Benji Schwimmer is a world renowned dancer and choreographer. He is best known for winning Season 2 of the hit tv show So You Think You Can Dance. In this 3-part interview, Benji discusses the following:
- Part 1: His early years, and his LDS mission experience
- Part 2: His experiences on So You Think You Can Dance
- Part 3: His attempts to come to terms with his sexuality and his LDS faith
Part 1: Early years and LDS mission experience
Part 2: The “So You Think You Can Dance” experience
Part 3: Coming to terms with sexuality and faith
I’m listening to part 3 first. I love me some Benji! Loving this interview. Thanks Benji & John!
I’m not particularly religious, buffet to live my life by the golden rule. I laughed and cried with you during this look loooooooong interview and have come away with a great respect for you. I wish you nothing but the best and hope you find true happiness and a family. You seem like a great person with a huge heart.
What a remarkable young man! I love Benji Schwimmer! :)
Will audio-only be available? Gonna crash my car trying to watch the videos while commuting.
Audio for part 1 is up.
On iTunes that is.
Congratulations to Benji! I am a HUGE fan! You are a beautiful dancer, I could watch you all the time if I could. I voted for you “religiously” on the show, ironically while I was questioning and slowly leaving the church. I identify with you on so many levels as far as leaving the church and having “experiences” while a member. They are mine, whether they were mine or from other source. They made me who I am today.
I’m GLAD I was able to leave the church when I did. I think I might have been inspired or led out of that church because back then I didn’t know I’d end up with a transgender child. I couldn’t imagine trying to raise my now daughter within the confines of the LDS religion. Instead we were able to leave and find a church that is FULLY accepting of our family and my child and even my beliefs or non-beliefs. I’m very happy in my Agnostic Atheist beliefs now.
I agree that ever since leaving the church I no longer focus on the “sins” or judgement I felt. Instead I too look around at others to see “Where can I help.” I’ve found myself looking out instead of looking in.
It makes me happy to know you have left the church. I hope you find true happiness one day.
Again thank you for your openness!
Wow! Short sleeve button up shirt with tie. You can take the man out of mormonism but you can’t take the mormonism out of the man.
Extraordinary story, Benji, and you tell it with unflinching openness. Our paths have at least as many dissimilarities as similarities, but I’ve experienced a similar kind of emotional wrenching, and I can identify with the painful spiritual and psychological anguish you described, both in and out of activity in the church. It’s so sad that the church sets up so many people for such a tortured road through life when they don’t fit the mold. Here’s to those who break the mold in positive ways! I wish you the best.
Wow. That was awesome, deep, very deep, words from Benji. Loved hearing about your journey. Goodluck mate.
I’m trying. I’m trying to stop adoring Benji, but he’s just endlessly wonderful in every way. So proud of him for stepping up and sharing his story, his heart, his remarkable outlook on life with the MoSto crowd.
Hugs you Benji. You’re just going to keep on shining and making magic with your life. XO.
You’re the biggest reason why this all happened. Love to you and your family :)
You both rock! I loved watching the honest and deeply touching interviews you both gave! Benji, thank you for your honest and heartfelt account of your struggles. I am very happy for you that you were finally able to leave and find the peace you deserve.
I was shocked to learn of the church’s policy that prohibits folks with same-sex attraction from working with youth. That is so offensive on so many levels!
I love that you got such a strong confirmation that leaving was the right thing for you. I had a similar experience, and it goes a long way toward knowing that the Divine is on your side.
All the best to you! You are so courageous and such a good example to all seekers and strugglers!
So so profound Benji! What an incredibly brave and loving thing to share your story with us. I was so touched by your honesty, your wisdom, and your strength. Thank you, thank you!
So I have a question for Benji. Since many of the children’s ballroom dance studios are filled with Mormon kids, do you think if they knew you were gay they’d chose not to invite you as a special guest teacher? Do you think this coming out will affect your career?
The ballroom dance studio where my children take ballroom dance lessons is owned by Mormons and at least 50% of the kids are Mormon. You actually taught my kids this last February. I wonder if this studio would invite you back if they knew about your sexual orientation. Especially since the church bans homosexuals from teaching any youth.
That is a very good question. I know of one studio in Utah… one of the biggest if not the biggest in the state will not hire me for that very reason. I don’t see what the big deal is because I come to teach dance and choreopgraph, not scam on guys or worse preach my religious beliefs. This said studio also hires many non lds homosexuals and even houses them. c’est la vie. I can only look forward to those who don’t feel that it matters and know that i would conduct myself in a professional manner.
I can tell you right now that as a Mormon AND an instructor at Pacific Ballroom Dance, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment about having you, Benji, back to instruct my dancers/team. We would love to have you back and look forward to working with you again. :)
Thanks you from the depths of my heart, mind, and soul.
Good stuff!!! I am not gay at all and still I can completely relate. I went through my “crisis of faith” about 8 years ago and I spent the first 6 years of that time struggling off and on with alcohol. Finding the Mormon Stories podcast among other things was crucial to bringing me out of this spiral. It is probably true that I had to spend some time “sewing my oats” as you put it but that really was a dangerous and scary thing for me. I guess I had to go through some of that to finally find my own reasons why alcohol doesn’t work for me but running does. I am training for my second marathon right now. It is much more powerful and lasting to find morality within yourself than it is to have a packaged version of it handed to you.
Benji, you sound like a wonderful young man–so articulate, smart, talented, and interesting. My problem is that, in my personal experience, I do not trust gay people. I was kidnapped and molested by a gay man at age 4 in Michigan. In Oregon I was molested at age 10 by a rich gay man several times when he was visiting neighbors who were also gay. He would give me nice expensive gifts. Another gay guy molested me at 12 years of age. He was my assistant scout master (Methodist Church Scout troop). He would get me drunk and introduce me to pornography.
I hope this did not happen to you when you were 4 or 5 when you said you had many gay family friends. Gays seem to prey on vulnerable boys. Maybe that’s why Jesus say it would be better for a person to have a mill stone hung around his neck and tossed into the sea to drown than to OFFEND ONE OF THESE LITTLE ONES.
Virtually every gay person I am aware of was molested as a young person. That’s why I don’t trust gays around young boys. How do you feel about gays who “love” young boys? Do you feel they should be respected like other gays and lesbians should be respected? If that’s the way “God made them,” should I love and respect their lifestyle choice and allow them around my young boys?
Daniel, I’m sorry for your horrible childhood experiences. But gays don’t prey on vulnerable boys…pedophiles do. Totally separate things. I wasn’t molested as a child, and neither were the majority of my gay friends. And having worked with male sexual abuse victims in the past, I can say that being molested doesn’t turn anyone gay.
No one should have to face abuse, sexual or otherwise, so I’m sorry that you experienced it, Daniel. You’re right that the consequences can be horrific.
Nevertheless, gay does not equal pedophile. Horny heterosexual does not equal pedophile either, for that matter. Pedophilia is a specific form of sexual maladjustment, separate from a person’s sexual orientation.
Were these men homosexuals or pedophiles? Or were they both? As myself being gay, I think “gays who love young boys” is deviant and wrong—and illegal! Hello! I don’t respect them and they should be in therapy to figure out what is causing this behavior. Although I find it disgusting, I also think it is pitiful too. Serious therapy! No, not all gay men have been molested. Being molested is a separate issue from sexual identity. Of course, being molested may make sexuality difficult (etc) but truly they are not totally interelated. You should talk to a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Also I have a background a degree in psychology and am gay. So if that helps…
Daniel – that’s appalling, it should never happen and traumatises so many, and some so much.
But seriously, kids these days are safer because they can just come out with it and say what’s happening. I to was molested decades ago but didn’t get the guy busted for fear of stigma and questions about my own sexuality.
If I was a kid these days that guy would have been so busted because kids in liberal towns don’t care whether anybody thinks they’re gay or not. Gay advocacy isn’t just about gays – it’s for everyones’ benefit.
Wow. Benji, that was amazing. I’m a recent “convert” to Mormon stories and it has helped me immensely as I’ve traveled on my faith journey. You are inspiring in so many ways.
I’ve always been a fairly quiet protester in the church. After watching this, I will no longer be quiet. The new policy is wrong on so many levels and I am ashamed to be part of an organization that puts my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the same category as pedophiles and child molesters.
Thanks to John and Benji for a wonderful interview.
So inspiring. Your moral courage and commitment to truth and goodness are beautiful. I think life will get better and better for you Benji! The best is yet to come!
Amazing interview so far.
Its shocking that such scarlet letters are being attached to faithful members. Lets hope new revelation repeals that asap.
Your integrity and boldness and admirable, and my wife and I wish you the best, and look forward to your future work being showcased on SYTYCD!!!
I just came across the part where asterisks are put along side the names of those disciplined for homosexual transgressions. My mother is a DEd (education) taught for 35 years, developed curriculum for both public school systems and for the CES. After she retired she inquired about possibly teaching institute at the local university. She was denied because she had divorced my father, her first husband. I’m not sure if this is still policy, maybe some one could comment.
Our church when it comes to repentance does not seem to recognize the “white as snow” aspect, as well as the “I the Lord will remember them (sins) no more”. When it comes to sex, the church seems to lose all sensibility, assuming homosexuality is somehow inherently driving one towards pedophilia.
Our church at least does recognize homosexuality and accept it as naturally occurring and part of a person’s emotional make-up, which to me seems cart before horse as this would be the hardest part a religion could adopt, that homosexuality is a God-given trait. But no, our church accepts it, and gets hung up on the banality of the sex act. We tell our young GLBT brothers and sisters that they are loved and accepted by God only if they remain celibate the rest of their lives, denying them not only a natural expression of core, moral natural tendencies, but we fight on a public stage any rights and protections to establish a healthy institute for our gay brothers and sisters to express their core, moral desires and tendencies inside marriage, where monogamous sex between a married couple would still break the laws of chastity. I don’t get it, why are the Boyd Ks of the church so hung up on the sex act?
I’m so glad I tapped out, and good to hear you came around as well Benji. We are fighting hard to change this deplorable circumstance. Leaving the church is just the beginning.
Loved the part where Benji taught John what “motorboating” is. Haha. Priceless.
That made me giggle. Hehe!
Hey Elder Schwimmmer, Gracias por todo su ejemplo durante el tiempo de la misión, estoy muy agradecido con el Señor por conocerle y por haberme dado la oportunidad de servir junto a usted. Es grandioso todo lo que esta haciendo, pero aun mas grandioso su testimonio y su firmeza para con las cosas del Evangelio.
Le amo compa.
Saludos desde México.
I knew Benji’s dancing was amazing and have followed his career since SYTYCD Season 2, but I didn’t know what an amazing man he was until today. I am in awe. I am so happy he has found peace within himself. Benji, I believe your story will help and inspire many others out there.
Wow. John, I can see why you’ve wanted to get Benji on this podcast for so long! This was one of the best Mormon Stories I’ve heard period. Benji, thank you so much for sharing your story. You are amazing and it was both heartbreaking and joyous listening to you bare your soul to us.
Listening to your account of finding your “escape” was a catalyst for me getting an answer to my own prayers. I have been going through my own faith crisis, and struggling to hold onto any aspect of spirituality that I can. Hearing your words filled me with the spirit as strongly as I have ever felt it, and gave me a feeling of peace and love that I’m on the right path for me. Like you said, I don’t know if it comes from God or the Holy Ghost or just my own inner voice, but wherever it comes from, it can still give me comfort.
Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the “asterisk” revelation something of a breaking news story? I have never heard that from any sources before, I think it might just be a Mormon Stories exclusive. It’s definitely something that needs to be shared. That is not how we should be treating children of God who are just as deserving of the atonement as any of the rest of us.
Words all but escape me! Thank you BOTH “to Infinity and Beyond”! Luckily my desk is located in a back office where no one sees me – tears of joy and gratitude have mightily flowed! I listened to ALL of this the minute is became available – and took the time to re-listen and compose myself enough to express my gratitude for ALL that John Dehlin does to help provide a safe place to stay sane and alive. And thank Benji for his forthrightness and desire to push forward and love life – and to share his story openly and honestly! You two are the personification of the song “Love One Another as I have Loved You”…… <3
The reason you were not allowed to work with under age children in the Church is due to the several recent-year, high profile court cases. The church has had to pay out umpteen millions of dollars in civil suits and jail time in church-related so-called child molestation cases. That’s why all classrooms now have things like added clear glass windows and things like background checks are made to try to prevent these high profile, expensive court cases against the Church.
A few “bad apples” have ruined things for all gays. It’s for practical legal-protection reasons the Church had to restrict you. For instance, let’s say you were a bit “too close” to a 17 year old boy who was “offended” and went to his non-member father who, then, called the police. The Church could be held civilly and criminally responsible for not protecting a minor from “molestation.”
Too bad you took this policy personally. This is a common thing done by other churches and schools for legal “protection” against expensive law suits. Such a policy is not meant to an act of “hate” against gays, and it’s not a matter of whether or not the prophet used “divine revelation” in the matter. He probably just followed legal requirements/advice to help preclude further expensive suits/prosecutions against the Church.
So sorry you took the policy so personal.
There are plenty of individuals that take advantage of children that are not gay. It is ridiculous for the church to discriminate against gay people when heterosexual-identifying individuals may also take advantage of children. It is like the church is implying all gay people molest/hurt children when that is not the case. They want to protect children, implement a policy that applies to EVERYONE. Also, if the church really wanted to protect children/teens, it would not have children/teens meeting with an older man (bishop) alone for interviews, particularly about sexual subjects.
Right. Actually statistics say that it is usually a heterosexual middle aged man that is most likely. Pedophilia happens to boys and girls. So while the pedophile (usually identifying as heterosexual), it can be either gay or straight.
Are you saying that there have been more cases of child abuse perpetrated by gay people in the church than be straight members? That simply is not true!
There have been many cases, high-profile or not, in which the perpetrators are heterosexual, and they haven’t made a policy banning heterosexual men from working with youth.
I MUST comment on this. I have 6 sisters. ALL of them were molested by HETERO-SEXUAL men! None of those men were gay. Before we decide that GAY = PEDOPHILE we need education about what “Pedophilia” is.
I am appalled that we put a Scarlett * on your church records. Is this ONLY for Homo-sexual acts and not on ANY ‘run of the mill’ sexual acts against children? Those people who molested my sisters (including myself) were ACTIVE, CALLING-HOLDING, ADULT MEN! SOME OF THEM MARRIED! I am yelling because this is a reprehensible policy that has NO PLACE in a church that believes in pure repentance and an infinite atonement. Honestly, this is so disturbing. I take it personally! I don’t have an * by my name but it enrages me that this should be a part of one’s permanent record.
In the end, it takes parents being vigilant and aware of their children’s where abouts and involved with their forming friendships. We need to be aware of those around our children, because there are PLENTY of HETERO-SEXUAL men and women who prey on young children!
Your comment betrays your utter ignorance about child sexual abuse and homosexuality. The overwhelming MAJORITY of child molesters who are attracted to adults are men who are attracted to women–ie, straight men–and they are most frequently equally likely to abuse boys or girls, with their primary fixation being age. Gay men are no more likely than straight men to be molesters, and there are far more straight men in the population. Women molest children at an incredibly low rate in comparison, so perhaps church policy should be that MEN should never be allowed to teach or have contact with children. Does that sound reasonable? Feel like maybe you being swept undeservingly into a category you don’t belong in?
The Church does not single out only gays with a known record of sexual deviation–none are exempt, gay or straight. I don’t know exactly what the Church’s overall policy is for avoiding expensive suits which allege sexual abuse of any kind– underage molestation, opposite sex assault, involving gays, straight, bisexuals, or whatever. However, it makes sense to exclude from youth-related callings those members (gay or straight) having a “known history” of sexual conduct deviating from normal sexual relations only within the bounds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman.
I confessed to some “petting” with my wife before we were married? Does that mean I have an asterisk? Sounds like I should, since I clearly deviated from normal sexual relations within bounds of marriage. Those primary kids we taught were in huge danger from me and my sexually deviant wife!
Just an FYI but I know that in our stake men teaching young kids are not supposed to be alone with the kids. in the rare case that there is nobody available the door is propped open.
It is also not allowed to use young men to babysit kids for activities. This is good policy. I always think how dumb it was to take a hormonal 14 year old boy who doesn’t know with those crazy urges….especially mormon boys who generally are just told they are not supposed to do anything with them but pray and sing hymns until they are married.
This isn’t the only way to deal with this issue from a legal perspective, so it’s not accurate to say that the church is doing this purely for legal reasons. The church has good lawyers, it could have came up with a better policy if the brethren wanted to.
I don’t know exactly what the Church’s overall policy is for avoiding expensive suits which allege sexual abuse of any kind– underage molestation, opposite sex assault, involving gays, straight, bisexuals, or whatever. The Church does not single out only gays with a known record of sexual deviation–none are exempt, gay or straight. However, it makes sense to exclude from youth-related callings those members (gay or straight) having a “known history” of sexual conduct deviating from normal sexual relations only within the bounds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman.
So does the Church put an asterisk next to those heterosexuals with a “known history of sexual conduct deviating from normal sexual relations” if they have masturbated, looked at porn in any way, or “went too far” sexually before they were married? If so then almost every male in the Church would have an asterisk next to their name, but I don’t see that as being the case.
Seriously? I can’t even believe you even bothered to say this. It is insulting to imply gays are any more likely to molest children than heterosexual members. I could understand this argument for pedophilia but not of gays. There are plenty of way to protect minors from predators, this is not one of them. You really don’t make the Church look any better making this weak argument. It’s bigotry plain and simple.
To the person discussing deviation from sex w/in marriage, that would then have to include people who have had sex with the opposite sex outside of marriage.
Additionally as it stands primary and other callings already have people teaching in pairs for legal reasons. I do think there is homophobia in the church and will be for a long time and until the church is willing to further encourage people to get educated, then the rule does protect gay people from ignorance and homophobia and the conscious and unconscious things people could do and would do out of such fears.
I do think there is a complexity with gay men working with Boy Scouts or other young men because it is the gender they are attracted to and young men have priesthood leaders who are males and women have leaders who are women. There are callings though that are more overseeing callings where you see a man in the role over the young women leaders through the bishopric for example.
For callings like primary where people are taught in pairs and the group is co-ed including gay youth, there should clearly not be an issue.
Even in Boy Scouts though with leaders regardless of attraction, it is generally multiple adult leaders and being alone in a secluded setting with boys is rather rare and could easily be managed responsibly and respectfully to all involved where it may be a legitimate concern for legal reasons.
Some gay men do not identify as ‘male’ or ‘masculine’ like Benji does. In those cases they may not want to nor be ideal to lead the young men for example, or may be nice supplemental leaders to the young male leaders and a good example to other gay men in the religion of a diverse leadership working together.
I would like to see a more obvious discussion of which callings are appropriate for gay men and why? Church librarians? Bishop? They don’t call a single man to that role and they discourage marriage if not almost entirely prohibit it. (I don’t think they have gone that far).
Gay men could be temple workers I guess, manage finances? seems like they are limiting things a lot that way. I do think the asterisk thing needs to get out further assuming it is true what he was told by his Stake President, which frankly I assume it probably is true. I think the asterisk is a really interesting potential gay pride symbol and I applaud the use of it as such. I think it is article worthy and hopefully will be picked up as such by major media outlets.
I do think healthy boundaries are important and needed for ANYONE working with children, or adults for that matter. I think they are needed to protect all involved.
There is a story of a gay couple in SLC who were attacked for protecting neighbor kids when they came over during a party their parents were having which included drinking and a rather wild environment. (Apparently they knew the people next door and the kids and if I remember details right were at the party as well). Gay men need to be mindful of homophobia in cases like that. It is wise for any adult to be mindful of kids that come into their home or in a room where they are alone, especially men.
Gay or Straight, obviously people in some cases do have attractions to children given the popularity of child pornography which is surprisingly popular even in Utah. Pedophilia though often gets lumped in with homosexuality, they are different distinctions and people need more education about the subject, especially people in power. That said, pedophilia is not likely to happen in a group of kids with another teacher present.
Gay men and Lesbians are legally able to work with kids in the school system and do openly or not openly all throughout the country.
The Boy Scouts do not allow gay scout leaders and I don’t think they even allow gay scouts officially.
Homophobia needs a lot of working out as does the bigotry that often fronts for a deeper fear and ignorance. Gay men have a lot to offer and I could see gay men doing interesting things all throughout the church in honest and open ways if the leadership can wake up and grow up (they are all old enough that they should be able to be more mature than a lot of the policies clearly are).
How can someone not take something like that personally? When celibate gay latter day saints look so forward to serving within the church because of the lack of familial interactions and responsabilities of their own? On top of it, why should any one individual find it okay to just throw half the potential callings out the door for the rest of their lives. It makes us very much the second class citizens we sadly tend to feel we truly are at church. That being said, whther it’s to protect the church or not, I worry what it would do to a boy or girl who is on the brink of suicide and ends up crossing that line when they see they can never be fully welcomed into the church as everyone should.
I would also add to you Daniel that I personally didn’t leave the church for the asterisk issue. Re watch part 3. I did not leave the LDS church because I was offended. Though if it makes you feel better to find reason other than something divine touched me personally, it really doesn’t effect me. Be careful with the attitude of insensetivity… there are so many people hanging on by a thread… it could hirt them deeply to have such a laxidasial attitude in public and within the confines of mormonism.
I am a closeted 40 year old Mormon who sexually assaulted and beat severely by a member of my ward’s Bishopric. A straight man with a wife and children. Saying the church is protecting itself legally by tattooing homosexuals is homophobic slander. Straight men are just as prone to pedophilia, as I well know. This man lived a rich life in the church while I spent the next 20 years in silence, guilt, and shame. What did the church do to protect me? The statute of limitations has past, and who knows how many other boys he violated by virtue of his position and manipulation of an 11 year old boy’s blind faith. If the Lord God remembers sin no more, why does the church? And, BTW, I’m living proof that molested boys don’t all grow up to be pedophiles. Your rationale sickens me.
I am a faithful, believing Mormon and I believe that fear of financial losses, even large ones, is not a valid reason to implement this policy. The church has a responsibility to teach of Christ and his atonement and to exemplify those teachings in their policies and practices. Treating a faithful member of the church who has repented and never even harmed a child as forever tainted is wrong. Even if the church were reduced to poverty due to lawsuits of this type, we as a church should choose the right and let the consequence follow. The church is here to teach of Christ and invite souls to come to him, not to amass wealth. Benji, I feel so sorry that you were treated this way, and though you had to withdraw your official membership, I am glad you still identify yourself as Mormon and hope you are able to maintain whatever ties to the church that you feel are right for you. May you receive only love and kindness from your fellow Mormons.
I got this link via FB.
I am not Mormon, I come from a Jewish tradition but don’t practice any religion. I was actually raised as Atheist and always felt some jealousy of those who have faith, no matter what it was.
That feeling of guidance and purpose, the support of the community and the inspiration by scrips and in-lighted people.
Watching all 3 parts I saw how beautiful faith can be, even through rough and confusing times. I was completely inspired by your story and cried with you cause I can relate. Even though I am not gay or have religious conflicts, I have felt lost for so many years looking for the right path for me and trying to find out what is my calling, what is my purpose in life. I’ve been through so many trials and tribulations and been to very dark places and even kind of like you said, wished that my plane would crash and “the problem would be solved”. I also had that moment where everything became clear when I got my answer and it felt just like you described it.
Your story not only inspired me an strengthened me but also educated me a lot. I was pretty ignorant about Mormonism and I was just listening to you speak in one browser window and had Wikipedia and Google open in the other window and kept looking for values mentioned.
Thank you for a few amazing hours. I’m even more excited now to meet you for the first time in Blackpool at WSM:)
Wishing you all the best and love in the world.
John and Benji, bravo! Beautiful interview. I lost my fight with mormonism many years ago and have been angry with the church for many things. But when I heard Benji talk about wanting to die so he could die clean, my heart dropped. That is so very, very wrong and sad. I will not be a quiet protester anymore either. Many thanks, and God is blessing you Benji!
Thank you for that beautiful interview…what a beautiful journey. Thanks for reminding us that we should value these experiences that made us what we are, even if they were hard to travel at the time.
I’m speechless. Thanks for the production of the video and the open-ness. A lot of important points were articulated so clear and sincerely. I’m sure this story will be a catalyst for peace for others.
Excellent podcasts! Loved every single minute of Benji’s story. I’ve never watched SYTYCD but now I might have to get season 2 off of Netflix so I can see Benji’s work. Thanks to both of you for putting together five hours of an enlightening narrative.
I ditto Mike’s remark. I watched the first two podcasts on Wednesday and the third last night.
Benji and John: absolutely excellent!! I love this site and am not even Mormon. I guess it’s because I’ve always felt a connection to some degree due to my extensive reading on the LDS church and religion in general. Having found the Mormon Stories site has provided me with an entirely different perspective not available in books. I’ve also always loved reading non-fiction throughout my life, primarily those that are biographical, so I guess there is a natural inclination for me to be interested in hearing personal stories.
And, for me, there is a gay connection too, as I am a gay Christian who also struggled for many years to come to terms with my faith and sexuality, so I can identify in many ways with what Benji shared of his personal journey. However, I have found a wonderful church family which is open and affirming to the LGBT community.
Keep on keeping on guys! These stories are truly worth the listen.
This was so very touching – I could not stop listening to all three parts. Thank you Benji for being so open with your story. I’m so glad you have found peace with your path. I didn’t really have much hope that the church would ever change its teachings about homosexuality, but I have now found that hope listening to this story. I think it can happen once more people hear and understand how the current culture is affecting those who struggle with SSA. The church would truly be enriched by embracing all of God’s children as they are.
I hadn’t heard of the permanent asterisks prior to this podcast. It is sad that the church is linking expressing homosexual thoughts with pedophilia. I hope they see the light and reverse that soon. Thanks again Benji and John.
Benji it was so nice to meet you via Mormon Stories. Thank you for telling your story! We are kindred spirits. IMO you are a Latter Day Saint!! Keep your light shining and keep your bootie shakin’!!!! I love you!
Benji – I think the blood drained from my face when you mentioned how Lehi also left the tradition and faith he grew up with. I had a similar experience when I started reading the BOM this year and after I read what Lehi did, I stopped and sobbed for over an hour as I contemplated what that message meant for me.
I also love how you stand behind your path and choices. Dehlin is trying to get you to confess a quicker way to happiness and peace, but I agree, there is just no way. We all have to work within our understanding and experiences to find what will work best for us. Dangerous? Yes, but from where I am now, every option carries that element.
Great Podcast. FWIW – I believe you Benji and I don’t think you are farther from anyone in the church (or otherwise) because of your choice. The love you have for others is what screams out of this podcast and I feel blessed for being able to share a part of it just by listening.
Side note – Did you say Johanna or Jana when talking about going on sabbatical – becasue I thought you said Johanna and I think it was actually Jana (I’m just posting this in case someone else heard wrong and wanted to go back and listen to the sabbatical talk. :)
The reference to taking a sabbatical was on the Jana Riess / Flunking Sainthood podcast
Joanna talks about sabbaticals too, fwiw.
Benji – just wow. You’re beautiful, and authentic, and I absolutely loved hearing your story, and so much of it resounded with me. I especially loved the part where you talked about continuing to claim mormonism – the things that can’t be taken away from you. Amen. Only been able to watch Part 3 so far, but thank you SO MUCH for sharing.
what are you saying John? You think you know your material more than your fans? ;)
Thanks for it all!
Benji! Your story was so beautiful! I just checked out your dances on YouTube and they are evocative and energetic. Many parts of your story resonated with me deeply–I too felt I could never fit in to the Mormon box and I had to go through hell to find heaven on the other side. Thank you for sharing so much of your beautiful, brilliant self. It is reassuring to know that there are other people in the world who have felt the things you felt and had to choose a different path. I am sending you love and positive thoughts and hopes for your future. May you find a wonderful partner and have the family you long for!!!! oxoxoxoxooxoxoxoxox
Thank you for sharing your story Benji! Your courage, faith and humility was deeply touching. I too have just left after experiences different but similar, personal torture being Mormon. God too released me in a remarkable way. I was always able to seperate God and Jesus from the church. I know enjoy guilt free living, I’ve never done so much good, felt so much love and feel free to just be. Be fantastic now you have been released to truly fly!
Benji and John, thanks for a riveting podcast. Benji is very interesting to listen to, and so is his story.
Question: Can anyone provide independent verification of Benji’s claim re: this new church policy on homosexual activity prompting a permanent mark in one’s membership record? If its really true that homosexual members are being blacklisted from youth callings indefinitely, purely for past homosexual acts (and not just pedophilia), this strikes me as pretty newsworthy, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been known and discussed around the Bloggernacle.
Beautiful and heart-wrenching and eye-opening. I’ve learned so much and I have a lot to ponder, but mostly I just feel such love for Benji and others like him. Thank you, Benji, for this beautiful story.
Wow! What an impressive, wonderful man with such an important message. I hope many, many Mormons — both gay and straight — will watch this.
Loved this interview. I love Benji’s energy and enthusiasm. I was so sad to hear about the asterix for eternity deal with NOT allowing gays to lead the youth. The leaders who make these choices are SOOOOOOOOO ignorant. I am so glad you just got the heck out of there. I love that your family gets together for dinner regularly. I love that your mom wished you had told her long ago. I really do hear in your interview that you are loved and loving. Thank you!!
To everyone who worked on this videocast: Thank you for this interview!!! Benji is a great storyteller and this was a particularly important story for me and my family to hear. I can’t thank you all enough!!! Best wishes and abundant blessings for you all.
I think I had a spiritual experience watching this — what a refreshing, inspired outlook on dealing with a profound faith transition.
I think the asterisk is a new symbol of hope for us all: gay or straight, in or out, to wear an asterisk is a symbol of our humanity.
You know, I like that asterisk idea. Sort of along the lines of the pink triangle, but for Mormons specifically.
Like everyone else, I found this to be a very compelling podcast. Thanks to Benji for being so honest and candid about his life experience. And for showing that once again, everyone’s story is different. There’s no cookie-cutter pattern for being a “gay Mormon” — what it means to be one, or how it affects your life and the decisions you make. I know that this podcast will change lives of youth who are out there thinking “Am I the only one who feels this way?” There are many gay Mormon stories out there on the Internet, and not all of them are relatable or relevant to those searching for answers.
Thank you once again John Dehlin and Mormon Stories.
What an incredible story. Being a gay Mormon myself I could relate so much to your story. I have also since left the church and feel that I have become a more Christ-like person.
I would love to see you when you speak in Salt Lake this month. Does anyone know the date and location that he will be speaking at?
Conference is June 15-17th. Info is here:
hey! i may not be speaking live at the conference yet i just booked a fairly large role in a movie and we’re shooting this whole month its up in the air at this point but i would go to this event either way it’ll be wonderful!
I am so darn proud of you! I will always love ya lil man! Dance on!
Wow. Just…Wow. I admit that when I saw the summary of this interview, I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be–I’m not a big dance fan, and never watch the dance shows. But I found Benji to be a fantastic, riveting subject, and by the time part 3 came around was absolutely captivated with his deep feeling and heartbreaking sincerity. I can’t say I’ve dealt with the challenges Benji has (at least, not to that extent), but I have my own challenges that lead me to feel very much like an outsider in the Church with its strongly defined culture. I feel a great love and kinship for Benji and admire him for his courage, honesty, and passion for life.
This guy is amazing! I’ve been crying, smiling and praying during this whole interview. What an inspiring one! Thanks for bringing this piece of peace, reflection and decision into my world.
P.s.: Benji, I hope to meet you someday. I need to have friends (or a husband) with this natural spirituality. :)
Re: Music Benji and John… I TOTALLY agree about the music thing. I am a gay guy out for 20+ years now, but still with a strong relationship to people inside and around the LDS culture and religion and I definitely do not like Showtunes and Men’s Choirs all that much. I can appreciate moments here or there, but that is the exception not the rule. I do like Opera here or there, but generally I like World Music, Rock (Adam Lambert and Freddie Mercury from Queen are both gay). I love Folk Music. I tire of stereotypically gay music and gay art. I love gay themed art that is unexpected. I love music like Anthony and the Johnsons or Thoth (can see on youtube, gay musician/performance Artists). REM of course has a gay lead singer as well and is not all showtunes.
It would be interesting to hear Gay Christian/Mormon Rock singers. I did meet a Mormon Pop/Rock Singer at one point, but he was closeted at that point. Not sure where he is now with his journey. But I know it is out there. There is a gay country singer out there too. So the GayExMo’s and FringeMo’s have to have some interesting music around somewhere I would think or could be encouraged to create it at the conferences.
That said, I respect the SLMen’s choir. I just tire of seeing them at every gay event. They deserve some support, but within limits (ie. not at every event I would think ideally, or ask some of them who do other music to mix it up perhaps?)
The Dalai Lama said at one point something along the lines of “The world does not need more Buddhists… Be a Christian, Practice Buddhism.”
What Mormon Stories has done for me years after leaving the LDS religion is make Mormonism available as a more ‘open source’ sort of religion and collective journey/inquiry. It took me a long time to realize I could leave the church, but not the people and the collective experience. I exist in relationship to family, friends, etc… no matter how I seem to want to cut it from me. In that way, I am “in the religion, but not in the Church” or perhaps “In the religion, but not OF the Church?”
I did a bit of the gay Rumspringa over the course of my years. I left without really delving into facets of the religion and had to come back to those facets. I think for a lot of people who are gay, it can be a bit of a Joseph sold into Egypt story where they leave and bring back various gifts to the community and something of a Scarlet Letter experience where there is both an outcast element and an offering of sorts.
I watched this wishing I could offer a hug and then Benji (you?) mentioned he had read the book “Circling the Wagons” which has a piece of my history in it along with some history of my family. It was great to know in that way perhaps you were offered a hug at a time when you needed it and in that way we have been able to offer something to each other. I appreciate your work to offer your voice to our ongoing journey as individuals and as a community gay/straight, inside and outside the religion.
And if Benji does happen to read this, know that dropping your pants made me appreciate you and made me think exactly what you hoped it would, that you were wonderfully and beautifully human like the rest of us. Thanks for counting to 8. You may be a layman, but you have a rich depth of thought.
Oh, and as someone who never necessarily wanted to have kids of my own, I can say that while I never have had them, kids have found me and become very much a part of the magic of my life and thankfully I have been a magical part of their’s. Without even trying I have ended up with a few kids in an almost ‘God-child’ sort of way and like Oprah, I have at times been able to offer something to kids both directly and indirectly (through supporting their parents in various ways and/or through encouraging their parents to ‘see’ them or ‘hear’ them differently) in ways I never anticipated.
Grace is a beautiful thing and it was great to hear you articulate so well what I work so often to tell people, that spirituality is richest with grace. Work does beautiful things, but life is richer with grace and we all need it.
Even though I am years out of the church, conversations like this are fundamental in my life and support me in supporting others in the in between places in their lives.
Blessings and Grace to all who may come across this and bother to read it.
Really good interview. It was hard to listen to the mental somersaults this young man has gone through. Any God worth worshiping would only want joy for his creations. We all have choice and I’m very glad to hear he’s resigned. Escape, and be well. Learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and find our genuine self.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the asterisk policy since listening, and I actually can see where the church is coming from on this one. I think in the case of Benji, he absolutely should NOT have had that mark on his records for life, but I think that some people should. Let me elaborate.
Growing up, I had a bishop who, as it turns out, was molesting/having sex with boys that would come to him to confess same sex attraction. This didn’t come to light until around 15 years after the fact when one of the victims finally came forward. As this was all coming to light, we also found out that he had confessed similar problems and was disfellowshipped once before. Had his records shown that, he would have never been called to be bishop, and would never have been able to take advantage of those children. Since so much time had passed, he was acquitted of the charges, and is now re-baptised and back in the church. I think that is terrible, but honestly it gives me a little comfort to know that he has that asterisk next to his name.
Like I say, Benji doesn’t deserve it, and I’m sure there are many other people that don’t deserve it. I wish the church could take it on a case by case basis, but unfortunately I know that they’re not capable of that sort of logic.
It sounds like what you want is for known child molestors to get an asterisk–whether they are convicted or not–which absolutely makes sense whether those people call themselves straight or gay. But that isn’t where the church is coming from. They clearly aren’t thinking about actually protecting children, or the policy would be written very differently. Not only do the overwhelming majority of gay people not deserve a “pedophile” warning, but this policy doesn’t even attempt to capture the majority of abusers–men abusing girls. What if the bishop you mention had been assualting girls? No asterisk! If they are going to asterisk any gay men to sweep a wide net over potential abusers because case-by-case is too hard, then statistically they should asterisk all men, and not gay women.
Wow Benji, your story was very inspiring. Thank you for your honesty, love, and compassion. I hope you find that special someone and raise a kick-butt family!
First, living among the living is the true test of your goodness. It’s not very difficult to live by the generic rules when surrounded by the rule followers. (not speaking about LGBT issues in that). Second, I’m so sorry you didn’t know that your brain stops growing at 26 and until then, it’s virtually impossible to be a fully complete human.:) You made the right move, exposing yourself to a variety of people at that time.
Benji you are exemplifying the post gay man in a pre gay society. Live. Associate with all other creative and thoughtful people sharing the same goals and respect for humanity. Adam Lambert, another post gay man said ““Love overcomes hate. Love has no color. Love has no orientation. All is love.” You’re right. Does anyone say that homosexuality is fine unless you act on it – with a straight face? Ridiculous. Whatever the spirit of GOD is, it certainly does not exclude love towards a segment of humankind , but, who perhaps for a misfire at birth are EXACTLY like every other human on the planet. In fact, in my experience, “better” than most (for lack of a better term).
This was beautiful. Season 2 of SYTYCD was the first season I watched, and I continue to watch because I was such a fan of Benji’s work on the show. Though I am not Mormon, much of this interview resonated deeply with me. I was raised Catholic & attended a Catholic college, but I simply can’t reconcile my progressive politics with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Benji said he’ll always be Mormon, he’ll always have the upbringing in the Mormon Church and those experiences, and so will I with my upbringing in the Catholic Church. Except now I try to live my life as Christian as possible. When you refocus all the energy you were expending on following the Church’s rules, you realize how many opportunities you’re missing to do good, ethical, Christian work.
Thank you, Benji. Though I’m a straight Catholic woman, I cannot tell you how moving and inspirational your story as a gay Mormon man is.
This was like listening to myself 20 years ago…Spooky. I had the same excitement of my mission and love for the gospel. Take that and mix with the inner angst I lived with no matter how faithful I was or how much I prayed and read the scriptures and we could be twins.
As a man who DID marry because I too could muster up enough attraction to a woman, I can only commend Benji for making the break as soon as he did. It probably seems late to him but before a wife and kids got involved is the right time.
Of course I’m not as well-known, or successful in my career as Benji and I now have four wonderful children I couldn’t imagine life without. I’m amazed at how quickly things are changing. Faithful Mormons now marching in SLC Pride, BYU students speaking opening, etc… Toto we’re not in Provo anymore!
This was a wonderful interview, or at least Part 3 was. ;)
I was very struck, Benji, by your comment about coming from an “I know” culture and breaking out of that to confront the grand mystery that is reality. I think creation and discovery are almost the same act and when one decides that they know everything they need to know, they close themselves off from that mystery, the curiosity that drives life, from the act of creation, and from Creation itself.
I was proud to call Benji a fellow mormon when i saw him on tv, and i’m still proud to call him a fellow mormon after listening to this. thanks for sharing your story.
[…] Jana Riess, Claudia Bushman, Benji Schwimmer*, Andrew Ainsworth, Peter Breinholt and Bengt […]
I was blown away that John thought 5% of the Mormon population was gay. That seemed really high, double the number in the general population. Then Benji tripled that estimate. I was really befuddled about what might be causing such a high rate of same-sex attraction in Mormonism.
Then I read this article and everything became clear.
But that article distinguishes quite clearly between people who identify as homosexual and those who experience same-sex attraction or have same-sex sexual experiences. The second group is closer to Benji’s estimate.
The focus of that article was on how many identify as LGBT to the extent that they might want to get married, which is a lower number.
What the numbers are really depends on how one defines “gay.”
Benji, my husband says that you are a brave soul, and I completely agree. Thank you for sharing your story and being so honest. I am currently going through my own struggle in the church and believing in it, and I am grateful to you and also to you John Dehlin, for having these Mormon Stories so that my husband and I know that even though we may be alone in our city as far as not knowing anyone else going through this where we live, we are not alone in this world. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
Which city? I would imagine you are not the only one going through this. When my husband and I “came out of the mormon closet of belief concerns” we had people we never dreamt of coming to us with similar experiences. I is surprising how you are not as alone as you probably feel.
Benji, I have always loved watching you dance on SYTYCD. That was the season I started watching.
I felt a kindred sister hearing about your determination as a missionary and to give everything your all in all your time as an active member of the church. I followed a similar spiritual work ethic. I loved and felt like you were repeating my own words as you described a spiritual stagnation. I felt this as well and after struggling with it for 7 years of trying to serve harder, go to the temple more, read scriptures, prayer etc. I finally left. I feel so much more giving and sincere about my path now. I cried many times hearing about your journey. You are a very brave and man of integrity. I appreciate you sharing your story. I wish you all the best in your life with a partner and your future children.
Hi, Cherie. I live in Edmonton, Alberta. No one knows about my current feelings about the church now except for a sister who is inactive and is sympathetic. I don’t know if and when I’ll ever be able to tell anyone about it, mainly because of my concern of being ostracized by my family and the small community my family lives in that always thought of me as the perfect “molly mormon.” Benji’s courage astounds me, to come out of the mormon and gay closet, and he is truly blessed to have such a wonderful, supportive family. I can’t even do one of those things. Thank you to Benji and everyone else who has somehow found the courage and strength to live their authentic life.
Ami, My heart goes out to you! I had a mission companion from there and she would often talk about how it is a really tight small LDS community. I know what it feels like to go from pedistal to project overnight. People were shocked to find out about us. It was hard to feel like some of my identity as a faithful hard working member was lost in a day. It has been hard this past year and a half but it has also been a wonderful spiritual awakening and time of growth. I know everyone has their own process and ours is evolving all the time now. It took me 7 years to come to terms with my concerns and actually leave. Right up until we left I was trying to give it 100% in hopes things could change. I hope you feel that you are not alone and there are people who feel the same way you do. Take care and good luck to you!
Benji you truly are a brave soul. I have the utmost respect for you. John, I can’t express in words how you’ve helped me and members of my family. When we found your podcast we knew others were also searching for the truth. I often referred to my experience as being thrown in a deep, dark pitt with no hope of finding a way out. The pain and sorrow I endured when I discovered the rock in the hat, polyandry and different versions of the first vision (after 60 years in the church) left me speechless. I raised five children in the church. My sons went on missions. Four of my children were married in the temple. I’m thankful for the good things I learned as a member but I too have left. I refuse to repeat the half truths that we’ve been taught as members. I can’t bare testimony of things I know aren’t true. I could never face my Father in Heaven and tell Him I support Joseph Smith as a man or a prophet. It’s been a very difficult time. I eventually found myself questioning the existence of God and our Savior. I tried reading the bible and just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt so betrayed. When I prayed I felt my Father in Heaven was no longer listening. Everything seemed empty and I had no feeling. My mother who is 87 years old and raised her family in the church also left. She encouraged me to keep praying regardless of how distant my Father in Heaven seemed. It took months but I’m so grateful for her counsel. I now feel closer than ever to my Heavenly Father. Just like many of the prophets we’ve had to walk in our own desert of despair and opposition. As individuals we can look behind us and see sand, look ahead of us and see sand and choose to give up. I’ve found that by putting one foot in front of the other the grassy plain eventually appears. It is a process. At last I am truly happy. I can’t even tell you the blessings my family members have experienced over the last couple of months. I do attend another church. It took awhile to find the right one for me but it has been the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. I now know that being a Christian isn’t a denomination. Best of luck to you Benji. I can’t thank you enough John for all you do for so many of us in the shadows.
*CTB, Choose The Benji, always. Once again, you show that you are an amazing, articulate, thoughtful, honest person. I wish you all the success in life including the amazing hot husband and extremely talented children. I am so very very proud of you for living your life fully and honestly. And yes, I voted for you many many time and was delighted that you won. :)
Thank you. Thank you! Thank you for your sincerity, vulnerability and honesty. Thank you for sharing your story and allowing us to connect with you. I will admit a little bit of the fangirl in me died learning you were gay. I always thought I had a chance because I was LDS, single, and right around your age. But I digress, this was fantastic. I related to your story so well and saw many of the same elements in my own journey.
I want to express the importance of these pod casts. It feels almost impossible to open up civil discussion like this with members of the church. When we are in the midst of “true believing” we cling so ferociously to it that it is near impossible to hear anything else without getting angry or defensive. In turn, those who have differing beliefs can also become angry and defensive. This was the first Mormon Stories podcast I have watched and it was filled with peace and inspiration. I hope it allows many others to have these types of conversations with each other without becoming angry or defensive.
The asterisk policy is offensive to me. Having a policy such as this, that can be damaging to so many members seems so counterproductive coming from a church in which their goal is “world domination” so to speak. As a church we should be celebrating our diversity in the way our Heavenly Father made us, not creating baseless policies out of fear (of being sued, of gays in general).
Again, Thank you Benji. I felt the love jumping out at me from the computer screen. Right back at ya. Be well on your journey. You have been through hell, I think the really really good parts are now!
I watched you on SYTYCD and had such a school girl crush on you- I’m way too old for you and female so it looks like I’m out of luck, but I have to tell you how much I loved your interview. I’m not Mormon and had never heard of Mormon Stories until I saw on another website that you had come out- with a link to this interview. Of course I had to check it out because of my “crush,” and I am so glad that I did. You are a beautiful person and I can’t stop thinking about your candid, passionate story. I have NO doubt you will have a very rich life, full of a lot of love. I have NO doubt you will be the best father someday, and I have NO doubt you will find yourself in service to others- in and out of dance. On a side note, my best friend is gay and I know A LOT of cute boys. I’m ready to set you up. I’m willing to put my crush aside for the greater good:) In all seriousness, you seem like you are in a good place and I’m relieved- some people don’t make their way out of “hell” and find the peace you seem to have found. Keep sharing your story- there are a lot of young men and women that need to hear it. All the best.
Benji, I was very moved by your story and I was happy to hear that you made the courageous decision to live an authentic life. None of us will ever be happy unless we are true to ourselves. You are a highly evolved spiritual being and it doesn’t matter whether or not you belong to a church because your mission is in your heart and you know what it is. You don’t need someone or something outside of yourself to tell you what path to take. Go with God and you will soon find the love of your life and the family you desire. Thank you for telling your story. — Diane
It was very clear that John was really geeking out over SYTYCD! Talk about looking behind the curtain….Made for a great interview. Thanks!
I listened with fascination to Benji’s podcast. I think he’s an incredible person in terms of energy, determination, and discipline. The thing that bothers me is that he apparently cannot bring himself to fully reject the gospel and place the blame for his pain where it belongs. Like many others raised in the church (including myself) he reflexively credits the church for his positive traits and values, which is actually nonsense. There are millions of determined, disciplined, happy people with different religions or no religion at all. Benji is a remarkable guy and ultimately overcame what the gospel did to him. Of all people, homosexuals have no business praising the church. Hopefully, with time he will distance himself further from this organization that has done so much harm to so many gay people.
Benji gives a very long and detailed accounting of his journey. I think most people would wonder why he stayed so long in the church. It seems that the asterisk policy was the last straw for him and that is completely understandable, however, I think his willingness to give the Mormon church the benefit of the doubt until then, reflects well on the way the Mormon ecclesiastical authorities handled his situation.
We all know about the sexual abuse that occured in the Catholic Church. Abuse has occurred in other churches, including the Mormon Church. Everyone can be thankful that these cases have been exposed but an unfortunate consequence of the resulting litigation has made it difficult for religious organizations to treat homosexual members as individuals.
The courts, juries and the community have determined that placing a known adult homosexual or someone with same sex attraction in a position of authority over young people makes them culpable in any abuse that may occur.
I understand that homosexuals are no more likely to sexually abuse minors than heterosexuals but the public is far more frightened of the homosexual abuse than the heterosexual.
The Mormon church, being a lay ministry is in a unique situation where 18, 19, 20 year old married adults are often placed in positions of authority over 15,16, 17 year old youth. Single 21 year old and older males are often in mentoring positions with young men.
Rather than making radical changes in the youth organizations and discontinuing the mentoring that can be so rewarding for youth and leadership, the Mormon church has decided to err on the side of an unfair policy. Unfortunately the result has made Benji a sacrificial lamb.
I wish you well, Benji. You seem like a kind, genuine and talented person. You have a fascinating story to tell and you tell it well. I hope by telling it you help yourself and others come to a better understanding.
My name is Mau, I’m 21, I’m from Mexico! I’m not Mormon, nor cristian, nor catholic,because any church accept gays, or they acdept it but in a month they try to change me, I’m a believer, I believe in god and in the power of pray. I’m gay and for the past 6 years it has been an inside war from me, very few people know about it, but not my mom. It so difficul to have this charge inside of me. I know she will react, she’s always saying me how much she wants a granddaughter my big fat wedding and all that stuff. I watched the whole 5 hours and really you’re an inspiration, someday I wish I could have the courage you have. i wish someday you could come to mexico to preach, or to give a conference in a church. I was very moved by your story, and as you said Someday I will have a husband and a family, I truly believe that! Thanks for the inspirational words! <3
I so enjoyed the 5 1/2 hours. How strong you are for someone so young. How proud those who love you must be. As this podcast explodes in the internet you will undoubtably touch and help so many hearts. Well done.
Benji and John,
I’ve never listened to Mormon Stories. I found this podcast on Yahoo. I am so glad I did. I am going through a bad time in my life dealing with being gay and how that affects my relationship to my Heavenly Father. Benji, I was so touched by your story. I did not expect that I could relate to things you said and experienced but I could. You have received your answer and I am so thankful. You are an amazing young man. I’ve reached a point where I no longer believe in religion. But, I do believe in spirituality. Benji and John, you are both spiritual people because you practice compassion in your hearts towards others. When a segment of society is judged for being who and what they were born as, that attitude bears no relationship to a loving God. Let’s not forget that compassion means participating in the suffering of others. Benji has lived the suffering and is willing to participate in the sufferings of others to help them find the path that will lead them to peace. John practices compassion by allowing people like Benji to share their story and validating the pain they have experienced.
Benji, after watching your interview I did something I have not done in months. I got on my knees and prayed for guidance for how I can deal with the isolation that envelopes me. If I can just receive some semblance of hope that all is not lost, I will be OK. Had I not watched this interview, I would not have humbled myself to ask for help. Benji, I sincerely wish all good things for you. You deserve to be blessed. I pray you will find that love in your life that so many of us gays wish for but never find.
Audio files from here, please? I don’t have the iTunes spyware/bloatware app on my computer.
As a faithful Mormon who experiences same sex attraction and has no desire or intention to leave the Church, I have to say I absolutely loved this interview. You truly are an inspiration Benji. I love you. I was hesitant to watch this, at first … worried that it might be directed at tearing down the Church or that it might challenge my testimony. To the contrary, I feel your story has greatly strengthened my testimony. I truly believe your experience leaving the Church came from God, and was right for you. I don’t know quite how to process that, because I do believe the Church is true and led by an inspired prophet. It is everything to me. Your search for the truth and your willingness to follow the path God has laid out for you is inspiring. Never stop searching for the truth.
I’m the exact opposite of Benji – straight, introverted, can’t dance to save my life – but even so, I felt like I was walking in his shoes and could understand a little bit of what it’s like to be a gay Mormon. Thanks for the great interview!
I really enjoyed your video. I am a pro gay rights, anti prop 8 Mormon who was pretty inactive for about a year after the whole prop 8 nonsense. When I heard about the part where you said there would be a black mark on your record if you engaged in homosexual activity that would not allow you to serve in youth callings in the church I was very concerned. I talked with my dad who is a bishop on the East Coast and he told me that he had never heard of this policy. I wondered if you knew if it had been changed or if it had not gone church wide. I’m not sure if you would even know or if anyone out there may know.
I really enjoyed listening to your podcast. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story with us. I was particularly interested in the part where you reached a ‘tipping point’ when the new Church policy on record annotation was revealed to you. You’re not the only one to feel hurt and outrage over being profiled and labeled in that way. I have gotten some new information on the policy and I blogged about it here:
Hi Benji, I loved this interview…have wondered what happened to you after SYTYCD…I went to school with your dad and used to dance with him occassionally at “The Friendly Cut” and your uncle George gave me my first kiss….I am a former Mormon also and a straight single older lady. I think there is a HUGE world out there for you to discover as a deeply spiritual person…look into the other religions closely, especially Buddhism…it is ALL good. I lived in Utah for awhile and I loved the people but most of them were in their own safe little world and soooo closed minded and judgmental…total uncaring of ALL of God’s creatures….it was very difficult for me being an animal lover…and vegan. At any rate, I would love to see an interview with you in five years or maybe 10..to see how you have evolved. I only see good things for you because you are so full of LOVE and that is really ALL that matters. I am sure your dad is soooo proud of you, as am I. God bless you.
This is a very good interview, it makes me want to listen to the other podcasts even though I am an atheist and was directed here from a SYTYCD site.
Benji should be the poster child of the Mormon church. He makes Mormons so human in the sense that I’m human and you’re human too. There are a lot of Mormon missionaries in my neighborhood and I’ve always stayed away, afraid to be recruited :)
In the end when he explains what he believes in, I find a lot of similarities to buddhism (doing good, charity, be aware of the world). I’m glad he can keep parts of his Mormonism while achieving a living peace. I believe we should be able to commit part time to religions without being ostracized as “not practicing”.
Please try to refrain from saying “no homo”, it’s repeating the “homosexuals are bad” idea.
[…] regarding two recent contrasting stories of LDS men coming out… The first is the Story of Benji Schwimmer. The second is the coming out of a married […]
Benji – I just finished listening to your interview. You have touched me deeply. I have always been a big fan: watching you as a young person growing up competing at the US Open and then winning the Showcase Division when you reached adulthood and then taking the title back after your mission. I voted for you on SYTYCD, and then have been blown away recently by your immense growth as a dancer. You are a wonderful person and you are perfect just the way you are. With love, Katie Lyon Sellards
I came across your interview on Mormon Stories quite by accident, but a fortuitous one. Unfortunately, I was unaware of you, as I had never watched SYTYCD, but I am a huge fan of your sister’s via DWTS.
From the first glance at the interview page I felt a strong connection and a sense of familiarity, so I watched and listened; and I am so glad that I did. I too, am a gay LDS man. I am active and relate so well to your story. Listening to you was very much like listening to myself. You seem to be a kindred spirit. I was, however, very shocked to hear about the flagging of your membership record. When I arrived at church early for PEC meeting yesterday, I asked the ward clerk to show my membership record to me. Relief!!–no asterix nor any other mark or annotation. Not satisfied at leaving it at that, I conrnered my bishop in his office and confronted him on the issue. He told me that he has never heard of such a policy, nor has he been given any direction to limit my activities or callings. I go on splits with missionaries several times a week and will probably be chaperoning at an upcoming youth conference spanning several days and nights. I have just finished reading what Neal has said above about his research into the subject and don’t know how to reconcile our different results. I will continue to research.
But, I digress……I have been deeply touched and affected by your story and character. I hope to someday have the honor of meeting you, getting to know you, and becoming friends–hopefully in this life, but if not, later. I sincerely wish you well and will be praying for your happiness and fulfillment.
I have been very blessed and continue to be so!
I started watching SYTYCD during season 3 where I had a mad crush on Lacey. I retroactively caught myself up on you and just finished your podcast. Props brother on your journey and attitude and confidence to end up where you are today. Your story resonated with me on so many levels. Although I have never struggled with SSA or homosexuality, I have always been attracted to the effeminate, delving into floral design, beauty/skin care and the wedding invitation industries. This has been a difficult arena to be in amongst my male friends (although I know not anywhere near the struggles you’ve had to navigate through) and it’s always driven me nuts that they just can’t get beyond the alpha male attitude, relax, and get in touch with their female side.
It’s amazing how the universe brings people or voices into our lives when we ask to understand things. See, I was a proponent of Prop 8 and even signed up to volunteer in my Utah ward to help promote the cause. Luckily, it got cancelled and I never had to promote such divisiveness. Afterwards, my wife and I both prayed for more understanding on the issue as I found myself not knowing anyone who was gay in my life—coworkers, family, friends. Suddenly, people showed up in my life unexpectedly. Book clubs. MoSto gatherings. Coworkers.
I’ll add you to my list of inspiration. Thank you.
Anyway, was bummed to hear that you won’t be at MoSto Conference this weekend. Was really looking forward to meeting you and giving you a huge hug, cause you touched my soul, brother.
Thank you and God bless you on your journey.
Benji, what a wonderful interviewee you are! As someone who is maybe 1.5 on the Kinsey scale, I still have to say I’m having a major man crush on you! ;) You are a total stud! Thanks for sharing your buoyant spirit! We need more folks like you everywhere!
What a brave soul! I believe love is love, regardless of gender. You are beautiful and I love your honesty! I can totally relate, growing up as LDS and living in Utah and feeling judged all the time. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts. I love and respect the Church. I hope someday that people in the church could actually Love More and Judge Less!
What a brave soul! I believe love is love, regardless of gender. You are beautiful and I love your honesty! I can totally relate, growing up as LDS and living in Utah and feeling judged all the time. And yes, I do have that asterisk you were talking about and the reason why I left the church. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts. I love and respect the Church. I hope someday that people in the church could actually Love More and Judge Less!
I had never heard of Benji before (no TV, never seen DWTS or So You Think You Can Dance), but I loved this long interview. My heart really goes out to Benji and others who struggle for acceptance of their identity. How sad that he beat himself up for so long trying to be something he wasn’t. I don’t at all understand how he retained faith in the LDS church through so much abuse. The cognitive distortion would have gotten to me much sooner. (In my case, it did.) I’m still in awe of Benji’s efforts to live his beliefs despite how they conflicted with his true identity. He sounds like a completely awesome, wonderful person. I will have to find him on YouTube and see some of that dancing! Thanks for this.
as a member of the swing dance community for the last twenty years, I’ve admired you on and off the floor for a very long time. After watching these interviews, I admire you even more. I’m so happy for you that you’ve found your way and broken free from your terrible “box”. Thank you for sharing your story with others so that they may learn and benefit from your journey.
Wishing you all the happiness that this – yes, this – life has to offer (I’m an atheist!).
Can I just say, “Wow!” I apologize to you John, as I have never heard of “Mormon Stories,” but I must say I am a fan now. I came across a link to the first part of the interview from a friend’s Facebook page. And I am so glad he posted it. I started watching at 9:00 last night. Got through parts 1 & 2 that same night. Needless to say, I was up very late, but after getting some sleep, I started watching part 3 because I was so moved.
Benji, you talked about seeing your younger self in your #2 – #1 love, I just have to say listening to you and your story, I see so many of the same experiences you had that I have had in my life. I remember going to my Bishop when I was a teenager and telling him about my feelings, and he just told me it was a phase. I remember consciously repressing my emotions and true feelings to have girlfriends to live that “righteous” life. I loved my mission and cherish those experiences tremendously, then coming home to the reality of things and trying to just work through everything. Again, councilling with my new Bishop and he telling me that if I don’t act on it, and just get married, I would be fine.
My Senior year in college, I started having panic attacks and as I was nearing my graduation, they would just get worse and worse. And it was all beacuse here I was, 25 years old, no wife, having these gay feelings, and now I was supposed to “be in the world but not of it” when one of my main characteristics was considered a very worldly thing and condemned by the Church that I so cherished. How was i supposed to do that? And how was I supposed to move forward spiritually and emotionally without having some one, a help meet, if you will, strengthen me and help me feel the true meaning of love and sacrifice? I was so defined by my Mormon identity that the very thought of not being worthy of an eternal companion and an eternal family, very nearly drove me to suicide.
If not for divine intervention, I would have gone threw with it. But I know, God was with me that night. He was the one to convince me to put that handful of pills back in the bottle. To give myself one more night to really think about the permanent thing I was going to do. The next morning while laying in bed for two hours, I knew I had to get up and finished what I started the night before as my feelings hadn’t really changed. But instead of just the one option that I saw in front of me, I was giving a second. I thought suicide was the only thing that would drag my butt out of bed that day, but God posed another question for me that gave me a different option. What if there was just one thing that I love that would be worth getting me out of bed today and that I would miss if I go though with my plan? And I thought long and hard and, I know this may seem silly and childish, but the first thing that came as my answer was a nice soft serve frozen yogurt cone. So, I got out of bed, did what i needed to do that day, thinking about what i would miss if I followed my plan to fruition. That night, i went to bed thinking, “Well, tomorrow, i will follow my plan. Tomorrow, i will go through with it.”
The next day, I lay in bed again, and the same thing happened. I found another reason to stay on this earth and this time it was my family. Then the following day I added another thing to my list. Day after day, I kept adding things to my list until I didn’t need to find a reason to stay on this earth any more because i wanted to stay. It was about five months before I could stop looking for reasons to stay, and I came out to myself. Once I had done that, I could feel a real physical weight lift off my shoulders. I could literally stand taller and walk with my head up. It has taken me many years to come out and has been a very long process, much longer than what I shared here, but I am happy with who I am. I am still single, but I know that there is someone out there for me.
Watching and listening to your story really touched me. I have tried to explain what I have gone through in my life to my family, but they just cannot seem to understand that I am not the only one. I am going to share your story with them. I will allow them the option to watch the whole thing, or I will give them the Cliffs-Notes version, but I want to show them that gays do not come from dysfunctional families or from really horrid childhoods. They can come from loving homes just like the ones that you and I both have.
Again, I thank you so much for sharing your story and I wish you the best in your life, in love, in your career and in your faith. God be with you, Benji.
as a 48 year old gay Australian atheist, seeing these podcasts was a fantastic, fortuitous, and somewhat-freaky occurrence, but the whole 5+ hours was totally riveting. The way you described your synesthesia is in line with what I felt listening to your talk about your life, work, and faith: boundless energy flowing from every smile, and a beautiful impishness that’s so attractive when removed from the banalities of dance television. I can’t remember another time when I have felt so uplifted listening to someone describing their trials and tribulations (as well as their triumphs!). Your church was blessed indeed to have you as a member. I can only wish you the best of luck in forging something stupendous from that smashed globe.
One small plea: please stop talking down your beautiful face. Some of us (no names!) love every single bit of it just the way it is. That smile and the love behind it can heal hearts and open so many closed doors.
Thank you so much for your candor and your humor, and most of all for your inspiration. Lots of love,
I just finished listening/watching your interview (all 6 hours). I am local to your area, and have even taken class from you. I am not Mormon, I am more along the lines of agnostic. I am also a lot older than you are (old enough to be your parent – ha ha). I have always been impressed by your talent and your kindness to me, but I am so impressed by the depth of your character, your candor, and your courage. I am glad that you have found the path you needed to, and I hope that you find everything you seek in your life. There are few that can self-reflect and self-search at the level you do, and at your young age. You have wisdom beyond your years.
I lost a dear friend (also gay) to AIDS almost year ago, and during our friendship (I am a straight female), we had many frank discussions about his own struggles with being gay, how he perceived life, love, and faith. During his last days, as I helped to care for him (along with many of his friends), we had some of the most spiritual conversations I’ve ever had in my life. While he was not Mormon either, he and I also chose a path of leaving the church we were raised in, and in doing so found the freedom to find our own spirituality. He was an amazing person, and I miss him dearly.
Listening to your stories reminded me of what I shared with him, and gave me insights into more of what he must have felt. You are articulate, intelligent, and speak such truths. You have found a key that many don’t – being true to yourself. Period. And in this, while so often difficult, you will find the happiness you seek. Stay on that path, and I wish you well.
I look forward to seeing how things turn out from you – and hopefully I will through the dance community where I see you from time to time. Godspeed to you as you continue your journey.
Thank you, John and Benji, for an extraordinary interview. I believe it will have enduring value, not only in the Mormon community, but anywhere there are folks who seek mutual respect and genuine love and concern for other human beings. It seems fitting that Mormon Stories had value for you, Benji. Your interview in turn will become part of the tradition of our stories nurturing and strengthening one another.
Because I identify with your vision for Mormon Stories, John, I took delight in recognizing the several Mormon Stories podcasts that were mentioned in this interview. May the podcast and its several offshoots continue to thrive and delight.
Ever since my brother came out several years ago following his mission the cause of LGBTQ folks has grown increasingly important to me. Sadly, like with your story, Benji, I’ve always had the impression that my brother not so much left the Church as the Church left him. Like you he’s a loving, Christian man who genuinely enjoys others and finds joy in being of service to them.
While I’d never wish the burden on a friend, if the time ever comes for a gay Mormon apostle I’d nominate you. In the meantime, if not an apostle then a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ. Good strength to you.
I just looked for the scriptural reference (D&C 132:50)in our current Hymnbook which talks about an “escape”. (“Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you. Go, therefore, and I make a way for your escape, as I accepted the offering of Abraham of his son Isaac.”)
That reference isn’t found anywhere in our current hymnbook. It just isn’t there.
The closest to that reference is D&C 132:46 — which is connected to a hymn on page 287 about the temple titled “Rise, Ye Saints, and Temples Enter.”
Since that reference isn’t in our hymnbook, I’m wondering if you had more of a holy experience than you even understand as you saw a scriptural reference in our hymnbook, which doesn’t actually exist in that hymnbook in connection with any hymn in the book, but which directed you to a solution to your painful situation.
I would really be interested to know which hymn you were singing when you had that experience (since you couldn’t remember the title during the podcast), as that would further help me to know that the Lord was indeed guiding you at that moment in a very interesting way.
I found your story compelling, and also heart breaking. As an active, Temple going, straight member of the Church, I hope you find a way to contribute all of your beautiful, God given talents and spiritual depth to others; and that you also remain connected to your roots as much as possible. AND, I hope that someday that asterisk can be removed from your record as well as from any other brother’s or sister’s record that doesn’t deserve to have it placed there.
Thank you for sharing. The interview was really good. It hit home to me. I did not know other people suffered from having these thoughts.
Thanks for your thoughts, and I look to talking with you in Heaven.
I finally had time to sit down and watch this, and I am so, incredibly glad I did. Thank you so much, John and Benji. This meant so much to me.
I was so happy my sister pointed me in the direction of this interview. And this website too! Looking forward to exploring it more. As a former member of the Church (born and raised) and really connected with your experience. Thanks for being so candid; your story is heart wrenching. It made me cry to hear the anguish you went through. I’m so happy you came through it. I myself am not gay, but had my own struggles with the Church. I had my own unique journey and it was hard to leave, but I’ve made my peace and found my own true happiness. I loved you on So You Think You Can Dance, but now I have even more respect for you knowing more of your story. Thank you so much!
This has been such a captivating and insightful interview. I am not gay nor a Mormon, but I’ve learned so much more about Mormonism listening to Benji’s story. I’m struck equally by how beautiful and expansive the faith seems and also how terrifying and narrow. John’s questions at the end of the interview about morality outside the church were particularly provoking–I’m intrigued by the implication that people outside of the Mormon church might be less morally unanchored. It’s an implication that belies a fundamental fear of people and puts little trust in others and their individual relationships with God. I’m so glad Benji decided to live his god-given truth unashamedly. God speaks forcefully through the words of the great gay poet, Walt Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” Amen to that.
When a religion invents a very desirable afterlife, and then holds it hostage on condition that all bow and scrape, and do all bidding, one has to wonder why the church does it and why we submit. One can do nothing but credit Benji with joyfully running the church’s obstacle course. It is sad it took so long for him to come to himself… it is a long and complicated process.
I’m really feeling for you Benji, as to your experience with Church policies. I am active LDS, and though I haven’t had to deal with SSA for myself, I’ve had a hell of a time with local leadership and an area authority that the last segment made me think of. I was sexually battered by a member of the church about 5 years ago, and while I would have preferred not revisiting the experience with my leaders, especially as a straight guy, the guy who did it apparently felt some remorse and “confessed” to his Bishop in a neighboring stake. But in his “confession” made out that I seduced him into my bed. BS, but that’s the story that made it to my stake president, who took away my temple recommend and asterixed my records. So I went from being in leadership to not being allowed to home teach, and no hope of that changing according the the stake president until I confess to something I never did. The experience has been a rough one. Until all this, Church was home, where I could be me without anyone else judging the whole church based on my conduct. Before all this, I never felt there was a cookie cutter mold I was meant to be in, despite having lived in places as different as California, Utah, Hawaii, and even England. I saw the members in my mission welcoming people of all backgrounds as well, and comforting people from diverse parts of the world fleeing death, sickness, and poverty. But apparently my current residence’s Church leadership feels differently.
For what it’s worth, despite everything that can be seen as wrong, I really feel like this is the place to be, church wise, that this is what God has organized. But the church is still learning, and we don’t get anywhere until someone asks questions and is willing to change what we’re doing based on that ‘divine’ answer. Whether it’s Lehi, Joseph Smith, or Thomas Monson, they’ve all got prejudices and preconceived notions that aren’t necessarily Gospel. I think someone in your position can have a greater voice to get the right questions asked and the right thought put into it than the regular folk with no media voice. While I support you following your inspiration, it does make me a little heart broken that you have decided to be a voice from the outside. Because that’s how the people in leadership will see you now.
My brother served his mission in Oaxaca with Benji and has never had anything but wonderful things to say about him. When he was on SYTYCD, my brother made us all watch and vote for Benji. It’s the only season I’ve watched. I loved Benji’s exuberance and joy for life on the show. I’m sorry for the trials you’ve been through, Benji, but it seems like you’ve made it out on the other side happy and healthy. After watching those 5 hours, I know now why my brother always had so much respect for you. I’m older, but I look up to you, brother.
You remind me so much of a good Catholic friend who had a similar experience as you. From our teen years to young adulthood, he struggled, but I let him know God prefers he be true to himself and keep in relationship with HIM. Today, he is happily gay in a wonderful gay relationship for 16 years And they still go to church, belonging to a ministry At Church that ministers to similiar folk. Your genuine heart and character and how you apply them with others is pleasing to God. Keep being YOU!
I applaud you on your bravery in telling your story. I’ve always been bothered by one thing, maybe you can answer it for me. I have had many “pre” gay, and gay friends over the years. I don’t understand why after coming out, you have something to prove to the world. Every one of my gay friends has done this too. The 13 tattoos, the diamond stud earrings, the sleeping around, etc. Saying everyone should sew their wild oats is just a way of justifying your deviant behavior. Joking about ‘bearing’ your testimony and ” in the name of Jesus Christ…
Your now doing to a group of people what you don’t want people to do to your group of people (making fun of). I would have 100 % respect for someone who came out as openly gay and lived their lfe in a quiet non flamboyant way. I have yet to encounter a gay person (male or female) that waited to have sex with their forever partner. (even if marriage is not legal, you can still have a ceremony) If one of my children came to me with SSA I would talk with them and help them to see that they can be gay with the same morals they already possessed. No drinking, non promiscuous sex, etc. In many parts of your interview, you looked very hollow and sad. I believe you are the ‘ultimate’ I wear my feelings on my sleeve, over analytical, perfectionist, super sensitive male thrown into a very admittedly difficult career to be abe to have ANY stable or long term relationships. I don’t agree with the asterisk situation, but as you’ve taught many times I’m sure, the people in the church are SO very imperfect. Benji, stay true to yourself, be gay and happy, but please don’t let yourself get bitter, don’t get stereotypical and keep your morals high. This is the best thing you can do for the youth in and out of the Mormon church. Best of luck to you in the future, A long time Benji fan.
There is a book that talks about people going through ‘Velvet Rage’ which is basically the pain and frustration a lot of gay people go through. The gay community has a mainstream just like Mormonism has a mainstream, and then there are those who are different.
‘Virginity’ is focused on women more than men. Consider also the fact that Mormon men are often trained to ‘respect women’ and not men. The sexuality of men has often been in the ‘boys will be boys’ category.
There are a lot of factors in what you are asking. As a gay male, I ask a lot of the same questions and work for new answers. When one is not concerned about getting a woman pregnant, and one is faced with a powerful mainstream conversation, things tend to change around sexuality. Gay people often also are marginalized by religion and that can lead to shame and a lot of different feelings.
The book ‘the Velvet Rage’ talks about how people medicate with sexuality, shopping addictions, etc… and also talks about how a lot of gay men go through that process and then realize that they want something else.
Purity is something highly valued in mainstream Mormonism. It comes with advantages and disadvantages. People may get married and find that they are sexually incompatible. Sometimes their sex parts literally do not fit together well. I had a Mormon friend tell me that she and her husband talked about how maybe they wanted their kids to have sex before marriage.
When you take away the religion and when religions don’t have well structured paths for gay people that are thoughtful and do not include celibacy, then it makes it more complex. I often find myself working to educate people on why not to have sex without consideration.
Mainstream America in general is pretty sexualized. “Sewing wild oats” is not a conversation unique to gay men. In fact Benji got it from straight folks. A lot of Mormons have a lot of hang ups about sex in relationships because the purity conversations have been so intense for them.
The gay community as it is, is a rather immature community, no question. There are factors like kids not being involved in a lot of gay couples that are part of that. Couples who have kids tend to want to be more conservative just like straight couples. Sometimes people go through their wild phases and then realize they want something more and different.
Not all straight people live their life in quiet ways. And the gay people that are living their lives in quiet non-flamboyant ways are around, you just are not noticing them because they are quiet and non-flamboyant and often closeted. The flamboyant gay folks are often the more naturally flamboyant people. Just like women, some are more colorful. To tell some gay men not to be feminine and flamboyant is like telling a very feminine big personality woman not to be. Some things are innate in the soul.
That said, there are gay military guys, gay policemen, gay doctors, etc… and many you would not know about, and some you would figure it out and/or find obvious. I have one doctor friend who is both somewhat naturally flamboyant and who creatively feels feminine and has a need to express some of that in unusual ways. I have another Doctor friend who is not out at work, but says he is a sharp dresser and people probably figure it out.
I think often with morality people get really self-righteous about it and lose the focus on love, service, etc… I have heard about the focus on ‘virgin lips’ among girls at BYU and elsewhere having a lot of pride in never even being kissed and react in horror when some guy takes away those virgin lips.
Many Mormon girls have their ‘morals’, but have been ‘married’ 3 times because they married to deal with their own hormones and those of their husbands and didn’t think through relationships. Many Mormon marriages struggle with the issues of having married young before they knew themselves and before their spouse did. Many Mormon marriages struggle with unfulfilled dreams of the husbands who wished they had traveled, seen the world, explored themselves and then married someone who they fit with more.
Many Mormon women struggle with identity and self worth in the role of mother. Then they ultimately leave oppressive relationships with men who don’t value them or see them as equals. Mormon marriages have their own issues that are pretty widespread. Not all Mormon marriages have those issues. At their best Mormon marriages are pretty great. At their best, gay people, even those who sleep around, can be pretty amazing people who do great work in a variety of fields.
While you recommend that gay people keep morals high and don’t get bitter, I think a lot of Mormons are well recommended to keep their hearts open and their arrogance and self-righteousness in check and to have respect for people who may want to live differently. Because even if gay people and others go to ‘lower kingdoms’, they still have a place on earth and deserve to be treated with respect rather than endless assumptions of invalidation by people who are often not particularly happy themselves.
It is easy to judge Mormons without knowing them well. It is easy to judge gay people without knowing them well. And it is easy to judge someone else through your own experience and your own value system and your own desires, rather than through their experience, their value system and their desires. People by nature tend to think their way is the one right way and the one best way and that their perception is the one best way and the one best perception.
How does the saying go? Take a look at the beam in your own eye before the mote in others’?
You really bring up some interesting points. I have not heart of the Velvet Rage. I will have to read it. Some very heavy duty ideas in your dialogue, but much to think about.
You begin by saying you applaud his choice and then berate it from there on out!
Benji’s decision to leave the church is his alone. And since the morality that goes along with church membership is a code of behavior prescribed by the church, why would he continue living the church’s moral code after leaving?
Outside of the LDS church, waiting for marriage is becoming increasingly rare. I’m not here to pass judgment on one life choice or another, but you make it sound like the decision to “sleep around” is unique to coming out as gay, when it’s actually fairly common among non-members.
All in all, if there’s no longer a reason to obey a certain moral code, the only reason to continue to do so is if there is no better code available. Benji has found another code to live by…that doesn’t make him a disappointment.
There are many examples of people who are still LDS, openly gay, and still living by the morals of the church; if you’re looking for someone who breaks your stereotype, look no further than BYU.
How quickly you are to judge his actions negatively. Your stating that he has something to prove to the world is not the only way to interpret Benji’s actions. What if his authentic self wanted all those things you mentioned that are frowned upon in the church? Then they were just suppressed. He wanted them all along, and now that the barrier is removed, he is getting his earrings and tatoos, which are not anything remarkable with many people. LDS rules are very restrictive. He is only doing what is normal outside LDS culture.
Basically you are saying “Why can’t you come out quietly and not make such a big deal or fuss about it?” Usually “coming out” can be turbulent and a lot restricted behavior can suddenly lunge forward. Doing some of the pent of things you have always wanted to do can suddenly rush in. That can account for some of it. For me, I did it super quietly and never talked about it to family for nearly 40 years. Doing things quietly so they don’t upset others is not the answer either. It is your life and your decision. I can say that I would have been a lot better off if I just would have come out with it and not just remained silent as to spare other people’s comfortableness or view of me. I can tell you that doesn’t work at all. You should do things by your own time table and not others. You should not judge others in relation to how it affects you (even if you are family). For example, when I told my sister I was gay she said “How you you do this to ME?” I was shocked because of all of my family she was supposed to be the freethinker. As if it really had anything to do with her anyway. Homosexuality has been a part of life and always will be and I simply don’t understand how people can’t just accept it. It will happen weather they like it or not, in fact, weather or not the actual homosexual likes it or not. Yes, there is a lot pain and sorrow with being gay. People tend to jump in only to find the gay world riddled with pitfalls. Given time and perhaps some good advice these things can be avoided. There is also joy in knowing that you are true to yourself and that you are being honest with your emotions and sexuality. Also it can deepen your spirituality once you present yourself honestly to God.
Mandi, your words make me sad. I say that genuinely. Your attitude is, and I say from PAINFUL experience, as “stereotypically LDS” as it gets. Here’s how – the very short version:
“I would have 100 % respect for someone who came out as openly gay and lived their lfe in a quiet non flamboyant way.”
Let’s translate to see why what you say feels painful and “no win” for the gay person…
1.)”came out” = STOPPED “being quiet”
2.)”openly gay” = “unashamed of my gayness and living HONESTLY
for all to see” which… (continued in 3#)
3.) …no more = “flamboyant” than LDS people letting non-LDS see that they are wearing garments in the locker room, or wearing white shirts and ties and riding bikes. These things are cultural.
3.) #1, #2, & #3 do NOT = “proving something to” ANYONE… let alone “the world”.
4.) using terms like “deviant behavior” does NOT = your version of morally correct, and is CERTAINLY not accurate, because in the actual population, YOUR LDS practices, customs, and behaviors – by the numbers thus by definition – are “deviant” from the norm.
5.) The acronym SSA is belittling, as would be OSA if we were discussing your secret, forbidden desires (humans have them – and they can get pretty taboo) as if they were just “up for discussion”.
Lastly, and I sincerely do not mean this as a dig – it is “sowing wild oats” – as in “reaping what you sow” sow. Not stitching. Sowing wild oats means going ahead letting the surplus seed that don’t produce grain do their thing, because it is the natural way to finally reap a Quaker Brand worthy crop of oats.
Just give these things some thought. I hope you can see some of these points and have some empathy even if you radically disagree.
Especially before you talk “supportively” to your next “pre-gay” – because there is no “pre”. There is repressed, shameful, and self loathing based on what people have been saying his entire life.
Mandi, thanks you for your comments- you said a lot of what I have thought and felt after watching Benji’s interview.
Katie: Mandi said she is a long time fan and does applaud him for his courage. She did not berate him, just expressed hope that he would remain the good guy he has always been.
Katie, you sound so defensive.
Mandi, you sound caring and concerned.
I will always love Benji’s dancing!!!
I’m having a difficult time verifying this as Church “policy.” I’m assume that the Church probably follows the Boy Scout policy but I can’t find where someone who has had church disciplinary action taken against them for sexual immorality in a SSA setting has a “permanent” asterisk next to them and can never work with the youth again. A friend of mine who is heterosexual had church action against her and she was told she could not work with the youth again (must have been tough for her since she’d been an early morning seminary teacher for ten years) and she did not have a homosexual relation and is not attracted to the same sex. I’ve called a few former missionary companions that are current or former Bishops, they don’t know of this policy. One former companion, a former Bishop, is working with a pilot program for SSA that the church is testing and he knew nothing of this policy. Some have offered the opinion because of some of the sexual abuse lawsuits against the church that this might be a temporary policy until a permanent solution is enacted. Who knows. I just have not been able to verify this.
I feel awful for Benji for sure. He seems like an awesome person. I have friends that have known him and his parents since he was in Primary and they’re sick over this. Is it possible that anyone that confesses to any sort of sexual immorality and has church action taken have these asterisks next to them permanently, and not just homosexual? Is it possible this is a stopgap measure until a permanent solution is found? This had my blood boiling honestly because I immediately felt this was twenty steps backwards, but I also felt there had to be some explanation or some history behind it. If anyone can find this policy since it’s an updated policy, I’d love to see it. Thank you and let’s all treat people with respect through these difficult times for many of them.
These podcasts were very thought provoking. It stirred feelings of sorrow in me for young men or women, like Benji, that have such a beautiful testimony of the church and can articulate it so well, to feel that they have to “resign”. I feel sorrow for those of us in the “fold” that will not have an awesome individual serving and teaching those who struggle with SSA issues in the LDS church.
I wish Benji the best of luck in his journey and am so proud of the example he has set for all of us.
Thanks for helping us all see that in a perfect Mormon world we all fit in.
Don’t leave us for long; we need more Benji’s in the church, asterisk and all.
Benji, thanks for sharing your thoughts on being LDS and gay. I’m much older and this has been something I’ve dealt with for a very long time. In my day it was not okay to be gay or anything like unto it. At least the Mormon church is taking a more positive public face with this issue. The truth of the matter is that each of us has to find our own way and this is especially so for Mormon homosexuals. I thank you for sharing your thoughts because there are a lot younger people who need to hear these things. It’s true that we go from a world of “I know” to one of more uncertainty. The fact of the matter is we live in a world where we still hope for things in faith even though we may not have all the answers. PS I never saw you on season two of So You Think You Can Dance, but saw you help your sister audition. Immediately, I thought gay and Mormon (and a great dancer!).
I’m sorry, but I was a huge fan of benji’s and met him three times. This does NOT look like the same benji that was on SYTYCD or the benji I saw in person.
Doesn’t anyone else see this? Call me crazy, but how someone change the shape of their mouth and the length of their face. Did he have some kind of major plastic surgery?
I love him regardless and was just checking up on him to see what he’s been up too. Was watching dancing with the stars and watched Chelsea Hightower and Benji’s sister dance. Wondered why I haven’t seen him on anything.
So is this really the beloved, talented, sweet, funny Benji from SYTYCD? I always thought he was cute, but he is even cuter in these videos. If this truly is him, I just can’t understand how he can look so different.
Love and miss you Benji!! Watching you perform always made me happy. My daughter and I got the best hugs from you after seeing you on tour. We went to 3 shows. I was the one that had a blinged out camera and you said “don’t let Travis see it, he loves things that are blinged” . Haha! Such a fun memory!
Thank you for your story. I sincerely hope that the pieces that you pick up from the broken snow globe make a beautiful mosaic. Our Church needs more peolpe like you.
Benji, thank you so much! You are a breath of fresh air. I, too, am gay and Mormon, an RM, and face these issues, be in the Church or leave. The asterisk principle, however I try to rationalize or harmonize it, I simply struggle: Did our Savior not say “and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” Why? Maybe in part because for anyone to grow past their trials and mistakes and overcome there has to be an escape, and the Atonement offers that, only asterisking sends two painful messages, both of which damage. One, the Lord may forget, but we as His Church do not and will not. And two, yeah, it kills to bear this asterisk, but we as His Church are willing to risk your loss because you’re nothing but an expendable queer to us. Okay, maybe this is not accurate. Okay, maybe it is part of sincere repentance, but it hurts. My heart with your heart, buddy. Love out to you. If you cannot be with us, be near us. Losing you hurt, but I will always want you back. Love, Jake.
I loved hearing your story and our whole family loved you on SYTYCD! You were fabulous! And we loved the hiphop, gyrating hips and all.
Of course your decision doesn’t need validation, but I think leaving the Church was the right thing for you. May you find a love that is perfect for you! And it is my hope and prayer that someday you, your hot husband and your beautiful children will be welcomed with open arms in the Church. That is one of my biggest issues with the Church and the reason I try to stay. I want to be a voice of love for the LGBT community in the LDS Church. Best hopes for you, Benji! Live your life.
I would love to see an update on Benji, and how things are going since the transition. As I go through my faith crisis, this interview is in the top 3 for bringing me to a more sound level, instead of letting the flood of emotions control things. I thank both Benji and John for their willingness to put themselves out there to help a troubled soul such as mine. I hate going through this, its been more than miserable, and I am not even gay and trying to deal with that on top of it all. Benji and John, and all the others on here, I do not know where you find your strength and courage but you give me some hope, and some light in a hole that has been so dark for so long.
Even though this is “old”, the story really resonates with me right now during my own faith “expansion”, and I am so thankful to have listened. Thank you for sharing your story, your faith, your pain, your life. What a blessing.
Love in Christ,
I knew your Dad, Lynn Vogen (RIP) back in the day (before marriage and and Lee Wakefield . I don’t know how they responded to your revelation. I hope it was supportive. Just listening and reading the other comments was an unsettling experience. We are a heterosexual species and survival of our species requires it. Long stable relationships are a requirement due to the slow maturation of our offspring. Although technological innovations have made possible other methodologies for procreation, these won’t change our species ethogram. You are truly between a rock and hard place- you have my sympathy. As a result of a lifestyle that does not support the continued existence of our species, an extensive amount of personal navel gazing seems to be the norm. It is possible to overthink one’s feelings and become far too absorbed in one’s every thought and feeling.–a sort of self-induced narcissism. It’s too easy to become addicted to drama and the attention it affords. Perhaps a focus on self-control and community would make life less dramatic and healthier.
If you read a text on sexuality across species you’ll learn that very few species are exclusively heterosexual. You’d also know that sexuality has a lot to do with testosterone in the womb. The more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay. One could even argue that homosexuality is a form of God’s population control.
You are right, the species would not exist without straight people, but some believe that there is more to life than merely existing.
Gay people, including Benji offer wonderful culture and color to the world. The community is enhanced by LGBTQ people generally. Like anyone else, some offer more than others to the larger whole. Benji has offered a lot of joy to the world. That’s why we all are aware of him.