A Sacred Journey
November 14, 2015
by Nick Einbender
I’ve decided to share my story. My purpose in doing this isn’t to seek sympathy, praise, reprimand, or counsel. You don’t have to agree with me or comment. Sometimes all we can do is offer our experiences and pray that it opens understanding and compassion for others who may find themselves in similar circumstances yet struggle to find their voice. Additionally, sharing the most raw parts of who we are, may at times help others who have never experienced our unique challenges to have a better perspective and possible understand where we are coming from.
My name is Nick Einbender, I’m a 36 year old Active Duty (Major) Dentist in the Air Force, I’m an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), I have a firm testimony of the Restoration, the Plan of Salvation, the Scriptures, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I’m gay, I’m engaged to another man who is also an active member of the church who has a testimony of the same things I mentioned above, and I have a hope for the future despite the current policy that was just passed in the LDS church.
I come from a loving LDS family. I love my family with all my heart and count myself fortunate to have the parents and sisters I do. I had a good childhood, I felt loved and I knew those around me wanted the best for me. With that said, growing up, the gospel was taught to me as a “one size fits all” and if you aren’t that size, you should make adjustments until you happily fit the prescribed mold. I didn’t see anyone being celebrated for being different from the “norm.”
I slowly (and gratefully) fulfilled all the roles expected of any LDS boy and found great joy in so doing: being active in church, blessing and passing the sacrament, paying tithing, doing my home teaching, getting my Duty to God award, attending mutual and other church activities, becoming an Eagle Scout, graduating from Seminary, attending a church school (Ricks College for 2 years), serving an honorable mission (Ecuador Guayaquil South for 2 years), obtaining higher education (BYU for 2.5 years then dental school for 4 years), then joining the military and being able to serve my country. All of these things were done with a grateful heart and a smile on my face. I loved the Spirit I felt, the people I met, the experiences I had that shaped and molded my testimony and that gave me hopes of all the beautiful blessings the gospel of Jesus Christ has in store for those that choose to follow Him.
Yet somewhere along the way at a very young age, in the midst of all of these beautiful experiences, a silent battle began in my heart and in my mind, a battle that put me at odds with everything I had been taught to believe, to be, and to become. Never once, in the innocence of my youth, in the midst of all my sincere endeavors with a joyful heart to do everything the church taught me and asked of me did I once feel like I was “the person” who they taught me I should be. Yet I struggled to be “that person” anyways. I desperately wanted to be “that person.” Sure I had attributes of “that person” but there was something fundamentally different that made me wrestle with the peace that I was supposed to be feeling, doing everything I was told would make me happy. Although I didn’t understand it fully, and it was a progression that would only make full sense later in life, I started to realize I was gay. It was part of my makeup just as my eyes are blue and my hair was dusty blonde. This was a secret I kept to myself at all costs since there was no way for me to reconcile being so different from all of my peers in such an abominable way for a mind so young as mine. I fought and fought and fought against it, sure that it would just stop one day, would magically go away, and that all would work itself out, I just had to try harder, to pray harder, to do more and be more obedient.
My Dad has two gay brothers and their relationship with my parents was strained to say the least. Sure my Dad loves them but we weren’t encouraged to be around “their lifestyle.” We still would see them at family get togethers but I remember specific conversations about going to their home when other gay people were going to be there not being an appropriate situation for us to put ourselves in. The way I felt my Uncles were looked at by our family in light of our beliefs made coming out seem unimaginable to me since I felt I would be letting Mom and Dad down and shattering their hopes and dreams and disappointing them in the worst possible way. I felt like I would be forever labeled and ruined admitting it to anyone and that church leaders would react with discipline and therapy. I knew that if I told anyone, I wouldn’t ever be allowed to be the same person I currently was in the church. I would be labeled as something broken, something dangerous to myself and to others, something that needed to be counseled and fixed. In my limited youthful understanding, I was better off to suffer silently and fight this battle on my own than to open a floodgate of parental advice and church counsel that would have placed a scarlet letter on me at an age that I wouldn’t have been able to cope with. I swore to myself I would take this secret to my grave.
So I made a decision, I was going to do everything to conform and to play the part in hopes that this would all work itself out and this “phase” would pass.
I took girls to church and school dances to try and make myself like them and make myself normal. Sure I enjoyed their presence and loved their friendship but nothing romantic ever naturally entered my heart. I would never miss a day of extensive scripture study and long prayers for YEARS (I’m a little OCD so when I say I never missed a day, I really never missed a day in years) pleading God would take this from me and make me be romantically attracted to girls so I could be the man I was taught I needed to be to make the church, my family, and most importantly God, happy. I made excuse after excuse as to why I wasn’t dating and why I couldn’t keep a girlfriend. I buried my nose in my school books and studied as hard as I could and excelled in school an used that as a valid excuse as to why I was too busy to date. I often fantasized about what it would be like to date a boy, kiss a boy and to perhaps one day fall in love but that’s as far as I allowed that dream to go.
I tried to date girls in college but suffered from extreme anxiety and panic at each date and the thought of it progressing made me feel overwhelmed with fear and despair knowing I could never be the man they needed me to be. I suffered as I hurt girls feelings knowing how much they cared for me and knowing I could never be what they needed me to be despite how hard I tried. I met several wonderful girls I would have gladly married and would have given anything to change my heart so it could be romantically in love with them. I continued, trying and trying to date despite how awkward and emotionally stressful it was to me and how much it ended up hurting each girl that eventfully had to let go of me. It seemed with each date and each interested girl I would find an excuse to not let it progress. I maintained friendships with some of these interested girls for years and I will forever be grateful to them for loving me and being there for me even after some may have realized my secret that I never vocalized to them.
College was for the most part a wonderful experience for me. I made so many friends and again went on some dates and kissed some girls. I attended Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho for two years before my mission. One day I was surrounded and publicly bullied by a group of people I thought were my friends who called me out in front of the entrance to the cafeteria saying I was gay and I needed to just admit it. Those few minutes were a living nightmare and I was filled with anger and hurt so deep that I was at a loss for words so I ran back to my dorm with tears streaming down my face in agony that people could tell I was gay no matter how hard I was trying to hide it so I could conform and be the good LDS kid I wanted to be.
At BYU after my mission, I met a guy one morning with a group of friends that came over to my condo. We all hung out as a group that day and that night we were all watching a movie in this guys room. Everyone was going to leave early but he begged me to stay and finish the movie. I stayed and at one point during the rest of the movie he started fondling me. I was scared out of my mind yet exhilarated at the same time. I honestly don’t remember too many details but I know we broke the law of chastity. Despite fear of being kicked out of BYU, I went home and didn’t sleep at all that night and called my bishop first thing the next morning bawling my eyes out and told him what happened. He was very kind and understanding yet I went through a disciplinary council and was put on probation for an honor code violation. I did everything that was asked of me to correct my mistake and went on to graduate BYU with no more honor code violations.
Up to this point I had never known another gay person besides my Uncles. I soon found out that guy had a history of doing this to other guys at BYU and so the fear of HIV/AIDS was put into my naive mind and I had to force myself to go to a free clinic and get tested and wait for the results for over a week in agony bawling every day absolutely sure I was going to become HIV positive. I would call my bishop bawling and pouring out my soul that I didn’t want to get AIDS and his response was “well if the Lord wants you to have AIDS from this mistake then you will just have to learn to live with it.” I don’t blame my bishop, he was great and kind man, a good ole Utah cowboy who probably had limited knowledge and experience on this issue but again, this is another of the many reasons as to why Bishops need active gay members of their wards to help in times like these. The results obviously came back negative but it was a humiliating experience for me. I never touched another guy for 5 more years after that until I met Cody who was my friend for 4 months before we admitted to each other we were gay and it turned into my first relationship.
After I finished my dental residency in the military I volunteered for an assignment to South Korea specifically to leave the country and distance myself from my family and the church so I could have a better excuse as to why I wasn’t able to date and marry. This was all unknown to my family, I just told them that is where I got assigned. I then stayed overseas (up to this day 7 years later) feeling it was better to be far removed from my family so they wouldn’t have to see me give into my feelings if that were to happen. I went inactive for 4 years from the church since the church was in a way forcing me to come out with a constant flux of well meaning people always trying to set me up with girls or ask why I wasn’t dating and why I couldn’t hold callings. I could only make up so many excuses. This is a good time for a side note. Instead of going up to someone and saying “I have the PERFECT person for you!” Or “I’m going to find you a wife/husband!”etc, it’s better to say “hey if you’re ever interested in being set up on a date, I know some girls/boys I could introduce to, no pressure, just let me know!” Instead of asking married people why they don’t have kids yet or when they are having them, it’s probably best to let them bring it up first. So many people are fighting silent personal battles in so many ways and many don’t feel comfortable bringing these things up or discussing them and many people won’t show up to church for fear of being questioned and cornered even by well meaning people. When in doubt just say hello, offer a hug, and say you’re glad to see that person and let them do the talking 🙂
I struggled with masterbation and pornography starting a year after being off my mission as a way to cope with not acting on my sexuality with another person feeling it was better to masterbate and satiate my sexual frustrations in private rather than with another person since that would be the greater abomination. As a side note, I never once masterbated or looked at pornography until I was 22 years old and it wasn’t until years after that age that I ever had any form of human contact with a boy in a romantic way. I say this so people who have been trained to think that being gay is a result of poor choices dealing with morality can take a back seat since that is not the case whatsoever.
I voluntarily went to the addiction and recovery program in the LDS church for a year in Las Vegas to overcome masterbation and pornography. I voluntarily didn’t partake of the sacrament for years feeling I was worthless to God and unworthy in His sight. I struggled for years to get my temple recommend back and would eventually do so only to lose it time and time again when I would fall back into masterbating and looking at pornography. I would get so depressed thinking of never being able to date or have a relationship or share my life with someone and justified masterbation and pornography as a better substitute than pursuing a relationship with a man, in my mind it was the lesser of the two evils and got me by.
Another side note here…people speak so freely on sex and sexual sin and what an abomination it is. We are born with innate drives. A drive for thirst, a drive for hunger, a drive for sex. Yes I know, sexual relations are Holy and should be respected. You can only go so long without drinking, you can only go so long without eating. My body had many wet dreams years before I ever once masterbated and looked at pornography. It was just a natural reaction by my body that I never asked for. A sex drive is given for a purpose and a reason and is not meant to never be used in this life. So many people are so quick to judge homosexuals for “acting out on their homosexuality” since there-in lies the sin. I invite every straight person to ponder and answer these questions. How long do you think it would take for you to kiss a person of the same gender before you start to like it? What if I told you that you could only marry a person of the same gender and you were to have sex with that person and raise children with that person…do you think you could and be happy and give your all to that relationship? Now what if you were told you that you were to go your entire life never holding someone’s hand, never kissing someone, never allowing yourself to love someone or express your feelings to someone you are interested in, never having sex with someone you love, never marrying or having kids…could you do it? How happy would you be? With that being said…So someone is gay and a member of the church…what are their options? To force themselves to marry and express love to a person of the opposite sex and have a family and be miserable and lie to themselves and everyone else to follow proper LDS protocol? To acknowledge they are gay and choose to be celibate their entire lives and lose themselves in service to the church and others? Do you really think either of those options are possible? Could you turn off and suppress your sexual drive and desire (which is God given and a natural bodily expression) for your entire life? Could you really? Could you do it and not struggle with masturbation and pornography eventually? For a heterosexual person at least there is hope…you can look forward to option of dating and marriage and being able to have the luxury of exercising your natural given sex drive in marriage, of enjoying a relationship with someone you are sincerely attracted to and of feeling fulfilled in life. If you’re gay and LDS, that isn’t an option if you want to be in good standing with the church since your marriage wouldn’t be recognized, it’s an abomination, it’s unholy, you’re an apostate and you’re still in the wrong for acting on it. So where do you go, what do you do? Do you see the practically impossible dilemma here? It’s like asking gay people who are Mormon to live the law of consecration in this life and give all to the church their entire life…could you do it and be happy and feel fulfilled in this life? Truly we aren’t meant to be alone. Think of how far you progressed as a single person, think of your desires as a single person to marry and have a family. Think of how far you have progressed after dating, finding the person you want to spend your life with, marrying that person, growing and learning together, sharing of yourself, the changes to your character over the years. Think of what you have learned having children and raising them. Can you possibly say that you would be who you are now and where you are now if you had voluntarily chosen to be alone the rest of your life? Because that is what is so freely and quickly asked of all of us. If you can answer yes to the above questions I will gladly offer you the first stone to cast at me. I dare you.
Look at how mandatory abstaining from marriage worked out for certain churches with the priests…it doesn’t work, and for the millions of gay men and women out there, is that the answer? How many of those millions of gay people (and tens of thousands in the church) can really go their whole life serving in the church and never marrying and being forced to come out to everyone as people constantly try and set them up with a person of the opposite sex because they aren’t married and are single? How awkward is it to be forced to come out and be perceived as weird, wrong, or unnatural and be treated as such by many, or even worse, to feel forced to remain in the closet and make excuse after excuse as up why you’re single, why you don’t date, why you’re not married and be inauthentic to yourself your entire life and feel so out of place at a place that should make you feel at home more than any other place. I’m here to tell you sexual orientation is NOT a choice. Who in their right mind knowing the gospel, having a testimony of the gospel would choose to be gay? With that being said, we didn’t choose to be gay, we were made this way and I’m sure our Creator has a divine purpose and lesson that we all as a human family are to learn from this. So maybe, just maybe there is something more to all of this that Heavenly Father wants us all to learn for ourselves by listening to our hearts and to the whisperings of the Spirit.
So back to my story. I convinced myself it was better that I be alone forever. There was no gay role model for me in the church who could possibly have taught me along the way, no one to take me by the hand and help mentor me. There are thousands of straight role models but no gay ones (at least not in any of my wards growing up). The church pushes all those people right out the door and places straight heterosexuals in their place who have NEVER DEALT WITH THIS AND CAN’T POSSIBLY FULLY UNDERSTAND.
I started attending church actively (after 4 years of inactivity) two years ago on my own. Shortly after this, my former Bishop’s wife who has a gay son started talking to me about Affirmation which is the LGBTQ support group (not sanctioned by the church obviously) and I attended my first Affirmation conference in Utah in Sept 2014 with my parents as well as one of my sisters who came for support and to educate themselves better on LGBTQ issues. It was there that I surprisingly met my fiancé Spencer Mickelson who has been one of the biggest blessings life has offered me thus far. He is a wonderful man who has a remarkable testimony that burns bright within him and he inspires my own faith and testimony to increase. If you don’t believe me, ask ANYONE who knows him and they will speak volumes on his ability to help people understand the gospel and feel closer to Heavenly Father and the Savior. I love him with all my heart and feel closer to my Savior as we walk this road together in faith with a hope of good things to come. We are very involved in Affirmation and were in charge of teaching the youth at this last conference for 3 days. We also do outreach to the hundreds of people who message us struggling to find help, to find hope, to vent, to express their fears and doubts, to find a friend. We write and share our experiences and feelings and we are so happy to be a part of our Ward (congregation) family. Our greatest joy comes from our testimonies of the gospel and helping others find and keep their faith in Christ and to live His teachings. We are far from perfect but we keep each other in check, pray together, study the scriptures together, and constantly try to improve ourselves while dealing with life’s challenges and enjoying the many wonderful people and experiences around us. Our bishop knows we are gay as do the ward members and we have had incredible experiences with all of them as we attend our meetings every Sunday and commune with the Saints. In an early interview with my bishop, I was respectfully frank and told him I am in a relationship with Spencer and I understand that means I will never be in full “good standing” with church protocol on this issue. I politely said that the signs on all ward buildings say “visitors welcome” and that I am here to be spiritually nourished and fed and participate in whatever way he feels appropriate. I also mentioned that I do not expect the church to cater to me in any way, only that I be allowed to commune with the Saints and be made to feel welcome at the table of The Lord. He has been very kind and simply asked a few things of us. We obviously don’t have temple recommends, we don’t wear our garments, we don’t hold callings or partake of the sacrament, but we are there all three hours each Sunday to participate in whatever way we can, to answer questions in class, to bear our testimonies, to love and to serve and to fellowship with our brothers and sisters.
I wish I could express in detail the many tender experiences Spencer and I continue to have in our Ward with our fellow brothers and sisters. People are wanting to learn, they are eager to understand and we have felt blessed beyond measure to be an instrument in bridging the “scary unknown” that seems to divide the LGBTQ population from the mainstream body of the church. Spencer and I are positive that if real change is to occur in the church it will take LGBTQ individuals as well as their families and allies to stay active in their wards and branches and lovingly teach, share, and offer of themselves when opportunity permits. The Lord WILL present MANY opportunities and miracles will occur :). That has become very difficult now with this recent policy change.
So now after everything, going back to church and accepting that we can’t take the sacrament, hold a calling, go to the temple, wear garments, speak in church etc, doing everything we can with Affirmation, sharing the gospel every chance we get, helping everyone we can to hold onto their faith and stay in the church, struggling to find a measure of peace ourselves, being able to reconcile our faith (at least to a healthy and functioning degree) and who we are as gay children of God, and finally finding someone in each other who makes us want to follow Christ even more than we could on our own, we are labeled as apostates and will now be forced out the door and only welcomed to worship with our ward family only if we remain silent warm bodies in the pews. This hasn’t happened yet but according to new church policy, it’s coming. And yet Spencer and I were at church on Sunday like usual and we still want to stay.
I am not asking anyone to lose faith over this. Faith is sacred and should be treated as such. I’m not asking anyone to leave the church or turn in their temple recommends over this. I don’t want that, I want people to hold onto their faith, increase it, and follow Christ in all things. My question is simply this…when did Christ himself ever treat people as policies? He had numerous opportunities to do so and would have saved himself much public accusation and torment had He done so…but He never did. When as a church did we become so busy or so threatened that we can no longer afford every person in the ward the opportunity to be fully understood before making a blanket policy that automatically places a scarlet letter on their foreheads. People will always trump policy and the spirit of Christ is not found in a blanket policy that isolates people from the blessing that Christ’s Gospel offers freely to us all. His simple invitation to “Come Follow Me” was never accompanied by footnotes, disclaimers, addendums, policies, or attachments. I find my mouth closing and the words that once easily flowed while sharing this beautiful gospel I have always known and cherished now being stifled and restricted. The “Come As You Are” invitation is now being changed to “Come Only if You Conform.”
I’ll be there again and again each Sunday to worship with my Brothers and Sisters whom I love so much. Since my church is passing a blanket policy over me, I invite members everywhere to wrap anyone affected by this policy in a blanket of their love. This isn’t the end of anything, it’s a new opportunity to show everyone how strong we all are and be the answer to someone’s prayer.