Monday, February 4, 2013

FFAQ Answer: Mission for a gay guy? UPDATED



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:


It happens. 

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. 

58 comments:

  1. Beautiful. Again, thank you and Lolly for sharing!

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  2. The posts where you are vulnerable are my favorite. I hope that doesn't reveal something terrible about me, LOL! I just appreciate it when people are REAL.

    Since I went to Venezuela also, the picture bring back memories. :)

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  3. Awesome post! Healthy bonding with members of one's own sex is so vital in each individual's development. So much of what we are is due to the friends we have of the same sex. That acceptance, that belonging, can never be replaced, and should never be undervalued.
    Thank you for being so open Josh!
    In that first pic from your mission, you look so much like Benji, that for a moment I was like, "WAIT. JOSH AND BENJI SERVED TOGETHER?" :)

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  4. " 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."

    Goodness, I'm straight and I could really use that information. Can you write about that?

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  5. You might want to explain the term "tree of life shower experience" to those who don't know, lol. If I wasn't LDS, that term could possibly confirm some crazy rumors I've heard about Mormons, or at the very least, get the imagination up and running.

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    1. Yes, please. I am LDS and still didn't get it. I suppose I could ask my husband...
      Great post, thank you for sharing!

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    2. Yeah, tree of life shower experience? I'm also LDS and have never heard of that.

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    3. I would imagine he is referring to a shower designed something like this: http://img0073.popscreencdn.com/121136182_-shower-company-ps-3300-3x-chv-free-standing-multiple-.jpg

      (sorry about the small size ... trying to be careful with search terms on Google Images it is a surprisingly difficult feat finding an image of a dual headed locker room shower! LOL).

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    4. I had never heard it called "the tree of life," but I assumed he meant that the showers in the MTC (Missionary Training Center) are like some I've seen in other locker room-type places: shower heads are arranged around the top of a pole, so five people (or however many) can be showering at the same time, each under their own shower head, but with no privacy at all.

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    5. Well, I'm not Josh, but I think it might refer to the showers in men's locker rooms. They're not usually individual stalls as in women's locker rooms, more like a giant vertical pipe in the middle of the shower area with 4 or 6 shower heads radiating from it. There's absolutely no privacy.

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    6. I think it refers to the showers at the MTC--the kind you find in many old gyms/rec centers where it is one big pole w several showerheads, right?

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    7. Yes please explain that!!

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    8. I really didn't like the tree of life set up. I would get up 30 - 45 minutes early in the morning to be able to secure the only shower in the shower room which had its own shower and curtain. It was hard getting up that early but it was oh so worth it to have the privacy.

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  6. Wow, I never thought about it that way before. I mean, I've never thought gay members of the church shouldn't serve a mission. But when I think many gay people struggle with where they belong in the church, it makes so much sense that a mission would root them in a foundation of the gospel, just like it would any missionary. Thanks for that bit o' enlightenment.

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  7. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing all this and giving a perspective I'd never considered (the male bonding part). I am curious how your companions responded when they found out, or did they even know?

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  8. Wow! What a great post. Even though I didn't vote last week I was really, really happy that this question won. You made me think about some things in a very different way. Keep up the good work, Josh and Lolly.

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  9. Very cool to read. It's so helpful and interesting to read your insight.

    Just a fun tidbit - my husband served in your exact same mission. He got there right as you guys left - or were trying to leave. :) I read him the posts from a while back you wrote about your mission and getting arrested and such and they sure took him back. Ah, Venezuela! :) Fun to see the pics, too - I haven't seen many from his mission, so it's fun to see more of what it looked like.

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  10. Ah how special I feel that you mentioned my name, not once, not twice, but thrice! Thanks for answering my question! You are very open and honest. Your genuine-ness comes across loud and clear. I have been wondering about this question for quite some time now.....so glad to have a safe place to ask! Thanks again!

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  11. Did your companions ever know you were gay?

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  12. (Mrs. I Define Me here) Josh - What a great post! I loved reading your wonderful thoughts and experiences, and especially your amazing insights about yourself.

    It is such a gift to be able to be self reflective, to look back on your life and see to truth about the who, where, why, and how that has brought you to where you are today. Mr. IDM is good at this as well, but I know so many men who are not, they just plow forward, or even 'bulldoze' through life without any thought of who they really are, how their life experiences have molded them, or who they 'really' want to be. Self reflection is such an important part of DEFINING oneself... and consciously DEFINING oneself is a great way to personal peace and true happiness.

    I just wanted to say that so much of your comments about your anxiety over the 'world of men', and the great blessings and growth that came from living it 24/7, are very similar to the things my husband tells me about his mission experience as well.

    Also, my husband also served in the military (National Guard) and his stories about that...(ie: boot camp!, etc.) are quite enlightening. Man, I don't know how he survived that, but he did that even before his mission - BRAVE GUY~~ :)

    You inspire me. We've been dragging our feet a bit when it comes to our blog, we've just had a lot of 'stuff' going on which has put the blog on the back burner (although we have LOTS to write about), but your great post here has inspired me to dig out the notes I have about Mr. IDM's mission (and military) experiences and get busy with him to do a post on the subject on our blog as well.

    Thanks for your openness and vulnerability. We realize you are very busy and so appreciate the time you take as you continue to share your life with us. Our luv to you & Lolly.

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  13. what an interesting perspective! I would never have thought of it that way, but it makes total sense. thank you for sharing this!

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  14. I had a companion who, when the time was right, broke the news to me that he was an ex-convict. After I got over the initial shock I was pretty cool about it. I wasn't worried about him murdering me in my sleep or stealing my souvenir collection. I was more interested in how he had become an ex-con and all that stuff. It made for some interesting conversations as we were out knocking on doors. We laughed as he told me the reactions of some of his other companions when he had told them.

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  15. Josh, that post was awesome. Just like that one where you talked about how it is being friends with other guys, I just want you to know how good it is to not feel totally alone. I missed out on the male bonding thing as I was growing up. It never happened with my dad, it never happened with my friends, it never happened with my brothers. I just didn't get it. I spent a great deal of the time on my mission trying to get it and felt very frustrated that I never did. Sometimes I think the work suffered because I felt so debilitated by it.

    Now as a 30-something, married with children, gay man, when that kind of stuff doesn't really matter to my peers, I find myself still unable to relate to other guys and no simple opportunities to learn. I'm still the shy, awkward, social pariah that I always was and, man, is it lonely at times.

    And it is strange. Even though I have the wonderful companionship of my wife, and I have my children to live for too, I still feel like I'm somehow missing out not knowing that world, not being a part of it. I wouldn't even know what weird questions to ask anymore.

    I really admire your courage to seek to be a part of that world. For now, I will be a Merman perched on an outcropping out in the ocean looking longingly at the beach while a big wave crashes up behind me.

    I'm not making fun of you, by the way. I'm sincerely impressed that you are still striving for that. Gives me some courage to try it. Maybe I'll play church basketball again.

    Or maybe not. Maybe I'll just start going to EQ activities.

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  16. First, what does Tree of Life shower experience mean? My mom's gonna think that's some wacky secretive temple thing, more proof I'm nuts for joining the LDS church. I've just never heard that phrase.

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    1. Someone correct me if I am wrong about this.

      I don't know what it looks like in women's showers/locker rooms, but in the men's showers at the MTC (and often times at swimming pools) there is a group of pipes from floor to ceiling into which shower heads (3 or 4 of them) are tapped. So when guys take showers in there, you stand under the shower head next to a kind of "shower tree" surrounded by all the other guys who happen to be showering at the same time at your tree or one of the others in the area. The "tree of life" is a facetious way to describe this shower arrangement.

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    2. In the military, the nickname is 'Rain Locker'.

      Ditto, no stalls, for either men or women. And either island style &/or "tree" style,, or parallel bars overhead that you walk through kind of like a car wash.

      -grey!

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  17. I am going to admit this, in the hopes that you will allow me to remain anonymous as I do so.

    I feel as you do, with regards to not feeling like I fit in with other women. Because they have no idea that I am same sex attracted. I am terrified that they might find out, and I am terrified that they won't treat me the same.

    I was married. And enjoyed parts of my intimate relationship with my then husband. We are divorced now, he was not faithful, and was abusive. Anyway, that is neither here nor there. I have 4 beautiful children, so obviously I'm capable of being intimate with a man. However, when I think about what is attractive to me, it isn't men. Men's anatomy doesn't appeal to me much at all, actually. Sure, brad pit has a great face. Tom Cruise, back in the day, sure. Looks nice. But that is about all it is. I'm more attracted to female anatomy, and so I think that means I'm gay, doesn't it? I mean, I could not imagine being in a relationship with a woman, but niether can I imagine myself in a relationship with a man. I'm happy on my own, raising my three daughters and son.

    I don't know. It's terrifying for me to even admit it. Yes, I'm LDS. I joined the church as an adult. Married in the temple. And am active in my ward. But if I think about where I feel attracted to someone, it is to women. And not men. And that is frightening to me.

    My very best friend, I love her to bits. But she is very vocal at times about her beliefs with regards to same sex attraction. She rejects it with all of her being, vocally and often. What would she do, if she knew? Would she second guess every hug? Would she be afraid I would make her daughters "turn gay"? Would she think I'm perverted? I'm not attracted to her sexually or anything. We are like sisters. And I confide in her everything. Except this. Except this one thing that would likely tear our relationship apart.

    Congratulations to you for your mission service. I wanted to serve one, but ended up married instead. All four of my children have expressed a desire to go on a mission. I hope they can. I hope they do. My oldest daughter . . . she loves the church. She loves the Lord. But I found a note in her pocket once, when I was doing laundry. She wrote to a friend that she thinks she is bi-sexual. (She's 16, and just beginning to notice these things.) I love her, and support her no matter what. Anyways, here I am rambling. Sorry. This is the first time, EVER, I have EVEr put any of this in print.

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    1. Courageous. I don't have advice, but you have my support. Good luck to you *when* you decide to let those closest to you in.

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    2. As long as you're not willing to act on the attraction, have you thought about the possibility that women's bodies are just more beautiful to you- like maybe a horse's over an ox? I've always thought so, but the idea of touching a female sexually never tempted me in the least. Just an idea. I'd still hug you

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    3. welcome. you're not the only one. *hugs

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    4. Mens bodies are just ugly down there, plain and simple and womens bodies are not...so I can see what you are saying and I am not gay!! I am just glad I am a women and glad for the better looking body of the 2 sexes. :) haha!!

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    5. Anon @ 10:50, YOU are loved and supported no matter what. Wishing you courage and strength, wherever your path leads you,

      -B

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    6. Ditto to Anon. at 2/5/13, 3:14

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  18. Josh, thanks for the post! And to Anonymous at 10:50am, thank you for your comments. It is scary to put that out there, but this is a safe place. I hope that if you ever do confide in your best friend that it goes well.
    PS I laughed and laughed at the tree of life shower! I don't know how I knew about that at the MTC, but I did. I guess our elders told us when we were there.

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  19. Very interesting! I so appreciate your total honesty.

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  20. Thank you so much for your honesty, Josh (and Lolly). It must feel a little terrifying, but it sure strengthens myself and my SSA husband. God bless you both.

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  21. Josh, thank you. For this post, for your blog, for your courage, for your perseverance, etc. etc. etc. Whenever I read your blog, I get this beautiful sense of your love of God and love of fellow men. It is inspiring. What an example you are to so many people, and you have affected my life in such a positive way. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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  22. Thank you, as always, for you openness and insight. I wanted to share an interesting correlation. I grew up with feelings of unworthiness, of "if they really knew, they wouldn't be my friend". I hadn't thought about that in years until this post and comments. I believed that of myself as a result of growing up in an emotionally / physically / sexually abusive home. Maybe those feelings stem from carrying a secret about oneself?

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    1. I LIKE that insight.

      It rings more true than any other explanation I've ever heard. Maybe not true in all cases, but true in every case I can think of / know (including the inverse).

      -grey!

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    2. Whoa. Lightbulb moment here. I grew up in the house of a hoarder. It was so humiliating to me. We were poor, our house was filthy. I never allowed anyone in my home. I think my high school boyfriend thought I was ashamed of him because I never let him in the house. Anyway, I do feel a constant sense of insecurity, like I am a fraud. I question myself in so many ways, and I have a lot of anxiety over my "image."

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  23. Thank you Josh for being so vulnerable. I'm still learning how to do that without being hurt. Love to you both.

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  24. Josh... loved the post... you always make me think and usually make me laugh. I have a friend who said his mission helped him understand how it was possible to have intimacy with a male... not sexual, but soulish. He and his mission parter were like brothers. Later, as my friend came to terms with his sexual orientation, he was able to form solid relationships with potential partners based on how he developed relationships in his two year mission. Today, he is happily partnered with a great guy... going on 11 years. He recently shared this insight with his parents. It caused them to wonder if sending him on his mission was the best thing to do! ;-)

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  25. Josh,

    I loved this post! You put into words a lot of the same fears and anxieties that I have always had about fitting in with other guys. The world of men can seem to be a scary place. Thanks for articulating all of that so well. I too served a mission, and like you had little to no problem with attractions during that time. It's true that serving a mission teaches a lot about true manhood and personal development. It was the best decision I ever made! Lucky me though, by the time I went through the MTC there was more privacy in the showers. :)

    Thanks for the beautiful post!

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  26. I had many of the same concerns about fitting in before I left on my mission (though my bishop and stake president asked if I was too worried about it to go, and I said no). In my situation I think it was best for me to go to another country, because I had to work on fitting into a different culture anyway, and some straight-man culture got rolled in with it. I might not have been so open to change had I stayed in the States. My mission was a transformative and life-affirming experience for me; it has influenced the course of my life and many of my decisions ever since. It might not be for everyone, but it absolutely worked out for this gay kid.

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  27. Thank you for your continued openness and brutal honesty. You are adding more to the discussion by your frankness than by any other trait.

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  28. Hi, Josh. As you are a therapist - you know that it is pretty common for gay men to feel as you did about not being masculine enough, about not fitting in? It's pretty classic, isn't it? And even more so when the message is that being gay is wrong. Gay men typically and for a long time feel apart from other men. I'm going to be pretty blunt because I know you won't publish my comment and I actualy ask you not to because all it will do is cause huge outrage in the comments because I am not status quo-ing.
    It sounds like you were having the typical young gay man feelings about not fitting in, about masculinity, etc. and maybe trying to tell yourself a story about it so that you didn't have to think of yourself as a young gay man maybe being attracted to some of the men on his mission (as straight women and men are in some situations often without intending to be). Have you ever really looked at why you didn't feel that you fit in with other men - I know that it is a sensitive subject but maybe realizing that it is very common among gay men might help? you have and continue to sublimate a huge huge part of yourself - that is going to crop up somewhere, it has to. Again, you're a therapist, surely you understand this better than I do! Physician heal thyself type thing.
    I think it is unrealistic to expect that other gay men will have no problem just like you on a mission. Please remember, you are the leader here to gay Mormon men. It's not so much what you say, but what you do. If you could go on a mission and be fine, then so can they, they will feel.

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    1. I ended up publishing this because I didn't find it at all offensive--your points are worth considering. (Feel free to delete it if you'd rather, though.)

      I'm sure my feelings of not fitting in were/are typical of other gay men. However, I don't follow what you mean with "trying to tell yourself a story about it so that you didn't have to think of yourself as a young gay man maybe being attracted to some of the men on his mission." I self-identified as gay back then, and completely anticipated feeling feelings of attraction for men from time to time.

      I have examined why I don't fit in at length. For me, it feels pathological. I can identify very faulty thinking surrounding those beliefs about myself. Beliefs that are shame-based and not healthy. I think most people have some deep shame that they have to sift through during adulthood.

      I agree that a mission might not be appropriate for every young gay man. I think you make a valid point in noting this.

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  29. I loved this post and I love our inspired leaders who knew EXACTLY what you needed. My husband says often that his mission is where he learnt to be a man - before that he was just a boy. I hope my sons feel the same way. (The hubby also took a picture of the Tree of Life Showers and they have their very own page in his mission scrapbook. TOO horrifying. lol!)

    (and as an aside - I am totally outing myself as a Lolly!fangirl. *giggles* She's a keeper!)

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  30. Loved this post and loved seeing pictures of young Elder Weed.

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  31. I love hearing more about how difficult it can be to deal with the "world of men". IMHO, there is also a "world of women" with its own codes and set ways of communicating that are sometimes healthy and sometimes, especially when it leads to ignoring the real and many faceted person in front of you (or inside you), not so healthy.

    My experience as a mother for the past 20 years is that being male carries with it some huge challenges when it comes to moving from the sphere of home to the larger social sphere.

    As a mom I find myself doing an awful lot of praying. Sort of like that character in "Hill Street Blues" who ended each meeting with "and let's be careful out there" - lets indeed try to treat ourselves and those we meet with great care and gentleness.

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  32. As a gay young man serving a mission I felt incredibly insecure but did not really understand it or examine it until reading this post. This has been very eye opening for me and has helped me understand better some of my feelings from my mission and even insecurities I still have. Thank you for being so open and honest.

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  33. Hey Josh -- This awesome post as inspired me to write a related post for our blog, I am almost done and I would really like to steal your words "the fraternity of maleness" for my title. I wanted to ask your permission as I don't want to break some blogging etiquette rules. ;) If you read this please reply. Thx - Mrs. IDM :)

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  34. I love these posts so much. Really. I don't know what else to say. So just thanks. I feel like writing the first presidency and telling them about this blog. haha.

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  35. Thank you for your courage in being vulnerable and sharing such personal emotions and experiences on your blog with the public.

    This post has inspired me to share something on my blog that I think may help others. As terrifying as the thought is, I know it will help someone. Your light shines through the attics of memories, casting away fear.

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  36. Thank you for this. There were 2 things that stood out and really made a difference to me: A) Your explanation about your issues with Male Bonding. I have felt this way as a female. I often feel like an outsider. Like I have to have the basics explained to me. I am a Female who does really well in the Male world. I Am however very much straight.... I think what you said helped me settle into the conflicting roles. I don't know if this helps YOU in any way ;-)

    B) Your paragraph about the Apostle who decided to ignore what the Missionary Department advised was VERY faith strengthening for me. Thank you!

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  37. A. I care a lot about ice cream. Please don't judge me did this.
    B. the only time I felt like I really belonged somewhere was when I was serving a mission. I'm not gay but this post meant a lot me.

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  38. C. Thank you for making it so I don't have to put on those letters to prove I'm not a robot when I'm publishing a comment.
    D. On my blog I'm publishing a coming out post of my own but not as a gay person.
    Ashlee-Adkins@blogspot.com.

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