In my online self-search for answers, there was one piece that really helped me reconcile my spirituality and my sexuality. It's a piece I found on Afirmation.org (which in and of itself is a wonderful website) called "For the Strength of Gay Youth". It was written in an attempt to patch holes and gaps in the pamphlet put out by the Mormon church entitled "For the Strength of Youth" in order to provide correct information about LGBT issues as it relates to the Mormon church. It also gives realistic advice and comfort for struggling LGBT members of the church without pushing any sort of anti-church agenda:
While the intentions and motivations behind the pamphlet [For the Strength of Youth] may have been positive, it has often been a source of great frustration for many youth and young adults. Unfortunately, this booklet from the First Presidency has caused many youth to experience feelings of self-loathing, self-hatred and confusion. This is especially true for youth in the Church who experience attractions to the same gender.It is my intention to provide a guide similar to the pamphlet "For the Strength of Youth", but modified so that it is especially designed to address the unique concerns of gay and lesbian youth of the Church.
Basically, the Afirmation.org version was a life-changer for me and you really should go read it.
In the original version of the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet, the LGBT youth get two sentences of guidance listed in the Sexual Purity section, and not very helpful sentences at that:
"Homosexual activity is a serious sin. If you find yourself struggling with same-gender attraction, seek counsel from your parents and bishop; they will help you" (Sexual Purity).
I'm sorry, but the bulldozer approach taken here simply doesn't cut it. No wonder so many LGBT members of the church have taken their lives because they felt unloved and unwelcome. For me though, one section of the "For the Strength of Gay Youth" piece that really hit home for me was the section titled "Entertainment and the Media" which reads thus:
The media is constantly sending us messages about who we should be, what we should look like, and how we should act. Most recently, the entertainment and media industry has found that targeting a gay and lesbian audience can bring them lots of money.13 Be aware that the people who run the media and entertainment industry are not interested in you as a person, or your self-esteem. Their only motivation is to make money. This is especially true with media that tries to send messages about what they think "looks good".We all know that what we see on TV and magazines is not usually reality. However sometimes we get so absorbed in what the media presents, that it's very easy to forget this fact. It's so easy to fall into the temptation of comparing ourselves to an image or person that simply isn't real. We all know that photos are often airbrushed and movies are very often digitally enhanced or changed, yet we still find ourselves feeling inadequate because we might not match up to what the media tells us we should be. We are all different and beautiful in our own individual ways. Don't let the media hypnotize you into thinking that you need to dress or look a certain way in order to be accepted by others. Don't let those who have already been "hypnotized" by the media drag you down either. Establish your own identity and be yourself.The media can also be very effective at telling us how we should act, react and feel about certain things. The media has been notorious for portraying certain groups of people in a very stereotypical way. This is especially true about gay and lesbian people and other minorities. This is unfortunate because not only does it misrepresent to the general public who gay and lesbian people really are, but it also makes it confusing for those who are just coming to terms with their own sexual identity. It's quite easy to feel confused when you can't identify with the gay and lesbian characters you see portrayed in movies and TV. Again, it may be obvious, but we need to be reminded that not all gay and lesbian people are like the characters on programs such as Will & Grace or Queer As Folk. If you don't feel you "fit in" with the characters on these and other programs, don't worry! It's most likely a good thing that you aren't like a character on TV!
Since I don't adhere to many gay stereotypes, this section was really comforting to me. Said explicitly, "You can't be gay because you don't act gay" seems absurd, but its surprising how much I bought into that mindset. Being bisexual, I already didn't fit comfortably into either the straight or gay worlds, I really needed this gentle reminder that I don't necessarily have to fit the stereotypes. "For the Strength of Gay Youth" concludes, beautifully:
Finally accepting the fact that you are gay or lesbian can be one of the most stress-relieving and freeing experiences that you will ever have. No longer do you have to wonder why you feel a certain way toward the same sex. No longer do you need to fight the war of feelings every day. You finally know who you are and why you feel the way you do. The next task is deciding what you will do with this "new" you [...] Above all, remember that you are in control. This is your life. You have the freedom to make it the life you want it to be.
Jeremy, I like the notion of concluding with a song, so I think I will. This is by Jónsi, the guitarist and vocalist for Sigur Rós. Jónsi is gay and performs together with his boyfriend as Jónsi and Alex. I love Jónsi because (although I have nothing against popular LGBT icons like Lady Gaga) it's nice to know that there are other great gay artists in the indie music world. Enjoy!
(No copyright infringement intended. I encourage you to buy the song legally from Amazon, iTunes, or the like)