This mold that I was not made into
June 14, 2012 3:01 PM   Subscribe

Benji Schwimmer, the winner of So You Think You Can Dance's second season, is a West Coast Swing choreographer and dancer, serves as artistic director for LeAnn Rimes and Paula Abdul, and co-choreographed US figure skater Jeremy Abbott's short routine. Raised in an observant Latter-Day Saints household, Benji served a two-year mission in Mexico. On May 30, Benji recorded an interview lasting nearly 5 1/2 hours in which he described his attempts to reconcile his sexual identity with his faith and, for the first time, stated publicly that he is gay.

The video has been posted in three parts:
  • Part One: Childhood and LDS Mission (1hr33m)
  • Part Two: So You Think You Can Dance (1hr58m)
  • Part Three: Sexuality & Faith (2hr6m)

    Audio-only files (iTunes):
  • Part One
  • Part Two
  • Part Three

    The Schwimmer family is well-known in swing and dance circles. Benji's sister Lacey and cousin Heidi Groskreuz were also SYTYCD competitors. For six seasons, Lacey was one of the professional dancers on the US Dancing With the Stars; in 2011, she partnered Chaz Bono. Benji and Lacey's father Buddy appeared on Dance Fever in the 1970s, and now runs the World Swing Championships each year.
  • posted by catlet (33 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
    Be sure not to miss the second half of hour three. Don't skip straight to it though or you'll miss all the context.
    posted by michaelh at 3:10 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Yeah, if you don't want to watch the whole thing, watch Part Three. I tried to find transcripts, but there aren't any. It seems like a great opportunity to use Fanscribed (previously on MetaTalk).
    posted by catlet at 3:21 PM on June 14, 2012

    This guy is awesome. For those on the fence about plunging into something so lengthy, it's actually really entertaining.
    posted by eugenen at 3:25 PM on June 14, 2012

    This is great.
    posted by yeti at 3:29 PM on June 14, 2012

    i got a ping on my gaydar the first time i saw him on SYTYCD, saw that he was mormon, and got pretty sad (a similar feeling happens pretty much every time they stop in salt lake, as you can usually find at least one devout looking closeted person). i grew up queer in the mormon church and it's not an easy row to hoe. i'm so glad for him now. i don't know if the damage of the upbringing ever goes away, but that moment you realize "hey, maybe it's not me that's broken, but them" is powerful and wonderful.
    posted by nadawi at 3:48 PM on June 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

    What a brave, amazing guy. I pray that the church figures it out sooner rather than later.
    posted by The World Famous at 4:14 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

    I've only skimmed the Yahoo article for now, but this leaped out at me:
    Benji also discusses his past struggles with thoughts of suicide and even the idea of castrating himself and taking reverse-hormonal pills so that he would no longer have any homosexual urges. "Do you believe that I should be celibate for the rest of my life? Is man meant to be alone in this life?" he asked one church advisor, who warned Benji that any traditional marriage to a woman would be doomed, but also told him that a physical relationship with a man was out of the question.
    1. Poor kid, but it sounds like he's out and happy now, so I'm really glad for him.

    2. Lucky kid. He got a counsellor who didn't believe in unicorns. With no plausible escape route within the church, he got to find his own way out.

    (I still feel really conflicted about Josh Weed. He may well be happy, but the pressure put on other gay LDS men to do as he did must be huge. Schwimmer went public May 30, a week before Weed, so I don't think his interview was a response to that story.)
    posted by maudlin at 4:23 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    I just love Gay Mormon Week on MetaFilter!
    posted by mrgrimm at 4:24 PM on June 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

    I'm making my "I'm shocked at this development" face
    posted by Renoroc at 4:44 PM on June 14, 2012

    yeah, we watched that season of SYTYCD for Benji and we openly discussed (at the time) our hopes that Benji would eventually find his way OUT. glad tidings, this!
    posted by squasha at 4:52 PM on June 14, 2012

    Huh. I'm at arond 1:06 in Part 3 and I have to say this is the first I've ever heard of the asterisk on the church records or the alleged new policy. And I've been in a position where I'd really be the guy to know about that. Stories like that really bother me because I start to get lost in my "hey, what on earth are you talking about, I've never even heard of that?" thing. Now I'm going to have to make some phone calls to people who can actually confirm or deny it authoritatively and get after them about it if it's true.
    posted by The World Famous at 5:02 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Good for him. It takes a lot of guts to deal with this in such a public way.
    posted by BlahLaLa at 5:12 PM on June 14, 2012

    TWF - it could also be that thing that happens where certain areas/wards/people say things that aren't true/backed up by the church and the people they're counseling believe it comes from the church, not from that one person/ward/etc. i had the same issue with the church (which turned out to be an issue with a specific bishop) when i was told the official position was that rape/molestation victims had to repent for it.
    posted by nadawi at 5:14 PM on June 14, 2012

    What is this new policy you speak of? I'm too lazy to deal with anything other than text.
    posted by mecran01 at 5:15 PM on June 14, 2012

    I can't even imagine how hard it must be to struggle with the idea that the thing you base your life on is in deep conflict with who you are. He seems to be coping with it about as well as anybody possibly could, and I wish him the best.
    posted by jacquilynne at 5:29 PM on June 14, 2012

    The alleged new policy is that anyone who admits to ever having had any homosexual conduct gets an asterisk on their individual church record that can never be removed and that indicates to bishops that they must never allow this person to serve in any church calling where they are in regular contact with minors. If that is, in fact, a church policy, I have to agree with Benji that it is not "of God."

    I do recall that, at least when I was in a position to deal with the issue, the integration of the church's young men's program with the Boy Scout organization meant that a bishop could not call a gay man to serve in a calling that also carried a Boy Scouts of America role. But as it was explained to me by someone very high up, it was a rule imposed by BSA. That didn't make me any less angry about it, of course.

    Anyway, I'm not in that loop as much as I once was, so I'm going to have to reach out to some people who are just so I can satisfy my own curiosity.
    posted by The World Famous at 5:31 PM on June 14, 2012

    i've heard that same BSA justification, which maybe angered me more because mormon involvement in BSA is what drove the policy to begin with (or at least that's the prevailing perception).
    posted by nadawi at 5:35 PM on June 14, 2012

    The thing is, the same prejudices and false foundational beliefs drive that specific policy in both organizations, so I don't think which is driving the other is a distinction that matters much on an institutional level. On a local level, though, you get enough variation that there can be a huge clash (like there was with me).
    posted by The World Famous at 5:48 PM on June 14, 2012

    (By which I do not mean foundational religious doctrines, but the false assumptions and interpretations of reality that influence and shape those religious doctrines.)
    posted by The World Famous at 5:53 PM on June 14, 2012

    I pray that the church figures it out sooner rather than later.

    They're starting to, at least the membership is. This year at SLC Pride, over 300 straight LDS members marched in the parade under the banner "Mormons Building Bridges", carrying signs of support and contrition and asking forgiveness for how their church has treated homosexuals across the years.

    Salt Lake City Tribune coverage, Slatest blog and Towleroad report (the second with video), and a NYT blog weighs in with a more lengthy analysis of Mormons, gays, and their historical tangles.

    Apparently they're planning on being a other Pride celebrations around the country. If you're at one, and you see them there, give them your love and thanks. They deserve it.
    posted by hippybear at 6:57 PM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

    Schwimmer is fantastic and he deserves to be happy.

    Here he is on SYTYCD dancing cha-cha. And mambo. And Broadway. And hip-hop. And here is a West Coast Swing (performed by Pasha Kovalev and Sara Von Gillern) choreographed by Benji. And a Lindy Hop he choreographed for SYTYCD Canada (performed by Izaak Smith and Arassay Reyes). (There's a really fun cha-cha he choreoed for SYTYCD Canada as well but I can't find it online.)

    I do this so everybody can appreciate him for more than his (quite brave) coming-out. Because he is an awesome dude.
    posted by mightygodking at 7:22 PM on June 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

    Good for him. I watched quite a bit of this interview, and he did try to reconcile his faith with his sexuality in the way his church wanted him to, but just couldn't do it. He's immensely popular, and in the public eye, and his way of describing his journey is just so rational, emotional, and real.

    Good for him, again.
    posted by xingcat at 7:27 PM on June 14, 2012

    Also, after so many years of "Dancing with the Stars," watching real pros dance real dances makes me appreciate real dancing talent.
    posted by xingcat at 7:30 PM on June 14, 2012

    Gay mormon week on metafilter continues with this moving blog post from a woman describing her life as the wife of a gay LDS man.
    posted by chrchr at 8:13 PM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

    Some words come to mind: darkness; courage; revelation; joy. This guy found his God in the most authentic way. This interview should be required viewing in every high school in America - public and private.
    posted by Vibrissae at 9:40 PM on June 14, 2012

    Benji is still one of my all-time SYTYCD favorites. He just exudes joy when he dances. I'm glad he can have a shot in having that in the rest of his life now.
    posted by freshwater at 10:44 AM on June 15, 2012

    i finally watched the entire thing. it is so, so worth it. heartbreaking in many ways and a story i recognize - struggling with spiritual experiences and the church leadership...powerful stuff.

    also, if you love SYTYCD, you should really watch that middle section. he drops bombs. not necessarily surprising bombs and not detailed bombs, but all the same it's someone from the show directly confirming some stuff. also, i am so damn curious about which male dancer he nearly kissed! now i'm going to be pawing through fanfic (ps, that's one of the things he talks about in part 2 - viewing fanfic of him and the boy he secretly fancies).
    posted by nadawi at 5:22 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

    I haven't finished watching yet (still have more than an hour of the final video), but I just want to get this out there:

    It's interesting how Benji seems to have relaxed only those value judgments necessary to promote his own emotional welfare. At times, he still seems (at best) bewildered, or possibly even contemptuous, of homosexuals who display stereotypical traits like the lisp or limp-wrist flop, or of transsexuals.
    posted by The Confessor at 10:34 AM on June 16, 2012

    i think he still has some growing to do. i think all his classes and workbooks on finding masculinity, as well as what seems to be some really awful bullying, has given him some ideas that he'll relax over time.

    i think it might be closer to the end, so you might not have gotten there yet, but he talks about how when touring the gay film circuit he saw gays that weren't promiscuous or leather clad, which seems to have been a new experience for him. i think through dance and repressed homosexuals at his church he's only seen the lisp and the limp wrist in conjunction with promiscuity and drug use (like his coach who died of aids contracted at byu gay sex parties). i think he draws a big bright line between gay and the gay lifestyle (which he thinks is all poppers and clubs and multiple partners). exposure to all kinds will help that, i think.

    i also think it's part of what he talks about in the second video - as a dancer you spend all your time looking in the mirror, critiquing every single thing about yourself. he's had 22ish years of actively repressing his homosexuality and so he's spent a long time making sure he doesn't present as gay (which, he pretty much failed at because gayness isn't a flick of the wrist or guyliner, it's something within you, something you are). sometimes i also think he's making therapy jokes - like, if you're in a group of repressed homosexuals trying to pray away the gay, you're going to make some limp wrist jokes.

    i disagree that he he's bewildered or contemptuous of transexuals/drag queens - he mentions affectionately many times the drag performers his parents knew and the drag and trans people he met on the gay film circuit. the only trans person i remember him being mean towards was the one who bullied his sister. i think if he were more open to discussing it, the reason he doesn't like SYTYCD anymore is treatment his sister received behind the scenes. he's fiercely protective of her.
    posted by nadawi at 11:51 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

    You're right, nadawi; the "gay film circuit" part came up about five minutes after I posted, and I was immediately second-guessing some of my assumptions... and your analysis of how his views are still affected by years of bullying and hyper-analytic repression is spot on. Regarding his views on transsexuals, I was relying on a single instance (and I should have specified as much), and had completely forgotten his nostalgic mention of drag performers.
    posted by The Confessor at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2012

    i don't think you were wrong to bring it up. i flinched a little a few times. i listened out of order, so i went part 3 then 1 then 2, so i had heard the gay film circuit story before i heard some of his tales from teen/early adulthood, which i think helped me come to my conclusions. i think he's got a long road ahead of him still, i just think he's moved his biggest obstacle. as he talks about faith being a glass ball and once you drop it, you're examining everything - i did that and i remember that i had some really weird ideas for years as i was figuring how who i was and who the church influenced me into being.
    posted by nadawi at 12:36 PM on June 16, 2012

    Truly the best of the web. Watched it all from start to finish. Deeply engrossing. My heart hurts for this mans struggles. I wish him nothing but happiness in the years to come.
    posted by jopreacher at 6:11 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Okay, so I finally found the time to watch this. The whole thing, in order.

    It's an amazing interview all around. I found so many echoes within my own life, having been raised pretty strict Presbyterian, very born again, evangelical/spirit filled (which was kind of counter-cultural within my congregation, but was an emerging trend), going away as an exchange student and to college, returning and assuming a zillion leadership positions within the church (teaching Sunday School, leading youth fellowship groups, accompanist for the choir, a lot of other capacities within the church)...

    ...and at the same time struggling with my sexuality, being blind to it for ages, having a bit of an awakening to it, knowing it was sinful, hating myself, attempting suicide, praying regularly (by myself and with others) for it to be taken from me...

    ...and finally coming to realize that it was an intrinsic part of me, and finally going in one day and talking to the pastor of the church and asking "If I'm gay, is there any place for me here in this church?" and being told "no" and then never going back there, dropping all my obligations and commitments without any resignation...

    This young man is so well spoken, and has struggled so long with his sexuality, and is attempting to make sense of the context in which he was raised in comparison with the context of his convictions.

    I can do nothing but applaud him with his quest, and wish him all the best with his continuing struggle to find reconciliation between his very conservative upbringing and what it taught him for 20+ years about how awful he is for who he is.

    It's an inspirational testimony, and I hope many many people who need to see it will see it, and will find healing and solace in the story of his life.

    I also hope he finds a platform and clear vision to share with his eloquence which will bring healing to the masses struggling with exactly the issues he has confronted.

    Truly the best of the web; thanks so very very much for posting.
    posted by hippybear at 11:38 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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