Benji Schwimmer’s Talk at the Affirmation 2013 Annual Conference (Transcript)

Benji Schwimmer
Benji Schwimmer

Well hello brothers and sisters, uh this is the second time I’ve done something like this, we did uh the circle the wagons conference last year and that was a lot of fun and uhm a really interesting spirit and vibe that I felt there and uh, isn’t there like a robot flash photography we just talked about right now? I mean (laughter) often, okay so I’m going to preface this little chit chat, uhm by the way after this little talk is done, you all have to stay because there is going to be a fun little surprise that we’re going to be doing with every single one of you, big time challenge, but you’re going to have a riot, uh at least I will while watching it, so be prepared and stay tuned, before uh I just want to preface that before we get to the nitty gritty, uhm, I want us just to preface really quickly in the programme itself it says that I was a BYU student; I have never ever been a BYU student, but if you know now, I think, no I’m not hating, but uh I pride myself in having graduated high school at 15 and I counter aid for a living and make a good living from it so, uh yeah that being said I also feel completely feel under educated and completely uhm, humbled being on this podium, I’m arguably the least educated human being that’s probably ever graced a conference such as this, and in this magnitude and in this expanse, so uh forgive me for my lack of knowledge, and uhm I’m doing everything from my iPhone, I have a couple of quotes that I might read from, uhm I really like coming to a podium whenever I speak; whether it’s giving lectures in Europe on dance or uhm theory in swing dance or in this case being a gay Mormon, uhm I really like kind of just being rung off the cuff a little bit, I don’t like being hyper prepared, I’m the kind of person, I’m a perfectionist, I’ll practice 14 hours in one day with my feet, the bottom of my feet bleeding because I’m just so passionate about one darn step to compete with and uhm, so I try and avoid that  trait sometimes when it comes to things of the heart where I can be just a little more honest and uhm not so prepared and robotic, so if I mess up, if I flub or if I, or if I have a little bad case of gay-d-d, uhm forgive me, it’s going to happen I apologise, but uhm.

So the theme of the conference is new frontiers and uhm it’s a perfect theme for me, I think personally in my life and all that I can do right now is speak from my experiences however flawed they may be uhm and just to prophesies to you again to war everybody that I have my own opinions, they reserved within me and I’m not saying it’s the right way but it’s what I believe and it’s the way that I’m living my life right now and I have no shame in being authentic and speaking my mind and opinion about that. So forgive me, I hope I don’t offend anybody in here…but uhm morons. So yes uhm, some of you know that I came out publicly on a podcast with John Lin with Mormon stories which was a really cool experience and uhm it was just my really lazy way of coming out to every person that I knew without having to send a text or a conversations or write a letter, I mean I don’t have time for that, aint nobody got time for that, so it’s just one of those things where I thought like I could get it out in the open and blue and just do it. The interesting thing is that I was prepared in the sense that I had spoken to my closest of kin, my closest family and friends knew and it was something that I did personally for them. I figured the rest of the people in the world they can know, it’s…put the pieces together – professional dancer…I mean the odds are kinda stacked against us in that sense but uhm, and regarding the whole “so you think thing” before we get into the really deep stuff, I have to give a lot of warnings here, I don’t even like talking about that show, it was like Vietnam to me, like it happened and uhm it was a great experience I learned a lot from it but I don’t want to go back to it. It reminded me a lot of high school, or okay I guess you’d have to call it, like you can relive the glory days, but for me it was 7 years ago, and 7 life-changing years ago for me.

So great experience, great perforate but life has been wonderful in that sense and voluptuous and beautiful and difficult and rich a lot more rich than prior too I would say. Uhm I didn’t…but yeah uhm. Funny story uh, but we can talk about that afterwards, but anyways, okay so I was a true blue believer in the Mormon, I had a testimony of fire burning in my bosom constantly and it was something that was so dear and special to me and as child I remember, do you guys ever remember like near the bishops office, I don’t know if you did in Utah but in California going to mission was like a big thing when I was a child, like not everybody went and so there was these placards of the Mormon missionaries were like you know, they still the had the full missionary haircut but they were trying really hard to look missionary-ish and uh and it always go to, whether you were going, they had it etched out on the plac: country and their favourite scripture. Now me being the obsessive compulsive that I am, I was thinking as a child what is that magical scripture that represents me, that represents me yada yada yada. So I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me I’m very grateful that they raised the bar before I left we didn’t have any of that attention, you know like home comings, bon voyages or anything like that. So I do remember though I was in the middle of my mission with the haka and I was in a place, in an indigenous tribal village called Matias Romero, and in that place I was sitting, er living in this mud hut rocking in a hammock, reading my scriptures at 6:15 in the morning, and I found a scripture that I thought “oh my gosh” this is so it, so I’m going to share it with you really quickly, it’s in Messiah chapter 2, 34 and it says: “ knoweth that er eternally indebted to the death of your heavenly father to render to him all that you have and are”.

That hit me like a ton of bricks and considering that somewhere deep in my repressed mind I knew that I was gay uhm it was something that I felt like that was everything, that is my was my answer top everything like no excuses, so to speak and it was a bit morbid I you think about it now on retrospect and, but that was my motto, I mean I even had, I baptised a swordsman, he created real swords in a village, and he actually wrote like an asset script, my, my, that scripture on a sword, and it totally got caught by customs coming back home from my mission, like name tag and all, they told me to strip they like “do you have any drugs on you or money” it was great, and uhm, uhm that being said, that being said, that was my mentality for many years of my life, that I’m indebted to God, that I have to give everything that I am, everything that I have and, and I think as best as I could humanly do, I did, to the point where I felt I lost a lot of myself in the process through that repression uhm came this need to perform, this need to play a character in a role. There is an amazing book, and if any of you are looking for something to inspire you, help you understand more about the homosexual dynamic; there’s a book called the Velvet Rage and it’s amazing…yeah? We’ve got some yesses, okay I’ve got some halleluiahs and Amens, right on, preach on. There’s a quote that I wanted to read for you if you would just bear with my terrible reading skills which is why I’m wearing glasses right now but it’s talking about the intro and it’s talking about how as gay men and women particularly gay men that because of social pressure; whether it’s religiosity based or just peer pressure amongst family whatever the dynamics that we have in our lives they create these characters that we have these personas to protect us, and I thought it was very interesting, this is what it says “So as mere children, years before, we would have sex for the first time with a man or woman, we had suffered rejection by our peers, emotional neglect from our families and overcompensating protection from our moms. We survive by learning to conform to the expectations of others at a time in our development when we should have been learning to follow our own internal promptings, we became puppets of a sort, allowing those around us to pull the strings that made us act in acceptable ways, all the while knowing that we wouldn’t even trust ourselves” and then it says, I’ll read you this part “so the little boy with the big secret becomes the man, who is driven to avoid shame by hiding his dark truth, famished for authentic validation, without a reliable sense of self-direction. He develops a sophisticated radar for those things that people enjoy, that will make him feel better about himself. The little boy grows up to be a man who is supremely knowledgeable about culture and fashion. A man with a darner-side proportions and has many levers, a man of great success and wealth, fabulous and outrageous of a host, an arbour of good taste and elegant design a pop culture of aficionado.

To a great extent, there, these are the gay men that we know and we have come to love. This is you, this is me, a boy with a great secret who hides his curse behind a curtain made of crimps and velvet. It may surprise many to learn that this secret is not a sexual appetite for men, no, it’s something darker, steaming and filled with rage. His secret cannot reveal, not even to himself for fear that it would consume him completely, deep inside his life, far from the light of awareness the secret lives. Go down beneath the layers of public facade, personal myth and fantasy, peel away the well-crafted layers for only then can you see the secret clearly for what it is, your own self-hatred.

That hit me so hard when I read this and as an openly, freshly out of the closet gay man, I was a kid in a candy store, I moved to Hillcrest area of Santiago which is like a gay mecca if you don’t know about it. So I live the hood, we call it the gay-bourhood, and I’m walking around [inaudible] then, just steroided out, wearing daisy-dooks and crop-tops and working out at the gym and like high-fiving one another and listening to Lady Gaga and it’s this weird, cultural shock for me, it is so dynamically different compared to what life was like being a Mormon in a small town in the middle of nowhere California.

And so for me to see that, it was weird because I neither felt a part of my Mormon heritage or a part of this group in this culture and I felt again super out of place. Circling wagons, I had just gone through a really really bad breakup and it totally hit me really bad and I realised that I had left the church, I had just gotten into a deep serious relationship and that relationship became everything for me and when it ended, uhm I was crushed and I realised that I had never actually fully mourned the loss of the church in my life and the role that it once played in my life. I think the church still plays a role in my life, it’s just very different than what it used to be, I’m not an active participant nor am I actually an official member, although I do claim my Mormon heritage and I’m very proud of it and I still feel in many ways, I’m very Mormon and like I can’t get rid of this part of my heritage for the life of me no matter what I do it’ll always be there. So thank the two years in Mexico with really crazy chemical induced gel that Mexico created and uhm, anyways uhm. What I’m trying to get at is this, is that I’m hopefully trying to speak to those that might have either left the church or are struggling with where they stand, they sitting on a fence, I’m not pushing in any direction but one thing that I think is very important to remember is that we come from a very great culture, despite some of the issues that we have currently and some of our debates politically about where gays stand within the church there are some very great things that we have learnt as a church, the ideas of service, the ideas of love and compassion true Christ-like living is something very beautiful and the one thing that I very deeply miss in the now new culture and society that I live in. I don’t see it very often, I see these characters, I see people hiding their true self and true hatred behind a curtain of rage and it is very sad to see that.

So where am I getting at, a new frontier is the theme of this conference, and hopefully to kick it off, I have personally tried to step on a better foot in my life. For a while I would just walk around at the gym and just be a wildflower, or just go to karaoke bars and just sit in the back corners, and I’m a fairly outgoing person uhm it was easy for me to perform in front of 80 million people on live TV, right, it was easy for me to do that, it was easy for me to come out and have Perez Hilton cover it and post it all over his website and people talking about really weird stuff, is he this, is he that I wonder who he’s dating, it’s just really weird to have that now part of my life and my paradigm, but that being said, uhm. It was really difficult for a while and I felt a lot of reflected self-hatred and the gay men and women that I was around, who could flaunt around and parade as these characters. I felt as fake as I was when I lied about my sexual iodentity in the Mormon church.

So there’s this really weird balance that I’m dealing with right now, and for some of you may be going through that, I don’t where you stand but for those of you who may be active in the gay lifestyle that might go to these dance clubs or these bars or I don’t know, these gay churches which is the gym uhm, if you. I go to worship service 6 times a week now and I’m actually a very devoted member of my church uhm yeah, but uhm that being said.

I remember recently listening to these intros in the very beginning, I reflected to a time when I had, when I wanted my name on one of these placs and I wanted to have a scripture that represented me and even though I feel that for me to feel like I’m giving everything that I am, everything that I have, and to put it on the alter and sacrifice it, I completely disagree with that now.

I think everything that I have, excluding my Mormon history or including my time on a reality show as a closeted Mormon or includes me now coming out and being in the open, and I’m now lost in this wilderness and learning how to navigate that and I think that these things create something beautiful that I can take with me and I don’t have to lash out, I don’t have to act irrationally, I might make mistakes and I don’t have to kick myself for that, but I do have to apply some old things that I might have forgotten about my Mormon lifestyle and that’s giving grace, mercy and forgiveness in all that I do and maybe onto others as well and understanding we’re all in  different stages in our lifestyles.

So there was something that I was reading in psychology today by Mary Loftus, she’s really cool, she wrote this really awesome article about how sometimes our virtues can become vices, or vice versa where sometimes we think our bad or weak character flaws might actually be what’s really good about us and we have to constantly re-evaluate that. So thinking about the theme of new frontiers it says this “in a world where rapid change is constant, all received wisdom, including what is virtuous,  must re-examined constantly, nothing is a blanket prescription in highly dynamic universe. Change requires, above all adaptability. The ability to stretch above the status quo, get beyond what you were taught or see what had worked well in the past. And so I would encourage everybody to think about their new frontier and wherever they’re at in their lives and to remember that we don’t have to play a character, whether it’s that closeted, repressed Mormon that’s actively participating in church, or whether it’s that Lady Gaga loving, finger snapping and throwing her invisible hair out gay guy as well, that flaunts it in an extra way just to play that character, just to be the loud, just-jacked character when you might not be that, deep down inside. I’ve learned that there’s a fine balance between it all and there’s things that I want to pull from that area and things that I want to pull from this area and find a beautiful balance and my deepest desire from myself and for everyone else in this room is to hopefully find a better balance and to realise that we’re not needing neccessarily to carry piccard signs every now and then, we’re not necessarily required to rip our shirts open with a rainbow flags, even though it’s kind of cool, I think it’s kind of heroic but now, but we don’t have to do that to everybody that we encounter.

I think what’s beautiful is to be able to sit down at a dinner table. I was sitting next to a person on a plane and there was one guy reading doctor and covariance and this other guy who was like studying like cigar digest or something like that, so two stark different people and I’m sitting in this middle isle and I got totally bumped out of my flight, I’m sitting in this middle isle, I never do that, I hate it and anyways, sitting there and I’m looking at this reality check and I was actually symbolically in the middle of it all and it was beautiful and it was cool because I can relate to this person and I can relate to that person. So I think we have a really great call like the missionary service that I once did for two years which I still consider the best two years of my life uhm we walked around wearing a tag with the name of Jesus Christ over our hearts and I think we can still walk around with that sense of Christian love.

I think it’s more impactful now instead of screaming and holding signs and to flaunt around and to be characters but then again but rather to be wonderful citizens, to be good neighbours to be friendly to our active members of the church and if you’re not an active member, to love them and to treat them as equals and vice versa to not be hostile to those that might think differently of you. It’s a new frontier for all of us, we’re entering into this new world where teenagers are coming out and it’s beautiful and their parents are supporting them, like how wonderful is that.

It’s a new era, some of us don’t have to look over our shoulders when we’re walking down the street. I live in a gay-bourhood right now where I see men holding hands, which is beautiful. I see couples in this room, I’m seeing grown men who have probably been together for a while with their heads resting on one of their shoulders and it really touches me. I at one time probably would have been like “psssh look at those screws over there” I probably would have done that, uhm and very in a sad way, on the flip side it probably would have gone “yes, you go girl you do your thing yeah that’s right” and I see guys doing that as well, I see guys in that same gay-bourhood wearing dog collars and walking their partners and making out in the streets. What I’m trying to get at is that that is a sense of extremists in both cultures and if we can find that beautiful middle ground and just be beautiful human beings and authentic and mild and meek souls, I think we can have better change for everybody on both sides of the fence, there won’t be wars, there won’t be contentions but rather, we can fall for what we’d originally opted for coming here if we still believe in the plan of salvation, that’s a free agency.

We all can choose, we’re not going to pass judgement, we’re all in different times and paths on our plan for salvation. Now my beliefs have changed greatly over the last few years but nevertheless I hold dear those ideals and they help formulate my new frontier and I would encourage all of you as well to reformulate and constantly re-evaluate what we can do better, how we can be better citizens and better people and in a way be better Christ-like examples of loving, kindness and better Mormons and that’s my thoughts to you all right now and I say it with love, and I say it with a huge sense of empathy for you all that are active members of the church and those who are believing in not active members of the church, to those that are against religion. I somehow float in the middle of it all, and I find beautiful and I find the prospectus unique in every way and uhm rich and I hope we can love and accept that in all of us, in all of our colours of the rainbow diversities amongst us and uhm, I’m done, thank you, thank you very much.

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