By Taylor James Averett
I am an honest person. What I mean by that is multi-layered, as all aspects of my personality are multi-layered. I am a direct person. I am a forthright person. I speak my mind, and I don’t play games. I have always hated being a liar, not being completely forthright about my thoughts and feelings. I’ve always wanted to be as honest with everyone as I can be; yet I spent the vast majority of my life lying to the many people in my life. I spent my life lying to myself. This was not an effort to maliciously deceive. Rather, this was me trying to at first deny who I was, then remove who I was, then transform who I was, then learn to cope with who I was, and finally to give up on who I was.
For so many years, a battle was always raging inside my mind, heart, and soul. I can remember countless days of constantly guarding myself, watching myself, being on edge with myself. And those were some of the good days. A good day was one where I could make it through the entire day with just a few times needing to sing a hymn to myself to return my mind to the course I wanted it to be on. Then there were the other days; days where I felt that every five minutes I had to reign in thoughts, feelings, sexual yearnings, and self concepts that violated what I had determined to be what I wanted in life. This constant reversal of every fleeting thought and feeling lead to pure agony inside my mind. When the feelings seemed to betray me, and I allowed them space in my mind, I would inexorably spend the rest of the day, week, or month berating myself for allowing that feeling to hold sway inside my heart. I became more adept at hating myself than loving myself. I became better at being aware of every fleeting thought inside my own mind than paying attention to the world around me. I lived in long periods of constant anxiety, depression, and uneasiness.
This battle was not refrained to the confines of my own mind. This battle turned into an all out war, waged against those around me. The tactics varied, and the assaults were never the same. Sometimes I engaged in covert war, seemingly calm, but calculating, and snidely acting others. Sometimes I was completely on the defensive, a war of attrition, and I wanted to ensure that my guerrilla attacks cost who I deemed to be an enemy dearly. Often, it was all out assault against others. My anger would boil over, spilling over the surface of my composure, and I would become a violent and aggressive person. I was constantly ashamed of being that bellicose soul, and it fueled further self-hatred and doubt. Why was I so conflictive? What was wrong with me? Why was I not able to connect on a human level with so many others? I am not a violent or an aggressive person. I am a gentle person. I am a kind person. I am a sensitive person. But I hated myself so much. I was so accustomed to being at battle, that battle became my modus operandi, with myself and the world around me.
Now, I accept who I am, and the world around me has completely changed. I feel this immense weight has been lifted off of me. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but as I become a man, I will put away childish things. For I saw through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. I find that as the battle inside of myself had ended, the battle around me ended as well. I was no longer at war, and peacetime was wonderful. Peacetime is still wonderful. I am feeling the Spirit again in my life. I feel communion with God, friendship with God, love and admiration of God. I have immense gratitude for being His son, and that He loves and approves of me. I have been so much more at ease with myself, with God, and with those around me. I have felt so much anger and frustration drop away because I have really been loving myself, accepting myself, in a way that I have never done in my whole life.
Last fall, I started researching and studying the testimonies of gay Mormons. I read many blog posts and watched many YouTube videos from old gay Mormons, young gay Mormons, men, women, family and friends of gay Mormons. Though I did not desire to hear what they were saying, since for my whole life I worked to repress or learn to “cope” with my homosexuality, what they said struck me deeply, very deeply. That they knew that God hadn’t made a mistake with them, that it was not an accident they were gay. These gay Saints, and those who love them, all shared striking testimony of God’s love for them, and that He desired for them to be authentic to who they were, and pursue whom they loved. They all shared how that after God had touched their hearts in this way, they felt an immense sense of affirmation and love, and that from those experiences, they had found a joy and peace in their lives that they had never before known or expected.
I was terrified to ask God that. I didn’t want God to confirm that for me. If God told me He wanted me to be authentic to who I am, and pursue who I feel attracted to, what would that mean for my membership in the Church I have loved for so long? What would that mean for my Mormon identity? I felt that all options open to me were fraught with pitfalls. If I were to pray, to ask God if He wanted me to be my authentic self, and He told me to continue to repress and try to manage those feelings while seeking a woman to marry, I was terribly afraid of only being able to love that woman in half the ways she deserved, that I wouldn’t be able to give her my whole self the way I want to do for someone I share my life with. And I would only feel like half a man and half a person in a situation like that. I know that I would go into a marriage like that with a full heart, and full of commitment, but time is erosion, and no matter the fervor of my conviction at the outset, my identity would still be the same. I would still be gay, and that part of me would never leave; she would still be straight, and there would always be a gulf of inability to connect at a certain level. We would do our best to make do, and we would focus on how we could connect, whether mentally or even to a small degree emotionally, but there would be heartache, such that neither one of us could fully understand at the outset of marriage. It would be a constant hurdle. It would be a hurdle in love making, date nights, emotional bonding, in having a true, sound, whole partnership.
If I prayed and God told me to repress and manage those feelings and live a celibate and solitary life, then I would be left to such loneliness and sorrow. I am a person with so much love in my heart, and to then cloister much of that love because I don’t have a companion and spouse to express that love with would be a heartbreak. I am a family man. If anything, being single and going on the adventures I do has shown me that I thrive with people, and more so than that, I thrive when I am intimate with people. And I would be forever out of reach of the highest level of intimacy one person can have with another. I would never experience true companionship, true love. I would never have someone to hold me while I slept, to laugh with me on a beautiful sunny day, to cry with me over heartache, to look at me like I was their world, and their best friend. Well-intentioned people are apt to offer alternatives to married life for single Saints; there is the ward family, your immediate siblings and parents, your work family, your neighborhood family. My own parents, who have been married for 39 years know that married, committed love surpasses all of that, and brings a sense of wholeness to each member of the marriage. I’m sure, having seen the companionship that the two of them share, that they would not be able to live with out each other. I remember mom talking about how she would pull out clumps of hair while she was in in the shower while dad was at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Lincoln, on the verge of death, and how all the gray hair she has now is mostly due to that experience. I remember all the stories that dad tells of how he felt when he and mom were separated while she was at BYU-Hawaiʻi, and the anticipation and yearning he felt for her while they were apart. My parents love each other with such a deep and abiding love, and I grew up with that sense of love and union. Its all I ever known. How could I not have the same in my life? How could I not have someone to yearn for me as dad did for mom, or someone to mourn for my potential demise as mom did for dad?
If I prayed, and God told me to be my authentic self, and to pursue whom I could truly and fully love, where would that leave me with my faith and my religion? How could I be my authentic self without being both Mormon and gay? I would always feel like a half of a person (which is how I have felt for years on end up till this point, being solely Mormon and totally shunning my gay identity). I know, as I have not wanted to know for more than a decade, yet truly and deeply felt at my core for that whole time, that I am spiritually, emotionally, and physically drawn to build a partnership and a marriage with a man. That is how I am built, that’s who I am. But how can I be who I am and not be the other part of who I am? I grew up in the faith of my parents, in the faith of my grandparents and great-grandparents going all the way back to Nauvoo and early Utah. I served that faith, with great emotion and enthusiasm, and I felt so powerfully connected to its mission and purpose. I have felt the Spirit so strongly in the words of the Book of Mormon, in the testimonies of the prophets and apostles, in the day-to-day connections with the members of a ward. I see my pioneer heritage, and the legacy of faith and tradition that they have given to me, and I am so proud that my ancestors struggled and persevered fighting for their beliefs and their faith. How could I possibly leave that behind? How could I have a life without that? Or, on the contrary, how could I continue to suppress my gay identity?
I didn’t want to ask God that question. I didn’t want any of the answers He could give me. They frightened me, all three of them. But the Spirit urged me to pray, with an open heart. I prayed with a fervor I haven’t felt in many years, telling God that I would go where He wanted, I would say what He wanted, that I would be whom He wanted me to be. I know the sentiment isn’t original, but that hymn has held a special place in my heart since I was a young, dumb kid in the MTC. I told God that I was open to whatever He wanted me to do. I knew the risks involved with each path. I knew the pitfalls, and the heartaches, that I would face. I told Him that I didn’t care anymore. I wanted what He wanted. I wanted to be “reconciled” with Him, to “reunite and restore friendly relations” between Him and myself. I told Him I had felt the Spirit in the words of these gay Saints, proclaiming that He had told them to be authentic to themselves, and authentic in their relationships. And I asked Him if that was true for me; did He want me to be authentic and pursue those I truly felt drawn to. I felt a calming, tranquil feeling. I felt love. I felt joy. I felt God tell me He approved of me, that He loved me, His gay son, and that He wanted me to pursue my true self and my true attractions. I feel it now. I feel so assured and at peace about this decision.
As I have discussed this with my family and many friends, many have expressed concern at the seeming contradiction between my personal experiences in prayer, and the official teaching of the Church brethren. They, out of their concern and love for me, have shared with me various explanations, general authority devotionals, and their own feelings about what I have shared. In every instance, I felt a stupor of thought hit me. I felt confused. I felt dark. I felt myself distance from God. Now, these were not evil words, or evil intentioned. I don’t believe that for one second. These were words offered to me in love and concern. They were given to me with the best of intentions, and from the best understanding that they have. But it was as Christ told Oliver Cowdery, “if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right….But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong….” What these loved ones were offering me was not evil, but merely wrong, and God was telling me in clear feelings that it was wrong. The longer I persisted in exploring these possibilities that were offered to me, the longer I felt the stupor. As soon as I recalled the experiences I’ve had in prayer, I felt my mind clear, and my heart calm.
I have felt the Spirit testify of this to me: that my experience is not for general conference. It isn’t for anyone I know or anyone I don’t know. This isn’t something to be published in the Ensign. The experience I had was just for me, just a private communiqué between God and I. I felt a feeling of calm and peace enter my heart in place of the confusion from being given a revelation that countered the Church’s current teaching. And that it was ok, this is part of me living by faith, being given a set of instructions that put me on a darkened path, hoping that I will find my path illuminated step by step. I was told something that seemed to be impossible, just like building a ship with no prior experience or knowledge, and then told to go forth and pursue it.
I know this may be hard for many of you. This has been hard for me as well, since I was a 6 year old boy, wanting to see wrestling so I could look at the men’s bodies. This was hard for me as a 13 year old boy, going in to talk with the bishop the next day, and considering if it would be better to commit suicide rather than discuss something I knew was controversial. This was hard as I matured physically and sexually, harboring deep secrets, and severe self-doubt, and not having a soul on Earth to confide in. It has been hard to live in constant fear and self-loathing for feeling these feelings that I have always been told are sinful to act on, yet having no healthy way to express the same feelings, having no outlet for something that is as much a part of me as my eye color. It has been hard to have to work every second of every day, to be constantly hyper aware of every fleeting thought or attraction I felt to men that I saw and interacted with, always pushing every single one of those thoughts aside. It has been hard to try to build romantic feelings for women, while feeling no drive inside of me to do so. It has been hard to try to create those feelings, and to feel cheated, to feel like I was creating a lie. It has been hard to work with countless bishops, counselors, and addiction recovery missionaries to find my triggers, to analyze my thought processes, to deconstruct so many past experiences, only to find that all that work and all that effort left me in the same place with the same attractions and desires, and to hate myself for feeling like I was failing, that I was never going to figure out how to do what everyone in my world was telling me to do.
I don’t bring this up to be conflictive or contradictory. I merely want to be honest and truthful. I want to share my joy with others, as many as I can, even if that joy may confuse others. I can’t explain everything, but I can say that I feel more alive and more joy than I have in so long. I am happy. Alma teaches us that wickedness never was happiness. And I am happy. What I am doing isn’t wicked. It isn’t going to destroy the fabric of society. It is going to lay down for me the fabric of my life, to weave for me a tapestry of intricate detail and beauty. And I want you to be part of my tapestry.