As a young teenager, I wasn’t aware that I was a lesbian. It was not a topic discussed almost at all back then and I had no words or frame of reference for my personal experiences.
What I knew was that I didn’t understand how the girls around me could have “crushes” on boys. I was completely bewildered. To me, boys were completely unappealing. The conversations my friends were having were increasingly about which boys they liked and I felt like I had been dropped into a foreign country or a physics or mathematics convention: the topic made no sense to me and was completely alien to my experience. At church, I didn’t understand why we kept having these chastity lessons as if it were difficult to not “go too far” with boys. I didn’t really prefer to be around boys at all, so I had no problem at all with being chaste. I figured I must have some special righteousness inborn in me that made me not even tempted around boys.
At one point in my mid-teens I made the connection that the ways the girls around me were talking about boys sounded similar to the experience I was having with a girl on my soccer team and another girl in my stake, both of whom I thought were beautiful, couldn’t stop thinking about, and always wanted to be around. I didn’t have words for it or realize what this similarity meant, I just immediately sensed that it must be wrong because I had never heard of people feeling these ways about someone of the same gender. I felt like I must be a freak of nature and was afraid someone might find out what was wrong with me, so I began trying to change myself and to pretend so that I could fit in and no one would know I was a “defect”.
I began to pretend to have crushes on boys and join in on the boy-centric conversations my friends were having rather than just listening with a confused look on my face. I changed the way I dressed too, somehow sensing that that was part of what was “wrong” with me. I had always been a tomboy and had chosen my clothes from the boys section when I went shopping. Now I would go to the girls section to pick out my clothes, though I still chose the least feminine girls clothing I could find because I felt like I was wearing a clown costume when I tried on very feminine clothing.
When I was 16 and people asked me about why I didn’t seem interested in dating, I cited church leader’s guidelines that its best not to seriously date till you are 18 as the reason I didn’t date and convinced myself and everyone else that I was just trying to be extra righteous. When I was 18, I told myself and everyone that I was focused on preparing for a mission and that dating was unnecessary. I even began to talk frequently about how Sheri Dew was a revered single woman who had never married and who had even been a General Authority once and that I aspired to be like her rather than get married.
But pretending to be someone I was not was really difficult and I wasn’t very good at it. Despite all my efforts to hide this part of me, I was still teased and questioned at times. I would receive comments from others like “You don’t seem to be into boys that much, you better not be into girls.”
My teen years was this strange period of dissociation, of both knowing and not knowing about this part of myself at the same time. I was engaging in all of these hiding behaviors, but had become unaware of why I was doing it. I dissociated the awareness of my “defect” from my conscious awareness because it was too painful to bear. It was this locked up truth that I didn’t let myself think about or understand better.
During my years in young single adult wards, I dated quite a bit. My policy was that if a guy asked me out, I would say yes. But I never felt interested in any of the men I went out with, and because I had buried the truth so deeply I wasn’t quite sure why. I would consider all of the good qualities of the genuinely great guy that I was dating, decide he would make a great husband and father for anyone, but then still feel like I had to break up with him because I didn’t feel any kind of interest in marrying him or even in continuing to date him.
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and on a vacation visiting a friend that a full and permanent understanding and awareness of the truth came crashing down on me. One day as I looked at her and her beautiful little family interacting together, the dam cracked and my whole life made sense. I understood why I used to get so infatuated with some of the girls I grew up and with some of the women from my singles ward, why I used to look up pictures of actresses online and tell myself it was just because I wanted to be beautiful like them, why I pretended to be a boy in an online chatroom when I was 12 so I could flirt with girls and have an “online girlfriend”, why I was never interested in any boy or man my whole life. All of the puzzle pieces got pushed into place and I realized and understood that I was gay.
For the first 8 months of this awareness, I was intensely depressed and frequently suicidal. All of the negative church teachings on homosexuality that I hadn’t realized I had internalized over the years rose to the surface and I experienced such intense self-hatred that as I lay in bed at night it felt like shards of broken glass were flowing through my veins and I felt a sense that the moral thing to do would be to destroy the “disordered” and “defective” being I was to prevent me from ever “acting on it.” I always made sure there was nothing I could harm myself with every night and would ride out the suicidal urges until I fell asleep exhausted hours later.
The next spring, though, things began to change. Nature has always been therapeutic for me and I was spending many hours each week outdoors reflecting and praying, searching for relief, for understanding, and for what God would have me do. I would look around at God’s beautiful creations and long to be one of them instead of the “defect” I has always believed myself to be. Then one day, as I was trying to quiet all the noise in mind and the self-hate in my heart and just listen for God’s voice, I felt a message enter my mind and heart that I was a beautiful creation of God’s too. That God didn’t just make one kind of animal or one kind of plant, and didn’t make just one kind of human being either. God made robins to fly and gophers to dig holes. God made conifers to bear pinecones and oak trees to bear acorns. And God made some people to love the opposite gender and some people to love the same gender. The feelings of peace and joy that came with these messages were immense. It was the first time in my life I had ever felt like I had really connected with God, despite my efforts to be devout and obedient my whole life.
Immediately I began to doubt this experience. I had been taught by church leaders that any message that contradicted their teachings was a deception. I told myself that these feelings of peace were a trick from the adversary and tried to push them away and get back to hating myself in order to try to honor God.
I realize now how ironic it was that I was seeking God’s love and direction but was pushing it away every time it came just because my church leaders had taught me to. But thankfully God kept sending these messages, again and again. These quiet, peaceful, love-filled messages in my heart that told me I was perfect just the way that I was and that being the person God created me to be, the authentic me, shows more love and honor for God than disowning parts of myself. That shutting my heart to the connections and relationships my heart yearns for would be the opposite of honoring God, because God created these yearnings in human hearts.
Philippians 4:7 talks about the “peace of God, which passeth all understanding.” In order to accept God’s message of peace to me, I had to let go of understanding about being gay that I had been taught my whole life from church leaders, my family, and society, and receive a new understanding about myself directly from my Creator. When I stopped pushing away the peace and began to open myself up to God’s messages, the self-hate, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts I had been experiencing began to decrease, I began reaching out to other people more as I began to feel more love for not just myself but for those around me, and I began to feel for the first time in my life a sense of wholeness rather than brokenness.
I still have hard times when the homophobic neuron pathways that were conditioned into my brain for over 30 years get triggered by comments or church or public policies and I find myself sliding temporarily back into self-hate, but then I remember those experiences that spring of God telling me that I am a beautiful creation too, just like the clouds, the mountains, the birds, the trees, and peace returns to me.
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