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“Ashley” is a lifelong active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a BYU graduate. She and her husband have four children and live in the Pacific Northwest.
I am a woman, and I’m attracted to other women. I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, I was well into my thirties when I first found myself sexually drawn to a female. It began innocently with an emotional and spiritual connection. I had been married for fourteen years to my husband. He and I were experiencing a rough patch in our marriage, and I had turned to friends for support. One particular friend was especially attentive to my need for comfort and reassurance. Our interactions were always appropriate for two friends of the same sex, but I started having occasional intrusive sexual thoughts and feelings for her. I quickly brushed them aside, assuming they were a symptom of the instability in my marital relationship and no cause for a second thought.
One evening, while on a walk together, my friend disclosed her own attraction to women. As I listened to her describe her experiences with this challenge, I became suddenly very aware of the romantic interest I had in her. It was alarming, but I kept the thoughts to myself. When I went home that night, I barely slept because my attraction to her felt so intense. I decided I needed to back away from our friendship a little. I also thought I should tell her the reason for my distance so she would not misunderstand my intent. The next day, I shared these surprising feelings with her, but instead of backing away, I felt a magnetic pull toward her. The desire to be with her was overwhelming, and I was a little too honest about it in our conversations over the next few days.
I knew I desperately needed help before things got out of control. I reached out to my stake president. I had already spoken with him about the issues I was having in my marriage, but I knew this would be different. In our previous conversations, I had been seeking help to get along better with my husband. This time, I felt like a sinner. I was ashamed about the way I was thinking and feeling about my friend and telling her about it had only fueled our attraction toward each other.
Compassion and Wisdom
My stake president was compassionate. He recognized that I had done nothing wrong to have ended up attracted to my friend. He knew our friendship had been appropriate before it turned into something more dangerous. He firmly suggested that I pull back in my interactions with her. He recommended specific boundaries that would create space and safety. The next day, he reached out to me and asked me not to take the sacrament for two weeks. With that restriction, it reality hit me, this was serious. I could not take this attraction lightly because I did not want to compromise my worthiness by acting on these feelings. My friend and I painfully decided to part ways.
I was devastated.
My marriage was hanging by a thread, and my closest, most supportive friend was suddenly absent from my life. With a broken heart, I humbly turned to the Savior for healing and peace. I also tried to make sense of what had happened. Was I gay? Had I always been attracted to women? Would this ever happen again? No, I told myself, I must be confused. This can’t be real. I continued to meet with my stake president regularly for guidance and support. I needed someone to talk with about these questions. He seemed more comfortable discussing my marriage than the feelings I was having toward my friend.
The two issues weighed equally on me, but I was the one who always brought up the latter. I sensed that he felt some discomfort hearing about this part of my life. As a result, it was hard for me to say all that I wanted to say. I was already feeling ashamed about my evolving sexual orientation, so I couldn’t help but tell myself that my stake president was disgusted with me.
Looking back, the discomfort I perceived in him was likely a feeling of inadequacy, but my shame lied and said to me, you’re gross; he doesn’t want to hear about it. Still, I appreciated the time he spent with me and the counsel he gave.
We Always Have Choices
As time passed, I noticed my attraction to women wasn’t isolated only to one friendship. I felt a general longing for sexual and emotional intimacy with females. It was as if a door had been indefinitely opened inside of me. I was now aware of the feelings, and there was no way I could shove this recognition back into my unconsciousness. I noticed that the intensity of my attractions would come and go like waves washing ashore. A wave of desire for women would roll in and almost knock me off my feet, only to recede again. It took a few waves coming and going for me to accept that I was not confused about what I was experiencing. These attractions were legitimate.
Learning how to respond to these waves is an ongoing journey. With the help of a therapist, I’m recognizing a genuine need in my life for a variety of meaningful relationships with women. I’ve accepted that sometimes these needs can become sexualized, and that’s okay. I don’t need to fight the feelings. However, I always have choices. I can choose how I want to live my life. I want to keep my covenants, continue working on my relationship with my husband, and take more care in my friendships with women. I was grateful, after moving to a new ward, for a bishop who encouraged me to spend time getting to know the sisters in Relief Society. Once again, my shame had lied and told me he would want to keep me from bonding too much with the other women in the ward. Instead, he helped me feel understood and accepted.
“Please Calm Me”
I was recently on a flight across the United States when I learned a valuable lesson. First, you should know that I’m a nervous flyer. Even though I understand the relative safety of air travel, my anxiety soars along with the plane. On this flight, we were hitting frequent patches of turbulence. My mind and body were reacting with panic. I battled my terror in silence so as not to draw attention to myself from other calm and collected passengers. I did what I always do at times when I fear for my life – I prayed. My first inclination was to ask Heavenly Father to calm the winds so I would not have to be afraid, but instead, I thought, Heavenly Father, please calm me. I repeated this request in my head as we bumped and swayed above the clouds. Please calm me. I noticed my fear decreasing, and I felt more relaxed. I continued praying throughout the flight, reminding myself to trust God. The pilot and flight attendants occasionally instructed us to keep our seatbelts fastened. I listened intently to their voices to gauge whether or not there was any real danger. They sounded calm. This reassured me that everything was fine.
The moments of rough air on my flight reminded me of the times in my life when my attractions seem more than I can handle. Sometimes I really want the feelings to stop, but I know that challenges are part of mortality. They help us grow. Whether it be unexpected romantic feelings for a female friend or any other type of turbulence in my life, trials are going to keep coming. When difficulties will not cease, I can pray for Heavenly Father to calm me and bless me with peace and understanding.
Being Tempted Does Not Make Us a Sinner
Occasionally, I look toward a church leader for a comforting voice when I feel weighed down by guilt or fear. My bishop can’t change my attractions any more than the pilot can make the air stop jostling the plane, but he can reassure me of my Heavenly Father’s love. He can counsel me about ways to protect my spirit. He can offer a soothing testimony of the Savior in a way that lets me know I’m safe when I turn to Christ. He can remind me to continue praying and trusting God. He can help me understand that being tempted doesn’t make me a sinner. When I make a mistake, he can teach me that repentance doesn’t need to involve shame. He can see the good in me and help me see it in myself.
He Strengthens Me
I’m grateful that Christ keeps calling me back when I feel pulled in other directions. With the Savior, I find healing, peace, and grace through every trial. I feel my Heavenly Father’s kindness whether I succeed or fail. Sometimes I run to Him. At other times, He waits with open arms as I cling desperately to my selfish desires, but He’s always there when I reach for Him. He helps me grow through every mistake. I can share my feelings with Him, including my attractions, and He understands. He doesn’t condemn me, but He strengthens me to do His will when I surrender to Him.
I’m grateful for the experiences these attractions give me. Even though it has been difficult at times, I’ve gained a better understanding of Heavenly Father’s love and the hope that we find through His son, Jesus Christ.