I was an only child until I was seven when the first of my two younger sisters was born. I was the first surviving child of my parents and, as a result, I think my mother attached herself more to me than if my older sister had survived her premature birth and short tenure in the hospital.
To say that I was a momma’s boy is a bit of an understatement. I practically worshipped the ground my mother walked on and I did everything I could to prove my worth and love to her. Any time I disappointed her I was heartbroken. As a young child I learned to cook and clean and take up her interests in art, literature, and music.
By the time I was 12, or so, I began to realize I was different, though. While other boys my age were developing crushes on the girls in our classes, I was falling in love with my best friend – a charming, adorable, and sweet young man I met in my 7th grade choir.
Over the course of my first year in junior high, I began to realize what was happening to me and, being the semi-intelligent, good Mormon boy I was, I began to quietly do independent research. I knew what “gay” was and I knew that it was bad. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom, my mother had worked in advertising and there were several graphic designers and other members of her team who were openly homosexual but I knew I wasn’t like them and I knew their “lifestyle” wasn’t condoned by my family or my church.
I found an old sex education book in my parents’ basement and spent hours at the library reading about human psychology and sexuality. The Internet was brand new but I took full advantage of it, too. Eventually I was lead to church-produced materials and learned that the modern-day prophets and apostles of my faith had told men (and women) much older than me that this was all just a phase in a confused young man’s life; that what was affecting me was temporary and that I could overcome my weakness through hard work, prayer, service, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Over the next four years I did everything a young man in the LDS church was supposed to do. I advanced through the priesthood and held every position available to a young man. I excelled in Scouting, was a (nearly) perfect student, took up the piano, sang in the choir, played sports, worked part time, and did everything my parents asked of me at home.
But I was still broken and the façade I worked so hard to build seemed to be cracking. Bullies at school and even church seemed to see through me and judged me for who I was, deep inside.
Almost daily, there seemed to be someone in some sphere of my life who would call me some variation of the word faggot, fairy, or queer and some even referred to me as a “fudge packer” (although I didn’t understand the reference at the time).
Eventually, like many tormented and conflicted young gay men and women do, I tried to commit suicide.
Fortunately, I didn’t succeed and with my failure came a renewed sense of strength to overcome myself. I committed to a high school “sweetheart” and, to a degree, I fell in love with her. I graduated with honors, was crowned Student of the Year by my school, spoke at seminary graduation, and went to Mormon-owned Brigham Young University. I served a faithful, honorable mission, came home, got engaged (called off the wedding), traveled abroad, graduated from “the Lord’s University,” and got my first “real” job.
And, at the end of all of that, I realized that I was still “broken;” I was still me.
All of the praying, self-deprecation, personal loathing, and pain had been for naught. The Lord had not heard my constant pleas, nor had he accepted my offerings of a “contrite spirit and a broken heart.” I was unchanged and my church taught me that I was an abomination and unwelcome.
And then something curious happened.
About a year and a half ago, a man from my parents’ congregation was re-baptized and he had his Mormon temple blessings re-instated. I knew this man very well; he was one of my priesthood leaders and scout masters growing up. As a young man, however, I did not know that he was molesting his daughter over a 10-year period. From the age of five to about 15, this man abused his daughter at least three times a week.
When I was on my two-year mission to Montreal, about nine years ago, this man’s sins were uncovered and he was sentenced to prison and released less than a year later. He was given a five-year probation period while he was invited back into his home by his wife and by my family’s church. The adult men and women of the congregation had special meetings with the bishop and regional leaders where they were admonished to treat this “brother” with charity and welcome him back into the fold.
Well, as I previously mentioned, last year this man was re-baptized and invited back to the temple (the Mormon Church’s most sacred of buildings) and full church membership. A pedophile was invited back to the church that I loved while I was told that I, and people like me, were unwelcome and unable to participate if we are true to ourselves and live our lives authentically.
So, in May of 2012, something inside of me snapped. I realized that I could no longer live my life for everyone else. I loved my family but I no longer felt like I could actively participate in a church that didn’t want me – all of me. A church that would take my former scout master, a man who chose to violate his sacred role as father and abuse the innocence of his daughter, over me. A church that didn’t want me because I was responsible enough not to get married to a woman and because I recognized that I didn’t want to be alone for the rest of my life.
As I prepared to tell my family of my decision to accept myself as gay, I hoped and prayed that the lifetime of works and commitment to my family and church would be enough to salvage a relationship with my mother and the rest of my family.
I was wrong.
When all was said and done, I was told in no uncertain terms what my family’s expectations for me were: single celibacy while doing genealogy and serving in the temple. Forever. I was told that I was broken and that I could have been fixed had I approached my mother earlier. That it was my fault that I’d let myself get to this point.
My fault? My fault. My fault!
At the end of that terrible conversation, my mother told me that she had prayed to God that she would die so that I could be “fixed.” That I could be “made whole” again. My mother wanted to sacrifice herself to become my personal savior.
Even as I write my story, I realize that I don’t fault my mother for her reaction. A lot of parents struggle with their children coming out as gay. I do however take issue with the church and the way it has conditioned its members to think and react to anyone outside of the “Mormon Ideal.” Similarly, I take issue with those in politics taking it upon themselves to determine what I can and cannot do with my life or, more importantly, what rights I do or do not deserve to have. It blows my mind that in a world as vividly colorful as ours, so many still see life exclusively in black and white.
Since I came out last year to my mother, gay Mormons have made it their mission to capitalize on the LDS church’s anti-gay stance. Gay Mormon Ty Mansfield and his wife have graced the cover of LDS Living Magazine, Josh Weed’s (a gay Mormon psychologist) blog went viral and he was invited to be interviewed on ABC with his wife and scored a spot on a new reality TV show, and the church released its newest Website, mormonsandgays.org. For me, each of these examples serve as perfect illustrations of the idea that IF you don’t fit the church’s prescribed description, you aren’t welcome. And, for my mother, each of these examples only served as kindling to fuel her crusade to save me.
Since coming to terms with my sexuality, my life has been nothing but one challenge after another. I was attacked and sexually assaulted, I’ve moved across the country to escape religious persecution (after turning down a managerial position that would have paid substantially more than my current salary), and I’ve been outcast and shunned by my entire family.
Although I am no longer a deeply religious or even spiritual person, I still hold on to the idea that God, whomever he or she is, is deeply seated in love; that if we are sent here to do the Lord’s will, it is to serve and love and lift up those in need. It’s not our place to pass judgment or condemn our neighbors.
There are two scriptures in the New Testament that I still hold on to; they give me hope that if God is there, no matter what I do in this life, he will still love me, just as he loves all of his children – straight or otherwise.
The first of these scriptures is in John 15 (verses 9-13, 17), it reads:
“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend. … These things I command you, that ye love one another.
And the second is in Romans 8 (verses 35, 38, and 39):
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
At its foundation, Christianity (not only Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Mormonism, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) is based on the principle that Christ died for our sins. He laid down his life for his “friends.” And, as a result, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is made manifest in his son, “Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As I close, and try and bring everything full circle, I am reminded of how much work there is to do. Something needs to change in our culture and our government and our churches – I don’t have the answer(s). Perhaps you do. All I do know is that change is needed. And that it’s happening much slower than it should be. Although I am no longer an active member of my church, I know I will always acknowledge myself as a cultural Mormon and I hope that someday, in the not-too-distant future, I can hold my head a little higher when I say that. But, truthfully, it is up to me and you and everyone else who is willing to stand up and be the change we desperately need in our families, neighborhoods, and congregations.
And if we do? Maybe I can be my momma’s boy again.