I met with a handful of bishops this morning in my stake. The meeting felt like it went mostly well (after I almost got turned away at the door) - I hope I was able to give at least some answers to their questions about my experience living in the stake and how they could create a better environment for their ward members. I talked about being sensitive to the actual doctrine (rather than overwhelming culture) on hot topic issues like dating and marriage, asking real questions in interviews, and encouraging people to physically reach out to show love.

But it also reminded me of how alone I really feel... and how isolating being me can be. 

I don't talk about being attracted to men very often. I don't bring it up in Sunday School, I don't mention it in Priesthood, and even when it deeply colors my beliefs, it isn't part of my lessons. Why? Probably because I am still completely afraid of being rejected. It's happened - both outwardly and in smaller ways. Someone completely stops talking to me and avoids my presence, while someone else seems to be just slightly less friendly. Likely in some cases the timing is coincidental, but it doesn't just happen to me... and it happens far too often to be completely coincidence.

So I rarely actually tell people in my ward, or life, or anyone that could maybe end up being a part of my social sphere, that I'm attracted to men.

That may not sound like much, but I'm the ward greeter, and we often have 10 new people each week, with just as many moving out. My ward is in constant, ever-changing flux, and by the end of meetings, I'm sometimes the only person that someone new has met. Total strangers often know that I'm here at (Gay) Mormon Guy - my blog address is posted on my bio at my shop in downtown Provo and I've shared that part of me with customers when I have gospel conversations - but the people I'm trying to befriend don't. I don't tell them. I expect someone else to tell them, or them to find out on their own, or maybe they'll never know.

The idealistic part of me hopes that when people find out, they'll somehow better understand my needs, not reject me, and befriend me back. It hopes that seeing me as a real person, and then seeing the story beneath, will be less shocking than getting it all at once. The pessimistic part is just waiting for them to quietly walk away.

Maybe being quiet about it makes it harder for people. Maybe if I spoke up more about the topic, it would give people permission to broach it as well. Right now, same-sex attraction and its attendant issues doesn't get brought up almost ever in my ward when I'm there unless I do it. Maybe it's because people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, and if I'm in the room, there's somehow a lot more riding on the line. Either way, it doesn't get mentioned almost ever... even though I'm sure people have questions.

It's also telling that of the dozens of faithful, Church-going men and women in my stake who are attracted to the same gender, I think I personally know of only one. I realize that I am first and foremost simply a son of God, and I feel that collective bond sometimes. But changing Church/ward/stake culture requires effort from more than just one person who has been affected and has motivation to make it change... and, at Church, I often feel totally alone.

I just want all the people at Church to be more loving and more real. Men and women, old and young, everyone alike. To give a real embrace sometimes instead of a handshake. To sit next to me without an empty chair space between us. To look me in the eyes when they talk to me about the deep things in their lives and really ask and take interest in mine. To show love and concern. To be honest and open about their emotions and feelings and problems so that I can be open and honest about my own.

But all that takes time to learn. It's hard to change habits, and it's hard to push through our culture of isolation... even for someone with the best of intentions.

As I left the meeting this morning, one bishop broke the handshake line and gave me an honest-to-goodness hug. I've given and received a lot of hugs in my day, and I was at once impressed - I could tell that he was both real and genuine. Peer pressure kicked in, and the rest gave hugs as well... and it almost made me laugh. Some were real, while others felt far less.

The question ran through my mind: Were they reluctant or just unpracticed?

If it was the first, then hopefully the experience was a learning one.

If it was the second, at least their first try was on me.

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