Tuesday, January 7, 2014

How a gay Mormon "support" group really screwed me up

Happy New Year! Everybody surviving the polar vortex?!

I'm not too thrilled starting off the new year with this post, but feel the time is right. With all the media coverage of North Star here, here, here, here, and here, it's time for me to throw in my two cents.

I'm actually quite nervous to publish this.  I fear offending someone or hurting someone's feelings. But this is my true story and experience of North Star.  And in all honesty, it was this offensive article that pushed me over the edge and gave me the desire to publish my story. (EDIT: The article has since been deleted, but thanks to the Internet Archive, here you go.) To help me with my nervous feelings, I'll provide some suggestions later on if you're contemplating in joining the group.  Here goes.    

Going through life as a gay Mormon, I've had many stages.  There's the denial stage, the maybe-I'm-gay-but-too-busy-to-do-anything-about-it stage, the gay-but-confused stage, and the gay-and-happy stage. Right at this very moment, I'm happy, content, and loving life.  But it took awhile to 'get happy.'

Years ago, at the moment I got rid of the denial and accepted my sexuality, I felt the need to find support. I can't be the only gay Mormon out there. And North Star was the go-to spot. (They were the ones who popped up in a simple Google search - gotta give credit to their SEO person.)

For those that don't know, North Star is "a place of community for Latter-day Saints dealing with issues surrounding homosexual attraction and gender identity who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."  There are discussion groups on Facebook and Google. They also hold scheduled firesides and they're planning their first conference later this year. North Star's brother is Voices of Hope, a "growing repository of video and written essays by [LDS] who experience same-sex attraction..."

Now, I'm the type of guy who reads the comments in Amazon before reading the product description provided by the manufacturer. So, I headed straight for some sort of discussion group before dissecting all the informational pages within North Star. After agreeing to about 10 questions, and writing a short paragraph, I was in. Awesome. I was about to meet other gay Mormons out there and go through life together, confusion and all.

The excitement quickly disappeared after getting a taste of the discussion topics. If you were to record my initial reactions, they would consist of:

"Why is everyone here so depressed?"
"Why are people here so homophobic?"
"I can't believe how many of these guys' girlfriends and wives don't know they're gay."
"Why are so many people contemplating suicide?"
"Why are so many people encouraging me to marry a woman?"
"Why are so many people touting this Journey Into Manhood program?"
"I'm really getting tired of people saying they "struggle with same-sex attraction."
"Why is there so much hate towards guys who 'live the gay lifestyle?'"
"Why is there so much discrimination?"
"Your definition of 'healthy physical touch' sounds a lot like spooning."

It was awful. And made me even more confused. I just came in contact with a bunch of self-loathing, judgmental people (who I thought I could relate to.)  I'm gay, these guys are gay, why do we disagree on so much? I'm OK with dating a guy, these North Star guys are not.

This is when the real depression set in. Am I bad person? These guys are so set in the gospel, and I disagree with their viewpoints.  Am I the one in the wrong? Am I broken?!  I was always taught to love everyone and not judge (thank you, parents.) So why do I sense so much hate, resentment, and bullying from these guys trying to live the gospel? Up to this point, I finally got to the point of accepting my sexuality, but was pushed backwards. It was definitely the most depressing time in my life - all thanks to a "support" group. For the first time, I felt like I didn't belong in my own church anymore.

I've compared North Star to a bad accident on the side of the road. You want to ignore it and keep going, but I always went back and looked - I always read and observed the discussion topics, becoming way too involved in the guys' lives. I couldn't let go. I wanted to disagree with the points being made among members, but you would immediately be pounced on by a moderator and risk being kicked out of the group if you veered away from anything non-gospel related.

It got worse. I HATE how much pressure there is for the single guys to date women and eventually get married. Celibacy is accepted, but basically frowned upon. Outside of North Star, I've never met a married gay man who recommends a Moho marrying someone of the opposite sex. I fear many of these guys are developing a false hope that some day soon they'll be married to a beautiful woman.

I now needed support to recover from the support group.  :) Back to Google, I had to feel some kind of normalcy and find others who had disastrous results with North Star. (Were there any?!)  And I found what I was searching for. The article by Dad's Primal Scream summed up all my feelings. In my continued search for other gay Mormons against North Star, I found them. Turns out, there's an underground group of guys whose lives were also screwed up by North Star. Through chats and emails, I returned to that normalcy. I came to the conclusion that I'm NOT a bad person. And it's OK to be set in my ways of refusing to be alone all my life and refusing to marry a woman. I felt like a typical Mormon again.  (But still gay!)

There may be some folks out there that could really use North Star. I've read testimonials that the group 'prevented' them from suicide. (I would really like to hear stories of HOW North Star prevents suicide.)  So in keeping with my habit of short, random thoughts, and with my anti-suicide attitude, I have some tips if you're thinking about turning to North Star for support.

  • If you are prone to change your mind on everyday topics, North Star is probably not the best place for you.
  • If you feel all homosexual relationships are a sin, North Star may be a good starting point. 
  • You must absolutely, positively, 110% believe the church is true and can either look past the horrible things leaders have said about homosexuals, or be a darn good apologist.
  • You can be 'for' gay marriage, but don't tell anyone.
  • If you decide to pursue a relationship with someone of the same sex, be prepared to be dropped like a rock.  You will be judged.  
  • There 'ARE' cuddle parties.
  • The moderators are ALWAYS right.
  • If you ask a question relating to sexuality, your answer will likely be random scriptures or quotes from church leaders. It can be VERY annoying.
  • Remember, the big guns in North Star are PAID to tell you homosexual relationships are a sin.  (Many are therapists and their job is to help folks get rid of "unwanted homosexual attraction.") 
  • The North Star folks like to get together and do stuff. I asked a guy heavily involved in North Star if getting a bunch of sexually repressed guys together was a recipe for disaster. His response was, "Yes, but...." I don't remember what he said after the 'but' because it's irrelevant.
  • One of the creepier points I still don't get -- many of the older married guys will try to befriend the younger dudes. There's absoultely no reason for a married man to chat about sexuality with a younger guy. Again - it's a recipe for disaster.  Please only communicate with guys similar in age and experiences.  
  • Read over the descriptions of North Star, Affirmation, and Mormons Building Bridges to guide you in your search for support.  

For those who want to film or write an essay for Voices of Hope, I hope you will seriously think and contemplate this action. Will you have the exact same thoughts a year from now? 5 years? 10 years? As your thought process changes, do you really want your testimonial online for everyone to see? And as we've learned with Josh Weed, once it's on the Internet, it never goes away. Within the last week, one 'Voice' has disappeared from the website. Did his outlook change only months after the video was published? ... Will your video affect future employment opportunities, etc? Not because you're gay, but because you're directly associated with some controversial folks. (Mansfield, Bennion, Matheson, etc.)  Will you be seen as fanatically conservative because of the association and a possible risk?

I honestly feel North Star and Voices of Hope will fizzle away as the world becomes more accepting of gay folks and marriage equality. In my opinion, North Star does more harm than good. Once others start realizing this and tell "their story," the ruined reputation will lead more to this fizzling.

I personally know folks active in North Star, and I personally know folks who left the group. Those who left are so much happier and have an amazing outlook on life. They have this special glow to them.  At the same time, I see some really good guys still in North Star. I wish I could help them, give them a big hug, and offer the obligatory cliche, "It gets better." (It really does!)

In conclusion, (this is turning into a term paper!) are support groups really necessary?  My biggest support comes from gay Mormon penpals! Some I've been in contact with for 2 years.  Weekly emails, texts, phone calls, check-ins.  We keep an eye out for each other, and it's the best support I can get. And we don't ONLY talk about gay stuff, so much more make up our lives besides sexuality. It's these penpals that make me happy.  And since I've started this blog, I've added a few other wonderful penpals and blogging friends. (I'm afraid to list the blogs, for fear I'll forget someone!!)  

I'm breaking one of my rules of keeping things simple. But I wanted to get all my thoughts out there at once. I would love to hear your North Star stories - good and bad - in the comment section. You can even submit them anonymously using the contact form, and with your permission, I'll publish them.

I'll try to be less serious and more funny in my next post.  :)

Stay warm.