I had an amazing time at General Conference. My wife and I travelled with our Bishop and his wife up to Utah. It was the shortest trip we ever made, enjoying each other's company. We stayed at my cousin's house as we usually do, because he has room and he invited us to be with them. However, we spent most of our free time with our daughters who are attending BYU.
Sunday morning, before everyone else was up and coming over for a family breakfast prior to the 10 am session, I had time with my cousin. He is 10 years older than I, a father of 10, well educated, a humble man of God. We love each other in a brotherhood enriched by our mutual testimonies of the Gospel and the Lord's Spirit. I have always respected him greatly, trusted his judgement, and admired his family. I've shared with him some of my problems and feelings in the past, but I've never disclosed my orientation. So as we were talking together this last Sunday morning, about the unknown future of my life, I felt the great desire to tell him of my recent spiritual progress in Arizona and of my faith in the future. But the words were sounding hollow to me, lacking evidence or connection to what I've experienced. And then I said, rather impulsively, "I'm not sure if you ever suspected through my personality or behavior, but I am same sex attracted." He smiled quietly and acknowledged that he had not known, but yet he did not act surprised. After all, he's known me for over 40 years; I lived with his young family during my freshman year at BYU. We talked about the trials of life and the Lord's refining of our hearts. He confided in me of a personal tragedy that occurred in his family and we agreed together how these struggles of ours impact so many other things downstream, yet give us depth and faith if we so choose. He had no condemnation of my reality, only compassion and admiration of my faith and perseverance. I felt truly understood. I'm not sure why I haven't confided in him sooner; perhaps it was the fear of disappointing him.
My cousin has faithfully served decades as a Bishop, in a Stake Presidency and currently on a Stake High Council; so he has a well-developed experience base for church discipline. He said several interesting things: the church understands there are multiple origins for SSA. This contributes to the great complexity and dilemma of how church policy should appropriately respond to all members fairly. He personally believes there is a gay genetic component for part of the SSA population, which is beyond a person's control. But there also is evidence that SSA can be a learned or developed behavior brought on by abuse, culture, people's circumstances, as well as personal choices, curiosity, etc. Given all this, what is a reasonable response to one member might be a condoning of sin for another. I had never thought of it in this light. Overall, he said his observation of church courts for members involved in homosexual activity were judged by the same criteria as heterosexual adultery, and that long histories of damaging dishonesty were more of a common denominator for excommunication than just sexual behavior.
He also talked about a principle he called 'The Law of Compensation,' his belief in eternal rewards given to those who bear extraordinary burdens in this life. I think this follows with the idea of the Law of the Harvest. He felt that this applied to the gay community of saints, because there is no good answer answer for them in the church at this time. I'm not so sure that I feel specially burdened, but I believe there are many people who deal with great injustice and abuse in life, and I hope that special consideration will be granted to their trials.
Then my cousin dropped a personal bombshell. It is his speculation that our paternal grandfather, my namesake who died before I was born, was gay! I've heard the same anecdotal evidences from his life, but I never put it together the same way. My grandfather grew up on the Maine coast, separated from his family as a young man at the turn of the century, took on the life of a sailor, spent several years in Hawaii, Alaska and Washington as a single man before returning home to start a family and marry my grandmother at the age of 35. It was said they both believed sex was for procreation; they had only two children. My grandfather was a skilled craftsman and he had a woodshop that was a gathering place for men in the town. He loved his association with men; he had a respectful but independent marriage with my grandmother. My father attributed these somewhat unique behaviors to the New England culture he was raised in, and I always just accepted that explanation; what a pause for re-consideration my cousin brought to me this weekend!
I think as we seek to understand our family history, we can find the pieces that put together our individual puzzles, which brings a sense of wholeness, satisfaction and identity.