By Andy Simmonds
(admin note: In prior posts by the Abhau family–Jake, Meg and Jon–have talked about the role Andy played of their journey towards understanding their son’s homosexuality)I am Andrew Jon Simmonds. I was born into a wonderful (LDS) family and raised in Utah. I am gay. I did not decide to be. I was born this way, made this way, however you want to put it. (And while I’m not a fan of the actual term ‘gay,” it’s the simplest way to say it.)
I’ve been asked to share my story, as well as a bit about my interaction with Jon in his coming-out process. It is not everything about me, though. just one piece of who I am. I am Andy.
I love being with my family, as well as being social and making friends. I enjoy art and design beyond my capacity to convey. I also like to bake. I like to sing. I like spending time outdoors. And yes, I also happen to be gay. That’s all there is to it. It has been a part of me as long as I can remember. You want the honest truth? I remember my infatuation with a neighborhood boy in his teens that would come by our house from time to time. This was at age six, in the midst of a major Barbie phase. (A phase which ended, courtesy of having developed a social consciousness.)
Growing older, I began to understand what “gay” was. As I began to understand it, or was taught, being gay was unnatural. It was a choice. People weren’t really gay. Girls liked boys. Boys liked girls. Anyone who felt otherwise was, more or less, evil. I had no interaction with any gay adults of any kind, and had no other perspective by which to judge the situation. All I understood? Gay = evil.
So, at about age 12, when I began to realize what this attraction meant, a decade of denial began. I refused to believe that I could be gay. And if I was attracted to men, it wasn’t the “real” me. It was some awful Satanic influence that I would need to stifle entirely. That’s what I believed I had to do, and that is precisely what I did. Had I been in a position where discussions about sexuality were acceptable and didn’t cause me to feel so worthless, I am sure I would have settled on a far more mentally-healthy strategy. Left to my own lonely devices, however, the strategy was an aggressive denial.
My adolescence may have seemed quite cheerful to onlookers. In truth, it was littered with moments of self-loathing. I hated that part of myself so intensely, and spent many nights pleading with God to make me normal. When the time came, I even tried to date girls. I would not accept that I was gay, and so I fasted and prayed to have God take this unnatural part from me, because it couldn’t possibly really be part of me.
I carried on. I graduated high school. I went to college, which seemed to be filled with an open-minded and liberal people. Being gay seemed quite acceptable there, and it actually caused my stifling to intensify. “I couldn’t be. I shouldn’t be. I’m not gay.” Each day of my life, this was my anthem.
After one year at college, I served an LDS mission out of a sincere desire to serve God. Those two years in South Africa and Botswana are something I will never regret for anything. I learned about God, about myself, about the world, and my views were expanded. There, I learned how to view things from others’ perspectives and gain greater compassion. I will be forever grateful for that incredible experience. In fact, the perspectives I gained and the open-mindedness my mission taught me played a key role in my coming out and in my acceptance of homosexuality in general
I returned home from my mission, and was uninterested in dating. It is a cultural norm that a young man returning from a mission gets dating seriously to find an eternal companion… Or quite simply to find a wife. All the while still denying my sexuality, my heart wasn’t in dating girls. I felt immense pressure to get dating. I didn’t even go on a date until a seven months after returning home. Even then, it didn’t amount to anything more than a first date. Yes, of course, I got along with girls. I get along with women wonderfully! And while I hadn’t yet accepted that I was gay, I sincerely wondered if I’d be able to marry a woman.
Then I met Kylee. We got along seamlessly from day one. We became best friends in no time, and after a while I thought that perhaps I could make this work. We dated for a great five months. We began talking about marriage, and, at some point, it seemed absolutely certain. We had a ring picked out. We were discussing the timing of the actual wedding – the whole nine yards. But the closer that reality came, the sicker I felt. Not because it was Kylee, but because it was a woman. Years of denial were bubbling up… fast. It was becoming too much for me to deny, and far too much to stifle. I remember one day in particular where I felt that I couldn’t keep up the act any longer. To say I felt overwhelmed and confused would be an understatement. I dropped to my knees, sobbing, and for the first time I was not going to ask God to take this part of me away. I acknowledged it before Him as an actual, real part of me. The second I did so, I felt a divine love as I had never before felt. I felt loved and accepted by God instantly, and in a way that I had never felt before. I had come out to God. I had come out to myself.Looming before me was the question, what now? I spent hours and hours researching. I soul-searched. I read about Mormon men who, while they admit they are homosexual, have married women, had children, and profess to be truly happy. I read from others whose perspectives were polar opposites. I found as many varied perspectives to consider as I possibly could. Some extreme, some moderate. More than anything, though, I was looking to God for answers. It felt like it might take some time to know exactly what course of action to take. I took life one breath at a time. Then one hour at a time. Finally, one day at a time. I began to feel I could function again and that things would be okay. Regardless, I want it very clear that I put an immense amount of thought and prayer into the matter. Anything less would be unacceptable.
The process, however, wasn’t easy. There were a lot of things I didn’t know. I did, however, know a few things for certain. For the first time in my life I admitted I was gay. It was real. It was me. It didn’t define me, but it was a part of me that I didn’t have to loathe anymore. I felt free. I sobbed for a good while after that coming-out prayer. But this time, the tears didn’t come from fear and depression. They came from joy and divine love. I could hardly believe how amazing it was to feel so much divine love, even after accepting that I was gay. For years, I was horrified what would happen when I finally came out to God and to myself. Deep inside, it was a moment I knew was imminent. When it finally happened, I felt free. I felt like my relationship with God was finally 100% honest.
Then, for the first time ever, I came out to someone. I talked to two of my friends, both of whom were gay, and both of whom I knew I could trust to help me in my journey. Very soon after, I came out to two of my siblings. It felt incredible to be open and honest with myself and with others. Speaking to these people didn’t necessarily give me an idea as to what path I should take, but they made me feel loved. They assured me that I was whole, and that I was still the same Andy I’d always been. While they didn’t steer me in any particular direction, the self-love and acceptance they offered is what gave me confidence to know what to do.
It shattered my heart to admit it, but after so much thought and consideration, I knew I couldn’t marry Kylee. Having her in my life felt right, but marrying her felt wrong. At this point, I knew a couple things: I had to break up with this angel of a girl, and I wanted to come out to the rest of my family. I didn’t fear it, nor did I have any reason to. My family was as warm and loving as I could have hoped for.Coming out to and breaking up with Kylee remains, to this day, one of the most heart-breaking experiences I have ever endured. The future we had envisioned together was crushed. I already had several days to deal with that fact, and in some way had known I was gay for my entire life. For her, it was entirely new. I won’t attempt to give the whole account of what pain followed. Suffice it to say that it shattered her world, and we were both broken-hearted.
As best I could, I moved forward with life and came out to the rest of my immediate family. Was it easy? Of course not. Yet I was received with warmth and love. Yes, I am the same Andy. And no, my sexuality does not define me. Still, it is a substantial part of my identity. I think it took time, and is still taking some time, for some family members to adjust. It’s a new dynamic under which we function, and they have been an incredible support throughout the process.
After some time, Kylee and I became friends. That girl is incredible, and is probably my strongest advocate. To this day, I’m not sure how, but she is. I adore her with my whole heart for that. Not only her, but also her entire family has been so supportive. This wonderful web of support made it easy to carry on and be open. I wanted to be open. I still do. I don’t wish to shove it in anyone’s face, but I don’t wish to hide it. The world deserves me in my entirety. The same goes for all people. I simply want to be open, and I am.
In the midst of all this great support, I developed a genuine desire to help others avoid the difficulties associated with accepting sexuality and/or coming out. This didn’t mean I wanted to convince people they were gay. I simply wanted to be the kind of person anyone could feel comfortable having open discussions with, regardless of their sexuality.
Not long after, I received an unexpected Facebook message from Kylee’s nephew, Jon. In not so few words, he asked how I had come to know I was gay. He expressed that he thought he might be gay, and was confused. He didn’t know how to find out, or what to do. Firstly, I know and love his parents dearly. I did not want to disrespect them or him by swaying this boy in any direction. I wanted to be an objective support. My goal was this: I would help him reason. I would help him process thoughts. But I would never cause him to think a certain way. Whether he was straight, bisexual, or gay didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that he felt loved and accepted enough to discover for himself what the answer was. I wanted him to find his personal truth. In that moment all I could be was someone he would be able to share feelings with and not feel judged. My responses were not all that detailed or lengthy. I simply confirmed that he was loved and valued regardless of whether he was gay or not. It was after several days of intense introspection that he came to a conclusion: he knew he was gay. Soon after, he came out to his parents, who have embraced that angel of a boy with all the love anyone could imagine. His maturity in the matter blew me away, and I have a deep admiration for his courage and tact. It has spared him, and now many others, the shame and self-hate that so readily comes from being closeted.
My coming-out process developed in me a sense of responsibility. In general, I want to make the world a more positive place. I hope that I, in whatever ways possible, can help others overcome difficulties with accepting or confronting their sexuality. This is a sort of mission that Jon and I share. (Not to mention countless other people.) Personally, I have no agenda for anyone. My path is different from anyone else’s, and we each need to discover what will be best for us. My sister recently posted a short bit about her mission, her love for God, and how grateful she was to have served. She summed up her post with the following, “.. it doesn’t really matter to me what anyone believes; I only hope that what we ‘do’ believe brings us the kind of happiness that lasts.” That sentiment resonates strongly with me. That’s exactly what I want for myself. It’s what I want for humanity. In my eyes, that begins by having the courage to be true to ourselves. It continues as we allow others to feel comfortable doing the same. The future I envision includes an environment of greater love, acceptance, and compassion. I hope for that future, and hope to do my part in making it a reality.
I want children, teens and adults alike to have hope. Why? Because there’s plenty to be had. I look at how society has shifted since my childhood, and the strides are overwhelming. Progress is being made in so many ways, but I am especially grateful for the way the LGBT community is being accepted. If I could say anything to a closeted (or non-closeted) LGBT individual struggling to find hope? I suppose I’d ask them to take a look at the many people who have gone before them, and understand that they can have a happy future like anyone else. I have no doubt that those who seek that happiness will find it. I’m not saying we won’t endure some lengthy struggles along the way. I’m just saying to keep hope. Happiness is there. Heck, happiness is HERE. If it seems no one else does, then I love you! I accept you. I welcome you. And there are so many others who feel the same way I do. You have a family. We’re all here.
(left to right) Jake Abhau, Meg Abhau, Kevin Thurman, Jon Abhau, Kylee Thurman, Andy Simmonds