I’ve had something on my mind for a long time and I haven’t known how to approach it. I’m finally settled in a place I love and in a career as an interventional radiologist that I’ve spent my whole adult life working toward. I’ve shut most of you out for years and my excuses for doing that have run out.
I want to tell you a story about a little boy. This little boy was born with hazel eyes. You and I might see hazel eyes as a beautiful and rare variation in God’s tapestry of mortal life, but in his world, people with hazel eyes weren’t trusted. They were not “normal.” They were seen as other and unnatural. He always knew he was somehow different and people treated him differently. He tried desperately to fit in. He wore blue contact lenses to hide his eye color. He wore them all the time and never took them out. He wore his contacts so long that even his own family members believed he had blue eyes. And it worked. He was just like everybody else. He could fit in. He went to church with the kids his age and heard lessons about Heaven and eternal families and the blessings awaiting them…unless they had hazel eyes. One day he heard some high school kids talking about their favorite musician. “A reporter caught him at a night club without his contacts. Can you believe he had hazel eyes all this time? Gross!” Kids at recess made jokes and games about hazel eyes. No one wanted to get tagged and be “hazel in the middle.” The little boy’s family went to his grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving one year and some of the family made quiet conversation about an uncle who didn’t come around much. Some suspected he really had hazel eyes as well and that he might not even be hiding it with contacts anymore. “No! Why would you think that?” The little boy’s mother spoke up, standing up for her brother. She didn’t want to believe it of her own brother. Her objection came from a place of love but the little boy sank deeper into his chair and squeezed his eyes shut, just in case his disguise wasn’t enough.
He would never let anyone know his truth – his shame. He would never be one of those people even his own family despised. His mother told him frequently she loved him. They all did. But they wouldn’t if they knew. It was as if he had a magnetic field surrounding him that deflected positivity. No “I love you” reached his core where he was imploding. The person his family loved was a blue-eyed boy that didn’t really exist.
Years went by and the boy hoped the contacts would grow into his eyes and he could in some sense be normal. But, instead, his eyes began to hurt. They burned! The pain some days was so intense that he had trouble just functioning. His grades suffered. He got in fights with his little brother. Then, one day at church, he heard someone say that everyone who kept their hazel eyes hidden would be rewarded with blue eyes in the next life. Maybe that was the answer. So, he began daydreaming about how he could end his life. No one would ever need to know the shame he carried with him. He thought his death would be so much easier for his mother to deal with than the reality of an eternally damned, hazel-eyed son. After years of sobbing through nightly prayers to his Heavenly Father to change his eyes to blue, he now had hope in death. Amidst his suicidal ideation, a new bishop asked to talk to him – just a routine annual youth interview. The bishop was loving and kind and for some reason the boy felt safer than he had with other bishops. Quiet desperation bubbled to the surface. As he looked down at the carpet of the office to avoid the disgust the bishop was bound to feel, his magical blue contacts fell from his eyes and his carefully crafted disguise evaporated. And I said in a choked whisper, “I think I’m gay.”
Surprise! Yep. I’m the little boy. Welcome to my story.
To this point in my life, the words “I’m gay” had never passed my lips, largely out of fear that it would make it more true – make it real. As soon as I had said it, I began to panic. Surely, the bishop would react angrily and tell my parents. I’d lose my family and have to live on the street. The church would abandon me. Why did I say those words?! My life literally depended on the reaction of this man I barely knew. But instead of the reaction I was expecting, he just said, “Tell me more about that.” He asked me about my feelings, and at the end of our talk, he hugged me. I was shocked that even after I had told him my deepest secret, he wasn’t afraid to touch me. We would have frequent conversations over the next few years but most importantly, he loved me. I likely would not have lived to my 16th birthday had he not shown love to that scared 13-year-old boy.
I went to Brigham Young University after high school and after one year there, I served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia. Some people may think it’s too hard or that it should be impossible for a gay young man to serve a mission. On the contrary, most gay Mormons I know have fond memories of their missions because, for once, their sexuality isn’t an issue. The thing that has consumed their thoughts suddenly isn’t important for two years. No one is wondering why they aren’t asking out that pretty girl at church. Something else I found is that gay missionaries come equipped with a superhuman ability to love the people they serve, and, like I did, most of them begged and pleaded and bargained with God to make them straight in exchange for their wholehearted service. I didn’t find out until years later that many of the missionaries I most looked up to, many of the most exceptional missionaries, were gay. This very minute, the church is benefiting from the selfless service of hundreds of gay missionaries in the field. Unfortunately, not all of them had a loving bishop like I did in my youth. And not all of my leaders have been so loving as that first one. One bishop told me he put a permanent mark on my record that would preclude me from ever working with children or youth. To be a gay member of this church is painful and I would never pass judgement on any LGBT person who chose to step away in order to preserve their mental health. There are cases of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in LGBT people associated with their experience in our church similar to soldiers back from war and I feel it’s important to acknowledge their pain.
By the time I completed my degrees in biology and linguistics at BYU, I was deeply depressed and I took a year off before starting medical school. During that year, I submitted myself to what is known as conversion therapy, a practice that is now banned in 14 states with legislation in many others pending. Every week, I drove several hours to pay an expert $300 an hour to make me straight. In my mind, I had to change my sexuality because I thought there was no purpose in my living if I couldn’t live a heterosexual life. It didn’t work that year, but I held on to my belief that I would be transformed someday.
In medical school, I met a wonderful woman. We began to date and became best friends. I brought her home to meet my family and I thought maybe this could work. If it was going to work with a woman, it was her. But whenever I thought of proposing to her, I got a sick feeling. I knew I loved her on every level – every level but one very important one, the physical. And although I knew she loved me enough to try to make it work, I wanted her to have a husband that worshiped her in every way. It was then that I knew I needed to finally share my whole truth with my family. I came out to mom and dad and 5 siblings by telephone in one night and the loving responses from them were better than I had expected. It was another surprise to me when I woke up the next morning and looked inward and I still felt God’s love for me. I was in uncharted territory. I had no guide or established path anymore and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Over the next 6 years of post-graduate medical training, I learned a lot about myself. I allowed myself to date other men. I even fell in love once. I only share this because of what it taught me. I had been so conditioned to believe that any love for someone of the same gender was disgusting and corrupt. Some even use the word “counterfeit.” But the feelings I felt were pure, selfless, and beautiful. I finally understood what friends and family had told me about falling in love. Rather than turn my back on God, this experience brought me closer to Him and I felt Him teaching me, “You see, Mike? You see what beautiful things I have in store for you?”
My post-graduate medical training made church attendance difficult and I felt removed from the church. I had to develop my own personal relationship with God independent of the instruction and opinions of church leaders. I learned to rely on personal revelation, which would benefit me enormously when it came to being gay, because this is something church leaders haven’t experienced and do not understand – and, more often than not, they misunderstand. So, let me dispel some myths for you as a gay man and a doctor who has studied sexuality all his life.
* I did not choose to be gay. Neither did any of the hundreds of LGBT people I know make a choice to be who they are. Why would anyone choose such a hard road? If someone comes out to you, it’s because they love you and want you to be a part of their life. They have always been who they are even if it took them a while to figure it out.
* I am not gay because of anything my parents did and I was not sexually assaulted as a child. However, LGBT children and youth are at a terribly high risk of being assaulted and these beautiful children of God need to be protected.
* Sexuality is not something that you can change. And it’s not something that my Heavenly Father needs or wants me to change. I know now directly from the source of all truth that I am the way He meant for me to be and He loves me exactly the way I am. My gayness is inextricably connected to my musical talents, my sensitivity to others’ needs, my ability to easily love other people, and so many parts of myself that I finally see as beautiful gifts and essential to who I am. I know my Father made me this way, so why would I want to change it?
I have always felt the need to know how to save a life. I think there was always a low-grade anxiety that someday someone would be dying in front of me and I wouldn’t know what to do to save them. It’s driven me to learn about physiology and pathology. As soon as I was able, I learned basic lifesaving skills. In my 20s, one week after my Emergency Medical Technician certification exam, my sister’s toddler choked in front of me with no one else around. I did what I was taught and popped a large mouthful of animal crackers out of her. I know that one of the reasons I was put here on Earth is to save lives in my occupation as a medical doctor.
When I moved to my current location, I considered whether or not I needed to be an active part of my congregation given how painful it can be for LGBT people to be present in this church. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. That risk is multiplied by being a part of a family, community, or church where homosexuality is unacceptable. We lose these beautiful young people one by one to suicide and it is completely preventable!
I understand now that my mission on Earth is simply to save lives, not only in the hospital where I work every day, but also outside the hospital. I mean to save as many of these young people as I can and to help their families love them unconditionally. When I considered not coming to church here, I was thinking about myself and my own comfort. But the Spirit turned my thoughts around on me and told me that I needed to be there, not for myself, but because someone else there needs to know that He knows and loves them just as they are. I know there are LGBT people in my congregation silently suffering when people make comments that make them feel alone and hopeless. I know that there are several young people who will come out to their families someday, but in the meantime, they sustain deep wounds from comments their loved ones make about LGBT people or the “gay lifestyle.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have more scripture for guidance than any Christian church at any time in history. But we should not be afraid to admit that we don’t know everything. Article of Faith 9 says, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” I don’t know how LGBT people fit into the Plan of Salvation, but I have a friend named Derek, a biblical scholar by training and a gay man who joined the church a few years ago, who likes to say, “There’s more room for me in the Plan of Salvation than there is in the closet.” Where there are gaps in our understanding, let us fill them with compassion and unconditional love.
If you think you don’t know any LGBT people, please reconsider. Statistically, someone you love or care about, a friend, a child, feels just like I did. So, be kind. Jokes and flippant comments can leave lasting scars. God loves each and every one of us. Let’s be sensitive to all types of people who don’t fit the mold and learn from them and appreciate the gifts the Father of all of us has given them.
If you didn’t already know, now you do. I’m gay. And I’m still the same Mike you’ve always known. You just know me better now. If you cared about me before, I hope you care about me now. I hope that you will cheer me on as I continue to put myself out there and date. I hope that you will celebrate with me when I find the man I will spend the rest of my life with and that you will share in our happiness.
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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.
 Simmons, Brian W. Coming Out Mormon: An Examination of Religious Orientation, Spiritual Trauma, and PTSD Among Mormons and Ex-Mormon LGBTQQA Adults. 2017. The University of Georgia. Ph.D. dissertation. https://getd.libs.uga.edu/pd…/simmons_brian_w_201712_phd.pdf
 Rothman, Emily F., et al. The Prevalence of Sexual Assault Against People Who Identify as Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual in the United States: A Systematic Review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, vol. 12, no. 2, Apr. 2011, pp. 55–66, doi:10.1177/1524838010390707.
 CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity. Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
 Lytle, Megan C. et al. Association of Religiosity With Sexual Minority Suicide Ideation and Attempt. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 54, Issue 5 , 644 – 651.