Response to BYU “It Gets Better” Video


By nosehtaM divaD
July 2012

EDITORIAL NOTE: Perspectives shared in North Star’s Community Voices feature are the responsibility of essay authors alone and do not represent the official position of North Star or the beliefs of all members in North Star leadership and community. There are a diversity of perspectives and beliefs one can hold while still maintaining fidelity to the central doctrines and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and North Star heartily welcomes that diversity of perspective.

My name is David Matheson. I graduated from BYU twice. I am a Latter-day Saint. And I’m not gay—though I might have been.

I watched the recently released “It Gets Better” YouTube video featuring gay and lesbian BYU students with very mixed feelings. As a psychotherapist with lengthy experience working with these issues, I’m happy to see this meaningful effort to encourage, lift, love, and protect those with same-sex attraction (SSA). Many of them suffer from doubt, hopelessness, and loss of desire to live. Some become suicidal. It’s time something was done to intervene in this unfolding tragedy.

And as one who has personally experienced SSA, I could relate to the students in the video. I too know what it’s like to feel shame, confusion, and anguish because of homosexual feelings. I remember the secrecy and alienation, the pleading with God to take away the feelings, the fears about my future, and the seemingly unanswered prayers. I too tried to bargain with God but found that increased personal righteousness did nothing to lessen the intensity of my attractions.

Ultimately, the video left me disquieted because of three falsehoods that it supports and one truth that it completely avoids. The three falsehoods are that God is okay with homosexuality, that accepting yourself as a “gay Mormon” will make things better, and that homosexuality can’t be changed. The truth it avoids is that homosexuality has specific, known causes.

I know the falsehoods are wrong because my own life experience disproves them, because my 20 years of interactions with hundreds of SSA men disprove them, and because the words of past and present prophets disprove them. I know the truth about what causes homosexuality from years of hearing the causes repeated again and again with little variation.

I want to correct the errors and tell the truths the video avoids. In brief, God is not okay with homosexuality, accepting yourself as a “gay Mormon” will not make things better long-term, homosexuality is caused by childhood circumstances, and most importantly, homosexuality can be changed. I can only speak of these things as they relate to SSA men because that is where my experience lies.

Let me begin by addressing the causes of homosexuality. Most people who label themselves as gay believe that homosexuality is caused by genetic or biological factors. This belief became very popular in the 1990s when researchers tried to link homosexuality with genes, brain anatomy, and hormones. But this research was far from conclusive and efforts to replicate it seem to have failed.

My extensive experience has overwhelmingly confirmed to me that SSA is caused, not by genes or biology, but by early life experiences, which are reported in various combinations with almost monotonous regularity. With extremely rare exceptions, men have described childhood circumstances that create a pathway leading to a sense of incongruity with their own gender and ruptures in their bonds with other males.

These conditions can create tremendous internal stress and emotional turmoil for those so affected. As humans, we need to feel congruent with our own gender and we need to experience warm and satisfying friendships with others of our own sex. When this doesn’t happen, our unmet emotional needs may eventually grow into almost compulsive sexual urges.

In my own life, I struggled with both gender incongruity and lack of bonding with other males. Growing up, I felt grossly inadequate as a boy. I became detached from males due to a strained relationship with my father and bullying that began in mid-elementary school. As a result, I became extremely hungry for maleness. I was very drawn to masculine boys and their bodies. And I longed for better friendships with boys. It was these urges to connect with my own maleness and with other boys that became sexualized for me. And this is consistent with what many others have described.

The overwhelming evidence of these stories leaves no room in my mind for the flimsy and unproven biological explanations of homosexuality. It is important to note that even the highly political and gay-affirmative American Psychological Association (APA) has adopted a more reasonable tone on this by at least admitting that they don’t know what causes homosexuality.

Though false, the widely believed idea that people are born homosexual provides a foundation for another idea supported by the video: that God is okay with homosexuality. The chain of logic goes like this: God made me; I was made gay; therefore, God made me to be gay. And since He loves me, and made me gay, God must be okay with homosexuality.

The fallacies in this logic are tightly woven in among some eternal truths. For example, it is true that God made us. But it is not true that He made anyone gay. The essential nature of gender and heterosexuality in the Gospel plan leaves no room for this thought. Also, it is true that God loves all his children, regardless of our inclinations and regardless of how we act on those inclinations. But it is not true that God is okay with homosexuality. God counts as evil everything that prevents us from reaching exaltation, which requires eternal heterosexual marriage. Even if it is not acted on, being gay diverts one from the path of eternal progression.

The idea that accepting yourself as a “gay Mormon” will make things better is repeated throughout the video. But the problem of reconciling gay sexuality with gospel living is scarcely mentioned. The only way these may be reconciled, without ignoring key doctrines and laws, is for the individual to remain entirely celibate throughout life and then to hope for a cure to their dilemma in the next life.

From what I’ve experienced in my own life, and seen in the lives of so many others, I believe it is nearly impossible for gay men to remain celibate long-term. Consider that those who are dealing with homosexuality have a double sexual challenge. First, they experience the normal bodily sexual desires that are universal to all. In addition, they experience the sexualized compulsions to obtain masculinity and to bond with other men. The challenge of normal desires makes being a celibate gay Mormon difficult. When compounded by the challenge of sexualized compulsions, it becomes virtually impossible.

There is a third challenge to maintaining celibacy: permission. With all the feelings and desires pushing men with SSA toward homosexual behavior, it often takes just a small amount of permission to send them over the edge into acting out. Adopting a gay identity, which typically includes the beliefs that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable and that God is okay with homosexuality, can provide that permission. Let me illustrate this with a true story.

A few days after the “It Gets Better” video was released, which coincided with a gay forum sponsored by a BYU sociology class, a friend forwarded to me a post that a BYU student had sent to an SSA-related listserve. In this post, the student described a chain of events that began with the forum and led to him having sex for the first time with another young man on campus, all within 48 hours.

In his post, the student mentioned attending the forum and later being influenced by a friend who had just come out as gay. The friend said he believes that “God still loves him regardless of how he acts on [his homosexuality].” The student commented that he’s “heard that same view from many others.” The post continued: “when he said that, it just finally clicked in my head how freeing that sounds.” Can you hear the permission? Next, the student described using electronic media to find another young man living nearby with whom he “ended up going ‘all the way.’”

The rapidness of this young man’s descent, once permission was given, makes the story dramatic. Other men might have had more resolve and may have lasted longer. But imagine trying to withstand the pressure of unmet sexual desires and emotional needs throughout your life while also espousing gay ideology, which provides ample permission to give in to your urges. My observation has been that adopting a gay identity is one of the steps toward leaving the church. Thus I believe that the term “gay Mormon” doesn’t actually refer to a sustainable lifestyle. Rather, I believe it refers to a transition period—to gay from Mormon.

Perhaps the most disturbing idea suggested by the video is that homosexuality is unchangeable. I wish to leave no uncertainty on this topic. Thirty years ago I was primarily attracted to males. Though I did date girls and eventually married, my attractions toward women were weak and more intellectual than physical. In order to succeed sexually with my wife, I sometimes relied on homosexual fantasies. That has changed radically. Today I am sexually attracted to women and intimacy with my wife is extremely fulfilling. I have no need or interest in homosexual fantasies. My attractions toward other males have decreased to the level of admiration and normal desires for friendship.

My experience is common among the men with whom I have worked who committed to making lasting changes by applying the Atonement with perseverance and the help of therapy. Many who were already married have stabilized their marriages, overcome their desires for homosexual behaviors, and shifted their attractions from predominantly homosexual to mostly heterosexual. Many who were single have likewise changed their behaviors and attractions and have been able to enter into fulfilling heterosexual marriages.

The video assures us that “it gets better,” though I must say that the claim never sounds very certain or compelling. How does it get better? What makes it better? And what does “better” mean? We are left to wonder. Did it get better for the student who attended the forum then “went all the way”? We know God still loves him. But we can only imagine the consequences this young gay Mormon is about to face. The video doesn’t address that stage nor does it tell us how it gets better.

I can tell you with certainty that it did get better for me. And I can tell you how. To begin with, I never defined myself as gay. I loved and accepted myself as I was but refused to stay that way. I worked hard, both in and out of therapy, at resolving the issues underlying my attractions. I surrendered all inappropriate behaviors. And I developed my potential as a man. Granted, it was not as simple or as easy as this sounds, but it did work. Contrary to what the video teaches, you can “fix” it. You just have to know how.

The video was intended to avert potential tragedies of depression, shame, or even suicide among our young people. But I fear that what the video’s producer intended for good might also cause great harm both within the BYU community and in the greater Church. Because the video espouses gay ideology—which separates men from the blessings of the Gospel—it simply trades one tragedy for another. Though I am glad for the new openness about this issue, I am even more grateful that there were no “It Gets Better” videos or gay forums when I was a young, impressionable student. Confused by the permission they offer, I too might have adopted a gay identity. And today, rather than enjoying a good marriage and three amazing children I would in all likelihood be a gay ex-Mormon. For me, that would have been a tragedy.

So how can BYU and the general Church community avert both tragedies and really make it get better?

First, we must refuse to compromise the principles and laws of the Gospel. Gay will never be good in God’s eyes because it has no eternal future. He doesn’t wink at homosexual sin, despite how much He may love the sinner. That isn’t going to change with time or social progress. So we must think before we advocate and temper our support for those who are homosexual with wisdom informed by the gospel.

Second, we must accept that the Atonement applies to all conditions—even homosexuality. God invites all men to come unto Him and He gives us no challenge we cannot overcome. So we must believe that homosexuality can be overcome based on principle, regardless of what the psychological community and the media tell us.

Third, we must actively try to accomplish the good that the video intends by making our community safe for individuals struggling with homosexuality and all other types of challenges. All people need to feel safe to talk about their imperfections without fear of being mocked, rejected, or treated with undue harshness. We need to extend ample love, compassion, and support.

And finally, we must provide authentic hope and real help, which is the intent of what I have written here. For over 20 years in my personal life and 15 years as a therapist, I have witnessed that it does get better through the power of Christ’s encompassing atoning love.

David Matheson is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Salt Lake City. His clinical focus is on helping men who want to diminish unwanted homosexuality and feel whole as men. He is a co-creator with Rich Wyler of the Journey Into Manhood experiential-learning weekend retreat; he currently conducts with his wife, Peggy, a “Gender Wholeness” / “The Dance of Marriageconference series; and his forthcoming book, Becoming A Whole Man, is due for release in the fall of 2012.

Watch the video referenced in this essay:

10 Responses to Response to BYU “It Gets Better” Video

  1. North Star North Star says:

    NOTE ON COMMENTS: We invite all readers to add comments, and we expect those comments to uplift, rather than tear down. Comments should follow generally accepted standards for good taste and decorum, exhibit respect for others, and relate to the topic at hand. (See also the LDS Newsroom’s “The Mormon Ethic of Civility.”)

    Article authors speak for themselves and not for North Star. There are a diversity of perspectives and beliefs one can hold while still maintaining fidelity to the central doctrines and teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—North Star heartily welcomes that diversity of perspective—and, thus, comments are expected to reflect different points of view. Comments that are simply combative and which cannot respectfully and meaningfully engage material posted will not be approved. We ask that both Latter-day Saints and others show respect for the beliefs, experiences, and choices of article writers and other commentators. Critiques of positions are to be expected, but those critiques should be of the argument, not the person.

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  2. James says:

    Let me just say, I really could Not even finish reading this. I do Not agree with the statements you have made stating the strained relationships with your father or strong male rolemodels for that matter, helps to create the “homosexual” feelings. I feel though there is a number of these cases, they are unrelated. I personally know many men who have actually had completely “normal,” for lack of a better term, relationship with their father’s and they happen to be homosexual. You’re statement from What I gather is from personal experience, is a gross generalization in my opinion. As far as the statements made about the kid having sex within 48hrs of making an it gets better video, and relating it to abstinence, sex whether it be for a gay male or straight male, is going to be a temptation. I could probably guarantee you that If a straight male has done something to gather any type of attention, the result could be the same. As far as the Bible thing goes, I was a Catholic for many years, I grew up in a Catholic school and high school and researched it fully. I understand that the Catholic Bible and the Mormon Bible will have their differences, but there are facts that will remain the same. These books were Not written by “God” himself. Yes the men may have gotten the inspiration, but like with anything, a person who has any bias on a situation, can construe it to What they believe. The Bible also outlaws many things, like wearing clothing of mixed material, eating shellfish, yet people want to pick and choose and I just do Not understand that. The Bible as I understand is supposed to be more of a guideline for how to live. You have the old testament which is basically God having people prove their love for him, the rules of What to do and What Not to do, mixed in with stories of it being okay to have slaves and rape. The new testament is about love. No mentions about hating someone, but how to forgive and love that person.

  3. Jaramiah says:

    I’m one of the many who’s personal stories resonate with what you have described. My relationship with my father wasn’t really strained, but once I started grade school, the lack of need that I felt to conform with traditional patterns of boy/girl play began the process of isolation from other male peers. It’s not that I did girly things exclusively, I just liked to do all forms of play and, not having brothers, was not socialized to roughhousing. I tended to have a couple of male friends in each grade who were also socially awkward in different ways. My close preschool friends drifted away. This isolation progressed with additional grades until the 4th grade when I can recall a boy moving in to the school during the year and felt an infatuation with the idea of becoming his special friend. I didn’t know how at that point to socially make that happen, so it remained a fantasy. This experience was emasculating and with the girls I grew up with starting to mature and be drawn to the boys that I did not identify with, the process deepened.

    As puberty hit, I began comparing myself more closely to the other boys and had the same feeling that if I could only obtain their masculinity, I would overcome the lack of socialization that I had adapted to. I was not without attraction to women and the female body, but the morality I was socialized to adhere to and the inaccessiblity to find meaningful female companionship made me bit by bit reject my heterosexuality or believe that it would blossom later on.

    I made the mistake in believing that I could foray into limited indulgences into homoerotic imagery and pornography. From there, I happened to find myself in situations to act out those actions I was watching. I began to hear messages that given what you are finding yourself attracted to and what you are doing, you have to be ‘gay’. You would be so much better off if you would just ‘come out’.

    I found myself in one relationship where I finally gave that suppressed heart away, believing that the man I was with had the same seriousness that I did on making that committment. When he broke up, stating that he needed to explore the gay lifestyle more fully before committing to a relationship, I had the long overdue experience of going through the devastation of unrequited love.

    Yet, that experience of giving my heart away fully did something to me. As I began to date women again, I did so with that lesson learned. Falling in love with a woman was miraculous. It led to all the things I had treasured from childhood–creating a family headed by a mother and father and having biological children. I feel so thankful that I did not ‘come out’ as a homosexual. If I had been raised in a different time and with different permissions, then what I grew up to treasure may have been different. But I am glad to know that I am not the only one who felt that motivation by others to deny me the possibility to obtain what I now have is unfairly narrow in the context of centuries of human experience.

    Like James, I am not sure that this type of experience can be universalized to all men with SSA. David seems to believe from the number of interactions he has had that it can be. I would like to know how you are that confident in such an attitude. My own life was never totally void of female attraction. I don’t feel that I ever truly was homosexual but rather bisexual with repressed heterosexuality. While I don’t wish to deny anyone ‘rights’, I do believe that there is not family system that can match the values to society and children than that where children are raised by biologic parents–one mother and one father. Of course, many types of families can result from different life challenges, but when society equates the benefits of other types to be identical in value to matching of biologic and social family, there is untruth that is being perpetuated.

  4. hannah says:

    In so many ways i saw truth to what you had to say. But i would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with your harsh point of view. The prophets themselves have pointed out that we don’t know all of the causes of SSA, and yet you claim that with your experiences you have discovered those reasons that not even god has fully revealed to us. This is such a personal subject for me, and really something that i struggle with myself. I have tried my whole seventeen years of life, yes i say seventeen years, never to jump to conclusions about understanding someones else’s story. I try and leave room to be taught, and educated about someone else’s thoughts and feelings. But to be honest I hope that from this website you learn that although, the ramifications of acting out on these feelings are concrete, that the life stories shared by these people so invested are not so concrete. I hope you leave room to be taught.

  5. Scott says:

    You are making a classic mistake. You are assuming that having trouble fitting in as a boy, or having strained relationships with a father causes homosexuality. It is far more likely that a boy being homosexual would cause him to have trouble fitting in as a boy, or cause a strained relationship with his father. Especially in the past homosexual boys were disdained and bullied by their peers and often rejected by fathers who kept themselves emotionally distant.

    There may be a cause and effect, but it is the opposite direction from what you are assuming.

  6. Nathan says:

    I think you have a fundamental disjunction in your understanding of human psychology, sexuality, and even the doctrines of the church and recent statements by the brethren. It is clear that you still harbor a certain disdain that you should do all in your power to regulate and address with a mental health professional. There are countless ways of addressing issues and just because a certain formula works for you doesn’t mean it will universally work for all others. I will echo the statements of those above and hope that you leave room to be taught more about humanity and life.

  7. Isaac Holyoak says:

    I won’t comment on Matheson’s values, I can respect those. But his method of collecting and presenting evidence in support of those values is seriously flawed. Instead of relying on faith-claims (which are good in and of themselves) he opts for a data-driven argument. There’s a lot to be said, but I’ll be succinct: The claims Matheson makes are based on a very limited, self-selected, non-representative sample. The plural of anecdote is not data. To make such broad-reaching claims based on his own personal anecdotes and that of his friends isn’t just bad science; quite frankly, it’s unethical.

  8. Evan says:

    I am very disappointed in Matheson’s response and disappointed in North Star’s decision to publish his response. It is entirely inaccurate and does not reflect my experiences as a gay individual. I also know of several individuals who have worked with Matheson that would disagree with the results he is projecting. Shame on Matheson for ignoring these results and shame on North Star for publishing such a harmful response. This belongs on Evergreen. I felt nothing but negativity while reading it.

  9. Jerry says:

    Dave Matheson is right on the mark and because he presents much more evidence than just his own experience, he serves as a tangible irritation to those who don’t want to admit that change is possible. If just one man claims his attractions have changed and this change is backed up by the evidence of his life, change is possible. Although we need to be open and accepting of each others’ experiences and learn to truly love each other, we also need to be humble and accepting of the concrete, eternal truths of the gospel and submit ourselves to the journey that leads us to real and lasting joy.

  10. In re-reading my article I can understand how someone who doesn’t personally know me might hear a harsh tone. When I wrote the article I wanted to speak directly and to the point. I feel sad that I may have come across as though I think I know everything or have no compassion. This article arose from deep concern and anxiety over a group of people whom I love and worry about day and night; a group of people I have dedicated my adult life to serving.

    So my purpose in what I wrote was to express what I know from my own life and from my experience in working with hundreds of men with unwanted same-sex attraction. These men have been my teachers and I have learned most of what I know from them and from the Spirit. I believe what I believe because of what they showed me, not out of some dogma I made up in my head. It was by remaining teachable that I discovered these things. And I hope to always remain teachable so that I can learn much more. When I become unteachable, I become irrelevant.

    A final note seems important. Homosexuality is an extremely complex issue involving an amazing number of variables and individual differences. No one life story fits everyone. Like James, I also know men who have had apparently good relationships with their fathers and with other males. But there is always more to these stories. What guides my understanding of these issues is a broad and ever-developing paradigm. But explaining that paradigm was not the purpose of my article so I spoke in generalities. If you want to know the full scope of what I believe, you can join me at the Evergreen Conference in Provo this January or February. Go to http://www.thessavoice.com or to http://www.cgwevents.com for more information.

    I don’t claim to be a perfect therapist and I don’t claim to know everything. But I’ve been around a long time and I feel it is important for me to talk about what I’ve learned.

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