|Subject:||Youngest of 13 children and now out of Mormonism|
|Date:||Nov 05, 2001|
This story is a long one, but my hope is that you will include it amongst the others on your site. (While I’m on the subject of your site, let me take a moment to praise and thank you for its creation—it has helped me immensely in my journey, as I’m sure it has many others.)
Unlike many ex-Mormons who have posted on your site, I did not leave the church because of doubts about the truth of its teachings. I knew of no evidence that Joseph Smith may have been a fraud and I had never heard some of the more outlandish quotes from Brigham Young and other early church leaders. I learned of those things later; mainly from reading this website and from the books and articles referenced on it. Discovering just how shaky the history of the “prophets” is has been an eye-opening experience to be sure, but in all honesty I don’t think I would have been capable of hearing those things while I was still a Mormon. Like many of the current Mormons who write to you (oh the laughs! oh, the awful spelling and grammar!), I was so brainwashed that I would have dismissed any of your claims and the evidence presented by you and others on your site. I would have told you (and meant it) that in order to protect our free agency God would never allow irrefutable proof of his existence, or of the truthfulness of the gospel. In this way, each person would be required to “come unto Him” via faith, and faith alone. In fact, I would have argued that God deliberately allowed the existence of contradictory or misleading evidence in order to give his children a perfect choice: the choice to follow the evidence of man, or to follow the still small voice inside that whispers the truth.
I believed these things so completely that I was out of the church for years before I was able to see the holes in its official history. Ironically, I am one of those who stopped attending church because I believed so strongly that it was true.
Let me begin explaining this by giving you a bit of context. I am the youngest of thirteen children, ours is a sixth-generation Mormon family on every single line of the family tree. My father is an intelligent man who taught Philosophy and Religion for over 40 years at BYU (during which time he earned much respect, published his writing, traveled the world, etc.). My mother is a very intelligent woman who sacrificed her own personal growth and much of her sanity to remain always at home, on our family farm, in the company of toddlers and young children for more than 30 years. She had her first child at 19 and her last, me, at 46.
My parents have devoted their entire lives to Mormonism—at great personal cost to themselves. Whatever I feel about the church as an institution I can honestly say that my parents, in all respects, have matched word to deed; they truly live their religion. My father never abused any of us—in fact, he rarely raised his voice. My mother, although clearly unhappy at points in her life, never blamed any of her unhappiness on the church or the limited role it offers women. During my entire childhood, we read the scriptures as a family every morning, ate dinner as a family each night, had family home evening almost every week and were, in general, a close, loving family. Each of my brothers and sisters served a mission (except one sister who married at 20), each earned a college degree, and all have temple marriages except for one sister who is single. All, except me, are true believers in the One True Church.
Were there problems in our home? Certainly, but they were of a moderate scale. My parents were perhaps slightly more strict than some of my friends’ parents, but certainly not as strict as others we knew. In short, I can hardly think of a better case for Mormon indoctrination than growing up in my family.
As a side note, I was aware of some hypocrisy in the church growing up, but since I didn’t experience it in my own family it didn’t feel real to me. I rested in the security of knowing that the church worked for those who were righteous—period. Those who suffered in the church, to my thinking, brought that suffering upon themselves (read: they deserved it) as a result of lack of faith, lack of good works, laziness, etc.
My feelings about my own place in the church were more complicated. While I truly believed that the righteous would thrive in the church, I was also aware from a very early age that there was something wrong with me and that my place in the celestial family was not secure. I didn’t know what it was about me that made me different, but this unnamed difference, and the concordant need I felt to conceal it, were an anguish to me from my first memories. My father and I both clearly recall a conversation in which, at age seven, I expressed doubts about my worthiness to be baptized. My father tried to reassure me that everyone feels this way, but the conviction persisted in me that I was uniquely challenged in some way related specifically to the plan of salvation. I remember a recurring terror that my family would live Together Forever in the celestial kingdom and that I would end up in some lower kingdom, all alone.
It wasn’t until I was almost fifteen that I was able to name my difference. As it turns out I have a brother, 20 years my senior, who is a physician. During a visit to my parent’s home one summer, this brother took me aside and asked me some very confrontational questions about my sexuality. At one point, he asked me point blank if I was homosexual and I denied it vehemently. However, inside I was quaking. I had been the kind of kid who would join my friends in denigrating “faggots” or “sissies” and think nothing of it. It had never occurred to me (consciously) that I might myself be gay. But during this conversation with my brother, which ended up being several hours in length, he chipped away at me with a barrage of questions such as, “When you’re flipping through a magazine, is it the men’s bodies or the women’s bodies that catch your eye?” I had never masturbated at this point (I was very naďve about sex), but my brother didn’t seem to believe that and kept asking me what my fantasies were when I masturbated. Finally, my brother asked me how I would react if he kissed me. I was truly shocked, and the conversation ended there with me humiliated and in tears, confessing to myself and to my brother simultaneously that I was gay.
Afterward, I was distressed, to say the least. I had been somewhat lackadaisical in my commitment to church activity before this (what 15-year old boy isn’t?) but in the following weeks I threw myself into the church with a sense of desperation. I prayed constantly, fasted often and read my scriptures almost obsessively. I replayed the conversation with my brother over and over in my head—I was very angry with him for the realization he had forced upon me. I couldn’t fathom then what his motive might have been, but I felt that he had ruined my life. And it got worse; this brother did not keep my revelation a secret. He repeated my confession to another sibling, who in turn told my parents. Before long, my entire family (grandparents included) knew that I was gay at a time when I was barely coming to grips with it myself.
Shortly before my sixteenth birthday, my parents confronted me about my struggle with homosexual feelings. I was horrified, and tried to deny everything, but they had the evidence of my earlier confession and I quickly caved in, in utter shame. It turns out my parents had contacted a Psychologist (who also happened to be on our stake’s high council) and they wanted me to enter “reparative therapy.” This man had assured them that he would do his best to help me “work through and overcome” my “tendencies.” Naturally, I agreed to everything as I wanted more than anything to be free of my homosexual feelings. I HATED feeling this way. At this point I had never even kissed anyone, male or female, let alone had sex.
I remember little of the next two years of my life. My sophomore and junior years of high school are a near-empty haze filled with shame and recrimination. My parents monitored my activities very carefully during this time. I had therapy twice a week after school and kept a part-time job but was allowed to do little else. I was not allowed to get a driver’s license, and began to withdraw from most of my friends at school. My mother cried every day for the first several months of this period, and would often leave scriptures taped to my pillow or amongst my school books. She embarked upon a forty-day fast wherein she would only eat after the sun went down (this is the only time I have heard of a Mormon doing this). Her mental health also began to suffer (for a variety of reasons—there was a lot going on in my family that year), and one memory in particular stands out for me. My mother woke me up at about 4:00 AM one morning and told me, in a very calm voice, that she had been wrestling with the spirit all night. She had thrown herself upon God’s mercy and begged to know why our family had been cursed with my homosexuality. At one point, she became convinced that God wanted her to kill me in order to save me from this curse…but after “wresting with the angel” (her words) she decided that I needed to live, in order to make my own choice to renounce homosexuality. She informed me that I was like Isaac: that she had been ready to sacrifice me to the Lord but that he had intervened on my behalf. As I write these words now, I can’t quite believe that I lived through that time, but this occasion did not seem extreme or unusual to me then.
I also remember a specific priesthood blessing (one of dozens my father gave me) I received around that same time. During the blessing, the spirit moved my father to give me a “new name and a blessing.” The new name he gave me was Jesus Christ, and he prophesied that I would be a “light and a salvation” to thousands of other homosexuals, leading them away from their destructive lifestyle into the gospel. I was very confused and alarmed by this blessing; bearing the Savior’s name, even symbolically, weighed very heavily on my heart. However, I trusted my father and knew of the power of the Spirit, so I became more convinced then ever that the relief of my homosexual feelings was imminent.
In addition, I received my patriarchal blessing during these years, and both my parents told me privately that mine was the finest received by any of their children. (It was likely the longest at almost five pages). I was, as my mother says, promised “the sun, the moon and the stars.” Among other assurances, I was told that I would be a great teacher who would influence millions to follow the Savior. I was more or less explicitly told that I would die from a horrible “disease of men” if I strayed from the path, but that if I stayed on the path of righteousness my children would be among those the Savior would “ordain as his counselors upon his return.” Very heavy for a sixteen year old, but my joy knew no bounds. I felt God was assuring me that I would be successful in my quest to become heterosexual.
Interestingly, one of the best things my parents ever did was send me to therapy. Don’t get me wrong, the Psychologist they had sent me too was a dud, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that I was smarter than he was, but he did have a gift for listening. He wanted me to blame my “homosexual urges” on my relationships with my parents, but from the beginning that rang false for me. He was trying to stretch me to fit into the “distant father/domineering mother” paradigm of gay male development but I never did. My father wasn’t absent and my mother was not domineering (if anything she was fragile—more like the child than the parent). However, the good doctor wanted to hear none of this. I soon figured out that if I told him enough of what he wanted to hear, he would offer me a great deal of positive feedback. We soon found ourselves exploring many aspects of my life and personality having little to do with my sexuality, and it was this portion of our work that eventually gave me the beginnings of a new confidence in myself. Perhaps I wasn’t evil! Perhaps some of the current problems in our family were attributable to causes other than my “homosexual feelings.” I still believed that I would be cured of my homosexuality, but I began to understand that it would be through a miracle of God and not through cognitive therapy.
It was also during this time that I had my first sexual encounter, and it followed a very specific train of thought. One of the questions my mother had asked me over and over again was, “How do you know that you are homosexual?” This was a point of genuine concern for her. Since I had never had sex with a man, how could I possibly know that I was gay? I was never able to provide an answer that satisfied her. I didn’t know how I knew I was gay, but believe me, I KNEW. Still, there was a surreal quality in her trying to convince me that I wasn’t. In some bizarre way, my decision to have sex for the first time was influenced by this. After all, if I was going to be damned, I might as well find out what I was being damned for!
Unbeknownst to me, Provo was full of closeted, married, gay men and it turned out to be an easy place to find sex. In fact, all I had to do was look for the opportunity and it presented itself. During my senior year of high school I began an affair with a married man who lived in our stake and whose oldest daughter was two years behind me in school. This was, of course, an awful introduction to “being gay” and only solidified my fundamental belief that the church was right: that homosexuals were sick people and that I would be damned if I wasn’t able to find a cure. Still, I was beginning to have serious doubts about this. Years of fasting and prayer, combined with no discernible changes, were forcing me to accept that there was a permanence to my gay feelings. Perhaps I was just cursed—doomed from birth—and there was nothing the church could do to save me.
I made the mistake of telling my parents that I had been sexually active. Whatever the climate of shame and coercion had been before, it now multiplied by 1000. My father invited our home teachers over for a blessing in which he cast a devil out of me. I remember crying inconsolably afterward, feeling unbelievable shame in the knowledge that I was so evil that even the power of the priesthood couldn’t cast the devil out of me…I was still gay.
During my senior year of high school I took a stand. I informed my parents that I would no longer be going to therapy. I also told them that I would no longer be attending church and that I would be going to the University of Utah rather than BYU when I graduated. Reclaiming a bit of my independence felt good—however, it was a false independence: I still believed that the church was true and that I was sick. I was simply beginning to accept the fact that, for some unknown reason, God had chosen to turn his back on me. It was easier, I felt, to stop attending church and accept that I was damned to Hell than to continue in a fruitless struggle that was making everyone I loved miserable. I also began to fantasize, secretly, about death. I began to see it as a viable option for escaping the misery of my life to that point. My mother did not help things when she told me, in all earnestness, that it would be easier for her if I died than that I was gay.
My freshman year at the U of U was a disaster. My parents had cut off all communication with me in hopes that I would “soften my heart and repent,” and I was scared, alone, trying to pay my way through school (without their help) on a part-time job and a small scholarship. I was also having compulsive sex—lots of it—in parks, with strangers, often for money (read the note above about being poor); feeling so much guilt about my desires that I couldn’t allow them to find the light of day. My third semester found me in the hospital following an attempted suicide. When I called my parents from the hospital to inform them where I was (the first time we’d spoken in months) I made a devil’s pact with them. My parents would let me come home, and my father would use his connections to get me admitted to BYU (in spite of my obvious unworthiness) on the condition I would repent of my sins, commit myself to truly overcoming my homosexuality, and go on a mission. Feeling that I had run out of choices, I agreed.
How do I describe being gay at BYU? I was miserable there. I was not the only one on campus struggling with homosexuality, far from it. A friend of my parents told them about a group called Evergreen, and I became a regular attendee. Like many of the other attendees, I truly believed the meetings would help me. I saw them as a tool to help me conquer this thing within myself that I so hated—and that was destroying my life. I soon found that Evergeen was a group of very unhappy people; among the most self-doubting I have ever met. And yet, simultaneously, some of the kindest, most humble, loving, devoted Mormons one could imagine. Many of the men there were in a constant cycle of having sex with each other and then “repenting” of their transgressions. Many, especially of this group, were married. If I had ever, at any point, questioned the church’s paradigm about gay people I might have realized what an unhealthy environment this was, but I still believed the church was right—we all did. The whole reason Evergreen exists is because of the church’s teaching that homosexuals will be able to overcome their gay feelings if they can only muster enough faith.
I saw a little bit of everything during my two years at BYU, most of it very sad. I heard the rumors about many of the faculty there, and witnessed first hand how much of it was true. One of my good friends had an ongoing affair with a married man on the faculty there and I myself had to awkwardly turn down an attempted seduction by a married professor.
Eventually, I fell in love with a newly returned missionary I met in choir. Ours was the perfect BYU story in many ways, except that we were both men. Somehow my parents got wind of this romance (even though they were on a mission at the time) and they reported us to the standards office. During one round of subsequent interviews with an ecclesiastical leader, I was told that my feelings for this young man “came from Satan.” I was also told that if I found a righteous young woman and married her I would be “cured of this affliction” (which I knew to be an outright lie—I knew too many gay men who had married innocent women and wounded them deeply trying to follow this same counsel). This man told me explicitly that he was speaking not from his own opinion but as the Lord’s representative.
For the first time in my life I began to truly doubt the church’s stance on homosexuality. I searched my soul and could not believe what this man was telling me. I could not accept that Satan inspired the love I felt for this boy. It was after all, my first real relationship, a relationship that was not about sex, commerce or mutual guilt but about real LOVE. I cared so much for this young man that I was willing to sacrifice my own educational opportunities for him, and I simply couldn’t accept that my LOVE was evil. Imperfect? Sure. Juvenile? Very likely. But Evil? NO! I could accept that sex with strangers in parks was evil, but not the sweet, clear breath of joy I felt in this boy’s company.
Although you may think it was a long time coming, this was the true beginning of the end for me and the church. It was the first time I acknowledged a chink in the perfect armor of the church, the first time I allowed myself to seriously question the actions of my leaders (we were both excommunicated and expelled from BYU).
However, even then my shame was far stronger than any feeble questioning of the church. I compromised by believing that the church was right and that I was simply too weak, evil, base (you pick the adjective) to live the fullness of the gospel. I placed the blame (and the guilt) for this squarely upon myself but decided to move on and live my life anyway. I felt that I had two choices: to eke out some small, temporal happiness in this life and hope that God would judge me mercifully, or choose a life of misery followed by the promise of celestial glory. I chose the former. By this time I had come to the realization that if my family and those I had met at BYU were indicators of who would make up the celestial family, I didn’t belong in it anyway. I would be far happier, I decided, with the other sinners in the telestial kingdom. My father had one last prophecy to make. During what would be our last interaction for many years he told me that I had lost the light of Christ. He told me that I would never graduate from college, own a home, or become a contributing member of society.
And I accepted that he was probably right. But I also hoped (ah! hope, the balm of fools) that he might be wrong. And that was that.
The years between then and now are the real story, the story about how I woke up and discovered the world: how I learned finally to love myself and believe in God’s love for me; to believe that I am fundamentally as good as any other person. However, I won’t bore you with the details as from here on out my story is much like the others on your site. Suffice to say that I made it. In spite of my father’s last prophecy, I did finish college. I have a great partner (not the boy from BYU, we were much too young and inexperienced to last) with whom I am happily faithful, and we just purchased a home. I have a great job, and a great life, and if I can be so immodest, I think I am a good citizen of the world. And one day, I discovered your website, and it was icing on the cake!
God bless you.