Monday, December 31, 2012

My Story -Part 1

I'm realizing that it's now been several months since I posted the preview for my story and I have yet to share any of my story. I plan to remedy that today by sharing the first part of my story. As of right now, I don't know how many parts of my story there will be. Just keep watching for them, and eventually I will end when I've gotten up to date.

As I start my story, I believe that in order to better know me, it is important to know my family as well. And so I would like to first introduce my parents.

My father, Michael Coon, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and grew up, for the most part, in Sandy, Utah. He was the only child that his parents had together. That's not to say he was an only child, as both had been previously married and had children with their former spouses. My grandma's other children also lived with my grandparents when my dad was born, and while he was growing up, so he had siblings around, though the one closest to him in age was nine years older than him.

My dad served an LDS mission in what was at the time the Central Canadian Mission, which mostly covered Alberta and Saskatchewan. He went on to get a degree in Commercial Art from Utah Tradetech (the predecessor to Salt Lake Community College). I consider him to be a very talented artist. He has worked in several different fields through his life, though the majority of it has been spent working in construction (primarily as a drywaller). My dad is also a movie buff, and knows a lot of trivia about movies and actors.

My mother, Cynthia Zobell, was also born in Salt Lake City, and grew up in the Cottonwood area (which has since been incorporated into Murray). She was the third of five children in her family, and the only girl. There was an age difference of several years between her and her next oldest brother, as well as her next youngest brother.

After high school she attended the University of Utah, going on to get a degree in Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Development. She taught pre-school in our home for several years while her children were still young, later teaching at pre-school programs sponsored by the local district, and once all of her children had started school, she began teaching full-time as an elementary school teacher. I remember growing up that reading was a hobby of hers, and is probably something that I inherited from her.

My parents first met on a blind date. They dated for several months before being engaged. After a several month long engagement, they married in the Salt Lake Temple. They lived in a couple of different apartments in the year or so after they were first married, and by the time I was born a year and a half later, they had bought a home in Kearns, Utah.

My parents first started trying to have children soon after they were married. My mom's first two pregnancies ended in miscairrages, which was heartbreaking for both of my parents, but even more so for my mom. After the miscairrages, they took a break for a while to recover from the experiences. On their next attempt, I was concieved, and I was born a little over a year and a half after they married. My birth was welcome for this young family, but was not without its challenges.

My birth was not an easy one. I was a week overdue and weighed over nine pounds, which was quite challenging for a first-time mother to deliver. I also experienced some head trauma during my delivery, and had seizures during the first month or so of my life. I was fortunate that they stopped after that.

Beyond that, my infancy was probably unremarkable in most ways (though my parents might disagree, as raising the first child in a family generally tends to be an adventure). At any rate, I don't remember much of my "toddlerhood." My first memories start around the time I was two years old, and also coincide with the birth of my brother, Matt.

* * * * *

Though I have only gotten to the age of two years old, this seems like a good stopping point for now (though you can also blame it on the fact that I waited until it was rather late in the day to start writing this post). But I will continue on with my story in the coming weeks and months.

As this is my last blog post of the year, and it is New Year's Eve, I'd like to wish you a Happy New Year! I'll end with the following quote that I came across earlier today:

"Whether we want them or not, the New Year will bring new challenges; whether we seize them or not, the New Year will bring new opportunities."

May we all learn and grow from these challenges and opportunities that come with the New Year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

New LDS Website and Dialogue Within the Church

Earlier this month, the LDS Church launched a new website at the URL The site is titled, "Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction." Overall, I have been impressed with this new website, which is landmark for the Church in several ways.

First, this is one of the first times that a statement by the Church or representatives of the Church have referred to gays and lesbians without being prefaced with "so-called" or "those that refer to themselves as" or something similar along those lines. I am pleased to see that the Church has learned to be more respectful in discussions with and about gays and lesbians. Some statements made in the past have sounded demeaning or offensive to people that embrace a gay identity. It's nice to see the Church changing the language used around this issue.

Second, this website encourages respect and inclusion of gay family members and others that make different choices concerning their sexuality than the Church counsels. In one of the videos posted on the website, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says, "let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach...and...not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle."

Third, as also shown by Elder Cook's quote, the Church is encouraging members to reach out with love and compassion to gays and lesbians, as well as "respond[ing] sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere." Although calling for compassion and love towards gays and lesbians is not completely new for the Church, this is the first time that this much emphasis has been placed on it.

That being said, I believe there is still room for improvement in how the Church approaches the subject. Some of the wording used in the website, while better than before, can still come off as demeaning to gays and lesbians. Some of this is due to the terminology used (and I could write a whole post just on terminology, and likely will some time soon), though some of it is just using a poor or awkward choice of words.

The website does emphasize that the doctrine concerning expression of sexuality remains the same. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles says in one of the videos posted on the website, "the doctrine of the Church, that sexual activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married, has not changed and is not changing. But what is changing and what needs to change is to help our own members and families understand how to deal with same gender attraction." The change that Elder Oaks refers to is much of what I've mentioned above: inclusion and respect of gay family members and others who choose not to follow the Church doctrine around sexuality, as well as increasing understanding among members of the Church that same-sex attraction itself is not chosen and is not sinful.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I am quite open about my sexuality. There is one place, however, where I have not been very open about it, and that is in my own ward. I have made my bishop and several others in leadership in my ward aware of my sexuality, but I haven't been open with my ward at large, because I haven't been sure how well members of my ward understand same-sex attraction. I haven't felt completely safe revealing this aspect of my life at church, though I should also state that this is in part due to the fact that I am still relatively new in my ward and haven't had the time to get to know very many members of my ward.

My hope is that as the discussion and dialogue around homosexuality increases in the Church (and as I get to know and trust the members of my ward) that I will find it safe to discuss my sexuality within my ward. Many members of wards that I have attended in the past have learned about my sexuality when I came out publicly earlier this year. Many responded to me with love and support. My hope is that I will receive the same type of response when I share this with my current ward (whenever that might be).

If you have any thoughts or insights on this new website or on dialogue within the Church concerning homosexuality, please share it with a comment. Let's keep the discussion going.

And as this is my last blog post before Christmas, I also want to take the time to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and an enjoyable holiday season! Best wishes to all of you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Brief Introduction to Change

This blog post will address what is likely the most controversial topic that I've discussed so far.

Last week, four men filed a lawsuit in New Jersey against a group that offers sexual orientation change therapy (SOCT). It was reported in the New York Times and was the topic of a radio show here in Salt Lake City.

In addition, SOCT was recently banned for the treatment of minors in California (as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle), and was also recently the topic of Dr. Oz's talk show.

Many people have very strong feelings both in favor and against it. Those in favor of it say that it is a valid option for those dissatisfied with their sexual orientations and that individuals have the right to choose it. Those opposed to it say that it is dangerous, entirely ineffective, and causes far more harm than good.

I touched on this briefly in my last blog post. As I said before, the only way to have a respectful dialogue is to allow all voices to be heard.

This is also a topic that I find myself somewhere in the middle. I have some experience going through such therapy. I personally did not find it effective in changing my sexual orientation, though I also do not see myself as being harmed by it. In fact, I learned a great deal about myself while going through therapy.

Having done research over the years, and through experiences with support and therapy groups, my views on SOCT and any other sexual orientation change effort (SOCE, which is not always limited to a therapeutic setting) have evolved. Homosexuality is a complex subject that is about far more than just sex, or even sexual attraction. It also involves emotional and social aspects. My personal belief about those who experience a diminishment in their attractions or change their sexual orientation is that they are those who have learned to re-frame their attractions and fill the emotional and social aspects of them, which in turn diminishes the sexual aspect of the attractions.

From my own personal experience with this, as well as what I have seen with others, it works only as long as the attractions remain viewed as being emotional and social and those aspects of them are filled. As long as they are, they sexual aspect of them can remain diminished, at times (for some) even to the point that they disappear. But when those aspects are no longer filled, the sexual aspect of the attractions will increase again. I see those that claim success as those that have learned to permanently and regularly keep the emotional and social aspects of their same-sex attractions filled. I also think the ability of individuals to do so varies greatly.

I tend to think that sexuality is much more fluid than a lot of people believe, and a lot less so than others believe. There do seem to be some people who have achieved change through therapy, as well as those who spontaneously change without even intending to do so. There are some cases of drastic change, as well as many more of some smaller shift.

I also believe that the word "change" is often a loaded word when speaking about sexual orientation or attractions. Two people can be speaking of change and mean very different things. Some only see successful change as a complete and permanent shift from exclusively homosexual attractions (or an exclusively homosexual orientation) to exclusively heterosexual attraction (or an exclusively heterosexual orientation). Others just see a lasting change is sexual behaviors as successful change. And then there's everything in between. I find it very frustrating when individuals argue about change without being clear on what definition of change they are using. This often only results in speaking past each other and results in further misunderstanding.

Those are my thoughts on what SOCE and change are, take them for what they are. I don't personally expect such a change in myself, nor do I see it as necessary. I do, however, find fulfillment in forming emotional connections   and having social interaction with other men. It doesn't make me straight, but when I do so regularly, it does seem to take the edge off of the sexual aspect of my homosexual attractions.

As far as the controversy over SOCT itself, I will say that while I am an avid advocate of self-determination when it comes to choices around sexuality, I do believe that there are a number that practice SOCT that don't do well at practicing informed consent (which explains the lawsuit). If those that practice this type of therapy were more clear on what change means, as well as what kind of change is realistic, it would save a lot of problems all around (to say the least).

As I said, SOCE is a very controversial topic, and I know I have only just begun to touch on it. There is a strong possibility I will have more posts on SOCE and change in the future. My hope is that this brief introduction has been enlightening to those that are not familiar with it, and opens the gates for respectful dialogue for those that do have varying views on it.