Interview with Craig Steiner

Will you give permission for us to record you. Okay. My name is Craig Steiner and I give permission for this recording. Alright. Cool. So, tell me, tell me about, a little bit about where you began in terms of you coming out of the closet and... Okay... ...I'm curious to know what your story is and how you've been able to related to the community. Or if you feel you relate to the community. Um, those are two questions. There's a lot of questions. There's many questions. Um, I don't exactly know where to start. Well start by telling us a little of the chronology of your story, like when did you come out. Okay. Do you want, like, my history? Grew up Mormon, married, all that stuff. Yeah. Yeah. Sure, whatever you feel is perfect. Okay. And uh, insightful. Okay. Um, so I grew up here in Utah, in a very strong LDS family, very faithful LDS myself. Um, I knew at age seven that I was gay but I didn't know that was the word for it at that point. Um, I remember my first crush was on a kid in the first grade, at age seven. Uh, I remember that when I went to get my baptismal interview at age eight prior to being baptized into the LDS church, I was terrified to go to the interview, because I just knew the bishop would look at me and would discern that I was gay and not let me get baptized. So I was literally scared to death of this interview, and this was as an eight-year old. Um, but of course he didn't discern anything. You know, everything was fine. Um, so I grew up fully active in the church, I served an LDS mission to Hong Kong. 1984 to '86. I graduated from BYU, was married in the Salt Lake Temple in June of 1990. Uh, had two kids. Married for twelve and a half years, uh, became divorced due to reasons not related to my sexuality, and it was after that point, it was really, it was pretty much after the divorce that I finally started to face my issues and, I felt like I was totally in a crossroads. And, I'd been dealing with, what at the time, I called "same-sex attraction" for forever. Fighting my desires for men and trying to nurture my desire for women which sort of just wasn't there. Um, and I guess I had felt that, as long as I was in the marriage, I was going to keep fighting against it, and really try hard not to explore that part of myself. And, I guess I kind of felt that that was sort of a deal between me and God. That, you know, no matter what happens, no matter how unhappy I am, I'm just going to stick it out and be supportive to my wife and, be a good dad and try not to ever deal with this. And that was kind of our deal, that

Interview with Craig Steiner

as long as this marriage was in tact, that was my mode. And so I just kind of figured that I would never get divorced because I would sort of lose my security blanket or something, or whatever it was that was keeping me from exploring this other side of myself and, so when I became divorced, it was, I don't really want to go into a lot of the reason for that. It was not related to my gay issues, it was really related to some issues my wife was dealing with. Um. After that I really felt I was at a crossroads in terms of I didn't know what to do with my life. I knew that I would never get married again. There was no question there. That was really far. And, I didn't want, I was age 38 at the time, um, 38 or 37 when I got divorced, and I just thought, you know, I don't want to consign myself to be alone and miserable for the rest of my life. I still have a lot of life left. And it seemed like my only option was to be celibate, or to explore this other side of myself and maybe, eventually, find a guy to settle down and share my life with. I mean that sounded a lot more appealing than getting a divorce. I mean, the, that sounded a lot more appealing that being celibate for the rest of my life. But I was really, deeply conflict because I was a very faithful and very believing member of the Mormon church at the time. And I met a guy online from Orem and he started talking to me. And just kind of, mostly, offered an understanding ear, basically, and would talk me through my issues and, I guess it was interesting because, I would say the most important part of that friendship was that he didn't tell me what to do. He didn't say leave the church or stay in the church, he didn't say, do this or that, or well, you've gotta do this. He said, over and over again, well, you've just got to pray about it. And this was a Buddhist, this wasn't even a Christian who was telling me this. You know, to pray to my God about it and try to figure it out. And I prayed, and I studied, and I tried to figure out, but the more I really opened myself to figuring it out, the more conflicted and frustrated I became because it really felt like, eventually, I was on a collision course with the Church. And if you really, fully face your issues, it's inevitable. You can't deny it. Um, there's, eventually you're going to get to a point where one or the other has to give. And after spending your entire life trying to make your whole sexuality part give, and knowing that it never will, and you do come to know that, no matter who you are eventually, you come to understand that it will not go away no matter what. It doesn't matter how many prayers you say, it doesn't matter how many times you fast, it doesn't matter how well-intentioned you are, it doesn't matter how determined you are to obey every single jot and dibble of the commandments, none of that has anything to do with it. And it's frustrating to me now at this point to hear church leaders still holding out the dangling carrot that, if you are just good enough, if you are just faithful enough, if you are just determined enough, eventually you'll overcome it. It's a lie. It's a great, big, fat, gigantic lie. But it's one they can get away with and here's why: they can always say you just weren't quite faithful enough. It's like, it's like, failproof. The system will never fail. Only people can fail. But because of that, there's no way to prove or disprove it. Because every single time it doesn't work, all they have to say is, well that's just proof that you weren't quite faithful enough. You didn't want it quite bad enough. You know, it's a joke! Well, and I can personally relate to a lot of the anger. Yeah.

Interview with Craig Steiner

Um, tell me more about when you started to notice, the conflict, for you. Oh, I've known the conflict my whole life. It was a terrible conflict. Um, there's this, you grow up in the Church, knowing who you are inside, and for most of that time there was not a living soul on the Earth that knew other than me. Nobody suspected it, nobody had any evidence, there was no indication of it anywhere in my life except in here. And so you know that, and it's your one dark, terrible secret that nobody else has a clue. And you spend, such a huge, vast percentage of your life energy just trying to keep it secret. You're desperate that nobody else ever know because it feels like, once one other person on the Earth knows, it's out, it's too late, you're now one of THEM, you're now on Satan's side. You're now evil, and you're going to be thrust to hell and thrown out of society and the Church and everything else. So it really was a battle for good and evil, for your soul. Yeah it is. I mean, intensely. I guess that's the thing that I think non-gay people will never comprehend is the intensity, the consistency, and the relentlessness of that inner battle. I mean, it's the first thing when you wake up, it's the last thing when you finally go to sleep. It keeps you awake. It's a concern, at church in the middle of a lesson, or a talk at work, um, hanging out with the kids. It's, no matter what you do, it's there. So what, what do you think would it take for you to experience peace. Or do you feel peace? I do now. Well good. Yeah, and I guess that's, part of it to me, I've just seen such a weird, sad irony because, the Church talks about obtaining peace and happiness, yes, in the next life, but also in this life. But all the things they tell you to do as a gay person, oh I've heard this from so many other people. Um, I've lived it myself, and I know there's like a huge assumption, you just shouldn't believe it, but here it is: you do all of those things, you pay your tithes, you pay fast offerings, you obey all of the commandments, including the law of chastity, you do everything you're supposed to and more, I mean, I was fanatic in the church. Um, I was working on church projects, for the Church, as a freelancer in audiovisual for years, I was the only person on the entire payroll that absolutely refused to ever travel or work on the sabbath. And it just shocked me that they would schedule church employees to travel on Sunday. And I absolutely wouldn't. I would make them fly me on Saturday or Monday, I would not travel on Sunday, if I were on location on Sunday I wouldn't eat out. I would go to a 7-11 somewhere and get some snacks on Saturday and live on those so I didn't have to do anything that violated the Sabbath. I mean, that was, that was sort of an extreme example, but that's how I was! I wanted to obey every single thing because then I thought God would fix me. Um hmm. Having been on a mission and experienced that, I can definitely relate.

Interview with Craig Steiner

Yeah. And I guess, I just, it angers me when people say, "Well, you just didn't pray hard enough. You just didn't have enough faith." I know they're a lot of people that have as much faith as I did, that had as much intense desire as I did, to conform, to be what you believe God wanted you to be. But nobody tried harder than I did. Nobody. And I will say that before God's face. Nobody. There's not a living soul who tried harder than I did, to just do what I was told, and overcome it and whatever. Um hm. And the irony to that's that a lot of people feel the same way. And, I know that I, we each give absolutely what we can about this. And that's, interestingly enough, how I personally was able to come in and start understanding the nature of my relationship with divinity. So I can relate. Um, what, uh, what do you see now, I mean, ever since coming out of the closet, did you, when was that and what was the process for you of coming out? Um, you know it's interesting. For me the process was, I would say, extremely thorough, extremely introspective, extremely spiritual, uh. I got to a point in my life where I determined, that I literally could not go on living unless I figured it out. I wasn't gonna accept well, here's a theory or that's a theory, or just try this or just do that. I was gonna know what this thing was and what it meant to me and where it fit into my life. And I read everything the Church published about it, I read every clinical study I could find, I did research online, I spent a period of two months where I basically did nothing but study the issue from every possible angle. Because I was gonna figure it out. And, in the process, it started to become increasingly apparent, that if I were to choose to remain in the Church and be celibate, which I was still trying to do, I would be lonely and miserable for the rest of my life. And after all the things I'd already been through, and I guess after the literally, decades of trying to figure it out, and doing what I was told, and being completely miserable, I got to a point where I decided, you know what? I've tried the Church's way for decades, three decades and more. I figured I owe it to myself, I really owe it to myself to explore this other side to myself, and just figure it out. If it doesn't work out and it doesn't bring me happiness, I can always go back. God's never gonna say, "Oh too late, I shut the door!" You know, I figured the Church will always be there for me. And it got to a point where I honestly felt I had nothing to lose. And yeah, I know there are those that would say well, you had your eternal salvation to lose, but even within the Mormon paradigm, not till you're dead. You know, as long as you're still living and making choices, you still have your agency. And I figured I really owed it to myself, not in the sense of I wanna run around and be wild and get drunk and do crazy things. That really didn't ever appeal to me. More in the sense of, I really wanted completely open my mind to what my life is supposed to be. And I wanna throw off all the preconceived notions I had. Including the notions that homosexuality is evil, it's from Satan, it's going to take you to hell, etc. etc. I just decided to completely open my mind and explore it. And, there was a several month process where I was talking intensely to my mentor, my friend, who kind of worked me through things, and then it got to a point where, eventually I figured out that this is a inherent, intrinsic part of who I am, it's part of who I have always been and who I will always be. That's incontrovertible. I don't care what therapy you try, it's not going to go away. So what has this experience done in terms of your relationship to divinity.

Interview with Craig Steiner

[laughter] That's a good question. Um, it's really interesting, because, and this is so odd, I literally almost prayed myself to being an atheist. I know how whacked that sounds. Believe me. Um, I guess say I prayed my way to it because, when I was going through this process, I had some pretty intense personal experiences with prayer. And, prayed some really basic things. And got what I felt at the time were some pretty strong answers, but the answers didn't coincide with what the Mormon Church had been teaching me. I went into a panic and went and talked to my bishop about it. Because for me to accept that this is who I am, that it's okay for me to be this way, that it's okay for me to pursue a relationship with another guy, as long as I'm responsible or don't take advantage of or hurt others, you know, these are pretty intense things to feel you got directly from God or divine source or whatever. But which at the same time directly contradict Mormon theology and doctrine. So I went to my bishop about it, and without even hesitating he said, well clearly that's the adversary answer in your [___?___]. And I said, wait a minute, this is the biggest most important issue of my ENTIRE life, okay? My entire life. So you're telling me that the moment that the pinnacle of my life's greatest crisis, that God either sat aside, turned away and said, “Oh you know what? I'm going to let Satan handle this one.” Or, Satan overpowered God and answered me himself. “Are you kidding me?” I said, “That's impossible.” I said, “Yeah, I know the scriptures the adversary can deceive people or whatever. but,” I said, “you don't know my degree of sincerity, my degree of desire, my degree of willingness, my degree of faithfulness, and the fasting and the prayer and the effort I put into this. So you cannot sit there and tell me that at the moment of my life's greatest crisis, ‘Oh oops! Mistake! Your answer did not coincide with what the man in Salt Lake is saying, therefore it's automatically of the Devil.’” That's just patently absurd. And if that is the case, if God really did turn away and let Satan answer my prayer at that moment, then he can go to hell. I mean it! Because, all of a sudden, God isn't all-loving and all-compassionate and all-concerned about you. He's this capricious devilish freak who's just playing games with us. Oh, I'm going to give this guy this answer and this guy that answer and watch them duke it out. I don't buy that. I don't buy it for a second. And I found that I can no longer believe in any kind of God that only loves me on certain days or on certain times or gives contradictory answers to different people. Either it's true or it isn't true. That's it. But at the same time, I knew I had received that answer. At least, I knew that I felt something in my soul, which was the same kind of response that I had been receiving to religious things my entire life. And I couldn't just throw it out or else I had to throw out my entire church testimony. Because the two were interconnected now. You can't say, well, this faith from what I experienced is true and this stronger faith from what I experienced is not true because of what some guy tells you. You know, if the source is the guy, then don't pray to the guy. If the source is God, then you'd better believe God. I guess through that experience what I've come to is, I really don't believe that the answers to prayer that we receive come from an outside source at all. I honestly believe it's our own soul on our own psyche trying to reconcile our lives. I got an answer in my depth of despair that it was okay to be gay. Because that's what my soul somehow knew I needed to have in order to survive. Just like someone who's pious and religious and homophobic and scared to death that the gays are going to ruin society, they're going to pray about God, “Help protect me from the gays,” and they're going to get a really strong answer that you had better be firm and protect your house against the gays or they're going to ruin your life. Why? Because that's what that person's soul needs in order to survive. At least in

Interview with Craig Steiner

their own psyche. And I guess, that's the only explanation that I have come up with based on my own life experience, that explains not just some of what I've experienced, but all of what I've experienced. And before that point, I was pretty comfortable about the theory of God, having a personal relationship with my Heavenly Father, and him giving very specific answers which I had received on a number of occasions. But the later answers with prayer directly contradict that theory. They're either both right or they're both wrong, you can't pick and choose. Because there's no differentiating evidence to support the one being true over the other, other than a whole bunch of different people's opinions. So what have you come to learn about yourself throughout this process? Hmm. About myself. Um, you know, in a nutshell, probably, the best way to express it is a quote from Joseph Campbell, and I'm just sort of paraphrasing. Something to the effect that the greatest gift in life is to be who you are. And I see that pretty much encapsulates it, because, having gone through the coming out process and come out to my family, my bishop, my stake president, getting excommunicated, having a meeting with a high-level member of the Church, coming out to friends, co-workers, people working in the Church [--?--] building, everybody. The place that I arrived after that period of turmoil, literally, for the first time in my life, is the sense of wholeness and peace that had forever been withheld from me even when I was being perfect in the Church. It was only turmoil, it was only angst, it was only fear, it was only self-hatred, and all of those things dissolved, and it's really like, if you're watching a movie and the sound and picture are out of sync, that's how my whole life was. I was completely out of sync with everything. And when I finally accepted this as what I am, and went through that gut-wrenching process, the picture and the sound just magically lined up with each other. And for the first time, everything snapped into place, everything became clear, and I wake up with hope instead of despair. And I guess the thing that is frustrating me is that I know the Church means well, I know they're only trying to help, but here's the bottom line, when you implement the policies the way they tell you to, it brings misery and not peace. It brings despair and not happiness, it brings sadness and not fulfillment. And if you have walked the road and then come out and try life on the other side, you know what I'm talking about, and if you don't, you don't. And it's not something I think you can convince people of unless they've walked the path. I agree. It's deeply experiential. It's like trying to describe to people the color blue or the taste of salt. Right. So, once you had undergone this process, it seems like to me like there's still kind of in some ways, undergoing this process of, um, coming to a sense of equilibrium and clarity about who you are and how you fit into your world. Where, where do you feel like you fit with your community. Or do you? You mean the gay community? The gay community.

Interview with Craig Steiner

That's an interesting question. Um. Honestly, I don't really feel like I fit in with the gay community. Which has been kind of a hard thing to go through because, I mean, I thought, all I had to do would be to come out, and I'd instantly have friends and boyfriends and be in this loving embracing warm community, and you know, maybe that would have been true, that probably would have been true if I were nineteen or twenty and cute. Um, the reality is that I'm not nineteen and cute, and that's been a really hard feeling like you're in this community of so many wounded souls who have been battered and beaten and so often the only thing they learn from it is how to batter and beat each other. And it makes me crazy because I think of all the groups on this Earth, we should have more cohesion and LOVE, and I'm not talking wanton sex, I'm talking love, and understanding and brotherhood and sisterhood than just about anybody else. And the odd thing is, it seems to me that so many of us in the community are looking for that, and we can't find it, even among ourselves and each other. And I've done a lot of thinking about that lately and I really have come to believe that, I think a significant part of the problem is that you take this group of people who spent however many years of their lives, in my case 38 years. So you take this community of people who, for decades for many of us, have worked so long and so hard to isolate this part of ourselves from every part of our universe. Once you come out, I think every one of us fights, on a subconscious internal level, there's something that fights connection with other guys, there's something that fights the acceptance of yes, I love men and that's okay. Even when we're out and even when we're interacting socially, I think there's just an inherent shield of defensiveness that we spent so many years perfecting, and I mean perfecting, it doesn't just dissolve. And I think that's the greatest barrier to cohesiveness within the gay community, is that we have to somehow learn to dismantle all those layers and layers and layers of self-protection, which we felt we had to have to live for so long. I don't know, I'm convinced that's a major part of what's going on. Do you think we as a community are ready to go from survival to, maybe, thriving. Not yet, I don't think. What's in the way? To go from surviving to thriving, we're getting pretty good at surviving, I think, at this point. People are coming out younger, people are being more accepted. Um, being cast out of your family is less common, though it still happens. Um... Suicides are down. Yeah...although they still happen. But I think, to go from surviving to thriving is going to take a greater continued shift in society. A few more years, I think we'll be there. Um, and I think the main barrier between surviving and thriving is the barrier between us as individuals and this country and our civil rights. And there's no denying that. I think, once we have full civil equality under the law, then we'll be ready to thrive. But I don't think it'll really happen until that. So what'd you think stands in our way still, from accomplishing that?

Interview with Craig Steiner

From, you mean, from thriving or from accomplishing our rights? From accomplishing our rights. It's prejudice and fear and ignorance, basically. It's people who are so, for whatever bizarre reason, who feel personally so vested in, "We've gotta keep these people oppressed and not let them think that we accept them as they are, because we'll collapse and society will be ruined." It's just such a farce on the one hand, and such a tragedy on the other. I mean, my own family, my own birth family I should say, um, I only have contact with my sister. I've lost all contact with my mom and both of my brothers. And I don't think it's ever gonna change. Because they're determined, I think, that if we just accept Craig as he is, that means we condone sin and we're gonna to go to hell too. And he can do what he wants, but he's not going to drag me with him. And it's so interconnected with this religiosity and this faith, which is just so ironic to me because it completely contradicts everything their actual teachings tell them. So do you think then, that maybe religion is one of the biggest obstacles? Oh yeah. Um, religion is probably the biggest obstacle. Which again is just so ironic. It just so should not be the case. And I know how it sounds, but it just seems like so much of religion anymore is about protecting the good ole boys club, and not about, it's not really about love, it's not really about nurturing, it's not really about compassion. Because if it were, we'd be seeing compassion, we'd be seeing nurturing, we'd be seeing understanding, we'd be seeing love. So if you were to see in your lifetime, the queer community finally reach what it's capable of, in terms of having its rights, and in cohesion, what would it look like? How would it operate? I mean, like, describe to me what your ideal community is. Hm. It's interesting because, I guess in a way...well, I don't know. I guess, on one hand, I think, well in the ideal scenario we'd sort of just dissolve and be part of society, but, I don't think so because, there are many characteristics that gay men share that make us unique and set apart from the rest of society. There just are. Like it or not, there are. And I guess, I don't want to become so integrated into society that I become invisible, I would rather celebrate who I am. Um, I would rather continue to have specific gay community events. I think, I think the gay community definitely needs to mature. It's such a young movement in terms of civil rights. We're just too young, we're too inexperienced. A couple more generations, maybe, and I think we'll mature as a community and be ready for more. I think, I think part of it is kind of a reaction to the oppression that we grew up with. When a lot of people come out, they just run amok, sort of. And I guess, I guess I feel like eventually as we mature there'll be less need to do that. Less need to freak out and we'll just be able to live our lives. Having said that I don't mean that eventually we'll reduce our need for self-expression, cause I think that's a very important aspect of the gay community. And I think it's an aspect in which, somehow we're evolved way beyond the rest of society in the ability, the desire and mostly, the courage to just self-express. Um. And I think that's threatening to non-gay people. I think that's threatening that we dare to dress different, or look different or act different, when everybody else is sort of trying to fit into the box that is "society's

Interview with Craig Steiner

normal" and it's really kind of great to be outside of that. I can do what I want because I want to, and because I'm looking for a fulfilled life. Not because you said so, not because you want me to, or not because I look a certain way, you really can just be who you are. What do you think of the term "queer" as... You know, I have mixed feelings about it because I know it started out as really derogatory. On the other hand, it seems like, it's the only single word that can encompass the whole community. Sometimes, "gay" is used in a wider reference to include lesbians and bisexuals and transgenders. But not really, I mean "gay" still seems to refer to gay male men. Uh, whereas "queer" seems to be the only term that exists right now, that really does cover the whole community, and I think we need one term to cover the whole community. I don't think we should think ourselves as, a separate gay community, a separate lesbian community, a separate transgender community. I don't think that's productive for any of us, but I think, I don't know whether it's "queer" or maybe we just widen "gay" or maybe we find a new term. But I think eventually we have to come up with a term that describes us as one whole community. And I don't know what that is. I don't know if we just shed the negative connotations of queer and use that? Yeah, okay, maybe that's the answer. I don't know. But I guess personally I identify more as gay than I do as queer. Queer seems to have a different element to it, and I'm not quite sure what that is, but it seems to have a connotation to it that "gay" or "lesbian" doesn't have. I don't know. So if, the young, say 17, 18 year old neighborhood kid, boy or girl, whatever, came up to you and developed a relationship and suddenly came up to you and asked, "Um, can I ask you a question? I'm, I think I might be gay." What would you tell this person? You know that's, that's really weird. It takes me back. Cause when I was 16, I was that kid. And I said that to somebody and it was the most terrifying thing I'd ever said. And I can still feel the just, fear, in that situation of finally saying to another living, breathing soul, "I think I might be gay." And being older now, I'm on the other side of the rainbow or whatever. You know, being out, being accepting, being proud and grateful for who I am. If a kid said that to me, I would just want to give, as much understanding as I could. I guess for me the most important element is to just not be judgmental. To just be open to whatever they decide. To whatever they feel their experiences are, or they feel has led them to at least question the possibility, and I would encourage them to contact someone at the center, or I would mentor to them or whatever, I don't know. I guess when somebody finally has the courage to reach out to another person and say, "What if this is me?" I think a couple things are really, really, really important. Number one, just be nonjudgmental and totally supportive and number two, and this is particularly important, is to not engage with them sexually. It's hugely, hugely important to not violate them or take advantage of them or whatever. I think you've gotta keep, well, I mean, obviously if they're a minor, there's huge legal implications, but that aside, when someone's in a vulnerable position like that, you've gotta be strong and supportive for them, without pushing them beyond things they're ready to [--?--] I think that's huge. I guess the reason I think that's huge, because if you do that, and

Interview with Craig Steiner

you push someone to have maybe an initial sexual experience, it just ruins them and freaks them out. There are a lot of theorists that actually believe the reason why the gay community, by and large, is so misunderstood is because, in general, we as human beings just don't really understand what sexuality is. Or, what gender is. And, so, what have you come to discover about your sexuality and you're gender expressions, and... As far as sexuality, I would say, it's just a part of who you are. However you arrived, that's how you are. Most people arrive and are pretty much straight. Some people arrive and are pretty much bi, and some are totally gay, [--?--] and everybody else is somewhere in between. But it really does feel like, for whatever reason, you arrive a certain way and that's how you are. And you can fight it or accept it. I think the sooner you accept it, the more productive and the greater chance for happiness you have. If you're a gay man, then being partnered to a woman, no matter how well you do, will never fulfill you as much as being partnered with a man. It's just not possible. And if it's more fulfilling then, halloo! You're at least bi and probably straight. I mean that's just how it is. Um, but I, I think, and again it comes back to religion, we're so conditioned that sex is dirty and nasty and evil, and then, on your wedding night, all of a sudden it's magically beautiful and loving. It's like, whacked. It's psychologically whacked. And I think, I don't know. I think as we become just more open about talking about stuff, it just allows someone to explore whoever they feel they are, rather than try to shove everybody into a box and then freak out at the ones that just don't fit. It feels way more productive if people are just open. Yeah. I mean, I've determined with my own two kids, I have two sons who are now teenagers, and the most important thing to me, is that they feel they're allowed to be whoever they feel they are. And I, you know, and I don't mean, oh, I feel I'm a kleptomaniac or I feel I'm a murderer. That's not what I'm talking about. Who they feel they are as a person, and how best they can fit into and contribute to society. And if they're straight great. If they're bi, great. If they're gay, great. If they're transgendered, great. You know, I can honestly say I don't have an agenda with my kids. I don't want to make them gay because I'm gay. I don't want to make them straight because it's easier to be straight. I don't want to make them into anything. I want to nurture them as souls, as human beings, and just see what they turn into. And then I want to embrace that and support that and help them fulfill that. And I guess I just wish that more parents were like that. I feel like, I feel like that's a way healthier WAY of parenting than the way I was parented. And I can't blame my parents, it's what they knew. But here's the box and everybody fit in the box, and you crammed them in and you shoved them in and you forced them in. And don't let them out. And that's how, people continue to be raised, in more conservative places but, I don't know, it just seems like if we just get rid of all the agendas, and just discover who our children are, and then embrace them and support them, their lives would be way easier. Definitely way easier than mine was. So what do you think our community needs right now the most? I think we need therapy.

Interview with Craig Steiner

[laughter] Group therapy, individual therapy, it's like...I think we just need processing, we need to be able to process the experiences because, I know so many gay people who, once they came out, they just explored a lot of certain [--?--] but they didn't really go inside. They didn't deal with what's inside. They didn't deal with all the bashing or all the hurt or all the pain that's been caused by people who loved them. And they sort of inoculate themselves, whether it's with sex or alcohol or drugs or whatever it is. I see a lot of that. Why do you think that is? It's because it hurts to bad. It's because we're sick to death of hurting and we just want to feel good. I mean that's what it comes down to, I think. We just want to feel good. The problem is, it's a difference between I want to feel good right now for a few minutes, or, I want my life to feel good. Long term. Yeah and I think, for a lot of people the pain is so intense, they can't see past the next couple of hours. I need to feel good right now. I need an escape. I need to inoculate the right-now pain and then I'll deal with tomorrow. I think that's one of the biggest mistakes of a lot of, uh, um, what's the word? [sigh] Opponents of the queer, of the gay community and its efforts, have been, have been doing is they would point out statistics that we have a higher tendency for substance abuse, as a community. Or higher rate of suicide, or depression. And they say, well, see it's an unhealthy lifestyle. And they're forgetting about the fact that those are symptoms, of something. Yeah, that makes me crazy! It's like, the straight people inflict us with all this crap that makes us suicidal, and turn to drugs and turn to alcohol, and have depression, and then they blame us for it. It's crazy! It's completely crazy. It's like, don't stand there and try to take away all my rights and try to oppress me endlessly, and treat me with cruelty and disdain, and then blame me for how I turn out! Are you kidding me? If you want me to not have those problems, then stop being so mean! It's like playground sense! You know? Wow! Troy Williams has recently been saying a lot recently, that we need to get beyond the playground bullying, and you know, as, as a queer person, I know that, me growing up, my experience with having been bullied, finally coming to a place of, I'm just not going to play that game. I'm not going to hit back. I'm going to be above that. There's been something that's been of value to me, but I don't know if I could prescribe that upon anyone. Yeah. Everyone has to go through their own individual path. So, what do you think will assist you in coming to a sense of harmony and connection? Um. I feel that I've arrived at a really good sense of harmony within my own life.

Interview with Craig Steiner

Good. I feel like I'm done trying to self-accept. I totally self-accept. I mean at this point, I can honestly tell you I'm so grateful I'm going through life as a gay man instead of a straight man. This is who I am. This is who I'm meant to be. And I love the fact that I'm different, I love the fact that I'm gay. I love the fact that I'm a gay dad and I have kids that I'm raising. You know, I wouldn't trade them for anything. And so, I guess I feel like, and I guess the other reason I feel like I'm fully in harmony with myself is that at this point, I simply refuse to be intimidated by people who think I should be less than I am. I have no use for it, I have no patience for it, I have no time for it. And it's kind of a weird thing, and I think it comes back to, in my own process, I spent so much time thinking about it, reading about it, studying about it, figuring it out. And here's the problem, when guys don't figure it out, and I know guys who have been out for ten, fifteen years, way longer than I have, and they STILL are too afraid to take their partner to a family reunion because it might make everyone uncomfortable. And it just, it's hard not to be angry! It's like, you know who you are, BE who you are! And if you have a partner, you take them. YES! People are going to be uncomfortable, but unless you cross the threshold, they will never be able to accept you. If you don't, and here's the other thing that people are, all up in arms about the gay agenda, and being in your face and whatever, I have a totally different take on it. The people who are in my life, that I cared about the most, it became really, really important to fully come out to them, because I wanted to give them the opportunity to fully know who I am, and to love and accept me. Knowing that there was a tangible risk they wouldn't. To assume that they won't accept me, and then to continue my withdrawn partial existence with them, just wouldn't work anymore with me. Yeah. You know, I don't view coming out as an in-your-face selfish act. I consider it the greatest act of love you can bestow on another human being. To bear your soul to the point of sharing this deep, dark, societal secret. To lay it all out on the table and say, "You can love me or not." How many people go through their whole lives, never doing that with one person. Even the person they partner with? You know, and that's one thing, after my coming out process, when I sent a letter out, to everybody I possibly could find an address for, within a couple of weeks, I could go down a list, and I made a checklist, oh! Accept. Reject. Accept. Reject. And I knew exactly where I stood with every single person of importance in my life. How many people can say that? There's something about it that just, broke through all the barriers, and people either responded or not, and they either responded with love or not. It became very clear, who supported me, who loved me, who it didn't matter to, and who it was a big enough deal that it was worth ending our relationship. And that's not an easy thing to go through, especially from your own family. Um hm. But I'll tell you I wouldn't live any other way. I would rather have one true friend or no true friends than a thousand fake friends. And I can say that because now I

Interview with Craig Steiner

know the difference. I've had a thousand fake friends, and now I have a few real friends, and the difference is unimaginable. And so worth it. So what does it mean to be gay. What does it mean? For you. For me, being gay means, I'm sort of thrown out of the norms of society, and because of that I have total freedom to create my own life. And that's a pretty cool place to be. Um, I guess it means that, I'm suddenly liberated and free from all the expectations of people who claim to love me, and I make my own expectations. I dress how I dress because that's what I wanna to do. I do the things I want to do because I choose them. And I guess the weird thing is, and I know, it's just so weird because highly religious people, look at people like me as just consummate selfish whatevers. But I think it's a more mature way of loving. When I'm kind to someone, I'm kind for no other reason than my soul wants to be kind. I'm not looking for a reward in heaven, I'm not looking for approval by my peers, I'm not looking for someone to say, "Oh I'm proud of you. Thanks for being nice." You know, people in religion, it's like you're filling out the God checklist of salvation. Oh I need to do this and this and this because then I'll be saved. Well if that's all taken away from you, are you going to be nice because you wanna be nice, or are you going to be selfish because you wanna be selfish. And I know people are all along the spectrum, but, when I go out of my way to do a kindness for someone, there's no ulterior motive here. Cause I'm not looking for some reward in heaven. I'm not looking for a pat on the back from my Mormon mother. I do it just for the pure sake of the act itself. And there's something mature, and something, I don't know, it's almost transcendent, it goes beyond checking off boxes on a list of how to be good for God. It just seems so like, oh it's like fourth grade spirituality to me at this point, and I don't mean that to be rude but, wow! Wake up! It's time to graduate from the [--?--] checklist and just be a kind person. And it's just so weird to me, and I guess part of the reason that religion seems so spiritually immature to me is because, they run around proclaiming this and proclaiming that, and even in their personal interactions, especially with gay people, they're mean and cruel and heartless and oppressive, and ignorant, and fearful. It's like, those aren't mature traits. Do you feel that's always the case with straight people or religious people? It's not always the case, certainly. Sadly it's definitely the case with the majority I think. The majority of straight people, yeah, but it's getting close to 50/50. Definitely the majority of religious people for sure. I think the religions are the last holdouts and will be the last holdout against civil equality for us, you know. Especially when it comes to, a lot of what's going on in Iraq. I'm not sure if you heard, but we've, just over this year we've had over 160 deaths. Wow.

Interview with Craig Steiner

I know. And you know, when comparing United States to Iraq, um, seeing that we do have by sheer statistics, a much more open and affirming and supportive environment, that gives me hope. Yeah. I don't know that it's more affirming as much as it's less deadly. We're tolerated more, but we're not supported as a whole, not a lot. So what, what work do we have as a community, as a queer community to do, in order to demonstrate that we, deserve our place, in the circle. You know, honestly, I think that we should just set religion aside and not even deal with them. They're gonna be who they are, until, here's the deal - the religions are going to take care of themselves eventually. We need to work on the greater society of whole and ignore the religious community. Now, I don't mean ignore them when they're pouring millions into fighting against our rights. We'd better fight back with money, with speeches, with protests, with petitions, with whatever it takes, and MOSTLY with visible publicity. Mostly with that. Negative publicity is the only weapon we will ever have against churches. Especially the Mormon church. I mean the strategy, it's really, really basic. It, it’s like, after Prop 8 passed and I joined the protest where we marched around Temple Square in Salt Lake City. And then in the aftermath of that there were a lot of comments of, "Well I don't know why they're marching around, they're never going to change the Church's mind." Well, no! That's not the point! The whole point is publicity. And I'll tell you why, because years ago, when the LDS church was debating internally in the higher leadership about whether or not to accept African Americans as full equals in the church, the thing that turned the tide against the current policy, was a flood of negative publicity, and what I mean is, we just need to work on society, and get society as a whole to be generally more accepting. We need to get to a point where referendums like Proposition 8 aren't going to pass by a popular vote. When we get to that point, inherently on the heels of that, religious institutions that continue to dig in their heels and continue to oppress and fight against our rights, will increasingly be non-mainstream. They'll increasingly be marginalized, they'll increasingly be stigmatized, they'll increasingly be judged as being hateful and oppressive towards our people. And THAT'S when they will change on their own. Because I can tell you right now, no matter what happens in this country, when we get to a point, as a gay/lesbian community, that the LDS church, their missionary efforts are suffering because of negative publicity around this issue, you mark my words, it will change. It'll be a revelation or a proclamation or something, and they will change their position on gays within the church. They'll be forced to. And that's what's really beautiful to me, I don't have to do a thing about it. Eventually, they'll come after us! Because just like with the racial issue, eventually, race became enough a stigmatized issue in this country where it was no longer cool to be racist. Society basically forced the Mormon Church to change. They can, you know, spout God's revelation all they want to, but at the time that that revelation happened, there was huge negative national publicity, every time BYU went to an away game, people showed up to protest their attitudes toward blacks in this country. And it became enough of a problem, that the missionary effort was thwarted, and Church [--?--] started to stall. And that's exactly when it changed. And that's the only thing the LDS church will ever be beholden to, is their public image, and their rate of growth. Those are the two things that matter to them more than anything else on

Interview with Craig Steiner

the planet, including being nice, and that's all we have to do, to get society to continue to shift, and they'll follow. They'll be the last one to do so, just like they were with the civil rights issue, but they'll come around. We've already won. So what do you do, in your personal activism? What are the activities you've done and... Um. Besides being personally involved and participating in protests, I've delivered petitions to the Church office building a couple of times, I've...um, I've spoke at a rally honoring, um, gay Mormons who've committed suicide. I, um, participated in stuff like that, um, I was co-director of the Salt Lake chapter of Affirmation for a while and, really helped support those coming out, especially Mormons then. Um, more recently I've been attending the uh, gay men's support group in the center at Salt Lake. That's been a really, really good form where, at this point I like to go not because I feel like I need support, but because I'm in a position to offer support. And when guys show up who, it's their first gay event ever, and they're still questioning, and they're timid or they're scared or whatever, I can offer perspective based on my experience of coming out, or my integrated life I live now. And hopefully help them have an easier time than I had. You know, and that's, I guess that's my greatest hope, is that, through reaching out in venues like that to the community, coming out will become less and less of a life-ruining issue I guess. You know, instead of having to go through the ringer, you just come out. And then you're just accepted and that's how it is. Eventually it'll be that way. And, we're a few years away from that, but it's, it's moving fast. That's the other thing. Of every civil rights movement in history, ours is the fastest moving, and that's significant. But I think it's faster moving because of technology, because of society, um, because of increased openness to ideas, but for whatever combination of factors, it's moving way more quickly than any other civil rights movement has and I think that can only be a good thing in my opinion. Yeah. In a way, the battle's already won. We've already won, it's just a matter of how soon we get there. Because eventually people are going to understand that if I marry my male lover, their marriage isn't going to collapse unless they do something stupid to screw up their own marriage. You know, that's the bottom line. And all the horrors and the fears about how we'll destroy society are a hundred percent imagined and a hundred percent manufactured and a hundred percent false. Not 60% false, 100% false. You know, you can, you can point to good or bad elements in every segment of society, whether it's gay or straight. You know, there always gonna be good parents who are straight and good parents who are gay, bad parents who are straight and bad parents who are gay. Whatever. But the state of being gay itself is morally neutral. It has no bearing on whether you are a good person or a bad person. And eventually people are gonna figure that out. Begrudgingly, but they'll figure it out. So do you think you're a better person because of coming out? Oh absolutely, oh I'm a way better person having gone through the process for sure. And it's interesting, one of the kind of, unanticipated side effects is that I've had a few really, deep conversations with people in my life who shared with me things

Interview with Craig Steiner

that they had never told another person, or they never dared to discuss with anybody. But after my going through the coming out process and being so honest with everybody, all of a sudden they finally felt safe to confide in somebody. And we're talking some pretty heavy-duty stuff. That people have had to deal with in their lives. And how sad is it that so many of us go our whole lives, without ever having that sense of safety with one other person, that we can share our deepest selves with. You know, and that's been really interesting to have conversations like that with straight people who have felt, like, wow, this guy's been through the wringer. He might understand me. Yeah, that's been a pretty cool side effect I guess of it. Finally offering to someone else a safe place to go. Those who've weathered the storm, Yeah for sure, for sure, yeah. Yeah. Well we're actually about 56 minutes. Did you have anything else that you've you wanted to share or... Let me think. I mean you've been very, very passionate and I, I, I can see that, uh, you've experienced a lot that has given you much to think about. Yeah, yeah. Much to share. Yeah, I guess, at this point I would say, my greatest frustration is feeling like, I wish I had a better way of reaching out to other people and helping them through the coming out process. That's probably what I'm more passionate about than anything else, is helping people who are really struggling to get to that place of selfacceptance and self-awareness that allows them to fully embrace who they are. And not to be out and fifteen years later still afraid to introduce their lover to their mom or their family reunion. That's, that's what sort of, I don't know, it makes me crazy, cause it's like, so many of us continue to carry that baggage around forever. And we just don't quite dare to face it. But I'll tell you one thing I learned from the coming out process is, the fear of coming out is WAY worse than the act of coming out. And that's what nobody gets until you've already done it, but the odd thing is even people who've done it, they don't do it at work, or they don't do it with their relatives, or they don't do it with their church group or whatever it is, but I guess I feel really strongly that, until you get to a point where you're comfortable being out to every single person you meet, you're carrying out some bags that you really should deal with. Because once you do, your whole life is easier. I have so much less stress in my life than when every waking moment was concentrated on hiding my secret. I, I didn't even realize how much massive amounts of energy I expended every day on just that. And how life-sucking that is, and once you get through that and you're just, it's just hard to explain how much more joyful and how much more free and how much less stress stress you deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Interview with Craig Steiner

But I guess that's the main thing, I just, I wish there's a way to reach out better. And oh, here's the other thing that I, probably my huge passion. Um, I'm involved in a support group for gay, gay dads. And of course a lot of them here are LDS, or were LDS. The thing that is so common and so terrifyingly sad in their stories, that after oppressing this part of themselves for so long, when they finally get to a point that they're so desperate that they need to reach out and talk to somebody, they almost invariably talk to their wife first. And instead of being supportive and loving and trying to figure it out, they just turn on them. And then they go through a nasty divorce, and they try to ruin their relationships with their kids, and, all this bad monumental nasty crap happens, and I guess the one thing that I'm really trying seriously hard to figure out is how do we reach out to closeted married gay men, and tell them what to do before they come out to anybody including their wife. Because I'll tell you this much, especially in Utah. If you get divorced, because you're gay, everything's harder across the board. If you get divorced for any other reason, it's a piece of cake. But by the time the men get to the process of divorce, it's already too late and their lives are actively being ruined by their angry spouse. I don't know how to do that, I don't know what mechanism can possibly reach these guys. Maybe it's something through the internet, but, the problem is, when you're in that place of being closeted and fearful which I was there, you don't trust people, you don't believe people. And so how do you create trust with a total stranger who's never interacted with another gay person, at least not consciously or aware. How do you make first contact with those people, because if we could figure that out we could save so much angst and so much pain and so much anger and so many ruined relationships. I think by far, the best thing for a gay may who's already married and very closeted to do, is to secretly figure it out and get the support they need SECRETLY, completely on their own, and then let the marriage unravel and after that's all done and signed and settled and delivered, then you do with the coming out process. Because it's just so much easier doing it in that order. The problem is that nobody knows that, and how do you get them to figure it out? Because by the time they contact you, it's all over with. Or at least, it's already in the process and it's too late. I don't know how to fix that. But that seems to me like a huge concern, especially around here. And that's what I just really really wish I could figure out, you know, to do it in the right order. It's like, the secret handbook for how to come out, without ruining your life. That's what people need. So do you think there are resources at people's disposal, here in the valley? [--?--] It's not, I don't think it's for lack of resources. It's a weird problem with the psyche. Because, why do you say, when you're in that place, when you're the guy who's married and closeted and religious, you've been brought up and insulated with such an intense fear of gay men, and expressing your homosexuality, or allowing yourself to even consider that you might be, you're still effectively indoctrinated against figuring it out, that you don't dare go talk to anybody. Instead the people you go talk to are your wife, or your bishop, the very people who, well meaning as they are, are absolutely the worst-equipped to help you deal with it. And so instead of going to the people who are best prepared to help you, you go to the people who are worst prepared to help you. And the whole journey is a MESS when it shouldn't be. So I don't, it's not for lack of resources, it's the effectiveness of the fear agenda basically, is what it boils down to. It's the effectiveness of fear. And how do you do that, and how do you fight that?

Interview with Craig Steiner

I think, in many instances, I've seen how people respond to it or react to it depending on what they want to do, and uh, I think it's a fascinating litmus test of self-love, as to whether or not, as a gay person, or a trans person, are willing to, ask yourself those questions. Those very difficult questions. To look into the abyss that looks back. Yeah. And, the self-knowledge that I personally have gained from my coming out process is, um, incredibly invaluable. And in many ways I feel like, non-queer people are missing out. Yeah. Interesting. If you had any advice that you could give the future generation, what would it be? Hm. I guess it would be, wow, I need to think about that for a second. You mean to gay people or society in general. Well, hoping that those are integrated, but. To the new generation, what would you say? I would say, take your time, and figure out who you are. And once you've figured it out, don't you dare let anybody trample you. Don't you dare. You stand up. You be proud, you be grateful, and you stand there, and don't put up with anybody's crap. Because life is too short. I guess that's the thing I learned in my own life. So much of the oppression is, either self-inflicted or self-allowed. We CHOOSE to put up with it. We choose not to take our partner to family reunion, and we feel oppressed because of that choice, and you'll never get rid of the oppression until you make a different choice. Makes me thing of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was famous for saying, “Nobody can ever make you feel inferior without your permission.” Yeah exactly. That's what makes me crazy today. Even people who are out, are still giving other people permission to make them feel inferior. I just want to shake them awake and say, this is self inflicted! Wow! Wake up! Stop the madness! And if it means ending your relationships, then end your relationship. I'm an advocate of that having been a victim of it. Or a perpetrator, whatever your view. You know, I got to the point where I refuse to tolerate, even from my own family, the attitudes that make me feel inferior. And they can't handle having an equal relationship, they can't handle having a respect relationship, so we have no relationship. and yeah it's sad, and yeah it's tough, but you move on as if they've died, because sooner or later they're going to die anyways, and you're going to go through the grieving process, and if you get rid of the relationships that are destructive to your psyche, you inherently make more room in your soul for those that are productive and nurturing. And that's just a sad, hard fact of life. Snap out of it and move on. Basically, because I'll tell you over all, I wouldn't go back to the closet if it meant having a relationship with my mother again. Even though I had a really close relationship with my mom and I miss her. Even that close bond is not worth the selfoppression required for me to go back into the closet. I won't do it. I would rather never see her again. And I don't say that heartlessly, and I don't say that with a lot

Interview with Craig Steiner

of deep emotion, but the precious gift of being who you are is so vastly important, as to trump nearly everything else, because if you can't live, and be who you are, then why are you even alive. And the result isn't to take your life, it's to figure it out and be who you are. You know, because it is so worth it, it is so worth it. Well thank you for sharing. Yeah. Yeah, I don't, I don't think there's really much more for you to say. Cool.