Celibacy: A Best-Case Scenario

Author must write anonymously because of concern that she would lose her job in a part of Utah where discrimination in the work-place is not illegal.

I’ve heard it said that the LDS church doesn’t require anything more from gay people than it does for single heterosexual people:  celibacy.  I’ve also heard the counter-argument—that celibacy is harder for gay people because they have no hope whatsoever for a sexual relationship with a committed spouse.

This is certainly true.  But it is so much more than that.  If you are a gay person living in a community (the church) that tells you that you must suppress your sexuality for the sake of that community, it doesn’t just make physical and romantic relationships harder—it affects all of your relationships and makes them harder too.

I will try to relate some of my experiences in order to illustrate this.  When I was at BYU I fell in love with my roommate.  We were best friends who became something more.  We had a brief physical relationship (which was so tame that if we had been an opposite gender couple we wouldn’t have even had to confess to the bishop) but agreed to break it off because we wanted to stay in the church.  She left on a mission soon thereafter and I stayed at BYU.  I was heartbroken and alone, and because I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened without fear of getting kicked out of school, I swallowed my emotions and began a long journey down the path of repression.

The biggest lesson that I learned from this experience was that friendships with women were dangerous.  I couldn’t risk falling for another friend and experiencing that pain over and over again.  But in an LDS culture, who else was I supposed to develop friendships with?  There were wonderful women surrounding me all the time—roommates, Relief Society sisters, neighbors, and co-workers.  But I carefully walled myself off from them so that I wouldn’t be tempted.  So that I could continue to be a part of the church.  I couldn’t be friends with men either (whether married or single), because I couldn’t risk them thinking that I was hoping for romance. All church activities for singles focused on meeting suitable marriage partners—something I knew wouldn’t happen for me—so I didn’t go.  So not only did I have no romantic relationships, I had no friends, either.  This went on for the better part of two decades before I finally began to accept myself as a gay person and decided that I wanted to create relationships of all kinds with the people around me.

Now, I don’t want this to be a “woe-is-me” type of story.  I recognize that my experiences as a gay Mormon have been much less traumatic than some others. But this inability to create friendships really did handicap me in many ways and it kept me from growing as a person.  It made me lonely and bitter, and completely unaware of the good that I have to offer.  I often went for days at a time without speaking to anyone besides cashiers at the grocery store or fast food restaurants.  Weeks passed without any purposeful touch from another human being.  And, perhaps worst of all, I had no self worth.  I actually tried to limit human contact because I believed that no one should be inflicted with my presence.  But still, I was one of the lucky ones.  I only contemplated suicide, and never attempted it.

For the past few months I have been dating a woman.  And I’ve learned more about myself and about relationships than I have since adolescence.  A whole new world has been opened up to me, and it has nothing to do with sex.  It’s about how to let someone into your life.  It’s frightening and difficult, and sometimes I worry that spending nearly twenty years virtually alone hasn’t damaged me beyond repair.  I don’t know if my story will have the happy ending that some on this blog have had (although my amazing girlfriend assures me that I’m doing just fine).

Is this so-called best-case scenario really what the church wants for people?  A life of fleeting and superficial relationships, damaged self-esteem, and utter loneliness?  Or the chance to become a better person by making a commitment to another human being?

I have absolutely no regrets about deciding to try to build a relationship with my girlfriend.  My family may disapprove, and I may face disciplinary action at some time in the future.  But no matter what happens, it will be worth it.  My time in this relationship is more precious to me than any other life experiences that I’ve had so far and I’m grateful for every day that I get to spend with my girlfriend.  But despite remaining an active LDS member, I may never get over the fact that the church expects me to forgo this opportunity.  Celibacy for gay members creates socially and spiritually disabled people and the church needs to find a solution to this.  So that today’s gay youth don’t have to become the bitter, lonely person that I once was.

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