Sunday, August 5, 2012

Farewell, Elder Roxas

For nearly five years, I've been a member of an online community of Mormons who deal with same gender attractions. For the most part, this group consists of men (and some women) in their later years. Since I joined, and even before, there have not been many who are younger than twenty-five.

As I've grown increasingly antagonistic towards the LDS church, its history, its policies, and its leadership, I've been the source of a few spats in this community. 

Two weeks ago, one young man named Paul (who had not posted in the three years he was a member) posted something brave, about reconciling his spiritual life with his choice to have homosexual relationships. Although he wrote he felt strong in his Mormonism, his strongest point was to reveal the community's guilt and shame as needless symptoms of demonizing our sexuality and our body, and he encouraged the group in general to overcome its habits. The group collectively discredited and mocked him. For me, along with several other things this summer, this was the last straw. 

What follows is my 'letter of resignation' from the group.

This will come as a relief to a number of people who are members of [this group].

Although this is not the first time I say goodbye, it will be the last.

Some weeks ago, I woke up to something disturbing.

My mother was standing in my kitchen. My roommate made odd faces about her. I rubbed away the sleep in my eyes. She was impatient to get me out of my apartment to tell me something.

Stubbornly, as I walked through the door, I thought, “This had better be quick, mother. Last night, my best friend left me a message...maybe we’ve finally started speaking again since he came back from his mission six months ago. And, the first thing I want to do today is call him back.”

My mother was very bothered. More than usual. I’d thought this had something to do with my eviction notice, which had been sitting on the kitchen table.

My mother cleared her throat, and told me last night my best friend had been in an accident up the canyon. I stared. “He’s dead, honey,” she said at last.

It was all over the news. Reporters had stolen his picture from his facebook. The earliest reports had hit the airwaves before the sheriff had even notified his next of kin.

He was with a girl, exploring an old spillway pipe, built during a mudslide in 1983 which is still on record as the most catastrophic (and the most expensive) mudslide disaster in the history of this country. The pipe is only gated on one side -- the other drops off on the other side of the mountain as a rocky cliff, where one can still see the trauma from the old mudslide. The years self-destruct in the dirt; 1920s rooftops poke out of the grass, a 1950s truck is embedded into a river bank. Surrounding the area are shot up TVs and metal sheets, nearby is the shooting range for the county sheriffs. It cannot be properly called a ghost town, yet it is uniquely desolate.

My friend had never been to this place before. But the girl had, and my friend was trained like every other young Mormon male to only desire an early marriage. This, evidently, is “one of those places” local teenagers and BYU zoobies go, thinking they are being dangerous, young, wild, and free. I will never forget there was no moon that night. So it was dark. No one’s sure what happened. He heard a noise, and whether he lost his balance or slipped, he fell off the cliff: headfirst, down nearly eighty feet.

Although he came to several times in the helicopter on the way to the hospital, it was, as the sheriff told me, obvious he would not survive. He was more or less given up for dead. But he was dead to me long before that night.

This boy was my best friend because he was the truest friend I’d ever had to help me deal with my same gender attractions. He took it more seriously than my bishop, my father, or my few other friends who knew about my struggles. He was passionate about me. He knew I could be happy, that I could eventually fall in love -- with a girl. His spiritual strength was unmatched...I’ve never met a single Mormon with a stronger heart than his.

He was years younger than me, a Californian and new in my neighborhood, and while it took a few years for him to get along with anyone else his age in the ward, he and I were best friends immediately. But, it wasn’t long before we began to fight. He was frustrated I wasn’t trying hard enough, and I was just frustrated with myself.

The moment came, about five years ago, when I realized my friend would get everything I would never have. A mission calling, a temple marriage, beautiful children...all this would be his, because of his faithfulness. I wouldn’t ever have those things. I wanted him to be happy, even though I would never have those things. Because I loved him so much.

Eventually we were forced to put distance between us. His parents forbade him from associating with me because I was 19 and not on a mission.

Five years did a lot to me. I was abandoned by church leaders and ward members. Certain past members of [this group] were harsh with my weakening faith. And when I prayed, the heavens were silent. I was afraid of living and dying alone. So, I started my first romantic relationship -- with a guy, from a nearby town. It lasted a summer before ending in a terrible heartbreak, and a lot of things about my world began to change. I stopped going to church. I began to study other religions. I played with tarot cards and ouija boards and studied atheism. I experimented with drinking, drugs, sex, and rock music. I hung out with Communists, philosophers, Buddhists, journalists, the clinically insane, and city punks living in poverty. I met the devil in London. I got lost in the desert and nearly froze to death. I made and lost several friends. I met another guy...and fell in love for the first time with someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with...but from doubts and fears I rejected him -- to my everlasting regret. And all the while my "best friend" was on the other side of town, preparing for his mission call.

This summer was a most unprecedented time, because I have never known such difficult times. An unfair dispute with my landlord threatened me with another season of homelessness. New government regulation of education has taken away my financial aid, and now two semesters away from finishing my degree, I have no choice but to abandon everything -- which, in turn, forced me to quit my job (because I was working for the school). I’ve watched all my friends turn on one another in betrayal and distrust. Others have broken relationships or defeated dreams. Recent events throughout the world have slowly broken my faith in humanity -- now that my faith in God is all but gone.

College dropout. Homeless. Nearly starving (I spent a week or two eating out of a peanut butter jar). I'd never felt more lost, when my mother showed up in my kitchen that fateful morning. 

I’ve never known if my friend would accept me as I am now, with all my mistakes. And now, I’ll never know. This is the first time someone close to me has died. He died young, and he died violently, and only out of respect for the God he believed in do I not curse the heavens why on earth did it have to be him, why did it have to be now. This is not more than I can stand, but it is enough. It is all, all I can stand. And I am truly lost.

The distance of five years, death has made eternal. I cared about him more than I’ve ever cared about anyone...including my family, including myself. I’d have given my life up for him, and still would. Christ suggested this is perhaps the greatest love we can have. I am lucky to have found that love, and I am either blessed or cursed that love is not for a woman. I have all but given myself to the road to perdition. He could have had everything. I don’t know why God has spared me but taken him, whom I loved so. Now, he is dead. His broken body lies in an overcrowded cemetery. And I? I cannot put my love anywhere. There was so much of it, and that love is now as alone as me. And I have never felt so alone in my life.

I have never told members [here] to stop believing in the gospel. I have never encouraged others to leave the church. I have never encouraged others to break the law of chastity. I have never said a word of denial against God, Christ, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or the faith of the men and women on this list.

All I ever wanted others to know is the fulness of joy that comes from a truly intimate relationship with someone of the same gender -- like the one I had with my best friend.

But I cannot continue to be part of a community that continually treats me as if I am an enemy. If my spiritual beliefs and respectful solidarity is not enough -- if committed activity and strict adherence to authority and policy is what’s required -- then I truly have no place among the Mormons anymore.

Paul was not hated because he suggested it is not a sin in God’s eyes to kiss another man. Paul was hated because he was the first in years, six or seven at least, to suggest this community comes together over SGA because we all come together over our immense guilt, shame, and fear about SGA. We even give it an acronym, like it’s a disease. We talk about our so-called addictions to masturbation and pornography, counting the periods of abstinence as “victories.” We talk about what we’ve overcome, what temptations we’ve beaten. We focus on what causes us guilt, what makes us ashamed to even pray at night -- the sexual desires we repress, the erotic impulses we feel nearly consumed by, and we talk of these things as we talk of The Enemy. And yet, when one among us who barely (or, in Paul’s case, never) speaks up -- in expression of discovered happiness and spiritual peace in what he has found between him and his Heavenly Father, he is called false, implicated in some abstract corruption, denounced as an enticer to evil, and criticized as a rationalizer of sin.

All I wanted was to share what I’ve learned with others...that I’ve learned, love is all we have in this life. That’s why Christ thought it was so important. Love can cross any limit, any distance. Love is all we have, no matter who we find it with. No matter the distance, I will always feel connected to my friend, a love beyond limits for that headstrong boy from California. I trusted him, felt safe in his home, in his room, in his arms. I loved the sound of his laughter, his dark eyes, his smile. His faith was nothing short of inspiring, and it matters not his faith was in Mormonism: he loved me, and told me so. I never told him I loved him back. I had friends like him who gave me everything, loved me so much...I had lovers who loved me so much more. I couldn’t trust any of them, or feel safe around them, because I’ve lost my faith in myself, my faith in my ability to connect with other men.

Now, I go in search of that faith. And God and Mormons, it seems, I must put behind me.

Most of my old emails between me and my friend are on this account. And I'm about to delete it. It seems there is no longer any use for it.

So, goodbye.

-- Elder Roxas

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