A Part of Me
I feel like there’s always been a part of me that has been suppressed, ignored, and reduced to a little spot in the back of my mind. It’s like I’ve been walking around, only showing and expressing the parts of the my life that are “normal,” - School, work, weekend get-away's, photo shoots, etc. However, there’s this part of me that has been hiding in the dark and it’s time to talk about it.
I find men attractive. I experience something that is out of the religious and societal norm. I experience something that has been real to me as long as I can remember. I experience something that I frankly can’t change, it just happens. With that said, I’ve been working hard on a series of self-portraits that convey my journey of same-gender attraction. I’ll be honest with the struggles, the heartache, and the pressures I’ve felt dealing with this particular challenge in my life. Before I post the rest of my work, I want you to know that this is something very personal to me and I’m willing to be vulnerable about it - not to receive pity, or start conflict, but rather to raise awareness about an issue that I find very important.
I know a lot of men out there who are persecuted in different forms because they are gay. I know a lot of men who are afraid to admit they're gay because of the judgement that may come of it. I’m here to say that you don’t have to be afraid to admit something that is part of you. You don’t have to let this be a burden. And you most certainly don’t need to be persecuted because of it. As a disclaimer, these posts are not meant to endorse a particular lifestyle since each person has their agency and can choose their own path. I accept and love all.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve never really fit in with the other guys. I’ve had plenty of male friends, but I didn’t really see the world as they did. I wasn’t super into sports. I didn’t like rough housing. And I certainly couldn’t contribute to the conversation when the subject of girls came up. Sure, I saw girls as pretty, or aesthetically pleasing, but the attraction wasn’t there. Starting in middle school, and continuing into high school, things started to get a little more uncomfortable for me. I would find men attractive all the time. In class, out in public, on T.V., etc. I used to think that maybe I just wanted to be friends with guys (since I mainly hung out with girls). But I came to realize it was much more than that.
When I started to date girls in highschool and college, there was a point where I didn’t want to go further in the relationship. I would date a girl for a few weeks, hold her hand, hug her, and even kiss her and then quickly became uninterested in her. I came to recognize that at first I was happy to be in a relationship with a girl just to say I was in a relationship with a girl. And then I would feel uncomfortable knowing that deep down inside I was either playing with a girl’s emotions or just dragging them into a relationship that I couldn’t see myself in anymore. I also felt guilty and confused because I would still find guys attractive. Of course, I tried to suppress those feelings. I thought I was a bad person for finding men attractive and thinking about them. I constantly felt pressure to get rid of the attraction somehow. I couldn't be gay. I didn't want to be gay. No one could know I was gay. It was finally a pivotal moment in my life when I stopped looking at the mirror wishing for a different me, and began accepting the real me.
Acceptance of self
I remember the moment when tears started to drip off my face, my vision becoming blurry with frustration, my heart sinking with depression. It was in that moment my world turned upside down. I always knew I had an attraction to men, but I never wanted to admit it. I used to tell myself that if I just found a girl to marry, this attraction will go away. If I prayed enough, this attraction will go away. If I attend church and read my scriptures, this attraction will go away. I was recognizing my attraction to men, but I wasn’t accepting it. However, I learned to accept it when I came out to one of my best friends. It suddenly made my experience much more real. Telling someone in person forced me to face the truth instead of running from it, and ever since my whole perspective on life has changed.
I’ve accepted the fact that this attraction may not go away in this lifetime. I've accepted the fact that wanting a family of my own will be harder than I thought. I've accepted the fact that if I marry a women one day, it would be challenging and a unique relationship to say the least. I’ve accepted the fact that if I wish to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I cannot date or marry a man. With that in mind, I've had some hard questions to think about, such as: How can I be happy when I’m not attracted to women and dating men would force me to leave a religion that I hold very dear to my heart? Can I be single for the rest of my life? What about a family? How do I even cope with these attractions and not act on them? These questions and many more often bring feelings of frustration, loneliness, and depression. However, as I’ve learned to accept myself and my situation, I've received answers and direction in my life.
After accepting myself and my situation, I had to learn to be vulnerable. About a year ago, I told myself that no one would know about my same-gender attraction, not even my parents. However, God had a different plan for me. He wanted me to let people know, which forced me to be vulnerable on many levels. It has been tough, but also a huge blessing. I remember a year ago I joined my first support group. I didn’t know anyone in this support group, I only heard about it. I was so nervous to go, to be exposed. However, I was greeted with warm hugs and big smiles from everyone. It actually became a safe-haven for me. I also met some long-lasting friends.
As time passed on, I moved to a different location and no longer had an opportunity to go to this particular support group. I found myself alone, trying to cope with all these emotions and feelings that were locked up inside of me. I would go to church, or hang out with friends and feel out of place. I even experienced some social anxiety. I felt like I was wearing a mask wherever I went. I just wanted people to know the real me so I could stop hiding it. I had to find a way to talk about this, to deal with it all. So, what did I do? I took a step in the dark. I started to open up to my friends at church. I wasn’t sure how they would react, but I was willing to put myself out there. As a result, I finally broke down those walls that were alienating me. I finally learned to become real with not only myself but with those around me, the ones I care about. There's a certain healing power that came once I was transparent and vulnerable with my friends. Vulnerability could have been my worst nightmare, but instead it became my greatest triumph.
Finding Love and Support
Being vulnerable also meant going against some of the stereotypes in our culture. I grew up thinking that showing physical affection towards another male was wrong, even among friends. That somehow hugging another man, sitting too close to them, or even putting my head on their shoulder was considered gay behavior and looked down upon. I finally realize how stupid those thoughts are and how ridiculous it is that our society seems to sexualize healthy male connection.
I don’t care if I’m gay or not, I have learned that showing affection towards others (both verbally and physically) is important. In fact, this is how I connect with guys on a deeper level. It allows me to feel accepted from other men and establish a deeper friendship. It also allows me to handle my attractions in an appropriate way. I have a few guy friends who have shown this type of affection back and it means the world to me. A hug, an arm around the shoulder, even a hand to hold let’s me know that I’m cared for and loved. Afterall, showing and receiving love is what makes us human. I sometimes wonder why we distant ourselves so much in this culture. It's like we are afraid to get too close, to let people in. However, everyone deserves to be loved, to feel included, and to connect on a deeper level.
Making a Choice
I feel like I’ve been pulled in two very distinct directions. On the one hand, I have people telling me to be “true to myself,” and date men. “Dating men will bring you happiness because you’re attracted to them.” “Do what makes you happy.” On the other hand, I have members of the church say, “Just get married to a woman. It’s the right thing to do. We don’t really need to talk about your attractions to men… you just need to date women. In fact, one day this will go away. It’s just a phase, a thing.” Well, I’ve decided that I don't need anyone to tell me how I should live my life. I have my own journey to pursue and it's based on what I feel is right and what God wants for me.
With that said, I don’t want to date men. I may be attracted to them, but I don’t want to date them right now. I also don’t want to date woman. I don’t feel comfortable throwing myself into a marriage right now. I would love a family, and if that’s supposed to happen in this life-time, then God will make it work with the right woman, at the right time. For now, I’m just trying to enjoy life the best I can. I have a wonderful job that supports me. I have wonderful friends and family that surround me. I’m happy living the single life for now. Don’t get me wrong - I have my bad days where living the single life is hard and lonely. However, a friend once told me to stop focusing on what I don't have, but rather focus on what I do have. With that in mind, I'm truly learning to find joy in this journey we call life.
The Whole Me
Now you see the big picture. The light and the dark. The joy and the sorrow. The things that were once hidden. I have my strengths, my weaknesses, and my challenges, but that's what makes me human. Although this project was based on my story dealing with same-gender attraction, I want you to know that being gay doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of me. It affects the way I see the world and how I interact with others, but it doesn’t control my life. I know this sounds crazy but I'm grateful that I have this struggle in my life. Why? Because it teaches me to be humble. It teaches me to be empathetic. And most importantly it teaches me to love and accept others no matter what they are going through. I believe we are not meant to walk through life alone. I believe that we are supposed to help and support each other no matter what. And what better way to do that then to talk openly about our challenges and seek for understanding and encouragement.
I'm so grateful for the chance to share this project with you all. I know we all struggle with something in our lives, but we don't have to struggle alone. If anyone needs anything, please reach out. My door is always open and my heart will always have room