Looking back, the signs of my orientation were there from the time I was a little boy. For example, I stared at the pictures on the packages of underwear at the store, or there would be boys who I really, really wanted to be friends with, things like that. It wasn’t until puberty when I would have erotic dreams that I figured out that I am sexually and romantically turned on by guys. I denied it for a while, thought I must be defective, perhaps it can change. By age 14 or 15 is when, with great reluctance, I accepted that this is a part of me.
At church it was taught that people are like this because they lack faith, so I tried to be the most faithful person, swatting away any questions or doubts, trying to be the best in class and activities. And every little, minor mistake was crushing because it was making me not good enough for God to fix. That was a stressful way to approach life.
I had a great deal of fear to come out. I continued to try to please God. I served a 2-year mission. I went to the Church schools. While in college is when I really came to terms with this is never changing.
I remained closeted for a long time, much longer than I wanted to. The longer I was in the closet, the harder it seemed to come out because it meant admitting that so much of my life, at least as I presented it, was a lie. Staying in the closet kept my world intact. Much of my family’s life revolves around church. Being a member of this church gives me a social network, a map of life goals, and an identity. Coming out meant I could lose all of it and I had no idea what life would be without those things.
Squashing all my romantic and sexual feelings also shuts down most other feelings. I spent my 20’s & 30’s feeling numb, like I was watching life but not a part of it. I finally reached the point where I was thought, “What’s the point of having a life if I wasn’t going to live?” As I was approaching my 40th birthday, I decided it’s time for a change. It was hard to share the secret I had spent my life guarding, and for a while I was very cautious and only came out one person at a time, no big announcement.
There are many things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I really like, things that resonate with me. I like that our God isn’t silent, that God answers prayers and is wants to reveal new things to us. That as individuals and as a church, we learn & progress, line upon line, always becoming better. I love the idea that the ultimate goal is for all people to be unified and linked to each other, that it matters how we treat each other because we need each other. Mormons are really good at building community and a sense of belonging. One thing that helps is the idea of all truth being circumscribed into one great whole, including scientific knowledge. Plus, this church taught me a language to understand spiritual things. I’ve learned a lot about being a better person, to serve and to be empathetic. It’s just that where church intersects with how I was made by our Creator, there is tension.
When I was 18 and the bishop spoke to me about going on a mission, I went home and prayed and asked if God could love me, love what I am. It’s really sad that a person can grow up in church and not even know that. I felt waves of love, warmth and goose bumps radiate across my body and a voice say “you are not broken.” That experience sustained me for many years.
Being gay complicates church for me. Questions that have simple answers for others are complex for me. There’s no way for me to complete the covenant path, I can’t achieve the goals that our religion says should be the purpose of my life.
In November 2015 I was serving as the Stake Young Men president when the Policy of Exclusion was leaked. I was so upset by it that I nearly walked away. Only an impression that God had a work for me to do if I was willing to stay kept me in the Church. In January 2016 my calling changed, and this is my 5th year being the stake executive secretary, which means I am in all the highest councils of my stake. This calling also means I get to meet all General Authorities who come here, I’ve interacted with 10 Seventies & apostles. I still get invited to participate in stake youth activities and have spoken to my stake’s youth about being LGBT. I had a blog post go viral and that led to hundreds of LGBTQ+ teens & twenty-somethings who contacted me to ask questions or who were hurting, and I’ve stayed up late into the night many a time trying to keep them safe. I’ve been invited to share my story on several pages and a few podcasts.
All of this is well beyond what I could have imagined in 2015 when I decided to stay. But this isn’t my work forever. I will again have to revisit the decision to stay or leave. Being in this church has caused serious mental health issues, including suicidal moments, that I’ve had to get help for. I want to love and be loved. I’m tired of going to church and then something is said which wound, which even if the speaker wasn’t meaning to be unkind, those little surprises still sting. I want to be happy.
I have to figure out what a successful life looks like for me, what the purpose of my life is, how God wants me to partner with Him in the work He is doing in the world today.
I think back to how I felt when I prayed to know if God loves me and how that felt. I don’t think God views being gay as incompatible with the gospel. I’m certain the author of diversity has accounted for it in His Plan. I just wish this church could see it that way.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.