Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Part 2 of 2 Kade Kimber: God simply loves me for who I am--His child.

Kade with his sister Kodi
 Blogger's note: I've started this update with the last paragraph of part 1. If you want the whole Kade Kimber story be sure to read his mother Brenda's post which is before Kade's. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to feature this beautiful story on my blog. On a personal note, since I've started the blog, I've already seen an increase in understanding in my area on this issue. If you wish to contribute to this blog please contact me through the email provided on the right side. This blog has evolved from what I had first envisioned. Initially, I thought I would concentrate on mothers with gay children, but I think it really adds to bring the voices of the person most impacted and that's the LGBT child. Admittedly, if you are LGBT you might be in a position where you were damaged by the people who are supposed to love you the most. You may not have had the exemplary parents that I have featured here. Hopefully, through education parents will know that their first reaction is critical. But if you think your story can teach others, let me know.

By Kade Kimber
I called my mom first. After fumbling for the right words, which is never really a problem for me, Mom said, "Honey, just say it. Tell me what you're trying to say." I said, "Mom, I think I might be bi." Saying I thought I might be bi, rather than just saying I was sure I was gay, was as far out of my comfort zone as I could go at the time. Since then, I've learned that this is VERY common for those first coming out of the closet. It was a first step, anyway, so that was something. My mom replied with, "Honey, what took you so long? I've known since you were little. Your aunt, grandma, and I used to talk about it when you were young and I've just been waiting for you to come to me in your own time. I just didn't think it would take this long. But, it doesn't matter to me if you're bi or gay. All I want for any of you kids is to have you be happy and healthy. You're the same exact Kade I loved five seconds ago and that will never change. So, can we just accept this and get on with life so that you can now be happy?"

It was such a relief--of epic proportions, in fact. Though on one hand I was admittedly a little angry that my mom knew the whole time and didn't say anything, I also knew that I'd have shut down immediately and gotten defensive if she'd have approached me about it. She truly did know best and allowed me to come to the realization on my own, and she was there to support me when I did. I couldn't have asked for anything better. Similar scenarios played out with the five other people I told over that night and the next--my two big sisters, my two best friends from childhood, and a close friend who happened to be someone I baptized while on my mission. They were all equally as supportive and I feel so blessed to have had that kind of coming out experience.

A few months after this, I still hadn't really told anyone beyond those initial confidants, but life was looking on the up and up. I felt like a weight beyond all weights had been lifted from me & the energy from it was amazing to me. I shifted my prayers from "please take this from me--and if not this, then my life" to "please help me get through this". That altered approach alone was life-changing. It was also during this time that I decided that I needed to get a dog; even though I was "out" to some people and that reduced my feeling of isolation significantly, it didn't take away the fact that I still was essentially a hermit & I thought a dog would help get me out of the apartment more. I got my dog, whom I named Matza Ball, right at the same time my lease was ending with my then-roommate. It couldn't have happened at a better time. I never came out to my roommate while we lived together; he made so many anti-gay jokes and was such a violent person (like when he almost punched a hole in the wall simply because he spilled some soda on the kitchen floor)  that I didn't dare tell him. He was also LDS, but that was about the extent of our similarities.

I moved into a new apartment complex and specifically got a non-LDS roommate. I needed someone who could accept me for who I was without fear that they would try to guilt trip me every chance they got. It was just what I needed while I figured things out. Things were falling into place rather nicely. I loved my new apartment, I got along fine with my roommate, and I had Matza Ball to keep me company & to get me out of the house. Every Friday night, I'd wind down from a long week of work by taking Matza on an extended walk. It was great for the both of us. It was while we were on such a walk one evening that we bumped into my neighbor from across the hallway while he was out walking his dog. We'd seen each other in passing while out with our respective dogs, but hadn't ever spoken. This particular night, we said "hi" to one another...and then I glanced back to find that he was looking back at me, too. I wasn't prepared to handle this, but I did know that I wanted to find out more about him--and if the reason he was staring back at me was because he was attracted to me as much as I was him.

So, the next day, I knocked on his door. I told him I hadn't ever introduced myself and apologized for that and then we started chatting. I decided to be brave and casually mentioned that I'm gay. It felt so incredibly strange to say that to another human being. He was the first to hear the actual words from my mouth. And, after a little bit of fishing and coaxing, he finally admitted he's gay, too. We started hanging out together, and then that turned into dating. Again, I hadn't prepared for this. I had planned on remaining an active and worthy member of the Church. But, I was beginning to realize what this would mean for my life in terms of relationships. And I wasn't so sure I was OK with a life of loneliness after all.
After dating this guy for a while, I finally decided to share it with one of the two people who spoke to me at church--and she, incidentally, was a good friend of mine that I knew on my mission. I had become very close to her family while I was a missionary and she was like the bratty little sister that was fun to torment. That relationship turned into a great friendship after moving back here, so I felt like it was time to share my news with her. On one hand, it was a mistake; on the other, it fast-tracked a resolution I'd not expected.
By this point, I'd already told her I was gay, but hadn't mentioned I was dating. When I did, she flipped out and made me promise to go visit with our bishop immediately. I didn't really want to, but I promised nonetheless. So, off to the bishop's office I went. I'm not sure what I expected as an outcome of that meeting, but I definitely wasn't expecting things to go the way they did. The bishop told me I wasn't gay, that my wires were just crossed, and that he knew a counselor that could "fix" me. None of that shocked me to hear, though it did hurt my feelings to think that--while said in truly the most loving of ways--anyone viewed me as having my wires crossed. It made me feel like I was less-than. More like I was a sub-human. But the strangest thing happened that I'd never in my life done before--I pushed back & questioned my bishop's counsel.

I told him that I had done the counseling route and I knew that my wires weren't crossed, nor was I broken. At the same time, I also knew I couldn't go back into the closet. I explained that it was such a dark and scary place from which I fought so hard to escape, so there would be no going back at that point. The words and the passion with which I said them completely shocked me. It was the first time I felt like I was starting to stand on my own two feet in all of this. Sure, I knew there was the possibility that my membership in the church I loved would be revoked due to my decisions and actions, but by then I'd learned something bigger: God loved me. God didn't warrant that love upon how many hours I spent in a pew, or how many hours of scripture reading I completed, or how diligent I was with my home teaching. No. God simply loves me for who I am--His child.

I had taught this as a missionary; I had never in my life felt it for myself. It was elusive and frustrating. In fact, I remember many, many monthly meetings with my mission president in which he encouraged me to set the goal of learning of God's love for myself. I don't think either of us in those moments would ever have guessed in our wildest dreams that I would finally gain an understanding of this love by me coming out of the closet. Oh, how God works in mysterious ways. But, by having that knowledge, I was able to say what was in my heart and know that my pushing back to my bishop was the right thing to do.  That doesn't mean it hurt any less.

Telling him those words didn't hurt, mind you, but the realization of what that moment meant did: I couldn't have it all. I don't know why I thought I could. I guess I just was overly optimistic. But, at any rate, I couldn't be a gay Mormon--or, at least, not the gay Mormon I thought was possible. I got to my car and just sobbed as reality hit. I called my mom on my drive home from church and told her what had just transpired. She said, "Honey, I've been trying to prepare you for this, as I knew this was coming. I know you think you can have it all, but in this case, you can't. I'm so sorry. You've got some tough decisions to make. But, we'll get through this and you'll be even better for it." In that moment, I didn't see how that was even possible.

I don't recall the exact parting with the bishop from that meeting, but it was something along the lines of that we'd touch base soon, I was to continue to pray, yada yada yada. At any rate, I was quite surprised to get an email from him a couple of days later--an email in which he said that he'd been wrong. The more he'd thought about it and prayed about it, he said, the more he realized that I was right. My wires weren't crossed and there was nothing wrong with me. He encouraged me to be happy and to be as close to the Church as I could be as I continued through life. He said to be the best person I can be, regardless of if I'm active in church or not. And he said he always would be there to love and support me, no matter what I decided. I sat there stunned. I read and re-read that email a good dozen times. After years and years and years of feeling like I'd never have any resolution, after feeling defeated and lost, and after having to muster up bravery time and time again to share my inner-most secrets, it was over. Don't get me wrong--my battle to make it through the coming out & acceptance process wasn't even close to over; if anything, it was just beginning. But, at least my battle to have some sort of religious resolution was over. That was more than I'd had to that point.

That day, I decided that I would do exactly what the bishop said: to be the best person I could be, regardless of my religious standing. Over the years since then, I've had several people comment to me that I'm one of the few people they've known to be gay and not have hard feelings towards the Church. I guess I never saw a point to be any other way. What purpose would that serve? To me, I'd only be replacing what had been an incredibly painful and large part of my life with even more negativity if I went on a Church-hating rampage. When I came out, I immediately experienced a huge amount of mental freedom. No longer was I spending every spare waking moment hating myself. In fact, it occurred to me that I didn't even know what to think about if I wasn't spending the time beating myself down. There was no need to go back to that point, so I wanted to fill the vast amount of thinking space with more positivity and happiness--not with disdain for a gospel I still loved.

This required me to make one massive distinction that I'd never before given much thought: I decided that to get ahead with the most joy and least amount of loss from Church inactivity, I had to separate spirituality and religion. And, beyond that, I had to give up on the "why" questions. Why me? Why am I gay? Why does God allow this? I couldn't think of a possible scenario in which I'd gain any satisfactory answers in this lifetime, so those questions had to be put on the shelf to be dealt with in the next life. It didn't matter why; that doesn't change my reality. So, then the question became, what am I going to do with this? Living my best life was a bit too vague. Good, but vague. I had to use it to achieve some greater purpose. I did not go through Hell and back only to just say "well, there it is" and get on with life. No. I had earned the right to much more than that.

It took me a little while, particularly because I had to give myself time to feel comfortable in my own skin, but I finally figured out what it was that I did earn: the opportunity to help others going through similar experiences. I didn't just have sympathy, I had pure empathy. And to me, nothing can trump that when you're in need of someone who understands you. Because of the suicide of my stepbrother during my senior year of high school, I'd already committed to never knowingly let someone feel alone or unloved, no matter how little I may know the person. The later added focus to help others struggling with homosexuality really built upon that commitment and gave me more purpose. To accomplish this, however, meant that I was going to have to be open and let people into parts of my life that I once never fathomed I'd be sharing with even my closest friends, let alone total strangers. But, if that's what it took to help ensure that I could impact even one person in this lifetime, it would make every second of my personal struggle worth it. And that would then become my "why" answer, if there ever was one.

Most people who know me would say my life is a pretty open book. Those same people would be quite surprised to know just how closed off I really can be. Among other things, the mere fact that no one would ever have guessed the degree of my inner-turmoil all of those many years, as I tend to be a very social & positive person on the outside, is basic proof of that. So, it took some serious thought and time weighing out the pros and cons of how to proceed. I ultimately decided that at the end of the day, this was my story to tell and I wanted to be the one to control the message instead of leaving it open to interpretation--or even worse: rumors. I'd seen the rumor mess happen to a classmate of mine & I did not want that to happen to me. To combat this, I sat down and wrote an open letter that I eventually posted on Facebook so that it reached the bulk of the people who might even care to begin with. I felt so naked doing that, but I knew that was the only feasible thing to do in order to just move on with my life already.
Leading up to this, I had actually been out of the closet for about three years. The few friends and family members who did know my truth were told to not mention or even hint about it on Facebook, as I did not want anyone (including my father) finding out without me conscientiously making that happen. But, I had grown weary having to so closely monitor anything that was posted. At that same time, I had dated a handful of guys and was enjoying what was becoming my longest-lasting relationship to that point with a man I'll simply call Doc (to help preserve his privacy).

After several short-term relationships with people who turned out to not be such good or nice people in the end, I was over relationships. I had decided that I just needed to surround myself with good people and to make new friends, preferably ones like myself who are gay but don't define themselves by it. In that spirit, I answered an online personals ad from someone who sounded like they were in the same boat as me. They happened to be gay and just wanted someone cool to go hang out with, go to the movies with, etc. This person was Doc and he respected that I'd been very badly hurt emotionally in my last relationship. We had a blast just hanging out together. And, over time, we had a great friendship going. I still had oh-so-much baggage I was dealing with and had built up a huge wall emotionally, but he gave me my space. Then, one day we were driving to dinner and arguing over something stupid when he turned to me in the middle of it and said, "I get that you have a lot you're still working through and I am fine to give you the time to do so. But, I can't pretend anymore that I don't love you, because I do." I was stunned. I said, "You love me?" He said, "Yes, I do." I said, "Well, that's good, because I love you, too."

Over time, as that relationship continued to grow, it was becoming harder & harder for some friends and family members to not post Facebook comments that included Doc's name just as a natural course of conversation. I had to delete many comments and send private notes explaining the reasoning--and it was always that it might lead someone to suspect that Doc was more than just a friend.
Finally one day, a post made it onto my wall and I wasn't to where I could easily delete it while I was running about town doing errands. That's when I decided I'd had enough. I was strong enough to handle whatever unkind words may be thrown at me from even the most vocal family members or friends. I immediately pulled into a Target parking lot and called my dad. I told him that, while I didn't want to be, the fact is that I am gay. I did everything I was supposed to, but nothing had changed that reality. And, not only that, but I was in a serious relationship with a guy. "Oh, and by the way, Dad, he's black, so Grandma is probably reallllllly rolling over in her grave by now." (I love my dad's mom dearly, but she had an unfortunate streak of racism in her.) Dad's response shocked me. He said, "Well, Son, it sounds like you did everything I'd advise you to do. You prayed, you fasted, you worked with your bishop, and you even tried counseling. I know it's not what you would want and it's not what I would want for you, but it doesn't change anything. You're still my son and I love you just the same. Oh, and Grandma probably is happy for you, too, as I'm sure she's got a different perspective on things now."

That conversation did my soul so much good. It needed to happen and I'd put it off long enough. I was then free to open up to others, which is when I posted my open letter. I called it my "Doozy of a Note". And it was a doozy. I went ahead and posted it on Facebook--and then waited for the deluge of insulting responses from well-meaning individuals who were "loving the sinner and hating the sin". (Incidentally, I do not think there could be a more judgmental statement than that & I despise it.) Yet, the exact opposite happened. People I'd not seen or spoken with in years were commenting or sending me private emails offering support and encouragement. Multiple people even emailed to say that they believed their son or daughter is gay and that I helped them understand how to help that child. Some were even more personal and I'll not share their stories out of respect for the people who opened up to me about their own struggles, but needless to say, I was awestruck not only by the amount of love & support that was being poured out to me, but by the fact that my sharing this information about my life had even a small impact on some individuals. I felt so grateful and so humbled. And relieved. Life could finally just be life.
Well, kind of, anyway. There was one person I still could not bring myself to tell--my other grandma, my mom's mom. Oh how I did not want to disappoint Grandma. I was the one grandchild who had been active, served a mission, and seemingly lived the active Church life she wanted all of her kids and grandkids to live. She had high hopes I'd be married in the temple and have a large family. To dash that dream for her was more than I could handle; to do so while also telling her I was gay was out of the question. And yet, a chain of events eventually required me to do just that before all of us (including Doc) would be in Boston for my oldest sister's graduation from law school.  I wrote Grandma a letter and explained everything the best I could; my mom made it a point to go visit my grandma the weekend after the letter was sent so that she could be there to answer questions and re-assure her that I'm fine. I almost had a heart attack from stress while waiting for Grandma's response. Once her letter did arrive, she said in it that my being gay made her cry--not because she was disappointed in me, but because it'd been such a struggle for me. She assured me of her love for me and said she was looking forward to seeing me and meeting Doc. Still, I had my reservations about all of that happening.

But, happen it did. Grandma is truly one of the sweetest people God has ever put on this earth and I never for a second thought that she would say something rude or unkind to Doc or in front of me. At worst, I thought she'd perhaps make a comment to Mom in her own passive-aggressive way when we weren't around that would let me know she didn't approve of Doc or that she was displeased with me. It would still be said kindly, but it'd be insight into how she truly felt. However, the day after introductions had been made & we'd all spent time together, Mom told me that she'd spoken with Grandma one-on-one that morning and Grandma said how much she liked Doc. I was flabbergasted. But that was only the tip of the iceberg of things to come.

As part of our plans while in Boston, we wanted to take Grandma on a whale watching tour that Mom & I had previously enjoyed. We all ventured to the pier and waited for the ferry. Grandma and I both share in having knee problems, so we sat down while the others milled about. We sat there looking at the ocean and chatted for a bit. Then, Grandma turned to me and said something along the lines of, "It's been so great meeting Doc. He seems like such a good guy. Honey, I know this isn't all what you would have picked for yourself, but life doesn't always go as we plan, does it? I'm just so glad you found such a nice guy. It's so hard to find love in this life and I'm glad that you have found it. That makes me really happy." She didn't need to say anything further; I knew in that moment that I had been mistaken in thinking this was something I should keep from her. My grandma continues to amaze me with the limitless boundaries of her love and it means the absolute world to me to know she is happy for me and with me.
In the years since then, Doc and I have been so blessed to build a wonderful life together. At the time I'm writing this, we're a couple of weeks away from our five-year anniversary. As with any relationship, it has its own challenges, but we're fortunate to have a wonderful group of friends--both gay and straight--who are true friends and who love us just for being us. It still amazes me to see that happen, as a part of me still anticipates the same rejection I felt growing up. Gym class was always the worst, so I came to absolutely hate (and I don't use that word lightly) any sort of team sports. Thus, the fact that Doc & I are now playing in an LGBT charity kickball league is mindboggling on so many levels.
I know I have so far to go and always have areas for personal improvement, but I have such a profound sense of gratitude to be where I am today & to have such inner peace. If I can help bring that to another soul in even the smallest of ways, then I hope & trust that the Lord will lead me to that so I can be of service. That will make it so that all of this will have been worth it for this boy who grew up feeling so alone and out-of-place, but who now feels loved and at peace!
I wouldn't in a million years choose to be gay. But, of course, we don't always get what we want. We do, however, have the ability to make the most of it. I wasted so much time hating myself and despising what really amounts to just be a small part of what makes me who I am. Coming out allowed me to stop wasting time self-hating and I now spend that time living each moment to the fullest. Words can't even begin to explain what that feels like. It also makes me sad that so much time was wasted unnecessarily.  I didn't necessarily need to come out at an earlier age, as I think things happen when they do for a reason, but I could've spent a lot more time learning to love myself so that I then could realize that others can love me, too.

If I could go back and tell the young version of me anything, it would be: 1) you are loved just the way you are, flaws and all; and 2) it truly does get better. I'd want the young me to have that knowledge and the hope that would have made many, many dark days perhaps a little brighter and less lonely.
Do I have it all? No, I don't. But, I have enough. Learning to make my spirituality be independent from religion has been a huge factor in getting to this point. I am encouraged by the progress I see in the Church's acknowledgement that greater work needs to be done to let gay members feel more included and loved. The steps they're taking are good. The steps Church members need to take, however, are even greater. Church members don't need to understand the struggle fully. But, they do need to understand that it's an unwanted struggle that does not benefit one iota from judgment, gossip, or unkind words. At the end of the day, we are all spirits on this journey called life. If we are true followers of Christ and not just Christian in name only, lifting one another up along the way should be a much higher priority to us than spending our time judging the struggles of one another. My spirit is finally at peace and I'm profoundly grateful for that. I didn't think that going against my religious beliefs would ever bring me peace; it just doesn't make sense. But, when we realize we are more than any given religion and that physical religious rites are not what determines our personal worth, peace can be brought to and from our spirits.

I think of religion as a vehicle that helps to carry our spirituality. Most of us don't know how all of the components of a vehicle works; we just know that it gets us from one point to another & we have faith it will do so. But, as with any vehicle, it can have its fair share of problems. It needs tune-ups and maintenance to keep going. Sometimes those tune-ups don't go correctly or are going to be lengthy, so we're forced to not use our vehicle while it gets fixed. It doesn't mean we don't need to still get from one point to another; it just means we have to figure out another way to accomplish that. In the case of the Church's (and more specifically, Church members') current lack of acceptance and inclusion of their gay brothers and sisters, our spirituality is left without the vehicle it once fit so nicely within. And, quite frankly, it sucks. But, whether our solution is to find another vehicle in which to carry our spirituality, or learning to carry it ourselves, we do so. We have to. Otherwise, we're at a standstill and not getting to where we need to be. That's a horrible position in which to find one's self. I'm ever-so-grateful that--as painful as it has been at times--I've been able to keep carrying my spirituality forward. And, I readily acknowledge it hasn't been done completely on my own. Loving friends and family (many of whom are active Church members) inspire me, reach out to me, and accept me, despite my many shortcomings. That means the world to me as I continue to define for myself what it means to be a gay Mormon--something I never wanted, but am nonetheless.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Meet Kade Kimber: "God Wasn't Going to Bargain With Me, No Matter How Many Times I Begged."

Blogger's Note: Last week, I posted Kade's mother's story. This week, I'm featuring Kade's story. This is part 1. Kade has a great sense of humor, so it's easy to forget that before he came to terms with who God created him to be, he was in a lot of misery. So many of these stories share some heartbreaking similarities: shame, denial, pain, self-loathing, anger, bargaining, and finally accepting and affirmation. It's my hope that by sharing these stories, our LGBT friends and family members can come to a place of self-love and peace before damage leads to despair, and so often self-destructive behavior and/or suicide. It's my sincere prayer that those who love someone who is gay can help create a healthy and safe environment for all to thrive. We are all in this together. We need to stop shaming and start affirming. 

By Kade Kimber 
Kade is in the striped shirt and red pants. This is about 1/3 of the whole school population
Like almost anyone who identifies themselves as gay, I knew very early on that I was different. The problem was that--again, like most gay people--I REALLLLLLLY didn't want to be.
Growing up in a very small ranching community in rural Utah is not an easy life; spending your childhood feeling like you're more tolerated by people than accepted as being no different from your peers--well, that's REALLY not an easy life. But, that is how my formative years were spent: knowing I was different, knowing others knew I was different--and yet, somehow fooling myself into thinking that I was hiding it & just imagining things whenever I felt people looked at me differently than others.
But, as the years went on and my family moved to a larger community, it became harder & harder to believe that I was imagining things. My classmates would make little comments here and there, name calling ensued (and continued through high school), and part of me was 100% miserable. Yet, the other part of me wanted to believe that if I just did X [prayed harder, fasted harder, worked harder at it, got more involved in church, etc.], then it would all be fixed and I'd be "normal" (whatever that is).
That belief continued long after it probably should have--I was a returned missionary in my 20s when I finally started accepting that my faith and any religious activity was not going to save me from the inevitable. It was clear that God wasn't going to bargain with me, no matter how many times I begged for that from the very depths of my soul. My prayers had evolved from pleading for these unwanted feelings to be taken away, to simply wanting my life to be taken away. Clearly, I was broken and no amount of fasting or prayer would fix that. However, I decided a Mack truck, a freak accident, or a heart aneurysm would. So, I started hoping and praying for that. Non-stop. In fact, it was all-consuming. I think my reasoning was that I knew I wouldn't do anything to hurt myself (though if things hadn't changed, I'm not sure how long that would've been the case), so the next best thing was for the Lord to end my misery. It truly made sense at the time.
I had done everything I was supposed to do--I'd served an honorable mission, I went to the temple regularly, I was heavily involved in church--and yet, no matter what I did, these feelings persisted. I foolishly thought they'd 100% stop once I was a missionary; after all, missionaries don't have those kinds of thoughts, right? I laugh at the idea of it now, but at the time I truly believed that once I was set apart as a missionary some sort of holy cloud, if you will, would come over me and my thoughts would be completely spiritual. (Obviously, I'd never spent any length of time around missionaries or else I'd have known better & not be so devastated when I did learn this idea was not even close to reality.) The fact this didn't happen was not only disappointing, but stressful. I spent a lot of my mission feeling like a failure, despite what looked like a successful mission on paper. There were a large number of baptisms, leadership role after leadership role, and great relationships built along the way. But yet, I felt like some sort of fraud for not being able to keep my overly human thoughts at bay.

I went on my mission because I knew it was what I needed to do--not because it was expected of me. I didn't go until about a year and a half after I was eligible to do so because I'd never planned on going on a mission. But, once the pressure was taken off of me (I think people gave up on me and wrote me off as a lost cause when my 20th birthday came along and I was still at home in college), I was able to really seek out answers. I not only gained a testimony, but then I knew I couldn't not go on a mission. I was so excited for it, and to this day I consider it a great honor that I was able to serve. That doesn't mean it was any easier when I got on my mission and realized I was still human. And, not only that, but so were the other missionaries. Some did better at others at masking their disdain over a person whom they saw as a closeted gay missionary, but even then it wasn't a big secret that comments were made. One companion in particular was so horrible that I went into a deep depression that took a long time to emerge from. Trying to do the Lord's work alongside someone who has called you a "fag" and "queer" isn't an easy task. But, I got through it. And, despite the challenges, still had an enjoyable time overall.
But, now that I was back home and still struggling, I finally decided that I needed to get help. I spoke to my bishop, who actually laughed when I told him I was afraid I was gay. He wasn't laughing at me; he was laughing at the idea of it. There's no way I was gay, he said. Me--the recently returned missionary who was traveling throughout the stake to give talk after talk at the request of the stake presidency who, for some reason, thought that of all people I had some ability to connect with congregations & enlighten them spiritually. It just wasn't possible. He said that almost every guy is curious at one point or another, so that must just be it. But, I knew that wasn't it. I was very frustrated that, while my bishop gave a loving attempt at reassurance, I still had no answers. I'd opened myself up to him more than I ever had anyone else, and yet--no answers.

I'd always been scared to really open up to Church leaders about this very awful, horrible thing that was inside me that, in my eyes, made me an equally awful and horrible human being. In fact, years and years before that while I was in high school, I even tried to get help anonymously. I had a friend whose dad was a bishop; they lived across town and I'd never actually met his dad, so I knew he would have no idea who I was. Caller ID had just been developed, however, so I had to be careful about my approach. I waited until I was dog sitting and then called this random bishop from the house where I was staying with the dogs. I told him that he didn't know me, but that I had heard he's a bishop and thought he may be able to help. I told him that I had a friend who was afraid he was gay and I didn't know how to help him. The bishop said, "Kevin, is that you?" I told him it wasn't and then I hung up. While it wasn't much help from a religious perspective, it was the first time I had ever felt that I wasn't alone. Somewhere out there, someone named Kevin was most likely dealing with some of what I felt. While of some comfort, it still didn't solve my problems.

So, years later, when I opened up directly to my own bishop who knew me, it felt like the bravest thing I'd ever done. And yet, from his reaction I couldn't help but wonder if I'd somehow made a mistake. I mean, all I got from it is that my bishop didn't take my concerns as seriously as I had needed him to. And that's when I decided to take matters into my own hands.
This interaction with my bishop occurred a few months after returning from my mission. I had also started back at college during this time. The university, of course, had counseling available. I thought that perhaps that could be a good start for me. I had gotten to where I was getting worn out by it all--the non-stop battle within myself to be anything but gay. I made the appointment and went to the counseling session, feeling like a freak the entire time I sat in that waiting room. I told the counselor my concerns. She said, "What's the worst that would happen if you're gay?" I said, "My life would be over." I wasn't being overly dramatic; I truly believed my life would be over. There was absolutely no way that my life could go on if I were gay. I look back and realize I felt that way because I didn't remotely love myself and couldn't figure out how it was then possible for anyone else to love me. Coming out would make this a reality with which I couldn't fathom coping, whereas keeping the secret to myself allowed me to continue under the disillusion of thinking that people loved me. I left feeling even more desperate, isolated, and hopeless, but then I determined that she clearly could not have been LDS if she were as accepting as she was of the idea of being gay. (Of course, I think quite differently now, but that was my reasoning at the time.)
Thus started my series of counselor shopping. I called LDS Family Services and got a list of LDS counselors that accepted my insurance plan. I honestly don't know how many I went to, but each of them failed to "fix" me. After going this exhausting route for some time and not getting anywhere, I found one counselor that seemed to be understanding of my plight. He assured me I could get these feelings completely under control, have my full membership in the Church, and even get married and have a family--something I had come to doubt was even possible for me. Unfortunately, however, no matter how many pamphlets, Church talks, psychology articles, etc., I read (and carefully hid from everyone around me, as not a single soul knew I was in counseling at the time), my feelings hadn't changed. I was again without hope. And I decided that counseling was not the right plan. I had to come up with something better. What, I did not know--but there had to be something.

I continued to live this way for a few more years before the opportunity arose for me to move back to where I'd served my mission. I had fallen in love with the area and wanted to be there again. Plus, I figured I could get residency to lower law school tuition. It was perfect. Scary and exciting, but also perfect. So, I moved and got settled. For the first year, I just worked and spent time at my apartment. My roommate worked all the time and was going to school, too, so it was the perfect arrangement. I basically had the place to myself.

At the time (in 2006), single wards were still in existence and I was excited to get involved in mine. I had had such a wonderful experience with my singles ward in Utah and had made great friends there--and even had dated a few girls from the ward, too. I was sorely disappointed to find that with the exception of exactly two people, no one in my new singles ward would talk to me. No one. I was living in a new place with so much promise--and yet, I had no friends around me. It was one of the loneliest times of my life. The only thing that helped keep my mind off my self-loathing was the fact it was such a mental thrill to move to a new place and start a new life. But, that thrill quickly wore off.
I was so poor at the time and finally saved up enough money to buy a small TV, as I'd left my other TV in Utah. I remember being so excited to have some sort of a distraction from my thoughts. Sure, I couldn't afford cable, but I could afford Netflix. So, I sat in my apartment and watched DVD after DVD...all the while thinking about how much I didn't want to be gay, how no one seemed to get me, how disconnected I was from any sense of community at church, and how I just couldn't do it much longer. Clearly, the TV wasn't as big of a distraction as I'd hoped. During this time of tremendous self-pity, my prayers for change were as strong as ever. But then something happened. I don't know what, exactly, but whatever it was forever changed my life.

Maybe I was just tired. Maybe my soul had had enough. I don't know. But, what I do know is that one night I decided to--for the first time ever--say aloud, "I'm gay." I should preface this by saying that for me, answers to prayers have always come from me making a decision and saying that decision aloud. If it felt right, then I knew I had my answer. If I felt butterflies in my stomach, I knew it wasn't right. That night (December 2, 2006), I immediately knew my answer the second the words escaped my lips. And it scared me to no end. But, I decided it was time to reach out to those whom I love and I just hoped I wasn't making a mistake.
Kade and Brenda

I called my mom first. After fumbling for the right words, which is never really a problem for me, Mom said, "Honey, just say it. Tell me what you're trying to say." I said, "Mom, I think I might be bi." Saying I thought I might be bi, rather than just saying I was sure I was gay, was as far out of my comfort zone as I could go at the time. Since then, I've learned that this is VERY common for those first coming out of the closet. It was a first step, anyway, so that was something. My mom replied with, "Honey, what took you so long? I've known since you were little. Your aunt, grandma, and I used to talk about it when you were young and I've just been waiting for you to come to me in your own time. I just didn't think it would take this long. But, it doesn't matter to me if you're bi or gay. All I want for any of you kids is to have you be happy and healthy. You're the same exact Kade I loved five seconds ago and that will never change. So, can we just accept this and get on with life so that you can now be happy?"

It was such a relief--of epic proportions, in fact. Though on one hand I was admittedly a little angry that my mom knew the whole time and didn't say anything, I also knew that I'd have shut down immediately and gotten defensive if she'd have approached me about it. She truly did know best and allowed me to come to the realization on my own, and she was there to support me when I did. I couldn't have asked for anything better. Similar scenarios played out with the five other people I told over that night and the next--my two big sisters, my two best friends from childhood, and a close friend who happened to be someone I baptized while on my mission. They were all equally as supportive and I feel so blessed to have had that kind of coming out experience.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"I Am So Glad He is In the World and that He Is In My World!"

I first met Kade when he was in the 1st grade when my husband and I were teaching in the extreme rural community of Grouse Creek, Utah. Kade was one of 24 students grades K-10th. After he and his family moved, we lost track of Kade but facebook brought him back. I've loved hearing about his life via humorous and sometimes poignant posts. He's written the most insightful comments on this LGBT blog. The rest of this post is written by Kade's mother, Brenda Leigh Baxter. 

This is Kade showing off his bread creations, as I knew him in Grouse Creek.

Kade with his loving mother Brenda

By Brenda Leigh Baxter
I knew from when he was a very young age that Kade was different.  Living in a small ranching community, he never fit in with the boys who were into being cowboys and all things Western.  But he grew up with lots of cousins around and everybody seemed to accept him just as “Kade.”   He had such an outgoing personality and made friends wherever he went.   When we went to meetings in other Church wards, we would have to go round him up to come sit with us when meeting started because he had been going up and down the aisles meeting everyone he could.  When we moved into “town,” he knew all the neighbors on the block before the rest of us had even met anyone.  All through school, he had lots of friends, but usually only a few guy chums to hang out with.  When Kade was in 6th grade and we had just moved to Ogden, I gave him the opportunity to join both a touch football league and to take a modeling class.  Guess which one he liked better?!  The modeling class won hands down!  He hated getting dirty playing football and loved being the center of attention when he was modeling. 

I think in the back of my mind, I always knew Kade was gay, but he was in total denial, so I never pushed it, but just kind of observed him in different situations and always tried to be there for him.  One time we were camping with some friends and he and Lisa, the friends’ daughter, were hanging out in one of the tents, having a great time laughing and talking.  Our friends got very concerned that they were in the tent together.  I hadn’t given it a second thought because it was Kade.  I knew they were just friends and that there was nothing to worry about.  After Kade got home from his mission, he dated a couple of different girls, but as I observed him with them in my home, he never held hands with them or showed any other types of physical affection.  I kept thinking:  “Girls!  Get a clue!”  But he was so darn handsome that I didn’t blame them for trying!

I was very proud of Kade for serving an honorable mission.  It was his own idea – He didn’t go because family was pushing him, but waited until he felt ready to go.  Kade was an outstanding missionary and learned so many things from his mission, including how to budget money, get along with a great variety of companions, and he also improved his leadership abilities.  Serving in a Southern State, he met people of all ethnicities and social strata.  He loved everybody – It didn’t matter how poor they were or the color of their skin.  

Kade is a very giving and caring person.  He has helped out on various campaigns and fund raisers for different charities.  I would give him a bad time whenever we were walking around Ogden, because  somebody would invariably come up to Kade and ask him for change.  Somehow that “giving aura” radiates out of him!   I would tell him I couldn’t take him anywhere!
Over the years, I had talked to my sister and to my two daughters about whether they thought Kade was gay.  Everybody figured there was a pretty good chance he was, but none of us pushed the question on him.   He had been living with me for a couple of years, going to college, when he finally came out to me.  I think my first words were something like:  “What took you so long?”   It was a relief to finally have it out in the open.  But at the same time, it was also very sad to have it finally confirmed.   I was worried about how family and the world in general would treat my “baby boy”, and of course, I was disappointed knowing he would never have a traditional family, nor probably give me any grandchildren.  I knew Kade had a strong testimony of the Gospel, and that this was extra hard on his image of what kind of life he “should” be living – goodbye to a Temple marriage and all that goes with it. 

For my part, it probably came at a less traumatic time, as far as my Church activity was concerned.  Because I was divorced, I had had a hard time feeling like I belonged in church any more.  I had tried going to my home ward off and on, but never felt like I was even visible.  I started going to an older singles ward (age 40 and up) in Ogden, and was starting to make some girlfriends and starting to feel like there were others like me who understood what it was like to be single and in the LDS Church.  I was going pretty well every week and enjoying the classes and Sacrament talks, when the General Authorities decided to disband all the older singles wards and have everyone attend their home wards. I tried going to my home ward again and hung in there several months until my daughter Kodi went in for major surgery.  For the next four months, our lives revolved around keeping her and her little family afloat.  Even though I had mentioned Kodi’s upcoming surgery to some of the Relief Society ladies in the ward, it was several months before anyone called me to see how things were going and why I hadn’t been to church. Since then, it has just been too hard for me to try to go to meetings by myself.  I think all three of my kids and I are in about the same place as far as the Church is concerned. We believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the restored Gospel on earth today. But we also know that the church leaders are only men, and that like all of us are human and therefore are fallible.

 I have a gay friend, Mike, who has had his name removed from the records of the Church, as have his mom and sister. That might have been the right choice for them – They didn’t want to belong to a church that was judgmental  because of sexual orientation, instead of just loving each individual for who they are.  I understand that, but feel there is much good in the Church and that it’s the best we have for right now. I have lived long enough to see the major changes in policy that have come about in the Church, from the Blacks holding the Priesthood to women saying prayers in General Conference. The Church’s stand on Gays has come a long ways from where it was, but there is still a strong stigma that keeps many outstanding, loving people from attending and participating in the Church. Kade tried being honest with his Bishop in Raleigh, but felt like he was still trying to be fixed. It was too uncomfortable for him to continue to attend. I hope that someday he and all the other LGBT members of the Church will feel accepted and loved enough that they will be included. It’s the Church’s loss as well as theirs that this isn’t the case now. The gay people that I have met are some of the most creative, loving, happy, giving people anywhere!  I have so enjoyed meeting Kade’s partner and his many gay friends in Raleigh when I’ve been there to visit.  They are awesome! 

I did have a hard time when Kade first started dating guys, and then when he met his partner, Doc. But it is so wonderful to see him happy and enjoying life! And it has been so fun meeting his friends.  My one regret: I had little idea of how much sadness and self-hatred Kade went through for all those years. I didn’t know how truly hard all of this had been for him over the years or how suicidal he became at times. I wish that he had felt he could talk to me about it. He tried counseling and reading and praying and fasting – anything to not be gay.  Guess what! None of that works!  I know Kade would never choose to be gay, but that’s the way things are.  And his accepting that has made all the difference in the world to his happiness. He is an amazing guy with so much energy and creativity and ability! He is talented at so many things, including his marketing job, his great ability to write and to express himself, and his creative ability with his crafts business and doggy businesses. He is great fun to go shopping with and always manages to find the best bargains! His taste is impeccable and he is my best shopping buddy. He has so many friends and so much to offer the world! I am so glad that he is still in this world and that he is in MY world!