My name is Jake, and I grew up in Mapleton/Springville Utah, where it seemed most of the population were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was raised in the LDS church and believed in it wholeheartedly until I was about 24. Growing up, I went to church almost every Sunday, attended scouts and young men’s groups during the week, and each friend I had was active in the LDS church. I even attended seminary regularly when I started high school. I listened to the General Conference every 6 months and almost always took notes during the talks. I believed the LDS church was completely true. This caused great conflicts within myself once I hit puberty around the age of 12.
I realized at that age that I enjoyed looking at the male body. I didn’t realize that meant I was gay at the time, as I hadn’t had any exposure to the LGBTQ+ community. I didn’t totally understand much until I was about 13 and my parents gave me “the talk” about puberty and hormones and what that all meant. I am actually very grateful to my mother in this case because I felt like she did an excellent job of explaining that, without making it awkward. I realized though after that talk that something was “wrong” with me. Now, I realize there was nothing wrong with me, but my 13-year-old self thought they were broken.
I felt so distraught that I was attracted to guys and not girls. I dove into church hoping that the more I read my scriptures-and prayed-and went to church—and did all that I was supposed to do that would “fix me.”
I went to dances with girls and on dates with girls but never did I ever feel the same attraction to them that I felt towards guys. Playing football was super fun but also somewhat of a nightmare for me in a way too. I was constantly surrounded by guys I was attracted to on the football team (which made life even more difficult.) I felt so much shame and guilt whenever I would think about guys in a sexual way. No matter how hard I tried to fight the feelings, or immerse myself in religion, those feelings for guys never went away.
During High school I was constantly working towards serving an LDS mission as well. I ended up getting called to serve a mission in Pittsburgh, PA and I was quite excited to serve and I believed it would solve my being gay or at least make it bearable. If anything, it did the opposite, I struggled even more so on my mission with feeling attracted to guys, and being stuck with a male companion 24/7 did not make that much better. However, I continued to work hard on my mission and I made a lot of personal growth and met many awesome people. During my times as a missionary I learned so much more about myself, who I was, and how helping other people made me more independent.
Upon returning home from my mission, I realized that the attraction I had to men had amplified 100-fold. I began to feel that maybe I had done something wrong on my mission. I thought that life would have gotten somewhat easier in regard to my attraction to men after my mission. To make matters worse, I had a huge crush on a previous mission companion of mine who had become one of my closest friends. I never confessed my feelings to him but I sometimes wonder if he knew. He had started college outside the state of Utah and I was going to college at Southern Utah University. We talked frequently on the phone with each other, probably about once a week or so. During the summer we were going to be in neighboring towns and I was hoping to hang out a few times but it never happened and he just fell out of contact with me.
Given that recent event of having one of my closest friends stop talking to me, struggling to go on dates with girls, and feelings of major hopelessness, I spiraled into depression as I began my second semester at Southern Utah University. I did have some amazing friends down there who helped me feel a bit better, but I never talked about or came out to anyone about why I was feeling depressed.
The more I attended church or went to the temple, the worse I felt. I felt so frustrated that I was always taught that “true happiness can only be found in the LDS church,” and here I was a member and doing all I could and feeling utterly miserable. This feeling of depression and hopelessness lasted a couple years, and I did attend therapy through SUU. I had an amazing therapist who helped me deal with a lot of emotions, however I never mentioned that I was gay. I kept that secret so guarded from anyone and everyone in life. I really wish I had confided in my therapist and maybe even a few trusted individuals much earlier on in my life. Alas I did not.
I eventually started to explore the gay dating apps. I installed and uninstalled them so many times during the first month. Just talking with guys on the apps made me feel guilty and caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. I remember one time feeling so frustrated and depressed over what I was doing that I went for a drive and parked in a church parking lot and just cried for about an hour. I felt so overwhelmed and helpless and I ended up saying a prayer while sobbing. I prayed that I could have a boyfriend, I prayed that having a romantic relationship with a guy could be accepted and ok and I wished that God would let me know that if it was.
I was tired of living a lie and just wanted to live the truth.
Funny enough, a week after that, I met a man on Scruff, a gay dating app, who would eventually become my husband. We met in January of 2016. His name is Aaron and he was (and still is) an amazing man. Aaron was also raised in the LDS church and had served a mission. I enjoyed having that similar background as he came from a place that could understand the feelings I was going through. This relationship is also what started my full coming out story.
I had some friends who eventually found out I was dating Aaron and a few of them talked to me about it. I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted at the time. I was still attending church but in a relationship with Aaron. I believe this is when I had my true faith crisis. I ended up breaking up with Aaron in March of 2016 and talking to my Bishop and I even encouraged Aaron to do the same. I had this idea that we could try to support each other in working through our homosexuality. Obviously, that didn’t go quite as I thought it would originally. My bishop, when I spoke to him, essentially just told me to not take the sacrament, to read the scriptures, and he mentioned a particular girl in the ward who he said I should just make out with. My bishop told me that he knew this girl would likely make out with me and if I did that, he believed it would help me be straight.
Making out with a girl was not something that I had a desire to do—and I knew it was not going to change anything.
Aaron’s bishop was even less helpful. His bishop compared his situation to someone in his ward who was struggling with bestiality. Both of our experiences with bishops highlight at least one area where the LDS church needs some serious help in assisting bishops in better understanding the LGBTQ experience. I feel that many bishops don’t know how to address people who come to them with those types of confessions. Many end up doing more harm than good, and I know that is not the case for all bishops, but I think most don’t know how to address this in a healthy way.
For the next couple weeks, I seriously considered what I wanted from my life, and about that prayer that I had said a few months ago. I just had the strongest feeling that I needed to give my relationship with Aaron a shot and I would regret it if I didn’t. After finally deciding I needed to give it a try, me and Aaron got back together. Aaron already had the same thoughts as well and we were both so much happier together.
After finally, living life how I wanted to live, I noticed a big impact on my happiness and self-esteem. I was feeling so much better about myself and life in general. It instilled a kind of hope in me that I didn’t know existed until then. My troubles were not completely over though, I knew a hard thing was coming up that I had to do. I still needed to come out. I still needed to tell my parents, and the rest of my family.
Aaron and I started to get more serious and had some serious conversations about marriage. I knew this was going to be the real deal and that I needed to tell my family, and I was pretty sure they were not going to like it. In September of 2016 I came out to my parents by writing them an email. Now I admit, that may not have been the best way, however as much as I love my parents, they can be pretty argumentative and won’t let you get a word in sometimes. I believed this to be my best shot to voice all my feelings, and talk about my relationship without interruption.
After I sent the email, I got a call a very short time later. I was cussed out, yelled at, and I do remember distinctly my mother telling me that she “would prefer finding out I was dead rather than me being gay.” All that had been pretty tough to hear and although I was prepared for what they might say, it was still really hard. My family threatened to come and pick me up from college and that I wasn’t going to get a say in the matter, and if I didn’t comply, they would take away my vehicle, which technically was still in their name.
They also tried to get a hold of my (now) husband’s parents and out him at the same time. They wanted to try to get his parents to stage an intervention, since they lived in the same town as the college. Luckily, my husband had already come out to his father, and his father blocked my parents number because he wanted nothing to do with that.
My parents eventually ended up not taking my vehicle away and didn’t come and pick me up. I did receive many text messages, letters and calls with scriptures being quoted at me. They wanted me to let my extended family know also with an email, which I did. My parents asked that I come home to pick up most of my belongings that were still there, and they told me not to come home for the holidays.
I’ll be honest, I suspected a lot of this so I was not that surprised. It didn’t make it very easy but I did have Aaron there to support me and actually a lot of great friends who were really awesome as well during this time. Aaron’s family was pretty great too and actually invited me over for the holidays so they ended up being a lot better than I originally thought they would be. The hardest thing I think was when my parents and younger sister would constantly tell me I am not the same person and that I “changed.” I was still the exact same person BUT they just knew something different about me that I had kept hidden away deep inside for years! That is one thing that to this day still causes me some resentment.
After a year passed my family started to get better. They met my husband and they really like him. They treat him like one of the family. I still think deep down my parents struggle with the idea of being married to Aaron, but they don’t show it. And I do love my family so much, and that never changed even during my whole coming out process. It did take them about a year to start coming around but I was so glad they did and that we were able to rebuild our relationship.
I am still navigating the coming out experience, even with friends. Some of them are offensive. One asked me if I had been sexually abused as a child and if that’s why I was gay. I had not experienced any kind of abuse growing up and I let him know that. I feel that some LDS members believe that being gay is still a choice, and that there are factors like sex abuse that causes someone to “chose” that lifestyle. I am here to say it’s not a choice, I knew from a young age that I like guys and that’s just how I was.
I learned so much about myself as I came out of the closet and went through the hardship of coming out to my family. I had feared it would take longer than even a year for my family to come around so that was a pleasant surprise. I think the biggest thing that I would want my family, and really anyone in the church, to understand is that I am so much happier not being a part of the church and living my best life.
I get mildly frustrated when LDS members say things like “you are not feeling true happiness, it’s just worldly pleasure,” or similar things. I just want them to understand that it’s not simple pleasure or a desire to sin and that’s why I am living the way I am. I am living true to myself, living the best life I can and one that makes me truly happy. I still love helping people and being there for others. That’s something about me that has never changed!
I just hope that other members of the church can see that in the LGBTQ+ community, most of us are so much happier now, and not because we “want to sin” but because we are living the truth and being our true selves.
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This story is dedicated to helping people learn to love better, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.