Lani became friends with Spencer on study abroad in Jerusalem in 2011. Since then, she’s followed his story on his personal blog. She asked him to share it on Normons.com, and we couldn’t be happier to have him as today’s guest poster.
By: Spencer Anopol //
First off, let me say that the opinions I share today reflect my own personal experience, not those of the church as a whole.
I’ve been “out” for over a year and a half now. For years I fought an internal battle, trying constantly to suppress a portion of myself. I thought that only when I succeeded would my Mormon identity be made whole. But what I didn’t understand until a year and a half ago was that my gay identity was just as innate and important to who I am as my Mormon identity.
If you are even slightly aware of past and current Mormon/Gay relations, you might think that being gay and Mormon could be problematic, and to be completely honest, so did I. As I became aware that I was in fact gay, my sensitivity to “anti-gay” rhetoric began to heighten. I heard friends say things, I saw strangers post comments on Facebook, and then came the kicker with Prop 8.
There was so much hatred from both sides of the gay marriage issue that I really felt there was no place for someone like me who identified and sympathized with both. I felt like I had to choose a side and fight. So that’s what I did–I chose my Mormon side. I had grown up a faithful and devout member and felt it was the easier and more acceptable route to take. I renewed my commitment to myself to shun the homosexual feelings I had been feeling and did everything in my power to show myself, my friends, my family and God that I was dedicated to being a good Mormon boy–and to me, that meant not liking other boys.
While I was in this period of what I thought was perfecting myself, I, in retrospect, see that I actually lost a good chunk of what made me, me. My fun-loving and happy personality became sunken and burdened under the weight of the impossible task of “straightening” myself out. In trying to fill my metaphorical half-empty cup with spirituality, I diluted my real identity and refashioned myself into someone different than the man God created. I suppose this may sound blasphemous to some, but what I have come to find since accepting myself is that my gay identity is as innate and God-given a feeling as my feelings of faith, and I am not the whole me without both.
Again, this is where the paradox begins. The LDS Church, and most religions in general have set standards by which their members are expected to abide. I both realize and accept that those standards are not likely to change. So, where does this put me–an out and full of faith gay Mormon? To be honest, it puts me in a very hard place, because as I have said, my faith and my sexual orientation are both important parts of who I am. Luckily for me, and yes I do mean luckily, I am a Mormon. I’d like to share three aspects of Mormon practices and beliefs that I believe make it worth living as a gay Mormon.
Mormons believe everyone can have a real and lasting personal relationship with God. We believe that every man and woman on this earth is a literal son or daughter of a Heavenly Father. Because of that connection, He knows us personally. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, He knows our names. This knowledge is what gave me the confidence to step out of the closet.
As I came to accept who I am, I came to understand this principle in a new way. Remarkably, God has made Himself accessible to all of His children no matter their religion, race, or even sexual orientation. He will not deny anyone His love, and what has astonished me most is that in accepting who I am, I have felt His love even stronger. I honestly feel like I know Him better now and on a more personal level now than ever before. I know that I don’t need to hide who I am from Him, and that is a great feeling.
All this is not to say the road’s been easy. I won’t gloss over the fact that as a gay man, fully participating in church activities has become difficult. Going to singles ward activities, where the sole purpose of, say, a city wide video scavenger hunt is to help you find your future spouse, isn’t as fun when you’re not looking or even interested in one. It was in those moments when I came to realize that I was going to have to take my spirituality on by myself. If I truly wanted to maintain the relationship with God that I had spent so much time developing, I was going to have to work on it personally, since culturally it wasn’t easy for me to fit in.
I have come to find that while my place within the organized church may differ from the norm, my personal relationship with God can and will remain firm if I choose to continue to strengthen it. It’s mine, and it is something no one can take away from me.
One thing you will find as you meet and talk to gay Mormons and gay Christians at large is that there are various ways they choose to live their lives. Some choose celibacy, some choose to marry a woman, some marry someone of their same sex and maintain their faith, and others marry someone of their same sex and abandon all faith.
Being raised a Mormon I was taught to “hope in all things.” Mormons are a hopeful people. We believe that hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness. Some may mock or question living a life based on hope, but our idea of hope is not a mere wishful thinking, it is a power that sustains us through despair. We hope in the grace of God. Because of our understanding of the sacrifice that Jesus made, we can hope and be assured that the end will exceed the present. I think if there is one thing society could use a little more of it is this kind of hope.
As someone who struggled so long fighting an attraction to the same sex, I now rely on the hope I have, that no matter what happens in this life; whether I remain single for the remainder of it, or whether I fall in love with another man, I can retain the hope that my end will exceed my present. This is probably where my beliefs and thoughts start to sound less and less Mormon and more and more “worldly.” But since I was asked to speak openly on my thoughts about homosexuality, I’m sharing the honest thoughts of my heart.
While I do not know where my life will go, nor do I have answers to the hundreds of questions I have, I believe that the hope I possess in the grace and goodness of God will be able to sustain me, and my faith, throughout this life and extend to the next. Yes, even if I fall in love with and marry another man. Trust me, I know the doctrine regarding homosexuality. I believe in and have great respect for Temple marriage. Growing up gay I can assure you that I have invested much more time, attention, thought, and prayer on the subject than many of my straight counterparts.
But I also know that God knows me and my heart better than anyone, including myself, and because of that I have the hope that my Father in Heaven will make it right in the end. Some may see this as a type of rationalization or blasphemy even, but as I’ve said before, accepting myself as gay has brought me closer to God than I ever was while trying to repress it, and I truly believe that is because I have come closer to being the person that God sees me as.
Third: Mormonism thrives on camaraderie.
Out of the three tenets I have focused on, this one is where I think the most work still needs to be done. However, I believe it is one of the most powerful aspects of our Mormon faith and can likewise be powerful in combatting the hurt that many members feel, gay and straight alike.
Mormons have always been a community-based people. Since our early years filled with struggle and persecution, Latter-day Saints have gathered together to show solidarity and support to one another. Even though the church has expanded to every corner of the Earth, we still feel a strong sense of community. When one of the members suffers, their congregation suffers alongside them. However, because we are such a close-knit group of believers, it can easily, though often unintentionally, seem exclusive. And for those like myself who feel different from the community you’ve grown up with, feelings of belonging can turn to feelings of loss and loneliness.
So here comes my soapbox moment: The doctrine of the church may not change, but what can change is the mentality of the members. We focus so heavily on being the Church of Jesus Christ, with Him at the helm, and it’s important we make sure our behavior is truly Christ-like. Sometimes it feels as though the plan of happiness has come to mean getting baptized, going on a mission, getting a college degree, marrying in the temple, and having children. It is indeed a beautiful plan. But the reality is that for some, that model of happiness is unattainable—and I’m not just talking solely about gay members.
As members of the LDS Church, we need to remember that amidst some seemingly black and white issues, there exists a lot of gray, and that gray can be heart wrenching for those experiencing it. As a church, we need to accept and love each other as Christ did. It doesn’t mean we have to compromise our values or change God-given doctrine. But instead of singling out those who don’t ‘fit the mold,’ let’s remind them that they are in loads of good company—truly, the best company.
When it comes how we treat homosexual members of our congregations, I can promise you this much: The unapologetic, unconditional demonstration of true Christ-like love from a parent to child, from brother to sister, and from friend to friend will do far more for both parties, their testimonies and their relationships than coercion, judgment, or force of belief ever will. Loving a friend unreservedly doesn’t mean you’re compromising your Christian beliefs, it means you’re living them.
I can by no means speak for anyone other than myself, and am likewise not an authority or expert on any topic. But I have learned a lot, and while I still have a lot to learn, I’m happy that I can continue to grow with the knowledge that my gay identity and my Mormon identity can peacefully coexist, if nowhere else, at least in my heart.