Today’s FFAQ answer comes from a question posed by Kaela Frame. She asks:
We all know you served a mission, but you’ve never really expounded on your experience living with a male companion 24/7. You once mentioned that you gained weight because you were so stressed about it. I’d just like to know a little more about your experience and where you stand when it comes to serving a mission and if it’s a good choice for those with same sex attraction.
My mission was pretty awesome. Not gonna lie.
And you’re right. In the six months preceding my mission, I gained an incredible amount of weight (topping out at nearly 300lbs.) by eating pretty much every ice-cream product within a 1 mile radius of me. Daily. Which is how I ended up looking like this:
The main reason I was gaining weight
was because I was terrified of going into the mission-field. But as with most things regarding being gay, the answer as to why
I was terrified might be different than you’d expect. I really wasn’t very worried about being attracted to companions. My assumption was that my companions would be straight (I had literally never met another gay Mormon at the time) and I had found that in most cases when I was attracted to someone, getting to know them diminished the attraction. Sure, I had a vague worry that I might get a huge crush on a comp. but the possibility seemed pretty remote to me.
What was actually terrifying to me was something that I’ve tried to describe before, but probably failed at. But, I’ll try again. I was filled with anxiety at the thought of living in the world of men.
I’m not sure what the chicken and the egg is here (i.e. not sure if it’s the case because I’m gay, or if I’m gay in part because it’s the case), but even to this day I feel terribly inadequate–even fraudulent–as a male. I do not feel like a normal guy. I feel like an impostor. I feel like I am deceiving other guys–especially guys I perceive as masculine–as I try to interact with them in a “male bonding” kind of way. Like I’m trying to pull a fast-one on them, but that I’m really not part of the “club” and that they are compromising their own masculinity in some way by interacting with me or accepting me. As I interact with these guys, I feel this incredibly potent sense that I am unworthy of their acceptance, love or affection, and that any minute I will be discovered as a fraud and abandoned for more worthy friends. I feel like I have absolutely nothing to offer them to affirm their masculinity, and that they would be better off being friends with pretty much any other guy besides myself. This has gotten better over the years as a few really good friends have very patiently allowed me to ask weird, insecure questions and consistently shown me acceptance and love over time both in word and in action.
Back then though I had no such assurance or experience. I had barely been taught in a rote, clinical way by a counselor what male bonding even was. (Like, literally, he had to explain to me how guys interacted, why they were friends with each other, what their interactions looked like, etc. It was very eye-opening to me.) I had no sense of the fraternity of maleness. I had missed it entirely and was trying to learn it. So, because of my lack of knowledge and my insecurities, I was terrified–absolutely petrified–of the thought of my mission. Of being in a foreign land for two years interacting with guys. Being with guys and only guys, and on their turf. It felt like a world I had no experience in–a cold, unforgiving and prank-filled world–and a world I didn’t really deserve to belong in, and I was deeply afraid of being rejected and scorned as I had been by guys my entire life.
But, I knew it was right for me. I knew God wanted me to do it, and that He would help me and make things okay.
I was completely honest about my homosexuality as I submitted my papers, and even though the mission department had decided and very clearly indicated that I was only allowed to serve state-side with the quote “think twice before sending this young man to be with a male companion for two years” (I still have the actual sheet where “state-side” is checked, and where that quote is scrawled at the bottom), whichever Apostle ended up extending my call felt inspired to supersede that recommendation. He called me to a Spanish speaking mission in Venezuela.
It was inspired. And as I mentioned, terrifying.
But it ended up being the very best thing that I could have ever done with those two years, and I don’t say that lightly. I learned so much about myself, about other guys, about friendship, about my worth, and about myriad other things (another language, the depth of my devotion to God and His absolute love for me and knowledge of who I am, how to work hard, etc.). I learned how guys relate to each other. How they talk to each other. I learned that their world wasn’t as terrifying as I thought, and that I might–just maybe–fit there. I learned that it might actually be my world, or that at very least, I wanted to be a part of that world.
So what was it specifically like to be with a male companion 24/7? Pretty much what you’d expect. Some companionships were awesome. Most were great. One was hellish. I actually found that being gay didn’t really factor into my mission very much at all in terms of attractions. I can’t even remember any specific issue or problem that arose in terms of sexuality (other than the aforementioned feeling of not belonging). Not to be too graphic, but even the tree of life shower experience in the MTC* wasn’t problematic and in fact actually helped me to feel “normalized” and accepted in the world of men.
So to answer the last part of your question, I would say that–if desired–I can think of very little that would be better for a same sex attracted individual than to serve a mission for the church. There are lessons they will learn there that they can learn in no other arena.
I kind of feel like my mission was a crash-course in how to be a man. I think probably a lot of guys could say that, but I mean it in the most literal way possible. It changed my life for the better, and I’m the man I am today because I chose to serve.
Oh, and btw, once I got to Venezuela I ended up losing almost 100lbs. in the first year because we were walking everywhere.
Here are some pics.
Thanks so much for the great question. Lolly just commented on how vulnerable I tend to be with FFAQs. She’s right. It’s because I want people to know that I’m not afraid to speak my truth and tell the truth about my experience. I want to honor real, genuine questions with real genuine answers.
Next FFAQ poll is this Friday. So put your thinking caps on!
*UPDATE: I’ve had so many people ask about the Tree of Life thing that I thought I should explain. In the Missionary Training Center, where a missionary is trained for weeks or months before going out to the field, there isn’t a lot of space. When I was there, to conserve space, the bathrooms had showers that were poles with about five heads on them. So, absolutely no privacy and close proximity to other bathers. From what I understand, this is not an uncommon set-up. Anyway, we called them “Tree of Life” showers, and I’ve heard that joke enough that I thought it was relatively common parlance.