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VOICES OF HOPE

GREG

Greg.jpg

Originally from Salt Lake City, Greg is currently living out his dreams in Los Angeles as an actual paid actor. He has a firm testimony of Jesus Christ as the Savior and tries to live life with faith, hope, and a healthy dose of optimism. He views same-sex attraction as a catalyst for developing a relationship with God rather than some sweat-drenched, exhausting battle that one simply has to endure. He also loves brownies.

 
 

Full Interview (24 Minutes)

Highlights Interview (16 Minutes)

 
 

I CHOOSE LOVE

Here’s the thing—above all else I believe that life is what you make it. You don’t discover yourself, you create yourself. Happiness, love, goodness—are all choices. God Himself said that we are meant to act, and not to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:26).

Setting the Stage

When I was about 15 my dad walked into my bedroom one day and asked if he could use my scriptures to find a specific verse. I thought this was a little weird as my bedroom was in the far corner of the basement, so he couldn’t have just been wandering by, but I said sure and handed him my turquoise green, button-front mini quad. He looked up Ether 12:27—“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.,” read it to me, and shared some thoughts on it. Then the other shoe dropped. “Son, I know what you’ve been looking at on the Internet,” he said.

What followed was not exactly an ideal conversation—homosexuality is something my dad has a hard time with, and resources were not plentiful in the late-nineties—but it was a conversation filled with love and concern. I think that is a fairly representative snapshot of my high school life. My parents were concerned and loving and did the best they could in a veritable information void. I naturally have a pretty healthy positive perspective about life and if I don’t always wear rose-colored glasses, I have them close at hand.

I think that’s essentially where my story differs from so many. I have heard myriad stories of young men and women in the Church who experience heartache, disappointment, shame, self-hatred, fear and distance because of their attractions. And while I can certainly sympathize, I am sometimes utterly confused. That is not how I saw the world I grew up in.

Act 1—How it all began

Unlike many people I know, I didn’t have an “Aha!” moment when it came to my sexuality. I can recall in 6th and 7th grade having crushes on girls in my classes, but I imagine a lot of that was culturally motivated. I can remember inklings in 7th and 8th grade of being physically attracted to boys, so I started noticing and coming to terms with everything around 13 or 14 years old.. In my childhood I had always had a desire to be close to boys my age in terms of friendship and the like, and I suppose adding a sexual element to those yearnings during my teenage years seemed like a natural extension.

I think my dad was probably inspired to share that specific scripture with me at the time he did because it—combined with my naturally positive outlook—gave me a very healthy framework with which to view and operate in my life. Although I use different words now, in essence I viewed my homosexuality as a trial to overcome. I don’t mean that in a “have faith and it will go away” sense, but more in a “have faith and you’ll figure out what all this is about” sense.

As further evidence of my somewhat charmed experience, I grew up with a family friend who was a gay convert to the church. When my parents came across my internet search history, he was one of the first people they called. He was an immense, and delightfully irreverent source of comfort and strength to me through all of this. He has an amazing perspective on life. In our first conversation he told me that I shouldn’t try to pray away my feelings, but that I should pray to know what to do with them. That thought has shaped much of my life.

Act 2—High On Life

Outside of being something of an anomaly in high school—I was an acne-prone artistic kid growing up in a small town with bull-riding, football-playing, truck-driving good ol’ boys—I don’t remember my sexuality being a great source of anguish. It seems secondary to the grief I naturally got from the kids in school because of where my interests lay. I always felt that God loved me just the way I was. I think the fact that my parents continued to love me helped with that. So, in high school I remember being a pretty typical nerdy kid. I took girls to school dances (one time in a hearse), and had crushes (on both sexes), and went on band trips, and sent notes in class, and ran for student council, and participated in spirit assemblies, and wore clothes that were too big because it was the late-nineties, and mostly failed at navigating hormones mixed with inner turmoil, and had amazing friends, and generally a very positive experience.

My High School years were very formative for me—as I imagine they are for many people. I don’t know that there’s ever been a time in my life when I had poor self-esteem, but in High School I really started to come into my own. I had started playing in the band in 7th grade and really found a home in the arts during my teenage years. Band, choir, speech and debate, drama—that’s where I found my people.

That isn’t to say High School was a dream. Like any teenager I had tumultuous friendships, awkward dating experiences, emotional break-downs. Hormones will do that to anyone. But with the love and support of my parents and a truly heaven-sent bishop, and under the tutelage of my debate, band, and drama coaches, I blossomed in many ways. I developed confidence, talents, and self-esteem. I started to grow into a stable, well-balanced individual.

Spiritually it was also a time of growth. I was learning a lot at home, in seminary, and at church. My love of God and my faith in His teachings were getting stronger all the time.

I think time has a way of dulling the painful experiences and leaving behind only the joyful ones—which may explain why I generally have such fond memories of being a teenager. As I said, there were tough times too, but for whatever reason, God blessed me with an innate sense of perspective and I consider myself very lucky that those years were so comparatively easy for me. Through it all I remember having high hopes of serving a mission, coming home after 2 years and finding a young woman with whom I could be happy, and walking hand-in-hand into the glowing Mormon sunset. The future was bright.

Act 3—Anatomy of a Mission

Toward the end of an unremarkable first year of college, I filled out my mission papers and prepared to go serve the Lord. My bishop—who I had talked to about my feelings, and who was so loving and supportive—asked in my mission interview if I thought I’d be able to handle mission life. Perhaps a little naively, I told him that I believed the Lord wouldn’t allow me to be tempted beyond what I could withstand, and so I had the faith that no situations would arise.

I left on my mission to Argentina full of the testimony and vigor that are typical of new missionaries. I was horrified when I learned about the communal showers at the Missionary Training Center, but I ended up surviving them. I seem to remember hearing that they’ve since done away with them—which is probably for the best.

My mission lasted just over a year. It was a great year—filled with growth, and preaching the gospel, and eating lots of beef. Probably 6 months or so in, I was assigned to a companion who I thought was a pretty cute guy.

The short version of the story is that my brain goes into what I call “lizard brain” mode pretty hard core under the right circumstances. I heard the term “lizard brain” recently when I was listening to some neurology-themed podcast or other. It refers to the primitive part of your brain that is responsible for survival—basically the only kind of brain a lizard has. Lizard brain happens when all of one’s higher cognitive functioning just sort of shuts down and one has a one-track mind.

As a 19-yr-old kid, I was not yet fully in control of that process (in fact, I’m still getting the hang of it in my thirties), and though nothing untoward happened with that companion, I did push boundaries and felt like he was reciprocating some. That may be entirely untrue, but the one-track mind sees what it wants to see. I talked about it with my mission president, who did not speak English, and was a loving, if no-nonsense type of guy, and he transferred me to another area – emergency style.

Things were fine again for a bit, but then I got another companion who I found attractive, and we really clicked. He was also a native Chilean and so was a little more affectionate in our friendship than an American might be. Again, nothing scandalous took place, but my lizard brain took over and I pushed boundaries. I spoke with my president about it again at some point after we were already no longer companions. A few weeks later the president called me into his office during a zone conference and told me that he’d talked with the “powers that be” in Salt Lake and they all thought it would be better if I went home. So, a week later, I did. It was an honorable release, but that didn’t necessarily make it easier.

Though the process of talking to my mission president and subsequently being sent home early was painful, I do remember a couple of things that make me laugh about it now. One—the first time I went in to talk to him and I told him that I was attracted to men, he gave me a little lesson on how celestial marriage works—complete with anatomically correct stick figure drawings. Secondly, I remember the first thought I had when he told me I was going home was, “So, does that mean I have to start looking for a wife now?”

After an awkward phone conversation with my parents, and about a week more in Argentina, I came home. I arrived at the airport to the love and support of my family—immediate and extended. My Stake President at the time I came home was new. I’m not sure what information he had been given, but I was effectively disfellowshipped—no praying in public, no using my priesthood etc. Looking back on it, I think he may have had some misinformation because disfellowshipping seems a bit harsh, but I was a pretty timid little guy, not one to question or argue with authority, so I meekly took my punishment and tried to figure out what to do with the extra year of life I suddenly had to deal with.

Throughout the coming weeks and months I continued to live as I always had and my full fellowship was eventually restored. Years later, and partly because of this experience, I came to have a different understanding of what the scriptures mean when they say that we won’t be tempted beyond our abilities. For me it’s as much about using our own intellect to know where to set boundaries—and stick to them—as it is about being protected by Divine Providence.

Act 4—When You Wish Upon a Star

That all was in the middle of summer. I went back to school in the fall and it was there I discovered the Walt Disney World internship program. You go work at Disney World for a semester and there are possibilities for college credit, and it’s great on a resume, and basically it’s a way for Disney to get cheap labor. So I applied, was hired, and Ieft for that experience in January of 2004 and had the time of my life.

It proved to be a pivotal experience. One night, a cute, gay co-worker of mine was giving some of us a ride home. I was sitting in the front seat and had my hand casually placed on my leg—as anyone might—and he sort of purposefully brushed his hand against mine. It was unmistakably intentional. I was thrilled and horrified all at the same time. I quickly folded my arms, and when he dropped me off said a hasty goodbye. This was all brand new territory for me. I mean, I knew I was attracted to men, but I’d never had the experience of having one be attracted to me. I immediately ran to my phone and called up my family friend. My head was in all sorts of places and I needed a refuge. He calmed me down, and we had a great conversation. In that conversation he suggested that I talk to a friend about my attractions. That thought was terrifying, but I decided to do it.

While on a walk in the balmy Florida weather with a good friend a few days later, I opened up and shared my deep, dark secret. I can’t speak to her experience, but for me it was a HUGE relief. As far as I remember she handled pretty well. To this day she is one of my best friends.

Act 5—Movin’ On Up

I returned from Disney World and finished out college over the next two and half years. During that time I started becoming more comfortable with my sexuality in a public sort of way and began telling more and more people. As was the norm, I never had a negative reaction. Everyone I told was loving and supportive. Most of them already had an inkling, so it wasn’t a huge surprise.

After graduating I moved to Salt Lake City to start working. One weekend, I went to an Evergreen fireside with a couple of friends where, through a series of somewhat awkward but ultimately hilarious events, we connected with some of the guys in the Mormon/gay/figuring-it-out community that was thriving in Salt Lake and Provo at that time. I started hanging out with them fairly regularly. At first it was all very exciting. Here was a group of guys who “got me”. They understood what I was going through. We were brothers in this battle.

To be honest, though, after some time it started to wear on me. Every time a group of us got together all we talked about was being gay. I think there’s a right time and a place for that, but all of the time is not the right time. So I started to distance myself a bit. I kept in touch with the guys with whom I’d developed a friendship outside of just being gay and Mormon, and a couple of them are still dear friends.

It was during that time that I also discovered the wonders of mutual attraction. I had dated a couple of girls in college, and it was all very well and good, but the first time I had a crush on a boy and he liked me back was like a revelation. I remember one time in college when I was sitting in my car kissing my girlfriend, the whole time thinking, “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?” The first time I kissed a guy I thought, “Ooooh….”

So, I had a period where I was still active in church and doing everything I was supposed to do there—and still very much believing everything—but also cuddling with and kissing boys on the side. Occasionally I’d have to go talk the bishop about instances when maybe things got a little out of hand. The whole time I still had a testimony and wanted so much to live the gospel. But lizard brain is real.

At some point I had a little “come to Jesus” with myself where I basically told myself that it was time to be done messing around and to make a decision about where I wanted to be. I still believe that everyone, at some point, needs to have that conversation with him or herself. Leaving the church had never really been an option for me, I was just kind of having a little fun. I chose to stick with my faith.. At the end of the day I believe in God and I believe what the church teaches about God’s plan, and sacrifice as a part of that plan.

Act 6—Crazy Little Thing

While I was living in Salt Lake I got involved in some local theater. I think the theater community may be another reason why I sometimes don’t understand people who have had terrible experiences. As I mentioned, artistic people are my people. The men and women I’ve met through the arts are so unbelievably loving and accepting. There’s something about being involved with creativity and exploring the human condition that creates amazing empathy within people. When I hear that someone has come out and all of their friends have abandoned them, I just think, “Who are these people you’re surrounding yourself with?” Maybe I’m just lucky. I have received nothing but love, support, and encouragement from my friends—both in and outside the church. And even from my gay friends who used to be active members, but have chosen a different path.

I think members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a group get a lot of things right. However, one area where I think we seem to be lacking is, ironically enough, in loving those around us. I think in our zeal to be strictly obedient about things like the Law of Chastity, or the Word of Wisdom, we forget that when Jesus was asked what was most important, He simply said to love. And he didn’t put conditions, or stipulations, or ulterior motives behind that love. He didn’t say we should love people so that they’ll change, or repent, or join the church, or love us back. Those things may happen, but they’re side effects, not motivating factors. Christ’s love is not conditional, neither should ours be.

An example of this sort of misplaced righteous obedience in favor of love comes to mind:

I was hanging out with some friends once in college and we decided to watch a DVD of Ellen DeGeneres’s standup routine. Ellen is hilarious, and as I remember it this particular DVD is 100% family friendly. One of the guys we were hanging out with said something along the lines of, “Wait…isn’t she a lesbian?” We sort of stared at him and said, “Yeah…so?” He then shared with us that God doesn’t love gays and lesbians because his love is conditional—per the words of an apostle. My liberal feminist friend nearly exploded. I can’t remember which apostle it was, but I did manage to track down the talk this young man referenced and was not surprised to find that his thoughts were a fairly gross misinterpretation of what the apostle had actually said.

As I reflect back on this, and other similar experiences, it really is a wonder to me that I never felt any self-hatred or shame because it seems well-meaning members of the church are all-too-often ready to dole it out. Perhaps it’s because at that point I knew what they were saying was not how God saw the matter.

There is a concept in the Buddhist tradition known as “non-attachment.” Sometimes people hear about it and think it is detachment, but it’s not. I was trying to explain it to my mom a few months ago and came up with this: Non-attachment basically means that one’s sense of peace, self-worth, and direction are not attached to anyone or anything. You can be involved in and affected by the world, but you are ultimately in charge of your own well-being. I think in many ways, that philosophy is innate for me.

Anyway, I think the point here is that I never got any of that negative feedback from the important people in my life. Their message was, and has always been, “We support you whatever you choose.”

Act 7—The One

During my years in Salt Lake I was teaching, and getting a Master’s Degree, and performing in shows pretty consistently, so life was busy. I also thought about dating. I am occasionally interested in girls, and would sporadically take someone out. I’d had a couple of girlfriends in college, but nothing very serious. Then I met The Girl. We were in a couple of shows together and I thought she was cute, and talented, and funny, and we developed a good friendship. I can’t remember exactly when it changed, but at some point I became interested in maybe pursuing something beyond friendship.

At this point in my life I’d learned a bit about myself. A pattern developed where if I was interested in a girl, it would last 2-3 months, and then one day the light would just turn off and that was that. So, with The Girl I made myself wait. 2-3 months later I still thought she was perfectly beguiling. A few more months went by and I was still interested. This had never happened before, so I was pretty excited about it.

Before you get your hopes up, you should know that things between The Girl and I did not work out. We’re still good friends, but that’s it. She’s married to a wonderful guy and I couldn’t be happier for them. I share this story because that time in my life was very significant to me.

Our relationship was interesting. I don’t know if you can even say that we were “dating,” though we did go on a few dates, so technically we dated. She knew pretty much from the get-go that I was attracted to men and that was hard for her. We had some good conversations about it, and at one point she even told me she wasn’t sure if that was something she could handle in a relationship. For some reason I was uncharacteristically persistent, and continued in my pursuit. I even once said to her, “I don’t think there’s anybody out there who is more perfect for me than you are.” I still believe that. There may be someone who is as perfect, but no one more so.

As a single adult, I have sat through my share of marriage-themed church talks. One thing that we often hear is that when you find the right person, you’ll know it. And we, in the anguish of our yearning ask, “But how?!” “You just do,” they say. With her, that’s something I found to be true. It makes sense to me now. When I’d dated girls before I’d always had thoughts of “Is this the right person? What if there’s someone else?” With her, I never had those thoughts. Even with an uncertain outcome, I was confident that I didn’t want there to be anyone else.

At the end of it all, she gave me hope. I go back and forth on the marriage question these days. Some days I long for a wife and family the way any good Mormon boy might. Other days I am perfectly content with my life the way it is, and I’m not sure if I’m up for the challenge of a mixed-orientation marriage. But because of this dear friend, I have the hope that it could be the right thing for me, and if it is, I’ll know it when I find it.

Act 8—Dreams Come True

Toward the end of my time with The Girl, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of being a professional actor—which, honestly may have been the final nail in that coffin. Not surprisingly, my time in Los Angeles has changed me in regards to my faith. Not in a way that you might think. I didn’t move to West Hollywood and become lost in cesspools of degradation or anything. But my views about the world and my place and purpose as a Mormon—and a gay Mormon at that—in that world have changed.

The first year and half or so in LA was pretty lonely. I was going to church and an acting class and there were some cool people around here and there, but when I’m in a situation where I don’t know anyone, I’m pretty shy and it can be hard for me to make friends. On top of that, church has never really been my go-to for social fulfillment. The ward I was attending in LA didn’t help much. It was full of high-powered law students, medical students, and finance professionals. People who don’t really get me. So, it was rough for a bit. After a year or so, though, I started to make some good friends.

One of those friends—for the sake of anonymity I’ll call him Fabian, because I like the sound of an exotic name, even though he’s probably the least exotic person one might ever meet— was cute, and outgoing, and sort of feisty about the funniest things, and he threw me for a loop. I’d obviously had crushes before, but for some reason I was having an especially hard time with this one. I came to church one day and was looking for my home teacher so I could get a blessing. Fabian was in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency with him, so I asked if he’d seen him. Fabian said he wasn’t at church that day, and did I need anything. I explained that I was just going to ask for a blessing, and Fabian offered to give me one. So, in perhaps the most quintessential gay Mormon moment of my life, I got a blessing of comfort and strength from the very man who I needed a blessing of comfort and strength for.

In testimony meeting—I think it was that same Sunday—I was sitting there listening to the testimonies and thinking of what I might share if I got up. I’d recently seen the movie “Iron Lady” and *SPOILER ALERT* there’s a scene in it where Margaret Thatcher is quite old and has been hallucinating that her dead husband is still around. She’s been getting better and better, mentally, and in this scene it’s the last time that she’ll see him and they’re saying goodbye, and as he walks away from her, she is understandably having a difficult moment, but he says to her, “Soldier on.” And that’s what I thought I might share, and in that moment I felt like that’s what God wanted to tell me. He seemed to be saying, “This isn’t easy. And it’s probably gonna be hard for a while, but I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere. Soldier on.” And I lost it. I basically had a full-on emotional breakdown, to the point that when sacrament meeting was over, I just stayed in my seat for about 5 minutes to compose myself before getting up to go home.

God is there. He always has been. He’s not going anywhere. Wherever my journey of faith takes me, He’s along for the ride, as it were.

Act 9—Out and Out

I reached a point about 2 years after moving that I was completely comfortable with my situation and pretty much everyone in my life knew that I was gay. I also wasn’t shy about talking about it if someone asked. At that point, I listened to a TED talk by Brene Brown[1] about vulnerability, and something she said really hit home for me. She said that for people to love you completely, they have to know you completely. I also wanted to be an example of another kind of life–a happy, fulfilling, emotionally stable, well-balanced, gay Mormon life. I didn’t have a lot of examples of what to expect when I was sorting through everything. I still turned out okay, but I know everyone’s journey is not as easy as mine has been, and it can be helpful to see that the future may not be so bleak. Because of those things, I came out publicly in October of 2012 on my blog. Again, because my life is filled with amazingly caring people, I received nothing but love from all sides. I think the most negative thing anyone said was basically that they didn’t agree with my choice, but wished me the best.

I now have plenty of friends in Los Angeles, in and outside the Church. They are loving, supportive, creative, intelligent, hilarious people. They are my people. Interestingly, some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with people about this subject are those who do not share my faith. My non-Mormon friends are often quite intrigued with the life I’ve chosen to live. They are confused, or confounded, or incredulous, but ultimately equally supportive of the choice I’ve made. Those conversations have been helpful in sharing this point of view with people on the outside, and also in helping me clarify exactly what it is I believe and why I choose to follow the path that I have.

Curtain Call

Something that I often talk about—with anyone who asks about my story—is the idea of being true to oneself. I often think of that scene in The Incredibles when Incrediboy/Syndrome is talking to Mr. Incredible and he says something along the lines of “You always tell people to be true to themselves, but you never tell them which part of themselves to be true to.” I feel like that. It seems to me that the gay community especially likes to tout that maxim. but they make it seem like one’s attractions are the only thing one can be true to and remain authentic. I don’t like that. There are so many other parts of me. Each of us needs to decide for ourselves what part to be true to. For me, the most important part of me is my relationship with God. Right now, based on what I believe, God says don’t marry a man. I believe in a caring, merciful, compassionate God who knows better than I do what’s going to ultimately make me happy, and so I trust that what He says is what I should do.

Most recently in my life, here is what I believe. I believe that God wants us to be happy and knows the best way for that to happen. I believe that I can live a happy fulfilling life inside the Church as a celibate gay man. I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes me a little angry when people say things like, “God doesn’t want you to be alone. You deserve love and happiness.” To me that implies that they think my life is, or perhaps should be a dark and abysmal place full of loneliness and despair, or that I don’t have love and happiness in my life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not alone and hopeless. I am surrounded by loving, caring people. Sure it’s different from having a romantic, committed relationship with someone, but I choose not to wallow.

It also seems a bit presumptuous to speak for God on my behalf. Perhaps God does want me to be alone. Perhaps there are things He wants me to learn that I can’t learn any other way. Perhaps there are things He needs done that can’t be done by married people. While we’re on the subject, it never says anywhere in the scriptures that God intends for everyone to get married in this life, or that everyone’s life will be filled to the brim with sunshine and rainbows. Life is supposed to be hard. This challenge can seem especially daunting, but I choose to see that as a sign of immense trust from a loving Father.

I do think our church has a long way to go in how it approaches and treats the LGBT community. There are still lots of misconceptions, and hurtful words, and hateful attitudes, and reprehensible actions by seemingly good Christian people. But it is changing, and if all of us run away and hide because we’re experiencing a little bit—or a lot—of negativity, nothing will ever change. I find comfort in these verses from The Doctrine and Covenants, section 122:

6 If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;

7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

8 The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?

9 Therefore, hold on thy way…

I believe in God. I believe in Christ. I believe that I am here, as Brad Wilcox so eloquently said, not to “earn heaven,” but to “learn heaven.”[2] I didn’t choose to be attracted to men,—at least that I know of. but I do choose to use my experiences to make me a better, more caring, more compassionate, more loving individual. I choose to find and experience love in my life. I choose to have faith. I choose to be happy. I choose.

[1] https://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown

[2] http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1966