Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why I Wear a Mask: Past and Present

I've had an interesting 7 weeks since my last post.  I've been thinking about what it would be like to "live a maskless life", to not have to hide any part of who I am.  Through some recent experiences, I've realized that to some degree, I'll have to wear a mask no matter what I choose in life.  I long for a time where absolutely no mask is necessary.

5 years ago, I never would've dreamed of dating a guy or pursuing a relationship.  I never would've have allowed myself to hang out with other gay men because I was too worried that something might happen, that the temptation would just be too great.  For the past 34 years, I've been a church-goer and have enjoyed many aspects of the LDS church.  I don't think I'll ever fully let go of that and I certainly don't see myself being anti-LDS or angry.  I may get to the point where it's too painful to attend or where I don't feel there's a place for me, but I don't see myself cursing the church. 

So, in a sense, I've worn a mask all that time so that my church-going friends and family couldn't see this part of me that wants things that are contrary or different to what they want.  I've hidden that part of myself for the most part, but I have been blessed with some family and a few close friends who know I'm attracted to men.  But to them, I'm "struggling with same-sex attraction" and as long as I'm not planning to act on it, I'm still loved, righteous, and ok.

Recently, I've allowed myself to have some new experiences.  The other night, I hung out with 6 other gay men.  There was drinking and socializing and acceptance and connection.  All in all, I really enjoyed myself.  The guys were kind and interested.  I felt a sense of freedom I'd never felt where I could totally be myself.  But even in that group, there was a part of me that wanted to keep a different kind of mask on.  I still have mostly positive feelings toward the church and I still hold a lot of my experiences from my mission and growing up in the church near and dear to my heart.  I wore a bit of a mask that night because I feared that I might offend others because of my continued beliefs.  I'm sure a lot of the guys there had similar experiences and feelings and I probably would've been pleasantly surprised to hear how similar our experiences had been.

Long story short:  I feel the need to wear a "good Mormon boy mask" so that my LDS friends and family aren't burdened or aware of my gay journey.  It'll just make them sad because of what they feel I'm throwing away.  And on the flipside, I feel the need to wear a "gay mask" so that my new gay friends aren't offended or think that I'm not sympathetic to the strong feelings they have against the church.  I'm sure there are many gay, LDS men who still love the church and hold it in high regard.  And there are others who are so hurt and pissed about Prop 8 and all of that stuff.  I'm somewhere in between.

As I continue on in my journey, I'm sure the need to wear both kinds of masks will lessen.  I put a lot of this on myself, I realize.  I admire the guys who are 100% out and who are able to live that freely.  They may feel that there is ZERO need to wear a mask and I long for that.  But I'm still figuring out what I want and until I'm more clear on that, I'll continue to wear different masks.

I don't see this as being fake.  The good that comes of this is that I can try on new and different things to see what makes me happy.  I could either run right back to the church and commit to a meaningful, service-oriented life of following my spiritual convictions.  Or I could fully embrace the gay thing and find a wonderful man and find new ways to express my service and spirtuality.  The good news is:  I don't have to figure it out within an hour.  Until I'm more clear, I'm excited that I can choose to have new experiences with new people.  I feel confident that doing so will lead me closer to a resolution.

I would appreciate kind, supportive comments on either side. Go easy on the judgment as I'm just a guy in the world trying to figure things out.  The title of this post says "Past and Present".  I'm committed to not having to wear a mask in the "future", so I left it off. 



  1. Hello Benny,
    You're correct, you don't have to make decisions in an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year--I'm glad you get it! Be patient with yourself first of all and little by little you'll start feeling better in your own shoes. There are a lot of milestones that you'll go through that will indeed help you feel more comfortable with who you are regardless of the turns your life takes.

    Make sure you surround yourself with good friends that will be there for you in the gay ol' good times but most importantly the bad times when you'll need someone to hold you, or be there as a listening ear. Find a good mentor and don't be afraid to make mistakes, it is all part of the game regardless of what you do, and have fun, experience, live and feel!!

  2. No, you don't have to hurry on anything. Remember that pretty much everyone wears a mask of one kind or another.

    I would let all those social concerns slip to the background and focus on how you're feeling, what your heart is telling you, what the Spirit is telling you, and what it all may mean.

  3. The path to authenticity can be long, difficult, and confusing. I think many of us take our whole lives to achieve this ideal. There are days when I say "I don't care what other people think, how they'll react, or how they'll feel. I'm going to be myself and let them take it how they will." and other days when I think "I need to respect other people's feelings. I can't use authenticity as an excuse to walk over other people." Maybe I don't know what being authentic means yet.

    Good luck as you traverse this path, my brother. It does indeed feel liberating to be yourself. It feels even better when the people around you react well to that expression of self--when you're loved and accepted regardless of who you are.

    As for myself, I'm consistently surprised at how much acceptance I find as I "come out" one thing after another (as a gay man, as an atheist, etc). I'm also surprised at the people who seem to be offended by these things (often people I haven't spoken to in years, who just feel a sudden need to email me and tell me of their disapproval). I hope that you find more reactions of the former type and less of the latter.

  4. Thank you guys! That's the comforting about all of this, I don't have to make any firm decisions right away. At the same time, coming to a resolution either way will bring some needed peace and forward movement.

    @Miguel, we met recently. You and Jeff were so nice.
    @Neal, I can count on your support, thanks!
    @Keith, thanks for sharing your experience. Being authentic is a tricky thing for sure. I'm less worried about offending people these days, gotta do what makes me happy. But I've got to do it in a way where I feel that I'm not offending God. Working that part out. Thanks for your input!

  5. I have it on fairly good authority that at least one of the guys you met at that party is still relatively active in the church and still accepts most of its doctrine. None of the rest of the guys hold it against him, nor would they hold your beliefs against you. =)

    So feel free to leave the mask at home next time. =)

  6. Thanks, Scott! I most certainly will. As I wrote, I get that many gay LDS guys are still very active and accepting. And even those who have totally removed themselves from the church can still be open and caring toward me. That was my experience at the party. I was so relieved.

    I'm somewhere in the middle: part of me can't fathom leaving the church, and part of me is deeply wounded and hurt by the church (read: it's members). I'll figure it all out, but in the meantime, so nice to know that I can put the mask away. Thanks for the comment, Scott, and for the warm welcome you gave me.

  7. Keep hanging in there. I can understand the desire to get off the fence and get in a relationship. I struggled for a long time and was in a few relationships, but always help back a little because of the Gospel. I didn't know what I truly believed. I finally chose the Gospel path and have no regrets. It's not always easy by any means, but I know it's been the right path for me. I don't know why some of us have to deal with these attractions. I'm not sure I'll ever be attracted to a guy, but I hope to.