350-352: Dance Champion Benji Schwimmer

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


155 comments for “350-352: Dance Champion Benji Schwimmer

  1. Mandi
    July 8, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    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.

    • David Ashutosh
      July 9, 2012 at 8:40 am

      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’?

      • August 17, 2012 at 2:20 am

        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.

    • Katie
      July 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      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.

    • Julia
      July 13, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      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.

    • August 17, 2012 at 2:16 am

      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.

    • Michael
      August 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm

      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.

  2. kris
    July 12, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    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!!!

  3. Harold
    July 14, 2012 at 6:01 am

    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.

  4. Christine
    July 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    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.

  5. Living and Learning
    August 2, 2012 at 10:30 pm


    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.

  6. August 17, 2012 at 1:37 am

    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!).

  7. Abby
    August 26, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    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!

  8. Bryan
    September 4, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    Brother Benji

    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.

  9. Jacob Eski
    September 11, 2012 at 2:52 am

    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.

  10. Traci
    October 4, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    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.

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