Same-sex attraction is a sensitive and complex issue. We feel it is important to try to understand how we can better meet the needs of friends, family, and Church members who experience SSA. Ty and Danielle graciously shared the following story as a first step in creating a more open dialogue about same-gender attraction in the LDS community. We are in no way suggesting marriage is a catch-all solution; we recognize everyone’s experience is different. This is simply one man’s story of finding fulfillment and happiness while living in harmony with the gospel.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.
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I hadn’t originally intended to be so open about my feelings of same-sex attraction. When I was first approached about the possibility of including some thoughts in In Quiet Desperation, I was hesitant. Although I had worked through a crisis of faith around the issue and felt a lot of peace, I was quite private about whom I opened up to. I still felt some shame given the cultural taboo around it and I was concerned about how people would respond.
However, I also knew that through my experience I had gained some spiritual insights I hoped could be of help to others. I agreed to tell my story with the assumption that, if it were published, I would use a pseudonym. I felt trust in the love the Lord had for me and in the path I was on, but I didn’t have the same trust in people, given the climate of cultural attitudes around this issue. The thought of blowing the doors off my privacy felt so overwhelmingly vulnerable that I just didn’t feel I could go there.
As the book was going through the editing process, the theme of being a witness started to show up more frequently in my personal scripture study. I kept thinking of Alma’s declaration that covenant disciples are to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [they] may be in” (Mosiah 18:9). The Spirit impressed upon me that the power of my witness would be diminished if I used anything other than my real name. I felt there was only one right choice for me in that particular situation.
I had pretty much concluded that I probably wouldn’t marry in this life, and I had come to a place where I was okay with that. I had let go of any personal or cultural pressure to marry and was content to stay single. Then I had an experience in which I felt prompted to continue to prepare myself spiritually and emotionally for the blessing of marriage and leave the rest to the Lord. As much as I felt I wouldn’t marry, I tried to leave it an open question and to trust in God. I felt good about that spiritually, but I continued to experience some emotional ups and downs.
Some time after that, I was earnestly seeking additional divine guidance. I was feeling frustration around some deep emotional connections I had developed with another guy, and it hurt that I couldn’t have what a part of me really wanted. I needed some spiritual reassurance. It was general conference time, so I wrote down some of my most heartfelt questions and went into the Saturday morning session fasting.
As soon as the opening prayer was given, I was completely enveloped by this spiritual feeling. I hardly remember anything that was said during the session, but the feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. For nearly two hours, all the hurt, the pain, the confusion, the frustration were completely gone. In their place was this feeling of divine love I had also never experienced. As a part of that, there was a feeling of what I perceived as pure celestial love and desire to be with a daughter of God in the most holy, connected, and uniting of ways. The world’s portrayal of love and romance seemed so shallow and “false” in comparison. With the feeling came the words: “Just stay with me. If you do, this is the feeling you will someday feel—and it will be a permanent part of your being.” And then suddenly, as the end of the session approached, the feeling left. I didn’t know how I would eventually grow into that feeling as an integral part of my being, but I trusted that God would lead me there.
I experienced some gradual change over time as I continued to try to stay close to and be led by the Spirit and as I sought other various means of personal growth. As I did so, I went from believing I probably wouldn’t marry in this life, to believing I probably would marry but later rather than sooner, to then believing it would be sooner rather than later, until I finally met Danielle and had a strong impression that she was the woman I would marry.
In this area and so much of my life, I feel I’ve had to live the principle President Boyd K. Packer taught of going to “the edge of the light and [stepping] into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two” (That All May Be Edified (1982), 340). We have to put Him first today, taking the necessary steps of faith today, and simply trust Him to take care of tomorrow. It’s only been through my learning and living that principle that the Lord has slowly been revealing to me His plan for my life.
During my freshman year at BYU, the year before my mission, I sang in the BYU Men’s Chorus with Danielle’s brother Clint. We got to be friends, and he would invite me to sing with him and his brothers on various occasions. On one occasion he asked if I’d sing with them at the mission farewell of his twin sister, Olivia.
That was when I met the whole family. I remember being briefly introduced to Danielle, but that was about it. More than anything, there was this overwhelming impression of the goodness of that family. I loved all of them.
I left on my mission shortly after that, and eventually I lost touch with their family. After graduating and spending a few years in D.C., I decided to change careers and go back to graduate school. I felt impressed to move back to Utah to do my prereqs at BYU. I was also dating a girl from Salt Lake at the time, and I knew if anything were going to happen, we needed to live in proximity. Within weeks of my moving back to Utah, that relationship ended. Around the same time, I was running some errands, and, while waiting in a checkout line, I heard, “Are you Ty Mansfield?” I looked over and there was Danielle.
Excited to get a Palmer family update, I chatted with Danielle for a few minutes, and she told me what her family members were up to. That was our only contact until we reconnected again a couple years later via Facebook and would occasionally write on each other’s Facebook wall for birthdays and such. She always had cute, witty things to say. After a handful of brief, friendly Facebook exchanges over the next year or two, I thought a date couldn’t hurt.
It had been a long time since I’d had a desire to take anyone out. There was something this time that was different for me. I still don’t know if I can put my finger on what was happening, but I felt this sense of the Spirit working on my heart, preparing me for the possibility of marriage.
Living in Texas, however, I knew the only opportunity to take Danielle out would be when I came home to visit for Christmas break. So during that break between semesters, I took her out several times.
It was interesting because dating and nurturing a relationship had never felt so easy for me. I felt this distinct spiritual undercurrent through every step of the process. I was drawn to Danielle in multiple ways, but the spiritual feeling of “rightness” seemed to be the driving force during this formative period. There wasn’t any talk, though, of a long-term relationship. I was leaving to go back to Texas, and she lived in Utah. A few days before I left, we talked about our mutual interest but ultimately didn’t know what to do other than to leave it an open question. However, I had a strong feeling this courtship was moving toward marriage.
A few weeks later, Danielle had a business trip close to where I was living in Texas, so she stopped over to visit me for several days. It was during that time that the unmistakable confirmation came. It wasn’t long before we were engaged, and we married a few months later. The day after our first wedding anniversary, we welcomed our first, beautiful little boy into our family: Gabriel Tanielu.
On the Response
There was a pretty negative response in the media when we announced our engagement, but it was through that experience that I realized just how good of a woman I was getting. I mean, I knew Danielle was a high-caliber woman, but her response to the scrutiny and criticism was inspiring to me. After I read one particular statement posted online, I just felt sad for her. I had gotten used to criticism from various camps and had developed a pretty thick skin. But I felt sad that she was being brought into the mix.
One statement in particular came out during a weekend when Danielle had flown back to Utah for wedding preparations while I was in school in Texas. The statement was aimed at discrediting me and our relationship and alluded to some things I had written a few years prior. After reading the statement, Danielle wrote me an e-mail. I already felt we had a pretty solid foundation for our relationship, but some of the things Danielle wrote confirmed that. It also confirmed to me that my efforts to cultivate the pure love I’d felt during my spiritual experience years earlier during that Saturday morning general conference session had borne fruit. She wrote:
“The one nice thing about looking at all of this stuff was that as I relooked at some of the things you had written, I felt that you love me now more than many people ever love their partners or spouses. Your love for me existed long before we ever went on our first date, because it was a love you were trying to cultivate with Christ as your example, before you even felt that marriage to a woman would be possible in this life. It was who you were trying to be.
“I think so many people rely on their hormones and/or their emotions to drive them that they get stuck feeling for their spouse whatever those things tell them to feel. And then if they try to feel otherwise, to love their spouse more than what hormones or emotions tell them to, they feel like they’re doing their spouse a favor rather than recognizing that they hadn’t understood how to truly love in the first place.
“I think that us coming into each other’s lives, feeling drawn to each other and attracted to who the other person was and is, and then deciding that we want to unite our lives and continue to care for and love each other and to build our love together all while striving to become more like Christ, as a team with Christ. . . . I feel sad for people who don’t get it and who have reduced love and marriage to a mere shadow of what it was intended to be and how beautiful it can be.”
On Making It Work
Even though that e-mail was written before Danielle and I were married, it encapsulates what we’ve been seeking to cultivate in our marriage since then and what has been the foundation of our relationship. And it’s been beautiful and rich and rewarding.
I think the greatest difficulties Danielle and I have experienced in our marriage are fairly typical of what most people experience—balancing work, school, family time, Church callings, and other interests; figuring out how to keep bills paid; etc. I think the joys have also been fairly typical of those that grow out of any healthy, gospel-centered relationship.
The thing I love most about my relationship with Danielle is the friendship we share. If there’s anyone who knows how to make me laugh, it’s Danielle. It’s one of the first things that drew me to her. We love to spend time with each other.
One of the greatest joys we’ve experienced has been the expansion of our family with little Gabriel. I know I’m biased, but I think he’s got to be the cutest kid ever born. I can’t look at him and not smile. There’s something so sacred and special about knowing that this little, eternal soul has been entrusted to our stewardship for his time on earth, and that we’ll be sealed together for the eternities.
Some have wondered how my openness about my experience with same-sex attraction will affect our family. When the time comes, we’ll figure out how to explain our story to our children. More than anything, I want them to know that they can talk about anything and that it’s okay to be honest about anything they feel or believe. If there is anything they struggle with, I don’t want them to feel shame about it. And I believe one of the most important ways to teach that kind of authenticity and openness is to model it.
What Ty didn’t know until 12 years later is that the first time we met, my sister and I had specifically requested him to sing at her farewell. He had performed a solo in a Men’s Chorus concert a few months earlier, so we knew who he was. He had a beautiful tenor voice and he was incredibly good-looking, but that could have described a lot of men in the choir. There was something else about Ty. He stood out to us.
After we had met him, that feeling became even stronger. Ty had this innocence that was endearing. He was kind of shy, and it was obvious that he had no idea how good-looking he was. I was too timid myself to try to really get to know him, so I settled for having a crush from afar.
It must have been shortly after Ty’s move to D.C. that he came back on our family’s radar. I was in Deseret Book when, from across the room, a book caught my eye. On the cover was a headshot of a very attractive, clean-cut man in a shirt and tie. He had a bar across his eyes—the kind that ’80s journalists used in an effort to obscure a person’s identity. My curiosity got the best of me and I crossed the room, picked up the book, and read the cover: In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-Gender Attraction. The authors were Fred and Marilyn Matis . . . and Ty Mansfield.
I was stunned. I knew there couldn’t be many Ty Mansfields and I felt sad thinking that all these years, Ty must have felt very alone as he dealt with this. I had never heard of anyone with same-sex attraction staying in the Church, so this was quite unusual. I bought the book and told my siblings about it. The general consensus was that our respect and appreciation for Ty had jumped exponentially. Naturally, there was a draw to know where he was and what he was up to, but you don’t exactly look someone up to say, “Hey, I never realized you experienced same-sex attraction. So what else is going on in your life?”
When we ran into each other at the store, he didn’t even remember who I was. At this point, almost 10 years had passed since my sister’s farewell. I knew Ty loved my family and that he would remember my siblings, so I reintroduced myself. When, again, a few years later, Ty asked if he could take me to dinner for my birthday over Christmas break, I was excited to catch up, but the possibility of his being interested in me never crossed my mind.
We went out several times, but I didn’t know we were going out on dates. I had recently gone out with a few other guys and I wasn’t looking for new dating options. I didn’t think Ty was either. I did enjoy spending time with him, and I missed him on the days we didn’t talk, so as he continued to ask me out, I continued to say yes. Four or five dates later, it suddenly hit me: “Is Ty Mansfield dating me . . . to date me?”
When I realized Ty was interested in me, it was kind of a shock. I didn’t know someone who experienced same-sex attraction could happily marry a member of the opposite sex. I had never heard of it happening. During Ty’s last week in Utah, I read everything I could on LDS mixed-orientation marriages and prayed a lot. I didn’t know what this would mean for the details of my life, but I felt peaceful and knew that I wanted to pursue it.
After I went to visit Ty in Texas, we decided to take a hiatus from talking and to focus for a week on fasting, praying, and pondering what we had experienced. On Saturday, we would each go to the temple where we were living, and then we would talk on Sunday. During the conversation on Sunday, we decided that I should move to Texas . . . in two weeks.
Because things progressed so quickly, I’m sure a lot of people thought we were crazy. Fortunately, my family already knew and loved Ty, so they were 100 percent supportive. My friends have been supportive too. Naturally, there were some who had questions about what it would mean for me to marry someone who experienced same-sex attraction, but once people knew I wasn’t worried, they didn’t worry either.
A few weeks before our wedding, people started blogging about Ty Mansfield marrying a woman. Someone created a website that was an open letter to me, telling me not to marry Ty and warning me that I would probably end up divorced and a single mom. It didn’t cause me to doubt or question, but I did feel saddened that one of the happiest events of my life was being sullied by other people’s issues. A lot of mean things were said about Ty. I had known early on that by marrying Ty, I was signing up for a life of some scrutiny, invasive questions, and less privacy than I would have preferred, and I agreed to the whole package . . . but no one likes to have unkind things said about them or the people they love.
Ty, on the other hand, was more worried about me. He had already been through similar experiences on his own, and he was hoping to shield me from that a little longer, but the only thing it served to do was dampen my spirits for a few hours. From the moment when I first read negative accounts of mixed-orientation marriages, I had a clear impression that these stories were not my own and that no one else’s story would impact mine; Ty and I would create our own story together.
I have no doubts or regrets about choosing to marry Ty. Early on, long before we were ever engaged, I felt a momentary flash of fear, but almost as quickly as it came, I felt a powerful, calm reassurance and the thought, “You can trust Ty. He is who he says he is. You know what you have felt.” The fear never returned.
People sometimes want to know what it’s like to be married to someone who experiences same-sex attraction. My answer is, I don’t know. What I do know is what it’s like to be married to Ty Mansfield, and I love it. I feel extremely blessed. Ty is a more loving and affectionate husband than I ever imagined I would find, and he is very patient with my weaknesses.
I have often said that same-sex attraction plays a big part in our lives because of the time Ty has invested in reaching out to others, but from my perspective, it isn’t noticeable in our marriage. I don’t ever think about my husband experiencing SSA unless something stereotypical comes up, like he is a much better decorator than I am and he is a better listener than any other man I’ve ever dated. I also feel like the difficulties associated with addressing SSA have made my husband who he is. They have refined him and drawn him closer to the Lord. His challenges also allowed us to start off our marriage with an ability to discuss things openly, which has been a great blessing.
People also occasionally ask how we’ll tell our children about our story. I don’t think we have a definitive answer yet, but I’m not concerned. We want our children to be emotionally healthy, for them to feel comfortable discussing anything in our home, and for sexuality to be a topic that is approached from a healthy place instead of from a place of taboo or embarrassment. We feel no shame about Ty’s experience with same-sex attraction. My only desire is that our children hear about this from us, rather than from a child of an acquaintance or friend. I’m giving myself at least a few more months to figure that one out since we have at least that long till our baby starts talking. When we do tell our children, they will have experienced already for themselves the stability of being in a family with parents who aren’t perfect, but who love each other and them very much. I imagine that the issue of same-sex attraction will be similar for our children as it is for us—it’s a piece of our story, but it is not the story. And so much of our story is still to be written.
For more information on this topic and resources on the web, visit some of the following links:
* God Loveth His Children (published by the Church in 2007)
* Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction (by Elder Holland)
* Interview with Elder Oaks on Same-Gender Attraction
For LDS parents of children who experience same-gender attraction, click here to read "Advice to Parents: Relating to Your Son or Daughter Experiencing Same-gender Attraction."
Ty Mansfield is a cofounder of the nonprofit organization North Star, a support organization for LDS individuals and families living with same-sex attraction. Visit northstarlds.org for more information.