warm and understanding about my situation. He basically followed the steps and counsel spelled out in the LDS church’s manual: “Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders.”
This process continued into my second tour in Fort Riley, Kansas; along with confessions my local leaders, who were all warm and loving. This was good for me at the time, because I wanted to change. My life was a series of spiritual highs and lows. At one time, I started dating a guy in Kansas City, who I started to fall in love with. This scared me, and about the same time, I discovered Evergreen International and Affirmation on the Internet. These two organizations were resources for Mormons struggling with homosexual feelings. They differed in their missions and were quite opposite of each other in their goals. Evergreen supports the Church’s position about homosexuality being “unnatural” and strives to help people become straight through a process called Reparative Therapy. Affirmation affirms that the homosexual lifestyle can be something positive, and helps people to accept their orientation as a part of their life. My understanding of the gospel at the time told me to reject Affirmation, leave my current boyfriend and embrace Evergreen.
Because of my location, I could not attend Evergreen meetings on a regular basis, so I started reading books on reparative therapy that Evergreen sent me. Reparative therapy’s basic philosophy is that homosexuality developed out of same gender emotional needs that were not fulfilled in our youth. Those emotional needs could have developed from a negative relationship with our same-sex parent and/or peers. The underlying idea was that these same-sex emotional needs were eroticized during puberty. Reparative therapy also notes that a person’s homosexual drive is strong, and will never go away until their “same sex emotional needs” were fulfilled. The therapeutic approach was to develop non-sexual same sex relationships and affirm our masculinity. By doing this, and having faith in the Lord, Evergreen taught that a person could fulfill their “same sex emotional needs” and make a healthy transition to heterosexuality. The causes outlined in reparative therapy seemed to fit my background. Therefore, I tried believing their therapeutic approach would also work with me. What I soon realized, was that I had already developed many meaningful non-sexual relationships with many guys, and currently had a healthy relationship with my dad. I also had a rock-solid faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, I still had intense homosexual feelings. Ironically, I did not have a healthy affirmation of my masculinity until I accepted myself as a homosexual, and felt comfortable displaying my natural effeminate and masculine traits. Many positive things happened during this time though. I learned how to talk about my homosexual feelings with others, and I eventually told my parents about my struggles. It was difficult for them, but they supported me in my endeavors. After almost four years in the Army, I finally realized that my homosexual feelings were not going to go away. I accepted that I was indeed “gay.” Essentially, Evergreen helped me “come out.” Yet my coming out process was not complete. I was dying spiritually.
My Spiritual Journey
The realization that I was gay was a blow to my personal spirituality. I had a true and deep conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will never forget one day in high school when I first felt the Holy Ghost. I was talking with a good friend who was not LDS, about the Book of Mormon. I suddenly got cold chills all over me. My heart started pounding really fast. An intense feeling rushed through my body. An impression hit my mind, and I suddenly found myself telling my friend that I “knew” the Book of Mormon was true. I had never said that before. I was in tears. It was the most wonderful feeling I have ever felt in my life. Since that day, the Holy Ghost had touched my life many times. I could not deny what I knew to be true. The truth of my “gayness” however, did not come by the power of the Holy Ghost. I felt like the Lord had played a cruel joke on me. Here I was with a testimony of the gospel, along with strong homosexual feelings, and the Lord was telling me “no.” Was I doomed to misery for the rest of my life? My understanding of the gospel was that man was supposed to experience joy in this lifetime. I was experiencing a serious paradox in my life.
The only other place I could turn, was to Affirmation. I had once rejected this group as a bunch of apostates that did nothing but criticize the Church. After a more serious investigation into Affirmation, I realized the diversity in the organization and that there were others that felt the same way I did. In fact, the existence of Affirmation saved my life. Several times after coming out, I was close to killing myself. I thought that death was better than a lifetime of misery.
It was on the night of April 20th, 1997 that I came out spiritually. I would like to share my journal entry with you:
Sunday, April 20th, 1997 (11:24 p.m)
“Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons. I have wondered about this organization. I have condemned it in past journal entries. The organization has varied ideas. Are any of them right? If one of them is, then God accepts my sexuality. I just finished reading the testimony of a gay Mormon. The same Spirit that has been absent for a month, I am feeling now. I have asked God a million times if He would accept me as a homosexual. He cannot speak and will not speak to a closed mind and heart. I was moved by this gay brother’s testimony. He bore witness of the Restoration, he concluded that our prophets and living oracles have a limited knowledge, BUT THEY ARE STILL PROPHETS. This is still the Lord’s Church. Time for me to pray…
God is light. I have felt it tonight. I cannot deny it. The Holy Ghost is real. God is real. He loves me, EVEN AS A GAY MAN. For the first time in a long while, I am truly repentant. The things I did with XXX and YYY were wrong. I felt it too. I wanted to ignore it. That is OK now. I know the Lord will forgive me. The Church may officially say it is OK to be gay, and not act on it. This is what I have felt tonight. But I don’t view it like the Church does.. The Lord has told me to withhold myself sexually with anyone FOR THE MOMENT. I feel it is OK to explore my sexuality though. I am Gay. Gay is not bad in God’s eyes. My moral standards as a homosexual are not defined yet. I feel like my relationship with God has been opened up again. The future is open. Many church members will reject my testimony, some might marvel. Our latter-day prophet’s interpretation of the Bible is wrong on homosexuality. Does that mean that they cease to be prophets? Is the Church being led astray? My definite answer is NO. The Lord knows what he is doing. If homosexuality is OK in His eyes, then it is not time to reveal it. Therefore, the attitude of our modern prophets is allowable. This is my theology. I don’t claim it to be inspired. I just know that this night will be remembered for the rest of my life…”
Indeed, that night was remembered for the rest of my life. Shortly after that time, I was honorably discharged from the Army, and moved back to Salt Lake City. My time living in Salt Lake City has been educational. I have learned a lot since the night I received that personal revelation. My adherence to standards and principles as taught by the LDS church has been a continuing transformation for me. Yet at the same time, my understanding of Christ and His atonement for all mankind has not been stronger. I attempt to seek for guidance from the Holy Ghost on all important spiritual matters. The times that I lack that guidance, are the times I realize I need to repent and continue to build my relationship with Christ through keeping His commandments. This has been very difficult for me to do. When my activity in the Church was at it’s highest, my motivation to “keep the commandments” was based off of the Church’s goals set here in mortality. Those goals included obtaining the Melchiezdek Priesthood, going to the temple, preparing for a mission and performing church ordinances. I strongly believe in the standards outlined by the Church to obtain worthiness for these blessings; except for one. The Church teaches that I cannot be involved in a loving monogamous relationship with a member of the same gender and obtain these blessings. In the eyes of many Mormons, a loving homosexual relationship has no more merit in God’s eyes than promiscuity. I don’t believe the Lord shares this view. I believe the Lord condemns the wiles of the popular “homosexual lifestyle” but he does not condemn true homosexual love. That is my personal belief. The dangers of coming out are that we are very susceptible to become entrapped in the popular “homosexual lifestyle.” I would say that for most who come out of the closet, this is the case. Before coming out, I did not have any concept of homosexuality being anything more than anonymous homosexual relations. I believed that if a gay relationship was possible, then it could only be based on sex. This is why it was very easy for me to become entrapped in the popular “homosexual lifestyle.” Yet, I make no excuses for my actions. I will answer to no one but God for my sins.
My Testimony and Theology
Many in the gay community and also in the LDS church will disagree with my views on homosexuality and religion all together. Those who know me on a more personal level will see that my actions often contradict my religious beliefs. What some people fail to realize is that all strong believing Latter-Day Saints fall into sin. If we did not, we would not need Jesus Christ. I do not excuse myself for my actions that I know to be wrong. Many people will try and tell me what is right and wrong. I do believe in universal truth, but I don’t believe that God has the same standards for all of His children. One universal truth I do know is that we are all children of God, and that He loves us unconditionally. I also know that God created each and every one of us different. Another truth is that He is all knowing and all perfect. Aside from that, I believe each and every one of us are entitled to our own personal beliefs. I savor the day that we as God’s children can quit judging each other and learn to live in harmony with one another. My belief is that God wants me to achieve perfection to return to His presence. Therefore, I choose to believe in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and Mediator between me and my Heavenly Father. I testify that He is God’s son. That his saving power is beyond description and is real. I also believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a “true and living church.” For me, the LDS church will always be a tool to help me exercise my faith in Christ, regardless of whether I am an official member or not. I believe that someday, the LDS church will be ready to receive a revelation from the Lord in regards to this difficult issue. I now sustain Gordon B. Hinckley as the Lord’s mouthpiece, or any of his predecessors to receive that revelation. For the time being, I must follow my heart and strive to do what I know is right. I may stumble at times, but I always get up and try again. I am very thankful for the blessings the Lord has poured into my life. Even the blessing of a homosexual orientation. My ultimate hope is to find somebody to share my life with. Having somebody by my side to experience all the joys, pains, and frustrations that life give us is a blessing beyond comprehension. The purpose of life is to obtain joy. There is no greater joy, than that of the Lord’s love. This is my testimony…